RETURNING TO CITI FIELD
Take a Tasty Trip to Ecuador via
LIC and Rincón Melania
BY JOE DISTEFANO
As the Culinary King of Queens, I’m so
very fortunate to live in the most diverse
and delicious destination in all of New York
City. Really I’m not royalty though, I’m
an ambassador, and a hungry one at that.
Today, we take a trip to Ecuador via the
International Express—aka the 7 train—to
savor the offerings at the family run Rincón
Melania in Long Island City.
For decades the sum total of my knowledge of
Ecuadorean cuisine in Queens was limited to the
many food trucks that line Warren Street forming
a Little Quito of sorts where one can enjoy such
traditional specialties as seco de chivo, a hearty goat
stew; various ceviches; and the sunny yellow potato
and cheese croquettes known as yapingachos.
About year and a half ago though I started to hear
my fellow Queens food nerds chattering about an
Ecuadorean spot called Rincón Melania located
some 3 miles away from Little Quito.
“How good can it be? There are no Ecuadoreans
there,” I thought to myself practicing culinary
contempt prior to investigation. Good enough to
garner a glowing review from the Times it turns
out. I’m a little late to the party, but I’m doing my
best to eat my through the exquisite Ecuadorean
cuisine that makes up the menu of this restaurant
whose name means Melania’s corner.
The Melania in question is family matriarch,
Lucila Melania Dutan, whose son Nestor Jazmani
Dutan and his siblings Jennifer, Alex and, GiGi
run the place. Nestor takes care of the front of the
house and is also responsible for the decor in the
cozy modern dining room, which features at least a
half dozen stuffed alpacas, which have become the
restaurant’s de facto mascot.
Bolon mixto—a golden deep fried orb of
plantain filled with mozzarella and chicharrón—
hailing from Guayaquil in the Costa, or Pacific
Coastal region, is a great way to start off. It is a
revelation: The golden mantled crust yielding to
The potato croquettes called Yapingachos,
a specialty of the Ecuador's mountainous
Sierra region, here filled with mozzarella
are also excellent.
an interior studded with bits of fried pork and
filaments of mozzarella. The secret, Nestor says,
is that it’s made fresh and fried twice. It takes
about 15 minutes to prepare, but is well worth
the wait. Yapingachos, a specialty of the country’s
mountainous Sierra region, here filled with
mozzarella are also excellent.
While you’re waiting for your bolon, munch
on tostado, crunchy salty kernels of pan fried
corn that are a popular snack in the Sierra region.
Should you choose to order Ecuador’s national
dish encebollado—a ruddy, fortifying stew of
generous hunks of tuna, yucca, and tomatoes
topped with pickled onions from which it gets
its name—save some of the kernels. They make
for an excellent add-in as does a generous
squeeze of fresh lime. Back home the dish is a
popular hangover cure, says Dutan. “I’ve tested
that a couple of times. It does work it makes you
full the day after when you’re super hungry. It
immediately cures it,” he says.
Mariscos mixtos, also a renowned hangover
cure, a ceviche comprised of octopus, shrimp, and
bass cooked in lime is excellent and has been a
family favorite for decades. It’s served Costa style,
with tostones, thick planks of fried plantains,
that can be used to make an Ecuadorean seafood
bruschetta of sorts.
Rincón Melania's vibrant ceviche mixto,
featuring shrimp and octopus, and the
mighty bolon filled with pork, plantains,
“I would refuse to like fight about that because
it doesn’t make any sense. At one time we were all
one country. People like to fight about it,” Dutan
says with a laugh when asked whether ceviche
was invented in Peru or Ecuador. His Mom may
be responsible for the mariscos mixtos, but he
and his half sister GiGi take the credit for ceviche
vegetariano, a surprisingly delicious combination
of quinoa, garbanzo beans, and cherry tomatoes.
Many of the restaurant’s best dishes, including
seco de chivo a dish from the Costa region, are
found on the Tradicionales section of the menu.
It’s a rich earthy goat stew cooked with Cerveza
Pilsener—an Ecuadorean beer—and passion fruit
pulp, which tempers the goat’s muskiness. “People
eat it over there at 7 a.m.,” Dutan says. “It’s not a
breakfast dish, but it’s a hearty dish that will keep
you full during almost the whole day.”
Dutan who lives in Flushing these days
grew up splitting his time between Ecuador
and Queens, and his passion for his heritage
shows in Rincón Melania’s décor. Several large
tapestries featuring indigenous women known
as Otavaleñas wearing tradtional hats line the
dining room. A wall of photos, including one of
people enjoying almuerzo—or midday meal—in
his cousin’s hometown of Azoguez lines one
wall. “Almuerzo is really popular here Monday
through Friday, so I wanted to express that,”
Dutan says. The photo on the bottom featuring
folkloric dancers in native dress may look like
it was taken in Ecuador, but Dutan confrims
that is was shot in Queens. “That was our grand
opening,” he says proudly.
Encebollado—a hearty fish stew that is Ecuador’s national dish—takes well to a few
squeezes of lime.
35-19 Queens Boulevard, Long Island
Schneps Media October 31, 2019 17