You’ve got to admire a place that serves an ear of sweet corn the way it comes off the cart in Mexico: steamed into oblivion, gobbed with mayo, squirted with chile sauce, then sprinkled copiously with dried cheese. On the menu it’s the lead item ($2), and if you didn’t proceed further, you’d be delighted with the food.
Brought to you by the folks at Diner, Bonita replaces a previous Dominican establishment, whose illuminated sign featuring a lobster and a T-bone still beckons up and down Bedford late into the evening. The interior has been charmingly spruced up, with sparkling gold and green tiles, big picture windows, and six-tops that make for flexible seating. Most of the food is clearly Mexican, although tinkered with in a way that makes it simpler, blander, and—the proprietors probably believe—more appealing to twentysomethings. There’s nary a mole in sight, and the chile orchestra at the heart of Mexican cooking is entirely absent. Most of the action is on the appetizer menu, with a deliciously fresh guacamole ($4), a prickly-pear cactus salad featuring not-canned paddle strips, and a black bean soup that grows on you despite its odd interpolation of crunchy celery.
One thing that’s always discouraged me from dining at Diner is the very short entrée list, a technique copied at Bonita, where beyond a special or two the menu limits itself to three main courses: a skirt steak swimming in brown beans ($10), a tasty roast chicken with the same beans, and a pair of chiles rellenos ($9), the latter a tip of the hat to neighborhood Pueblans like El Maguey y la Tuna. At Bonita, the kitchen is taking it too easy, though the cooking talent is clearly in place. Hey guys: trek up Bedford to Matamoros Grocery and bring back some chiles!
After a pilgrimage to drummer and acupuncturist Milford Graves’s mosaic-covered house at 106th Street and 110th Avenue in Jamaica, we stopped by CARMICHAEL’S DINER (117-08 Guy Brewer Boulevard, Queens, 718-723-6908). This streamlined museum of Naugahyde and linoleum doesn’t aspire to be anything special, although the mixture of diner and soul-food standards is distinctive. The crisp, creamy, crunchy salmon croquettes—patties, really—are absolutely top-notch, and you can side them with other Southern faves like succotash, black-eyed peas, and Harvard beets. Breakfast is available till 4, served with margarine-dabbed grits, of course.
Williamsburg’s new HURRICANE HOPEFUL CHOWDER BAR (218 North 7th Street, Brooklyn, 718-302-3535) is a bewildering experience. You find yourself lost in a clutter of battered furniture and junk-shop finds—like a clock that features two horses fornicating—while a nautical weather report whispers incessantly in the background. At the rear stands a counter topped with chowder pots, behind which lingers a guy discussing surf conditions with a knot of hangers-on. Chowders ($5.50) range from a good but thin cream-based “Sarge’s clam” to decent scallop-corn to a squash-yam that I found too sweet. The used surfboards hanging from the ceiling are for sale.
ROCHJIN (92 Third Avenue, 212-614-7294), which slings a series of deconstructed Thai dishes with the fish sauce and chile on the side in large tom-yum-style noodle soups ($9.20), resembles any of the faddish places in Cobble Hill or Williamsburg that serve watered-down Siamese fare. But there are also several unique dishes, such as a wonderful appetizer of tender baby okra—crumbed, fried, and arranged on the plate in an almost Japanese manner. Making a big mistake, the restaurant recently removed the best-in-town homemade fish balls, available in several guises, that were a notable feature of the menu. They will be sorely missed.