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Monthly Archives: May 2009

Shanghaied in Flushing

Hot PotThere’s something about cooking your own food at the table that makes it even more fun than cooking food yourself in the kitchen. Szechuan hot pot is a great example of this. Servers bring burners to your table and place pots of spicy peppercorn-infused, boiling broth atop them. Then come the trays of vegetables, noodles, meat and seafood, all to be dunked into the liquid with wire scoops. You can pull them out minutes later with the wire basket or your chopsticks.

There’s no use stoking the flames for just a few pieces of meat; Szechuan hot pot requires large groups of eaters. And ever since my friend Vladimir Pudding told me about the delicacy, I have been looking for a chance to get a group of people together to go out to one of the hot pot restaurants in Flushing, Queens. Nine of us, including EB, VP, Auntie Pasti, Cousin Ketchup, my cousin Bagel with Lox and three of their friends, took the 7 train to the end.

Greens and MeatFlushing is New York’s real Chinatown where a large portion of that community’s citizens now live. Vladimir Pudding spent a year living in China and speaks Mandarin well. This is a big help at many of the restaurants in the neighborhood. We walked down one of the side streets to Shanghai Tide, a restaurant VP had tried before. They had space for the nine of us, and we sat down. VP quickly took charge of the ordering. It’s pretty straightforward. Everyone pays $24 for as much food and beer (Budweiser in a can) as you can drink. There was shrimp, a strange spongy tofu, three kinds of noodles, mushrooms big and small, thinly sliced beef and lamb, bok choy and watercress. There were also fantastic soup dumplings and some doughier steamed ones. A nearby sauce bar had a vast array of options, ranging from peanut sauce to a green leek sauce.

Mixed hot potOur hot pots were divided in the center between mild and hot, but the hot was the only one with any flavor. It also wasn’t as hot as I was expecting it to be. I was hoping for some real sinus-clearing action that I didn’t really get. But the mildness meant we could eat as much as we could fit into our stomachs without concern for taste bud destruction. And eat we did, consuming nearly all of the large platters of food. VP and EB ordered some pig’s blood to add to the mix near the end, but even EB didn’t care much for the flavor. By the end of our meal, one of the pots had seen so much action that we couldn’t tell the mild from the hot.

Szechuan hot pot is a meal to mark occasions. Fittingly, it was Bagel WL’s birthday. I plan to come back for more the next time I have something to celebrate.

Shanghai Tide
13520 40th Rd.
Flushing, NY 11354

Shanghai Tide on Urbanspoon

Offal Ain’t Awful At All

Cafe InteriorWhen Anthony Bourdain did an episode of his Travel Channel show “No Reservations” in his home town of New York, New York, it seemed like a good time to pay attention to his recommendations. I was still living in Chicago, but I dutifully took note for the next time I made it East. Then I promptly forgot. Luckily, Empanada Boy watched a re-run of the episode recently and was smart enough to write down the names of the restaurants that sounded good. At the top of his list was Kabab Cafe in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens.

Lamb BrainKabab Cafe is the domain of Ali El Sayed, a Northern Egyptian chef, philosopher and savant. Soon after we walked in to the a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant, he turned his black-bereted head toward us to ask how we were doing, jovially assuring us that a table would be ready soon. With a kitchen the size of a ship’s galley and very few tables, Ali can work and talk to nearly all of his guests simultaneously. The walls of the restaurant are hung with Egyptian artwork and posters, pictures and maps that Ali has acquired over his multiple decades in the space. Each table and chair is different from the next.

After sitting down, we soon found out that there are not really menus. Ali walked away from his burner (which looked like a Coleman camp stove) to give us the run down of the dishes he was offering that night. The list was lenghty: baba ghanoush, salads, pumpkin dumplings, lamb chops, lamb brains, lamb testicles, goat, venison, beef, chicken, sweetbreads, liver… He could have continued, but we stopped him when we heard “lamb brains.” This was one of the dishes Bourdain had tried, and EB was intrigued. I had tried lamb brains at a Lebanese place but hadn’t been impressed. These were beautifully browned on the outside with a delicious tender interior that wasn’t at all clammy. The sauce was bright, fresh and beautifully seasoned with lemon and capers.

TesticlesWe also ordered tender venison with sweet figs and halawi, a kind of meat pie made with layers of pita bread. At some point I realized that we had completely omitted all vegetables or salads, but by then it was too late to turn back. Having eaten all of this, along with a basket of pit, bantering back and forth a bit with Ali, I was beginning to feel full. But EB had a distant look in his eye.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, getting up from the table.

He walked the three steps over to where Ali was cooking and said: “I think I’d like to order the testicles.” Perhaps EB thought he was being discreet, but I heard him clearly. In many cultures, eating testicles is supposed to increase virility. I don’t know if that’s true for the Alexandrians, but there is no doubt that men feel more manly when they order testicles. Still, based on Ali’s incredible performance up until that point, I had no reason to doubt that the testicles would be as good as the other offal we had tried and seen on TV. Indeed, they were delicious. They were served cut into small, smooth, rich pieces, cooked with savory vegetables and spices. We polished them off and were the last table to leave the restaurant that night.

As we were leaving, we told Ali we had come all the way from Washington Heights. He was unimpressed. He had visitors from Washington Heights all the time. But it had taken us so long to get there on the train, we protested. “You should have taken the M60,” he said, describing how to catch the bus home. “It’s not far at all that way. Now you know, so you can come back soon.”

Kabab Cafe
2512 Steinway St.
Queens, NY 11103

Kabab Café on Urbanspoon