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Merengue Dominican Restaurant

Merengue's baked chicken with rice & beans and

Merengue's baked chicken with rice & beans and avocado salad Photo Credit: Joan Reminick

Like the dance for which it was named, Merengue is rooted in the Latin-Caribbean traditions of the Dominican Republic.

At lunch, it's order-at-the-counter only; at dinner, there's table service. As is the case at many Dominican restaurants, much of the fare comes from the steam table showcase.

Admittedly, the place is modest in decor, but it's nonetheless comfortable - well-heated in cold weather, equipped with lots of cushioned booths.

GOOD RHYTHM

A seafood salad, made with big shrimp and tender squid, is sparkling, fresh, oceanic, sparked by fresh cilantro. I really like the avocado salad, as bright in color as in flavor.

One blustery night, dinner begins with a rousing bowl of tripe soup, tender innards in a zesty broth. Savory chicken-noodle soup features bone-in pieces of poultry and vegetables. If you have your sights set on sancocho, a deliciously hearty soup-stew with hen, beef short ribs and pork, it's worth planning a visit for a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, the only days it's served.

Baked chicken here is a bronze, spice-pebbled standout, flavorful down to the bone. Offering competition is oxtail stew, homey and satisfying, worth picking off the bones. Barbecue (but not slow-smoked) ribs turn up meaty and tender. A friend has a yen for pig's feet; they're properly rich and hyper-flavorful.

Better yet is the pernil asado, roasted pork served in its own fragrant juices, the meat so tender, it separates into shreds. Spoon some onto yellow rice, add some red beans, and you've got a combo that's hard to beat. The sauce in my shrimp ajillo - crustaceans nicely cooked in a citrusy garlic sauce - also works well over rice.

OFFBEAT

There's no dessert the night I go.

Nor is there much in the way of service. While the crew is pleasant enough, their focus seems to be the bustling takeout business.

The restaurant is still awaiting its liquor license.

BOTTOM LINE

Big flavors, small prices.

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