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    Wednesday, February 28, 2024

    Puerto Lima brings flavors and charm to Gales Ferry

    The Argentino sandwich at Puerto LIma (Sarah Gordon)
    The Tripleta sandwich at Puerto Lima (Erica Moser)

    It’s not as though it’s a burden to write these restaurant reviews for The Day. It’s fun! And pleasantly caloric!

    But there are times when I just can’t summon fresh adjectives to uniquely capture the cumulonimbus quality of whipped potatoes or the briny secrets of a chilled lobster roll.

    Well, of course, that’s why an Irish woman named Madeline “Maddy O” O’Thesaurus invented a book that contains groups of synonyms that writers can consult to avoid undue repetition. You may have heard of her book. It’s called a “Thesaurus.”

    ANYWAY … I have a perhaps misplaced sense of writerly pride in which I try to rely on a thesaurus as infrequently as possible — as though to do so acknowledges a weakness in my craft.

    What would Twain do?

    But I was suffering one of those periods of weary non-inspiration when a dining review assignment — the one you’re reading, in fact — drew nigh. And I had an epiphany! I remembered a famous chapter in Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” where the book’s hero was faced with the unpleasant chore of whitewashing a nine-foot-tall fence. But Young Tom, an enterprising and charmingly crafty fellow, acted like it was the greatest possible summer morning’s entertainment to whitewash a fence — and thereby seduced various passersby, all of whom were initially skeptical that whitewashing a fence could provide satisfaction, into doing his work for him.

    And it occurred to me: Here I sit daily in The Day’s newsroom, surrounded by younger and stronger and infinitely more talented Young Journalists. What if I were to somehow convince a crew of these folks to accompany me to the family-run Puerto Lima, a restaurant in Gales Ferry serving a clever fusion of Peruvian and Puerto Rican food? I’d provide a variety of menu items for their consumption, and then casually ask if they’d jot down a few thoughts on what they ate.

    Friends in need

    Be careful what you ask for, Koster! My colleagues proved more than equal to the task and provided me with wonderfully evocative descriptions of the food at Puerto Lima, which, as you’ll see in their accounts below, offers excellent fare.

    Puerto Lima is a tiny place in a strip center. You walk in and face a serving bar fronted with tropically patterned tile. Through the display glass, the customer sees all the possible ingredients for the Puerto Lima Farm Bowls (starting at $11.99), which are build-your-own colossus from an wide variety of vegetables and meats. To your left is a bench where folks who’ve ordered to-go can wait, then a large tall-top table and a rim of windows-facing counters and stools for on-site diners. Through a door to the right is a narrow dining room to accommodate larger parties. Bright colors and plants abound.

    Our Counter Guy was exceptionally pleasant and helpful, walking us through our options and serving samples of sauces as well as delicious, house-made passion fruit and purple corn/cinnamon juices. All were outstanding.

    But the sandwich board is what galvanized our group. The array of cleverly conceived, hot pressed sandwiches was impossible to ignore — and this is where I let my “helpers” take over:

    “The Lomo Saltado sandwich ($14.95) was good. Lomo saltado is typically made with strips of sirloin steak, chopped red onions and tomatoes, and stir-fried with soy sauce and other seasonings. The steak in the sandwich was tender and the sauteed vegetables tasted fresh. The bread was also fresh and was toasted on a sandwich press to a nice golden and crunchy texture. The sandwich, which is probably big enough for two people, was served with crispy shoestring fries.”

    — Carlos Virgen

    “I sometimes get food envy at other people's dishes, but this was not the case when I ordered the Tripleta ($14.99), a Puerto Rican sandwich with bistec (beefsteak), jamon (ham), pork, American cheese, sambal aioli and potato sticks. The juicy pork was a particular standout of this very satisfying mix of meats between two perfectly pressed pieces of bread. The thin and crunchy potato sticks, which came both in the sandwich and on the side, was a fun alternative to more routine fries.”

    — Erica Moser

    “I was immediately impressed by the size of the pressed hot sandwiches at Puerto Lima; they had to be at least a foot long. When I saw the Puerto Lima sandwich ($12.99), it piqued my interest: grilled chicken, spinach, roasted red peppers and aji amarillo sauce. I didn't know before I tried it but aji amarillo is a yellow chili pepper from Peru and is very popular in Peruvian cuisine.

    “The sauce didn't have a strong flavor and it definitely wasn't spicy, but it mixed well with the other ingredients. It was simple and delicious. The small shredded fried potato sticks on the side were a present surprise, but struggling to pick them up, I found myself craving some regular-size fries.”

    — Johana Vazquez

    “The Argentino sandwich ($13.99) was nothing like expected, in the best of ways. The combination of beef, provolone, chimichurri and potato sticks sandwiched between a roll sounds simple almost but with fresh ingredients and full flavor it became something more. It was the perfect combination of complex flavors without being so heavy you couldn't take a few bites more.”

    — Sarah Gordon

    Oh: what did I eat? I tried two empanadas ($8), one with chicken and one with shrimp. The fillings were enveloped by a toasty, flaky crust and the juicy chunks of chicken breast, coated in a pot-pie style gravy, were wonderful. The bay shrimp had a bit of spiced heat but were a trifle overcooked.

    Finally, what did we not try? Why, the bowls! Next time — and there WILL be a next time. As Sarah Gordon concluded: “Overall this new addition is the perfect bright, friendly and fresh spot to add to a lunch rotation.”

    Puerto Lima

    1641 Route 12, Gales Ferry

    (860) 381-5765, www.puertolima.com

    Cuisine: Clever fusion of Peruvian and Puerto Rican sandwiches and bowls

    Atmosphere: Festive, casual

    Service: Eager to share and helpful with guidance about the nature of the food

    Prices: Very fair for what you get

    Handicap access: Easy entry, small layout

    Reservations: This is a popular takeout spot, so call ahead

    Credit cards: Yes

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