What fun it is for a foodie to be able to walk the length of a gas station on Altamont Avenue in Rotterdam, New York, and be able to enjoy a sampling of Caribbean cuisine! While the Schenectady area has been known for years for its Italian restaurants, current residents have begun discovering Mexican, Thai, Guyanese and Dominican restaurants occupying small spaces but making big contributions to local dining choices.
A quick, 100-foot jaunt can transport you to a feast of sweet or savory empanadas, yellow rice and crispy catfish to the exotic flavors of Arroz Amarillo con Guandules (Pigeons with Yellow Rice) or Mofongo con Chicarron de Cardo (Mashed Green Plantains with Fried Pork).
KR Dominican Cousine is not a fancy place. Three small tables are positioned on two outer walls and a multifunctional counter stands in the middle of the room. Owner Ramon spends much of his time behind the counter processing credit cards or dishing out guisos (stews). A nearly life-sized Santa Claus stands guard beside the kitchen, waiting patiently for Dec. 25.
In retrospect, I wish I could have studied the menu online before visiting the venue. The print on the paper menu is small, and some of the names in English and virtually all of the names in Spanish were unfamiliar to me. Ramon politely translated the Spanish names for me so I could more easily navigate the menu.
I knew I wanted an order of fried sweet plantains ($2) because it is something I never prepare at home. Ditto for Pescado Frito (fried red snapper for $21). Despite the name “sweet,” the plantains did not taste like sweet bananas. These were sturdier and more bland. Plantains are often consumed for breakfast and dinner in the Dominican Republic.
With its body cavity cleaned out, the snapper was fried to a golden, parchment-like crispy outside and a flaky steaming treasure of tender meat on the dorsal side. I have no idea whether or not the snapper was seasoned; all I tasted was the sweet flesh.
Guest decided to sample the pork chops and beef stew. She waxed ecstatic over the pork, commenting, “When ordering fried pork chops there’s always a risk of encountering a dried-out chewfest. That was not the case at KR’s. Lightly seasoned, it retained moisture, rendering the chops tender while still being thoroughly cooked.”
She added that Ramon’s generous portions provided meals for the next two days.
The red, white and blue, eye-catching, six-column menu incorporated photos to illustrate food. This was helpful. Spanish names with very small descriptions printed at times in color rendered reading and understanding difficult. The names can also be misleading. For example, Arroz Amarillo con Guandules is described as yellow rice with pigeons. But the words “peas” is left off, misleading the inexperienced diner to believe this is a rice dish with small birds instead of with small peas — a big difference if you are a vegetarian. (One page out of five on the menu has prices for each of the food items. Prices for everything listed on the menu would be a helpful improvement.)
Four cultures contributed to present-day Dominican cuisine: the indigenous Taino; the Spanish; as well as people from both Africa and the Middle East. The source of protein in the Dominican Republic was originally limited to seafood and chicken until the Spanish introduced pork and beef to their diets. Meat proteins are accompanied by starches such as plantains, rice and beans. The importance of these foods is reflected on KR’s menu.
On my next visit, I’ll sample the flan and Morir Sonando (orange juice and milk with oatmeal).
My guest expected spicy food, but instead enjoyed flavorful pork chops. She had difficulty pinpointing key seasonings. In truth, many Dominican dishes are seasoned with the ubiquitous sofrito, a sauce borrowed from the cuisine of Puerto Rico made with green peppers, onion, garlic, sweet Caribbean peppers and cilantro.
KR Dominican Cousine
WHERE: 1305 Altamont Ave. (behind the gas pumps), Rotterdam, 12303; 518-280-3881
WHEN: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $48.60 without tax or tip
MORE INFO: Parking area, handicapped accessible, credit cards accepted, takeout, free delivery, outdoor dining weather permitting.
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