I’ve always known Alfonso Zhicay, the Ecuadorean culinary star behind Woodside’s Casa del Chef Bistro knew his way around ceviche, but it took a pandemic and a vegetarian ceviche of all things to fully convince me.
Like many chefs, Zhicay has pivoted during the pandemic, launching a new concept called PapaViche, a collaboration with fellow Ecuadorean Chef Humberto Guallpa of Freemans. I wanted to do only potatoes and then he said, ‘what about with ceviche?’” Zhicay said. “Potatoes and ceviche, why not let’s do it.”
Opening night at PapaViche.
When it comes to ceviche I tend to prefer the bracingly citric Peruvian version to the soupier and sweeter tomato-based Ecuadorean version, but Zhicay’s shrimp ceviche—listed on the menu as Alfonso’s Ceviche—knocked my socks off. The plump shrimp lounged in an orange liquor that was as bright as a gazpacho, but also had an incredible depth of flavor. “It’s a twist. It’s not exactly Ecuadorean ceviche,” Zhicay says noting that one of the secrets to its depth is roasted tomatoes that are added to a shrimp shell consomme. (more…)
Vibrant ceviche mixto, featuring shrimp and octopus, and the mighty bolon filled with pork, plantains, and mozzarella are just part of the evening’s menu.
Ask any old-school Queens food nerd, including yours truly, about Ecuadorean cuisine in the World’s Borough and the first thing that comes to mind will be the cluster of food trucks on Warren Street underneath the 7 train in Corona or perhaps the ladies who grill cuy—guinea pig—in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. About year ago though some very trusted Queens food nerds of a more recent vintage, like my pal Instagrammer @Wendalicious888 started to talk about a new place Rincón Melania on the border of Sunnyside and Long Island City.
“How good can it be? There are no Ecuadoreans over there,” I thought to myself. Good enough for a glowing review in The New York Times it turns out. Which is why I’m so glad that the next Queens Dinner Club will convene at Rincón Melania November 13th. Make sure you don’t miss out on this very special dinner by signing up for our mailing list here.
I want to like mofongo I really do, but all too often the mashup of plantains and fried pork is drier than a Brit’s sense of humor. Sometimes I do like it, but it’s always a real gut buster. All of which leaves me quite glad to have tried Ecuadorean miniature mofongo the other day. Of course in Quito and on Roosevelt Avenue they don’t call it “miniature mofongo” but rather “bolon mixto.” (more…)
Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack, one of my Smorgasburg Queens favorites.
PLEASE NOTE THIS VENUE IS CLOSED
Curating Smorgasburg Queens with its melting pot of international vendors ranging from The Arepa Lady and Celebes Bakar Indonesian Grill to luxe offerings like the lobster rolls from Brine by Danny Brown has been a real hoot. What’s even more fun for me though is eating there.
One Saturday I went full on Andrew Zimmern: balut from Papa’s Kitchen for starters, papaya salad with black crab from Qi, Snowy Durian from my friends at KULU Desserts. While I’m partial to the hallacas—sweet and savory Ecuadorean tamales—from Son Foods, my favorite eating experience at Smorgasburg Queens has to be Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack.
To step behind the curtain and take a seat at Keizo’s counter is to enter another world, somewhat more serene than the rest of the market, but no less delicious. Both of the hot soups I have tried have been most excellent, but my top pick might be the seafood broth based cold noodles. So, tell me, what’s your favorite thing to eat at Smorgasburg Queens?
Smorgasburg Queens, 43-29 Crescent St., Long Island City
At first glance the brownish slabs in the basket looked like pottery. “It’s chocolate,” the dude behind the counter at Los Paisanos told me. Chocolate for drinking that is. Mexican hot chocolate is one of my favorite treats in the dead of winter. The tablet like slabs of chocolate at Los Paisanos are organic Ecuadorean and will run you $10 a pound. Five bucks bought a nice-sized piece that should keep me well-supplied with hot chocolate in the next few weeks. As I found last night it is unsweetened. I am still perfecting my hot chocolate technique. Last night I melted the chocolate in a cup of milk in saucepan while stirring. Next time I’m going to try melting the chocolate a bit and then adding the milk. I’ve a feeling it will result in a smoother texture. I might even invest in one of those little cappuccino frothers. Viva el chocolate!
Los Paisanos, 79-16 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights,718-898-4141
I’d just finished a most restorative coctel de camaron y pulpo from Pedro El Cevichero, when I encountered a miniature Ecuadorean snack stand off the corner of 80th and Roosevelt. “Que es esto?” I asked in my best bad Spanish, pointing to a stack of brown plastic-wrapped slabs. “Cocada de coco, uno cincuenta ,” the proprietress said as I fished through my pockets for $1.50. The little brown slab consisted of shredded coconut bound together with lots of sugar. Sticky, sweet, and coconutty a perfect bit of sweetness after a big serving of seafood. As I munched away the little old lady told me she’s at her post on Saturdays and Sunday, and handed me a card that read, “Doña Luisa,platos tradicionales Ecuatorianos.” I showed up around 3, so if I had to guess I’d put her hours at late morning to evening. Among the other traditional Ecuadorean specialties on offer that day were quimbolitos, which a quick search of the gustatory interwebs reveals to be a delectable cake steamed in a leaf.
Doña Luisa, 80-08 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, weekends only
The Puma from Tortas Neza is big enough to feed your entire team.
Despite the Mets colors that I often fly I like to say that I’m more of a Queens fan than a fan of the beleaguered ball club. One thing that I’m surely a fan of is my home borough’s diverse and delicious food. So as a public service to baseball fans—native New Yorkers and tourists alike—I devote this week’s edition of The Seven to a lineup of places to eat before and after the 2013 MLB All-Star Game being held tomorrow night at Citi Field at 7:30 p.m. (more…)
Jorgito’s ceviche is topped with crunchy, salty maize cancha.
The best ceviche de pescado I ever had came from a sweet Peruvian lady’s cooler. She sold it streetside in the Diamond District. Every Friday I’d buy one for lunch, and devour it greedily at my desk, She’s long gone now, but my soft spot for fish cooked in lime juice served streetside remains. Last weekend when I saw Cevicheria Jorgito, a cart on 111th Street just off La Roosie, my heart and stomach lept up. About half an hour and 30 blocks prior I’d had a Mexican style coktel, and was starting to feel hungry again.
Jorgito’s cart lies a corn kernel’s throw from the 7 line.
I was a little disappointed when I found out Jorgito’s ceviche is the soupier Ecuadorean style. I prefer the Peruvian version, which is more of salad. This disappointment did not deter me from handing over $6 for a small container of ceviche de pescado. Bits of cooked corvina bobbed in the cool tomato soup, alongside a surprise ingredient, chewy morsels of yucca. Topped with salty toasted corn kernels and a squirt or three of bright orange hot sauce it was a nice snack. It’s great to find Mexican and Ecuadorean ceviches on La Roosie. Now if I could just find a Peruvian one all my streetside seafood needs would be met.
Cevicheria Jorgito, 111 St., north side of Roosevelt Avenue, weekends only
A Mexican cocktail of a different kind for Cinco de Mayo.
Sometimes I’m convinced that Cinco de Mayo was invented by Cervecería Modelo to promote Corona. That’s just one reason why I’m spending it in the Bronx eating Bengali food. For those of you who don’t have plans yet or don’t like drinking frozen margaritas and dining on rice, beans, and mystery meat covered in cheese I have a suggestion. Grab a few friends and take a nice walk in the spring sunshine on La Roosie, as the locals like to call the stretch of Roosevelt Avenue that runs through Jackson Heights and Corona.
Start out with a Mexican style ceviche from La Esquina de Camaron Mexicano, Roosevelt Ave. and 80th St. Watch as Pedro the ceviche mixologist fills a plastic cup with your choice of seafood: shrimp, octopus, or both. To the protein he adds a pour of a tomato-based concoction, olive oil, diced onions, avocado, salt, and hot sauce. Don’t forget to crumble some saltines over the top before digging in. If ceviche, or a “coktel,” as Pedro calls it, isn’t your thing head over to the nearby Taqueria Coatzingo, 76-05 Roosevelt Ave. for a weekend special: barbacoa de chivo, slow roasted young goat available in a taco or a platter with consommé and rice and beans. Stop by Panaderia Coatzingo next door for a cinnamon and sugar dusted concha to munch on your walk.
Sweet and cold, El Bohio’s shaved ice is a harbinger of even warmer days.
As you continue down La Roosie with shafts of light dancing on the street from the elevated train you’ll soon enter Little Ecuador. Its epicenter is Warren Street and Roosevelt Avenue, right by the Junction Boulevard stop on the 7. The corner and Warren Street are lined with food trucks and carts offering a staggering amount of pork, both roasted and fried. The ladies who run the cart called La Esquina del Sabor—the corner of flavor—will gladly offer up a sample of fritada, toothsome fried pork. Ten bucks buys a plate of pork with potatoes, fat starchy kernels of mote corn, and crunchy toasted maiz cancha. Need to cool off? Hit up El Bohio, 98-17 Roosevelt Ave, Corona, for an old school Dominican shaved ice. My go-to is the fresa or raspberry ice ($3.50 for a large cup) with leche condensada. If you’re still in need of refreshment there’s a Dominican dude who hangs out around 104th St. selling fresh tropical fruits and drinks. These include ginormous young coconuts ($5) that he will gladly hack open with his trusty machete. (more…)
The first time I tried the Andean delicacy cuy was in a Peruvian joint in the Bronx called Chim Pum Callao. The owners were clearly proud of their product. They had the waiter show us the guinea pig—frozen, butterflied, and flat as a board—in a package emblazoned with the Peruvian flag. What came out of the kitchen was nothing to be proud of though. Little had been done to the critter other than deep frying. What meat there was dry, stringy, and devoid of flavor. Eventually I tried it roasted on a rotisserie at El Pequeño Coffee Shop in Jackson Heights. It was pretty good, almost like a cross between pork and rabbit.
Years later I would see little old Ecuadorean ladies in Flushing-Meadows Corona Park slow spit roasting cuy over charcoal fires. It looked absolutely delicious, like a miniature suckling pig. Once while walking home through the park I encountered a New York Times reporter who did a video interview with me about the delicacy. So when Nathan Vickers, a student at Columbia Journalism School, contacted me to talk cuy and then invited me to eat roast guinea pig at the home of an Ecuadorean family in Corona I jumped at the chance. We hung out with the family and listened to tales of guinea pig smuggling while they slowly roasted the cuy. It had spent the better part of a day in a garlicky marinade so the aroma coming off it as it cooked was incredible. And the end result was truly delicious. It’s experiences like that day that make me glad to live in Queens, one of the most culturally diverse places on the planet.