Half a lifetime ago Zak Pelaccio taught me to ball up khao neuw or Thai sticky rice and dredge it through the bracing liquour that sat at the bottom of a platter of papaya salad. We were gathered around the table at what was then the best Thai restaurant in Queens, Zabb Elee. Zabb is gone and Zak decamped for Hudson, New York, a while back. As for me I’m still in Queens, and have watched the Thai restaurant scene in the environs of Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside blossom.
Whenever I’m at a Thai table there’s always sticky rice. Sometimes it acts a foil for savory dishes. Sometimes it’s the centerpiece of a dessert as with the pandan-scented sticky rice that acts as the foundation for Sugar Club’s over-the-top mango sticky rice.(more…)
At first glance Auttharos, the brand spanking new Thai spot that replaced Zabb Elee in Jackson Heights looks much like its predecessor. After all the menu’s appetizers include Esan sausage and the joint keeps much the same late night hours as the once Michelin-starred Zabb.
Things start to get interesting in Auttharos’ roster of papaya salads. There are more than a dozen permutations of som tam, from the fairly farang friendly—dried shrimp and peanuts—to the funkier and fishier —pickled crab and pickled fish. The really interesting stuff appears at the end of the list: cucumber salad with boiled egg; long bean salad with pickled fish; corn salad with salted egg, and strawberry salad with salted egg. Let’s let that last one sink in: strawberry salad with salted egg!! (more…)
Sweet, savory, and spicy; it’s my new favorite Thai toast.
In the Little Bangkok of Elmhurst, Queens, Thai toast is often an elaborate affair laden with fruit, ice cream, and syrup. I’ve long wondered whether there was a more savory version, one that hewed to more conventional Thai flavors. Turns out there is. It exists in the form of a chili jam and pork floss sandwich being served at Pata Cafe.
Sweet, spicy, salty and porky—it’s my kind of sandwich. It made for a perfect dessert after a rather epic Indian-Chinese meal. Pata Cafe is big among the local schoolchildren most of whom order French fries and hot dogs. If Pata Cafe was around when I was a kid you can bet I’d be ordering this savory-sweet-spicy sandwich. As far as this farang’s concerned, it’s a real after-school special.
Pata Cafe, 56-14 Van Horn St., Elmhurst, 347-469-7142
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.”
Super Bowl 50 is almost upon us, and as usual, I’m only just learning which teams will face off Sunday evening. Such is my interest, or lack thereof, in football. Despite my apathy for team sports, I do hope all who watch the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers have a great time. Thus as a public service C+M presents a list of global snacks and goodies all of which are available in in Queens and will give your Super Bowl party much more flavor than guacamole and onion dip.
1. Mee krob (Thai)
The name of this popular Thai snack literally translates to crispy noodles. It’s no mere salty indulgence, though. Like so many of my other favorite Southeast Asian snacks, the tangle of noodles and fried bits of egg is salty, sweet, spicy, and sour. Tamarind and chili combined with a chewy sweetness make mee krob eat like a Thai Rice Krispy treat. Find it at the counter at Elmhurst’s Sugar Club. Sugar Club, 81-18 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-865-9018
2. Fried jeffrox fish (Filipino)
Find this pescatarian answer to potato chips at Phil-Am Market, a paradise of Filipino groceries and snacks located in Woodside’s Little Manila. The translucent sheets of fried dried fish are available on Thursday through Sunday. The crunchy critters come with a sidecar of seasoned vinegar and make for excellent, if somewhat odiferous, snacking. Phil-Am Market,40-03 70th St, Woodside 718-899-1797(more…)
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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…)
“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…)
Half the fun of Plant Love House’s pad thai is mixing the ingredients together.
“You ordered pad thai!!??” one of the chef’s daughters at Plant Love House exclaimed last night. “That’s not like you,” she countered when asked why she reacted with such shock. She’s rights, it’s not like me at all. I can probably count the number of times I’ve ordered the dish. The last time was over two years ago at Andy Ricker’s now shuttered Pok Pok Phat Thai. I like to think of it as the sweet and sour pork of Thai cuisine. It’s a “real dish” in Thai cuisine—just as sweet and sour pork is in China’s Dongbei region—that’s been Americanized.
I’ve eaten my way through most of the items, including the lovely noodle soups, on the menu at this family run joint in Elmhurst’s Thai Town, and have enjoyed most everything I tried from the specials board. So when I saw pad thai listed as a special I had a hunch it would be pretty good. (more…)
The meganightmarket/food hall known as Bourdain Night Market that will rise on Chelsea’s Pier 57 development in some two years is being hailed as the most exciting development in the food scene since white people, including myself and Tony B., discovered Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall. Anthony Bourdain and Stephen Werther have tapped some major talent, including hawker food expert KF Seetoh and The Street Vendor Project—the nonprofit behind the Vendy Awards—to curate a dozen stalls. I’m excited to try Singapore’s Geylang Claypot Rice and the uni tostadas from Sabina Bandar of Ensenada, Mexico. “It will be all transparent and authentic…not sterile, but chaotic in a good way, with hawkers and vendors and places to eat,” Bourdain tells Florence Fabricant in last week’s Times. “Where in this city can you have that?” Where indeed!!?? Why Queens, of course. Without further ado here are seven spots we’d love to see find a home in Bourdain Market.
1. La Esquina del Camaron Mexico Pedro Rodriguez is a mixologist of sorts, but instead of mescal or tequila his cocktails contain shrimp and octopus. His Mexican seafood cocktail mise en place includes olive oil, limes, onions, cilantro, avocado, and a tomato-based sauce. Doctored up with a goodly splashe of Valentina hot sauce and served with saltines, a cup of his signature creation brimming with tender octopus and shrimp is a meal in itself. Rodriguez operates out of a sparkling clean kitchen in a bodega on Roosevelt Avenue. Lately he’s branched out to include other delicacies like octopus tostadas. La Esquina Del Camaron Mexicano, 80th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights (347) 885-2946(more…)