Monday, June 8, 2015

A Spoonful of Sofrito: Calientito

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


A few months ago, my friend Fernando recommended that I try this hidden piece of heaven called Calientito in the South Bronx; he had a feeling I would like it.  HE WAS RIGHT!

Fernando is your typical Renaissance genius.  He's a teacher, activist, artist, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Ninja (At least, that's what I call him), and a foodie with excellent taste.  So when he recommended Calientito, I placed it on my "Need to eat there" list.  I knew I could trust his traveled and well seasoned taste buds!  Please forgive that horrific pun!

On my first visit, I ordered my food to go and enjoyed the delicious fare at a training I had in the area.  My second and third visit, were just as hurried.  It wasn't until my fourth visit, when I dined there, that I truly fell in love with the food, ambiance, and service.

I love Calientito's rustic decor with beautiful Caribbean artwork on the walls. I enjoy the Latino Caribbean menu, full of Dominican, Puerto Rican and Mexican dishes.  I deeply appreciate the friendly and welcoming staff that work there.

The Sopa de pollo is rich, warm, and flavorful.

I love the crunchy yucca fries; they're crunchy, starchy, and delicious.

I'm a huge fan of their pernil and arroz con gandules.  The delicious rice paired with the moist and flavorful pernil is an amazing flavor combo that can't be beaten.

Calientito is definitely worth the trek up to the South Bronx.  With Puerto Rican restaurants slowly disappearing in New York City, it's wonderful to find this reminder of how amazing Boricua cuisine can truly be.  Now go taste for yourself.  ¡Buen provecho!

Calientito Deli, Restaurant, and Lounge 
141 Lincoln Ave
Bronx, NY 10454 
Phone: (347) 862-7227 
Business website:


Friday, June 5, 2015

Café Al Mercato: My Big Fat Italian Secret!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado,

There are no secrets that time does not reveal.”-Jean Recine, French Dramatist

I hate to admit it, but Recine was right!  Recently, revealed to the world one of my best-kept secrets:  That Café Al Mercato is amazing!  Now that the Cannellini has been spilled, I’m pretty sure their lines are going to be longer than usual!  Uncool,, very uncool!

Located in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, Café Al Mercato isn’t really a restaurant in the usual sense; it’s more of an open-air café… only indoors.  The décor is basically nonexistent! You have the counter where you order; the display of their amazing Italian delicacies; and 12 wooden tables where you can sit and enjoy your food.

I discovered the Café on my first visit to the market, which is famous for their fresh baked Italian bread; homemade pasta; artisan-made cured meats; fresh produce; and imported Italian products.  After a few hours of exploring, the café’s sign caught my eye and the smell of baking pizza caught my nose.  I rushed over and was greeted by the Café’s incredible bounty.  The rice balls, pizza slices, artichoke hearts, and pasta were all steaming hot and ready to be enjoyed. From the first taste, I knew the café would be a closely guarded selfish little secret of mine.

Why a secret?  It’s simple; these hidden gems provide respite from the daily stress of work, politics, and my personal life.  They allow me to disappear from the world and enjoy some, corny as it may sound, “me time.” If everyone knew about them, then I’d lose the privacy I enjoy there.  Also, the cafe is always packed and the less of you that know about it, the shorter the lines.  It’s both emotional and practical for me.

You might be asking yourself:  Why should I go all the way up to the Bronx when I can order food from Papa John’s or Domino’s?  What makes this pizza spot really that much different from the one in my neighborhood?  In order to address these questions, I’ll have to reveal a few secrets about my favorite Italian oasis in the Boogie down!

The first secret is a remarkable one: The café’s owners draw from the extraordinary pool of ingredients in the market to craft their menu!  So when you partake of a pasta dish at the café, you’re enjoying the homemade pasta from a vendor a few feet away. Those delicious salty meats in your hero came from the Italian artisan butcher across the Cafe.  The veggies in all your pasta dishes came from the market’s produce vendors. It’s this commitment to producing delicious food and overall authenticity that keep me coming back. 

The Café’s pasta menu features a unique variety of flavorful dishes.  I love the Penne Genovese (Penne with sun-dried tomatoes tossed in a homemade pesto sauce with grilled chicken) and Raviloi alla Angelina (cheese ravioli in a light cream tomato sauce with sun-dried tomatoes and a slight touch of vodka).  Whenever I visit, I ask for the Rigatoni Primavera, made with broccoli, zucchini, Holland peppers, and mushrooms, which are dressed with Italian herbs, garlic, and oil.  The pasta is always al dente and delicious; the fresh crunchy vegetables are perfectly paired with the garlic, oil, and herb dressing.

Café al Mercato’s pizzas are also outstanding.  When was the last time you had a slice of pizza with sautéed broccoli rabe, Italian sausage, and fresh mozzarella? I doubt your local greasy pizza joint has a Fig Pizza Pie, made with fresh prosciutto, mozzarella, and imported Mediterranean figs.  Do you think Little Cesar’s has anything that good?  Not on your life.  I’m partial to the Lasagna Pizza (Mozzarella, ricotta cheese, and a homemade meat sauce) and their Bruschetta Pizza (plum tomatoes, red onion, chopped basil, and celery).

Second secret:  The pizza sauce is a closely guarded family secret!  After tasting a slice of the Lasagna Pizza, I complemented one of the owners and asked about the delicious sauce.  He told me it was an old family recipe that would go with him to the grave.  As a joke, I asked him what was in it and how to make it. He chuckled, told me to kiss his ass, and then threw a garlic knot at me.  It was also delicious!

The third and final secret:  The Café’s staff is willing to modify their menu to ensure you enjoy your visit!  This may not seem like a big deal, but few places have this flexibility and commitment to customer satisfaction.  I can’t tell you how many places have refused to take my order because I asked for a slight modification to something on their menu.
A few years back, I asked if I could have the Broccoli rabe and breaded chicken cutlet on a hero instead of with pasta and, without hesitation, they made it for me.  No fuss no muss!  This hero has become my favorite sandwich at the Café.  I love how the slightly bitter broccoli rabe, sautéed with garlic and butter, complements the moist and well-seasoned breaded chicken cutlet.  Sometimes, I ask for marinara sauce, but usually I prefer it plain.  This hero is simple, flavorful, and delicious.

Now that the heart and soul of Café Al Mercato has been laid bare, take some time to visit and enjoy their wonderful menu.  If you see me there, just wave and leave me alone.  I’ll be enjoying my solitude with a hero and an X-Men comic book!  Now it’s your turn to visit! Go taste for yourself! ¡Buen provecho!

Café al Mercato

2344 Arthur Ave

Bronx, NY 10458


HOURS: Monday-Sunday 7:00 am-5:30 pm

ATMOSPHERE:  Fun and casual.

SERVICE: You order and pay at a counter.

SOUND LEVEL: Conversational.


RECOMMENDED DISHES: Pizzas, Various heroes, and salad.

BEVERAGES: Tea, Soda, Coffee (Espresso and Cappuccino) and Hot Chocolate.
PRICE RANGE:  Moderate $2-$30

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gurra Café: “No, I am not Albanian, but I do like Albanian food!”

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado,

Walking into certain restaurants can make you feel as though you’ve traveled to a foreign country.  These restaurants have a unique blend of clientele, menu, and ambiance that immerse you in another culture; very few places possess this magnificent gift. The Bronx’s Gurra Café is one of these “gifted” restaurants; every time I visit I feel I’m swept away to far off Albania.

Located in the Belmont section of the Bronx, Gurra Café is a cozy restaurant with 7 tables, Albanian artwork on the walls, and wood paneling. Another food critic once referred to Gurra Café’s décor as resembling a Swiss chalet. To be honest, I’ve never been to Switzerland, but if the chalets are as clean and welcoming as Gurra, then I’m sure I’ll enjoy my visit to Geneva.

Since the 1970s, Belmont (AKA Bronx’s Little Italy) has steadily become an Albanian enclave. As the Italian immigrants moved out, Albanians and other Eastern Europeans replaced them. Naturally, this new migration has had a culinary impact on Little Italy. Goulash and Albanian sausage have become as much a neighborhood staple as gelato, pasta, and pizza.

The last time I visited Gurra, my young server, who became my adviser on Albanian cuisine, welcomed me and immediately made me feel at home.  She asked me, “Are you Albanian?” to which I replied, “No, I am not Albanian, but I like Albanian food!” She nodded in obvious disbelief and continued her incredible service.

As I reviewed the menu, I noticed some of the patrons (all older gentlemen) were arguing in Albanian, with occasional outbursts in English.  From what I could gather, they were having a heated political debate.  Some of the gentlemen punctuated their remarks with closed fists bangs on tables and frustrated moans and groans. Hearing all of this Albanian made me feel like I was somewhere in Tirana (Albania’s capital).

Having braved the Artic weather to get there, I decided to order the Grosh, a simple white bean soup, to unchill my frozen bones. My server assured me that this classic Albanian soup would warm me up and help me fight a cold if I had one.

Before my soup arrived, I was served a simple lettuce, tomato, and cucumber salad topped with shredded feta cheese.  Gurra Café always serves a complimentary salad to their patrons. The feta cheese, purchased from local cheese makers, elevated this simple garden salad to something worth writing about. Usually, I find feta cheese to be acidic and harsh, but this one was light and delightfully salty. It was the standout ingredient of the dish and enhanced the flavor of the crisp veggies.

As I enjoyed my salad, I admired the gorgeous Albanian artwork on the walls.  The paintings of landscapes and black and white photographs of small villages were captivating.  It sparked my curiosity, so I Google searched Albanian artwork on my phone.  I read that popular Albanian artwork combines their Mediterranean and Eastern European heritages to create distinctly unique pieces.

Within minutes, my Grosh arrived along with the biggest portion of bread I have ever been served. As I tore off a huge chunk of the locally baked bread, Gurra’s Chef walked over to my table, welcomed me, and shook my hand.  He looked at me with an inquisitive expression and then asked, “Are you Albanian?” I replied, “No, I am not Albanian, but I like Albanian food!”

He told me he was curious because I didn’t look Albanian to him. When I told him I was Puerto Rican he responded, “Really? You look more Irish, then Puerto Rican.” I replied, “I get that a lot.” He laughed, wished me a good meal and sat with a few of the older Albanian patrons. Hungry, I turned my attention to the aromatic bowl of soup in front of me.

The hearty and simple Grosh was wonderful! The beans were soft and savory; the broth was thick and seasoned to perfection. The bread and soup pairing was a great idea; it allowed me to sop up the rest of the delicious broth at the bottom of the bowl. 

My server noticed my clean bowl and jokingly asked if I had liked it.  I responded with a sarcastic, “It was ok…” We both laughed!  Beaming with pride, she asked for my entrée order and I enthusiastically responded, Albanian Goulash! She smiled and assured me I would like it, as well.

Goulash is an Eastern European stewed beef dish served with mashed potatoes or rice. It’s another simple, yet tasty dish that is eaten every day throughout Eastern Europe. Gurra’s version of this classic dish doesn’t disappoint! The beef was tender and delicious; the stewed tomato based broth was hearty and flavorful. The small mashed potato portion was creamy and buttery. This combination of flavors and textures was spot on. I enjoyed every bite and cleaned my plate, again, with my leftover bread.

I noticed my server had placed a spice shaker filled with a yellow seasoning next to my plate. She called it Vegeta and explained that it’s a common Albanian seasoning made of salt, garlic powder, and other dried ingredients; it’s essential to Albanian cooking.  I smelled it and told her that it reminded me of Adobo.  Immediately, she responded that many Albanians use Adobo when they can’t find Vegeta.  I think it’s amazing that some Albanian kitchens are using Latin flavors to make Eastern European cuisine! That’s multiculturalism at its best!

As I bundled up to brave the crazy winter weather, one of my neighbors asked if I had liked my dinner.  I told him I loved every bite! He smiled and then asked me, “Are you Albanian?” and I replied, “No, but I LOVE Albanian food!”  He laughed and said, “Come back anytime, Gurra is for everybody! Bye bye!”  That last bit of hospitality cemented my appreciation of Gurra.  It’s always wonderful to feel welcomed at such a homey and intimate place.

As I stepped out of Albania and back onto the snowy streets of the Bronx, I daydreamed about traveling all over Eastern Europe!  Who knows if this dream will come true or not?  But, what I can count on, is that Gurra will always be my Albanian home away from home.  Now it’s your turn to visit! Go taste for yourself! ¡Buen provecho!

Gurra Cafe
2325 Arthur Avenue
Bronx, NY

HOURS: Monday-Friday 11am-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am-8pm
ATMOSPHERE: Calm and relaxed.
SERVICE: Excellent.
SOUND LEVEL: Conversational.
RECOMMENDED DISHES: Albanian Gulash, Grosh, and the salads.
BEVERAGES: Beer, water, soda, tea, and Albanian Coffee.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Spoonful of Sofrito: Tryon Public House

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

 Tryon Public House

Tryon Public House is Inwood's newest craft beer bar and restaurant and as the menu develops it becomes increasingly delicious.

I love the creamy Macaroni and Cheese with bacon!  It's a wonderful appetizer, it's light and flavorful.  The portion size is generous and should be split with a friend.

Tryon's Grilled Chicken Chipotle Sandwich with French Fries (you can decide between fries or a small side salad) was also quite delicious.  Soft, moist, and tasty, this sandwich's flavors are as interesting as the metal tub they're served in.

 Tryon Public House
4740 Broadway 
New York, NY 10040
 (914) 525-5331

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, 

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  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 

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:

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