Sazón Dominicano started life as a small counter-serve eatery dispensing hearty Dominican fare from a steam table behind a counter. These days, in the wake of a recent expansion, you can bypass the quick-serve area for seating in a stylish new dining room. Here, chandeliers in the shape of giant snowflakes hang from the ceiling; walls are covered in a pale lavender bas-relief wave pattern. In the adjacent bar, audio equipment hints at a late-night scene with music and dancing. Early in the evening, though, a family vibe prevails.
One way to kick off a meal is with a pitcher of the restaurant's first-rate red sangria. Potent and fruity, it pairs well with flaky empanadas. Beef, cheese and sweet plantain fillings are best; forego the chicken, dry and a bit bland. Stuffed sweet plantains with beef are savory-sweet, attractively plated. So, too, are mini mofongos, garlicky mashed green plantains surrounded by plump shrimp in a coral-hued garlic sauce.
You could, alternatively, order shrimp in that same sauce -- camarones al ajillo -- as a main course, accompanied by Spanish rice and beans, red or black. Poultry proves a hit, whether it's pollo al horno, moist, well-spiced baked chicken or pollo guisado, chicken stew featuring bone-in pieces in a deftly seasoned tomato-based sauce in a pretty metal casserole. Fried red snapper features snowy fish inside crispy-crunchy skin. But it's served naked, crying out for some kind of sauce; a few dabs of salsa verde do the trick. That same condiment partially rescues a Cuban sandwich of roasted pork, ham, pickle and cheese -- no mustard here -- tucked inside a roll that seems to have escaped the grill. Much better are grilled pork chops, moist and tender, judiciously coated with garlic sauce.
Both the restaurant's chefs, Mercedes Rodrigues and Carlos Franco, deserve credit for stellar house-made finales. Flan, rich and creamy, runs a close second to a tres leches cake that's opulently moist and milky. While you can certainly share the generous slab, you probably won't want to.