Cheap, cheap Pio Pio Riko

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008 | All Things, Eats

We’ve already known Greenpoint to have excellent Polish cuisine, but the area’s sizable Latino population means that food from countries south of the border shines here as well.

In 2006, popular Sunnyside joint Pio Pio Riko opened a location on Greenpoint’s Manhattan Avenue.  Like the original, this Peruvian restaurant and steak house specializes in pollo a la brasa, i.e., spit-roasted chicken; the front of the restaurant prominently displays racks of rotisserie chicken slowly rotating behind a glass-doored oven.

Pio Pio Riko’s menu features poultry, steak and seafood, including such Peruvian staples such as ceviche and plantains.  Tonight, though, we were here just for the chicken.

We munched on handfuls of the complimentary cancha (salted, toasted kernels of maize) from a bowl set on the red and white topped tables — one of several conspicuous displays of Peruvian pride.  In the background, the flat-screen television played — of all things — Showgirls.

The plate of quarter-chicken with white rice and red beans was a terrific value at under $5: all crisp skin and tender, moist meat, chunks of which we dipped greedily into the irresistibly creamy, spicy house ají sauce.  (Bonus plátano maduro courtesy of B’s plate.)

Pio Pio Riko is not related to the well-loved Pio Pio in Jackson Heights, the Upper East Side, the Bronx, the Upper West Side… or any of the seven Pio Pio branches throughout the city.  RM once remarked (with only slight exaggeration) that all Peruvian chicken places are called “pío pío” — the Spanish interpretation of a chirping chick sound.  Cuter and catchier than “coc co co coc” — Spanish for “cluck cluck” — or “kikirikí kikirikí,” which is Spanish for “cock-a-doodle-doo.”

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Hail seitan!

Friday, August 1st, 2008 | All Things, Eats

Vegan cuisine is gaining inroads into the city, and tonight B and I were doing our bit to support the cause.  I’ve sampled the “wheat meat” at places like Zen Palate and Wild Ginger on Broome and although I enjoy seitan’s chewy, dense texture on its own merits (the basis of dishes like Buddha’s Delight), I can’t say I’ve ever been less than aware that I wasn’t eating real meat.

Red Bamboo on West 4th bills itself as a “soul café” — a vegetarian restaurant with a mostly vegan menu, covering a scattershot array of cuisines: salmon teriyaki, Cajun fried shrimp, eggplant parmesan and Philly cheesesteak — all made of soy or gluten.  Rounding out the expected assortment of juices are a few wines and about a dozen beers, including several organic options.

Ginger “Beef” and Grilled Bourbon “Chicken”.  Not pictured: Carribean Jerk Spiced Seitan skewers.

All good, and exactly what we were craving. Incidentally, I added the quote marks; Red Bamboo assumes its diners already know that these dishes contain no actual chicken or beef. (Plus, “bef” and “loobster” are already trademarked by The Hungry Heifer…)

The desserts include non-dairy ice cream and cakes from Pennsylvania’s Vegan Treats bakery , like the tempting-sounding Brownie Bottom Cheesecake and Oreo Cookie Cheesecake. We didn’t sample the vegan sweets tonight, but lest you have any doubts that egg and butterless treats can still be delicious, the LES’s much-loved refined sugar and gluten-free vegan baker Babycakes will dispel them.

We followed up instead with a stop at the Grom on Bleecker, carrying our scoops of creamy Stracciatella gelato to a bench across the street in Father Demo Square where some industrious performer was banging out tunes on an upright piano he had rolled into the park. Crazy piano guy indeed! (His name is Colin Huggins and he also happens to be the Joffrey Ballet School‘s music director and the pianist for the American Ballet Theatre.)

New York is full of surprises.

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Lunchtime doo-wop

Thursday, July 31st, 2008 | All Things, Music

Throughout the years, I end up at my share of evening musical performances, but for sheer value and variety, it’s difficult to beat the free weekday afternoon recitals. The Financial District, especially, is full of options: Trinity Church’s Concerts at One and the Juilliard Artists at 180 Maiden Lane are just a couple of the more popular options. And in my own office building, the Woodhill Players perform lunch hour concerts in the historic lobby Tuesdays and Thursday during the summer.

The World Financial Center hosts a series of noontime concerts as part of the River to River Festival and this afternoon’s featured act was The Persuasions, the self-proclaimed “deans of streetcorner singing.” The weekend before, the a cappella group performed here as part of “The Big River Project: The Music of Johnny Cash” — a week-long celebration of The Man in Black’s music. (Where was Cash impersonator extraordinaire Vince Mira?)

The quintet began as boys singing on the streets of Bed-Stuy in 1962. They were discovered after sending a demo tape to Frank Zappa in 1968, who signed them to his Bizarre Records label. Later, the group recorded a tribute album to Zappa’s music, and went on to cover other such varied acts as The Grateful Dead, The Beatles and U2.

The blazing summer sun drove us inside the climate-controlled Winter Garden, from which we caught snippets of The Persuasion’s classic doo-wop, R&B and pop music repertoire as it came in from the Plaza. I recognized “Come Go With Me” and “Lean on Me”. At one point, SYB asked, “Isn’t that ‘Under the Boardwalk’?”

Through the glass, it all sounded a little like “Under the Boardwalk“.

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