A Side of Latin

At Mojito, what's round the plate tops what's in the middle.

IT'S NOT HARD to find restaurants claiming to be Mexican, even in Seattle: Every neighborhood's got one. But if your quest is for Latin flavors more complex than Nogales' finest, this is just not your town. No wonder I headed for Mojito Caf鬠named for the Cuban cousin of the mint julep, as soon as I heard about it. What's surprising, considering how many things I disliked about the place, is that I went back: three times in one week, as a matter of fact. My personal quest was for my favorite Latin dish, pollo a la parilla, a simple grilled half-chicken. A first glance at Mojito's menu looked very promising: just a few items drawn from the main Latin food groups: meat, beans, rice, and of course, tostones (delicious, crispy-on-the-outside, gooey-sweet-inside fried plantains). But my first visit to Mojito was for lunch, and at Mojito lunch means one thing: Cuban-style sandwiches ($5.75-$5.95). Well, OKserved on hulking masses of flaky Cuban baguette, the sandwiches should be called Cuban-style bread loaves. But despite its generous proportions, my sandwich tasted a lot like a hot pocket thanks to slices of commercial ham thrown in with a stingy serving of pork leg. Still, there were tostones on the side. When I went back for dinner and pollo a la parilla ($10.95), Mojito set out to test my patience. I waited 15 minutes before getting a menu and ordering my drink: a mojito ($5.75), naturally. It came; too sweet. Oh, well. I ordered another; too stiff. Halfway through that one they came to take my food order. At last: pollo a la parilla, por favor. The waitress returned to let me know the kitchen was out of pollo a la parilla; out of everything but steak: parilla in Mojito-speak ($14.75). Oh, well. I ordered medium rare, and after far too long a wait, the steak arrived on a plate brimming with delicious accompaniments: creamy avocado, black beans, rice, steamed yucca root, and, of course, tostones. I tore into the meat: no blood, only brown beef. Goldilocks-style, my third mojito was fine. Well, OK. But I am tenacious. On Sunday, after calling ahead to check the kitchen inventory and request a reservation and being politely informed they aren't taken, I returned to Mojito and my long-awaited pollo a la parilla. More sitting around, and when the chicken arrived, it was dried out. Thank God for avocado and tostones. So the service at Mojito is atrocious, the drinks far from satisfying, and the ambience of blaring Latin pop underscored by the rush of freeway cars hardly pleasing. But if you long for beans, rice, yucca, and tostones, it's about all there is. If you want my advice, order them straight: All are available as sides for $2.25-$2.95, and they're the best in Seattle. nreuveni@seattleweekly.com

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