Nablus Pastry & Sweets – Paterson

Instagram Post 2/17/2020

I’ve written about Nablus Pastry & Sweets in Bay Ridge, but having hit the trail to New Jersey this past weekend, a nod to their Paterson outpost is due. A mecca for Middle Eastern delights and more expansive than their Brooklyn location, we stopped in for only two of their numerous varieties of kanafeh and some ma’amoul cookies.

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Ma’amoul are melt-in-your-mouth cookies filled with dried fruit or nuts; dates, figs, walnuts and pistachios factor in frequently. Kanafeh, also spelled knafeh, kunafa, (there are many more), but always reliably كُنافة, is hypersweet and made with sugar syrup-drenched crisp shredded dough that conceals rich delights like clotted cream or cheese and is sometimes topped with chopped nuts – as if the lily needed gilding.

Highly recommended. Nablus Pastry & Sweets is located at 1050 Main St in Paterson NJ.

Tonii’s Fresh Rice Noodle

Instagram Post 2/16/2020

Tonii’s Fresh Rice Noodle, 83 Bayard St in Manhattan’s Chinatown, serves up a wide variety of agreeable Chinese rice rolls (cheung fan, amid alternate spellings) in a casual, no-frills atmosphere; you’ll find the usual beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, and veggie options among numerous tempting multicomponent combinations. Condiments are available tableside, but we had to request peanut sauce, so be forewarned.

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Our choices for the day included this crab & egg version, fully dressed,

roast duck (prior to condimentation, just for comparison),

and Tonii’s Special: pork, chicken, and dried shrimp, the best of the three.

Incidentally, way back in March 2016, I did a comparison of Chinatown sponge cakes here called “Sponge Information” and the winner was Kam Hing. Perhaps you’ve been enjoying these puffy paragons of perfection a few storefronts away but if you’ve noticed that their doors have been shuttered recently, not to worry: both business are owned by the same folks and Kam Hing’s peerless sponge cakes are available at Tonii’s.

BB.Q Chicken

Instagram Post 2/14/2020

KTown, Part Three.

BB.Q (aka Best of the Best Quality) Chicken is a bewildering South Korean franchise. It established a “Chicken University” (look out, McDonald’s) complete with auditoriums, seminar rooms, and training areas plus an R&D center staffed by Ph.D. level researchers, all dedicated to creating unexcelled fried chicken for their thousands of locations. They take particular pride in their use of costly 100% EVOO for frying because they believe it’s healthier and tastes better.

So why do I find it bewildering? Because for all their culinary and marketing bona fides, I found their chicken disappointing.

Upstairs at the 25 West 32nd St location in Manhattan’s Koreatown, the “Grab & Go” area is a model of efficiency. Mini buckets of a number of chicken varieties – many unusual – perch patiently in a warming cabinet; take a tray, load it up, bring it to the cashier, find a table, and chow down.

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This is boneless Galbi Chicken, “smoky, sweet and savory; marinated Korean Barbeque flavor” (unlike any galbi I’ve ever tasted BTW).

Boneless Surpfried Chicken, “a new kind of fried Chicken that never existed before! Crispy fried chicken with a hidden layer of caramelized onion sauce.”

Both were extremely dry, partially the result, I suspect, of sitting uncovered in the warming cabinet for an unspecified amount of time. Had they been covered, of course, they would have steamed and lost any crispness they may have started with. Further, it seemed like every unhappy bite was white meat, dry by definition.

All this is in stark contrast to my last post from Pelicana Chicken where there’s a sign informing customers to anticipate 10 minutes cooking time for boneless and 14 for drumsticks and wings.

Now, maybe I “did it wrong” and someone out there has had a better experience than I. Should I have ventured downstairs to the chimaek (fried chicken and beer) seating area, perhaps to consume equal quantities of chicken and draft beer or soju? Is the chicken prepared to order down there? Should I have chosen a variety that was less “creative”? Let me know. Seriously. I’ll go back for Round Two if you make a good case for it.

Pelicana Chicken

Instagram Post 2/11/2020

Part Two: More from Koreatown and Food Gallery 32 (11 West 32nd St).

Roosting on the third floor, there’s an outpost of Pelicana Chicken, a chain of Korean Fried Chicken restaurants along the East Coast. Available styles here are Boneless Chicken, Drumsticks, and Wings which can be ordered with any of ten different sauces, either in regular or crispy versions. Pelicana has a reputation for being one of the definitive KFC venues and I’d have to agree. (BTW, remember when KFC meant Kentucky Fried Chicken?)

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I actually thought the boneless version had the edge; although equally delicious, it was crisper than the wings (in both cases I ordered the “regular” to keep the playing field level). Since the pieces are far from uniform, there’s more opportunity for craggy crevices, hence crispy crunch.

But that’s not to say I didn’t like the wings; of course I did. When it comes to wings, size matters: too small and they’re not meaty enough, hence unfulfilling; too large and any subtle nuances of the coating get lost in the mass of meat, hence overpowering. These were juuust riiight. Goldilocks would have basked in the afterglow.

The chicken recipe itself isn’t spicy; the kick comes from the sauces, so order them on the side if you want to regulate the heat. That day’s sauces of choice were Pelicana Signature (spicy) – a must-do IMO – and Honey Garlic (the yellow one), also great. I didn’t do any beer that day, but “chimaek” (치맥) a portmanteau of “chikin” (Korean for fried chicken) and maekju (beer) is a thing at Pelicana and elsewhere. Next time – with friends.

Jian Bing Man

Instagram Post 2/10/2020

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Part One. Someone mentioned Korean food and my thoughts went straight to Northern Boulevard in Queens. But I realized I hadn’t visited Manhattan’s Koreatown in far too long and that includes the time since the renovation of Food Gallery 32 (11 West 32nd St) so a jaunt was long overdue.

One of the first floor vendors there wasn’t Korean at all (don’t worry, there’ll be Korean food in subsequent posts); Jian Bing (煎餅), literally fried pancake, are Chinese street food, griddled crepes flipped, filled, folded, and frequently found in Flushing’s Chinatown. The eponymous stall, Jian Bing Man, serves these along with a few noodle and rice dishes. It’s a familiar DIY format – [1] choose your type: signature (crispy bao cui, like deep fried wonton skins on steroids), you tiao (like crunchy fried savory crullers), or egg (neither crispy nor crunchy and therefore flaccid and pointless IMO since the first two incorporate egg anyway); [2] your sauce: spicy, hoisin (they call it soybean paste), or both; and [3] extra toppings (actually fillings, but why quibble?).

The 16 toppings included the usual suspects like pork floss and sausage in addition to the less common BBQ chicken and cheese. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to jian bing so my first mistake was to investigate what they did with BBQ pork (actually pork belly) and BBQ chicken. As you can see, there was an abundance of meat inside, but less would have been more; better yet, I should have cleaved to my time-honored favorites. My second mistake was to get it to go. It arrived tightly wrapped then boxed which had the effect of steaming any crispy crunchitude out of it and left me biting into a study in sogginess.

Don’t do what I did and you’ll probably end up with an okay jian bing. More KTown soon.

Chilaquiles Rojos con Cecina

Instagram Post 2/7/2020

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In my last post, I referred to our Ricos Tacos visit (505 51st St, Sunset Park, Brooklyn) as “hunger quelling”. That’s because we ordered more than that massive torta; we also indulged in one of their Platillos Principales, specifically, Chilaquiles Rojos con Cecina. Chilaquiles are tortilla chips that have been drenched in very spicy red (in this case) salsa. The dish is classically served with crema and crumbled queso fresco.

Mexican cecina is usually characterized as thinly sliced beef that’s been marinated, salted, and dried. Accurate though it is, I’ve never much cared for that description because it just doesn’t sound all that tempting. IMO, the drying process concentrates the flavor of the meat in a manner similar to that of dry aged beef and the result is an intense burst of beefiness with each bite. See what I mean? Better yet, go taste what I mean.

Pierna Adobada Torta

Instagram Post 2/6/2020

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A hunger quelling visit to Ricos Tacos, 505 51st St in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, featured this Pierna Adobada Torta. A torta is an over-the-top Mexican sandwich; it begins with perfectly fresh bread from which some of the fluffing has been removed to make room for your specifications – from the aforementioned top burrowing down through the strata, ours were chiles en vinagre (pickled chilies), avocado, fresh onion, tomato, quesillo (a soft, white, Oaxacan pasta filata string cheese not unlike mozzarella), and sautéed onion from the pierna adobada, roasted pork leg in adobo sauce, the star of the show. Top notch.

Given the choice between a torta and a cemita (a different type of Mexican sandwich that features a sesame seed bun and pápalo, one of my favorite herbs), I generally choose the latter, but it didn’t appear on the menu. As we were leaving, I discovered that they do indeed serve these gems, had I only asked. I didn’t know. But now you do. ¡La próxima vez!

Japan Village – Moriya

Instagram Post 2/5/2020

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Meanwhile, back at Industry City’s Japan Village (934 3rd Ave in Brooklyn) my dining buddy had set his sights on Moriya’s Oyako Don, donburi with boiled chicken leg and simmered egg. Boiled Chicken! 🤢 My thoughts harkened back to childhood dinners at my grandmother’s house and her rubbery boiled chicken. “It’s healthy!” she shrilled as if that somehow made it edible, although I was relieved that at least the poor hen wasn’t ill before its demise.

But having survived it, I decided that this rendition would surely be better and I’m pleased to report that it was, and significantly so. Tender and flavorful, pairing perfectly with the egg (a little culinary nepotism there) those two ingredients (along with some oomph from scallions and pickled ginger) had to be persuasive enough to carry the dish. And it worked; satisfying comfort food.

Japan Village – Hachi Revisted

Instagram Post 2/3/2020

Industry City’s Japan Village at 934 3rd Ave in Brooklyn boasts a variety of food stalls, each offering a different category of Japanese comestibles including sushi, rice bowls, ramen, udon and soba, baked goods, bentos, and fried foods, along with an izakaya and a steak and lobster house.

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We visited Hachi, the stand that vends street food like takoyaki (octopus balls), yakisoba (stir fried wheat noodles) and okonomiyaki, the shredded cabbage pancake whose name means “your preference” (okonomi) and “grilled” (yaki). We chose the okonomiyaki which is offered in three styles: Pork, Hiroshima Style (pork with a layer of yakisoba noodles crowned with a fried egg) – great if you can’t decide between okonomiyaki and yakisoba, and Seafood, with octopus, shrimp, and scallops, “our preference” but with the addition of a fried egg, just because. IMHO, the Kewpie mayo was squiggled on a bit heavy handedly and the sauce was a tad too sweet for my taste (don’t think I ever wrote that about anything); other than that, not bad.

I was hoping for more dramatic yolkporn but for the sake of de rigueur Instagram completeness, here ya go. They can’t all be gems.

Insalata di Frutti di Mare

Instagram Post 2/1/2020

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More home cookin’. Since I shared a few photos of selections from our Thanksgiving feast recently, I offer one from our traditional Christmas table. For some reason, our celebration skews Italian with meats, cheeses, and panettone from that corner of the globe (but no photos since I didn’t actually make those – and can globes have corners anyway?) so here’s my personal rendition of Insalata di Frutti di Mare (seafood salad).

The foursome of shrimp, calamari (squid), polipetti (baby octopus), and scungilli (conch) playing equal roles (sometimes with mussels fifth wheeling) plus various veggies for crunch and zest is augmented by a harmonizing dressing of EVOO, lemon juice, herbs, and more.

PS: Hopefully, photos from Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and Russian Orthodox Christmas festivities next year! 😉