Dundu

http://www.dundukitchen.com • 914-930-7470

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African cuisine is pretty thin on my blog, but to be fair, it’s kinda thin in the United States in general. In fact, even in a city as culturally diverse as New York, there’s no Little Africa like there is a Little Italy, Chinatown, Little India and Koreatown. But the thing is, African cuisine can be so many things sort of like “American.” For example, food in Morocco or Egypt might be considered more Middle Eastern, where as Ethiopian is almost a thing unto itself. And then there’s the contemporary cuisine of a country like South Africa and the exotic game of places everywhere in between. And finally there’s the almost Jamaican-like fare of West Africa, which is where Dundu comes in.

The dish I went with was the pepper chicken with rice and plantains, served with a cornmeal cake and coleslaw. Now, with the exception of the coleslaw, if I had said this place was in Montego Bay you probably wouldn’t even question it, which poses a very interesting question, why do Jamaica and West Africa have such similar cuisines? Well, you can thank England, because back in the mid-1600’s the British took Jamaica from the Spaniards turning the island into sugar plantations, which were run on slave labor sourced from, you guessed it, Western Africa.

But enough with the history lesson, albeit the most interesting part of this review, and let’s get to the food. The chicken is dry and not all that “peppery.” The rice is dry as well and the plantains aren’t very sweet. Even the cornmeal cake was dry. In fact, the only thing that wasn’t dry was the coleslaw. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, however, I only ate from their stand in Herald Square. Not giving them the benefit of the doubt, there is no restaurant. So it’s either a stand or catering, which means my sampling was at least 50% accurate and enough to know not to use them for catering should I ever decide to go back and get a Bar Mitzvah.

1 tooth

Sophie’s Cuban

28 E 23rd St. New York, NY 10010(212) 260-8884sophiescuban.com/28e23rd

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This is not the place to go for decor. The service is usually friendly, but this isn’t the place for that either. However, if it’s Cuban fast food you’re in search of, welcome to Havana-gri la. Well, almost. The fact that they don’t nail the cubano is a bone of contention with me. But that rather major ding aside, they have two winners I highly, HIGHLY recommend. So high you’ll get altitude sickness from the height at which these dishes play.

The first is the spicy grilled chicken platter.  It’s basically a hearty version of arroz con pollo served up with a nice helping of marinated peppers and onions, yellow rice, black beans and sweet plantains. Add a little of their green hot sauce and you’ll be doing the Cha-cha-cha.

The second thing might even be better than the first. It’s called the “Pernil with a twist” (pictured), which sounds more like an exotic cocktail or a secret dive performed by Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School,” but regardless of what it sounds like, WOW is it good. It’s served on the same bread as a cubano, topped with huge chunks of roast pork, marinated onions, plantains, mayo and hot sauce. And it is a game changer.

3 teeth

 

Cha Cha Chicken

1906 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90405(310) 581-1684chachachicken.com

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Perched in the middle of a Bermuda Triangle made from posh Santa Monica hotels like Shutters, Casa del Mar and The Viceroy sits a bit of an odd bird. A chicken to be precise. Named Cha Cha. Which is technically Cuban by origin, but they serve pan-Caribbean fare, including jerk chicken. And it’s served up with such islandy vibe you almost feel like you’re on an island. The weather obviously helps a lot with this, especially because it’s only outdoor seating, similar to Cora’s down the block.

But what makes Cha Cha so odd is that it almost looks like a shack. Not unlike Chez Jay’s, also down the block. But Chez at least has the excuse of having been the first establishment on Ocean Avenue, so one might consider it grandfather in. Whereas Cha Cha came along much later, only about 15 years ago. But whatever works, right?

And it definitely works. As a fun, affordable departure from the more refined eating destinations that are abound in Santa Monica and Venice. Among the pan-Caribbean offerings, you’ll find a few Mexican influences that find their way into their “pan” as well. For example the jerk chicken enchiladas. Call it Jamexican. Served with a spicy-sweet pineapple habanero sauce. Get it with beans and rice, along with some fried plantains and you’ll be dancing the cha-cha. Mostly because in LA Caribbean eats are hard to come by. But by East Coast standards Cha Cha is just So So. The flavors get a little mushy and the jerk could stand a little more Cha, if you catch my drift.

3 teeth

Miss Lily’s

132 W Houston St. New York, NY 10012(646) 588-5375misslilysnyc.com

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I’m a huge fan of jerk chicken and this will do the trick if you are in the hood and have a craving. Not sure I would make a special trip, however. It’s nothing you can’t get from a host of other Jamaican joints in the city who do it MUCH better. And my one major gripe with Lily is that her jerk is woefully un-spicy. Blasphemy as far as I’m concerned. Jerk should be packing MUCH more heat almost by law. Like Golden Crust or Island Spice. This is not to say that Lily’s jerk is bland, however. It’s just not what you expect when you are mentally preparing your mouth for battle royale.

The jerk corn, on the other hand is very solid (pictured), and messy as all get out. Still not spicy, but mighty fine by all accounts. As are the plantains.

And now for a twist… The best thing of all, interestingly enough, was not actually made by Lily, but rather by her juice bar partner, Melvin’s Juice Box. I highly recommend. So fresh and bursting with vitamins you feel like you are sucking them right out of the plant through a straw.

3 teeth