It’s Saturday afternoon, and the weather turned out to be better than predicted. After a few text exchanges (while browsing through those EVIL jewelry and accessories stands all over Soho), it’s going to be a Zafra night.
Zafra is located off Willow Avenue and 3rd street in Hoboken, NJ. It’s such a quaint atmosphere with a laid-back feel, and after 2 bottles of red (it’s BYOB!!) that was crafted into pitchers of sweet sangria, you are guaranteed to feel relaxed. So relaxed that you won’t realize that you’ve been dining for 3 hours, only to get up for either a cigarette or bathroom break. So relaxed that you think you’re in the comfort of your own home, browsing the internet and doing a little bit of investigation (thank you iPhone).
The service was great, we were seated within 5 minutes upon arriving (we got to Zafra’s at 7’ish), and this was on a clear (a bit humid but rainless) Saturday night. The wait staff asked if we wanted to open up one of our bottles of red wine, to be made into a pitcher of sangria (we nod simultaneously, smiled and yes, yesss, yyeesss). We ordered our appetizers and they brought us some bread.
For appetizers, we ordered:
Empanadillas con Pebre - crisp empanadas filled with beef picadillo, served with spicy Chilean cilantro sauce
Chorizo Encebollado – sautéed chorizo with onions and green olives
Albondiguitas de Carne – tiny Cuban style meatballs in a savory sofrito sauce
My personal favorite was the Chorizo, it’s a little oily, a little spicy, with enough saltiness from both the sausage and the olives. The portion was enough to be shared by a couple, but if you’re on your first date, guys please order your own appetizer (that’s just my opinion). The empanadillas’ spicy Chilean cilantro sauce tasted fresh and I highly suggest for other diners to make it as a spread on the warm and buttery Zafra bread.
The sofrito sauce was flavorful; I definitely tasted the basic ingredients of onion, tomatoes, garlic and oregano. It served as a great dip to the bread. The meatballs, I’m not too “loco” about, it was a bit overcooked, but it did provided a good offset to the sauce.
For main course, we splurged and ordered three dishes:
Ropa Vieja – a classic Cuban shredded beef, braised in a wine sauce
Churrasco (entrana) con Chimichurri – an Argentinean-style skirt steak, with Chimichurri sauce
Cerdo Brujo con Yuca – a roasted pork marinated in a Cuban allspice-Cumin adobo, served with Yuca in Garlic mojo sauce
The steak was cooked well, but not the best Argentinean style skirt steak I’ve ever had. When they brought it to our table, it was a bit of a mess, you can see from the picture that the sauce was all over on one side of the plate. It could be that the meat moved around while it’s being walked over to our table. But I’d prefer to make that type of mess on my own.
The shredded beef was flavorful; I loved the pieces of bell peppers in there. They were cooked just right, soft enough but I can still hear the crunch when I bite into them.
The roasted pork is absolutely amazing. The right amount of saltiness, the skin was crunchy and oily; the pork meat was soft, tender and tasty. I’m not sure how long this meat was marinated before it was cooked, but every bite was mouth-watering good. (I’m salivating while writing about it!!) The yucca and garlic mojo sauce is delicious.
We also had a side order of Planatos Maduros, which are golden fried ripe plantains. The plantains were cooked like any other Latin/Spanish restaurant would've cooked it, nothing special to distinguish it or make it special from the rest of the world.
And last but not the least... DESSERT.
We ordered the Panqueques de Dulce de Leche – a crepe with dulce de leche filling. It’s a great end to a good meal. It’s the right kind of sweetness that you’d want in your mouth after having a meal with emulsion of spices.
So after 3 appetizers, 3 entrees, and 3 hours or dining, drinking and some cyber investigating later, we went on our merry way to explore the rest of what Hoboken has to offer on a beautiful Saturday night, only to be asked, “So who keeps you warm at night?”