21 June 2016

Jeaw Hon New York


I never noticed what used to be above Playground and Taitoon Karaoke, two places that are popular with a late-night Thai crowd getting off work at other restaurants. Now there is a small neon sign with the words "jeaw hon" written in Thai, a type of hot pot popular in Thailand that uses broths made fiery with the spices from Isaan, the northeast of the country that is famous for its spicy foods.

Walking up the stairs from the street to this second level shop, you already get a sense that whatever happens inside, it is going to be fun. Neon and bright colors are generously used, and piles of funny Thai puns found on truck bumper stickers are mounted to the walls.

Every diner here starts with a 90 minute buffet that costs $12.99 and includes lots of vegetables and various meat balls. Prices start to rise when you order meats and seafoods, which will be necessary to round out your meals. Including one drink each, our group of five ended with a bill of $35/person.

The interior of the place seems designed to match these bumper stickers, with each set of doors and shutters a different bright color, while the fabric of the benches changes every foot or so. Here are some shots to get the feel:

They will bring out most of the food just after your broths come, so deciding what to put in and when is completely up to the diners. As with most hot pot outings, we dumped most of it in immediately and went fishing afterwards.

Two broths come in your hot pot, below on the left is the jeaw hon, the Isaan style the place is named for, and on the right is tom zabb, which is sour and even more spicy. No relief to be found on either side of this hot pot.

Each diner has unlimited refills on their sauces, from left to right a spicy seafood dip, nam jim jaew, and sukiyaki sauce. All three are quite good, while combining the seafood sauce and sukiyaki, the only non-spicy option, made for my favorite flavors.

Truth be told, the hot pot will not change your life. But coming here for the experience is reason enough. It is a lot of fun, and Thais from the area have already made it a busy spot even on a Monday night. The broths have room for improvement and the cuts of meat could be nicer, but there should be time for these things to get better. Even so, a night here with friends is a great decision.

Jeaw Hon New York Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

20 June 2016

Romanian Garden


Romanian Garden has been on my to-do list since I started making to-do lists. Since that time, they have renovated and expanded, and with the passing of nearby Bucharest Restaurant and Ridgewood's Romanian Coffee, they are now the standard-bearers of Romanian food in all five boroughs. What brought me back finally was football, of course, and the Euro Cup game against Switzerland that they nobly tied.

As I walked in, I first thought they had the game tuned to Univision, as Romanian can easily be mistaken with other romance languages when not heard clearly. 

The menu here is quite large, so my solo visit does not come close to exploring much of it. A bigger group could take a nicer stab at the cuisine, which can be influenced and shows hints of all of its surrounding neighbors through history. I will update this post when I have the chance to come back with friends.

Per mL, Romanian beer and sparkling mineral water are about the same price. They each satisfy their job admirably, on this hot day with football on the television, I needed both.

Under the heading of "soup" on the menu is a list of items that almost exclusively are called ciorba, but this Romanian word is a bit more specific than just soup. It actually denotes a soup that is made sour by using lemons, sauerkraut juice, and/or bors, a bottled liquid ingredient consisting of fermented wheat or barley bran. Still interested? Try the delicious ciorba de fasole ($6, below), which simply goes by "bean soup" in English. Vegetarians beware though as the main ingredient is actually chunks of smoked ham. Perfect.

It was only in the city's Moldovan restaurant that I have ever tried mamaliga, so I decided to see what the similarities were as I retained fond memories of that meal. Here the appetizer mamaliga cu brinza si smintina ($8, below) is the yellow balls of cornmeal, or polenta, served hot underneath white cheese and dollops of sour cream.

While the dish goes well with beer, I sort of missed the bits of fatty ham that were present in the previous version. My decision to make it a main dish was probably an error, but by no means should take away from this being a part of your meal. Just by comparing the menus, mamaliga does not seem to be as strong a focus as it is in Moldovan cuisine, but it should definitely be a part of anyone exploring the food of Romania.

Romanian Garden Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

15 June 2016

Café al Mercato


Arthur Avenue in the Belmont section of the Bronx is often billed as the "Little Italy of the Bronx" and some even think of it as their little secret. Although the neighborhood is constantly getting more and more Balkan, with Albanian shops growing in number, the Italian-American roots are still strong just like in Manhattan's version. Tours bring patrons up and down the street as well, giving the whole place a very touristy vibe.

The Arthur Avenue Retail Market, site of Café al Mercato, is a prime spot on these tours, and it is hard to visit for lunch without a group of 20 or so gawking at your sandwich. The café's section is clearly marked off exclusively for their customers, so it sort of becomes a bit zoo-like once you sit down. However when the tours are not passing, the market is quite fun to sit in the middle of, and still gets loads of local patrons who have probably been coming here since the 1930's when it opened. It now even boasts a small beer bar.

Those aforementioned gawked at sandwiches on focaccia are pretty well known here, and have accordingly risen in price. The Italian number below costs a swift $8 for a nice quarter wedge of the full moon. It is tasty to be sure, and comes with a bit of pasta on the side to fill out the plate.

In my estimation, better deals are to be had with the delicious slices of pizza. My eggplant slice ($3.50, below) was thick and filling, warmed up in the over before arriving at my table. The next time I find my way back here I will be sure to nose my way through their other slice selections. They do pizza very well.

Café Al Mercato Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

01 June 2016

Rajbhog Foods


Rajbhog is a well known name in South Asian groceries, with other locations in New Jersey, some in Queens, and as far away as Duluth, Georgia. The packaged goods always look like they are made in house, but must come from a wholesale importer. Some of these shops also have attached cafes or sweet shops, which are run by a local proprietor.

The proprietor of the shop in Iselin, New Jersey is a pushy man, he kept trying to upsell us, and then did the "just thinking" routine you see all over India. It was almost like traveling! We were really only here to sample a couple things though, as we had our eyes on so many chaat vendors up and down Oak Tree Avenue.

A sign in the window declaring "Today's Special" to be chole bhatura ($6.99) was what we listened to, and were rewarded with a wonderful rendition. It is a simple snack usually served for breakfast in India, consisting of fried bread and chana masala. It also comes with a plate full of bonus flavors you can add to your mix, sweet, pickley, sharp, and spicy.

In addition, we also chose the ragda patice chaat ($4.99, below), which uses potato patties (patice) as its base. Combined with all the usual suspects of chaat, there are flavors for all sides of your tongue and textures for all your teeth. To be frank though, on a future visit I might lay off the chaat here and focus on some of the other items that are unfamiliar.

Some of the groceries seem quite expensive while some seem very cheap. The racks are definitely worth perusing. Let us know if you try something of note!

Rajbhog Foods Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

31 May 2016

Woodside Cafe


Four types of very different foods adorn the awning of corner Woodside Cafe. The first is Italian. The real reason to come is for the Nepali though, which is squeezed between American and Indian. But look a little closer at the menu, and it is not just food from Nepal, an already small country, but specifically Newari Nepali food. The Newar people make up only 5% of the population of Nepal, but Newari cuisine is said to be more elaborate than typical Nepali food, possibly because the places it is made have more fertile soils and a wide arrangement of vegetables grown.

In Queens, it seems that Woodside Cafe has toned down their once very elaborate menu to a more refined focus on this Newari cuisine, as attention from customers and the internet seems to focus on what is done best here. They used to be BYOB but have recently renovated a small bar into the back of the space and even have a cocktail list. Not sure I trust that, but I do like having beers with my spicy dishes.

On a recent weeknight, a group of six of us sat down for the following feast, and all walked away very happy:

Musya palu ($4)

Haku choila ($6.95)

Achar radish ($4.95)

Kakra chireko salad ($4.95)

Bhutan goat ($7.95)

Aloo tama bodi ($4.95)

Steamed momos ($5.95)

Kothe momo ($6.95)

Macha tareko ($7.95)

Momo in pink cream sauce ($8.95)

Newari thali with chiura ($11.95)

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

30 May 2016

Johnny's Cafe


Johnny's Cafe is the type of place that Polish people understand better than you or I do, and that is exactly what the draw is. On a hot sunny day in May, I found the front windows thrown open to the street and a small crowd on a weekday lunch. There is a small bar in the front, and if you are lucky enough, the end seats are right next to the window. TVs flank the bar and the dining room, so if sports is your thing, they can probably find it on here.

It has been many years since I had white borscht, so I was quick to pick up their version of paluszki z kurczaka ($4.50, below). There was a vinegary sourness to the broth and deep smoke flavors from the chunks of sausage, a great combination. Parts of a hard boiled egg are also interspersed.

On this day I was in the mood for sausage, so a plate of grilowana kielbasa z kapusta ($8.50, below) came my way, grilled sausage with cabbage. The cabbage was actually the most forgettable part of the meal, but I could have eaten several of these finely grilled links if they were in front of me. On another visit, there will hopefully be more stomachs involved and plates of pierogis, potato pies, and goulash.

The dining room here can handle a lot of people, so feel comfortable bringing a group. The menu is expansive, and warrants many people ordering.

Johnny's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

26 May 2016

Thai Diva Cuisine


Some restaurants, even good ones, like to flirt with Northern Thai menus and provide the cuisine of Chiang Mai here in New York. Usually they don't do it quite right, with dishes like khao soy and nam prik ong being too sweet or not fiery enough, respectively. The ingredients necessary to make these northern dishes are harder to come by and their substitutions really matter. Chiang Mai Restaurant in Red Hook, Brooklyn did things the right way, but is still trying to open in a permanent space.

Enter Thai Diva Cuisine, about two weeks old in Sunnyside, Queens. We visited last Tuesday night and spoke at length with the the staff here, who speak Northern Thai language to each other, always a good sign. We were told the head chef is only working during the weekday lunches and every other weekend, so the evening chef is an apprentice of sorts. A very capable one though, as we sent in an order for six, basically asking for everything from the two pages of "Northern Thai Style" items that are outside of the restaurant's official, but typical menu.

We plan to return for lunch soon and see what the differences are, but already the food is worth coming here for. Here are our selections from that evening:

Larb muang ($9)

Khanom jeen nam ngiao ($11)

Moo ping ($6)

Sai-ua ($9)

Naem moo ($8)

Nam prik ong ($7)

Nam prik noom ($7)

Khao soi ($12)

Tum kanoon ($9)

This tiny place will certainly be on every radar imaginable soon, so go get your seats before there are no seats to be had. Hungry City will take away any chance of sitting here most nights!

Thai Diva Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato