Archive | May, 2011

Memorial Day Musings

27 May

Let us remember those who gave their lives so that we could enjoy a festive and delicious Memorial Day Weekend barbecue.

On this day they were pardoned.

But these birds and bunnies were not so fortunate.


Have a great long weekend and go easy on the charred meat.  Adventures in Chow City returns on Wednesday next week.

Stars Across the River

24 May

Five Star Punjabi Indian
13-05 43rd Avenue
Long Island City

I emerged from the station at 23rd St/Ely Avenue to hear the rumbling of another train above. It was dark, cold and windy. I could see the lights of Manhattan flickering across the river. I really didn’t know where I was going as I made my way down the desolate street toward 43rd Avenue in Long Island City passing warehouses and seemingly empty factories, my eyes on the alert for signs of life; for a tavern, restaurant, deli—anything. Like a welcoming beacon, in the distance I could see bright neon lights. I wasn’t sure what it was. A car wash, maybe—service station—something automobile-related. And then I got closer and could read the lights: “Banquet Hall.”  Peering inside, a slim diner-like dining room  was in disarray and obviously closed. Could this be the Five Star Punjabi Indian Restaurant? Had Zio not done his homework and the restaurant was closed?  But then I saw activity in an adjacent room—a lone diner was eating and I noticed an unused steam tray. The room was brightly lit and just as I was about to enter, Zio emerged from his car. “This can’t be it,” he exclaimed.

But it was. Between the dilapidated “diner” and a vacant “banquet hall” was the Five Star Punjabi Restaurant. The room was nondescript and mainly empty. We were given an ample table to accommodate our group along with menus that were written on decorative swiveling paddles. Gerry, Eugene, and Mike from Yonkers arrived followed soon after by Rick. All were wary and doubtful that they were in the right spot. Zio and I assured them that we were.

Those swiveling menus featured familiar Indian items, pakoras and samosas for appetizers, a variety of breads, assorted tandoori, and an array of vegetarian dishes and curries. The lone diner, an Indian talking quietly through a headphone attachment on his cellphone, was brought a huge platter of tandoori chicken. Rick eyed the platter covetously and immediately put in an order in for the same only to have his hopes just as quickly dashed when the waitress informed him that the Five Star Punjabi Indian restaurant had just run out of tandoori chicken. As an alternative, Rick, with the group’s unanimous approval, opted for the fish tandoori. Though there was nothing on the menu that described what chicken mughlai might be, Zio, for reasons known only to him, was determined to try it. On the other hand, Eugene, after learning that the chicken tikka was both boneless and prepared spicy, was sold on the dish, while Mike from Yonkers went for the tried and true, sag paneer. It was now up to Gerry and I to find something a little bit out of that ordinary that might justify this journey to the wastelands of Long Island City. The best we could come up with was the mutton roganjosh and the goat curry.

Zio’s Ship of the Damned

While the bottles of Taj beer began to crowd the table, Zio regaled us with his adventure on the high seas and his narrow escape from the cruise vessel that carried 2,800 passenger, of which 700 were stricken with a “norovirus” including three that, according to Zio, were “mouldering (sic) in a freezer somewhere in the bowels of the ship.” Zio was particularly graphic in his description going on to tell us that “in the close quarters of the ship’s hold you could hear people retching and gagging. But this still didn’t stop them from clamoring for the next buffet, after all, some of them had not eaten in a half hour.”

Zio was particularly grateful for useful tips from the cruise boat crew.

Despite Zio’s grisly tale, once the food arrived and in absolutely no particular order; the fish tandoori first followed by bread, then the entrees, and lastly, the mixed pakoras we requested as an appetizer, we began to stuff our own faces. And we didn’t stop until the plates were wiped clean with the bread.

 Everyone seemed satisfied with their food, though I’m not sure any of us were ready to award the restaurant five stars. Rick was pleased with the fish tandoori which might actually have been quickly fried in its rub as opposed to slow cooked. Not a bad alternative considering the fish was tilapia and most assuredly would have dried out if slow cooked in a tandoori oven. Gerry, however, was not as enamored with the goat. What was wrong with it, I asked?

    “All I got was bone,” he answered incredulously.

    I shrugged. “Yeah, it can be like that with goat.”

Goat curry: Bones included.

When we visited Five Star Punjabi in early 2007, the condo boom in Long Island City was just beginning.  In the four years since, high rises abound yet the funky Five Star has survived the change…at least for now.

Recession Special: Barbecue edition

20 May

As we enter barbecue season, let us not forget those with less smoke than others.  Would someone please help make this man’s bar b.q whole again?

Enjoy your weekend and look for another Adventure in Chow City on Tuesday.

Cross Bronx Mecca

17 May

B.B. African and American Restaurant
1715 Webster Avenue
Bronx, NY

The B.B. African and American Restaurant was just off the Cross Bronx Expressway, on semi-industrial Webster Avenue, wedged between a Taco Bell and a Puerto Rican Lechonera and across the street from a West African video store. There were no subway stops nearby. No signs of gentrification at all. After the regretful Nomad experience, we were happily in familiar territory. When we noticed that the dim restaurant was lit mainly by the big screen television where European and African soccer was playing; that there were only men inside with the exception of two women in the kitchen, and that there were sandals and prayer mats tucked off to the side of the dining area, we were even more reassured that we were in the right place.

Webster Avenue & the Cross Bronx: Gentrification-proof

 The owner, Mr. B.B., an emigrant of Guinea, was also our host and offered us tea or bottled non-diet drinks. It was apparent that the clientele was predominately Muslim and that no alcohol was served here. So Lipton or overly sweet Mistic-brand drinks were our options. The menu featured the “American” portion first where hamburgers, eggs, sandwiches, even pastas were offered. We skipped past it to the last page where we found the West African choices. Mike from Yonkers, displaying his dubious knowledge of foods African, recited a few items from the menu to see if they were available; his pronunciation of them mystifying Mr. B.B. They were not. But Mr. B.B. assured us that they had everything else. Mike from Yonkers tried again—again he was thwarted. But despite the setbacks, Mr. B.B. said he had fish, tilapia to be exact; he had plenty of goat meat, and he had beef, lamb and chicken, “very good chicken” he added. To make things easier for him and for us, we told him to put together a good representation of his menu; that we had no dietary restrictions.

While we waited very patiently for the parade of dishes to make it to our table, Eugene, savvy cruise boat veteran that he claims to be, gave Zio a few worthless tips for Zio’s upcoming cruise through the Mediterranean and back across the Atlantic. As is usual, the conversation got loud, but didn’t seem to disrupt the African in robe and skull cap who was praying on the mat adjacent to our table.

    A huge platter of peas in a thick, tomato sauce arrived first quickly followed by an equally large plate of crispy fried goat meat surrounded by onions—the small pieces of meat chewy, as goat tends to be, but without its usual heavy gaminess.  Mr. B.B. returned almost immediately with another platter, this one piled with thin lamb chops, also smothered in onions. Knowing we would need more room, our intrepid host added another table for us to accommodate the growing collection of platters. Two bowls of stewed chicken arrived next, the chicken tender and moist floating in a rich, peanut-thickened gravy. Following the chicken were three whole, robust tilapia, ready for our attention. Mike from Yonkers immediately grabbed one and began shredding flesh from bone while Rick advised that he would hold out for the fish cheeks, as they were the most flavorful and tender part of the fish.

Chicken stew in peanut sauce

    Though our combined tables were overflowing, Mr. B.B. forgot the rice and peanut gravy and quickly returned with them. I asked for a hot sauce and he brought a squeeze-top French’s “Original Yellow” mustard bottle. He warned that it wasn’t mustard, but very hot sauce. Ignoring Mike from Yonkers’ petty gripe that the rice was overcooked, I took some and sprinkled the sauce on it. It had a mustard-base, like French’s “Original Yellow” but with about ten times the kick.

    We slowly cleaned the platters while Mr. B.B. told us of his journey from Guinea to Buffalo, New York, and ultimately to the Bronx, where he opened the restaurant in 1997. Though the restaurant seemed busy, he was lamenting the current state of his business; that he could not keep up with inflation by raising prices on the menu because his customers would leave him for the growing number of rival African restaurants that had sprouted in the area. Even a one or two dollar increase on an item and he might lose a customer. So who were we to complain when we got our bill and noticed that the items on the menu, had, in fact, gone up a dollar or two from what was listed. Though we were a couple of dollars over our allotted $20 budget, there were leftovers, a rarity at our gatherings—goat meat Gerry gladly took home for something to gnaw on when his colossal appetite would, in an hour or two, most likely return.

 B.B African and American Restaurant, despite, Mr. B.B.’s worries back in 2006, remains open. In fact, after a recent visit, I noticed that everything about the semi-industrial enclave has remained exactly as it was on our visit except that maybe the constant traffic roar from the nearby Cross Bronx Expressway has gotten even louder.

Mystery Meat Solved

16 May


I was surprised that no food-savvy people could recognize the hunk of meat above as that Puerto Rican staple, Pernil.  For those who are still unaware of pernil’s allure;  it is  slow roasted pork shoulder embedded with garlic and topped with oregano and olive oil. The pernil above was from La Lechonara Criolla in the Bronx. I can personally attest to the meat’s succulence and the perfectly crisped fatty skin which I, without a shred of guilt, devoured heartily.

Mystery Meat

13 May

Vegans and vegetarians, the meaty image below might be offensive to you.  Now is the time to cover your eyes. You’ve been warned.

For all others, our new game requires expert meat-defining skills. I’m starting out with a real softball.  Educated foodies out there in food blog land should be able to whack it out of the park.  But this is a two-part question/answer. Tell me the cut of meat and, a bit more difficult, what is its “cooked” named. Leave your answers in the comments section below. On Monday I will identify the meat and its name. I’ll even throw in where you can eat it.

Have an excellent weekend. More Adventures in Chow City on Tuesday.

Gentrified Couscous

10 May

As you will see below, Nomad was the initial pick for Mike from Yonkers and an unfortunate one. The good news is that he learned from his mistake as you will read in future installments.

78 2nd Avenue
East Village

There’s an old cliché in sports that by the end of a player’s first season the rookie is no longer a rookie. Mike from Yonkers has been our “rookie” in terms of experience with the group, but by now, at least a year since his first outing, he also can’t really be considered a rookie. So with that in mind, he was, for the first time, given the opportunity to choose our next destination. We had complete confidence that after observing the previous year’s picks he would understand our loose criteria. That he would find a place close to our $20 limit and one that was below the radar of the major food critics. It wouldn’t hurt if the place he found might also cause a stir by our group’s appearance;  where we would be the minority whether in ethnic origin, skin tone, or the language we speak.

 Mike from Yonkers ’ first choice was a restaurant in Astoria , presumably Greek, called Philoxenia. Our only Greek experience was the unfortunate Uncle George’s that Zio is still living down. Upon further research, however, Mike from Yonkers discovered that Philoxenia was no more. To his credit, he quickly came up with a Plan B: that being Sriprahai, the acclaimed Thai restaurant in Woodside, Queens.  Sriprahai might have been an excellent choice five years ago, but by now it has been crowned by critics everywhere, including the New York Times, as possibly the best Thai restaurant in the region. As a result, Sriprahai no longer fit into our criteria.

 Mike from Yonkers now had to scramble and this time, came up with a restaurant in Brooklyn called  Sweetwater. The first problem with Sweetwater was that it was in Williamsburg and that alone should have set off alarm signals to Mike from Yonkers. With tattoo-clad culinary grads on every corner, the new (nouveau) restaurants of Williamsburg are pretty much the antithesis of what we seek out. That Sweetwater had its own website didn’t help and a quick look at the reviews and menu that included items such as “saffron-tinged rice balls,” and “cornmeal-crusted brook trout,”  immediately eliminated it.

 By now, we realized that Mike from Yonkers was on the wrong track. Hoping to steer him back, Gerry offered guidance reminding him that very few places we’ve been to, if any, have a wine list and that we tend to “favor more ‘gritty’ type places—a place with a little greace (sic).”  

 After those words, Mike from Yonkers was on his own; we could do no more for him. So despite that it had its own glossy website; that it was in the now pricey real estate of the East Village and that it had a wine list; we were resigned to convene at the appropriately-named Nomad.

 Around the corner from East Sixth St and the cluster of restaurants known as Little India, Nomad, which claimed to serve the food of North Africa , was barren when we arrived. Once we were all seated, minus Rick who was in Arkansas and dining on pulled pork, the waitress came and, to our dismay, recited the restaurant’s nightly specials, one of which was something with “seared tuna.” Another one of our unwritten by laws is that any recitation of daily specials is strictly forbidden. The mention by the waitstaff of anything “seared,” an absolute no no.  We understood that she was just doing her job—she was blameless in this fiasco.

Chicken pastilla: Sweet +savory=confused.

 We did our best and tried to stick with what was genuinely “North African,” avoiding pedestrian menu items like endive salad, steak au poivre, Moroccan crab cakes, and duck confit Our first choice was zaalouk, a wedge of roasted eggplant with tomato, a very good octopus salad, with fennel, orange and mint, and merguez, gamy lamb sausage. For entrees, there was tajines including lamb with prunes which excited Zio at the hopeful prospect of regularity, and a chicken tajine, a bland stew with pieces of chicken and vegetables. We tried something called chicken pastilla; kind of chicken pot pie stuffed into a phyllo-dough turnover and topped with powdered sugar. The savory and the sweet not a good combination here. Couscous is, of course, a North African staple, and it came with the tajines, but you can never have too much couscous, so we ordered a “couscous royal;” topped with vegetables and sausage, and accompanied with stewed chicken and lamb in the same, undistinguishable tajine broth.

 The waitress announced the dessert special as a “rose water” scented crème brulee. Knowing that there was no way we would come under our allotted $20 per person food budget and given the extraordinary opportunity to dine on crème brulee, scented with rose water no less, at one of our gatherings, we succumbed and even threw in an order of North African cookies that Zio commented, were suspiciously similar to what one might find in an Entemann’s box. As for the crème brulee, I sniffed, but the scent of rose water was non-existent. As it turned out, Rick, with his pulled pork in Arkansas , fared best of all of us on this night.

North African cookes…minus the Enteman’s box.

In reality, the food at Nomad was not bad at all. But our group sometimes travels in an alternate reality and in that world our Nomad experience was, as I said above, a “fiasco.” For those who are interested, Nomad now has added that Moroccan specialty, tapas, to their repertoire. For those interested, here is their very slick website:

We were not fortunate to experience the “attractive back garden.”

Today’s Special

6 May

For $3.99 you get a couple of stealth helicopters, a few select Navy SEALs, and Pakistani curry, extra spicy please.

Enjoy your weekend. Adventures in Chow City will return on Tuesday.

A Night on Steinway Street

3 May

Rick steered us to the Middle Eastern enclave on Steinway Street in Astoria on a summer night in 2006. Our destination was an Egyptian restaurant called Eastern Nights. What follows is our experience on our night on Steinway Street.

Eastern Nights
2535 Steinway St

The man with the Middle Eastern accent grumbled on the phone that the R Train-Steinway Street stop was the closest subway station to Eastern Nights, the Egyptian restaurant, assigned by Rick. When I got out of the station and onto Steinway, I began to walk west. My phone buzzed. It was Zio telling me that the address for the restaurant was a billiards club, not Eastern Nights. I looked at the address I had; the numbers had been inadvertently transposed. The restaurant was east of the subway station—I was going in the wrong direction. I waited in front of a Colombian bakery while Zio circled back to pick me up. I saw the Connecticut plates and hopped into the car, the sound of Zio’s precious pesticides splashing in their containers in the back. Steinway Street was as congested as the teeming alleys of Old Cairo and it was slow going with no sign of our destination. It wasn’t until we began seeing men sitting on folding chairs in front of cafes sucking on hookahs that we knew we were close.

 We all arrived pretty much at the same time and were escorted into the back, under a big tent to a round table that was wet with water—the waiter joking with us that it had just rained, though we hadn’t had rain in days. There were a number of televisions suspended from the tent’s ceiling; a 1950’s black and white Egyptian romantic comedy was playing; the female lead looking a bit like Lucille Ball and not a head scarf in sight. The waiter mopped up the water and we sat and took a look at the menu. The first page was dominated by a variety of flavored teas and a separate hookah menu. We were in the back of the tent and in clear view of a large collection of hookahs that were maintained by a man whose only job was to maintain the hookahs, to blend the tobacco and light the coals. Inhaling tobacco with fruit flavors like apricot and mango would make for a unique experience, but we were here for the food, not the hookahs or the teas.


And the food was enough of an experience for us. So much so that our round table was just not big enough to hold all of it; the overworked waiter had to bring over a spare chair to use as a side table. Our unabashed excess drew looks from others in the restaurant, but nothing we weren’t used to. The feast began with fattoush, a cucumber, tomato salad followed by something called foul which turned out to be refried fava beans. A mound of warm pita bread was accompanied by a platter of hummus and baba ganoush, both swimming in olive oil.

Foul…but it really wasn’t.

A plate of grilled sausages, comprised mostly of casing stuffed with rice went alongside the hummus. Soon a platter of dry, tough and undernourished rabbit and duck crowded the table along with fatta, a stew made with a gamy lamb shank. Shrimp and calamari tajin, cooked in a crock and overwhelmed in a thick tomato sauce was squeezed onto the table as was a big plate where a whole grilled striped bass, cooked to perfect moistness was centered. We also had rice and something like rice with pieces of pita in it.

And then the pigeon arrived. Eastern Nights was the first restaurant of the many we had visited in almost four years that served the tiny, big city bird. It was magnificently presented; trussed lovingly—its tiny wings tied delicately together, a greasy glaze over its succulent skin. Zio looked at it and wondered if the chef has put a rub on it and if so, what could it be? The pigeon was stuffed with wheatberries and mint, which was a good thing because the meat on the tiny bird was scarce, to say the least. We picked at the pigeon, leaving the upper portion intact, its wings still tied together. That there would actually be something left to eat on our table was a rare occurrence in our outings, but at Eastern Nights, portions of the duck, rabbit and lamb tellingly remained. The striped bass, however was picked clean.

Urban poultry

Desserts were tempting and we would have liked to try them, but our waiter was scrambling from table to table, all alone in his work with the exception of the Hookah Man who was preparing the hookahs for use. Instead, we wandered across the street to a Middle Eastern café where we did our best to enjoy phyllo-wrapped sweets, but the Arabic newspaper prominently displayed in the café with its front page of color photos of the mutilated bodies of Lebanese children made dessert bittersweet to say the least.*

*Our visit to Steinway Street occurred during the peak of the Israeli/Lebanon conflict of 2006.

Searching the internet, I learned that Eastern Nights is now Eastern Nights Hookah Cafe. They have their own Facebook page which proclaims that it is also under new ownership and management. From Facebook I also learned that there is a DJ at the café Sunday through Friday nights and a belly dancer on Saturdays which, I’m sure, would make sucking on a hookah an almost pleasurable experience.

And the Answer is…

2 May

On Friday I presented all of you with four images of a New York eating establishment dear to my heart. I am happy to report  that there was a winner. He/she chose to remain anonymous but correctly identified this place.

Big Nick's Burger Joint

Big Nick’s 27-page crowd-pleasing menu includes the famous “Sumo” burger, “Hawaiian,” burger and “Madrid” burger, featuring feta, olives, pimento and with or without buffalo meat.  The choices can be overwhelming at Big Nick’s, but to relieve any menu-stress you can always watch the continuous loop of Three Stooges shorts that plays on the restaurant’s ancient television.  And always remember that even though Big Nick Loves You, don’t you dare open that laptop.

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