Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Brisas del Caribe

SoHo, NYC
212-343-4249

Review by SuSu

I've never really understood this, but Caribbean food seems really well suited for cold weather. The meats are long-stewed or slow-roasted, and they cook very rich, fatty foods like oxtail stew, beans and yellow rice, and tostones, the double-deep-fried starchy banana (plantain). There's never any vegetable around, except to help the meat along. And yet the climate of the Caribbean is anything but cold.

We came upon here because nothing was going right. The memory stick in the digital camera died, it was windy and cold, and we'd forgotten to eat lunch. Although there are many places on Broadway, they were all coffee and "pressed sandwich" type places, i.e. -- they don't prepare the food themselves, just assemble then put into a sandwich griddle. They can be good, but they do tend to have "poseur" attitudes -- not what we wanted in our grumpy mood.

Brisas del Caribe is down the street from the cooking school I attended when I was "Culinary Padawan," and I'd always been intrigued by it. This area is a funky mix of Industrial Revolution / Machine Age retrofitted buildings and highbrow establishments. Many upmarket stores opened in SoHo in the 1990s when New York City real estate prices went insane, so now there is a mixture of dilapidated tenement adaptations and expensive mall treatments for storefronts. But this restaurant is a bit extreme -- hand-pasted sign, missing sidewalk pieces (to fix old pipes and stuff beneath the street), grafitti-strewn mailbox; within, there is a formica-topped counter and tables and chairs crammed into the space. It's clean, and the counterpeople, the cooks, and the two waitresses are efficient and fast.

When you peek in the window and look at the menu above the counter, there is a list of "deli" sandwiches. It's quite confusing, and it caused me to pass it by, despite the delicious smells emanating from the place. Why get a roast beef sandwich with lettuce and cheese? But there were too many clothing and fashion stores on this block, so I turned around and headed in. The place was packed, but I spied a recently vacated table in the back, right in the pathway between the kitchen and the counter. I actually consider that table to be the best one, since I enjoy peeking at how the work is done.

The menu is a mix of authentic Caribbean fare and sandwiches. I wanted to try a lot of things, so I figured we'd order a lot and have the leftovers packed. We got roast pork, oxtail stew (soup special of the day), yellow rice flecked with red beans, a fried fish sandwich, and tostones. It was all awesome and the servings were generous. They don't seem to use a pressure cooker for the oxtail, so it was chewy, but I do like it that way. I'm not into fried fish sandwiches, but my tablemate is a big Filet o' Fish fan, and pronounced it perfect. The tostones were not done as I prefer them -- sliced and fried, then smashed flat and fried again. They skipped the second step. The roast pork was tender shoulder meat, so nice and sticky from the cartilage and moist from the low heat.

As you can see by the photo, this place is kind of a "dive," but it makes it more authentic and fun. The waitress was nice, and the bill for all that food and some sodas came out to $30, including tip. We felt we were ripping them off, despite the lack of decor -- though they did have plenty of ambiance!

Now, can someone who speaks Creole explain to me why this place is called "Brisas del Caribe," when the name of the business is "La Drisas del Caribe"? I learned French in school (I know, shame on me), so while I can understand the deans at my cooking school, I can't figure out this puzzle ... Well anyway, it put us out of the bad mood. Well fed and more reasonable, we spotted a Staples stationery store across the street and simply bought a new memory stick. Wasn't that easy? A good meal puts everything in perspective! (Who says food is simply about nourishment??)



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