Little Alley

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 May 16-18, 2019.


Little Alley, 550 3rd Ave in Manhattan, is named for the network of interconnected alleyways that define erstwhile neighborhoods in old Shanghai; its chef, Yuchun Cheung, pays homage to his home and the cuisine of his childhood in this restaurant and the patrons are the lucky beneficiaries. Almost everything we tasted was outstanding. In no particular order:

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)Salted Duck Egg Fish Filet. I’ve enjoyed this elsewhere and it’s a favorite, but I’ve never had it prepared this perfectly. (Not to mention the fact that everyone at the table – all hardcore foodies, by the way – were in complete agreement.) First of all, IMHO, anything featuring salted duck egg is always wonderful and this version of the dish was set apart by the fact that the proportion of salted duck egg to (unusually) thinly sliced fish was about 1:1 so you could taste everything in its proper balance.


Rice Cake and Salted Duck Egg. As if to confirm the extent to which we all find salted duck egg irresistible, later in the meal we ordered this dish. Here, wonderfully chewy rice cakes get the treatment, and they’re perfect. Notice that the name of this dish fails to incorporate the word “shrimp”, but look closely at the photo and you’ll see them, camouflaged as rice cakes, an integral part of this entrée.

And while you’re there, you might try the Water Spinach with Fermented Bean Curd; it’s green simplicity offsets and complements the richness of the salted duck egg dishes.


Honey Kao Fu. Kao Fu is gluten. Yes, Gluten, the prevailing demon of reproving newtritionists. And please note that I’m not deriding people who have genuine sensitivity to gluten; I sincerely understand your struggle. It’s just that I’m old enough to remember when consuming eggs, butter and olive oil invited public shaming. I’ve actually seen bottles of gluten-free water and yet, when I shop in Chinese markets, I can buy packages of plain gluten. Some of my vegetarian friends use seitan, the same devil as gluten, as a meat substitute. Anyway, it’s the spongelike absorptive properties of this form of gluten that make it special and here the sauce is laced with honey to elevate it further. Keeping company with wood ears and bamboo shoots, it’s a classic Shanghainese dish and the best version I’ve ever had.

Spicy Lamb and Garlic Shoot. It seems like every cuisine in the world knows that lamb and garlic are soulmates, and this one is no exception.

This is Braised Pork with Preserved Vegetables, served with steamed buns (bao). Put a little pork and its savory sauce into the bun, add some of the preserved vegetables, fold and enjoy. My only (very minor) complaint is that we could have used a few more bao!

[Left] You’ve probably seen these Radish Puffs whizzing past on dim sum carts in Chinatown. A good (and good-sized) rendition here.
[Right] The xiao long bao, soup dumplings, were fine.
 
 
Little Alley is located at 550 3rd Ave in Manhattan. Yes, Manhattan. 😉
 
 

Little Pepper 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 four posts, published on April 29–30 and May 1–2, 2019.


If ever there were a Sichuan standby, it’s Little Pepper Restaurant at 18-24 College Point Boulevard, Queens. Despite its move from Flushing to College Point, the kitchen continues to turn out solid journeyman work that’s difficult to find fault with, delivering exactly what you’d expect and precisely what you traveled there for. In no particular order:

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)Fresh Cucumber with Mashed Garlic Sauce is an exercise in balance. The dish only seems simple: seeded, smashed Persian cucumbers blanketed with a salty, sweet/sour garlic dressing. Applied with a heavy hand, it would have been suffocating, with a timorous touch, it would have been an afterthought; here, it’s a dexterous thumbs up.

Silken Tofu with Fresh Scallion. Gossamer cubes of cloudlike tofu in a very spicy, somewhat salty sauce dressed with peanuts and fresh scallions. So good.

Sliced Pork Belly with Chili Garlic Sauce from the Appetizer section of the menu. Unquestionably sweet, a little spicy, intensely porky, with a substantial hit of garlic because pork and garlic, right?

Braised Sliced Fish in Spicy Soup Base. Just what it sounds like – melt in your mouth fish in a spicy broth that begs to be poured over rice.


Dan Dan Noodle with Minced Pork – with a nice chew and redolent of málà oil, it’s a classic rendition. Second photo: the obligatory noodle lift.

Smoked Tea Duck Sichuan Style. Does this really need a description? Smoky, crispy, fatty, ducky, infused with star anise and other enhancements, the meat was so tender it practically fell apart. I could have eaten the whole plateful by myself. Next time, I just might.

Tree Mushrooms with Chinese Spices. You might see cloud ear, wood ear fungus, black fungus or a dozen other names, but it will appear as 木耳 (“tree ear”) on the menu. Garlicky, a little vinegary, and spicy from the red peppers, the cilantro was a necessary diversion. Did I mention garlic? Like all of the appetizers we enjoyed that afternoon, this was a bit salty, but in a good way.

Dried Sautéed String Beans. A prime example of wok hei (you might see wok hay, wok chi, or wok qi): “the breath of the wok”; its flavor and aroma are unforgettable – and nearly impossible to achieve in the home kitchen. Attainable by stir frying over incendiary heat, it’s a hallmark of Chinese cuisine; the char you see on the fresh green beans is its badge of honor. Tiny bits of Yibin yacai, the stems of pickled mustard greens, de rigueur in Sichuan cooking, provide contrast and are customary in this dish.

Minced Pork with Clear Noodle. I know this one by its more fanciful moniker, Ants Climbing Up a Tree. It consists of bits of ground pork in a bean paste based sauce poured over “cellophane noodles”, translucent noodles usually made from mung bean starch. The bits of pork (the ants) cling to the noodles (the tree limbs) because of the slightly sticky nature of the sauce, hence the name. Second photo illustrates. At various restaurants where I’ve enjoyed this, the sauce has ranged from almost soupy to rather dry which was the case this time; it was also less sweet, saltier, and spicier than what I’m accustomed to, but highly enjoyable.

I once made this for someone as part of a mini-banquet and she refused to eat it. I assured her that no ants were harmed in the making of this dish. She said she realized that, of course, but the idea of noodles made from cellophane put her off.

You win some, you lose some.

This is Sliced Pork with Wood Ear. You already know about the captivating flavor and aroma of wok hei, “the breath of the wok”, derived from stir frying food over intense heat; the pork in this dish is infused with that magic and at the same time is moist and tender, most likely the result of velveting, a marinating technique used in Chinese cuisine. A great choice.

Sauteed Snow Pea Leaves, for those at the table who crave their veggies; these are simply prepared and excellent.
 
 
Revisiting Little Pepper is like getting together with an old friend you haven’t seen for a while; not necessarily any surprises to shout about, just that warm feeling that everything you loved about them in the past is still going strong and had just been waiting for you to reconnect.

Cka Ka Qellu

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 March 14 and 15, and April 13 and 14, 2019.


If you’ve never tried Albanian food, here’s your chance. Tucked away in Belmont’s Little Italy, Çka Ka Qëllu can be found at 2321 Hughes Ave, Bronx and it’s a gem. Veal and creamy yogurt have starring roles in this cuisine and everything we tasted was delicious and in many cases a little surprising. Here are some of the top notch dishes we tried during our three visits.

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

Dips from the Appetizers section

Each dip was different in nature and temperature (from top moving clockwise): Tarator, a cold yogurt dip with minced garlic and cucumber; delicious warm Sausage Dip made from Albanian veal sausage; Ajavar (you may have seen ajvar), room temp, a savory roasted red pepper spread.

Samun

Marvelous pillowy bread called Samun (sounds a little like salmon), so fresh and hot out of the oven that we literally couldn’t tear it barehanded. I’m usually unimpressed by bread but this was amazing; it was perfect with the dips.

Fli

A further surprise (because I had no idea what to expect) was this wedge of Fli, savory layered crêpes in the Brumat (Savory Dishes) section of the menu. According to the Albanian dictionary, brumat means dough – sounds about right; here, it seemed to be a repository for items that are not really appetizers, not really mains and not really sides, but all dough based in one way or another. A bit of cheese and pickled green tomato kept the fli company on its plank (which matched the table which matched the fli). I was told that it takes six to seven hours to prepare this dish; it took a tiny fraction of that to consume it.

Mantia

I expected the Mantia në Tavë (literally, mantia in a tava, a clay casserole) to be similar to their thin-skinned dumpling cousins called manti from neighboring countries, but was surprised by a drier, sturdier, baked pastry dough encasing the filling; they seemed more like goshtgizhda, the Central Asian meat pies I wrote about recently. These crisp bottomed bites were rescued by a much welcomed creamy sauce. Filled with ground veal (of course) and drenched with yogurt (of course), they were delightful.

Qofte Sharri

Ground veal mixed with kaçamak (cornmeal) oozing melted kashkaval cheese with a pleasant surprise coming from a touch of spiciness, unusual for this cuisine. A winner.

Skenderbeg

Skenderbeg is named for the 15th century Albanian national hero. It’s pounded veal rolled around a slender layer of smoked mish i thatë (literally “dried meat”) and kashkaval cheese, breaded, fried, and crowned with an aioli mayo. The smokiness leaps out on the first bite and distinguishes the dish from other cheese-stuffed veal dishes on the menu. Outstanding as well.

Kaçamak

Kaçamak is polenta that’s integrated with a sauce of slightly sour fermented kaymak; note that I said “integrated” and not “topped with” because the dairy is equally potent in terms of flavor balance; it’s the texture that betrays the presence of cornmeal. A friend who knows polenta proclaimed that it was the best he’d ever had.

Qebapa

Also known as ćevapi in neighboring Balkan countries, these are finger-sized skinless sausages made from ground veal (natch), onion, garlic, herbs and crushed red pepper (yes, there’s a welcome bit of heat). These juicy cylinders boasting crispy browned edges (bless you, Monsieur Maillard) and a wonderfully fatty mouthfeel come ten to a plate (no, that’s not too many).

Fasul

This thick, creamy, long simmered soup/stew of white beans and onions featured a chunk of smoked meat that infused the dish with its rich flavor. On a subsequent visit, I decided that it might be a good idea to cut it up into bits and stir it back in for the occasional unexpected nibble: yes, it was.

Sarma

Cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables. Well-seasoned, I detected paprika and onion powder as dominant.

Leçenik

Albanian style cornbread, dense and almost cheesecakey, distinguished by the bits of spinach within.

Bërxollë Dukagjini

Saving the fanciest for last (although everything was terrific). Pounded veal this time (not ground), kashkaval cheese inside: smoky, meaty, cheesy goodness topped with mushroom gravy. Even the rice was tasty. Superb!
 
 
Çka Ka Qëllu is located at 2321 Hughes Ave, Bronx.
 
 

Van Da

Instagram Post 4/27-28/2019

 
Don’t come looking for steaming bowls of pho, multilayered banh mi, or the ubiquitous bun/grilled meat/garden of herbs DIY platter; the recently opened Vietnamese restaurant Van Đa at 234 East 4th St in Manhattan’s East Village answers to its own muse. Self-characterized as “modern Vietnamese cuisine”, the menu items diverge from those you might find elsewhere and even familiar offerings display their own spin. A good part of the menu is composed of small plates with a few more substantial options to consider; all of our choices were tasty if mostly single bite morsels.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)
From the Hanoi column, this comparatively ample dish is Cha Ca La Vong, turmeric branzino with a heap of fresh dill, bun (rice vermicelli noodles), scallions and peanuts. It was good, but I’ve enjoyed this dish in other restaurants where the turmeric and other ingredients made a more significant statement.

Red Curry Corn Fritters from the Street Food side of the menu were light, fluffy and a modest entry point to our meal although I don’t recall much red curry in evidence.

Banh Khot are described in the Hue column of the menu as turmeric griddle cakes with wild mushrooms, coconut custard, and cured egg yolk. I’m sure that’s true, but these might be better explained as bite-sized, crunchy, coconut-forward, mushroom and herb mini mouthfuls. Good stuff.

Banh Bot Loc (Hue as well) are shrimp and pork tapioca dumplings that arrive wrapped in the banana leaves in which they were steamed. Second photo shows the sticky, chewy delicacy lurking within. Also good stuff.

Pho Short Rib Grilled Cheese sounded to me like it might actually be a sandwich and indeed a pair of slender, crunchy, triangles featuring pho beef, caramelized onions, and melted provolone came to the table with a shot of pho broth for company. Since Vietnam had been colonized by France at one time, I surmised that the shot was less about something to swig and more likely Van Da’s answer to the French dip. But perhaps not.


Banh It Ram are mochi dumplings, crispy surface, chewy just beneath, filled with a mung bean mash and topped with fried shallots. Gotta love the textural interplay. See second photo for the inside scoop.

One of the more substantial (i.e., bigger than a bite or two) dishes we selected was Grilled Eggplant with bits of seasoned lamb and mint, served with nuoc cham, a condiment made from nuoc mam (fish sauce), lime juice, and sugar at the minimum, plus a garnish of crispy noodles that provided a welcome contrast.

Served in a ceramic cup about 2½ inches in diameter, these Banh Beo are steamed savory rice cakes with minced shrimp pointed up by a hit of scallion oil and garnished with crispy bits of fried pork skin.

Van Đa is located at 234 East 4th St in Manhattan.
 
 

Boran

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 April 4 through 10, 2019.


On very rare occasion, I venture into a restaurant and know after a few bites that there is no choice but to return and work my way through the entire menu. That’s how the story begins at Boran, 462 Court St in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Five of us enjoyed a compelling Thai meal (from multiple regions of Thailand I should add) that started magnificently and kept getting better with each course. Note that the selections I’m covering can be found in the Authentic Style (sometimes identified as “signature”) part of the menu or among the daily specials; they’re not included on the take-out menu or elsewhere on the dine-in menu.

Here they are, in no special order. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Meang Kham

There are some foods that are meant to be popped into one’s mouth whole, no biting allowed – Indian pani puri comes to mind. These are Meang Kham: dried shrimp, roasted coconut, roasted peanuts, shallots, ginger, lime and sweet shrimp paste all nestled in a betel leaf; open wide and let the flavors explode in your mouth.

Mixed Appetizers

This platter featured some universal favorites including chicken satay, grilled honey pork, Northern Thai style sausage (sai oua), and an assortment of tasty fried crispy treats, but a particular delight for me was the Sa Cu Sai Moo (you’ll see alternate spellings elsewhere) shown at the top of the photo reposing in their spoons. I first tasted these pork-filled steamed tapioca dumplings in a Thai restaurant in Manhattan that closed decades ago and have had difficulty finding them since; they’re often available with a peanut filling instead of pork, but that’s just not a moo-ving experience 😉. They’re also available as an appetizer item themselves, not as part of a mixed platter. Definitely try them!

Meang Pla Tood

Another flavor/texture bomb was Meang Pla Tood, one of their signature dishes: meang (you might see miang) refers to food wrapped in leaves, pla is fish, tood (you might see tod) means deep fried. This is deep fried boneless dorada with cashews and dried shrimp enhanced by ginger, red onion, bits of lime (even the peel) and lemongrass, one of those synergistic devils where the whole definitely exceeds the sum of its parts. Tasty, incredibly crispy fish and crunchy nuts in a perfect blend of sweet, sour, spicy, salty and bitter condiments that characterizes Thai cuisine. Frankly, this dish blew me away.

Khao Knook Gapi Boran

An excellent submission from among Boran’s signature dishes, Khao Knook Gapi Boran. In center stage, shrouded beneath the toss of cilantro, is the soul of this dish: fried rice infused with funky shrimp paste and topped with sweet pork. Decisions to be incorporated ad libitum from twelve o’clock, fried eggs, cucumber, red chilies, bits of pickled long beans, shredded green mango, dried shrimp, chicken sausage and red onion.

Nam Prik Aong

When you see Nam Prik on a Thai menu, you’re venturing into a fiery zone; it’s a condiment made from roasted red chilies, garlic, shallots, lime juice and fish or shrimp paste. Nam Prik Aong (you might see ong) zooms in on Northern Thailand; the dish adds nam prik to ground pork in a tomato-based sauce and is generally served with cucumber and lettuce for wrapping along with pork cracklings (you might see chicharrones 😉), freshly steamed veggies like broccoli and carrots and sweet kabocha squash. This plate also featured Sai Aua (you might see sai ua), addictive, spicy Northern Thai sausage.

Nam Ngeaw

A classic dish from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Vermicelli rice noodles plus pork that’s been simmered in a spicy, garlicky, tart, tomatoey broth (nam means water, liquid, or juice) served with shredded fresh cabbage, bean sprouts and pickled mustard greens. I can’t think of a flavor that was missing.

Pad Thai

So after all of Boran’s spectacular, authentic, signature dishes I’ve been nattering about, I’ll leave you with just one more: Pad Thai. Now don’t go all anticlimax on me; this is not like any pad thai from your corner we-can-grab-lunch-here restaurant. Swaddled in a blanket of thin omelet, the steamy components maintain their heat as the crispy ingredients linger outside waiting for you to fulfill your role: break it open, mix it well, and enjoy it like you’ve never tasted pad thai before.
 
 
Boran is located at 462 Court St in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
 
 

MaLa Project

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 March 25 through 30, 2019.


I may be late to the game in terms of writing about MáLà Project, 122 First Ave in Manhattan, but that doesn’t stop me from working my way through their menu now. Their famous Dry Pot notwithstanding, four of us set out to explore other menu items, so we started with ten (count ’em ten!) dishes from the Appetizers, Snacks, Vegetables and Rice sections of the menu; I’m posting a barrage detailing the whole lot.

Here they are, in no special order. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

MáLà Duck Neck

I’ve been nibbling my way around roast poultry necks since I was a kid. At Thanksgiving, some families argue over politics; we argued over who’s going to get the turkey neck. So I was happy that there were enough MáLà Duck Neck joints for the four of us. I don’t recall these being particularly spicy though, neither má nor là. Good anyway.

Husband and Wife Lung Slices

Fuqi Feipian 夫妻肺片 is a Sichuan málà classic. Choice of specific ingredients varies among chefs (not to worry, it never includes actual slices of lung) but tripe and tendon are traditional and ox tongue and beef shin can appear as alternate paramours – always two items though and always delightfully spicy.

MáLà Pickles

MáLà Pickles, 四川泡菜, from the Snacks section. Just what it sounds like: Sichuan homestyle spicy pickled vegetables of sufficient variety that we worked our way to the bottom of the crock with ease.

Fried Pepper with Thousand Year Egg

Shāo jiāo pídàn, 烧椒皮蛋. These eggs are of a certain age, but not in sync with their moniker; thousand year eggs, also known as hundred year eggs, century eggs and preserved eggs undergo a process that actually takes closer to weeks or months. They’re covered in a mixture of lime (the calcium compound, not the citrus fruit) and salt and packed into clay or ash to cure (a bit of an oversimplification, but you get the idea). As you can see, the yolk becomes greenish grey and the white a gelatinous translucent brown. The funky flavor pairs perfectly with the fried spicy green pepper.

Xiangxi Fried Rice

Xiangxi Fried Rice, 湘西炒饭, with egg, Chinese bacon, pickled vegetables and chilies. The waiter informed us that it would be spicier than its menu mate “Leftover Fried Rice”; I believe him having not tried the alternative, but this portion, although certainly delicious, wasn’t especially fiery. Good comfort food though.

Liangfen of Happy Tears

Liangfen of Happy Tears, Shāngxīn Liángfěn, 伤心凉粉. I’m not sure when shāngxīn (伤心) which I thought meant sad or heartbroken became “happy tears” but I suspect it has to do with the zesty deliciousness that this dish delivers. Liángfěn refers to mung bean jelly “noodles” – long, thick-cut, slippery, wobbly chopstick challengers (for some) in a spicy soy sauce based dressing. Good eats.

Candy Garlic

A powerful snack: Candy Garlic, 糖蒜.

😠 It’s Candy! 😣 It’s Garlic! ✋ Stop! You’re both right! 💑

Think pickled, not candied – neither dessert topping nor floor wax. Of course, if it’s date night you might want a breath mint after consuming a couple of them, but these piquant cloves are approachable…with Certitude 🙃.

#RUOldEnough2GetTheJokes

Eggplant with Roasted Garlic

Eggplant with Roasted Garlic, 蒜蓉茄子, is a surefire winner. Eggplant and garlic seem to have an affinity for each other like chocolate and nuts, or bacon and pretty much anything. Again, MáLà Project did a good job with this one.

Mouthwatering Chicken

Mouthwatering Chicken, 口水鸡, another classic Sichuan delicacy. Often made with white meat chicken (one of the few recipes in which it’s a worthwhile choice IMHO), it’s poached chicken in chili sauce and this version was excellent.

Sticky Rice Stuffed Lotus Root

Sticky Rice Stuffed Lotus Root, 桂花糯米莲藕 was delicious. The Chinese characters read osmanthus, glutinous rice, lotus root. As I understand it, the cavities in the lotus root are stuffed with sticky rice and the root is simmered in a sweet syrup, often with the addition of goji berries and red dates, until tender. It’s sliced and then gets a bath in its cooking sauce for serving. Osmanthus flowers adorn the top. It’s a sweet dish, but not intensely so. Excellent.

Okay. Next time, we’ll save room for the Dry Pot!

MáLà Project is located at 122 First Ave in Manhattan.

 
 

Ugly Baby

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, one from my first visit in October 2017 (the first three dishes), the others from a more recent excursion published in March 2019.


If I recall correctly, it’s a cross-cultural superstition and particularly so in Thailand: if you’ve just given birth to a beautiful baby, you proclaim it ugly lest an evil spirit punish your hubris and abduct your newborn. Such is the story behind the name of this outstanding restaurant, Ugly Baby, at 407 Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. The chef, half of the team that graced us with Red Hook’s Kao Soy and Chiang Mai, is back with a vengeance, and authenticity seems to be the name of the game.

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

Laab Ped Udon

Spicy duck salad. Could this be the best laab ped I’ve ever had?

Kang Hoh

Northern dry hung le (a curry paste) and red curry paste with pork shoulder, spare ribs and mung bean noodles. Not a dish you see everywhere: you definitely need to try this one!

Kua Kling

The menu describes this as “southern dry eye round curry – brutally spicy”. It was. Not a dry eye in the house! A high spice level – even for me and I have a high tolerance – so I suggest that you get at least one order of sticky rice and do a bit of the beef and a bit of the rice in each bite for balance. That way, you’ll actually get to taste the complex flavors of this dish (it’s not just hot!) and you’ll find it delicious.

Kang Ped

Sting Ray Curry. Topped with betel leaves, this spicy treatment of sting ray was top notch. That cluster of little beads on the right is a stem of green peppercorns; if you’re into cooking, you can find them in Thai markets brined in jars. Highly recommended.

Khao Soi Nuer

Northern egg noodle curry soup with beef shank. A popular street food in Northern Thailand, it’s a complex dish of contrasting textures and complementary flavors authentically executed here.

Khoong Muk Kai Kem

Khoong Muk Kai Kem features shrimp (khoong), squid (muk), and salted egg yolk (kai kem) – assuming I’ve decoded the Thai correctly. I admit to being an avid fan of salted egg yolk in all its forms; here it serves to thicken the sauce and add texture as well as flavor to the seafood. An excellent dish.

Kang Hoy Bai Cha Plu

Mussels, betel leaves, and cha-om in “ugly red curry”. Cha-om are the gossamer leaves of the Acacia pennata tree which can be consumed either raw or cooked; the betel leaves are the larger pieces you see in the photo. This dish is a good example of why I like Ugly Baby so much; another winner.

Lin Moo Yang

Grilled Pig’s Tongue. Lin means tongue, moo means pork (easy to remember because of the barnyard irony), and yang means grilled. Pig’s tongue is enjoyed by many cultures; my first exposure was as a kid – part of a soul food dinner – and I’ve been a fan ever since. Don’t be put off by the idea of tongue; it’s a delicious meat and when it’s grilled, especially Thai style (the cuisine has a way with a grill), it’s unforgettable. Try this one.

Moo Pad Kapi

Pork Belly and Shrimp Paste. You already know moo, pad is a stir fry (Pad Thai, right?), and kapi is shrimp paste. Cooling cucumber on the side, this dish with its red peppers, infusion of funky, salty shrimp paste, and crispy fried shallots perched on top was perfection with its sticky rice accompaniment.
 
 
Ugly Baby is located at 407 Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. One of my absolute favorite Thai restaurants.
 
 

Vatan

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 two posts, published on February 27 and 28, 2019.


If for some reason it were necessary for me to go vegetarian, I could handle it thanks to the cuisine of India: so many types of preparations infused with so many herbs and spices in so many combinations create what feels like a boundless array of choices. It’s a cuisine that can be both subtle (the distinction between types of dal for instance) and overwhelmingly intense in the same bite. You can partake of this palate pleasing panoply at Vatan, the exceptional all-you-can-eat vegetarian Indian restaurant at 409 3rd Ave in Manhattan where your helpful, friendly server delivers courses from a set menu; you can request additional portions of any item that you found appealing.

Vatan is as much about the experience as it is about the food – and the food is excellent. Vatan (वतन) is the Hindi word for motherland and the decor, presided over by Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of wisdom, good luck, and the remover of obstacles, is calculated to transport you to a Gujarati thatch-roofed hut where you can relax and enjoy your sumptuous meal.

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

First course: the appetizers – varied and delectable

• Sev Puri – crispy shells filled with potatoes, green gram (mung) beans, yogurt and chutney
• Ragda Patis – potato cutlet in white bean sauce
• Samosa – savory pastries filled with spicy potatoes and onion
• Muthia – steamed flour with spinach
• Chana Masala – garbanzo beans with onions and coriander
• Khaman – puffed cream of wheat flour cakes similar to dhokla
• Mirchi Bhajia – fried hot peppers with garam masala
• Batata Vada – fried potato balls in chickpea flour batter

Annotated

The accompanying chutneys (clockwise from 10:00)

• Carrot Sambharo (mustardy!)
• Fried Garlic
• Mango Chutney
• Tamarind Date Chutney
• Cilantro Chutney

Second course: the entrée thali

• Toor Dal – boiled lentils cooked with Indian spices
• Kheer – rice pudding with dried fruits
• Chole – chickpeas cooked with garam masala, an Indian spice blend
• Ful-Gobi – cauliflower and green peas sautéed in a savory sauce
• Bhaji – sautéed spinach and corn
• Batakanu Sak – potatoes cooked in a mild red gravy
• Papadam – thin lentil wafers
• Puri – puffed whole wheat bread
• Roti – whole wheat flatbread

Annotated

The entrée complements

• Khadi – soup with yogurt and besan (chickpea flour) with aromatic spices
• Khichdi – lentils with rice and assorted vegetables
• Pulao – rice with (undercover) peas

An addition: Rotla, a Gujarati specialty

Flatbread served with classic embellishments of ghee, garlic chutney, and jaggery (palm sugar) and yes, they did work together. Dessert was Indian ice cream, gulab jamun (fried dough in sweet syrup), and masala chai.
 
 
Vatan is located at 409 3rd Ave in Manhattan. I highly recommend it, especially à deux.
 
 

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.