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The Return To the Senegalese Stomping Ground

30 Apr

Chez Alain

“I couldn’t find a mention of this place anywhere online,” Eugene said as he waited under scaffolding on the corner of Adam Clayton Boulevard (7th Avenue) and 122nd St, his shadowy visage blending into the dim surroundings. “How did you find it?”

“Yeah, how do you like that.?” I said. “It hasn’t even been Yelped yet.”

I was proud of myself, but really, the discovery of the Senegalese restaurant, Chez Alain was easy for me. Just a few blocks north of what was referred to in an earlier post here as the “Senegalese Stomping Ground,” was also not far from my place of residence. When we first started our urban food adventures almost 13 years ago we routinely discovered gems that had yet to be unearthed. Now finding a restaurant that hadn’t previously been on Yelp, Chowhound, Serious Eats, or written up by the New York Times or Village Voice was no longer easy. In fact, it was almost impossible

“Maybe we should revisit some of our old gems,” Gerry volunteered as we gathered at a table for five in the clean, practically virginal restaurant.”Do you think we can amend the group’s rules to allow that?”

It wasn’t a bad idea and just the suggestion alone brought back a reverie of names such as “Uncle Sals’ Ribs and Bibs,”(Southern (Bronx) BBQ),  Tandoori Hut, (Dining With Sikhs) Cafe Gelchick (Kvass and Vodka), and the long defunct Peruvian gem on Northern Boulevard, La Pollada de Laura, home of the legendary “leche de tigre” (Cooked in Corona).

I had stopped by Chez Alain the day before our meal to talk to the hostess who introduced herself as Marieselle, making sure she would reserve our table for five and that all the dinner specials would be available by the time we arrived in the evening. Many of the African restaurants do a very brisk lunch and afternoon business catering to taxi drivers on their breaks before the evening rush. As a result, often all the good offerings are gone by dinner.

I noticed that the thiebou djenn, the Senegalese national dish of rice and fish, was not included in the dinner specials. “You can order the thiebou djenne in advance,”  Marieselle said, “and we will save a plate for you.”

I did just that so when we arrived at Chez Alain, Marieselle reassured me that the she had the thiebou djenn for me.

“There’s something not right about that,” Eugene said when he learned that I had pre-ordered a dish. “I think that might be against the rules.”

“Don’t worry, Eugene,” I said. “I’ll make sure you get a taste.”

He muttered something under his breath and ordered the grilled fish with the “spicy” rice. Mike from Yonkers ordered the same, but with plantains and when Marieselle came to Zio he just laughed. “I’m gonna have the same thing,” he said to her. “The grilled fish.”

Thankfully, Gerry veered from the fish fest to order the lamb version of thiebou djenn.

For some reason, Eugene’s fish arrived first. A monstrous tilapia, its skin seared into slices and grilled to a crusty brown. “Is this one all mine?” Eugene asked incredulously.

The monster tilapia, Senegalese style

The monster tilapia, Senegalese style

When he saw Zio and Mike from Yonkers get the same size fish delivered to their seats he had his answer.

Finally the much anticipated thiebou djenn arrived; the short grain rice cooked in a peppery tomato sauce with chunks of fish layered on top along with eggplant and root vegetables. After a few bites there was no doubt in my mind that it was worth of reserving a day ahead.

Thiebou Djenn

Thiebou Djenn

As I happily devoured the thiebou, I watched the three of our group dissect the grilled fish. Eugene neatly excised the tender, moist meat from the bones and Mike from Yonkers, as is his custom, took his time in making sure not a piece of the favored cheeks and/or any other speck of fish remained. Zio, on the other hand, made no attempt at decorum. His fingers, coated in the oils of the fish, were his utensils of the night. His plate was a quagmire of skin, meat and bones all of which, whether he wanted to or not, he shoved into his mouth. But from the determined look on his face, despite the disaster that was his plate, no one would deny him the pleasure he was having by criticizing his methods.

“This one just might make our Chow City Hall of Fame,” Eugene declared to all as he finally put his fork down, his fish now just a bony carcass.

And with my plate cleaned, I couldn’t disagree at all.

After having settled our bill, well under our $20 per person allotment,  and on our way out, Marieselle told me that if I wanted the thiebou to call and they would always save an order for me. Being only a few blocks away from the northern border of the Senegalese Stomping Ground, that was more than a comforting thought.

Chez Alain

2046 Adam Clayton Blvd

Harlem

The Happiest of All Hours: A Touch of Dee (St. Patrick’s Day edition)

19 Mar

 

A Touch of Dee

I’m not Irish, but that doesn’t stop me from having a beer on St. Patrick’s Day—or any other day for that matter. On this St. Patrick’s Day, I found myself in front of A Touch of Dee on Lenox Avenue in Harlem.

Making my way past a group of vociferous young men hanging out in front of Dee’s, I tried the front door, but it didn’t budge. Could it be closed? And on St. Patrick’s Day? As if that meant something where I was.  But a moment later I heard a buzz and the door opened for me.

Inside there were two women behind the bar and two customers at the bar nursing drinks. “Happy St. Patrick’s Day,” one of the women, a bartender whose named I later learned was Corinne, said to me.

I replied in kind and inquired about a Guinness.

She shook her head.

“Any draft beer?”

“No, just bottles,” she said indicating the bottles in the refrigerator behind the bar.

I peered through the glass and saw Coronas, Coors, Beck’s, Miller Lite, Miller High Life, and Budweiser along with small, individual-sized bottles of red, white and rose wine.

“I’ll take a Miller High Life,” I said and Corinne brought and opened the cold long neck clear bottle for me.

Was it ordained that I had to have a Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day? A  Miller High Life would certainly suffice.

The St. Patrick's Day special at Dee's.

The St. Patrick’s Day special at Dee’s.

There was 1970’s funk coming from the jukebox  and as I sipped the beer, I surveyed the clutter around the room and behind the bar. I noticed signed softballs; remnants from the numerous softball games at the dilapidated Colonel Young ball fields across the street, a coffee mug with the inscription “It’s Better to Give a Shit Than to Receive One,” a Hello Kitty figurine, a statue of a southern gentleman in a green jacket on top of the bar’s jukebox, assorted photos of the Obama family, Christmas ornaments, and, as a nod to St. Patrick’s Day, a few green Irish top hats. There was also a Happy Birthday garland strung across the back of the bar.

“Whose birthday?” I asked Corinne.

She looked surprised at the question and I pointed to the garland.

“Oh that’s an old sign,” she said with a shrug. “But it’s always someone’s birthday around here so we keep it up.”

It's always someone's birthday at Dee's.

It’s always someone’s birthday at Dee’s.

I nodded that I understood.  By the time I was almost done with my beer, Corinne had placed plastic martini glasses filled with green and yellow candies around the bar instead of pretzels or salted peanuts.

St. Paddy's Day bar snacks at Dee's.

St. Paddy’s Day bar snacks at Dee’s.

“We don’t have green beer,” she said. “So this will have to do.”

“It works for me,” I said, but didn’t dare sample one.

A few more gulps and my bottle was empty.

Back out on the street I could hear the helicopters in the distance hovering over Fifth Avenue and the Upper East Side. The parade was wrapping up. If I rushed I could get there before it ended. Or to a pub with Irish music that served green beer and Guinness.

But why would I want to do that?

A Touch of Dee's

 

A Touch of Dee’s

659 Malcolm X Blvd (Lenox Ave)

Harlem

 

126th St Soul

23 May

soul3

To answer the question above: Yes, I am feeling hungry. My question is: Can my hunger be satisfied without conditions?

A Taste of Soul Sticking Food on Seventh Avenue

7 May

Accra

We had just begun to stare at the wide array of exotic dishes offered behind the plexi-glass enclosed steam table when he was on us. He wore dark shades and a dark sport jacket. He shoved menus into our hands while proclaiming Accra, the African restaurant Gerry and I had wandered into, as something unlike any other African restaurant. Here, he said, you could get Ghanaian,  Senegalese, Nigerian, all kinds of African food.

“We even have soul food if you want it,” he said.

The assortment was staggering and we had no idea which dishes matched the very vast menu above the steam table. Gerry pointed to a dark brown stew where the only identifiable food were hard boiled eggs.

Brown stew

Brown stew

“You want a taste? Give him a taste,” the man in the dark shades said to one of the African women behind the counter. She looked at him quizzically, but no taste was forthcoming.

I eyed a rich, forest green vegetable stew. “That’s spinach with meat. Give him a taste,” he said again to the confused woman.

“We have beef, lamb, chicken, fish. No pork here,” he added. I had noticed the “No Pork on my Fork,” sign on the window in front. It was a remnant from the previous establishment: Mookie’s which I included in a post I wrote on this site called A Little Love for the Pig (Please).

Still no love for the pig.

Still no love for the pig.

“We have peanut soup, jollof rice, fufu, dibi with acheke, wakey with beef…” He said, pointing to the trays as we moved down the assembly line of food. “Give them a taste,” he said again, this time to whomever might listen.

But no taste was offered.

There were trays of fish. Some just the heads. Others smaller, fried whole.

“Tilapia,” he said, pointing to the fish heads. “And whiting,” indicating the smaller, fried fish.

Spinach with meat...and tilapia heads.

Spinach with meat…and tilapia heads.

“Black eyed pea fritters,” he said, indicating a mound of fried fritters. “Give them a taste.”

Finally, Gerry and I were handed pieces of the black eyed pea fritters off of small forks. Besides a slight spice tang, they were bland and could use a sauce or condiment as an accompaniment.

Black Eyed Pea Fritters

Black Eyed Pea Fritters

Next to the fritters was a tray that one of the women behind the counter was filling with a pieces of bronzed meat that had just come out of the deep fryer.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Turkey butt,” she said.

“What?” I looked closer. They were small, rounded, bony orbs, fried to a reddish brown. I wasn’t sure if I heard correctly.

“Turkey butt,” she repeated.

I looked for help from the man in the dark shades, but he had disappeared. We were now on our own at Accra.

Turkey butt

Turkey butt

Gerry decided on the dark stew of meats he first noticed along with rice, plantains and the spinach. I tried the sticky okra, jollof rice (a brownish yellow rice with bits of meat), lamb chops and also the spinach.

“Let me cut the chops,” the woman assembling my plate said. She cut them with kitchen shears into smaller pieces.

Lamb chops, spinach, okra, and jollof rice.

Lamb chops, spinach, okra, and jollof rice.

I noticed Gerry had a plastic bottle of homemade ginger beer on his tray.

“I’ll take a ginger beer too,” I said, but when I was handed the plastic bottle what was inside had a reddish tinge to it; a different hue than Gerry’s ginger-colored ginger beer.

“That’s ginger beer?” I asked.

The woman nodded but then a man came out from the kitchen. “Don’t give him that one,” the man said. “That’s the very spicy ginger beer.”

He was assuming that I couldn’t take the heat. That I wasn’t up to the challenge; that my American Caucasian constitution made me physically incapable. I didn’t resent the implication, but neither was I willing to accept it.

“Oh no, I’ll have this one,” I insisted stubbornly.

I took the food and the ginger beer back to a table where Gerry had already planted himself. Before even starting on the mound of food on my plate, I had to sample the ginger beer. I took a small sip. It was as strong as I’ve ever had; almost like drinking a wasabi smoothie. And after starting in on the very spicy okra and spinach dishes, the ginger beer was offering no respite. I had to cave and order a glass of water to put out the fire.

Once the water arrived, I was able to taste the food. Everything was flavorful and lovingly prepared. Even the multiple photos of Congressman Charles Rangel wining and dining with African dignitaries could not diminish my appetite.

Congressman Rangel trying the jollof rice.

Congressman Rangel sampling jollof rice.

Gerry looked around the dining room. “We are the only ones using forks,” he said.

I looked up from my plate to see the few occupied tables with men who, using their hands, were scooping their food into their mouth with pieces of pale fufu, familiar from our trip to Jamaica, Queens and the memorable Maima’s (The Bistro that Serves Fufu and Four Fingers), as their only eating utensil.

Once our plates were clean, I wondered what there might be for dessert. I noticed Accra carried donuts—the same donuts found at a thousand delis and bodegas across the city.

“Not for me,” Gerry said after I suggested it.

Paris Blues then,” I said, indicating the bar two blocks away where the Les Goodson band would be performing soon.

“Now you’re talking,” Gerry said.

Paris Blues 045

As Gerry and I exited the restaurant, moving past the long steam table, the women behind it and the men working in and around the dining room wanted our feedback. We heaped as much praise as we could before we got out of the door and even then, a man wearing an “Accra” baseball cap poked his head out. “Did you enjoy your food?” he asked

We reiterated our praise and said we would be back soon.

“Alright then,” He said with a smile and went back into the restaurant.

Accra Restaurant
2065 Seventh Avenue
Harlem

 

It’s a Floridita Thing

29 Apr

I’ve never been to Cuba, but I hear the place in Havana that Hemingway made famous is a serious tourist trap. Floridita The old writer probably wouldn’t have appreciated having tourists pose next to his bronzed self at the famous restaurant’s bar.

Buy that man a daiquiri.

Buy that man a daiquiri.

Instead, he would better appreciate what can be found in and around my neighborhood in New York. Floridita (4) The options are many here, including pizza. Floridita (6) Maybe a cafe con leche and a slice of tres leche cake…not to mention pastrami and roast beef at the Floridita Bakery. Floridita barI guarantee there are no bronze replicas of Hemingway at this Floridita. But do they make a proper daiquiri?

Since the daiquiri is a Floridita thing, the Floriditas of New York aim to please.              Floridita daiquiriThis daiquiri might not conjure images of raucous nights with that crazy writer in old Havana, but at least you don’t have to travel through Mexico to get it. And they even take credit cards.

The Big Kahuna in El Barrio

10 Apr

Makana

Lately Hawaii has been on my mind. And I can’t really pinpoint why.  In the past, I’ve really had no desire to visit our 50th State. Despite its obvious attractions, I have always been content to travel to the much closer, more exotic (in my mind) Caribbean than the Hawaiian Islands. Still Hawaii has been on my radar as a place I really should get to at some point in my life.

The closest I’ve come to Hawaii was a few years ago when a screenplay I wrote won a “Gold Kahuna” award at the Honolulu Film Festival. I had to admit, being considered a Kahuna in anything was quite an honor and the festival organizers said there would be a presentation. There was, however, a stipulation. I would have to travel 5,000 miles at my own expense to accept it personally. Even a Kahuna has his limitations and I decided to accept the award via email.

Gold Kahuna

Now I find myself with an itch to see the Islands. Maybe the cold winter finally caught up to me and images of green, lush, volcanic hills, waterfalls, crystal blue waters, and swaying palms has brought on the itch. Maybe that HGTV show Hawaii Life, which I’ve come to watch regularly has enticed me. Or maybe it’s because there is a cuisine particular to Hawaii that I have never tried. I’ve never been to India, Thailand, or Brazil for that matter, yet I have had their food here in New York. But Hawaiian food? Never. New York, it seems, is a Hawaiian food free zone.

Driving up First Avenue in East Harlem,( also known as Spanish Harlem, also known as El Barrio), not long ago, I noticed a sign for a restaurant called Makana that advertised Japanese and Hawaiian BBQ. Here, finally was a chance to lose my Hawaiian food virginity. I looked forward to my first time and despite my Kahuna credentials, hoped the experience would be a gentle one.

Makana

I went into the tiny, take-out mostly, restaurant not knowing what to expect and really not expecting much. The majority of the menu featured Japanese staples including a very long sushi list. I skipped past them and  paid attention to the items with asterisks next to them including Hawaiian BBQ beef, fried mahi mahi (“Hawaii’s favorite fish”), Kalua pork (“Another Hawaiian favorite,”) and “Loco Moco”, hamburger patties with a fried egg and covered with “special” brown gray(“A local Island favorite!”) It was the food with the asterisks I wanted.

BBQ chicken

BBQ chicken

I started with the Hawaiian bbq chicken; chunks of boneless chicken thighs heavily marinated in a sweet soy sauce. The chicken came with sides of salad, cabbage, macaroni salad, and rice with a layer of the same sweet sauce under it. While I ate, I noticed that there was something called “spam musabi;” soy marinated spam wrapped in seaweed, kind of like spam sushi, listed up on the illustrated menu behind the counter. I was tempted, but thought that when and if I ever get to Hawaii, that’s when I’ll take a chance on spam musabi.

Makana

Next I sampled the Kalua pork, pieces of tender, smoky shredded pork mixed with cabbage and lightly seasoned with that sweet soy sauce. I know pork is big in Spanish Harlem and have had my share of lechon including the addictive portions served at Lechonera La Isla ( see Lechonera Encanto). But this pork was different and had me fantasizing of a big pig slow cooked underground, Luau-style.

Kalua pork

Kalua pork

The bbq beef fried noodles, called fried saimin, were described as “Japanese-style” on the menu, but I never had anything like this at a Japanese restaurant before. The noodles, I thought, were more like thin, Chinese noodles—the sauce again of the sweet soy variety, the beef, thin round slices marinated in  the same sauce. I knew the sauce was redundant to all of the dishes I sampled, but I wasn’t complaining. It was what I was coming to identify with whatever this thing called Hawaiian food was.

Bbq beef fried saimin

Bbq beef fried saimin

In the appetizers section of the menu, I noticed ahi poke offered. I’ve never had poke, ahi or otherwise, but I thought it better, like the spam, that I wait until I’m in Honolulu, Maui, or the Big Island and the tuna is fresh out of the warm Pacific waters before I try it. But then again that might be a very long wait.

Makana
2245 1st Avenue
East Harlem

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?

 

Hawkeye, Fonzie, and The Coach Eat at Margie’s

29 Jan

margies

The door opened and, as if someone gave him a swift kick to the buttocks, Zio stumbled into Margie’s Red Rose Diner. Koko, the restaurant’s proprietor, jumped back in shock as Zio’s rotund frame almost fell on top of her. It took a moment for Zio to right himself from his Kramer-like entrance, but longer for Koko’s heart to stop racing from what could have been a very ugly and most likely painful experience if indeed, the heavy load that is Zio did knock her over.

It was a cold, snowy evening and maybe that was the reason for Zio’s misstep. Or it could be just his over-eagerness to finally eat at Margie’s Red Rose Diner. Either way, no damage had been done and Gerry, Zio and I had our pick of any table or seat at the counter we wanted. The restaurant was empty.

Once Koko’s heart settled, she gracefully assumed her role as both hostess and chef of the family-run Margie’s. The restaurant’s namesake, Margie, was Koko’s mother who ran the restaurant for over thirty years before her passing in 2009. After closing to reassess and remodel, Koko and her husband, known as “Poppa,” now run the small Harlem soul food spot continuing in the same, down home tradition Margie fostered.

Margie back in the day.

Margie back in the day.

We looked at the menu which featured “breakfast all day,” but it was dinner time and though sage sausage, fish and grits, banana pancakes, and salmon croquettes were very tempting, we stuck to the “PM” side of the menu.

When asked what he was going to order, Gerry, who was intently perusing the dinner options, mentioned either the turkey wings or the smothered pork chops.

“I really want those smothered pork chops,” Zio announced, making sure he staked his claim on them. And then feeling somewhat guilty for preempting Gerry, added; “it’s okay if we both get it, isn’t it? There are no rules tonight, are there?”

We weren’t on a Chow City assignment. There were no rules.

But Koko, who stood over us as we were deciding, helped settle any possible conflicts. “It’s all family style here. Everyone shares.”

That made it easy. Gerry went with the turkey wings, Zio the smothered pork chops and now it was up to me to decide between the porgies or whiting.

“It’s really whiting?” Zio inquired suspiciously. “It’s not tilapia posing as whiting?”

Koko glared at him. “No, we don’t do like they do downtown.”

That made it easy. I ordered the fried whiting with collard greens and baked macaroni along with a delicacy for me: toasted, buttered white bread.

“I’m gonna do one dish at a time ‘cause everything here is made to order,” Koko told us. “Since you ordered first,” she said, indicating Zio, “I’ll start with the pork chops. You all right with that?”

Even if we had a choice in the matter, we were more than all right with that.

Red roses were everywhere at Margie's.

Red roses were everywhere at Margie’s.

While we waited for the smothered pork chops, to arrive, the television above our table was on to the evening news. The lead story was a report on an epidemic attack of the norovirus, also known as the stomach flu that was sweeping across the United States. While we listened to hysterical warnings of projectile vomiting and extreme diarrhea, as if on cue, the pork chops, fried and then literally smothered in a dark brown gravy arrived. Despite the unappetizing news, we vigorously devoured the tender chops.

Smothered pork chops, candied yams, collard greens.

Smothered pork chops, candied yams, collard greens.

Next to arrive were the turkey wings, the meat falling off the bone, and smothe in the same gravy used for the pork chops. On a cold, snowy night, no one was complaining about too much gravy. The fried whiting completed our family-style trio and received high praise from all for how delicately they were fried. “This is definitely not tilapia,” Zio confirmed rapturously.

Fried whiting, baked macaroni, collard greens and buttered white toast.

Fried whiting, baked macaroni, collard greens and buttered white toast.

“Where you from,” Koko asked as she came over to check on us.

“125th Street,” I told her.

“You come all that way just to eat here,” she said. “That’s sweet of you.”

I thought for a moment. “It’s not like I came from Cleveland.”

“Are you in radio? You have a radio voice,” she asked me.

“I usually mumble,” I told her, “but when I order food I use my deep, clear disc jockey voice to make sure there is no confusion

She laughed and turned to Gerry. “You know, you look like Henry Winkler.”

“The Fonz,” Zio snickered.

Gerry posing as Arthur Fonzarelli

Gerry posing as Arthur Fonzarelli

“And you…” she stared at me. “Hey, Poppa, remember that show ‘Coach,’ what was the name of the coach?”

Poppa came out from the kitchen. Both Koko and her husband were wearing Pittsburgh Steelers’ baseball hats. We knew where their gridiron loyalty lay. He thought for a moment and then said: “Craig T. Nelson.”

“And your voice is like his too,” Koko said.

“The coach? I always thought I was the quarterback,” I said, disappointment obvious in my now mumbling voice. I knew what Craig T. Nelson looked like. He was balding—with a prominent nose. I didn’t see the resemblance, but if Koko thought I looked like Craig T. Nelson, I wasn’t going to argue.

The Coach

The Coach

“And you,” she stared at Zio. “Let me think on it.”

After the dishes were cleared she came back. “I know, the doctor on ‘ M.A.S.H.’”

“Alan Alda?” Zio said.

“Yeah, him,” Koko said.

“How many pounds ago,” Gerry cracked.

Zio posing as a doctor who actually knew how to use chopsticks.

The expert use of the chopsticks are a giveaway that the man above could not possibly be Zio.

We were hoping for dessert, but Margie said she had run out of her homemade lemonade pie.

“Lemonade pie? Wasn’t that in a song?” Gerry asked.

“Judy in the Skies,” Zio said.

Gerry quickly googled the song on his phone.  A You Tube video from the 60’s came up. We watched it and heard the lyrics mentioning lemonade pie.

“John Fred & his Playboys,” Gerry read. “And it’s ‘Judy in Disguise.’”

“I always thought it was Judy in the Skies,” Zio said.

"Judy in Disguise, well that's a-what you areA-lemonade pies, with a brand new car..."

“Judy in Disguise, well that’s a-what you are
A-lemonade pies, with a brand new car…”

We paid the check and took the allotted ten minutes to get coats, gloves, and hats on.

“We’ll be back for lemonade pie,” I said, speaking for all of us.

“You better,” Koko said and then made sure she steered very clear of Zio as he attempted to exit.

Margie's Red Rose Diner

Margie’s Red Rose Diner
275 W. 144th Street
Harlem

The Noodle Cure: Winter Edition

23 Jan

Jin Ramen

The wind was whipping. My gloved fingertips were going numb and my cheeks resembled New York Giants’ Coach Tom Coughlin’s after spending a January Sunday in Green Bay.  Winter had finally come to New York City. Even Zio was complaining. “It’s like North Dakota here this week,” he whined to me in an email. Not that I disagreed.

It was that cold...

It was that cold…

Back when it was sweltering, I posted a piece on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries called The Noodle Cure where I claimed that steaming ramen noodles, in this case from Terakawa Ramen, were an antidote for the excessive heat we were enduring at the time. The thing about ramen is that it has elixir-like components and, at least for me, acts as a curative for, among other things,  just about all ill effects of weather extremes.

Noodles are back there somewhere.

Noodles are back there somewhere.

Now that the city was under ice and cigarette smoke was indistinguishable from your own breath, I needed that cure desperately. And I found it not very far from my own abode, alongside the elevated tracks of the number 1 train just south of 125th Street.

The view.

The view.

The place, Jin Ramen, was barely visible behind the escalators to the elevated train station. And after taking the noodle cure there and experiencing ramen as good as it gets in not only West Harlem, but possibly all of New York, the only credible reason there were plenty of tables and counter seats available and that there was no line, as there always seem to be at many of the over-hyped ramen joints south of 96th Street, had to be because of its camouflaged location. For that, on this cold day, I was extremely grateful.

Just sitting near the broth was curative.

Just sitting near the broth was curative.

I sat at the counter where I was closer to the fires that sustained the hot broth. The menu at Jin Ramen was minimal, as it should be at a serious ramen joint. A few appetizers like edamame, steamed gyoza, and salads, some of seaweed, others made with tofu were offered along with Sapporo beer on draft and hot and/or cold sake. All were very tempting, but I was there only for the ramen and wasted no time ordering the heartiest on the menu: tonkotsu ramen.

Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu Ramen

It wasn’t long before the steaming bowl was placed in front of me. The broth, its base made from pork bone marrow giving it a creamy texture, was hakata ramen. The noodles were thin, firm and full of flavor. A few slices of tender braised pork belly, the fat on them practically melding with the broth, were included in the ramen along with a perfectly cooked soft boiled egg and a slice of nori.

Pork bellies all in a row.

Pork bellies all in a row.

I worked through the hearty bowl with determination, stopping only to blow my nose into the paper napkins provided. What remained in the bowl, I made sure to slurp down vigorously.  I was positive the noodle cure, if nothing else, would allow for a minimal grace period outside before my skin would once again practically blister, lashed by bitter winds from the nearby Hudson River and where I would have to continue to wiggle my toes to keep the circulation moving on my most extreme of extremities.

Jin Ramen

The number one train rumbled above as I adjusted my hat and put my gloves on. Construction workers on break from redesigning West Harlem for Columbia University huddled around a makeshift fire. As I passed them, I wondered if they knew that just a few paces away, there was something even more comforting and warming than their fire. I wondered if they knew about the Noodle Cure.

Jin Ramen
3183 Broadway (at 125th St)

It’s an Oxtail World…

14 Dec

Ox 003

oxtail5

oxtail6

oxtails (8)

oxtails (10)

Sylvia's and stuff 002

 

oxtail7 (2)

Ox 007

Elsie's

We just live in it.

 

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