Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Meeting The New Kid in Town Part 7 - Hector's Village Cafe

I spent Saturday waiting in the line from hell, after dealing with freezing temps and New York City Christmas crowds, to get a signed copy of the The Pioneer Woman Cooks. One would hope Sunday might be an improvement over Saturday. It was raining outside, but at least the temperature was much warmer. Kevin and Mom and I anticipated a nice, leisurely day at the barn.

We all climbed into the car together and set out for New Jersey. The rain was barely spitting when we left New York.

We reached 287 in New Jersey and suddenly traffic began to slow. It had to slow. The rain, which had been steadily increasing since we left home, was freezing onto the highway. Accidents were everywhere. Eventually everything came to a standstill. The road was closed. We sat stopped on the highway for 2 hours, seeing an exit ahead of us, but unable to drive forward to get onto it. We were hungry and frustrated. The fire trucks finally opened the exit, but there was no time at the barn for us. It was too late and too dangerous to do anything but turn around and go home.

It was still raining like crazy when we finally arrived at home and we were really super hungry. We needed to eat and we wanted something close by. I suggested Hector's Village Cafe, a Peruvian restaurant, that is one of the 9 new restaurants in my neighborhood.

For many years the corner where Hector's stands was a small "greasy spoon" type of luncheonette. About a year ago new management took over and added some improvements to the place and also added some Latin offerings to the standard coffee shop menu. Eventually they bought the empty store next door and expanded that into a small restaurant. It is conveniently across the street from my building, but we hadn't ever eaten there. With the rain coming down hard and no desire to walk very far, Hector's was a logical choice for dinner on Sunday.

You have to walk through the adjoining luncheonette to get into the restaurant portion. I didn't take a picture of the area, but it's simply and warmly decorated with terracotta walls, a few Incan tsotchkes, and some paintings on display for sale from the antique store across the street. There weren't many other customers there when we arrived, which always makes Kevin nervous, but we stayed.

Like every other new restaurant in the neighborhood, they just can't seem to get a liquor license in a timely manner (I have a pet theory about why this happens), so the sangria on the menu was out of the question. Instead we had the specialty fruit punch made with purple corn, ginger, apple juice, and grape juice. Very tasty. I have pictured it with our bread basket.

See that green stuff in the bread basket?

I don't know what it was. I thought it might be guacamole. It wasn't. It seemed to be made entirely of hot peppers with maybe a little parsley. My mouth was on fire just spreading a little of it on my bread.

We ordered our entrees. Kevin had Peruvian fried rice. That had several options for what you could have in your rice. He chose a seafood combination. He enjoyed it, despite eating it in an empty restaurant.

I had a short rib served with beans and rice. My short rib reminded me a bit of the steak I had at Roasted Peppers. Like the steak, tt was well-prepared (melt-in-the-mouth tender), but also like that steak, it lacked seasoning. The beans were kind of bland too. I tasted some kind of interesting flavoring in them, but they needed more of it. I ended up mixing some of that hot pepper stuff in them (I wondered if that was the reason they gave it to us in the first place.) I guess I expect food from any Latin American cuisine to be spicy. I don't know enough about Peruvian food to know if it's common for it to be seasoned so underwhelmingly. Is it always that way, or is this a way to keep the gringos from being scared off? It's not as if they don't offer spicy condiments (that green stuff!) Kevin didn't think his dish was underseasoned, so perhaps it was just the dish I ordered.

Service was great and food was definitely a little different from everything else in the neighborhood. Other than the lack of seasoning the food was decent and affordable. I would definitely go back and see what else they have to offer.


Bellini Valli said...

We have a Hector's here in town but it is some of the best Mexican in this area.Peruvian food seems to be the next generation as they are popping up!!!

Emily said...

Wow. That storm sounds horrible! I don't know what I'd do with myself if I had to wait on the highway for two hours.

This place sounds good. I think I would like Peruvian food, since I like most latin-type food. Seasoning is pretty important, though. I wonder what that sauce was...

Melissa said...

Okay, I'm going to ramble here because I *love* Peruvian food. I just met a couple of friends yesterday at a great spot here and got some seafood paella, delicious ceviche and lomo saltado. If you return, you really should try the lomo. It's like the "national dish." It's steak with French fries, tomatoes and onions in a soy based sauce served with white rice. Yes, it's carbolicious.

I also recommend almost anything with fish, as every Peruvian place does it well. Coastal cooking, etc. because of their geography, it makes sense.

The green sauce is called aji and is made with jalapenos, cilantro and garlic, with mayo or something else creamy to give it body, plus sometimes lettuce. The place near my work that serves it, I could drink out of a bottle. But the place I went to yesterday, not so much. There I suck down the red sauce, rocoto. Now there's some HEAT.

And Peruvian food is not meant to be particularly spicy. You'll always find the sauces at your table, but overall, it's kind of Mexican/Latin with a vaguely Chinese influence.