Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
05/25/16 10:37am
Wendy's new chicken sandwich looks way better than it tastes.

Wendy’s new chicken sandwich looks way better than it tastes.

I’m a sucker for ad campaigns touting the latest fast-food gimmick be it McGriddles or Dorito’s Loco Tacos. Upon seeing the commercial—usually while climbing a virtual mountain at the gym—I can’t wait to try the latest and greatest mass market meal. And that’s how I came to eat two fast-food fried chicken sandwiches yesterday. The first was Wendy’s Jalapeño Fresco Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Ever since seeing the commercial I’ve wanted to try it, so much so that I had it for breakfast.

Unfortunately the soggy lukewarm chicken breast, topped with diced jalapeños, and an evil yellow slurry that called to mind the cheez on movie theater nachos was disappointing as were the ghost pepper fries. Sure everything was spicy, but the execution was just terrible. I don’t blame Wendy’s though, I blame my unrealistic expectations of fast food. If anything I thank Wendy’s for the experience. It spurred me to try the second sandwich, the original chicken sandwich from Delaney Fried Chicken.  (more…)

05/23/16 4:23pm
Loukomades

Little Greek doughnuts, aka loukoumades, at Astoria’s Cafe Boulis.

“Let’s go to the place with the little Greek doughnuts,” my friend Jane said. We’d just had a lovely Thai lunch at Pye Boat Noodle. After I confessed my ignorance of little Greek doughnuts, we set out for our dessert destination.

“Oh, gosh I’ve passed this place dozens of times,” I said  when we arrived at Cafe Boulis. Like many Greek cafes in Astoria the little space hums with a caffeinated energy. Directly opposite the door a sign reading, “LOUKOUMADES MADE FRESH TO ORDER” graces the Greek doughnut station. Behind the glass lies a fryer that evokes memories of fresh fried zeppole for St. Joseph’s Day and the spectacle of watching Krispy Kremes receive a cascade of glaze as they come  down the conveyor belt. (more…)

05/18/16 1:35pm
LOLLOBSTER

Photo: B.A. Van Sise

With very few exceptions—notably the Tortas Puma—I adhere to  the old adage, “Never eat anything bigger than your head.” Now thanks to my good friend photojournalist B.A. Van Sise, I might just have to make another exception: the LOL Hot Lobster Roll served at Abbot’s Lobster in the Rough in Noank, Conn.

For a decade Van Sise made do with the quarter pound lobster roll. “Now that my hunger hole has been broken I can’t imagine how people could possibly survive on so little,” Van Sise said. (more…)

05/16/16 11:59am
ThaiFlan1

Forgot it’s a Thai dessert? Let the caramelized shallots remind you!

Until very recently I’ve felt I could take or leave taro. The taro cakes found at Chinatown dim sum houses are good, but I’m not exactly crazy for them. I prefer the latke-like shrimp fritters encrusted in shredded taro. It took a Thai dessert preparation—morkhang puekto make me really crave the starchy tuber.

I found the toasted taro custard at Khao Kang, an Elmhurst steam table specialist, with a sideline in desserts. Like so many of my favorite Thai snacks, the dense eggy morkhang puek blurs the Western disctinctions of sweet and savory. In case there was any doubt that this is a Thai dessert, caramelized shallots sit atop the burnished brown surface.

The distinctly Thai combination of salt, egg, and coconut milk is lovely. The whole affair tastes like a Southeast Asian version of flan. It almost makes me want to sneak in a bottle of fish sauce to a Cuban restaurant. Almost.

Khao Kang,  76-20 Woodside Ave, Elmhurst, 718-806-1807

05/09/16 11:47am
bakso1

Indonesian comfort food returns to Elmhurst.

Java Village, an Indonesian steam table joint in Elmhurst, was once a staple of my Southeast Asian food tour. Typically a tour would start with an order of kwetiau Jakarta, a stir fry of Indonesian broad noodles with beef tripe and tendon. Chef Dewi also served one of my favorite comfort foods bubur ayam, congee with fried chicken and a salted egg. Then one day about five months ago Chef Dewi and Java Village vanished.

Last Monday I stopped by Indo Java Grocery to inquire after Dewi’s whereabouts. I was ecstatic to learn that she cooks there every Tuesday. The next day I returned expecting to find a selection of prepared foods for take home. Instead Dewi directed me to a tiny table in the back of the shop.  It was laid out with a purple tablecloth that read “Happy Birthday!”  (more…)

05/06/16 3:43pm

Living in Queens, arguably the most diverse food destination in the world has made me conversant, if not expert, in global cuisines ranging from Thai and Indonesian to Mexican and Peruvian, to name a very few.

Even though I’m an intrepid explorer of Chinese hawker stands, Central American street food carts, and West Indian roti spots there’s one place that still baffles me, NetCost Market, or as I like to call it “Nyet Cost.” The gigantic Russian supermarket, which offers everything from caviar and charcuterie to fermented mare’s milk and kvass is around the corner from my house, yet I hardly ever shop there. (more…)

05/04/16 5:27pm
Way better than the tuna salad of my childhood.

Way better than the tuna salad of my childhood.

I can’t recall ever writing a Sandwich Wednesday column about a tuna salad sandwich. Heck I can’t even recall eating one in the past decade. Served on white bread with bits of crunchy celery and onion it was a lunch box staple growing up. Now I’ve found one that’s so good I’ve eaten it twice in the past two weeks. Roast n Co can call it the Mediterranean Tuna Sandwich, but after talking with the chef, I now know it’s a Tunisian tuna salad sandwich.

Served on a baguette the mixture of tuna, hardboiled eggs, salty black olives, tomatoes, greens, and spicy harissa it eats like a salad Nicoise sandwich. It makes for a lovely light lunch or a great post-workout repast.

“It’s a common snack in the market in Tunisia,” the chef said. Seeing me in my gym clothes he had at first offered me a Bulldozer smoothie made with peanut butter, banana, and milk. I’m glad I declined and took my tastebuds to Tunisia instead.

Roast n Co, 100-12 Queens Blvd. Forest Hills, 718-263-6000 

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…)