I first came across nutrela, a dried soy product, while I was traveling in Nepal, and that’s where chef Tenzing Tsering came across it as well. Pre-cooked Nutrela has, I think, something of an image problem. In fact I think it looks a little like dry dog food. But when cooked properly, as Tsering does here, it’s delicious and quite beautiful. Despite the simplicity of the finished dish here it was amazingly rich, and my favorite of all of the many dishes that Tsering cooked for us that day. And he cooked us a lot of food. This project has introduced me to many wonderful and generous chefs, but I have to say that Tsering may be one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. He genuinely cares about people and sees feeding people as an act of community service. When the food is as good and as fresh as his, it’s hard to argue with.
In addition to my usual collaborators — Donny Tsang and Scott Lindrup with cameras, and Bayard Russell providing music — I want to thank Jeff Orlick for recommending Chef Tsering and Punda Tibetan Restaurant to me.
Punda Tibetan Restaurant — 3935 47th Ave, Sunnyside
Oh, hello there. It’s been a while since I posted anything on this blog, I know. It’s been since August, you say? Seems like time has been going by very quickly. In truth I’ve been very busy at work, and I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed. Lucky for me I recently took a few trips to the Chinese food courts in Flushing, where I got some really amazing food. Here’s the best of what I had during my recent trips. At the Golden Shopping Mall, a warren of narrow stalls with almost no English menus, I got the bowl of food you see above from what I think is the Chengdu Heaven stall. I got two different dishes — cold strips of cooked potato, seasoned with vinegar and chilies, and a seaweed salad dressed with vinegar and sesame oil.
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Ridgewood is an interesting neighborhood. Technically in Queens, it’s right on the border of where Queens and Brooklyn meet. I was last there for Bun-Ker, which is hard to get to by train. Much easier is Houdini Kitchen Laboratory, a new pizza place that’s been getting a lot of buzz on all the food blogs lately. I stopped by on a weekday for lunch, and found the place tucked away next to a loading dock. They have a really beautiful, airy and open dining room, as well as an outdoor patio. I sat on the patio, with a view of that loading dock, and I ordered the Margherita. You may have noticed that the pizza crust has none of the char that I love so much. Instead, the crust is flatter and more like a regular pizza-shop pizza. The pie was still good; a little wet in the center, like a traditional Neapolitan pizza, with a nice balance of sauce and cheese. The sauce could have used a little more salt, but after eating the first slice I doused the rest of the pie in some of the chile oil provided on the table and that helped some too. While I enjoyed the pizza at Houdini, I wouldn’t call the Margherita destination-worthy. If I lived in the neighborhood I’d probably be there pretty often, but I have better, closer options right here.
Houdini Kitchen Laboratory — 1563 Decatur St, Ridgewood
Although it’s not particularly vegetarian-friendly, I love Vietnamese food. I had been hearing great things about this new place in Ridgewood, right where Brooklyn turns into Queens in the middle or nowhere. On a snowy winter night I went with my friends Jeff & Eva, only to find there was an hour wait. No wonder; the space at Bun-Ker holds maybe six tables, all crammed in close together in what looks like a street-side restaurant in Vietnam. I was happy to see they have quite a few vegetarian choices on the menu, but although my meat-eating friends raved about their meal I came away disappointed. The vegetarian banh xeo, a crepe filled with mushrooms and bean sprouts, was bland and greasy. They did provide fish sauce for some seasoning, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of making a vegetarian option, why have it rely on fish sauce for flavor? I had the same problem with the grilled eggplant and zucchini (pictured above), a variation on bun — usually room temperature noodles topped with warm cooked food and a mix of pickled and raw veggies. Here the noodles were topped with the grilled eggplant and zucchini, but they were also completely unseasoned. Again there was fish sauce provided, though I didn’t use any. They did bring me some lime wedges when I asked, and I topped it with plenty of sriracha, but those could only help so much. I’m sure the meat and seafood dishes are worthy of the praise, but I left quite unhappy with the vegetarian food I had.
Bun-Ker — 46-63 Metropolitan Ave, Queens
M. Wells is known for their decadent…over the top dishes and M. Wells Steakhouse definitely delivered. A stack of pork chops (7 total) for dinner? Sure! A bowl of tomato-y tripe? F yeah! Though probably my favorite bite at M. Wells Steakhouse and yes…so far this year in 2014 was the little scoop of bone marrow that was sitting inside the bone. It had absorbed all of the deliciousness of the soup and it made something that was already tasty into something crazy tasty!
Also, they make a really good New York cheesecake. Remember when cheesecake was all the craze?
Sorry for the crappy iPhone photo, the place is dark.
M. Wells Steakhouse 43-15 Crescent St, Long Island City, Queens
I know, I’ve written about how much I love Spicy & Tasty before. On a recent visit with my friends Jeff and Eva, that love was cemented with a variety of their cold salads. As my friend Jeff said, ordering salads at a Chinese restaurant might seem strange, but at Spicy & Tasty it’s the way to go. Above is the eggplant in garlic sauce; cold, silky eggplant in a sweet and spicy sauce. Cold eggplant? It works, trust me. The bamboo shoots were excellent as always, as was the dry bean curd with celery. Chewy strips of baked tofu with crunchy strips of Chinese celery, tossed with a sauce that contains the floral aroma and numbing power of Sichuan peppercorns.
Spicy & Tasty — 39-07 Prince St, Flushing
Fior di latte is the poetic Italian name for fresh mozzarella; its literal translation is “flower of milk,” from which Milkflower in Astoria takes its name. The vibe of the place is very much in the same vein as Brooklyn’s more popular neo-Neapolitan pizza joints. And even though I normally get a margherita to judge a new pizza place, when I met my friends Jess & Garrett at Milkflower for dinner recently I wasn’t in the mood for one. So instead I got the kale pizza, with tomato, crispy kale, lemon juice, and breadcrumbs. The kale was nicely crisp, though the balance of ingredients wasn’t quite right — a little too acidic, with nothing to temper it. And the crust was just a pinch of salt away from being truly great. I have… very high standards for pizza. In retrospect I can’t help but wonder about the margherita, and the fresh mozzarella that tops it. I guess it’s time for another visit.
Milkflower — 34-12 31st Avenue, Queens