Thai Cook (at iCook)

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as six posts, published on January 27-29 and March 1-3, 2020.


I was no stranger to the food at Am Thai Bistro on Church Ave in Brooklyn and always thought it was a cut above the norm for the area (if not especially creative) so I surmised we’d be in relatively good hands at its owner’s new undertaking, Thai Cook in Elmhurst. Sharing space with iCook Buffet, a BBQ/hotpot place at 81-17 Broadway, the menu couldn’t be more different from its Flatbush sibling; IMO this venture is the real deal and easily stands up to its neighborhood Thai competitors of renown.

Ten of us assembled there for lunch (which is code for we had the opportunity to taste ten different dishes) and another six for dinner (and another six dishes) and therein lies the rub: we all agreed that everything we ordered was outstanding, so I’m stymied by culinary mastery and can’t recommend favorites. Therefore let us stipulate that you won’t go wrong with any of the items in this post (presented in no particular order). Incidentally, don’t forget to order sticky rice with your meal. Some dishes do come with regulation rice – see photos – but all of the sauces are so delicious that you’ll surely want some sticky rice to soak up every drop!

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Fresh Crepe

We started with Fresh Crepe: a rice flour wrap swaddling bean curd, sweet radish, and chives served with sweet soy-garlic sauce. I believe the crispy bits were Thai cuisine’s answer to chicharrones; they elevated the dish significantly.

Grilled Squid

Amazingly tender scored squid with sweet/sour/spicy sauce and peanuts. More yummy crispy bits.

Tum Thai Cook

From the Papaya Salad section of the menu. Mixed seafood (with that incredibly tender squid), blue crab, shrimp, and New Zealand mussels. Very spicy.

Aob Woon Sen

We opted for shrimp although crab and veggie versions are available; it highlights oyster mushrooms, celery, sliced ginger, pork belly, and glass noodles and is served with their signature Millionaire sauce. The sauce is chef Boonnum Thongngoen’s custom recipe for the classic Thai sauce of chilies, garlic, shallots, cilantro, sawtooth coriander, makrut lime leaf, fish sauce and lime juice. She named it in honor of her husband who lost a metaphorical million in failed restaurants back in Thailand but retained his family recipe for the bespoke sauce. Excellent.

Pork Liver Yum

Yum, the onomatopoeically named Thai salad, typically features one or two key ingredients accompanied by some form of allium along with fresh herbs and is characterized by a dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, lemongrass, garlic, sugar, and chilies – always plenty of chilies. This yum set the spotlight on flavorful Pork Liver with red onion and scallions pointed up with cilantro and mint; perfect for this liver lover.

Spicy Oyster Yum

Another yum, in this case with oysters (they’re in there), accompanied by red onion and scallions in cilantro/mint/lime sauce with crispy fried shallots on top and their signature Millionaire dressing on the side. Good stuff.

Lime Chili Sliced Pork

From the Steamed portion of the menu, sliced pork rolled around tiny enoki mushrooms with a lemongrass, mint, cilantro, chili, and fresh lime juice dressing.

Not a squid: those are the enoki mushrooms oozing out of the pork!

Coconut Crab Curry Noodle

From the Noodle & Rice section of the menu. Spicy Southern Thai yellow curry with vermicelli noodles and pickled mustard greens. No discernable crab meat, but the flavor was there. And a hardboiled egg.

Panang Curry

Also from the Noodle & Rice corner, Home Cooked Style Panang Curry (coconut milk) with beef. We did the pork version at a subsequent meal; both were great. And a hardboiled egg.

Khua Kling

From Mom’s Specials, a spicy Southern Thai dish with dried beef and curry paste. And a hardboiled egg.

Striped Bass

I asked if there were any specials that day and was rewarded with this grilled striped bass with a perfectly harmonized sauce on the side.

Larb Moo

Larb (you might see laab), a spicy ground meat salad with origins in Laos that migrated to the Isaan region of Thailand, shows up among the yums on the menu; moo means pork (easy to remember because of the barnyard irony). This one costars ground pork and pork intestine in a chili lime dressing. Good stuff.

Pressed Pork & Egg Yolk Yum

Speaking of yums (in both languages), this Yum with Pressed Pork & Egg Yolk is worth getting and doesn’t duplicate the porks above. If you’ve had Vietnamese bánh mì, chances are you’ve had pressed pork, a delicious bologna-like sausage. If you haven’t tasted salted duck egg yolk, you need to without further ado.

Fresh Crepe with Tom Yum Noodle

Ground pork, fish balls, shrimp, and crispy fried pork skin piled on top of rice flour wraps in a spicy tom yum sauce. The fresh crepe Starter without all the accoutrements shown above is fine, but look to the Noodle & Rice section of the menu for this (even better IMO) choice.

Papaya Salad with Thai Peanut and Salted Egg

There are nine variations on the theme of Papaya Salad on the menu, all of which are pretty spicy, so be forewarned.

Thai Cook is located at 81-17 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens. It shares a space with iCook Buffet and once inside it’s easy to access one from the other, but cognoscenti will use the entrance on the right and walk down the hallway to hit the heights directly.
 
 

Wu’s Wonton King

Instagram Post 2/21-24/2020  and  3/16-22/2020

It seems to me that authentic Cantonese cuisine is often overlooked in favor of other, less subtle, regional Chinese fare. That may be because Chinese-American food, a poor excuse for gastronomy IMO but a stepping stone for the totally uninitiated I guess, has its roots in Guangdong.

Our group recently visited Wu’s Wonton King at 165 East Broadway in Manhattan’s Chinatown and came away more than pleased – so much so that I brought another group there a few weeks later! Here’s a compilation of everything both groups enjoyed.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

You’ve probably had mediocre wonton soup with nondescript flaccid dumplings in Chinese restaurants so many times that you don’t even bother to order it. It seems to be ubiquitous. But I urge you to try Wu’s New York Number 1 Wonton Soup. The sturdy dumplings packed with shrimp, pork, and watercress are bathed in a bone broth soup, cloudy, flavorful, and rich with collagen. A great starter for which they are justly famous.


Solo.


The inner workings.


Here are two dumpling orders from the Dim Sum section of the menu. Pan Fried Shrimp with Green Chives, just what it sounds like and totally delicious…


…and Steamed Chaozhou dumplings, halved so you could see the filling (and yeah, so we could share). Peanuts provide the crunch in these classic pouches in addition to an ample complement of carrots, peas, shiitake mushrooms, ground pork, and dried shrimp. Love these.

I was especially keen to try their take on a dish I’ve had elsewhere that features osmanthus clam/mussel. My “clam/mussel” equivocation stems from the fact that the seafood in question is actually neither. Rather, it is an internal component of the sea cucumber, an echinoderm that inhabits the ocean’s floor.

If you’re unenthusiastic when it comes to even reading about innards, skip to the next paragraph. Now. Sea cucumbers have a soft, sausage-shaped body with no solid appendages and don’t even have a proper brain, so one might reason that they wouldn’t be particularly adept at self-defense against predators – but for one saving grace. From Wikipedia: “Some species of coral-reef sea cucumbers…can defend themselves by expelling their sticky cuvierian tubules to entangle potential predators…in an autotomic process known as evisceration.” [I’ve heard the term “stomach eversion”. Simply put, they literally puke their guts out.] “Replacement tubules grow back in one and a half to five weeks, depending on the species.” The tubules look very much like squid tentacles which is how they appear on the plate. Here’s a photo in vivo.

That having been said, the name of this absolutely delicious dish is 脆奶拼雙蚌, #10 on the Seafood section of the menu; its English name is Sautéed Clam with Fried Milk (although the menu uses a different word for “fried”).


As presented: there are king oyster mushrooms and sautéed asparagus beneath the Chinese chives and clams. It’s pricier than some other menu items, but I thought it was excellent.


Post-bite close-up of the crispy, sweet, creamy fried milk; these could be a snack by themselves. So good.


Close-up of a clam; its flavor and appearance are similar to that of a razor clam but perhaps a bit more slippery and chewy. Now here’s where I need some help from the cognoscenti among you. Is that red bit (which tasted completely different from the other part, brinier and spicier for sure) part of the clam, or something different? TIA for the info!


Our foray into the real deal at Wu’s Wonton King was rewarded with this bowl of Pan Fried Noodles with Seafood.


Revealing the crispy noodles beneath that are the raison d’être of this dish.

They say that timing is everything and that’s surely the case with this presentation. Mix well: if you start crunching before the sauce has a chance to permeate the noodles, you’re missing the point; wait too long and the rich seafood mélange will have saturated and drowned them into a submission of sogginess. Nope. There is a window of culinary opportunity in which the noodles still have crunch but have absorbed enough of the sauce to be flavorful – and that’s what you’re going for.

This may very well be the best rendition of Cantonese pan fried noodles with you-name-it I’ve ever had.


You’ve probably gazed at the awesome roasted/BBQ meats (and sometimes cuttlefish if you’re lucky) hanging in the windows at Cantonese restaurants: roast pork, roast pig, soy sauce chicken, and so many more. The collective term for these favorites is siu mei (燒味), not to be confused with the popular dim sum dumpling, shu mai (燒賣). But if you’d like a change from roast duck, give this marinated braised duck, beautifully rare and perfectly succulent, a try.


I’ve worked my way through most of the duck options on the menu from roast to marinated braised. This one is Honey Roast Duck; gotta love that sweet and shiny skin protecting the succulent meat within.


Check out the framed posters on the wall and you’ll spot “Dried Squid Sautéed Fried with Silver Anchovy”; it was that photo that tempted us and it proved to be another outstanding choice. (It’s “Dried Squid Stir Fry”, #16 on the Seafood section of the menu, if you don’t see it on the wall.) Tender squid contrasted with the crispy little fish, but don’t envision European salted anchovies packed in oil like you might find on a pizza; these are half a world apart. Literally. I’ll be returning with a different group very soon, and this dish is at the top of our gotta-do-this-again list.


If you’ve never tried a Chinese casserole you should add it to your repertoire. The cooking vessel is a clay pot and the variety of recipes and ingredients seems limitless. Often a rice dish with a crispy bottom layer, this one is a rich home style stew featuring chunks of lamb and bean curd sticks – another example of bean curd skin’s many guises (see this recent post).


To me, this dish is Sichuan comfort food: the menu calls it Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce, the commonly used descriptor. The Chinese characters are 鱼香肉丝, literally fish flavor (or fragrance) shredded pork, but don’t infer that it tastes like (or contains) fish from the phrase “fish flavor”; it simply refers to a method often used for cooking fish, and it’s delicious. A little sweet, a little sour from vinegar, accented by the omnipresent garlic and ginger, it’s chili sauce based – and it’s the kind of chili sauce that tastes a bit like ketchup. (As a matter of fact, one theory holds that the word ketchup comes from the Cantonese words “keh jap”, literally tomato sauce, but there are others of course.) Etymology notwithstanding, the dish is classic.


This is Snow Pea Sprout with Dried Scallop. The dish as presented has the appearance of an ocean of sauce with a school of shredded dried scallops swimming just beneath the surface.


Only by parting the sea are the snow pea shoots revealed. Subtle and delectable.


Chinese Broccoli (gai lan), stripped of its leaves, included here to dispel the myth that I tend to overlook vegetables. 😉


Complimentary mango jelly for dessert.
 
 
Wu’s Wonton King is located at 165 East Broadway in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
 
 

Szechuan House

One of my favorite Sichuan restaurants is Szechuan House at 133-47 Roosevelt Ave in Flushing, Queens (not to be confused with the nearby Szechuan Mountain House). I’ve dined there so frequently and created so many posts on Instagram that I decided to make a single page here featuring some of the best dishes I’ve enjoyed over the years. Everything you see was delicious and they’re presented here in no special order; I simply felt the need to mount a rogues’ gallery of some of my faves.


(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Sliced Pork with Chili Garlic

Delicious and just what it sounds like: slices of tender pork stir-fried with fresh green chili peppers, scallions, and suffused with indispensable garlic.

Poached Chicken and Crispy Soy Beans with Chili Sesame Sauce

The menu calls it “Poached Chicken and Crispy Soy Beans with Chili Sesame Sauce” in English, but the Chinese reads 口水雞, “Mouth Watering Chicken”, the classic name for this dish; IMO both are equally descriptive.

Braised Fish Fillet and Napa Cabbage with Roasted Chili

Nothing is more traditional to the Chinese New Year banquet than food-word homophones. The Chinese word for fish (魚, pronounced yu) is a homophone for abundance. Generally served whole, we opted for fillets – hope that doesn’t cut our surpluses.

Dan Dan Noodles with Minced Pork in Chili Sauce (擔擔麵)

The name dan dan refers to the pole that street vendors shouldered to carry their noodles and sauce as they walked about hawking their wares. The long noodles represent heartfelt wishes for a long life and are de rigueur at the Chinese New Year table.

Pork Dumplings in Red Chili Oil

Dumplings are another sine qua non for the holiday meal. Crafted to resemble Chinese gold or silver ingots, dumplings symbolize wealth and prosperity.

Hand Ripped Cabbage

Decidedly delightful with a presentation to match. Do note that there’s a bit of pork lurking within, so this is not a dish for vegetarians (it’s listed in the Pork section of the menu). Cabbage never tasted so good. (Probably the pork. 😉)

Thin Sliced Beef Tendon in Roasted Chili Vinaigrette

Szechuan House has a number of beef tendon dishes on their menu; I suggest this cold appetizer of splendidly spicy tender tendon to apprehensive first-timers.

Pig Kidney with Peppercorns

Find this one on the Specials menu. Organ meats rule in this nose-to-tail era of sustainability; this example has a delicate, velvety texture but expect a proper kick from dried red chilies. (Note that the peppercorns are not the numbing and spicy málà variety.)

Fried Tofu with Cumin

You may have marveled over the uncanny affinity cumin and chili have for lamb in certain northwestern Chinese dishes (and if not, you need to try some posthaste). I’m pleased to report that the piquant duo stands up to fried tofu with as much aplomb – pleased, particularly, because it gives my vegetarian friends the opportunity to savor the flavor combo in an excellent application. The tofu is fried to precise crispy crunchitude and the spice level is ideal.

Jumbo Shrimp with Dried Red Pepper

The herbaceous supple cilantro is a perfect foil for these crisp beauties. Yes, eat the shells; yes, eat the heads. You won’t know what you’re missing if you don’t.

Fried Shredded Beef with Celery and Chilies

Also known as Shredded Dry Beef with Spicy Sauce from the Specials menu. This one is a must-eat for the flavor, the texture, and just the sheer pleasure of it – highly recommended.

Squid with Pickled Pepper

Those are moderately spicy longhorn green preppers keeping company with the squid and baby bamboo shoots. Good stuff.

Chicken with Taro in Spicy Sauce

A flavor profile of a very different stripe. The taro was a doppelganger for potato in this context, but it was the sauce that was unique, at least to this meal: I detected cinnamon sticks, star anise, galangal, garlic, a little sweetness and perhaps five spice powder and cloves although I couldn’t verify any of it. I liked the change of pace.

Cumin Seasoned Lamb with Red Chili Pepper

“Are we going to order Cumin Seasoned Lamb with Red Chili Pepper?” I was asked more than once. But of course. It’s that spicy cumin lamb combination that seems to have a universal following that’ll keep you coming ba-a-a-a-ack!

Steamed Pork with Glutinous Rice and Red Bean Paste

Yes, that’s sugar on top and yes, its works!

Sauteed Towel Gourd

For those who demanded a green vegetable.

Black Fungus with Spicy and Sour Sauce

Also known as wood ear mushrooms, cloud ear, tree ear fungus, and a raft of other names. From the Cold Appetizers section of the menu.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)
Spicy Paper Bag Sheep Leg

Leg of lamb, roasted to tender perfection not in paper but rather in aluminum foil. A treat.

Braised Whole Fish (Tilapia)

Mei Cai Braised Pork

Mei Cai refers to preserved mustard greens.

And now for something completely different:

Braised Ox Tendon with Scallion and Onion

Ma Po Brain Flower

Yes, brain.

Sauteed Pigs Feet with Pepper

Dessert:

Pan Fried Yam Cakes

Stuffed Sticky Rice Ball with Black Sesame in Broth

 
 
Szechuan House is located at 133-47 Roosevelt Ave in Flushing, Queens.
 
 

Coco

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared across multiple posts, published in December 2019.


Coco at 82-69 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens features reliable, people-pleasing, accessible Malaysian cuisine. I’ve enjoyed their fare on so many occasions that I thought it fitting to do another rogues’ gallery of some winners, so here are a few of my favorite dishes from their seemingly infinite menu compiled from a number of group dinners. They’re presented in no special order: everything was delicious and everyone was delighted.

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Stir Fried Pearl Noodle

Decades ago, one of my favorite dim sum parlors in Manhattan’s Chinatown was the beloved Hee Seung Fung, better known to its patrons as HSF. (Anybody here remember it?) It was there that I first encountered a dish called Silver Noodle. Served under an inverted small plastic bowl to keep it warm, it consisted of thick, chewy semi-translucent rice noodles with every imaginable protein and a variety of vegetables in a brown sauce. But the key ingredient, the one flavor that stood out above the rest for me, was its wok hei (aka wok qi), the breath of the wok, created by stir-frying over incendiary heat.

When HSF closed, I didn’t know where to track down this seductive dish; I’ve since learned that it can be found in restaurants featuring Malaysian, Singaporean, Hong Kong, and other cuisines that hail from regions near Guangdong. Silver noodles go by many handles, silver needle noodles and rat tail noodles (because of the tapered shape at one end) to name but two. Shown here is the rendition cooked up by Coco. They do my memories justice.

We usually score an order of this on my Ethnic Eats in Elmhurst ethnojunket by the way. (Hint: Click here! 😉)

Roti Canai

I’m told that if you don’t order the Roti Canai for an appetizer in a Malaysian restaurant it’s breaking some sort of rule (just kidding), so here is Coco’s version; it’s essentially a flaky, crispy, paratha-like flatbread with a spicy, sweet, chicken curry sauce on the side for dipping.

Roti Telur

Roti telur conceals an egg (telur means egg) and onions among the folds of the roti.

Coffee Sauce Pork

Sometimes restaurant dishes are fancifully named. Not this one. If you don’t like coffee, Coffee Sauce Pork isn’t for you. But if you do, this crispy curious combination is worth a shot. Be prepared for someone at the table to intone “Cawfee Sawce Pawk” and go all SNL on you.

Belacan Lady Fingers

Lady fingers, a more colorful name for okra, in the pervasive Malaysian fermented shrimp paste.

Curry Young Tofu Soup

Curry Young Tofu Soup can be found amid the Appetizers section of the menu, not the Soups. I suspect there are more names for this delightful soup than there are recipes for the dish itself, but Yong Tau Foo is not uncommon. With origins in Hakka Chinese cuisine, this Malaysian version was varied and satisfying.

Stingray wrapped in Banana Leaf

One of the house specialties at Coco. Only moderately spicy, served with a piquant sauce on the side, the texture and flavor of stingray (also known as skate wing) falls somewhere along the fish <-> shellfish continuum. No bones about it, but an ample cartilaginous skeleton that provides easy access to the flesh; look for the sweet meat on both sides of the structure. Good eats.

Grilled Pork Chops

Perfectly cooked, expertly seasoned, a plateful of tastiness.

Indian Mee Goreng

You might see Mie Goreng but it simply means fried noodles. Spice level adjustable to the taste of the diners, here served with vegetables due to peer pressure. 😉

Malaysian Marmite Chicken

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who’ve never tasted Marmite and those who loathe it. Just kidding. A gift from the Brits, used as an ingredient in cooking or simply spread on a hapless slice of bread, this dark brown, umami-rich, sticky yeast extract could easily serve as a dictionary definition’s example of “acquired taste”. All of which was enough for me to insist on getting an order of Malaysian Marmite Chicken for the group. The verdict? Crispy, sweet, and fantastic! The moral? Context is everything.

Four Varieties with Belacan

Okra, green beans, eggplant and peanuts in belacan, the ubiquitous Malaysian fermented shrimp paste. Tasty.

Chow Kueh Teow

Chow Kueh Teow (you might see Chow Kway Teow), one of Malaysia’s (many) national dishes. The literal translation is stir-fried rice cake, but this seafood version included shrimp, squid, noodles, bean sprouts and lots more. A classic.

Pork Belly with Basil Sauce

Lots of veggies to balance the fatty richness of the pork in a savory sauce. It’s one of the five basic food groups, I’m told. 😉

Malaysian Nasi Goreng

Nasi Goreng simply means fried rice; we chose shrimp from among many options.

Crispy Fried Duck

Yet another crowd-pleaser. It’s crispy. It’s fried. It’s duck. What more could you possibly need? (Other than an additional order, perhaps.)

Chicken and Beef Satay

From the Appetizers section of the menu. With roots in Indonesia, it’s possibly the first dish that comes to mind at the mention of Southeast Asian street food. (The Indonesian spelling is Sate.) Nicely seasoned and happily not overdone, these were comped at one of our banquets.

Steamed Fish Fillet in Malaysian Hot Bean Sauce

Thai Tom Yum Fried Rice

Tom Yum is a type of hot and sour Thai soup seasoned with lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce, and crushed red chili peppers. Here, those ingredients are used to create a unique version of fried rice.

Salted Egg with Chicken

If you’ve never experienced this dish and you spot it somewhere, I urge you to try it; be on the lookout for it in regional Chinese restaurants around the city as well. Mashed cooked salted duck egg yolks are fried to a frazzle and are then stir fried with just about anything from poultry or seafood to vegetables (an egregious oversimplification) which serves to coat the chief ingredient. The word “addictive” is overused in food writing, but it does convey its potential. Coco’s version has a teeny kick, a welcome attribute.

Grilled Beef Short Ribs

Tender, meaty, well-seasoned, and met with appreciative sighs of yumlike murmurs from the assemblage.

Rainbow Ice

Shave ice is a popular dessert across many cultures, particularly those of warmer climes. Here’s Coco’s contribution.
 
 
Coco is located at 82-69 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens.
 
 

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.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

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.
 
 

Nurlan Restaurant

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as three posts, published on October 22, 24, and 25, 2019.


I’ve been intrigued by the cuisine of the Uyghurs ever since I first experienced it at Café Kashkar about a decade ago. Primarily a Muslim ethnic group, they reside in the Xinjiang region of northwest China near Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan; as you’d expect, the fare is a comingling of Chinese and Central Asian cuisines. Because of the political conflict in the Uyghur Autonomous Region, the public at large is becoming more aware of the plight of the these people who are in essence being persecuted for aspiring to pursue their lives and their culture in a homeland of their own, an “Eastern Turkestan”.

In terms of the food, when you hear Uyghur you tend to think laghman, and when you hear laghman, you tend to think soup. Further into Central Asia the customary habitat of these hand-pulled noodles is indeed soup but here you’ll find them as the foundation for stir-fries or stews.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Nurlan Laghman

At Nurlan Restaurant, 43-39 Main St, Flushing, one of several options featuring these chewy noodles was topped with a slightly spicy lamb and vegetable mélange. Any attempt to capture the obligatory noodle-lift photo proved nigh on impossible since this plate arguably contained one long, coiled noodle and hoisting it to the max would have crushed even Stretch Armstrong into humiliating defeat; happily, scissors are provided to ward off subsequent muscle aches. Acrobatics notwithstanding, it was a tasty dish.

Ding Ding Laghman

Geographically appropriate linguistic notes: laghman is a cognate of lo mein and ding, in Chinese food environs, refers to cutting into dice. So here we have diced noodles, with similarly sized bits of meat, scallion, onion, and red and bell peppers, easily as delicious as the Nurlan Laghman above. Personally, I think a big ol’ spoon is the best method of conveying them lipward.

Stir Fried Noodles

Stir Fried Noodles, here incorporated into rather than providing an underpinning for the stir-fry, strewn with sesame seeds. This one was kicked up with what I’m pretty sure were Sichuan peppercorns, a welcome contrast.

Sam Sa

If you’re at all familiar with Central Asian cuisines then you know samsa. The linguistic and culinary cognate of samosa found in India (and throughout Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to be sure), Nurlan Restaurant, 43-39 Main St, Flushing, serves up this authoritative Uyghur version. These plump, baked buns stuffed with chopped lamb and onion topped with two-tone seeds would make a satisfying snack by themselves had they not been part of a grander lunch.

The obligatory post-bite shot

Polo

More fun with cognates! This is Polo. Its pronunciation, puh-Law, makes the connection to pilau, pilaf, and plov an effortless one. The rice is cooked in broth (I’m assuming lamb) which produces a savory, perfumed dish enhanced by carrots and the lamb that gave its all to the stock.

Lamb and Chicken Kebabs

Tender and piquantly seasoned, that day they partnered with…

Freshly Baked Uyghur Bread

Dapanji

Dapanji, literally “big plate chicken” in Chinese, originated in Xinjiang, China and became popular there only about 25 years ago. This rich stew boasts flavorful and incredibly tender chicken and gets its heat from both dried red pepper and spicy long green pepper. It’s loaded with potatoes, of course, but it’s nothing without…

A great pile of noodles!

Ravioli?

The menu calls it Ravioli, the Chinese characters for wonton, 馄饨, were there too, but do as I didn’t and heed the photo: it’s a soup. I didn’t ask about specifics or the bit of writing (looked like چـۈچـۈرہ – Uyghur alphabet, based on Arabic) over the picture so I need to go back. (As if I needed an excuse! 😉)

Good eats at Nurlan Restaurant; definitely check it out. They’re located 43-39 Main St, Flushing, Queens.
 
 

Roasted Masala

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as three posts, published on October 15, 16, and 17, 2019.


There are scores of cookie cutter Indian restaurants in Manhattan; clones with pretty much the same mix-n-match menus: a predictable assortment of curries with your choice of protein. So as much as I love Indian dining, I sometimes leave wondering if that’s all there is around these parts. When I crave food from Goa, the Indian state that had been formerly colonized by the Portuguese, I usually head to New Jersey. But that may no longer be necessary.

Roasted Masala Indian Cuisine emerged at 914 Columbus Ave in Manhattan about eight months ago under the purview of Samson Severes, its co-founder and manager. Hailing from Goa, India, Sam’s family owns two restaurants, so his culinary bona fides in this arena are well established. We were treated to a lunchtime feast that day. In no special order, here are a few of the dishes we tried.

(Click any photo to view in high resolution.)

Lamb Cafreal

A unique combination of flavors featuring tender lamb, coriander, mint, tamarind, green chilies and the distinguishing acidic note of this preparation, lime juice. Its roots are in the Portuguese colonies of Africa; cafreal (also made with chicken) made the voyage to Goa via the cuisine of Africans that had been modified by the Portuguese under whom they served.

Goan Fish Curry

Chilean sea bass in this case, served in a tasty but not spicy coconut sauce.

Katori Chaat

A katori is a bowl, in this case an edible one; chaat is an Indian snack and a popular street food boasting myriad variations. This one has been split to reveal chickpeas, crunchy mini croquettes, and lots more goodness plus pomegranate chutney, all topped with yogurt and sev (crispy noodle bits). Don’t try to deconstruct this savory appetizer, just dig in and enjoy!

Lasooni Gobi

This delicious starter from the Vegetarian Appetizers section of the menu is Lasooni Gobi; lasooni refers to garlic and gobi means cauliflower. I’ve seen this Indian-Chinese dish by other names like Gobi Manchurian but it’s the sweet-spicy element that’s so compelling regardless of the designation. Crispy outside, crunchy inside, with a sticky, ketchupy crust, this one is a crowd pleaser.

Chicken Xacuti

“Xacuti” (or a similar spelling) is your cue that it’s a coconut based curry. A classic in Goan cuisine, this version features roasted spices in a masala paste pureed with coconut along with fresh curry leaves. Spice level was noticeable, but not intense. Good eats.

Daal Palak

Yellow lentils and spinach, herby with a gentle touch of spice, from the Vegan section of the menu.

Boti Kebab

Grilled cubes of marinated lamb; green chilies in evidence and tastefully seasoned, but not overwhelmingly spicy.

Chicken Sorpotel

Back to the cuisine of Goa. Often prepared as a Christmas dish, sorpotel boasts a distinctive spice blend that incorporates vinegar, but don’t think “vindaloo” just because vinegar plays a role. Roasted Masala offers vindaloo as well – and that’s a significant factor in my admiration for this restaurant: if you’ve dined at any number of Manhattan’s Indian eateries, you’ll find tasty renditions of your favorites here, but Roasted Masala also provides an opportunity to taste some delicious Goan specialties that may be less familiar to you and that you shouldn’t miss.
 
 

Note: This was a complimentary meal sponsored by the management of Roasted Masala. The opinions expressed in this post are uninfluenced and impartial.
 
 

Tito Rad’s Grill

I recently brought a large group of fellow Filipino food fans to one of my favorite restaurants, Tito Rad’s Grill, the OG (since 2006), real-deal, pinoy restaurant at 49-10 Queens Blvd in Woodside, for a sumptuous repast. Since Filipino food is one of my favorites, I particularly enjoy introducing it to folks who want to learn more about it first hand. Here are a few of the delicious dishes we enjoyed on this occasion and from past visits, in no special order.

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Lumpia

Spring rolls, sprung originally from China. A savory appetizer or snack filled with chopped vegetables and sometimes meat, they’re deep fried and crispilicious.

Lumpia Sariwa

Lumpia are usually found fried. This version, Lumpia Sariwa (sariwa means fresh in Tagalog), springs from China’s popiah, and since I always take the road less traveled, we opted for these. Sautéed vegetables and chicken wrapped in a lettuce leaf that itself is rolled into a soft wheat flour crepe, served with peanut sauce.

Ukoy

Bean sprout fritters with shrimp and vegetables served with a spicy vinegar-garlic sauce.

Sizzling Sisig

One of my all-time favorite dishes, Filipino or otherwise. Chopped pork belly simmered until it surrenders into tenderness, grilled with onion and a little hot pepper until it achieves ultimate yummitude, served on a sizzling platter and topped with a raw egg. Take that photo fast, then stir in the egg while the dish is still hot so it cooks and brings its ineffable richness to the party. (Yes, that means I liked it.)

Belly Lechon (Before)

A stunning presentation, this is the “Before” picture. Slow roasted pork belly marinated with lemongrass and spices in all its crispy, porcine glory; this porky miracle has to be ordered a day in advance. Unless I’m mistaken, a collective gasp was clearly audible as the roast was reverently borne to our table. A hush fell over the assembled diners as we closed our eyes to take our first bite. And of course there was no loss of decorum as we scrambled to snatch up the ample leftovers. Of course.

Belly Lechon (After)

The “After” picture, a study in pulchritudinous rhizanthous verisimilitude. Looks like a pretty flower too.

Inihaw Tuna Belly

Inihaw means grilled. Inihaw Tuna Belly means decadent. This one must be ordered in advance as well; it’s available in three sizes, large shown here. Plays happily in the company of rice; excellent dipping sauce and achara (Filipino pickled green papaya) on the side.

Inihaw Tuna Belly

Alternately, you might want to take a deeper dive with Inihaw na Panga, Grilled Tuna Jaw. Also an advance order, it comes in three sizes – small, medium, and large. Don’t be intimidated by the jaw (or by the double basses you imagine you hear playing menacingly in the background 🦈). Even if you’re not familiar with tuna anatomy (tunatomy?), you’ll find it pretty easy to navigate and actually kind of fun. Did I mention that it’s delicious as well?

Ginataang Langka

When you see ginataang on the menu, that’s your cue that the dish is made with coconut milk; langka is the Tagalog word for jackfruit, in this case green, unripened jackfruit where it functions more as a vegetable than a fruit. And yes, there’s pork in this delicious dish, too, because even a vegetable side dish needs pork.

Palabok

Steamed rice noodles lurking under a cover of shrimp sauce, garnished with hard-boiled egg, crumbled crispy pork rinds and scallions.

Pinakbet

Ampalaya (bitter melon), calabaza squash, green beans and more, plus pork (of course), in a shrimp paste sauce. Another great dish from the Filipino repertoire.

Dinuguan

A rich stew prepared from pork in a luscious gravy that includes vinegar and pork blood. Now, don’t go running off! I’ve said it before: Numerous cultures are at home with it – blood rice cakes in China, blood pancakes in Sweden, in addition to sausages from Great Britain and Ireland, morcilla in Spanish speaking countries worldwide, boudin in France, and so many more in Northern and Eastern Europe. Pretty much everywhere actually. And you also know that I only recommend truly tasty food; I have never been one to embrace the sensationalism of “Look what gross thing I just ate!” No. This is genuinely delicious. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Sinangag

Garlic Fried Rice. Just what it sounds like, and it’s the perfect accompaniment for dinuguan.

Bicol Express

Another classic Filipino dish. Vegetables simmered in spicy (only slightly so here) coconut milk; we ordered the version with meat because I’m incorrigible. Named for the Bicol Express, a passenger train that ran from Manila to the Bicol region in the Philippines, I guess you could think of this dish that’s both creamy and spicy as running from one terminus on the flavor route to another.

Crispy Pata

In this context, the Tagalog word pata, as in Spanish, refers to an animal’s leg. Pig knuckle/trotter/hock, massaged with ginger and garlic, deep fried until the skin is crispy and the meat is falling apart tender, accompanied by a spicy dip and always served impaled on the best implement to rend it asunder.

Laing

Made from taro leaves and coconut milk – gotta get your greens, right?

Humba

Braised pork in a sweet fermented black bean sauce (the defining ingredient) with mushrooms and onions. And a hard-boiled egg.

Beef Kaldereta

Kaldereta, from the Spanish caldereta or cauldron (note the serving vessel), refers to a stew. This example is a mildly spicy rendition with beef, olives, potatoes, and other vegetables.

Lechon Kawali

The undisputed king of crispy deep-fried porky goodness, fried pork belly. Lechon is roast suckling pig and kawali refers to the way in which it’s prepared, deep fried in a wok (kawali). It’s sliced into delicious chunks and served with a vinegar garlic dipping sauce usually made with (but not really tasting like) liver. Crispy skin, meltingly tender pork belly – I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love this dish!

Masarap!
 
 
Tito Rad’s Grill is located at 49-10 Queens Blvd in Woodside, Queens.
 
 

Lamoon

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as four posts, published on 4/24, 4/27, and 5/19/2018, and 7/4/2019.


Northern Thai food is staking a claim in NYC and Lamoon at 81-40 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens is the latest leader in the Chiang Mai charge. Don’t confuse Bangkok Thai and Isaan Thai (Northeast Thailand) cuisines with that of Northern Thailand; it’s spicy for sure, but it tends to be more herbal and less sweet. The word “lamoon” carries the connotations of delicate, mild, tender, or taking care, and there’s no doubt that they pamper their guests with flavorful dishes prepared with tender loving care, but they’re not shy about presenting authentically spicy food to which the words delicate or mild would never apply. Try powerful, intense, exhilarating, or just plain amazing. If Otto is there, let him be your guide; he’s extremely helpful.

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)From the appetizer section: Kung Pare, Crispy Baby Shrimp Cloud. Crispy indeed and especially tasty dipped in the accompanying sweet sauce – I’d say you’ll be on Cloud 9 with this one, but I give it a 10 for sure.

Khao Kun Jin – Jasmine Rice and Ground Pork Marinated in Pork Blood. Don’t let the pork blood put you off; it provides color and a depth of flavor that makes this one something special. Once again, don’t neglect the sauce (this one is different) – it uplifts the dish and will do the same for your spirits!

Also from the appetizers section of the menu, fried fermented pork ribs, garlicky and distinctive.

Kanom Jeen Nam Ngeau. Kanom Jeen (you may have seen it as khanom chin) are the familiar rice noodles that are wallowing unseen at the bottom of this bowl; Nam Ngeau (aka nam ngiao) is the soup in which they are luxuriating. Spicy, replete with pork, pork ribs, cubes of pork blood (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it), and tomatoes, there’s a separate side dish of crisp, cool bean sprouts, scallions, and pickled veggies (it keeps the cool side cool and the hot side hot) for mixing in.

Fried Rice Nam Prik Noom. We ordered this one with chicken but only because we were already committed to consuming a pigful of pork. Delicious to be sure, but the addition of their homemade nam prik noom (roasted green chili paste) pitched it over the top. When you visit Lamoon, make sure you try this amazing smoky, spicy condiment. (I wonder if I can get a portion of it to go; it’s that good.)

Tum Kanoon – crafted from shredded green jackfruit, ground pork, homemade shrimp paste, tomato, makrut lime leaves, cilantro and scallion. Served with sticky rice (always eaten with the fingers in Thailand) and some crispy pork rinds (think chicharrones but Thai) on the side. From the Main Course section of the menu, and another winner!

Sai Aua – you might have seen it as Sai Oua – is classic Northern Thai ground pork sausage made with chili paste, makrut lime leaves, lemongrass, cilantro, and pork ear and served up with contrasting cooling cucumber. My only complaint is that I should have ordered more! A signature dish at Lamoon.

Thai Tea Pad Thai, a new member of the family. The noodles are prepared with Thai tea, a universal favorite, along with a palette of ingredients that results in a dish that doesn’t taste like you’d expect it to from its name – certainly not seasoned like the Pad Thai you’re accustomed to – and those shrimp were perfect.
 
 
Lamoon is located at at 81-40 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens.
 
 

Phayul Restaurant

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as six posts, published on May 24-26 and June 21, 23,and 24, 2019.


If you liked the old Phayul where you climbed a dubious flight of stairs, turned a narrow corner, and waited patiently, hungrily, in anticipation of snagging one of the handful of tables for some great Tibetan food, then you’re going to love the new Phayul. Technically, the address is 37-59 74th St in Jackson Heights, but you’ll find the entrance on 37th Road, just across the street from the old digs – which, by the way, are still going strong. Phayul redux is spacious and agreeably appointed with the kind of lavishly art directed menu popular with nouveau Sichuan restaurants in Flushing these days. The food itself is top notch and the new menu yields a few surprises that will ensure my return. In no particular order, here are the dishes we enjoyed on two separate occasions.

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)Soup to start, specifically Shoko Phing Sha, a medium rich, beefy broth with tree ear fungus, vermicelli noodles, and potatoes.

Spicy Tofu, simple and potent, tasted as good as it looks.

Phaksha Solo Ngoenma – now we’re getting real. Fried pork with leeks and green pepper, a little kick, a little sweet.

Phaksha Gotsel Ngoenma. By way of comparison to Phaksha Solo Ngoenma above, described on the menu as pork with garlic and red pepper. The dish features chives along with the pork and peppers which add immeasurably to the mix.

The cuisine of the Himalayas is well represented in this area of Jackson Heights, and although Tibetan food is influenced by Chinese and Nepali by Indian, momos traverse the region with little regard to provenance. Thick skinned, steamed or fried, nobody doesn’t love momos. These were stuffed with beef and fried, and frankly I lost count of how many plates we ordered.

In my opinion, the fried chicken momos were even better than the beef because of their noteworthy savory seasoning.

Described simply as Cucumber Salad, this spicy, refreshing side was augmented by scallions and peanuts; cheers for the peanuts.

Chicken Chilly by any spelling would still taste as bright. The heat sneaks up on you, but it is perfectly spicy for sure; the occasional veggie provides an essential contrast. A dish that won’t leave you cold! 😉

Fried Lamb Ribs. Fried and lamb are two words that invariably leap off a menu at me, so we ordered these impetuously and they were great. Later I saw that there were a couple of dishes by the same name; it may have had more to do with size and cut rather than preparation.


Steamed Beef Momo. What can I say? You know they’re good, especially with a jot of hot sauce (two different types on the table along with vinegar and soy-based mixtures). Also available in vegetable or chicken varieties.

Gyuma Ngoe Ma. Fried blood sausage with onions & green chilies. I confess that I love this kind of thing but I was pleased that the rest of the group were into it as well, comparing its savory, mealy, grainy filling to ethnic food from their own diverse backgrounds like the Eastern European/Jewish dish, kishka (stuffed derma).

There are many soups from which to choose at Phayul, and Bathuk Tibetan Noodle Soup was high on my list because of its little hand-rolled noodles; they’re called bhasta and are often likened to miniature Italian gnocchi. The soup is meat-based and contains veggies and a blend of herbs that started us off in the right direction.

Chele Khatsa. My kind of food: red peppers, onions and garlic are the support system for spicy slices of beef tongue. A good choice – tender and savory.

Lhasa Fried Noodle. The menu offers this dish with chicken, pork, beef, or vegetables. Pro-tip: Ask for a mix and you can taste them all!

Chicken Manchurian. “Indian influenced,” I was told by the manager, Lobsang. “Another winner,” I was told by the group.

Shogo Khatsa, spicy fried potatoes, seemed so straightforward that I almost didn’t order it, but the group took a vote, yea or nay. And I’m glad we did because indeed, upon tasting it, the yays were overwhelming.
 
 
The new Phayul Restaurant is located at 37-59 74th St in Jackson Heights, Queens.