I chose to take the “highway” Route 101 because this time of year, any road less than a state designated Highway is so full of frost heaves and pot holes you risk not only the suspension of your vehicle but at least an extra half hour of your time getting down the road.
The trip is slightly over 20 miles from my hilltop, but it winds and curls around frozen lakes and mountains making it longer as speeds are curtailed. Suddenly, in the headlights it appears, neon swish and all. Piedra Fina. I had read about the restaurant in the Monadnock Shopper and was intrigued. A very positive review from the Assistant Ad Director at the Keene Sentinel convinced me I had to try it out.
Living this far north of the Kentucky Fried Chicken/Taco Bell line, I have been disappointed by folks who set out to capture the flavors and tastes of a Latin menu, only to find they had sold out to the bland Tex Mex culture that pays the rent on your space every month. Imagine my surprise when the atmosphere of this establishment not only matched the edgy menu, but took things up a notch. The interior was a sophisticated blend of retro and sleek. The kitchen was visible, allowing a more family character.
My companion and I ordered Sopes as an appetizer and were told we would have a complimentary side taste of the Arepa I was also drooling over. Arepa is a traditional ground corn creation of the culture. These two nuggets, (very distant cousins to hush-puppies?) presented two different tastes. One was corn and shredded cheese married into a snug packet. The other was the sweetness of corn, nutmeg and natural sugar, in a puff.
The Sopes was described as “A typical dish from Culiacán , Mexico. A “tapa consisting of a thick tortilla, soaked in lime and fried. Topped with frefritos, cotija cheese, lettuce and onions.” The tortilla was flaky and more Philo Dough. The filling so good I couldn’t remember or even piece together the tastes, I had to ask the waitress what it was.
The main course, with a side of Tajadas – Fried Ripe Plantains – was Pulpeta for my friend and Picadillo con Rajas Poblanas for me. The plantains were perfectly ripe and fried in (I’m guessing) a really good coconut oil. Just sweet and starchy enough to compliment the other dishes. The meatloaf was amazing. A log-shaped serving sat amid just the perfect amount of gravy. When cut into, it presented a shell of beef and ham wrapped around two hard-boiled eggs; one at each end of the log. With the addition of the hot sauce our waitress suggested, it became a feast of textures and flavors. My bowl of Chilli peppers and ground beef was so beautifully seasoned with raisins, almonds and tomato, I just dug in, ignoring the tortillas provided for packaging the filling.
The retro atmosphere felt really warm and inviting. The staff and service were attentive and smart. I couldn’t have asked for a more amazingly cosmopolitan dinner for under $65.00 in any city in the world.