How an Ecuadorean Soup Inspired a Restaurant – The New York Times

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Rossy Alarcón hadn’t planned on turning her encebollado recipe into a restaurant, but it was too good not to.

The soup can be found all over coastal Ecuador, where she and her husband, Ruben González, grew up. It’s sold from trucks and carts on the street, beloved in part as a hangover cure.

Her broth is gently fishy, and rich from the mashed yuca that makes it cloudy and thick. Bits of the yuca and tuna bob around beneath a canopy of red onion. Once Mr. González tasted his wife’s encebollado at their home in Bushwick, Brooklyn, he invited his soccer buddies over to try it. Word spread, and in 2015, Ms. Alarcón spent her weekends making encebollado and other Ecuadorean dishes for an apartment full of friends and acquaintances.

Opening a restaurant seemed like the only way to stop losing money on the endeavor. Luckily, she had worked at a server at her grandmother’s restaurant in Machala, Ecuador, where, yes, they served encebollado. The couple opened El Encebollado de Rossy in 2017 on a busy strip of Wyckoff Avenue in their neighborhood. (They briefly operated out of a smaller space around the corner.)

Credit…Cesarin Mateo for The New York Times

The restaurant’s narrow room is almost always packed, from breakfast to dinner, and weekends are still the only time you can get Ms. Alarcón’s encebollado. Friday through Sunday, she serves an extensive menu of Ecuadorean dishes: ceviche, simmered goat, stuffed plantains and guatita, a lush tripe stew bolstered with peanut butter. This is home cooking at its restaurant best.

On weekends, Ms. Alarcón gets to the restaurant at 4 a.m. to begin making fish stock. Each bowl of encebollado comes with a pile of cut limes, a plate of rice, a little dish of crunchy popped corn and some plantain chips; each table carries a dish of ají, a hot sauce that Ms. Alarcón makes from arbol chiles. It is the diners’ job to assemble their own ideal ratio.

“You have to know how to eat encebollado,” Ms. Alarcón said. Luckily it’s an easy skill to learn, and the payoff is high. She won’t eat it without a good squeeze of lime; I’ve found that the lime and ají together bring the broth to life. But maybe you’ll discover the beauty of dumping your plantain chips into the broth, or upturning that plate of rice. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure soup.

The weekend menu also includes a bolón, a ball of deep-fried green plantains that comes stuffed with cheese or chicharrones — or both, the superior option, called a bolón mixto.

To make it, bits of plantain and chicharrón are fried until the plantain becomes rich and meaty and the chicharrón turns crispy, its little strips of fat chewy like taffy. Mixed with a pinch of salt and shredded cheese and mashed into a ball, it all becomes a dense treasure that’s impossible to stop eating.

More delicate is the bolla mixta, a plantain stuffed with shrimp and shredded pork, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until its belly is as velvet-tender as a lobe of uni. Ms. Alarcón smothers it with peanut sauce, its earthy sweetness turned savory by a base of sofrito.

During the week, the restaurant’s menu is a proprietary game of roulette. Daily specials rotate, though there’s always a lunch special, served with a dome of rice, a sea of beans and a glass of fresh juice. (If you eat here on a day when there’s passion fruit, you are a lucky soul.)

On weekdays you may get sea bass, the whole fish perfectly filleted, dredged in seasoned flour and fried until golden. Or a bowl of caldo de bola, always served on Wednesdays. Its beef broth — which gets a bit of thickness from another spoonful of peanut butter — holds a plantain dumpling filled with beef, raisins and a bit of boiled egg, everything combined to make a delicious sort of sense.

Ms. Alarcón and Mr. Gonzalez are already at work building a second restaurant, in part because of the lines that stretch out to the street on particularly busy weekends.

“When we first walked in here, it looked huge,” she said with a laugh. “But now, it’s tiny! And it’s crazy. But I’ll never let this place go.”

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