Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park is dense with Latin American groceries, bakeries and restaurants. (The distinction between those categories can be fuzzy – many groceries have a lunch counter tucked away in the back, and that bakery with the pastel-frosted, tiered wedding cakes in the window also offers roast suckling pig on weekends.) For the next month or so, I plan to make (at least) weekly eating excursions, checking out as many different cuisines and specialties as I can, and writing about them here.
Eric joined me for yesterday’s inaugural trip. Our focus: Ecuador. Two Ecuadorian restaurants face off against one another in the block between 40th and 41st streets. We checked in first at Castillo; although its awning referred generically to Spanish-American food, the menu was thoroughly Ecuadorian, down to the hornado (roast pork) and pescado encebollado (oniony fish soup). At 1:30 in the afternoon, the place was packed with families sharing big plates of delicious-looking food. So packed, in fact, that the waitress behind the cash register just shook her head sadly when we asked for a table.
We were kind of sad, too. But we got a grip on ourselves, and crossed the street to Tesoro Ecuatoriano.
Where Castillo was loud with excited children and family members shouting over one another, Tesoro was loud with a Spanish pop soundtrack. The place was dark and bar-like, decorated with Christmas lights, tinsel garlands that had seen better days and, incongruously, a deer’s head and startled pheasant mounted on the back wall. A few solitary (male) souls sat at the bar, eating soup and drinking beer and watching a dubbed action movie about a disabled submarine. A lone woman was finishing her lunch. A small group of hung over-looking men talked and drank at the only other occupied table.
Eric went Chino-Ecuadorian with seafood chaulafan (fried rice), while I went for broke with a weekend-only special, Arroz Tesoro. I wasn’t sure what I’d be getting (guatita, what’s that? does tortilla de papas mean a Spanish-style potato omelet?), but if the restaurant saw fit to put its name on it and trot it out on Sundays, I was going to be a sport and give it a try.
What this namesake dish turned out to be was a kind of “greatest hits” sampler. A big pile of yellow rice and a fried potato patty (ah, so that’s tortilla de papas) anchored the plate, surrounded by shrimp ceviche with toasted corn nuts, half a fried plantain, a generous slice of avocado, a heaping portion of hornado, and tripe in a creamy, peanutty sauce. (That, my friends, is guatita, and before you go all squeamish and say “ick,” please take my word that it’s delicious. Or don’t, and leave more for me.)
It was food for six normal people, which is to say, Eric and I left with enough for a smallish lunch the next day.
To my regret, I wasn’t able to try “Quaker.” I had no idea what this was going in – it appeared under the beverage listings – but some furtive, on-the-spot googling took me to an Ecuadorian food blog that offered a primer and, as a bonus, a recipe. Quaker, I learned, is an oatmeal-based drink (yes, the name derives from the multinational food conglomerate/PepsiCo division) that blends soaked rolled oats with fruit and spices. It can be served either warm or cold, and I want some.
By the time we gave up on finishing our food and asked for our bill, the action movie had been switched off in favor of Spanish futbol (Granada v. Real Sociedad), which was also projected onto the giant screen at the back of the room, beneath the deer and pheasant. A couple and their young daughter came in and ordered batidos (milkshakes), the men at the bar ordered more beers, and the place suddenly seemed a little livelier. I’m guessing that by evening, it was hopping.
The lesson: if you want a convivial lunch spot, go to Castillo (but get there early or be prepared to wait). Drop by Tesoro later to drink beer and watch sports – or, if it’s cold outside, to kick back with a canelazo.*
*A hot, spiced alcoholic drink to warm you on cold Andean nights and dreary Brooklyn afternoons.
Featured in this post:
El Tesoro Ecuatoriano, 4015 5th Ave., Sunset Park, Brooklyn 11232
Castillo Restaurant, 4020 5th Ave., Sunset Park, Brooklyn 11232