"Dude, I'm so full." I patted by belly. Yup, there was definitely some congestion in there, and by "some" I mean bumper-to-bumper, car-honking congestion. It didn't get quite to the "road rage-induced expletive-filled screaming" kind of congestion; if it had, I would be lying on my bed, moaning in various states of digestive pains, instead of writing this blog entry while wearing pants that suddenly feel too tight.
"Yeah, me too." Helen stared at our plate filled table. The plates themselves were still rather full, not because the food wasn't good but because there was enough to feed five people. It was here. And there. In my stomach. In my mouth. Probably invading some other organ I didn't know I had.
"Um...why am I still eating?" Mechanically, a forkful of yellow rice found its way into my mouth. And then, conveniently, my mouth chewed. And then, it just keeps goin!, my tongue guided the chewed up rice mass into my throat, after which the rice embarked on a journey to the dungeon level, acid-filled pits of digestive doom. And then I repeated this over and over again while wondering, "Why I was still eating?"
I just don't know. Just. Don't. Know. Or perhaps...RICEISCRACK. Yes, that's it.
At El Castillo De Jagua in the Lower East Side (dangerously close to Sugar Sweet Sunshine), you have a choice between white or yellow rice with the main entrees. For whatever reason, I went with yellow, figuring that since I'd never make yellow rice in my kitchen I must experience its possible life altering properties outside my dorm. Conveniently, it went with our unintentional dinner theme of "food that comes in shades of yellow or brown". Yellow rice, brown pork, yellow-ish brown oxtail, fried yellow plaintains, brown beans, garlic bread with pats of yellow butter, down to our yellow papaya drinks. Our food had jaundice.
Mmmm...tasty jaundice...[rubs belly]
No really, it was tasty. I have yet to have a fine dining experience in NYC, but it's so much easier to be pulled to those restaurants you've never heard of that serve good, cheap hearty food. Also, I feel less guilty spending my parents money to feed myself. (If I ate fine dining, I'd feel like I have to pay for that myself; spending half a week's paycheck on one meal takes some planning. Then again, I frivolously spend money on food on a daily basis, which adds up. Also, I don't think parents should have kids if they don't intend to let the kids...eat a lot. Yeah. That thought wasn't well-formed at all, as most parents wouldn't want a kid like me who's a lawnmower...for lawns made out of carbs.) I found ECDJ while prowling through menupages (prowling like an obese lion who can use a computer) and was drawn to it for its good ratings, inexpensive prices, convenient location, and its specialty in Dominican food, which I've never had before.
From the daily specials menu (which actually has many items that are available every day), I ordered the pernil (roast pork) and Helen ordered the rabito guisado (oxtail stew). Not listed on the menu were the moutains of rice or the bowls of soupy red beans the dishes came with. Without the meat, it's doubtful we could've finish just the rice and beans, but here we were presented with fatty protein, starchy protein, and starchy starch. We also got some fatty starch in the form of fried sweet yellow plaintains. Oh boy. Um. Stomach? Definitely not large enough.
But did my hypothalamus care? Not really.
Since I rarely eat pork in a form that isn't panko-encrusted and Japanese, I'm not very familiar with different forms of pork. Perhaps I don't like pork because I've had bad pork eating experiences? Hm. Well. In general, I guess I'm not a fan of anything super-fatty. Our plate of pork came with a slice of pig skin, like a shell of the pig's former squealing, lively self that, for our sake, was ended so he could be diced up and roasted to crispy, golden perfection. Yeah, I'm fine with that. So? Yeah? Actually, I remember watching an unnerving video of a pig being tortured (as though the video could be labeled "Sunshine Happy Fun Time for Children Ages 5-10") and thinking how much that sucked. But alas...
Our dead piggy tasted good! Although lots of moistness is a nice thing in meat, this was right in the middle and wasn't too dry or moist. The tenderness was right in the middle as well. I know this description doesn't really help you, but overall I thought it was great, especially considering the $8 pricetag. THe oxtail stew was good too, but I liked the pork more, largely because it was easier to eat and didn't necessitate poking tender meat out of bone shards. Dammit, I'm lazy.
I've rarely eaten fried plantains in my life (once, maybe) but I liked them. These babies were hot, fresh from being bathed in hot oil. I didn't like them enough to think about getting them again, but you can't really go wrong with fried carbs. Fat and carbs are the building blocks of tastiness. They're also among the building blocks of coronary failure, but you know...just don't eat them every day and I'm sure you can stave off heart disease for a while, after the cancer sets in.
HAR HAR HAR! Helen and I talked about how we're pretty much all doomed to get some kind of disease. Part of the reason I did the raw food diet was to avoid getting sick or putting myself on the road to massive organ failure. "Too many people suffer from disease and dammit, I'm not going to fall into that trap." I decided that when I was 18. Yeah, okay. (Another thing I thought about at the time was that teenagers seem to think they're invincible, which bothered me. Then again, using food as a way to become "invincible" is pretty stupid too, as I'm sure conditioning your body to eating only raw food can be detrimental at some point.) The world we live in is saturated with chemicals and poisons, so while I'm not advising you to go all out and eat a tub of frosting (mmm...no, no, Robyn), you could eat a spoonful. Or two.
The milkshakes were the only things we could finish in their entirety. While I felt pretty full when my plate was only 1/3rd empty, I ate another third before deciding I was really done (the "second wave" of fullness) and that consuming any more food would result in me looking preggers/the necessitattion of carting me out on a wheelbarrow. The final bill came out to $15 per person with tip. Sometimes I feel like food becomes tastier when it does less damage to your wallet.
I hate it when it's hard to find a restaurant because they don't clearly display the name. In this case, it's hard to miss a restaurant that displays it three times, one of those times in blazing neon letters for the sight-impaired. Or the blind.
Overall, I'd recommend the restaurant if you like hearty food in the form of meat and rice (vegetarians should probably stay away) and not spending too much money. The restaurant is large, not loud, has just enough lighting (not dim nor blinding) and the service is fast, at least when it's not that busy. Also, I loved the milkshake; just thick enough, frothy, and sweet (although possibly too sweet, if you don't have tastebuds like mine.)
Naturally, we went to Sugar Sweet Sunshine afterwards. Funny how you can be 110% full at one time, take a stroll to a bakery, and forget that you just ate a ginormous meal and cramming in more sweets probably isn't a great idea unless you like the feeling of internal combustion. My hope for the future (besides world peace and and end to starvation) is that the human body will develop another stomach to handle desserts, or perhaps our physical chemistries will adapt to surviving on only refined sugars and starches. It's doubtful, but a girl can dream.
We shared a slice of peanut butter ice box pie and a pistachio cupcake. I could say these both tasted like grade F cardboard to make you feel better about not getting to eat them, but...nope, they encapsulated all that I love about Sugar Sweet Sunshine; sweet, simple, fresh, and flavorful. Or SSFF (not sure how you'd pronounce that). It probably wasn't a good idea to alternate bites of cupcake and pie since the pie was much sweeter, but you could see the different sugar levels as a good thing with the cake acting like a palate cleanser for the pie. The pie filling was like very light, sweet peanut butter (wow, how's that for a crappy description), or a thick, heavy mousse (another crappy description which really doesn't tell you much unless you share my idea of what mousse is like). AS yummy as peanut butter is, it's not a good idea to eat it straight since without something to break the peanut butter, you'll probably end up choking. The pie filling was like peanut butter that you could eat without stopping to wash down with something else, for better or worse. The pistachio cupcake didn't taste very sweet in comparison to the pie, but I'm sure it still had diabetes-inducing properites. The cake was "just right" in moistness and fluffiness. Bring a friend and split desserts. ;)
If I ever doubted my love for food, last night should have told me that I AM INSANE. Helen is one of the most fun, nice and comfortable people I've ever eaten with and I'm thankful that I've gotten to meet her. If you don't read her blog, Grab Your Fork, start doing that now! Besides talking about food and whipping out our cameras every two seconds, we discussed...oh, that was mainly it. But it was interesting to talk about differences between Australian and American food (like cheesecake, chili, puddings/custards) while STUFFING OUR FACES. I like eating in most cases, even alone, but eating with someone who enjoys it as much (or more) than you is my most preferable way to eat.