Mildred Perez heard the lament often: There just weren't enough Puerto Rican restaurants in Orlando. Finally the island's descendant decided to take her friends' advice and do something about it. Not long ago Perez debuted Brisas del Caribe on Curry Ford Road, where she has enjoyed a steady flow of traffic ever since.
Her homespun menu shares similarities with Cuban fare in the roast pork, chicken and fried-plantain staples. The difference between the two becomes clear in the flavorings, such as the extra garlic and cilantro that are rubbed into meats.
And as for soups, rather than a traditional black bean, Perez favors richer stews fortified with plump, silky red-kidney beans.
"Puerto Rican is more European in its influence. We don't use so many hot spices, but we do use a lot of seasonings: garlic, olive oil, oregano and vinegar," explains Perez. "The island is so small that we also use a lot of seafood it's one of our specialties."
Because Puerto Rican dinners are usually served in heaping portions, it's not necessary to start with appetizers at Brisas del Caribe. Many of them are included with entrees anyway. But we liked "yucca al mojo," a boiled, starchy vegetable that's fibrous like squash. All of the yucca's sweetness was brought out by a sticky garlic glaze, and it gained an entirely new character when dipped in a snappy red "mojo" sauce. It was a steal at $1.75.
Among entrees, my guest loved the bold freshness of pechuga al ajillo ($9.99), a boneless chicken breast that was sizzled on a grill, then smothered in a deeply flavored garlic sauce. The dish was served with red beans and rice, and fried green plantains that were golden on the edges, yet still moist and flavorful within.
Another fine choice was tripleta de mariscos ($15.99), a trio of conch, octopus and shrimp sautéed with a clean-tasting, vinegary sauce. The seafood creation had a delicate lightness that nicely contrasted against the heaviness of the fried plantains that were served on the side.
As for dessert, we loved the luscious tres leches (three milk) cake ($1.75), a plain, blondish concoction served in a cup and masked by meringue. We prodded into it with a spoon, and three kinds of sweet milk spread luxuriantly over the cake, soaking into every crevice.
Though Brisas del Caribe is too rambling and brightly lit to afford a sense of intimacy, after hours Thursday through Sunday the restaurant morphs nicely into a salsa/merengue club.
Waiters take great pains to welcome newcomers, and the Perez's food is as warm and inviting as a home-cooked meal. Although dishes such as roast chicken and pork are not likely to win awards for innovation, count on leaving happy and stuffed.