“Couldn’t have been better…” remarked Susan after dinner, as we semi-waddled down the steps of Don Coqui. As we left—the salsa sounds of the 10-person plus live band Tipica 73 serenading us—we were discussing the wonderful food (though we all ate too much!), and fabulous evening we had just enjoyed. The charm of Don Coqui is in the culmination of atmosphere, service, and of course, food. Dining there for Restaurant Week is no exception. (Truth be told, prior to this evening, I’d spent most of my Don Coqui time downstairs in the professional kitchens teaching class—and then up at the bar, sipping some of their fabulous cocktails.) This week marked not only the celebration of the kickoff of Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, it was also the reopening—after eight days and nights of no electricity (thanks to Superstorm Sandy)—of the restaurant. The excitement was palpable.
The entrance to the restaurant is a theatrical start to the Don Coqui experience. The open, Miami-reminiscent dining area (part salsa music background!), located on the second floor of a very large building, is at once large and cozy: the brick walls and high industrial ceilings are a stark contrast to the long white curtains that hug several of the coffee beams that stand in between the tables. The kitchen staff—visible behind glass at one end—is busy but smiling. The servers, who immediately greet and grin, are all handsome young men clad in white pressed shirts, red ties, and black pants covered by long black aprons. Charming without being imposing, the servers are well versed in comfortable customer service.
The Hudson Valley Restaurant Week Menu offers a variety of five starters, six main courses, and a dessert platter. As we sipped our Encantos—great cocktail of prosecco, guava nectar, lime juice and a bit of mint (be careful: they go down WAY too easy!), we all succumbed to a case of our eyes being way bigger than stomachs and said we’d have the restaurant week menu plus a bit more; we additionally ordered Seafood Ceviche, made with shrimp and red snapper (“This I could eat ALL night!” exclaimed my friend Karen at first bite!) and the Breaded Calamari Tossed with Mesclun Lettuce.
Additionally, we enjoyed Crispy Plantains Topped with Shrimp, Steak, Pork and Cod Fish (the last one was the favorite of the group!), and Roast Pork (pernil) Wrapped in Crispy Yuca. (Though we didn’t ask for empanadas, I have to share that they are on the Restaurant Week menu, and always so tasty…)
Honestly, after all those amazing appetizers, we were getting full…but there was so much more to come. For our main courses, we decided on the following—thanks to the stellar service and advice of our server, Cesar:
Paella with Shrimp, Clams, Mussels, Lobster, Chicken and Chorizo (the rice—and this, my friends, is after my own trip to this dish’s birthplace: Spain—was absolutely perfect!), Churrasco, Skirt Steak (ah—lovely balance of flavor) with Black Bean Rice, Pernil, Roasted Pork (so tender, succulent) with Pigeon Pea Rice and Potato Salad, and Plantain Crusted Red Snapper Filet (light, flaky crust contrasted nicely) with Yuca Mash (nut-like flavor is a perfect complement). All were big hits with us—we just couldn’t eat them all (and, in fact, took much of it home!).
Still, we kept our sweet tooth, and did a good job with the dessert platter which consisted of Tres Leches Cake (comfort cake saturated with sweet milk), Chocolate Lava Cake (perfect for chocolate lovers),
Cheese Flan (rich and dreamy!), Coconut Flan (tropical and creamy—pictured here, below), and additionally, a Guava Pastel (amazing flaky outside, with the almost-cinnamon-like fruity, exotic flavor inside. here. to the right) —our server Cesar’s favorite, and wow, now ours! We probably should have stayed for salsa night…and worked off some of the dinner,
but we’ll be back for more food and fun soon.
The next night, when I prepared some of our leftovers for my parents—who loved them—my dad, who has quite the discerningpalate, echoed our sentiments upon trying the paella, “The balance of the saffron in the rice is just perfect!” Don Coqui—for the experience that night, and beyond—is certainly worth the visit.
Latin Twist blogger Arlen Gargagliano blogs about her food travels and explorations at In the Kitchen with Arlen and on Facebook. She’s a featured chef-author on Cookstr.com, and regularly teaches classes at Don Coqui in New Rochelle. Her website is arleng.com. Arlen, who has coauthored books with many, four with local chef and restaurateur Rafael Palomino, has also written her own cocktail and appetizer books: Mambo Mixers and Calypso Coolers.