11/29/21 7:48pm

Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas with Chef Bimla and the belt, this year’s map, and a bowl of buffalo johl momo.

“I can get momo any time. It’s just too much of a scene for me,” is usually what I say when asked about the Momo Crawl. “I prefer to pay my respects to the winner afterwards.”

“You could say it’s the SantaCon of momos but I prefer to say it’s the WrestleMania,” tweeted Jeff Orlick founder of the annual event, which brings hundreds of fans hungry for Himalayan dumplings, to the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Woodside, in a reference to the coveted Momo Crawl trophy, which is modeled after a championship wrestling belt.

For the past four years that trophy has graced the wall of Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, thanks to Chef Bimla Hamal Shreshtha’s piping hot momos, served in a fiery jhol broth humming with ginger, chili and other spices.
This year though not only did I pay my respects to the winner, I attended the crawl itself, and I’m glad I did. I ran into many dear friends old and new and frankly felt a sense of liberation despite my general distaste for crowds.

I tried only four of the 29 places on the crawl and couldn’t make sense of Momo Crawl mastermind Jeff Orlick’s map. “It’s a real Jeff Orlick special,” my pal Drew said with a chuckle. Later we sampled the winning momos from Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, which proved to be the hottest and freshest of the ones I tried, with lots of variety. I went for a trifecta of beef, buffalo, and goat with plenty of broth. The broth proved too spicy for my sweetheart Hannah’s daughter Vera, but that didn’t deter her appetite for more of the dumplings. In fact if she had her way I think she’d have done at least a half dozen more stops.

“They try very hard to win, and that makes a huge difference,” Orlick said of this year’s winner. “People seemed very happy to be there. Being outside also gave people some relief from being so concerned about coronavirus.”

This afternoon I took a long walk through the Heights to work up an appetite for a bowl of Chef Bimla’s momo. I opted for the buffalo. With a nip in the air and the second snow of the season falling it seemed like a perfect choice. Congrats again to Chef Bimla and Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, but most of all to Jeff Orlick for showing this sometimes jaded culinary king the joy of community in action.

Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, 74-15 Roosevelt Ave., (917) 745-0533

11/01/21 3:39pm
Filipino breakfast of champions featuring a whole smoked milkfish, two fried eggs, eggplant, and tomato salad.

It’s been a while since I logged on . . . by that I mean posting on C+M, but more specifically filing a dispatch about Filipino breakfast. Many restaurants in Woodside’s Little Manila and elsewhere in Queens offer various silog platters including longsilog, which features sweet and fatty pork longganisa sausage, and tosilog, which highlights sweet cured pork. Today was the first time I saw tinapsilog ($11.20) on a Filipino breakfast menu though.

“It’s a smoked fish,” the waiter informed me. “Is it like dasilog?” I inquired further. “Yeah, but smoked,” he responded.

Not entirely sure what to expect, I decided to give tinapsilog a try, if only to better understand how they arrived at the price $11.20. I was absolutely floored by what landed on the table. I’ve seen plenty of whole fish before, but this milkfish was absolutely beautiful. A thin sheet of golden amber skin stretched over the flesh. Best of all, that skin was shatteringly crunchy and smokey, almost like a fish bacon. The platter came with two sunny side up eggs; some Chinese eggplant; tomatoes; the requisite sinangag, or garlic fried rice; and some vinegar to dip the fish into.

I’m not quite sure of the prep beyond the smoking, but I’m going to guess it was fried because every bit of skin and bone including the head and tail was super crunchy.

A lot of people ask what inspires me when it comes to food writing and my stock answer is usually something like: “Look, if I eat something absolutely amazing, I’m almost physically compelled to write about it immediately.” In case you are wondering today’s breakfast met that criteria.

Amazing Grace, 69-02 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, (718) 335-7036

07/20/20 8:35am

These Korean cold noodles are one of my favorite forms of edible air conditioning!

When the dog days of summer have got me panting I seek cold noodles: chilled Japanese soba, Chinese liang pi, Chengdu liang mian, and the chillest noodles of all, Korean naeng myun.

Think of the slippery buckwheat noodles as edible air conditioning. There’s a soup version, mul naengmyeon, which consists of the greyish noodles along with chilled beef broth, often with a small glacier of beef stock; cooling fruits and veggies like sliced Korean pear and cucumber; thinly shaved beef; and a hard-boiled egg. And then there are soupless varieties like hwe naeng myun, topped with raw fish.

I’ve never had the fish version and was eager to try it at New Hae Woon Dae in Elmhurst during what seemed like day 1,024 of quarantine and day 99 of New York City’s heat wave. “We don’t make it anymore,” the server told me, so I opted for the bibim naeng myun, or mixed naeng myun.

So much chili sauce blanketed the noodles that I could barely see them. Slices of daikon, Korean pear, shaved beef, and an egg were relegated to the side of the silver bowl, as if scared of the chili drenched strands.The server used her trusty noodle shears to deftly divide the bowl in four and advised me to add hot mustard and vinegar.

New Hae Woon Dae’s bibim naeng myun comes with a cold bowl of soup on the side to add. Slippery spicy noodles, crunchy vegetables and fruit, and that little bit of meat combined for a satisfying and refreshing summer lunch.

I still can’t wait to try the seafood version though. I’d love to know about your favorite cold noodles and soups. Let me know in the comments.

New Hae Woon Dae, 75-32 Broadway, Woodside, 718-397-5834

07/17/20 11:10pm

Tamarind and chili enriched crab noodles by way of Chantaburi and Khao Nom.

Once upon a time called the late 90s there was a tiny Thai restaurant in Woodside with harsh fluorescent lighting, three tables, and a looseleaf binder of photos that served as a menu. At the time Sripraphai was my kind of joint, a place with food that expanded my mind and my gustatory horizons. Thirty years later it’s three storefronts wide and many say the food has suffered, which is to say it’s not my kind of joint anymore. That’s okay though because in the past decade Elmhurst and Woodside have exploded with all manner of regional Thai specialists, some of whom only operate on weekends. Herewith three of my favorites for you to try.

1. Sen Chan Pad Pu, Khao Nom

76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 929-208-0108
When this retro looking dessert cafe opened it featured a wonderful noodle dish from Chantaburi, sen chan, a spicy tamarind enriched forerunner of the now shopworn pad thai, which features several meaty prawns. Recently Khao Nom introduced the dish’s crabbier cousin, sen chan pad pu. It’s only available on weekends since that’s when Kukiat Chareonnan has the time to make it. It’s spicy, sweet, briny and thoroughly satisfying.

This funky, tart, and spicy papaya salad delivers flavor and electrolyte replacement.

2. Som tom pu pla ra, Pata Market
81-16 Broadway, Elmhurst, 347-935-3714
Down the road from Khao Nom at Pata Market one can procure bespoke packages of sum tom, or papaya salad. When the weather gets hot and humid my favorite version is som tom pu pla ra, which is made with salted black crab and fermented anchovy. Briny, spicy, and tart it’s like an electrolyte replacement therapy! Best of all the lady behind the giant mortar and pestle lets you taste it halfway through to adjust the flavor. It’s served with noodles, cabbage, a hard boiled egg, and sticky rice making for a nice summer meal.

3. Hor Mok, 3 Aunties Thai Market
64-04 39th Ave, Woodside, 718-606-2523
I’ve been a fan of the gals who run this adorable Thai grocery store in Woodside ever since I found out they sell the most amazing savory rice crackers studded with chili and minuscule shrimp. One Sunday I learned they also have another seafood specialty homemade hor mok pla, a fish custard flavored with red curry, coconut milk, Thai basil, and a hint of lime leaf. Not only is the version they make here delicious, it incorporates steamed cabbage and is gigantic. Best to show up around 2 or 3 o’clock since it takes them a while to cook it.

06/29/20 10:28pm

Zhicay’s shrimp ceviche is stupendously good.

I’ve always known Alfonso Zhicay, the Ecuadorean culinary star behind Woodside’s Casa del Chef Bistro knew his way around ceviche, but it took a pandemic and a vegetarian ceviche of all things to fully convince me.

Like many chefs, Zhicay has pivoted during the pandemic, launching a new concept called PapaViche, a collaboration with fellow Ecuadorean Chef Humberto Guallpa of Freemans. I wanted to do only potatoes and then he said, ‘what about with ceviche?’” Zhicay said. “Potatoes and ceviche, why not let’s do it.”

Opening night at PapaViche.

When it comes to ceviche I tend to prefer the bracingly citric Peruvian version to the soupier and sweeter tomato-based Ecuadorean version, but Zhicay’s shrimp ceviche—listed on the menu as Alfonso’s Ceviche—knocked my socks off. The plump shrimp lounged in an orange liquor that was as bright as a gazpacho, but also had an incredible depth of flavor. “It’s a twist. It’s not exactly Ecuadorean ceviche,” Zhicay says noting that one of the secrets to its depth is roasted tomatoes that are added to a shrimp shell consomme. (more…)

08/07/19 11:42am

Is this plate from a trattoria or a Thai joint?

For years the running joke about this Italian-American boy’s love for Asian food has been that I’ve forsaken my pasta and red sauce roots to slurp noodles in the basement of what my dear departed friend Josh Ozersky lovingly termed “ethnic hell holes.”

Noodles—be they Thai, Chinese, or Indian, cold, stir fried, or in soup—are one of my favorite foods. The other day I had a Thai noodle dish—black ink spaghetti with nam prik ong—that seemed to have more in common with Bologna than Bangkok. (more…)

02/07/19 10:31am

Stephen Yen, executive chef of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill is a pretty busy guy, so I’m pretty glad he found the time to answer Seven Questions. Not only was Chef Yen born in Queens, he was born in the Year of the Pig. Chef Yen will be preparing a very special roast pork bao at Charcuterie Masters on February 23.

1. Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in Queens?
I was born on Main street in Flushing. The hospital was called Booth Memorial back then. My mother’s OBGYN, Dr. Uma Mysorekar, is now president of the Hindu Temple Society in Flushing. I have a special place in my heart for Flushing. I was raised out on Long Island in a small town about an hour from NYC, been back in queens now for about 7 years.

2. I’m excited to have you roasting a pig at Charcuterie Masters! Tell me a little bit about the process?
We are going to brine the little piggie using fish sauce in the brine, this is something I learned from Robbie Richter at Fatty ‘Cue. Nowadays its common practice in most kitchens. The sodium content is where you need it to be, plus you gain all the umami! We are going to then roast the pig in a La Caja China. It’s a roasting oven that simulates the old way of burying a pig and keeping the charcoal on top. The box makes it easier for us, we don’t have to dig! I’ve used a La Caja China before and they are awesome! I usually end up throwing some seafood on top of the charcoals to snack on while we wait for the pork. (more…)

05/15/18 10:32am

The more austere lugaw (left) and golden yellow arroz caldo at HOI with crispy tofu.

My mother is from the Philippines, which is why my family called rice porridge lugaw when I was growing up. Even my father now calls rice porridge lugaw even though he grew up in Taiwan calling it mai. The lugaw we made at home was usually a bland rice-and-water-only affair, without even salt. Occasionally, my mother would make chicken lugaw by braising drumsticks in the simmering rice, a rudimentary version of the chicken porridge known as arroz caldo.

On the all-day breakfast menu at the House of Inasal in Woodside, you’ll find both lugaw and arroz caldo. (If you order before noon, they come with free taho, Philippine-style dòuhuā, extra soft tofu topped with sago pearls and arnibal, a syrup made from brown sugar, ideally muscovado.) (more…)

05/03/18 8:49am

HOI’s fish fryup feeds two normal eaters, or one very hungry blogger.

I count myself a big fan of Filipino breakfast and I was pleased to see a rundown of it on Saveur recently. When it comes to Filipino food, I’m usually all about the pork, but not when it comes to breakfast. When I find myself at a Filipino restaurant in the a.m. I forsake my affections for crispy pata and lechon kawali. At the Filpino breakfast table my heart and stomach belong to dasilog, a fried dried milkfish, served with sinagag—garlic fried rice—and itlog—a sunnyside up egg. Or at least they did until recently. (more…)

01/01/18 9:39pm

The year that just drew to close was a year of personal challenges—coping with chemo via congee—and achievements—publishing a guidebook to Queens—all while eating my way through New York City’s most delicious and diverse borough. Herewith, are 17 from 2017. 

1. Most Super Soup Dumplings
I’ve been a fan of Helen You’s dumplings since long before she became the empress of Dumpling Galaxy. My favorite at Tianjin Dumpling house in Golden Mall remains the lamb and green squash. Yang rou xiao long bao, or lamb soup dumplings, are one of the off-menu stars at Dumpling Galaxy. The little packages bursting with unctuous lamb broth are so good that they have become a  staple of my Flushing Chinatown food tours. Dumpling Galaxy, 42-35 Main St., Flushing, 718-461-0808

2. Choicest Chang Fen
I cut my teeth on Cantonese steam rice rolls at Mei Lei Wah in Manhattan’s Chinatown, so this breakfast staple will always have a special place in my heart and stomach. About a year ago Joe’s Steam Rice Roll opened in downtown Flushing and I knew right away that it was somethings special. For one thing he’s grinding fresh rice as opposed to using rice flour like everybody else in New York City, which imparts a delicate flavor and texture. Turns out that Joe himself went to Guangzhou to learn his craft and brought the equipment back with him. My favorite is the shrimp and egg with green onion. Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing

3. Duckiest Thai Arancini
OK fine, they’re not quite Italian rice balls, but the trio of crispy sticky rice balls served with Thailand Center Point’s larb duck with crispy rice ($13.95) do a great job of soaking up the piquant sauce. The shredded meat—mixed with roasted rice powder and shot through with herbs and just the right amount of chilies—is superb. Thailand’s Center Point, 63-19 39th Avenue, Woodside, 718-651-6888 (more…)