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…)
There are many tasty things at Arcadia Mall on the southern end of Main Street in downtown Flushing. A good majority of them—hearty lamb soup dumplings, delicate seabass dumplings, and crunchy fried spare ribs—can be found at Helen You’s Dumpling Galaxy. If only Cin Cheese Back Ribs were so so tasty. Sadly the bizarre Chinese Korean rib fondue mashup is not so great. Suffice to say the people who I eat with never leave food on the table. A redemption meal was needed and quick. So Daphne suggested we head over to the Fujianese joint next door for some peanut noodles. (more…)
Nothing so much disappoints as an ill-made, breakfast sandwich. (For those of you outside the New York City metro area, a breakfast sandwich is defined as bacon, egg, and cheese on a kaiser roll.) American’s the standard cheese, though I do not mind a good Cheddar. One thing is not debatable though, the bacon should be crispy.
As way to recover from a poorly made spin on a BEC I recently tried a far better interpretation of the NYC classic, the Breakfast Ramen Burger as Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack. The $7 sandwich is a far cry from the coffee cart classic, but it’s one of the best breakfast sandwiches I’ve had in recent memory. Two ramen noodles bun stand in for the roll. They encase a well fried egg, and crisp bacon topped with white American cheese. The noodly buns have a nice chew to them and held up well to the ingredients. Eating it gave me hope for New York City’s BEC, classic and otherwise.
Ramen Shack, 13-13 40th Avenue, Long Island City, 929-522-0285
I don’t know very much about snooker—the game of choice at Weekender Billiard—a Bhutanese hangout in Woodside. I do however know my way around a plate of spicy cold noodles, and I’m always eager to try variations from different cultures. Enter bumthang puta, Bhutan’s spicy answer to cold soba noodles. (more…)
Stir fried young jackfruit is symphony of flavors.
“You have to try the Northern style food at Thai Diva,” my friend Chompoo who knows a thing or too about Thai cuisine told me via Facebook a few weeks ago. And then when the Sunnyside restaurant was favorably reviewed by Eater critic Robert Sietsema another pal said,” I’ll try it if it passes the ‘Joe DiStefano’ test.” Well I’m here to say that Thai Diva passed with flying colors.
My first visit to Thai Diva was with my friend Joel who is even more obsessed with Thai food than I am. When he told his Thai friends back home in Boston that he was visiting Queens to eat at Thai Diva, they immediately began suggesting dishes. One of their recommendations was tum kanoon ($11) a heap of stir-fried young jackfruit shot through with chilies and kaffir lime leaves. It came with some pork crackling and cucumbers. I’m familiar with Indonesian preparation of the fruit wherein it’s cooked with coconut milk and aromatics to a brisket like texture. Tum kanoon is somewhat less mellow with a good amount of chili heat balanced out by the aromatic lime. Cucumbers and sticky rice help temper the fire. (more…)
Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack, a spinoff of a stand that debuted at Smorgasburg Queens, sits down the block from the Queensbridge Houses. The ramen obsessive who eats hundreds of bowls of the Japanese comfort food a year offers seven classical varieties, including shio and tonkatsu, and four specialty bowls. It’s on the specialty list that I found Metta World Paitan ($13). (more…)
Hun jiang chang fen, aka mixed sauce rice roll noodle.
One of my earliest food memories is shrimp in rice roll noodles at Mei Lei Wah in Chinatown. Slippery, sweet and savory—they sparked a love affair with Chinese food and proved to be good chopstick training.
Served two or three to a plate, cheung fen, whether beef or shrimp remained a dim sum favorite for many years. When I moved to Queens I discovered other varieties, including the wonderful hun jiang chang fen, or mixed sauce rice roll noodle. It’s a simple pleasure consisting of the rolled up noodles, peanut and sweet sauces, and little else. They’ve become a staple of my Flushing Chinatown food tours.(more…)
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…)