Pizzeria Sirenetta This is type of place–pizzas, pastas, snacks, all under $20–just taken for granted in so many neighborhoods. (A little less so in this more-desolate-than-you’d-think pocket of the Upper West Side.) I mean, it’s kind of boring. Also, I would kill for one. There just isn’t anywhere to get skinny linguine creamy with meyer lemon-spiked ricotta and sprinkled with micro-croutons or what I’ve decided is my favorite pizza, the perfect bitter/rich/salty combo of arugula and prosciutto. Instead of the little chocolate pudding freebie offered at the end of the other Mermaid restaurant meals, you will receive a tiny panna cotta with a droplet of balsamic vinegar.
Posts from the ‘Nepalese/Tibetan’ Category
Ramen by MEW Maybe at a certain point even ramen obsessives (which I am not) give up on keeping tabs on every new option’s appearance. To me, they just blur together and I’m never going to click on the whichever best-of round-up emerges weekly. I know Ramen-Ya is the more lauded newish West Village shop but at Ramen by MEW you can just walk in and be slurping within seconds. The karamiso tonkotsu, melding earthy miso and chile heat with pork broth into an opaque orange brew, is seriously hefty. There’s no way that tuft of spinach can balance out that lovely slab of of fatty chasu porking-up the bowl even further.
Not terribly related, there was an unusually long reported piece in Tasting Table today about Japanese chains opening in the US, mostly in NYC with some focus on Portland, Oregon. The ramen’ed-out like me have udon-focused Tsurutontanto and standing-only Ikinari Steak to look forward to. Yes.
A little related to the above, Portland’s Original Pancake House is opening in Hakata, its third Japan location.
Bhutanese Ema Datsi Controversial blanket statement: I’m kind of indifferent to most Himalayan food, which is shameful since I live steps from its New York epicenter. (Ok, I almost ordered delivery from Phayul the other night, but they have Sichuan leanings so it’s not all bland beef and starch.) But I got caught up in the spirit of neighborhood adventure–this unusual restaurant at the nexus of Woodside, Jackson Heights, and Elmhurst is the only place in the city serving Bhutanese food, after all–after some back and forth with someone who might turn out to be my last-ever NYC Tinder date (a development having nothing to do with this benign individual). I was fond of the namesake dish, ema datsi, in that it was like eating chili-studded queso with nutty red rice instead of chips. The confusing aspect was being warned about heat, specifically the soup that came with the sekam thali, akin to a milky seaweed-heavy miso broth, was baby palate mild. Maybe I’d just revved up my taste receptors too high, having come straight from Plant House Love (r.i.p. Queens location). Sekam, by the way, is practically Bhutanese chasu; thin, still-fatty, jerky-like strips of pork belly interspersed with daikon and rehydrated red chiles.
More unrelated-ness: with the recent defection of Biang! (and humble kin Xi’an long before) and Plant Love House to Prospect Heights, plus Bun-Ker’s expansion to Bushwick, there must be a Queens is the New (Old?) Something or Another trend piece to unpack.
By the way, it’s not like you can’t still get petite servings of blood-enriched nam tok in Elmhurst. If you can work out Pata Paplean’s quirky hours, there will be a nice bowl of boat noodles in your future.
Technically, I had experienced a taste of Tawa at an across-the-hall neighbor’s dinner party in the form of freshly griddled (or should I say tawa’d?) chapati. But I finally got the full in-person steam table treatment thanks to Joe of Chopsticks + Marrow after confessing my inexperience with Nepalese food.
Dhaulagiri Kitchen is the not-obvious name of the restaurant–if you could even call it that–sharing space with small bakery, Tawa. It’s not a place I would typically stop in–not because the menu especially intimidating but because there’s really only one table, with four seats, and those seats are often occupied with hungry lurkers in the wings. And a thali to go just doesn’t make sense.
If you do score a seat, though, thalis, which very much remind me of nasi lemak in presentation, are the smart move. Of course I’m going to get goat jerky (sukuti) if someone’s offering. The dried meat, cooked down like a rendang (yes, all of my references are Malaysian) concentrates the spices in the curry and softens the flesh while allowing some chew. The fun really comes from the condiments, a spread of daal, saag, and achars made from bitter gourd, daikon, dried anchovies, and fermented greens. Something with pumpkin also showed up unexpectedly.
Roti sel, deep-fried circles of rice flour, resemble a giant onion ring, have a slight natural sweetness, and are snacky enough to be an appetizer or a stand-in dessert.
Chicken momos, juicy and gingery. I have completely forgotten what the orange and yellow-ish chutneys contained despite it being explained to me, though I think sesame, turmeric and tomatoes played a part in one.
One of our friendly Nepali tablemates encouraged me to take a photo of his food. He was also curious if we could handle the hot sauces. Sure. It’s always a concern with Americans. I threw out my speculative estimate that half of Americans are probably into spicy food.
And like that, real hot sauce research appeared to me shortly thereafter. According to NPD, 56% of American households are in possession of some form of hot sauce (likely Tabasco not sriracha) and DINKS are the most likely to eat hot sauce because apparently families with only one income prefer their food free of punishing heat.
Tawa Food * 37-38 72nd St., Jackson Heights, NY
Though most reports indicate otherwise, gentrification isn’t a given in NYC. At the very least, it’s not always predicable. When I briefly lived in the far northeastern reaches of Clinton Hill in a new construction penthouse any notable restaurant or bar opened on Fulton Street, still technically the neighborhood but a full mile or more away, or somewhere in the burgeoning Bedford Avenue/Franklin Street strips of Bed-Stuy, locations with two separate advantages: proximity to established wealthier brownstone districts or where young tastemakers were taking over.
Then there are the obvious neighborhood trickles: Crown Heights because Prospect Heights and Park Slope are too expensive and Ridgewood with its Bushwick overspill eager to claim new borough status. There will be mixology and food halls and gastropubs to satisfy these newcomers.
Jackson Heights is none of this. (The other resistant neighborhood I have a connection to is Sunset Park–with the exception of those businesses moving into Bush Terminal, amenity-wise it’s the same as it was in the early ’00s.) I’ve read–and even deigned to participate in–threads on local message boards about why we can’t have nice things. And by nice things, I mean brunch and negronis. No one has called specially for negronis (and I don’t want to be associated with team brunch) but you know.
My theory is that the neighborhood is made up of a lot of older people and families, groups not known for being adventurous or free-spending, and the transitory residents aren’t recent graduates looking for fun before settling down in the suburbs but Latin American men, similarly aged, whose idea of fun translates to spending time with the likeminded at Romanticos or True Colors, not ramen burgers and wild ales at communal tables.
What is starting to happen in Jackson Heights, though, is an organic transition that respects tradition while nodding to changing tastes. Little Tibet, one of the many Himalayan restaurants supplanting the once Indian stronghold, has started differentiating itself by creating a late night (9pm till close) menu of snacky foods like fried momos, mozarella sticks swapping the usual cheese for paneer, and what is surely the break-out star, Tibetan burgers. The patties are formed from the beef filling used in momos, garnished with spicy mayonnaise, cilantro and crisped Durkee-like onion rings, then stuffed into a steamed and griddled tingmo.
Drinks? The Budweiser and similar brands are being phased out for South Asian replacements like Lion Stout and Kingfisher, as well as shareable bottles of Queens-brewed Transmitter S8 rice saison and Pretty Things Jack D’Or. Maybe the wine is next?
In a slightly strange twist, the only other place I’m aware of in the neighborhood serving microbrews is Unidentified Flying Chickens (R.I.P. East Village location) just one block away. Craft cocktails may be a ways off, but one more venue less reliant on Corona and we’ll have a trend.
Little Tibet * 72-19 Roosevelt Ave. Jackson Heights, NY
I will admit that I haven’t stepped too far out of my Thai, Mexican, and Chinese comfort zone with soups. At prime lunch time, I walk right past Ecuadorian and Peruvian chalkboards listing a sopa or two and I can never bring myself to take a chance. I’m scared of bland chicken and over-boiled beef.
Himalayan? I’m getting there. The thenthuk at newish Spicy Tibet is ok. It did its job, to warm me up and fill the space in my stomach that leftover Cheetos broccoli and clementines didn’t earlier. If I wasn’t on a soup-seeking mission, though, I would’ve preferred trying the tripe or blood sausage or even the chopsuey, described as “American.”
This soup is all about the starch–and there is a lot of it. I was almost knocked-out by the thick, fat ribbons of hand-formed noodles that are the focus. The broth was light and more garlicky than anything with some baby bok choy slithering around for greenery, plus a few small strips of beef and a touch of cilantro.
You can punch it up with a thick, orange hot sauce that’s presented in a squeeze bottle (as opposed to the chile oil in a glass container that sits on each table by default). It’s grungy and hot in that dirty way that implies dried chile origins rather than fresh (though the bright color indicates otherwise). Some might say earthy.
In my limited experience with Himalayan food, I would say starch prominent with some meaty accents on the side or stuffed in dough. A mother and daughter plowed through a plate of momos (steamed dumplings) tingmo (steamed buns) and something doughy and fried golden, which by the end had the teenager declaring “I’m sleepy.” Me too!
I may have been saved by yak-buttered tea, the Himalayan answer to Bulletproof coffee that’s free for the taking at a plastic dispenser near the cash register. Though it wasn’t the point, the hot beverage lent a pleasant, saltiness and creaminess to the soup. In fact, it was the buttered tea that stuck with me as I trudged home through the icy slush, completely fortified and toasty. Maybe there’s something to this drinking melted butter business, after all?
Spicy Tibet * 75-04 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, NY
I think this might be a record between a visit and a closing; Katmandu Spice is already closed. (9/13/10)
Queens is a melting pot, sure. And sometimes that pot bubbles right over. Whether or not you enjoy the culinary chaos might depend on how you feel about eating Brazilian, Nepali and Chinese-Indian food cooked by the same chef.
I will never say no to novelty, so Kathmandu Spice, closer to the Irish end (after dinner, I was getting into the scene at the The Cuckoo’s Nest until they turned off The Smiths, flipped on the strobes and the techno DJ took over) of Woodside, lured me in. Sadly, others weren’t so convinced. Not a single other diner showed up during our visit on a prime Saturday night.
Oddly, we only ordered from the Brazilian section—I was more in the mood for grilled meats than momos or Manchurian chicken. The mixed grill contained a few chicken and beef chunks, breakfast sausage-like franks, farofa for sprinkling, and a vinegary salsa. It was a sampler but I could’ve gone for another pão de queijo even if this one was a little heavy on the bottom.
The peixe de praia is a very similar presentation, just with the addition of rice, beans and plantain coins atop the farofa.
They weren’t able to make the ensopado de frango, a chicken okra stew, so I opted for the bobó de camarão instead. I knew intellectually that the sauce was made of yuca puree, coconut milk and dende oil, but I kept thinking it was cheese with a hint of pineapple. Something about this dish seemed Asian, similar to a Hong Kong fusion marrying American cheese with lobster. I ate it, and my leftovers too, so I wasn't put off by the mix. I'm not sure that I would order it again, if only to give the Nepalese food a chance. Hopefully, diners will give Katmandu Spice a chance, period.
Next stop: Indo Hut, the self-proclaimed "Indo Continental Bistro" covered in grand opening flags I passed this weekend on Queens Boulevard.
Kathmandu Spice * 60-15A Woodside Ave., Woodside, NY
Om Tibet is no more. 9/08
I think I must be desensitized to little nuisances, which is hard to believe since I’m irked on at least an hourly basis. But Om Tibet seemed to push the limits of visiting family. I don’t think they were keen on trying Tibetan food in the first place. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I was either. I imagined it would be bland and dull. And it really wasn’t.
I became a little nervous when a craggy customer who looked like a Korean war vet came over to take our order because the waitress had gone out and he wasn’t sure when she’d get back. I’m still not sure what his connection to the restaurant was, but he was sitting with some Asian men who seemed to be staff.
Thenthuk, a simple beef noodle soup with daikon and spinach caused a mild stir because it came in one bowl. I didn’t expect it to be served individually and assumed it was meant for one, but whatever. I was the only one who touched it and ended up bringing most of it home for later. I did appreciate the hand pulled noodles, but it didn’t quell my fears about bland food.
Shamdae doesn’t look like much but the chicken curry spiced similarly to Indian food was a hit.
The “shapta special beef chilly” was the stand out dish for me. The strips of beef were coated in a fiery, dry cumin spiked sauce and stir fried with onions, tomatoes and jalapenos. It felt more Chinese than Indian and wasn’t really either. Maybe that’s Tibetan?
Minor Trouble also erupted when we were told they didn’t have coffee. Because I’m opinionated and judgmental about things that don’t matter, I’ve come to believe that drinking coffee with dinner is the province of alcoholics and/or Denny’s patrons. Maybe I’m sensitive to this practice because I was called on it many years ago by a smart assy boss.
But they did have bocha, a tea rendered salty and creamy by yak butter. Ok, gross. I was the only taker, and it really wasn’t as unappealing as it sounds. I seemed like less of a beverage and more of a fortifying broth.
I don’t see what’s wrong with taking parents to hole-in-the-walls. The only uh-oh moment came when a roach ran over the bill as I opened holder. Strangely, vermin bothers me less when it’s not in my house. James warned against going, but when he brings his mom to a typically upscale yet cramped Manhattan restaurant she’ll just embarrass him anyway by barking at the host, “I’m from Virginia; I’m used to space.”
It sounds like I’m being negative, which wasn’t the overall impression at all. I thought Om Tibet was likeable and it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re on the Jackson Heights/Elmhurst border (to confuse further, the zipcode is Woodside) and don’t feel like Thai, Indian or Latin American food. Burmese Café, a block from Om Tibet, used to fill this niche but they seem to have closed for good.
Om Tibet * 40-05 73rd St., Woodside, NY