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Posts tagged ‘la nueva’

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Housewarming, Heartwarming, Housestinking

la esquina de camerones prep

I was growing concerned about my unintentional trajectory on the path to becoming person who never eats in Manhattan or Brooklyn and then Queens became number one in the universe so now it’s ok. (I’m hoping my plan to snag a seat at the new Momofuku Ko over Christmas week will help provide some balance.)  I didn’t know that yet, though, when I threw a housewarming party meant to feature neighborhood food.

la esquina de camerones sign

La Esquina del Camaron Mexicano. Shrimp cocktail signifies class, and therefore I wanted all the seafood in a chilled red sauce as possible at my party. Ok, the real motivation was seeking out dishes that didn’t have to be served hot. This Mexican coctele specialist is an operation in the back of a bodega that also makes fish tostadas and empanadas, but on the weekends is an outdoor affair even when it’s literally freezing.

party seafood cocktail

The mixto, here, combines shrimp and octopus in a tangy tomato-based sauce that ends up being like a more robust, less tart ceviche even with all the fresh squeezed lime juice. Avocado, cilantro and onions get chopped and tossed in (only if you want all three garnishes) and thick orange Valentina sauce gets drizzled on top if you want more heat. Saltines are the traditional starch on the side and really puts this dish in a class of its own.

party nam prik

Sripraphai is not technically a neighborhood restaurant, but I can walk there and that’s where I turn for my fiery dipping needs. Nam priks need more love, though I’m pretty sure I converted no one. They are hotter than most expect–there was some hand-waving in front of mouths–and the one with fermented fish truly stinks.

Before the dinner rush, Sripraphai Tipmanee, herself, was on hand and walked me through all ten or so small plastic tubs in the refrigerator. Which is the hottest and which one is the mildest? “All are medium,” she said. Probably not for a lot of people, an irony considering a medium-spiced dish at Sripraphai is now pretty tame.

sripraphai nam prik

The tamarind-based one that simply says tamarind sauce on the label, was new to me and chosen after asking which would be suitable for friends who don’t like spicy food, really was the mildest, though not mild in the least. Nearly whole chiles are visible in the paste but this dark, glossy dip is also sweet, sour and a little fruity. You could almost put this with a cheese plate and pretend it was chutney if you were mean.

Pla-ra-sub, yes, this includes the fermented fish that truly is pungent enough to be used as a weapon. The label just innocently says anchovy, chile, garlic, galangal and salt. Not only is this nam prik strong smelling, it’s also swampy looking and pretty damn hot Definitely advanced level.

Nam prik-pao-pa is one I often keep around the house, though I prefer the slighter sweeter variation. This is hot, shrimpy with earthy galangal undertones.

It’s healthier and more traditional to eat these nam priks with a variety of raw and blanched vegetables (there were no Thai eggplants to be found, though I know they exist in these parts) but they’re also good with chicharrones and chicharrones de harina for the vegetarians who are ok with shrimp and fish.

party empanadas

Argentine empanadas from La Nueva? You already know about them. The beef pastries lie on their sides while the spinach ones stand up straight with a crimped spine.

maharaja mithai

Maharaja Sweets and Rajbhog Sweets and Snacks. Mithai are an obsession of mine, not just from a visual standpoint like my former obsession with Malaysian kueh, which don’t always taste as good as they look, but from a too much sugar is never enough angle to the point where I wonder if I’m disordered. I will never understand people who max out over one piece of mithai or cut them into little slices. I picked so much at the pound I bought three days early (above) that I had to go back (not to Maharaja where I spied the same woman inside, but Rajbhog where they’re cheaper and no one would recognize me) and buy more two days later. Luckily, a friend brought even more mithai so no one suffered.

Sadly, arepas didn’t lend themselves to the set up, so I settled on auguardiente for my Colombian contribution and even picked up plastic shot glasses that I completely forgot to bring out at the appropriate moment. It was for the best, if you’ve already imbibed and partaken to the point of forgetfulness you probably don’t need anise-flavored firewater.

indian breath freshener

A breath-freshening send off.



Goodie Obsession: All the Empanadas at La Nueva Bakery (and More)

la nueva empanadas duo

Empanadas appear to be having a moment and for no discernible reason. First Gothamist, then Serious Eats…ok, that’s just two. Maybe it’s my own recent empanada bender that’s clouding my logic. I just ate two less than an hour ago. I suppose empanadas are pretty evergreen. (Even I did a round-up another lifetime ago.)

This weekend, with the help of an out-of-towner and stranger-now-acquaintance, I tried every empanada at La Nueva Bakery, plus two giant guava and cheese pastries, the triangular slices not the standalones. Honestly, I couldn’t even rattle off all 12 iterations, some finger-crimped and doughy, others golden and sealed with the tines of a fork, a few able to stand up on their own while most need to lie down. We didn’t dissect them; we just ate them.

la nueva emapanadas warming

There was definitely beef, pork, chicken, tuna, spinach, ham and cheese, and vegetable. Not all were Argentine/Uruguayan; the cafe also has a Colombian influence, not surprising considering the immediate neighborhood. The red salsa, though only mildly spicy and spiked with thick garlic slices, doesn’t strike me as very Argentine. It’s not a culture traditionally in love with hot food. You won’t even find black pepper on the table in Buenos Aires.

mama's empanadas sliced

A pit stop at Mama’s Empanadas turned up more overtly Colombian pastries with some American flourishes. I mean, this is the mini-chain known for its Elvis (peanut butter and banana) empanada. This bunch is more motley with a mac and cheese, Hawaiian (I will never not order ham, cheese and pineapple if given the opportunity) another cheese and guava where all the cheese was on one end like a bad burrito, a yellowy corn flour empanada filled with shredded beef, and a beef and pork papa rellena.

Originally, I planned to add Mexican into the mix but imported chain Pastes Kikos was still closed at 1pm due to an issue with the oven. You know, because seven doughy items per person just isn’t enough.

The best? It’s all subjective. Either you prefer baked or fried, green or red sauce, traditional or otherwise. I’m a fan of the standard baked Argentine beef empanada, but must concede that the mac and cheese was pretty good despite never eating mac and cheese (I’ll always be a sucker for anything Hawaiian, though). La Nueva’s Colombian-style fried cornmeal version stuffed with pernil was a standout. The surprise was the moist, chunky tuna, which I’ve always avoided. It wasn’t dried out even after reheating.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Queens For a Week

I have now been a official Jackson Heights resident for exactly one week. It’s good getting back to my chowhoundy roots. Of course, it’s hardly uncharted territory; this neighborhood and environs have been well tread by Joe DiStefano, Dave Cook, Jeff Orlick and Robert Sietsema, among others. And yes, there are even some women on the scene–just tonight there was an event featuring a discussion between two Queens cookbook authors, Andrea Lynn and Meg Cotner.

I’ll do what I can. Right now that means eating everywhere within walking distance. I’m afraid I’m turning into a bachelor (also that I’m gaining a pound a day in baked goods and ghee.) The newness will wear off soon enough, real fall weather will kick in, and I’ll eventually settle back into home cooking. Maybe?

saw shack takeout

Saw Shack It’s Chinese takeout with rough wood beams instead of primary colored Formica that would feel more at home on Smith Street or Vanderbilt Avenue. On the counter, there’s water chilling in a giant spigoted Mason jar with cucumbers and limon (sometimes cantaloupe) but you can still get a can of soda with your sesame chicken combo meal in a Styrofoam container. Minus the mock meats, there’s nothing radically different about this menu; it’s not upscale or elevated. The pork in the double cooked pork tastes like pork, the sauce isn’t sweet or greasy–in fact, it’s spicy as was asked for–and includes nice thin slices of that smoked tofu that looks like gouda. Pink and green flecks imply there is actually scallion and crab (or at least krab) in the rangoon. You’ll get duck sauce, and also an earthy chile oil that I want to believe is homemade. It’s mostly shredded cabbage in the spring roll, though a meaty strip of shiitake also lurks. This is not a destination restaurant, just a boon for locals.

el gran uruguaya duo

La Gran Uruguaya I accidentally wandered here first, thinking it was La Nueva, the more storied bakery. Both are equally busy and at least on the surface have similar racks of baked goods that would take me months to get through if I tried one item a day. The beef empanadas were fresh from the oven (otherwise, you can have them warmed), super flaky and more rich than you’d expect from a baked version. For me, anything stuffed with dulce de leche is dangerous because I like my sweets sickly sweet, and that sums up most of what’s on offer (except the naked, dry-looking twisted things closest to the register)

la nueva trio

La Nueva Bakery So far, I’ve only sampled a ham and cheese empanada that seemed all shredded ham, and a classic beef empanada that was heavier on the olives and lighter on filling than La Gran Uruguaya’s. The crust was also more bready than flaky, which may be more correct. I will have to do more taste testing.

rajbhog sweets mithai

Rajbhog Sweets I said I like my sweets sweet, right? Half a pound of mithai equals more or less six pieces (pistachio burfi, those round syrupy things called cutlets and a mystery silver-leaved white oblong stuffed with what I think is sweetened cheese), enough for a family or enough for me to finish in less than 12 hours. While senselessly watching Requiem For a Dream, I saw myself in Ellen Burstyn’s character caressing her box of chocolates. And we know how she ends up. The only remedy will be if I stay in my part of the neighborhood and avoid the Indian section.

el chivito d'oro parrillada

El Chivito d’Oro I was going to marvel at how much food you get for $38 until I realized that on my last visit the parrillada for two (teaming with short ribs, sweetbreads, sausage, morcilla, skirt steak and veal) plus two sides cost $10 less. Ok, that was eight years ago, so it’s still a marvel. The meat will probably be well-done. No one will likely ask if you wanted it otherwise. If you’re not fussy, a $19 bottle of Malbec isn’t a bad addition either. Fries and salad, my extras, share billing with less South American rice and beans and tostones. A lot of people order the potato salad. A very long Happy Birthday song might be played. On weekend nights, this and its nearby competitors, all have lines out the door. If you haven’t set up your kitchen yet, you will have leftover meat to eat for a few days and that’s a good thing.

pollos a la brasa mario chicken

Pollos a la Brasa Mario Somehow there are three of this mini-chain in a ten-block radius. There’s certainly more than rotisserie chicken, but I’ve never ventured deep into the Colombian canon (that will have to change soon). The soupy beans (not pictured) are seriously porky and kind of amazing.

kitchen 79 pork knuckle

Kitchen 79 I will say more later (I’ve been twice already) but for now this strangely glossy Thai restaurant is an area standout. You can have your pork knuckle, fish maw and wild boar or bring friends who’ll both order curries with tofu and eat them like entrees and it will be ok (love you guys). Despite the bar with taps advertising Yuengling and Sapporo, it’s still BYOB.