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Food & Dining Pass the rice and beans

December 4, 2018

In Fairfield County, we are lucky to have a broad range of Brazilian, Colombian, Cuban and Venezuelan restaurants to choose from. Most of them are good. Brasitas is very very good.

I am often leery of “pan” anything places, as an example the wildly popular “pan-asian” which often means a hodgepodge of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean dishes. None are done particularly well, but like throwing darts blindfolded, sooner or later you will get a hit.

Happily, although Brasitas is geographically inclusive, I have yet to find any dish that is subpar.

Way back, when I was a brand-new restaurant critic (around the time dinosaurs roamed the Earth) I lived in Manhattan and suddenly Cuban eateries sprung up all over town. Their signature dish was aroz con pollo (chicken and rice if you speak English), which sounded deadly dull, but was so good it became an obsession. I “arrozconpolloed” myself everywhere I could, only breaking the monotony with some ropa vieja (shredded beef in a spicy sauce). I still adore Cuban food but really good places are hard to find.

It must have been a decade since I ordered my beloved arroz con pollo, but I did at Brasitas and now see why I loved it so much. Here the dish is shreds of “pulled” chicken, sofrito, jasmine rice, chorizo, green peas, fried sweet plantains, citrus cabbage relish and fabulous black beans. It is a beautifully composed dish, not overly huge portions, but everything looks so pretty together you should admire the kitchen’s artistic plating.

This may sound strange, but loving a Latin restaurant for the beans is like having a favorite Chinese place because they have great fortune cookies. But the black beans at Brasitas are scrumptious. If I had to live on a “poor man’s” diet of rice and beans, I hope these beans would be available.

The second dish I ordered at Brasitas was pollo caribeno al curry, a curried version of arroz con pollo. The shreds of chicken are sautéed in a coconut curry sauce, to which has been added celery hearts, Chilean raisins, yellow jasmine rice, sweet fried plantains and, again, the fabulous black beans. The chicken curry is svelte and mild which allows all the other ingredients in the recipe to sing, and makes the side dishes special.

Some of the most intriguing dishes are salmon a la plancha, a large filet of pan-seared wild Oregon salmon, arroz moro, a mound of fresh guacamole, a sauce of charred poblano pepper cream and the a very original minced citrus cabbage relish.

At Brasitas, it can be lots of fun to graze a bit, not committing yourself to a single heavy main course. The prices for appetizers, salads and flatbreads are relatively modest and a good value. I highly recommend the camarons con torta de choclo. This is a shrimp dish in which big plump pink shrimp are served in a roasted garlic chile-de-arbol-infused sauce with sweet corn and huitlacoche cornbread. Huitlacoche is a corn fungus, which might sound creepy, but is a mild and flavorful enhancement to many authentic Mexican foods.

While here, I am poised to choose between two great flatbreads. First, coca de hongos and Mahon: a liberal slather of sautéed field mushrooms, shaved black truffle, and Mahon cheese sprinkled with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar. The second seductive flatbread is coca de jamon and burrata, a simple layering of authentic Spanish ham, Hudson Valley burrata (a mozzerella ball with a creamy inside) oven-dried tomatoes and a splash of pesto.

For a relatively small and unsung restaurant, the care taken with all dishes is remarkable.

One more tip. It is mandatory (say I) to start a meal here with a perfectly made mojito and to end with possibly the best tres leches cake on the planet.

Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, co-authored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series.

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