21 November 2014

Panamanian Independence Festival


Officially, Panama's separation from Colombia back in 1903 happened in early November, but I guess this Brooklyn parade and festival takes place in October if only to avoid certain cold weather, and perhaps the New York City Marathon. It runs up Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights, past the one and only Panamanian restaurant in the city, and over Eastern Parkway to the festival grounds on Classon Avenue just east of Dr. Ronald McNair Park. In addition to the bands playing the parade, there is a DJ here and a line of vendors selling food and trinkets, amongst other things.

It is hard to move from stall to stall without noticing big steaming pots of bofe, a stew of beef lung, onion, and an assortment of pepper and spices. Flopped on a doughy piece of rich and amazing hojaldre, the stew soaks in and begs you to get your hands dirty. Those adverse to the iron tastes of innards may be put off, but this is still entry level offal, strictly because the dough and spicing is so intense.

Pots of another Caribbean specialty, caldo de pata de res, or cow foot soup, are also ubiquitous and tempting. The stew is full of content, at least part of a foot which you do not eat, as well as dumplings, corn, and a rich starchy broth.

Panamanian tamales should never be confused with their more famous brethren from up north. The photo may not show the large size of this item, but opening it up reveals an entire chicken leg still on the bone. The spices that this has been cooking in also make their way inside the casing, and so much taste is awaiting each bite. I literally sat with my mouth wide open in reaction to how delicious this was.

The 2014 parade took place on Saturday, October 11th.

10 November 2014

The Original Coconut Man


When you walk down a new street in New York City, especially in the boroughs that do not begin with an 'M' it is very likely that you will happen upon new and interesting things. On my way to the annual St. Lucian Jounen Kwéyòl celebration in East Flatbush, this exact thing happened on Church Avenue. With the sounds of reggae pumping onto the street, three men dressed more appropriately for winter were dancing and spinning in front of a little shack set up in front of an NSA Supermarket. We knew we would stop by on the way back.


90 minutes later, the music was still blasting, dancing was still in progress, and this Sunday party was still a three man shindig. We stopped and ordered a cup of sugar cane juice ($4), which came in a container that would put a Big Gulp to shame. The healthy stack of sugar cane made the choice seem appropriate, and we needed dessert after so much food.

Not wanting to leave the scene, we stayed and enjoyed our beverage, which was large enough for three. When we were almost done, the main proprietor (Coconut Man?) pulled us over to some BBQ grills that we had not even noticed being as full as we were from the festival. One was full of pork, the other chicken, both well marinated and crispy slow-cooked jerk style.

Before we could put into words how full our stomachs were, we were handed a mixed container of pork and chicken which had a splash of peppers, sauce, and onions on top to add quite a kick. This spicy mixture is sitting in a large jar on the prep table, and quite beautiful. The meat itself needed nothing though, especially the fatty pork which basically melted in your mouth and was delectable.

"If you don't like it, you don't pay."

We obviously knew this was not going to be a problem, but even in the end I did not get a real price. He tried not to take our money, then settled on $4 only, which seemed under the going rate but who knows.

A short chat with this Coconut Man and I learned that the stand had been open for 16 years. This information might be taken with a grain of salt, perhaps because he told me it was open Thursday through Saturday each week, even though this all took place on a Sunday. Who knows, who cares. The stand was in existence in 2011, confirmed from a look at Google Street View.

I would be really happy to return here in warmer weather, grab a fresh coconut and possibly a sour sop juice (more commonly found in Latin American restaurants as guanabana). This is real fun stuff.

09 November 2014

Xi'an Famous Foods


Instead of updating my review from 2010 with new information, I have decided to throw it out and start fresh with Xi'an, which now is an empire of six locations. As far as I know, the quality at each place has remained surprisingly consistent to the original, which you see below.

My go to dish is sort of their signature, the spicy cumin lamb noodles ($7.25, below). You are pretty much guaranteed happiness with any order containing their wonderful cumin lamb. After a few bites, lips start tingling and smiles start broadening, the flavors within are so deep. The thick heavy homemade noodles are all entangled and make for a challenge with the cheap wooden chopsticks on offer, as it all is ready to splash down in a puddle of spicy oily goodness.

Compared to the cumin lamb, the lamb meat soup ($4.75, below) is for me not as exciting, but I wanted to try something deviating from my normal orders. The glass noodles are not as pleasing to the teeth and tongue either, but a general rule may be to never mix cumin and non-cumin dishes, as the overwhelming tastes of the former will always make the latter less flavorful.

Well-known now by students in the genre of cheap eats is the spicy cumin lamb burger ($3.25, below), which sits besides $1 pizza and Mamoun's Falafel as some of the cheapest way to get your stomach full on a budget. This would certainly be my pick of the three though, blowing both of the others out of the water.

The noodles are all of course made in house, and you can enjoy the spectacle of this at some of their locations (Chinatown below). The thick noodles are always so fresh in anything you order.

For experience alone, the original underground location in Flushing's Golden Shopping Mall food court is still the best, to sit amongst stalls from other delicious food vendors as well. Extra stomachs will become necessary. The three locations I have visited are listed below:

Golden Shopping Mall Food Court
41-28 Main Street
Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon

67 Bayard Street
Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon

81 St. Marks Place
Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon

07 November 2014

Kao Soy


On a Wednesday about two months after opening, I walked by Kao Soy as I waited for friends to arrive at 19:30 and the place was completely empty. The owner/chef Kanlaya Supachana rose from her chair to tell me that alcohol was not being served yet unfortunately, while they waited on a liquor license. I retreated to a bar across the street and returned as a group of three an hour later to find the place full, every table occupied. Since I had heard good things, I was terribly disappointed with the lack of business before and very happy to find things going well later. We grabbed the only available spots, at the no legroom bar, and settled in for our meal, with the aromas of good Thai food surrounding us.

Our first appetizer of the evening was the sweet and spicy yum pla ka tuk ($10, below), an anchovy salad made with crispy fried fish and thin cuts of fresh mango. The small peppers and thin sauce really set our mouths on fire and we all looked at each other in recognition of real Thai food in Brooklyn. The tiny fish may or may not remind you of anchovies, but no matter.

Rare cuts of marinated beef, slightly on the chewy side make up the focal point of yum nuer ($9, below). The cuts of sirloin are laid over a bed of lettuce and covered with shallot, tomato, watercress, and scallion. The chili paste and squeeze of lime really stand out after a few chews.

Our eyes all got bigger when presented with the yum som-o ($10, below), a knock-your-socks-off salad of pomelo that packs an explosion of spice in each wet bite. Packed into this array of textures and tastes is peanut, crispy shallot, baked coconut and watercress, while two healthy fresh shrimp adorn the top like the star on a Christmas tree.

The namesake dish of kao soy ($12, below) had to be ordered out of deference to the restaurant, and despite not being universally praised in our group, was my favorite entree of the evening. Soft egg noodles hide below in a sweet Chiang Mai curry that is thick with coconut milk. Fried egg noodles and papaya fritters top this and the two succulent drumsticks below to make a virtual bird's nest and a beautiful dish.

In northern and northeast Thailand it is hard to avoid eating a lot of sausage, and we succumbed to the lure of sai-oua ($14, below), a very herbal pork sausage that also comes with fried marinated pork jerky. The green chili sauce is great for dipping, and does enough to counterbalance the dryness of the sausage itself. This comes with a side of sticky rice and mustard greens.

Our final dish was the kang hung le ($14, below), another northern specialty, a stew of pork belly and top round. The dish itself is full of flavor and maybe a tad on the salty side, but more sticky rice is able to balance this. A drumstick is also on the plate on its own, but this is fried as compared to those in the kao soy, and made me want to have about five more it is so delicious. Three meats on one plate might normally have a hard time getting along, but that is no problem here.

So now the borough of Queens, until now the only real bastion of quality food from Thailand, has got a run for its money on its hands. It will take repeat visits to make sure everything here stays at the top of its game, but please go and see for yourself. Something special is cooking and is worth the effort that getting to Red Hook takes.

Kao Soy on Urbanspoon

04 November 2014

Taverna Kyclades


Even though it plays a prominent part of the exterior logo, do not expect dolphin to be on the menu here. Thankfully it is omitted from the wide range of seafood on offer. Since everything is so fresh, there are limited portions of each, and do not be surprised if your first choice has sold out by 20:30 or 21:00 on a Tuesday.

On any night of the week, there will be a wait, but the place has such an efficiency that they know their wait times and won't give you phony numbers. Leave your number on the list and have a drink nearby.

It may seem boring, but the cold antipasto plate ($9.95, below) is an absolute must. The tzatziki (far left) and taramosalata (middle) are absolutely excellent with the skordalia (right) coming in a distant third. The breads that are served with dinner are very good, and you can order pitas if you prefer.

Also essential is a large Greek salad ($10.95, below). Large is no joke either, as the bowl below is bigger than your head and very good. They are not stingy with the delicious feta, and all of the vegetables are so crisp and fresh.

After the appetizers, it is good to remember that you come here for seafood, not land food. If you have a group of four or less and cannot order so many dishes, why not start with the Kyclades special ($33.95, below). On the large plate, you get to try stuffed clams, stuffed shrimp, lobster tail, scallops, and a fillet of sole. The stand outs in our group were the stuffed shrimp, clams, and scallops, but lobster can never really be bad and was also scarfed down.

With most entrees, you are to choose an accompanying side dish, and one recommendation for that is the roasted lemon potatoes (below), which have an excellent texture and are surprisingly (or unsurprisingly?) full of intense lemon flavor.

When the sardines ran out, we turned instead to the Greek style shrimp ($21.95, below), which cook the shellfish in a tomato and pepper sauce. The whole dish has ample feta drizzled over it, and the tastes are very complimentary. This dish was completely clean when it was removed from the table.

Our last side was the horta (below), steamed greens supposedly with olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Besides the slice of lemon on the plate, there really was nothing besides the limp, tasteless greens. No matter, we were focused on the rest of the meal anyways.

The service does have a rushed quality to it, but these guys are running here and there and a bit understaffed for the amount of customers they have, especially when the restaurant is serving outside. It still feels welcoming, and the meals are enough to speak completely for themselves. Bring a date, some friends, and your whole family to enjoy as much as you can.

Taverna Kyclades on Urbanspoon

03 November 2014

Cafe Nadery


The city is not awash in Persian restaurants by any means, so the opening of Cafe Nadery last year was very welcome amongst eaters and especially by the Persian community, who now use it as their event hub. The place was absolutely packed this summer for Iran's World Cup games, and their event schedule always seems full.

My first meal here was in spring and alone in the long space with a long bar in the back. The place has a calm minimalist feeling and the music follows that pattern, at least in the afternoon. Small and large wooden tables, some with crazy tabletops fill the space and any size group could be well accommodated here.

Whenever possible, I grab a salty yogurt drink like the one above to go with my meals. If you are in the mood for a very different type of salad, grab the Iranian garden salad ($10, below). Selected herbs and leaves are arranged in piles, accompanied by feta cheese dribbled with a little oil, a small tin of walnuts, and a few slices of radish. Mix and combine any way you like.

Another appetizer is the torshi ($2.5, below), sold as a side and served with the flatbread called sangak. The dip is a soupy mix of pickled vegetables that is not for the faint of heart. The sourness is quite extreme, and I had to temper it with bites of the other items we had.

The ghormeh sabzi ($14, below) is a beef stew that has a distinct lemony flavor and beans. It appears to be a small portion when presented, but is actually quite filling. The bowl is surrounded by a nice amount of saffron rice, one of many types of rice that is used in Persian cooking. The north of Iran is a rice-growing region, and rices most desired have strong aromas. It is unclear where this rice comes from.

Lubia polo ($13, below) is a simple dish that usually pleases its eater. Consisting of rice cooked in a tomato sauce and cinnamon, the main components are beef and string beans, possibly not in that order. It is also served with a side of torshi if you desire that sour kick.

On both of my visits here to eat, they were out of fesenjan, my favorite Persian dish of pomegranate, walnut, and chicken. I look forward to finding it here one day.

Café Nadery on Urbanspoon

30 October 2014

Jounen Kwéyòl Celebration


The Jounen Kwéyòl Celebration is an event combining St. Lucia's two biggest flower festivals and reason for the small Caribbean island's peoples to get together and eat while enjoying music and good company. The mood is very happy, as everyone from the tiny island in New York City seems to show up for the most delicious food from their country, dishes that are not easily available to find.

Images of everything I was able to sample are below. Also note, you will see alcohol floating around here and there, so ask around and someone will take you to the basement of the community center, where you can purchase tickets and redeem them for beer, wine, and cocktails. The process of this is worth the cost of the drink anyways.

$1 tamarind balls, fudge, guava cheese

$3 penmi

Cooked breadfruit ready to be hacked apart.

$5 smoked herring, breadfruit, fish cake

$6 banana and bake and salt fish

$2 cocoa tea

$5 crab callalo

$5 pig foot bouyon

$8 pork and dumplings

$2 conch skewers

The 2014 celebration was held on Sunday, October 26th.