Category Archives: NY/CT

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Sofrito in White Plains, NY: Mofongo and a Nap

Remember the dinner scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when Richard Dreyfuss intently molded his mashed potatoes into the shape of a mountain? That’s sort of what mofongo looks like. The signature dish of Puerto Rico is stick-to-your-ribs hearty: mashed plantains formed into a mound, often served with a sauce and meat.

I was up in NY last week, where my friend Deirdre and I got dinner at Sofrito in White Plains.

We shared these beef and chicken empanadas.

And I ordered mofongo with crispy chicken.

The dense and garlicky mofongo made for a full meal all by itself. The chicken, wonderfully crispy if a bit salty, put this dish over the top. It was a serious amount of food that easily could have been split between two people.

I hugely enjoyed the mofongo, but paid the price several minutes later when I found myself dozing off during the first twenty minutes of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Mofongo and red wine are not ideal pre-movie dinner fare if you plan on staying awake. I think all the blood in my body had been diverted to my stomach. Or it could just be I’m turning into a senior citizen.

Sofrito
175 Main St.
White Plains, NY
914-428-5500

 

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The Bar at Blue Hill at Stone Barns

When you’re about to move out of town, everyone wants to get together for a goodbye drink.  Not that I mind. It’s been fun. I’ve consumed more wine, beer and cocktails in the past two weeks than I have in the previous two months.

Two bars in particular stood out: the bar at Red Hat on the River, which was super warm, inviting and included continuous refills of cheesy bread sticks, and the bar at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

What surprised me was how understated it was. Bar on one side of the room, and two sitting areas on either side of a fireplace, arranged very much like someone’s living room. Simple, and as I tweeted, “uber-cozy.” My friends and I loved it.

We were mostly there for a drink (I had the Bart’s beer — scotch and other liquors over a giant ice cube), but we did share two items from the bar menu.  Sorry for the poor quality of this pic of veggie chips.

They arrived draped among what resembled tree branches. Dramatic looking. There was smoked kale, parsnip, some kind of green (shiso leaf?) and a salty sweet potato chip pierced with sage. It’s safe to say I’m the only one who actually liked the chips — I think everyone else thought they were too weird.

The cheese platter went over better.

Three cheeses — cow’s milk, sheep’s milk and blue cheese, quince paste with sesame seeds, and some extraordinary bread. Looked like regular bread but the crust was killer.

So when the question is posed, “Have you ever been to Blue Hill at Stone Barns?” I’ll answer, “I sure have! I’ve been to Stone Barns… bar.”

That’s close enough for now.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Rd.
Pocantico Hills, NY
914-366-9600

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Touch of Jamaica Cafe

The alley between Mount Kisco’s South Moger Ave. and E. Main St. has become an interesting food enclave. For one, there’s Connie’s Bakery & General Store, which I admire both for its baked goods and its mission of community service.  Across the way from Connie’s is Westchester’s only Ethiopian restaurant, Lalibela, and then next door to Lalibela is Touch of Jamaica Cafe. Three very different food establishments, each worth a visit in its own right.

Touch of Jamaica Cafe is an eat-in restaurant, though it’s small, with only four tables. I imagine there’s a wait on busy nights. During the summer additional seating is available outside. (I know what you’re thinking: Summer, what’s that?)

On this day I was in the mood for something hearty and spicy. I made the right choice, going with the brown-stew fish lunch combo.

The owner (who I believe was the only one cooking) asked if I wanted it spicy. I sure did. And I wasn’t disappointed.  You can’t see the fish too well in the picture because it’s buried, but it’s lightly fried and comes out piping hot, a little crisp and flaky.  The sauce is spicy, but not painfully so, and aromatic with onions, carrots and peppers. It’s all served over a mound of Jamaican rice and peas.  Very tasty stuff, and filling without sitting in your stomach like a gut bomb.

One note — the brown-stew fish takes around fifteen minutes to prepare, so it might be best to call ahead with the order if you’re in a rush or getting it to go. I didn’t mind just sitting, admiring the Bob Marley pictures on the wall and inhaling the aromas wafting out of the kitchen.  The fish was worth the wait.

Touch of Jamaica Cafe
37 South Moger Ave.
Mount Kisco, NY
914-864-0341

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NYC: Ethiopian at Queen of Sheba

This post is a lot more pleasant to write now that the NY Jets have been knocked out of the playoffs. You see, my friends and I ate ate this meal the night the Jets beat the Patriots; it was only thanks to good company and an Ethiopian dinner that the night was salvaged. We’d just watched the game at Lansdowne Road in Hell’s Kitchen, and a little drunk and a lot unhappy, headed to Queen of Sheba where we shared two combination samplers.

The meat sampler included different preparations of beef and lamb, while the vegetarian sampler consisted of collards, lentils, split peas, green beans and cabbage.  This may be one of the better Ethiopian restaurants I’ve been to in NYC.  The injera was appropriately tangy, and each dish had a ton of flavor. A few were pleasantly spicy, too.

I left in a brighter mood than what I’d arrived in. The lesson: after your team suffers a crushing loss, go eat Ethiopian. It’ll make you feel better.

Queen of Sheba
650 10th Ave. btw 45th & 46th
New York, NY
212-397-0610

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First Taste at bartaco

Ebb Tide Seafood in Port Chester is now a memory, replaced by the stylish and new, bartaco.

Not since innocent, virginal Sandra Dee was made over into leather-clad, sexy Sandy in “Grease” has a transformation been quite so dramatic. Okay, that’s hyperbole, but still, the space looks radically different, with only the large deck as a reminder of what was there before. It’s goodbye bait shop, and hello sleek, airy dining room.

Some friends and I met at bartaco the other night for dinner and drinks. Upon entering the restaurant, what’s immediately striking is the bar. It’s large, attractive, constructed of wood and set aglow with candles and hanging basket lanterns. It dominates the room; there are tables and couches ringed around it, but the bar is the visual focal point.

To the left of the bar is a separate dining area, and that’s where we were seated. Might have been more fun to be in the main room where all the action was, but it worked out fine.

About the food and drink, the restaurant’s name spells out the essential concept: “bartaco.” From the bar, we ordered cocktails and margaritas. I got my margaritas with salt and they were great — strong and tart with freshly squeezed lime juice.

The menu is divided into two main categories: “Tacos” and “Not Tacos.” Pretty clear.

As there were six of us, we decided to individually order a round of tacos and share several “not tacos” tapas-style.  Ordering is done on a card, where you check off the dishes you want and hand it to the server.

Drinks were flowing and the conversation was animated, but I did my best to keep track of what was what.

Our “not tacos” included these fresh corn tortilla chips and guacamole.

And soft, pork tamales.

We shared a refreshing shrimp ceviche (not pictured) and these cheese arepas.

Cheese arepas are fine, but I find meat and vegetable-filled to be more interesting. I hope bartaco adds a few arepa variations to the menu, because a filled arepa is truly delicious.

At one point we noticed a pair of chopsticks sitting on the table, but none of us knew where they had come from. We joked that the restaurant had provided chopsticks for the two Asians at the table to make us feel more comfortable. Turns out they were for the shrimp ceviche. Who knew.

For tacos, we ordered a wide assortment: chorizo, chicken al pastor, baja fish, Thai shrimp, pork chile verde, chicken liver, portobello, and I think someone may have ordered tongue?  I’m disappointed that I missed veal cheek on the menu, because I have a feeling those would have been tasty.

Word of note: the tacos are smallish, so keep that in mind when ordering. One person can eat 3-4 tacos without a problem.

All of the tacos were very good (except for one, which I’ll explain in a moment).  My favorites were the fish and the chorizo, which was spicy and well seasoned. Lots of crunchy herbs and veggies inside each taco, giving it a texture contrast with the warm, soft tortilla.  And three sauces set on the table (hot, chile verde, sweet and sour) add a nice dash of flavor to each taco, if you so choose.

Now for the not so good (and keep in mind this probably has nothing to do with bartaco and everything to do with my personal tastes). I’ve learned in the past year that I really don’t enjoy foie gras, and I can add another item to the list: chicken liver.  Took a bite of my friend Mindy’s chicken liver taco, and HELLO… strong stuff. The aftertaste lingered in my mouth for several minutes, even after I tried to wash it away with margaritas and other food.  I guess chicken liver’s not my thing. But again, that’s me. If you’re a fan, this may be right up your alley. Although Mindy did say that the liver tasted “off,” and she likes liver, so we’ll have to take her word for it.

For dessert, churros — whose mouth-watering cinnamon-y aroma had been wafting through the dining room earlier in the night — and chocolate and vanilla ice cream. The vanilla ice cream had flecks of coconut in it, and the fried churros were warm and soft on the inside. Mmm.

Fun night all around. Nothing mind-blowing about the food, but it’s well done, and I’m sure will only improve with time.  bartaco’s a destination perfectly suited for a large group or a date, and with that waterfront deck, it’ll be particularly hopping during the summer.

Finally, I’ve written in the past that tapas-style dining is deceiving; it never seems as though you’re eating that much food, but then you get the bill, and there’s a certain sticker shock. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised when the bartaco bill arrived, because it was much more reasonable than expected, even with drinks added in. The perks of sharing dishes among six people.

Of course, there’s the other downside of tapas-style: about 45 minutes after I got home, I was hungry again.

Final note: A friend of mine had dinner at bartaco tonight and texted me that the wait for food was over an hour.  But because of that, they were only charged for drinks. Pretty cool on bartaco’s part to take care of the situation.

bartaco
1 Willett Ave.
Port Chester, NY
914-937-TACO