“Med” Empanada owner, Marcelo, passes away

This is generally a very positive, hopefully uplifting blog. However, it’s with regret that I share this tragic news about the passing away of Marcelo Azar, the owner and proprieter of Med Empandas. I quote here from a comment left by his mother-in-law, Jan Fields to my Empanada Guide.

Marcelo and his wife, Stacey Fields, loved to create good food and good conversation together. Over the past 7 years, they worked together in many restaurant ventures, from French Confessions ( Pleasantville), and their own restaurants; Broadway Cafe (Valhalla), and Med Empanadas (Briarcliff).

Marcelo’s memorable, booming voice could be heard through the restaurants, “HELLO MY FRIEND!, I made something special for you!”, and it was always an oversize portion.

The young couple shared a deep love for each other and their 3 month old son, Marcelo, “Marcelito”. In the last 3 years, they never left each others side.

In April ‘09, one month after Marcelito was born, Marcelo was diagnosed with 4th Stage Melanoma. Together, Marcelo and Stacey fought this cancer positively and aggressively. Marcelo’s entire family came from Uruguay to join Stacey’s family in supporting them through the next 2 months.

As the treatment was having encouraging results, the couple’s plan was to re-locate to Uruguay by August for a less stressful life. Marcelo’s health depended on dramatic life changes.

In a sudden, unforeseen turn, Marcelo died on Sunday,07/05/09, due to complications from chemotherapy. He was 36 years old.

Jan Fields, mother-in-law

The eulogy above accurately reflects my limited experiences with Marcelo. Every time I visited MED during my Westchester Empanada excursions, he was always very outgoing and eager to talk to me about his business. He was outgoing, friendly and clearly took great pride in his product. On top of that, he was very talented at his craft. Those are three qualities one would hope more people would emulate.

Finally, when I visited MED the last time, with Liz Johnson of the Journal News to complete the Journal News write up of my guide, he spent considerable time with us and was genuinely thrilled at the attention his little empanada store had been garnering. I have no idea what the future of MED will be; it may already be closed at this point. I’ll try and find out more details.

My sincere condolences and prayers for his family, and particular his wife and three month old baby.


My Twitter life, as a Wordle

I’ve always wanted to generate a tag cloud of ALL my public Twitter posts. The problem is that most services, like TweetStats, will only take a small subset of the most recent posts to analyze. With the help of a great friend, Sacha Chua, who helped me scrape all 2000+ Twitter posts over the past few years (using Python and Perl scripts… stuff I don’t understand), I was able to create a word cloud via Wordle of all my public tweets:

Wordle: Adam's public tweets

 

Frankly, I was surprised tacos weren’t more prominent in that tag cloud. I see this mostly as a function that my priorities are misaligned. (Mental note: more tacos, less work). But Sacha also helped me do some other analyses too. Perhaps the most interesting is the break down of how many times I respond to certain people. Here’s list of the top 21 people I speak to most on Twitter:

89 @junkstar
56 @aneel
49 @elsua
41 @derekbaker
31 @edbrill
28 @turbotodd
27 @timwasher
23 @stevemann
23 @Macker
21 @tiffitis
20 @Scobleizer
20 @kid2dog
18 @sachac
18 @roonoid
18 @monkchips
18 @jenokimoto
18 @briancroxall
16 @ragtag
16 @jowyang
15 @wonderwebby
15 @shelisrael

Personally, I feel like I’ve gradually begun to use Twitter less and less as it’s gotten more popular. Call it the inverse Ashton Kutcher effect. But the tag cloud and @ list at least give a window of where I’ve spent a lot of my time over the past few years, what I’ve been talking about and who I’ve been spending it with.

Oh, and my first ever tweet? Appropriate:

first tweet


Rancho Grande, Port Chester

Rancho Grande As I first mentioned back on this thread I’ve been wanting to go to Rancho Grande since I first noticed it late last year. To say Rancho Grande is unassuming would be a huge understatement considering I’ve walked right by it at least 25 times over the past year without realizing it was a restaurant until a few months ago. No one goes in or out and the signage is virtually nonexistent. But my strange compulsion to try every Mexican place I see in hopes of uncovering hidden gems too over and I made a note to come back.

I finally stopped in for lunch a few weeks ago. As I expected, I was the only person in the restaurant. In fact, I wonder whether I am the only person who has ever gone to the restaurant. OK, that might be an exaggeration, I’m pretty confident I’m the only gringo to ever step foot in the place. The interior is clean but bare. To keep things simple, I ordered three tacos – chorizo, carnitas, and bistek – and followed it up with an horchata chaser.

After I made my order, the waitress quietly placed a phone call. I didn’t think much of it until two minutes later, a woman came through the door, made a comment to the waitress, and went straight to the kitchen to start making the food. Hmm… any place that needs to call their cook back to work when a customer comes in probably doesn’t do a lot of volume business. Now, in their defense, I’m guessing the cook was on her own lunch break. Nevertheless, it doesn’t dissuade my impression that customers don’t flow through their door with a lot of regularity.

The positive side of this, of course, is that the tacos (all $2.75) were freshly made and quite good. The bistek was the best with typically little chunks of thin beef steak, nicely charred from a hot griddle. The carnitas also had good flavor, and was appropriately fatty, but not as tender, rich or juicy as I would have liked. The chorizo was the weakest of the three. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary either.

So, all in all, I liked that my food was cooked to order and the food itself wasn’t bad either. But given the choice for tacos in Port Chester, I’d head 50 yards around the corner to Tortilleria Los Gemelos, where tacos are far superior, and now only $2 each.

Rancho Grande
8 Poningo St.,
Port Chester, NY 10573
914-939-8125

(I’ve also updated my ongoing Google map of Port Chester Latin food)


Finally, my empanada expedition is complete (sort of)

After more than two months of stringing together lunch hours and stealing away for random “errands” as much as possible, I feel I’ve finally tried enough places to put together a somewhat comprehensive guide to empanadas in Westchester County. One thing I’ve learned though is that as much as I might try, this list isn’t totally comprehensive. It seems like every day I find another place worth exploring. So rather than putting up a new blog post every time I find a new place, I’ve instead created a whole new page that can be updated at will. Here it is: The Empanada Lover’s Guide to Westchester County, complete with a detailed description of every place I tried, ranked by one, two or three stars, as well as a color-coded Google map showing all the locations.

My hope is that as I – or any of you – find new places I’ll continue to update this list. Just leave comments here or on that page if you have any suggestions, additions or edits. Your input will make it much more complete.

So, head over to that page to check out the complete list.

On this post I just want to share some overall impressions. First, the good news is that you can find some great empanadas here in Westchester county, spanning varieties from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay. Not many places around the country can boast that kind of variety. In short, there are a lot of very good, very traditional, very diverse empanadas to be eaten in Westchester.

The biggest difference in quality from place to place was whether or not they made their empanadas on site, and whether you could easily order them freshly made. You simply can’t beat freshly made empanadas. Only a short amount of time separates great empanadas from mediocrity. So, of the places I’ve listed, only those who made them freshly (fried or baked) got three stars.

Now, I have to be totally honest. Looking back on all the places I tried, I’m still left wanting. It isn’t that I didn’t find great empanadas here and there. But I still feel like we can do better. I guess I feel like I still haven’t found the absolute empanada nirvana here. Maybe nostalgic feelings of meals with many South American friends in Australia and great food I’ve had in Buenos Aires, creates a bar impossible to reach.  Maybe I’m chasing something unattainable? But whatever the case, it’s good motivation for me to keep looking.

So, I hope you enjoy the list. And please, be sure to let me know if I’ve missed any places and your impressions of any of the ones you’ve already tried.


A Chau Deli in NYC closing

Sadly, it looks like A Chau Deli in NYC’s Chinatown, is closing it’s doors due to high rent. A Chau has been my reliable banh mi provider for a few years now, so this is a big bummer for me. Luckily Baoguette is only a few blocks from work, but even still, this isn’t a positive improvement for the state of the banh mi in NYC.

I think it’s time for an all out banh mi showdown in NYC. First I’ve got to write up my Westchester Empanada report though…


Omar Restaurant (Comida Peruana Omar) in Stamford

 

This little Peruvian restaurant is in the same space formerly occupied by Rolando’s Tacos, which closed back in 2004 (sniff), and then Al’s Texas Chili, which closed in 2007-ish (hooray). Sitting next door to the Guatemalan Antojitos Chapines and just up the hill from the Mexican Casa Villa, it forms a nice trifecta of Latin food in this little corner of Stamford.

Ever since it opened about a year ago, I’ve been meaning to stop in and see how it fares compared with some of the other Peruvian places in Stamford. I decided to try the Peruvian standard, Lomo Saltado ($7) and was very impressed. The beef was freshly cooked, served piping hot with the usual stir-fried onions and tomatoes, topped with fresh cilantro, all sitting atop a huge mound of rice and french fries. Overall, this lomo saltado was quite good. A bit salty, but certainly up to par with any other lomo saltado in Stamford. Oh, and don’t fret when they bring you a red ketchup bottle. It’s actually filled with that wonderful spicy green aji sauce.

The restaurant has English menus, which is good because as far as I can tell, the staff speaks none. But the nice older lady manning the counter was very attentive and endearingly sweet. I’d like to go back and try all the other options on their menus, which seems to cover all the usual Peruvian suspects (Lomo saltado, pollo saltado, papas a la huancaina, caldo de gallina, pollo ala brasa, etc., etc….).

Definitely worth a return visit.


Homemade empanadas

After two-months of hunting for the best empanadas in Westchester County, I am finally ready to type up all my notes and put together my report. However, in the meantime, I’d just like to state that I’m pretty proud my own homemade empanadas would hold up really well compared to the best around:

homemade empanadas