by Luis A. Ponce
Appoint Magazine (Dec.'06)
Friday night, 9:30 p.m. Unlike any other restaurant in the Metropolitan Area, Kantare’s is already packed (yes that early!), live nueva trova musicians on stage are into their third song of the evening, and chef Jonathan Rosado is as busy as ever manning the kitchen and dispatching dish after dish of his “international fare with a Puerto Rican twist” cuisine. Kantare’s calls itself a restaurant, bar and grill but it is much more than that. Step into the restaurant and you’ll understand why Kantare’s is the rendez-vous point for those that need to celebrate life through all five –or six– senses.
Behind are the never-ending traffic jams, the weekly workload, and the fast-paced way of life to which we all have succumbed. A mood change automatically settles in as the rustic terrace, overlooking Winston Churchill Avenue, catches your attention and, once inside, your eyes adapt with ease to the mellow light that floods the spacious restaurant.
Tonight Kantare’s showed that it is a place for everyone: families were enjoying dinner, a big group was celebrating a birthday, couples were profiting from the cozy atmosphere, and an eclectic mix of the musician’s relatives and friends were singing along, while keeping the black-and-orange-clad servers busy with orders of appetizers and wine.
Alex Manuel, the calm and generous owner of Kantare’s was born in Michoacán, México, but for the last 14 years he has made Puerto Rico his home. The philosophy behind Kantare’s resides in that it is a space where boricuas can enjoy and savor their culture every single night. “In my restaurant I want to give priority to Puerto Rico, its nationality, its music; a place where everybody can feel right at home,” he adds.
That vision is well adapted into the menu, composed by chef Rosado. Hand-picked by Alex Manuel, Rosado brings to Kantare’s the right skills and experience. “I have given him total freedom to create in the kitchen,” a confident Alex Manuel tells me while I sip the easy to drink Ramón Bilbao Crianza (oenophiles: Kantare’s offers wines by the glass and has a short but well selected wine list).
Rosado’s menu explores various emblematic international dishes, while staying very close to home: alongside a rib-eye steak with sherry sauce and the Kantare’s mar montuno feast (a combination of lobster, shrimp and filet mignon with mash and vegetables), you can find the traditional asopao de camarones or the already-Puerto-Rican-staple, chicken breast a la Parmigiana. Well aware that Kantare’s is also a family restaurant, there’s a Kid’s Menu that includes: chicken wings and tenders, and breaded fish filets.
We started with the most popular appetizer, five tostones rellenos that revolved around a center of slightly smoky mashed potatoes. The tostones were overfilled with small pieces of chicken breast that reminded me in its tanginess and appearance to Indian tandoori-chicken, and with an irresistibly sweet and well balanced shrimp salad. Other appetizers that caught my eye were the zetas enjuelladas and the classic chicharrones de pollo, this time, however, with a selection of guava, tamarind, passion fruit or mandarin dipping sauces.
For the second course, chef Rosado suggested the chuletas de cordero and we also opted for a special grilled churrasco and shrimp combination. My chuletas de cordero arrived in a very elaborate vertical presentation: on a bed of sautéed vegetables, the four lamb chops stood up, and in the middle of the ring, a generous portion of the same mashed potatoes that accompanied the tostones rellenos (chef Rosado offers each day a different kind of mash). When ordering meats, it is always important to specify to your server how you want your cut cooked. I say this because although the lamb chops were bone-licking good, the meat itself wasn’t moist enough to be truly delectable. However, the rub of spices, rosemary being the protagonist, and the balsamic vinegar reduction that was drizzled on the chops was a great accomplishment.
The churrasco proved to be a total success. On the outside, the cut offered a fine caramelized crust, while leaving the inside succulent and with an intense reddish color. The meat was tender and the seasoning was minimal, allowing you to savor the true flavor of the meat. The three large shrimps that paired the churrasco were crisp fresh and seemed to have been rapidly sautéed in order to lock in their natural sweetness.
The desserts offered by Kantare’s are vanilla crème brûlée, guava cheesecake and tres leches. I chose the first option and wasn’t thrilled to find out that underneath the perfect crystallization of the sugar, my crème brûlée was half frozen. But if you do enjoy frozen desserts, this will soothe and comfort you.
The small but well stocked bar keeps the night going and, to much surprise for our Colombian brothers and sisters, Kantare’s serves aguardiante, an eau-de-vie distilled from aniseed that is to Colombians what rum is to Puerto Ricans. The restaurant also has two different Happy Hour blocks that go between 5:00 and 10:00 in the evening. Corona Extra, Corona Light and Tequila Cuervo Especial rule on Tuesdays and Fridays, while Becks Premium beer and Finlandia vodka do the same on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Alex Manuel, besides restauranteur, is also a musician and songwriter. Live music, with a different artist every evening, is definitely the main course and attraction at Kantare’s. Once you visit the restaurant, be sure to take with you their schedule of presentations so you won’t miss nueva trova and rock en español legends like Tito Auger (from Fiel a la Vega), Roy Brown or El Topo, that appear at least once every month. Giving me his latest musical production, Alex Manuel, En vivo desde Kantare’s, he told me: “Here, inside you will find what Kantare’s is all about”. And true to his word, I discovered that Kantare’s is, after all, a metaphor of a generous gift from Alex Manuel to his Puerto Rican compatriots.
Kantare’s is located at 162 Winston Churchill Ave. Hours of operation are: Tues.-Sat., 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; (kitchen closes at 12a.m.) Prices range from $10 to $32.