I had my gas tank full even before Gerry announced where we were to meet. There would be no doubt that he would have us (Zio and I) travel to Westchester. And that county has more than its share of Chow City standouts (Chalanas) being the most the recent example. Unfortunately, El Miski, located in White Plains, which Gerry dubbed as El Miskito in his email to us was not one of them.
After dodging an obese panhandler claiming he was hungry in front of what looked like a former diner, I entered El Miski to find Eugene waiting inside. The front of the restaurant was narrow with a few small tables, booth and a counter with red swivel stools. The woman who was to be our waitress took us through the room, past a full festive bar still in Halloween regalia with the bar stools up on the bar, and into a big, frigid back room where one long table was centered. I sat, keeping my jacket on and zipped to my neck.
Zio walked in next, covered in a large goose down jacket making him look even more rotund than usual. In the cold room, he had the courage to unzip the jacket. Our waitress got on a step stool to turn the television on to a telenovela—maybe hoping the steamy drama would warm the room.
Gerry arrived next and as he sat down, his jacket still on, mentioned that the owner of El Miski was a client of his. Whether that was a good thing or not, we would soon find out.
“Gerry, do they have heat in here,” Eugene asked as if Gerry, because he chose the place and also because they were one of his clients was responsible.
“It’s not that cold,” Gerry said; his lips a bluish gray color.
Mike from Yonkers filled out our group; keeping the collar of his heavy fleece high up on his neck as he sat.
When the waitress came over with menus we asked about the heat. In her struggling English she explained that she just turned it on and that it should warm up soon.
One of the first Peruvian restaurants our Chow City group experienced was the tremendous, but now defunct, La Pollada de Laura (Cooked in Corona) in Queens. We have yet to replicate that experience including the Peruvian Chinese restaurant, Chifa, we visited on our most recent expedition (The Big Chifa of Northern Boulevard). The menu at El Miski was similar to what I could recall from La Pollada de Laura; a number of ceviche options, lomo saltado, jalea, and various mariscos dishes; some with fried rice, others with potatoes, and even a few with yucca. There were also special that included tallarin also known as Peruvian spaghetti, but more like lo mein noodles. After the unfortunate experience with Peruvian/Chinese at Chifa, none of us thought it smart to chance the tallarin dishes.
Gerry ordered the table a ceviche “mixto,” along with an appetizer recommended by the very affable waitress of mussels on the half shell. We learned well after asking for recommendations and some of us making our choices based on them that our waitress was new on the job—in fact it was her first week working at El Miski.
“They have good bread here,” Gerry said as we worked through the tart ceviche and mussels; both served cold.
“Are they gonna bring us any?” I asked.
By the time the various seafood dishes we ordered arrived, I was able to unzip my jacket. But as soon as I moved my fork through the mound of fried rice, soggy potatoes, and equally soggy fried fish, shrimp, and squid that made up my “saltado pescado, I had to stop and swat at an army of gnats that were hovering around my plate. I added each of the three hot sauces to my dish, pale green, green, and red, hoping the spice would keep the gnats away, but more seemed to arrive.
I noticed Mike from Yonkers also swatting at them—and Gerry and Eugene. If they were cruising over Zio’s picante de mariscos (seafood in a special Peruvian sauce) he didn’t seem bothered. He was, however, wary of the pinkish special Peruvian sauce. “It’s like Velveeta,” he mentioned, though not in a derogatory way.
“This place used to be called the ‘Oasis,’” Eugene, whose knowledge of White Plains’ past is legendary, said.
“Yeah, I heard rumors about it that this back room was used for…,” Gerry said.
“What???” Zio’s fading hearing had suddenly revived.
“Girls,” Gerry said. “A whorehouse.”
Eugene nodded. “That was the rumor.”
Our waitress returned and asked if we wanted more plates, napkins, water, beer, another ceviche…anything.
We told her we were good.
“What about dessert?” She asked.
Even though the gnat attack had not ceased, Gerry went ahead and ordered us a few Peruvian sweets including a dense bread pudding.
“Anything else? More beer. Cake?” Our smiling waitress inquired after we dug through dessert.
Eugene asked for the check, but before she went to tally it up, she told us that men come on weekends and use the back room.
“And there are women too,” she said innocently and with a smile. “For the men.”
Gerry raised a bushy eyebrow and looked at each of us. The look reminded me of the final shot in the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, of Walter Matthau who realizes he just nailed the final accomplice in the subway robbery.
None of us dared inquire further; instead we surrendered to the invisible gnats and settled the check before heading back out onto the silent streets of White Plains.
73 W. Post Rd