...Piccata and Saltado "My Birthday Dinner Double-Header"
Arthur Ave, meet Port Chester. Port Chester, meet Arthur Ave. Both New York giants in gastronomy, these two scrappy ‘hoods provided the perfect back-drop for my week-long July 4th birthday celebration.
First to Bat –
Pasquale’s Rigoletto on June 29th. Invited under a veil of mystery, I sashayed into my mid-‘90s vintage summer dress before furtively parking my car in a mysterious driveway (aka, my secret rendezvous point). I then hopped into another car with my two truly secretive family members (hello, Toni Ann and Wendy) who pressed, pushed, and hushed their GPS into “TOP SECRET” submission. But as soon as Lady GPS slipped – “Bronx River Parkway,” I had a hunch on our destination.
Pasquale’s Rigoletto (or Patsy’s) is an old-timey restaurant nestled in the Bronx’s historic Arthur Ave Italian neighborhood. It’s full of Italian ambiance – “Buon giorno, Signore Frank Sinatra portrait on the wall.” And it’s full of mouth-watering good Italian food. We had mussels in zesty tomato broth, lentil soup, a few seafood platters, and scrumptious chicken piccata. (I love me some buttery capers.) The masterpiece of Patsy’s however – call it their Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel – is their Saturday evening sing-alongs. Live singers! Think the film “Moonstruck.” (“That’s A-moreee!!!”) And the “greatest hits” album of the aforementioned Frank Sinatra. (Practice your somber baritone – “2019 Was a Very Good Year.”) Then throw in some Connie Francis and Tony Bennett. Wave your napkin. Dance with your waiter. And wish good ol’ me a Buon Cumpleanno. “Salute!”
Numero Dos to Bat –
On July 2nd, traveling due east from that delish Italian oasis in the Bronx, I stumbled upon a Peruvian treasure in Port Chester: Acuario restaurant. Like sixteenth-century explorer Pizarro on his quest for the Lost City of Gold, I found my chicha morada (or simply “chicha”) and slurped down this traditional Peruvian drink like it was liquid gold. Mmm! Peruvian is a lesser-known food in the US than Italian, but no less tasty and culturally rich. For starters, that drink chicha is made of purple corn (purple corn?!) indigenous to South America’s Andes Mountains.
And what did my friend Lisa and I eat for dinner? After our appetizer of yucca (a potato-tasting root, a truly indigenous delight), we had shrimp paella and chicken saltado. Que rico! Acuario's portions were both mountainous and beyond flavorful. History lesson: A Peruvian “saltado” is thin strips of meat (often beef or chicken) that have been marinated in soy sauce, sautéed with onions, tomatoes, and then served with white rice and french fries.
But back to the soy sauce. Soy sauce in Peruvian food? Yup. Asians started emigrating heavily to Peru in the mid-1800s, though records indicate they were there even earlier. Saltado has since become a beloved Peruvian dish. I for one am a fan.
From remote Andean mountain cuisine served with a magical purple corn drink, to Mediterranean sing-along soul food, my two birthday dinners ROCKED. And God bless the invention of the doggie bag.