Sol de Quito Helps You Get High in Bushwick
For a first-timer, the best way to explore Ecuadorean food is with one of Sol de Quito's combo platters. The montanero ($13.99) features a thick hank of way-garlicky sausage; a heap of meat chunks fried to super-concentrated porkiness; a bowl of plain brown beans; a pounded and breaded beefsteak; two comical cocktail franks that never saw the inside of a can, quizzically forked at both ends like snake tongues; a mesa of rice, sculpted by a pint plastic carryout container; and a pair of poached eggs that, when you cut into them, spill liquid gold over everything else. The "mountain climber" (as the name translates) is way more food than one person can eat, but two can scale its heights quite comfortably.
Sol de Quito refers to the sun of Ecuador's capital, which nestles between mountain peaks in a valley nearly two miles above the ocean, an altitude that leaves visitors perpetually out of breath. Though the magnificent colonial city is only a few miles south of the Equator, the high temp hovers around 65 degrees all year. By contrast, the boxy Bushwick restaurant is warm and filled with good smells from the kitchen at the far end of the room, just beyond the small bar, where fruit shakes in exotic flavors and Corona beers are dispensed. An absurdly large crystal chandelier descends on the room like a spaceship, polished granite wainscots the walls, and heavy red curtains shroud the windows. This décor—and the location just south of Ridgewood, Queens—suggests that the place might have been an Italian restaurant in a former incarnation.
There are other giant feeds in the Platos Tipicos section of the menu, including escudo ("coin"), which glistens with shrimp ceviche (don't worry, the critters have been pre-cooked), a disappointingly bland goat stew, and a bright yellow simmer of tripe and potatoes known as guatita. The striking color is the result of turmeric, which is used in enough quantity that it constitutes not only a coloring agent, but an earthy spice as well. Providing a verdant vibrancy to the stew, cilantro is the cuisine's favorite herb. The same agreeable turmeric-cilantro pairing underpins sopa de pata ($7.99), a voluminous bowl of cow-foot soup filled with gelatinous fragments of pedal flesh. Dredge deeper and find chickpeas and hominy.
Occupying one of north Brooklyn's higher altitudes, Sol de Quito lies in Bushwick Heights, a neighborhood that remains a Mexican, Dominican, and Ecuadorean stronghold, just beyond the front lines of advancing gentrification. The restaurant comes alive around 9 in the evening, when the regulars appear in ones and twos to nurse a beer and have one of the meal-size soups. Most curious is sopa de bolla ($8.99, "sphere soup"), a huge leathery dumpling of mashed green plantains that rises out of the bowl like a blunted volcano, concealing ground meat, vegetables, and chopped eggs. Eating it is a challenge; my recommendation is to immediately break the thing up and fish the fragments out of the dark and brooding broth.
As with other South American countries like Peru and Colombia, Chinese immigrants have left their mark on Ecuador's cuisine over the last century. Their most obvious contribution is chaulafan ($9.99), a magnificent take on fried rice dotted with tidbits of pork, chicken, egg, and shrimp. It comes with an entire fried ripe plantain. How can simple fried rice—a carryout accompaniment that's bored us all to death in Cantonese restaurants—be so good? For one thing, the recipe substitutes Maggi seasoning for soy sauce, which gives the grains an almost African flavor. Other rice-based offerings feature chicken (arroz con pollo) and black clams (arroz con concha)—though the latter, a South American farmed species with the unappetizing taxonomic name of Anadara tuberculosa, is rarely available at the restaurant.
When you come in the door, the waitress greets you with a bowlful of popcorn, which is more likely to put you in a movie mood than prepare you for a huge and inexpensive meal. She will then size you up, and decide which homemade hot sauce to drop on the table, both for dipping the corn and for use throughout the meal. The green is the smoother of the two, looking like a thick avocado milkshake and only hot enough to bring a tingle to the lips. The reddish-orange variety is probably the one you want: gritty and laced with enough ripe jalapeños to make you feel high. Use it on everything—then surprise the waitress by demanding more.
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