Monthly Archives: October 2005

I call this sculpture "Golden Bags with Fish Sauce."

Fresh off last week’s delicious Zabb excursion, I had another craving for spicy Thai last night.  Instead of going to Jackson Heights, though, we headed to Myrtle Thai, on Myrtle Av. between Vanderbilt and Clinton in Brooklyn.  I’m not really sure what to call this neighborhood…Clinton Hill North?  Prattville?  Anyway, Myrtle Av.’s got quite a strip, befitting its status as a former elevated line path.  Plenty of restaurants and even a hip coffee bar can be found, and the BQE is a mere stone’s throw north (and the Navy Yard beyond, if you’re getting really adventurous).

The restaurant is a fairly large space, yet seems sparsely decorated – the joint was nearly empty for most of our meal, which may have contributed to the sparse feeling.  The back room with the kitchen is rather large and the open window and door allow a view of the cooking process to the diner looking towards the rear.  The staff was very friendly and intrigued by my request for spice – I wonder whether most of their business is Pratt students looking for cheap Pad Thai and curries.  It seemed so, from the in- and out-flux of customers while we were there.

Anyway, we ordered the Golden Bags appetizer to start the meal off.  Like Sietsema suggests in the recent Best Of 2005 (though he referred to another restaurant’s iteration – Myrtle Thai won Best Brooklyn Thai, not Worst Appetizer Name), the dish’s name is a fairly unfortunate misnomer.  They seemed more like chicken meatballs with a slight hint of fishy flavor (probably the ground shrimp, but it was faint), wrapped in a wonton-style dough – one could also call them a deep fried dumpling.  The sweet-and-sour dip served with them seemed somewhat incongruous, though not totally bland – in retrospect, I think I would have liked some fish sauce to dip these in.  I ended up trying them with the hot sauce on the table, which wasn’t bad, but not fantastic.

I had advised my friend, based on my experience with cashews at Zabb, to try the cashew nuts dish with his choice of meat (pork).  Unfortunately, Myrtle Thai didn’t cook the cashews as well or seemingly as long as Zabb did – the dish was still serviceable, however, with a sweet-ish sauce, onions, carrots, peppers, scallions, and the probably-could-have-been-left-out pineapple chunks.  More meat would have been a nice touch, too.  Hmm, that kind of sounds like I’m panning it – far from it.  My friend enjoyed it, and I found it a nice change of pace from when the fish sauce and larb got a little too intense.

My beef larb (I wonder if “larb” is a different Anglicization of the same Thai word that begat Zabb’s “laab” – are the two related?) was dynamite, though – I had made sure to let the waitress know I wanted an authentic level of spiciness, and I believe that my request was honored.  Shredded but not ground, the beef was coated in its seasonings.  To be sure, this beef was pungent, sour, spicy, and extremely flavorful.  Fish sauce was seemingly used as a primary seasoning, to what I consider great effect.  A perfunctory array of shredded carrots and lettuce also adorned my plate, which I skipped in favor of the rice that arrived with the salad.  Feeling the rice also a bit bland, I requested and received fish sauce to put on the rice.  Man, that stuff is salty but hot, too, in a creep-up-on-you sort of way.  And, yes, it smells funky as hell.  C’est la guerre.

Myrtle Thai is a great place to get some good Thai on the nights where a trek to Jackson Heights from Brooklyn seems out of the question.  Pratt students, are you listening?  Try the larb; at authentic spice levels, it’s breathtaking!  I know that the concept of “fish sauce” is moderately disgusting to even the most resolute carnivore, and that many of you are no doubt meatless in one level of stringency or another, but this stuff is addicting.  You’ll be the hippest stinky-food kid in the dorm.

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Sichuanese Serendipity

I was walking with a friend down 9th Avenue one day, latitude of Chelsea, and we were looking for a place to grab a quick-ish bite before going to a gallery opening.  Not exactly a typical scenario for me, or at least the location and post-eating activity weren’t, so I was at a loss as to where to go.  Not content to merely find a diner, we eventually wandered down to 24th St. and ran smack dab into a Grand Sichuan.

I had heard decent things about Grand Sichuan from and, given that my dining partner was amenable, decided to try it out.  As it turns out, this was a fairly fortuitous decision – Grand Sichuan, while perhaps not the pinnacle of the art of Sichuan cooking, re-awakened my long-dormant passion for Chinese cooking, and I owe it a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Yesterday night’s circumstances (tried to go get onion strings at RUB, discovered it was closed Monday, didn’t feel like walking the other direction on 23rd to Shake Shack or Eisenberg’s) dictated a return visit to the Chelsea location, after several visits to the new St. Marks Pl. location which could best be described as ‘uneven.’  To my great surprise, at 7 PM, the place was packed, and we waited around five minutes for a table.

Once seated, the service was quick, naturally.  My dining partner ordered chicken with sour cabbage, which seemed to me to be a very flavorful chicken and cabbage soup that lacked soup.  Or, more accurately, had the soup portion reduced to a sauce/glaze, but retained a powerful “chicken stock” flavor.  I liked it, and despite the meat and cabbage being somewhat bland, it provided a nice counterbalance to the fiery concoction that I ordered.

A little more background is in order: upon discovering that I quite enjoyed what Grand Sichuan had to offer, I did some additional research on with regards to it and other Sichuanese, specifically Spicy & Tasty, Sietsema’s 10th pick on his 2005 list (though I figure maybe he actually liked it better and was hiding it – the list screwed up the address, which is actually not 39-07 Prince Street but next to Sentosa in the 37 block).  What I found seemed to confirm that dishes made with the spice arrangement called “ma la” were the thing to aim for.

“Ma la” describes two different kinds of spiciness.  The first character, “ma,” refers to the spice properties of the Sichuanese peppercorn.  More information about the peppercorn can be found here, particularly if you scroll down a bit (note that the blurb about it being illegal to import is, at this moment, incorrect).  Ma cuisine’s most distinctive characteristic is a kind of numbing effect completely different from the usual chiles.  La, on the other hand, refers to the more standard chile-based heat.  Combining the two leads, ideally, to a kind of multi-spice nirvana – the peppercorns numb you, the chiles heat you, and your face starts to sweat profusely.

Back to the fiery concoction: I had sampled some of the most divinely spiced ma la pork in chile sauce at Spicy and Tasty on my trip there (more on that in a future article), and wondered aloud to my waitress whether Grand Sichuan had anything that was “ma la” in a beef category.  She suggested the beef in chile sauce, which I can’t find on the menu described exactly so, but it could be the braised beef filets with chili sauce (both beef and chicken dishes had the kind of tenderized meat that I’ve come to expect from braising).

Anyway, what was delivered was EXACTLY like the pork dish I’d had in Flushing, except for a crucial detail: the Sichuan peppercorns weren’t right.  No numbing effect, sadly.  I’m guessing they either gringo-ized it (given that I specifically asked for ma la, seems less likely) or perhaps just don’t have the real peppercorns in inventory.  No matter – the dish was good anyway, extremely spicy with its chiles, and the cabbage underneath soaked up the red sauce in a pleasing manner.  The meat, as I said, was very tender, and there was more than enough of it to fill me up.

As far as the other dishes I’ve tried, the soup dumplings (crab and pork, definitely, if you have a choice) that we opened the meal with were also extremely good.  On my first trip, I sampled the chicken with broccoli from the American Chinese menu (I didn’t order it, I promise), and it was as delicious as I’d ever tasted the old warhorse.  The “Mao’s home cooking” menu provided the entrée that started the whole revolution for me – sour string beans with minced pork (ironic, because this is actually Hunanese, not Sichuan) – and the beans and pork combined to make a spicy and flavorful dish that I could have probably eaten more than a single plate of.

I’ve had other things at the St. Marks branch of Grand Sichuan, but I can’t really recommend that location as strenuously due to the inconsistency – on one trip, the dumplings were limp and the tea-smoked duck a little too dry.  On another excursion, the house special tofu was good, and enough to feed four people, I’m convinced.  I’d say that a good rule of thumb for that location is that the food will be better on the busier nights.

If you skipped the soup dumplings, a check including two entrees would typically cost less than $20 total.  A splurge, I realize, for the budget conscious parties of two among you – particularly factoring in tax and tip, if you eat in (I can see takeout being an effective option if you live nearby).  I’m of the opinion that two entrees could feed three, though.  And, of course, you’ll save money by drinking the free tea instead of coffee or coca-cola, and the very juicy orange slices at the end are better than no dessert at all, right?  Even if they do remind you of post-game snacks from your Under-8 bunch ball soccer years.

Given its convenience – i.e. it’s not located in Flushing – and the quality of the preparation of the food, if not the 100% authenticity of the spicing, Grand Sichuan is a great option for satisfying those spontaneous urges for Chinese food.  Take a handkerchief, though.

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I’ve tasted dong after midnight before, but it’s usually saltier.

In the intriguing culinary melting pot that is Jackson Heights, one can find just about anything.  On a cursory, three-block stroll on a recent night, I picked up menus for a combination Nepalese/Tibetan/Indian joint, a Vietnamese place, and a down-home eatery that features the most intriguing Korean menu I’ve seen since leaving Boston.

The raison d’etre for my journey to Jackson Heights, however, was Thai: Zabb, in the 11th spot on the 2005 Sietsema list, at 71-28 Roosevelt Av.  As is carefully pointed out with every article or thread written about the place, Zabb is Isaan/Esan/Northern Thai, which apparently gives it license to produce mediocre curries, as curries are (supposedly!) more of a southern specialty.  I actually tried the Massaman curry and found it about what I expected – full of chicken and potatoes, perhaps a bit one-note with its spicing.  But the rest of the stuff we tried – ye gods.  You’re going to like this place a lot, provided you can handle the heat.

It’s an interesting atmosphere at Zabb.  One very long dining room, much like a hip Lower East Side establishment, only the long wall is mostly bare.  Some figurines in the window and a widescreen TV on the back wall complete the decoration, along with a shelf from which one can purchase some kind of box of cookies to take home (we didn’t).

Would the bare-bones décor impact the quality of the food?  Not one iota.  The first dish to emerge was a seafood Pad Med Ma Muang, which was funny in that we didn’t order it.  After a couple of bites, the waitress came back to tell us that it wasn’t ours.  Too bad, we said – already having taken a bite or two and liked it quite a bit, we were going to keep it.  The sautéed cashew nuts frankly make the dish – a completely different flavor when cooked, and I couldn’t eat enough of them.  Also included in the dish were onions, scallions, peppers, squid, shrimp, and de-shelled (thanks!) mussels, along with a chile sauce more sweet than spicy.  It was, fortunately for us, a good dish to counterbalance the spice of the other three dishes we ordered.

The Catfish Laab salad is justifiably legendary – it’s impossible to describe without making it seem less than it is, but I’ll try: chopped cooked catfish with mint, lemongrass, lime and chile, served warm on an iceberg lettuce leaf.  There, doesn’t that sound sort of boring?  It isn’t; trust me.  Simultaneously fishy, spicy and flavorful, and uniquely textured, it was as new and different to me, having dined an untold number of times on Thai, as real Sichuan was after growing up on American Chinese.  In fact, the closest comparison I can come up with was the Bahamian conch salad I sampled while in Nassau, though the dishes are more spiritual cousins than relatives of flavor.

Besides the curry, the only other dish we tried was the unlisted “Stink Bean with Pork.”  Those who read are likely familiar with the debates over the desirability of the actual stink bean, calling it “rancid-smelling” and/or “reminiscent of Chinatown garbage.”  I’d ordered this in the hope that I could offer an opinion, but I suppose I need to be firmer with my waitress next time – the beans that emerged were the usual green beans, not stinky at all.

The dish, however, was no disappointment – the probably-steamed beans were paired with pork per our request and it was delicious, and the sauce very spicy in a totally different way than anything else we’d ordered.  Should have taken more notes on the dish, I guess.  I wonder if it was the same as the Pad Prik Khing that shows up on the menu.  Hard to say, and I’ll have to order that on the next go-round to see what we get.

Anyway, given its close subway proximity to Manhattan (Jackson Heights is the second stop in Queens on the F and third on the E), the relative ease with which one can find it on the Roosevelt Av. strip, its late opening hours (until 2am!), as well as the recent positive coverage in the Village Voice (Best Use Of Catfish 2005 went to the Laab salad I just described), I wasn’t surprised to see a fair number of gringos evident.  I know I’ll be going back as well – I’ve got my eye on the “spicy salad of cow’s offal” innocently entitled Yum How Dong.

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D-o-double-gizzle with sizzle in the drizzle.

Amid last night’s drizzle and Yom Kippur-induced slow night out (I mean, seriously, it was freaking dead at the bar), I decided to get a little Pho at a place called Cong Ly, which was suggested to me in the comments section of my pho article of a few days ago.  Unfortunately, I arrived rather too late for a side-street restaurant in Chinatown, and the place was closed.  I only had about 15 minutes to get to my friend’s birthday party anyway, so I had to walk in the direction of Norfolk and Delancey and get food somewhere on the way.

Enter Broomedoggs, at 250 Broome St.  I had picked up one of their menus on a recent pleasant Saturday walk through the LES, and discovered upon later study that they served a currywurst as one of their specials.  Currywurst, for those who don’t know, is a specialty of the fast food trucks almost everywhere in German-speaking Europe.  Along with the kasekrainer, which is a sausage somehow injected with cheese, the currywurst ended many a drunken escapade (particularly in Graz, where neither of the good doner kebap places stayed open late).

So, yeah, I was pretty excited to try it.  When I arrived, I was the only customer, which concerned me a little – I suppose that the crappy night contributed to this, though.  After ordering, I had a nice chat with the employee manning the sausage-cooking tools, and asked him whose idea the currywurst was.  He wasn’t sure, but said one of the partners might have come up with it; he was also surprised to learn that it was a German favorite.  Friendly dude.  Apparently they now serve cheesecake, which I can’t imagine eating for dessert after a sausage, even if it was made by nuns.

As far as the wurst was concerned, it was tasty, if not quite what the German in me was expecting.  The German sausage is infused with its curry flavor, and this one was basically a knockwurst tossed with curry sauce.  The curry was mild, though flavorful, and complemented the sausage well.  The knockwurst isn’t a small sausage, either – for $5, I felt like it should be on the larger side and was not disappointed.

Broomedoggs also offers regular hot dogs, turkey dogs, chicken dogs, tofu dogs, kielbasa, and something called a Black Angus dog, all for $5 or under, along with assorted drinks.  As they are open late (4am Friday and Saturday) and located in a soon-to-be-very-popular corner of the Lower East Side, I feel like they will have a cult following in short order (if they don’t already).

Is it as good as Crif Dog, though?  Hell, no.

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Tebaya II: Potemochi’s Revenge

Went back to Tebaya for lunch today and had the fried chicken skewers and potato cake combo I spoke of in my last post.  I’m happy to report that the potemochi (pan-fried potato cake) were delicious.  Served with a drizzle of soy sauce and sweet BUTTER, a combination which had not previously occurred to me, the cakes were unlike any kind of hash brown.  They are clearly ground and bound together somehow, and have that structure that is somewhere between spongy and chewy, yet are smooth textured.  Hard to explain, but totally delicious.

The chicken skewers were somewhat disappointing, however – very heavy, though the chicken was plenty tender.  Three of these was a large portion, too – I could have probably done with one, in addition to another cake or two extra.  The haccho bean paste that came with the chicken complemented it well, though I ended up dipping several bites of chicken in the leftover soy/butter combination.

I’m guessing that the Chicken Katsu would be similarly disappointing and heavy, so I’m going to skip trying that.  So far, I think the best combination would involve either chicken wings or teriyaki and potemochi.  We shall see.


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Breakfast – the most important meal in your budget.

A technical question, originally posed by one Matt Grunwald of Queens:  How many meals do you have to fit in under twenty bucks?

Well, that’s a good question.  As I said on the brunch entry, weekends are great because I’m usually sleeping later – this would be a typical “two meal” day, with brunch and dinner.  The other five days, though?  I do three meals, the first of which is significantly less exciting than the other two.  So I’ll only bore you with the explanation once…

I have this thing where I tend to go to the same breakfast place and order the same thing for six months or more.  I think it’s probably due to the fact that I’m incapable of higher level decision making before about noon.  So I stumble in to the designated breakfast place, which hopefully knows my order by heart, and need only grunt in the affirmative to have it made.  Breakfast nirvana.

Of course, breakfast need also be geographically compatible with your commute – no wandering off the beaten path on weekday mornings, unless you’re much better about getting up early than I am.  In fact, I can only recall getting up for a Shopsin’s breakfast and a “see-my-friend-off” Gravy breakfast in the last year or so.

So, what are my regular places?  Well, I started out in NYC almost two years ago with your usual street cart coffee and muffin.  I seem to recall this combo being two or three bucks.  At some point, I decided to move along to doughnuts.  Again, not much difference in cost, at least until I started going to Just Delicious for the doughnuts instead of the vendor (because he kept being out of my favorite kind, the chocolate/lemon cake stick with glaze).

At Just Delicious (corner of Varick and Houston), which is your typical nightmare of an overpriced corporate deli/lunch catering spot, the doughnuts are delivery Krispy Kreme. Of Krispy’s delivery doughnuts, I believe their blueberry cake doughnut to be superior, if a bit small – so I used to get two.  Unfortunately, they’re really expensive, and JD’s coffee is ridiculous in cost and not any better than your average vendor’s.  So, for a time, I stopped at JD for doughnuts and the vendor for coffee.  Obviously this was not going to last long, considering how lazy I am in the AM.

Before long, the D-train opened, changing my commuting route from Park Slope.  Instead of arriving at Houston on the 1, it was much faster (and much less crowded) to take the D to West 4th St. and walk down Carmine and Clarkson.  Just Delicious is slightly outside of that route, and I was getting tired of the cost anyway.  Enter Pinnacle Bagels on the Square, at Carmine and 6th.

Boy, did I have a bagel addiction for a good while, there.  I’d guess from February or March of ’04 through about the same time in ’05.  Hey, it was cheap!  I’d get my pint of Grovestand Tropicana OJ, coffee, and a bagel most often slathered in walnut raisin cream cheese all for $4.95.  This was one of the original cornerstones of the ‘Twenty a Day’ budget, actually – the breakdown is $5 for breakfast and lunch, and $10 for dinner, and while the lunch and dinner prices were sometimes swapped or exceeded, the breakfast budget was a rock-solid component of my day.

Unfortunately, a year of eating bagels with tons of cream cheese had taken its toll on my waistline, and the Pinnacle experience was declining – around the new year, prices went up (I was seemingly grandfathered), and quality of bagel and cream cheese went down.  I mean, way down, to the point where I wondered if they had cut the walnut/raisin ratio in half, as well as increased the flour component of their bagels by a third or so.  Bad news, bad times, and time to move along.

Fortunately, I found a new place (Here and Now, on the west side of 6th just north of Carmine), and they assimilated my order in record time (I think it took them about a week and a half, which is fantastic).  The even better news is that they’re super-nice and busy far less than Pinnacle (average wait time for fresh-cooked eggs is probably five minutes).  The still-more amazing news: the breakfast of my choosing costs $4.  That’s right – for $1.99, one may purchase two eggs on a roll, with salt and pepper, with included coffee.  $1.79 buys me the OJ.  Add it all up and tax it for a total of $3.95.

Now, if you were needing cheese, or bacon, or god-knows what other kind of ingredients, this place rapidly becomes a non-deal.  I think cheese costs $.50 extra, which is kind of stupid.  Bacon’s probably a buck more, I don’t recall.  Don’t even think about buying bottled water there, either, unless paying $2.50 for 1.5L of Poland Springs is your bag – by comparison, the grocery store price in Brooklyn is $1.15.  Truth be told, $1.79 is a bit high for the OJ, too (I’ll be damned if I don’t get my Vitamin C in the morning, though).

Here and Now obviously has got a loss leader/make it up on everything else sort of philosophy, but you and I are clearly smart enough to beat that system, right?  Just don’t tell everyone, or we’ll force them to raise prices.  OK?

Feel free and share your own breakfast thoughts in the comments section – obviously this piece won’t be relevant to everyone, given that most people I know seem to work in midtown, but perhaps we can make a list of a few interesting possibilities.

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Rainy day go away!

No post today, sorry.  The rain and my lack of jacket precluded the exploration I had planned for today’s lunch.  So I ordered delivery Do Hwa instead.  Unimpressive – I think it’s gone downhill lately.  I need to do some research before I write an article about Korean, though.

In the meantime, check out this Calvin Trillin article about Shopsin’s, one of my favorite restaurants, though certainly not cheap:

Tomorrow I’m wearing a jacket and hopefully will have more to write!

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The only sure cure for a hangover? Pho shizzle.

Once upon a time, a great English teacher and weight training partner told me that Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup, was the only sure cure for a hangover.  I think I was 16 or 17 at the time, so the words “hangover cure” didn’t quite hold the same meaning as they would a few short years later.  I can assure you now that there actually isn’t a sure cure for a hangover that doesn’t include a fourth-dimensional ingredient (and, believe me, I’ve tested extensively), but Pho’s as good a meal as any at re-hydrating a hung over body and helping it to sweat out the party demons.

It’s also a pretty good meal, even if you’re not completely bent.  Last night my girlfriend and I made the trek to Rocco’s Calamari, but were foiled by it either being a regular Monday-closer or being shut down for the Columbus Day holiday.  Either way, we weren’t sad to make the short walk on 60th St. over to 8th Avenue, Sunset Park’s Vietnamese main street (that’s Brooklyn, cats – take the N to 8th Av. and be amazed).  Since I had no data on the different restaurants, we chose the first one that looked intriguing, and that was the Nha Trang Palace.

Nha Trang Palace advertises “Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine,” but I’m really not in a position at this point to comment with regards to its authenticity.  (We were the only gringos in the restaurant, though, if that could be said to make a difference.)  I do know what we had tasted good – including fried spring rolls and barbecued beef and pork over rice noodles and vermicelli, respectively.  In addition to 100 different entrees, however (including three kinds of assemble-your-own Banh Mi), the restaurant offers 20 different kinds of Pho, and I had high hopes when I noticed most tables ordering food that arrived in bowls (though I discovered that the vermicelli dishes also come in bowl form).  In addition to our appetizer and two dishes, I ordered a bowl of Pho Tai, which includes only rare eye round rather than the possible tripe, tendons, brisket, etc.

According to, Pho’s base is more or less a kind of beef stock, with flavors like anise, cinnamon, mint, parsnips, ginger, the ubiquitous Nuoc Mam (fish sauce) and onions.  Added to it are rice noodles, more onions, cilantro, and different kinds of beef, depending on your order.  It also usually arrives with a side plate containing lemon or lime, bean sprouts, and basil.  Mix, let cool, and enjoy!  I usually like to eat some of the beef rare and let the rest cook for extra flavor.  Make sure you put in the basil early, though, if you like it – the more it cooks, the more flavor you get!

I’m sad to say that I found Nha Trang Palace’s Pho to be a bit bland – the soup tasted good, but it lacked the flavor bite that the best Pho I’ve tasted has had.  In fact, I’d say that this particular Pho was no better as a hangover cure than your average beef soup would be.  The search continues, probably with more research on (which, incidentally, is accepting donations to stay open, and it’s well worth supporting – it’s a great resource).  For a randomly chosen restaurant in a pinch (Rocco’s will have much to atone for), Nha Trang fit the bill.

Speaking of bill – Nha Trang Palace’s Pho Tai cost only $4.75, for a bowl that was filled with more beef and noodles than soup.  I’d imagine that the Pho Xe Lua, advertised as an extra big bowl at $5.95, would have provided more soup – at least I hope so, as it’s the soup that’s supposed to be the star of the show, not the noodles or beef, right?  Anyway, it would have been a filling meal on its own, quantity wise.

Apparently Pho is a breakfast food in Vietnam.  Go Phigure?


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Chicken wings that have nothing to do with Buffalo.

Just a short update today for the Columbus Day holiday, from the NY Metro list…

Tebaya, on 19th St. nearest 7th Ave., advertises itself as a purveyor of Japanese chicken wings.   According to the takeout menu, the wings are fried twice in soy oil, coated in a special garlic sauce and then sprinkled with black pepper and roasted sesame seeds.   Sounds good, and they taste good, too – I’m not much of a fan of chicken wings, in general, but these were flavorful, meaty, and not too fatty.

However, there’s a lot more to the menu – the teriyaki chicken burger (geez, it must have been about 10 years since the last time I tasted teriyaki) was huge, and came in a lunch combination with two wings, a perfunctory salad featuring an oilier version of that slightly bitter orange salad dressing that seems to always be served with Japanese food, and a soda can.  The chicken burger wasn’t as flavorful as the wings, sadly; to think what they could do if they used the garlic sauce from the wings!  The Portuguese-style roll was slathered in mayo, too, which I can generally live without in lieu of some other kind of bun-moistener, and I always feel like the layering roll/mayo/lettuce/meat is the least appetizing structure possible (can we work on moving the mayo opposite the lettuce?).

I don’t mean to impugn the place, though – it was promising enough to merit a repeat visit, which will likely consist of me ordering chicken katsu over rice, or perhaps the intriguing fried chicken skewers that are available in a combination (not a lunch combo) with fried potato cakes.  If these dishes pass muster, I’m ready to declare Tebaya a winner, beyond being merely a place to order tasty wings.

At $6.75, the lunch combo is a fair deal – wing-lovers might want more than just 8 wings, but the chicken burger is a gut bomb.  Worth mentioning too that I smile benignly on places that, like Tebaya, print prices with tax included – makes calculating the budget much easier.

Happy Columbus Day – go eat some Italian!

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A chicken combo that’s not for the faint of heart.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Curbed’s Eater site and A Hamburger Today for linking to yesterday’s review of Good Burger.  Keep up the good work, guys!

For today’s entry, I’d like to discuss the merits of the Matador combo available from Pio Pio, on 1st Ave. between 90th and 91st Sts.  While the list price of around $30 doesn’t fully compute for many of you cheapniks, hear me out, if you will.  Included as the basis of this combination is one WHOLE roast chicken, which is usually available all by its lonesome for a tenner or so.  Actually, hell, that’s not a bad deal, either; probably could feed at least two hungry gents by itself.  

When I ordered it, though, it wasn’t two hungry gents eating.  It WAS hungry me and my girlfriend, though, after walking about 60 round-trip blocks to order and pick it up.  Let me tell you, after a walk like that (carrying a bag of food on the return trip that felt like it weighed 25 pounds) I was tres loopy – possibly the happiest man alive once the food was opened.  I was thankfully not disappointed (as I would have been walking 60 blocks for chicken alone, no matter how good it was). The chicken itself is extremely tasty, and I’m not even usually a huge fan of chicken on the bone: tender and juicy, well-flavored, and very satisfying.  It comes with a green spicy sauce (apparently named aji) that will knock your socks off, too, though I tended to use this more as a dipping sauce for other parts of the meal.

Like I said, if it was just the chicken itself, the meal would feed two hungry gents.  However, this Matador combo is the kind of meal that should not be approached by less than four people for fear of extensive leftovers and/or extreme food coma (or, if you’re my grandfather, “uncontrollable weariness”).  Of course, with just the two of us, we were somewhere between “uncontrollable” and “wailing.”  The Matador combo hits another gear – you don’t just get some crappy fries or chorizo with it, you get a TON of salchipapas (fries and sausage cooked together, to blend flavors).  Apparently this is a hugely popular street food in Peru, and I take my hat off to the Peruvian people for their inventiveness.  Delicious stuff, though the sausage could have tasted less hot-dog-ish.

Just in case you were thinking that this might be the least healthy meal ever, yes, there’s a salad that comes with it.  No, it’s not extraordinarily interesting, but it probably will help you digest your gut-bomb-like meal, so don’t hesitate to tuck into it, there, tiger – and you can thank us later.  Also included are generous portions of rice and soup-like beans, fried plantains, and a lifetime supply of Zantac!

Okay, I made that last one up.  Anyway, it’s a good deal (around $7-$8 a person), and I think it would feed four people with normal hunger, as long as two were willing to eat dark meat.  Just remember to get it takeout, or dress up – this restaurant looked, oddly, fairly dressy when we were there, and there’s nothing less fun than getting your nice duds on for a real pig-out.  Unless you’re rocking the sans-a-belt slacks thing.

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