Vida Latin a Dominican delight
Pork mofongo with savory sauce from Vida Latin Restaurant in Lake Mary. (Vida Latin Restaurant / August 4, 2011)
The emphasis at the Lake Mary eatery is on the food of the Dominican Republic, but as any island-hopping foodie knows, popular dishes are similar throughout the sun-kissed Caribbean.
But William and Vida Hawkins are striving for a balance of menu offerings, mixing traditional preparations with their lighter interpretations as well as many gluten-free and vegetarian items.
The mofongo de pernil (pork) $12 and camarón al ajillo (garlic shrimp) $13 did not disappoint. The pork-stuffed mofongo came alive with the addition of a Creole sauce. The versatile tomato-based liquid had wonderful onion and bell peppers notes.
A thin garlicky white sauce accompanied the shrimp mofongo. The small crustaceans were nicely cooked in a light seasoning that had nuances of juniper berries and fresh herbs. (I would almost guess they were cooked in pickling spices.) One quibble: The shellfish weren't completely peeled.
We shared the pollo al horno (baked chicken) combo platter ($9), which included a choice of rice (white or yellow) and beans (black or red) and a side salad. The poultry was tender and juicy. Other choices for the combos are braised chicken stew, pork in Creole sauce and beef stew.
For the bistec salteado ($13), the generous portion of a very thin cut of hormone-free steak was sautéed with onion and bell peppers. The dish was filling and well-seasoned.
Tables are covered with vibrant turquoise rounds of penny-size blue glass that remind me of the color of the Caribbean Sea. And the comfortable chairs are dressed in tight brown coverings.
Table service is available with many of the items on view in steam tables, while others are prepared while you wait.
The walls showcase the work of Dominican artist Abraham Polanco. The large-scale canvases reflect various aspects of Dominican culture including musicians and dancers in traditional clothing and famous Dominicans such as Baseball Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, 1940s actress Maria Montez ("Arabian Nights," "Cobra Woman") and fashion icon Oscar de la Renta.
Vida Latin's location should serve it well. The restaurant is in an eclectic shopping center along a bustling stretch of road that feeds several Seminole County neighborhoods.
Vida Hawkins tells me that they are working to add more gluten-free items and that the menu and recipes are a work in progress.
The quick-serve takeout is definitely a winner and table service was friendly and efficient.
Vida Latin Restaurant
Where: 3579 Lake Emma Road, Lake Mary (in the Kmart plaza off Lake Mary Boulevard)
When: 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday
How much: $7-$14 (menu changes)
Beverages: Soft drinks
Extras: Good for groups, catering, children's menu, takeout, gluten-free items, neighborhood delivery, outdoor seating and table service
Pay: Cash and major credit cards
Online: Vidalatinrestaurant.com (still a work in progress) and Facebook