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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sheng Wang - Wall Menu (CLOSED)

A few weeks ago, I noticed that Sheng Wang had posted some hand-written menus on the wall. At least some of the items were definitely new, and when I recognized the characters for zhá jiang miàn (炸酱面), I got excited - I have rarely encountered a zhá jiang miàn I have not enjoyed, at least on some level. My expectations were, in fact, exceeded. This is probably now my favorite zhá jiang miàn in New York City (at least the Chinese version of the dish - the best Korean jja jang myun is another discussion entirely), followed closely by that of HeNan Flavor. Sheng Wang's wonderful hand-pulled noodles are topped with a generous dollop of a thick sauce sweet with stewed onions and bean paste, tiny chunks of hand-minced pork, and just enough hot-pepper kick to liven things a bit up and keep it from being cloying. Comfort on a (styrofoam) plate for 4 bucks.

Also on the wall menu is 元宵圆 (yuán xiāo yuán - Lantern Festival sweet dumpling), a dish I have also enjoyed at Happy Garden Palace. They look rather like their potato balls, but whiter - the dumplings are made with glutinous rice flour, filled with the same pork filling (that's MY kind of sweet dumpling!). Like everything else here, a bargain at 10 for $3.00.

The rest of the wall menu offerings are as follows (many, many thanks to Miss Audrey Lo for her help in deciphering the hand-written characters!):

1. lǔ wèi - stewed dishes

2. lǔ yā chì - stewed duck wing (2/$1.50)

3. lǔ dà cháng - stewed pork intestine ($3.50)

4. lǔ yā zhuǎ - stewed duck feet (4/$1.00)

5. lǔ niú ròu pīn pán - stewed beef combo cold platter ($5.00)

6. chǎo lā miàn - fried hand-pulled noodle

7. mǐ fěn - rice noodle

8. niú ròu chǎo lā miàn - beef fried noodle ($6.00) This dish is not new, and has been one of my favorites here for quite a while:

9. huā gé chǎo lā miàn - clam fried noodle ($6.50)

10. dà cháng chǎo lā miàn - pork intestine fried noodle ($6.00)

11. hǎi xiān chǎo lā miàn -seafood fried noodle ($6.50)

12. yáng dǔ chǎo lā miàn - lamb tripe fried noodle ($6.50)

13. zhá jiang miàn ($4.00)

14. yuán xiāo - Lantern Festival dumplings ($3.00)

15. běn lóu chǎo lā miàn - house fried noodle ($7.00)

16. yóu yú chǎo lā miàn - squid fried noodle ($6.50)

17. niú nǎn chǎo lā miàn - beef flank fried noodle ($6.00)

18. shāo yā chǎo lā miàn - roast duck fried noodle ($6.50)

19. niú zá chǎo lā miàn - beef offal fried noodle ($6.00)

There is also a sign that advertises hot or cold mung bean soup (lǜ dòu tāng) for $2.00.

Sheng Wang
27 Eldridge St., New York 10002

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hot Pot Under de Tree

Last week, I stopped into One Stop Patty Shop for a beef patty, and I noticed a pile of menus for Hot Pot Under de Tree on the counter. It definitely looked like it had potential, so today I made the short trek up to W. 151st and Frederick Douglass Blvd. My instincts proved to be correct.

Hot Pot dishes up authentic, home-style Jamaican food (judging from the accent of the fellow behind the counter, he's pretty definitely Jamaican) at very reasonable prices. I'm a sucker for jerk chicken, so that's what I had to get. It may not be the hottest jerk around, but the chicken is simmered in a deep, complex concoction of spices that made for the most satisfying non-Asian dish I've had in quite a while.

(What you can't see in the photo is the small mountain of rice and peas - the Jamaican version of moro, made with red beans - under the chicken, cabbage, and plantains.)

The hot dishes vary from day to day, but they almost always have jerk chicken, plus four or five other stews (such as goat, oxtail, and fish). Each meal comes with two sides, and in three sizes - small is around $7, depending on the dish.  Medium (pictured) is around $9, and large $11-12.

Their beef patties are homemade and baked on the premises - and even better than One Stop's.

I was told by one of the enthusiastic fellow-patrons that I need to come back on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday when the serve grilled jerk chicken. Sure enough, there was one of those oil-barrel-cum-grills right by the front door. And to come early, as they tend to run out. I intend to do just that.

Hot Pot Under de Tree
2839 Frederick Douglass Blvd. (@ 151st St.), New York 10039

One Stop Patty Shop

Take any pastry and fill it with meat and I'm all over it (Spanish emapanada, Portuguese fohlados de carne and pastéis de massa tenra. And my partiality to spicy food should be well-known to my readers by now. So it follows naturally that I LOVE beef patties. It's pretty much the only thing One Stop Patty Shop does, and they do it very well.

What does one say about a beef patty? Light, flaky dough with a hint of curry enveloping a spiced ground beef mixture. It's all in the seasoning, and One Stop's is good. Very good. A small meal (or the perfect breakfast!) for all of two bucks.

One Stop Patty Shop
1708 Amsterdam Ave. (@ 145th St.), New York 10031

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

New York Han Du (CLOSED)

Next door to my beloved Spicy Road is a space that is now home to its third restaurant in as many years. The short-lived Deyi Peking Duck House is now the much-more-satisfying-in-every-way New York Han Du.

New York Han Du is a Korean-style barbecue buffet run by northern Chinese. I haven't figured out, and forgot to ask, if it's a Yanbian establishment, but I suspect not. Their food, in any event, is excellent. A good selection of meats, seafood, chicken, and organ meat (sliced kidney, anyone?) is on hand, both marinated and fresh, spicy and non-spicy. The side offerings are minimal, but it hardly matters: the barbecue items hold center stage effortlessly.

And with the addition of the galbi (갈비):

Comparison with Picnic Garden, the best-known (only other?) Korean barbecue buffet in Flushing is inevitable: I find New York Han Du's quality a notch or two superior. And there is the added advantage here that the pleasant, attentive, and skilled wait staff tend your barbecue for you. For the time being, they are running a 20% off special at dinner - at the moment the price is $19.99 a person (regularly $24.99).

New York Han Du
43-18A Main St., Flushing 11355

(7 train to Main St.-Flushing, then 9 blocks south on Main St.)

Spicy Road (四海居), Pt. 3

Good things are still happening at Spicy Road. They continue to tweak their menu, and a new version was unveiled just this past week, with some new dishes. I was a bit dismayed to notice new prices for some of the old dishes, too, but eating here is still firmly within the "good value" category. There are many dishes here one should know about - what follows is just a small sampling.

On a recent visit, it seemed that one particular dish was on every table in the restaurant... what was one to do but order it, too? There was a reason everyone in the house had ordered it: Xinjiang Style Sautéed Sliced Beef (新疆炒肥牛 - xīn jiāng chǎo féi niú) is fantastic. Thin slices of beef belly - reminiscent of pork belly in all the best ways - are stir-fried with hot green peppers and scallions, and topped with a generous sprinkling of cilantro.

Sautéed Elbow with Seafood and Double Winter Vegetables (雙冬海鮮扒肘子 - shuāng dōng hǎi xiān bā zhǒu zǐ) is a dish that could only come from northern China. "Elbow" (肘子 - zhǒu zǐ) turns out to be pork hock, and which is braised in a brown sauce with bamboo shoot, black mushrooms, scallion, and sea cucumber - an interesting texture counterpoint - served with a ring of steamed broccoli florets. Surprisingly subtle and delightful.

Smiling Pan-broil Dumpling (開口鍋貼 - kāi kǒu guō tiē) turns out to be a generous portion of open dumplings, fried pot-sticker style, with your choice of filling. The best version of these I know of in Flushing.

Pork in Orange Sauce (鍋包肉 - guō bāo ròu) is yet another winner. Thin rectangles of pork almost the size of file cards are covered in a thin layer of batter and fried, then tossed in a sauce of orange, white raisins, currants and pine nuts, then sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Yun Gui Chuan Hot & Spicy Chicken (云貴川香麻辣子雞 - yún guì chuān xiāng má là zǐ jī) turns out to be small chunks of chicken stir-fried with dried red peppers, lots of Sichuan peppercorn, and some sort of snack mix, replete with cracker sticks and a close relative of Wheat Chex! It's the same idea as the late, lamented M & T Restaurant's Fei Hong chicken - I can only assume the Yun Gui Chuan refers to some sort of snack.

One of the new menu items is Kua Style Fish in Casserole (砂锅跨炖鱼 - shā guō kuà guā dùn yú). I must admit to being a bit stumped by the name... 砂锅 (clay pot), 炖 (stewed), and 鱼 (fish) are all self-explanatory. But 跨??  Kuà mean "cross" or "jump over". What arrives at ones table is a HUGE clay casserole of what is essentially a light, delicately-flavored hot and sour soup with egg, Chinese chives, and a a good-sized whole fish that has been previously sautéed. Perhaps this cross-pollination of cooking methods is the "crossing over" of the dish's name. In any case, it's marvelous.

It´s bigger than it looks, trust me.

Northeast Style Stew Pork (東北亂燉 - dōng běi luàn dùn) is a great dish for the coming fall and winter. The luàn of the name means "jumbled", and this stew is a jumbled riot of ingredients: chunks of pork belly, green beans, white cabbage, potato, black mushrooms, eggplant, tomato, and those wide, clear mung bean noodles (粉皮 -  fěn pí). Another quintessentially northern Chinese dish.

Make special note of the large sign in the front window with a picture of a small, metal, wok-shaped dish containing some tidbits in a reddish sauce. It lists four or five dishes in Chinese with English translations, all of the má là (spicy-tingly) variety, served in what in what one area of the menu terms a "dried wok". It comes to your table set up on a stand over a sterno burner so it bubbles away pleasantly for several minutes. The stellar Lao Gan Ma pork ribs (老幹媽香排骨 - lǎo gān mā xiāng pái gǔ) are surprisingly tender bits of spare ribs with bone, made with the famous Lao Gan Ma brand of hot sauce. Ma La Duck Neck (麻辣鴨脖 - má là yā bó), inch-long chunks of duck neck in a sauce of similar flavor, is also good, but the miniscule bones get real annoying REAL fast. And the unexpected bonus was the part I somehow missed on the poster in the window: these dishes cost $1.88! (one per table)   I'm not sure how long this special will be running, so go check it out soon.

Spicy Road
43-18 Main St., Flushing 11355

(7 train to Main St.-Flushing, then 9 blocks south on Main St.)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Top Taste Restaurant - 桂林米粉

In recent months, a small restaurant claiming – and I don't dispute it - to serve "the only authentic Guilinese cuisine in NY" opened at the new Brooklyn Chinatown food court (8th Ave. at 63rd St.). I finally made it out to Sunset Park a couple of nights ago, and I'm already looking forward to a return visit.

The menu says it's called Top Taste Restaurant, but if that appears anywhere on the sign outside, I missed it. Look for the address (6307 8th Ave.) and the words "Guilin" or "Guilinese" and you should find it without much difficulty. Its Chinese name, 桂林米粉 (guì lín mǐ fěn), translates as "Guilin rice noodle" – a particularly apt name, as that's the house specialty. Guilin is an important city (with some spectacular scenery – google some photos) in Guangxi autonomous prefecture in southern China. Guangxi shares a border with Vietnam, and the spirit of Vietnamese cooking is often palpable at Top Taste.

You should almost certainly try the house specialty, Guilin Style Rice Noodle Soup (桂林米粉 - guì lín mǐ fěn), no. 1 on the menu. Round (as opposed to flat) rice noodles with crispy pork skin, braised beef tongue, toasted soy beans, Chinese parsley, and some minced pickled long beans...a really lovely combination. Served with a small cup of broth on the side in case you want to wet up your noodles some more.

Every bit as good is their Pickled Bamboo Shoot with Fish Fillet (酸笋燜魚塊 - suān sǔn mèn yú kuāi). This is listed on the menu with the "over rice" (飯 - fàn) dishes, but the guy behind the counter suggested to my Taiwanese-American friend Audrey that she might like it better as rice noodle soup (米粉 - mǐ fěn). I, for one, am glad he did. The broth was particularly delicious, and I couldn't seem to stop myself from sneaking spoonfuls of it.

Its spicy and tangy flavor reminded my very much of the distinctive flavors to be found at Yun Nan Flavor Snack, just up 8th Ave. fourteen blocks or so, and a glance at a map of China reveals that, of course, Yunnan is Guangxi's neighbor directly to the west.

Audrey can't seem to go to any Chinese restaurant without ordering pig intestine, and this time was no exception. The Crispy Pig Intestine (香脆皮大腸 - xiāng cuì pí dà cháng) was really delightful, served with a light sweet and sour dipping sauce on the side.

I, on the other hand, have a great deal of trouble resisting sausage if it's on offer, so the Sausage Fried Rice Noodle (香腸炒米粉 - xiāng cháng chǎo mǐ fěn) also had to be ordered. It was good – the sweetness of the Chinese sausage, wood ear, cabbage, and the light oiliness of the fried noodles all balanced out perfectly.

Across the table, Chikako and Pete had ordered the Guilin Style Spicy Chicken Over Rice (辣子鶏飯 - là zǐ jī fàn). Another hit – clear flavors, sautéed with a light hand.

There were also lamb and beef skewers, from almost a dozen varieties on the menu (I did not get pictures of them, although part of one sneaked into the upper right corner of the pig intestine picture). For one dollar each, you get about twice the meat as their Flushing food cart counterparts. Since they're good, this is real bargain. Of course, the whole menu is more or less a bargain – except for the hot pots, nothing on it is more than $6.50.

I didn't discover until after the meal that they are also known locally for a novelty skewer item, "Twist Potato" (旋風土豆串 - xuán fēng tǔ dòu chuàn), a very thinly sliced spiral of potato threaded onto a skewer and grilled. I'll definitely be trying it the next time.

Top Taste Restaurant (桂林米粉)
6307 8th Ave., Brooklyn 11220

(N train to 8th Ave., then 3 blocks south)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Portuguese snacks

On the way back from yet another great meal at Restaurante Cabrita this evening, I was delighted to notice a fartura stand open. These food trucks and trailers pop up around the country during the summertime, and in Lisbon, especially around the festa de Santo António (mid-to-late June). A fartura is more or less the Portuguese answer to funnel cake - they squirt a thick rope of dough into hot grease, and cut the resulting fried spiral into about 8-inch lengths, and dip them in cinnamon sugar. The result: nirvana.

Another great Portuguese snack is the pão com chouriço: slices of chouriço baked into a large roll. The roads around Mafra - perhaps the number one place in Portugal when it comes to bread - are littered with makeshift stands selling them, and they're the best around. But if you don't happen to be driving in the vicinity of Mafra and do happen to be around Lisbon, next best is a mini-chain (two locations that I know of - one on Av. 24 de Julho by the waterfront in Lisbon, and one on the main pedestrian street in Costa da Caparica) called A Merendeira. They make them on the premises in wood-fired ovens, and they're the real deal: great, crusty bread, and tasty slices of chouriço - nothing else necessary.

Restaurante Barbantes

I've become rather fond of Vigo in recent years. It's a somewhat quirky city in a stunning setting on the Ría de Vigo where ones euro buys one a bit more hotel than in other cities in Spain. And its close proximity to the Portuguese border gives it a bit of border town character. However, a great meal at a great price was proving a bit difficult to come by until last year, when I stumbled upon Restaurante Barbantes.

It's a family-run place that advertises comida casera, and they don't lie. The tireless dueño appears to be on hand at least 16 hours a day - I've never been there when he wasn't behind the counter, and the woman in the kitchen who does all the cooking is, I believe, his wife. Whoever she is, she sure knows what she's doing. I have had close to a dozen excellent meals here - it's difficult for me to get interested in eating anywhere else in Vigo, especially after a couple of samples of what else was out there. The 8,50€ menú (primero plato, segundo plato, dessert and beverage - and if that beverage is wine, they leave you a whole bottle) is a fantastic bargain, and is offered both at midday AND at night. Their borrego asado is a plate of meat too big for most normal people to finish (not me, of course), seasoned with some hot paprika, onions, a lot of bay leaf, and a hint of tomato. These albondigas (meatballs) are even tastier than they look.

And this fish parrillada de pescado was just beautiful: scrupulously fresh chunks of skate, sea bass and hake (part of the 8,50€ menú, no less).

Even desserts are above average here. And if you come by for breakfast, be sure to try a fresh-made empanadilla, a meat pie filled with 2 or 3 types of chopped pork product - the perfect way to start the day.

Restaurante Barbantes
Rua de Cuba, 3
36204 Vigo, Spain
(+34) 986 41 60 24

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Casa Gervasio revisited

It was my last night in Asturias, and since a visit to Oviedo is not complete without a cena at Casa Gervasio, no other destination was even an option. And now that I finally have a camera, it seems an update is warranted.

However, I’m delighted to report there is no update – everything is as wonderful as ever. Just a few pictures. The chorizos a la sidra here are among the best I’ve ever had, if not the best.

Stewed to juicy perfection in, of course, sidra, they are so tender the really do practically melt in your mouth.

These patatas fritas may look like ordinary potato chips, but they were just fried and are at once crispy and tender. And still warm.

A plate of jamón ibérico (aka, food of the gods) is always a great sidra accompaniment. This pic is not my best effort, but think cured ham more amazing than prosciutto could ever be.

There were some wonderful-looking tortillas espanolas at neighboring tables, but ours, while still good, came out slightly overcooked and in no way superseded memories of the tortilla at Bar Lito the night before. I wasn’t inspired to even attempt a photo of it, although I would have been happy to get one that good almost anywhere else.

Since I had no pictures of sidra being poured properly (pay attention, Tertulia, since you are dishonestly calling yourself a cider house), our friendly camarero gamely agreed to let me get a shot of him expertly pouring a culín. Here’s where it’s most obvious that I don’t quite have the hang of my camera yet: you’ll need to imagine a green bottle held horizontally above his head.

It appears that I’m just going to have to go back again soon for a better shot.

Casa Gervasio
c/de Fuente de la Plata, 68
La Argoñesa 33013 Oviedo, Spain
(+34) 985 23 42 55

La Venta del Jamón

On the old highway between Oviedo and Gijón, there's a restaurant that's been around for over 100 years - La Venta del Jamón. And there's a reason it's been around that long.

I think Asturian cooking can be summed up as simple, honest treatment of the best ingredients, and this establishment is one of the most exalted examples in the province. And there are a couple of things that they do better than anyone. First and foremost, their croquetas de jamón de bellota are the most amazing croquetas I have ever tasted (and my friend José Ángel - who has eaten a lot of croquetas in his time - agrees).

Their lightness and intensity of flavor are nothing short of mind-blowing.

There are traditional Asturian rice dishes that are almost never found in restaurants, but this place makes them, and superbly. The octopus (pulpo) one is perhaps the best-known, but I'm quite fond of their arroz con pitu de caleya (rice with free-range chicken).

Rather like a simple paella - it's cooked in a paella-type pan - but without the crusty bits.  It's made with rice, broth, and shreds of poached free-range chicken. That's it. And the flavor is transcendent.

And their crema de arroz con leche requemado (rice pudding with a burned sugar crust) is almost as good as Casa Gerardo's:

Although not cheap, when one considers the high quality of ingredients and preparation, this place is a relative bargain.

La Venta del Jamón
Carretera Oviedo-Gijón, s/n
Pruvia de Arriba 33192 Llanera, Spain
(+34) 985 262 802


Monday, June 25, 2012

Bar Lito

Something incredible happened this evening: I was able to show my Asturian food guru (and longtime friend) José Angel a place in Oviedo with good food that he didn't already know. Of course, the only reason I knew about it was because of my friend Dave, the tuba player in the Orquesta del Principado de Asturias.

It's called Bar Lito, and it's one those old-fashioned places I love that looks like it hasn't changed in 70 years. It's a real bar - not a sidrería, so no sidra here - in the casco antiguo, with a comedor upstairs. And the dueña serves up some of the best traditional, home-style cooking in Oviedo. Dave loves the liver here.  I have no doubt that it's excellent, but, although I'm a fairly adventurous eater, a plate of liver has never particularly appealed to me. 

Tonight we had a really beautiful tortilla española:

(And note the old-style braided bread in the upper right.)  Perfectly-cooked potatoes engulfed in palpably fresh eggs, not quite set in the center (which is just the way you want it).

This was followed by a plate of some of the best pollo al ajillo anywhere in Asturias.

Washed down with a bottle of really good house red wine, it was the perfect midnight snack. At lunch, they serve a 12€ menú. Although a little more expensive than other places around, the high quality makes it unquestionably worth the extra euro or two.

If you read Spanish, there's a lovely tribute to this place on a great Spanish restaurant blog I ran across this evening here.

Bar Restaurante Casa Lito
c/Altamirano, 11
33003 Oviedo, Spain
(+34) 985 22 02 25

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Regreso a Pendones

Today was the much-anticipated yearly pilgrimage to Casa Isabel (aka Casa Juanín) in Pendones (Caso), Asturias.

To use the old saying "the anticipation exceeded the actual event" would be... totally wrong. It was fabulous! If possible, even better than I remembered. And this time, I had a camera.

The flavor of today's sopa de pescado had even more dimension than usual.

The picture may not look like much, but lurking under the surface (orange from some paprika and, if I'm not mistaken, a tiny pinch of saffron) are shreds of fish and crab, as well as the visible clams.

Isabel surpassed herself with the fabes con jabalí. The famous large white haricot beans of Asturias in a rich stew of wild boar and bits of pimiento tasted better than ever.

Picadillo de venado was the usual fantastic, this time with the addition of two utterly fresh eggs from the hens in her back yard.

Think a sort of hash made from minced venison, paprika, and garlic. Accompanied by fried locally-grown potatoes, of course.

When we tried the cabrito, José Angel and I looked at each other and simultaneously expressed astonishment that it could be even more wonderful than usual.  I was glad to know I wasn't just imagining it.

I don't know how Isabel does it - she's a sorceress in the kitchen. And I couldn't tell you what's in the sauce, aside from "nothing that doesn't belong there".

Although I'm a huge fan of the arroz con leche asturiano - and Isabel's is, of course, excellent - I can't seem to order anything but her flan for dessert there any more. It is truly the best I have ever tasted.

Casa Juanín (aka Casa Isabel)
Pendones, s/n
Pendones 33997 Caso, Spain
(+34) 985 61 37 25

Tino el Roxu (CLOSED)

Restaurante Sidrería Tino El Roxu is an excellent place to know about if you're in Gijón. The place has a good feel - usually just crowded enough to be convivial without being so packed as to make being served impossible. The sidra is good (and its eponymous red-haired proprietor has won many a competition for escanciadores), and the kitchen excellent: all the asturiano standards are good here, and at lunch there is an excellent 11€ menú.

Today's menú included pulpín con patatas, a hearty stew of diced potatoes and young octopus, seasoned with paprika. Lovely.

For segundo I chose imperador a la plancha, or a fried piece of red bream, aka alfonsino. Also nice, although cooked a tad too long.

This was accompanied by a bottle of much-better-than-decent house red wine. Dessert, the weakest part of the meal, was a perfectly ordinary flan. This all may not sound like much (although the pulpín con patatas was really great), but it was somehow more than the sum of its parts. I'm happy to go here almost any time.

Restaurante Sidrería Tino El Roxu
Avenida de la Costa, 30
33205 Gijón, Spain
(+34) 985 14 09 91


Monday, June 11, 2012

Boñar de León (CLOSED)

Edit: It is with great sadness I must report that my favorite restaurant in Madrid is not closed.

During a 9-hour layover in Madrid this week, en route to Berlin, I had time to go into town and have a nice, leisurely comida (midday meal, “midday” meaning 2 or even 3 p.m. in Spain – my kind of place!). When mulling over the possibilities the day before, it hadn’t taken me long to settle on the obvious choice: Boñar de León.

All told, this is probably my favorite restaurant in Madrid, although I readily admit it will not be to everyone’s taste. But for me, it hits all the marks, and hits ‘em hard: huge quantities of hearty, traditional, leonés cooking at rock-bottom prices. Although the rather dingy and forbidding bar up front does not exactly invite one to continue to the comedor in the back, don’t let it put you off. You will be amply rewarded with the best 10€ menú (the wonderful Spanish tradition of a first course, second course, dessert and beverage for one reasonable price) I can think of. A few years ago, I spent much of one summer in Madrid, and once I discovered this place, I ended up eating here at least twice a week – one week I remember eating lunch there every day.

The province of León is separated from Asturias by some spectacularly beautiful mountains, and the spirit of those mountains imbues the cooking. The key dish here is cocido leonés: heavier and more rustic than its madrileño counterpart (my love of hearty peasant food should be a given to my readers at this point), it is the star dish of their Monday menú. The term "stew" hardly does it justice. It is a one-dish meal of potatoes, chickpeas, carrot, cabbage, leeks, chicken, and at least four types of pork products, including (naturally) chorizo and morcilla (blood sausage). It’s all simmered together in a big pot, and the broth, with some fine noodles, is served as the first course. While they generally serve cocido completo only on Mondays, they have sopa de cocido (the broth with noodles) as part of the menú every day, and that’s what I began my meal with.

It may not look like much, but the flavor is wonderful. It’s rather like the most amazing chicken soup in the world. And yes, they left the tureen so I could take as much as I wanted - standard practice here.

Usually, I find the primero platos of Spanish menús more interesting than the segundos (and looking around at other tables, the pote gallego, a thick soup of turnip greens, white beans, potatoes, beef and chorizo, looked fabulous, as did the ensalada rusa, a sort of creamy potato salad with a bunch of other goodies in it). But I actually had a bit of trouble deciding on a second dish because too many of them sounded so good (and there are always at least 6 or 7 choices for each course here). In the end I settled on the caldereta de borrego, and it was the right choice:

A large chunk of lamb (mutton might be a better term, since borrego generally refers to meat from a sheep older than one year) that has been stewed with onions, a bit of tomato, some guindillas (hot peppers) and a lot of bay leaf, served with fried real potatoes. It was superb. Also vying for segundo choice were bonito a la riojana (tuna steak in a tomato-onion sauce) and lacón con patatas (more or less boiled ham and potatoes, but that does not begin to suggest its sublimity), always a great choice here.

When I asked for a chupito (a shot of postprandial digestif), this is what I was presented with:

That’s the kind of place this is. And my flight to Berlin was ever so much more pleasant than it might otherwise have been.

Real bargains that are worth enjoying can be tricky to find in Madrid. For my money, this is one of the best.

Boñar de León
c/Cruz Verde, 16
28004 Madrid, Spain

(metro: Noviciado)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spicy Road (四海居), Pt. 2

Since my first post about Spicy Road (in which time they have changed their Chinese name to 四海居 - sì hǎi jū - "four seas restaurant", or food from the whole country of China), I've enjoyed quite a few excellent meals there. But two dishes in particular merit special mention.

Among the dishes with their own framed pictures on the north wall is one called "shrimp with two kinds of pork", a not-quite-accurate translation of 虾仁爆两样 (xiā rén bào liǎng yàng). In reality, it is a slightly spicy stir-fry of shrimp and another meat. Their default meat for this dish is lamb, but they'll make it with pork if you ask, and I think it's a better dish that way. Quite well-rounded and flavorful, and something only northern Chinese would come up with. (I'm still getting the hang of my camera, but this should give you an idea...)

But the real standout dish I've tried here is buried under the "Seafood" section of the menu: an entry reading "steamed whole fish with sliced lamb" (蒸魚羊 - zhēng yú yáng), accompanied by the warning that a 30-minute wait is required. How could one possibly not order it? The wait is amply reward by a stunningly good dish of exactly what the name says, although what isn't mentioned is that the lamb slices are first sautéed in dried red pepper and cumin, then stuffed into and spread on top of the fish. Stupendous, and I've definitely never had anything like it elsewhere.

Buried under all those lamb slices and that Chinese parsley is, indeed, a whole fish - tilapia, I think.

I also finally noticed that they have a particularly good, well-known German beer on tap here for a VERY reasonable price. I'll let you find out for yourself which one and just how cheap, but I was pleasantly shocked (how often one is so very unpleasantly shocked - such a nice change of pace) by the revelation.

Spicy Road
43-18 Main St., Flushing 11355

(7 train to Main St.-Flushing, then 9 blocks south on Main St.)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

BZ Grill

I had been reading about BZ Grill for a while and finally decided I needed to try it. Happily, the hype is correct - they do make the best gyros in town!

At least, the best I've tried... I have great difficulty imagining that there is better in NYC. No cylinders of processed mystery meat here - there is a rotating spit of layered sliced pork right up front, alongside its fraternal twin of sliced chicken. Although good, the chicken meats tends to get just a tad dry.  The pork gyro, on the other hand is fantastic... moist, perfectly seasoned, and just enough crunchy bits to keep the texture interesting. The sandwich is great (excellent tzatziki sauce):

The platter - even better:

Plenty of meat, along with rice, some non-iceberg lettuce, chopped and scrupulously fresh, tomato slices, thinly-sliced red onion, a good dollop of tzatziki sauce and one of kopanisti (feta cheese spread), and toasted pita bread - well worth the 13 bucks they charge for it.

They have a good selection of souvlaki, kebabs, and other simple Greek specialties, but there are other places one can get most of those things, although quality here is assured to be good.  There is NO place else one can get gyro like this.  Open until 11 p.m. daily.

BZ Grill 
27-02 Astoria Blvd., Astoria 11102 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A note on Tertulia

The attentive reader of this blog may have noticed my borderline obsession with Asturias in northern Spain (okay, there’s probably nothing "borderline" about it). When I was there last year, there was already buzz about a restaurant in New York City that was going to serve real sidra, MONTHS before it was slated to open. Naturally, my curiosity was piqued.

When I began to read pieces about it, I got worried. For some reason, I delayed actually going there, most likely fearing disappointment. I finally did go this past weekend, and realized that my fears were well-founded.

I can say nothing of the food, since I didn’t have any. It's far too expensive for me under... well, pretty much any circumstances, and the menu holds no interest for me whatsoever (although I wouldn’t refuse a plate of jamón ibérico if offered one). I readily admit to being a peasant at heart – this "fusion" crap will forever be lost on me, I’m afraid. Give me traditional cooking any day.

Every puff publicity piece I’ve read about Tertulia cites its "roots in the cider bars of northern Spain". Except for the excessive number of knickknacks that pass for décor (which could just as easily be country Italian of French), it’s difficult to discern said roots, if they actually exist. The sidrerías of Asturias all have certain inherent qualities, none of which are apparent at Tertulia. They exist first and foremost for the enjoyment of sidra (more on that in a moment), accompanied by traditional fare, usually heavy on simply-prepared fresh seafood and, of course, cured pork products. Tertulia's menu, full of pretentious fantasies on lightly-Spanish themes, immediately strikes the wrong chord. A sidrería also demands a certain amount of space in which to be able to pour it properly (a bit more on that can be read here), which Tertulia lacks. Fine – I understand the space constraints and costs of Manhattan, but don’t then invoke sidrerías as your inspiration if you can’t even pour the sidra properly. And all sidrerías share a certain relaxed informality only very self-consciously played at here.

The reason for my visit – to try the sidra - unfortunately resulted in disappointment, too. Although they also offer offer sparkling sidra (which has been available in the U.S. for quite some time), my goal was the lightly fermented sidra natural being offered here, as far as I can tell, for the first time. Tertulia stocks a good marca, Trabanco, but you would never know it to taste it. Although sidra natural notoriously does not travel well, they also don’t store it at the proper temperature (too cold) and make only the barest, completely ineffectual attempt to pour it properly, thereby reducing one of the great libationary joys on earth to, at best, an oddity. Sidra is meant to be enjoyed freely, downing each culín in a big gulp, six culínes to a bottle – not nursing each precious, overpriced pour. Of course, that’s the only possibility when one is charged $32 (!!!) for a bottle that costs under 4 euros in any sidrería in Asturias.

Though the fellow behind the bar could not possibly have been more congenial, I felt dirty afterwards.

359 6th Ave., New York 10012
(646) 559-9909


Jiang Li Restaurant (鴻意順) revisited

All the favorable qualities I wrote about in my previous post about Jiang Li (鴻意順 - hóng yì shun) I feel even more strongly about now. It has become my go-to restaurant when I've been in the mood for Dongbei food in recent months, and I've tried a few more dishes worth reporting on.

It has always been difficult for me to come here without ordering either the sliced braised pork with brown sauce (山東扣肉 - shān dōng kòu ròu) or the fresh hot pepper with dry bean curd (尖椒干豆腐 - jiān jiāo gān dòu fǔ), both written about previously. Usually I end up ordering both. Now another dish must be added to the list of addictions here: "chives pork with black bean sauce" (三鮮春餅 - sān xiān chūn bǐng). The Chinese name means literally "three fresh spring pancake", which, admittedly, doesn't seem to have much to do with its English translation. What you get is a plate of minced pork that has been sautéed with chives and black beans - the "three fresh (ingredients)" in question (sān xiān is often translated as "three treasure"). What goes unmentioned are the minced jalapeño peppers that are sautéed with it - this dish is not only rich and complex, but fairly seriously spicy! Alongside is a plate of the loveliest thin pancakes I've run across in a Chinese restaurant; fill them with the minced pork, a la "moo shu" dishes of strip-mall Chinese restaurant fame, and experience the desire to order a second plate after polishing off the first one.

The most delightful little snack lurks at the end the menu, which I never would have thought to order had I not seen some at a neighboring table - fried bun with chives and egg (韭菜盒子 - jiǔ cài hé zǐ). It's pretty much what the name says: a fried pastry-pocket filled with chives and scrambled egg, but more delicate than you're probably imagining, and utterly delicious. This post marks my debut as photographer here - I very recently acquired a camera that I'm still learning how to use, and unfortunately the pic of the pork, chives and black bean dish didn't turn out too well. This one is better:

Since Miss Audrey Lo loves her pig intestine, one dish containing it must be ordered whenever she is along, and this week's was a winner - sour cabbage with intestines (酸菜炒大腸 - suān cài chǎo dà cháng). Coarsely-chopped sour cabbage is sautéed with slices of pig intestine and, of course, some garlic. A surprisingly comforting dish.

Also worth noting: they have listed on the wall (Chinese only) 拔 絲 (bá sī) dessert dishes, the chunks of caramelized fruit you dip in cold water before eating to make the sugar coating crunchy. If I can ever muster a bit of self-control when ordering the main dishes, I plan to try one some day. But I fear that day will not be soon.

Jiang Li Restaurant
44-18 Kissena Blvd., Flushing 11355

(7 train to Main St.-Flushing, south on Main St. to Kissena, veer left, then 6 more blocks)