I was fortunate enough be invited to a press dinner held at Oficina Latina, an ode to Latin American food, which opened in October 2010. The restaurant is owned by two Italian’s, one of whom is responsible for the interior design of the restaurant. The feel from within the restaurant sort of changes, depending where you sit. The left side of the restaurant has a rustic feel, the front bar area is very bright and features a huge selection of alcohol and house infused liquor. And the back right area, where we sat, makes you feel at home, literally — like you are sitting in a house, in comfy chairs, ready to eat lots of delicious home cooked food.
The drinks at Ofinica Latina are creative and fun. I had a house infused mezcal that included chipotle. It wasn’t too spicy, but enough of a kick. The drink went down just a bit too easily. They have a number of flavored margarita and mojitos, all which feature house squeezed fresh juices. Nothing canned here. There are also lots of beers from around South America and wines. And wouldn’t you know, there are some from that continent that aren’t just from Argentina and Chile, who knew.
Our first course was Ceviche de Calamari y Vieras , a Peruvian dish which features lime poached calamari and scallops mixed with celery, cilantro and pineapple. The squid was well marinated and tender. The celery and pineapple added a nice texture to the dish and who doesn’t love cilantro (ok, yes, there are people, just not me). My only critique is I could do without the chips, I felt like they just ended up being unnecessary and filled me up
Next was a grilled octopus with cilantro dressing served on a potato and celery salad. This dish hails from Ecuador and was a very fresh tasting dish. Clearly the chef loves celery. I find that is under used, especially the leaves in salads. The octopus was well cooked and went well with the dressing.
So far, they were two for two. Next up, Venezuelan arepas. One was filed with chicken and avocado salad, the other with pulled pork. There is also a vegetarian option between spinach cakes. I found this to be the weakest dish of the night. The chicken filing was bland and the actual cakes were a bit too thick and heavy. The pork filling was spicy and very tasty, but the cakes suffered the same fate as the chicken version.
For the final savory course, we had a Mexican dish featuring slow braised lamb shank with vegetables and a plantain puree. Unlike all the previous dishes, which are served as tapas size, this dish is a full entree. Luckily for us, we had a smaller portion. This was probably the big winner of the evening, or close to it. The lamb was incredibly tender and didn’t even require a knife. The plantain puree was sweet and a perfect compliment, no need for your standard mashed potatoes here. I rarely pass up anything lamb and would easily come here for this and a margarita.
Dessert time arrived and the item on the menu seemed strange: Avocado flan with blueberry sauce. This seemed odd and while I’m really not a lover of flan, I said why not. Turns out I had been waiting for avocado flan to cross my path. The avocado flavor was subtle, but was very enjoyable. When added to the blueberry sauce, you sort of lost the avocado, so I’d eat them separately if possible.
My overall experience was a very good one. Each of the dishes brought something different to the table (literally and figuratively). With different dishes from across Latin America, you can really go on a cultural journey. The drink list is extremely extensive, and while the menu is a bit larger now, it will be shrinking significantly in order to feature the best tapas dishes along with some large entree size plates. I’d recommend trying out some wines and beers you may not have sampled before and get a bunch of plates to share with your friends.