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Eaten, Barely Blogged: Chinchulines, Cue, Cavatelli

Boca juniors parrillada

Boca Juniors You'll hear about La Fusta or El Gauchito, if you hear about Queens Argentine restaurants at all. Boca Juniors, not so much, possibly because it's a theme restaurant. What kind of self-respecting food-loving Buenos Aires resident would eat at a Jets-themed steakhouse catering to American expats? No matter, it's fun, and the food is respectable enough. Have a few empanadas, order some grilled meat (if you look out of place–I did–you may get cautioned against the parrillada for two, pictured in its sweetbread, intestine and blood sausage-filled glory, but it takes little to convince that you know what you're getting into) or pasta. I have no idea staff still breaks into song and does a dance routine with blue and yellow umbrellas; on this early mid-week evening, the room was half full with most tables for two seated side-by-side at four-seaters, positioned to watch the live Boca Juniors game on the two wall-mounted flatscreens. The elderly couple in Boca jerseys splitting a bottle of wine were my heroes. Or maybe it's the Argentine house wine pours, always to the rim, that are my heroes. Inexpensive Malbec and a jumble of organ meat are made for each other.

Fatty cue green chili lamb bao

Fatty 'Cue I only went once in its former guise and
that was three years ago so I'm hazy, but Fatty 'Cue 2.0 doesn't seem radically
different to me. The layout's more or less the same. There are cocktails, smoked
meats, funky dips, pig's ears and heads. Maybe the baos are new? There could be
more vegetables than previously. The one notable difference is that the pork
ribs, still great and salty-sweet from fish sauce and sugar, were $14 for three
last time and $12 now (the online menu says $11, but I don't think that's
correct). So, maybe lower prices? The green chili lamb bao was done more Indian
than Southeast Asian, with a tamarind sauce, yogurt and cucumber. Winsome. The
whole steamed fish, the only non-meaty large plate, seems an odd choice in
retrospect. The components were straightforward, turmeric and lime rubbed onto
the fish itself, with chile sauce and ketchup manis for dipping. No complaints,
but I would stick with the meat.

Aita trio

Aita I think I said I would never go here, not out
of malice, but because I eat Italian food so rarely. After 10pm on a weeknight,
though, the dining choices in an immediate two-block radius after a few
Manhattans at Mayflower, are slim. The fried rabbit in the style of fried
chicken with a lot more sage, was fun, if not bony. Something possessed me to
order wheat pasta, cavatelli, with a lamb ragu and favas, not completely out of
whack with this still-cool-at-night spring (that's not a complaint, and no,
it's still not summer, Memorial Day over or not). If you want to continue with
the rye-drinking, the cocktail list isn't bad.

Where You Won’t Find Barrel-Aged Cocktails or Fernet Branca

Atrium bar

New smaller combo Red Lobster/Olive Gardens with
shared kitchens
make the mind reel–could one substitute endless Cheddar Bay
Biscuits for breadsticks? (Seriously, who wouldn't if they could?)

Yet the more fascinating aspect is that these prototypes–only
six currently exist–house a separate Darden brand, The Atrium Bar, with a menu
belonging to neither restaurant.

The only photographic evidence, above, isn't
exactly convincing, but as a Darden completist (I still need to get to West Nyack and
try Yard House, a newish acquisition) I would try a flatbread and glass of
Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling (I don't even need to see a menu to know that
would be poured).

Photo: Wilkes Journal Patriot



Sunday Night Special: Corn, Potatoes, Green Sauce

Peruvian dinner

Very occasionally I do this horrible thing where
someone speaks perfectly good English with a Spanish accent and I respond back
in crappy Spanish, like a reflex. There's no need for that.  I was just excited to get a cashier at Food
Bazaar who happened to be Peruvian (not what I'd expect in East Williamsburg)
and was into my ingredients. I blurted out "Mis amigas no comen carne"
when she suggested lomo saltado, I guess because coming up with a non-meaty
Peruvian menu sucked ass and the trauma was pent-up. I did make a chicken.

Peruvian ingredients

I was asked if could add a dish that didn't involve
onions, corn, peppers, potatoes or avocado, and add asparagus somewhere.
Um…no? At least I didn't suggest salchipapas or anticuchos. And clearly, I am
a control freak who can't just mellow out and have fun cooking with friends. The
dinner turned out pretty well, though. Wine smoothes things out.

Papas a la huancaina

Papas a la huancaina. Sometimes you've got to embrace the starch. Potatoes were how this whole idea started (Peruvian wasn't even my suggestion) and I can't think of a more classic dish than the simple sliced boiled potatoes with a cheesy aji amarillo sauce. I've had restaurant versions and always thought it was a little bland, but this version was spicy (just lightly–nothing Peruvian is incendiary). Recent James Beard award-winning Gran Cocina Latina had a higher-brow version, and it was tempting, but I just went home-style with evaporated milk and saltines.

Pollo a la brasa

Pollo a la brasa had to be oven-roasted, no brasa. There are a million variations on the marinade, and I'd say the most important ingredient is the soy sauce.

Green sauce

The green sauce, a non-traditional (I think) staple at Peruvian-run chains like Pio Pio and Sophie's, may have been the biggest hit. You could eat this on anything. I had habaneros on hand instead of jalapeños. Half a pepper added punch–and a little yellow-ness–but the sauce can handle it because it's mayonnaise-based.

Ceviche mixto

I did turn to Gran Cocina Latina for the ceviche,
Marisa Guiulfo's Lima Fish Cebiche (not online anywhere) since there is a whole
chapter devoted to variations. The base is simple: lime juice, garlic, red
honion aji amarillo and cilantro, and I included scallops and squid in addition
to cubes of flounder. It could've done without the squid, which was a little
bitter and chewy. And yes, corn in two forms–hominy and toasted kernels–and
sweet potatoes (some use white potatoes and yuca too) were present. There's no
harm in more starch with your nearly-raw seafood.

River Styx

Wednesday, day two for River Styx, the new
project from Roebling Tea House people,  it
was no problem getting seats for three on the early side of dinner time. Other
newcomers in the area were under siege (more later). We only tried small
plates on this first visit.

River styx buttered tortilla

River styx chicken liver

The buttered tortilla concept seemed sort of weird
in the abstract, but really it was not much different than a less flaky roti. Plus,
they were blue. Served as the starch with a balsamic and olive oil dressed
mound of chicken liver, it was a lot of richness, and reminded me of something
I would make if drunk and/or too lazy to go to the grocery store, which is

River styx squid suave

Squid suave is buffalo squid, super crispy with a
light batter. One is not enough. Any leftover tortilla is particularly good
dragged through the hot sauce.

River styx scallops, leeks, roe

Scallop "ceviche" was a more composed
plate  (not sure why ceviche gets
quotes–it seemed raw?) with frizzled leeks and caviar. Oddly, I'd eaten
homemade scallop ceviche, no quotes, for lunch. Something I'd make if sober and
had planned a supermarket visit.

River styx nachos

There were also nachos with "pump cheese,"
a.k.a. artisanal queso. These were minus the stewed chicken.

River styx cocktails

A sip of another’s tequila-based serrano cocktail, Discipline, was crazy hot. When I ordered my
own later, the heat had been toned down, what I swear was vanilla upped and an
attempt (forgotten and apologized for with the initial round) to light the
strip of hot pepper, apparently soaked in oil of some sort, failed to ignite.
A+ for effort, though. I also had a whiskey sour-ish drink made with Rye
and Applejack. Both were iced, warmer weather cocktails. I would not describe
them as tiki, however, despite reading that elsewhere.

This is not my neighborhood, but if it were I might
be excited for the sudden growth spurt along the western fringes. Or maybe annoyed if I just wanted
something to eat or drink on a week night. A Sunset Park friend who joined for
the second round, was thrown by the 45-minute wait at nearby Alameda
and the clumps of kids on the sidewalks spilling out of
Achilles Heel and taking up the sidewalk. For mellowness, $5 prosecco on
tap and sandwiches, the backyard at non-hotspot Troost (not to be confused with
Torst also in Greenpoint) was more than sufficient.

River Styx * 21 Greenpoint Ave., Brooklyn, NY


Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

I would be remiss in not taking part of all that
Times Square has to offer, now that my office in right in the thick of it. And
if there's one thing chains are adept at, it's responding fairly rapidly on social

I put out a plea. And Bubba Gump was there for me (29 minutes later). 

But really the deciding factor was that out of the many choices in a one-block radius, it was the only chain I'd never tried before. That shrimpy alien-eyed mascot in a top hat had beckoned many times in New Orleans, but I'm not a monster. Three visits in, there's no way that even I could justify allocating a dining occasion there in such a food-rich city. But I'm here all the time and have no problem sacrificing a meal in search of greater knowledge. Bubba Gump Times Square is a very YOLO experience.

I expected tourists. I did not expect foreign
tourists. There's a heck of a lot of Italian, Spanish and British-accented
English being spoken in line–and yes, there's a line, despite the multiple
wood-planked dining rooms that sprawl along the second floor overlooking the
northeast corner of 44th and Broadway. More American than New York, though, two
diners will still be given a raised booth that could easily seat six, almost
making it worth the wait. (For the record, Guy's American Kitchen, equally
large, on the same block, looked like you could walk in and snag a table
Bubba gump sign

Are the foreigners Forrest Gump fans? I ask, because
a friend who's worked in the Viacom building and wondered why anyone would line
up, didn't realize the restaurant was themed after the movie. Memorabilia is
everywhere and so are the cameras capturing it. My only interaction with the
film was once choosing it over True Lies on an unusually hot Portland night
because I was desperate for air conditioning, drunk, and I could get in free to
movies. I missed the first half, and barely remember the second half.

Bubba gump blue hawaii

They push the commemorative glasses with the
cocktails, but you can buy your Sierra Mist, blue curacao, rum, vodka, gin and
pineapple juice, a.k.a. the Blue Hawaiian, to consume in the normal manner,
just renting the glass. The drink are sweet and you won't get drunk, despite
the Long Island Iced Tea-esque list of ingredients. Even two stiff brown
spirited cocktails at Rum House afterwards won't mitigate the aqua-ness.

Bubba gump shrimper's net catch

Calories are listed on the menu, as is now the law, and
no surprise, quite a few dishes break the 1,000 limit. Peel and eat shrimp will
not (only 300, if you care). The most popular dish by far is the Shrimpers
Heaven, basically 1,420 calories worth of fried shrimp every which way. Vacationers
don't care.

Bubba gump bubba's far out dip

If you want a little more cheese and fat, with
spinach and artichokes thrown in, Bubba's Far Out Dip will suffice.

Bubba gump dumb luck coconut shrimp

And if it's requisite breading and frying you're
after, the coconut shrimp with a marmalade dip, supposedly Cajun, works and you
don't even have to like seafood because of all the orange and coconut sweetness.

There is a dish called Bubba's After the Storm
"Bucket of Boat Trash," which I hope makes more sense to those who
paid better attention to the movie.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. * 1501 Broadway, New York, NY

Sunday Night Special: Beets, Spinach, Dumplings

A million years ago, I used to post Sunday cooking
experiments. At some point I stopped because if there's anything less
interesting than hearing someone talk about where and what they ate out, it
might be what they made at home (yes, I know that cooking blogs are a huge
genre). Personally, I'm not into telling cute back stories or styling photos
with props. But I have felt the urge for a revival. Cooking is fun. I'll
probably just stick to the facts, and use the same serving dishes over and
over. So every other Sunday, I will be having a handful of friends (of varying
skill levels and dietary preferences) over for a informal cooking club that
will tackle a different cuisine each session. There's not likely to be any beef
or pork included (much to my sadness) but sticking to vegetables, a little
seafood and the occasional chicken, is a challenge I'm up for.

I'm a competent home cook, but not wildly creative
or intuitive. I pretty much follow recipes unless I know my way around a dish,
which is why I never understand people who say they can't cook. I've had
surprisingly few disasters as a result of simply following a set of rules (however,
I'm scared of empanadas and mayonnaise after a few miserable failures).

Georgian was a slightly odd first choice for
cuisine, considering no one had any first-person experience with any of the
dishes. On the other hand, that's freeing because who knows if you're doing it
wrong? Does the food taste like crap? No? Ok…success.

All recipes were single-sourced from the May Saveur.

Charkhlis chogi (beets in tart cherry sauce)

Charkhlis Chogi/Beets in Tart Cherry Sauce It's
possible that people who say they don't like beets would eat this without
trouble. The roasting and subsequent application of butter softens any
bitterness (I don't think beets are bitter, but it has been said) and the
cherries may be monochromatic, but add different dimension of sweetness.

Phkali (spinach and walnut salad)

Phkali/Spinach and Walnut Salad I think this emerald
green puree is meant to be more of an appetizer than side. That's ok, though.
There is a startling amount of spinach in this mound, enriched with an
impressive amount of toasted, ground walnuts, which is why I just went with bagged
C-Town greens. Sorry. I'm conventional–and frugal. All-baby, all-organic
spinach would've made this a $25 plate of food, I calculated. Pomegranate seeds
were impossible to come by, so this is garnish-free.

Khinkali qvelit (cheese and mint stuffed dumplings)

Khinkali Qvelit/Cheese and Mint Stuffed Dumplings
These were a little more intermediate. I wanted to make the eggplant dish, too,
but dough-making plus frying seemed a bit ambitious for a test run. Luckily,
one attendee was a confident baker (others got relegated to chopping, shredding
or Game of Thrones-watching). If you can't find farmer's cheese (I found
it–Friendship brand is common in NYC–but it was past the expiration date) and
live somewhere where queso fresco is common, that'll do. And if you eat the
leftovers the next day with untraditional Thai chile paste, that's ok, too.

What did you cook this week?


Thank God It’s Flat-Screened


No shock, TGI Friday's has a bit of an image
problem. Even in its natural suburban habitat, the slowly evolving fern bar
feels a little long in the tooth. The chain wants to lure back singles because
they drink more and spend more
(without alienating the families, of course).

The solution has been less flair and more flat
screens. Laminate tables have been replaced with wood, as young drinkers
require, and strawberry-basil margaritas and cucumber cocktails featuring Hendrick's
gin now compete with the signature Mudslide.

Except that every single customer in the foreground
of this photo meant to show off a remodeled version with "plush leather
seats, solid wood tables and the marble-topped bar" looks to be over 70.

I'm thinking TGI Friday's might be a perfect
candidate for The Middle Ages.

Photo: TGI Friday's/Star Tribune

Unseasonal Menus

Cravings MenuTaco Bell's announcement of a new "low-end" menu elicited
online snickers, but it just means that the company is introducing a $1 Cravings Menu to
counterbalance its, er, upscale, Cantina Bell offerings. Nearly twenty years ago (hell, the mid-'90s are that distant?) Taco Bell had a 59-cent, 79-cent, 99-cent menu, so $1 fast food in 2013 is rightfully low-end.

On the innovation side, Fast Company has the Dorritos
Locos Taco backstory.

But what I really care about is Bonefish Grill and
the "menu refresh" that came to light in Bloomin' Brands' earnings
this week. It'll be the first since 2008 and will begin testing in August.

I'll assume it doesn't involve doing away with bones.



Best Pizza

I shouldn't be too harsh on my friends' eating
quirks because it's not as if they have no good ideas. I would've walked by
Best Pizza, never giving it a second thought, if I hadn't been introduced to it
and the vegetable (god, never say veggie or veg) slice earlier this year. Not the
green pepper, olive, mushroom blech that passes for a non-meat slice, but kale,
beets, cauliflower and blobs of ricotta that are more of a treat.

Best pizza

The white slice, which only occurred to me yesterday
after being called out in the latest installment of Real Cheap Eats devoted to
food off the L line
, is the better meatless option, if you ask me, though. Less
crusty, so the toppings (not that there are a lot of them) have more presence.
Lemony ricotta, sweet caramelized onions and an unexpected sprinkling of sesame
seeds are all you need. Oh, and maybe a shake or two of chile flakes.

Best Pizza * 33 Havemeyer St., Brooklyn, NY