>> Eat the World New York City

23 September 2016



If you have not been to Denmark and still heard the word Bornholm, it is probably in a negative light. The tiny island namesake of this restaurant is also the location of early cases of what is now known as Bornholm Disease. Nowadays, the disease is rarely fatal and because of this remains pretty unknown.

Further repairing the good name of the Danish island (which actually is around the tip of Sweden and disconnected from most other Danish islands), is a new place on Smith Street in Cobble Hill with owners from this island that have also operated a Danish cafe in Red Bank, NJ for some time. From photos, the island appears very green with rocky coastlines, much like we might think of Maine. Many residents are fishermen or dairy farmers.

Smith Street may not be quite as idyllic, but Bornholm (the restaurant) does have a lovely backyard good for groups or taking a coffee solo. We took an assortment of pastries to this backyard and enjoyed them with their good coffee. In Denmark, what we call a "danish" are known as Viennese pastries because of their Austrian origins.

Each morning will see quite a variety of treats, the three above all were charged at $3.50. Especially good is the custard-filled version below, creamy and topped with chopped almonds. The layered pastries are all well-crafted and fresh, no need to worry about getting yesterday's baking here.

Lowered into the space between Cobble Hill buildings is a wood-covered dining area tastefully decorated with potted plants. It was around noon when we ate, but an evening return for beers and their cocktail list might prove too tempting to avoid, especially on early autumn nights.

Enjoying ourselves, we transitioned to the weekday lunch menu, which of course includes a whole range of smørrebrød, the famous Danish open-faced sandwiches that are popping up in more and more places. We first tried them many years ago at the Danish Seaman's Church Christmas Fair, but now they are available commercially at quite a few locations in Manhattan.

The leverpostej ($7.75, below) is rye bread topped with a very coarse pig liver paté, bacon, mushrooms, and beets. The iron comes through stronger than French paté, while the whole bite is on the dry side. That being said, it is a positive taste on the whole.

Seven small plates available include the okse tatar ($9, below), beef tartar served with Bornholm sauce and topped with a couple green onions. This dish is quite tasty, although the beef was oddly chewy. If that does not bother you, it is recommended, the toasted bread making a very nice tartar vehicle.

Lastly we tried the stegt torsk ($9, below), which reads from the menu as you might expect a fish and chips to read, but comes out much different. This fried cod is cooked more delicately and topped with shrimp. The remoulade they use is also quite good, and I noticed that second bites were going towards this plate first before the others.

Remoulade is popular in Denmark, replacing mayonnaise when Danes order fries and ketchup. It is also used on fried dishes like this, and some of the smørrebrod options.

Besides being a comfortable spot for Nordic food, the place has been designed to promote drinking at the long bar as well, and will hopefully be a nice option for a peaceful drink on Smith Street. They have eight or so taps (Carlsberg the only Danish option), wine and cocktail lists. A separate bar snacks menu provides a few options better for those alcohol pairings then smørrebrød, which might be a bit dangerous after a few drinks.

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

21 September 2016

Brisas del Valle


On an earlier walk through Jersey City, I noticed the end of the awning over Brisas del Valle, which immediately gives up the identity of the cuisine inside with the stars and colors of the flag of Honduras. Inside the small storefront, which could be mistaken as closed if not for the front door being open, a small square room is painted orange and has one small window to the kitchen. There is no menu, but the friendly face inside the window will list all the dishes available on any given day.

After selecting a dish, pick one of four tables at the casual workaday lunch counter and enjoy the scenery. When I sat down on a Friday just after noon, I was the only customer, but a few came and went with takeout orders eventually.

The name of the restaurant alludes to the winds that run through one of Honduras' many beautiful valleys. When I went traveling through Central America I had the good fortune to visit the Valle de Angeles that runs near Tegucigalpa. For people that live in the city, the valleys have the same sort of escape as New Yorkers feel about upstate mountains or Long Island beaches, a place to go for fresh air and relaxation. [When writing this, I spoke to the friend who took me there and learned that it is now clogged with cars and people and has lost some of its allure. The world is the same everywhere.]

Back in the small dining room of a side street in Jersey City, I tried remembering this fresh air but was unsuccessful. It is definitely my type of place though, casual and welcoming.

The large plate of carne asada ($10, below) that arrived in front of me was beautiful, with no essential part of a typical Honduran meal left out. The meat is served with rice and beans, a wedge of avocado, a good-sized hunk of quesillo, and a plate of homemade corn tortillas.

When eating in Honduras, many plates I had at restaurants or homes looked similar to this. The avocado and cheese were never missing, which I definitely got used to. This is most certainly a plato tipico.

Here at Brisas del Valle, the cuts of meat are not all that great, but it is the sort of thing you can take a photo of and send to your friend in Tegucigalpa, making them immediately hungry even though they can get it everyday. Now the area just needs a Honduran restaurant that can set up an anafre, a dish named after the clay pot that melts cheese, beans, chorizo, and whatever else you load it with into a delicious dip for chips.

Restaurante Brisas del Valle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

18 September 2016

Tacos Los Poblanos


When you see a beautiful, fat dripping trompo illuminated by fluorescent light inside of a truck doing brisk sidewalk business, it is almost impossible not to stop and eat. Tacos Los Poblanos has one of these beauties, even with pictures of it adorning their truck as well, showing a newcomer just what should be ordered.

Our first order was a styrofoam container full of tacos al pastor ($2 each, below), the marinated pork that is cut down from that trompo, or spit like you find in Middle Eastern gyro shops. (For a brief explanation, see this post). The tacos were properly served dressed with pineapple, cilantro, and onion, and our box was full of cucumber, limes, radishes, and grilled onions.

With one of the best taco trucks in the city a few blocks north in the same neighborhood, this establishment had a lot to live up to, and unfortunately did not wow with the pastor tacos. To be sure they were tasty, but just not on the same level as the Bronco. Not seen on the tacos above are their sauces, of which the red really shines and pairs well with the marinade.

Not wanting to write such a nice trompo off after one visit, we did try again and had another above average meal, and on a third visit went for another route, trying cabeza and tripa tacos ($2 each, below). Once again the toppings and presentation are perfect, and red salsa delicious, while the meats were good but failed to make me want to write operas.

If you are spending just one night in Sunset Park and moving from place to place to try different things, skip the birria at the Tacos El Bronco truck and head down here for a cup. People from Jalisco may ask what people from Puebla are doing making birria, but with so little chance to enjoy it here in New York, it is worth the time.

A cup of caldo de birria de res ($6, above and below) is really good, rich and complex. The first time I asked for it, the pot was empty and by the way the guy told me this information, I guessed it had been empty for a long time. The next day I returned much earlier and procured a cup to bring home.

A generous portion of limes is given to make the soup sufficiently sour for each taste. As seems to be standard here in NY, beef is used rather than goat, but the cuts are good. Spices and many other flavors accompany each bite. A small stack of tortillas also comes along if you want to make some tacos of your own with the birria.

If you are at all interested by birria, don't bother trying to find more in New York. There are a few around, but the versions are not what the dish can be. There is no doubt that you will enjoy this cup of caldo de birria, but for the real experience go to Los Angeles where there is a culture of birrierias. I got to check out a couple of these last autumn, and only had my appetite grow. Or better yet head to Guadalajara. And send pictures.

15 September 2016

Taste of Cochin


Taste of Cochin has been on my list of places to try for years, but it lives in the far eastern reaches of New York City, a pocket of Queens with road names in the high 200's. Three sides of this pocket are neighborhoods of Long Island's Nassau County, leaving Glen Oaks as somewhat of a peninsula into different area codes. Having previously enjoyed a Keralan meal at nearby Taste of Kerala Kitchen, a return trip was long overdue.

Thanks to a tip from @CitySpoonful, I learned about the harvest festival of Onam, celebrated in India's Kerala state. Wednesday, September 14th was Thiruvonam, the most important day of the 2016 festival (which is following the Malayalam calendar, not ours), a non-religious celebration that acknowledges the return of a revered king from the underworld.

Festivals like these are usually wonderful opportunities in New York City to see expat groups gathering to celebrate their holidays. Taste of Cochin advertised a 28 item traditional Keralan buffet known as Onam sadya. This Keralan feast is something that every person in the state either makes or attends, so I grabbed a friend who visited Kerala years ago and made the drive out to Glen Oaks.

We found a subdued yet celebratory mood, with rows of tables set up for diners all facing the same direction. This made it easy for the servers to walk down the other side of the table and ladle out portions of each of the feast's 28 items. There is a tradition for this holiday of buying and wearing new outfits, some of which we saw on proud display.

By the end of our meal, the place was quite crowded and some percussionists had started playing in the front of the restaurant to offer even more festivity. We also could hear that music was coming from the basement and later found some sort of party going on down there, but were shy to stay.

The sadya itself is traditionally served on a banana leaf, here replaced with a disposable version. We were the only non-Indians there and were very kindly guided through the list of foods as each came to our "leaf." Banana chips, pappadam, various vegetable curries, pickles, rice, chutneys, a couple desserts, and a small, wonderfully aromatic banana all eventually made it in front of us.

I watched a couple others while this was happening to see if there was any order or best practice, but it all seems like a free for all, with each diner steering the course of their own meal. If you run out of something you particularly like, you can ask for more, as everything is unlimited.

We were offered spoons, but declined, feasting the same way as everyone else in the room: with our right hand. This of course is important to most Indians and South Asians, a way to taste the food better they say. When I have traveled in South Asia I can start to feel this as well during daily rhythms, a natural way to experience food without anything foreign entering your mouth with it.

The rice here is quite fluffy and does not stick together at all, which is where the curries come in good use. Squeezing yourself a small fingerful, picking it up, and shoveling it into your mouth with your thumb all becomes second nature quickly.

The only problem with this type of meal is when you come across the curry you love the most and realize there is only a bite or two. You can ask for more though, but don't expect a larger dollop unless you are very insistent like the man who was sitting next to us.

By the end, the leaves are completely annihilated, with just some remnants of each dish mixed together. It feels somehow empowering to see this progress made, and since the meal is completely vegetarian it all does not feel that heavy in the belly.

Taste of Cochin is offering the Onam sadya for the next three nights as well, Thursday the 15th through Saturday the 17th of September, for anyone interested in this beautiful and festive occasion.

Taste of Cochin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13 September 2016

Sigiri Staten Island


Years ago, a small oddity of a shop appeared in Manhattan's East Village, close to the famous pair of red pepper lit Indian restaurants. Sigiri was non-flashy and gave the promise of Sri Lankan tastes, what usually required a trip out to Staten Island or New Jersey to procure. Now the two friends who created this shop have expanded to those places as well, into the hearts of the Sri Lankan communities of Tompkinsville, Staten Island and Edison, New Jersey. Their foods and attention to detail are recognized by expats and those new to the cuisine. While not new to the country or cuisine, we recently made it out to try the Staten Island branch, which is in the previous home of another Sri Lankan restaurant (which also had a wonderful beer garden).

Like most places touching the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has a history of influences from traders, travelers, and conquerors. Indian, Portuguese, Dutch, and Malay ships headed around these busy waters and left impressions on culture and cuisine. In different parts of the island, one can see different levels of influence even though most menus in New York City offer more of a baseline introduction to the food.

I traveled mostly in the north of the country, where the dishes look and act a bit more like those of Tamil peoples in India. Buddhist Sinhalese populate parts of the north too, and many pan-Sri Lankan favorites make their way onto menus even up in Jaffna.

While there is some coffee production in the highlands of Sri Lanka's interior, I remember only being served poor cups during my stay in the country. For that reason, I was somewhat apprehensive about the Sri Lankan iced coffee ($3.50, below). It was rather iceless, but enjoyable nonetheless, full of earthiness (and condensed milk).

Like other Sri Lankan restaurants in Staten Island, Sigiri also offers a Sunday buffet, full of options for less than $15 per person. We ate on a weekday for lunch and made selections from their quite lengthy menu. While waiting for our meals to come out, I picked up a pamphlet for the Staten Island Youth Cricket Program, which must be popular. In Sri Lanka, there was cricket on television everyday and "pick up" games in every park like we see basketball and football here.

The "devilled specialties" are those dishes prepared in a manner ubiquitous in Sri Lanka that you might expect to be incredibly spicy by the name. In reality there is some spice, but the tastes are also sweet and sometimes sour. We ordered the sizzling mixed seafood special ($20, below) platter, which comes with shrimp, squid, crab, fried fish, bell peppers and onions. With the shell still on, it is also served with crab cracker.

Chicken lamprais ($14, below) is a Dutch Burgher-influenced dish that is always served in the banana leaf that it cooks in. Mixed with meat stocks, curry, and sambal, the rice takes on the flavors of these and other spices.

Since it takes time to prepare, you will usually find this dish at special occasions and family gatherings. Opening the leaf reveals all the contents, which are then mixed and eaten as desired.

There is a lot to explore on the menu here, so taking a group would be beneficial. Trying the buffet also gives the option to sample different curries and plates in small sizes. Either way, this South Asian island's cuisine continues to be well-represented on New York City's south island.

Sigiri Staten Island Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

08 September 2016

Rio Grande Churrascaria


Back in June when I went to Astoria's Beija Flor for a Brazilian Copa America game, I walked by the Holiday Inn Hotel and noticed signs for a Brazilian steakhouse inside. Already a bit late for kickoff, I mentally noted the sports bar and continued over to watch a normally wonderful team play like crap. The Brazilians gathered there were noticeably irritable, but circling back to check out the hotel after the game made my night a positive on the whole.

The sports bar advertises happy hour and all types of events, I would definitely have included it for Copa if only I would have known. They play all the Brazilian league games and must be real fun for that, when club rivalries coalesce on their many screens. The bar menu is limited but does have coxinha and some Brazilian snacks as well as all the US favorites.

For people that are not fans of the beautiful game, the real fun is downstairs where an economical Brazilian rodizio exists, miles beyond your normal hotel restaurant. On weekdays, the full all-you-can-eat experience is $20, more than $40 cheaper than its upscale competitors in Manhattan. Now for this price, one must be realistic about the quality of food, but for the price, it's really a steal. On weekends, the price rises to $23.99.

For those new to rodizio, the concept is simple. Large skewers of meat are grilled by the chefs and brought out by knife-wielding staff. You are given a way to proclaim "yes" and "no" to all of them, here shown above with a painted block of wood. Green up means you are hungry, keep it coming. You can easily find yourself under a mountain of fresh meat, so turning the block to red will stop the onslaught. It is very difficult to say no to any of them, so letting them pass is sometimes easier.

Come near 5:30 opening when the salad bar is freshest, but don't despair, they refill it well. While I did eat some vegetables from the bar, I went back for seconds of the delicious black beans and white rice. The bowl to the right side below is farofa, completing the mixture to perfection.

With so many options, and unlimited ones at that, it is hard to stay away from the colorful salad bar, but the trick is balance. Too much meat and I tend to fill up too quickly. Too much beans and rice, and I have not gotten a good representation of all the different cuts of meat. It must take years to master the art of successful rodizio strategy. I tried to learn from friends in Rio, but even then, everything happens so fast.

When the meats do start coming, if you are not too hungry, one way to approach the evening is to grab a few vegetables, put your red block side up, and watch everything that comes out. Otherwise you find yourself saying yes to everything and plates of meat start piling up very quickly.

The other great part of only paying $20 for rodizio is that you can get stuffed on the wrong things and not feel like you did something wrong. It is all a learning experience for next time, when you will be much more patient and critical. I dined here alone, but it might be better with a group as you can always cut the meats in half if you take too much.

The mix of people finding their way downstairs to the basement is also fun, some Brazilians from the area as well as a lot of Asian tourists that are guests at the hotel. Astoria is probably the neighborhood that something along these lines would naturally exist. The picanha might be better at a swanky rodizio in Manhattan, but the basement of the Holiday Inn in Astoria is not so bad.

Rio Grande Churrascaría Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

31 August 2016

Terminal 1


From the outside, Terminal 1 does not have the appearance of the type of place usually seen on this website. It just has the look of a normal Staten Island sports bar, and maybe that is the idea. Its tinted windows do not reveal anything inside until the door is opened. On a weekday late in the afternoon, you might be the only one here, in which case the friendly staff will give you their full attention.

I am not sure how to describe the interior, half sports bar and half attempted glitz. They also seem to do a brisk business for the NY Lottery. I feel comfortable here somehow with the nicely framed televisions and Polish football hanging from the ceiling.

That football is the only outward hint towards the country of birth for the chef. Opening the menu shows all those sports bar classics, but then some Polish words intrude and start to frame the whole story. The appetizers go both ways and include nachos & cheese and bigos, a classic Polish stew side by side. Further down in the "American Classics" section, oddly one can find A Taste of Poland ($16, below), the combo I chose to get a sense for the most possible on one visit.

On the plate is 1 kielbasa, 1 stuffed cabbage, 2 potato pancakes, and 3 pierogi. The stuffed cabbage and kielbasa end up being the tastiest, both excellent versions. The pierogi are all different, cabbage, potato, and meat. The potato pancakes, unfortunately are a bit greasy and unappealing. All in all though, this plate and beer is the perfect bar food.

The menu has many choices for mains too, soups and plates of sophisticated Polish food beyond the classics. Unless you desire a filet mignon, most dishes are under $15. There is a certain charm here that caters to both Polish people and Staten Island people. I am not sure where I fit into this, but they only charged me $5 for the half liter of Zywiec lager, and I can always occupy a seat at that kind of bar.

Terminal 1 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

30 August 2016

Caravan Bazaar


Caravan Bazaar was not even on my radar until last week when my S53 bus whizzed by it just after descending from the Verrazano Bridge, headed to places further into the interior of Staten Island. I frantically Googled and wrote down the place immediately, now needing to return. It satisfied my curiosities with flying colors and is a very fun market to enjoy.

Just under two years old, the market does not seem to get many walk-ins being on busy, car-centric Hylan Blvd, and focuses on satisfying the demands of the Russian and Central Asian populations that live in the island. The hot food and salad bars focus on the tastes of pan-Soviet cuisine with some Korean salads, cooked by Korean immigrants who landed first in Uzbekistan. (This is not unusual, for more on this read about it here).

Unlike some of the city's restaurants with Korean chefs from Uzbekistan, the cuisine here seems to focus more on the Russian and Uzbek flavors than the Korean. They have plenty of Uzbek favorites from kebabs to samsa, but cater to their more "focused" Russian customers with chicken Kiev, kotleti, and the like.

The entire length of one wall is dedicated to providing many options, with cold salads to the left and hot dishes to the right. I got a combination of as much as I could muster and ended up paying $12 and change for the portions below, well more than one person should eat in one sitting. Each item has a different price, so you end up using a lot of different containers.

The only thing I did not like was the Korean "spicy marinated fish" ($6.99/lb, top left), which like most Korean salads takes on that red pepper character of kimchi. When I started loading up my container, the proprietor warned me "Oh, that's SPICY." Those are good words to hear, I thought, and assured him I would be fine. Weirdly, it is not spicy at all, and the fish is flimsy and odd. Head to Brighton Beach for much better hye options.

The salad olivie ($4.99/lb, above right) is always a satisfying favorite, and good here. I noticed a Russian who had come in after me fill up a cup and I followed suit jealously. Afterwards, I asked for recommendations and received pretty broad strokes. There were two specific dishes that were narrowed down on though, the kotleti ($6.49/lb, bottom left), juicy and delicious ground chicken meatballs of sorts. It is surprising to find ground meat so moist, there must be plenty of butter and cream in these. The second was "beef with sweet and sour sauce" which I immediately hoped was solyanka ($8.99/lb), a stew made sour with pickles. I was very happy when I took my first bite at home, although this version was the least soup-y I had ever had.

"Bazaar" is a lofty goal, but they do import many products from Russia and former Soviet Republics. If you suspend reality for a moment, stepping into the store from the noise of Hylan Boulevard, you can reach these goals though, possibly. The prized booty of a long camel caravan just arriving from distant lands with all manner of products from the places of one's childhood.

Many products, including some interesting beverages from the fridge, are all in cyrillic without helpful words for English speakers, so you have to go with the photos and colors. This is all part of the fun though. I chose a couple toxic-colored sodas, and would only order the tarragon flavor again. The barberry tastes like liquid bubblegum.

Caravan Bazaar also has baked breads and desserts that look very good, as well raw marinated meats to take home and grill yourself. It really is a one-stop bazaar for many of the island's Russians. The only drawback for those of us that have to travel a bit to get there is that there is no seating and Hylan Boulevard offers nothing in the way of comfortable shaded areas. A 15-minute walk north would lead you to Brady's Pond Park, which looks favorable from Google Earth for a picnic spot. Let me know.