2011-07-27 / Restaurant of the Week

Mi Candela

Eat, drink and dance the night away at Astoria’s latest addition to the food and entertainment scene. Mi Candela is Astoria’s only truly authentic Puerto Rican restaurant featuring the intense flavors and recipes from La Isla Bonita, the beautiful island. The effervescent owner, William Cordero, is the proud father of this brand new restaurant, which opened on July 1 to the delight of many. “Mi Candela means my fire”, explained Cordero, and it was his passion for this cuisine that fueled the inspiration to open Mi Candela. Better still, there will be dancing all night in the upstairs club very shortly, on slick dance floors framed with sleek banquettes.

Mi Candela is easy to find, on Steinway Street between 31st Avenue and Broadway, just across from the Municipal lot. A lively crowd already fills the restaurant, even on a weeknight, as they dine on hearty dishes, served in generous portions. On the television behind the bar, concert DVDs of famous Latin stars play, allowing the Latin rhythms to fill the air. At the entrance, cool tile walls and floors lead you to the salsa red bar along with plenty of tables and booths at which to dine.

Mi Candela Mi Candela Chef Minerva arrives at 5am to get things started, since everything here is made from scratch with lots of pride and love. We tried a few of their most popular appetizers including golden empanadas, filled with shrimp or chicken with mild spices and olives, served with house made salsa. Alcapurrias are fritters made of cassava root, filled with seasoned beef. We also loved a sweet plantain cut lengthwise and filled with savory meat that is named “hick in a canoe” for its shape ($3.50). The codfish fritters are quite popular as they are crunchy and golden on the outside, with sweet, flaky codfish in the middle ($2). Mr. Cordero insisted we try the chef’s famous stew of pigeon peas with ham and plantains called “gandulas”. The flavors are intense, but not hot and you can tell this dish takes hours to create. Enjoy a cool salad of avocado with light dressing, a mixed green salad, shrimp, codfish or seafood salad. Ceviche is a seafood cocktail marinated in citrus juices and cilantro and is the perfect summer appetizer.

Puerto Rican main courses focus on pork, beef, chicken and shrimp and all are offered here, cooked on the spot and served in generous portions at a great price. Our skirt steak was cooked to perfection and served with fluffy white rice and slow cooked pinto beans that were just delicious. Pernil is roasted leg of pork, cooked for hours so that the meat renders easily from the bone and is a traditional meal served in all Puerto Rican homes. Lechon asado is baby pig, slow roasted and served in thick slices with rice and beans ($12). This pork was so tender, it just melted in our mouths and there was plenty to take home for lunch the next day. We made short work of the skirt steak that we squirted with Chef Minerva’s homemade hot sauce, brought to the table in a giant squeeze bottle...hot, hot, hot! Pollo guisado is a rich chicken stew that goes oh so well with the rice ($7). Pasteles are mashed plantains, often steamed inside a banana leaf. Here at Mi Candela, they are

made with chicken or pork, mildly seasoned with spices and olives for a treat that I find irresistible.

Mofongo is practically synonymous with Puerto Rican cuisine and if the name seems too exotic for you to try, let me explain. Mofongo is mashed plantains, mixed with shrimp, pork, chicken or garlic sauce and it is just delicious. Much as Italians rely on pasta as part of their meals, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans rely on mofongo to complete their meal. Ours came with shrimp and though we ate as much as we could, there was still plenty to take home, so I urge you to try this Caribbean specialty.

Seafood and fish dishes include classic shrimp in heady garlic sauce, golden fried shrimp, rice and shrimp and even a soup made with shrimp and vegetables. Pargo frito is a whole fried red snapper topped with zesty salsa that is flaky and delicious, served with rice and beans. Ask about the lobster specials of the day and indulge, all at affordable prices.

For dessert, we cooled off with cool, creamy flan in golden caramel sauce. Mr. Cordero sent over their very special bread pudding, flavored with rum and raisins that I really enjoyed. Tres leches cake is made with three types of milk, as the name suggests and it all goes well with robust coffee.

The dance hall upstairs is also available for private functions and has already hosted several political functions, birthday and engagement parties. Soon, once the liquor license is granted, Cordero will promote lots of dancing, Latin comedy nights, Brazilian nights, live music and more. Call for more details of upcoming events.

If you’ve never tried Puerto Rican food, you should come for a hearty, delicious meal at Mi Candela on Steinway Street in Astoria. If you’re familiar with this rich, savory cuisine...venga! I can’t wait for the dancing to start and I’ll certainly be back for more delicious food. Buen provecho!

Mi Candela

31-31 Steinway St.  Astoria 718.396.4735

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