December 9, 2011

Zafra: Authentic Pan-Latin Cusine in Hoboken

The small space, tucked in at the corner of 3rd & Willow in Hoboken, offers a vibrant atmosphere away from the commotion of Washington Street.
Over the years, my little sister's bedroom has been the place where small rodents go to die.  Countless hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs have called a small corner in her room home, only to realize their final resting place would be a small corner of the back yard, next to their ill fated brethren.  Luckily for Latika (I know, what a name for a rodent), my sister's latest and hopefully final guinea pig, was spared a similar finale because my mom was sick of the house smelling like a petting zoo.  Fast forward a week and my parents found a willing new owner by way of a Hoboken cop.  Since they were in town, they might as well take me out to lunch right?  The venue - Zafra, a Cuban/Pan-Latino restaurant that I've been to about 3 or 4 times in the past year.  Check out what we ate after the jump.

Zafra is a gem of an authentic Pan-Latino restaurant that I found in Hoboken about a year ago on a long walk from my apartment to Washington Street (the main avenue with all of the bars and restaurants in Hoboken).  The food is good, the staff is friendly, and the dining room is always lively.  None of which is harmed by the fact that it's BYO (Daily Life Long Lesson for Anyone Who Cooks at Home: alcohol can easily mask you cooking flaws - drink up).

One of the many vibrant pieces that give Zafra its wonderful character.

We started with mini empanadas filled with picadillo (picadillo is ground beef cooked with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and olives) and Quesadilla de Hongos - a corn masa turnover filled with mushrooms, jalapenos, and fresh cheese, topped with a salsa verde and more cheese.  The former was pretty good and definitely something new to my palate.  A little stronger seasoning would have helped but all of that cheese didn't hurt.

The Quesadilla de Hongos is a far cry from your flour tortillas, jack cheese, and chicken made on your George Foreman grill.
The empanadas on the other hand were bold, beautiful, and delicious.  The picadillo was like a homey stew that was contained in a crispy and moist pillow of golden glory.  These were dipped in, what the menu describes as, a spicy Chilean cilantro sauce for which I would gladly trade any of my family members for a small ramekin full - a.k.a. the sauce was freakin' awesome!

Beautiful mini empanadas with addicting cilantro sauce lurking in the background
My dad decided to go with one of my personal favorites, the sandwich Cubano.  Bolstered in authenticity, this sandwich had it all right, from the the homemade roast pork, crusty pressed bread, and absence of mayo and mustard.  However, it probably could have used some extra mojo (or jus from the roast pork) but my dad reverted to the Chilean cilantro sauce once again as his condiment of choice. 

An authentic Cuban, straight out of Hoboken.

My mother went with Camarones de paplanta - shrimp and ripe plantains in a vanilla chipotle sauce.  The shrimp were cooked well, the tomato based sauce added slight heat but enough vanilla to keep my mother curious and the spoon from ever resting on the plate, and the deeply roasted plantains were a perfect counterpoint to the acidity of the tomatoes in the sauce.

Shrimp and plantains in a vanilla chipotle sauce - it all works somehow.

I went with the steak sandwich with caramelized onions and garlic sauce.  Luckily enough for me, and it's probably completely biased, but this was my favorite entree of the three.  The steak was tender with a nice char on the outside that you would expect to find at a summer Latino barbeque.  The bread was fresh and absorbed this garlic sauce, that was slightly sweet from roasting the garlic, but plenty savory to compliment the steak.  I got full about halfway through, but I couldn't help but finish the rest of the sandwich.

Steak, roasted garlic, caramelized onions - need I say more?
For dessert, my dad and split piece of chocolate cheesecake that had a rich texture but the chocolate wasn't too sweet - almost like a dark chocolate, but not quite as bitter.  Either way, we sent an empty dessert place back to the kitchen.  Satiation indeed!

Chocolate cheesecake

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