27 November 2015



Ever since I saw word of New York City's first Somali restaurant on Eating in Translation, I made plans to come up to Harlem to check it out. I have not traveled in the East of Africa yet, but I had one prior Somali meal in Toronto that I was pleased with and wanted to try more. The first time I tried was a Friday, so the place was naturally closed, my mistake.

West 116th Street is still known as Little Senegal, but doesn't feel at all like it once did. There are some West Africans that go to the Senegalese center a block away from Safari, but most of the restaurants have closed or moved, including Africa Kine, which ten years ago would have seemed unthinkable. It's building is covered in scaffolding, probably turning into trendy lofts for the people moving in and drastically changing this neighborhood. There is a lot of good writing out there documenting this change, if you are interested.

It is in this context that Safari opens, a bold move that has not gone unnoticed. As stated, it is the only place to get a taste of Somali food in New York City, so is worth a visit.

A scramble of Somali script covers one wall.

I have been here twice now, once alone, and once with a group of five. Both times I was treated like a VIP, the tall man in charge is constantly checking on things and making sure his customers are happy, a smile a constant feature of his face. The place runs a little slower than the New York standard, so make sure you set your internal clocks to African time before going. This kind of love takes time.

Up and down the east coast of Africa, the history of thriving trade throughout the Indian Ocean is evident with the spices and dishes of the subcontinent. A plate of the beef sambuusas ($8, below) is about the only regular starter they have, two fried triangles of beef and mint served with the ubiquitous bisbaas sauce. This meat is not quite as tasty as its Indian brother, but the garlic sauce is something you will come to love with every bite of your meal and is served with almost every dish.

I am always attracted to geography, so my first trip here alone could not find its way past a dish named for a city, the Mogadishu beef suqaar ($14, below). You can choose between rice and sabaaya, their name for Indian chapatti, but I seemed to be offered both and of course welcomed this. The extra sabaaya does show up as $2 on the final bill, but is the traditional accompaniment for stews like this and should not be overlooked.

The dish is also available in chicken form, the Kismaayo chicken suqaar ($14, below). Kismaayo is a port city even further south from Mogadishu, almost to the border with Kenya, near the mouth of the Jubba River. Here the spices are just a bit sharper on the bird which has been turned red, most likely from mitmita.

The first dish in the mains section of the menu is Hooyo Faduma's mango curry chicken ($16, below), a dish they seem to know will be popular with non-Somalis. We were all impressed by the pickled tastes here, with only a slight sweetness of fruit coming through the pureed mango sauce.

The busketti ($15, below) was ordered strictly for the chance to try whatever the "federation combo" was, which was promised to be served with the thin sliced flank steak. This combo seemed to be the vegetables in a creamy orange sauce underneath the steak, which can be mixed with the rice if desired, but otherwise not noteworthy unfortunately.

On my first trip here they had not prepared the hilib ari ($17, below), a roasted goat that takes many hours to prepare. It is worth the wait for lovers of goat though, the tender pieces and spices speaking as one voice on your tongue. The menu calls this the most popular Somali dish, speaking of the popularity of the animal back in the homeland, usually marinated and roasted for hours to create this powerful deliciousness.

It is no surprise that the sabaaya is used again for the taming of a sweet tooth. The malab iyo sabaaya ($6, below) is simple but tasty with sugar and honey, rolled tight for a dense bite.

I followed my second meal up here with a lunch visit to a Somali restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, a city that has seen a steady stream of Somali migration over the past decades. A section of the city has restaurants and services popping up for the people here, a change vastly different than the city of my youth. Here the rhythm of the meal seems more authentic, bananas and a small soup are brought out to each diner just as they are in Somalia, and the place is full of Somalis morning noon and night.

Along with those bananas, I only wish Safari would also serve canjeera, the bread similar to Ethiopian injera but less sour as it uses butter and milk. I also had the chance to try it in Columbus and really enjoyed the differences.

Safari Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

21 November 2015

Patagonia Restaurant and Bakery


A few years back I had a full belly when walking by a small Chilean cafe on 48th Street in Union City, New Jersey, but wrote it down in my notes and planned to come back at some point. When that day finally came in November of 2015, the cafe had been closed for years and long gone, now a Dominican grocery store. In my search for Chilean cuisine, I later got lucky as my walk through the neighborhoods of Union City, West New York, and North Bergen turned up Patagonia, an almost one year old restaurant with the same owner as the deli.

Citing a leaky roof and water problems, he moved over to Park Avenue in West New York to expand into a more formal setting, with what must be the exact same furniture that was used in the preceding Italian restaurant in the same space.

As the only lunch customer, I had a nice conversation about Chile with my server and the general absence of the food in New York City (with one exception). To be honest though, Chilean meals are not stars. When I traveled in Patagonia and crossed the border back and forth between Argentina, it was always a relief to come back to Argentinean food. I like the Chilean sandwiches and fast food, and nothing beats an empanada de pino ($3.50, not shown), one of which I took to go, but this restaurant did little to change my perception of the cuisine as a whole.

I was eating alone but determined to order as much as possible, so I tried the appetizer palta cardenal ($9, above), a half avocado covered in mayonnaise and once frozen shrimp. This does not seem like an item that deserves to be served in a restaurant. It was not good.

I had higher hopes for the pastel de choclo ($14, below), which came out looking very appetizing. It was not bad for sure, but despite having chicken inside and powdered sugar on top, corn was the overwhelming taste, covering up everything else.

I started adding some of the aji that was served with the homemade table bread, which spiced life up a bit. The hot plate has a great texture and a lot of potential, just suffers from being a little bland.

Did I order poorly? Maybe some of the grilled or sauteed meats are better choices? I'm still interested, just not satisfied yet.

Patagonia Restaurant and Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

18 November 2015

Venezuela's Finest Eatery


Since I first noticed this small shop on mainly residential 6th Avenue in Sunset Park, I have tried to eat there three times, with only one success. The first time was on a Wednesday, which they happen to be closed on. It turns out they take a three day weekend, Monday through Wednesday. The second time was the successful one, and this past Friday I tried again to sample a couple more items but at lunch time they were inexplicably closed. Two people were inside and one shook the closed sign when I tried to open the door.

I was very excited for Venezuelan cuisine to come to my neighborhood, but after these three trips I might give "Finest" some time to settle in and figure out what it wants to be. Even the meal I was able to have here was a bit off due to the fact that the woman working the counter spent most of her time outside with her boyfriend.

What I did like, was the Venezuelan perro caliente ($4, below), which I crammed down while waiting on a friend to arrive. There is cheese and chips and coleslaw on this beef dog (and yes that is a literal translation of "hot dog"), as well as the ubiquitous pink sauce you find around Venezuelan fast food, a kind of spiced mayo.

Also highly recommended is the papelon ($3, below), a cane sugar drink with a lot of lime. It comes close to being the most refreshing drink of all time, I just wish it did not go down so quickly.

As you can already see, every item served even for dining in is given in a throwaway plastic or aluminum container. I am not a fancy person, I just hate to waste so much and I hope they switch to real plates for customers that take their food in house.

Tequeños ($4, below) are iconic Venezuelan fast food, simple fried sticks of cheese with that aforementioned pink mayo. I would pass on these next time, unfortunately.

They have a decent selection of arepa choices, which would allow variety for the regular customer. We chose de pabellon ($6, below), which has beans and plantains stuffed in with the meat of your choice. I definitely want to try more of the other options.

Irresistable on the menu was the infamous bien me sabe ($5, below), a large heavy brick of coconut cake and a splash of cinnamon. It also seems to have a splash of rum, but despite being tasty was just too dense and rich for me to have more than two or three bites.

I want to like this place more. I will try some other things and hope for the best. Let's just hope they decide to open the next time I try.

Venezuela's Finest Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13 November 2015

Xiao Dong Bei


Tucked into a very quiet block of 37th Avenue in Flushing, sharing the street with a few low key Chinese bars, is another restaurant featuring the cuisine of Dongbei. This comprises the three most northeast provinces of China, bordered by Korea, Russia, and Inner Mongolia.

Walking in past the neon open sign, a bright dining room greets customers, as well as a menu that reads fairly comprehensively of mainstream Chinese cuisine. When you open it, it is somewhat hard to detect the Dongbei slant of the owners and chefs, which we came for on this day. Bring a friend who speaks Mandarin or press them hard for the true Dongbei dishes, and you will be rewarded with a very delicious and authentic meal.

Due to very harsh winters, Dongbei cuisine relies heavily on preserved and pickled foods. One of the most iconic appetizers is a cold dish of black fungus with hot and sour sauce ($9, below), an enjoyment that is more about the sour than the hot. It has a delightful tang to it, with some pickled vegetables providing a crunch to counter the chewiness of the fungus.

What appear to be flat noodles are actually the spicy tofu skin with hot sauce ($12, below). As with the other "spicy" dishes, the cuisine up here in the north does not compare with Hunan and Sichuan spice, but does have other tastes that will have your mouth wondering what is in it, a good experience.

More pickled vegetables are used in a sheet jelly dish that I did not catch the name of (below). It is sitting in quite a bit of sauce that is full of sesame, almost sweet. Recommended.

More jelly and pickled goodness are in the stir-fried sour cabbage with vermicelli ($11, below), which also has thin slices of pork inside. The thin glass noodles do not spoon so well, we all ended up grabbing our portions with chopsticks then spooning over the sauce.

For those in the mood for meat and potatoes, great for harsh northern winters, the stewed beef with potato in chili sauce ($16, below) is a must. It is surrounded by a puffy tasteless bread that is good for soaking up the meat fats at the bottom of the boiling dish. When it arrives at the table, a fire will be lit underneath, keeping the dish piping hot for quite some time.

The grand daddy of Flushing Dongbei restaurants and seemingly the go-to dish is crispy lamb rib with chili pepper ($26, below). The rack is as fatty as can be, in a good way, and piled high with cumin and pepper. The plate is worth every penny, and don't be shy to eat all of that meat off the bones with your hands.

So again, stick to your guns when you get here and try to fill your table with as much Dongbei cuisine as you can. You can try the other dishes in other restaurants, but now that winter is approaching it is the best time to bundle up and try the hard life up north.

Xiao Dong Bei Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

10 November 2015

Tamashii Ramen


Since opening, Tamashii Ramen has made a decent splash in the city's ramen scene with two locations, but at least a two meter high wave in the minds of Queens residents. I love Queens, but I have come to think of its residents as having something of a severe Napoleon complex. I would prefer to take advantage of the splendor of all five boroughs and beyond, but for those that believe everything is possible in one county, Tamashii is a good addition.

We started our meal with a nice plate of takoyaki ($5.25, below), one octopus tentacle wrapped in wheat flour batter and lightly fried to preserve the interior gooeyness. I would have loved to have had my own squeeze bottles of Japanese mayo and takoyaki sauce at the table so that I could have quadrupled their quantities.

I came to this efficiently run, workaday place first for a weekend lunch and ordered the specialty of the house, Tamashii ramen ($10.95, below), a nice fatty broth which the menu describes as "light and clean." Of the three bowls I have consumed, this standard remains my favorite.

Less "light and clean," but not as flavorful is the miso ramen ($11.95, below), which I added plenty of shichimi to for the flavor kick I desired. Like the house special, this bowl comes with very good pieces of chasyu, menma, and egg. The noodles in their bowls will not blow anyone away but definitely do not distract from the meal.

More flavorful is the champon ($12.95, below), described as a spicy seafood soup. We added a lot of red pepper to the broth to get it to being actually spicy, but once that was done the dish was on point. Besides the octopus and shrimp you can see in the photo, there are two large mussels submerged, the bowl is definitely not stingy.

They also have a vegetarian version of the champon, which scares me a little, and quite an extensive menu of non-ramen options for those not in the mood for noodles. It probably would not have made so much business sense for such a specific noodle place to open in Astoria or Long Island City without a large list of Japanese favorites to satisfy all tastes. Astoria is not that far away from Midtown, but now satisfactory ramen is even closer to home for some.

Click to add a blog post for Tamashii Ramen on Zomato

09 November 2015

Taqueria Izucar


Slotted into a tiny triangular space on the end of a building, Izucar makes the most of its arrangement with a kitchen that is consistently spinning out good antojitos. The dining space consists of two counters and a few more stools, but any arrangement of multiple customers is going to be a bit crowded, adding to the charm. Sitting down to eat will inject you into the lives of the chef and any other patrons.

On the brick wall just to the right of the awning is a mural of the ubiquitous Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe under the sign of Tacos Izucar. If "our lady" likes it, it must be good. You might find yourself eating out here next to her if the place is full, your conversations repeatedly paused by the M train above.

When a seemingly nondescript taco joint puts one of their meats at the top of their list, it is usually because this is what they do best. This unscientific theory I just made up is confirmed here, as the suadero is king. These small pieces of veal flank are smooth and expertly seared, and were delicious on our order of sopes ($7.50, below).

We also grabbed a couple of their taquitos ($1.50, below) with chorizo. They do things pretty bare bones here, allowing you to squeeze and dribble all your other tastes on as desired. The meats speak for themselves.

All in all, Bushwick has plenty of antojitos joints but this is up there with the top ones. Maybe coming from a different part of the city is not worth the trouble, but enjoying a quick bite when nearby is recommended.

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

06 November 2015

Northside Bakery


In technical terms, this place goes by Old Poland Bakery & Restaurant, and also has a couple other branches in the general area. On the awning, it says Northside Bakery, a little more general, but once inside still very Polish. This Nassau Avenue location indeed has two distinct parts, a bakery, and a small steam table operation selling prepared hot food by the pound.

One exception to this pricing system is the soup. My bowl of pickle soup ($3, below) was hardly hearty, but very delicious and definitely whetted the tubes for further things to come.

In total my order came to $10.22, so the weight of everything in the next two photos came to just over $7 and was definitely too much for me to eat comfortably. They have both potato and cabbage pierogi (below), so I grabbed two of each. These little guys are ordered by many and thus very fresh, a great find. Be sure to ask for a little bowl of sour cream for dolloping on these and other things.

To round out the rest of my hearty lunch, I asked for a plate with two potato pancakes and a portion of goulash, both excellent and also well-paired with that sour cream I had too much of. The gravy or soup from the goulash could realistically go with just about anything on offer here.

Just from my short time here, maybe 20 minutes or so eating, a steady stream of Polish men and women came in to place orders at the steam table and the bakery. It is obvious that this place is a neighborhood favorite.

If you are interested in Polish baked goods, pick up a pamphlet to see all the variety of "old style" bread and rolls they make, some available daily and some made to order. Options of bread loaves on offer are almost 20 and include Granny's 100% Rye Bread with Honey.

Northside Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

05 November 2015



Depending on what kind of person you are, and where you come from, you may have slightly different reactions to the front of Stolovaya which promises "Authentic Soviet Cuisine." I fall in the camp that wants to run inside and try everything, as the Soviet Union no longer exists. Does the food?

As one might expect, most of the dishes here line up exactly as you would find on one of the many Brooklyn Russian restaurants. As per usual, a good selection of appetizers is usually a good plan. All of the food here comes in large portions and is priced almost laughably low. They serve a couple beers on draft, and let you bring in your own bottles of spirits.

Herring salad ($6.95)

Olivye salad ($4.95)

Veal tongue salad ($7.95)

My Ukrainian friend always loves comparing things to the "old country," and had a good time here with the brisk service, which I actually did not find all that off putting. For a Brooklyn Russian restaurant, the place is actually quite charming and welcoming. I think they don't even add that annoying service charge you usually find.

My favorite dish of the evening was the stuffed cabbage ($6.95, below), a dense block of meat, vegetables, and spices inside of some very green boiled cabbage leaves.

On their old awning and still on their menu, next to Stolovaya reads "Russian-style ravioli," a hint towards ordering fresh plates of pelmeni and/or vareniki, all priced at $4.95 for 25. We ordered a few different types, including the sour cherry version to start our paths later to dessert. These ravioli are quite small, so do not be afraid to order a good variety.

A short list of kebabs is also available, chicken and pork for $7.90, beef and lamb for $9.90. All are served in the style of any central Asian restaurant, with the boring red tomato sauce on the side.

There was a Thai amongst us, so we had a hard time not being extra curious about the "Thai chicken" that loomed large on the specials board. What arrived (below), was sort of impressive. A decently marinated moist chicken came riding in a fried tortilla boat of some sort, sprinkled with black sesames and covered in a white sauce. On the side were served peas, cabbage, and kasha. Brought us all right back to Bangkok, indeed.

Dessert was definitely a highlight, complete with both options from the menu. The spartak ($4.50) and smetanik ($4.50), of which by name I do not know the difference are above and below here, both served chilled and very creamy. If you are ordering just one, show the photo above, as it was the one we devoured despite our full bellies. Delicious.

All in all, even though my tourist visa was denied back in the 80's and I don't know the real way things were, Stolovaya probably does not pass as a viable "Soviet-style" place. Its kitschy fake retro posters are the kind found in any Williamsburg flea market. What it does pass for though is a great place for cheap Russian standards, an entirely enjoyable meal that will not come close to breaking the bank.

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