Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Stop Inn

This week is a bad week for eating under the 7 train, as I'm trying to keep kosher for passover. So many things that I can't eat. But breakfast seemed to be the safest bet, so off José and I went for diner breakfast, around lunchtime, to the Stop Inn Diner in Woodside.
We were shown to a very small booth in the very small corner diner, with very large menus in hand. I knew it was a great place when I saw the condiment selection on the table.
Ketchup, two kinds of hot sauce, malt vinegar and chef sauce? Irish, Mexican, American, it's all right there on the formica tabletop. Welcome to Queens!

So I ordered two eggs, over easy, with a side of turkey bacon (if I'm keeping kosher, I might as well go all the way with it) and no toast, thank you very much. You might be thinking to yourself, why does she keep kosher for passover if half of this blog chronicles the delights of eating pork? It makes no sense. It's just one of those things. Religion is weird.
My eggs, covered in the turkey bacon, were perfectly cooked. The turkey bacon was salty and crunchy. Definitely not as crisp as real bacon, but a fine substitute. For 8 days anyway.
The hash browns, a lacy mound of shredded potatoes, were brown and crusty on top, and soft in the middle. Delicious. I did miss the toast to sop up my egg yolks, but passover is all about sacrifice, right?

José was hungry and ordered a lunch special, penne a la vodka, which came with a salad.
What they called their house vinaigrette was Italian dressing. Haven't tasted that in a while. It was a good salad, with olives, red pepper rings, large slices of carrots, cukes, and tomatoes. Lots of onions as you can see.
The pasta was ok, not that I tasted it. I trust my husband though. His biggest complaint was that it was far from al dente. I believe that pasta should be overcooked in a diner. But maybe that's just me.

A pleasant breakfast/lunch. No such thing as brunch on a weekday. The diner was packed, people seemed to really enjoy themselves, and it had a great neighborhood feel, lots of stopping and chatting with each other on the way in or out. I want to be a regular there too.

Stop Inn
60-22 Roosevelt Avenue


Stopped in at Cafescape for a cup of coffee and some sweets, just to see what's inside. It's sort of like Starbucks, but not exactly. There were people working on laptops, using free wifi, sitting for hours, drinking coffee, hanging out. José and I got two pastries, a cup of coffee, and settled into the stuffed leather chairs, where he promptly fell asleep. They were that comfortable. The desserts were interesting, not typical coffee-shop stuff, and made at a bakery upstate, I was told, but the girl behind the counter.
We ordered a mocha cheesecake and a peanut butter chocolate bar.
The cheesecake was nice, a little too sweet, but tasty. A light cheesecake filling with a puddle of ganache in the middle and a sponge-cake bottom.

The peanut butter bar was good as well. A thick shortbread crust, with a dense peanut butter-y layer, topped with chocolate and crunchy, salty peanuts. Not bad, and the plastic plates were cute.
A nice place to drop by if you're in the neighborhood.

59-02 Woodside Avenue (still somewhat under the train)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Donovan's Pub

There is a banner hanging outside of this pub proclaiming that it has the #1 Rated Hamburger in NY. Of course, even if it didn't advertise the supremacy of their burgers, I would have gone in. It looks mysterious and castle-like from the outside, and the interior is dark and cozy. Jose and I were led to a booth in a private corner, close to the fireplace, but separate from the rest of the diners. I guess we looked like we wanted a romantic dinner. We were looking for burgers, not romance, but it was a nice thought. We decided to snack on wings as a starter, this being a bar and all. And a pint of Guinness to wash them down. The wings came out quickly, extremely hot, very crispy, and the meat inside was steaming and tender. The only light source was the flickering candle on our table, so the following pictures are quite dark.
The wings were not tossed in sauce, as buffalo wings often are. Instead, they were freshly fried, and sent out in a basket with two sauces: sweet and sour, and blue cheese. I like my wings to be spicy. But the wings themselves were meaty and delicious. If the worst thing in my life is that I had to dip my crispy fried wings in some sweet and sour sauce, then I really can't complain.

Then the burgers. We each got one, Jose went for the cheeseburger, I opted for a plain burger. The platters were set before us, a nice pile of fried potato wedges, the burger, and the bun. I do like a little something on my burgers, so I asked the waiter if I could have some lettuce and tomato. He apologized, saying that due to a recent change, lettuce and tomato were $1.25 extra. I still wanted them, extra charge or not, and a few seconds later he handed me a small plate with some iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato. After topping the burger, I took this picture.

The burger, a thick patty, nicely charred on the outside, pink on the inside, was beefy and juicy.
I would have liked an onion, but it was too late to ask. The fries were crisp and hot, and quite addictive. It was fine, it was tasty, it was a good hamburger. Good, not great. I am not a burger purist, I like my toppings, so maybe I should have ordered the bacon cheeseburger. But it was not the best hamburger I've ever had. I liked Donovan's. I loved the atmosphere, the neighborhood feel, the crackling fire, the service; it's an old school pub, and it was bustling. But I was expecting greatness (with exclamation points!) the best burger in New York! Anything less is disappointing. Of the burgers sampled on Roosevelt Avenue so far, I would rate it #2. To see #1, click here.

Donovan's Pub
57-24 Roosevelt Ave

Monday, March 22, 2010

Making Sense of Mojitos

Mojitos Cuban Restaurant, I just don't understand you.
Monday night, David and I walked, in the rain, towards this small, inhospitable looking restaurant on the corner of 52nd St and Roosevelt. The outside is not particularly inviting, in fact it barely looks open for business, but for the sign announcing happy hour and that they are now serving lunch. Good, but we wanted dinner. With trepidation we entered the restaurant, to be greeted by 80's freestyle music, a woman standing behind the bar, and a man seated on a stool. Our entrance immediately caused some confusion. The woman was about to put some napkins down when I told her that we were here for dinner. She looked somewhat surprised, but led us through the bar to the dining room, which was (much to our surprise) full of tables set with white tablecloths, folded red napkins, and lit candles. It was completely empty. I sat on a banquette and we studied our menus, looking for clues. Entrees ranging from $9-$16. Vivid descriptions made for entertaining reading. Some highlights
Picadillo - Ground meat mixed in a savory simmer of tomatoes, green peppers, onions, garlic, and olives
Fricase de Pollo - Hearty chicken stew with a perfect blend of vegetables, tomatoes and herbs
Tropical Salad - Blend of leafy greens bathed in citrus, with fresh oranges and topped with sizzling strips of grilled chicken breast.
And then our favorite
Rabo Encendido- Oxtail stew with a sharp, peppery taste, hence the fiery name.
As we were perusing our not-typical-to-Roosevelt-Avenue menu, I began to notice heads popping up from the kitchen window facing the dining room. First one chef, then another. Staring at us with huge grins on their faces. Were they that excited to have customers, were they curious because we weren't regulars, were we just that strange looking? I will never know. But their reactions, and that of the bartender/waitress did not inspire much confidence. Would the food be any good? Is it fresh? Does anyone ever come here?
David ordered a mojito while I asked the waitress what the specialty of the house was. What do most people get? She mentioned that people like tostones. Well I like tostones too. Tostones Montaditos to be exact, topped with your choice of chicken picadillo or ropa vieja. Ropa vieja! She said that the Rabo Encendido was popular too. We both wanted to sample the sharp, peppery taste. Where are all these people who like tostones and oxtails and how often do they come? Maybe for the live music on the weekends. Maybe every day but today.
Freestyle jams (last song played: Cover Girls, Because of You) quickly changed to Linger by The Cranberries (just cause we're white doesn't mean we love The Cranberries. Except we both kind of do love The Cranberries). The snickering in the kitchen died down once there was work to be done, and we sat back, awaiting our meal.
The Mojito:
David said it wasn't the best he'd ever had. But it disappeared pretty quickly.

Cuban bread, pressed and warm, with butter (margarine?) was brought out to snack on.

Tostones Montaditos
Five large, flattened, crisp plantains, topped with the ropa vieja. Shredded beef, sauteed with red, yellow, and green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and olives. A closer look:
It was tasty, and very filling for an app. The meat was tender and well seasoned, and chunks of olives make anything taste great. $6

Our main dish, brought out with the appetizer, Rabo Encendido.
There was nothing encendido about the rabo. The braised oxtails were tasty, I'll give them that. Stewed with tomatoes, onions, and peppers, the meat was moist and seasoned, but its fiery name did not match its spice level. Spice in Cuba is measured on a different scale, it would seem. The rice and beans, or moros con cristianos were a bit dry and clumpy, but they looked beautiful piled on the plate. $12

A spacious, light dining area, bright red brick walls decorated with classic Havana posters and Cuban flags, the place is not what it seems from the outside. The menu was written with too much care to be a throwaway. The food was well-prepared. Yet the experience was so strange from start to finish. Maybe a rainy Monday night was the problem. But maybe I really wanted Cuban food on a rainy Monday night. There is not much written about Mojitos in Woodside, and what I could find is positive, but now a few years old. Can more people please go there and report back? I remain as confused now as when I first walked through the door.

Mojitos Cuban Cuisine
52-20 Roosevelt Ave

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Thai Special 2: Rumphool

Rumphool Thai has a $6 lunch special! Lunch specials are great. Thai lunch specials are even better. Spring rolls! It's so nice and spring-y out, and there is no place more colorful on Roosevelt Ave than Rumphool Thai to celebrate the end of winter. I dare you to find another restaurant on the route that is as cheerfully and brightly decorated as this. It's as if Ikea threw up on the walls, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. A blurry view but you'll get the point.
A very friendly waiter greeted me and led me to a seat by the window, and I sat facing the street, and the huge colorful pillows. It is impossible to be unhappy when facing pillows such as these, especially when the sun is shining.
I pondered over the lunch special menu for a while, and asked my server what he thought was best. He basically reccommended everything. If I felt like noodles, then I should try the Pad-Kee Mao (Drunkman Noodles). People like the Pad Thai he said. If I want everything mixed with rice, I could get fried rice. If I felt like spicy, I could get a curry. I felt like spicy. Red curry was spiciest, he said, and that it's best with chicken. No reason to argue with that.

Lunch special comes with salad and spring roll.
A nice crunchy iceberg lettuce salad with a chunky and sweet peanut dressing. The spring roll was crisp and hot, and smothered with the dressing as well. It seems odd to cover something deep-fried with something liquid, but the contrast of the cold and sweet dressing while biting through the crisp shell of the savory spring roll was delightful. No dipping required.

What I forgot to mention was that I also ordered curry puffs, which brought the price of my meal up, but I am a sucker for curry puffs.
Look at them. Crisp and flaky dough surrounding a spiced potato and chicken filling. Rumphool's curry mix is turmeric-heavy. Each bite is meant to be dipped into the vinegary cucumber and onion chutney, cutting through the richness and heaviness. I do love a good curry puff, and these were better than average.

The red curry came with a large scoop of rice. It had a nice consistency, not too thin or thick. It was full of bamboo, chicken and basil. The spice level was not that high, at first I only felt a slight tingle in the back of my throat. But half-way through, my nose began to run, which is always a good sign of creeping heat. It was flavorful and filling. For a $6 lunch special, (plus my $4 foray into appetizers) I was quite pleased. The food was good, the service was friendly, and just being close to that many primary colors in one place is bound to lighten anyone's mood.

57-17 Roosevelt Ave

There are three somewhat strange things about this place besides the decor: No bathroom, closed Tuesdays, cash only.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

57 Lou Cheng Bakery Inc

I am no longer unemployed. I am now part-time occupied with work, making pastries in a restaurant kitchen again. It's not that I'm unhappy about having a job, it's just that I started this project to keep myself busy, and I love it. But with work and school and writing, suddenly I am too busy. Working really cuts into my eating and exploring time. But work will also pay for that eating and exploring time. So here we are.
My first week was all about getting used to the new kitchen, and so far punching out is the best part of the day. Punching out and getting on the train. From Tribeca to Times Square, I transferred to the 7 and stood in the packed car with the rest of the working world. I needed a little something to feel like me again, so I hopped off at 52nd street and decided to walk the rest of the way home searching for a snack. Five blocks later I found it. The corner of 57th and Roosevelt houses a Chinese bakery. If I were in Elmhurst or Flushing it would be one of many, and not of note. But this is Woodside, there's no competition. Just what I needed, full of people and life, something I dearly missed after eight hours in a dark basement kitchen. Blenders whirring and kids crying, racks of egg tarts, sesame balls, buns, and other treats. I watched a group of schoolgirls walk out with bubble teas in hand and ordered the same. I am a fan of all things gelatinous and gummy. I am also a fan of extra wide straws. What's not to like about bubble tea? I decided on a coconut tea, then waited and watched. A few minutes later I was handed my order and was on my way again.
Black, chewy pearls against a cold, pure white background. The coconut was creamy, smooth and super frothy. Lots of tapioca. I think the bubble tea master preparer knew I needed a little extra something. After I sip I felt lighter, hopeful. Walking the rest of the way home, I passed all that awaits me, all the great places I have yet to try, or have already been. And it didn't worry me a bit. It made me happy. Another sip, and I knew. I can make this work. All of it.

Lou Cheng Bakery
57-09 Roosevelt Ave.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Como La Flor

It was the first Spring-like day of the year, so somewhat apropos to lunch at a place called La Flor. I've read about this cafe for years, and it took me that long to finally make it there. Kara, with whom I've been having eating adventures since elementary school, met me at 52nd Street. The only word we could use to describe the place, as soon as we saw it, was "cute". Such a cute little cafe, such cute marble-topped tables, such cute tiled mosaics. We sat at a table by the window, the sunlight filtering in. Cute, charming, cozy, quaint. "La Flor Bakery and Cafe in Woodside serves a delightful menu of Mexican specialties with a good selection of French and fusion dishes, plus great desserts and baked goods." That is how described it in 2006, and I can't do much better than that. We decided to try one Mexican dish, one French-ish dish, and supplement with sides and desserts. Unfortunately we got there too late for the bread basket. They still had some muffins, but the waitress apologized, saying that without their scones it wasn't much of a basket. Next time.
Drinks to start us off:
Mexican hot chocolate for me. I do enjoy a good Mexican hot chocolate, and this one was made with milk, nice and frothy.

Kara got a Mexican Coke. She can't get them in her neighborhood. Ah Mexican Coke. You are made with cane sugar and we love you.

This was our appetizer, in two parts-

Melt-y brie and red wine poached pears covered in balsamic, with a mango salad. Makes no sense but delicious nonetheless. Or as Kara put it, "hits the spot". She said I could quote her on that. The mangoes were ripe and sweet, the red onions sharp, there were julienned carrots and cucumbers (or zucchini) for crunch, and baby greens tossed in. Refreshing. Served with toasted bread on the side. It worked.

Next up, corn salad. Grilled corn with bits of red pepper and scallions. I could be wrong, but I think I tasted soy sauce. An Asian inspired corn salad, perhaps? It was good, but nothing compared to the quesadilla.

Two thick, handmade tortillas sandwiching an obscene amount of vegetables and cheese. Grilled and smoky green and yellow squash, mushrooms, oaxaca cheese, and the best part - mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes and melted cheese together! The two sauces were spicy and colorful, and the already large serving was generously dusted with cotija cheese. Much thought and care was put into this dish, and it showed.

We were already stuffed, but went for the banana bread pudding for dessert. More like french toast, this bread pudding was sliced from a large loaf, topped with creme anglaise and fresh strawberries and some chunks of peaches (I think). I also found half of a blueberry on my side. As full as we were, we somehow found the strength to finish the whole thing.

Lots has been said about this place. Some people love it, some people complain about it. Same as everywhere. It is definitely not the cheapest lunch I have had. We ended up spending around $40 after tax and tip. Yes, that's high for the neighborhood, but who really cares? There isn't any place like it in the neighborhood either. It was comfortable and welcoming, the food was unique, the menu was vast, and everything was fresh. I felt that I could have been anywhere, sipping from my white china cup, chatting with Kara, sharing plate after plate, oblivious to time and place. But the occasional rumble of the train above was a gentle reminder that we weren't just anywhere. We were under the 7, a great place to be.

La Flor Bakery and Cafe
5301 Roosevelt Ave

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Juquilita Bakery & Deli (CLOSED)

There is a brand new Mexican Bakery next to a large laundromat, where Queens Blvd and Roosevelt Ave intersect. It's called Juquilita, and I stopped by to check it out. It's tiny inside, but they bake all of the bread fresh there every morning. Mexican bread. Since it was late afternoon when I made my way in, there were not many items left in the case, but I picked up my tray and tongs and chose a few things, some of them that I had never seen before, like this:

and this.
And of course I got a concha for José.
The young man behind the counter was very excited to have customers. He told me that they'd only been open for two days, that the best time to come in is at 8 a.m. when the bread is hot, that they will soon have Mexican food, and did I want anything to drink, do I live in the neighborhood, and thanks so much for coming in. Did I mention that he was excited to have customers? I asked for an arroz con leche, but they were out already. He felt so bad about it that he gave me a coffee on the house. I don't really drink coffee but how could I refuse? It was so interesting to see a Mexican bakery that is much smaller and has less of a selection than your Tulcingo or Coatzingo Bakeries, offering items that are not all that commonly seen in New York. José immediately recognized them; the flat, crumbly breads were polvorones, which is what shortbread and what we call Mexican wedding cookies are called as well. Makes sense, I guess. He approved of the taste. I was wondering if they were a little burnt, but no, that's what they're supposed to taste like. So nice to have an expert at home. It was a cute place, in a somewhat strange location. I really hope it does well.

Juquilita Bakery & Deli
50-18 Roosevelt Ave

Fun times at Chung Sol (CLOSED)

I finally made it onto Roosevelt Ave! I am leaving Queens Blvd behind for now. Chung Sol Korean BBQ Restaurant is a little hard to find. It's sandwiched between a carpet shop and a taxi garage, and the entrance is blocked by parked vans. But once you enter, it's another world. The dark wood and the calm, serene scene beckoned me to sit and enjoy my meal rather than take it to go, as I had originally intended. Dinner must be another story, with BBQ grills at every table, but lunch was quiet and relaxing. I ordered #7 on the lunch menu. DDuck Man Doo Guk, which might be the best named lunch special yet. People came in and out, regulars, it seemed, although since I don't speak Korean (how I wish that I did), I am just assuming. I was so happy with my decision to stay once my tea and banchan appeared, that I stopped paying attention to the other customers.

Salad. Very mustard-y and thick dressing. It was nice to have a green salad with crunch as an option in my array of treats.

Spicy cold tofu. It was spicy, and cold. Not my favorite of the bunch. With so many options, I didn't want to use up precious stomach space if I didn't absolutely love it.

Cucumbers with sesame. Crisp and cold, with sesame oil and sesame seeds for extra flavor and crunch.

Potato Salad. So good! I am not usually an extra mayonnaise kind of person, but this was surprisingly delicious. Potatoes, hard boiled egg, and apples.

Kimchi. Of course. Good, spicy fun.

I had just started really enjoying my salads when my soup came out. I had forgotten that I even ordered it.
Sliced rice cake and meat dumplings in clear beef broth with sliced beef, egg, and vegetable.
That is exactly what it was.
Rice cake - so glutinous and good. I love that chewy texture.
Meat dumplings- had almost all fallen apart in the soup. The dumpling skins were thin and soft, the meat filling had a great ginger flavor.
Broth - both clear and beefy.
Sliced beef - tender.
Egg - there were strands of egg whites floating in the broth.
Vegetable - scallions.
A huge serving, and I was already full half way through. As if it weren't enough of a starch festival, I unearthed a pile of clear noodles at the bottom of the bowl. All of this food for $7.95.

The owners, (again I assume) a couple, were busy answering phones, and taking orders. The woman of the pair then sat at a table and cleaned bean sprouts, occasionally singing along to the pop songs playing on the t.v. above. I could watch Korean variety shows all day. Seriously. I was there for an hour. What if I had just ordered my soup to go, what then? I would have missed out on so much! In contrast to its bleak surroundings, it was a warm and welcoming place, the food was good, and K-pop makes everything better.

Chung Sol
4911 Roosevelt Ave

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ecuadorian Introduction

I have a new favorite snack. What is it, you ask? Potato cakes! Not potato pancakes, but potato cakes. Don't worry, latkes, you will always be my first love. But these particular potato cakes are not from the old country, they're from the new world of Ecuador. Soft, yellow tinged mashed potatoes, fried crisp on both sides. Like a big, round french fry.
Monday night was dinner at Hornado Ecuatoriano, on 76th and Roosevelt. Although I am supposed to start with Woodside this week, I made plans with Rebecca, a fellow blogger, at this restaurant since it worked for both of our projects. For me, it's on my route, even if I haven't made it to Jackson Heights yet, and for Rebecca, of Fabulously Unforeign, a stop on her world tour. A world tour of New York, since she is "trying to eat the world in one year - without leaving New York City. . . attempting to eat at restaurants from 155 different countries / territories." Of course many of the countries on her list are best represented in Queens, and Ecuador is one of them. So we met for dinner, shared a few plates, and traded blogging stories.

Our meal began with drinks. Jugos naturales, fresh juices made with either water or milk. We both chose milk. I got the mora, a type of blackberry, as suggested by our very helpful waitress, and Rebecca got pineapple. Mine was good. A very light, not too sweet, frothy milkshake. Of course I drank mine too fast, but at $4.00 each I was not planning on ordering another.
For an appetizer we split a quimbolito. It wasn't our first choice, but they were out of humitas.
Quimbolitos, as prepared at this restaurant, are much like a sweet tamal, but made with a coarser meal than Mexican masa. Imagine a softer, more pudding-like corn bread, with a few raisins tossed in.

I was very excited when the waitress placed this on the table:
which looked very similar to my very very favorite Peruvian green sauce. I tasted it, and yes! Thicker, and garlickier than the Pollo Peruano version, but green sauce all the same. Oh, that sauce. On a side note, it is particularly delicious on fried rice.

After much deliberation and many questions to our very patient server, we decided to get a bandera, which has smaller portions of 3 different entrees, along with rice, hominy, salad, and the aforementioned potato cake. I knew I wanted the hornado (lechon), since it seemed advisable to order the namesake dish of the restaurant. That was a given, as was the ceviche. But then the difficult choice between seco de chivo or guatita. We learned that guatita is tripe and seco de chivo is not dry goat, as the name might suggest to us non-Ecuadorians, but more stew-like. For some reason or other we settled on the goat. Here is La Bandera from a few different angles.
Seco de chivo. Very tender pieces of mild goat meat, falling off the bone, simmered in a reddish, tomato-based sauce. It was quite delicious, and the meat was meltingly soft. It reminded me of brisket, and not for the first time on this tour. Remember the Nepali soup? All roads lead back to Jewish holiday food. For me, anyway.

The famous hornado, lying on a bed of hominy. The skin was crackly and crisp, but the meat was sort of tough, and I was very disappointed. I chalked it up to Monday night, and am assuming that on the weekends it is the best lechon ever. Right? I hope so. The hominy, or mote, soaked up all of the flavors on the plate. Fluffy and tasty.
Ceviche consisted of 3 shrimp, some red onions, and lime juice. I ate one, it was fine.
I was much more excited about the avocado, and that beautiful yellow potato cake perched so regally upon its rice throne. I always assumed, when I passed them on the street vendor's grills, that they were corn cakes or plantain. How wrong I was. The waitress told me that they were called tortilla de papa, but I am going to investigate further. And soon. It was a pleasant meal, filled with food that was unfamiliar yet comforting, a Telemundo novela on the screen above, and good conversation. There will be many more restaurants and carts from this interesting country in my future, so I'm glad that Ecuador and I have been formally introduced. It was nice to meet you, and your potato cakes.

Hornado Ecuatoriano
76-18 Roosevelt Ave
Jackson Heights