Sometimes you're at the Apple store Genius Bar for so long that you end up fraternizing with your fellow prisoners. A few months ago, this happened to me and a New Jersey native, ethnically Cuban fellow captive. She, too, was new to Houston and was wondering where to get the kind of food she grew up eating. At the time, I was at a loss. But I'm not anymore and I hope she's reading this.
Café Piquet, inside a charming free-standing building on Bissonet St. in Bellaire, is the answer. I tried a respectable chunk of the sizable menu with two girlfriends and found the fare, on the whole to be as aggressively flavorful as I remembered Cuban cuisine to be back home near New York. Garlic, fat and plantains are in very full effect. And there's no better way to experience them all in full, orgiastic glory than incorporated into the fufu de plátano.
In other Latin American cultures, the mound of mashed plantains varies in texture and flavor under a range of names. Puerto Rican mofongo is probably the most common in this country. But what Café Piquet's fufu has on mofongo is maduros. Yep, the mashed plantains are a combination of green-and-savory and soft-and-sweet. The loosely doughy finished product is all crisp edges and thin threads of pork. Garlic sauce on top adds a tangy, piquant slap to the umami placidity of the fufu.
My party of three shared a single small portion of the fufu as an appetizer and still took home half. At $4.50, it could easily have been a filling meal. Presumably, the $8.99 large could keep a family going for the better part of a week. But we had more work to do. One friend ordered a combination plate, La Rumba, which combined vaca frita, picadillo and pernil. Another had her heart set on toothsome shreds of uncommonly complex ropa vieja.
The oven-roasted pernil I ordered may not have been made with garlic inserted into tiny cavities cut throughout the pork like the version I make at home, but more of the garlic sauce that topped the fufu did its pungent job. Congri, rice dark with black beans and flavored with ham was a pork-on-pork pleasure. And I just couldn't resist bringing just a few more maduros onto my plate. After all, with the sugary, chewy plantains, no dessert was necessary.