Archive | March, 2013

The Caffeine Chronicles: A Cuppa Joltin’ Joe

27 Mar


Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio was known for his frugality. One story has it that after ordering a double-scoop ice cream cone and just before taking a lick (maybe it was after the lick) being told it was $5, DiMaggio was outraged and handed the already scooped ice cream cone back to the surprised server.

So when I noticed the posters for the  Arizona brand, Joltin’ Joe Sparkling Espresso, his picture with a USA cap on his head, not a N.Y. Yankee cap (there is no mention of the Yankees in any of the DiMaggio memorabilia on the can), outside my local bodega, I thought I should explore this new, to me, caffeinated beverage. Since Opening Day was less than a week away and seeing that the 15.5 ounce can was listed at a mere $1.99, I thought it a fitting tribute to Joltin’ Joe that I indulge.

joltin joe (5)

After shaking it a bit to combine the ingredients and then pulling the tab to open it, I hadn’t realized that the beverage was “sparkling.”

Look, there are bubbles.

Look, there are bubbles.

I thought a bodega special: a small packaged slice of Sara Lee pound cake, might offset the harsh saccharine sweetness of the caffeine infused beverage.

I was wrong.

Joltin' Joe

One sip of Joltin’ Joe was all I could stomach. I did, however, finish the Sara Lee pound cake with no difficulty.

Fruits and Vegetables for the Ignorant

22 Mar



Know nothing

Despite knowing nothing, I recognize a special when I see one.

Know Nothing



The Pupusa Novelas: The Final Chapter

20 Mar


When Gerry, freshly thawed from his ice fishing escapade, choose Tierras Centro Americanas as our group’s next destination, I was worried that I might have to eat more pupusas. Not that there is really anything wrong with pupusas, that Central American (Salvadorian in particular) street snack that we experienced twice in the last nine months, including Gerry’s last pick, El Tesoro II (The Poor Man’s Pupusas of Port Chester), and the one in Yonkers chosen by Mike from that same town (Living La Pupusa Loca); it’s just that maybe three pupusa adventures in less than a year is more than enough for me.

“Don’t worry,” Gerry said recognizing my trepidation as I arrived at the colorful diner-like restaurant. “The Guatemalan food is the specialty here.”

His words, I had to admit, were not reassuring, but I was hungry and Guatemalan food, or even another leaden pupusa would have been more than welcome in my famished condition.

We were just off Hillside Avenue and only a block from Sagar Chinese, the Desi Chinese place we experienced in January. For the first time in a long while our entire group was in attendance including Rick who was cherishing a rare few hours out and away from new Daddy duty.

Zio was the last to arrive and when he did he also had the, “oh no, more pupusas” look on his face that I did. So jaded was he with Central American cuisine, he didn’t even bother to look at the menu. “Order for me,” he said to me with a disinterested shrug.



There was a novela playing on the big screen television above our table and loud Latin music on the juke box making it difficult to hear Eugene’s booming voice. Taking Gerry’s advice, I stuck to the Guatemalan side of the bi-lingual menu and choose “caldo de pescado con arroz y tortillas,” translated to fish and shrimp soup with rice and tortillas. Without any ulterior motive, I picked the “jacon,” chicken in green hot sauce with choyote and green beans as Zio’s entree.

"Darling, my pupusas will make you swoon..."

“Darling, my pupusas will make you swoon…”

We let Gerry choose the “small orders,” and he went with the chile relleno along with “garnacha,” which resembled mini open-faced hard tacos with beef and the Guatemalan version of parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. We each sampled one leaving a few left. The leftovers were offered to Mike from Yonkers, but he had no interest, which was indication right there that maybe we were in trouble here. Despite their mediocrity, my hunger took over and showing no self control, I shoveled another garnacha into my mouth. The Guatemalan chile relleno, stuffed with beef, was also a disappointment; no better than a poor man’s version of the familiar Mexican specialty.



Rick did not hear Gerry’s spiel about the Guatemalan side being the better of the two-country menu and ordered “picadas,” from the “platos tipicos Salvadorenos” section. The mix of fried meats fried to dull grey oblivion, as it turned out, went mostly untouched.

Picada mista

Picada mista

When my fish soup arrived, I was greeted by two dark eyes peering from it belonging to one of the few shrimp, heads and all, that had boiled within. The first sip was salty and briny; no doubt fresh—so fragrant it was as if the soup was made from the waters of the nearby Jamaica Bay. The lumps of fish, bones intact, were tasty but also, for lack of a better word—fishy. My hands being of the asbestos kind were able to pull the fish from the scalding water and break off a few pieces, careful to excise the many bones from the flesh. The very fresh tortillas, the highlight of the meal, helped to mellow the broth but I could only get through about half of the bowl before I was done.

Caldo de Pescado

Caldo de Pescado

Even Mike from Yonkers struggled with his choice of salpicon, a room temperature, hash-like dish of chopped meats, onions, tomatoes and lemon. Only Eugene seemed satisfied with the very pedestrian shrimp in garlic sauce while Zio’s lone comment, positive or not, about the jacon was that he liked the choyote.

The highlight of the meal.

The highlight of the meal.

On the way back to my car I got a whiff of Sagar’s sizzling chicken which was around the corner from where I parked. I remembered how the vapors irritated our respiratory tracts when we were eating there (see Vanquished by Halal Vapors on Homelawn Street). But after the dull meal just experienced I would have happily welcomed those aromatic vapors into my lungs.

Tierras Centro Americanas
87-52 168th Street

Today’s Special

15 Mar



Today's Special


What sold me were the free crackers.

Today's special

The French Szechuan Connection

13 Mar

lavie (2)

I was curious about the connection between Szechuan food and France that could have spurred the curiously named restaurant La Vie en Szechuan that Zio and I visited on a slushy March evening. It was supposed to be a get together of Hawkeye, Fonzie and The Coach (see Hawkeye, Fonzie and the Coach Eat at Margie’s) but Fonzie, also known as Gerry, surprised us all by sending a text earlier on the same day we were to meet stating that instead he was going ice fishing.

At first I thought this could only be another of Gerry’s sick jokes; after all, the idea of sitting outside in frigid temperatures in the middle of nowhere waiting for something to nibble your rod through a deep hole in black ice could not possibly be more enticing than choking on hot peppers with two of his fellow gluttons. After some prodding, however, we found out he was indeed serious. We were getting close to the end of this very long winter, but Gerry wanted more. And who were we to deny him his pleasure—not matter how perverse it might be?

Gerry's preference.

Gerry’s preference.

Upon entering La Vie en Szechuan, I looked around the dining room for some connection to France in décor.  There was none.  I peered at the clientele dining in the restaurant. No Edith Piaf lookalikes anywhere.  And then I scoured the thick book that passed as the restaurant’s menu. There were frogs, but not done with butter, garlic and parsley. There was duck—not confit though. And there was steak. Not with frites, but coated with Szechuan chilies, and your choice of rice, white or brown. Was there a French Connection lurking somewhere? If so, I couldn’t find it.

Duck tongue, not duck confit from La Vie en Szechuan's illustrated menu.

Duck tongues, not duck confit from La Vie en Szechuan’s illustrated menu.

Since Gerry had deserted us for arctic climes, Zio and I were somewhat limited on how much we could order. The possibilities were vast, but we were confined to just an appetizer and two entrees. Any more than that and our gluttony would have even raised the eyebrows of the table next to ours who, despite their large party, were holding their own in that department with enormous platter after enormous platter arriving in quick intervals to their table.

The diced rabbit with chili sauce, we agreed, would make a very good appetizer while I had my heart set on something that caught my eye in the “Signature Dish” section of the tome that was Le Vie en Szechuan’s menu. It was called “spicy chicken with fried dough twists,” and I had to have it just to find out what a fried dough twist might be. Zio’s eyes immediately gravitated to the seafood section and we settled on the braised fish in black bean chili paste.

I stuck with water, but Zio requested his traditional diet Coke with lime only to be very disappointed to be told that they had no limes at Le Vie en Szechuan.

I’m not sure if the addition of lime to his diet Coke would have done anything to alleviate the sinus clearing heat we were experiencing from the room temperature diced rabbit. I know my ice water was useless to combat it as my nose began to run and the table napkins soon were all soggy.

Diced rabbit with chili sauce.

Diced rabbit with chili sauce.

It took awhile, but we eventually got the hang of how best to handle the tiny bones of the diced rabbit. Chewing the tender meat and separating it from the bone with our teeth while keeping it in our mouth and then spitting out the bone.

“Maybe we should just eat the whole thing and not worry about the bones,” Zio suggested.

It wasn’t a bad idea and a few times I did just that, but the habit was just too unnatural for my westernized palate and instead, piled the bones neatly on my small plate.

The chicken with fried dough twists arrived next.

Spicy chicken with fried dough twists

Spicy chicken with fried dough twists

“What are those Chinese cheese doodles?” Zio wondered as he looked at the red pepper tinged fried dough.

They  did look like a cheese doodles, but tasted nothing like them. Instead they tasted just like what was advertised; a piece of very deep fried dough. The chicken pieces that surrounded the fried dough were also fried to crackling dryness; the dish in need of a slathering of something wet, but hot sauce was definitely not an option.

Braised fish with black bean chili paste.

Braised fish with black bean chili paste.

The huge bowl of fish came last; the tender fish surrounded by glaciers of dried chili peppers that were floating in the very wet, soup like sauce. The two entrees were a good contrast between wet and dry and much more than enough for the two of us. With each piece of fish snared, we also dragged out multiple pieces of hot peppers, never daring to actually eat them. We methodically worked through the bowl but eventually it did us in. All that remained on our plates were piles of uneaten peppers.

When our waiter came to clear, he congratulated us on a job well done. “But we couldn’t eat those,” I said, pointing to the peppers.

“Oh, that’s the best part,” he replied, taking a pepper from my plate in his fingers and taking a big bite, seeds flying out of his mouth and all over me. “Mmmm, very good,” he mumbled, still chewing the pepper while clearing our plates.

"The best part."

“The best part.”

There was enough of the fish to take home and I offered it to Zio. “Bring it to the Colonel,” I said.

“Are you kidding,” He scoffed. “One look at those peppers and she might go into convulsions.”

We left the remains on the table and walked back out into the slush that was March. As I was walking to the subway, I heard the ping of a text from my cell phone. I took a look. “Fried fresh perch with hot sauce. Not Szechuan, but pretty good” it read. Gerry was sending me a text from the hinterlands.  “And there are beaver dams, fox dens and beautiful bird life,” he added, thinking that rustic image might justify the ice fishing lunacy.

I thought for a moment as I slogged through the dirty gray slush. Just before heading down into the equally dirty, damp subway I texted him back. “Beaver dams are overrated,” I wrote, clicked send and then made my way to the train with that song (see below) playing in my head.

La Vie en Szechuan
14 E. 33rd Street


A Patacon for El Presidente

8 Mar

To mourn the loss and pay tribute to the beloved Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, I indulged in what might be his country’s greatest export to ours. I’m not talking about oil, baseball players, or beauty queens, but something much closer to my heart: the patacon. And I’m happy to report that the mashed green plantain sandwich stuffed usually with shredded pork, beef or chicken and topped with a “special sauce,” similar to that other place’s special sauce has become almost a staple in this country’s Latin communities, whether served from a food truck or a store front.

The Patacon

The Patacon

The government of Venezuela has instituted a seven day mourning period to honor the late president. Everyone mourns in their own way. Here those seven days can be filled with a variety of food tributes in the form of the Venezuelan sandwich: the patacon one day, a cachapas (corn meal) the next, the delicious yo yo (sweet plantain), arepa (sweet corn cake), and pepito (hard roll sandwich) on others all the while juggling different meats including pernil (shredded pork), chorizo (sausage), carne mechada (shredded beef) to name just some of the filling options.

Cachapas chorizo

Cachapas chorizo

Seven days of Venezuelan sandwiches might take a toll on your cholesterol, but remember, sometimes we all must sacrifice to show respect to the leaders who themselves have sacrificed so much for their people.

Hugo Chavez: R.I.P

Hugo Chavez: R.I.P

The Cheese Cake Mimi Sheraton Likes

6 Mar

S&S Cheese Cake


It hides behind a nondescript brick building. Just a simple sign: “S&S Cheese Cake, Inc.” The door was barred. There was another sign near the door that said, “Ring bell.” I rang the bell. The door opened for me.

S&S Cheese Cake

The front room was dark, dingy but as I walked through, I saw a few cheese cakes in a refrigerator. A man in a coat and watch cap emerged. “Can I help you?” He asked as he tentatively moved toward me.

I asked about the cheese cakes.

“A small is $14. With fruit it’s $17.”

I didn’t need fruit or any other topping. I wanted the cheese cake in its purest form.

Cheese Cake with fruit.

Cheese Cake with fruit.

He put a small plain cheese cake in a box.

We chatted a bit. The man said his name was Ben.

“Are you the owner?” I asked.

A sly smile formed at the corner of his mouth. He nodded slowly. “I’m one of them.”

Cheese Cake

He went on to tell me that he was soon going to open a steakhouse next door to the cheese cake factory on 238th Street.

“Any particular type of steakhouse?” I inquired.

“Like Peter Luger’s,” he said with a confident smile.

“Oh, that sounds very good,” I said. “When do you plan to open?”

He gave me that sly mysterious smile again. “I’m not really sure…maybe in a few months.”

He asked what I did. I told him about this website of mine. He showed no recognition, not that I expected any.

“Mimi Sheraton likes us,” he remarked.

“I’ve heard your cheese cake is the best,” I said. “But not from Mimi Sheraton.”

He nodded and flashed the confident smile.

We walked out onto 238th Street together. I told him I would return soon…when the steakhouse opened. He shook my hand and just smiled.

I took the cheese cake home and opened the box. I cut a small slice and took a bite.

S&S Cheese Cake

I was going to Google Mimi Sheraton, the former New York Times restaurant critic, to see what she had to say about the S&S cheese cake, but really didn’t need to. There was a word that best described how it tasted. I took another bite, savoring it’s creamy, unadulterated essence.  At first I couldn’t think what it was and then I looked at the box in which it came in. And the word was right there in front of me.



S&S Cheese Cake Inc.
222 W. 238th Street







The Fusion Files: French Pizza in Harlem by way of Africa.

1 Mar

French Pizza

I’ve noticed a few pizzerias in Harlem that have a French accent.

oui (7)At first glance, crepes and pizza might seem like a natural mix.

oui (5)And at Oui Oui there was a French/English menu where one of the crepes  was named for the largest city in Mali. Was I on to something here?

oui (6)Why order a pedestrian “Italiano” pizza when a merguez was available?

oui (9)And so I did. Not expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised that the piquant sausage made of lamb and beef gave the pizza a very welcome kick to it and was, in my estimation, a worthy substitute to traditional Italian sweet sausage.

crepeThe “Harlem” crepe, however, was another story and one not worth dwelling on.

oui (3)Still, everything was made in Harlem. And what could be better than that?


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