>> Eat the World NYC

10 December 2018

Café Esencia

SPAIN ðŸ‡ªðŸ‡¸

Before Café Esencia came to be in real life, it was a Kickstarter campaign that promised a churro café inspired by La Convivencia, or "coexistence," a time period in southern Spain where cultures and cuisines merrily mixed and produced an "awesome flourishing of flavors, aromas, and essences." It is from this that they get their name as well, with the signature pinwheel of the churro spinning underneath the logo.

Before the afternoon sun passes overhead towards the west, the mornings here are filled with sun on clear days, making the small café quite pleasant and always bright. The few tables can fill up quickly if a couple groups are around, but stragglers can usually find a bar seat at the window if need be.

In the United States, churros are often associated with Latin Americans, who have developed a love for them and especially in cities can be seen hawking them on the street or on transit platforms. Before this became true though, the churros have existed in the Iberian Peninsula forever in different forms. Those known as porras ($4.5 for a "small" wheel, above), like the ones served here, are made with a lighter sourdough batter that contains no egg or dairy and is even vegan. Since this batter is much thinner, you will not see the familiar consistent extrusion and instead each creation looks unique as the dough takes a life of its own in the fryer.

The lightness of these is a gift, snacking on them does not leave your stomach heavy. Add the available cup of $1.75 milk chocolate for dipping. In Andalucia, you would also see folks dipping theirs into their coffee, so do not feel bad doing that either.

On certain days of the week they also make a limited amount of tortilla española (not shown), an egg dish not unlike quiche that takes the form of a cake. "Tortilla" does translate as "little cake" after all. Here they make it simply with potatoes and onions, and while it is not typically Andalucian it is definitely part of Spanish culture and cuisine and eaten everywhere in the country. On the days it is coming out of the kitchen here, come early or you will find it already sold out.

Café Esencia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

09 December 2018

United Nations African Mothers Association Annual African Buffet Luncheon


With only one stomach at my disposal, and one short meal to eat, the only trouble at this year's United Nations African Mothers Association annual luncheon was that I constantly had to decide what not to each much of. Everything was so delicious, as always, and a few new countries were on the menu. I could not have asked for much more.

This year's event took place on the 21st floor of the Consulate of Nigeria near the UN. Sun was pouring in the windows and the atmosphere was generally festive especially once the music was on. I arrived on the early side and took a seat at an empty table waiting for some other folks I knew that might want to join me, but was quickly joined instead by two Egyptians, a lady from Cape Verde, a South African, and a Libyan. No need to reserve seats when new friends could be made!

A modest $40 donation to the association was all it took to be a part of the meal.

In the program it is said that the foods are prepared by the wives of diplomats. I counted twelve nations amongst the available cuisines this year, with two more items going unidentified despite trying.

Here are some photos of the buffet feast. I think this is everything except the ndole from 🇨🇲 Cameroon and the koshary from 🇪🇬 Egypt. Things got a little frantic as the attendees got hungry and started attacking the buffet line:

🇳🇬 NIGERIA - Puff puffs and meat pies

🇧🇫 BURKINA FASO - Bean Cake

🇧🇫 BURKINA FASO - Chicken

🇨🇮 CÔTE D'IVOIRE - Chicken (on right)

🇨🇻 CABO VERDE - Grilled Salmon

🇷🇼 RWANDA - Boiled root vegetables

🇹🇿 TANZANIA - Pilau

🇱🇾 LIBYA - Couscous with lamb

Unidentified chicken

🇧🇯 BENIN - Bitter green stew with fufu

🇰🇪 KENYA - Baked potatoes and boneless chicken

🇩🇿 ALGERIA - Dates

🇩🇿 ALGERIA - Baklawa

🇨🇻 CABO VERDE - Sweet rice

Unidentified dessert

UNAMA Luncheon
The Consulate of Nigeria

08 December 2018

Istanbul Bay


On a chilly Friday night two and a half years into its life, Istanbul Bay was buzzing as hungry patrons waited for a large group to leave so they could all get tables in the relatively small restaurant. This location is the younger sister of the group that also runs the 16 year old restaurant on 86th Street in Gravesend that now has the same name. This good reputation seems to have come with them as I have rarely seen the restaurant empty since opening.

The menu is not unlike that of the other spot and many Turkish restaurants in Brooklyn, and has platters to make sampling many items in one order possible like the mixed appetizers ($17.95 large, above), a plate of eight items. A large puffy piece of bread fresh from their oven (see end of article) will have already arrived at the table ready to be torn apart and dipped into each.

Besides the bread, the oven is constantly churning out their very good pide, like the karisik pide (above), a combination of Turkish sausage (sucuk), lamb gyro, pastrami and mozzarella. Sometimes you will find pide translated to "Turkish pizza," and to be honest it makes you wonder why Domino's is in business when things like this are available.

You will have probably noticed the two beautiful spits of gyro meat when you enter, both of which seem even better here than at the original restaurant. Like the cold appetizer meze, the mixed grill ($23.95) is a great way to unlock a good portion of the meats menu for sampling.

The lamb gyro is underneath the rest here and unseen, but even without it the other cuts speak for themselves.

The wonderful complimentary dessert was a very nice finishing touch. This banana below was covered in a nutty sauce, crumbled pistachio, and both white and black sesame seeds before a drizzle of chocolate. Even though our table was thoroughly stuffed, this was no issue and disappeared immediately.

Fresh bread straight from the over to your table.

Coban salatasi ($12.50)

Istanbul Bay Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

07 December 2018

Taqueria Nealtican


If North Jersey and New York City each submitted their 32 best to make a field of 64 for an Al Pastor March Madness, I am fairly certain that the Final Four would be all jersey trompos. If it were a World Cup, NYC trompos would not even get past the group stage. Walk up and down Bergenline Avenue eating them and you'll know what I mean.

For this reason, I slammed on the breaks when we saw the rotating beauty below at a small shop named after the small town in Puebla its owners are from. Trompos like this are hard to refuse.

While the food here might not end up in the World Cup final, it was still a worthy opponent that probably had a surprise draw in the group stage to surprise a heavyweight. Most of their taquitos, like the al pastor below, come in groups of 4 for $8. A few meats are a bit more at $10.

On "Taco Tuesday," an invention that usually inspires my hatred, they have chicken and al pastor taquitos for $1 apiece, but folks with big appetites should know that the limit is 16 per person. 16!

The other popular item here with many different versions is the alambre, a mixed dish of grilled meats, vegetables, and cheese. These come served on a plate with a side of tortillas. I will have to enjoy this dish from the Pueblan owners next time.

Taqueria Nealtican Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

06 December 2018

Sevan Restaurant

Photos by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

This article originally appeared in the 06 December 2018 edition of The Queens Tribune:

When the restaurant is not busy and Arthur Matevosyan is not needed in the kitchen, you will probably find him next door at the attached grocery and bakery that has existed alongside his dining room at Sevan since opening in 2005. In this small shop you can find plenty of Armenian and Mediterranean treasures: canned and bottled goods as well as fresh cheese, nuts, spices, jams and cured meats. The baked treasures can be purchased here for takeaway as well, including Armenian lahmajun (flatbread meat pies) and cheese or spinach borek (savory triangles of phyllo dough).

Despite not being formally trained as a chef, Arthur has been in and around kitchens since he was young. His father operated a small restaurant in Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan, where he first started to soak up the knowledge of what made eaters happy.

Overlooking the busy Long Island Expressway, Sevan gets its name from the high-altitude freshwater lake that takes up a considerable portion of the country and is backed in the northern and eastern shores by snow-capped mountain peaks. During my travels in Armenia, residents of the landlocked country would refer to the lake as the “Armenian Sea” and always seemed to hold it in a spiritually high regard. Being only a little more than an hour from Yerevan, its beaches and hotels are used by Armenians all year round. A visit without eating the famous Sevan trout would be considered a waste. The trout on the menu here in Queens is not imported from Lake Sevan, but is probably the closest you can get in this country.

Armenians in New York and New Jersey are spread out and do not centralize in any one place, but Sevan is convenient to those in the eastern regions of Queens and farther east into Nassau County. Over the years, the shop and dining room have swapped orientations so that more room could be added for a growing customer base. Arthur tells me that about 60 percent of his patrons are Armenian, and many of them come up to him to chat during our conversations. On one day, the birthday party of a 90-year-old customer is taking place in the covered patio area behind the building, complete with traditional music and dance.

The restaurant sets itself up best for large groups like this, as many of the meat and fish entrées and kebab platters are quite large. Bring a group of at least six or eight if you can to help unlock some of the secrets like succulent lamb chops, which come out on their skewers surrounding a blazing central fire. Combo kebab plates are the best way to sample the wide range of steak, pork, chicken, lamb, quail and lule (ground beef). The 40 percent of customers who are not Armenian might gravitate towards some of the Mediterranean foods they find more familiar, but resist the urge and stick to Arthur’s Armenian meats, pastries and salads. Everything is spiced with products he imports from his home country, allowing other Armenians to really get a good taste of home instead of a substitution or knockoff.

The combination of these spices and exact recipes remain a family secret to this day, and only Arthur’s wife knows what goes into the marinades, which have evolved over time since his father operated the restaurant in Yerevan. The meats are soaked for days before being served. No extra sauces for dipping are necessary as the cuts of fresh meat are also perfectly tender. Simple dishes like his Armenian salad also use a blend of his herbs and spices over a pile of tomato, onion and cucumber cubes. Cured meats like basturma sirloin and sujuk beef sausage are bombs of more of this unique flavor.

You will find Russian pelmeni (dumplings) on the menu here—and these are certainly popular with Armenians—but opt for the manti instead, tiny homemade meat dumplings that are drizzled with garlicky yogurt and fresh tomato sauce. All of the kebabs are served with rice or fries and laid over a freshly baked pita that you are expected to use. This nicely soaks in juices from the meat, so be sure to tear off pieces of this bread for rounded bites.

Not on the menu, but kept around for those who are interested, are both sweet Armenian wine and malty beer. After your meal, strong Armenian coffee and regional desserts like baklava and kataifi are ready to satisfy your sweet tooth if you still have room. If you have not already become friends, around this time Arthur will have certainly come to check in to make sure everyone at the table is satisfied. He is proud of the food here at his restaurant and also of his country, and will go to great lengths to make sure the rest of us leave feeling the same way.

The following photos were taken at an earlier visit by Eat the World NYC:

Cheese borek

Steak and chicken kebabs with potato

Lule kebab

Lamb chops


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