Dishin It with Alexis: Food Visionary Helps to Change Brooklyn Neighborhood: Chavela’s Café Mexicano
Chavela’s Café Mexicano
736 Franklin Ave Brooklyn, NY 11238
Tucked between Prospect Heights and Flatbush, the neighborhood Crown Heights has unique personality and appeal. Once a neighborhood plagued by turbulent race relations and poor nutrition for lack of family income,Crown Heights has seen its fair share of adversity in the past. But during the 1990’s, as the levels of poverty, violence, and racial conflict declined in New York City as a whole, Crown Heights started to shift as well. In the past 10 years this neighborhood has seen a wave of young professionals, students, and families populate the area off Eastern Parkway, a main tree lined throughway in Brooklyn. Flooded with a new buying population,Crown Heights has seen an emergence of unique new businesses.
Chavela’s Café Mexicano opened in early 2007 on Classon Ave, but recently moved to a bigger location on Franklin Avedue to garnered popularity. Chavela’s is one of the restaurant businesses that helped change Crown Heights. Sharing a name with the famous Chavela Vargos, who became a singing sensation at age 83, Chavela restaurant is owned by Arturo Lenar. Arturo, a native of Mexico City, brought to Brooklyn the innovative and fresh tastes of his homeland. Intimate and even somewhat cozy, the restaurant is decorated with tiled floors, an exposed brick wall lit by colorful candles, and portraits of Vargas herself. Tiny clay jugs on each table hold small gomas de mascar, the fruit and mint gums, sentiments of Arturo’s childhood.
The restaurant’s popular mole sauce comes from Arturo’s grandmother’s recipe and is one of the finest mole sauces I have tasted. While the fried chicken served under is a bit dry, the rich and deep aromatic coco flavors of the mole sauce almost makes up for it. The Elotes Callejeros, a grilled corn, with spicy mayonnaise and cojita cheese smeared on top, is absolutely delightful. I recommend squeezing some fresh lime on the cob to give it some extra zest when you bite into it. Although not as visually appealing on the plate, the Tlacoyo con Nopales, a thick corn tortilla filled with black beans and topped with cactus salad, queso fresco and crema, was actually very tasty and a great dish for all you vegetarians out there. Relatively hearty and texturally interesting, this starter could easily be a main dish for one person.
But wait! Make sure you save room for the main course. Chavela’s offers a make-your-own taco platter. Guests have a choice of chicken, steak, or a variety of yummy seafood options. The platter comes with assorted toppings to put into your taco including: grilled peppers, queso fresco, roasted vegetables, and pico de gallo. It’s fun creating your own taco combination. I would recommend trying the tilapia baked in a banana leaf, with olives, capers, tomatoes, and sweet peppers. I loved the combination of sweet and savory flavors with the delicately-cooked generous portion of tilapia.
Chavela’s transports you into a piece of Latin America without ever leaving Brooklyn. That’s it for now, but until next time remember: Food is Life, Food is Love, and Food is Community. Bon Appétit!
Food for thought: Can a restaurant help to reshape the dynamics of a neighborhood? In the constantly evolving Brooklyn borough, many of the neighborhoods have seen a serious transformation in the past 10 years. Once a borough that many Manhattanites were wary to venture into, neighborhoods in Brooklyn have changed into trendy, funky, and sometimes yuppie alternatives to the City.
Over the past ten years, three types of people have moved into Brooklyn. The beauty of Brooklyn is that it’s broken up into distinct neighborhoods that all have different personalities and vibes. Young professional couples, who are looking to start a family, but not willing to fully part from City life, have moved intoBrooklynHeights, Dumbo, Park Slope, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens.. While college students, who can’t afford the absurdly high rents in the City, but still want to be close enough to experience all its grandeur, occupy Williamsburg, Fort Greene, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Clinton Hill. The third type in Brooklyn are the trendy pseudo intellectuals and artists, who discovered the authenticity and diversity of the borough before it became cool to say “I live in the BK.” This group is scattered throughout Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Williamsburg. Now of course I have completely generalized the rich diversity that makes up what I consider one ofNew York City’s coolest boroughs, but for the sac of argument, these types have contributed to the wave of change inBrooklyn.
As these types of folks flood intoBrooklyn, new businesses, including fantastic restaurants, have been popping up to meet the demand. Brooklyn has always had great ethnic food, with a strong Caribbean, Latin, Italian, and Eastern European population. But now with safer more gentrified streets, Brooklyn is becoming a lucrative business destination for many food entrepreneurs.
Hey Dishin’ It readers! I finally made it to Anthony Bourdain’s famous NYC restaurant Les Halles. I had high expectations for the restaurant based on my Bourdain obsession that has been taunting me for many years now. I’m not sure what it is that fascinates me so much about this slender, foul-mouthed, sarcastic, chain smoker, but like many of his fans will tell you, Bourdain is remarkable and fascinating. His show “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel is a homage to all us travelers out there, who secretly want to throw away our day-to-day responsibilities and gallivant around the world trying exotic cuisine. Bourdain’s books, Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw present a sometimes shocking glimpse into the food industry and the restaurant culture he knows so well.
I had been meaning to try Les Halles since I moved to NYC, so when my mother came in town I used this as an excuse for me to experience Bourdain’s creation. The restaurant didn’t look exactly how I envisioned based on my over inflated expectations. Adhering to the French Brasserie décor, the restaurant basically looked like a high end pub to me. I wasn’t impressed by the atmosphere in the Downtown location. There was the dreaded scaffolding in the front of Les Halles, blocking the actual sign, which is always a sure sign of slow business for most restaurants. No wonder we were able to get last minute reservations for four on a Saturday night.
The service was decent, but our waiter was switched out half way through our dining experience, which I found a bit abrupt. Of course we all ordered steaks because no upstanding citizen can come to Bourdain’s steakhouse and order chicken! We also ordered the Portuguese mussels for the table. The mussels were prepared with garlic, white wine, chorizo, and tomato. Very delicious and the broth was perfect for bread dunking., and yes there was some slurping involved. I ordered the hanger steak that came with crispy fries and a red wine shallot reduction sauce on the side. The steak was nicely prepared, but my mother’s flatiron steak was even more dreamy then my hanger. Obviously, the flatiron cut was also a bit more juicy and fatty then mine. Her steak came with a creamy bearnaise sauce, which apparently the kitchen makes fresh per order.
Yet, the tragedy of the night was the N.Y. sirloin with red wine butter that my mother’s friend ordered. The sirloin that we requested was to be served medium rare, but was delivered to the table medium well. A clear difference and a surprising mistake for such a notable steak restaurant like Les Halles. I was very disappointed by the response of the restaurant’s general manger, who didn’t even apologize when my mother’s friend requested it to be re-cooked. When the steak came back to the table, it was practically raw and the red wine butter tab wasn’t even melted. Absolutely appalling for a restaurant of this caliber!
Bourdain, I really expected more from your signature restaurant. I’m not giving up on you just yet Bourdain. I will visit thePark Avelocation to compare service, food, and ambiance. That’s it for now my lovely Dishin’ It foodies! Until next time, remember food is life, food is love, and food is community. Bon Appétit!
Look what I will be checking out on Monday. Discovering the best flavors of Italy right here in NYC!
Where: Eataly Birreria- 200 5th ave New York City, NY
COOKING DEMONSTRATION SCHEDULE
Monday, October 31ST
Massimo Bottura –Osteria Francescana,Modena,Italy – http://www.osteriafrancescana.it
Mario Batali – Babbo, Otto, Esca, OsteriaMozza, B&B Ristorante, Del Posto, and other notable restaurants
inNew York,Los Angeles,Las Vegas, andSingapore- http://www.mariobatali.com
Moreno Cedroni – Madonnina del Pescatore, Senigallia,Italy – http://www.morenocedroni.it
Jonathan Benno – Lincoln,New York – http://www.lincolnristorante.com
Emanuele Scarello – Agli Amici,Udine,Italy – http://www.agliamici.it
Missy Robbins – A Voce,New York – http://www.avocerestaurant.com
Davide Scabin – Combal.Zero,Rivoli,Italy – http://www.combal.org
Mark Ladner –Del Posto,New York – http://www.delposto.com