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Posts from the ‘Sunset Park’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Clinton Hill Times Three

Soco red velvet waffle and chickenSoCo I’ve been spending time in Clinton Hill recently, trying to assess the livability of the neighborhood (I would say the prognosis is good; we put an offer on a condo yesterday). I’m not a total stranger to the area since I did work at Pratt briefly in the late ’90s (my first-ever, full-time salaried job [$22,000] which I left to work at a food website–yes, they existed 13 years ago–for $3,000 more. Everyone got laid off six months later…) but Myrtle Avenue has ten million more bars and restaurants than in my day. SoCo was the craziest (well, the booming sit-down Chino-Latino place with the name I always forget technically was) in that there was a huge crowd spilling out onto the sidewalk. More club than restaurant. But the next afternoon, the post-brunch crowd seemed mellower so I joined in, lured by the promise of fried chicken and red velvet waffles on the window menu. It’s the most popular dish, too, I was told. I would estimate that at least half of the tables had at least one plate of red waffles on it. The mash-up was far less breakfast/dinner than dinner/dessert hybrid. The sweetness was there, and pumped up by the maple syrup, but the cocoa flavor almost grounded it. You really didn’t feel like you were eating chicken and cake, just a tasty new form of fat and carbs. Lovers of unnaturally colored food and nonsensical flavor combinations will be pleased.

Speedy romeo dick dale pizza-001Speedy Romeo I love processed cheese, not just Velveeta and Cheez Whiz, but thickly sliced deli cheese, too, all extra creamy and salty. I also love Hawaiian pizza, so it’s almost as if Speedy Romeo’s Dick Dale was custom made for me. Using popular-in-St. Louis Provel cheese (a melty, processed cheese that combines cheddar, swiss and provolone) plus pineapple and smoky speck ham on a wood-fired pizza is pure genius. Adding a spoonful of pickled chiles, the restaurant’s condiment of record, provides a sharp contrast against the smoother, sweet flavors, and makes this pizza one of my all-time favorites. That is not say, all will love it, especially considering ham and pineapple is a scourge to purists, never mind the utterly un-artisanal cheese. Oh, Slice covered this very pizza this week with a nice slide show and everything–I had no idea it contained béchamel.

Putnam’s Pub It’s a gastropub, nothing out of the ordinary, but good to know about if a late night roasted bone marrow or devils on horseback (not bacon-wrapped dates here, which is the usual interpretation, but fried oyster topped deviled eggs) craving strikes.

Sunset park diner & donuts grilled cheese sandwichSunset Park Diner & Donuts I never ate here once when I lived down the street, though that’s not really a judgment of the restaurant but more about my rarely eating at diners. It’s slim pickings for post-2am dining in the area, and they do a grilled cheese with bacon deluxe, i.e. with fries, as good as anyone. The restaurant is even on Seamless, which is surprising. It almost makes me wish I still lived over there just so I could have french toast and jalapeño poppers delivered to my door at 3am.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Cuttlefish, Tripe & Chinese Crawfish

Celestino quad

Celestino. It's that time of year again when I play along with the boyfriend's Lent thing even though I don't get why it's a big deal to not eat meat one day a week (pizza’s not punishment, right?). You're not even restricted to vegetables. Sea creatures are totally fair game. So, Celestino, where the only meat is in the meatballs on the kids' selection of two items, was fitting. Super cute, whitewashed and hiply nautical (I still need to see Littleneck for comparison) with very good prices, it's the kind of restaurant that would be packed in Carroll Gardens, but was only a quarter full on a Friday night. A juice glass of a tart Italian white wine that wasn’t the Chardonnay or the Pinot Grigio was only $5 and bracing with oysters from Massachusetts and a kale salad, crunchy and oil-slicked with anchovies draped on top of the pile of greens. I wasn't expecting something so dense and stewy from the grilled cuttlefish with peas and polenta description–the peas played more of a prominent role than anticipated–though the damp, drizzly evening called for something savory and rib-sticking.

Rocky Sullivan's. After being traumatized by the sheer volume of under-26s at both places–Fulton Grand and Hot Bird–where we attempted to have a drink after Celestino (Hot Bird is a large space, and you literally couldn't get one foot in the door it was so packed) I sought solace in a no nonsense bar bar the next evening (this is not me being a grandma–in my 20s I didn't enjoy claustrophobic situations with 20-minute-waits for drinks either) and a Sixpoint Brownstone Ale and jalapeno poppers did the trick.

El bohemio duo

El Bohemio Jarocho. I have all but given up on house-hunting. After seeing a nicely designed, overpriced co op in Clinton Hill next to the projects that already had four all-cash bids (seriously who the fuck are all these Brooklynites will millions to spare? The crank in me says all of the 20-somethings now filling the neighborhood bars in ten more years) then a so-so whole house in Sunset Park, in hopes of less-trodden neighborhoods being less competitive, I just needed a taco…or two. I’ve never head a peep about El Bohemio Jarocho, but it happened to be on the block we parked on and had more customers than the empty alternative across the street. Sometimes you need some crispy tripe and pineapple-sweetened al pastor with Monkey Trouble playing on two TVs and no English interactions. The steak el huevo advertised on the chalkboard turned out to be a massive plate of everything (maybe a Mexican garbage plate?): steak and eggs, obviously, but also a slab of white cheese, grilled bulbous green onion, nopales, jalapeño, avocados, tomatoes, refried beans, chips, rice, and potatoes. Phew.

New world food court

New World Mall. This is the fanciest of the subterranean Flushing food courts. I didn’t encounter crawfish in New Orleans (we were about a month pre-season) but they were selling the ma la-style for $9.99 at Sliced Noodles. I was tempted, but tried the beef soup with hand-pulled noodles since it was the original craving that drew me there (though I was thinking of Hong Kong-style, which this super-greens-filled Henanese version is not).

Duck and pork buns

The dollar peking duck buns from across the street are a bargain, but pale in comparison to the not-much-more-expensive gua bao ($4.95 for two) from the Taiwanese stall. My favorite item of the afternoon: big fat soy-braised slabs of pork belly placed on fluffy buns and garnished with a pile of cilantro and pickled mustard greens, and given a crushed peanut finish. I saved one for breakfast the next day and wish this part of my daily first meal regimen instead of almonds and clementines.


Metro Cafe

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I haven’t left the house since Wednesday. Shuffling between my bed and couch, fevered, sore throat, sinuses infected, unable to concentrate, I’ve been going stir crazy. Maybe food would help?

Last night I was brought take out from Metro Café, the Brooklyn Sichuan/Japanese restaurant that I’ve been meaning to try. Obviously, I can’t speak to the décor or service.

I can speak to James knowing my taste. Even though he pestered me (I’ve lost my voice and trying to talk is excruciating) with five calls from Hong Kong Supermarket on subjects like, “What is a wide rice noodle?” Er, go to the rice noodle section and look for the least skinny variety. “What’s the difference between noya bok choy and shanghai bok choy?” I have no idea what noya is, I’m guessing a handwritten typo. “Do we have star anise? Limes? Cardamom pods?” Yes, no, yes. All I had to say in regard to what to order at Metro Café was, “something cold like tendon or tripe” and I was given pigs' ears. That’s definitely what I would’ve chosen if I had had a menu in front of me.

Metro cafe pig's ears

The ears, sliced into ribbons, were a nice balance of crunch and chew. I did not detect a strong peppercorn tingle, but I’m afraid that I’m missing out the full flavor spectrum. You would think that bold spice and chile oil would be the perfect match for a palate-dulling cold–I just nibbled a few bites of a chocolate bunny and could barely taste a thing–but I’ve encountered an inexplicable sensation, once before while at Sripraphai while sick, that hot food tastes even hotter, painfully so. I could only eat a few bites. Should I have new sympathy for people who claim to be unable to tolerate hot food?

Metro cafe cumin beef

Same with the cumin beef, which is similar to lamb preparations at other Sichuan restaurants (there is no lamb at Café Metro). I’ve never thought this was a punishing dish. Sure, there’s heat from the grilled green chiles; the overall sensation is an oily cuminy one, though. I’ll save this till tomorrow.

Metro cafe double cooked pork

The double cooked pork is always one of my favorite dishes, super unctuous, mixed with tons of grease-softened leeks. This pork was a little dry despite sporting fatty layers. Odd. Still pretty good. I could eat the savory, black bean-enhanced onion and leek slices all by themselves on rice.
Metro cafe water spinach

Water spinach, because you need a green vegetable.

I'll return for a dine-in version after I perk up. Chong qing chicken and a fish dish next time.

Metro Café * 4924 8th Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Tortas and Lomitos

Tacos rico pierna torta

I wouldn’t exactly call it an epiphany but Saturday I woke up (I’d like to say bright and early but it was more like 11:30am) with the strange and sudden urge to know more about Mexican food. Not just to eat it, that’s easy (despite all of the transplanted complainers who seem incapable of looking beyond lower Manhattan), but to cook it more too, maybe even learn more about the cuisine first-hand (I know Oaxaca is a gastronomic destination but I’m thinking Merida).

Just how a certain subset of white dudes seem unable to resist an Asian girl, I have a fetish for the food (though I rarely dabble in the Korean or Japanese realms). It’s illogical and uncontrollable. Maybe I’m drawn to noodle soups, dumplings and curries because of their very foreignness. Though by that logic I’d also be a goulash or fufu fanatic, which I’m not. I think it’s the complexity of a spice blend or layers of sweetness, salt and spice that appeal. How lots of mixed up tastes blend into something exciting. But that’s not unique to Asian cuisine.

My resistance to Latin American food, Mexican specifically, stems from the feeling that I should know more about it. I wasn’t really raised with it, it wasn’t served in local restaurants growing up and I certainly wasn’t handed down any kitchen wisdom from a knowing abuela (nor an Anglo mish-mash grandma—to this day, I can’t recall my mom’s mom who’s still very much alive, cooking anything, period, let alone notable. My only memories involve puffed wheat cereal from enormous 99-cent store plastic bags, slicing Neapolitan ice cream from a rectangular carton into slices with a knife, and a mock apple pie) and yet it seems really accessible. I mean, I could be south of the border in a few hours by plane and even communicate with people (on a very rudimentary level, to be sure) when instead, I fantasize about locales that are literally my polar opposite where chitchat is futile.

I think that’s the scary thing. No one expects a foreigner in Malaysia or Beijing to know everything or to be able to speak Malay or Mandarin. You risk looking like a stupid American even when trying your best. But cultural floundering feels more shameful in a country so nearby, and one with which I share a heritage.

While cobbling together ingredients in Sunset Park for dinner, I discovered that epazote is easy to come by while recado rojo is not (they even sell the Yucatecan paste on Amazon so it’s hardly obscure). I (or rather James) had to make it from scratch.

Tacos rico torta

In the mean time, a torta was in order. We stopped at Ricos Tacos. My sugar and starch limiting means very few sandwiches in my life. But sometimes you simply need something gut-busting between two pieces of bread, in this case a fluffy bolillo. My pierna was a serious mess, only compounded by the copious amount of string cheese, avocado, beans, pickled jalapeños, and yes, mayonnaise, normally my nemesis. But just like with the banh mi, my aversion is waylaid by overall awesomeness.

I wouldn’t say that Ricos Tacos specialty are tortas, that’s just what I wanted. That might be the advertised tacos arabes, a take on schwarma stuffed into a pita. Maybe next time.

I can say that intrepid DVD hawkers know no ethnic boundaries. African-Americans tend to stick to subways and blankets strewn across sidewalks while Latinos and Chinese ladies prefer the restaurant-to-restaurant roaming approach. I have no interest in discounted copies of Hotel for Dogs, though that doesn’t stop genuinely interested others from completing transactions while eating.

What seems to be uniquely Mexican are roving bands setting up shop in tightly packed eateries. No stage or prior arrangements necessary; these are not Filipina entertainers. We happened to be sitting near the door, therefore entitled to an accidental front row seat when a five-piece band, accordion, stand up bass and all, decided to give the jukebox a run for its money. No one seemed to mind. There’s no way this wouldn’t wreak havoc anywhere else outside of a subway car.

Because one can never have too much pork (I’d already eaten two strips of bacon as breakfast), dinner was to be lomitos, based on a recipe from Diana Kennedy’s Essential Cuisines of Mexico. This was thrifty because we used leftover scraps from the Super Bowl ribs that had to trimmed St. Louis style.

Beans and lomitos

These were eaten with soupy black beans and corn tortillas. Simple. Not the prettiest, but tasty.

1 tablespoon simple recado rojo
2 tablespoons Seville orange juice or substitute
2 pounds boneless pork, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or pork lard
12 ounces tomatoes, finely chopped
½ green bell pepper, finely chopped
2/3  cup finely chopped white onion
2 teaspoons salt
1 small head of garlic, unpeeled
1 whole habanero chile or any fresh, hot green chile
2 to 2 ½ cups cold water, approximately

Dilute the recado rojo with the orange juice and rub it into the pieces of meat. Set aside for about 30 minutes to season.

Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the tomatoes, pepper and onion together over fairly hight heat, stirring well and scraping the bottom of the pan from time to time, for about 10 minutes. Add the salt and set aside.

Toast the whole head of garlic on a griddle or comal, turning it from time to time, until it is browned on the outside and the cloves inside are fairly soft. Toast the habanero chile.

Put the meat into a large, heavy saucepan with the water, which should barely cover the meat. Add the tomato mixture and the toasted, unpeeled garlic and chile and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer the meat, uncovered, until it is tender—about 1 hour. (The sauce should be of a medium consistency; if it appears to be too watery, turn the heat higher and reduce quickly.) Serve hot.


*At some point Eurotrip renamed itself to Korzo.

There seems to be an Eastern European culinary renaissance going on. I used to practically equate the post-3am East Village with pierogies and it’s not like cabbage and dumplings have ever gone out of style in Greenpoint and Ridgewood. But that’s old world. 

Recently, schnitzel and goulash has shown up at places like Fort Greene’s Catherine’s Caffe, Draft Barn in Gowanus, and Eurotrip in South Slope giving nearby Café Steinhof some competition. You could even toss in Ost Café, even though I think they only serve Hungarian pastries not hot meals.

I’ve been curious about Eurotrip, as well as its location choice because it fits in with the smattering of Slavic holdouts in what some people like to call Greenwood Heights (technically Sunset Park starts at 16th St. but everyone seem averse to calling it like it is. Ack I sound elderly when I get tough about neighborhood boundaries). Slovak/Czech Milan’s is just down the street, Smolen, a Polish bar, is on the same block and Eagle Provisions is also in the vicinity (it’s a little musty and overpriced but they do have a good beer selection—I used to buy chopped liver and poppy seed sweets there on my way home from the gym, sabotaging my workout and then some).

Honestly, I’ve never had much interest in Austro-Hungarian cuisine because it seems so bland and heavy (as opposed to Scandinavian fare, which I unfairly ignore because it seems bland and light). And I’m still not convinced otherwise. At least I chose one of those nearly-single-digit-degrees nights to find out for sure. 

My goal to try and not bulk up over the winter was not helped by the langoš, a.k.a. fried pizza. Yes, yes, I could’ve ordered the quinoa with flame-grilled paprika shrimp and microgreens but doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of even going to an Eastern European restaurant?

Eurotrip langoš

The fried dough was good in the way that fluffy, yeasty batter crisped up to goldenness should be. Instead of the purist butter and garlic version we tried the simply named pub style, a totally americanized treat oozing with Edam, tomato sauce and spicy German sausage. Just like I believe Sriracha goes with pizza, I can get behind pickled cabbage too. This condiment would never be right with thin crust, but the pillowy richness needed some bite.

Eurotrip chicken schnitzel

While the chicken schnitzel took up much of the space on the plate, the accompaniments hidden in the photo were more interesting. The breaded chicken cutlet was kind of dull, not dried out, thankfully, just not exciting. Beneath the splayed out poultry were wedges of red potatoes and a pile of soft sauerkraut (I do love sauerkraut) that I thought were studded with juniper berries. Hard on the teeth, but the nuggets turned out to be crispy pork bits. Nice. Sugary, pickled cucumber slices rounded out the dish.

Eurotrip krušovice lager

There was also a plate of geographically diverse sausages involved. Poland, Germany and Hungary were all represented. All of this combined with a pitcher of Krušovice, the house lager, make dessert an impossibility. I wouldn’t mind knowing what’s included in the $5 tray of homemade cookies, though. 

Eurotrip * 667 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Ba Xuyen

Some foods gain universal adoration and acceptance, despite once being obscure. I understand why banh mis have such a stellar reputation. I’ve loved the mixed up sandwiches ever since I accidentally stumbled on a $1.50 Portland version what seems like a lifetime ago. I had no idea what it was at the time but the idea of something called a French sandwich in a Vietnamese takeout joint was too incongruous to pass up. I was hooked.
And they’re still a value at $3.75 in Brooklyn, even if that’s 75 more cents than my last posting on the subject. I forget the bounty of Sunset Park and really took living in the neighborhood for granted. Who knows, there might come a time when I look back fondly on the so-so Thai and French I’m surrounded by now. Perhaps I should soften my stance.

I don’t think I’ve had a Vietnamese sandwich once in 2008 and broke my dry spell this afternoon at my favorite, Ba Xuyen. And I hate hyperbole, but I swear the #1 was better than I remembered. I’ve experimented a bit and bought a #4 meatball for James, but I like the more is more approach. I also prefer everything bagels over plain or single ingredient.
Maybe because I’ve been eating lighter recently, but the one thing that struck me was how rich the pate was, like they added a little more than usual and mixed with the slightly sweet mayonnaise, created a new velvety condiment. It might’ve been overwhelming if it weren’t for the pickled carrots and daikon and jalapeno rounds lending sharpness. I’m honestly not sure what the different lunch meats are exactly, you can’t mind the cartilagey bits, though; they just add texture and the row of ground pork adds meaty springiness.
I only intended to eat half of my sandwich since this impromptu lunch didn’t take place until after 5pm and I was planning Sri Lankan food for dinner, maybe around 9pm. But I ate the whole thing anyway because it was that good. (And I have another one to look forward to tomorrow--I always buy a second sandwich to bring to work for lunch.) Ba Xuyen’s version is a bit heartier than some others so this might’ve been a mistake. I have zero interest in cooking now.
Ok, I could just leave my banh mi missive like that, happy go lucky and to the point. But I can’t or else it wouldn’t be me. I can’t because while waiting for my sandwich I encountered the convergence of two subjects that garner the angriest comments here: my impatience with know-it-all white foodies showing off their love of ethnic food and my suspicion and dismissal of the seriousness of food allergies. I rarely get comments period, I guess I’m more of a blabber than a cultivator of community, but yes, these are two topics that never fail to elicit vitriol from strangers. And this is how they come together in one interaction.

Twenty-something redhead: Does the #8 have peanuts?
Perfectly nice counter woman with adequate English skills: You want peanuts?
Twenty-something redhead: No, I don’t eat peanuts.
Perfectly nice counter woman with adequate English skills: The pork sandwich has peanuts.
Twenty-something redhead: I can’t eat peanuts. I have allergies.
Perfectly nice counter woman with adequate English skills: Allergies. Ok…
And this devolved into a back and forth with no resolve. The counter woman understood what allergies were but the redhead was getting more exasperated and sniped, “this is really turning into a drama.”
I think the problem was that the counter woman didn’t get what the girl was asking for. To me, it seemed that she wanted a different sandwich than the one she had ordered, sat down with and had started eating and now wanted to know which of the eight choices were peanut-free but she wasn’t really articulating this well. So then, her Asian-American (not Vietnamese, I’m fairly certain) boyfriend came up and reiterated the exact same thing like that would help matters, then announced that he’d just swap his #1 with his girlfriend’s #8 and that would solve peanut-filled sandwich problem.
While waiting for my sandwich, the counter lady was conferring with the cook lady in Vietnamese and every few words you could hear highly accented, allergy huffed with derision. I caught her eye and shared a smile—I didn’t want her want her lumping me into the difficult white lady camp. I’m no trouble-maker.
Sure, I’m guilty of being white and loving to eat food that I didn’t grow up with. I’m all for everyone sampling cuisines of the world. But I have issues with two types: loud, braggadocios who either have traveled extensively or lived in a foreign country and suck the air out of restaurants with their unbridled knowledge (not this couple’s M.O.) and the culinary explorers who expect all conventions of American, particularly neurotic New Yorker, eating quirks to be anticipated and respected.
As a diabetic, I’m careful about avoiding sugar but that’s my problem. If I blindly ordered a foodstuff from an inexpensive storefront, oh, let's say an iced coffee from a Vietnamese establishment, and the beverage I was handed was beige with sweetened condensed milk because that’s what Vietnamese ice coffee is like, it would be my own fault for not asking what it contained first. I wouldn’t expect the business to make me something else due to my mistake. I don't expect Danny Meyer levels of hospitality for $3.75.

Back to the important matter: Ba Xuyen makes the most awesome banh mis in the city. Just watch out for the bbq pork, a.k.a the #8—it’s sprinkled with crushed peanuts. (8/25/08)

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8th Ave. Seafood

1/2 It’s a shame that I don’t get to Sunset Park as much as I used to. I’ll admit that I find Flushing more exciting–Sichuan, Taiwanese and Xinjiang food do more for me than Cantonese or Fujian. Fortunately, an invitation from a few Chowhounds, one with a blog (heavens no, not Restaurant Girl), to try a new (to me) restaurant, 8th Avenue Seafood was the perfect excuse to do a little Brooklyn exploration.

The benefit of group dining is that you can sample more things than usual (I rarely dine with more than one other, perhaps I should sharpen my social skills). Not that I don’t typically order for six anyway (that’s what takeout containers were invented for).

I think of sable as being a deli fish, but it was served in a thick peppery sauce on a sizzling platter here. I liked the oily, heavy and sweetish flavors.

Rich food requires vegetables for balance. We chose two. This is yin choi in “soup.”

And ong choi prepared kind of Malaysian. I’m pretty sure ong choi is water spinach, a popular Malaysian green, so that makes sense. I think there was chile and dried shrimp in this.

A lighter fish was the whole sea bass, simply steamed with scallions and ginger.

I really liked the teeming with odds and ends mei fun. I loved the bits of sweet, pickled cabbage in noodles.

I was imagining a red chile sauce, more paste-like but then remembered that this is Cantonese food. Salt-baked and chiles often mean lightly breaded and scattered with sliced jalapeños. I love the soft shell crabs this way at New York Noodletown but on pork chops it was kind of dull.

Our complimentary treat turned to out to be not so treat-like when I realized the pale green gelatinous fish was melon flavored. Egads, it’s one of my two dreaded M’s (melon and malta). I did eat four or five bites, just to be polite. It was cute, though.

I’m curious to try dim sum at 8th Avenue Seafood because I suspect it’s not as overrun and chaotic as the better known places. I will admit that if there’s one thing I do love about Cantonese food, it’s the dim sum.

8th Avenue Seafood * 4418 8th Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Tacos Matamoros

1/2 I can only say so much about tacos (which isn’t to say that others have no problem filling this niche. I envy single-minded bloggers—I’m way too scattered for such focus and devotion. I fear it’s a case of jack-of-a-few-trades, master of none). This is just an addendum to an older entry before I started taking photos like some foodie freak.

I’m always torn over whether or not to bother with updates, but like Mr. Miles told me in eighth grade social studies, “you have diarrhea of the mouth.” (That seriously pissed me off at the time—I was not a fan of Mr. Miles. He once kicked me out of class until I’d apologize for something he misheard me saying. This went on for days until I was forced by my guidance counselor to say sorry. He even called my house at night during Cheers and told my mom “I was the rudest student he’d ever encountered.” After that, she wasn’t a fan of Mr. Miles either.)

I do miss living close to good tacos. I wasn’t crazy about Red Hook’s El Huipil on my one visit, but it’s the only real Mexican place currently within semi-reasonable walking distance. But apparently, they’ve closed shop. Back to Sunset Park.

I didn’t intend to order a torta and taco, both pastor. I was thinking carnitas for the sandwich but they were out. Oh well, pork is pork. I had forgotten that Matamoros makes munchkin sized tacos but they’re only $1 each. I would’ve just ordered a variety and left it at that but I’m a sucker for tortas. I frequently feel guilty eating too much food, but the two average-sized young women sitting across from me had cemitas (a big brother to the torta) and healthy-sized bowls of sopas. What a great idea—I’d never even considered a Mexican soup and sandwich combo.

They don’t have specials like many other restaurants in the area but the listed plates are popular. James ordered bistec a la Mexicana, which comes in a thin tomato-y sauce dotted with halved jalapeños that looked like bell pepper wedges at first glance. We thought this was the meaty thing that tons of other diners were eating but we were wrong. I’m not sure what the popular dish was, maybe carne asada? I didn’t ask. Just asking for a receipt caused enough trauma—I didn’t want to push my luck with the tough questions. (1/21/07)

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Nha Trang Palace

I’m on my Barcelona kick, but this pre-vacation meal has been sitting in the hopper and I can’t just toss it out for bigger and better things. I really like Vietnamese food, but for me it’s kind of a back burner cuisine. When I think Asian, Thai, Chinese or Malaysian pop into my head first. Vietnamese feels healthy to me and I’m not always in a healthy mood. And now that I think about it, I almost only ever eat the same three things: banh mi, cha gio or pho. I need some serious horizon expanding.

I had originally planned a birthday party for July 28, yet somehow decided to cancel it, had zero celebration whatsoever, ended up eating soup in Sunset Park and going to bed relatively early. And who says 34 isn’t fun? At least I got an ice cream cake.

Nha_trang_pho I'm always amazed by the many permutations of pho available at most Vietnamese restaurants. I usually stick with the everything but the kitchen sink dac biet approach. The ingredients do differ. Here the $5.25they included verbatim: six difference brisket, navel, frank, omosa, tendon and eye of round. Ok, frank I think is flank. I'm a little scared of what navel and omosa are, though at least one must be a variation of tripe, as there were bumpy white sea creature looking strips in the bowl. I do like the meaty contrasts of crunchy, gelatinous and chewy, and how the paper thin rare round cooks in the broth.

Nha_trang_rolls The accompaniment plate had basil, lemon wedges and bean sprouts. Sometimes you get jalepeno, but not here. Of course, no one’s stopping you from adding a little “rooster sauce.”

We also had cha gio because fried rolls are always irresistible, but they weren't remarkable here. The filling was very porky, maybe a bit too much so and the wrapper was bubbly from the oil, but lacked a crisp bite.

Nha Trang Palace is likeable, but no great shakes. If you’re ever in Sunset Park and want pho, it’s as good as any.

Nha Trang Palace * 5906 Eighth Ave., Brooklyn, NY

El Rincon Familiar

A girlfriend of an acquaintance recommended this place to my boyfriend. If anyone, she would know Tex-Mex since she grew up in the Lone Star State. I wasnt so wowed. I wanted gooey, greasy, cheese-laden fare, and this felt almost like spa food. Everything was clean, dry, fat-free and flavorless. My chicken enchiladas had no taste. The meat was too lean, Ive never understood the appeal of chicken breasts (though I use them extensively at home, we have the giant Costco bag in the freezer, but thats exactly why I dont want to eat chicken breasts at restaurants). The refried beans tasted dull and almost healthy. Not a lick of oil slicked the plate. It was all very Park Slope (despite being in that no man's land that's technically Sunset Park) and so not what I'd had in mind. I'd just as well stick with Mezcals for this sort of Americanized border food.

El Rincon Familiar * 651 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY