The year that just drew to close was a year of personal challenges—coping with chemo via congee—and achievements—publishing a guidebook to Queens—all while eating my way through New York City’s most delicious and diverse borough. Herewith, are 17 from 2017.
1. Most Super Soup Dumplings
I’ve been a fan of Helen You’s dumplings since long before she became the empress of Dumpling Galaxy. My favorite at Tianjin Dumpling house in Golden Mall remains the lamb and green squash. Yang rou xiao long bao, or lamb soup dumplings, are one of the off-menu stars at Dumpling Galaxy. The little packages bursting with unctuous lamb broth are so good that they have become a staple of my Flushing Chinatown food tours. Dumpling Galaxy, 42-35 Main St., Flushing, 718-461-0808
2. Choicest Chang Fen
I cut my teeth on Cantonese steam rice rolls at Mei Lei Wah in Manhattan’s Chinatown, so this breakfast staple will always have a special place in my heart and stomach. About a year ago Joe’s Steam Rice Roll opened in downtown Flushing and I knew right away that it was somethings special. For one thing he’s grinding fresh rice as opposed to using rice flour like everybody else in New York City, which imparts a delicate flavor and texture. Turns out that Joe himself went to Guangzhou to learn his craft and brought the equipment back with him. My favorite is the shrimp and egg with green onion. Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing
3. Duckiest Thai Arancini
OK fine, they’re not quite Italian rice balls, but the trio of crispy sticky rice balls served with Thailand Center Point’s larb duck with crispy rice ($13.95) do a great job of soaking up the piquant sauce. The shredded meat—mixed with roasted rice powder and shot through with herbs and just the right amount of chilies—is superb. Thailand’s Center Point, 63-19 39th Avenue, Woodside, 718-651-6888(more…)
A rendang roll, with wasabi,ginger, and spicy mayo, natch.
Southeast Asian restaurants with sushi bars usually raise a red flag, and I tend to pass them by, with one notable exception, Awang Kitchen. Like many of my fellow Indonesian food nerds I’m unabashed in my enthusiasm for this restaurant that opened last spring, giddily eating my through bowl after bowl of various baksos and other Indonesian delicacies. Until just last week though I’ve avoided the chef-owner’s sushi bar, harboring a secret wish it would eventually evolve into a satay station. And them some rolls with a decidedly Indonesian accent began to show up on the specials board.
It began with beef rendang ($10). Tempe, peanuts, anchovies, and of course beef rendang, packed in seaweed with rice and cucumber a bit of peanut sauce and the requisite spicy mayo make up this cross-cultural creation. With the crunch of the dried fish and the candy coated peanuts known as sambal kacang, it’s tempting to dismiss the rendang roll as just nasi lemak in roll form, but it’s really an entirely new animal, a true Indonesian fusion dish. It’s served with the same green horseradish and pickled ginger you’ll find at many other sushi spots on Queens Boulevard, but it didn’t need either. Since the kitchen doesn’t make miso soup, I asked for a bowl of beefy, garlicky bakso broth. (more…)
I’ve been eating at Hug Esan since it opened about four months ago and have tried about 95% of the menu, but there’s one item at the Northeast Thai spot I’ve always been curious about, Nile tilapia. If memory serves it was originally listed on the menu as “tilapia with Nile herbs,” leaving me to wonder what role Egyptian herbs might possibly play in Thai cuisine.
It turns out that the fish in question is actually known as Nile tilapia or pla thapthim in Thai, which translates to ruby fish. Today some friends and I tried larb pla nile krob ($18) as part of a food crawl of Southeast Asian Elmhurst.(more…)
Khao Nom, the sweeter little sister of wildly popular Thai steam table specialist Khao Kang opened about a month ago with the promise of old school Thai desserts and a short menu of savory items, my favorite being the sticky sweet and spicy chan noodles with prawns. Until recently though, none of the desserts has knocked my socks off. Sure they were good, but nothing revelatory. Dessert epiphany finally dawned the other week when I spied a tiny cake with a golden top and a spongy bottom sandwiching a layer of creamy spheres. (more…)
It takes a lot to get me to eat Thai food outside of Elmhurst, after all Queens’ second smaller Chinatown is the best place in New York City for Southeast Asian fare. And takes even more for me to trek to Brooklyn for Thai food, but I’d been curious about Chef Hong Thaimee’s new spot in Williamsburg, Thaimee at McCarren since it opened back in September. So when my pal Matt Bruck invited me in for a tasting I hurried over there.
Four subways later I found myself chatting with Chef Hong and staring down a plate of yum woon sen, or magic noodle salad. Chef Hong says the magic comes from the fact the vermicelli—dyed an eerie shade of blue thanks to butterfly pea flower—changes to purple when lime juice is mixed in tableside. I disagree. The magic is in the brightly balanced flavors: palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, chili, and garlic. (more…)
Surely Lhasa Fast Food’s “cold skin sushi” deserves Michelin recognition.
Earlier this week Michelin released its 2018 Bib Gourmand honorees, which “denotes establishments where diners can enjoy a great meal for a good value.” I’m glad the crew of inspectors from the little red book is focusing more attention on the so-called outer boroughs and happy to see they added my dear friend Helen You’s Dumpling Galaxy to the list, but the Queens roster is still lacking. What’s more, Brooklyn and Manhattan are broken out into subareas (Upper East Side, Williamsburg, etc.) while the Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens lack such distinction. If any from Guide Michelin is reading this, do look me up I’d be glad to consult with you on neighborhood geography for a modest fee. (For the record I live in the one called Rego Park.)
“I can name five more Southeast Asian restaurants that should be on that list,” read a quote from me in The Wall Street Journal’s piece on the Bib Gourmands. I can, but I won’t. Instead here’s a list of seven places of varying cuisines that should have made the Michelin cut.
1. Lhasa Fast food Everybody who’s into food knows about this spot, which Jeff Orlick hipped me to years ago. Call it a momo speakeasy if you must, but really what Lhasa Fast Food is is a window into another culture and cuisine that just happens to be tucked away behind a cellphone store. I like the spicy yellow liang fen done up to look like sushi and of course the momos, including the classic beef and the rarely seen chu tse, or chive version. . 37-50 74th Street, Jackson Heights
Can’t decide between won ton, roast pork, or noodle soup? Don’t worry Shun Wang’s got you.
I’ve been forsaking my heritage. By that I refer not to red sauce—OK fine we called it gravy—with which my father baptized me every Sunday, but rather the Cantonese food he fed me, thus beginning my lifelong love affair with Chinese cuisine. So when a friend posted a mouthwatering image of the HK lo mein at Shun Wang, I knew I had to try it.
“You know what this is?” the waiter at this Cantonese holdout in the increasingly Thai neighborhood of Elmhurst asked incredulously. “Yes,” I lied. “It’s steamed noodles,” he responded. Up until two days ago my Cantonese noodle knowledge was limited to chow fun and the thicker version of lo mein. (more…)
Elmhurst’s Little Bangkok is the gift that keeps on giving. Khao Nom is the latest entrant in the nexus of deliciousness that radiates outward from the junction of Woodside Avenue and Broadway. When I say latest I mean very latest, as in they opened last Thursday. Food critics normally stay away from a place for several weeks before spilling ink, thankfully as a food writer I have no such constraints. When I first heard about Khao Nom—whose name means dessert—I was told that its mainstay would be old-fashioned Thai dessert. So when I visited on opening day I was surprised to find a six-item menu of savories, including something called chan noodle ($11). It’s a generous tangle of chewy flat rice noodles known as sen chan, flavored with chili and tamarind and surmounted by two huge prawns. It comes with a back story too. My pal Joel, a go-to source for all things related to Thai food culture tells me it’s a forerunner of pad thai that dates back to the time when Siam became Thailand and there was a rice shortage. Prime minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram encouraged the eating of noodles and set up a contest. The story goes that the winner of the contest was sen chan (chan noodles) named after the town Chantaburi.(more…)
It’s been a big week for Ms. Tjahjadi as The New York Times called my dear friend Chef Dewi in last week’s Hungry City. Chef Dewi formerly of Java Village now cooks at Indo Java a small Indonesian grocery store in Elmhurst, Queens. Every Tuesday afternoon you can stop by for lunch, usually with a choice of a dish or two, served up by Dewi. This pop-up, affectionately called Warung Selasa (Tuesday “Food Stall”), is perhaps the best way to experience Indonesian food in New York, according my local Indonesian food guru Dan Hill who was kind enough to interview Chef Dewi between bites of his bakso mangkok.
When did you start cooking? I started cooking from home in New York in 2003.
You didn’t cook in Indonesia before you moved here? No, never. I worked as a secretary. Cooking wasn’t a hobby of mine. I learned how to cook when I moved to New York. I helped my mother cook at home as a child, but that was it.
Do you remember your favorite cooking of your mother’s when you were a child? No, but I learned from my Mom that if I wanted to eat something, I had to make it from scratch. I had to prepare all the ingredients and cook everything. So I remember the cooking process, but I never cooked. For example, if I wanted to make lontong sayur. I would have to make the lontong by cleaning the rice and making the lontong. The vegetables I would have to cut, like the chayote . . . and at that time there wasn’t grated coconut, so at that time we had to grate the whole coconut by ourselves. So everything had to be done from the beginning.
Bakso mangkok, literally a bowl of beef meatball soup inside a bowl made of beef itself.
So you knew how to do all these things, but you didn’t like cooking? No, I didn’t like it. I liked making cake. I liked baking, but I never did that either! [laughs] (more…)
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…)