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…)

08/29/17 11:28am

If C+M had an editor, I’d have been told long ago to ease up on Pata Paplean and its wonderful Thai noodles, but since it doesn’t I’m happy to tell you about what I like to call pork liver chow fun. In Thai it would be something like nam tok moo haeng, or dry pork blood noodles, but given my strong emotional attachment to Cantonese noodles I’m calling it pork liver chow fun.

It had been weeks since I enjoyed my good friend Cherry’s boat noodles. So the other day when I stopped by Pata I had a pretty good noodle jones going. Nevertheless was I feeling a bit jaded about this wonderful Thai street food and sat pondering whether to get a single pork blood noodle soup or a double when my musing was interrupted. (more…)

08/14/17 12:03pm

As a friend likes to point out, summer—with its steamy humidity and lazy beach days—is far from over. With that in mind here are seven of my favorite international frozen treats from Indonesian and Thai shaved ices and South American slushies to old-school American ice cream for you to enjoy

1. Pitaya nieves, Los Poblanos Grocery
Nieves, literally snows, are a wonderful frozen Mexican treat. With flavors like lip-puckering tamarind; refreshing melon; and jamaica, or tart hibisicus flowers, it’s easy to think of them as a frozen version of the auguas frescas that many vendors lining Roosevelt Avenue sell. There are many nieves sellers on La Roosie, but thankfully my peeps at Food & Footprints turned me on to one the best, Los Poblanos Grocery. On my first visit I had a jamaica, scarlet and refreshing and on my second, I had pitaya, better known as prickly pear. The tart red snow was shot through with crunchy seeds making it even more fun to eat.  Los Poblanos Grocery, 92-19 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights

2. Naem kaeng sai, Teacup Cafe
When I was a kid I was always jealous of one of my cousins who had the Snoopy Sno Cone machine. We never played with it, no doubt because the novelty had worn off. I trace my fascination with shaved ice to that unrequited desire for frozen confections. Now that I’m all grown up, there’s no better way for me to fulfill that childhood wish than Thai shaved ice or naem kang sai. As served at Teacup Cafe, it has enough sugar and toppings for a kid’s birthday party.

First choose your syrup—red or green—and then pick from eleven toppings. The red syrup, an artificial take on the sala fruit is floral and ultrasweet as is the green, which resembles cream soda. Toppings include taro, black grass jelly, pudding, corn, mixed fruit, coconut, palm seeds, red beans, toddy palm seeds, jackfruit, and popping bubbles. Three toppings will run you $4, but for the princely sum of $5.50 you can get all of the toppings. The result is an arctic explosion of colors, textures, and flavors. Teacup Cafe, 76-23 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, Phone: (718) 426-2222 (more…)

08/07/17 9:25am

Spicy pork chops by way of Elmhurst, Malaysia, and perhaps Taiwan.

One of my favorite Elmhurst spots for a late night snack is Pulau Pinang, the wonderful Malaysian restaurant in the infamous all-food strip mall on Broadway. My go-to meal is usually char kway teow  or assam laksa.

The other night I was out for a solo birthday meal and in the mood for something different, something festive. So gave a dish with the rather unassuming name “Malaysian salt and pepper pork chops,” a whirl. I had a good feeling about it, and I was right. (more…)

07/17/17 8:49am

Gorgeous gai yang studded with herbs and spices.

“I guess Queens is still the only place to go,” read a lament about the state of Thai food in Brooklyn. To put a finer point on, it Elmhurst, is the place to go. And, to narrow it down even further, Hug Esan, is the place,  at least so it’s been for the past 11 days for me and a rather large chunk of the local Thai community.

I’d been watching the space—carved out of the first floor of an apartment building—for months. The name might sound like a character from a Thai version of Starsky and Hutch, but Hug means “love” in Thailand’s Esan dialect.  (more…)

06/15/17 11:38pm

As any one who’s talked to me for than five minutes about food in Queens knows, I’m a firm believer that the best Thai food in New York City can be had in Elmhurst. In fact I love the Little Bangkok that runs along Broadway between Whitney and Woodside Avenues so much that it’s the star of one of my food tours. So this month the boys at Queens Dinner Club and I are offering Big Taste of Little Bangkok, on June 22 at 7:30 p.m. at our new home in Kaufmann Astoria Studios. Tickets are $40 and may be purchased here.

The evening’s menu will include some of our favorite dishes from local hot spots Dek Sen, Eim Khao Mun Gai, Pata Paplean and Sugar Club. Dek Sen will be preparing tom yam, the classic Thai papaya salad, and moo ping Brooklyn, savory pork skewers. In case you’re wondering the name comes not from an affinity with the County of Kings, but rather the niece of one of the owners who’s named Brooklyn. As is traditional, both will be served with plenty of sticky rice.   (more…)

06/01/17 4:56pm

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of noodles— whether the fusilli with red sauce and chow fun that I cut my  teeth on—or the tallarin verde of Peru and various culture’s takes on cold noodles that can be had in Queens. This edition of The Seven is devoted to my favorite Asian noodles in Queens, at least as of summer 2017.

1. Tom thuk, Lhasa Fast Food
Anthony Bourdain recently paid a visit to this Jackson Heights momo shop tucked away behind a cell phone store. While the big man tried the hand-torn noodle soup known as thenthuk he did not get to experience its colder, spicier cousin tomthuk. Listed in the menu’s Noodle Zone as beef cold noodle ($6) there’s no forewarning of the twin heat engines of chili and mustard oil. The tangle of chewy noodles interspersed with shredded carrots, cabbages, and bits of ground beef packs enough heat to melt snowy Mount Kailash which looms above the counter. Lhasa Fast Food, 37-50 74th Street, Jackson Heights

 

2.  Yum Dek Sen, Dek Sen
There are many Thai noodle dishes, from funky bowls of blood-enriched soup to those that resemble pork ragu, but Dek Sen is the first restaurant where I’ve seen noodles used in a yum, Thailand’s spicy savory version of the more prosaic Western salad. Yum Dek Sen ($11.95) takes Mama instant noodles and mixes them with squid, shrimp,  minced pork, and two types of fish balls. Served warm the whole lot is dressed in a chili lime sauce. You might be tempted to order it spicy, but medium is more than adequate.  Dek Sen, 86-08 Whitney Ave, Elmhurst, 718-205-5181 (more…)

05/10/17 10:00am
frenchdip1

Sometimes an average restaurant banh mi is just what you need.

“I really want to try the Vietnamese sandwich,” Chef Dave, said as we wheeled into the parking lot of Elmhurst’s Pho Bac. He was pretty excited because there were baguettes stacked in the window, an unusual sight for midevening. Not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm, I didn’t trot out my theory that restaurant banh mi are passable at best compared to those from sandwich shops and delis.

As we were looking at the menu, I remembered something I wanted to try, call it a Vietnamese French dip. (I’m sure whatever blog I cribbed the idea from does.) In no sort order Chef Dave and I had each ordered a sandwich—classic pork for him and highfalutin steak for me—and a large bowl of pho tai. The latter is the most minimalist of the 10 or so beef noodle soups offered, containing little more than noodles and rare slices of beef. (more…)

04/28/17 2:59am
Fried chicken marinated with coconut water.

Fried chicken marinated with coconut water.

When I first visited the Facebook page of Awang Kitchen, the newest Indonesian spot in the Southeast Asian-inflected Chinatown of Elmhurst, it displayed a vast menu, which has seen been edited down to a more manageable size. While the food was delicious, when I visited on opening weekend, the kitchen was moving at a glacial pace. Thankfully the kinks have been ironed out and Awang is fast becoming my favorite Indonesian spot in the neighborhood.

I’m a big fan of Indonesian fried chicken, so when I spied ayam goreng kalasan, a variety marinated with coconut water, I had to try it. It was some mighty fine bird and came with a sidecar of sambal terasi, a fiery red pepper concoction made with terasi, or fermented shrimp paste. It’s one of several sambals that the Jakartan chef-owner Siliwang “Awang” Nln makes in house. (more…)

04/18/17 3:53pm
LaoNoodle

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…)