>> Eat the World New York City

30 November 2016

Lahori Chilli

PAKISTAN

You have to admit it, that chili pepper in a chef's hat is pretty handsome. If this place became a chain, ascribing human form to that green chili, in the form of song and dance, is going to become great fun.

In the more near future though, are the purveyors here bragging with anthropomorphism about spice levels of their cuisine specifically, or Pakistani food in general? After five dishes, I can attest to a certain heat level running through each plate. Not the type of heat that burns your lips upon impact, but the kind you feel creeping up after a few bites and all the way until you finish the last morsel. It hangs around and causes you to pour yourself an extra two or three cups of water. It is a good feeling.


The first visit here was solo, but determined to eat more than one item, a split order was asked for. The above dishes, ground chicken, lamb curry, a piece of naan, and an unseen cup of milk tea came to the princely sum of $10.

Stacks of naan are constantly coming from the kitchen in the back, fresh and hot. Takeout orders here on Coney Island Avenue are constant, as taxi drivers stream in at all times. The restaurant is open 24 hours a day, and I would not be surprised to see bustle here at 3 or 4 in the morning when shifts were ending and men went home.

I have only traveled to East Pakistan, but the feelings of being welcome were strong here just as there. This restaurant is set up for people that know the food, but they seem genuinely pleased to slow down and explain the options to someone like myself that might need to ask a few questions. On a second visit I was not alone, and the two of us were treated with even more care by the staff members that seemed to recognize me from the first meal. I am certainly not fussy about service, but this feeling of warmth was palpable, and special.


On that second visit, we asked for a split portion of chicken tikka ($3, above), some of the most moist and juicy versions I have ever seen. Each meal will also include a small bowl of yogurt chutney with cilantro and mint that pairs well with the chicken.

Whenever I am in the mood for naan lately as I was before this meal, I also tend to think about haleem ($6, below), the dish of lentils and grains and always so full of spices. The "stew" here is made with chicken, and the puffy warm pieces of naan pick it up perfectly.


Heat levels rise even further with the goat curry ($5, below), a spicy, oily, tender dish. The perfect brown and red visuals in the pan made it an easy order on this chilly afternoon.


Having put much of the order in containers to go after thoroughly stuffing ourselves, the very kind woman in charge of the dining room brought us a small bowl of dessert with two spoons and a terrific smile. The light green half was our favorite, a pistachio flavored custard with very mild sweetness.


There are so many South Asian steam table restaurants in this area of Coney Island Avenue that it may be hard to select one. I initially chose this because of the good crowd gathered in the front making orders and the parked cabs outside, and after two visits have only confirmed this initial impression with two very good meals. But on top of a very happy belly, the overall good-hearted nature of the spot stands out and makes it a worthy place to come for a meal at anytime of day or night.

Lahori Chilli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

24 November 2016

Las Llaves de Chile

CHILE

When you get past the tasty sandwiches, empanadas, and hot dogs, Chilean food is usually difficult to love for those of worldly tastes and complex palates. The meals I have had, even during two trips to the country, were mainly bland and disappointing. In Santiago, the food scene is decent, but most points north and south seem to have severe taste shortages.

Las Llaves de Chile looks to change these perceptions in the far northeast corner of Corona, Queens. Just off of Northern Boulevard, a whole array of baked goods and desserts greets patrons as they enter the restaurant. The woman who runs the show here proudly explained that it was all made in house.

Before orders start arriving, an oversized homemade hallulla (below) is dropped for the hungriest amongst the group.


To make sure the table saw edible food come out, we stuck to the well worn classics of Chilean cuisine, starting with an empanada de pino ($4, below). These large vessels come both sweet and savory, with a taste very distinct from any other. The savory beef and onion mixture also has a black olive and hard boiled egg, while the sweetness is added by raisins.


The most well-known item from Chile might be the completo ($4, below), a hot dog topped with tomato, avocado, sauerkraut (there has been a lot of German immigration to Chile decades ago), and mayo. While this certainly qualifies for a guilty pleasure, don't knock it until you try it.


My last pastel de choclo ($13, below) in West New York, NJ was very disappointing, but as it is almost considered a national dish, it was a must order. Thankfully it is delicious here, and immediately made us even more excited about the rest of the meal.


Hidden beneath a burnt and crispy (in a good way) top layer is a savory corn and chicken casserole that also includes onions, raisins, and olives. The meat has all been taken off the bone, making this very easy to eat. Like the empanada, it combines elements of sweet and savory. Without the meat, it could almost be eaten as a dessert.

Recommended to us from some Chileans that had already dined here was the paila marina ($15, below), a seafood soup that comes with mussels ringing the edge. Within the great fishy broth are also clams, shrimp, scallops, and a couple filets of fish at the bottom. Squirt some lemon as desired and enjoy, this was definitely a favorite.


Rounding out the main courses for the evening was the costillar de cerdo al horno ($15, below), baked pork spare ribs that say "spectacular!!!" on the menu. Removing the meat can almost be done with wind, as the bones slip right off. The seasonings and crispy skin make for a really enjoyable plate.


With so many good vibes, I could not resist taking a chacarero ($7, below) home, that very typical Chilean beef sandwich. What makes it most unique, and quite colorful, is the use of string beans as well as fresh tomatoes. Once again the homemade bread is very complimentary.


We all decided that we had not had enough and ordered two chilenitos ($2 each, below), one with and one without coconut. The dulce de leche inside is wonderful, while the cracker is forgettable. The coconut actually serves a great purpose in hiding the dryness of the cracker, and is the recommended snack for after your meal.


It is very good news to report the raising of standards for Chilean food here in New York City. Let's hope Las Llaves sticks around for a while.

Las Llaves de Chile Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

17 November 2016

Tacos El Rancho

MEXICO

El Rancho Supermarket Nuevo Supermarket has stood on the corner of 44th and 5th since before I moved to the neighborhood, brightly lit and somewhat generic. Absolutely nothing set it apart, and produce was bought further south on 5th Avenue. The taco truck parked in front of the same name gave the same feeling, and nothing ever was convincing enough to warrant trying.

Then all of the sudden they randomly won the Vendy Cup earlier this year. The Vendy experience does not quite line up with the experiences written about here, but it was finally enough that an order seemed appropriate.

Browsing their Facebook page (which might be gone), there seemed to be many pictures of homemade carnitas, big bubbling vats of pork parts being slowly cooked to perfection. This of course made it a necessary first order, and after a half dozen visits, the beautiful meat has always made the cut. It is EXCELLENT. It should not be missed, and New York City definitely has a carnitas champion here.

Tacos come in two sizes, small for $1.75 and large for $2.25. The pequeños are regular D.F. style, while the grandes are just as good and possibly about double the size. Very good value.

Pequeños tacos lined up together.

Above are two carnitas (left) and two lengua (right) tacos. Their tongue chunks are generous, spilling out of the tortillas. Care is also obvious here, the meat is delicious and the perfect softness. A grilled onion, a staple of street taco orders, is unfortunately never part of the equation at El Rancho.

Besides the carnitas, a street food crawl in Sunset Park should include an order of the tacos dorados ($5, below, order of 4). These are available in cheese or chicken, and fried to order so prepare on an extra few minutes. They pair (but most things do here) well with the truck's red salsa.


If you stand here enough times, you will notice the quesadilla is a top seller. With one of several varieties of meat that all cost $7, the big tortillas used are handmade, and it's evident from their divine texture. Like the tacos dorados, they put on a bit too much iceberg lettuce, but this is all give and take if you want less.

The quesadilla below is again filled with carnitas. The style they use here is carnitas buche, using a lot of the stomach of the pig, removing the fat before cooking, and simmering a good portion of the day.


It is not on the menu board, but the quesadilla that seems to have won them the Vendy award is flor de calabaza (below), which costs an extra dollar. This flower is squash blossom, popular in Mexican food, especially quesadillas. The version I received was more squash than squash blossom, and compared to the meats, just did not stand up from a taste aspect. It remains a good options for vegetarians who want more than just cheese.


Despite this, I am happy the judges at the Vendys were pleased, as the truck now is in heavy rotation. Carnitas lovers rejoice!

Tacos El Rancho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

02 November 2016

Mi Castillo Ecuatoriano

ECUADOR

Each time I come to "my castle" the more it impresses. Their vast menu has so many choices that the first approach might seem difficult, but rest assured care is taken in each and every dish and you are bound to be satisfied with the final decision. I tend to come here on weekday lunches, when there are a few tables open and plates are prepared quickly. On a Sunday, good luck, as patrons stream out of nearby St. Michael's in their nice clothes and come to order massive plates of Ecuadorian food. For the prices, these meals really can't be equaled. 

Typically, the cuisine of Ecuador is divided into mountainous and coastal areas. As you can imagine, the mountain people in colder climates enjoy all types of hearty meats, while seafood is popular near the ocean. Most restaurants in New York City will have some combination of both types, and this Sunset Park favorite is no different.

One of my favorite dishes is hornado con mote ($11, below), more of a street dish in higher elevations, found in markets. Whole pigs are roasted and the tender slices with charred skin are served fairly simply. Hornado should always come with mote, hominy that has been peeled and boiled, and llapingacho, a thick potato pancake. 


The bistec ecuatoriano ($13, below) is thinly sliced grilled steak with plenty of onions, peppers, and sauce. The plate of beef, rice, and fries are covered with two eggs cooked over easy. When visits come before noon, this is a dish to crave.


Chaufa is most commonly thought of as Peruvian, but it is just as popular in neighboring Ecuador, where it is called chaulafan ($12.50, below). At Mi Castillo, the mix has beef, chicken, shrimp, and vegetables and is topped with a sweet plantain and avocado. A homemade spicy green salsa (aji) will be brought to the table during any meal, but this plate probably is the best match for it.


The coastal foods are no better represented than with the pescado frito ($14, below), a dish I notice many other patrons ordering. Like hornado, the fish is served simply and the seasoning allows the freshness and taste to do the work. Fried plantains stand with the fish, but sprinkle a bit of salt on these and enjoy.


One of our favorite orders is seco de chivo ($11, below), a goat stew that is much less blurry in person. The pieces of meat are still on the bone and very tender, while plenty of gravy is spread out for each bite. As evident in the photo, this is much more seasoned than the other meats, but not in a bad way.


As with Caribbean countries that have had African cultural influences for centuries that carry on today, Ecuador makes a cow foot soup just as well. Sope de pata ($8, below) comes with large hunks of bone and fat that do not provide much to eat, but the marrow has already dripped out during cooking, making for a wonderful broth. The soup also contains mote and chickpeas, and comes with a side of rice.


Along with these dishes and a long list of others, the menu seems to highlight churrascos and parrillada for those in the mood for a humongous plate of grilled meats. Ceviches are also available, as well as wine and beer. There is truly something for everyone.

Please note that there is also a "Castillo Ecuatoriano" restaurant with two branches in Brooklyn. This is unaffiliated.

Mi Castillo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

28 October 2016

Bar Tabac

FRANCE

I actually had not planned to do a proper write up for Bar Tabac, but had such a nice time there during Euro Cup games that I could not leave it off the recommendations. I returned again a few weeks later to verify the feeling, and alas, there is probably not a more pleasant place to hang out for lunch on a weekday.

If you have a bad opinion about French beer like I do, try the Meteor Pils, a fresh and full pilsner made in Alsace, not too far from more beer-friendly Germany. They also have a delightful list of cocktails, including la vie en rose (below), which uses a rose champagne and a garnish of rosemary.


With cocktails and beer, we have already surpassed what a typical "tabac" does in France, that small kiosk inside of a bar or with it's own window to the street. Throughout the day, patrons stop by to purchase cigarettes and a newspaper. Pause on a street anywhere in Paris and look around and you are bound to see one of those unmistakeable elongated diamond tabac signs, showing a place to be licensed to sell tobacco.

Here at Bar Tabac, residents of Cobble Hill have a casual, bohemian place to go for fast French bites. Try the classic croque monsieur ($12.45, below), béchamel sauce over Swiss cheese over ham over country bread. Fantastique, although slightly over salted.


The grilled hangar steak burger ($13.95, below) is full of fine slices of beef on a brioche bun. Both dishes and all their sandwiches come with "French fries" as they call them, thin-sliced and good.


Growing up, my grandmother always cooked what we called "French onion soup" in a clay bowl during holidays and family get togethers. Having not had it for many years, I decided to try what they call just "onion soup" in France, and it arrived in the exact same bowl. I almost checked the kitchen just to make sure she was not in there. The broth here is classic, full of onions and croutons, with just a touch of port wine.

Onion soup gratinée ($7.95)

Main courses include steak frites, mussels, and trout amandine. As noted before, weekdays are very pleasant. I have noticed it being quite a scene on evenings and weekends, even for brunch, so plan accordingly and prepare yourself if you go during those times.

Bar Tabac Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

26 October 2016

Werkstatt

AUSTRIA

Werkstatt showed up on my radar when I started doing research for the summer of football earlier this year. Austrian places in the city tend to be on the fancy side, and this new Brooklyn pub seemed the perfect counterpoint to them, a casual spot to order a Stiegl and cheer on Austria in the Euro Cup. Unfortunately their hours were not conducive to European football hours, and the country flamed out fast anyways.


Thankfully the positives of the place stand up for meals and beers, as I found out back in late spring. My apologies for not bringing this review forward earlier, it got lost in a crack.

For an appetizer, a friend and I ordered the risotto ($17, below) from the mains menu and split it. The creamy rice has a vegetable-derived broth and is served with Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and leeks.


Our other orders were more typically Austrian, starting with the pork shoulder ($18, below), a dish on the specials board that day. The thick cut of meat is topped with a thin gravy and served with delicious bread dumplings.


It would not have seemed like a complete meal with the gulasch with spätzle ($18, below), tender chunks of braised beef in a very rich, dark gravy. The typical pasta accompaniment is done well, and combination bites cut down nicely on the richness.


With schnitzels and a very good soft pretzel, the bar and beer list becomes even more tempting for games, even if the small screen might never actually be tuned to the right channel. A spot in the window is usually enough distance between a serious drinker and a dining room sometimes full of the kids and strollers of Kensington. Werkstatt is a good addition to Coney Island Avenue, which does not see much European culture these days.

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

17 October 2016

Massawa

ERITREA
ETHIOPIA

The talented and friendly woman that was tending the restaurant on the night we visited only alluded to the similarities with Ethiopia when I asked her about what might be specifically Eritrean about this place. This was not the answer I wanted of course, since the city has a decent amount of Ethiopian restaurants, but the two countries were the same up until 1991.

The name is thoroughly Eritrean though of course, its namesake being the large port city on the Red Sea. "What we have is some seafood dishes that other restaurants do not" she said, turning the menu over and pointing out the seafood section. This should not come as a surprise, as the Red Sea is full of fish and Eritreans anywhere close probably choose to eat them. We took notes.

In fact there are many differences, and feel free to read all about the civil war fought between the two now very separate countries. One similarity though is beer, and thankfully Massawa has one from each country. New to me was Asmara (below), named for the capital of Eritrea, a lager less malty and sweet than more familiar St. George from Ethiopia. The place also has an extensive wine list, including a nice "Ethiopian" honey wine that says it is bottled upstate.


We combined an order of beef sambusas ($9, below) with vegetable sambusas ($8, below), giving us a total of four triangles to spread to the group. The crispy thin shell has four layers and is much like Middle-Eastern phyllo dough, and while both versions are quite tasty, I think the price point is too high for what you get.


Equally or possibly even more delicious, and much better value, is the ful ($10, below), a fava bean dip that includes various vegetables, yogurt, and plenty of berbere spice so you can make the tastes you prefer. Ful is a dish of Egyptian origin, but has made the trip to other Middle Eastern and African countries where it is slightly adapted to local tastes. The Ethiopian/Eritrean version of course must include berbere, the famous spice mixture of the countries.


This "dip" is served with toasted pita bread. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, ful (or shahan ful) is a dish commonly eaten for breakfast. You may find it with a roll of Italian style bread or with injera. Either way, the vehicle is just the background. The dish is recommended.

The rest of our meal, as is customary, arrived on one large plate for our table to share. Since it is hard to pinpoint everything from the photo, the list of what we had was as follows: Massawa combo ($22.50, mild lamb, spicy beef, and chicken tebsi), veggie combo ($19.50, shiro, alitcha, and tsebhi hamli), duba b'siga ($18.50, pumpkin with beef), tsebhi derho ($18.50, dark chicken and egg with berbere), and shrimp tebsi ($22.50, shrimp with tomatoes, onions, peppers).


That's right! One hundred dollars worth of delicious, berbere-laced foods came out on one plate. Underneath everything is a couple layers of injera, which is also served separately (below), and is used as the utensil. The trick is to not eat too much and fill up too quickly, saving space for all the variety on the plate.

It was very dark in the restaurant by the time this photo was taken, so I asked for added light from a friend so that all the color would show up. I am not well-versed enough in the cuisines of East Africa to pick out every taste and ingredient, but it was noted by everyone that the tsebhi derho was the favorite. This dish was recommended to us, and is the dark mound right in the center.


Before the meal, I jotted down the colors and tones I saw in the restaurant. When the big communal plate came out, it was striking how similar the colors were to the place, earth shades mostly orange and brown with some green mixed in.

There is something to be said about this way of eating, these colors, these textures, and the communal plate. There is a connection to the food, and to the friends or family around you. I could not quite pin down this feeling while we were eating, but an appreciation overwhelmed me.

I came to Massawa not expecting much. Some good friends whose opinions I value highly were just humdrum about the restaurant. Open since 1988, maybe they went through a lull, because in 2016 the place has sorted itself out and was packed full of patrons from East Africa and beyond.

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