“Philippines Asks Fast Food Chains to Cut Rice Servings”
Clearly, I have starch on the brain because when I saw that headline I immediately thought, yeah, because they eat shitloads of rice and it’s totally unhealthy. But no, the article isn’t about Filipinos’ ravenous appetites for rice, it’s all about rising food costs (which I still can’t muster interest in—I’ll get back to you when I’m subsisting on tap water and shriveled potatoes).
My teenage-era best friend, who was yes, Filipino, would complain that rice servings were never large enough. She’d frequently order seconds. I witnessed this exact thing at Ihawan on Easter Sunday.
The place was packed and we did a good deal of waiting before eventually getting shuttled into this weirdo back room with a threesome and a big party (that brought their own plastic jugs of Ocean Spray cranberry juice, which seemed like a strange thing to byob). Everyone gets a big generous blob of rice, at least one cup’s worth, but the threesome asked for refills before meal’s end. I conscientiously nibbled at a third of my scoop and survived just fine.
Twelve lumpias sounds like a lot, but they’re tiny things fried and filled with ground pork. The orange sauce is sweet and a little too gloppy but that’s the way it is. Sometimes you’re just in the mood for a spring roll even if you know it will be merely adequate. I’ve always been partial to cha gio, but you can’t get pork cracklings at Vietnamese restaurants so there’s a trade off.
Ihawan is meaty---their slogan is “the best bbq in town”--so I knew better than to delve into any of the soupier classics like chicken adobo or even touch the pancit. Plus, you can find those practically anywhere in a two-block radius.
I don’t think you need me to tell you that this isn’t ribs and brisket barbecue. No mop sauces and spice rubs. It’s grilled meat, in this instance pork and chicken, that’s spent time soaking in sweet and garlicky liquid. The rice-crazed friend’s family used Dr. Pepper in their marinade. The end result is sticky, sugary, a little salty, and completely amazing with charred edges caramelized just so. It really kind of is made for rice.
You need the vinegary, pickled green papaya condiment, achara, to take the sweet edge off. But there are other things floating around in the little dish, too. I’ve always found the addition of raisins in Filipino food to be a fun Spanish appropriation that you just don’t see in the rest of Southeast Asia. The plumped dried grapes mix with shredded carrot and lots of minced garlic.
Lechon is a must always. I tend to order mine kawali, chopped up with good portions of meat, fat and crispy skin in each chunk. I’ve noticed on the blogs you see more pata, the whole foot, which is practically German and also a huge treat. Maybe I’m just dainty. Either way, it will slowly kill you.
The pork also calls for its own condiment, the simply named lechon sauce, which is savory, slightly tart and completely impossible to discern the individual ingredients from. I’m still surprised that the flavor comes from liver, vinegar and breadcrumbs. That’s ingenious.
Ok, at least one vegetable was in order. No one said it had to be a healthy vegetable. This is laing, which is akin to creamed spinach but uses taro leaves and coconut milk instead. A couple head-on shrimp get tossed in for good measure.
I’d read and saw ads for a new Ihawan branch in Long Island City that will serve sushi. This is bizarre, for one, because I don’t think of the slowly gentrifying barely-a-neighborhood demanding Filipino food (I honestly don’t think the average citizen has much knowledge about Pinoy cuisine, period) and two, sushi? But heck, if Lucky Mojo, also new in LIC, can serve Cajun, Tex-Mex, bbq and raw fish, why not Ihawan? Barbecue and sushi will be huge by mid-2008, or at least in a tiny sliver of western Queens. (3/23/08)
Read my much more concise review at Nymag.com
Posts from the ‘Woodside’ Category
“Philippines Asks Fast Food Chains to Cut Rice Servings”
Filipino food is a tough sell in America, though there’s no good reason why. I have a disproportionate fondness for it, which is probably due to my exposure to it during my formative teen years and natural underdoggy bent. I was thrilled when Memories of Philippine Kitchens, a hefty, memoir-ish cookbook came out late 2006. I read a bit every night before bed (yet I’m having trouble soldering through Secret Ingredients—I’m really trying to overcome my New Yorker aversion). Maybe this weekend I'll actually tackle a few recipes.
I think the cuisine lacks the immediate punchiness of Thai food or the perceived lightness of Vietnamese. It’s kind of a Chinese-Spanish-Malay mishmash that doesn’t taste exactly like any of those three. You could even count a Mexican influence (by way of Spain) when you consider Filipino versions of menudo, flan, empanadas and tamales. I don't know who turned them on to Edam cheese, however, but it's totally a Pinoy Christmas thing.
The hot and sweet flavors that I truly love aren’t so prominent. Filipino fare plays with the bitter, sour and salty ends of the spectrum and many dishes are stewed to mellowness. Yet, I still really enjoy the food, so much so that a classic problem arose. Our two top could not support everything we ordered and we ended up having to move to a more accommodating table. I should just warn waiters upon being seated that we order for four. Unlike most fussy New Yorkers I've encountered, I like leftovers so it’s almost always planned into the equation.
Only a hater could have a problem with lechon's crispy skin and chewy flesh. This is the perfect pork preparation. I swear I’m going to attempt it one of these days. I would kind of be an awesome Super Bowl snack. But what sets the meat apart is the dipping sauce. I realize that vinegar, breadcrumbs and liver sounds disgusting, and I had no idea until fairly recently that those were the backbone of lechon sauce because the condiment just tastes wonderfully savory with a touch of sweetness. There must be umami at play because I want to put it on everything.
I usually avoid chicken adobo because I’m afraid it’ll be boring. How exciting can soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and bay leaf be? Pretty good, it turns out. Maybe my one attempt was just uninspiring because I used boneless, skinless chunks instead of chicken parts. The magic is in the skin and bones, I think.
Pinakbet is essentially vegetables like green beans, pumpkin, okra and bitter melon boiled to softness, but the flavor is robust. I only ordered this out of vegetable duty but was kind of blown away by the non-blandness. Ok, it doesn’t hurt that nuggets of lechon are hiding out in nooks and crannies.
Kare kare can be overwhelming with its peanut buttery sauce; I only picked out a few bites of oxtail before falling victim to too much richness. It’s not a bad idea to add dabs of bagoong, fermented shrimp paste served alongside (I didn’t capture the condiment in any photos). Salty and pungent for sure, but the creamy dish can take the shock.
I’m a sucker for crazily hued chiffon cake. I think this ube had some help from artificial dye, but purple is pretty. I'll try anything unusually blue, purple or green. And after staring at the front bakery case throughout our lunch I had to take something to go. The insides were a little mangled, though.
Engeline’s * 58-28 Roosevelt 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
I don’t usually mention Sripraphai re-visits because they’re frequent and my ordering style is repetitive. I’m only bringing this meal up because I’d never attempted take out before and was highly impressed by the thoughtful packaging.
I always come back from vacation dying for whatever food wasn’t where I just was, even if the cuisine I did eat was remarkable and even if I was only away for a few days. It’s not even like there’s tons of “real” Cuban food in NYC anyway. But the first business-lined intersection we hit after exiting the BQE from the airport en route to Sripraphai was Roosevelt and 69th, with El Sitio staring right at us across the road. No! No more Cuban food.
On Monday, our last night in Miami, I gave in decided to visit the pool. (Said pool at left, and don't worry, there's no way in hell I'm exposing myself online in a bathing suit.) At 4:30, it was well-past prime tanning time and the area wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded. Based on their reading material, a majority of the bathers and layabouts remaining were German and Eastern European. As the sun was about to set, an Asian couple showed up. The female, kind of plain and in a Louis Vuitton logoed bikini and khaki fishing hat that she kept on even in the water, her male counterpart, slightly sourpussy and portly. I knew I wasn’t in Brooklyn or else he would’ve been a skinny white dude with glasses. I enjoyed their conversation.
Hat girl: I want Cuban food for dinner.
Portly guy: No more Cuban food, it’s not good for you.
Hat girl: [sulking] I’m going to eat Cuban food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Portly guy: No.
Hat girl: Now I want ice cream.
And she got it, too. No one else in the pool area looked like food had touched their lips all afternoon. But leave it to an Asian girl to bring a substantial bowl of ice cream into the pool, squat on the shallow end stairs and chow down. Meanwhile, the only other person eating anything in the vicinity was a black woman with a bizarrely ample backside and thighs thicker than this girl’s waist, eating an apple.
That’s what’s wrong with this world. Skinny girls gobbling ice cream with abandon and hefty gals nibbling fruit. I want to know what goes on behind closed doors, you know, food anthropology. Would the ice cream eater really go on to polish off a massive plate of rice, beans and lechon? Would the fruit snacker eat salad with dressing on the side for dinner? Is there such a thing as a “good” metabolism or is a calorie a calorie? In some ways I’m hoping the former because maybe this essence could be captured and manufactured. Why are we wasting time on cancer and AIDS research when it could be medically possible to eat like a pig and remain lithe as a gazelle? Now I sound like a Cathy. Ack.
So, I went overboard with my ordering at Sripraphai and got drunken noodles with chicken, crispy pork with chile and basil, duck curry with eggplant and bamboo shoots, and the crispy watercress salad that I had originally decided against because I figured the crispy bits would rapidly turn to sog by the time we got around to eating them (we’d recently eaten lunch and were picking up dinner to eat like five hours into the future). But I love the salad so much that I ran the risk. However, they package up the wet parts separately from the crunchy stuff. So smart, like a McDLT yet successful.
While waiting, I had time to peruse the shelves and refrigerated cases unimpeded because the restaurant was nearly empty, which is a rare thing. I decided on a container of four rectangular rice-based sweets that I don’t recall being combined together before, and num prek ta deng (their spelling, I always want to say nam prik). They have a slew of nam priks to choose from. I picked this one because it contained shrimp and sugar and I like my searing heat with a touch of sweetness and fishiness.
(My latest short-lived regimen has been the nam prik diet where I bring a cup of jasmine rice to work topped with a generous blob of chile paste. This lunch yesterday nearly killed me. I love insanely hot food but the proportion of paste to rice was askew and I literally burned my tongue and roof of my mouth. Of course, that didn’t stop me from finishing my painful meal.)
I was trying to think of an excuse for brining home enough food for three meals (other than sheer gluttony, of course). Well, September 4 is kind of my anniversary and that’s a good enough reason as any. Kind of, because dating anniversaries don’t seem to count and kind of because James barely acknowledges it anyway and insists that it’s somewhere in October. Yet since eight years is more substantial than many marriages (at least any that I’m acquainted with) and I’m not terribly marriage minded, it counts. (9/4/07)
I've passed by Izalco countless times on our way to Sripraphai and incorrectly assumed that it was Mexican. It's tough because when I'm in the mood for Thai that's it. I'm hardly ever wavering between Latin American or Asian; when I leave the house I know what I want (and no, it's not always one of those two broad cuisines) and I can't deviate.
On this occasion I was specifically searching for Salvadoran food because other than the pupusas I sampled at the Red Hook ball fields last summer, I'm pretty naïve about Central American food and need to at least know enough to come up with a paragraph or two on the subject. There are actually quite a few Salvadoran restaurants in NYC. I picked this one because I was already nearby in Jackson Heights and had been thwarted in my quest for Uruguayan meat by the huge crowd waiting to get in.
I immediately liked Izalco's indoor-outdoor décor. Only the finest establishments erect interior awnings to evoke the sense that you're dining on a veranda instead of feet from elevated subway tracks. They went a step further and had distractions like a stuffed armadillo standing on the faux tile roof sticking out from the wall. A taxidermied deer head also sat above our table and an iguana and owl also made an appearance. I don't think that any of those animals play a role in Salvadoran cuisine, however.
I have a phobia about eating in places that are about to close and another about being the only diner. There was still nearly an hour left before Izalco's 11 pm shut down, but the one other table left minutes after we arrived and I started feeling the pressure despite our waitress being very helpful and open to questions. So, we didn't order anything extravagant (not that Salvadoran food seems particularly ostentatious) or labor intensive.
I got a sampler of the three types of pupusas: cheese, chicharrones and refried beans. The stuffed corn cakes come with curtido, a vinegary coleslaw-ish condiment that I really like. The pupusas are pretty heavy so a little crunch and tanginess is not a bad addition. You also get a red sauce that I think is basically pureed tomatoes, it's thin and not spicy in the least. James tried an enchilada, which is probably what we'd call a tostada. The base is a crunchy fried corn tortilla topped with shredded chicken and weirdo but not untasty things like chopped carrots, sliced hardboiled eggs and cucumbers. We also had two different Salvadoran beers, Suprema and El Salvador which were in a Budweiser league. That wasn't a bad thing. Something about this food, at least the few snacky items we ate, seemed like perfect drinking food and you don't need fine wine for that.
Izalco * 64-05 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, Queens
I was just about Cubano'd out at this point in my fake vs. real research. But El Sitio is a classic, I couldn't pass it up. Though I have physically passed by countless times and never stopped in. This is a perpetual problem with Roosevelt Ave.–too much choice and when it's a Latin-Asian toss-up, I almost always lean towards the Thai or Filipino options.
We sat in the restaurant half, which has personal jukeboxes at each table, fake ivy climbing the ceiling, and no cubano on the menu. Oops, I guess you're supposed to sit at the lunch counter for more casual fare. But I still got my sandwich, I had to. You get garlic bread while you wait and little croquettes the size of olives. Maybe you don't get those in the diner. James ordered a pork plate with yucca, and rice and beans, of course.
The sandwich was perfectly crisp with a soft melty interior. Swiss cheese, roast pork, ham, pickle and yellow mustard–all standard and all good. And very flat, it'd had the hell pressed out of it, which is a good thing. I hate it when everything's busting out.
El Sitio * 68-28 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, NY
1/2 I feel like La Flor is one of those Chowhound darlings (at least it was some years back) as was corroborated by the 95% white middle class clientele (myself included, I guess) that mysteriously was almost exclusively made up of pairs of 40-ish women. But I've never been in all of my years. If I find myself along these parts of Roosevelt Ave., I inevitably end up in an Asian establishment. And even this excursion was a fluke. We'd been shopping at Western Beef in Ridgewood and wanted a taco, which could've been satisfied en route back to South Brooklyn. But the pull deeper into Queens was too strong to resist.
I know, La Flor is more capable than a mere taqueria–the short ribs sounded tempting and the cheesecake and bread pudding filled dessert case taunted me all evening–but we just wanted tacos. I had to try the special al pastor ones since I'm crazy for pork and pineapple. I happened to be sitting right near the spit, so I could see the meat being shaved off. Clearly I wasn't the only al pastor fan, as a lot of slices were stripped off before mine made their way to my table. The tacos looked larger than average, the two corn tortillas seemed to be slightly bigger in circumference. Or maybe it was an illusion because of the generous amount of filling. The meat was crispy edged, sweet and earthy with hints of fruit. I could eat a pile of it. The two tacos came with a mesclun salad topped with fresh corn for $8.95, which seemed fair enough.
We shared a shrimp quesadilla that came red, white and green stripes of salsa and crema. Festive. And the filling wasn't overly cheesy, in fact there appeared to be mashed potato chunks mixed with the seafood and green onions.
Coupled with a glass of the ever popular Yellowtail Shiraz (no, not fancy, but not jug wine either), the early evening meal was a nice way to waste time while waiting for a severe downpour to pass over the elevated 7 tracks. I can see how this corner caf appeals to locals looking for variety. (2/4/06)
La Flor * 53-02 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, Queens
I can't believe I forgot that Sripraphai is closed on Wednesdays. The last time Sripraphai was unexpectedly closed we ventured to Rice, further east on Roosevelt Ave., which made me sad because everyone wanted chopsticks, brown rice and fish sauce-less food. I wanted to pick up some mithai and those adorable Thai marzipan fruits for a party I was throwing and Wednesday night was really the only chance I thought I'd get (I was able to go back Friday, as it turned out).
Coming up with a plan B wasn't easy. Not in the mood for anything Hispanic or Indian, I was gung ho on either Malaysian or Filipino, two cuisines I can never get James to agree on (despite spending nearly two weeks on an eating journey in Malaysia this summer). Finally, he relented and said he could go for some grilled skewers from Ihawan.
Yay, victory. But then my thrill soon soured because I remembered that all those Filipino places close early. It was only a few minutes past 8pm, but yep, Ihawan was dark and shuttered. We only wanted food to go, so we were able squeak into Renee's before the 8:30pm closing (and I always thought Sripraphai was hardcore with their no orders after 9:30pm or whatever it is). Phew.
Grilled meats were a must for James. Lechon is an absolute for me. We ended up ordering a mixed grill, which came with beef skewers, pork belly, longaniza, and a chicken breast. All for $7. I like how the sweet smoky barbecued items are paired with a side of achara, pickled green papaya with raisins (I'm not sure how textbook this is, most recipes I've seen for the sour accompaniment don't use raisins. But I know Filipinos have a fondness for the dried grapes, probably a Spanish influence. My best friend growing up was from the Philippines and her mom would put raisins in the lumpia. Oh my god, I could eat a plate of toasty cylinders).
The crispy, fatty pork chunks came with a lechon sauce that was slightly different that what I've had before. It was darker, thinner and appeared to be speckled with caramelized onions. I love that stuff, and had no idea liver and breadcrumbs were main ingredients until maybe two years ago. I used to keep a bottle in the fridge, but never had any occasion to use it. Same with banana ketchup. I love that these condiments exist, though they don't necessarily fit into my daily routine.
James also ordered pork adobo just to keep up the porcine fest (I would've opted for chicken). Everything plus three boxes of rice (I swear, Filipinos are more rice crazy than other Asian cultures) totaled $18, which is amazing value if you consider that we had enough food for two meals. $4.50 a dinner is hard to beat.
Renee's Kitchenette * 6914 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, NY
Quintessential burgers. Ultimate pizza. I'deal BBQ. I'm neither purist, nor aficionado. I honestly cant distinguish uber patties, slices and ribs from the fray, though many Americans purport to. Donovans often gets the best burger kudos (though it seesaws between them and Corner Bistro). I've never had the opportunity to decide for myself because if I'm ever in Woodside, I'm waylaid by Sripraphais siren song. But this Saturday afternoon I happened to be just hung over enough and in need of good old fashioned grease and meat stomach padding to check the Irish pub out.
I like the stained glass and dark wood dcor. It's almost like a castle and would tend towards hokey if it wasn't original details. We were seated in a romantic little nook in the back corner, not that burgers necessarily induce amorous behavior. I opted for a medium cheeseburger, James the same but with bacon. We also ordered a side of onion rings that never appeared. That mightve been for the best because the fries werent prime specimens. I suspect frying isnt their forte.
The burger–it was in the simple camp, as wed expected. Bun, meat, cheddar cheese with tomatoes and lettuce on the side. It was very juicy, of the type that soaks the bottom bun, but not so much as to fall apart and make a complete mess. It was very likeable, a classic bar burger. James wasn't as impressed as I, but hes the kind of person whod put onion soup mix and eggs in his ground beef (though not milk and ketchup like his moms version that induced vomiting during a Christmas vacation viewing of The Aviator).
Donovan's Pub * 5724 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, NY