Milkcow

Instagram Post 11/20/2019

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If you’re a habitué of soft serve emporiums, you’ve probably heard about Milkcow, the burgeoning Asian ice cream chain that launched in South Korea a few years ago. Its target is the youth market – which you’ll immediately appreciate from watching the “making-of-the-ad” video on their website, milkcowcafe.ca, or checking out their menu firsthand at 69a Bayard St in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

They have two flavors, ube and, um, the white one. No, not vanilla. It’s milk flavor. Organic milk to be precise. But Milkcow is all about their over-the-top toppings in 16 combinations: macarons, Oreo crumbles, jelly beans, caramel popcorn, chocolate rocks, assorted syrups including brown sugar boba, or the Instaworthy signature cloud of cotton candy or hunk of honey cube.

In my opinion, you should opt for one of two strategies for your visit to Milkcow: taste appeal or eye appeal. My advice for the former goes like this: Savor a sample of milk flavor. Notice that it’s very dairy with nary a hint of ’nilla and rather subtle. Then repeat with ube. My sample today had bits of, well, something, in it – actual ube perhaps? – that didn’t bother me, just surprised me. Both flavors were quite good. Then enjoy the unadorned version (they call it the Milky Way) of your choice.

The surrender-to-excess approach is as follows: Make sure your camera lens is clean. Check out the menu. Choose whichever option you think will fetch you the most Instagram likes. Take the perfect picture from the perfect angle with the perfect background. (Unlike this one.)

Notice I didn’t say anything about consuming it. Here’s the rub: the delicate nature of the milk flavor is immediately overwhelmed by the addition of anything, including even the drizzle of chocolate sauce you see in this photo – the mistake I made and am here to caution you about.

Therefore, my counsel: Choose your path, cleave to it, and you will succeed in your mission. Don’t be cowed by compromise.
 
 

Rendang Telur

Instagram Post 11/19/2019

One of Indonesia’s national dishes is rendang, and if you’ve ever sampled the cuisine, you’ve probably enjoyed it with beef as the main ingredient, although there are numerous variations including jackfruit, chicken, and egg. In my experience, egg rendang looks a little like a hard-boiled egg curry so I was surprised to see a package labeled Rendang Telur (telur means egg) at Sunday’s Elmhurst bazaar sponsored by the Indonesian Gastronomy Association looking exactly like a bag of well-seasoned chips.

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Crispy, crunchy, spicy, and tasting of eggs and coconut milk, they’re nearly impossible to stop eating. Trust me. I tracked down a recipe which, greatly simplified, involves making a flour and egg crepe, cutting it into chips, frying/baking the pieces to dry them out, then combining coconut milk, herbs, and spices, cooking that mixture down and adding it to the chips followed by more long cooking to achieve maximum crispitude.


Close-up shot.


The aforementioned package.

IGA-USA is a non-profit organization whose mission it is to introduce Indonesian culture to people in the US, particularly in New York City. They stage this event which is as much about the culture as it is about the cuisine approximately monthly, so follow them on Facebook or on Instagram @iga_newyork to stay apprised of their schedule.
 
 

EazyLife Restaurant & Lounge

Instagram Post 11/18/2019

If you like West African cuisine but can’t decide between Nigerian and Ghanaian food, you might consider EazyLife Restaurant & Lounge, 1300 East 222nd St. in Eastchester, Bronx, where two chefs are in residence, one from each nation. (Incidentally, the dual arrangement insinuates a round of dueling jollofs since the two rice recipes are markedly distinctive.)

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Our appetizer was Nigerian Isi Ewu, goat head sautéed in “native sauce” as the menu described it. Of course, the texture and flavor of goat head are unlike goat meat from further down the carcass; more like goat skin, these nubs are chewy and benefit from the spicy sauce and spears of red onion that accompany them.


Keeping with the Nigerian theme, this entrée is Bitter Leaf Black Soup. Bitter, yes, but in a good way, with a satisfying spicy kick. Croaker was the fish of choice in the starring role.


Afang Soup was less a soup or sauce and more along the dry stew <-> chopped leafy vegetable continuum. Made from afang (aka okazi) leaves, sometimes with the addition of spinach, cooked down with palm oil and dried fish, it had a medium spice level. More croaker alongside. Our starchy fufus (aka swallows) that day, not pictured, were amala and the more neutral pounded yam.
 
 

Holtermann’s Bakery

Instagram Post 11/16/2019

My first encounter with kringler, the filled Danish pastry, was decades ago via an annual snail-mail catalog specializing in Christmas goodies posted from Wisconsin. (Racine is renown as the kringle capital of Wisconsin and kringler are the official state pastry.) Closer to home, the stalwart Leske’s Bakery in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is famous for their rendition. But I was unfamiliar with Holtermann’s Bakery, 405 Arthur Kill Road in Staten Island; a ferry trip and a bus ride at my dining buddy’s behest would enlighten me.

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Holtermann’s is a somewhat isolated tiny bakery with an enormous parking lot to accommodate the dozens of cars that bring scores of folks who queue up patiently for their delicious baked goods. (Apropos of enormous, that’s a quarter in there.) Some kringler are pretzel shaped; these are vaguely reminiscent of a kid’s slot car race track, flat and oval, but that’s where the similarity ends. This sweet confection, along with a cup of hot coffee, amply provided breakfast on several frosty mornings.


Revealing the filling of sweet nut paste plus nut pieces and the generous application of sweet icing. Did I mention sweet yet?


Perhaps more decadent (and yes, perhaps more sweet) was this chocolate almond ring with…
…gobs of almond paste supporting chocolate glaze and slivered almonds – and there was some cake in there as well.

The family owned and operated business has been around since 1878 so obviously they know how to put a smile on people’s faces. They did on mine. 😋
 
 

Himalayan Yak Restaurant

Himalayan Yak Restaurant has been a Jackson Heights fixture since 2004. Specializing in Tibetan and Nepali cuisine with a soupçon of Indian and Bhutanese dishes sprinkled in for good measure, they’ve recently added a new “Yak, Yak, and Yak” section to the menu so, having dined there years ago, I had to go yak – er, back.

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My understanding is that the principal meat consumed in Tibet is yak, so we ordered the Yak Sizzler since it appeared to be the most straightforward presentation of the meat. Salubrious health claims notwithstanding, yak tasted a lot like beef to me but that’s giving it too much credit. To these taste buds it didn’t have a lot of personality and it was a little tough and chewy. It arrived with linguini-like noodles that stuck to the pan a bit which made for a little pleasant crispness, and that’s as it should be – it’s a sizzler after all – and they released when mixed with the meat juices. Since that “sauce” is primarily pan drippings (and perhaps some butter?), their flavor was intense and particularly good.


Yak Shapta (you might see shaptak) features the meat in a more elaborate guise, stir fried in a medium spicy chili sauce with onions, red pepper and scallions. Again, the meat was a little chewy, but that’s yak for ya.


Yak Gyuma Chilli. Gyuma is blood sausage, the Tibetan answer to morcilla and so many others, prepared from ground yak meat, chilies, and a starchy filler, served here with onions and bell peppers in that medium spicy chili sauce. Less dominant character than some blood sausages, but in this case, that’s a good thing.


Not to neglect yak appetizers, these are Yak Chilli Momo. Flavorful whole wheat dumplings filled with ground yak, onion, scallion, cilantro, garlic and ginger covered with onions and bell peppers in that familiar spicy chili sauce…


…and Yak Cheese. An Emmentaler doppelganger. Seems like the next word in sequence should be “expialidocious”. Go ahead, try it. I’ll wait. Apologies for the earworm. (Anyway, wasn’t Emmentaler-Doppelganger the third stop on the Orient Express?)
 
 
So I gathered a group of world food lovers for a subsequent visit. We tried almost everything above, in addition to these yakless selections:

Chili Momos with Pork. If you’re going to do Himalayan food, then you’re going to do momos in one form or another. These crunchy (because they were fried, not steamed) yumballs were slathered in that medium spicy chili sauce with red and green peppers, onions, and scallions rounding out the dish. Good way to start things off.


For a change of pace from steamed momos, we ordered Fried Momos with Chicken. Good, but they benefited from this array of sauces:

Akin to traffic light protocol, green was the mildest (avocado!), red warned us of spicy chili, and the yellow (well, sort of orange really, but I’m taking license – literary, not driver’s) fell somewhere in between.


Choila. A cold appetizer of chicken chunks marinated with onion, garlic, ginger and mustard oil. We enjoyed this particularly spicy Nepali dish so much that we ordered two.


Pork Labsha is a Tibetan radish curry; the word labu refers to daikon. The sweet pork contrasted perfectly with the slightly bitter daikon in this home-style dish – not spicy but quite good.


Gundruk Ko Takari. Gundruk is a fermented mustard green curry, a signature dish from Nepal. We opted for the vegetarian version which highlighted dehydrated potatoes and mushrooms. Kinda funky but in a good way, and a proper contrast to everything else we enjoyed that evening.

Fried Thenthuk. Pan fried Tibetan flat hand pulled noodles with pork, daikon and bok choy. Thenthuk noodles often show up in soups, but this stir fry was welcome in the context of our dinner.


Ngyashya Zema, a Tibetan chili fish recipe. Slices of tilapia, breaded and stir-fried with garlic, ginger, red onions, broccoli, mushrooms, and bell peppers, falling apart tender in a medium spicy sauce. Again, a tasty dish that was unique among our choices.


Sekuwa. From the Nepali side of the menu, tender lamb, marinated and charcoal grilled, served over crispy puffed rice. A fine example of the Maillard reaction; no complaints.

Alas, I didn’t get a photo of the Nepali Khasiko Sukka Masu, dry goat curry, but it was excellent – good to know in case you head out to Himalayan Yak.

Himalayan Yak is located at 72-20 Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens.
 
 

Yin Ji Chang Fen

Instagram Post 11/13/2019

It is not often that I have the opportunity to write about a restaurant so special that I am compelled to recommend it enthusiastically; Yin Ji Chang Fen, a well-known rice noodle roll chain from Guangzhou, China, made the cut. Recently opened at 91 Bayard St in Manhattan’s Chinatown, you can expect long lines so grab a take-out menu and hone your decisions while you’re waiting.

Cheung fan (Chinese rice rolls), amid alternate spellings, are enjoying a moment in the spotlight here in New York City. You’ve probably savored them at specialty venues, food trucks, and dim sum parlors; in essence they’re a thin roll of steamed rice noodle filled with seafood, meat, or vegetables or wrapped around youtiao (Chinese cruller). Now if you’ve been eating them forever, you’ll immediately recognize that these are a little different from what you’re accustomed to in at least three aspects: the noodle is thinner, they arrive doused with a bespoke soy sauce based mixture, and the proportion of filling to noodle is off the charts.

In addition to 16 kinds of chang fen, Yin Ji Chang Fen offers 14 varieties of congee (aka Chinese rice porridge), both with ample customizations available, and a few Asian snacks.

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Marinated Pork and Shrimp with Chives rice noodle roll; absolutely delicious. (Incidentally, portions are about twice as large as is customary around these parts.)


Inner workings: huge chunks of pork and whole shrimp.


Sliced Fish with Chives rice noodle roll. I thought I’d try an add-on so I asked for extra egg in this one. I was expecting to find the egg within, but what arrived was the rice roll as specified further enveloped in a thin omelet, a pleasant surprise.


Lai Wan Style Assorted Congee, topped with shredded egg, ginger, greens, peanuts and cilantro.


Inner workings revealed fish fillet, squid, pork skin, and more. Note that their congee may be a little thinner than what you’re used to. Although not canonical, you could unabashedly add some Spicy Chili Crisp, provided tableside, if you’re so inclined.


From the Asian Snacks side of the menu, Deep Fried Fish Skin; best I’ve ever had, ruined me for others.

Go here now. That is all.
 
 

Seafood Palace

Instagram Post 11/11/2019

Bensonhurst’s burgeoning Chinatown (yes, really) is home to a phalanx of Guangdong (Cantonese) and Hong Kong style restaurants as well as a few dim sum parlors (as you’d expect). The area is ripe for serious exploration, but to get things rolling my dining buddy and I did a survey of most of the eateries, noting which warranted further investigation. We settled on Seafood Palace, 2172 86th Street, Brooklyn, for lunch and despite the paucity of patrons that day, it did not disappoint.

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The menu calls this delectable item Sea Clams and Sweet Pea Pods with XO Sauce; the Chinese reads XO蜜豆桂花蚌 which I interpret as XO honey bean osmanthus mussel (or clam). The XO sauce part is a gimme and honey bean refers to sugar snap peas. The clams looked and tasted exactly like sweet razor clams but I’m told that “osmanthus clam” refers to something dissimilar. Assuming you like clams, treat yourself to this eminently accessible dish served with a mildly spicy sauce enhanced with ginger, scallions, green chili, red chili, Chinese chives, purple onion and what I suspect were tiny nubs of flavorful pork. Definitely good eats.


Pan Fried Egg with Noodlefish was a tasty, unpretentious dish obviously prepared with great care and admirable skill. The scrambled eggs were light, fluffy, pillowy and moist and the kind of preparation you’d expect from French cuisine. Noodlefish, aka ice fish, are related to smelts, so watch for the few unavoidable tiny bones.

And yes, I’m going back. Soon.
 
 

Mandato Fruit & Grocery Corp. – Part 2

Instagram Post 11/10/2019

I’ve written about Mandato, the three-in-one Mexican destination at 7220 3rd Ave, Brooklyn before: it’s a take-out restaurant featuring tortas, cemitas, tamales, picaditas, tlacoyos, sopes, quesadillas, huaraches and more; a market where, in addition to packaged goods, you’ll find authentic Mexican ingredients including quesillo, nopales, and store-made barbacoa, carnitas, and tamales; and an authentic panadería where they bake their own Mexican panes dulces (sweet breads) available in store and sent out to close to 30 local groceries and bodegas as well – and that’s the subject of today’s post.

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Shown here are three from among dozens of varieties of baked goods prepared daily, all delicious, all made without preservatives or lard. Sleeping at the bottom is a yoyo; moving clockwise a taco de crema; and holding down the 2 o’clock position is a cherimoya, so called because it’s crafted to look like the eponymous fruit.


A peek inside sheds more light on the names. Like its real-life counterpart, the yoyo actually comprises two halves, bonded in this case by a fruity layer. The taco de crema, airy and flaky, guards creamy custard within. The cherimoya encloses a surprise as well: a generous amount of sweet cinnamon filling.

It’s a unique stop along my Bay Ridge Little Levant ethnojunket, or if you’re in the neighborhood, check it out for yourself!

(Note that this venue is officially Mandato Fruit & Grocery Corp, not the restaurant of the same name next door – there’s no connection.)
 
 

Fuska House

Instagram Post 11/7/2019

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Ask anyone from Bangladesh about fuchka (ফুসকা – you might see fushka, phuchka, phuska, or fuska as it’s spelled on the Fuska House truck) and they will recount a personal story laden with affection and often a wistful touch of homesickness about this beloved street food. Fuchka is Bangladesh’s take on Indian panipuri: It starts with puri, a deep-fried, puffed up, hollow shell of unleavened bread filled with a variety of components, often including potato, onion, cilantro, delicious aromatic spices, and thin, tangy tamarind chutney. It’s that wonderfully drippy chutney that dictates that you pop the whole thing into your mouth all at once to get an eye-popping burst of those savory ingredients coming together in a symphony of flavor.


The Fuska House truck is parked on 37th Ave near 73rd St in Jackson Heights, Queens. While you’re there, check out the other snacks they offer like this Mix Vorta: slices of fresh mango and peara (guava) so piquantly seasoned as to awaken even the most tired taste buds.
 
 

New Fully Bakery

Instagram Post 11/6/2019

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I often stop by New Fully Bakery, 82-24 45th Ave in Elmhurst, on my way to HK Food Court for these Guangdong/Hong Kong treats: wife cake, husband cake and sun cake (nope, neither a typo nor a pun). The three share a common flaky exterior since they’re all based on a rice flour dough enriched with lard and painted with egg-wash for sheen and flakiness. They’re sweet but not too sweet, which I know will be welcome news to many of you.


Clues as to their inner nature. Wife Cake (aka Sweetheart Cake 老婆饼, lao po bing), top, is filled with a paste made from candied winter melon. Diverse recipes are legion (these are slender compared to others I’ve enjoyed) as are tales of how they got their name, but they invariably conclude with a love-conquers-all happy ending. Recently they’ve taken on a fresh identity as an emblem of resistance in Hong Kong.

Less common around these parts is the Husband Cake (老公饼, lao gong bing), bottom. At New Fully Bakery, they’re similar to the wife cake except for a swap-in of pineapple for winter melon plus a few almonds on top; elsewhere they possess a considerably burlier flavor profile due to ingredients like garlic, red bean paste, and star anise.

Sun Cake (太陽餅, tai yang bing) has its roots in Taiwan. Its chewy center, crafted from malt sugar and butter (perhaps honey and milk), arguably makes it the most satisfying of the three.


Close-up revealing sun cake’s delightful filling.


And speaking of Taiwan, I’m told that the owner of New Fully Bakery hails from there which didn’t surprise me because of these thick, sweet Pineapple Pies on display. (Taiwan was once the third largest exporter of pineapples worldwide and they’re still a significant contributor to their economy.) I might like these even more than their family of family cakes.