La Casa del Mofongo

It was 5 degrees Farenheit this morning with at least 5 inches of powdery snow turning the DMV landscape into a Winter Wonderland.  With the Federal Government and Schools closed due to the second visit of a Polar Vortex, a new weather-related vocabulary for our region, I have some extra time to catch-up with some household duties and some needed rest, as well as to pen this blog on a Dominican restaurant.

La Casa del Mofongo

La Casa del Mofongo is located in Silver Spring, MD on the super busy Georgia Ave., just a stone-throw away from the Beltway exits.  I had noticed it around a year ago when passing by there for some business, and its large self-promoting storefront piqued my curiosity with its bright colors and large photos of its dishes.  Dominican food establishments are few and far in between in an area where the Latino community is dominated by immigrants from Central America especially from El Salvador.  But the metropolitan area has seen waves of new Latino immigrants from other parts of the Spanish-speaking world especially from the Caribbean.  So when I eyed La Casa del Mofongo, I knew I had to step into it to learn more about this type of cuisine and taste their dishes.  I paid it a couple of visits, one with a couple of DC natives, and another accompanied by a long-term acquaintance from the island.

Chinola/Passion Fruit Juice

Guanabana/Soursop-Milk drinkWalking in, you notice the deep-colored walls more befitting for the Caribbean sun, covered with large flat screens with direct transmission of Dominican baseball games, along with a ceiling looking like a checkerboard.  The place is quite spacious covered with high tables on the sides and cafeteria-style furniture in the middle.  Taking our seat, the waitress took our order of drinks consisting of a glass of Chinola, or Passion Fruit Juice, and Guanábana, or Soursop Juice.  The Passion Fruit was quite tart and sweet at the same time, tasting rather concentrated in flavor while waiting for the ice cubes to dilute it down – definitely a good dose of exotic fruit and Vitamin C.  The Soursop was not so mouth-puckering since it is a milder fruit as well it was mixed with some milk, which is a version I have never tried before; I must say that I enjoyed this fruit-dairy mix, and my friend stated that it was common to mix fruit juices with milk on the island.  A similar concoction is mixed with orange juice, bearing the intriguing moniker of Morir Soñando or Die Dreaming.  Initially, I was hesitant to taste the impossible combination of orange juice and milk, but a sample of it convinced me that this was a tasty combination reminding me of orange sherbet.  Unfortunately, they had run out of this drink, but a glass of it will be an order on the next visit.

Pastelitos/Meat PattiesAfter finding out that the establishment served the Dominican meat pastry, Pastelitos, which was curiously not on the menu, we ordered one filled with chicken, and the other with beef.  The chicken patty was flaky and quite greaseless to the touch, with the chicken well shredded, quite tasty but just a tad too dry for my taste.  The side condiment of Dominican ketchup was a tasty helper made up of the tomato condiment and mayonnaise.  The beef version was also tasty, stuffed with ground meat cooked with a bit of vinegar.   My Dominican friend remarked that it was customary to cook the beef with that acidic liquid, which I find to be rather odd at first.  The other appetizers listed on the menu are Fried Salami, Longaniza Sausage, and Fried Cheese, but I prefer to have these fried pastries as my meal opener.

Pollo Guisado/Chicken Stew

An order for the main course for a friend of mine was Pollo Guisado, or Stewed Chicken (poorly translated as Sautéed Chicken on the menu).  A big bowl arrived filled with pieces of the poultry sitting in a pool of reddish sauce, served along with the Dominican staple rice and beans.  I had a taste from my friend’s bowl, and the chicken was literally falling off the bone, perhaps a bit overcooked (judging by some brown bits on the meat) and slightly stringy, but well-seasoned from the use of the latino mirepoux, sofrito, tomato sauce, and a good hit of the ubiquitous latino seasoning, sazón.  It was a bit overseasoned and oversalted for me, but it is meant to be eaten with plain rice which would temper the flavor.  My friend seems to enjoy this poultry dish, along the side of beans that seemed to have the same generous sazón treatment as the above dish.

Bacalao/Salt Fish StewA main dish on another trip for my Dominican trip was Bacalao, or Salted Fish Stew (again poorly translated as Catfish on the menu).  Dried salted cod has been rehydrated and cooked until flaking off the skin, then furthered cooked in a light tomato sauce.  Again, I had to dip my spoon into my friend’s bowl (they don’t seem to mind since they know my MO) and had a good tasting of it.  The codfish was properly cooked and quite moist from the rehydration and cooking with the light sauce, but I would have preferred a bolder tomato sauce with more depth in flavor and with a bit more seasoning.  However, we both appreciated the fact that it was slightly undersalted which made this fish dish very palatable; the contrary is more common in other versions that I have savored.   Again, the stew is served along the side of rice and beans.

Fried King Fish

Continuing with the seafood motif, another friend targeted the King Fish dish on the menu.  The piece of fish arrived well fried without any batter and nearly greaseless, topped by sautéed sweet peppers and onions slices.  I initially found the steak overcooked judging by the extra firm outer layer (a common trait in Caribbean cooking), but after a few bites, I was starting to enjoy the rather moist interior portions and the proper seasoning throughout each bite.  Furthermore, the fish flakes were akin to a steak with their firm and meaty quality, reinforcing the notion why the Caribbeans call this fish its royal name. The topping added some sweetness to the fish without detracting it from its spotlight; however, I would have preferred a light sauce alongside to add moisture to the fish steak.

Mofongo de Camarones/Shrimp MofongoComing to La Casa del Mofongo, one has to have at least a plate of its signature dish sitting on the dinner table – Mofongo.  This dish traces its roots back to West Africa and it was brought over to the Caribbean by African slaves.  Interestingly, the Cubans still use its African name, Fufu, for its version of this starch dish.  In the islands, instead of yam, the dish is made with fried green plantains, and mashed well into a pulp.  And this place knows its Mofongo.  Mine was well-seasoned with a mojo of olive oil that has been well-spiked by a good hit of garlic.  Furthermore, pieces of crushed chicharrón, fried pork belly, has been thrown into the mix, which added more unctiousness to the plain starch.  The topping of shrimp in red sauce (also comes in a white sauce) was the right order with its seafood sweetness, and the savoriness and moisture from the tomato-based sauce made the rather dry mound of starch more palatable.  The ring of lettuce and tomato slices around the dish was unfortunately soggy and unnecessary, but it was not enough to distract my tongue from this Piece de Resistance. A side order of fried ripe plantains was a satisfying sweet accompaniment to the meal.

Sancocho/Meat Stew

Going against my customary ways, I forgoed a seafood order on the second trip for a popular Dominican meat dish, Sancocho.  The large bowl landed on my table with chunks of pork ribs and beef, cooked just right to fall apart in the mouth.  But the element that impressed me the most was the broth that was filled with the right flavors produced by some sazón and some recaito, a latino wet seasoning, and tasting full of depth calling my taste buds to revisit its flavors with more spoonfuls.  The pieces of yucca, a common island staple, and green plantain, provided the starch and body to the flavorful soup and meat pieces, enough for me to ignore the side of white rice.  This bowl was satisfactory both for the soul and the stomach, and I now know why this is perhaps the island’s national dish.  The side of Haas avocado provided the necessary balance with its fresh creamy ripe state.

Dominican DessertsLa Casa del Mofongo is one of the few Dominican eating establishments in the area providing tasty authentic dishes from the island, a cuisine that is not familiar to most tongues around here.  Its strengths are found in the seafood dishes like the King Fish and Bacalao dishes, the meaty Sancocho stew, and ultimately the dish that this eatery is most known for, Mofongo.  The tower of desserts in the dining room, consisting of flan, rice pudding, and sweetened beans, are equally enticing, so long as one has more room for them after ingesting the healthy-portion dishes.  But this place will whisk the diner away from the current bitterly frigid Polar Vortex with a sip of its exotic juices, including the odd combo Morir Soñando, the Dominican Baseball league in the background, and the flavor-packed dishes hailing from the island.  Polar Vortex or not, this place is the right locale to be transported away through its island offerings.

Tropical Ice Cream Cafe

Tropical Ice Cream CafeFor a number of years, I have been hearing good things about a certain ice cream store that has built its reputation on its unique offerings that are not found in most establishments.  However, I never made the trip on the busy beltway to it despite my curiosity for such tempting offerings.  But recently, I opened an e-mail with an offering of coupons for said place which I bought three of them immediately.  The reasons were twofold: to force me to make the trip to Tropical Ice Cream Cafe, and, the other, to satisfy my curiosity of what its unique ice creams would taste like.  For this blog, I made a couple of trips to Silver Spring, MD, just off the beltway, and here are the offerings that I sampled.  Advisory:  No animals were harmed in the process, except this sole reviewer who had to endure savoring these cold sweet samples.

The pictures of these twin scoops will read from left to right.


Tamarind/Lychee: The tamarind version has its characteristic sourness of this Southeast Asian/Central American pulpy pod that I enjoyed in this mix.  Its fruity sour qualities are tempered by the right amount of sugar along with the richness of the cream.  Bits of the pod fruit are studded in the scoops giving off hints of clove-like qualities in each bite.  The lychee version is a floral bite with its unique exotic but quite subtle qualities, with heady gardenia-like hints on the palate.  Bits of this Far East Asian fruit in the ice cream reinforce the mild floral and exotic qualities that I particularly enjoyed savoring with each spoonful.


Rambutan/Durian:  The flavor of the Southeast Asian Rambutan is very subtle but containing a rather high sugar content.  The ice cream version is close to the Lychee version but lacking in the floral notes of the latter.  However, knowing what the fresh Rambutan tastes like, I could detect a bare hint of the fresh fruit qualities.  The Durian version was far from subtle.  Here, the pungency of this fruit leaves its mark without any shadow of doubt.  The assertive sulfurous flavor is much evident in the spoonful, an acquired taste that I grew up on in the tropics, without overwhelming the palate.   I indeed relished every bite of this bold flavor, but make sure to taste a sample before venturing into palatal terra incognito.

Mamay Sapote/Jackfruit

Mamey Sapote/Jackfruit:  The flavors from this Central American fruit were completely new and interesting to me.  The only way I can describe its flavor is that it reminds me of a slightly fruity bubblegum, with its pink color adding to that impression.  The slightly rough texture of the ice cream is an indication of the fibrous fruit.  I found each spoonful intriguing,  wondering what the fresh fruit must really taste like.  The Jackfruit version was brimming with the flavors of this South American and Southeast Asian fruit.  Just like the Durian, its flavors are quite heady but, in this case, not sulfurous at all.  Like the Durian, its  notes hints of something fermenting but it is more subtle with the Jackfruit.

Passion Fruit Sorbet/Soursop

Passion Fruit/Soursop:  Another fruit from the both Caribbean and Southeast Asia is the Passion Fruit.  This sorbet version packed a lot of punch with each spoonful filled with the citrusy fruity flavors tempered by its sugar content.  Its unique fruit flavors are still fresh tasting in this frozen version and I could not get enough of it.  Similarly, the Soursop comes these same tropical regions.  The flavors are more subtle than the above scoop with a distinctive subtle fruity note. A rich custard-like quality is also evident which points to this fruit’s other name – Apple Custard.  Subtle but still exotic.

Rum and Raisin/Mango

Rum and Raisin/Mango: Back to the Caribbean with this spoonful.  Rich ice cream is studded with large rum-soaked raisins tasting sweet yet boozy from the alcohol, further reinforced by the rum running through the cream, leaving a slight bitter foil to the sweet flavors.  I must say this is one of the most alcohol-tasting R&R I have ever had, fit for any adult aficionado of this flavor.  The Mango version was a bit too subtle for me at first.  After trying a few bites, I could detect its unique flavors, much like a creamy Mango puree rather than the fresh fruit bits.  This reminded me of a yogurt-based Mango Lassi I have tasted in some Indian eateries.


Mango-Lemon/Ginger:  This joint offers no-sugar-added ice creams and this version had a combination of mango and lemon flavors.  The taste was slightly fruity, creamy, with a mild taste reminding me of sherbet.  I must say that the lower sugar content was barely noticeable from a regular version, and this would be high on my list if I were on a low sugar diet.  The ginger ice cream vowed me with the first spoonful.  The pungent ginger bite permeates every molecule of this frozen treat with notes of mature ginger and molasses-like brown sugar, with pieces of ginger studded throughout it tasting like crystallized bits – I could not get enough of this biting treat.


Guinness/Pistachio: When I saw this version made from the dark stout, I knew I had to taste this Jamaican favorite.  Since I was familiar with this alcoholic drink, I could detect the subtle dark notes along with a distinctive hopsy flavor in each mouthful.  This reminds of sneaking a few sips from my grandmother’s favorite brew (despite my father’s disapproval) but in a frozen version.  The Pistachio ice cream was green in color, well-flavored with its nutty oil.  Bits of the toasted nut punctuate the  cream with its strong heady flavor and aroma.  Green jelly bits were mixed in the ice cream that made this frozen custard more interesting than just the singular nut flavor itself.

French Almond/Harambe!

French Almond/Harambe!: Another nut flavored ice cream was French Almond.  This was not as subtle as the Pistachio as it was packed with the assertive flavor of almond oil which I enjoyed by itself – it overpowered the other flavors that I was tasting.  The creamy body is mixed with toasted almond slivers that further accentuated the nut flavor.  On one visit, the special was Harambe! consisting of Orange, Pineapple, Banana, Coconut and Rum flavors.  No individual flavor was too prominent as all the ingredients performed a well-balanced act with each individual component exerting an equal presence.  There was a slight Piña Colada and Orange flavor that made this special offering very enjoyable and worth tasting.

Ghanaian Salmon Pie

Behind the large display cases of the frozen treats, Tropical Ice Cream Cafe also offers other sweet treats like Rum Cake, Carrot Cake, and Lemon Cake.  Amidst all the sugariness, there is a large sign displaying a savory offering – Ghana Fish Pie.  This struck my curiosity and I had to try it.  Very short flaky pie dough encase a rather moist stuffing made from salmon, flavored with sweet onions, spiked with bits of fresh chili, and colored and flavored with the ever-present West African ingredient – palm oil.  I did enjoy these crumbly bites that brought back memories of a similar version made with sardines which I grew up on.  I can see why the owner, who hails from Ghana, is proud to sell these warm turnovers, and look out for these while you are there.

Tropical Ice Cream CafeTropical Ice Cream Cafe is the United Nations of ice cream for it offers frozen treats that are skilfully made with the bold flavors of fruits from all regions of the world, from the Lychee of Far East Asia, to the Durian, Rambutan, and Soursop of Southeast Asia, to the Mamey  Sapote, Passion Fruit, and Tamarind of Central America and the Caribbean, and to the Jackfruit of South America.  In addition to the exotic flavors, I also enjoyed the standard fares with the nutty French Almond, Rum and Raisin, and Pistachio versions, amidst the low-sugar or no-diary offerings.  The seasonal specials too were worth tasting, like the Rambutan and Harambe!  This is indeed a most unique ice cream store that makes a gourmand’s eyes like mine light up and go into a frenzy with indecision.  I’m sure after a few samplings you will be returning back to explore the other missed flavors.

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