A Feeding Tree Grows in the Bronx

5 Feb IMG_5311

IMG_5311

The snow was melting rapidly from a “historic” storm named Jonas. But there were still dirty gray mounds around the esplanade of Yankee Stadium, which happened to be just a block from where Mike from Yonkers summoned us. While Eugene was on his annual pre Super Bowl cruise; this time far away in the South Pacific, we were going to dream of warmer climes dining on Jamaican food at a place called The Feeding Tree.

Zio, Gerry and Mike from Yonkers were all present in the bright, spacious Feeding Tree dining room when I arrived. The menu featured familiar Jamaican fare: patties, jerk, curried goat, brown stew fish, oxtails, and escovitch fish. And like other Jamaican restaurants, eating after a certain hour of the day can be risky—the pickings usually scarce.

IMG_5314

“Jerk salmon,” Mike from Yonkers said to our waitress. “I’m going gluten free today,” he added as if any of us cared.

“Snapper,” she replied.

“Salmon,” he said again.

“We are out of salmon,” she informed him.

“Then I’ll take the jerk snapper,” he said with no remorse.

“Do you have patties,” I inquired.

“Patties are gone,” she said.

“Jerk shrimp?”

She nodded and we ordered six jerk shrimp as an appetizer.

“What about fish escovitch?”

She shook her head. “We have brown stew fish.”

I ordered it…as if I had a choice.

Zio looked at the waitress. “I’m easy,” he said. “Jerk chicken.” She must have liked that Zio was easy because she offered him a shy smile.

Hoping for the same result, Gerry said: “I’m easy too. Oxtail stew.” But the smile was gone and so was our waitress with our orders.

IMG_5318

Jerk shrimp

While we pondered what specialties Eugene was encountering on the all-you-can-eat buffet line of his cruise boat, a stranger approached our table unexpectedly apologizing for being late. We looked up and discovered that the stranger was no stranger at all, but our long absent eating companion Rick, who made the trip to the Bronx all the way from his money pit in New Jersey.

Thankfully, Zio had already devoured the spicy jerk shrimp that had been in his mouth for a millisecond before Rick’s arrival. None of us wanted to do the Heimlich maneuver on him unless absolutely necessary. We all quickly recovered from the shock of seeing Rick who had surprised us by his unannounced presence.

“I figured it best that I just show up. Better to walk the walk than the opposite,” he said.

“Yeah, you just came today because you knew Eugene wouldn’t be here to flog you,” Gerry said.

Our waitress returned with our food before Rick had a chance to order. “What’s easiest?” he asked. Rick wanted to be easy also.

She pointed to the oxtail stew that was in front of Gerry. “I’ll have it,” Rick said and a few moments later there were oxtails in front of him. There was also a brown stew snapper in front of me—and in front of Mike from Yonkers even though he ordered the jerk snapper. Last but of course not least, Zio’s jerk chicken arrived covered in a spicy jerk gravy rather than the dry jerk rub I am more familiar with. All the dishes were accompanied by a mound of rice and peas and cabbage.

IMG_5321

Oxtail Stew

The snapper, drenched in a rich brown gravy and adorned with onions and carrots was moist and full of flavor and with just enough of a spice bite. I did my best to keep the picked apart bones on my plate rather than scattered around the table while Mike from Yonkers didn’t seem to care that he piled his fish carcass on the table instead on his plate forcing our waitress to have to deal with all those bones with her bare hands. All the dishes were “browned” not that there was anything wrong with that.

IMG_5320

Brown stew snapper

After calculating what we owed and coming in just under our $20 budget, we wandered out onto Gerard Avenue. The lights on the hulking Yankee Stadium proclaimed that there were tickets available for the upcoming season. I wasn’t ready to splurge for Yankee tickets just yet, but when and if I did, an order of jerked or browned something would be a much better alternative to an overpriced hot dog.

IMG_5304

No game today

The Feeding Tree

892 Gerard Avenue

The Bronx

The Wong Wonton Mott Street Revolt

25 Jan IMG_20160120_194318534_HDR

 

IMG_20160120_194318534_HDRThe winter of El Nino was finally becoming harsh and noodles and soup seemed like a good idea to both Zio and I. I had told him to meet me at a place called 102 Noodles Town, but before I got to the restaurant, I received a text from him. “I am at 102 Mott Street,” Zio wrote. “There is nothing about noodles or the town of noodles.”

Zio was waiting out front when I arrived. The restaurant at 102 Mott Street was now called Wong Kee, but in the window was a declaration from Zagat’s referring to “Big Wing Wong,” and describing the restaurant as “traditional” with “BBQ meats and soups.” Despite the confusion over the restaurant’s name, it had what we wanted and we wasted no more time out in the cold.

IMG_20160120_185057052

We passed an open kitchen where soups were bubbling and where red-glazed ducks, roast pork and ribs hung. The menu was traditional, as Zagat proclaimed featuring congees, an assortment of soups, and barbecue meats over rice. We were about to order when a stranger who had just finished dining approached our table.

“How did you hear about this place?” the man asked us.

We looked at each other. We weren’t sure how to answer.  Zio mumbled something.

“It’s my job to know about these places,” I finally said.

“Did you know this used to be “Big Wing Wong,” he informed us.

“I saw that on the door.”

“We thought it was called ‘102 Noodles Town’,” Zio said.

“What?” The man was stumped.

“102 Noodles Town.” Zio repeated.

“I don’t know about that, but I do know that some of the people who work here worked at Big Wong before this place became Big Wing Wong,” he said

“Well we definitely know Big Wong,” I said, referring to another very good soup and noodle place also on Mott Street that both of us had frequented numerous times.

“Yeah, so a group of them left Big Wong,” the man said.  “There was a revolt,”

“A revolt?” Zio looked puzzled. “What kind of revolt?”

“I don’t know.” The man now had a sly smile. “They didn’t like working there. It was a communist revolt.”

Neither of us really knew how to respond to that.

“Yeah.” The man stood there. “I used to come here all the time, but not since they changed the name.”

“From 102 Noodles Town to Wong Kee?” I asked.

“You mean Big Wing Wong,” he said.

“Whatever.”

Big wong

Where the revolt took place

“So is the food still good?” Zio asked

The man shrugged. “I don’t know. The duck was a little tough. It didn’t fall off the bone like it used to.”

“Maybe it was just one tough duck,” I said trying to inject some humor into the bizarre interaction.

The man finally departed into the Mott Street chill and Zio and I were left to ponder the information we just received.

“I don’t care about the duck,” Zio said. “I want soup.”

“That’s why we are here,” I said.

“Ready now?” Our waitress asked as she approached our table, her pen and pad out.

“We thought this was 102 Noodles Town,” I said before we could order, hoping to clear up the confusion.

“New owner,” she blurted.

“What?” Either Zio’s hearing was going or he didn’t understand.

“New owner,” she barked again. “Ready now?”

I ordered the mixed shrimp, pork and vegetables dumplings with soup. Zio pointed to the beef tripe medley noodle soup on the menu.

“You want that?” Our waitress questioned Zio’s choice.

“Yes I want that,” he huffed indignantly .

She was ready to leave, but we called her back. We came all the way to Chinatown on a cold night. We couldn’t just have soup. I added a roast pork omelet over rice.

“You know you are ordering egg foo young, don’t you?” Zio told me.

“Yeah, but it says ‘no gravy’ here,” I said pointing to the menu. “Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll make a mistake.” The corn starch-thickened brown sludge usually poured over egg foo young was a guilty pleasure of mine.

Keeping our ordering very old school, Zio ordered the chop suey with pork, squid, and shrimp.

IMG_20160120_191727171

Squid chop suey

Before deliberating further on Chinatown restaurant revolts, our soups came. The wontons in my flavorful chicken-based broth were fresh and stuffed with a combination of pork and pieces of shrimp. It was exactly what I wanted.

IMG_20160120_190643105

Wonton soup

The roast pork omelet came before I could finish the soup; a large fried disc of egg and pork over rice, but, to my disappointment, with no gravy.

IMG_20160120_191401680.jpg

No gravy

Zio was still gnawing through the tripe in his soup when the chop suey, an assortment of meats, fish and vegetables in an oyster sauce was placed in front of him.  Soon he gave up on the tripe and concentrated his efforts on the chop suey. Between the two of us there was nothing left.

IMG_20160120_190630487.jpg

The beef tripe medley

Fortified now, we put on our winter gear; the soup and hearty hot dishes like another layer. Once outside I looked at the sign again.  “Do you think when they called it 102 Noodles Town they were borrowing from Great New York Noodletown?” I wondered referring to another excellent soup and noodles joint.

“Who knows?” Zio said with a shrug. “Maybe there was a revolt there too.”

Wong Kee

102 Mott St

Chinatown

 

Neckbones’ Calcutta Christmas Carol

23 Dec Calcutta Wrap and Roll

Calcutta Wrap & Roll

Gerry, when he announced his pick, called the location we were to visit the “childhood home of our fearless leader.” The fearless leader he was referring to was me and I wasn’t so fearless in anticipation of driving out of the city at rush hour during the Christmas gridlock alert days but it was something I expected knowing Gerry’s sadistic tendencies. So when I knew I would be traveling to Ardsley, normally less than a half hour drive from my city home, and knowing there would be holiday traffic, I gave myself about an hour and a half to get there. I had the pleasure of Zio’s company for the ride out. Our destination was a joint called Calcutta Wrap & Roll, in the small town plaza surrounded on either side by the Saw Mill River Parkway and the Major Deegan Expressway.

Ardsley was my home in the middle years of the last century. In the Leave it to Beaver days of my youth, like the television in our living room, Ardsley was a black and white town, minus the black—or any other color.  I explained all this to the Bronx born Zio as we arrived about a half hour early narrowly escaping the hellish transverses out of Manhattan.

That front entrance looks very familiar.

That front entrance looks very familiar.

Since we had extra time, I took Zio past the modest suburban home where I spent my early school years. I noticed there was a Santa Claus with eight tiny reindeer on the roof of the house. All those years anxiously tossing and turning on Christmas Eve on the top bunk of the bunk bed in the room I shared with one of my brothers hoping to hear Santa on our roof, I never did. On this night when I planned to feast on Indian food there he was. And I no longer cared.

I showed Zio the route I would take with neighborhood friends from my house to the very small main street where we would plunder bubble gum dispensers not for money, but for the tasteless balls of bubble gum. I pointed out the small store that was called Big Top where I bought my baseball cards, comic books and my first 45 records, including the one below. Big Top was now a bagel shop.

Across the street from the bagel shop was a Mexican restaurant, a Thai place and Calcutta Wrap & Roll. Even the mention of such exotic cuisines when I lived in this town would have been incomprehensible. Exotic to me when Ardsley was my home was a soft serve chocolate ice cream cone at that local Carvel that was topped with chocolate sauce that hardened over the ice cream called a “brown bonnet.”  The Carvel was still there, though now sharing the space with a Subway sandwich shop. It looked nothing like the grand ice cream parlor I remembered.

Hunger thankfully ended my tour down memory lane and soon our group was seated in Calcutta Wrap & Roll deciding whether to go for the mysore masala dosa “hot!” exclaimed the menu, or the Calcutta lamb roll “house special” of which there were many on the menu. We decided on the latter, much to Zio’s disappointment. For reasons never explained, he had his heart set on that baseball bat-like dosa.

Along with the lamb roll, we ordered the Calcutta vegetable chop—also one of the house specials. The vegetable chop, a sphere of fried potato reminiscent to a extra large tater tot  but with Indian accents.

Vegetable Chop

Vegetable Chop

For my entrée, I chose “Dr. B’s chicken chutpata “hot!” the menu exclaimed but without a mention of who “Dr. B” might be. Eugene stuck to the traditional, though not for Ardsley circa 1964, chicken biryani while Zio wanted his Indian rice with goat meat.  Mike from Yonkers, who had to eat at an unusually, for him, rapid pace due to an appointment he needed to get to, chose the malai kofta, mentioned as “Piyali’s Choice,” again without a hint as to who Piyali was. This offering was garnered a “chef’s special” as opposed to the more mundane house special. Gerry rounded out the ordering by picking the Goan fish curry, which though “hot” was nobody’s special.

“Tilapia or salmon,” the waiter asked, giving Gerry a choice.

Gerry chose the tilapia and soon our food, dished out in plastic take out containers and served on cafeteria trays was in front of us.

Goat Biryani

Goat Biryani

Though the two starters, the lamb roll and the vegetable chop were pedestrian, the entrees were a cut above standard Indian take-out.  Coated in a blood red, “special hot sauce,” Dr. B’s chicken chatpata was the Punjabi equivalent of Buffalo chicken wings. All I needed was a beer and either a blue cheese sauce or at least an order or raita to offset the hot sauce. I had neither.

Dr. B's Chicken Chatpata

Dr. B’s Chicken Chatpata

Gerry’s fish curry was lip numbing and even the biryanis had a bite to them, while “Piyali’s choice,” the malai kofta; paneer with vegetable dumplings in a yellowish-cream sauce would have put out any fire it was that mild.

Piyali's Choice: Malai Kofta

Piyali’s Choice

For what was very good take-out Indian food, the prices were not very Calcutta-like. But we were in Westchester—Ardsley to be exact and real estate doesn’t come cheap in these parts no matter the ethnicity.  As we headed back to the city there remained a tingle on my lips from the heat of the countless chilies consumed and that was a good thing.  My only regret was that we didn’t stop at Carvel for a brown bonnet to help put out the fire…and for old times sake.

The brown bonnet

The brown bonnet

Papa’s Karaoke in the Kitchen Blues

23 Nov

papas

“Are you ready to sing,” Beth, the hostess of Papa’s Kitchen asked me as I entered the empty, yet cozy Filipino restaurant on Woodside Avenue in Queens.

I was the first to arrive and her question to me caught me off guard. Zio had chosen this restaurant but with no mention of singing—or worse karaoke singing.

“Sing?” I shook my head. “No, but I am ready to eat.”

“Oh but you have to sing too,” she insisted

What had Zio gotten us into? I was debating whether to take off my jacket and stay or rush back to my car, but Eugene, Mike from Yonkers and Zio arrived before I could leave, thwarting my escape.

I glared at Zio. “Are you ready to sing?” I asked him. He saw the microphone. He saw the television with the Karaoke, both Filipino and English hits, strolling down. “What the…” was his startled response.

Eugene and I kept our heads safely down as we scanned the menu. Zio hesitated. Unbelievably, he was actually contemplating the karaoke thing.

“What about ‘My Way’?” Beth suggested. “Elvis or Sinatra.”

“I don’t know. Do you have ‘Get a Job’ by the Silhouettes?”  Zio asked for some bizarre reason.

Beth checked the seemingly endless scroll of possible songs, but couldn’t find the doo wop hit.

“What do you recommend to eat?” I interrupted hoping to get Beth off the karaoke obsession and onto what our task at hand was.

She ignored me and continued to press us into singing. Zio, displaying weakness of character, capitulated. He took the microphone.

“My Way?” Beth asked.

He nodded. What followed sounded like the vocal emissions of a man in serious bowel discomfort. My appetite was waning as rapidly as Zio’s sorry vocal chords. The end was definitely “near” and we all, thankfully, faced the “final curtain” on Zio’s rendition of “My Way.”

IMG_5259

“Can we please now order some food,” I barked.

“Who’s next?” Beth inquired, again totally ignoring my plea.

Finally, Eugene and Mike from Yonkers stepped in and Beth had no choice but to give us advice on what to order.

“Let’s start with Dynamite?” Mike from Yonkers asked.

Whatever dynamite was, it was listed as one of the appetizers and we wanted it.

What appeared soon after were thin crispy fried rolls stuffed with jalapeno and vegetables, served with a sweet, garlic chili sauce. And we ate them on plates adorned with banana leaves.

Papa's Kitchen

Dynamite!

Along with Dynamite, we settled on lechon kawali, deep fried pork belly, sitaw kalabasa, beans and pumpkin in coconut milk, the bicoli express, pork loin sliced in a stew of coconut milk and lastly, pancit palabok. When I asked about the pancit palabok, Beth mentioned that the noodle dish was more for Filipino tastes. Whatever she meant by that just confirmed our insistence in ordering the dish.

While we waited for our entrees, Beth once again tried to enlist our usually stoic group from the scourge that is karaoke. And once again, one of us succumbed. This time it was Eugene with a screechy, nails on the blackboard, rendition of “House of the Rising Sun.” Making it even more painful, was the accompanying video, a series of shirtless, buff Filipino men dancing and gesturing to languid, seemingly very bored, females.

Papa's Kitchen

Relax folks, it’s only a microphone.

The deep fried pork belly arrived to quell our collective indigestion from the Karaoke debacle and the addition of a pungent liver sauce was a more than welcome condiment to the crisped fatty meat.

Lechon Kawali

Lechon kawali

After sampling the pancit palabok, rice vermicelli noodles coated in aromatic sauce of fermented shrimp paste and garlic we understood Beth’s hesitance in recommending the dish to those not familiar with such funky exotica. To us, however, it was a revelation. The same, however, could not be said for the uninspired bicoli express, a stew of overcooked pork in a mild coconut milk broth. A similar, but much more flavorful coconut milk broth was the base for the sitaw kalabasa and the result was much more satisfying.

Pancit Palabok with sitaw kalabasa in the background.

Pancit palabok with sitaw kalabasa in the background.

“Now that you are finished eating, what songs will you be singing,” Beth asked hopefully.

There was only one song left and it was sung by Eugene. Without the aid of the microphone, Eugene smiled and sang those two precious words: “Check please.”

 

Papa’s Kitchen

65-40 Woodside Avenue

Woodside, Queens

Panic and Perseverance in a Peruvian Restaurant in the Bronx

21 Oct La Granja

La Granja

“Let me tell you, this food group is falling apart,” Eugene spewed. He was hot. He was irate. The scowl on his face was blood red.  Zio, Eugene and I were seated at a table for four at La Granja, the Peruvian restaurant I choose on 149th Street in the Bronx. The enticing aroma of chickens slowly rotating on a rotisserie filled the small restaurant. I had just received a text from Gerry that he would be late; that he was just leaving White Plains thus igniting Eugene’s tirade.

“First it’s Rick and his excuses, then it’s Mike, and now Gerry’s late” Eugene muttered with a shake of his head. “I’m wasting my time here.”

To get Eugene out of his funk, we wasted no time ordering a round of Cusquenas, Peruvian beers, and then proceeded promptly to the food. Eugene inquired about the “chicken in the window” to our happy waiter. He wasn’t sure what chicken Eugene was referring to, but assumed it must be the Pollo a la Brasa, the restaurant’s signature dish and whose aroma we were inhaling. Despite the waiter’s insistence that he would not go wrong by ordering it, Eugene instead focused on the “bird” section on the menu where he chose the pollo salteado.

“What is cau cau,” I asked the waiter. There was a photo of the dish in the window of the restaurant, but I could not identify it.

Smiling once again, the waiter, who could not translate what it was, rubbed his belly.

“Stomach?” I guessed in this game of charades.

He nodded. “ Yes, stomach.”

“I think he means tripe,” I said.

“Ah, trippa,” Zio intoned rhapsodically.

I turned to Zio. “Are you gonna order it?”

“No,” he said without hesitation, instead pointing to the arroz con mariscos (yellow rice with seafood) while I chose the jalea personal as opposed to the jalea familiar which translated to a mountain of fried seafood enough for a familia..

Does that look like "stomach" to you?

Does that look like “stomach” to you?

For starters we ordered the palta rellena, a whole avocado stuffed with chicken, but our starter arrived well after Eugene’s pollo salteado,  Zio’s arroz con mariscos and just in time for Gerry’s arrival.

Quickly ordering the ceviche mixto, Gerry was able to share the avocado that was stuffed with nothing more than chicken salad.

The Jalea Personal, accompanied by the house made hot sauce, though not a mountain was a big enough hill of crisply fried shrimp, squid, fish, and mussels for me to slowly shovel through, pausing only to remove the fibrous strings in the fried yucca that was part of the mound on my plate.

Jalea Personal

Jalea Personal

Turning to my left, I noticed Zio, head down, plowing methodically through his yellow rice and seafood, pausing occasionally to wipe the grease from his hands. Across the table we knew Eugene, after filling up on his ample plate of pollo salteado, was in a better mood when he teased the trio of Yankee fans at the table about their quick demise in the playoffs. Fearing a return of his dark mood, we took Eugene’s ribbing graciously and didn’t dare mention that his Red Sox had once again finished in the cellar of the American League East.

Gerry’s ceviche arrived last, but after a sample bite, it was certainly not least. Topped by strands of seaweed, the “cooked” raw fish was swimming in lime and cilantro and sprinkled with hidden bits of hot pepper that had Gerry guzzling his Cusquena.

Arroz con mariscos

Arroz con mariscos

Despite the abundance of seafood we devoured, we came in very close to our $20 budget. And after paying we conferred on our next date. When notified of that date Rick responded in an email: “I will endeavor not to be thrown overboard the righted ship,” which, speaking only for myself, did wonders in reinforcing his commitment to our monthly gluttony and its future prospects. On the other hand, Mike from Yonkers’ “Business should be slowed down by then,” just did not have the same effect.

La Granja

La Granja

500 E. 149th St.

Bronx

Dissing Some Dim Sum

17 Sep Crab meat and pork buns/soup dumplings

Nan Xian

“Okay, a heads up. We will meet in Queens for damn sure since I’ll be in the borough that day.”

This was written by Mike from Yonkers in an email just a few days before his long anticipated marriage. He was announcing to our group that his pick of our next food adventure would be somewhere in Queens. He just didn’t know where yet. Why he would be in the borough that day, we did not know at the time.

We found out after his extended honeymoon that we would meet in Flushing, on one of our more popular addresses: Prince Street, site of the Prince Noodle House (The Noodles on Prince Street) and more recently, Fu Run and its famous lamb chop (Eating a Muslim Lamb Chop During Ramadan in a Chinese Restaurant in Flushing). The restaurant chosen: Nan Xian Dumpling House, also known as Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao.

Gerry and I slogged through the nearby US Open traffic to make it to Flushing just in time. Eugene took the train from Westchester; Zio the subway from Astoria. We were all assembled, waiting for our host for the evening, Mike from Yonkers who, apparently, was somewhere in Queens. The menu of dim sum looked promising. There were even photos adorning many of the offerings to help us decide. We were hungry and Mike from Yonkers had not yet arrived.

“Uh oh,” Gerry muttered, looking at his cell phone. “This is bad.”

“What now?” Eugene barked.

“’I’m stuck at the tennis center,’” Gerry read from a text just sent from Mike from Yonkers. “’I don’t think I’ll get there until very late if at all,’”

We looked at each other. A cloud of disgust was forming on Eugene’s already dark visage. “You mean he is watching tennis instead of coming here?” Eugene growled. “That’s as bad an offense to the food group that we have ever experienced.”

I nodded. “Yeah, it’s not good,” I said though wasn’t sure it was as severe as Eugene thought it was.

“So we eat without him,” Zio said with a compromising shrug.

“No, there should be a price to pay,” Eugene replied but thankfully didn’t pursue the previously mentioned by him, kangaroo court idea. We were here to eat, not to deliberate on penalties for bad food group etiquette.

Dim Sum dissed because of this?

Dim Sum dissed because of this?

As it turned out, Mike from Yonkers made a very good pick. It was his loss that he didn’t get to experience the scallion pancake with sliced beef that was so good we had to order it twice. Or the steamed crab meat and pork buns that quickly brightened Eugene’s mood and had him remark that they were “better than Joe’s,” meaning Joe’s Shanghai signature soup dumplings.

I really couldn’t say if the pork and crab meat buns, which were actually soup dumplings, were better than Joe’s or not. I was having a hard enough time keeping the soup within the dumplings from squirting out onto my already food-stained jeans. Still, what I could capture, the soothing soup paired with the distinctive fresh crab meat/pork combination, ignited happy food sensations within my mouth that demanded more of the same.

Crab meat and pork buns/soup dumplings

Crab meat and pork buns/soup dumplings

After the first round of dim sum plates were devoured and without hesitation Gerry said: “What’s next?”

We were ready for dim sum round two which had to include another order of the scallion pancake with sliced beef; the mix of beef, crispy fried pancake, scallions and sweet hoisin sauce a revelation. Along with the scallion pancake, we added a plate of rice cake with pork and preserved mustard, the rice cakes, bland pale spheres speckled in amongst the greenery. The Shanghai pan fried udon noodles looked attractive in the menu photos so we ordered a plate, and to offset the starch, two cold vegetarian dishes: soy peas, cabbage and shredded bean curd and cucumbers and garlic.

Rice cake, shredded pork and preserved mustard

Rice cake, shredded pork and preserved mustard

None of the dim sum disappointed and with our appetites finally satiated—well almost—Gerry snared the remaining chunk of scallion pancake; the only morsel of food left, “No sense in leaving it,” he said, we called for the check.

The  lone slice of scallion pancake before snared by Gerry.

The lone slice of scallion pancake before snared by Gerry.

Examining the total, Eugene shook his head and gave us a rare smile. “All that and a beer too for under $20. Perfect.”

“And you have Mike from Yonkers to thank,” I told him immediately regretting my words.

“Oh, I’m gonna let him have it tomorrow. Can you believe he didn’t show up at his own pick?  That’s got to be the worst offense we’ve ever experienced. It was bad enough Gerry missed the last dinner because of a Yankee game. But not making it for your own pick for tennis…” Eugene was rambling, but once we spilled out of the restaurant and onto the street, the overhead convoy of landing planes at LaGuardia, thankfully, drowned him out.

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao

38-12 Prince St.

Flushing

Tibetan Obsession

30 Jul Punda Tibetan

Punda Tibetan

“Do you have a special affinity for the people of Tibet?” I asked Eugene when I met him on 47th Avenue in Sunnyside, Queens a few minutes before we were scheduled to dine at a place chosen by Eugene called Punda Tibetan?
“No. Why?” Eugene asked, perplexed by my question.

“Then it’s the food you like? Something about the momos?” I asked, referring to the Tibetan dumplings we’ve had before courtesy of Eugene. (See Momo Moments in the East Village)

“What?” Now he was really confused.

“Well, this is the third Tibetan place you’ve chosen since we’ve been picking,” I said. Along with Himalayan Café, Eugene also brought us, many years ago to Himalayan Yak ( See Yak Under the Tracks).

“It is?” He truly had no idea.

“And it’s not like Tibetan food is like…say…Chinese or Mexican.”

He shrugged. “I wanted a Greek place, but it was too expensive,” he replied. “So I found this one.” He was oblivious that, of all cuisines, he had latched onto the food of Tibet.

There were only four of us dining on Tibetan on this sultry summer evening. Rick was having chronic babysitting issues back at his Jersey money pit while Gerry opted to attend a “business” meeting at Yankee Stadium instead of coming to Sunnyside and eating more momos. “Really, Gerry?” Eugene scolded in a brusque group email to him when Gerry informed us of his decision.

Bush and the Dali Lama? Who knew?

Bush and the Dali Lama? Who knew?

The air conditioning was minimal in Punda Tibetan so even before we were brought our appetizers of shabhalap, a Tibetan version of empanadas, filled with meat and spices, and phag, small fluffy pieces of bland barley dough that were to be dipped into a savory meat gravy, we were beginning to sweat.

Phag

Phag

Adding to the sheen on my forehead were the abundant roasted chilies in the jhasha khatsa, a spicy chicken stew, I ordered. The side of Basmati rice helped douse the flames but an even better fire extinguisher were the two fleshy mounds of tingmo that accompanied Eugene’s dish of phing sa, a beef noodle stew.

Jhasha

Jhasha khatsa

“Oh we have play dough,” Zio said cheerily upon the arrival of the tingmo.

“Play dough or maybe the beginnings of the Pillsbury dough boy,” I said.

“What do you do with it?” Eugene asked our bewildered reticent waitress.

Using her hands to communicate, she showed us that the tingmo was to be torn with your hands and used to dip into the stews.

Tibetan Play Dough

Tibetan Play Dough

Mike from Yonkers even dipped some of the dough into his already starchy stew of cottage cheese or, as they say in the southern regions of Tibet: “paneer.” But after tasting the paneer at Punda Tibetan, the cheese had more of the consistency of tofu.

“At least there’s no tilapia here,” Zio commented as he slurped down his spicy Shabtak, a beef stew better suited for the harshness of the Himalayas than a sultry summer evening in Queens.

Shabtak

Shabtak

Once finished and after wiping the sweat from our collective brows, Zio limped wide-legged out the door of the restaurant into the equally steamy street. “I think my underpants are stuck to my ass,” he announced as if we needed such information.

“I already know the place I’m picking next,” Eugene declared as we headed down the street.

“Will it feature tingmos or momos?” I inquired, but Eugene didn’t bother to answer.

Punda Tibetan

39-35 47th Avenue

Sunnyside, Queens

Eating a Muslim Lamb Chop during Ramadan in a Chinese Restaurant in Flushing

30 Jun Muslim Lamb Chop

fu run

“Massage?” A tiny Asian woman, cell phone clamped to her ear, asked Eugene as he and I walked down Prince Street in Flushing.

“No thank you,” Eugene responded politely.

“Massage?” She asked again as she walked briskly behind him.

“No…no thank you,” he again patiently answered.

She continued her plea; wanting desperately to give Eugene a massage, but Eugene was not having it.

We had just finished feasting at Fu Run restaurant located also on Prince Street in bustling Flushing, where we could see and hear the  parade of  jets just above us descending onto the nearby LaGuardia runway .

Gerry had chosen Fu Run, finding a particular cuisine our group had not yet experienced called Dongbei, from the northeastern region of China. We were seated at a round table near the doorway and next  to a raucous group of Asian men drinking pitchers of beer and eating huge platters of meats and fish that none of us could identify—but wanted..

“You want to ask them what they are having.” I said to Gerry.

“I don’t,” he responded with a shake of his head for added emphasis and went back to look into the notebook that was our menu featuring an assortment of color photos of the dishes.

The photos in the menu were all impressive and made ordering difficult, but the standout picture was a spice-crusted piece of meat called “Muslim Lamb Chop.”

Muslim Lamb Chop

Muslim Lamb Chop

“Since its now Ramadan,” Gerry said, “we really should order it,” meaning the Muslim lamb chop. And I would have ordered it whether it were Ramadan, Passover, or Ash Wednesday, its look appealing very much to my secular appetite.

While Mike from Yonkers was spending a half hour searching for parking, we took the liberty of ordering, starting with steamed leek and pork dumplings. Along with the Muslim lamb, we added a “home style” fish with minced pork,” shredded pork with black bean sauce, and to offset the abundant meat proteins, sautéed pea stems with garlic.

The dumplings promptly were placed on our table and, after sampling, were pedestrian at best, helped by dipping into the soy vinegar sauce that accompanied it.

Instead of crowding our table with all the entrees at once, we were brought one at a time beginning with the pea stems. Sautéed to tender perfection, we made quick work of them.

Pea shoot stems

Pea stems

Waiters in stiff white shirts and ties quickly cleared the pea stems and next the pork arrived. Somewhat sweet, the moist, crisp strips of pork were as good as any bar snack and went well with our beer.

A mountain of pork

A mountain of pork

Just as we were finishing the pork, the majestic and sizable Muslim lamb chop was centered on our table. The crust of cumin, chili peppers, sesame seeds and other Middle-Eastern spices obscured the chops that looked more like a half a rack of baby back ribs. Though Dongbei cuisine is not noted for its spice, after a few bites through the thick crust on the lamb, a slow burn along the lips and inside the mouth took over appealing to our masochistic tendencies. Each rib was hefty enough to satisfy our well documented appetites, but Mike from Yonkers went back for more; the ribs were piling up on his plate.

I was also tempted to add a few more lamb chop bones on my own plate, but waited instead for our “home style” fish which arrived soon after and I quickly used my chopsticks to separate the juicy white flesh from the fish’s carcass. Even with a few yet to be gnawed on lamb chop ribs on his plate, Mike from Yonkers attacked the defenseless fish, turning it over expertly so he could shovel the the substantial flesh on its underside into his already overflowing mouth.

Fish

Fish “home style”

Nothing remained on our table and though our bill was slightly higher than we aim for, no one was complaining. Well, almost no one with the exception of Eugene whose numerous complaints are an essential part of our meal time discourse. Without them our conversation would be even more mundane.

““What was she saying?” Eugene asked me as we got into my car, referring to the woman chasing him down Prince Street.

“She wanted to give you a massage,” I told him.

“Why would she want to do that?” He asked, incredulous.

“I guess you look tense,” I said.

He looked at me; his dark eyes glowering. “Tense? Me?”

I said nothing instead concentrating on maneuvering the car away from the numerous garbage bags that were overflowing onto Prince Street and out of the congestion that was Flushing.

Fu Run

40-09 Prince Street

Flushing

The Arepas of Astoria

28 May Mini empanadas

arepas cafe

“Haven’t we been here before?” Eugene queried via email after Zio announced his choice, Arepas Café, conveniently located in his home base of Astoria.

“No,” I responded. “We’ve had cachapas, empanadas, and patacons from that Venezuelan place in Inwood (Stalking Corn on Dyckman Street).  But we have never had a Venezuelan arepa.”

“The Colonel and I ate there about five hours ago,” Zio told us in his email. “It was good, but I had to use hot sauce.” Not the most glowing praise, but time was running out and he had to make a pick. And we had to eat.

“Isn’t there a rule that you are not supposed to eat at the place before we all eat there?” Eugene bellowed as we convened, snuggled tightly together in the small restaurant.

“What’s with you and all the rules?” I said. “First you want Rick suspended for missing so many of our appointments and now you want to make it that we have to pick the restaurant sight unseen.”

“I don’t know, it feels like you’re cheating if you’ve been to the place.” Eugene said.

“Yeah, well maybe if you’d been to that falafel place near Columbia you wouldn’t have wasted our time that night.” I replied.

“Hey, he didn’t know what a falafel was until then,” Gerry chimed in.

We finally got off the subject of the rules of our group and glanced at the menu which featured a large selection of arepas, cornmeal or maize flatbread, stuffed with a variety of meats, vegetables and seafood.

“They have gazon,”  Mike from Yonkers announced.

“What’s that?” Eugene asked him.

“Baby shark,” Mike from Yonkers answered, reading from the menu.

“Ohhh, I want that,” Eugene declared.

“Ditto,” Mike from Yonkers said with a happy nod.

“Is it ethical to eat baby shark?” I asked the two. “Shouldn’t you let the shark have the opportunity to grow to be a feared predator before you eat it?”

“I don’t care. I want it and I’m having it,” Mike from Yonkers responded callously.

Would you eat a baby shark?

Would you eat a baby shark?

While Eugene and Mike from Yonkers ordered the baby shark, Gerry and I choose the “mami,” or roast pork with avocado and “white” cheese.

“I’ll try ‘Riccardo’s Tuna,’” Zio told the helpful waitress.

“Who is Riccardo?” I asked her. “And what makes his tuna so special?”

“My father is Riccardo,” she answered, shaming me to silence.  “He’s the owner. And the tuna, I don’t know, it’s just his favorite.”

We started with appetizers of mini cachapas, corn pancakes with melted cheese and asked for the mini empanadas with chicken, shredded beef, and the aforementioned baby shark.

As we sipped cold Venezuelan Polar beers, the waitress returned.
“I’m sorry, we are out of the baby shark,” said announced.

Obviously baby shark was a delicacy cold hearted New Yorkers could not resist. As Mike from Yonkers and Eugene looked to change their arepa orders the waitress quickly returned.

“I just talked to the chef,” she said. “We do have the baby shark for the arepas, just not for the empanadas.” So they would have their baby shark after all.

The cachapas and the empanadas, minus the baby shark, came out first. The tiny cachapas were indistinguishable, but the empanadas were the perfect accompaniment to the beer. The golden-colored cornmeal crust had a delicate crunch to it and the shredded chicken and pork stuffing lightly seasoned and moist. But like Zio had warned, hot sauce was needed to complement the flavors.

Mini empanadas

Mini empanadas

The arepas were bursting with meat, and/or tuna and baby shark. The avocado and “white” cheese added a freshness to the hearty shredded pork. But again—hot sauce was needed.

“I don’t know, this just might not be enough for me,” Eugene said after devouring his arepa.

Gerry, of course, agreed. “I think another arepa is needed.”  And both ordered mixed seafood arepas.

Arepa "mami"

Arepa “mami”

“And can I have a tres leche cake,” Zio asked tentatively as if the waitress might just deny him his request.

“Me too,” Gerry said to the waitress before he even got started on his second arepa.

“Alright,” I conceded. “I’ll have the house salad.” I told the waitress.

“Some Italians eat their salad before the main course,” Zio offered as if questioning my choice and my heritage.

“Yeah, and some after,” I countered.

“I don’t know. Everywhere I’ve been the salad always comes first.” Eugene said as if settling the subject.

Whether settled or not, the subject was not worthy of further discussion and everyone, with the surprising exception of Mike from Yonkers who abstained from either a second arepa or a dessert, went to work on their encore dishes, quickly consuming them to oblivion.

Rompe Colchon (mixed seafood arepa)

Rompe Colchon (mixed seafood arepa)

As Eugene tallied up our bill he crowed about how good his arepas were. And then he looked at me. “But really? Who orders a house salad in an arepa place,” he said, shaking his head. “I think that might be against our rules…”

Arepas Cafe

33-07 36th Avenue

Astoria

Salsa (on the rocks) with Chips

21 May Green Chile Vodka

Green Chile Vodka

I could add this new, Green Chile vodka from St. George Spirits of Alameda, California into a Bloody Mary.  I could make a vodka-rita, substituting the St. George Green Chile vodka for tequila. Or I could use it in a peppered martini…but in this case no chilies would be needed. This unique non-GMO based spirit is infused with a combination of peppers including jalapeno, habanero, Serrano, and red and yellow bell peppers giving it a distinctive, green chile flavor with a subtle, yet noticeable bite. Lime peels and cilantro are also part of the process—after all this is a spiked salsa (minus the tomatoes)—we are talking about.

I, however, choose not to do anything to this vodka. I intend on savoring the smooth, clean fresh pepper flavor on the rocks with nothing more than a squeeze of lime.

And maybe accompanied by a bowl of tortilla chips.

St. George's Green Chile Vodka

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 485 other followers

%d bloggers like this: