03/08/13 1:08pm
The Gastronauts chow down on a meal of many parts, including lamb testicles and beef penis.

The Gastronauts chow down on a meal of many parts, including beef penis.

PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED

Last month on the two days before Valentine’s Day I had the dubious pleasure of co-hosting a very special Chinese New Year’s dinner with the Gastronauts. Curtiss Calleo, one of the masterminds behind the club for adventurous eaters and I endured not one but two days of juvenile humor along the lines of, “Please limit yourselves to five inches per serving.” I suppose we deserved it. After all we created a menu whose dishes included lamb testicles and quick fried beef genitals, i.e. beef pizzle. I’m pretty sure that my affable Henanese uncle, Steven Zhou, was pretty amazed that we were able to gather a gang of hard-drinking weirdos to buy out his restaurant with such a menu for two consecutive nights.

Uncle Zhou’s amazing cold platter. From center: headcheese,chicken hearts, tofu skin, beef tendon,quick pickle, and beef tripe.

From center: headcheese, chicken hearts, tofu, beef tendon, pickles, and tripe.

The festivities kicked off with a platter of cold dishes. Headcheese, chicken hearts, tofu skin, beef tendon, quick pickle, and beef tripe were all artfully laid out in concentric rings. “These are the best chicken hearts I’ve ever had,” one of my tablemates exclaimed. I’d have to agree, the peppery five-spiced hearts were quite nice. Next came the lamb testicles which had been artfully cross-hatched. They had plenty of cumin and heat, though they were a tad rubbery. At least they were not too gamy. (more…)

03/04/13 10:13am
Lobster, squid, and crab—the sour cream and onion and BBQ of Thailand.

Lobster, squid, and crab—the sour cream and onion and BBQ of Thailand.

A while back I participated in Lay’s Do Us A Flavor, a social media campaign to create bold new flavors for the most American of snacks, the potato chip. My flavors were “Banging Bánh Mì,” and “Ghostface Killah,” the former modeled after a classic Vietnamese sandwich and the latter filled with fiery goodness of the bhut jolokia, or  ghost pepper. Sadly these two creations did not make the cut. They were edged out by Cheesy Garlic Bread, Chicken & Waffles, and Sriracha.

I haven’t been able to find the Do Us A Flavor finalists out my way yet, but I found something even cooler at Thai Thai Grocery: a trio of spicy seafood-flavored chips from Lay’s Thailand. I handed over $7.50 and was soon in possession of the Hot Chili Squid, Lobster Hot Plate, and Hot and Spicy Crab flavors.

(more…)

02/08/13 12:04am
You know Chinese New Year's almost here when they start selling red panties outside Golden Mall.

Chinese New Year’s nigh. They’re selling red panties outside Golden Mall.

This Sunday is the beginning of the 15-day Chinese New Year celebration. To kick off the Year of the Snake The Gastronauts and C+M are hosting a very special banquet at Uncle Zhou’s. As a way to reward the burgeoning C+M community I’m giving away two seats to the February 12 dinner at 7:30.

What’s on the evening’s very special menu you ask? The fête kicks off with a cold platter of beef tendon, chicken heart, beef tripe, tofu skin, quick pickle, and headcheese. Then in true Gastronaut fashion, there will be lamb testicles, quick fried beef genitals, red and white carrot with pig tripe, spicy rabbit, and pig kidney.  As a friend of mine likes to say, it’ll be a meal of many parts.

To win the dinner for two, write a haiku that references Uncle Zhou, offal, and whatever else you find apt. The writer of the winning poem wins two seats at the banquet table. Please be sure to place responses in the comment section of this post. The contest ends Monday at 12:00 p.m. That gives you a whole snowy weekend to find something poetic to say about beef penis.

02/06/13 12:04pm

PLEASE NOTE UNCLE ZHOU IS NOW CLOSED

There are many traditional foods eaten at Chinese New Year—whole fish, long noodles,and oranges to name a few—but Wednesday is all about sandwiches at C+M. So I present two of my favorite Chinese sandwiches that are light on the wallet and big on flavor.

You can’t go wrong with duck for a buck.

Can’t go wrong with duck for a buck.

First up Downtown Flushing’s cheapest and tastiest snack, the $1 Peking duck sandwich from the streetside window at Corner 28.  Let the purists argue over whether it’s Cantonese roast duck or genuine Peking duck. There’s no question that it’s cheapest and tastiest sandwich in this Chinatown. A few slices of roast duck slicked with hoisin and dressed with scallion are enfolded in a pillowy mantou. This two-bite sandwich is a great way to start or end a Flushing food crawl. (more…)

02/04/13 12:00am
Definitely not my favorite Indonesian snack.

Definitely not my favorite Indonesian snack.

When it comes to snacks from other countries I’m a sucker for packaging. That’s is how I wound up the proud owner of a bag of Tic Tac Snack. It jumped off the shelf at Indo Java Grocery and into my hand. I forgot about it for a few days and broke it out for a Midnight Snack.

It should be noted that the back of the bag reads for “snack and meal.” It’s really not suitable for either. Tic Tac are crunchy round tapioca spheres about half the size of the American breath mint. Garlicky and crunchy, slightly greasy, the first few bites were fun to eat. Then I decided to read the ingredients. Among them are artificial chicken roasted flavor and everyone’s favorite flavor enhancer MSG.

I have just consumed about three-quarters of a bag of this stuff and I am starting to feel pretty weird. Kind of like I have a grease headache if there is such a thing. Perhaps I shall use the rest as packing material.

Indo Java Grocery 85-12 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, 718-779-2241
01/29/13 12:03pm
Your Uncle Zhou knows what's good for you.

Your Uncle Zhou knows what’s good for you.

PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED

In Gotham’s  Golden Age of regional Chinese food  there are several spots where one can get Henanese lamb noodle soup, including Manhattan’s Chinatown, Flushing, and Elmhurst. (For all I know it’s probably available in Brooklyn’s Chinatown too.) One of my favorites bowls can be found at Uncle Zhou Restaurant. The affable proprietor—your uncle and mine—Steven Zhou is always quick to proudly say, “Different than Flushing, right?”

One difference is the rich lambiness of the soup itself. The milky white broth is essentially a lamb stock made from bones that have been boiled for a long,long time. (If memory serves, and it often doesn’t, Uncle Zhou said it’s two days with fresh bones each day.) The hand-pulled noodle version ($5.75) also has strips of seaweed, and tofu skin that act as noodles. Lately I have been getting the more restrained knife shaved noodle version. Strips of dough are whittled from a huge block into the boiling water. The result  is a pleasantly chewy noodle with prominent ridge running down the center. There is little more to this soup than chunks of lamb both fatty and lean, cilantro, and bok choy. And plenty of those chewy noodles. With a dollop of hot sauce and a splash of black vinegar it’s like Henanese hot and sour soup.

A visit to the restaurant’s web site revealed this gem of restaurant marketing prose:  “Our menu is available for your salivating needs here.” Words to live by.

Uncle Zhou Restaurant, 83-29 Broadway Elmhurst , 718-393-0888   

01/25/13 10:38am
Pelaccio and I enjoy a 'Lady and The Tramp' moment.

Pelaccio and I enjoy a ‘Lady and The Tramp’ moment.

Last summer I had the pleasure of showing my pal Zak Pelaccio progenitor of the Fatty Crab Empire around some of the Southeast Asian and Chinese spots in what I like to call SEA Elmhurst. One of our stops was the venerable Uncle Zhou Restaurant, a Henanese hand-pulled noodle specialist. As you can see his cold “dial oil noodles ,” are worth fighting over. The thin noodles are splashed with hot oil and dressed in a vinegary, garlicky sauce.

These days Zak has left the Fatty Crew and is hard at work on a new restaurant in Hudson, N.Y. I wish he would come to Queens to hang out again some time. It was he who taught me to roll sticky rice into a ball and use it to mop up the funky fermented fish liquor from som tum at Zabb Elee.To this day whenever I do that in a Thai restaurant the waitress will sometimes ask, “Have you been to Thailand?” To which I respond, “No, just Queens.”

Many thanks to ace shutterbug Zandy Mangold for furnishing the above shot.

01/09/13 1:31pm

When it comes to Vietnamese sandwiches, more is more. The number of times I’ve order a báhn mì pâté chả can be counted on the fingers of one hand. With its selection of Vietnamese cold cuts and schmear of  pork liver pâté it’s all too often little more than a Hanoi ham sandwich. The special with crumbly crunchy, roast pork as served at a certain Manhattan jewelry store is my go-to báhn mì. This over-the-top báhn mì philosophy is taken to the nth degree at JoJu Modern Vietnamese Sandwiches, my favorite báhn mì spot in Queens. The menu boasts such creations as the Lin-Sanity ($5.50) packed with Taiwanese three cup chicken dressed with a spicy green sauce rarely seen outside of Peruvian roast chicken joints.

JoJu kimchi fries are an exercise in excess.

JoJu’s kimchi fries are an exercise in excess.

About a month ago JoJu added French fries to the menu. True to over-the-top form these include kimchi fries and a báhn mì version ($4), both available loaded with a fried egg for an extra $1.25. The fries themselves are double-fried to a shatteringly crisp crunch to stand up to all those toppings. The loaded Vietnamese sandwich version is as the kids say, ridonkulous.  Freighted with pickled carrots and daikon; lashed with spicy mayo, spicy green sauce, báhn mì sauce, and crowned with a fried egg it’s the Elmhurst equivalent of a Rochester garbage plate. I was going to order the kimchi version on the same visit, but was absolutely stuffed.

The JoJu Classic gussied up with kimchi fries.

The JoJu Classic gussied up with kimchi fries.

On a return visit I had the loaded kimchi fries. Feeling somewhat hungrier than the last time I also ordered the JoJu Classic ($4.25),which by this joint’s standard’s is pretty minimalist. Nevertheless the Hanoi ham sandwich was downright tasty. It was even better when crammed with some kimchi fries. Like I said when it comes to Vietnamese sandwiches, more is more.

JoJu, 83-25 Broadway, Elmhurst, 347-808-0887

01/09/13 10:12am

Pork crackling makes this soup pop.

PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED

I’ve been exploring and enjoying Thai food since Woodside’s Sripraphai was little more than a grim fluorescent-lit storefront, which is to say for more than a decade. These explorations included yearly pilgrimages to Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas as well as an extended dalliance and ultimate rejection of the concept of Thai spicy. (In short: Don’t  order food Thai spicy unless you like the feeling of tiny hot needles repeatedly piercing your tongue.)  Despite learning to roll sticky rice into balls to dip into funky salted crab papaya salad and digging on various fermented Northern Thai sausages there’s one area I haven’t explored until recently: offal. It’s not that I don’t like the nasty bits—tongue, tripe, pig ears, and yes, bone marrow—it’s just that they don’t seem to be as common on Thai menus I’ve encountered. That or I’ve been avoiding them.

CT-BLOOD2

A sliver of pig’s ear sits atop an ingot of pork blood.

All that changed recently with a bowl of tom leuat moo ($9.95) at Chao Thai Too in Elmhurst. The menu describes it thusly: “pork blood, organ and ground pork w. pork soup.” Left in question was what kind of organ(s) the porky soup would contain. There was no doubt as to the prominence of pig’s blood, an ingredient of which I am not overly fond.

Tom leuat moo it turns out teems with  pork organs—slices of kidney, rings of funky intestines, chewy bits of ear, and the aforementioned congealed pigs blood cut into ingots—awash in a mild soup. The broth also sports some greenery, loose bits of ground pork and one totally unexpected porcine ingredient: cracklings. The crunchy bits of pork bring textural dimension and flavor to this bowl. A bit of dry roasted chili helped to liven things up. As I slurped the soup between bits of sticky rice, I didn’t even mind the blood so much.  Two thoughts crossed my mind: 1) Why haven’t I tried this sooner? And 2) When the waiter saw me hesitating to order it why didn’t he tell me it had pork crackling?

Chao Thai Too, 83-47 Dongan Ave., Elmhurst(718) 424-9888
01/07/13 10:39am
INDO-DONUTS

Just some of the dozen donuts on offer at at Zoom.

PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED

The bite-size donuts above come in a dozen flavors: cappuccino, coconut, M&M, cheese, green tea, and almond to name a few. Despite appearances the tiny treats come neither from a bake sale nor from a hipster pastry chef. Zoom Mini Donuts are the brainchild of Chef Dewi of Java Village, one of my favorite Indonesian restaurants. Her steam table joint at the northern end of Queens’ second smaller Chinatown in Elmhurst has tons of great grub, including bubur ayam, a kicked up fried chicken congee that makes for a great breakfast. Java Village has always had a staggering array of desserts, including  several cakes hued with the day-glo green of pandan. It was Dewi’s lineup of cakes, and yes donuts, including the cheese covered kue donat, that made me realize there’s so much more to Indonesian sweets than just shaved ice.

A few months ago Dewi added the Zoom Mini Donut window, which also sells coffee and tea, to the front of her shop. The dessert counter inside the restaurant no longer has the larger donuts. Some would see that as a loss, but I think it’s more fun to try several donuts rather than make the calorific commitment to one huge one. Like those cakes  each Lilliputian treat is also made with pandan  lending the innards a greenish hue and a subtle aroma and flavor. Think of Zoom as Javanese Java and donut pop-up. It’s only a matter of time before the cops show up for coffee and donuts.

Java Village, 86-10 Justice Ave., Elmhurst, 718-205-2166