1/2 *Closed sometime in early 2005
First off, I must make it clear that this place doesn't really serve Mexican sandwiches. I got excited when I first heard about it because I love tortas to death (and they probably will be the death of me will all that yummy fat). But these are not tortas, they are quesadillas. I'd almost call quesadillas Mexican pizza before I'd say Mexican sandwich, but whatever.
What inspired a visit was a viewing of that British cooking show "The Best" on Discovery Home & Leisure where three people whip up a dish based on a theme and one is swiftly declared the winner by a group of judges who are never introduced. The whole thing is so un-American, it's rapid, there's no build-up or suspense, maybe these people are somebodies, but they're never introduced, they cook, the judges eat, then text message who won, the show ends. But on this night they were making sandwiches and the female chef was making a "Mexican sandwich." The judges referred to it as a "cheese and chile flatbread." Not once was it referred to as a quesadilla, which is clearly was. The British are so weird and backwards about certain cuisines.
So, our cravings for faux Mexican food were sated by this Park Slope caf. I went for duck confit and mango salsa, and James the chorizo and white bean. Heck, it was the best filled and cooked flatbread I've had.
Mexican Sandwich Company * 322 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn,NY
1/2 I don't really know what to make of this place, but became curious after reading one of those tiny off the menu blurbs in the NY Times about a new Malaysian restaurant in Bay Ridge with a chef who had been at Vong and Mercer Kitchen. The components just seemed odd. And after never hearing a peep about it anywhere in any press or from anyone, it became even more suspect. During my last week living in neighboring Sunset Park, I had to check it out since it wasn't likely I'd be in the area again soon.
It's just south of the BQE, tucked in that little old-timey strip rife with Irish bars. I was amused by the restaurant's subtitle, Malaysian bistro. Highfalutin'? We were the only diners, and it quickly became apparent that their business is made up almost exclusively of take-out orders. And there's the weird dichotomy. The neighborhood seems to view this upwardly mobile, aspiring above hole-in-the-wall Chinese, as a take-out joint. Yet terms like foam and coulis do not appear on most chop suey, fried rice menus. The plates are artfully arranged, carefully garnished, sauces are dabbed and drizzled. Presentation is a big part of their thing, which obviously wouldn't translate in a cardboard container. And the menu's not terribly Malaysian, there was some roti canai, beef rendang, rojak, nasi lemak and the like. But there were also Vietnamese pork chops, Thai noodles and curries, as well as Japanese flourishes. And to be honest, the food was pretty average, but it tasted better to me because they were really trying to do something different.
The desserts were what really gave me a kick. They had a separate dessert menu, implying they take that course seriously. Chendol and bur bur cha cha were present, but I went for the innocent sounding banana parfait, primarily because kueh was listed as an ingredient. I'm crazy obsessed with those gummy colorful layered confections. A triangle of banana cake came positioned on top of three pastel keuh wedges, topped with homemade peanut ice cream and streaked with chocolate sauce. So bizarre, but so satisfying. I'm afraid this place won't make it, it's in a weird spot and I don't know that they're pushing their unique take on classics hard enough for anyone who would be interested to take notice.
Banana Leaf * 6814 Fourth Ave., Brooklyn, NY
No more Zona Rosa (2/09)
Once again James dipped into his special occasion canon of Latin and/or
meaty restaurants. I always like to play guessing games about where he's
going to take me, and I never would've picked this place in a million years
if I hadn't noticed a business card and press release earlier in the month
on his desk. I assumed it had something to do with his mom since she's
always in town for Hispanic-related events and conferences, which kind of
weirded me out because his mom is a source of contention and the idea of her
influencing his Valentine's dining choice was a bit odd.
I rarely eat upscale Mexican, and it was quite nice. There was a starter
of ceviche and guacamole with a few artfully arranged chips (there was way
too much guacamole for the amount of chips). I had a duck taco appetizer,
and stuffed quail in a mole sauce with rose petals for an entre. I'm
incredibly averse to eating flowers, it borders on being a phobia, but I was
sold on the little game bird and mole aspect. Eating around the petals was
I asked James how he chose the restaurant, and he wouldn't tell me,
which was just plain weird. He insisted it had nothing to do with his
mother, but that he'd been there before (it had only been open about one
month, and there was all that controversy about Alex Garcia, who was
supposed to be the chef, being arrested on drug charges) and then refused to
tell me who he'd been there with or why. It was totally bizarre, and cast a
weird mood to the meal. I mean, on one hand, who cares why or who he'd been
there with, but on the other hand being all mysterioso just gets on my
nerves. Oh, I fear that with each progressive Valentine's Day, the farther
you become removed from the original sentiment of the holiday.
ZonaRosa * 40 W. 56th, New York, NY
I mentioned the elusive white Kit Kats and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups way back in 2002. So why is that I’m just now starting to see commercials for them? It’s old hat now. I’m more concerned with all the new low-carb crap on the market. I might be excited about the new Lime Diet Coke if I actually liked drinking soda (let alone diet soda, though as a color green is my favorite and as a flavor, lime is right up there). I’m a little bummed because I was hoping for lime green liquid, not cola color.
* Short-lived Smith St. restaurant. Now it's Taku.
I don't like battered, fried seafood, so really it's my own fault for not being wowed by the shrimp po'boy. This was one of those post-10pm weeknight meals that makes for meager dining choices. Carroll Gardens is so not about staying up past a respectable bedtime. We were the only people in the place, which is a nervous pet peeve of mine. The food was ok for what it was, it's just not my thing. James was irked by the bbq sauce on his fish sandwich, he insists that everyplace in the neighborhood puts bbq sauce where it doesn't belong (it ended up on a burger a few weeks later someplace else). I believe there are worse crimes, but whatever.
Pier 116 * 116 Smith St., Brooklyn, NY
Some might call the dcor cheesy, but sometimes faux small town facades,
complete with a barber shop pole and street signs like Arugula Lane and
Meatloaf Place transported indoors are just what you need. I was always a
little put off by this place because it's always been empty when I've
thought about trying it out, but that's mainly due to the neighborhood being
eerily empty after 10pm on weeknights (Carroll Gardens was specifically
mentioned in a recent article about transitional vs. relational
neighborhoods, meaning single people hotbeds as opposed to shacked-up
sanctuaries. We're totally in a married with children enclave, it's
It's primarily a sandwich and burger type of place, and it does them
pretty well. I was sort of intrigued by the muffaletta on the menu, which
they don't actually call as such, and the Portland omelet. Denver is known
for their filled egg combo, but Portland? (What would be in it, soyrizo and
rice cheese?) I'd go back, but James was miffed by the bbq sauce on his
burger and now believes that the entire neighborhood is bbq sauce crazy (it
also showed up on a fish sandwich at Pier 116).
It's a goner.
Village247 * 247 Smith St., Brooklyn, NY