Sunday, January 18, 2015

Calle Dao in New York City

Have you ever heard of Chinatown in Havana? They won't sell you knockoff purses there or whisper "Michael Kors" "Rolex" or "Louis Vuitton" in your ear as you turn the corners, but once upon a time, this thriving neighborhood was known as the largest such community in Latin America and occupied over 44 blocks of real estate. We're talking a blast to the past dating back to the late 1800s, but while the neighborhood has visibly reduced in modern times to just a small section on narrow Cuchillo Street, there's a spot in New York City that pays homage to this marked moment in time where the Cuban and Chinese cultures came together in a unique fusion of flavors. It is called Calle Dao and it is located on 38 W 39th Street. This was one of the most delicious experiences I had in the Big Apple on my recent trip.

Calle Dao

Walking into Calle Dao instantly transported me back to an era gone by. The decor was simple yet authentic, reminiscent of the old Havana times that while gone, continue to live in the hearts of many. The white-washed walls, distressed wood and softly whirring ceiling fans served as a stage for the Chinese artwork and Cuban trinkets that accentuated the walls. I looked at the cocktail menu and loved the way mixologist Joy Daniel gave historic names to the drinks, mixing signature recipes with modern ingredients. Always going for a sweet concoction, I ordered the Hai Chi cocktail, expertly prepared with Hangar 1, Mandarin Blossom Vodka, plum sake, Patron Citronge, lemongrass and pomegranate. If that doesn't scream Barrio Chino, I don't know what does. 

Hai Chi

As I sipped my libation, the Chef''s Tasting began. We started with a light and fresh Fluke Ceviche, made in a grapefruit, habanero-passionfruit pomme vinaigrette, mixed with small pieces of Youtiao. For those of you that are wondering, fluke (or summer flounder) is a type of flatfish, mildly flavored and somewhat lean. The Youtiao, a deep fried dough eaten in China, also known as the Chinese doughnut, added a crispy texture to the dish which intermingled with the tender fish. I enjoyed the sweetness of the fruit, that mixed with the other tastes, ultimately giving each bite a slightly acidic finish.

Fluke Ceviche
Next up, Executive Chef Humberto Guallpa sent out a mouthwatering sampler of Calle Dao's appetizers, which included a vegetarian Spring Roll, Oxtail Croquette, and Duck Empanada. The spring roll, filled with mushrooms and other vegetables, was drizzled with a garlicky, signature mojo sauce that was heightened with flavor. The Duck Empanada, generously filled with chunks of duck, had a ginger-scallion glaze and came atop a sweet dipping sauce. Finally, the Oxtail Croquette was a cultural fusion of oxtail, chili, mango chutney and achiote aioli. Experiencing some of each ingredient together made for the perfect bite. Of the three, my favorite was the Duck Empanada, but the others didn't fall far behind.

Appetizer Sampler consisting of a Vegetarian
Spring Roll, Duck Empanada and Oxtail Croquette 

The next dish to be brought to our table was the Grilled White Striped Bass, served with cherry stone clams, mussels, and taro, and spiced with chinese cinammon. It was slightly sweet and had a good combination of flavors. We also tried the Lechon Asado, Chef Humberto's take on the Cuban staple but with a Chinese twist. The juicy roasted pig, was served over a fried-rice style quinoa that was unbelievable and drizzled with a ginger-cilantro sauce. This was my winning dish of the night. I would have loved to bring a bag back to Miami for my mom to try.

Grilled White Striped Bass

Lechon Asado

We were getting quite stuffed but there's always room for dessert and I was curious what original fusion Calle Dao would offer. We indulged in their Five Spice Tres Leches, a traditional version served over a caramel sauce prepared with five different spices that balanced the sweet and tangy flavors. The decadent finale was topped with a scoop of ice-cream.

Tres Leches
I have to say our adventure at Calle Dao was spectacular and I highly recommend a visit when you're in New York. The service was top notch throughout the meal, and every dish was carefully executed using the freshest of ingredients. The great thing is you can enjoy this very same experience because you can order your favorite items from the menu or choose what I did - their Chef's Tasting. So whether you choose to believe La Caja China originated in Cuba when the Chinese laborers brought it with them or not, one thing we will all agree on is that Calle Dao sure knows how to bring a piece of the Chinese-Cuban fusion cuisine remembered by many to the Big Apple. For more information, you can visit their website.

Calle Dão on Urbanspoon

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