Ok, so it’s nearly 6am and I’m almost off to Mexico City. Sometimes I do question why I chose the cities when everyone seems to know that you’re supposed to go to the beaches or elsewhere if you’re going to even vaguely relax (I learned that lesson with Bangkok). I know it's wrong but I wonder if they have Taco Bells in Mexico. They have Outback Steakhouses in Australia, so why not? Anyway, I assume I’ll have internet in my hotel room so I might post a bit thought that usually doesn’t happen. Let’s just hope I don’t get kidnapped because it’s not like anyone’s going to pay my ransom.
1/2 You might think noodles were the main attraction, based on King 5’s name but I’m not sure that that’s the case. Taiwanese breakfast (sweet or salty soymilk and doughy things like you tiao and those bings that seemed to have taken Manhattan last year) is a draw but getting to Flushing in the a.m. is just not happening for me.
Instead, I stopped in for takeout spicy beef noodle soup and then got stymied by their three entrees for $19.95 special because there were so many choices. The heaving bag I ultimately took to go had to have weighed over ten pounds. The beef noodle soup didn’t suffer too much from the journey home because they package the noodles and broth separately, a nice touch. I was thinking along pho lines but the stock is deep brown and much richer. Completely un-delicate, spicy and stew-y like cold weather fare.
I had been looking for something called three cup chicken but didn’t see it on the menu, though it’s possible that it went by another name. Chicken with chestnuts sufficed. That sounds potentially bland but was anything but. I forget how good hacked up skin-on, bone-in chicken can be because I never cook it at home (where there’s just a sad bag of Costco chicken breasts in the freezer). This was my favorite of the three dishes I tried. I find that Taiwanese food is strong in the right ways: pungent, oily, salty and spicy but not so much as Sichuan.
I had to try intestines because they popped up in more than one place on the menu. The ma la rendition wasn’t Sichuan peppercorny in the least. In fact, they were totally done E3 style (shorthand in my household for Thai stir fry with chile and basil). Another surprise was the form. I imagined thin, lengthy organs like I’d recently eaten with Argentinean parrillada but they were girthy and sliced lengthwise and had more of a tripe quality. I like innards so all was well, but I hate to admit that I don’t know what animal they came from.
Beef with green chiles were totally green chiles with beef, in a good way. This would be a great lunch with a big bowl of rice. I’d certainly rather have this dish over sushi or Subway sandwiches.
Refrigerated takeout containers aren't the most appetizing but I’m just not motivated to set up elaborate shots. Even though my words are no great shakes, I'm even shakier when it comes to stellar photo snapping. I admire, yet am stymied by food blogs with over the top photography. I was just going to stereotype and say that it seems to be an Asian thing but thought better of it (I don’t want to get the reputation for culture generalizing—I’ve already pointed out that macaron mania also seems to be Asian-centric) then was like how can something be a stereotype if it’s true and are stereotypes so bad if the attributes are positive?
There’s just a different aesthetic going on. Seriously, so not my realm: Chez Pim, Chubby Hubby, Kuidaore, Nordljus. And those are just ones that immediately sprang to mind. Of course, I’m sure I could easily find four Asian-run food blogs with horrific photography if I tried but I don’t want to cause any trouble (at least publicly—I’m going to go look for some ugly pictures this very second and keep them all to myself).
King 5 Noodle House * 39-07 Prince St., Flushing, NY
Hot dogs, whether simple or overstuffed, mystery meat or all beef, make me queasy. Even so, I’m fascinated by what Colombians do to fast food staples. On a recent accidental foray onto Northern Boulevard I noticed that Mazorca had closed and that Xtasis had expanded from a rinky-dink storefront into a glowing, acid pink eatery triple the size.
They do a similar thing as La Perrada de Chalo but actually have fewer choices. Where Perrada goes wild with random styles like the Iraqui and Mexicana, Xtasis offers a handful of choices including Hawaiiana (ham, crushed potato chips, pineapple sauce, white cheese), something translated Super Cowboy and the Super Xtasis with hard boiled egg, bacon, thousand island dressing, avocado, chips and I’m not even sure what else. I love all edibles Hawaiian so that was it for me.
But on a burger, which are equally popular as the massive perros mixtos. I’ll admit that it’s not the best burger ever. The flavors aren’t terribly cohesive, the meat is barely perceptible in the condiment strata and it’s next to impossible to fit in your mouth. Normally, I like a toasted bun but in this presentation it induces crumbling. But it is fun, assuming gut bombing is your idea of a good time.
One peculiarity is that beef burgers are not only offered but chicken too. Oh, and that they have two sinks sitting prominently in the dining area (vaguely discernable in photo on the left). It's not like there isn't a bathroom sink, so are they implying that the food is so messy that extra wash stations are warranted?
You can also try snacky things that tend to involve wieners, eggs and yuca. If it hadn’t been so chilly and stormy, I might’ve tried a cholado, shaved ice and fruit concoctions that sometimes get drizzled with condensed milk. They seem nearly Asian but not as wacky as halo-halo.
Xtasis * 82-12 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights, NY
I’ve never understood why bean sprouts are so scarce. I got it when I lived in Ridgewood: Polish = no bean sprouts. I almost even resorted to canned La Choy once. In Sunset Park/Greenwood Heights the nearest source was about half a mile away at a South Slope deli. I didn’t think bean sprouts were a specialty or “ethnic” ingredient but I’m starting to wonder. They don’t even carry them at Rossman Farms, my favorite cheapo, all-purpose produce store that sometimes surprises. A full handcart never ends up being over ten bucks.
Bean sprouts aren’t worth the hassle of going out your way for them. Currently, the closest grocery store to me is the so-so Henry Street Met. And I’ll occasionally stop by after work for a handful of things but I’m not going to walk sixteen blocks home and back to come away empty-handed.
I thought for sure the healthy Korean deli with packaged vegan sandwiches and loose tofu would have them, but no. They did have enoki mushrooms, and I considered them for similar shape and crunch but it didn’t seem right. So, no bean sprouts appear in this semi-impromptu pad thai.
I had been writing about Thai restaurants and strangely, I was bitten by the pad thai bug. I don’t think I’ve had the noodles in at least a year. Ordering them at restaurants seems like a waste of a dish. Kasma Loha-unchit is reliable for recipes and I followed hers almost faithfully and adjusted to what I had around the house. That meant chicken thigh instead of tofu and shrimp and using two eggs instead of three because I was already going protein heavier than the original. I used hot radish rather than sweet because I have a perishable little jar in the fridge that needs to be used up. I also considered this foil packaged radish because I tend to buy pickled things without knowing how to use them and I need to pare down my pantry contents. I do like this sentiment on the label, “It is not only an idea food at home or journey but also a best gift to your friends.”
And I like chopping and sprinkling the cilantro rather than sticking a few sprigs on top. Urgh, and then my limes that I’d bought the day before disappeared. I’m not sure if they got left at Stop & Shop or if I accidentally threw them out with a plastic bag. Ok, so this was a sproutless, limeless rendition (luckily, the corner produce cart guy near my office had a few limes so my evening leftovers will be tarter) and it was still better than average.
Soaking the noodles in warm water for nearly an hour instead of cooking for a few minutes made a big difference. I wasn’t sold on the idea. They seemed way too stiff after their water bath but I tossed them into the wok anyway. And then after adding the sauce, everything seemed too wet. But miraculously, it all came together and the noodles were nearly perfect. I usually have issues with rice sticks, well, sticking. If I only had those damn bean sprouts, this would be a high-ranking rendition. But that’s a reflection of NYC’s vegetable lameness, not the recipe’s fault.
As an earlier lazy snack, I peeled open a tin can of fried fish with chile and consumed it simply with a small bowl of rice. It’s possibly the equivalent of canned sardines with crackers. A cheap treat with crunchy, edible bones but sweet and spicy. The only thing is that the cartoon fish logo looks like he’s drooling. And the fish used in the cans are downright scary. I didn’t know what grinner or clarias were until I looked them up. One is borderline monstrous, the other walks, yes, walks. Though I like munching on their flesh, I have an aversion to sea creatures (whales, while majestic to many, give me the creeps. And these timely things, sweet jesus). It’s not always a good idea to know what your food looks like.
I very rarely shop at Stop & Shop, mostly because there aren’t that many around. But yesterday I was on Northern Boulevard sampling Colombian hamburgers (and ultimately ended up seeing 28 Weeks Later a few blocks over in Astoria—I’m still not clear where the Long Island City border is. I'm also not clear why ESLs go to English language movies if they have to have every other word explained to them aloud. And if inanity like "What's a pub?" is going to occur, why does it have to be conducted half an inch from me?) and for boring reasons I ended up at two Stop & Shops (L.I.C. and Maspeth).
I do enjoy their spacious aisles and near approximation of suburban shopping. Plus, they’re never crowded (they tend to be a little overpriced unless you get one of those loyalty cards, which apply to practically everything). But the biggest draw besides the bottle and can recycling machine is their brightly colored sprinkle-topped sugar cookies that tend to have seasonal themes.
I thought they were a house brand, but they’re made by a company called Lofthouse (their website appears to be in limbo). I’ve never been crazy about store bought cookies (or canned soup) because they always seem lacking. But these thick icing-heavy examples are an exception. They’re not special, more like something someone would bring to grade school for a birthday (except that now everyone has allergies or is obese or organic-only and treats are outlawed). There’s a floury, slightly baking soda-ish quality to them, crumbly and chewy at the same time, and I swear to god, toothsome would be an apt description but I’m not using that word anymore.
It seems that I’m not alone in my fondness for these sweets, though chatter on Yahoo! Answers isn’t really indicative of anything. Heck, people also devote time posting “Which major chain restaurant has sourdough bread that is cut in 4?” and “At taco bell they serve a pinto bean and cheese thing and I would love to make it with dinner tonight.?”
I won’t question why red, white and blue is featured in May. I suppose patriotism can be celebrated year-round. In fact, there was a mom shopping with two youngish boys, and one was dressed head to toe in camo, so who’s to say?
We all have our pet peeves. I’m cliché crazy so I should tread lightly here. I use tasty to describe food and that’s probably a nuisance to some (though I wouldn’t necessarily use the term in something professional, whatever that means anymore). I would never say yummy (or god forbid, yummo) but it doesn’t rankle me. I really don’t care for the word succulent and once an editor inserted that into an opening paragraph I’d written and it skeeved me out.
My least favorite food description has to be melts in your mouth followed by to die for with sinful as a close runner up. I guess chocolate really does melt in your mouth, hence the M&M’s melts in your mouth, not in your hands tagline, but you see it used all the time to describe meat and fish and that’s not really accurate or appetizing. You usually see melts in your mouth in online forums or casual venues, it’s to be expected, but last week it was in a Time Out NY review. No, not the New York Times, but they do have standards (and a style guide).
Out of curiosity, I turned to Chowhound for a sense of this phrase’s ubiquitousness. I’m not picking on Chowhound, they just proved to be a good resource because they’re one of the longest running food boards and I thought I’d get a good sampling. I was expecting a couple hundred hits. But no, there were 3,296. Seriously. And the second hit contains an amazing double whammy right in the title. “Melt in your mouth, to die for sushi?” Bonanza.
Not completely related, and it’s a Britisism/Aussieism, but only in the past few months have I become acquainted with the phrase to the boil as in “let it come to the boil” as opposed to to a boil. Petty, I know, it’s a standing in/on line thing. My ears just can’t get accustomed to standing on a line no matter how long I live here.
I'm sure there are countless other petty offensenes. I've heard of toothsome haters and it doesn't pain me in the least to use the adjective.
1/2 *Unsurprisingly, Carniceria has bit the dust. (10/1/07)
A few months ago, probably in February, I mistakenly attempted to try Novo, Alex Garcia’s first comeback restaurant. I’m not sure that it was supposed to be open to the public, it was a total freak scene. The kitchen was closed, looked like it has been out of commission for some time and covered with a curtain. The bartender could barely manage a mojito, even though it was her suggestion. Boxes were piled up in the bathroom and the only patrons seemed to be friends of the staff. Sketchy. It reminded me of that Asbury Park Howard Johnson's that time forgot. Apparently, it's now an "upsacale, yet unpretencious lounge."
So, I was surprised to hear that the chef had reappeared in my neighborhood and at cursed former Porchetta, no less. No, the irony of troubled chef choices hasn’t been lost on some, but Cobble Hill could stand some sort of excitement (maybe they can get that raw food perv in the kitchen after this incarnation sours). It was worth a visit and I was glad to hear the owner admit that the area didn’t need another Italian restaurant. I’m all for any new place that’s not Thai, Italian or French bistro.
Even though I intended to, I never ate at Porchetta so I can’t speak to décor changes. I had seen photos of that faux taxidermy deer head and it looks like they’ve swapped it for white antler-esque wall sconces. The brown vinyl tablecloths feel new (and hot on the legs) and maybe the iridescent wall paper. I suspect there hasn’t been a major cosmetic overhaul, though.
The service was slightly buggy, one server was very informed and had an accent that James insisted was fake (I strongly doubt that but it was bit Montalban-esque) and the other was a little twitchy and unsure. But the food seemed fairly confident for only being open a weekend. They weren’t set up to make tamales yet and didn’t have the lobster for multi-seafood dishes. Everything else was go.
Despite the heat not putting me in much of a carnivorous mood, at least one cut of grass fed beef needed to be sampled. I tried the skirt steak. I’m not sure if my mind made me taste unusual flavors because I knew my length of beef wasn’t a corn product, but it truly tasted super beefy, ever so slightly gamey. As a sauce, I preferred the chimichurri to the red chile relish that also came as a condiment. The grilled onions were side enough, though cauliflower, potatoes, chard and sweet potatoes described in more enticing terms were available as an add-on.
I can never resist a bacon-wrapped date in any fashion. Here they’re stuffed with Cabrales and an almond and served atop a vinegary endive slaw. James ordered both appetizer and entrée specials, a seafood empanada and polenta topped with scallops and oxtail. We couldn’t find fault with anything we sampled.
I’ll be curious to see how Carniceria shapes up and if the neighborhood takes to it. The Argentine/Spanish menu does seem promising.
Carniceria * 241 Smith St., Brooklyn, NY
It’s strange that I would end up eating on Avenue C twice in less than a month. When I was on my way to Cafecito, I was thinking how no one I know lives in the East Village anymore. The only current residents I could come up with were a friend’s old boyfriend and current datee. And as it turns out, the old boyfriend who had a room barely big enough for a twin bed is finally moving (to Williamsburg, duh). I was attending his birthday/going away party, and well, for the time being he lives above Esperanto. Dinner solved.
I was under the false impression that Esperanto was Cuban but it’s really a mishmash, as evidenced by the name, I suppose (I was just trying to explain what Esperanto was to my Spanish tutor and I swear he thought I was making it up). If anything, it leans towards Brazil. The kale that came with my tuna and cilantro rice was a tip off, and the seafood moqueca my softening vegetarian friend ordered was full on Bahian. My two other dining companions had red snapper and pork chops, which are broadly pan-Latin. Same went for the ceviche, plantain-crusted goat cheese and mixed tapas starters.
I wasn’t that hungry, probably because I’d eaten a late lunch of leftover ma la intestines from King 5 in Flushing (I’ll admit there’s something perverse about another’s intestines ultimately being in your intestines) so I was feeling kind of blasé about my food. I did appreciate that my orange-chile sauced tuna really did come out rare—there’s nothing worse than a dry fish wedge. But everyone I was with seemed more than happy with their orders and crowd pleasing is no small feat. Even though the scene was a little frenzied, service was gracious and the food really wasn’t typical late-night dreck designed for an audience more concerned with drinking.
Esperanto * 145 Avenue C, New York, NY
Urgh, I lost my other camera sock (apparently, they’re quite popular—I’ve had more than a handful of internet searchers ending up here after Googling camera sock as well ugh this coworker naMED kRISTA, which I find disturbing for its implications and traumatic capitalization), which was probably a direct result of losing track of the number of mint juleps I’d consumed. This is the second year in a row that I’ve overindulged into near oblivion. It must be the convergence of Kentucky Derby and Cinco de Mayo. At least I was smart enough to eschew the Cuervo shots. I can’t resist a good limited edition promotion, though—green wax instead of red on the Maker’s Mark bottle is marketing gold as far as I’m concerned. I can't resist green non-vegetal foodstuffs.
1/2 Ok, I thought the scantily clad waitresses/tiki bar combo at Listo el Pollo was surreal but Boca Juniors is downright nutty. I’ve driven (well, been the passenger) past this color crayon bright corner a million times on the way to Target, and only recently did I get the urge to pay a visit.
You know with Argentine (or Argentinean—both are correct and it drives me crazy that there’s no definitive term) restaurants that you’re going to be eating meat and lots of it. With that in mind, you have to be in the mood and I’m only up for a serious parrillada maybe every couple months. My last foray was Buenos Aires in the East Village back when it was icy out. Now it’s warm enough for a new South American carnivorous adventure.
Well, it turned out the food, while surprisingly good, is hardly the focal point. It helps if you know that Boca Juniors are a wildly popular Argentine soccer team and that this is essentially a theme steakhouse. They’ve taken the team’s blue and yellow color scheme to new levels and every square inch of the restaurant including the plates, napkins, walls, carpets as well as the waitstaffs’ shiny track suits. I was most impressed by the mulleted visage, which I’m guessing belongs to a prominent player (I don’t even know my Mets and Yankees so recognition was futile) etched into the windows.
We felt we needed to squeeze some vegetables into our meal so we went with potatoes and eggplant, laced with mayonnaise and olive oil respectively. Healthy. Berenjena y ensalada rusa, to be precise. The Italian influence I’m aware of, the Russian bit not so much though “Russian salads” seem to make an appearance in widely diverse cuisine.
I’m the only one who’ll eat blood sausage and strangely, I’m not fond of regular pork sausage. So, both dark tubes are mine and James gets the other two. I couldn’t even finish a whole one, though. You don’t always get intestines so that was a chewy surprise. After eating a couple of those, a few bites of sweetbreads and the strip of steak, I was done in. Just a steak would’ve been fine but I like picking at the odd bits, just not enough to order an entire plate of them. I made a slightly overpowering chimichurri the following night to eat the leftovers with. I was trying to be light-handed with the olive oil but the garlic does need tempering.
I didn’t realize the panqueque would be crepes, despite the word pancake implying as much. The layer cake from San Antonio Bakery (I know, Chilean not Argentine) is called pancake and filled with dulce de leche and that’s what I was thinking of. But the crepes were pretty amazing because they were also sprinkled with granulated sugar and broiled, creating a crispy crème brule style effect.
We were about to leave when the lights dimmed and most employees began gathering in the back near the bar with enormous blue and yellow umbrellas. I was like oh, it must be a birthday. Then the giant blue and yellow umbrellas came out. WTF? Staccato music was flipped on that could only be described as a fight song. With the exception of one diner who looked angry and disgusted by the disruption, many were clapping or waving napkins. Umbrella twirlers began parading between the tables, half-size soccer balls were given to kids. For pointless noise and excitement (yet, sadly no ice cream—though they did have a dessert called Don Pedro, which I think was something icy topped with brandy) it certainly beats Farrell’s. Plus, you can’t eat intestines at Farrell’s.
Boca Juniors * 8108 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, NY