Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tea Time

After our filling meal at Yeti, I thought it might do us some good to walk a bit and look for a little something sweet. There's not much in the way of bakeries on the way down to the 40th St. stop, except La Vienesa Colombian Bakery, but I didn't want to relive my Buen Sabor experience, so I'll go there when I'm good and hungry. We almost gave up, David and I, but on the corner of 40th and QB there is a place called RA, and I have been curious about it since I made my initial exploratory trip. What could it be? It calls itself a cafe and lounge. Could it be a hookah place? Could I be lucky enough to have an Egyptian cafe on the trail? We decided to walk in. It is not an Egyptian place, and we were sort of confused as to what it was as we sat down on one of the couches. It is definitely less of a cafe and more of a bar. There was a couple sitting at the bar with drinks, and another couple sitting at one of the tall tables in the middle, picking at a plate of fries. The place was dark, the back half was very lounge-y with banquettes, and the music was fairly loud. The bartender came out and handed us menus, and I have not seen such an eclectic menu in quite some time. There were all sorts of items, from turkey burgers stuffed with apples to a falafel platter to their signature dessert: a chocolate mousse pyramid filled with molten caramel. For $7 an order, I wasn't able to solve the mystery of how one might fill something cold such as mousse with something hot such as molten caramel, since I had $5 cash and that was all I was willing to spend after dinner. But there was something so earnest about the place, and it didn't feel right to walk out, so I went up to the bar and ordered two teas. The bartender repeated the order, as if she didn't quite hear right, and perhaps that is the strangest thing possible to order in a place like that, but a few minutes later, a very nice runner came out with two plates that looked like this, and please forgive the picture, which was taken on my phone:It was quite the setup for a cup of tea, and we were both surprised and pleased. Our own pitcher of milk! Plus a rocher! The little things in life. Can a small chocolate and hazelnut candy make someone happy? The answer to that is a resounding yes. We finished our tea and chocolate, and when I walked up to the bar to pay, asked the manager/owner looking guy how long they've been open. Just a month, he said. I need to take a walk past the place on a Friday or Saturday night and see what really goes on. I'm not sure who their ideal clientele are, but whoever they may be, I hope they show up.

Ra Cafe and Lounge
3917 Queens Boulevard

Friday, January 29, 2010

Yeti of Hieizan Japanese and Nepalese Cuisine

What to say about dinner tonight? David and I met in Elmhurst and walked all the way down to Sunnyside in the snow, and the wind, stopping for a pair of socks for my cold and sockless brother along the way. I was excited. I've never had food from Nepal, or been to a Japanese-Nepalese restaurant in Queens, or a place called Yeti, so it was a first on all levels. As soon as we opened the door, it was another world. Warm, wood paneled, with intimate booths decorated in a strange (or not so strange, considering the name) mix of woven mats from Nepal and Japanese prints on the wall. I had done all kinds of research this morning, looking for advice, dishes, posting on chowhound with little luck, except a warning to stay away from the sushi. Easy enough, the Japanese half of the menu was not what I was looking for. So armed with a few names of dishes that I looked up online, I began to order. First off, samaya bajee, an appetizer sampler, listed on the menu as choila, bhutun, bhatmas, chiura and achar. We didn't know what to expect, but it came out in a bento box looking like this:

Here is the wikipedia definition of choila:
Choila is a typical Newari dish that consists of grilled water buffalo. It is considered a necessary part of the diet among the Newari people along with several other ingredients.
That isn't very helpful, is it? We did not get water buffalo, but we did have beef, cold chunks of it, marinated and spiced with red chili.
Chiura, as far as I can tell, is beaten rice, or rice flakes, "a dehusked rice which is flattened into flat light dry flakes". They are meant to be mixed into things, like the following dishes.
Bhatmas according to Yeti are stir fried dried soybeans/peanuts
They were definitely soybeans, toasted and crunchy, stir fried with a little oil, hot green chilies, garlic, and onions. It was addictive and would make a great bar snack.
Bhutun, say Yeti, are sauteed stomake, intestine, liver, with garlic, onion and nepali herbs. Of which animal? I would have to say mutton. Apparently, 2 of the 3 Markel children like to eat stomake (I'll have to ask my older brother how he feels about it). The pieces of various innards were chewy and crunchy, especially with the beaten rice mixed in.
Achar I'd had before, it was the one familiar thing on the plate, a nice pickle.

Next up, a Nepali Thali. Our guide for the night, our very pleasant waiter, advised us to get a thali if we wanted something authentic. He recommended the beef thali, but then he recommended beef for everything. The man really likes beef. So we got mutton for a little variety.
A pile of rice, potato and string bean curry, sauteed mustard spinach, dal, the mutton, more pickle, and rice pudding. All for $11.95. I particularly liked the spicy greens, David enjoyed the potatoes,and we both were surprised by the very gingery dal, after having been warned that Nepali dal is sometimes lacking in flavor.

A close up of the mutton
The mutton did have a lamb-y taste, but not quite as strong as we were expecting. Lots of bones. We both agreed that we liked it, but the sauce was very rich (butter, I presume), and as it grew colder, got thicker and even richer.
Pickle close up.

We wanted to try all sorts of different things, so we kept ordering.
Out came the soup:
Also endorsed by our waiter friend, who told us that their soups were special since the noodles were all handmade, was the thinduk. We couldn't resist ordering a large bowl full. The noodles were flat and wide, and had a nice texture to them. There were slices of radish, chopped scallions, and more of the greens, plus bits of mutton floating throughout in a mild broth that smelled just like brisket cooking on Passover (and David backed me up on that one).

Lastly, the momo. By the time these came out, the manager had dimmed the lights so much that I couldn't get a good shot. We got the mixed order, although if it were up to our waiter they would have been all beef. He really likes beef. He told us. There were veg, pork, chicken, and of course beef. There was some confusion as to which was which, but with so many sauces to dip them into, it didn't really matter.
David and I were both so happy to be eating something that was slightly familiar but at the same time completely new. With each dish brought to the table, we looked at each other, smiling but hesitant. We had nothing to compare it to, but it was fun. Should we like it, did we like it? The only way to answer that is to embark on a food tour of Nepal. Or maybe Jackson Heights.

Yeti of Hieizan
43-16 Queens Blvd

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Samosas in Sunnyside

It was with some hesitation that I decided to tackle the next restaurant of the route. Sonali Cuisine seemed perfect: it's on 44th street and Queens Blvd, it adds some variety by not being Turkish or Korean, and I'm always in the mood for Indian food, or Bengali as the case may be. Plus there's a huge poster on the window with a glowing review from the Village Voice. Sounds great. However, when I began my customary research on the place, I came across some horrible, really bad reviews. My favorite one ended: "Someone else please go there just to CONFIRM the SUCKINESS" (yelp Oct09). Well, if you put it that way...
There were complaints about the emptiness, the microwaving of the food, the small portions. Chowhounders weren't too into it, only one person on Yelp said it was worth going to, but Robert Sietsema made it sound so irresistible. I can't let a good review or a bad one shake me, though. It's about the route and the experience, and a bad restaurant will only make for a good story, right? Right?
So with slight trepidation José and I went there for dinner on Friday night.
It was empty, aside from a man with his computer and a cup of tea who alternated between nodding off in his chair and checking his email. But it was only 5 pm (earlybirds that we are), and there did seem to be a pretty brisk delivery business. I knew that I wanted the butter chicken, after having read in the VV that it was "unspeakably rich" and made with "gobs of butter". Otherwise, we would leave it up to the staff. Whatever they might recommend, we would get. That was the plan and we stuck with it.

The waitress was very nice, I'm not saying she wasn't, but here were our recs:

Samosas, 1 meat, 1 veg.

I liked the chunkiness of the potatoes, and the green sauce was good. And I do love a good samosa. But there were all kinds of other things on the menu that would have been more exciting. I guess we look boring. I'm ok with that, but I think I need a new tactic.

Butter Chicken. I got it, it was definitely butter-y.

Vindaloo. Her rec for José. I guess she could see in his eyes that he wanted something spicy, because she said the vindaloo was hot, and had chunks of potatoes. He nodded his head and made it so. It wasn't very spicy at all, but it had a touch of heat, thankfully (if it had been for me, who knows?). It was well seasoned, the potatoes were cooked nicely, and the chicken was pretty moist.
The rice was definitely basmati, contrary to one reviewer that said it was just long grain rice.
It was perfectly good, plain rice.

Garlic Naan. Chewy, crispy, fresh. I watched through the tiny window into the kitchen as disembodied hands (it was a very small window) stretched out naan dough, so I knew it was house made. The waitress recommended the garlic bread because "it has a smell to it" and I know she meant that in the best possible way.
The meal was not terrible, and that was a huge relief. Yes, they used the microwave to heat our tea, the samosas, and maybe even the rice. But they do that at half of the snack places in Jackson Heights. And it was pretty empty. And I've had bigger portions at other places. But it was fun. We enjoyed watching the man in the corner fall asleep on his laptop, the staff was very helpful and friendly, although they might want to keep in mind that there are some slightly more adventurous eaters out there in the world, we had a nice dinner, and the bill was around $25. Maybe it's better to go in with lowered expectations, or maybe I'm not being picky enough, but I can not confirm the suckiness.

Sonali Cuisine
44-13 Queens Blvd

Friday, January 22, 2010

First Colombian Bakery on the Trail

Let me preface this by saying that there are many Colombian bakeries to be found on this quest, and I am not going to visit all of them, as I really don't need that much bread or cake in my life. I had to start somewhere though, so we tried El Buen Sabor on 46th St, for a little something sweet after lunch. My first thought when I walked in, however, and saw table after table full of contented eaters, slurping their lentil soup and enjoying their rice and beans and platanos and beautiful, crispy chicharron, was to curse the tofu stew in my belly. All I had room for was a piece of flan and perhaps a cup of tea. Why oh why can't I have an extra stomach rumbling around somewhere for days like this? But alas, I have only one, so I had to settle on a small dessert and something to snack on for later. It really was quite busy, and I stuck to the first display case, while longingly eyeing the steam table towards the back. So flan, a coffee, a tea, and a little pastry; guava and cream cheese looked good. The flan had the perfect texture. It was smooth and creamy, not unlike the soft tofu that I had eaten for lunch. It was not too eggy, and not curdled, which has been the downfall of many a flan. The flavor, however, was difficult to discern, because my tea had been prepared with a few too many sugars, so my sweet taste buds were done for.

The pastry, which I toasted up and ate this morning for breakfast, (with some unsweetened tea), was crispy and sweet, oozing with the warm guava paste and melty cream cheese. I guess the only benefit of being too full is the leftovers.
But I dreamed of chicharron last night.

El Buen Sabor
4507 Queens Boulevard, Sunnyside

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Like Soft Tofu and Korean Pop Music

Korean lunch today. José and I took the train down to Sunnyside this morning, headed into Natural Tofu around 1 PM, and the place was doing a pretty good lunch service. At least half of the tables were consistently full in the front area, and there were even a couple full tables in the back. I had been reading about sundubu jjigae all morning, and was getting hungrier by the minute, so I ordered right away: Kimchi Soft Tofu with beef, ($7.95).
José decided on the L.A. Galbi, (because everyone knows that Mexicans love Korean short ribs) and the Vietnamese noodles (because he loves Pho). Britney Spears was wafting out of the speakers. There was a pause, a new song came out, and it sounded exactly the same; same beat, same auto-tune, except the language switched from English to Korean, and that somehow made it better.
First out, salads:

Who doesn't like free kimchi?

And then came the Tofu:

Let me just tell you that there's nothing like a bubbling, spicy pot of soft tofu and kimchi stew on a cold day, except that it really wasn't all that cold out. I also love cracking eggs into bubbling things, as you can see here:

The Kalbi:

Not the best I've ever had, "so-so" to quote my husband, but it's always nice to have a sizzling pile of meat and onions on the table. I am eager to try them at some of the Korean BBQ places on the route.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle: Rice noodle, Bean Sprout, Cilantro, Meat Ball, Lemon, Mexican Pepper $7.00
Do you see how big that bowl is?

It was an enjoyable lunch, we left stuffed, and aside from the ribs ($13) which we shouldn't have ordered since we were so full of soup anyway, very reasonable.

Natural Tofu
4006 Queens Blvd

Thursday, January 14, 2010


A few blocks and neighborhoods were skipped for tonight's dinner, a delivery.

We don't go out for Mexican all that much. I'm married to a Mexican, so when we want good Mexican food, we cook. And when we're lucky, and my grandmother-in-law is here visiting, we eat really, really good Mexican food. We do, however, eat a fair amount of street food here in Queens; tacos, elotes, esquites and such. But José is very picky about where we get it from. More about that when I hit some taco trucks.

When we do get Mexican, it's almost always a delivery, and we usually order from two places, which are both, coincidentally, called Tulcingo. Not to be confused with all of the other Tulcingos out there, and there are many. We order from the Tulcingo on 82nd street (4011 82nd Street), occasionally, and more often from Taqueria Tulcingo on 83rd street (4010 83rd St). Whatever the specials of the day are, that's what we get. Over the past few years, the meals have ranged from absolutely delicious to just good. It seems to depend on who's in the kitchen that night. Any sort of meat, when stewed with chipotle with chunks of potatoes, is a winner. I've had some great albondigas, costillas en salsa verde, and tortitas de pollo as well.

So tonight, Mexican delivery, but for the sake of this blog, we ordered from Taqueria Coatzingo, a Chowhound favorite, and a place to cross off of my list. Coatzingo is all over the boards, the specials are highly recommended, and I've been reading about it for ages but we, for some reason or other, never ate there.
When asked about their specials, the cashier rapidly listed at least ten different options. As soon as she said albondigas I stopped paying attention. I love meatballs of any sort. And then I perked up again when I heard huazontles (if you want to know what they are, click here) and ordered those too. Two dinners? Why not. With so many choices José was at a loss. When asked which special was her favorite, the woman on the phone did not hesitate in endorsing chuletas en salsa verde con verdolagas. With that sort of recommendation you don't even have a choice, do you? The food came fairly quickly, and a free 2 liter Coke as a bonus. Something was a little off, though. The bill was almost $40 for just 3 entrees and José looked a little shocked. Now that may not be shocking to most of you, and it certainly wouldn't be for us eating out in Manhattan, but when we normally order, the specials are below or around 10 bucks, and here they were $12.50. Is it because Coatzingo has more of a non-Mexican clientele than the other neighborhood places? I will find out in the future as I make my way through the other places on Roosevelt, once I actually get to one for real.
But, back to the food: it was more expensive but was it better?

Albondigas (meatballs): the chipotle sauce was done well, spicy but not overpowering, some nice slices of onions throughout, and four large meatballs. They had the right taste, slightly minty, well seasoned and flavorful. Many Mexican cooks either put rice or stuff their albondigas with hard boiled eggs, but these had neither. I asked José what he thought. He concurred that while he liked the flavor, there was some texture missing.

Huazontles: Delicious. Stuffed with cheese, battered and fried, then smothered in a spicy tomato sauce and topped with cream. Huazontles do, as the gourmet sleuth said, have the look of broccoli and taste sort of like spinach. There were all sorts of textures and flavors to the dish: the creaminess of the cheese with the spiciness of the jalapeños in the sauce, the fresh green taste of the huazontle, and the crispy then soft batter. Really good, but I couldn't finish it. Lunch tomorrow.

Chuletas (pork chops): José definitely enjoyed them. The meat was soft, not dry like pork chops can sometimes get. The green sauce was thin and spicy, full of verdolagas, (purslane) which gave it a slightly bitter note, in a good way. It had a complex flavor, and I kept grabbing forkfuls of the sauce, even though I had my hands busy with my two dinners.

The rice and bean container: Lost points for being half the size of the take-out rice and beans that we usually get, but gained points for having a chunk of queso fresco and a spoonful of guacamole.

All in all it was a good meal. Definitely high quality, fresh, and authentic (as authentic as it can get in NY) Mexican cooking. But I have had meals just as good at our usual places, and for slightly cheaper prices. So. I have lots of Mexican restaurants ahead of me. Will I find the perfect place? What does that even really mean? I'm not sure, but it will be fun finding out.

Taqueria Coatzingo
76-05 Roosevelt Avenue
Jackson Heights

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

V & V. Just like Temple Beth-El.

While I am trying to eat at the restaurants in order, the problem is that on the 40-or-so-block walk home from Sunnyside, I always want to stop somewhere along the way, and I usually do. After Turkish Grill, David and I passed the very old fashioned V & V Italian Bakery and just had to go in. It's a tiny storefront under the 61st Ave Station, full of baked goods. They have challah and Irish soda bread, loaves and rolls of all kinds. But it was the display case full of cookies that really caught my eye. Temple cookies! We were in heaven. For all of you non-Jews out there, after services on Friday night and Saturday mornings, there is usually a kiddush, someone says a blessing over the wine and some challah, and there are trays of snacks to nosh on. Some temples are fancier than others, and the selection may change, but there are always (at least in my experience) assorted cookies that look just like this:

The counter-girl was incredibly nice as I ordered one of these and one of those, and how about that one, make that two of those. When I asked her how long the bakery has been around, the older woman next to her said, with a slight roll of her eyes and a smile "oh, more than 40 years!".

I always get too excited when I see this kind of cookie assortment. It isn't that they are the most delicious cookies in the world. It's just that I can recall biting into the sprinkled end of a raspberry-filled cookie and being filled with an overwhelming feeling of happiness. Everything made sense and life was good. Ok, maybe they are the most delicious cookies in the world.

V & V Italian Bakery
6119 Roosevelt Ave

Manti Manti Manti!

Turkish dinner tonight at Turkish Grill. I'm slowly, very slowly making my way down Queens Boulevard towards Roosevelt. I met my brother David at the 40th Street Station and when we walked into the restaurant there was only one other couple seated. And at least four waiters. Who were all very friendly, I might add. Our water was refilled at least four times during the meal.
We started with the appetizer platter, which had labne (delish, garlicky with dill), tabule (all parsley but strangely, that made me like it more than usual), hummus (it was ok, but as I stated previously, I am super picky about hummus), baba ganoush (good and smoky, not much tahini, so more like eggplant salad), eggplant salad (roasted chunks of eggplant and peppers) and white bean salad (I liked the one at Mangal better, it had much more onion). We had some trouble deciding what to order for the main course. My biggest problem with ordering at Turkish places is that I never get past the salads. I love salads. That may be obvious by now, but seriously, shepherd's salads, mixed vegetable salads, dips, spreads, all of them, and particularly anything with cheese. I tend to ignore the most important parts of the menu, the parts that most people get excited about. Now don't get me wrong, I love meat on a skewer as much as the next girl, but salads are where it's at for me. To solve the problem, I asked the waiter what the best thing on the menu was, on the meat side. Helpfully, he told me I should get the mixed grill, or chicken kebabs, or the lamb chops, or the doner kebab, or pretty much the whole menu. But he did recommend the Special Beyti Kebab, which was described as grilled lamb wrapped in lavash bread and topped with yogurt and tomato sauce. Who wouldn't want skewered meat wrapped in bread? We also ordered manti, meat-filled dumplings, because David had been reading about them and thought we should give them a try. The dining room began to fill up as we sat there, snacking on our salads. Not too bad for a Wednesday night in January. The meat came out of the kitchen, and the waiters pulled another table over to ours just for our food, so that we had more room to share. Very thoughtful.
The Special Beyti Kebab was certainly special. The grilled lamb slices wrapped in flatbread were delicious when topped with the raw onion and sumac relish that came on the plate, and a squirt of lemon juice. It was also accompanied by a roasted tomato, pepper, shredded cabbage, shredded letttuce, and rice pilaf, which was quite tasty.
I don't know what to say about the manti, though. I love to say manti, and I could say it all day. Manti Manti Manti. But I have never had a manti, I am embarrassed to say (this is going to be a recurring theme in my blog, I fear, just how little of the world I have actually tasted) so I don't know what to compare it to. It tasted like mini lamb meatballs inside of a gnocchi, topped with yogurt sauce. The meat was nicely flavored and minty, the yogurt was refreshing, but I want to know how chewy these things are supposed to be. Somebody please tell me.
After diner we ordered tea, which came in very nice glasses.
I am now one step closer on the 7 train trail, and it feels good. Week 2 has begun! Only 50 more to go...

Turkish Grill
4220 Queens Blvd

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Not Under the Train But Still a Good Cookie

I made a slight detour after lunch yesterday to get something sweet, and found a tasty cookie:

2 very flaky shortbread rounds filled with dulce de leche, and the edges rolled in coconut. Alfajores.

You have to walk to the back counter, where they have some nice looking flan as well, and the empanadas are all fried to order.

I Love Paraguay Restaurant
43-16 Greenpoint Ave

Friday, January 8, 2010

No spice for you!

Every meal is a chance to try something new for the sake of the blog, so when my friend Shannon emailed me late last night to see if we could get together for lunch I said of course, but how about we meet in Queens? She somewhat reluctantly agreed, and braved the 2 trains from Brooklyn that could get her to Sunnyside. So where did we go? Tangra Asian Fusion of course! I've had my eye on it, and was just waiting for someone to join me so I wouldn't have to brave the huge, fancy place alone. Plus they have an $8.95 lunch special, so we would be crazy NOT to go. That's what I told myself anyway. I was unprepared for the grandeur. It was big. And fancy. From the chariots on the wall to the colorful reliefs on the ceilings, all I can say is that it's really really...fancy. I loved it. There were only two other people in the place as we sat down to lunch at around 2 pm. As soon as a huge group of teenage girls showed up, all in matching white t-shirts, black leggings, and boots, celebrating one of the girls' birthday (she had on a tiara, of course), we kind of wished that we were back to just the one couple. But it made for some entertainment.

It started out well. The waiter was very nice, as we ordered our two lunch specials, plus two appetizers. I had to try the "Lolly Pop" chicken, which everyone in the world seems to recommend online, while Shannon, the non meat-eater, got fish pakoras. For the lunch special, which comes with soup and rice, I got chilli chicken, and she got tangra masala fish. I've always wanted to get chilli chicken. There once was a restaurant called Chilli Chicken on 74th and Roosevelt that I used to pass on the the way home every day and then it suddenly disappeared. I had always meant to go. So, chilli chicken. We both ordered the hot and sour soup, which came right away, and was thick, very dark, and had a nice spice to it. And then came the apps. I thoroughly enjoyed my lolly pop chicken, how could you not, with that thick, spiced crust? I did not taste the fish, as I am a non-fish eater, and Shannon could not taste the chicken, so we were both forced to finish our own plates. So far so good. And then came the main courses. Chicken, with sliced onions, in a brown sauce. It was fine, but there was no spice at all to it, which is odd for a dish called chilli chicken. After I doused it liberally with the chili vinegar and the ground chili sauce, it was absolutely edible, but sort of puzzling, as I had to doctor it up so much. Shannon was not so lucky. Her tangra masala fish, she reported, was flavorless. No spice, no heat, nothing. Just fish in a sort of sweet sauce. We ate it, still in awe of our surroundings, watching as the place began to fill up. Our first half of the meal was far superior to the second. The question was why? With no answers in sight, we asked for the check.
The moment we got the bill it all became clear. In all caps, so we wouldn't miss it, underneath our lunch order: Tangra Masala Fish, Chilli Chicken, ALL MILD.
Mild? You want to see mild? Shannon nearly exploded. They hadn't even asked! The waiter just assumed that we would not want any heat in our meal, and since there was a chili pepper next to each dish, we didn't think to specify. We were expecting fireworks and instead we got rained on.
When confronted, one of the waitresses told us that Americans don't like spicy food. And there you have it.
So. I wish we had gotten our food as it was meant to be eaten, and not watered down for people with delicate sensibilities that probably wouldn't dine in a place like Tangra anyway. I would go back, it's too fun not too, but I will have to be adamant that the color of my skin should not dictate the level of spice in my food! Never again...

Tangra Asian Fusion
39-23 Queens Blvd

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Filipino Empanada

When I wandered past Fritzie's bakery on Roosevelt Ave in Woodside the other day, it looked so cute that I just had to go in. The man behind the counter was very friendly as I asked him what various things were in steam boxes and on the counter. There were chicken buns, a delicious looking steam table, and pastries that definitely merit a closer look. I spotted some empanada-shaped things wrapped in paper, neatly lined up on top of the display case. "Are those empanadas?" I asked. "Chicken", he replied. Sold! I've never had an empanada from the Phillipines before. Mexican, Argentinian, Columbian, Paraguayan, Uruguayan, I've had. I've made my own. I've had turnovers and beef patties and all sorts of things. If it's wrapped in pastry I like it, so how could I resist?
I was informed as I shopped that Fritzie's has been open since last week. The staff seemed so happy to see people, even annoying people who asked lots of questions. Was I wrong to ask if there was a sauce to go with the empanada? The very patient counter-person said that they didn't have sauce...yet. I'm not sure what that means but I guess I should have known better.
I carried the snack home, where I heat it up and split it with José, who I will introduce now, as I am sure he will play a large part in most of my posts, as my husband. It looked great. the crust was flaky, there were bits of chicken and vegetables, raisins, and even some hard-boiled egg. It was tasty and fresh. And yet, there is a yet, the dough was much sweeter than I expected. I did some research on recipes to see if that was traditional, and the best I came up with is that it is in some areas, but not others. The quote of the day, if I may quote Wikipedia is "some Filipinos are not partial to the sweetish flavour notes and prefer empanadas that are closer to the Hispanic versions". If I were Filipina I would be one of those, as would my husband, who asked me why I forgot the sauce. Here I was, walking around on this earth thinking I knew enough about empanadas to live a happy and full life. I was so, so wrong. As for Fritzie's, I can't wait to go back and try the lechon, yes, lechon!, that they sell per pound.

Fritzie’s Bake Shop
69-10 Roosevelt Ave

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Turkish Lunch

I got off of the 7 train at 40th Street this afternoon. 3 pm. Not lunch, not dinner, somewhere in between. I wasn't even that hungry, but a quest is a quest and it has to start somewhere, doesn't it? I was alone, it was cold, but not that cold, and unsure of where to go. So I started to walk, taking in the area. Tangra Asian Fusion. A definite yes but not at 3 pm on a Tuesday afternoon, and not alone. I knew the moment I saw a fully-dressed statue peeking through the front window that I would be back.
So I walked more, block after block. Turkish Grill. Yes! But again, it looked better for dinner. I had read somewhere that they have a delicious bread basket at dinnertime. But there, on the other side of the boulevard, there it was: Mangal. With people inside! And brightly colored pictures for every option! I decided on the hors d'oeuvres platter, "a delightful combination of the best cold appetizers". The man behind the counter was delightful as well as he spooned a bit out of each of the 6 salads behind the glass case: hummus, baba ganoush, tabule, a white bean salad called piyaz, eggplant salad, and a chopped tomato and cucumber salad. I was a bit wary of the hummus, as I am sort of picky about my hummus, (I do have an Israeli passport, after all) but I watched him seal the plastic top into the aluminum tin expertly and pass it to the cashier, who grabbed a huge chunk of their homemade bread out of the oven and pack it all into a brown bag. And the bill? $8. Instead of getting back on the train I decided to save $2 and walk the 40 blocks or so home. My bread may have gotten cold, but at least the stroll down Roosevelt Ave gave me some ideas for my next food adventure. An hour later (I could be exaggerating, but probably not, I'm a slow walker) I popped the bread into the toaster and broke out the salads. The bag may have tilted a bit on the way but everything was still intact. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. The eggplant salad was flavorful and smoky, the white beans were seasoned perfectly, and the baba was nothing to scoff at. I scooped it all up with the now warmed bread which was crispy on the bottom and flecked with sesame seeds. All in all a filling, satisfying, and cheap meal. So far so good. PS the hummus was fine.

Mangal Turkish Restaurant
46-20 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside

Monday, January 4, 2010

A New Year, a New Challenge, A New Blog

Chef, writer, glutton, Queens resident. I, Sara Markel-Gonzalez, am, or aspire to be (ok I never aspired to be a glutton, it just happened), all of these things, and usually at different times. But as 2009 ended, I began to wonder if there was a way to combine what I am and what I love to do, along with my need to have a project of some sort. I already blog about what I cook and eat at Fork in The Road. But this is different. I needed not just a project, but a challenge, and it came to me late one night just before New Year's Eve. Aha! An eating challenge! Here it is:

I intend to dine out at as many restaurants and street vendors that are located under the 7 train in the borough of Queens in the city of New York as I can (and can afford while jobless). This is to take place in the year 2010 and I will write about each experience. The parameters are strict: I must travel from west to east, beginning at Sunnyside, where the train is still over Queens Blvd, and continuing on Roosevelt Avenue, as the street numbers rise through Woodside, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Corona, to the final destination of Flushing, where it meets Main Street. There may be an occasional foray into Long Island City territory, but with the exception of Sunnyside, I am sticking with Roosevelt Avenue, the longest stretch of the 7 train. Luckily for me, I live right in the middle, in good old Elmhurst. The minimum number of meals to be eaten is 60 (this is just the minimum, but I am paying for this myself, so if this sounds too tame to you, I kindly remind you that I am currently unemployed).

My goal here is not to be a food critic. Having been on the other side, I understand all too well what it is like to have a bad day in the kitchen. What I aim to do is expand my own knowledge of food, and write about what I learn.

I am fully aware that there are many great restaurants all over Queens and in every neighborhood, and I may be extremely limiting myself by not going a block or two off of the avenue, but I need to have some sort of structure otherwise I will never be able to accomplish anything. I am sure that I will break my own rules here and there. There are no rules about cuisine, however. In fact the object is to try as many different styles and types of food as possible.
I welcome suggestions, criticism, comments, recommendations. I can't do it alone, so all of you experts out there on what to order at, say, The Himalayan Yak restaurant in Jackson Heights or Hornado Ecuatoriano in Elmhurst, or perhaps Quisqueya Dominican Restaurant in Corona, please speak up! Thanks and Happy New Year.