Monthly Archives: October 2006

The tiniest chicken egg in the world?

I was feeling pretty lazy on Friday, but resolved that I would make a food excursion – I was craving spice, in a bad way.  I’m not sure, then, why I ended up googling Mangal, the Turkish eatery that’s the only Sunnyside entry on the VV list, because even the spiciest doner kebap I’ve ever had pales in comparison to what I usually require when craving spice.

Fortunately, serendipity struck again, and I found a message board thread that dealt with Mangal and its neighbors in Sunnyside.  When I saw the posting that mentioned Natural Tofu Restaurant and its four-tiered spice scale (from “very mild” to “very spicy”), I knew that it would be my evening’s destination.

Literally across the eastbound half of Queens Boulevard from the 40th Street stop on the 7 train, Natural Tofu, like its neighborhood, attracts a virtual United Nations of eaters.  Unlike the Flushing Korean restaurants which seem to attract far a far more homogenous crowd, you’re just as likely to see a table of boisterous young Koreans as older Irish gentlemen.  And, for once, it’s bigger than a breadbox – you could bring a group of people here with no trouble finding a seat.  (Hmm…that sounds like a good idea, in fact.)

It’s easy for me to see why it’s popular across ethnic boundaries – the food is both cheap and delicious.  A bowl of the soft tofu stew known as soondooboo is $8.  The price includes rice (served from a larger version of the stone crock that will hold your stew, brought by a guy with a cart) and a full array of the appetizer dishes known as “panchan.”  Besides the standard kimchee, the little dishes contained sesame-oiled bean sprouts, some kind of crispy minnow, what I think were sliced mushrooms, several slices of a sweet egg concoction, and one other thing I’m forgetting.

The other small dish that arrived had a tiny egg in it – I don’t think it was a quail egg, just a smaller-than-usual chicken egg (I guess all the eggs we buy in the grocery ARE marked “jumbo,” right?).  This isn’t some kind of milkshake additive or raw treat for salmonella-risking daredevils, but something to crack open into your stew when it arrives at your table bubbling with angry orange and red colors (courtesy of the spices, I’m sure).  It cooks!

I tried the very spicy stew, because I’m basically that guy, and I have to say that the heat was tolerable but, as with most things that are both temperature and spice hot, the temperature made the spice level a little harder to take.  I might try it in the “spicy” variety next time to see if it’s easier to eat without waiting fifteen minutes.  Oh, yeah, and it had oysters in it, which imparted a nice seafoody flavor to the broth, but the actual oysters themselves were kind of funky.  It’s also available in standard meat and veggie flavors, though, so never fear.

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

Swell up in Harlem.

Despite eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly lately, I still have secret designs on finishing the 2005 list on which this blog has been based.  So when I found myself in the Bronx for a Yankees game yesterday afternoon, there was no question that I would hop off the D train on the way back home to check out the culinary environs of western Harlem and, hopefully, at least one of the two restaurants on the list that are on Fredrick Douglass Boulevard.

Harlem is, as ever, an interesting place.  I thought I had seen a lot of weird juxtaposition of burned out hulk-buildings and new condos in Brooklyn; as it turns out, my borough has nothing on the area between 125th Street and Cathedral Parkway, where tired brownstones and new development stare uneasily across the street at one another.

List entry Roti Plus has crossed from one side of the gentrification divide to the other, it would seem.  The cell phone business that, according to Sietsema, was once located in the front of the place is now gone – replaced with an island-ish décor and a lot of tables.  Pretty sure the staff and most of the customers are the same, though – the lady taking orders demonstrated a considerably developed sense of resignation combined with sass when the folks placing the orders got out of line.  You should have heard her say she was going to knock a customer (not me!) out; it was magical in a way that could only be re-created in Hollywood by Vanessa Williams on valium.

The classed-up environs could, I’m sure, explain why the cost of a roti is higher than I’d paid in the past in Bed-Stuy or Flatbush.  $5 will buy you a potato and chickpea-filled roti skin there, and each additional ingredient drives the price up further (some rotis on the menu cost up to $10).  I’m sure that most of the rotis could feed two, if you’re really concerned.

Even for $5, though, and despite coming not long after the usual ballpark array of hot dogs and peanuts, I quite enjoyed the roti.  Many of the locals ordered their rotis ‘separated,’ which may or may not be the equivalent of a ‘buss-up shot,’ or broken roti skin with the contents piled on top (seriously, I don’t know).  I ended up with the standard filled variety, though.  The skin was freshly prepared (had to wait five minutes, even) and relatively stronger than the usual dough without sacrificing that lovely grit-n-stretch texture, and the interior had been adulterated at my request with some kind of addictively vinegary hot sauce.  It was a standout flavor, for sure – maybe scotch bonnet?

I would have asked after the hot sauce if I still had been in the restaurant by the time I consumed it, instead of on the corner of 125th and Fredrick Douglass.  By the time I finished it, I was so full that I decided to take a walk to shake it off; I ended up hoofing it all the way down to the Fredrick Douglass circle (also under renovation).  I was too full, unfortunately, to check out Florence’s, an African restaurant located on that strip, but I promised myself a return visit as soon as possible, with a possible detour to check out that enormous European-style cathedral located a block over.  Not what I was expecting from Harlem, for sure, but then, precious little of what I saw (including Roti Plus) was.

1 Comment

Filed under NYC

Nicky’s branches out.

I was surprised to note the opening of a second Banh Mi parlor in the Boerum Hill area – when I moved in, we barely dared dream about such luxury, after all.  Now we have a branch of Nicky’s, the original of which still exists on 2nd Street and Avenue A in the East Village (and the antecedent of which was on this side of the river in Sunset Park).

How does it compare to Hanco’s?  Well, Hanco’s is pretty good, but I’ll give Nicky’s the slight edge.  Something about the ground pork (perhaps the sweetness?) in their classic sandwich ($4) appealed to my roommate and I more last night, and Nicky’s is a bit bigger and more pleasant a place to wait or eat in, despite its semi-underground location (between Hoyt and Smith on Atlantic Avenue, in a downstairs storefront).  The sandwich was done quicker than Hanco’s, too.

For those who don’t want a mini-hero, Nicky’s also offers a couple basic noodle dishes and salads – the noodles are your basic rice vermicelli with either pork slices or chicken on top ($6.50).  These are presumably the same iterations that would top your sandwich, though the pork I had last night would have been a bit bony to put in the loaf (otherwise, though, the pork was quite excellent).  A bit odd that a de-constructed sandwich (pickled carrots and peppers appear on the side) would cost more than its assembled cousin, but I’ll chalk that up to the increased preparation effort, or something.

I can only think that Nicky’s hopes to capture some of the dining business from the hotel that’s going in on the corner of Smith and Atlantic, as well as avoid Smith Street’s high rents (there certainly are enough empty storefronts to attest to the difficulty of turning a profit on that strip).  I just hope there’s enough market for two Banh Mi parlors in my hood.

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC