Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fairytale Eggplant with Summer Squash

Last night as I handed over my name and phone number to a very tall and thin host at Barrio Chino, agreeing to a one and a half hour wait for a table, maybe just two seats at the bar, I realized it has been a long time since I've "gone out" in New York.

The last time my friend Ciara and I got together we went to Don Hills, a nighttime relic of the eighties clinging to it's punk rocker history, that is now, as scenes go, dead as a doornail. Just like I like it. Ciara, her friend Brian, and I danced to British Pop on an empty dance floor drinking $3 PBR's all night. It was great. No standing in line, no strange men rubbing up against you, and everyone got their own disco ball to hop and spin to.

Yesterday was different. Normally I would never wait an hour and a half for a table but Barrio Chino came with recommendations, I was craving a good margarita, and since it was just Ciara and me, we decided to grab a drink somewhere else until the call came that we were finally worthy of a seat. The night was young.

Turning the corner onto Orchard, wondering where to go, a bright and uncharacteristically cheery glow spilled out onto the dirty sidewalk. A new tequila bar! Perfect! We sat ourselves down and ordered two margaritas on the rocks. The bartender was strangely nice and even after we'd ordered, lingered, smiling at us a little more before happily getting to his mixing and shaking. Weird. Why is a Lower East Side bartender smiling? He must have moved to New York yesterday. Whatever. The service was speedy. He brought us two large, globe-like glasses filled to the top with ice, followed by another lingering smile. Looking down at our drinks we wondered if maybe we should have ordered them neat. Hello? Any Margarita in there? Ciara and I slurped and splashed our way through this never ending slushy of ice, which actually had a decent amount of booze after all, laughing and having a good time. The clock ticked on.

An hour and a half passed without a phone call and our patience for a pretentious wait list on a Tuesday night had passed, we paid our bill and decided walk back to Barrio. If they couldn't seat us we'd move on. Tequila and lime was sloshing around in our empty bellies and the evening could go South very soon without some food. "Oh", the host said, "I was just about to call you! I have two bar seats but if you want to wait just a few more minutes a table is about to open up." 

We read the menu taped to the window from the sidewalk, and tried not to faint.

Finally seated we ordered immediately. Two more margaritas, guacamole and chips, the Cornish hen rubbed with lime, jalapeno and cilantro for Ci, and the pulled lamb with green rice for me. 

The clock ticked on but you couldn't hear it from all the noise.

Twenty minutes later our drinks arrived. They were good but not worth the wait, and then about ten minutes later the guacamole appeared. The chips were delicious, thick, freshly made and lightly salted but the guacamole was more like chopped onions with a little avocado. It was very strange. So far, in the past two hours, Ciara and I had mostly eaten ice and onions. We were cranky, hoarse, and dared them to turn out a good meal.

About forty five minutes later, nearly dead, our food finally arrived. We inspected it, poked at it, and exchanged a glance that said, "if this isn't the best meal I've ever had we're walking out of here and getting ice cream".

I have to say, it was delicious. The lamb was tender and rich, filled with spicy flavor and Ciara's Cornish Hens were succulent and perfectly cooked. We softened a little. Don't get me wrong, we would never come back here, but we would go home full and a little tipsy.

What happened next was like a scene out of a horror film. It's the moment that the hot young girl, locks herself in a bathroom with the phone, 911 on the line, thinking that she's safe, and has averted danger. It's the moment when the audience tightens, sees the flash of a knife in the medicine cabinet, and can't help but scream, "Look behind you!" 

Smiling and at last blissfully happy with my meal I put a big forkful of rice into my mouth. My eyes widened. Tears began to stream down my cheeks, drool spilled out of my mouth, and a flash of heat traveled from the top of my head to my gut in a matter of seconds clearing everything in it's path. Those little orange slivers garnishing the rice were not pickled onions. They were habaneros. I must have put four or five in my mouth at once. I couldn't speak. I just stared at Ciara, mouth agape, in disbelief, my nose running like a drunk fleeing a fire. Check please!

Eating at Barrio Chino reminds me why eating at home can be so great. There is no wait, and you never have to blast your head off unless you want to! Last week I bought some fairytale eggplants from the farmers market, because who wouldn't? And made up a dish with what I had. Some eggplant, some summer squash, brown rice and a little radicchio, which in my opinion, is the dinosaur of lettuces. They last forever in the fridge.

And as for Barrio Chino, can't say I didn't warn you.

Fairytale Eggplant with Summer Squash

20 or so fairytale eggplants (or any eggplant)
1 ripe tomato, seeded and chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tbs. Parmesan cheese
1 cup uncooked brown rice
eight or so radicchio leaves
five or six leaves of fresh basil, chopped
salt + pepper
Olive Oil

Cook the brown rice according to the instructions on the package. Wash and remove the tops of the eggplant, slice in half, lay in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for about half and hour to draw out some of the water. Blot the eggplant dry with a paper towel. Add the garlic and shallots to a frying pan or skillet and saute over medium heat in a few tablespoons of olive oil until soft. Add the eggplant, summer squash and tomato. Cook about fifteen minutes covered, or until everything is nice and soft and cooked all the way through. Salt if needed and toss with the basil just before serving. Meanwhile, in a toaster oven, toast the pine nuts until golden. To serve, lay a few radicchio leaves down on a plate. Spoon a little brown rice in the center, about 1/2 a cup. Then lay a good amount of the eggplant and squash over the rice, sprinkle a few tablespoons of pine nuts on top and a few pinches of Parmesan cheese. 


  1. I hope they sell Fairytale eggplant in Nags Head...oh the joy to come!

  2. I hope you all have a great time down there. I'm looking forward to an inspired seafood post. I know there will at least be plenty of good desserts!

  3. I love this. Keep up the restaurant posts whenever you go out. The last time I waited an hour-plus, it was totally worth it - cold whiskey cocktails, a delicious burger and duck fat fries.

  4. Terrific story, lovely writing - sorry about your mouth. As for the eggplants they are beautiful and the recipe, my kind of food.