Casa Lola – Puerto Rico
As we walked down Ashford Avenue one evening, we passed a restaurant called Casa Lola. The building was formerly home to a restaurant called Ajili Mojili (and I ate there in 2002), then was vacant last time we were in Puerto Rico. Chef Roberto Treviño decided to make this location a trendy destination. If nothing else, it’s just about equidistant in a comfortable walking distance from two hotels on the strip.
The menu highlights a number of classic Puerto Rican dishes with fancy twists, and the prices reflect that. While we were there, we were seated next to a large party that was most certainly having a dinner paid by their business. They ordered the entire stock of the finest wine at the restaurant; this party was borderline obnoxious, but we tried to not let it affect our experience.
As a small bite, our server brought us some fried corn arepas. They were crispy with a soft and slightly creamy interior. The dipping sauce was tangy, almost like ranch, but much less peppery.
As an appetizer, we ordered the lobster empanadas ($18).
These were served with a pink peppercorn tartar sauce, which was very similar to the sauce from the arepas. In fact, the empanada pastry was similar to the arepas, and these just had the benefit of a pop from the lobster.
I wanted a salad, so I tried the Ceasar Criolla ($8).
I felt like this was the ultimate “phoning it in”. Basically, it was generic romaine lettuce, tossed with generic Ceasar dressing, topped with dry Parmesan, 3 halves of cherry tomato, and fried plantain bits. Given the pricing of the rest of the menu, I shouldn’t have expected much more, but I do believe that one of the island’s star chefs should be putting a little more creativity on the plate, even for a salad.
For my main, I ordered the Caribbean Mofongo with beef tripleta with tamarind sauce ($29).
This dish was absolutely ethereal. The mofongo itself was made with a mixture of plantains and yucca and had the density you’d associate with a starchy mofongo (which is basically a bowl of mashed and fried root vegetables and plantains) yet light, almost like a potato croquette.
The “tripleta” was comprised of three meats: grilled skirt steak, Cuban-style Ropa Vieja (pulled pork), and double cut bacon. That filled the bowl of the mofongo, and managed to only slightly penetrate the outer crispy layer of the inner bowl. The meat mixture bursted with umami and was perfectly seasoned with a deep, rich flavor. The small side of arugula was tossed with only a small amount of high quality olive oil, and managed to add another layer to the dish.
This dish was impressive.
Cassie’s dinner, a whole fried fish with seafood infused Puerto Rican rice and beans was equally impressive.
While the dinner started out feeling like it wouldn’t be worth it, the main dishes were out of the park hits. We didn’t opt for dessert at the restaurant that evening, but we kind of had a feeling it would be at least decent.