Salsa (on the rocks) with Chips

21 May Green Chile Vodka

Green Chile Vodka

I could add this new, Green Chile vodka from St. George Spirits of Alameda, California into a Bloody Mary.  I could make a vodka-rita, substituting the St. George Green Chile vodka for tequila. Or I could use it in a peppered martini…but in this case no chilies would be needed. This unique non-GMO based spirit is infused with a combination of peppers including jalapeno, habanero, Serrano, and red and yellow bell peppers giving it a distinctive, green chile flavor with a subtle, yet noticeable bite. Lime peels and cilantro are also part of the process—after all this is a spiked salsa (minus the tomatoes)—we are talking about.

I, however, choose not to do anything to this vodka. I intend on savoring the smooth, clean fresh pepper flavor on the rocks with nothing more than a squeeze of lime.

And maybe accompanied by a bowl of tortilla chips.

St. George's Green Chile Vodka

The Return To the Senegalese Stomping Ground

30 Apr

Chez Alain

“I couldn’t find a mention of this place anywhere online,” Eugene said as he waited under scaffolding on the corner of Adam Clayton Boulevard (7th Avenue) and 122nd St, his shadowy visage blending into the dim surroundings. “How did you find it?”

“Yeah, how do you like that.?” I said. “It hasn’t even been Yelped yet.”

I was proud of myself, but really, the discovery of the Senegalese restaurant, Chez Alain was easy for me. Just a few blocks north of what was referred to in an earlier post here as the “Senegalese Stomping Ground,” was also not far from my place of residence. When we first started our urban food adventures almost 13 years ago we routinely discovered gems that had yet to be unearthed. Now finding a restaurant that hadn’t previously been on Yelp, Chowhound, Serious Eats, or written up by the New York Times or Village Voice was no longer easy. In fact, it was almost impossible

“Maybe we should revisit some of our old gems,” Gerry volunteered as we gathered at a table for five in the clean, practically virginal restaurant.”Do you think we can amend the group’s rules to allow that?”

It wasn’t a bad idea and just the suggestion alone brought back a reverie of names such as “Uncle Sals’ Ribs and Bibs,”(Southern (Bronx) BBQ),  Tandoori Hut, (Dining With Sikhs) Cafe Gelchick (Kvass and Vodka), and the long defunct Peruvian gem on Northern Boulevard, La Pollada de Laura, home of the legendary “leche de tigre” (Cooked in Corona).

I had stopped by Chez Alain the day before our meal to talk to the hostess who introduced herself as Marieselle, making sure she would reserve our table for five and that all the dinner specials would be available by the time we arrived in the evening. Many of the African restaurants do a very brisk lunch and afternoon business catering to taxi drivers on their breaks before the evening rush. As a result, often all the good offerings are gone by dinner.

I noticed that the thiebou djenn, the Senegalese national dish of rice and fish, was not included in the dinner specials. “You can order the thiebou djenne in advance,”  Marieselle said, “and we will save a plate for you.”

I did just that so when we arrived at Chez Alain, Marieselle reassured me that the she had the thiebou djenn for me.

“There’s something not right about that,” Eugene said when he learned that I had pre-ordered a dish. “I think that might be against the rules.”

“Don’t worry, Eugene,” I said. “I’ll make sure you get a taste.”

He muttered something under his breath and ordered the grilled fish with the “spicy” rice. Mike from Yonkers ordered the same, but with plantains and when Marieselle came to Zio he just laughed. “I’m gonna have the same thing,” he said to her. “The grilled fish.”

Thankfully, Gerry veered from the fish fest to order the lamb version of thiebou djenn.

For some reason, Eugene’s fish arrived first. A monstrous tilapia, its skin seared into slices and grilled to a crusty brown. “Is this one all mine?” Eugene asked incredulously.

The monster tilapia, Senegalese style

The monster tilapia, Senegalese style

When he saw Zio and Mike from Yonkers get the same size fish delivered to their seats he had his answer.

Finally the much anticipated thiebou djenn arrived; the short grain rice cooked in a peppery tomato sauce with chunks of fish layered on top along with eggplant and root vegetables. After a few bites there was no doubt in my mind that it was worth of reserving a day ahead.

Thiebou Djenn

Thiebou Djenn

As I happily devoured the thiebou, I watched the three of our group dissect the grilled fish. Eugene neatly excised the tender, moist meat from the bones and Mike from Yonkers, as is his custom, took his time in making sure not a piece of the favored cheeks and/or any other speck of fish remained. Zio, on the other hand, made no attempt at decorum. His fingers, coated in the oils of the fish, were his utensils of the night. His plate was a quagmire of skin, meat and bones all of which, whether he wanted to or not, he shoved into his mouth. But from the determined look on his face, despite the disaster that was his plate, no one would deny him the pleasure he was having by criticizing his methods.

“This one just might make our Chow City Hall of Fame,” Eugene declared to all as he finally put his fork down, his fish now just a bony carcass.

And with my plate cleaned, I couldn’t disagree at all.

After having settled our bill, well under our $20 per person allotment,  and on our way out, Marieselle told me that if I wanted the thiebou to call and they would always save an order for me. Being only a few blocks away from the northern border of the Senegalese Stomping Ground, that was more than a comforting thought.

Chez Alain

2046 Adam Clayton Blvd

Harlem

Man V. Mofongo: The Battle in the Bronx

26 Mar

Caridad & Louie's

When Mike from Yonkers sent out his email declaring Caridad & Louie’s the destination for our group, he prefaced it by stating: “I hope we didn’t frequent this place. (I have an odd feeling we have),” we could forgive him for his confusion. Even though he insisted his bride to be was doing all the work in preparation for his upcoming wedding and that he was just an innocent bystander, the overwhelming effects of that momentous day were obviously taking a toll on his psyche. We assured him that odd feeling was wrong. In our 13 years of scouring the boroughs (Staten Island excluded), Westchester and New Jersey, we had yet to visit Caridad & Louie’s (est. 1970) located on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx very close to our last group’s get together, The Dumplin’ Shop The Little Shop of Dumplins.

But something about that east Bronx location was a jinx for Zio. With his intentions set on joining us, a text blared on my phone just as we were assembling:  “Sorry, I will never be there in time. Stuck on the BQE. Going home.” I received a similar text when we convened at The Dumplin’ Shop.

When I informed Zio that Rick, who due to the harsh winter had not been able to escape his caretaking duties at the Overlook Hotel that was his house in Atlantic Highlands, was actually going to be in attendance but a little late, it still didn’t matter. “It’s out of my control,” he wrote, the disgust obvious in his text tone, leaving us to wonder why he was on the BQE in the first place.

It was that kind of winter for Rick.

It was that kind of winter for Rick.

We were seated in one of Caridad & Louie’s two massive dining rooms. The restaurant was sparsely filled, the bar area and second dining room was dark, but the steam table take out section was bustling. Claiming the “Best of Two Worlds,” Caridad & Louie’s advertised itself as Latin/Italian. But one look at the hefty colorful menu with photographs of some of the dishes displayed, the Italians in our group, not to mention the Jew and the African American, would not dare order from Italian food section.

Can't argue about the location, but the other claim???

Can’t argue about the location, but the other claim???

“I hear the grilled pork chops are good here,” Eugene announced.

“I heard that too,” Mike from Yonkers added.

So when they waiter came for our order, both Eugene and Mike from Yonkers chose… “bacalao.”

“Do you know what bacalao is?”  I asked Eugene.

“Codfish,” was his reply. “Also known as baccala.”

The waiter looked at me. “Since these two gentlemen have recommended the grilled pork chops, that is what I will have.”

Gerry also went with pork chops, but chose the fried variety while Rick ordered the pernil (roasted pork).

We couldn’t resist an order of mofongo de chicharron de cerdo,  smashed plantains with pork cracklings to start. When it arrived we each broke off a chunk of the mountain of mofongo. “Remember, Mike, there are five of us,” Gerry said to the voracious Mike from Yonkers who had been known to devour a dish meant for sharing leaving one of us without even a scrap.

After a few bites of the mofongo, I wondered if I had broke off a piece of one of my teeth.

“No, that’s just a piece of the cracklings,” Gerry said.

“What  happens when a crackling cracks a tooth?” I wondered out loud.

The Mofongo

The Mofongo

Before we could finish the dense mofongo, our platters arrived, all were momentous in size and all were accompanied by rice and beans.

The pork chops, though just a bit dry, were worthy of their previous accolades, but it was Rick’s pernil, tender, garlicky and with a nice charred skin on some of the pieces, that was the highlight.

The specialty of the house of Caridad & Louie

Grilled pork chops: The specialty of the house of Caridad & Louie

We were all finished except Mike from Yonkers.“How is the bacalao?” I asked him as I watched his unique method of spreading the codfish stew onto the rice as if he were coating a cracker with it.

“It’s good,” he said, “but the rest is coming home with me.”

Our group looked at each other. Mike from Yonkers was a notoriously deliberate eater, yet, as I’ve indicated here, a prodigious one, but here, at Caridad & Louie’s, to quote a once popular television program, “In the battle of Man Vs. Food, on this day: food won.”

Caridad & Louie’s

1660 Gun Hill Road

Bronx

The Happiest of All Hours: A Touch of Dee (St. Patrick’s Day edition)

19 Mar

 

A Touch of Dee

I’m not Irish, but that doesn’t stop me from having a beer on St. Patrick’s Day—or any other day for that matter. On this St. Patrick’s Day, I found myself in front of A Touch of Dee on Lenox Avenue in Harlem.

Making my way past a group of vociferous young men hanging out in front of Dee’s, I tried the front door, but it didn’t budge. Could it be closed? And on St. Patrick’s Day? As if that meant something where I was.  But a moment later I heard a buzz and the door opened for me.

Inside there were two women behind the bar and two customers at the bar nursing drinks. “Happy St. Patrick’s Day,” one of the women, a bartender whose named I later learned was Corinne, said to me.

I replied in kind and inquired about a Guinness.

She shook her head.

“Any draft beer?”

“No, just bottles,” she said indicating the bottles in the refrigerator behind the bar.

I peered through the glass and saw Coronas, Coors, Beck’s, Miller Lite, Miller High Life, and Budweiser along with small, individual-sized bottles of red, white and rose wine.

“I’ll take a Miller High Life,” I said and Corinne brought and opened the cold long neck clear bottle for me.

Was it ordained that I had to have a Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day? A  Miller High Life would certainly suffice.

The St. Patrick's Day special at Dee's.

The St. Patrick’s Day special at Dee’s.

There was 1970’s funk coming from the jukebox  and as I sipped the beer, I surveyed the clutter around the room and behind the bar. I noticed signed softballs; remnants from the numerous softball games at the dilapidated Colonel Young ball fields across the street, a coffee mug with the inscription “It’s Better to Give a Shit Than to Receive One,” a Hello Kitty figurine, a statue of a southern gentleman in a green jacket on top of the bar’s jukebox, assorted photos of the Obama family, Christmas ornaments, and, as a nod to St. Patrick’s Day, a few green Irish top hats. There was also a Happy Birthday garland strung across the back of the bar.

“Whose birthday?” I asked Corinne.

She looked surprised at the question and I pointed to the garland.

“Oh that’s an old sign,” she said with a shrug. “But it’s always someone’s birthday around here so we keep it up.”

It's always someone's birthday at Dee's.

It’s always someone’s birthday at Dee’s.

I nodded that I understood.  By the time I was almost done with my beer, Corinne had placed plastic martini glasses filled with green and yellow candies around the bar instead of pretzels or salted peanuts.

St. Paddy's Day bar snacks at Dee's.

St. Paddy’s Day bar snacks at Dee’s.

“We don’t have green beer,” she said. “So this will have to do.”

“It works for me,” I said, but didn’t dare sample one.

A few more gulps and my bottle was empty.

Back out on the street I could hear the helicopters in the distance hovering over Fifth Avenue and the Upper East Side. The parade was wrapping up. If I rushed I could get there before it ended. Or to a pub with Irish music that served green beer and Guinness.

But why would I want to do that?

A Touch of Dee's

 

A Touch of Dee’s

659 Malcolm X Blvd (Lenox Ave)

Harlem

 

Luigi’s Prima Pasta & Pizza

12 Mar

(A menu inspired by the music of Louis Prima)

Chef Luigi

Chef Luigi

Welcome to Luigi’s Prima Pizza & Pasta where we serve the best in Italian-American cuisine. Come to our lively, festive restaurant where our beautiful hostess Felicia will show you to your table. Felicia, from Calabria, speaks no English, so Felicia…no capicia. But if you have any questions on the menu, Angelina, the waitress (at the pitzzeria) will be glad to answer them.

All dishes are prepared home-style and created from recipes evolved from Chef Luigi’s grandparents from the “old country.”

Here is a sample of Luigi’s award-winning menu.

Antipasto

Minestron’

Pasta fazool

Zooma Zooma Baccala (served  room temperature in a salad with hot cherry peppers)

Ol’ Fashion Salami

Brooklyn Pastrami

Cucuzza*

*”Cucuzza grows in Italy, they love it on the farm. Something like zucchini flavored with Italian charm”

 

Pizza

Tomatoes and fresh Mozzarella*

Sausage

Meatball

Fresh Garlic

Anchovies

Mushrooms

*Extra mozzarella, the way my cucuzza likes it, add $1.

 

Pasta

Lasagne

Ravioli (Luigi’s specialty)*

*Comes with one meatball. Extras are $2 each.

 

Primo

Cutlets Parmigiana  (chicken, veal or pork)

Steak Pizzaiola

Chicken Cacciatore

Virginia Ham (on the bone)

 

Sweets

Bananas (unless we run out and then, yes, we have no bananas)

Banana splits*

Spumoni

*A glass of ice water free with every banana split order.

 

Enjoy Yourself at Luigi’s!

 

Louis Prima’s Food  Discography

Angelina

Banana Split for my Baby

Closest to the Bone

Enjoy Yourself

I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead (You Rascal, You)

My Cucuzza

Pennies From Heaven

Please Don’t Squeeza the Bananas

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Zooma Zooma

Fa Faux Fuh Pho

5 Mar

Pho

I think I know how it is pronounced, but I can’t be certain. I’ve never had a misunderstanding when ordering. Sometimes I just point to the number next to it on the menu to avoid embarrassment. The waiters understand. If I called it Fa instead of Fuh…or Pho instead of Faux would I create an international incident? I think not.

The snow—or is that sleet or freezing rain—might be coming down for the 500th time in this endless winter, yet I’m inside happily slurping noodles in a warm aromatic oxtail-based, star anise-scented broth. The ability to pluck out thinly-sliced, braised in the broth, round steak—or maybe a gelatinous piece of tendon with chopsticks adds to my sense of contentment.

When I eat Pho, I often think of Otis Redding’s “Sad Song,” also known as “Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa.” But there is nothing sad about this Fa.

Or is it Fuh?

Below is some music to eat Pho by

 

 

The Little Shop of Dumplins

29 Jan

 

The Dumplin Shop

Eugene, Mike from Yonkers, Gerry and I were gathered around the bar in the adjoining cluttered dining room of the mostly take-out, Jamaican fish joint,  the Dumplin Shop.  Located just off the entrance to the New England Thruway in the Baychester section of the Bronx, the Dumplin Shop was an oasis in an otherwise food challenged wasteland. Each of us was nursing cold beers as we waited for Zio’s arrival to complete our party and proceed in ordering.

Plenty of beverage choices in the dining room of the Dumplin Shop.

Plenty of beverage choices in the dining room of the Dumplin Shop.

While Eugene was happily informing us of all the snowstorms he would be missing during his impending annual Punta Cana all-inclusive escape, my cell phone buzzed with a text from Zio. “I am still on the #5 stagecoach but I am coming,” he wrote.

Why is he taking a train all the way from Astoria we all wondered? Why didn’t he drive?

“You are insane,” I replied tersely.

“I’m hungry,” Eugene bellowed. “Do we have to wait?”

I texted Zio again. “You close?”

“Next  stop is 219th St,” he replied. That would be the stop he needed to get off and then walk the few blocks to 222nd Street and the restaurant.

“Alright, he’s close,” I told everyone as we continued to drink our beers and discuss deflated footballs. “He should be here soon.”

My phone buzzed. “Now 233rd.” It read.

“Uh oh,” I muttered. “He missed the stop or the train he was on was an express.”

“That’s it. We’re eating.” Eugene pronounced as he made his way into the take-out  part of the restaurant.

“Can I at least blame the Colonel,” I texted to Zio as we got in line at the counter.

“Of course, she took the car,” he quickly responded.

The woman behind the counter explained that at a restaurant called the Dumplin Shop they were out of dumplings…at least the boiled variety. They were also out of ackee and saltfish. And callaloo and saltfish. And the fish soup was gone too.

Some of what was left at the Dumplin Shop.

Some of what was left at the Dumplin Shop.

“See, I told you they would run out of stuff,” I said to Gerry. When he had informed me of his choice and asked my opinion, I mentioned that my only worry was that, based on experience, Jamaican take-out places tend to do a brisk lunch business and run out of many items by dinner

Still, they had snapper. They had porgy. They had oxtails if we wanted them— and chicken in brown gravy too. I ordered the porgy with rice and peas while Mike from Yonkers and Eugene opted for snapper. Gerry sweet-talked his way into a side of callaloo and we asked for a side of (fried) dumplings for the table.

We went back to the bar and our beers to wait for the food. There was another text from Zio. “Men I think I’m goin home,” it read.

I offered to drive him back into the city to a more convenient train to Astoria if he could get to the restaurant.

Zio's final response.

Zio’s final response.

It was just as well. Our food was ready and by the time Zio would have arrived they might have been out of porgy and snapper as well as ackee, saltfish and boiled dumplings.

As is the tradition at Jamaican take-out places, the food was served in a Styrofoam container; the porgy laying comfortably on a bed of rice and peas adorned with steamed cabbage and other spices. The porgy was meaty and moist and was a messy adventure devouring it without also swallowing any of its many bones.

Porgy served in a Styrofoam container.

Porgy served in a Styrofoam container.

A box of dumplings came out. They were fried and dense, but a good offset to the fish and beer.  We waited for Mike from Yonkers to cleanly excise flesh from bone on his snapper before heading out into the cold.

The hum from the traffic on the New England Thruway was the pre-dominant sound as we walked to our cars. Driving onto the Thruway, I wondered if the sign of the Dumplin Shop was visible from the highway. A vision of the sign while stuck in traffic or on the way back to the city from New England or Westchester would be like a welcoming beacon and a serious temptation to pull off the road for “the best fried fish and dumplings.” As long as the Dumplin Shop still had those dumplings.

The Dumpling Shop

 

The Dumplin Shop

1530 E. 222nd St

Bronx

A Feast for Five Faux Kings in Greenpoint

30 Dec

Jadlo

“I had one of those korytos at another Polish place here in Greenpoint,” Zio told us all just before we were to order one at Krolewskie Jadlo. “The meat was dry.”

We hesitated, looking at him. The koryto in question was a platter of assorted meats enough to serve either a group of three or four.

After a moment’s reflection and realizing his declaration put a damper on our group’s plans, he said “But we should get it anyway,”

“You’re just saying that because you want the wiener  schnitzel,” I said to Zio.

“Yeah, I want the wiener schnitzel,” Zio nodded. “But that koryto at the other place was dry.”

We were in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, reunited with Rick, who, in 2014 had been absent for most of our gatherings. This was his choice and his only hesitation was that the chef was “Nobu-trained.” What would that mean to our pedestrian group who were more used to dining in restaurants where the chefs were trained by their mothers and grandmothers than at a four-star Japanese restaurant? And, to be sure, our only other previous Polish experience most definitely did not have a Nobu trained chef (see The Pierogies of Old Poland). Still he took the chance and, despite the rain and that it was a “Gridlock Alert” day,” all of us were present with the exception of Gerry. “I’ve got to go to a business party,” was his excuse. “And you know, bizness is bizness.”

One of the blonde Polish waitresses, of which there were many at Krolewskie Jadlo, came to take our order.

“We’ll have the Koryto for Four,” Zio said to rectify his gaffe.

“And an order of wiener schnitzel,” Rick added. After all, we were five, if anything our group tended to err on the side of excess. We couldn’t take a chance that even a huge platter of meats for four would be enough for our gluttonous group.

The five of us were seated at a chocolate brown wooden table. There was a royal motif surrounding the restaurant including an armored knight placed strategically by the front door. The restaurant’s name translated, so we were told to “King’s Feast” and on this night, we assumed that we were the kings.

The King's guardian

The King’s guardian

While we waited for our feast, we sipped a Polish beer recommended by the waitress called Lech. The beer was a disappointment, the Polish equivalent of Michelob, but the enormous wooden platter shaped like a hollowed out boat filled with meats that arrived promptly was not.

Before I could dig in, the tender meat in the “hunter stew,” a big piece of pork shank was gone with the exception of its thick covering of fat. And despite my tendencies, I couldn’t eat the fat especially with so many other options in the koryto to choose from including the hearty blood sausage, the grilled pork and chicken, the kebabs, and the cabbage and potato pierogies. The plate of wiener schnitzel we ordered, two pounded and breaded pork cutlets topped with fried eggs, seemed minuscule in comparison.

Das Boot

Das Boot

The meal was accompanied by platters of krauts; cabbage, beet, and carrot along with thick bread and a garlic, butter spread. The food was more than plentiful, but Mike from Yonkers, who was at the opposite end of the table and not within a long arm’s reach of “The Boat,” feared he would miss out on some of the boat’s goodies, so he made a point of rising from his seat, his mouth stuffed with food and fork in hand, and  moved closer, hunching perilously over my shoulder,  and then spearing a piece of kebab and perogie adding it onto his already cluttered plate.

The boat looked like it would be a challenge, but for our group of five; a koryto for four was easy work. Even the addition of the wiener schnitzel could not halt our assault. The only food that remained of this “king’s feast,” was some of the kraut and the skin from the pork shank, though Zio was tempted to not leave that behind.

Schnitzel

A “minuscule” Schnitzel

There were dessert options that came out on a separate smaller menu—something we were not used to—so we politely declined. The bill, totaled by the ever reliable Eugene, was well within our allotted budget. As we gathered outside the restaurant in the rain to say our goodbyes until 2015 Zio nodded and said, “I’d come back here.”

“So would I,” I said.

And with those words, Rick’s choice just passed the most crucial test of our group’s assessment of a restaurant’s success.

The Mole-A in Astoria

25 Nov

De Mole

Since moving to Astoria several years ago, Zio has brought us to a number of that neighborhood’s fine dining establishments. Who can forget the greasy Greek macaroni at now defunct Uncle George’s (The Greek Uncle)? Or the stupendous fish market cum restaurant, Astoria Seafood (The Ash Wednesday Fishing Expedition)? Or, the Afghani restaurant under the R train tracks (Eating Like an Afghan Family in an Afghani Restaurant in Astoria)? It was Zio’s turn to pick our destination and again he kept us in his comfy locale with a Mexican place called De Mole that was just a few doors down from another of Zio’s choices, the tiny Bosnian grilled meat joint Ukus (A Bosnian Taste in Astoria).

From Zio we expected something gritty where the waiters communicated with hand gestures, the lighting was bright, the menus and napkins of the thin paper variety, and the food prepared in a kitchen where we would never dare tread. Instead, when I arrived at De Mole, I was greeted by one of those obtrusive “A” grades on the big glass window storefront. Inside the restaurant was dimly or “moodily” lit; there were fancy marble tabletops and silverware was arranged on each neatly assembled burnished wood table.

“The tamales are real good here,” Zio boasted as our group of five settled in. Our efficient waitress spoke impeccable English and took our drink orders while we perused the menu that was stocked with standard Mexican dishes.

We started with an order of tamales; one with the self-proclaimed mole, the other with a salsa verde. The tamales came steamed, wrapped in corn husks, and prepared lovingly. The mole version was dry and Zio asked for accompanying salsas. I slathered some of the “rojo” or red hot sauce on hoping to revive the otherwise lifeless tamale. The verdes con pollo  tamale, or chicken with green sauce fared better than the mole, but still needed an infusion of extra salsa verde.

Tamales

Tamales

“What’s spicy here,” Gerry asked the waitress hopefully. She suggested the enchiladas rojas con pollo and Gerry quickly ordered it.

“I think I’ll just have some tacos,” Zio said, the boredom in his voice evident from a man who, many times, had eaten the tacos at De Mole.

“What kind,” the waitress asked.

“Oh—the slowly cooked goat of course,” Zio replied as if she had to ask.

I veered from the tacos, burritos, tortas, and quesadillas on the menu to try one of the “platos principales;” my choice being the tinga de puebla translated to mean beef brisket stew. It was an abnormally cold November night—I craved a stew of any kind.

Mike from Yonkers chose the classic pollo con mole Polbano while Eugene ordered the same, but wrapped in a burrito along with a carne asada taco.

"Slowly" roasted goat in a flour tortilla.

“Slowly” roasted goat in a flour tortilla.

Our food came promptly; everything assembled tidily.  No one said much about what they were eating except Gerry who acknowledged his enchiladas were, in fact, spicy. Our waitress brought us a “complimentary” bowl of salsa with chips; the salsa also lacking heat or any real flavor at all.

The mole at de Mole

The mole at de Mole

The beef stew was hearty; the brisket shredded into thin strands accompanied with yellow rice and very good black beans. But where was the Cholula hot sauce when you needed it? De Mole unfortunately was that kind of place. Good, but lacking the grit our group strives to find.

Walking with Zio down 30th Avenue, you could sense his resignation. Almost admitting, without saying so, that De Mole was a disappointment; not what he usually strives for. No one complained. No one chided him on the lackluster choice. We all have off days. We knew Zio. We were confident he would do better next time.

De Mole

42-20 30 Ave

Astoria

Rum and Roti in Parts Unknown

27 Oct

Melanie's Roti

“Why isn’t The Bronx a city?” Eugene inquired as we sat around a table in Melanie’s Roti & Grill Restaurant on Castle Hill Avenue.

“It’s a borough,” Gerry explained.

“Yeah, but what’s a borough? Why isn’t it just another city? What is it with these boroughs? I mean, when I think of New York I think of Manhattan. That’s New York. The Bronx? Brooklyn? Boroughs? What’s that all about?”’

Zio, could only hear fragments of Eugene’s proclamations, but enough to test his patience. “Would you shut up already about the boroughs!” he yelled, his face contorted in rage.

Not long before I chose Melanie’s Roti & Grill Restaurant, CNN aired a program hosted by food and travel media celebrity, Anthony Bourdain called “Parts Unknown,” where the unknown part in this episode, at least to Bourdain, was the Bronx. After twelve years of foraging restaurants in New York, including all the boroughs that so perplex Eugene there were no more unknown parts in the city for our Chow City group. We’d been to almost all of them—and the Bronx, because it had long been neglected in the city’s food sphere has always been a particular focus for our group.

In the Bronx, our group uncovered ethnic joints where we’ve had, among other things, pizza, African, Vietnamese, Thai, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Mexican, Barbecue, and Caribbean. The variety of food choices in the Bronx is almost equal to what can be found the city’s food epicenter, another one of those boroughs lamented by Eugene: Queens.

It was happy hour at Melanie’s and I got happy with a Heineken.

“They have Ron Zacapa 23 here,” Mike from Yonkers announced to all but especially to Gerry referring to the aged rum from Guatemala .

“I might have one or two of those,” Gerry said.

At Melanie’s the happy hour lasted from 4pm until 8. We were comfortably under the deadline.

“We are in a Guyanese place. Why not order an El Dorado 21 year old instead,” I suggested.

“Maybe I’ll have one of those too,” Gerry said with a sly smile.

Old rum for an old man

Old rum for an old man

That it was happy hour was a bonus, but we were at Melanie’s for the food.

It had been several years since we dined on Guyanese food and this one, located in the heart of a Latin neighborhood in the Bronx, seemed an anomaly until I noticed another “roti” restaurant a block from Melanie’s. Apparently there was a West Indian/Guyanese enclave within the enclave. Why should I be surprised? This was the Bronx after all.

With Mike from Yonkers’ insistence, and not that we protested, we started with an order of fried shark for the table along with a plate of channa, spiced and salted chick peas. The shark, also salty and fried into chunks went well with my Heineken.

Channa

Channa

The Guyanese like to offer westernized variations of Chinese food in their restaurants; lo mein, chow mein  and fried rice were available at Melanie’s. Though I would never order chow mein in a Chinese restaurant, I couldn’t resist trying it at Melanie’s and had what was called the “mix.”

“You want everything in it?” Our waitress and bartender inquired.

“I want it all,” I said without hesitation.

Guyanese chow mein with the works

Guyanese chow mein with the works

Though Guyana was a long way from Jamaica, the birthplace of jerk chicken, like all of the Caribbean, jerk has become a staple in that region and both Eugene and Zio ordered it at Melanie’s while Gerry, disappointed that there was no more goat available that day to have with his curry, substituted duck in its place. Mike from Yonkers also was intrigued by the duck, among other things, and chose the bunjal duck with Indian dhal and basmati rice.

“Oh and I can I have one of those roti things,” Eugene said, not knowing that roti was an Indian soft, flat bread wrapped into a narrow roll even though we knew he had had it before at one or two of our food choices throughout the years.

The portions were enormous; the mix in my chow mein included shrimp, beef, roast pork, duck, jerk chicken and vegetables. The noodles, as I expected were soggy but the vegetables crisp enough to compensate. The only real disappointment was the lack of spice from the jerk chicken, but the accompanying hot sauce more than made up for the lack of heat.

Duck curry

Duck curry

While we rapidly consumed our platters, Mike from Yonkers deliberately dipped his duck in the dhal, scooping a small portion of rice with it, and then wrapping it  into a portion of roti; the tedious process making us wait  until he finally finished before asking for our check. Eugene glared at him.

“Okay, I’m done,” Mike from Yonkers said, throwing up his hands.

On our way out and walking down Castle Hill Avenue with Zio, we passed  a familiar restaurant called Sabrosura.  It was familiar because a couple of years earlier we experienced the splendors of that Dominican/Chinese place and chronicled that experience in these pages( The Place Where They Don’t Count the Shrimp).  And like Sabrusora and so many others, Melanie’s was just another food find in Parts Unknown.

The Bronx

 

Melanie’s Roti & Grill Restaurant

1248 Castle Hill Avenue

The Bronx

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