Archive | January, 2012

Shared Secrets of Soft Tofu

31 Jan

So Kong Dong
130 Main Street
Ft. Lee, NJ

We learned after grilling Mike from Yonkers that his choice of So Kong Dong, a Korean “soft tofu” place in Fort Lee, New Jerseey was one he had frequented often. Not a risky discovery, but we had no restrictions that a choice had to be one that was virgin territory. But why would Mike from Yonkers be spending time in Fort Lee, New Jersey ?

“Taekwondo,” he blurted, as if that really meant anything to us. We knew he and Gerry are taekwondo students and masters of that Korean martial arts form. So that meant because of the taekwondo connection he obviously knew of the Korean restaurants in Fort Lee, New Jersey, of which there are many.

“My bank is here,” he admitted after being pressed further. Again, that could have led to many more questions such as why would Mike from Yonkers, New York be banking in Fort Lee, New Jersey? None of us, however, choose to continue our  inquisition; we were all too happy with the end result of his decision and that was really what mattered  most to us.

Anytime we have to go to New Jersey, usually at Gerry’s behest, we worry about traffic complications. But on this evening, Zio and I cruised effortlessly across the George Washington Bridge. We hit minor trouble when, thanks to the incoherent mumblings of the female  voice of my GPS, we headed in the opposite direction of Fort Lee on the Palisades Parkway. We quickly got back on track and again, what she was directing me to do and what the map was showing were not in sync.

“Make a U-turn ahead. Make a U-turn ahead,” she blabbered as if it were easy to make a U-turn on a winding, hilly road. Finally, we righted ourselves, shut the bitch up by turning off the useless device, and found So Kong Dong, the pillars of the George Washington Bridge visible from the restaurant’s small parking lot.

The view from the parking lot.

I pulled into a municipal parking lot across Main Street from the restaurant just as Gerry and Eugene arrived. Eugene muttered that Mike from Yonkers would have to deduct the bridge toll and the parking from his share of that night’s dinner. When we told Mike from Yonkers of his obligation, he responded that by filling up our gas tanks in New Jersey, which both Eugene and I did, that we would actually be saving money, or at worst, break even, on the cost of getting to the appointed restaurant.

So Kong Dong was spacious with rows of wooden tables and Korean artifacts on the walls that no one could identify. The menu also served as a place mat and was limited to just nine varieties of tofu soup along with Korean bbq ribs. None of the soups were over $9 while the platter of ribs was $15, all well within our $20 per person budget.

Eugene suggested a kangaroo court to decide Rick’s fate since he was late. But before we had to actually figure out what goes on in a kangaroo court, Rick appeared and all of us ordered.

“Seafood tofu,” Eugene blurted out to the hovering waiter.

“How spicy?” the waiter asked.

We weren’t sure how So Kong Dong’s heat meter rated in our own spice universe. We looked to Mike from Yonkers for guidance.

“I usually get it hot,” he said. As opposed to the other options offered: “not spicy, not too spicy, medium hot or very hot.”

One seafood tofu times four.

The waiter glanced at Gerry.

“Seafood tofu,” Gerry ordered.

And then to Rick

“Seafood tofu,” he said.

I was next.

“Seafood tofu,” I mumbled into my hand as the waiter scribbled.

Breaking the monotony, Zio went for the pork tofu and, with a knowing grin; Mike from Yonkers ordered the oyster tofu. “I always get the oyster tofu,” he said without any further explanation. We added two orders of the ribs and our waiter departed.

A few moments’ later bowls of Korean condiments began to assemble on our table; kim chee, bean sprouts, spicy pickles, cold cabbage soup, and six raw eggs. “You crack them into the soup,” said the soft tofu wizened, Mike from Yonkers.

Korean condiments

And then the ribs arrived. Layers of thinly sliced beef short ribs in a slightly sweet marinade complete with huge scissors, resembling garden shears, to cut them up and portion them out to the members of our now salivating party.

Before we could finish with the ribs, the bowls of soup began to crowd our table. Each was bubbling; still boiling hot from the kitchen. As our waiter placed our bowls in front of us, I watched as the soup continued to bubble. How could it continue to bubble so long after coming off the flame?  I tried to wait; to give it more time to cool, but I’m an impatient eater. I  scooped some into my spoon, blew on it and then tentatively sipped. It had cooled down enough, or so I thought, not to have seared the inside of my mouth and was able to swallow it. The soup was fiery and loaded with shrimp, oysters, and clams. I cracked the egg into it and, as Mike from Yonkers instructed, stirred it before it turned into one solid hard boiled egg yolk. I also added rice into the soup in hopes that would also bring the temperature down, and it did, but not by much.

Ribs with garden shears.

There wasn’t much conversation as we worked through the soup, intermittently draining our spice assaulted sinuses into the much too thin paper napkins we were administered, and, as usual, Mike from Yonkers trailed behind all of us, methodically spooning his soup into his bowl of rice instead of vice versa as I was doing. Some secrets of soft tofu, he obviously wasn’t willing to share.


Dessert was a stick of gum that held its flavor for less than five minutes. We all praised Mike from Yonkers for his choice but the next day, thinking I had escaped burn damage, realized there were blisters throughout the insides of my mouth, under my tongue, wherever the blistering soup touched.  The mutilation of my mouth notwithstanding, if I’m ever “banking” in Ft. Lee, I won’t hesitate to return for another chance at a bowl of soft tofu.

Freudian Burgers

27 Jan

Sometimes it’s hard to control our base urges. The craving for something wicked can be a powerful temptation.

How can I resist?

But before I plunge into deviance and depravity,  my ” super ego”  won’t let me. And then another alternative presents itself.

There is way out.

But I’m conflicted. The bad just seems so much more exciting than the good. I need guidance.  I need help to put my mind at ease. To settle this conflict. I need…

Tell me wise guru burger; will I still be a good person if I have the bad burger?

A Taste of Bronx Honey

24 Jan

Honey’s Thai Pavilion
3036 Westchester Avenue

When asked why he chose Honey’s Thai Pavilion, Eugene’s response was: “Someone told me it’s the best Thai food in the Bronx.” And on the restaurant’s website,, they repeat what Eugene heard and state it clearly on the site’s home page. I’m not sure how many Thai restaurants there are in the Bronx. And as far as I know, the Bronx is not known for its Thai food. Still the honor, however it was bestowed, was enough for Eugene to justify our gathering in the Pelham Park section of the Bronx, just under the number 6 elevated train, to see if we would concur with the restaurant’s lofty claim.

I arrived early and had a beer at Vivienne’s Bar next door to Honey’s. As I sat in the bar with a few regulars in this predominately Italian-American neighborhood, I wondered if Vivienne, who served a cold Corona to me personally, had ever met Honey next door. And then I wondered if there really was a Honey of Honey’s Thai Pavilion.

Vivienne, meet Honey. Honey, meet Vivienne.

Eugene and Rick were waiting as I entered the sparsely populated, sparkling, diner-like restaurant. Zio was risking the long train ride from Astoria and I noticed there was a message from him on my cell phone. Train troubles apparently.

Mike from Yonkers came in soon after I did, and we all perused the plastic-coated menu searching for something that might distinguish Honey’s as the best Thai restaurant in the Bronx. From a quick inspection, the evidence was not obvious. There was the jerky appetizer; pork or beef, and mussels on the half shells. We could try them and hope for the best.

We waited a bit longer for Zio and just a few minutes before he slowly made his way to our table, we ordered the fried fish cakes, the beef jerky, and a bowl of steamed mussels on a half shell in a spicy broth with galangal and lime. Galangal, to those unfamiliar with Thai ingredients, is the more robust sister to ginger.

Fish cakes: cooked to a perfect rubber-like consistency.

The silvery growth under Zio’s nose, also known to some as a moustache, was the source of our early conversation as we waited for the appetizers. We wanted his reasons for attempting such folly, but he had no explanation for it. Maybe he needed a few of the rubbery fish cakes to help jog his memory. Or maybe one of the over-cooked, and evidently frozen, mussels that were in what was a very good, spicy broth accented by the presence of the aforementioned galangal would do it. But neither helped Zio come up with a coherent answer to the moustache question. And by the time we devoured the addictive sweet and spicy beef jerky that was fried to oblivion and accompanied by a chili sauce (chilly on the menu) we realized Zio needed no justification for his facial hair choices.

Mussels (frozen) accented in a galangal broth.

The entrees were relatively pedestrian. I was hoping to find something unusual when I ordered the pad key mao, flat noodles with basil leaves, onions and peppers in a spicy chili sauce. Our waitress inquired if I wanted it spicy. I tried to tell her that I wanted it as it should be prepared. Not quite understanding what I meant, she retorted that there were four grades of spicy: mild, medium, hot, and very spicy. I was considering one of the latter two when she suggested the medium as if she knew my tolerance for heat. “I can bring you extra chili sauce if it’s not hot enough,” she reassured me. What arrived needed no extra spice—medium had my mouth nicely charred.

Pad Key Mao

Nothing else that I tasted would have me exclaiming that Honey’s was the best Thai food in the Bronx. And I think the others were in agreement. Mike from Yonkers complained that the chicken in his spicy phik king was over-fried while Zio’s curry noodles with beef brought out a twitch in his new moustache: “There’s no excuse for beef that tough,” he grumbled, though ate it all anyway.

The curry noodles with beef had Zio’s sorry excuse for a moustache twitching.

I know Rick and Eugene ordered entrees, but I have no idea what they were and I think that tells you all you need to know about Honey’s Thai Pavilion.

And the Answer is…

23 Jan

On Friday I showed you these two photos of a place here in New York

Someone said that the place was the “Bellevue Hospital organ replacement room.”

Others recognized the Russian hats and presumed a Russian restaurant like either the Russian Tea Room or Firebird.

They were close, but the answer is…

At Russian Samovar, 256 W. 52nd Street, the ginger root, whole lemons, slices of unpeeled pineapple, and horseradish root, that bathe in the vodka can take on that organ-like look. I personally like to drink various alcoholic beverages that have been naturally infused by funky fruits, tubers and roots that claim to make me “strong like bull.” After a few shots, I don’t care if I really know the claims are preposterous.

Lemon infused vodka.

It also helps that at the Russian Samovar,  I can listen to Russian covers of 1960’s pop tunes like “Those Were the Days,”  and “What’s New Pussycat” played by the house piano player.

The infused vodka experience at Russian Samovar is enhanced by the live entertainment.

As I said, there is food at Russian Samovar. Someday, if I can get past the extensive vodka menu, I plan on trying it.


Name That Place

20 Jan

I hear they serve  decent food at the place shown above. But I don’t go to this place to eat. As you can see in the picture, there is something else here that I’m more interested in than food.  That, however, won’t help you name the place.

Here then is another photo of the place.  Look closely, the answer is right there in front of you.

As usual, send your answers in the comment section of my post. The place shown above will be revealed on Monday.

Morgan the Egyptian

17 Jan

Morgan Fish Restaurant
2801 John F. Kennedy Blvd
Jersey City.

The temperature was dropping as I left my apartment on the way to the number 2 train. At 72nd Street I switched to the number 1 train. Two stops later I got off at 59th and onto the B train downtown. At 34th, I walked through the tunnel to the PATH train where I found Zio fumbling with a Metrocard/PATH vending machine. He was not clear what it took to gain entry on the PATH. He didn’t know that all it took was his Metrocard. Our next stop was our destination: Jersey City.

One of the several trains it took to get to Jersey City.

This journey was orchestrated by Gerry who, predictably, had chosen a place that would not be easy to get to. We were headed to a seafood place called Morgan Fish Restaurant. I think Morgan being the generic Captain Morgan because it certainly isn’t an Egyptian name and Morgan’s was most certainly an Egyptian establishment and one of the excuses Gerry used to drag us to Jersey City as he said: “To show solidarity with our Egyptian brothers and sisters.”

Zio and I arrived first and besides a woman sweeping the floor and another in the kitchen, we were the only people in Morgan’s. There were fresh fish displayed under a glass counter along with a platter of potato salad and small, pickled eggplants. The woman sweeping offered many friendly smiles, but either didn’t have much to say, or was hesitant because of language difficulties.

The fish of Morgan Fish

A man appeared. He did speak English and also possessed a friendly smile. He pointed to the fish; tilapia, striped sea bass, and branzino. There were also large, full-bodied shrimp and a few flattened pieces of uncooked calamari minus the tentacles. He could prepare the fish, he said, either fried or grilled.

We were hungry and while Gerry and the rest of the Westchester contingent were circling John F. Kennedy Blvd trying to locate Morgan Fish with Mike from Yonkers’ faulty GPS device, Zio and I hoped to get started with the ordering. The menu promised shrimp and/or seafood soup but our male host shook his head sadly: “Soup run out,” he said.

As we were about to order hummus and baba ganoush, (spelled humos and papa ghanoosh on the menu) the rest of the group, Rick included, entered. We found a table suitable for six and our host followed us in to commence with the ordering. We figured hummus, baba ganoush, and some of those tiny eggplants would be a good start. He concurred.

Before he could even get his winter coat off, Eugene was expounding on his Punta Cana vacation where the food at the all-inclusive Bavaro Beach resort was “incredible.” None of us, all stuck in this miserable New York winter, could debate his claim. I shut him off to concentrate on the menu.

Morgan’s menu

It was all simple enough. The question was how much to order and whether the fish should be fried or grilled. We compromised on fried shrimp and calamari along with one fried fish and one grilled. I don’t think we specified which fish should be fried or grilled; the branzino or the sea bass,  and when they arrived, none of us could tell the difference.

Fried shrimp and calamari

Our host brought not one, but two platters each of fried shrimp and fried calamari. Both were lightly crisped; the batter containing a distinctive dusting of some unidentifiable, but clearly Middle Eastern, spice. We picked through the calamari rings and shrimp, but, knowing we had two whole fish to also contend with, went slow and restrained ourselves from devouring them all.

Fish before

The fish was served with a brown (not health food brown) rice and a sofrito-like sauce. We took turns excising the flesh from the bones until all that remained were their skeletons.

Fish after

Once we were finished,  Zio, just making small talk,  mentioned his admiration for the movie, The Black Swan.

“Did you like the dance scenes,” Gerry asked.

“Huh,” Zio seemed surprised by the question. “No, the sex scenes,” he said with noticeable longing.

Eugene was studying his phone and then began to read from its tiny screen. “Natalie Portman. Born June 9, 1981 in Israel. Attended the Solomon Schecter Day School of Glen Cove, New York. First movie, “The Professional…”

What’s a nice girl from Glen Cove doing making Zio’s heart race?

Thankfully the check came and the Natalie Portman biography, as read by Eugene, was cut short. All that seafood and we were still a few dollars under our allotted $20 per person budget. Morgan Fish was a worthy choice, but just not one where it took four trains to get to. There had to be another way to show solidarity with our Egyptian brothers and sisters.

The Fusion Files: Infusion Edition

13 Jan


Does an Mexican-Italian infusion mean the menu at the Avenue A Bistro Cafe might include rigatoni with an adobo scented marinara sauce served with fresh steamed corn tortillas? Or is it the other way around? Maybe enchiladas stuffed with fennel spiced salsiccia served with a side of escarole and pane di casa? Just wondering.

I guess if those “infusions” don’t appeal to you,  there’s always sushi.

Eating Like an Afghan Family in an Afghani Restaurant in Astoria

10 Jan

Just about one year ago, our “gang” met in Astoria on a cold January night. I was laid up with a post-holiday stomach thing and had to bow out. Instead,  Zio was assigned to report on the meal. What follows is his interpretation of the dining experience that night.

Balkh Shish Kebab House
2310 31st St

There were still some leftover glaciers under the el on Thirty First Street, remnants of the holiday blizzard. For a very short time the snow was pristine and white . Now as it melted and refroze it resembled an ugly kind of frozen gravy, riddled with dog piss holes and fossilized cigarette butts. Above me, the N Train crashed by and I thought of young Michael waiting for the same noise before shooting the veal parmesan out of Sterling Hayden’s throat.

“How’s the Afghani food in this restaurant?”  “Try the ‘manto’ it’s the best in the city.”

I guess I felt a little nervous. my thoughts were on the grim side, after all, Balkh Shish Kabob House was my first restaurant selection without Neckbones’ help and to boot he was AWOL. How friendly could the Afghani staff be when our military was sniffing around their country? I began to pace up and down the street checking the time every thirty seconds. I was sure nobody was coming at 6:59.

One minute later, they all showed up,  snapping me out of my anxiety spiral. The waiter seated us in a comfortable, secluded corner at a big round table near a huge hand painted map of Afghanistan, outlining all the regions. Eugene was quick to comment on the pleasing temperature of the room, maybe sensing my hopefulness.

We decided to pick four appetizers. , all of them were served with minted yogurt sauce. We knew to skip the samosas and ordered two kinds of dumplings. One was “manto,”  beef meat dumplings with curry sauce and yogurt, the other was “aushack,”  this was boiled and filled with scallions and herbs. Mike from Yonkers made it clear he would steer clear of the “bandanjan borani,”  fried eggplant, and the “borani kadu,” fried pumpkin with homemade sauce. We ordered them anyway. These were fresh tasting and personally I would almost eat anything in dumpling form.

While we were deciding what to order from the Balkh Special entrees list, we got help from the cook (I think), who said he would feed us like “An Afghan Family”. This took the pressure off and also gave us hope that we would have an authentic eating experience.

While we waited for the slaughter of the lamb, we heard the praying begin with earnest devotion. We countered the discordant chants with ramblings of our own which ranged from our favorite “Honeymooners” episodes to the fact that Ann Coulter is dating Jimmy Walker, the mystery of Alfalfa’s cowlick, Lee Meriwether, Spanky’s amazing performances as an infant, and of course the incredibly nubile “Darla”. ..This is why the rest of the world hates us.

Our “gang” at dinner.

Finally our entrée arrived, As I remember, it was a combo of a combo, kabli palow, and the fish combo. What we didn’t expect was that it came in a wheelbarrow. A mountain of tender lamb shanks and fish buried in basmati rice, raisins ,and carrots was placed before us.

A “mountain” of kabli palow

Our “family” did what it could so as not to offend our hosts. The large portion did cost us $75, one entrée multiplied by five plus the appetizers. We went over budget by five dollars each. Not too bad, but no way to treat a family.

Pig Prejudice Revisited

6 Jan

A couple of months ago I documented some of the abuse of “the other white meat” that I discovered around New York in a post titled A Little Love For the Pig (please).

Sadly, since that post, the hate has only increased. Recently, I found another hater.

Yeah, yeah, “no ham on my pan” sound cute, but it’s hurtful, Makkah brother.

If we didn’t get the anti-pork policy the first time, it’s repeated two more times in living color.

Would a few thin slices of prosciutto really be so bad?

And when I noticed that Mookie’s, a leader of the “No Pork on My Fork” crusade closed, I had hopes that a new establishment at the same location would display a more open mind on matters swine related.

Mookie’s before.

I was wrong.

The new “Mookie’s” but with the same negative message.

Once again, all I can ask,  is to give the pig a little love…please.

The Noise of Noodles in the Night

4 Jan

Jang Tur Noodle
35-38 Union St

After walking up the steps to Jang Tur Noodle and entering the very brightly-lit restaurant, the smell of cooking cabbage almost overwhelmed me. I was the first to arrive at the Korean noodle shop I chose in the Korean enclave of the Asian community of Flushing, just off Northern Boulevard. And after a few whiffs inside the restaurant, even with the door open on an early winter evening, I was tempted to send out an all-points bulletin via my cell phone that we should find another venue—there certainly were plenty within the vicinity. But it was too late—I could see Gerry, Eugene, and Mike from Yonkers through the glass windows as they climbed the steps that led to the Jang Tur’s entrance.

I didn’t say anything about the smell; I was waiting to see if any of the others would comment. No one did and maybe it was because the door was open for a bit. Or maybe because I was becoming acclimated to it that I no longer found the smell offensive and instead of my stomach wrenching, it was now clamoring for sustenance.

The restaurant’s lone waitress brought us plastic glasses of what looked like beer but was actually warm, barley tea. There were pictures of the noodle dishes offered on the wall with descriptions of them underneath. The descriptions were in Korean only and the waitress spoke no English. There were, however, a few laminated one page menus that did give English translations of the noodle dishes offered.

I’ll take the one with the noodles.

While we waited for Rick, Eugene chatted about the five Christmas parties he was soon to attend including one that featured a “Viennese” table. Rick’s arrival saved us from hearing more about the Viennese table and, with the exception of Zio, all were present.

A few days earlier we received an email from Zio with his apologies for not being able to make the dinner.  “I have a chance to make a good chunk of money if I go to ct (Connecticut) on Tuesday,” was Zio’s brief email message. The murkiness of it led to wild speculation about what he would actually be doing in Connecticut to make a “good chunk of money.”

The noodles at Jang Tur were, according to the English-language menu, “hand cut or hand torn and made on the premises daily.” There were also two variations of dumplings, chive and beef and when the waitress came to our table we pointed to them. And then doing more pointing, we picked out our noodle bowls.

When I arrived, there were two diners in the tiny restaurant, a man and a woman. The man was slurping magnificently. I peered to see what it was he was so proficiently devouring. It was a bowl of something dark red, almost clay-like in color. It could only be the noodles in red bean porridge. If he was having it, I wanted it too.

Red Bean noodles and dumplings

“Red bean?” our waitress said in her very limited English. She wanted to make sure that it was really what I wanted. I confirmed with an enthusiastic nod. Mike from Yonkers pointed to the noodles in spicy anchovy soup on the menu, Gerry the rice cake and dumpling soup, and Rick, the stir fried squid with rice.

Instead of pointing, Eugene insisted on speaking in loud, clear English and asked for the noodles in a spicy red pepper sauce with vegetables. Our waitress looked at him blankly. He then pointed. She nodded.

“No, mushrooms, right?” he bellowed as if she had any idea what he was asking. We’ve learned over the years that Eugene has an unusual aversion to mushrooms that’s so drastic it’s as if he has a life compromising allergy to the fungi.

Seeing she wasn’t responding, he tried again. “I can’t have mushrooms,” he said shaking his head. “No mushrooms?”

“Mushrooms,” she mouthed like an alien learning the language of the foreign intruder.

Eugene shook his head again. “No mushrooms,” he repeated.

Mimicking Eugene, she shook her head too and said, “No mushrooms.” Apparently that was enough to satisfy Eugene and we were spared anymore mushroom discussion.

Jang Tur’s kimchi

The dumplings arrived along with big bowls of kimchi and a spicy, pickled squash. The dumplings were light as tissue and perfect with the salty dipping sauce that accompanied them. The steaming, dark red porridge came next. I took a few bites. At first it was bland, like porridge can be, and negotiating the thick noodles with the silver chopsticks at the table proved troublesome. In the bowl also were small dumplings similar to those found in traditional chicken and dumpling soup. I added a bit of the hot pepper condiment to give it a little bite, but it wasn’t needed. What started as bland evolved into a comforting, unique taste.

Spicy anchovy noodle soup

Mike from Yonkers was struggling with his soup; taking tiny sips because of the intense spice of it. Soon his nose was flowing freely and he was honking loudly into a handkerchief. Eugene incorporated the Sicilian method to eating noodles, using a spoon with his chopsticks. He had no complaints about the heat. “It’s like a noodle salad,” he said of his bowl.

Eugene’s “noodle salad” sans mushrooms.

While Rick was picking out the larger, tough pieces of squid from the smaller, more tender ones on his plate, Gerry was deliberately sipping his soup; savoring it. “The best soup I’ve ever had,” was the supreme compliment he uttered after finishing it.

“The Best Soup Ever;” so said Gerry.

With all the bowls just $7.99 each, we were way under budget. We had some extra time so we crossed Northern Boulevard and entered the Cool Hope Beer Hall. The “Hall” was practically empty and the five of us spread out at the bar. The television above the bar was broadcasting a Korean version of “Dancing With the Stars.” We watched silently while we enjoyed a round of soju, Korean sake, chased by Budweiser before heading back out into the winter night.

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