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Posts from the ‘Park Slope’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Cold-Fighting

Taste good malaysian trio

Taste Good Malaysian There are many directions you
can go if you're a spicy soup to ward off a cold type: soondubu jjigae, hotpot,
menudo (for some reason tom yum doesn't appeal) or Singapore laksa, a.k.a.
laksa lemak, the rich coconutty style. Somehow the combination of heat and
creaminess just makes sense for a sore throat. Elmhurst's Taste Good Malaysian
is as good as anywhere to get a fix. Their version filled with bean curd puffs,
half a hardboiled egg, chicken shreds, a few small shrimp, fish cakes, bean
sprouts and fat, round translucent noodles is a meal in itself (always a
problem because it's too filling to allow for any rendang, nasi lemak or sambal
shrimp) though a shared roti canai and popiah won't hurt. I only regret having waved off the scrappy gentleman trying to sell a
bottle of Robitussin in front of the Queens Adult Care Center on the walk to
the restaurant because I'm still sick (the laksa didn't work, but it was tasty)
and too beat to walk the eight blocks to the nearest drug store.

Die kolner bierhalle bratwurstDie Koelner Bierhalle The Park Slope beer hall with
a surprising amount of seating (communal, of course) is more for drinking and
sporting, though a simple bratwurst and big plate of spaetzle and speck (not
pictured) are fitting winter accompaniments. Just don't try to order the bauernwurst
or you'll be steered away with "Nobody orders it. We're removing it from
the menu." What's wrong with the bauernwurst?

Blaue Gans You could also get a bratwurst here (no
bauernwurst, sorry) but it will be $7 more than in Park Slope. While relatively
casual, Blaue Gans is still more of a sit-down affair. If you order the blood
sausage, you might be asked if you've had it before. (Do you see a trend
forming? During three recent meals–including Qi Grill, not mentioned here–I
was essentially told that I didn't really want what I said I wanted, which
makes me testy.) Or maybe the server just meant it's not presented in cased
sausage form, but loose and molded into a circle. No one warned me away from
the calves liver with apples and bacon, thankfully.

Cafecito bogota cartegena arepaCafecito Bogota If you find yourself in upper
Greenpoint on Sunday during dreaded brunch time, you could do worse than an a
la carte arepa (though feel free to order the $16.99 three-drink with food special
if you're into mucho mimosas, sangria or refajo, an unseemly blend of Colombian
beer and cream soda–they weren't able to make a bloody mary). The Cartegena
comes with a big mound of scrambled eggs, shrimp and cilantro.

Hudson Yards Cafe This might be the most inoffensive lunch place closest
to the Javits Center. Never mind that all the
other badge-wearers (you've taken yours off, of course) are drinking iced tea
and Diet Coke. Stick to your guns and down two pints of Stella with your
fontina (spelled fontana) and prosciutto panini; it'll endear the older bartender who's also midday tippling to you. If you're a certain age being referred to as a "good girl" isn't offensive.

Taco chulo rajas hashTaco Chulo I don't normally eat restaurant
breakfasts (despite contrary evidence above) especially not on weekdays, but I
had time to kill before looking at a nearby apartment (I didn't realize how
many area restaurants are dinner-only) and rajas hash with chorizo was right on,
greasy and yolky with a bit of heat. Of course when I showed up to the
apartment on time, a twentysomething couple was also waiting even though their
appointment was a half-hour after mine and so I was forced to look at their
out-of-my-budget apartments with them (and vice versa). Why kill time, waiting
your turn when you can just be a twentysomething in Williamsburg?




Eaten, Barely Blogged: How Do You Like Them Apples (and Andouille)?

Donovan's duo

Donovan’s Woodside on St. Patrick’s Day is like marching into the belly of the beast, though far more family than the fratty scene I envision at the Irish pubs of Manhattan. We waited an hour at Donovan’s for a table where we were serenaded loudly by drums and bagpipes (that’s me pretending not to notice the ruckus) as one does. Corned beef, cabbage, and a single boiled potato should’ve been on my plate (I do love that meal and am surprised so many dislike it) but you know, Donovan’s is famous for its burger and I wasn’t changing my usual order just because it was a holiday.

Sripraphai quad

Sripraphai All the usual suspects: crispy pork with chile and basil, duck curry with eggplant, crispy watercress salad (which I love so much that I recreated it at home the following weekend but forgot to photograph because I was in a hurry to get it made before The Walking Dead season finale aired) plus a rarely ordered larb and never-before Thai mojito. Remind me again, to never go to Sripraphai on a Saturday night (and kick me for pretending to be Thai-knowledgeable with never having tried Centerpoint on the next block). Beyond the insane crowds and weirdo orderers who eat dishes like individual, non-sharable entrees, the spice just isn’t there. Thai-wise, I’m looking forward to the new Chao Thai branch, and I suppose Pok Pok, as well, but as a Portland transplant I have weird feelings about fellow Portland transplants.

Toby's pizzaToby’s Public House “Weird but good” was my honest response to “How was the special? The cook wants to know.” Both pizzas we picked were oddly sweet. I happen to be a freak for sweet-savory mash-ups so that’s not a knock. The special in question paired andouille with green apples, a not-unpleasant though untraditional combo. The surprise was more from the asparagus pizza that was nearly candied sweet from caramelized onions, and I don’t know, there had to be something else at work. I want to say that the stubs of asparagus were cooked in balsamic vinegar? If it were up to me, I might combine the apples with the onions, add a little bacon, and pretend the pizza was a tarte flambee. I’d also sprinkle some blue cheese, thought that would dilute the Alsatian theme.  At that rate, there was no way I was going to opt for the much-lauded nutella-ricotta calzone.  Who needed dessert?

Blue Ribbon In my 20s, I never understood it when friends a decade older would say “I can’t drink like I used to” or genuinely old folks might have to forgo spicy or rich food, i.e. “I like butter, but butter doesn’t like me.” What? Shut up. As I approach middle age, though, I’m afraid some of this is becoming a reality. Thankfully, painfully hot food is not a problem…yet. The night after a night of over-imbibing I was still feeling too rough to handle the roasted bone marrow at Blue Ribbon. The pure fat coupled with a rich oxtail marmalade was wreaking havoc. Weird as it may have been, I just had it wrapped up and ate it the next day no problem. Why  not eat bone marrow on toast for breakfast? As the regular Blue Ribbon and the sushi version next door morph into one, they’ve begun offering raw fish preparations at the original. The small plate of sashimi was a welcome relief from the intended appetizer (which would’ve been better for sharing, except that Lent is still a thing) though I still think everything at Blue Ribbon is overpriced and yes, the crowd leans heavily Bay Ridge/Staten Island even if that characterization (not by me) offended a Chowhound four years after the fact.


Thistle Hill Tavern

3/4  Remind me again not to visit brand new restaurants, particularly in Park Slope.  It only causes knee-jerk Yelpy reactions and that’s unfair. The food, which should be the focus, always becomes secondary and I end up not wanting to ever come back under more normal circumstances when all the kinks have been worked out. Sidecar, Alchemy and Ghenet are three not terribly recent examples that come to mind. First visits became my last.

(In my day life, I work with data so I think about numbers a lot even though I’m better with words. I've blogged about 29 restaurants in Park Slope since 2001, not that many. I've only experienced new restaurant blues at four, which would be approximately 14% of all of my Park Slope restaurant posts. The unusual discovery is that these four restaurants fall within my last six posts about Park Slope dating back to 2007. I wouldn't say that restaurants have gotten worse in the past three years. I think this is about food blogging becoming prominent and my feeling the need to visit new restaurants sooner than I used to. I am going to curb that behavior. )

Being quoted a 30-minute wait, to be seated at a typical squished two-seater in a crowded row an hour later when the couple who waltzed in 40 minutes afterward gets a primo table for four at the same time, is bad service and planning. It causes resentment and impressions of the food become tainted. Babies squalling at 11pm also guarantees a bad first impression (trying not to be anti-family, on the same day as the Fornino hubbub, no less. I have no problem with early evening dining for tots in this genre of restaurant–not so much Cafe Boulud–but I’m old and of an era when bedtimes for children meant something).

It seems that Thistle Hill Tavern is clearly serving a void in South Slope. The Wednesday night crowds prove it. It’s not a destination, otherwise, though. The gastropub menu hits all the right foodie points: pork belly, pickled ramps, grass-fed beef. On paper it works.

Thistle hill tavern beet salad

I shared the beet salad, not typically cubed or dominant but layered in thin circles and topped with peppery watercress. It could’ve been dull, but the breaded, fried blue cheese croutons kept things interesting and the scattering of pistachios didn’t hurt.

Thistle hill tavern duck confit

I tried the duck confit atop spinach with blue cheese and marcona almonds, echoing the salad I’d started with. A fine entrée.

Thistle hill tavern rib-eye

The rib-eye, the most expensive thing on the menu at $24. I did not try this.

Admittedly, this is only an early glimpse. Places like this will either prove popular as is or find their groove. Check it out for yourself. I might not be their target audience.

Thistle Hill Tavern * 441 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Tacos Nuevo Mexico

My level of interest in New York City’s most livable neighborhood is lower than I even thought. Just before Cinco de Mayo of last year, I noticed a “we’re closing for renovations” sign at Tacos Nuevo Mexico. Nearly a year later, and I’m witnessing the nuevo style for the first time.

Tacos nuevo mexico interior

Whoa. Taxidermy? Antler light fixtures? Wood, wood, everywhere. The only thing missing are the Edison bulbs. I’m digging the modern-ranchero style.

Tacos nuevo mexico martini list

The martini list? Not so sure. What's a Rob Roy doing on there?

Tacos Nuevo Mexico is a solid in-betweenie Mexican restaurant for those who don’t get off on forearm-sized rice-filled burritos (Calexico and Oaxaca, closer to me) and are feeling too lazy to go farther down Fifth Avenue to Sunset Park (though you should every now and then).

Tacos nuevo mexico gringa quesadilla

Sure, they are vegetarian-friendly (and you would be stupid not to given the area), you can get tacos with flour tortillas for $1 extra and fajitas are now being hyped, but this is still primarily Mex-Mex, which is scarce in New York City’s more livable neighborhoods. Inauthentic or not, I enjoy their gringas, my favorite cross-cultural mashup: a quesadilla stuffed with al pastor and pineapple. I appreciate the Mexican fondness for meat/cheese/pineapple combos, also one of my favorite trios.

My only beef with the South Slopeified menu is that at some point they stripped away the Spanish and when I look at the taco section I see roast pork, grilled pork and spicy pork.  I’m not sure which are meant to be carnitas and which are pastor. No matter, I still ordered one carnitas, one pastor and one lengua.

Tacos nuevo mexico tacos

Tacos are double-tortilla’d, wrapped in a cone and garnished with chopped onion, cilantro and an avocado salsa. Perfect.I’ve seen online complaints about the watery “guacamole.” This isn’t guacamole.

Tacos nuevo mexico enchilladas oaxaquenas

String-cheesy Oaxacan enchiladas were a special.

Tacos nuevo mexico facade

Previously on Tacos Nuevo Mexico.

Tacos Nuevo Mexico * 491 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY


*At some point Eurotrip renamed itself to Korzo.

There seems to be an Eastern European culinary renaissance going on. I used to practically equate the post-3am East Village with pierogies and it’s not like cabbage and dumplings have ever gone out of style in Greenpoint and Ridgewood. But that’s old world. 

Recently, schnitzel and goulash has shown up at places like Fort Greene’s Catherine’s Caffe, Draft Barn in Gowanus, and Eurotrip in South Slope giving nearby Café Steinhof some competition. You could even toss in Ost Café, even though I think they only serve Hungarian pastries not hot meals.

I’ve been curious about Eurotrip, as well as its location choice because it fits in with the smattering of Slavic holdouts in what some people like to call Greenwood Heights (technically Sunset Park starts at 16th St. but everyone seem averse to calling it like it is. Ack I sound elderly when I get tough about neighborhood boundaries). Slovak/Czech Milan’s is just down the street, Smolen, a Polish bar, is on the same block and Eagle Provisions is also in the vicinity (it’s a little musty and overpriced but they do have a good beer selection—I used to buy chopped liver and poppy seed sweets there on my way home from the gym, sabotaging my workout and then some).

Honestly, I’ve never had much interest in Austro-Hungarian cuisine because it seems so bland and heavy (as opposed to Scandinavian fare, which I unfairly ignore because it seems bland and light). And I’m still not convinced otherwise. At least I chose one of those nearly-single-digit-degrees nights to find out for sure. 

My goal to try and not bulk up over the winter was not helped by the langoš, a.k.a. fried pizza. Yes, yes, I could’ve ordered the quinoa with flame-grilled paprika shrimp and microgreens but doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of even going to an Eastern European restaurant?

Eurotrip langoš

The fried dough was good in the way that fluffy, yeasty batter crisped up to goldenness should be. Instead of the purist butter and garlic version we tried the simply named pub style, a totally americanized treat oozing with Edam, tomato sauce and spicy German sausage. Just like I believe Sriracha goes with pizza, I can get behind pickled cabbage too. This condiment would never be right with thin crust, but the pillowy richness needed some bite.

Eurotrip chicken schnitzel

While the chicken schnitzel took up much of the space on the plate, the accompaniments hidden in the photo were more interesting. The breaded chicken cutlet was kind of dull, not dried out, thankfully, just not exciting. Beneath the splayed out poultry were wedges of red potatoes and a pile of soft sauerkraut (I do love sauerkraut) that I thought were studded with juniper berries. Hard on the teeth, but the nuggets turned out to be crispy pork bits. Nice. Sugary, pickled cucumber slices rounded out the dish.

Eurotrip krušovice lager

There was also a plate of geographically diverse sausages involved. Poland, Germany and Hungary were all represented. All of this combined with a pitcher of Krušovice, the house lager, make dessert an impossibility. I wouldn’t mind knowing what’s included in the $5 tray of homemade cookies, though. 

Eurotrip * 667 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY


1/2 I’ve frequently suspected as much, but now I’m convinced that my timing is hopelessly off kilter. From now on whenever I get the urge to dine out, I’m going to wait 45-minutes to realign my bad luck.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve arrived at a restaurant, been quoted a semi-reasonable wait that eventually doubles, then get seated at the same time as another party that’s just arrived, crammed in right next to them only to have the entire room clear out within minutes. There’s something infuriating about being stuck only six inches from the only other patrons in an empty room.

Park Slope’s new Ghenet branch did nothing to change my exasperated view of the cosmos. Saturday night I was considering Korhogo 126 (primarily because it’s walkable from my apartment) but opted for straight up Ethiopian at the last minute. I know better than to attempt recently opened restaurants on weekend nights but I’m drawn to patience-trying situations like um, Marcus Samuelsson to new projects (trying to stay on point with the prettied-up African food and all).


The space is pretty, dimly lit, with lots of geometric cut out metal screens, and slightly incongruous on still-busted Fourth Avenue. When we arrived at 9:30 another couple was waiting at the bar and we were quoted a 20-minute wait. I could handle that. The staff seemed friendly enough, too. After ordering a glass of shiraz, the other duo was seated. From that point on not a one of the 12 tables budged despite numerous groups having finished their meals. On two different occasions our hopes were raised and we were promised that a table was about to open up…but no.

I should’ve just left. I think that should be my new M.O. because my heart can’t take it (I don’t mean that hyperbolically; not only am I newly diabetic but have also had inexplicably high blood pressure since my twenties. This past week I’ve been trying to get off my medication because it slows my heart rate and I’m convinced that it’s been messing with my metabolism for the past seven years. The downside is that I’m so twitchy and anxiety-ridden I can barely sit still). I’m so impatient that I practically had a stroke by the time a seat opened up 40 minutes later.

I don’t like to take circumstances beyond a staff’s control out on them, and rarely do (I just internalize it, hence the blood pressure) but what makes me snap is when everyone around me is oblivious and enjoying themselves when I’m being inconvenienced. It’s not about entitlement but about fairness. What tipped my indecision over being annoyed into full blown annoyance was when the threesome who’d been waiting 15 minutes that was seated directly next to us at the same time received apologies for the long wait and were served first while we were given no such acknowledgement for waiting almost three times as long. My impression was clouded beyond repair.

And eating while angry is no fun. Plus, James wanted to kill me because he had zero interest in Ethiopian food in the first place, ranking it down with Filipino food, which are fighting words because I’m totally an apologist for Filipino cuisine. But he swayed me a bit. I mean, after being traumatized and hungry do you really want to eat little blobs of mush with your hands?

I sort of did. I dug the injera, the slightly sourdoughy, chamois-smooth flatbread used as an edible utensil. I don’t know that they actually used traditional teff, as the grain is hard to come by in the U.S., but I was kind of hoping so since it’s a low glycemic product and I’m now all about blood sugar friendly bread-like items.

Sambusa, a.k.a. chicken turnover

We ordered a combo, which allows a meat and two vegetables per person. I quickly learned that wett means spicy and aletcha means mild. That’s all you have to know plus main ingredient to make a decision. I’m fairly certain that Ethiopian food in Ethiopia (and perhaps other parts of NYC) is genuinely hot. That wasn’t the case here, which didn’t surprise me given the location.


The dark mound in the center is doro wett, which is a little tricky because there’s a whole drumstick and hard-boiled egg in there. The presentation almost feels Malaysian, lots of complexly spiced scoops but on injera rather than a banana leaf, but the actual flavor of the chicken in particular reminded me of mole. It must be all of the spices working together and probably attributable to the berbere.

The top left is sega wett, beef, but despite the name wasn’t exactly the same as the chicken. The carrots and beans are obvious, lentils are in the front right and the two pools of an unspecified bean weren’t far off from frijoles. Yes, again with the Mexican food comparison.

I’ve long felt that I need to learn more about regional African food–I’m interested in Ghanian edibles–but other cuisines always seem to take precedence when I’m out and about. And after this underwhelming experience I’m afraid that I will have to convince a new dining partner to accompany me on my mission.

Ghenet * 348 Douglass St., Brooklyn, NY


Sidecar and Sunshine, dinner and a movie choices I made Saturday night, both left me with the same message: stick with your original mission. Sunshine I’ll leave nebulous and unspoiled. Sidecar, I’ll explain a bit.

Sidecar Newly opened restaurants should be approached with caution and patience. But curiosity got the better of me with this South Slope oddity near the Blockbuster and Rent a Center (only the classiest neighborhoods have leather sectionals and plasma TVs on installment plans).

They didn’t have their liquor license yet, which was a minor disappointment because their list of cocktails sounded promising. But I wasn’t too crushed because a BYOB six-pack is a money-saver. We made our first mistake by turning down a weirdo small table in the window that practically had you sitting with the party next to you. We thought we’d wait at the (alcohol-free) bar until something opened up.

The space is high-ceilinged and handsome with de rigeur mid-‘00s hanging filament bulbs. More seating  is allotted to drinking than dining which would be fine if there were drinks. And there were people who seemed to be just drinking, which was kind of baffling. Who would hang out a bar not serving drinks, drinking? I guess it’s better than imbibing in your own living room.

We skimmed the menus that were given to us, cracked open a couple Stellas obtained on the corner and figured we’d wait it out. The couple sitting next to us at the bar, who I swear walked in after us, approached the hostess and next thing I knew they were seated. Not cool.

There’s nothing as annoying as being in line at a grocery or drug store when a cashier yells “next” only to have a newcomer walk right up with no one in charge acknowledging who was actually next. I like a tight ship.

Sidecar_crostini As long as we were waiting, we weren’t going to go hungry so we ordered crostini topped with a sweetish pate, served with a mixed salad and a few beet cubes. This is where the stay-the-course plan began falling apart. Our mission was to eat dinner sitting at a table and apparently, we had strayed the second we ordered food from the bar. The place started clearing out and every single person who’d come in after us was now sitting at booths.

Clearly, we’d been brushed off.  I realize once you order food at the bar it’s kind of like your request for a table has been cancelled out (though the original couple next to us who were immediately seated had also ordered food at the bar first) but we still had entrees coming and no one else at the bar was eating full meals. At this point there were two empty tables, so we asked once again to be seated (I was either going to walk out or seat myself). You would’ve thought we were Al-Qaeda with the amount of reluctance received. We were given the eye for the remainder or our meal.

So, after about 45 minutes we got a booth and our entrees that I saw sitting on the metal shelf for at least ten minutes. They were looked at and touched numerous times, though no one seemed to have any idea where they were intended to go. It’s not that big of a restaurant for such confusion.

Sidecar_banh_deMy creative grilled cibatta banh mi (called a banh de, which I am guessing is a play on DeCoursy, the surname of the brother-owners) with a shooter of cucumber juice was likeable. And James didn’t have complaints about his fried chicken, mashed root vegetables and succotash. But the food was all secondary at this point.

I hate service to overshadow a meal and I’m trying to temper knee-jerk harshness but there were glitches I couldn’t get past. It wasn’t Williamsburg-bad, there was a semblance of professionalism but I didn’t care for the way things played out.  I wanted to like the place and the components were all there: tasty reasonably priced food, eclectic juke box (The Vaselines and Exploding Hearts were both pleasing) and potentially fun cocktails. Yet nothing gelled.

Sunshine, too, started off with promise before evolving into a horror flick. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into before it’s too late.

Sidecar * 560 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY


Saturday night, Fette Sau crossed my mind but I knew better. Williamsburg service tends to lack in the best of circumstances and opening weekend chaos might’ve turned my hair white(r) from stress and shock. It looks like I chose wisely.

Instead, I decided to have my patience tried at a Park Slope gastropub, thanks. I’m not clear why New Yorkers would find communal dining enticing. Communes equal love and sharing. Even innocent CSAs gives me the heebies. I don’t want to know my residential neighbors, anonymity is one of the few benefits to city dwelling. I definitely don’t want to sup with strangers.

Alchemy_beef_cheeksAt least the inch and a half that normally separates tiny square tables fools you into thinking you’re dining semi-privately. It wasn’t that I just didn’t want to sit wedged in the back corner of the restaurant, it was that I could barely fit into the back corner, even a medium adult would’ve had troubles. I was stuck between a wall and a Japanese girl, seething while unable to remove my jacket or use my right arm. We probably should’ve just refused the seat or eaten at the bar, which was more spacious but there was practically no way to extricate once squeezing in. And, well, I’m a culinary martyr.

Alchemy_beet_ravioliI wanted simple and good, and that’s pretty much what we got. The menu is brief, with about a handful each of appetizers and entrees. We split an order of beef cheeks, which were served atop creamy polenta and garnished with parsnip strips and a few stray red pickled slivers of something unidentifiable. Beets seem like the obvious guess, but I’m not sure.

Somehow, I ended up ordering a dish in a style I rarely touch: meat-less and pasta-based. They were trying to make a hippy out of me. Next thing you know I’ll start digging rice-filled burritos. Urgh. But the beet ravioli with wilted greens and a goat cheese sauce sounded appealing. The marcona almonds mentioned in the description could’ve played a more prominent role, though. The smooth richness needed some contrast.

Alchemy_guinness_toffee_puddingContinuing my beer theme (I managed to drink three Bluepoint Toasted Ales—after being given a bizarre moldy tasting version at Sheep Station, I now tend to order the brew when I see it on tap for comparison), we split a warm, puffy sticky toffee pudding made with Guinness. At least our dessert could be savored leisurely.

About thirty minutes after we arrived, the seating situation had loosened up. By 11pm we were the lone people remaining at one of the long tables. The front bar stools and spacious wooden booths were the only occupied space. I don’t think it’s a secret that weeknight dining has its advantages but leaving the house Saturday night shouldn’t be traumatizing either.

Alchemy_windowAh, which reminds me. Three of the four curtains covering the back windows were hung closed but the one nearest to us had been pulled open. I imagine they were intended to stay shut since the rear patch was filled with junk, a typically Brooklyn backyard. During the middle of our meal, James glanced out and got an eyeful of one of the male kitchen staff taking a leak. Classy. This photo isn’t an attempt to capture the deed, I’m just illustrating the scene of the crime.

Alchemy * 56 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Chiles & Chocolate

I can’t think of a restaurant in recent history with such surface potential that’s so horrendous in practice. I knew better too. I was intrigued by reports of Oaxacan food on bland Seventh Avenue back in January but thought I’d wait a few months to pay a weeknight visit. We still weren’t safe from overcrowding due to the studio-sized dining room.

They were at full capacity around 8:30pm on a chilly Thursday. The cheerful hostess/waitress proclaimed a little too loudly “This table will be leaving soon,” indicating the only table for four and prompting nasty glares from the lounging middle aged women. That’s exactly the cunty type of attitude I expect from Park Slope. It’s impossible to even stand in the restaurant without sucking up precious space so we killed a good twenty minutes, getting BYOB St. Peter’s stouts up the street, smoking a cigarette, then hovering near the door in artic temperatures. No one inside was going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, the huffy lingerers refused to get up until we were eventually seated at a tiny circular table in the back. We were irked that the next twosome that showed up was almost immediately seated in the spacious four top.

Chiles_chocolate_quesadillasThe waiters were really trying, and were way friendlier than you’d anticipate in such harried environs. The female was strangely upbeat, the male positive and frank enough to steer us away from the chicken mole because it had been coming out overcooked. I feared as much actually, though I was a little bummed because moles oaxaqueños: negro, verde and coloradito seemed like a feature to try. The menu is very appealing and they’re using non-mainstream ingredients like chapolín, dried grasshoppers, huitlacoche and serving drinks like atole and champurrado. Almost everything sounds good, and so staunchly professing regional allegiance, “we are not a Mexican restaurant,” you would expect them to deliver.

Appetizers fared better than the entrees. My cheese and huitlacoche quesadilla and James’s tacos dorados were enjoyable, at least initially. Chiles & Chocolate would fail a basic Top Design (I only half-watch this show but I find Matt strangely attractive, though it's worrisome to me that he's 32 and has been married for ten years) challenge due to crazy poor planning. In a best case scenario involving their circular tables being bare, two huge white square plates couldn’t possibly fit in the two-foot circumference. With a candle, daffodil in a vase, salsa, chips, two tumblers of beer, two beer bottles and two appetizer plates, there was absolutely nowhere to put our main dishes when they appeared before we’d adequately wrapped up our first course. More and more I’m realizing we’re slow eaters. This constantly happens at chains, we throw off their timing but I don’t expect much from Applebee’s, plus booths allow for multiple plates. But at a “real” restaurant it’s disastrous.

Chiles_chocolate_duck Cramped quarters, rushed courses, unpleasant patrons could all be excused if the food transcends the circumstances. Alas, it didn’t. Dry and flavorless seemed to be the M.O. The chaos also worked as a natural appetite suppressant. I’m rarely un-hungry so that was quite a feat. Pato cacahuate y chocolate, a grilled duck breast with peanut-chocolate-chipotle sauce somehow blended those three ingredients to create a watery yellow paste that genuinely tasted like nothing. The duck was cooked more than I would’ve liked, only one slice had any hint of pink. James got the mole negro with stewed pork after being scared away from the poultry. Eh, the pork was about as blah as a frozen chicken breast.

There was no way we were risking dessert though we could’ve partaken out of spite, just to pass along the torture to another waiting couple.

Chiles & Chocolate * 54 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Palo Santo

1/2 No matter what, I can never remember the name of this restaurant. I know it’s on Union Street, that the chef used to cook at Williamsburg’s La Brunette (a restaurant I always meant to try but never got around to before it closed) and that it consists of two Spanish words. And then I’m stuck so I have to sort through all Latin American listings in Park slope on Citisearch or New York (ok, not the latter—I just tested it and it’s nowhere to be found) to find it. Palo Santo, okay, I’m forcing it into my memory.

Palo_santo_gambas_1 It’s a curious place, stuck in the middle of a brownstone row and decorated in a woody willy-nilly fashion. There’s a warm, crafty vibe, enhanced by the front room’s fireplace. Reggae was the music of choice on my visit. I never went though a Bob Marley phase, but at least it's slightly more tolerable than Andean pan pipes or Gypsy Kings. Some commenter somewhere I can’t recall described the interior as looking like a ‘70s health food eatery and that’s not completely false, though I suspect they’re trying for more sophistication than that. Thankfully, sprouts are nowhere to be seen.

The menu changes daily and I forgot to take note of the chickpea strewn slaw that our shrimp a la plancha were served on. I’m not sure if it was the citrus used or an exotic herb that snuck in (the chef makes use of many esoteric items) but there was an overall bitter, acidic flavor that didn’t agree with me. That was the only miss, though. I forgot to change the setting on my camera after taking photos off the TV so everything ended up a dark, dull faux sepia toned mess.

Palo_santo_duck_mole_2 My duck mole was flavorful without being overwhelmingly rich as a fatty bird and dark sauce potentially could be. It came with a little corn cake topped with black beans that contained something crunchy. I want to say it was a fried skin of some sort but I don’t recall that being part of the description. I did ask about the two foreign-to-me herbs that enhanced the beans. They were Mexican papalo and pepicha, and no, I can't quite describe them beyond dubbing them forceful and distinct. You wouldn't want a mouthful.

James had seafood asapado, a soupy rice, which was kind of like a cross between risotto and bouillabaisse. We shared a hot from the oven banana chocolate dessert that was topped with melting cream. It beat another tired molten cake, that’s for sure. I refuse to eat those piping hot soft-centered sweets out of principle. I feel the same way about the oozing pucks as I do about rampant bad ‘80s music. There’s just no excuse in 2007.

Palo_santo_banana_chocolate_1 I’ve heard that if you sit at the bar you can order a $45 tasting menu that isn’t set in stone. I guess that’s an omakase. That doesn’t sound unreasonable, yet I would’ve preferred that the dishes cost a few dollars less apiece. The prices were slightly high (entrees $20+) for a casual weeknight dinner (though it looks like they have a more moderately priced menu during the day), and when you could easily spend $100 for two (which I didn’t) cash only seems silly.

Palo Santo * 652 Union St., Brooklyn, NY