How much is the tax for a .99 cent slice of pizza? Not that I care. I’m willing to do my part.
134 Nepperhan Ave
Named after what is supposed to be a picturesque square in Mexico City where mariachis gather to perform, the Plaza Garibaldi where we were directed to by Gerry was far from picturesque. Located at the bottom of a dark hill lit only by the very bright neon of the next door Kentucky Fried Chicken, Plaza Garibaldi was Gerry’s choice, so we, of course, were in unfamiliar terrain. The destination was alien to most of us with the possible exception of Mike from Yonkers whose home turf we were now on. And despite the unfamiliarity, none of us got Lost in Yonkers except Mike from Yonkers, who, without any worthwhile excuse, arrived almost a half hour later than our designated meeting time. His tardiness did not stop him from devouring the slightly rancid, though highly addictive bowl of chips along with an accompanying lifeless salsa. Even Zio’s proclamation that he “killed a lot of cockroaches” on the street where Plaza Garibaldi was located did not stop us from stuffing our faces with the slowly sickening complimentary chips and salsa.
The large, garish restaurant was already decorated in anticipation of Valentine’s Day with cupids and hearts everywhere. Even the front cover of the colorful menu with a mariachi on horseback serenading a swooning senorita implied romance. But the mariachi stage was bare on this day and, along with the constant presence of the Yonkers’ police force, radios on alert while waiting for take out, put a damper on romance. So much so that the lone seller of roses was having a difficult time making a sale to the few customers in the restaurant. And all it took was one glance at our group and he moved on, taking his roses with him to try his luck at KFC.
Plaza Garibaldi was a tip from Gerry’s client and contractor and I think we’ve learned that it can be dangerous to rely on tips from outsiders—the track record has not been good. But the bad chips and salsa aside, the selection of tacos we started with was encouraging. We had pork meat tacos, goat meat tacos, Mexican sausage tacos, beef steak tacos and aged beef tacos—though what made aged beef different from the traditional beef steak was lost on us.
Despite the promising beginning, problems soon began to arise. Rick’s shrimp cocktail came in a tall sundae glass and was almost as sweet as that dessert, while the chicken in mole poblano Gerry ordered, coated thickly in a chocolate brown mole sauce, was like Rick’s shrimp sundae, just too sweet. Eugene did his best with the beef enchilada in green sauce but much of the concoction smothered in cheese and tomatillo salsa remained on his plate as did the “quezidilla” I ordered from the list of specials; this one stuffed with cheese and a mysterious pickled green vegetable. But the absolute proof that Gerry’s client had led us astray was the shock of seeing half of Zio’s chicken burrito untouched. Only Mike from Yonkers, maybe out of loyalty to the town of his moniker, seemed satisfied, deliberately but completely finishing off the enormous plate of “spicy seafood” he ordered. The final insult to injury was the tab—we exceeded our $20 limit though the beers we ordered and Zio’s regular over consumption of diet Cokes could have accounted somewhat for the overflow.
After our leaden meal, only Rick, possibly because of the ice cream sundae promise that was his shrimp cocktail, entertained the idea of ordering an ice cream or Popsicle advertised from the bright illustrations displayed above one of the restaurant’s counters. But in the end, even he declined.
They say it’s so hot out you can fry an egg on a city sidewalk. I tried, but not on a sidewalk. My egg frying experiment was on my roof. I used two methods; both fuel efficient. Method one was placing a frying pan on the roof and letting the100 degree temperature heat it up.
I also tried cooking an egg the old fashioned way; directly on the roof’s surface.
Though it was 100 degrees plus on this day, these eggs had no choice but to be slow-cooked.
The sun was definitely cooking the egg, but unless you like your eggs very rare, it was not quite done yet.
And after another 15 minutes.
After scraping both out of pan and off the roof, respectively, this is what I got.
Unless you have too much time on your hands or are working on your summer in the city survival skills, I do not recommend frying an egg on a sidewalk or on a rooftop. However, method one could work if the pan is properly greased and allowed at least an hour in 100 plus degree sun before cracking the egg into it.
Zio didn’t plan that we would be dining in a Bangladeshi restaurant at the same time that nation was suffering from the effects of a deadly cyclone; that we would be stuffing our respective faces while many Bangladeshi people were without food and water. It was just one of those ironic coincidences. Would the circumstances induce guilt and inhibit our appetite? The family that ran Spicy Mina, including sari-attired Mina herself, certainly hoped not. There were only two other customers, Bangladeshi men chatting over tea, in the small restaurant located on an isolated portion of Broadway in Woodside the night we were there.
We were all assembled on time except Rick, who seems to enjoy making a grand entrance midway through our appetizers. This time, however, Rick checked in via cell phone to say he was stuck in traffic on the BQE and to start without him as if we might actually consider waiting. But with the arrival of the appetizers, a gamey lamb dish in a thick stew called haleem, something that looked like puff pastry filled with ground chick peas, called alur chop, and “loly-pop” chicken, the Bangladeshi-version of the Buffalo chicken wing, Rick wasn’t missing much.
But we just couldn’t wait any longer. Eugene was merciless: “The BQE is a block away!” he intoned in his typically brash manner. And Zio was restless—the promise of “mastard” (sic) fish, had him anxiously chugging diet Coke’s. So we ordered without Rick, but included a dish for him—something he would appreciate, fish kofta curry, or as explained in the menu: fish balls.
Mike from Yonkers, suffering from a gravely throat, thought the palak paneer might offer relief but when it arrived it look different than any paneer I’ve ever seen; the spinach shredded spinach with crumbly, feta-like pieces of cheese, along with a few whole dried chilies. The taste was something reminiscent, according to Eugene, to broccoli rabe, and I couldn’t disagree; there was definitely an Italian flavor to it.
Gerry’s idea of relief was a vindaloo, specifically lamb and Mina’s version was fiery in a light, oily sauce, again nothing like your cookie-cutter variety vindaloo. The dal fry Mina special, mung daal in special spices was a nice accompaniment to the nan and roti bread we ordered, while the chicken tikka masala, in a rich, creamy yet spicy sauce had Eugene swooning, which, to be honest, was not a pretty sight.
The fish balls arrived just as Rick called again, this time to say he was still stuck on the BQE in the vicinity of the legendary Kosciuszko Bridge and was aborting any further attempts to try to make it to Spicy Mina’s. And though we ordered for six and now we were only five, the fish balls, light and with just the faintest hint of fish, were made short work of. The waiter slowly cleared our table, allowing Zio sufficient time to scour the remains of the whole fish searching for any stray pieces of edible flesh that might have escaped our intense scrutiny. It was unanimous; the fare at Spicy Mina’s was nothing like the $7.95 Indian buffets we were used to gorging ourselves on.
By the time the waiter returned with complimentary half-orders of rose water-accented rice pudding—perfect to cleanse our over-spiced palates—any guilty thoughts about the human suffering in Bangladesh that any of us might have had going into Spicy Mina’s was completely forgotten. But why then do I feel guilty about that?
Unfortunately, Spicy Mina didn’t survive the recessionary cyclone that ravaged many small business in New York the following year and persists today.
11 Allen St
After what seemed like much too long, all were in attendance for our appointment at Skyway Malaysian. Tucked in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown, my reservation garnered us a seat perched above the other diners under a pagoda canopy. Whether it was a choice seat or one where the wait staff could conveniently ignore our pleas for beverages and food was open to debate. We had plenty of room and our sometimes booming near-hysterical rants would not impose on the other diners. But from our table we also could not view the obligatory television tuned to Asian dramas with Chinese subtitles. Instead, while perusing the dense, six page menu, we could catch up with Eugene and his new-found love affair with Vegas, especially the bargains at the dining tables. Or listen to Zio bemoan the sudden rise in crime in Astoria where a murder had recently occurred just a few steps from his love nest.
While I tuned out both Eugene and Zio, I couldn’t help but read Village Voice food critic, Robert Sietsema’s review of Skyway that was blown up and hanging on the wall near our table, as well as many other very prominent locations throughout the restaurant. In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to Eugene’s typically dour playoff predictions for his beloved Boston Red Sox* instead of reading Sietsema.
Robert Sietsema is a true explorer, unearthing obscure restaurants in all boroughs and a primary source for our own adventures. But instead of going with my own instincts on the menu, I let Sietsema sway me. Not that his 2005 review recommendations were off course or bad, but this was 2007 and the menu offered other wonders that might have led to our own personal discoveries. Thankfully, I welcomed menu feedback from Rick, Gerry and our persuasive waitress instead of completely following Sietsema’s lead. But when I was originally enticed by the prospect of java mee, egg noodles in sweet and spicy squid gravy (could it be anything like squid ink used in paella?) and shrimp pancake, Sietsema’s rave of banmee hakka noodle led me astray. The noodles, it turned out, were so bland that even the handful of dried anchovies tossed into the soup couldn’t save them. But Sietsema’s suggestion of the house special pork with dried vegetables, a thick, tender slab of pork belly on top of a dense, salty bed of now soggy greens was indisputable.
Before we even began to put together our own menu for the night, we made several attempts to hail a waitress for our “beer” order. Gerry rose to the occasion to summon one of the wait staff hovering below us and we ordered a round of Macau Chinese beer. Instead, we were brought Blue Moon, Belgium-style beer which we drank without complaint.
Since Skyway was my pick, it was my job to attempt to recite our order, badly mangling the Malaysian pronunciations of them, to our waitress. Thankfully she pointed out that there were numbers attached to each item sparing me further humiliation and especially helpful when I had to pronounce the appetizer, Skyway poh piah, a spring roll steamed and stuffed with jicama and served with a hard boiled egg, in this instance the egg just happened to be purple. Mike from Yonkers snared the purple egg and shrugging, pronounced nonchalantly that it tasted like an ordinary egg.
Gerry recognized beef rendang on the menu; a familiar item from our experience at the Indonesian, Upi Jaya; Skyway’s version was a bit less fiery, but no less palatable. To expand on our menu, the waitress suggested the hot and spicy crabs, but not the ordinary crabs—she insisted that we would like the “big crabs” much better. We knew that “big crabs” meantmore expensive crabs but she was so sincere, we couldn’t resist. It would be worth the extra money not to have to use micro-surgery to remove the meat from the smaller crabs. Along with the big crabs, she pushed a fish to round out our meal; our choice from the restaurant’s tanks was tilapia or striped bass. We went with the former and had it prepared steamed in a hot bean sauce. To make sure we had our daily consumption of green vegetables, we ordered a plate of kang kung belacan, watercress-like greens sautéed with a sauce made from shrimp paste.
By the time the monstrous plate of crabs and the whole tilapia crowded our table, we were ready for another round of beer, this time we did get the Macau, though after a few sips I was immediately nostalgic for the Blue Moon. Eugene was suddenly silent and Zio oblivious to any conversation as both worked diligently, picking through the spicy crab, while we made quick work of the tilapia, and is our custom, saving the tender cheeks for Rick. As if we hadn’t eaten in months, the feast was greedily devoured and though the dessert options, ginkgo nuts with barley and buboh chacha, sweet potato and yam with coconut, were intriguing, we were done. After sucking out the last bit of crab from shell, Eugene proclaimed that Skyway was “our type of place.” But only Eugene could really explain what that meant.
*Despite Eugene’s pessimistic prognostication, his Red Sox won the World Series a month after our dinner at Skyway.
The title alone should be enough for all to identify the below place. I have fond memories of stuffing my face with what was produced at this dearly departed place. Tell me your answers in the comments section provided here and regale me with your own personal memories. I expect a deluge of responses. And the more the merrier.
For those who are stumped, the answer will be revealed on Monday.
53 W. 35th St
Rick, believing that soon those who enter Manhattan below 86th Street in a car will face Mayor Bloomberg’s traffic control toll, wanted to grant the commuters among us, Gerry, Mike from Yonkers, and Eugene, one last toll-free foray into midtown. But trying to find a midtown destination that fulfills our stringent criteria is a serious challenge. After much deliberation, he finally narrowed his choice between two Korean restaurants in Koreatown, the area between 5th and 6th Avenues between 30th and 36th St, with 32nd Street being the most densely Korean block in the city; the enticingly-named Kom Tang Soot Bull House or Han Bat. Though dining at a place called the Soot Bull House would be memorable for the name alone, Rick, for no particular reason, choose Han Bat.
When I was executing and reviewing contracts for a publishing company many years ago, there was a Chinese restaurant I frequented for their lunch special at the same location where Han Bat is now. It was Chinese a restaurant run by Koreans but with a Chinese menu, though kim chee, spicy Korean cabbage, was always available. At this most recent incarnation, if the owners are the same, any nods to Chinese food have been eliminated. At Han Bat it’s just straight ahead Korean minus the sometimes suffocating smoke from table grills.
There were five of us; Mike from Yonkers on a Southern road trip was absent. Once we all arrived we were hustled to our reserved table. Reservations are usually never needed on our unique expeditions, but it was a good thing Rick secured one; Han Bat, on this particular Tuesday evening, was mobbed. Menus adorned with color photographs of a variety of the dishes offered were distributed and before we had a chance to even glance at them, a waiter appeared and asked if we were ready to order. We were ready to order beer, but nothing else and before the bottles of OB Korean beer were delivered to the table, another waiter appeared again asking if we were ready to order. It was clear that there would be no chance of consultation of the menu with the wait staff at Han Bat.
If you are familiar with Korean food, Han Bat offered the standards, but Korean standards can be exotic. On Han Bat’s menu were items like “ox-knee” meat, “jello extracted from ox-leg,” broiled meat, tongue and spleen, beef intestines, and something called yook hoe, shredded raw beef marinated in seasoned sesame oil. After the impenetrable cow foot at Florence’s in Harlem at our last dinner, the yook hoe was as exotic as we were going to get at Han Bat. Since this was Rick’s choice, we let him pick out the dishes for us and he did not disappoint.
First out were the numerous small plates of side dishes like the aforementioned kim chee, salty fish, pickled bean sprouts, hot peppers, raw garlic and others which our group made quick work of. Without much hesitation the bibimbab followed. A do it yourself concoction of rice, marinated meat, egg, and vegetables in a sizzling hot stone bowl with Zio, in this case, doing it himself, pouring in the barbecue sauce, mixing up the rice with the egg and meat turning it into a sloppy mess. The mesh of flavors of the dish, however, belied its appearance and even made Eugene forget for a moment his disappointment with the Soprano’s finale. “How you going to end it like that?” he complained. “They didn’t explain anything! It was a like a ball game without a final score.”
The French, of course, celebrate uncooked hamburger with their famous tartare. Much more modest are the Koreans and their underrated yook hoe, featuring raw sliced beef marinated in sesame oil and hot peppers and served in a green salad. There were no complaints at our table that the meat was raw; in fact, the rich blood red appearance of the meat seemed to awaken Zio’s usually dormant primal cravings as he devoured his portion.
Though the yook hoe was in no way reminiscent to the French beef tartare, I detected cultural similarities in the ojinguh bokum, squid in a spicy sauce that came with a few strands of spaghetti making it somewhat like Italian linguini calamari while the jaeyuk bokum, pork shredded and tender in a tangy, tomato-based “special” sauce, reminded me of Southern pulled pork. Our final entrée was pajun, a choice based on one of the pictures on the menu and described as a “shell fish pan cake.” What we got was an accurate reproduction of the photograph with the shellfish in this case, being shrimp.
Our group is notorious for the speed in which we can shove food into our mouths, but at Han Bat our eating pace was, compared to others in the restaurant, sluggish. We were still leisurely picking tiny pieces of raw beef from the lettuce on the yook hoe plate and scraping bits of crusty rice off the bottom of the now cool stone dish that held the bibimbab long after the check and orange slices were deposited on our table while most of the crowd of predominately Koreans, both men and women, who arrived at the restaurant when we did or after had long since sucked down their meals. The eating gusto displayed at Han Bat was on a level our group could only dream of attaining.
Han Bat remains on 35th Street; the menu virtually unchanged from when visited. And Mayor Bloomberg was not able to shove through his traffic control law.
Frankfurters on the Grill
Frankfurters (Look for all beef with natural casing)
Hot dog buns (American style, top loaders preferred. I will not hold it against anyone if they favor the New England Style even though they were constructed more for lobster meat than a frankfurter)
Mustard (My personal favorite is a spicy, deli-style mustard, but if the bright yellow stuff works for you, who am I to say no?)
Relish (Sweet, emerald green or India)
Ketchup (only if there will be persons under 12 at your Fourth of July barbecue. Proof of age required.)
Chopped white onions, sauerkraut, chili, or anything else you want on your frankfurter is optional.
Fill chimney starter with charcoal briquettes
Put one piece of newspaper below, light with match and let charcoal burn unto white and glowing.
Pour hot briquettes into the grill, cover with grate.
Slice frankfurters lengthwise with a sharp knife.
Open buns and spread butter on each side.
Assemble mustard, relish, ketchup and any other condiments you might want.
Place frankfurters on the hot grill, turning frequently with the tongs until the skin splits, bubbles and the sausage’s juices are revealed. They are now done, but if you prefer a dark char on the meat, cook as long as you like.
In the meantime, flatten the buns on the fringe of the grill, away from the direct heat. Watch carefully to make sure they do not burn. Take them off when they are toasted lightly brown.
Place frankfurter in the roll, apply the condiments of choice, and enjoy.