06/24/14 11:49am
CRESCENT2

Deliciously oddball critic bait: frog leg confit.

“This is either going to absolutely great or a friggin train wreck,” my buddy declared while perusing the menu at Crescent Grill. The confit frog leg ($12) with an oddball combination of cheffy ingredients and techniques including braised Vidalia onion and balsamic gelee the is the type of dish some food writers call critic bait.

“This is the prettiest train wreck I’ve ever seen,” I thought when I saw the cup of bibb lettuce cradling frog leg confit ringed by Vidalia onion. It tasted even better, like late spring by the fishing hole,with the frog taking nicely to the confit balanced by the sweetness of the onions and the sweetly acidic pop of the balsamic gelee.

(more…)

12/27/13 10:01am
LAKSA

Flushing’s temple of kari laksa.

When I’m in the mood for something spicy on a bitter cold winter morning there’s nothing better than a bowl of customizable Malaysian kari laksa from Curry Leaves in Flushing. I like to go in the wee hours of the morning—oh, say 4 a.m.—when the crew behind the longest-running pop-up in Queens is just getting started. Laksa and other Malaysian snacks are served cafeteria style from 4 a.m. to 11 a.m. daily. As you can see from this photo, plenty of folks are still bellying up to the laksa bar at 9 a.m.  To submit your delicious finds to Photo Friday simply tag your Instagram photos with #CMSHUNGRY. And while you’re at it, check me out on Instagram, joedistefanoqns.

 Curry Leaves, 135-31 40th Road, Flushing, 718-762-9313

08/21/13 10:08am
FATTY2

For added crunch tuck the homemade krupuk into the crab sandwich.

I’ve been eating on and off at Zak Pelaccio’s Malaysian-inspired restaurant Fatty Crab for years. And until very recently I’ve never eaten any crab in the joint. You might think that I sprang for the joint’s signature chili crab, but you see I’ve got this thing where I have to write about a sandwich every Wednesday. So I walked in and ordered a lobster roll. “We have a crab roll,” the dude behind the bar said. “OK I’ll have the lobster roll,” I said laughing at my misremembering the restaurant’s new sandwich. At $19 the crab roll isn’t cheap, but it is quite tasty. Cool chunks of lump crab slicked with an intense crab aioli are nestled in a split-top bun. Best of all there is a goodly sized pile of homemade krupuk, crunchy Malaysian shrimp crackers. You’ll want to take these and tuck them into your sandwich. They also come in handy to scoop up the errant bits of crab that will fall out of the sandwich. Cool, crunchy, and spicy it’s a perfect late summer snack, but I still want a Malaysian-inspired lobster roll.

Fatty Crab, 643 Hudson St.,212-352-3592

05/14/13 9:48am
The newly opened Mamak House sits above the now defunct Hong Kong Noodle Shop.

Mamak House sits above the now defunct Hong Kong Noodle Shop.

At one of the many recent Southeast Asian lunar New Year festivals  my good friend Dave Cook of Eating in Translation spoke excitedly about a new spot in Flushing, “Mama Khao’s.”  At least that’s what I thought he said, until he informed me that the new Malaysian joint is named Mamak House, after the mamak who as I just learned from Wikipedia are “Tamil Muslims of Malaysian nationality, whose forefathers mostly migrated from South India to the Malay Peninsula and various locations in Southeast Asia centuries ago.” As Dave explained that the joint was started by a gal who runs a mamak-style catering outfit I thought, “Boy my Singaporean friends are gonna be excited about this place.” Whenever I talk to them about Malaysian food in New York City, they always say something to the effect of, “It’s OK, but it’s not the same as back home. The Indian influence is missing.”

Murtabak, savory little packages of ground beef served with pickled onions.

Murtabak, savory little packages of ground beef served with pickled onions.

Last week Dave and I met at Mamak House for a late lunch. As I walked in I recalled that it used to be a Dongbei joint with table cooking in fact, several of the grill tables remain. The menu, is filled with mamak specialties, including an intriguing weekend only dish: nasi ulam utara, rice mixed with more than 10 types of herbs and roasted shrimp. The back of the bill of fare is adorned with pictures of spices from the aromatic to the fiery. The murtabak ($6.95) , savory envelopes filled with ground beef, were subtly flavored with clove and other spices. A sidecar of sharp pickled onions accompanied the mellow Malaysian beef blintzes. (more…)

03/14/13 9:51am
The ladies behind the counter will load up your bowl with all manner of goodies.

The ladies behind the counter will load up your bowl with goodies.

I’m often asked, “Have you traveled in Asia?” My typical response: “No, just Queens.”  It’s possible to eat foods from Thailand’s northeastern Issan region, Tibet, and China’s Dongbei region all without ever leaving the borough. One thing you can’t find in Queens though is a proper night market. The closest thing is the late night (4 a.m. to 11 a.m.) soup and noodle counter at Malaysian spot Curry Leaves in Flushing.

Walk up to the counter and one of the ladies will ask what type of broth you want. I always get kari laksa, a fiery coconut-enriched broth. The next question is what type of noodle; I always get yellow, presumably wheat, noodles. Now comes the fun part, choosing from the dozen or so items to add to your bowl. These include fried tofu, several types of fish cake, long green hot peppers stuffed with fish paste, fried wontons, char siu, shrimp, veggies, and bitter melon. No matter how many items you add it’s unlikely that the bowl will run over ten bucks. It makes for a hearty late-night snack, or breakfast.

The best time to eat there is half an hour or so before dawn. Watch the sun rise from the bottom of a soup bowl figuratively speaking. After an iced coffee and pandan gelatin to calm the kari fire, walk out into the early morning light and check out the live fish delivery trucks as they make their rounds on Main Street.

 Curry Leaves, 135-31 40th Road, Flushing, 718-762-9313

02/27/13 12:25pm
A quick and easy way to get a Singapore curry la mian fix.

A quick and easy way to get a Singapore curry la mian fix.

One of my favorite Southeast Asian dishes is kari laksa, a spicy and creamy soup enriched with coconut milk, popular in Singapore and Malaysia. I like to get it at the “night market” counter at Curry Leaves in Flushing. Sometimes I don’t want to get up at 6 a.m. for noodle soup, though. That’s why I’m glad that I picked up a package of Prima Taste Singapore Curry La Mian at Old Town Asia Market.

The la mian kit contained two brown packages “(A) Curry Paste” and “(B) Curry Premix.” The instructions said to add (A) to the water first. When I saw the vibrant orange paste, I knew was in for a treat. Even uncooked it had a distinctly funky aroma of curry, shrimp paste, and other SEA aromatics like ginger and lemon grass. Envelope B contained a white powder which I soon learned was dehydrated coconut milk. After some stirring and letting it come to a boil, I added the noodles. For the last few minutes of the boil I added some prepackaged tuna fish. (more…)

02/19/13 12:00am
A crunchy, spicy, fishy snack from Malaysia.

A crunchy, spicy, fishy snack from Malaysia.

One of the reasons I love Curry Leaves apart from the fact that it’s the closest thing Flushing has to a Malaysian night market is all the snacks and desserts that line the counter. The other day I spotted a package labeled “spicy shrimp knots.” Inside the clear plastic container were dozens and dozens of tiny wontons tied in knots. “It’s for Chinese New Year,” the lady behind the counter said as I handed her $8.

The delicate fried bundles have a shatteringly crunchy skin filled with intensely shrimpy dried shrimp. There’s just a hint of chili heat. Crunchy, salty, fishy they are in my Malay junk food wheelhouse. For the first few days I controlled my appetite for these intensely flavored treats. “They’d make a great topping for soup,” I thought to myself, being sure not to polish off the container. Tonight I threw self-control to the wind and polished off the rest. I will probably check back at Curry Leaves this week to see if they have anymore. If not I’m sure I’ll find some other form of Malaysian munchables.

Curry Leaves, 135-31 40th Road, Flushing, 718-762-9313

01/21/13 9:45am
Sweet, salty, and fun to eat.

Sweet, salty, and fun to eat.

There are many wonderful things to eat at Flushing’s Curry Leaves, including an entire hawker style soup service that runs from 4  a.m. to 11 a.m.. One of my favorite things is a psychedelic green and white pandan confection.  I don’t know whether to call the mostly green parallelograms pudding or gelatin. One thing’s certain, they are delicious, sweet with just a hint of savoriness. The sweet comes from the green portion and the savory from the thin white layer, which tastes of coconut and a whisper of salt. The cool pandan pudding is a fine snack on its own. It also makes for an especially welcome finale to the often fiery fare here.  Four of the wobbly scalloped-edge blocks and an iced coffee will set you back a mere $4.50.

Curry Leaves, 135-31 40th Road, Flushing, 718-762-9313