03/15/21 11:13pm
Chef Palm’s use of techniques like rosemary smoke and luxury ingredients like
wagyu beef, is balanced by a firm grounding in the fundamemtals of Japanese sushi.

Even though it’s the most diverse section of the most diverse neighborhood in the United States the area surrounding the Jackson Heights—Roosevelt Avenue/74 Street Subway is better known for Thai, Mexican, and Tibetan cuisine than for Japanese. There are few sushi places—mostly middling takeout and a Tibetan restaurant masquerading as a Japanese spot—and until January 2020 no omakase whatsoever. That’s when Chef Atip “Palm” Tangjantuk opened Sushi On Me, in a space that used to house a Thai bar. Chef Palm was born in Thailand and until he decided to take a job in a sushi restaurant 10 years ago in Chicago to help pay tuition for an M.B.A. at DePaul University, he never gave much thought to kitchen work.

If anything Chef Palm first started making sushi because it had a cool vibe and was a physically cool environment as opposed to a hot kitchen. Fast forward 11 years, including a stint working with sushi wunderkind David Bouhadana at Sushi by Bou, and Chef Palm has become a cool sushi chef in his own right. Like his mentor, Chef Palm presents his sushi as a speakeasy experience. There’s no sign, unless you count the one for East 21, an unaffiliated Japanese takeout located above his hip sushi den, and the sountrack runs to upbeat mellow jazz. Despite the omakase speakeasy vibe, there’s nothing pretentious or gimmicky about his 15-course omakase.

Great things lurk below.

On the night I visited his eight-seat counter the meal began with shimmery hotaru—tiny Japanese firefly squid with shiro miso—and its less exotic cousin, strips of ika squid in ponzu. This was followed by two lovely pieces of yellowtail sashimi. Many of the nigiri were quite Japanese in presentation, including creamy hotate, or scallop from Hokkaido, and silvery kohada, gizzard shad with with ginger and chive, but some were clear examples of Chef Palm’s artistry, like zippy seared white tuna with crunchy Japanese garlic and king salmon, or sake, which Chef Palm infused with rosemary smoke moments before garnishing it with ikura (salmon roe) and tamarind sauce. The latter is inspired by the Thai dish miang kum.

Clockwise: pristine yellowtail sashimi; seared white tuna
with crunchy chili garlic; kohada with ginger and chive; and Hokkaido scallop.

Even the most over the top course— a morsel of A3 wagyu beef topped with creamy toro and briny Maine uni—was perfectly situated in the flow of the meal, less of a flex and more of a crescendo. This isn’t surprising, since Chef Palm is a musician and used to perform in the very space where he now improvises works of a different nature. Just as a jazz musician changes things up, Sushi On Me’s omakase is ever evolving, but grounded in the fundamentals of artistry and top-notch ingredients. “It depends on my feeling at that time,” Chef Palm says. “Sometimes I prepare the menu already, but at the last minute I change.”

At $89 for 15 courses Sushi On Me’s omakase is quite reasonable, and frankly among the best I’ve had outside of Japan. In case you’re wondering, Chef Palm never did get that degree. His parents wanted him to become a university professor. These days he’s a teacher of a different sort. The last time I stopped by to say hello he was teaching two apprentices how to turn cucumber into paper thin ribbons.

Sushi On Me, 71-26 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, (929) 268-5691

03/10/21 7:30pm

“Sorry, we’re out of today’s special, it was Virginia ham and mutz,” the gent behind the counter said. The counter—in case you’re wondering—was located not in my home borough of Queens, but rather in Hoboken, N.J., birthplace of both Frank Sinatra and Fiore’s House of Quality.

As the sign in the window at Fiore’s says, the storied Italian deli has been making its famous mozzarella since 1913. (For those of you keeping score at home, that’s two years before Old Blue Eyes was born.) It’s also become famous over the years for its roast beef and mozzarella—or “mutz” as they call it here—and gravy sandwich, which is only available on Thursdays and Saturdays.

My pal and I found ourselves in Hoboken Monday evening so we were unable to get the shop’s most famous creation or the day’s special, so we went with that Italian deli standard, the Italian combo.

The guy at the counter rattled off the ingredients: pepper ham, salami, roast peppers and some others that I didn’t really catch because I was deliriously hungry. At Fiore’s one normally chooses the bread—either a skinny hoagie as long as your forearm or a roll—before approaching the counter. There’s no bread pawing during a pandemic so I asked the counterman for a whole sandwich to split. I almost ordered one for each of us, but I had a presentation to give later that night and didn’t want to fall prey to a food coma.

After cutting the loaf in half, my new friend began layering the ingredients—mutz, spiced ham, peppers etc.—so far so good. Then he picked up a knife and proceeded to cut it in half. When he raised the knife again I almost screamed in protest, but held my tongue.

“Geez, we’re lucky he didn’t cut the crust off,” I wisecracked to my friend as we made our way to the car. When we arrived at Frank Sinatra Park and unwrapped our feast, I soon realized why the guy at Fiore’s had quartered the our combo. One piece could barely fit in my hand. We ate it overlooking the Hudson. The combination of creamy mutz, garlicky roast peppers, and all that Italian salumi was almost better than the view. A quality sandwich for sure, I’ll be back for the roast beef.

Fiore’s House of Quality, 414 Adams St., Hoboken, N.J.

03/08/21 1:41pm
Soybean Chen’s new location opened at Broadway Food Mart last week.

Last Tuesday I was on my way back from my weekly foray to Warung Selasa when I noticed a smiling Chinese man waving to me outside Broadway Food Mart. For a moment I didn’t recognize him. Then I realized it was Soybean Chen, the cheery face behind Flushing’s only spot for fresh creamy dou hua—silken tofu—and fresh flowers. The creamy, comforting pudding like tofu has long a staple of my food tours. I was curious what brought Uncle Chen to Elmhurst.

Soon he and his son Jimmy told me that they were opening a tofu stand in Queens’ second smaller Chinatown. Just like the original Flushing location, Soybean Chen’s Elmhurst satellite offers sweet ginger syrup and Chen’s spicy topping of pickled veggies, baby shrimp, and chili. It’s also added a few new toppings, including boba in ginger syrup, which I tried the other day.

Uncle Chen and me in the O.G. Flushing location.

I’m so glad that Uncle Chen’s tofu is now a mere 10-minute walk from my apartment. It’s sure to become part of my breakfast rotation as well as my Elmhurst food tours. By the way I have started giving tours to small groups once again. Please click here for more details.

Soybean Chen Satellite, Broadway Food Mart, 83-20 Broadway, Elmhurst

11/24/20 7:34pm

It’s been a little hard for me to muster up the enthusiasm to write about food finds these days, especially since my ideal subject is something so good I have to tell everyone about it more or less immediately. It’s a high—some would say unsustainable—standard. Nevertheless here are two things I simply have to share with the world. The first is a cheffed up fried chicken meal and the second an equally soigné soup dumpling.

I’m not one to wait on line for food fads or join waiting lists to score fancy pants pizza, but when I heard about the chili fried chicken dinners from Eric Huang’s Pecking House, I knew I had to have one. For one thing he was a sous chef at Eleven Madison Park, plus he was keeping his folks’ restaurant Peking House in Fresh Meadows, Queens, afloat with this new venture. So winner, winner fried chicken dinner!

Ordering from Pecking House takes some patience as one must first send a DM to their Instagram account @pecking_house, or in my case, several DMs. Finally they got back to me and provided me with a password an ordering slot. From there it was pretty easy and on Sunday night Eric himself delivered the meal straight to my door.

After a brief reheat the craggy red crusted chicken was ready to devour and devour it I did. It was crunchy, juicy and had just the right amount of spice. Huang wouldn’t divulge too much about his process, but he did reveal that the bird is soaked in buttermilk and that the spice mix includes Sichuan peppercorns and Tianjin chilies. It was so good I might have to get two orders next time. Dessert was peanut butter pudding with pretzels atop a layer of grape jelly. I don’t recall ordering two, but it gave me the opportunity to try one frozen, which I highly recommend.

As I mentioned the other really great thing I ate recently was a new soup dumpling from Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao. Part of the Three Treasures XLB series created to celebrate the one year anniversary of the restaurant’s rebirth the red and white swirled dumpling is made with a very special ingredient, aged Chinese ham. The other two treasures were green, filled with braised abalone, and black, filled with spiked sea cucumber.

Thanks to my adventures in the world of charcuterie I’ve become something of an expert on aged hams, but I have little experience with Chinese ham. Clearly I need to eat more of it because these dumplings knocked my socks off. I was expecting a salty smoky meatiness and to be sure that was there to a degree, but what really struck me about these new XLB, was a deep funkiness that called to mind cheese. I cannot wait to try them again, especially since I’m told that they are looking to make this already amazing dumpling even better.

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, 39-16 Prince St., (718) 321-3838
Pecking House available for order through IG: @Pecking_House

01/28/16 11:18pm

WOHOPWONTON

The perfect amuse for American-Chinese.

As someone who often spends every waking moment seeking out and ingesting “authentic” Chinese food—Muslim lamb chops, gui lin mei fen, Sichuan cold noodles, Shanghai xiao long bao, to name a very few—I sometimes forget where I came from. I cut my teeth on Long Island strip mall Chinese—chow fun, lo mein and General Tso’s—along with dishes with names like “happy family.” To this day I think my mother—ever the peacekeeper—ordered the stir fry of beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, and scallops mixed with vegetables just because she thought the name had some sort of magical powers. Whatever domestic strife there may have been growing up, we were mostly certainly a happy family when eating Chinese food whether dim sum, Peking duck, strip mall Chinese, or one of my favorite spots of all, the subterranean den of American-Chinese splendor that is Wo Hop.

I blame monthly visits to Wo Hop with my parents and basement Thanksgiving feasts for engendering an obsession with delicious food served in basements that would reach fruition with my forays into Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall decades later.

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