Don Bauder 7:21 p.m., March 27
Haitian Cuisine proves less than exemplary, but not without its bright spots
I have been eyeballing the new Haitian restaurant in City Heights for a little while now. They’ve been open about two months and I had a chance to pop in the other night. I liked the way the restaurant was put together. It was very bright inside, with jazzy-world beat tunes playing loudly from the PA. Dining area was scrupulously clean, too, which is no surprise in such a new place but inspires confidence nonetheless.
“Have you ever had Haitian food?” asked the girl behind the counter.
No, I had not. But I was very willing to try. I didn’t say that it looked a lot like Jamaican food, or other Caribbean cuisines I’ve had. I figured it would be different in small ways, signature flourishes, if you will.
“It’s the best!” the girl added, with some enthusiasm. Her service style proved a touch slip-shod at times, with the forgetting of orders and an inability to run my credit card later so that I had to go across the street to an ATM to pay for my meal. The whole place was a little bit chaotic, but at least everybody was super friendly.
I ordered some “akra malanga” (fried yuca and malanga root for $3) to start. It came out looking almost like starchy, fried quenelles with a pile of cole slaw in the middle. They weren’t super flavorful, but the texture was very cool and fun to sink the teeth into. I really wanted some sauce to dip them in, but there was apparently nothing available.
The best part was the cole slaw. The creole term is “pikliz” and it was a simple mixture of shredded carrot and cabbage in a vinegar dressing. What made it special was the scotch bonnet peppers. They’re kind of habanero flavored, but different. Very smooth and spicy. The Haitian slaw seriously topped the best slaw I’ve ever had from good BBQ places. Even a small portion is sufficient since it packs a wallop.
Goat stew ($9.99) came with a huge plate of rice and beans (more than one guy could ever eat), a few tasty slices of fried plantains, and more of that amazing slaw. The gamey, goat meat had been boiled roughly in a thin, oily stew with onions. I think it could have benefitted from a slower braising because the meat was still rife with connective tissue and difficult to eat.
Perhaps this is the “correct” way to prepare a Haitian-style goat stew. If so, it’s not for me. The meat hadn’t been fully skinned, either, so there were a few thick pieces of skin (with a little hair) attached to some of the goat nuggets. Those joints could have produced a lovely sort of pot au feu if prepared a bit differently, but as it was they were hard to handle. The best part of the stew was spooning the oily, flavorful broth over the rice and eating that with a spoon. I think that, if I had it to do all over again, I would go with fried pork or chicken, especially if there was some sauce I could add.
For a drink, malta is the way to go with Haitian food. The syrupy, unfermented barley malt soda has the perfect taste to go along with Caribbean cuisine. It’s kind of weird, but if people keep an open mind it turns out pretty satisfying; which I guess you could really say about anything.
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