By David Minsky
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By Sara Ventiera
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By Laine Doss
The special papas rellenas went a long way to assuage our hurt feelings over the fish -- they were delicious. I won't quibble over the ingredients: Our waiter, ever polite and solicitous, said they had olives and raisins mixed in with the ground beef, but I wasn't lucky enough to find any. Still, the missing raisins didn't detract from our pleasure. These rellenos are the ultimate comfort food, warm and fluffy as a thick blanket: mashed potatoes wrapped around spicy ground beef and then fried golden crispy, drizzled with a little herbed aioli. Yummy.
A plate of masas de puerco ($16.95) arrived, chunks of pork shoulder pan-roasted with mojo sauce and tostones. And a grouper special ($21.95), a filet pan-fried in butter with sweet plantains. A metal gravy boat of black beans and a round of saffron rice came with both. Mojo -- usually some combination of olive oil and citrus, garlic, red pepper, oregano, parsley, and wine -- can be used as a marinade or served separately as a sauce. Our tender pork shoulder had good flavor, so it had probably been marinated, then pan-seared. We would have loved to have had some of that mojo on the side. The tos -tones came floating in an unappetizing pool of oil (we refused to entertain the possibility that this was the mojo sauce) that detracted considerably from their crispiness. The black beans and rice were nothing beyond pleasant. Even a tablespoon of sofrito would have livened up those beans.
As for the grouper, it was a nice piece of fish with a fresh, clean flavor, but it was sautéed in so much butter that even for me -- a woman who can just about eat butter with a spoon -- it was overwhelming. The sweet plantains were wonderful; the butter there had been put to good use, producing that almost caramel-y crust that means you're in business. No complaints.
9 SE 7th Ave.
Delray Beach, FL 33483
Region: Delray Beach
For dessert: rice pudding ($4.95) made in the Uruguayan manner (or so my Uruguayan friend tells me) -- a glass of warm milk and white rice spiced up with cinnamon -- and an undrinkable espresso. I'm still not quite sure what happened to that coffee, but clearly somebody at Brisa needs to learn to do a decent café cubano -- the one I was served wasn't even on the map.
The kitchen also serves a ropa vieja that I'd try next time and a picadillo of ground beef with onion, tomato, olives, and raisins ($16.95 and $15.95). Shrimp, tilapia, snapper, and grouper are all on the menu nightly. My guess is that these are good bets, since Torres the avid sport fisherman probably knows what fresh fish tastes like.
Despite reservations about the menu, I'm putting Brisa Atlantica on my "must do" list. For its tropical Old Havana feel, the Afro-Cuban tunes, and the Latin jazz (Charambo, a five piece jazz band performs every Sunday; a guitar duet plays romantic ballads on Wednesday) the place is just unbeatable. And I'll eat my way around the menu with care -- opting for comfort foods like the Cuban sampler plate of croquetas and fried yucca, the plates of simply prepared fresh fish, and those addictive mojitos. Until Castro kicks the bucket and Cuba opens up again, Brisa's the next best thing to Havana.