Burkindi Restaurant

Instagram Post 4/3/2019

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My astute dining buddy once again managed to unearth a restaurant that features a cuisine not well represented around these parts, that of Burkina Faso. As is typical of many West African restaurants, Burkindi’s menu is rather optimistic in that they don’t always have every item promised, but in my experience, the electives are generally hearty and tasty.

[1] In our quest for a Burkinabé specialty, we landed on Tô, a starch-based porridge a little like a thin fufu that’s swirled into a stew prepared from okra or a leafy vegetable. In this case we were offered Babenda, bitter greens with the addition of dried fish and soumbala, a paste made from fermented néré seeds (locust beans) – think West Africa’s answer to miso. I have some in powdered form: it’s pungent but not overwhelming.

[2] The other dish was more familiar from Ghanaian cuisine: Sauce Arachide (peanut butter soup) with remarkably tender chunks of lamb, rice on the side.

Burkindi Restaurant is located at 492 Clinton Ave, Newark, New Jersey.
 
 

Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao

Instagram Post 3/24/2019

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Soup dumplings, Xiao Long Bao, XLB, 小笼包, call them what you will, are universally prized regardless of the appellation. Literally “little basket bun” because they’re steamed and served in a little basket often made of bamboo, the wrapper encloses a tasty meatball (usually pork), sometimes with the addition of crabmeat and/or crab roe, swimming in a rich broth (usually pork).

Fans champion just the right skins (a little elasticity, not too thick but not so thin that it breaks upon dislodgment from the steamer), just the right filling (flavorful, proper consistency, and moist unto itself), just the right soup (savory and porky, not playing second fiddle to the meat), and just the right ratio of soup to filling. In short, sort of like Goldilocks’ appraisal of Baby Bear’s personal effects: “juuuuuust right”.

[1] An oft-cited favorite purveyor is Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao, 59-16 Main Street, Flushing. On this visit, we ordered the Crab Meat XLB, pork with minced crab meat and roe.

[2] The salmon colored bit of crab roe peeking out of the topknot is the telltale clue as to what awaits within.

[3] Further evidence of crabiliciousness!
 
 

Ittadi Garden and Grill

Instagram Post 3/22/2019

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Since I was in Jackson Heights the other day and since I love Bangladeshi food, both for the spice level and the mustard oil, a visit to Ittadi Garden and Grill was in order. It’s a steam table affair facilitated that day by an accommodating waitress who was kind enough to identify anything unlabeled.

[1] There was a wide variety of fish as is to be expected in a Bangladeshi restaurant, but only one was anonymous, a whole fish about six inches long. I was told it was Baila, aka Bele, and that it was less bony than Hilsa (which can be a challenge in that regard if you’re particularly hungry); I later learned that it’s a species of the freshwater goby. The sauce was savory, spicy, and splendid slathered over the rice.

[2] Another essential in Bangladeshi cuisine is vorta (you may see bharta, bhurtha, or the like), a vegetable or fish that has been boiled then mashed and seasoned with chilies, mustard oil, and spices, existing somewhere along the condiment/side dish continuum. I requested a mix and received (left to right) fish, potato, broccoli (top), eggplant, and onions & chili, each wonderfully spicy but with its own character.

[3] I asked about the golden shreds punctuated by slivers of green chilies in the vegetable section and learned it was papaya, but unlike any papaya I had experienced, ripe or unripe, for this was soft as a boiled vegetable and retained only a tiny trace of its papayaness; I enjoyed the preparation. Dal and a small salad came with the meal.

Ittadi Garden and Grill is located at 73-07 37th Rd, Queens. Always worth a stopover.
 
 

F.O.B.

Instagram Post 3/17/2019

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F.O.B. abbreviates Fresh Off the Boat, the Filipino restaurant at 271 Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, where the only boats that might sail nearby would be on the Gowanus Canal. You won’t find hard-core Filipino cuisine here, but what they do offer is tasty and competently executed. Here’s what came from the galley a few nights ago.

[1] Bola Bola. If you like big, overstuffed, beefy dumplings, these are for you. Seared on the bottom, steamed on top, sort of a potsticker on steroids.

[2] Grilled Tupa, the hit of our dinner. Sliced lamb marinated in coconut milk seasoned with shrimp paste, a triumph of the Maillard reaction. Spicy sauce on the side.

[3] Seafood Malabon, a stir-fried rice noodle dish (aka pancit). The menu states “in a sauce of minced shellfish & smoked fish, topped with shrimp, chicharron, and egg.” All of those were present but the shrimp were small, the smoked mussels were few and far between, and the chicharron should have been crisper. Fine, but easily overshadowed by the lamb.

[4] Tomato and Salted Duck Egg from the Sides section of the menu: fresh tomato, red onion, bits of salted duck egg (the star), and tamarind dressing – good but didn’t quite coalesce.

[5] Laing. I’m familiar with laing as taro leaves drenched in a creamy coconut milk/shrimp paste sauce, hopefully with a chili kick. This version consisted of chopped kale topped with a coconut milk sauce; it was fine but different from the norm. Additional sides were Garlic Rice and Kamote, mashed sweet potato with coconut milk, sweet and delicious.

I’m told the halo-halo is worth a try.
 
 

Polish & Slavic Center Cafeteria

Instagram Post 3/11/2019

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Ever since my Instagram friend @gustasian suggested it, I’ve been contemplating adding a new ethnojunket to my roster. The Greenpoint corner of Brooklyn boasts some hearty and delicious Polish provisions, not to mention more varieties of smoked and cured meats than you can shake a kielbasa at. To reconnoiter the area, we convened at the PSC Cafeteria adjoining the Polish & Slavic Center at 177 Kent Street where home-style comfort food is the order of the day.

[1] This is Kotlet Górski (Mountain Cutlet) a hefty pounded, breaded, and pan fried pork schnitzel topped with a runny egg and kept company by a scoop of gravy swathed mashed potatoes.

[2] Bigos (Hunter’s Stew) a Polish classic incorporating sauerkraut and sometimes fresh cabbage plus bits of whatever meat the aforementioned hunter bagged that morning. These days, it’s almost always pork, often in several manifestations like chunks of fresh meat and sausage, Poland’s answer to Alsatian choucroute garnie. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Salatka z Burakow (Polish Beet Salad) on the side.

[3] And of course, an order of pierogies was essential: a dumpling by any other name would still spell a treat. Bits of bacon and sautéed onion adorned our Pierogi z Kapusta (cabbage) which we ordered because I like saying “kapusta”. Try it. Sour cream on the side.

Lots more good eats in the neighborhood. What do you think? Should I offer a food tour there?
 
 

Asian Bowl – Part 3

Instagram Post 3/8/2019

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Two more from Asian Bowl, 101-11 Queens Blvd, the amazing new Burmese restaurant in Forest Hills that I just can’t get enough of.

[1] Nga-gin Curry. Nga-gin is a type of freshwater fish in the carp family; it’s bony, but not impossible to work around. Big, meaty chunks of fish lazed in a mild tomato-based curry that’s tricky to characterize: very rich, umami-laden, somewhat salty, a little sharp, certainly oily. Does that help? Let’s just go with delicious.

[2] Shan Khauk Swal Thoke. Shan is a state in the eastern part of Myanmar bordering China, Laos, and Thailand. Khauk Swal Thoke is a wheat noodle salad made with dried shrimp, herbs and veggies, fish sauce and lime juice, and topped with peanuts. A warm aura surrounded this dish that I can’t specify other than to state that it was different from its tablemates – the type of fish sauce perhaps? Once again the textural interplay between soft noodles and crispy bits so characteristic of Burmese thokes made this choice another treat.

That’s all for now – at least until I go back to continue working my way through the menu. What more can I tell you? I love this place. You will too.

Major h/t to Joe DiStefano (chopsticksandmarrow.com) and Dave Cook (eatingintranslation.com).
 
 

Asian Bowl – Part 2

Instagram Post 3/7/2019

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In yesterday’s post, I effused about Asian Bowl, 101-11 Queens Blvd in Forest Hills, arguably the best Burmese restaurant currently in NYC. This is one of the very few restaurants where I am compelled to work my way through the entire menu – the Burmese side of it, that is.

[1] Latphat Thoke. Latphat (you may see lahpet or other spellings) are fermented tea leaves; thoke (pronounced toke with a clipped K) is a salad. It’s a popular Burmese dish and one of my all-time favorites. As a matter of fact, a few years ago I wrote about my idiosyncratic trials and tribulations in developing a recipe for it here called “One Thoke Over the Line”. Asian Bowl’s rendition was very good; I do wish they had used a heavier hand with the tea leaves – perhaps a shortage that day? – but that’s a personal preference. Nonetheless, it was delicious: a foundation of cabbage and tomatoes decked out with crunchy dried fava beans and soy beans, spiked with bird peppers and fresh garlic and the titillating funk of fermented tea leaves in a tangy dressing. Do it.

[2] For a change of pace, try the Sechat Khauk Swal, a simply seasoned but tasty wheat noodle dish with chicken and scallions. I asked John, the owner, what sort of noodles were in the dish – thick? thin? flat? round? Fishing for the right descriptive words, he grabbed the rubber band that had been girding the morning’s mail. “Like this!” he grinned. Visual aid to the rescue!

More to come tomorrow.

Major h/t to Joe DiStefano (chopsticksandmarrow.com) and Dave Cook (eatingintranslation.com).
 
 

Asian Bowl – Part 1

Instagram Post 3/6/2019

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Promise me that you’ll disregard the restaurant’s pan-Asian sounding name. Promise me that you’ll ignore the fact that the menu still lists sushi rolls and General Tso’s Chicken to attract the local lunch crowd. But above all, promise me that you’ll go to Asian Bowl, 101-11 Queens Blvd in Forest Hills, because that’s where you’ll find some of the very best Burmese food in New York City right now. John, the new owner, will happily answer your questions about menu items (yes, you’ll have questions), and Aye, his wife who does all the incredible cooking, will ensure your return with her remarkable range.

[1] Pa Zun Chin Thoke. A thoke is a Burmese salad and the cuisine has many to offer. Pa zun means shrimp, chin means sour, and this fermented shrimp salad, served cold, is undoubtedly authentic. A little spicy with a delicious mild funkiness, it’s an amazing assemblage of textures and flavors playing against each other that come together with every bite.

[2] You might even find a few unfamiliar ingredients lurking within like this pickled crosne (pronounced krone, rhymes with bone). Don’t be startled by its appearance; it’s just a Chinese artichoke and it’s yummy.

[3] Fried Beef with Spicy, as the menu reads. When this hit the table, it looked like it might be a chewy, dry jerky similar to Nepalese sukuti. Nope. A little crispy on the outside, but tender on the inside with a medium spice level and surrounded by caramelized onions, it was another winner.

Trust me, you don’t want to miss Asian Bowl. Order from the Curry and Group A à la carte sections of the menu along with some clearly identified soups, and you’ll be as blown away we were on that frosty afternoon.

I promise.

More to come tomorrow.

Major h/t to Joe DiStefano (chopsticksandmarrow.com) and Dave Cook (eatingintranslation.com).
 
 

More Mitsuwa

Instagram Post 3/4/2019

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In addition to the specialty shops and restaurants that accompany their extensive selection of Japanese packaged and prepared foods, Mitsuwa Marketplace, 595 River Road, Edgewater, NJ plays host to a series of promotional events. Currently, for example, three exhibitors from Japan are presenting bespoke Japanese sweets, premium dashi (Japanese soup stock), and luxurious seafood bento. The products are available for a limited time at the store and, I was told, once they go back to Japan, so does the opportunity to sample them locally.

Marumasa, hailing from Yamanashi Prefecture, featured a regional style of fried chicken (kara-age) along with other deep fried snacks. This set included [1] fried shrimp nestled within onigiri (rice balls) which were excellent and [2] chicken that would have been good had it not suffered from being out of the oil for too long rendering it cold and a bit greasy, an uncommon happenstance I was told.

[3] A fixture among Mitsuwa’s restaurants, Tendon Hannosuke specializes in tempura bowls. Shown here is the Original Tempura Plate with whitefish, two shrimp, soft-boiled egg, nori and vegetables.

If you’re into Japanese cuisine, cooking, and culture, Mitsuwa Marketplace is worth the short bus ride across the river for a few hours of exploration and dining. And if you have a little extra time, there’s a bookstore (Kinokuniya) and a home décor emporium (Little Japan USA) right nearby. (PS: Don’t miss the creamy, delicious soft-serve which we gobbled too hastily to photograph!)
 
 

Asmau Restaurant

Instagram Post 3/2/2019

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Another stop along our Bronx West African food crawl captained by Dave Cook from eatingintranslation.com some months ago was Asmau Restaurant at 1460A Boston Rd in Foxhurst. They serve up some fine Ghanaian food and we were keen to sample whatever they had to offer that day. In no particular order, that afternoon’s indulgences included:

[1] Egusi soup, always tasty, thickened with crushed melon seeds and served here with chicken.

[2] Peanut butter sauce (or peanut soup) with beef.

[3] Tomato sauce with chicken and beef.

[4] All of the above are incomplete without some kind of fufu; that’s what turns these sauces, soups and stews into a meal. As with all West African doughy starches, you pinch off a bit, dip it into the delectable soup or sauce, and enjoy – really hands-on cuisine! From the bottom moving clockwise, here are omo tuo, banku and corn fufu. Omo tuo is made from rice cooked with more than the usual amount of water; that technique produces softer grains which are then pounded and shaped into a ball. It works particularly well with peanut stew or soup. Banku is a fermented variety made from cassava sometimes blended with corn; we paired it with the egusi soup. The corn fufu worked well coupled with the tomato sauce with chicken and beef.

[5] Black eyed peas and plantains, no explanation needed, but so good!

[6] Chicken soup with vegetables.

I admit to being a major fan of West African food; it differs from nation to nation so if you haven’t tried any yet, there’s plenty to keep you busy in every borough of New York City. Keep following my posts to see more!