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 ‘Woodside’ 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.
Culinarily speaking, Jackson Heights and environs is many things–mostly good–but it’s not a pizza neighborhood. (It’s not always you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone–I knew I had it good when Best Pizza, Forcella and Motorino were all within blocks.) It’s not a great sign when the restaurant you’re greeted by upon approaching the 74th St. and Roosevelt Ave. transit hub is a Famous Famiglia.
Salza, two blocks deep into Woodside, isn’t exactly solving any pizza woes from an artisan standpoint. However, they’ve captured my heart in attempting to embrace more than 20 regions of the world with made-up pies, some logical, many less so.
As a young grade-schooler, I would get creative with scrambled eggs, trying to incorporate sauces found in the refrigerator. Salsa transformed beaten whites and yolks into Mexican eggs, a few shakes of soy sauce made them Chinese, and teriyaki meant Japanese, of course. Those were the only condiments we had beyond ketchup, mustard, and Catalina dressing, so MasterChef Junior this was not.
Salza has no such constraints. A Norwegian pizza can contain shrimp, penne and vodka sauce, an Imperial Dragon may incorporate soy sauce and snow peas and an Inca Beef goes lomo saltado with steak strips and french fries. (Does anyone outside of NYC know what vodka sauce even is? Ok, doing a completely unrelated search for new breed Jello shots, I discovered penne a la vodka on a Portland happy hour menu, so I guess this is a personal blind spot.) Anyone familiar with the Australian custom of adding beets, pineapple and fried egg to burgers might be shocked to see this country’s pizza showcasing sour cream, ham, and corn.
Me, I love pineapple on pizza, a source of mild shame in NYC. Of course, there is a Hawaiian at Salza. But considering Woodside is NYC’s “Little Manila,” a Pacquiao Punch, gilding the gauche standard with spicy sausage (not longanisa, fyi) and red peppers and onions, is really quite sensible when you think about it.
Welcome to the world via Queens.
Salza * 73-17 Woodside, Ave., Woodside, NY
Confession: I’ve never eaten at a Gray’s Papaya in my close-to-sixteen years in this city. (Deeper confession: I don’t like hot dogs–and yes, I also eat pizza with a fork and sometimes a knife, too.) More embarrassingly, though, since I kind of consider Thai food to be my thing, is that I had never eaten at Thailand’s Center Point until this year.
I know, I know. It’s what Sripraphai used to be, it’s mom and pop (or rather mom and daughter), there aren’t hordes and a ticketing system, it’s BYOB. All valid arguments. I’m probably one of the last remaining Sripraphai apologists. That’s just where I’ll go if I’m in the neighborhood.
Center Point does have charm. It’s more personable, and I appreciate the thrift of drinking your own bottles of Brooklyn lager (four cocktails at Bar Below Rye afterward cost more than dinner) though it’s also impossible render a verdict after three dishes–three dishes that came sequentially, the next arriving only after the former was finished. It wasn’t clear if this pacing was intended or just how the kitchen was handling orders. I like being able to take a bite here and there.
The crispy fried papaya salad is kind of the answer to Sripraphai’s crispy watercress salad; a weird treatment that works. It’s essentially a som tum with seafood (squid, shrimp, mussels) except that the unripe fruit has been battered and fried. I’m all for this. You lose the freshness but gain a different kind of crunch. This is a papaya salad for temperatures sinking dangerously close to single digits. The dressing wasn’t overly sweet, a common complaint, but it was heavy on the lime and garlic with no heat for balance. Of course, that can be remedied with ground chiles or chile-infused fish sauce from the condiment caddy shared among the handful of tables.
It wasn’t that my request for spicy (and no, I’m not trying to prove something by obliterating the taste of the food) was misunderstood because the next two dishes, both pork because of lack of foresight, were just the right amount of hot; appreciable, some bites more tingly than others, but not brutal. The larb was a good rendition with meat that was just a shade away from medium-rare. Make sure to scoop the liquid from underneath the lettuce because that’s where the heat hides.
I can never not order crispy pork. It’s always going to happen if it’s on the menu, which is why the larb should’ve been something else like the also rich-and-fatty duck that I didn’t notice on the specials board until the end of the meal. Here, the fried chunks of pork were stir-fried with chile and basil, a classic. While it tasted unmistakably Thai, there was also something vaguely Chinese-y about this version compared to Sripraphai’s. It’s not like five-spice powder or soy sauce jumped out. All I can attribute it to is that Sriprahai’s is drier with fewer distractions while the Center Point style includes thickly sliced onions and green and red peppers more prominently. It was a very likeable dish, nonetheless.
I am certain I will return because there is no shortage of people who enjoy eating here that I could tag along with. There is much to be explored on the menu still.
Thailand’s Center Point * 63-19 39th Ave., Woodside, NY
Donovan’s Woodside on St. Patrick’s Day is like marching into the belly of the beast, though far more family than the fratty scene I envision at the Irish pubs of Manhattan. We waited an hour at Donovan’s for a table where we were serenaded loudly by drums and bagpipes (that’s me pretending not to notice the ruckus) as one does. Corned beef, cabbage, and a single boiled potato should’ve been on my plate (I do love that meal and am surprised so many dislike it) but you know, Donovan’s is famous for its burger and I wasn’t changing my usual order just because it was a holiday.
Sripraphai All the usual suspects: crispy pork with chile and basil, duck curry with eggplant, crispy watercress salad (which I love so much that I recreated it at home the following weekend but forgot to photograph because I was in a hurry to get it made before The Walking Dead season finale aired) plus a rarely ordered larb and never-before Thai mojito. Remind me again, to never go to Sripraphai on a Saturday night (and kick me for pretending to be Thai-knowledgeable with never having tried Centerpoint on the next block). Beyond the insane crowds and weirdo orderers who eat dishes like individual, non-sharable entrees, the spice just isn’t there. Thai-wise, I’m looking forward to the new Chao Thai branch, and I suppose Pok Pok, as well, but as a Portland transplant I have weird feelings about fellow Portland transplants.
Toby’s Public House “Weird but good” was my honest response to “How was the special? The cook wants to know.” Both pizzas we picked were oddly sweet. I happen to be a freak for sweet-savory mash-ups so that’s not a knock. The special in question paired andouille with green apples, a not-unpleasant though untraditional combo. The surprise was more from the asparagus pizza that was nearly candied sweet from caramelized onions, and I don’t know, there had to be something else at work. I want to say that the stubs of asparagus were cooked in balsamic vinegar? If it were up to me, I might combine the apples with the onions, add a little bacon, and pretend the pizza was a tarte flambee. I’d also sprinkle some blue cheese, thought that would dilute the Alsatian theme. At that rate, there was no way I was going to opt for the much-lauded nutella-ricotta calzone. Who needed dessert?
Blue Ribbon In my 20s, I never understood it when friends a decade older would say “I can’t drink like I used to” or genuinely old folks might have to forgo spicy or rich food, i.e. “I like butter, but butter doesn’t like me.” What? Shut up. As I approach middle age, though, I’m afraid some of this is becoming a reality. Thankfully, painfully hot food is not a problem…yet. The night after a night of over-imbibing I was still feeling too rough to handle the roasted bone marrow at Blue Ribbon. The pure fat coupled with a rich oxtail marmalade was wreaking havoc. Weird as it may have been, I just had it wrapped up and ate it the next day no problem. Why not eat bone marrow on toast for breakfast? As the regular Blue Ribbon and the sushi version next door morph into one, they’ve begun offering raw fish preparations at the original. The small plate of sashimi was a welcome relief from the intended appetizer (which would’ve been better for sharing, except that Lent is still a thing) though I still think everything at Blue Ribbon is overpriced and yes, the crowd leans heavily Bay Ridge/Staten Island even if that characterization (not by me) offended a Chowhound four years after the fact.
Even though it's crowded on weekend evenings, the spice level isn't always what it could be and worthy nearby competitors aren't scarce, I still rely on Sripraphai for a regular Thai food fix. It's the crispy watercress salad. I know this dish in and out.
Yet, on this Sunday afternoon visit (my second day in a row in Woodside—first for Jollibee, then back to Queens to replace a fried cable box. I need my True Blood and Mad Men. Did you know that the Time Warner office inside the Queens Center Mall is the only location in the entire city open on Sundays?) I was served a slightly different rendition than normal.
There was an unusually tall, fluffy pile of battered watercress sitting on top. More generous than I've seen before, the translucent golden stack gave the dish a more bountiful feel. The ratio might seem off, but once you mix things up and baste the herbs, chicken and seafood with the intensely savory goop resting at the bottom of the plate, the components settle down and mellow into a nice still-crunchy sog.
And the small ceramic dish filled with both chopped cashews and a small handful of whole nuts? It blew my mind. Well, almost. Self-garnishing is new. I don't even recall a crushed nut element in salads past. I liked it.
In a reversal, the drunken noodles did not come with the typical little dish of chile-spiked fish sauce. Shenanigans. Is the Sunday chef putting their own spin on the standards?
Next time, I'm in Woodside, I will force myself to try Centerpoint Thai, one block west of Sripraphai. There's no way that tales of a battered, fried papaya salad can go uninvestigated.
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
“We should go to Ihawan” is a phrase so rarely spoken in my household that I must take advantage when I hear it. Easter has become the one time of year when James seems to embrace his sliver of Filipino heritage and Catholic upbringing. Ham? Who needs it. Lechon is porky perfection.
Lechon, this is it, the ultimate fatty slices of striated pork capped by shell of skin so crackly that it can withstand a night in the refrigerator and microwaving. The tangy, sour dipping sauce is brilliant, even more so when you discover that it’s make from liver and breadcrumbs. Filipino food is ingenious like that.
Ihawan also excels at sweet, charred barbecued meat. Normally, I’m eh on grilled chicken but there is nothing dry or bland about their version. It doesn’t even rely on crispy skin, poultry’s easy way out. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo because this dish never arrived until we asked what had happened when ready to pay the bill. Apparently, someone called in an order for 100 and ours got lost in the shuffle. Customer service isn’t exactly Ihawan’s strength. No one will check on you after your food has been brought and you might get bossed for no apparent reason into ordering something like the calamansi juice when you asked for the buko (coconut juice). I just go with it. We got our chicken to go, the only casualty was the shredded papaya raisin relish that didn’t make it from table to bag.
Meat is Ihawan’s strength. I actually prefer Engeline’s for other dishes like pinakbet, one less-than-healthy way to get vegetables into your meal. Ihawan adds the bagoong into the mix while Engeline’s serves the salty shrimp paste on the side. I happen to like all fermented shrimp condiments, including this funky maroon one. Beware if you don’t.
Pinaket is a mix of vegetables, here cubes of starchy squash, beans, both long and green, eggplant and bitter gourd mixed with shrimp and chunks of pink roast pork. Filipino cuisine really plays up the bitter and sour, not my natural go to flavor profile. I hate the phrase acquired taste, but bitter gourd takes some intellectualizing for me.
In high school my best friend was Filipina and I’d get myself invited to as many family parties as possible to gorge on fun food like pancit and lumpia. I rarely experienced workhorse meals, nor did my teenage friend. Her parents would cook their own dinner for themselves. Once her mother offered me some of what they were eating. Lema defended, “Krista doesn’t want to eat that.” But I did, I’ll try anything. All I recall was a thick, deep brown stew sitting on the stovetop, fishy with eggplants and a dirty earwax flavor that I now know is bitter gourd. I wasn’t crazy about it but kept mum since it seemed like I was being let in on something.
Sisig. Here the pig’s ears and liver are minced fine almost like ground beef, mixed with chopped onions like you’d find on a White Castle slider, and served on a sizzling platter (I slightly prefer Engeline’s version with chunkier meat and a freshly cracked egg that diners mix in). Just a little spicy and sour, the chewy, sticky cartilaginous bits with a caramelized bottom have become an unlikely favorite. Traditionally, you might find brains, cheeks and everything from a pig’s head used. I have never encountered this, though.
One thing Ihawan has that Engeline’s doesn’t is the Burnstown Dam font on their specials menu. I used it for my old personal journal, spied it on a restaurant in Oaxaca in November and just last month on a bar in Bangkok. I love you, goofy plywood font.
Too full for any halo halo, I was determined to track down a slice of ube cake for later. I love fake greens and purples and Easter is the one time a year when lavender food is fitting. Newish Red Ribbon Bakery near Sripraphai primarily sells whole cakes with only three variations available by the slice per day. The pale green pandan did catch my attention but I really wanted ube, only available by whole cake or jelly roll. I couldn’t justify buying a family-sized dessert, it’s too counterproductive to have around the house and I’m not one of those office ladies who brings treats to work to share.
The Fil-Am Mart across the street from Ihawan had all sorts of tempting goodies like puto, steamed muffin-y rice cakes, flan and saipan sapin a gelatinous dessert of colorful strata, royal purple on top. But no ube cake. Krystal’s (I noticed Friday night that their East Village location has moved to Seventh St. and had a Lent menu on the blackboard out front) on the next block, had what I was looking for—finally—ube jelly roll filled with sweet ube halaya, the whole log frosted in more violet goodness.
Ihawan 40-06 70th St., Woodside, NY
Before indulging in a stream of compulsory (only to me) vacation dining recaps, I must first mention NYC’s Thai stalwart, Sripraphai. I dine there maybe every month-and-a-half and will always defend it against downhill alerts no matter how big they get for their britches, but haven’t posted about it in ages because I always order the same things and find the food to be generally consistent. No need for an update. However, I did want to assess the restaurant post-Thailand vacation.
While Sripraphai’s menu strays in many directions (northern khao soi and larb as well as the formidable southern curry) the bulk of what they serve is very close to what you’ll find in Bangkok: rich curries and multi-textured salads that skew slightly more sweet than hot. Awesome and never tiresome. I could eat this food every single day and not get bored (even though I indulged in some Sizzler and German fare in Bangkok).
By sweet, I don’t mean the lime juice-and-sugar dominated papaya salads of Brooklyn. Sripraphai still manages more spice than your corner Thai joint (though occasionally they go too tame–I’m not sure what to think of this Chowhound code word business). Their heat level and style of cooking is very much in line with Bangkok’s renowned Chote Chitr, which I finally got to try. Yet when we went three hours south to beachy Hua Hin, the non-touristy food was jarring and outright incendiary. I loved it, but never encountered that chile intensity in Bangkok. You probably won’t find it at Sripraphai either.
On my last visit just before heading out of town I decided to go wild and order something I’d never had before. Meet the bbq pork salad. Slightly different than the Thai salads I normally eat, this fatty grilled pork mélange is very limey and coated with roughly chopped garlic. While balanced, I prefer more sweet and hot.
Like the dressing on he crispy Chinese watercress salad that never gets old. There’s just too much going on to get tired of it. Shrimp, shredded chicken, toasted cashews for crunch and dominate battered, fried watercress that manages to never be greasy. The best part might be the “goop” (that’s what we call it) that pools at the bottom of the plate from the dressing, sliced shallots, chopped chiles, cilantro and bits of pliable fallen-off batter on the verge of turning soggy. Never waste the goop. I could eat it over rice. Looking at this photo makes me very sad that I have vegetarian chicken salad sandwich and yogurt for lunch. I have never seen this dish in Thailand (I’ve only been twice, so hardly scouring the nation) or encountered it elsewhere in the US. Maybe it’s a bastardized invention.
Crispy pork is always a must. The more decadent version is stir-fired with chiles and basil. When I’m pretending to be healthy (you know, ordering two pork dishes at one meal) I pick the porcine nubs tossed with Chinese broccoli. Though flavored with little more than garlic and oyster sauce (maybe a little soy sauce too), there is nothing dull about this meat-enlivened vegetable dish.
Then a curry. My favorite is the thick one with duck, eggplant and bamboo shoots. This is a typical panang, one of the big three, with beef. Rich, just a little spicy and covered with torn lime leaves and a drizzle of coconut cream. Nobody dislikes panang curry.
No desserts this time around, though when I do pick up a little plastic container to go it’s usually pumpkin custard squares. I checked out the new Filipino bakery catty-corner to Sripraphai but wasn’t feeling inspired by any of the ensaimadas. I just wanted a slice of ube chiffon cake.
Sripraphai * 64-13 69th Ave., Woodside, NY
I honestly didn’t have high hopes for a Valentine’s Day treat involving Chickenjoy or spaghetti studded with frankfurters at Jollibee on opening day. In the Philippines the homegrown chain is way bigger than McDonald’s. There’s serious nostalgia at work (though not for me, obviously). I could see from blogs that the East Coast’s first branch in Woodside, Queens was tempting visitors from as far as Toronto. James’ Pinoy coworker was packing up his family and heading in from New Jersey’s outer reaches.
I wanted a piece of the action, but went in cautiously expecting a crowd. Sure enough, around 4pm there was a line composed of anxious customers wrapped around the block. We estimated at least a four hour wait. Ack. (Sorry about the oddly colored photos–I'm still getting used to my Christmas gift camera and forgot to change a setting because I rarely take outdoor pics.)
I could stand to wait a few weeks for the hype to die down. Remember how quickly Pollo Campero mania faded? After the initial ruckus, the Guatemalan fried chicken chain couldn’t even sustain enough business in Sunset Park to stay open (there’s still one in Corona, though).
So, we had an impromptu late lunch at Sripraphai instead. No waiting and no photos necessary since I order nearly the same thing every time (crispy watercress salad, crispy pork with chile and basil, drunken noodles and a curry—this time a super bony, more fiery than usual catfish version with apple eggplants).
Since no one gave me holiday candies I gifted myself with assorted mithai from Delhi Palace. These colorful sugar bombs will kill you, total diabetes in a box (seriously, everyone thinks that blacks and latinos are the kings of insulin resistance, but Indians have the highest rate of Type 2 diabetes in the city, which I only remember because the New York Times’ article on the topic last year, “Bedeviled by the Sugar Sickness” was illustrated with a photo of Delhi Palace) but I love the creamy sweet assault on rare occasions.
I almost would’ve forgotten it was Valentine’s Day if I hadn’t been handed plastic wrapped flowers by a waitress at Sripraphai just before she ran out. By the time we were done eating, the usual Saturday night hordes had amassed in the lobby and outside…and yep, there was still a massive queue at Jollibee. I’ll be back.