At the Bristol Panama in Panama City, Cuquita Arias, the “Martha Stewart of Panama,” creates her signature dish. By, Lisa Rogak

Panama City is undergoing a building boom so robust that the biggest crop in town seems to be construction cranes. From some rooms at the Bristol Panama hotel in the financial district, no fewer than nine new buildings in various states of completion can be viewed.

Down in the hotelÂ’s Barandas restaurant, Chef Cuquita Arias has been conducting a building boom of her own among visitors and residents who turn up for her sophisticated Panamanian fare. After 10 years at the hotel, Arias has become a bit of a celebrity in Panama: sheÂ’s starred in her own cooking show, authored several cookbooks, and even published her own food magazine. ItÂ’s all not too surprising, considering that Martha Stewart served as her mentor back in the 1980s.

Cuquita is currently in the process of incorporating more Chombo dishes into her menu. Chombo is an Afro-Caribbean culinary style similar to Creole, but it also uses Asian and Indian spices, influenced by the workers who came from all over the world to build the massive Panama Canal almost a century ago. In the meantime, Arias’s Beef Fillet with “Mojo” Verde and Fried Plantain is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Beef Fillet with “Mojo” Verde and Fried Plantain: serves 6

Green “Mojo”
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. salt
1 pinch pepper
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 tbsp. cherry vinegar
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 c. canola oil
2 tbsp. finely chopped chives
2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
2 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. finely chopped dill

In a medium bowl, mix the mustard, salt, pepper, and both vinegars. Whisk constantly while adding the oil in a thin stream. When thoroughly incorporated, add the fresh herbs and refrigerate.

Fried Plantain
2 c. cold beer
4 garlic cloves, crushed
Ice cubes
3 c. peanut oil
1 green plantain, peeled, cut into 6 slices

In a medium bowl, pour the cold beer, the crushed garlic, and enough ice cubes to fill the bowl. Set aside. Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the plantain and fry until golden brown. Remove with slotted spoon and set on paper towels to drain. When cool, flatten each plantain with the bottom of a drinking glass until 1/2-inch thick. Soak in ice-beer mixture for 10 minutes. Fry again until crispy and pat dry with paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and keep warm in a preheated 200° oven.

Beef Fillet
3 lbs. beef fillet, sliced into 6 pieces
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Season the fillet with salt and pepper. Heat the oil and cook fillet on both sides to temperature. To serve, sprinkle the fillet with the green “mojo” and garnish with fried plantain. Served with grilled baby vegetables, if desired.