Restaurant Reviews

Downtown Fusion

From the outside, this small, unassuming downtown lunchroom with the ubiquitous coffee/pastry window on the street looks like a typical Cuban joint -- and sure enough, it was La Carreta for almost a quarter-century. Then Argentine owners took over a couple of years ago. Now rechristened and redecorated, Floridita, as its simple but stylish menu makes clear, is a "fusion" café.

Pretty SoBe-sounding? Not really. The "fusion" is not, as the term is usually used, a combination of elements from very different cuisines -- most often East-West stuff, like Asian-influenced French or American food. Floridita's food is still virtually all Latin American, with just a handful of exceptions (New York cheesecake; challah French toast). Floridita's fusion is between tradition-bound Hispanic food and 21st-century Latin cuisine.

"Floriwraps" are the house specialty that illustrate this best. Normal Cuban-style sandwiches on hoagie rolls are served too, but Floriwraps present the traditional innards like roast pork or bistec garnished with perfectly cooked black beans and yellow rice, a smear of guacamole and cheddar cheese (though this was hard to discern), all stuffed into rolled spinach tortillas; these are then grilled, giving a sinful deep-fried look to the wrap but without the grease. Grilling also makes the wrap more mess-proof, which works out well for office lunch take-out eating. A couple of Floriwraps I once brought home were still terrific, heated up, two days later. Try that with a normal pan con lechon. The actual pork was sliced not pulled, as advertised, not unpleasantly gelatinous -- more like ham than roast pork, and rather salty. But the tartness was nicely balanced by an additional generous garnish of soft caramelized onions. The menu calls them grilled, but they taste fried. They were fabulous! As good as a shrimp wrap I tried too, a cornucopia of perfectly sautéed, garlicky medium shrimp. All Floriwraps come with sides of sour cream and nongarlicky mariquitas (plantain chips).

The rest of the menu is a mix of old Carreta standards (palomilla, ropa vieja, etc.), and nouvellish-sounding stuff, but the key word here is "sounding." Don't get too excited about the "baby greens" promised on six of the menu's nine salads: The grilled fish salad's "babies" consisted of the usual Cuban-dive mountain of iceberg lettuce, plus unripe tomatoes and raw onion rings. A sweet/tart mango vinaigrette was nice, though sort of reminiscent of a light Chinese sweet-and-sour sauce; the fish itself was fresh and flawlessly grilled (the same was true for a sauce on a yummy citrus-marinated grilled grouper sandwich).

By the way, Floridita's fusion goes beyond food into décor, which is an astonishing combination of casual but chic nuevo Latino luppie café, and old-style banana republic hole-in-the-wall. On the downscale side: the colada window; Formica tables and lunch counter; and several servers who can't speak English. Upscale: mod muted peach and yellow walls; the chairs pulled up under the Formica -- ornately fashioned, leather-paneled dark wood thrones that look old-world Spanish; a lovely inlaid tile floor; several servers who do speak English. All in all, downtown business folk would find it worth their while to penetrate beyond Floridita's coffee/lunch counters to the cozy back dining room. A respectable spot for an informal munch.

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Pamela Robin Brandt