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Pollo Campero

Closed: hmm, that was short lived. (7/05)

I think Pollo Campero is meant to mean more to homesick Central Americans than run of the mill North Americans. Though, an appreciation of fried chicken is practically universal. I'd heard about travelers smuggling Pollo Campero chicken on planes from Guatemala to loved ones in the States, so I figured it must be something worth checking out. And I was especially convinced since I always have a soft spot in my heart for businesses in my old neighborhood, Sunset Park. (Their first NYC location was in Corona, but I don't get out that way very frequently.)

The sunny orange-and-yellow color scheme and pot-bellied bird logo were more than enough to entice me. But I was also fascinated by a fast food menu that listed horchata and flan. The chicken is pretty much fried chicken. The coating is light and not heavily seasoned, and I sort of prefer a thicker, crispy crust. Sides include rice, tostones and chili-spiked, meaty, soupy beans (my choice) and of course starchy classics french fries and mashed potatoes. The salsa bar with red, green and a deeper red smoky mystery condiment (my personal favorite—chipotle? tomato?) was a nice touch.

I hate to say it because the concept and even the execution of Pollo Campero is alluring, but its probably not worth going out of your way for their fried chicken. But definitely do stop in if you happen to be near a location—I hear Spanish Harlem is next on their list (do they still say Spanish Harlem or has that gone the way of Alphabet City).

Pollo Campero * 4506 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Shun Lee Palace

Shun Lee Palace is a total time warp, though not quite nostalgic. It
probably wouldn't be unless you were an Upper East Side Jew with a taste for
expensive, not very authentic Chinese food circa 1976. This was one of those
out of the blue dining ideas James gets every now and then. I'd never had
any inclination to visit the place, but he had gotten it in his head that we
needed to try upscale Chinese food.

But I think he was thinking banquet food that Chinese people themselves
would actually eat, not overpriced renditions of Chinese-American fare. Not
that we didn't have a good time. In fact, it was a gas. Shun Lee is a weird
scene that I could appreciate, even if it scared me a bit. While the dcor
is opulent early '90s, the vibe is totally '70s. At our 9pm seating, the
room wasn't terribly full, but the clientele we did eyeball had
personalities big enough to fill the room. There was a nice combo of
caricatures, tourists, wealthy foreigners, and the inexplicably curious like

I was a little unnerved by how they make couples sit side-by-side at
tables facing out towards the room. We've always made fun of twosomes who
choose to next to each other while eating instead of just facing each other.
But we had no choice in this situation. In a way, we were lucky because we
had equally good views of the goings on. I'mmediately to our right, were two
cranky, over-the-top, 60-ish women who were apparently regulars, highly
demanding and totally of a New York I do not know (nor want to). Like they
get together every Saturday night and kvetch (did I just say kvetch?)
about their kids, exes and dead parents, then harass the waiter because they
were told there'd be an eel special and there wasn't.

To our right and down the row was a creepy, troll-like older Indian
gentleman and his much younger, serene Eurasian lady friend. They didn't
really talk, and they also were grumpy, she let the waiters know that he
didn't like fish. A few young-ish white bread couples seemed dazzled by the
ambience. One took photos of her food (I know "photoblogging" is all the
rage, but I just can't abide snapping pictures in restaurants. Maybe that's
an issue of my own) while the other duo ate quickly then paid with
traveler's checks (I didn't know that people even used those anymore).

My favorite table included a dapper Telly Savalas look-alike in a
yachting type sport jacket with a middle-aged woman wearing a bold-patterned
turban scarf and big, tinted frameless glasses. Very Cosmopolitan,
thirty years ago. She could play a rich eccentric on an episode of

I was impressed by the carved daikon swans that certain tables received
as garnishes (we didn't get any fancy frills). The food, not so much. We had
slippery chicken, which is chopped chicken with spinach in a garlicky sauce,
and curry prawns, which were swimming in a curry powder, peanutty gloop. I
actually liked the gloop, it was studded with things like peas, water
chestnuts and red pepper. James insisted it also contained creamed corn,
which is ridiculous. I also had a hot and sour fish soup, which was what it
sounds like.

We barely made it out under $100, which is why this isn't the sort of
novelty meal you can do on a regular basis. And that's why the idea of
regulars and eating Shun Lee takeout is so bizarre to me. Do people just not
get out? Once you enter the uptown vacuum, do you lose all sense of right
and wrong? People love Seinfeld reruns and Woody Allen flicks, so
maybe I'm the one whos warped.

ShunLee Palace * 155 E.
55 St., New York, NY

Harbor Crab

I've really only eaten whole crab, cracked from the shell, once. And the
memory is hazy, and the circumstances a little odd now that I think about
it. I tagged along with my best grade school friend and her parents to
Astoria, Oregon where a crab festival in session. Long tables, plastic bibs,
wooden mallets, the works. But I don't actually remember eating crab, just
the surroundings, and how eating crustaceans in this manner must either be a
black or an affluent thing (Ha, not that there were any other black families
there. Really, I figured eating fresh crab must be for rich people. We never
ever ate seafood at home, except maybe fish sticks and canned clam chowder.
This friend's family had a big house, Corvette, and leather couches. They
were classy, though I did find their drinking Pepsi [and eating grits] for
breakfast peculiar—to my knowledge they weren't Southern.)

My crab exposure tends to come via others. James grew up in the D.C.
area and lived in Maryland, so he's a blue crab person. It was his idea to
find a crab shack one Saturday, and I was up for it since I don't have much
experience in the area. It seemed like no biggie, but apparently crab isn't
a hot commodity in the NYC region. We thought Long Island would be the way
to go, but no one specializes in crabs, though there are a few lobster
places. As it turned out, only one place fit the bill, the appropriately
named Maryland Crab House. The clincher was that it's in Sheepshead Bay,
Brooklyn. We didn't want to go to Brooklyn, we're already in Brooklyn.

So, Harbor Crab was a random choice and predictably so-so. Their crabs
were tiny and consequently listed on the appetizer menu. They were also
cheap, but the amount of meat picked out for the energy and time expended to
extract the goodness was no bargain. At least it was fun to sit outdoors on
a floating wooden deck over some body of water, and watch wild ducks and
swans swimming nearby, and drunk locals (or least folks with seemingly local
accents) harass the waitresses and light up cigarettes after being told
there's no smoking on Saturdays (wouldn't it seem like Saturdays would be
prime smoking day?)

The only memorable crab meals I've had have been in Singapore and
Thailand. Maybe I should just steer clear of the American renditions,

Harbor Crab * 116 Division St., Patchogue, NY

Laksa Pizza

Jeez, do they have it good in S.E. Asia or what? It’s not on the Pizza Hut Malaysia site yet, but I’ve read that they are adding an assam laksa pizza. The ingredients will include spicy tuna, crabstick, pineapple, cucumber, onions and red chilli. That’s just so not American. I’m jealous.

Laksa Pizza

Jeez, do they have it good in S.E. Asia or what? It’s not on the Pizza Hut Malaysia site yet, but I’ve read that they are adding an assam laksa pizza. The ingredients will include spicy tuna, crabstick, pineapple, cucumber, onions and red chilli. That’s just so not American. I’m jealous.


I reviewed Galanga for the Time Out NY Eating & Drinking Guide earlier this
spring, but I don't have the edited version yet and don't feel the need to
rehash. (Here
it is
.) So, the consensus was that it's stylish, full of potential and
better than your average Ameri-Thai. But you really have to ask for spice
and not let the presence of chopsticks put you off (that has always been a
serious red flag for me). I wouldn't go out of my way for it, like
Sripraphai, but I'd take it over the gazillion mediocre Thai places plaguing
my neighborhood (which isn't the W. Village, so I've only been three times).

Galanga * W. Fourth St., New York, NY

Star-Spangled Doodles

I’m not generally a chip eater, though I do have a fondness for Cheetos-esqe snacks (though if you asked my mom she wouldn’t agree that Cheetos even are chips. I practically got beaten as a child when she gave me money to run into Albertson’s and buy chips for dinner and I came out with Cheetos) if they’re presented to me. But I couldn’t resist the zaniness of Wise’s Star-Spangled Doodles. I’d never seen red, white and blue cheese puffs before. It wasn’t until I got them home that I realized that it had almost been a month since 4th of July, and that the expiration date on the bag read 7/13/04. This didn’t stop me from enjoying my festive booty, but it did make me even more suspicious of the horrible neighborhood Key Foods than I already was.