2009-10-14 / Restaurant of the Week

POLLOS A LA BRASA MARIO… Delicious Colombian Cuisine

P OLLOS A LA BRASA MARIO (pronounced “po yoss a la bra sa Ma ri o”), which describes itself as a typical Colombian restaurant, specializes in serving up deliciously authentic Colombian cuisine. “Pollos a la brasa” means, simply, “grilled chicken”, yet the menu offers much, much more – beef, pork and seafood dishes, soups, rice and beans prepared different

POLLOS A LA BRASA MARIO 40-19 Broadway, Astoria, NY 11103 718.932.2424 POLLOS A LA BRASA MARIO 40-19 Broadway, Astoria, NY 11103 718.932.2424 ways, corn cakes, plantains, special juices

and desserts…even breakfast. I had eaten here before and loved it. But when I was asked to write this week’s restaurant review, I invited a Colombian friend for her expert opinion. We arrived for dinner at 7:00 pm and, as with my previous experiences, the restaurant was full almost to capacity within an hour.

POLLOS A LA BRASA MARIO is painted in white with red trim inside and out. It has spacious, comfortable booths, wooden tables, tiled floors the color of clay and a large artificial orange tree in the center. Why the orange tree? My friend knew: There is a region in central Colombia called Paisa where the houses are built around a garden and where white with red trim is a common color choice. The décor of Pollos Mario transports us to that region. The orange tree represents the garden. We understand the message: “My home is your home.”

Later, when I had a chance to talk to the owner, I learned that my friend had been 100% correct. Sigifredo Camargo, who to date owns several POLLOS A LA BRASA in Queens, including the one in Astoria, does in fact come from Paisa. He opened Pollos Mario’s doors 11 years ago and has kept them open seven days a week ever since. I asked him who Mario was, thinking that Mario was a real person – his father, perhaps, or an uncle or a son. I was on the wrong track. The name, Mario, he told me, refers to a popular chicken place in Colombia.

The restaurant prepares so many chicken specialties – and they all sound so tempting – that you might find it difficult to choose. The BANDEJA CON POLLO AL CARBON (Rotisserie Chicken Platter) serves you a quarter chicken charcoal grilled, accompanied by consommé, rice, French fries and salad for only $8.50. The ARROZ CON POLLO, chicken with rice, which comes with salad and sweet plantain, is also very popular at $7.95. Our waiter recommended the PECHUGA A LA PLANCHA, a gargantuan portion of grilled chicken breast that is tender and juicy and served with rice, beans, French fries and salad for $11.95. Eat a third of it and bring the rest home for two more meals. Other choices include POLLO EMPANIZADO (breaded chicken), CONSOME DE POLLO CON MENUDENCIAS (chicken consommé with rice and salad – literally, with odds and ends), and POLLO AL CARBON (charcoal roasted chicken), Pollo Mario’s signature dish. Here is a suggestion: Order from other parts of the menu and bring home a whole charcoal roasted chicken for only $7.95 or a half chicken for $4.35.

Because my friend and I wanted to try as many dishes as we could, we decided to share everything. First we ordered CHORIZO CON AREPA (sausage and corn cake, $3.75) and an EMPANADA (beef patty, $1.00) from the side menu. The chorizo was different from others I had tasted; I found it much more delicious. The empanada, too, was different. Instead of a soft pie-like exterior, it had a crisp corn crust shell. Served with a dab of hot sauce, it satisfied all my taste cravings at once – protein and salt from the meat, a touch of sweetness from the corn crust, healthy fat from the vegetable oil, and a shot of pungency from the hot sauce. My friend and I are both good eaters, bless our hearts, but we could have stopped here! On other occasions I had enjoyed MADUROS (fried sweet plantains, $2.75), and AREPA CON QUESO (corn cake topped with cheese), very Colombian (and addictive).

For our main course, we ordered ARROZ A LA MARINERA (yellow rice with seafood that was served with French fries and salad on the side, $20.95); and because we wanted to taste Pollo Mario’s chicken, we asked for a half order of the POLLO AL CARBON. The chicken was as moist and flavorful as you could hope for; and the rice with seafood, prepared with bits of red pepper, peas and green beans, was delicately seasoned and overflowing with shrimp, crab, mussels, oysters and squid. We ate and ate but still brought home enough food for several more meals.

If you enjoy wine with dinner, go ahead and ask for it. I had a glass of white while my friend opted for a JUGO DE PAPAYA ($3.50). The juice was sweet and frothy and good enough to substitute for dessert. You can also have blackberry, mango, passion fruit and other fruit flavors.

Some of the other typical Colombian dishes that POLLO A LA BRASA MARIO is known for include BANDEJA MARIO (grilled steak, pork loin, pork skin, chicken, rice, beans and salad, $17.25), ENTRA-A (skirt steak, salad, rice, beans, French fries, $18.95), CARNE ASADA (grilled steak, salad, beans, rice, sweet plantain, $11.25), and BANDEJA TIPICA (grilled beef, pork skin, egg, corn cake, sweet plantain, rice, beans and avocado, $12.25). Truly, though, there is no way to try everything even if you come with all your friends and take a taste from every plate. You just have to keep coming back. That’s what everyone else does.

For dessert, we shared a MOUSSE DE GUANABANA, a light, fluffy mousse with blackberry sauce that costs only $4.00 and is more than enough for two. You can have instead AREQUIPE CON QUESO (milk pudding with cheese, $4.00), BREVAS CON QUESO (figs with cheese, $4.25), FLAN DE TRES LECHES (three milk flan, $4.50) or MOUSSE DE MARACUYA (passion fruit mousse, $4.00), all delectable.

If you are wondering what my Colombian friend thought of POLLOS A LA BRASA MARIO, I will tell you: She was very impressed and also a little homesick. POLLOS A LA BRASA MARIO is open from 10:30 am to midnight Sunday through Thursday, and from 10:30 am to 6:00 am (almost 24 hours) on Friday and Saturday. To get there take the V, R or G train to Steinway. Exit near the intersection of Broadway and Steinway Street. Walk east on Broadway and look for a yellow and black sign that says only POLLOS MARIO. Buen provecho!

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