BRAII FOR THE BRAVE
March 21 , 2013
RACHEL'S OFFICIAL RATING:
Okay! To “spice” things up a bit, my name is Rachel, and I’m volunteering as tribute to be a guest writer on The Hunger James. Similar to my wonderful foodie friend James, I like pretty much all food. All of it. Except sardines, but like, I’m sorry, who likes those?
In a city like New York, you can eat anything. No, I’m not trying to sound obvious. You can seriously eat anything. At times it can be so frustrating to decide on a restaurant, which is why I usually order from the same Vietnamese restaurant that I live above and pick it up in my slippers, but that’s a story for another time. But everyday, you where you have to ask yourself “Well, hmmm do I want Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, Moroccan….” It can be quite a struggle.
The other weekend I had guests in from Virginia and naturally the role of choosing nighttime activities fell into my hands. And when I say nighttime activities, I clearly mean eating. So on Sunday, we planned a big dinner of 7 people. The pressure was on!
We were traveling to a bar in Midtown later that night, so I decided that we should eat in Hell’s Kitchen, home to so many incredible restaurants. While I was perusing Yelp! and holding back tears of frustration (and starvation) I landed on an interesting cuisine: South African. I mean, when I looked at the restaurant, 1. I didn’t know how to pronounce it and 2. I had no idea what would be on the menu. I noticed there were tapas and an entrée that included BBQ ribs, so I naturally decided we were going there.
And I am so glad we did.
I think one of the most important things about a great meal is the atmosphere in which you end up licking your plate. Oops, I meant eat your meal. The restaurant is called Braai, which means barbecue in Afrikaans. The instant you walk down the steps into this sub-level restaurant, you are transported out of New York and into Africa. Candlelight, deep wood, and white floors create an ambiance that makes you feel warm, fuzzy, and honestly, a bit drunk.
First things first, let’s discuss the wine list. I am not usually a fan of South African wines, but we selected a Red from Stellenbosch which was dreamy and rich. The kind of wine that you want to savor sip by sip but at the same time drink the entire bottle. As I was sipping (chugging) my wine, I started to look at the menu and I have never seen a more interesting list of food: Octopus, ostrich, and something actually called “Road Runner” were all on there.
There were also normal options like Truffle Mac and Cheese (of course we got that) Salmon, Ribs, and Lamb Chops. My sister, her friend Grace and I decided that since we wanted the entire menu, we should split some tapas. We decided to get 5, because honestly who only gets 3 small plates? We ordered the Truffle Mac & Cheese, Lamb Empanadas, Calamari, Stuffed Portobello with Goat Cheese, and to my hesitation, the Grilled Octopus.
By Rachel Larson
The presentation was just as beautiful as the food. I love when a restaurant not only knows how to cook, but knows how to make food look good. The Lamb Empanadas were delicious! A good potion of lamb was inside a flaky crust and the meat had a tangy barbecue flavor.
The Calamari was paired with an incredible tomato sauce that was similar to an Italian marinara with a hint of spice and lemon. The Portobello was perfectly grilled and the goat cheese was soft and melted in your mouth. There was a hint of balsamic vinegar on the top, which gave it just the right amount of sweetness.
Now, to the important thing: the Mac. I have an undying appreciation for truffle anything. Seriously. I would probably eat truffle oatmeal. But this was a masterpiece. It was baked but still creamy, rich but not heavy and the truffle flavor was flawless.
So, if you were reading closely trying to find a typo you probably noticed I only talked about 4 tapas. I left out one – one that still has me confused to this day: The Grilled Octopus. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was seriously a tentacle. It was a long, suction-cupped tentacle that curled at the end. I saw it and instantly felt strange, like it would start
crawling towards me at any given moment. Oblivious to the weirdness, my sister was brave and tried it first.
“Wow, this is so amazing!” Sarah exclaimed.
Then Grace gave it a try while I fearfully watched her.
“Oh my gosh, I’m obsessed with this. Rach try it,” she said. Are they messing with me? I thought.
I love trying new foods (preferably when they don’t come in tentacle form) so I quickly got over myself and cut out a portion. I’m usually not a texture person, but this was something I had never experienced. Tough, squishy, and well, it quite honestly felt like it looked; a squiggling tentacle. While I was trying to chew, I did notice it had a marvelous flavor – smoky with just the right amount of salt. But, despite how yummy it was, I just couldn’t get over the texture. For those with braver pallets out there, please order it!
If I had to describe Braai in one word it would be adventurous. It was so refreshing to go into a restaurant blindly and come out feeling so satisfied. Trying new foods is wonderful and trying new cuisines is also wonderful. If you’re feeling brave, wander to Braai on 51th and 8th. I highly recommend it for the ambiance, the food, and the experience.
Just don’t get the octopus.