Mambo Kings

My companion opted for chilies Laura, chilies stuffed - overstuffed, actually, and overflowing - with chicken, pork, vegetables, and rice, and this was no taco-stand dish. These chilies would pass muster even in my companion's hometown of Albuquerque. He said he could count on one hand the number of places east of the Mississippi where he'd tasted such good Southwestern fare. The distinctive flavors of the chicken and pork were enhanced (not inhibited) by the perfume of the wood smoke, and the portion was extremely generous.

I tried the hoppin' Juan and it was hoppin' good, an improvement on the traditional New Year's Day combination of rice and black-eyed peas usually cooked in pork stock. This version was a seven-course meal in one dish, with thick chunks of zesty chorizo, tender chicken-breast and pork-loin morsels, with Cuban-style black beans in addition to the black-eyed peas. Moist but not soggy, the mixture had been cooked in a blend of pork and chicken stocks, and seasoned with green peppers, onions, shallots, scallions, and cayenne pepper. Truly a melting pot, it proved not only that tradition can be improved upon, but that traditional dishes - in this case one from the Caribbean, one from the deep South - can be combined. I wouldn't mind seeing more of this kind of new world order.

The tropical adventure continues right on through dessert. Priced between $3.95 and $4.95, the sweets include cappucino flan, coconut tart with mango ice cream, a citrus-almond cheesecake, and banana rum cake, which we tried. It was a wonderful finish to a great meal. Layers of spice cake were filled with a banana-and-rum mixture, and the cake itself was only slightly sweet.

Reluctant to leave this convivial spot, we wanted to order something else - a Red Stripe or Caribe beer or some sangria. But as we deliberated over our choice, the waiter asked us if we would accept a round of champagne to help christen the new spot. Help christen it? Heck, we were willing to appoint ourselves the godparents.

What's in a name? A lot if it's MamboJambo, Miami's newest home of exciting tropical-fusion cuisine.

139 Giralda Ave, Coral Gables; 447-8550. Hours: Lunch Monday - Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; dinner Monday - Thursday from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 6:00 p.m. to midnight.

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