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A Night Out With Jimmy Rodriguez, Restaurateur Gives Caribbean-Latin Food A Home In New York

A NIGHT OUT WITH Jimmy Rodriguez


July 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

OH, Jimmy, can I come to your next penthouse party?"

Such cooing you would expect from the pouting lips of one of the Hilton sisters, but from a woman past middle age with a Nancy Reagan-style coiffure, a Chanel suit and a pearl necklace?

It was 8 p.m. on a recent Friday and the woman and her friends were chatting up Jimmy Rodriguez, the owner of Jimmy's Bronx Cafe, Jimmy's Uptown in Harlem and now Jimmy's Downtown, which opened last month on East 57th Street.


"I've heard the stories," the woman teased from her table in the sleek red-and-white dining room of Jimmy's Downtown.

Mr. Rodriguez, who was born in Puerto Rico, grew up selling seafood chowder from a cart on the side of the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx. He is now, at 39, a famous restaurateur whose patrons include Bill Clinton, J. Lo, Miuccia Prada and Derek Jeter. Since opening his first restaurant-nightclub in 1992 in a converted car dealership near Yankee Stadium, Mr. Rodriguez has set his sights on conquering "downtown," which to him means anything below 96th Street – "the division between rich and poor," he said.

"There are so many diverse cultures in New York and they need to mix more or else life gets really boring," said Mr. Rodriguez, who is 6-foot-3, wears a conservative suit and tie, and behaves like a politician, campaigning among his constituency of diners.

He has thawed his new Sutton Place neighbors with Bronx-style barbecues, which he holds each week on the sprawling terrace of his penthouse (one block from Jimmy's Downtown), which he bought in June. Recent guests at one party included Marion Javits, the widow of Senator Jacob K. Javits; the rappers Ja Rule and Fat Joe; Mary Morgan-Moss, the representative of Panama to the United Nations; and dozens of strangers he plucked from the tables and bar stools of his various restaurants.

"I like to introduce people who wouldn't normally meet each other," he said. "Plus, how could a Latin person have a terrace like mine and not throw a party?"

By 10 p.m., he was ready to continue his rounds in Harlem. As he walked outside, he noticed that the pet bar (he keeps water and doggy treats there) was almost dry.

"Can we get some more kibbles out here?" he shouted to his maître d'hôtel as he stepped into his white Jaguar convertible.

An older couple walking past waved. "Hey, Jimmy! Looking good!"

Up in Harlem, he knows all the side streets. "See, there's the secret entrance to Bill Clinton's office," he pointed out.

At Jimmy's Uptown, the boss ordered a vodka tonic and looked around. He began table-hopping, handing out business cards and making small talk. When he came to a group from Harlem Hospital that was waiting for desserts, he strolled into the kitchen and sent them out free.

"Look at the people here," he said proudly. "There's Asians, whites, groups of professional African-American women. Perfect."

By 11:30, Mr. Rodriguez was racing up to the Bronx. At Jimmy's Bronx Cafe, he got a hero's welcome. A police car moved so he could have the plum parking spot. The employees patted him on the back. But inside the restaurant, the largely Puerto Rican crowd hardly recognized him.

"I haven't been spending enough time here lately," he conceded. "I miss the Bronx." He toured the restaurant and pointed at walls covered with signed baseball jerseys and photos of him with the likes of Sean Combs and Fidel Castro. In the sports bar, he pulled up a stool and eyed a group of women in tight denim miniskirts dancing to a deafening mix of hip-hop and salsa.

"Want to come to a barbecue?" he asked them.

Restaurateur Jimmy Rodriguez Gives Caribbean-Latin Food A Home In New York


July 29, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Kansas City Star. All rights reserved.

 NEW YORK (AP) -- The Latin world is a big place, so it makes sense that there would be all sorts of regional food to be eaten there.

But for some reason, all "Latin" food gets lumped together -- despite the varying terrain, climate and traditions -- something that rarely happens when talking about food from other points on the globe.

Do you ever hear anyone say "That European food is just great" or "There's certainly something to be said for North American cuisine"?

Of course not. It's broken into Italian, French and American, among others, and then there are the subcategories, such as northern Italian, Sicilian, country French and Cajun.

Restaurateur Jimmy Rodriguez says his growing empire of New York City eateries, including the newest Jimmy's Downtown, has a similarly well-defined mission: to turn out Caribbean-style Latin food.

"This is food from the Latin Caribbean -- Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico. It's fish that comes right out of the water with a little salt and pepper," says Rodriguez, who draws heavily from a stable of recipes that comes from his Puerto Rican relatives.

"The food is flavorful, not over-the-top. It's not too hot with jalapeno like Mexican (food) and it's not too salty. It's not stuffy ... because attitude is important in enjoying food and a restaurant."

Rodriguez got started in the food business selling Long Island seafood alongside his father at a roadside stand. Eventually they added ginger beer and coconut water to the offerings and moved into a little store.

Not too long after that he opened a small restaurant where the "seven powers seafood," a gumbo with lobster, shrimp, octopus, clams, conch, king fish and mussels, was the hot item on the menu, according to Rodriguez. "It's like the seven wonders of the world -- with all the vitamins of the ocean and served with rice."

Rodriguez also served sweet plantains with fried shrimp; a lobster salad with yucca, onions and olives; and a paella that, unlike its Spanish counterpart, starts with cooking the rice in a seafood stock and adding the fish at the end.

That business grew and eventually became Jimmy's Bronx Cafe in Harlem, a 48,000-square foot restaurant and nightclub.

Then came Jimmy's Uptown in Harlem, where the food also paid homage to its local customers by serving soul food, including collard greens, in addition to its Latin dishes.

"It was not a `fusion food,"' Rodriguez explains, "it was a combination of two communities."

Now at Jimmy's Downtown the food is again focused on Latin flavors but with a slightly more contemporary flair. Dishes include duck, mushroom and chicken empanadas; crispy red snapper with seafood succotash, capers and olives; and pan-roasted pork chop served with a warm apple ceviche.

Another Jimmy's signature is big portions because "a Latin guy is insulted by a small plate," Rodriguez says with a laugh.

Rodriguez says he works daily with executive chef Linda Japngie to create authentic, approachable and, most of all, tasty dishes, including this version of adobo roasted chicken. The key to this recipe, he notes, is marinating the chicken for a long time.

It's served in the restaurant with sweet corn cakes, shallot relish and a chimichurri sauce, a thick herb sauce, but Rodriguez says it would be just as good at home with mashed potatoes or brown rice.

Adobo Roasted Chicken With Cachapas

    For the chicken:

    4 boneless chicken breasts 2 tablespoons chopped garlic 1 tablespoon chopped parsley 1/2 teaspoon paprika 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder 1/4 teaspoon onion powder 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper 1/2 cup pure olive oil

    Extra oil for sauteing

    Combine herbs, spices and oil. Rub chicken with mixture. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight if possible.

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Heat enough oil in pan to cover the bottom. Saute chicken over medium heat, about 3 minutes each side until golden brown. Finish cooking in oven about 10-12 minutes.

    While chicken is cooking, warm up corn cachapas and shallot relish (recipes follow). In a large bowl, place a warm corn cake in the center of plate and mound the relish on top. Place cooked chicken on top and finish with chimichurri sauce. Serve immediately.

    Makes 4 servings.

For the cachapas (corn cakes)

    5 ears shucked corn 1 tablespoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1 egg 1 1/2 cups flour or precooked cornmeal/polenta (available in any supermarket)

    4 Tablespoons butter

    Cut corn kernels off cob. Puree corn in food processor and add the following ingredients one at a time: sugar, salt, pepper and egg. Sift flour until the batter holds the consistency of thick pancake batter.

    In a warm saute pan, add butter and drop batter into 3-inch rounds. Cook 2 minutes, turn and cook an additional 2 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. (Corn cakes should be reheated just before serving in a 350-degree oven.)

    For the shallot relish 2 tablespoons butter 3 shallots, peeled and sliced 1/2 cup fava beans, cleaned and blanched 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved 5 ears shucked corn 1/4 cup flat parsley leaves



    If possible, grill corn, otherwise cook corn in oven's broiler for approximately 2 minutes, until it appears a little bit charred. Cut kernels off cob.

    In a warm saute pan, add butter and shallots. Cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add corn and cook about another 5 minutes. Add fava beans, cherry tomatoes and parsley leaves. Toss ingredients to be completely coated with butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the chimichurri sauce:

    1/2 cup chopped parsley 1/4 cup chopped cilantro 1 shallot, diced 3 cloves garlic, chopped 3 pepperoncini peppers (pickled peppers), diced 1/2 cup juice, or brine, from pepperoncini peppers 1/2 red bell pepper, diced 1/2 red onion, diced 2 cups extra virgin olive oil

    Salt to taste

    Pepper to taste

    Red wine vinegar to taste

    Combine all ingredients and let mix rest at least 2 hours. (The sauce can be refrigerated for up to a week.)

    For best results, hand cut all ingredients instead of using a food processor.

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