Pollo Rico Latin Bistro
2435 Middle Country Rd. Centereach, NY 631-471-0585
There are two small dining rooms and a bar in this bistro that caters to the South American palate. One room has seven tables and is wheelchair accessible, and the other room has 20 tables. The menu offers seafood casseroles, steak and chicken dishes. More exotic items include oxtail soup. There are also 25 "healthy choice" items on the menu for those looking to save calories for desserts, such as flan and sweet dulce. The family-owned restaurant also offers three types of sangria and sangria tasting events. There is also a kids' menu, and takeout is available.Hours: Lunch, noon-4 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner, 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday. Reservations: Accepted Credit cards: Accepted Accessibility: Yes Party size: Small groups (4-6 people)
It was Saturday night at Pollo Rico Latin Bistro in Centereach and the attractively turned-out space was jam-packed, not an empty table in either of the two dining rooms, not a vacant seat at the bar. A guitar-playing vocalist and a harpist from Paraguay elicited applause with their repertoire, which ranged from Latin folk tunes to Italian love songs to South American-inflected Simon and Garfunkel instrumentals. It was music that went well with both the restaurant's freewheeling pan-Latino menu and its festive, fruity sangria.
On my first visit, though, when the place was nearly empty, I found myself a bit put off by the breadbasket. Were the cottony rolls examples of what was to come? It took but a spoonful of the sopa de res, a hearty and resonant beef soup-stew, to allay those fears. Sopa de mondongo - a thick soup made with exceptionally tender tripe - was a compelling, flavor-intense success. But while I liked the rich, cilantro-spiked chicken soup filled with carrots, potatoes, noodles, cassava and white meat poultry, I found myself wishing it included dark meat, as well.
I had no complaints about an appetizer of chuzos, a well-marinated grilled Latin chicken kebab with peppers and onions. An order of empanadas mixtas translated into four crisp little meat pies, two stuffed with a savory forcemeat made with chicken, the others with a beef mixture. The only letdown was a lackluster seviche of cooked shrimp served in a tomato-based cocktail sauce. Traditionally, the shrimp should have been raw, pickled by a citrus marinade.
The signature entree, pollo alla parrilla, is a Colombian specialty of cut-up chicken parts, marinated for days and then grilled. I found the meat juicy, garlicky, downright delicious. Lomo de cerdo a la parrilla, marinated grilled pork loin, was described on the menu as melting in the mouth. Though it was tender and flavorful, it did require a bit of chewing. Another pork dish, baked ribs marinated in guava sauce and sprinkled with cinnamon, was very sweet, although not without a certain appeal. I was more taken, though, with a special of pork osso buco, the softly stewed shank resting upon a hill of yellow rice.
On the combination plate called parrilla Argentina was a tender 8-ounce shell steak, which arrived rare as ordered, as well as a grilled pork loin and two types of sausage, chorizo and morcilla (blood sausage), both very good. I felt let down, however, by the previously frozen French fries served alongside.
A profusion of seafood composed the well-seasoned paella de marisco, a traditional Spanish rice dish made with calamari, shrimp, fish, clams, mussels and sausage, although I could find none of the chicken mentioned on the menu. No matter. With the exception of one overcooked shrimp, every element was done to an ideally moist state.
I would just as soon skip the soupy arroz con leche (cinnamon rice pudding) and the ordinary guava pastry and go directly to the smooth, custardy flan. It's a dessert popular almost anywhere Spanish is spoken and, like the restaurant, has universal appeal.
Reviewed by Joan Reminick, 2/13/08.