Pollo Rico Latin Bistro
2435 Middle Country Rd. Centereach, NY 631-471-0585
Restaurant serving seafood casseroles, steak and chicken dishes.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.