Usually, I subscribe to the doctrine that, if you have nothing nice to say, you say nothing at all. As such, I rarely review a restaurant if my experience was not particularly good. And, when dealing with hole-in-the-wall Mom and Pop places, you should never set your expectations very high. That being said, I still feel like I should write this review, if only to prepare anyone else that may want to try this place out.
El Malecon, located in the southwest portion of Miami, touts itself as an authentic Dominican restaurant. So, when my Dominican friend lamented the absence of Dominican restaurants in the area, and we found this place, it was only logical that we go there. I had never had Dominican food before, but noticed that they had mofongo on the menu. So, off we went.
The restaurant is in an old and unassuming strip mall. There is a take-out window out front, and once inside there is a counter to your left with a hot food station. Once seated, our waitress came and took drink orders. I got an iced tea, which seems to be made in-house. It was sweet and had a nice spice to it. I was told that I should try the quipes, deep-fried bulgur rolls stuffed with ground beef. These are the Dominican answer to the Lebanese kibbeh, which Middle Eastern immigrants introduced to the Dominican Republic in the 19th century.
I don’t particularly like Middle Eastern food, but quipe is apparently a Dominican staple. And, when in Rome…right!? So, I took a bite, and promptly handed the rest of it off to someone else. I didn’t actually get to any of the meat filling in the center, but the bulgur crust actually has ground beef mixed in it as well. It didn’t taste like it was fresh or good quality meat, though. My Dominican friend concluded that the quipes were “just okay.” Perhaps I will have better luck elsewhere, but I don’t think I’ll be in a hurry to try them again.
After having no luck with the quipe, I decided to try their empanadas. Just to be safe, I got a cheese one. Others got meat and chicken. After what seemed like an inordinate amount of time, our empanadas arrived.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were fried, not baked. The cheese wasn’t melty or stretchy, but it had a good flavor. We Latinos like our, firm cheeses, so I enjoyed it. The others seemed to like the meat ones, although I didn’t try one myself.
At this point, our dining experience started to take a dark turn. The wait time for appetizers didn’t even scratch the surface of the wait for our actual entrees. During this time, I was able to notice 3 tables that sat down after us receive their meals. I also noticed food being served from the steam pans in the hot food station up front and taken to the dining room. That brings about two interesting questions. Is the food we are being served fresh? And, if it is NOT fresh, then why does it take so long? When our entrees finally arrived, it was in sporadic spurts. One of us didn’t get her food until the rest of us were already finishing ours. I had the good fortune to have my mofongo and shrimp in Latin style Creole sauce come out first.
In case you are new to the blog, mofongo is a dish made by mashing fried green plantains up with garlic and pork cracklings. When done right, it is a beautiful thing. I was disappointed to see that the mofongo was not served with a bowl of consomme like it was when I had it somewhere else. When I tried the mofongo, I missed the consomme even more. The pork cracklings were almost nonexistent, and lacked the crunch that one has come to expect from a crispy pork skin. This made me suspect even more that my mofongo came from a steam pan that had been sitting around for lord only knows how long. Long enough to soggy up some cracklings, anyway. The shrimp was pretty good. The sauce was labeled as a “hot sauce,” but was actually not very spicy at all. In fact, I was able to solve my lack of consomme for the mofongo by dipping it in the shrimp sauce.
As I’ve touched on a little, the service definitely needed work. Aside from the long wait time for food, it seemed like they only had one waitress working the floor of the entire dining room. While she was never rude and did her best to be cordial, she was too rushed to really pay any of her tables much attention. Beverages went unfilled, and we sat for about another half hour after our plates were cleared waiting for our check. I think an extra server on the floor and a revamped food-prep system might do the place some good.
Personally, I probably won’t be going back to El Malecon. But, if you’re curious about Dominican cuisine, these may be one of your only options. Just make sure to bring a book to read or something. You’re gonna be here a while.
For more information on El Malecon, visit them at http://www.elmaleconrestaurant.com/.