It’s no secret to regular readers of this blog that Awang Kitchen is my favorite Indonesian restaurant in Queens. I eat there quite often and write about it almost as often. Here’s the thing though, I’ve become so used to ordering off the specials menu, that I’ve been missing out on some glorious dishes on the regular menu. Dishes like cumi goreng sauce telor asin ($9) or fried calamari in salty egg sauce.
Fried calamari isn’t necessarily the first thing I think of when it comes to Indonesian fare and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of “salty egg sauce,” but after a friend talked it up on Instagram, I knew I’d be trying it. Turns out that salty egg sauce is actually bits of golden salty egg yolk mixed in with the fried garlic and shallots that’s interspersed with the fried nuggets of squid.
The menu listing for this wonderfully salty and crunchy Indonesian take on fried calamari sports two chilies, but only because of the accompanying sambal. It’s great mixed in with the calamari itself as well as the accompanying nonsalty egg.
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…)
A rendang roll, with wasabi,ginger, and spicy mayo, natch.
Southeast Asian restaurants with sushi bars usually raise a red flag, and I tend to pass them by, with one notable exception, Awang Kitchen. Like many of my fellow Indonesian food nerds I’m unabashed in my enthusiasm for this restaurant that opened last spring, giddily eating my through bowl after bowl of various baksos and other Indonesian delicacies. Until just last week though I’ve avoided the chef-owner’s sushi bar, harboring a secret wish it would eventually evolve into a satay station. And them some rolls with a decidedly Indonesian accent began to show up on the specials board.
It began with beef rendang ($10). Tempe, peanuts, anchovies, and of course beef rendang, packed in seaweed with rice and cucumber a bit of peanut sauce and the requisite spicy mayo make up this cross-cultural creation. With the crunch of the dried fish and the candy coated peanuts known as sambal kacang, it’s tempting to dismiss the rendang roll as just nasi lemak in roll form, but it’s really an entirely new animal, a true Indonesian fusion dish. It’s served with the same green horseradish and pickled ginger you’ll find at many other sushi spots on Queens Boulevard, but it didn’t need either. Since the kitchen doesn’t make miso soup, I asked for a bowl of beefy, garlicky bakso broth. (more…)
Surely Lhasa Fast Food’s “cold skin sushi” deserves Michelin recognition.
Earlier this week Michelin released its 2018 Bib Gourmand honorees, which “denotes establishments where diners can enjoy a great meal for a good value.” I’m glad the crew of inspectors from the little red book is focusing more attention on the so-called outer boroughs and happy to see they added my dear friend Helen You’s Dumpling Galaxy to the list, but the Queens roster is still lacking. What’s more, Brooklyn and Manhattan are broken out into subareas (Upper East Side, Williamsburg, etc.) while the Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens lack such distinction. If any from Guide Michelin is reading this, do look me up I’d be glad to consult with you on neighborhood geography for a modest fee. (For the record I live in the one called Rego Park.)
“I can name five more Southeast Asian restaurants that should be on that list,” read a quote from me in The Wall Street Journal’s piece on the Bib Gourmands. I can, but I won’t. Instead here’s a list of seven places of varying cuisines that should have made the Michelin cut.
1. Lhasa Fast food Everybody who’s into food knows about this spot, which Jeff Orlick hipped me to years ago. Call it a momo speakeasy if you must, but really what Lhasa Fast Food is is a window into another culture and cuisine that just happens to be tucked away behind a cellphone store. I like the spicy yellow liang fen done up to look like sushi and of course the momos, including the classic beef and the rarely seen chu tse, or chive version. . 37-50 74th Street, Jackson Heights
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…)
Bandeng presto, a milk fish that’s seen hours in a pressure cooker before deep frying.
I’ve been a fan of the food and chef at Awang Kitchen ever since local Indonesian food aficionado and ace instagrammer @dan.bukit pulled my coat to it a few months ago. It’s no surprise that such a talent would be found in Elmhurst, which is hands-down the best place for Southeast Asian cuisine in New York City. When the boys at Queens Dinner Club and I learned that Chef Awang served liwetan, a festive meal served on a banana leaf rarely seen outside Indonesia, we knew it was going to be the second dinner at our new home, the swanky Bamboo Lounge at Kaufman Astoria Studios. We’re proud to present Awang Comes to Astoria on July 30 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for this one-of-a-kind feast are $45 and may be purchased here.
Succulent roast duck with roasted green chili sambal.
Bandeng presto, a specialty from Southeast java, that involves marinating a milkfish in yeast, shallots, and garlic and then letting it luxuriate in a pressure cooker before a nice hard deep fry is one of many dishes that Chef Awang will be preparing. As with most of his dishes, it comes with a homemade sambal. Bebek goreng sambel ijo, a succulent fried duck with roast green chili sambal will also be served as will rujak juhi, which combines shredded dried squid with noodles peanut sauce, potatoes, and cucumbers. Check out the full menu here.
As part of the evening’s festivities, Chef Peter Zaharatos of Sugar Cube will be creating bespoke desserts designed to complement Chef Awang’s menu. We’ll see you there!
When I first visited the Facebook page of Awang Kitchen, the newest Indonesian spot in the Southeast Asian-inflected Chinatown of Elmhurst, it displayed a vast menu, which has seen been edited down to a more manageable size. While the food was delicious, when I visited on opening weekend, the kitchen was moving at a glacial pace. Thankfully the kinks have been ironed out and Awang is fast becoming my favorite Indonesian spot in the neighborhood.
I’m a big fan of Indonesian fried chicken, so when I spied ayam goreng kalasan, a variety marinated with coconut water, I had to try it. It was some mighty fine bird and came with a sidecar of sambal terasi, a fiery red pepper concoction made with terasi, or fermented shrimp paste. It’s one of several sambals that the Jakartan chef-owner Siliwang “Awang” Nln makes in house. (more…)