I've eaten in a vast number of Latino steam table take-out joints. Whatever figure you're imagining is probably a couple orders of magnitude under the actual number. I once flew a few thousand miles out of my way to scarf airport concession chicken/rice/beans/yuca <http://jimleff.blogspot.com/2012/02/n...).
And while I haven't experienced enough, after one single take-out order, to pronounce La Mamis (177 S. Lexington; White Plains, NY; 914-949-1823) my top pick, it's certainly in the running.
I've had my eye on this location (right near the hospital) for some time. It was previously called Anais, which was very good, though never quite great. But I returned the other day, and was immediately dismayed to observe that the steam table stuff looked way less vibrant than before. So I decided to stick with the simplest, less screw-up-able thing, roast chicken. Plus a chicharron.
My visual chow-dar has never been more off. The food may not look vibrant, but it's pretty much the dictionary definition of the word. If you'd served this chicken to me on china, I'd have imagined it was from fresh-kill free-range birds. It had the deep flavor and ample meatiness you only get from top quality poultry (though they surely buy it at the supermarket). And the rice and beans were even better. I struggle to describe them. Leff's Law #6 states that if you're able to analyze and describe what you're eating, that indicates that you're not eating something truly great. Ultimate deliciousness won't let you think, won't let you talk. The only thing one can do is stand too close to your friends, with wild eyes, begging them to TRY THIS. That's what the rice was (the beans were fine, but vestigial with rice this good).
As I waited, somewhat dubiously, for my takeout roast chicken, several young men passed on the sidewalk in front of the open door. Two different guys, at two different points, whistled licentiously, screaming "¡¡Mami!!". This definitely wasn't an expression of chaste admiration for cooking skill. They seethed with erotic passion. I looked around the room, figuring I'd discover a particularly attractive young waitress. But the only worker was the owner, "Mami", a perfectly nice looking late middle-aged woman with a radiant smile, who was less concerned with swiveling her hips than with deliberately spooning me the perfect proportion of rice to beans. Every move she was making reflected the carefulness of a karma yogi and the love of an archetypal grandmother.
As she apportioned, wrapped, and accepted payment for the food, I briefly wondered if I'd been recognized (for those who don't know, I've worked as a restaurant critic). I felt disproportionally IMPORTANT. She was paying way too much attention to me. Was she coming on to me? I couldn't tell. It was weird, though certainly anything but uncomfortable.
I rushed the food to my car, where I dipped in my fork for a quick taste, and that same brute force halo of attention and love roared forth. The young guys were correct. This is some extraordinarily sexy food. Oh my.
Click this link to view a photo: http://i.imgur.com/Vw1eUv7.jpg
Fine-looking though the food appears, I must stress, again, that its full goodness doesn't register visually. Just like Mami herself.
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