>> Eat the World New York City

17 October 2016



The talented and friendly woman that was tending the restaurant on the night we visited only alluded to the similarities with Ethiopia when I asked her about what might be specifically Eritrean about this place. This was not the answer I wanted of course, since the city has a decent amount of Ethiopian restaurants, but the two countries were the same up until 1991.

The name is thoroughly Eritrean though of course, its namesake being the large port city on the Red Sea. "What we have is some seafood dishes that other restaurants do not" she said, turning the menu over and pointing out the seafood section. This should not come as a surprise, as the Red Sea is full of fish and Eritreans anywhere close probably choose to eat them. We took notes.

In fact there are many differences, and feel free to read all about the civil war fought between the two now very separate countries. One similarity though is beer, and thankfully Massawa has one from each country. New to me was Asmara (below), named for the capital of Eritrea, a lager less malty and sweet than more familiar St. George from Ethiopia. The place also has an extensive wine list, including a nice "Ethiopian" honey wine that says it is bottled upstate.

We combined an order of beef sambusas ($9, below) with vegetable sambusas ($8, below), giving us a total of four triangles to spread to the group. The crispy thin shell has four layers and is much like Middle-Eastern phyllo dough, and while both versions are quite tasty, I think the price point is too high for what you get.

Equally or possibly even more delicious, and much better value, is the ful ($10, below), a fava bean dip that includes various vegetables, yogurt, and plenty of berbere spice so you can make the tastes you prefer. Ful is a dish of Egyptian origin, but has made the trip to other Middle Eastern and African countries where it is slightly adapted to local tastes. The Ethiopian/Eritrean version of course must include berbere, the famous spice mixture of the countries.

This "dip" is served with toasted pita bread. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, ful (or shahan ful) is a dish commonly eaten for breakfast. You may find it with a roll of Italian style bread or with injera. Either way, the vehicle is just the background. The dish is recommended.

The rest of our meal, as is customary, arrived on one large plate for our table to share. Since it is hard to pinpoint everything from the photo, the list of what we had was as follows: Massawa combo ($22.50, mild lamb, spicy beef, and chicken tebsi), veggie combo ($19.50, shiro, alitcha, and tsebhi hamli), duba b'siga ($18.50, pumpkin with beef), tsebhi derho ($18.50, dark chicken and egg with berbere), and shrimp tebsi ($22.50, shrimp with tomatoes, onions, peppers).

That's right! One hundred dollars worth of delicious, berbere-laced foods came out on one plate. Underneath everything is a couple layers of injera, which is also served separately (below), and is used as the utensil. The trick is to not eat too much and fill up too quickly, saving space for all the variety on the plate.

It was very dark in the restaurant by the time this photo was taken, so I asked for added light from a friend so that all the color would show up. I am not well-versed enough in the cuisines of East Africa to pick out every taste and ingredient, but it was noted by everyone that the tsebhi derho was the favorite. This dish was recommended to us, and is the dark mound right in the center.

Before the meal, I jotted down the colors and tones I saw in the restaurant. When the big communal plate came out, it was striking how similar the colors were to the place, earth shades mostly orange and brown with some green mixed in.

There is something to be said about this way of eating, these colors, these textures, and the communal plate. There is a connection to the food, and to the friends or family around you. I could not quite pin down this feeling while we were eating, but an appreciation overwhelmed me.

I came to Massawa not expecting much. Some good friends whose opinions I value highly were just humdrum about the restaurant. Open since 1988, maybe they went through a lull, because in 2016 the place has sorted itself out and was packed full of patrons from East Africa and beyond.

Massawa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

14 October 2016

Dana Caribbean Cuisine


The last few times I have walked down Nostrand Avenue south of Empire in East Flatbush, there seems to be many more Haitian restaurants and bakeries than in years past. The neighborhood has been home to the Haitian community in Brooklyn for some time, but their exposure only seems to be growing. I came to the neighborhood a couple times earlier this year to do research for the Copa America interest in the community, and left with a long list of places to try. With the recent devastation of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, this list needed a few boxes checked to start a small flow of cash in the right direction.

Dana Caribbean Cuisine is like a lot of others in the area, a no frills establishment with a steam table of dishes rotating daily. There are three tables for customers to eat at, one of which was occupied by a friendly man gazing out toward the street when we came. As no one was visible behind the counter, he gave a yell towards the kitchen and a smiling chef came out to greet us. She gave us the list of foods that had been prepared and we made our order.

Stepping outside to take a street photo, the man revealed himself as the proprietor, opening the gates which initially had covered the windows and made us wonder if they were open when we walked over from the train. Some other patrons stop in to pick up a large catering order that had already been prepared. Another orders takeout. The rhythm is slow but steady, thoroughly enjoyable.

Meal portions come in small, medium, and large sizes which cost $7, $9, and $12 respectively. From past experiences, the small portion is always everything but small. It is usually difficult to resist the griot (below), fried pork chunks served with pikliz. This of course is creole for pickles and is a combination of cabbage, carrots, and peppers that has been pickled. Garlic also makes the marinade and the vinegar is laced with spicy pepper.

The griot, like the chicken below, was fried and completely dry on the outside. The skill of the chef is revealed when you bite into a piece of either meat though, revealing juicy tender flesh just waiting to fall off its bones. In addition, the rice and beans (diri kole ak pwa) here is divine, especially when the small cup of salty, oily gravy is combined with it. On our next visit, we will try blé, which is a Haitian bulgar wheat available as the starch if rice is not desired.

While it does have similarities with other Caribbean cuisines, Haitian food is usually more fragrant with herbs and can definitely pull more punches when it comes to spice levels. It is starting to make the jump to more upscale restaurants in other parts of Brooklyn as well, although we always love coming to these mom and pop shops.

Dana Caribbean Avenue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13 October 2016

The Lomo Truck


Lima, Perú is now home to some world class restaurants and is know as the dining destination in South America. My visit to the country was a little less posh though, and most of the deliciousness remembered came from the street. Anticuchos and picarones filled my evenings with magic, as I made good friends and was taken to the best spots.

These memories made hearing about the Lomo Truck so exciting, hearty Peruvian cooking straight into the styrofoam container on the streets of Paterson, NJ. Finding the location is quite easy, despite the residential address given. Their truck is painted completely with a Peruvian flag on the side that faces the street, with imagery from the famous Nazca lines as well. From the sidewalk where you order, there is a table and some chairs. Most people come and grab take away, workers from Main Street in Paterson and beyond.

On the first visit, an order of lomo saltado ($10, below) is inevitable. One of Peru's most popular dishes, lomo actually derived from Peruvian Chinese food, known as chifa. Today it is cooked in almost every household, with each chef having their own secret recipe.

In any recipe, the beef must be good, but the real secret ingredient? Fries, mixed right in. This order comes with a healthy portion of white rice and not much juice. We devoured it with pleasure. Served on the side, and barely visible at the bottom of the above photo is the green aji salsa which allows for some serious heat to be trotted out. Proceed with caution.

Possibly the only disappointment of the meal was the huancaina sauce, usually a favorite. The papa a la huancaina ($4, below) was just a bit unmemorable, so we spiced it up with the aji.

The empanadas are both worth ordering, $1.50 for beef (above, left), and $2 for aji de gallina (above, right). The beef is the most typical type you might find in Perú, shown below with a bite taken. The spicing is nice, and the dough well-fried.

More peculiar, at least to me, was the splendid aji de gallina version, shown below. Usually this mildly spicy chicken stew dish is found served next to rice, this is the first time I have seen it inside of an empanada. Searching online shows that this is more common than I knew though, and kind of fantastic.

Both empanadas take the aji salsa perfectly as well if that is your thing. Further down the handwritten menu if you have extra stomachs with you is a variety of dishes, including more Chinese-influenced dishes like chaufa, a Peruvian fried rice. To make lunch easier for patrons eating on the go, they put ingredients into sandwiches and wraps that you normally would not see but make perfect sense.

With friendly service and obvious regulars, the truck is already a fixture on the street and in the neighborhood. Paterson is known for great Peruvian food north of Interstate 80 and downtown, but this truck expands the range south. It is hard not to pick one of Paterson's excellent Middle Eastern restaurants when in this area, but this truck is definitely making decisions harder.

The Lomo Truck Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

07 October 2016

Hurricane Matthew, Haiti, and New York City

Photo credit: Reuters

I will not even bother writing a number of the people reported dead because by the time you read this it will climb. Haiti is also a tricky country when it comes to relief efforts, for many well-documented reasons. I leave it up to you to read about them if you want and decide for yourself.

One option we have though, and always have in times like this, is to funnel our money to the people who know best how to use it. In this case, Haitians. Taking your business to a Haitian restaurant tonight, or tomorrow night, or for every night next week will put money into the hands of family members that can find ways to help through the most efficient means.

Here is a list of Haitians restaurants in Brooklyn I know about:

BG Cafe Creole 1366 Flatbush Avenue
Chez Macoule 1115 Rogers Avenue
Combite Creole 1728 Flatbush Avenue
Dana Caribbean Cuisine 2026 Nostrand Avenue
Football Restaurant 1727 Nostrand Avenue
Grace Divine 1368 Flatbush Avenue
Grandchamps 197 Patchen Avenue
Immaculee II Haitian 1227 Nostrand Avenue
La Caye 35 Lafayette Avenue
Le Banquet Restaurant 2281 Nostrand Avenue
Solide Rocher 3011 Beverly Road
Tonel 1236 Rogers Avenue

If you prefer New Jersey, try EthnicNJ.com, which has five more options for you.

In addition, do a Google search plus the location you want to eat. There are many Haitians in and around NYC. You will find them. Enjoy your dinner!

29 September 2016

Taquería La Michoacana


As with most states of Mexico, travel in Michoacán is full of subtle and unsubtle differences between the cuisine and what we often think of as "Mexican" cuisine. You can drink atole with blackberry or cascabel chilis, or eat tamales that are served with beef stew flavored with cactus. The state is also full of rivers and lakes and has a coastline on the Pacific Ocean, which provides plenty of fish.

About a month ago, a bright new awning went up on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights advertising the cuisine of Michoacán. One of many things missing from a city full of vibrant Mexican street food and antojitos is the regional varieties from all Mexican states that make the cuisine so diverse and so sophisticated. For this reason, I was immediately excited and ran inside to ask about the options they would be bringing to town. The immediate answers were not completely encouraging, but time may bring more to their menu, especially if we all go and ask for morisqueta, a very typically Michoacán dish consisting of combined rice and beans with sausage or meat and tomato sauce.

A month later, we had the chance to sit down and enjoy their food, finding it well above average for a sit down restaurant in the city. Start with one of their aguas frescas ($2.50, above), which are divine. The jamaica is my usual order and this may be the best I have had in New York City, much less sweet and left to focus on the hibiscus. The sandia (watermelon) is just like putting a straw into fruit.

On their sandwich board specials outside, but also available daily, is the birria de borrego ($15, below), an order that comes with a plate including the mutton meat, rice, and cactus salad, as well as a consome de borrego (soup, right), and a basket of tortillas that are made in house. Along with a bowl of onions, cilantro, limes, and the two house salsas, there are quite a wide variety of flavors possible from just one order.

Birria is known as a dish from Jalisco, the state just to the west of Michoacán, and is widely eaten in both. I have noted a few times in the past that it is a dish that New York City sorely lacks. Seeing it on a sandwich board is exciting, and while it is not yet to the level of the birrias in Los Angeles, hopefully it inspires the beginning of a good trend.

The consome served here is rich and complex, full of chickpeas. The meat itself is tender and served with all the fatty bits. Their homemade tortillas are delicious, and perfect for wrapping up bites of different flavors. We had to ask if they would be selling them retail, but this does not seem to be part of the plans.

Pozole rojo ($10, not pictured), another dish that has immigrated to the state rather than being born there, is also featured on the menu and worth a try. My dining companion was in the mood for pozole blanco ($10, below), the pulled pork and hominy stew that cures all ailments. If you grew up in the USA and wanted Campbell's chicken soup when you were sick like me, your first bowl of pozole will make you wonder how dumb we all were.

Already well-seasoned with tomillo mexicano (Mexican thyme), the dish is not served with the celery salt that you usually find ready to pour in. The pork has been cooking for some time, and is excellent.

Since this is a taquería, I am looking forward to returning to try some of their oversized tacos, possibly with carnitas, the famous braised pork that did grow up in Michoacán. I peeked in the kitchen and did not see a pot simmering, so I do not think this meat is being prepared here, but I am sure they buy from a reputable vendor.

Taquería La Michoacana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

23 September 2016



If you have not been to Denmark and still heard the word Bornholm, it is probably in a negative light. The tiny island namesake of this restaurant is also the location of early cases of what is now known as Bornholm Disease. Nowadays, the disease is rarely fatal and because of this remains pretty unknown.

Further repairing the good name of the Danish island (which actually is around the tip of Sweden and disconnected from most other Danish islands), is a new place on Smith Street in Cobble Hill with owners from this island that have also operated a Danish cafe in Red Bank, NJ for some time. From photos, the island appears very green with rocky coastlines, much like we might think of Maine. Many residents are fishermen or dairy farmers.

Smith Street may not be quite as idyllic, but Bornholm (the restaurant) does have a lovely backyard good for groups or taking a coffee solo. We took an assortment of pastries to this backyard and enjoyed them with their good coffee. In Denmark, what we call a "danish" are known as Viennese pastries because of their Austrian origins.

Each morning will see quite a variety of treats, the three above all were charged at $3.50. Especially good is the custard-filled version below, creamy and topped with chopped almonds. The layered pastries are all well-crafted and fresh, no need to worry about getting yesterday's baking here.

Lowered into the space between Cobble Hill buildings is a wood-covered dining area tastefully decorated with potted plants. It was around noon when we ate, but an evening return for beers and their cocktail list might prove too tempting to avoid, especially on early autumn nights.

Enjoying ourselves, we transitioned to the weekday lunch menu, which of course includes a whole range of smørrebrød, the famous Danish open-faced sandwiches that are popping up in more and more places. We first tried them many years ago at the Danish Seaman's Church Christmas Fair, but now they are available commercially at quite a few locations in Manhattan.

The leverpostej ($7.75, below) is rye bread topped with a very coarse pig liver paté, bacon, mushrooms, and beets. The iron comes through stronger than French paté, while the whole bite is on the dry side. That being said, it is a positive taste on the whole.

Seven small plates available include the okse tatar ($9, below), beef tartar served with Bornholm sauce and topped with a couple green onions. This dish is quite tasty, although the beef was oddly chewy. If that does not bother you, it is recommended, the toasted bread making a very nice tartar vehicle.

Lastly we tried the stegt torsk ($9, below), which reads from the menu as you might expect a fish and chips to read, but comes out much different. This fried cod is cooked more delicately and topped with shrimp. The remoulade they use is also quite good, and I noticed that second bites were going towards this plate first before the others.

Remoulade is popular in Denmark, replacing mayonnaise when Danes order fries and ketchup. It is also used on fried dishes like this, and some of the smørrebrod options.

Besides being a comfortable spot for Nordic food, the place has been designed to promote drinking at the long bar as well, and will hopefully be a nice option for a peaceful drink on Smith Street. They have eight or so taps (Carlsberg the only Danish option), wine and cocktail lists. A separate bar snacks menu provides a few options better for those alcohol pairings then smørrebrød, which might be a bit dangerous after a few drinks.

Bornholm Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

21 September 2016

Brisas del Valle


On an earlier walk through Jersey City, I noticed the end of the awning over Brisas del Valle, which immediately gives up the identity of the cuisine inside with the stars and colors of the flag of Honduras. Inside the small storefront, which could be mistaken as closed if not for the front door being open, a small square room is painted orange and has one small window to the kitchen. There is no menu, but the friendly face inside the window will list all the dishes available on any given day.

After selecting a dish, pick one of four tables at the casual workaday lunch counter and enjoy the scenery. When I sat down on a Friday just after noon, I was the only customer, but a few came and went with takeout orders eventually.

The name of the restaurant alludes to the winds that run through one of Honduras' many beautiful valleys. When I went traveling through Central America I had the good fortune to visit the Valle de Angeles that runs near Tegucigalpa. For people that live in the city, the valleys have the same sort of escape as New Yorkers feel about upstate mountains or Long Island beaches, a place to go for fresh air and relaxation. [When writing this, I spoke to the friend who took me there and learned that it is now clogged with cars and people and has lost some of its allure. The world is the same everywhere.]

Back in the small dining room of a side street in Jersey City, I tried remembering this fresh air but was unsuccessful. It is definitely my type of place though, casual and welcoming.

The large plate of carne asada ($10, below) that arrived in front of me was beautiful, with no essential part of a typical Honduran meal left out. The meat is served with rice and beans, a wedge of avocado, a good-sized hunk of quesillo, and a plate of homemade corn tortillas.

When eating in Honduras, many plates I had at restaurants or homes looked similar to this. The avocado and cheese were never missing, which I definitely got used to. This is most certainly a plato tipico.

Here at Brisas del Valle, the cuts of meat are not all that great, but it is the sort of thing you can take a photo of and send to your friend in Tegucigalpa, making them immediately hungry even though they can get it everyday. Now the area just needs a Honduran restaurant that can set up an anafre, a dish named after the clay pot that melts cheese, beans, chorizo, and whatever else you load it with into a delicious dip for chips.

Restaurante Brisas del Valle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

18 September 2016

Tacos Los Poblanos


When you see a beautiful, fat dripping trompo illuminated by fluorescent light inside of a truck doing brisk sidewalk business, it is almost impossible not to stop and eat. Tacos Los Poblanos has one of these beauties, even with pictures of it adorning their truck as well, showing a newcomer just what should be ordered.

Our first order was a styrofoam container full of tacos al pastor ($2 each, below), the marinated pork that is cut down from that trompo, or spit like you find in Middle Eastern gyro shops. (For a brief explanation, see this post). The tacos were properly served dressed with pineapple, cilantro, and onion, and our box was full of cucumber, limes, radishes, and grilled onions.

With one of the best taco trucks in the city a few blocks north in the same neighborhood, this establishment had a lot to live up to, and unfortunately did not wow with the pastor tacos. To be sure they were tasty, but just not on the same level as the Bronco. Not seen on the tacos above are their sauces, of which the red really shines and pairs well with the marinade.

Not wanting to write such a nice trompo off after one visit, we did try again and had another above average meal, and on a third visit went for another route, trying cabeza and tripa tacos ($2 each, below). Once again the toppings and presentation are perfect, and red salsa delicious, while the meats were good but failed to make me want to write operas.

If you are spending just one night in Sunset Park and moving from place to place to try different things, skip the birria at the Tacos El Bronco truck and head down here for a cup. People from Jalisco may ask what people from Puebla are doing making birria, but with so little chance to enjoy it here in New York, it is worth the time.

A cup of caldo de birria de res ($6, above and below) is really good, rich and complex. The first time I asked for it, the pot was empty and by the way the guy told me this information, I guessed it had been empty for a long time. The next day I returned much earlier and procured a cup to bring home.

A generous portion of limes is given to make the soup sufficiently sour for each taste. As seems to be standard here in NY, beef is used rather than goat, but the cuts are good. Spices and many other flavors accompany each bite. A small stack of tortillas also comes along if you want to make some tacos of your own with the birria.

If you are at all interested by birria, don't bother trying to find more in New York. There are a few around, but the versions are not what the dish can be. There is no doubt that you will enjoy this cup of caldo de birria, but for the real experience go to Los Angeles where there is a culture of birrierias. I got to check out a couple of these last autumn, and only had my appetite grow. Or better yet head to Guadalajara. And send pictures.