Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bits & Morsels gets hot (sauced)

Chips and guacamole at Dos Toros.

by Erin Frankel

As hot chilies hit the greenmarket and the colder weather casts us towards more spice, I decided to go on a hot sauce expedition, surveying the best of the sweet and the fiery from different regions. I felt so inspired by what I had tasted that I dressed up as a bottle of hot sauce for Halloween!

Here's a look at my two favorites:

Dos Toros. This small taqueria launched its first New York City location in a tiny Union Square storefront, and has since expanded to both the West Village and the Upper East Side. The owners are two young, laid back, friendly brothers from San Francisco, Leo and Oliver Kremer, who wanted to bring inexpensive, authentic California-style Mexican fare to the East Coast. Everything at Dos Toros is quick, simple, fresh, and under $8. And if you like your Mexican food nice and hot (like me), then this is your new favorite place.

At Dos Toros, there are two different types of hot sauce. The Habanero and the Verde, both of which are made from scratch in the Dos Toros kitchen. Dos Toros' Habenero is a fiery hot sauce, composed primarily of habeneros and onions. According to Leo, who describes this super hot sauce a 9.5 out of 10 on the spice level, "we think it's cool to offer such a legitimately spicy option, but people need to be careful what they get themselves into."

If you can withstand the heat, it's a delicious fruity-flavored sauce to pair with your taco, burrito, or quesadilla. Leo also talked about the variety of colors in the habenero, something most people overlook. "Usually the peppers are orange and red, but you see green and yellow ones too. Depending on the crate of habeneros, our hot sauce will vary from totally red to a light orange and almost yellow." This proves that their hot sauce is homemade.
Habanero hot sauce. Verde hot sauce.
The Verde sauce is a traditional Mexican hot sauce made primarily of tomatillos and jalapenos. Dos Toros mixes things up a bit by grilling the jalapenos, which makes the hot sauce even hotter and gives them that charred flavor. Leo explained that interestingly enough, "the seeds are where a lot of the heat derives, so when you grill the peppers, it tends to explode the seeds, which is a great way to dial up the heat."

Dos Toros
137 4th Avenue
Chicken burrito at Dos Toros.
Carnitas Tacos at Dos Toros.
La Cerveceria. A new Peruvian transplant in the East Village, La Cerveceria brings the hottest (yes, literally) dishes to the East Village. Exploiting a swanky yet intimate and casual vibe, La Cerveceria is the ideal go-to restaurant if you want to lounge for hours with a date or friends drinking South American wine while consuming ultra-flavorful, inexpensive and spicy Peruvian tapas.

Most of the dishes at La Cerveceria are made with three main chilies: aji amarillo, aji rocoto, and aji panca. The Yuca Fries, one of the restaurant's signature Peruvian dishes, are accompanied by a dip made with all three spices.
Yuca fries and dip. Fish Tacos.
Lebanese owner Kyle Saliba, who is very well versed in Peruvian species, explained that aji amarillo has a heat level of 6 out of 10 and is one of the most important ingredients in Peruvian cooking. Aji amarillo, a slightly fruity flavored hot sauce, literally means yellow chili. However, the yellow color, apparent when being cooked, changes to orange onces it matures.

Aji rocoto, a unique South American pepper with black seeds that natively grows on the slopes of the Andes, is a member of the Capsicum pubescens (the peppers have a little peach fuzz to them. Yes, really!). Aji rocoto is also the crowd favorite.
Shrimp Potato Cakes.
Aji panca, another common aji in Peru, differs from the other chilies in its mildness; the berry-like, fruity flavor outdoes the heat intensity in this particular chili. In addition to the distinct spice flavors in each dish, La Cerveceria's diverse tapas have African, Chinese, Mexican, Japanese and Italian influences.

Have no fear, all of the dishes are infused with multiple spices, including an abundance of cilantro, lime, and habanero flavors in the fish tacos with roasted peppers, onion, lime and cilantro; the shrimp potato cakes topped with jalapenos, red onion, tomato, and cilantro; and the light fluke ceviche with avocado leche de tigre, and hearts of palm.

La Cerveceria
65 2nd Avenue
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