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In the Heights (Hamilton’s) Eating Ecuadorian Food

19 Jul

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“This is the second Ecuadorian restaurant we’ve been to,” Eugene announced to all of us as we sat together in Ecuatoriana, the restaurant chosen by Eugene for our most recent eating adventure.

“What was the first,” I said, testing him.

“Braulio’s and Family,” Eugene responded correctly. I had to give Eugene credit; he did his research (Extending Familia).

Ecuatoriana was on Amsterdam Avenue located a block from a Jamaican restaurant we dined at back in the early days of our food group, meaning the first years of the new century (Cool Jerk).  Back then we were in Harlem but now we were in the “The Heights;” Hamilton Heights to be exact, named as such because of its proximity to the former home of founding father Alexander Hamilton. To be fair, the neighborhood’s moniker was created before Alexander Hamilton achieved excessive notoriety from the monster success of the Broadway show, Hamilton.  To make things even more confusing, the creator of Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda, also had a Broadway hit called In the Heights, about a neighborhood a little further north named after another founding father, George Washington. None of this has anything to do with Ecuadorian food so ignore it if you wish.

We were all examining the menus; reacquainting ourselves with the staples of Ecuadorian food; ceviche, steaks, pork chops, hominy, rice, and plantains when Zio boasted to all that he finally got hearing aids. The problem was, none of us could hear his proclamation because Eugene was bellowing about Houston Rocket, James Harden’s new contract.

“$572 thousand per game,” Eugene wailed. “Can you believe that? I’d have to work four years to make that much.”

I looked at Eugene. “Hey, you ain’t doing so bad,” I said, hoping to encourage him to glance at the menu instead of continuing to torment us by whining about James Harden’s riches.

Harden

The presence of a waitress helped spur our ordering and Gerry wasted no time in choosing a mixed seafood ceviche for the group; this one including the exotic “black clams.”

“They’re not clams,” Gerry said, as if he were an expert on Ecuadorian shellfish. “They are really mussels.”

“Why call them clams then?”

Gerry had no answer and I wasn’t sure he was right. But we did both agree on the same dish for our entree; the chaulafan, a fried rice-type of entrée with a mix of meats; sausage and beef, potatoes, plantains, and a scrambled egg all part of the dish. Thankfully the heaviness of the chaulafan was offset by the delicate ceviche, which indeed contained clams, not mussels, in a dark, cool broth. The ceviche was so inviting, Mike from Yonkers was hovering above Gerry hoping to get his spoon in the bowl before those black clams disappeared.

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There are black clams in there somewhere.

A whole red snapper was placed in front of Zio. It was a challenge, but at least he didn’t have to hear anyone or even talk to us as he went to work on it, slowly separating flesh from bone until all that was left was a cleanly picked carcass.

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A snapper for Zio

After the ceviche, Mike from Yonkers still had plenty of room for the fried pork ribs. The addition of white hominy along with mashed potatoes was just to ensure his starch intake was sufficient. Eugene’s pedestrian order of grilled shrimp arrived last, but amazingly he was the first to finish.

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Fried ribs with hominy

On this warm summer night, the streets of Hamilton Heights were brimming with activity and Eugene was impressed not only by his choice of restaurant, but also by the neighborhood. “We should come here more often,” Eugene said.

I wasn’t sure if that was invitation, a plea for more human companionship, or just Eugene making inane conversation. With Eugene, did it really matter?

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Chaulafan

Ecuatoriana

1685 Amsterdam Ave

Hamilton Heights (Harlem)

Extending Familia

8 Mar

This 2005 visit to Braulio’s & Familia marked a return, albeit, temporarily by Charlie to our group. More significantly, it was the debut of new member, Mike from Yonkers. And as I recall, the company was more memorable than the meal.

Braulio’s & Familia
3908 63rd Street
Woodside

Was Gerry usurped when Zio choose Braulio’s & Famlia, the Ecuadorian restaurant, as our most recent destination? Or was there a leak among the participants to aide Zio in his choice. The facts show that there was no crime committed. A couple of months back Gerry had chosen an Ecuadorian restaurant in Portchester, an increasingly multi-ethnic suburb in Westchester. But his pick was waylaid by circumstances beyond anyone’s control: a wall collapsed on the West Side Highway and Gerry’s knee buckled under the pain of the knife; he had surgery on it the day before. Thinking he might be a food hero and limp courageously to the table, he did not postpone our dinner. But even as devoted Gerry is to our cause, the percodan he was taking to alleviate the pain would not only take away the pain, it would numb his senses, including the all important sense of taste. So, regrettably, his unique yet remote Portchester selection was nixed.

Zio’s selection came next and, as he always does, he researched the internet studiously,  narrowing his choices between Braulio’s and an Indian restaurant in Richmond Hill , Queens . The pick was Braulio’s, located in Woodside, a block from the shadow of the elevated number 7 train, a neighborhood so ripe with a variety of inexpensive ethnic restaurants that traveling to Portchester would be folly. Though Rick was excused from joining us, we were most happy to welcome Charlie back, who made the trek from Pennsylvania .

Our host, Senor Braulio, was on hand to make sure we were comfortable and if he could be of any help with the menu. We always appreciate assistance from the waiters or owners who might guide us in properly selecting the restaurant’s absolute authentic cuisine and Senor Braulio was more than happy to do so. So, instead of poring over the impressive and extensive menu ourselves, we gladly let him order for the table.

 

 

Both Peru and Ecuador are renowned for their ceviche and we previously experienced Peruvian ceviche at the excellent La Pollada de Laura in Corona two years ago. Now was our chance to sample the Ecuadorian version. To accommodate our extended familia of six, Senor Braulio had the kitchen prepare a custom-made, mixed seafood ceviche.

Dried hominy corn kernels, crackers, a spicy yellow pepper garlic sauce and bread that intentionally or not, was stale, was brought to our table as accompaniments to our ceviche. We, however, are an impatient group and began munching on the accompaniments—even the stale bread. Finally the big bowl of ceviche arrived brimming with seafood in a marinade. Unlike the clear marinade of Peru, this marinade was green. There was octopus, shrimp, fish, and what is known as “black clam.” I asked Senor Braulio about the black clam and it wasn’t that the clam belly was black, just the shell. Since there were no shells to be seen, we took his word on this. The ceviche was tangy with lime and vinegar, the green color coming from the extremely generous amount of cilantro tossed in. The seafood was “cooked” perfectly in the marinade; nothing tough or suspicious tasting or smelling.

 

 

As we waited for our meat platter, Senor Braulio pulled down a big screen and turned his many televisions on to EcuaTV, the television station of Ecuador . He came over to our table and apologetically exclaimed that there was a big soccer match on and hoped we wouldn’t mind, which of course we did not. It was Barcelona (not the Spanish city) vs. Nacional, two Ecuadorian club teams. The restaurant soon was full with groups of men, large bottles of Pilsener, Ecuodorian beer in front of them, watching the game with comparable zeal to our watching a Sunday NFL game.

Soon the huge meat platter appeared; a variety of grilled, seasoned meats, beef, pork, chicken, and sausage along with steamed hominy, green fried plantains, and a very pleasant green salad in a cilantro-flavored vinaigrette. Senor Braulio estimated properly and there was more than enough for the six of us. The meats and the accompaniments were perfectly fine, but what was missing was variety. By ordering familia-style we were not able to sample the curiously-named “ball soup” or the Ecuadorian fried fish, or the rice with black clams, or the tripe with potato, just to name some of the menu’s interesting offerings. In retrospect, opting for the easy route and having Senor Braulio order was a mistake.

Joining us to help devour the food was a potentially new member to our group, Mike from Yonkers . Mike from Yonkers displayed proper passion for our venture, but raised a few eyebrows within our circle when he expressed concern that there might be more food coming after the gigantic meat platter. He quickly realized his error—the promise of more food should never be cause for concern—and knew better than to refuse a few bites of the dessert of figs and cheese.

There’s always room for some figs and cheese.

On a recent visit to, I passed Braulio’s & Familia. They have prospered since our 2005 visit and on the take out menu I noticed that they now have karaoke on the weekends and that the ball soup is still available. Their menu also claimed a website but when I tried it at home, it came up blank.  Charlie has not returned to the group since our visit to Braulio’s & Familia, though Mike from Yonkers has become a mainstay. You will read much more about him in the posts to come here on the Adventures of Chow City segment of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries.

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