Monday, June 28, 2010

Pollo Peruano, First of Many

La Casa del Pollo Peruano specializes in, as the name might suggest, Peruvian chicken. What's so great about Peruvian chicken, you might be asking yourself? It isn't the chicken that's so exciting. Rotisserie chicken is rotisserie chicken, be it Peruvian or from any other country. For me, it always has been and always will be about the sauce. Oh, that green sauce! While the quality of the food may differ from location to location in the small chain that is Pollo Peruano, the sauce remains consistent. José and I have a system when it comes to our meals there. We always order the same thing and the one time that we differed (there was a chop suey incident that I don't care to discuss) was a disaster. The location on National Street close to 103rd is our preferred location, but since we no longer live in Corona, we make do with the Roosevelt and 82nd St. branch. Here's our order: Number 3 (1/4 chicken, roast pork fried rice & salad $5.20) and Number 7 (1/4 chicken 3-piece spareribs, rice & beans $9.90. And for some reason, and this began about seven years ago, when we eat in, I always get a ginger ale, and Jose gets an orange Snapple. Why? Who knows. It just needs to be done.
Next comes the sauce. For take out, it's whatever they give us, and then I ask for a little extra, and after that I ask for a dollar's worth more. At $.25 a container, it's well worth it. Then the division of the sauce begins.
There are larger containers and smaller ones, the small ones go first. I have yet to figure out the secret to green sauce, or how it's made. I don't know why the sauce is so great, it just is. Tangy, garlicky, and a little spicy, with a very unique flavor from the mystery ingredients. After much research, the secret ingredient might be an herb called huacatay, otherwise known as black mint. Or it could be the Peruvian chile, aji. I don't know. I really don't. But I'm not doing it justice in this description at all. What I do know is that it is delicious, and goes perfectly with chicken, ribs, rice, beans, salad, and fried rice. The vinegar and heat cut the fattiness of the ribs, the salt of the chicken, add depth to the fried rice, and it's perfect on crisp iceberg lettuce (ask for no dressing otherwise you get 1000 Island). For those of you who love Pio Pio and their creamy green sauce, this one is lighter, spicier, and tangier. They are both good. But I like this one more.
The 1/4 chicken and ribs. Sometimes the ribs are amazing. Huge, lots of meat, tender, and fall off the bone. A nice charred taste with a hint of sweetness. Sometimes the meat is tough. Most of the time, if you don't get there early enough on a weekend, there are no ribs left at all. The chicken is much more reliable. Mahogany-colored skin, full of herbs and salt, the meat is soft and shreds easily.
White rice and soupy beans. I don't usually want rice and beans with my chicken because I get...
fried rice! I love the rice here, it's better than most Chinese places. Bits of roasted pork, scallions, and lots of soy. And with the sauce mixed in, perfection.

I realize after re-reading this post that I haven't said much of anything. I guess that's what happens with something that I eat fairly regularly, something that is often so good, and sometimes not so much. I don't have the right words, but I wanted to write about it anyway.

La Casa del Pollo
Peruano II
81-12 Roosevelt Avenue
Jackson Heights

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Looking for Corn Along the 7 Train

This was originally posted on Serious Eats as Corn Around the World in Queens
But makes just as much sense here!

Corn Around the World in Queens

It all started with a picture of grilled corn on the cob at the grand opening of Tropika, a new restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue. I had no idea what kind of restaurant it was (Malaysian/Indonesian, it turns out) or what was on the corn—but I wanted that grilled corn. And then I got to thinking about Mexican-style elotes, which made me want esquites. I thought about the Brasilian hot dog with corn that I ate for the Hot Dog Round-up, and the Turkish baked potato topped with corn that I had for the Hot Dog Round-up Two—and it wasn't long until all I could think about was corn and all the ways in which it is prepared.

So I embarked on a very long walk along the route of the 7 train to see how many ways of serving corn from different countries as I could find, and eat, in one day. My journey began in Sunnyside and ended in Corona. I tried corn that was spicy and corn that was sweet; some were sticky, some were soupy, but they were all good.

Tangra Asian Fusion


Sunnyside. First stop. Tangra Asian Fusion is Indo-Chinese food—a very large, ornately decorated restaurant with murals on the walls and a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. I got the chicken and corn soup to go—delicious, once you get past the viscosity. It had a nice salty chicken base but a sweetness from the corn, as well as a nice textural contrast of soft chicken breast chunks and the crisp corn. A splash from the small container of green chillies in vinegar added spice and acid to the mix, rounding out each spoonful. (On an unrelated note, the lollipop chicken at Tangra is delicious.)

Price: $3.50 plus tax

39-23 Queens Boulevard, Sunnyside (map)

Lou Cheng Bakery


I couldn't resist the one Chinese bakery on Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside once I saw the corn and ham buns from the window. They are a little much. The sweet and yeasty bread is topped with crunchy corn and diced ham, and held together by lots of mayonnaise. Not a light snack—but I do think that the sweet and salty combination of ham and corn is pretty perfect.

Price: $.80/bun

57-09 Roosevelt Avenue, Woodside (map)



I headed into Sripraphai and straight for the refrigerator case, in search of the perfect pudding. There are two desserts with corn in them: the sweet tapioca pearls and coconut milk with corn kernels, which I tried, and then something more like a dumpling, made with tapioca starch and filled with corn.

The pudding is meant to be eaten warm, so I took it home and warmed it up later. The thick top layer of sweetened coconut melts instantly into the pale green tapioca, and the dots of yellow corn make for a pretty dish. Each bite is sweet and smooth, and then there's that fresh crunch from the corn. If you like tapioca, you will love this pudding. Thailand, thanks for putting corn into your desserts.

Price: $3.00/container

64-13 39th Avenue, Woodside (map)

Tropika Grill & Cafe


I am always excited when a new place opens along my regular route, and this one, only open for seven days at the time of my visit, was definitely excitement-worthy. Along with all sorts of smoothies, bubble teas and shave ices, as well as fried snacks, there is a whole section of the menu dedicated to grilled corn. It's their specialty, they told me, and are very excited to serve it. They have many, many flavors to be brushed onto their corn: spicy, sweet, BBQ, Asian Style BBQ, and "Maxican" street style to name a few.

I went for the spicy. One very eager counter person explained to me that the corn is brushed with a paste, a mixture of fresh green chillies, garlic, onions, and other things that she did not share. The corn, while not spicy, had a great grilled flavor; I could definitely taste the garlic and onions, and a hint of something, maybe soy sauce, that gave it an "Asian Style" sort of flavor. I would like to go back and try all of the grilled corn, except for the Maxican, since there are lots of those around.

Price: $2.50

82-18 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights (map)

La Flor de Guererro Deli & Grocery


I walked past this deli and noticed a line of people, either waiting for or already enjoying corn on a stick. Since that was exactly what I was looking for, I took it as a sign, and ordered one as well. It's hard to find a great elote. The best ones come from the ladies with their shopping carts, and since they're not usually licensed to sell, they can be hard to track down.

At La Flor de Guerrero, they have elotes and esquites ready around 4:00 pm every day, and always in the same location, which is a plus. And they are good. Tender boiled corn, slathered with mayonnaise, a heavy coating of cotija cheese, a squeeze or two of lime juice, and a nice shaking of powdered chile. Warm, sweet corn, cool mayo, salty cheese, spicy chile, and a little citrus at the end. Perfect.

Price: $2.00

87-16A Britton Avenue, Elmhurst(map)

Tacos HNS Rodriguez


Esquites are the more mature sibling of an elote. The same basic ingredients, but with a few small differences that coax out even more flavor from the corn. The kernels are cut off from the cob and simmered in a pot with water, butter and some epazote leaves, then served with the resulting golden liquid, which is topped with the same garnishes of the elote: mayo, cheese, lime juice, and powdered chile.

The esquites sold from the window of Tacos Hermanos Rodriguez were everything that they should be. A good amount of liquid, neither soupy nor dry, lots of epazote, and the right amount of toppings. I appreciated that the woman preparing my esquites squeezed a fresh lime into the cup, while so many stands and wandering corn sellers use the bottled stuff. Esquites are a great snack, and if you see someone selling elotes, most likely they'll have esquites as well—just ask.

Price: $2.50

89-04 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights (map)

Picaditas La Cacerita Cuenca Ecuador


The last stop on the corn tour was Corona, and I decided to end it with Ecuadorian corn on the cob, or choclo. This variety of corn has much larger kernels, is paler in color, is starchier, and is less sweet than the eating corn that is grown here. It is also much heavier. The choclo gave me the chance to represent another area of the world of corn to be found in Queens: South America. There is a line of vendors on that block, mostly Ecuadorian, and selling the same items, so it would be interesting to taste-test and compare them all.

Price: $3.00

Corner of Warren Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Corona (map)

This is just a small sampling of corn that can be found in Queens, on my favorite beat, under the 7 train.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tropika: New Snack Place on Roosevelt

I don't yet understand Tropika Grill & Cafe on Roosevelt between 82nd and 83rd. The menu is in English and Spanish, and all over the place. They have fried snacks like plantains, yuca, sweet potato fries, corn balls, and onion rings. And then there are fried wontons and satay. Then Japanese beef curry and chicken teriyaki. Coconut chicken and buffalo wings. And a whole section of flavored grilled corn. All over the place and I can't wait to try it all. What I did try was shave ice because of course they also have tapioca drinks, smoothies, and shave ice. Perfect for such a humid day.
One shaved ice with four toppings for $3.99. Aside from syrup (passion fruit) and condensed milk, the four toppings I chose were chopped mango (super soft and sweet) boba (tapioca balls, these had a thin shell that burst) jelly (colorful and gelatinous but no flavor) and lychee jelly (colorful, gelatinous, and lychee flavor). I ate half there. The place was mostly empty but I saw at least four people working there, all extremely friendly, all very happy to have customers. They would pass by occasionally and ask me how I was doing. I was great! They, it turns out, have been open for seven days. They are Malaysian/Indonesian. They are very excited to get people in the store. They want everyone to try their special corn. They are not a chain. I am very happy to have them in the neighborhood. I took the rest to go, and the counter lady insisted on adding extra syrup and packing it up for me. Who am I to say no to that? I am now eating my mostly melted ice while writing this and watching Mexico vs. France in the World Cup. It is half time. 0-0. I wouldn't normally watch soccer by myself, but I am texting the play-by-play to José at work. Not the worst way to spend the afternoon.
Viva Mexico!

Tropika Grill & Cafe
82-18 Roosevelt Ave
Jackson Heights

And they won 2-0!!! Maybe I should watch futbol while eating shave ice more often.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Shangri-La Express $2.99 Lunch Special

Shangri-La Express has a crazy lunch special. $2.99 ($3.25 with tax) is the cheapest lunch I have come across yet, which is pretty perfect because right now I have very little money to spend. Now it isn't the most exciting lunch special, it's pretty much a festival of starch. If you're a big spender, there is a $3.99 version, which includes a meat choice. But I went veg at this tiny Tibetan shop.
It says on the menu that there are four items in the special. I was only able to distinguish three: spiced potatoes, yellow rice, and white rice. The fourth is either another kind of rice (the rice directly beneath the potatoes was reddish, and I couldn't tell if it was from the potatoes or a third rice option) or the iceberg lettuce garnish counts as the fourth. Either way. The potatoes were nice. Soft and spicy, with a touch of freshness from scallion tops. The yellow rice had black mustard seeds and a mellow flavor. White rice, crunch from lettuce, and that was that. Two (or three) types of rice topped with potatoes? Not a particularly well-balanced lunch, but filling and CHEAP. I can appreciate that.

Shangri-La Express
72-24 Roosevelt Avenue
Jackson Heights

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mini Empanada Search- 82nd Street

It wasn't really planned, it just sort of happened, that while on our way to Mango Rico and Associated for some Memorial Day BBQ preparation items, José and I had ourselves an empanada round-up. We were hungry, about to cook, and needed a little something. Empanadas sounded just about perfect, but where? We know where we like them in Corona (On National St. close to 103rd, forgot the name of the bakery!). We know where we like them on Broadway in Elmhurst (La Gata Golosa), but close to Roosevelt and 82nd Street, we just weren't sure, so we tried 3 different places, in the hopes that we would never again have this particular problem. Since we weren't planning on this, the pictures are from my phone, sort of blurry, and not very good, but at least it's documented somehow.
First off: Las Americas Bakery. We got 3 meat empanadas, which were extremely hot and incredibly crispy, with a great corn flavor to the crust. The filling was meaty and potato-y, and really stuffed in there. The empanadas were great. But: they only gave us one tiny container of sauce for three large empanadas. That is a crime in our world, as we (and when I say we, I mean José) need one container per empanada. The worst part was that the sauce was really good. Red, chunky, and spicy, a perfect addition to the starchy, meaty filling. So we moved on.
There once was a yogurt place, on the corner of 82nd and Roosevelt. It didn't do that well. Until it became half yogurt place, half Colombian bakery, and now it's doing just fine. Well not really a bakery, since they don't actually bake anything there, but they do sell Colombian baked goods. And empanadas, of course, so that was the second stop. We got three meat empanadas again. They were not as fresh as the previous bunch. Had been sitting in the heat box for a little too long. A little too chewy, a lot less filling. They did give us enough sauce, though, so they win points for that. A green, not too spicy sauce, more like a chimichurri than anything else. $1.25 each.
Last stop, before we got too full: La Delicia en Pandebono. Who make all kinds of things beside their pandebono, which are great. Again, three meat empanadas, again, $1.25 each. They were fresh tasting, very hot, crisp, and the meat filling was good- large chunks of meat, very tender. Not quite as crunchy and crispy as Las Americas, but a strong competitor. And the best part of all: see those lovely, grape-covered ceramic containers? They are filled with salsa. A spicy, oniony red sauce. No doling out one little container, at La Delicia, they want you to spoon on as much salsa as you could ever want. That made us very happy.

After tasting the empanadas from these three places, I think we now know where to go. Sort of. We might do Las Americas on occasion, and maybe pay for extra sauce, but more likely we will go where the sauce flows freely.

Las Americas Bakery
40-30 82nd St, Elmhurst

Yogurberry/ Pan y Mas
Roosevelt Ave and 82nd Street, Elmhurst

La Delicia en Pandebono
40-23 82nd St, Elmhurst