Bright green plantains are boiled, smashed and whipped with butter until silky. Known as mangu, the traditional Dominican dish is where it all begins at a new Gretna restaurant bearing the same name.
For the whipped plantains, there are toppings to consider. From carne de res guisada — tender, melt-in-your-mouth hunks of braised beef — to fried pork chops, sauteed shrimp, braised goat and Dominican sausage, the list of accompanying options can seem endless. I loved the Criollo version, in which a mound of creamy plantains is topped with a citrusy avocado sauce, cracklings and shredded braised chicken, served with a vinegary carrot and cabbage salad — comfort food at its very best.
Tres golpes, or "three punches," is perhaps the most widely known version of the dish. Traditionally it is served for breakfast, and the plantains serve as a starchy accompaniment to fried eggs, fried salami and fried cheese.
Until now, New Orleans has had scant options for Dominican cuisine. The owners of this restaurant, a local family with relatives hailing from the Caribbean nation, opened their eatery this summer in a strip mall on a stretch of Belle Chasse Highway.
The small, brightly colored restaurant has a welcoming vibe and consists of little more than a handful of tables and a small bar, where imported Dominican Presidente, a light, crisp pilsner, is plentiful.
The Dominican Republic is a former Spanish colony, and the dishes here carry the influences of Spain, Africa and the indigenous Taino community, among others. Quipes, a take on Lebanese kibbeh, was introduced by Middle Eastern immigrants who arrived in the country at the end of the 19th Century. The croquettes of ground beef and spices are fried to a golden brown for a crunchy, delicious snack.
Rice and kidney beans are cooked together so the rice takes on the flavor and color of the beans and spices, a style common in several Caribbean countries. Although the dish was flavorful, it was dry. Golf ball-size bolas de yuca — the Dominican answer to Italian arancini — feature mashed yuca wrapped around mozzarella, which is breaded and fried until the cheese melts. They are served four to an order.
Cheese, especially melted cheese, features prominently on the menu and the most obvious example of this comes with yaroa, a popular Dominican street food consisting of french fries or sweet plantains topped with roasted pork and a blanket of melted cheddar cheese. For the morning after, there's the traditional tripe soup mondongo, a crimson elixir served piping hot, bobbing with gelatinous tripe bits, onions and peppers.
Mangu has relieved New Orleans of its dearth of Dominican food and plantain and cheese lovers in particular are all the better because of it.