Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rincon Catracho

An email I received from "Lisa" (whom I know):

Rincon Catracho

As a resident of Seminole Heights and a relatively recently returned U.S. Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV, 95-98), I have been embarrassed and down right ashamed of the lack of open mindedness and support shown for the Rincon Catracho on Florida Avenue by an overwhelming majority of my fellow Seminole Heights residents. Come on neighbors, where's your spirit of adventure? Try something new and be proud that these spirited entreprenuers with international experience picked OUR neighborhood in which to "give it a go".

It's true, this restaurant is not the "avante garde, tres chic, wine drinking, upper crust of the town", but you know what? It's as AUTHENTIC as it gets. The only thing that distinguishes this restaurant from one that you might find in the Central American country of Honduras is their, now-by local demand, English language menu. By the way, the translated descriptions of their economically priced and absolutely soul satisfying authentic Honduran cuisine just doesn't do the food justice. If you were to get on a plane for Honduras right now, you'd be sitting in the lap of luxury to find a restaurant that even served seafood, let alone one that supplied the music AND video AND occasionally live music or the hottest soccer match.

In Central America you might discover that the music is loud;service is offered at a leisurely pace; and usually, the menu depends on what's locally available and in season. So what, isn't that part of why we seek out international cuisine? To pretend that, even if momentarily, we can be transported to another world, another way of life, full of new flavors, new sounds, and new traditions?

In closing, I beg you to try Rincon Catracho with a traveler's mind. And, please consider showing your utmost respect to your fellow diners. As you enter Rincon Catracho, pass along a "BUEN PROVECHO" to your fellow diners. It means ENJOY YOUR MEAL and it's customary to say as you enter a room where anyone is seen to be dining in Honduras and most of Latin America.


Tony said...

okay, okay! I am guilty as charged. But, my wife and I, along with another couple are going tonight. We'll report back with our experience.

Michelle said...

Greg and I are guilty too. We tried once but they didn't take cards at that time. We live by our bank cards and never have cash.

I must say though, the old "The Heights won't support anything but Whitey food" is tiresome. How do explain Abuela's, Taco Bus, the deli on the corner of Hanna & Florida, and many, many other restaurants that do not serve chic, upscale food (everyone seems to say chic, upscale food is Whitey food). Oh yeah, that's right, there are NO places in Seminole Heights like that. It'd be nice to have one????? (Bungalow Bistro soon to open) Instead of having to drive to SoHo. I know "we" have the Front Porch, but we all know how we feel about that. Give it a rest people. Not everyone living in Seminole Heights is a bigot. Are there some, sure, of every color too.

We haven't gone simply because we haven't been in the mmod for that cuisine and often forget that its even there until we hear the band playing on Friday night (from our front porch). I personally love Hondurian food. It's almost identical to Columbian which I love. But I have my favorite Columbian joint and its going to be hard to beat them. They've been around for a long time for a reason (La Cabana Antiquena on Armenia before Waters).
As Tony said....we will report back with the Chef's opinion.

Tony said...

Last Wednesday, myself and 3 others summoned our “traveler’s mind,” donned our “spirit of adventure,” and made the 2 block walk to Rincon Catracho to see what we’ve been missing since Viva La Frida became yet another enjoyable Tampa restaurant to vanish into the ether. We are all relatively well-traveled and rarely pass on the opportunity to try a new type of cuisine or to visit new, locally-owned restaurants. We agreed that we wanted desperately to love our experience on this evening and to become not only frequently returning patrons, but also strong vocal proponents of the establishment. (Seriously, there are few greater joys to me than sharing a wonderful restaurant experience with others.)

We arrived at 8:30 PM. Although the posted business hours extended until 9 PM, we found the restaurant empty save for a pair on their way out. The kitchen was still open, so we found a table and sat down. We found the restaurant to be very clean and well-appointed. Service at a “leisurely pace” was a very accurate description, as was idea of stepping into another world, which could have been Honduras or Armenia Avenue. The feeling was very curious, to say the least, and we had to wonder a bit if regular, non-latino Americans were indeed welcome here. Knowing that good food trumps all else, we pressed on, determined to satisfy our curiosity about our new neighbors.

Beer is always a good place to start, and we sampled both Honduran offerings. While we were told that one selection was darker/stronger than the other, both Port Royal Export Pilsner and Salva Vida tasted similar; each was exceptionally pleasing to these beer advocates’ palates. We also ordered chips and salsa, which were very good. The chips were toasted flour tortillas that were made-to-order and sprinkled with a grated white cheese. Salsa, which was served in a large bowl, seemed to include both roasted tomatoes and roasted peppers. It was rich and thick, almost like Italian spaghetti sauce, with a savory yet mild flavor.

Now, time to find something for dinner. Yes, the menus items were printed in English, but the descriptions of the dishes were minimal, at best. While we weren’t afraid to ask questions to help us make a selection, many of the answers left us even more puzzled. For example:
“It says prepared in the ____-style, what does that mean?”
“That is the way they prepare it in my country.”

“What cut of meat is the Onion Steak?”
“It is beef…”
Ok, so I guess we’re taking this adventure thing to whole new level! Fortunately, the menu also included a few pictures to help us decide.

At this point, if you are a strict vegetarian, you can probably stop reading. If there is one thing we learned on this night, it was that Honduran cuisine includes a lot of beef dishes. Now, ¾ of our party welcomed that condition, but the 4th learned the hard way that “enchiladas” in Honduras are by default prepared with beef. Although I’m pretty certain that they would have prepared them to order, the menu did not offer choices such as cheese, pork, chicken, etc. for this common item. Further, enchiladas here are not rolled tubes of filling topped with sauce. They are served open-faced on small, crispy shells. Overall, they looked and tasted great, but very different from what you’re probably used to.

The portions were definitely generous; we really had a feast on our hands by the time everything arrived from the kitchen! On this night, grilled chicken dishes were not available, but fried, dark meat chicken was. I point this out because I know there is a growing segment of diners (not me!) who have an issue with bones in their food. Two of the dinners we ordered were prepared in what we learned to be a common Honduran style: A bed of fried green plantains (not the sticky-sweet type) was topped with marinated cabbage and peppers, followed by the chicken/pork/steak, and finished with a rich cream sauce. The combination of flavors was intense and enjoyable, but also very rich and almost overwhelming. The fried chicken was especially crispy even under the thick, white sauce. We also tried the onion steak, which included a large slice of grilled flat steak topped with grilled onions, a side of marinated cabbage, red mashed beans, and Honduran-style tostones. These were different from those I’ve had in the past in that they were a little bit thicker, so they were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Perfect for scooping up more salsa with! While there was more gristle than I usually prefer, all of the flavors in this dish were also very enjoyable, and the presentation allowed for each item to be tasted individually. I really liked the cabbage; vinegar-based, it was tangy with a healthy amount of lime and cilantro.

Lastly, we also tried a “baleada,” which is considered a very common dish in Honduras. Think quesadilla meets soft taco. Filling options progress from beans to cheese, and on to scrambled eggs, avocado, and roasted beef. We tried one ‘all-the-way’ just to get the full experience. Very tasty, indeed! Probably my favorite single item we ordered. I should also point out that overall, most items were not at all spicy hot, but they were definitely savory and robust.

Prices varied. Chips and salsa were $1.50 per order, beers were $4, and the 3 enchiladas dish (which included no sides) was $6. Other entrees ranged from $8 - $14. Our total bill for 4 came in at just under $80, including 2 rounds of beers and at least 2 extra items that we probably wouldn’t have ordered if we weren’t on a new restaurant adventure.

So, would I recommend Rincon to others? Well, the restaurant definitely scores points for cleanliness, convenience, and freshness of its food. I enjoy trying new foods and restaurants, and I was not disappointed with the overall quality and flavors that I experienced here. The atmosphere was ok, and the service was adequate, which is about what I expected. Overall, half of our party (the men) decided that a return visit (at least for a couple of baleadas to go) was definitely in order, but the ladies in our party…not so much. Ultimately, if you are an adventurous diner, you should give Rincon a try and decide for yourself. If you are looking for standard fare Mexican food or an abundance of eccentric, vegetarian-friendly cuisine, this is probably not the place for you.

Tony said...

PS...They do take credit cards now.

Torgo said...

I have to admit, the food was good. Atmosphere odd -- and honestly -- almost scary.

Walking in to the empty place makes you immediately feel you've made a mistake to go.

That ominous wall in the front that eliminates and diners view of Florida Ave., also blocks any view of Florida Ave. seeing the diners. It gives a creepy feeling that you may not be safe there.

Of course I know the wall on the south/west side of the building is needed for sound dampening for concerts; but I'm talking about the north/west side where the inside diners sit.

My advice to Rincon or whomever purchases that property next is to take the advice of Ronald Reagan and "tear down that wall."

joe positive said...

Curious why the wall was OK for Viva la Frida but not OK now.

Torgo said...

I don't recall ever saying the wall was ok for Viva. It was spooky then too -- as I remember my first time walking into Viva, never hearing anything about the place before, wondering if I was going to walk into a restaurant or an ambush.

joe positive said...

ok, thanks for the clarification. True, you didn't say the Wall was OK for Viva, but on the other hand I never heard anyone say the Wall was spooky or not-OK for Viva. Good food/bad service/cool art/loud music yes, but spooky Wall, no. That's what I get for assuming, I guess :-)

Torgo said...

Right on all accounts (music, art, service, food). I always thought if I ever bought that place the first thing I'd do is tear down that wall.

To me, it makes the "building"
look uninviting, if not closed. I think most people like to see other diners in a place they're gonna eat at as they approach -- or at least some staff. I know I have left restaurants with no one in them before eating while wondering "what's wrong with the place?" And I may be lazy, but I sometimes keep driving by places that just look closed, despite if the signs on the outside say otherwise.

Anyway -- I hope Rincon or the next owner of the place feels the same way.

catrachoq said...

well im honduran and honestly there is a much better honduran restaurant on waters just past armenia if coming from dale mabry (just before armenia if coming from florida) called sabor catracho if you want AUTHENTIC honduran food sabor catrach is the place to go food is fresh and delicious