Named for the 27 countries comprising Central America, South America and the Caribbean islands, Nacional 27 is a Latin restaurant and a fine dining offering from Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants — without the fine dining fuss. In fact, with a wide semicircle of booths, four-tops and a prominent dance floor in the middle of the dining room, the atmosphere lends a sense of a Latin club ambiance only seen by most in classic movies. And that’s before the salsa lessons start. That’s right, Nacional 27 offers free salsa lessons on Thursdays.
But enough about the ambiance. The scene is set. I started out with a bowl of wonderfully chunky guacamole with chips and some chipotle salsa. My first surprise? National 27 has decided to put shrimp on my guacamole, which inspires an “of course!” moment. But it gets better. One thing you’ll notice a few plates in is that they love shrimp. Out of the seven courses (including dessert) I ate that night, somehow four of them incorporated a perfectly cooked piece of shrimp into the dish. What am I trying to say? If you love a bit of excess in your Latin dining (without paying too much, honestly) you should definitely get anything with shrimp in it (just don’t take your Kosher date here).
If you want to try a few of their signature appetizers, you can’t go wrong with the N27 combination platter ($10/person). Their empanadas are fried just enough and then filled with moist, tender smoked chicken. Alongside their new lamb tacos and shrimp lollipop is my favorite part, the croqueta — made with plantains and cuban boniatos (sweet potatoes). I’ve said before how much I love texture in food, and the crunch of the batter combined with the warm velvety inside of the croqueta made me want another.
If you’re looking for a bit lighter fare or just want something to cleanse your palate before the next course, the citrus jicama salad is awesome. On paper, I wasn’t sure whether or not grapefruit, pineapple, jicama, oranges, radishes, pomegranate seeds and pickled onion would come together, but somehow they make it work. Not only is it refreshing, but thanks to the pickled onion, you get a little bit of that extra zing without all the harsh zap you’re used to from red onion.
On the other side of the menu, they’ve got a big platter of meat in their gaucho platter ($20). Served similar to an Argentinian mixed grill, gorgeously-spiced skirt steak rests on skewers with chorizo and chicken sausage that’s made in house along with a chimichurri sauce that goes well with it all. Rice and grilled peppers are also served, but I can guarantee that you’ll be far too full to even consider it.
If you haven’t decided to finish your meal with one of their fresh-fruit cocktails, it doesn’t get much better than their tres leches cake. I feel very strongly about tres leches because I don’t understand (and honestly don’t really want to) how it’s made. All I know is that the best tres leches cake should taste exactly like a vanilla cookie that’s sat in milk for the perfect amount of time. Specifically, it should be soft, wet and rich from the milk, and finally falling apart in your mouth before hitting the cream in the middle. Nacional 27 nails it.