More cowbell.

Having neglected uptown for too long, I was immediately receptive when my friend Jas suggested an excursion to one of the many fine and cheap establishments north of 96th Street.  We settled, after a piece, on El Fonda Boricua, a U-shaped Puerto Rican joint on 106th between 3rd and Lex, at least partially because my usual group dining night (Thursday) offered the additional enticement of a live Latin jazz ensemble to go along with the food.  Being a sucker for music in addition to cheap eats, it seemed a perfect fit.

My expectations were not unmet, as it turns out.  Despite the place being packed to the gills, we were able to secure a table within a few minutes, and the volume of the group did not suffer for being across the room for them (note to the owner: I doubt that amplification is necessary for the horns).  The group was really, really good, by the way.  It seems to be a rotating cast of musicians, both during the evening and (according to Jas) from one Thursday to another.  I’m sure those more familiar with the music of the Caribbean would know more of the set list – the only song I recognized, albeit happily, was “A Night in Tunisia.”  Diz would have been impressed.

There was no sign of a menu.  Instead, the waitress explained the array of offerings for the evening in between songs.  A solid starter indeed were the tostones ($3), which came with a saucer of some kind of white mixture featuring pureed raw garlic.  The most expensive of the mains, the plaintain mash known as mofongo ($14), also featured a powerful garlic tinge – always a pleasure, especially unexpectedly.

My own choices were the steak and onion fry-up ($7) and rice and beans ($3) – both large servings, enough so that the both could nearly feed two.  The onions had been lightly sautéed, which went perfectly with the thin (but not tough) beef.  My usual pet peeve with beans (that they’re rarely cooked well) was not applicable – these beans were both well-cooked and flavorful, and the cake of rice that came with it was a good match in texture and flavor.

I also tried the fried chicken tidbits (which I think were called chicharron de pollo, but I’m not sure), which were a little dry, but beat the hell out of the average chicken nugget.  The desserts looked tasty, too, but by the time I was finished with everything else, I had no room for flan.  A shocking failure in capacity, I’m aware, but I’m sure that I’ll be back to El Fonda Boricua – I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is…lots of garlic.

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