The Great Chinatown Conflict 2017: Resolved with Rye and Lo Mein

24 Oct

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Gerry was concerned. We had scheduled our monthly food group well in advance. But now there was a sudden conflict. The Yankee fans among us, Zio, Gerry, and me were in a quandary. The fifth game of the knotted American League Championship Series was to be played at 5. We were to meet in Chinatown at a place chosen by me called Noodle Village at 7:30.

“Time to reschedule,” Gerry wrote in an urgent email once the Yankee schedule was confirmed. “We got an important game tomorrow.” He pleaded to reschedule either the next day when there was no game or the following week, but with each suggestion, someone had to drop out.

“Why don’t we meet at a bar in Chinatown, watch the game, see where we are by 7:30 and if the game is still in doubt, stay at the bar and go eat after the game,” I suggested.

Gerry, Mike from Yonkers and Zio liked the idea. Eugene, however, possibly still stewing from the early exit his Red Sox made was not happy. “I will not be going,” he wrote the next day. “I do not want to deal with the nyc traffic and Yankee traffic…”

All of us tried to convince him he could make it to the restaurant in plenty of time or meet us at the bar whether he drove or took the train, but once Eugene makes up his mind about something, there’s not much even the prospect of  a village of Chinese noodles can do to change it.

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The bar, Whiskey Tavern, was a few blocks from Noodle Village, which, on Mott Street, was a few doors from the Chinatown legend of our collective youths: Wo Hop (Obsession Confession).  While Gerry and Mike from Yonkers sipped Redemption Rye, I settled on cold beer as my viewing beverage of choice. The Yankees’ play made it a happy time at the happiest of hours and by 7:30 we were confident enough with the Yankee’s comfortably leading to exit the bar and head to Noodle Village.

Judge

Happiness is fleeting

Passing a line of hungry people waiting up the steps of Wo Hop, we arrived at the equally crowded, Noodle Village. There were no free tables for our group of four and for the first time in our 16 years, we had to wait to eat. But the wait was a short one and it gave us time to follow the remainder of the Yankee game on our cell phones. By the time Mike from Yonkers was served his chicken congee, the Yankees had won, 5-0.

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Chicken congee

I cannot lie that the flavor of the steamed crab meat soup dumplings and fried pork and chive dumplings were possibly enhanced by our baseball joy; they were as good as I have ever eaten. But it wasn’t just me, Gerry was raving over  the squid and pig skin with curry sauce lo mein.

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Squid and pig skin lo mein with curry sauce

Zio had to repeat his order of pork liver and kidney lo mein to the waitress who had a difficult time comprehending that someone of his chalky hue would actually order such a dish. After a few bites from his chopsticks, a strange sound came from his mouth. “Hmmm it has an earthy flavor,” he said. Whether he was referring to the kidney or the pork liver, we did not know.

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Kidney and pork liver lo mein

I kept it simple with a bowl of shrimp wonton soup and a communal plate of Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and, like everything else at Noodle Village, enjoyed every slurping spoonful.

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Chinese broccoli

Outside, on Mott Street among the familiar black garbage cans that litter the crowded curbside, Zio gave Noodle Village the ultimate compliment. “I’m coming back here,” he said. “And I think I’ll bring the Colonel.” If Zio contemplates bringing his wife, also known as the Colonel, to one of our eclectic destinations, it can’t get much better than that.

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Crab meat soup dumplings

Noodle Village

13 Mott Street

Chinatown

Peruvian Infusion Confusion

20 Sep

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Many years ago in the first year of our food group’s existence, we traveled to Corona, Queens for a dinner at a restaurant called La Pollada de Laura (Cooked in Corona). The restaurant was simple yet comfortable and owned and run by a Peruvian family. The ceviches were plentiful and perfectly “cooked” in lime juice and chili peppers. The fried seafood in the jalea was fresh, crispy and accompanied by a salsa criolla while the lomo saltado, beef with onions and fried potatoes was piquant with citrus, the contrast between the beef and the grilled onions along with the French fries, perfection. We ate until we were bursting and the food, including all that fresh fish, dessert and beer was well under our $20 budget. We wondered how such a place with prices like that could exist. Sadly, La Pollada de Laura did not exist much longer; it closed a few years after our experience there, but the restaurant set the bar for all other Peruvian restaurants we have visited since.

So when Mike from Yonkers sent out the email announcing his choice of Carta Brava and noted that the food was Peruvian, he included, in parenthesis “again,” I was hopeful but not optimistic that the very high bar set almost 15 years ago could be met.

The restaurant, a small, really more of a takeout place located on a side street in ethnically diverse, New Rochelle, noted on its sign that it served “Peruvian Infused cuisine.” Why would good Peruvian food need an infusion of anything, I just didn’t know, but I did try to keep an open mind.

When dining at a Peruvian restaurant the ceviche is always a must and both Mike from Yonkers and Eugene ordered the mixed ceviche. It arrived in a small bowl, the fish cooked by the acid though whatever else was infused in it diluted some of its usual bold flavor.

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Ceviche

The jalea, a fried mix of seafood; fish, squid, shrimp was done well, not greasy and complemented by the spicy house made criolla sauce. But, and I know I was asking too much, it just could not compare to the mountain of seafood that was the jalea of La Pollada de Laura.

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Jalea

Gerry’s chicken leg, also known as pollo a la brasa,  arrived presently beautifully on a white platter; the rotisserie chicken glowing a deep bronze color  and served with green (cilantro) rice. The dish was a very pretty picture but left Gerry wanting more, something that never could have happened back at La Pollada de Laura.

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Pollo a la Brasa 

Finally, after most of us, Mike from Yonkers excluded of course, were done, Zio’s lomo saltado with beef and shrimp arrived. Also assembled with attention to photographic detail, the saltado was flavorful but again, the authenticity, or was it something else, was just missing.

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Lomo Saltado

“I think this is suburban Peruvian food,” I said to Gerry who nodded his agreement.

“It needs an infusion of something but I just can’t say what,” he said.

No one else could either and we were even more speechless when the check arrived and put us well over budget. We’ve overpaid for meals in the past, but this one left us hungry and nostalgic for a real home-cooked Peruvian meal on Northern Boulevard.

 

Carta Brava

6 Division Street

New Rochelle

Found in Yonkers: Red Sauce and Scungilli

15 Aug

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When Mike from Yonkers informed our group that he would not be available to choose our next food destination due to a “family emergency,” I sent out a electronic telegram to all our member for a quick substitute.

“I got a place,” Gerry responded almost immediately.

The place Gerry got for us was located in Yonkers, ironically, minus Mike from Yonkers. On a dilapidated stretch of Broadway prevalent with Dollar stores and Mexican delis, Gerry discovered Silvio’s, an ancient old school red sauce Italian joint that none of the Westchester contingent, meaning Eugene, had ever been to.

The dining room, adjacent to the restaurant’s pizzeria, was empty except for our small group and because it was so quiet, the canned Italian red sauce music; Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Vale, and others was even more obtrusive.

As soon as we were settled, our waitress, a buoyant Latina, brought us nicely toasted, hard crusted Italian bread with packets of butter that Eugene quickly opened to spread on the warm bread leaving a litter of butter packets surrounding his place setting.

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Bread and “old school” butter

The menu also had that old, 1950’s feel including the prices which seemed to be amended only slightly since Silvio’s first came to Yonkers. It wasn’t until we got our bill at the end of our meal that we discovered that those prices somehow found their way into the 21st Century—so much so that once again Gerry had brought us to a place where we were substantially over our allotted $20 budget.

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Maybe it was the Tito’s vodka Gerry ordered that tipped our scale—or the large slice of cheesecake (made the Italian way with sweetened ricotta cheese) that did it. Most probably, it was our gluttony that pushed us over the limit. We couldn’t help but order two appetizers, including a large order of clams oreganata with chopped clams and mussels in white wine and garlic. What made the final tally harder to take was that both appetizers were very disappointing; the mussels minuscule and the clams, when you could find them, buried deep under a heavy layer of moist breadcrumbs tough and seemingly fresh out of a can.

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Clams oreganata

The pastas appeared inexpensive on the menu but, of course, we couldn’t stick to the traditional menu, instead we ordered a rigatoni Calabrese from the “special” menu, a heavily sauced pasta with tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, and sausage. There was nothing traditional about the combination of scungilli and calamari with linguini  unless you considered canned scungilli traditional.

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Rigatoni Calabrese

You would think two pastas might be enough for us but it wasn’t even close and, honestly, there was much more sauce than pasta on both platters and the sauce just wasn’t curbing our sizable appetites. We rounded out our meal with a beef braciole; one single braciole smothered in red sauce, a platter of veal Francese that included four small, pounded scallopini’s, one for each of us, in a lemony wine butter sauce and sides of broccoli and spinach. The morsels of veal, light and tender, was probably the best of what we had at Silvio’s and easily devoured.

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Veal Francese and linguini with calamari and scungilli

When the waitress returned to ask if we wanted dessert and before we could order what Gerry already knew would be the cheesecake, Eugene asked where Silvio was.

“You just missed him,” our waitress said with a smile.

I wondered if there really was a Silvio or was he, like the Sinatra music and the old school menu, a fictional creation to fit into the Italian red sauce fantasy we never tired of, yet so often were disappointed by.

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Searching for Silvio

Silvio’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria

352 S. Broadway

Yonkers

In the Heights (Hamilton’s) Eating Ecuadorian Food

19 Jul

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“This is the second Ecuadorian restaurant we’ve been to,” Eugene announced to all of us as we sat together in Ecuatoriana, the restaurant chosen by Eugene for our most recent eating adventure.

“What was the first,” I said, testing him.

“Braulio’s and Family,” Eugene responded correctly. I had to give Eugene credit; he did his research (Extending Familia).

Ecuatoriana was on Amsterdam Avenue located a block from a Jamaican restaurant we dined at back in the early days of our food group, meaning the first years of the new century (Cool Jerk).  Back then we were in Harlem but now we were in the “The Heights;” Hamilton Heights to be exact, named as such because of its proximity to the former home of founding father Alexander Hamilton. To be fair, the neighborhood’s moniker was created before Alexander Hamilton achieved excessive notoriety from the monster success of the Broadway show, Hamilton.  To make things even more confusing, the creator of Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda, also had a Broadway hit called In the Heights, about a neighborhood a little further north named after another founding father, George Washington. None of this has anything to do with Ecuadorian food so ignore it if you wish.

We were all examining the menus; reacquainting ourselves with the staples of Ecuadorian food; ceviche, steaks, pork chops, hominy, rice, and plantains when Zio boasted to all that he finally got hearing aids. The problem was, none of us could hear his proclamation because Eugene was bellowing about Houston Rocket, James Harden’s new contract.

“$572 thousand per game,” Eugene wailed. “Can you believe that? I’d have to work four years to make that much.”

I looked at Eugene. “Hey, you ain’t doing so bad,” I said, hoping to encourage him to glance at the menu instead of continuing to torment us by whining about James Harden’s riches.

Harden

The presence of a waitress helped spur our ordering and Gerry wasted no time in choosing a mixed seafood ceviche for the group; this one including the exotic “black clams.”

“They’re not clams,” Gerry said, as if he were an expert on Ecuadorian shellfish. “They are really mussels.”

“Why call them clams then?”

Gerry had no answer and I wasn’t sure he was right. But we did both agree on the same dish for our entree; the chaulafan, a fried rice-type of entrée with a mix of meats; sausage and beef, potatoes, plantains, and a scrambled egg all part of the dish. Thankfully the heaviness of the chaulafan was offset by the delicate ceviche, which indeed contained clams, not mussels, in a dark, cool broth. The ceviche was so inviting, Mike from Yonkers was hovering above Gerry hoping to get his spoon in the bowl before those black clams disappeared.

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There are black clams in there somewhere.

A whole red snapper was placed in front of Zio. It was a challenge, but at least he didn’t have to hear anyone or even talk to us as he went to work on it, slowly separating flesh from bone until all that was left was a cleanly picked carcass.

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A snapper for Zio

After the ceviche, Mike from Yonkers still had plenty of room for the fried pork ribs. The addition of white hominy along with mashed potatoes was just to ensure his starch intake was sufficient. Eugene’s pedestrian order of grilled shrimp arrived last, but amazingly he was the first to finish.

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Fried ribs with hominy

On this warm summer night, the streets of Hamilton Heights were brimming with activity and Eugene was impressed not only by his choice of restaurant, but also by the neighborhood. “We should come here more often,” Eugene said.

I wasn’t sure if that was invitation, a plea for more human companionship, or just Eugene making inane conversation. With Eugene, did it really matter?

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Chaulafan

Ecuatoriana

1685 Amsterdam Ave

Hamilton Heights (Harlem)

A Pilgrimage to Queens to Pay Homage to a Falafel King

14 Jun

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“There ought to be a rule that you can’t pick a place in your neighborhood,” Eugene proclaimed as we sat down inside King of Falafel and Shawarma on Broadway in Astoria. Eugene always wants to amend the bylaws of our food group. The problem is, we really don’t have any by laws.

Still, it was a little convenient or maybe lazy even, for Zio to choose a place just a few blocks from his love nest. And coming on the heels of another Middle Eastern restaurant we just visited a month earlier; the Egyptian Tut’s Hub, made it even more puzzling. But we don’t want to get into Zio’s creative yet sometimes garbled brain here. This is about the food and the self proclaimed King of Falafel—whose humble beginnings as a food cart operator sparked his road to royalty. His falafel became so popular he moved up from a cart to a food truck where the lines in Astoria to sample his falafel  circled the block. It’s always good to be the king and it was so good for the King of Falafel that in 2016 he moved into a full-fledged take out restaurant, where we were currently assembled.

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The King’s falafel with humus and baba “ganooj” in the background

Since the falafel is legend here, our group easily decided the best way to sample that and other of the King’s specialties was to order the Mazamez or the King appetizer, a family style sampling of hummus, baba “ganooj,” grape leaves, tabbouleh, spinach pie and, of course, falafel. Instead of the round golf ball-sized falafels I’m familiar with, the King makes his oblong, fried to a dark golden brown and devoid of any grease. I admit to not being a falafel snob, but in my amateurish opinion, the King’s version tasted damn good.

Using the provided pita bread, we easily devoured the platter but then Gerry, whose appetite knows no limit, ordered another starter called Foul, pronounced, I believe as Fool. The Foul was a well spiced stew of fava beans in a hearty sauce that, combined with the other appetizers we just downed, was more than sufficient to appease our enormous appetites. But why stop at the appetizers when there was the shawarma to sample?

A sample of shawarma is one thing, but the weighty mound of chicken and shawarma coated in a very spicy chili tomato sauce layered on top of a king-sized bed of basmati rice, known as the “Omar,” that I ordered was a sample fit for a very large king, falafel, shawarma or whatever. This was a food challenge I knew I would not win.

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The “Omar” comin’

Gerry, however, was up for any challenge and, unfazed by the starters, ordered the most expensive and largest item on the menu: the “Teaser.” This teaser was a gargantuan platter of meats; chicken, shawarma, and kebabs over basmati rice, complimented by two more of the King’s famous falafels. Gerry worked through the meats meticulously and before Mike from Yonkers could even get halfway through his falafel platter, Gerry was done.

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The “Teaser”

Keeping his mouth shut from the spanking his Red Sox were getting from the Yankees, Eugene sullenly feasted on what was called the “Big Dady,” described as a “delightful mix of chicken and beef kabob over rice.” Whatever it was, Eugene showed no delight in his meal—but with Eugene that did not mean that he didn’t thoroughly enjoy it. You just had to ask him.

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The Big “Dady” for the Big Papi fan.

After the long two block journey from his love to the King of Falafel, Zio’s appetite was not as it could be. Still, he had no difficulties finishing his beef kebab platter. And we expected no less.

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Beef kebabs on Basmati rice

Trying to hide my embarrassment, I signaled for a takeout container; a first for me in the 15 years our group had been stuffing their faces at various restaurants in New York’s boroughs and suburbs. Piling the Omar into the container and securing the lid tightly, I departed the King of Falafel and Shawarma with enough in my bag for a happy Middle Eastern reprise. But only after I digested the one I just finished, which most likely meant in maybe 48 hours.

King of Falafel & Shawarma

3015 Broadway

Astoria

The Fateer Feast on Steinway Street

17 May

 

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“Is pigeon on the menu,” I asked Gerry after he announced his choice; an Egyptian restaurant on Steinway Street in Astoria named Tut’s Hub.

“No pigeon,” he answered and all of us in our quirky food group breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Pigeon was on the menu of our last foray, several years ago, to Steinway Street and another Egyptian restaurant (A Night on Steinway Street) . That one didn’t end well and maybe it was because of that greasy pigeon that we never returned to Steinway Street, but by now our informal statute of limitations had long expired and Gerry felt it was time we gave Steinway street another chance.

There was a sheet of water rushing down the glass façade of Tut’s Hub. The waterfall was part of the theme-park like restaurant where the five of us dined surrounded by statues of Egyptian gods and goddesses as if entombed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s, Temple of Dender. I was hoping for Im Ho Tep to show us to our table but instead we were greeted by a boisterous woman in jeans and a baseball cap. You can’t have everything.

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No mummies at Tut’s Hub

While archaeologists were busy in the back restoring the hieroglyphics on the inner walls of the restaurant, we sat close to the waterfall and perused the menu. Despite the kitschy surroundings, the food offerings looked authentically Egyptian. I didn’t bother to make a suggestion instead leaving the ordering to Gerry, with Mike from Yonkers in consultation.

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The Gold Chair was off limits.

We started off with Kushari, a mix of elbow macaroni, lentils, fried onions, and a tomato-vinegar sauce that prompted Zio to mutter: “What is this? noodle roni?”And as it turned out, the Kushari, though it arrived first, was least of all the dishes we were to sample in Tut’s temple that night.

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Kushari a.k.a. “noodle roni.”

Next came baba ghanoush with a basket of warm pita which we made quick work of along with two bowls of mulukyiah, a pureed soup of greens in a salty chicken broth that also went well with the pita bread. Soon, though, Eugene and I gave up on the pita and used our spoons to slurp the soup.

“And now we get deep dish pizza,” Zio remarked when the pastrami fateer, a pie stuffed with Tut’s Hub’s homemade Egyptian pastrami and veggies arrived on our table.  Zio wasn’t the only pizza snob at the table; none of us had any use for what might be found in a Pizza Hut in Indianapolis, but the Pastrami fateer was unlike any deep dish pizza we had ever had. It was so good Zio could be heard making strange noises of satisfaction as he feasted on the pie.

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Pastrami fateer

Tut’s mixed grill, chicken, lamb, sausage, and beef kabobs served on rice pilaf, and another fateer, this called Hawawshi containing spiced beef and pickled turnips that gave it an unusual and somewhat bitter taste, rounded out our “family-style” entrees.  Spoiled by the magnificent pastrami fateer, the Hawawshi, with the inclusion of those slightly bitter turnips, was an acquired taste—one that we soon acquired with Mike from Yonkers making sure to snag the last slice.

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Hawawshi fateer

Though by now, more than well fed, we decided to let the fateer feast continue ordering a “mixed nuts” variety for dessert. With Mike from Yonkers and his enormous appetite gone, there was more of the sweet pie, dusted with confectioner’s sugar and sprinkled with pistachios, raisins and coconut flakes, for the rest of us—as if we needed it. And, after consuming every last bit of crust and pistachios, apparently we did.

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And more fateer…the mixed nut variety

Tut’s Hub

30-91 Steinway St.

Astoria

Guyanese-Style Gizzards Found in the Bronx

12 Apr

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Like a laser directed drone strike, Gerry’s eyes found their target on the menu of the Coconut Palm Bar & Grill  under “chicken gizzards.” There was no talking him down. No dissuading him from taking the risk. It was gizzards he wanted. It was gizzards he was most definitely going to get.

“Jerk chicken wings?”  I offered.

“Sure,” Gerry said.

“What about the chicken dumplings?” I asked, hoping another appetizer would deter him from the gizzards. “She said they were one of the most popular items on the menu.” The she, being the illustrated woman of a waitress we had—her arms decorated in multi-colored tattoos.

“Sounds good,” Gerry said.

“So we’re set?”

“Mmmhmmm as long as we get the gizzards.”

So the gizzards were ordered…along with chicken dumplings and jerk chicken wings. And while Mike from Yonkers and Gerry sipped 12 year old, Macallan Scotch, certainly a first for our frugal food group,  and with soca coming from the sound system and a cricket match on the television, we scoured the menu for our entrees.

We were in the Bronx, under the 6 train tracks in the Castle Hill section of the borough at what was advertised as a Guyanese & West Indian restaurant. Near the bar, I noticed that the Coconut Palm offered “Pepper Pot,” a piquant Guyanese stew of meat parts cooked slowly in a syrup made from cassava called “cassareep.” I’ve had the Grenadian version in Grenada but never had a pepper pot in the Bronx. I was excited by the prospect.

“I’ll have to ask him when he gets back,” the waitress told me when I asked if there really was pepper pot available.

Who she had to ask was the owner of the Coconut Palm and I waited a long time for “him” to come back to learn that, no, there was no pepper pot. But there was “cook up rice,” a mix of rice, beans, chicken pieces; the Guyanese/Caribbean version of fried rice which I promptly ordered.

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Cook up rice

The gizzards arrived on our table, cooked crispy and coated in the light curry spice known as bunjal. Gerry wasted no time getting to them and Zio, also a renowned gizzard man, wasn’t far behind. The jerk chicken wings were tender and, as I expected, not quite as spicy as the authentic Jamaican jerk found on that island. Rounding out the trio of appetizers, the chicken dumplings were more reminiscent of fried wontons than anything Caribbean and were served with a sweet soy sauce.

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The gizzards

Displaying the East Indian influence on Guyanese food, the entrees of salt fish and stewed red snapper, ordered by Gerry and Eugene respectively, came with dhal, a soupy lentil condiment. Zio’s jerk chicken was the extended version of the chicken wings we already experienced, but his came with rice.

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Dhal

“Rice a Roni,” Zio muttered as the bright orange rice with peas was placed in front of him.

Mike from Yonkers was complaining as well. “There are too many bones,” he kept telling us as he gnawed through the “bunjal duck” he ordered, that was prepared in the same lighter version of a curry that the gizzards were.

I had no complaints about my cook up rice; it was what I expected and Mike from Yonkers’ loss was my gain as there were many tiny pieced of duck for me to pick through long after he had given up.

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Stewed snapper

Twelve year old Scotch aside, the Coconut Palm Bar and Grill easily fit into our meager budget and though there were gizzards, orange-colored rice, and numerous tiny duck bones to work around, the food just always seems better when eaten under the elevated subway tracks.

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Chicken dumplings

Coconut Palm Bar & Grll

2407 Westchester Ave

Bronx

The Case for Polish Vodka

28 Mar

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Who do those Russians think they are meddling in our affairs? They fixed the election for their comrade Trump and now they are trying to disrupt all of Europe with their hacking and spying. Enough is enough, I say. No more borscht. No more blinis. No more Baltika beer. And most importantly, no more Russian vodka. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the sake of patriotism. I plan on doing my part by boycotting one of my favorite beverages. That means no Caucasians(white Russians), no martini’s with Stoli, and worst of all, no shots of lemon infused Russian vodka at the incomparable Russian Samovar. But I can only sacrifice so much, so instead of the Russian stuff, there is always our friends’ from Poland. They wouldn’t dare try to influence our elections. They have no aims to dominate the world. And they love America. In return, we love them. And now I plan to love their vodka.

I’m not sure Gerry shared my reasoning. Though he might not have been as passionate about my anti-Russian fervor, the prospect of a meal cooked by Polish grandmothers in the old-school cafeteria called Pyza, located a block from the liquor store on Nassau Avenue in gentrifying Greenpoint Brooklyn, was incentive enough for him to make the trip from Westchester.

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And he wasn’t complaining when he also agreed to accompany me to the Greenpoint Wine and Liquor store on Nassau Avenue where there was the opportunity to purchase budget priced but underrated Polish vodka. The store had a huge selection of vodkas including many Russians. There was Stoli. There was Imperia. There was Russian Standard and there were other, pricey Russian vodkas. There was no Putinka, however, the vodka named after the man behind the current mess we are in. Before we knew he was influencing our elections, I once bought a bottle of Putinka vodka and wrote about it in these pages  where I discussed the bizarre commingling of what was known as the a “vodka pizza” (On Pizza, Pomodoros, Putin, and Putinka).   Now, if I ever dare to order a slice of vodka pizza I’ll need to ask the pizza maker if Russian vodka was used in preparation. If so, it’s a no go.

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Soft vodka named after a hard man

At the liquor store I now defiantly bypassed the Russian stuff  and grabbed a bottle of Wyobrowa and another of Stravinsky while Gerry nabbed a Lukosowa.

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The menu at Pyza

With our vodka stash in hand, we headed down the block to Pyza. The inexpensive meals were posted on the restaurant’s menu on the wall near the cashier. Both of us decided that the Polish plate, a combination of goodies such as pierogies, kielbasa, sauerkraut, stuffed cabbage, and potato pancakes, would give us a representative sampling of what grandma was cooking back in that kitchen. And we were not disappointed. Could there be a heartier food to line our stomachs while navigating the snow mounds that remained from the previous week’s blizzard? The only negative was that we couldn’t crack open the bottles just purchased and wash down the meal with a shot of the clear Polish stuff.

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Two Polish plates

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A Taste of Heaven (and a little bit of hell) on Northern Boulevard

20 Feb

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After last month’s “disaster” in Port Chester and as the designated Grand Poobah of our now 15-year-old food group,  I quickly signed into order a temporary ban on Mexican restaurants for our group. No more tacos. No more enchiladas. No more grand volcanoes until further notice. Despite a mini-protest by the sudden activist, Eugene, no one dared question my motives or intentions. Eugene soon fell into line and Mike from Yonkers, whose turn it was to choose our next destination stuck to the ban and chose a Korean restaurant in Flushing’s Koreatown called Joah. While we have had enough of guacamole for awhile, we were starved for bulgogi and bibimbap.

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The Grand Poobah

I arrived early and had time for a beer, so I stumbled into a non-descript bar across the street from Joah. When I entered, the few heads in the bar turned to stare at me as if I were some sort of immigrant life form they had never seen before. There was a Korean couple at one end of the bar snuggled close to each other sharing cherry tomatoes and a bottle of Grey Goose and a lone older Korean man with three empty Coors’ Light bottles in front of him, two of the Korean female bartenders huddled around him lovingly. One of the bartenders reluctantly broke away to see what I wanted. I mentioned beer and she looked at me quizzically as if she didn’t understand what I said. And then she mimicked my words; her English almost non-existent. I dared not ask what type of beers were available and just went ahead and ordered a Heineken. She nodded and returned with a glass, a bottle of Heineken and a small dish of roasted peanuts. As I started in on the beer and the peanuts a loud wail ensued seemingly out of nowhere. I turned to see the man with the cherry tomatoes and Grey Goose bottle gripping a microphone. He was soulfully crooning into the microphone, the vodka fueling his passion as he sang along with the Korean pop tune. I made sure to applaud his performance politely when he finished and then, trying not to look too stressed, downed the beer as fast as I could and got out of there before I had to hear more karaoke, Korean or otherwise.

The quiet when I arrived at the sparsely populated Joah was appreciated. Zio waddled in a few minutes later and we sat and took a look at the menu which was a colorful notebook loaded with non-traditional Korean dishes. Where was the bulgogi? Where was the bibimbap? Instead there was page devoted to “hamburger steak,” including Turkish hamburger steak and hamburger steak and sausage. There was also a lengthy section of the menu on risottos and pastas; just what was expected in a Korean joint.

“You gonna get pasta, Eugene?” I asked him.

“No, I’m gonna get risotto,” he replied, surprising me as he ordered the “Gondre” seafood risotto in a tomato sauce.

“That’s what I was gonna order,” Mike from Yonkers whined.

“No one’s stopping you,” Eugene answered. And no one did. Both ordered the same risotto in a Korean restaurant.

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Korean risotto

I quickly decided that the Korean version of Italian food might be problematic to an Italian food snob like me, so instead focused on something I had never seen before called “Eggs in Heaven OR Eggs in Hell.” The difference between heaven and hell in this case meant that the eggs were either prepared in a cheese cream sauce (heaven) or in a tomato broth (hell). Though the idea of hell always sounds edgier, more exciting, I opted for more mundane heaven; eggs in a Korean made tomato sauce just did not appeal to my half Italian sensibilities.

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Eggs in heaven

Gerry wasted no time ordering the army stew, a soup of bacon, fish cake, sausage and noodles in the same, dark red tomato broth that coated Eugene and Mike from Yonkers’ risotto. “It’s a little sweet,” all of them, including Zio, whose spicy pork plate over rice was also red in color, intoned and I agreed after taking a bite of Mike from Yonkers’ risotto.

There was nothing sweet, however, about my eggs in heaven. “Make sure you mix it all up,” the waiter told me as he planted the very hot bowl in front of me. I did what he said, the eggs cooking in the hot cheese and cream sauce, all of it easy to scoop up with the saltine crackers and pieces of Italian bread that decorated the bowl. The bits of bacon in the eggs added much needed salt to the otherwise bland, yet somewhat comforting dish.

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Though we came expecting Korean food normalcy, we experienced something much different. The results may not have been what we wanted, but the adventure most definitely was. In that regard, Mike from Yonkers’ pick of Joah was a big time winner.

Joah

161-16 Northern Blvd

Flushing, Queens

A Volcano Fizzles in Port Chester

17 Jan

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“Nello Burgio told me about this volcano thing,” Eugene muttered as the waitress of Kiosko Mexican Restaurant and Bar hovered around him, ready for him to order. Eugene, based on the recommendation of Nello Burgio, who none of us knew, had summoned us to Port Chester, about a 40 minute drive out of Manhattan, for this latest Chow City adventure. And though I had very good Mexican food in Arizona just a few days earlier I was determined to keep an open mind in Port Chester where, I knew, there were many good Latin restaurants.

“Volcano?” She didn’t understand Eugene and it had nothing to do with a language barrier.

“Yeah, that’s what he said.”

While this went on, we sipped our Modelo’s patiently. “Eugene, just order already,” I finally told him.

The waitress came over with a takeout menu. “You mean this?” she asked, pointing to a photo of a molcajete, or a Mexican bowl used to make guacamole, overflowing with meats and vegetables.

“Is that the volcano?”

She nodded. “Yes ‘molcajete azteca’ the Volcano. $21.95. $40 for two people.”

“Any volunteers?” Eugene asked. “Nello says this is what you should order when you come here.”

I didn’t know Nello from Adam…or anyone else for that matter. And I wanted no part of a $40 volcano. Zio and Gerry showed little enthusiasm also, but Mike from Yonkers raised his hand willingly and even switched seats with Zio so he could be closer to Eugene and the forthcoming volcano.

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The volcano

As if we had all night to spend in the suburbs, Gerry made sure to order the one dish that, according to the menu, took “30 minutes to cook,” the mojarra sudada, a wrapped and steamed whole porgy with garlic and epazote (Mexican tea leaves). Why would it take 30 minutes to steam a fish—and not a big one either—none of us dared ask. But we did know that the fried porgy filet that Zio ordered would not take as long nor would the huaraches atilxco rib eye steak that I ordered. “You can bring our entrees before you bring out that fish. Make him wait,” I said, pointing to Gerry.

And after a half hour and nothing had materialized on our table besides chips and very mediocre salsa, I realized my request fell on deaf ears.

Finally the “volcano” was brought carefully to the table. Yes there was “smoke” coming from the molcajete which was overflowing with beef, chicken, strips of cactus and stuffed with some sort of clay-colored lava-like sauce within. The dish reminded me of the Mexican version of the Chinese sizzling Go Bar, but after a taste, minus the sizzle—not to mention the flavor.

I could smell the steamed porgy even before it came to our table. I didn’t know if that was a good or very bad sign. I wasn’t going to find out, but Gerry didn’t seem to have any problems with it. At least not that I heard about later. Zio’s fried fish was accompanied by a serious mound of steamed broccoli and carrots causing him to protest: “What is this health food I’m eating tonight?”

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Steamed porgy…30 minutes later

My steak arrived last. The sizable cut smothered in onions, resting on a salsa-covered tortilla, dare I say looked—delicious, but after sawing through the gristly meat, taking a not so flavorful bite and then trying the soggy tortilla, my formerly open mind had closed on Kiosko. My opinion is strictly my own, but judging from the lack of enthusiasm from Eugene and from everyone else for that matter, I think the consensus was pretty much in line with mine.

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Steak and onions, Kiosko style

The lesson learned in Port Chester, if there was one, is that what’s good for Nello Burgio just might not be good for the seasoned palates our intrepid group.

Kiosoko Mexican Restaurant and Bar

220 Westchester Avenue

Port Chester, NY

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