You really only need to know two things about Le Soleil Restaurant in the gentrified neighborhood formerly known as Hell’s Kitchen: 1) Wyclef Jean is supposedly a regular customer, and 2) they specialize in fried pork. Fried pork and Wyclef? What could possibly go wrong?
Nothing, really, unless you count the (thoroughly non-Wyclefian) music—we heard the same elevator-music cover of Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You three times during the course of our meal. Totally excruciating. But the food? Not excruciating.
Le Soleil’s menu is interesting: each day of the week features a different menu, consisting of roughly a dozen items. I think that’s pretty cool—the wise chefs of Le Soleil clearly have some range. But griot (loose translation: “small fried pork”) is always on the menu, every day of the week. I think that means that they want us to eat fried pork.
So we ate fried pork. For a mere $10, we stuffed our faces with fried pork, fried plantains (your choice of sweet or green), rice and kidney beans, and a small salad. (Amusingly, the waitress plunked two bottles of Hidden Valley Ranch brand dressing on the table. Hidden Valley was in Haiti? It didn’t look like Haiti on the commercials… WTF?) And the fried pork was absolutely amazing—appropriately dry, fatty, and tender, all at the same time. The griot was served with a light dipping sauce that seemed to be sweetened with tomato paste—but the pork itself was so good, that we pretty much ignored the dipping sauce.
For our other entrée, we ordered shrimp ($11, also served with a mountain of fried plantains, rice and beans, and salad), which was recommended by the waitress after we discovered that they were out of okra (waaaaaaaa!). The shrimp was swimming in a light brine of tomatoes and onions, not dissimilar to the dipping sauce accompanying the griot. It was a reasonably appealing dish, undermined only by a mild iodine undertaste… and the fact that shrimp can never really taste as awesome as fried pig.
Le Soleil’s bizarre hot sauce deserves a special mention. At first, I thought that the little bowl on the table contained a fairly standard mix of onions and hot peppers in a vinegary brine. Nope—there were bits of cabbage in there. And after searing my fried pork with a few scoops of the stuff, I realized that there were also bits of corn and green beans in the hot sauce. It woulda been a delicious, feisty condiment without the vegetables… but with the vegetables, the stuff was delicious, feisty, and downright bizarre. I liked it.
So yeah, I’m a fan of anyplace where you can stuff your face with fried pork, fried plantains, and veggie-laced hot sauce for $10. That’s awesome, especially for Midtown Manhattan. Now if they could just do something about the music, Hell’s Kitchen would be a better place. Any chance we could talk Wyclef into a private show on our next visit?
Le Soleil Restaurant
877 10th Avenue, Manhattan
Subway: 59th Street-Columbus Circle (1, 2 trains)