690 Grand St.
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Our Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ Great
Cards: All Major
Hours: Sun-Thu, 11:30am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 10am-11pm
Booze: Beer and Wine Only
Subway: L to Graham Ave. or Grand St.
NY Mag says:
Packed with a crowd that looks like it knows El Salvadorian food, Bahia serves authentic dishes just a few L stops out of Manhattan. You can imitate the regulars’ practice of drinking Corona mixed with tomato juice, but a bottle of El Salvadoran Suprema beer is really the best complement to savory pupusas (filled with meat or zucchini and cheese). The sweetness of Bahia’s fried plantains is balanced perfectly with their outstanding homemade sour cream, though fresh seafood dishes are a welcome contrast to the fried appetizers—particularly the delicious shrimp ceviche. If you’re really hungry, the platos tipicos (which all include steak) will easily satisfy any appetite, but save room for flan: the ample portion is a sweet deal.
NY Times says:
For centuries, corn stood at the center of the Central American universe, providing not only food but a symbol with a wealth of religious meanings. Today, corn may no longer serve the spiritual role it once did, but it is still the keystone of the Central American culinary universe, as is clear if you visit a Salvadoran restaurant like Bahìa in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Bahía, a bright and airy place, opened in June. Its owners are Luis, Carlos and José Palomo, and Orlando Martinez, four brothers who grew up in El Salvador but have worked in Italian restaurants in Manhattan. At Bahía (the name means bay in Spanish), they offer an extensive menu that includes hamburgers, Caesar salad, Buffalo chicken wings and spaghetti puttanesca. But the specialties are typical Salvadoran dishes like pupusas, the corn pancakes that are to El Salvador what tortillas are to Mexico and arepas are to Colombia and Venezuela.
The pupusa, like its cousins, serves primarily as a vehicle for conveying the satisfying flavors of small amounts of meats and vegetables, which are stuffed into the center of the pancake. Bahía’s pupusas ($1.25 each) are fine-grained, flattened on a griddle to a size slightly larger than would fit in a toaster. Their wonderfully deep corn aroma wafts upward, as appetizing as garlic sautéing in olive oil.
The pupusas come with a dish of marinated cabbage that looks like coleslaw. If you try a pupusa alone, it tastes a little dry, just as the coleslaw on its own is tame. But if you pile the coleslaw on the pupusa and eat them together, tangy, rich magic occurs, especially when you bite into the filling, which might include shreds of savory pork or earthy red beans pressed to the consistency of a paste, both the perfect texture to match the corn dough.
Corn shows up in many other dishes, like Salvadoran chicken tamales ($1.50 each), in which cornmeal is steamed in green husks almost to a soufflé-like consistency. Like the pupusas, the tamales seduce with their corn aroma, and it may take several bites before you find the interior of shredded chicken, green olives and fat kernels of steamed corn. Or you may find corn in soup, like sopa de res ($5), a sumptuous beef broth containing a huge knob of beef on the bone along with green beans, potatoes, onions and cross sections of corn on the cob, a meal in itself.
Not every dish with corn is quite so sublime. I couldn’t muster much interest in Salvadoran enchiladas ($5), thin corn tortillas deep fried, served spread with beans, chicken chunks, cilantro, lettuce and radishes, and dusted with grated cheese.
But other dishes, even those without corn, can be fabulous, like a mess of fried yuca with chunks of fried pork ($5.50), the crisp meat playing counterpoint to the starchy yuca, topped with marinated red onion and drizzled with tangy lime juice.
Or they can be bizarre, like the empanada de leche ($1.25), a small, cylindrical sweet plantain that seems rather plain until you bite into the interior and get a squirt of the sweetened, cinnamon-flavored milk that is as thick as soft pudding. It’s delicious, but best as dessert.
The carne asada ($9), or grilled steak, is in a word, tough. I confess I haven’t tried any of the Italian dishes. Why bother? I can get those dishes anywhere. When I return, it will be for the pupusas and the other Salvadoran delicacies. And, while Bahìa does not serve alcoholic beverages, I wouldn’t pass up its horchata ($1.75), a sweet iced rice drink with cinnamon and cocoa that has a wonderful, almost malty flavor. Spain has its horchata, and so does Mexico, each distinctive in its own way, but Bahìa offers El Salvador’s own.