08/16/16 3:46pm
ASSAMLAKSA

Asam laksa is a great way to beat brutal heat and humidity.

As many C+M readers know, I’m a big fan of late night and early a.m. kari laksa runs to Flushing’s Curry Leaves. For years the spicy coconut-enriched soup bobbing with all manner of wontons and fish cakes was the only Malaysian soup I tried. Lately though I’ve come to appreciated kari laksa’s sour sister, asam laksa. (more…)

07/26/16 7:51am
kapitam

Sky Cafe’s crab noodles feature the cutest fish balls ever.

There’s nothing quite as comforting as a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Here in Queens, we’re fortunate to have many varieties from mellow matzo ball to fiery pozole rojo. One of my favorite approaches to the dish is what I like to call the deconstructed Indonesian chicken noodle soup as served at Elmhurst’s Sky Cafe.

Mie komplit is a two-bowl affair. One vessel contains a light chicken broth, while the other holds egg noodles mixed with chicken and mushrooms and some greenery. Sip them separately or add one to the other, the choice is yours. (more…)

05/16/16 11:59am
ThaiFlan1

Forgot it’s a Thai dessert? Let the caramelized shallots remind you!

Until very recently I’ve felt I could take or leave taro. The taro cakes found at Chinatown dim sum houses are good, but I’m not exactly crazy for them. I prefer the latke-like shrimp fritters encrusted in shredded taro. It took a Thai dessert preparation—morkhang puekto make me really crave the starchy tuber.

I found the toasted taro custard at Khao Kang, an Elmhurst steam table specialist, with a sideline in desserts. Like so many of my favorite Thai snacks, the dense eggy morkhang puek blurs the Western disctinctions of sweet and savory. In case there was any doubt that this is a Thai dessert, caramelized shallots sit atop the burnished brown surface.

The distinctly Thai combination of salt, egg, and coconut milk is lovely. The whole affair tastes like a Southeast Asian version of flan. It almost makes me want to sneak in a bottle of fish sauce to a Cuban restaurant. Almost.

Khao Kang,  76-20 Woodside Ave, Elmhurst, 718-806-1807

05/09/16 11:47am
bakso1

Indonesian comfort food returns to Elmhurst.

Java Village, an Indonesian steam table joint in Elmhurst, was once a staple of my Southeast Asian food tour. Typically a tour would start with an order of kwetiau Jakarta, a stir fry of Indonesian broad noodles with beef tripe and tendon. Chef Dewi also served one of my favorite comfort foods bubur ayam, congee with fried chicken and a salted egg. Then one day about five months ago Chef Dewi and Java Village vanished.

Last Monday I stopped by Indo Java Grocery to inquire after Dewi’s whereabouts. I was ecstatic to learn that she cooks there every Tuesday. The next day I returned expecting to find a selection of prepared foods for take home. Instead Dewi directed me to a tiny table in the back of the shop.  It was laid out with a purple tablecloth that read “Happy Birthday!”  (more…)

04/14/16 12:04pm
IntestineTaiwan

Sticky rice for all the offal lovers in the house.

A few months ago I made my first ever Chinese New Year’s resolution: eat more Taiwanese food. Lucky for me Taiwanese Gourmet is just a few subway stops away from C+M headquarters. I’ve slowly been eating my way through the Elmhurst eatery’s menu. Recently I started exploring the vast selection of offal. There are more than half a dozen preparations of intestines, including two varieties of goose innards. One of my favorites is something that goes by the Chinese name da chang bao xiao chang, which translates loosely to big intestine wrapping little intestine.

“The Chinese name doesn’t describe anything about the food,” Taiwanese Gourmet’s manager, Alvin Chen told me explaining that the dish consists of a glutinous rice stuffed pig intestine that’s been steamed and sliced. A disc of Taiwanese pork sausage is then placed between each slice. (more…)

03/30/16 9:34am
Sweet, savory, and spicy; it's my new favorite Thai toast.

Sweet, savory, and spicy; it’s my new favorite Thai toast.

In the Little Bangkok of Elmhurst, Queens, Thai toast is often an elaborate affair laden with fruit, ice cream, and syrup. I’ve long wondered whether there was a more savory version, one that hewed to more conventional Thai flavors. Turns out there is. It exists in the form of a chili jam and pork floss sandwich being served at Pata Cafe.

Sweet, spicy, salty and porky—it’s my kind of sandwich. It made for a perfect dessert after a rather epic Indian-Chinese meal. Pata Cafe is big among the local schoolchildren most of whom order French fries and hot dogs. If Pata Cafe was around when I was a kid you can bet I’d be ordering this savory-sweet-spicy sandwich. As far as this farang’s concerned, it’s a real after-school special.

Pata Cafe56-14 Van Horn St., Elmhurst, 347-469-7142

03/29/16 11:10am
Tangra Peter Lo

Peter Lo whipping up Singapore chow mein in the kitchen of Tangra Masala.

Indian-Chinese, with its fiery palate of ginger, garlic, green chilies and soy, used to be one of my favorites, but for about five years my love affair for one of the world’s original fusion cuisines was doused by waves of regional Chinese, Thai, and Uzbek food. I’ve been away from my old flame, Tangra Masala for far too long. It took a chef buddy, Jonathan Forgash, to reintroduce me to one of Queens most vibrant and delicious cuisines. And in so doing he introduced me to the man who is unquestionably the Godfather of Indian-Chinese cuisine in Queens, Chef Peter Lo. Chef Lo took the time out of his busy schedule to talk about the hallmarks of his cuisine as well as the upcoming Queens Dinner Club.

Where are you from originally and how did you learn to cook?
I’m from Calcutta. When I came to this country in 1984 I used to work part time in a restaurant. I really got fascinated seeing the way food was cooked and prepared. I liked the system. Back home my mother had an Indian-Chinese restaurant. She’s an excellent cook. Gradually I got to love cooking food, a friend used to say, “Why don’t you open a restaurant? You know you cook good food.” So that’s how I got to opened this restaurant in 2001. (more…)

03/16/16 2:06pm
ShakeChicken

The Chick’n Shack is a worthy alternative to Shake Shack’s hamburgers.

“Really? That’s like going to Peter Luger and getting the salmon,” my pal Robbie told me when I said I was excited to try the chicken sandwich at the newish Shake Shack in the Queens Center. Robbie is a big, big fan of their burgers. Not to say that I’m not, but I seem to be on a fried chicken sandwich kick of late.

As I waited on line a young couple in front of me bantered about the name of the sandwich “Chick’n Shack.” Soon it was time for me to fork over $6.29 for a cage-free buttermilk marinated fried chicken sandwich. As I waited for my sandwich I noticed somebody with a bottle of Louisiana brand hot sauce and immediately grabbed some to doctor up my bird. Shortly thereafter the Shake Shack pager began to vibrate and I picked up my order. (more…)

03/16/16 11:16am
Farewell meal at Plant Love House: mackerel with shrimp paste fried rice and dessert.

Farewell meal at Plant Love House: mackerel with shrimp paste fried rice and dessert.

Apart from how to successfully navigate a cavernous dim sum hall one of the most important things I learned about Chinatown from my father is something I like to call Vito’s Law: Chinatown is always changing. With apologies to AristotIe, the corollary is “Chinatown and nature alike abhor a vacuum.” This law holds true for the Chinatown of Elmhurst, Queens, which these days skews more Southeast Asian. All of which brings me to the subject of today’s post, the demise of Plant Love House, a gem of a Thai restaurant that closed shop last month so the owners could focus their efforts on Look Brooklyn, a sister restaurant in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, which opened late last year. Personally I was devastated by the loss of Plant Love House as were many of my readers and social media followers. Some requested a lament while others talked of being “heartbroken,” and still others were more strident, “So we lose out!? F**k Brooklyn.”

(more…)

02/29/16 7:26pm
HakkaHotChicken

I’d cross the road for Tangra Masala’s Hakka hot chicken.

Hot chicken, a cayenne-infused Nashville specialty, has been having a bit of a moment lately in New York City and at large. Heck there’s a even a version being served at KFC. I’ve yet to try the red-tinged Tennessee take on fried chicken, but here in Queens I had the pleasure of discovering something I’ve dubbed Hakka hot chicken. I found it at Tangra Masala an Elmhurst joint specializing in fiery Indian-Chinese cuisine. The dish of hacked up bits of fried bird sauced in a glaze that marries the flavors of chili, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic is not to be confused with the Indian-Chinese classic, chili chicken. (more…)