I went for breakfast at the Dominican diner down the block. I’ve written about this place before. They have two menus combined in one folder — traditional Dominican cuisine and the gringo menu for those who want burgers and BLTs. During my first few visits there, I went the safe route, ordering boring veggie burgers and turkey sandwiches. Three blogger friends, Miguelina, Astrogirl, and Victoria of Veep Veep, all women with some part chica latina, scolded me for being so vanilla.
“Try something different, white boy!” said Astrogirl.
I ordered the goat stew. It was delicious. Tender, spicy, in a unique sauce. Since then, I have ordered it countless times, as well as ordering other unfamiliar delicacies, such as cassava instead of potatoes, with my scrambled eggs.
At first, the staff was unfriendly to me, but once I ordered from their side of the menu, they accepted me as one of the community. They yelled my name when I walked in, like Norm in Cheers, and they gave me the best table in the corner. I talked to them about the Dominican music playing on the speakers; we chatted about life back in the old country.
I was eating my breakfast late today. It was 11:30 and customers were now coming in for lunch. Three burly Russian guys sat at the adjacent table. They wore grey uniforms, and I assumed they were involved in some contruction or painting project nearby. They were earthy guys, looking hungry. One of the men — short, barrel-chested, and sporting a mustache — called over the waiter in a booming voice.
“Over here!” he said.
His tone might have sounded rude coming from someone else, but it was clear that this mustachioed Russian spoke this way with everyone. He also displayed a disarming smile that made you like him.
The Dominican waiter came over. He told me his name once, and it sounded like “Chi,” so I will call him Chi.
“So tell me, my good man,” says the thick-accented Russian to Chi. “What’s good here to eat for lunch?”
Chi looked nervous answering this question. I studied the situation. It was unclear if he concerned about his boss hearing his answer or giving the wrong answer to the three Russian guys? Maybe these men were members of the Russian Mob and Chi was sweating in his boots?
“Fried chicken is good.” said Chi.
“Nah.” replied the Russian.
Chi tried again. “Chicken parmigana.”
“No! Nyet! No chicken. I’m sick of chicken. My wife only makes chicken.”
Chi leaned against the wall, deep in thought, his eyes flickering back and forth from the back door to the kitchen. I was completely involved in this drama, not quite understanding either the situation or the mystery.
I decided to help both Chi AND the hungry Russian trio.
“You should try the goat stew!” I said, proud of my multi-cultural culnary knowledge. “It’s excellent.”
This outburst was not a usual activity for me. Sophia might have done this, but not me. I rarely give advice to people I don’t know, strangers sitting at the next table. I usually read the newspaper when I eat alone, or play on my iPhone, ignoring others. But this story was so involving, I felt like I was part of it. The three Russians turned towards me, hearing my advice, then quickly back to Chi, waiting for his response.
“No,” said Chi to the Russians. “Don’t eat the goat stew here. Have the chicken.”
For lunch, all three Russians ate fried chicken.
As I left the Dominican Diner, I noticed that nobody was eating the goat stew, even the Dominicans.