Brooklyn’s Homeslice Pizzeria

Instagram Post 1/30/2020

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

Having gone to college in New Haven, I admit to harboring a wee bit of prejudice regarding pizza (you might hear “ah-BEETS”) since there are none better. Anywhere. But sometimes you just can’t travel two hours to stanch a craving. Of course, I also know that there’s some fine pizza to be had in Brooklyn (and if any Queenza aficionados want to hang out sometime and introduce me to their faves, I’m totally game). Which leaves us to consider the local neighborhood pizza joint, you know, the one you sail past on the way home, some of which are, um, less than stellar.

But others of that ilk have a signature move that, if not unique, give their handiwork a bit of an edge. And indeed, it’s the edge of this pie from Brooklyn’s Homeslice Pizzeria at 567 Vanderbilt Ave that grabbed my attention. Those are panko crumbs and they provide a crispy crunch that succeeds in making this slice a cut above.

With its thin, flavorful crust, easily folded over on itself (as pizza is meant to be consumed), a slender but sufficient layer of cheese (the kind you used to peel back as a kid) and a naturally sweet and tasty tomato sauce, some would identify this as classic New York Style (but I’ve heard enough definitions for that phrase that I’m not going anywhere near it. Even if I agree. 😉)

And yes, I’ll be back to try the toppings (I always go plain for the maiden voyage). Besides, Ample Hills Creamery is less than three blocks away. Win-win.

Thai Cook

Instagram Post 1/27, 28, 29/2020

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

Ten of us assembled there for lunch (which is code for we had the opportunity to taste ten different dishes) and therein lies the rub: we all agreed that everything we ordered was outstanding, so I’m stymied by culinary mastery and can’t recommend favorites. Therefore let us stipulate that you won’t go wrong with any of the items in this post. Incidentally, don’t forget to order sticky rice with your meal. Some dishes do come with regulation rice – see photos – but all of the sauces are so delicious that you’ll surely want some sticky rice to soak up every drop!

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

We started with Fresh Crepe: a rice flour wrap swaddling bean curd, sweet radish, and chives served with sweet soy-garlic sauce. I’m not certain what all those crispy bits were but they elevated the dish significantly.

Grilled Squid: amazingly tender scored squid with sweet/sour/spicy sauce and peanuts. More yummy crispy bits.

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

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

Spicy Yummy Salad (in other words a Thai yum) with oysters (they’re in there) accompanied by red onion and scallions in cilantro/mint/lime sauce with crispy fried shallots on top and their signature Millionaire dressing on the side. Good stuff.

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

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

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

Also from the Noodle & Rice corner, Home Cooked Style Panang Curry (coconut milk) with beef. And a hardboiled egg.

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

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

Filipino BBQ

Instagram Post 1/23/2020

The last time I was there, it nearly broke my heart: half deserted both by vendors and customers, unclear if it was coming or going, the verdict still in abeyance. Two of my dining pals had alerted me to the presence of a new Filipino BBQ stall at the moribund HK Food Court. I was skeptical. But last Sunday, with some confidence, they shepherded me inside; I entered slowly, cautiously, against all hopes and wishes, thoughts and prayers.

And surely, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of stall 31 [cue choir of coloratura soprano angels], there appeared a sign on high, oversized and starkly white, boldly (for that was the font-weight) proclaiming “Filipino BBQ” demanding my attention and barely giving me the opportunity to mourn its fallen neighbors.

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

What? Oh. The food. Masarap! (Delicious!) This is the Bila-o Special, intended to serve two, but the three of us were well provided for. My bias notwithstanding (Filipino cuisine is one of my three favorites), there wasn’t a disappointing bite on the tray.

The annotated version.

They’ve been open for only about three weeks and I’m eager to return (82-02 45th Ave, Elmhurst, Queens) to try more, in particular the promised “turo-turo” (“point-point”) that I’ve enjoyed elsewhere: point to whatever of this, that, and the other that tickles your fancy. Stay tuned for more.

IGA’s Kalimantan Bazaar

Instagram Post 1/22/2020

Quick post about two soups selected by my dining pals at the Indonesian Gastronomy Association’s Kalimantan Bazaar this past weekend. (Incidentally, Kalimantan is the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, shared with Brunei and East Malaysia, and will ultimately be the new home to Indonesia’s capital.)

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

Soto Banjar is a delicious Indonesian soup from Banjarmasin, the capital of West Kalimantan/Borneo, with chicken, noodles, hardboiled eggs, crispy fried shallots and (I think, because I was distracted) perkedel, potato patties.

Tekwan. Fish soup with top-notch dumplings make from ground fish and tapioca flour, served with wood ear mushrooms and veggies.

Follow IGA on Facebook or on Instagram @iga_newyork to stay apprised of their schedule; find them at the Elmhurst Memorial Hall, 8824 43rd Ave, Queens, monthly.

The Making of Martabak

Instagram Post 1/20/2020

I’ve posted before about martabak (or martabak manis – manis means sweet), one of my favorite Southeast Asian desserts; it’s usually available at one of the three monthly Indonesian food bazaars, but this past weekend, the Indonesian Gastronomy Association (IGA) outdid itself by presenting a live demonstration revealing the way it’s made.

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

Without giving away any recipe secrets, batter is added to a special lidded frying pan that cooks and steams the pancake; a leavening agent causes it to rise into its characteristic honeycomb sponge-like consistency. The green color comes from pandan (screwpine) paste; it’s my favorite variety and highly recommended.

It’s slathered with margarine (which is considerably more malleable and easier to work with on the sunny streets of Indonesia than in the chilly atmosphere of a capacious Elmhurst assembly hall).

The sweet stuff which can appear as any or all of chocolate sprinkles, cheese, nuts, and sweetened condensed milk is added over half; the plain side is folded over the top (and I do mean over-the-top) of the enhanced side…

…and cut into serving pieces.

More photos of the event to come.

Follow IGA on Facebook or Instagram @iga_newyork to stay apprised of their schedule; find them at the Elmhurst Memorial Hall, 8824 43rd Ave, Queens, monthly.

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao

Instagram Posts 1/17 & 1/18/2020

Finally got around to visiting Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao in their new digs at 39-16 Prince St in Flushing, Queens – or so the Google would have it: the first thing you need to know is that the entrance is actually on 39th Ave (133-42) at the corner of Prince St. Elusive geography notwithstanding, our hungry horde congregated to devour a representative sampling from their menu. Everything we ordered was tasty, but the soup dumplings overshadowed the dishes they consorted with.

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

Arguably best known for their Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings), we selected three varieties from among six options. These charcoal gray, brooding purses are fabricated from dough fragrant with black truffle, fulfilling my expectations; the soup, secure within, was fine.

Insider’s view of the Truffle Soup Dumplings revealing flecks of truffle peppering the pork.

Chicken Soup Dumplings. The soup brought a touch of spice and ginger to the meat, good contrast to the preceding round.

But the champion of the trio was their classic Steamed Crabmeat and Pork Soup Dumplings, the filling everything you could hope for, the soup surprisingly full-bodied and a bit sweet, the genesis of Nan Xiang’s reputation, and which may very well have been the highlight of our meal.

Pan Fried Pork Buns (aka Sheng Jian Bao) from the Signature Dim Sum section of the menu were top notch.

Four Happiness Kao Fu – braised wheat gluten with bamboo shoots, wood ear and shiitake mushrooms. I admit I’m a sucker for Kao Fu and I was pleased to see the dried lily flowers as a component – no guarantee of that in some versions.

Spicy Bamboo Shoots from the Little Cold Dish section of the menu; a little too chewy, could have benefited from a touch more spiciness.

Beef Tendon in Chili Oil from the same part of the menu. If I had been paying attention, I would have suggested the Spicy Beef and Tripe in peanut chili sauce (fuqi feipian). Next time.

Shanghai Pan Fried Noodle – thick noodles stir fried with bok choy, shredded pork and “house special sauce”. Nice chew, not bad.

Homemade Pumpkin Pie – 2019

Instagram Post 1/16/2020

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

One more from my holiday home cookin’ collection. Believe it or not, it took years to get this Pumpkin Pie recipe right – years, because I only make it biannually so the upgrade opportunities are few and far between. First trick is to use only fresh pumpkin, and the small sugar pumpkins at that – none of that canned stuff. (Yes, I’ve read the propaganda from some who claim that it’s all the same – IMO they know not whereof they speak.) My recipe includes three milks (inspired by tres leches cake): sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream along with brown sugar, eggs, spices, and such. Here, it’s topped with homemade Pecan Brittle and whipped cream.

The view before slicing and adorning. (Yes, I add the pecan brittle at serving time so it doesn’t get icky.) The crust has been another labor of love, intended to evoke the taste of a cinnamon sugar cookie. (Perfect with pumpkin, right?) The flavor is spot-on, but the texture needs a bit more finessing. Ah well, back to the groaning board. 😉

Scalloped Potatoes with Leeks and Bacon

Instagram Post 1/15/2020

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

Okay, you asked for it – and thank you so much for your input! Here’s another home cooked holiday dish (my own recipe once again), Scalloped Potatoes with Leeks and Bacon: layers of Yukon Gold potatoes, crumbled bacon, leeks sautéed in bacon fat 😲, plus heavy cream and seasonings. For some reason everyone tears into this baby first until they finally get around to noticing that there’s turkey on the table. (I suspect their attention is redirected birdward because of the cornbread chestnut stuffing with dried cranberries, currants, aromatics, all the herbs in the Simon & Garfunkel song, and then some. Just not photogenic though, so no photo.)

How it looked fresh out of the oven and before it met its demise at the table.

Corn Pudding

Instagram Post 1/14/2020

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

Never quite got around to posting any home cookin’ from the holidays so here’s one of my favorites. It’s my own recipe (of course) for Corn Pudding, a savory side dish, not a dessert pudding (but there’s a thought there 🤔). Two kinds of corn, fresh off the cob and Cope’s Dried Sweet Corn from Pennsylvania Dutch country plus eggs, cream, butter and other homey ingredients unite to produce this traditional family favorite. Love how some of the fresh snipped chives rise to the top to enhance the golden brown crispy crust.

How it looked in the baking dish pre-ravage.

Serious question: do you want to see more like this?

Cupid Cheese Fruit Cake

Instagram Post 1/13/2020

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

Cupid Cheese Fruit Cake, a relatively new kid on the block, is my new durian gateway drug dealer. Find them in Flushing (of course) in the New York Food Court at 133-35 Roosevelt Ave, Stall 18. The menu touts Regular Durian Pie and a Super Durian Pie that’s even more abundantly filled than the former (you’re lookin’ at it). I was more than pleased. A return visit is in order to sample some of the other flavors – mango, banana, raisin, hawthorn, dragon fruit, and seven fairies – the last two topping my list. Ice Rice is on the agenda as well, but not before I run the table of fruit pies.

I can only imagine what this would be like with a scoop of Flushing Ice Cream Factory’s durian melting on top!

The #obligatorycheesepull