03/09/20 11:06am

Kurry Qulture’s samosa chaat is a riot of texture and flavor.

When it comes to dining out in Astoria, the first cuisine many people still think of is Greek. Truth be told though the neighborhood’s dining scene has been diverse for quite some time with Middle Eastern, Japanese, Eastern European, American comfort food, and upscale Indian. That last category is the sole purview of Kurry Qulture, which was opened by Astoria resident Sonny Solomon and Chef Binder Saini, both of whom hail from the North Indian state of Punjab. The boys and I at Queens Dinner Club love everything on the menu here, including the luscious lamb chops, but we we are also especially fond of the many vegetarian dishes, which is why we are so very excited that Sonny and Chef Binder have created a special vegetarian feast for the next Queens Dinner Club, which will be held March 23. Make sure you don’t miss this very special dinner by signing up for our mailing list here.

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01/26/20 11:42pm

Chef Tom Lei puts the finishing touch on  a Shanghai specialty that will be served at the banquet.

A while ago I stopped by Chef Tom Lei’s restaurant Spy C Asian Cuisine in Forest Hills to review it for amNewYork. “What type of food would you like to eat?” the waiter asked. Chef Lei’s restaurant specializes in Sichuan food, but Lei, who studied at a top Beijing culinary school is conversant with a variety of Chinese cuisines, including Shanghai, Hunan, and Hangzhou to name a few. Since I was there to review the restaurant I couldn’t very well order any of these secret regional items, but I did have a great Sichuan meal, including mortar and pestle smashed eggplant (擂辣椒茄子, lei la jiao qie zi) and firecracker chicken wings (麻辣鸡翅, ma la ji chi). On a previous visit Chef Dr. Tom Lo, the restaurant’s culinary director, introduced me to Chef Lei’s take on crispy squirrel fish (松鼠鱼, song shu yu), a specialty of Hangzhou capital of Zhejiang so named because of the cross-hatched flesh appears when deep fried. It’s traditionally served with a sweet and sour sauce, but Chef Lei make his with a garlic sauce.

As I ate the squirrel fish and Chef Dr. Lo (an anesthesiologist by trade who is also a trained chef) waxed rhapsodic about Chef Lei’s smashed cucumbers in spicy sauce an idea came to me: Queens Dinner Club should have a multiregional Chinese banquet. Which is precisely what we are doing on the evening of February 10th. Make sure you don’t miss out on this very special dinner by signing up for our mailing list here. (more…)

01/07/20 11:42am

Before touring the countryside in a vintage bus, I enjoyed a traditional Japanese breakfast.

I recently took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. I’d like to thank the the Hirokamachi Board of Tourism for their gracious hospitality!

After seeing posts of my onigiri breakfasts in Tokyo, my good friend Stanford had encouraged me to try a traditional Japanese breakfast so I was glad to start day two of my Hirokawamachi adventure with just such a repast, prepared by Chef Kodai Nishizaka at Hirokawa Sato Cafe. It’s not on the regular menu, but Nishizaka-san prepared it especially for us that morning. It consisted of rice, homemade miso soup and cool tofu accompanied by grilled salmon, bean sprouts, tamago, and pickles. Along with a bright cup of green tea, the light meal was a great way to start the day.

Our destination as seen from the window of our ride for the day.

After breakfast I stepped outside and marveled at the green and beige 1965 retro bus. Every year during the last two weekends of November, the local tourism board provides free shuttle service for Taibaru Icho Meguri, or ginkgo leaf peeping using the vintage vehicle. Soon we met Kaoru Miyamoto, our driver who was clad in a snazzy chauffeur’s uniform. He’s one of only two men in town who can wrangle the 1962 manual steering schoolbus. Normally, it’s packed with leaf peepers, but that day our crew of four were the only folks on the field trip. “Sit up front next to the driver Joe-san,” Sakata-san instructed, so I did. We were soon on our way south to the golden grove of ginkgos. (more…)

12/27/19 4:33pm

Some local scenery, including golden gingko leaves.

As some of you may know last month I took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. I’d like to thank the the Hirokamachi Board of Tourism for their gracious hospitality and the cooking lessons!

After two days of seeing and eating as much as I could in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo it was time to head to the country, specifically Hirokawamachi. The good folks at the local tourism board specifically requested that I visit the week before Thanksgiving to partake in one of the country town’s most beloved traditions, Taibaru Icho Meguri, or gingko leaf peeping, as it was still autumn in Japan.

Since Tokyo’s on the island of Honshu and Hirokawamachi is on Kyushu we took a short flight to Fukuoka and then hopped on the Shinkansen—or bullet train—to Kurume. I was only there briefly, but it’s fair to say Kurume is to Tokyo as Oakland is to San Francisco. It’s also the gateway to Hirokawamachi and no visit is complete without checking out what Kazuko-san likes to call “Kurume Disneyland.”

 

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Rather than a full-blown amusement park, it’s a mechanical taiko drum clock erected in 1999 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of Kurume’s great figures, Tanaka Hisashige, known as “the Thomas Edison of Japan. Every hour it plays a song by a different Kurume composer and gives a little show detailing Hisashige’s contributions. At noon that song is Hachidai Nakamura’s “Sukiyaki,” made famous in the States in the 1970s by disco diva duo A Taste of Honey. (more…)

12/02/19 5:08pm

Some scenes from two very intense days of eating and touring Tokyo, including deluxe salmon onigiri, Senso-ji temple, Asakusa noir, and breakfast omakase at Toyosu Fish Market.

As some of you may know I recently took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. Before getting into the wonders of Hirokawamachi—and there are many, from artisanal textiles to amazing matcha—this installment takes a look at what I ate in Tokyo. I would like to thank Kazuki Chito of @mcnaieatmecrazy who graciously guided me around Tokyo.

I’d arrived in Tokyo late the night before and hit the ground eating as best as I could. That is to say I ordered a sea bream ochazuke and some grapefruit juice from room service. The dashi broth poured over rice and fish proved most restorative after a long flight.

Luckily Kazuko-san picked a hotel attached to the Haneda Airport. Not only was this convenient for arrival, it was convenient for breakfast. Haneda’s domestic terminal and its shops lay just outside the hotel’s doors and is eerily calm and serene in the early morning. I quickly found Sato Suisan a gourmet rice ball stand. I was particularly impressed to see a gent making fresh onigiri with ikura, or salmon roe. I also took note of a really cute airplane-shaped bento named for the Blue Impulse (Burū Inparusu) the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s equivalent of America’s Blue Angels.

Next time I find myself at a Tokyo airport snack shop I’m getting a Blue Impulse bento box!

The ikura onigiri—still warm and packed with salmon roe and salmon—was a fine breakfast, but by the time we got to Asakusa at 1:30 p.m., I was pretty hungry. “This is my favorite place for tonkotsu ramen,” Kazuki-kun said as we entered Urimbo. “It’s Hakata style,” he pointed out as he ordered the noodle with egg. I quickly took my guide’s lead and copied his order. Even though the broth was rich, it was cleaner tasting and less unctuous than tonkotsu I’ve had in the States. It knocked out the remnants of a lingering cold I’d brought to Japan from New York City. (more…)

10/28/19 12:40pm

Vibrant ceviche mixto, featuring shrimp and octopus, and the mighty bolon filled with pork, plantains, and mozzarella are just part of the evening’s menu.

Ask any old-school Queens food nerd, including yours truly, about Ecuadorean cuisine in the World’s Borough and the first thing that comes to mind will be the cluster of food trucks on Warren Street underneath the 7 train in Corona or perhaps the ladies who grill cuy—guinea pig—in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. About year ago though some very trusted Queens food nerds of a more recent vintage, like my pal Instagrammer @Wendalicious888 started to talk about a new place Rincón Melania on the border of Sunnyside and Long Island City.

“How good can it be? There are no Ecuadoreans over there,” I thought to myself. Good enough for a glowing review in The New York Times it turns out. Which is why I’m so glad that the next Queens Dinner Club will convene at Rincón Melania November 13th. Make sure you don’t miss out on this very special dinner by signing up for our mailing list here.

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10/07/19 6:52pm

The brunch scene back in the glory days of M. Wells Diner.

I know what you’re thinking, “‘Queens Brunch Club??,’ Joe hates brunch, and isn’t it called ‘Queens Dinner Club’ anyhow?” All true, but for this month Jonathan, Gabe (they hate brunch too), and I are changing the name of our little eating organization to Queens Brunch Club. That’s because we are hosting a brunch at M. Wells Steakhouse on October 26th. Make sure you don’t miss out on this very special dinner by signing up for our mailing list here.

“Québecois Chef Hugue Dufour of M. Wells has created a chef’s brunch for chefs that hate brunch. Not an egg or hash brown to be found here,” says Chef Jonathan. “Nothing but fantastical visions of food turned into reality.” (more…)

08/27/19 1:05pm

The signature taco from New York City’s only truck specializing in beef stew tacos.

I first ate at the Beefrr-landia truck—New York City’s only specialist in Tijuana-style beef stew tacos—after a long walk down Roosevelt Avenue following an evening eating through the Queens International Night Market with Action Bronson.

It was our third taco stop of the night, and we were already quite full. The first was a passable taqueria on National Street, and the second was the amazing nameless al pastor cart that comes out late night in front of the check cashing spot on the northwest corner of Junction and Roosevelt.

Despite the fact that we were all at maximum tacopacity we all looked at each other and decided we had to have the tacos from this truck. None of us had ever seen a tacos de birria vendor anywhere in New York City. I had a taco de birria, while Rachel and her boyfriend, John, each had a taco and split a mulita, a quesadilla like creation, which she raved about. It was a tasty taco, the tortilla stained a reddish orange and topped with beefy stew, but I knew I’d appreciate it more on an empty stomach, so I made it my business to return. (more…)

07/31/19 11:52am

Leading culinary excursions through Flushing, Queens, is often hungry work, so I like to reward myself with a post food tour treat, sometimes sweet and sometimes savory. Last Sunday, I shepherded a largish group of 10 folks through the bustling streets of America’s Greatest Chinatown and found myself hankering for something substantial afterwards. Which is how I wound up at the neighborhood’s newest fried chicken purveyor: Bone Man.

Despite the joint’s name I opted for boneless nuggets instead of the bone-in options, including regular old wings, chicken wing roots (wing tips), and chicken middle wings. I didn’t ask whether the folks behind the bird here are Taiwanese, but Bone Man distinguishes itself from most of the hood’s yen su ji joints by making a bird with a craggier, crunchier crust. The juicy chunks were sprinkled with red pepper and an aromatic spice mix that I’m pretty sure was just five spice, salt, and MSG. (more…)

07/21/19 11:29am

Behold El Guachito’s mighty mixed grill laden with short ribs, blood sausage y mucho mucho mas!

Summer’s the perfect time for grilled beef and cold beer, but sometimes it’s just too hot in New York City to do it yourself, which is why the boys at Queens Dinner Club and I have decided to hold an Argentine style feast for carnivorous kings and queens at El Gauchito, one of our favorite steakhouses, on August 13.

Situated in Corona’s Esquina Argentina neighborhood, this temple to Argentine gastronomy—i.e. sumptuous grilled meats served with plenty of garlicky chimichurri—got its start as a butcher shop in 1978, which Mario Civelli named for the mascot of his home country’s football team in that year’s World Cup. The butcher counter—filled with special Argentine cuts like vacio or flap steak and homemade blood sausage—is still there as is El Gauchito or the little cowboy. These days the restaurant that started as little more than a butcher shop with a grill in the front window has expanded to take up two storefronts with two dining rooms, each a museum of Argentine culture lined with pictures of vaqueros (Argentine cowboys), accordions, and tango dancers.

Antipasto El Gauchito features creamy beef tongue.

Our carnivorous feast kicks off with an antipasto featuring creamy beef tongue, a terrine of pig feet, eggplant, and matambre. The name of the latter specialty—a rolled veal breast stuffed with spinach, olives, and cheese—translates to “hunger killer.” The real hunger killing though will be done by the special mixed grill loaded with skirt steak, vacio, short ribs, Argentine sausage, and blood sausage. All this meaty fare will be balanced out by Gauchito Salad with arugula, artichoke hearts, and Parmesan. Save room for traditional flan for dessert! Cash bar includes beer, wine, sangria, and, for those who have overdone it, the Argentine version of the digestif Fernet Branca.

Tickets for this Argentine feast are $45. Seats are very limited for this one so make sure to sign up for our mailing list to get your early ticket sale notification that will be sent on 8/1.