Khao Nom – Desserts

Instagram Post 7/17/2018

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Khao Nom has been the prime destination for Thai desserts since it opened in October 2017. Located at 76-20 Woodside Ave, Elmhurst, just around the corner from its sister Khao Kang the amazing Thai steamtable restaurant, they offer an impressive array of sweets and not-so-sweets that are certain to tempt you, particularly after a fiery Thai meal at either venue.

The Pandan Tart Cake was crowned with merengue and was as delicious as it was beautiful. Incidentally, pandan (screwpine in English and green in color) is one of those magical flavors that has a knack for combining synergistically with other ingredients and is a welcome addition to many Southeast Asian desserts. (For example, pandan and coconut love each other just as chocolate and nuts do.)

Egg Yolk Cake, aka Foy Thong Cake (foy = thread; thong = gold), features the popular sweetened egg yolk strands that figure into many Thai desserts. The tower was anchored with pandan cake and whipped cream.
 
 

Khao Nom – Pak Moo Noodle Soup

Instagram Post 7/6/2018

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I’ve sung the praises of Khao Nom, 76-20 Woodside Ave, Elmhurst before, and I’ll do an encore for sure, but a brief reprise for now: we had already decided on our order when we noticed someone at a nearby table enjoying a bowl of soup. Fresh rice noodle dumplings, pork rib, pork loaf, ground pork and oh, that perfectly cooked egg grabbed our attention. Upon merely seeing it, we unanimously agreed that we had to have it, so Pak Moo Noodle Soup was added to our order and it did not disappoint. Even the broth was amazing: more flavorful, complex, and richer than I anticipated.

I’ll feature their celebrated desserts in an upcoming post.
 
 

Pata Market – Part 1

Instagram Post 7/5/2018

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The departure of Sugar Club, the beloved Thai snack bar and prepared food market in Elmhurst, Queens, left a void that is currently being half filled (because the space was subdivided) by Pata Market at 81-16 Broadway. I was pleased to find a considerable assortment of grab-n-go snacks, both sweet and savory, but since I didn’t have time to buy a fridge full of food that day, I picked up only two items from the sweets department.

I didn’t catch the name of the white squares, but I thought they were quite good – crispy puffed rice with a sugary “icing”, at once sweet and salty, and believe it or not, a little buttery; those black sesame seeds provide a significant flavor component as well as decoration. They’re keeping company on this plate with Quail Egg Candy (Khanom Kai Nok Krata) also known in Thailand as Turtle Eggs. You could tell from the modest price that no quail (or turtle) eggs were harmed in the making of this snack (I wouldn’t call it “candy”) – the name stems simply from the shape. The dough is made from sweet potato; they’re a bit sweet and somewhat chewier and more resilient than a doughnut. I have a feeling that they’d be a lot better fresh out of the deep fryer.

The second photo shows a view of bisected Quail Egg Candy to give you the inside scoop.

I’ll report back on how the savories stack up after a future visit.
 
 

Chao Thai – Soft Shell Crab Chu Chee

Instagram Post 7/1/2018

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It’s soft shell crab season, so we sidled over to Chao Thai at 85-03 Whitney Ave, Elmhurst, Queens for their Soft Shell Crab Chu Chee bathed in a mildly spicy sauce of Thai red curry with coconut milk and topped with red pepper and kaffir lime leaf. Missing from this photo, but not from our table, is an order of sticky rice to soak up the savory goodness.
 
 

Durian’s Best Kept Secret

Back in the seventies (ahem), Saturday Night Live did a sketch about Scotch Boutique, a store that sold nothing but Scotch Tape. They carried a variety of widths and lengths to be sure, but that was it. Just Scotch Tape.

MK Durian Group at 5806 6th Ave in Sunset Park, Brooklyn sells nothing but durian. They carry a variety of cultivars and variations to be sure, but that’s it. Just durian.

And the durian they carry is wonderful.

You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted aphorism about it, “Tastes like heaven, smells like hell” (some would have the order of the phrases swapped but you get the idea), so much so that the fruit is banned from hotels, airlines and mass transit in some parts of the world. (And yes, I’ve been known to smuggle some well-wrapped samples home on the subway.) If you’ve never tasted durian, you might discover that you actually like it; a number of folks I’ve introduced it to on ethnojunkets have experienced that epiphany. There are gateway durian goodies too, like sweet durian pizza (yes, really), durian ice cream, candies, and freeze dried snacks and they’re all acceptable entry points as far as I’m concerned.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what durian smells like. The scent appears to defy description; I’ve encountered dozens of conflicting sardonic similes, but suffice it to say that most people find it downright unpleasant. Although I have a pretty keen sniffer, somehow its powerful essence doesn’t offend me although I am acutely aware of it – just lucky I guess, or perhaps I’m inured to it – because this greatly maligned, sweet, tropical, custardy fruit is truly delicious. So I was thrilled to learn about MK Durian Group (aka MK International Group) from Dave Cook (Eating In Translation) whom I accompanied on a visit there.

Often called the King of Fruits (perhaps because you’d want to think twice about staging an uprising against its thorny mass and pungent aroma), it comes by its reputation honestly but with a footnote. The divine-to-demonic ratio varies depending upon the cultivar and, if I understand correctly, a window of opportunity when certain cultivars are sweet and nearly odorless simultaneously. This, I believe, is durian’s best kept secret. But more about that in a moment. (Click on any photo to view it in high resolution.)

MK Durian Group works directly with plantations in Malaysia and is a wholesaler and distributor to restaurants and retailers in addition to catering to walk-in customers. We entered the commodious space with its many tables, all unoccupied at the time. Chinese-captioned signs showing photos of fifteen cultivars and another seven in English decked the walls along with a menu that, in addition to a price list for the fruit itself, included durian pancakes, mochi, and a variety of cakes, buns, and biscuits, a concession to the timid, perhaps. Durian cultivars are typically known by a common name and a code number starting with the letter “D”, so you might see Sultan (D24) or Musang King (D197), but sometimes you’ll find just the code numbers or sometimes just names like XO or Kim Hong. Scientists continue to work on hybrids to maximize flavor and minimize unpleasant smell.
Fion, without whom I would have been at a complete loss, urged us to get the Musang King, often regarded as the king of the King of Fruits. She selected one from the freezer case and microwaved it for a few minutes to thaw it but not warm it up. Our four pounder, stripped of seeds and rind, ultimately produced about one pound of (expensive but) delicious fruit.Using an apparatus that looked a little like some sort of medieval torture device to crack the husk, she then adeptly removed the yellow pods; each pod contains a single seed that can be used in cooking like those of jackfruit. We took our treasure to one of the tables where boxes of plastic poly gloves were as ubiquitous as bottles of ketchup would be on tables at a diner.

That Musang King was perhaps the best durian I had ever tasted, so much so that my new personal aphorism is “Durian: The fruit that makes its own custard.”

You may have seen durian in Chinatown in yellow plastic mesh bags where the fruit is often sold by the container and you don’t have to buy a whole one; you might conceivably experiment with whatever is available. But these were a cut above. As we left, I realized that something about the experience had been unusual: I asked Dave if he had noticed any of the customary malodourous bouquet. He replied no, but he thought perhaps he was a little congested that morning. I knew I wasn’t congested that morning. There had been no unpleasant smell to contend with. Had we stumbled upon that elusive golden window of odorless but sweet opportunity? Was that particular Musang King odor free? Or perhaps all of them in that lot? Did it have something to do with the fact that it had been frozen and thawed? We were beyond the point of going back and asking Fion, but I think it’s worth a return visit to get some answers!
 
 

Khao Nom – Crispy Catfish Salad

Instagram Post 6/22/2018

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When Khao Nom, 76-20 Woodside Ave, Elmhurst, first opened, I regarded it as the sweets counterpart to its sister Khao Kang, the eye-opening steamtable spot that fronts around the corner. Known for its Thai desserts (which I’ll feature in an upcoming post), Khao Nom also boasts a significant number of savory dishes that wouldn’t be suitable for a steamtable staging area like this beauty: Crispy Catfish Salad (Yum Pla Duk Foo). Pounded catfish deep fried to a satisfying crunch paired with a spicy, chili-lime-cilantro dressed partner of shredded green mango, carrots, red onion, and cashews, it’s a study in contrasts and one of those remarkable dishes that hits all the right notes.

Yum indeed!
 
 

Chao Thai – Tod Mun Pla

Instagram Post 6/20/2018

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Always a favorite, here’s Tod Mun Pla from Chao Thai at 85-03 Whitney Ave, Elmhurst, Queens. This deep fried fishcake appetizer with its contrasting dipping sauce is a Thai classic that never fails to satisfy. (Sunlight courtesy of a table near the window! 😉)

More posts with more dishes to follow.
 
 

Chao Thai

Instagram Post 6/16/2018

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The venerable Chao Thai at 85-03 Whitney Ave, Elmhurst, Queens had always been a standard bearer for Isan (Northeastern) Thai food; since I hadn’t visited in years, I was overdue for a refresher. It’s still good, but there is a lot of competition in that category now, not to mention the burgeoning popularity of Northern and Central Thai cuisines.

This whiteboard special caught my eye so I gave it a try. Called Northern Style Green Chili Dip, it would make a worthy addition to their regular menu. Surrounded by an assortment of fresh vegetables including cucumber, broccoli, long beans, carrots, cauliflower and (happily) Thai eggplant in addition to sweet potato and crispy crackly pork rinds, the zesty, dominant dip was a perfect partner to the gentle, submissive accompaniments.

More posts with more dishes to follow.
 
 

Lamoon – Part 3

Instagram Post 5/19/2018

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Still more deliciousness from Lamoon, 81-40 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens, and their unique spin on Northern Thai food.
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1) Tum Kanoon – crafted from shredded green jackfruit, ground pork, homemade shrimp paste, tomato, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro and scallion. Served with sticky rice (always eaten with the fingers in Thailand) and some crispy pork rinds (think chicharrones but Thai) on the side. From the Main Course section of the menu, and another winner!

2) Sai Aua – you might have seen it as Sai Oua – is classic Northern Thai ground pork sausage made with chili paste, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, cilantro, and pork ear and served up with contrasting cooling cucumber. My only complaint is that I should have ordered more! A signature dish at Lamoon.
 
 

Lamoon – Part 2

Instagram Post 4/27/2018

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More buzz about Lamoon, 81-40 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens, and their unique spin on Northern Thai food.
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1) Kanom Jeen Nam Ngeau. Kanom Jeen (you may have seen it as khanom chin) are the familiar rice noodles that are wallowing unseen at the bottom of this bowl; Nam Ngeau (aka nam ngiao) is the soup in which they are luxuriating. Spicy, replete with pork, pork ribs, cubes of pork blood (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it), and tomatoes, there’s a separate side dish of crisp, cool bean sprouts, scallions, and pickled veggies (it keeps the cool side cool and the hot side hot) for mixing in.

2) Fried Rice Nam Prik Noom. We ordered this one with chicken but only because we were already committed to consuming a pigful of pork. Delicious to be sure, but the addition of their homemade nam prik noom (roasted green chili paste) pitched it over the top. When you visit Lamoon, make sure you try this amazing smoky, spicy condiment. (I wonder if I can get a portion of it to go; it’s that good.)