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Little Tibet, Late Night

Party-sized. The Tibetan burger will be bigger in practice.

Party-sized. The Tibetan burger will be bigger in practice.

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.

little tibet beers

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

Color Me Bad: Shamrock Season

It’s Shamrock Shake season (I think? Also, I just remembered I given a promo McDonald’s gift card to try one two years ago and never redeemed it–could is still work?) which for me just means more pretty green food and drink to ogle.

These two images, neither related to St. Patrick’s Day, showed up in my life in a single scroll and now all I can think about are green desserts.

Key lime cake. #soulfoodgram

A photo posted by Kat Kinsman (@katkinsman) on

Pandan paste makes the #tresleches #cake green at #houseofinasal. (Photo: @anrizzy) A photo posted by NYT Food (@nytfood) on

I don’t see South Carolina in my immediate future. Woodside, though? Oh, yes.

The #pandancake hashtag is killing me.

A photo posted by Josie Anne (@whorledpeas) on

Natural…

A photo posted by Nur Anis (@nuranisalias) on

and not so much.

Newborn: City Kitchen

Hopefully, this will not be the state of affairs in practice.

Not indicative of actual lunch crowds (I hope).

I’m pretty sure that I recently said 2015 was going to be about embracing the personal, not the service-oriented. How does a new food court, more Gotham West/Berg’n than Riese Organization, fit into this rubric? Well, City Kitchen is two blocks from my office in Times Square’s sad lunch zone. So, yeah.

Imagine these full sized

Imagine these full sized

Open to the public today, the second floor collection of stands includes established favorites like Luke’s Lobster, Dough, Sigmund’s Pretzels, offshoots like Ilili Box and perhaps most notably, Kuro Obi, an Ippudo spin-off with noodles that are supposedly resistant to take-out.

Whitman's Upstate PB&B (bacon and peanut butter) slider

Whitmans’ PB&B (bacon and peanut butter) slider

Also, there will be breakfast tacos (at Gabriela’s Taqueria) which I would be willing to trade for my usual hard-boiled egg (I know) every now and then, as well as beer, wine and sake, for lunch hour tipplers. (Though if you’re a serious day-drinker, you’ll probably be better suited to Smith’s across the street when it re-opens courtesy of Hayden Panitierre’s dad.)

 City Kitchen * Eighth Ave. & 44th St., New York, NY

Salza Pizza

twoshovelCulinarily 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 pizza pacquiao punch

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

Would You Rather? Boutique Edition

Shop at a Club Monaco inside of Noma that looks like an Urban Outfitters in Williamsburg?

Or

Drink Rwandan coffee at the TOMS cafe opening in Nolita this week that looks like an Urban Outfitters in Williamsburg?

Whither the Food Blog?

Recently on Facebook I was asked by a friend’s acquaintance whom I haven’t seen in over a decade for names of food bloggers to invite to what sounded like a cool event. After a few minutes’ thought, though, I was stumped because food bloggers as I think of them are a dying breed.

In 2015 there are online publishers like Serious Eats, Eater, Grub Street, Tasting Table, and all of the myriad offshoots of print publications that mostly digify content like the ever-changing Bon Appétit to recent entrants like Lucky Peach. None of these are really blogs (though Grub Street is maybe the closest).

On the other extreme are the unsung home cooks and amateur restaurant critics who may or may not have the engaged followers that excite PR types. But a lot of the impulse that originally spurred this activity can now be satisfied through Instagram, Pinterest, or Yelp, splintering to social platforms. Others who may have gotten into food blogging as an outlet are now cooking for the public or putting on events. Editorial wasn’t necessarily their endgame but a way to connect.

The middle, and what I imagine this event planner was interested in, consists of people who blog about food, consistently, with a strong point of view and have some sort of readership. It’s more or less the revolving roster included on Eater’s “In the blogs” section of reviews on Wednesday (which I haven’t been included in for the last few months–what gives?) In NYC I would put Chopsticks & Marrow in this category. Immaculate Infatuation, the Infatuation, or whatever those guys are now calling themselves, I would not. Quality of prose or photography doesn’t necessarily define this genre.

Nor does a reliance on the personal, despite that always having been my preference–and the characteristic I’m mourning the loss of here.

It’s high time to bring it back.

I often hesitate to tell acquaintances or coworkers that I’m a food blogger, and usually don’t at all, because then they’ll show up here expecting a bunch of SLR shots of Santina or a breakfast sandwich roundup, neither which are out of the realm of possibility but not what drives me to keep on posting.

This is my segue into saying that if old-school food blogs are dying, then why not go full-on obsessive and nuts? Who needs more lists and service journalism in 2015? Going forward, I hope to do my part in killing blogs dead by writing more about things that only five people have interest in. That may or may not mean casual dining chains in New Jersey, bars for old women, Pizza Hut attempting to reenter Africa, and as always, delicious things in Queens.

See you soon.

Burger King Mobile Ordering, Middle East-Style

Mobile Burger King in the US means apps allowing ordering and payments.

In Beirut this concept translates to vans painted with what appears to be an extreme close-up of a grill and flames (no literal Fieri nonsense here) serving Burger King at weddings. This could be the start of a beautiful tradition.

Despite all the speculation at the time, Burger King ended up playing no role at all in the catering of the West/Kardashian union.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Bay Area and Beyond

This was not a food vacation (I’m seriously due for one of those) but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try squeezing in eating and drinking opportunities whenever possible. It was a family vacation where the biggest food-related revelation was that two of my cousins had fond memories of my mom being a good cook, which only meant their home-cooking bar had been set woefully low (sorry, mom). Lasagna, one of two special occasion dishes in my mother’s repertoire, was cited specifically. The other baked crowd-pleaser was enchiladas. I did like those enchiladas.

A different cousin I hadn’t seen since she stayed with us for a few mysterious weeks during an early ’80s summer remembered my mom making strawberry jam, which is outrageous (nearly as outrageous as her tale of my sister and I calling her sock monkey, Patricia, ugly) even though we did live a few blocks from a strawberry field. I would like to preserve my Banquet fried chicken and Steak-Umm memories, thanks.

Technically, my first meal in San Francisco was a Carl’s Jr. cheeseburger, the result of inexplicable behavior that may as well now be a tradition since I did the same thing last time I popped out of the Bart station en route to a Union Square hotel. Let’s not talk about that.

mikkeller duo

Beers were had a Mikkeller, the Danish offshoot and sort of relative of Torst, pre-and-post-Kin Khao. Most drafts are one size (8 ounces) which forces you to be more selective than at its Copenhagen and Brooklyn-based brethren where smaller pours can be ordered. Not being a Brettanomyces nerd, I didn’t necessarily want a full $14 glass of the crazy funky Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien Grand Cru 2013 even as I’ve begun warming to sour beers.

Because they don’t know how to be confrontational on the West Coast yet are still dickish, 30 minutes after a server deposited two baskets of fries on our table that we hadn’t ordered, he returned to passive-aggressively scold us for not saying anything, which consisted of him letting us know they weren’t meant for us and then remaining next to the table as if waiting for an apology. Those fries were long gone, dude.

sears fine food pecan waffleI rarely eat breakfast on vacation (the three hour time difference put me on a normal productive human schedule) so the pecan waffles at Sears Fine Food were a treat, touristy or not.

hog island trioIf you cross the Golden Gate Bridge and drive for about an hour northwest, up grassy hills and through dark Hobbit-y patches of woods and don’t hit any cyclists or throw up from all the curves, you may arrive at Hog Island Oyster Farm. Oysters, both freshly shucked and grilled (and unlike the New Orleans specialty, smoked and non-smothered in cheese and breadcrumbs) are a perfect pit stop snack eaten at first come, first serve picnic tables overlooking Tomales Bay where sunbeams can trade places with storm cloud drizzles every ten minutes. It’s worth paying $5 for the big Brickmaiden sourdough roll–you need it for soaking up all the buttery grilled oyster remains (and to settle your stomach if you’re like me and my car sick-prone relatives).

lala's creamery ice cream

While sitting in a parked car downtown Petaluma waiting for my sister’s nausea to pass, we were treated to a show by an older mom or younger grandmother on the sidewalk clutching a not-so-plush Garfield in front of Pick of the Litter, a thrift store benefiting “forgotten felines,” (the number of animal rescue operations in Sonoma County was mind-boggling). She was in the middle of a Bubba Gump shrimp spiel to her ward, a boy born in the mid-2000s, about how once upon a time Garfield merchandise was available as far as the eye could see: Garfield books, Garfield calendars, Garfield phones, Garfield pajamas, Garfield posters, Garfield mugs, Garfield piggy banks…

How do you top that? With two scoops of ice cream at Lala’s Creamery, an old-fashioned parlor that I’m pretty sure isn’t actually old. Luckily, I have old tastes in ice cream–no seasonal berries or lavender honey for me, give me the rum raisin and butter pecan. There is actually a shake on the menu called a Grandpa. Just my speed.

china chef duo

Who says print is dead? An ad in a local paper read while passing time at Lala’s contributed to a dinner decision: China Chef, which turned out to be walking distance to the home that was our end destination. It’s like typical suburban Chinese, complete with zodiac placemats and combo specials, but with gluten-free options, coconut oil substituted on request, and meats both mock and organic that convinced my sister to take a bite of my Hot, Spicy and Crispy Szechuan Beef not “beef.” The shrimp dumplings were a nice bit of evening dim sum, and crab Rangoon will never not be ordered if presented as an option.

el favorito duo

I wouldn’t feel right ordering a burrito anywhere except the Bay Area. (This prompted an LA vs. SF debate on Facebook. To me, Los Angeles is too Mexican to eat a burrito un-self-consciously where Mission burritos are part of San Francisco’s heritage.) Taqueria El Favorito in Sebastopol is just the place for cheap, carnitas-filled flour tortillas wrapped in foil. The griddling is key. And the pickled onions are great with fatty pork.

fremont diner quad

Spending time with non-food people has its ups and downs. I wouldn’t allow Ayurvedic food at my Super Bowl party to another’s irritation, but it’s fun to see someone still excited about things like deviled eggs and brunch. (I’m not sure if brunch really is scarce in Eugene, Oregon–late alcohol-fueled breakfasts seem suited for a college town–or if it’s just not on my sister’s radar.) Ugh, have we become so jaded that delicious strips of bacon and a mound of pimento cheese can’t be enjoyed on a burger because they are so overdone? (I still say nix the jelly jars.) Fremont Diner is one of those casual places with serious food that’s worth stopping by if you’re driving from Sonoma to Napa.

rockridge duo

If you happen to be staying at an airbnb in Rockridge and don’t want to drive for food or cook, Rockridge Cafe is solid and more of a diner than Fremont Diner even with Niman Ranch name-checked on the menu. That’s corned beef hash. Pizza Rustica is also fine enough for pizza, but keep in mind that no one seems to eat after 9pm in Oakland and the upstairs tiki bar is closed on Mondays.

blind cat beer & shots

It’s not all about craft brews and local wines. A day time beer and a shot is perfectly acceptable at the Blind Cat, especially after an encounter at nearby Dynamo Donut with a staffer so comically condescending I thought I was being punked. We did not walk away from that experience with any donuts (though we did get some free coffee cake remainders after I went New York on his ass).

trick dog duo

I prefer cats over dogs, but Trick Dog is having a moment and happened to be down the street. I can get on board with nouveaux boilermakers, a shot of Mandarine Napoléon plunked into a mug of Tecate, as well as cocktails containing three rums, third wave coffee, grapefruit, and fenugreek.

moss beach distillery duo

Despite passing through Pacifica, I didn’t get to stop at the world’s nicest Taco Bell in the town where I was born. However, I did get to experience a supposedly haunted café, Moss Beach Distillery, eat some clam chowder, drink a glass of Chardonnay, and possibly see three baby dolphins playing in the waves.

lark creek grill pacific snapper sandwich

And similar to burritos only in the Bay Area rule, there are only a few American airports where I’d feel ok eating fish. I said goodbye with a Pacific snapper sandwich at Lark Creek Grill. Am I the only one who, price aside, actually likes eating in airports? Not fast food, but sit-down restaurants like you’re worldly or maybe on a business trip? Now that I live so close to LaGuardia, I’d consider hanging out there for fun if all the food wasn’t post-security.

 

 

 

Course Thirteen: A Palette Cleanser

I may have retired Palate Patrol 2014 but that doesn’t mean the abuse has abated.

In fact, it may be getting worse. If you’re of the ilk that not only writes parodies of Noma’s stint in Japan but gets paid to publish such humor in The New Yorker, impeccable grammar would seem to be a given.

From the (since corrected) imaginary East Village walk-up tasting menu:

Course Six: A shot of tequila.

To be consumed by chef, staff, and diners. Should act as a palette cleanser and a sedative and reduce grumbling from the kitchen about having agreed to make this meal in the first place.

Now on to 2015, where there are anti-bone broth bots protecting stock’s good name.
stock

From Food Courts to Farro

namesakes

Bloomberg recently published a sort of fun set of infographics (if you consider infographics fun and are tired of saying the word chart) called “The Average American Mall Explained in Six Charts.

One of the six illustrates where chain restaurants with regional names actually dominate geographically. 1. Who calls A&W A&W All American Fast Food? 2. Clearly, Dallas BBQ is missing.

A second set of charts shows that in the food court world Taco John’s has the whitest customers (85%) while Great Khan’s has the largest concentration of Hispanic diners (49%). And completing this cycle of ethnic profiling, Asians don’t really eat much at the mall but love the Nordstrom cafe more than most.

* * *

Despite dominance in New England, I almost went to Uno for Valentine’s Day but weather trumped novelty not common sense. While planning the excursion, I discovered that the restaurant known for deep dish pies now serves farro salads and “artisan” crust pizzas topped with “house-made marinara.”

The mall food court may be dying, but casual dining chains won’t become relics without a fight. This week alone Bennigan’s declared a comeback, Red Lobster ditched off-brand pork chops for seafood tacos and “trend-forward” brown butter, Carl’s Jr.’s made craft beer-battered fish for Lent, and Pizza Hut (UK) is serving alcoholic milkshakes in Mason jars. And no, bacon-wrapped pizza doesn’t count.