>> Eat the World NYC

21 January 2018

MCG Grand Cafe


For over a decade, the flag of Grenada has flown at this location. The previous spot which was named "De Island" hung a big one from the window and sometimes even more from the awning. For the last two and a half years, a new owner has taken over and modernized the exterior a bit, but look closely enough and the small yellow, green, and red flag of the island nation still hangs in the window.

More importantly, the menu announces the origin of the chef and the vast list of food shows a real pride in the place rather than the ubiquitous "West Indian" offerings of many restaurants. Master Chef Gibbs, the "MCG" from the name, dresses in an all red uniform and has a smile that sets the tone.

The entrance leads down a hallway where many people walk in and place their takeout orders directly with the chef. For those wanting to dine in, make your arrival known and take a seat.

The woman who takes care of the tables is also super friendly, and since I had her to myself on an early Saturday evening it seemed like the "Back in Grenada..." stories could flow forever. I was asking way too many questions about the country and food, but she never skipped a beat in providing full and thoughtful answers.

One of many unique appetizers available is the coo-coo balls and lambie slush ($9, above), which thankfully for January is served hot despite its name. "Lambie" is local terminology for conch, and the snail meat inside is very common in stews and curries in Grenada. The coo-coo underneath, made of cornmeal, is also common in Grenada and it's Windward neighbors, but this combination with the addition of okra is definitely somewhat of a modern take. It is very good.

The portions here are not set up so that one person can eat a full appetizer and entree, so when this massive heavy bowl of oil down ($13, below) arrived, I knew I had met my match. Grenada's national dish, oil down is only available here on Saturdays, replicating how it might be enjoyed back home as a weekend meal.

The most important ingredient in an oil down is breadfruit, named for the texture it has when cooked. This is mixed with much denser dumplings, a bit of potato, and a hunk of chicken and saltfish, which is all cooked in coconut milk and callaloo. All in all, the amount of food here is intense.

Eventually when bellies are full and plates are cleared, the floral tablecloths and plastic bouquets come back into focus. The good spirit of the place is everywhere, and the bag of leftovers is wrapped up.

I must have been asking enough questions that word made it back to the kitchen and the friendly chef came out after my meal to chat a bit as well. It was as if I had made new friends simply by coming and enjoying the food.

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MCG Grand Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

17 January 2018

El Sabor de Mi Barrio


The working class neighborhood of Paterson, New Jersey just northwest of the Great Falls is the best place to stroll around and get a sense of what inspired the recent film by Jim Jarmusch named for the city. While the bustling downtown and more Middle Eastern neighborhood south of I-80 see more outsiders, it is this area that truly represents Paterson old and new, giving a sense of what has been but also sticking to its nature of being an incredibly diverse place. Peruvian and Bangladeshi share the street with small Dominican, Chinese, and pizza spots that look like old standbys.

If you came to Paterson to read William Carlos Williams' famous epic poem of the same name, of course read a little bit near the Great Falls, but enjoy most of it here on Union Avenue and up the Passaic River following the light and heavy industry that the falls have always powered.

A spot at the bar of El Sabor de Mi Barrio might also be a good place, at one of Union Avenue's most popular Peruvian restaurants. As with a lot of places in New Jersey, this establishment has had a nightmare with the state's liquor laws and does not have alcohol, but it is comfortable and open early for breakfast. Three TVs make me think that Peru's first time in the World Cup since the 80's coming up this summer will be thoroughly enjoyed here.

The menu here is overwhelming to say the least, meat and fish options both feature full pages in small type. Entrees are in the $12-15 range, but gigantic and at least two meals apiece. This makes sharing a little more difficult, but order a bunch and expect leftovers. Everyone in our lunch group of three each had a takeaway meal ready for dinner.

To start things out, we ordered one Peruvian tamal ($5, below), a large yellow corn creation wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf. Also available in chicken, this order was pork, juicy pieces of the meat that must have tenderized for hours.

I usually cannot eat a Peruvian meal without something smothered in huancaina sauce, the creamy sauce made from cheese, milk, and aji amarillo, the ubiquitous yellow peppers of Peruvian cuisine. Instead of potatoes, we chose yuca a la huancaina ($7, below), fried sticks kept separate from sauce. Dipping or dousing is up to the customer. If anything on the table could have been chosen at a bit of a disappointment, it was unfortunately this dish.

Despite its name, the lomo saltado ($14, below) is free from extreme saltiness and relies on all of its other ingredients to create a complex savoriness. The stir-fried pieces of beef, onions, and tomatoes are thrown over a bed of fries and served with rice.

We had another chance to try aji amarillo in the very nice aji de gallina ($13, below). This kind of pepper has been used in cooking in this region since ancient times, and adds the bulk of the heat for any Peruvian cuisine nowadays. This particular dish was only slightly spicy, but again had layers of subtle flavors.

The standout of the meal was the massive plate called El Clásico ($22, below), a combination of a jalea and ceviche. Jalea is a type of typical Peruvian drinking food made up of many types of fried seafoods. This plate had thick cuts of white fish, calamari, shrimp, and crab.

We asked for the ceviche spicy, and it came through slightly in this regard, but thoroughly in that it was delicious. One of the best to be found in the area, the combination plate was massively satisfying.

For future reference, you can bring in your own beers. Paired with this beauty and a World Cup match, life would not get much better.

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El Sabor de Mi Barrios Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13 January 2018

Bed-Stuy Fish Fry

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On the few occasions where a walk has brought me past this location of Bed-Stuy Fish Fry over the years, without fail it has revealed a popular and very busy little shop. The line is usually a few people deep, with many others waiting around for their orders to be fulfilled. A small counter provides a few seats, but most here are local and take their meals home.

A cashier is the person to see first, putting in and paying for an order must be done when you arrive. The prep room is cut off with a large glass window that allows for anxious looks towards the folks that will feed you. Some items, like the fried fish, take a bit of time, so relax and enjoy the rhythm of the place.

When the order does arrive, chances are that you will be satisfied. An upgrade from the standard whiting is the fried catfish and chips ($9, below), two healthy fresh strips over perfect fries. This will come with little containers of hot and tartar sauce, but honestly both are unnecessary as the fish is delicious on its own.

Based on the small sample of others ordering, fried fish does not seem to be the go to order here, despite the name of the place, but we firmly recommend it anyways.

I was looking forward to the shrimp po'boy that was listed on the menu, but this seems to have been discontinued unfortunately. Instead, a box of fried chicken ($6, below) was the replacement, a steal for the price. Four meaty pieces are served and can be combined with other sides to make a dinner if desired.

The batter they use is terrific, the seasonings spot on. My only complaint of the entire meal was that unfortunately these guys were not that hot, hopefully just an unlucky trip.

Luckily there was no shortage of seafood mac 'n cheese ($5, below). This seems to be a star here and despite being incredibly oily and rich, is simply damn good. This entire container disappeared before everything else.

Thoughts of catering trays of the stuff were swimming through my head, but alas we left with only what we could not eat from this dinner.

There are also two other newer locations of Bed-Stuy Fish Fry not located in the neighborhood. One is located downtown perfect for breaks if you happen to get jury duty, while the other is out in Crown Heights on Nostrand Avenue.

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Bed Stuy Fish Fry Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

12 January 2018

Old Baku


The night our group of eight spent at Old Baku is still a blur. On one of those first freezing nights of winter, we opened the door and found an empty room with booths and not much else. It seemed unheated, and unwelcoming. Thankfully the host that greeted us walked us through this space, past the kitchen which was open to the frigid outside air in a courtyard, and into their cozy back dining room. A few tables had filled up before us, and some live music had already begun.

Temperatures were appropriate here, so everyone took off their coats and dug into the menu. What was decided on, and what eventually arrived had only about 50% in common, but the meal was enjoyed. Other patrons began to dance after some shots, and this brick-walled space became almost magical as the rhythm of the music increased.

Disclaimer: The ordering process was difficult here. The eight of us and our many shared languages unfortunately did not overlap with any languages spoken by the staff. We did our best, and unfortunately did not get exactly what we ordered. My hunch is that this fell somewhere between honest mistakes and upselling/overcharging a big group, as sometimes we had to send back things they brought two of when only one was ordered. If this language problem is similar with your group, it might be recommended to write down a list of the food you want and hand it to them for a record.

Like I said at the beginning, things are a bit of a blur so there is not much more of a review. Here is a look at the foods we had:

This place has an excellent vibe and spirit, and I hope the next time I go we can get it right.

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Old Baku Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

09 January 2018

Little Tibet


There is such a high concentration of Himalayan restaurants around the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Ave station that you would think some would just not hold their weight, but so many talented chefs are proving this to be wrong. Most of the restaurants are pretty small but perpetually busy. Little Tibet is just a bit of a more formal affair, and even has beer and wine unlike many of the other restaurants, making it one of the more cozy spots to bring a group for dinner.

For a couple years now, my meals here have been plan B's, when another place was closed or sold out of food, etc. That being said, the food is better than a plan B, the restaurant is an A. These choices just prove it is an easy and reliable environment.

The picture above was taken last winter, but the season is about the same now, making Tibetan soups an important part of a warming meal. On the days where it is hard to decide between a soup and a plate of those famous momos, Little Tibet has a solution for that. Mokthug ($7.95, below) puts the small beef momos into a cloudy beef broth soup.

This soup has the hearty taste of bone in it and is wonderfully paired or soaked up with an order of fluffy tingmo.

Highly recommended here is the excellent version of chura khatsa ($8.95, below), fried cubes of cheese with a covering of chili sauce. This is a good dish to share, but go in quick because you are going to want to keep it all to yourself. The dense texture of the cheese is wonderful. Ask for it spicy, as the dish is meant to be.

The spicy sauce is so good here that an order of the c/momo ($8.95, below) is also a good call. You can ask for beef, chicken, or vegetarian momos, which all pair nice with the "chilly" sauce as they call it. Of course with a group you will be able to sample all the different varieties if desired, as well as some of the other fiery fare.

I have noticed that they seem hesitant to raise the heat levels with non-Himalayans, so be direct in asking for the spice you want.

As stated earlier, beer and wine is available here. They have a list of New York craft beers that changes periodically and is a welcome sight to those wanting to try IPAs and porters with their momos rather than a Heineken.

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Little Tibet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

06 January 2018

Han Joo Chik Naeng Myun & BBQ


An English speaker not prone to ask many questions might walk into Han Joo and think no more about ordering anything besides the BBQ. In winter at least, it is what every table is doing, so why not follow suit? The only hint of other specialties is that cartoon bowl of noodles on the awning, actually there to represent the Korean name of the restaurant: Han Joo Chik Naeng Myun & BBQ.

In that version, the BBQ almost seems to be an afterthought, but the big bright pictures of duck in the window speak otherwise. The curiosity here is actually their method of grilling, which takes place on a radiating hot slab of what they call "crystal" (below).

When table turnover is high, these blocks stay hot all night. One group finishes, the block is washed and brought back out carefully for a new table, with warnings to everyone to watch their fingers. The gas blaze underneath is lit, and meats can be immediately added with no wait time.

Those photos of different duck preparations in the window are a good hint, it is their finest cut of meat, available in thin (ori dae pae, $21.95) and thick (ori los, $21.95) slices. The servers will prepare everything for you, so sit back and watch out for the spattering in these close confines.

The slight angle of the crystal slab is perfect for catching all the fatty juices from the cooking meats, which is accomplished by the sour kimchi they bring out for any BBQ order. The thin slices are placed first, and these give up their treasures to the kimchi quickest. Wait for the server's ok before grabbing any meat, they will let you know when it is ready to eat. Go too fast, and you might get a scolding.

An array of average banchan is placed on the table as well, providing great opportunities for different temperatures and textures in each bite, as well as thin slices of sweet pickled daikon which pair with the duck almost other-worldly. Good dipping sauce, oils, and pepper is also provided for each customer, causing the table to be almost comically cluttered.

They'll make any size group work, but best to limit yourselves to six. The crystal slab is not large enough to accommodate larger tables than that, and the intimacy of this setting would be lost.

Pork belly (saeng sam gyup sal, $20.95, below) is always tempting, and here it is obviously not bad, but we've had it better in other locations.

That being said, a group of six does have a little room to wiggle in an order, and one plate of those silky slabs won't hurt. I mean, just look at them. As they cook up and shrink a bit, the server will cut everything up into bite size morsels.

Not pictured is the good galbi ($27.95), a prime cut of short rib that is already marinated with the "chef special sauce" and almost begs to remain untouched by those common table sauces and accoutrement. Knowing the group could probably force down one more dish, the server suggested their very good hae mul pa jeon ($12.95), a seafood pancake with an assortment of different creatures and scallions within.

Go ki goon man doo ($9.95, below) is another good order for rounding out a BBQ meal. These are the fried meat version, but you can also have steamed and kimchi renditions, and an order "unlocks" the man doo sauce, which can be enjoyed with other meats as well.

Both of the visits here so far have taken place during frigid nights, so appetites veered away from an order of the naeng myun, the North Korean cold noodle dish in the restaurant's name. A summer update will be forthcoming, stay tuned.

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Han Joo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

05 January 2018

O Lavrador


Since the beginning of time, I have used O Lavrador as a way station. It has broken up many long walks through Queens and served as a great place to kill time when waiting for friends to arrive at JFK. The establishment is split into two parts, and until this day I have only been in the left half, the bar that is dedicated to Portuguese football. Scarves from Benfica, Sporting, and Porto hang on the ceiling and plaster the walls, while national team gear is everywhere. When not in New Jersey, this is the place to come for Portuguese football and will once again feature for the country in our World Cup piece later this year.

The restaurant on the other half is a white table cloth affair, but all the food is also available on this side.

Unfortunately Sagres is no longer exported here in the states.

There are different happy hour specials on every day of the week, sometimes including half-off appetizers. Cheap drinks and tons of regulars have been a staple of every visit. Whether speaking Portuguese, Spanish, or English, the people working here know everyone and treat them all as family.

Bolos de bacalhau, rissois de camarão, and croquetes de carne ($0.75 each, below) are a good bar order in any situation. In order of deliciousness, start with the shrimp, followed by the meat.

The first time I decided to do more than drink here, I was pointed to the francesinha ($14, below), which is described in the menu as a "classic Portuguese sandwich." In reality, the sandwich is enjoyed all over the country, but it was invented in Porto and remains very popular in the north.

Meaning "Little Frenchie," it shares somewhat of a resemblance to the croque monsieur but is strongly adapted for Portuguese tastes. Stacked beef, Spanish chorizo, and ham are topped with mozzarella cheese and an egg then doused with a spicy sauce. It is big and delicious.

Recently I was feeling even more comfortable than normal, and snow started falling heavily outside making my plans for onward meals a bit more difficult. This led to an examination of what else was on the bar menu beyond these snacks.

Adapted from Portugal's former African colonies, piri piri sauce is very popular all throughout the Lusophone world. O Lavrador offers camarão piri-piri ($10, below), shrimp swimming in a very good and spicy sauce made from crushed red peppers.

One dish that is not worth ordering even when half-priced during happy hour is the picadilho ($12, below). Oh well.

Just... don't.

I am very much looking forward to coming back here in June for the World Cup, if not before if I find myself in Jamaica again. A seat at the bar is never a bad decision.

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O Lavrador Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato