“It’s a combination of Tibetan and European, the chef at Ganjong Kitchen said as he set down a plate bearing three kinds of steamed momo, some daal, bits of grilled chicken breast, and what looked to be a homemade take on a frozen vegetable medley. There was also a side car of broth.
This cross-cultural offering from the Tibetan eatery located in Jackson (aka Himalayan Heights) was part of the Ambassador, a Jackson Heights omakase dreamed up by Jeff Orlick. The two-week old program is simultaneously simple and brilliant. Diners look for restaurants in the nabe bearing a sticker that reads, “Ambassador/Don’t Know What to Try?/Let The Chef Decide/$10/Jackson Heights,” and then simply point to the sticker placing themselves in the chef’s hands.
Yesterday Orlick and I showed Alex Nazaruk, the British food blogger behind Foodish Boy what’s good in Queens. So Orlick decided to have Nazaruk order up the aforementioned Ambassador plate. The food was good, but not great. It seemed like an Americanized version of a thali platter, a dish of rice with various accompaniments popular throughout South Asia. That sidecar of broth was the real deal though, salty and rich with beef flavor, happy little droplets of fat dancing across the surface. “I’m finishing this,” Orlick said. Shortly thereafter the waiter brought over three miniature kulfi on toothpicks.”Dessert is served,” he said as he handed each of us a tiny version of the ice milk dessert more commonly seen in Indian joints.
Our next stop was Dhaulagiri, a family run spot inside Tawa Foods,whose food is as majestic as the Himalayan peak for which it’s named. (For more on Dhaulagiri, be sure to check out The Queens episode of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods, “World’s Best Food Town” on 7/22 at 9 p.m. EST, co-starring yours truly.) “I’ll order the Ambassador there,” I said as we walked over.
A week or so ago I took a tour group to Dhaulagiri and tried to order the Ambassador, but the kid behind the counter didn’t know what it was. This time around I pointed to the sticker and the girl set to work assembling a lovely thali platter.
Seven items including a vegetable curry consisting of bamboo, chick peas, and soy beans; goat curry; daal; and various pickles ringed a mound of rice topped with a crispy wafer of papadum. Unlike Ganjong’s platter there was nothing Americanized about this thali. Each of the pickles—radish, bitter melon, and a rarely seen and intensely spicy dried fish number—was palate awakening.
As someone who’s been called a “longtime Queens food anthropologist,” I like the thrill and uncertainty of discovery when I encounter a novel cuisine. That said I am quite glad that Orlick has managed to get 14 neighborhood spots to participate in the Ambassador. I’m especially keen for repeat visits to take advantage of it as a global omakase of sorts.
Gangjong Kitchen, 72-24 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, 347-848-0349
Dhaulagiri, 37-38 72nd St., Jackson Heights, 718-314-0442