For the first-timer, it takes some determination, and maybe some help from MapQuest, to find Rebecca’s. Tucked against the rocky hillside in a tiny stretch of retail real estate that is one of the few remnants of old Edgewater, the restaurant is almost hidden behind a looming new condominium complex. But the search — and the subsequent hunt for parking — is rewarded with a gracious evening spent enjoying excellent Latin food.
Rebecca’s is named for its Cuban-born proprietor, Rebecca Chernalis, whose husband Glenn is the restaurant’s chef and also a scion of the family who owns The Market Basket in Franklin Lakes. Since 1997, the couple’s talents in the dining room and kitchen have drawn capacity crowds to the small and elegant space, making reservations a must.
With a semicircle of velvet drapes screening the entrance, a dramatic urn of fresh flowers, soft lighting and antique accents, Rebecca’s two diminutive dining rooms whisper romance. The larger of these opens onto a charming outdoor patio nestled into the foot of the cliff – tables there are particularly sought after on summer evenings.
The space may be cozy, but the first-rate staff keeps everyone comfortable. Knowledgeable and friendly, they are attentive enough to keep wine and water glasses full and dirty plates whisked promptly away.
Most of Rebecca’s generously portioned appetizers are ideal for sharing. We dug into a bowl grilled, sliced chorizo and savored the complex combination of spices on Jamaican jerk chicken skewers. Like much of the menu, these featured intense flavor without the searing heat that some may associate with Latin cuisine. They are apparently a favorite, but we couldn’t get excited about the Cuban croquettas, which are available in pork, chicken and beef varieties. All resemble slightly sophisticated mozzarella sticks and were much improved by the piquant horseradish sauce served with them. Cilantro marinated shrimp was perfectly cooked but needed more of the herb’s distinctive flavor to merit its name.
Among the entr饳, Rebecca’s is renowned, and rightly so, for its mammoth, grilled, double-cut, glazed pork chop. This carnivore’s delight takes 45 minutes to prepare, (as your waiter will be quick to tell you) and is astonishingly moist. For the fainter of heart there is another appealing pork option – lechon asado, slow roasted pork with garlic mojo. Our waiter warned us that it might be slightly fatty, but we found most of the fat had melted into the meat, which was appealingly soft and richly flavored with garlic. Grilled skirt steak was also another winner, served with a refreshing, chunky cucumber and cilantro salsa in place of the traditional, parsley-based chimichurri. Crisp yucca fries were a perfect accompaniment. Other successful sides were sweet fried plantains, “dirty rice” (with black beans) and buttery mashed yams.
You may, like we did, try to protest when the waiter hands you Rebecca’s dessert menu. But to resist is to miss a significant part of the whole experience. We swooned over coconut flan, a sensuous bread pudding, intense espresso cr譥 brulee and quite possibly Bergen’s best rice pudding, proving once again, that when it comes to food, it’s always more satisfying to give in.