Category Archives: Westchester Palate

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Make Mambo 64 your second home

Black bean and tomato quinoa with roasted portobello mushrooms

Black bean and tomato quinoa with roasted portobello mushrooms

Born into a family passionate about all things culinary, Arlen Gargagliano was raised believing “food is love.” Many travels overseas to Spanish-speaking countries expanded her palate and inspired her 20-year career as an ESL—English as a second language—teacher.

In recent years, Gargagliano has transitioned into teaching cooking and writing. The published cookbook author has always loved cooking for family and friends, so her decision to open Mambo 64 last year seemed the natural next step.

The restaurant’s name may reference its address in number—it is located at 64 Main St. in Tuckahoe—but its meaning extends further. Gargagliano called her first Latin cocktails and tapas cookbook “Mambo Mixers.” Her affinity for the word “mambo” is simply explained; she thinks it
implies fun.

Fun is certainly one of many words I would use to describe my experience at the cozy Latin-fusion eatery. Gargagliano wants guests entering Mambo 64 to feel like they are walking into her home. This definitely came across; I watched her warmly greet every customer, many of whom she seemed to have a real relationship with. Diners around me echoed Gargagliano’s contagious upbeat nature.

Strawberry jalapeño mojito

Strawberry jalapeño mojito

At its core, Mambo 64 is family-oriented. Gargagliano’s two artistic brothers, Peter and Shawn, helped design the restaurant’s walls, lighting and artwork. You can find daughter Sofia helping out in numerous capacities. When I visited, Sofia was behind the bar, mixing me a delicious strawberry jalapeño mojito.

The diverse menu—most of which happens to be naturally gluten free—is inspired by several cities to which Gargagliano has traveled. She lived in both Spain and Peru, and these experiences lend an air of authenticity to her dishes. I sampled both tapas and “platos fuertes” reminiscent of my own travels abroad.

Many recipes are extracted from Gargagliano’s cookbooks, pulled from communities in northeastern Spain, Mexico, Colombia and more. Some even reflect places Gargagliano aspires to travel,
like Cuba.

I noticed that, while she may draw from many cultures, Gargagliano likes to put her own twist on dishes.

Arlen’s Guacamole, made with smoky chipotle, sweet red grapes and crunchy toasted pecans.

Arlen’s Guacamole, made with smoky chipotle, sweet red grapes and crunchy toasted pecans.

“Arlen’s guacamole” is far from the typical avocado, onion and tomato blend. Instead, you can find sweet red grapes, crunchy toasted pecans and a slight smoky flavor. Gargagliano explained the importance of balance in flavors, texture and color; her execution of that principle is perfect in this popular starter.

Cheese puffs were a Brazilian delicacy unbeknownst to me until the evening I spent at Mambo 64, and I am certainly happy I was made aware. Gargagliano agreed the puffs are not exactly commonplace on tapas menus, but explained their prevalence in South America. Sofia used to wait by the oven when she was young, and Gargagliano prepared them at home.

While traditionally eaten plain, Mambo 64 serves these bite-size, melt-in-your-mouth cheesy breads with a tasty strawberry and cucumber salsa.

Other hot-selling tapas include gambas al ajíllo; classic Spanish-style, sherry-sautéed shrimp and the beef empanadas Argentine-style and served with sundried tomato chimichurri dipping sauce.

Panuchos: toasted Colombian corn cakes topped with blood orange infused red onions, black bean purée and marinated chicken.

Panuchos: toasted Colombian corn cakes topped with blood orange infused red onions, black bean purée and marinated chicken.

I tasted Colombian corn cakes prepared two ways, one with marinated chicken and another with Caribbean-style mango chutney. The entrees I sampled included shrimp served on a bed of delicious sofrito and cilantro rice and quinoa with the juiciest, most flavorful portabello mushrooms.

Most popular large plates include the chimichurri-marinated hanger steak and the pernil, or roast pork, with gallo pinto.

To match the cuisine, there is live flamenco music on Tuesday evenings. A local Spanish guitarist performs while his girlfriend dances in elaborate costume beside him, often with a few outfit changes.

Special events do not stop there.

Mambo 64 often hosts beer and food pairing dinners as well, most recently with Broken Bow Brewery, which is based right in Tuckahoe.

On Aug. 16, you’ll find Gargagliano at the American Diabetes Association’s “Feria de Salud.” Held in St. Mary’s Park in the Bronx, this event will include live music and dance, free health screenings, cooking demonstrations by Gargagliano and more. She will also demonstrate how to prepare Spanish dishes that are diabetic-friendly without sacrificing taste.

While Gargagliano appears an expert, she claims she is still learning daily about the huge world of flavors out there. To pick her brain, take a Monday night cooking class at Mambo 64—last month’s featured Caribbean tapas—at which you can sit down and enjoy a homemade, social meal with Gargagliano and
peers afterwards.

In your own kitchen this summer, play with your food as Gargagliano advises, and who knows what you
will create.

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A taste of Croatia

Losos na Žaru: Grilled salmon with tomato basil relish over asparagus risotto

Losos na Žaru: Grilled salmon with tomato basil relish over asparagus risotto

The outdoor patio at Dubrovnik in New Rochelle feels more like your backyard than a restaurant, and that’s for the better.

Unlike many congested eateries, tables here are far enough apart from one another to create a laid-back, comfortable environment. This setting is a perfect match for chef and owner Zeljko “Jerry” Tomic’s approach to cooking.

Chef and owner  Zeljko “Jerry” Tomic

Chef and owner
Zeljko “Jerry” Tomic

Tomic’s handcrafted outdoor grill can only accommodate a few fish at once, and many, like the golden snapper, often take up to 40 minutes to cook. Especially on busier nights, Tomic makes it a point to be up front with his customers about the cooking length and makes sure no one is in any particular rush.

Because of the time and care that goes into preparing each fish he serves, Tomic will never squeeze in extra tables for fear the quality of his food would suffer. Instead, he encourages his diners to sit back and relax while his busy kitchen prepares some of the most authentic Mediterranean dishes in Westchester.

Before ordering, every table in the restaurant is presented with an impressive platter of whole, raw fish to choose from in addition to the usual menu. Offerings vary daily, as Tomic will only purchase what’s freshest. When I dined, there was lobster, branzino, salmon, striped bass, skate, John Dory, red snap-per, golden snapper and squid available.

Paired with seasonal sides, each fish is prepared with sea salt—the only salt Tomic has in his kitchen—and olive oil made from olives handpicked by Tomic’s parents in Croatia.

Tomic utilizes just a few simple ingredients; he was raised by parents who grew up having very little and learned how to make the most of what they had. Applying this principle makes Tomic’s dishes healthier, too.

Even more slowly prepared than fish on the grill are fish cooked in traditional Croatian fashion under a bell. Chefs add ashes to regulate the temperature, allowing meat to breathe only through the ash and retain all the flavor. Called “peka,” seafood cooked in this manner takes approximately an hour and a half, depending on its size. In Croatia, Octopus peka is a favorite.

Peka is also a popular preparation for meat. Lamb can take up to two hours, and veal even longer. Because of the meticulous process, Tomic requires a minimum of two days notice for these special orders. Planning ahead is well worth it, as Tomic describes a melt-in-your-mouth final result.

While I was unable to taste peka during my visit, I enjoyed a plethora of other menu staples. The Dubrovnik signature salad was a nice starter with cucumber, heirloom tomato, red onion and cheese shavings from the Croatian island of Pag. Cuttlefish risotto, well-flavored and blackened by squid ink, contained plentiful pieces of fish. The yellow tomato sauce on the daily pasta special was excellent, as was the salmon dish, a permanent fixture on the menu.

Grilled shrimp over vegetables

Grilled shrimp over vegetables

Tomic brought over smaller portions of John Dory, octopus, squid and, finally, a trio of three tasty Croatian desserts. He poured a glass of white wine made of Posip grapes, about 20 percent of which came from his father’s vineyard.

The night escalated into quite a feast as Tomic was eager for me to try as much as I could.

Aside from delicious seafood, what I found most alluring about Dubrovnik was the outdoor garden situated next to the patio. Tomic also has his own, much larger garden at home, from which he often takes herbs—like the fresh fennel he had us smell—to Dubrovnik for widespread use throughout the menu. Some of the romaine lettuce in salads served around me came straight from the garden, where you can also find lavendar, thyme, sage, basil, cucumber, broccoli and more.

Pasta special of the day: Linguini with scallops and yellow tomato sauce

Pasta special of the day: Linguini with scallops and yellow tomato sauce

Tomic is still eagerly anticipating a large batch of tomatoes later this summer.

Gardening is a daily hobby for him; he spends several minutes most mornings in his garden before leaving for work.

Tomic’s talents extend beyond cooking and gardening.
He has worked in construction for the past 27 years since arriving in the U.S. Before going into Dubrovnik each afternoon, he works next door at Top Drawer Custom Cabinetry. In fact, Tomic designed and built every corner of Dubrovnik’s interior himself, from each table to the doors and moldings on the wall. He poured all of his savings into this project and is proud of the outcome, with good reason.

While eating, I befriended a local couple that dines at Dubrovnik weekly. They offered unprompted praise of the super-friendly Tomic and his cuisine. They ordered the same whole fish, branzino, remarking how difficult it is to find genuine Mediterranean food elsewhere in the area. The husband manages Siena, an Italian restaurant half a mile down the road. To see someone in the restaurant business dining at Dubrovnik on his day off speaks volumes.

The one-of-a-kind Dubrovnik was created in honor of Tomic’s mother, a chef herself since a very young age. Mrs. Tomic, 78, visited the U.S. a few months ago and worked in Dubrovnik’s kitchen for three days, much to the delight of the restaurant’s regulars. Tomic said she left quite an impression on his staff, as well

When the restaurant opened less than a year ago, Tomic went through dozens of chefs and employees before finding a team capable of properly paying homage to where he was raised. Given the restaurant’s authentic eats and impeccable service, I’d say he’s found the right enthusiastic, skilled and dedicated bunch.

The preceding is brought to you by SoWeTaste, a division of the Southern Westchester Food & Wine Festival. Join SOWE from Sept. 19 to 21 for a unique culinary celebration featuring the tri-state area’s finest eats.

@sowefoodfest • sowefwf.com

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If you want to view paradise; Chocolations

Maria Valente, Chocolations owner and passionate chocolatier.

Maria Valente, Chocolations owner and passionate chocolatier.

You know you’re in for a treat as soon as you open the door at 607 E. Boston Post Road. Churning out about 50 pounds of chocolate daily on average, Chocolations turns passersby into customers with just a quick whiff of the homemade confections inside. The aroma alone captured my heart.

Known across Westchester for award-winning truffles, Chocolations boasts a large selection of products, 95 percent of which are made in the back of the store. Chocolates come in all shapes and sizes, wrapped in cellophane or boxed, and are fully customizable to customer specifications.

This visit, seasonal chocolates included large ties for Father’s Day, a plethora of gifts for teachers and graduations, and flip-flop shaped pops for this summer.

Chocolate covered caramel apples are perfect end-of-year teacher gifts.

Chocolate covered caramel apples are perfect end-of-year teacher gifts.

Whether commemorating a special occasion or stopping in for a tasty snack, you cannot possibly emerge from Chocolations empty-handed. The store is very cognizant of those with dietary restrictions of all kinds and truly has something for everyone. The store’s allergy-free chocolates are among the few items not made on the premises—these are actually crafted by a former Chocolations intern in a different facility—but they’re nearly identical to the store’s regular chocolates.

 

 

Owner Maria Valente was baking apricot squares in the back when I stopped by. While I was unable to stick around long enough to sample her fresh treats, I did taste and thoroughly enjoy every morsel of Valente’s famed dark chocolate truffles, dark chocolate Oreo bark and milk chocolate caramels. I brought home several samples of other, equally noteworthy goodies as well, including a piece that I
likened to a fancier, yummier Snickers bar.

Milk chocolate and potato chip bark is a newer offering that nicely fuses sweet and savory flavors together. Valente prides herself on keeping up with, and even staying ahead of, trends in the industry as reflected in this crispy creation. She is very passionate about a 72 percent dark chocolate that she has been toying with recently as it is considerably healthier than the average dark chocolate and drastically less bitter. You can find it
incorporated into various bars and truffles throughout her store that have quickly grown immensely popular.

Each day, Valente works with her team of seven employees to realize her lifelong dream. Almost 30 years ago, she began making chocolate in her home strictly as a hobby when her children were young. Valente shared her homemade, seasonal chocolates with family and friends and began selling them at the school in which her sister worked—and subsequently, at a school where she worked herself.

In the meantime, Valente attended law school and worked both in real estate and in computers, only to come to the conclusion that chocolate was her true passion and calling.

With a little money and a whole lot of nerve, Valente opened Chocolations in 2007. At that time, Chocolations was a small shop on Mamaroneck Avenue where she would remain for three years. In 2010, with the help of her friend and business partner Hank Pomponio, Valente moved Chocolations to its larger, current location on Boston Post Road.

With this physical growth came the natural expansion of inventory. Predictably packed during December, Chocolations saw less business during summer months. Valente realized chocolate is not the quintessential July or August snack and began serving Longford’s ice cream and frozen yogurt at her store. More recently, her team has implemented a lunch menu, from which patrons can enjoy dishes like salads and quiches in comfortable, chocolate-colored armchairs.

Chocolations round two has the capacity to host special events. Popular are children’s birthday parties, at which attendees make their own candy bars, enjoy frozen yogurt or pizza, and decorate cupcakes. The latter entails a lot more than frosting and sprinkles—cupcakes are usually designed using pastry bags to look like dogs, flowers or whatever the child’s heart desires.

There are also both private chocolate-making and continuing education classes regularly available at Chocolations, open to people of all ages. A weekly English-style afternoon tea takes place at Chocolations on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. via a partnership with Lola’s Tea House. Reservations are required for pairs wishing to take advantage of this special menu of scones, tea sandwiches, salad, chocolate and, of course, tea.

Understandably most proud of her truffles, which come in a wide variety of seasonal flavors, Valente revealed the strangest custom order she’s ever filled, a replica of a man’s face. This involved constructing a silicon mold for the chocolate and dusting the final face in gold to create a statuesque feel.

Sounds like quite the undertaking, but the ultimate personal gift.
___________________________________________________________________

The preceding is brought to you by SoWeTaste, a division of the Southern
Westchester Food & Wine Festival. Join SOWE from Sept. 19 to 21 for
a unique culinary celebration featuring the
tri-state area’s finest eats.

@sowefoodfest

sowefwf.com

Seventy-two percent chocolate content makes for a healthier truffle.

Seventy-two percent chocolate content makes for a healthier truffle.

 

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Palomino restaurant: A Larchmont favorite

Palomino-4Few chefs can boast a different eatery for each day of the week, but Palomino Restaurant in Larchmont is just one of Colombian-born Rafael Palomino’s seven restaurants throughout the northeast.

It is hard to imagine juggling a couple of popular eateries—let alone seven—while simultaneously running a consulting company and a catering company as well, but Palomino does it and does it well.

Exactly one year old, Palomino Restaurant serves cuisine the owner characterizes as “southwestern modern fusion.” Offerings include tapas, both hot and cold, meats and cheeses, and additional main courses.

The restaurant is named for its chef, naturally, but you’ll find artwork on the walls honoring its secondary definition. Palomino indicates the bright color of certain horses of various breeds.

Sweet corn shrimp tamale with lemon grass-corn chardonnay sauce.

Sweet corn shrimp tamale with lemon grass-corn chardonnay sauce.

The dimly lit, relatively sm-all interior houses a bar I’ve heard gets pretty loud during peak hours.

As simple as it is, I really appreciated my first bite at Palomino, a piping hot, crispy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside roll. The perfect piece of bread was elevated by its complement, a vibrant red, flavorful spread.

 

I detected sundried tomato, but inquired about the other ingredients, which I learned were ginger, garlic, honey and olive oil.

I also discovered I was far from the first to ask.

In fact, Palomino used to sell his sundried tomato chimichurri by the jar. He only stopped because it was not possible to maintain the quality, given the product should really be consumed on the day it’s made. I suppose I am left to experimenting in my kitchen in an attempt to produce something similar.

Throughout the meal, most admirable to me was the obvious attention to detail that goes into plating each dish. The plates were among some of the brightest and most colorful I have seen in my dining- out experience, which made everything look especially summery and fresh. Each dish was so artfully crafted, I had to pause in awe before digging in.

The first trio we received was served on a tiered stand, which further added to the overall presentation. Working our way from top to bottom, we enjoyed the Maine miniature cod tacos, Point Judith Rhode Island grilled calamari and the Coca Vaquero. With just a hint of spice, the tacos were crispy and light, prepared with grilled shiitake mushrooms, charred tomato and asparagus salsita. We overheard nearly every table ordering this menu staple. The calamari was drizzled with oil and served amidst a tasty bed of arugula, tomatoes, corn and white beans.

Our third bite, the coca, was taken from one of the daily special menus Palomino offers. Monday evenings feature a separate menu of cocas, which are essentially flatbreads with a Spanish twist. The waitress noted each contained cheese, even if it was absent from the dish description. In the Coca Vaquero, the marriage of steak and caramelized apples in a fig vinaigrette—with bleu cheese, of course—was on-point.

With additional daily specials throughout the week, locals can surely find a night to fit their palate. Taco Tuesdays allow patrons two tacos for $5, and Wednesdays feature creative paellas, ranging from the signature to squid ink, vegetarian and beyond. Thursday struck me as most interesting; this night showcases tacos from around the world via a menu updated monthly to reflect a different country. June is Argentina, so there is a little time left for locals to come experience this region.

After appetizers, we sampled the shrimp tamale with a lemongrass chardonnay sauce, wh-
ich is partly prepared while wrapped in plantain leaves. We enjoyed braised duck quesadillas and “Palomino Paella,” one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, comprised of saffron rice, shrimp, clam, mussels, chorizo and scallops.

Despite the vast spread laid before me, I have to admit I was envious of the guacamole I watched being made tableside for a group of women. They also shared a large pitcher of red sangria and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying a girls’ night out. The sangria looked great, and Palomino’s cocktail menu in general has received much praise online.

Brunch at Palomino is also now on my radar as I have been made aware of their prix-fixe menu that includes unlimited sangria, two courses and passed hors d’oeuvres for less than $30.

Our night ended with a twist on traditional Spanish flan that stole my heart and quickly became my favorite of the night. The flan was garnished with strawberries and a mint leaf, but more notable was the oversized sugar cookie in the shape of a spoon.

While I have undoubtedly only scratched the surface of Chef Palomino’s extensive repertoire, I am already impressed.

“Paella Palomino” with saffron rice, shrimp, clams, mussels, chorizo and scallops.

“Paella Palomino” with saffron rice, shrimp, clams, mussels, chorizo and scallops.