Thursday, July 3, 2008

Arthur Avenue Italian & Albanian

so Priya and I spent the day in the Bronx, at the zoo on free Wednesdays (very, very insane and crowded) and then for some relaxation at the Botanical Gardens. then we strolled around Arthur Avenue to check out the Italian stuff that would hopefully be less retarded than the Little Italy shops that sell signs reading YOU TAKEA MY SPACE I BREAKA YOU FACE and whatnot.

I'm pleased to report that we encountered no such crap-shops! first we went to Full Moon for a slice of pizza. we'd heard reports of broccoli rabe calzones, but none were on the menu or on the counter. perhaps mistaken?

it looked pretty much like a regular pizza slice shop, and the pizza slices were very good New York slice-shop quality. better than your average joint, for sure--not greasy at all, kind of dry actually but still chewy and flavorful, good sauce, seems like a little too much cornmeal (but for some reason it actually worked on the pizza) picture because we were so hungry we tore into them immediately. The shop guys were speaking a mixture of Italian and Spanish and caught Priya laughing at one of the Italian jokes. while we were ordering a woman came in, spoke in Italian, and received a huge sheaf of basil leaves/stems that were wrapped and bagged for her. she didn't pay...owner's wife? just a local in the community?

we worked up an appetite for more at the Botanical Gardens and got back to the area around 6:30. we settled on Dominick's, a local family-style place recommended by my mom. as we walked in it was instantly obvious we were the only ones in the whole place (which was PACKED at 6:30, with old Italian people) who were outsiders/not Italian. (Priya was one of two nonwhite people who were there the entire time, and the other guy was obviously the Puerto Rican boyfriend of some IAP. oh, that's not counting the supertanned guidettes).

it's a little bit of a frustrating experience because there's no menu, no prices...the guy just comes up and is like "what do you want?" and you have to pry what there is to eat out of him (and he doesn't tell you everything, as we found out later as our neighbours began to receive plates of broccoli rabe and such, which we would've gotten if we'd known).

we got a plate of regular salad, which was giant and unfinishable (but with a good, simple, oily, Italian-pizza-place-style viniagrette), an order of osso buco, and a small plate of linguini with sauce.

the linguini was good but nothing super-special, but the osso buco was (in my opinion) fantastic. when I touched it with a fork, huge chunks of super-tender meat trembled and tumbled off. the outside breading (which had mostly been stewed away) was delicious. it was, interestingly, scattered with peas (?) and served over a tomato-sauced risotto-like bed of rice, which were both nice touches. the marrow (the best part) was difficult to suck out, but I managed to pick most of it out using one of the smaller bones as a tool. delicious and not cold (though not piping hot)! at the end, the server comes over to your table and is like "eh, that's $41." it was less than we'd estimated, and we'd also found a secret menu posted on the back wall that helped guide our choices (a little too late, though).

after dinner, we walked around and noted the surprising amount of Albanian (and Kosovar) shops, delis, and restaurants. I always knew that Shqipis were the next biggest guido ethnic group after Italians, but I hadn't realized that the old Italian stronghold of Arthur Avenue was nowadays divided between the two! (after some poking tonight, I found an interesting article about Albanian/Italian cultural crossover in NYC:

we wandered northward a bit and found a pizza shop (Tony and Tina's) Priya had read about that seemed to be a fusion of Italian and Albanian cuisines--they sold pizza, but also bureks (I bought a pumpkin-stuffed one to take home and have for breakfast tomorrow--I tried a bite, and it was delicious!) and tolemba (a fried pastry in syrup that's kind of like gulab jamun without cardamom and rose flavors--I got one to eat on the sidewalk). we stopped at an Italian coffee shop for pignoli cookies (good, but not quite toasty-crunchy enough--Priya thought they shouldn't be keeping them in the fridge) and then began the looonggg journey home.

Tolemba on the bottom, rice pudding on the top:

Baklava and homemade yogurt, supposedly AWESOME (but I didn't get any):

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