Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
06/14/17 12:42am

“Wow, you look very healthy,” my friend Helen You told me the other day when I brought a tour group to her restaurant, Dumpling Galaxy for lamb soup dumplings. “It’s like you lived two lives in one,” she said when I told her about my recent recovery from colorectal cancer. You’s words made me tear up a bit as did the premiere episode of Last Stop on The 7, which details her own story of living two lives in one. The video, which was produced by the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and Sixty First Productions, features absolutely mesmerizing shots of You’s flour coated hands rolling out wrappers and folding them to create pork and chive dumplings.

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06/07/17 8:18am

A popular Tunisian street food has come to Queens.

I’m a big fan of what I like to call the Tunisian tuna sandwich at Roast n Co. Essentially it’s a salad nicoise sandwich kicked up with a bit of spicy harissa spread. Back in Tunisia it’s a common street food, as are the spicy little lamb sausages known as merguez. Recently the Forest Hills cafe started running a merguez sandwich ($9.95) as a special.

Several ruddy little lamb sausages are packed into a crusty baguette along with greens, cherry tomatoes, olives, cucumber, onions, and of course harissa. It comes with a choice of salad or French fries. I always get the fries, since a) they’re excellent, and b) there’s already a salad in the sandwich. (more…)

06/01/17 4:56pm

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of noodles— whether the fusilli with red sauce and chow fun that I cut my  teeth on—or the tallarin verde of Peru and various culture’s takes on cold noodles that can be had in Queens. This edition of The Seven is devoted to my favorite Asian noodles in Queens, at least as of summer 2017.

1. Tom thuk, Lhasa Fast Food
Anthony Bourdain recently paid a visit to this Jackson Heights momo shop tucked away behind a cell phone store. While the big man tried the hand-torn noodle soup known as thenthuk he did not get to experience its colder, spicier cousin tomthuk. Listed in the menu’s Noodle Zone as beef cold noodle ($6) there’s no forewarning of the twin heat engines of chili and mustard oil. The tangle of chewy noodles interspersed with shredded carrots, cabbages, and bits of ground beef packs enough heat to melt snowy Mount Kailash which looms above the counter. Lhasa Fast Food, 37-50 74th Street, Jackson Heights

 

2.  Yum Dek Sen, Dek Sen
There are many Thai noodle dishes, from funky bowls of blood-enriched soup to those that resemble pork ragu, but Dek Sen is the first restaurant where I’ve seen noodles used in a yum, Thailand’s spicy savory version of the more prosaic Western salad. Yum Dek Sen ($11.95) takes Mama instant noodles and mixes them with squid, shrimp,  minced pork, and two types of fish balls. Served warm the whole lot is dressed in a chili lime sauce. You might be tempted to order it spicy, but medium is more than adequate.  Dek Sen, 86-08 Whitney Ave, Elmhurst, 718-205-5181 (more…)

05/23/17 9:28am

It’s almost as much fun to watch one being made as it is to eat one!

At first it looks like an egg sandwich, and it is in a way, but instead of American cheese or Cheddar, the omelet cradles a juicy ground beef patty. The Malaysian specialty is called a Ramly burger. The first time I had one was a decade ago at a Ramadan Bazaar held by the Ladies’ Association of the Permanent Mission of Malaysia in New York. For a while Zak Pelaccio’s Fatty Crab was serving up Ramly inspired Fatty Sliders. The juicy pork and beef numbers seasoned with Malaysian spices were quite tasty, but they lacked the eggy envelope and thus Ramlyness.  (more…)

05/17/17 9:49am

Call it mini mofongo if you must.

I want to like mofongo I really do, but all too often the mashup of plantains and fried pork is drier than a Brit’s sense of humor. Sometimes I do like it, but it’s always a real gut buster. All of which leaves me quite glad to have tried Ecuadorean miniature mofongo the other day. Of course in Quito and on Roosevelt Avenue they don’t call it “miniature mofongo” but rather “bolon mixto.” (more…)

05/10/17 10:00am
frenchdip1

Sometimes an average restaurant banh mi is just what you need.

“I really want to try the Vietnamese sandwich,” Chef Dave, said as we wheeled into the parking lot of Elmhurst’s Pho Bac. He was pretty excited because there were baguettes stacked in the window, an unusual sight for midevening. Not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm, I didn’t trot out my theory that restaurant banh mi are passable at best compared to those from sandwich shops and delis.

As we were looking at the menu, I remembered something I wanted to try, call it a Vietnamese French dip. (I’m sure whatever blog I cribbed the idea from does.) In no sort order Chef Dave and I had each ordered a sandwich—classic pork for him and highfalutin steak for me—and a large bowl of pho tai. The latter is the most minimalist of the 10 or so beef noodle soups offered, containing little more than noodles and rare slices of beef. (more…)

05/05/17 9:04am
TANGRA-FISH

KFC or Tangra Masala?

Normally Fish fingers are a dish that I wouldn’t give a second—or even a first—thought. In fact I’m pretty sure the first time I had them was at the inaugural Queens Dinner Club, held at Peter Lo’s Tangra Asian Fusion. At the time there was so much going on, the chef’s Tangra Masala fish fingers ($7.95) didn’t make much of an impression.

Recently Queens Dinner Club returned to the gaudy ballroom that houses Lo’s mecca for Indian-Chinese cuisine to celebrate our first anniversary. Everything was great, but  my dining companion and I found the fish fingers to be particularly amazing. (more…)

04/28/17 2:59am
Fried chicken marinated with coconut water.

Fried chicken marinated with coconut water.

When I first visited the Facebook page of Awang Kitchen, the newest Indonesian spot in the Southeast Asian-inflected Chinatown of Elmhurst, it displayed a vast menu, which has seen been edited down to a more manageable size. While the food was delicious, when I visited on opening weekend, the kitchen was moving at a glacial pace. Thankfully the kinks have been ironed out and Awang is fast becoming my favorite Indonesian spot in the neighborhood.

I’m a big fan of Indonesian fried chicken, so when I spied ayam goreng kalasan, a variety marinated with coconut water, I had to try it. It was some mighty fine bird and came with a sidecar of sambal terasi, a fiery red pepper concoction made with terasi, or fermented shrimp paste. It’s one of several sambals that the Jakartan chef-owner Siliwang “Awang” Nln makes in house. (more…)

04/26/17 10:19am

QUEENS-TASTE-CROWD

It’s that time of year again when more than 50 of Queens’ best restaurants, makers of sweet treats, and brewers of fine libations converge upon the New York Hall of Science for the annual Queens Taste. The gala tasting, which takes place next Tuesday night, May 2, features an international roster of cuisine from all over the borough. Astoria will be represented by The Astor Room serving up American classics and Kurry Qulture will be there with its exquisite Indian. Neir’s Tavern of Woodhaven will be serving historic pub grub while Thai Rock will be representing the Rockaways. And guests will have a chance to try the food from the soon to open Salt & Bone Smokehouse.

I’m honored to be a sponsor of this year’s event and want to give you dear reader the chance to win a pair of tickets. Here’s the deal: write a haiku in the comments about why you love food in Queens. The best one wins. Contest ends Monday, May 1 at noon.

04/18/17 3:53pm
LaoNoodle

Umami bombs in the form of dried fish curl in this tangle of fried noodles.

Long before I heard the word “umami” I was addicted to the savory fifth flavor. I blame pouring Accent directly on my tongue as a young boy. Accent has precisely one ingredient: monosodium glutamate. In terms of umami overload, it was the equivalent of Peter Parker’s radioactive spider bite. I’ve had superpowers ever since, OK not really. I did develop a keen palate for umami though, which brings me to the subject of today’s post: the use of umami bombs—little bursts of flavor in two Southeast Asian noodle dishes I ate recently.

The first comes from Thailand via Laos and Woodside, Queens. “Spicy noodle with Lao sausage real Thai,” read the menu at Thailand’s Center Point. (For the record, everything at this place that I’ve been reacquainting myself with of late is real Thai.) The tangle of noodles ($11.50) is riddled with generous chunks of chewy sour sausage and fried dry chilies, a nice touch which enables one to adjust the heat in the dish. There was another component: little almost imperceptible nuggets of fishy flavor.

“Is there pickled fish in this?” I asked the waitress, who looked surprised by my question. Thanks to Instagrammer @gustasian, I now know that the little umami bombs were dried fish. (more…)