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tacosEntering the newly opened Rio Bravo Tacos & Tequila is a feast for the eyes. A colorful variety of Mexican tiles line the walls. Heavily carved dark wood archways give privacy to the booths and Mexican dolls, ornaments, pottery and figurines are artistically placed in alcoves on the walls. The large comfortable bar area is to the left of the festive dining room. The food arrives on pottery dishes in a kaleidoscope of colors, orange, yellow, green, blue and red which immediately puts you in a happy mood.

Upon chatting with Manager Eliseo and server Ezekiel, they indicated that they experiment with planning their service and menu to see what works best to please their guests. They describe Rio Bravo as upgrade gourmet Mexican with some fusion elements. “Rio Bravo takes you back in time to a Mexican hacienda feeling. Freshness, fine quality and good service, sets us apart from many other Mexican dining spots.” Owners Edgar and Hector Brambila from Jalisco, Mexico arrived here many years ago and started building their restaurant empire. They now own about 13 restaurants from North Carolina to Connecticut and Massachusetts and Larchmont. We now welcome them to Tuckahoe. They say, we are “in a great location directly across from the Crestwood train station with no other Mexican restaurants in the immediate area. We look forward to further expansion in the metropolitan area.”


rio1As you await your meal, enjoy some chips with house made salsa or try one of the four varieties of hot sauce at your table. “Top shelf guacamole” is a fine beginning. It is prepared tableside to your taste. Rajas taquitos corn tortilla stuffed with poblano peppers, corn, potatoes and caramelized onions as well as queso fundito an Oaxaca cheese and chorizo casserole are nice choices as well. Buffalo wings, sweet, sour and spicy with ranch dressing bone in or boneless are popular starters, as well. I started with ultimate ceviche. It was unique with shrimp, bay scallops and tilapia marinated in citrus with tomato, onion, cilantro and jalapenos. Sliced avocado garnished this bowlful for refreshing results.

If quesadillas are your desire, you might enjoy one filled with skirt steak or grilled chicken or an open faced variety with pork carnitas. We were adventurous and savored a mango club quesadilla. This tasty filling of cheese, grilled chicken, caramelized onions, fresh mango relish, Applewood smoked bacon and avocado was Mexico’s answer to a BLT sandwich. We loved it, with its multi flavored combination of ingredients. The offerings of south of the border dishes include popular chile relleno and pork carnitas, as well as several innovative dishes such as Portuguese shrimp, stuffed with ham and cheese, wrapped in bacon and topped with a Dungeness crab sauce and square knot salmon with roasted pineapple. I just loved the camerones 1800. Here, the jumbo shrimp were sautéed with sliced mushrooms and pecans in olive oil. The tequila 1860 crema sauce with a hint of cilantro worked well with this dish. Carne asada was simply prepared and tasty, as well. The tender thinly sliced skirt steak was charbroiled and topped with green onion and guacamole. Enchiladas can be savored with shrimp, sun dried tomatoes, tomatillo sauce and cilantro crema. Suiza style is also popular as are vegetarian varieties. I enjoyed the enchilada con mole. These chicken enchiladas were generously topped with a fragrant long cooking apple scented mole sauce. This many ingredient complex sauce incorporating unsweetened chocolate was superb. If you can order only one dish at Rio Bravo I would go for the enchilada con mole.

There are 7 varieties of fajitas served with onion, green peppers, charro beans, lettuce, red rice pico deriogrill gallo, sour cream, guacamole, shredded cheese and warm handmade flour tortillas. Choose, chicken, skirt steak, salmon or vegetables to name but a few. There is also a selection of chimichangas and a variety of combination plates. It is fun to make your own combination plate of 1 taco, 1 enchilada and one quesadilla.


Tacos are available as classic street tacos to creative international varieties. Tacos al Pastor are filled with melted jack cheese, caramelized onion, shredded cabbage, braised pork, pineapple relish, pico de gallo and a drizzle of Mexican crema. French tacos are filled with melted cheese, caramelized onion, skirt steak, chorizo and chipotle crema for added spice. Marco Polo tacos were excellent with bacon wrapped shrimp as its main ingredient and tempura fish tacos, calamari tacos, Milanesa tacos, and fried chicken tacos are other interesting possibilities. Each taco has a generous amount of filling and arrives with red rice, citrus chipotle slaw and a choice of beans.


For dessert, churros, those fried squiggly fingers of dough and fried ice cream are available. I chose the house made flan, just smooth and sweet enough to complete your meal.


riodrinkNot to be overlooked are the beverages. There are 13 margarita varieties listed using a choice of tequilas and fruit flavors. You have the option of building your own margarita by choosing one of the 60 [yes 60] brands and grades of tequila, a selection of juice mixers and seasoning. Rim your glass with salt, sugar or nothing at all.


There are daily features here such as taco Tuesday with $1 tacos at the bar and siesta Sunday with ½ price bottles of wine.


Enjoy a meal in the hacienda like atmosphere of Rio Bravo Tacos & Tequila for a festive and fun filled south of the border style experience


Rio Bravo Tacos & Tequila

296 Columbus Avenue
Tuckahoe
914 361 1515

Recipe: Skirt Steak Tacos


Ingredients

2 ½ pounds skirt steak - trimmed of excess fat and butterflied
10 4-inch flour tortillas

For The Marinaderiorestaurant

1 cup roasted garlic cloves
1 tbsp. Mexican oregano
Juice of 2 limes
2 cups olive oil

Combine garlic, oregano and lime juice and process to a paste in a food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil until well combined.


For the Salsa Verde

2 bunches cilantro
1 jalapeno
3 cloves raw garlic
2 tsps. capers
½ bunch parsley
3 green onions
1 cup olive oil
Salt to taste

Blend all in processor until smooth. Adjust seasoning with salt if needed and set aside


Garnishes

3 avocados
4 limes, halved
Crumbled queso fresco

Preheat grill to medium or medium high heat. Cover steak with marinade and let it rest for 30 minutes or up to 6 hours covered in refrigerator. Drizzle avocado with olive oil, salt and pepper. Season steak with salt and pepper. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side for medium rare. Let the steak rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Slice against the grain into ¼ inch slices Add avocado halves to the grill until slightly charred. Cut into slices when cool enough to handle. Lightly toast tortillas on the grill for 30 seconds on each side. Stack them and cover with a towel to keep warm. Grill limes cut side down for 1 minute. Assemble taco with steak, salsa verde, grilled avocado and queso fresco. Serve with grilled lime.

breakfastsanta1The Scarsdale Parks and Recreation Department hosted the 11th Annual Scarsdale Holiday Breakfast on Saturday, December 8th at Scarsdale High School. Kids enjoyed breakfast supplied by Lange’s Deli, crafts and a photo with Santa.

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stingrays126 swimmers from the Stingrays from the JCC Mid Westchester competed at the JCC-All Star Meet in New Jerseyon Sunday December 9. The team placed third overall.

ChenDumplingsIn recent years, many Asian restaurant openings were a combination of several far eastern cuisines. As these “fusion” restaurants became very popular, and some, quite good, I found myself craving some authentic Chinese cuisine. Paul Chen must have heard my plea, with the recent opening of Mister Chen Authentic Chinese Cuisine in Mamaroneck, in the space vacated by Haiku. The contemporary space seats about 80 guests. A carved black screen with the Mister Chen logo greets you as you enter. Free standing tables, a long banquette and a few high tables provide seating. Striking is the wall sized mural above the banquettes depicting the many regions of the far east from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Shanghai, Beijing, and Taipei.

With its black ceiling and black chairs, the space emits a simple but sophisticated appearance. Paul Chen, the owner, said,” Mister Chen serves authentic Chinese food.

We have brought a bit of Flushing, Queens, where Chinese restaurants are in abundance, to Westchester. ChenShrimpMy favorite part of restaurant ownership is the excitement and challenge that greets me every day. I enjoy meeting new guests and welcoming old ones. Mamaroneck is a family oriented place and brings a great variety of guests to its many restaurants.”

The food at Mister Chen is traditional and many of the recipes are those of Paul Chen’s mother, the executive chef at Mister Chen. She owned a restaurant in New Jersey where Paul Chen helped out and honed his restaurant skills.

At a recent lunch, I chose several items from the menu. They were all presented at the same time and reminded me of the saying, “To the Chinese, a western meal is like a short story, but the best Chinese meal runs the length of War and Peace.” Since a Chinese meal combines many dishes, contrasts of color, flavor and textures become part of your dining experience.” Appetizers here include spring rolls with vegetables or shrimp and vegetables, scallion pancakes, pork belly sandwiches, salt and pepper calamari, lettuce cups with chicken or shrimp and as I sampled, spareribs, very meaty and glazed with a light honey sauce. I look forward to sampling the red bean paste cake and shredded turnip puff pastry on future visits.

My favorite part of the Mister Chen dining experience is the dumpling station, where I observed two dumpling chefs in their pristine white coats and caps, as they briskly cut, rolled and filled the many varieties of dumplings and buns. Especially tasty are the delicate soup dumplings filled with crabmeat and pork or just pork. These hand pleated treasures arrived in a bamboo steamer. Bite off one corner of the dough wrapper and allow the juices to fill your porcelain spoon. Sip it slowly to get the full flavor and then enjoy the filling and the thin dough wrapper. Although I have never visited China, I have tasted these dumplings in Manhattan’s Chinatown as well as in Flushing. At Mister Chen, they are exceptionally delicious.

Chen1We also found the pan-fried pork buns excellent. Here, the light bread like dough encased chopped pork filling. Black and white sesame seeds and thin slices of scallions enhanced these lovely buns. Other filled handmade creations to be sampled are vegetable dumplings, pan fried dumplings, shrimp and pork dumplings in chili oil and vegetable and pork wontons tossed with chili oil, as well. For me, a variety of these made from scratch dumplings and buns with perhaps a bowl of Chef Chen’s Taiwanese braised beef and noodle soup would constitute a fine meal.

From Taiwan, we enjoyed a bowl of Taiwanese mei fun. At Mister Chen you can order these thin noodles with chicken, shredded pork, beef, prawns or vegetables. Our noodles were mingled with julienne slices of pork, scallions, fried egg pieces, red onion slivers and shredded carrots. Colorful, mild and fresh are words that come to mind when devouring this hearty bowlful. Other classic noodle dishes are cold sesame noodles with peanut sauce and cucumber, noodles with pork and black bean sauce and the popular lo mein. Pad Thai and crispy Shanghai noodles are available with chicken, shredded pork, beef, prawns or vegetables. With cool weather on the way you may enjoy some soup. There are the familiar, wonton, hot and sour, egg drop, chicken and corn as well as minced beef and egg whites or seafood and bean curd soups and a Chen family favorite of braised beef and noodle soup. Fried rice is prepared here with a choice of additions such as chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, vegetables or Chinese sausage. Rice a Chinese staple can be ordered as minced pork or pork belly over rice or with a combination of ingredients in the house special fried rice.

For your entrees, choose among poultry, men style pork ribs, braised pork belly and jumbo prawns and Chenentreescallops with garlic sauce each sounded interesting. If you wish to stick with the familiar there is General Tsao’s Chicken, crispy shredded beef, mixed seafood in a bird’s nest and beef and broccoli. I tried the orange flavored beef, nicely presented with the crispy beef slices surrounded by bright green broccoli florets and scattered with hot peppers and large segments of dried orange peel, which infused the sauce with wonderful flavors. For the vegetarian in your group, broccoli, bok choy, string beans, Chinese water spinach, eggplant and Chinese cabbage are prepared in interesting ways.

If you wish to enjoy a beverage with your meal, beers, wines and original cocktails such as orange oasis, blue China, Green dragon and Crouching Tiger await you. At the time of my visit the dessert menu was just being assembled. Meanwhile, I sweetened my taste buds with an imported Chinese fruit flavored hard candy, in a bowl at the door.

Enjoy authentic Chinese cuisine soon at the new and appealing Mister Chen, where dumplings and buns are one of the star attractions.
MISTER CHEN
265 Mamaroneck Avenue Mamaroneck
914-77701221 or 777-1212
www.misterchenny.com

mariaburrata“Maria”, I just discovered a restaurant named Maria, and it is quickly becoming a favorite. I had the pleasure of chatting with the hospitable Giovanni Cucullo, the co-owner and chef at the new Maria in New Rochelle. He and his brother Peter have been feeding guests on Huguenot Street in New Rochelle throughout the day. You can enjoy breakfast, pastries and coffee and lunch at Pop’s Espresso Bar, wood fired pizza, pasta and light fare at Fratelli Pizza and Pasta, next door and in the corner space, on the same street is their latest project, Maria, a casual fine dining establishment with classic and innovative dishes at lunch and an ever changing menu at dinner. It has a bistro feel where its comforting atmosphere welcomes everyone.

The space, like the menu, combines modern elements as well as traditional ones. mariabarThe white marble bar, with bar stools and high tables is separated from the dining area, by a partition, where you note the striking bright blue tufted banquettes and tables. Antique mirror, white exposed brick, interesting lighting and exposed beam ceiling all combine with eye catching family memorabilia such as photos, items from the Cucullo’s childhood kitchen, vintage trays and even an old espresso pot all add to the coziness of Maria, named for the mother of the owners, Giovanni and Peter Cucullo. Yes, their mother Maria was an excellent home cook, who inspired them and shared her culinary talent with them. Upon chatting with Giovanni, I learned that he grew up around food. From early childhood, he helped out in the family pizza restaurant in The Bronx and at Fratelli, when they moved to Westchester. He then spread his wings and managed several high-end spots in Manhattan and San Francisco where he continued his culinary education.

He describes Maria as new Italian. “It is important for a restauranteur to have patience and empathy for his guests as well as his staff. You need to be part psychologist in this field. The best part of this business is relating to the guests and watching our staff grow. Our goal is for longevity as Maria evolves. We listen to our customer’s comments and suggestions. “I asked Giovanni whom he would like to share a table with at Maria. His reply was Shakespeare, Leonardo Da Vinci and John F. Kennedy. Wow.. With each an artist in his own field it certainly would make for interesting conversation.

As we checked out the menu we nibbled on some country bread and olive oil topped with grated cheese and hot pepper flakes. With a dinner menu that changes daily, it is exciting to visit Maria often. As our food started to arrive, I just loved the china plates our meal was presented on. They were his Mom’s china. Once again, the modern combined with the vintage. How nice to feel the memories of you childhood kitchen, as you embark upon the future.

mariaclamsAppetizers here are varied from classic to innovative. We started with Mom’s meatballs. These baseball sized treats were a mix of beef, veal and pork. They sat in a pool of house made chunky tomato sauce. Clearly, as the menu indicates, they are prepared with pomodoro and love. It is a dish that the Cucullo brothers grew up on.

I’m glad that Giovanni paid attention when his mom cooked. The real deal baked clams were another must have. Four large clam shells were filled with fresh clams, enough bread crumbs to hold them together and a touch of pork fat for added flavor. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and the clams were just great. Shrimp Diavolata reminded me of the Latin garlic shrimp. Here, large, tail on shrimp combine with garlic, marsala wine, arbol chili and thyme for Giovanni’s version of garlic shrimp. Served in an individual metal pan it was sizzling and delicious. We used the country bread to absorb every bit of the fragrant sauce. Another appetizer, this time with a Greek influence was the excellent lamb crocchette. This large croquette was prepared with shredded lamb and braised chopped vegetables and was crusted with panko. It sat on a bed of Greek yogurt and garnished with a tangy mint chimichurri sauce. The flavors were well paired. Future appetizers may include grilled fennel sausage, Maria’s big salad, or escarole and beans. For sharing, your table might enjoy a veggie board, with raw, pickled, marinated and grilled items, or a salumi board of meats and cheeses. Keep in mind, my selections were from a menu in early November. The menu changes daily.

We then perused the pasta selections. Gnocchi, rich and delicious was bathed in an oxtail ragu mariagnocchienriched with porcini mushrooms, marsala wine and cheese. A large bone with some meat still intact shared the plate in the event.

You don’t mind getting a bit messy while dining. We also sampled black linguine rich with calamari rings and shrimp, tossed with that divine tomato sauce and some chili crumbs. Awaiting future visits are whole wheat fusilli with roasted eggplant and smoked mozzarella, cavatelli with broccoli rabe and maccheroni in Sunday sauce with meatballs and sausage. Main dishes ranged from seafood, poultry and meat. We loved our seared sea scallops with tomato farrotto and porcini agrodolce and gigante beans. Scottish salmon trout grilled to my taste, was simply delicious. Bacon wrapped monkfish, grilled pork chop and charred octopus sounded appealing, as well.

For dessert, the specialty of the house is the danoli- a combination of a donut and cannoli filled with cannoli cream, Nutella or berries. Cordials, wines and craft beers are available to accompany your meal.

If lunch is your meal of choice there are salads, jasmine rice bowls, farro chickpea bowls, a selection of sandwiches and choices from the dinner menu. From Monday through Saturday, from 3 pm to 7pm, a happy hour with wine, cocktails and killer bar snacks is offered.

Enjoy a meal at the charming and welcoming Maria, where classic dishes mingle with innovative ones for a tasty dining experience.

Maria
11 Hugenot Street
New Rochelle
914-636-0006

(Recipe)
Pasta With Eggplant, Tomatoes, Smoked Mozzarella And Basil
(Serves 4-6)

Ingredientsmariafusilli

3 Tbsps. olive oil
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 medium eggplant about ¾ of a pound
2 ½ pounds fresh tomatoes
1 cup diced smoked mozzarella
4 Tbsps. fresh basil, coarsely chopped
½ tsp. salt
1 pound pasta of your choice, cooked

Instructions

In a large heavy skillet, warm 1 tbsp oil over medium heat. In it, sauté onion for 3 to 4 minutes until translucent. Remove garlic and onion with a slotted spoon and set aside. Wash and cut unpeeled eggplant into ½ inch pieces. Add remaining olive oil and eggplant to the skillet on high heat. Brown eggplant on all sides. Return onion and garlic to the skillet. Add tomatoes, 2 tbsps of the basil and the salt. Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the cooked pasta, remaining basil, and smoked mozzarella and toss to combine. Drizzle with a few more tbsps. of olive oil as desired and spoon onto warm plates.

marijuana pillsThe Holocaust followed my dad and colored his world every step he took -- despite escaping from Hungary during the uprising of 1956. Family members who were not sent to concentration camps, were starved during the war while hiding in the Jewish ghetto located just behind the majestic Dohany Synagogue.

His conversations frequently lead back to 1945 and how difficult it was for him satisfy his aching hunger. Years later, while he and I were traveling by train through the English countryside on an antiquing trip, we started talking with a fellow passenger. He was just about my father’s age and eager to chat. It wasn’t long before the subject veered off to the war. He too, knew what it was like to go without food. “We would have killed for potatoes” he exclaimed. To that my father replied, “We would have been happy with just the potato peels.”

He often reminded me and my sister Cynthia that Americans have it so good. “No one in this wonderful country knows what it is like to go hungry.” And it was true, we didn’t know. We grew up in the 70’s eating Twinkies, nibbling on Captain Crunch cereal straight from the box, and sometimes, gluttonously frying up a steak to eat after school while watching Gene Rayborn host Match Game ‘76.

To my deep embarrassment as a teenager, after most meals, he would declare, “We may be poor, but we eat well.” While, he applauded a good appetite, and appreciated good cooking, he could not stand throwing food away. Better to push away from the table with our jeans unzipped and feeling nauseated than to leave a few morsels and be subjected to Dad’s proselytizing.

Shopping at Stew Leonard’s with my Dad was a mind-blowing experience for him. “If someone would tell me when I was a child in Hungary that I would live to see mounds of oranges and bananas piled in large bins – I would never have believed them.” Like a greedy child, he grabbed the samples that Wow the Cow enthusiastically pushed into customer’s hands. He once cried in the middle of the store – mumbling his constant refrain, “Americans are so blessed.” With loads of shopping yet to do, I lost it. “Dad” I sternly said, “You are making a scene. Please don’t cry every time you see a fallen chestnut. Now help me find the Splenda.”

At nearly 89 years of age, Dad is once again starving, not at the hands of cruel oppressors, but because of the effects of kidney disease and a life time of high blood pressure. No matter what is being served, he cannot manage more than a few bites. He pushes his food around the plate like an anorexic hoping we won’t notice that he isn’t eating. Well-meaning suggestions, such as “Dad, even if you aren’t hungry – try small bites; eat more snacks; drink Ensure in the morning” have done little to put any meat on his old bones.,

I recently took my father to see a local neurologist who is certified in the medical use of marijuana in the hope that she could help. He hardly had the energy to answer her questions and sat on the examination table, slumped over wearing his little boy jeans, blue down vest, and Brooks sneakers. “Tell me what brings you in?” “What do you hope to achieve with the marijuana?” By the end of our appointment she understood that dad weighed about 107 pounds with his clothes on, and was slowly disappearing. She had everything she needed to justify a medical marijuana card.

Later that afternoon, the pharmacist, a young girl with cherry red hair wearing a reassuring white lab coat, at the local Medical Marijuana Clinic recommended to start dad’s treatment with a balanced blend of anti-inflammatory properties and a mild relaxant. We sat at her desk while she reviewed the color-coded THC scale, and explained that we landed smack on the center blue dot. She underscored that this was a process of trial and error – and that there were few controlled studies demonstrating effectiveness. Dad, a physician himself, tucked away the lack of science, and agreed to try the “hash pills”. He stopped short of purchasing the vaping pen for a quick hit of intensified relief. Just before exiting through the labyrinth of locking doors with a 2-month supply of pot nestled neatly in recycled brown paper bag, the receptionist helped us to sign up for the rewards program. Dad would be able to keep up with all the Medical Marijuana News and earn points toward his next purchase.

Eager to see if the marijuana improved his appetite and mood I made an early bird reservation at a local restaurant where we all watched him swallow down the pills. I was hopeful that I would soon, once again, hear my dad say, “We may be poor, but we eat well.”

A few weeks later, while sitting with my dad and sister in the communal living room at his independent residence in Yonkers, I asked if the marijuana was helping him with his appetite and mood. He was out of it, not because of TCH, but because of the lack of sleep and effects of his progressive kidney disease. Before dad could straighten up and ask me to repeat the question, David, a 90-year old whose wife was now at the Hebrew Home because of advanced dementia, lamented that he had tried marijuana for the stabbing, burning neuropathic pain he was experiencing in his feet. “Nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t do much for me.” He was resigned to living with the pain caused by diabetes. Just as my father’s fog started to lift and he was almost able to jump into the conversation, Barbara, an elderly wheel chair bound woman to my left quietly chimed in. She told her aid that she wanted to try marijuana for her aches and pains as well. When we asked her about any previous use, she smiled and confessed to the small group that she had tried it years ago and enjoyed it. Dad dramatically clearing his throat and taking a sip of his high protein drink, finally joined the conversation. “Yes. Yes girls, I am eating more. See?” I wish I could have given him a gold star for his efforts.

Practical experience will dictate marijuana’s place in an older person’s cocktail of life sustaining drugs. For now, I found it interesting that my father and his new friends were so hopeful about the potential use of plant for controlling pain, easing anxiety and improving appetite levels. Ironically, it wasn’t that long ago, that my dad rushed up to my bedside while I was in college armed with medical literature condemning its use, when I dramatically freaked out after eating hash brownies. Today, he is as accepting of it as he is of his granddaughter’s ever changing hair color. Bright blue, purple, red – a rainbow bridging the generations.

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