Senor Gringo Goes to the Miami Cafe
I am aquiver with the excitement that can only grab a hound when she has discovered a source for all things octopus, as well as many things Cuban!
I didn't have time for a Chinatown lunch today, but 9Lives lured me to a hole-in-the-wall, (and we are talking the size of my kitchen,) that he had cruised by in the South End last week, Miami Cafe, at 68 Aquadilla Street, (617-859-8105)...Okay, he had mentioned Octopus sandwiches, and that had set me salivating...
The place was little, loud, and confusing at lunch...About 6 tables, a little counter, and a big display case of beef wrapped in every conceivable permutation of starch, and then baked or fried. I noticed one that looked like a meat filling, covered with mashed potatoes, then fried...All these were $1.25....
But the octopus!!! Did I want the pulpo en salsa, ( I did!), the octopus sandwich(I did!), or the Arroz con pulpo?(9Lives made me stop here...) I let him get a meat-filled square pastry, in the spirit of compromise. No that all they had was pulpo; that was just all I HAD to have!! There were $4.50 Cubano sandwiches, there was Mofongo,..There was goat or oxtail quisado(cacciatori style), there was pigs feet, there was tripe stew, and fish stew, there was baked chicken, and fried chicken...And fried tostones(green plaintains), and maduros(sweet ripe plaintains)
Step up in line to order, and don't be intimidated, there were other newbies there asking US what to do...People in the area seem to call in their orders in advance...And bring any friends with good Spanish skills; ours were woeful, but the flustered woman behind the counter was friendly, and concerned that we hadn't finished our trough of food. Of course, when her assistant held our plates aloft and asked whose they were, she sang out, "Senor gringo!" (g) What gave us away? The translated menus under the glass table-tops might shed more light on the menu selections you can't translate, but there were so many specials on the board!
Ah, the food! The Pulpo sandwich was $5, and was a large Cubano roll, pressed over a filling of rich, savory octopus, stewed with onions, and not a lot more...I ordered it with tomato and lettuce, a good idea, but in the future, I will make it a point to learn the Spanish for "No Mayonaise!", which will bring this sandwich to the transcendent level. Really, it needed no topping but the octopus juices soaking the roll...It was also offered in squid..
Our Pulpo en salsa came in a casserole dish, and it was the same sauteed octopus, sauteed with peppers, tomato and big green olives, for an unusual taste that seperated it from the more expected Mediterranean version. A little heavy on the oil, but that was easily remedied by spooning it over the mound of yellow rice and lentils served on a dinner plate, along with the sweet plantains..Very sweet, very good..At $10, it was the top dollar in the house, but well worth it..two smaller appetites could share it, and an empadilla or two...There was a pulpo salad too,hmmmm....
We finished it off with the "ubiquitous flan", but this was a surprise..It was rich and heavy and sweet, and after saying I only wanted a taste, I dug right in and did my half justice...Best UF I've ever had!
All this, and 2 diet cokes(gottah watch those calories!) set us back $21.
They also had a wide range of tropical fruit shakes and juices, including one called Morir Sonando; "to die dreaming"! I'll be dreaming of the Miami Cafe tonight. Tell them Senor Gringo sent you.
Oh great, so now I have to admit to the chowhound community at large that I totally blew off my responsibilities this afternoon and was lured to retail day at Sea to You? (Actually, retail is Sat, 9-2 as well..)
Okay, maybe I had planned it, I had a cooler in my trunk(g)...
I have only been at Sea to You on Saturday, when all the gringos show up, and peer at the shrink-wrapped hamachi and sake and toro..It's all laid out very neatly, along with lovely treats like slivered squid coated with flying fish roe, and strange but wonderful combinations of fish and roe, tossed together and priced by the ounce..A wet dream for a sushi bar fan..Imagine, behind the car-wash curtain leading to cold storage, uni-roes just laid out and glistening in the overhead flourescent light..
But 9L had called ahead, and they had fresh hamachi, from Japan, so once again, I was led down the garden path...But when we got there, the cupboard was bare! No activity..okay, there was some shrink-wrapped tuna and salmon, but only a few parsimonious slivers of yellowtail..We politely asked what the deal was..They politely told us this was it..We were sad..9L said he had been told there was fresh hamachi..Could we have a slab'o'tuna? No. We were still sad.. We heaved deep sighs. We picked out the best of the yellowtail and the salmon, and vowed to come back on Saturday. (the scent of fresh tuna in the air was driving us a little wild...)
All of a sudden, the guy gets off the phone, and says, "Oh, my boss is coming down, he'll cut fish for you."
This is more like it...The boss comes down, or as we understand, the head-honcho's #1 son...He offers to cut us slabs of tuna..He digs slabs of bright red tuna out of the ice..9L motions toward some tuna loins under the counter...#1 son says, "Oh, those don't have good color, but they taste better, lots of fat..Fish fat tastes good"..
You don't have to tell us twice..We eagerly agree; we say we love fish fat, we want big slabs of tuna with fish fat..He hoists the largest loin..He cuts us each a chunk..He gives us shiso leaves to go with it..We are happy....
Except 9L can't leave it alone..He says someone told him there's fresh hamachi..Still wrapped from Japan..Can he cut us some? Well, he can, but he won't do the finesse stuff, we'll have to trim it ourselves..The horror! So he custom-cuts us the best parts of the hamachi fillet...Can you say shit-eating grin? We bury the booty under a few shovelsful of ice in the trusty clam-crawl cooler...
FWIW, I then went home, sampled the fatty tuna with the shiso leaves, and then knocked out a drawing that had been dogging me for days in a hour and a half flat. Hit it on the first try; it drew itself..Ah, the mysterious powers of fatty tuna!