Cultural cuisine is making a notable round in our growing food scene. From Curry Craft and Carena’s Jamaican Grille to Comida Casera (Brazilian and Salvadorian cuisine), we’re becoming a city happy to introduce ethnic flavors to a mostly southern fare-fixated population.
When Toast owners, Jessica and Josh Bufford discovered another space would be available in the same Village shopping center, they jumped on the opportunity to open another restaurant which would gravitate toward Latin-inspired fare. Estilo South American Restaurant opened in August with a menu inspired by the Bufford’s recent trip to South America and Puerto Rico. Authentic offerings include Ceviche, Peruvian Chicken, Duck Confit Pozole, and Sopes (corn cakes topped with your choice of meat and sauce).
Since “estilo” translates to “style” in Spanish, the sexy and dim dining room reflects its name to perfection. Light woods, cozy booths, and an elongated concrete bar combine to create a neutral and alluring ambience. It’s only when you look out the front door and peer into the parking lot do you realize you’re in a West End shopping center, between a CVS and Starbucks.
Being a newer restaurant, I often acknowledge and expect some experiences to be a bit rocky (staff and food can have adjustment periods, too) but I was disappointed with our server’s lack of urgency and enthusiasm. I usually order a drink with dinner but our server never offered or even mentioned a cocktail. She quickly took the cocktail menu away, so I passed on a boozy beverage. Speaking of drinks, Estilo is the type of place to replace soda glasses with a fresh one (instead of refilling the same glass). No complaints there except when my girlfriend’s 3 empty glasses noticeably accumulated on our tiny high-top … slightly annoying and a miss on our server’s end.
The Papa Rellena ($7), described as “potato fritters stuffed with cheese and Peruvian roasted chicken” sounded like a good way to start. The perfectly round spheres of fried goodness in front of me looked promising but the inner 15 year old inside couldn’t help exclaiming “balls!”. Breaking away from my immaturity, the Papa Rellena was satisfactory but missed prominent flavors of roasted chicken and cheese (the main ingredients).
After digging into the menu online a few hours before dinner (of course), I was set on ordering the Mofungo ($19) – grilled shrimp, crab, mashed plantains and tomato-lime sauce. This whimsical-named dish hails from Puerto Rico and is traditionally rich in garlicky flavors. The mound of starchy mashed green plantain was not smooth as I had hoped and the scoops of bland crab meat intensified the plantain’s dry texture. On the other hand, the large shrimp were good but lacking in flavor even though they were deep in a sweet and undefined sauce. Never having mofungo before, I still knew it lacked something intense and distinct.
Unfortunately, my girlfriend’s carnitas ($14) reflected the same tame flavor and her side of plantains sadly sat cold in a bowl of brown sugar.
If I go back, it’d probably be for drinks. Here, you’ll want to order carefully. According to other folks, there are a few bright spots: Sopes, ceviche, and tortilla soup were all praised.