Food & Drink

Latin Lessons

Points South Latin Kitchen is muy caliente in Fells Point.

Forgive us if cynicism sets in when a new restaurant purports to have captured the culinary soul of an entire continent. Cooking styles and gastric sensibilities can vary greatly from region to region, let alone from country to country, so when Points South Latin Kitchen opened earlier this year in the previous home of Anastasia, we were a bit skeptical. Two visits to the restaurant, which has been beautifully revamped into a festive, two-level space with multiple dining rooms and bars, erased our doubts. Owner/managing partner Bryson Keens and chef Scott Stauber have created a menu that’s inspired by the spirit of South and Central American cuisine, but doesn’t feel confined by it. Take the Costillas de Res en Asado Negro—beef short ribs that are braised in chocolate sauce. The meat arrived so tender we could—and did—cut it with a spoon. In the hands of a lesser chef, the dish could easily be gimmicky, but here, the hint of bitterness combined with the sweetness only enhanced the meat’s flavor.

Ten small plates featured on the dinner menu range in ambition—and price. We can imagine eating the wonderful Carimanolas—fried croquettes filled with yucca mash and ground beef—on the streets of Panama City or Bogota, where they’re popular. The
Cangrejo y Aguacate, chunks of lump crab and avocado served on a crispy yucca cake, seems a bit sophisticated (and at $16 for one, a bit too pricey) for street food. Crab purists might object to its mojo sauce, which some may feel overpowers the crab’s natural taste, but we found it to be a tangy twist on the local favorite.

Nightly meat, seafood, and fried whole-fish specials highlight the entree selections. We opted for a bowl of bouillabaisse, which arrived piping hot and filled with generous portions of shelled mussels, clams, shrimp, and large pieces of snapper. Its lime broth was refreshingly subtle. Another staple in many Latin countries is grilled chicken, and Stauber’s take is solidly spiced. Chimichurri, a green sauce associated with Argentina and usually made of chopped parsley, minced garlic, oregano, and oil or vinegar, provides a nice acidity to the crispy skin. The bird comes with Peruvian-style potatoes, an addictively good salad of Amarillo cheese sauce, eggs, and olives that is served warm.

The cocktail program includes several variations of a margarita. Our favorite was the signature combination of whiskey, spiced pear, ginger liqueur, and fresh citrus that’s mixed and bottled daily. Having more than one can transform your tame dinner into a fiesta, during which you’ll feel right at home among the restaurant’s colorful murals and mosaics. Despite its price point (near the upper echelon of Fells Point restaurants), a relaxed atmosphere envelops Points South, which succeeds in paying homage to, rather than trying to rigidly replicate, the food and drink of our neighbors to the south.

POINTS SOUTH LATIN KITCHEN 1640 Thames St., 443-563-2018. HOURS Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Lunch: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner: Mon.-Wed. 5-10 p.m., Thu.-Sat. 5-10:30 p.m. CUISINE Latin American. PRICES Small plates: $12-17; entrees: $26-36; sides: $8. ATMOSPHERE Latin flair.