Monday, 29 October 2018

At Ajo y Orégano, Big Flavors Flow From a Small Space

HUNGRY CITY A Family Affair in the Bronx 10 PhotosView Slide Show › Image Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times Ajo y OréganoNYT Critic's PickCaribbean, Latin American$1556 White Plains Road, Parkchester347-657-1201 By Ligaya Mishan Oct. 26, 2018 4 If it’s Friday, there will be rabo encendido, oxtails dark as ink from a simmer in Presidente beer and Brugal rum. This is lunch and event at once, and may explain the crowd that forms before noon on the rainbow-planked porch outside Ajo y Orégano, a tiny gasp of a restaurant in Parkchester, the Bronx, between a tire shop and a barber’s. On Friday, too, is the promise of pica pollo, Dominican fried chicken in airy golden coats, with seasonings gone deep. Chief among them are the ones pictured on the restaurant’s wooden awning: garlic and oregano, matching the restaurant’s name. So go on Friday — but then you’ll miss Wednesday and Thursday’s special of berenjenas asadas, eggplant charred over open flame until its insides retreat and cede sovereignty to smoke. The flesh is then mashed in a pot with garlic, tomatoes and, crucially, eggs, the secret to the dish’s louche creaminess. Image Platters served during lunch at Ajo y Orégano, in the Bronx.CreditCaitlin Ochs for The New York Times And what of Saturday and Sunday’s mondongo (tripe soup), Monday’s pernil (roast pork) and Tuesday’s pastelón, layers of fried ripe plantains, ground beef and mozzarella, salty and sweet embracing their differences? Any day you go, the menu is a tease of what might have been. ADVERTISEMENT Fortunately, the steam table at the back of the dining room is stocked daily with pollo guisado, chicken stew stained black from sugar thrown in the pan at the start and brought within seconds of a burn. Other regulars are fried sea bass under a drape of coconut milk and sofrito, orange from achiote; and barbecue pork ribs like smoked candy, with meat that gives and gives. Enver Perez and his younger brother, Jeudy Perez, opened Ajo y Orégano last October. They were children when they left Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to live in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx. Their mother, Maritza Reynoso, now works the cash register and makes the house hot sauce; their older brother, Freddy Perez, runs the floor. The bounty of the steam table, with its helpings of moro (rice and beans) and guandules con coco, pigeon peas enriched with coconut milk and auyama (pumpkin), is supplied by two aunts, Milqueya and Jackeline Reynoso. Food is presented in aluminum pots sized for little hands, the kind that the Reynoso sisters learned to cook with when they were young. But the contents are hardly dainty, and what look like small portions prove to be more than enough. Yudelkys Paniagua, a veteran of Dominican restaurants in Washington Heights, cooks dishes à la carte, including chimi sliders, a diminutive but still gloriously messy version of the Dominican street burger. Chubby beef patties are stacked with squeaky fried white cheese between ragged-edged tostones: green plantains fried, flattened and fried again, so they’re crisp and chewy at once. The sauce, classic pink mayo-ketchup, gets a dash of fizz and nostalgia from Country Club frambuesa (raspberry) soda, also available by the bottle. Editors’ Picks Stone Mountain: The Largest Confederate Monument Problem in the World Is ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ the Most Radical Show on TV? A ‘Generationally Perpetuated’ Pattern: Daughters Do More Chores ADVERTISEMENT Image Food is presented in aluminum pots sized for little hands, the kind that the chefs learned to cook with when they were children.CreditCaitlin Ochs for The New York Times Not on the menu but worth asking for is mofongo, plantains fried and broken down in a wooden pilón (mortar), then molded by hand into a giant cup. Once filled, it’s a caldron, aswamp in melted cheese and either mayo-ketchup or garlicky béchamel, with your choice of meat in the depths. Smaller mofonguitos, shaped with a lemon squeezer, fit demurely in ramekins, perhaps a better idea if you don’t want to stagger home. Spanish is the language and the electric current at Ajo y Orégano, where forks clank over a low throb of salsa, merengue and bachata from two decades past. The walls of the dining room are as green as palms and mounted with crockery and hot pink shutters. Bills come in shoeshine boxes painted with island scenes, of tin-roofed houses slumbering under flamboyant trees. But the space is too small, which for the crowd growing restive on the porch is a problem. By the end of November, the Perez brothers plan to open a second Ajo y Orégano in Belmont, by the Bronx Zoo. Milqueya will oversee the new kitchen, while Jackeline holds down the fort here. As it happens, both aunts worked with Enver in the White Plains Road storefront’s previous incarnation as a healthy meal-preparation service. They had minor roles: One was a dishwasher; the other did breakfast. It makes him laugh now. He said, “I had the magic recipe all along.” Follow NYT Food on Twitter and NYT Cooking on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Get regular updates from NYT Cooking, with recipe suggestions, cooking tips and shopping advice. Subscribe to Five Weeknight Dishes Fresh dinner ideas for busy people who want something great to eat, with NYT Cooking recipes sent to you weekly. SIGN UP Ajo y OréganoNYT Critic's Pick 1556 White Plains Road (Guerlain Street) Parkchester 347-657-1201 Recommended DishesChimi sliders; mofonguitos; pollo guisado; barbecue pork ribs; rabo encendido (oxtail stew); berenjenas asadas (roasted eggplant).Price$ (inexpensive)OpenDaily for lunch and dinner.