Shrimp coktels in the sun, a taste of Mexico City on Roosevelt Ave.
I recently wrote about the return of Pedro El Cevichero to the streets of Jackson Heights. This past weekend I checked out his new digs. Pedro has taken his old sign reading La Esquina Del Camaron Mexicano, or “the corner of Mexican shrimp,” with him and he’s gained three helpers. By the time I got to him I felt like I’d already eaten my way through half of Thailand. So in lieu of eating a coktel de camaron, I took a mouth-watering photo of a pair of freshly made ones. I can’t wait to go back and try the first coktel of what are sure to be many. Shrimp coktels are available in three sizes ($8, $10, $12). The excellent mixto, shrimp and octopus is ($6, $8, $10). Find Pedro on weekends at Roosevelt Ave. and 80th St. from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Som tum, the Thai papaya salad, really a slaw of sorts is a favorite of mine, crunchy spicy, and often possessed of formidable level of spice. As with most Thai food I prefer to eat it where Thai folks gather, specifically Zabb Elee. I like Zabb because it’s open late and because they have seven types of som tum. These range from a pretty standard Thai version with dried shrimp and peanuts ($8) to the Lao style som tum poo plara ($8). The latter is notable not only because Lao grub is as rare in this town as a humble Yankee fan, but because it does not hold back on the fishy, funky, fiery flavors of Southeast Asia.
Half of a preserved blue crab—salty and funky yet still sweet and juicy—sits atop a tangle of crunchy papaya, long beans, hemispheres of Thai eggplant, and, for added crunch, Thai chicharron. The whole affair sits in a shallow pool of liquid that’s a study in fishy, spicy, and citrusy flavors. It’s best ordered spicy with a side of kao neaw, Thai sticky rice ($2). I like to roll the sticky rice into balls and use it to sop up the liquid. Don’t be surprised if your waitress asks if you’ve been to Thailand when she sees you eating like a local.
Zabb Elee, 71-28 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, 718-426-7992
Surely Zhū Dà Jiě’s Lao Cheng Du deserves a slot on Eater’s Queens Heatmap.
Over the weekend Eater released its Queens Heatmap, a roster of a dozen of-the-moment restaurants, including the recently opened Alchemy, Texas, BBQ as well as C+M favorites M. Wells Dinette, Biang!, and Chao Thai Too. The list highlights “recent arrivals . . . that the critics, bloggers, and restaurant obsessives are buzzing about right now.” For what it’s worth I don’t consider myself a critic but I’ll proudly fly the blogger and restaurant obsessive flags. I am pleased to say that there’s only one spot on the list that I haven’t been to, Casa Enrique.
In the past Eater has taken some, well, heat for its Queens Heatmap. As for this time around it looks pretty good. That said, I question the inclusion of Corner Bistro as buzzworthy. And I’d like to have seen Zhū Dà Jiě’s Láo Chéng Dū, on a list of a hot new restaurants. So here’s what I’m curious to know. What do you think of the latest incarnation of Eater’s Queen’s Heatmap? What’s missing? What’s doesn’t deserve to have made the cut? Tell me in the comments or hit me on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.
About a week ago I had the honor of appearing on Travel Channel’s Street Eats: U.S.A. for a segment on street foods in New York City. For those who didn’t get to see it and for those who crave more curbside cuisine I’ve devoted this week’s edition of The Seven to street food. Here then in no particular order are seven of my current street food faves. Some appeared on the show, and some some didn’t. Have a favorite street food you think I left out? Let me know in the comments, or hit me up on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.
1. Pedro El Cevichero I first encountered Pedro’s sidewalk ceviche outside a market in Elmhurst. His Mexican ceviche mise en place includes olive oil, limes, onions, cilantro, and a tomato-based sauce. South of the Border ceviche is called coctele, as in shrimp cocktail. It’s more of a cold seafood soup than the Peruvian version. Pedro makes it right before your very eyes. It’s like watching a seafood mixologist as you listen to the 7 train rumble by overhead. Shrimp cocteles are available in three sizes ($8, $10, $12). The excellent mixto, shrimp and octopus is ($6, $8, $10). Find Pedro at Roosevelt Ave. and 80th St. from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
2. Baul Daada Jaal Muri Shop This is not so much a shop as a streetside Bangladeshi chaat vendor. As the name implies there’s only one specialty here, jaal muri. Three bucks gets you an order of Baul Daada’sspicy puffed rice. It’s a sensory overload of a snack consisting of puffed rice, kala chana (black chickpeas) chopped tomatoes, cilantro, green chili paste, red onions, crunchy dried soybeans, cilantro, spicy fried noodles, and squirts and shakes from the various and sundry bottles, including some sinus-clearing mustard oil. Find Daada on 73 St. near 37 Ave. from late afternoon to around 10 p.m. weather permitting. (more…)
Young and old alike came out for the opening of Alchemy, Texas, BBQ.
Before there was Virgil’s Real Barbecue, before Blue Smoke, before Hill Country, before the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, and before New York City’s current love affair with Texas ’cue there was Robert Pearson. The British hairdresser caught the barbecue bug while working in Texas. He returned to New York City to open Pearson’s Texas Barbcue first in Long Island City, and then in the back of Legends Bar in Jackson Heights. I never got to taste Brit’s ’cue. And I’ve never been terribly impressed by successor outfit The Ranger Texas, Barbecue. Last night the smoky arts made a triumphant return to Legends with the opening of Alchemy, Texas, BBQ. The pitmaster behind this Texas barbecue homecoming is Josh Bowen of John Brown Smokehouse. Bowen knows a thing or two about ‘cue in general, and Texas ‘cue too having logged some time at Hill Country.
Josh Bowen seems to be in awe of his brisket.
Much as I love the barbecue at Bowen’s original spot, it’s never been all that smoky. That’s because the each of the smokers at John Brown is just slightly larger than a dorm fridge. The behemoth that sits in the back of Alchemy is roughly one-third the size of a shipping container. Bowen is firing it with a mixture of pecan and oak. All the meats that emerge from it—brisket ($22/lb.), prime rib ($26/lb.), beef ribs ($11/lb.), spare ribs ($10/lb.), chicken ($9/lb.), and goat ribs ($10/lb.) —are possessed of a deep smoke flavor and a truly impressive smoke ring. (more…)
Surely this is the most bountiful Bombay breakfast sandwich ever.
An egg sandwich with cheese and bacon was my go-to breakfast for a long time when I was a copydesk jockey. It’s hard to believe a vegetarian breakfast sandwich could be satisfying. Hell, I never gave the idea of a veggie breakfast sandwich a second thought. Then I learned about anda bhurji pav, from my friend Anne over at Real Cheap Eats. Five bucks buys two buttery toasted pav that are absolutely overflowing with scrambled eggs shot through with diced onion, tomato, green chilies and fresh coriander leaves.
It’s not very often that I get this excited about a vegetarian sandwich, particularly one I haven’t tried yet. I literally can’t stop thinking about it. I’m going have to head over to Mumbai Grill right soon to try this twin-engine breakfast blowout. The Bombay Breakfast Sandwich—as I’ve taken to calling it—is just one of 21 entries in the winter edition of Real Cheap Eats NYC. Each entry, including my contribution, pig bone marrow soup, is strategically chosen to help you fuel up, and warm up, without breaking the bank.
Mumbai Grill, 37-33 74th St. Jackson Heights, 718-205-7577
At first glance it looks like most any other dosa.
Dosai, the gigantic South Indian rice and lentil crêpes take many forms. Lacy crisp paper dosai flavored with little more than ghee are great for dipping into spicy vegetable-loaded samber broth. Their more substantial cousins are filled with potato and other veggies. And for spice freaks like me there are fiery varieties with chili worked right into the batter. Some even resemble flapjacks. Until I paid a visit to Dosa Delight, though I never encountered a dessert dosa.
Inside, find chocolate and cashews.
At first glance the chocolate dosa ($7.99) looks like most any other, save for its brown freckles. It’s even served with the traditional coconut chutney and samber. Closer inspection—and a taste—reveals that those brown spots are chocolate. Between the chocolate-enriched folds of this dessert dosa find a delectable mixture of melted chocolate and cashews. Think of it as a South Indian brownie.
The crunchy chocolate dosa is a fine indulgence with a cup of strong Madras coffee ($2). It’s even kind of tasty dipped into the coconut chutney. I chose not to try it with the samber. That would be just weird.
Dosa Delight, 35-66 73rd St., Jackson Heights, 718-397-1000
Ain’t no party like a momo party, because a momo party don’t stop.
I’ve known for quite some time that this past Sunday marked the Year of the Snake for Chinese. What I didn’t know until last week was that this past Monday was Losar, or Tibetan New Year. So allow me to wish you “Losar la tashi delek.” I learned how to say “Happy New Year” in Tibetan from Tashi Chodron, founder of Himalayan Pantry at a hands-on momo making demonstration at The Rubin Museum of Art.
I also learned there are several regional types of momo. In Nepal, the dumplings are round and seasoned with Sichuan peppercorn, garlic, and ginger. Bhutan’s are tear-drop shaped and often filled with shiitake mushrooms. And, South Indian momo are crescent-shaped. And there are, of course, the Tibetan ones found all over Jackson Heights.
Fermentation is gastronomic alchemy. It can turn grains into intoxicating elixirs and cabbage into kimchi. And squid guts into something so foul it should be weaponized. Japanese home-style squid guts are not my cup of sake. Thai fermented fish, pla som, on the other hand, is one of my favorite things.
It’s made by taking a fish, salting it, and packing it with rice and garlic and leaving it unrefrigerated for three days to let nature take its course. I do not intend to undertake what’s probably a very simple process in my home kitchen. So in Queens I like to eat pla som at Zabb Elee, the wonderful Northeastern Thai spot. A fried piece of tilapia pla som runs $9. It’s crunchy sour, slightly funky and absolutely wonderful with the accompanying fried shallots, galangal, and chilies.
Until I get to Thailand Zabb will likely remain my go-to spot for this dish. Lucky for me they’re open quite late and are only a short subway ride from my place. One can never tell when that late-night fried fermented fish craving’s gonna hit.
Zabb Elee, 71-28 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, 718-426-7992
Sukuti hanging in the window makes Tawa Food seem like a Nepali salumeria.
Recently I had the pleasure of showing Elyse Pasquale, aka Foodie International, around what I like to call Himalayan Heights. We went to several of my favorite places, including a stop at Merit Kabob & Dumpling Palace for some dropa khatsa, or spicy beef tripe. We also visited Tawa Food. For years myself and other Chowhounds were fascinated by what was essentially a paratha and roti factory staffed by a legion of South Asian grannies. These days the small shop is even more fascinating because it tells the story of Jackson Heights, a symbiotic relationship between the relatively new Himalayan (Bhutanese, Nepali, and Tibetan) community and the long-standing Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi communities. The front of a shop that was once nicknamed “Pakistani bread ladies,” is now occupied by a family turning out some really wonderful Nepali food. I knew it was something special was going on at Tawa when I saw all the sukuti, a spicy beef jerky hanging in the window.