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Crab Rangoon (half-assed & trashy version)

Purists (as if there could be such a thing) will cringe at my tinkering with a classic. Maybe I’ve just been skimming too many whack mom-ish food publications like Weight Watchers and Kraft Food & Family. I ended up using reduced fat cream cheese (though I’d never advocate fat free for any purpose, except maybe spackling) so I wouldn’t feel guilty (no, I’m not one of those types who drinks Diet Coke with candy) and fake crab because I’m cheap and actually like the taste. If I were making a smaller batch or trying to impress strangers outside of a Super Bowl party, I’d certainly use real crab meat. At least I didn’t use garlic powder.

More musings on this unlikely delicacy can be found here.

8 ounces crab meat
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 garlic cloves, minced
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 green onion, chopped (optional)
48 square wonton wrappers
salt and pepper
oil for frying

Mix cream cheese, crab meat (if using the fake stuff, it won’t flake nicely, so chop it instead), garlic, Worcestershire and onion, if using, until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon 1 teaspoon of filling onto wonton wrapper. The edges can be wet and folded simply in half for a diamond shape or continued by pinching the two corners and adhering to the center with another dab of water.

Heat oil to 375 degrees, deep-fry rangoons in batches (don’t overcrowd) for about 3 minutes, or until golden. Drain on paper towels.

Serve with hot mustard and/or sweet chile sauce. I highly recommend this Thai version.

Makes 48 crab rangoons, about five per person (unless you are feeding freaks, they will seriously all get eaten)

Gia Lam

You say faux, I say feu. Everyones got their way of pronouncing pho. And to
be honest, I havent listened closely enough when a Vietnamese speaker orders
to hear how they say it. I had always read that it was like foot minus the
letter T, and I've stuck to this track even if it makes me sound
pretentious. It was only recently that I read how pho is derived from the
French pot au feu. You know, French colonization and all that. Duh.

Despite a fondness for pho I rarely eat it. Vietnamese cuisine is that
way. While rabidly fanatical about banh mi, which isnt sit down restaurant
food, when prowling for a full Asian meal the cleaner, simpler Vietnamese
style usually loses out to a preference for richer, spicier fare, most often
Thai, occasionally Chinese. However, while searching for a wok in Sunset
Parks Chinatown, which is rapidly becoming Vietnamesetown, the blustery
weather was practically begging me to eat a bowl of soup.

I had the dac biet, I almost always go for the special combo thats at
the top of the list. The hodgepodge of parts always differs from place to
place, though flank steak and tendon seem standard. This menu mentioned the
inclusion of navel, which confused me a bit. The pho was very no nonsense,
no choice of sizes, condiments consisted of basil, bean sprouts and lemon.
It seemed like something was missing—maybe sliced chiles?

I've yet to master the art of slamming a bowl. Customers came in after
us, slurped away, and hit the road while I was still sucking noodles. It
made me wonder about the French and all the recent press about joie de vivre
being the secret to thinness. Good quality and long meals savoring each bite
supposedly lend to good health. But fat Asians are still pretty rare and I
don't see a lot of lingering and pondering over each morsel. Maybe I just
visit gauche enclaves.

Gia Lam * 5402 Eighth Ave.,Brooklyn, NY

A Runaway Hit

Oh my, that plane that crashed off the runway in Teterboro lodged itself into the side of the Strawberry warehouse. Since there weren't any fatalities I don't feel too guilty wondering if any well-priced size 9.5 shoes got damaged.


This was a bit of a surprise Valentines choice. We eat a lot of Asian food,
but never Japanese. I havent tried any of the ten million new trendy
Japanese restaurants that seem to have sprouted everywhere below
14th Street. Mostly because I'm miserly and not fond of obnoxious
scenes, but there are exceptions to every rule.

Megu ended up being surprisingly fun–maybe thats just the alcohol
talking—somehow meals always become more fun in proportion to the
amount of imbibing that occurs. Yes, the food was tiny and expensive, but it
was creative and mostly satisfying. The service was gracious and completely
unpretentious. As might be expected there were plenty of white guy/Asian
girl and wizened male/nubile females combos dotted throughout the starkly
plush room (yeah, its possible to be simultaneously minimalist yet
decadent). The tables and white leather banquettes were pleasantly spaced
and intimate, which lent to the luxurious feeling. Arm room and the ability
to hold private dinner conversations are not inalienable rights in NYC. A
gargantuan iron bell hangs from the ceiling, hovering over a large ice
carved Buddha, but somehow it seems Ok, despite verging excessive.

We were seated near the sushi bar, which frankly made for a better view
than looking out over a sea of lovers. Raw fish beats painful attempts at
impressing dates, any day. We opted for the prix fixe, of which many of the
dishes and their proper names have vanished from my memory, not that they
were unmemorable. These things just tend to blur, particularly when
preparations have lots of little components. And hey, Megu is known for its
thirteen-page tome of a menu, they don't make it easy. We started with a
glass of complimentary Veuve Clicquot (which I couldnt turn down because,
well, its alcohol, but I'm so grossed out by all the recent press given to
their CEO the sepulchral author of French Women
Dont Get Fat

Things progressed from there with an amuse of custard in an eggshell
that was flavored with the ol one-two punch of black truffles and foie gras.
Then came a champagne risotto dusted with gold leaf, a lobster ravioli, kobe
beef with six ground peppers (this was the funny part because while normally
non-questioning diners, we inquired about the differences between the
miniscule pillars of pepper positioned at the edge of the plate. The
waitress laughed, then admitted she didnt know and had to pull out her
notes. I don't know if that was unprofessional, but it made her seem more
human than many waitress-bots these places often employ), yellowtail sushi,
a rock shrimp tempura, I think, an edamame soup, perhaps another course was
in there. Like I said, it was a whirlwind and the sake and cocktails didnt
do much for bolstering brainpower.

There sort of were two desserts. I say sort of because I'm not sure that
“slightly sweet egg” counts or not. It came precariously
presented in this whimsical dish/cup combo that magnetically held the shell
at a 45-degree angle. While trying to crack the top to get to the tofu
custard I managed to drop the egg onto my lap and then the floor. The staff
was totally eagle-eyed because I thought I'd rectified the mishap before
anyone noticed, but a waiter immediately came over to replace my oddball
treat. A “real” dessert crafted into a heart and made of a
chocolate crme caramel covered in spun sugar followed it. I was also given
a small box of chocolates at dinners end, then managed to unexpectedly score
a second box while at the coat check. It's the little things, you know.

* 62 Thomas St., New York,

Peking Duck Forest

1/2 I tried to kill three birds with one stone: buy a wok, pick up Asian groceries and eat peking duck, all while bypassing Manhattan's Chinese New Year crowds. I succeeded on two counts in Queens. Unfortunately, the kitchen supply store was closed for the holiday (though I did recently read that buying a new wok is considered a New Year's tradition, so I had the right spirit).

I was a little nervous about peking duck not in a proper Chinatown, particularly peking duck off of Forest Hills main drag–Austin Street is a weird semi-suburban scene, very Long Island in look and feel. But heck, the restaurant did have the words peking and duck in their name, you'd hope they could deliver the goods.

And they pretty much did, though I was more enamored by the ambience and clientele. The restaurant isn't huge, and at 6:45 pm on a Saturday (which I thought was early) there was a surprisingly long wait for tables. I figured out why after being seated. Minus the side-by-side row of three middle aged couples who all looked exactly the same (chunky balding guys with sporty leather jackets and white tennis shoes and their female counterparts), much of the room was filled with solo dining elderly women, reading the New York Post, nursing what looked like whiskey cocktails, very very slowly picking at their food (we'd eaten half of our large meal before one of the women even decided to order. By that point she was on her second drink and probably bored with The Post) and generally giving the staff a hard time.

Crabby Disheveled Senior: I want teriyaki. Where's the teriyaki?

Accommodating Older Waiter: [Can't actually hear initial reply, though I doubt he bothered trying to explain that teriyaki isn't Chinese] Maybe you'd like the beef with oyster sauce. It's called oyster sauce but doesn't taste like oysters. It's very good.

Crabby Disheveled Senior: I don't like fish!

I've seen my future and its not pretty. I might become (ha, become) a loner alcoholic crank, but at least I'd hope to be culinarily bright. Maybe I should start going to Spanish restaurants and demand tacos, just to get the practice.

It was mildly worrisome that no one around us appeared to be eating the peking duck, despite its prominence on the menu. The restaurant tries to be a little ambitious, its a notch above typical NYC Chinese take out, though its hardly the kind of joint that Asians or purists would frequent (which could partly be blamed on the neighborhood rather than the food, though it was impossible to ignore the staff dining next to us on Chinese food that had been delivered, not cooked in house). Dishes like veal with apples and cashews reek of aspiration. And they have a full bar, the wines by the bottle werent completely hideous, though glasses and carafes only came in Chardonnay, merlot and white zinfandel. Gross, but like a good future loner alcoholic (I forgot to mention penny pinching) I ordered the house Chardonnay anyway. My two $4 glasses were filled to the brim, and I got much tipsier than anticipated. Maybe the evening was viewed through rosé colored glasses because I had a really good time.

The appetizers were old school. I freaked when I saw crab rangoon on the menu, this was so my kind of place. $17.50 per person might sound sort of steep for this kind of thing, but the whole shebang includes beef skewers, shrimp toast, egg rolls, steamed dumplings, soup (we chose one with duck, tofu and spinach) and an additional entre–we picked salt and pepper squid. The service is of the ingratiating, almost too helpful persuasion. While not the most ghetto neighborhood, I feared the waiters getting regularly pushed around and beaten into submission by demanding customers who only want sweet and sour pork and chicken fried rice and to be treated like kings. Class is white tablecloths and the absence of plastic backlit food photos.

The peking duck was presented with great fanfare (so was the soup, each item was said aloud as parceled into individual bowls from the steaming serving dish), a spectacle is made of spreading, stuffing and rolling of the pancake-wrapped packages. The waiter has it down to an art, he managed to use all the scallion, cucumber and duck to create six equal sized Chinese burritos. The extra four go into a domed metal container to keep warm while you eat. James was very disappointed that the duck wasn't carved in front of us, they bring the meat pre-sliced and fanned on a platter. I was ok with it, the taste hadn't suffered, but it tainted the meal for him. Consequently, when we get our next peking duck craving its likely well head to Peking Duck House in Manhattan. But I swear if I'm ever hungry in Forest Hills I totally know where I'm going.

Peking Duck Forest * 10712 70th Rd., Forest Hills, New York