Tulcingo Restaurant

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip.

In a recent post I noted that there are seemingly dozens of restaurants along the Latin American strip on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park and no, I’m not going to try to eat my way through all of them. But back in April, 2017, we visited one of the neighborhood’s better known eateries and it did not disappoint. Tulcingo, at 5520 5th Ave, offers an extensive menu and we barely scratched the surface. Here are a few photos:

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Birria (it’s a two syllable word) hails from the Mexican state of Jalisco. I don’t recall if this dish was as trendy then as it is now, but I do recall that Tulcingo’s rendering was a tasty one. It’s essentially a meat stew, customarily made with goat although this version is Birria de Res so beef is the star of the show. Birria distinguishes itself from similar recipes in that the meat is marinated in savory adobo before it goes into the stew pot – and you can taste the difference.


And while we’re on the subject of beef, these are Tacos de Lengua, tongue for the uninitiated – so tender that I was about to describe it as meat that melts in your mouth but I thought the better of it. Delicious.


Shifting the focus from head to toe, or more specifically from mouth to limb, this is Pierna Adobada, pork leg, marinated and roasted to perfection.


Plato Barbacoa de Chivo. If you’ve never tried goat before, this is a good way to do it because you don’t have to wrestle with extricating bits of meat from a carcass – no bones about it. Barbacoa is marinated and traditionally steamed in a pit which guarantees juicy results although other methods of preparation can be just as successful; it’s pulled and shredded for serving.


Rice and beans to stave off teasing about how meat-heavy our dinner had been!
 
 
Tulcingo is located at 5520 5th Ave in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
 
 

Look by Plant Love House

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip.

Here are some pix from multiple occasions in 2016 and 2017 that were taken at Look by Plant Love House, the cozy Thai restaurant at 622 Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. I dined there on a number of occasions and liked their Thai home cooking so much that I subsequently brought an assortment of foodie friends there to check it out as well. (Apologies for the grainy photos – I used the wrong film in the camera 😉 – but I can assure you that the food was significantly better than the pix!) In no special order:

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Chiang Mai Khao Soy, a Thai classic that highlights noodles two ways: Soft egg noodles swaddling chicken in Chiang Mai curry sauce topped with crispy egg noodles, accompanied by red onion, pickled cabbage, cilantro and lime.


Guay Tiao Num Tok (Pork Blood Noodle Soup). Don’t be squeamish about this one now that you know its ingredients; it deserves the popularity it enjoys back home! Thai boat noodle soup flavored with palm sugar, vinegar and Thai chili featuring sliced pork, pork balls, Chinese broccoli, and bean sprouts.


Hor Mok Pla, a seasonal special. As described on their menu: “a pair of banana-leaf cups filled with an airy, mousselike custard of finely ground fish, decorated with coconut cream, finely julienned makrut lime leaf, and red chili threads.” According to Wikipedia, the dish is associated with marriage because the marriage of ingredients within it is representative of the love of a married couple. And since everyone I shared it with seems to love the dish, that sounds about right to me.


Khao Kluk Kapi. Fried rice mixed with shrimp paste formed and surrounded by fried mackerel, Thai sausage, fried eggplant, shredded omelet, and more.


Khao Pad Nam Prik Pla Too. Another spicy shrimp paste rice platter (khao means rice), this time served with a fried whole mackerel, fried eggplant, steamed carrots and broccoli, a boiled egg and (if memory serves) fermented shrimp paste dip.


Moo Manow – moo means pork (easy to remember because of the barnyard irony); this dish consists of juicy chunks of pork dressed in garlic-chili-lime sauce served over Chinese baby broccoli.


Nam Prik Ong. Pork rinds, broccoli, and cucumber (plus jasmine sticky rice not in this photo) served with Chiang Mai’s favorite medium-spicy dipping sauce made from minced pork and tomatoes.


Num Prik Phow Tom Yum Goong Yai. Sounds like a mouthful, but let’s break it down: “num prik phow” = Thai chili paste; “tom” = to boil and “yum” is the spicy hot and sour salad you know and love, hence “tom yum” = hot and sour soup; “goong” = shrimp; “yai” = large. The menu description is “rice noodle in Thai chili paste soup with jumbo shrimp, homemade pork patty, bacon, and soft boiled egg. Not sure if the bacon is in there to complement the egg, but we sent our compliments to the chef. As I think about it, in either language, that is a mouthful – and a delicious one at that!


Pla Lui Suan. Fried fillet of red snapper covered with Thai herbs (makrut lime leaves, galangal, red onion, shallot, and mint), topped with cashew nuts and fresh chili-lime sauce.


Yum Pak Boong Grob. Crispy watercress salad with chili-lime sauce, shrimp, and minced pork, topped with crispy shallots, cilantro and peanuts. The green vegetable is known by a raft of names – fitting because it’s semiaquatic: water spinach, kangkong, Chinese watercress, morning glory, and water convolvulus to name a few; you can identify it in Asian markets by its hollow stems. Translation: yum = spicy salad, pak boong = water spinach, grob = crispy (because it’s fried).


Panang Ped. Roasted farm-raised half duck in panang curry paste, coconut milk, makrut lime leaves, string beans, and bell pepper.
 
 
Look by Plant Love House is located at 622 Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.
 
 

Cheeseboat

A dear friend from our prehistoric ivy-covered days at Yale was visiting from California and staying in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My challenge was to introduce him to a cuisine he probably had never sampled while still not schlepping him miles away from his accommodations pro tem. The solution was Cheeseboat, 80 Berry Street in Williamsburg – Georgian food sans subway excursion.

Cheeseboat features Georgia’s greatest culinary hits and there were three that I particularly wanted him to try:

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We started with the Pkhali Sampler. Pkhali is often described as a vegetable pâté, a spread, a dip, or even a salad – all approximately correct. In essence, it consists of a cooked single type of vegetable plus walnuts, garlic and cilantro, ground together into a paste. The veggie component can range from carrots, beans, or eggplant to a host of others; among the most common, and on today’s plate from the top counterclockwise, are beets, spinach, and leeks, served in this case with mchadi, Georgian corn bread, and spiced oyster mushrooms.


These are Khinkali, stuffed with seasoned ground beef, which the menu describes as “soup dumplings”.

<rant> I’ve seen that portrayal elsewhere and it really gets my goat. I mean, I guess it’s a triumph of sorts that soup dumplings (xiao long bao) are so ubiquitous now that any dumpling shaped vaguely like xlb is called a soup dumpling. Soup dumplings are delicious; they contain soup. Khinkali are delicious; they do not. Similarity of appearance does not imply similarity of contents. You know, like books. </rant>

Now, the cool thing about khinkali is that topknot of twisted dough. Not only does it form a protective structural seal, but it also provides a convenient handle by which you can elevate the treat from plate to mouth. I’m told you’re not really supposed to eat that appendage, and I agree that it’s a little chewy, but that doesn’t stop me. Try lubricating it with the thoughtfully provided “traditional garlic Nee’ortskali sauce” (Ortskali is a river in Georgia). Yum.


The obligatory inner workings shot. Note the absence of soup.


If you’ve had any experience with Georgian food, you probably know about khachapuri, the Georgian cheese bread that comes in several varieties. One of the most popular is adjaruli, although it’s only referred to as a cheeseboat here. But since that’s the name of the restaurant and they offer fourteen not-quite-Georgian variations on their specialty from mushroom to steak to shrimp, I’ll accept the conceit. This is the standard variation. 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. Hot bread with melted buttery cheese that you eat with your hands, fresh out of the oven – what’s not to like?
 
 

Thai Diva

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip.

Back in June 2016, we picked up a few “small dishes” at Thai Diva, the Northern Thai restaurant at 45-53 46th St in Woodside, Queens, all of which were great. In no special order:

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Larb Muang – Northern Thai style chopped meat salad. This version featured ground pork in a kicked-up spice blend with fried garlic and cilantro; it’s also available with chicken or beef. Crispy pork rinds (think chicharrones but Thai) on the side.


Nam Prik Ong – 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 fermented shrimp and soybeans; here it’s the base for ground pork and tomatoes. It’s served with mixed veggies, hard-boiled eggs and pork rinds, of course.


Sai Ua (you might see it as Sai Oua or Sai Aua). Sai (“intestine”) ua (“stuffed” – an apt description of sausage in general) is another classic that hails from Northern Thailand. The stuffing is ground fatty pork with that immediately identifiable, signature northern Thai flavor attributable to chili paste plus some combination of shallots, garlic, makrut lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, and fish sauce. Served here with contrasting cooling cucumber.


This is Tum Kanoon, stir-fried shredded green jackfruit with ground pork held together with Thai curry paste and herbs like makrut lime leaves and basil leaves. Did I mention crispy pork rinds?
 
 
Thai Diva Cuisine is located at 45-53 46th St in Woodside, Queens.
 
 

Bunker

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip.

From an April, 2017 visit to Bunker in Bushwick, Brooklyn that featured deliciously memorable homestyle Vietnamese street food.

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We started with Bánh Xèo, a crispy rice flour and turmeric crêpe stuffed with heritage bacon, wild prawns, and bean sprouts, served with lettuce and herbs. The word bánh means cake and xèo means sizzle, echoing the sound the batter makes when it hits the hot skillet. A classic, perfectly executed.


Bún Chả Hà Nội – Hanoi style grilled heritage pork sausage and pork belly served over bún (rice vermicelli noodles) with Vietnamese pickles and herbs.


Chả Cá Lã Vọng – Turmeric laced wild blue catfish with vermicelli, peanuts, dill and basil. Certainly not street food, this one is more likely to be found in restaurants; another outstanding rendition from Bunker.
 
 
Bunker is located at 99 Scott Ave in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
 
 

Like a Phoenix from the Ashes

Quite literally.

I don’t usually report news here, but this event is special and deserves all the digital ink it can get.

After a devastating fire in January 2020, Xi’an Famous Foods’ outpost at 26-19 Jackson Ave in Long Island City was forced to close, much to the dismay of its multitude of fans. And now, in case you missed it on their Facebook page, they are excited to announce that they’ve reopened and take-out is available for their eager customers.

I can remember standing on line, appetite at the ready, back in the days when Jason Wang and his dad occupied only a tiny stall in the depths of Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing. Now they’re a mini-chain and I’m happy to affirm that the quality is as top-notch and the food is as outrageously delicious as the original. Old photos of two of my absolute favorites:

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The N1 – Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Pulled Noodles


The F4 – Spicy & Sour Lamb Dumplings

Find a Xi’an Famous Foods near you and go!
 
 

Sami’s Kabab House

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip.

Authentic Afghan cuisine – from a visit in September 2017 to their Astoria venue at 35-57 Crescent St.

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We started out with two from the Appetizers section of the menu: Ashak (you might see this as aushak elsewhere), steamed dumplings stuffed with leeks and scallions, topped with garlic mint yogurt sauce and garnished with lamb gravy and yellow split peas.


And Manto (you might see this as mantu elsewhere). Steamed dumplings stuffed with ground beef, onions, cilantro and spices, topped with more garlic mint yogurt sauce and a splash of lamb gravy and yellow split peas.


Burani Badenjan (you might see Borani Banjan elsewhere). Fried eggplant seasoned with an Afghan style sofrito topped with garlic mint yogurt sauce. A vegetarian option.


Kobida Kabob. Ground chicken seasoned with fresh herbs and spices, skewer-grilled and served over rice with qabuli (raisins and carrots).


Lamb Chops. Our favorite that day – served over rice with qabuli.


Our dessert was Shir Birinj, Afghan Rice Pudding. Thick, sweet, and delicious, prepared with almonds and topped with ground pistachios.


The Helicopter Tabletop Shot, a vestige of Instagram days.
 
 
Sami’s Kabab House has two locations: 35-57 Crescent St, Astoria and 284 Glen St, Glen Cove.
 
 

Shanghai You Garden

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip.

From a visit in April 2017 to their Flushing venue at 135-33 40th Road.

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Soup Filled Bun. Yes, that’s a standard size drinking straw. Shanghai You Garden is famous for this Brobdingnagian novelty, but in addition to being a show stopper, this pillowy pouch is a taste topper too.


The inner workings.


Steamed Crab Meat Xiao Long Bao; these more modestly sized soup dumplings were tasty as well.


Spotlight on a soup spout.


Deep Fried Yellow Croaker with Dried Seaweed. If you’re a fan of fried fish like me, this will satisfy your cravings.


Ca-rrrunch!


Sautéed Tofu with Salted Preserved Egg Yolk and Shrimp. Instagram is fairly dripping with egg yolk porn, so its popularity seems to be universal. If you’re in that camp and you’ve never tasted salted preserved duck egg yolk in some form, you’re missing out on an intensely rich and flavorful experience that almost makes chicken egg yolks pale into insignificance. Once you go quack, you’ll never go back.
 
 
If you haven’t sampled Shanghainese food, Shanghai You Garden is the perfect place to get your feet wet; everything we ordered that day was a treat.
 
 
And a reminder: New York City boasts at least six Chinatowns and perhaps a few more depending upon your definition of what constitutes a Chinatown; just pick one and go! Now, more than ever, please SUPPORT CHINATOWN!
 
 
Shanghai You Garden has two locations: 135-33 40th Road in Flushing and 41-07 Bell Blvd in Bayside.
 
 

While in Kathmandu

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip.

While in Ridgewood or while in Bushwick, consider a stop at While in Kathmandu, the Nepali restaurant virtually on the border of those two neighborhoods. When we visited in September 2017, they were the new kid on the block, but they’re still holding down the fort at 758 Seneca Ave, Queens and their menu has expanded significantly since the early days. Here’s what we ordered back then:

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Masala Wings, crispy fried chicken wings tossed in a homemade spice blend.


Breakfast! Fapar Ko Roti, a savory traditional buckwheat pancake, served with potato curry, soup, and a fried egg.


Chicken Choila, grilled chicken marinated in a blend of spices and served with chiura (beaten, flattened puffed rice) and aachar.


And, of course, no Nepali meal is complete without Jhol Momo. Jhol means soup; I was told that mo means steam (then momo would suggest steam-steam so let’s just make the culinary quantum leap to dumpling and not look back: I’ve definitely heard more plausible explanations), hence soup dumpling. But despite what you might be thinking, there is no soup to be found inside these dumplings: rather the hot dumplings swim in a cold tomato-y pool that lies somewhere along the sauce <-> soup continuum and the two complement each other deliciously. They’re available in five of your favorite momo flavors: chicken (shown here), pork, shrimp, plantain (kera ko momo), and vegetable, each with its own characteristic shape. I understand that you can get them fried as well, so I guess that would be fried-steam-steam; I’m not going to go there linguistically, but I’m definitely going to go there for another delicious meal!
 
 
While in Kathmandu is located at 758 Seneca Ave, Queens.
 
 

Wok Wok Southeast Asian Kitchen

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip. This one originally appeared as two posts, published on March 28-29, 2018.

Ever been up for Southeast Asian food but couldn’t decide which cuisine would best tickle your tastebuds? Then Wok Wok Southeast Asian Kitchen, 11 Mott Street, Manhattan, has your answer with its dizzying array of Southeast Asian fare. They cover a lot of territory serving up dishes from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, India, Singapore, and various regions of China, and perusing their colorful menu is like taking a survey course in popular street food of the region.

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We started with Original Roti, a dish you may know as roti canai, consisting of Indian style flatbread with a chicken and potato curry sauce for dipping. Properly crispy outside and fluffy within, it was the perfect medium for savoring the luscious sauce.


Roti Murtabak, another crepe, this time folded around a spiced chicken and egg mixture and also accompanied by the potato chicken curry, had a pleasantly spicy little kick to it. A cut above what we’ve had elsewhere.


Our soup course was Hakka Mushroom Pan Mee, a study in contrasts. Springy handmade noodles topped with silvery crispy dried anchovies, earthy mushrooms, chewy bits of minced pork, and tender greens in a clear broth that was richer than I had anticipated.


Spicy Minced Chicken, Shrimp and Sato – ground chicken and chunks of shrimp with sato cooked in a belacan based sauce. Sato, also known as petai and sometimes stink bean, is a little bitter, a little smelly perhaps, but quite enjoyable. Belacan is fermented fish paste; most Southeast Asian cuisines have their own spin on this pungent condiment, and it’s particularly characteristic of Malaysian food. Maybe it’s an acquired taste, but I think it imparts a subtle flavor that renders this dish delicious.


Spicy Sambal Seafood – plump and juicy jumbo shrimp sautéed in spicy Malaysian belacan sambal with onions and peppers was excellent – best enjoyed over rice.


Malaysian Salt & Pepper Pork Chop had a tiny bit of sweet and sour sauce gracing it. We’ve tasted versions of this dish that were crisper and thinner and unadorned by any manner of sauce. Not bad at all, but not what we were expecting from the name.


Four of a Kind Belacan – to me, the only thing these four vegetables have in common is that they’re all green! Beyond that, the flavors, textures, and even the shapes differ radically – and that’s a good thing in my opinion. String beans, eggplant, okra (not at all slimy), and sato are united by the medium spicy belacan sambal; stink bean and belacan play well together and the combination is a singularly Malaysian flavor profile.


Stir Fry Pearl Noodle featured eggs, bell pepper, Spanish onion, scallion, and bean sprouts with pork. This is actually one of my favorite dishes and not all that easy to find. Pearl noodles, sometimes known as silver noodles, silver needles, and other fanciful names, are chewy rice noodles that are thick at one end and then taper to a point at the other (look closely at the little tail at the bottom of the photo and you’ll see why one of those fanciful names is rat tail noodle). They’re generally stir-fried to pick up a little browning and a lot of wok hei (aka wok qi, the breath of the wok) that ineffable taste/aroma that can only be achieved by ferocious cooking over incendiary heat. Not at all spicy, this one is always a favorite.

Due to a communications mix-up, a couple of dishes came out that weren’t what we ordered. Everything we tasted that day was very good, but I want to make sure that you don’t end up with two or three similar dishes – for example, one belacan and/or sato offering is plenty for the table – because I want you to experience a broad range of flavors, and Wok Wok is most assuredly up to the task. Choose a wide variety of disparate dishes, perhaps even from different parts of Southeast Asia, and you’ll go home happy and satisfied!
 
 
And a reminder, once again, to please SUPPORT CHINATOWN!
 
 
Wok Wok Southeast Asian Kitchen is located at 11 Mott Street, Manhattan.