At El Trovador, Latino dishes are festive and filling


There we were, some friends and I, sipping our sangrias and margaritas at El Trovador and dipping our deep-fried chicken taquitos in chunky guacamole, when suddenly, in a blare of festive trumpets, music began playing.

Hadn't the music started just a few minutes before? We had been so engrossed in our drinks, our conversation and the enormous platters of food (and these were just appetizers) that we hadn't noticed when the music had stopped.

A few minutes later, it happened again. A blaze of trumpets snapped us to attention, and happy music filled the restaurant. When had the music gone off? We had missed it again. By the fourth time this happened, we collapsed into giggles.

Trovador is Spanish for troubadour, and the Fells Point restaurant, which serves Mexican and Salvadoran food, seems perfectly named as a wandering (and perhaps tipsy) musician who brings happiness to all.

Inside the three-year-old restaurant is nicer than you might expect from the location, with a marble-tiled foyer, attractively worn wood floors, exposed brick, a dark and handsome bar, and white tablecloths.

Yet, as the on-again off-again music indicates, there's a loose, fun feeling about El Trovador. The food seems born of a kind of giddy madness -- platters piled high with meats and seafoods, more food than a person could possibly eat, all highly flavored and most of it fried.

It all starts with warm tortilla chips so thin they're almost translucent and salsa that boasts an unusual depth of flavor. Order a sangria, livened with bits of tart, crunchy apple, or a frozen margarita, and you're halfway to the El Trovador state of mind.

Appetizers are large enough to serve as meals. A plate of yucca and chunks of pork may have been overfried and overdried, but the yucca was crunchy outside and fluffy inside, the pork salty and addictive. A tart little cabbage salad provided a needed contrast to the heavy foods.

Taquitos, cigar-shaped fried tortillas stuffed with chicken, were similarly dry, but just fine when topped with guacamole and sour cream.

Fried plantains were the only appetizer we tried that showed any restraint at all, as they were less sweet than in other restaurants.

The main courses at El Trovador are served on enormous three-part platters (originally intended for the Chevy's restaurant chain, if the Fresh Mex logo on them is any indication) brimming with so much food that I was able to make not one but two meals from my leftovers.

The "plato tipico Salvadoreno" boasted a savory grilled flank steak, a rich and sweet fried corn tamale and a pupusa, basically a grilled tortilla filled with smoky cheese. Add refried beans, flavored rice and a little salad, and you'll get an idea of the magnitude of this meal.

And yet it is a snack when compared with the "plato el Trovador," which is piled high with shrimp, beef strips, chicken strips, peppers and onions, with two giant meaty and moist ribs on top for good measure. Of course, it comes with the same rice, beans and salad.

Somewhat lighter fare is available in the form of seafood such as salmon and sole, but we opted for the Cancun platter of lobster tail and shrimp, also served with rice and beans.

Our waitress, who proved that it is possible to give great service despite a language barrier, also placed a covered dish of house-made tortillas on the table, but we were so overwhelmed by our overflowing platters that we didn't touch them.

Desserts, which included flan, tres leche cake and a chocolate cake, were not made in house, and probably for that reason did not give us the same happiness as the rest of the meal. Tres leche cake, so called because it is made with evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and cream, was frozen in the middle, and the flan was overly firm.

I suspect that most people who eat at El Trovador don't have room for dessert anyway. Bring on the music and the margaritas.

El Trovador

Where: 318 S. Broadway, Fells Point

Call: 410-276-6200

Open: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers, $2.60-$9.50; entrees, $7.95-$15.95

Food: *** (3 stars)

Service: *** 1/2 (3 1/2 stars)

Atmosphere: *** (3 stars)

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