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Restaurant-wise, I’m usually drawn in by the new or new-to-me, the exception being Thai food where branching out only leads to tears—and not of the spice-induced variety. I remain a Sripraphai stalwart with the occasional side-trip to Chao Thai during peak Sripraphai hours, and that’s it.

Because I’m distrustful–I've been burned before!–I’ve ignored rumblings for at least a year now that Ayada is another Queens contender. I finally gave in. And it was completely worth it. Though, it’s not exactly like the Elmhurst restaurant is a secret with the Sripraphai Saturday night crowd-avoiders like myself. I’ve never not gotten a table at Chao Thai, which is about a third of the size of not-that-big-either Ayada, so I figured It would be safe. Not so; we still had to wait for a perfectly bearable 15 minutes, and the bench out front leads me to believe this is not unusual.

The food was not a disappointment. In fact, it was much better than I had expected it to be and the heat level was appropriately "Thai spicy" when asked for, despite the presence of wine-toters (and the spice-ruiners are always wine-toters. Yes, I love that there's a vast selection of Riesling at Lotus of Siam, but there’s something that always rankles me off about byob oenophiles at restaurants like this and particularly New York Noodle Town) who made the point of telling the waitress after testing their food that they should’ve ordered medium. Shush, you are ruining it for the rest of us! At least they didn’t ask for chopsticks or brown rice.

Ayada chinese watercress salad

The only thing is that Ayada knows it is good, and the service is upbeat and helpful (unlike the guy we call "The Tool" at Chao Thai who plays gotcha bt getting you to admit you like the spice level and then tells you that it's lower than what you asked for). I prefer coy and aloof. They cite all of the dishes on the menu that were mentioned in The New York Times review and the hits seemed to be priced accordingly. Or maybe I’m just sore because those dishes were the ones I wanted anyway and I hate looking like a follower. 

I balked a bit at the $15 price of their answer to Sriprahai’s crispy Chinese watercress salad (and one of my favorite dishes anywhere period). Five dollars more does buy you a larger portion. This rendition could easily be split among four. All the contrasting textures and sweetened lime dressing bursting with heat that I’m used to were there. The main difference between this version and Sri’s is the addition of grape tomatoes, ground chicken and that the watercress, itself, is battered lightly and fried in unwieldy hard-to-separate bunches. You almost need a knife to portion it.

Ayada kra pao pork
Fatty, crisp-skinned pork belly nuggets need to be on a Thai menu to win my heart (never mind my blood vessels) and this pad kra prow version, heavier on the sliced chiles than basil, was irresistible.

Ayada panang duck curry

Continuing the rich and crackly-skinned theme, the panang curry with duck was also a good choice, if slightly salty. Served with the dark, tender meat as the focal point and sauce to be doled out as needed, this was, well, a classy curry.

We didn’t hit any duds with our Ayada trial run. The food is comparable to Chao Thai and wins with ambience. This is where you would want to go on a date or bring your parents, and yes, tote your bottle of wine. Chao Thai is where you grab takeout or dine-in without lingering and sip a glass of coconut juice. I would return to either depending on what I needed. I’d still like to try Ayada’s mysterious black egg dish, salted crab with mango and tom zap Cornish hen soup.

Ayada * 78-03 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, NY

Korean Chicken Joints For Thai Palettes


We’ve come to take Korean fried chicken for granted in NYC. It’s everywhere, even Sheepshead Bay (r.i.p. Staten Island BonChon) not just in Asian enclaves. We’ve been luckier than Thailand where the spicy, extra-crunchy chicken did not exist…until now.

A couple of Thai college students who went to school here wanted to recreate the experience back home. They followed through (how do you just open a foreign chain like that?) and now Bangkok has witnessed the birth of its first BonChon Chicken franchise in the Seenspace mall (I wonder how that Goth mall is doing?) and it has a New York theme, which is so triply cross-cultural it’s almost freaking me out (just almost, because I did eat Korean fried chicken at a place called Chill Out Sports Bar in Hong Kong that had New York-based articles on the wall, so this is not the first re-import back to Asia).

Chicken joints From what I can see on the menu, which is only on Facebook (I love how the one white guy in their photos had to be wearing a fedora) at the moment, the only obvious Thai tweak is the presence of sticky rice and the only oddity is something they’re calling chicken joints. Pardon my poultry ignorance, but what part of the bird is this?

I only wish that my eyes had not seen the words “Thai palette” mentioned in the original post.

Photo credit: BonChon Chicken Thailand

But What Flavor of Doritos Do They Prefer?


Data mining. There’s so much you can do with tidbits gleaned (I will not say scraped because it sounds too gross and biopsy-ish) from the web. A company named Rapleaf (almost as gross-sounding as scraped) has analyzed grocery purchase behaviors of Google and Microsoft employees (or at least people using and email addresses) for purposes unknown.


Googlers are younger, less likely to be married and have children, drink more Mountain Dew and eat more bacon and ice cream and perhaps incongruously, more fresh fruit and vegetables. Microsoft workers consume more butter, vitamins and Capri Sun (or their kids do). Fascinating stuff.

I wonder if any of this explains Nathan Myhrvold, former Microsoft CTO and his 43-pound, five-volume, $625 (discounted to $461.62 and sold out on Amazon), Modernist Cuisine. Maybe the statistic that 2% more Microsoft employees eat Orville Redenbacher's popcorn than Google workers could somehow be tied by this video of popcorn popping slowed down to 6,200 frames per second that was shot in the Modernist Cuisine laboratory.

Image credit: Rapleaf via TechCrunch

Barely Blogged: Corned Beef-and-Cabbage-Free

Cadaques: A press dinner convinced me to return on my own dime and because of the spacious interior seemed like a safe bet for a last-minute Saturday night birthday dinner for a friend. We split a bottle of cava and ordered a slew of dishes: romanesco cauliflower with romesco sauce, squid ink fideos, four types of charcuterie, a beet and idiazabal salad, boquerones, and tortilla. (Thankfully, we were eventually granted a four-top or it wouldn’t all have fit. Despite a half-empty restaurant at 8pm, they were extremely protective of seats and I was told that all tables were reserved. Getting one took some convincing. I was not the only person who felt like something was amiss—I was bracing for an altercation between the manager and a large party who was being given the bum’s rush after ordering more food.) The standouts were the inky black broken noodles with camouflaged nuggets of squid, topped with a fat blob of aioli, the mangalica (same as mangalitsa) ham, a deeper-hued, meatier tasting slice than typical Serrano and a mild, nearly fluffy mound of morcilla sitting on a slice of bread.

Matchless: Last night I ate a handful of fries from a shared plate while listening to Iron Maiden and drinking Maker's Mark on the rocks followed by a shot of Jameson some time between 3-3:30am.I had leftover foil-wrapped Cadaques tortilla (and squid ink noodles) in my purse, but felt weird about whipping it out.

Mercantile Grill: One of the lesser Irish pubs in the Financial District. I only go about once every three-four months and the only reason to pay a visit is because you’ll always be guaranteed a seat even during peak lunch times—and yes, during St. Patrick’s Day mayhem. Two pints of Bass and an ok cheeseburger (I’d already eaten corned beef and cabbage at home the night previously) were enough for me. My biggest gripe with pub fare in general is the fries. Flabby, mealy steak fries are not french fries and they make me sad. I do prefer them over potato chips, though. I hate it when sandwiches come with chips. That’s the worst.

I will be eating at Marea tomorrow night (another birthday dinner, my treat) and can't decide if I will full-on blog it or barely blog it.


Print Is Not Dead

Ok, so it appears that I’ve been featured in ELLE magazine (no, not L Magazine, the first assumption from the few New Yorkers I’ve offhandedly mentioned this to). I’m as surprised as anyone.
What warms my heart the most is—no, not being referred to as “the best in the Gen X slacker”—that food totally takes a backseat to Henry freaking Thomas, a.k.a The Hankster, my raison d’etre of the ‘90s. Of course it’s now firmly 2011, but my life’s work is done. Dead serious.
Second best is seeing my favorite grocery store, the Western Beef in Ridgewood, Queens, in the background of my photos.
My mom is going to kill me for divulging her ‘80s penchant for eggs and bacon and taco salads for dinner. Thank god I didn’t tattle about her infamous peanut butter and margarine sandwiches.
No, it’s not online (oh, traditional print) so I’ve scanned the full article for visual proof, which is likely copyright-infringing (but, you know, anti-authority Gen Xer that I am...). Click images to see full-sized.

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Dallas BBQ Rego Park

1/2 Who says advertising doesn’t work? After my first two subway sign encounters with the words Dallas BBQ superimposed over the familiar red flames, my attention was peaked. And Rego Park? Queens’ first outpost definitely required investigation.

The most sprawling, modern and mildly clubby—glass-encased liquor bottles as room dividers are a prominent design feature—incarnation yet, this branch right off the LIE is part of a relatively new shopping complex that houses a not crowded Century 21, an awkward to get to Costco and bare bones Aldi, Trader Joe’s no frills German parent company (I only bought American cheese, bratwursts and a box of frozen cheese wontons).

Rego park dallas bbq

Clearly, the area was desperately in need of cheap ribs and colorful drinks because even on the early side of Saturday night, the industrial-carpeted foyer was crammed with the antsy and expectant. By the time we left, crowd control was in full effect and a hostess had brought out the bullhorn. Stampede!

Dallas bbq saturday night

Sam Sifton’s recent multi-culti portrait of Red Rooster painted a feel good image of the new Harlem. I’ll give you a celeb restaurant in an underserved neighborhood and raise you a Dallas BBQ. There’s no more NYC a restaurant than this. Staten Island is now the only borough suffering without one. Sure, it’s a chain, but it’s our chain and we love it. Applebee’s and Chili’s could learn a thing or two from them.

Just in my noisy corner of the complex sat Korean-American dudes with pitchers of beer, their dates barely touching their food, frozen drinks melting. To my left was a black, teetotaling mother and daughter downing chicken fingers and giant goblets of cola with nearly an entire jar of maraschino cherries floating in each. On my other side, colorful drinks for all four diners and two massive double cheeseburgers destined for one hungry woman. A multigenerational Chinese family sprawled across four pushed-together tables while an elderly couple conversed in Russian. No one thinks twice about looking like a glutton and men aren’t afraid to order pink cocktails. Merely convivial or debauched, it’s hard to say. The judgmental aren’t welcome at Dallas BBQ.

Dallas bbq cocktails

For me, at least, the fruity, neon frozen drinks overshadow the food. As someone who has to minimize my sugar intake and prefers a dry, stiff cocktail anyway, their pantheon of syrupy “Texas-sized” concoctions provide a welcome respite. It is wholly possible to burn out on artisanal moonshine, mole bitters and hand-carved ice. I nearly succumbed to our server’s promotional recommendation of a passion fruit-swirled pina colada served with both a shot of Alize and Hennessy (they also serve Hennessy wings and the spirit is prominently featured in the above mentioned wall displays—I don’t know if they’re getting kickbacks or if they’ve merely determined that their audience really likes a particular cognac). Instead, I started with the Texas-sized pina colada, then wisely moved onto a regular-sized Blue Hawaii with a shot of rum in a green plastic test tube half-buried in the creamy surface. Less slush, more alcohol is the sweet spot.

Dallas bbq onion loaf

I’m glad that they now serve a smaller version of the onion loaf, which shared between two will still knock you out. The matted stack of thinly sliced battered rings is a must. Could you eat at Outback Steakhouse and ignore the Bloomin’ Onion? You’d better not say no.

Dallas bbq ribs & shrimp

I don’t want to say the namesake barbecue is superfluous, but no one’s going to mistake their pulled pork, beef brisket or babyback ribs for lovingly smoked meat in the style of Memphis, Kansas City, Texas, North Carolina or whichever region you prefer. Tangy-sweet, saucy to the point of ensuring stained clothing and tender, the ribs are perfectly edible, even if they’ve never seen the inside of a smoker. Normally, I would get the $11.99 (most of the menu is under $12) ribs and chicken combo, but we already had a box of Korean fried chicken sitting in the car. I definitely did not need the fried shrimp with tartar sauce. Fries (you can have yellow rice—so very Latino—or a classic American baked potato as a side) and a square of cornbread ensure you get your recommended dose of starch.

When I talk my love of chain restaurants, Dallas BBQ exemplifies what I mean. You go for the experience, not for culinary fireworks. I only ate a fourth of my ribs (which of course I took home for later) because absorbing the genuine New Yorkness while picking at fried onions and sipping sweet, highly alcoholic drinks is fun in itself. The fat and sugar may be gnawing at my organs, but it’s emotionally nutritive being in the thick of things—even when the swell of humanity can be grotesque.

Dallas BBQ * 61-35 Junction Blvd., Rego Park, NY

Pacific Northwest Eclipses National Average in Insufferability Demand for ‘Local’ Foods

According to a survey of 1,000 consumers in Oregon and Washington by Foster Farms (a company that I always thought was like Perdue or Tyson, but apparently is more indie, or so they would have you believe) 92% think it’s important to buy food grown in the Pacific Northwest, 86% think they are unique and better than the rest of the country for this belief (ok, verbatim: “believe they differ from the rest of the nation”) and over 60% think the Northwest has fresher, more local food than anywhere else in the country.

I would be curious to see the percentage of Northwesterners who ever travel outside of their home states.

This is where I would logically link to the Portlandia bit about the couple who want to visit the farm where Colin, the chicken they are about to be served, was raised. We all know that is funny.

However, I’m also partial to this commercial where Jim Perdue speaks Bloomberg-esque Spanish (mine is no better, but I am not a wealthy man on TV trying to relate to the people). I mean, for purely poultry-related laughs, no Oregon connection necessary.

Original Video – More videos at TinyPic

In Other Words: Chains Function As The New York Times’ Cantina


“Take it from someone whose august news organization’s offices are smack in the middle of it, and who has wasted countless thirsty hours staring blankly at colleagues, who stare blankly back, as we ponder the imponderable of where, within a few blocks, we would be excited to get a post-deadline drink. More than once we’ve ended up at the second-floor bar of Ruby Tuesday, which at least has elbow room and used to serve a multiethnic chicken wing sampler. Unhappier happy hours have been had.”
–Frank Bruni, demonstrating an admirable familiarity with Ruby Tuesday’s bar menu.

I’d like to know if  the $5 Premium Cocktails are actually availble in Manhattan because I see a Ruby Relaxer (peach schnapps, vodka, Malibu, pineapple and cranberry juice) in my future.

Eat Drink Deals has aggregated a slew of chain restaurant happy hour deals.


Making Faces

Tropical-frozen-photo "who makes chart to show how to make garnimals at cheeseburger in paradise"

That’s a good question! I’d never even considered that such a chart existed, let alone that a human would be responsible for its creation. I’m not saying I have any answers…

This person made flashcards describing what each Garnimal consists of. Bungalow Bob? Who knew they had names?

On a Jimmy Buffet forum, a CIP staffer (at least in 2006) and Parrothead divulges that he can’t share how to make garnimals because he signed a confidentiality agreement. Damn!

I’ve never seen a Cheeseburger in Paradise commercial. Now I know what garnimals sound like when appearing on the water pitcher during a continuing education lecture.

People misspell Garanimals quite frequently. Whether you type garanimal or garnimal, 98% of the content is about those matching clothes for children that I had no idea still existed and possibly only do at Walmart.

Did I ever tell you about the time I got an email merely asking “Can you help me locate a place to purchase the sunglasses that is on the piece of fruit in the drink picture on your website?” (Ok, I did) A weaker person would delete the shit out of that (I get orders for shovels now and again and those go straight to the trash) but I knew exactly what the online stranger was talking about and my strong sense of duty (and library background) compelled me to find those tiny plastic shades.

The best part was the follow-up (for real–I saved the email): “I don’t get that kind of response from people who are friends. Again, thanks for your kindness.”

So there. That was my good deed for 2009. Last year I came up empty and so far in 2011, my do-gooding has been lacking. I want to be the Michael Landon character in Highway to Heaven of chain restaurant needs.

What can I (barely) help you with? Sorry, I still don’t know who makes chart to show how to make garnimals at cheeseburger in paradise.

Americas Next Cheesiest Restaurant

8147Muenster Technomic has released its annual fastest-growing chains (with sales over $200 million) and once again NYC is deficient. Yes, we have the number one, Five Guys, with sales growth of 38%. Ok, we also have Chipotle (#3) and Buffalo Wild Wings (#7) but “America’s Favorite Sandwich” purveyor, Jimmy John’s, is a mystery to me as is Yard House and Cheddar’s Casual Café. Cheddar’s? Well, ok.

If I were a contestant on America’s Next Great Restaurant I would absolutely call my dream eatery Munster’s. (Though Asiago's would be more on-trend: Wendy's newish Spicy Asiago Ranch Chicken Club is just one of many chain items sporting the latest "it" cheese.) Everything would be covered in melted cheese, which is about as original as a wrap, burger, wing or meatball–but wait–it would be Munster-themed, like Jekyll & Hyde but with more costumed staff and animatronics. And it would be timed to open with the premiere of NBC’s “Modern Family meets True Blood,” The Munsters remake that is in the works. You will be thanking me later.