Tag Archives: Westchester

Found in Yonkers: Red Sauce and Scungilli

15 Aug

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When Mike from Yonkers informed our group that he would not be available to choose our next food destination due to a “family emergency,” I sent out a electronic telegram to all our member for a quick substitute.

“I got a place,” Gerry responded almost immediately.

The place Gerry got for us was located in Yonkers, ironically, minus Mike from Yonkers. On a dilapidated stretch of Broadway prevalent with Dollar stores and Mexican delis, Gerry discovered Silvio’s, an ancient old school red sauce Italian joint that none of the Westchester contingent, meaning Eugene, had ever been to.

The dining room, adjacent to the restaurant’s pizzeria, was empty except for our small group and because it was so quiet, the canned Italian red sauce music; Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Vale, and others was even more obtrusive.

As soon as we were settled, our waitress, a buoyant Latina, brought us nicely toasted, hard crusted Italian bread with packets of butter that Eugene quickly opened to spread on the warm bread leaving a litter of butter packets surrounding his place setting.

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Bread and “old school” butter

The menu also had that old, 1950’s feel including the prices which seemed to be amended only slightly since Silvio’s first came to Yonkers. It wasn’t until we got our bill at the end of our meal that we discovered that those prices somehow found their way into the 21st Century—so much so that once again Gerry had brought us to a place where we were substantially over our allotted $20 budget.

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Maybe it was the Tito’s vodka Gerry ordered that tipped our scale—or the large slice of cheesecake (made the Italian way with sweetened ricotta cheese) that did it. Most probably, it was our gluttony that pushed us over the limit. We couldn’t help but order two appetizers, including a large order of clams oreganata with chopped clams and mussels in white wine and garlic. What made the final tally harder to take was that both appetizers were very disappointing; the mussels minuscule and the clams, when you could find them, buried deep under a heavy layer of moist breadcrumbs tough and seemingly fresh out of a can.

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Clams oreganata

The pastas appeared inexpensive on the menu but, of course, we couldn’t stick to the traditional menu, instead we ordered a rigatoni Calabrese from the “special” menu, a heavily sauced pasta with tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, and sausage. There was nothing traditional about the combination of scungilli and calamari with linguini  unless you considered canned scungilli traditional.

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Rigatoni Calabrese

You would think two pastas might be enough for us but it wasn’t even close and, honestly, there was much more sauce than pasta on both platters and the sauce just wasn’t curbing our sizable appetites. We rounded out our meal with a beef braciole; one single braciole smothered in red sauce, a platter of veal Francese that included four small, pounded scallopini’s, one for each of us, in a lemony wine butter sauce and sides of broccoli and spinach. The morsels of veal, light and tender, was probably the best of what we had at Silvio’s and easily devoured.

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Veal Francese and linguini with calamari and scungilli

When the waitress returned to ask if we wanted dessert and before we could order what Gerry already knew would be the cheesecake, Eugene asked where Silvio was.

“You just missed him,” our waitress said with a smile.

I wondered if there really was a Silvio or was he, like the Sinatra music and the old school menu, a fictional creation to fit into the Italian red sauce fantasy we never tired of, yet so often were disappointed by.

Silvio

Searching for Silvio

Silvio’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria

352 S. Broadway

Yonkers

A Volcano Fizzles in Port Chester

17 Jan

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“Nello Burgio told me about this volcano thing,” Eugene muttered as the waitress of Kiosko Mexican Restaurant and Bar hovered around him, ready for him to order. Eugene, based on the recommendation of Nello Burgio, who none of us knew, had summoned us to Port Chester, about a 40 minute drive out of Manhattan, for this latest Chow City adventure. And though I had very good Mexican food in Arizona just a few days earlier I was determined to keep an open mind in Port Chester where, I knew, there were many good Latin restaurants.

“Volcano?” She didn’t understand Eugene and it had nothing to do with a language barrier.

“Yeah, that’s what he said.”

While this went on, we sipped our Modelo’s patiently. “Eugene, just order already,” I finally told him.

The waitress came over with a takeout menu. “You mean this?” she asked, pointing to a photo of a molcajete, or a Mexican bowl used to make guacamole, overflowing with meats and vegetables.

“Is that the volcano?”

She nodded. “Yes ‘molcajete azteca’ the Volcano. $21.95. $40 for two people.”

“Any volunteers?” Eugene asked. “Nello says this is what you should order when you come here.”

I didn’t know Nello from Adam…or anyone else for that matter. And I wanted no part of a $40 volcano. Zio and Gerry showed little enthusiasm also, but Mike from Yonkers raised his hand willingly and even switched seats with Zio so he could be closer to Eugene and the forthcoming volcano.

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The volcano

As if we had all night to spend in the suburbs, Gerry made sure to order the one dish that, according to the menu, took “30 minutes to cook,” the mojarra sudada, a wrapped and steamed whole porgy with garlic and epazote (Mexican tea leaves). Why would it take 30 minutes to steam a fish—and not a big one either—none of us dared ask. But we did know that the fried porgy filet that Zio ordered would not take as long nor would the huaraches atilxco rib eye steak that I ordered. “You can bring our entrees before you bring out that fish. Make him wait,” I said, pointing to Gerry.

And after a half hour and nothing had materialized on our table besides chips and very mediocre salsa, I realized my request fell on deaf ears.

Finally the “volcano” was brought carefully to the table. Yes there was “smoke” coming from the molcajete which was overflowing with beef, chicken, strips of cactus and stuffed with some sort of clay-colored lava-like sauce within. The dish reminded me of the Mexican version of the Chinese sizzling Go Bar, but after a taste, minus the sizzle—not to mention the flavor.

I could smell the steamed porgy even before it came to our table. I didn’t know if that was a good or very bad sign. I wasn’t going to find out, but Gerry didn’t seem to have any problems with it. At least not that I heard about later. Zio’s fried fish was accompanied by a serious mound of steamed broccoli and carrots causing him to protest: “What is this health food I’m eating tonight?”

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Steamed porgy…30 minutes later

My steak arrived last. The sizable cut smothered in onions, resting on a salsa-covered tortilla, dare I say looked—delicious, but after sawing through the gristly meat, taking a not so flavorful bite and then trying the soggy tortilla, my formerly open mind had closed on Kiosko. My opinion is strictly my own, but judging from the lack of enthusiasm from Eugene and from everyone else for that matter, I think the consensus was pretty much in line with mine.

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Steak and onions, Kiosko style

The lesson learned in Port Chester, if there was one, is that what’s good for Nello Burgio just might not be good for the seasoned palates our intrepid group.

Kiosoko Mexican Restaurant and Bar

220 Westchester Avenue

Port Chester, NY

The Perfect Manhattan Fantasy Found in Westchester

16 Aug

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When Mike from Yonkers alerted our group that his pick was a place called Fantasy Cuisine, my sometimes depraved mind immediately pictured an exotic food buffet where you dined among dirty books, x-rated videos and adult peep show booths. What a concept! Alas, it was just a fleeting word association and the fantasy cuisine in question was Chinese, Szechuan to be specific.

The restaurant was not far from another of Mike from Yonkers’ picks, Saigonese (https://friedneckbonesandsomehomefries.com/2014/09/18/vietnamese-by-the-numbers/), in the heavily populated Asian district of Central Avenue in Westchester’s Hartsdale. Upon entering the stand alone restaurant, I noted the faux waterfall, stemmed water glasses and neatly folded, albeit paper, napkins on the tables. “Mike is in trouble with this one,” Zio mumbled as both of us made our way to our table which was also equipped with do-it-yourself hotpot controls.

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Elegance in Westchester

When the waiter arrived to take our drinks’ orders, maybe to help him weather whatever abuse we were going to heap on him, Mike from Yonkers splurged for a $12 “Perfect Manhattan” while the rest of us ordered Taiwanese beer.

“Do you know I have a friend who went to Italy and everywhere he went he tried to order chicken parmigiana,” Eugene announced to all of us as we were sipping our beverages. “It’s a disgrace. An embarrassment…you go to Italy and order chicken parmigiana…” Was Eugene just making conversation or was he delivering a social statement about the ugly American? No one knew and we were hungry so didn’t really care.

The menu at Fantasy Cuisine compartmentalized standard Szechuan dishes into “styles.” From among the styles that were arranged from non-spicy to spicy to very spicy, you could order your choice of meat; chicken, fish, beef or shrimp. This was supposed to make ordering from what are usually text book-sized menus much easier. I, however, veered totally form the “Classic Sichuan Dish” style menu to order twice cooked pork belly.  The others went with the various styles; Gerry ordering fish “dry pepper style,” Mike from Yonkers, chicken “dry pot style,” and Zio, beef “red soup style.”

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Fish “Dry Pepper Style”

When the waiter came to Eugene, he too eschewed the various styles and decided on the house fried rice with chicken.

“You’re not ordering from one of the Szechuan styles,” I asked Eugene.

He shook his head. “There’s too much stuff in those.”

“What do you mean by stuff?” I wanted to know.

“Mushrooms,” he replied bluntly.

“What’s the matter, you scared of mushrooms?” Gerry teased knowing Eugene’s well documented aversion to fungi.

I looked at him seriously. “We come to a Szechuan restaurant in Hartsdale and you order fried rice?” It’s a disgrace…an embarrassment.” And then I stopped because the appetizers Mike from Yonkers chose were beginning to arrive on our table including summer rolls that, after a bite, would not be worth ordering in any season. The Dan Dan noodles that followed, usually a barometer to judge quality Szechuan came next and after we all sampled them, the barometer at Fantasy Cuisine was pointing down.

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These Dan Dan noodles were no fantasy.

But you can forgive a restaurant for its appetizer missteps. The entrees, with the exception of Eugene’s predictably pedestrian fried rice with chicken, were all top notch though Zio’s trough-like bowl of beef in “red soup style” being the exception, not as spicy as we were used to for authentic Szechuan.  The thinly sliced pork belly was tender and combined with smoked tofu, garlic stems and scallions in a salty black bean sauce was as good as I’ve had while Gerry’s “dry pot style” fish also worthy of any Szechuan joint I’ve been to south of Yonkers.

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Pork belly so good it was cooked twice

No one could forgive Zio for barely making a dent in the humongous bowl in front of him and after a while he gave up, telling the waiter he would bring the remains home. Mike from Yonkers, on the other hand, had no excuse; he was on the same pace as Zio but with half the food and even more unforgivably, had barely made a dent in the Perfect Manhattan.

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Zio’s feeding trough of beef “red soup style.”

Noticing our probing stares, Mike from Yonkers quickly downed the drink but leaving the maraschino cherry at the bottom of the glass. “All right,” he said a smile on his face and smacking his lips. Whether it was a Perfect Manhattan or not, the man from Yonkers, who now lives in Rockland County looked satisfied.

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The not so perfect Manhattan

“Are Perfect Manhattan’s allowed in the food group,” Eugene questioned, but before anyone could answer we were out the door.

Fantasy Cuisine

20 N. Central Ave.

Hartsdale, NY

 

The Guacamole Redemption

21 Jun

 

I was on a crowded Metro North train during rush hour. Commuters were making their way back to their suburban Westchester homes. It was standing room only—and I was standing. I wasn’t happy about that. I wasn’t happy that Gerry summoned our group out of the city and to the sleepy hamlet of Valhalla to a place called Kensico Kitchen.

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The train finally pulled in and I joined the throngs exiting and heading to their cars in the parking lot. Just across the street from the train station and the Taconic parkway, I could see our group sitting on makeshift picnic tables on the sidewalk in front of Kensico Kitchen on Valhalla’s tiny main strip. The “Kitchen” was really a deli; New York lottery signs and tickets were plastered to the window along with stock photos of deli sandwiches, bagels, wraps and other traditional bodega/deli items. What had Gerry lured us into?

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Though no menus were in front of us, Mike from Yonkers proclaimed that he was up for a ham and cheese sandwich. A ham and cheese sandwich? Was that why I rode the commuter special to this godforsaken sleepy hamlet?

“Are there menus?” I asked Gerry.

He shook his head. “The food will be coming,” he said and pulled a cold Corona out from a six pack at his feet and handed it to me. That was a good start.

When one of the owners of the Kensico Kitchen, apparently a Mexican family Gerry was familiar with, came to our table with a molcajete overflowing with green salsa and cilantro, things were beginning to get even better.

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molcajete with salsa

“Guacamole coming,” the man said and soon it did come along with a massive platter of chips covered with an assortment of empanadas, beef, chicken and vegetable.

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The platter had Mike from Yonkers rise in excitement and move around from his seat to eagerly shovel chips, salsa, guacamole and empanadas on his plate.

 

Eugene, fresh off his whirlwind, Southern Italy and Sicily tour where he proudly proclaimed: “We had pizza everyday…sometimes twice,” had no trouble veering to equally carb heavy cuisine of Mexico, devouring a plate of chips, guacamole and empanadas.

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Nachos and chips topped by empanadas

One of the women in the family came to our table to tell us she would be bring us either chicken mole or pernil with chili rellenos poblano. “What about the adobo?” Gerry inquired.

“You want adobo too?” She checked with him. Gerry nodded. For him more was almost always merrier.

We were scraping up the remains of the guacamole and chips when plates began arriving; a quarter of a chicken in a red adobo sauce, some shredded pernil (pork) and a mound of yellow Mexican rice and refried black beans. As an accompaniment to our gargantuan plates, we were also served a platter of fried poblano chilies stuffed with queso.  As if we didn’t have enough; two plates of half chickens in a rich dark mole sauce were also presented, “so you can try the mole too,” our waitress cheerily said.

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Adobo chicken, pernil, et al

Despite his strong start, Mike from Yonkers fizzled early leaving enough food on his plate to take home to his hungry wife. But he was the exception. Already weighted down by the empanadas and guacamole, I did admirable work clearing my plate, but all I could attempt of the chicken mole was a small forkful while the others showed what made them the gluttons they were devouring all that was placed in front of them.

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Poblano chili relleno

My earlier sour mood was long gone now. I no longer cared that I had to commute to the suburbs for dinner—it was more than worth it. “I think we can all agree that after this inspired pick, we can erase that stain on your record.” I said to Gerry, referring to his unfortunate choice of a mediocre Mexican joint in Yonkers where we were treated to cookie cutter Mexican food and worse, serenaded by a Mariachi band (Mariachi Blues). “The misstep is now forgiven. You are redeemed.”

But my proclamation fell on deaf ears, drowned out by the blasting horn of a Metro North train as it rushed its commuters to Brewster…or Pawling…or some other suburban hamlet where, if they are lucky, there will also be a deli serving bagels, wraps, ham and cheese sandwiches, and mole and adobo.

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Chicken mole

Kensico Kitchen

6 Broadway

Valhalla, NY

 

 

Neckbones’ Calcutta Christmas Carol

23 Dec

Calcutta Wrap & Roll

Gerry, when he announced his pick, called the location we were to visit the “childhood home of our fearless leader.” The fearless leader he was referring to was me and I wasn’t so fearless in anticipation of driving out of the city at rush hour during the Christmas gridlock alert days but it was something I expected knowing Gerry’s sadistic tendencies. So when I knew I would be traveling to Ardsley, normally less than a half hour drive from my city home, and knowing there would be holiday traffic, I gave myself about an hour and a half to get there. I had the pleasure of Zio’s company for the ride out. Our destination was a joint called Calcutta Wrap & Roll, in the small town plaza surrounded on either side by the Saw Mill River Parkway and the Major Deegan Expressway.

Ardsley was my home in the middle years of the last century. In the Leave it to Beaver days of my youth, like the television in our living room, Ardsley was a black and white town, minus the black—or any other color.  I explained all this to the Bronx born Zio as we arrived about a half hour early narrowly escaping the hellish transverses out of Manhattan.

That front entrance looks very familiar.

That front entrance looks very familiar.

Since we had extra time, I took Zio past the modest suburban home where I spent my early school years. I noticed there was a Santa Claus with eight tiny reindeer on the roof of the house. All those years anxiously tossing and turning on Christmas Eve on the top bunk of the bunk bed in the room I shared with one of my brothers hoping to hear Santa on our roof, I never did. On this night when I planned to feast on Indian food there he was. And I no longer cared.

I showed Zio the route I would take with neighborhood friends from my house to the very small main street where we would plunder bubble gum dispensers not for money, but for the tasteless balls of bubble gum. I pointed out the small store that was called Big Top where I bought my baseball cards, comic books and my first 45 records, including the one below. Big Top was now a bagel shop.

Across the street from the bagel shop was a Mexican restaurant, a Thai place and Calcutta Wrap & Roll. Even the mention of such exotic cuisines when I lived in this town would have been incomprehensible. Exotic to me when Ardsley was my home was a soft serve chocolate ice cream cone at that local Carvel that was topped with chocolate sauce that hardened over the ice cream called a “brown bonnet.”  The Carvel was still there, though now sharing the space with a Subway sandwich shop. It looked nothing like the grand ice cream parlor I remembered.

Hunger thankfully ended my tour down memory lane and soon our group was seated in Calcutta Wrap & Roll deciding whether to go for the mysore masala dosa “hot!” exclaimed the menu, or the Calcutta lamb roll “house special” of which there were many on the menu. We decided on the latter, much to Zio’s disappointment. For reasons never explained, he had his heart set on that baseball bat-like dosa.

Along with the lamb roll, we ordered the Calcutta vegetable chop—also one of the house specials. The vegetable chop, a sphere of fried potato reminiscent to a extra large tater tot  but with Indian accents.

Vegetable Chop

Vegetable Chop

For my entrée, I chose “Dr. B’s chicken chutpata “hot!” the menu exclaimed but without a mention of who “Dr. B” might be. Eugene stuck to the traditional, though not for Ardsley circa 1964, chicken biryani while Zio wanted his Indian rice with goat meat.  Mike from Yonkers, who had to eat at an unusually, for him, rapid pace due to an appointment he needed to get to, chose the malai kofta, mentioned as “Piyali’s Choice,” again without a hint as to who Piyali was. This offering was garnered a “chef’s special” as opposed to the more mundane house special. Gerry rounded out the ordering by picking the Goan fish curry, which though “hot” was nobody’s special.

“Tilapia or salmon,” the waiter asked, giving Gerry a choice.

Gerry chose the tilapia and soon our food, dished out in plastic take out containers and served on cafeteria trays was in front of us.

Goat Biryani

Goat Biryani

Though the two starters, the lamb roll and the vegetable chop were pedestrian, the entrees were a cut above standard Indian take-out.  Coated in a blood red, “special hot sauce,” Dr. B’s chicken chatpata was the Punjabi equivalent of Buffalo chicken wings. All I needed was a beer and either a blue cheese sauce or at least an order or raita to offset the hot sauce. I had neither.

Dr. B's Chicken Chatpata

Dr. B’s Chicken Chatpata

Gerry’s fish curry was lip numbing and even the biryanis had a bite to them, while “Piyali’s choice,” the malai kofta; paneer with vegetable dumplings in a yellowish-cream sauce would have put out any fire it was that mild.

Piyali's Choice: Malai Kofta

Piyali’s Choice

For what was very good take-out Indian food, the prices were not very Calcutta-like. But we were in Westchester—Ardsley to be exact and real estate doesn’t come cheap in these parts no matter the ethnicity.  As we headed back to the city there remained a tingle on my lips from the heat of the countless chilies consumed and that was a good thing.  My only regret was that we didn’t stop at Carvel for a brown bonnet to help put out the fire…and for old times sake.

The brown bonnet

The brown bonnet

Vietnamese by the Numbers

18 Sep

Saigonese

It was located on a decrepit stretch of Central Avenue, also known as Central Park Avenue, between Hartsdale and Scarsdale in Westchester.

“Remember what was across the street, Gerry?” Eugene said to his fellow Westchester lifer who, he thought would know such things.

Gerry looked at the wild growth of green space across from the restaurant. “Carvel?” He guessed.

I shook my head.  Even I knew that the Carvel, one of that ice cream franchise’s original stores, was down towards Hartsdale and I hadn’t lived in Westchester in almost 40 years.

We were stumped and that brought a proud smile to Eugene’s face. “Jesse’s hot dog truck,” he announced as if he just provided us with valuable information. “All he had were hot dogs with chili, onions, and mustard. None of that other stuff they put on hot dogs nowadays.”

We were in the parking lot of Saigonese, the restaurant chosen by another Westchester resident, Mike from Yonkers. The small oddly-designed structure looked like a former cat house and stood out among Central Avenue’s numerous hideous strip malls.

Inside the structure were an assembly of small tables; two were pushed together to make room for our party of five. Brightly lit with windows overlooking the adjacent gloomy stretch of landscape; muzak flowed from the restaurant’s sound system mirroring the dreary ambiance. But ambiance was not what our Chow City group was about. We’ve eaten in dumps without heat or air conditioning, off Styrofoam plates with thin paper napkins, but also where the food was so full of flavor, so memorable that it didn’t matter that you wouldn’t dare venture to the rest room—it was what we shoved into our mouths that counted. I was hoping that would be the result at Saigonese.

The menu offered no surprises; there was pho; there was bun and there were a number of grilled offerings. The only deviation was the addition of hot pots. But  taped over that section was a notice stating: “we no longer serve hot pots.”

“Is a summer roll the same as a spring roll,” Mike from Yonkers asked the waiter.

“On the west coast they call them spring rolls,” he said. “But they are the same.” And we had no reason to doubt his knowledge of such things.

For starters we ordered the exotic Saigon rolls and vegetarian summer roll along with the grilled spare ribs and the Vietnamese crepe, Saigonese style as if we knew any other style of Vietnamese crepe.

Four ribs for a party of five.

Four ribs for a party of five.

First to appear on our table were four grilled spare ribs. Now a spare rib is not an easy thing to share among gluttons so I volunteered to abstain, leaving the four ribs to the others. I made up for it, however, when the ample Vietnamese crepe appeared; a large pancake stuffed with shrimp, pork and vegetables that needed a jolt of something much more potent than the small bowl of sweetened fish sauce that came with it.  But there was no jolt to be had at our table.

“Chili sauce,” Mike from Yonkers, called to the waiter and he responded with a house made chili sauce and a bottle of Sriracha.

The exotic Saigon roll and the vegetable summer rolls arrived next. I examined them and then took a bite of the Saigon roll only to find out what supposedly made it exotic was the inclusion of Vietnamese sausage.

“Pass me one of those spring rolls,” Zio said to me.

“Unless we are in Los Angeles, I can only pass you the summer rolls,” I replied, but my reference to the West Coast/East Coast terminology for what was on our plates was lost on him.

East coast spring rolls served in the late summer.

East coast spring rolls served in the late summer.

Like the crepe, the rolls, spring or summer, exotic or not needed a jolt as well. I slathered one in the provided chili sauce and braced myself for a heat assault that, surprisingly, never came. At Saigonese even the chili sauce was tepid.

It was time to order and I had decided on a bowl of comforting pho; the traditional with beef brisket.

The waiter next looked to Eugene. “Number 29,” he said to the waiter.

“The house special with grilled pork and shrimp.” The waiter responded.

“Yeah that one,” Eugene concurred.

“Number 18,” Zio said, pointing to the number on the menu.

“Grilled chicken,” the waiter recited.

“The man knows his numbers,” I said.

“What’s number 31?” Gerry quizzed him.

“The mixed vegetables,” He replied with confidence.

“Can you make it spicy,” Gerry asked.

“How spicy?”

“As spicy as you would have it if you ordered it,” Gerry said. “I like it hot.”

The waiter nodded and then muttered, “Don’t complain if it’s too hot.”

“I’ll have number 15,” Mike from Yonkers said.

“Grilled chicken with lemongrass…”  Now the waiter was showing off.

Saigonese Pho

Saigonese Pho

The pho did offer the comfort I craved but I also wanted some zing. I stirred a few drops of the chili sauce into the soup, yet it remained comfortingly bland.

“They’ve Westchesterized this food,” I announced, meaning they dumbed it down, reduced the flavor and spice to appease the local clientele.

“Not this. This is hot!” Gerry said, his nose properly running and his eyes bloodshot from the excess spice added to his mixed vegetable dish. And then he looked around to see if the waiter was within earshot. “But I’m not complaining.”

Number 31 with added spice.

Number 31 with added spice.

The lack of flavor in the dishes was more than made up for by the surprisingly very good Vietnamese flan I had for dessert. Who would have thought that flan would be the standout at a Vietnamese restaurant but at Saigonese it was.

Vietnamese flan

Vietnamese flan

After settling our bill, we congregated in the small, now dark parking lot. I made the mistake of wondering out loud what would be the best route back to the city.

“Go back and take the Bronx River,” Gerry suggested.

“No, take Central Avenue and then get on the Deegan,” Eugene said.

“That will take forever with all those lights,” Gerry argued.

“No it won’t,” Eugene barked. “Ten minutes.”

“Yeah, Central Avenue,” Mike from Yonkers. “It’s the easiest.”

The wastelands of Westchester.

The wastelands of Westchester.

I couldn’t listen anymore and instead got into the car. I decided to pull out onto Central Avenue and take the scenic route suggested by Mike from Yonkers and  Eugene. Yes there were lights, but at each red light I was able to ponder the parade of strip malls glowing with colorful neon, the national fast food chains, car dealers, drug stores, pizzerias, diners, and Chinese restaurants and wonder at all the treasures that lay within.

Saigonese

158 S. Central Park Ave.

Hartsdale

 

The Big Ceviche Chill

26 Nov

El Miski

I had my gas tank full even before Gerry announced where we were to meet. There would be no doubt that he would have us (Zio and I) travel to Westchester.  And that county has more than its share of Chow City standouts (Chalanas) being the most the recent example. Unfortunately, El Miski, located in White Plains, which Gerry dubbed as El Miskito in his email to us was not one of them.

After dodging an obese panhandler claiming he was hungry in front of what looked like a former diner, I entered El Miski to find Eugene waiting inside. The front of the restaurant was narrow with a few small tables, booth and a counter with red swivel stools. The woman who was to be our waitress took us through the room, past a full festive bar still in Halloween regalia with the bar stools up on the bar, and into a big, frigid back room where one long table was centered. I sat, keeping my jacket on and zipped to my neck.

A bar only an evil clown could love.

A bar only an evil clown could love.

Zio walked in next, covered in a large goose down jacket making him look even more rotund than usual. In the cold room, he had the courage to unzip the jacket. Our waitress got on a step stool to turn the television on to a telenovela—maybe hoping the steamy drama would warm the room.

Gerry arrived next and as he sat down, his jacket still on, mentioned that the owner of El Miski was a client of his. Whether that was a good thing or not, we would soon find out.

“Gerry, do they have heat in here,” Eugene asked as if Gerry, because he chose the place and also because they were one of his clients was responsible.

“It’s not that cold,” Gerry said; his lips a bluish gray color.

Mike from Yonkers filled out our group; keeping the collar of his heavy fleece high up on his neck as he sat.

When the waitress came over with menus we asked about the heat. In her struggling English she explained that she just turned it on and that it should warm up soon.

One of the first Peruvian restaurants our Chow City group experienced was the tremendous, but now defunct, La Pollada de Laura (Cooked in Corona) in Queens. We have yet to replicate that experience including the Peruvian Chinese restaurant, Chifa, we visited on our most recent expedition (The Big Chifa of Northern Boulevard). The menu at El Miski was similar to what I could recall from La Pollada de Laura; a number of ceviche options, lomo saltado, jalea, and various mariscos dishes; some with fried rice, others with potatoes, and even a few with yucca. There were also special that included tallarin also known as Peruvian spaghetti, but more like lo mein noodles. After the unfortunate experience with Peruvian/Chinese at Chifa, none of us thought it smart to chance the tallarin dishes.

Gerry ordered the table a ceviche “mixto,” along with an appetizer recommended by the very affable waitress of mussels on the half shell. We learned well after asking for recommendations and some of us making our choices based on them that our waitress was new on the job—in fact it was her first week working at El Miski.

Ceviche mixto

Ceviche mixto

“They have good bread here,” Gerry said as we worked through the tart ceviche and mussels; both served cold.

“Are they gonna bring us any?” I asked.

Gerry shrugged.

By the time the various seafood dishes we ordered arrived, I was able to unzip my jacket. But as soon as I moved my fork through the mound of fried rice, soggy potatoes, and equally soggy fried fish, shrimp, and squid that made up my “saltado pescado, I had to stop and swat at an army of gnats that were hovering around my plate. I added each of the three hot sauces to my dish, pale green, green, and red, hoping the spice would keep the gnats away, but more seemed to arrive.

Pescado saltado

Pescado saltado

I noticed Mike from Yonkers also swatting at them—and Gerry and Eugene. If they were cruising over Zio’s picante de mariscos (seafood in a special Peruvian sauce) he didn’t seem bothered. He was, however, wary of the pinkish special Peruvian sauce. “It’s like Velveeta,” he mentioned, though not in a derogatory way.

Seafood with Peruvian Velveeta

Seafood with Peruvian Velveeta

“This place used to be called the ‘Oasis,’” Eugene, whose knowledge of White Plains’ past is legendary, said.

“Yeah, I heard rumors about it that this back room was used for…,” Gerry said.

“What???” Zio’s fading hearing had suddenly revived.

“Girls,” Gerry said. “A whorehouse.”

Eugene nodded. “That was the rumor.”

Our waitress returned and asked if we wanted more plates, napkins, water, beer, another ceviche…anything.

We told her we were good.

“What about dessert?” She asked.

Even though the gnat attack had not ceased, Gerry went ahead and ordered us a few Peruvian sweets including a dense bread pudding.

Bread pudding

Bread pudding

“Anything else? More beer. Cake?” Our smiling waitress inquired after we dug through dessert.

Eugene asked for the check, but before she went to tally it up, she told us that men come on weekends and use the back room.

“And there are women too,” she said innocently and with a smile. “For the men.”

Gerry raised a bushy eyebrow and looked at each of us. The look reminded me of the final shot in the original  The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, of Walter Matthau who realizes he just nailed the final accomplice in the subway robbery.

Did she say what we thought she said???

Did she say what I thought she said???

None of us dared inquire further; instead we surrendered to the invisible gnats and settled the check before heading back out onto the silent streets of White Plains.

El Miski
73 W. Post Rd
White Plains.

The Mount Vernon Meat Hangover

24 Apr

Chalanas

I woke up with a bloat in my belly. My head was fuzzy and my palms were hot. I slept but was wiped out. I didn’t want to get out of bed. What had I done that put me in this condition? I couldn’t  recall getting drunk or ingesting any narcotic that could have caused this malaise—this funk I was in. I tried to remember—to piece together the events of the previous evening that put me in the place I was now.

I drove from the city to Mount Vernon, a suburb just north of the Bronx where our group was to assemble for another eating expedition. We weren’t  far from the Lincoln Lounge where, in January of 2012 we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of Adventures in Chow City. The place that Eugene had chosen was called Chalanas. He mentioned in his email that it was Brazilian.

The restaurant had a small parking lot. Haphazardly parked cars clogged the lot and I had to park down the road from the restaurant.

Parking and dining "al fresco" at Chalanas.

Parking and dining “al fresco” at Chalanas.

Zio, Eugene, and Gerry were all in the parking lot when I crossed the street. Mike from Yonkers arrived a few moments later. I noticed he was wearing dark shades. There was consternation on their collective faces.

“Something wrong?” I asked, turning to Eugene who was the engineer of this escapade.

“No, nothing. Why?” he responded,  but neither he or any of the others made a move to enter the restaurant.

“What are we waiting for?” I wondered out loud and began to head toward the entrance when a man whose face was beet red stumbled out stammering in Portuguese. I gave him wide clearance and then pushed the door open.

Beefy decor

Beefy decor

The restaurant was loud with Portuguese chatter. It was happy hour: $1 drafts in small, eight ounce glasses. I ordered one and so did the others with the exception, as usual, of Zio who preferred the chemical nutrition of a Diet Coke with the citrus snap of a wedge of lime. The beers were very cold and surprisingly good.

“What is the name of this beer?” I asked the host, a middle aged Brazilian man with a sly smile.

He blurted out a response to my inquiry, but I couldn’t understand him. His accent was either too heavy, the chatter in the restaurant too loud, or I was already under the influence of something I wasn’t even aware of.

“Shock?” I looked at the others for help. “Did you say Shock beer? Is that a Brazilian beer?” I pointed to the now empty glass.

“Yes,  shock of beer,” He said.

I was even more confused. I think I needed some food. Nobody was helping me here.

“Are you deaf?” Gerry yelled to me. “The man said ‘shot’ of beer.”

I pondered that for a moment. “But I asked him the name of the Brazilian beer?” I looked again at our host.

Now he looked confused. “Brazilian beer?”

“Yes, the Brazilian beer. What is it called?”

“Budweiser,” he said.

“Budweiser.” I mumbled and nodded to myself, staring in disbelief at the foamy dregs that coated my glass. I had never had Budweiser quite like what I just downed.

A "shock" of Budweiser

A “shock” of Budweiser

“Maybe you want to try a shot of Brazilian tequila,” he asked as he noted my empty “shock” glass of beer.

“You mean cachaca?”

He nodded. “Yes, Brazilian tequila.”  Now my head was spinning.

“I’ll have one,” Gerry quickly responded by raising an eager hand.

“Four tequilas?” The host asked.

“Not for me,” I said, shaking my head. Eugene also declined.

Mike from Yonkers took off his sunglasses and let out a weary breath. “I’ll have one,” he said.

Dinner was self service here and I was more than ready to serve myself. Before I could, our host returned with the “tequila.” Gerry and Mike from Yonkers downed the shots quickly.

“That’s the best Brazilian tequila I’ve ever had,” Gerry announced as he staggered to his feet.

The five of us moved into the adjoining room where there was a coal fired grill. Inside the grill were racks on which skewers of meat were assembled; the juices dripping slowly onto the hot coals. We were to decide what we wanted—and how much and the grill master would carve from the meat on the skewers. For some reason the process was a bit overwhelming to me at that moment. Gerry, however, was raring to go.

Brazilian barbecue

Brazilian barbecue

When the grill master asked what we wanted, Gerry, his judgment maybe affected by the Brazilian tequila, blurted out, “Everything.”

The grill master stared.

Mike from Yonkers, also under the influence of the tequila, nodded and handed the grill master a large empty platter. ““Fill it up,” he commanded.

"Everything!"

“Everything!”

I could only shake my head and retreat to the salad bar where I loaded a platter with greens, rice and beans, “eggs and cheese,” and avocado salad. When I looked back, there were two enormous platters piled high with red meat and another with chicken and sausage.

Our plates were weighed and, apparently, recorded by the cashier: “You pay when you finish,” he said.

Meat

Meat

We returned to our table and almost immediately a procession of forks began to spear the various cuts of meats on the platters and from there into open mouths. I glanced at the two huge platters of red meat and tried, for just a moment, to determine each of the cuts. Was it really important to distinguish one from the other? Though a bit overly salty, it was good grilled red meat and the way it was presented; piled high in the platters, made it as accessible as munching on potato chips or pretzels. I had originally thought that getting the chicken was superfluous. I was wrong. It was outstanding, kept moist by salty and fatty strips of bacon. I couldn’t stop stuffing pieces into my mouth.

More meat.

More meat.

...and even more meat.

…and even more meat.

A woman came to the table to ask if I wanted a drink. I was thirsty and nodded.

“Beer?” she asked.

“No, I’ll take a caipirinha,” I said, not able to resist the Brazilian specialty while dining in a Brazilian restaurant.

She returned quickly with the drink. The caipirinha’s I’m familiar with and wrote about in the trilogy: A Lime Cut Three Ways (see A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut) usually were served in small, Old Fashioned glasses. This one came in a big plastic cup with a straw. I sucked it down as I continued to stuff my face with the red meat and the chicken, occasionally dipping into the rice, beans and greens to offset the animal protein assault.

The caipirinha

The Chalanas caipirinha

I finished the caipirinha and for some unknown reason asked Zio to take a picture of me. He struggled but the flash went off.

He took another.

I looked at the results. They weren’t good. My palms were suddenly hot. I was thirsty and needed something sweet, but I didn’t want another supersized caipirinha.

Too much meat maybe?

The Brazilian tequila effect

I got to my feet and wandered to the bathroom. When I returned, Eugene told me I owed $20 for the meal.

“That’s all?” I asked.

“And that included the tip,” he added.

I handed over the money.

Gerry disappeared to rush off to another date while Mike from Yonkers, Eugene, Zio and I crossed the street and found ourselves in a Brazilian bakery called Padaminas. The lights were bright in the café and news from Sao Paulo was on the television. Brazilian coffee was probably a good idea, but Brazilian flan was a better one. I took it to a table and stuck a spoon in it. It held the spoon securely upright. I excised the spoon with little effort and then working methodically devoured the astonishing flan.

A flan that holds a spoon.

A flan that holds up a spoon.

Lying in bed the next morning my palms were still hot and my head pounded. I had one caipirinha, granted a very big one, and one small “shock” of Budweiser. They weren’t the cause of my stupor. It was something else. I looked at the pictures on the memory card in my camera including the unfortunate ones Zio took of me. I looked again and then I knew what was ailing me. I had a hangover. But not from the alcohol. The hangover was from an overdose of red meat. I got up, swallowed two aspirin and went back to bed. In a few hours I felt better. The hangover was gone and I was hungry.

Just another adventure in Chow City.

Just another adventure in Chow City.

Chalanas
105 W. Lincoln Avenue
Mount Vernon

Living La Pupusa Loca

18 Dec

pupusa loca 050

Sometimes the third time is the charm. At least that was the case for Mike from Yonkers who had to go to plan C for our latest outing.

Plan A was a “hot tip” on a place in Bloomfield, New Jersey. He kept the tip to himself, but we nixed schlepping to Bloomfield during the “gridlock alert days” we were currently experiencing.

“I’ll save that one for next time,” he slyly added, still keeping us under wraps on what we might encounter in Bloomfield.

Plan B illustrated that Mike from Yonkers was experiencing much holiday duress. Under pressure to select a destination, he mistakenly consulted New York Magazine and choose the wildly popular Brooklyn Thai  restaurant, Pok Pok. That he didn’t realize that a place given multiple stars (whatever they mean) by New York Magazine wouldn’t be mobbed by voracious foodies can only be excused by a combination of work and holiday stress. To make it clear to him, we sent him links with actual photos of some of the long and legendary lines waiting to dine at Pok Pok.

One thing Mike from Yonkers did know, at least we hoped he did after almost eight years as a member of our group, was that we never wait on line to dine. The options are too many for that. So one look at the links and he knew he had to go to Plan C.

Now, under immediate pressure, he went to his own backyard.  His pick: a Salvadorian place just over the Bronx border in Yonkers called La Pupusa Loca.

Welcome to Yonkers

And despite it not being in the five boroughs, La Pupusa Loca fit right into our criteria. A brightly-lit cafeteria where English was very foreign and Spanish novelas blared from multiple televisions, La Pupusa Loca featured large tables offering our group of five—Rick being absent after the very recent birth of his first child—plenty of room for food and flesh overflow.

Serious happenings on the tube.

Serious happenings on the tube.

Mike from Yonkers and I were the first to arrive, followed soon after by Zio and at that time, the lone waitress was ready to take our order. I started with a Pilsener, a Salvadorian beer, but waited on ordering food until the others arrived. By the time Gerry and Eugene arrived, however, the waitress was occupied with others and the wait seemed interminable.

“Is this the longest we’ve had to wait,” Eugene asked.

“I’m hungry,” Gerry bellowed. “I haven’t eaten since lunch.”

Finally, visibly harried, the waitress came to our table and took our orders. I needed to discover what the restaurant’s namesake, the pupusa, tasted like and ordered a bean and cheese.  Foolishly thinking it would be too much for me, I passed on what I saw someone else in the restaurant getting: the “mariscada especial;” an enormous bowl of fish soup where, lobster, shrimp with the heads on, and crab claws overflowed from. Instead I went with a seafood combination of shrimp and fried fish, casamiento, a mash of beans, rice, garlic and other herbs, and chimol, a Salvadorian salsa.

Gerry and Eugene both also ordered fish; Eugene the whole red snapper with onions and Gerry the fried porgy.

“Where does porgy come from?” I asked.

“Long Island Sound,” Zio answered.

“Yeah and that’s why I ordered it. To support our local fishermen,” Gerry cracked.

An enormous platter of pork chops passed our table and Zio’s weary eyes were immediately drawn to them. “I’ll have what they’re having,” he said repeating the oft-used line.

After studiously perusing the menu, Mike from Yonkers went with the steak combination which included an egg, scrambled according to the waitress.

“Can I have it fried,” Mike from Yonkers pleaded, giving her a look she could not refuse.

The pupusas arrived first, which came with a tomato sauce on the side and a big container of homemade pickled cabbage. Our waitress said the cabbage was eaten as an accompaniment to the pupusa.

“Its Salvadorian sauerkraut,” Zio announced after trying the cabbage. And so it was, but not really needed, in my opinion to enhance the already deliciously crazy pupusa.

Salvadorian sauerkraut

Salvadorian sauerkraut

The platters began to arrive. First were Gerry’s and Eugene’s whole, fried fish, both smothered in onions. Next were the super-sized pork chops. After inspecting their enormity, Zio groaned realizing what he was in for.

Only Mike from Yonkers’ family-sized combination platter exceeded Zio’s. On the platter was a selection of beef cuts, two long “maduros,” sweet bananas, a wedge of salty hard white cheese, and a mound of rice and beans; all of it topped with the requested fried egg.

Meat combo with fried egg.

Meat combo with fried egg.

When my comparably miniscule plate arrived, the discrepancy was noticed by all. On it was just a small wedge of fish filet and a few “medium” shrimp, along with the casamiento and chimol. It was as if I ordered from the kids’ menu, if there was such a thing at La Pupusa Loca.

“Don’t worry, you can have some of mine,” Mike from Yonkers generously offered.

But I had my pride. I figured I would finish what was on my plate first before I began scavenging for more. It didn’t take long; only the dense casamiento slowed me down.

The kids' platter; fish and shrimp.

The kids’ platter; fish and shrimp.

Mike from Yonkers had hardly made a dent in his platter by the time I finished. In fact,  Zio polished off the monstrous pork chops before Mike from Yonkers even touched the cheese.

Finally, I conceded. “I guess I’ll take you up on your offer,” I said to him. It wasn’t really that I was still very hungry, it was more as a prod to get him to work with a little more purpose on his platter.

He cut me a sizable wedge of “bistec,”  thinly pounded grilled steak, but by the time I got to it, the meat was cold and tough as a hockey puck.

I wasn’t the only one to notice how long it was taking him to finish the gargantuan platter “Geez, we’ll be here all night,” Gerry barked.

Sensing pressure from the group, Mike from Yonkers pushed the platter away from him. “Okay, that’s it. I’m done,” he announced.

A snapper drowning in onions.

A snapper drowning in onions.

While we waited for the check, I walked around the restaurant and noticed that the placemats under the glass tabletops all had maps of Honduras. This was a Salvadorian place, wasn’t it? Was there a difference between a pupusa from Honduras and one from Salvador? Frankly, I didn’t care.

La Pupusa Loca

297 S. Broadway

Yonkers

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