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Little Bistro

*LB has been replaced by a not-so-promising looking place called Vivir. (1/06)

Famous last words, "it had better not be one of those barbecue sauce restaurants." Oh, but it was. It's starting to get strange, the Bococa (oh yes, I did) affinity for barbecue sauce. (Or possibly more accurately, James's penchant for ordering items drenched in it.)Realistically, the incidents over the past few years have been few and far between, all things considered, but they tend to stand out because they occurred when we first moved into the neighborhood and were figuring out the dining scene. We had bbq sauce trauma at Pier 116 and Village 247, both addresses-in-the-names joints have since faded away. Perhaps rampant bbq saucing is the mark of a restaurant in demise.

I wish I could remember the exact name and description of our appetizer. It was something along the lines of barbecued shrimp summer rolls. I'll admit, barbecue is right in there, but we assumed by context this meant grilled. Wouldn't that make more sense? But no, the Vietnamese style rolls came with a little patch of mache, a pool of creamed corn…and drizzles of barbecue sauce. Good lord. After that, there would be no way to convince James to ever give another Cobble Hill restaurant a chance.

That rough patch was only exacerbated by the excruciating amount of time it took to present our entrees.  I'm not one to fuss, but it probably would've irritated an average diner. And it wasn't matter of things being backed up, they clearly messed up our order. We were nearly neck and neck with the table next to us and they received, ate and finished their main dishes before we even saw ours. I suspect there was a problem with the veal special. We're opposite, James often goes for the special and I avoid them.

I was mildly amused that when the panko crusted veal finally arrived it was served with "Japanese Worcestershire sauce," which is like one step away from sweet barbecue sauce. one might imagine would be sweet. It wasn't James's night.

To be fair, I quite liked my entrée, which was a plate of sliced duck, massaman curry sauce, two moo shu duck style pancakes, and two sweet potato fritters. A small pile of baby vegetables in the middle consisted of carrots, pattypan squash and green and wax beans.

It's easy to asses the neighborhood's vibe and restaurant's clientele, from the caveats the waiter gave with practically all orders. "The duck is cooked medium, so it's a little pink in the middle. Is that ok?" Yes, that's fine. The shrimp rolls, "That comes with coleslaw, is that alright?" Ok, not a problem. Both female components of the couples who sat on my right (yes, two seatings occurred during our unintended lengthy meal) ordered the salmon with "Japanese spiced cream sauce," and both asked, "Is it spicy?" The waiter robotically replied, "We can put the sauce on the side." South Brooklyn is infested with fussiness.

Little Bistro * 158 Court St., Brooklyn, NY

Nothing Suitable

Womensuit_1 Why are women's suits so goddamn ugly? Unless you have a couple thousand dollars to spend and are a size 2, you're shit out of luck because it's poly-blends and weird silhouettes otherwise. It's tricky enough trying to find something stylish and inoffensive in any size, but once you get into the plus territory it's big, big trouble. Whatever you do, don't get fooled into clicking on (well, you can just this once). I never even knew there were categories like Church Ensembles and Mother of the Bride. The website claims that the beauty on the left can't be done justice in a photo. Maybe I should check it out in person?

RoamansAnd the whole misses/women thing is confusing. You'd think misses would be large sizes because it sounds so hideous, but it's not. Women's means large which makes no sense because aren't most adult females women, regardless of size? I guess the opposite is juniors, which is an odd moniker too.

You might imagine why I'd want/need a suit, I don't know if I need to spell it out. Can you imagine showing up anywhere, let alone a highly competitive/conservative organization dressed like this? Actually, if you're a corporate librarian you might. In fact, it might just give that extra edge and I'll fit right in. Billowy and blue is just my style. If that's not dressing for success, I don't know what is.

Sunday Night Special: Prawn & Pineapple Curry

PrawncurryfixingsYeah, it's already Tuesday, but these things take time. This venture wasn't wholly a success, as is occasionally the case when I make Malaysian style curry pastes from scratch. I suspect that my ingredients (and much of those in the U.S.) just aren't the same as what you'd find in a tropical climate. Freshness is an issue for sure. And I wasn't about to make coconut milk from scratch like the original recipe called for, that's where I draw the line. But I had jumbo prawns and a pineapple (thank you, new Fairway) that needed to be eaten and my mind immediately went to S.E. Asia.

I'm always wary of the amount of shallots called for. Fifteen seemed a little outrageous, so I used maybe ten. The end result was very bitter and slightly medicinal, and I'm not sure if that was due to the shallots (I'm always paranoid that they're going moldy, but then I have a violently irrational fear of mold) or galangal or lemongrass (I've been using frozen) having gone bad. Now that I think about it, the problem might be that I don't use enough oil (I cut the three tablespoons down to two) at high enough heat and the paste never properly cooks because it stays too wet. Hence, raw tasting shallots, galangal and lemongrass.

I ended up just picking the prawns out of the curry and eating them with my hands. I mean, you kind of have to to get the shells off anyway. There's no way I could let a meal go to waste. Well, unless it was moldy.

Prawn and Pineapple Curry

12 large prawns
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 stalks lemongrass, lightly crushed
½ small ripe pineapple, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup coconut cream (thick cream from top of an opened, unshaken can)
1 2/3 cup coconut milk (remaining left in can)
1 ½ teaspoons salt

8 red chiles
15 shallots, peeled
Galangal, 2" knob, peeled
Turmeric, 1" knob, peeled (I resorted to a teaspoon of ground spice)
Shrimp paste, 1" square piece
3 candlenuts

Wash prawns. Trim off feelers and legs. Leave unpeeled.

Heat oil in kuali or wok. Fry lemongrass and paste until fragrant and oil separates.

Add pineapple slices, then coconut milk. Bring to a slow boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

Put in prawns and simmer until almost cooked, then add coconut cream and salt. Simmer until thoroughly cooked.


Adapted from Rasa Malaysia by Betty Saw. Marshall Cavendish. 2005.

Pop Diner

Pop_inside I can't even recall what used to be in this spot, but when the new made to look old Googie-style diner showed up on that stretch of Queens Blvd. near Target, a few years back, it threw me off. So shiny, so colorful, and the Pop in the name made me think Pop on 4th Ave. and Pop Burger, but it couldn't possibly be affiliated. Elmhurst doesn't draw the same clientele as the East Village and Chelsea.

I finally decided to pay a visit and appease James who often expresses a desire to eat there when we drive by. I usually veto in favor of Sripraphai, but I'm learning to make concessions. I was under the impression that Pop might be tweaking diner classics with newfangled touches, but it's relatively traditional fare with a few Latin American and Asian leanings.

Reuben I didn’t go for the pernil or plantains, though. We shared an ok quesadilla. I love reubens and usually only have the opportunity to order them in diners. This was an unorthodox specimen, as it came open faced. That’s an important detail to omit from the menu description. It also was lacking Russian dressing. It tasted fine enough, but it wasn’t all that a reuben could be. Something about sandwiches splayed open across the plate just feels geriatric to me. I’m not ready for the old folks home yet.

Pop does excel with little touches. The coleslaw was actually good, I usually take a bite just to see and ended up eating most of my little paper cup full. And the fries were crisp rather than fat and soggy like diner fries can be. The desserts, a small selection including chocolate cake, cheesecake and lemon meringue pie, were very enticing in the rotating case near the door. Who knows if their flavor matched their looks, but I'd like to believe it did.

Pop Diner * 80-26 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, NY


How do you end up eating chain Cuban at the South Street Seaport when you intended on hole in the wall Cuban in Chelsea? Well, thanks to the MTA's inability to deal with rain water, I was only able to access the 6 train Friday after work. Anything diverging too far from that line was out of the question during the downpour (though the Seaport isn’t that close to the Fulton St. station).

Cabana_tostonesI’ve never been to the Seaport in my eight years of NYC life. It’s not like I’ve ever had any reason to. Strangely, it’s quite the tourist attraction. Strangely, because essentially it’s a mall with chain stores you could find anywhere in the U.S. that happens to be on the East River. Maybe because of the oddball location, Cabana wasn’t crazy busy, which is always my fear on Friday nights. The vibe was very much girls night out with a few couple scattered around too.

What I hate about “fancy” Latin American food is the preponderance of boneless chicken breasts and absence of pork dishes. I eat boneless, skinless chicken breasts at home all the time, but that's weeknight health-ish cooking, courtesy of a Costco bag of Tyson’s poultry. I don't actually want to pay good money for that dry nonsense on the weekend when a supposed professional is cooking.

Cabana_chuletas I settled on one of the few porky entrees, chuletas, which came with yellow rice and black beans by default. Two pork chops strikes me as little excessive, though eating half of my food allowed for two genuine meals to be made of it. A mid-week leftover pork chop isn’t the worst thing. We tried tostones stuffed with ropa vieja and shrimp (you can choose from four fillings) as a starter, and they were better than I'd expected. The orange, garlicky dipping oil a nice unhealthy touch. A pitcher of sangria rounded out the meal.

Honestly, I would’ve been happier with a cubano or cheap rice, beans and meat combo. I don’t need all the fanfare (or bathroom attendant) that comes with the more upscale versions of Cuban cuisine, though the food was a perfectly acceptable rendition.

Cabana * 89 South St.  Seaport Pier 17, New York, NY