Old-Style Dominican Food Gets the Nuevo Treatment
$25 AND UNDER
By ERIC ASIMOV
It didn't take long to realize that something was unusual about Bohio,
a friendly new Dominican restaurant in Washington Heights that promises
"Viejo Latino" cuisine
with a stylish twist.
On my first visit, I asked for a cafe con leche, a drink that is about as viejo as you can get. "No cafe con leche," the waiter said. "We only have espresso."
"All right," I said. "But make it a double espresso." He looked at me dubiously, and nodded. Soon he reappeared, with two little cups, each filled to the brim with espresso.
Bohio's reach may sometimes exceed its grasp, but its ambition offers
a welcome alternative to the steam-table Latino restaurants that dominate
the neighborhood. These
places, which can all make cafe con leche blindfolded with their hands tied, typically offer flavorful, if warmed-over, dishes at extremely low prices. If I wanted a great
skirt steak or roasted pork in Washington Heights at 2 a.m. after a night of dancing, there would be no better place than El Presidente, on Broadway near 165th Street.
But if I wanted a meal before the party in a place with low lights and a warm atmosphere, I wouldn't hesitate to pick Bohio.
Bohio, a Taino Indian word for the wooden huts that serve as rural gathering
spots in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, has long been a dream
of its owner and
chef, Jose Reyes. Mr. Reyes, who grew up in Washington Heights, learned his way around the kitchen from his mother, Esperanza, a cook for many years at Bergdorf
After refining his techniques at the New York Restaurant School and
restaurant jobs at Erizo Latino and Bistro Latino, Mr. Reyes turned his
attention to his old
neighborhood, fantasizing about a place that served the Dominican food of Washington Heights but would also appeal to those who wanted a more refined atmosphere
and presentation. With a loan from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, an economic development agency, and considerable recipe assistance from his now-retired
mother, Mr. Reyes opened Bohio in December, about a year behind his personal schedule.
Bohio has the glossy, polyurethaned look of new construction, and while
the food is indeed viejo Latino, or traditional, it has some inevitable
Chunks of pernil ($13), or roasted pork shoulder, are arrayed neatly around a carefully molded portion of moro rice. Chopped herbs are sprayed across the plate. But I eat
every bite. The pork is full of garlic and citrus flavors, with crisp exterior pieces, and the rice, made with gandules, or pigeon peas, has a wonderful nutlike flavor. Pork
chops ($15), too, are edged with garlic and citrus. Though they're a trifle dry, I like them.
In fact, many dishes are cooked a little bit more than I would choose,
not surprisingly. One night I took my friend Raphael, who is part Dominican
and has made a close
personal study of Dominican cuisine. "Dominicans like everything well done," he said, as we cut into a piece of flank steak ($16) that had been ordered medium rare but
was just a bit pink. Nonetheless, the chewy beef had plenty of flavor.
If you like meat fried until it can be fried no more, the parrillada
for two ($25), is perfect. It includes carne fritta, or long twists of
beef fried to the consistency of jerky,
chunks of pork fried until crisp, mild yet irresistible longaniza sausage, savory fried yuca, and, best of all, pica pollo, pieces of chicken fried until the crust is crisp and
crackling, yet full of flavor. At lunch, you can order the pica pollo ($7) separately, with rice and soupy, fragrant red beans.
There's not much of an appetizer selection, but I'd be very happy with
bollitos ($6.50), spheres of sweet plantains stuffed with codfish and cheese.
They resemble Spanish
croquettes, but are purely Caribbean.
Desserts include a dense, intensely caramel-flavored flan, sitting on
a pool of syrup with two crisp wafers rising like antennae, and pumpkin
fritters ($6.50), like golf
ball-size spheres of rich pumpkin pie, coated with cinnamon and allspice.
Bohio has not yet received its liquor license, but expects to soon. No word on when the cafe con leche license will arrive.
4055 Broadway (171st Street), Washington Heights; (212) 568-5029.
BEST DISHES Roasted pork shoulder; pork chops; pica pollo; bollitos; flan; pumpkin fritters.
PRICE RANGE Lunch, appetizers and sandwiches, $5 to $7; main courses, $7 to $10. Dinner, appetizers, $6 to $7.50; main courses, $12.50 to $17.
CREDIT CARDS MasterCard, Visa.
HOURS Sunday through Thursday, noon to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, noon to midnight.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS Everything is on one level.