>> Eat the World NYC

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.

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

21 October 2019

La Bonne Soupe


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.

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

18 October 2019

Babka Bakers


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.

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

16 October 2019

Nana's Kitchen


On the street in front of Nana's Kitchen, just off Morris Park Avenue, you can barely notice some color that had long ago been painted right on the asphalt. It is so faded that the intention does not come to you immediately, but the three bands of red, white, and green that used to be bright and crisp were actually the Italian flag.

Back when these colors were laid, the space here was a bagel shop and across the street was a busy Italian cafe. This specific block of Hone Avenue had been given the name Rocco Miano Way shortly after the death of the namesake Italian-American man who lived here and had a larger than life presence in Morris Park.

But as time passes, the character of neighborhoods shift. As has happened in Belmont's "Little Italy," Morris Park has also seen quite an influx of Albanians over the years. Across the street from each other right at the point of that faded Italian flag are now a popular Albanian sports bar and Nana's Kitchen, which moved in about six years back.

Come at anytime during the morning, afternoon, and evening, and you will find its tables filled my mostly Balkan men. You are likely to be greeted in Albanian if you could pass as one, for there are not many others showing up here and speaking different languages. For this reason, it is easy to skip the portions of the menu that do not focus on Albanian specialties, backed up by the fact that plates of qebapa are arriving at almost every table.

This meal started with a small bowl of fasul ($4, above), which they simply describe as "bean soup" on the menu. You sometimes see this also called grosh, but here the hearty white bean stew feels very homemade and rustic, as if nana herself brought it out to you. Certainly there are onions and tomatoes and olive oil used but also chopped herbs and chili.

Do not pass up a nice byrek, available here in either cheese, meat, or spinach varieties. The cheese byrek ($5) below had a very thin exterior that got crisp in the oven but was otherwise very soft and savory. Five dollars does not often fill you up these days, but if you came in for nothing else, hunger would probably be avoided for quite a few hours. Grab a cup of yogurt for $2 to go with it if you enjoy dunking your byrek in something creamy and slightly sour.

Those aforementioned plates of meat are available focusing on one meat or as a combination of three. Upgrade to the shop salad for $1 extra, a fresh mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions rather than lettuce. Most of the other tables had made this move as well.

The combination ($13, below) comes with five skinless sausages known as qebapa, a ground beef patty called qofte, and suxhuk, a dried and spicy sausage full of red pepper. They throw a slice of feta cheese in there that combines nicely with not only the meats but the shop salad, and of course no Albanian meal is complete without a basket of their freshly baked bread.

Stuffed peppers ($11, below) come full of ground beef, but it is the sauce that really gives this dish its punch. That basket of bread will come in handy to mop every last delicious drop off the plate. The table had that awkward moment late in the meal where the kind server wanted to clear dishes, but with some of that orange-red delight still left, it had to be rescued.

If desired, wash it all down with a refreshing Albanian orange soda called Ivi ($3, below). This is not overly carbonated and is not too sweet, making it quite a good drink, helping to cut the grease from the meat.

Enjoy your stay in Morris Park! Both sides of the Adriatic are both alive and well.

Nana's Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

15 October 2019

Yafa Café


A few months ago, a space that used to be a Chinese takeout restaurant started to come alive with signs of life after a fairly quick renovation. A few doors down from Yemeni-owned Yafa Newsstand & Deli, which has served the corner of 4th Avenue and 45th Street for many years, Yafa Café has now been born.

For the better part of a couple months, only drinks were offered, but an open kitchen and the eager stories of its new operators (from the same family as the Yafa Deli) promised a marriage of foods from Brooklyn and Yemen, an exciting proposition.

In the past few years, a hipster-oriented coffee shop had come and gone on busy commercial 5th Avenue nearby, but Yafa seems to be more oriented towards the entire community rather than just the newcomers. Sunset Park is still very strong when it comes to resisting changes, but I think the neighborhood might have a place in its heart for Yafa, whose coffees can nevertheless get pretty expensive with a lovely $7 Yemeni pour over available at the high end of the scale.

When the sandwich board finally announced that breakfast and lunch were being served, the former was the goal on a first pass. Along with oats, bagels, and a gussied up bacon, egg and cheese sandwich lives the Yemeni breakfast ($10, below), which revolves around their excellent flaky traditional flatbread called khubz and a variety of "breakfast dips."

From left to right above, the khubz is served with scrambled eggs with diced peppers, ful medames, and two slices of what appear to be the French Laughing Cow cheese. Their ful, a stew of fava beans and spices, is much less sour than usual and will probably appeal to a wider audience. Its spices are delicious, so it combines well with both the eggs and the khubz.

For a light lunch or the starting course of a larger meal, try the Yemeni shurba ($6, below), a tasty soup made of tomato puree and bulgar wheat. The garlic sourdough served on the side make this actually quite filling by the bottom of the bowl.

Many Yemeni-operated bodegas around town are known to have a small case of halal fried chicken. These may not warrant gallons of ink to be spilled, but are always sneakingly satisfying especially later in the evening. No matter how long the wings and thighs have been sitting there in the hot case, the temperature and texture seemed to be just right, with a dash of Yemeni hawaij to give it a unique taste.

The standout star of Yafa Café builds on this tradition with their Yafa fried chicken sandwich ($10, below), which comes on a plump soft brioche bun and is served with potato chips.

The sandwich is handsome upon arrival but it was the first bite that was a revelation. The chicken is supremely crispy and spiced perfectly with hawaij, while each end of the bun is slathered with a wonderful homemade plum chipotle sauce. Welcome to Sunset Park.

The bite-away view below reveals the all important fourth and fifth components of the sandwich: a Brussels sprouts coleslaw and generous use of pickles. Expectations were high when the order was made, but the reality blew this out of the water. This sandwich deserves some high acclaim.

Other customers seemed to be ordering the shakshuka ($10, not shown) in high quantities, a classic breakfast plate of eggs and tomatoes that they serve here on its cast iron skillet.

Also of note is lamb haneeth sandwich ($12, below), which probably plans to be the star of the show but is just a bit off from that so far. The lamb itself is slow cooked and has a lovely texture but they seem to be playing it safe with their spices, unsure maybe of the customer reception. When they go for it, it will be a pleasure to retry this sandwich.

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

13 October 2019

Thai Cook (at iCook)


With only some notes in the city's Thai Facebook groups, a tiny sandwich board outside, and obviously successful word of mouth, the second weekend of life for Thai Cook was a very busy one. Venturing in both days over this past weekend found excited Thai diners filling many of the establishment's tables, a common occurrence in a neighborhood where news travels fast of new openings.

The new restaurant actually exists within the confines of iCook, the all you can barbecue and hot pot joint that took up residence here a couple years ago. Thai Cook brings its own energy to the space, which often would find itself empty during off hours. Hopefully this relationship works out for both, as each might bring the other unique customers.

The Thai Cook side of the operation.

The chef here actually started her career in Brooklyn, cooking at the tiny Thai takeout called AM Thai Chili Basil and later moving to a more thorough operation. When it opened, it was one of the only acceptable joints in Brooklyn to find the real food of Thailand. Apparently enough customers asked why she had not opened up a restaurant in Elmhurst, and here we are to watch her next stop.

They make many of their drinks in house, including the matcha milk green tea (below), which tastes much more like the versions you would find in Thailand, sweetened up to the country's tastes unlike their Japanese counterparts. A table of three Thai women near us was going absolutely mad and making videos in awe of the drink.

Back in Brooklyn, the chef was always known for her tasty som tum creations, which have the whole center section of the menu devoted to them here. Two large wooden mortars are visible in the back and always in use, a very good sign. There are ten different options, including the tum salted egg yolk ($8, below), which again ran on the sweet side through an abundance of peanuts.

All the base of a wonderful salad was there though, so with a few squeezes of lime juice and a bit of chopped up Thai chili, the salad was really rocking. If was the first and last dish to be tilted and drank when finishes as not to lose any of the wonderful juice.

Noodle soups come in three options all for $5 each here, small portions that allow for the table to order quite a few other dishes without filling up too fast. This style is often seen at the noodle houses in Thailand, where small bowls of noodles can be ordered and re-ordered until full. What translates on their English menu as "braised pork noodle" is nam tok ($5, below), full of thinly sliced cuts and balls. The broth trends a bit towards the sweet side but naturally this soup desires to be spicy, so ask for the condiment rack and go for it.

Best of the three noodle soups was probably the tom yum noodle ($5, above), which had a great balance of all requisite flavors. The thin noodles let the ground pork and sweet and sour broth do most of the talking, while the chilis made sure to catch up to you a few bites in.

With an extra -ur in the name for some reason, the yen ta four ($5, below) was interesting and enjoyed although entirely different than many versions in the neighborhood. The sweetness in this bowl almost had the character of barbecue sauce, but somehow worked well with the shrimp and noodles.

In the "steamed" section of the menu were many seafood options, but the lime pork slice ($6, below) was calling out with extra force during this meal, and for good reason. This was the dish that caused surprised looks over the table, as the sour and spicy citrusy green sauce was out of this world.

The pork slices are rolled around greens and mushrooms, creating a bite full of crunch and chew. This should not be missed and this section of the menu will be worth exploring on return visits.

There is also a "yum yum" section of the menu, dedicated to Thai salads (yum) composed around meats and seafoods. Only the beef in the yum sliced beef ($8, below) was lackluster, but for this price point you could not ask for much more. The salad around it was beautiful and vibrant, full of fresh vegetables, chilis, and a sauce again worth licking up at the end.

If it was not already obvious, Elmhurst is not going to be stopped. New Thai eateries keep opening up these last few years and expanding the base of what New York City has in its playbook. Thai Cook is a good new addition and worth checking out to see how it evolves.

81-17 Broadway
Thai Cook (at iCook) Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato