For the Manhattan-based restaurant critic addled by a diet of truffles and velvet slabs of foie gras, a visit to the outer boroughs is a kind of culinary palate cleanser. The following journey could be accomplished in a month, a year, or a single bilious day.
To begin, line up on Saturday morning with the diminutive neighborhood matrons at the Villabate Bakery, on Eighteenth Avenue in Bensonhurst, for sticky rice balls as big as duckpins, wheels of orange-scented ricotta cheesecake, tray upon tray of lemon-drop cookies, real Sicilian cannoli, and spumoni ice-cream cakes, all displayed on glittering silver shelves.
Proceed to Totonno Pizzeria, on Neptune Avenue in Coney Island, to dine on a simple cheese pie in one of the spare little booths, which always remind me of freshly painted, aqua-colored church pews.
Hop the 7 train to El Grano de Oro 2000, where you can sit at a sidewalk bar on Roosevelt Avenue and watch your soft-taco fillings being drawn from simmering pots of chicken, chorizo, even tripe. Quesadilla is the house speciality, however, flipped like a flapjack on the griddle with shreds of cilantro, cheese, and chicharrón (pork crackling), then served on a blue-rimmed plate with wedges of lime and some guacamole in a teacup.
Next, venture to Sripraphai, down the road, in Woodside, for a modest portion of Thai-style candied bananas, crisply fried in a light batter, with sprinklings of sesame seed and coconut.
Finally, flag a taxicab to the African Food Temple, among the auto-parts shops on Webster Avenue in the Bronx, for a bowl of flavorful Egusi stew. This Ghanaian dish comes in numerous peppery combinations (I liked beef atop a heap of tangy, fermented corn) but whatever you do, avoid the urge to dine with a fork and a spoon. Napkins and a big metal fingerbowl for washing your hands are provided by the waitress. For further ablutions, the bathroom is a soothing, almost pleasant place, strung with bright plastic flowers and smelling of cheap tropical perfume.
|Villabate Bakery, 7117 18th Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-331-8430
Totonno Pizzeria Napolitano, 1524 Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-372-8606
El Grano de Oro 2000, 9550 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens, 718-205-8177
Sripraphai, 64-13 39th Avenue, Queens, 718-899-9599
African Food Temple, 2254 Webster Avenue, the Bronx, 718-933-6710