Monday, January 26, 2015

A Spoonful of Sofrito: Yatenga French Bistro

A Spoonful of Sofrito:  A Pinch of advice that will add a lot of flavor to your life

Yatenga French Bistro

  French food in Harlem?  Yes and it's amazing!  Yatenga French Bistro is a cozy bistro in Central Harlem with a simple menu that focuses on quality over quantity.  With clientele from all over the City and a fun atmosphere, Yatenga is bursting with life, music, and delicious food.

The Macaroni and cheese with diced ham is creamy and rich, yet light and not too filling.  Considered an appetizer, it could easily be a satisfying and popular entree.



 The Braised Lamb Shank with Polenta mash was also delicious.  The lamb was well seasoned and the meat was falling off the bone.  The Polenta mash was delightful; it was creamy, moist, and flavorful.  I loved dipping the polenta into the lamb sauce.




Yatenga French Bistro
2269 Adam Clayton Powell Junior Boulevard
New York, NY 10030
(212) 690-0699

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Garden Café: A great place to eat, drink and decide my fate



 
By Benjamin Ramos Rosado, http://Sofritoinmysoul.blogspot.com 

Has the universe ever sent you a message in multiple forms throughout the same day?  A few weeks ago, the universe presented me with an idea so interesting and amazing, that I spent an entire evening mulling over the pros and cons of it at one of my favorite restaurants in Inwood: Garden Café. 

Garden Café is a cozy medium sized restaurant with wooden tables, dim lighting, and a gorgeous open garden in the back.  The space radiates warmth and comfort; I consider it one of the few places in the city where I can relax and enjoy a good meal.  The clientele are neighborhood locals and uptown foodies looking to have a good time.

After an arduous day at work, I decided to treat myself to dinner at Garden Café.  I knew the laid back atmosphere would allow me to think in peace.  You’re probably wondering what had me so preoccupied, right?  It all started that morning!

Before leaving for work, I had an enlightening conversation with a professional food critic, who complimented my work on this blog. He said I had the potential to be a great professional food critic and recommended that I attend culinary school.  He said the technical training and experience working with food would enhance my critique and perspective on food.  I had never considered training to be a chef or writing reviews professionally, yet the more we discussed it, the more intrigued I became. 

As my server handed me the menu, he asked if I needed a good strong glass of wine.  I declined and laughed; I think he read my mood and thought a nice glass of wine would set a relaxing tone. I love it when servers have good instincts.  Garden Café’s wait staff is always friendly and accommodating.

After reviewing the appetizers, I ordered the homemade Beef and Barley soup, one of my favorite soups on the menu. Usually, I order the Sweet & Spicy Citrus Glazed Wings with Chive Cheese or the Chorizo Quesadilla with Spicy Sour Cream & Pico de Gallo, but that cold and bitter night I couldn’t resist a delicious homemade soup.

Remember, how I mentioned the universe sent me multiple messages?  That same day, during my lunch break, I came across an article about Gail Simmons-she’s a judge on Bravo’s Top Chef-and it mentioned how going to culinary school was the best decision she had ever made as a food critic.  I couldn’t believe it!  Wham!  Second message received universe!

After waiting a few minutes, my steaming bowl of soup arrived, it smelled and tasted wonderful! The celery and carrots were sweet and soft, but not overcooked.  The earthy and rich potatoes enhanced the flavor of the broth and the beef was tender, savory, and delicious.  The soup warmed my tummy, helped me relax, and set a delicious tone for the night.


The third “universal message” came to me in the form of an email from NYEater.com.  That afternoon, I opened the email on my phone and it read, “Join the CIA!  You too can make your culinary dreams come true!  You could be an Iron Chef, Chopped Champion, or the next Anthony Burdain!” 

For those who might be confused, the CIA is the Culinary Institute of America, one of the best cooking schools in the country.  And, Anthony Burdain is a world famous chef, restaurateur, and one of my favorite food critics. The coincidence was incredible!  The convergence of these three messages in one day was pretty amazing and hard to ignore.

For my entrée, I ordered the French Cut Pork Chop with Lime Butter Sauce, Sautéed Spinach, and Roasted Potatoes.  I think better with a belly full of pork, it’s brain food; I’m not sure that’s accurate, but I believe it nonetheless.  Besides the chops, I love their Grilled Skirt steak with chimichurri, the Pumpkin and Sage Ravioli, and the Grilled chicken with linguini.

The pork chop was soft and moist; the lime butter’s acidity added a wonderful kick of flavor to the dish.  The sautéed spinach was a bit soggy, but I still loved it.  The roasted potatoes, covered in dry herbs, were soft and full of flavor.  This dish’s flavor combinations blended well together and made for a hearty dinner.



Throughout the meal, I thought about what I wanted to do with my life.  After years of trying to get back into college, I was about to start CUNY in the spring. Should I defer again and research culinary schools?  Should I go to CUNY to improve my writing and then consider culinary school? Should I forget this impulsive whim?  I had many questions and no idea what to do.

I decided dessert would help clear some things up for me.  I ordered the Warm Pecan pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  The pecan pie was warm, gooey, and sweet, but not overpowering.  Some pecan pies can be nauseatingly sweet, but Garden Café’s pie has the right balance between sweet and nutty flavor.  The cold vanilla ice cream perfectly complimented the pie with its creamy texture and opposing temperature.  As always, pairing simple and delicious flavors together makes for a wonderful culinary experience.


Despite having thought about it nonstop, I was no closer to deciding what I wanted to do.  I didn’t understand why I felt a sense of urgency to make a decision.  Maybe, it was anxiety or fear.  Maybe, I felt if I didn’t decide immediately, I might convince myself not to do it.  Maybe, I was facing a dream I’ve never allowed myself to consider and wanted to pounce on it.  I was confused, but what I did know was that the universe telling me something and it was up to me to listen.

As I write this, I'm still weighing my options; I've got a few culinary school open houses to attend.  There’s much to consider and I want to make the right decision.  I think it’ll take a few more pensive dinners at Garden Café before I decide my fate.  I hope you’ll join me!  Come taste for yourself!  ¡Buen provecho! 

The Garden Café
4961 Broadway
New York, NY 10034
(212) 544-9480 
http://www.gardencafeny.com 

HOURS: Monday-Friday 11am-11pm and Saturday and Sunday 10am-11pm 
ATMOSPHERE:  Calm, peaceful, and friendly. 
SERVICE: Excellent. 
SOUND LEVEL: Conversational, a bit louder in the garden. 
KID FRIENDLY: The garden part, not the inside. 
RECOMMENDED DISHES: French Cut Pork chop, Grilled Skirt steak with chimichurri and Pumpkin and Sage Ravioli, and Grilled Chicken with linguini. 
BEVERAGES: Alcohol, soda, water, teas, coffee and sparkling beverages
PRICE RANGE:  Check the dinner menu: http://www.gardencafeny.com/menu9.html

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Spoonful of Sofrito: The Cecil

A Spoonful of Sofrito: A pinch of advice that will add a lot of flavor to your life.

The Cecil

Hidden away on St. Nicholas Avenue in Central Harlem, The Cecil is an incredible restaurant where the decor, ambiance, and menu combine to create an almost idealistic dining experience.  The space is large and can be quite crowded and loud, but if you're like me, you'll forgive the chatter after you've tasted the impeccable Okra fries!



The Country Breakfast (Chicken Sausage, coconut cornbread, scallion grits and herb and cheese scrambled eggs) is mouthwatering and has an incredible array of flavors.



The Cecil
210 West 118th Street
New York, NY 10026
212-866-1262
http://thececilharlem.com



Monday, December 8, 2014

A Spoonful of Sofrito: Miss Lily's

A Spoonful of Sofrito: A pinch of advice that will add a lot of flavor to your life.

Miss Lily's

Miss Lily's is a Caribbean restaurant in the West Village with amazing Caribbean fare and excellent service.  The restaurant is fun, energetic and the decor is amazing.


The Grilled Jerk corn was delicious!


The chicken sausage in jerk sauce was unique and tasty!


The roasted potatoes were soft, spicy and wonderful.




Thursday, October 30, 2014

Carnitas El Atoradero: Bolivia, Bolivarianism and Burritos!



By Benjamin Ramos Rosado, http://Sofritoinmysoul.blogspot.com


  You never know what is going to happen when you visit a restaurant.  Being an experienced foodie, I visit every restaurant expecting the unexpected, but little did I know that my innocent dinner at Carnitas El Atoradero would become a lesson in international politics and human rights.  Who knew I would learn so much about Bolivia over tacos and burritos?

Located in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, Carnitas El Atoradero is the restaurant half of two businesses; the other being a Mexican bodega (called El Atoradero) that sells imported products. The restaurant is a small mom-n-pop style eatery with wooden lacquered tables, a large take out counter, and a television mounted on the back wall.  The hideous neon green walls feature a few scattered pictures of Mexico and old newspaper reviews of the eatery.  The décor is nothing to write home about, but the menu more than makes up for the lack of atheistic appeal.

After a LONG and STRESSFUL work day, I hailed a cab and trekked down to the one place in the Bronx I knew I could satisfy that gnawing desire for tacos and relaxation.  Upon entering Carnitas El Atoradero, I noticed it was practically empty with the exception of someone buying take out and a middle-aged man eating alone watching the Telemundo news.  This was strange; Carnitas is usually a beehive of activity. I guess the Columbus Day rain kept some of the usual patrons at home.

Eager to eat my stress away, I sat down and impatiently waited for my server to bring me the menu.  I was going to order my favorite Taco de Carnitas (fried pork), but I wanted to see if anything else on the menu piqued my curiosity.  My server handed me the menu with a big smile and a welcoming, “Buenas” (good evening in Spanish).  The wait staff at Carnitas El Atoradero is always welcoming and sweet.  I’ve always appreciated their attention to detail and customer service.

The menu is divided into 13 sections: Tacos, Quesadillas, Tacos Placeros, Tortas, Cemitas, Burritos, Sopes, Huaraches, Tostadas, Flautas, Pupusas, and Especiales de la Casa.  Hungry and cold from the rain, I decided to order a taco de carnitas as my delicious appetizer; the Sopa de pollo (Chicken soup) to warm my bones; and a steak burrito to fill my tummy.

I noticed the middle-aged man watching the news clapped and whistled when they announced that Evo Morales had been re-elected President of Bolivia. After his sudden out burst, he turned in my direction and apologized for being loud.  We both laughed; I told him that I agreed it was excellent news. I asked him if he was Bolivian and he raised his Jarritos bottle, and proudly replied, “No, I’m a Bolivarian.”

I returned his toast with my Diet Coke and began to eat my taco.  The tortilla was warm, soft and had a wonderful taste of corn meal.  The carnitas was perfectly grilled, well seasoned, and moist.  The radishes and onions were crunchy and added a spicy and sharp flavor to the taco.  The cilantro-my favorite part of any taco-imparted that delicious freshness and herbal flavor that makes it an essential taco ingredient; any taco without is always lacking.


I asked him if he was Venezuelan, because many of them refer to themselves as “Bolivarians” because of their belief in Simon Bolivar’s dream of a united Latin America.  He replied he was Mexican, but considered himself a citizen of all of Latin America and a devotee of Simon Bolivar.  He added he was a political science professor at his university in Mexico; his main areas of study were Venezuela and Bolivia.  For the past 5 years, he traveled to both countries to study their political development and social justice movements. He enthusiastically began to tell me about his experiences in Bolivia.

As I listened, I enjoyed my steaming bowl of Sopa de pollo.  The simple and delicious piping hot broth warmed me through and through.  The chicken was soft and flavorful; the carrots and corn imparted a delightful sweetness that contrasted the onions’ sharpness.  The hearty chayote’s mild squash-like flavor gave the soup an intriguing earthy flavor.  Generously sprinkled with cilantro on top, the Sopa de Pollo reminded me of my mother’s homemade soups, which cured colds and made dreary rainy days tolerable.


I couldn’t believe my incredible luck!  I went to Carnitas El Atoradero for a good meal and ended up getting my own personal class on Bolivian history and politics.  We discussed how Evo’s agrarian reforms were empowering the indigenous population; how the government was working to eliminate illiteracy; and how medical care was becoming universal.  I was so intrigued by his stories that I almost ignored my recently arrived steak burrito. 

Impressed by my order, my new Poli-Sci professor paused mid-sentence to compliment my entrée choice.  He loved Carnitas El Atoradero because of its authentic food; he dined there whenever he visited New York City.  He continued his lecture, but I have to admit I barely paid any attention; I was captivated by my delicious meal.  The steak was soft, well seasoned, and plentiful; the rice and beans inside was savory and filling.  The tangy sour cream and salty white cheese topping gave the burrito a wonderful flavor complexity.  Just to add an acidic bite, I squeezed a lemon on to the burrito and it opened up the flavors even more.


Mid-lecture, the professor looked at his phone and realized he was late for another appointment.  Thinking he had monopolized my time, he apologized for talking so much; I reassured him that I loved our conversation.  I told him his stories had reinforced my desire to visit Bolivia to see its social transformation for myself…and to try the incredible food as well.  As he walked out, I realized how ironic the night had been: It was Columbus Day and I spent the night learning all about an anti-imperialist social movement led by a newly re-elected Indigenous president.

I can’t promise you’ll receive political education, when you visit Carnitas El Atoradero, but I can assure you that you’ll have a wonderful meal.  I hope your first visit turns out to be as amazing as my last.  Go taste for yourself!  Buen provecho! 

Carnitas El Atoradero
800 E 149th St
Bronx, NY 10455

HOURS: Monday-Friday 10am-10pm, Sat. and Sun. 10am-10:30pm
ATMOSPHERE:  Friendly and fun.
SERVICE: Very good.
SOUND LEVEL: Conversational.
KID FRIENDLY: Yes.
RECOMMENDED DISHES: Burritos, Tacos, Sopas, and Quesadillas.
BEVERAGES: Jarritos (Mexican sodas), Agua Frescas (natural juices), and Pepsi and Coke.
PRICE RANGE: $2.50-$15.00

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Grange: A delicious trip down memory lane!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado, http://Sofritoinmysoul.blogspot.com

  
As I entered the restaurant, I couldn’t help, but feel nostalgic.  As a child, I walked into this space more times than I could remember to buy sandwiches for my Catholic school field trips.  Back then, it wasn’t The Grange Bar and Eatery, it was a Blimpie’s.  Long gone are the heroes and potato chips! They’ve been replaced with organic meats, Multigrain breads and bean sprouts; as Bob Dylan once said, “The times they are a’changin’!”

In the 1980s, my section of Harlem (now more commonly referred to as Hamilton Heights) was full of "mom’n’pop" restaurants and small businesses.  These days, gentrification and urban renewal have taken away some of the local fare and substituted it with small cafes, gourmet delis and trendy restaurants.  The Grange Bar and Eatery is one of these new up-and-coming eateries. 

The Grange is a moderately sized restaurant with wooden tables, exposed brick walls, and a coffee bar.  The decor is modern, the ambiance is festive, and the clientele is a mixture of neighborhood locals and City College students and faculty.  I love The Grange’s huge windows, which face Amsterdam Avenue and allow you to people watch as you dine.

As my server handed me the menu, she noticed I was staring out the window and asked me if I was waiting for someone; I replied, “I’m just enjoying the view of my old neighborhood.” She said, “Well, welcome back home!  I hope you have a good visit back!”  The Grange’s servers are always friendly and courteous.  I’ve had several wonderful conversations with other servers on previous occasions; someone there knows how to hire excellent wait staff!

As I looked out the window, I saw an old neighbor of mine walking past the window with a coffee cup in his hand, it was from Café One on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and W140th. A few doors down from The Grange, Café One is a trendy spot for City College students to read, write papers, and congregate.  What they don’t know is that before these kids had their little cliché café, it was my neighborhood bicycle shop.

When I was ten years old, my father bought my first and only bicycle there.  I loved that bike; it let me explore my neighborhood and was the only exercise I enjoyed.  He was proud of me for learning to ride without training wheels. I racked my brains trying to remember what happened to it, but I couldn’t remember.

Hunger brought me out of my nostalgia, so I reviewed the dinner menu, which is divided into four sections: Fromiage and Charcuterie (Cheese and Sliced cured meats), Appetizers, Salads, and Entrees. Check out the Grange’s menu at: http://thegrangebarnyc.com/#!/menu/dinner/ 

Curious to sample the Fish Tacos, Lamb Sliders and the Grilled Cheese sandwich, I asked my server which of these appetizers was the most popular and she replied it was a tie between the Fish tacos and Grilled Cheese.  As much as I love grilled cheese, the description of the Fish tacos (Tempura battered cod, capered tartare sauce, cabbage, pickled radish and avocado) won me over.

Thinking about the grilled cheese sandwich reminded me of the diner next to my father’s old bodega.  It was owned by a friendly Greek family, which we affectionately referred to as “Los Griegos” (The Greeks in Spanish), who served typical diner fare with classic Greek dishes like Mousaka and Spanakopita.  Growing up, I ate their grilled cheese sandwiches with onions rings all the time.  Unfortunately, the diner closed 2 years ago and was replaced by an Italian restaurant called Coccola, which has become popular with the same crowd that frequents The Grange. 

The amazing smell of my fish tacos snapped me back to the present.  The tempura battered cod was soft, flaky and flavorful.  The cabbage was crunchy and fresh; the sweet avocado balanced the delightfully briny taste of the pickled radish.  The creamy and rich Capered Tartare sauce added a wonderful tangy flavor to the dish. The appetizer was superb and told my server that if they added one more taco to the plate and maybe some pico de gallo, they could serve it as an entree.


Curious to try a new entree, I ordered the Spinach Ravioli (Baby Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli in a Meyer Lemon Poppy-seed Buerre Fondue with shaved carrots and rainbow micro-greens) instead of my standard Roast Chicken or Black Bean Burger (both are also amazing).   

As I waited for my entree, I heard a few City College students talking about a new Indian restaurant opening up two blocks away.  Instantly, I remembered that the Auto-parts store under my mother’s apartment building had closed and that a banner hung on the awning advertising the opening of an Indian restaurant.  The Auto-parts store had been there for decades; the owner was one of my father’s friends.  I loved the dirty jokes and other inappropriate subject matter I learned from the mechanics that hung out in front of the shop.  I guess the spicy language will be replaced by spicy curry and tandoori. 

Before too long, my entree arrived; the moist ravioli had an amazing rich and creamy ricotta filling.  The Lemon poppy-seed fondue sauce gave the dish an enjoyable acidic and savory flavor.  The crunchy rainbow greens and shaved carrots imparted a refreshing sweetness and slight bitterness that perfectly complimented the meal.  The combination of flavors and textures was excellent and well balanced; the genius of this dish was its simplicity.



Businesses in Harlem will always come and go, but my memories of the old eateries and small businesses that gave it character will always be with me. Despite these changes, Harlem remains an incredible place to dine.  Go make some memories for yourself at The Grange.  Don’t take my word for it, go taste for yourself!  Buen provecho! 

The Grange Bar and Eatery 
1635 Amsterdam Ave.
(212) 491-1635 
Website: http://thegrangebarnyc.com/
 
HOURS: Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-4am and Sat.-Sun. 10:30am-4am

ATMOSPHERE: Causal and fun

SERVICE: Excellent

SOUND LEVEL: Conversational

KID FRIENDLY: Not really

RECOMMENDED DISHES:  Spinach Raviloi, Roasted Chicken, Fish tacos, and Black bean burger

BEVERAGES: Soda, wine, beer and other assorted beverages.

PRICE RANGE: Check the menu: http://thegrangebarnyc.com/

poon.com/r/3/1763486/restaurant/Harlem/The-Grange-Bar-and-Eatery-NYC">The Grange Bar and Eatery on Urbanspoon


Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Spoonful of Sofrito: Trattoria Inwood

A Spoonful of Sofrito: A pinch of advice that will add a lot of flavor to your life

Tratorria Inwood

Tratorria Inwood is and Italian restaurant located in Inwood with excellent pasta and good service.

I had their Calamari Fritti (Fried Calamari):


I loved their Pene Pasta with Chicken: