>> Eat the World NYC

19 September 2018

U Yuri Fergana


This article originally appeared in the 20 September 2018 issue of The Queens Tribune:

Among the community of food lovers around town, nicknames catchily adding “-stan” to Rego Park and its neighbors to denote some sort of Central Asian hotspot are common, but poorly represent the people and history of the area. Central Asian peoples of all varieties have been coming to New York City for many decades, but Rego Park and Forest Hills have seen mostly Bukharian Jewish immigration, and together currently serve as home to 50,000 of the estimated 70,000 Bukharian Jews in the United States. Many of those immigrants came via Israel, the only country that still has a larger Bukharian population today.

These people originated in the Emirate of Bukhara, in what is modern-day Uzbekistan. Virtually no Bukharian Jews remain in the emirate’s former capital of Bukhara. As times changed and politics followed, persecution resulted in a mass evacuation.

Religion has always played a big part in the lives of Bukharian people, so naturally their restaurants offer kosher cuisine. Even the less-religious among the restaurant owners will make sure that their foods are up to kosher standards so as not to alienate any of their potential customers in this part of Queens. Since Uzbek cuisine is normally halal, you will not notice a huge difference without looking hard, though sometimes the menus in Brooklyn will have shrimp and other shellfish or even pork.

U Yuri Fergana is a kosher Uzbek establishment named for the owner, Yuri Moshev, and his home city of Fergana in Uzbekistan. The kitchen at “Yuri from Fergana” is led by his wife Myra, also from Fergana, while their son Ben has become part of the business as well after a successful career as an East Village barber. Ben’s former customers have learned about the change through his Instagram, sometimes wondering where they will get their next haircut.

Quail plov. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Now Ben can be found with his parents among the gold, glitz and glitter of U Yuri Fergana’s interior, a far cry from the typical city barber shop. This over-the-top opulence is common in Russian-owned restaurants throughout the five boroughs, but what sets the place apart is its access to the family-owned livestock processing facility in Flushing. Both the restaurant and the processing facility opened at the same time two years ago, ensuring that the meats that are served on tables in the restaurant are always as fresh as possible. The business is successful and popular enough in the neighborhood that the family will soon be opening a nearby banquet hall for larger events accommodating up to 140 people, offering many of the same foods on a special-event menu.

Quail plov. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

The quail plov (above), somewhat of a specialty of the house, and other “family style” dishes need to be prepared for large groups; if you’re coming on a slow night, you might even have to call ahead to make sure it’s available. Freshly laid quail eggs surround the luscious oily rice and tender whole quails stacked on top. Orders of plov should be accompanied by a fresh tomato or carrot salad, but benefit as well from the addition of colorful Israeli and eggplant salads to help cut through the fat. Ben told me that “without the salads, the plov is nothing.” Indeed, going back and forth between these textures and tastes is essential to making a large dent in the heavy plov.

Lagman. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

House-made noodles in the lagman (above) are also of note here: long, thick tentacles that make you wonder if every bowl is just one extruded piece constantly slipping off your spoon. The deep, rich, reddish-brown soup is full of hunks of meat, vegetables and dill, and could stand as a meal on its own. Other starters like samsa are expertly baked in the tandoor oven. These famous Central Asian triangular pastries are full of juicy lamb and served piping hot. If your group is large enough, both steamed manti dumplings and fried dumplings that come in crispy bite-size balls are well worth ordering.

Shish kebabs. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

No Uzbek or Central Asian meal is complete without a plate full of shish kebabs (above and below), especially here, where all the meats have just been freshly prepared. Available options run the gamut of different animals and cuts: Chicken hearts and veal livers go well with ground-beef lula kebabs, lamb ribs and chops. Surprisingly, the quail kebabs were the most disappointing on the night, not as flavorful and tender as the ones cooked for plov.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Like most establishments around town that serve the cuisines of lands within the former Soviet Union, U Yuri Fergana is BYOB. You will see other tables take full advantage of this with multiple bottles of wine to accompany the meal, while vodkas and brandies are used to make toasts and wash down fatty courses. Though you will see parties of two come here to eat and chat, the full spirit of the place really comes alive in the evening, when families and friends come in large numbers and get loud. This is also when access to the family-style dishes becomes available and the kitchen can be fully appreciated. Connections to Bukhara and a nomadic history beginning in present-day Uzbekistan are easily imagined.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of customers converse in Russian, non-Russian speakers should not be discouraged from coming here to enjoy the food and atmosphere. Music videos play constantly, cycling between Russian, Uzbek and Persian—the volume rising in tandem with that of cheerful customers. Stare one too many times at the toasting tables next to yours and shots will start being offered. There is plenty of good spirit, and spirits, to go around.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

U Yuri Fergana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

16 September 2018

Chuan Tian Xia


A little over a month old, Chuan Tian Xia is off to a flying start. The two level dining room is constantly full during the evenings as Sunset Park's residents have been hungry for good Sichuan food for a long time. So far, it seems like feedback has been exclusively positive, and our dinner only validates this completely.

There is something of a new generation of Chinese restaurateurs in New York City, the monied generation investing in new businesses. While many fall flat, a select few are standing out like this one, an unassuming corner joint on the less trafficked avenue of Brooklyn's Chinatown.

The name, like most things being translated from Chinese, is a bit less meaningful than the original. On the receipt, the simple version just says "Chuan World," the first word just a short version of Sichuan. "Tian Xia" means something like "everything under heaven," so finding the real meaning of the restaurant's name is probably somewhere in between the simple and the spiritual. Dine here though, and you will find yourself thinking more towards the latter.

Some scenes from a wonderful Friday night meal, shown in the order they arrived at the table:

Pork with garlic sauce $9.99

Pickled chicken legs $6.99

Chengdu cold noodle $6.99

Chengdu dragon reading hands $5.99

Sour soup with fat beef slices $21.99

Yam fungus $12.99

Griddle cauliflower $11.99

Potato floss $10.99

Grouper, grilled on the table $39.99

Mapo tofu $9.99

Chuan Tian Xia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13 September 2018

Tierras Centro Americanas

Central American Independence. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

This article originally appeared in the 13 September 2018 issue of The Queens Tribune.

When I first sampled the thick stews of Guatemala at this location almost 15 years ago, I could never have known how finding them in restaurants could be so elusive. So rare in fact that later that year on a trip through Central America, I found myself constantly hearing “Ese es un plato que solo comemos en casa” in restaurants throughout Guatemala.

“We only eat those foods at home.”

The wildly enjoyable joc贸n and hilachas at what then was called “La Xelaj煤” are almost unheard of in restaurants in the New York City area. Only one other time had I found a rendition of hilachas across the Hudson River, but this only made the yearning more fierce as it seemed no love had been put into the plate at that restaurant.

Thankfully for over 20 years the specials here at what is now Tierras Centro Americanas have stayed wonderfully steady despite one change of hands. Current owner and chef Maria Escobar took over in 2006 and employed its former chef for two years to pass down the Guatemalan recipes she was less familiar with. Hailing from El Salvador but living in New York City since the early 1980’s, Ms. Escobar decided the menu should keep its focus on an integrated cuisine that represented both countries and also catered to Hondurans in the area. This recipe for success and a commitment to quality have led to a consistency that is quite rare in restaurants. In over two dozen visits I do not remember an off day from this kitchen.

Joc贸n. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Around the corner from Hillside Avenue and hidden from the busy thoroughfare, this Jamaica mainstay is very much unhidden to its Central American regulars. Not much else has changed since those first visits besides fresh coats of white and light blue paint to represent the many flags of Central America and probably some new handicrafts for the walls. Over time what was originally $10 on the menu may have been crossed out and have $11 hand-written instead.

Primarily used for the storage of menus and drinks, the room you enter from 168th Street also has a couple chairs for waiting takeout customers and you can peek into the small kitchen and catch glimpses of the chef in action. As you take your seat in the dining room, the only access to the kitchen is audible, where during slower mid-afternoon times you can almost hear every rattle and clink of your meal being prepared.

Big hearty plates are served to couples, solo diners looking weary after long days of work, and groups of men who come in and enjoy a table full of Coronas or Cerveza Gallo, Guatemala’s biggest beer which goes by the name “Famosa” in the states. The joc贸n (above) comes in a large bowl accompanied like most Guatemalan dishes with thick homemade corn tortillas. The dish has its roots in Mayan culture and cuisine, still very prevalent in Guatemala more than any other place. Tomatillos have been discovered to be a very important ingredient of this ancient civilization and they have a heavy influence in the stew. In addition the wonderful green is created by adding cilantro, green peppers, and jalape帽os. Toasted pumpkin seeds called pepitos, garlic, and onions provide the rest of the palate.

Salpic贸n. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Take caution with the tortillas which are not only piping hot but have a quick way of filling the belly. Put them close to your nose and enjoy the wonderful smell once they cool down, but save room for hilachas, a shredded beef stew made with a base of ripe tomatoes, and salpic贸n (above), a pan-Central American beef salad served cold with chopped onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and non-spicy peppers. Another typically Guatemalan dish is revolcado, which can be prepared in many ways but always involves the interior parts of the animal involved in its preparation. Here the brief English menu description is “chopped cow heart and pork in homemade brown sauce,” but without knowing the cuts could be mistaken for tender beef. In addition to these more intricate dishes, the workaday meals found on Guatemalan lunch menus daily like pepi谩n, another meat stew with Mayan heritage, and garnachas, an appetizer similar to Mexican tostadas consisting of a fried tortilla topped with meat, onions, and tomato sauce.

Pupusas revueltas. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Many of the other tables you see will be Salvadoran people ordering stacks of Ms. Escobar’s excellent pupusas (above), perhaps the most recognizable symbol of that country’s cuisine but eaten by more than just Guanacos. Groups of men devouring them might ask for the lone TV to be switched over to La Liga matches, but usually a talk show or drama will be on in competition with the jukebox if someone puts on a song. At the back with the jukebox is the most prominent work in the restaurant, a handmade mural celebrating September 15th, 1821, the day El Salvador and Guatemala, along with Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica all became independent from Spain. For hundreds of years the histories and cuisines of these nations have been tied together, and often this translates in New York City into restaurants like this that can satisfy the cravings of each of these peoples.

You will still find the name “Xelaj煤” on the menu, an ode to the roots of the restaurant and its food. This Mayan word derived from the phrase “under ten mountains” and used to be the name of what now goes by Quetzaltenango in the highlands of Guatemala. In New York City, Tierras Centro Americanas is the fastest way to get to “Xela,” the nickname residents still use for their city.

The previous Eat the World NYC article from 14 August 2009 can be found here:

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.


11 September 2018

Mrahib Restaurant

YEMEN 馃嚲馃嚜

Mandi, a dish from the nations of the Arabian Peninsula originating in Yemen is sort of a rarity in town. Yemeni menus often do not have it, but we did see it once on an Emirati menu in Floral Park. A new spot in Bay Ridge that took over the space after King Tut Pie closed features mandi made from either chicken ($9.99, below) or lamb, both tender and delicious.

The name of the dish actually derives from the appropriate juiciness of the meat, so even hunks of white meat chicken are miraculously moist.

Mrahib Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

08 September 2018

Meet Rice


The "rice" in the name refers to the style of noodle eaten in Yunnan Province. These rice noodles are having their moment in New York City, with the famous "Crossing the Bridge Noodles" dish leading the way.

A full set of toppings is brought out individually to be combined in the hot soup at the table. The history is debated, but the deliciousness is not. Scroll down for a few rice noodle options and one rice dish.

Tomato & beef rice noodle.

Spare rib noodle.

Pork with rice noodle.

Sliced pork with dried tofu.

Pickled cucumber.

Steamed dumplings.

Meet Rice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

26 August 2018

Meet Noodles (閲嶅簡灏忛潰)


For the first time in memory, Sichuan restaurants seem to be popping up with more frequency in Sunset Park. With only two people on this day, it made more sense to visit the four month old noodle shop first. The menu here is succinct and focused on a list of different types of Chongqing-style xiao mian, long wheat flour noodles popular in the region.

The flagship bowl of Chong Qing noodles ($7.75, above and below) is beautiful and vibrant, loaded with ground beef and tendon and topped with peanuts.

A closer look.

For those in the mood for bowls without spice, Kim's beef noodles ($7.95, above and below) is a good option. Thin-cut strips are the highlight, and if this is the route you choose it is possible to ask for some spicy sauce on the side.

Both bowls have good meats but suffer from their other ingredients, which are not as light and fresh as they could be.

This meal was supplemented with roast duck buns ($6.25, below).

Meet Noodles 閲嶅簡灏忛潰 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato