Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
07/26/16 7:51am
kapitam

Sky Cafe’s crab noodles feature the cutest fish balls ever.

There’s nothing quite as comforting as a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Here in Queens, we’re fortunate to have many varieties from mellow matzo ball to fiery pozole rojo. One of my favorite approaches to the dish is what I like to call the deconstructed Indonesian chicken noodle soup as served at Elmhurst’s Sky Cafe.

Mie komplit is a two-bowl affair. One vessel contains a light chicken broth, while the other holds egg noodles mixed with chicken and mushrooms and some greenery. Sip them separately or add one to the other, the choice is yours. (more…)

07/25/16 7:56pm
SugarClubRice

Sugar Club’s revelatory khao neuw na pla.

Half a lifetime ago Zak Pelaccio taught me to ball up khao neuw or Thai sticky rice and dredge it through the bracing liquour that sat at the bottom of a platter of papaya salad. We were gathered around the table at what was then the best Thai restaurant in Queens, Zabb Elee. Zabb is gone and Zak decamped for Hudson, New York, a while back. As for me I’m still in Queens, and have watched the Thai restaurant scene in the environs of Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside blossom.

Whenever I’m at a Thai table there’s always sticky rice. Sometimes it acts a foil for savory dishes. Sometimes it’s the centerpiece of a dessert as with the pandan-scented sticky rice that acts as the foundation for Sugar Club’s over-the-top mango sticky rice.  (more…)

07/11/16 8:07am
strawberrythai

Auttharos’ strawberry and salted egg salad.

At first glance Auttharos, the brand spanking new Thai spot that replaced Zabb Elee in Jackson Heights looks much like its predecessor. After all the menu’s appetizers include Esan sausage and the joint keeps much the same late night hours as the once Michelin-starred Zabb.

Things start to get interesting in Auttharos’ roster of papaya salads. There are more than a dozen permutations of som tam, from the fairly farang friendly—dried shrimp and peanuts—to the funkier and fishier —pickled crab and pickled fish. The really interesting stuff appears at the  end of the list: cucumber salad with boiled egg; long bean salad with pickled fish; corn salad with salted egg, and strawberry salad with salted egg. Let’s let that last one sink in: strawberry salad with salted egg!! (more…)

06/29/16 12:47am
GAMJA2

Getting to the meat of the matter at Murray Hill’s Jeonju.

The K-town in Manhattan with its abbreviated strip of Korean restaurants along West 32 Street pales in comparison to the vast K-tropolis that runs east along Northern Boulevard for hundreds of blocks. Ground zero for this Korean culinary wonderland is Mokja Golmok or Eater’s Alley, which surrounds the Murray Hill LIRR station. I’ve eaten at many of the places that ring the rail depot, Ma Po Korean BBQ for savory short rib kalbi and Nolbu Food for the Korean take on sushi known as kimbap and the blood sausage soondae.

One place I’ve never tried until very recently is Jeonju Korean Restaurant. I’ve passed it for years, so when a friend raved to me about the 17-year old restaurant’s gamjatang, or spicy pork spine stew I happily agreed to meet him there for a bowl. (more…)

06/24/16 12:28am
Was the Jackson Hole burger ever good?

Was the Jackson Hole burger ever good?

There are probably some hamburgers out there worth a 20-minute subway ride and a 20 minute walk involving traversing the BQE. Sadly the cheeseburger at Jackson Hole is not one of them. The loosely packed behemoth is steam griddled, that is to say cooked on a flat top under a dome. A burger should breath free—sputtering and sizzling on the flat top or under a salamander—not suffocate in its own fetid vapors.

Ordered medium rare it was a mushy flavorless gray travesty of a burger utterly devoid of a char. I found myself wishing Tommy DeVito would walk in and put two in the back of my head so that I didn’t have to finish thing.

I did not bother to ask what type of meat it was, it could have a blend of unicorn chuck and golden calf short rib for all I care, the cooking process would still turn it into drek. There’s only tasty steamed burger out there kids: White Castle.

All that said the decor can’t be beat. There’s a reason the folks behind Goodfellas used it in a scene, the exterior of the diner is iconic, all stainless and neon. It’s evokes a time that was simpler and also more glamorous. I’ll bet it was a time when people gave a shit about how their burger tasted.

Jackson Hole,  69-35 Astoria Blvd., Astoria, 718-204-7070

06/22/16 10:22am
Giuseppe

The Giuseppe, Astoria’s take on Philly’s roast pork Italian.

The late great Josh Ozersky once said that I had forsaken my Italian-American heritage to eat my way through the Chinese food courts of Queens. He was partly—well, really mostly—right. When I find myself in need of comfort and familiarity though, there’s nothing quite like a good Italian deli.

I am a huge fan of the ladies at Leo’s Latticini in Corona and their food. They know how to make this Italian boy feel right at home. I am lucky to live so close to their shop. Lately I have been exploring the Italian delis of Astoria. My favorite so far might be Rosarios. Under the el Rosario DiMarco serves up old-school Italian-American comfort food in the form of killer Margherita pizza and more than a dozen sandwiches. (more…)

06/20/16 12:51pm
patningsoo

Nuts and dried fruit top this frosty Korean treat.

When summertime rolls around, my heart, mind, and stomach turn toward frosty treats. Here in Queens we’re lucky to have so many to choose from. There’s everything from old school institutions like Eddie’s Sweet Shop and The Lemon Ice King of Corona to new fangled creations like Snow Days, plus shaved ice creations from all over the globe, including Mexico,Taiwan, the Dominican Republic, and Korea.

Pat bing soo, or Korean shaved ice typically consists of a small glacier of ice topped with red beans, fresh fruit, and condensed milk. Lately a newer version of the treat has appeared on the scene, a “well-being” variety that skips the red beans and condensed milk, favoring other ingredients like nuts and mochi. My favorite version of this pat bing soo subspecies can be had at Ye Dang, a shop on the further reaches of Queens’ vast K-tropolis. (more…)

06/16/16 12:38pm
Goat sekuwa eats like a meat lover's chaat

Goat sekuwa eats like a meat lover’s chaat

Kamala Gauchan is the godmother of Himalayan cuisine in Jackson Heights. The garrulous Gauchan is the driving force behind many of the neighborhood’s Tibetan and Nepalese eateries, including Himalayan Yak, Laliguras, and Dhaulaghiri Kitchen. For about three years she held court at the latter, a shoebox of a restaurant that shared a space with a roti factory. In a setup smaller than some Manhattan studio apartments she wowed expats and food geeks alike with cooking that managed to rustic and vibrant, featuring earthy goat jerky, vibrant pickles, and of course, momos.

About a month ago she decamped to Manhattan’s Curry Hill, across the street from Kalustyan’s and just down the road from Chef Hemant Mathur’s Haldi. Yesterday I finally made the trek to Manhattan to say hello to the woman I like to consider my adopted Nepalese mother. (more…)

06/13/16 12:40pm
wasabikitkat

The pride of Japan, now in candy form!

I consider myself lucky to procure the occasional green tea Kit Kat. It’s a Japanese variety of Nestle’s popular candy bar. And in that country Kit Kat are really, really popular. There are scores and scores of oddball flavors: cherry, blueberry cheesecake, brandy and orange, red bean and matcha shaved ice, maple, sports drink, and wasabi.

My good friend William shared some of that last flavor with me the other day. He brought back a box of minis from a recent trip to Japan. The package bears the familiar red-and-white logo and the slogan “Have a break, have a Kit Kat.” There all similarity ends, for one thing there’s the word “wasabi,” and a whole bunch of Japanese on the inside of the box, which extols wasabia japonica’s white flowers and talks about how it was first cultivated 400 years ago.

So how does it taste? Crunchy and creamy with just the slightest hint of wasabi. Wondering why Kit Kat are so popular in Japan?  The candy’s name sounds like “kitto katsu,” an expression associated with good luck. I consider myself lucky to have tried the wasabi ones, and look forward to eventually getting to Japan to try others.

06/08/16 10:11am
brothersegg

How green was my breakfast.

Back when I was a third-tier line cook in a pub, we used to keep pea shoots in house. They were great in salads and even better to munch on in the walk-in whilst shirking my duties. I would never have thought to put the peppery shoots on a breakfast sandwich. That’s exactly what Brothers, a new concession at Rockaway Beach, has done though.

It’s tempting to think of Brothers $8 breakfast sandwich as a merely an Egg McMuffin gone green, but it’s really a locals only breakfast sandwich. Those pea shoots come from a garden on Beach 97 Street, and the spelt flour blend muffin is made by local baker Diwa.

(more…)