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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

International Intrigue: Tsurutontan

tsurutontan udon

Tsurutontan rode in on the wave of imports late last year that included Ichiran, Tim Ho Wan, and the promised Inkinari Steak that didn’t get off the ground until 2017. (I’m so mad they are going to add chairs in the US.) I meant to check one out when I was in Tokyo but put it off until my last night and I couldn’t get it together for the 9pm last order (I kind of appreciate the anal-ness of publishing last calls for food in Japan) but was dying for udon and couldn’t deal with the 10 person line outside of Shin Udon. I did end up getting a bowl of cold udon, which was maybe weird in December but it was on offer, at a restaurant up a flight of stairs with no English name. I finally was tough enough after two weeks to handle an all-Japanese language menu.

Tsurutontan, off Union Square, is no noodle hole-in-the-wall, with prices that are more akin to Ipuddo and beyond. Also, without the wait and counter seating. I liked the row-facing-row with a partition separating the sides for solo diners. Plus, the Japanese thing where you can order regular or large amount of noodles for the same price, thick and thin.

I chose thin for my summer special of cold dashi broth with uni. The broth was light but the sea urchin added creaminess, and a slight bitterness, plus shredded shiso that gave the dish more bite and held it just back from being too rich. This doesn’t look like a big portion (regular noodle fyi) but it was oddly filling. I let the little batter nuggets turn to sog and scooped them out with the giant metal spoon at the end, then slurped all of the remaining sesame-studded cloudy broth like fishy cereal milk.

Tsurutontan * 21 E. 16th St., New York, NY

International Intrigue: O’Tacos

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I was recently made aware of a French chain in Crown Heights called O’Tacos that, yes, serves tacos. Yet from the looks of these burrito-panini hybrids, I’m not sure the French know what a taco is.

otaco menu

There appears to be 50 locations of this restaurant, and the Brooklyn branch is the only one outside of France. This is more baffling to me than the bastardized taco. The website is only in French, which is very French. It’s easily discernible that fillings include chicken breast, ground beef, nuggets, tenders, merguez, and cordon bleu. I don’t see that they explain that french fries are sometimes stuffed in these tacos. There are are 12 less discernible sauces including Algerian, samurai, and giga.

I am curious about this taco, and might be blessed to live in the same city as the only foreign outpost, but not so curious that I’m eager to spend 1 hour, 9 minutes on two subways to try one.

 

I Do(nut): Don’t Get Cold Feet

Would make an exception to my no food-as-props/restaurant proposals ban for this:

mitu

Sunday Best: Otto’s Bucatini

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Ok, I guess pasta is really good. Who knew? I rarely seek out Italian or Italian-American food beyond pizza, and especially not pasta because it just seems heavy and boring. The last high-end Italian restaurant I went to was Marea when I took out my then boyfriend for his birthday a million years ago (ok, six) and the now CEO of my company was sitting nearby and sent over a bottle of champagne because the company was then still small and people liked me. Of course, the octopus bone marrow fusilli was amazing.

Anyway, I had three hours to kill late Friday afternoon so I was day-drinking and ultimately needed to be on Fifth Avenue near the Flatiron. Otto is great for solo dining, the food is reasonably priced, and the bartenders/servers are always gracious. My intent to order pizza turned to pasta as the simple bucatini with black pepper and guanciale was beckoning. The server offered to make it with tomato sauce i.e. All’Amatriciana as I suppose that’s more popular? But the main reason why I don’t eat Italian food is because I don’t like all the tomato sauce (yes, I realize that’s more of an American thing). Is this a safe space to admit I really don’t like pesto either? Basil is one the most overrated herbs.

It was so good as is, very al dente, just the right portion to serve as late lunch/early dinner, rich from the cured meat and just oily enough that it didn’t need sauce. It looks like nothing but tasted like everything, made nicer with a quartino of Orvieto Classico.

International Intrigue: The Holy Crab

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I did not eat at The Holy Crab because I already have a Chinese-run Cajun seafood restaurant on my block with a better name (Oceanic Boil), but am mentioning it it is an Indonesian chain serving Cajun seafood in Canada, and that’s all sorts of layers to dissect.

There also appears to be a knock-off in White Plains.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Vancouver BC

wildebeest tartare

Wildebeest I thought horsemeat was more associated with Quebec than British Columbia (I did buy some frozen slices in a Montreal grocery store for “Chinese fondue,” crammed it in my hotel’s fridge and it thawed and bled all over the mini bottles) and as a Pittsburgh restaurant was just causing outrage for serving horse tartare, I couldn’t resist ordering the same off a late night happy hour menu (bolstered by poutine and a beet dish that was better than everything) because I’m a tartare freak. Pretty as can be, though I didn’t care for the chopped, pickled carrots and celery mixed with the meat that had a surprising funk since it added too much sourness. The hay-toasted mayo was appropriate and inappropriate at the same time, and the sous-vide egg yolk put it over the top.

dynasty seafood 6

Dynasty Seafood I don’t usually believe anyone who says they don’t like dim sum. Despite an hour wait (I shrugged off making reservations—don’t be like me), I might have converted a skeptic with those sweet, pastry pork buns that were brought around immediately after we were seated and dying of hunger even though this was a modern ordering-off-the-menu place. There were spring rolls filled with a shrimp mousse that tasted like hotdogs. An order of pea shoots and squiggly hand-made udon with XO sauce appeased the skeptic. I couldn’t finish the wu gok stuffed with duck and chestnuts and wrapped 1.5 pieces a napkin and stuffed it in my purse then forgot about it until I got back to Portland.

joe fortes trio

Joe Fortes Seafood and Chophouse I still don’t know if the last name of this famous local figure (looked at his wikipedia page–and he was a lifeguard from Trinidad?), whom I  saw also has a library named after him, is pronounced fortay, forts, or fortez. Anyway, any establishment that has chop house in its name is total catnip to me and I drank way too many happy hour old fashioneds, especially since $5 was $3.70, and ate a bunch of tiny lobster and shrimp rolls, giant shrimp tempura, and truffle fries (I know) and was too full to try and hit hot Italian-Japanese spot Kissa Tanto to finagle a table when it opened at 5:30pm. I want to be a Kissa Tanto type of woman, au courant and great to look at, but I’m 100% Joe Fortes, dated and brassy.IMG_3294

Maenam This could’ve been the best Thai food in Vancouver, or Canada, but the lack of air conditioning and the subsequent sweat wetting my hair (not from the spice level) was too distracting to enjoy the well-priced (everything was well-priced as the exchange rate equaled 25% off) tasting. I did love one of the servers’, who was not young, subtle mauve-tinged hair since I had just attempted to give myself a plummy ombre effect two days before.

bao down breakfast

Bao Down I would’ve preferred dinner to brunch since it seemed more traditional but we can’t have it all. A longanisa breakfast dish resembled no tselog (the menu didn’t promise a tselog) I had ever seen but something more delicate, pretty, and dare I say, healthier, than I would expect from Filipino food. Nice.

hon's quad

Hon’s This was a nostalgia lunch, for the boyfriend not me, and the cavernous dining room with multiple stations, yet only 10% full seemed bigger on atmosphere than food. Not that any of the things we over-ordered (roast pork and pot stickers were not necessary) were objectively not good, I’m just sure better versions could be had in the city. I was picturing a wonton noodle soup bowl like Noodletown but this portion was gigantic with practically an entire duck chopped into it and likely four recommended daily servings (if any government body dictated these things) of springy egg noodles. I did what I could, left lots of noodles (and appreciated being asked if I wanted them wrapped up since I’m a leftover freak/food hoarder, but declined) and took the fatty pork wedges for later.

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Novo Pizzeria I never made it to any of the cocktail bars near our Airbnb that I’d read about or Kissa Tanto, which I couldn’t get reservations for three weeks out. This wasn’t an ambitious food vacation but a long-distance meetup so I set up a Door Dash (no Seamless in BC, nor Uber and Lyft) account and got a chorizo, honey, and thyme sort of pizza delivered to the apartment, which I realized too late had no intercom. I don’t get to do the lazy Netflix (not saying and chill) thing with a guy usually so it was a novelty. I watched Win-Win (not my pick) and I Don’t Feel Safe in this World Anymore (my pick) though I had seen both already. I did not take a photo, so you will have to enjoy a public library instead.

 

 

Sunday Best: Sushi by Bae

No one cares about every single thing you eat. Even I’ve lost interest in keeping up with or documenting every meal in NYC. That’s kind of what Instagram is for now. I’m just going to pick the one thing at the end of every week (I refuse to believe Sunday starts the week) and say a few words. 

sushi by bae grid

I counted 18 different pieces of sushi (plus an amuse) served by Oona Tempest (formerly of Tanoshi) at her showcase pop-up, Sushi by Bae, which seems like a lot but photos don’t lie. That would make this a very good value $100 omakase to my mind (though I’m not sure that volume is standard or because I was with a regular). Sometimes boo-hoo-ing on social media works since I was essentially thread-jacking  someone else’s Instagram post to voice that I had been burned by this venue’s rigid seats for 2 or 4 only policy (which apparently has been lifted) and it turned out this person had booked a reservation for 4 and one guest had to bow out, leaving a spot for me, a near-stranger.

I already want to go back. My attempt at quickly typing each description in Evernote before too many seconds pass and it seems rude to not pop the piece in my mouth as you’re supposed to immediately tends to result in garbled notes. This is what I ended up with:

Shima aj (aji)
Kisu
Golden eyevampper licorice sea salt. (snapper)
Chu tor (chutoro)
Shari (shari is the rice–don’t know what I meant to say)
Miso cured but refuse (no idea what “but refuse” meant)
Barracuda
Nodoguti black throat sea bass (nodoguro)
RBI ebi with koji (RBI?)
Santa Barbara roe
Santa Barbara uni
Otoro
Truffle

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Memorial Day Weekend in Oregon

jackrabbit trio

Jackrabbit Meals other than dinner aren’t optimal for assessing what a restaurant can do. I took my mom to the new Chris Cosentino restaurant in the Duniway Hotel for a belated Mother’s Day lunch. It was sparsely populated, which could’ve been because it’s new or it’s not the type of place the average Portland person (or tourist–I couldn’t believe the crowds outside clearly from out of town) goes to lunch downtown. My first impression was disappointment since they didn’t have the sal de gusano (I ordered it precisely because that’s a hard to source ingredient) described as the rim for my cocktail, The Crank (mezcal, Pommeau de Normandie. lime, agave, basil). The pig’s ears were good, crunchy bits balanced by gelatinous strips. My mom’s french onion soup looked insane, not just with the blanket of melted cheese but a hunk of marrow bone sticking out. At lunch, sandwiches are the focus so I tried a banh mi with pork belly and big fat fried oysters and wanted to die. I’ll hold off on forming an opinion since I didn’t sample any of the ham or large format curiosities like the pig’s head with “brainaise.” I still haven’t been to Headwaters in the Heathman Hotel either, which I should at least for reference purposes but I’m not terribly excited about hotel dining in Portland.

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Tad’s Chicken ‘n Dumplings a.k.a. Chic Dump per the neon sign and URL, has existed for as long as I remember in Troutdale, one town over from where I grew up, but I’d never been and when I complained to my mom about it on this trip she didn’t seem surprised or to care. This is important business! I’ve also never eaten chicken and dumplings in my life, which seem more Midwestern than Northwestern but Oregon and Washington are lacking in a regional cuisine anyway. It’s on the Sandy River where we went as hormonal teens, inner tubing and sunbathing and fended off gross guys with cut-offs and mustaches. I just listened to a Walkman and read The Boys on the Rock and imagined Simon LeBon was featured in the cover illustration. People said that the chicken and dumplings were not good. They were in my book because I like sinking my teeth into some serious carbs, but the combination of cubed, skinless chicken and wet pillowy whiteness is kind of like nursery food, soft and bland, more salty than anything. The above photo is misleading; that serving presented in a metal raised dish could feed at least three people and I can’t imagine you’d use up all of the extra gravy, especially after the relish tray, salad, and big plate of chicken livers with ketchup, an unnecessary extra I ordered because they were cheap, also a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir since 90% of them ranged from $20-$25.

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13 Virtues Brewing First choice for a meetup with my mom and grandma was Iron Horse, closed on Memorial Day, then moved to SanFelipe Taqueria, also closed. Apparently this place in Sellwood has been serving cheesesteaks since the ’80s (the boyfriend said he went there in high school) though at some point it re-branded to a brew pub because in Oregon everything is brew pubs and changed its name. I forget no one uses Cheez Whiz outside of Philadelphia minus a few purist spots, so I was bummed by my melted provolone.

Crackerjacks This bar/restaurant looks like it has been on the corner of Thurman and 27th forever but I had never been and don’t recall its existence in my day. I liked it enough to return twice, though. Once just for drinks, the other for a cheeseburger. There is also a pizza menu though the pizza oven was broken on Memorial Day. Clearly, you’re not supposed to go to restaurants on Memorial Day. I like to disparage Portland but most everyone is nicer than in NYC. I was complimented on different dresses numerous times and was told I “looked adorable” by a waitress here. I think the last time a stranger said I was cute in NYC, it was a hostess at Mesa Grill in 1999.

bamboo sushi chirashi

Bamboo Sushi Since I have been returning to Portland for close to a year-and-a-half I have avoided this popular place as it seemed like white people sushi, which is rich coming from me since I am pretty callous about the whole cultural appropriation kerfuffle that emerged when I was in town. I don’t care if white people make sushi but this restaurant was exactly what I had pictured: pristine and sustainable fish choices, not quite traditionally presented, a little pricey, and sloppy service. A young woman had a new young man shadowing her and that might not have been the best pairing as I wouldn’t have known she was training him if she hadn’t said so. I couldn’t argue with the sweet crab legs and surf clams in my $27 chirashi (not sure about the microgreens and red onions). I also managed to snap a wooden arm rest off my chair when scooting closer to the table, which has nothing to do with anything, but added to the off-kilter-ness.

old world deli trio

Old World Deli My mother and I met my sister in Corvallis, at her suggestion, despite it in no way being the half-way point between Portland and Eugene. A cousin who works two blocks away alos joined us for lunch. I ordered first–an important point–a reuben sandwich, and then all three family members subsequently ordered the same thing even my sister who I hadn’t seen eat meat since 1990. I’m usually vehemently opposed to anyone in the same party ordering the same dish, but by necessity I’ve become a kinder, gentler human when in Oregon, plus at a random deli that looked like a Veteran’s hall, staffed by teenage boys…who cares? The sandwiches were fine, though the marble rye was too soft and stuck to everyone’s teeth. That’s just one reason why I’m not including any pictures of people.

Chains of Love: The Original Original Pancake House

original pancake house facade

You’d be forgiven for not knowing that the original Original Pancake House originated in Portland, Oregon. I only had a vague sense of this, especially since I grew up on the east side of the city and never had any reason to eat breakfast at a restaurant twenty miles away, on the other side of the Willamette.

pancake house

I almost visited an Original Pancake House in Seoul, since it was a few blocks from my hotel, before even seeing where it all began in Oregon. Even though I was chided for not really eating any Korean food during my two-night stay over Thanksgiving, it didn’t seem right to eat American breakfast in addition to Taco Bell and a mildly esoteric tasting menu.

original pancake house room

I can’t speak for any of the other Original Pancake Houses, but I can’t imagine a quainter place to choose from 15 or so pancakes. With its candy-striped awning, sun room, knotty wood paneling, decorative dishes, and smaller interior than would seem so from the street, the restaurant transmits wholesomeness with a touch of the old world. You would not suspect it was a chain if you didn’t know the name.

original pancake house dutch baby closeup

The glorious Dutch Baby, burnished upturned edges, custardy crater, lightly powdered, is their specialty. Lemon wedges, whipped butter, and more powdered sugar are served on the side. I wanted pecan pancakes but it would be a mistake to shun what made the place famous on my first visit. Many of the diners lolling around after prime breakfast time had plate-spanning versions topped with apple wedges that from a distance looked like they’d been served and entire pan of monkey bread.

original pancake house hash

Sure, there are also omelets and corned beef hash for the know-nothings like my dining companion who said it tasted canned despite the promises of “homemade,”but duh, you’re supposed to order pancakes.

original pancake house james beard

The James Beard American Classic award from 1999 was proudly displayed facing my seat.

old spaghetti factory BC

Bonus: Did you know that the oldest Old Spaghetti Factory is also in Portland? I had the good fortune to stumble upon a branch a few weekends ago in Vancouver, B.C.

The Original Pancake House * 8601 SW 24th Ave., Portland, OR