Izzy's Culinary Adventures in Queens

When two or more people meet and interact, they affect and change each other--how about when two or more peoples meet?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

One Ride!

What a fabulous night out I enjoyed!  I celebrated my 16th wedding anniversary on Friday and my wife arranged for child care, so I arranged a surprise.  In my line of work I meet many people and earlier in the week I met a Mr. Rosenstock, Executive Director of Queens Theater In The Park.  He raved to me about a show opening in his theater on the same day as my anniversary.  I decided to take a chance and go for it.  I managed to get two front row tickets for $60.00 using my wife's student discount, which isn't bad for a live show.  Now the question was whether it was worth the money and the time. 

I drove up to the place--free parking--and was pleasantly surprised.  It's a very nice building.  It's not too large a theater.  It seats over 400 persons, which is still cozy by Broadway standards.  Our seats were so close we could touch the performers.  The show was a dance musical conceived by a gentleman, Robert Royston, who apparently served as a choreographer to Taylor Swift whose music I like, but I don't recall her doing much dancing--perhaps I haven't been paying much attention.  Either way, he and the gorgeous dancers he chose did a spectacular job!  The theme was country-western, not the first thing that comes to mind in Queens, but when something is good it's good!  The show was an interpretation of the music and life of Chris Le Doux, country music performer as well as a professional rodeo rider.  The man himself is deceased--an early death from liver cancer.  There is a band onstage playing his music (some from Le Doux's actual band) and a troupe of dancers who are not only talented and extremely athletic, but also hold up their end in the dramatic presentation arena.  Heck, they evoked a few tears from my wife, which is admittedly easy, but you get the picture. 

I discovered Queens Theater In the Park, which receives considerable corporate and gov't. support and results in affordable theater.  Even better, I discovered that it's good theater!  Catch "One Ride" before it's gone!

Evening Hours

I have been working late and my wife has been going to school at night and working at a new more demanding position--she is exhausted!  I respect her efforts and dedication--she's teaching reading!  It's her first year at it.  Meanwhile, the home front is not holding up well.  I was never good at the domestic stuff outside the kitchen, so things haven't going so well.  Furthermore, once I get home it's late to start cooking.  The food front is coming apart as well.  I'm not sure what to do.  There aren't easy solutions.  The kids need to do homework and I need to make sure they do it.

One idea is getting the kids cooking.  My daughter is ten and my son is thirteen.  She's interested in cooking, him, not so much.  I am preparing sofrito tonight so they have no excuses.  If I arrange it so that they don't have to do too much, especially anything dangerous, it should work well.  Putting something in the oven before it is pre-heated and avoiding anything like hot oil helps.  Also minimizing cutting is important.  I've considered getting that gimmiky "Slapchop," but a food processor is a better tool.  I'll have to break out the one I have. 

I think getting the kids to help out this way is good for them and good for me.  I think of the responsibilities I had as a youngster and how good it was for me.  It's missing from children's education today.  I'll let you know how it goes. 

Quick and Dirty Queens Culinary Tourism

Okay, you're visiting NYC and looking for something unusual, yet affordable, to do in the city.  It's not for everyone, but if you're into food--real food, not processed, mass produced food stuff--and you've got an adventurous palate, then come to Queens.  It's so close to Manhattan--all my suggestions are close to subway stations and some are only a few stops from midtown.  Manhattan housing prices are such that Queens is the new immigrant mecca and where all the authentic ethnic food is at!  The tastes and communities run the range from European to Asian.  The thing to remember is that these are communities, not tourist attractions, but then the experience is real, not contrived.

Astoria

From the 59 Street and Lexington Avenue station one can catch the Q or the N train and in four stops arrive at Broadway where the train runs elevated, not subterranean.  As one descends to street level no further explanation is needed.  This section of Broadway is virtually a "restaurant row."  Of course, mixed into the restaurants are other shops that cater to everyday living, however, our immigrant communities take food seriously--even the supermarkets stock products that are less than common.  The neighborhood has been known as a major Greek hub, but that community has diversified so much that the range of culinary tastes served is quite varied.  A place still worth visiting for Greek food is called Uncle George's--it is right on Broadway, as are many others.  One will notice an interesting phenomenon here, it is the number of cafes.  The restaurants don't have much of a dessert menu.  That is because coffee and dessert is an outing and specialty unto itself in Astoria.

Jackson Heights

At Times Square or Grand Central, one can catch the 7 train into Queens.  This train line can lead on a number of adventures into Queens--it has been called the "International Express" and also the "Orient Express."  The latter probably refers to the fact that the last stop is Main Street in Flushing, Queens, which is home to the largest Chinatown/Asia Town in the city.  We'll work our way there, but not yet.  Once the 7 train clears the hub of Queensboro Plaza and gets over into Sunnyside or 46th Street, a number of restaurants appear--mainly along Queens Boulevard, but things really get cooking around 74th Street, which leaves you at the beginning of a town called "Jackson Heights."  The range of eateries will hit you immediately.  There is a "Roti Boti," and also a Vietnamese restaurant in sight of this station.  The real restaurant row of this neighborhood is 37th Avenue where everything from Indian to Argentine Steakhouses can be found.  The streets are full of locals.  You will be eating with folks from all walks of life.  The neighborhood is safe, the service is good and the prices are quite reasonable.

Flushing

I called this Asia Town and it is, though demographically the Chinese are best represented.  The place is great for Dim Sum, but the Chinese and the Indians have an impressive diaspora that has been affected by world cuisine, so there are always surprises.  As a Latino, I am quite aware of the Chino-Cubano, but also of Chinese living throughout Latin America.  There is a restaurant nearby that serves a mean chicken--they're Chinese from Peru and they haved quite an extensive Latino clientele.  They speak excellent Spanish.  The same has occurred throughout Asia, so never count out or sum up the Chinese. 

Another large community in this neighborhood are the Koreans whose style of barbeque has become very popular.  It is a tad bit expensive, but grilling at your table is fun.   

Conclusion

It seems to me that the ethnic diversity of NYC ought to be to a tourist attraction.  If this is a problem for you, then obviously stay away--no one will miss you.  On the other hand, if you really want to travel the world, but can't afford to, come to Queens--it's the next best thing!  Your Metrocard is a pass to adventure!  Furthermore, you'll find that Queens has it's share of culture.  The Flushing Remonstrance was in Flushing, Queens.  Astoria was named after the Astors and the Maspeth/Newtown Creek area are the earliest settlements in the borough, or the country for that matter.  For a Queens culture guide check out the Queens Borough President's website.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dishwasher is fixed!

I haven't been cooking or eating anything interesting of late.  A large part of that has been my late work schedule, which means I don't get home until 6:30-7PM, which is rather late to start cooking.  Another big part of the problem was the leak in my dishwasher--a pretty bad leak I might add.  I awoke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and decided to get a glass of water.  I walked into a huge puddle of water in the kitchen.  Needless to say, I spent some time cleaning it up that night.  The dishwasher has been down for a while now, but finally I was able to fix it.  The help I needed came from the internet in the form of this webpage.  Before this my dishwasher wouldn't drain, so I searched and found that there is a stopper in the back of the dishwasher--easily accessed from the inside--that was the culprit.  My repair involved replacing the pump connector, but I also have a minor leak from the pump shaft seal and the parts are on order.  It is a pleasure to have the dishwasher back--the minor leak will be repaired but for the time being it is totally manageable.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Thakali Kitchen

A rare night out opportunity came up--two of my three kids had sleepovers and only the youngest was with us--and the time seemed right to suggest an adventure.  Between work, home and school we've been exhausted.  With my dear wife's consent and my most willing child, we headed out to Jackson Heights.  I had been there earlier with my two boys and enjoyed a meal from a Halal cart of chicken and lamb on rice and a nominal salad on the side.  As mentioned in previous posts, this kind of fare may be found in much of Manhattan, and it's not bad, but this stuff was great!  The boys scarfed it up!  They did not complain about the spiciness.  This surprised me because they can be sensitive to that.  I learned to deal with spicy from my Dad who had a penchant for Mexican food.  He had spent some time in Mexico as an evangelical missionary and returned with a liking for Mexican cuisine and music.  Did I mention that Dad liked to cook?  Guess those things had more influence than I realized. 

Anyway, this section of Jackson Heights is home to quite an Indian population and as is often the case in NYC, there were people living together side by side that might not normally live quite so closely.  Between 74th Street and 76st Street along 37th Ave. one could find vegetarian restaurants (including sweets)--catering to Hindus I suppose--and Muslim vendors right outside (identifiable by their wares), and Sikhs walking the streets everywhere (identifiable by their turbans)--a microcosm of India, and no hint of noticeable friction.  There were a few markets open and busy.  I stepped in briefly and was fascinated by the fragrances and sights I saw.  I determined that I had to return on my own later for a better examination and exploration.  Not only were there new products I never seen, but there was a section of prepared products, presumably for the use of housewives, that intrigued me.  My wife spotted an Indian karela among the vegetables that piqued her interest and curiosity.  My wife remarked on how folks were doing their vegetable shopping at 10pm.  The only response I could think of was that these are the folks who drive the cabs and work the restaurants, gas stations, etc... that might require them to do such at these hours. 

We went along checking for eateries and settled on a place called "Mustang" and/or "Thakali Kitchen."  Actually, that name ("Mustang") was not apparent until we looked at the card.  The cuisine was Nepali/Tibetan.  I know that the region around Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc... has been called "Indo-China" and it's easy to see why from a culinary point of view.  The food was a cross between Indian and Chinese with a bent towards the Indian.  I ordered a goat entree, "Farsee Goat," which was quite good.  My wife ordered a variation of a vegetable samosa platter, and my son got the "Chicken Momo."  The latter were chicken dumplings, about 8-9 of them and he ate them all!  I would definitely go again!  The total was about thirty bucks, which wasn't bad.  I wrapped up the night with a mango lassi from one of several sweet spots in the area.  It too was very good.  What strikes me and I think many about Indian food, is the surprising combination of flavors that one generally wouldn't think to combine--from a westerner's perspective--yet they work.  The mango lassi was fairly straight forward, yet there's always a surprise with Indian food and I could taste bits of something: cardamom? pistachios?--whatever it was, it worked to very nice advantage.  All in all, a successful night out.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Water, The Great Global Crisis

Clean drinking is water is one of the most basic needs of human life. It's easy to forget this is a problem here in NYC, the home of the best tap water in the nation. However, it is a very big problem elsewhere. Global warming contributes because there is less ice formed in the mountains to run down to the rivers in the Spring. These problems are not technologically insurmountable, but the costs, if they continue to be calculated in the way they currently are, will become unsustainable. The escalating world population only exacerbates the problem.

The fact is that really clean drinking water is not nearly so available, globally, as we might like to believe. According to Water.Org, only 62% of the world's population has access to even minimally clean water. (http://water.org/learn-about-the-water-crisis/facts/) Why is this a problem? Why am I writing about it here? Because the people who live in these places emigrate to the US and often they handle and prepare our food. In fact, here in NYC, they usually do. Couple this with the fact that a host of diseases, known and unknown, are water-borne and the problem becomes clear. Helicobacter pylori is one such bug and perhaps this article http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100504/ap_on_he_me/us_med_stomach_cancer is indicative of what I suggest.

Increasingly, the fates of those across the sea or "South of the Border," are tied to our own. The sooner we accept and address this fact the better it will go for us and our children.  If you're interested in learning more there are some good documentaries you can Netflix, some are even on "instant play"--I love that feature.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Still eatin'

I haven't been cooking anything interesting or eating anywhere interesting either. I have been eating though. Nothing inspiring, but I figured I ought to write about those places instead. There are two worthy of mention downtown where I work. There is "Bangal Curry" an Indian/Bangladeshi place, and a food truck I go to when I can. Otherwise I just go to Subways--the stuff is not bad.

Bangal Curry is inexpensive and the food is fresh. It's a nice offering of Indian food staples like saag, daal, and curries, along with brown rice and some nice breads. The decor isn't fancy, but I go there to fill my belly, not for the atmosphere. A good meal takes care of my mood. I go for the veggie combo for five bucks--health and cost conscious. Sometimes I indulge in the goat or one of their breads. The place is located on Church Street between Park Place and Murray Street.

I understand the resistance some folks have to cart food. Unfortunately or fortunately, some of the best food and prices can be got this way. I eat from a cart, food truck to be exact, that sits parked on Ann Street and Nassau Street. I like this cart because not only is the food cheap, but it's good. It's also not the usual Pakiza cart, not that there is anything particularly bad about a Pakiza cart. That fare usually consists of lamb gyro, falafel, and chicken on a pita or rice with salad. Not bad, and I do indulge from time to time.

The food truck I am referring to offers this and more. He sells fish, chicken and beef stew--both of these taste home cooked. He sells a rice and chick peas that I haven't found elsewhere. Being a rice and bean man, I appreciate this. I don't know where the proprietor is from--it makes sense to ask. He is not South Asian, but seems from the Near East--he is black African in appearance. It's a white truck, so put the two together and you know you've got it right.