Gimme that Dong Bei filet o’ fish. Gimme that fish.
Lao Dong Bei is one of the newer, if not the newest, Northeastern Chinese joints to open in Flushing. The name means “old Dong Bei.” One of my favorite things to eat here is the cumin sliced fish ($12.50). The fish fry-up is dusted with red chili and strewn with cumin seeds. A crunchy, spicy exterior gives way to tender flounder flesh. That spice mixture may look familiar to fans of Fu Run’s Muslim lamb chop. That’s because the man behind the wok here used to be the head chef at Fu Run. I have taken to calling the combination of cumin, sesame, and chili Old Dong Bei Seasoning.
Many thanks to my pal Peter Cuce for the mouthwatering photo.
Lao Dong Bei, 44-09 Kissena Blvd., Flushing, NY 11355, 718-539-4100
Almost every genre of music from jazz and blues to rock and roll and rap has songs about food. There are songs about sweets, paeans to poultry and there are even raps extolling food critics along with bush meat and bánh mì. Here are a few of my favorite gastronomical ditties, with food pairings.
1. Pass the Peas, The JB’s
Just like Bobby, I like soul food “because it makes me happy.” Pair this funky jam by James Brown’s band with a plate of stewed pig ears, collards and sausage and rice from RCL Enterprises. RCL Enterprises, 141-22 Rockaway Blvd., Rochdale, (718) 529-3576
2. Brunch, Action Bronson
Sure the video for this tune by Flushing’s finest chef turned rapper is a grisly tale of romantic betrayal and murder, but hey it’s got a great blues hook and food too. Pair it with an offal-themed brunch from M. Wells Dinette.M. Wells Dinette, 22-25 Jackson Ave., Long Island City, 718-786-1800
3. Taco And A Pork Chop, Ray Brown, John Clayton, Christian McBride.
Beyond the call and response, “Taco And a Pork Chop,” there are no lyrics to this swinging bass virtuoso showcase. Pair it with the truly spectacular pork carnitas taco from Tortas Neza. Tortas Neza, 111-03 Roosevelt Ave, Corona
A tasty sandwich for good old boys and fressers alike.
Pastrami, as deli denizens and Seinfeld fans alike know, “is the most sensual of all the salted cured meats.” At least once a month I find myself compelled to eat the luscious peppery cured beef , usually at Ben’s Best. The meat owes its sensuality to a three-fold process: curing, smoking, and steaming. Essentially the pastrami process is a Jewish form of low and slow barbecue.
So it’s not surprising that some of New York City’s pitmasters have at one time or another experimented with this most New York of smoked meats. Barbecue joint pastrami is a breed apart from its old-school deli forebears, though. It is of course smokier, but is also more rough hewn than the melting slices one finds at Bens or Katz’s. The only barbecue joint in Queens currently serving it is John Brown Smokehouse. An excellent sandwich of the home cured pastrami can be had for $12. The meat sports a crunchy blackened exterior that barbecue geeks like to call Mr. Brown (no relation to the abolitionist for whom the Long Island City BBQ joint is named). Sometimes I think I like John Brown’s pastrami better than its much-lauded brisket burnt ends, aka meat candy. Please, don’t tell my fellow barbecue geeks of my wavering allegiance to the meat candy brigade.
John Brown Smokehouse, 10-43 44th Dr., Long Island City, 347-617-1120
In Gotham’s Golden Age of regional Chinese food there are several spots where one can get Henanese lamb noodle soup, including Manhattan’s Chinatown, Flushing, and Elmhurst. (For all I know it’s probably available in Brooklyn’s Chinatown too.) One of my favorites bowls can be found at Uncle Zhou Restaurant. The affable proprietor—your uncle and mine—Steven Zhou is always quick to proudly say, “Different than Flushing, right?”
One difference is the rich lambiness of the soup itself. The milky white broth is essentially a lamb stock made from bones that have been boiled for a long,long time. (If memory serves, and it often doesn’t, Uncle Zhou said it’s two days with fresh bones each day.) The hand-pulled noodle version ($5.75) also has strips of seaweed, and tofu skin that act as noodles. Lately I have been getting the more restrained knife shaved noodle version. Strips of dough are whittled from a huge block into the boiling water. The result is a pleasantly chewy noodle with prominent ridge running down the center. There is little more to this soup than chunks of lamb both fatty and lean, cilantro, and bok choy. And plenty of those chewy noodles. With a dollop of hot sauce and a splash of black vinegar it’s like Henanese hot and sour soup.
A visit to the restaurant’s web site revealed this gem of restaurant marketing prose: “Our menu is available for your salivating needs here.” Words to live by.
Andre’s Hungarian Strudel & Pastries is known best for its flaky namesake strudel, but there are also plenty of other sweet treats to choose from, including buttery rugelach. Lately I have been enjoying the pite ($3.50), squares of fruit pie sandwiched between a golden crust. I like the apple version well enough, but the other day I had a slice of the sour cherry for breakfast. It had the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness. Andre would most likely not appreciate the comparison, but on some primal level I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Hostess Fruit Pies I wolfed down as a kid. Along with a strong cup of coffee it’s a fine breakfast for a grownup sweet tooth.
After ceviche, my next favorite Peruvian food would have to be anticuchos, skewers of grilled beef heart. In my home borough of Queens there are more Peruvian restaurants to grab this carnivore’s delight than once could shake a stick at. The best anticuchos I’ve had don’t come from a restaurant in Queens, though. They come from a Peruvian street cart in Manhhatan’s Union Square.
Morocho Peruvian serves up two skewers, with purple Peruvian potatoes, and the kernels of hominy corn known as choclo for $6. The secret behind these succulent skewers of is that they are veal heart rather than the beef heart found elsewhere. A lengthy marination in Peruvian aji panca peppers, soy sauce and oregano makes them even more toothsome. Though some would say it is not quite as romantic as chocolate, I think this tender veal heart makes for a fine St. Valentine’s Day snack.
Morocho Peruvian Fusion, 1 Union Square West @ West 14th St., 646-330-1951
In about two weeks it will be Chinese New Year, specifically the Year of the Snake. Around C+M headquarters I have taken to calling it the Year of The Snack. It’s with great pleasure that I introduce a new column, Midnight Snack. Sometimes I think that I eat meals between snacks, instead of avoiding between-meal snacks as I was told to do in grade school. Often these treats fall into the category of irrestible international junk food. That’s certainly the case with today’s entry, Kurkure. Think of it as India’s answer to Cheetos. I think Frito-Lay may have discontinued the Kurkure Extreme flavor. Not to worry, the flavors that are available—Masala Munch, Chilli Chatka, and Hyderabadi Hungama—with ingredients like ginger powder, black salt, and chili powder are plenty extreme,with a great crunch and serious heat level. I score mine at Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights, Queens, but you can find the this unique Midnight Snack at any decent-sized Indian grocer.
Patel Brothers, 37-27 74th St., Jackson Heights, 718-898-3445
Pelaccio and I enjoy a ‘Lady and The Tramp’ moment.
Last summer I had the pleasure of showing my pal Zak Pelaccio progenitor of the Fatty Crab Empire around some of the Southeast Asian and Chinese spots in what I like to call SEA Elmhurst. One of our stops was the venerable Uncle Zhou Restaurant, a Henanese hand-pulled noodle specialist. As you can see his cold “dial oil noodles ,” are worth fighting over. The thin noodles are splashed with hot oil and dressed in a vinegary, garlicky sauce.
These days Zak has left the Fatty Crew and is hard at work on a new restaurant in Hudson, N.Y. I wish he would come to Queens to hang out again some time. It was he who taught me to roll sticky rice into a ball and use it to mop up the funky fermented fish liquor from som tum at Zabb Elee.To this day whenever I do that in a Thai restaurant the waitress will sometimes ask, “Have you been to Thailand?” To which I respond, “No, just Queens.”
Many thanks to ace shutterbug Zandy Mangold for furnishing the above shot.
Are the soup dumplings at Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao Flushing’s finest?
Last week my friend and neighbor Suzanne Parker, TimesLedger food critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, New York,” called me to rave about Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao’s pork and crab soup dumplings.
“Seriously,” I said, “their soup dumplings aren’t all that, they’re good, but certainly not the best.” The best I’ve had in Queens, I pointed out, can be found at Diverse Dim Sum in the Flushing Mall. This got us to wondering whether either of us really knew where to find the best xiao long bao in Flushing. So we decided to find out. I should point out that we are both certified Kansas City Barbecue Society judges and certified food enthusiasts (Suzanne, it should be noted flies the foodie flag, while I abhor the word).
We very roughly modeled our judging criteria—filling, broth, wrapper, texture, and taste—on the KCBS categories and set out to evaluate four xiao long bao joints. The plan was to savor just one dumpling at each restaurant so as not skew our judgment by becoming overly full. The remaining dumplings would be taken back to Suzanne’s house to reheat and reassess. I had the brilliant idea to eat two dumplings at each stop, one with vinegar and one without. I did this not because it enabled me to judge the dumplings better, but because I am a glutton. So without further ado C+M presents the Xiao Long Bao Battle Royale.
Nan Xiang Dumpling House ain’t what it used to be.
The first stop on our soup dumpling survey was Nan Xiang Dumpling House where an order of pork and crab soup dumplings is $6.50 for 6 pieces. At one time I could say with confidence—and home borough pride—that Nan Xiang had the best soup dumplings not only in Queens, but in all of New York City. Sadly, that time has passed. The first thing we noticed about the xiao long bao here was that they were huge. The second thing we noticed is that they were abysmal. The broth was completely devoid of crab flavor, and mine even had a bit of gristle in it. What was once a great soup dumpling joint has clearly been spoiled by its own success. It was all I could do to not remove Nan Xiang’s Michelin sign on the way out. Nan Xiang Dumpling House, 38-12 Prince St., Flushing, 718-321-3838
When I go to Ben’s Best a classic old-school delicatessen a mere five-minute walk from home I am usually there for one thing, and one thing only. A pastrami sandwich on rye and a can of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda. I am vaguely aware of the existence of other items on the menu, including a list of sandwiches as long as my arm, all named after local landmarks or customers. I say vaguely aware because on most visits I never open the menu. Yesterday I stopped in and opened the menu. And there it was at the top of section labeled Something Different, “KNISHWICH. Knish stuffed with your choice of Corned Beef Pastrami 8.95.” Upon seeing it I flagged down the waitress as if hailing a cab at rush hour. I immediately ordered the pastrami version of this newfound treat, specifying that the pastrami be juicy. And a Cel-Ray, natch.
A look under the hood.
The knish itself is of the square variety, which at one time could be had at most any New York City hot dog vendor. I grew up with them in my freezer. At college I’d occasionally treat myself to a knish grilled cheese at a little hippy dippy café called the Rainy Night House. But this, this knishwich is clearly a snack of staggering genius. Fanned out on top of the bed of potato are several slices of glistening pastrami. They were at that point that Ben’s owner Jay Parker likes to call “cotton candy.” The combination of the salty spicy juicy beef and the warm potato knish was indeed something different. And something quite delicious. I want another one right now. Were it not so cold I’d take that five-minute walk and go get it.
Ben’s Best, 96-40 Queens Blvd., Rego Park, 718-897-1700