07/17/17 8:49am

Gorgeous gai yang studded with herbs and spices.

“I guess Queens is still the only place to go,” read a lament about the state of Thai food in Brooklyn. To put a finer point on, it Elmhurst, is the place to go. And, to narrow it down even further, Hug Esan, is the place,  at least so it’s been for the past 11 days for me and a rather large chunk of the local Thai community.

I’d been watching the space—carved out of the first floor of an apartment building—for months. The name might sound like a character from a Thai version of Starsky and Hutch, but Hug means “love” in Thailand’s Esan dialect.  (more…)

06/15/17 11:38pm

As any one who’s talked to me for than five minutes about food in Queens knows, I’m a firm believer that the best Thai food in New York City can be had in Elmhurst. In fact I love the Little Bangkok that runs along Broadway between Whitney and Woodside Avenues so much that it’s the star of one of my food tours. So this month the boys at Queens Dinner Club and I are offering Big Taste of Little Bangkok, on June 22 at 7:30 p.m. at our new home in Kaufmann Astoria Studios. Tickets are $40 and may be purchased here.

The evening’s menu will include some of our favorite dishes from local hot spots Dek Sen, Eim Khao Mun Gai, Pata Paplean and Sugar Club. Dek Sen will be preparing tom yam, the classic Thai papaya salad, and moo ping Brooklyn, savory pork skewers. In case you’re wondering the name comes not from an affinity with the County of Kings, but rather the niece of one of the owners who’s named Brooklyn. As is traditional, both will be served with plenty of sticky rice.   (more…)

06/01/17 4:56pm

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of noodles— whether the fusilli with red sauce and chow fun that I cut my  teeth on—or the tallarin verde of Peru and various culture’s takes on cold noodles that can be had in Queens. This edition of The Seven is devoted to my favorite Asian noodles in Queens, at least as of summer 2017.

1. Tom thuk, Lhasa Fast Food
Anthony Bourdain recently paid a visit to this Jackson Heights momo shop tucked away behind a cell phone store. While the big man tried the hand-torn noodle soup known as thenthuk he did not get to experience its colder, spicier cousin tomthuk. Listed in the menu’s Noodle Zone as beef cold noodle ($6) there’s no forewarning of the twin heat engines of chili and mustard oil. The tangle of chewy noodles interspersed with shredded carrots, cabbages, and bits of ground beef packs enough heat to melt snowy Mount Kailash which looms above the counter. Lhasa Fast Food, 37-50 74th Street, Jackson Heights

 

2.  Yum Dek Sen, Dek Sen
There are many Thai noodle dishes, from funky bowls of blood-enriched soup to those that resemble pork ragu, but Dek Sen is the first restaurant where I’ve seen noodles used in a yum, Thailand’s spicy savory version of the more prosaic Western salad. Yum Dek Sen ($11.95) takes Mama instant noodles and mixes them with squid, shrimp,  minced pork, and two types of fish balls. Served warm the whole lot is dressed in a chili lime sauce. You might be tempted to order it spicy, but medium is more than adequate.  Dek Sen, 86-08 Whitney Ave, Elmhurst, 718-205-5181 (more…)

04/18/17 3:53pm
LaoNoodle

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…)

03/31/17 9:27am
Find Thai arancini and duck at this Woodside spot.

Find Thai arancini and duck at this Woodside spot.

Thailand’s Center Point, an adorable restaurant run by Aom “Annie” Phinphatthakul and her family is one of my favorite places to enjoy Thai cuisine. Phinphatthakul possesses a mastery of flavor and a stunning visual sensibility. The dishes here are, “Pride on a plate,” as a friend pointed out yesterday at lunch.

“Where’ve you been everything OK?, Chef Annie asked as it had been a year-and-a-half since I’d eaten at her Woodside restaurant. Based on yesterday’s meal, that’s far too long to stay away from her cooking. Everything we ate yesterday was delicious, but the real standout for me was larb duck with crispy rice ($13.95). (more…)

03/07/17 3:24pm
jackfruit

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…)

01/19/17 1:52pm
khaotan

Khao taen: crunchy, sweet, craveable.

Last time I checked  Rice Krispies weren’t part of the traditional Thai pantry. That doesn’t prevent me from thinking of khao taencrispy disks of fried rice drizzled with cane sugar caramel—as Thai Rice Krispy treats. They’re a common street food in Thailand. Here in Queens, I found them at Sugar Club.

They’re made with sticky rice as I learned from reading a recipe over at She Simmers Thai Cooking. Truth be told they’re way crunchier than Rice Krispy treats and eminently craveable. I usually buy a box for dessert with Thai coffee after chicken and rice soup at Eim Khao Mun Kai. I always promise myself that I’ll eat only one or two pieces—four at most—but wind up polishing off the whole lot.

Sugar Club, 81-18 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-565-9018

12/30/16 11:41pm

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.

MRCRISPY

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

 

whitspie

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

 

HakkaHotChicken

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

The action at Majang Dong takes place out back.

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…)

12/21/16 4:41am
thaicongee

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

beijinglamb

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

(more…)

10/04/16 4:59pm
ricecracker

These Thai rice crackers are a cruncher’s dream come true.

When it comes to treats I’m more of a bag of potato chips guy than a box of chocolates guy. Savory snacks trump sweet ones especially if they’re crunchy. What can I say, I’m a cruncher. Thai treats often blur the lines between sweet and salty, combining fishy herbal notes and heat with sweet notes. (more…)