Archive | Travel RSS feed for this section

The Weekend Special

10 Jun

Sunday is the big parade. You know the one I mean: the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. And to show respect to all my friends who claim roots from Las Isla Del Encanto, Fried Neck Bones hereby proclaims this Cuchifrito Weekend. So go out there and eat all the deep fried pig parts you can find, particularly the delectable ears. Don’t be shy about devouring chicharron (fried pork skin),  papas rellenas (fried potato balls stuffed with meats), bacalaitos (fried stuffed codfish balls), morcilla (blood sausage), and pasteles (pork-filled deep fried pastry)  to your, by now, overworked heart’s content.

Cuchifritos and frituras

To add to the spirit of the weekend, here’s a treat from that honorary coqui, the late, great vibraphonist, Cal Tjader who had the very good sense to compose a piece about the goodies above he titled Cuchy Frito Man. Click below to listen.

1 – Cuchy Frito Man

And the Answer Is

6 Jun

No one was able to identify where I was below:

In my subtle hinting, I mentioned that the competition was fierce for the salt fish, baccala, bacalao, and link fish business within the confines of where I was.

Here's one

 

And another

 

And more

Pigs tails, pig snout and other goodies are also available in abundance at this place.

So what is the name of this foodie wonderlad; the poor man’s Eataly? Here, while you shop, the rumbling of trains above will serenade you. That’s because you are on 115th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem at…

Until the next installment of Name That Place, eat well and don’t forget to change the water a few times when you soak your salt fish.

C is for Chow

4 Mar

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of seeing all those glowing blue “A’s” in restaurant windows.

They are everywhere; on Dunkin Donuts windows, Subway sandwich shops, and, like above, in the window of an Ethiopian restaurant. Their smug perfection is right up there in your face; a constant reminder of the absence of them on so many of my own report cards. Sure, we all strive for perfection, but really, what kind of world would it be if everyone was an “A?” So when, finally, I came across a big orange  C, I felt much better.

Now that’s a grade I can relate to.  I was so excited I almost ordered the homemade gyro. Almost.

Have a great weekend. Look for a new Adventure in Chow City on Tuesday.

And the Answer is…

28 Feb

On Friday I gave you a simple red curtain. Here it is again.

Now,  a few hours after taking the above picture. They wait in line…

…to get here.

So they can eat this.

 

Burger Joint Burger

 

Yes, it’s the Burger Joint off the lobby of Le Parker Meridien Hotel.  The burgers here are rated by many as the best in New York City. And I just might have to agree. This one had you stumped.  No one knew what was behind that red curtain.  Last month’s was too easy; this one too difficult. Where is that middle ground? Maybe we’ll all find it the next time we play Name That Place.

Busted A** Chicken

28 Jan

I’m cold. I don’t know about you, but I’m damn cold. This winter has been—well, let’s tell it like it is: it’s been hell and that ridiculous groundhog hasn’t even shown up yet. I’m desperate for some heat and you know what they say about desperate times. So in my desperation I’m resorting to warming up my mind, if nothing else, with a hot recipe. Something to get me thinking about sweat, sun, and cold beer. Anyway, where I’m going with this is lighting a cyberfire on a Weber, and cooking up a busted a** chicken. There are other, maybe more politically correct names for it such as “beer can chicken” or “beer up the butt chicken,” but I think my terminology best encompasses the overall experience, both in preparing and eating the bird.

This is my own, award-winning, recipe of busted a** chicken. Yes, I did win an award: third place in the chicken category of the 2002 Jamaican Jerk-Style/Southern Barbecue Cook-Off in Montego Bay, Jamaica. I’m surprised you never read about it. The prize was cash money and, for any doubters, a hand-carved wooden map of the island of Jamaica (see photo below). At the festival, the judge was a Southerner named Rocky and one of my fellow winners was the legendary (in the barbecue world) Big Bob Gibson himself. But enough self promotion and name dropping. Here is the recipe:

My 3rd place trophy

Ingredients:

1 good-sized chicken (around 4 pounds)

1- 12 ounce can of beer (cheap beer preferred: Schaefer, Miller High Life, or Pabst)

For the rub:

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

4 tablespoons paprika

Mix up the dry rub ingredients. Clean out the chicken, removing any spare giblets or body parts that might be in the cavity. Wash and pat dry with paper towels. Massage the rub into the bird’s flesh and inside the cavity, under the wings and legs making sure it’s properly coated. Let the chicken sit for a half hour or so while you prepare the grill.

Fill up a starter chimney with hardwood charcoal and light it up. If your charcoal is fresh and dry it should take no more than twenty minutes to be glowing hot. While the charcoal is firing up, go get the beer. Make that two beers: one for the chicken the other for you. For the beer you’re going to use for the chicken, open it up and take a few sips until you’ve drunk about an inch of it. If you’ve got an old school can opener make a few extra incisions into the top of the can. If you don’t, you can poke a few holes in the top with a screwdriver or a nail. Whatever it takes to create more openings.

The beer of choice.

When the charcoal is ready, pull off the grate to the grill and pour in the hot coals. Using a garden trowel or barbecue tongs, stack the coals to one side of the grill. Put the grate back on.

Now it’s time to do the deed. Holding the chicken upright, cavity facing down, slowly impale the chicken on the beer can about two-thirds down onto the can. Place the now busted a** chicken on the grill on the side opposite the hot coals; what they call the “indirect” method. Put the top on the grill keeping the air vents open slightly.

While the chicken cooks, open up the other beer, find a very comfortable seat, and put on some music. Right now, I’m thinking maybe Jack McDuff’s The Honeydripper or Soul Summit with McDuff and the two Boss tenors, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons. You’d think country would work too, but I’m a city boy. No country for me with the possible exception of the late Charlie Rich and a few others, also now deceased. After about an hour or maybe a beer or two, check on the chicken. Really there’s not much to do there unless the coals are dying down. If they are, you’ll need to add about ten or twelve hot coals to the grill. The whole process shouldn’t take more than two or two and a half hours.

Music to cook busted a** chicken by.

The bird should have a nice dark brown tan by now. Using sturdy tongs, carefully remove it from the grill. Much of the beer in the can should have evaporated; the vapors from those hops and barley seeping into the flesh of the chicken keeping it moist and adding a hint of malt flavor. Still there might be some hot beer left in the can and you don’t want to drop it and have that spill onto you. That would definitely dampen a very relaxing few hours. Let the chicken stand about 15 minutes before carving. If you’re industrious you might want to make up some cole slaw or a pot of greens to go with the chicken. Enjoy.

Red Stripe: Yes. Lite: Never. And you’re asking a lot of the chicken with a tall boy. Needless to say, this one was not a winner.

Alright now. I feel better already just getting that out. They’re saying we might get an inch or two of snow tomorrow. Enjoy the weekend and I’ll return on Tuesday with another Adventures in Chow City.

Christmas Cheer

23 Dec

Sorrel

I first sampled a drink made from sorrel in the early 1990’s on the island of Barbados where I was on assignment for a travel magazine. There I met a woman named Carmeta Fraser; more specifically, Senator Carmeta Fraser. She was a dignitary in that country’s government at the time. Her title: Food Promotion Director for the Barbados Marketing Corporation which is now known as the Barbados Agricultural and Marketing Development Corporation. She also had a radio program that was apparently very popular mainly extolling the virtues of local produce. Her motto was: “Let’s eat what we grow, grow what we eat.” I met with her at her modest home where she showed me her extensive garden and treated me to a number of fruit juices made from her garden’s bounty.

Barbados cherry

Golden apple

I sampled “cherry cool-ma,” made from the Barbados cherry also known as acerola, a slightly tarter version of cherries we are familiar with here and, as she told me, “packed with vitamin C.” Senator Fraser also had me try her homemade golden apple beer, a non-alcoholic drink made from golden apples from her garden. They call it golden apple in Barbados but elsewhere it is known as June plum, and it tastes nothing like our own golden apples. The juice of the fruit, blended with ginger and sweetened with sugar was distinctive and its taste something I just can’t equate. Finally, Senator Fraser brought out a drink made from sorrel telling me that you can drink it all year round, but it’s really best at Christmas time. A member of the hibiscus family, the plant, according to lore, yields its bright red flowers at Christmas. So in Barbados, and elsewhere in the English-speaking islands of the West Indies, they say  it’s just not Christmas without sorrel drink.

Fresh sorrel

I left Senator Fraser’s home with a number of her booklets promoting the benefits of eating local fruits, vegetables and meats. In one of the booklets was a recipe for sorrel drink and the following Christmas in New York, I made my own version and have been making it around Christmas ever since; adopting a tradition that has nothing to do with my own background. I’m not sure why I’ve adopted it; maybe it’s a reminder of sunshine and warmth during a cold, dark time of year. But whatever the reason, as they say, it’s just not Christmas without sorrel drink.

Senator Fraser passed away a few years after my visit. She is still remembered in Barbados as a pioneer in championing local and even organic produce and this past March a store at Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados selling locally-made products opened and, to honor her work,  was named, “Carmeta’s.”

Here is my recipe for sorrel drink adapted from Senator Carmeta Fraser’s.

2 cups of dried sorrel*

3 whole cloves

1 ½ tablespoons of grated orange zest

1 ½ grated fresh ginger

2 quarts of boiling water

1 cup of sugar ( ½ cup more if you’ve got a serious sweet tooth)

Place the sorrel and the other ingredients except for the sugar in a large crock or ceramic jug. Pour the boiling water over all and let it steep in a warm, dry place for 48 hours. I keep it in my oven, just remember to take it out if you are using the oven during the process. Strain and add the sugar. Refrigerate for another 48 hours. Serve over ice, a wedge of lime, and, though Senator Fraser was a church-going woman and never mentioned it, an ounce (or two) of rum definitely enhances the drink’s Christmas cheer. If you do add rum, I recommend Barbados’s own Mount Gay or Appleton Estate from Jamaica.

 

The Fusion Files: Part Two

3 Dec

The second in a continuing series.

I’m not sure, but I think fusion here means you can eat your scrambled eggs and (turkey) bacon with your hands.

Have a great weekend. Adventures in Chow City returns on Tuesday with a new installment.

Cooked in Corona

23 Nov

A few weeks before our trip to La Pollada De Laura, we visited a Thai restaurant in Woodside called Arunee. At the time in 2003, the legend of Sripraphai, the most famous Thai restaurant in Queens, was already cemented. Arunee, on the other hand, in Jackson Heights, was still comparatively undiscovered until Eugene steered us in its direction.  The meal, I recall was spectacular, but, unfortunately it was one of the few, due to a family emergency at home, I never reported on. Queens was our destination again, and what follows is our experience at a Peruvian restaurant called La Pollada de Laura.

La Pollada de Laura
(R.I.P)

Zio’s misadventures driving around Jackson Heights searching feebly for Arunee, the Thai restaurant we last visited, convinced him to take the subway from his love nest in Astoria to our next destination, La Pollada de Laura in Corona.  I also planned on the subway, the 7 train, and before leaving we tried to coordinate it that we would meet at the 103rd St Corona station. To help we came equipped with cell phones.

The Peruvian restaurant Rick chose was located on Northern Boulevard. Having been in Corona only once, when my car broke down on the Long Island Expressway many years ago, I was clueless as to how to get to Northern Boulevard. The Colombians, Mexicans, Dominicans, and others Latin American immigrants were out in large numbers around Roosevelt Avenue on this pleasant Spring night, but getting an answer to my question; which direction was Northern Boulevard, spoken in English, did not produce immediate results. I tried calling Zio’s cell phone but another 7 train had rumbled into the station above muffling any chance I had of communicating with him. Finally, using sign language, I was pointed in the direction of Northern Boulevard. Once clear of the elevated tracks, I was able to make phone contact with Zio who had already found the restaurant. As I made my way the very long five blocks to Northern Boulevard, Zio and I had a running commentary on the bustling neighborhood where even the music from the ice cream trucks had a Latin tinge to it.

Gerry and Eugene were seated and the music was blasting as I entered La Pollada de Laura. Rick soon joined us and after Eugene regaled us with stories of his Times Square Madame Tussaud’s experience, as if we were interested, we were just about ready to order. The menu featured numerous ceviches, a Peruvian staple. Eugene, without elaborating, was determined to sample leche de tigre, otherwise known as “Peruvian Viagra.” The very friendly waitress happily explained the lore of the dish; that among its health benefits was an enhancement of male virility. Not that anyone of us, with the possible exception of Eugene, believed her, but it was the sweetly innocent way she explained it that made us order not one, but two leche de tigres.

Rick had mentioned that the owner of the restaurant, Manny, would help us decide what to order from the menu. But Manny had not arrived, so it was up to the ever-helpful waitress to recommend how we should proceed. Instead of a few different ceviches, she suggested we go with the ceviche mixto, which had a little of everything; fish, octopus, squid, shrimp and conch. I’ve had the famous Peruvian pollo a la brasa (roast chicken) at other Spanish restaurants, but wanted to try it here. We also ordered a jalea grande, a mix of fried fish, shellfish, potatoes accompanied with a salsa criolla, and with a nod from our waitress, lomo saltado de carne; beef with slices of onions, tomatoes and French fries.

While we waited, we were brought a pre-meal snack; tiny pieces of purple, salted corn kernels. They went well with our Peruvian beer, Cusquena. The leche de tigre was first to arrive at our table. Large shrimp and half a blue crab hanging over a tall glass filled with a milky liquid; the “tigers’ milk.” I immediately tasted a spoonful of the liquid—the “leche”—was the juice used to marinate, or “cook” the fish with lemon, lime, cilantro and peppers. And there was only so much of that juice you could actually drink without “cooking” the inside of your own mouth. Virility, male or female, was most definitely needed to down a big glass of leche de tigre.

At most of our food adventures, once the food begins to arrive, there is little room on our table. But we eat quickly not only because we can’t help ourselves, but because the quicker we eat and dispose of a platter, the more room will be found at our table for another entrée.  This night was no exception.  The delicious lomo saltado was devoured before the ceviche mixto even arrived, but still, our table was crammed with a whole pollo a la brasa and a monumental-sized mound of jalea, fried mixed seafood cooked to perfection.  When the ceviche arrived, we found room on the table for the equally large portion; the squid, octopus, fish and other seafood tenderly marinated, smothered in red onions and swimming in the lemon juice.

Manny eventually showed up and brought us his homemade hot sauce. Ignoring Manny’s warning of its intensity, Rick smothered his ceviche with the sauce and soon the sweat was flowing alarmingly from his forehead. Finishing what was on the table seemed impossible, but given time we did not disappoint. We even had room for dessert, trying Manny’s recommendation, mazamorra morada, a crimson-colored gelatinous mess that prompted Zio to make a comment about blood, brains, and shotguns. Though collectively not to our liking, Eugene could not resist mentioning that it was better than the infamous beans of halo halo from Ihawan, the Filipino restaurant we visited a year ago.

Amazingly, all of what we ate came under our budget and then some. As Zio and I tried to walk off the meal in the four blocks to the subway, we wondered how, with prices like that, La Pollada de Laura could actually stay in business. Before either of us could respond, the sound of the number 7 train drowned out any hope of further conversation.

In the book I write about New York City, I recommended pairing a meal at La Pollada de Laura with a visit to the nearby Louis Armstrong House Museum, where the jazz great lived from the 1940’s until his death in 1971. Unfortunately, several years ago, La Pollada de Laura closed thus answering our 2003 question wondering how they could stay in business considering the prices they were charging.

Kvass and Vodka

12 Oct

Soon after we started this food group, we learned that Eugene had friends of many different nationalities. We don’t really know why or how he happened to befriend so many from other lands, but he made it clear that he had them. At our dinners he would often refer to a friend from India, or China, or Peru, to name just a few. Eugene would then pick the brain of that friend asking for a recommendation; a place where we could find an authentic replication of the food of that person’s particular homeland. For his first pick, Eugene called on a Russian friend who suggested Café Glechik. Below is what we experienced on a warm summer’s night in 2002.

Café Glechik
3159 Coney Island Avenue
Brooklyn

There was a slight delay in getting started on the trek to Brighton Beach, to the Ukrainian restaurant suggested by Eugene called Café Glechik. The delay was due to the sudden emergence of cockroaches and other less unsightly bugs in my kitchen. I needed expert help and there was no one else to call than Zio. For those not aware of it, Zio is a man of many talents. Not only can he make a first rate beef braciole,  he is also a talented illustrator. But it is his ability to kill termites, cockroaches, carpenter ants, the many variations of rodents, and all those other pests that is his true gift. I needed that gift and Zio delivered with a few well-placed shots of an extremely deadly, though not odorous concoction that the cockroaches, he claimed, just cannot resist. The other problem was the little bugs I had been seeing on the kitchen counter. We spent time shaking a few items in my cupboards seeking the source of these bugs, but were having no luck until we found a few lounging in a box of Festival mix I had brought back from Jamaica. Festival being the equivalent of fried dough and served usually with jerk pork and chicken. The bug Zio identified as a flour beetle. The Festival had to go. With it, I hoped also would go the flour beetles.

Finally we headed out, with Charlie in tow. Over the Triboro Bridge. Crawling through the BQE. Heading down Ocean Parkway. Finally, Coney Island was in sight and after an hour of driving, we made it to Café Glechik in the Russian/Ukrainian enclave of Brighton Beach.

The others were seated and waiting in the small, busy café when we arrived. The Café did not have a liquor license and Gerry had gone out in search of vodka. He was told there was a liquor store on a street called “Brighton 10.” He returned empty-handed. “Too many Brighton 10s,” he said shaking his head.  Apparently there was more than one. In the meantime, a young man called Vlad began to explain the items on the menu. He was helpful and patient though inexperienced. After a few really tough questions such as what would he suggest we eat to sample a true Russian meal at Café Glechik, he gave up and handed us over to another waiter, this one not as patient, nor as helpful. He wouldn’t even tell us his name he just wanted our orders—we were on our own here.

After my contact lenses cleared from glancing at the Russian language side of the menu, I was able to discern what we might be eating, starting with herring with potato, smoked mackerel and “vareniki,” the Russian version of a pierogi. We ordered one stuffed with potato and another with meat. After Rick, Eugene, and Charlie made the mistake of asking Waiter Number Two a few questions about some of the items on the menu, his glare flustered them so much they ordered whatever blurted from their tongues; in this case it was chicken stroganoff, beef stroganoff and grilled chicken breast respectively. Zio, aware of the wrath of Waiter Number Two, wasted no time ordering the rabbit stew.

One of the few things my Ukrainian-born Grandmother was able to cook competently was stuffed cabbage. It had been well over 30 years since I last tasted that stuffed cabbage, but it was a distinct taste and I was curious to see how this would compare, so my choice seemed easy. Under the pressure of the moment created by the gruff waiter, we didn’t realize until our main courses had arrived and that Gerry forgot to order one so, to the mix, and to Waiter Number Two’s rolling eyes, he quickly added stewed “Odessa” in a pot, a Russian variation on beef stew.  For our beverage, we all ordered the local carbonated, non-alcoholic drink called Kvass. It was said, though I don’t know who said it, to be a very good chaser for vodka.

To calm our nerves, we needed more than Kvass and this time Vlad gave us clearer directions to a liquor store. Gerry and I took a walk while the others waited for our food and drinks. The Russian-owned liquor store which shared a storefront with a video store had many Russian vodkas I was unfamiliar with. They were cheap and seemed like worthy companions to a Russian meal. But the store owner steered us away from the Russian stuff instead urging us to buy Absolut, proclaiming that it was much better. It was also much more expensive which might have been why he was pushing it.

 

The Kvass and the herring and mackerel were waiting for us when we returned. The Kvass, like the cantaloupe drink at Ihawan, turned out to be another unfortunate beverage choice. Made with water, yeast, sugar and raisins, it tasted like a sweetened version of the malta drinks popular with Hispanics. I’ve washed down rum with coconut water, ginger beer, and a grapefruit soda called Ting, but chasing the Absolut with Kvass just wasn’t working for me. It did not, however, dampen mine or anyone else’s appetite once the food began piling on our table. The vareniki, freshly made and as light as something so dense could possibly be, still began to weigh us down. That didn’t mean there were any leftovers. Everything was scraped clean. Soon the clay pots, in which all the entrees were served, began to arrive. We slowly cleared through them, picking at the meats, scooping up the sauces, not leaving anything. The meats were tender, the sauces heavy and bland. The stuffed cabbage still had that distinctive taste but was better than I remembered it. This was good hearty fare for a brisk night in the Ukraine. But it was summer in Coney Island and now our meal was weighing on us a bit uncomfortably.

When Waiter Number Two came to take our dessert order we were hesitant. We made the mistake of asking what was on the dessert menu. He responded brusquely with “fancy cake and cherry vareniki.” We shrugged; we would try one of each for the table. Apparently he took that to mean we all wanted to try a piece of the “fancy cake,” so he returned with six pieces of a non-descript cream-filled cake along with a huge platter covered with 100 pieces of vareniki dripping with sour cherries and their syrup. To Zio’s failing eyes the platter looking like what he called “cherriolies,” or cherry ravioli. I tried a few but almost lost a front tooth when biting into the so-called pitted cherries.

 

Despite the dessert oversight, and not factoring in the kvass or vodka, the meal came in just under $20 each. That was the good news. The not so good news was that it took the hour ride back, and then some, for the dead weight that had amassed in my belly after the feast at Café Gelchick to dissipate. It was dark when I got back. I turned on the lights in the kitchen. There were no bugs scurrying. The roaches were gone. And for that I was happy.

I’ve never been back to Café Glechik, but from what I can tell it’s been a very good eight years. The restaurant, much bigger now has the prerequisite website; www.glechik.com. And on that website I noticed that scary word I see much too often at ethnic restaurants: “fusion.” In this case it’s called “Ukrainian Fusion,” whatever that might mean. In 2006 the New York Times reviewed the restaurant in the paper’s “$25 and Under” column. Anthony Bourdain featured it on his program “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel. You can, of course, follow Glechik on Twitter and Facebook. They even opened another Café Glechik; this one in Sheepshead Bay. There’s also a full bar at the restaurant now and I’m sure kvass is available.  That funky beverage has prospered as well. Earlier this year, the Coca Cola company made a deal to import Kvass to the United States and a few weeks ago, at a nearby Whole Foods Store, I noticed that samples of the drink were being given out.  A server smiled and asked if I wanted to try some. I politely passed.

%d bloggers like this: