Bouncing Chicken

Silly name, clever pollo

Basketball announcer Marv Albert's brief conversation with Marco Polo's ghost:

Marv: You've had a hell of a career. The silk road. Working the zone for head Mongol Kublai Khan. Playing some devastating offense at Hsiang-yang during the siege by the Mongol hordes. And then you did some time in prison in Genoa. How'd your mug shot come out? Frankly, the weave in mine looked a little catawampus.

Marco: Huh?

Rhymes with yoyo:  Marco Pollo--that's the restaurant, not this guy--serves wood-fired, Peruvian-style chickens that have nothing to do with China.
Tom Jenkins
Rhymes with yoyo: Marco Pollo--that's the restaurant, not this guy--serves wood-fired, Peruvian-style chickens that have nothing to do with China.

Marv: I mean your traveling was filled with fouls and clock violations.

Marco: There were delays. Swollen rivers. Uncle Maffeo got the trots.

Marv: You know some people say you never went to China; that the facts in your book Il Milione are all wrong. For instance, you missed that they ate with chopsticks. I know you'd like to have that one back.

Marco: Merda. I have seen the concubines. I have heard the chirpy chatter of the eunuchs.

Marv: A very impressive stat line indeed! There was a lot of backbiting among the concubines, was there?

Marco: Huh?

Marv: I mean, what are your greatest achievements?

Marco: I brought back the secrets of spaghetti and ice cream. Christopher Columbus had my book with him when he discovered the Bahamas.

Marv: A rainbow! Is it true Chris got the clap there?

Marco: Huh?

Marv: I mean, you've had some spectacular mid-air moves in your career. What lies ahead for Marco in the afterlife? Coaching? Management? Ownership?

Marco: Ownership. I'm changing my name.

Marv: Changing it to what? Who's the team? You're not making a play for the Bulls are you?

Marco: I now go by Marco Pollo. I've made a play for chickens from Lima, Peru.

Marv: I don't get it. Polo? Pollo? Sounds the same.

Marco: No Pollo. Like yoyo. Spanish for "chicken." Gets you into the spirit of things. It's called Marco Pollo Rotisserie. Chickens are roasted over a smoldering wood fire.

Marv: Peruvian-style chickens. A shot from downtown! Not that Marco Pollo doesn't bounce, but I'm thinking Larry Bird's. But the licensing fees would probably punch the salary cap. Who's on the roster?

Marco: A. Jack Ekhtiar, owner of Avanti Ristorante, Avanti Restaurant Fountain Place, Avanti Euro Bistro, short-time steward to Cork Wine Bar on McKinney Avenue in Dallas.

Marv: How'd you build the team?

Marco: Ekhtiar teased secrets from his wife's art gallery and framing business in Bethesda, Maryland, where many Peruvians are employed. In fact, the gallery's manager is a Peruvian chef. With their expertise, Ekhtiar developed his own secret process for seasoning and roughing up organic chickens.

Marv: It counts, and the FOWL!

Marco: First the chickens are bathed in white wine vinegar. Then they're rubbed hard for 15 minutes with halved lemons--so hard that the pulp is torn from the fruit. This extracts the gaminess from the chickens.

Marv: That's quite a training regimen.

Marco: Then the chickens are soaked in dark Peruvian beer before they're rubbed with a mix of nine South American spices. I can't reveal the formula other than to say the primary ingredients are cumin and salt and pepper. Ekhtiar's trademarked the blend. The birds are dry-rubbed and left to marinate 24 hours.

Marv: In the locker room. YES!

Marco: Just before roasting, he rubs them with that secret rub again. Then he impales them and slow-roasts them--an hour or more, 20 at a time--on a special $65,000 rotisserie over a bed of natural wood coals and split hickory and apple wood logs. Stand at the counter and you're blasted by heat as logs smolder, embers glow and wood is gradually reduced to snowy ash.

Marv: So you're constantly turning your bench.

Marco: The chickens turn and tumble on their axes, spitting and popping as their skins bubble and blister.

Marv: No bite marks?

Marco: Huh?

Marv: I mean, is it moist?

Marco: The genius of it is these spices. They caramelize and form a sheath around the bird, sealing in moisture. Flavors are extracted. The tongue is prodded by the pins and needles of spice. There are pinkish areas.

Marv: Pinkish areas?

Marco: Non-threatening ones. The meat is juicy and rich, suffused with wisps of smoke, on account of the logs that smolder there.

Marv: Good stuff! Round out the menu for me.

Marco: There are fresh-made black beans, slow-cooked with Peruvian spices, house-made saffron basmati rice with slivers of carrot. Fried plantains, cucumber pico de gallo and fries rendered from yucca or cassava, a South American root with a tough brown skin and crisp white flesh.

Marv: Pink? Dark? White? For three!

Marco: Yes. There are meals for three, four, five and six, with one-and-a-half to three chickens per meal. There are also secret sauces: a delicious mild creamy yellow dip composed of lemon and yellow Peruvian peppers and a searing green one made from habanero peppers.

Marv: You have...I'm getting this [jiggles earpiece]...a thing called a Marco Mega wrap?

Marco: Bundled in a tortilla with pulled chicken, yes. Marco mega--a large bifurcated log really, an obese burrito--is supple, stuffed with black beans, carrot, lettuce, saffron rice and shredded cheese lathered in that yellow sauce.

Marv: But here's what I'm hearing Marco. The chicken on the bones--good stuff! Lushly moist and from downtown with flavor. The chicken in the wraps? Dry. Wilts under fire. Plus, what's with the stuffing? It's like a rolled hash repository for chicken and all of your sides--basmati, black beans, salad. Is this a block on the salary cap from behind?

Marco: Not at all Marv. It's part of the...

Marv: I'm hearing it from the crowd, Marco. They're saying the Marco Pollo playing field is a little disheveled. Sure, the Peruvian masks and the relief of a South American casita with a thatched roof are nice. But between the service counter and refrigerated beverage case--what, no beer?--are cases of drinks. Along a wall in the long ramp to the restroom are stacks of more beverages plus sacks of charcoal and a sack of onions. Is this any way to build a team?

Marco: We're in expansion mode, Marv.

Marv: Additional franchises?

Marco: In the future. But first Ekhtiar is going to put 10 of his own in place around Dallas-Fort Worth. He even plans a bird expansion: turkey, game hens...maybe even duck.

Marv: That's some tenacious D! Keep the chicken fingers and the fiery boneless Buffalo wings at bay. 3685 Preston Road, Suite 109, Frisco, 972-335-6680. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. $-$$

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