Saturday, April 30, 2011

La Paloma (45th and 9th - New York, NY)

I had high hopes for this place, not only because it seems nigh impossible to find an establishment in NY that offers an authentic taco, but because of the particular location on the west side near restaurant row (and, consequently, near where I live).  In a sea of fusion restaurants and authentic international cuisine I had hoped that La Paloma would be a small hole-in-the-wall gem. 

It has all the outward makings of a great taco joint: awkwardly drawn signage, vaguely Meso-American art on the walls, plastic flowers on the tables, and a staff that barely speaks a word of English.  
Very friendly, though a little surprised that some dude wants a picture of them.
The menu was promising as well; they have a good variety of offerings, including tacos in all the regular flavors - it was simply the execution that was the problem.  

Let's get down to the nitty-gritty.

The Tacos: 2/5
Here is the major problem, the tacos just weren't that good.  I had three kinds, Carne Asada, Chorizo, and Pollo .  Of the three, the chorizo ones were the only ones I'd consider getting again, and they weren't anything fancy, just cut up and sorta spicy hot dog (which you'd think would be good) more than a real ground chorizo with the usual kick.  Both the carne asada and pollo were dry and not well marinated, they had a crumbly texture and little flavor at all.  Some of this might be improved if the meats were grilled, but instead they are fried on a griddle, yet still remain dry.  A mystery to be sure.  All tacos come with lettuce, pico de gallo, and guacamole, which is a nice addition, but not enough to cover the bland meats.

Value: 3/5
 My first impression was that the portions are large, not just for the tacos, but all menu items.  That's nice, though the price is between $2.50 and $3.00 depending on the kind of taco you want, standard in New York, but I don't have to like it.  Still, I could eat three tacos and feel like I'd had a meal, and I walked in hungry.  

Acoutrement: 2/5
Another major disappointment.  The two hot sauce (red and green) offerings they had on the table were a brand (El Yucateco) that I'd never heard of before, and it wasn't one of those pleasant surprises.  The sauces have an almost florescent color to them that gives away the chemical base and flavor, and although they were habaƱero flavored and exceedingly spicy the flavor was not particularly good.  The green was better than the red, but I couldn't get over the artificial flavor.  The one saving grace was the side of homemade salsa they served with the tacos, that was delicious, flavorful, and authentic, I just wish there had been more of it, and some better choices.  Other than that, no pickled veggies or peppers, no cilantro and onions, just what comes on the taco and some hot sauce bottles.

Other: 3/5
 Not much to report in this category.  The staff was friendly and accommodating, they have really large burritos and taco salads, and don't serve alcohol. 

Overall Score: 2/5
I'm tempted to give it a higher score just because it has no authentic competition anywhere near by, but with a national perspective on what their tacos could be like, I'm sticking with a low score.  It wasn't terrible, it just wasn't anything special.  If I go there again it will only be late at night after a crappy date so I can drown my sorrows in a few chorizo tacos.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hebrew Nationals (commercial brand)

I've never understood the Hebrew disposition for hot dogs, but I'm not going to complain.  This company makes some of the finest commercial brand hot dogs available in the US, and to that I'll say, "L'chaim!" 

Apparently these hot dogs have been on the market for over 100 years, and they've been fairly strict about keeping the same standards and quality for their product the entire time.  They've also kept the somewhat cheeky tagline to their products "we answer to a higher authority", a bold move in a mostly secular world of commerce.  Also, for those that care to know, National Brand foods is now owned by ConAgra Inc.

Religious and commercial affiliations aside, these dogs are made from high quality ingredient and contain no fillers, by-products, artificial colors or flavors, just delicious meat that's been blessed by a rabbi and meets the cleanliness standards upheld by kosher law.  A side note, however, orthodox Jews in the US that follow the guidlines of Glatt Kosher should be warned that there is some dispute as to whether or not the standards are strict enough.  More's the pity as they are missing out on a tasty treat.

 Hebrew Nationals come with some variety, including Regular Beef Franks, Reduced Fat, and Jumbo Size.  All are basically the same product.  They also sell a Polish Sausage and Knockwurst that are truly excellent.

Okay, let's talk stastistics: 

The Item: 4-5/5
I'm not being intentionally wishy/washy about my rating of this dog, it's simply that the quality varies significantly depending on the type that you get.  The Regular Beef Franks are good, but I find the meat/bun ration lacking, if you are going for a standard hot dog get at least jumbo sized if not 1/4 pound.  The polish sausage is basically the same only....better.  It gets the 5 out of 5 rating, it's got a nice hint of spice and flavor that is just a little lacking in the regular dog, but both are delicious and worth giving a try.

Value: 3/5
As they say, you get what you pay for and Hebrew Nationals are a high quality dog with a price point to match.  Prices will vary from store to store, but for a regular 7 pack,  they usually run around $5.99.  I go for the 1/4 dogs my self, 4 to a pack, and they are $7.99, basically $2 per dog.  Not great, but not the worst either.

Other: 4/5
There's not often much to put in this category for commercial brands, but I like the lack of artificial ingredients and by-products, though I'd be more impressed if they went so far as to offer a certified organic product as well.  And they're Kosher, of course, a bonus if that's important to you.

Overall Score: 5/5
As I said, some of the finest commercial hot dogs on the market, if you are looking for quality, start here.