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foodzings: May 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My first Continental

Over this holiday weekend, T and I headed downtown to get a nearly summer's night meal in the city. We wanted to go to Samson Street Oyster House, but boo, it was closed. We were bummed. So then we walked around and around in the vicinity looking for a good place to eat, but nothing really appealed to us. With all the walking, we kept getting more and more hungry. So after rounding the blocks again, we saw the Continental, again, and just said hey, why not?

It was my first time to the Continental. I've never been to the one in old city and I've never been to the midtown location either. It's pretty cool on the inside, there's a huge funky light installation hanging down from the middle of the ceiling. There are two levels, with tables and booths on the first, and tables lining the edge of the second floor with the middle of the second floor being floorless, so it overlooks the first. The bar is all the way in the back.

So it is a martini bar, so we had to get a couple of drinks. Somehow, we both picked the Buzz Aldrin, which was tang, peach vodka, and triple sec in a tang rimmed glass. You get your drink in your own cute little mini shaker. It was good, but a little too strong. Perhaps, it could have used a tad more tang. You would think T would have ordered a more manly drink, but no. We were both sitting around sipping these little orange drinks.

I ordered the lobster mashed potatoes as an appetizer and T ordered the crab cakes. The mashed potatoes were GINORMOUS. Way too much. The portions for them were just out of control. It could have easily fed a family of 6. But I quite liked them. I have a soft spot for mashed potatoes in general, and these had good hunks of real lobster. The crab cakes were small and you got three with your order. I'm not a huge crab cake fan. I tasted it and it was a bit too mustardy for my liking.

I had the thai chicken lettuce wraps as an entree and T had the fish tacos. The lettuce wraps were ok, but nothing spectacular. I'm no great fan of PF Chang's or the Cheesecake Factory, but really, their lettuce wraps are much better. Plus, they only gave me three pieces of lettuce. And there was enough chicken for plenty more wraps. Come on Continental, stop being so skimpy with the lettuce. The chicken itself was ok. There was a spicy ginger sauce that came with it and that was the best part. I tasted the fish tacos and I liked it. T did not like it. There were two of them, and the tacos were filled with a lightly battered and fried fish, some kind of sauce, and a red cabbage sauerkraut type of concoction. T kept taking very small bites, looking puzzled each time, as if he wasn't sure he liked it or not. Turned out he didn't like it. They did have a very strong fish smell, which probably did not help. But I like sauerkraut an I especially love red cabbage, so I enjoyed the crunchy and sour bits. But neither of us would ever order it again.

I'm not quite sure what I expected, as I never really had any desire to go to the Continental. Not ever. But I thought it was ok. The prices on the food isn't too bad, it's really only the drinks that seem a bit high. The service was good, attentive, and my water glass was filled most of the time.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Audrey Claire - best of the BYOBs

I've been wanting to go to Audrey Claire forever, I don't even know why I've never been there. It's even M's favorite restaurant in the city, hands down. So no more excuses, Audrey Claire it is. But first...

I took a mental health day on Thursday and just hung out in the city. After getting my hair did I met up with a friend, who works for the fine city of Philadelphia, for lunch at Reading Terminal Market. She suggested the thai place. The line was long, but it moved fairly quickly. I got the chicken basil, and she got the pork. Both were delicious. Shame on me, I forget what the thai place was called, but it was something very nondescript, which started with the word "Thai". There was plenty of food, I shouldn't have eaten it all, but of course I did!

After a tour of the City Planning office and roaming around the city for awhile more, I met up with M for happy hour. She had suggested Tragos because it was nearby her work. We had no idea that they would have $8 pitchers of whatever we wanted - margaritas, mojitos, sangria, etc. $8? It was like they were giving it away, and we were happy to partake. We went with the white sangria. Everyone makes them differently, but we were definitely fans of this one. Sharing a pitcher of sangria at 6PM on a warm almost summer day surely did the job, right quick. It's a small but intimate place, and for those of you that are near Rittenhouse, how can you go wrong going here for happy hour? Remember one thing- $8 pitchers!

We then stumbled to Audrey Claire after picking up a bottle of riesling. Remember, Audrey Claire is a BYOB. It's a very cute place on the corner and offers outside dining when appropriate. Otherwise it's very clean, sparse, fresh, and tasteful. We got a spot outside, our table was decorated with a fresh green apple. We started with the hummus and salmon flatbread. It's pizza-esque and tasty.

We then went for the octopus salad, one of M's favorite dishes, and now mine! I don't know that they even seasoned the octopus at all, but it was grilled to perfection, even though slightly chewy (which I don't mind), and smoky and delicious. It was such a surprise how good this was. So apparently, they're fairly famous for their mussels. We didn't order them, but a neighboring diner did, and they looked so good I had to take a pic. I promised Mr. Penn-colored polo shirt that he could be in the blog. Now that's alot of mussels!

They had a soft-shell crab special that night, so we ordered it. I may have been a little too white sangria-d and byob'd out to remember too much, but it had a corn salsa with chipotle mayo and basil mashed potatoes. It was great. I was espcially in love with the mashed potatoes. They were amazing! And to round out the meal we ordered creme brulee for dessert, which you already know is probably my favorite dessert. They bruleed it right before serving and it was also delicious. The creme part was a little watery, but it was full of flavor and I quite enjoyed it. I think many people love Audrey Claire, and now I do too. There's definitely a reason why it always ends up on the Top BYOB lists! Especially for warm-weather outdoor dining, it's a perfect choice.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Viva Venezuelan!

While at Marra's, L and E let me know about a Venezuelan restaurant on 9th and Spring Garden. I thought to myself, there's a restaurant there? Why? Then I thought there's a venezuelan restaurant there? What is that? So we arranged to find out! So we headed out to Sazon.

So yes, it is in a quite unfortunate location. There's nothing there but a Thai restaurant and the Spaghetti Warehouse across the street, along with a smattering of mexican bodegas. Fortunately, there's plenty of free street parking available. It is on the corner, and very comfortable. It's not tiny, but not very big either. There's some booths and there's some tables. It's very colorful and not at all pretentious. There's some ethnic art on the walls and some non-intrusive music playing. The place is run by a husband and wife team. The husband is the host/waiter and the wife is the chef. She always brings out the food to you when she's done cooking it. They're pretty damn adorable.

We started with some appetizers and some fruit drinks. I went with the passion fruit. I have a soft spot for passion fruit. I drank tons of it when I was in brazil. Have you ever seen a passion fruit? They're so bizzarre and other worldly looking. I love them. We had the sazon sampler, which is an appetizer sampler which includes arepas, empanadas, and taquenos. It was all good. The taquenos were like mozzarella sticks, only much much better. We also got the sweet plantains, which I also love, and the garlic plantains. Although they were both plantain dishes, they were completely different, in taste and texture. The sweet plantains were soft and sweet, the garlic plantains were crunchy and savory.

On to the main courses! Half of us ordered the asado negro, including myself, which was a slow roasted beef roast cooked until pretty much black in color. It was served with white rice and sweet plantains. We all loved it. It looks a slight bit appetizing but it was really quite the opposite. It was delicious. It is sweet, so for those of you that don't like sweet meats, you'll want to skip this dish. But for normal people, haha, this was great.

There were a few sandwiches ordered also. I tasted a bit of the pepito, or "Venezuelan cheesesteak". It was great! It came on a really crunchy ciabatta roll and had grilled steak, cheese, onions, and red pepper. I like regular philly cheesesteaks for sure, but this one was very good, even though obviously completely different. D got the pernit, which was a pulled pork sandwich that also looked great. He ate it up! G go the arroz con pollo, which is chicken and rice. And C got a couple of arepa sandwiches. She thought they would be small, but in fact, they were both huge. She got one with chicken and one with tofu, but strangely enough, both the fillings looked quite similar.

All in all, I am a big fan of Sazon and venezuelan food in general. The service was also fairly good, considering it's so family run. On a sunday night it wasn't packed, but there was definitely a flurry of activity with diners coming in and out. It's also BYOB so it is very affordable. Prices in general are quite reasonable. I'll definitely be going back!


Monday, May 21, 2007

A day of firsts

This past weekend was the Italian Market Festival in South Philly. I'd never been to it before, so I thought I'd check it out. I went on Sunday, and it was a beautiful and sunny day. Parking wasn't too terrible, as long as you were several blocks away from the festivities. I loved seeing the whole roasted pigs the most. It's great to see that kind of thing in person. Look how cute this little old man is!

There seemed to be three distinct sections of the festival. On the immediate north side of Washington ave was the Italian market side. And then further north was the craft/artisan side. There were some excellent artists there, including photographers, woodturners, and jewelry makers. And to the south side of Washington ave was the Mexican-ish side. That's where you could find the mozzarepas, the arepas (basically corn pancakes) with mozzarella in the middle, the mayo covered corn on the cob on a stick, and some tacos al pastor. I'd never seen these mozzarepa things before, and thought they looked intriguing, but didn't try one. I've heard of the corn on a stick from friends who drove through Mexico before. Corn on the cob, smothered with mayo, cheese, and chili powder, is regular street food there. I've never tasted this, but I bet it is good. Not that I'm a mayo fan, but my friends told me it's surprisingly tasty. And the tacos, it is the Mexican take on spit meat (like gyro meat or doner kebab meat), carved onto corn tortillas. I bet those were good too.

I got a little paranoid about trying any of the food. My boss just got food poisoning a few weeks ago and was out of commission for days, so I've been extra-vigilant about not eating things that could be questionable. And seeing all this food sitting outside in the heat made me a little nervous. Mac & Cheese put up a very nice posting about the festival and she actually tasted alot of the food there. So please read her blog, which I love.

There was also live music. I only caught the band on the main stage, which was a terrible cover band singing very cheesy songs. I didn't have high expectations, so they were expectedly bad. Also, I had the pleasure of seeing Vito, from the Sopranos, hocking his book and cigars. It was hilarious to see him there. A real-life fake mobster in person.

On my way to the car, I decided to try something else for the first time that I'd been wanting to try for awhile, banh mi, a vietnamese hoagie. You've probably heard of these, and so had I, but for some reason, I hadn't had one before. So I decided to go for it. I got mine at the Ba Le Bakery & Restaurant in the vietnmese shopping center on 6th and Washington ave. I was sad to see that the Pho Ba Le next door, which had been "closed for winter" for a while, looked closed for good, as everything inside had been cleared out. I was sad because they had the best chicken pho ever. EVER people! EVER! And now I doubt that I'll be able to find any chicken pho like that ever again. It's the end of the era. Sniff.

So Ba Le is a take-out only place. They have a whole bunch of stuff, most of which I had no idea what it was. They don't even have any menus or anything so I didn't even know if they had banh mi. I had to ask someone if they had them and she said yes, they do. So I ordered one, even though I didn't know what kind. I just said one banh mi please. And then handed it to me. I'm not sure which kind it was but it had the roasted pork and two mystery lunch meat type meats on there. It also had the daikon, carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, and jalapenos. It all came on a delicious long roll with some a special mayo type concoction. I loved it. I really did. I took off the jalapenos because I didn't care for them, but I loved everything else. The crunch of the rolls and the veggies, and the meaty flavors of all the mystery meats. Yum. I also got some of the fresh rice paper rolls, these had roasted pork in them. I tell you what, seriously, this place has the best rolls of this kind, hands down.

Ba Le Bakery & Restaurant
606 Washington Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 389-4350

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Manayunk food

After a morning of fence painting (totally Huck Finn-ish), we skidaddled over to the Manayunk Brewery to get some grub. You know places like the Manayunk Brewery, it's a microbrew that brews their own beers. You've really been to em all if you've been to John Harvards, Iron Hill, Victory, and so on. What set this place apart was that it was a beautiful day out, bordering on hot, and we got to sit outside and overlook the glorious Schuylkill river. There is plenty of indoor dining as well.

So the food, well, it was alright. I got the chili con carne and a side of fries. I think at first I thought it was good because I was so starving, I would have eaten napkins. After I got a bit fuller, I realized that it wasn't really all that good. It was much too barbecue sauce tasting. I don't think there was any chili flavor in there at all. The fries were ok, again, nothing great. Now the beer! I did enjoy my beer immensely. So the Manayunk Brewery gets to redeem itself. I had the hefeweizen, which was a fresh batch, made 1 day before. It was really fresh and just want I needed. S got the beer sampler. You're all familiar with these, all brewpubs have them. She was talking about getting this all day long! See guzzled these down like a true champion.

J got the mahogany wings. Now that I'm looking at them, they look damn good. So you only got like 5-6 of them, but they were good sized. She seemed to enjoy them. A got the veggie wrap, doesn't it look good. Also, look at this beautiful sesame crusted tuna salad. It's gorgeous. The fish and chips also looked pretty decent. So I do have to warn those of you who want to visit the Mayaunk Brewery and sit outside on the outdoor seating deck. They played some of the most horrible music I'd ever heard. It was just bizarre. We figured it was some kind of bad satellite radio station, but I swear, it was lost one-hit wonders from the late 70's and early 80's. We all just found it unlike anything we'd heard before. It was so strange, it was laughable. Other than that though, sitting outside on a beautiful day while drinking cool brews, it was all quite lovely. The service was also good.

Stephen Colbert Shout out

So I don't actually watch the Stephen Colbert show. I probably should, but I just don't. I've seen him once in awhile in bits and pieces on tv or movies. I loved him in Strangers with Candy. But I do have to say that I love the new "Americone Dream" flavor of Ben and Jerry's that Stephen Colbert came up with. It's vanilla ice cream with caramel swirls, with chocolate covered waffle cones. There's not one bad thing about that. And let me tell you, it's actually quite hard to find in stores! I went to at least a handful of local grocery stores before finally finding it at the Giant. And there was only one left. Yes folks, it is as good as it sounds. Get yours today!

We had lunch by the same caterers on Wednesday. I swear to you, I think they've become the unofficial caterer of my company. It was "home cooking" time, and they served us meatloaf, fried chicken, corn, baked potatoes, and a bit of salad. Ok, so it's hard to screw up a baked potato, unless you undercook it. I wasn't too crazy about the meatloaf, there was just something strange about it, but it was ok. I wouldn't choose to eat it again. The fried chicken was alright too, I'm not much of a fried chicken eater so I don't have much of a frame of reference. I was a big fan of the corn. But again, how can you screw up corn?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mother's Day Brunch at duPont Country Club

This year, we headed to the DuPont Country Club for mother’s day brunch. Which is strange because we’re all so used to going to Winterthur instead. But hey, change is good. So it’s in Wilmington, Delaware, where all the DuPont related stuff is, and it has a golf course and gymnasium and all that jazz. They had mother’s day brunch in a bunch of their different rooms. We were in the crystal ballroom, for the country club casual crowd. I wasn’t very dressed up (I had jeans on), but they still let me pass.

So things started badly as our reservations got messed up. We said 11:30, but they had us down for 1:15. Oops. After some haggling, they were very accommodating. They set up another table for us, and we weren’t even stuck in a corner or anything. It was a great spot by one of the dessert stations.

There was a meat and veggie station which had some mashed potatoes, mixed veggies, some fish with shrimp, and ham and turkey. The breakfast station had omelettes, eggs, bacon, sausages, and French toast. There was a cold food area with soup, salad, cheese, and smoked salmon. And of course, two dessert stations with lots of different pastries, cakes, pies, and cookies. I had a little bit of everything, and it was all fairly good, but I didn't find anything particularly spectacular. They did have some white asparagus, which I love, so I kept picking out the white asparagus from the mixed veggie station. Heehee. I'm not an omelette person or a smoked salmon person, so I didn't partake, but everyone else seemd to enjoy that.

I think that for the price, there should have been at least one mimosa or glass of champagne included with the brunch, and there should have been more of a selection. It just didn't feel like there was enough different things to eat for such an expensive brunch. The dessert selection was good though, and my favorite were the macaroons. Apparently, they're famous for their macaroons and I could see why, they were delicious. So incredibly chewy, I ate at least a dozen of them, and took some even more home. Another highlight was a cold strawberry soup. It was so unusual and I quite enjoyed it. It was a cold strawberry soup served with cinnamon and sugar croutons. I've never had anything like it, but it was really interesting.

One big, huge problem was their creme brulee. When I saw it on the menu, I was so excited because it's one of my favorite desserts, ever. Problem here though was that there was no hard crusty brulee part at the top. It had all melted so that it was just creme, with no brulee that you could crack with your spoon and that would crunch in each bite. Without that, it really wasn't edible. I was severely disappointed. Otherwise, everyone seemed to enjoy the brunch overall. My mom ate an incredibly large amount of food. For such a little lady, it was quite impressive. Yey mom!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fajita Fest!

This past weekend was beautiful, and perfect for a bbq. A fajita fest was had in Fairmount park on Saturday. Hosted by a native Texan, W was super serious about it. You should have seen all the meat, chicken, shrimp, and veggies that he spent hours marinading. It was quite impressive. You should have seen E’s grill too. It was a professional grill with 3 sets of burners, perfect for fajita meat cooking. We were all in awe of it. It’s portable, to boot, and can be put together in 3 minutes.

I myself had to bring some vittles, so I brought some skirt steak. Skirt steak is really the cut of meat you want to use when making fajitas. It’s a cheap cut of meat, or at least it’s supposed to be. If you’re in texas it’s cheap, if you’re in Pennsylvania, it’s not. Pish. It took me many trips to random grocery stores to find it. It’s like hunting for treasure! And when I did, I found it at my nearest crappy Super Fresh, and I snagged the last one. Because it’s tough, it has to be marinaded. So here’s a pseudo-recipe that I got from the Big T, another Texan.

Skirt steak fajitas:

Skirt steak (good luck finding this)
A beer (ideally Shiner Bock, but Yuengling Lager works too)
Lime juice (a good amount of it)
Chopped garlic (I used a lot)
Sliced onions (again, a lot)
Hot sauce – vinegar based (I used crystal’s and threw in a bunch of swigs)

Really, I don’t know exact amounts so just make it up as you go, that’s what I did and it worked out just fine. Let this marinade for at least 12 hours, making sure all of the meat is covered. Rotate it a bit as it’s marinading in your fridge. Then grill it up, to maybe medium, or however y’all like it. For the fixins we had guacamole, W’s homemade salsa, cilantro, sour cream, cheeses, and such. Really, put whatever you want on it. It’s all good. It was a good first bbq of the season, I’m hoping for a lot more. I’m also hoping I find some better places to find reasonably price skirt steak. Let me know if you know of any!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Their food is good too!

Last wednesday night, I went to an event that promised hors d'oeuvres and drink specials. There may have been drink specials, but those specials did not include anything I wanted, but there certainly were no hors d'oeuvres or any food for that matter. I was annoyed. Since it was downtown, I'd planned on making a Capogiro run afterwards anyway. I didn't plan on eating there, but I ended up having to.

We got there at around 10:30, and they didn't have much food left. Ok, so they only had ham and cheese paninis left. But that's ok, because they were delicious! The bread is so special, and so crunchy on the outside, and the fillings were just fine too. They warmed it up a bit for us and it was just great! I was so surprised! Who knew the sandwiches would be good too? Oh, and they gave us a free panini to take home! Yey!

When you get the gelato there, depending on the size, you can get up to 2 flavors ,or up to 3 flavors, etc. You get my point. I always get the teeny one because really, that's plenty, and it's not cheap so it's nice to keep it under $5. With that smallest one, you can pick up to 2. And I always feel obligated to pick 2, even though I'm so in love with kiwi that I should just get that. But I usually end up getting kiwi, if they have it, and then something else just to mix it up. I had some grape this time, and it was just blah. My favorites have been kiwi and asian pear. And when you think about it, the asian pear is your best value looking at it from a what the fruit actually would cost you perspective. Since an asian pear could run you like $2 a piece or more, for one piece of fruit, just think how many of those have to go into making the sorbetto! Many many a delicious and expensive asian pear. Get it!


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Suburban Korean - early Mother's Day

Last sunday when my brother was around, he took us out for an early mother's day dinner, since he wouldn't be around on actual mother's day. We went easy and local - Nag Won Garden, a Korean restaurant in Upper Darby. It's a very non-descript place on West Chester Pike. There aren't very many tables, and they're all big, wood, with the most uncomfortable wooden chairs on the planet. There's one longer room on the side that is reserved for bigger parties. They allow smoking there also, which sucks, but the bbq grilling smell pretty much overpowers any light-ups.

We went with the regular kalbi for two and an order of the ojinga bokkum, which is spicy stir fried squid, and probably my favorite thing they serve. This is also one of the cook-your-own-meat places, so the tables have grill pits in the middle. Then they bring out the hot coals with a grill plate and then you cook it up. So I don't know why the ojinga bokkum is so good, but it just is. It has the best flavor, the onions are so sweet and delicious, and the squid is cooked just right. It truly is some of the best I've ever had in my life. I tend to always get it.

The meat was pretty good, as usual. So no surprise there. The service, on the other hand, was worse than usual. It's usually pretty bad, as there are very few servers there, but last sunday night was especially horrible. We kept asking for water and didn't get it until we were already cooking our food. We also kept asking for rice and we didn't get it until after we'd had a couple of rounds of beef already cooked enough and ready to eat. And they didn't refill our water at all, not once. Bad. Well, at least the food is good, and it's close to home!

Nag Won Garden
7650 W Chester Pike
Upper Darby, PA 19082-1912

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Last meal in NYC

Sunday was our farewell day in NYC. So before heading out, we wanted to eat a good brunch. I picked Sushi Samba, a sushi/brazilian/peruvian restaurant near Union Square. This was also the only time where I got the streets mixed up. We ended up at Park Ave north, instead of Park Ave south. Oops. No biggie though, we hopped on the Lexington train and made it down there in a jiffy.

Sushi Samba is a fairly small place. It's very cute and bright inside. They play samba music. There's a sushi bar in the middle, as it takes up most of the space in the whole restaurant. There's an eating area where the sushi bar is, and through the doorway, there's a loungey area.

It wasn't very busy at all when we were there, so the staff was extra attentive. We went with the family style brunch. I'd checked online, and it said it was 3 selections from the first course and 3 selections from the second course plus free pika pika cocktails. That wasn't the case in reality. It was really just 4 selections from the family brunch menu and no free cocktail. No big deal though, as it almost did seem too good to be true, especially for NYC! But we did order some fruit juices, and they were discounted a few dollars. I went with a blackberry and strawberry sucos mistas, which was beyond good. That's just a fresh fruit juice. J got a batida with asian pear and two other fruits I forgot. A batida comes with sweetened condensed milk, in addition to the fruit. That's something I distinctly remember about Brazil, how abundant the fruit was and how everyone drank freshly made juice all the time.

We went with the sunday samba roll, which came with , smoked salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber, plus some heapings of salad. It was good. I'm not big on smoked fish, but this wasn't extremely strong in flavor. And I do have to say I love the coolness of the cream cheese. They're big on cream cheese in sushi rolls in Brazil and Mexico. We also picked the doce de leite french toast. This was AWESOME. It was thick bread and came with a really sweet and incredible syrup. It had something chopped up in it, and we're not sure what it was, but we both loved it. It also came with some asian pear and fresh fruit.

Next up was the was the eggs benedict, which came with huge pieces of smoked salmon. The eggs were poached in a strange way so that it was mostly yolk, and that the yolk was not cooked at all so it was very runny. I didn't mind it, but I know some people do not like runny eggs. Instead of english muffin, it came on some toasted bread. It was also topped with some baby cilantro greens, which was such a light and refreshing cilantro flavor. Finally, we had the churrasco and eggs. This was also delicious. It is fairly plain, as Brazilians don't season their meat very much when grilling, but it was cooked very well and had plenty of natural flavor. Even though it's not a fancy cut of meat at all, it wasn't tough or anything. I liked the freshly fried onion rings too! All in all, a very good brunch!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

NYC Swanksville

I asked a friend who used to live in NYC, or at least across the way, where to eat dinner. He, being a Cuban, recommended Asia de Cuba. Then he went on to tell me about how there is a significant population of Chinese in Cuba. They’ve been there since the mid-1800’s, when they were brought in to work the sugar fields. Sound familiar? And they stayed and married Cuban and Chinese cuisine together. Who knew?

Asia de Cuba is in midtown, as part of the Morgans hotel. Now the thing is, Morgans does not have a sign. We had to guess, just by the numbers on other buildings, if that was the Morgans. And Asia de Cuba has a teeny tiny “sign” that you could so easily miss also. Really, we wouldn’t mind if there was a sign. It could prove helpful. Asia de Cuba itself is not that big, but they make good use of the space. There are recessed booths on the edges, smatterings of tables next to the booths, and a cafeteria style table in the middle, that seats about 24 or so. The ceiling is high, and on the second floor, there are some more small tables along the perimeter, overlooking the first floor. The place claims to be swanky, and it is.

We had an early reservation as we had to eat, catch the A train, and head up to Washington Heights. We were seated promptly and our effervescent waiter asked us if we’d dined there before. Once he found out we were newbies, he recommended that since the portions were large, for two he would recommend two appetizers, an entrée, and a side dish. Sounded good with us. In the meantime, we ordered a mojito and another drink whose name I forget. They were very attractive drinks. Much more attractive than the people drinking them. My drink was good and strong, the mojito was the best. It was truly the best mojito we’d ever had. I’m not crazy about them, but this one was so good. And it came with a stick of actual sugar cane you could gnaw on. Yum. They were strong too, and we could both feel them. We were excited about riding the subway drunk.

We decided to go with the calamari salad, and when we told our waiter, he said it was large, so we should probably just stick with one appetizer. Kudos to him for not trying to milk extra money out of us. Bravo. This salad was indeed ginormous. It comes with the fancy greens, crispy fried calamari, chayote (which we’d never had before, looks like green apple, tastes like nothing but has a nice crunch), hearts of palm (which J had never had but I had eaten plenty of in Brazil), banana, and cashews, in a sesame orange dressing. The dressing was very light, not too sesame-y or orange-y. The calamari were the best part. It was a great salad.

As an entrée, we went with the honey rum glazed pot roast of pork. You can never go wrong with pork in a Cuban restaurant, or a Chinese restaurant for that matter. This came with some good hunks of fatty and juicy pork, sautéed baby bok choy, fried plantains, and enoki mushrooms. The sauce was strong, and the flavor was everywhere. You could see big chunks of thick bacon that had been in the juice. Those had extremely strong flavors. I loved everything. And with that salad, it was plenty of food. We also got some plantain fried rice with avocado salad. It was basically fried rice with some plaintain chunks topped with guacamole. It wasn’t anything special. So that was the lowlight of the meal. But it was a good accompaniment to the strong flavors of the entrée.

The service was good and attentive. The place does get loud when people start filling up, but what are you gonna do. You’re in a hip NYC restaurant, who doesn’t want to yap? The sociological highlight of the evening was the cafeteria table in the middle. A party of 11 high school girls, all perfect and blonde, were having some type of celebration. How come when I was in high school, I didn’t go to hip expensive restaurants? I feel jipped. Then, a party of 11 college men, all perfect in their button down striped shirts, were also having some type of celebration. You can’t even plan that kind of stuff.