The best, and only, sea urchin I had in CDMX was a daily special at Contramar.
Earlier today I ran into some C+M readers while eating lunch at Warung Selasa, and I had to apologize for my recent lack of posting. You see folks, I was in Mexico City for a week celebrating my 50th birthday. I did my level best to eat every taco in town. There will come a time to speak of tacos, but now is the time to speak of the best two bites of seafood I had on my trip.
“D.F. is 1,500 miles from the sea,” a pal pointed out, when others recommended I book a table at Contramar, a white tablecloth seafood specialist in La Condesa. I did not let my friend’s commentary on D.F.’s geography deter me. Everybody suggested that I try the tuna tostadas, but when I found out that there was a Spanish language specials list, I promptly ignored that advice, and peppered several of the patient waitstaff with translation requests. And that’s how I wound up with a gorgeous plate of ceviche de erizo, or sea urchin ceviche from Ensenada. Served with chips, it was the best sea urchin I ate in Mexico City and not just because it was the only one I ate. (more…)
With 2016 coming to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was. It was a big year for me and for food in Queens, including a feature in Asahi Shimbun and the discovery of the durian pizza. In no particular order here are 16 of the best things I ate last year.
1. Best Grilled Cheese Mr. Crispy, a grilled cheese sandwich served at Astoria Bier & Cheese answers the question, “How good can a grilled cheese be?” with a resounding “very, very good.” The sandwich of cave aged gruyere, ham and honey mustard is coated in mantle of white crispy cheese. This coating extends outward into a golden lacy corolla, a veritable halo of crispy cheese. It’s crunchy, sharp, and eminently craveable. I’ve haven’t been this excited about fried cheese since Joe Bastianich’s ill-fated Frico Bar. Astoria Bier & Cheese, 34-14 Broadway, Astoria, 718-545-5588
2. Most Fabulous F***in’ Clam Pizza
The salciccia e vongole pizza at Whit’s End is the best clam pie I’ve had outside of Zuppardi’s. Housemade sausage seasoned with clove, star, anise, juniper, and allspice join the Littleneck clams along with pepperoncini and shaved garlic. The combination of the fior di latte mozzarella and Parmigianno Regianno round things out quite nicely. Whit’s End, Riis Park Beach Bazaar
3. Hottest Off-menu Indian-Chinese Chicken
Nashville may have cayenne-infused hot chicken, but here in Queens we have something I like to call hakka hot chicken. Peter Lo, Queens’ godfather of Indian-Chinese cuisine and founder of Tangra Masala, whipped up a batch for me a while back. The hacked up bits of fried bird sauced in a glaze that marries the flavors of chili, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic call to mind Dominican style chicharron de pollo with an Indian-Chinese twist. Tangra Masala, 87-09 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, 718-803-2298
4. Best Breakfast Sandwich I count myself a big fan of the classic bacon egg and cheese, but my favorite breakfast sandwich of 2017 contains no swine whatsoever. The breakfast sandwich at Roast n Co combines organic eggs, tomato jam, and Cabot white cheddar on a brioche make for one of the best egg sandwiches ever. Since Roast n co is run by Tunisians you have the option of asking for a sidecar of harissa, a lovely concoction of chili peppers, olive oil, and paprika. It’s an option you should exercise. Roast n Co, 100-12 Queens Blvd. Forest Hills, 718-263-6000
5. Most Secret Korean BBQ Garden
Korean barbecue always brings to mind happy memories of backyard barbecues. At Flushing’s Majang Dong the Korean BBQ that takes place in an actual backyard. Chef Yu and his family run what some might call a Korean BBQ speakeasy. Sure there’s a storefront and inside you’ll find a restaurant, but the real action takes place out back in the shack and garden. Say you’re there for BBQ, and Mrs. Yu will walk you out the back door into a Korean BBQ wonderland. Pork kalbi and pork belly are both lovely, and there’s eel and octopus for seafood lovers, but one of the best meats is grilled pork intestines. With a crunchy exterior and chewy interior, the fatty rings eat like an offal lover’s version of pork cracklins. Majang Dong, 41-71 Bowne St., Flushing, 718-460-2629(more…)
Up until last night I’d little or no idea which teams were competing in Super Bowl XLIX. I had a vague sense some outift from New England was involved. As C+M readers are no doubt aware football is far less important to me than food, especially the amazing array of crunchy, sweet, salty snacks from all over the world to be found in Queens. I like conventional junk food—chips, pretzels, and cheezy poofs—as much as the next glutton, but why stop there? So as a public service to sports fans everywhere I devote this edition of The Seven to Super Bowl snacks that showcase some of the best—and strangest junk food—Queens has to offer.
Crunchy Japanese crabs are a great drinking snack!
1. Kanikko Like many Japanesedrinking snackskanikko combines salty, fishy and sweet flavors along with crunchiness. The difference is that kanikko are actually teeny weeny crabs coated in sesame seeds. Find them at most Japanese grocery stores. Family Mart, 29-15, Broadway, Astoria, (718) 956-7925; Sakura Ya, 73-05 Austin St, Forest Hills, 718-268-7220
Festive tangles of Thai taro.
2. Thai taro crunch Not only are these tangles of fried taro sweet and crunchy, they’re fun to look at. Noi Sila owner of Thai Thai Grocery imports them from her homeland along with all sorts of other ingredients and goodies. While you’re there pick up some awesome Thai beef jerky to gnaw on while watching the game. Thai Thai Grocery, 76-13 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 917-769-6168 (more…)
When I was a kid my father and brothers used to catch blue claw crabs. Eating them was a fun, but messy process. These days I don’t have much patience for that process, but I do enjoy N.Y. Noodletown’s salt baked soft shell crabs, and I love munching on the pickled crab in a Thai papaya salad. Believe it or not after more than 30 years of eating Chinese food, I had yet to eat a Dungeness—or donkey as my father used to say—crab until last week. Fresh seafood is a staple of Cantonese cuisine, so what better place to try the giant crustacean than Flushing’s Canton Gourmet. (more…)
In Manhattan som tom poo plara comes with a nutcracker.
One of my favorite cuisines to eat in the dog days of summer is Thai. And one of my favorite dishes is som tom poo plara. There are many types of som tom, or Thai papaya salad. This one though, with its addition of salty preserved crab and pickled fish, is particularly bracing. The chili heat and fishy funk along with the cool crunchy papaya are most restorative on a sweltering day.
My favorite spot for som tom poo plara used to be Poodam’s in Astoria where Ratchanee “Poodam” Sumpatboon made a bangup version. Multiple napkins where involved as I’d pick up the blue crab and suck out the salty flesh dredging balls of sticky rice through the liquor at the bottom of the plate. (more…)
Singaporeans know how to eat. I know this firsthand because I am fortunate to be friends with Colin Goh and his wife, Yen Yen Woo, creators of Dim Sum Warriors. They live in Flushing and have turned me on to some of my favorite dishes in its Chinatown, including the soup dumplings at Flushing Mall, which have become a staple of my food tours. For the past two weeks they’ve been in Singapore on business. Apparently their business is posting photos of insanely delicious looking meals on Facebook. Like this creamy butter crab from Mellben Signature. All I can say is sign me up. To submit your delicious finds to Photo Friday simply tag your Instagram photos with #CMSHUNGRY. And while you’re at it, check me out on Instagram.
The line for genuine Sapporo style Ramen from Ramen Ezo Fukuro.
It’s been about a decade since I visited Mitsuwa, the sprawling Japanese supermarket located just across the river in New Jersey. I remember being intrigued but not terribly impressed by the megamart’s food court. So when my friend Kaori—who is my go-to gal when it comes to Japanese food—told me about Mitusuwa’s Hokkaido Gourmet Food Fair, being held this weekend I decided to check it out. Yesterday was the festival’s first day. So after pregaming with an early Filipino breakfast, I was soon on my way to Port Authority’s Gate 51 to the board the complimentary shuttle to the mystical land of Edgewater, N.J.
The first thing I noticed when I entered was the line for Ramen Ezo Fukuro. It stretched to the exit door beneath a banner proclaiming, “We are open this weekend only! Miso ramen from Sapporo, Japan. The chefs flew in from Japan just for this weekend! That’s how special this is!” (more…)
Clockwise from top: crab, crispy pata, ukoy, longanisa, and tuna belly.
Americans traditionally mark Labor Day weekend with one last summer backyard barbecue with friends and loved ones. I too celebrated with friends, in traditional Queens fashion. That is to say by embracing the traditions of another culture, specifically Filipino. On Saturday my friends Kaori and Stella joined me for a traditional salu-salo sa bilao fiesta at Papa’s Kitchen in Woodside. Salu-salo bilao loosely translates to a gathering over a bilao,or banana leaf-lined basket overflowing with goodies. It’s an informal affair where all the food is eaten with one’s hands.
Chef Miguel prepared quite a spread. One tray held crab; crispy pata, a whole foreleg of pig fried to a shattering crunchiness; the shrimp and veggie fritters known as ukoy;longganisang hamonado, a lovely sweet pork sausage;tuna belly; and Papa’s signature spicy dynamite spring rolls. Everything was quite tasty,but we all agreed the salty, fatty tuna belly was spectacular. Stella, who is Filipina, schooled me in the proper way to eat with my hands. On the few occasions when I’ve eaten South Asian food with my hands I’ve felt self conscious most likely because the food is usually very saucy. At Papa’s I felt especially relaxed, and not just because we had the place to ourselves. (more…)
For added crunch tuck the homemade krupuk into the crab sandwich.
I’ve been eating on and off at Zak Pelaccio’s Malaysian-inspired restaurant Fatty Crab for years. And until very recently I’ve never eaten any crab in the joint. You might think that I sprang for the joint’s signature chili crab, but you see I’ve got this thing where I have to write about a sandwich every Wednesday. So I walked in and ordered a lobster roll. “We have a crab roll,” the dude behind the bar said. “OK I’ll have the lobster roll,” I said laughing at my misremembering the restaurant’s new sandwich. At $19 the crab roll isn’t cheap, but it is quite tasty. Cool chunks of lump crab slicked with an intense crab aioli are nestled in a split-top bun. Best of all there is a goodly sized pile of homemade krupuk, crunchy Malaysian shrimp crackers. You’ll want to take these and tuck them into your sandwich. They also come in handy to scoop up the errant bits of crab that will fall out of the sandwich. Cool, crunchy, and spicy it’s a perfect late summer snack, but I still want a Malaysian-inspired lobster roll.
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.