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…)
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…)
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…)
The Indonesian Food Bazaar will be bustling tomorrow.
Queens is fortunate to have two Chinatowns, the bustling downtown Flushing, home to a wealth of regional Chinese cuisine, and the somewhat mellower Elmhurst, which in addition to Cantonese, Sichuan, and Henanese fare, features some of the best Southeast Asian food to be found in all of New York City. That includes Indonesian food, notably the Indonesian Food Bazaar, which takes place tomorrow at St. James Church. What follows is a pictorial guide/plan of attack for eating your way through tomorrow’s festivities, which run from noon to 5 p.m.
Curb your hunger with the Indonesian beef pie known as martabak.
As Indonesian food nerd/Instagrammer @dan.bukit points out it’s best to arrive before 1 p.m. for the greatest selection. By 2 p.m. some of the stands start to run out. Since my eyes are quite often bigger than my stomach, I immediately head over to one of the snackier stands and have one of the Indonesian beef pies known as martabak. That way I can take my time exploring the festival without being hangry. Many folks like to bring a posse of four or five friends to share. I prefer to go it alone, although I usually run into a fellow food geek to share with.
The name of this newish Tibetan spot in the heart of Elmhurst’s Little Bangkok pays tribute to a cool mung bean jelly that’s more commonly known as laphing in Tibet. One of the best things on the 15-item menu, however is the spicy dumpling ($5.99). The chef-owner can call them dumplings, but I prefer to think of them as mini momos. (more…)
Gong xi fa cai! Happy Year of the Rooster! One of the best things about Chinese New Year is that the celebration lasts for 15 days. So here on this fourth day of the Lunar New Year festivities, C+M presents a list of our favorite Chinese dishes in Queens, some old, some new, all decidedly delicious. Normally this column contains seven entries, but we’re giving you one for good luck!
1. House special ribs with spicy sauce, Fu Run Even though it’s the restaurant that introduced Chinese food fans to the cumin encrusted glory that is the Muslim lamb chop I’ve been over their version for quite some time. It stopped being good the moment the restaurant decided to prepare the racks of ribs in advance and reheat them. So I was very pleasantly surprised by the house special ribs with spicy sauce ($14.95) that I tried the other day. La xiao le pai, literally little spicy riblets, turn out to be deep fried Dongbei style rib tips shot through with fried peanuts, chilies, and cilantro. They’re the best pork ribs I’ve ever had in Flushing. Fu Run, 40-09 Prince St., Flushing, 718-321-1363
2. Hakka hot chicken, Tangra Masala I have it on good authority that there’s nothing wrong with eating chicken to celebrate the Year of The Rooster.; it’s only unlucky for the chicken. And, since it’s the Year of the Fire Rooster, there’s no better dish to celebrate than the hakka hot chicken at Peter Lo’s Indian-Chinese restaurant Tangra Masala. The dish of hacked up bits of fried bird is coated in a glaze that marries the flavors of chili, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic. Shot through with chilies and sautéed onions the succulent pieces of poultry call to mind Dominican style chicharron de pollo with an Indian-Chinese twist. Tangra Masala, 87-09 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, 718-803-2298
3. Sesame biscuit with fried jelly bun When I first saw the hawker stand set up across the street from the Golden Mall I thought it was yet another skewer specialist. Turns out the lady running it specializes in a vegetarian sandwich, sesame biscuits stuffed with fried bean jelly. A shao bing jia liang fen will set you back a mere $5. The bun’s filled with wobbly blocks of bean jelly that have been fried on a flat top and slathered with a profoundly garlicky sauce. Shao Bing Jia Liang Fen stand, 41st Rd, across form Golden Mall(more…)
Last time I checked Rice Krispies weren’t part of the traditional Thai pantry. That doesn’t prevent me from thinking of khao taen—crispy disks of fried rice drizzled with cane sugar caramel—as Thai Rice Krispy treats. They’re a common street food in Thailand. Here in Queens, I found them at Sugar Club.
They’re made with sticky rice as I learned from reading a recipe over at She Simmers Thai Cooking. Truth be told they’re way crunchier than Rice Krispy treats and eminently craveable. I usually buy a box for dessert with Thai coffee after chicken and rice soup at Eim Khao Mun Kai. I always promise myself that I’ll eat only one or two pieces—four at most—but wind up polishing off the whole lot.
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…)
Sugar Club added Thai style congee to the menu just in time for winter.
Like much of New York City, Queens is now in winter’s icy grip. Unlike most of the rest the city though we have two Chinatowns and the most robust K-town in New York City, which is all a very long way of saying that there are many many options when it comes to Asian soups. Here are our seven of our favorites.
1. Thai Congee, Sugar Club “Thai people like the pork one,” the kid behind the counter responded when asked which variety of Thai congee was better. Earlier this week Sugar Club started selling the rice porridge, known as jok in Thailand, just in time for winter. The shop’s version ($6.50) of the ubiquitous Asian breakfast porridge features an egg stirred in, mushrooms, and a tangle of noodles. As for the pork it turns out to be lovely little meatballs. Doctored up with chili flakes and salty Golden Mountain sauce this combination porridge/noodle soup its a great way to ward off winter’s arctic chill. Sugar Club, 81-18 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-565-9018
This lamb spine’s mighty fine.
2. Lamb Hot Pot, Beijing First Lamb Shabu I’m no fan of Chinese style hotpot, but the stuff they’re making at Beijing First Lamb Shabu, (Lao Cheng Yi Guo in Chinese) is truly special, mainly because the specialty of the house isn’t traditional hotpot, but rather a rich lamb stew. Upon entering the Flushing branch of this Beijing chain I was floored by pervasive aroma of gamy lamb and five spice. Like many hot pot joints there’s a ballot-like menu with all sorts of add-ins and soup bases. The difference here is that all of the soup bases feature a combination of mutton ribs and spine in a rich heady broth. Lao Cheng Yi Guo thoughtfully provides gloves so you can pick up the vertebrae and get at the ridiculously tender bits of meat that cling to the lamb spine. Someone once told me that eating lamb spine is a fertility tonic for men. I’m not sure about tha,t but Lao Cheng Yi Guo certainly put a smile on my face and warmed me up. Lao Cheng Yi Guo, 136-55 37th Ave., Flushing
I have a culinary confession. As a kid I was obsessed with Red Lobster. Grownup me—the adventurous eater and Andrew Zimmern acolyte—avoids fast casual chains, although the local Applebee’s where we’d smuggle in tacos and Difaras pizza—was once my watering hole. There’s one chain I’ve been curious about for some time though, The Cheesecake Factory. Chalk it up to scarcity—not love of cheesecake. So when the first Factory opened in New York City earlier this month at Elmhurst’s Queens Center I had to check it out. Spurred on by a media frenzy started by Eater, our threesome—consisting of myself and Queens finest barbecue Pitmasters Big Lou Elrose and Robbie Richter—visited during restaurant’s opening week. “Joey, if we can’t get in we’ll go to Shake Shack,” Robbie said. I nodded, thinking to myself, “No, you’ll go to Shake Shack, I’m going to the Factory hell or high water.” (more…)