Archive for the ‘Serial Dining Woodside’ Category

SD #18: Pupusas. Almost as much fun to say as kumkwat.

March 9, 2013

Pupusas.

Pupusas.

Isn’t that fun?  It’s almost as fun to say “pupusas” as it is to eat pupusas.  We discovered this in November, when we serially dined at El Nuevo Izalco, which was the next restaurant on our serial dining list.  It’s located at 6405 Roosevelt Ave, easy walking distance from our apartment.  Here’s what it looks like on the outside:

El Nuevo Izalco Restaurant

Here’s the inside:

We went at lunchtime on a Friday in November, so the place was pretty quiet.  The host, who I took to be the son of the owners, was very friendly.  He took the time to explain to us not only all about pupusas themselves, but also about El Salvador.  Izalco is the name of their hometown, named after a volcano located there.  It has been dormant since the 1960s, but it erupted pretty regularly before that, and it’s an iconic image of El Salvador the way, say, images of the grand canyon or the Rocky Mountains are for the United States.  There’s a big picture of the volcano in the restaurant.  There are also little ceramic buses on the walls, decorated with the names of the various states in El Salvador.  Here are a few of them:

Since I had never had pupusas before, the host suggested a combination plate.  My suggestion to you:  Don’t.  You can order pupusas separately with a lot less on the side, and you’ll probably be less overwhelmed and enjoy them more.  Unless you’re REALLY hungry, or you plan on splitting it with someone else.  It’s a TON of food.  Don’t get me wrong– it’s really GOOD food.  But it’s a TON of food.  Here’s what we had:

You always get pickled cabbage with pupusas

Horchata. Kind of like chocolate milk, but made with rice

So here I am at the bottom of this post, admitting to you that this dining adventure took place in November of 2011, more than a year ago, and I wrote everything above this sentence in April 2012.  Yeah, life got busy, and I got lazy about the whole serial dining thing.  Right now it’s a Saturday night in March 2013, and my partner and I are trying to figure out where to have dinner.  I keep saying we’re going to get back to Serial Dining, but I refuse to do it until I get around to posting about the last few restaurants we’ve been to.  I had hoped to add to this post the exact identities of everything in these pictures and the price we paid for everything.  The thing is, I can’t remember.  We’ve been back to El Nuevo Izalco since then, and the prices are very reasonable.  The owners and wait staff have been just as friendly in subsequent visits as they were on our first one.  They seem genuinely happy to see everybody who walks through the door.  It’s a good strategy, because it makes us want to go back there.  It’s like hanging out at your uncle’s house, if your uncle was a nice old Salvadoran guy who owns a restaurant.  If he started hugging the diners, it wouldn’t seem the least bit out of place.

Another good thing I can report: Since our original visit to El Nuevo Izalco, the jerks who opened Pupusa Zone RIGHT THE HECK NEXT DOOR to it have already gone out of business.  It’s like opening a burger joint right next to another burger joint, hoping to do it better and faster and put the old guy’s family business out of business.  Glad they failed.  Pupusa on you, jerks.

Izalco on Urbanspoon

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SD #17: Yes, This Is About Food We Ate In August.

January 10, 2012

Great Holy Monongahela, y’all!  I am wayyyy far behind on posting our Serial Dining Woodside adventures!  I plead insanity.  I was crazy busy this fall.

It’s really, really hard to top a trip to Donovan’s.  But being committed to our Serial Dining Woodside project, we kept calm and carried on.  On August 12, we ventured out again.  Next up on the list:

Dunkin’ Donuts, 3956 61st St
Ecuador Mi Pais, 5316 Roosevelt Ave
El Guarache Corp, 6806 Roosevelt Ave
El Mariachi Restaurant, Roosevelt Ave

Except for El Mariachi, almost nothing on this list is as it seems.  That Dunkin Donuts?  Surprise!  We’ve been there before, because it’s also a Baskin Robbins!  It does, however, appear twice on the list, and rules are rules.  So we resigned ourselves to the fact that at some point that day, we were going to have to indulge in some donuts.  Commitment.  It’s a bitch.

Meanwhile, Ecuador Mi Pais?  Turns out, no longer there.  No longer a restaurant, even.  Yes, if you look closely at the window in the picture below you will still see some vestigial Ecuadorian imagery:

The former home of Ecuador Mi Pais is, however, now a mosque.  For reals:

El Guarache?  We totally missed the boat on that one.  We had walked past it dozens of times and always intended to go in and try it, but alas, we never got around to it.  Now, the site of the former El Guarache is now the home of Tia Julia, which isn’t a restaurant so much as the place the awesome Tia Julia food truck in Jackson Heights goes to reload.  Once in a great while, in what appears to me a totally unpredictable manner, the dining room is open and you can eat there.  But not that day:

Tia Julia: Restaurant or truck depot?

So here was the plan:  El Mariachi for lunch, followed by (totally against our wills, I swear) a trip back to the Baskin Robbins/Dunkin Donuts.

There are lots of reasonably cheap Mexican joints in Woodside.  In fact, we have serially dined at several of them already, and all of them have been good.  It really blows my mind that a place like Taco Bell survives at all in this part of Queens, given all of the inexpensive, authentic, muy delicioso Mexican food around.  Case in point:  El Mariachi.  We liked it.  Here’s what it looks like on the outside:

El Mariachi Restaurant

From the outside, pretty much the same as any other Mexican restaurant of its type.  On the inside, however, it’s one of the most pleasantly decorated ones we’ve been to.  Colorful, and not cheesy.  Here’s what it looks like:

As is our tendency, we showed up at a weird hour in the middle of the afternoon, so the place was nearly empty.  However, we’ve seen crowds in there at other times, and they seem to do a lot o delivery and take-out business.  We therefore concluded that the quality of the food we tasted that day is probably pretty consistent over time.  Here’s what we ordered:

We started, as always, with guacamole.  You may have noticed by now that I am constitutionally incapable of entering a Mexican restaurant of any kind and not ordering guacamole.  If the guacamole sucks, I won’t go back, no matter how good everything else is.  Anyway, here’s the guac:

The guac was good.  Not the best I’ve ever had, but definitely enjoyable.  After that, Allan ordered a torta, and I ordered huaraches, which I had never had before.  Here’s the food:

Huaraches, baby!

Huaraches was (were?) new to me.  If they’re new for you too, here’s the scoop:  The word “huaraches” actually refers to sandals.  The base of this dish is a flat, oval-shaped layer reminiscent of the bottom of a sandal.  This bottom layer is made of fried corn dough, which is called masa.  On top of the masa can be piled all sorts of different ingredients, generally including both meat and cheese (queso fresco) and some some veggies, which in a way reminds me conceptually of pizza.  I had mine with pork.  My impression was that this was a well-executed huaraches, and if you’re into huaraches, El Mariachi is probably a good place to go.  However, I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the thick, chewy masa base, which is a basic feature of the dish and not specific to this restaurant, so I probably won’t order this again, here or anywhere else.  As I mentioned before, we have since ordered takeout from El Mariachi, on which occasion I ordered the chicken enchiladas verdes, and they were terrific.

Allan’s torta looked fantastic– very well prepared, with fresh ingredients.  I asked him what he thought, and he was too busy happily chewing to respond, which I took to mean he was digging it.  So there you go.

I’m sad to say that because I am so delinquent in blogging about this visit, I no longer remember how much we spent, but I know it wasn’t a lot.

So.  On to Dunkin Donuts.  Do I really have to describe the menu to you?  No, I thought not.  Can you guess what we ordered?  Here’s a photo of them, still in the bag:

Bet you knew that’s how they were going to look.  Bet you also know exactly how they tasted.  So rather than spending time on that, let me tell you what we discovered when we went back there.  Remember the Station Bar with the totally clapped out awning?  Apparently the owners have been busy sprucing up the place!  Lookie lookie:

We didn’t look inside, but I really hope they didn’t spruce up the interior, too.  It’s such a great little dive bar, it would be a shame to change it.

SD # 15: Donato’s. Who knew “they’ve got the conch” would be a recurring theme?

September 11, 2011

Once upon a time, there were a lot more Italian-Americans in this part of Queens than there are now. Several remnants of that era still exist here. Ottomanelli’s butcher shop on Woodside Avenue, V&V Bakery underneath the 61st St subway station, and Donato’s Pizzeria at 50-22 39th Ave.  Okay, actually Donato’s has only been there since 1999, but it looks and feels like it’s been there a lot longer.  We’ve patronized the butcher and the bakery in the past and been very happy with both (pignoli cookies… mmmmmmmm), but we’ve never gotten around to trying Donato’s. Fortunately, serial dining finally brought us there. After our trip to El Rey Del Taco, the next two entries on our serial dining list were these:

Dhaka Club & Restaurant, 5915 37th Ave
Donatos Pizzeria Restaurant, 5022 39th Ave

Dhaka Club is actually a catering hall, but we dutifully drove by and took a picture just to prove we couldn’t actually eat there:

Dhaka Club, closed up tonight on a Friday afternoon

Locked up tight.  So, on to Donato’s.  We’ve driven past this place dozens of times, and I’d been really looking forward to trying it, because it looked like such a classic Italian-American neighborhood family restaurant.  And it is.  Places like this remind me of being a kid and being constantly surrounded by Italian-American relatives and neighbors, and eating that food.  Just for fun, here are some photos of my Italian-American ancestors:

This is my grandmother in 1960, taken during my father’s high school graduation party.  (That’s my dad standing to the left of her.)  If it looks to you like the party was in the cellar, that’s because it was.  Everybody in my grandparents’ generation or before had an extra kitchen in the cellar of their house, and all the really big family meals took place down there.  I didn’t realize until many years later that this is peculiar to Italian-Americans.  Anyway, I have lots of happy memories of eating simple, homemade Italian food, lovingly prepared by my grandmother, her sister, or some other amazing woman no more than a generation or two off the boat.

Here’s another photo.  The man in the center is my great-great-grandfather, surrounded by all of his great-grandchildren on his birthday:

To get a feel for what the Italian-American experience was like for the kids in this picture (who all lived in NJ) and for the Italian-Americans in Queens who ate at places like Donato’s long before we got there, check out this fantastic narrative on YouTube:

So what I’m saying is, places like Donato’s are part of my family heritage, and I was really jazzed to try it out.  Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

Donato’s is the total package:  a pizza take-out counter in front, an eat-in restaurant with a full menu in the back, and outdoor seating on the sidewalk outside.  It was hotter than Hades on the way we went, so we decided to eat in the dining room.  Here’s what it looks like on the inside:

As you can see, this is SUCH a classic Italian joint.  If you were making a movie and you needed to shoot a scene inside a classic American Italian restaurant, this is where you’d go.  From the stained-glass shades on the hanging lights to the Italian-themed carnation centerpieces to the balsamic vinegar and olive oil ready for dunking your bread or dressing your salad as soon as it hits the table, this place has everything you need for an Italian-American dining experience.  I didn’t take pictures of them, but yes, there’s a porcelain pig and a big bottle of garlic cloves in olive oil decorating the dining room.

But the most important question is:  How is the food?  There are lots of reviews of Donato’s online.  You can read about it on Yelp, Chowhound, foursquare, the Queens Gazette, the Sunnyside Post, and Urban Spoon.

Reviewers have mixed opinions on the quality of the food, the speed and friendliness of the service, and the prices.  I have to say, the service was inexcusably slow the day we were there.  You can see from the picture that this is not a busy place on Friday afternoons, yet we waited darn near forever for our salads, our entrees, AND our check.  So yeah, the service?  Not so great.

The food, on the other hand, was good.  I had calamari and scungili salad followed by baked ziti.  I had to.  I mean, is there any dish that says “East Coast Italian-Amerian home cooking” like baked ziti?  Allan had the penne a la vodka lunch special, which came with a green salad.  The calamari and scungili salad was made fresh, and in fact the squid and conch were still warm from having just been cooked.  They were dressed in garlic and olive oil and served over greens with lemon.  It was incredible.  My grandmother used to get this salad from an Italian seafood shop in New Jersey, and by definition it was made well in advance.  This was WAY better than that.  I would go back to Donato’s just to eat this.  Here it is:

Calamari & Scungili Salad from Donato's

Both pasta dishes were good.  They’re both simple dishes, and anybody looking for something fancy or modern will be disappointed with them, but if you’re looking for something your little Italian grandmother would have made (which I was), you will be more than satisfied.  I’ve had baked ziti in a handful of other places in the city over the years, and this is by far the best I’ve tried.  For that matter, since I grew up in a heavily Italian-American part of New Jersey, every single potluck supper my parents ever dragged me to as a child had at least two big aluminum foil pans full of baked ziti, and this was better than anything I remember as a kid.  The portions are HUGE, so if you order pasta there, plan on bringing home leftovers and having pasta for lunch the next day.  Here are the pasta dishes:

Penne a la Vodka

Baked Ziti

So the food was good, but the service was frustratingly and puzzlingly slow.  Would we go back?  Possibly.  As I was reading reviews of Donato’s online, I saw several people say Sapori D’Ischia is a much better restaurant.  I guess we’ll find out when we make it that far down the serial dining list.  Until then, when I’m craving some Italian-American home cooking, this is where I’ll go.

Total cost for the meal was about $40.

Donato's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

SD #14: Proof That Decor & Taste Have Nothing To Do With Each Other

September 10, 2011

On July 29, we visited the next restaurant on our list. It’s on the list as Del Rey Taco, but in fact it’s actually called El Rey Del Taco Deli, and it’s at 4906 43rd Ave. If you parked a taco truck in the back of a bodega and tossed in some simple seating, you’d have El Rey Del Taco. I mean that in a really good way.

One of the thing you learn when you move to New York City is that what a restaurant looks like and how good the food is often have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. In fact, the very best, most authentic food often comes from the homeliest little holes in the wall. In fact, sometimes there are no walls at all– sometimes they sell it out of a truck right on the street. This is an especially great way to buy tacos, and Queens has some of the best taco trucks around. I’m amazed Taco Bell can even survive in Queens at all with all of the infinitely more authentic, affordable options.

Most of the bodegas in Woodside are just bodegas, but some of them have grills in the back and they’ll cook you anything from a basic egg sandwich to some awesome short-order ethnic food. El Rey Del Taco is a place like that. It looks like a convenience store from the front, but there’s a grill in the back, and they offer a variety of tacos and other Mexican food.  The seating area is clean and looks pretty new, but you’re still in a bodega, so you do have to contend with the fact that you’ll be dining with a lovely view of the drain cleaner, laundry detergent, and deodorizing disinfectant.  But once the food comes, you instantly no longer mind that.

Here’s what the place looks like from the outside:

El Rey Del Taco Deli

Here’s what it looks like in the dining area in the back:

When we walked back into the grill area, one of the regulars saw that we had never been there before, gushed enthusiastically about how good and cheap the food is, and told me we MUST start with #5– the tacos. We headed to the counter and placed our order. I ordered the tacos: one chicken, one beef, and one carnitas. Allan ordered the quesadillas al pastor. While we waited, we browsed their selection of American and Mexican sodas and beers.  Here’s our food:

Mmm... tacos and quesadillas!

Accompanied by a couple of apple sodas, these dishes were absolutely delicious!  I’m writing this post long after our visit because, hey, sometimes I get busy.  So I don’t remember exactly what this outing cost us.  But I do remember it was very cheap.  So if you’re up for some authentic Mexican classics at a price that won’t bust your wallet, this is a great choice.

SD #13: Squash Blossoms & Corn Smut, y’all!

June 26, 2011

I love this time of year.  I have Fridays off, which means I have a chance to have a nice, leisurely lunch with Allan– the perfect opportunity for serial dining!  Last week’s Friday lunch was at Masala, which was really spectacular.  How to top that?  Fortunately, the next restaurant on our serial dining list was De Mole, 4502 48th Ave on the far western edge of Woodside.  We’ve been there many times before and we love it.  It’s my go-to place for enchiladas verdes con pollo.  The restaurant is cute and clean, with friendly staff and good service.  We’ve never, ever had a bad time there.  And today, the forces of alphabetical order decreed that we must go there for lunch.  Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

De Mole

De Mole

I included two shots of the exterior because I want you to see the intricate brickwork on the outside of the building.  This has nothing to do with food, but I must give a shout-out to all the Italian-American bricklayers who built so many of the gorgeous brick buildings in Queens and the other boroughs of the city.  Obviously I don’t know for sure that my fellow Italian-Americans built this exact building, but truly beautiful, lasting brick edifices are one of the many fruits of the labor of Italian immigrants, and once in a while I like to point that out.  But I digress.

Before I get back to De Mole, I want to include this shot of China One Taco across the street, for people who live in the suburbs and don’t see this type of place.  China.  Tacos.  You just don’t expect it, you know?  But it happens a lot in New York.  The street between De Mole and China One is, I believe, the dividing line between the Woodside and Sunnyside zip codes.  So we won’t cover China One in our serial dining adventure, but it’s fun to look at, so here it is:

China One Taco House

So.  Back to De Mole.  They serve Mexican food, including a lot of southern dishes in the Pueblan style.  There are lots of reviews of De Mole online if you’re interested, mostly raving about the food and its authenticity.  In fact, when I Googled before we went, I was surprised by how many times it’s been reviewed– far more than any place we’ve been to so far.  You can read about De Mole at Yelp, Urban Spoon, Chowhound, the Eating in Queens blog, Shauna Eats Sunnyside, New York Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and even Zagat and Michelin, which often overlook a lot of outer-burrough restaurants.  I can’t post links to those last two because they require paid subscriptions, but if you subscribe, go read– I bet they’ll tell you De Mole is fantastic.

The menu had some staples you see in any Mexican restaurant in the city like burritos, tacos, and enchiladas, plus a variety of more unusual items.  The chef is from the state of Puebla in southern Mexico, so if you’re used to northern Mexican food, you’ll notice some interesting surprises.  There are also vegetarian-friendly dishes; I noted many favorable comments from vegetarians and vegans among the comments around the web.  Here’s the interior of the restaurant:

De Mole from the inside!

Also, check out their super-colorful menus:

As I said, this is my go-to place for enchiladas, and I also love their guac, which is fresh and chunky.  However, this being our official serial dining visit, I decided to try something new.  For a starter, we ordered the Ceviche Vera Cruz.  They make it with either fish or scallops.  We chose the fish.  It was fresh and tangy with a variety of finely chopped vegetables to go with the fish.  They serve it in a little tortilla bowl, and you can eat it either alone or on the tortilla chips that come with the complimentary salsa.  We added a bit of salt to it to bring out the flavors.  Overall, I liked the Ecuadorian-style ceviche at Braulio y Familia better, but I definitely enjoyed this dish.

For a main dish, I chose quesadillas and Allan chose a carne asada burrito.  Our server could tell from our discussion that we both intended to taste both dishes, so he helpfully cut the burrito in half and brought it out on two plates.  Like I said, the people are nice and the service is good.  There are two types of quesadillas at De Mole:  tradicionales, which are made with corn tortillas, and sincronizadas, which are larger and made with flour tortillas.  Tradicionales come in four varieties:  corn mushroom, shredded Pueblan-style brisket, squash blossom, and Oaxaca cheese.  They’re not huge, so we decided to try all four.  If you’ve never had this type of quesadilla before, I highly recommend this strategy– you’ll taste some amazing new things.

The burrito was great.  One of the better ones I’ve had.  However, the quesadillas tradicionales were mind-blowing.  First of all, I’m accustomed to quesadillas that are basically two flour tortillas stuck together with melted cheese, with or without chicken or some other type of filling.  These are not that.  They actually look more like tacos– corn tortillas folded in half, with shredded lettuce and other fillings, always including cheese.

“Corn mushroom” is a euphemism for a corn fungus called huitlacoche in Mexico and “corn smut” here in the U.S.  I had never even heard of it before, much less tasted it, but I found this neat article from the Huffington Post explaining it, complete with a smutty photo.  All I can say is, whoever was the first person to taste a smutty ear of corn was either desperately hungry, very brave, or both.  However, I’m glad they did, because the stuff tastes good, and according to the Huff Post, it’s extremely nutritious and economically advantageous to grow, because you can charge more for the smut than the corn it grew on.  How cool is that?

The brisket quesadilla had a nice smokey flavor and just enough saltiness.  Oaxaca cheese is basically Mexican mozzarella, and it goes perfectly with a corn tortilla.  However, the squash blossom quesadilla was the real standout.

Here’s my squash blossom story:  My father’s people are Italian.  When they immigrated to New York from Naples in the early years of the 20th century, if they had a a house or apartment with access to a patch of dirt, in addition to tomatoes and figs, they had a grape arbor and let the vines grow up over everything including the house.  You still see grape arbors here and there in the city, and a handful of families still make their own wine.

For more recent immigrants from Latin America, apparently squash vines are the new grape arbor.  Last summer I was fascinated to watch a family just north of the 69th St stop on the 7 subway grow squash vines in their tiny yard and let them grow up the side of the house onto the roof.  I wondered what would happen when the squash themselves got big; wouldn’t they roll off the roof?  Well, I never had a chance to find that out, because apparently the squash weren’t the objective in the first place.  The blossoms were.  Once the flowers bloomed on the vine, they were quickly harvested, and the vines eventually withered away.  I thought that was weird– wouldn’t it be better to have the squash?  After today’s lunch, I get what the big deal is.  I actually took pictures of the flowering vines from the subway platform, but this was more than a year ago and I seem to have deleted them at some point.  I mean, how could I know those pics would actually come in handy someday for a blog post on squash blossom quesadillas?

Anyway, here’s our food:

Complimentary chips & salsa

Ceviche Vera Cruz

Steak burrito

Quesadillas tradicionales: Oaxaca cheese, squash blossom, brisket, corn mushroom

Obviously, after all that food we skipped dessert.  However, I have to make a plug for the flan at De Mole.  We’ve had the coconut flan and the orange flan, and both are absolutely amazing.  If you go, as difficult as this will be, try to save room for flan.

Total price for all of this delicious food plus a Coke for me and a banana licuada for Allan:  $34.57 plus tip.

De Mole on Urbanspoon

SD #12: I need Masala, Masala. Masala, that’s what I need.

June 18, 2011

According to the list, the next stop on our serial dining adventure was to be Darul Kabab, an Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi restaurant allegedly located at 3926 61st St.  I could find only one review of it online:  undated, in the Queens Tribune online dining guide.  Turns out, that’s because it doesn’t exist anymore.  It has been replaced by another Indian restaurant called Masala.  We went there for lunch today.

If you don’t have a lot of time to read, let me sum up:  Go there.  It’s awesome.  One of the very best Indian restaurants we’ve been to, and that’s saying a lot, since we’ve been to many.  Keep reading if you want the details.

Masala is mere steps away from the 61st St station in Woodside, so even if you’re not from here, it’s easy to get to.  Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

Masala Restaurant

Masala

In that top picture, you can see the beauty of Woodside dining– there’s such amazing diversity in the food here.  Thai food right next to Indian food right next to Mexican food.  There are no icky corporate chains here other than things like McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts– you can bet these restaurants are owned by people who come from these cultures and grew up eating this food.

Masala is widely and very positively reviewed on the web.  You can read about it on Yelp, Urban Spoon, Chowhound, Restaurant.com (bonus: you can buy a $25 gift certificate for $10!), and the unfortunately now-defunct Shauna Eats Sunnyside blog.

The service we received was efficient, attentive, and friendly.  We thought it might have been because we were there at an odd hour and were the only ones in the restaurant, but several of the reviews I’ve since read online note the excellent service, so maybe it’s like that even during busy times.  The lighting was just right, the place is clean and tastefully decorated (well, except maybe for the Mahatma Ghandi Rules of Customer Service posted by the door, seen below), and there is authentic Indian music playing softly in the background.

The Mahatma Ghandi Rules of Customer Service

Our server was friendly and informative– I suspect he’s either the owner or the manager, as he was exceptionally knowledgeable and really, REALLY wanted us to be happy with our dining experience.  He recognized Allan, who ate there several times for lunch when he lived on 62nd St more than four years ago.  That’s impressive.  He turned us on to their cheese lassi, which is simply incredible and is not listed on the menu.  Since he wasn’t terribly busy, he also made us an Indian lemonade just for the heck of it and tossed it in on the house.  Their cheese lassi contains homemade cheese, pistacchios, and rosewater, and they garnish it with saffron.  The lemonade is frozen and likewise topped with saffron water.  Here they are:

Cheese Lassi

Indian Lemonade

Our server told us the cheese lassi is considered a very healthy drink, and it’s a popular choice on farms in India on really hot days.  Of course, I don’t need to tell you that a frozen lemonade is just the very best thing on a warm day in June.  On top of these amazing drinks, they also have regular soft drinks, and our water glasses were never empty.  They do serve beer and wine, and next time we may order a bottle to go with this amazingly flavorful food.  Oh yes, there WILL be a next time.

Absolutely everything on the menu sounded good.  Lots of standard Indian fare: curry, tandoori, biryani, and malasa dishes among others, plus a few things I’d never seen before like masala crab cakes.  Like many Indian restaurants, there’s a variety of vegetarian fare.  They also now serve a Nepali grill plate, which is not on the menu.

We ordered lunch specials– various meat curries with either soup or salad.  I had lamb curry with Mulligatawny soup, and Allan had chicken curry, also with Mulligatawny soup.  We also got some naan (they spell is “nan” here), and since I’m simply not capable of eating Indian food without it, we got some raita (they spell it “raitha” here).  Here’s the food:

Mulligatawny soup

Lamb curry

Chicken curry

This is the best Mulligatawny soup I’ve ever had.  It’s pureed, which was new for me, and it had exactly the right amount of salt.  They also leave a slice of lime floating in it for extra flavor.  Like the threads of saffron atop the cheese lassi, this type of attention to detail could be found throughout the meal and really made it special.

The lamb curry was also the best I’ve ever had.  They will adjust the level of spice to your taste– the majority of their clientele is not Indian, so they don’t assume everyone’s taste for heat will be the same.  I asked for mine medium, and it was absolutely perfect.  I could feel the heat for sure; it was enough to add significantly to the flavor of the curry without making it challenging to eat.  Allan felt the same about his chicken curry.  The rice was also extremely well done.  The nan was just average– it wasn’t as delicate as other naans I’ve enjoyed more, but still enjoyable.  The only thing I didn’t really care for was the raitha, which was too sweet for my taste.  That’s okay, though, because it frees me up to try some of the other appetizers and accompaniments on the menu next time we go.  Online reviewers rave about the samosas and the Bombay mushrooms, and I’m dying to try the masala crab cake.

Prices are very reasonable.  This entire meal was $25.30 plus tip.  Go eat!

Masala Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

SD # 11: Two flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

June 6, 2011

On our latest Serial Dining Woodside adventure, we wrapped up the “C” category.  Here are the relevant entries from the list:

Chu Ying Chinese Restaurant, (718) 458-8588, 6721 Woodside Ave
Cimtech, (718) 205-7333, 6708 Roosevelt Ave
Corp Lourdes, (718) 606-1791, 5802 37th Ave
Cozy Deli, (718) 777-6631, 5027 31st Ave
Cuckoos Nest, (718) 426-5684, 6104 Woodside Ave

Does Cimtech sound like a restaurant to you?  Yeah, us neither.  Corp Lourdes was a wildcard, but it seemed to us that what we’d likely wind up doing food-wise with our Sunday was lunch at Chu Ying, a quick trip to the Cozy Deli for cold drinks and a snack some time in the afternoon among the errands, and an evening of live entertainment, good eats, and artfully poured Irish beer at the Cuckoo’s Nest, which has live music every Sunday night.

We started by dutifully checking out Cimtech, just to make sure.  The verdict:  Not an eatery.  Not even close.  It is– or rather, it was — a second-floor office of some type, and appears to be for rent:

Cimtech: Not a restaurant, and not much of anything else anymore, either.

Next, we headed over to the other unknown:  Corp Lourdes.  Turns out, it’s a Filipino restaurant called Lourdess, and it was closed up tight in the middle of the day on a Sunday.  There were no hours of operation posted on the door, so it’s hard to tell if they really just take the whole Sunday = Day of Rest thing really, really seriously, or if they’ve gone under, or what.  So I Googled.  The comments and reviews on Yelp, Chowhound, and Urbanspoon were mixed, and in such an out-of-the-way location in a part of Queens with lots of Filipino dining options, you probably have to rock pretty hard to stay afloat.  I’m guessing Lourdess is defunct.  Here’s what it looks like:

So.  Lunch from Chu Ying.  This place is not new to us; in fact, it is a great favorite of ours.  It’s less than half a block from our apartment.  Allan eats there for lunch a lot when he works from home, and I’ve been there with him for a dinner a bunch of times.  They’re nice people, and good neighbors.  If you call for pickup and they know you live nearby, they’ll call you and let you know when your food is ready.  My only complaint is that when they’re not really busy with dine-in customers, the wait staff kind of hovers over your while you eat, so I suggested we call for take-out.

Chu Ying is Korean-style Chinese food.  Many of the dishes are typical of Chinese restaurant menus, and in most cases there’s no discernible difference in the way they look or taste.  In other cases, however, there’s definitely a Korean touch.  Everything comes with kimchee and pickled daikon.  The fried dumplings are deep fried, not pan fried.  Some of the dishes are either straight up Korean or a Korean version of Chinese.  You see that a lot in Queens– a restaurant with food that’s the way it would be if you were ordering Chinese food in some other country.  After all, Chinese food is everywhere.  In this general part of Queens, we have Mexican Chinese, Peruvian Chinese, Thai Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, and Vietnamese Chinese, to name just a few.

We ordered some fried dumplings to share.  Allan ordered noodles with black soybean sauce– easily one of the most popular dishes at Chu Ying, and apparently a staple Korean-Chinese dish served at virtually all restaurants of this type, either cold or hot.  I almost always order moo shoo pork from Chu Ying, but this time I decided to try something new and get the sesame chicken.  There was some broccoli in it, but not enough to convince me it was there on purpose.  It’s almost as if it snuck in from another dish being prepared at the same time.  However, we’ve seen this in Chinese chicken dishes before, like the time Allan ordered General Tso’s chicken at China Taste during our last serial dining adventure.  Therefore, I have concluded that adding a ridiculously small amount of broccoli to a dish is actually intentional.  I have decided to call this the Token Broccoli Effect.

Except for the Token Broccoli Effect, all of the food was excellent, as it always is as Chu Ying.  Here it is:

Delicious takeout from Chu Ying.

Total cost: $28, including plenty of leftover sesame chicken for lunch the next day.

Fortified by a delicious lunch, we headed out to run our typical Sunday errands:  laundry, a trip to Petsmart, groceries, etc.  While we were out and about, we stopped by the Cozy Deli for drinks and snacks as planned.  As with many of the Yahoo Yellow Pages entries, this establishment has a new name, but at least it is still a going concern.  Here it is:

ATSJ Deli & Grill, nee the Cozy Deli

What is there to say?  It’s a bodega.  It has bodega stuff.  Its most distinguishing feature is that it sells a wider variety of “classic” candy like Now & Later, Atomic Fireballs, and stuff like that than most bodegas.  We both grabbed some Arizona drinks (Arnold Palmer Half & Half for the win!) and headed back to the car to munch out:

Arnold Palmer Half & Half: Nectar of the Gods

Sunday night we walked down Woodside Ave to the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Woodside used to have a huge Irish population, and there are still a fair number of Irish-Americans and recent Irish immigrants here.  Several of the old Irish bars and restaurants are still here and doing well, such as Stop Inn, Donovan’s Pub, Saint & Sinners, Sean Og’s, and the Cuckoo’s Nest.  A bunch of these are walking distance from our apartment, and we’ll serially dine at all of them eventually.  Anyway, so there we were at the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The Cuckoo’s Next is an absolutely spectacular bar, and there’s a lot on the web about it if you’re interested.  It has been rated and reviewed on Urban Spoon, Citysearch, Yelp, New York Magazine, The Irish Emigrant, the Hitting the Head blog, and various other spots on the web.  It hasn’t been reviewed on Chowhound yet, but you do see it mentioned favorably on the boards there. (ETA: I was wrong.  Chow.com has a review of the bar here, talking about the very dish I ate!)  With very few exceptions, the reviews are terrific and describe a cozy, gorgeous Irish bar with good food, good music, and a fantastic bartender named Joe who pours a good glass of Guiness.  I have to admit, I did not know there are different ways to pour Guiness, nor did I know that doing it right makes a difference, so I can’t speak intelligently on that aspect of this bar.  Aside from that, however, our experience there matches the high praise it receives online, and we had a lovely evening.

I had a Smithwicks and some fish and chips.  Allan had a Guiness and a cheeseburger.  (This being, first and foremost, a bar, it seems appropriate to list the beers first.)  The food was fantastic, the service was good, and the musicians playing live Irish music were the real deal.  Here’s the food and a shot of the bar, complete with Celtic cross:

The rest of my pictures all came out like crap, so I suggest you click on some of the links above to see what a truly beautiful bar this is, inside and out.  On the way home, however, I did snap a shot of the 61st St station at night, and the front of Chu Ying, which I didn’t catch during the day.

61st St station at night

It occurs to me all of a sudden that, holy cow, I ate a HUGE HEAPING BUTTLOAD of deep-fried food on this particular day.  I’m usually not much for fried food, but there it is, right there in the photographs:  fried dumplings, sesame chicken which is fried before it is sauced, fried fish, and french fries.  Dude.  Somehow, I failed to hear and heed the plaintive wailing of my arteries while I was actually chowing down, but now that the deed is done, I feel I owe it to my circulatory system to go have a nice green salad somewhere.  But you know… damn that was good food.

Cuckoo's Nest on Urbanspoon

Chu Ying Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

SD #10: Beer, ice cream, and Chinese food. Can there be a better way to spend a Saturday?

February 15, 2011

Thanks to the wackiness and utter lack of both accuracy and currency in the Yahoo Yellow Pages, there are two recurring themes in our Serial Dining Woodside adventure:  Restaurants that aren’t really restaurants, and restaurants that are long gone.  It adds a certain sense of mystery and adventure, because unless we recognize the street address right away, we’re really not sure what’s going to be there when we get there.  This was one of those times.  Here are the next four places on the Serial Dining Woodside  restaurant list:

Breslin & Sweeney, 3950 61st St
Camilo Coffee Shop Inc, 6929 Queens Blvd
Carvel Ice Cream & Bakery, 5826 Roosevelt Ave
China Taste Bl Co, 4553 46th St

The address for Breslin & Sweeney sounded an awful lot like it would be right under the 61st St subway station, so we Google Street Viewed it to find out exactly what it was.  Turns out, is both not really a restaurant and not actually called Breslin & Sweeney.  It’s the Station Cafe, one of the oldest bars (maybe even THE oldest) in Woodside.  Breslin & Sweeney must be the corporation or partnership that owns the Station Cafe, because the Station Cafe has been the Station Cafe since long before there was a Yahoo Yellow Pages, so we’re not talking about a new establishment replacing an old one here.

The Station Cafe is a bar.  Not a Bar & Grill.  A bar.  So if we planned to eat a meal, we were going to have to include more than one stop on this outing.  I had actually been to Camilo’s before and I was pretty sure it was kaput, and deservedly so.  Their enchiladas were about 99% pure salt.  And Carvel, well, if you live out here you know you can’t get a meal at Carvel.  So… China Taste?  Sounds like classic Chinese take-out, doesn’t it?  There’s gotta be something lunch-like at a place called China Taste.

So the plan:  Visually confirm that Camilo’s is in fact dead, head off to China Taste to get some lunch, enjoy a beer at the Station Cafe, then top it off with an ice cream treat from Carvel.  Off we went.

Sure enough, Camilo’s is dead:

Camilo's: Like Jacob Marley, dead as a doornail.

China Taste is clear on the other side of the Woodside zip code.  In fact, I think the other side of the street it’s on is actually considered Sunnyside.  Sure enough, as we predicted, China Taste is a garden variety Chinese take-out joint.  They do have a tiny dining room with three tables in it, however, so we opted to eat in.  I don’t recommend it:  The only heat they have is provided by a single space heater, and it isn’t aimed at any of the tables.

China Taste

The menu is typical Chinese take-out.  We decided to go for some classic soups and a main course from the Chef’s Specialties section.  I had egg drop, of course, and Allan had won ton soup.  For the  main course, I chose beef and scallops, and Allan had General Tso’s chicken.

The young woman who took our order and served our food was friendly and efficient, although she did yak loudly on her cell phone nonstop during our entire meal.  The food comes in take-out containers with plastic utensils, and they bring it to you on an orange cafeteria tray.  That’s all fine– when you’re dining in at a take-out joint, you have to keep your expectations reasonable.  Here’s the food:

Mmmmm... my favorite, egg drop soup

General Tso eats his chicken out of styrofoam. Believe it or not, this is size small.

Beef & Scallops

I try the egg drop soup everywhere I go that offers it.  China Taste has the best egg drop soup I’ve had so far in Woodside.  Just the right thickness, and just the right amount of salt.  I would definitely order it again.  The scallops in my main dish didn’t seem too terribly fresh– they were a bit fishier than I would have liked.  But the beef was sliced nice and thin and appeared to be of a reasonably high quality, and the veggies and sauce were pretty typical for a dish like this.  With slightly fresher scallops, if you were in a “screw it, let’s just call for Chinese” kind of mood, this dish would do just fine.

The won ton soup was a bit watery but otherwise fine.  General Tso’s Chicken was a slightly sweeter version than we’ve had before, and consisted only of chicken and rice– no veggies at all except for two spears of broccoli that almost certainly wound up in there by accident.  Again, if you were in one of those Chinese take-out moods, this meal would serve.

Total before tax and tip: $17.70

On to the Station Cafe.  Let’s not mince words:  from the outside, this place looks like shit.  The awning is completely torn up, and there is no other ornamentation or signage of any kind to make you want to go inside.  In fact, until you yank on the door and it opens, you kind of wonder if this really is a going concern.  It’s almost like they’d really just as soon not attract new clientele, thanks.  But in we went just the same.

The Station Cafe

I expected to absolutely hate this place.  Actually, I loved it.

This is an old Irish bar that goes wayyyy back, and in fact the very first thing that happened when we walked in the door is that we were greeted by an middle-aged Irish-American barfly with a black eye.  You can’t make this stuff up.  The music is not too loud, and they actually play songs I like.   Mostly 80’s rock.  Two different Queen songs came on while we were there.  There is no food other than a rack of snack-size bags of Lays potato chips.  There is no tap.  About a dozen beers are available in bottles.  The usual complement of liquor bottles were behind the bar, so I assume they do cocktails and shots.  We kept it simple and ordered a couple of Heinekens.

The bar itself is a long, dark, very old-looking wooden affair with mirrors.  A classic.  There is no hipster bartender with a touch-screen “point-of-sale system”.  The till is either an antique mechanical cash register or a reproduction that looks like the real deal.  Directly over it hangs a relic of the days of anti-Irish bigotry:  “Help Wanted.  No Irish Need Apply.”  Tastefully framed for ironic effect.  Emblems from various labor unions adorn the wood of the bar:  Steamfitters, Lathers, and so forth.  Above it all hang soccer jerseys, autographed and framed.  Soccer played all every television in the place save one, which showed the day’s races at Aqueduct.  The bartender, Doreen, was friendly and welcoming and unpretentious and just absolutely everything I want in a bartender.  There’s a pool table in the next room, although it wasn’t getting any use in the middle of the day on Saturday.

I felt more at home at the Station Cafe than I do at most bars, and I can easily see stopping by for a beer again some time.  It’s literally right across the street from the 61st St subway stop, which makes it even more likely I will.

Total price for two beers and a tip: $11

Now, off to Carvel for some ice cream.

If you’re from around here, you already know about Carvel.  If you’re not, I have to wonder what the heck you’re doing reading about local dining in a town you’re nowhere near.  But thanks for reading anyway, and for your benefit, Carvel is a chain of ice cream parlors that sells hard and soft ice cream.  There was a Carvel in my hometown in NJ, and my family celebrated virtually every single birthday and other assorted milestones with ice cream cakes from Carvel.  The founder of the chain, Tom Carvel, did all his own commercials when he was alive, and if you grew up out here, you know that Wednesday was Sundae at Carvel, you’ve almost certain had at least a dozen Flying Saucers in your life, and you probably gave your dad a Fudgie the Whale cake for Father’s Day at least once– a whale of a cake for a whale of a dad!  Here’s a classic Tom Carvel ad for Valentine’s Day.  If you’re about my age, this will bring back memories:

Just for fun, here’s the one where Cookie Puss introduces Cookie O’Puss for St. Patrick’s Day:

Now here’s the Carvel in Woodside, complete with the Buddha that watches over you while you enjoy your frozen treats:

Ice Cream Buddha!

We’ve been living here about four years, and in that time, I think we’ve been to Carvel maybe twice.  So it was nice to have an excuse to go.  I had my all-time Carvel favorite:  vanilla soft-serve with rainbow sprinkles in a cake cone.  Allan had mint chocolate chip in a cup.  Here they are:

Total price for our Carvel run:  under $8, making the total price for today’s outing well under $40 for the day.  Not bad for an entire afternoon.

China Taste Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Carvel on Urbanspoon

Breslin & Sweeney on Urbanspoon

SD#9: Braulio’s Y Familia: You must listen. They’ve got the conch.

February 8, 2011

We’ve been at this for just over a year, and we’ve only had 8 serial dining adventures so far.  That’s pretty pitiful.  So one of my new year’s resolutions is to get out and enjoy the diversity of Woodside dining options by picking up the pace of our serial dining project.  Next up on the list:  Braulio’s y Familia, 3908 63rd St, just north of Roosevelt Ave.

After last time, when we ate lunch at Cumbre and I thought having some soup with my meal was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, I decided it would be wise to start researching restaurants a bit better before we go.  Fortunately, the city is full of foodies, and virtually every restaurant in the five boroughs has been reviewed online at least once or twice, usually by people infinitely more knowledgeable than I.  Between the bloggers and the many people who comment on their posts, there’s a lot of info to be had.

Braulio’s is Ecuadorian. If you Google, you will discover that they’re known for their Ecuadorian-style ceviche, especially at Chowhound.  So we decided that, no matter what else we ordered, we were definitely going to try the ceviche.

We went on January 30, when the neighborhood still looked like this:

I can haz Snowpocalypse?

Our car isn’t in this picture, but it was similarly entombed in snow and ice, so we walked.  Walking itself was kind of tricky, but we made it.  Here’s Braulio’s:

I’ve seen this place described on Yelp as family-friendly but on Chowhound as a creepy place that hires hot waitresses to serve mostly single men eating alone.  When we went, the waitress was perfectly normal, but there were so few other people there it was hard to tell what the current regular crowd is like.  Sunday afternoon in bad weather is apparently not a peak time for Braulio’s.

We couldn’t decide among the varieties of ceviche, so we went for the combo:  ceviche triple.  Shrimp, fish, and conch.  You can do it over rice or scoop it up on fried plantain chips.  Both ways are amazing.  They say Ecuardorian-style ceviche is really soupy, and it’s true.  I didn’t drink it right out of the bowl as some people do, but it did make the over-rice option particularly awesome.  Here’s the ceviche:

Ceviche Triple

After that, Allan had hen soup, and I had arroz marinero, which is mixed seafood in/on rice.  Here they are:

Hen soup

Arroz Marinero Ecuatoriano

Does that look like it could feed about a dozen people?  It can.  I’m sorry to say I had to leave most of it behind because we were on our way into Manhattan for the rest of the day and a doggy bag was not an option.

I’m partial to seafood to begin with, so chances are I was going to like these dishes.  No surprise, I absolutely loved them.  I have no clue how Braulio’s does with meat dishes, but their seafood rocks.  This was not a cheap bill– the ceviche alone ran us over twenty bucks.  The total, including all the food plus drinks, was $57.71 plus tip.  But there are far more reasonable things on the menu.

On our way out, we passed (who I assume to be) Braulio himself on his way in, and he stopped us to ask if we had enjoyed our meal and were happy with the service.  The finishing touch on an already lovely dining experience.

Braulio's Y Familia Restaurant on Urbanspoon

SD#8: False rabbits and cow tongues: down home food from way up high

January 16, 2011

On our last Serial Dining adventure, we went to the address of the deservedly defunct Arnold’s Pizzeria, 6703 Woodside Ave, and found it had been replaced with a Bolivian restaurant named Restaurante Cumbre.  However, there was what appeared to be a private party taking place, so we moved on to the next place on our list.  Yesterday we walked over to Cumbre for another try.  Standing in front of the restaurant in the cold, surrounded by dirty mounds of snow still left from the two recent storms, we saw this:

Stay Warm!

Heck yeah.  This was definitely a day for some hearty soup.

The inside of the restaurant is clean, the decor is simple, and telenovelas and Andean music videos play on a big screen t.v..  This being a lunchtime excursion, it was nice and bright from all the natural light coming in through the big front window.  The server was very friendly, and she had more than enough English to compensate for our nearly nonexistent Spanish.

Cumbre has a simple, two-page menu, with descriptions in both Spanish and English.  Two words:  Comfort food.  They have a long list of soups, a handful of things like salad and plantains, and a whole page of dishes that are best described by my American mind as meat-and-potatoes.  In fact, as it turns out, the potato originally comes from the mountainous western part of South America.  Being 1/8 Irish-American, I kind of thought potatoes come from Ireland, but oddly enough it appears that millions of Irish sustained themselves for generations (because the English allowed them little else) with a tuber that comes from the Andes.  Go figure.  Anyway, apparently there are potatoes in just about all Bolivian main dishes, and we definitely saw that at Cumbre.  Dan Quayle would find this place a challenge.

We wanted to try the main dishes, but we were already fixated on the idea of some soup on a cold day, so we ordered both.  I recommend against doing this.  As it turns out, lunch is the main meal of the day in Bolivia, and the portions at Cumbre are VERY generous.  The soup itself is more than enough to be its own meal.  You live, you learn.

The soups:

I had corn soup, which I believe was called lagua de choclo.  It’s not like corn chowders I’ve had in the past.  In fact, at first I thought the server had brought the wrong thing.  There are no visible kernels of corn.  Instead, the corn is ground and basically thickens and flavors the soup.  There are, however, big chunks of potatoes and one sizable piece of beef.  It was very flavorful but not overly spicy.  In fact, if you want to try new kinds of Latin American cuisine but you’re not into really spicy food, Bolivian seems like a good choice.  For those that like the heat, there’s a little clay pot of hot pepper sauce on the table:

Corn soup

Allan had sopa de mani, which is peanut soup.  There are potatoes in this one too, but they come in the form of french fries– fun!!   I liked this a bit less than the corn soup, and I’m not sure I would enjoy a large bowl of it.  But if you like peanuts in other types of savory dishes, you’ll probably like this.

sopa de mani

Main Dishes

There seems to be a pretty standard format for Bolivian main dishes:  Boiled potatoes and either rice or hominy, some type of meat, and a savory, stew-like sauce, all topped with sliced fresh tomatoes and onions.  Googling after coming back from Cumbre, I’m seeing a lot of dishes that resemble what we ate.  It reminds me of traditional American meals (think Thanksgiving dinner) that consist of a meat, some type of potato, and at least one vegetable dish.  Like I said, comfort food.

I had aji de lengua, which is beef tongue.  This was only my second time eating tongue, the first being Korean barbecue.  I used to avoid it because the idea of eating a cow’s tongue grossed me out.  My advice to you:  if you’re the same way, get over it.  You’re missing out.

Allan had falso conejo, which means false rabbit.  It’s actually beef, pounded and breaded before cooking.  There actually aren’t too many rabbits in the Andes, but they do have lots of guinea pigs, which are a favorite food and commonly nicknamed the rabbits of the Andes.  So it’s weird that this dish isn’t called false guinea pig.  But I digress.  Here are the dishes:

Aji de lengua

Falso conejo

Both dishes reminded me of a hearty stew that wasn’t quite fully assembled.

Here’s a link to a review from the Eating in Translsation blog, which has much better photos than mine (although the same fascination with the little clay pots that the hot sauce comes in).  I learned from reading this post that those packed weekend parties are actually routine performances of Andean music (which explains the sound equipment in the restaurant, and also the fact that they run music videos for traditional and modern Andean music on their big-screen TV).  Maybe we’ll head back some time and be a little less timid.

The whole meal cost about $20 including the tip.  The final verdict:  If you’re looking for a variation on stick-to-your-ribs, meat-and-potatoes comfort food, this is a great place to go.  Since this place is so close to our apartment, Allan is already talking about running over there for lunch on the days when he works from home.  But if you go, do a soup OR a main dish, not both at the same time.

Cumbre on Urbanspoon


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