Monday, November 17, 2008
Miami: Molina's Ranch Restaurant
After the not too long flight from Managua, I find myself in Miami for the night. I figured it would be a great way to cap off my Nicaragua trip with a night being fashionable in Florida.
Of course, I'm just not in the mood for a fancy place. I could go to Cielo or Azul but I can get pretty small plates of food or fusion just about anywhere in America. What I can't get at home is good Cuban food. So, after some consultations with friends across the country and the Internet, I decided to head to Molina's Ranch Restaurant in Hialeah - not too far from my hotel near the airport.
I don't know what to expect while driving to Molina's. Is it going to be a fancy joint, a hole in the wall? I don't know. I just heard it was the place for Cuban and I'm going there. When I arrive, I find that it's neither. It's a nicely done stand-alone building with lots of seating outside for what must be long waiting times during their peak hours.
Inside, Molina's reminds me of Zippy's in Hawaii. It's nice, it's welcoming but it's functional. It's designed to serve lots of people en masse. It's kind of like Denny's. Luckily, the crowds are gone and I'm seated right away and the ballet begins.
In a moment, a basket of Pan Cubano lands on my table. Such interesting bread cooked in such an interesting way. It's white and baked in a manner that forms a crusty shell without it turning brown. I'm fascinated by the bread.
In a flash, they're ready for my order. I'll have a watermelon batida (which I have no idea what a "batida" is), an order of the conch fritters and the leg of lamb. I had been thinking about trying other stuff but the lamb sounded so good that I just couldn't pass it up - even though I knew there were two pieces.
Frituras de Cobo
The batida was like most Mexican agua frescas I've had in the past. Watermelon mixed with sugar, water and ice. This version is heavy on the sweet. Perhaps too heavy for me since I was tempted to water it down a bit.
Soon, the frituras de cobo arrived. Conch fritters. When I ordered, I had no idea what it would taste like. I'm not even sure if I've had conch before, but it was different so I ordered it and was rewarded. At first, the angry dark brown, nearly black fried exterior is off-putting. I wondered if they might have overcooked and burned the fritters? Maybe the oil was too hot.
Whatever the case, the fritters were tasty and had no aroma or flavor of being burnt. Crispy, crunchy exterior with a nearly creamy and chunky interior. Dip it in a little sauce and you were good to go.
Laconcito de Cordero
I suspect it's partly because the Cordero is braised and partly because Molina's is ready to handle the volume, but sooner rather than later, I found my Laconcito sitting in front of me - looking very meaty and massive. Crap.
With barely enough time to break into my appetizer, I've got these tasty and delicious-looking lamb shanks sitting in front of me. I'm in trouble. Oh, but look at those meaty bones filled with marrow. I guess there is a God.
Laconcito de Cordero, arroz blanco, frijoles negros y maduros.
One bite and it's just beauty. Soft, supple, fragrant - I'm transported to a happy place. A place where meat is flavorful and tender and filled with pretty lilac blossoms. Stewed in a rich, red sauce and served with peas and sliced red bell peppers, the flavor is delicate and delicious. I want to tear into it - hard.
But I savor it. Right away, I realize that it's just too much for one man to finish. I will have leftovers and I have no dining companions whose forks I have to parry. As I savor the rich, meaty and silky texture of the marrow, I'm happy knowing that tomorrow morning, I will enjoy a breakfast fit for a king.
The lamb comes with black beans, rice and plantains. They're all delicious accompaniments but all the lamb really needs is the rice. A bed of rice to pop the flavor of the meat. Like stretched muslin, proper rice is a flavor canvas upon which one can paint a masterpiece.
As I fall out into the night with a bag of leftovers, I'm left with beautiful visions of a Cuba filled with beautiful women and tasty lamb.
Molina's Ranch Restaurant
4090 E 8th Ave
Hialeah, FL 33013