Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Flor de Mayo: Fusion Gone Right

Remembering my first experience at Flor De Mayo brings me back to the beginning of my relationship. When I asked what the restaurant was like MW replied, “its this Chinese-Peruvian place on the Upper West Side.” Chinese-Peruvian? WTF is Chinese-Peruvian food? But in hindsight this combination of vastly different cuisines makes perfect sense. Peru, like so many South American countries is home to many ethnic groups and waves of Chinese immigrants settled in Peru hoping to stake a better life for themselves and their families after being shut out of America due to the Chinese Exclusion Act. I’ll spare you the history lesson but will tell you that the restaurant is owned by a Cantonese family and has been a favorite of MW and her friends for years. Flor De Mayo soon became a favorite of mine too.

We were shortly seated and I overheard both Cantonese from a table of Chinese women and Spanish from the couple behind us. This anecdote illustrates the fusion of cultures and cuisine that characterizes the restaurant and the diversity of the patrons who frequent here. The menu is split between Chinese and Peruvian options with items such as Country Duck and noodle dishes, common in many Cantonese restaurants but then transitioning to Peruvian specials such as Lomo Saltado or Ropa Veija. Truth be told, I thought we were going here to eat Chinese food, not Peruvian food but to this day I've yet to order a single Chinese item.

I deferred the ordering to MW who hand picked some favorites for us to try. We each started with a Papa Rellena. Described as a stuffed Peruvian potato this a golden fried sphere about the size of a baseball appeared before me. Stuffed with ground pork and hard-boiled eggs, the fried exterior provided a textural contrast to the mashed potatoes on the interior. I also enjoyed the pickled red onions served on the side, the acidity bringing a nice balance to the rich dish.

After our plates had been cleared came the rest of our food in rapid succession. First out was the Broiled Pork Chops. Nice and thick, the pork chops were well seasoned and very juicy. A simple squeeze of lemon was the only accompaniment needed for this well executed dish.

We also ordered the Tallarin Verde. Described as thin spaghetti tossed with basil and spinach puree I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but as the waiter placed the dish on the table, I immediately thought pesto. MW and I both thought this was a milder version of pesto compared to the Italian version made from only basil; the spinach probably contributing to this.

Finally, the moment I was eagerly awaiting: the ½ Pollo a La Brasa with a side of Plantains. The Plantains were sweet and well fried. They were solid, but nothing extraordinary.

I agree with HDB’s post found here about the beautiful simplicity in a well-roasted chicken. Yet, chicken is one dish I hardly order when I go out to eat. To me, chicken always seems a safe dish and often gets tagged with the “boring “ label, but this chicken was anything but any ordinary poultry. The skin of the chicken was crispy and the meat was moist. Like the Broiled Pork Chops, the chicken was served with lemon and a spicy Aji sauce. The vinegar-based sauce was tangy and spicy and paired well with the chicken. Whether you are a white or dark meat fan both sections of the bird were great and although MW and I were stuffed we managed to finish this dish.

From its exterior to its most famous dish the beauty in Flor De Mayo lies in its simplicity and after trying one bite of their famous chicken there was no doubt how this dish propelled this unassuming restaurant on the Upper West Side to fame and a favorite of mine along the way.

Later I brought Chief to Flor De Mayo as we hit the Upper West Side for some Peruvian and Dominican food. I'd been raving about the Pollo a La Brasa for awhile and we were one of the first to arrive early on a Friday afternoon. We were seated and quickly decided that in the interest of our food journey we had to pace ourselves. Restraining ourselves we ordered a Ceviche De Pescado and a ½ Pollo a La Brasa with a side of Fried Rice. While the chicken was stellar as expected I enjoyed the Fish Ceviche. Presented on a piece of iceberg lettuce and covered with red onion the fish tasted light and refreshing. Chief and I have a mutual friend who says his favorite food is "Chexican," or restaurants run by Chinese who also make Mexican food. I'm not sure how I'd describe the food Flor De Mayo to anyone except as "this Chinese-Peruvian place on the Upper West Side."

Flor De Mayo
484 Amsterdam Ave.
(212) 787-3388

To see all our pics, please click the flickr link.

Flor de Mayo on Urbanspoon

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