The Green Plantain is a Fairfield restaurant specializing in Caribbean and South American food. It's on the Route 4 strip, nestled between two of our Latin-American favorites: Sabor Peruano and Taqueria Mercado.
The menu on their website is certainly very compelling. A wide variety of meat and fish dishes are available. On the seafood side, one can choose from the standard fried calamari to preparations of shrimp, mussels and fish cooked in exotic sauces made of curry, coconut, cashews or peanuts. Beef, chicken and pork entrees abound, along with two goat dishes. There are even two vegetarian and two pasta entrees for those so inclined.
The Green Plantain was about half full when we arrived Saturday evening. The floor plan is open with a row of booths separating the room into two distinct sections. A fully-stocked bar is located on the far end. Brightly colored murals cover the two longest walls, with painted archways giving way to either a beach scape reminiscent of the Caribbean islands, or a mountainous rain forest one might find deep within South America.
Given the name of the restaurant, it's obvious what ingredient enjoys the spotlight: the plantains. More starchy and less sweet than their banana cousins, plantains are incorporated into at least ten of the entrees and two of the appetizers. When diners arrive, the first thing they are presented with is a basket of fried plantain chips and a cup of a uniquely lime-heavy, red-onion salsa. The chips are savory and salty, like a potato chip, with a pleasing aftertaste that evoked memories of wonderful fried food enjoyed at county fairs past.
The attentive waitress promptly served our drinks and plantain chips. We had heard of the traditional Puerto Rican dish known as "Mofongo" and had seen it highlighted on Food TV shows like "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," so it was the first thing we ordered. Mofongo is a mash made from fried green plantains, garlic and bacon.
I chose the Hornado De Puerco entree, a pork roast served with potato-cheese "pancakes" and yucca root, a starchy plant that South Americans typically eat instead of potatoes. My girlfriend picked the Pollo Cubano, described as a slow-cooked chicken in mojo and onions, served with rice and fried plantains.
We began to become a bit concerned when, after about 10 minutes, our server walked past with a fresh basket of plantain chips. We took it as a possibly ominous sign that our food would be delayed.
Seemingly on queue, a live singer/guitar player who'd set up near the bar began mumbling something indiscernible into his microphone, followed by the generic, pre-programmed rhythms of an electric, Casio keyboard. As the stock, synthesized drum beats filled the room, the guitar player mumbled several more things, as though carrying on a conversation with the bartender (or himself), then strummed a few chords from his guitar before suddenly stopping, letting the Casio rhythm drone on alone for a full minute. This comical, bizarre pattern continued throughout our meal.
When our food arrived, the waitress apologized that the Mofongo appetizer was being served along with our entrees instead of beforehand. Initially, all looked well. But as we began to taste the various items of our dishes, we were quite literally shocked into silence for the duration of the meal.
The Mofongo was presented as a formed mass on the plate that looked not unlike three-day old, dry Stove Top stuffing that had been left unwrapped in the back of a refrigerator. While the menu described a dish of mashed plantains, garlic and bacon, what we got was a crusty-yet-chewy, overly salted mass with chunks of what appeared to be pork. We've since learned that Mofongo should come with a side of broth, but we didn't get any. I'm not sure it would have helped.
The Hornada De Puerco was a disaster: extremely fatty pieces of pork served with off-putting, overly-pickled, vinegary-tasting yucca root and overcooked, hard rice. The menu had mentioned a tomato salad, but none was included with my meal. I had to pick around at the pork to get something that wasn't fat, with little success. What meat I found was terribly bland. I got the idea to eat bites of pork with the salty Mofongo, but it didn't help.
The two so-called "potato and cheese pancakes" had a foul, scorched flavor. I imagine this is what Cheese Whiz would taste like if I'd tried to form it into patties and burned it on a stove.
My girlfriend's Pollo Cubano fared somewhat better: the chicken itself was slightly bland but when accompanied with the onion, was fairly palatable. She did not enjoy the fried plantains, which we both thought were too hard and dry to eat.
We are adventurous eaters and I'm not at all picky. I can't remember a time when a dish was so lousy that I couldn't continue eating it. But I could barely touch this meal. To be polite, I asked the waitress for a to-go box. I threw the contents away when I got home. My girlfriend ended up with a stomach ache and felt ill the rest of the night. All this for a meal that cost us nearly $40.
I'm really hoping this was an anomaly. I don't like giving bad reviews, especially to a local, family-owned business whose menu seems so unique for this area. Other reviews for the restaurant seem overwhelmingly positive, which I find befuddling.
I'm willing to give them another try. Perhaps our palates aren't accustomed to South American food, but we've enjoyed the likes of other Latin-American fare, including Sabor Peruano and Taqueria Mercado down the street. We've also enjoyed authentic dishes served on vacation in Honduras and on several Caribbean islands.
The Green Plantain has everything seemingly going for it: a good location, polite and attentive servers and an open, inviting space with engaging decor. The stage was set for a great dining experience, but tonight, the food spoiled the show.
It's hard for us to give a restaurant a one-star rating, but given the fact that this unpleasantly tasting food left my girlfriend sick, we have no choice. Perhaps, in time, The Green Plantain can redeem itself in our eyes.
Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)