Sunday, March 9, 2008

casual eaters

i was first introduced to casuelita's several years ago when one of my favorite pharmaceutical reps catered a lunch at my work from there. i remember the lunch vividly since it was so unique in a sea of gretchen's boxed lunches and california pizza kitchen's. we had red beans and rice, a sweet/salty red cabbage salad, skewered chile shrimp, marinated pork, saffron-perfumed paella, and a chilaquile-like mushroom dish for the vegetarian. i was hooked. i asked the rep where the food was from, and he told me all about the then-named western vine (on the corner of western and vine in n belltown) where he knew the owner. over the years, i've enjoyed countless happy hours sampling from their long speciality drink list (the bar stocks nearly a hundred rums), several dinners, and even a birthday party. in the first 6 months of frequenting casuelita's, the food was always
on point....but since then each visit has been inconsistent. whether it's the difference between appetizers and entrees, or visit from visit, i haven't had an all-around awesome meal there in at least a year. however, i went there thursday with a couple of friends since suge and i hadn't eaten there in at least a year. please enjoy....

the first indication that this would be a good night: my favorite waitress is still working there. she's super nice, attentive, and the topper, i think she's really beautiful. i'm such a sucker, i know but i can't help it. she's really pretty and she doesn't seem to really know it.

plantain tostones, yum. they're a pretty standard caribbean appetizer, but casuelita's serves theirs with their house sweet chili sauce (always bomb), garlic, and their house side salad, which is so simple, but seriously one of my favorite items not on the menu. it's made of red cabbage, tomatoes, spring onions, red onions, carrot shreds, spring greens, and deliciousness tossed in a slightly sweet chili vinaigrette. i don't know what's up with this salad, but i am in love with it. back to the tostones. they were good...salty, garlicky, but they were a little thicker-cut than normal, and thus a bit dense and drier than i prefer. overall not a bad start.

casuelita's is one of few seattle restaurants that serves actual conch fritters. i've had them several times before, and they've ALWAYS been hit or miss. but what the hell, suge decided, let's do it. i think this was my favorite was hot out of the fryolator, salty, crispy, and a surprise. they've changed their recipe for these fritters for the better...previously their conch fritters were more like apple fritters...substitute conch and salt for apples and sugar. this time around, the fritters were more like fried dumplings than thin funnel cakes. the filling was conch, batter, bok choy (non-traditional, i know), and green onions. i could be missing something, but no matter. what you should remember is that it was bomb. again, the fritters were served with sweet chili sauce, a lime mayonnaise, and a scoop of that damn salad!

the last time we ordered ceviche, it was for suge's 30th birthday, and it came in an oversized martini glass. this time, it was a delicious shrimp ceviche comprised of denatured shrimp, lime (duh), tomato, red onion, and cilantro over a light bed of baby greens. some tortilla chips on the side accompanied the gigantic bowl of ceviche. the ceviche was good...and i'm even super picky about the different kinds of shrimp, their doneness and texture. the only thing that i would change is a little more heat. there was some, but not enough for my liking, though that is not the case for everyone.

the last appetizer we ordered were the st croix shrimp. i've never had this appetizer before (due to the fore-mentioned shrimp pickiness) and was pleasantly surprised. the shrimp came on dramatic skewers huddled around a mound of salad and a nice pool of sweet chili sauce. the shrimp was very lightly breaded and then flash-fried to perfection. i will definitely order this again.

after this bevy of nearly spot-on appetizers, expectations were running high for entrees. the menu has changed a little bit over the years, and this visit offered more vegetarian/pescatarian options as the list of dishes grows.

m ordered the lomo de puerco, which is grilled pork loin served over either mashed plantains or yams (she chose yams) with a chipotle/tomato/au jus sauce, and sauteed onions/red and green peppers/carrots. it looked great, but unfortunately, the pork loin was dry, over-cooked, and toothy. on the bright side, she said the sauce was amazing.

m and suge both ordered the paella, which is not on the published online menu. the seafood paella was saffron-ed rice, clams, mussels, crab claw, carrots, green onion, tomato, and some other ingredients i know i must be overlooking. it looked good, and the flavor was nice, but not as bold as i had anticipated. both m and suge commented that the seafood was a bit dry, and both were a little off-put by the warmth of the seafood, which they're accustomed to eating chilled.

i ordered the esco-veg, which is not on the online menu either. i was thinking about getting the escoveitched fish (which is bomb, huge, and dramatic like an opera set), but i thought it would be too much, especially with all the appetizers we feasted on. i felt almost obligated to try this new vegan item on the menu, but at the same time, it felt almost cheesy to be shackled to my dietary preference. i caved. i ordered the esco-veg. the menu described the dish as a soy patty cooked in the escoveitche style, meaning with a vinegar peppercorn sauce and topped with onions, red and green peppers, and carrots cooked in the same sauce. red beans and rice and a side of vinegared carrots accompanied the "loaf."

after reading that it was a "soy patty," i was extremely wary of seeing a veggie burger on a plate set before me. instead, it was a house-made black bean and edamame steak basically, bursting with deep umame flavor. the edges were crispy as if it were broiled, and the steak soaked up the familiar, amazing sauce. i was thoroughly impressed, and i could only finish half of my plate. i took the rest home and ate it for lunch a day and a half later, and it was just as good. i will definitely order this item again. wow. casuelita's, you have impressed me with your veg-game.

casuelita's was hit and miss tonight...which was no surprise. they must hit the mark more often, because i keep coming back. if you go, i would suggest their happy hour, but if you're looking for a bit of an adventure, go for dinner. you never know what you might get! :)

Casuelita's Caribbean Cuisine
81 Vine St
Seattle, WA 98121

there's also a cafe version of this spot in judkins park with a limited menu. i've never been there, but that doesn't mean it's not worth trying:

Casuelita's Island Soul
2608 S Judkins St
Seattle, WA 98144

Casuelita's Caribbean Cafe in Seattle


White Pepper said...

you know this place is totally hit or miss, but in the end I do like it. Thank you for introducing me to this spot!

TekkaDon Juan said...

for cryin out loud....i couldn't add pictures because of some error shit. dammit blogger!!!

Anonymous said...

i need a re-do with this place

Suge White said...

The ceviche was bomb along with the other apps. the apps 10 the meals 7.5.

I stilll reallyl ike that place.

Remember when Todd tried to mack to that waitress and she had above 4% bodyfat!

TekkaDon Juan said...

that was a proud day. oh todd

Anonymous said...

so who is this elusive beautiful waitress?

we're all wondering...