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Posts from the ‘Dominican’ Category

El Castillo de Jagua

It’s not like El Castillo de Jagua’s food or decor setting screams out for a photo essay (unless you were documenting the gentrification of the Lower East Side, which I’m not). You’ve likely seen fluorescently lit meat, rice and beans before. But photos are a fun crutch; it’s not always easy describing how food looks and tastes. Unfortunately, my batteries died.

I’ve always had a problem with that. I had rechargables that never stayed strong so I burn through double As now. Despite my camera being adequate (I’m fine with 3.2 megapixels. 7 and beyond is lost on me), I’d really like something smaller, lighter with a wider angle lens that can handle low light, a freaking foodie camera (actually, foodies use SLRs and mini tripods and shit). I’m acclimating to this new expendable income concept but I broke down this afternoon and bought a Canon PowerShot SD800 IS online. Whether or not the device will actually make it into my hands is the real issue (my current camera got lost in the mail the first time it was shipped, and if you don’t believe the horror that is the Brooklyn P.O. just read these accounts from last week [yes, I added my two cents]).

The restaurant’s no frills approach extends to their menu. There are only two appetizers: shrimp cocktail and chicken wings, and dessert is whatever cakes might be in the diner-style glass domes on the counter. But that’s superfluous; the main attraction are the hefty daily specials. There’s a lot of overlap between days so if you like pernil like I do, it’s available more than once a week (in fact, I think it’s on the permanent menu too). Supposedly, they also make a strong cubano but I'd just eaten one earlier in the week and couldn't justify it.

Their roast pork is super porcine, the opposite of white, bland supermarket chops and loins. A single plate is dedicated to a pile of soft, dark juicy-oily meat topped with a good sized square of crackling skin. Soupy fat brown beans and white rice (I’m not crazy about the more traditional yellow) come separately in a little bowl and on another plate. I’d ordered a very similar Cuban-style combo a few days before at Sophie’s, a block from my new office. Their version was better than acceptable and also around $8, but it couldn't compare to the old school Domincan rendition. And I tend to think that the tastiness level is directly correlated to fat grams.

El Castillo de Jagua * 113 Rivington St., New York, NY

Sabrosura

1/2 On the few extended English vacations I’ve taken to visit my sister, I’ve become convinced that my legs were morphing into two stubby chip appendages. It starts with tuber thighs and next thing you know, you’re a human chip butty. Lately, a new starchy vegetable has started taking root on my limbs. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve eaten yuca. And yet after eating at Sabrosura, I’d gotten my third stomach full in four days. I never knew the true meaning of sticks to your ribs until I met this Caribbean staple. I see how it does its job as cheap filling foodstuff but I think it’s wise that I start laying off the yucca fries.

Sabrosura_outside Other than a soft pretzel at the zoo, I’ve never eaten a bite in the Bronx. It’s a whole new frontier begging to be explored (even the Times headed up this week). I wasn’t sure what to expect from Castle Hill but the first thing I laid eyes on after stepping out of the car was a toddler on a leash. Awesome! Just when I’d had it with all the foul Park Slope mom mayhem. No precocious roaming free, self-expression in the Bronx. They probably spank there too. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about loose un-paddled children ruining my Domincan-Chinese meal.

The menu is voluminous (I suggest looking at it online). I didn’t even know where to begin. Take out classics like beef with broccoli? Local stuff like grilled meat with yellow rice and plantains? They call themselves a seafood restaurant, which is supplemented by plastic fish on the wall, netting above a front area that looks like it should be a bar but isn’t. But beyond fried shrimp I’m not sure that seafood is the standard order.

Sabrosura_curryThe guys who seem more in charge are Chinese, the busboys looked Mexican, the clientele was mixed with white couples, Spanish families (I’m using that in the NYC sense, just for fun…when in Rome, though I’m not ever going to say Ore-uh-gone for Oregon) and no Asians. I always wonder how many Chinese actually eat corner “Chinese” food in the city. There’s got to be Mexicans who love Taco Bell.

While nibbling complimentary garlic bread, we decided on chicken curry, chofan and yuca mofongo. Curry is odd because there’s nothing particularly Chinese about it. It ended up being soupy yellow curry in the sense that it’s seasoned with curry powder, closer to Japanese curry than anything, kind of sweet and dotted with peas and carrots. It wasn’t like we were expecting Thai or Malaysian food so this wasn’t shocking. Choice for sides inlcuded maduros, tostones, yucca or rice. We got tostones.

Sabrosura_chofanChofan is their Nuevo Latino fried rice (there are other versions in the Chinese section). I’d just seen Chaufa, a similar dish, on a Peruvian menu. Everyone loves fried rice. This version had the extra additon of chicharrone. We paid the extra $2 for shrimp too. I take excess seriously.

The mofongo is where it got weird. I wanted the version with a side of fried pork chunks that I saw in a laminated flip menu on a little plastic stand. What I ended up with was an unadorned softball of yuca (you’re offered this starch or more typical plantain) in a bowl of gravy. Mofongo will put you into a coma. I’d never even heard of the dish until a few years ago. It’s not like I grew up with any Puerto Ricans, and I wonder if this is something a contemporary Boricua even orders. You don’t see blogs dedicated to mofongo worship (then again, you don’t see many Latin American food blogs period. Asian females seem to have the corner on the I eat and write about it market. I don’t want to generalize so I’ll have to look into this further before coming to conclusions. I think a big part of it is that Latin American blogs don’t tend to be in English, duh. Cooking Diva, a Panamanian blog is one of the few I can think of off the top of my head). Maybe it’s like tuna casserole, an old standard that some people in parts of the country might still eat. Or maybe it’s d.i.y. hip—I found a vegetarian, nay vegan recipe in ReadyMade.

Sabrosura_mofongoWe picked at maybe 1/3 of the mash-blob and had to pack it in. But the leftovers fortified me the next day during a 12-hour work shift where there was no time to take a break. No, I don’t perform manual labor so it’s doubtful I burned off all the carbs but it definitely kept hunger at bay. I recently was given a subscription to a British food magazine and they’re all obsessed with the GI diet over there. I don’t even want to think about where yuca falls on the glycemic index.

Sabrosura * 1200 Castle Hill Ave., Bronx, NY

809 Sangria Bar & Grill

1/2 Certain segments of the population like to brag about never setting foot above 14th Street (or somesuch nebulous boundary). Whatever (that’s actually less offputting than those who silently yet resolutely refuse to  venture beyond the 11211 zip code). But if I didn’t work in midtown, it’s not that likely I’d frequent the 40s or higher on a regular basis. Upper Manhattan and the Bronx? Ok, now I’m totally clueless and a little hesitant.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I made the A train journey up to Inwood for a meal. I wasn’t scared like I thought I was going to be knifed or something, the unknown just makes me nervous. I feel the same way about Staten Island (I like to believe I have a better than average grasp on Brooklyn and Queens). NYC is an insular place. I currently work in a deparment of ALL native New Yorkers, which is pretty rare in my experience (no, I don’t work for the NYPD or FDNY or the city) and I wouldn’t be surprised if many (not all, mind you) of the five were unfamiliar with the neighborhoods outside of where they grew up and/or presently reside. I only know places where friends congregate or where good food lurks.

809_arepa_trio_1My initial impression of Inwood wasn't bad. Of course my only exposure was walking three blocks to and from the Dykeman Avenue station but it seemed akin to Sunset Park or South Slope: a Payless Shoes, H&R Block, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Chinese take out…I’m not sure if there was a Jimmy Jazz or not but there should’ve been. Lots of chains, a little grit, and no signs of gentrification beyond 809 Sangria Bar and Grill, my destination.

You might not even notice it from the street, it’s not flashy. The brightly lit, neon heavy place with sandwiches in the window, next store, made more of an impression. And I’m not sure how well they’re attracting diners (I think they’re doing a good job bringing crowds to the upstairs lounge, which is only open the last few days of the week). Our table was the only one occupied for a spell. Eventually two couples came in and as we were wrapping up a few other groups stopped by, one with like three children under three. Dates, partiers, newborns all welcome.

I’ll admit that the prices are high for the area (my entrée was $24) but it’s not a case of unwarranted gouging. The cooking is creative and the dishes are well thought out. The style borrows from The Domincan Republic (as everyone points out, 809 is the area code in the D.R.) and beyond and manages to avoid boring mango and avocado laced pan-Latino cliches.

809_stuffed_snapperI might’ve gone for a ceviche if I were solo, but the arepa trio topped with tufts of ropa vieja, pork picadillo and shredded chicken were moist and each distinctly flavored.There are two ways to go with entrees: the pick your meat, side and sauce churrasco or opting for seafood. My dining companion (logically chosen as my only friend who lives in the hundreds) has a reputation for being fussy, things that lived in the water or items with bones don’t please her. I was a little nervous but she eventually settled on a medium well skirt steak with yucca fries and three colorful sauces (I couldn’t tell you what they were). She didn’t complain so I’m assuming her meal didn’t completely suck.

I was pleased with the pargo relleno, a whole crispy-skin red snapper stuffed with a seafood risotto. The lightly spiced echilado-coconut sauce tasted slightly Thai, which I loved. Sometimes, I forget the lime, coconut and chiles similarities between Southeast Asia and the Carribean.

I totally didn’t need an 809 Mojito (rum, apple pucker, peach schnapps, fresh plums and peaches) and tres leches cake. My teeth almost rotted out. I’m trying to learn moderation in 2007, though it’s slow going. I pretended that I was being healthy by only eating half my fish, never mind that it was fried and doused in creamy saturated fat.

809_tres_leches_cakeOn my (long) way home, I decided that they’re nice in Inwood. As we were heading into the subway station, a guy on his way out gave me his soon-to-expire Metrocard (this may not seem like a big deal if you’re an unlimited buyer but I’ll gladly accept the $2 gift since I’m a pay per ride gal). The train was already at the platform as we were approaching the bottom of the stairs and a guy held the doors for us. Annoying when you’re in the car, yes, but it wasn’t rush hour and the train was practically empty since it was the second stop from the end of the line. Syrupy cocktails and a few glasses of Shiraz tend to cloud my thinking in more ways than one, they also have a way of inducing rare warm, fuzzy, mankind is ok feelings. I like people so much more when I have a few drinks in my system.

So, if you ever find yourself around W. 200th Street and are craving lamb chops, onion confit, balsamic panela reduction and ajillo mashed potatoes rather than cuchifritos, 809 is probably a good choice.

809 Sangria Bar & Grill * 112 Dyckman St., New York, NY

El Malecon

Not that I'm an expert on Washington Heights Caribbean food, but I'd never heard of this place before. It seems to have a loyal following and was suggested for my New York Post piece on the best Latin chicken. So, include it I did.

El Malecon * 4141 Broadway, NewYork, NY

El Mundo


This place is confusing. Fried chicken is a part of their name, yet fried chicken doesnt appear to be in the restaurant. Not that they dont like to fry every other morsel of meat. Chicharrones, and all sorts of crispy bits are on display. But I had to eat rotisserie chicken since that was the name of the game with my New York Post piece on the best Latin chicken in NYC. The pollo was fine, but I really wanted that fried pork.

El Mundo Fried Chicken * 4456 Broadway, New York, NY