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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ferry Street Barbecue

I almost didn't write about this place because, as I was taking the above picture, an irritating twat behind the counter said petulantly, "No photos allowed."

Surmising that the impromptu policy was not so much about culinary secrets as it was about the immigration status of most of the employees, I asked:

"Not even just the food?"


If the dictum "request" had been delivered with even the least iota of courtesy, I would have considered complying. But screw it. Businesses should really try to keep the cunts away from the public.

Sullen twats notwithstanding, Ferry Street Barbecue hawks some mighty tasty grilled chickens. Nicely seasoned, with the right amount of char, and (usually) juicy, a whole bird will set you back 11 bucks - 12 if you want rice or french fries with it.

As is probably obvious from the photo, this place is a barbecue in the sense of "meat grilled over charcoal", not "smokehouse barbecue". It's a very informal place - a counter and 6 or 7 tables - and almost everyone is there for the chicken, but they also do pork ribs, beef ribs, shrimp, and bacalhau.

Ferry Street Barbecue
89 Ferry St., Newark, NJ 07105

(from Newark Penn Station, walk 5 blocks east on Ferry St. - 5 to 7 minutes)
menu (add $2 to most of the prices)


I was picking up some Portuguese groceries in Newark this afternoon - one should never, ever run out of Delta coffee beans - and decided to stroll over to Portugalia Bar & Restaurant, a favorite of my good friend Michael's. This was not the first time I had reconnoitered the joint, but the pratos do dia (daily specials) had never been inspiring enough to get me to stop in... until this evening. There on the list was cabidela de galinha, probably my favorite Portuguese dish of all time.

Now, it may not look like much (and the lighting there did not help things one bit - my apologies for the dimness of the photo), but it is utter deliciousness. Chicken is stewed with its giblets, removed from the pot, and rice is then cooked in the same liquid. "What's that brown color, then?" you may ask. The dish is finished with chicken blood. When the chicken is killed, the blood is saved, with some vinegar mixed in to prevent coagulation. For my taste, there was just a bit too much of that vinegar in Portugalia's cabidela, but overall a good rendition of the dish.

Most of the patrons were eating either this, or the grilled chicken, which looked excellent (even better than Ferry St. Barbecue's). And the accompanying fried potatoes are the first and only I've seen in the U.S. that look exactly like they do in Portugal. I do believe that's what I'll be sampling my next trip here.

280 Ferry St., Newark, NJ 07105

(from Newark Penn Station, walk 13 blocks east on Ferry St. - 12 to 15 minutes)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tikka Grill

The first time I wandered into Tikka Grill, I immediately spied a fresh chicken tikka kebab on the bottom shelf of the glass case, dripping with yogurt and spices, and I knew I had to have it. It was so delicious, I have been unable to make myself try much of anything else here. It's only serious rival I've found in the NY metro area is at the Fiza Diner.

I can tell you, though, that the onion kulcha is excellent: a layer of tender onions enclosed in light, moist, and crispy bread.

On a busy corner of Astoria Blvd. near LaGuardia airport, this place is, in fact, rather easy to miss. Tucked in the ground floor of an unprepossessing low-rise building, it's almost literally a hole-in-the wall. If you go, you'll be rubbing elbows with a bunch of New York's Pakistani taxi and livery drivers, who are almost always eating curries, not kebabs. I'm sure they're great, too (the taxi drivers always know where to eat) - I just haven't got around to trying them yet.

Tikka Grill
24-02 82nd St., East Elmhurst 11370

Q33 or Q47 bus from Jackson Heights
menu (add $1 to most of the prices)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Upstairs at the New World Mall

On the main floor of the New World Mall, near the Jmart cashiers, is a counter I passed many times before deciding to investigate. It generally has a motley assortment of what look like savory pastries, cold "salad" items, and stewed meat items for takeaway, and the other day, some lovely-looking pork shanks caught my eye. How could I resist?

They call this jiang zhǒu zǐ (酱肘子), pork shank stewed in a soy, sugar, and star anise sauce, and it is DELICIOUS. Well worth the 8 or 9 bucks it will set you back.

It's the perfect edible souvenir after a meal at Tian Fu or Li's Noodles downstairs.

New World Mall
Main & Roosevelt (enter on Roosevelt), Flushing 11354

(7 train to Main St.-Flushing)

Cheng Du Heaven (成都天府)

Things are always changing in Flushing. Many of these changes are unwelcome ones, like the demise of Maple Snacks, the disappearance of Szechuan Dish, and the recent mediocre meal at Lao Dong Bei, ascribable to a different chef (one hopes this change is not a permanent one). But lately, I noticed that Cheng Du Heaven (成都天府 - chéng dū tiān fǔ), in the basement of the Golden Shopping Mall, has been, little by little, expanding its offerings – and seating area – while keeping quality high and prices low. And that it was high time it got its own blog entry here.

I remember the days when their menu was a single column of dishes listed on the wall by the counter. Now the menu boasts more than 50 dishes, with an additional 15 or 20 meal-sized soups, of both the má là tāng (麻辣湯 – the typical Sichuan spicy/tingly stews) and noodle soup varieties.

The "Wonton w/Chilli Oil Sauce" (紅油抄手 - hóng yóu chāo shǒu) appetizer is superb: practically perfect wontons in a beautifully balanced spicy sesame sauce.

While their Dan Dan Noodle (擔擔 面 – dàn dàn miàn) does not erase nostalgia for Sister Zhu's, it is one of the very best around. Another well-balanced spicy sauce lurks below those tender noodles. And the dusting of crispy-yet-tender minced pork is the perfect complement.

Their version of Ma La Beef Tendon (麻辣牛筋 – má là niú jīn) is as good as any around Flushing, too.

The Ma Po Tofu (麻婆豆腐 – má pó dòu fǔ) here is the best I've tasted in years. The tofu is soft, but not too soft, and the sauce is the perfect balance of spicy and salty, with just the right pungent accent from fermented black beans.

The only near-miss so far has been "Chicken with Family Sauce" (mmm... family sauce… my favorite!). A better translation of 家常熱窩鶏 (jiā cháng rè wō jī) would be “chicken home style”, and it was nice, but not all that interesting. Small bone-in chunks of chicken are lightly simmered in a mildly spicy sauce with two or three kinds of peppers and scallion.

Interestingly, the leftover portion when heated up at home the next day was better than on the first day. The flavors were both better melded together and more pronounced. My friend Audrey tells me that the characters 熱窩 mean, essentially, "warm, but not too hot", making the preparation true to its name. I would just prefer the dish to have finished cooking, I suppose!

On the other hand, their dry-sautéed chicken (干煸鶏 - gān biān jī) is the tastiest version of this dish I have ever tasted, with lots of intense spicy and salty flavor. It's listed on the wall, rather amusingly, as "chicken with dire chillis".

Their Spicy Twice Cooked Pork (回锅肉 – huí guō ròu) is stellar – as good as any I've tried, with a real homemade quality to it.

Don't miss the array of appetizer dishes and snacks in the glass counter-case. The Ma La chicken wings are marvelous to keep around the house to snack on. And their Ma La Sausage (麻辣香 腸 – má là xiāng cháng) really is almost as good as Sister Zhu's from Maple Snacks:

And it's difficult to stop eating slices of their house-cured pork belly (成都臘肉 - chéng dū là ròu):

Cheng Du Heaven serves, for my money, the best Sichuan food in Flushing at the moment (Little Pepper is in College Point). Because of the very spartan dining environs, one might wish that some of the dishes were a buck or two cheaper, but it's still a great value.

Cheng Du Heaven (成都天府)
Golden Shopping Mall basement food court
41-28 Main St., Flushing 11355

(7 train to Flushing-Main St., then 3 blocks south on Main)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tawa Tandoor

The Indian buffet is, at this point, pretty much a classic restaurant genre. Yet finding a decent one in NYC can be rather tricky. Sure, there's the Jackson Diner for Sunday brunch, but their kitchen has seen better days (and one actually has to get up in time to get out there for brunch...).  Indian Taj, a bit further up the block is okay in a pinch but just isn't all that good. Luckily, a newcomer has arrived to take up the slack: Tawa Tandoor.

Most of the cooking here is Indian food's first cousin, Pakistani, as are the owners. The charming matriarch of the establishment told me that they have cooks there from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, so there are all sorts of influences floating around here. But what makes this place stand out is the quality of its offerings. Everything is prepared with care and attention, with good ingredients, producing flavors are almost always fresh and vibrant - a rare thing for a buffet at this price point. And when that price point is $11.95 a head at dinner, it's practically a steal.

The restaurant is halal (no pork - and I didn't even miss it!), with a good selection of both vegetarian and meat options on the buffet. The spread is pretty much the same every day, with an item or two traded out occasionally. My perhaps-a-bit-too-hurriedly-taken photos don't do the food justice, but it will give you an idea.

From left to right: hakka vegetable noodles, vegetable fried rice, vegetable kofta (delicious "meatballs" made of vegetables), white basmati rice, and palak paneer (spinach and Indian farmer cheese, also known by the less specific, but more common, name saag paneer). The hakka noodles are fun and tasty, the vegetable kofta unexpectedly delicious (at least it was unexpected by me, confirmed carnivore that I am), and the palak paneer has a bit more bite (in a good way) than most versions you'll find.

Continuing the vegetarian offerings:

From left to right: aloo gobi (curried cauliflower and potatoes), poori bread, chana masala (curried chickpeas), and vegetable pakora and samosa. Most of these I have not, in fact tried (there is almost nothing you can do to cauliflower to make it appealing to me, and I prefer to get my starch overloads in ways other than pakora and samosa). But chana masala is an especially dark, rich version of this dish, and puffy, crispy poori bread is always fun - try to catch them just as they're bringing fresh ones from the kitchen.

And, finally, the meat:

From left to right: tandoori chicken, chicken jalfrezi, chicken tikka masala, goat curry, and chicken biryani. Once again, if you can catch the tandoori chicken on its way out from the kitchen, you'll be rewarded with some very moist, flavorful pieces of chicken. There are usually chicken kofta (lovely chicken meatballs in a complex gravy just spicy enough to be interesting) in the chicken jalfrezi spot, but the jalfrezi was in no way a disappointing substitute - chunks of chicken and vegetables simmered in a slightly spicy, yet soothing, curry sauce. The favorite of Americans, chicken tikka masala, has more kick to it - and firmer chunks of chicken - than almost any version I've tried, raising it far above the cloying glop one usually gets. I was told the goat curry is quite popular, and indeed it is some of the best goat I have had in this country.

There are also some salad and dessert items to round out the selection - rice pudding is on offer almost every day - and a fresh naan bread is brought to you almost as soon as you sit down.

Tawa Tandoor
37-56 74th St., Jackson Heights 11372

(E, F, M, R, or 7 train to 74th St.-Broadway/Roosevelt Ave.-Jackson Heights, then a short block north on 74th St.)