Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chasing Concha

Everytime I mention to my Argentinian friends that I just love Conchas, they get a big laugh out of it. In fact, they can't stop laughing when I say it: Concha. Concha. Concha.

Somehow, I don't think we're speaking the same language...

As I was seeking out the famous Chicken Rico, I stumbled upon a Mexican panaderia that someone had mentioned to me but that I had forgotten.

Never one to pass on eating concha, I had to stop in and see just what my money could buy.

Hermanos Navarro is an interesting place. It's a taco joint, a bakery and pastry shop all in one. Not only did they have the usual assortment of Mexican baked goods, their menu lists such classics as Enchiladas Suizas, Camarones Encebollados, Vuelve a la Vida, tacos al pastor, tacos cesina, milanesa de pollo torta, pozole, arroz con leche y rebanada de pastel tres leches. It's a veritable Mexican feast. And...ay chihuahua! They've got chilaquiles on the menu!

Looks like a more thorough investigation of their meal is in my near future.

But I'm here not for the chilaquiles - although I could be... I'm here for the concha and, dammit, I'll take a couple of those sprinkle cookies, two chocolate frosted donuts, a cream-filled donut, that fried round thing and that bread that looks like pan de muerto. Nine dollars and seventy-five cents later, I was out the door munching on a chocolate donut.

The chocolate donut is deep fried in an oil I'm not used to. It tastes strongly of the oil and I'm wondering just what kind of oil it is. I'm worried that I'm tasting the oil because it's too old, but I forge on to honor you, gentle reader. The chocolate is dark. Much darker than anything Dunkin Donuts is willing to put on their donuts, and it's good. That bittersweet chocolate does the trick. Plus it's flaky with a nice texture but it's falling on my shirt and I hate that.

Later, I find myself at Woodberry Kitchen (go figure) and bring one of the conchas to try. I avoid telling Mariano I've got a concha because he's one of the Argentinians that can't stop laughing at me. At least the Mexican contingent at Woodberry understands.

Readers of this blog know that I've been searching for a concha that rivals the ones I had in Mexico City. So far, it's been a tough dough to knead but digging into this one from Hermanos Navarro was like being in Mexico City all over again. Soft, tender, supple, lightly sweet, airy - just delicious. Perhaps just a hair short of Cafe Bondy, but damn good.

I think I've found my place for conchas.

Hermanos Navarro
3712 Eastern Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21224

Chicken Rico

The 1/4 Chicken Special with papas fritas and rice.

I've been hearing quite a bit about this relatively new Peruvian chicken place in Highlandtown lately. Everyone seems to be saying that their chicken is, well, rico (tasty). Since I had a little time on my hands and a need to do a little shopping for some tomatillos and stuff, I made my way into the city.

Located on Highlandtown's main drag, Chicken Rico is a simple and casual affair. Formica tables with those tube extruded metal chairs with faux vinyl cushions (you know the type) that are packed with mostly people of Hispanic descent means that the food is probably pretty authentic and tasty (rico). While the dining room is simple, the open kitchen features two large wood burning chicken rotisseries that were imported from Peru (at least that's what I'm guessing since the glass doors have a Peruvian phone number on them). Inside their bellies spin racks and racks of whole chickens glistening in their own juices.

It's about 1:15 on a Sunday afternoon. Church has let out and the place is jam-packed with people. Besides myself, there are maybe three or four other non-Hispanic (gringos) people in the place. Couples, friends, families - everyone is here eating, chatting or watching Primer Impacto on the television.

As I wait to order, two attractive Peruvian women are in front of me waiting for my chicken. I think of chatting with them and asking for pointers on how to properly eat like a Peruvian. Sounds dumb, I know - but you never know...

When it's time for me to order, I ask for the 1/4 chicken special. The two girls ahead of me have taken both leg quarters from the chicken and left me with the white meat. For a moment, I briefly ponder ordering half a chicken then decide that's just too much - and white meat is better for you anyway.

By chance, the only table left is next to theirs (I promise) and I'm off to the races. For my two sides (included), I chose french fries and rice. Sure it's not as balanced as say: rice and beans, but I do love rice and fries. The fries are disappointingly cold and the rice is just ho-hum and lukewarm. It's a busy place so I can understand why they would fry large batches of fries, but these have been sitting around for a bit too long. Plus, they're those wide, frozen Simplot fries so they're not the best but the additives help them stay as crisp as possible.

Meanwhile, the girls are really getting into their chicken. They're tearing the leg and thigh pieces apart with reckless abandon - but they're still cute. Actually, they're so into their chicken that I'm nearly shocked and return to my cool fries.

My chicken is pretty darn tasty. Fresh from the oven, it's blazingly hot and served with a mayonnaise kind of sauce and a green sauce that's a bit spicy. Moist, tender and with a wonderful blend of spices: delicious. It's easily the best Peruvian chicken I've had in Baltimore.

In the end, I didn't chat it up with those two. They weren't my type. I prefer women who tear into their chicken with more reckless abandon than they did.

Maybe next time...

Chicken Rico
3728 Eastern Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21224

Induction Junction, What's Your Function?

The Waring Pro Induction Cooktop taking its' rightful place on the line.

While I was out with my nephew the other day, I noticed this Waring Pro Induction Cooktop at Williams Sonoma for $169. It's not quite a CookTek but it looked interesting.

I spent the next couple of days thinking about it and then decided, what the hell - why not? Okay, so you can't set it to a particular cooking temperature like the Cooktek, but it doesn't cost $650 either. With that in mind, off to Williams Sonoma I went.

As the staff there readily admits, this is not a usual item for them and when the display was no longer where it was on Tuesday, one of the didn't even know what I was talking about. After a few minutes, we found one on display next to some chili bowls. After a few more minutes searching, they discovered that this was their last one - but they would be happy to knock off ten percent since it was the floor model. Okay, deal - and out the door for $162, including tax.

I've had it at home for a couple of days now and it's a pretty cool device. The heat is fast and efficient but the magnetized surface area is smaller than the Cooktek. The digital controls are easy to use and I seem to have little use for the on-board timer. Otherwise, so far so good.

One of the problems with induction is that it won't work with everything and I've got a number of pans that just won't work on the cooktop. That's a bummer. But the cast iron works fine, which means I've got 90% efficiency for cooking my steaks!

Onward and I'll report back later.