I must once again commend the hangover-curative powers of De Guerreros’ green chilaquiles. After journeying to the Time Warner customer service center a few blocks away to turn in my cable modem (no home internet any more, for reasons I’ll explain in a few weeks), I needed treatment for the previous night’s epic antics. Finding the taqueria open was great; eating another al pastor taco for an appetizer was greater, but the chilaquiles were, as always, amazing.
Craving tacos last night, I was dismayed to find the Guerreros Taqueria shuttered. I hope it’s not permanent, but in the case that it is, I’m happy to note that you can find virtually the same menu across the street at the Guerreros Deli (5th Avenue between 22nd and 23rd Streets). I figured that the guy wasn’t going to have time to make me chilaquiles, and was proved right, but that’s hardly an insurmountable problem. Instead, I ordered the longtime favorite al pastor, which I maintain is TO DIE FOR when it’s freshly griddled, as last night’s was. Suadero was good too. Three tacos, one guava drink: seven dollars.
I thus had some bread left over for the bakery that’s a few blocks up on the west side of the street (between 21st and 22nd, I think?). I never know what the hell I’m ordering in those places, but usually I end up with some kind of cookie that explodes into Pecan-Sandie-like dust upon first bite. Not my fave. This time, though, I struck gold. In the two tastes that taste great together department, I ended up with something resembling a denser cupcake, only without frosting and ringed with the flakiest pastry dough I’ve ever had. A cakestry? A pastake? Whatever it’s called, it was magical, and I almost turned back and bought the lot of them – which, at 50 cents apiece, wouldn’t have cleaned me out.
With my roommate’s brother moving in on Washington Avenue on the border of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights (and, incidentally, my roommate moving out – CRAP), I took the opportunity of a stroll up and down the nearby Vanderbilt Avenue strip. While there aren’t many cheap eats kinda places there (the theme of the strip seems to have skipped from nothing to upscale bistro in a few shakes of a lamb’s tail), at least one is worthy of consideration: Mitchell’s, located between Bergen and St. Marks.
Mitchell’s is another of the fried chicken places covered in the VV article that introduced me to Ruthie’s, but I have to say that the chicken probably isn’t as good as that hallowed establishment. Not that the cooking technique and skin aren’t great – the actual base of the chicken is just dryer than it needs to be. I tried yam and collards for sides, and while the collards may be a bit better than Ruthie’s by virtue of their moist-ness, nobody beats her yams as yet.
That said, a thigh-leg and two sides portion of food is only $7, and, if you stop in on a Sunday, as I did, you can watch football on the TV in the corner (choose seat strategically, if possible, otherwise a thick Plexiglas partition will blur your view) with a local clergyman and his family. God bless the fresh fried bird, and may it always triumph over the red devil KFC.
My inbox is sometimes a source of unexpectedly and unintentionally delightful press releases. I give you an excerpt of the latest, restaurant name removed (like hell I’m going to plug this place, even Gawker-style humorously):
The falling of leaves marks the annual transition from the lighter fare of summer to earthier, richer flavors that come with autumn. [REDACTED] has scored one of this season’s most coveted culinary accouterments—the white truffle.
Not for those of unaccustomed palates (or light pockets), [REDACTED] will be offering a special eight dish tasting menu, each including a shaving of this Italian delicacy, for $1000 per person, but make sure to bring someone along to keep you company— this menu is only offered with a two person minimum. And should you become a bit parched, a wine pairing is available for an additional $500 per person.
It literally made me choke-laugh.
Continuing with our “places you’ve possibly heard of and that aren’t too hard to get to” tour (which, I assure you, was unintentionally assembled), I’d like to yak a little bit today about Korean Temple Cuisine, number 49 on the estimable list, located on St. Marks just west of 1st Avenue. I went for the second time over the weekend with my roommate and a friend visiting from out of town – the first time I went was in the brief period just after finding the list and before starting the blog (that would place it over a year ago, for those keeping score at home).
Unfortunately it’s still more expensive than most of the places on the list (only cheaper than AQ Café and the late and lamented Philoxenia, off the top of my head), but I’m sure that the lunch deals are more cost-effective, and it might well be cheaper than the average 32nd Street place. The décor is nice, though, and my roommate described it as the perfect date location. That is, as long as your date likes kimchee.
Happy to say that the food hasn’t changed from what I remember – never truly transcendent, but it’s definitely quality stuff. I had the succinctly-monikered “pork,” which actually would be called pork bulgoki in many places ($14). It presents a skillet full of pork in a chile sauce, a side place of lettuce to wrap them up in, and a little dipping sauce. It kind of comes off like Korean fajitas, I suppose.
Heathen alert: I usually eschew the lettuce part of the equation, feeling like it’s too much work for too little reward (and because the first place I ever had the dish wasn’t the kind of place that served lettuce with it). My roommate, who actually bothered to put a wrap together, said it was a good contrast of temperatures and textures. Bully, him! Temple’s iteration is significantly less spicy than others I’ve had, though, if this makes a difference to you, it’s a heck of a lot more tender than average. Despite the lack of spice, I was still happy that the meal came with a large bowl of white rice, as the portion of meat was perhaps slightly smaller than would be ideal.
My roommate ordered the bibimgooksu, a cold buckwheat noodle dish with veggies in a citrus-pepper sauce ($10). It packed quite a kick! The noodles themselves were quite thin, which was a refreshing change from the dreadnaught noodles that some places serve with their cold dishes.
My friend from Boston, a first-time Korean diner, was very brave to order the grilled eel dolsot ($14) – she’d never had eel before, either. Fortunately, this is an excellent preparation to try it in, and it was probably the best dish of the evening. White rice in a stone crock with slightly sweetened eel filet on the top, but you’re supposed to mix it up into a mishmash of flavors and textures (the rice hardens when it’s next to the stone, providing a nice crunch). Definitely delicious, and the portion of rice is huge enough that you’ll get a bite even if someone else at the table orders it.
The panchan that came out only a few minutes before the mains were good, though I missed the non-gringo-favorites like fried minnows and mystery egg soufflé – this one substituted a potato mixture. The cold cinnamony concoction that is served after the plates are cleared, too, is delicious – can’t tell if it’s liquor or tea, but I’m leaning towards the latter.
Definitely more of an atmosphere place than a hardcore ethnic destination, but that’s okay – if you’re tired of taking all your dates to the Shake Shack and want to add a little spice to a second or third date with someone you think can handle it, Temple will fit your needs perfectly.
Let’s be honest: There is NO bad time to go to Wo Hop. There are times, though, at which you can waltz in and sit down, and there are times that you’ll be squeezed in at the front of the restaurant wondering if the facsimile restaurant of the same name upstairs could really be as bad as everyone told you. Last night, pleasantly, was one of the former, and as my first trip back to Wo Hop since starting this blog, I can say that I’m extremely pleased with both the quality of the food and that my opinion of American Chinese food hasn’t suffered for exposure to the real deal.
I can’t believe that Wo Hop has been around since 1938, but that’s what the menu claims, and I don’t doubt that the cramped basement space COULD have been around that long. It seems to have practically 70 years of photos and memorabilia tacked to the walls, including (in a weird reality/fiction mix) a photo of Mike Bloomberg filming an episode of Law and Order while standing next to former Senator and actor Fred Thompson. No word as to whether the Senator was attending in an official or fictional capacity.
Our food was certainly for real, starting with what my dining partner termed “the best” cold sesame noodles he’d ever had. They were certainly light-years better than the peanut-buttery crap I was served at the last American Chinese place I went to. We both had to be careful not to fill up on them, as we had also ordered an array of mains: the unique honey crispy chicken and pork fried rice for my friend, while I went adventurous with salt and pepper squid.
First, my cephalopod: it sort of reminded us of a Chinese fried calamari, except in bigger chunks and a bit chewier than perhaps is ideal. Nonetheless, the batter is as salty as advertised, with the necessary hint of pepper (though you may want to add more), interspersed with green peppers. You could certainly eat an ocean of this without feeling grease-laden.
Also thrilling was the honey crispy chicken, which takes a barbecue-flavored sauce and uses it to put a new spin on the classic sweet and sour chicken. Thankfully, all of the pieces of chicken are actually identifiable as such, and the batter is neither constructed of cement nor soggy. You might want to slosh your rice around in the sauce when you’re done.
We certainly did our fair share of sloshing, though the pork fried rice would have been fine unadorned. Just the right amount of grease and quality pink-tipped strips of pork distinguish this rice from the average iteration. Again, the only limitation to how much of this rice you could consume is your stomach’s size – not feeling ill after half a plate is always a plus.
I declare Wo Hop (at 17 Mott Street – the upstairs one is apparently the Canal Street handbag of Wo Hops) to be the best American-style Chinese in the city. As we all know, though, my opinion matters for naught – just get over there on a random weekday night and try it for yourself.
Have you ever had a really, really good steak? If you’re like most people my age, the answer is probably no, and here’s why: they cost a boatload. Unless you’ve got a rich uncle or gourmand grandparent (or, to be fair, are better at saving money than me), you may or may not ever get to sample the sumptuously spectacular Peter Luger porterhouse.
So it’s that much more valuable that any schmuck can walk in to the afore-mentioned temple o’ beef and get a taste of heaven on a bun – that’s right, the Luger Burger. I’m here to tell you that it tastes like fine steak, only in burger format. That is, a hell of a lot like the aged porterhouse that will set you back three-quarters of a hundo or more, all for the bargain price of $8.50 (for the unadorned).
Reservations are probably a good idea at Luger’s, which is one of the only times you’ll hear me say that in an entry, but a friend and I waltzed in unannounced at 1:30 on a Saturday and were seated within half an hour. From there, we planned our attack: burgers medium rare with cheese, fries, and two slices of bacon on the side.
When the beef arrived, it looks strangely unimpressive. The seeded bun is a bit bigger than the burger, and almost looks too chewy for its own good. Then you take a bite, and the juices go EVERYWHERE (hope you were leaning up – your mom wasn’t kidding), and you see why perhaps a bit more structure to the bun than is ordinarily necessary benefits you.
And the flavor. Oh, lord, the flavor! Aged beef might be a slightly acquired taste, as it has a stiff aroma and earthy palate, but this is the true sign of quality. It’s surely indicative of the blandness of most of our beef products – do you expect pork or cured meats to be without flavor? Maybe your average chicken, but that was made bland so that people who don’t like to eat would have something to sauté with frozen veggies (proof: real fried chicken is far from tasteless).
I think the cheese thing is a personal decision, but I don’t regret it in the least. However, you will be richly rewarded if you load a few of the white onion bits onto your bun. Most beef (see preceding paragraph) would be overwhelmed by the strong onion, but Luger’s has both good onions and strong-flavored beef, and the flavors are as complementary as peanut butter and jelly.
By the way, the fries are relatively forgettable – if you need additional starch, spring for a plate of au gratin potatoes or something like that. And the bacon shouldn’t be loaded onto the burger, despite it being offered that way on the menu. For the same price, get a slice or two on the side and enjoy that perfect pork product on its own.
Good beef on a budget? It’s the greatest thing since the hamburger bun. But, in the words of LeVar Burton, don’t take my word for it: you can afford to find this out for yourself.
Here’s one you might have gotten to before me: Washington Square Park’s dosa man (near the southwest corner). He’s a devious one, he is: advertising his cuisine as vegan ensures a steady stream of neo-hippie picky-eaters, and having a carton of samosas ready to go at any time will ensure on-the-go snack traffic. I could give a flying cluck about a mock chicken drumstick, though – how are the man’s crepes?
I only have a half-remembered trip to Chennai Garden and several Jersey City excursions to compare to, so don’t call me the expert, but other than size (understandable given the size of his grill) and price (slightly more expensive), I’d say the dude has just as much to be proud of as his distant fellow travelers. These dosas are excellent!
There is also a certain elegance in the way he works – cooking three at a time, never forgetting who ordered a high level of spice (which he works into the actual batter), and always retaining a friendly demeanor in the face of long lines and hungry patrons. Even with a long line, $4 seemed a bargain for a crepe with spiced potatoes. You’ll also get the standard coconut chutney (which might be better than Sri Ganesh’s analog) and sambar soup, both of which retain an authentic level of heat.
Looks like I never need excurse to Jersey City unless I absolutely want to, now. Thanks, dosa man!
Red Hook, former seaside wasteland/charmingly rundown blue-collar neighborhood, is getting a lot of press lately. It seems like the august institutions (ie, NYT) have gotten the idea that, with the arrival of Fairway and the impending construction of an IKEA, the Hook is now a destination. It’s hard for me to argue with that conclusion, though my logic is much different: Red Hook is the closest spot to lower Manhattan within the city borders in which you truly feel like you’re in a different place.
Obviously that feel has changed and will continue to change ever so slightly, but as long as I can still soak up the stiff breezes and sea air smell on the dock by the rusting hulk of a trolley, I’ll feel pretty good about the place. Not to mention the various and sundry culinary delights that occupy the neighborhood – especially the ball fields (at Clinton and Bay Streets, a short walk from the Van Brunt St. corridor), to which I took my first eating trip this past weekend with a friend.
The season may be winding down, but there was a full or nearly-full complement of vendors there, a map for which can be found at the Porkchop Express (a relatively new and really excellent blog). I can’t rightly remember where we bought everything, but I know we started at Sosa Juices, where I tried the melon and she tried the pineapple. The melon in question was apparently cantaloupe, and I’ve scarcely ever been happier with a juice in my lifetime. Her pineapple was also quite delish.
Toting our enormous cups of juice (which I think were like $2 each – in fact, most of the food items we had were between $1 and $3, with noted exceptions), we proceeded to look over the offerings. The first thing that caught our collective eyes was a lady grilling up pupusas, which are basically grilled ground corn cakes filled with stuff. In this case, it was meat and cheese, though other varieties were available at another nearby stand. Pretty damn good, and the garnish of cabbage was better than the average sauerkraut or cole slaw.
Next up, my friend had a hankering for some ceviche. So she went and grabbed it while I stopped at Ceron Colombian and made eyes at an enormous yellow doughy-looking ball, which I found out was made of potatoes stuffed with beef and deep fried. I also noticed a sausage in a rather lovely shade of red-black – being a longtime blood sausage enthusiast, I took the plunge.
Of course, given that my friend is the smarter of the two of us, she ended up with the best-tasting dish of the three that arrived at our seat. The ceviche ($6), while perhaps a bit mild for my taste, was filled to the brim with excellent shrimp, squid, octopus, and swordfish. Something about this preparation method makes even sometimes-tough octopus tender, and the squid practically melted in my mouth.
Not that the sausage and stuffed potato (called a papa reyena, according to Mr. Slab of the Porkchop Express) were bad – just not as spectacular as I’d hoped. The latter’s most attractive feature was indeed its goldenrod hue – the beef inside was rather mild and the potatoes, while tender, didn’t offer much in the way of flavor. The blood sausage was better, if slightly dry, sided with something resembling stewed yucca and topped with some kind of mystery orange relish.
The last stop on the gutbusters tour was for tamales at Soler Dominican. Two varieties were offered, and we tried both: unadorned corn and chicken. Of the two, the chicken was my favorite, but not by much. The moist stewed chicken and the corn meal combined to great effect, I thought – my friend made a compelling case for the corn meal alone being superior, though. Something about the difference in preparation made it seem sweet, and almost like a dessert. Not a bad way to cap lunchtime at the fields.
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.