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Stay Classy


The second I heard A.J.’s little Latina lady friend utter the words “I didn’t order nothin’” as a fancy silver domed tray appeared, I knew I was in a for a treat. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any hiding, wedging or tucking into edibles, just a clean and simple diamond ring in a box. Classy, just as one would expect from a young Soprano.

It’s Rampant

I’ve had no time to think lately. While I get my concentration back, here are a few new (to me) items that have caught my fancy.

Not ramps. I’ve never bought ramps, though I’ve possibly eaten them twice. They’re just an onion-like vegetable, I don’t need to hear about them endlessly. Maybe it’s because I only recently got hip to RSS feeds but like every other post popping up in my reader is ramp related. Ramps. Ramps. Ramps. Ramps. Ramps.

I’m pretty sure that Flying Goose chile sauce isn’t brand new but I’d never noticed the pastel tipped bottles until a few weekends ago at Pacific Supermarket in Elmhurst. From a distance it just looked like regular Huy Fong, a.k.a. rooster sauce but this is a different brand with amped up flavors like lemongrass, extra garlic and galangal. Very cool.

ChimesI also discovered Chimes during this same Chinese grocery shopping excursion. I usually do a sweep through the snack aisle for wasabi peas, shrimp chips and Japanese mixed rice crackers but I don’t always scrutinize the sweets. Maybe Chimes have always been there. I was struck the subtly old-fashioned packaging rather than the cartoony, bright hued bags I’m used to. It looks like they’re Indonesian and that the design was well-considered. These individually wrapped ginger chews come in plain, mint or peanut. I’m not fanatical about ginger’s strong bite, but with peanut? Genius.

Lenha_aI like to take notes and it’s not always easy finding a small inoffensive pad. I haven’t seen these Serrote notebooks in person yet but they seem right on and feed my woodgrain fetish. Yes, I know they’re pricier than a Mead spiral but in the scheme of things paying a few extra bucks for paper is pretty harmless. Urgh, they’re backordered here in Brooklyn.

Even though it’s a little too big for everyday lugging and I can’t wear it over my shoulder, which is important for ear to iPod reach now that it’s warm enough to not have coat pockets, I like my new Target bag that I bought in the Bronx last week. But I’m being driven insane because it’s nowhere to be found on their website. I think they have a horrible search. Wicker only brought up baskets. I went to Handbags & Accessories and tried browsing by color: brown, with no luck. I tried browsing styles: casual totes, oversized totes, and then canvas. It should be in the Rafé section because it’s a Rafé bag, but it’s not there either. The only photo I could find was from last week’s Time Out NY. It’s #6, $148 cheaper than the next cheapest bag in their spread.

BisforbeanerI know next to nothing about Mexican slang and I’m not much of a streetwear gal but I do find this B is for Beaner shirt highly entertaining, mostly because I’d nearly forgotten about the existence of the word beaner. I’ve never heard it in NYC. Actually, I don’t think I’ve heard it since the ‘80s. I also don’t think I was ever called a beaner because I didn’t look like one but my best friend in fourth grade did call me “burrito butt” after I called her “rug head.” There’s nothing like the insults of nine-year-olds.

Taqueria Coatzingo

This is one of those unassuming places that I thought for sure I’d mentioned before, so I’d just rattle off a mini update. It looks like I’ve never said a peep about Coatzingo, though. Allow me a few words.

Many say the specials are the way to go. I believe that but could only snack because I knew I’d have to eat dinner in the Bronx in a few hours (Joe’s Place, for which photos only will have to suffice). My between meal time would only last as long as I could kill time at the Riverdale Target (which I was imagining could be no worse than the most busted in the universe downtown Brooklyn location—it was about on par and possibly worse, all the large sizes were gone because 85% of the shoppers were also XL and beyond. I did get asked my advice on a high school graduation dress, which was cute but seemed a little casual for such a ceremony, then I remembered that I’d worn knee-high motorcycle boots to mine because I thought I was badass, so cheerily agreed, “yes, that would be a great graduation dress.”)

I did write down a few specials listed on the clear plastic encased stands on each table (actually, not our table, which didn’t seem intentional. Not to over personalize everything, but very frequently I also seem to get the only table that’s either missing a candle or has one that’s burned down to a nub). They’re not in English like the regular menu and a few stumped me. Pansa blanca and pansa negra, I think are like blood pudding. Huazontles, I had no idea, but it seems that they are a wild green similar to broccoli. I understood mushroom quesadillas and tripe tacos (which I ordered without realizing they were a special). There were about five other dishes to pick from.

Taqueria_coatzingo_tacosI always order three tacos when I really only need two. I went right to left, and luckily, the first, tripa, was best. My hunger had waned by the time I got to the poor al pastor and it didn’t get my full attention (though, of course I ate the whole thing because I hate wasting food even if it’s $2 food that I get reimbursed for). I’ve never had a tripe taco, not because I’m grossed out but because I figured it would be boiled and boring. It wasn’t. Honestly, I’m not sure how it was prepared but the strips were meaty, gelatinous and crisp. Lots of variety in a little package. I normally like carnitas the most, for the same qualities I found in the tripe. Their rendition was as good as any.

Taqueria_coatzingo_huaracheIf you're wondering what that tangle of lettuce, salsa verde, cream and carne asada is, it's a huarache, like the shoe but not. Capezios, jellies, pointy flats (god forbid, Docs) are all back or coming back, so why not the huarache?

All was fine until two “Stellas” (named for a neighbor who’s incredibly demanding, frequently wronged, disproportionately assertive) came in and made a fuss about wanting taco salad. The waitress did speak English so it wasn’t a language barrier causing confusion, though the women seemed to think that was the case. Despite our big mess of a melting pot, cultural sensitivity isn’t one NYC’s strengths. And I swear I heard some snippet about, “you don’t have to discriminate against us.” Wha? How is not having a taco salad on a menu offending anyone?

While in Hong Kong I ate at a former speakeasy Sichuan restaurant Da Ping Huo. You needed reservations, it was mildly sequestered, omakase-style ordering, and intimate (we were actually the only two diners the entire evening). While we were dining this large British family walked in off the streets and threw a fit because there weren’t any menus. It started getting very uncomfortable as they began harassing the waiter like they’d never heard of something so absurd as a restaurant without a list of dishes and prices. Taqueria_coatzingo_logoFinally, they left in a huff. I felt bad for the staff because they barely spoke English and then they felt bad and began apologizing to us for having to witness the situation. Sheesh, you’re the one who is ignorant so why are you making everyone around you feel like shit?

Anyway, I didn’t leave Coatzingo feeling like shit. Perhaps, just a little full. I also must note that they must be doing good business. Sure, it was filled to capacity our entire meal, but the mark of making it is their new-to-me glossy, technicolor take out menu. Thankfully, they kept the mustachioed corn ear with a sombrero logo. I like to imagine that if he had a catchy name like he should it would be Maizstro (pronounced like maestro). Anthropomorphic pitchmen aren’t so in anymore, maybe he could start a revival.

Taqueria Coatzingo * 76-05 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, NY


Cafecito_cubanoI’ve been having good sandwich luck lately. It’s really not that often that I’m like wow, that’s a sandwich. Cubanos can be dense and flavor-packed, but they’re not always ethereal. Frequently, they just taste like all of their parts, not one unified uber-snack.

Cafecito surprised me. I easily get burnt out on the Latin American rice, beans, meat trinity (plantains come in at close fourth). I also fear that cute, gentrified Cuban spots will all by like Cubana Café, but Ave. C isn’t Smith St. (yet) so the food hasn’t suffered total bland-izing.

Cafecito_choripan_con_quesoI ordered the cubano and James got the chorizo con queso, which is what it sounds like: a sliced chorizo and grilled onion mass pressed together with melted swiss cheese. We swapped halves for variety. I was also intrigued by the Elena Ruz with turkey, swiss, lime-cured onions and cranberry salsa on medianoche bread, though it felt a little too Thanksgiving-ish for the warm evening. Both sandwiches were just right in amount of filling, toastiness, gooeyness. The pork was amazing, not dried out and tough, but juicy with crispy skin. You can’t discern much from the photos because the sandwiches had been pressed pretty flat.

Cafecito_saborcito_de_cuba_2I stayed away from the entrees but I suspect they’re better than I’d given them credit for, if the roast pork used in the sandwich was any indication. The fritters were kind of boring, but fritters tend to be like that. The chicken empanada was average (I had cheesesteak and Hawaiian empanadas the other night at Empanada Mama, which were strangely tasty despite the weirdo fillings. I still think the best empanadas are at Empanadas del Parque in Corona, though).

Two for two kick ass sandwiches would be enough reason to return. It’s unfortunate that Avenue C is not really on my way to anything ever anymore.

Cafecito * 185 Ave. C, New York, NY

Listo el Pollo

1/2 Listo_facadeI would be talking out of my ass if I called Listo el Pollo the Colombian Hooters because I’ve never been to a Hooters. But I’d like to imagine that this Jackson Heights oddity is better than a Hooters. They’ve mastered out the ok food, made better than ok by young waitresses in skimpy attire approach. That might’ve been enough in its own right, but the restaurant also appears to be a former tiki lounge that was lightly, if at all, redecorated to reflect the Latin American cuisine.

I suppose it’s possible that bamboo, coconuts carved into monkey faces, palm trees and Sex on the Beach drinks (I was confused by a cocktail simply called Alexander—that’s like vodka and tomato juice being dubbed Mary) could be found in Colombia. On the other hand, there’s nothing Polynesian about the white, ruffly grandma curtains that make each booth feel like a private paradise. That must be the Colombian touch.

Listo_waitress_2Really, the ladies’ costumes are more campy than sexy, sort of a pirate/dirndl hybrid (I witnessed something similar in Hua Hin, which I didn’t realize was a German expat stronghold and lots of the restaurants served muesli and sausages and had Thai waitresses gussied up in dirndls) composed of a short skirt and corseted top. I’m not one to be bold with photo taking so my only evidence is a stealth shot with a server in the background. Sure, there were some groups of guys there for the ogling but mostly the clientele is composed of families and couples.

Listo_chickenIn my limited but rapidly expanding Colombian food experience it seems that they truly are the masters of the large combo plate. I stuck with the roasted chicken and ordered a half when ¼ would’ve been sufficient. For $6 and change it was a bargain, coming with white rice, fat pink beans dotted with pork, and a boiled red potato (I was hoping for something starchy and fried) and a tough nugget of an arepa.

Listo_salad James got the whole bandeja shebang with steak, chicken, pork, yuca fries, plaintain, arepa. Maybe more, I can’t remember. We also got a little white pitcher of herbier than spicy salsa and salads with a selection of Kraft dressing packets. At least we had a choice between Italian, French and Ranch–at Honduras Maya we just got a plastic bottle of Kraft Italian, no options.

Listo_easter_2We also ordered Coronas, which came preparado, a new concept to me where they’re served in salt-rimmed glasses over ice with a slice of lime. It was no Alexander, but it sufficed.

Atmosphere can be half the battle with many restaurants, a poor one will piss me off for life even if the food is superior, while a fun one will elevate an otherwise ordinary meal. Listo el Pollo put me in an unexpectedly good mood for which I have to give them high marks. Plus, my inexpensive dinner provided me with lunch the following day.

Listo el Pollo * 8602 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, NY

Sunday Night Special: Stargazy Pie & Saffron Potatoes


Based on my recent media exposure to modern British food, which pretty much only consists of Olive magazine and The F Word, there seems to be a trend toward revamping or rediscovering classics. Prawn cocktail, cottage pie, syllabub and suet-based oddities like Sussex pond pudding. I’ve been surprised how much attention is given to Sunday roasts. I didn’t realize the meal was such a big thing and that’s not the direction I wanted to go. While I love those skin-on, crackly pork roasts, what I really wanted to cook was something fun.

I was looking for a recipe to fit the Fish & Quips call to arms (I rarely get involved with these food blog cooking events but this one struck my fancy), and had a hard time striking a balance between the stodgy and the esoteric. I most definitely didn’t want to delve into spotted dick or faggots territory. This is supposed to be an exercise to prove that English food isn’t a joke, duh

I surprised myself with the number of appropriate cookbooks and pamphlets I had at my disposal. I was thinking that my only option would be The Cooking of the British Isles, which I found on the street some time ago. But it turned out I also owned Favorite Devonshire Recipes, Symington’s Recipes, a 1930s, thin promotional book with horrific recipes like tomato sauce & fried bread and green pea eggs, which are scotch eggs with a layer of Symington’s pea soup between the white and breadcrumb layer, Carrier Cookery Cards in seafood, soups, main dishes and salads and cakes, sweets and puddings, Recipes for The Nation’s Favourite Food, Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating (without the Tony Bourdain intro but with an entire [small] chapter devoted to lamb brains), Traditional Scottish Cookery and British Regional Food. And well, technically Moro is a British cookbook, despite its Mediterranean cuisine.

Fish pie popped up in three of the four issues of Olive I’ve received since Christmas. Who knows if that’s any gauge of the dish’s popularity? I’m not acquainted with fish pie but I liked some of the takes on it even though smoked haddock seemed like it might be a pain to procure. Then I stumbled upon stargazy pie, which totally sounded up my alley. The recipe I found in British Regional Food had no photo so I was trying to imagine if fish heads truly did stick out of the top of the crust. To me, that’s not creepy but adorable. One of my favorite Indian by way of Singapore and Malaysia dishes is fish head curry; no one should fear the fish head.

Based fully on what I read with no grounding in reality, stargazy pie appears to be a specialty of Mousehole (pronounced mowzol) that is served on December 23. I don’t get the feeling this is a popular, or even particularly well known dish. But what do I know? I’ve never been to Cornwall. I have heard of pasties, though.

Unfortunately, pilchards are about as easy to find as that smoked haddock. I didn’t even find any fresh sardines (ok, I only tried two shops) so I went with the suggested mackerel (herring being another option I couldn’t find un-pickled). It’s a bargain fish at only 99-cents a pound at Pacific Supermarket, a Chinese grocer. Later in the day, I saw the exact same fish listed as Boston mackerel for $3.99/lb at Fairway. The only problem was knowing how many to buy. The recipe called for six pilchards and I guessed those were smaller. I bought four mackerel but only ended up using three.

Many of the recipes I found kept the fish whole and propped the heads up against the rim. That seemed precarious and I went with the version that cut the heads off and reserved them as more of a last minute decorative addition. Supposedly, the heads were traditionally included pointing upward so that essential oils would run down into the pie. All variations were fairly simple, no fancy spices (yes, the bland cliché has basis in fact) so I spruced it up minutely because salt, pepper and parsley aren’t enough for me. I’ve lightly adapted the following recipe from British Regional Food.


Stargazy Pie

1 onion, finely chopped
3 strips of bacon, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon butter
½ tablespoon flour, plus more for dusting
3 tablespoons dry white wine
8 ½ ounces fish stock
10 ounces heavy cream (double cream if you have it)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 hard boiled eggs, shelled and chopped
1 thyme sprig
1 star anise
3 mackerel (or a few more pilchards, sardines or herring) filleted, residual bones removed and heads reserved
2 sheets of puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Gently cook the onion and bacon in the butter until soft. Add the flour and stir well, then slowly add the wine and fish stock, stirring well to prevent lumps from forming. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the cream, bring back to a boil and simmer until reduced by half and thickened. Remove from heat; add parsley, chopped egg, thyme, star anise, season with salt and pepper and leave to cool. Remove sprig of thyme and star anise.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay a sheet of puff pasty in a shallow pie pan and trim excess. Cut the fillets of fish in half and lay them on top of the pastry, then lightly season. Pour the sauce over them, then lay the other sheet of pastry over the dish and trim to size. Make as many small slits in the pastry as fish heads and push the reserved heads through. Brush the top with the beaten egg.

Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Serves 6


Roast potatoes are a logical accompaniment (though the stargazy recipe called for greens in fall and winter or a selection of spring vegetables. I’m not sure what you do in summer). I used a Delia Smith recipe for saffron potatoes, which were good but not as good as they could’ve been because I wimped out and cut the fat by a third. I have noticed that one of the secrets to nice, crispy English roasted potatoes is the roughing up bit after they've boiled. The battered edges absorb more of the oil or butter. Yum.

To be honest, I was mildly concerned that this dish would be all (weirdo) style, no substance. But the pie ended up a rich, creamy and yes, fishy, success. If you didn’t like strong, oily fish in the first place, it probably wouldn’t make a convert out of you. I don’t know that I will incorporate stargazy pie into a frequent dinner rotation, though I’ll certainly tuck it away for future reference.


1/2 Sometimes I’m hesitant to try upscale takes on humbler dishes. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve never been to Chinatown Brasserie, despite Joe Ng’s dim sum pedigree. But my recent meal at Devi succeeded in elevating Indian food so I should be more open minded. Centrico falls somewhere in that spectrum. I’d been once before, but only to sample a michelada at the bar. This time I tried a lightly spiced, vegetal jala-piña. As both Thai and Mexican street snacks prove, tropical fruit, lime juice and chiles partner well.

Centrico_camarones_y_pozoleDespite being tempted, I didn’t try the tacos. Not because of their double digit prices, I was just swayed by a more inventive sounding starter, the camarones y pozole. The form the hominy came in was unexpected, ground and pressed into a cake, perfectly browned and crisped on the outside with steaming soft corn mush on the inside like polenta. A mound of creamy guajillo-spiked shrimp toppled over this pozole base.

Centrico_birriaI hate to admit that even in my extremely limited birria tasting experience, I prefer the thin consommé studded with shredded goat approach. Centrico birria-ized short ribs in a thick, rich, ancho broth and included trimmed baby carrots and possibly a turnip. If I had been presented this hearty braise simply as short ribs, I would’ve enjoyed them on their own merit. They’re two different animals, literally. Of course, the hand made, little grilled tortillas and lime drenched chopped onions were a fitting touch. Interestingly, one of the first web hits for birria is an Aaron Sanchez (Centrico's chef) recipe from Melting Pot, one of those old Food Network shows where people actually cooked things you'd want to eat.

I’m in Tribeca just about never but I wouldn’t be opposed to another Centrico meal if I were in the neighborhood.

Centrico * 211 W. Broadway, New York, NY

Worming Your Way Into My Heart

CarpediemSunday’s Times featured numerous poignant tales of interracial, interfaith love. Yawn. But my favorite tabloid of record came through with class, aplomb and a bag of candy. The Harrison-Roses union was sparked by this new, unique form of proposal involving, get this, food.

“Candy can satisfy a sweet tooth, but finding a diamond amid a mess of gummy worms is the ultimate treat. ‘I put the ring in a bag of candy,’ laughs Travis Harrison, founder and owner of Serious Business Music, describing his proposal to Rebecca Roses. ‘I knew I had to seize the moment.’”

Yes, nothing says carpe diem like a wad of gummies. (Unfortunately, that’s not the groom pictured above.) Hiding an engagement ring in a sack of earthworms? Now, that would be at least slightly memorable.

East Buffet

I can’t say East Buffet without thinking Eve’s Buffet. That will likely only mean anything to Portland, Oregon old-timers, skuzzy pre-90’s folks, not the current uber-indie inhabitants. Before there was Meyer Café (which could be defunct now for all I know) there was Eve’s, a dowdy little coffee shop inside Fred Meyer (the best NW grocery store ever).

East_buffet_dining_roomUnsurprisingly, the word east also brings up Easter, which might be why I’ve been twice on that non-essential holiday (as well as on my thirtieth birthday, which was totally essential). Last year I cooked a fresh ham. This year I was burnt out; persistent eating enabled by strangers seemed the thing to do.

I had been holding off on E.B. because it’s the kind of place my mom would love, not in an ironic way, and she’s visiting in June (my mom’s been to NYC twice in the nine years I’ve lived here and I’ve gone home as many times. I don’t think that’s weird but practically everyone I know sees their parents multiple times annually). She took me to her local Chinese Buffet, Treasure Island, which was fine by Beaverton standards, but it’s no Flushing. Really, what does it matter if I go again a few months?

East_buffet_servingAt 5pm on Sunday (opening hour for dinner) the vast rooms weren’t even close to crowded. They were only using one half of the restaurant. Saturdays can be a mob scene and you often get caught in the middle of wedding parties and events. I don’t mind mayhem but pile ups occur when a fresh item is brought from the kitchen. Crab legs in particular, bring out the glutton in people. I don’t think they’re worth the effort (especially if E.B. decided to start enforcing their 1 ½ hour dining maximum rule) but they seem to be the unanimous favorite. Every table had more than one plate piled high with the orange, spindly appendages. They used to serve hacked up lobster tails in a brown garlic sauce and making it to the tray before it was decimated was worse than a rush hour not letting people off the subway before shoving on scene. I’m sure cost, not a call to manners led to the crustaceans’ removal, though.

East_buffet_cold_stationJames decided that we’d need to eat five plates of food to bring the cost per plate down to a reasonable level ($27 per person). That was pretty ambitious. By my third plate, I was kind of done in but a fourth had to be forced to get a dessert course. To say that there is a lot of food is an understatement. Even with four plates, I probably only sampled 10% of what was on offer.

Two stand alone stations are devoted to warm food. There’s one for cold, which I enjoy, despite ignoring the half filled with fruit, jello and dubious gelatinous treats, one which is black and jiggly that I’m guessing is grass jelly. The other half of this stall contains spicy, oily tendons, baby octopus, sliced organ meats, raw fish, seaweed salads and the like.

East_buffet_sweetsBehind the cold food is a sushi counter where you can pick and choose from a wide selection rolls and sashimi. I feel like this is a thing unto itself and usually abstain or just pick one or two items. I also never touch the soup or soft serve ice cream machine and try not to load up on noodles and definitely not rice.

Kind of the middle of the fray there is a carving display where peking duck is sliced on demand. In a double decadent whammy, there are also thick, meaty rectangles of roasted, crackly skinned pork. To the immediate left is a grilling area that turns out Korean ribs, skewers, scallion pancakes and other delights.

It’s strange how these photos make the plates look like they contain less food. They seemed much, much fuller at the time. Not to say that this is skimping.

I forgot about the no noodle/rice rule, so I only picked at the dull, slightly peppery noodles then got a little scared over the no wasting food or you’ll be charged rule. I picked up some random sliced cold meat, tendons and who knows what, wakame, shrimp, two little octopi and a battered fried sardine. I’m not sure what made the mini cephalopods bright red.

Seriously, this plate was a killer. I overdid it with meat, which can’t be discerned in that pile. Short ribs, roast pork, bbq pork, chicken, everything pretty fatty. As you can see there’s also a grilled eel nigiri, raw tuna slice, green beans, a fried bean curd blob with shrimp, that crazy dish of battered shrimp with walnuts and mayonnaise, and something white, translucent and topped with sesame seeds, kind of like konnyaku.

Peking duck was amazing but I should’ve gotten it earlier because I was feeling a little ill by the time I made my way to it and the pork wedges. New rule: rich food first. Forget about pacing. Like I said, sushi seems unnecessary but I couldn’t resist a couple pieces. I also picked up a few more tendons (I don’t know why I like cartilage so much) and a cereal covered prawn.

No, Asian desserts aren’t the big draw but I couldn’t leave empty handed. Clockwise from the lavender cup: taro pudding, caramel colored layer cake I thought would be peanut butter but was mocha, lotus seed pastry, a greasy mochi type ball that only attracted me because it was weirdly green and a cheesecake-ish square.

Now, I’ll have to fast the next few months to build up my stamina for another East Buffet excursion in June. Ok, fasting is not in my vocabulary. How about I just vow not to set foot in any all-you-can-eat joints for two months. (4/8/07)

This seemed like a good spot for a celebration. Apparently, two wedding parties thought the same thing. This was my most surreal visit to date, which might be appropriate for a 30th birthday. We were seated in a room next to a wedding party with bad '50s medleys, top 40 techno and glow sticks. In order to get to the food, we had to walk through their festivities. Not that I'm complaining, we got a show with our buffet. Well worth the Saturday night wait and $25. (7/27/02)

I don't even know where to begin with this one. If heaven were a giant all-you-can-eat restaurant, it would be patterned after East Buffet. From the sheer size (two floors), neon sparklers atop the building, and hostesses with walkie talkies, you know you're in for something larger than life.

I happened to go on Easter, but there's no need to wait for a special occasion to gorge yourself silly Chinese-style (I wonder if they actually have all-you-can-eat in China). Stations are brimming with items from accepted to the novel. One contained fruit, salads, and more jiggly gelatin-based items than a church picnic. There was also a sushi bar, a meat carving area with Peking duck and lamb with mint jelly (that I'm guessing was only there for Easter), and a tour of Asia's greatest hits space that confused me with satay, scallion pancakes, Korean bbq, tempura and live shrimp in tanks–were they supposed to cook them on demand? I was also baffled by the little shell balls that people piled on plates, sucked on and spit out. Snails, I'm guessing? One section had spicy shrimp and lobster tails that people were literally fighting for, yet in the same environs were odd old-school American treats like lobster thermidor. There was also an impressive dessert counter heavy on the colorful, coconut-laden, and ricey goodies.

Highlights included various dim sum, crab legs, that scary dish with prawns, walnut and mayonnaise that tastes really good even though it creeps me out, and sushi (I never knew it could be so filling–I suppose a giant plate of anything will use up stomach space). I ate so much I didn't even have room for any of the soups, congees, or Peking duck. My only letdown was their lack of turnip cakes, which I had expected to be there. But I was appeased a bit by their half-off bubble tea special.

Take note of intimidating handwritten list of rules in the lobby with a bit about time limits and getting a 20% charge for wasting food. What does that mean, wasting food? Who would do such a thing? I smuggled out a sesame ball and feared the worst, but sometimes you've got to take risks. (4/15/01)

East Buffet * 42-07 Main St., Flushing, NY

Ferdinando’s Focacceria

In the three years I’ve lived seven blocks from Ferdinando’s, I’ve never paid a visit. Part of that was oversight, though to a small degree it was intentional. I like that cuspy little area west of the BQE that’s mostly Carroll Gardens and a little bit Red Hook. I have tried Bouillabaisse 126, Schnack and House of Pizza and Calzone, all on the same Union Street block as Ferdinando’s so it was time to be all inclusive.

Ferdinandos_focacceriaI was always a smidgen intimidated by the place, the peculiar hours (which also used to be the case with HOPAC’s previous incarnation), the old-schoolness, and never mind the fact that I almost never ever eat Italian food. Brooklyn Sicilian sounded ominous in a no outsiders way. I don’t mean that as a cultural stereotype. But occasionally you get whiffs of local/townie animosity in NYC. P.J. Hanley’s, also in the neighborhood, certainly had/has that reputation.

No biggie because I don’t feel like I fit into any particular neighborhood anyway (though I do feel an inexplicable kinship with the M train). I’ve never understood transplants who come to New York City and feel an epiphanous energy and comfort like there’s no place else they could imagine themselves. I can think of plenty of other cities I’d rather live in, though none are in the U.S. (I was recently informed that Beijing might seriously become a potential work-related relocation [not my work] and I’m completely open to that idea though I would be surprised if it came to fruition.)

Change is so rapid lately, that I figured I’d better hurry and give Ferdinando’s a try before it turned into a condo, mediocre Thai restaurant or an Alan Harding venture.

Ferdinandos_spleen_sandwichThe menu had more variety than I’d expected. Since they close so early (7pm Monday through Thursday) I thought it would be more lunchy. I’m not crazy about heavy tomato sauce and they had plenty of enticing alternatives like pasta con sarde (sardines, wild fennel, pignoli) and panelle served four different ways: panelle, panelle sandwich, panelle special and panelle and potato special. Starch and starch is my way so a chickpea fritter sandwich is definitely in my future.

I knew what I had to order though, vastedda, the peculiar and lauded spleen sandwich. I imagined spleen might be like liver or sweetbreads and would be breaded and shallow fried. Not so, the organ is thinly sliced, nakedly gray-brown and wispy like the gills of a mushroom. There was something vaguely portabella-ish about it. The offal is served on a roll with a healthy dollop of ricotta, grated parmesan and baked.

Ferdinandos_sausage_parm_heroThe bread, both rolls and heroes, were remarkably good, not too crusty and very substantial. No fluff. The last time I had a foreign-to-me sandwich on a real homemade roll was just last month at Chilean San Antonio Bakery. I’m lucky to have so many sandwiches to choose from.

James ordered a hulking sausage parm hero that caused our waitress to ask if we were sharing it when it arrived. Only a few other tables were occupied during late afternoon on a Saturday so I eavesdropped on the staff talking about Grindhouse and the Yankees, which came in snippets. Every so often someone would switch to Italian and throw me off.

Camera_sockThe only tragedy of the meal was that I’m pretty sure I left my camera sock behind. I’m concerned about scratching up my new camera but I hate all the cases I’ve seen so I started carrying it around in a sock that had been sitting in my drawer. Green argyle hearts are perfection to me so it’s a mystery how they went unworn. But I noticed it was missing when I got home and my camera was bare. The beauty of socks is that they’re a pair and I still have one left. I considered calling up Ferdinando’s and asking if they’d found my footie but if I was already concerned about their impression of the neighborhood’s gentrifying inhabitants, this wouldn’t help relations any.

Ferdinando's Focacceria * 151 Union St., Brooklyn, NY