One of the first places I lived in Queens was Woodside. Walking Roosevelt Avenue to hit Thai places, Filipino spots, and taco trucks turned me on to the delicious diversity of food that makes the borough my favorite place to live, eat, and play. There’s one place I never frequented in all my time in Woodside though, La Flor, a cafe restaurant helmed by journeyman Chef Viko Ortega. I only just got around to meeting Chef Viko and trying his wonderful nuanced dishes. I was mightily impressed by his cooking. As were my friends Chef Jonathan Forgash and Gabe Gross of Queens Dinner Club. That’s we’ve decided to have Chef Viko cook our next dinner Mexico Meets France and Italy via Roosevelt Ave. which takes Tuesday May 17, 2016, 7:30 p.m. Chef Viko was kind enough to take some time away from the kitchen to answer seven questions.
How did you get into cooking?
I started baking when I was 13 years old in my hometown of Puebla, Mexico. In 1987 when I was 21 the main reason I came here was that I was tired of baking. So I came here and figured out that the only way to make decent money was back to the kitchen. I started doing pizza and pastry and salads. I cooked at dozens of restaurants including Larry Forgione’s An American Place. I can’t get away from baking though. The starter I use to make all the breads at La Flor is 24 years old.
Atlantic salmon with potato gallettes.
How would you characterize your cooking at La Flor?
I would say it’s a combination of everything I learned. I mix Italian, French, Mexican—that’s one of my favorites—a little bit of Asian. So it’s kind of fusion and I just love food. The dishes that you’re going to find here you’re not going to find anywhere else, I just love to play.It’s me. (more…)
When it comes to Mexican sandwiches, restraint is not an ingredient. Consider the creations of Corona’s Galdino “Tortas” Neza, the largest of which, The Pumas contains a larder’s worth of ingredients, including a chorizo omelet, fried hot dogs, and a deep-fried chicken cutlet. The humongous hoagie calls to mind the adage: Never eat anything bigger than your head. Good as his tortas are there’s one sandwich you won’t find on the Mexico City born and bred chef’s menu: the cemita Poblana. That’s because it’s a specialty of Puebla. In fact I’ve never had a good version of this sandwich until I tried the Super Cemita Poblana at Villa Cemita in the East Village. (more…)
Super Bowl 50 is almost upon us, and as usual, I’m only just learning which teams will face off Sunday evening. Such is my interest, or lack thereof, in football. Despite my apathy for team sports, I do hope all who watch the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers have a great time. Thus as a public service C+M presents a list of global snacks and goodies all of which are available in in Queens and will give your Super Bowl party much more flavor than guacamole and onion dip.
1. Mee krob (Thai)
The name of this popular Thai snack literally translates to crispy noodles. It’s no mere salty indulgence, though. Like so many of my other favorite Southeast Asian snacks, the tangle of noodles and fried bits of egg is salty, sweet, spicy, and sour. Tamarind and chili combined with a chewy sweetness make mee krob eat like a Thai Rice Krispy treat. Find it at the counter at Elmhurst’s Sugar Club. Sugar Club, 81-18 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-865-9018
2. Fried jeffrox fish (Filipino)
Find this pescatarian answer to potato chips at Phil-Am Market, a paradise of Filipino groceries and snacks located in Woodside’s Little Manila. The translucent sheets of fried dried fish are available on Thursday through Sunday. The crunchy critters come with a sidecar of seasoned vinegar and make for excellent, if somewhat odiferous, snacking. Phil-Am Market,40-03 70th St, Woodside 718-899-1797(more…)
Now that King Frost has officially made his presence known with the arrival of winter storm Jonas, it is officially soup season. Sure I’ve had plenty of bowls over the course of the past two months. But now it’s on, time to bring in the big guns. So here are seven of my favorites spanning a variety of styles—from sweet medicinal Chinese concoctions to savory noodle soups and spicy sinus clearers—and regions, including Southeast Asia and Latin America. Best of all you can find all of them without leaving the world’s borough, Queens.
1. Pozole rojo, Taqueria Coatzingo
This Jackson Heights cantina is known for its tacos, but the specials are the real stars. That’s where I discovered pozole rojo, the spicier cousin of the Mexican pork and hominy soup. As the name implies, the broth is red—very, very red—thanks to loads of chilies. Pozole rojo employs chicken rather than pork as a base. Served with the standard pozole fixings of diced onion, cilantro, and lime as well as shakers of oregano and red pepper, I like it think of it as Mexican penicillin. Add a few squeezes of lime along with a handful of onion and the other seasonings for one of the most head-clearing soups to be found on Roosevelt Avenue. Sour, spicy, and packed with fresh herbs, hominy, and chicken it’s sure to cure what ails you. Best of all it’s always on the specials menu! Taqueria Coatzingo, 76-05 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, 718-424-1977(more…)
Now that the streets around Times Square are almost cleared of New Year’s Eve confetti and I’ve digested several plates of lucky New Year’s noodles it’s time to take a look back at 2015. It was a big year for me, including a profile in The Wall Street Journal.Queens continued to amaze with everything from octopus tacos and Thai noodles to Caribbean Chinese and the most unlikely French patisserie ever. In no particular order here are 15 of the best things I ate last year.
Tom yum haeng topped with fried pork sugar and chili.
1. Yummiest dry tom yum
The weekend noodle soup pop-up at Elmhurst’s Pata Paplean remained on point, but one of my favorites there wasn’t a soup at all. Tom yum haeng—dry tom yum noodles—consists of springy yellow noodles, fish balls and golden shards of fried pork all dressed with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili, and cilantro. Mix it all up and dig into the best dry noodles in Thai Town.
2. Tastiest deep-fried seafood nostalgia
The cheery blue and white Bigelow’s Seafood has been around for more than 70 years. After driving by it for about that amount of time, I finally had the privilege of trying it this past spring. These wizards of the fryer turn out impeccable Ipswich clams, fried smelts, shrimp, and soft shell crabs all served in an atmosphere that time and cholesterol have forgotten. (more…)
Pozole, the Mexican pork and hominy soup is a renowned hangover cure. Like many of the best such remedies—Korea’s samgyetang and seolleongtang come to mind—it’s a season it yourself situation. Served with diced onion, cilantro, and lime as well as shakers of oregano and red pepper it’s a nice pick-me-up. I like the pork and corn concoction well enough, but no matter how much seasoning I add it never has the incendiary heat I so often crave. That’s why I’m glad I happened upon pozole rojo at Taqueria Coatzingo. (more…)
The meganightmarket/food hall known as Bourdain Night Market that will rise on Chelsea’s Pier 57 development in some two years is being hailed as the most exciting development in the food scene since white people, including myself and Tony B., discovered Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall. Anthony Bourdain and Stephen Werther have tapped some major talent, including hawker food expert KF Seetoh and The Street Vendor Project—the nonprofit behind the Vendy Awards—to curate a dozen stalls. I’m excited to try Singapore’s Geylang Claypot Rice and the uni tostadas from Sabina Bandar of Ensenada, Mexico. “It will be all transparent and authentic…not sterile, but chaotic in a good way, with hawkers and vendors and places to eat,” Bourdain tells Florence Fabricant in last week’s Times. “Where in this city can you have that?” Where indeed!!?? Why Queens, of course. Without further ado here are seven spots we’d love to see find a home in Bourdain Market.
1. La Esquina del Camaron Mexico Pedro Rodriguez is a mixologist of sorts, but instead of mescal or tequila his cocktails contain shrimp and octopus. His Mexican seafood cocktail mise en place includes olive oil, limes, onions, cilantro, avocado, and a tomato-based sauce. Doctored up with a goodly splashe of Valentina hot sauce and served with saltines, a cup of his signature creation brimming with tender octopus and shrimp is a meal in itself. Rodriguez operates out of a sparkling clean kitchen in a bodega on Roosevelt Avenue. Lately he’s branched out to include other delicacies like octopus tostadas. La Esquina Del Camaron Mexicano, 80th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights (347) 885-2946(more…)
Labor Day might be the symbolic end of summer, but truth be told there’s almost two weeks left of the season. So why not celebrate the tail end with something truly crazy: a piña loca from Jazmin Deli in Elmhurst? It’s part fruit salad, part candy store and all party. The $15 fiesta consists of a cored out pineapple filled with a mixture of spiced fruit, cucumbers, and the candy coated peanuts known as cacahuate estilo Japones. It’s garnished with skewers of more fruit, and several types of candy including a straw coated in spicy tamarind. (more…)
Fish tacos are tricky business. The batter fried ones are OK, but to this eater they seem like little more than fish and chips gone South of the Border. I prefer my fish tacos with a batter and a hard fry like they do at Tortilleria Nixtamal, where they use skate wing. The other day though I encountered a kind of seafood taco I never tried, octopus tacos. (more…)
Taqueria Cocoyoc’s cemita de barbacoa enchilada is packed with spicy goat.
Last week I had the pleasure of appearing on Shari Bayer’s radio show “All in The Industry.” We talked about many things, including how I became a food writer and The Catskills Comes to Queens. (You can listen to the episiode here.) All that talking made me rather hungry. The Heritage Radio Network studio is located within Roberta’s, but somehow I wasn’t in the mood for Italian. So I ventured deeper into Bushwick on a taco tip from a friend. (more…)