Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
Chef Viko Ortega is a chef's chef.

Chef Viko Ortega is a chef’s chef.

One of the first places I lived in Queens was Woodside. Walking Roosevelt Avenue to hit Thai places, Filipino spots, and taco trucks turned me on to the delicious diversity of food that makes the borough my favorite place to live, eat, and play. There’s one place I never frequented in all my time in Woodside though, La Flor, a cafe restaurant helmed by journeyman Chef Viko Ortega. I only just got around to meeting Chef Viko and trying his wonderful nuanced dishes. I was mightily impressed by his cooking. As were my friends Chef Jonathan Forgash and Gabe Gross of  Queens Dinner Club. That’s we’ve decided to have Chef Viko cook our next dinner Mexico Meets France and Italy via Roosevelt Ave. which takes Tuesday May 17, 2016, 7:30 p.m. Chef Viko was kind enough to take some time away from the kitchen to answer seven questions.

How did you get into cooking?
I started baking when I was 13 years old in my hometown of Puebla, Mexico. In 1987 when I was 21 the main reason I came here was that I was tired of baking. So I came here and figured out that the only way to make decent money was back to the kitchen. I started doing pizza and pastry and salads. I cooked at dozens of restaurants including Larry Forgione’s An American Place. I can’t get away from baking though. The starter I use to make all the breads at La Flor is 24 years old.

Atlantic salmon with potato gallettes.

Atlantic salmon with potato gallettes.

How would you characterize your cooking at La Flor?
I would say it’s a combination of everything I learned. I mix Italian, French, Mexican—that’s one of my favorites—a little bit of Asian. So it’s kind of fusion and I just love food. The dishes that you’re going to find here you’re not going to find anywhere else, I just love to play. It’s me. (more…)

04/20/16 5:35pm
C+M's new favorite breakfast sandwich.

Tomato jam and white cheddar make for a tasty breakfast sandwich.

The classic New York City bacon egg and cheese sandwich looms large in Gotham’s culinary consciousness, so much so that Times critic Pete Wells penned an ode to it around this time last year. In Forest Hills I purchase my breakfast sandwiches from a taciturn Central Asian gent who runs the coffee cart down the street from my apartment. That is to say I did, until Roast n Co opened its doors a few days ago. The new cafe/rotisserie chicken spot serves up what is fast becoming my favorite breakfast sandwich in the hood. (more…)

04/19/16 10:16am
mattimach

Tutti Matti brings Calabria and Sicily together via the magic of pasta.

Growing up in an Italian-American household the product of Sicilian and Calabrian heritage, I didn’t learn much proper Italian. My language lessons were limited to staizitt’ and the like. Thus it’s not surprising that when I first heard of the maccheroncini dello stretto at Long Island City’s Tutti Matti, I assumed the name meant “little macaroni of the street.” This assumption was aided by a spicy seafood flavor that called to mind spaghetti alla puttanesca. After all it doesn’t get more street than the whore’s pasta. (more…)

04/14/16 12:04pm
IntestineTaiwan

Sticky rice for all the offal lovers in the house.

A few months ago I made my first ever Chinese New Year’s resolution: eat more Taiwanese food. Lucky for me Taiwanese Gourmet is just a few subway stops away from C+M headquarters. I’ve slowly been eating my way through the Elmhurst eatery’s menu. Recently I started exploring the vast selection of offal. There are more than half a dozen preparations of intestines, including two varieties of goose innards. One of my favorites is something that goes by the Chinese name da chang bao xiao chang, which translates loosely to big intestine wrapping little intestine.

“The Chinese name doesn’t describe anything about the food,” Taiwanese Gourmet’s manager, Alvin Chen told me explaining that the dish consists of a glutinous rice stuffed pig intestine that’s been steamed and sliced. A disc of Taiwanese pork sausage is then placed between each slice. (more…)

04/12/16 4:14pm
Who knew Gui Lin Mi Fen had an awesome tofu salad?

Who knew Gui Lin Mi Fen had an awesome tofu salad?

As a nonvegetarian omnivore the first things I think of when it comes to vegetarian food in the bustling Chinatown of downtown Flushing are the tofu from Soybean Chen and the dosai at the Ganesh Temple Canteen. But what would a real vegetarian choose? To find out I turned to Howard Walfish, the man behind the web sites Lost Vegetarian and Brooklyn Vegetarian, who was kind enough to share his favorites in this guest post.

Downtown Flushing can be a little daunting for vegetarians. Between the restaurants, street vendors, and food courts, there are hundreds of places to eat.  Many of them don’t have English-language menus, and many of them have decidedly nonvegetarian specialties. But all it takes is a little digging, and you can find lots of great vegetarian food.  Here are a few of my favorites.

1. Tofu Salad at Gui Lin Mei Fen
Gui Lin Mi Fen is best known for its noodle bowls, but there’s a sleeper vegetarian hit on their menu that’s easy to overlook: a tofu salad. The firm tofu is diced and flavored with kalimeris indica, a plant also known as Indian aster. The herb adds an herbal, floral note to the salad that makes it irresistible.  (135-25 40th Rd.) (more…)

04/06/16 11:09am
kurrysammy

Kurry Qulture’s  pav bhaji: Not quite a veggie burger.

When it comes to vegetarian food, I’m not a veggie burger or mock meat type of guy. Give me a vegetarian cuisine that’s based solely on the love of vegetables. It’s one of the reasons I love Indian cuisine, with all of its chaats and dosas, so much. One dish I’d never tried until a visit to Astoria’s Kurry Qulture is pav bhaji. Served with two slider size buns, I suppose one could think of it as veggie burger if one were inclined to such thoughts, which I am not. (more…)

04/04/16 11:13pm

Gimbap—a Korean after-school snack that at its most minimalist form consists of little more than American cheese, white rice, and daikon rolled up in seaweed—is not exactly anybody’s version of extreme eats. Sure there are more flavorful varieties like spicy tuna and spicy squid, both of which I find quite lovely and enjoy at Song’s Family Food in Murray Hill, Queens. To find a truly extreme kimbap, or gimbap, as it’s also spelled, I had to turn to the internet, specifically Korean cooking Youtube channel cookat TV. (more…)

03/30/16 9:34am
Sweet, savory, and spicy; it's my new favorite Thai toast.

Sweet, savory, and spicy; it’s my new favorite Thai toast.

In the Little Bangkok of Elmhurst, Queens, Thai toast is often an elaborate affair laden with fruit, ice cream, and syrup. I’ve long wondered whether there was a more savory version, one that hewed to more conventional Thai flavors. Turns out there is. It exists in the form of a chili jam and pork floss sandwich being served at Pata Cafe.

Sweet, spicy, salty and porky—it’s my kind of sandwich. It made for a perfect dessert after a rather epic Indian-Chinese meal. Pata Cafe is big among the local schoolchildren most of whom order French fries and hot dogs. If Pata Cafe was around when I was a kid you can bet I’d be ordering this savory-sweet-spicy sandwich. As far as this farang’s concerned, it’s a real after-school special.

Pata Cafe56-14 Van Horn St., Elmhurst, 347-469-7142

Tangra Peter Lo

Peter Lo whipping up Singapore chow mein in the kitchen of Tangra Masala.

Indian-Chinese, with its fiery palate of ginger, garlic, green chilies and soy, used to be one of my favorites, but for about five years my love affair for one of the world’s original fusion cuisines was doused by waves of regional Chinese, Thai, and Uzbek food. I’ve been away from my old flame, Tangra Masala for far too long. It took a chef buddy, Jonathan Forgash, to reintroduce me to one of Queens most vibrant and delicious cuisines. And in so doing he introduced me to the man who is unquestionably the Godfather of Indian-Chinese cuisine in Queens, Chef Peter Lo. Chef Lo took the time out of his busy schedule to talk about the hallmarks of his cuisine as well as the upcoming Queens Dinner Club.

Where are you from originally and how did you learn to cook?
I’m from Calcutta. When I came to this country in 1984 I used to work part time in a restaurant. I really got fascinated seeing the way food was cooked and prepared. I liked the system. Back home my mother had an Indian-Chinese restaurant. She’s an excellent cook. Gradually I got to love cooking food, a friend used to say, “Why don’t you open a restaurant? You know you cook good food.” So that’s how I got to opened this restaurant in 2001. (more…)

03/28/16 4:37pm
“Talk about finds…It’s like somehow the Seattle craft brewery scene has come to Queens.”

“Talk about finds…It’s like somehow the Seattle craft brewery scene has come to Queens.”

As far as I know Robert Remler is the only person blogging about the bar scene in Queens. Sure, there are other blogs with cocktail content, but Robert’s beat is bars—and sometimes restaurants—hence the title, “Where to Drink in Queens.” Herein a post on his serendipitous discovery  of the LIC Beer Project.

Sometimes a wrong turn leads to a good ale.

Wasn’t paying attention, Kiddo. Right turn off Queens Plaza North. A block screaming Quentin Tarantino. A bevvy of auto body shops. Cars jacked on sidewalks. ‘Flat Fix Here’ signs everywhere. Roar of cordless drills tightening wheel nuts.

And then? Quick glance to the left.

Garage door half opened. People sitting at wooden tables on steel stools.

So, as the Ramones used to shout, “Hey, ho! Let’s go.”

Sheet metal ducts run the high ceiling. Wooden casks along the brick walls. Silver silos at far end of room. An immaculate stainless steel basin in a room behind a glass window. Exotic bottles of beer on the window ledge. Not far away people toss bean bags at wooden boards. (more…)