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Seduced by Singaporean Snacks on Sticks

7 Jun

Bamboo Tori

When Rick chose to continue with his fading softball career instead of taking on his obligation to provide our greedy and needy group with a food destination, we were in a temporary quandary. Though I would have preferred he hadn’t left us in such a precarious situation, I understood his decision. I did the same thing—for about ten years—before realizing only a visit to a “clinic” in Miami could help regain my youthful form in the field and power at the plate.

Eugene also deserted us when he announced, shocking all of us, that his girlfriend’s superiors had actually invited him to attend her retirement party. And he thought it wise that he not decline the invitation. We could not disagree.

We were four and though Mike from Yonkers was next in line to choose, we were given a unique opportunity. A fan of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, and believe me, their numbers are just not that many, had reached out to me and remarkably, considering he had never met our motley crew, wanted us to assemble at his own eating establishment.

Now just because a restaurateur shows me some love doesn’t mean I’m an easy mark. I have my ethical standards and not just anyone who heaps praise on my work will get equal treatment on my very humble blog.  Jonny, however, the Indonesian born, Singaporean raised co-founder and chef of Bamboo Tori, made a strong case for our attendance. As I said above, any restaurant that would blindly consider allowing our group to convene at their tables has already displayed remarkable valor. Another reason that we considered the offer was that we had not yet been to a Japanese yakitori place, not to mention one that, Jonny explained was also heavily influenced by the Singaporean snacks served on sticks he recalled growing up there. Finally, Bamboo Tori was located in Greenwich Village, a place bustling with restaurants but typically not one where our group’s frugal criteria could be fulfilled. We would be dining in virgin territory.

On its website, Bamboo Tori bills itself as specializing in Japanese yakitori, and though I’ve had yakitori, the traditional Japanese featuring the funky chicken body parts excepted, the concept here, Jonny explained was different. Jonny and his partners Christophe, from Belgium, and Hendy from Haiti, wanted to make yakitori more accessible; meaning chicken hearts, butts, necks, and gizzards were not on their menu. After an exploratory eating trip to Singapore, the partners wanted to create at their venture more of what can be found served as street snacks there.

Mike from Yonkers, Gerry, Zio and I squeezed onto a hard bench in the slender, take-out mostly, restaurant as Jonny presented us with a selection of meats on sticks. Behind a glass front, there was a conveyor belt like machine where meats were put on their sticks and rotated around a hot fire while intermittently being dipped into a marinade. Passersby stared raptly at the mesmerizing process from the street.

The yakitori machine in action.

The yakitori machine in action.

Our first sample box of skewers included one stick each of asparagus bacon, chicken thigh, pork belly, and pork meatballs. Cooked to juicy perfection, each was coated with a bronze grilled yakitori glaze that Jonny informed me was provided by a close friend of his father’s, a Japanese chef of Hilton Hotels Indonesia.

The pork meatballs, made with ground pork, ginger and parsley had Gerry gushing and after a final tally, the consensus was that they were the standout among many standouts.

Pork meatballs

Pork meatballs

The next box included beef tri-tips, beef meatballs, chicken breast, and chicken thigh with scallions. And we made sure that every bit of meat was removed off each stick even if it meant scraping them with our teeth.

Finally, proving that Bamboo Tori can also satisfy the vegetarian, we tried skewers grilled with eggplant, zucchini, and grape tomatoes. From two seats down and over the din of the busy restaurant, I could hear Gerry gush again as he devoured the grilled veggies.

Grilled vegetables on a stick.

Grilled vegetables on a stick.

The final taste was a steamed pork bun stuffed with the aforementioned pork meatballs. The tiny sandwich epitomizing the term: street snack.

The used stick dispensary was stuffed with our skewers. We were done. We thanked Jonny and his partners for their service; very glad that we were introduced to their brand of yakitori, the trip to the heart of darkness known as Greenwich Village well worth it.

Steamed bun sandwich

Steamed bun sandwich

“How’d you come up with that name, ‘Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries’ anyway,” Jonny asked as I was leaving. “It’s cool.”

I explained how I thought the title of the Willie Bobo song as well as the tune itself was as good a representative of what I wanted to achieve in the website as I could find.

“I never heard of it,” Jonny said. And why would a man in his twenties be familiar with a Latin Soul tune recorded in 1966? “But I’m gonna check it out.”

The next day I sent him the link below to better help him check it out.

FNB

https://friedneckbones.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/14-fried-neck-bones-and-some-home-fr.m4a

 

Bamboo Tori
106 University Place

 

 

And the Answer is…

30 May

Old Town

 

But you knew that, didn’t you. Where else would your burger be sent from the kitchen to your table via a dumb waiter?

Dumb waiter contraption

Dumb waiter contraption

The Old Town has been around a lot longer than David Letterman, whose show helped bring it to recent (the last few decades) prominence.

Old Town

Call me old-fashioned, as many do, but I guess even a bar/restaurant that has been around since 1892 is not immune to the allure of self promotion at the expense of a quieter, classy exterior.

The Happiest of All Hours: WXOU Radio

27 Feb

WXOUWhen I was a kid, I used to listen to the transistor radio at night and pull in AM radio stations from as far away as St. Louis and Detroit. I knew then that the stations west of the Mississippi River began their call letters with a K and conversely with a W east of the river, where I was from. I knew this because at night, when the stations’ signals were clearest, I could hear St. Louis Blues hockey games and in the summer, Jack Buck calling St. Louis Cardinal baseball games from KMOX in St. Louis.

I found out later, the early 1990’s to be precise, that there was a KCOU in Columbia, Missouri that is the University of Missouri’s flagship radio station. I know this because on the Upper West Side there  was a no-frills, some might say, dive bar called KCOU. Maybe the owners of KCOU went to the University of Missouri. I didn’t know and I never asked. It was just the name of a place I would go to early and often; mainly for the bar’s happy hour which began, I believe, at four in the afternoon and lasted until eight at night. The happy hour featured a two-for-one deal on anything you wanted—there were no restrictions as many bars institute now where the two-for-one deal applies only for “well” drinks made with the house booze, usually far from top shelf.

WXOU

At KCOU my preferred cocktail at the time was a Stoli on the rocks with a wedge of lemon. And the bartenders, who of course I became very friendly with, would not skimp on the pour, generously filling the four ounce glass to the rim. Along with the drinks, big bowls of salted peanuts or mixed nuts were complimentary. On many nights those bowls of nuts, which were replenished whenever emptied, would serve as my evening meal.

The cocktail of choice at KCOU.

The cocktail of choice at KCOU.

The bar had an eclectic juke box and was usually very quiet at least until eight when the imploding frat scene that was taking over the stretch of Amsterdam Avenue where KCOU was located would begin to infiltrate the space. By then, after too many two-for-ones, it was lights out for me anyway.

To my dismay, the frat scene implosion eventually forced KCOU out of its Amsterdam Avenue location. But I quickly learned that there was a sister “radio” bar named WXOU on Hudson Street, diagonally across from the legendary White Horse Tavern.

Though a subway schlep from where I lived uptown prevented WXOU from replicating KCOU’s home away from home status, I would make my way downtown often enough to enjoy the similar happy hour atmosphere at the cozier WXOU. The bar had the same two-for-one policy and even the complimentary bowl of nuts in the identical white bowls that I was familiar with from KCOU. The juke box was, I was happy to see, almost a carbon copy of the uptown version. The major difference was that WXOU was much more popular than its late uptown brother. In the West Village, the happy hour at WXOU was a hit; the chances of a frat implosion on this stretch of Hudson Street was remote.

Once upon a time at a dive named...

Once upon a time at a dive named…

After probably a decade long absence, I returned to WXOU recently and discovered, happily, that it was pretty much exactly as I remembered it. The posters for the movies “Stranger than Paradise,” and “Once Upon A Time in America,” were in the same spots they were when I last visited. Same with the picture of the old Brooklyn Dodgers and the portrait of Jackie Robinson. The WXOU radio clock still stood where it did before; in the back of the bar near the restrooms. I flipped through the juke box selections. They were still top notch.

Jackie Robinson was still there.

There were changes, however. The happy hour, which I noticed now began at three, was no longer two-for-one. Pints of draft beers were a mere four dollars and, like it had at pretty much every drinking establishment, the beer list expanded to include microbrews and beers from Belgium that I never knew existed back during my “two-for-one” period.

I ordered a Spaten, a German beer from the bartender, a female with multiple colorful tattoos on her forearms. Along with the beer, I was given a bowl of nuts. Upon further inspection, the bowl of nuts included some of that other crunchy, salty stuff; pretzel pieces, honey coated almonds, mini-crackers, and those salty sesame sticks.

Spaten and nuts

Spaten and nuts

I sipped the beer and stared at the “All Cash. No Red Bull” sign above the bar. It was still daylight outside and from my perch at the bar I watched the activity on Hudson Street. Fathers, more than mothers, I noticed were accompanying their young children home from what must be a nearby school.

WXOU

I finished the pint—and then another. The Animals were on the juke box: “We’ve Gotta Get out of this Place.” I was in no rush to leave this place, but I gathered my belongings and collected what remained of my money on the bar, minus a tip.  The last thing I did before I left was to grab a handful of the crunchy salty stuff from the white bowl and while walking out, tossed a few  into my mouth.

The view from my perch.

The view from my perch.

WXOU Radio Bar
558 Hudson Street

The Happiest of All Hours: Winnie’s Bar & Restaurant

12 Dec

winnie's 018

I’m not one to partake in karaoke. In fact, I don’t recall ever being present during karaoke hours at a bar or club, though maybe I have been. I’ve probably actually gone out of my way to avoid karaoke and if a local pub I had been frequenting began to institute karaoke sessions, that pub would most likely be crossed off my list. Thankfully, it’s a long list.

My feeling is that I would rather put my dime (a figure of speech) in the juke box and hear the real deal than listen to amateurs obliterate the same tune.

I know it’s a cranky attitude to have. Why should I care if people have fun making fools of themselves? I don’t really. I truly believe there is place in this world for karaoke. There’s also a place for restaurants where you need to make a reservation a month in advance. It’s just that neither are my kind of place.

But though at times I’m intractable, I can make exceptions and recently I found myself sitting at the bar at Winnie’s, a Chinatown institution best known for its wild karaoke nights. Of course, I was at Winnie’s during the Happiest Hour, which, for me, is much earlier than the 8pm starting time for karaoke.

They are sensible about the dancing. But no cussing?

They are sensible about the dancing. But no cussing?

Instead of listening to inebriated folks doing their best to cover already bad pop hits, the place was practically empty and the only sound was from the “People’s Court” on television.

winnie's

While I sipped my very cold $6.50 Tsingtao, two hapless couples were haggling over an altercation that occurred because of a faulty refrigerator bought on Craig’s List. Though the beer tasted good, I began to think that maybe even an amateur with a microphone might be a better listening alternative than to the drek coming from Winnie’s only TV.

I finished the beer but didn’t order another. The dispute had not yet been resolved on the People’s Court, but I wasn’t sticking around for the verdict. Outside there was a drizzle and across the street people were huddled under cover within the atrium of Columbus Park. Winnie’s was surrounded by court houses and the next time I’m summoned for jury duty, I’ll know where to go to relieve the agony of fulfilling my civic responsibility.

Nothing wrong with a place that has a pay phone, karaoke notwithstanding.

Nothing wrong with a place that has a pay phone, karaoke notwithstanding.

For now, though my stay inside Winnie’s was brief, I figured I could extend the happiest of hours. In a way, I might actually discover “double happiness.” After all, I was in Chinatown. The possibilities were endless.

Double Happiness at Winnie's.

Double Happiness at Winnie’s.

Winnie’s Bar & Restaurant

104 Bayard St

Chinatown

On Pizza, Pomodoros, Putin, and Putinka

27 Nov

I’m a purist in many ways. With few exceptions, I don’t like fusion—unless I’m creating the fusion. When given the choice, as I always am, tap water works for me at a restaurant. I scoff at all the sauces presented to compliment a broiled or grilled piece of prime meat that should need no compliment.  I don’t buy flavored seltzers. If I want lemon or lime, I can easily add my own to plain seltzer.

And the same can be said for vodka. Who needs cranberry flavored seltzer when a splash of cranberry juice will suffice? That is, unless I’m in the outstanding Russian Samovar, sitting at the bar and trying to decide which of their house made infused vodkas I should order. Maybe start with a shot of ginger followed by the coriander? See, there are exceptions. I’m not totally unmovable on this.

The Russian Samovar Collection

The state of today’s pizza, I’m afraid, has been a serious blow to my purist sensibilities. You enter a pizzeria now and the cold, congealed varieties presented under Plexiglas counters are staggering. The pies are covered with everything from broccoli to kale, from barbecued shrimp to Buffalo chicken strips.

I like my pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella; preferably more of the former and lighter on the latter. I have been known to throw on some anchovies to improve a mediocre pie. Beyond that, I have no interest in sausage, pepperoni, meatball, mushrooms or any of the usual toppings.

Adding to the ever-growing assortment of pizzas is pizza with “vodka” sauce—the spin on penne a la vodka. I know pizza with vodka sauce is not a new phenomenon. I guess I just put it out of my mind,  desperately trying to deny its existence despite it’s increasing popularity.

I’ve made penne a la vodka myself. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of. I use cheap, local canned tomatoes. Who cares about the quality of the tomatoes if I’m adding cream to it—and vodka? And when I go into my vodka stash just to have it fuse with the sorry canned tomatoes and cream I cringe. It’s one thing to waste a few splashes of red wine in a sauce, it’s quite another to use some of the precious Russian clear stuff.

Well, not always Russian. Sometimes it might be Swedish, Danish, or even from some place in Texas.

Penne a la vodka is an amiable and infrequent diversion. It’s like the undercard of a heavyweight bout; the opening act for standouts like Neck Bones Tomato Sauce  or  Neck Bones Anchovy Sauce, pesto, or the perennial champ: marinara sauce.

So why would I ever be interested in the undercard of a topping for pizza? I wouldn’t. Or I thought I wouldn’t until recently. The lure was drawing me in. Was I missing something here? And how could I comment on something I’d never experienced?

The sign said it all: “Home of the famous vodka sauce.” There was even a banner flapping in the wind above Spring Street advertising “vodka pizza.” The place was called Pomodoro and apparently vodka sauce was their trademark. If I were ever going to experience a slice of pizza with vodka sauce, I would guess this would be the place.

I surveyed the countless array of already made pies under the Plexiglas counter for the vodka pie, but my eyes, inexperienced at least regarding vodka pizza, could not identify one.

I asked the man behind the counter for a slice of vodka. He took out a pie that looked like any other “regular” pie and cut out a slice which he threw into the oven to heat. A few moments later it was presented to me.

Vodka slice from Pomodoro

My normal reflex whenever eating a slice of pizza is to grab for the red pepper flakes and sprinkle generously over the slice. I did the same here not knowing that the vodka pizza was already spicy.

The slice was coated with chunks of very good, albeit spicy, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella while the only negative was that the crust was a little on the thick side for my taste. It was a more than commendable slice. Still, I was puzzled. I admit to being a vodka pizza virgin, but was this what a slice of vodka pizza tasted like? It didn’t taste anything like my penne a la vodka. Where was the vodka in the vodka slice?

So they called it something other than what it really was. It didn’t matter. I liked the pizza and brought a few slices home to give it another shot. This time I thought maybe, instead of beer, my usual accompaniment to pizza, I would accompany the vodka slice with vodka.

For the occasion I had a Russian named Putinka in my refrigerator. An apparent tribute to Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the Putinka also billed itself as “soft,” vodka, whatever that meant. Was soft vodka the equivalent to light beer? I hoped not. And really, would the former Lieutenant Colonel of the KGB want a vodka named after him that was billed as “soft?”

Soft vodka

Either way, I reheated the vodka slice and poured a shot of Putinka over ice. I sipped and then took a bite. The vodka, soft or not, gave me the familiar and comforting burn that, I discovered, paired brilliantly with the so-called vodka pizza.

I finished the vodka and the pizza a bit too quickly and then realized something that should have been obvious to me—something that conformed to my purist sensibilities. There was no need to search out a pre-made vodka sauce pizza where, most likely, the vodka sauce wouldn’t be up to your own standards. Just like adding your own flavor to your pure vodka, you could do the same with this pizza. All you needed was a warm slice of pizza and a cold Russian in the refrigerator.

Pomodoro
51 Spring Street
NYC

Cuban Chuletas in a Casa in Chelsea

20 Nov

Rick’s choice of a Venezuelan place in Chelsea quickly raised some eyebrows amongst our group when we were notified. A few months earlier, we traipsed to Inwood for Venezuelan cachapas on Dyckman Street Stalking Corn on Dyckman Street.  It wasn’t only the relatively quick repeat of a cuisine that was odd, it was also the location. Chelsea, in its present incarnation, is not a neighborhood where we would think to find our kind of restaurant; meaning one suited more for our penny pinching tastes.

Still, we gave Rick the benefit of the doubt and to El Cocotero we all planned to meet. But a couple of hours before our meeting time, Rick sent an email that read as follows:  “Guys. Just got a call from the wife and we have to go to the hospital! It may be a false alarm, but please go enjoy Venezuelan food without me.”

The false alarm was a reference to the impending birth of his first child; the due date set for early December. We all wished the best for Rick, but his pronouncement was just too sudden and late in the day to stop us from heading to Chelsea.

Before anyone else had arrived at El Cocotero, Zio had scouted it out. “It’s so dark in there, you won’t be able to find your mouth with your fork,” he wrote in a text.

You couldn’t tell that power had been restored weeks ago in Chelsea judging by the lack of light in El Cocotero.

When I entered, I immediately thought Zio was exaggerating. It was dim, for sure, but the flickering candlelight wouldn’t stop me from stuffing my face. Reading the menu, however, was a more challenging issue. Without my reading glasses, the menu print seemed as insurmountable as trying to read a Russian novel without a magnifying glass.    Thankfully, Eugene’s eyes were stronger than mine and he informed all of us that the cachapas were ten dollars—almost $4 more than what we paid at Cachapas y Mas on Dyckman Street.

To make matters worse, the table we were given was so cramped that there was the very frightening prospect of rubbing thighs with Mike from Yonkers while trying to get the food from fork to mouth.

“This is a date place,” Eugene blurted out.

Indeed it was, and Mike from Yonkers was not my date. Since Rick was not going to be joining us, there was no reason to endure eating at a romantic restaurant with the likes of Eugene, Gerry, Mike from Yonkers and Zio—and I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

Our group slunk out of El Cocotero, lamely apologizing to the manager as we exited.

The prospects of finding something Chow City like in Chelsea, we knew, were not good, but we had to try. I knew of a nearby Szechuan place that I liked, though it was probably as expensive as the Venezuelan we just left.

And then I remembered passing a Cuban diner on 8th Avenue on my way to El Cocotero that looked like something closer to our criteria. I mentioned it and our ensemble headed in that direction.

In front of Casa Havana was a placard advertising Thanksgiving dinner for $10.95 and another displaying a glistening suckling pig for $12.95. Eugene didn’t have to see anymore to be convinced. He was halfway to a table when Gerry, still out on the street, whined that he had eaten Cuban food the previous day.

We looked at him. You could never tell whether Gerry was joking or serious.

“Really, I did—in Montclair,” he said.

We all hesitated. Eugene came back out of the restaurant. “What now?” he barked.

This was becoming a fiasco and Gerry knew it.

“All right, let’s just go here,” he gamely conceded.

While our Mexican waitress brought the Cuban menus to our ample table, Dominican meringue played over the restaurant’s loudspeakers. Glancing at it, I noticed that the prices were lower than what we would have experienced at the Venezuelan place around the corner, but more than we would have paid for similar food uptown.

There was nothing out of the ordinary on the menu; rice and beans, fried pork, fried fish, roast pork, shrimp in garlic sauce, beef stew, etc.

“Do you have the turkey?” Eugene asked our waitress, referring to what was advertised outside the restaurant.

She shook her head. “No, we just have that for that other day,” she said, meaning Thanksgiving.

Instead, he settled on shrimp criolla while Zio, keeping to his fishy pattern whenever we gather,  ordered the “lubina frita,” fried bass.

After his Cuban meal in Montclair, Gerry eschewed the entrees and instead chose a Cuban sandwich with a small bowl of black bean soup. Mike from Yonkers was rebuffed by his first choice of fried snapper and had to go to plan B: the baked chicken. I decided on the “chuletas,” (pork chops) in red sauce with yellow rice and black beans.

While we waited for the platters to decorate our table, all of us except Zio, who sipped a mango “batido,” had $5 Mexican beers.

Embargo beer options at a Cuban Restaurant.

The food came and we plowed through it without many exclamations. No one complained. No one praised. The chuletas were skimpily thin and swimming in a non-descript tomato sauce that benefited greatly by a large dousing of the house hot sauce.

Shrimp Criolla, yellow rice and black beans

Because the food did not inspire discussion, we had no choice but to listen to Eugene describe the annual Christmas party he attends—the one with the Viennese dessert buffet—as well as the many meals he eats at the all-inclusive resort he frequents in the Dominican Republic.

Who knew Shakespeare vacationed in old Havana?

Gluttons for punishment, to name just one of the things we are gluttons for, we could have just called it a night in Chelsea. Instead, hoping we would find something to praise, we all had dessert. Sadly, even the desserts; coconut pudding, coconut cake, tres leches cake, and chocolate cake, did not surpass uptown standards.

And, as he suspected it would be, Rick informed all of us that indeed the trip to the hospital was a false alarm. If only we could have said the same thing about our trip to Chelsea.

And the Answer is…

19 Nov

On Friday I posted the photo below and challenged you to Name That Place.

I thought it was a “gift” to all of you, it would be that easy to identify. But maybe we all aren’t up on our city history as we should be. No one was able to identify the place in question. No one knew that the “gift” had to do with the history of the place.

There just aren’t that many saloons in this town anymore where a starving writer can create in a “nurturing atmosphere.”

It seems Ludwig Bemelman did a lot of writing in saloons. He has a bar named after him about sixty blocks north in the Carlyle Hotel, while  back on 18th Street, O’ Henry got his own “Way.”

 

The Hero of Mott Street

17 Jul

Parisi Bakery
198 Mott Street
Little Italy (also known as NoLita)

They call it a bakery, but in reality the bakery is a few blocks away on Elizabeth Street. This Parisi’s outpost specializes in magnificently-crafted heroes.

Heroes on the walls.

Maybe the pictures of Babe Ruth and other New York Yankees provide heroic inspiration.

Parisi’s meatball hero.

But finding hero nirvana is never easy and at  Parisi’s there is the little problem of the line. The line begins to form just before noon and soon snakes out the door and onto Mott Street. I’ve many times preached my feelings about waiting on line for food. Unless times are very hard, don’t ever do it!

Even for this.

Parisi’s pepper and egg hero

There are ways to avoid the line quandary. It just takes a little planning. You’ll need to set your schedule around your visit to Parisi’s. Make that your priority for the day. Take a late breakfast or an early or very late lunch and you should be fine.

Tell me that’s not worth a schedule adjustment?

There is no seating at Parisi’s but who cares? You’ve got your hero.  Don’t ask for more.  Or maybe just a few loaves to take home.

Name That Place

4 May

Why do I think the two “classics” above are a dead giveaway to naming this month’s place? Because I have much faith in my New York-based foodie followers to have experienced those particular classics.

But have I overestimated? Here are two more  photo hints.

Retro anyone?

High tech nostalgia.

These photos should be more than enough to create an avalanche of comments below with your answers. If not, well..

As usual, I will Name That Place right here at Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries on Monday.

Men on Fire

4 Oct

Sigiri
91 First Avenue
New York, NY

After missing our last two meetings, Rick was called upon to locate our next destination and after much deliberation, steered us to the gentrified East Village for a cuisine we had yet to experience: Sri Lankan.

Sigiri was around the corner from the stretch of Indian restaurants on East 6th Street between First and Second Avenues known as “Little India” where I often brought dates because the prices were the best in the city—even cheaper than Chinatown and always byob. I got a little nostalgic walking past the few remaining dingy dives on the block. My longings for the past, however, quickly dissipated after I was accosted by a row of servers standing outside the restaurants pathetically imploring passersby to sample what I now know is substandard Indian fare.

The narrow restaurant would be a challenge for our party of six, but accommodations were made and tables were joined and we were able to sit together. From my pre-dinner, online research, Sigiri, I believed was the only Sri Lankan restaurant in Manhattan and this was quickly confirmed by our hostess/server who spoke not with an Indian accent, but with a melodious British one.

And it was in that accent where she quickly charmed Mike from Yonkers by inquiring if he was Sri Lankan. I’m sure Mike from Yonkers has been called many things, but I doubt being a Sri Lankan has been one of them. For some reason it took him longer than it should have to respond in the negative and when she returned, she flattered him further by saying, “You know, you look a little like Denzel when you smile.” The Denzel in question being Washington and any similarity between Mike from Yonkers and Denzel from nearby Mount Vernon was lost on me.  And with Mike from Yonkers’ ego now meteorically boosted, he, of course, did nothing to discourage her continuous compliments.

A Man on Fire…not Mike from Yonkers (though upon closer inspection, there is a slight resemblance).

The somewhat strained flirt fest between the two was beginning to dull my appetite, but when our hostess warned us that serving Sri Lankan without any spice modification was extreme even for her, I perked up. We emphatically told her to prepare our dinner as it would be prepared in Sri Lanka as opposed to what might satisfy the gentrified East Village of New York. We didn’t need to be pampered with cloth napkins or with flickering table candles, both of which Sigiri provided much to Gerry’s disdain. We didn’t want dulled down food even at the expense of our intestinal tracks, both upper and lower.  And since we were Sri Lankan food novices, we also had her prepare what might be a good representative of that country’s cuisine with a request by Zio for a dish he insisted, for some inexplicable reason to be included, called “string hopper kotthu.”

While we were waiting for our food, Eugene, conversationalist that he is, filled us in on a doo wop show at White Plains High School he attended recently where the Harptones were the lead attraction.

Life is But a Dream

“Do you know Willie Winfield is 79,” Eugene informed us, referring to the great lead singer of that magnificent group.

I appreciated the update,  but Rick and Mike from Yonkers, clueless to what Eugene was talking about could only stare dully at their beers while Zio believed that Eugene’s news was an opportunity to mention something about an obscure doo wop tune called “Knee Socks” which both Eugene and I had never heard of.  Zio remained insistent of the song’s authenticity and even went so far as to send me a You Tube link a few days later of a video of assorted female “knee socks” flashing along with the very brief song of the same name by a group called the Ideals who were known probably only to only Zio and a few other lunatics.

Yes, Zio, we believe you.

The arrival of an assorted appetizer platter that included a selection of breaded and fried “nibblers;” fish spring roll, fish cutlet, lentil patty, and a vegetable spring roll, stifled the doo wop chatter.  Anticipating heat, we were disappointed that what was on the platter was not only mildly spicy, but dry as well.  Things quickly changed when the “devilled grill” arrived on our table; grilled chicken that was the Sri Lankan equivalent to genuine Jamaican jerk chicken—only hotter. After a few bites, Zio’s world weary eyes were beginning to tear up and his nose was running as was everyone else’s.

“black” curry

The heat onslaught continued unabated with a pork “black” curry, a fish curry in coconut milk sauce, and kotthu roti, a pancake chopped into shreds and fried with assorted vegetables. The only respite from the intense spice was Zio’s choice of string hopper kotthu, a version of Sri Lankan spaghetti accompanied with a chicken curry.

A platter of white rice and coconut roti (an Indian-style flat bread) also helped ease the pain and when Eugene was able to speak again, he proclaimed Sigiri as serving the hottest food we had yet to encounter, even spicier than the Sichuan Little Pepper of Flushing.

And if Eugene proclaims it, then it must be true.

String hoppers helped douse the fire.

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