You know how the places closest to home, always end up taking you forever to get to? That is 90 Miles, for us. Might as well be 90 Miles away…it’s not, it’s about two miles from my house. Last week we sat outside on the all season patio, which they enclose for the winter. Can you say “transported to tropical heaven?” It was toasty warm on the patio, while it was cold and hailing outside. The Cuban music was cranking. Strands of beaded lights were strung about the top of the enclosure. There were plants, murals and a big dreamy mirror in the corner. The crowd was happy and celebratory. Lots of atmosphere. A nice escape from the Chicago winter, which unfortunately it still is, at least while I am writing this. It will probably be 80 degrees when I post this, a week later! Believe me, I won’t argue.
Walking in, we were overcome with the most amazing smell, that of garlic, garlic and more garlic. The atmosphere was festive and warm. Warm, toasty inside, smelling like garlic, this was all a good sign of good things to come. And we were not let down. I ordered the Masas de Puerco and Laurent ordered the Churrasco. The Masas de Puerco was basically one of the sources of that garlic smell as we walked in. It was not what I thought it was going to be. I read masas and figured something to do with tamales. Nope. Wrong. Masas de Puerco translates as Chucks of Pork. So much for my rudimentary Spanish! So, these chunks of fried pork were totally juicy and flavorful served with beans and rice and caramelized plantains, one of my favorite things on the face of this earth. I don’t understand how just frying chunks of pork can be soooo heavenly. Ok, I take that back, I do know. This pork looked so plain Jane, but packed a huge flavor and texture punch. Bam, fork tender, but not stringy. Bam, full of garlic flavor with no dousing of sauce and anything other than fat on it for flavor. (Forgive me for the “bams”. I don’t know what came over me. I don’t even like Emeril!) I assume it was marinated in garlic, which must have been the source of its deliciousness. Two simple condiments sat on the plate, limes and raw rings of onions. These were simple but powerful tools. The squeeze of lime cut the fattiness of the pork, good fattiness, but fattiness, none the less, let us not fool ourselves! The raw onions, added the perfect amount of bite to the pork, a burst of raw bold flavor to compliment the subtle rich smoothness of the pork. I was amazed at its simplicity and the wallop of flavor it delivered. Looks are definitely deceiving. I am so the “the more sauces, components and descriptors a dish has, the better. “ Lesson learned with the Masas de Puerco; don’t judge a pork by its lack of sauce. One more lesson learned; do NOT even eat half your dinner, as you will be sooo full. This is a reoccurring theme of mine, since childhood. When something tastes so good, I will just keep eating it, even though I am full. I used to do this with my grandma’s chicken rice soup. At age nine, I could eat three or four bowls, even though I was full after two!
Onto Laurent’s dish, which he did finish, although I do not know how that was humanly possible. Laurent had the Churrasco, basically marinated skirt steak grilled and served with a chimichurri sauce, potatoes and a plantain. No temperature was taken at the table, but, the steak came out cooked to a perfect medium rare. Impressive . It was very lightly spiced, but just enough to give a hint of flavor. That seems to be the theme here, the flavor nuances of the ingredients are coaxed out of the dishes by a damn good cook! The chimichurri sauce was more like a pico de gallo consistency with cilantro, garlic and onions instead of tomatoes. I am used to the more pesto like chimichurri at Tango Sur, which I prefer, but this was still good. Laurent asked for extra, of course. Who’s the sauce whore now? The potatoes were also full of flavor, mysteriously, as there was no visible sauce or spice on them. Fine with me, just so they taste good, although I am curious to know what made them so tasty. The plantain on Laurent’s plate, as not of the yummy caramelized variety, as mine. It just looked like a steamed whole banana. That was the only not-so-good part of our meal. That’s ok. We didn’t have room for it anyways.
We did have” room” for dessert, though, as I cannot resist guava and cream cheese in fried pastry even if I tried, which I didn’t! The waiter, who, by the way, was very pleasant and friendly, recommended the pastilitos, a layering of phyllo, guava paste and cream cheese, as he said they are hard to find in Chicago. Very hard to find, because, alas, they were out. We had the empanada instead, because I was not leaving without my tropical guava goodness. The empanada came out hot and freshly fried, oozing with exotic guava stickiness and gooey mild cheese. How could that be bad? It wasn’t.
I can’t wait to visit 90 Miles again and have a guarito sandwich with green plantains, grilled steak, grilled onions, romaine, tomato and Swiss cheese along with a guanabana shake. Sitting on the amazing patio with brightly colored murals, I’ll just pretend I am miles away…..90 Miles away.