>> Eat the World NYC

19 November 2019

Sweetness USA

PAKISTAN 🇵🇰

Sweetness USA is a place for everyone. Pakistani businessmen come in for takeout on their way home from work. Groups of women come together to buy food for their families. Another sits alone and charges her phone while screaming into a video chat. Solo male diners watch videos with one hand while eating with the other. Cab drivers are constantly double-parked on Coney Island Avenue while grabbing specials from the steam table.

While it is easy to be satisfied one dish at a time, bring a group with you and order a feast. As it becomes clear the amount of food you need, the men that run the place will start to show you a lot of attention, upping their levels of hospitality and happy to answer questions from the unfamiliar.


The previous establishment in this location was the Indian chain Mithaas, which has multiple locations in New Jersey and one in Long Island but no more in New York City. The meaning of this word is something close to "sweetness" in both Hindi and Urdu, so it was without much change that the new proprietors shifted only a tiny bit.

A meal here should be a hodgepodge of what you see and what you don't. The steam table offers the daily meals, which most patrons come in to order fast. But there are things listed on the menu behind the counter that might warrant attention as well. These could take up to 15 or 20 minutes to arrive, but if you do not have your yellow cab shift to get back to, hanging around is not so unpleasant.


On Google Maps, there seemed to be an unusually high percentage of photos of the mix grill sizzler ($12.99, above), a dish that indeed comes sizzling and requires that lead time. The mix of chicken and beef kebabs is combined with chicken tikka and fresh onions. Each bite of every type was greeted with their wonderful marinade.

The haleem ($6, below) here is prepared with barley, lentils, and chicken, and tastes like it has been cooking and improving for days. It is full of deep flavors and chilies, and perfection could legally be described as scooping some of it up with their freshly baked naan ($1).


Definitely worth an order, and what unlocks a bottle of mint yogurt sauce arriving at the table, is the chicken polao ($5.99, below), which always seems to be ready and something of a special of the house.

What sets polao, or pulao, or pilaf apart from biryani of course is the cooking method. Meats and spices are cooked separately from the rice, resulting in a lighter and more subtly spiced dish. It was agreed around the table that the version here was top notch.


The orders continued but even so it was impossible to try everything like their different types of chaat, or kati and paratha rolls which would have made excellent solo snacks.

A full tray of tikka drumsticks ($2 each, below) looked so tempting that one was ordered for each person at the table. These somehow were even better than they looked, the meat pulled off the bone without effort while remaining so moist. The marinades were just as satisfying as they were on the sizzling plate.


After seeing how well they prepared the chicken dishes here, next visits will have to include the full chicken Lahori charga ($14.99, not shown), a full bird marinated overnight and deep fried in oil.

Another table favorite was beef nihari ($6, below), a deep-colored stew that tasted rich with bone marrow. This slightly spicy dish originated with Muslims in India but is now popular throughout the Islamic regions of the subcontinent like Pakistan, where it is always on any self-respecting menu.


Add some curry to your repertoire with the goat curry ($6, below), another deep and rich ride. What they describe as an "exotic blend" is pretty much as you would expect from a Pakistani curry, with hunks of tender goat that must have been simmered for just the right amount of time.


And what would a place called Sweetness USA be without a huge selection of treats? Most of the display cases in the restaurant are used for an overwhelming amount of desserts, while branded boxes are stacked and ready to be filled with whatever you desire.

The proprietor steered the group toward a slice of their mango cake, which he described as the house special, but an assortment of treats like the one below was much more interesting. The cake itself was fairly simple and did not warrant the moniker of special.


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Sweetness USA Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

18 November 2019

Burkindi

BURKINA FASO 🇧🇫

As reported on two years ago, the cuisine of Burkina Faso is not new to Newark, New Jersey.  The past five years have also seen two other Burkinabé sources of food open as well a bit further south. The first, in the back of a grocery that has expanded on Lyons Avenue has remained unfortunately elusive in finding the right time to visit, while the other is a full scale restaurant that has dedicated hours and plenty of seats and tables.

First mentioned on the pages of EIT, Burkindi restaurant is perhaps the easiest way to get acquainted with the food of the country, cycling dishes that you may not find even at Zoodo. If you have ever explored the carbs of West Africa and enjoyed the pounded starch dishes like fufu, you will enjoy tô, the most common starch served in Burkina Faso. These dense balls or flat cakes can be made of millet, sorghum, or corn, but all are used as a vehicle like fufu for dipping or scooping and require the right technique.


Two year old Burkindi serves tô, but not all the time or every day. As with many West African eateries, it is best to get a lay of the land from the chef when you walk in rather than seeing everything on the menu first. This will instruct in what direction your cravings should head at any particular time.

Before sitting down, take a peek through the window that separates the kitchen from the dining room. This is a pleasure not only to enjoy the scenes of large cauldrons cooking the days sauces (a West African description of soups and stews, the dishes to pair with your tô or rice), but also necessary to speak with the chefs to see what is ready. During this visit, the boiling vat of sauce arachide, a peanut stew that would eventually be combined with meat, was about 90 minutes from being ready.


Les poissons ($15, above), the French word for fish, are easy to prepare and almost always available if they have the stock. These are fried whole and served with your choice of a side dish, here shown with alloco or fried sweet plantains. The meaty fish speaks for itself without sauces or spicing, just a few uncooked vegetables sprinkled on top for decoration.

Bites of this pair very nicely with their delicious riz gras (below, right), what they call the well known jollof rice eaten in Burkina Faso. On this order it was plated with dibi ($15, below, left), whole chunks of grilled lamb with minimal seasoning. Here at Burkindi they rely much less on the mustard and vinegar-infused onion sauce that is usually heaped on the meat and instead serve it with a mild mustard on the side. The darker sauce in the rear is delicious but all fire and should be used with caution.


The more you settle into Burkindi, the friendlier it becomes, as the food translates to smiles across your face and the staff and other Burkinabé patrons keep asking "Did you like our food?" There is of course only one answer to this question, but thankfully it is no lie. The food is delicious, and as it always is, this will be the easiest part of life to share with folks you may not have anything else in common with.

For references to the country, there are hand drawn maps of Burkina Faso and also of Africa, and large photos of important places. The bright green and yellow walls still seem like they are freshly painted, similar to the feeling on this stretch of recently improved Clinton Avenue, which just seems a bit more crisp than the surrounding streets.


While waiting for your meals to arrive, grab some of their homemade drinks in the back including this yogurt ($4) and zoom koom ($3), a ginger delight that is spicy but sweetened by pineapple and sugar. The yogurt is also sweet, and very thick, perfect if you plan to use a lot of the fiery sauce.

Stepping back outside after such a good meal, a return was already desired. Maybe next time a little later in the afternoon or at night to make sure more options are available, but either way much more deliciousness will be waiting.

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

14 November 2019

Tasty Pot 味鼎

TAIWAN 🇹🇼

Since becoming enormously popular in the Bay Area a few years back, Tasty Pot has been testing their feet in the waters of Southern California, Florida, the Midwest and now a few on the East Coast including their newest in Brooklyn's Sunset Park, opened about a month ago. The Taiwanese hot pot trend has yet to secure a footing in this town. Pot Pa Hot Pot opened in Flushing early in 2018 but barely survived a full year.

Tasty Pot, with its own success elsewhere and a city that must be near peak Taiwanese exposure, will try to settle in. On a strip populated with other large eateries and KTV spots, the warming individual cauldrons await.


The dining room is a hodgepodge of colors and neon, textures of vinyl and metal, and shiny decor on every surface. Panels and solar shades have scenes of Taipei to surround the eating area and set the mood.

Besides the foundation of individual hot pots, part of the formula here is also providing Taiwanese boba drinks, of which they have a full menu from A-Cha brand. At lunch time, each pot comes with a standard iced green tea, so the boba menu was not sampled on the first visit.


At the top of the hot pot options are Taiwanese flavors such as stinky tofu and Taiwanese supreme spicy, but the first offering of beef hot soup ($13.99, above) is a great place to start.  The rich soup can be heated up from zero to four peppers, known as "flaming spicy," so feel free to go nuts. The thin slices of beef do not get overcooked too quickly, showing that quality is pretty good for the price point.

The specially-designed hot pot stand comes with a well-covered fire source that you can adjust or turn off yourself. The soup will remain bubbling for a long time if you let it go. Bits of tofu, meatballs, corn, vermicelli noodles, and a good amount of napa cabbage will require cooling before bites.


Each order comes with the option of an extra portion of vermicelli noodles or a bowl of rice. The green tea tastes a lot better once it has the soup broth to contrast with its sweetness. In addition to the bold tastes already in each pot, a set of three additional flavors is available on each table (below), a soybean paste, chili oil, and garlic soy sauce. After some experimentation, a fun combination of the three is great for dipping slices of meat.

Not as good as the beef is the kimchi dumpling hot soup ($13.99, above), Tasty Pot's ode to Korea. Unfortunately the napa cabbage and spices used do not really replicate fresh kimchi, and the dumplings are a little boring. After a recent couple days in Seoul, what it did most was raise a craving for kimchi jigae or soondobu. Keep these desires to your next visit to a Korean restaurant.


Like Korea, the restaurant has hot pots that try to replicate the flavors of Thailand (probably tom yum?), Japan (miso), and Sichuan Province, which should probably be turned down if the kimchi pot is any representation.

On a future visit, the cheesy milk hot pot is most looked forward to, with its freshly grated orange cheddar that melts after arriving.

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Tasty Pot Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

29 October 2019

Khampa Kitchen Inn

TIBET 🏴󠁣󠁮󠀵󠀴󠁿

Besides some words on an area message board, Khampa Kitchen has lived most of its year of life relatively quietly. The dining room offers the same thing, separated from noisy Roosevelt Avenue and the 7 train above by a small room that acts as a vestibule. Half of this space is dedicated to jewelry and other handicrafts in a room that can be unlocked by the proprietor if you wish to see more.

But head on towards the smells coming from the kitchen, named for the people and region that spanned Eastern Tibet and Western Sichuan but today is just grouped in with the rest of Tibet. This was not always the case, as they speak a different language and have different customs than the Tibetans from Lhasa.


As if to just make sure customers coming in for generalized Tibetan food, whatever that is, will not be disappointed, the menu is full of decently executed dishes like chicken momos ($6.99, above), These have a thicker than normal wrapping, are full of the usual spices, and certainly enjoyable.

But we are in Khampa Kitchen Inn, after all, so it is worth getting familiar with the people and some of their unique contributions. Any scholar of the 1959 Tibetan uprising will know the region of Kham and its people had a very different role to play in the events leading up to it, differences that today might be erased by usage of "Tibetan" for an entire region and people.


One easy way to see this through cuisine is with the paoze ($11.99, above), similar in shape to the momo but made with a wrapper closer in flavor and texture to tingmo (called trinmo here). These are traditionally served with a flavorless bowl of rice soup. Khampa horsemen would traditionally eat these with yak meat, but here in Queens they are available in vegetable, pork, chicken, or beef versions.

Also highly recommended by the Khampa server was fried beef ribs ($10.99, below), heavily fatty chunks of bone-on meat flavored with oils and dried chili peppers. While it takes a while to eat, this dish is full of distinct flavors and worth the effort.



Another stand out Khampa dish is the beef with green pepper ($9.99, above), which is also served with a fresh and hot piece of trinmo. This is another Himalayan dish that uses chili peppers as the vegetable rather than chopped up for spice, so be prepared for a little sweat to start on your brow.

A good pairing for all the spice about to be in your life is a nice bowl of bhoethuk, a thick noodle soup here called Lhasa noodle ($6.99, below). This is only served with beef, a theme of dishes here as it probably remains the closest option to replicate yak, with a subtle beef broth. Throw in a little bit of the chili oil, but keep this as your safe place when your eyes are tearing up with other dishes.



One very unique dish, and an introduction to what may be presented on special occasions, is Khampa poethek ($12.99, above and below), a kind of meat pie that will require about a 30 minute lead time. The beautifully made pastry will arrive with the top already cut, but this would normally happen after everyone was seated.

If you were the guest of honor at someone's house, the top piece would be used as a little plate. The fillings, here seen with beef, would be piled high on the crisp disc and handed to whomever would be the person to impress.


Presented to the guest of honor.

With excellent hospitality and obvious pride in their cuisine, it is not too much of a stretch to imagine your group as the guests of honor after a feast here at Khampa Kitchen Inn.

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Khampa Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

21 October 2019

La Bonne Soupe

FRANCE 🇫🇷

Some 56 years ago, while the United States was still involved in an absolute lie of a war in Southeast Asia and Richard Nixon was president, La Bonne Soupe appeared on 55th Street in 1973. While certain improvements keep the place comfortable, it also retains some of what might be considered the "charm" of any restaurant that has been open this long.

Today in the tight space you might overhear the next table talking about illegitimate wars and terrible Republican presidents just like back in 1973. But then again, this is Midtown, and the likelihood to hear a banker or tourist with the opposite opinion is probably just has high.


When the French-accented waiter arrives to take your order, it is of course the soupe a l'oignon (above) that brought you here, the ancient peasant soup usually referred to here as French onion. As is almost customary in this country, the soup is served gratinéed and is recognized by the thick layer of melted cheese that half-burns onto its ceramic bowl.

It can be enjoyed à la carte, but also as a meal for $26 that includes bread, a salad, dessert, and a glass of their house wine. This seems to be the most favored route of customers old and new. Each component is not as extraordinary as the soup, but makes for a pleasant course. The salad part of the salad is quite forgettable but having a chance to use their delicious dijon-based dressing is reason enough to order the set. Is that chicken broth in there?

They have other, probably unappreciated soups on the menu that can also be turned into this prix fixe, quiches, crêpes, and hamburgers, but do ask about the rotating daily specials.


On a recent evening the list pulled up a very good coq au vin ($23, above), chicken braised in Burgundy and served with some really delightful whipped buttery potatoes. The current chef Michel Pombet draws inspiration from his childhood in Paris, which can almost be tasted in this sauce.

Given two dessert options with the soup prix fixe, the server recommended the chocolate mousse (below), which did enough to satisfy the after meal sweet tooth. Fin.


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La Bonne Soupe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

18 October 2019

Babka Bakers

POLAND 🇵🇱

Babka Bakers is a little shop that specializes in wholesale, but their Maspeth storefront is also open to the public. Whole loaves of many types of bread, as well as sweets sold by weight are displayed for walk in customers, who seem to be plenty. The neighborhood has fallen in love with Babka since they opened in 2014.

Their story is one that is more and more common as the people in this country care more about what they put in their body. Everything is made on site by hand, fresh without any GMO products. The rye flour is even imported from Poland because their home country was very proactive in the banning of all Monsanto products. This is reason enough to come support them.


Their breads are mostly made with sourdough, advertised as easy to digest and full of critical nutrients while having low sugar content. While waiting to get to the front of the line, quite a few of these loaves were the choices made by the folks further up. If you are close with any Europeans, you know how much bread means to them and how disappointed they are with the options in this country.

Next time a situation like this arises, send them to Babka to see what they think.


It is quite difficult to leave a Polish bakery without at least one pączek ($2, above and below),  the country's masterful jelly-filled donut. This of course is giving the pastry short shrift though, as it is so much more than that. The pączki here come in different options depending on the day, but this beauty is filled with plum jam.

Pączki dough is made with a small amount of grain alcohol that acts to keep any of the deep frying oils from getting to the chewy interior, as shown by the bite-away view below.



The most exciting purchase of the morning may have been the Kraków-style cheesecake ($8.50/lb, above and below), a crumbly and dry version of one of New York City's favorite desserts. The defining characteristic besides that texture is the use of dried sultana grapes and the lattice pattern on top formed with a buttery crust.

This same crust is used on the bottom as well rather than the more common cookie crumb version. A line of some type of sweet jam also runs through cake parallel to the crust.

A $2 slice of sernik Krakowski.

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Babka Bakers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato