>> Eat the World NYC

18 June 2019

Chalanas Restaurant

BRAZIL 🇧🇷

If you have ever done any traveling in Brazil, you will know that Brazilians from the most populous cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro will constantly talk about the wonders of Minas Gerais, the beauties of landscapes and colonial architecture as well as the richness of the cuisine. It is not controversial to call it some of the greatest food in the entire country.

That state is the original home to many of the folks who have come to make Mount Vernon their home, starting back in the 1980's when the economy of Brazil was not in the best shape. Nowadays, churrascarias both Brazilian and Portuguese can be found near the center of this small city just north of the Bronx, along with bakeries, butchers, and other businesses catering to what is said to be more than one in every ten people in Mount Vernon.


Having walked through the area on a couple occasions but never eaten, recently an opportunity finally presented itself at Chalanas, a casual churrascaria that is a good primer to town. On a Sunday evening a few weeks back, as a live band was playing to patrons outside, an indoor table was chosen on what had turned into a very muggy day. Sitting inside affords the opportunity to keep watch on all the meat-related activities, the focus of any visit.

While many churrascarias will charge one price and allow unlimited dining, some ask diners to make plates for themselves, weigh everything, and pay up front like they do here. For people who never quite feel that they can take full advantage of an all-you-can-eat rodizio situation, this is preferable and also doubles as a way to limit your indulgence knowing that every extra cut of picanha or spoon of beans will cost you.


A man will be tending to all the meats over the fire, keeping different cuts cooking at different heats and making sure everyone can have their favorite meats at their preferred levels. Have a conversation, ask what's good, and take a look inside to see if the cut is the way you want it. It is not uncommon to ask for something more or less well done.

After he slices off the portion you desire, he will sprinkle a bit of salt back on the less cooked and now exposed meat and pop it back into the cooking rotation. In the end, the only complaint here may be that the meats are salted too much, but they are all excellent cuts and supremely satisfying.


Meats are weighed separately and at a higher price, so grab another plate for the buffet, usually just as tempting in a Brazilian restaurant. There is something truly unique and special about a simple portion of Brazilian black beans, white rice, and farofa, the beloved toasted cassava that can be sprinkled over just about everything.

Rice prepared by Brazilians always has a nice shiny gloss to it because before water is added it is fried in oil with cloves of garlic and onion, giving it a pleasant aromatic quality. Add this, some of their wonderful black beans (feijão), and some other "healthier" fare to your plate if desired.


Vegetables in a vinegar marinade make for a nice way to cut through the fats of the meat, as does the nice chimichurri sauce which can also be eaten with just about everything.

Chalanas also has a full bar, so on nights when that becomes necessary they are here for you. After dinner, grab some drinks and head outside under the tent for live music with Mount Vernon's Brazilians.

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MOUNT VERNON New York
Chalanas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

16 June 2019

Jiang Nan Pancake Inc.

CHINA 🇨🇳

Typically you might expect the peoples south of the Yangtze River to be more focused on rice dishes and rice noodles, but the proprietors of Jiang Nan Pancake have taken it upon themselves to change your mind. "Jiang Nan" traditionally refers to the geographical area just south of the far eastern reaches of the third longest river in the world, and far to the south of Shandong and Tianjin where you might find the origins of jianbing, the star of the menu here.

The friendly folks that run the place will ask you if it is your first time coming and seem to be a little sharper with customer service than most. Orders are constantly being picked up by app-based delivery drivers, but they do have two small counters to sit at inside. Pull up a chair in front of the jianbing maker and enjoy the show.


The connection between Shandong, China and Bretagne, France are immediate when you see the jianbing being prepared. The utensils may be a bit different, but the spreading of batter thin over a flat circular griddle is very similar. Toppings are added right on top as it cooks and when ready everything is folded together perfectly.

They offer a classic meatless jianbing for $4, a roast duck version for $9.50, and six other options in between. The wrapper is made from whole grain wheat flour and green bean, and in each "pancake" is egg, cilantro, scallion, lettuce, sesame, their house special sauce, and an ingredient translated as "crunch."


This crispy layer is important, adding a nice contrast to the softness of the wrapper. When the braised pork jianbing ($6, above and below) arrived it appeared to be two pieces, but this is an intricate folding system and is all one unit. The house special sauce is quite sweet but not overwhelming amongst all the other savory ingredients. Bottles of Sriracha are ready for a little kick if you need it.


Start tearing into your jianbing and it gets more interesting with each bite. Different textures and tastes populate every inch with another experience. One bite might swing towards sweet while the next is crispy and fatty. No matter which version you order, be prepared to be full and do not plan on eating anything else.


The shop also has some noodle soups and cold noodle dishes, so a return visit seemed necessary to see if the back of the menu was worth exploring as well. Unfortunately, based on the spicy cold noodle ($5.50, below), this side does not warrant much more thought and any follow-up meals will return back to the jianbing.


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Jiangnan Pancake Inc. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13 June 2019

I O Caffe

SERBIA 🇷🇸

As Ridgewood continues to change and newcomers with earbuds shuffle down the subway stairs at Forest Avenue to quickly walk home, I O Caffe continues to be the place it has always been for the last 25 years or so. With its dark, barred windows and solid door that offer no glimpses inside even at night, it takes somewhat of a leap of faith to swing open the heavy portal and step inside. The right folks might bring the jukebox screeching to a halt just like in the movies, but since I am Serbian-passing the intensity level of stares were simply at harmless intruder level.

But all that evaporates away pretty quickly just like it does in most longtime corner bars that only get a few outsiders. After all, the door is always open, I O Caffe just keeps to itself. And if this leap had not been made, a really nice plate of ćevapi and the friendly welcome would never have been found. As a group of men smokes and plays dominos in the back, grab one of the ten or so seats at the bar and settle in.

As with most Balkan bars here in the city, it opens early and has an espresso machine, making sure your morning and evening vices can all be taken care of in the same place. While the East Village has an actual Serbian place called Kafana, this is what an establishment with the description of a "coffee house" usually feels like back home. When asked about the clientele, the very friendly barman on this day tells me:

"People from all over the Balkans come here. Here they get along, over there they don't."


The meal above was procured at 17:00 on a Monday and required him to kick the whole operation into gear back in their tiny open kitchen. At a similar time on a weekday before this, the woman running the place said that food usually starts around 19:00. Still unclear of the rules, it should be noted that showing up at least close to dinner time or later should land you better chances of eating.

There is no menu, but plates of ćevapi (above) are the main offering. When salad and fries were mentioned they were not turned down, as it was the goal of the meal to try as much as they were cooking. $25 ended up being the total for 10 perfectly grilled pieces of meat over crisp fries, some bread, and an excellent and large šopska, a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, red peppers, and a healthy sprinkling of Bulgarian goat cheese.

While most of the tables are empty during a weekday afternoon, the bar must be fun and spirited on a full evening. Five TVs over the bar play Serbian karaoke via YouTube but would be excellent for a particularly thrilling non-American football match. And while they do not carry the Serbian lager Jelen, there are enough beers and spirits here to make most non-hipster folks happy.

Even though they don't carry it, ask for a Jelen anyways when you arrive and you'll get an earful of Serbian and the immediate endearment of the barman.

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I O Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

07 June 2019

La Fondita Restaurant

MÉXICO 🇲🇽

After undergoing a recent renovation and sitting empty for a while, the two story building here at the southern reaches of Woodside finally has a new tenant that has settled into the space. La Fondita is now a bit over one month old, and offers a bright and welcoming face both inside and out to 69th Street.

Recently while walking down to Maspeth, the hand-written sign below stopped me in my tracks from across the street and altered an entire day's eating plans. What is this you say? A mole from Guerrero? Wandering in to pick up a menu, a conversation confirmed that the chef was from this southern state. Usually known by outsiders for Acapulco and nearby coastal paradises, Guerrero is actually very mountainous and travel through it requires long rides on small, winding roads.


Because of limited options for work in Guerrero outside of tourism, it has been a source of many immigrants to the United States, but for the most part these folks have not made their way to New York City yet. Seeing a chef take the initiative is always exciting, and hopefully success can lead to an expansion of comida guerrerense on their menu.

On this day, some other plans were scrapped, and a plate of the mole tradicional guerrence ($16.95, below) was ordered and immensely enjoyed. Along with rice and beans, the mole comes out almost glowing, a bright red and deep burgundy somehow cohabitating. The sauce has a granular quality to it, thick with sesame seeds and half the spices in the pantry. The heat tickles the front of your tongue right on the first bite.


Recipes online seem to favor both pasilla and guajillo peppers, which would explain some of the coloring and roasted flavors as both are dried. On another visit the quest will need to include a list of important ingredients as the sauce is still lingering through my thoughts.

For the time being, this is the only item from Guerrero available, but the reply from the server hinted at the possibility of more in the future. This should be everyone's cue to go and show interest so that they know the market is hungry for traditional foods from the state. I remember a fresh and light green mole in travels through Guerrero as well and can only hope this makes its way to the restaurant.


Besides that sign in the window, La Fondita Restaurant could seem like any other run of the mill Mexican restaurant in the city with colorful green, white, and red papeles picados, the cutout banners hung from the ceiling, wooden Aztec art, and a corner dedicated to the Virgin of Guadeloupe.

For the foreseeable future you can also enjoy some live music on Saturdays, when the place promises to be very festive for drinkers. If and when some other menu items are added, updates will of course be right here.

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La Fondita Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

05 June 2019

LakFood

MALDIVES 🇲🇻
SRI LANKA 🇱🇰

Through enough contact with Sri Lankan cuisines, and sometimes those of southern Indian states, a crucial ingredient always seems to be Maldive fish. Without doing the proper preparations, one might wander in and look for this over ice or in the freezer, but recently it was stumbled upon on the shelves of a Sri Lankan grocery store just off of Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, Queens a bit beyond the final stop of the F train.

This is its natural state, for tradition dictates that the flesh of the fish, in this case skipjack tuna, is smoked and dried by the sun before being cut into small pieces. This manner of preparation allows the small pieces to retain a very long shelf life and was used long before there was electricity.


The "chips" actually come out of the jar looking like small wood chips (below), and are certainly not meant for satisfying a late night snack crave. In the cuisines of the Maldives and Sri Lanka, the Maldive fish is used similarly to how dried shrimp paste is used from Myanmar to Malaysia, as a concentrated base of taste. A typical purchase (somewhere near the Indian Ocean, but not in Queens) would usually be a large filet that has been smoked and sun dried whole, taken home like a piece of wood, and then broken apart as needed in the kitchen.


In addition to these, LakFood stocks an array of other ingredients necessary for any Sri Lankan kitchen, as well as some homemade foods brought in on weekends. Since this visit took place on a Saturday, a case full fried fish and vegetable cutlets (rolls) were inviting, as well as the onion (seeni sambol) or fish filled triangular buns (below).


Inside the seeni sambol bun.

In front of this case were single portions of lamprais, string hoppers, and chicken curry, all made in the same home and only available on Saturday and Sunday.

A roam through the three aisles here is also fun, many dried goods share the shelves with bottles of liquids and the refrigerators are full of plenty to explore. The spicy cocktail snack below was delicious, full of what you might expect from looking at it, but also with chewy sweet raisins to counteract the good heat it brings.



The only disappointment of the day.


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02 June 2019

Taqueria Sinaloense

MÉXICO 🇲🇽 (SINALOA)

The tiny little neighborhood of Marble Hill is a frustrating piece of land, with a Bronx zip code and having all the geographic clues of a Bronx neighborhood, but still annoyingly part of Manhattan. To understand it, one must travel back in history over 100 years to the dredging of the Harlem River Ship Canal. Before this time, the river ran to the north of the neighborhood and Marble Hill was part of Manhattan island, but that section was too narrow and shallow for the kind of ships desired to pass and the new canal was born. For a few years after this, Marble Hill was actually an island, but eventually the north part of the river was filled in and the neighborhood is technically the only part of Manhattan that is connected to the mainland of the country.

In modern times (since 2018), Marble Hill is home to a tiny little taqueria with a name just as odd for New York City as the history of how the neighborhood is part of Manhattan. In the area's most southerly street, overlooking the tracks of Metro North and the Harlem River, a few steps down brings you into Taqueria Sinaloense, of course named for the state of Sinaloa in northwest México known for some of the most delicious cuisine in all the country.

Unfortunately for New York City and the east coast, most people from this state have remained out west. Los Angeles, as well as much of southern California and Arizona are populated with Sinaloan restaurants, where even regional differences and rivalries between the cities of Culiacán and Mazatlán can be tasted in neighboring establishments. We briefly were entertained by a restaurant in Queens of the same name that whetted the appetites of even the paper of record before closing down suddenly after less than a year.


When the new Taqueria Sinaloense (no relation to the former) opened last year, I spoke with the owner over the phone to inquire about some of the most well-known and delicious foods from Sinaloa and whether they would be offered here. At that time there were no plans for them, but with a menu that uses the state's seal and proclaims "Authentic Tacos from North of México" right on the front, somehow I knew it would be necessary to keep checking in from time to time.

After recently seeing a plate of chilorio and frijoles puercos show up online, I did not bother calling and high-tailed it back to Marble Hill. The results are decidedly mixed, but with some imagination, and the right orders, a meal here could be very good. Unfortunately the chilorio (above), a slow-simmered pork that is then fried with chilies is not part of that order, as it has the consistency, temperament, and spicing of something that recently lived in a can.


The frijoles puercos (beans cooked with pork lard) from the photo were unfortunately discontinued because they were not a big seller, and machaca (dried and shredded beef usually enjoyed for breakfast with eggs and fluffy flour tortillas) does not seem to be in the cards. This led to an order of pozole ($8, above and below), which gives no hint of its style on the menu but after inquiry was promised in estilo Sinaloa.

After somewhat of a disappointment with the rest of the order, what arrived in this bowl was pure joy. In Sinaloa the pozoles are normally red with chile pasilla or chile ancho, but they go a step further here and turn the pork hominy soup into a fiery dream with chiles de arbol, a much spicier cousin. The broth is also full of garlic and onions buried within, and worth coming for on its own.


Another specifically Sinaloan item you can find on the menu is the taco gobernador ($4, below), named for the former governor of Sinaloa who first asked for the combination. Unfortunately, this is not a taco gobernador, which should be filled not only with shrimp, tomatoes, and peppers, but also cheese before being briefly fried after filling. The resulting taco should be crisp as the cheese melts and surrounds the tortillas, maybe next time this can be specifically asked for?


The rest of the menu is extensive and reads like much like many deli groceries around town, with photos of everything posted on the front of the shop as well to entice folks to enter. There is one table that seats four, and another four can eat at the high counter along one wall, but if the shop ever had close to eight eating all at once it would probably feel a bit too intimate. Thankfully for those dining in, it seems like most people just come in for takeout.

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

30 May 2019

Haboaba's Kitchen

SUDAN 🇸🇩

If you ever happen to travel the country of Sudan, it will be almost certain that you receive an invitation into someone's home. Hospitality is part of everyday life, and Sudanese people will risk life and limb (even if they say it is not any trouble) to make sure any guest is treated with the full arsenal of the kitchen. It is also expected to frequently drop by (often unannounced) the homes of your neighbors, friends, and family to pay respects and catch up on any news.

To make sure to always be prepared for these occasions, every house will have a selection of small treats to serve with tea. Most popular in the country are the sweet biscuits known as baskaweet al-shai, the product offered by brand new Haboaba's Kitchen. Each home has a slightly different recipe and design for the cookies, which can be of many shapes and sizes.


The distinctive shape and taste found in these cookies is of course the famous recipe of grandma, or "haboaba," a term of endearment used in Sudan when speaking to or about a grandmother. The proprietor of Haboaba's Kitchen, Sulafa Bashir, has named her business in honor of her grandmother, who was well known for making this style of unmistakable baskaweet al-shai.

As Eid al-Fitr, the festival of breaking the fast approaches at the coming end of Ramadan, now would be the time to traditionally stock up on these biscuits, by baking a large batch or of course purchasing some to have around. Typically these are enjoyed around breakfast in the morning and later in the afternoon as a tea time snack, but during Ramadan of course these options are not available as most Sudanese are fasting. After Eid al-Fitr, everyone can go back to delighting in their baskaweet al-shai at proper hours.


[DISCLAIMER]
While this article reads much like an advertisement, it is not. I reached out to the business after finding it on Instagram, and was immediately treated as an old friend much like the hospitality described above. This business is not a restaurant, so I was invited to the home of the proprietor after inquiring to learn more and offered tea and biscuits (and an entire iftar feast with a couple other friends). The box below is offered for sale on Haboaba's Kitchen's Etsy page, which we purchased to bring home.

If you are interested, you can find this and their other products here:
Haboaba's Kitchen Etsy page


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28 May 2019

Bohemian Bakery

CZECHIA 🇨🇿

The Central European fried flatbread known as lángos or langoš (or langosh here, the "h" added to deal with the "shhh" sound of the Czech "š" most likely) continues to have a finicky relationship to New York City. Originally from Hungary, nowadays it can be found in versions from its northern neighbor at Slovak places like Koliba in Astoria and as the "bun" in terrific burgers at Brooklyn's Korzo. For a short time, a Hungarian lángos truck roamed the streets of Midtown but disappeared before we ever found it.

For those wishing to try it, one more option has popped up and seems to be a permanent fixture at the Queens International Night Market, which takes place every Saturday evening during warmer months. The pair who created the new business were spotted at a Christmas market and a fundraiser here and there late last year, and have made the leap to offering their goods to a broader audience here in Queens.


Bohemia is a well-used word in the English language now but finds its roots in what is modern day Czechia, a region and former empire that is home to over half the country's land and people, as well as everyone's favorite European city Prague. The over 100 year old Astoria beer garden of the same name gets its inspiration from here as well.

For no reason besides ignorance, expectations were quite low when the table was approached here on one of the first pleasant evenings of 2019, somehow the market just did not seem to be the right environment for langoš. The results were indeed surprising and full compliments must be rewarded to the bakers here at Bohemian.


What looks to be a light and airy puff is actually dense, chewy, and very moist inside. All varieties of savory langoš are $5 as the market encourages and come as "basic" (above, right) with garlic and cheese, can have bacon (top photo) or tartar sauce (above, left). Those feeling spicy might try the "devil," which adds their undescribed "devil sauce" to the top. No matter which one you order, be prepared for an intense garlicky experience.

It will be difficult to resist an order from here each time a return to the night market is on offer.

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