09/05/17 4:46pm

Short rib soup, fried tempeh, and a refreshing longan iced tea.

Lately when people ask what my favorite food or restaurant is my answer besides, “Depends on my mood,” is Awang Kitchen. Since April the Indonesian spot has been in heavy rotation on my dining roster. Good thing Indonesian cuisine is so varied! When I first wrote about Chef Awang’s restaurant I made much about him bringing the flavors of Jakarta to Elmhurst, but the truth is the menu, particularly the specials, ranges all over Indonesia, including Sulawesi and Java.

I am slowly making my way through the wonderful, complex soups and stews that cycle through the specials board, including a grand version of soto mie jakarta, complete with a fresh spring roll filled with vermicelli and baby shrimp. What brought me there the other day though was the promise of  sate ikan hiu, or baby shark satay, a Sulawesi delicacy. Sadly they were out of it by the time I got there, so I had to opt for one of my favorite appetizers, tempeh mendoan, which transforms the otherwise odious fermented soybean product into scrumptious fritters. Crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside with just a hint of fermented tang, they’re great dipped in the sweet kecap manis. (more…)

08/15/17 12:44pm

Steamed veal pelmeni, spa food via Russia and Corona.

There are many, many Central Asian eateries in Forest Hills and Rego Park where one can procure a plate of pelmeni, the pleated Russian ravioli, but there’s none quite like Forest Hills Spa. That’s because the tiny restaurant lies within the only authentic Russkaya banya, or Russian spa, in Queens. Banya—an experience that combines a eucalyptus scented steam room, sauna, and a blistering Russian Room where the temperature hovers around 190F—is a Russian tradition. The banya is just one of many places featured in my new guidebook 111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss, which drops later this year.

The menu at the tiny restaurant illuminated by a skylight includes such spa-worthy items as fresh fruit juices, but on both visits I opted for the Russian ravioli. When in a Russian spa, why not eat Russian food? (more…)

04/18/17 3:53pm
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Umami bombs in the form of dried fish curl in this tangle of fried noodles.

Long before I heard the word “umami” I was addicted to the savory fifth flavor. I blame pouring Accent directly on my tongue as a young boy. Accent has precisely one ingredient: monosodium glutamate. In terms of umami overload, it was the equivalent of Peter Parker’s radioactive spider bite. I’ve had superpowers ever since, OK not really. I did develop a keen palate for umami though, which brings me to the subject of today’s post: the use of umami bombs—little bursts of flavor in two Southeast Asian noodle dishes I ate recently.

The first comes from Thailand via Laos and Woodside, Queens. “Spicy noodle with Lao sausage real Thai,” read the menu at Thailand’s Center Point. (For the record, everything at this place that I’ve been reacquainting myself with of late is real Thai.) The tangle of noodles ($11.50) is riddled with generous chunks of chewy sour sausage and fried dry chilies, a nice touch which enables one to adjust the heat in the dish. There was another component: little almost imperceptible nuggets of fishy flavor.

“Is there pickled fish in this?” I asked the waitress, who looked surprised by my question. Thanks to Instagrammer @gustasian, I now know that the little umami bombs were dried fish. (more…)

01/24/17 11:20pm
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How now, lamb xiao long bao?

The lamb and green squash dumplings at Helen You’s Tianjin Dumpling House were a revelation when I first tasted them years ago at Flushing’s Golden Mall. The tiny packages filled with lamb emit a puff of ovine aroma and burst with juices when bitten into. They remain a feature of my food tour to this day. Three years ago she opened Dumpling Galaxy, a sit-down restaurant. While I love the variety it offers—100 kinds of dumplings—sometimes, really most of the time, I prefer the hawker stand.

When I heard You was offering off menu lamb soup dumplings at Dumpling Galaxy, I forgot all about my preference for the hawker stand and hightailed it over to the restaurant. After all I am as big a fan of lamb as I am of soup dumplings. To the best of my knowledge she’s the only one in New York City offering yang rou xiao long bao. (more…)

11/29/16 7:04pm
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Durian pizza, a match made in Hong Kong.

Once upon a time there were many places in downtown Flushing to get a slice of pizza, notably Gloria Pizza and Lucia Pizza. The former is long gone and the latter soldiers on in a space flanked by a Chinese food court and a Korean skin care emporium. And then there was T.J.’s, which served a mean kimchi slice. These days it’s easier to find a spiky durian fruit than old school New York City pizza. Enter C Fruit Life, a new Hong Kong style dessert cafe serving “Golden Pillow Durian Pizza,” a decidedly modern fusion pie.

Is jin zheng tou liu lien pi za as it’s known in Mandarin Chinese the strangest pizza I’ve had in Queens? (Yes, the pinyin for pizza is pi za.) Hard to say, after all the borough boasts both bulgogi and falafel pies. It’s certainly one of the stranger uses of the pungent durian fruit I’ve come across. For the record I happen to like durian and think it has a bad rep.  (more…)

09/26/16 11:23pm
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Seollontang at Flushing’s Gahwa.

For the longest time Korean and many other cuisines were all about fire for me. Creamy curds of tofu in bubbling angry bowl of red soondubu was my go-to lunch order at K-Town’s Seoul Garden.

Lately I’ve been embracing the mellower side of Korean cuisine; and there’s nothing more comforting than a steaming bowl of seollongtang, a long-simmered ox bone soup. I’ve been told that’s it’s good to eat when feeling sick. Recently I’ve had the good fortune to be sick enough begun to appreciate just how good.

A month ago I found myself in Tang out on Northern Boulevard. Dehydrated and spent after having a chemotherapy port in my chest checked out I slumped into a seat and gasped, “Seollontang.” (more…)

08/16/16 3:46pm
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Asam laksa is a great way to beat brutal heat and humidity.

As many C+M readers know, I’m a big fan of late night and early a.m. kari laksa runs to Flushing’s Curry Leaves. For years the spicy coconut-enriched soup bobbing with all manner of wontons and fish cakes was the only Malaysian soup I tried. Lately though I’ve come to appreciated kari laksa’s sour sister, asam laksa. (more…)

06/29/16 12:47am
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Getting to the meat of the matter at Murray Hill’s Jeonju.

The K-town in Manhattan with its abbreviated strip of Korean restaurants along West 32 Street pales in comparison to the vast K-tropolis that runs east along Northern Boulevard for hundreds of blocks. Ground zero for this Korean culinary wonderland is Mokja Golmok or Eater’s Alley, which surrounds the Murray Hill LIRR station. I’ve eaten at many of the places that ring the rail depot, Ma Po Korean BBQ for savory short rib kalbi and Nolbu Food for the Korean take on sushi known as kimbap and the blood sausage soondae.

One place I’ve never tried until very recently is Jeonju Korean Restaurant. I’ve passed it for years, so when a friend raved to me about the 17-year old restaurant’s gamjatang, or spicy pork spine stew I happily agreed to meet him there for a bowl. (more…)

06/07/16 11:44am
Because nothing says Korean food like Canadian ham.

Because nothing says Korean food like Canadian ham.

Back when I first moved to Queens there was a pizzeria in downtown Flushing called T.J.’s that sold a Korean-influenced slice. Apart from a generous serving of tangy, peppery kimchi it was a classic New York City slice. And T.J.’s itself was a classic New York City pizza parlor.

A few weeks ago some friends and I tried out Pizza Maru, in the vast K-tropolis of Northern Boulevard. If T.J.’s was a classic New York joint then Pizza Maru is classic Korean fast-casual spot. It’s Pizza Hut as envisioned by Korean businessmen, complete with four types of stuffed crusts and more than a dozen pies, including honey gorgonzola and Chicago style. (more…)

03/08/16 11:01am
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A pesto slice resting atop a regular one at Dani’s.

I’m a simple man when it comes to pizza. Buffalo chicken, ham and pineapple and other novelty pies are not for me. I prefer an old-school NYC slice, as executed by New Park Pizza or Margherita. There are some notable exceptions to this otherwise rigid pizza protocol: the falafel slice at Benjy’s, Zuppardi’s fresh clam pie, and the pesto slice at Dani’s House of Pizza. That last one, a sauceless slice stained green by pesto and flavored with basil and garlic is utterly delectable. The way the crust fries in the oil from the pesto is an added bonus to this oddball slice.

Dani’s takes great prides itself on the sweetness of sauce on its regular slice. It’s a bit too sweet for this pizza eater, but that never stops me from getting one regular and one pesto. On a recent visit I had the brilliant idea of creating my own novelty slice, by stacking a pesto slice atop a regular. “It will be a veritable Christmas morning of a stacked slice,” I thought as I sipped a Coke waiting for the red and green slices to emerge from the oven.

(more…)