Hearty and sweet

Sonny's finds the right mix of flavors and textures
By BRIAN DUFF  |  March 17, 2010

PLEASANT SWEETNESS Sonny’s palomilla style skirt steak.

America's war on obesity is going nowhere. We already gave up on adults and now focus our efforts on hounding chubby kids to exercise. But recent medical breakthroughs are making it possible to be a pretty healthy plump person.

SONNY'S | 83 Exchange St, Portland | Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30 am-2 pm; dinner Sun-Thurs 5:30-10 pm, Fri-Sat 5:30-10:30; bar open daily to 1 am | Visa/MC/Amex/Disc | 207.772.7774
If Nancy Pelosi can scrape up the votes, then the government might just help everyone pay to chemically balance the various good and bad fats in the blood coursing through our bloated bodies. In this spirit it is easy to embrace the food at Sonny's: a rich, hearty, filling, and sweet — basically quintessentially Maine — take on Latin and especially Caribbean cuisine. 

Sonny's is housed in the old O'Naturals, and if you ever thought, "this space deserves to be a real restaurant," you will now inevitably have a few moments of "this restaurant sure looks like the O'Naturals." But the high ceilings, arched windows, brick walls, and dark wood suit the new venture better than the old. Portraits of menacing bohemians hang on the walls — a bit aggressively personal for a dining room, perhaps. The pleasant waitstaff is less threatening, especially as they are comfortably familiar veterans of the downtown service-industry shuffle (including some from Local 188, the West End spot run by the same owner). The service is leisurely, casually attentive.

The menu ranges over the Caribbean, Central, and South America without feeling like a hodgepodge. It's more of a laid-back Key West style eclecticism. We liked that the sweet-potato hash browns in our appetizer were neither oily nor too heavily breaded. They were great looking and very sweet. The aroma of ginger pushed aside the flavor of the shrimp that was apparently diced up in there. A sharp red-pepper relish worked well with the yammy sugars. A lentil salad used the puy variety, which ensured a good chew rather than a mush. They sat atop a nice selection of local greens: lettuce, some sour leaves, some peashoots. While tart slices of manchego animated some bites, the whole thing might have used a bit more vinegar or other acid.

The white fish was a hake. It has a light flesh that is easy to overcook, but it was done perfectly, so it was still moist and tender beneath a crisp thin cornmeal crust. The crunchy-edged fried plantain beneath, inevitably oily but not too much so, was both sweet and sour. Along with okra and big chewy kernels of a corn I had never tried before, the plantain gave the dish a welcome heartiness.

A palomilla style skirt steak was pounded flat and marinated in spices, rum, and orange rather than the more traditional lemon and garlic. The result was a pleasant sweetness in which it was hard to tell whether you were smelling the rum and tasting the orange, or vice versa. A peppery spice lingered on the tongue. The steak itself had a good chew without being tough. The rabbit enchiladas were very rich in a huge portion. It was nice that the richness came more from the tender meat and manchego cheese then from any heaviness in the mole sauce. Strong notes of cinnamon mixed well with the sauce's sugars. It was served with black beans and rice that had a welcome crisp-edged chewiness.

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  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Health and Fitness, Key West, Nancy Pelosi,  More more >
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