>> Eat the World NYC

21 March 2018



Almost as if a strong gust of wind swept through Elmhurst, the space which Ploy Thai occupied a few weeks back was reimagined and reborn as Lamoon, a restaurant with a concentrated menu of Northern-style Thai dishes. The new chefs are from Lampang and Chiang Rai, two neighboring provinces of Chiang Mai, and this is their first time cooking outside of their own kitchens.

While Ploy Thai was good, Lamoon is an upgrade, and another entry into the city's Thai restaurant scene that specializes in a certain regional cuisine. Places like short-lived Chiang Mai Restaurant and still strong Thai Diva Cuisine have been slowly introducing New York City to Northern Thai, and Lamoon seems to be interested in advancing these tastes.

The space itself has had a quick makeover, as if a fresh coat of paint has been applied to the shell Ploy Thai left behind. A friend of the new owners was flown in from Thailand to put colorful murals on the wall, and a white and blue color scheme to signify something new is afoot. During a small conversation, we also learned that the owner and chef from Ploy Thai was involved in the quick handover and is still helping the new business get set up. Her friendly spirit certainly lives on in the new restaurant.

The spirit of northern street grilling lives on as well. When traveling in and around Chiang Mai, you will see many street vendors with an operation similar to the following:

December 2015 in Mae Kampong

Inside of various banana leaves are sour fermented sausages and pork brain with shrimp paste, as well as various meats grilled straight over the fire. In Lamoon, they have a few options from these typical styles, and add a couple more things to wrap up and serve in the leaves.

Because it has already been cooked, the first thing to arrive at the table might be the abb ong oor ($9, above and below), the aforementioned pork brain with shrimp paste. If you close your eyes and concentrate while eating this smooth and complex dish, you can pick out galangal and lemongrass as well as kaffir leaf, cilantro, scallion and shallot, garlic, dried chili, and tumeric.

Another excellent dish to arrive in this fashion is khao kun jin ($7, below), a steamed mass of jasmine rice that takes its color from pork blood. This comes with a side of freshly made garlic and chili oil, and is absolutely a show-stopper. Even in Thailand this dish can be hit or miss, but this version is a bullseye.

In Chiang Mai, this is referred to as khao ngeaw

Some banana leaves come with a good portion of sticky rice, which may not come standard with your dishes but is an important upgrade to eat more like people in Northern Thailand do.

Not seen on the grill from Mae Kampong above, sai ua ($12, below) is usually found alongside the banana leaves in coils that you can break off and purchase by weight. Cartilage from pig's ear make this version a bit different from the usual ground pork, but kaffir, lemongrass, and chili paste still take center stage.

Not much more could be considered more northern style than nam prik ong ($10, below), a grounded pork with shrimp paste that is best eaten with sticky rice. It also comes with pork rinds and a range of vegetables for differing textures in each bite.

Tum kanoon ($12, below) is a young (green) jackfruit salad, but don't think you are getting too far from the pig with this dish as it also includes ground pork. A side of pork rinds and sticky rice comes standard.

Seen only one previous time in Maplewood, NJ's Pho Thai Lao Kitchen, ant eggs make a small appearance on the yum mamuang ($8, below), a mango salad made with crispy fried sesame anchovies and carrots, shallots, cilantro, and peanuts. The whole salad is drenched in fish sauce, and delicious.

Similar to the word "neur" which means beef, larb neua ($11, below) is a northern Lanna-style larb ground pork and a homemade 9 herb shrimp paste. "Neua" is just a simple word for north. Of everything we ordered, this comes the most spicy, and thankfully cannot be toned down even if requested, as we were told this would take away its being so good.

Pork belly is the protein of another northern classic kang hung ley ($12, below), served tender in a masala curry. Also find ginger, peanuts, and pickled garlic within. This might have been the first dish to be completely cleaned.

Kang hoe ($11, below) is a dish made from the leftovers of kang hung ley, the pieces of meat are combined with glass noodles, various vegetables, bamboo shoots, and Thai eggplant. Anytime a trip to the temple is involved in festival plans, this dish plays a big part in that and is usually offered to the monks and volunteers.

For a fuller story of this dish, please see our recent post from Ugly Baby in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

On our next visit, when there is not so much sharing of portions, orders of soups like khao soi and kanom jeen nam ngeaw will be essential to finish off the northern favorites. If you try them before we do, let us know what you think!

Lamoon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

19 March 2018

Jonty Jacobs


Over three years ago, a small shop popped up on Christopher Street in the West Village with the bright, multi-color flag of South Africa. While they have scaled back their operation somewhat, Jonty Jacobs is still the place to go in New York City for the nation's very distinct style of biltong, a dried and cured meat that puts commercial North American beef jerky to shame.

Named partially after the owner's favorite butcher as a child and presumably rhyming with "jaunty," it somehow is a good description for the fun shop that also sells packaged and canned goods from South Africa for homesick expats.

The biltong ($40/lb, above and below) is sold in four different forms, both fatty and lean pieces can be both wet or dry. A 1/4 pound $10 bag like the one shown is just about the right size for a hefty snack. Unless you have a machine at home to do the slicing, have it cut up in the shop with theirs. If you want to "give it a little kick," accept the offer a sprinkle of peri-peri powder.

The beef cannot be eaten extremely fast, as it all has a good chew to it. The first note you will experience is vinegar, which is the main ingredient of the marinade. This is an extremely appealing complement to the natural beefiness.

Apparently the facility they make everything is down south, and they get fresh shipments weekly. The beef is all domestic, but the style is all South African, you won't find anything like it.

They stopped selling fresh meat pies and pastries, but you can still find some of these frozen if you are in the mood to bring some more treats home.

Jonty Jacobs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

18 March 2018

Taqueria Mexicana


On many walks down Bergenline Avenue, a second thought was never given to Taqueria Mexicana, which on the surface just looks like an unspecial purveyor of Mexican food in a neighborhood with a lot of special places. This, however, is exactly the reason your teachers tell you not to judge a book by its cover.

The cute and charming place, housed in a former diner, landed squarely back in these thoughts after doing some searching for memelas in the area. These Oaxacan antojitos are not much different than a sope or huarache, but do not seem to make it onto menus in town that much.

Memelas top left, burritos bottom left

Along with the memelas, an online search showed that the restaurant was also making burritos closer to the way they were intended to be made. Unfortunately our burritos in the United States are almost all fat Tex-Mex versions stuffed with rice. Even Californians will cluelessly tell you about how good "Mexican" food is in their state while referencing some overstuffed Mission-style burrito, and completely omitting all the regional variety available in Los Angeles et al.

But before those two dishes are eaten, the first thing you may notice in this repurposed diner is the good looking trompo of al pastor meat spinning behind what used to be the coffee and breakfast counter. An order of four tacos (below), bigger than Mexico City-style taquitos, runs $8.50 and is certainly enough for a meal alone. The meat for these was unfortunately not fresh straight from the trompo and this was evident by the slight dryness from regrilling. When fresh, this order will be unbeatable as the marinades and roasted pineapple are just about perfect.

An order of four burritos (below) is $9.50 and is a simple dish that uses a flour tortilla to wrap up meat and cheese, more like the typical versions first found in Northern México which also may include refried beans. While every single Mexican restaurant in the New York City area and the entire country has a burrito on their menu, they all look like they were made at Chipotle and are really there just for the gabachos who don't know better, or could not find a Chipotle.

A burrito like this, often found on the streets of Ciudad Juarez or other northern cities, is sold on the sidewalk out of a basket, similar to more familiar tacos de canasta, except always with a flour tortilla.

The memelas (below) come in an order of three for $8.50, large oval discs of freshly made masa. You can have them with either red or green salsa, or a combination of both like the ones seen here.

In Oaxaca, you might sometimes find these with a thin layer of black beans and nothing besides mole negro, salsa, and cheese, but meat options like this cecina are becoming more common.

With much love in the heart for a big plate of stacked pancakes, it is said with much endearment that eating top notch Mexican antojitos in a vinyl high back booth is just as nice of an experience. The next time you find yourself in North Bergen, make space in your schedule and stomach for Taqueria Mexicana.

Taqueria Mexicana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

16 March 2018

Tic-Tac-Toe Bakery & More


Located in a tiny sliver of space almost at the end of Brooklyn, a little Egyptian bakery has arrived and somehow retains the look of being around for many years. This is partly due to the fact that its owners have moved the operation here from Cedar Rapids, Iowa in mid-2017, where they were in business for 15 years. The small sign over the entrance has the pyramids and sphinx, and calls itself a "Middle Eastern American Fusion Bakery."

How true to form then that the main offering fatayer, a baked pastry popular in Egypt and the Middle East, is used as a vehicle for beef stroganoff or broccoli and cheese. In Egypt the dumpling or empanada-like pastries might be stuffed with meat or feta or perhaps spinach and use some local spice to enhance, but in Iowa I would assume that this fusion was born to offer something more palatable to a newcomer to the cuisine.

You can stick to the classics here as well, there are lamb and spinach options. Most of them are depicted in emoji-like form on the walls, which are covered with the same picture of one fatayer and a new description of what is inside. Best to just walk straight to the case though and see what is fresh.

During lunch, the $4 that it costs to purchase two pastries also gets you a salad and drink, and if you are eating in a chance to chat. There is one stool at the window and a small counter if you come in alone, otherwise conditions will be a little tight. If you do get the seat, listening to and watching the comings and goings is a pleasure. The owner is kind to all his guests and again it feels like he has been taking care of customers here for decades.

A greek mashup similar to spanakopita (below) is also available and tastes great. The dough of all is chewy and nice, and has a pleasant way of soaking up any moisture from the insides.

Yesterday's unused pitas are turned into today's crispy chips, great for dipping in the tahini that accompanies the salad. Little bags of these are for sale daily if you can think of other uses you might have for them back home.

Tic-Tac-Toe also makes their own sweets, and single portions of walnut or pistachio baklava ($2.75) are also available, as well as cookies and coffee.

It could be imagined that the most popular of his Midwestern fatayer creations are also desired here at the end of 3rd Avenue in Bay Ridge, far from the main strip of Middle Eastern eateries and shops on 5th Avenue further north. For this crowd, they also make bacon egg and cheese sandwiches and burgers, neither of which were sampled.

Tic-Tac-Toe Bakery & More Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

15 March 2018

Xcape Cafe


I have wanted to enjoy Xcape Cafe in all its glory forever, but always seem to be wandering by when the sporting schedule is light. This Newark restaurant and sports bar is known as the place to go for Brazilian Serie A or other professional cups from this South American country that supplies the neighborhood with much of its population. There is futebol on every TV, with various broadcasts in Portuguese coming in from Brazil. This meal took place on a recent weekend when the city cups of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo were in full swing, and the restaurant was packed with hungry folks cheering on their favorite club from back home.

The owner must be a fan of CR Vasco da Gama, a team from Rio that has their scarf front and center over the bar. Above that are the national team scarves of Portugal, the United States, and Brazil, covering about 95% of people that might wander in here.

When dining here with a friend or in a group, it will be difficult to avoid a plate of their delicious salgadinhos (below), an assortment of fried goodies famous in Brazilian bakeries. The assortment provided here is top notch.

Besides the lengthy normal menu, there is a page of specials that is printed exclusively for each day. Many of the items repeat during the week, but this is where you will find some of the most interesting options. Each plate will feed two people or provide plenty of leftovers, so the $15-20 price points are really economical for what is offered.

The $18 mixed grill (below) was on the special menu on the night of this visit, a plate of various churrasco, all seasoned to perfection. It led a dining companion to exclaim it was the best meal he had eaten in 2018 so far.

The feijão tropeiro ($16.50, below) sounded delectable and was translated on the menu as "western style." It combines traditional meatless feijão with bits of sausage, chicharrón, and bacon, a protein-heavy meal originally designed for cattlemen. You also have the option to add a grilled pork chop to the top of this, seen below.

They serve a spicy sauce when your dishes arrive, and this fiery stuff is great to lace your beans with. A closer look shows bits of egg and farofa, or toasted cassava flour.

The all-female staff here sort of falls into the Latinx stereotype for a sports bar for men, but the restaurant is full of women and families, and everyone is so friendly. With a good match to watch, their full bar will get a good workout and makes this place one of the best to come in the neighborhood when some are limited by New Jersey's strict liquor licensing.

Xcape Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

14 March 2018

Wadadli Style Bakery & Restaurant


In recent years, the Antiguan family that runs this Jersey City shop has been back home, giving the reins to others who were cooking a similar menu. Within the past few months, they have returned, taken down the signage with its temporary name, and returned the restaurant to Wadadli Style Bakery & Restaurant.

The word "Wadadli" is another name that is sometimes used for the island of Antigua and is generally accepted as the former name before colonization. The restaurant has a newly printed menu which puts their first founding at 2001, and a new awning should be showing up soon.

With a name like Wadadli Style, they do not disappoint with traditional Antiguan fare. Open Tuesday through Saturday, they have a different daily lunch special that focuses on these foods with Antiguan seasoned rice, bull foot soup, pepper pot, ducana, and fungi, amongst other things.

The first time I was able to have a meal here was 3:30 in the afternoon on a Thursday, the day of pepper pot. Unfortunately this is not an ideal time to come any day, and the daily special had long been sold out. Their normal Caribbean go to dishes are all solid though, a small plate of stewed chicken ($8, above) hit the spot. Any lunch or dinner order comes with rice and peas, macaroni, and steamed cabbage. It is difficult to imagine what a "large" order is if this is a "small."

The homemade patties here are unbelievably good. Both the chicken ($2.50, above) and the beef ($2.50, not shown) are excellent, full of spice and so flaky on the outside.

The restaurant also makes homemade juices like passion fruit, sorrel, and sea moss for $3/each, all of which were tasty. Sea moss is apparently an "enhancer," if you were feeling less than yourself any certain day.

The fish ($14, above) is a whole red snapper first fried and then stewed, served with the same sides. I enjoyed this on a Tuesday, and unfortunately because of the snow they had decided not to do the daily special of seasoned rice, which is like a Caribbean version of biryani, meat and all.

If you have never tried it, aim for the ducana on Friday, a sweet potato dumpling of sorts that is cooked similar to a tamal, except inside of banana leaves.

If you do not feel like walking, the 87 bus from Journal Square drops you off right in front of Wadadli Style. See you there!

475 Martin Luther King, Jr Drive
Wadadi Style Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

12 March 2018

Kathmandu Fusion Kitchen


In a different part of town, or possibly with a different cuisine, the words "Fusion Kitchen" would be enough to send a savvy eater running for the hills. Here on 61st Street in Woodside, not far removed from the epicenter of the Himalayan community, these words follow the capital of Nepal and are not quite as scary. An inspection of the menu shows a couple Japanese and Indian items are the reason for this "fusion," but a page of interesting Newa-style Nepali foods was cause for excitement.

Kathmandu and the surrounding valley is the only place in Nepal that has access to an abundance of produce from fertile soils, and this usually translates to the Newa (or Newari) foods being the most diverse and tasty. Many of the restaurants in Jackson Heights serve some Newa-style foods, but the list here includes dishes never seen before on these pages.

The group's ordering strategy was a bit different than usual on this night thanks to the addition of a vegetarian friend, but in Kathmandu this really requires no sacrifice. The first dish to arrive was the vegetarian samaya bajee ($9.95, above), a dish of distinct Newa significance. It is a ceremonial pla eaten during family gatherings or auspicious occasions. The centerpiece of this is bajee (usually transliterated as baji), the flattened beaten rice that is mixed with all the exciting flavors and textures. The spicy pickles were so good that more had to be requested.

Vegetarian momos ($6.95, below) are usually just as good as their meaty friends, so of course a plate of these showed up.

And of course, when in Queens, it is best to have a restaurant dump soup on your momos as well, so make sure to get those jhol momos ($6.95, below).

Another plate not seen before by these eyes was a thali called the Nepali dhido ($11.95, below, usually dhindo), replacing the usual meat choice with a pounded millet flour. The lovely woman who took care of the table throughout the night said that this meal was eaten by people in the highest altitudes to give them the most energy.

The millet flour "dough" was chocolatey in color and fairly dense. Take pieces of it to roll a small ball for dipping in soup or dahl before eating.

Ordered a bit as more filler, the chili paneer ($7.95, below) was actually quite good. The table was surprised at how well the paneer had been made.

For the meat eaters, a few more interesting dishes dot the Nepali portion of the menu and should be considered, starting with goat sekuwa ($10.95, below). These boneless chunks of goat have been marinated then roasted over fire until very tough. It has a high heat level and is very delicious.

Typically in Nepal, choila (often chhwela) is a Newa dish eaten with buffalo meat. In Queens this type is not available so we compromised with beef. When told they were out of beef, chicken was the last resort and this chicken choila ($7.95, below) was unfortunately the least interesting plate that arrived.

If they do have beef (or add buffalo to the menu), try this one out.

The woman referred to hyakula ($11.95, below) as "lamb roast" and seemed happy that it was selected, but warned that it did take 20 minutes to prepare. These lamb ribs are served on the bone and exquisitely fatty. Squeeze a bit of lime if it is too much for you. It is the type of dish people look around the table at each other while chewing and nod.

The general feeling of everyone was very good after this meal. Spirits were high, and wallets were not much lighter. There is a lot of good Himalayan food around, but Kathmandu Fusion Kitchen is definitely worth putting up there in this conversation. It is also a bonus to try new dishes for those that want to put together a group and eat more than momos and thalis.

Kathmandu Fusion Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato