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 

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


  1. I never thought that food writers needed to be chefs (as art ctitics are not ofyen writers...) but sounds like a good approach, although expensive and sacrificial. Hate the way chefs treat apprentices on tv! I confess to watching Bourdain and loving it. But what syrikes me about him is his love of food and the background he presents for the food. I think writing, research, and developing a unique voice are more important to communicating thoughts about food than knowing how to cook it. After all, why not ask the chef and even other foodies. Good piece here! I enjoyed reading your process!

    1. I meant to say art critics are usually not artists, sorry!

  2. I always think that $$ for college is always a stumbling block for Latinos and culinary schools can be very pricey. I suggest going to CUNY, study journalism and creative writing. Same time investigate all the culinary schools & find out if any give real financial aid - not just "here is where you can take out a loan." My understanding is that most folks who go to culinary schools don't end u p in high paying jobs. I recommend while you are at CUNY get internships that will go towards you degree at food magazines, tv shows, etc -- any place that will advance your personal growth. Also read all the books written by cultural critics and food writers. And, keep writing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and dreams on what your next journey might look like.

  3. I believe skipping CUNY and jumping straight into culinary school would be your best option. Your writing is great, however, if you feel that it needs improvement, there are plenty of free writing courses you can attend online at Coursera.com. As a food critic, expanding your culinary knowledge will help you create highly informational content and increase your overall credentials.

    Cristopher @ Lamoraga Restaurant