>> [CLOSED] Les Cayes Haitian American Restaurant | Eat the World NYC

21 December 2009

[CLOSED] Les Cayes Haitian American Restaurant



Neon in the window beckons neighborhood residents with the simple call of "Haitian food to take out," but that does not reveal all the secrets that await inside this nondescript Crown Heights grocery. The door opens to a normal deli, catering to Haitian and Caribbean tastes, but past the counter and saloon doors ( ! ) lies a restaurant from another world.

There are many such establishments and neighborhoods in New York City that can give you the sense of traveling and being outside of the country, but Les Cayes all added up to the strongest out-of-NYC experience I have had in my eight years of residence. "One Life to Live" blares in English from the back, even if no one understands. A French-Haitian news talk channel competes on a radio from the front, adding to the cacophony of sounds.

Walking past the four or five tables will win you the glance of any customers that happen to be eating. They might stop their meal for a few seconds to look up and smile, as if you were a foreigner in a strange land. The dishes prepared and kept on the steam table in the back are all covered, so it requires someone to come and show you what is in each compartment. When English is an obvious obstacle, we switch to French but this too does not yield any progress. Creole is not an option, so the language of the body, smiles, and pointing ensues.

What we did end up with is two plates of griot ($8 including side of legumes, below). The table is also served a plate of iceberg lettuce and tomatoes, which can roughly pass as a salad. Before it is brought over though, the woman meticulously prepares each dish, placing it on trays with detailed precision, only to carry it a few steps and drop it off in front of our hungry eyes.

The pork (not boar as you might find in Haiti) in the griot had such a unique texture that it could most closely be described as being dried outside before frying. There is of course no first step as I describe it, but the overnight marinade that this sits in must be very good juice. The fried plantains that are served with the griot in large pieces are probably the most perfect I have eaten. The legumes are terrifically greasy and taste mainly of the peppers inside. Each one of our servings comes with a hunk of beef, which causes quite a bit a laughter as the place is not very well suited to cater to vegetarians if their only "vegetable" dish comes with such a large meat component.

Our meal is by far too much to complete and we start moving around pieces of the fatty pork while trying to make room in our stomachs. We strike up conversation with one of the two owners, who are brothers. He says the place has been open for over twenty years, but I am surprised to find hardly any mention of it on the internet besides a couple Haitian papers in French. As far as Yelp or Urbanspoon are concerned, the place doesn't exist. Stumbling upon it by luck after the Jamaican jerk chicken I was searching for had closed down can be straight out of the definition for serendipity.

In the front refrigerators, it is worth pulling out one of the homemade drinks on offer. The vanilla lemonade and akloo both explode with nutty amaretto flavor, but the owner insists it is only vanilla. Either way, they are worth a try if only for their sickeningly sweet uniqueness.

Les Cayes Haitian American Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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