02/23/17 9:00am
METTA-RAMEN

The richest chicken soup in LIC or anywhere else.

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…)

12/21/16 4:41am
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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

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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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12/14/16 10:12am
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Bracing sourness and chilies are a perfect foil for fatty beef.

Most non-Chinese speaking Flushing fans know the Henanese outfit Su Xiang Yuan by its English name, Nutritious Lamb Noodle Soup. And that milky white broth teeming with tender bits of lamb, chewy hand-pulled wheat noodles and other goodies is the star of the show.

Su Xiang Yuan got its start in the Golden Mall but has another location in New World Mall with a deeper menu offering such dishes as da pan ji, or big tray of chicken, and suan tang fei niu, fat beef slices in sour stock. I broke with lamb noodle tradition to try the fatty beef dish yesterday, and I’m glad I did. Normally I doctor up the lamb noodle soup with chili paste and vinegar. Given that it was already a sour soup and the sight of a few chilies I decided to enjoy it as is.

Glass noodles and ribbons of tofu skin lurked beneath the surface of fatty ribbons of beef, crunchy sour cabbage, and pickled peppers. The bracing sour broth and chilies were a perfect foil to the ribbons of fatty beef. This dish also came with a bowl of white rice. I alternated between eating it on its own and putting slices of beef on top. I’ll definitely be back for another bowl or two of this stuff.

It bears pointing out that there is no English name for the New World Mall location, you can easily spot it though. It’s the one in the back right corner playing a loop of Anthony Bourdain eating their soup.

Su Xiang Yuan, No.28, New World Mall Food Court, Flushing

09/26/16 11:23pm
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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…)

05/09/16 11:47am
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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…)

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.”

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01/23/16 12:05pm

Now that King Frost has officially made his presence known with the arrival of winter storm Jonas, it is officially soup season. Sure I’ve had plenty of bowls over the course of the past two months. But now it’s on, time to bring in the big guns. So here are seven of my favorites spanning a variety of styles—from sweet medicinal Chinese concoctions to savory noodle soups and spicy sinus clearers—and regions, including Southeast Asia and Latin America. Best of all you can find all of them without leaving the world’s borough, Queens.

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1. Pozole rojo, Taqueria Coatzingo
This Jackson Heights cantina is known for its tacos, but the specials are the real stars. That’s where I discovered pozole rojo, the spicier cousin of the Mexican pork and hominy soup. As the name implies, the broth is red—very, very red—thanks to loads of chilies. Pozole rojo employs chicken rather than pork as a base.  Served with the standard pozole fixings of diced onion, cilantro, and lime as well as shakers of oregano and red pepper, I like it think of it as Mexican penicillin. Add a few squeezes of lime along with a handful of onion and the other seasonings for one of the most head-clearing soups to be found on Roosevelt Avenue. Sour, spicy, and packed with fresh herbs, hominy, and chicken it’s sure to cure what ails you. Best of all it’s always on the specials menu! Taqueria Coatzingo, 76-05 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, 718-424-1977 (more…)

01/03/16 12:29pm

Now that the streets around Times Square are almost cleared of New Year’s Eve confetti and I’ve digested several plates of lucky New Year’s noodles it’s time to take a look back at 2015. It was a big year for me, including a profile in The Wall Street Journal. Queens  continued to amaze with everything from octopus tacos and Thai noodles to Caribbean Chinese and the most unlikely French patisserie ever. In no particular order here are 15 of the best things I ate last year.

CHERRYDRYNOODLE

Tom yum haeng topped with fried pork sugar and chili.

1. Yummiest dry tom yum
The weekend noodle soup pop-up at Elmhurst’s Pata Paplean remained on point, but one of my favorites there wasn’t a soup at all. Tom yum haeng—dry tom yum noodles—consists of springy yellow noodles, fish balls and golden shards of fried pork all dressed with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili, and cilantro. Mix it all up and dig into the best dry noodles in Thai Town.

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2.  Tastiest deep-fried seafood nostalgia
The cheery blue and white Bigelow’s Seafood has been around for more than 70 years. After driving by it for about that amount of time, I finally had the privilege of trying it this past spring. These wizards of the fryer turn out impeccable Ipswich clams, fried smelts, shrimp, and soft shell crabs all served in an atmosphere that time and cholesterol have forgotten.  (more…)

12/02/15 11:32pm
Best spicy pork porridge ever!

Best spicy pork porridge ever!

“So it’s a bowl of rice and a soup with any of these?” I asked the waitress at Zabb Elee as I perused the 20-deep roster of rice soup that runs from such items as “salted eggs spicy salad” and “pickled cabbage spicy salad” to “ground pork omelet” and “deep fried pork with garlic and pepper.” I went with the latter and chose pandanus rice, not sure whether I’d be delivered a soup with spicy pork in it or not. (more…)

11/30/15 9:47am
RussianRamen

Bear’s Russian ramen sings with the flavors of Siberia.

When cold and flu season hit, chicken soup’s the order of the day. There’s a reason they call chicken soup Jewish penicillin. Lucky for me there are two places just a matzo ball’s throw from my house to get to an excellent bowl. In Queens every culture has its own version of chicken soup: Indonesian soto ayam hued yellow with turmeric and spiked with fiery sambal and  lime, Korean samgyetang enriched with ginseng and garlic, and Filipino tinalong manok singing with ginger are just a few of my favorites. Now thanks to Natasha Pogrebinsky’s Bear I can add Mother Russia to the list of cold busters. (more…)