The organization I work for hosted a series of lunches for defense attorneys in four different cities across New York State to discuss the implementation of a drug law reform measure that passed in 2009. I wanted the luncheons to be something special, but defense attorneys in Buffalo and Rochester weren't very imaginative; we had sandwiches from a (nice) deli in Buffalo, but the Rochester lawyers opted for simple pepperoni pizza. When the luncheon for the Bronx lawyers came up, I posted a request on my Facebook page for some suggestions for a good restaurant nearby. Almost immediately, a friend responded by putting me in touch with a lawyer who happened to work for the organization I was visiting (but in a different department). He said: hands down, Coqui Mexicano. I visited the website and could tell from the menu that this place was a winner.
After agonizing over the menu, and deciding that I'd have to pitch in some bucks for extra food so I could bring home dinner, I called Diego and explained the plan. I was a little worried when he said that their catering menu was different, but not posted on the web, but ultimately, I just told him what I wanted in general and the amount of money that I wanted to spend.
It just so happened that D and I were traveling in the same direction the day of the luncheon, and so we decided to drive up to the Bronx and have a quick lunch together before the luncheon. (I knew that because I was speaking and asking a bunch of questions and taking notes during the luncheon that I wouldn't be able to eat during the meeting.) When we arrived, Diego seemed a bit frazzled, and worried aloud that the avocados weren't really ripe enough yet. The place was not very busy, just a few folks talking leisurely over some food in the brightly-colored dining room. Diego suggested the beef stew, which D ordered--but I knew I wanted a Cubano. I'm not a big Cubano fan, but for some reason, I wanted to try his. I'm so glad I did. Thinly sliced ham, pernil, pickle, and mayo, and a very tasty cheese on a soft roll. He conversed with us while we ate, asking if everything was alright ("some people make crusty Cubanos, I like mine like this. You like it?" I did.)
After giving the avocados a few more squeezes, he excused himself and set off at a quick trot down the street and around the corner--presumably in search of more ripe avocados for the guacamole we'd ordered for the luncheon. Watching him run down the street, I noticed an amazingly ornate, but run-down, building across the street--it was the old Bronx County Courthouse. Now covered in unartistic graffiti and grime, it appeared to be a sad symbol of a neighborhood in decline. But D told me that the owner recently sold it to a charter school, so (notwithstanding concerns about charter schools!) maybe someday soon, the beautiful architecture will shine on the block again. You can see the building in the background of the picture above, but some dude actually took photos of the inside and outside of the building and posted them on his blog, Satan's Laundromat.
Before D and I left to head over to the luncheon, I ordered a piece of Budin de Maiz, a sweet cornbread pudding with raisins, cinnamon, & grated coconut for a snack later that day. It was delicious. As the menu said, it's great for breakfast with coffee, or a dessert. I'll have it anytime, thank you.
When Diego delivered the spread for the luncheon a half an hour later, the lawyers greeted him like an old friend. I didn't know until later that about a year ago, when Coqui was struggling in the neighborhood, the legal services office organized a fundraiser to keep them in business. The bonds are tight between the organization and the restaurant. This article explains the story of Coqui Mexicano and why it's so special in the neighborhood.
I ordered a taco platter with pernil, warm corn tortillas, ricanized couscous salad, guacamole, escabeche de gandules, and five Cubanos. Diego apologized because he didn't bring as much as I ordered because he didn't want to use the under-ripe avocados, which was VERY COOL. He brought the chayote salad as a substitute--I have to admit, I didn't order it because I didn't know what it would be like, but it was outstanding. The lawyers enjoyed the food, the meeting was a success, and I brought some leftovers home so that D and I could taste the whole range of food from the place. I owe Diego a big, warm thank you for his thoughtful preparation of the food. I only wish I had more occasion to go to the Bronx--this would be my go-to place.
Photos courtesy of Welcome2Melrose blog, and The Daily News.