Themed Nuevo Latino Dining at La Boca in the Conga Room
La Boca del Conga-5364 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, 90036-4212

Conga Room The Conga Room in Los Angeles is one of the hottest venues in town to see eclectic, new world and Latin music, and the recent addition of a restaurant serving Nuevo Latino food has given it an added dimension. The former camera shop has now been converted into a long dining room that has made quite a name for itself since opening it's doors in November 1999. They've been partying ever since.

This particular style of food is hot in Miami and New York, but now Los Angeles has about four high quality restaurants serving Nuevo Latino cuisine to predominately but certainly not exclusively a Latin crowd. The fact that Jennifer Lopez, Jimmy Smits and Paul Rodrigues and Sheila E are part owners has also given the place a real show biz buzz to it. The likes of Madonna, Andy Garcia, Bruce Willis, Kevin Costner, Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Douglas have all been spotted there, and to quote NYPD Blue star Jimmy Smits, "The food's redefined for the new century. You can have a fun dining experience, then go upstairs and dance it off.

Conga Room They had to poach chef Eric Basulto formerly from the trendy Asia de Cuba on New York's Upper East Side, and more recently of its Los Angeles version, which opened up on Sunset Boulevard where Le Mondrian Hotel used to be. He in turn has come up with a very different dining experience that I have rarely been exposed to, and well worth trying on an occasional basis. It is the kind of place where young hip Latinos hang out, although I suspect on the weekends the place gets packed, it was still pretty crowded on a Wednesday night. The menu is set in stone, but is varied enough to please almost everyone, despite some of the unusual pairings and combinations. This is a dining experience well worth remembering and making a special trip for, and a welcome addition to the always-expanding Los Angeles restaurant scene.

It may be a fun dining experience, but the cocktails and the flamenco guitarist give the place a bit of a punch. I started with an El Mojito, a lime rum with mint sprigs, lime wedges and sugar. This Cuban classic comes at $8 a pop, and my guest had the Caipirihna, a very light and bubbly cocktail from Rio. Pitu Cachaca liquor with fresh lime juice and raw sugar.

Conga RoomAppetizers are pretty interesting and we selected a few different ones to start the meal such as the Tamal de Langosta, a fresh Maine lobster-infused corn tamale topped with "guiso de langosta" and saffron-ocean broth. Very fluffy and light and done Ecuadorian style, but not as good as one of the house specialties, Ensalada de Calamar, deep-fried calamari with baby aragula, chili oil and diced avacado. Zesty and well drenched in the chili oil, this was very good, as was the Chile rubbed Sea Scallops, served with chanterelle mushrooms, sweet peas and fire-roasted pepper sofrito. The scallops are flash cooked, with the pepper giving the plump and juicy scallops a very spicy taste, and quite delicious. The Ahi tuna Ceviche that comes drenched in tangerine juice, lemongrass and grated ginger root could have been more chilled however.

The main courses run to about a choice of eleven, so after carefully asking the waiter what was the best to have, I was quite happy with the Costillas De Cordero, Marinated Rack of Lamb, Nicaraguan Cabbage, Rioja wine and creamed spinach. The presentation was superb, and the red cabbage complemented the lamb very well. The spinach was sautéed in a hot poblano cream sauce, which takes the bitterness out of it, and the only criticism would be the size of the lamb chops, very small and a bit difficult to get at. The other entrée of Mero Empanizado, is a plantain crusted Grouper fish in a mango-crab "guiso" aji Amarillo and roasted sofrito. This was not a fish I had Excellent was the response from my guest, who compared the light and flaky fish to Orange Roughy.

Desserts were just as interesting like the rich and creamy Coconut Flan, creatively served in half a coconut. We also tried the three layered Cuban Cake stacked nice and tall and soaked in three milks, sweetened condensed, evaporated and whole milk, and a wonderful tasting Mango Bread Pudding served in a tiny coffee cup.

Tel: 323-938-1696
Fax: 323-938-1196

Lunch Monday - Friday, 11:00am to 15:00
Dinner Wednesday - Saturday, 06.00 to 22.00

Average cost: Dinner for two with cocktail - $120

Mike Hepworth, September 2001

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