Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Look at me, back in January. I had such hopes for 2010. How much a life can change in a year. I didn't make it to Flushing, I barely made it to Corona, but this is an endless, ever-changing project. One thing that hasn't changed is my job situation. Lack of funds was one of the biggest factors for the tapering off of the posts as the months passed, with a few other road bumps thrown in. On the plus side, I ended up with 68 posts, so I did reach one goal. And I expanded my food knowledge, absolutely. Check that one off too. I also met some great people, had some amazing experiences, and ate some really good food. So I'm not going to feel bad about what I haven't done, because I know it can be done in the future. And if it isn't, so what, it's been great so far, and we'll just see where else it leads me. As I was thinking about all of this today, with New Year's just days away, not to mention a ridiculous craving for a burger and fries, I decided to take a trip (my first trip out into the still unplowed streets of my neighborhood) to Sunnyside, where my journey began. Remember this burger?
I first went to PJ Horgan's way back in February, and loved it. Loved the dark pub, the wooden booths, the tiffany lamps, the Irish accents, and the food. This visit was the same, with the addition of pine boughs and twinkling lights, making the place somehow even more warm and inviting when stomping in from the slushy, snow-filled streets. The Sunnyside Burger was just as good as I remembered, and looked exactly the same, except that this time the plate came with three pickle chips instead of two. Again, even better. I won't re-describe the burger, but it was exactly what I wanted. It all felt so familiar, back in Sunnyside, where I spent nearly every day for those first few months of the year, exploring, in the cold. And tonight, for dinner, it was the two of us. Jose and me, sitting in the same booth, nearly a year later, with his favorite Guinness in hand, me stealing fries off his plate once mine were gone, thinking about how much has changed in a place that stays the same. It's been quite a journey. The past year has brought all kinds of joy and sadness, and the year to come will bring even more life changes. For 2011 I wish for more happiness than grief, more love, more knowledge, more adventures, and as always, more great eating. Happy New Year, everyone.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The roulade was a surprising dessert. I was expecting it to be dry and overly sweet, as roulades covered in dulce de leche can sometimes be. But the cake was dense and moist, the dulce was not cloying or overpowering, and the shredded coconut exterior added a nice textural contrast to the softness of the cake, saving it from becoming boring. But, you may be asking, how do four girls who have the capacity to eat as much cake as we do (see cake-off here) share just one slice? Well, we did get a few other desserts.
Flan, which we quickly concurred was far too eggy and a touch overcooked.
And a sweet bread that was filled with guava. A thin and crackly crust, then an even thinner layer of guava surrounding a sweet ball of dough. If we had a cup of coffee to dip into, it might have been more satisfying, but not our favorite.
The steam tables with daily lunch and dinner specials look tempting, with stews and rice and beans and that sort of stuff. The empanadas and other fried snacks looked tasty as well. But I went to La Abundancia for the dulce de leche cake, and stayed for the company, and the green tables. I love those tables.
La Abundancia Bakery
75-02 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
So far I've tried the guava (my favorite)
then watermelon and lime together -
And today, I got the melon (canteloupe)....
and a chance to watch the nieve being made!
A very slow process in which the sweetened fruit base is placed in a barrel full of ice, and spun round and round, with periodical scraping, until the liquid becomes a smooth, sometimes creamy, sometimes icy, snow.
Once the summer ends there will be no more homemade nieve. A relief for this man, perhaps, but a sad day for me.
89-16 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Tito Rad's version tastes just like creamed corn. I think it is creamed corn. With ice, evaporated milk, a little sugar, and some whipped cream. The corn was warm, the ice was cold, it was more salty than sweet, and there was a little bit of crunch from the flaky garnish. It was interesting, and I expected it to be sweeter, but I liked it. $3.75.
Nothing not to like about halo-halo. I was more focused on the corn, but I did enjoy all of the delicious bits of jackfruit, red and white beans, young coconut and palm fruit, mixed in with every bite, of ice, milk, and ice cream - the scoop of bright purple ube ice cream that was beneath the surface was my favorite part. Really tasted like sweet, starchy yams. $5.50.
It's always nice when a wish is fulfilled. I dreamed of eating iced sweet corn. I can check that off my list now.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Menu for the Evening
Rose Milk with Spices
Paratha with Lentils and Salad
Joseph then asked us to open the large map of the Indian Subcontinent that he had placed on each table, so as to get a better idea of Pakistan's location.
It was a very large map.
Next, and one of our table's favorite dishes - the quail, along with some chicken kababs.
A closer look at the quail, with crisp, charred wings, and tender, smoky meat.
There were two per table, and the four of us wished we had more. The two types of chicken kababs that accompanied the quail on the sizzling plate were red, spiced chunks of chicken breast, also moist and flavorful, and a ground chicken mixture, also red, spicy, and very good. While we were enjoying our kababs, Joseph made sure that everyone listened to a small lesson on the history of Ramadan and its traditions, told by a very friendly man from Joseph's group, who went from table to table. It was somewhat difficult to concentrate on the concept of fasting while biting into a tiny quail leg, but I appreciated the learning experience.
Next came the liver fry, and haleem.
Large chunks of beef liver, again topped with freshly sliced ginger and cilantro. Some of the chunks some were a bit dense and tough, but the pieces that were at the bottom, absorbing the oil and liquid in the bowl, were softer. They had a nice flavor, milder than what I was expecting.
Haleem, a Pakistani specialty that I have never tried before, was very interesting. The mixture had a glutinous, paste-like consistency, with pieces of beef throughout. I don't know how to describe it or make it sound appetizing, but it was like a spiced porridge with bits of meat tossed in. To quote Elyaqim Mosheh Adam, table companion and map holder, the haleem at Kabab King "has the mouth-feel of shredded beef in split pea soup". It went over big at our table, particularly when we discovered that dipping the liver into the haleem somehow made both of them taste even better.
And there was more.
The mutton biryani did not have much mutton at all, but that was acceptable since the rice was tasty, and it was accompanying the brain fry.
Or brain masala, as the waiters called it when they placed the bowl on the table. The sauce was thick, rich, and highly spiced, perfect for spooning onto the rice. The brains themselves, goat brains, were yellow and creamy, similar in texture to scrambled eggs. Not an everyday dish, by any means, but I am happy to have tried brain fry once in my life.
After the main dishes, we were served dessert and tea. Gulab Jamun and masala chai.
Although we were full at that point, I definitely could have eaten more than one of these syrup-soaked sweets. The round ball of dough was fresh-tasting, still warm, and sweet enough to cleanse the palate.
The sweet, milky, spiced tea was the perfect end to the meal.
A little more history, a lesson in the main spices and ingredients of curries, and then we got to meet chef Wazir Ali. A group picture wrapped up the dinner and it was over.
I've had a few days to digest the experience now, and was wondering how to sum up the unique experience. Jeff Orlick explains the goal of the ambassador program on his website as this:
...a guide will order for the table and discuss what we are eating and why we are eating it. Not a classroom experience, but more of a familial gathering centered around the food. This allows us diners to let go, eat well, and expand our boundaries for the city, the world and our palates.
The night, for me, reached every one of these goals. We were expertly guided by a man who obviously loves his culture, its food, and his surrounding cultures. Joseph is Indian, not Pakistani, but he is so proud of the fact that, in his experience, the boundaries between countries and religious groups that restrict lives on the subcontinent are basically nonexistent here in America. Everyone eats together. We absorbed his passion through the food that he carefully chose, with the chef, to showcase the cuisine. Our table certainly felt like a family gathering; passing around plates, divvying up the food, eating from the same dishes, laughing. My palate was expanded, I let go, and I ate well.
Kabab King Diner
73-01 37th Rd
For more information on future ambassador dinners, here is Jeff Orlick's website:
Monday, August 16, 2010
Chicharrón preparado is a unique street snack from Mexico that is often hard to find, but pops up every so often during the summertime here in Queens. One of the stands I wrote about last week, which sells homemade nieves, also offers chicharrón preparado as a summer special.
Generally, chicharrón means fried pork skin. In some Spanish-speaking countries it isn't just pork skin, but pork belly; in other countries it refers to any sort of meat, fried and crisp. In Mexico, there is real chicharrón, deep fried pork rinds, and then there is chicharrón de harina—deep fried snacks that are made from flour, not pork skin. They have a similar crunchy, bubbly texture, and are found in many shapes and sizes; pinwheels, small squiggly lines, small rectangles, and large rectangles.
Chicharrón preparado, or prepared chicharrónes, are made with the large rectangular fried chicharrón de harina, which is then topped with chopped cabbage, diced tomatoes, sour cream, cotija cheese, sliced avocados, cueritos (pickled pork rind slices), and hot sauce, usually Salsa Valentina.
Okay, so it sounds weird, especially if you've never heard of half of the ingredients—but trust me, it's delicious. So many amazing textures: the light crisp of the chicharrón, the fresh, crunchy cabbage. Then there's the softness and acidity from the tomatoes, smooth chunks of avocado, salt from the powdered cheese, chewy bits of pickled pork, vinegar and heat from the hot sauce, and then the cooling and tangy sour cream finish. It gives you much more than your average snack. This week I found four places that prepare chicharrón con todo, and they won't be around for long—so I tried them all.
Fruta Picada Cart
Underneath the 7 train at Junction Boulevard, there is a woman with an unamed cart who sells fresh chopped fruit (fruit picada) that she tops with chile, lime and salt. There is also a small sign on the side advertising chicharrón preparado. The first time I saw the sign, on a weekday afternoon, I orderd one, but she didn't have the ingredients yet. A few days later I went back, and she did, so I happily ate my chicharrón while waiting for the train.
It had its good and bad points. The chicharrón was freshly fried and crisp; the tomato slices were perfect—a really ripe, red, fresh summer tomato. The cueritos were soft and gelatinous, but there weren't many of them. The avocado was soft and smooth. But instead of cabbage was iceberg lettuce, which is crisp and fresh-tasting, but lacks that bite and crunch. The cheese sprinkled on top was Kraft parmesan from the green can. It had all the right textures, but everything was just slightly off.
Metal cart directly in front of 96-07 Roosevelt Avenue, Corona (map)
La Choza Dominican and Mexican Restaurant
As I was driving down 104th Street I thought I spied the words chicharrón preparado in front of the restaurant—and so my very helpful husband ran out and ordered one, brought it back to the car, and snapped a phone picture of it all in the space of five minutes. A few moments later I got to taste it. Unfortunately, it was the least well-prepared of them all, mostly due to lack of toppings.
The chicharrón was fresh and crisp, I'll give them that. But again, they used lettuce instead of cabbage, barely any avocado, and not many cueritos at all. If I hadn't had any great ones, I might not know any better, and it would be a good snack—but I was spoiled for lackluster topping techniques by the next two places.
38-12 104th Street, Corona (map)
Viva Puebla's summer outdoor cart has much to offer, and the woman behind it is incredibly friendly. It took some time for my chicharrón to be prepared, since she threw old ones out and fried a new one just for my order. Soggy, chewy, stale chicharrónes are not appetizing, so I appreciated that—it was worth the long wait.
The chicharrón was piled high with freshly chopped ingredients, and I know because I watched her chop it all. Lots of cabbage, tomatoes, a half of an avocado; cheese, cream, a good amount of chewy cueritos, and hot sauce. My only complaint is that the tomato was white and mealy, which, in the middle of August, is a shame. Otherwise, close to perfectly prepared.
89-16 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights (map)
In front of this small restaurant, where I found the best gordita, is a stand that sells snacks, including chicharrón preparado. When I did the gordita search back in March, I noticed people eating chicharrónes, so they may be one of the few places that sells them year-round.
So much care put into the preparation of the chicharrón—and they really went crazy with the toppings. The crisp bottom layer was piled high with handfuls of cabbage, three heaping spoonfuls of pickled cueritos; some of the jalapeños and carrots from the pickling mixture got tossed in there as well, an added plus. Lots of cheese, lots of cream, beautifully ripe tomatoes, creamy avocados, and a liberal amount of hot sauce on top of the already full plate: I had more of a meal than a snack on my hands. There was so much stuff on the crispy chicharron that if I hadn't shared it, it would've gotten too soggy halfway through. Luckily I had help, so that wasn't a problem. It was great.
111-03 Roosevelt Avenue, Corona (map)
It's also something that you can make yourself, and I have. The hardest part is frying the chicharones, as they tend to curl up in the oil. Here is a great picture of some chicharron that my family and I put together at the park last year: from my old blog, and my brother David's version.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Along Roosevelt Avenue in the summertime, raspado (hand-shaved ice) carts pop up everywhere—in front of delis and restaurants, on street corners below the 7 train, traveling vendors with grocery carts full of blocks of ice and syrup magically materialize in the afternoons. Aside from raspados, paletas, and ice cream, if you're lucky, you might stumble upon a place that make Mexican nieves (ices or sorbets) the old-fashioned way, which is really something special. Here's what I found.
The Raspado Lady: The raspado lady on the corner of Roosevelt and 80th Street has her ice shaving down to a science. She shaves the ice and creates a pyramid with a funnel so quickly, it's amazing. And she doesn't skimp on the syrup, either. A small raspado is $1.00. I got a mango and orange raspado from the lady.
Maracuya Raspado from El Bohio Grocery: There is always a line down the block at this grocery with a raspado window. This was a passionfruit syrup ice topped with condensed milk. I never understood the line, but now I do. Sometimes raspados quickly become a block of ice floating in syrup, and difficult to eat. The ice here was expertly shaved and remained flaky and crunchy, absorbing the flavor of the syrup. Small raspado, $1.00. El Bohio Grocery: Roosevelt and 99th Street (map)
Diablito, Cart under the 7 train, 90th Street and Roosevelt Avenue: Not your typical raspado, diablitos are doused with tamarind syrup and a spicy liquid chile mixture, then topped with a squirt of chamoy—a sour, salty, spicy and sweet fruit-based salsa. Small raspado, $1.00. Guava, watermelon, coconut, lime, and melon. I tried three of the five. I will definitely go back for the other two.
Nieves de Sandia y Limon. The sandia was like taking a sweet icy bite out of a watermelon, and the limon, with flecks of lime zest, was perfect slushy limeade. Cold, tart, and refreshing.
Nieve de Guayaba from Viva Puebla: Sweet but not too sweet, with a fresh guava flavor. Creamy and smooth, except for the occasional mouthful of seeds. I appreciated the seeds, though—it proved that the nieve was homemade using the whole fruit. Small cup, $2.00.
Nance Paleta from Paleteria Fernandez, Cholula Bakery: Paleteria Fernandez is located in Port Chester, New York; I found the pops at Cholula Bakery on Roosevelt Avenue. Nance is a small yellow fruit, sometimes called a yellow cherry, which grows in Central Mexico and continues southward. It's an acquired taste, strong and musky. The paleta was full of chunks of the fruit, as well as a few inedible stems. Although the actual fruit is sour, the paleta was sweet and creamy with a strong aftertaste. Arroz Con Leche Paleta from Paleteria Fernandez found at Cholula Bakery: I love rice pudding, I love arroz con leche, so what could be bad about a frozen version? Well, the creamy, milky, Mexican cinnamon-tinged ice pop is good, but if you don't like chewy pieces of cooked rice in frozen form, it might not be the pop for you. Flavor wise, it's delicious, but the texture might be a turn-off for some. Paletas are $2/each
Cholula Bakery: 88-06 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights (map); (718) 533-1171
It is really exciting to have all of these icy, refreshing, and sweet snacks so close to home, but as quickly as they appear in the hot weather, the carts, stands and wandering vendors disappear just as fast, so I plan on eating as much ice as possible while I still can.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
So back to the chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are what you make when you have leftover stale tortillas, which most tortilla-eating households, and all Mexican restaurants, usually do. You fry the tortillas until crisp, break them up, add them to a pot full of sauce (red or green) with some epazote, and then eat the whole mess with sour cream, queso fresco, and chopped raw onion. Not a light meal, but so delicious, and made with leftovers from the day before.
Tacos Mexico was the next Mexican restaurant on the route, a few doors down from La Frontera, and it looked like the right kind of place for a late breakfast.
As soon as we sat down, we were handed a basket of chips and some salsa. It's interesting how some of the Mexican restaurants in Queens have adapted to this mainly American custom and some haven't. Tacos Mexico has, and the chips were fresh. The salsa was too.
I did not pore over the menu, I knew what I wanted, my only decision was if I wanted my chilaquiles red or green, plain, with fried eggs, cecina, or chicken. I always choose green, and as much as I love fried eggs and salty beef, I went with the chicken.
It was a good decision. Often, the thinly-sliced chicken breast that accompanies something like chilaquiles or rice and beans is tough and stringy. This chicken was moist, flavorful, borderline salty but not crossing into overly salted territory. And there was lots of it. The chilaquiles ($8.95) had everything I wanted. The salsa verde was spicy, the tortillas were soft but not mushy, there was a slight flavor of epazote but not overpowering, and it was topped with cream, cheese, chopped onions and cilantro. If I were to make chilaquiles at home, I would put more of everything. I like to make them soupy, swimming in sauce, and I go garnish crazy. But for a nice-looking restaurant kind of plate, these were just what I was looking for.
My dining companion José wanted something "saucy". He ordered costillas en salsa roja (pork ribs in red sauce, $9.95) and was happily surprised when it was exactly what he didn't even know he wanted as well. The pork meat was tender and slipped right off the bone. The salsa was spicy and smooth, the rice had a strong tomato flavor, the beans were creamy, it was all good. With lots of tortillas and some agua de jamaica, we had a meal that satisfied what we were both craving and more.
64-09 Roosevelt Avenue
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Ok, not the most exciting flavors, but I liked the packaging. A cold vanilla substance with a crisp, chocolate-like coating. Yum!
Sort of like a nutty buddy, but with strawberries.
I think that the spheres on top were supposed to be crunchy, but they were soggy, as was the cone. But the white whipped topping, with a layer of strawberry ice cream underneath, that hid a core of strawberry jelly inside of a chocolate-coated cone was, while I won't say delicious or fresh, fun to eat. I love real ice cream, that goes without saying, but I also have a thing for ice cream products. Mr. Softee. Strawberry shortcake bars. Carvel cakes. Remember the Wattamelon Roll from Friendly's? Wait until I find a Magnum bar.
Monya & Misha European Delicatessen
64-46 108th Street
Rego Park/Forest Hills
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
The place was busy, loud with live music that made it almost impossible to talk to each other. But sometimes that's alright.
I ordered a bandeja con pollo, because I like to get as much food as possible onto one plate, but still keep it light with the chicken. And believe me, compared to some other bandejas, this was pretty tame.
Bandeja Con Pollo: Arroz, Frijoles, 1/4 De Pollo, Chicharron, Huevo Y Maduro Rice, Beans 1/4 Chicken, Pork Skin, Egg and Sweet Plantains (their translation) $7.50
The chicken was your regular rotisserie chicken, tender meat, salty skin, a good flavored, not too dry, breast and a wing. White rice, soupy beans, a salty, meaty, crispy, fatty piece of pork belly. I have yet to meet a chicharron I don't like. Sweet, soft, caramelized plantain, and a strange sort of egg. The yolk was cooked all the way through, but the whites were perfectly white. They must be steamed. I need to eat more bandeja platters. I could have gotten the Bandeja Campestre: Arroz, Frijoles, Costillas, Pollo, Chorizo, Heuvo, Maduro, Chicharron Y Arepa 1/4 Chicken, Rice, Beans, Ribs, Eggs, Sweet Plantains, Pork Skin, Corn Cake for $13.50. But I didn't.
Jose was not as happy with his dish. He got the Sobre Barriga a La Plancha (Arroz, Frijol, Maduro Y Ensalada: Grilled Top Flank Steak (Rice, Beans, Sweet Plantain and Salad) $10.95.
The rice and beans were good, the plantain was good, the marinated red onions atop the salad were good, but the meat was stringy and a little tough. It shred like a slow cooked brisket without being tender. He just covered it in green sauce and ate what he could.
We put the green sauce on everything. It had a kick to it. Not like Peruvian green sauce, nor like Mexican salsa verde; just a spicy, acidic sauce that went well with the mild beans, salted white rice, and the proteins.
So what if we didn't have the best meal ever. It was fun, it was festive, and a good time was had by all.
86-23 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
It was hot, really hot, and my camera stopped taking pictures somewhere in the middle. I got it to work again but missed some good shots. Aside from the technical difficulties, I must say walking down my favorite avenue with a bunch of people and eating lots of food is really, really fun. I'm usually by myself when I do my Roos Ave adventuring, so it was a nice change. Our smaller group broke off from the crowds and took our time walking, making many stops for liquids and ices along the way.
First stop: El Guayaquileño. I didn't get anything there, I was holding out for tacos. But I took some pictures of my fellow crawlers' food. The Mexico vs. Argentina game was playing on the flat screen tv, so I watched while they ate.
I didn't eat, and I didn't order, so I don't want to mislabel anything. But that salad topping the fish looks delicious.
Stopped for raspados on 80th Street. The first of many breaks for a little something cold.
Mango (I think?)
Coco and Piña.
Next stop was Mexico Lindo.
Perhaps a bad choice, since it seemed like everyone else on the tour stopped here too at the exact same time. There was a very long line and lots of confusion. But we got our order in the end. Four of us split three items: Tacos de lengua (tongue), tacos de cecina (dried, salted beef) and sopes de chorizo. It isn't easy to split a taco four ways, but somehow we managed.
Cutting up a taco on a mail box...
on the trunk of a car (thanks, Stella), and even with kitchen shears (courtesy of Judy).
This was the lengua, after a slice had been taken out. The tongue was crisp on the outside, beefy and soft on the inside.
Moving right along, we stopped at another Mexican cart, a few blocks down and across the street. The sign says Gorditas, so that's what we got, along with a tlacoyo.
The gordita de chicharron was not the most flavorful I'd ever tried, but then again, we split it between four people, and there might have been better bites than the one I tasted.
The tlacoyo was good. Corn masa stuffed with a bean mixture, then topped with lettuce, cream, and cheese. The beans were smooth and creamy, with a distinct flavor of epazote, which was a nice surprise.
Another stop for shaved ice, this time at a Chinese/Colombian bakery selling Hawaiian shave ice called Vanilla Cafe. Sort of cheating by going inside a bakery, but have I mentioned that it was hot?
Mango and passionfruit. Just like Maui! Icy and sweet.
Tia Julia's. This is where my camera stopped working for a bit, I almost gave up and went home to charge it for a while. We ordered here: tacos de barbacoa (goat meat) and tacos de carnitas (pork). The goat was chewy, as goat usually is, and not too gamey. I honestly don't remember if I even tried the carnitas, I was sort of stuck on my camera. I do remember that I ordered an agua de jamaica (hibiscus) and that they gave me a whole quart container full of the dark red liquid.
By the time we made it to Warren Street with its variety of Ecuadorian delights, we were already full and tired. Crawls are all about pacing, and we did not pace well.
We did manage to get more liquids in though.
Fruit cocktail drink. The juice was refreshing, and filled with chopped fruit. The bananas were my favorite part.
We walked and walked, but after the food and all of the drinks, didn't make any more stops on Roosevelt. Once we hit 104th street, we turned off, and headed to Timmy O's for some frozen custard.
Banana custard, chocolate custard, marshmallow sauce and some whipped cream. The banana really tasted like banana.
The last stop was the Lemon Ice King of Corona. I was still eating my custard, so I sat in Spaghetti Park and waited.
The Crawl was great. I drank more than I ate, and had more sweets than savory. But it's ok. I live here, I eat here, I crawl down Roosevelt Avenue every day. The best part was crawling with others.
Mini Picanteria El Guayaquileño
80th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights
In front of 80-02 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights
Mexico Lindo Cart
Corner of Gleane Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Elmhurst
85th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Elmhurst
8701 Roosevelt Avenue, Elmhurst
Tia Julia Taco Truck
Benham Street & Roosevelt Ave, Elmhurst
Picaditas La Cacerita Cuenca Ecuador
Corner of Warren Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Corona
Timmy O's Frozen Custard
49-07 104th Street, Corona
Lemon Ice King of Corona
52-02 108th Street, Corona
William Moore Park
108th Street, 51st Avenue, Corona