10/02/18 11:02am

Do the Keebler elves eat octopus?

Ceviche de pescado—fish, typically corvina in Queens, cooked in lime juice—is such a staple of Peruvian cuisine that until just the other day I’d never tried Peruvian style octopus. Sure, I’ve had pulpo in the exquisite cokteles from La Esquina del Camaron Mexicano. Octopus is probably  on the menu of every Peruvian place in Queens, but my eyes skate over it in favor of sexier seafood like jalea, that mountain of fried fish, shrimp, and calamari fortified by planks of fried yucca.

The other day pulpo al olivo jumped off the menu at El Anzuelo, spurring my friends and me to order it. Tender slices of octopus loll in a pool of mauve liquor flanked by some avocado slices and, of all things, five Keebler Zesta brand saltine crackers. (more…)

10/16/16 11:05pm

Lunza kukalo, Cypriot style smoked pork ribs marinated in red wine, rubbed with crushed coriander.

Just as Jackson Heights has long been associated with South Asian and Indian cuisine Astoria is renowned for its Greek tavernas, but it’s also home to another cuisine that’s often confused with Greek. I speak of Cypriot cuisine, a product of a nation that sits at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia. And the best place to enjoy this wonderful style of cooking which bears Greek, Sicilian and Middle Eastern influences is Zenon Taverna. Which is precisely why the boys from Queens Dinner Club and I chose it for this month’s dinner on 10/26. To find out when tickets go on sale, be sure to watch our Facebook page.

“Everyone thinks we’re a European country, but we’re actually part of Asia,” said Elena, daughter of Zenon Taverna’s founder Stelios Papageorgiou. “We’re just below Turkey and right above Egypt.”

Many people conflate Cypriot and Greek cuisine, but Elena is quick to point out they are quite different. One of the main differences is the prevalence of pork. “We use pork for everything,” she said. “The reason for it is we’re a small island and pigs are easier to raise.” (more…)

01/03/16 12:29pm

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…)

07/19/15 10:38pm

La Esquina Del Camaron’s octopus taco.

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…)

06/16/14 12:35pm

Bonjuk serves one thing and one thing only, Korean rice porridge.

The real K-town in New York City is in Queens, stretching for about five miles from Northern Boulevard and Union Street in Flushing all the way out to Manhasset. This vast K-tropolis is lined with dozens of BBQ restaurants, kimbap joints, large Korean supermarkets, fried chicken spots, a store that sells Korean stone beds, and even a Korean-run Third Wave espresso bar. There are so many places it would take an entire lifetime to document them all. Today C+M’s K-tropolis takes a look at Bonjuk, a Korean porridge specialist. (more…)

01/17/13 11:12am

Legions of Gastronauts stormed Sik Gaek for a seafood feast.

When it comes to dining out I’m not one for the communal table, I prefer to dine in small groups, or alone an eating army of one if you will. And as far as eating clubs go I take the Groucho Marx approach.  That said I make an exception for The Gastronauts. The club for adventurous eaters was started by Curtiss Calleo and Ben Pauker over a Malaysian meal seven years ago and the ranks have swelled to 1,300 folks eager to try everything from goat’s eyes to horse meat. As I mentioned I have no need to be in a club to be an adventurous eater. An affinity for the nasty, squirmy, and often spicy bits is an integral part of my genetic makeup. And it doesn’t get any squirmier and spicier than the seafood feast some 50 Gastronauts gathered at Sik Gaek in Woodside on Tuesday night to enjoy. That’s because one of the eight courses was san nakji, or live octopus.

For whatever reason a meal at the soju-drenched Sik Gaek always begins with eggs cooked over a table top grill. This was followed by a grilled mackerel whose skin was so crisp it tasted like it had begun to confit in its own Omega-3 rich fat. Then came the live octopus. Truth be told it was some of the sleepiest live octopus I have ever encountered.

Surely this must be the Octopus’ Garden that Ringo Starr sang about.

Surely this must be the Octopus’ Garden that Ringo Starr sang about.

Octopus and lobster, both still very much alive, were the centerpiece of the next course, a Korean bouillabaisse of sorts. Clams, abalone, mussels, baby octopi, prawns,shrimp, calamari, and plenty of veggies bubbled away in a spicy broth. The steam that billowed forth was like spicy seafood aromatherapy. And the broth was quite simply one of the best seafood soups I have ever had. Once the lobster was cooked our waiter came over and cracked it open, and we all greedily dredged the pan for the precious flesh.


01/09/13 11:20pm
Live octopus is among the stranger things I've eaten.

Live octopus is among the stranger things I’ve eaten.

I’m no slouch when it comes to the nasty, and often squirmy, bits. Just last night some friends and I enjoyed a multistop Flushing feast that began with Sichuan cold  chicken feet and beef tendon and ended with chicken heart and beef stomach skewers at Biang! And, it’s a little known fact that I turned Anthony Bourdain on to the infamous lamb face salad that was created at Biang! parent Xi’an Famous Foods.

For the inaugural issue of Edible Queens I was tasked with taking Bourdain and his pal, Eric Ripert to eat the Korean delicacy san nakji, or live baby octopus. “Wouldn’t it be cool if I were experiencing it for the first time with them?,” I asked my editor. Her response was less than enthusiastic.

My virgin san nakji experience was with my Korean dry cleaner Paulie Sunshine. We got one critter each. After dispatching the squirming tentacles, Paulie popped the head in his mouth, chewed twice, and then swallowed.

“Your turn Joseph,” he said with a smile as I popped the slippery egg-shaped orb into my mouth and began chewing. And chewing. And chewing. No matter how much I chewed my teeth couldn’t get hold of the slippery mass. The ink sacs began to pop, and the surprisingly tasty ink began to seep out. Just as I was wondering if this was the cephalopod’s way of taking revenge on me I heard a voice. “OK Joseph, you go spit it out.” So, I did. It is thus far the first and only time I have tried to eat an octopus head.

So here’s what I’m curious to know. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten or attempted to eat. Tell me in the comments or hit me on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.