Weekender Billiard

Instagram Post 1/2/2019 & 1/3/2019

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

Bhutanese food is scarce in NYC and if you find it, it’s often keeping company with the cuisines of neighboring Himalayan countries like Nepal and Tibet. Weekender Billiard, 41-46 54th St, in Woodside, Queens, doesn’t characteristically share its menu with them but does share its venue with several billiard tables. Today, however, let’s not to billiards but rather to the tables earmarked for dining as we take our cue from chef Norbu Gyeltshen.
 
I can’t say it’s the national dish of Bhutan, but it’s probably the best known. Ema Datse (aka ema datshi: ema = chili and datse = cheese) is simple but it packs a punch; it consists principally of very spicy chili peppers with a little cheese sauce for mollification plus some garlic – as though it needed it. Intense and potent.
 
Bumthang Noodle – Buckwheat noodles (soba) in combination with garlic and scallions.
 
Phagsha Sikam Pak – A Tibetan dish made from very dried pork with daikon and other vegetables.
 
Kagkur Soup – beef bone broth cooked for hours and enriched with squash/pumpkin and green chili peppers, of course.
 
Listed under Appetizers, this is Chicken Chili with tomatoes, garlic, and ginger. Did I mention the green chili peppers?
 
A Tibetan dish noted under Side Orders, Shap Tak is a stir-fry of beef, onions and tomatoes with garlic. Oh yeah, and green chili peppers.
 
Everybody loves momos! These are beef and, remarkably, not spicy. (Unless you kick them up yourself!)

It’s a cuisine you should certainly try once. What it lacks in variety it more than makes up for in intensity!
 
 

Adda – The Lunch Menu

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 Bengali/Hindi word “adda” refers to a place where people hang out and engage in stimulating conversation, often for hours and often over tasty food. It has a special meaning for me since I learned it decades ago from a dear departed Bangladeshi friend who taught me its meaning first hand, so I hoped the restaurant Adda would rekindle the warmth of that experience. From speaking to the restaurateur, I was pleased that we were on the same wavelength. The interior is casual and the food was excellent, the spice levels appropriate for each distinctly seasoned dish.

Here are a few of the extraordinary items I tried. (Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Chicken Biryani

I seldom order this: the rice and chicken are often dried out from sitting around too long, a hazard of a popular dish usually cooked in abundance in advance. Not here. It’s prepared as a dum, a technique where dough is sealed around the ingredients that permits them to retain their moisture and steam to delectable perfection. Served with raita on the side, even the dough was delicious. See second photo for the reveal.

Chicken Kati Roll

One of India’s many street food snacks, these paratha wraps were more flavorful and painstakingly seasoned than many I’ve had.

Kale Pakoda

There are folks for whom the mere mention of kale causes their nose to crinkle; I suggest ordering this dish as a remedy to that reaction. Kale Pakoda (you may know it as pakora) is made from kale drenched in a batter of ground chickpeas, deep fried and drenched with chutneys and an impeccable masala spice blend; it’s delicious enough to make the most diehard kalephobe request a second order.

Keema Pao

Keema refers to ground meat, in this case lamb, perfectly sauced and pao to the bready bun served alongside. Scoop up the former with the latter; enjoy; repeat.
 
 
Two more from the lunch menu at Adda that feature their amazing paneer, the fresh cheese commonly found at Indian restaurants everywhere. But what you find everywhere is not what you’ll find at Adda. They make their own paneer, of course, but unlike the squeaky, rubbery stuff you may have experienced elsewhere (no matter how good it tasted), this paneer is the real deal. It’s gentle on the tongue and redolent of the heady aroma of fresh dairy that cuts through the accompanying sauces, and might just turn you into a paneer snob.

Chili Paneer Tikka

Chili Paneer Tikka in a light ginger-garlic sauce that supports but doesn’t overwhelm the delicate flavor of the paneer. Simple and delicious.

Seasonal Saag Paneer

Not the glop you might be accustomed too. You often see what could easily be creamed spinach with a few afterthoughts of paneer tossed in as if to validate the name. Here the paneer and greens are in balance, playing off each other in a perfectly seasoned sauce.

Achari Chicken Tikka

When I see the word achari, I think pickled, which this delicious chicken was definitely not. We confirmed that what they served us matched the name on the menu and later, with a bit of research, I found recipes that could well have described the dish with its spicy tomato onion yogurt sauce. Despite my preconceived notion, this one was super.

Dahi Batata Puri

Pani puri are amazing. A common Indian street food, these snacks consist of a crispy shell filled, in this case, with a tender mixture of potatoes (batata), yogurt (dahi) and chutney, and sprinkled with sev (crunchy chickpea noodles). Pop one into your mouth whole, no biting please.

Masala Fried Chicken

No explanation needed: spicy fried chicken and potato wedges.

Stay tuned for the dinner menu!
 
 
Adda is located at 31-31 Thomson Ave, Long Island City, Queens.
 
 

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!

Private Kitchen

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 five posts, published on November 22, 25, 27, 28, and 29, 2017.


Taking a break from Thanksgiving cooking to give thanks for the exquisite cooking at Private Kitchen, 36-35 Main St, Flushing, Queens. You’re going to hear a lot more about this place – trust me. Here are a few of the delicious dishes we tried:

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

Braised Dongpo Style Pork Shoulder

Tempting Braised Dongpo Style Pork Shoulder, a red cooked Hangzhou dish served with airy steamed bao, garnered murmurs of anticipation from our eager group…

Braised Dongpo Style Pork Shoulder

…as the warming flame beneath the serving dish glowed with the promise of lusciousness.

Braised Dongpo Style Pork Shoulder

After being expertly carved by our server…

Braised Dongpo Style Pork Shoulder

…we rolled our own: a little bit of meat and a little bit of fat yielded a big bite of rich flavor.

Clams and Baby Bok Choy with Scrambled Eggs

Another tasty dish from our feast and one you don’t see everywhere. Clams and Baby Bok Choy with Scrambled Eggs can be found in the Vegetables section of the menu. Simple yet satisfying, almost comfort food.

Grandma’s Mixed Cold Dish

This delicious appetizer is Grandma’s Mixed Cold Dish and oh, how I wish my grandma could have cooked like that! Easily one of the most appreciated items that we ordered, it’s at the top of my list for the next time I bring a group to Private Kitchen.

Dry Stir Fried Squid Tentacles

True story from the day we went to Private Kitchen, 36-35 Main St, Flushing, Queens:

I tasted one. “Oh, man! These Dry Stir Fried Squid Tentacles are bangin’!” That’s all I said. That’s all that needed to be said. The rest was an ecstatic blur.

Braised Duck and Bamboo Shoots with Special Beer Sauce

That’s the way the menu describes it, but I’ve always seen it simply as “Beer Duck”. Braising any meat long enough will render it languorous and defenseless against your chopsticks and choppers but the beer only helps to further tenderize the duck (not to mention adding a piquant flavor). It’s a dish worth trying if you’ve never done so, and Private Kitchen does it rather well. Bamboo shoots, bok choy, and a bit of spice were the other significant components. Wish I had more of those steamed bao to soak up the extra sauce. Or perhaps a straw.

Private Kitchen is located at 36-35 Main St, Flushing, Queens.

 
 

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.