Tag Archives: Cuban

Every week, I document another dish that impressed and satiated me during my food adventures around New York City

While some people are ringing in the New Year’s at a house party or (God forbid) huddled with millions of people in the middle of Times Square, I like to go hopping around to some of the hottest cocktail bars in the city that I have yet to visit.

You might be surprised at how many bars offer their regular menu without an overpriced prix-fixe or cover charge, Those are the ones I like to visit – where it’s business as usual.

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Now that I’ve eaten my way through somebody else’s list (Time Out New York), I’m ready to compile my own 100 spectacular things I’ve tasted in 2012. Look for another five dishes every few days.

NUMBER 80: CUBANO SANDWICH at BONGO BROTHERS

On the food cart tours I run for Turnstile Tours, I constantly reiterate the surprising diversity of carts and trucks these days. You can get just about anything you could imagine (and some things you couldn’t imagine) from a mobile food vendor – everything from schnitzel to jerk chicken to Chinese-Indian fusion. And every year a plethora of new trucks bring the unexpected to the streets.

Bongo Brothers arrived last year with lots of style and authentic Cuban food. Their pressed Cubano was one of the better versions I’ve tasted with a nice balance between the two types of pork (ham and roasted), sharp melted swiss cheese, tangy pickles and mustard. The warm toasty bread offers a secure, but crusty way of enjoying this authentic sandwich. Cuban street food in New York? Check! Price: $9

BONGO BROTHERS
Various Locations
Check Twitter: @bongobros
bongobrosnyc.com

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For the third year in a row, I’m going to attempt to eat every single item on Time Out New York’s annual 100 Best Dishes list. In no particular order, here’s my take on their Top 100. Let the gluttony continue…

For the halfway mark on our list, we always try to do something special. Or, in this case, go to a restaurant or bar that has a real party vibe. And I have no doubt that Coppelia fits that bill, but we decided to go to dinner there at a very un-festive 6:00pm.

This upscale, hip Cuban diner is open 24/7 and appeals to a late night club crowd. In my much younger days, I used to go out to eat after a night of drinking (I was never a clubber) and I really didn’t care what I ate. I just wanted something filling and greasy. Now I’m a bit more critical about how things taste and what I put in my mouth.

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I’ve devoured Time Out’s 100 Best dishes and now, once again, I’ve been inspired to create my own list. These are the 100 dishes I have continued to think about since tasting them at some point in 2011. Look for another five dishes every few days. These are in no particular order. 

NUMBER 80: GRILLED CORN at CAFE HABANA

The Mexican-style grilled corn at eternally crowded hot spot Cafe Habana (yes, it’s a Cuabn restaurant serving Mexican-style corn) has been a favorite of mine for years. It used to be a mandatory pit stop whenever I was in Soho. And it truthfully could have made my list any year. So I was pleased when I returned this year for a quick snack from the take-out area and the corn was just as good as ever.

You’re served the entire grilled, charred cob, which is then flecked with classic Mexican seasonings: chili powder, salty cotija cheese, and some lime juice to hold it all together. It can get a bit messy, but with flavors this bright and corn this sweet, it just doesn’t matter. Price: $2

CAFE HABANA
17 Prince Street (between Elizabeth and Mott Street)
Nolita
(212) 625-2001
cafehabana.com

NUMBER 79: POULET Á L’ESTRAGON at KAZ AN NOU

I would probably still have never been to Kaz an Nou if it weren’t for Time Out and their 100 Best list. That’s how I discovered this neighborhood joint (which doesn’t get nearly enough press) in Prospect Heights. It’s co-owned by Chef Sébastien Aubert, who used to cook at my first favorite restaurant discovery in New York, Ivo & Lulu. This place has a similar feel as that place once did with just as affordable, solid French-Caribbean cuisine.

Time Out gave a nod to their divine escargots, which come immersed in a flavorful curry butter. But the dish I keep thinking about is their surprising and bright poulet á l’estragon (smoked jerk chicken). It’s a unique and delicious take on jerk chicken. The seasoning was pleasantly intense and cooled down by the addition of a honey tarragon sauce and goat cheese. The entire dish had a wonderful smoky, charred flavor that made me think this tender piece of meat was actually pork. Chicken never tastes this good. Well, rarely. Thank you, Time Out! Price: $15

KAZ AN NOU
53 6th Avenue (between Dean and Bergen Street)
Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
(718) 938-3235
kazannou.com

NUMBER 78: WEINER SCHNITZEL at CAFE KRISTALL

Believe it or not, I think weiner schnitzel is having a moment in New York. Or maybe I’m just finally discovering where to get it. I’m a big fan of Schnitzel & Things and I have yet to try the new Schnitz, but the best schnitzel I tasted all year was at the most surprising of places: a modern Austrian restaurant inside a crystal store.

Cafe Kristall is inside the fancy Swarovski store in the heart of glitzy Soho. And Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner is cooking up refined, grown-up Austrian fare, much like he does at some of his other critically acclaimed spots like Wallsé. The weiner schnitzel is absolute perfection. The greaseless fried veal cutlet melts in your mouth with just the right amount of breading. The tart and sweet lingonberries along with the fresh and cooling parsley potato salad make for tasty accompaniments. Let’s make schnitzel the new cupcakes! Anyone? Price: $21

CAFE KRISTALL
70 Mercer Street (between Spring and Broome Street)
Soho
(212) 274-1500
kg-ny.com

NUMBER 77: SQUID INK & HOT SESAME OIL SOUP at KIN SHOP

I’m a big fan of Squid Ink pasta, but nothing about Squid Ink Soup sounds appetizing to me. Yet since it was my second visit to Kin Shop, the new Thai restaurant from Harold Dieterle, the original Top Chef, I figured I’d take the plunge.

And I’m sure glad I did. This was so much more than just a dramatic puddle of black squid ink. The soup itself was indeed rich, but not cloyingly so. It had a delicate earthy flavor that was complemented by some spicy sesame oil. And as I dunked my spoon into the soup, I discovered both crunchy snake beans and tender squid pieces that had been stuffed with moist chunks of brisket. I’m officially a squid ink soup believer. But maybe only if Harold Dieterle is making it. Price: $10

KIN SHOP
469 Sixth Avenue (between West 11th and West 12th Street)
West Village
(212) 675-4295
kinshopnyc.com

NUMBER 76: TOFU WITH GINGER SCALLION DRESSING at DANJI

Danji was one of my most surprising discoveries in a long time. We were looking for a quick bite before a show and discovered this sleek, hip modern Korean restaurant near the Theater District. This is not the place I was expecting to find a restaurant like this.

We ordered a handful of small plates and all were tasty, but what surprised me even more was that my favorite was the fried tofu. The deep fried tofu squares were so chewy and tender that I had double check that this was indeed tofu. It reminded me of mochi, which is my favorite topping at those DIY yogurt spots. The crunchy tempura flakes added a wonderful texture while the light ginger scallion dressing and slices of hot red peppers livened this up. Something that doesn’t happen too often in this part of town. Price: $7

DANJI
346 West 52nd Street (between 8th and 9th Avenue)
Midtown West
(212 ) 586-2880
danjinyc.com

Once again Time Out New York released their Top 100 Dishes of the year and once again, I’m going to eat my way through every one. And no price point or subway delay will stop me. In no particular order, here’s my take on their Top 100.

The punches that are all the rage nowadays are very different from the bug juice we were served at sleepaway camp. They’re also a huge step up from the ones spiked at the high school prom. These are elaborate, complex concoctions that will cost you a pretty penny (between $30-$100, depending on the number in your party). So I recommend bringing your high school friends or having a summer camp reunion.

Cienfuegos, which is a colorful hidden Cuban rum bar in the East Village (it’s owned by the folks behind Death & Company), translated to “Ten Fires” and specializes in these punches. Fortunately, they also offer them as a single serving (still a steep $14) so you don’t have to have an entourage to get a taste. Which was good news for two of us, since we wanted to try the next Time Out list item and didn’t feel like stumbling home.

The cocktails are divided into a number of different categories, such as Fruit Forward and Light & Fizzy. I gravitated toward the section labeled Nicely Spiced because I know rum drinks have a danger of being overly sweet and I wanted some spice to balance it out. Turns out, the cocktails are solid enough here that I’m sure they would have all been well-balanced. Time Out’s pick was the Anchor Punch, a mix of Seven Tiki rum, apricot brandy, guava, lime, and ginger. The first pulpy sip delivered a bit of tropical sweetness from the guava, but that was quickly topped by some tart acidic bites from the lime and finally finished with a warming sensation of brown spices, which was created by the spiced rum itself. I can only imagine this drink would have worked just as well on a tropical island as it does in the bitter cold of New York’s winter. Too bad Manhattan isn’t tropical.

We also chose the Silver Sangaree, which was similarly listed under Nicely Spiced. It didn’t contain rum, but rather a combination of scotch, tawny port, cherry heering, lemon, allspice dram, nutmeg, and Malbec. Yes, red wine and scotch. Not two flavors I think of as working well together, but they got this one right. It opened with a buttery, peatiness from the scotch, finished with a tannic acidic bite from the Malbec and lemon and had just enough spice throughout. Egg whites were added for a pleasant frothy texture. It was an unexpected drink that was complex and unusual.

Like at all their other bars, Cienfuegos’ cocktails are roller coaster rides. These are strong, well-thought out concoctions that take you on a flavor adventure. I am grateful they offer them as a single portion because I’m not sure I have enough friends to experience the large punch bowl format. I guess for my next visit (there will be another), I’ll have to put out an evite on facebook.

Would Cienfuegos’ Anchor Punch make my Top 100 of the year? 8 out of 10 because besides making complex and flavorful cocktails, this places has a lively fun atmosphere that makes me want to spend more time and money here.

CIENFUEGOS
92 Avenue A (between East 7th and East 6th Street)
East Village
(212) 614-6818
cienfuegosny.com

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