By Heather Greenleaf
Tender hunks of pork shoulder, deeply flavored with cumin, sat atop a thick tangy melt-away mojo sauce peppered with tiny pork bits. Bright cilantro, soft strands of tangy red onion, and sour segments of orange balanced out the heady dish, called Masitas de Puerco ($16), and the highlight of dinner at Jose Garces’ latest Philadelphia eatery, Rosa Blanca.
Touted as a Cuban Diner, Rosa Blanca has a hip, retro feel. The front room features the hallmarks of a diner: deep and pleated red booths, a long counter, and checkerboard tile floor. Latin music competes with the crowd noise, and the entrance area is heavy with a divine, cheese infused aroma. The decor softens a bit in the back dining room, but simple shelves displaying objects from everyday life in Havana — electric fans, fedoras — along with wrought iron and soft yellow tones, maintain the restaurant’s casual atmosphere.
Dinner began, as any Cuban dinner should, with a Mojito or two ($9). Dangerously delicious and incredibly smooth, the rum within was mostly masked by the tart lime and perky mint. Alongside, we snacked happily on the small chewy cheese buns, lapping up the accompanying sweet and spicy guava-Sriracha butter.
The Pescado Ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus, $13) was bright and fresh, delighting in various textures and colors. The bowl combined silky and supple cubes of fish, dense white corn kernels, micro greens, sweet potato cubes, and crunchy corn nuts, all entangled in thin strips of raw red onion and garnished with crisp plantain chips.
The conch chowder ($8) was refined with smooth coconut undertones. Hefty lumps of crab and chewy morsels of conch swam with firm green peas, though not abundantly, in the thin broth. The flakey crust on the Empanada de Pollo ($4) housed softly shredded chicken and red bell peppers, but was not full or innovative. The Cubano sandwich ($8) layered all the standard ingredients: roast pork, ham, cheese, pickles, and mustard on pressed bread, and though classics like this pleased, they didn’t astound the way the Masitas de Puerco did.
On the side, we preferred the Fufu ($4) — a dish comprised of mashed sweet plantains and chips of smoky bacon — to the overly salted Tostones ($4), a flakey plantain pancake served here with a side of oil infused with Indian spices.
The Flan de Vainilla ($6) stacked luscious vanilla cream atop a shiny and slick mild egg custard, and ended the meal on a perfectly sweet note. The garnish of sweet potato was surprising, as I had assumed it was papaya, but ended up being a savory foil to the sweetness of the vanilla cream.
Rosa Blanca earns 4 out of 5 Keys for the innovative items on the menu; the dishes for which I would eagerly return: the pork, ceviche, and flan.
707 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Breakfast: Monday – Sunday 8 – 10 a.m.
Dinner: Friday & Saturday: 5 p.m. – Midnight
Sunday – Wednesday 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.