03/12/18 12:06pm

Edible Americana meets Japanese culinary tradition.

Those unfamiliar with Keizo Shimamoto, the man behind the Smorgasburg sensation known as the Ramen Burger—which sandwiches a beef patty between two noodly buns—might think the Japanese chef is no ramen purist. Anyone who’s been to Ramen Shack, his modest restaurant hard by the Queensbridge, Houses can attest to Shimamoto’s ramen reverence though.

Shimamoto serves what he calls “ramen inspired ramen,” and the other day I came really close to having a steaming bowl of his classic shoyu. With spring somewhat in the air though, I flipped the menu over to the B side where I spied Burger Ramen ($12), a soupless bowl I’ve been meaning to try for some time. (more…)

03/06/18 3:55pm

The menu calls it a salted pancake, but it’s really fried rice roll.

My earliest Chinese food memories center around Cantonese chang fen slurped at the counter of Mei Lei Wah in the mid 1970s with my father who taught me all I know about Chinese food. Beef roll, as he called it, awash in sweet soy sauce, was his go-to and mine was shrimp.

Over the years I’ve tried many versions, including yim shui cheung fen, which stars cilantro; one stuffed with fried crullers; and my current obsession the gossamer thin version made from freshly ground rice at Joe’s Steam Rice Roll. The other day I encountered a kind I’ve never had, a deep fried version, listed on the menu at Congee Village as sweet or salted pancake ($6.50). (more…)

01/29/18 10:27pm

Fried calamari Indonesian style.

It’s no secret to regular readers of this blog that Awang Kitchen is my favorite Indonesian restaurant in Queens. I eat there quite often and write about it almost as often. Here’s the thing though, I’ve become so used to ordering off the specials menu, that I’ve been missing out on some glorious dishes on the regular menu. Dishes like cumi goreng sauce telor asin ($9) or fried calamari in salty egg sauce.

Fried calamari isn’t necessarily the first thing I think of when it comes to Indonesian fare and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of “salty egg sauce,” but after a friend talked it up on Instagram, I knew I’d be trying it. Turns out that salty egg sauce is actually bits of golden salty egg yolk mixed in with the fried garlic and shallots that’s interspersed with the fried nuggets of squid.

The menu listing for this wonderfully salty and crunchy Indonesian take on fried calamari sports two chilies, but only because of the accompanying sambal. It’s great mixed in with the calamari itself as well as the accompanying nonsalty egg.

Awang Kitchen, 84-05 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, 347-492-9264

01/15/18 10:47am

Dumplings for days, well almost.

I’m not sure why, but it’s taken four decades of eating Chinese food for me to discover the wonders of HK noodles. My introduction to the wiry Hong Kong style yellow noodles began with HK lo mein combo at Shun Wong in Elmhurst. The massive portion of dumplings and lo mein comes with a sidecar of chicken broth as does an equally massive feed I tried at Flushing’s Shifu Chio.

I’ve passed Shifu Chio by hundreds of times, but had only eaten there once before. I scarcely ever look up at the faded red awning, which reads “Prince Noodle & Cafe, when I’m leading tours through the neighborhood.  One day last week after perusing such whimsical menu categories as “Golden Oldies,” which includes fried fish cake lo mein, and “The Conservatives,” a septet of congees, including pig’s belly and liver I zeroed in on HK noodles. (more…)

01/07/18 11:49pm

PappaRich’s lobster laksa.

Frigid temperatures call for noodle soup. One of my favorite warmups is a bowl of Malaysian kari laksa, which is how I found myself at PappaRich in Flushing the other day.

With its vast full color menu and decor featuring Edison bulbs and plenty of blonde wood the restaurant on the top floor of the One Fulton Square retail complex calls to mind a Malaysian Cheesecake Factory, with one major exception, the food is actually pretty good. (more…)

12/18/17 5:28pm

A platter of Uzbek soul food.

There’s an old Pat Cooper routine about pasta fazool. I misremember it as “When Mama would make pasta fazool in the winter I wouldn’t need to wear a coat.” No doubt that’s somewhat of an exaggeration about the warming effect of the humble beans and pasta dish. If there’s an Uzbek Pat Cooper—and I hope there is—I’d like to think that he tells the same joke about nakhot garmack a hearty veal and chickpea stew.

The menu at Taste of Samarkand—an Uzbek spot located in Middle Village a 10-minute drive from the restaurants that line “Bukharian Broadway” as 108th Street is known in Forest Hills—breathlessly describes nakhot garmack ($10) thusly: “veal tail braised for an eternity with chickpeas, until its soul leached into the surrounding broth.” I’m not sure about all that, but the veal stew topped with with raw onions and crushed red pepper, girded by slices of bread is definitely Uzbek soul food. The bread makes an excellent vehicle for the rich broth. And while the hospitality and stew at Taste of Samarkand will definitely warm you up, you’ll still need a coat.

Taste of Samarkand, 62-16 Woodhaven Blvd., Middle Village, NY 11379, (718) 672-2121

12/01/17 9:21pm

Larb pla nile krob fried to shattering crispness.

I’ve been eating at Hug Esan since it opened about four months ago and have tried about 95% of the menu, but there’s one item at the Northeast Thai spot I’ve always been curious about, Nile tilapia. If memory serves it was originally listed on the menu as “tilapia with Nile herbs,” leaving me to wonder what role Egyptian herbs might possibly play in Thai cuisine.

It turns out that the fish in question is actually known as Nile tilapia or pla thapthim in Thai, which translates to ruby fish. Today some friends and I tried larb pla nile krob ($18) as part of a food crawl of Southeast Asian Elmhurst.  (more…)

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…)

10/03/17 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…)

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…)