With all the pan-Asian restaurants around, it only makes sense that there would be a pan-Latin restaurant thriving in Providence. Mosaic, a Latin American bistro, is doing a good job of it on the outerskirts of Olneyville.
The dining room at Mosaic
Costa Rican-style hearts of palm ceviche; from Uruguay a strip steak on a bed of chayote and mango salad; from Trinidad and Tobago, crab and cassava cakes. And so deliciously on.
The traditional recipes and presentations from the various countries are not slavishly replicated but rather used as launching pads by executive chef Winston Guerrero. Co-proprietor with him and general manager is Eduardo Gomez Jr., who also serves as host. Their own ethnicity is Colombian, but the cuisines of 19 countries are sampled.
It's an easy place to miss, since there's not a broad array of busy diners behind a row of windows but rather a small cloth sign and a fluttering "Open" flag. You enter at the back of the building, passing a patio for dining in warm weather and a steel drum barbecue grill that promises more than hotdogs and burgers. Inside it's inviting, with widely spaced uncovered wooden tables and local art on the walls. One corner is permanently set up for Saturday night music.
My friend Rob happened upon the place a few weeks before and liked the experience. His recommendations get extra points since he also writes about food.
We went for lunch, and although the mid-day menu is light on entrées, most of the evening's antojitos are served, so we decided to have a kind of Latin American tapas spread.
We perused the opportunities. On a previous visit he had sampled the Brazilian bolinhos de bacalhau, salted cod and potato croquettes, but he wanted a more exciting starter this time. But we both latched onto the Panamanian camarones ($12); the grilled shrimp were marinated in ginger and cumin, skewered on splinters of sugarcane and served on a crisp corn cake. Very nice, especially under the light white sauce. Next, being in Rhode Island, we could not ignore their take on calamari: calamares ($10), a la Sonora, Mexico. They were corn dusted and fried but greaseless, the way we are accustomed, but then tossed with chorizo for a spicy high-protein boost. The featured item was relatively sparse, though, under a large pile of vinegared pepper rings. The sweet-sour guaymas dipping sauce worked nicely.
Neither could I pass up the Salvadoran pupusa ($11). These simple corn cakes can be little pillows of softness or little round bricks. The Mosaic version is intentionally firm, for textural contrast, but what was piled high atop could have made up for things if I had chipped a tooth. Sweet pulled pork, and on top of that coleslaw. Called mango slaw on the menu, it was conventional cabbage with lots of red onions and only a couple of garnish strips of mango. Tasty, but tsk-tsk.
The empanada con "chancho en piedra" ($6) from Chile lived up to its name — and I don't mean the Chilean funk-rock band of the same name. The "pig on a rock" was a simple tomato sauce, but the rocks were the two weapon-grade empanadas, too hard, though appetizingly filled with braised beef and raisins.