Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Two Restaurants

Back when I used to tell people I was a filmmaker the inevitable response was Wow! You should make a movie about this and this and this. Now when I tell people I'm a food writer I'm inevitably met with a wide-eyed proclamation that I should review this or that restaurant. I never have the heart to reply that being a food writer doesn't mean being a restaurant critic or reviewer. Its like saying all dogs are huskies (though they should be-- or pugs, I like pugs).

Restaurants have never been my thing really. I come from a family that has been going to the same four restaurants since before I was born. They may occasionally swap one out for a new
one that serves the exact same food-- either Puerto Rican, Cuban, or Mexican -- and may have the advantage of being closer to our house. When I started doing high school summer programs in NYC I had many fights with my parents because the only restaurant they ever wanted to go
to was this one Cuban place next to their hotel (which they still go to when they visit me). So I never developed an understanding or a passion for restaurant faire or that industry. Its only recently through my addiction to food blogs and my artist-turned-culinary-student friend that I even know what a Michelin star is. Even when I was in college and it was up to me to choose where to go for lunch, dinner, breakfast, or better yet brunch-- I kinda always just went to the same handful of places on campus (and never to brunch, had no idea what that was).

Now a young (meaning adventurous), working (meaning with an income), aspiring (meaning still too lazy to actually get it together and start but with intentions of doing that before age 30 once the ADD goes away) food writer, I have yet again fallen into the same pattern of going to the same restaurants simply because they are near my house. Unfortunately because of the limitations of my neighborhood (that's a lie, if I walked ten blocks further in any direction I would have more options), there's only two restaurants I really go to: Maria's Mexican Bistro and Korzo, an Eastern European restaurant with a $20 tasting menu on Wednesdays. So here is a testament to why I'm more of the Mark Bittman-Smitten Kitchen-Gastronomica-Savour school of food writing as opposed to the Frank Bruni school.

I think I have invested more money and time on Maria's than any other restaurant I've ever patronized. It got the seal of approval as far as Mexican food in the East Coast is concerned from our Texas friend who is the pickiest eater I've ever met so there's definitely something there. The food is not bad, sometimes its even good, though you're better off ordering simpler faire like burritos, quesadillas, and corn rather than a proper entree which inevitably comes with overcooked meat. Their tacos are particularly good, two corn tortillas filled with meat or spinach, lettuce, and pico de gallo and at $2 you can mix and match. Where they really shine, though, is with their brunch menu which includes the usual list of offenders: tamales, pozole, huevos rancheros, huevos con chorizo which are all very flavorful, generous dishes serves with slightly watery refried beans and yellow rice. During the summer, they transform a Brooklyn backyard with cement floors into a courtyard decorated with brightly colored beer ads and banners, tiki torches, and an inflatable palm tree. The inner dining room is narrow with red walls decorated with framed Diego Rivera prints and Mexican crafts. The bar takes up half the space and is always playing some sort of sporting event on low volume while the rest of the space is bombarded with Latin rock and salsa turned to a reasonable volume. Usually its quite empty and the food is cheap so we wonder how they stay in business but we're thankful that they do. I guess their absence might motivate us to find new places to go out to eat but with a $10.95 brunch menu with unlimited booze and good food, I hope not.

Korzo on the other hand is actually good. Its the type of food that will have you rolling back to your apartment-- greasy meat and potatoes washed down with Czech and German beer. Their brunch is more like dinner with eggs on it but their dinners are lovely. Particularly exciting is the aforementioned tasting menu, created so that people get the chance to try new things which makes sense considering the unsung glory of Czech, Hungarian, and Germanic food. It consists of the soup of the day (potato leek with bacon when we last went), a lighter plate (a gnochi-like thing with walnut pesto-- those gnochi things come up in almost all their dishes and they seem innocent enough but they multiply and grow inside your stomach making you feel like you've eaten several loaves of bread soaked in grease-- but they're great, as long as you only have a few), and a meat-centric dish like seared pork loin. Their goulash was spicy and tasted like the goulashes I would have back in Prague but the meat was cut into small chunks so it was more like picadillos than goulash and it was peppered with those infernal gnochi. While they did help to curve the spiciness, I would've preferred them on the side or even replaced by say bread dumplings. There are several things on the menu I have every intention of trying in the coming months, among them the Hungarian fried bread Langos, dates wrapped in bacon, and the Slivovitz chicken (a chicken made with plum brandy, called Slivovice in Czech, quite big in Bulgaria). The space itself is divided into a front section dominated by the bar and a scattering of tables, and a back dining room with no
windows that makes up for it by becoming an annex to the gallery across the street. Giant, colorful paintings of different styles ranging from Pollock-like paint splatters of female figures to Edward Hopper-like interiors of bars and clubs circa the Roaring 20s open up the space which would otherwise resemble the back of a Polish or Czech beer hall where the long communal tables and benches have been replaced by proper individual tables and one large, low table where you can lounge on couches while sipping Budvar or a cocktail. The lighting in the front is dim and mostly consists of the television and overhead lights turned so low that the other night when R and I were walking towards it we thought it was closed because it looked pitch-black. They make up for it by the having an all glass front wall that lets in the light from the street and in summer they open it up and bring out tables to the sidewalk. While I love Czech and Hungarian food, I know its not for everybody and while this restaurant is far superior to my usual default Maria's, its slightly more expensive and incredibly heavy. You know they mean business when you decide to go for Mexican when you want to eat light.

So those are my walkable, affordable alternative for when I come home in a huff and express no desire to get out the cutting board and mince garlic. Humble, lazy but good and if you ever come visit me, we will probably end up going to one of them. Unless you can convince me to walk those extra five or ten blocks.

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