Well, it’s about time. How long has Chow, Baby been begging for a good Latin fusion restaurant? That question isn’t rhetorical. The answer is, two and a half years, ever since Chow, Baby’s first meal at North Arlington’s Xouba (pronounced SHOO-ba), a disappointing Latin fusion restaurant that has since mercifully died. Thank you, market forces.
Of course, Chow, Baby didn’t know on its first visit to Mi Tierra (603 W. Abram St., Arlington) just how great it would be, but – like on your first date with the one who turns out to be The One – there were some telling signs. The first hint was the building, the former home of Chutney’s Deli, a cute little house near downtown Arlington that’s been spruced up with sponged paint and Latin folk art, though the main decorating theme appears to be twine. The second clue was Cuban-born Carlos, the newest addition to Chow, Baby’s collection of handsome and charming Latin hosts, who has lots of great stories to tell and will tell them all right now if you’d like. So far, the vibe is the opposite of Xouba’s South Beach party; here, it’s like you’re the guest of honor in somebody’s humble but happy home.
The third clue that Chow, Baby was going to like it here was the arrival of the greatest appetizer in the history of the world, tostones con pollo nachos ($5). This is shredded, lightly spiced chicken and melted cheese on top of – get this – deep-fried green plantain slices. So in place of a crisp tortilla chip, you get sort of a banana-potato consistency and flavor that works so perfectly with the toppings, you want to swear off Tex-Mex nachos forever.
The capper was the aroma of the entrées: Chef Damaris, Carlos’ very lovely Puerto Rican-born wife, has quite the authoritative hand with garlic. Argentinean-style marinated flank steak ($14) dazzled with its garlic-citrus-parsley sauce; Peruvian-style grilled chicken ($9) was practically coated in garlic and cilantro; the classic Puerto Rican mofongo, mashed-up garlicked plantains, is stuffed with garlicky chicken, pork, or shrimp, but get the pork ($9). Side choices include cilantro rice, beans of the day, tostones, and yuca al mojo; definitely get the yuca. It’s a potato-like root vegetable that Damaris serves cold, drenched in (guess what!) garlic sauce.
Sandwiches ($4-6) include a mighty fine pressed Cuban – ham, fresh-roasted pork, Swiss, pickles, and mustard – with plantain chips on the side. There’s also a couple of pasta dishes; the only one Chow, Baby has tried so far is the lick-the-plate-clean Caribbean lasagna ($7), with layers of noodles, warmly spiced ground beef, sweet plantains, and cheese. Now, this is not to say that everything’s perfect. Having been open just two months, Mi Tierra is still a bit uneven, with some dishes that need more finessing (like the overpoweringly acidic Peruvian ceviche, $9) and some that merely need more consistency (e.g., carne frita, $9, fried pork chunks that were painfully dry on one visit but tender and juicy on the next). But hey, you want perfect consistency, go to the McDonald’s up the block. Chow, Baby will relax on Mi Tierra’s porch with the scrumptious sugar-dusted empanadas, slicked with guava puree and cream cheese ($3). Absolutamente, that’s Puerto-Cubexican dining at its best.
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