Wednesday, July 28, 2010

El Gallito!

El Gallito

693 Main Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601-3740
(845) 471-4834

Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!

After last week's excursion to the pleasantly gringo-ized Cafe Maya on Main Street, Wappingers Falls, with their pleasant margaritas, it was nice to come home to some Poughkeepsie Main Street Mexican.

No frills, no loud music, no English (OK, the owner spoke real good)... No beer. No, sniff, margaritas. But yet again, we had some predictably wonderful Mexican food.

We began with the now standard Mexican (cane sugar) Coke, 2 Jarritos Tamarindos, and Zoe was brave to try the, and I am not making this up, Boingo Guava soda, also made with pure cane sugar. Truth be told, we reckoned it was just sub-saturated with real sugar, which they must've figured was a good substitute for guava.

The waitress, who spoke not a word of English (to us, at any rate), dropped off some fantastically fresh salsas (red and green), which had us waiting in anticipation for the chips that never came. When I asked in my broken Spanish for chips, she just smiled and shook her head. She had multiple blenders stuffed to the brim with chiles in the back, whirring away.

The offerings at El Gallito were slightly different than the other Mexican restaurants in Poughkeepsie, perhaps reflecting the restauranteur's Puebla origins (Puebla is a state in Mexico north of Oaxaca and a little east of Mexico City). The menu is quite simple, written only in Spanish. Zoe opted for the good old standard- Tacos de pollo. These tacos were a little rough, served with a healthy portion of fresh cilantro, a smattering of onions and only a small wedge of lime to dampen the rabbit food. Not exactly what even an intrepid 10 year old had in mind.

Nina and our friend Dan, who accompanied us on this week's outing, opted for the chicken burrito. Mostly chicken, rice and beans with some of that really nice green salsa. I learned of this not from young Dan, who plowed through his burro with the gusto of a 20-something who has been working the Appalachian Trail all summer, but from Nina who was horrified to find, *gasp!*, salsa on her burrito and wouldn't eat it! Punk.

Luckily, the waitress humored me when I asked for the, "Especial de la casa" in my just-slightly-less-than-useless Spanish. Pollo rostisseria! She brought out the most wonderful looking half bird I'd seen in a long time. Roasted to perfection, Nina complained that it was hard to eat because the meat just fell off the bones. I found the chicken a bit bland, but when wrapped up in a fresh, warm corn tortilla, a smattering of rice and black beans and some of that salsa... Yeah, that's right!

I shared my chicken with Nina, and she her burrito with me. Zoe snaked my Coke, and I kindly refused her Boingo (I know, that just sounds wrong...). And Dan happily munched away during this typical occurrence of McAdoo standard bliss.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cafe Maya

Café Maya

2776 W. Main Street

Wappingers Falls, NY

OK, technically Café Maya isn’t within our defined parameters. Main Street? Yes. Poughkeepsie? Well, for those Hudson Valley aficionados amongst us, what is the difference between Wappingers and Poughkeepsie, really?

Last Friday night we departed from our normal trajectory to Café Maya in the village of Wappingers Falls, NY. Zoe and Nina just did a bang-up performance celebrating the end of their weeklong Choral camp at Vassar College. Our latest intrepid adventurers of Pok-Mex cuisine, Ann and Kate, came to see the girls, and joined us for dinner. It was a consensus (amongst the adults, at any rate) that Margaritas were in order, and dammit, Café Maya pours a good one!

Café Maya is one of those wonderful Mexican restaurants that appeals to the more mainstream clientele of the Hudson Valley. Every time we go there (Margaritas), the place is hoppin’- televisions blaring over the full service bar, a host/hostess that will seat you when your party is properly assembled, and a waitstaff of high school students whose English is flavored with that particular lilt that can only come from a Dutchess County native. As far as atmosphere goes, about as far as you can get from the blissful Main St. Poughkeepsie dives.

And, did I mention, they have Margaritas?

The overall experience of Café Maya is not centered on the food, but rather the atmosphere. There is a sizeable outdoor seating area with doors that open to the bar, where said Margaritas can be had. No, I am not a tequila snob. I did not ask for the Patron/Cointreau johnson that would cost lord knows how much- just gimme what you gots. Salt, on the rocks. Anne and Kate went for the frozen flava- they have a big Slurpee lookin’ machine for those. And, props to the bartender that fashioned a sweet and sour with lime fizz for Zoe and the classic Shirley Temple for Nina.

The simple Margarita went quite nicely with the fresh Blue Point oysters they serve with lime and a slightly-too-strong salsa. The girls were sorely disappointed that the oysters won out over the tableside guacamole, which Zoe swears they made start-to-finish in less than a minute. It takes her at least 5 minutes to make her soon-to-be world famous guacazoe. But oysters on the half shell, lime, and Margaritas on a Friday night with friends? Yeah, that’s right!

I admit to being seduced by the Pollo Pibil. This is a chicken dish slow cooked in a banana leaf with achiote, a combination of traditional Mayan spices, and Sevillian orange juice. While the chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender and the spices subtle, I was somehow underwhelmed. Rob and I split the dish and their Ensalada Caesar, which boasts a ‘Classica Tijuana’ style, but seemed little more than iceberg with some tomatoes and croutons. Bor-ing! Nina destroyed her simple quesadilla (chicken quesadilla is a flour tortilla with melted cheese and grilled chicken on the side), and Zoe her bean and cheese burrito- and to their credit, they got it right for the kids! Anne did not quite finish her tacos de pescado (Tilapia tacos complimented with guac, lettuce, tomatoes and a ‘chipotle mayo sauce’), so Zoe and I helped out. Of course by the time we’d gotten to them, the corn tortillas were flaccid, and the bland flavor did nothing to bring them back to life. Satisfied with the Margaritas, we chose not to order from the predictable flan/fried ice cream/churro desert fair, also to the girls’ dismay.

Overall, Café Maya is a great place to go for a good time with friends- good drinks, easy atmosphere, friendly and helpful waitstaff. But if you are seeking a authentico Mexican diaspora meal, go to the real deal on the real deal Main Street in Poughkeepsie!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

La Cabanita

La Cabanita
739 Main Street

Carolina Ramirez tells us that her mother's cooking is so good, she's single-handedly covered uncounted Arlington High School Taco Bell devotees over to her Oaxacan style cuisine.

After eating at her taqueria, I understand why.

The Ramirez family shares their matriarchs gifts with the general population at their Main Street establishment, La Cabanita. Located near the corner of Main and Grand Avenue, the unassuming storefront belies the delicious food inside. Entering with us yesterday were the intrepid Jenny, with her daughters Logan (9) and Lauren (6). Old mainstays Tom, Freya (11) and Linnea (9) joined us a little bit late for lack of parking.

Carolina seated us while the girls grabbed an armful of Jarritos (pineapple was the flava of the da) and I a Sidral Mundet. When Tom finally showed, he got a Mexican Coke- a treat as it is made with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. As we got settled, she hit us with some warm tortilla chips served with a blended red chile salsa. Like everything I tried, the salsa had the perfect amount of seasoning- neither to salty, peppery, nor spicy. Just right. The poor, poor children were disappointed almost to the point of tears as the menu's tantalizing advertisement for fresh guacamole was thwarted because of underripe avocados. Somehow I know that their guacamole would have been riiiight.... A little later, after Tom requested some pico de gallo (also good), she brought out some nice green salsa with a sour cream base, spiced with mild chiles and heaps of cilantro.

It was a bit of a challenge ordering over the big screen TV blaring music videos, which ran the gamut from Nortena to Nelly, so we accepted it as local color, and got accustomed to it. Zoe, however, insists that the rather racy video fare was decidedly NOT age appropriate and offended her tweeny sensibility, yet she remained glued nonetheless.

Nina very confidently ordered the al pastor tostadas and Zoe the al pastor burrito (makes a father proud, it does!). Knowing that there would be plenty of leftovers, I ordered a couple of al pastor (runs in the family) tacos. Jenny followed Nina's lead and ordered the steak tostada which she shared with Logan while Lauren plowed through a bean and cheese taco. Tom ordered his old faithful, the steak torta. The torta came slightly different than his favorite at Mole Mole as it has one big piece of steak rather than slices, and mayo (a secret weapon in Senora Ramirez's arsenal, I believe), which he found surprisingly tasty, albeit a departure from the norm.

Freya ordered the steak tacos. The tacos at La Cabanita are very small- an order comes with six soft corn tortilla tacos, topped with onion and cilantro, garnished with fresh radishes and lime. Perfect! Well, my al pastor tacos were perfect because I could actually taste the grilled pork and pineapple without being overpowered by the chiles. But when an 11 year old girl with Minnesotan-Scandinavian roots calls it, "bland", one might wonder if it might have benefited from just a bit more zing.

Linnea, not daunted by the well-meaning waitresses that seem to consistently ignore her pleas for a simple quesadilla (flour tortilla, if available, please, and only cheese. No pico de gallo. No tomatoes. For God's sake, no habaneros. No nothing. Nada.), ordered her standard. After getting her meal, she saunters over to Tom with her patented deadpan. "They put ham in it." After noticing a hint of a smile that only a father could pick up, she returned to her meal, ecstatic. (We soon learned that she did not indeed have a quesadilla, as expected, but rather a zynchronizada- a quesadilla with ham, cheese, mayo (secret weapon) and tomatoes- sin mayo y tomat.)

All was well and good until it was time to settle the tab. Then it got better. In classic style, they had a large glass container filled with fresh horchata at the counter. We ordered a large for the girls to share. They sampled it with mixed approval (Nina had no problem with that. "More for ME!"). While it was a bit on the thin side, it sure hit the spot on this impossibly hot day.

La Cabanita is truly a gem.