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Posts from the ‘Flushing’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Birds, Blood, Chile Oil

paet rio nam tok soup

Paet Rio take two. I didn’t do a very good job of selling someone who wanted Japanese noodles for lunch and isn’t into Thai food because he thinks it’s all sweetness and coconut milk. I said no pad thai because I’m controlling, then eased up and didn’t provide enough guidance and he ended up ordering rad na, which is the weirdest, blandest, gravy-drenched Chinese-Thai noodle dish that I’m convinced only means something to people who grew up with it. So much so that I passed on a photo. I went looking for a nam tok soup replacement post-Plant Love House (Pata Paplean succeeds, but that’s not a weekday affair) and received an ok rendition. It was a little wan when I was seeking something more powerful and dank.

ivan ramen trio

Ivan Ramen came through on the Japanese noodle front, though accidentally, while weaving from the East Village to Chinatown, not all that hungry after green tea bun at Panya and afternoon beers and a shot at 7B.  The spicy broth slicked with chile oil was softened by finely minced pork and a yolky egg fluffed into an almost-scramble. The tangle of noodles light and springy. I wouldn’t consider $22 a bargain lunch special but with a can of Japanese beer and a chosen side (cucumber pickles in my case) it’s as good a way as any to spend a leisurely afternoon.

le coq rico trio

Le Coq Rico is where you’d expect a prix-fixe lunch to be $38 (though I had a $27 deal because I’m a grandma, see above). The Parisian import is all about aged birds of many breeds, some more than $100 a pop. This particular week, and maybe always, the featured non-whole chicken was a 110-day aged Brune Landaise, roasted with riesling and other aromatics, ideal for the dark meat types (I’ll never understand white meat-lovers), plated simply with jus and a side salad, but not necessarily revelatory. It’s chicken. I’d need to taste more varieties in quick succession to better suss out this particular breed’s attributes. First course was chicken livers with another salad. There is a lot of liver lurking under those leaves, plus some unexpected smears of hummus for added creaminess and richness. That île flottante, though (baked Alaska is next on my list of classics). The meringue mound surrounded a crème anglaise moat and slivered toasted almonds was the breakout star. It was practically a sext when I sent a pic of myself cradling the dish–and now, I’ve firmly entered middle-aged Better than Sex Cake (Better than Robert Redford Cake, if you’re even more aged) territory. Wow. 

duck soup

And speaking of poultry offal, the shop with a three duck logo and name I can’t recall because I don’t think it was in English, is where to go in the New World Mall food court if you want a bowl of mild, cloudy broth full of clear bean thread noodles and bobbing slices of fried crueller and hidden cubes of duck blood, gizzards, and other, livery bits instead of the more popular hand-shaved noodle soups. It lacks the luxuriousness of fatty roast duck and the herbs to read as medicinal. I’d say the soup is restorative. When in doubt, add chile oil. It’s Probably good for a hangover.

white bear wontons

White Bear is hardly an unknown. All non-Chinese order the 12 for $5.50 #6, and I’m not one to buck that wontons with chile oil trend.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Grandma Edition

Because I can be a horrible person, in my 17 years of NYC life I’ve only returned home for a visit maybe four times. Periodically a family member or two will make up the difference and venture here from Oregon. That was the case this weekend and the impetus for social media grousing over the many where-to-dine-with-out-of-town-parents listicles that assume all elders are wealthier than their adult children and can’t wait to treat them to Daniel.

This was an all-Queens extravaganza motivated by the fact that my mom and her mom have experienced Manhattan and Brooklyn many times by now–and more importantly were airbnb’ing four blocks from my apartment in Jackson Heights. If I took away anything from this rare visit it might be that there’s a genetic possibility that between now and senior citizen-hood I could morph from a crank into a ham.

pollos mario spread

Chicken, rice, beans, and salad at Pollos a la Brasa Mario happened before I realized standard food blog photos weren’t going to cut it. Grandma wanted to be in the picture. There were mixed feelings on first experiences with arepas while hearts of palm passed muster.

jahn's waffle

I’ve wanted to go to the last Jahn’s on earth ever since moving here six months ago but wouldn’t drag friends out for the experience and going solo never felt right. The liver and onions, meatloaf, and white zinfandel will still have to wait. There’s no arguing with a fat waffle hiding a trove of bacon beneath, though.

grandma jahn's breakfast

“The fruit is in a can,” grandma was warned when ordering french toast with fruit. Who would have it any other way? Breakfast inspired the first action shot. Life, bowls of cherries and all that.


grandma eating takoyaki

Octopus balls became a hot topic after showing a photo of takoyaki made by a friend of a friend for Easter, so I knew that while in Flushing I’d have to flout convention and stop by the only Japanese stand, Mojoilla Fresh, at the New World Mall.

grandma tacuba

If you wrap up a Museum of the Moving Image visit too early for The Astor Room’s 5pm happy hour , newish Tacuba across the street is great for a very strong margarita (or two). I probably wouldn’t suggest pitching in with the guacamole-making service to everyone.

astor room bacon

There are limits to being game. No one could be convinced to eat $1 oysters at The Astor Room, but the candied bacon that’s freely available at the bar was a hit.

grandma astor room

I almost thought I was going to get a new grandpa out of our very sweet bartender.

grandma jackson diner

I regret not squeezing in any momos or thenthuk considering Himalayan is now more relevant than Indian in the neighborhood. Buffets are crowd-pleasers, though, and Jackson Diner is now a classic in its own way.

grandma jahn's

Jahn’s was irresistible. So much so that sundaes were had an hour before dinner. Now I need to convince seven others to go in on the original large format meal, the $51.95 Kitchen Sink.

grandma chivito d'oro

Only a heartless monster could dislike Chivito d’Oro, the lovely wood-paneled Uruguayan steakhouse that’s second-closest to my apartment. This is the first time I didn’t order a full-blown parrillada and ventured into the pasta section (primavera with canned mushrooms that elicited no comment a la Jahn’s). Even though I try to avoid starch during the day, I am eating the leftover pasta for lunch as I type because I abhor food waste with the passion of someone on a fixed income.

grandma kitchen 79

Kitchen 79 has a good $7.50 lunch special (grandma had a simple green salad and pineapple fried rice with chicken) and now serves beer.

Not pictured: Empanadas, pasteles, and mini cakes from La Gran Uruguaya or random pizza ordered from La Pequena Taste of Italy on Seamless for delivery that didn’t arrive and took me over an hour to realize I’d accidentally clicked pick-up (too much happy hour).

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Schnitzel, Hot Pot, $1 Oysters

zum stamtisch trio

Zum Stamtisch might not serve the best German food in NYC, but you have to appreciate its longevity. (The first thing I ever wrote for money in NYC–and was paid 7 to 14 times more than what I’ve been offered for blog posts in modern day–was about German bars in Glendale. Zum Stamtisch is the only one of four still standing in its 2002 form.) And commitment to Bavarian kitsch. This is not a young person’s restaurant, especially not on an early Sunday evening. Everything could use a few shakes of salt (perhaps the clientele is watching their sodium intake). The schnitzel, available in pork only, is a stellar specimen, though, with a super crisp-and-craggy breading that’s not oily in the least. The mustardy vinegar-based potato salad is also well done; the starchy chunks have a few browned edges that add a little character. There is an impressive list of after dinner digestifs that does include Jaeger and Bailey’s but also gets a little more esoteric. Forget Fernet, this is Underberg and Escorial Grün.

little sheep

Little Lamb. I’ve said this before but I’m still not sure who’s ripping of whom. Little Lamb Happy Family, which has sat on Flushing’s Main Street for some time, is a blatant counterfeit.  But Little Sheep, which opened last year and Little Lamb, which recently appeared in the SkyView Center, are cut from the same cloth, complete with flat screen TVs showing videos of the Mongolia-based chain’s origin story. Little Sheep is bigger and has a liquor license (though Lamb serve what appears to be cola in wine carafes). Little Lamb has a view of the Applebee’s, its neighbor, and was still doing a 10% off promo when I visited (both pros, if you ask me). Bizarrely, the entire seafood section had an X through it on the order form (a con). The spicy side of the half-and-half broth contained an unusual amount of cumin–I’ve never had a hot pot where cumin seeds stick to everything, and the greens in the mixed vegetable platter were kind of strange and included lettuce (I find cooked lettuce grotesque) as well as weird frilly leaved weeds I’d never seen before. Everything was pleasant enough, though if this were a competition Little Sheep would win by a (wooly) hair.

extra fancy trio

Extra Fancy has always struck me as more of a drinking establishment even though both times I’ve eaten there in the past it has been fine (if not full of loud drunken people encroaching on my space). Apparently, they are trying to get fancier with the addition of a new chef. That seemed to translate to a $35 steak special, lobster pie and more charcuterie. I didn’t even realize they did a $1 oyster happy hour, practically a requirement in Williamsburg, but it was appreciated. A chicken pate topped with a layer of cider jelly and a big dose of toasted pistachios was one of the better I’ve had of late, bone marrow with barbecue-sauced brisket and Texas toast was also fun and now makes two restaurants in a six-block radius serving bone marrow with Texas toast (see Brooklyn Star). I stuck to the shared plates, but will most likely return in the very near future because I sometimes Lent dine to appease others and live down the street.



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.


Hunan House

It wasn’t that I thought pupu platters and moo shu pork were Hunan food; I’d never even considered that regional Chinese food existed. And I can’t fault Gresham, Oregon or the era when I took my first job bussing tables at Hunan Garden. Even twenty years later in a city filled with actual Chinese people, we have kung pao and lo mein slingers with names like Hunan Balcony and Szechuan Delight.

Luckily, we also have restaurants representing less-celebrated corners of China like Dongbei, Quingdao and Fujian, something that not all cities in the US have. (I truly didn’t understand when in the ‘90s a Queens transplant to Portland complained about the city’s lack of good Chinese food. Many of the restaurants serving Chinese and Thai at the time were really Vietnamese.)

And finally, Hunan food. I’ve gathered from reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, sampling the Hunan section of Grand Sichuan’s menu and a meal at a Hunan restaurant in Shanghai, which is about as close as I’ll get to Changsha in the immediate future, Hunan food is spicy like Sichuan cuisine—some say spicier— but doesn’t use the tingly peppercorns.

Hunan house pig's ear salad

I didn’t find the food at Hunan House to be particularly chile hot. The cold pigs’ ear appetizer was mildly spiced and consisted of chewy ribbons of meat and fat lightly slicked with oil in a very straightforward presentation that was more about texture than strong flavor. I kind of missed the orange pool of oil that dresses similar Sichuan dishes.

Hunan house chairman mao's pork

Chairman Mao’s pork, a rich star anise-heavy braise of pork belly cubes with green bursts of wilted spinach and sliced scallions to trick you into thinking the dish contains healthy components, has always been a favorite from Grand Sichuan and was successful here, too.

Hunan house fish head

I had no idea fish heads were part of the Hunan canon because I’ve tended to encounter the toothy castoffs in Southeast Asia, the most famous example being Singaporean fish head curry. At first we worried that our choice was a dud. The waiter asked, “you know that’s a fish head?” But after noticing at least three other tables with the same red chile-and-scallion-smothered dish, we realized he was concerned about our non-Chinese palates (I really wanted to type palette to see if anyone would go apeshit on me).

Hunan house fish head remains

No worries, we picked the bones mostly clean, despite the fish head’s size (in Singapore you can specify if you want a small or large head) being better suited for more than two diners.

Hunan house water spinach

Ack, the stems (I completely had forgotten that I was aware of their existence and swore to never eat them). I could’ve sworn the menu simply read sautéed water spinach with green pepper, though the online version I’m currently looking at definitely says water spinach roots. Once again, I got tripped up by a Malay/Singaporean preparation of what they call kangkung. I was expecting leaves in chile sauce, not a whole platter of stems! I don’t want to make a big stink and go as far as saying I have a stem phobia (it’s like you’re being cute and drawing attention to quirks unnecessarily like in that Sloane Crosley story—a few months ago in an attempt to better myself and become more compassionate by reading things I assumed I would hate but that others love, I checked out her book from the library…and couldn’t get past the third story—where she claims to have a made-up disorder where she can’t read maps) but when I get a banh mi stuffed with more cilantro stems than leaves, I am not happy and if I make kangkung belacan, myself, I use leaves only. Stems go in the garbage, no matter how wasteful.

With all of that said, this dish that was far more challenging than a fish head, ended up being delicious. Light chile heat blended with the salty funk of black beans and hits of ginger and garlic.  I didn’t even miss the Sichuan peppercorns I had been craving at the start.

Hunan House * 137-40 Northern Blvd., Flushing, NY


Udu Hotpot

1/2 Hot pot is exactly what it sounds like, a pot of hot liquid (often hot in chile heat, too) where particpants can cook their own food. Yet the name always sounds like a facile double entrendre that could go so many directions. I’ll spare you the meanderings of my mind. The phrase stumped a former coworker of mine (see end of Happy Family post) in ways possibly only hilarious to me.

Udu cafe interior Sitting around a steamy vessel of bubbling soup is just what you need during the dregs of winter. I prefer restaurants dedicated to hot pot rather than taking my chances with off menu options like at Little Pepper. I was originally thinking Little Lamb, but when I heard about flashy Udu Café with personal TVs, at-table internet access and a checkbox ordering approach, I had to see it for myself (also to witness all the gauche FOBs that New Yorker Chinese were complaining about on Yelp in that strange backlashy manner of established groups distancing themselves from newcomers. Now that I think about it, I’m very judgmental about Oregonian transplants here, always picturing an earnest, indie, social justice trooper).

Backwards judgmental: the only other Caucasian in the joint, a moderately hip white dude with an Asian girl, naturally (now I’m judging) seemed unahappy to see us walk through the door like we were ruining his Flushing fantasy.

We were given a regular table, a two-top that was too small for serious hot-potting. This happens a lot at Asian restaurants, as if they don’t expect the white people to order very much food and then get dismayed when there is no place to put all the plates. The little side table was already being used by the mother-daughter duo across from us who had a whole four-seater to themselves.

Udu cafe booth

This is a booth with the set-up I was describing. It’s common for groups to play C-pop, though one large party was just watching last week’s episode of The Office.

Udu cafe hot pot broth

There are seven broth choices, and we picked Sister Su spicy pot, and insisted we wanted it really hot against protests (it was really spicy). I didn’t see an option for half-and-half broth like at Little Lamb, but later we noticed that everyone seemed to have the divided style. I guess you have to ask. You almost need the relief, not so much from the chiles but because the peppercorns start to commandeer every nook and cranny in your mouth and you lose the ability to taste anything.

There are approximately 121 dunkable items you can order–from straightforward chicken or mushroom to charcoal cheese or pig intestine country style, nothing wildly esoteric like pizzle. I do not know what charcoal cheese is. We ordered eight things, which was plenty. With the exception of $38.95 Wagyu beef, most selections are under $5. They do add up quickly, though.

Udu cafe sauce station

First, you mix up a dipping sauce at the station we happened to be sitting next to. I honestly have no idea what an ideal sauce should be. Shacha, always gets depleted so I know that one is popular. Our waitress saw me taking photos and insisted on making the sauces “beautiful” before I shot that section and spent a few minutes topping off all the empty slots and cleaning up any spills. But my before photo turned out better than the tidier after, sorry.

Udu cafe sauce

Shacha, sesame paste, chopped garlic, sugar, cilantro. Seemed sensible enough.

Udu cafe short rib, shrimp, tripe

Short rib, shrimp and tripe (way in the back). The flimsy shreds of tripe gets lost in the broth. Fat strips of honeycomb tripe would’ve been preferable, but that might be more Mexican.

Udu cafe lamb

Lamb. I would’ve taken more strongly flavored lamb and nixed the beef.

Udu cafe dumplings

Shrimp balls, pork dumplings and “Hello Kitty tempura.” I’d call the latter fish cake not tempura.

Udu cafe vegetables

We couldn’t decide what vegetables to order so the vegetable combo bucket sufficed. Corn is impossible to eat with chopsticks and the tomato was just weird. Next time, more pumpkin. Cabbage is cheap filler but I love it.

Udu cafe hot pot

Full of stuff. I like the Hello Kitty face bobbing beneath the surface in the back.

Udu cafe mochi

The meal is ended with warm peanut and black sesame-coated mochi.

Udu cafe exterior

It’s not like you can miss the place.

Udu Hotpot * 133-50 37th Ave., Flushing, NY

Little Pepper

1/2 Sometimes thwarted plans don’t bother me. Saturday night I had intended to try Flushing’s Hot Pot City. All you can dunk hot pot with unlimited beer? A place after my own heart. But unfortunately it was no more, literally, a dry erase board at the bottom of the staircase read “no more hotpot.” And they hadn’t simply run out of soup--the second-floor space had morphed into a foodless bar.
Ah well, that left me with two nearby favorites: A Fan Ti or Little Pepper. When in doubt it’s always Sichuan. Plus, last time I attempted Little Pepper it was full and I had to settle for Spicy & Tasty (which isn’t really settling).

I’ve been enough times now that I was determined to try new things. However, the cumin lamb was a necessary repeat. I’m still not sure why it’s served in foil, the char-edged meat and onions are clearly the mark of high heat sautéing. Sometimes pools of orange oil are alarming, but not so with Sichuan food. You need that oil.

Also sitting in a wonderful pool of spicy oil was the largest serving of dan dan noodles I’ve ever seen. Normally, these pork-dotted coils come in a small vessel similar in size to a single rice serving. It’s hard to tell scale from the photo but this was practically a salad bowl, and I’m pretty sure they cost less than $5.
I don’t recall portions being so huge in the past. We only ate about a third of each of our dishes and had so much left over that the to-go containers were bulging. But I order with future meals in mind. I noticed the other twosome sitting near us only ordered one braised dish and a vegetable. That’s probably more normal.

I tried branching out and asked for the ox stomach in mashed garlic. That didn’t sound terribly appetizing but I figured it was just tripe, and I wanted to see what a cold appetizer would be like with mashed garlic rather than the usual chile oil. Sadly, it was a no go. Maybe next time. The one thing I noticed was that the tingly peppercorn effect was very muted in all of the dishes that normally would showcase it (these tendons, the noodles and lamb). Maybe it was just an old batch of Sichuan peppercorns—I have the same problem at home.

Cauliflower with smoked pork was one of two pale-on-pale white dishes. I was imagining a crispy, roasted vegetable, which is kind of silly because Chinese do not oven roast (hmm…and this amusing thread appeared right after I wrote this). No, this was a steamed, soupy dish with most of the flavor coming from the very smoky meat. It seemed kind of like an excuse to nibble fatty meat under the guise of eating your vegetables.

Venturing into the braised section of the menu was new for me.  I wasn’t ready for organs, so fish it was. Enough fish for six people. This was also a chile oil-free presentation. The flavor was delicate with a very mild flaky fish (I did not ask what kind). The secret to livening things up is to get a bit of the salty-hot pickled chiles in each mouthful. It’s the difference between a staid and tongue-searing. (9/13/08)

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Spicy & Tasty

Apparently, I didn’t get my fill of Sichuan food in China because last weekend I couldn’t stop thinking about tracking more down. Little Pepper was my first choice, but it was full at 8:30 on a Saturday. We could’ve waited but it was a good opportunity to give Spicy & Tasty, just around the corner, a re-visit.

I think some prefer Little Pepper because it’s grittier and less English-friendly. Somehow that implies authentic. But still in a fluorescent and formica vein, S&T is hardly upscale. I find the food comparable, if slightly pricier. We scored the only open table for two.


I settled on beef tendons from the long list of cold appetizers. It turned out that they had exhausted their supply, but in a way I lucked out because they topped off the plate with tripe. Double whammy. And to their credit, they did ask first before substituting. I know not all Americans are as tripe-crazed as I am.

Cold dishes are made on demand at a bar in the front of the restaurant. And the balance of chiles and peppercorns is right on. You feel the heat and the numbing tingle, but it’s not so overwhelming that you lose flavor. And the fresh crunch of cilantro stems enlivens the thinly sliced meat.


Next time I’ll branch out and try fish but I wasn’t in the mood for the unknown. I knew that enhanced pork was up my alley and similar to a dish I’d recently eaten in Beijing. Essentially, it’s a stir-fry of fresh pork, leeks and chiles. Everything gets a caramely sear; the vegetables turn sweet and play off the chile hotness.


The translations explain little and make it difficult to know what you’re going to get. For instance, there’s lamb with red chile sauce, lamb with chile pepper and sliced lamb in sliced fresh hot pepper on the menu. I have no freaking idea how any of those differ. In fact, I can’t remember which one the above photo is though I suspect it’s lamb with chile pepper. The chile used was dried and ground and seemed to only show up in random bites of food. This was wonderfully gamey and oily, but I actually prefer a less saucy lamb like the cumin dusted version at Little Pepper.


I’ve tried making dry-cooked string beans before but they never quite turn out like this. These taste almost meaty and chopped preserved vegetables scattered throughout was an unexpected touch.

Lord, I can't believe my last visit was four years ago, and almost to the day. Is this what aging feels like? (11/17/07)

Heading through Flushing on the way back from a tough afternoon IKEA shopping on Long Island, I knew it was the perfect time to check out this restaurant I'd been hearing about. Since the car was literally bursting at the seams with enough cheap furniture to add up to $475, James was hesitant to park on the street. A parking garage was requisite or he said we couldn't stop for dinner. That was like a mean dad thing to say, and I wasn't so sure they would have indoor parking nearby. I was nervous. But luck was shining on us because there was a Sheraton on the same block as Spicy & Tasty with a parking garage. And this hotel experience was almost equal to the food.

I love hotels. Or more properly I love being in foreign cities, and as I recently discovered, Asian ones. It's so not "Lost in Translation." I mean mid-range hotels with stores and services in them, travel agents, random clothing stores, and the like. Our last day, a rainy Sunday in Singapore we strolled around the food court in the basement of the Meridian hotel. The food stalls were open, but there were also quiet halls on other levels with glass facades, darkened rooms and closed doors. Boutiques, graphic design firms, the only life being a room filled with teenage boys playing computer video games. It was fun and felt like you shouldn't be there since we weren't hotel guests (though it was all public space). The Sheraton LaGuardia (as it was called, though not all that near the airport) had the same feel, levels and stairs and businesses on the perimeter and a fancy, near deserted Japanese restaurant you look down on from above. It was like a mini-vacation wandering around, and accidental. We were just trying to figure out how to get from the basement garage to the main exit but went too high on the elevator and had to saunter down oddly positioned stairs, accompanied by the strains of soft music.

Spicy & Tasty continued the feel. I've never been to China, but I like to believe it felt very Chinese. Or Sichuan at least, as that is their thing. I wasn't blown away by the peppercorns as I expected to be. Maybe I was thinking Thai heat, not subtle buzzy Sichuan spicy, or maybe the food wasn't heavily spiced. It was certainly good, though. I go nuts for bamboo shoots in chile oil, and they were made all the more attractive by being prepared up front by a cold dish guy. There were all sorts of appetizers, jellyfish, sliced tendon, eggplant and more that I would've liked to try, but you can only eat so much with two people. I had to order the enhanced pork, if not for the name alone. I'm not sure what the enhancement was referring to–there was a copious amount of leek greens in the dish, which could be construed as enhancement (a few days later that green onion hepatitis outbreak began and like a good hypochondriac began wondering if leek greens were also a danger). James got the Szechuan lamb, which was like a rich, almost Indian spiced stew that came in a metal dish over a flame.

I left feeling uncharacteristically upbeat and actually looked forward to walking through the hotel lobby back to the car just for shits and giggles. The odd thing was that the elevator places you right inside the office where you pay and no one was around, but you could hear footsteps and clear-as-a-bell voices from the garage where the cars initially drive in. The place was miked, for what reason I'm not sure, but it was kind of creepy. We were quiet as mice when we got back into the car just to be safe. Of course all they'd hear us saying was how great the food at Spicy & Tasty was. (11/14/03)

Spicy & Tasty * 39-07 Prince St., Flushing, NY

Happy Family

1/2 I’d never partaken in steamboat, shabu shabu, hot pot, Chinese fondue, whatever you want to call it, until recently (though I’ve broth-swirled a little Canadian horsemeat). Flushing’s Happy Family a.k.a. Little Lamb (a cartoon sheep with a shirt collar appears on various signage) proved to be a great jumping off point. Actually, it’s a little more advanced than amateur; we had some procedural ordering confusion.

SetupIn my day, Mongolian was simply suburban code for a pile of stuff cooked before your eyes. Here it’s all d.i.y. You pick your broth from red, white or green. The latter is herbal and I wasn’t feeling the urge. But you can also go yin-yang and choose two broths kept separate in a huge metal pot inset in your table. White=creamy soymilk. Red=hot as hell. There are all sorts of oddities floating in the liquids like a whole nutmeg kernel, jujubes (Asian dates) and a metal tea bobber filled with mystery herbs and chiles (opening it would’ve solved the mystery but I didn’t want to unleash any unnecessary fury).

HotpotThe tricky part was how to acquire dipping material because you pick the hot pot by meat i.e. lamb hot pot or fish head hot pot, but there are also pages and pages of a la carte items like chicken, taro, and innards. We picked beef hot pot because it seemed neutral and it came with a plate of bean curd, greens, rice vermicelli, dried mushrooms, hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts and lots of other crunchy things. We eventually got our waiter to bring shrimp and pork-stuffed fish balls to supplement our thinly sliced beef. Practically anything could be improved by the hot pot treatment, but whatever you do abide the menu’s plea “please don’t bring other products into the store to cook (including beverages and liquors).”

Lamb_skewersBecause we’re gluttons, we also got grilled lamb skewers to start. Cumin was definitely present but I was surprised at the chile level of the spice rub. This was my kind of food. I have a high tolerance for heat (though I’m not sure when I acquired this. I’ve always liked spicy food but I was just thinking about a birthday dinner in my early twenties where my mom took me out to Bangkok Kitchen in Portland and the tom kha gai was so punishingly hot that we couldn’t slog through it. Now, wiser and older, Portland Thai food seems pretty tame though I’ve never returned to Bangkok Kitchen for comparison. Were we NW wusses and I’ve toughened up or have my taste buds dulled from years of smoking? I only sparingly indulge anymore, f.y.i.) and even so there was a tongue-burning that persisted throughout the meal. Combined with the heat and steam emanating from the hot pot itself (and a few drinks—though no soju for me), sweating was nearly unavoidable. And as you might imagine, as the broth bubbles and cooks down the resulting concentrated soup is intense. It was nice to be able to alternate between the fiery and sweet chambers of stock.

RoomEven though the hot-potted treats don’t really require them, there is an eighteen-slot condiment bar in the back of the long room that’s just kind of fun to poke around. Black beans, chopped garlic, sugar and soy sauce all kind of make sense, but if you’re feeling wild you can also take a scoop of pure MSG. Ah…sweet, sweet glutimates.

My “real” review for

Almost completely irrelevant asides (you have been warned):

Hot-potting has become a euphemism in my household for what gastro-intestinal unpleasantness occurs about twelve hours later. There was a lot of hot-potting going on last week in Mexico City that has yet to cease. But I never realized how funny hot-potting was until I heard it referred to by someone who had no idea what hot pot was.

I met up with a former coworker a few weeks ago to get the dirt on who’d been fired, humiliated and so on. But I became intrigued when she started describing my replacement, a young Chinese-born go-getter with an apparent penchant for hot-potting. It seems that the girl whoops it up all over Flushing, indulging in hot pot with wild abandon, comes into work late, and then complains, “I have terrible cramp…very strong period” as an excuse. No one seems to think that these cramps are liquor induced except for my friend who now refers to binge drinking as hot-potting. But she’s suspicious, mean-spirited and astute like me so I’m inclined to believe the hangover theory.

Once the former coworker walked into the women’s bathroom to find the new me laying on the ratty entryway couch moaning in pain with her boyfriend at her side rubbing her head. Frightening (though not so much as the pair of abandoned shit and blood stained panties once left in front of a sink on the floor by god only knows. P.R. is a classy profession).

Hot-potting has become a great catch all phrase for everything unseemly. This former coworker (and no-nonsense dyke) also shared my love of the word hot pad, the self-given nickname of my butch Girl Scout camp counselor who resembled an obese John Denver. I don’t even want to imagine what hot-padding is.

Happy Family * 36-35 Main St., Flushing, NY

A Fan Ti

One of our waitresses matter-of-factly asking James “Is she your wife?” baffled me all evening. I’ve learned that there’s a certain ESL bluntness that seems particularly acute with Chinese to English and it doesn’t bother me. I’m never sure if lack of subtlety is a translation thing or if it’s cultural. It was easier to shake our heads and say yes rather than explain, “Well, actually it’s kind of complicated. We’re actually just dating but we’ve been together for nearly eight years which is longer than anyone I know has been married, but we’re just boyfriend and girlfriend.” We were the only ones speaking English so maybe she was attempting to chitchat to make us feel welcome? Or was it that I didn’t seem like his wife, and we make an odd couple? I like James’s version, that it was her way of asking if he was available.

A_fan_ti_salt_pepper_lamb_2The other waitress didn’t speak English at all and I do appreciate that she brought us Chinese menus, though I think it was more a case of her not really thinking it through as opposed to concerted non-pandering. After a few seconds she was mildly scolded by the lady boss and made to bring us English menus without our saying anything.

At least the English menu wasn’t lacking any of the oddities that we didn’t order anyway. I have no fear of offal but it’s no fun eating it alone. The first thing listed is lamb testicles and a bowl of eyeballs bobbing around in liquid is also for the taking. We compromised and stayed on the tame side.

A_fan_ti_kung_pao_lambDespite sounding like an American bastardization, I had to order the kung pao, which is called simply lamb in hot pepper sauce. It’s peanut crazy and full of startling ma la sensations. Going double lamby, we also had the salt and pepper lamb, which comes spice-crusted (cumin-heavy) on the bone with a little saucer of crushed Sichuan peppercorns and salt for dipping. We barely used half and our mouths were numb by the end of the meal.

This is the type of place where it’s not like you’re blending in anyway so why bother trying. I was initially afraid of looking barbaric by using my fingers to pick at the bits left on the bone of our salt and pepper lamb. I then noticed others were flat out gnawing on the thing. I should be so shameless.

A_fan_ti_eggplant I would’ve ordered something with bean curd but soybeans and well as organs don’t fare well with this not-my-husband dining companion. To squeeze a vegetable in, I tried the eggplant, which I’m sure was oil laden to make the flesh so silky. It was nothing like you’d get from corner takeout (last night I ordered pork with eggplant from our local not-so-great place Ting Hua [not to be confused with Wing Hua a few blocks up and definitely not to be mixed up with Me and My Eggroll in between the two] and I was given pork egg foo young instead. Bizarre, I haven’t had that since I was a kid) there’s a sweetness and also a chile spiciness, not just garlic, and somehow it stayed steaming hot for a full twenty minutes.

I love places like this, i.e. Little Pepper and Happy Family, which I haven't posted yet. Maybe it’s all the chiles and peppercorns but I always end up with a good feeling, even a sense of well being (seriously) when I eat Northern Chinese food.

My review (nitpickers, it contains a to-be-corrected inaccuracy not of my doing)

A Fan Ti * 136-80 41st Ave., Flushing, NY