BY ELENA MANCINI
Inspired by 1950s road races on the Pan-American Highway, Oficina Latina recreates the feel and flavors of the Latin American countries along this famed 30,000 mile highway that stretches from Argentina to Alaska. The restaurant pays homage to this history with vintage race car photographs, original helmets and lots of sundry memorabilia and an original menu and extensive list of spirits drawn exclusively from the regions along the southern regions of the Pan-American highway. Thus the lively full-service bar here features a selection of 100-plus tequilas and mezcals, 100-plus rums, piscos and cachacas, and a South American wine list. For fans of mixed drinks, any margarita would be a surefire here, and the ginger lychee mojito ($13) yields its own flavorful drinking pleasures. Wines by the glass are in the $10 range.
In the hands of lesser restaurateurs, a restaurant like this might have turned out gimmicky or akin to theme-centric restaurant that is often found among corporate franchise, but not so with Oficina Latina. It completely eschews the soulless cookie-cutter approach. Owners Max Busato and Paolo Votano have poured their passion into Oficina Latina making hand-on decisions about every decorative nuance of the restaurant from the reclaimed wood around its bar fixtures to its 1920s original tin ceiling and the vintage Latin-American religious artifacts and kitsch that adorn its fireplace and communal dining area. A cursory glance at the menu will reveal that equally judicious scrutiny went into the menu composition here. Encompassing a wide range of tapas and pinchos and a mix of meat and fish dishes, the menu is expansive and ethnically balanced to ensure that it reflects all of cultures of Latin America. Selections and combinations reveal not a superficial approach to an arbitrary concept, but a passionate pursuit for inclusion and authenticity. Chef Abraham Trinidad executes the expansive menu with talent and finesse.
Following is a rundown of some of the dishes I had during a recent dinner:
The dinner opened with a basket of crispy plantain chips and habanero sauce. An addictive combination which required restraint in order to proceed with actual meal or the luxury of abandon with the restaurant’s cocktail list.
The Calamari and Scallop Ceviche was exceptional. Fresh and cooked to the optimal texture , it was a flavorful and generously portioned starter.
The grilled octopus was expertly charred and was butter-like tender to the bite. It came paired with roasted white potatoes and dressed with a Extra Virgin olive oil and cilantro, and was my favorite dish, and not only because I love octopus.
Tuna Skewers and Grilled Mixed Vegetables with Fruit on a Skewer are also great tapas choices here. They come minimally seasoned and perfectly grilled allowing the flavors of the ingredients shine through.
Fried blood sausage, chorizo and arepitas served with chipotle mayonnaise, also known are abrebocas, or appetizers at Oficina Latina was both hearty and tasty and a dish that championed Latin-American flavors. Particularly enjoyable about this dish were the lean and smoky slices of grilled chorizo and the crispy Venezuelan-style arepitas. The blood sausage was tender and yielded its content to the first fork poke.
Braised lamb Shank with slow-cooked vegetables and plantain puree was a beautifully composed dish and a great choice for a wintry night.
The Tres Leches Cake here–also prepared by Chef Trinidad– was a lighter version of the typically much richer Mexican dessert, and highly enjoyable. The pleasures were compounded as it came served with a shot of “passion and love.” Evoking sinister indulgences, A miniature decanter of artisanal Venezuelan rum is served on a mirror platter with an orange wedge and rows of ground coffee, cinnamon and raw sugarcane. The idea is to chase the rum shot with the orange rubbed in a mixture of the coffee, cinnamon and sugar. The result is one of gratifying warmth. You must experience it for yourself.
Oficina Latina has a young, energetic vibe and lends itself to fun and informal gatherings.
Tapas are in the $8-$15 range. Entrees in the $20-$23 range.