Reconquista of sorts in Winston-Salem

by David McGee

Reconquista of sorts in Winston-Salem

As you walk up on the corner of 4 th and Spruce you’ll notice young professionals strolling along the streets as the trolley goes by. The trees are lit up, with the foliage glowing in shades of red, orange and yellow. The rhythm of the city is thrumming along beneath the sidewalk and the new sound on this street is Latin, drifting on the autumn breeze from the doors of Rana Loca.

A recent addition to the downtown culinary scene, Rana Loca opened in August this year and has been steadily building up a reputation for serving new delights to the area. Delivering dynamic tastes with Latin accents on continental classics and authentic dishes that stand on their own, Rana Loca has brought in chefs Mike Millan and Danny Sacullo from Miami to Winston-Salem to fill a flavor void in the city.

Mike sharpened his skills in the kitchens of Hialeah, where food like this is the norm and Spanglish is the standard dialect, so it’s no surprise that the Cubano makes a mean Cubano. The Cuban-style pulled pork with ham, pickles, swiss and spicy mustard all piled on crusty, toasted cuban bread is off the charts. The pulled pork and ham achieve a great balance from the spicy mustard that wakes the sandwich up and gets the rest of your taste buds involved in the action.

All sandwiches come with your choice of about 10 sides to choose from, but plantain chips seem like the right thing. With their slightly sweet taste and crunchy texture, plus adaptability for different dipping sauces, this makes them a crowd favorite.

For lighter fare and less Western food, look no further than the empanadas. With two different styles to choose from — Argentinean beef and vegetable and cheese — these empanadas are different from each other in flavor but equal in quality. The Argentinean beef empanada is a fried tortilla stuffed with spiced ground beef, olives and raisins, then served with a mouthwatering zesty ranch and chimichurri de zelis dressing that provides top notes to the whole dish. The vegetable and cheese empanada is also a fried tortilla but is instead filled with mushrooms, spinach and goat cheese. The spinach and cheese ooze together, coating the mushrooms in a way that makes me think of how simple, traditional ingredients can be infused with a new point of view to recreate what was a peasant’s meal into something approaching haute cuisine.

Without letting the main course prevent this smorgasbord from coming to a premature end, I dove into the land of dessert where I encounter tres leches and maduros split. These two are something that fat kids dream about and the rest of us write home to mother about.

At Rana Loca, tres leches is a light sponge cake topped with a heaping serving of ice cream drizzled with chocolate syrup. The warm, airy cake immediately starts sopping up the slowly melting ice cream that can’t get on a spoon fast enough. With a flick of the wrist everything is enhanced by the sweet chocolate drippings that artistically envelope the plate.

If one round of dessert isn’t enough, a maduros split will be the answer. Ripe plantain is fried and caramelized then combined with the delicious ice cream and chocolate sauce to give a Latin twist to your everyday banana split. The bar is raised by maduros because of the bold and contrasting natural sweetness of the plantains to the ice cream and chocolate.

As a person who usually skips dessert and thought he knew what he liked to eat, this is an example of why it’s good to try new things. With a superb menu that has something to offer everyone and desserts to compete with the best confectionaries, Rana Loca is the new guy on the block with something to prove and from the looks of it, plans to be an old don.

wanna go?

Rana Loca 4111 W. 5th Street, Winston-Salem

Rana Loca serves two types of empenadas, beef and vegetarian, and each comes fully accoutremented. (photo by David McGee)