top chef dinner

isla coqui
1801 durham dr. suite 1-A @ i-10

last night some of my new friends from houston chowhounds (and some not so new foodie friends) and i met up for some puerto rican grub and to watch the top chef finale in puerto rico. (i love themed dinners!) the locale was isla coqui, a puerto rican restaurant that i drive by all the time and never heard much mention of in foodie circles.

the arrangements were made in advance with the owner, maida and they set us up with a 10 top in front of their flat screen tv. they even gave me both remotes so i had complete control over the tv and volume. incidentally, texas monthly was there taking photos of the restaurant which included snapshots of our group, so pick up the august issue!

before i go any further, let me just say how proud i am of stephanie for winning the top chef title this season. she was so humble when it was announced and i thought she was even going to cry. methinks she was very deserving. our first female top chef, woo hoo! that fish course she made looked beautiful. (the fried whole snapper we had did not, but i digress.) richard also looked like he was going to cry, he was pretty upset with himself. his pork belly dish totally bombed. and what the hell was he thinking doing pork belly AGAIN? didn't almost everyone do pork belly last week with the whole pig elimination challenge? lisa acted like she OD-ed on happy pills. she was actually really calm in the kitchen. she got along with her celebrity sous-chef and didn't piss anyone off with her bitch-self this week. her food for once even looked good! i was flipping over the fact that she actually had a chance to win the title. another mojito please! ok, whew!

so, onto our food which i'm not as excited about. we started with almost every appetizer on the menu. the bad ones made the biggest impression. WAY overcooked mejillones (mussels): disgusting and you only get 6 small ones in an order. pulpo, the octopus ceviche served on a toston: tiny appetizer and the octopus was too chewy.

i also did not care for the pastel, a puerto rican tamale stuffed with pork steamed in a banana leaf. it was also a very unappetizing dark green color. the conitos de platano rellenos, fried green plantain cones topped with shrimp: bland.

i did enjoy the mofonguitos de yuca, described as fried mashed cassava w/ham on the menu. although i didn't get any ham in my piece, they were fried nicely and had a texture on the outside similar to panko. it came with a killer garlic oil and spiced mayo or aioli. i also liked the bacalaitos or fried codfish fritters and the aceitunas verdes, marinated green olives (no photos). we had an empanada at the table, not sure what kind, but alas, i didn't get a bite. the toston here are really thin and have a nice crunch. the spiced mayo showed up on this plate too with some red "caviar."

we decided on 4 mains to share family style. (that's how we chowhounds roll -- we share everything) we chose the mofongo de camarrones (see photo above), a dish that took me back to PR for a few moments. i was there for a wedding earlier this year. mofongo is PR's signature dish of mashed green plaintains. ic's version also included olive oil, garlic, spanish ham, and pork rinds. the dish was tasty. we also ordered the chillo entero, which was a fried whole red snapper (photo above). it was an overcooked mess and hard to carve off the bone. (for the same $23.99, you can get a 1.5 lb whole grilled red snapper masterpiece at tampico, one of the best dishes in houston.) we chose zucchini sauteed in garlic and maduros fritos, fried sweet plaintains, as our sides. i thought both were good, although the zucchini was slightly undercooked.

we also chose 2 meat dishes, the first was the special of the evening, pernil or roasted pork shoulder. it was a little dry and oversalted. we chose a side of arroz con gandules a stewed rice dish with pigeon peas and pork. (our pigeon peas were not al dente like antonia's dish last week. these were the peas that sent her home and gave lisa the undeserved ticket to stick around for the finale.) this dish was nice. i helped myself to seconds of it. we also ordered the churrasco a la parrilla or grilled flank steak. it was DOA. i ordered it medium rare and it came to us medium well. the chimichurri didn't help matters much.

to close on a good note, service was attentive and maida even came by the table several times to check on us. she sent us complimentary shots of coquito made by maida herself, which is a puerto rican drink made with rum, eggs, condensed milk, and coconut cream. it tastes like a liquified macaroon. the mojitos were also excellent and i enjoyed several of them as we caught their tuesday and wednesday night 50% off drink specials.


Anonymous said...

I really want to like Isla Coqui, but I've had nothing but bad experiences there. Similar to your experience, the food ranged from could-have-been-brilliant to stone-cold-disgusting. Not similar to your experience, we couldn't find our waiter to save our lives. Both times. At least you got good service this time around... :)

Anonymous said...

You never hear anything about it anymore but for Puerto Rican it was always Tex Chick on Fairview in the Montrose, now known as just Puertorrican Restaurant (sic). A long time neighborhood hamburger stand, it was taken over by a Puerto Rican couple in the 80s and for a long time was perhaps the only place in the world to get a chicken fried steak accompanied by a side of mofongo or a bowl of bacalao with a side of onion rings. I think they just do the Puerto Rican specialties now. Very good food, very limited menu , hours, and seating and even more limited parking.

Not a party place although there is a gay leather bar across the street.

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