Authentic Eats: Puerto Rican

Authentic Eats: Puerto Rican

Authenticity. It's harder to come by in a restaurant than I'd like. With so many kitchens trying desperately to cook up the next cutting-edge culinary trend—over-ornamenting traditionally simple dishes, sacrificing palatability for presentation, engaging in cross-continental fusion fiascos (the list goes on)—it is refreshing to go to a restaurant where food is just food. Casa Adela, a tiny Puerto Rican restaurant on Avenue C, delivers just that.

The BYOB joint ("Bring Your Own Booze," for those of you who have been living under a rock), one of the East Villages best kept secrets, is authenticity epitomized. They offer islander eats and an easy-going atmosphere that are true blue.  Stepping inside is like taking a trip to Vieques—a miniscule, charmingly under-developed island off the coast of PR that makes for a dreamy summer escape, I'll attest—except in lieu of a day-boat, the only vessel you have to board is a subway car. The place is small. We're talking tinker-bell small: No more than 25 diners could fit in the whole establishment, and event then it's a squeeze (like what you'll have to do to get into your jeans after dinner here). If you can stand the wait (and yes, there oft is one), you'll be richly rewarded.

The minute you walk in, a wave of sound overtakes you: laughter, pots clinking, the melodious and seductive tonality of Spanish-speaking voices. Then, it's the smell: wafts of baking chicken, boiling black beans and frying pork chops. The experience is more than mouth-watering; it induces a saliva deluge. The menu is simple. In this case, simple is good. Dishes such as pernil asado (roast pork), chueltas fritas (fried pork chops), carne guisado (chicken stew), bistec encebollado (steak and onions) and pechuga de pollo empanizado (breaded chicken breast) are cooked up in a kitchen just feet from where diners are seated. Craning my neck to catch a glimpse of plates going to neighbooring tables, I was delighted at the total lack of pretension. There was no elaborate plating, no edibles stacked impossibly high or gaudy garnishes, but just meat slapped on the plate. Plain and simple. My eye immediately went to a Caribbean classic: chicarron de pollo (yes, fried chicken). I ordered in poorly-accented Spanish and sipped my lager. Upon arrival, it was everything the dish should be. Crunchy balls of poultry pleasure were strewn on my plate—bones, gristle and all. "Finger-lickin' good" comes close, but "un sabor orgásmico" says it best. Throw in a yellow rice volcano bubbling over with beans, and this tio's belly is bursting.

After paying the tab (cash-only, por favor), I lit a cigarette and stepped out—not onto Avenue C, but onto the dusty roads of tropical Vieques.