400 E 57 St. at First Avenue
Open for dinner from 5:00 PM – 12:00 AM on weeknights and from 4:00 PM – 2:00 AM on weekends, with late night music on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday. For more information on private parties and reservations, call 212-754-5999 or visit www.sofritony.com.
Sofrito: The Secret Spice of the Upper East Side, Done With Authenticity and Class.
Sutton Place Will Never Be The Same
By Nancy Walman
Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood just south of the Queensboro Bridge is Sofrito—one of the best-kept secrets and favorite hangouts on the East Side. Named for the Latin spice blend whose bright orange color heavily inspired the restaurant’s décor, Sofrito’s refined Puerto Rican food is authentic, affordable, and still decidedly hip—a recipe for success in any culture.
Sofrito is the brainchild of former detective JR Morales, whose endless supply of energy made it impossible for him to truly retire. Instead, he turned to his native culture to inspire a new chapter in his life, and thus Sofrito was born. Designed by Stephane Dupoux (also of Buddha Bar, the Gansevoort Beach Club, and Cielo), Sofrito is a sophisticated space which evokes the natural beauty of Puerto Rico with its grasscloth wallpaper, neutral color palette, and sculptural wood artwork. The restaurant has a uniquely hip feeling, with its sleek and almost futurist bar (the longest bar in the city, measuring up at 100 feet long) and De La Vega-tagged columns, each conveying cheeky truisms illustrated with funky designs. The flexibility of the space makes it easy to spend a whole night there—from dinner and drinks to dancing and music, Sofrito does it all.
Despite the detailed attention that went into crafting a perfect ambiance, Morales’ first priority for Sofrito was always executing great food. For that, he paired up consulting chef Ricardo Cardona (also of Mama Juana and Hudson River) with the young and talented Andres Ortega, whose perfect touch with spices and seasoning is what truly sets Sofrito’s food apart from its competitors.
A meal can begin with any of Sofrito’s signature Aperitivos and Pastelitos, which include flaky, crunchy Empanadas filled with ground beef or braised creole chicken; or Tostones Montaditos, fried savory plantains topped with shrimp, codfish, or octopus. Lighter appetites will delight in the Sofrito Chopped Salad, which comes laden with fresh mint, cilantro, queso blanco, and avocado, while Carne y Mariscos Fritos, or crispy fried pork, shrimp, and calamari are perfectly suited for those who really want to indulge.
Though a meal can certainly be made of Sofrito’s large array of appetizers, the Classic Dishes of Puerto Rico are the restaurant’s strongest suit, and are not to be missed. Pernil con Arroz, a large portion of moist chicken thigh seasoned for two whole days and served with rice, is as authentic as it gets. Mofongo, a dish made from yuca, bacon, and your choice of meat, is seasoned generously with garlic and olive oil and perfectly represents the Caribbean classic. Seafood, which plays a large role in Puerto Rican cuisine, makes its presence felt on the menu with a signature Puerto Rican style Sofrito Paella and Whole Red Snapper stuffed with Coconut Rice, evoking the comforts of flavors usually enjoyed exclusively while on vacation. It with the miraculous pork (see below) are the two best entrees, both priced at an amazing under $20.
The Best (and Largest Portion) Pork You Will Ever Taste
Still, Sofrito appeals to the masses, widening the scope of its menu to include even the pickiest eaters. A free-range organic filet mignon and juicy Churrasco topped with chimicurri are both sensibly priced under $25, making them sensible options that feel like a real splurge. NOTE:
For some reason, the potato salad (more like a salad Russe) is the best in town.
Postres, or desserts, range from tropical to decadent. Empanaditas de Guayaba y Queso de Crema consist of guava paste and cream cheese stuffed inside piping hot crescents of sweet dough—a heaping portion seems big enough to share (and it is, though you likely won’t want to). Tres Leches (pictured below) is only mildly sweet but heavenly in its soft, spongy texture (the kind of dessert you have room for no matter how stuffed you already are) while a Pudin de Pan de Chocolate, or Chocolate Bread Pudding, is rich, gooey, and irresistibly topped with caramel and vanilla
Though Sofrito’s wine list is comprehensive and affordable, with many bottles under $40, it is their cocktails that truly make a splash. Morales claims that his sangria is the “best you’ve ever tasted,” thanks to some punchy additions, which include brandy, peach schnapps, melon liqueur, rum, and triple sec. It’s no wonder that it is listed on the cocktails menu rather than the wine list, alongside other drinks such as the Cocotini, a Puerto Rican favorite that blends Malibu Rum, Coconut Milk, and Pineapple Juice. Mojitos, such as the signature Sofrito Mojito (a blend of Rum, Malibu Passion, Passion Fruit Juice, Lime and Mint) are dangerously tasty, camouflaging the spirits with delicious tropical flavors—consider yourself warned.
The bar scene, which carries on late into the night, is accompanied by live Latin music five days a week. The Sofrito House Band, a five-piece group that plays musica sabrosa—merengue, salsa, bachata—plays live every Friday and Saturday, while Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays see a rotating cast of characters. Regulars are known to break into improvisational performance—and sometimes these impromptu performances feature the likes of Jaime Foxx, Marc Anothy, and Jennifer Lopez, who are all known to frequent Sofrito when in town.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Rating A Major
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Copyright 2009 By Punchin International. All Rights Reserved.