U Yuri Fergana

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 folks sometimes ask for more extensive reviews and photos, so in response, here’s a comprehensive report on one of my favorites.



The warmth exuded by a family run business and the luxury of a splendidly appointed restaurant are not at odds at U Yuri Fergana. This mom&populence, if you will, was in evidence from the gracious service through the appetizing dishes we enjoyed during a recent lunchtime visit to their location in Rego Park, Queens.

Its name translates to “Yuri from Fergana”: our host Yuri Moshev and his wife and head chef Myra hail from Fergana, the capital of the eponymous region in eastern Uzbekistan. They and their son Ben have created a unique establishment that distinguishes itself from the multitude of neighborhood Uzbek restaurants in that they operate a livestock production facility in College Point, so you can be certain that the meat is fresh and of high quality; the restaurant is kosher in keeping with the dominant Bukharan Jewish culture in the neighborhood.

Here are a few of the satisfying dishes we tried. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Sautéed Eggplant Salad

A bright, sweet and sour mélange of sautéed veggies with eggplant in the spotlight; the perfect foil to the richly flavorful kebabs (see below).

Meat Salad

Although there was a pronounced sweetness to this dish, it was considerably different from and less sweet than the eggplant salad. Fresh, crispy and crunchy, the combination of flavors was even better than I had anticipated.

Peeking out from the side is Toki, baked into a parabola on the convex side of a wok and similar to matzo but a little less brittle; its tiny flecks of cumin were a welcome element.

Lagman Soup

Characterized by long, hand pulled noodles with a perfect chew, lagman soup is a fixture in this part of the world. It’s worth noting that the word “lagman” is a cognate of the Chinese “lo mein”, their geographical proximity providing the clue. This beefy, tomato and vegetable infused version was delicious.

Kebabs

What Uzbek meal would be complete without them? From left to right, ground lamb, lamb chop, liver, chicken, beef, and ground chicken. Usually, chunks of chicken are the also-ran in the company of other meats, but these were outstanding.

Leposhka (Homemade Bread) and French Fries (with dill and chopped garlic, of course!)

Gusinie Lapki (Goose Feet Cookies)

Not too sweet, these delicate cookies along with some tea provided the perfect finishing touch to our delightful meal.

Note that some large family-style items on the menu must be ordered in advance, so call ahead if there’s something on the menu that piques your interest.

U Yuri Fergana is located at 94-09 63rd Drive, Rego Park, Queens.


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

Grain House

My Instagram posts are often brief takes on restaurants accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But folks sometimes ask for fuller reviews and more photos, so in response, here’s a more comprehensive report on one of my favorites.


Have you heard about Grain House? It’s a remarkable Sichuan restaurant with roots in Queens and Uniondale, Long Island; they’ve recently opened a branch near Columbia University at 929 Amsterdam Avenue and I can state from firsthand experience that their food is excellent. Could this be the Upper West Side’s best kept secret? Not if I can help it!

Here are a few of the extraordinary menu items I’ve tried and want you to try too; suffice it to say they’re all great. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)


Hand Pulled Oil Splashed Noodles. Outstanding. The greens are a perfect foil for the spicy, thick, chewy noodles – an ideal combination.


Cumin Lamb. Is there anybody who doesn’t like this? It’s even got its own Instagram hashtag, #cuminlamb. And, no surprise, there’s nothing sheepish about the way Grain House does it.


This is one of my favorite Sichuan dishes, Chinese Bacon with Garlic Sprout. I know it as Smoked Pork with Garlic Leaf and I’ve actually made it at home. (If I’m not mistaken, the greens are suan miao, 蒜苗, similar to leeks but definitely garlic.) Needless to say, Chef Bob’s version is considerably better than mine.


Hot Spicy Jumbo Shrimp with Red Pepper. People at our dinner couldn’t stop raving about it. None of these was killer spicy, by the way; every one was perfectly balanced.


Sweet and slightly spicy, this Eggplant in Garlic Sauce was delightful.


Spicy and Numbing Pork Wonton was one of the delicious appetizers we enjoyed…


…as was fuqi feipian (夫妻肺片), literally “husband and wife lung pieces”. Choice of specific ingredients varies among chefs (not to worry, it never includes actual pieces of lung) but here Chef Bob does it with Ox Tongue and Tripe and it’s top notch.


Yi Bin Burning Noodle. Pleasantly spicy but not overbearing, so don’t worry about the allusion to “burning” in the name. Mix well for maximum enjoyment.


A suave change of pace: Chiba Tofu with Pork Belly. Melt in your mouth, slippery tofu accented with fresh pork belly – elegant and delectable.

Some folks often insist on a straight ahead vegetable dish, and who am I to refuse? Here’s Grain House’s version of Fried Cauliflower and it did not disappoint. The structure of Chinese cauliflower is less compact than the dense Northern European version you might be accustomed to and that makes for a more tender texture after cooking and allows it to soak up more sauce.

Salted Egg Yolk with Shredded Potato. Sichuan style shredded potatoes are meant to be al dente and these were perfectly cooked and delicious. Simple, but such a happy addition to our table.

So there’s the roundup of the awesome dinner we enjoyed at Grain House, 929 Amsterdam Avenue – and if it hasn’t convinced you to try this unique, standout Manhattan restaurant, nothing will!
 

Alley 41

My Instagram posts are usually brief takes on restaurants accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed, updated almost daily, here in the “Instagram” category – no signup required.) But folks sometimes ask for fuller reviews and more photos, so in response, here’s a more comprehensive report on one of my favorites.


It is my distinct pleasure to turn you on to Alley 41 in Flushing, one of the new breed of contemporary Sichuan restaurants, and not to be missed. Alley 41 describes itself as “authentic Szechuan cuisine with a touch of creativity”. I describe it as amazing, awesome, and astounding. And that’s just the As. Award-winning Master Chef Jiang has composed a menu of dishes that could make even the most stoic diner gush with delight; everything we ordered had a unique, personal spin and was wonderful. There are only so many synonyms for delicious, and toothsome fell out of favor half a century ago, so I’ll abandon verbal descriptions and let you ogle the photos. With a seemingly infinite menu, this is one restaurant I’ll never tire of.

Here are a few of the extraordinary dishes we tried. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)


Our first visit to Alley 41 occurred when Chinese Lunar New Year was just around the corner, and I recalled that enjoying long noodles portends a long life. These Sweet and Spicy Noodles are the longest and thickest I’ve ever encountered, so I gather I’m headed for a long (and chubby) lifetime! If memory serves, each was about a yard long (no hyperbole in this hyperbowl) with an awesome chew, napped with a sauce made of sheer happiness. I say that because their name, tiánshui miàn (甜水麵) taken literally character by character, means sweet water noodle, but the first two characters together can mean “happiness” and I’m sticking with that translation. It’s a Sichuan restaurant, but I’m told that these noodles hail from Dongbei.


Three of the appetizer/snack items we tried: Chinese Beef Burritos, Thousand Layer Pancake, and Chinese Leek Turnovers.

Seafood and Pumpkin Congee. Deceptively light, the unique blend of ingredients – savory seafood, crispy youtiao (Chinese cruller) for texture, scallion for a little punch, and that surprising pumpkin jook made for a delightful combination.

Pork Belly in Garlic Sauce was beautifully presented. Rolled up with cucumber, scallion and cold noodles, not to mention the perfect accompanying sauce, they were irresistible.

They may look simple, but the Smoky Wok Tossed Spicy Asian Green Chilies brought a touch of heat and a ton of flavor to what only seemed like a modest dish.

Spare Ribs with Salted Duck Egg. (Along with a few others, this one doesn’t appear on the current menu. If you’ve got some kind of portable internet access device and you’re eager to try these dishes, bring it along and pull up my photos; a picture is worth a thousand words!)

Sautéed Cauliflower with Soy Sauce. With this cauldron of cauliflower, folks at the table who cry “more veggies” were more than satisfied. The structure of Chinese cauliflower is less compact than the dense Northern European version you might be accustomed to and that makes for a more tender texture after cooking and allows it to soak up more sauce.

Lamb with Hot Pepper Sauce. Delicious and delicate, I wouldn’t have minded a little more heat, but I’m not complaining.

Sautéed Diced Chicken with Basil and Yib Veggie Buns (or so the menu read). I believe the name refers to Yibin, the city in Sichuan province. To me, the little buns looked like mini wotou, hollow, conical, steamed cornbread (and yes, you can buy those in food courts in Flushing if you know where to look).

Braised Tender Beef with Veggies. You’ll want some rice with this one to counterbalance the savory sauce. Good eats!

Frog with Dry Pepper. Green pepper, lotus root, leeks, bean curd skin and more combine with bits of frog in this tasty stir fry.

I admit it; I’m a sucker for dishes like this one. Steamed Fatty Meat (pork belly) with Sticky Rice – to me it tastes like the most unimaginably rich comfort food!

Flounder in Garlic Sauce. Crispy and light with just enough spice to complement but not overpower the delicately fried fish.

Stir-Fried Smoky Pork with Green Leek. With the one-two punch of smoky pork belly and zesty leeks, this dish makes its presence felt in no uncertain terms.

Spicy Lamb with Cumin Flavor. Sizzling, spicy, succulent, scrumptious! Seems to be a universal favorite.

Braised Pork with Chinese Chestnuts. Pork belly and chestnuts in a savory sauce turned out to be a wonderful combination.

Sautéed Prawns with Spicy Chili Minced Pork. Delicious head-on (is there any other way?) prawns with bits of pork in a gently spicy sauce with scallions and red pepper. Straightforward and elegant at the same time.

Sizzling Minced Beef with Black Pepper. Got this one because I wanted to see what the geniuses at Alley 41 would do with black pepper – not that I’m tired of red chilies or Sichuan peppercorns or any other form of kicked up goodness, of course – and I wasn’t disappointed. The flavor was surprisingly complex, not at all one-note which can happen with black pepper, the beef perfectly tender, and the onions were just the right accompaniment. The dish came to our table steaming and sizzling with bonito flakes dancing atop as if in celebration of our get-together. Naturally, the platter was extremely hot – not a bull you’d want to grab by the horns!

My highest praise for Alley 41, 136-45 41st Ave, Flushing. I guess I’m not going to be satisfied until I’ve tried everything on their 46 page menu. If you haven’t been there yet, I strongly recommend it. And if you have, isn’t it time to go back? 😉

 

Sevan

Instagram Post 3/26/2018

Love is where you find it, or so goes the song, but we never thought to look in Oakland Gardens, Queens! An authentic Armenian 🇦🇲 lunch organized by @restaurantfairy at Sevan Restaurant and Catering, 216-09 Horace Harding Expressway, held us in its thrall for course after surprising course. Some photos from our banquet: (Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Every nation that honors sujuk and basturma has its own spin on the recipes (and its own spellings I might add). Sujuk is a beef sausage seasoned with a bespoke blend of spices that usually includes cumin; basturma (you probably recognize the word pastrami lurking in there) is pressed, dried, cured beef; and I found Sevan’s offerings so tender and tasty that after lunch I wasted no time in visiting their market next door to see if they were available there. They were, and I happily brought some home to savor in the afterglow. The cheese pies were moist and buttery tasting and the yalanchi, hand rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions, herbs and spices (not pictured here), were flavorful as well.

Perfectly seasoned chicken and deeply marinated steak kebabs with an unexpected side of grilled potatoes arrived next along with lule kebabs, ground beef infused with a truly delicious spice blend. No need to ask if we polished off the bread beneath that had been quietly collecting all those savory meat juices! Dessert was baklava that – another surprise – wasn’t overly sweet. But first….

Just when we thought the enchantment couldn’t get any more intense, strains of Armenian music pealed from the back of the room to catch our attention. Our waiter sailed in bearing a flaming tower of lamb chops that elicited enraptured moans from the group and, needless to say, set off a flurry of photos and videos!
 
 

Belarussian Xata

You’re on the B/Q subway heading towards Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, you detrain at Sheepshead Bay Station, make a right onto Sheepshead Bay Road and enter the establishment at #1655. You likely thought you were in Sheepshead Bay. Given the signposts, a reasonable assumption. But it appears that you have been transported some 4,444 miles to Belarus – and the feast that you’re about to enjoy will only confirm that notion.

Welcome to Belarussian Xata.

Evoking the impression of a Belarusian cottage (хата), the décor is picture-perfect, from the roughhewn tables and rustic fences to the charming artwork, wall hangings and sconces; even the wooden menu covers reflect the theme. And the incredibly attentive and helpful staff, clad in enchanting authentic garb, will guide you through your experience with such appreciation for their homeland and knowledge of its cuisine that you’ll come away feeling that you have been immersed in Belarusian culture, if only for a brief moment in time.

The food shares some features of other Former Soviet Union cuisines: there’s no shortage of potatoes and pork with hearty, creamy sauces; and vegetables, when they make an appearance, have been puckeringly pickled. But make no mistake, it is unique to Belarus and everything I tasted was delectable – each of the four times I visited since their opening last fall!

Here are a few of the superb dishes we tried. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)


The Appetizer “Village Style” sets out three different kinds of salo (cured fatback, not unlike Italy’s lardo): plain, smoked, and Hungarian style – kissed with paprika – served with chunky fried potatoes and greens. I recommend constructing each forkful with a bite each of salo, potato or bread, one of the greens, and a bit of mustard. Highly enjoyable.

Herring “Village Style” consisted of herring fillets layered over potato, egg, cucumber, and onion, a perfect marriage of flavors and a lovely presentation.

Meat Assortment “Belorusskaya”. Beef tongue, roast pork, chicken roll, and peasant sausage fanned out across a wooden platter, served with horseradish or mustard.

Machanka, a traditional Belarusian specialty featured three kinds of pork – homemade sausage, pork ribs, and roast pork shoulder – in a tempting creamy gravy that reminded me a little of veal blanquette but on steroids. All of the meats were wonderfully flavorful and tender. You have the option of ordering the dish with either blini or potato pancakes but I highly recommend the blini in this case. Absolutely not to be missed.

Potato Pancake “Kupechesky Style” (pronounced koo-PETCH-e-skee) is another must have. Grated potatoes, pork brisket, tomato, mushrooms, cheese, and mayonnaise combine to make another amazing dish.

Potato Babka “Bobruisky Style”, named for the city in Belarus. You may be conditioned into thinking of babka as a form of coffee cake, but the word actually means “grandmother”, and by extension, something your grandmother would bake and serve you with a side of love. If you’ve ever had potato pudding (or kugel), you’ll immediately recognize this grated potato/egg mixture – Eastern European comfort food in a pot.

Potato Kolduni (pronounced kol-doo-NEE) with Mushrooms. Another must order. It’s the grated potato/egg concoction but stuffed with mushrooms, boiled egg, and fried onions in a tasty mushroom sauce. Also available with chicken (second photo) or pork and beef, but my favorite was the mushroom version.

Pork Knuckle “Village Style”, braised for tenderness then baked for Maillard-crisp flavor was falling off the bone.

Sour Cherry Dumplings and Cheese Dumplings – sweet and delicious.

Fried Meat Dumplings “Grodno Style”, also named for a Belarusian city. Fried dumplings filled with chopped beef and pork seasoned with onions and spices provided a solid contrast to the sweeter dumplings. Second photo: Gotta show the cheese pull, right? By the way, that day-glow green drink on the left is tarkhun, tarragon soda; it has that anise/licorice/tarragon flavor profile that some folks love.

Baked Tongue in Dutch Oven. Tender and savory beef tongue with potatoes finished in a Dutch oven with cream sauce and cheese. If you think you don’t like tongue, try this: it might change your mind.

Belarussian Pickled Vegetable Platter. Cabbage sauerkraut, two kinds of pickled cucumbers and two kinds of pickled tomatoes (green and cherry); this dish is a perfect foil for heavier fare.

Carp Baked In Dutch Oven. Carp fillet with onions, carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes in a creamy white sauce.

Potato Pancakes with Cracklings served with sour cream and copious bits of pork.

Chicken Giblets with Buckwheat (Kasha). Chicken hearts and liver in a creamy sauce of onion, carrots, and mushrooms with a side of buckwheat groats. Also available with mashed potatoes, but order the kasha!

We also got the Grilled Branzino with Vegetables, technically not a Belarusian dish, but one of us was craving fish and the grilled vegetables were a welcome addition. The kitchen did a good job here as well.

Napoleon – one of three luscious desserts we tried.

Masculine Ideal. I’m generally not a cake eater, but the abundance of caramel dulce de leche and nuts had me hooked on this distinctive dessert. You’re probably wondering about the name, but it’s traditional.

The most unusual dessert was warm Orshanskie (“сырники оршанские в чугунке”, literally Orsha cheese pancakes in a pot, Orsha being a city in Belarus), mini cheese balls with a few raisins added for good measure bathed in a sweet sour cream and poppy seed sauce. Surprisingly good!

This is Anastasia. Proficient in many languages, she studied linguistics and considered becoming an interpreter before coming to the US. Helpful, attentive, charming, and always anticipating our needs, all of us fell in love with her as she answered our unending questions and pampered us as if we were royalty. She is an angel.

The man who started it all. Marat Novikov, a restaurateur and businessman from Minsk, opened the original Belarussian Xata in Moscow in 2012. A warm and generous man, he operates his Brooklyn branch ably assisted by family members. His genuine hospitality and outstanding cuisine made for an unforgettable dining experience that we are all eager to revisit.

Don’t lose any time in planning your visit to Belarussian Xata, 1655 Sheepshead Bay Road in Brooklyn.

It is an absolute must.
 
 

Old Tbilisi Garden

My Instagram posts are usually brief takes on restaurants accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But folks sometimes ask for fuller reviews and more photos, so in response, here’s a more comprehensive report on one of my favorites.


As Lead Organizer of The World Food Lover’s Dining Out Group, part of Meetup.com, it’s always my pleasure to bring groups of people to ethnic restaurants that feature cuisines they may never have experienced.

Recently we visited Old Tbilisi Garden, a restaurant that features the cuisine of Georgia. (No, not the US state “Georgia” but rather the Former Soviet Union country “Georgia”.) It seems like there’s a budding proliferation of Georgian restaurants and bakeries around New York City these days, and I, for one, am thrilled about it. Our feast at Old Tbilisi Garden hit the heights but only scratched the surface of this wonderful cuisine.

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

Adjaruli

The overarching term is khachapuri, literally “cheese bread,” and there are at least a dozen kinds that I know of. They’re commonly filled with tangy, salty sulguni cheese and imeruli, a fresh crumbly cheese which when melted together combine to make stretchy, cheesy nirvana. Two of my favorites are adjaruli and megruli. Adjaruli is shaped like a kayak, the center of which is filled with cheese; a raw egg and a chunk of butter are added just as it’s removed from the oven. Stir the mixture: the egg cooks and combines with the butter and melted cheese. Break off pieces of the bread and dip them into the cheese mixture. Now picture hot bread with melted buttery cheese that you eat with your hands, fresh out of the oven – what’s not to like?

Megruli

Megruli is a little more self-contained: cheese bread filled with cheese and then topped with more cheese and baked. Did I mention cheese? Think Georgian pizza.

Khinkali

Despite the resemblance, these are definitely NOT soup dumplings. Just grab one by its topknot and bite into its savory lamb filling. They say you’re not supposed to eat that little handle, but I like it, so I guess I’m just going to keep breaking the rules!

Pkhali Trio

These tasty spreads fulfilled the vegetable requirement of our meal: spinach, eggplant, and green bean served with Georgian bread called shoti.

Chicken Bazhe

Bazhe, a Georgian walnut-garlic sauce, was the perfect blanket for the chicken reposing beneath. If you’ve ever tried satsivi, another delicious Georgian dish, then you’re already familiar with the flavor of bazhe – basically satsivi with the addition of pomegranate.

Chakapuli

Chakapuli is lamb stew in a tangy white wine sauce spiked with tarragon, an herb that figures significantly into the cuisine – and even soft drinks like tarkhun!

Lamb Mtsvadi

No Georgian meal would be complete without skewers of savory, tender, marinated lamb with delicious tkemali (sour plum) sauce.
 
 
Old Tbilisi Garden is located at 174 Bleecker Street, Manhattan, in the heart of Greenwich Village.
 
 
Incidentally, if you’d like to be part of the dining out group, you can join Meetup.com (there’s no charge), sign up for The World Food Lover’s Dining Out Group, and then watch your email to see the schedule for our next adventure. Reply to this post and I’ll keep an eye out for you!

Guan Fu Sichuan

My Instagram posts are usually brief takes on restaurants accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But folks sometimes ask for fuller reviews and more photos, so in response, here’s a more comprehensive report on one of my favorites.


Every once in a while, a new Sichuan restaurant comes along and it’s so good that you feel compelled to shout about it from the rooftops and tell the world. But seldom does a new Sichuan restaurant show up that’s so remarkable, so outstanding, so clearly superior in every way that you fall silent, awestruck, in appreciation of every skillfully prepared bite.

Such was my experience at Guan Fu Sichuan.

Here are a few favorites from my recent visit. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Kung Pao Lobster

Kung Pao Lobster (宫保龙虾). Not what you’d expect when you hear “Kung Pao” anything. Masterfully seasoned (no heavy-handed spice complication) and exquisitely plated, the contrast between the crisp peanuts and the melt-in-your-mouth lobster was perfection.

Sichuan Style Scallop with Minced Garlic

Sichuan Style Scallop with Minced Garlic (蒜蓉蒸扇贝). Each perfectly prepared, alive-moments-ago scallop is balanced atop a nest of noodles bathed in an ambrosial scallop broth – truly a culinary gem. They’re break-your-heart luscious but break-the-bank expensive at $10 apiece. But do take note: I resolutely champion the tenet that ethnic/world food should never be relegated to the “cheap eats” category. The talent and creativity (not to mention the quality ingredients) that go into making this – and every – dish at Guan Fu justify the price as would any equivalent experience at a schmancy French restaurant. In my opinion, Guan Fu rates a firmament of stars for its inventive cuisine and presentation.

Razor Clams with Green Pepper

Our appetizer of sweet, tender razor clams with mildly spicy green pepper (烧椒圣子皇) was delicate yet distinctive. I admit that I’m easy to please when it comes to razor clams but I’ve never had them prepared with such finesse. Again, an expertly crafted dish.

Fried Corn

You’ve heard of Candy Corn, right? Well, as far as I’m concerned, this dish is Corn Candy and it’s amazing. It’s called simply Fried Corn (金沙玉米) – sweet corn prepared with salted duck egg yolk and I could probably eat a whole plate of it myself. Simple, yet elegant, another Guan Fu must-have.

Spicy Oil Wontons

From the Snacks section of the menu, they’re just innocent looking dumplings, right? But again, at Guan Fu, they’re a cut above. Often you hear folks report whether the skins are thick or thin and that’s where the description ends. These Spicy Oil Wontons (红油抄手) (medium thickness and perfect chew) are swaddled in a delicious wrapper (how often do you hear people talk about how good the wrapper tasted?), stuffed to bursting with a savory meaty filling, and swimming in a not-too-spicy sauce.

Boiled Fish with Pickled Cabbage and Chili

Boiled Fish with Pickled Cabbage and Chili (酸菜鱼) is available with different kinds of fish – the least bony is the most costly, and even then you’ll need to be careful.

Mapo Tofu

I don’t like Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐) said nobody ever. Once again, Guan Fu’s rendering was exemplary. Fluffy, remarkably soft pillows of tofu in a sauce that was complex and flavorful that went well beyond the ubiquitous nondescript spicy versions.

Guanfu Style Bean Jelly Salad

Guanfu Style Bean Jelly Salad (川北凉粉) was a perfect way to start our meal.

Cucumber with Home Sauce

Cucumber with Home Sauce (沾酱乳瓜), essentially Persian cucumber with hoisin sauce, was the most uncomplicated dish I tried; tastes exactly as it sounds.

 
Guan Fu Sichuan is located in Flushing Square, 39-16 Prince Street G01, in Flushing, Queens.

 

Kabayan

My Instagram posts are usually brief takes on restaurants accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But folks sometimes ask for fuller reviews and more photos, so in response, here’s a more comprehensive report on one of my favorites.


Lately, I’ve been craving Filipino food (one of my favorite cuisines) and one restaurant that excels at its execution is Kabayan. Woodside, Queens is home to two Kabayan outposts along with numerous other Filipino eateries; it’s a veritable Little Manila. At these establishments, you’ll typically find a steam table laden with delicious (and often unidentified) offerings; diners queue up alongside and request portions of whatever strikes their fancy. If you know the names of the dishes, you can simply ask for what you want; if you don’t, just point and ask questions. As a matter of fact, there’s even a name for this procedure, turo-turo, which means “point-point” in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. Of course, you can always order from the menu as we did on this visit.

Here are a few favorites.

(Click photos to enlarge.)

Kilawin Tanigue

Spanish mackerel ceviche, a perfect way to begin a Filipino feast.

Laing

Laing looks like creamed spinach, but the flavor is completely different: it’s made from taro leaves and coconut milk. Gotta get your greens, right?

Garlic Rice

Binagoongan Rice

Two kinds of rice accompany our repast, Garlic Rice and Binagoongan Rice (made with shrimp paste, mango and scallions). I can’t decide which I like better – that’s why I always get them both!

Ginataang Langka

Ginataang Langka is unripened jackfruit with pork and coconut milk, because even a vegetable side dish needs pork!

Pancit Bam-I

Filipino cuisine has a number of noodle dishes, some with rice noodles, some with egg noodles; this one offers the best of both worlds with the addition of shrimp, chicken, and vegetables.

Palabok

Kabayan offers an assortment of the aforementioned noodle dishes; this one is Palabok, steamed rice noodles lurking under a cover of shrimp sauce, garnished with hard-boiled egg, crumbled crispy pork rinds (of course!) and scallions.

Sizzling Sisig

This sizzling pork dish is made from pig’s ear, jowl, ear, shoulder, and ear (did I mention ear?) and is one of the best renditions I’ve had of this Filipino favorite. Kabayan also does other sizzling sensations such as squid, seafood, pork chop, steak, shrimp, and bangus, milkfish that pops up everywhere in Filipino cuisine.

Inihaw na Pusit

Inihaw means grilled and pusit means squid. This beauty is stuffed with fresh vegetables and served with a vinegar-based dipping sauce.

BBQ Chicken

It may sound prosaic, but Filipino BBQ is famous and justifiably so. Sometimes, you’ll find meats on skewers; here, we enjoyed delectable chunks of dark meat chicken. A popular favorite.

Ginataang Manok

Chicken with ginger in coconut milk.

Adobong Kambing

Stewed goat with chick peas and peppers.

Dinuguan

A rich stew made of pork offal in a luscious gravy. Yes, the gravy contains pork blood, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! One of the diners at the table described it as chocolate pork – and everybody loved it. You will, too!

Bicol Express

Another classic Filipino dish. Vegetables simmered in slightly spicy coconut milk.

Lechon Kawali

I saved the best for last: the undisputed king of crispy deep-fried porky goodness, Lechon Kawali, fried pork belly with a vinegar garlic dipping sauce. A must-have.

Kabayan is located at 69-12 Roosevelt Avenue and at 49-12 Queens Boulevard in Woodside, Queens. Both are easily accessible by subway.

 

Main Street Imperial Taiwanese Gourmet

My Instagram posts are usually brief takes on restaurants accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But folks sometimes ask for fuller reviews and more photos, so in response, here’s a more comprehensive report on one of my favorites.


One of my favorite ways to dine is with a large group of foodie-type folks. There’s a method to my menu madness, of course: if you gather a crowd of eight or ten around a mountain of ethnic food, everyone gets to taste a bit of everything. (That’s essentially the idea behind my ethnojunkets as well.) And that’s exactly what we did at Main Street Imperial Taiwanese Gourmet.

Here are some photos of the extensive indulgence we enjoyed. (Click to enlarge.)

Braised Ribs

Duck Tongue

The meat is tender and a little fatty and envelops a bone that runs down the middle of the tongue. You’ll encounter these in other Chinese cuisines as well (at Cantonese dim sum parlors, for example). Go ahead. Try some. I promise you won’t leave quacking.

Oyster Pancake

Budzu Steamed Fish

Budzu is often seen as “Putz” on Taiwanese menus and it isn’t what you think it is. Budzu are manjack berries, little olive colored globes with a single seed, and are a standby in Taiwanese cuisine.

Clams with Basil

Basil frequently factors into Taiwanese cuisine as you can see in some of the other photos. It was the perfect fillip for these tender clams.

Crispy Sautéed Chicken

Squid with Ginger and Scallion

Stinky Tofu

An acquired taste? You be the judge!

Intestine with Garlic Chive

You might think you’ve never eaten intestines, but that, after all, is where natural sausage casings come from. The garlic chives and medium spicy sauce are the perfect complements; great with rice.

Sa Cha Beef

 
And yes, everything was absolutely delicious!
 
 
Main Street Imperial Taiwanese Gourmet is located at 59-14A Main Street in Flushing, Queens.
 
 

Tim Ho Wan

My Instagram posts are usually brief takes on restaurants accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But folks sometimes ask for fuller reviews and more photos, so in response, here’s a more comprehensive report on one of my favorites.


You’ve heard about it. You want to go there. But you weren’t convinced that hanging around for the better part of an hour to snatch one of their 60 unreservable seats – even during off hours – would be worth your time.

If you’re a hardcore Chinese food devotee, you probably know that Tim Ho Wan is a chain of dim sum parlors that took off in Hong Kong in 2009, rocketed across Asia (catching a Michelin star not long after after its debut), and landed in Manhattan’s East Village in January, 2017.

They boast that freshness is the key factor that distinguishes their fare from the rest of the pack. But although their wares are certainly fresh, I beg to differ with their professed rationale for the acclaim. Surely most of the dim sum around these parts is made the same day with fresh ingredients. Think about it: the turnover at such places is formidable; if you try to go anywhere to yum cha at 2:30 in the afternoon, you’ll see that the pickings are mighty slim. However, I do concur that there is a significant distinction in what they bring to the table, and that’s their spin on the dim sum itself.

It seems that there are two schools of thought about Tim Ho Wan’s food: the first posits that most of the offerings aren’t all that different from those of other dim sum restaurants. My very biased judgment is that those who can’t quite fathom what all the hubbub is about simply haven’t sampled dim sum from a wide enough assortment of restaurants. Here’s why I think that. Take a look at the photos below. Generally, they look like the dim sum you’ll find everywhere. Now, I’m fortunate to live in New York City and have enjoyed dim sum at dozens of restaurants in most of our five or so Chinatowns for decades, and indeed, one venue’s rice roll tastes pretty much like all the others. (There are exceptions, of course.) And Tim Ho Wan’s appear to look like all the rest for the most part. But “look like” is the operative phrase here. I suspect that in the barrage of foodie hype, those previously titillated, primed-for-ecstasy folks were expecting to gaze upon spectacular and unusual looking delicacies they had never encountered before and were, of course, disappointed.

The second school of thought is concerned with flavor and alternative recipes. For example, even though the cheung fan (steamed rice noodle rolls) seem like clones of so many others you’ve happened upon, the filling is special, memorable, and stands head and shoulders above the competition’s. And I suspect that the seasoned taster and enlightened foodie faction recognizes that Tim Ho Wan’s take on these items is undeniably novel and radically different from their doppelgangers – and absolutely delicious as well.

So here are some photos of my recommendations. I haven’t tried everything on the menu, but many of the items are similar, swapping out pork for beef and the like. Believe it or not, my only disappointment was the popular and ubiquitous siu mai (steamed pork dumplings with shrimp) which were good, but nothing out of the ordinary and the reason I didn’t post a photo.


(Click photos to view in high definition)

Baked Bun with BBQ Pork

Tim Ho Wan’s claim to fame. In terms of appearance, these do look considerably dissimilar from their counterparts found elsewhere and they’re a hit with everyone regardless of their allegiance to school of thought. The texture of the dough is a little airy like a biscuit, a little crispy and a little crumbly, its flavor sweet, and altogether unlike the smooth, golden brown versions you’ve experienced before. The filling is sweet and savory, just like that of their BBQ Pork cheung fan below. If you get nothing else (and after that long wait, you’d be foolish not to), you’ve got to try these.


Steamed Rice Roll stuffed with BBQ Pork

Cheung fan filled to bursting with their own variant on BBQ pork. So much better than anything similar you’d find elsewhere.


Steamed Dumplings Chiu Chow Style


Steamed Rice with Pork and Dried Squid


Steamed Beef Ball with Bean Curd Skin


Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf


Pan Fried Turnip Cake


Congee with Pork and Preserved Egg

Congee, also known as jook, is rice gruel; you want this for breakfast on a cold winter’s day in a deep and dark December.


Deep Fried Eggplant filled with Shrimp


Sweet Osmanthus with Goji Berries

Yes, I know, Chinese Jello, but it’s easily the best version of this dish I’ve ever tasted. Subtle and sweet, it makes you very happy.


French Toast filled with Custard

Not Chinese by any stretch but not bad at all. I mean, dim sum is sort of brunch, right?
 
 
Tim Ho Wan is located at 85 Fourth Avenue, New York, NY