Ay Salsa!: Ex-Roomba Chef Makes Arepa To Go

by Thomas MacMillan | December 4, 2009 7:46 AM | | Comments (7)

Just over a week after opening a new restaurant on High Street, Chef Franco Gonzalez served Penelope Curtis her first ever arepa.

Curtis, a researcher visiting Yale from England, stopped into Ay Salsa restaurant on Tuesday. She was looking for something new. She found it in the form of a moist fried cornmeal cake topped with a variety of thick vegetarian sauces and paired with rice and sweet plantains.

120109_TM_0006.jpgThat’s an arepa, one of Gonzalez’s signature dishes at Ay Salsa, his new take-out place at 25 High St. The little lunch counter offers Latin-American cuisine to go. Click on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch Gonzalez prepare Curtis’ meal.

Gonzalez and co-owner Ernesto Gracia opened the restaurant on the Saturday of the Yale-Harvard football game. The restaurant was doing a brisk lunch business when Curtis came by. While he folded quesadillas and spooned pork into tacos, Gonzalez spoke about his plans for the restaurant.

He said he intends to offer complete meals with quality ingredients for a low price. “Every single item on the menu is a full dish,” he said. All orders come with a starch, a protein, and vegetables, he said. “That makes the difference.”

Gonzalez said he draws from his training in the culinary program at Gateway Community College and his former jobs as a chef at Roomba and Bespoke.

Although he is originally from Mexico, Gonzalez said, his restaurant offers cuisine from all over Latin America. For instance, Mexican entrees might come with the typical Carribean side dish, arroz con gondules.

The arepa, a dish from Venezuala, is the most popular item on the menu so far, Gonzalez said. Ay Salsa is one of the only restaurants in town that offer it, he said.

On Tuesday afternoon there were several orders for the fish tacos, featuring fresh grilled tilapia. “Everything is fresh,” Gonzalez said. He pointed to the dessert case near the front counter, containing his tres leches cake made from scratch. He pulled out a bin of hand-shaped arepas and home-made empanadas.

It’s a lot of work to make everything fresh, Gonzalez said. It was also a lot of work to prepare the restaurant space. It took three months to build it out, he said.

The storefront was most recently occupied by Gastronomique restaurant. It’s a narrow space with seating for only two, at a counter in the front.

He said he’s pleased with his location, which offers close proximity to Yale and several office buildings, promising return visits from people like Penelope Curtis.

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Posted by: DEZ | December 4, 2009 8:38 AM

We were just here last night with a gaggle of friends and 2 strollers. (we filled the place up!) Go. The food is fresh and amazing. The pulled pork was my favorite, smokey and spicy, yum. To top it off, the chef/owner and his family are really nice!

Posted by: Greg | December 4, 2009 10:51 AM

Great food. I'm going to have to ask for extra salsa verde next time, though, because my burrito wasn't quite as spicy as I was hoping it would be.

Posted by: AndersonScooper | December 4, 2009 5:41 PM

Ay Thomas! No mention of business partner Ernesto Garcia? (I think he and Franco are brothers). Otherwise a great review, especially the video.

Here's a link to their menu which hasn't made it to the top of Google:

The fish arepa I had yesterday was off the charts. A decent size tilapia filet, seasoned with Adobo. Can't wait to try the empanadas.

PS-- Ay Salsa! also has a lunch cart on Cedar Street in the Medical Center.

Posted by: Lifer | December 4, 2009 7:59 PM

I've eaten from their cart and it is deeee-lish!

Posted by: streever | December 6, 2009 6:47 PM

I can't wait to try this!

Posted by: selam | December 12, 2009 2:22 PM

i had a chicken arepa and tasted some of the beef burrito...yummmmmy!!

Posted by: liliana martinez | December 19, 2009 6:35 PM


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