MIXING IT UP A Salvadoran enchilada and a taco at Sabor Latino.
Some new restaurants obsess over getting the décor just right. Others focus on creating a perfect menu. At Sabor Latino, a new pan-Latin restaurant on St. John Street, they have perfected the background noise. This will strike some people as the wrong place to focus. Those people are wrong. Noise, as Garret Keizer explains in The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want, is "the byproduct of human striving." Now that we so rarely strive for anything meaningful, good noise is more valuable than ever before. The right noise, in fact, can erase the relentless drive of our ego and allow us to embrace meaninglessness. Andy Warhol only learned to make his early paintings of Coke bottles seem utterly authorless and industrial by playing Dickey Lee's "I Saw Linda Yesterday" over and over at high volume as he painted.
If Lee's shrill take on heartbreak provided Warhol with the right white noise, the sounds of Sabor Latino are more mellow. Spanish love songs on the stereo mingle with the strains of a soccer game on one television, and some sort of talk show/bikini contest on the other. Add to this the mix of cadences and tones of three generations of one immigrant family, as well as the mingling of accents from El Salvador, Cuba, and Mexico. The sound, in short, could not be better. In the midst of it, the décor at Sabor Latino feels just right — the tile floor, the purple tablecloths, the tropical photo-mural, even the word "cuisine" written in mailbox sticker-letters marking the front door — it feels lived-in and comfortable rather than a work in progress.
The actual cuisine fits perfectly too. This is especially true of the fantastic pupusas — a Salvadoran specialty that is both the best and cheapest thing on the menu ($2!). These pretty patties of cornmeal and cheese are delicate to handle, rich with the aroma, and perfectly prepared in the classic style. The cheese pupusa, and a revuelta made with mix of pork, cheese, and beans, are both quite good. But the true revelation is the loroco — in which the soft cheese blends with a mash made of green flowerbud, which gives it a bitter-vegetal flavor in the family of green beans.
The pupusas are served with a sour slaw, and a Salvadoran-style salsa — made in-house. This salsa is thinner and more sour than what we are used to, and the result is almost like a tomato chutney. The tomato flavor is so pure it resembles a finely rendered soup, and it enhances almost every dish on the menu. Mexican dishes, like burritos and quesadillas, well made with fresh ingredients, come with a slightly thicker version of this salsa. Sabor also has a version of the soft tacos that are increasingly the rage in this town. The best might be the tender beef tongue, which is served with a simple blend of tomato, lettuce, and cilantro. Salvadoran enchiladas are like the tacos with the tortilla fried, to provide a good crispy chew. There are also several large entrees, done in a Cuban style — with a thin marinated steak served with rice and beans, lettuce, tomato, and avocado. The point of meat made in this way is char and chew, and Sabor Latino's gets it right.