Posts Tagged ‘Serial Dining Woodside’

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 #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 # 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


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