As 2014 draws to a close rather than offer up a roster of resolutions—less chips more gym, save money, etc.—C+M presents a list of 14 of our favorite things, a highlight reel of the year that was. Let the mostly Queens-focused cavalcade of offal, mashups, secret eats, and overall deliciousness begin.
1. Sweetest mashup
Part pain au chocolat, part rugelach, all decadence the chocolate croissant—aka rugelssaint—at Andre’s Hungarian Bakery was my go-to guilty breakfast this year.
2. Best goat meat bonanza
Not only was the three-course black goat meat feast at Ban Ga Ne one of the best Korean meals I’ve had in a long time, it was some of the best goat I’ve ever had. Plus as the proprietor pointed out, it’s um, invigorating.
3. Best pizza
Some friends and I made a pizza pilgrimage to New Haven this fall. Everything we tried was good, but the real revelation came when we dug into the fresh clam pie at Zuppardi’s Apizza. Fragrant with Little Necks and oregano atop a crackling thin crust, it was simply astounding.
4. Tastiest Chinese Thanksgiving
Crisp of skin and tender of flesh, the Peking duck Joe Ng is turning out at Decoy is amazing. Best of all, the large-format feast is served with cranberry relish for a Chinese spin on that most large-format of American holidays, Thanksgiving.
5. Most magnificent momo
At the end of the day Tibetan momos are just juicy beef dumplings. That’s not so for the fried momo at Phayul though. Frying transforms the humble momo into a golden brown delight of the highest order.
6. Best Chinese snack for your inner six-year old
As a six-year-old I ate my fair share of savory shrimp and pork chang fan at Mei Lai Wah Coffee House in Manhattan’s Chinatown. This year a friend hipped to me to the sweet version at Noodle Village So Good. A dozen or so sheets of pleasantly chewy dough rolled into tight cylinders and stacked like cordwood sit in a lake of peanut sauce lashed with hoisin. With the addition of a bit of hot sauce, it makes for an amazingly tasty treat for your inner six-year old, or your outer 46-year-old.
7. Bloodiest pork soup
The weekend Thai noodle soup service at Pata Paplean is one of my favorite things in Queens these days. The tom yum’s excellent, but my favorite is the kuay tiew nam tok moo, or pork blood soup. Paper thin slices of liver, meat, crackling, and, of course, blood make for an amazing four-way pork powerhouse.
8. Most Decadent Use of Egg and Cheese
Marani’s the only kosher restaurant in Rego Park with two kitchens, one for meat (upstairs) and one for dairy (downstairs). I love the Georgian khinkali (beef dumplings), but it’s the dairy kitchen’s adjaruli xachapuri that kept me coming back. The eye-shaped bread is one of the most decadent edibles in Rego Parkistan. A lake of salty molten cheese comprises the white of the eye, the pupil a sunny raw egg. Mix the bubbling cheese, egg and butter and fall to, tearing off pieces of the cheese filled crust and dredging them through the molten lagoon of cheese and egg. Don’t be surprised if you fall into a dairy-induced food coma.
9. Best DIY Breakfast Dumpling
Before Helen You launched Flushing’s Dumpling Galaxy she created some of the best dumplings—seabass and lamb and green squash—in America’s greatest Chinatown at Tianjin Dumpling House in Golden Shopping Mall. She also offered customers the chance to customize their own dumplings. Her noble experiment led me to create something I call the Tianjin breakfast dumpling. It consists of egg; da hong cha, the kielbasa like big red sausage; cilantro; and pork and tastes like the Platonic ideal of bacon and eggs.
10. Favorite celebrity encounter
I always welcome the opportunity to showcase the deliciousness of Queens on national television. This year I was blessed to show Rosanna Scotto the offalicious underbelly of the Queens dining scene. Even though she didn’t eat the lamb spine at New World Mall she proved to be a good sport.11. Tastiest neighborhood
Elmhurst, Queens’ second smaller Chinatown, has long been home to such favorites as Java Village, Chao Thai, and Joju. This year saw the hood’s Little Bangkok explode into a veritable Thai Town, with the opening of Eim Khao Mun Gai, Paet Rio, Plant Love House and Khao Kang, as well as the massive expansion of Sugar Club.
12. Best use of sawdust
It sounds like it’s made from the sweepings from a woodworking shop, but the sawdust pudding, mu kang bu din, at Kulu desserts is extraordinarily good. The Maccanese specialty consists of layers of creamy caramelized milk pudding alternating with the “sawdust,” strata of crushed cookies.
PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED
13. Tastiest Thai tartare
A lot of places in New York City are afraid to serve yum num tok—a Thai beef salad marinated in chili, lime, and roasted rice powder—the way I like it, which is to say raw. Peak Manadsanan, owner of Plant Love House, Elmhurst’s newest Thai spot didn’t flinch when I requested that the dish be served uncooked. Even better, instead of the tartare like preparation that I’ve had in the past, Manadsanan served the raw beef in slices, creating a Southeast asian beef ceviche of sorts..
PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED
14. Savoriest Sichuan Noodles
New York Food Court’s sole Sichuan stall, Szechuan Taste, makes some of the best cold noodles, Chinese or otherwise that I’ve ever had. Watch the gal pluck a tangle of springy yellow noodles and toss in various sauces and other goodies from the liang mian mise en place. The resulting ma la liang mian is fiery, sweet, and nutty with just enough Sichuan peppercorn to get your attention.