July 9, 2018 | BITE: My Journal
Birds and Bombas:
Memories from a Serbo-Croatian Childhood.
The Infamous chicken is a deliciously juicy bird, just $16 the half with a trio of sauces.
Infamous Chicken. Cute? Annoying? What does it mean? Are you reminded of Chirping Chicken? Relax. If you’ve already latched on to my enthusiasm for Marlow Bistro, you should be expecting good things from its infamous next-door sibling.
This photo of Marlow Bistro and Infamous Chicken chef Zivko Radojcic was taken on a coolish day.
Infamous Chicken next door to Bistro Marlow has a darker, rustic look. The air conditioning limps.
The same chef, Zivko Radojcic, has been charged with dreaming up the unusual multi-ethnic “tapas” offered here alongside the consistently juicy chicken (a half just $16 or $26 whole) with a trio of sauces: chipotle mayo, onion jam and olive. Wines are also modestly priced, $38 to $40 a bottle.
The meaty pork ribs are served with the same three sauces: chipotle mayo, onion jam and olive salsa verde.
The double brisket burger is browned and smoked and topped with Gruyère and caramelized onions.
The meaty pork ribs are fatty and sensuous too, as is the excellent $15 Double Brisket Burger, browned and smoked and topped with Gruyère and caramelized onions. I can’t say much for the smoked fried chicken. It’s just serviceable.
On my first visit, a coolish summer night, the bar sees a little action.
The hazelnut chocolate brownie is big enough for two or three, or even four, to share.
On the late June evening when I first ventured into the Infamous bird coop, the slight movement of air was reasonable, especially with a glass of ice for my water and a sip of my lime rum with pineapple. We share a brownie for dessert, too big to finish.
I had supposed that “Infamous” was an attempt at puffery. I’m a writer, a word-slinger, so I looked it up, shocked to get these synonyms: disgraceful, notorious, monstrous, outrageous, scandalous, vile, ignominious. I won’t go on. On my next visit to taste more of the sides and tapas, the heat seems meaner.
“Infamous” means notorious, outrageous, scandalous, but this chicken is more accurately juicy and good.
Will this place survive till fall? It’s gotten hotter each time I return. Young people clustered at sidewalk tables don’t seem to mind the smothering 90-degree night. But inside, the air conditioning is pitifully inadequate. I ask the waiter for the coolest table. He leads us to a far corner just off the kitchen where a feeble machine blows coolish air on my face and Dana’s back, but leaves Craig sweating over his IPA.
On a particularly scorching night, Chef Zivko hangs out at the bar, enthusiastic but looking wilted.
The chef looks wilted, himself. When we complain to him about the insufficient cooling, he shrugs. He’s heard about the heat before. “I’m sure when the owner comes back next week, he’ll fix it,” he promises. If this extreme global warming continues, you might want to postpone a visit until a break in the heat wave.
“Black Fideo” features a fat, perfect scallop, with chorizo puree in lobster-paprika broth.
But still, we’re here. The chicken, supposedly allowed to roam free on local farms and fed vegetable scraps, is excellent. The three of us divide a mellow half: a leg for me, a thigh for Craig, a big chunk of breast for Dana. “Even the white meat is juicy,” she marvels. “Often it can be so dry.”
The chef revisits a mushroom pie from childhood with leeks, feta and sesame in phyllo pastry.
I’ve been back three times now because the so-called tapas are original and good, and I’m trying to taste them all. I get our waiter to bring the small plates in relays. The delicate mushroom pie packaging leeks, feta and sesame in phyllo dough, and the crunchy breaded queso frito with tartare sauce and lemon are two favorites.
The queso frito, fried cheese, is extra-crunchy and served with tartare sauce and lemon.
The fried cheese revives a memory from the chef’s Serbo-Croatian childhood. “In those days the cheese could have been kashkaval,” he tells us. “Here it’s Gruyère, with my own little twist of pine nuts, parsley and thyme, and three layers of breading pulverized in the blender.”
The bombas are little croquettes with ham and fontina that could be snacks served with drinks in a Spanish bar.
He was inspired by the free snacks you get with drinks in Spain to create his bombas with harissa sauce, he says. “Mostly they do little sandwiches, but it could also be croquettes. This is ham with fontina in a dense béchamel, breaded, baked and fried.”
Slices of house-smoked duck rides on fried dough in a spicy pepper spread.
The lamb meatballs are slathered with sour cream and roasted pepper sauce.
The last time I came we shared thin house-smoked duck slices on fried dough with pepper spread. “In Serbia they would be more likely to use pork. The Serbs raised a lot of pork.” Tonight we’re sharing the lamb meatballs with labne and roasted pepper sauce. “That would be pork and some cheaper parts of lamb,” adds Radojcic, “because lamb is more expensive.” His pepper sauce is spicy with coriander, cumin, cilantro and parsley."
Flat falafel discs come with beet hummus and pita.
“Five hundred years ago the Turks and the Ottomans came and took the cows and lambs, so the farmers raised pork.” The burger is a blend of veal, pork and beef. “Brisket is less expensive than ribeye,” he observes. “By my culture I try what’s on the market that’s not that expensive.” Radojcic arrived in town in 2010 and worked at Picholine, Jungsik and Alta. Chef Terrance Brennan was his mentor. But, here it seems, he’s mostly inspired by childhood memories.
Mexican street corn with cotlia cheese and chipotle mayo confirm the global reach here.
It’s hot and maybe we’ve eaten too much. None of us is interested in dessert. Cheesecake or that hazelnut chocolate brownie are the choices. The chef delivers a fancy raspberry confection to our table. “We’re doing a whole new menu at Marlow next door,” he says. “Try it.”
The chef brings a raspberry dessert for us to taste that is going on the new menu next door at Marlow Bistro.
1012 Amsterdam Avenue between 109th and 110th streets. 212 222 2055. Dinner weekdays 4 pm to midnight, Saturday and Sunday 11 am to midnight.
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