Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Next Iron Chef is Latino

Chef Jose Garces rose to the top as he became the Next Iron Chef. In 2008 he defeated Bobby Flay as a competitor in Iron Chef. The secret recipe for the final competition was racks and ribs. Garces created buffalo rib steak au poivre; Mexican-style braised carnitas taco; Pork loin with herbs; Spanish pizza with beef short ribs; and Baby back ribs with spicy BBQ sauce.

With a menu like that, it's easy to understand why he won. He promises to include his Latin style of cooking and flavors to the Iron Chef competitions where he will be featured.

This is a big day in the world of Latin Cuisine. Chef Garces, we congratulate you.

Click here to read his interview with zap2it

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Latin Food wins the World Series

They say you are what you eat and the Yankees are eating delicious home style comfort Latin foods thanks to Chef Ricardo Cardona who has taken on the role of the Yankees' head chef. So if you truly are what you eat, The World Series trophy belongs to Ricardo Cardona. This is assuming the Yankees win.

Zagat Buzz interviews Chef Ricardo Cardona and reveals some interesting food habits of the Bronx Bombers. Learn how he became the chef of the Yankees and what they love to eat. Read the interview.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Little Bit of Havana in NYC

As we approached mid-October, the summer was long gone, and we were already getting glimpses of the long cold winter ahead of us. One Thursday, the setting of annoying drizzle in colder than average temperatures had us wishing we were far away in a tropical island among nothing more than palm trees and delicious food. And there you have it, one of the only palm trees in NYC. It stands tall and bright as it welcomes New Yorkers and tourists alike to a Caribbean paradise that is Havana Central (212-398-7440/ 151 West 46th Street).

I had met Cecilia Feret , Havana Central's social media wizard at a Latism event a few weeks prior. I must have made a good enough impression, as she was kind enough to treat Jaquie and I to dinner at this NYC staple of Latin food. Once we had arrived, we were also privileged with a visit from Jeremy Merrin, the owner and founder of Havana Central. We shared a few bottles of wine and discussed the Latin Food world and how Havana Central came to be. Jeremy, who had once been infatuated with a Cuban girl in high school, was invited back to her mother’s home, several years later, to eat a home-cooked Cuban meal and fell in love with the cuisine instantly. He seized the moment and embarked on a journey to create a festive Cuban restaurant chain in New York City. He also shared that there are plans for expansion, so keep a look out. This goes to show the growth in popularity of quality Latin food.

I must admit, before I ate at Havana Central I thought the food was going to be mass-produced and lacking in authenticity. I guess I’d failed to believe that a restaurant with such flash and fame could maintain its quality. However, after visiting several times, I understood Havana Central. The place has a soul that's difficult to describe. You feel like you belong from the moment you arrive. Initially, you get the immediate craving to sweeten your palate with one of their finely constructed sugar cane mojitos. I know I'm not the only one that likes to chew on the cane. And, as you wait for your food, you can't resist the desire to imitate playing the bongos on the dinner table to the beat of the live band. When the food arrives, the fun continues.

During this visit, we started with a few apps that definitely opened our appetites. Avocados stuffed with shrimp salad, which was creamy and delicate. Although it was the least appetizing visually, it’s a combination that was meant to be. Next was a trio of stuffed plantains with beef, chicken and shrimp. The meats were well seasoned and the plantains were of perfect quality, crisp on the outside with a moist and soft interior. This effect is difficult to achieve in plantains that are molded into cups which is why I've never tasted them quite as good as these. The empanadas were also executed well.

The shrimp ceviche was served exactly how I love it. It was acidic and fresh with just the right amount of onions and without the overwhelming citric soup.

Though it was difficult to make room for the entrees, we kept the journey alive. I ordered the plantain encrusted mahi mahi served on top of moros (rice and black beans cooked together). Fun fact, congri is the same as moros, except it is a mixture of rice and red beans. Anyway, while I may be mistaken, I think I detected a bit of sazon, a popular packaged seasoning in the moros, which would be slightly disappointing. Either way, they sat on a pool of a magnificent sauce, which was a great pairing with the shrimp and would have married the entire dish if it hadn’t been for the overly crisped plantain crust. The dark crust that no longer tasted much like plantain must have been an oversight, which I'm sure is not the norm given the excellence of all the other dishes.

Jaquie ordered the oxtail. This is a plate I really enjoy when I'm in the mood to savor a fatty piece of meat. Havana Central prepares the best oxtail I’ve tasted thus far. The fattiness is present, as expected, and drenched in a sweet sauce that tasted as if prepared with the finest Cuban spices. This was a true Caribbean treat. Jaquie had never tasted this meat and will now have very high expectations with Havana Centrals great take on the dish.

We were also thankfully introduced to what was to us a new Latin food delicacy. Fideuà (paella replacing rice with noodles) is originally from Spain and adopted into the Cuban world of cuisine. Cecilia explained to us that fideuà was originally prepared by the overworked wives of fishermen in the Iberian coasts due to its quick preparation when compared to rice. Simply said, this is a new obsession for me and I plan to recreate it again and again.

I'm ashamed to say that we were a bit gluttonous but I could not keep myself from trying to finish all the food in front of me. I thought I was getting better at controlling my portions, but Havana Central tipped me off the wagon.

The desserts arrived with cuban cafecito ( a little coffee). Not much needs to be said about the sweets. Jaquie, our residential flan expert gives it an 8 out of 10. The tres leches was traditional and incredible; additionally, the churros were exceptional. I've had bad experiences with churros as they tend to be overly chewy and unimpressive, but these were the right sweetness and texture inside and out.

With very full stomachs and smiles from ear to ear, we said our goodbyes and, before we ventured into the damp reality that was NYC at the moment, we enjoyed listening to a few Salsa songs from the live band as cigars were gracefully rolled behind us.

Prices across the board: Appetizers $3-$15, Entrees: $12-$30, Cuban sandwich: $9

To date, this is the first beyondburritos meal that was paid for by the owner, which marks a milestone for us. Nonetheless, I assure you that our thoughts remain true to our palates alone.

Follow Havana Central on Twitter.
Havana Central on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Plantain Industry Growth

How could it not Grow? Platanos (plantains) are so delicious and can be served for breakfast lunch and dinner. You can slice, dice, mash and even cook it whole. They can be cooked in many different ways. You can boil, fry, bake, grill or even just throw it in the microwave like my mom. Sorry for giving up your secret, Mom.

Here's a post i wrote on some tasty steak plantain sandwiches.

It looks as though the use of platanos in the non-ethnic household is becoming more popular. The amount of searches for plantain recipes are on the rise. See the graph below.

This is a sign of the melting pot actually melting symbolically and literally.

Here's a mangu recipe from a Dominican recipe site.

Here's an article from a food industry site that speaks about the growth of the plantain industry.

So if you haven't tried plantains or if you fear the weird overgrown green bananas you see in the supermarket, give it a chance and do a little research. I guarantee that you will be very satisfied.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gauchito: Great Steaks for Less!!

Growing up around passionate soccer loving Colombians, the only thing I knew about Argentina was that they were the rival, the arch-nemesis if you will. It's the same feeling Yankee fans have towards the city of Boston. A ridiculous resentment that happens when the fine line is crossed from passion to obsession.

As I matured and broadened my horizons, my feelings changed and the wonders of Argentina's culture were revealed. I visited Buenos Aires a few years ago and witnessed first hand the elegance of Tango and the stern yet hospitable nature of the Porteños (people from Buenos Aires).

But what really blew my mind was the food, especially the steak.

Upon my return to Queens, I set forth to find 'little Argentina'. This is the corner of Junction Blvd and Corona Ave which is walking distance from the Queens Center Mall. Here you will find a few Argentinian businesses including some restaurants. I have yet to venture elsewhere because El Gauchito (94-60 Corona Ave/(718) 271-8198) has always delivered delicious inexpensive steaks.

Jaquie and I recently skipped breakfast to go beyond burritos and try a typical Argenitinine lunch. I ordered the usual combo which includes entraña (skirt steak), tira de asado (short ribs) and chorizo (sausage). All three cuts were as succulent as i have always tasted them.

Jaquie had the tira de asado and veal. Both of which satisfied her Gauchito cravings. She enjoys her steaks with several pickled hot peppers and lots of chimichurri sauce. See this earlier post for a link to a good recipe.

Before the steaks we had a simple and delicious appetizer, provoleta (Grilled Provolone cheese sprinkled with parsley). Yes! it tastes as good as it looks. Here's one I cooked this past spring. This is something anyone can easily make at home in less than a minute.

As a side, we complemented the steaks with ensalada rusa (russian salad but really potato salad). This potato salad is exactly how my aunt makes it with carrots and peas. It's times like this that I wish my stomach was a bottomless pit. My mouth wants to keep munching but my stomach understands the heaviness.

Argentina's food history involves decades of perfecting the art of cattle ranching on the endless grass plains and preparing what many argue to be the best steaks in the world.

According to this article, the days of grass fed cattle are sadly coming to an end.

I encourage you to take a trip to Argentina and enjoy the beautiful culture, especially the steaks while the cattle is still grass fed.

Gauchito is priced inexpensive compared to other steakhouses. Appetizers are $4-$7, steaks are $12-22 and of equal or better quality.

El Gauchito on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Taco Kings of Sunnyside pt.1

If you are familiar with Sunnyside, Queens, you know about Dalia's Taqueria on 46th street on the Southern side of Queens Blvd. This taco truck has been satisfying late night taco craves for the past 15 years yet when searching for the truck online, I found very few comments.

It seems that the Vagabundos truck is overshadowing it's presence. I've yet to try Vagabundos but it's buzz has made me curious and we will post about them next week.

Could this be a classic case of everyone loving the underdog or are the Vagabundo tacos better than Dalia's. We'll shed some more light on our next post but here's our feedback on the ever-present 46th street tacos.

Of course I brought along my Mexican food meter (a.k.a. Jaquie) who rated the tacos 9 out of 10. Our hunger may have skewed the rating system but overall the quality of the meat was great and the double tortillas were warm and fresh. I've had all the meats here and prefer the tacos al pastor and chorizo.

The tortas (Mexican sandwich) were also very tasty. I'm not exactly sure where and when the word torta was transformed to signify sandwich but it's original Spanish meaning is 'pie' or 'cake'.
Either way, Dalia's tortas are served on toasted fresh bread with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado and mayo. It definitely hits the spot after a night of partying or to grab a quick snack on the way back from Manhattan.

Cheap Eats: Tacos are $2.50 and Tortas are $5.50

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sazon Lives Forever!

Jose Antonio Ortega Boneta, the creator of Sazon, the famous Latin American spice has passed away.

If you are a 1st, 2nd or 3rd generation latino it's highly likely that your homemade meals are spiced with Sazon. In this way Jose Antonio will live on. Sazon has also become a word that represents the sauciness in Latin culture. Adding a little Sazon to your life, is like adding passion to your soul.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My Neighborhood Colombian Bakery

Whether it's a huge Colombian breakfast with the works- I'm talking arepas with butter, cheese, eggs and steak-, picking up empanadas for a family visit, satisfying your sweet tooth or simply enjoying a bunuelo (cheesy bread balls) and some pure Colombian coffee, this little bakery is a home away from home.

Wherever you reside, I hope you have a Colombian bakery near you.

My Neighborhood bakery is located on 162nd street between 43rd ave and Northern Blvd.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ceviche: A Short History and how to Prepare it

Ceviche, the sweet acidic tiger's milk marinated fish that serves as a refreshing meal on a hot day, has a history that is undefined. While Latin American coastal countries debate about its origins, Spain also joins the argument claiming that the conquistadors brought this to the new world. Either way, this lean and delicious treat can be prepared with any type of fish and an extensive variety of ingredients.

The pic below is from our visit to Pomaire.

This post written by Kelly de Borda gives us a brief history of Ceviche and a delicious way to prepare it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Free Burritos Today at Baja Fresh

This blog is meant to take you on a journey beyond burritos but how could I deprive you of a free burrito.

Today Only September 1st, Baja Fresh is giving away free burritos (with the purchase of a large drink).

Become a facebook fan of Baja Fresh and get your free burrito.

Click here to find a location near you.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sunset Park $1.50 Tacos

Hidden jewels are hard to find and most people will never have the opportunity to taste some of the real latin flavors that are primarily visited by first generation latinos. Thankfully there are bloggers that dare to explore as did Sarah DiGregorio from the village voice.

The tacos above are tongue, suadero(beef) and chorizo.

Sarah, beyond burritos thanks you for discovering these savory looking and super affordable tacos.
Read the post on Village Voice's Blog, Fork in the Road.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

NYC's Upscale Latin Food Paradise- I <3 Restaurant Week

Several months ago we visited Macondo, a place that brings together all the best Latin street foods on a very unique menu. Since then, it has been our goal to take the journey a few blocks down to Rayuela (165 allen st. b/t rivington and stanton/ 212-253-8840).

Rayuela and Macondo have two things in common, the owners and the fact that they are both named after the novels of renowned South American writers. While a little pricier and more upscale, Rayuela introduces Estilo Libre Latino (Freestyle Latino), which respects yet redefines traditional Latin American and Spanish dishes. We were very excited to experience exactly what this meant, and thanks to the economy, we were able to take advantage of a super extended restaurant week (now extended through labor day).

To start off, we ordered a classic. Though the journey beyond burritos is meant to explore the less common Latin food elements, we could never avoid the guacamole; especially when the guacamole is mixed with fresh crab meat, a gratifying start!

Next, our heavenly appetizers arrived. The albondigas de cordero (lamb meatballs) were tender and juicy. With each bite, I scooped up some sprinkled bacon bits, asparagus and the delicious truffle-tetilla sauce. It's quite frustrating that licking your plate is not acceptable in this type of social setting.

As usual Jaquie and I split everything, starting with the carica tejada (chilean papaya stuffed with duck confit). I discovered chilean papaya at pomaire, NYC's only Chilean restaurant. As I mentioned in pomaire's post, chilean papaya tastes like what a super refined canned mango/peach would taste like if it existed. I say canned only because it has the same texture but less sweet and without the syrup. The combination of the shredded, moist duck meat and the papaya made for a memorable creation.

The Entrees arrived at the perfect time as our appetizers had settled in our bellies and our cocktails were nearing an end. My fork naturally dove towards the crispy skin of the Chilean sea bass. The fish was perfectly cooked with the skin crisped up separately and set on top. We both feel that crispy skin should be served like this everywhere. Jaquie's exact words were "This might be my favorite seafood dish ever!" Enough said.

The roast pork was similar to pork I have tasted at several Latin eateries and alone was tasty but somewhat average. Yet when the pork was combined with the mole, mashed potatoes and goat cheese, its richness was revealed.

We ended with a couple of desserts. I added the molten lava cake picture because it looks amazing. It probably would have been amazing if the inside had actually been molten. I'm assuming that it was not prepared correctly.

The crema de requeson (cheese custard with olive compote and basil mousse) was another story. We were only going to share one dessert but our waiter, who was from my hometown of Manizales, insisted that we try this courtesy of him. We thanked him like five times for introducing us to this wonderful treat. I had no words to describe it but Jaquie says it’s like cheesecake custard on crack with a little surprise at the bottom. And she was pretty excited that she got to try a dessert that encompassed basil as she had recently seen this on Bravo TV's Top Chef Masters (click here for the recipe).

All in all, a great restaurant with a truly unique vision on all Latin ingredients.
Rayuela on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sam's Club opens Latin Food Superstores

The growth of Latinos in the US has marketers scrambling to better serve this demographic. What this says for the Latin food world is.... more Latin food stores with a wider selection of products from all Latin American countries.

Now the king of retail, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has opened a Sam's club style superstore called Mas Club. The new subsidiary offers products that are more familiar to Houston's increasing population of Mexican immigrants (1/3 of Houston's population).

The new store is a test and if profitable could expand across the US to other densely populated Latin American neighborhoods.

The great thing is that this opens the doors to a larger amount of Latin American food suppliers creating a greater diversity of our Latin food options.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Taco Maker comes to NYC

Ask and you shall recieve. I secretly pray to the food gods, asking for diversity in New York City's street food in particular tacos. There are a few taco trucks in the five burroughs but the grand majority of the street food is still heavily dominated by halal meat. I personally enjoy some chicken and lamb over rice with extra white sauce and hot sauce but as a Latin Foodie, this city is lacking some quality tacos.

My wishes are not exactly answered yet but the expansion of a generic taco franchise is certainly a step in the right direction. In comes The Taco Maker (very straight forward). TTM is the largest quick service Mexican restaurant franchise in Puerto Rico and is quickly expanding across the US.

40 stores are set to open in Manhattan in the next 10 years. TTM, We welcome you with open appettites.

Post from chainleader.com

Starting today, I will no longer have 'today's latin food blurb' on the right side and will eliminate the 'random recipe of the day' until I can better organize the recipes. Instead I will be posting regular posts and tagging it 'Latin Food Blurbs'. This way you will see more posts and you can comment on the blurbs.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Rosa Mexicano Invades Jersey

Someone once said "All there is in New Jersey are chemical factories and malls." Well I add that there are some fantastic restaurants in these Malls. One of which is Rosa Mexicano (390 Hackensack Ave/ 201-489-9100), a chain of Mexican restaurants that started in New York and now exists in six states on the east coast. It's popularity is less due to the authenticity and more to the quality and consistently great tasting food.

Anyone that has been to Rosa Mexicano can attest that the food and drinks take you on a journey away from the hustle and bustle of the big city life and into a flavor paradise.

To start off, a heavenly guacamole was delivered which paired nicely with a salsa pasilla de Oaxaca (Oaxaca is a state in Mexico where they traditionally smoke the chile pasilla). There was also a green tomatillo sauce which I mostly ignored because I wanted to douse all my food in the smokeyness of the pasilla chile sauce.

The guacamole is made fresh in front of your eyes on a fancy cart. The cart's main feature was the basket of avocados that were shaped perfectly, as if picked for the Aztec kings.

As an appetizer, we shared the empanadas de jaiba (crabmeat turnovers) which were served with fresh fruit pico de gallo and an avocado tomatillo sauce. They were perfectly cooked and crispy on the outside. The sweetness of the fruity pico de gallo contrasted well with the crabmeat. Jaiba is the word for crab in certain Latin American countries including Mexico.

Time for the bigger plates. We had some enchiladas suizas(Swiss enchiladas with tomatillo sauce and chihuahua cheese) which tasted pretty standard for a Mexican restaurant of it's tier but still really good.

To seal the deal, we tried the grilled skirt steak marinated with chiles and grilled with chihuahua cheese. It was served on a hotplate to keep the cheese grilled and soft enough to enjoy decadently with each bite of the steak or by itself. Served with a side of rice corn and beans. The entire meal was fantastic.

Rosa Mexicano is priced fairly for its upscale feel and great quality. Appetizers are $8-$14, Tacos are $13-$15 and Entrees are $17-$22.

I recommend going for lunch since dinner is more expensive and definitely have some margaritas with the guac.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Comida de Mar.. far from Marvelous

An intense craving for seafood a few Saturdays ago led us to take the journey beyond burritos into the world of seafood. We really wanted to experience a true New York seafood experience while adding some Latin flavor. If you ask most New Yorkers where to go for a complete seafood experience, they’ll point you to the Bronx or a little island Southwest of the Bronx called City Island.

Without reading reviews we blindly decided to check out Tapas, a seafood restaurant in City Island that specializes in Latin cuisine. The day was sunny and the drive up there was a welcomed break from the city rush.

City Island was originally named New City Island to rival Manhattan as a seaport town. Throughout the years it has sustained itself primarily on maritime industries such as boat building and fishing. Now it struggles to maintain the small town feeling as it gets crowded with weekend restaurant goers.

We parked in a rocky parking lot in the back of the restaurant and realized there was no view of the water from any seat in the house. This was sort of a disappointment since other, more affordable restaurants in City Island offer outdoor seating next to the water.

We sat down and were greeted by a waiter who was probably no more than 14 years old. I didn’t know whether to ask for a suggestion on the menu or whether he could suggest some good Saturday morning cartoons.

Jaquie and I both agree that the best food item we tasted was the bread. It was freshly baked with no special frills; it was just a crispy outside and soft and warm inside.

We skipped the appetizers since we polished off two baskets of bread and were noticing from other customers that the entrees could easily feed two people.

Jaquie’s paella was orange; a sure sign that saffron was either not used or paired with a large amount of tomato sauce. Lesson learned, before you order paella make sure it’s authentic yellow paella made primarily with saffron. Saffron is a very expensive spice and some chefs might replace it with other ingredients to cut costs. As if the paella wasn’t defunct already, the plate also included quite a bit of chicken which is not traditionally a meat that is included in this dish and wasn’t called out on the menu when listing the proteins. Jaquie was not happy and neither were the paella gods.

I ordered the seafood platter in butter sauce. It included lightly breaded tilapia, shrimp and calamari. I am obsessed with butter so I didn’t mind that the entire plate was swimming in a buttery garlic sauce. The first few bites were delicious but then the sauce overwhelmed even a butter sauce fanatic such as myself.

Tapas does not deserve a return visit except for the bread, especially given the high prices for sub-quality eats (entrees are $20-$30). We figured if we ever do return, we would split one appetizer and overdose on the wonderfully baked goodness.

Jaquie indulging in some lime and tabasco. Now that's what I call "easy to please".

Tapas on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Spicy Brazilian Eats in Astoria

A Saturday of beach volleyball reminded me of my visit to Rio di Janeiro. Sunny beaches, caipirinhas, the most amazing tans in the world and feijoada (Brazilian national dish- Black bean stew with tender meats). so I asked my friend Carlos who has a weird obsession with Brazil, where we could find some delicious Brazilian food.
His suggestion was Malagueta (25-35 36th ave/(718) 937-4821), a small restaurant that breathes passion for its food. But before I write about the food, I want to simply state my admiration for the Brazilian culture. There is so much soul, energy and undying passion in every artistic element. If you have not witnessed this first hand, I suggest you search the web for videos of Brazilian samba, capoeira, soccer, and the famous carnaval.

But nothing will make you understand better than tasting this food.

We walked in and immediately conjured up our game plan. As always, we’d planned on sharing everything. We started with some empanadas that were actually cold in the center, but everything was so delicious that we felt guilty complaining. At the same time there was no way we could enjoy crispy ground beef goodness at the temperature of the refrigerator. So we told the waitress and she immediately gave us a new order that were literally taken out in just a few bites. They were delicious!

We also enjoyed the most brilliant crispy yuca fries we have ever tasted with an herby garlic mayo served with chorizo that was seasoned just right and cooked to perfection. It's tough to go wrong with chorizo but celebrating is a must every time it's prepared with such excellence.

Carlos, having been there previously, suggested the lentil salad with goat cheese. Before trying it, the combination did not sound appetizing, but once it all came together it seemed like magic. The goat cheese slightly overpowers the other flavors but the texture is enough to make this an outstanding salad.

If you are going for the feijoada, I suggest an early Saturday dinner. While we got the day right, since it’s only served on Saturdays, they had run out of the popular dish by the time we got there. It was a tease especially because the lady sitting next to us had gotten the last of it and was slurping up the last of her black bean stew.

With plans of returning, we ordered the steak, which was cooked medium and just right. This was Jaquie’s favorite. The texture of the dish was impeccable. And it came with my favorite Brazilian side, farofa (roasted cassava flour) mixed with black beans and rice. This combination completes the wonderful combination of rice and beans. Simple and delicious.

My favorite dish of the night, along with the yuca fries, was the coconut milk shrimp. The sauce had just enough of the coconut taste without being overpowering.

I definitely recommend this small corner restaurant, and, on a side note, we also suggest asking for their signature hot sauce, which the waitress was kind enough to tell us about. She enlightened us with the addition towards the middle of our meal and helped finish off all the last bites with explosive kicks. OH and it can’t go without saying, congratulations to the Brazil national soccer team for winning the confederations cup.

Check out Carlos’ new blog as he goes on 27 first dates to get back to the essence and help guys out with some low budget creative dates in NYC.
Malagueta on Urbanspoon