July 17, 2007

She said [He said]: Camaradas el Barrio

With its chill atmosphere and great music, I am definitely a fan of Camaradas el Barrio (115th and 1st Ave). As Skip and I geared up for our meal, I couldn't wait to sample a new set of wonderful goodies I had not been so adventurous to try previously. Irrrrk! Screeching sound! Halt! Wonderful for the carnivores, not so much for the veg heads like me. (Now I remember why I’ve only had one thing on the menu.) I'll admit that I'm mixed, more veg than omni, and, to be fair, it is true that Puerto Rican cuisine is meat-dominated. But my city ways sometimes assume the world should cater to me, right? In the past, Camaradas Sangria has been a featured item, and the food ... not so much. Tonight, however, it was front and center and the rest was a mixed bag of nuts.

We started with the root and vine chips, which were a mix of yuca, battata and plantain. They were a bit too hard for my taste, and the radish sauce tasted like creamy ketchup. Not impressed, but still ate my fair share sans dip. The half platter finally arrives (after a very long wait, and much discussion over sold-out items). It must be noted that every time I go to this spot they are out of something, whether it be the veggie pastelillos or the new featured sangria. The consistency is definitely lacking.

[The radish dip was a big disappointment. When we ordered, I expected spicy and creamy, not insipid clawing sweetness. Something akin to biting into a fresh radish, not Thousand Island dressing. To be fair, it did compliment the spicy yuca.]

This particular sampler, priced at $12.50 is a great deal for two, and the romantic setting makes it a great date item. The sampler includes a mix of four menu items, providing the opportunity to try a good chunk of Camaradas' offering. The pastelillos, which is a fried meat or vegetable patty similar to an empanada, was divine. It was fried just right and the filling was scrumptious. [I found them to be the most interesting item on the platter; The chorizo and shrimp skewers were enjoyable, but somewhat flat. Not much going on. The pastelillo filling on the other hand had a good mix of spices and begged for the deep frying.]

The chorizo (yes, I had a bite) was great, excellent [smoky] flavor and perfectly charred. Have you ever had fried mozzarella sticks? Here their called croquetas [and look more like McDonald's hash browns than mozz. sticks]. They did the job, but were very plain. However, they were accompanied by a perfectly well balanced garlic sauce that more than made up for it. [Plain? Even with the mild garlic sauce, they were like black holes of blandness.] If you're on the afore mentioned date, I’d pass on the sauce. The shrimp skewers - fantastic! What a way to cook a shrimp. They had a faint sweet and tangy flavor. Slightly charred, they came unaccompanied and didn't need a chaperon whatsoever.

Drinks? Red wine sangria of course. The taste is the refreshing combination of bite and juice. I am a fan of their sangria because it is a great deal and so home-grown. The fruit is undesirable, which is unfortunate because who doesn’t like a little wine infused orange. But the balance more than makes up for the repetitiveness of green apples. [The beer selection was also quite good. I accompanied my meal with a Brooklyn Six Points.]

Inconsistent service, a hit-and-miss menu, and picky vegetarians aside, Camaradas scores due to the decent priced menu, and unique ambiance. [I'd be a regular if I weren't moving. The atmosphere, sangria, and reasonable prices were enough to keep me going back. I only wish they hadn't been out of vegetable and chicken pastelillos, northern and southern alcapurrias, and chorizo croquetas. Mind you, this was 7pm on a weeknight.]

She said [He said] is a new feature where two or more Gourmetros eat out and discuss. In this case, it was Skip and Butter (our shiny new SpaHa correspondent) Have any recommendations? Let us know.

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