“Number six, no beans, extra rice, extra sauce.” Such was my mantra, spoken in a perpetually raspy voice on each occasion when my parents brought me to my favorite restaurant – Versailles.
Some of my earliest memories belong to that no-frills strip mall restaurant - The rotund waiter looking down at me in my high chair with the biggest grin I’d ever seen, the white bread slathered in garlic butter we could never get enough of, the speedy service that left us waiting never more than five minutes for our food, and the cheesy décor alluding to a place I’d been told we couldn’t visit.
Cuban food is something I know about only through the lens of Versailles. What’s more, the Number 6 is all I’ve ever ordered there. The half chicken gives “garlicky” a new meaning. Marinated in Versailles’ signature Mojo sauce, a happy marriage of garlic, onion, and don’t-ask-don’t-tell spices, it’s then twisted and turned on a rotisserie until the skin is crispy and the meat falls off the bone. Alongside it come rings of almost raw onion, soaked below the rotisserie in Mojo drippings, buttery rice, and the piece de resistance – fried plantains.
If Versailles is my favorite restaurant, plantains are my favorite food. The three piece rationing of sweet, smooth, fried perfection were never enough. When prompted to order more, my parents would suggest that we’d “See how I’m feeling” after we finished the Number 6. Sure enough, I was always stuffed, thoroughly garlic-breathed, and already dreaming of our return.
Today, eating at Versailles is of the highest priority whenever I visit home. The ambiance has been classed up a bit and I don’t quite fit in the high chairs any more, but nothing else has changed. Not the staff, not the white bread, not the speedy service, and definitely not the plantains.
If I still lived in Los Angeles, that frying oil would course through my veins. Luckily, San Francisco is a place where, if you want something done, you do it your god damn self. And with that, I was on a mission to make my own plantains.
Hesitant to buy out Costco’s vegetable oil supply, I turned to my handy friend, coconut oil. With its high smoke point and mild flavor, it seemed like it just might be the perfect companion for my high maintenance plantains. Sure enough, it was. This recipe for fried plantains forgoes saturating the stuff in oil, manages to get the inside nice and smooth, and gives the outside a caramelized crunch. The best part is that there’s no three-piece limit in my house. No parents, no rules!
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
4-ish tablespoons coconut oil
2 very ripe plantains (they should have lots of brown spots on the outside)
1 can black beans
1 cup sour cream
Your favorite hot sauce
Sautee the plantains:
Peel the plantains and slice them on an angle, about 1-inch thick each.
In a heavy-bottomed skillet (I use cast iron), heat the coconut oil until melted.
Once the oil is melted, add the plantain slices. Season with a little salt. Flip over after a few minutes, once the undersides have begun to brown. Continue sautéing until plantains are tender on the inside. Set them aside on a paper towel lined plate.
Make the Crema:
Combine sour cream, lime juice, and as much hot sauce as you can handle.
Prepare the Tortillas:
If you have a gas stove, turn a burner on low. Place a corn tortilla directly on the grate and use a spatula to flip it after 30-ish seconds. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
Drain and rinse the beans. Mix in a small amount of cumin and heat up in a small pot or in the microwave.
Slice the avocado.
Put it all together: taco, plantains, beans, avocado, crema and voila!
P.S. San Francisco does have some plantains that rival Versailles. My favorites are Limon's fried plantains and Little Chihuahua's plantain and black bean burrito. Even still, you never forget your first!