Fried chicken tends to taste awesome, no matter what form it takes. Even McDonald's chicken nuggets can rate highly on the scale of deliciousness. Yup, those nubs of reformed chicken mash have the capacity to hit the spot sometimes. Maybe more so if you're drunk.
El Castillo de Jagua's chicharrones de pollo sin hueso, large, super-crispified, non-uniform chunks of battered boneless dark chicken meat, are now one of my most favorite foods ever. Kind of. They lose a few points for lack of juiciness (some sort of dipping sauce could help with that), and being so easy to eat that I shove too many into my stomach and then feel like a bloated bag of meat and the essence of fried, but it's worth the pain, even knowing that the rest of your night will be punctuated with the need to expel silent fried chicken-flavored burps.
Of course, you can't just eat fried chicken as a meal; you need starch-o-licious yellow rice and soupy beans to go with it. This is really what fills your stomach's capacity to its upper limit, not the chicken alone; layering a bite of chicken with a spoonful of al dente rice follow by another spoonful of barely solid beans probably doesn't fit in your digestive system's "Handbook of Healthy Food Combinations." But the taste buds want it! AND THE TASTE BUDS GET IT! AND FOR SOME REASON WHEN I PERSONIFY THEM, THEY SCREAM LIKE THIS!!
I didn't start my dinner with the fried chicken-rice-beans holy trinity. It began with joining the table already occupied by Umami, her two sisters, her cousin, and her cousin's co-worker. ...Yes, this was planned; you don't just walk into a restaurant that looks like a roadside truck stop and see your food blogger friend from Paris in the middle of it.
I suggested going to El Castillo de Jagua after a failed attempt to get a bo ssam at Momofuku (at least, at the time that was most convenient for us), not that they're comparable eateries, but I do like both of them very much and El Castillo has the capacity to hold large parties. Large meat-loving parties. It's as vegetarian un-friendly as Momofuku, if they are to have anything in common. Olivia and Kathy also joined me for the night of meat-splosions, although Kathy had already eaten too much before dinner and so mostly sipped on her papaya milkshake. Tsk-tsk! ;)
I too ordered a papaya milkshake. These aren't like those super-thick, ice cream laden milkshakes you might get at an American restaurant, but just slightly thickened, milky fruity goodness. It's refreshing, a smidge more indulgent than just drinking juice.
The table received complimentary baskets of pre-buttered sliced of toasted bread. As though free bread weren't already easy enough to eat, now we had been saved of the grueling effort of slicing our own pats of butter and applying them to our bread. It may not be the best bread you'll ever eat, but it's already buttered—why resist?
The best dish of the night may not have been my fried chicken, but asopas de mariscos, or seafood soupy rice, that one of Umami's sisters had ordered. I had never thought of ordering soup before—I would just go straight for the meat + rice + bean dishes. But I probably wouldn't have thought of ordering the seafood soup because of the $23 price tag, making it one of just nine items on the large menu that costs over $20 (most dishes are under $10). However, you could probably feed two people with one bowl, which was full of shrimp, clams, scallops, squid, and probably other stuff (aside from the rice at the bottom of the bowl). The soup may have been a bit too salty—something I've experienced with other dishes at El Castillo—but you'll notice the savory briny sea flavor more. Hopefully. There was a lot of umami going on.
Umami's other sister went with the sopa de pollo, or chicken soup (unless this was the chicken stew...sorry for the memory loss). Also good stuff. With liquidy chicken essence.
The maduros, fried yellow (ripened) plantains, were very sweet and soft, like eating a heartier version of fried bananas. With some ice cream and honey, they would've made an awesome dessert. I prefer tostones, or fried green (unripened) plantains as a side dish. They're fried twice! Twice! HEEHEE. So you end up with non-sweet, super-crisp patties of starchy goodness.
Steak-craving Olivia ordered the especial bistec salteado, a big plate laden with sliced pepper steak, rice topped with beans, salad, and tostones. The steak was of the tender, juicy sort. Yet another item to put on my list of "things to order next time."
There was no way we could polish off all our food, but I think we did a pretty good job. Of course, my friends helped me eat my fried chicken; there's no way I could've eaten it all save for one piece. If only I could have that piece now. (I mean, a fresh piece, not a nearly 2-week old piece.)
Since we had all entered the "food coma" stage, we ordered just one small flan cube for the table to share. It's a surprisingly dainty portion size considering how large the other dishes are, but enough to give eight people a small taste. And a small taste is all you need; it was so sweet, I could only think of comparing it to candy. I prefer my flan to be a bit lower on the sugar buzz-inducing scale.
They also have a chocolate cake and coconut cake that I'd like to try, but I'm usually too full by the end of the meal to think of adding a slab of cake on top of whatever unrecognizable mash is churning in my belly. A strategy must be employed. Maybe if I could just limit myself to sharing one entrée with a friend... ...yeah, right. The food is so cheap that you don't have much reason to restrain yourself.
When I move to Brooklyn, I'll only be 15 minutes away from this place. And then maybe I'll actually leave enough behind on my plate so that I have leftovers to take home.