The other night, Elana and I headed to a Hoboken institution – the
cuban restaurant of La Isla – located at 104 Washington Street. In
truth, either of us could have reviewed this restaurant without going
– we are pretty big fans of this joint and head there often – but in
an effort to maintain trust with our readers (5 and counting, plus
mom) we will only review after the experience is fresh in our heads.
While hardly a well kept secret, it still surprises me that a mention
of La Isla is sometimes met with a puzzling look by people living in
the immediate area. Perhaps it is the basic sign that merely reads
“Restaurant” or its dingy appearance, but La Isla is one of Hoboken’s
better restaurants. Its chef, Omar Giner, was recently featured in
The Food Network’s Throwdown! with Bobby Flay (and won). And it’s
authenticity is a product of proximity – Hoboken closley borders the
towns of Union City and West New York – towns with a substantial Cuban American population. Indeed, even Zagats gives la Isla a 26 food rating (defined as “extraordinary to perfection”).
Inside, it’s always a lively atmosphere. Bright colors, festive
drawings, and unique ornaments fill the cozy restaurant. The wait
staff is in uniform – hats and neon t-shirts. There is even a sit down
bar with circular diner style stools if you wish to forego the
traditional sit down dinner. Sitting down, my sister and I are
anxious to tear into our bottle of wine (brought from home, La Isla is
BYO) and order from the dependable menu…
And the praise stops here. La Isla was way off its game. For an
appetizer, we ordered the Coconut Shrimp with Mango dipping Sauce and the Platano Asado, which is a Roasted yellow plantain stuffed with picadillo, beef & queso blanco. The Coconut Shrimp had good texture and decent coconut flavor, yet we both agreed that the taste was lacking a little punch after a few chomps. In addition, the yogurt sauce was watery and thin. We were split on our feelings towards the Platano – i loved the satisfying nature of it, while Elana found the meat to taste like something from “taco bell.”
On to dinner. I ordered the Stuffed Chicken Special: Chicken stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and machego cheese. Black beans and Taro root puree on the side. It was very good. The chicken was plump and juicy, and the “stuffing” gave it great flavor. The black beans were an appropriate compliment. Elana ordered the Durado: Mahi Mahi (grilled) with chick pea, bacon, potato hash. Grilled asparagus & saffron garlic aioli. To be honest it was not good. The fish was a poor cut (gray and red, not white) and it lacked flavor. Parts of it were even “fishy”. Indeed, the highlight of the dish was probably the the chick pea, beacon and patato hash – which was quite tasty, albeit a tad salty.
For Dessert, Elana ordered the Batidos – kind of like a milk shake (which we had to ask twice for; our waitress forgot it the first time). It was mango flavored and light, not too sweet. It was pretty good, yet we both noticed its slight blandness. We also split a Tres
Leches Cake, a common Central American dessert. While it was not excellent, it was very good. Our only small complaint was that the cake could have been more drenched in condensed milk, as portions were a tad dry. For Elana – who I suspected was still hungry after the disappointment of the Durado – it was probably the highlight of the meal.
The bathroom is a small, unisex stall, one step above an outhouse. Nonetheless, the door locks in the event you have a spicy meal. Just saying…
We sign the check and leave La Isla, feelings quite disappointed. I say to Elana – “I wonder if La Isla was just off tonight or if it is just average now…” Yikes, hope we just caught it on a bad day.
Overall Experience – Miami Vice