I’m not entirely sure why I hadn’t paid a visit to Longmont’s Tortugas in the last few years — in the late ’90s, I thought it was one of the best restaurants in the county. Combining a hospitable, homey, Key West feel with a menu of fresh seafood, prepared in the manner of the Caribbean, Mexico and New Orleans, it was an easy winner.
On a recent dinner outing with friends Janet and Keith, I was pleased to see the menu hadn’t changed too much. Those desiring something other than seafood can opt for voodoo chicken with spicy etouffee sauce, jerk pork chops or vegetarian curry. Many catches of the day, chicken and pork dishes are also available as gluten-free preparations.
We began with an $8.50 Asian-influenced appetizer of smoked salmon and avocado perched atop fried wonton skins. Fiery wasabi and citrusy ponzu complemented the clean taste of fish, and the crispness of the wonton neatly balanced out the toppings’ silky texture.
Adding bacon to a dish rarely does harm, and this was certainly the case with our other starter, $9 Creole BBQ shrimp. On their own, the generous portion of shrimp was plump and fresh, and exhibiting a proper degree of cooking. The bacon wrapped around the shrimp added a hint of crunch, and bridged the vanilla tones of the shellfish with the smoke and spice of the not-too-sweet barbecue sauce accompaniment.
Janet’s $25 salmon special received similar treatment, consisting of a fish filet wrapped in bacon. The fish was moist, ably assisted by the pork wrap. An apple mustard sauce made for a surprisingly nuanced condiment, with subtle hints of sweet and hot. Sides of sweet potato fries and asparagus rounded out this preparation.
For a buck extra, each of us received a refreshing, if not slightly soupy, sliced cucumber salad dotted with roasted red pepper. Janet noted that this version was less sweet than what she had grown up with in the Midwest, although the sugar level effectively balanced out the heartiness of the entrees.
Keith opted for the $18 shrimp mojo, prepared with a Cuban sauce of garlic, fresh sage, olive oil and lime. The bright sauce was distinctive and flavorful, without detracting from the quality of the seafood. Keith confessed he typically didn’t care for beans, although he dubbed the side of black beans and rice “incredible.”
My entree was the $17 jambalaya.
This oversized bowl included shrimp, crawfish, chicken and andouille sausage in spicy tomato sauce over rice. The strength of this dish is that each ingredient retained its individual flavor — some seafood stews can get a touch muddied. The sausage was fine, although it wasn’t quite as pungent as that found in New Orleans.
For dessert, Keith had the $6 coconut tart, which was fine, although it had the misfortune of being compared to the like-priced chocolate bourbon bread pudding. This exquisite dessert, with its velvety mouthfeel, smooth chocolate and praline-like taste, is among my top three local desserts.
While it’s been too many years between visits to Tortugas, I was pleased to see it was as good as I remembered. For the quality, prices are hard to beat, and dinners become even more reasonable on Wednesdays, when Tortugas offers a free bottle of wine with the purchase of two entrees.