"Oh my god, the curtido comes in a bucket," I marveled to myself during lunch two Saturdays ago, although Rebecca probably overhead me because she was sitting across the table.
If there's one way for a restaurant to win my heart over, it's to have something I love deemed so essential to the meal that an excessive supply of it is part of the default table setting. La Cabana Salvadorena in Washington Heights instantly won major awesome points for providing a bucket of curtido—a mix of shredded pickled cabbage, onion, and carrots—on every table. (I haven't been to enough Salvadoran restaurants to know whether or not all-you-can-eat curtido is commonplace. I hope it is.)
Okay, maybe the receptacle is more of a "large plastic jar" than a "bucket," but I really like the word "bucket." It's also fairly large for a table-side condiment; compared to the weeny salt and pepper shakers, standard Heinz ketchup bottle, and bottles of salad dressing (yes, two bottles; so much variety!), the curtido was most bucket-esque.
What were Rebecca and I doing in Washington Heights? I had been interested in visiting The Cloisters for a long time, but never made the trek because it's way, way up there (only about 30 minutes by subway from Penn Station I found out, but still) and I'm lazy. Since Rebecca only had a week to go to a bunch of cool places in New York City, it was a good excuse for us to cross into the 200-something Street territory. As for figuring out where to eat near the Cloisters, I looked up Salvadoran restaurants after remembering that Olia (who lives in the area) had mentioned the presence of Salvadoran food in her neighborhood. I didn't investigate any other possibilities; I just wanted pupusas.
But first, horchata. Didn't I just talk about horchata? Mm...yes. I have to order it whenever I get the chance. Cabana's version was pretty different from the one I had at Yola's Cafe. The color was a brown-gray-ish off-white for one thing, and it had this extra flavor I couldn't pin down—malty, perhaps. I asked the waitress what the horchata was made of, but as she didn't list any unusual ingredients (rice, milk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla), the flavor remains a mystery. (Of course, I welcome all suggestions.)
And now, the accompaniment to the curtido (or vice versa): bean, cheese and loroco, and pork pupusas. The first thing I noticed was that the outer corn dough layer was thinner than in other pupusas I've had. I'm not sure what the correct thickness of pupusa skin should be, but I prefer thicker than thinner. Because I'm a glutton. Not that the thickness made much of a dent in the pupusas' levels of tastiness. You can't go too wrong with a flattened patty of corn dough filled with a layer of mashed beans, cheesy loroco, or ground pork, accompanied by forkfuls of crunchy curtido. Cabana's version wasn't as tart as I prefer, but that that didn't stop me from eating shizzloads of it.
The fried beef taco, or a taquito according to Rebecca, came in the form of a crunchy, cigar-shaped, rolled-up taco shell topped with cheese and filled with juicy beef shreds. Now I know I prefer tacos in rolled-up form more than non-rolled-up.
The chicken enchilada wasn't what we had in mind, never having seen a Salvadoran-style enchilada before. It's more like an open-faced enchilada or tostada; a fried, flattened tortilla topped with shredded chicken soaked in some kind of tasty sauce I can't identify, curtido, and possibly other things I can't recall (helpful description, eh?). It's a bit messy to eat, but worth trying. I loved the crunchy base of fried goodness the most, although the chicken was also good, acting as a meatsponge of...desirable flavors.
I loved the sweet corn tamale. Every morsel of the compressed sweet corn kernel log was a burst of sweet corny goodness and nothing else. Dipped into the accompanying sour cream and I had myself...sour cream-flavored corn. Why does this work? I dunno; it just does. The mildly sweet-creamy combo puts this dish somewhere between dessert and non-dessert.
After polishing off all the dishes and decreasing the level of the curtido bucket by an inch or two, we were happily stuffed for about $10 per person. Mm, inexpensive satisfaction.
Walking to the Cloisters through the windy paths of Fort Tryon Park provided an opportunity to burn some calories. Maybe 10 of them. My calories stubbornly refuse to leave my body.
As someone who knows about a little less than nothing about the art of the European Middle Ages, I'd rate the Cloisters as "pretty cool." It's hard for me to get excited about art if I don't know anything about it, and I unfortunately never took art history in college (the year-long commitment during freshman year kind of scared me). I did like the building, though. Oh, and the narwhal tusk in the unicorn room was a nice touch. I'm proud to say that that's what I got from going to the Cloisters: an up-close look at a narwhal tusk.
Although we each paid $10 to get into the museum, I'm pretty sure entrance to the Metropolitan Museum is by suggested donation (something that most people probably don't know). If you're broke, they'll still let you in; if you have enough money and don't pay up, you'll just look like a douche. The suggested donation isn't unreasonable, but if you want to save a few bucks, that's one way to go.
In return for a successful early-afternoon of culturally significant activities, we rewarded ourselves with creamy vanilla-flavored splodges in crunchy stryrofoam-textured cups from Mister Softee!!! It deserves three exclamation marks for triple the excitement!!!
Does the real thing look like the display on the side of the truck?
Yes, pretty much. I love sprinkles. They don't add much flavor, but they look pretty and increase the happiness-inducing qualities of whatever they decorate by an inordinate amount. This is one of those instances where I think it's okay to eat something just because it's rainbow-colored and cute.
And here's an adorable photo of Rebecca clutching our two cones because AWWW, SO KYOOT!!
I don't think that Mister Softee tastes any better than other soft serve (which to me always tastes pretty awesome, assuming it's firm enough)—it's superiority comes from being conveniently sold from trucks that happen to be positioned just in the right place when a soft serve craving kicks in.
Also, they have that annoying twinkly jingle.
EVERYWHERE IN NYC, but in this case just outside the entrance of Fort Tryon Park.