“After five or 10 minutes of trying to figure out how to order a guy my age will give up and go around the corner and get a slice of pizza,” I quipped to my new friend Calvin. “And not come back,” I thought to myself.
Thankfully my urge to try the Burmese food from Myo Moe’s newly opened Mandalay Club outweighed my frustration with technology and the disconnect I experienced at Sunnyside Eats, a ghost kitchen/food hall that as best as I can tell opened earlier this fall. Part of the disconnect was due to the use of the word “Food Hall” on the outdoor signage. I’d expected to walk around a food hall. Instead I found myself in a room that looked somewhat like a cross between a taxi dispatch office and the set of Squid Game.
“Is Mandalay Club open today?” I didn’t see them on the tablet. “Oh yeah, they’re new. You have to order from Uber Eats,” the guy behind the dispatch window told me.
After installing Uber Eats and fiddling around with it for another five minutes only to realize that Mandalay Club was not on the platform Calvin came over. By this time I’d figured out Mandalay Club was on DoorDash. “It should be about 20 minutes,” Calvin informed me after checking on my order. That order consisted of wettar thoke ($14)—a cold melange of various parts of pig face, cucumbers chilies and veggies that I hadn’t enjoyed since Crazy Crab in Flushing shut down a few years ago—and anya lamb curry seit thar natt ($18), an intriguing sounding lamb neck dish.
While I waited, I amused myself by seeing how many photos I could take in the lobby despite the fact a sign expressly forbids any photography and video. (For the record it was two.) And then I remembered that my friend Kazuko Nagao of Oconomi had opened at Sunnyside Eats, so she came downstairs and helped me pass the time as I waited for my meal.
The meal itself was quite excellent. The pig head dish was a wonderful balance of crunchy bits of ear, squidgy nose, and creamy cheek meat with cucumber, green chili, red onion and other veggies. The lamb neck was amazing too. Moe told me she sources it from D’Artagnan and then cooks it for an hour and a half in a gingery masala along with yellow split peas.
All in all it made for a fine meal on a chilly evening. In fact I’m looking forward to part two tonight. That said, I’ll stick to frequenting real food courts instead of ghost ones, which leave me hungering for human interaction. Guess this very very late adopter will be ordering Oconomi as well as the rest of Moe’s menu via DoorDash.
Mandalay Club, 40-05 Skillman Ave., Long Island City
The other day I was quoted in a Wall Street Journal piece on the staggering diversity of Asian fried chicken now available in New York City. Besides Korean, there’s now Filipino, Taiwanese, and Thai, to name just a few. The reporter and I talked about how most everybody loves fried chicken, but how their are other Asian dishes that aren’t as easily accepted by Western palates.
“Korean Fried chicken is an easier sell than Korean blood sausage,” I quipped. You don’t have to try too hard to sell me on soondae though. I like the Korean blood sausage shot through with dangmyeon or glass noodles plain with salt and red pepper as it’s served at many Korean takeout spots in Murray Hill. I also like it in the hearty pork bone soup soon dae gook, which I enjoyed for dinner last night at Tang.
Like fried chicken though, in Queens there’s a blood sausage for almost every culture: Argentine morcilla, Irish black pudding, and Tibetan gyuma are among my favorites. So here’s what I’d like to know what’s your favorite way to enjoy this delicacy?
Ma po pig brains are an offal lover’s version of the classic Sichuan dish.
As a rule I never put new, untried dishes on a food tour except when I choose to break that rule. On those rare occasions, the new item comes from a trusted vendor. Like the other day when I took my friend Giuseppe Viterale chef-owner of Astoria’s Ornella Trattoria on a culinary research tour of downtown Flushing’s Chinatown with the aim of showing him how the Chinese eat pork offal. I had blood, feet, and ears covered, but wanted a larger dish to share at the end of our gastronomic adventure. So before I met up with Giuseppe I stopped in Szechuan House to see if my friend Linda and her husband had anything that might fit the bill.
Among a baker’s dozen new dishes I hit paydirt in the form of No. 5, listed in English as “ma po brain flower.” Surely this is a mistranslation I thought to myself, but Lisa informed me otherwise. “It’s like ma po tofu, but we use pig brain instead.”
Winter calls to mind warmer times—with plenty of good old-fashioned BBQ and cold beer to wash it all down. Which is why this month’s Queens Dinner Club will be a down-home Nepali style BBQ feast at Bajeko Sekuwa on January 28. Tickets are $52 and may be purchased here.
The new spot in Sunnyside whose name means grandpa’s BBQ was started by Dinanath Bhandari who used to grill sekuwa skewers at a hawker stand on the road to the Kathmandu airport. His once humble stand has grown into a mini-empire with 14 locations in Nepal, and just one in the U.S., in Sunnyside, Queens. (more…)
Meaty pork spine lurks beneath a blanket of green chilies.
It’s no secret Arada Moonroj, the lady who brought Lanna cuisine to Elmhurst’s Thai Town is a fan of the pig. The menu at her restaurant Lamoon features every part of the beast, from brain and blood to belly and bits of ear in the sai aua sausage. The latest addition? Spine as featured in leng zabb, a spicy soup of slow-cooked meaty ribs and vertebrae.
The bones are stewed for hours until they give up their marrow and collagen and the whole lot is finished with fish sauce, fresh lime and showered in green chilies, cilantro, and garlic. The menu describes it as “brutally spicy,” but I wouldn’t characterize it as a challenge dish along the lines of the phaal at Brick Lane Curry House. It certainly got my attention and gave me the sniffles, but it’s more of a bright chili heat than the incendiary burn often associated with the phrase “Thai spicy.”
It was quite satisfying to suck every last but of meat and marrow from the bones, but it would be nice to have had some plastic gloves to aid in wrangling the bones. One thing’s for sure though, the lime juice, chili, and garlic should spell the end of this lingering midwinter cold.
A trio of cold appetizers at Wenzhou Noodle House.
In my perambulations around America’s Greatest Chinatown, aka downtown Flushing, I encounter many, many cold appetizers. One of my favorites can be found at Chengdu Tianfu. Liang ban san su—cold salad three vegetables—consists of seaweed, julienned carrots, and chewy noodles showered in cilantro dressed with roasted chili oil, black vinegar, and a healthy dose of garlic. The other day though I took a dive into the 42-item roster of special cold appetizers at Wenzhou Noodle Restaurant and discovered a trio of new favorites.
Kanom jeen ngaew features pork blood, pork ribs, and ground pork.
Elmhurst’s Little Bangkok is so robust that it can support everything from boat noodle popups to dessert cafes. The latest entrant is Lamoon, the hood’s sole specialist in Chiang Mai cuisine, from Chef Arada Moonroj who learned to shop at local markets and pick lemongrass and kaffir lime from her mother and grandmother back home in Northern Thailand. A profound dislike for the use of MSG in New York City’s Thai restaurants led her to teach herself how to cook by watching Youtube videos.
After cooking for friends she decided to open Lamoon, which is both a play on her last name and a Thai word that is perhaps best translated as subtle, or better yet, soigné. It took over the old Ploy Thai space about two weeks ago and features a decor that combines a feminine sensibility with Thai street art. (more…)
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…)
Sugar Club added Thai style congee to the menu just in time for winter.
Like much of New York City, Queens is now in winter’s icy grip. Unlike most of the rest the city though we have two Chinatowns and the most robust K-town in New York City, which is all a very long way of saying that there are many many options when it comes to Asian soups. Here are our seven of our favorites.
PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED
1. Thai Congee, Sugar Club “Thai people like the pork one,” the kid behind the counter responded when asked which variety of Thai congee was better. Earlier this week Sugar Club started selling the rice porridge, known as jok in Thailand, just in time for winter. The shop’s version ($6.50) of the ubiquitous Asian breakfast porridge features an egg stirred in, mushrooms, and a tangle of noodles. As for the pork it turns out to be lovely little meatballs. Doctored up with chili flakes and salty Golden Mountain sauce this combination porridge/noodle soup its a great way to ward off winter’s arctic chill. Sugar Club, 81-18 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-565-9018
This lamb spine’s mighty fine.
2. Lamb Hot Pot, Beijing First Lamb Shabu I’m no fan of Chinese style hotpot, but the stuff they’re making at Beijing First Lamb Shabu, (Lao Cheng Yi Guo in Chinese) is truly special, mainly because the specialty of the house isn’t traditional hotpot, but rather a rich lamb stew. Upon entering the Flushing branch of this Beijing chain I was floored by pervasive aroma of gamy lamb and five spice. Like many hot pot joints there’s a ballot-like menu with all sorts of add-ins and soup bases. The difference here is that all of the soup bases feature a combination of mutton ribs and spine in a rich heady broth. Lao Cheng Yi Guo thoughtfully provides gloves so you can pick up the vertebrae and get at the ridiculously tender bits of meat that cling to the lamb spine. Someone once told me that eating lamb spine is a fertility tonic for men. I’m not sure about tha,t but Lao Cheng Yi Guo certainly put a smile on my face and warmed me up. Lao Cheng Yi Guo, 136-55 37th Ave., Flushing
In the past six months I’ve come to appreciate Koreanseollongtang, a milky mellow ox bone soup. It’s nourishing and comforting and easy on my digestive system, which has been a bit fragile lately. One can only slurp so much of the same soup before boredom sets in though. So I’ve tried other versions of the long-simmered bone broth soup with various add-ins including chunks of oxtail and medicinal herbs, but none has proved as satisfying as the minimalist seollontang.
The other day I was dining at Tang with Chef Dave of NY Epicurean Events, and he was trying to get me to order soon dae gook ($14), a seollontang spin featuring pork and the Korean pork blood sausage, soon dae. “That looks good,” he said as I proceeded to tell him most variations of the dish I’d tried fell flat. But the promise of offal convinced me to try it. (more…)