La Tacita De Oro, the Chinese-Cuban restaurant on 99th and Broadway has a roast chicken special: One-half chicken (breast, thigh, back and wing) is served with yellow rice and black beans, or salad and fried plantains, for $4.85.
I’ve come to learn that a small population of Chinese migrated to Cuba in the 1930s and then eventually came to America having mastered the preparation of Hispanic cuisine, and having let (by some standards) their native skills degenerate. It’s common knowledge that when patronizing a Chinese-Cuban restaurant, it is always better to stick to the Cuban side of the menu.
At La Tacita De Oro (The Golden Cup), I can’t even find the Chinese menu. According to the sign outside, they’ve been serving their Chinese-Spanish dishes since 1971, but when you come to this restaurant, it is for the roast chicken special. No other rotisserie place in the area turns out a chicken with such glistening brown, delicately spiced skin. At a touch, it slides off the tender meat like a silk duvet from a rumpled set of bedclothes.
My husband orders the yellow rice and substitutes red beans for the black. In deference to nutrition, I order the salad and fried plantains; although the anemic slice of tomato and strips of watery iceberg lettuce hardly constitute a nutritious salad. It’s the sweet, candy-like wedges of greasy fried plantain I crave, smothered in hot sauce. Beans and rice are served quickly and efficiently from pots on the stove near the counter, but plantains hold up production. They are ordered over a microphone and must come from behind the swinging doors, from the back kitchen. I’m told I must wait, but I do not back down. Later, when I am at home, I will offer up one stingy slice of plantain in exchange for a generous plastic spoonful of my husband’s sticky beans and rice. On the fork, the combination of chicken, rice and plantain is enough. The salad, like the vermouth for a dry martini, need only be in the room.
As I wait, there is some confusion when three young men with English accents bustle in. They are carrying a soccer ball and their bulky frames block the narrow entrance. Clearly they are tourists, to the country or the neighborhood I’m not sure and wonder why they are here. I reconsider the layout and decide xenophobically that the place resembles a London chip shop. The interlopers talk amongst themselves and study the menu, while the three countermen hover expectantly. Finally, one brave bloke asks, “What’s good here?” There is a brief silence, until the eldest counterman, the owner, recovers and adjusts his normally non-interactive stance for the strangers. “Well fellows,” he says, clapping his hands together in an act of hearty comradeship I have never seen before, even the other countermen raise their eyebrows. “We have a very nice chicken special.”