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.

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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
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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…)

10/26/15 9:14am
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Asian Taste 86’s soto ayam topped with shrimpy-garlicky koya powder.

“Ah yes I remember you from last time,” the waitress from Asian Taste 86 said. “Soto ayam, with lots of sambal.” Last time was a month ago when I had a cold and had come seeking comfort in the form of the yellow Indonesian chicken soup known as soto ayam. When I have a cold I tend to subsist on matzo ball soup from Knish Nosh and gingery chicken and rice soup spiked with plenty of garlic and chilies from Eim Khao Man Gai. Usually I reach a point where I bring out the big guns, like a bowl of the Indonesian chicken soup, with plenty of fiery sambal and lime. (more…)

10/12/15 10:09am

resoboxramenButter makes everything better, including miso ramen.

“Oh, wow you guys have food now!?” I said to Takashi Ikezawa owner of Resobox a Japanese cafe, gallery, and cultural center in Long Island City, as I glanced at the ramen roster. I was glad to see Resobox, which offers classes in everything from flower arranging and Samurai sword to manga drawing for kids, finally serving ramen, itself an integral part of Japanese culture. I grabbed my coffee and made a mental note to return for some ramen. (more…)

09/28/15 11:44am
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DIY noodle soup at Flushing’s Gui Lin Mi Fen.

Sometimes it feels as if I lead so many food tours of Flushing Chinatown that I don’t do enough research, i.e. eating, of non-sharable dishes like noodle soups. Sure I have my favorites: predawn laksa at Curry Leaves, Nutritious Lamb Noodle Soup’s namesake tonic, the samgyetang at Hansol Nutrition Center. Lately though I’ve been craving a brand new flavor in noodle soup, which is why I’m glad  I finally tried Gui Lin Mi Fen. (more…)

09/01/15 11:28am
The Central Asian cousin of Taiwanese beef noodle soup.

The Central Asian cousin of Taiwanese beef noodle soup.

Rego Park is home to so many kosher Uzbeki kebab joints that local friends and I joke that they’re all more or less the same restaurant, just with different specialties, and/or slightly surlier service. The latest entrant into the neighborhood’s crowded field of more than a dozen restaurants is a rather opulent looking establishment (think flocked Louis XIV wallpaper and chandeliers) called U Yuri Fergana. (more…)