Many of my best dining experiences never make it to the page: If an eating establishment doesn’t merit a first look, dish of the week, is it still good?, point on a map, or paragraph in a feature story, it often disappears. Those fleeting encounters with restaurants are often the most enjoyable. Accordingly, I resolved to keep an informal diary reflecting my unvarnished daily experiences. Here’s the eleventh installment and here’s last week’s edition.
Anyone who has visited Argentina will vividly remember the choripan. A portmanteau of chorizo (sausage) and pan (bread), this street treat is roughly equivalent to the New York City hot dog — available everywhere and taken for granted. But in Buenos Aires, other than the empanada, it’s almost the only thing you can grab from a cart. The bun is rustic and elongated, the sausage much closer to an actual chorizo from Spain than those found here. Next to the cart, the visitor finds a dizzying array of condiments, several of which might be homemade.
I think about the choripans I downed in Argentina a decade ago, and have never been able to find anything quite like them here: until this past weekend. Feeling hungry early in the afternoon, I decided to drop by an inviting-looking Uruguayan bistro in Bushwick for brunch. (Note that Argentina and Uruguay have overlapping menus of Spanish- and Italian-influenced dishes.)
Tabare is found at 1006 Flushing Avenue steps from Wilson Avenue. The dining room was deep and dark on this sunny afternoon, decorated with souvenirs of Montevideo: antique kitchen utensils, family portraits, coats of arms, battered license plates, all befitting a cottage or farmhouse in the country.
I decided to sit outside, which provides a view of the Boar’s Head factory, which, with no identification and razor wire atop its high fences, might be a penitentiary. My friendly waiter wore a Napalm Death t-shirt — an ’80s grindcore band from England whose claim to fame is the world’s shortest song.
The chorizo ($12) is one of several beguiling smaller dishes on the brunch menu (not, alas, on the dinner menu). Presented on a chopping block with a sharp knife, it comes on a round bun that tastes homemade, and has been split so that both the inside and outside get charred and almost crunchy.
The taste was fabulous — in addition to tomato and lettuce, it was smeared with a magnificent relish that tasted of raw onion and fresh oregano, and gave the sandwich just the right oomph. I also gobbled a toast smeared with crumbly blood sausage with a runny paprika-dusted egg on top, and an undressed salad on the side. Afterwards, I headed down Flushing Avenue to check out Bake Shop, a place that makes its own frankly weird bagels. 1006 Flushing Avenue, near Wilson Avenue, Bushwick
Korean snacks flood the city
I wasn’t a fan of the Korean corn dog, which actually has a rice-based batter, mainly because the frankfurter inside was totally obscured by the wealth of sauces and toppings, or even replaced with rice cake or cheese, and the fine sprinkle of granulated sugar at the end was too weird to contemplate. My opinion seems to be borne out as these places, mainly chains, have been closing left and right. The Korean fried chicken phenomenon seems far more durable.
There are more interesting Korean snacks — as I found out on a recent visit to Chick Of Us (or is it Chick of [the] U.S.). Flanked by a blow-up rubber chicken that looks frankly confused, it principally offers chicken thigh nuggets with a variety of toppings. But I was more interested in two other products offered with hand-lettered signage in the window, Who could resist something called a pornado?
It turned out to be a helical potato chip on a stick, freshly fried and served hot. It too can be had with toppings, but I preferred the plainish version. It is beautiful to contemplate, and the continuous potato slice is twice as thick as a chip, giving it crunch and squish simultaneously. The price ($7) is reasonable by today’s standards.
I was also drawn to a series of skewers that alternated various meats with cylindrical rice cakes. The one I picked ($8) had little smoky sausages that were mega-delicious; when fried they split open, while the noodle material got slightly crusty on the outside, and a little chewier than usual on the inside. 205 Allen Street, near Houston Street, Lower East Side
Cajun Windsor Terrace
Finding the edible specialties of New Orleans in New York is one of the most difficult tasks one can undertake. Sometimes the versions offered here are not only inauthentic, but just plain awful. Some of the best can be found in totally unexpected places. Thus it was I’d gone in search of Chicago-style hot dogs at Dog Day Afternoon in Windsor Terrace when I noticed jambalaya at the end of the menu. How could it possibly be good?
Well it turned out to be exemplary in every way. The Creole rice was perfectly seasoned, redolent of green onions and red pepper, and the serving was dotted with sausages that turned out to be kielbasa that was a dead ringer for garlic saucisson. It was irresistible, and I wolfed down every bite in short order, marveling at the low cost ($7). Served in a paper boat, it felt like food from a street vendor. 266 Prospect Park West, at 17th Street, Windsor Terrace