For months, Miriam “Morena” Montes de Oca has been telling diners that she would soon move her slip of a Dominican restaurant to the adjacent corner storefront. “Maybe this weekend,” she told me in February as she delivered platters of bacalao (stewed salt cod, $10), mangú (a chunky, savory mash made of fried green plantains, $9), and pica pollo (crackly chunks of citrus-marinated fried chicken that can drive a person into paroxysms of bone-gnawing pleasure, $9).
When I returned to the corner in question in late April, Morena’s Kitchen had only just settled into the new space. It was worth the wait. The place went from having ten cramped seats to ten spacious tables, as well as a broad dining counter facing the open kitchen. Exposed brick, a pressed-tin ceiling, and a floor of dark-stained wood have transformed Morena’s into a handsome bistro.
The new staff needs time to grow into the space; you may need both patience and persistence to see your meal through if the restaurant is at all busy. But what’s unchanged is the soulfulness of Montes de Oca’s food. Shrimp and peppers in a judiciously tempered garlic sauce ($13) surrounds a mound of mofongo and comes with a sidecar of soup for dunking. Sancocho stew ($10) — chock-full of tender beef, root veggies, and thick, slippery dumplings — warms to a dose of explosive habanero sauce. Don’t think about leaving without an order of pica pollo to go. It’s as captivating cold as hot, though you may not be able to resist snacking on a piece on the ride home.