A menacing night sky doesn't keep me indoors at ¡Ay Que Rico!, an attractive new Cuban-Latin restaurant in Port Washington.
So long as the rain holds off, I'm happy to be at an umbrella table checking out a colorful mural of an Italian (not Latin American) street scene. As I sip a glass of fruity white sangria, I dip plantain chips in garlicky mojo sauce and peruse chef Eduardo Bover's Cuban-Latin menu. It takes major will power not to get up and dance to the salsa beat on the sound system.
On sultry days, it's hard to beat Bover's refreshingly cool and bright watermelon mint soup. Or his sprightly seviche of shrimp, cilantro, red onion, mango and lime. I like both the pastry and the fillings (beef, chicken and shrimp) in the empanadas. Other hearty starters: fried fufu (plantain) balls stuffed with ground pork as well as chorizo sauteed with onion.
A classic Cuban sandwich (roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and the all-purpose mojo) comes up a big winner. So, too, does a nicely spiced half chicken roasted with cumin, oregano and vinegar. Bover's pernil turns out to be a close relative of pulled pork -- the moist, savory kind topped with softly stewed red onions. It needs no sauce. If crisp fried whole fish is your passion, try the snapper stuffed with yellow rice and yucca fries; just don't delude yourself that you're eating light.
Extra points for rice and deeply smoky black beans that are better than most.
Finishing touches: moist tres leches cake or guava-plantain empanadas with ice cream.
A Cuban roast chicken sandwich with pineapple, tomato sauce and mojo is tired-tasting. Sticky sweet camarones con coco (shrimp in coconut cream) seems more a dessert than an entree; ropa vieja (slow-cooked skirt steak with onions and red peppers) lacks verve. And rice pudding manages to be both stuffy and soupy.
Overall, the "ays" have it.