These days Roosevelt Avenue is lined with scores of carts selling street food from all over the globe—Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, even Tibet. One of the oldest, the O.G.—which in this case stands for original grandma—is the Arepa Lady as Maria Piedad Cano has come to be known among her legions of fans. Cano has been selling the griddled corn cakes under the 7 train for almost 30 years. She rose to popularity after Chowhound founder Jim Leff, wrote a piece in the NY Press headlined “The Sainted Arepa Lady” touting her corn cakes as “snacks from heaven,” and extolling her beatific presence. (more…)
I have been hitting the cold noodles at Cheng Du Tian Fu pretty hard lately. So last weekend when I stopped by for an early dinner after leading a Flushing food tour—yes, I often eat a meal after conducting a Chinatown food crawl—I wanted something different. As I scanned the pictorial menu the proprietress suggested chuān beǐ liáng fěn, a slippery bowl of blocky mung bean noodles. I shook my head and then my eye fell on something I’ve been meaning to try for some time, the house special salad ($3.50).
The cool tangle of seaweed, julienned carrots, and chewy noodles showered in cilantro is quite special indeed. Dressed with roasted chili oil, black vinegar, and a healthy dose of garlic it offers a wealth of textures and flavors. Sweet, salty, and possessed of a spice level that will leave your palate humming it’s the Japanese seaweed salad’s sexier Sichuan cousin. Oddly enough the Chinese name liáng bàn sān sù—or “cold salad three vegetables” —doesn’t quite translate to “house special salad.” Go figure.
Cheng Du Tian Fu, No. 31, Golden Shopping Mall, 41-28 Main St., Flushing
Jorgito’s ceviche is topped with crunchy, salty maize cancha.
The best ceviche de pescado I ever had came from a sweet Peruvian lady’s cooler. She sold it streetside in the Diamond District. Every Friday I’d buy one for lunch, and devour it greedily at my desk, She’s long gone now, but my soft spot for fish cooked in lime juice served streetside remains. Last weekend when I saw Cevicheria Jorgito, a cart on 111th Street just off La Roosie, my heart and stomach lept up. About half an hour and 30 blocks prior I’d had a Mexican style coktel, and was starting to feel hungry again.
Jorgito’s cart lies a corn kernel’s throw from the 7 line.
I was a little disappointed when I found out Jorgito’s ceviche is the soupier Ecuadorean style. I prefer the Peruvian version, which is more of salad. This disappointment did not deter me from handing over $6 for a small container of ceviche de pescado. Bits of cooked corvina bobbed in the cool tomato soup, alongside a surprise ingredient, chewy morsels of yucca. Topped with salty toasted corn kernels and a squirt or three of bright orange hot sauce it was a nice snack. It’s great to find Mexican and Ecuadorean ceviches on La Roosie. Now if I could just find a Peruvian one all my streetside seafood needs would be met.
Cevicheria Jorgito, 111 St., north side of Roosevelt Avenue, weekends only
“Oh, it’s so good that I friggin dream about it,” my pal enthused to me about the Muslim lamb chop ($21.95) at Fu Run. “Yeah right, I thought to myself,” filing his rave about this Dongbei joint’s lamb dish away in the back of my mind. And then one day I finally broke down and tried it. It is spectacular in many, many ways. For one thing it is not a lamb chop but rather a whole rack, butchered in what I guess would be called country style.
Imagine a mad chef-scientist turning his attention to American Chinese pork spare ribs. Naturally he’d replace lamb with pork since it’s so much tastier. Then he’d braise it, roll it in spices, and deep fry it. The crunchy spice-studded exterior encases red-tinged meat and bits of snow-white fat, all packed with wonderful lamb flavor. An order of tiger vegetables ($5.95), a cool tangle of cilantro and hot peppers shot through with teeny salty shrimp, is a welcome foil to all that rich meat.
Yuji was still pretty sedate before the arrival of the hungry, hungry hipsters.
If there’s anything I hate more than foodies it’s hipsters. So the often overcrowded, overpriced hipster/foodie paradise that is Smorgasburg has never been too high on my list. When it comes to crowds and food I’ll take a Southeast Asian Lunar New Year buffet over the scrum that befalls East River Park every Saturday. This Saturday was my second time at Smorgasburg. The first was last summer to eat foie gras poutine made by Hugue Dufour. This time around I was on a mission to supply some chicken cracklin’ to a pal with a new booth at the market. With my mission accomplished and the market not yet too crowded I decided to treat myself to a bowl of noodles from Yuji Ramen.
Yuji’s uni ramen is briny and decadent.
For a moment I considered the bacon, egg, and cheese noodles ($10), but I was kind of full after sampling my pal’s wares. So I opted for the somewhat lighter sounding uni miso ($10). The ramen dude congratulated me on my choice pointing out that the Maine uni he uses would soon be going out of season. The creamy sea urchin melted atop the warm, chewy noodles coating them with a rich, briny sauce. It was far richer than I thought it would be, though the blood orange zest and shiso managed to cut the richness somewhat. It could have used just a bit of the citrusy Japanese hot paste yuzu kocho.
For dessert I had a half dozen oysters ($16) from Brooklyn Oyster Party. The super briny bivalves served as an effective palate cleanser, and reawakened my appetite. Since I was already at Smorgasburg I thought I might as well get my feed on. Check back tomorrow for a Smorgasburg Sandwich Wednesday, plus the details of my secret chicken crackling mission.
Smorgasburg, East River State Park, at Norh 7th St., Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Outside it was gray, inside Mediterranean sunshine on a plate.
I have a confession. The variety of delicious things to eat in Elmhurst, Flushing and Jackson Heights—dumplings,dosa, and Sichuan happy meals—is so amazing that I often overlook whole neighborhoods and whole cuisines. The Turkish scene in Sunnyside is a prime example of this gastronomic myopia. (Notice how I opted not to coin the word gastropia.)
The other night I was out to dinner with Max Falkowitz, the editor of Serious Eats New York—in Flushing natch—and he told me I should try the menemen, at Grill 43. “Menemen?” I asked between bites of crunchy Sichuan fish. “It’s like the Turkish version of shakshuka,” he said. “It’s really good.” I’ve never really dug the Israeli scramble that is shaksuka, but whenever someone whose taste I trust enthuses about a dish I know I’m in for a treat. And so it was with Grill 43’s menemen ($5.95).
The plate of fluffy scrambled eggs mixed with tomatoes and red peppers is as simple as it is delicious. An orange-hued liquid, the very essence of red peppers, sits at the bottom of the plate. Sopping it up with slightly salty wedges of homemade Turkish bread was the perfect antidote to what was an otherwise gray afternoon. As I was leaving the guy behind the counter said that some people like their menemen with cheese. Next time I’m going to ask him to make a Turkish egg and cheese sandwich.
Mix in the sauce and dig into the best Sichuan cold noodles ever.
Cheng Du Tian Fu, or Chengdu Heavenly Plenty Snacks, is one of the first stalls I ever visited in the regional Chinese wonderland that is the Golden Shopping Mall. Back in 2007 there was hardly any English signage in the entire place and I was relying upon a rosetta stone of sorts from a Chowhound post. These days the menu is in English and there are dozens of items—beef jerky, fu qi fei pian, dan dan mian and more—shown in the mouthwatering photos that adorn the wall at the bottom of the stairs.
This Sichuan specialist has become a favorite of the Mission Chinese crew. Despite the vast selection I’ve gotten the same thing every time for the last 10 or more visits: cold noodles Chengdu style ($3.50). A palate-awakening sauce consisting of crushed chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, what looks to be MSG, black vinegar, and a prodigious amount of fine garlic paste tops the tangle of thin al dente noodles. Mixing the sauce to coat the noodles take a bit of effort. It’s worth it for the results, though. The bowl of noodles ping pongs between refreshing,fiery, palate-tingling, and pungent.
Cheng Du Tian Fu, No. 31, Golden Shopping Mall, 41-28 Main St., Flushing
Som tum, the Thai papaya salad, really a slaw of sorts is a favorite of mine, crunchy spicy, and often possessed of formidable level of spice. As with most Thai food I prefer to eat it where Thai folks gather, specifically Zabb Elee. I like Zabb because it’s open late and because they have seven types of som tum. These range from a pretty standard Thai version with dried shrimp and peanuts ($8) to the Lao style som tum poo plara ($8). The latter is notable not only because Lao grub is as rare in this town as a humble Yankee fan, but because it does not hold back on the fishy, funky, fiery flavors of Southeast Asia.
Half of a preserved blue crab—salty and funky yet still sweet and juicy—sits atop a tangle of crunchy papaya, long beans, hemispheres of Thai eggplant, and, for added crunch, Thai chicharron. The whole affair sits in a shallow pool of liquid that’s a study in fishy, spicy, and citrusy flavors. It’s best ordered spicy with a side of kao neaw, Thai sticky rice ($2). I like to roll the sticky rice into balls and use it to sop up the liquid. Don’t be surprised if your waitress asks if you’ve been to Thailand when she sees you eating like a local.
Zabb Elee, 71-28 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, 718-426-7992
Apparently Old Master Fu Zi liked his pork belly and his chilies.
Last night I had dinner in Flushing with two fellow food writers at a newish Sichuan restaurant that shall remain nameless for the purposes of this dispatch. Almost everything we ordered was stunning save for one item. As luck would have it, it was the one dish that I, Queens’ foremost Caucasian expert on Asian food insisted on ordering. I expected a pork belly creation like the one pictured above. To be sure what came to the table was pork belly in a steamer, but all resemblance ended there. For one thing it looked like a washed up version of mofongo and tasted rather like an English school lunch sitting atop bland mashed peas. The entire lot had been steamed into flavorless submission.
What I’d expected was something like a dish I’d had at Hunan House a while back: xiang shan ma la fu zi rou, or “Hunan house Old Master Fuzi meat dish.” It consists of pork belly and rice powder steamed for so long that the rice powder has melded with the pork fat, and vice versa. Each slice of the fanned out pork belly is rich and unctuous and can just barely retain its form. It’s tasty, but superfatty, which is where those pickled chilies come in. It’s the type of thing that’s best eaten with rice and shared with more than one person.
As for the nameless Sichuan restaurant, all I can say is not every dish can be a winner. It was just such a shock to see such a weirdly lackluster dish emerge from an otherwise accomplished kitchen. And it was of course a slight slow to my ego. I suppose such occupational hazards are part and parcel of being The Guy Who Ate Queens.
I am a big fan of monkfish liver, or ankimo, as it’s called at the sushi bar. The season for this marine foie gras is coming to an end. I am especially saddened because recently I had a deliciously over-the-top rendition of monkfish liver, at M. Wells Dinette, a restaurant whose raison d’être is over-the-top deliciousness. If the ascetic Japanese presentation of monkfish liver—in a shallow lake of ponzu sauce with a bit of green onion on top is a study in restraint then Hugue Dufour’s monkfish liver torchon ($14) is a study in hedonism. Thick rounds of creamy orange monkfish liver sit astride a pancake that’s been fried in duck fat, which sits in a lake of maple syrup. Crowning the whole affair is a tangle of mustard root tempura. It’s the type of dish that seems right at home in a post-modern museum cafeteria. If you get there and it’s not on the menu anymore don’t sweat it too much. There’s sure to be something equally delicious and over the top. I’m still holding out for the foie gras enriched shwarma Dufour once told me he was thinking about making.
M. Wells Dinette, MoMA PS1, 22-25 Jackson Ave at 46th Ave., Long Island City, 718-786-1800