By Jennifer Vazquez
(Reprinted from last week’s storm edition)
Sabor Latin Bistro, located at 8809 River Road, is a fantastic little gem right across the river from New York City. Though New York is known, among other things, for its abundance of great cuisine, you don’t have to travel across the Hudson to enjoy a great experience.
I’ve been to Sabor a couple of times with close friends who live in the area. When you first start walking towards the entrance you are met by French doors wrapped around the first floor. A number of exotic-looking plants and trees greet you as you make your way into, what can only be referred to as a “Latin golden wonder” since the restaurant stands apart from the condos and other buildings in the area by being painted a remarkable, eyecatching yellow –reminiscent of the tropical architectural aura that one tends to associate with the Caribbean.
Once you finally make your way through the wooden doors you are engulfed in a sea of deep red courtesy of the captivating color that makes up the wall paint of the first floor‘s dining room. Paintings and mirrors adorn the walls. Flowers and candles infiltrate the room. The seating is simple yet complimentary. The lighting is set to a dim, gentle glow. All the elements that make up an inviting and romantic setting is wonderfully accomplished at Sabor. Not only that, but all these elements perfectly allude to another setting, in other states…far in the South!
I remember walking in for the first time and immediately being reminded of all the images I’ve seen of the New Orleanian and South Beach cultures.
While I’ve visited this establishment on a few occasions, it was my first time meeting and speaking with the owner and former actor, Fernando Lopez, for this exclusive Observer interview. During our sit-down, Lopez touched upon the idea of having the look of his place resemble the tropical, Latin vibe one experiences in South Beach.
“I’ve been told it is like bringing South Beach to New Jersey,” he said. “This is great but what we really wanted to do was provide a fun, Latin infused setting.”
Lopez who opened the restaurant in 2001 with his wife Deborah and brother, Oscar Tolido, likes to give credit where credit is due when it comes to the mesmerizing décor that makes up Sabor.
“It was all my wife,” he said amidst laughter. “(The appearance) is all her idea. All her doing. I had no say.”
Though Lopez had a 15- year career as an actor, he is familiar with the restaurant business. He started waiting tables in 1985 for various establishments and became aware of the ins and outs of the restaurant realm –though he points out, “nothing really prepares you for when you open up your own restaurant.”
Yes. The visual elements are there but, most importantly, is the food quality present? The answer is simple: yes.
Lopez explained that, despite the great variety on its menu, Sabor is associated with certain signature dishes, in particular.
“We really are known for our skirt steak,” he said. “Our paella is really popular too… it’s not your typical Spanishstyle paella. We add our own touches to make it even more Latin.”
More Latin? Lopez explained that his restaurant and the chefs that work for Sabor, like to incorporate different elements in different dishes that are not necessarily found in that dish traditionally. In other words, their dishes are a mixture of many Latin influences from many Latin nations. Though he is Puerto Rican and his wife is Cuban, and therefore you will find many dishes that trace back to both their cultural roots, Sabor also provides an eclectic array of dishes from different nations, including Peru and Spain.
I had some avocado served with plantain chips as an appetizer –which was delicious! –followed by the most unique version of camarones al ajillo that I’ve ever had. Camarones al ajillo is shrimp in garlic sauce….typically! A simple and delicious dish. But at Sabor, I distinctly remember that the dish also included goat cheese and some sofrito. This strange mixture, for one reason or another, blended incredibly well, producing a fantastic dish!
For those who are wondering, Sabor also has a full bar, with a great selection of specialty drinks and wine. Therefore I implore you, one must try their sangria!
With all their great offerings –both the ambiance setting and the great food they serve –it is easy to see how Sabor is so successful, even to the amazement of Lopez.
“(Sabor) has surpassed my expectations of what I thought it could be…way beyond!” Lopez excitedly said. “If it does what it’s been doing for the past years, we will be –I will be –more than happy. We have great costumers. We’ve also have gotten great reviews, including Zagat!”
Sabor’s success is now manifesting in an expansion, which, Lopez explained, will entail extending the building to an adjacent empty lot. This development will prove fruitful when Sabor hosts its annual events, including its clambake in March and a pig roast. The latter is a fundraising event designed to have proceeds go to “kids in the North Bergen area,” according to Lopez.
“We’ve done (the fundraiser) the past three years,” he said. “Proceeds generally go towards maybe computers, scholarships, whatever is needed that particular year.”
The small, intimate and romantic setting that Sabor provides is a great compliment to the superb dishes they have mastered throughout their years in business and through the great eclecticism that is the beautiful, wide-ranging Latin culture.
If you would like more information on Sabor Latin Bistro, or to make reservations (which Lopez made an effort to point out as essential, especially for the weekends when they are at high capacity) call 201-943-6366 or visit www.saborlatinbistro.com.