Eat Gai

Instagram Post 5/20/2019

Gai is Thai for chicken, and if you want to eat gai, Eat Gai is the place to do it. But it’s not just random chicken; there are two specialties and both are exemplary.

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Khao Man Gai is Thailand’s answer to Hainanese Chicken, but the exquisitely tender, poached chicken is only part of the story; the rice, the broth, and the sauce are where the chef’s talents can shine – and here they do just that. Khao means rice and Man means oily or fatty so the name is approximately oily rice chicken; but notice that rice – oh, that chickeny, gingery rice – comes first. A cup of chicken broth is traditionally served alongside (not shown here) but it’s not your everyday, thin, afterthought of a chicken broth; one sip unleashes a rich, collagen laden stock shock, pointed up by a float of cilantro. Three custom sauces are raveworthy as well: spicy green chili sauce, amazing brown ginger sauce, and black sweet soy sauce round out the dish along with fresh cilantro and cucumber. Check out the bits of chicken gizzard and liver that are neatly tucked away as well.

Southern Thai Fried Chicken Wings. If you’re a fan of jumbo, crispy, meaty fried chicken wings, you’ve found a home. Coated with Thai inflected seasonings, lightly pickled veggies on the side and that spicy sweet sauce that’s the perfect complement for Thai chicken, you might not want to share. Just sayin’.

Eat Gai is in booth 46 at the new Essex Market, 88 Essex Street (crossing Delancey from the old Essex Street Market) in Manhattan.
 
 

Hills Kitchen

Instagram Post 5/13/2019

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Given what I do, people often ask me what my favorite restaurant is; the answer is “any place where the food was so good that I need to go back and try everything else on the menu.” That was the case with Hills Kitchen in Bushwick. My dining buddy contacted me a few days ago and we met at their location, 252 Knickerbocker Ave in Brooklyn. We shared only two dishes that day but I can recommend both enthusiastically.

Keep in mind that in West African cuisine, the words soup, stew, and sauce are often used interchangeably. This one is Banga, also known as Ofe Akwu, based on the palm nut/palm fruit, a tasty ingredient that figures into a number of Nigerian sauces. We ordered ours with fish, specifically croaker, which was excellent. West African stews are incomplete without some kind of starch, sometimes called a “swallow”; that’s what turns these sauces, soups and stews into a meal. You pinch off a bit, dip it into the delectable soup, and enjoy – really hands-on cuisine! Our choice for this dish was identified only as “wheat” and it was a perfect complement.

Next up was White Soup, also known as Nsala, which was tender, flavorful goat meat in an accessible, lightly seasoned, thin sauce. My understanding is that this is one of the few Nigerian soups made without palm oil so it was distinct from our Banga; we chose pounded yam for our swallow, itself a gentle, comforting accompaniment, hence another good match.

Hills Kitchen has been open for a little over two months. I intend to go back soon – hope to see you there!
 
 

Little Egypt Restaurant

Instagram Post 5/12/2019

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Little Egypt Restaurant, 66-28 Fresh Pond Road, Ridgewood, featured a special dessert coinciding with Mother’s Day: Om Ali (you might see umm ali), أم على. The phrase translates as “Ali’s mother” and of course, fables abound as to its name. Essentially Egypt’s answer to bread pudding (only better if you ask me), it’s made with phyllo dough, milk (and occasionally, richer dairy considerations) and sugar, sometimes elevated by raisins, nuts, and cinnamon. There are legions of recipes for this traditional Ramadan treat; that day, our delightful version came with sour cream and ground nuts on the side for garnish, ad libitum.
 
 

Honey Bee’s Kitchen

Instagram Post 5/10/2019

Since I enjoy the cuisine, I make it a point to visit as many Nigerian restaurants as I can locate, and it’s not all that difficult here in NYC. Many have similar menus with similar preparations of the “greatest hits” but I was surprised and delighted by the unique spin on our choices at Honey Bee’s Kitchen, 9322 Avenue L in Canarsie, Brooklyn. My dining buddy and I grabbed only a handful of items but that just guarantees a return trip! Three from the appetizers section where most of the dishes were tagged “in spicy pepper sauce”; each was unique and delicious.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)Suya. Grilled beef often served on a stick but always served with spicy peanut powder and raw onion, a favorite Nigerian street food.

Peppered Snail. I’ve had these elsewhere but the snails were tough. Not the case here: they were sautéed to perfection and the sauce was so good that we reserved what was left to adorn some rice.

Gizdodo. Chicken gizzards (the “giz”) and fried plantains (called “dodo” in Nigeria) cooked together and infused with herbs in a tomato based sauce. Hard to stop eating this.

From the entrées section: Rice with Ayamatse sauce with assorted meat, stockfish (dried unsalted fish) and a hardboiled egg. Ayamatse (you might see ayamase) sauce is made from hot peppers, bell peppers, and palm oil and although ours wasn’t all that hot, it was tasty nonetheless. The menu refers to “HBK sauce”; after some reflection, I realized it stands for Honey Bee’s Kitchen!

Gbegiri (bean soup) and Ewedu (jute leaves blended with egusi, melon seeds) counterpoised in a jaunty triangle, served with amala (pounded dried yam) and croaker (the fish, of course!).
 
 

Dumpling Galaxy

Instagram Post 5/9/2019

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While shepherding folks through Flushing’s food courts on a recent ethnojunket, the thought struck me that with so many tempting treats to be had, it makes the job incredibly easy. At the same time, it also makes it incredibly difficult. Take dumplings for example. (Take several, they’re small.) Dozens of purveyors fashion hand-crafted bespoke specialties while displaying ennui-tinged sprezzatura as they vie for our appetites and confound our decisions. What’s a tour guide to do?

Why, sample nearly all of them, of course. (On my own time naturally.) A few standouts emerged, one of which was the venerable Dumpling Galaxy. A far cry from its days in the dingy rabbit warren of Golden Mall, it’s now a proper restaurant touting about 100 varieties just half a mile from this newer outpost at Super HK Food Court, 37-11 Main St, Flushing where there are just enough stellar examples to please everyone.

[1] Shown here are pan fried lamb dumplings with green squash, steamed pork dumplings with dill, and the less commonplace cornmeal dumplings with pork. The filling is what it promises to be; the unusual wrapper is thick, dry, and a little akin to a corn muffin bereft of sugar.

[2] The inside view of that last one.
 
 

Rayhon

Instagram Post 5/8/2019

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The food of Uzbekistan is relatively easy to track down in Brooklyn; that of Tajikistan, its neighbor to the east, less so. The cuisines are similar, but Tajikistan claims kurutob (you may see qurutob or qurutov) as its own. We enjoyed a vegetarian version of it (also available with meat) at Rayhon, the Tajik-Uzbek restaurant at 1915 Avenue U in Brooklyn’s Homecrest.

[1] Essentially a bread salad (Tajikistan’s answer to Italy’s panzanella, perhaps), kurutob ascends beyond the level of granting second life to shards from a stale loaf in that it features fatir, the delicate, flaky, layered bread that provides the base for the herby (rayhon means basil) salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion. Topping off the qurutob is its essential piquant sauce made from qurut (hence the name), a salty yogurt cheese, that gets soaked up by the fatir.

[2] The yogurty fatir gets its well-deserved moment in the spotlight, downstage.

[3] Crispy chuchvara (Russia’s answer to chuchvara are pelmeni, BTW), fried beef and lamb dumplings with an allium troika: caramelized onions provide sweetness, raw scallions for a little bite, and a few slivers of red onion just because. Not as redundant as you might think. But the dish as a whole was a little monotonous and could have been rescued by a bit of sauce on the side.
 
 

He Ji Noodle House

Instagram Post 5/3/2019

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About forever and a half ago, when I was a tyro trying to get a leg up on world food, I asked a Chinese friend what she ate at home with her parents. Expecting to hear about some magnificent culinary concoction that would put the chicken chow mein served up by my local China Inn deservedly to shame, she matter-of-factly replied, “tomatoes and eggs”. My education had begun in earnest and I never looked back. So I always experience a moment of heartwarming nostalgia when I see this combination on a Chinese menu.

Alas, I don’t know where she is now, but I do know where to find this duo in Flushing’s New York Food Court, 133-35 Roosevelt Ave, in the form of Tomato Egg Noodle at He Ji Noodle House, stall 25, purveyors of gratifying Henan food. The addition of hand pulled noodles and some veggies (ask for it dry) makes it special yet it’s still homey and unpretentious.
 
 

Lao Bian Dumpling

Instagram Post 4/25/2019

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Happy to report that I’m still eating my way through the spacious, brightly-lit Super HK Food Court, 37-11 Main St, Flushing, in the basement of Super HK Supermarket. This visit brought me to Lao Bian Dumpling, stall number 19. After a couple of disappointing attempts involving pointing at menu items and learning they were unavailable, I settled on these pork and amaranth dumplings. Because of a somewhat similar flavor, amaranth (莧菜 or xiàncài) is sometimes called Chinese spinach, but so are other leafy greens so stick with the proper designation. An unassuming but tasty vegetable, it paired well with the mildly seasoned pork; the dumplings benefitted from the application of some kicked up sauce. A satisfying snack on a rainy afternoon.
 
 

Kreyol Flavor

Instagram Post 4/17/2019

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The early bird just might not get the worm. Or much else to eat for that matter. Timing is everything, they say: at certain restaurants and events, if you arrive too early, you’ll hear, “It’s not ready yet!”; arrive too late and the good stuff is gone. The former was the case at Kreyol Flavor, 8221 Flatlands Ave, Brooklyn. A friend of mine who knows Haitian food and the fact that I love the stuff suggested I give this mini chain (three locations) a try, so I was pleased that on a trek through Canarsie in search of Caribbean and African food, this venue made the list curated by my itinerary guide/dining buddy.

What we were able to snag was a pair of smoked herring patties that were flaky to the extreme and equally tasty. There’s another location closer to home that I’m looking forward to scoping out soon – when I can join a famished flock’s feeding frenzy.
 
 

Merit Kabab Palace

Instagram Post 4/15/2019

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Wandering around Jackson Heights yesterday looking for something with which to celebrate Poila Boishakh, Bengali New Year, we stumbled upon these Chicken Lollipops outside the venerable Merit Kabab Palace, 37-67 74th St, Queens. Featuring Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese and Bangladeshi food, Merit is well known to locals and the clued-in for quick and tasty South Asian fare.

Wing drumette meat is scraped along and pushed down the bone (frenched), marinated a bit, coated in a colorful seasoned batter, and deep fried to produce a snack that’s as appealing to the eye as it is the palate. Not a dish particularly associated with the holiday, these were too cute to resist – not to mention the fact that the hungry celebratory crowds got the better of us. Well, there’s always next year.

Shubho Noboborsho! শুভ নববর্ষ