24 September 2015

Son Kalguksu Noodle House


Kalguksu, literally translated as "knife noodles" are surprisingly a summer food in theory, eaten mostly during the hot months in Korea. I thought a nice compromise would be to visit this specialist of the soup on one of the last nights summer, but on a fairly brisk evening that spoke much more of autumn. The hearty bowls spoke to me far better in this weather then they would have a few weeks back when the temperatures were over 30.

The small Palisades Park joint has five tables or so and a bar with a few stools. On this Monday evening, they needed all the space they had as customers seemed to come in right as others left. We were the only non-Koreans on this night.

Besides the list of seven kalguksu options on the front of the small menu, there is only steamed dumpling ($6.99, above and below), a collection of eight fragile beauties that come in the bamboo steamer that cooked them and with a simple dipping sauce of soy and red pepper.

Dumplings are usually delicious, and these were no exception to this rule, but I found them only acceptable in the genre. Maybe a livelier sauce would have done the trick. That being said, we scarfed the whole plate down fast.

With the spicy chicken version, the kimchi kalguksu ($10.99, below) rounds out the choices for those in the mood for a spicy bowl. The version below has regular noodles in it, both white and green which do not taste differently. On the table is a slightly sour and spicy sauce with onions and peppers but our waitress said the soup speaks for itself, although admitted that some customers like it.

Our other selection for the evening was wild sesame kalguksu ($12.99, below), making sesame the theme for my stomach after a quick trip to Mitsuwa earlier earned me a delicious soft serve black sesame cone.

This broth is full and almost creamy, yet the tastes are subtle and toned down while being quite toasty. I loved it from the first bite but I did add a little of the table sauce to it by the end to add a touch of sharpness.

The knife noodles the soup takes its name from are here just lumps of chewy dough, easier to scoop up in a spoon than long noodles, and also given in both regular and green varieties. The soup seems heavy but I did not feel bloated at all after eating the entire bowl.

I love the setting here, in the most Korean neighborhood of New Jersey, a quiet street though very much unlike Manhattan's K-Town. The place is friendly and serves excellent food to their customers, most of whom probably come here often.

Son Kalguksu Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

22 September 2015

Brooklyn Bread House


A common passerby of the Brooklyn Bread House might walk past without much second thought if not in the mood for bread or baked goods, not realizing what exotic finds they might procure inside. Hints exist though, and the colorful Armenian flag worked into the awning would be the brightest. The small Caucasus nation does not have a large representation in New York City, so already there is reason for excitement, and reading some of the Central Asian dishes under the awning is reason for far more.

The place really is small, dominated by the steam table that actually surprises to make the "only fresh" on the awning actually seem accurate. Here you can get stuffed peppers and cabbage, grape leaves, and a good variety.

The counter has a decent amount of the baked goods on offer and separates the customers from the kitchen. The lady was obviously ready for my order impatiently before I even got to the back, so I tried to form my thoughts quickly. She did a run down of the greatest hits and left it to us to decide despite my request for a recommendation.

My first and pretty much only question to this grumpy young woman working here was about khachapuri, a Georgian dish they offer. I remembered seeing the dish cooked at street stalls in Yerevan but was not sure if they shared ownership of it with Georgia or what the roots were exactly, so I asked and somehow the word "Georgia" in my question made her answer simply:

"NO. This is Armenian place."

Knowing a conversation about the origins of food was not going to be possible with our lack of common language, I asked for the adgarskii khachapuri ($6, below) and moved on to other items. This version is made to order and takes 20 minutes, comes out piping hot, and an egg is cracked fresh on the cheese. I quickly took the picture and we mixed it all up.

This is one of those eating experiences that never fails, tearing off the outer chunks of puffy bread to run through the gooey cheese and egg "dip" in the center. The tastes here are phenomenal, it is one of the better versions I have eaten.

The sell their lamadzho in packets to go ($9 for six, below), but are willing to warm them up in the microwave for you if you want to eat them immediately. We asked them to nuke two of them for us. The lavash bread is very thin, but flipped over on itself to in this case hold a tasty spiced ground beef.

In Armenia, you will see stacks of this lavash bread outside of baker's homes for drying and using in various dishes or storing. Fresh is when you want to eat it though, and the ones used here to make lamadzho qualify for that. On the menu, one of them seems to cost $2.50, and I am not sure if that gets you an even fresher made to order version. We were happy with our purchase though, and I am finishing another off as I write this post.

We did not sample any of the sweet pastries, but almost counting for sweet is the one below filled with "farmer's cheese." I did not catch the name or price, but it was no more than $1, and was absolutely delicious. The sweet creamy cheese was substantial, and again wrapped with similar bread.

The rest of the menu here is very lengthy, the place can turn out a pan-Central Asian feast for anyone that wants one. There is only a counter in the window with two seats though, so eating here is the only problem. You'll need to have your diners on hold nearby in your own space.

I am always a sucker for sour cherry beverages.

Brooklyn Bread House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

20 September 2015

Kai Feng Fu


Dollar dumplings are nothing new, in fact they are almost passé. So many places popped up when they were all the rage, that grabbing a portion or two in Chinatown has almost lost all its fun. Many times a plate of five is now four, or the price has gone up to $1.25 or more. It just feels a little deflating, especially coupled with a product that is going noticeably downhill.

So the joy I feel every time I order a delicious plate of pork with leek pan fried dumplings ($1 for four, below) at Sunset Park's Kai Feng Fu is quite obvious. It may not be rocket science, but the way they fry a plate of dumplings here is skillful, perfect. The ingredients are good, much fresher and nicer than those tired lumps in the other borough.

Also a steal are the pan fried pork buns ($1.25 for three, below), puffy pillows with the same delicious pork filling. Maybe just another vehicle for getting this goodness into your face, but it is pleasant to mix up your options. All the other steamed dumplings are sold as plates of eight for $2.50 or $3, and they seem to dissuade you by saying they'll take ten minutes. The reality is only about five, but I find the skins of these steamed versions very thick and less enjoyable than the fried variety.

Equally satisfying is the beef stew noodle soup ($4, below), which for the price is almost theft. Granted, these cuts of beef are not prime, but the broth and thick noodles  make the giant bowl a real belly filler. It is rich and intense, and can easily be made spicy with the bottle of hot sauce on each table.

The thick noodles are my choice.

There are only a few tables here, but everyone sits together so don't be shy. They also seem to have a space behind the kitchen, but I have not figured out the seating arrangements there. No matter how and where you eat your dumplings, satisfaction is coming soon.

Kai Feng Fu Dumpling House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

19 September 2015

Casa Adela


Walking into Casa Adela is either a reminder of a sunny island, or an homage to the lands that no longer are home, as if the owners have brought their lost land here to the East Village. The whole place is indeed reminiscent of a local kitchen of San Juan or its suburban beaches, as relatives, friends, and employees come in and out early in the day to say hi or clock in. The elderly owner, the namesake in fact, sits in front of a mixing bowl at the back table, the first person greeted by anyone paying their respects.

Casa Adela is a bit of an icon in the area, and probably will be until the world ends. Do a quick search and someone will either tell you to eat the pernil or the rotisserie chicken. They're both worth ordering. The pernil is my favorite, and despite many recommendations to grab the sandwich, I would instead ask for it as an order on its own, for many reasons.

An order of the pernil ($9.95, above and below), is a slow roasted pork shoulder, and getting a plate of it affords you the opportunity to also connect it with the delicious rice and beans. Eat a piece on its own and close your eyes to find every spice in the marinade, or dunk your meat in the restaurant's famous beans.

Skip the batidas ($5, below) here though, my batida de papaya was heavily sweetened and laced with cinnamon. One would be better served with a Coke or just water, to concentrate on the important part of a trip here: the food.

Casa Adela Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

15 September 2015

Pho Thai-Lao Kitchen


There is an overall shortage of Southeast Asian cuisine in New York City, and even when you find it, nothing will be guaranteed tasty. Our Cambodian and Myanma chefs have moved on. Our Vietnamese restaurants are flat. Thai food is having somewhat of a renaissance, but is in pockets, sometimes far away. There is one Lao chef who has served exciting cuisine in Tribeca for some years, but even she has left her restaurant to others and the results show.

Fear not citizens! A tiny place in Maywood, New Jersey is cooking up some seriously good Lao food. Their menu is split evenly between Thai and Lao, representing the birthplaces of the parents of the two sibling owners. Knowing I can get Thai in good restaurants back closer to home, I stuck exclusively to the Lao side of the menu.

On the Lao side of the restaurant, an homage to sticky rice.

When traveling in Laos, it is hard to avoid the similarities and influence from Vietnam in their cuisine. Many Vietnamese people live in Laos, and have for generations. One such dish was the Lao fresh rolls ($7, below), arriving just like any pair of gỏi cuốn. The sweet fish sauce is the only big difference, but even this can be found depending on taste of the individual. Here even pretty late into the evening on a Sunday, my fresh rolls were indeed still fresh, with just a hint of chewiness from the wrapper.

On this night, there were not many others dining and I had the attention of my soft-spoken Vietnamese waitress and even the chef at times would come out to check on everyone, welcoming her regulars with hugs. While discussing my options, they talked about the special Lao soup ($16, below), and it seemed my waitress gave some information she was not supposed to. While shaking her head, the chef said only one was left, and then of course I had to ask if I could have it.

It was a marvelously tangy sour broth with a lot of bamboo and mushroom. It comes with a small bowl of rice that I was encouraged to eat with it, but I had decided to order five items and was alone on this evening, so I left my stomach for other battles. The broth gets your tastebuds working, the spiciness starts, and of course it is so hot when served that it cannot be gulped down by any means.

The best larb I had in Laos came from a window of someone's home in a residential neighborhood, a proprietor who decided to make her home cooking available to neighbors. Ordering a portion was a massive affair, not only was the larb itself given, but a vast array of vegetables and a good hunk of sticky rice, all of which was certainly not already prepared for takeout. After waiting and collecting the feast, you find somewhere to sit down and eat it, scooping up the delicious meats and intestines with the rice by hand, pausing for fresh greens throughout. It is a thoroughly fresh and spicy affair which unfortunately is not replicated here in the states, at least on the east coast.

My larb nuer ($16, below) comes as close as possible to that enjoyment. Carefully cut beef and tripe, a gaggle of spices and herbs, and the "homemade sauce" are all right on point. The basket to the left of the dish holds the sticky rice that is served with it, and really the only way to get the whole experience.

A note about their spice-level system. A dry erase board warns customers that their levels are "four times" the normal levels (for Maywood, New Jersey?), making a "1" equal a "4" and a "5" equal a "20". They seem uninterested in making mild flavors when dishes are not supposed to be mild. I overheard them refuse to make someone's larb "without any spice" as she requested. This is a good thing for sure. My level was 3, and indeed it probably was around a 12... about as high as the heat levels in Queens Thai restaurants will go. But at least for larb, this is the way the food is supposed to be eaten.

I was very thankful therefore to have ordered the nam kow ($14, below), a simple street food that has no heat and offered my mouth a break when needed. Little balls of rice are fried until crispy, and mixed with fermented pork, creating what could be a Lao bar snack. I was especially sad at the BYOB nature of the restaurant while eating this dish, as a cold beer would have been perfect. For anyone wanting to bring alcohol, it would be wise to get it before coming as there is nothing nearby, especially for those without transportation.

I could barely muster the strength to have even a few bites of my som tum poo ($16, below), the green papaya salad with a puree of crab anchovies. This was also heavy on the heat as expected, but seemed to be unusually drowning in the thin tomato sauce. I enjoyed this more later when my stomach opened up again the next day, but if there was a dish of the lot I would not order again, it would be this one.

After the starters, the menu is divided into convenient pages, one for Thai and one for Lao, making your decisions very easy. Vote straight down the party line, or a mixture of the two. Either way, Maywood, New Jersey is an exciting place to go for the fiery foods northeast Thailand and Laos.

Pho Thai Lao Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

14 September 2015

Macedonian Food Festival


Only in its 6th year, the Macedonian Food Festival put on by the St. Nikola Macedonian Orthodox Church in Totowa, New Jersey is still a small ordeal. On a beautiful Sunday, I attended the event and found no lines or crowds for tickets or food, stood and asked the ladies under the tents plenty of questions, and found a gigantic table unused. Other tables were filled by families that came together, speaking what I would gather to be Macedonian amongst themselves. By the end of my meal, a man with his daughter approached me and asked me a question in this language that I answered confidently in English, knowing full well he just wanted the rest of the table for his family. Older friends or family all gathered around to coo over the little one.

Upon entering, signs point out the need to buy tickets that could be exchanged for food. The two main platter options were either the "Macedonian specialties" or "Grill platter." They both cost $12, so it was easy to peruse the tables to see what offered the best value, although deciding was hard.

The "specialties" section of the tables had many items, like the stuffed peppers (polneti piperki) and stuffed cabbage (sarma) below, and the cheese burek-like pastry above that was sliced like a pizza. Plenty of other pastries surrounded, and this was only the selection of savory options, desserts had their own separate table.

From the look of the empty trays, meat was the more popular option and I decided to follow form. As I was making my choices, a fresh batch of pleskavica (The burger-like item that is almost empty on the left below) was delivered, but I wanted a bit of a mixture so I selected a chicken raznici (shish kebab) to go with my four links of kebapi.

The grill platter also included a piece of bread, a few fries, coleslaw, and a wonderful spicy pepper that is mostly obscured in the photograph below by the chicken. You can garnish your meat with onions and dried red pepper as desired, but there is unfortunately no ajvar on hand to moisten things up. The kebapi is delicious while the chicken remained uneaten due to its dryness. I needed to save room for a long day in New Jersey.

Any meal could be perfectly rounded off with their vast array of sweets also available for purchase individually. Everything seemed to be in the $1-3 range. I had my eyes on some other cuisines in other parts of the state though, so I left a little room for later.

A small tent was set up with what seemed to be a DJ that was singing along with all the music he played. This sort of karaoke was solo though, as no one else took a turn, at least while I was there. Inside the community center was a small shop with canned and jarred goods from back home.

The 2015 festival took place over the weekend of September 12th and 13th.



A recent night at Sentosa turned up a good crowd, and an even better meal, documented below. The food here stands out as above average Malaysian, but stands firmly in the category which all Malaysian in New York City lies: Chinese Malaysian. We were lucky enough to have a Chinese Malaysian friend join us for dinner, order everything for us, and have terrific guidance.

In terms of the place, it is a well-oiled machine, and that unfortunately is a negative comment. We had pleaded to have our food come out in waves rather than all at once, but this was not offered in the end as our table just got bombarded with our lengthy list of dishes. The people here do not seem that interested in having happy customers, and this feeling tarnished our thoughts somewhat even after a very good meal. "Sentosa" actually translates to "peace and tranquility" in Malay, a word that could prove useful here if looked up.

Roti canai $3.50

Lobak $10

Satay mixed $7.50

Roti telur $5.50

Curry fish head soup $23

Nasi lemak $7.50

Hainanese chicken $11

Beef rendang $13

Kang kung belacan $11
Bobo cha cha $4

Sentosa on Urbanspoon