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Dinner, by way of Puerto Rico, at Sofrito

*NOTE: This location has closed.*

  • Cuisine: Latin American/Caribbean
  • Atmosphere: spacious, transporting, exotic, loud, party, bustling
  • Attire: smart-casual, though it seemed "anything goes"
  • Ideal for: celebrations, no concern with time, loud music
  • Price: ALL a-la-carte menu items under $23
  • Reservations: via phone; accepted for parties of eight or more 
  • Phone: (212) 754-5999
  • Website: www.sofritony.com
  • Location: 400 E. 57th Street, (Btwn 1st Avenue & Sutton Place)

You know that feeling you get when you've been away from home for a while, say, in a foreign land (think outside of the contiguous US, or region you call home) with a completely different climate (think tropical) and, possibly, language?  If you're anything like me, you become accustomed to, and embrace, the local culture, cuisine, and lifestyle...so much so, that you feel a certain sense of loss upon returning home.  Case in point: it took me much longer than I had imagined to become reacquainted with my "real world/everyday" surroundings upon returning from a 2-week adventure in South America. 

On the first Saturday after New Year's, my friends, Nick and Robin, invited me and my visiting guest, Caroline, to join them for dinner at Sofrito.  "Sure, C&I will join u 2," I typed via text to Nick, "but wut kind of cuisine is it?  Never heard of this plc."  Since Nick's response only included the time that we were to meet, I took it upon myself to study-up on Sofrito.  Menupages.com classified the cuisine as "Latin American," and I wondered how, after having recently spent an extended amount of time in Peru and Ecuador, I could possibly choke down yet another empanada or sweet plantain.

Set on a quiet stretch of East 57th Street, a local/neighborhood resident would never believe that just beyond Sofrito's front door is a nightly fiesta beginning at 4p.m.  From the minute I stepped foot inside the shockingly large space, I literally felt transported back down South...far away from the snow, the honking horns, the lack of sunshine, and the never ending sea of pissed-off people.  Think: Latin, hip hop and pop tunes blaring, mojitos flowing, and folks of all ages (mostly Latin) dancing...at the bar, on the lounge-y sofas, at the dinner table, you name it.  Sofrito is great for parties both large and small, as the space can accommodate an unusually high number (for its location) of guests.  The modern decor attracts a well-dressed crowd; so don't even think of showing up in sweat pants.

While Sofrito is not a chain restaurant, they do utilize those electric "buzzers" that resemble a large drink coaster.  Being quoted an hour to an hour and one-half wait for a table is not out of the ordinary; I experienced that first-hand.  Under normal circumstances, there is no way in hell that I'd wait any longer than thirty-minutes for a dinner table, but in this situation, I was the invitee not the inviter.  So I did what any other polite person would do and bit (the crap out of) my tongue.

Our group of five was lucky enough to score a couch in the restaurant's bar area and relax while we waited to be formally seated.  Finally, after one-hour, one-pitcher of sangria and an order of empanadas mixtas later, we were led to our table.  Aside from the loud and obnoxious party seated next to us, I found that conversations amongst ourselves were surprisingly audible and clear. 

Based on a recommendation by our server, Caroline and I chose to split the Pernil entree.  For a mere $19, plus an extra-plate charge of $10, we received a mammoth-sized portion of the Pernil (roasted pork shoulder) accompanied by sides of saffron rice dotted with pigeon peas and maduros (sweet plantain).  Aside from the fact that I was uncomfortably full from gorging myself on empanadas and a pina colada (stop laughing!  It was one of those "when in Rome" moments, OK?), I made sure to taste everything on my plate.  The Pernil was not as tender as I had hoped for, and the rice and maduros were merely standard/decent.  Due to the sheer size of the restaurant, I felt that the food looked and tasted similar to a meal you'd be served at a wedding or banquet.

PernilI'm not trying to sell Sofrito as the best Puerto Rican restaurant in town, but if you want to watch your dollar go farther and have a pretty damn good time while you're at it, you may really enjoy yourself here.  At the same time, if any of the following tend to annoy you, I'd suggest staying far, far away:

  • Loud music that is interrupted constantly by the "Happy Birthday to You" song in Spanish, followed by a T.G.I.Friday's-worthy server serenade
  • Long waits to be seated for a dinner table (unless you previously made a reservation for a party of eight or more)
  • Crowded
  • Clientele spanning all ages
  • Unevenly-paced service: if you have somewhere to be at a specific time, this is not the restaurant for you

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