01/14/14 11:19am
CHICKENTABAK

Marani’s chicken tabaka, crunchy and garlicky as all getout.

The running joke about the Uzbek kebab places in Rego Park is that they’re all pretty much the same restaurant. Sure some might have slightly surlier service than others or make a specialty of chebureks, , but they’re all basically about grilled meat—beefchicken, and lamb–on flat swordlike skewers.  So I was intrigued when I heard about Marani,  a relatively new Georgian joint.

Ever since I read about the decadent adajaruli khachapuri being served at Brooklyn Bread House in Sheepshead Bay and at Oda House in the East Village, Georgian food has been a feverish blip on my radar. So I was especially excited to learn of a restaurant right in my neighborhood that served the mythical cheese and egg bread. (more…)

05/24/13 4:25pm

Last Saturday I still had a whole hog hangover and had a food tour to lead, so I knew there was no chance I’d be able to attend the Forest Hills Indonesian Food Festival, even though it was practically in my back yard. So I’m very glad that my pal Peter Cucè agreed to do a guest post about it. Peter Cucè is a food-obsessed coffee lover who intermittently chronicles New York City cafe culture via a variety of internet outlets. He has eaten his way through nearly every cuisine available locally and beyond and is now systematically working his way through regional Chinese and Korean food in Flushing and Sunset Park and cataloging his efforts via Instagram. You can also catch Peter on Twitter @petekachu. Take it away Peter . . .

Indonesian Food Festivial | Forest Hill | Queens

The Queens-based southeast Asian food festivals have been coming thick and fast now that spring has sprung, beginning with the mid-April Songkran New Year festival at the Thai temple in Elmhurst, followed a week later (Sunday April 21st) with the inaugural 2013 date of the monthly outdoor Indonesian food festival at Astoria’s Masjid Al Hikmah, and Myanmar’s Lunar New Year fair rounding out the month.

May hasn’t been slouching in this department either, with this past weekend seeing another Burmese festival, one that happens periodically in the warmer months, at Aviation High School; a one-off Indonesian food festival this past Saturday, a fundraiser for the Roslin Orphanage in Kupang, Indonesia, held at the First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills; and this coming Sunday, the second iteration of the monthly Indonesian mosque festival held in the parking lot behind Astoria’s Masjid Al-Hikmah.

Besides being indoors, compared to the monthly mosque festival, this past weekend’s Indonesian event was conceptually different, because pork was on the menu. Although Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, Christians make up around 10% of the population. The church vendors were mostly Javanese/Chinese, while the people cooking at the mosque tend to be Sumatran, although there are also some Javanese at the mosque and vice versa. This ethnic religious influence reflects on the food available at each event, with the church’s Central Java leanings generally resulting in overall sweeter food, seasoned with kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and palm sugar, compared to the mosque, where dishes tend to be spicier and more savory, with flavor enhancers such as shrimp paste. One major exception is the sate padang, a well-known Sumatran dish, which is almost always available at the mosque event and was notably available at the church, as I’ll get into a little more below.

Indonesian Food Festivial | Forest Hill | Queens

Since there wasn’t anywhere for the participants to do more than the most rudimentary cooking (in actuality just reheating), this event for the most part offered food cooked ahead time and assembled at the church, whereas at the mosque a good portion of the food is cooked from scratch on site.

Once my Indonesian posse and some other friends arrived, we armed ourselves with $20 or so worth of tickets each and spread out, hunting for tasty items and bringing them back to the group for sharing, a useful strategy for trying lots of things without getting full too quickly.

Indonesian Food Festivial | Forest Hill | Queens

On the side of the dimly lighted, cavernous room opposite the door, one of the first tables was staffed by several generations of women ladling soto babat, a yellow tripe soup with glass noodles, into quart-size plastic containers. (more…)

03/18/13 10:30am
Sweetbreads and lamb both excellent.

Arzu’s lamb ribs and sweetbreads are both excellent.

There are more than a half dozen Uzbek kebab houses within walking distance of C+M’s Rego Park headquarters. All of these kosher spots serve various meats—lamb, beef, chicken, and odd bits like lamb fat—grilled on flat, swordlike skewers. I am not sure what serving meat on swords says about this culture, but I do know that it is darn tasty.

One of the best of these often social club like eateries is Café Arzu. It’s practically a samsa’s throw away from my apartment. A shish-kebab of lamb ribs—really riblets—runs $4.25. Sprinkle on a bit of vinegar and some ground hot pepper and set to gnawing away. That vinegar and the raw onion serve to cut the lamb’s rich fat. Veal khorovak ($5), is one of the cheapest and tastiest preparations of sweetbreads I’ve ever come across. At times Arzu has a heavy social club vibe. Blend in BYOing a bottle of vodka and drinking a pot of green tea. Or just set to ordering and eating meat with utter abandon.

Café Arzu, 101-05 Queens Blvd, Forest Hills, 718-830-3335

03/11/13 12:48pm
An ice cream parlor twist on an Italian classic.

An ice cream parlor twist on an Italian classic.

When I was a kid I loved ice cream sodas. As an adult I discovered the affogato, a very grown-up Italian treat that takes its name from the word for “drowned.”  It’s a scoop of ice cream with a shot  of espresso poured on top. One day I was in Eddie’s Sweet Shop, the quintessential Queens ice cream parlor and I noticed they had had an espresso machine.

“Do you make affogatos?” I asked. The kid behind the counter had never heard of one, but proceeded to tell me about the Donovan, an off-menu creation of one of his co-workers. “I don’t know how to make one though,” he said. About a week later, I returned when Donovan was working and ordered his specialty. It’s vanilla chip ice cream drowned in espresso and topped with a crumbled sugar cone and hot fudge. Think of the $7 treat as an affogato as invented by Willy Wonka or a bearded soda jerk with too much time on his hands.

Eddie’s Sweet Shop, 105-29 Metropolitan Ave., Forest Hills, 718-520-8514

02/21/13 9:59am
Veal goulash is a great meal for a frigid winter’s day.

Veal goulash is a great meal for a cold winter’s day.

Frigid winter days call for bone-warming, rib-sticking stews. Stews that I don’t always want to make. So I’m glad there’s a place around the corner from C+M headquarters where I can get a hearty veal goulash ($8) and a side of nokedli ($2.50) . That place is Andre’s, which knows a thing or two about Hungarian grub. Andre’s is famous for its flaky strudel and other desserts. Unbeknownst to many they also have a nice little selection of prepacked Hungarian specialties. The veal goulash is grandmotherly Magyar comfort food at its finest. Chunks of veal in a spicy sauce of tomato and cooked down onion might just be the cure for seasonal affective disorder. And if they’re not at least they’ll warm you up.  You could choose to eat the buttery wheaten dumplings, known as nokedli on the side. Better to use them as vehicle for one of the best Hungarian meat sauces you’ll have all winter.

Andre’s Hungarian Strudel & Pastries, 100-28 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills, 718-830-0266

02/13/13 10:23am
Not quite a shawafel, but still a great sandwich.

Not quite a shawafel, but still a great sandwich.

Those who know me well know that I hardly ever cook at home. This is not so much the result sloth as it is the fruit of an unquenchable desire for discovery coupled with the unrealistic expectation that every morsel of food I ingest must be a peak gastronomic experience. I do know how to cook, after a fashion, though. I’ve even burned myself in restaurant kitchens and almost burned down a restaurant kitchen while trying my hand at working the line.

From the moment I put a slice of bologna in an apple as a kid I’ve had a creative culinary streak. My finest creation to date is the shawafel. It occurred to me while eating at the now defunct On the Grill. The Israeli spot had both great falafel, and great chicken shawarma, carved from a gigantic tower of meat as all great shawarma should be.  So it was only natural for a creative genius of my caliber to suggest that the cook take some chicken shawarma and bread it in falafel batter. Thus was born the the shawafel sandwich.  I have not had one since On the Grill closed several years ago. (more…)

02/12/13 9:26am
The  Lebanese lasagna.of desserts.

A gooey mantle of warm cheese awaits beneath the crust.

I’d already eaten a sandwich the size of a stout lad’s forearm, yet I couldn’t pass up dessert. The spectacular Lebanese home cooking of Wafa Chami combined with her warm hospitality always piques my appetite. Ordering dessert was not Wafa’s idea, though. Her son, Yusef, who helps run the restaurant along with the rest of the family told me I had to try the kanafeh ($7). But first a strong cup of cardamom-scented coffee, thick and pitch black.

The kanafeh arrived with a knife and fork. Unlike its daintier cousin baklava, kanafeh is practically a meal in itself, a veritable Lebanese lasagna of desserts. A two-cheese blend of ricotta and slightly salty akawi is sandwiched between layers of semolina and filaments of vermicelli-like kataifi dough. The whole thing is anointed with syrup, strewn with pistachios, and crowned with rose-scented candied orange blossoms. Served warm it is a formidable dessert.  Sweet and filled with just enough gooey akawi cheese and rich ricotta, there’s no need for cream and sugar in that tiny cup of coffee. Actually the high-test brew is a perfect foil to one of the richest sweetest desserts you’ll ever have.

Wafa’s,  100-05 Metropolitan Ave., Forest Hills, 718-880-2055

01/29/13 9:12am
Life's a square of cherries.

Life’s a square of cherries.

Andre’s Hungarian Strudel & Pastries is known best for its flaky namesake strudel, but there are also plenty of other sweet treats to choose from, including buttery rugelach. Lately I have been enjoying the pite ($3.50), squares of fruit pie sandwiched between a golden crust. I like the apple version well enough, but the other day I had a slice of the sour cherry for breakfast.  It had the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness.  Andre would most likely not appreciate the comparison, but on some primal level I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Hostess Fruit Pies I wolfed down as a kid. Along with a strong cup of coffee it’s a fine breakfast for a grownup sweet tooth.

Andre’s Hungarian Strudel & Pastries, 100-28 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills,  718-830-0266
01/10/13 11:23am
Knish Nosh has stuffed cabbage too, who knew?

Knish Nosh has stuffed cabbage too, who knew?

Knish Nosh has been selling its potato-based snacks for more than half a century. A couple of years ago what was once a tiny storefront expanded and added a chef, Ana Vasilescu, and a list of specialties as long as my arm. Among these is an excellent cold-busting matzo ball soup. I had a quart of for breakfast yesterday. Sometimes I like to get a plate of perogies filled with corned beef and smothered with caramelized onions.

“Try my stuffed cabbage,” Ana has said to me on more than one occasion. So the other day I did. It’s known as sarmale de varza in her native Romania. The tender leaves enfold a tasty mixture of rice, ground beef and herbs. Each roulade is $3.50 and comes with a hearty tomato sauce. And to think the only comfort food I thought came out of her kitchen was matzo ball soup.

Knish Nosh, 100-30 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills, (718) 897-5554