Monday, November 18, 2013

Polash: Taking risks is the spice of Life!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado,

Nothing is ever what it seems.  Polash, an Indian restaurant in El Barrio, is the perfect example of this truism.  With its simple façade and humble decor, Polash may seem uninteresting and easy to ignore, but those people open minded enough to walk through its unpretentious doors will find an amazing assortment of Northern Indian dishes that will satisfy the curiosity of any culinary explorer.

Located on E.118th and 3rd Avenue, Polash is a large restaurant with 16 tables, ample floor space and minimal decor.  As you walk in, there’s a lunch buffet (12:00 pm-3:45 pm) to the left and a fully stocked bar in the back.  Polash is dimly lit with glass mini-chandeliers and features an assortment of oil paintings of different landscapes along the walls.

With the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College across the street, Polash has a diverse clientele of students, faculty, and neighborhood regulars.  The night I visited, I asked a jovial and extremely loud young Mexican student sitting next to me what she recommended and she suggested I try their curries; she assured me they were all delicious.  Her drunk and somewhat coherent friends vehemently agreed with her.

My attentive and helpful server, Sanjit, agreed with my neighbor, but encouraged me to look through the rest of the menu before I made any decisions.  I asked the young Mexican student, what she thought of the service and she agreed Polash’s service is always good.

As I looked over my menu, Sanjit placed a complementary dish of papadum with three chutneys on my table.  Papadum is a thin and crispy cracker made of seasoned black gram (also known as Black Lentil) dough that is served with most Indian meals. The three chutneys were sweet tamarind, spicy mint, and an onion relish (onions in a tomato sauce). 


The papadum was wonderful!  It had a peppery and savory taste; when paired with the chutneys it was superb.  I loved the sweet tamarind and the onion tomato chutneys, but wasn’t impressed by the mint.  It was bland and didn’t add much to the papadum’s taste.

As Sanjit refreshed my water, he noticed my lacquered Puerto Rican and Cuban flags hanging from my neck and began to speak to me in Spanish.  It turned out, Sanjit loves Puerto Rican culture and cuisine.  He has visited Puerto Rico several times and eaten at many of the island’s best restaurants.  He loved the food so much he decided to save his money so he could apply to culinary school and study Latin American/Latin Caribbean cuisine. 

We spent a few minutes chatting about New York City’s best Puerto Rican and Latino restaurants.  He recommended a few restaurants in Astoria, Queens I can’t wait to visit.  Ready to order, I asked him which appetizer he thought was the most impressive on the menu.  He recommended the Samosa (a fried pastry filled with spiced meat, potatoes, chickpeas or lentils), Dal Papri (lentils and wafers served with yogurt and tamarind sauce), Samosa Chat (a Samosa tossed in tamarind sauce with diced vegetables, Indian herbs and spices) and the Chicken Chat (diced chicken and potatoes tossed in tamarind sauce with Indian herbs and spices).  Intrigued by Sanjit’s description of the Samosa chat, I asked him to bring me one; he assured me I wouldn’t be disappointed.

The Samosa Chat was delicious! The crunchy diced tomatoes, cucumber, and cilantro added an amazing savory and acidic flavor that worked very well with the sweet tamarind sauce.  The delicious samosa was full of diced potatoes cooked with various spices. It was a wonderful amalgamation of different flavors and textures.

Sanjit was pleased to hear that I enjoyed my appetizer. After sharing each others’ sofrito making secrets, he asked for my entrée order.  I was torn between the Tandoori chicken (Chicken marinated in red chili peppers, cayenne pepper, garlic and other spices cooked in an earthen clay pot called a tandoor) and the Chicken and Mushroom Curry (Chicken cooked with mushrooms, curry powder, garlic, ginger and other spices).  My drunk Mexican neighbor reminded me of Polash’s superb curries and insisted that I wouldn’t regret trying them.  Despite her revolting beer breathe and pushiness, I decided to listen to her advice and ordered the Chicken and Mushroom Curry.  Sanjit nodded in agreement and with a big toothy smile walked to the kitchen to place my order. 

Within minutes, Sanjit returned to my table and presented me what he called “Pollo Guisado con hongos en salsa de curry” (my entrée in Spanish). By then, Sanjit and I were speaking exclusively in Spanish; he even corrected my grammar a few times.  It was hilarious to hear Spanish spoken with an Indian accent.  I have to admit he spoke Spanish really well and even knew some Puerto Rican sayings as well.  It was so cool to have this cross cultural exchange.

My entree was served with a small bowl of yellow lentils and Basmati rice topped with sweet peas.  The rice was fluffy and buttery; the lentils were a bit bland, but still good.  The hearty pieces of chicken were moist and flavorful; the aromatic curry sauce was spicy, sweet, and a beautiful shade of yellow.  The soft mushrooms added a wonderful earthy taste to the dish.  The entrée’s flavors and textures were well balanced and truly delicious.

After my wonderful entrée, Sanjit asked me if I wanted dessert, but I declined.  Sanjit and I had a great chat about how he wants to fuse Indian and Puerto Rican desserts.  His idea of a Mango Lassi (a sweet or salted yogurt drink made with fruit) flavored flan sounded amazing.  Polash’s dessert menu is simple and consists of: Mango ice cream, Rasmali (fresh home made cheese balls), and Kher (Rice pudding with mango and coconut).

Appearances are often deceiving.  Polash’s simplicity might give the impression that the food is pedestrian and run of the mill, but once you give this amazing eatery a try, you won’t be disappointed.  They say variety is the spice of life, but I believe taking risks lets you sample those spices and therefore enrich your life.  Take a risk and eat at Polash!  Go taste for yourself! ¡Buen provecho!


2179 3rd Avenue

New York, N.Y., 10035

HOURS:  Mon.-Fri. 12pm-4pm/5pm-11pm  Sat.-Sun. 12pm-11pm.

ATMOSPHERE:  Causal and relaxed.

SERVICE: Excellent.

SOUND LEVEL:  Conversational.


RECOMMENDED DISHES:  The Curries ($8.95-$10.95), Tandoori ($9.95-$14.95), and Biriyani ($9.95-$11.95)

BEVERAGES:  Coffee, Teas, Cardomon Iced tea, Sodas (Ranging $1.50-$2.00)

PRICE RANGE: The menu is large, but can range from $8.95 to $14.95

 Polash Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Com Tam Ninh Kieu: Grandma’s Pho and rolls!

By Benjamin Ramos

Mom-and-pop restaurants are the culinary backbone of our communities.  Often overlooked and underestimated, these restaurants serve us comfort food, give us a place to relax, and provide sanctuary from the stress of daily life. They allow us to reconnect with our community and with ourselves.  Any time I need that type of TLC, I go to Com Tam Ninh Kieu and indulge myself in the amazing flavors of Vietnam. 

Located in Kingsbridge Heights in the Northwest Bronx, Com Tam Ninh Kieu is a small mom-and-pop Vietnamese restaurant on Jerome Avenue; this section of the neighborhood is home to a small community of Vietnamese and Thai immigrants.  The decor is simple: there are 9 tables; a take out counter; and a large flat screen TV mounted on the right wall.  The restaurant is clean, simple and comfortable.  It’s a wonderful place to talk with friends, read, or write a review.

Com Tam Ninh Kieu's patrons are a cross section of the neighborhood.  On any given night, you can overhear conversations in English, Vietnamese, Spanish or certain West African languages.  This diverse clientele speaks volumes about their food and ambiance.

Like many other mom-and-pop restaurants, your dishes are cooked to order so service will be slow.  This is part of Com Tam Ninh Kieu's charm!  Don't look at it as your food taking a long time to cook. See it for what it really is: your food is being artfully crafted by wonderful chefs who are taking their time to cook you a delicious meal.

The last time I visited, my server was an older woman whose toothy smile and welcoming demeanor set the tone for a wonderful visit.  I couldn't help, but think of her as my Vietnamese abuelita (Grandmother in Spanish and pronounced “ah-bweh-lee-tah”).  All of Com Tam Ninh Kieu’s wait staff is attentive and welcoming.

As I looked over the menu, my abuelita said, “A big boy like you needs good food…soup… or pork chops.” I love pork chops more than anything or anyone, but I wasn’t in the mood for pork so I carefully perused the menu for the right order.  Com Tam Ninh Kieu’s menu is divided into eight sections: Khai Vi (Appetizers), Pho Bo (16 Beef Noodle Soups), Pho Kho (3 Beef Stews), Pho Ga (4 Chicken Rice Noodle Soups), Mi (2 Egg Noodle Soups), Dac Biet Hai San (3 Special Seafood), Bun (7 types ofVermicelli), and Com Dia (11 Rice Plates with Pork Chops, Beef or chicken).

As I looked over the appetizers, the words “Vietnamese Fried Egg Rolls” caught my famished eyes. According to my abuelita, they’re made fresh everyday and are, “…very good!” Intrigued, I decided to order them; she smiled and assured me I would love them. The Appetizers section also features: Fresh Spring Rolls (Clear rice paper rolls with vegetables and shrimp); Fish cakes (Breaded fish patties fried with herbs and spices); and Shrimp cakes (breaded shrimp patties made with herbs and spices).

As I tasted the egg rolls-5 to an order- I realized my abuelita was wrong!  The egg rolls weren’t good; they were amazing!  Warm and crispy, the rice paper wrap made a delightful crunch as I bit into them.  The moist stuffing (ground pork and chicken with mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, and kohlrabi) was savory and delicious.  A tangy dipping sauce (a mix of vinegar, chili paste, and garlic) was paired with the rolls, which added a wonderful heat and acidic flavor to the dish. 

My abuelita asked me what I thought of the egg rolls; she beamed with pride as I complimented the delicious appetizer.  She told me they were made from a special family recipe.  I asked her what made them special and she gave me a sly toothy smile and replied it was a secret.  She snickered, tussled my hair, and then asked for my dinner order. 

Com Tam Ninh Kieu’s dinner menu features an enormous selection of soups, stews and rice plates.  Their most popular dish is the Pho Bo (pronounced “fuh bah”), a traditional Vietnamese soup made with white rice noodles in clear beef broth, green and white onions and slim cuts of beef (such as steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket, tendon, tripe, or meatballs). Their menu features 16 varieties of Pho Bo each with a different combination of beef cuts.  

My abuelita recommended the Special Combo #2, which is a Pho Bo that combines all the beef cuts together in one soup.  She said it was their most popular Pho and assured me it was delicious.  Like any good grandson, I followed her advice and ordered the Special Combo #2.

Served with a side dish of bean sprouts, basil, lemon and jalapeño pepper slices, the soup was served piping hot in a large bowl; the portion is generous to say the least. The addition of Hoisin sauce (a Vietnamese/Chinese condiment made from soybean paste, garlic, chilies, various spices, sugar and vinegar) and Red Chili paste added a wonderful sweet and spicy seasoning to the already savory beef broth.  The plentiful beef cuts were tender and delicious. The bean sprouts, basil and jalapeños provided a nice crunchy texture, in contrast to the long soft rice noodles.  The Pho was simple, delicious and satisfying; I could see why it’s a neighborhood favorite.

Com Tam Ninh Kieu might be hard to pronounce, but the food speaks very clearly for itself.  So if you are interested in delicious South East Asian food, then head up to the North West Bronx and visit Com Tam Ninh Kieu! Remember to say hi to my abuelita!  Go taste for yourself! ¡Buen provecho!

Com Tam Ninh Kieu 

2641 Jerome Ave 

Bronx, NY 10468 

(718) 365-2680

HOURS:  Open 7 days from 9am-10pm.

ATMOSPHERE:  Casual, warm, fun and inviting.


SOUND LEVEL:  Conversational. 



BEVERAGES:  Vietnamese hot coffee, ice coffee, and various sodas.

PRICE RANGE: Khai Vi (Appetizers $5.50-$8.00), Pho Bo (16 Beef Noodle Soups $7.50-$8.95), Pho Kho (3 Beef Stews  $8.50), Pho Ga (4 Chicken Rice Noodle Soups  $7.00), Mi (2 Egg Noodle Soups $7.50), Dac Biet Hai San (3 Special Seafood $7.50), Bun (7 types ofVermicelli $7.00-$9.00), and Com Dia (11 Rice Plates with Pork Chops, Beef or chicken $7.00-9.00).

 Com Tam Ninh-Kieu on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 8, 2013

Warique: Jaleas in Harlem

Have you ever ordered a Pisco (Pees-koh) Sour?  Do you enjoy ceviche (Seh-vee-cheh)? Does the word Jalea (Ha-ley-ah) make your mouth water?  If you have no idea what I am talking about, then its time you went to Harlem to visit Warique Peruvian Kitchen.

Warique is a small restaurant with ten dark wooden tables; beautiful paintings; an exposed brick wall to the right; and a small bar in the back. Cozy and comfortable, Warique is perfect for a romantic date or an after work meal with friends. 

Warique’s wait staff is wonderful. My server was friendly, warm, and attentive.  I noticed the other servers were warm and mindful with their customers as well.

Warique has a diverse clientele; it’s both a neighborhood eatery as well as a destination restaurant.  The night I visited, I sat between an older Latina lesbian couple and a young Latino with a group of his friends.  Occasionally, the couple would feed each other forkfuls of food and kiss; while the Latino guy raved about his recent honeymoon cruise to South America.

Surrounded by romance and jubilation, I decided to treat myself to one of my favorite appetizers: a Causa Peruana con Pollo.  A causa is a cold mashed potato ball filled with avocado, crunchy peppers, cilantro, aji amarillo (South American hot yellow chile pepper), and chicken or tuna.  Warique features other appetizers such as: Papas a la Huancaina (Yellow potatoes served with a spicy cream sauce); Anticuchos (skewered veal hearts); and Choros a la Chalaca (Peruvian style mussels marinated in lemon juice).

Warique’s causas are wonderful!  The potatoes were soft and chilled to perfection.  The shredded roasted chicken breast was moist and flavorful. The cilantro, peppers, and avocado added sweetness and crispiness to the dish.

As I ate my causa, the young Latino talked incessantly about his cruise to South America with his partner Paul.  They loved Peru and its food. A mutual friend of theirs recommended Warique for good Peruvian food in New York City.  Enthusiastically, the young Latino ordered Pisco Sours for everyone at his table.

A Pisco Sour is a delicious South American cocktail prepared with Peruvian Pisco (a grape brandy), lime or lemon juice, syrup, ice, egg whites, and Angostura bitters.  At the time, it had been quite a while since I had ordered a Pisco Sour and decided to follow suit. Unlike other Pisco Sours, Warique’s cocktails are lightly dusted with cinnamon, which adds a spicy taste to the usual sweet and sour flavors.  Usually, I don’t enjoy alcoholic beverages with my meals, but the Pisco Sour and causa combination was phenomenal.

As I looked over the entrees, I overheard the Latinas talking about their Ceviches; a popular seafood dish in South America, typically made from fresh raw fish marinated in lemon or lime juices and spiced with chili peppers or ají. 

One of them ordered El Ceviche de Camaron (Shrimp) and the other El Ceviche de Pescado (Sliced raw fish).  They loved their dishes and compared them to other ceviches they had eaten in Peru.  It was adorable to watch them reminiscing about how they met in Peru, fell in love, and moved to New York City to go to school.  I couldn’t help eavesdropping on their romantic and inspiring story.  It was so beautiful to see how their romance had stood up against the test of time.

Tempted by the ceviche, I continued to review the menu, which features: Sopas (Soups), Pollo a la Brasa (Blackened Chicken), Ceviches, Ensaladas (Salads), Pescados y Mariscos (Fish and Seafood), Platos de Fondo (Typical Plates).  For more information on the menu go to:

I was ready to order a ceviche until the word Jalea caught my eye.  A Jalea is a seafood dish composed of lightly battered fried fish or assorted seafood; Peruvian corn; fried potatoes or yucca; and is garnished with red onions, tomatoes, and cilantro.  The Puerto Rican in me couldn’t pass up the chance to eat a plate of fried delicacies, so I ordered the Jalea with a small side order of white rice and beans. 

My eyes nearly popped out of my skull when my server brought me my entrée. The plate was overflowing with fried shrimp, fish, clams, and calamari.  The seafood was wonderful; it was crispy on the outside, moist on the inside and the lime juice drizzled on top gave the dish the perfect hint of acid.  The sweetness of the tomatoes and corn complemented the savory flavor of the red onions and cilantro.  The fried yucca fries were good, but a few of the strips were overdone and dried out.  The rice and beans were mediocre; the beans were bland and needed salt.

After such a sumptuous meal, I decided to skip dessert.  Warique’s dessert menu is simple: Assorted ice creams; Picarones (a fried doughnut made from squash or sweet potatoes); and slices of Lucuma (a unique Peruvian fruit that tastes like caramel custard and has a pasty texture).

My visit to Warique was wonderful!  The food is delicious and the portions are generous.  Also, it was inspiring to sit between an older queer couple and a newly wed beginning his life with his partner.  It reminded me of how lucky I am to have found my BearBear David.  I hope one day we’ll be newly weds and then an older couple sharing a meal at Warique.  Unfortunately, he hates seafood and would probably dump me the minute I took him there.  I guess we’ll be the lovey-dovey couple at his favorite restaurant: McDonald’s.  Ugh! Pray for me.

Do yourselves a favor folks, head to Harlem and get yourself a Jalea!  Go taste for yourself! ¡Buen provecho!

Warique Peruvian Kitchen
852 Amsterdam Ave
(between 101st St & 102nd St)
(212) 865-0101

HOURS:  Mon-Wed, Sun 12 pm - 10:30 pm/Fri-Sat 12 pm - 11:30 pm

ATMOSPHERE:  Casual, warm, fun and inviting.

SERVICE: Excellent.

SOUND LEVEL: Conversational.

KID FRIENDLY: Not really, small space.

RECOMMENDED DISHES:  See article above.

BEVERAGES:  Sodas, Wines, Beer, mixed drinks, and water.

PRICE RANGE:  $20-$30