Ernesto put down the guitar he was strumming and wandered over to our table. Besides Ernesto and another man, our group of five were the only people dining at Renacer Bolivian. Seemingly one of the proprietors, Ernesto quickly made it known to us that he had no ownership stake in the restaurant. He was just a loyal Bolivian who came to sing (literally) Renacer’s praises.
“This is the only Bolivian Restaurant in New York,” Ernesto proclaimed. “And the best.”
We didn’t question his knowledge or opinion but welcomed his cheerful enthusiasm for his country and its cuisine. After 14 years of scouring the city and its environs for every ethnic possibility our group had yet to dine at a Bolivian restaurant. And I can’t deny that was the primary factor in making it my choice. My research on the restaurant also explained the restaurant’s name. In Spanish, renacer translates to mean “reborn.” Who or what was reborn was another question. Was it the restaurant? The Bolivian people? It was a question that I did not get an answer to, not that it really mattered.
Similar to other land-locked Andean countries, the cuisine was hearty and with an emphasis on beef and Renacer’s menu was proof of that. Not wasting anytime, Gerry zeroed in on the anticuchos, or sliced beef heart, grilled and served in a peanut sauce as an “aperitivo” while deciding that the best thing to accompany beef heart as his entrée would be the aji de lengua, or beef tongue stew.
“You want some heart?” Gerry asked Eugene when the charred tender meat grilled on skewers came to the table.
Eugene declined politely, instead opting to sip on a bowl of blanched white peanut soup. “But it don’t taste like peanuts,” Eugene muttered after sipping it.
When his entrée arrived, Gerry prodded Eugene again. “What about some tongue?” he said waving a piece impaled on his fork, coated with tomato sauce and onions.
“No thank you, Gerry,” Eugene responded, trying to avoid looking at the severed beef tongue dangling in front of him and doing a very good job of not rising to Gerry’s bait. It helped that there was an enormous platter of majao camba, bits of dried beef jerky in yellow rice topped by an fried egg in front of him that he could quickly turn his attention to instead.
While Eugene was refusing Gerry’s offerings, Mike from Yonkers was slowly dissecting the plato paceno in front of him—thinly grilled steak, a section of white hominy corn on the cob, hearty fava beans and served with a chunk of fried cheese on top. My platter, called soltero, also featured thinly grilled steak, that same cob of white hominy corn and fava beans, but instead of fried cheese, the soltero included a piquant tomato, onion and cheese salad. Before I could dig into the soltero, however, I had to indulge in an apertivo. Despite the protestations of the waitress who was there to recommend some of the better Bolivian selections, I insisted our group share the salchipapas. What other cuisine could feature an appetizer of cut up hot dogs and French fries? Sadly, none of the others shared my enthusiasm for this particular Bolivian apertivo.
Zio, whether he wanted to be contrary or not, dared to veer from the beef that populated the menu by ordering the lechon (fried pork chunks). Thankfully the waitress returned shortly to inform him that there was no lechon available and instead, still resisting the beef, ordered the thimpu, boiled lamb chops topped with an onion sauce and served with potatoes and rice.
As we were waiting, as usual, for Mike from Yonkers to finish, Ernesto began serenading again. He sang to a small table of friends; Bolivians, who, with electronic tablets out, made sure his music was recorded on YouTube. When the song concluded we applauded generously.
“Thank you for coming to this Bolivian restaurant,” Ernesto, the unofficial and unaffiliated host and troubadour said. “And thank you for trying our food. Please come again.”
No matter how we felt about the beef at Renacer Boliviano, Ernesto made us an offer that was just too gracious to refuse.
67-03 Woodside Blve