12/30/16 11:41pm

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.

MRCRISPY

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

 

whitspie

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

 

HakkaHotChicken

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

The action at Majang Dong takes place out back.

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…)

12/21/16 4:41am
thaicongee

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

beijinglamb

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

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12/12/16 10:10am
soondoogook

Pork and blood sausage make for a hearty soup.

In the past six months I’ve  come to appreciate Korean seollongtang, a milky mellow ox bone soup. It’s nourishing and comforting and easy on my digestive system, which has been a bit fragile lately. One can only slurp so much of the same soup before boredom sets in though. So I’ve tried other versions of the long-simmered bone broth soup with various add-ins including chunks of oxtail and medicinal herbs, but none has proved as satisfying as the minimalist seollontang.

The other day I was dining at Tang with Chef Dave of NY Epicurean Events, and he was trying to get me to order soon dae gook ($14), a seollontang spin featuring pork and the Korean pork blood sausage, soon dae. “That looks good,” he said as I proceeded to tell him most variations of the dish I’d tried fell flat. But the promise of offal convinced me to try it. (more…)

11/29/16 7:04pm
cfruitpizza2

Durian pizza, a match made in Hong Kong.

Once upon a time there were many places in downtown Flushing to get a slice of pizza, notably Gloria Pizza and Lucia Pizza. The former is long gone and the latter soldiers on in a space flanked by a Chinese food court and a Korean skin care emporium. And then there was T.J.’s, which served a mean kimchi slice. These days it’s easier to find a spiky durian fruit than old school New York City pizza. Enter C Fruit Life, a new Hong Kong style dessert cafe serving “Golden Pillow Durian Pizza,” a decidedly modern fusion pie.

Is jin zheng tou liu lien pi za as it’s known in Mandarin Chinese the strangest pizza I’ve had in Queens? (Yes, the pinyin for pizza is pi za.) Hard to say, after all the borough boasts both bulgogi and falafel pies. It’s certainly one of the stranger uses of the pungent durian fruit I’ve come across. For the record I happen to like durian and think it has a bad rep.  (more…)

11/16/16 11:39am
flyhea

Fly heads are not what you think.  Photo: Stephen Yen

When talking Taiwanese food in Queens one or two names always pop up: Taiwanese Gourmet in Elmhurst and the rather loftily named Main Street Imperial Taiwanese in Flushing. The latter lies at the southern end of Main Street away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Flushing. Thankfully it lives up to its name and executes all the classics rather well.

Main Street Imperial is a favorite among my local Taiwanese foodie friends. It’s also a go-to spot for Chef Trigg Brown of East Williamsburg’s hottest new Taiwanese spot, Win Son. as I learned while dining with him and a bunch of chefs and food nerds the other night. (more…)

10/19/16 1:51pm
purplecold

Purple sweet potato cold skin noodles.

I haven’t  been this excited about cold skin noodles—aka liáng pi—since I first tried them at Xi’an Famous Foods, back when family patriarch David Shi went by the moniker Liáng Pí and his sales pitch was a hawker’s chant, “My name is Liáng Pí, try my famous cold skin noodles, you want to try a Chinese hamburger.” These days the mini-chain deserves the appellation “famous” and has even spawned imposters, notably Elmhurst’s Chinger, a pormanteau of Chinese Burger, that sounds like a racial epithet.

Thankfully Lǎo Luòyáng is no imposter but rather a practitioner of the liang pi art that brings some color and history to the game. On a first visit I tried the purple sweet potato cold noodle ($6.50), zǐshǔ liáng pí. The sweet potato lent a slight tinge to the slippery wheat noodles and squidgy blocks of gluten, but added little flavor. No matter though as the sauce was astonishing, hitting many points of the flavor matrix, chili, garlic, vinegar, but above all a beguiling blend of tahini and aromatics like cloves. It was so good I slurped some up with a straw.  (more…)

09/26/16 11:23pm
seoltang1

Seollontang at Flushing’s Gahwa.

For the longest time Korean and many other cuisines were all about fire for me. Creamy curds of tofu in bubbling angry bowl of red soondubu was my go-to lunch order at K-Town’s Seoul Garden.

Lately I’ve been embracing the mellower side of Korean cuisine; and there’s nothing more comforting than a steaming bowl of seollongtang, a long-simmered ox bone soup. I’ve been told that’s it’s good to eat when feeling sick. Recently I’ve had the good fortune to be sick enough begun to appreciate just how good.

A month ago I found myself in Tang out on Northern Boulevard. Dehydrated and spent after having a chemotherapy port in my chest checked out I slumped into a seat and gasped, “Seollontang.” (more…)

09/19/16 11:53pm
YOUGARDEN

You Garden’s new dumpling comes with a straw.

Soup dumplings—and instructions on how to eat them—are always a highlight of my Flushing Chinatown food tours. One of the stranger techniques I’ve witnessed is people who forego a spoon and hold the dumpling aloft, nipping a hole in the side. It’s not a method I’d recommend. One tool I never thought I’d see used in dispatching xiao long bao is a straw. Lately though a larger style dumpling has begun to appear, first in Shanghai, and now in Queens, thanks to Shanghai You Garden. (more…)

09/12/16 10:16am
chengduck

Duck charcuterie by way of Chengdu and downtown Flushing.

As a keen watcher and eater of all that goes on in downtown Flushing’s Chinatown, I’ve seen a many a hawker stall come and go. This seems especially true of Sichuan outfits. Thankfully there’s one constant in this shifting ma la sea: Cheng Du Tian Fu or Chengdu Heaven, as it’s often so aptly rendered in English. (more…)

09/06/16 8:18pm
Tasty and Instagrammable!

Tasty and Instagrammable!

When it comes to Chinese frozen desserts I’m half traditionalist/half adventurous. Shaved ice gets a resounding yes—whether the granular form or the fluffy one that’s been showing up at spots like Snow Days. Ice rice, which my pal Tyson Ho of Arrogant Swine said seemed disgusting also get the nod. Novelties like the ubiquitous rolled ice cream are simply that, good for Instagram hits and little else. (more…)