Last night I held a small, impromptu competition for best chicken dish in NYC. Granted, there was only one contestant—and one winner—and no spectators or prizes. So it was pretty lame as competitions go. But the chicken was as far from lame as it's possible to be.
On the way to see the opening-night performance of the Classical Theatre of Harlem's Emancipation, a new play about the Nat Turner-led slave rebellion of 1831, at the Audubon Ballroom (where Malcolm X was shot), a friend and I stopped in for a quick dinner at El Malecon, a Dominican restaurant on 175th and Broadway. I'd been to the branch on 97th and Amsterdam years ago and hadn't made it back since, but now I'll be an El Malecon regular—in my food fantasies, anyway. Anytime you can walk right into a restaurant without a reservation or a wait, and find spectacularly delicious food, cheap prices, and on-the-ball service despite a full house—that's a very happy, very rare night in NYC.
El Malecon's Dominican-style rotisserie chicken is the ultimate expression of the form: crispy skin that's slightly charred in all the right places, extraordinarily juicy and moist meat, and a garlic-spiked dressing to dip into or pour over the chicken at will. The yellow rice, black beans and crunchy sweet plantains we had on the side made for entirely too much food, and my friend and I had to sprint down Broadway afterwards because we couldn't part with our not-quite-wiped-clean plates and leave the restaurant on time. The play was moving and beautifully acted—and temporarily banished thoughts of the dinner. But this morning, my mind did a U-turn straight back to that chicken. The feet will soon follow.