The Place Where They Don’t Count the Shrimp

22 Nov

1200 Castle Hill Ave

Zio and I were waiting in front of Sabrosura for Gerry, Mike from Yonkers, and Eugene to arrive. The corner restaurant had a no reservations policy and also one where the full party had to arrive before being seated. The latter policy usually reeks of arrogance and over confidence; the restaurant thinking that holding tables with one or two people of a larger party will slow down the turnover.  But despite the policy, Sabrosura showed no signs of pretension or arrogance and when I first entered, the owner, a pleasant man of Chinese heritage, who, I later learned was born and raised in Santo Domingo, took my name and offered me a very small seat near the busy take-out section of the restaurant where I could wait for the others. The night was mild, however, so Zio and I chose to wait outside.

“The food’s the best around here,” said a man who had exited the restaurant behind me and observed my situation. “It’s worth the wait.”

After our last couple of outings; mediocre African in Harlem and tasteless Fujinese in Chinatown where we struggled through webbed duck feet, fish stomach, and a very spiny eel, I thought we needed to get back to basics. And Chino-Latino, the food offered by Sabrosura, was as basic as it got for me.

One of the first restaurants I dined in after moving into the city was a dingy place on West 72nd Street called La Dinastia. It served Latino specialties like rice and beans, huge plates of roast chicken with platanos or maduras (green or ripe plantains) ropa vieja (shredded beef), picadillo (spiced ground beef) and fried king fish along with Chinese-American staples; wonton soup, barbecued ribs, lo mein, fried rice, and sweet and sour pork. To me, at the time, it was a revelation. It was cheap. It was hearty. And the restaurant’s total lack of atmosphere perfect fodder to my then creatively downscale brain. Friends I brought to La Dinastia didn’t always agree and it was nicknamed by one as “Dinasty”. But that just spurred my loyalty to the place. Even the presence of a dead cockroach floating in the duck sauce one time I dined there did not sour me on the restaurant. That, in a way, was part of its appeal.

La Dinastia, now known as DInastia China

“They don’t count the shrimp or anything,” the man, who was in his early thirties, burly, wearing a tight sport jacket, neck tie loose and collar half turned up, who told us he was Dominican, added. “The other places around here…they only give you a few shrimps in your asopao. This is the place to come in Castle Hill.”

We didn’t have to prod him for information about Sabrosura or the state of dining on Castle Hill Avenue where Sabrosura was located; it flowed from him…until he got the signal that his take-out order was ready.

We spotted Eugene and Gerry in Eugene’s car looking for a parking spot. Zio and I went in the restaurant, but still they were hesitant to seat us. “Looking for a parking spot? Ha, that’s what they all say.”

Upon quickly glancing at the colorful menu filled with photographs of many of the various dishes, Eugene, obviously still stinging from our last inedible experience blurted; “Finally, there’s something we can eat here.”

And he was right, but the menu was vast and offered a number of combinations, some in triplicate, and even including Chino-Latino “Bento Boxes,” so the dilemma for us was to narrow the options down.

One thing La Dinastia, or most of the Chino-Latino restaurants I ever visited never had was that Puerto Rican/Dominican specialty, a mash of twice fried plantains, pork cracklings and garlic called mofongo. Sabrosura had a number of different types available and, as the menu stated “All mofongos normally include garlic and crispy pork skin; if you don’t want either, just let us know!” That was the kind of place Sabrosura was; anything for their customers. But we most definitely wanted garlic and pork skin with our mofongo and we wanted ours with shrimp. Gerry was concerned that one would not be enough until he saw that size of the bowl that was coming our way. The huge bowl was  a hollowed out mofongo filled with shrimp in a tomato-based gravy and topped with a few slices of avocado.

Chinese Chop Suey Soup

Along with the mofongo to start, I couldn’t resist trying the “Chinese chop suey soup.” My experience at Chino-Latino restaurants was that the soups were actually very good; whether they were wonton, or called “Chinese soup,” or “Special Chinese soup,” they were usually in a light chicken broth, brimming with bok choy, cabbage, bean sprouts, noodles and bits of roast pork, ham, and shrimp. At Sabrosura they didn’t care if they used the very old school word “chop suey” to describe their soup and neither did I. What I tasted was reassuringly familiar and after finishing it, left me, predictably, with a slight MSG buzz.

Bourbon boneless ribs and plantains

The feast proceeded from there. Mike from Yonkers slowly devouring a monstrous platter of broiled fish that looked exactly as it did on the menu. Eugene working his way through a combination called the “Mojito;” roast chicken and boneless bourbon barbecued ribs.  Zio experimenting with a Bento Box of fried fish, pork, and anything else that might immediately stop his heart. Gerry digging through a mound of fried rice topped with shrimp and squid called chofan, and I with my old standby, ropa vieja with yellow rice.  No one complained. No one moaned. Everything was eaten.

“old clothes” with yellow rice

After a sampling of the restaurant’s excellent flan, we staggered out onto Castle Hill Avenue all of us very happy that at Sabrosura, they do not count the shrimp.

One Response to “The Place Where They Don’t Count the Shrimp”


  1. Rum and Roti in Parts Unknown | Fried Neck Bones...and some home fries - October 27, 2014

    […] 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 […]

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