By: Sheen Fischer
As we skipped lightly across Pacific Coast Highway in Leucadia on a not too busy Friday evening, the light beat of country music serenaded our steps…Wait…What?
Country music? Were we in the right place? Le Papagayo, “The Parrot”, home of some of the best Mediterranean and Latin inspired food on the North County Coast?
Every night, Le Papagayo has live, local musicians and bands playing across a wide variety of genres. The interior of the dining room boasts a cool, kind of funky, eclectic, artsy ambience that is intimately crowded, with a foot tapping, thrumming vibe.
I meant to try a couple of their specialty house cocktails, but after the first five of these Blackberry Mojitos, I was full. They were the perfect combination of citrusy, lightly sweet, herb infused fresh libation that you can drink all night.
If Green had a flavor, the pesto dip that came with this complimentary bread basket would be the universal choice. You literally cannot scoop enough of this onto a piece of bread to satisfy your taste buds. I know it’s only basil, olive oil and pine nuts, but, for the love of Pete, this pesto was so fresh it felt like it wanted to re-root itself on your tongue – in a good way!
Then came along the Pesto Mussels and a completely different experience. The pesto was mixed with a cream base and became a smooth, creamy, concoction with the slightest hint of sweet. The mussels were plump and fabulous drenched in this sauce, but I was actually eating the mussels so that I could clear them out of the bowl to slurp more of the Pesto mix.
When you eat as much as we (or a lot of foodies) do, it is completely unfair to expect to like everything on the menu. In fact, we often disagree amongst our dining mates on any given evening as to what we like and don’t like. The Shanghai ribs here were a little sweet for my liking, basted in a honey-like coating. However, they were perfectly cooked and definitely appealed to those at our table who enjoyed sweeter flavored meat.
The calamari had a nice sweet and spicy chili sauce applied with crushed macadamia nuts and greens accompanying to aid with texture and diversity of flavor.
These Two-Spiced lamb chops were the subject of some dissension at the table. First, there were three spices that we could detect, salt, pepper and the lightest hint of cayenne which added a slight zing. Secondly, there were three chops. To keep the peace, I inhaled one chop all by myself and let everyone else split the remaining two.
The Seafood Bouillabase had a definitive Asian twist with its creamy coconut, red curry broth. The overtones of Ginger contributed to the slight spiciness of the dish, while also providing balance. The surprise, though, was the buried treasure of mashed potatoes. They were creamy and firm, holding their consistency amongst even the brutal spoon duels that transpired in the race to get every last morsel.
The gold/platinum/diamond (or precious metal or gem of your choice) equivalent in the food world is Saffron. This spice consists of the thin threads or “styles” of the Crocus plant, literally the portion where you might see a bee land to spread or harvest pollen. Each thread is painstakingly hand harvested. Saffron, for centuries, was only available to the extremely wealthy or royalty and even today is the most expensive spice in the world by weight.
That’s the long way of saying that we ordered the Paella. It was redolent with the rich aroma of saffron and decadent freshness of seafood.
It is not often we reach the dessert phase of a meal, but this is bread pudding. Being from the South, I always thought bread pudding was one of those regional southern dishes which could only be enjoyed properly by someone who grew up with a Mom who knew how to make it. I was set straight a couple of years ago by a chef friend who told me of at least 10 different recipes he knew of, not just domestically, but internationally.
This dish with caramelized bananas was definitely different than Mom’s – my mom’s, at least. Doesn’t matter – if your Mom can make bread pudding as good as this, we’re going to get along just fine… Cheers, my friends!
1002 N Coast Hwy 101,
Encinitas, CA 92024