Now that the streets around Times Square are almost cleared of New Year’s Eve confetti and I’ve digested several plates of lucky New Year’s noodles it’s time to take a look back at 2015. It was a big year for me, including a profile in The Wall Street Journal.Queens continued to amaze with everything from octopus tacos and Thai noodles to Caribbean Chinese and the most unlikely French patisserie ever. In no particular order here are 15 of the best things I ate last year.
Tom yum haeng topped with fried pork sugar and chili.
1. Yummiest dry tom yum
The weekend noodle soup pop-up at Elmhurst’s Pata Paplean remained on point, but one of my favorites there wasn’t a soup at all. Tom yum haeng—dry tom yum noodles—consists of springy yellow noodles, fish balls and golden shards of fried pork all dressed with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili, and cilantro. Mix it all up and dig into the best dry noodles in Thai Town.
2. Tastiest deep-fried seafood nostalgia
The cheery blue and white Bigelow’s Seafood has been around for more than 70 years. After driving by it for about that amount of time, I finally had the privilege of trying it this past spring. These wizards of the fryer turn out impeccable Ipswich clams, fried smelts, shrimp, and soft shell crabs all served in an atmosphere that time and cholesterol have forgotten. (more…)
Bear’s Russian ramen sings with the flavors of Siberia.
When cold and flu season hit, chicken soup’s the order of the day. There’s a reason they call chicken soup Jewish penicillin. Lucky for me there are two places just a matzo ball’s throw from my house to get to an excellent bowl. In Queens every culture has its own version of chicken soup: Indonesian soto ayam hued yellow with turmeric and spiked with fiery sambal and lime, Korean samgyetang enriched with ginseng and garlic, and Filipino tinalong manok singing with ginger are just a few of my favorites. Now thanks to Natasha Pogrebinsky’s Bear I can add Mother Russia to the list of cold busters.(more…)
There’s a Queens-based chain called Bareburger whose menu complexity never ceases to vex. There are multiple meat choices: elk,bison,beef, duck, ostrich,wild boar, and turkey; multiple sauce choices, including curry ginger ketchup and horseradish remoulade; a greengrocer’s worth of vegetation to choose from; and even multiple bun choices: brioche, sprout bun, tapioca rice. You could also choose from the 14 remade combos. Just writing about all these choices has given me a headache! The only choices one should have to make when ordering a burger are cooking temp and with or without cheese.
And then’s there Chef Natasha Pogrebinsky’s Bear, which has nothing to do with the aforementioned chain. It offers only one type of burger. It’s a cheeseburger that also goes by the nickname the Grizzly Burger. It consists of a loosely packed patty with a fringed, crispy bottom sitting atop some greenery. The top is mantled with American cheese and crowned with a slice of juicy tomato. The bun’s what Pogrebinsky calls a standard “backyard bun,” because after all who really wants to think about the bun when eating a burger, it should serve as a mere vehicle for its contents. (more…)
The tyranny of the tasting menu—that feeling of being held hostage by a chef’s creativity as course after course after course comes to the table—is a phenomenon with which I have scant experience. The only tasting menu of note I’ve had is Momofuko Ko’s and while not quite tyrannical, it was vast, running to more than a dozen courses, each quite good in its own way. Even so sensory overload sets in by course eight or nine. It’s not that I was full, but rather that I was punch drunk on the experience, much the way I feel after wandering around an art museum for too long. So when Chef Natasha Pogrebinsky of Bear invited me to try to her $85 seasonal tasting menu, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. (more…)
Chef Natasha Pogrebinsky has gone so far as to trademark the cuisine at Bear as New European, but after spending some time with her and her brother Sasha I can see whya a mutual friend characterizes it as “deeply personal.” It draws as much on her Ukrainian heritage and her Midwestern childhood as it does New york City itself. Pogrebinsky was kind enough to take time out out from her Long Island City kitchen to answer Seven Questions.
Talk to me about Chopped. What was it like? I cooked in all three rounds, I got to dessert and the judges thought my Russian cookies and tea were not sweet enough. Ironically I serve the exact same dessert at Bear and it sells out, so what do they know. But I had a lot of fun being on the show and competing and representing not only New York city, but also Queens and of course, Bear. People recognize me on the street and say, “You should’ve won.” People come from around the country to eat at Bear just because they saw me on the show.
Where did you learn to use chopsticks? Nowhere. I still struggle.
What’s your favorite way to eat bone marrow? The old school way, roasted and spread on country toast. with a side of pickled vegetables or sauerkraut.
Where do you like to eat on your days off? What are some of your favorite spots in Queens? On my one day off I like to bum on my couch mostly but if I do go out it’s for ethnic food, or something simple like really good tacos, I like El Ray on Astoria Blvd., I like to try different spots every time. But mostly I like to either cook at home or go to a friend’s house and they cook. (more…)