A Bowl of Red
I have seen God in a bowl of pozole. This hearty soup, a weekend special at nearly every taqueria in town, never fails to please. The rich broth is heavy with chunks of pork, fragrant oregano, and hominy slow-cooked until it "flowers" (which is also known as pozole). On the side you get a bowl of vegetables to be mixed in, usually including shredded lettuce, onions, red radishes carved like crudités at a cocktail party, and sometimes chopped jalapeños. Most places also add a refried-bean tostada, which turns the soup into a full meal.
Eventually I became aware that this so-called white pozole, which I'd been enjoying up and down Sunset Park's Fifth Avenue for years, was not the only one treasured in Mexico. In fact, there are dozens. White pozole probably originated in Guadalajara, where, cooked without oregano, it's eaten for breakfast and tends to be even blander. In Guerrero a green versionthickened with pumpkin seeds and tomatillosis downed every Thursday for lunch. Another rendition incorporating dried and fresh shrimp is found all along the Pacific coast from Nayarit southward. In inland areas of Michoacán, a fiery red version finds its way onto tables.
It was the red type that blew me away on a recent visit to East Harlem's La Casa de Los Tacos. This boxy and brightly lit café, open far into the evening, is currently the most happening spot in the neighborhood, with a big sign climbing the building to flag down traffic careening up First Avenue past 117th Street. On Saturdays and Sundays, the minimally decorated dining room is thronged with Mexican families and groups of working men around lunchtime, and on every table rests at least one bowl of the weekend-special pozole. The brick-colored broth boasts so many dried chiles that the smell alone crinkles your nostrils. The quantity of hominy easily beats that at the Sunset Park places, and the pork comes from enough parts of the pig to satisfy the Organ Meat Society. The vegetables to be tossed in conform to the usual formula, but instead of a tostada, there are three deep-fried tortillas, still warm and glistening with oil, clearly intended to be crumbled into the soup. Tears streaming down my facewhether out of pain or gratitude, I couldn't tellI demolished the bowl in under five minutes. And came back the following Saturday for another dose.
Though the top entrée price of $15.95 at A TOUCH OF HUNGARY (121-17 14th Road, Queens, 718-762-3435) might seem a little steep for the peasant food of Eastern Europe served in a modest storefront so far north in Queens it feels like Minnesota, the portions are enough for Paul Bunyan, with enough left over for a blue ox or two. The nicely browned schnitzels of chicken, pork, and veal are toothsome, but nearly impossible to distinguish. Go instead for the pork Holstein: tender outsize medallions dipped in butter and topped with two fried eggs. Ask to have it sided with nokedli, free-form spaetzle-style noodles. On Tuesday night, a $15 buffet also includes salads, desserts, and a free bottle of "bull's blood" wine if there are four in your party.
Upscale, almost-vegan GOBO (401 Avenue of the Americas, 212-255-3242) is one of Manhattan's odder new restaurants. The menu goes for the global, moving effortlessly from South America to China. I really dug the papaya ceviche and the Peruvian-style root-vegetable stew, especially since the agreeable orange broth also contained pozole. Too many dishes, however, achieve their results via application of grease and sugar, and the prices seem awfully high. At less than $10, lunch specials are a good deal, and the green-tea-colored dining room, with its open kitchen and multi-culti staff, make dining a pleasure.
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