Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
10/16/17 11:54am

Can’t decide between won ton, roast pork, or noodle soup? Don’t worry Shun Wang’s got you.

I’ve been forsaking my heritage. By that I refer not to red sauce—OK fine we called it gravy—with which my father baptized me every Sunday, but rather the Cantonese food he fed me, thus beginning my lifelong love affair with Chinese cuisine. So when a friend posted a mouthwatering image of the HK lo mein at Shun Wang, I knew I had to try it.

“You know what this is?” the waiter at this Cantonese holdout in the increasingly Thai neighborhood of Elmhurst asked incredulously. “Yes,” I lied. “It’s steamed noodles,” he responded. Up until two days ago my Cantonese noodle knowledge was limited to chow fun and the thicker version of lo mein. (more…)

10/11/17 3:43pm

Photo: Jeremy Jacobowitz/Brunch Boys

Way back in the last millennium I was a desk jockey at an office building near Rockefeller Center, 1221 Avenue of The Americas to be precise. Lunch was always the highlight of the day and my favorite sandwiches included the cubano from Margon and  bánh mì that were always worth the trek to Chinatown.

One sandwich that was never in my rotation was the French dip. It’s a beloved classic, thinly shaved roast beef served on French bread with a cup of jus for dipping. The other day I learned that Del Frisco’s—a steakhouse that occupies the very same building where I toiled away—serves a decidedly deluxe take on this lunch counter classic, one made with wagyu beef. (more…)

10/09/17 1:32pm

Old-school Thai noodles with prawns.

Elmhurst’s Little Bangkok is the gift that keeps on giving. Khao Nom is the latest entrant in the nexus of deliciousness that radiates outward from the junction of Woodside Avenue and Broadway. When I say latest I mean very latest, as in they opened last Thursday. Food critics normally stay away from a place for several weeks before spilling ink, thankfully as a food writer I have no such constraints.
When I first heard about Khao Nom—whose name means dessert—I was told that its mainstay would be old-fashioned Thai dessert. So when I visited on opening day I was surprised to find a six-item menu of savories, including something called chan noodle ($11). It’s a generous tangle of chewy flat rice noodles known as sen chan, flavored with chili and tamarind and surmounted by two huge prawns. It comes with a back story too. My pal Joel, a go-to source for all things related to Thai food culture tells me it’s a forerunner of pad thai that dates back to the time when Siam became Thailand and there was a rice shortage. Prime minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram encouraged the eating of noodles and set up a contest. The story goes that the winner of the contest was sen chan (chan noodles) named after the town Chantaburi. (more…)

10/03/17 1:15pm

Speck, truffle, and ricotta team up for this gourmet pie.

Lately I’ve been getting in touch with my Italian heritage through food, which is how I wound up at Levante, Long Island City’s newest pizzeria last night. Actually, that’s not exactly true my barber Kirk Riley told me about it while I was in the chair yesterday evening. “Gonna go wherever the wind takes you?” he quipped when I told him I had no plans for the night.

And that’s how I wound up standing on Jackson Avenue perusing the menu of this Napoletana newcomer, which opened late last month, and is named for the East Wind. After mulling over the roster of more than a dozen pies, I settled on the LIC ($21), topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, speck, fresh ricotta, and truffle pate. (more…)

10/02/17 10:55pm

It’s been a big week for Ms. Tjahjadi as The New York Times called my dear friend Chef Dewi in last week’s Hungry City. Chef Dewi formerly of Java Village now cooks at Indo Java a small Indonesian grocery store in Elmhurst, Queens. Every Tuesday afternoon you can stop by for lunch, usually with a choice of a dish or two, served up by Dewi. This pop-up, affectionately called Warung Selasa (Tuesday “Food Stall”), is perhaps the best way to experience Indonesian food in New York, according my local Indonesian food guru Dan Hill who was kind enough to interview Chef Dewi between bites of his bakso mangkok.

When did you start cooking?
I started cooking from home in New York in 2003.

You didn’t cook in Indonesia before you moved here?
No, never. I worked as a secretary. Cooking wasn’t a hobby of mine. I learned how to cook when I moved to New York. I helped my mother cook at home as a child, but that was it.

Do you remember your favorite cooking of your mother’s when you were a child?
No, but I learned from my Mom that if I wanted to eat something, I had to make it from scratch. I had to prepare all the ingredients and cook everything. So I remember the cooking process, but I never cooked. For example, if I wanted to make lontong sayur. I would have to make the lontong by cleaning the rice and making the lontong. The vegetables I would have to cut, like the chayote . . . and at that time there wasn’t grated coconut, so at that time we had to grate the whole coconut by ourselves. So everything had to be done from the beginning.

Bakso mangkok, literally a bowl of beef meatball soup inside a bowl made of beef itself.

So you knew how to do all these things, but you didn’t like cooking?
No, I didn’t like it. I liked making cake. I liked baking, but I never did that either! [laughs]  (more…)

09/27/17 11:22am

Little Egypt’s kebab sandwich is packed with toothsome lamb.

Often when I eat lamb it’s in the context of Chinese food, whether it’s a glorious spice-encrusted Muslim lamb chop or an entire spit-roasted haunch. So I was pleased to see a good old-fashioned kebab sandwich ($6.99) on the menu at Little Egypt, a cafe/grocery in Ridgewood hard by the border of Brooklyn and Queens.

The lamb sandwich comes wrapped tight in the paper thin variety of Middle Eastern pita, itself rolled in paper and then foil, perhaps all the better to be eaten on the go.  But why not soak up the atmosphere of this diminutive spot decorated with all manner of Egyptian ephemera? (more…)

09/26/17 10:24am

Despite appearances, this is not a cannoli.

A lifetime ago before I came to Queens, I lived in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood that realtors hopefully called Park Slope vicinity. It was a short ride from there to Bensonhurst where I would indulge my Sicilian heritage with vastedda—the ricotta and calf spleen sandwiches—at Gino’s Focacceria and pastry at Villabate. Back then, Villabate and Alba were two separate shops. These days they’ve united to form confectionery powerhouse Villabate Alba.

Recently I found myself back in the County of Kings and decided to take a walk from Together, Brooklyn’s sole Burmese restaurant, to Bensonhurst to visit Villabate Alba.

“I’ll have that chocolate-covered cannoli,” I said to the young Chinese girl at the counter pointing to a little number with a broad swath of chocolate in the center flanked by white icing and capped with pistachio. (more…)

09/25/17 10:41am

Thai Rock and Neir’s are just two of many who will be sampling their delicacies at the gala!

As anybody who knows me or this web site knows, I’m all about global cuisine in Queens, so it’s an honor to be a media sponsor for the 14th Annual Global Cuisine of Queens tasting event to be held on Wednesday, October 18, 2017 at 6:00 pm at Resorts World Casino New York in Jamaica, NY. More than 40 of the Queens’ hottest restaurants, caterers, bakeries, and breweries— including Big Alice Brewing, Singlecut Beersmiths, Dumpling Galaxy, De Mole, Historic Neir’s Tavern, Tortilleria Nixtamal, and Thai Rock—will be part of the gala event, which is a benefit for The Boys & Girls Club of Metro Queens.

For dessert there’s the pride of College Point, Cascon Cheesecake and old school confections from Schmidt’s in Woodhaven. I’m offering you dear reader/eater a chance to win 2 VIP tickets to this festive evening. Here’s what you need to do: write a haiku about international cuisine in Queens and leave it in the comments. The winner be selected a week from today. Good luck!!

09/23/17 12:55pm

The King’s bubble gum ice in all its shocking pink glory!

For more than 60 years The Lemon Ice King of Corona has held court on the corner of 52nd Avenue and Corona Avenue supplying frozen treats to Mets fans, neighborhood children, and even the local FDNY company. In an effort to squeeze out the very last bits of summer, I’ve found myself stopping by there rather often. And, since it’s going to be almost 90 tomorrow, I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you. Lemon’s the classic, but I also like orange/vanilla swirl, vanilla chocolate chip, and a newer addition, spumoni.

I’ve been branching out with the fruit flavors like the lovely cantaloupe, but the other day I tried a decidedly non-fruit flavor: bubble gum. Perched atop the medium-sized paper squeeze cop was a rosette of bubblegum pink ice flecked with yellow and green bits. (more…)

09/21/17 1:07pm

Mutton marrow, Uighur style!

There are many places to get all kinds of lamb dishes in downtown Flushing from toothsome shreds of spicy cumin lamb to an entire spice-encrusted rack of lamb, but there’s none quite like a place I call Erqal Uighur. I call it that because despite being open since May, the place has yet to put up a sign. I only know the name Erqal because it’s printed on the receipt. Not only does it have the distinction of being the only Uighur spot in Flushing, it’s the only one serving Chinese  burritos.

Succulent lamb skewers ($1.61 apiece) are among the specialities here, but the real star is something called lamb leg polo ($8.96) , or what I have dubbed the Uighur burrito. I call it that because the polo—a Uighur style pilaf whose current lovely incarnation is shot through with fruit and carrots—and the mutton haunch, side salad, and blob of sweet yogurt are served atop a gigantic tortilla. It comes with sidecar of lamb broth, all the better for dipping the meat. Be sure to take a straw, you might be lucky enough to score a marrow bone. I’m not quite sure what the logic behind serving a mutton leg on top of a food-service grade flour tortilla is, but I didn’t let that stop me from making a burrito, nor should you.

Nothing says Uighur like fragrant polo and toothsome mutton served on a flour wrap

Three months ago when I first tried yang tui zhua fanas the lamb leg dish would be called in Mandarin—it was served in a foil takeout container with the tortilla lining the bottom along with that delicious yogurt and a side salad. The yogurt, wrap, and side salad are still there, but the foil takeout container has been replaced by a much better presentation: a wooden dish. (more…)