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Shovel Time: Momiji

I’m sure there are exceptions but state capitals tend to be almost non-places and definitely not food destinations. Sacramento? Albany? Salem? Have you ever been curious about sushi Oregon’s capital? Probably not.

Salem is full of lesser regional chains like Izzy’s and Pietro’s, and also a Sizzler. (I can’t believe the only one left in Portland that I was supposed to go to on a Tinder date but ended up going to with my grandma is gone.) I went to the Oregon State Fair earlier and decided to stay the night. Momiji was one of the few places open late on Sunday (until midnight) and I kind of like this level of non-purist sushi: crazy rolls, all-you-can-eat specials, and saloon doors separating a video poker room. A lot of businesses in Salem are low-slung and windowless like they are up to something. 

You don’t even have to wear shoes.

When in Salem one must order the Salem roll, a holy trinity of cream cheese, avocado, and fake crab, fried tempura-style and drizzled with eel sauce. Momiji is the kind of place where you don’t feel guilty for ordering sushi with sweet and creamy sauces, though I still got some unadorned ikura and maguro.

I might’ve guessed that the poke on the appetizer list was just riding the wave of Hawaiian raw fish popularity, though it’s hard to say because I forgot how much of a Hawaiian presence there is in the NW. I’ve heard because many Hawaiians go to the University of Oregon and end up staying. I’ve been to multiple luaus in the 20 months that I’ve been visiting Portland. All that plus tempura was too much food.

Momiji * 4590 Silverton Rd., Salem, Oregon

 

Newborn: Khao Nom

Just around the corner from Khao Kang, in a similar rough wood style that all the new Elmhurst Thai restaurants seem to have adopted, is a newish cafe serving mostly Thai sweets. I don’t think the two businesses are related. (Ok, they are.)

Coconut pudding was a special so I tried an order of two (and I ate most of one before I took a photo). A salty layer of coconut cream hides a pale green gel flavored and colored with pandan. I also bought emerald sticky rice in a banana leaf, just because I love green and pandan might be my favorite natural scent in the world. They also have a short list of savories like curry puffs, salads, and noodles. I didn’t see any khanom bueang a.k.a. Thai tacos (crepes often with a marshmallow-like meringue which can be dressed up sweet or savory) though I think they do those as well.

The to-go packaging is cute, with a strong brand identity and a banana leaf laid inside the cardboard box. Tables inside have little place-markers that instead of names read cheeky words like “badass” or “sexy.” It’s something different, at least.

Khao Nom * 76-20 Woodside Av., Elmhurst, NY

Shovel Time: Khao Kang

I don’t know why I have never written about Khao Kang.  I guess for the simple reason that I never write about anything here anymore. As 2017 starts coming to a close, I can finally admit to myself and the world that I am going to move early next year. I’m manifesting shit as I speak. My amazing Queens food days are numbered (#queens4lyfe became #queens4now) so I might go hard and devote a day to Queens eats for a month. 

Khao Kang is maybe five blocks too far to run out for lunch when I work at home (Google Maps says it’s a 13 minute walk each way) but I’m going to try and remember it more. The concept is simple: you are given a big scoop of rice and can choose two ($8.50) or three dishes ($9) from 10 or presented behind glass to be ladled on the side.

It’s the closest thing to street and market vendors in Thailand with vats of earth-toned curries to choose from. But instead of tiny plastic chairs on the sidewalk, it’s more rough wood and dangling lights like a modern Bangkok restaurant.

Choices change daily, as I discovered on my last visit and they didn’t have the sweet crispy pork nuggets that I love. There are descriptions taped on the glass but I just go by what jumps out. On this trip I got a mild, almost Chinese tasting (I can’t pin down why I say that) shrimp and squid curry, yellow with turmeric, a fiery breaded fish and eggplant curry, as well as a dry curry with bamboo shoots and pork (there was a meatless version before). F.Y.I. hot is hot. I have a fairly high threshold for heat and some of these curries–I never know which ones, but always anything with bamboo shoots–are forceful.

Khao Kang * 76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, NY

International Intrigue: Wagamama

We all have our biases. My ears prick up if I hear word about a Japanese chain coming to NYC, which means my ears have been pricking up a lot lately.

(And as an aside, it’s been a decade ago but I don’t recall that DaDong in Beijing was this upscale. I also doubt they will serve the black sesame sludge for dessert and crab apples with dramatic dry ice vapors rising between them. And because no one reads blogs anymore, I can say here that I’m baffled by the new sensitivity that has emerged surrounding anything derogatory said about food someone didn’t grow up eating, and if it’s not “othering” than it’s it’s liking it too much and being a cultural appropriator. Like Bon Appetit was called out the other day for saying matcha, turmeric, and spirulina tasted like dirt. Dried, powdered turmeric pretty much tastes like dirt, so I guess I’m a racist. Am I allowed to say black sesame pudding looks like sludge?

wagamama squid

UK chains? Not so much. Sure, I checked out YO! Sushi but I was only motivated to visit pan-Asian Wagamama when its newest branch opened recently in the former East Village Japanese convenience store, m2m, and they were giving away free meals to the general public.

The buns were nice, though the pork version was tastier than the beef, which is almost always the case unless you’re at a steakhouse or burger joint. And the fried squid was fine. The dipping sauce did have a little bite. 

wagamama ramen

The “ramens” weren’t so much ramen as noodle soup. And no, I’m not even sure now that I think about it what makes something a ramen. For me, it’s in the broth, and this version with duck was kind of wan and lacked the depth of even a simple shio ramen. At least they included a few fatty shreds of duck meat and skin for extra flavor.

The prices weren’t crazy, the dining room with lots of blonde wood communal tables was spacious for the East Village, and I imagine it will do well close to all of the NYU spillover. But it’s certainly not a destination, especially with all of the Japanese ramen in the neighborhood plus Little Tong, Yuan, and others. 

Wagamama * 55 Third Ave., New York, NY

 

 

International Intrigue: Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya

kizuki facadeRamen is all good and well, of course, though there is something to be said for the journey rather than the main event. Which is to say, there is practically nothing I love more than uncharted suburbs (and stumbling upon US chains abroad) and I’ve realized I miss driving through them. I’ve been away from Portland for nearly 20 years, and in my absence planned communities have sprung up from fields on the outskirts of town and people want to live there. (My first encounter with this boxy sprawl was in 2002 when I met my former library coworker at an Indian restaurant in the still-developing Orenco Station enclave.)

This visit 15 years later, I met a high school friend in a suburban strip mall on the westside because it was close to her office even though we both grew up in an eastside suburb where she still lives in the exact same house with her parents since the 1980s.

cedar hillsFirst, I had to find a Walgreens because I’d ran out of a prescription and ended up in some area called Bethany Village that seemed to consist of one giant earth-toned outdoor shopping center surrounded by new apartments, likely with vessel sinks and carpeted bedrooms. Or is Bethany a neighborhood? I don’t recognize fully half of neighborhood names in the Portland area and they are not inventions that nod to geography like South Slope or BoCoCa. No, they are confident, seemingly historical names like Arbor Lodge, Overlook, and Brentwood-Darlington that  materialized post-millennium and are now accepted as fact by new residents. If someone says a restaurant is in Cully, I have absolutely no idea where that is.

The young white woman who was working at the pharmacy had blue and magenta hair and she complimented me on my wallet, which only now I’m realizing was blue and magenta. I put a plastic bottle of Perrier in my purse and walked out without paying for it like an old shoplifter starved for attention.

To get to Kizuki (formerly Kukai, as it still reads on the facade, Kookai in Japan, but apparently the word means poop in Hawaiian?) my GPS steered me through ‘80s upscale neighborhoods anchored by a country club until I popped out in another development that looked like Bethany Village but without unified branding. These modern strip malls always seem higher-end but on closer examination this one contained a generic grocery store called Market of Choice and a Supercuts (though also a barre studio).

suburban cowboy

 

Even though these developments are meant to evoke small towns, there is no foot traffic, everyone drives. So a craggy man in a cowboy hat, maybe in his 50s, cigarette dangling out his mouth while taking a small dog for a walk seemed wildly out of place. I tried taking a few creepshots but he was too far away to capture all the detail. A woman my age with a grade school daughter glanced at my feet, either admonishing or admiring my grass green Swedish Hasbeens. I shot a glare at the back of her head to psychically signal that she couldn’t judge me because I’m not a Portland mom.

kizuki ramen

 

Will I get to the ramen? Maybe. I’m more ramen enthusiast (udon is more enticing, honestly) than expert. I ordered the gut bomb version, garlic tonkotsu shoyu ramen, with a photo in the middle of the menu, larger than the rest, which was pointed out to me when I asked the enthusiastic server what was most popular. I like a rich pork broth, though this was extra oily, with a whole soft-yolked egg, and lean cut of chashu. I’m a slow eater so my big bowls of noodle soup always cool down before I get to the bottom, which makes the fattiness more pronounced. I would try the yuzu shio next time to see how it compares to Afuri’s signature yuzu-spiked version.

I was surprised that my friend said she couldn’t use chopsticks, despite my knowing that Filipinos don’t traditionally use them, and yet unsurprised because there was something very Portland about this, like no matter your heritage or place of birth, each decade spent in Oregon diluted any evidence of being “ethnic” despite your appearance. Some go the other way as adults. I know non-religious black people who became Muslim and changed their names and Jews who I didn’t even know were Jewish move to the Upper West Side and become orthodox. But more typical are minorities who support Trump, which I discovered when I accepted a Facebook request from a middle school friend.

Upon arrival, I got the no seating incomplete parties story, which is unusual for the area, particularly since the restaurant was nearly empty. We overstayed our visit, lingering at our table for two that was blocked by a wall from the main dining room, and as we left, I noticed the restaurant was full with people waiting not just in the lobby but outside as well. Clearly, the suburban ramen chain has an audience.

Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya * 11830 NW Cedar Falls Dr, Portland, OR

 

Shovel Time: Fish Market Restaurant

twoshovelIn my nearly 20 years in NYC I’ve developed an embarrassing jaded side where I’m surprised and delighted by nothing, so I love reminders that I haven’t seen it all, not by any measure.

fishhouse exterior

I used to work in the Financial District and yet somehow Fish Market near the Seaport never made it onto my radar. (And god, I still miss Little Lad’s.) Maybe it was the generic name, or that it seems like the place where you’d have to eat fish and chips, or the dive bar vibe from the sidewalk (though that would probably appeal to me since grit is scarce around those parts).

fishhouse bar

I was just drunk enough on a balmy weeknight to become intrigued by Yelp reviews (yes, Yelp is a horror but it is good for facts or descriptions of atmosphere) that detailed shots of Jameson and photos of what looked to be Chinese food. Ok. There is a prominent bar, well, the entire place looks like a bar, with a bunch of TV screens and a few arcade games.

fishhouse bathroom

The bathroom door looks like it been used as a punching bag.

fishhouse food

Many plates of lobster, an item I didn’t even see on the menu and if I did I would hesitate to order it, were being placed in front of diners. (Apparently, it’s a Monday-Wednesday special: 1.5 pounds for $16.) Dishes include non-descriptive things like yummy noodles and hinted things like pescatore bowl.  I opted for the pork belly pot (as opposed to the pork belly meal for $4 less), some sort of wings that I don’t even remember, and crispy rice with shrimp, which is fried rice with the crust scattered on top, socarrat-style. 

fishhouse liquor

By the time we left, I had managed to be served four shots of Jameson in a little plastic cup. Yes, one of the owners makes rounds with the bottle, filling up your glass as needed.

Fish Market Restaurant * 111 South St., New York, NY

 

Newborn: Addictive Wine & Tapas

 

addictive interior

2017 is an exciting time to live in Jackson Heights. We’ve been waiting for years (not hyperbole) for projects teased in 2014 (and earlier if you’re counting Denny’s, which I am). Addictive Wine & Tapas is more of an expansion from the smaller wine bar next door, but many in the neighborhood have been awaiting its opening just like a new restaurant. 

The Jackson Heights Ladies Cotillion, a loosely defined social club consisting of me and four other relative newcomers (one man) to the neighborhood, convened at Addictive Wine & Tapas the day after the opening party. It’s rustic and woody with a fair amount of tables and at least 12 seats at the bar where if you look out the window past the Edison bulbs you might catch a glimpse of the familiar yellow Denny’s logo.

addictive trio

The menu is straightforward with all of the classics: gambas al ajillo, chorizo, pan con tomate (which was more bruschetta-like), pulpo, albondigas, most of which we ordered, but I didn’t see patatas bravas which I’d toss into that familiar bucket. Those kind of only matter if you’re dining with a vegetarian since that’s one of the only traditional tapas that don’t contain meat or seafood (though if you’re with a real sensitive type, they will get upset about the smoked paprika which they mistook for a bacon flavor). 

I’m not sure about the three quiches or three flavored hummuses though those were the only oddities that jumped out. That’s the fun of outer borough (by which I mean Queens, and maybe Staten Island or the Bronx) wine bar menus. (Though I immediately knew a recent menu I encountered in Brooklyn wasn’t put together by an American when I saw a section titled “Salads and Burritos” which contained roughly four salads and one chicken burrito with parmesan cheese. The owner turned out to be Turkish.) 
addictive facade

What I ate was solid and what I’d want from a neighborhood restaurant. Restaurants like these aren’t destinations–you can probably get chorizo and Albariño closer to home, though I was surprised skimming Yelp that more than one out-of-towners staying at LaGuardia area hotels had taken cars here (it’s only 1.5 miles).

P.S. Another bougie dream is also about to come true courtesy of the this restaurant’s owners: a cheese shop!

Addictive Wine & Tapas * 87-01 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights, NY

 

Sunday Best: Parm’s Ice Cream Cake

Ok, it’s Thursday, whatever, Sunday is a state of mind.

I have been ogling this pastel fat-striped ice cream cake for a few years (as well as M. Wells’ baked alaska) but rarely eat Italian-American food and always seem to have better things to do. It just so happened that I was a few blocks away from the Soho location on my honest-to-god real birthday (after randomly late-lunching at Balthazaar, which also wasn’t why I was in Soho, my first visit in my 19 years in NYC).

Two happy hour sparkling wines at the bar (after a handful of drinks already in my system–couldn’t say no to an 85-year-old buying me beer at Fanelli’s) and a slice of strawberry, pistachio, and chocolate cake with sprinkles was more than I could even hope for.

Then, the mid-30s guy with a neck tattoo sitting next to me who didn’t say a single word while he ate his meatless salad, got up to pay and added my cake to his bill. This gesture was very nice and very unexpected. If I had been sober, this generous move would be anxiety-inducing because I would fear that everyone in the restaurant would think I didn’t have any friends and it was pathetic for a grown woman to eat cake alone. Drunk me just said “thanks,” smiled, and enjoyed my cake.

(Though if I had one criticism, it was that the cake was frozen too hard, but I’m a weirdo who likes my ice cream slightly melted–dare I say medium-rare?–and concentrates on the runny parts at the rim of the bowl [never a cone] until and then you turn the scoop upside down and eat the melty bottom, tackling the softening core last.)

I’m not sure if Parm offers its full range of 12 cakes as was reported in 2015, as this location only had the classic and s’mores.

Sunday Best: Izakaya’s Miso Tongue

izakaya miso tongue

I don’t go out as much as I used to, though I was recently reminded of the disgusting charms of being tipsy and sweaty, wandering around the East Village in 98% humidity. I’d already shared a plate of omurice and croquettes at Bar Moga and still wasn’t opposed to snacking a little more before heading home.

Izakaya is tucked into that Sixth Street strip that used to be wall-to-wall cheap Bangladeshi-run Indian restaurants. Like the name states, it serves drinking food, casual and homey, tip inclusive. I know tongue isn’t for everyone, but it should be. These slices were slightly rare, hyper-beefy with a pleasant chew (though my dining companion gnawed on hers for a long time then put the remains on her plate, which I didn’t comment on at the time) and just a hint of sweet char from the grill.

P.S. I ordered delivery last night and added an extra lengua taco so I could eat it for lunch today. Here’s to tongue in all forms!

New(ish) Born: Awang Kitchen

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Lately, one of my only criterion for trying a new restaurant, more specifically trying a new restaurant’s food, is if they deliver to my apartment because I’m becoming a shut-in. That’s kind of an exaggeration but not completely. Either way, I was excited to see Awang Kitchen appear on Seamless recently.

The bebek goreng sambel ijo, a fried duck leg (there was also a neck tossed in, intentionally or not, I don’t know) with sambal was a treat, crackly skin still intact. and unexpected heat from the green chiles. Plus a surprise hard-fried egg. The soupy curry, separately packed in a very Southeast Asian fashion, a tied plastic baggie, was confusing. I think it should’ve been eaten along with the duck and rice but it just had little carrots and beans floating around so was more like a sauce.

The goat sate was tender and I love those pillowy compressed rice cakes but it was slightly pricey considering it was the same price as the more substantial duck dish ($10.49). Stuffed, fried tofu rounded out my order, which I saved for the next day as a breakfast snack along with a few sticks of sate.

Awang Kitchen is one of those restaurants, common in this part of Queens, that tries its hand at many things like the Himalayan places that also serve a few Thai dishes and sushi. They even advertise “Asian fusion” as a part of their line-up, as well as sushi. I don’t know that I would venture that far, though I might try the pizza dip, a pepperoni, Parmesan, cream cheese, mozzarella concoction.

Awang Kitchen * 8405 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, NY