New and Unusual: Warique Peruvian Restaurant

Tacu Tacu con Lomo Saltado

While for the past several weeks my friends and I have been traveling downtown to find restaurants with uncommon cuisines, this weekend we managed to stay in Columbia’s neighborhood. Warique Peruvian Restaurant is located on Amsterdam Avenue between 101st and 102nd street. The restaurant is not very large but offers a fairly large selection of Peruvian foods at a range of prices and in a pleasant atmosphere. There are, unsurprisingly, a huge number of Latin American cuisines with most countries and areas having distinct dishes and elements. This diversity is often not represented in the restaurant world in which Latin American food is dominated by Mexican, Cuban, and a handful of other national cuisines. I was therefore every excited to experience Peruvian food and soon came to find that there are many distinct elements.

Warique Interior

The restaurant has a wide variety of dishes including many chicken and seafood options and uses a variety of unique spices, flavors, and preparation techniques. Unfortunately there was too great a diversity of foods and too few people with me to get a real sample of what Warique has to offer. Nevertheless what we did have we very much enjoyed. As an appetizer we ordered Tamales con Pollo, a fairly simple dish with a corn-based dough exterior filled with chicken and served with some onions, a lime spice, and some other accompaniments.

Tamales

For entrees we ordered the Tacu Tacu con Lomo Saltado, which was a dish of beef sautéed with onions and tomatoes and served with served with potatoes, sweet plantains, and a rice and bean mix topped with fried egg. We also ordered the Arroz Chaufa which was essentially a Peruvian style fried rice dish. Interestingly there seemed to be a fairly large amount of Chinese influence in the food at Warique and perhaps this is due to the large Chinese community of Peru and their influence on the country’s cuisine.

Peruvian Fried Rice

In any case, I was very satisfied with the meal and also with the restaurant as a whole. The atmosphere was bright, open, had a fair amount of traditional decoration and the wait staff was quite attentive. The pricing was very diverse with some entrees reaching $30 but others less than half of that. The portions were extremely large, such that finishing my entrée was quite the accomplishment. In this sense the restaurant seems to me very well priced. Overall, I would recommend a visit to anyone interested or looking for a good meal and pleasant experience.

 

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Carnivorous Cravings: Porchetta

Porchetta. Need I say anymore? Head down to the village, and you will find the black and white tiled hole in the wall that is Porchetta.

What is Porchetta?  Porchetta is a delicious Italian speciality of roasted pig deboned and stuffed with herbs, entrails, and garlic. This may not immediately draw your attention, but it should. Porchetta should be fatty, juicy, and delicious, and Porchetta (the place) does it right. The owners of Porchetta were taught the ways of the pig by the famed Italian celebrity chef Dario Checchini. He may not be that famous in America, but in Italy he is known as the master of meat, so I trust Porchetta in providing the authentic Italian fare. As Porchetta puts in, they provide “pork three ways…fatty belly, crispy skin, lean loin and of course plenty of aromatics.” Now have I caught your attention?

Porchetta is a small place. It has one room with a large spit holding the pork loin and a counter for patrons to sit at. Other than that, there isn’t much. Nevertheless, this does not stop the patrons who keep coming back for the aromatic and delicious pork.

I have no shame in admitting that I have been to Porchetta on almost a weekly basis since school started. The first two visits, I ordered the sandwich. It is delicious, fatty pork packed into a delicious ciabbata roll. The juicy pork and the crunchy, fatty skin complement each other perfectly, and the sandwich needs no additions. It is simplicity at its finest. While the flavor is perfect, my only issue with the sandwich is that it left me wanting more porchetta and less bread.

So, on my third trip, I switched things up and went all out. I got the porchetta plate. This is even better than the sandwich. It is a heaping plate of porchetta accompanied by two sides. I stuck with the roasted potatoes with burnt ends and the sautéed cooking greens, which make everything seem a little bit healthier, even if they are drenched in olive oil. The greens are fine, but they aren’t essential to the experience. The potatoes are really the excellent supporting role. Roasted potatoes don’t sound very interesting, but it’s really all about the burnt ends of porchetta that the potatoes are cooked in. The burnt ends are basically just big chunks of bacon, and what goes better with pork fat than more pork fat?

I rest my case. Any carnivore, or actually, anyone at all who walks into Porchetta will not be able to resist the delicious simplicity that they provide.

 

So Cal Cooking: Mushroom Pancit

I’ve actually only eaten pancit in my friends’ homes, usually cooked by their mothers or fathers. The recipe itself is relatively easy, since the staple ingredients of thin rice noodles, soy sauce, and citrus are the only things one really needs. Everything else is subject up change: you can add shrimp, vegetables, or beef. It’s super easy, and a perfect dish to make a huge batch of and then reheat leftovers. It can be a main dish or a side dish, and you can jazz it up by serving it with lumpia!

 

Ingredients:

1 15oz pack of chinese noodles

1 head of green cabbage

1 onion, sliced

3 green onions

1 large carrot

3 tablespoons of soy sauce

2 tablespoons of oyster sauce

4 cups of sliced mushrooms

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

2 cans of vegetable broth

3 teaspoons cumin

A dash of curry

1 teaspoon of lemon juice

Mushroom Pancit

Directions:

1. Chop the garlic and the onions.

2. Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a medium sized skillet on medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, and mushrooms and cumin.

3. Cook the onions and garlic for 3-5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent

4. Add the chopped carrots and cabbage, and continue to cook on high heat. Reduce the heat once the cabbage and carrots have softened.

5. In a separate medium sized pot, add the vegetable broth, oyster sauce, and soy sauce. Heat on medium.

6. Once the sauce mixture is boiling, add the noodles. Cook the noodles for 5-8 minutes, or until they are soft.

7. Add the noodles to the vegetable mixture. Turn up the heat to high, and fry for about 8-10 minutes, frequently stirring the noodles.

8. Remove heat, and let the pancit sit for a few minutes. Serve when ready!

 

 

New and Unusual: Sticky Rice Thai Restaurant

Sticky Rice Interior

Manhattan’s Lower East side is a hub of all sorts of international cuisines; in fact, I’ve found inspiration for all my posts this semester from this neighborhood. This past week, before catching a movie at one of the neighborhood’s cinemas, some friends and I stopped to get dinner at a truly remarkable Thai restaurant. Thai food has made fairly major inroads into American culture and is far more widely found than some of the other sorts of cuisines I’ve discussed. Sticky Rice, located at 85 Orchard St, just off Delancy St, offers some fairly common Thai fare as well as several signature items in a very unique atmosphere and at a very reasonable price point.

The menu offers a fairly common selection of Thai dishes including several soups, stir-fry, Pad-Thai, and satay. Our party decided to try several appetizers including a signature dish they called Firecrackers, a sort of chicken stick with a coating of fried tofu somewhat spiced and with dipping sauce. Despite the name, this dish was not terribly spicy, which was no cause for dissatisfaction for me. Additionally we ordered Thai Dumplings, which were stuffed with a mixture of chicken and pork, came with a dipping sauce, and were extremely flavorful. My favorite appetizer, however, was the Pineapple Pork Satay, which is (unsurprisingly) a sort of grilled pork with some flavoring accompanied by pineapple slices and a sauce. The pork was well cooked and quite flavorful, and the combination of sweet and savory very pleasing. For entrees our group ordered only stir-fry dishes; I myself got the Stir-Fry Basil Chicken, which included a mixture of chicken and vegetables with basil as the primary flavoring, and multi-grain rice. I was quite satisfied with this dish as it was fairly light and the basil was far from overpowering.

Firecrackers, Thai Dumplings, and Pork Satay with Pineapple

In terms of food the restaurant was quite pleasing, particularly considering the price point–our entrees and appetizers came to a mere $20 a person, an impressive accomplishment for a sit down restaurant in Manhattan. The wait staff was very friendly and the atmosphere was really remarkable. The restaurant is aimed to be something along the lines of a Thai Wine Bar and so has a bar area and a very large drink menu. The entire restaurant has a sort of pseudo-club atmosphere: they play somewhat loud but not deafening electronic trance music and the extensive decoration is a mixture between traditional Thai items and modern ones. Personally, I loved this environment; it was festive, lively, and visually stimulating. I recommend paying the place a visit, even for just a drink, if one is in the area.

Voracious Vegan: Your Thanksgiving Dessert: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Skillet Cake

What can’t you do with a cast iron skillet? Instead of having to choose between cookies or cake, you can get the best of both worlds with this gooey dessert. With a sprinkling of salt and a hint of pumpkin, it’s sure to satisfy any of your fall flavor cravings.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups flour

3/4 cups oat flour (oats put in a food processor until fine)

1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 cup pumpkin puree

2 flax eggs (2 tbsp flaxseed whisked with 6 tbsp water and set to sit for 5 minutes)

2 tsp vanilla

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup dried cranberries

salt

nutmeg, for serving

Directions:

Make flax egg and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil a small amount of water and pour over cranberries. Allow to soak for approximately 5 minutes. Combine flour, oat flour, baking soda and pumpkin spice. Add a dash or two of salt, depending on your taste.

In a separate bowl, mix together coconut oil, brown sugar, apple sauce, maple syrup, vanilla and pumpkin puree. Add flax eggs. Mix well. Add to dry mixture. Mix well and add cranberries and chocolate chips. Stir together. Lightly grease a seasoned cast iron skillet and pour in batter. Spread it around as needed, making sure it is even. Add another sprinkle of salt to the top. Pop in the oven and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Serve with maple syrup and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Enjoy!

$13 of Happy: The Village, Vietnam and India

Last week we dealt with the infamous ramen noodle.  This time, my four buddies and I head into the world of Pho and vermicelli, the rice-based cousin of wheaty ramen.  We do so at Saigon Shack, a Vietnamese sandwich and noodle shop at 114 Macdougal Street, a few short blocks away from Washington Square Park.

From the outside, it’s somewhat difficult to see the restaurant itself, as there is always a crowd waiting for seats and blocking the glass storefront. If you decide to be brave and shove your way through this crowd, though, you’ll see an equally packed, unpretentious interior made of brick and wood.  The crowd was somewhat deceptive, though; we had to wait only 20 minutes for our 5 spots at a common table.  Still, though, the wait wasn’t fun, and it would have been much worse if it had not been for Thelewala, an Indian Street food restaurant that we found right next door.

This place gets top marks for saving us from our pre-meal starvation without forcing any of us over our $13 cap.  We got a Thelewala Chicken roll, (Chicken, fried eggs, red onions, house blend spices and lime wrapped up in a warm, soft roti) and a Chicken Malai roll (the same, with lime and house spices) for $5.50 each to split between the five of us. $2.10 per person, we thought, was well worth it.  Thelewala’s approach is similar to that of other Indian street food vendors; neither of these rolls were unprecedented creations, but their execution made them stand out against their peers.  They were packed with complex flavor, they were hot and substantial, and most importantly, because this is not the case with most other rolls, they were moist and tender.  The rolls were relatively small, making them not ideal for five-way sharing, but they were good enough to makes us all happy with what little we got.

My only regret is that we had to eat them so quickly… As we were eating these outside Saigon Shack, our table was called after a reasonable 20 minutes (only 5 minutes longer than we were told it would take.)  Bringing outside food into the restaurant is taboo, so we had to scarf our rolls down.  Somewhat of a waste.  Still worth it.

After being seated at the common table, we got settled in quickly with menus and water.  We were so happy with out first 5-way appetizer split that we decided to do it again in Saigon.  We got Grilled Pork Chop Summer rolls: $5 for 4 rolls of crisp greens wrapped up with noodles and a generous portion of meat by a wide, translucent rice noodle.  (My friend Jen took one for the team and selflessly went without a summer roll; I’d like to take this chance to memorialize her noble action.  Thank you Jen Chan.  You, of course, missed out tremendously.)    These, again, were delicious.  Crunchy and chewy, warm and cool, they were just what we needed to clean away the lingering spice leftover from the Thelewala rolls.

Alex and Sarah are excited by summer rolls

Finally, it was time for the main course.  All four of my friends got the $8 S.S. Spicy Special Noodle, a spicy compromise for the indecisive meat lover: rather than just one type of meat, it featured smaller portions of beef, roast pork, and vietnamese ham, all of which were very fatty and tender, stewed to perfection.  Spiced with what I’m guessing was Sriracha, it was a little too  much for my delicate palate; I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to spiciness.  For the masochists, though, Saigon Shack provided us with plenty of extra chili peppers and Sriracha for an optional heat boost. The noodles themselves I thought were a tad over cooked. This may have been because I was only allowed to eat the scraps in the bowl fifteen minutes after it was first served, though, so I won’t be too harsh on this point.  All four of my buddies, after all, gave an enthusiastic two thumbs up to their pho, the classic, thin Vietnamese rice noodle that they had all been homesick for. (There aren’t many Vietnamese restaurants around Morningside Heights)

I, for the sake of diversity, got Roast Pork over Vermicelli for $8, with an extra egg for another $1.50. The dish was simple, but high quality: roasted meat over dry rice noodles, covered with a layer of chopped lettuce, served with a pungent orange colored sauce on the side.   The food was very accessible.  Further, the portions, given the price, were fantastic.   I actually ran out of noodles before I ran out of meat, which I’m pretty sure has never happened to me ever.  10 points to Saigon Shack for generosity with their protein.

Roast Pork over Vermicelli! (The noodles are hidden by the lettuce)

I have only two regrets.  First, I’m not sure the egg was worth it.  It was a tasty egg, for sure, and it looked nice on the dish, but it was too small to really affect my experience of the dish as a whole.  Second, our pork summer rolls were essentially a more expensive version of my dinner wrapped up in rice noodle, making my order somewhat redundant.  Next time I’m back, which I’m sure will be fairly soon, I’m planning on either trying out another appetizer or ordering the roast pork vermicelli, sans egg, as an appetizer.

In spite of our imperfect ordering, we got out of a double-restaurant dinner at Saigon Shack and Thelewala for $10.35 each, (or in my case, $12.85, with the extra egg.) That’s a lot better than a meal swipe.

 

 

Vegging Out: (Vegan!) Spicy Coconut Curry

As you can see, this made quite a lot

The cold has come upon us. It is time for hot apple cider and tomato soup and curry. Hot, spicy, delicious curry that will warm parts of you that you didn’t even know could be warmed. As I’ve said before, I love Indian inspired food for vegetarians and vegans because there is so much variety and flavor that isn’t necessarily a part of other regional cuisines. It’s nice to be able to go to a restaurant and be able to choose something to eat instead of sticking to the plain salad.

Anyway, I came across this unopened bag of red lentils in my cabinet and was seized by the urge to cook them up as piping hot as possible. I also happen to be a huge coconut fan, and I feel like I don’t use it in a great enough proportion to the amount that I love it, so I threw some coconut milk in for a bit of extra richness and flavor. Also, I like my spicy food actually spicy, so I grabbed some serrano peppers and tossed them in as well (a word of advice: liberally rub olive or canola oil on your hands before chopping peppers, it will keep the capsaicin from absorbing into your skin and giving you the most miserable burning feeling). I’d also like to say that the smell of sautéed onion, garlic and peppers is the most heavenly and comforting scent that I know.

Recipe:

2 cups dry lentils

6 cups vegetable broth

1 medium onion, chopped

5 serrano peppers, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

2 tbsp curry powder

1 tbsp cumin

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets

1 container (9 oz) of frozen green beans

1 can (14 oz) coconut milk

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil

 

Directions:

1) In a large pot, sauté your onion over medium heat in about a tablespoon of oil until translucent. Add peppers and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

2) Add the curry powder and cumin and continue cooking for about 30 more seconds (we don’t want the spices to burn).

3) Add the vegetable broth. Continue to heat on medium.

4) In another pan, quickly toast the lentils over medium heat with a tablespoon of oil. Don’t leave it on heat for more than a minute or so.

5) Add the lentils to the broth mixture, and bring to a simmer.

6) After the lentils have been cooking for about 7 minutes, add the cauliflower. 7 minutes later, add the green beans. Add the coconut milk, salt and pepper, and allow to heat through for a few minutes.

7) Serve over rice (and with a glass of milk).

 

 

Last Bite: Bite Size

I’ve always loved when restaurants give you a little something sweet with the check. The fortune cookie method, if you will. It certainly helps with the dessert debate: I shouldn’t get anything. But I really want something. Should I get something? Well, now I don’t have to because I see some bite-sized cookies with a check at the table next to mine.

Unfortunately, it seems that this is not as common an occurrence as I would like it to be. In the past six months I have been to only two restaurants that provided such treats: Oceana and The Dutch. At Oceana they served little banana fudge lollipops that I had a great time eating, not least because they got stuck all over my brother’s teeth. At The Dutch it was little dark chocolate cookies with a gooey white chocolate center. Definition of melt in your mouth.

I’m of the opinion that every restaurant should adopt this policy. It’s a lovely little “thank you for coming,” and leaves you with a sweet taste in your mouth and even sweeter thoughts to boot.

Lost in Translation – Italy

Well, with my last post on bread, I pretty much exhausted my foreign language capacities.

But the way I see it, a romance language is a romance language, and it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out an Italian recipe, even if the only Italian I know is mamma mia. When I started looking up recipes though, I realized just how difficult it could be.  With the weather getting colder, I settled on a classic recipe for pasta e fagioli, reasoning that it would be hard to mess up too badly with a bean soup.

Ingredients for Pasta e Fagioli
All (or most) of the ingredients

Half of the ingredients seemed pretty simple.  Fagioli borlotti had to be borlotti beans, carota was an easy one, and brodo vegetale didn’t take too long to interpret.  I also figured out that sedano was celery because I had seen other recipes that called for a gambo of it, which I took to mean leg.

Other ingredients gave me pause.  Scalogno?  Salvia?  Prezzemolo?  I just hoped they weren’t too important and moved on.  My proudest moment was figuring out what a spicchi di aglio was; the website I was using was actually called Lo spicchio d’aglio, and after a few moments of puzzling, I realized that the icon was actually a stylized picture of a clove of garlic!  Of course!  How could I embark on an italian recipe without garlic?!

mid-soup
Am I doing this right?

What I hadn’t anticipated, in the glow of my triumphant interpretations of the ingredienti, was the difficulty in translating the actual instructions.  I was lost after step four, so while I managed to drain my beans, chop my vegetables, boil my broth, and brown my garlic, I was left to guess on what exactly “Aggiungere un mestolo di brodo” meant, and ended up adding ingredients incrementally, spooning broth back and fourth between two pans, and then cooking the pasta separately before tossing everything together at the last minute to boil.

In one particularly lost moment, I glanced over my recipe with chopped vegetables in hand, and realized there was not a single mention of carota or sedano after the second step.  I threw them in after the beans but before the pasta, hoping for the best and reasoning, for the hundredth time, that it’s pretty hard to mess up soup.

Less of a dish, more of a collection of ingredients

It turns out I was right.  The soup came out just fine.  It was just very, very bland, like drinking broth.  I couldn’t help feeling helpless the entire time, entirely lost and wondering if I was doing anything right.  It was not my finest hour.

INGREDIENTI

  • 250 g di fagioli borlotti già cotti (peso sgocciolato)
  • Mezzo costa di sedano
  • Mezzo carota
  • 1 scalogno
  • 1 l di Brodo vegetale
  • 2 cucchiai di olio extravergine di oliva
  • 2 spicchi di aglio
  • Timo
  • Origano
  • Maggiorana
  • 4 foglie di salvia
  • Sale
  • 120 g di pasta
  • 4 rametti di prezzemolo
  • Pepe nero macinato al momento

PREPARAZIONE

  • Sgocciolare i fagioli e passarne la metà al passaverdure.
  • Tritare molto finemente sedano, carota e scalogno.
  • Scaldare il brodo vegetale.
  • In una pentola da minestra far soffriggere il trito e l’aglio spellato nell’olio per qualche minuto, a fiamma media, fintanto che non assume un aspetto dorato. Unire un cucchiaio di brodo e proseguire la cottura per 4-5 minuti.
  • Aggiungere un mestolo di brodo, mescolare, unire i fagioli interi, un pizzico di timo, origano e maggiorana, la salvia e lasciare insaporire qualche minuto a fiamma vivace.
  • Stemperare i fagioli frullati con mezzo mestolo di brodo e versare il composto nella pentola. Girare e lasciare insaporire qualche minuto.
  • Versare quasi tutto il brodo e portare ad ebollizione. Regolare di sale.
  • Buttare la pasta e cuocere mescolando spesso con un cucchiaio di legno, secondo il tempo di cottura del formato scelto. Aggiungere qualche mestolo di brodo se la minestra tende ad asciugarsi troppo. Tenerla piuttosto liquida perchè a fine cottura tenderà ad addensarsi.
  • Nel frattempo lavare il prezzemolo, selezionarne le foglie e tritarle con la mezzaluna su un tagliere.
  • Spegnere il fuoco, regolare di sale, profumare con  una grattugiata di pepe ed il prezzemolo tritato.
  • Lasciare intiepidire 5 minuti con il coperchio e servire con un filo d’olio a crudo.