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09/21/17 1:07pm

Mutton marrow, Uighur style!

There are many places to get all kinds of lamb dishes in downtown Flushing from toothsome shreds of spicy cumin lamb to an entire spice-encrusted rack of lamb, but there’s none quite like a place I call Erqal Uighur. I call it that because despite being open since May, the place has yet to put up a sign. I only know the name Erqal because it’s printed on the receipt. Not only does it have the distinction of being the only Uighur spot in Flushing, it’s the only one serving Chinese  burritos.

Succulent lamb skewers ($1.61 apiece) are among the specialities here, but the real star is something called lamb leg polo ($8.96) , or what I have dubbed the Uighur burrito. I call it that because the polo—a Uighur style pilaf whose current lovely incarnation is shot through with fruit and carrots—and the mutton haunch, side salad, and blob of sweet yogurt are served atop a gigantic tortilla. It comes with sidecar of lamb broth, all the better for dipping the meat. Be sure to take a straw, you might be lucky enough to score a marrow bone. I’m not quite sure what the logic behind serving a mutton leg on top of a food-service grade flour tortilla is, but I didn’t let that stop me from making a burrito, nor should you.

Nothing says Uighur like fragrant polo and toothsome mutton served on a flour wrap

Three months ago when I first tried yang tui zhua fanas the lamb leg dish would be called in Mandarin—it was served in a foil takeout container with the tortilla lining the bottom along with that delicious yogurt and a side salad. The yogurt, wrap, and side salad are still there, but the foil takeout container has been replaced by a much better presentation: a wooden dish. (more…)

09/15/17 10:00am

Katakat, a favorite of Andrew Zimmern, is just one of many dishes that will be served.

Everybody knows Queens has great Indian food, but what you may not know is that we also have awesome Bangladeshi and Burmese food. These countries all border the Bay of Bengal, thus the inspiration for this month’s Queens Dinner Club feast—Destination: The Bay of Bengal. No need for a boat though, just join us at the swanky Bamboo Lounge at Kaufman Astoria Studios on Wednesday Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for this one-of-a-kind feast are $45 and may be purchased here.

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09/13/17 1:00pm

About a week ago my good friend Kent asked if I wanted to take a road trip to Philadelpia for a “cheesesteak that kicks ass on Pat’s and Geno’s.” I immediately said yes and asked him which place he had in mind. When he didn’t respond, I didn’t sweat it too much for Kent is trencherman to be reckoned with, i.e. one who knows.

We met up around 11 a.m. and got on the road, and Kent informed me we’d be hitting up a joint called Gooey Looie’s, a favorite of the late great Holly Eats. Kent had his order all planned out, a large cheesesteak and several more to go for friends and family. It had been more than five years since his last visit and he was jonesing.

When we arrived in South Philly at around 2 o’clock, we found the truly locals haunt, no tourist trap vibe at all. I was pretty ravenous, but still thought it would be a good idea to get just a small. “One wit wiz, peppers and mushrooms” Kent said to the counterman who quickly interjected, “we only use real cheese.” “I sure hope these guys don’t notice my Mets colored kicks,” I mused as I waited for my order. (more…)

09/12/17 1:18am

One of my favorite things to do on tours of Flushing Chinatown is to show off the live seafood on offer at J-mart. Watching the razor clams wriggle when nudged is always a hit. They’re sold live, and apparently at least at Randazzo’s on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, eaten that way.

So when my pal B.A. Van Sise and I decided to make a pilgrimage to the real Little Italy, I knew we had to try the wriggling mollusks. (more…)

09/06/17 10:20am

I have yet to travel to my paternal homeland of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, but when I do I might have to trek Southeast to Siracusa to feast on a sandwich from Chef Andreas of Caseificio Borderi. It’s a good thing that this 10-minute video starts with a shot of the finished product—piled high with a gorgeous salad; several types of cheese, including fresh ricotta; and lovely ham—because it takes Andreas almost that much time to complete a single panino.

This delay is largely because he stops halfway through to make a snack for the long line of customers.  “OK now I make you taste this one. Do you know garlic?,” he asks. “For us Sicilians, garlic was truffles,” he says as he prepares chunks of ricotta with garlic and herbs.

“You have to know that ricotta is the most valuable asset of human beings,” he says as he passes out the Sicilian amuse bouche, only to be interrupted by the customer who ordered the sandwich: “Where is he going? I want my sandwich!” Apparently, it’s well worth the wait!

09/05/17 4:46pm

Short rib soup, fried tempeh, and a refreshing longan iced tea.

Lately when people ask what my favorite food or restaurant is my answer besides, “Depends on my mood,” is Awang Kitchen. Since April the Indonesian spot has been in heavy rotation on my dining roster. Good thing Indonesian cuisine is so varied! When I first wrote about Chef Awang’s restaurant I made much about him bringing the flavors of Jakarta to Elmhurst, but the truth is the menu, particularly the specials, ranges all over Indonesia, including Sulawesi and Java.

I am slowly making my way through the wonderful, complex soups and stews that cycle through the specials board, including a grand version of soto mie jakarta, complete with a fresh spring roll filled with vermicelli and baby shrimp. What brought me there the other day though was the promise of  sate ikan hiu, or baby shark satay, a Sulawesi delicacy. Sadly they were out of it by the time I got there, so I had to opt for one of my favorite appetizers, tempeh mendoan, which transforms the otherwise odious fermented soybean product into scrumptious fritters. Crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside with just a hint of fermented tang, they’re great dipped in the sweet kecap manis. (more…)

08/30/17 1:23pm

Puerto Rican sweet bread cradles a tasty amalgam of hamburger and American cheese.

I’ve been eager to try a chopped cheese ever since the classic New York City bodega sandwich rose to controversial fame a couple of years ago on a wave of culinary Columbussing. I was going to hit a spot near Queensbridge and then I thought about White Gold Butchers for April Bloomfield’s $11 artisanal version and then I remembered my pal Giuseppe González was serving one at his Lower East Side watering hole, Suffolk Arms.

Actually that’s not what happened at all. I was in the neighborhood and I wanted to try the food at Giuseppe’s bar. I almost ordered the $13 Thanksgiving burger, which combines turkey, stuffing, and cranberry and then I saw “Joey’s Classic Chopped Cheese.” At $5 it’s the cheapest item on the menu, and that’s intentional the veteran barman says. “I went to two bodegas around my way one charges $5.50 and one charges $6, so I’m cheaper than both.” (more…)

08/29/17 11:28am

If C+M had an editor, I’d have been told long ago to ease up on Pata Paplean and its wonderful Thai noodles, but since it doesn’t I’m happy to tell you about what I like to call pork liver chow fun. In Thai it would be something like nam tok moo haeng, or dry pork blood noodles, but given my strong emotional attachment to Cantonese noodles I’m calling it pork liver chow fun.

It had been weeks since I enjoyed my good friend Cherry’s boat noodles. So the other day when I stopped by Pata I had a pretty good noodle jones going. Nevertheless was I feeling a bit jaded about this wonderful Thai street food and sat pondering whether to get a single pork blood noodle soup or a double when my musing was interrupted. (more…)

08/26/17 1:21pm

It has been a very auspicious summer for Šri Mahã Vallabha Ganapati Devasthãnam, or the Ganesh Temple of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, as it’s more commonly known. For one thing the temple on the outskirts of downtown Flushing celebrated its 40th birthday on July 4. And Sri Ganesh Chaturthi Nava-Dina Mahotsavam, a nine-day celebration of the elephant-headed deva’s birthday concludes this Sunday with a parade known as the Grand Ratha Yatra.

The festivities kick off at the temple at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow. Come a bit early and check out the arcade that has been decorated with images of Lord Ganesh and his favorite sweet ladoo, in such flavors as sesame, peanut, and dried fruit. (more…)

08/15/17 12:44pm

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…)