There’s an old Pat Cooper routine about pasta fazool. I misremember it as “When Mama would make pasta fazool in the winter I wouldn’t need to wear a coat.” No doubt that’s somewhat of an exaggeration about the warming effect of the humble beans and pasta dish. If there’s an Uzbek Pat Cooper—and I hope there is—I’d like to think that he tells the same joke about nakhotgarmack a hearty veal and chickpea stew.
The menu at Taste of Samarkand—an Uzbek spot located in Middle Village a 10-minute drive from the restaurants that line “Bukharian Broadway” as 108th Street is known in Forest Hills—breathlessly describes nakhot garmack ($10) thusly: “veal tail braised for an eternity with chickpeas, until its soul leached into the surrounding broth.” I’m not sure about all that, but the veal stew topped with with raw onions and crushed red pepper, girded by slices of bread is definitely Uzbek soul food. The bread makes an excellent vehicle for the rich broth. And while the hospitality and stew at Taste of Samarkand will definitely warm you up, you’ll still need a coat.
Taste of Samarkand, 62-16 Woodhaven Blvd., Middle Village, NY 11379, (718) 672-2121
Steamed veal pelmeni, spa food via Russia and Corona.
There are many, many Central Asian eateries in Forest Hills and Rego Park where one can procure a plate of pelmeni, the pleated Russian ravioli, but there’s none quite like Forest Hills Spa. That’s because the tiny restaurant lies within the only authentic Russkaya banya, or Russian spa,in Queens. Banya—an experience that combines a eucalyptus scented steam room, sauna, and a blistering Russian Room where the temperature hovers around 190F—is a Russian tradition. The banya is just one of many places featured in my new guidebook 111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss, which drops later this year.
The menu at the tiny restaurant illuminated by a skylight includes such spa-worthy items as fresh fruit juices, but on both visits I opted for the Russian ravioli. When in a Russian spa, why not eat Russian food? (more…)
Juni’s veal and sweetbreads with quinoa and forest mushrooms.
PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED
Ever since I first tasted sweetbreads I’ve been a big fan. Whenever I see the veal thymus—aka sweetbreads—on a menu I order it. Rarely do I ever eat it with actual veal though. So I was glad to have dined at Juni last week where Shaun Hergatt has a veal and sweetbreads dish as part of his tasting menu.
Hergatt, who grew up on a cattle farm in Australia, counts himself a sweetbreads fan. Like the rest of Juni’s menu the veal and sweetbreads dish changes with the seasons. Currently, it’s in the winter incarnation. That means quinoa and several types of mushrooms. (more…)
Move over White Castle, veal tongue sliders are where it’s at!
Veal tongue, whether stir fried in spicy Tibetan chele katsa or sliced paper thin as a deli sandwich is a wonderful thing. Creamy rich tongue and heart are probably my two favorite types of beef offal. So when Andrew Zimmern, a man who has forgotten more than I shall ever hope to know about entrails posted a recipe for veal tongue sliders on his web site I had to check it out. (more…)
Maspeth’s most decadent veal ravioli sings with the flavors of sage and speck.
PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED
My buddy Josh Ozersky likes to say I’ve forsaken my Italian heritage to eat weird Chinese food in dodgy Flushing basements. He’s only partially right. I grew up in a home where soy sauce and hoisin were as common as Sunday gravy and the hunk of Pecorino we called “grating cheese.” Now and then I am turned on to a dish that makes me proud of my Italian heritage. Most recently it was the pasta—specifically the ravioli di vitello burro, salvia e speck ($13.95)—at the newish Osteria Italiana in Maspeth, a neighborhood that’s more Polish than Italian. Of all people it was my adopted Jewish mother, Times Ledger food critic Suzanne Parker, who turned me on to this lovely dish. Perfectly al dente triangles are filled with veal and sauced with butter and sage. Salty, smoky bits of speck top it all off. Buttery and decadent, it’s nothing like my Italian mother’s pillowy red sauce ravioli, but every bit as good.
Arzu’s lamb ribs and sweetbreads are both excellent.
There are more than a half dozen Uzbek kebab houses within walking distance of C+M’s Rego Park headquarters. All of these kosher spots serve various meats—lamb, beef, chicken, and odd bits like lamb fat—grilled on flat, swordlike skewers. I am not sure what serving meat on swords says about this culture, but I do know that it is darn tasty.
One of the best of these often social club like eateries is Café Arzu. It’s practically a samsa’s throw away from my apartment. A shish-kebab of lamb ribs—really riblets—runs $4.25. Sprinkle on a bit of vinegar and some ground hot pepper and set to gnawing away. That vinegar and the raw onion serve to cut the lamb’s rich fat. Veal khorovak ($5), is one of the cheapest and tastiest preparations of sweetbreads I’ve ever come across. At times Arzu has a heavy social club vibe. Blend in BYOing a bottle of vodka and drinking a pot of green tea. Or just set to ordering and eating meat with utter abandon.
Veal goulash is a great meal for a cold winter’s day.
Frigid winter days call for bone-warming, rib-sticking stews. Stews that I don’t always want to make. So I’m glad there’s a place around the corner from C+M headquarters where I can get a hearty veal goulash ($8) and a side of nokedli ($2.50) . That place is Andre’s, which knows a thing or two about Hungarian grub. Andre’s is famous for its flaky strudel and other desserts. Unbeknownst to many they also have a nice little selection of prepacked Hungarian specialties. The veal goulash is grandmotherly Magyar comfort food at its finest. Chunks of veal in a spicy sauce of tomato and cooked down onion might just be the cure for seasonal affective disorder. And if they’re not at least they’ll warm you up. You could choose to eat the buttery wheaten dumplings, known as nokedli on the side. Better to use them as vehicle for one of the best Hungarian meat sauces you’ll have all winter.
After ceviche, my next favorite Peruvian food would have to be anticuchos, skewers of grilled beef heart. In my home borough of Queens there are more Peruvian restaurants to grab this carnivore’s delight than once could shake a stick at. The best anticuchos I’ve had don’t come from a restaurant in Queens, though. They come from a Peruvian street cart in Manhhatan’s Union Square.
Morocho Peruvian serves up two skewers, with purple Peruvian potatoes, and the kernels of hominy corn known as choclo for $6. The secret behind these succulent skewers of is that they are veal heart rather than the beef heart found elsewhere. A lengthy marination in Peruvian aji panca peppers, soy sauce and oregano makes them even more toothsome. Though some would say it is not quite as romantic as chocolate, I think this tender veal heart makes for a fine St. Valentine’s Day snack.
Morocho Peruvian Fusion, 1 Union Square West @ West 14th St., 646-330-1951