>> Eat the World NYC

19 February 2019



Rather quietly sometime in the middle of January, the section of Brooklyn that had lost its beloved South African restaurant Madiba just a year prior suddenly woke up to find another one open a few blocks east in Clinton Hill. Amandla gets its name from the days of apartheid in South Africa, where this word that means "power" was used by the resistance, and today still is employed in the ongoing struggle against oppression.

The mood inside this new space is less of struggle and more about chill. A mashup of textures and furniture are leftover from the previous bar that used to live here, while a bright new mural dedicated to South Africa has been commissioned for the front of the restaurant. During my first visit, the paint was literally still drying.

The comfortable bar (and tastefully worn bar stools) are holdovers from the last place and remain a nice choice to sit and enjoy drinks and a meal here. Draft beers for $8 are sometimes poured in pints and other times in 11 ounce glasses, while a few bottles and a decent wine selection are backed up by a full bar that seems to focus on agave-based spirits. There is still an oyster happy hour and oyster bar decor on the walls.

So far the vibe seems to be a relaxed neighborhood feel, although it appears that events will be common on weekends. Amandla is opening their doors to a lot of possibilities.

Ever since my first time being taken skiing as a child, I have been a big fan of bread bowls, and later in life was immediately taken by the first bunny chow I had the joy to eat. This Durban-style curry traditionally is served in a carved out loaf of white bread. Origin stories are still debated, but as can be guessed the large population of Indians in Durban had something to do with the evolution.

The lamb bunny chow ($24, above) can also simply be called "bunny" and is available in vegetable and chicken curries as well. A side of mango chutney can be added to bites as desired. Our version had terrific spicing and was very flavorful, but unfortunately the pieces of lamb were very dry. Much of what gravy does exist gets soaked into the bread, making these bites the true winners of the dish.

Bobotie is another well-known South African dish, usually prepared as a type of casserole with minced meat and egg. Here the chef offers a bobotie sandwich ($12, above and below), with curried ground beef and egg in a thin custard layer. The resulting sandwich is tasty and could be compared to a sloppy joe for people that have positive opinions of sloppy joes.

I had the pleasure of dining this second time with a man who has "Malva Pudding Expert" on his business card and who was super excited to skip straight to dessert. This South African favorite ($10, below) is a dense, sugar-filled dessert which has the texture of cake rather than pudding as it is known here. Taking a spoon to slice through the spongy cake will spring back the gooey insides.

The expert was a little underwhelmed, but it should be said the entire dessert was rapidly cleaned from the plate.

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

16 February 2019

NY Noodles (Bún Bò Huế Đức Chương Midnite)


After Rangoon Spoon unfortunately was unable to survive, it did not take long for the same space in Gravesend to start seeing construction and come to life as a new restaurant. The inside underwent a bit of rearranging but a lot of the same guts are there, while the cuisine has been swapped to a bún bò Huế specialist originally from Houston called Đức Chương that here goes by the name of NY Noodles. The opening day was set for 20 January 2019, unfortunately the exact date I left the city for two weeks and therefore apologies for the late report.

At first I had my doubts about the connection. Were they using the graphics and name from the Houston restaurant? A quick call to the "Midnite" location in Houston (one of several now) confirmed their relation though, a startling turn of events for New York City Vietnamese. Houston is one of the best Vietnamese cities in the country and having their influence would surely be a step in the right direction.

The owner here used to work in one of the branches in Houston, and was a pleasant presence throughout our meal, smiling and making sure all the dishes were enjoyed. It is nice to see Vietnamese menus that stray from the standard rules and concentrate on a few things, much like nearby standouts Little Saigon Pearl and Em Vietnamese.

Despite being fairly late into the evening, the dinner got off to a very good start with fresh gỏi cuốn ($4.99, above), "traditionally" translated as "summer rolls" but here given the season of spring. No matter, all the right amounts of shrimp and pork, fresh greens and vermicelli noodles were all wrapped up and splendid, showing none of the signs of being made earlier in the day like is common with night orders. The hoisin/peanut/garlic dip could not have been more pleasant.

The star of the show in Houston, and the reason everyone comes to the restaurant is for the bún bò Huế ($8.99 small, below), the famous noodle bowls from central Vietnamese city of Huế. The noodles are reminiscent of spaghetti, if a bowl of Vietnamese noodles can be, but swim in a broth that combines all the pleasures of all realms of taste, sour, spicy, salty, and umami. When it was placed on the table in front of me, an excitement was palpable.

That balance of taste, as well as a sharp kick of lemongrass and chile just seemed all a bit out of whack. After adding squeezes of lime and a few spoonfuls of red pepper sauce from one of the table jars, it got close, but I could not put my hand on what was absent. The broth had pork blood and was weighed down by meaty fatty bones of pig leg but lacked beef flavor and Vietnamese ham slices.

Like the Houston spots, a plate of nice greens to add came out looking fresh and good, and just like there the purple cabbage was the base rather than a pile of boring bean sprouts like is custom for New York City. These all helped immensely, we can only hope they do not decide to scale back in the future to cut costs.

One pleasant surprise on the menu was the bún thịt nướng chả giò ($8.99, below), a vermicelli dish served at room temperature with fried spring rolls and pork chop. The "chop" ended up being salty thin slices rather than the usual sweetened marinade, but otherwise it is about as top quality as it gets here. The chả giò (fried spring rolls) in particular are lovely, and the side of nước chấm is much better than usual. I think (possibly accidentally) New York City has its go to bún spot now.

I will add a report in a month or two to see the progress and check in the place. For now, go with tempered expectations but welcome a little part of Houston Vietnamese to Brooklyn.

NY Noodles (Bún Bò Huế Đức Chư Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

15 February 2019

Reina de la Nube


From the outside, with an awning that has long disintegrated away, the poetic and whimsical name of "Queen of the Cloud" might only be familiar to Ecuadorians and a few Peruvians with knowledge of the history. A sticker in the front window honors nuestra señora de la nube, a story that goes back to the 1600's when the Virgin Mary appeared in the sky above a prayer procession on its way from a village to Quito. At the site of this appearance, there is now a festival each year to celebrate the events.

Back down here on Earth, this little bakery and restaurant is popular with livery cab drivers and other Ecuadorians inspired by their weekday lunch specials, excellent prices, and quick service allowing them to get back in their cars and back to work. A shrine in the front has dolls to (I'm guessing) represent the Blessed Mother, and some patrons say a prayer and touch her dress on the way out.

Before any order, a small piece of bread arrives in anticipation. My server called it "pan de lonch" when I asked her about it, but later changed her answer to "pan de huevo" after some thought, egg bread. Either way, the bread is delicious, moist on the inside with dueling salty and sweet flavors.

Skip the tortilla de choclo ($2, below), which seemed like a good idea on the menu but was too dry to eat.

Something was also off on another visit for encebollado de pescado ($12, below), usually one of my favorite dishes. As orders of the daily lunch special seemed to be flying off the shelves, the wait time for my soup was quite out of the ordinary. A few patrons had come in after my order was placed, eaten, and left by the time I was presented with the bowl here.

I think I would have been better served if they told me it was not available, because what did finally show up was full of unfresh cubes of fish which I had to leave mostly uneaten. The flavorful green sauce and limes made the soup itself very good, but it was disappointing because of the fish. As always, shiny Ecuadorian rice came with the order and saved the day.

I suppose the lesson for the weekdays is to stick with the daily special and follow the locals during lunch. These prepared meals will arrive quickly and should be fresh.

The evening is a better time to explore the other dishes, as proved by El Cholito ($14, below), a combination of meats and flavors that can easily be split between two people. Fried hunks of seasoned pork called fritada are joined by steak cooked with onions (bistec encebollado), ceviche ecuatoriano, fried plantains, rice, and salad. In addition to the two pieces of pan de huevo, it was an all out feast for two.

Garb some sweet snacks from the display like this pan de coco (below), although do by vigilant about what is fresh and what is not.

Interested in drinking water that began as snow in the Andes, melted and then flowed through subterranean passages to acquire lots of minerals? They have that too.

Reina De La Nube Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

12 February 2019

Open Rice


When we think of dim sum parlors, we usually conjure up massive, opulent and shiny rooms with a stage that doubles as an event space for weddings and celebrations. The city also has a range of smaller parlors though, like here at Open Rice. The same feelings exist, minus the spaciousness; things are loud and hurried and carts make a beeline for your table the second (or before) you sit down.

"Open Rice" is the strange conclusion for the path from Chinese to English that 开饭 has made, a call for dinner to start whose characters can also mean other things. 开 is indeed to open or start, while 饭 means rice literally but is often used to signify any meal in a generic way. "Let's start the meal" ends up as "Open Rice."

And the rest of the red characters above the white sign? Something like: Beautiful 丽 Scenery 景Seafood 海鲜 Restaurant 酒家, if that gives you a better idea of what is happening inside. The seafood components of the menu come to life more in the evenings or when dim sum service is not happening.

On the morning of Lunar New Year, the dining room was especially loud and busy and dim sum service went went into the afternoon. This usually sleepy location was in full-out enjoyment mode, and steamers of dumplings and chicken feet were rapidly landing on every table.

The flavors and textures of each dish here are sharp and well executed. Chefs come and go so fast at these type of places that making recommendations can be fleeting, but for now the kitchen here is on point.

On most days you can hang out and relax here and not feel bad about it, something that you rarely get away with at the bigger parlors. I like that feeling, and will take advantage of it until the chef swaps out and the food is not up to the same standard.

Open Rice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

10 February 2019



When I first came across the word "Benelux" while surfing online for other inquiries, I was perked up immediately. That "-lux" at the end of the word stands for Luxembourg, a country so small it could be argued they do not even have their own cuisine, and certainly it's never seen in New York City. As for the Netherlands, it is grossly underrepresented as well (many might laugh and ask if they have a cuisine either and make jokes about potatoes). Belgium is the only nation of the three that actually has a substantial footprint here, with beers, mussels and beyond.

Benelux is a term used first near the end of World War II for the three nations that formed a political and economic union. Now that we have the European Union, the term is basically only used when talking about geography. This hip place definitely has the atmosphere of Bushwick rather than Western Europe, but nonetheless the menu has some excitement on it and a few unique items.

A quick sidenote, in case you were wondering, the place on East 70th called Cafe Luxembourg is a French-American bistro and has absolutely nothing to do with the country of Luxembourg.

This tiny nation does have its own cuisine, which takes many of its cues from France but a few from neighboring Germany as well. This manifests itself in the mussels Luxembourg ($19, above and below), cooked in a Belgian-style white broth but supplemented with potatoes and sausage, as well as fennel and dill. The combination is executed very well.

Dishes of mussels are all served necessarily with above average fries, although I did have to ask for mayonnaise, which surprisingly required a trip back to the kitchen. A bottle of Heinz shows up a few seconds after the order is placed. While I like a good ketchup-mayo mixture, somehow I feel like a European would be appalled by this sequence of events.

They have three options for mussels, one from each country. The Belgian version is cooked with beer, endive, and smoked butter, while the Dutch version prefers white wine, celery, and lemon.

My knowledge of Belgian New York City is by no means exhaustive, but this was the first mitraillette ($16, below) I have ever come across. This Belgian classic is a sandwich practically screaming to be eaten late into a night of drinking, a baguette piled high with greasy meats, pickles and fries.

While the meat options can be different when eaten at friteries, they use a simple but delicious roasted ham here. A spicy mornay is served on the side, a type of béchamel that reads more like an aioli but which seems like a match made in heaven with the other ingredients. Recommended.

You could spend a lot of time at the relaxed bar here, enjoying East Coast craft beers as well as stronger Belgian varieties. As far as I could tell there were no Dutch or Luxembourgish options, but that is probably ok.

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

06 February 2019

Falafel Tanami


Sometime last spring a new falafel shop popped up in Midwood, Brooklyn, owned by the former operators of Famous Pita on Coney Island Avenue up in Kensington. More recently, this branch has opened in the heart of Borough Park, a block away from the main shopping avenue.

While I was waiting for my first taste, an orthodox man approached the small counter and exclaimed "This really reminds me of Israel!" Online reviews seem to agree, although to be honest there is not all that much in the shop. A small table carries a bunch of fresh toppings and add-ons for your pita, maybe that is the trick.

While your fresh falafel balls are in the fryer, the man who constructs your sandwich will run through these and start adding as desired. Hummus, Israeli salad, fried eggplant, fries, pickles, etc... it is all included in the price. For $7, a loaded falafel pita comes your way, topped off with a good dousing of tahini sauce.

The pita itself, while presumably from a package, is quite enjoyable and soft. The falafel balls remain gooey on the inside while fried to perfection and a nice crisp. None of these are sitting around and all fried on demand, ensuring a fresh sandwich.

A self-serve condiment bar is available as well just in case you were too shy with the toppings when prompted.

Next time back I am looking forward to trying a sabich, another sandwich within a pita that consists of slices of both fried eggplant and hard-boiled eggs. This breakfast sandwich is all the rage in Tel-Aviv these days.

Falafel Tanami Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

05 February 2019

Los Tres Potrillos


Sunset Park is not really the type of place that people go out drinking at bars, as most of its residents are families and from places where drinking culture requires meals to be involved as well. One place that is an exception to this rule and has a real bar is Los Tres Potrillos on the north side of the neighborhood. With a couple TVs usually showing football, I have been using it every once in a while to have a few beers during a Liga MX match or just when mood required getting out of the house.

Besides the bar and nice staff, one of the things that keeps me returning is their amazing plate of house nachos. Sometimes you just need nachos, and the nachos los tres potrillos ($12.95, below) is possibly as good as it gets. There are a few meat options, but the al pastor is the best with these and also adds pineapple to the rest of the numerous ingredients.

From the tortilla chips up, there are beans and meat at the base all covered with a thick stringy layer of melted cheese. Green peppers, jalapeños, lettuce, nice fresh red tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and crumbly white cheese are all in there as well, and as you can see a nice dollop of guacamole finishes the top.

Bring a friend, you don't want to try and eat everything yourself.

After quite a few plates of these, I started ordering other things and have realized that the kitchen seems strong in all areas. It makes sense since the place is always filled with groups of different families and friends eating joyfully. Once I even noticed a child was having their birthday party here.

Another drinking favorite is the classic Tex-Mex chimichanga ($12.95, above), which pairs excellently with the carne asada. If you have never had one before, this dish is basically a California-style burrito deep fried. They smother it in both red and green salsa, then crema y queso, resulting in the big beauty above.

Breakfast is available all day, including their chilaquiles ($12.95, below), here ordered with cecina given in a very generous portion. The green sauce is right on point and all the flavors are just right. If you prefer American breakfasts they can do that too.

Even an order of one tostada de tinga ($4, below) arrives as a mountain of food, albeit a bit smaller than the other mountains. Besides the pulled chipotle-spiced chicken, layers of beans, lettuce, tomatoes, crema, cheese, and guacamole serve all your tastebuds.

An array of fresh juices are also available.

Los Tres Potrillos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato