...We meet to Eat!

Monday, March 30, 2009

L for Latin

This was my first attempt at hosting a Cuisine Club dinner and thanks to Shweyta, it turned out to be easier than I had originally thought.

A tip of my hat goes to the Internet, for its large number of suggestions and reviews. Specifically, Yelp and CitySearch

A wag of my finder goes to Abhishek for his mis direction. Dearest Abhu had incorrectly informed me that I can pick anything with 'L'. It can be the name of the restaurant, or the street its on and does not have to be limited to the name of the cuisine. Thankfully, his attempts were futile.

After dabbling in Lebanese for 3 hours, I directed my internet search towards 'Latin'. Yelp was very helpful in limiting the search by 'BYOB'. Zafra kitchen in Hoboken appeared to be a wise choice.


My first blunder was ignoring the review "Not good for large groups". As luck would have it, the turnout was one of the biggest with 16 of us. Zafra's Kitchen was a small, hole in the wall, cozy little place and it became a lot cozier when all of us had to adjust within the confined space. I was amazed at the wait line that formed while we were dining.

My second mistake was underestimating the travel time. Closely followed by my third mistake of not having anyone's cellphone number on me. I am embarrassed to admit that I made it just in the nick of time and we came close to loosing out dinner reservations. But all's well that end's well. Or so I hope coz some of us had to leave a little earlier for various non-essential reasons.

The find of the month was the delicious sangria's that the place treated us to. This was a BYOB place and we were encouraged to bring our own wines. Per the online reviews, Zafra's kitchen made killer sangrias and they weren't lying. Both red and white, the sangria was probably the best I have ever tasted.

The food was excellent. I was impressed with the appetizers. Special mentions go to Patatas Bravas, Chorizo Encebollado, Pimientos del Piquillo Rellenos de Frijol Refrito y Tres Quesos. The rellenos was my personal favorite.

Everyone appreciated the food. I had
Camarones Coloraditos (a Shrimp in Red Mole Sauce over Fresh Corn Cuban-Style Polenta, Sautéed KaleUntil). which was good. I heard good reviews for Pollo con Mole Oaxaqueño (a Chicken with Authentic Oaxacan Mole, Rice, and Tortillas). Until we had to leave, some of us were still ordering tapas and the festivities were in full swing. Maybe some one from the remaining party can fill in the details of what transpired after our retreat.

All in all, our first adventure out of Manhattan was quite rewarding and all of us had a good time.

A special thanks goes out to our patient waitress. She was excellent, helpful (and strangely like all the dishes I ordered). It was not easy to accommodate all of us given the confined quarters. Seeing the wait staff wade through the sea of humanity as they served our food, was a spectacle. The three row seating was definitely a first!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

K is for Kabuli

K was going to be Korean, but we ended up being Kabuli :) Korean would have been fun, but was more tried and tested and had lesser vegetarian options, than Kabuli; hence the choice.
Teenie, the Hostess for 'K', picked Bamiyan, also known as one of the best Afghani/ Kabuli restaurants in the city for dinner and we were once again, a big group of 13 people who attended. The restaurant decor, among its other traditional Afghani artefacts, had a picture of the Afghan girl on one of its walls; a fact I found amusing personally. A global symbol of the country, framed in a photograph.
The food, although similar sounding, was different from Indian food in its use of spices and herbs. We started off with hot fresh Afghani bread and multiple orders of the Kachaloo: turnovers filled with potatoes, herbs and spices; with yogurt dip on the side, which were really delicious. An after-thought led a few of us to order the Soltani Morgh Kabobs: one skewer of chicken breast and one skewer of Koobideh; with white basmati rice, since we concurred leaving the Afghan place without trying out Kabobs, might be a shame. An after-thought, well-thought of.
For the main course, people across the table ordered various dishes ranging from the popular vegetarian Dal Chalow: gently cooked pureé of split peas and pomegranate juice; white basmati rice on the side to the distinctly unique Lowand Chalow: tender boneless chicken breast sauteéd in savory yogurt sauce, seasoned with fresh dill and tarragon; served with white basmati rice. Other entrees ordered across the table, included the Kabuli Palow with Chicken: browned baked basmati rice with tender pieces of chicken breast; topped with shredded carrots and raisins, the Quorma Chalow with Chicken: tender chicken breast cooked with fresh tomatoes, vegetables and lentils; with white basmati rice, the Chicken Curry: chicken breast sauteéd with fresh vegetables, curry and yogurt; with white basmati rice and the Fish Curry: fresh salmon sauteéd with fresh vegetables, curry and yogurt; with white basmati rice.
Basmati saffron flavoured rice accompanied each dish and was cooked very tastefully, enough to be savored all by itself, as an entree too. The unanimous approval of the food was obvious across the table, with the Lowand Chalow being my personal favourite, because of its rich yogurt gravy, filled with herbs.
As does usually happen at Cuisine Club dinners, we were too full by dessert time. Yet, to be fair to our sweet-teeth, we decided to order a round of the Malai-e Afghan; home made vanilla ice cream with rose water and honey and the Phirnee: creamy rice-flour pudding with pistachios and rose water, for the table. The phirnee was brilliant while the ice cream failed to arouse any compliments, due to its 'regular' taste. Maybe vanilla tastes the same all over the world, we concurred.
All in all, this was, a fun evening with delicious food, that seemed to satiate everyone, to almost the same degree. Almost half the group was vegetarian and all of them left happy with their meal and their choices.
Conversations ranged from geography to music as we discussed the common threads between Indian and Afghani culture to the origin/ sound of music from the 'santoor', the 'sitar' etc.
Our waitress was extremely helpful and accommodating and the service was good. Being a large group we were seated in the back area of the restaurant, which is not as traditionally done up as the front, so a few of us felt like we missed out on the authentic Afghani spatial experience. But the food made up for this lack of experience and this place is a definite recommendation if you want to try out some good Afghani food.

Thanks Teenie, for picking this experience for us :)