Monthly Archives: April 2006

Bei Wei or Yi Mei deemed just "okay."

New Bai Wei Gourmet Food Inc., at 51 Division Street (and #17 on the Sietsema list) may or may not exist any longer.  I say “may or may not” because I ate at a restaurant that matched Sietsema’s description of New Bai Wei, but the name on the sign had changed to “Yi Mei.”  Whether this is merely a different transliteration of Bai Wei or a different name, I’m unsure of.

Nevertheless, Sophmoricles and I plunged into the restaurant after inspecting the myriad array of crustaceans and mystery meats arrayed in the window.  You get the sense that the regular diners at places like this know which things are good and which to avoid, but, without any insider knowledge, we did our best – the price, $2.75 for four dishes, rice, and a bowl of flavorless egg and tomato soup, encourages experimentation.

The lady at the counter recommended the spare ribs, which came off something like sweet and sour pork.  A gringo favorite, I’m sure.  I liked better the slightly sweetened tofu, though there was nothing terribly unique about that one, either.  I also requested the duck, which unfortunately ended up being mostly fat and bone.  Fortunately, I liked the greenery better: the baby bok choy was as oily and crunchy as it should be.

As Sietsema’s blurb had claimed that five dishes, not four, would be bought for $2.75, I was a bit disappointed when the counter lady said four.  So she sold me a fifth dish for an extra 50 cents – I selected some kind of intestine (at least, I think that’s what she said it was), which came off more or less like a leftover pork belly dosed with a sauce that looked spicy but wasn’t, at all.  Probably wouldn’t order it again.

If you’re an adventurous eater of seafood on a tight budget, you might enjoy Yi Mei better than I did (there were at least two kinds of crab and three kinds of shellfish on display).  But, as Sophmoricles reminded me when I lamented the general lack of deliciousness, “it was only three bucks, dude.”  So it was, I guess.  I’d prefer top-quality excellence in every price category, though, and the banh mi purveyors are my example of how three bucks can get you a quality meal in many corners of the city.  But, if you’re allergic to gluten or merely require a bit more adventure in your meal than mere pork pate, a visit to Yi Mei (or the identical-twin restaurant next door) might be right up your alley.  If your dining partner or someone at a neighboring table chokes on a duck bone, be prepared, though: you’ll probably be the only diner there who can read the Department of Health-mandated save-a-choker sign in time.  It’s the only thing in the restaurant that’s in English.


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Argentina on two steaks a day – link.

This is an unbelievably brilliant piece of writing, and it had the effect of making me instantly check plane fares while my appetite for beef raged.  I think I have my next long vacation worked out…

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Teen-friendly Jakartan street food emporium.

My roommate and I stopped at an Indonesian restaurant formerly called “Padang Raya” on Whitney Ave. in Elmhurst, Queens – it’s just a few doors down from Minangasli, a recent Sietsema review, and, if you have NYTimes select, you can read a fascinating article about the two restaurants’ relationship here.  In summary, the proprietor and well-regarded chef of Minangasli was formerly the chef of Padang Raya, unlike the owner, actually FROM Padang, and, after the messy breakup, the two restaurants apparently cooked up quite a feud.

Well, I guess Minangasli won, because Padang Raya has morphed to a restaurant that includes Jakarta in its name – the capital city of Indonesia, on a different island and offering a different style of cuisine than the Sumatran Minangasli.  Other than the holdover beef rendang, the menu at Jakarta (I don’t remember the other word, and menus had not yet been printed) has totally been altered.

While we arrived to find a rather abandoned restaurant, we were somewhat surprised when, after about 10 minutes, a throng of high-school-aged kids wandered in and jammed the place.  Besides occupying our beleaguered server, who had previously had all the time in the world to explain every detail of the menu to us in (for a change) native English, they offered up their opinion that Jakarta’s cuisine reminded them very much of things they had eaten in Jakarta (the city).  One girl, probably the connoisseur of the group, stated that she wished she was there – “I want to eat this stuff in the GUTTER,” she explained.

I’d hope for more interesting gutter food on my trip to Indonesia, if I were you – neither the noodle bowls ($5-$6.50, depending on ingredients), which comprise a big portion of the menu, nor the fried chicken were that interesting.  The former included some oily egg noodles, greens, canned mushrooms, and optional fried wontons (quite greasy) and meatballs (of which two are seemingly fish and two are probably meat).  The latter was cooked within an inch of its life sans skin, which seemed to liberate much of the meat from its natural juices.

Indeed, the favorite dish of our evening was the $6.50 starter entitled, strangely, shiu mai (though they spelled it differently), which seemed to be some kind of solid faintly fishy paste, deep fried and assaulted with a peanut sauce of indifferent character.  It was better when combined with one of the three on-table hot sauces.

I will say, though, that the peanut sauce that arrived with my chicken, already infused with peppers, was one of the most delicious sauces I’ve yet encountered in my travels.  It was paired with something that seemed like pure molasses, though – as bad as the other sauce was good.  At any rate, neither could really pep up the dry, shriveled fried chicken, but I loved the peanut sauce over the not-too-sweet coconut rice.

At any rate, I’ll be back to the hood to try Minangasli, all of the descriptions of which make me drool.

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Heard you missed me, now I’m back.

Hey, folks! I’m back from Belgium, and let me tell you, I ate a LOT of frites. The deliciously fresh, thick-cut chips were available near-ubiquitously, and scarcely a day went by when we didn’t buy and top them with one of the dozens of inappropriately-named sauces offered by every purveyor. Our absolute favorite was samurai sauce, which actually offers very little to remind one of a Kurosawa epic. Instead, it was similar to a moderately spicy fry sauce (no surprise, then, that it was our favorite). There were plenty of other weird variations available, too. American sauce, for instance, seemed to have an orange peel and basil flavor – almost as if they had mixed A1, bottled Italian dressing, and mayo. Actually, it wasn’t really like that at all. Not one of my favorites, at any rate.

There’s more to Belgian fast food than merely frites, though. Nearly every friteur offered an additional range of meat, chicken, potato, and cheese products in deep-fryable form. Yes, indeed: everything in the picture above could be yours, but it, like the frites, will almost certainly be cooked in hot oil. A dieter’s paradise, Belgium isn’t.

The picture, ably taken by my girlfriend at my favorite friteur of the trip (in Antwerp, at the five-way intersection involving Lange Koepoortstraat and Minderbroedersrui), offers a view of the various delights. We didn’t sample all of them (they seemed to fall into categories of similarity based on ingredients, much like Taco Bell), but my favorite invention by far was a chicken nugget on a popsicle stick shaped like a chicken bone. I suppose it’s for kids, but it seems like the kind of thing that could make McDonald’s a fortune.

Other meals of note included a Congolese dinner in Brussels that offered one of the hottest hot sauces we’d ever tried, an Indonesian dinner that was both inexpensive and delicious, and, at a place called Tom’s Diner (in Bruges) that isn’t anything close to a diner, we had amazing pasta and meatloaf in a presentation and setting that would satisfy hip New Yorkers AND your grandmother.

Of course, then there’s the beer, but I think I’ll save that for another day, perhaps…

Normal coverage to resume very soon. Thanks for your patience!


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