>> Eat the World New York City

20 March 2017

La Carreta Restaurant


While Ecuadorian restaurants are a dime a dozen in Jackson Heights and Corona, Queens, the situation in Sunset Park, Brooklyn is a little more scarce. That being said, the options are top notch. In November, Mi Castillo Ecuatoriano was featured here, and now seven streets down 4th Avenue is La Carreta.

The space seems small, but is actually divided between three storefronts. The kitchen is off the main dining room, which has seven tables, while an adjacent room provides a handful more. An active jukebox divides the two rooms and competes with the TV which is tuned loudly to talk shows during the afternoon.

The walls are painted the color of a pool or possibly tropical waters. The restaurant serves beer and wine but the space does not quite set itself up for drinking. It does however serve an unbeatable lunch deal, which many people from the neighborhood come in for on a daily basis.

Go for the caldo de bola ($12, below), probably the best version in the borough. The bola, or ball, is plantain mash around ground beef, egg, and vegetables. This can be eaten on its own or sliced open to seep into the rest of the stew, rich and brown. Also find more meat, potatoes, yuca, and a wedge of corn still on the cob.

Seafood dishes here do not have the gusto that they did at Mi Castillo, so we recommend going there if you are in the mood for creatures not from the land.

An humita ($2.50, below), is Ecuador's answer to the tamal game.

Usually more simple, humitas often contain just cheese within the ground corn. The dish, despite being an appetizer, tastes quite sweet because of the corn and is very enjoyable. The last layer of corn husk is left on here after steaming, holding it all in one piece. In an Ecuadorian kitchen, you will often see a pot that has been especially designed for steaming humitas.

A plate of seco de chivo ($12, below) is also satisfying, a rich red stew of goat. Lean and fatty chunks are given and pair well with spoons of yellow rice. Try the homemade salsa with some of those bites.

The salsa is given with a freshly toasted loaf of bread before each meal. It is hard not to dive in and fill yourself before main courses start arriving.

Grab a glass of jugo de maracuya ($3.50) to wash everything down. They blend a whole array of juices and shakes fresh to order.

La Carreta Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13 March 2017

Together Burmese Food


In the span of one week, our city has been blessed with a new grocery store with products from Myanmar, and now a brand new restaurant. Near the Bay Parkway N station in Bensonhurst lives a new Burmese restaurant named Together. Chef owner Myint, known as Oscar, used to have a small stand inside of a grocery on Avenue U in Gravesend, where he made wonderful Burmese soups and curries. Thankfully he has resurfaced, hopefully for good.

There are not too many Burmese people in the neighborhood, or the city in general, so Myint has decided to put sushi on the menu as well as basic westernized Japanese to cater to the potential customers that may find his home country's food too exotic. But for those of us that love Burmese food and everything Myanmar, first impressions are very good.

On all three of my visits to the restaurant which opened Friday, I saw Burmese people that seemed to know Myint already. A smattering of locals seemed to wander in as well, mostly checking out the sushi rolls.

Don't follow their lead, follow the Burmese, and order from the first page.

Early in the morning in Myanmar, you will find steaming pots of soup ready for people going off to work. The most famous of these, mohinga ($5.99, above), is excellent here. The broth of mohinga is made from catfish, but the dish never seems fishy. The rice noodles instead grab their flavors from lemongrass, ginger, onions, and garlic, as well as many spices. This version has a nice kick to it, and wants a good squirt of lime. Crispy fritters and parsley adorn the top.

Also good is the ohnnotkhauswe ($5.99, below), a curried coconut milk soup with chicken and thick wheat noodles. This soup is more sweet from the coconut than spicy, its comfort level very high like Chiang Mai's khao soys or Malaysia's laksas. The restaurant is open at 9am daily, so enjoying these traditional breakfast soups is possible, but they are served all day if you come for lunch or dinner.

On one of my visits, I was given a nice side of mudfish sauce with fresh vegetables (below).

When morning turns to noon and the sun is high in Myanmar, people start eating salads of vegetables, fruits, and noodles. These dishes are served at room (or outdoor) temperatures, ingredients mixed together by vendors selling them on their front porches or roadside.

One of my favorites, especially in Shan State, was kha yann gyin thee thoke ($6.99, below). In this area of the country, many of the fruits and vegetables taste like magic, including the tomatoes. These magic tomatoes are the main ingredient in this salad which also includes peanuts, onions, garlic, lime juice, and fish sauce. In New York City our tomatoes are not magic, but this dish still exceeds expectations.

Similar preparation is made for the tha yet thee thoke ($6.99, below), a salad with sweet mango and crispy fried garlic. This is also served with white rice, which works well with the sweetness of the mango and peanut sauce. Recommended.

The thin baw thee thoke ($6.99, below) uses green papaya and less sweet peanut sauce. Mixing in a good portion of the dried chili flakes makes for a good flavor combination.

In addition to these, there are many "salads" made from noodles in Myanmar. Often on the street a vendor can make the dish as a salad or a soup by adding broth, but it was almost without exception that the salads were better and more flavorful. One of these is the Mandalay nan gyi thoke ($5.99, below), a dish of thick rice noodles and chicken curry.

While that was indeed delicious, even better is the si jet ($5.99, below), egg noodles with chicken and dried garlic. On all three visits, Burmese people seemed to be ordering this more than anything else.

Sitting down in formal restaurants in Myanmar is still casual, but the dining experience is quite different. An order of curry will bring many dishes to the table, the small dish of curry itself and many fresh vegetables, herbs, and other tasty things to add, making each bite a different taste. There will be small dried salty fish, a plate of rice, and a little bowl of simple chicken broth to cleanse the palate. Curries are also served at room temperature, something I constantly saw foreigners getting weird about. They also have plenty of greasiness in the bowl, which mixes perfectly with bites of rice but may not align with some tastes.

The curries at Together are also excellent. The chicken, pork belly, and beef curries are all shown below:

After a full meal, Together does not disappoint with dessert either. Try the shwe yin aye ($3.99, below), a bowl full of coconut jelly, tapioca, and sticky rice in cold coconut milk. The slices of white bread on top were discarded by our group, who found the real interest in the other bits underneath.

OK, New York City. Our man Myint is here. Go give his restaurant a call and make sure it lasts. Burmese food should really have a place here in our city, and the renditions here are worthy of a lot of praise.

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

El-Omda Restaurant


The block of Astoria's Steinway Street between 28th Avenue and Astoria Boulevard is often rightly called "Little Egypt" because of its concentration of Egyptian restaurants and hookah lounges. A few restaurants there are now part of a well-trodden tourist trail, having received sweeping and almost unanimous praise. For an alternative to this, a few blocks west on 28th Avenue is a quiet spot that sits out of the limelight. This however seems to be fine with them. El-Omda, with a spacious room and about 12 two top tables, is a great place to bring a big group. It even has an area with cushions in the back for sitting on the floor while eating. This seems to be well-suited for hookah, although I did not see any and the smells here do not indicate that this is practiced.

The decor is reminiscent of a residential interior, the odd color combinations of old highrise building hallways. The dining area is extremely well lit with a dozen or so tin lamps that you see across Northern Africa but most prominently in Morocco. The TV is tuned to a drama or Egyptian music videos, and might need to be turned down a bit as I think the chef is trying to listen from the kitchen.

Order a pot of their very strong tea, served with a side cup of mint leaves. The intensity of bitterness is high, and even people who normally do not sweeten their tea are most likely going to do just that. The sweet mint creation is superb.

The cooking here is described as "authentic home style Egyptian" and seems to focus more on ground animals than seafood. The owner immigrated to the United States in 1980 and started immediately in the restaurant business, working his way up the ranks until ultimately opening up a place of his own serving the cuisine of his homeland.

We briefly caught glimpses of the chef as she was preparing our large meal. At first we mistook our server for her daughter, but she laughed this off when we asked.

Baskets of puffy Egyptian bread (baladi) and a salad of cucumber, tomato, and parsley comes to the table with any order.

Our excitement was kickstarted with the arrival of the falafel ($5, below), which here is made from fava beans. This difference in taste is very interesting, and the little balls also hint of cumin and garlic. A small cup of hummus is served with the dish.

The missaha ($6, below) was a favorite, a cold eggplant and pepper appetizer. The flavors are full, and this is the only dish the table had that was spicy.

Never miss a chance to enjoy ful medames ($5, below), listed as "fava beans" on one of the menus. Break off pieces of baladi to scoop up this "dip." Besides fava beans, there are oils, cumin, garlic, onion, lemon juice, and hints of chili pepper.

Makaroni bshamil ($8, below) is a pasta dish (using penne, not macaroni) and a bechamel sauce, wildly popular in Egypt. Underneath the creamy white sauce are layers of pasta and ground beef, while the whole dish is baked. It becomes a very nice comfort food for winter.

In the mid-1800's, Egypt was doing quite well economically and even the cabinets of the lowest classes of people were filled with various ingredients from various places. Koshary ($8, below), became a way to use all of these ingredients in one dish, and is now as popular in Egypt as anything else we associate with Egyptian cuisine.

With a bed of rice, lentils, chickpeas, and macaroni pasta, it is topped with a tomato sauce and fried onions, perfect for the vegans in your group. Roadside stalls serving only versions of this dish are very common in Egypt, but you can also find it on menus in more formal restaurants.

With so much excitement before main dishes came out, it was almost easy to forget about them. The lamb chops ($20, below) quickly reminded us though, the tender pieces were great. The five small chops are served simply with a half moon of rice, no sauces or extras needed. Foil is placed on each piece for easy holding, no fork and knife formalness necessary.

At different times, two members of the table expressed excitement over the rabbit ($20, below), so it was also ordered. Rabbits not served in stews tend to be dry, but this one transcends this quality and is quite delicious.

The marinade seems to be baked on, the skin takes a slightly hard character. With bites of rice and the mulukhiyah soup (in the background of makaroni bshamil photo), there is nothing missing.

Unfortunately, no one had room for dessert.

El-Omda Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

11 March 2017

Little Myanmar Mini Mart


This website gave up most writeups on grocery stores quite a few years back, but a new and exciting one has opened in a tiny space in Jackson Heights. Exciting mainly because Myanma foods are my favorite in the world, and the city is almost devoid of them.

Little Myanmar Mini Mart has just opened up within the last week, and has found a tiny home inside of the small mall that is famous for its tenant Lhasa Fast Food, a small Tibetan restaurant at the back of the first floor. Instead of turning right after the phone shop, turn left and follow signs for the mini mart. There you will find proprietor Thidar Kyaw and her brand new shop. Originally from Yangon, Ms. Kyaw is now importing some of the crucial ingredients for Myanma cooking, as well as packaged goods like instant noodles and tea leaf salad, probably Myanmar's most famous dish.

Last year, we had a friend import some packaged tea leaf salad from the Thai border near Myanmar where she lives. This proved to be excellent, and finding it again has been a major goal. At Little Myanmar, they carry Yoma Myanmar brand for $3.99, which proves to be quite a big portion.

The package contains two portions, which you can separate or combine into one large serving. All the crunchy bits come in one package, while the fermented green tea leaves are in another.

We enjoyed versions in Myanmar that combined fresh tomatoes, so we cut some up and threw them in as well. The mixture is surprisingly thorough, with all the crunchy components and nuts that I remember.

I did not notice a choice at the shop, but after putting it all together, this is a very spicy mixture. The package indeed says "spicy" right on the front, reminding me of the vendors who would encourage multiple chilis during preparation. In Myanmar when you order everything is combined fresh and you can decide your spice level.

While not as good as the other brand, the Yoma Myanmar version is still a good representation of the dish, and thoroughly satisfying. Anyone with positive feelings about this beautiful Myanma dish will be happy with this product.

Also purchased during the visit were packages of Myanmar black tea and fruit jam, which is eaten as a dessert.

We wish all the best to Ms. Kyaw and her new shop. Thank you for the efforts to bring the foods of your country to New York City.

09 March 2017

Barbajuans, the national dish of Monaco

Before I had the chance to try these specialties at Monte-Carlo, what seemed to be a fitting place to eat the national dish of Monaco, the Upper East Side French restaurant promptly shut down. Luckily there was at least one other place in the city to track down barbajuans, at a modern French brasserie called Maison Hugo.

Barbajuan means "Uncle John" in Monégasque, a dialect of Italian spoken in Northern Italy and Monaco. These small fritters can also be found on other parts of the French Riviera and Northern Italy, but call their birthplace the Principality of Monaco.

Generally the small fried square appetizers are filled with Swiss chard and ricotta, and may contain spinach, onions, other cheeses, olive oil, and egg whites. It is similar to ravioli, or if you are from the United States, to Totino's Pizza Rolls, every college student's main dietary component.

Between jobs, I had these as a snack at Maison Hugo, pictured below. During lunch they are $10, but they ended up charging me the dinner price of $12. It is possible you may happen upon these on another menu around town. If so, please give us a shout so we can add the listing and try another version.

Maison Hugo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

08 March 2017

Zaiqa Restaurant


When asked what zaiqa meant, the proprietor held his fingers to his lips and said "taste." This can presumably be altered slightly to "tasty" and upon further investigation seems to be the name of quite a few Pakistani restaurants around the world. This Urdu word must have a strong meaning to speakers of the language.

Fairly new Zaiqa Restaurant sits on Bath Avenue in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, near the end of the city and home to a small community of Pakistanis. Across the street is Masjid Noor ul Quran, which has constructed 2-dimensional minarets on its awning and converted from a normal Brooklyn storefront into a mosque. The casual space of the restaurant would lend itself well to post-prayer meals. There is nothing in the decor to set it apart from other South Asian steam tables, but the food is bringing a level of excitement on its own.

On a first visit in the morning at 10:45, the steam table was not quite set up but everything seemed to be available through the kitchen. Zaiqa is open 24 hours, surely for the taxi drivers and other laborers that call Bath Beach home and get back at all hours.

On that visit, an order of haleem ($6, above) was made, with a piece of very fresh naan ($1, below) to scoop it up. The fact that the restaurant was quiet and not really set up for lunch did not seem to matter in the quality and freshness of the foods.

The haleem does not attack the tips of your tongue and lips, but rather works on a slow burn as you progress. It comes after you slowly with a very satisfying layer of spice within the complex flavors. The bulk of the volume and color comes from a mixture of lentil, wheat, and barley, while the meats have been cooking for many hours.

On a second visit, the plate below came to $7. Two dishes were asked to be split and served with rice, and came to just about the right amount of food for lunch. The yellow-ish portion of kadhi pakora on the right was the winner of the meal, a dish combining sour and richness. Kadhi is a type of yogurt curry, thick in texture, while pakora is the vegetable fritter most people are familiar with that is soaked inside in this rendition. On the menu here, they call it "karri pakora."

The spinach dish is less outstanding, with more mild flavors. Do watch out for the large chili pepper that looks a lot like a Sichuan peppercorn buried within.

The vegetable samosa ($1, below) is filled mostly with potato, and also standard. Each time you sit down here they bring an excellent mint chutney that is best used with these samosas, but also makes for spicier bites of rice.

The restaurant has a sweets case which unfortunately went untested. An attached party hall also offers the area a great communal space serving halal foods for special occasions. It would not be a surprise if Zaiqa was around for a long time.

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