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A Few Specialties of a Taiwanese House…Without the Rice

20 Sep


What do you do when you are on a month-long detox “diet” that pretty much wipes out all of your favorite food groups? No, you can’t have bread or pasta. Sugar, forget about it. Grains of any kind won’t do either. That means no rice—even if it’s healthy and brown. A piece of cheese? Some milk with your coffee? Not a chance. Okay, I’ll eat lots of beans. No you won’t. Not even that trusty legume the peanut. To compensate for all this loss, consuming quantities of organic vodka might get me through the month—that is if alcohol of any kind were allowed.

So that was my predicament when choosing our group’s next eating adventure. Should I just forgo the diet for one day or try to find a cuisine compatible to my food restrictions? Or should I just go with my instincts and pick the best possible place and hope I could make it work for me? Of course that best possible place couldn’t be Mexican or any Latin restaurants. Italian would not work either. Indian, with those delicious breads and rice would be too much of temptation. So I looked to other Asian possibilities and finally settled on a Taiwanese restaurant called, either Taiwanese Gourmet, as it is referred to on Yelp and other internet sites, Taiwanese Cuisine, Inc, as it says on the restaurant’s awning in Elmhurst, Queens, or Taiwanese Specialties, as it reads on the restaurant’s take-out menu. For one day I would not worry what was in the sauces used to prepare the restaurant’s dishes but would stay away from rice, noodles, and anything deep fried with a heavy batter.

“The busy season,” according to Mike from Yonkers kept him from the group on this night, but Zio, Eugene, and Gerry were in attendance and hungry. With Mike from Yonkers absent, Eugene made sure to continually question why Mike from Yonkers wasn’t penalized for ordering a $12 Manhattan at our last get together. “How do you get away ordering a $12 drink?” Eugene asked us incredulously. “And then we all have to pay for it? There’s got to be a rule against that in this group’s by laws.”

Finally, though, Eugene gave it up and concentrated on the multi-page menu even daring to ask the Chinese-speaking waitress, “what’s good here.” That got a roll of her eyes and he decided on the crispy fried chicken while Gerry and Zio were debating on what version of escargot to order. Zio was adamant in his choice of escargot, without the shell, with basil. Gerry was going to order the little snails in the shell with black bean sauce but instead opted for cuttlefish with celery. My choice was the shredded beef with yellow chives—beef and all meats, including pork and most importantly bacon being an integral part of my detoxification.


Escargot in the middle, sauteed spinach in the back, and cuttlefish and celery on the right.

Since pork was allowed, we started with an appetizer of a pork roll. What wasn’t allowed in my diet was the breaded wrapping the pork roll was encased in. Do I sacrifice my journalistic integrity by not trying what was in front of me? Or do I bite the bullet and take a bite of what was against my diet’s “by laws.” I chose the latter and I am here writing this as healthy evidence that that bite did not throw my detoxification into a tailspin nor did it toss me off the 30-day wagon I was on.


The forbidden pork roll

The shredded beef with yellow chives was “the best thing we ordered,” according to Eugene and I could not disagree. Though the escargot with basil had a very flavorful sauce, the little mollusks were not as tender as I would have liked causing Zio to question their authenticity. “Are these really escargot?” he wondered.

“Maybe the snails aren’t French?” I replied.


Shredded beef with yellow chives

While we efficiently devoured our food, large groups of diners waiting to be seated eyed our half-filled round table enviously and before Zio even had a chance to shovel the last escargot into his hungry mouth, a check was placed on our table.

“It took me longer to get here than it did to eat,” Gerry observed after our rushed dinner.

Still nobody was complaining—Zio even hinting that he might return with the Colonel. I wouldn’t mind joining them, but only if by then I can have a little rice with my shredded beef.

Taiwanese Cuisine, Inc

84-02 Broadway


Neckbones’ Calcutta Christmas Carol

23 Dec

Calcutta Wrap & Roll

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

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

That front entrance looks very familiar.

That front entrance looks very familiar.

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

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

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

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

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

Vegetable Chop

Vegetable Chop

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

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

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

Goat Biryani

Goat Biryani

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

Dr. B's Chicken Chatpata

Dr. B’s Chicken Chatpata

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

Piyali's Choice: Malai Kofta

Piyali’s Choice

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

The brown bonnet

The brown bonnet

Tibetan Obsession

30 Jul

Punda Tibetan

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

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

“What?” Now he was really confused.

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

“It is?” He truly had no idea.

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

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

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

Bush and the Dali Lama? Who knew?

Bush and the Dali Lama? Who knew?

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



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


Jhasha khatsa

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

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

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

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

Tibetan Play Dough

Tibetan Play Dough

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

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



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

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

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

Punda Tibetan

39-35 47th Avenue

Sunnyside, Queens

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

30 Jun

fu run

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

“No thank you,” Eugene responded politely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muslim Lamb Chop

Muslim Lamb Chop

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

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

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

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

Pea shoot stems

Pea stems

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

A mountain of pork

A mountain of pork

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

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


Fish “home style”

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

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

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

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

“I guess you look tense,” I said.

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

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

Fu Run

40-09 Prince Street


Fa Faux Fuh Pho

5 Mar


I think I know how it is pronounced, but I can’t be certain. I’ve never had a misunderstanding when ordering. Sometimes I just point to the number next to it on the menu to avoid embarrassment. The waiters understand. If I called it Fa instead of Fuh…or Pho instead of Faux would I create an international incident? I think not.

The snow—or is that sleet or freezing rain—might be coming down for the 500th time in this endless winter, yet I’m inside happily slurping noodles in a warm aromatic oxtail-based, star anise-scented broth. The ability to pluck out thinly-sliced, braised in the broth, round steak—or maybe a gelatinous piece of tendon with chopsticks adds to my sense of contentment.

When I eat Pho, I often think of Otis Redding’s “Sad Song,” also known as “Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa.” But there is nothing sad about this Fa.

Or is it Fuh?

Below is some music to eat Pho by



The Big Chifa of Northern Boulevard

22 Oct



As we were presented with our check for our meal at Chifa, there was some grumbling from the Westchester contingent that it wasn’t right that Zio and I ordered soup as appetizers.

“I didn’t think we could have soup,” Gerry stated.

“Yeah, it’s against the rules,” Eugene bellowed.

“Show me where it says we can’t have soup in our rules,” I responded defensively.

“That’s just wrong,” Eugene said, shaking his head.

“Hey, you could have ordered the soup. Nobody would have stopped you.”

“But you can’t really share soup, so we don’t order it,” Gerry explained.

“All you had to do was ask,” I said. “I would have gladly shared my soup with you.”

“What are we gonna do share spoons? It just doesn’t work that’s why we don’t do it,” Eugene argued.

“How can you eliminate soup from the choices? I love soup,” Zio said.

Mike from Yonkers, technically also from Westchester, wisely abstained from the debate, content to slowly pick at the hominy kernels that surrounded what was left of his ceviche mixto.

Zio shrugged. “That duck soup was really good,” he said.

I nodded. “I know, the sopa pac pow was the highlight of my meal.”

And I wasn’t just saying that to further infuriate Gerry and Eugene who were still steamed that Zio and I had the temerity to order soup. It was the truth.

Sopa pac pow

Sopa pac pow

Granted, Zio and I ordered the soup before Eugene and Gerry arrived and without their consultation—we were waiting in the restaurant, along with Mike from Yonkers, for what seemed like a long time, later finding out there was some confusion on the timing of when we were to meet.

Zio’s pick, Chifa, was located on a small stretch of Northern Boulevard that wasn’t a car wash, lube job joint, gas station, or fast food place. Down the block was the Taste of Lahore, which was right next to a dark, inconspicuous Italian restaurant called Trieste.  Doing his due diligence as always, maybe Zio was drawn to Chifa, learning that its name translated to mean Peruvian Chinese food and that it was something our group had not yet experienced.  Either that or that it was not far from his Astoria love nest. Whatever the rationale for making the pick, Zio wasn’t divulging it.

Mike from Yonkers arrived a few minutes later and after sipping cold Cusquena beers while perusing the Chinese-dominant menu, we went ahead and ordered the soups and a couple of appetizers; “wantan frito” also known as fried wontons and “lomo asado,” Chinese bbq pork slices.

Gerry and Eugene walked in just as the soups arrived. The sopa pac pow was a steaming bowl of what seemed like a glorified egg drop soup; the big bowl thick with pieces of chicken, duck, asparagus pieces, and shrimp.

Eugene eyed Zio’s soup, redolent with tender slices of duck, noodles, and vegetables. “What’s that?” Eugene asked him.

“Duck soup,” Zio replied, his face down, steam coating his eyeglasses, as he carefully sipped the scalding soup.

“That was on TV the other day,” Gerry deadpanned.

“Hail, Freedonia,” I mumbled, not looking up from my own soup that also had a few slices of that tender duck.

Duck soup

Duck soup

After that there was no further discussion of the soups until the complaints at the end of our meal that I’ve already chronicled. Instead the others ordered beers and their own dishes including lomo saltado for Eugene, tai pa, for Gerry, the aforementioned ceviche mixto for Mike from Yonkers, while I went with a noodle dish, tallarin taipa, and Zio choose the pork with garlic.

Besides the gargantuan size of the platters—everything was big at Chifa—there wasn’t much to distinguish the Peruvian Chinese from the standard Chinese-American Cantonese that we are so familiar with.  The tallarin taipa, a “mei fun” type noodle dish with an assortment of meats: pork, chicken, baby shrimp, and the duck, was swimming in an oyster/soy sauce while Zio’s pork with garlic was just more of the roasted barbecued pork we had earlier now presented in a barely perceptible garlic sauce with the addition of a few vegetables.

The tai pa Gerry ordered, according to the menu, “Chifa’s most popular dish,” was more of the same; chicken, pork, shrimp, duck but with welcome addition of a quail egg and fish ball all combined on a large platter and coated with an oyster/soy based “special sauce.” Even Eugene’s traditional lomo saltado, a mountain of beef, French fries, and onions over rice was not up to my high Peruvian standards for the dish.

Tai pa

Tai pa

Maybe it was the addition of the controversial soup or maybe it was just that the dishes were so big, but both Zio and I went home with leftovers.

“And that ain’t right either,” Gerry remarked, his eyes on our packed doggie bags. “Maybe I’m still hungry? Did you think of that?”

Noting the size of the tai pa that Gerry was putting the finishing touches on, I hadn’t. But also knowing Gerry and his prodigious appetite, I should have.

No soup for you!

No soup for you!

73-20 Northern Boulevard
Jackson Heights, Queens



Cantonese Cappuccino

1 Jul

Cafe Hong Kong

Cafe Hong Kong

I was the first to arrive at Café Hong Kong in Chinatown on a steamy evening when the cramped sidewalks of Bayard Street were overflowing with black plastic garbage bags, their stench signifying the true arrival of summer.  Rick had again passed on his appointed pick for our group, this time giving us a week’s notice instead of a day. Because of the semi-abrupt announcement, I suggested we convene at Café Hong Kong and resume our scheduled picks with Rick again attempting to commit to our next dinner, followed by Mike from Yonkers.

Café Hong Kong was packed when I arrived, but a table was put together for the five of us. When I sat down alone, a harried waiter immediately inquired if “my friends were coming.” I told them that they were. He quickly returned with tea.

“They coming now,” he asked again anxiously not daring to experience the ownership’s wrath by holding a table when other paying customers were waiting.

“As far as I know, they are on their way,” I said and then sent out urgent texts to Zio and Gerry to find out their whereabouts.

“Where are you?” Zio inquired via text. “I didn’t read the emails.”

I cursed under my breath. Zio had informed us that he had a commitment on the Lower East Side on the same day we had chosen. The Chinatown location of Café Hong Kong was picked in an effort to accommodate him. And he didn’t read the emails. Thankfully, Gerry responded that he was close and would arrive very soon.

While I waited, I flipped through the menu noticing immediately, the curious section titled “baked rice/spaghetti.” Also offered were bizarre—at least for Chinese food—options Chinese such as ham and egg sandwich, bacon and egg sandwich, and borsch (sic) soup. This was a “café,” however so allowances were made and along with Hong Kong-style milk tea, cappuccino, lattes, and macchiatos were on the full espresso bar menu.

When Gerry and Eugene arrived, our table was proclaimed legitimate and I was no longer harassed by the equally beleaguered waiter. Mike from Yonkers informed Gerry that he would be coming from the train and might be late. We were hungry and instead of waiting, ordered a soup, fish with bean curd, an appetizer, sweet and sour fish filet, and pickled sour radish.

Just as the reddish orange, sweet and sour fried fish filet, complete with the familiar pineapple chunks, arrived, Mike from Yonkers made his sweaty entrance.  The hot soup came next, administered by a more patient waiter into four smaller bowls. The soup dampening Mike’s shirt even further and his perspiration creeping alarmingly close to my food. After a few sips of the soup, fragrant with ginger, the broth refreshingly light and with chunks of fish and tofu, I no longer cared about Mike from Yonker’s sweat.

Soup for a hot summer's day.

Soup for a hot summer’s day.

What to order from the vast menu was our next business. Gerry warned me about the “baked” dishes when I asked if I should dare try one. “I don’t know—baked pasta?” he said dubiously. But I couldn’t resist. Where else could I have pasta, baked no less, in a Hong Kong-style café unless I ventured to Hong Kong and that was not happening anytime soon? I couldn’t, however, even though I was sorely tempted, choose the baked pasta Bolognese. Instead I decided on the baked beef stew. Eugene also picked from the baked section going with the coconut chicken. Sticking to more familiar and traditional Cantonese dishes, Gerry went with the salt and pepper squid while Mike from Yonkers decided on the fish filet bean curd casserole. Sautéed Chinese broccoli with garlic completed our order.

While we waited for our dishes to arrive, I noticed that there was a missed call from Zio. The sautéed Chinese broccoli came first. I quickly snapped a picture of the dark green, perfectly steamed broccoli on my phone camera and sent it to Zio. And then the enormous bowl of baked beef stew, the tomato sauce congealed on top of the spaghetti from the baking process. The baked coconut chicken also had a semi-hard topping, a few burn marks speckling the white exterior.

Chinese broccoli

Chinese broccoli

Just as I sent Zio more of the pictures to remind him of what he was missing at Café Hong Kong, his rotund frame appeared in front of us, and to all of our surprise, with the Colonel in tow. There was no room at our table and Zio and the Colonel grabbed an adjacent table. I muttered a quick hello and then tasted the sweet and sour “tomato” sauce that was drowning the overcooked spaghetti. Complete with thick layers of gelatinous fat over morsels of beef along with chunks of bland tomatoes, even a few tablespoons of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, if offered, could not rescue this dish, Worse was Eugene’s coconut chicken featuring the same overcooked pasta with a white, sweet coconut cream Alfredo sauce, pieces of what seemed like canned carrots and peas, and chunks of chicken. The creation was like a Paula Deen nightmare. And you really can’t get much scarier than that.

Sweet and sour Chef Boy Ar Dee.

Sweet and sour Chef Boy Ar Dee.

Gerry’s salt and pepper squid was good, but not up to nearby Great New York Noodletown’s standards while the fish and bean curd casserole Mike from Yonkers ordered was a true winner. I realized that ordering the baked pasta at Café Hong Kong was like going to a burger joint and then ordering linguini with clam sauce. I should have known better and had no one to blame but myself.

The winner: fish and bean curd casserole.

The winner: fish and bean curd casserole.

As we were leaving, Zio and the Colonel were about to order the coconut chicken. Despite the unfortunate baked beef stew experience, I was in a benevolent mood and warned him off it, instead I gestured to the beef stew; making it his penance for not reading his emails. We said our goodbyes and went to cleanse our palates at the nearby Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.

“Why didn’t you warn me about that spaghetti slop,” Zio wrote in a text the next day. “It was worse than Chef Boy Ar Dee. Sickingly sweet with globs of fat and tired pale tomatoes. You’re killing me!”

Coconut Chicken

Coconut Chicken

“You should be grateful,” I wrote back. “I saved you from the coconut chicken.”

“Thanks for that,” he replied.

Cafe Hong Kong
51 Bayard St.

Seduced by Singaporean Snacks on Sticks

7 Jun

Bamboo Tori

When Rick chose to continue with his fading softball career instead of taking on his obligation to provide our greedy and needy group with a food destination, we were in a temporary quandary. Though I would have preferred he hadn’t left us in such a precarious situation, I understood his decision. I did the same thing—for about ten years—before realizing only a visit to a “clinic” in Miami could help regain my youthful form in the field and power at the plate.

Eugene also deserted us when he announced, shocking all of us, that his girlfriend’s superiors had actually invited him to attend her retirement party. And he thought it wise that he not decline the invitation. We could not disagree.

We were four and though Mike from Yonkers was next in line to choose, we were given a unique opportunity. A fan of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, and believe me, their numbers are just not that many, had reached out to me and remarkably, considering he had never met our motley crew, wanted us to assemble at his own eating establishment.

Now just because a restaurateur shows me some love doesn’t mean I’m an easy mark. I have my ethical standards and not just anyone who heaps praise on my work will get equal treatment on my very humble blog.  Jonny, however, the Indonesian born, Singaporean raised co-founder and chef of Bamboo Tori, made a strong case for our attendance. As I said above, any restaurant that would blindly consider allowing our group to convene at their tables has already displayed remarkable valor. Another reason that we considered the offer was that we had not yet been to a Japanese yakitori place, not to mention one that, Jonny explained was also heavily influenced by the Singaporean snacks served on sticks he recalled growing up there. Finally, Bamboo Tori was located in Greenwich Village, a place bustling with restaurants but typically not one where our group’s frugal criteria could be fulfilled. We would be dining in virgin territory.

On its website, Bamboo Tori bills itself as specializing in Japanese yakitori, and though I’ve had yakitori, the traditional Japanese featuring the funky chicken body parts excepted, the concept here, Jonny explained was different. Jonny and his partners Christophe, from Belgium, and Hendy from Haiti, wanted to make yakitori more accessible; meaning chicken hearts, butts, necks, and gizzards were not on their menu. After an exploratory eating trip to Singapore, the partners wanted to create at their venture more of what can be found served as street snacks there.

Mike from Yonkers, Gerry, Zio and I squeezed onto a hard bench in the slender, take-out mostly, restaurant as Jonny presented us with a selection of meats on sticks. Behind a glass front, there was a conveyor belt like machine where meats were put on their sticks and rotated around a hot fire while intermittently being dipped into a marinade. Passersby stared raptly at the mesmerizing process from the street.

The yakitori machine in action.

The yakitori machine in action.

Our first sample box of skewers included one stick each of asparagus bacon, chicken thigh, pork belly, and pork meatballs. Cooked to juicy perfection, each was coated with a bronze grilled yakitori glaze that Jonny informed me was provided by a close friend of his father’s, a Japanese chef of Hilton Hotels Indonesia.

The pork meatballs, made with ground pork, ginger and parsley had Gerry gushing and after a final tally, the consensus was that they were the standout among many standouts.

Pork meatballs

Pork meatballs

The next box included beef tri-tips, beef meatballs, chicken breast, and chicken thigh with scallions. And we made sure that every bit of meat was removed off each stick even if it meant scraping them with our teeth.

Finally, proving that Bamboo Tori can also satisfy the vegetarian, we tried skewers grilled with eggplant, zucchini, and grape tomatoes. From two seats down and over the din of the busy restaurant, I could hear Gerry gush again as he devoured the grilled veggies.

Grilled vegetables on a stick.

Grilled vegetables on a stick.

The final taste was a steamed pork bun stuffed with the aforementioned pork meatballs. The tiny sandwich epitomizing the term: street snack.

The used stick dispensary was stuffed with our skewers. We were done. We thanked Jonny and his partners for their service; very glad that we were introduced to their brand of yakitori, the trip to the heart of darkness known as Greenwich Village well worth it.

Steamed bun sandwich

Steamed bun sandwich

“How’d you come up with that name, ‘Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries’ anyway,” Jonny asked as I was leaving. “It’s cool.”

I explained how I thought the title of the Willie Bobo song as well as the tune itself was as good a representative of what I wanted to achieve in the website as I could find.

“I never heard of it,” Jonny said. And why would a man in his twenties be familiar with a Latin Soul tune recorded in 1966? “But I’m gonna check it out.”

The next day I sent him the link below to better help him check it out.



Bamboo Tori
106 University Place



The Big Kahuna in El Barrio

10 Apr


Lately Hawaii has been on my mind. And I can’t really pinpoint why.  In the past, I’ve really had no desire to visit our 50th State. Despite its obvious attractions, I have always been content to travel to the much closer, more exotic (in my mind) Caribbean than the Hawaiian Islands. Still Hawaii has been on my radar as a place I really should get to at some point in my life.

The closest I’ve come to Hawaii was a few years ago when a screenplay I wrote won a “Gold Kahuna” award at the Honolulu Film Festival. I had to admit, being considered a Kahuna in anything was quite an honor and the festival organizers said there would be a presentation. There was, however, a stipulation. I would have to travel 5,000 miles at my own expense to accept it personally. Even a Kahuna has his limitations and I decided to accept the award via email.

Gold Kahuna

Now I find myself with an itch to see the Islands. Maybe the cold winter finally caught up to me and images of green, lush, volcanic hills, waterfalls, crystal blue waters, and swaying palms has brought on the itch. Maybe that HGTV show Hawaii Life, which I’ve come to watch regularly has enticed me. Or maybe it’s because there is a cuisine particular to Hawaii that I have never tried. I’ve never been to India, Thailand, or Brazil for that matter, yet I have had their food here in New York. But Hawaiian food? Never. New York, it seems, is a Hawaiian food free zone.

Driving up First Avenue in East Harlem,( also known as Spanish Harlem, also known as El Barrio), not long ago, I noticed a sign for a restaurant called Makana that advertised Japanese and Hawaiian BBQ. Here, finally was a chance to lose my Hawaiian food virginity. I looked forward to my first time and despite my Kahuna credentials, hoped the experience would be a gentle one.


I went into the tiny, take-out mostly, restaurant not knowing what to expect and really not expecting much. The majority of the menu featured Japanese staples including a very long sushi list. I skipped past them and  paid attention to the items with asterisks next to them including Hawaiian BBQ beef, fried mahi mahi (“Hawaii’s favorite fish”), Kalua pork (“Another Hawaiian favorite,”) and “Loco Moco”, hamburger patties with a fried egg and covered with “special” brown gray(“A local Island favorite!”) It was the food with the asterisks I wanted.

BBQ chicken

BBQ chicken

I started with the Hawaiian bbq chicken; chunks of boneless chicken thighs heavily marinated in a sweet soy sauce. The chicken came with sides of salad, cabbage, macaroni salad, and rice with a layer of the same sweet sauce under it. While I ate, I noticed that there was something called “spam musabi;” soy marinated spam wrapped in seaweed, kind of like spam sushi, listed up on the illustrated menu behind the counter. I was tempted, but thought that when and if I ever get to Hawaii, that’s when I’ll take a chance on spam musabi.


Next I sampled the Kalua pork, pieces of tender, smoky shredded pork mixed with cabbage and lightly seasoned with that sweet soy sauce. I know pork is big in Spanish Harlem and have had my share of lechon including the addictive portions served at Lechonera La Isla ( see Lechonera Encanto). But this pork was different and had me fantasizing of a big pig slow cooked underground, Luau-style.

Kalua pork

Kalua pork

The bbq beef fried noodles, called fried saimin, were described as “Japanese-style” on the menu, but I never had anything like this at a Japanese restaurant before. The noodles, I thought, were more like thin, Chinese noodles—the sauce again of the sweet soy variety, the beef, thin round slices marinated in  the same sauce. I knew the sauce was redundant to all of the dishes I sampled, but I wasn’t complaining. It was what I was coming to identify with whatever this thing called Hawaiian food was.

Bbq beef fried saimin

Bbq beef fried saimin

In the appetizers section of the menu, I noticed ahi poke offered. I’ve never had poke, ahi or otherwise, but I thought it better, like the spam, that I wait until I’m in Honolulu, Maui, or the Big Island and the tuna is fresh out of the warm Pacific waters before I try it. But then again that might be a very long wait.

2245 1st Avenue
East Harlem

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