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Dinner as Deafening

If you read my last post about Nuyorican Super Cabbie Iris Javed, you know she’s led a life of extremes.

You also know that no ordinary restaurant would satisfy the cravings of this wonder woman behind the wheel.

Enter Sofrito – a Midtown East hot spot that’s part salsa club, part meat market and all delicious. When she’s hungry for seafood mofongo, this is Iris’ chosen spot.

Last week, a fearless co-adventurer and I set out on a mofongo mission, venturing into the Caribbean chaos that is Sofrito on a Friday night.

Hostesses sported walkie-talkies and herded us past the neon-lit bar into a packed dining room so dark that all our flaws became invisible. Silverware clattered, chairs skidded across the floor to accommodate parties of six, and booze unleashed collective laughter – but these sounds were no match for the ear-splitting salsa that pumped through the speakers.

As we searched the menu for mofongo, we shared startled glances as the entire floor staff joined in the first of the evening’s thunderous birthday serenades: Que te cumplas feliz! WOOT! WOOT! Que te cumplas feliz…! WOOT!

Dios mio. Were we party poopers? Maybe.

Were these festive fire drills supposed to be part of the fun? Yes.

Most importantly, was the mofongo worth the madness? Absolutely.

When our gorgeous waiter delivered a gorgeous platter of plantains and shrimp, we tasted alchemy in our mofongo. Pork fat and plantains came together and worked some magic underneath a light tomato sauce, sauteed onions, bell peppers and jumbo shrimp half the size of my palm. It was even better than Iris had led us to believe.

Tipped off by a reader, we also ordered Sofrito paella (with lobster claws, chicken, chorizo sausage, clams, shrimp and saffron rice). Though I couldn’t get enough of the saffron rice (cooked al dente and sweating one of my favorite spices), the dish couldn’t compete with the mofongo. The seafood felt like an afterthought, thrown in at the last minute, unwed to the rest of the ingredients.

We finished off the feast with mango panna cotta (which was actually supposed to be passion fruit cheese cake, but after a few bites we refused to send it back).

Lighter than flan, richer than mousse and resting on a pool of mango-flavored caramel, the dessert lured us into full (and maybe a little closer to the tropical fiesta that unfolded around us).

We fled as soon as we’d scraped up the last of the panna cotta. Cries of Woot! Woot! echoed through my brain for the rest of the night. But even then I knew that the memory of the mofongo – and the lady who’d led us to it – would eventually overpower the noise.

400 E 57th St. – Midtown East
New York, NY 10022-3019
Tel. (212) 754-5999
Live salsa on Mondays from 7-10pm
Hours: Mon-Wed, 4:30pm-1am; Thu, 5pm-2am; Fri-Sat, 5pm-4am; Sun, 4pm-1am
Prices: $13-23 per plate

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