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This place has been right under my nose and beneath the M tracks for the
past two and a half years, and yet I just now ventured within. I always
imagined the interior to be sort of akin to an un-remodeled Denny's with a
senior crowd. This guess was not far off. I didn't realize there were two
sides and that on this occasion, I'd chosen the diner entrance. I was
greeted by wood paneling and turquoise puffy seats like the place hadn't
been touched since the early 70's (possibly late 60's). I don't know if the
clientele has changed much in 30 years either. There were plenty of old guys
harassing one of the waitresses about her (one of many) boyfriends, some
better behaved elderly women who went to the restaurant section and MTA
workers who sat at the counter.

Oh yes, the food. It's nothing to write home about. Hamburgers, chicken
salad and the like, though the kids' menu is amusing with plates named after
animals like the Donkey. Don't go out of your way, but if for some strange
reason you find yourself on the M in Ridgewood, hop off and grab a bite to
eat. You'll probably get some free entertainment in the deal. (1/27/01)

It's gone! I only moved away a year ago and they've already changed the
neighborhood on me. I feel like an old-timer.

Maasbach's * 6694 Fresh Pond Rd., Ridgewood, NY


I'd never noticed the bar and grill addition to the name. I'm wary of food
quality in a place with a happy hour. I've also never been inclined to eat
at this outpost even though I walk by it frequently. Why bother when Nyonya
is so much better and cheaper (I've never understood the relation between
all the Penangs and the few Nyonyas)? But I was feeling lazy and it was
within walking distance.

There's a high kitsch value going on at Penang. It's a borderline tiki
lounge with fake, crumbling exposed brick walls, rock wall fountains (with
either leftover Christmas "angel hair" or fungus sprouting from it), and
plenty of bamboo. You're supposed to feel as if you're dining in the open,
but it's hard to get the east village out of your head and think Malyasia
even though it's screaming at you.

The food just didn't have any punch. The beef satay was fine, same for
the roti canai, the beef rendang was also o.k., but a basil chicken dish
tasted like gloppy Chinese take out, Now that I think about it, the only
clunker was the basil chicken. I suppose the food was non-offensive, but
just not worth it in a city with many other Malaysian choices. (1/25/01)

*This location is history. (6/11/04)

Penang Bar and Grill * 64 Third Ave, New York, NY



I never venture anywhere near Grand Central Station in my daily life. And
while I find the notion of their new dining concourse mildly interesting,
it's not the sort of thing I'd go out of my way to visit. However, last week
I'd spent a freezing day in New Haven, was hungry and tired and eager to
taste test the Vietnamese sandwiches at Nem. Especially since I'd just had
an authentic version the week before and the taste was still fresh in my

The food looked fresh, as far as fast-ish food goes. It also looked
interesting. Cute, plastic, almost-real looking models of most dishes were
on display (I love that stuff). But I was there for one thing only–the
sandwich. They had all sorts of foofy versions filled with grilled shrimp or
chicken. Pork is what a banh mi is about so that's what it had to be.

Theirs was described lovingly as freshly baked bread, pate, cucumber,
carrots, daikon and cilantro. Now the sandwich looked good, it even tasted
good, but this was not a banh mi. This was really more like a large panini.
I swear the bread was ciabatta, when a good old fashioned cheap French roll
usually suffices. There was no heat to speak of, no jalepenos, no spicy
sauce. The pork was not sweet and barbecued, but grilled and sliced into
strips–the char lines were visible proof.

I think anyone new to the world of Vietnamese sandwiches would have no
complaints (except the darn thing was soggy after the hour subway ride home.
I've kept real banh mis in the fridge overnight and they're fine the next
day). And while the $6.25 ($6.77 with tax–they don't even charge tax at the
other joint) price in not ridiculous by Manhattan standards, especially in a
train station, knowing that I could have two and half authentic sandwiches
for the same price made me wonder a bit. The staff was all Asian
(Vietnamese? who knows), everything was clean and efficient, but who needs
that sterility when you can get the real deal. Having said that, if I were
to find myself in need of food in Grand Central again, I wouldn't be opposed
to trying Nem. (1/24/01)

No more Nem, and it has probably been that way for years yet I only
noticed a few months ago. (7/8/05)

Nem* 43rd & Lexington, New York, NY

Vietnam Banh Mi

This place totally rules. I'd been looking for a place like this since I
first moved here. In Portland, I used to frequent this take-out shop, Cali
Sandwiches, next to a Plaid Pantry, which was along the same lines. A small
variety of offering like Vietnamese sandwiches (or Saigon Subs as they like
to call them in Toronto), packaged shrimp chips and cases of homemade
desserts in wild colors made from ingredients such as tapioca, agar agar,
coconut milk and rice. They also have fresh squeezed juices and oddities
like a basil seed beverage.

I'm used to a choice of meats, but there wasn't even a menu so I just
ordered "two sandwiches" and hoped for the best. The banh mi were advertised
on the awning and there were French rolls behind the counter so I figured
I'd get something at least vaguely related to what I was used to. I got
barbecued pork and that's just what I expected, so all was well. They ask if
you want hot sauce (and you do). Though I was accustomed to a $1.50 price
tag, the $2.50 for the New York version is a bargain. It doesn't get much
better than that. Now, Nem is a horse of a different

Viet-namBanh-Mi So 1 Inc. * 329 Broome St., New New York

La Palapa

I don't eat much Mexican food. It just seems like it's always so blah, and
they just don't do it right out here so I rarely bother. I mean, if you want
nachos or giant burritos you can get edible versions, but they're not the
first things that come to mind when I'm looking for a restaurant.

La Palapa isn't a refried beans oozing with melted cheese sort of place.
I wouldn't say it's super upscale either. Maybe a happy medium that seems
authentic enough, though I'm hardly an expert. They use lesser-seen
ingredients like Mexican oregano, cactus leaves and epazote, which is a
change. But then, there aren't complimentary bowls of chips and salsa or
brightly colored margaritas in sight either. I guess there must be trade
offs in the world.

I had a special of pork loin with pumpkin seed sauce over a tamale,
which was very rich and flavorful. I don't want to use the word earthy over
and over again, though that would be an apt description for most of what I
encountered. They also had selections like nopales en mole verde ajonjoli
(casserole of cactus leaves in sesame seed green mole with red rice) and
barbacoa de cordero al chile ancho estilo catalina (ancho chile bbq'd lamb
with black beans and tomato rice), which caught my eye.

The food was one thing, but I was also entertained by the couple getting
into a fight at the table next to us and witnessing an elderly woman get
water spilled on her head by a waitress–it's the little things that really
top off a dining experience. Plus, La Palapa is right next to Holiday
Cocktail Lounge, which definitely highlights the contrast of the old and the
new East village. Have a fancy Sauza drink at the restaurant, then pop in
next door for a Bud and an eyeful of smoke.

La Palapa * 77 St. Marks Pl.,
New York, NY


Oh…Odessa. This place has been a bright star on my map since I first
stepped foot in this godforsaken city. Open 24 hours, it's always there to
serve fried, heavy, greasy food when you need it most. When I first opened
the gigantic menu to page one and was faced with a concotion called Disco
Fries (covered in cheese and gravy), I knew I was onto something good.

I've rarely ventured beyond the pirogies and powerhouse combo plate (1
blintz, 4 pirogies, and a potato pancake). My foray into monte cristo
was a bit of a let down, but that just may be a west coast/east
coast misunderstanding.

I had the opportunity to dine there recently since friends were visiting
from out of town. It's not every day your stomach can handle Odessa, you
have to pick your moments. My latest excursion brought up the question I've
always pondered–what's the difference between the two next door locations?
The one on the left is dark and one on the right is newer and bright. I've
always eaten at the light since the early days when I tried the wood paneled
version only to discover the monte cristo was absent from the menu (though
on this visit it appeared to be back). One is more like a bar and the
other…I'm not sure. I guess the choice depends on whether you want to show
off your haggard, drunk self or hide in the shadows.

Odessa * 119 (or 117) Ave. A, New York, NY

Irving on Irving

I'm not sure what the heck this new restaurant's name is. I've seen it
called Irving Irving, Irving and Irving, but I'm sticking with what's
written on the menu. This confusing place peaked my curiosity when I heard
they did some new take on the Philly cheesesteak. That's a sandwich near and
dear to my heart. And since Irving on Irving happened to be right on the way
to where I was meeting acquaintances, it seemed like a good opportunity to
sniff it out.

Unfortunately, the cheesesteak is on the lunch menu so we had to opt for
dinner fare. There was absolutely nothing wrong with anything, but I
couldn't choose an entree for the life of me. Nothing jumped out at me. The
appetizers were appealing, the pizzas sounded good, but the entrees lacked a
pizzazz I craved. To start, I had sangria and a nice antipasti with a
generous selection of cured meats (do I ever love cured meat), olives and

I ended up choosing the salmon with a vegetable ragout over something
that could've been beans or a thick round grain (I was tired and didn't
scrutinize before I ordered). It was perfectly edible, even good, but my
socks weren't knocked off. James's kielbasa with potatoes and red sauerkraut
in an extremely sweet sauce (honey? maple?) didn't seem like a bad choice

The vibe is small, cozy, agreeable and possibly better suited to lunch.
It's a neighborhood type of place, and I'm often nearby so it's not
inconceivable that I'll be back.

Closed: It's Casa Mono now.

Irving on Irving * 52 Irving Pl., New York, NY

Dim Sum Go-Go

Dim Sum Go-Go is one of those new-school Chinatown restaurants that's hard
to pin down. Modern, cute, boldly color-schemed. Eschewing the tendency
towards garishness while hanging on to the requisite fish tank. The red and
white design almost evokes a fast food joint, but the table cloths and
non-generic dishes imply something else altogether.

I'll admit that I was a little baffled as how to order. There's a
regular menu and a dim sum one (it's not the sort of place with carts
wheeling by) and I wasn't sure which to pay attention to. I was really
hankering for a turnip cake, but all the dim sum appeared to be dumplings,
which didn't make sense since you'd think with dim sum in the name, there'd
be more variety. (And then there's Excellent Dumpling House, with barely a
dumpling to speak of.)

However, the dumplings they offered weren't run of the mill. Fillings
included shark fin, crisp duck skin, jicama and pink dough made from beets.
ordered a combo with one of each (10 total) and then realized that didn't
make sense since wouldn't get to taste everything, so ordered a second. It
was tricky because you had no idea which one you were getting, though you
could narrow choices down through a process of elimination. The freakiest
one looked liked a frizzy ball of fried bean curd, but had a crunchy gritty
bite. My guess was shark fin because what else would have that
cartilage-like quality? The four dipping sauces were a nice change from the
usual soy sauce. They had a ginger scallion, garlic, "Chef Guy's," and
vinegar with pickled ginger. It was tough deciding which to dip into.

We also tried soups, which were simple, came in cute clean-lined
crockery and had names like Song of the Sea and Wise Man's Broth. But I but
I was most excited by the tiny airplane portioned piece of Shanghai bread
that comes with each bowl. Akin to a bland, greaseless donut–I could eat a
whole plate of that stuff.

Upon leaving, I couldn't help but notice a plate of turnip cakes on a
table by the door. What?! How could that be? I also picked up a menu and
there was a whole section of fried dim sum that I swear I didn't see on the
real menu, but then, it was early for me and my deduction skills weren't up
to snuff. They also had a Chinese New Year menu at the register, which put
all sorts of ideas in my head. $365 for ten seemed like a good value,
unfortunately I don't even know ten people and the ones I do know are a
bunch of babies who wouldn't want to do it anyway. Bastards. But me? I'm
definitely going back to get my turnip cakes and try out the entrees. I
suspect that on second visit, I'll be forced to give up their two shovel
rating for three.

Dim Sum Go-Go * 5 E. Broadway, New York, NY

Lansky Lounge

I'd never felt inclined to visit Lansky Lounge, but somehow I ended up at
their new restaurant and felt o.k. about it. Supposedly the former personal
chef for the King of Norway is the chef. That could be, but you'd be hard
pressed to find a single Norwegian item on the menu. This is old-fashioned
American classic territory, which fits in nicely with the gangster hideout

A friend who never gets asked out on proper dates was trying to find a
way to get to the traditional dinner-and-movie-where-the-guy-pays stage
after sleeping with her new suitor on the first date. In my head I was
thinking, "yeah, good luck" but my mouth suggested Lansky as a cool, classy,
get-to-know-you joint. But the girl doesn't eat meat (that's the least of
her problems), and this is no place for a vegetarian. She's on her own here.

A large part of the menu is devoted to steak, with quite a selection of
cuts. These guys are obviously hip to the steakhouse trend. We started out
with Caesar salad and calamari in a light cornmeal batter with a tangy
(tamarind?) gingery dipping sauce. Neither of us could resist the filet
mignon. The waiter suggested it, saying that the sirloin was bigger, but the
filet was the best. I expected a puny, albeit succulent, speck of meat, but
the juicy hunk that came out was an unexpected surprise. Perfectly rare.

There's a list of sides (and befores and afters) from which we chose
sauteed spinach (though I wanted it creamed to up the cholesterol quotient
even further) and extremely rich and pungent gorgonzola mashed potatoes. I
thought they were a hit, but James insisted he could still taste them the
next day and I'm not sure if that's exactly a compliment.

There's an airy, roomy, swank '40s feel to the place. I don't think I've
ever dined with that much elbow room in Manhattan. It was filled, but not
crowded, which is the dead opposite of the bar just beyond the swinging
doors. We'd had a quiet 9:00 drink at the bar before dinner and by the time
headed back that direction, quite a party had developed. I was always under
the impression that Lansky was annoying and hip, but the folks grooving on
the funky 70's tunes (courtesy of a DJ that happened to be James's
downstairs neighbor) were lacking the hip part. Unless you're talking twin
sets and polos in a hip to be square sort of way, which they most definitely

The evening was fun and satisfying. But where usually it's wise to stick
with drinks when bars get the notion to serve food, in this case I'd opt for
the dining experience and imbibe elsewhere.

LanskyLounge and Grill * 104 Norfolk St., New York,NY


Pat's claims to be the birthplace of the cheesesteak, and who am I to doubt?
Pat's is plain, white and less flashy than Geno's
across the street. I was scared off on New Year's eve by their lack of
business, but on Jan 1. they seemed to be on equal footing. I'd learned my
lesson the hard way the night before and I was determined to order properly
this time.

The tone at Pat's was even more no-nonsense, the line seemed to move
quicker and they didn't even bother to close the sliding window while making
the order. I was shaking in my boots. I sauntered up to the counter and said
with relative confidence, "cheez whiz steak with." I balked at saying "wit"
out of fear that they'd know I wasn't a local and think I was parodying the
colloquialism. But it seemed to do the trick. I was presented with a huge,
juicy, processed cheese-filled sandwich in mere seconds. James made the
mistake of saying "cheez whiz steak with onions." He added the onions
part and got a measly sandwich. I felt pretty smug with my prize specimen.

I was pleased that Pat's had napkins, but they serve their cheesteaks on
an open piece of paper where Geno's wraps theirs up. This would not be a
problem if they were to be immediately consumed, but our intent was to take
them home with us for later (James went as far as also going to Geno's to
get two for the road). We wrapped them tightly in newspaper and stuffed them
in our bags. And even after a two hour car ride, a harrowing trek through
the icy streets of Orange, New Jersey (where we dropped the rental car off)
to the train, and the subsequent subway ride, the cheesteaks held up! We did
have to re-warm them, but their Philly-ness was not lost in transit.

Pat'sKing of Steaks *
1237 E. Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia, PA