Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
01/07/20 11:42am

Before touring the countryside in a vintage bus, I enjoyed a traditional Japanese breakfast.

I recently took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. I’d like to thank the the Hirokamachi Board of Tourism for their gracious hospitality!

After seeing posts of my onigiri breakfasts in Tokyo, my good friend Stanford had encouraged me to try a traditional Japanese breakfast so I was glad to start day two of my Hirokawamachi adventure with just such a repast, prepared by Chef Kodai Nishizaka at Hirokawa Sato Cafe. It’s not on the regular menu, but Nishizaka-san prepared it especially for us that morning. It consisted of rice, homemade miso soup and cool tofu accompanied by grilled salmon, bean sprouts, tamago, and pickles. Along with a bright cup of green tea, the light meal was a great way to start the day.

Our destination as seen from the window of our ride for the day.

After breakfast I stepped outside and marveled at the green and beige 1965 retro bus. Every year during the last two weekends of November, the local tourism board provides free shuttle service for Taibaru Icho Meguri, or ginkgo leaf peeping using the vintage vehicle. Soon we met Kaoru Miyamoto, our driver who was clad in a snazzy chauffeur’s uniform. He’s one of only two men in town who can wrangle the 1962 manual steering schoolbus. Normally, it’s packed with leaf peepers, but that day our crew of four were the only folks on the field trip. “Sit up front next to the driver Joe-san,” Sakata-san instructed, so I did. We were soon on our way south to the golden grove of ginkgos. (more…)

12/27/19 4:33pm

Some local scenery, including golden gingko leaves.

As some of you may know last month I took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. I’d like to thank the the Hirokamachi Board of Tourism for their gracious hospitality and the cooking lessons!

After two days of seeing and eating as much as I could in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo it was time to head to the country, specifically Hirokawamachi. The good folks at the local tourism board specifically requested that I visit the week before Thanksgiving to partake in one of the country town’s most beloved traditions, Taibaru Icho Meguri, or gingko leaf peeping, as it was still autumn in Japan.

Since Tokyo’s on the island of Honshu and Hirokawamachi is on Kyushu we took a short flight to Fukuoka and then hopped on the Shinkansen—or bullet train—to Kurume. I was only there briefly, but it’s fair to say Kurume is to Tokyo as Oakland is to San Francisco. It’s also the gateway to Hirokawamachi and no visit is complete without checking out what Kazuko-san likes to call “Kurume Disneyland.”

 

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Rather than a full-blown amusement park, it’s a mechanical taiko drum clock erected in 1999 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of Kurume’s great figures, Tanaka Hisashige, known as “the Thomas Edison of Japan. Every hour it plays a song by a different Kurume composer and gives a little show detailing Hisashige’s contributions. At noon that song is Hachidai Nakamura’s “Sukiyaki,” made famous in the States in the 1970s by disco diva duo A Taste of Honey. (more…)

12/16/19 12:39pm

Tibetan stir fried beef with laphing conjures childhood memories of chow fun on Mott Street.

“The pork and mushroom was pretty good,” my friend Chef Jonathan Forgash said as we were deciding what to eat at Phayul, a Tibetan restaurant in Jackson Heights. We were at the new location, which sits across from the original second-floor location. For whatever reason they’re keeping them both open, which strange as it may seem businesswise, does means twice as much of Chef Chime Tendha’s delicious Tibetan food.

The menu at Phayul’s new, more elegant digs has several new items, including chicken tangkung, a soup of ginseng and jujubes that is Tibet’s answer to Korean samgyetang. We got the soup that evening, but didn’t order the pork and mushroom, instead opting for stir fried laphing with beef. Both of us are big fans of the slippery mung bean noodles, usually served cold in a sauce of vinegar and garlic, but had never had the hot version. (more…)

12/02/19 5:08pm

Some scenes from two very intense days of eating and touring Tokyo, including deluxe salmon onigiri, Senso-ji temple, Asakusa noir, and breakfast omakase at Toyosu Fish Market.

As some of you may know I recently took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. Before getting into the wonders of Hirokawamachi—and there are many, from artisanal textiles to amazing matcha—this installment takes a look at what I ate in Tokyo. I would like to thank Kazuki Chito of @mcnaieatmecrazy who graciously guided me around Tokyo.

I’d arrived in Tokyo late the night before and hit the ground eating as best as I could. That is to say I ordered a sea bream ochazuke and some grapefruit juice from room service. The dashi broth poured over rice and fish proved most restorative after a long flight.

Luckily Kazuko-san picked a hotel attached to the Haneda Airport. Not only was this convenient for arrival, it was convenient for breakfast. Haneda’s domestic terminal and its shops lay just outside the hotel’s doors and is eerily calm and serene in the early morning. I quickly found Sato Suisan a gourmet rice ball stand. I was particularly impressed to see a gent making fresh onigiri with ikura, or salmon roe. I also took note of a really cute airplane-shaped bento named for the Blue Impulse (Burū Inparusu) the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s equivalent of America’s Blue Angels.

Next time I find myself at a Tokyo airport snack shop I’m getting a Blue Impulse bento box!

The ikura onigiri—still warm and packed with salmon roe and salmon—was a fine breakfast, but by the time we got to Asakusa at 1:30 p.m., I was pretty hungry. “This is my favorite place for tonkotsu ramen,” Kazuki-kun said as we entered Urimbo. “It’s Hakata style,” he pointed out as he ordered the noodle with egg. I quickly took my guide’s lead and copied his order. Even though the broth was rich, it was cleaner tasting and less unctuous than tonkotsu I’ve had in the States. It knocked out the remnants of a lingering cold I’d brought to Japan from New York City. (more…)

11/07/19 7:46pm

A bodacious haul of Japanese KitKats from Flushing’s Teso Life.

Now that fall’s here in full force I paid a visit to Teso Life in downtown Flushing to see if the purveyor of Japanese junk food had that most autumnal of Japanese KitKats—Kuranberi Almond KitKat. The dark chocolate covered wafers topped with toasty almonds and chewy sweet bits of cranberry are my all time favorite Japanese flavor.

There were no cranberry KitKats to be found at Teso, but I did see several  I’ve never encountered before: Setouchi Shio ando Lemon or Setouchi Sea Salt and Lemon; Ikinari Dango, named for a snack of sweet potato and red bean wrapped in mochi that’s popular in Kumamoto; Sakura Nihonshu or Sakura Japanese Sake; and Sutoroberii Chiizukeki Aji, or Strawberry Cheese Cake.

My favorites were the surprisingly refreshing lemon and strawberry cheesecake, which are both excellent chilled. Don’t worry if there’s no Japanese grocer near you, you can score your own Japanese KitKats and other goodies on my Amazon Store. Here’s what I’d really like to know though, what’s your favorite Japanese KitKat. Let me know in the comments!

10/28/19 12:40pm

Vibrant ceviche mixto, featuring shrimp and octopus, and the mighty bolon filled with pork, plantains, and mozzarella are just part of the evening’s menu.

Ask any old-school Queens food nerd, including yours truly, about Ecuadorean cuisine in the World’s Borough and the first thing that comes to mind will be the cluster of food trucks on Warren Street underneath the 7 train in Corona or perhaps the ladies who grill cuy—guinea pig—in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. About year ago though some very trusted Queens food nerds of a more recent vintage, like my pal Instagrammer @Wendalicious888 started to talk about a new place Rincón Melania on the border of Sunnyside and Long Island City.

“How good can it be? There are no Ecuadoreans over there,” I thought to myself. Good enough for a glowing review in The New York Times it turns out. Which is why I’m so glad that the next Queens Dinner Club will convene at Rincón Melania November 13th. Make sure you don’t miss out on this very special dinner by signing up for our mailing list here.

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10/15/19 12:49pm

Beef sukuti chow mein comes with a sidecar of two-tone hot sauce.

The jhol momo—dumplings in a spicy soul-warming tomato and chicken broth—are so good at Nepali Bhanchha Ghar in Jackson Heights, that I often forget there are other things to eat at the homey spot whose name means Nepali eating house.

For a long time those other things consisted of sukuti thali—a platter bearing a mound of rice and funky goat jerky—ringed by various tiny heaps of pickles, including bitter melon and radish, and a bowl of buttery lentil daal. That and the rice and ghee doughnuts known as tsel roti.

Not onion rings, but rather tsel roti, a rice ‘doughnut’ that treads the line betwixt savory and sweet.

The other day though I found myself at Yamuna “Bimla” Shrestha’s restaurant craving noodles. I’d often seen the cooks frying up batches of chow mein, but ignored that part of the menu due to jhol momo monomania. (more…)

10/07/19 6:52pm

The brunch scene back in the glory days of M. Wells Diner.

I know what you’re thinking, “‘Queens Brunch Club??,’ Joe hates brunch, and isn’t it called ‘Queens Dinner Club’ anyhow?” All true, but for this month Jonathan, Gabe (they hate brunch too), and I are changing the name of our little eating organization to Queens Brunch Club. That’s because we are hosting a brunch at M. Wells Steakhouse on October 26th. Make sure you don’t miss out on this very special dinner by signing up for our mailing list here.

“Québecois Chef Hugue Dufour of M. Wells has created a chef’s brunch for chefs that hate brunch. Not an egg or hash brown to be found here,” says Chef Jonathan. “Nothing but fantastical visions of food turned into reality.” (more…)

10/02/19 10:11am

Tong, a tiny festive Bangladeshi food stand, in Jackson Heights has the honor of being America’s first fuchka cart. This post is not about those amazing crunchy orbs though, it’s about aam bhorta, or Bangla style spicy mango.

For some 30 years I’ve been a fan of spicy South Asian pickle. It all dates back to a college roommate, Harold, who was the ringleader in many a Patak’s lemon pickle eating contest. Since then I’ve branched out to mango pickle. I’m especially fond of amba—the tangy Middle Eastern mix of pickled mango and turmeric—on my falafel. So when I learned Tong offered spicy mango, I had to try it. (more…)

09/26/19 12:04am


I recently had the pleasure of previewing the new menu from George Landin’s Corona Diner. Landin opened the diner—a love letter to Queens whose decor features references to nearby Flushing Meadows Corona Park and a mural with a who’s who of Queens luminaries from Malcolm X and Louis Armstrong to Action Bronson and LL Cool J. Landin’s new menu is also a love letter to the diversity of Queens with items like a Mexican-inspired elote hot dog and an Ecuadorean ceviche.

It also features a roster of decadent hamburgers like one topped with mac and cheese and crumbled bacon and another whose buns are grilled cheese sandwiches. Those were all quite tasty, but my favorite item of the night was a somewhat more restrained number called the dia despues. (more…)