Archive for the ‘Haitian’ Category

I went to the luxurious mall at Hudson Yards and tried couple of the food items (the shopping mall has eateries recently opened by some of the most popular Chefs out there)  that some of NYC’s food journalists have called their current hits. One that caught my attention was Fuku’s Vada Pav (pictured above), a deep fried potato patty with hints of fried garlic, pickle, scallion sauce, inspired by one of my all time favourite deep fried food items, Maharashtra’s Wada Pav. WP is easy to make and easy to love. If you have been cooking a bit, that’s the sort of combination of ingredients that rarely fails to be a hit (logical combination of ingredients where one ingredient serves as a flavour enhancer to the next). At Fuku, such  potential was left at bay, as the patty was WAY  too dry. So dry that I was not able to discern any flavour. I was not expecting Fuku to deliver a dazzling WP. I was simply expecting a deep fried potato patty to be what it’s supposed to be: a food item that rarely fails to be enjoyable. Somehow, they could not manage that. They have just one way out, with this one and it is to freshly fry and serve their WP as the customer orders it. Or find a way to emulate that effect.  0/10

In that mall, we found kawi creative enough (for food served inside a mall in North America) but absudly pricey as well as a tad unnecessarily fancy. At Kawi, we enjoyed their sweet and sour ribs. It is not the best we had, but probably one of their better menu items.

 

Cousins Maine Lobster, 77 Lexington Ave, NYC- This is an offshoot of a franchise food truck business based in Los Angeles. I grew up on an Island of the Indian Ocean with  the freshest  seafood possible at the lowest unimaginable cost . So now, it is payback time, lol. I have to pay for all that fresh low-cost (with low cost not synonymous of low quality, in this instance ) seafood I was blessed with in  my tender childhood, and you could not have found  a better place than a city of the western world to make that payback time a reality. CML’s seafood  was certainly not going to be a serious threat to  the dazzling seafood of my tender childhood, even at equal cost, but at what it is — essentially a chain selling lobster-rolls and some other few lobster-based fast-seafood items –, it is certainly an example for others to follow. My review here.

Sushi Amane has, at its helm, a young talented Chef who has spent several years at the current world’s best sushiya in Tokyo (Sushi Saito). The young talent has decided to give a try to NYC. I went paying a visit to Sushi Amane. There were certainly some very delicious food items to be enjoyed during that meal, but also some noticeable flaws that I took the time to constructively write about, here. Ironically, at the time of writing these lines, despite the abundance of online reviews on SA, from both the so-called self proclaimed food experts as well as the majority of opinions on the crowd-sourced review forums, no one have noticed what  I have noticed…so either those folks have no clue of what assessing sushi should be about, or I was simply unlucky. Anyways…

Quality Meats is  a steakhouse that I really wanted to love, based on the rave reviews of some of NYC’s best steakhouse experts. I was less lucky than them with my steak, but the sides were  good. My review here.

Jeju Noodle bar is a Korean Noodle bar  restaurant that delivered superb Korean freshly made Instant Noodles (Ramyun) gourmet dishes. They also have some competently rendered cooked and raw food items. Service is great, the experience very enjoyable. My review, here.

Roberta’s Pizza started in Brooklyn and it was so popular that they now have several branches across the US. I went to the one in Brooklyn, where it all started. Do not expect anything fancy, here. You go there essentially for the pizza and when you try it, you will understand why their competitors are not sleeping at night, Lol. It is always hard to call a pizza ‘world class’ or ‘benchmark’. Therefore I will refrain from using such superlatives, but let us just politely put it that way: the legions of people flocking to Roberta’s Pizza have not lost their mind. My review, here.

There were  lots of buzz about Ichiran NYC  and I have nothing again buzz. After all, how can you be in business without buzz? Buzz is essential. I am all for the buzz, but then you need to deliver, and that is exactly where I was  disappointed with Ichiran NYC. Listen, I know it is a chain of ramen. I know we are not in Japan. I know it can’t have the exclusive feel of an artisan Chef’s ramenya. And I went there with all of that in mind, which means with very realistic expectations and I was still disappointed because very basic things such as serving a proper warm fully runny egg and a decent chashu seemed to have eluded them. Which is not what one needs to experience at a ramenya, whether it is a chain or a solo operation.  My review here.

Haitian food is one of my top 7 preferred cuisines in the world. We live in a world that is dominated by what the West wants to sell you as great or not, therefore none of the major online  food writers  will have the gut to even mention that Haitian cuisine exists, lol. Mind you, their purpose is to serve as ‘promoters’ of the food industry colonialist mentality, a mentality that takes the form of such thinking  as ”’Western and Japanese food and produce’ are of course…  the best in the World. All the rest does not even exist”. I do not need them to know what’s great or not and one of the things I find great is the dazzling simple homey cuisine from Haiti. They do not have many dishes, but a great sense of flavours. Deep, bold, rich flavours with the delicious lambi en sauce, lalo, bouillon, etc coming to mind. Of course, this is not food to put on instagram, but I do not eat Instagram, I eat  food!!  My preferred Haitian restaurant, for now, in NY , is La Caye but LC is so popular that the wait was too long. We therefore had a Plan B, which was a Haitian eatery that I was going to try for the first time, Chloe’s Restaurant & Lounge in Brooklyn, NY. Chloe’s was a mixed affair. My review, here.

I also tried Sorbillo NYC – great effort by the local pizza scene in NYC to minimize the greatness of SNYC. But the real connoisseurs of the Neapolitan pizza are not going to be fooled: it is, right now, in NYC, one of their very best Neapolitan pizza. Of course, you are not in Naples, therefore the price tag of such pizza in NYC may enrage those who know the cost of such pizza back in Italy. Of course, you do not have easy access in NYC to the dazzling produce of Italy. But at the end of the day, it is one great Neapolitan piZza in NYC. My review of Sorbillo, here.

I wanted to try my usual go-to Haitian eatery in Brooklyn, La Caye, but the wait was too long. Therefore, we went for Chloe’s which is another Haitian eatery in Brooklyn.

We ate:

-Lambi boucané (Grilled conch) was prepared exactly as they do it in Haiti: not tenderized, not boiled. Straight to the grill. Great grilling flavour and superb pickling technique for the onion/red pepper that was served with the lambi boucane. 7/10

-Crab cake featured plenty of fresh crab meat and was enjoyable with a batter that had proper airy crispiness (flaky and tender), the cakes holding together well. 7/10

-Tassot de cabrit (Fried goat meat – upper left corner on the previous photo) featured tender tasty goat meat (flawless marinade of the meat, they have masterfully balanced the acidity coming from the lemon element with the necessary subtle spicy kick this dish requires) 8/10

The sos pwa (bean sauce – In this instance, a red bean sauce made with shallots, garlic cloves, thyme, parsley, etc), one sauce that is simple and yet utterly delicious and beautifully textured in its prime, was, here, edible, for sure, but tired-looking and has certainly been in its prime, at some point, but not when it made its appearance at our table (the vibrant red bean flavour of the sauce was only present in our wishes).  1/10

The diri kole ak pwa  (rice with red kidney beans, flavoured with thyme/parsley/cloves – right side of the previous picture) was almost bland. I am not sure why some Haitian eateries outside of Haiti do not invest a bit more time and care in the work of the diri kole as Haitians, back home, are used to their diri kole being flavourful. Not here. Too bad, as the Haitian diri kole is usually the most flavourful  of all the  versions  of this dish found in other Caribbean cuisines. I had more flavorful diri kole  at many Haitians eateries elsewhere. However, this is an example where many food reviewers confuse personal taste with technical flaws. Not flavoring the rice is not a technical flaw, in this instance. It is the choice that the kitchen made. A choice that I do not like, but not a flaw. Overcooking the rice, burning it when it is not supposed to, etc..those are technical flaws. Theirs was technically well executed: it  was not dry and it was freshly prepared.

 

-Grilled red snapper was dry throughout, therefore had virtually no flavour 0/10

-Akra ( fritters made of Malanga — a type of root vegetable —, garlic, scallion, peppers, flour ) was freshly prepared, the texture exactly as the one of a perfectly genuine Haitian Akra, though a tad oily but this is not a gourmet restaurant that is looking after such little details and rustic Haitian cooking has the « bit oily » feature as a perfectly legit/genuine part of the Akra experience. 7/10

The pikliz – a condiment made of raw chopped vegetables such as carrots/bell peppers/cabbage that are pickled in white vinegar alongside scotch bonnet peppers and seasoned with garlic, whole cloves and onion had proper genuine taste. This pikliz was certainly great in its prime (meaning if it was timely served) but it arrived at our table with the characteristics of the lesser pikliz: its crunch was a feature of the past, its dryness a  reality of the present tense. A pikliz without crunch and texture is not what one should be looking for (in the same fashion as a slaw —as pikliz is essentially a sort of pickled spicy slaw — if it is not going to have crunch and texture, it is better not to serve it). Too bad, as it was evident that the technique to conceive that pikliz was on point (5/10).

Bottom line: An erratic performance. Not in the league of La Caye, for sure. I would still go back for the tassot de cabrit though, as well as the Akra and will try their other dishes (lambi, poulet en sauce, for example). Overall food rating: 5.5/10 (tassot de cabrit, akra and lambi boucané were good, the pickling technique generally superior, but all of that was marred by a sos pwa, some pikliz as well as a red snapper that should have never left the kitchen) Service: 6/10 (doing the basics , polite) Chloe’s restaurant Addr: 9413 Ave L, Brooklyn NY, 11236 Phone:  347-770-9051

La Caye is a Haitian restaurant situated in the heart of downtown Brooklyn.

LA CAYE 02My starter was a faultless acra, freshly fried,the texture nicely crunchy (not dry as it is oftently the case elsewhere) on the outside, superbly soft on the inside (oftently mushy at most tropical eateries), the taste genuine (exactly as a talented Haitian Mammie-cook would cook it, but here the texture  is more refined than rustic) and  great. 8/10

LA CAYE 03My wife went on with a  lambi  (stewed conch) – the seafood  of superb quality, cooked to a perfect chewy texture, the sauce well made. Again and again, talented Haitian Mammie cooking quality, with refined presentation.  My wife is Haitian and happens to be a superb cook. Her opinion of La Caye was that this is as great as Haitian cooking will taste like in North America.  8/10

LA CAYE 04Faultless is also how I  would describe my red snapper, broiled to perfect moist consistency on the inside, the skin lightly crisp as it should, the seasoning well judged. Hard to improve upon that one. 9/10

Rounded off the meal with an excellent  Pen Patat/Pain Patate (sweet potato bread), the potato flavor particularly  exquisite 9/10 as well as a pineapple upside down cake which was technically  baked properly and tasted fine, but I had pineapple upside down cakes which pineapple flavor was more expressive than this one.

Pros: A first-rate Haitian restaurant

Cons: No Rhum at a Haitian restaurant (there was none on the evening of my visit)?

Overall: 8/10 (Categ: Finest Haitian restaurant in North America) Many restaurants cooking caribbean food  suffer from occasional issues such as rice not moist enough because it was not cooked to order, fried bananas bathed too long in oil, overcooked seafood, etc. In a nutshell, issues due to a problem of time management. And yet, you get used to it. But during this meal, not one single item could be faulted on the aspect of the timing (cooking of the fish? timed right. The plantain bananas. same thing. the lambi, same thing, etc). For someone like me who expects a certain degree of mastery (mastery of the timing of the cooking in this example) at a restaurant, the level  of  perfection found on this evening had to eventually  jump to my attention. I liked La Caye (a small but tastefully decorated interior, bathed in dark wood, good service) as it offers  refined food that is  genuinely Haitian. But it  can be  pricey  ( fresh quality ingredients, which is what they use — especially seafood — is never going to be cheap, obviously  ). La Caye, Addr: 35 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217, United States Phone:+1 718-858-4160  http://www.lacayebk.com/#!menu/c24tf

What I think weeks later: Sometimes people ask me if it is possible to have an accurate opinion of some food if you are not from the country of the food you are assessing. You do not need to be from  the country of the food you are talking about. I do not need to be Haitian to understand genuine Haitian flavors.  You can be Haitian and have no real interest in Haitian food. The key, if you can’t afford travelling, is to reach out to a Haitian friend’s Mom and ask her to  cook some Haitian food for you and teach you how genuine Haitian food should taste, smell  and feel like. Ask the same thing to 2,3 other Haitian Moms and next time you will know what you are talking about, lol.  That said, in North America, most Haitian eateries  do usually reproduce the flavors of the homeland effortlessly —- that is widely confirmed by Haitians of all generations. And that is what La Caye does.