Skip to content

Monthly Archives: September 2010

Game, Set, Match for Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle

Empanada Boy and I went to Flushing Meadows to attend the U.S. Open a few weeks ago. We were set to watch Vera Zvonareva play Andrea Petkovic and then see Jurgen Melzer go up against Roger Federer. But before that, we faced the task of getting an early dinner. We knew the match could last until midnight or beyond, and we needed our sustenance. I had read reports about the menus crafted by top chefs that would be available on the grounds of the tournament, but suspected that nothing would come cheap once we were inside the gates. Flushing is home to some of the city’s best food, so why bother with the high prices and long lines? We took the train one extra stop to Flushing Main Street to eat before the match and went to the culinary mecca that is the Golden Mall Food Court.

I have never been to China, but the food court in the basement of this crowded mall is about as close as I can imagine coming to the look and feel of a Chinese city. The stalls are small, the ceiling is low and dirty from years of poor ventilation, everyone is speaking Chinese and the food smells amazing. There are simple, somewhat dingy, tables near each one table for patrons to sit and eat after they’ve ordered at the counter of their choice. EB and I decided to try Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle, which I had heard about from my editor Noodle. We could see the noodle-maker at work stretching pliable dough into thin noodles, moving his hands in and out as though he were playing the accordion. EB and I perused the large menu on the wall. He decided on the eel with noodles and broth, and I opted for the oxtail. We sat down at the faux wood-topped table nearby to wait for our soups.

The eel was tender and lovely, and the still-on-the-bone oxtail was richly flavorful. The broth was well seasoned and comforting, and the bok choy and herbs provided color and brightness to the dish. But the noodles, oh those noodles! They were among the best I have ever had. Their freshness was evident in their slight chewiness, and their flavor was noticeably better than standard dried, packaged fare. We slurped up our plastic bowls full, sampling some of the traditional condiments along the way. (I would recommend adding some spicy chili paste.)

The entire time we were eating, we couldn’t help but wish we each had two stomachs to provide us with enough room to sample the food at some of the other stands. A tofu dish that came from the stand directly in our view looked amazing. But most tempting stand was the one for Xi’an Famous Foods, which specializes in the distinctive food of Western China. Two parents and their grown son who were sitting next to us at the table had ordered a veritable feast, including noodles, the tofu and two cumin lamb burgers from Xi’an. The latter was served in a folded bun that had a similar spongy texture to the outside of a meat-filled bao. Our neighbors ate their way through many of the dishes, but one of those burgers remained untouched. When they saw EB getting ready to go order another dish to try, they offered us their extra one. They couldn’t eat anymore, they said, and they didn’t want it to go to waste. Needless to say, it did not. The cumin-coated lamb tasted juicy and smelled like I imagine the restaurants of the region might smell: redolent with dusty spice and savory meats.

We left the food court feeling full and ready for some edge-of-our-seats tennis. Federer and Zvonareva had other plans: Both won in straight-sets shellackings.

Lan Zhou Handmade Noodles
41-28 Main St.
Golden Mall Food Court, Basement
New York, NY 11355

Xi’an Famous Foods
Same as above
(and other locations)

Lan Zhou Hand-Pulled Noodle on Urbanspoon

Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon

Ringing Out Summer at Randazzo’s

Empanada Boy and I didn’t get much of a vacation this summer. Between the time I had taken off for our trip to Spain in April and EB’s summer calculus class, we were left with very little free time. Instead our summer pleasures consisted of exploring and enjoying Brooklyn, making us (as much as I hate this recessionary buzzword) true staycationers. In that spirit, we spent our Labor Day weekend visiting parts of the city we don’t often visit: Dumbo, Flushing (see my next post for the food we ate there) and Sheepshead Bay. We went to Sheepshead Bay, which separates mainland Brooklyn from the eastern portion of Coney Island, for the express purpose of eating clams. In a review of the city’s various clam bars, Sam Sifton of the New York Times mentioned Randazzo’s Clam Bar, a Sheepshead Bay institution with great clams and a no-nonsense attitude.

The look and feel of Sheepshead Bay is about as far from that of Manhattan as you can get and still be in New York City. On the walk to the restaurant from the train we passed numerous Greek and Russian businesses and an astonishing proliferation of sushi restaurants. Most of the latter were offering half-price sushi and trying to outdo their nearby competitors with their version of the promotion. I made a mental note to do some research on these for a possible future blog post. Randazzo’s faces the bay and doesn’t seem to have changed much since the 1960s. Lucheonette-style tables covered with paper placemats bearing the map of Italy fill the room except for where the old-school white tiled bar juts out. Customers can sit either place. We would have preferred the counter, but those seats were full. We sat down and ordered two Sam Adams lagers, half a dozen little necks (small, raw hard-shell clams) and half a dozen cherry stones (larger ones). That was clearly not going to be enough food, so we also ordered a combo platter of calamari, mussels, shrimp and scungilli (large marine snails) and an order of fries topped with melted mozzarella. (It had to be done.)

The clams, from Blue Point in Long Island, were simply marvelous. Briny and bright, they needed no further embellishment than a squirt of lemon juice. We tried the cocktail sauce but found it overwhelmed the freshness and delicacy of the clams. The little necks were tasty, but EB and I both preferred the meatier, richer cherry stones. I couldn’t believe that food this good could come out of Long Island Sound! The combo platter had some hits like the incredibly fresh calamari and the near-perfect mussels. The shrimp were overcooked, and I didn’t much care for the scungilli, which had little flavor of its own, compared to the other seafood. The cheese fries provided a perfect compliment to the meal, soaking up the clam juices and adding some salty richness.

All of this food added up to about $65–a higher price than one might typically associate with a restaurant that serves on cheap cafeteria plates and offers only plastic cups. But when it comes to seafood, do you really want it to be cheap? I think the sign behind the counter says it best: “Cheap Seafood is Not Fresh; Fresh Seafood is Not Cheap”!

And it was worth every penny. As I was eating, I couldn’t help thinking that I was enjoying the lingering flavors of summer. It will likely be a year before I get to taste those briny clammy flavors again. This was a successful end to our summer of vacationing at home.

Randazzo’s Clam Bar
2017 Emmons Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11235

Randazzo's Clam Bar on Urbanspoon

Gourmet, Unbound: September

Word came out through the newspapers and blogosphere last week that Gourmet magazine would be making a resurgence in the form of three separate “special editions,” incorporating recipes from previous issues of the magazine, adding new photos and costing $11 each. The first is scheduled to hit newsstands on Tuesday. They editions will reportedly be edited by Kemp Minifie, a longtime Gourmet staffer. Despite this attempt to keep things authentic, the whole thing smacks of a marketing gimmick to me. Repurpose a bunch of recipes we already own, doll them up a bit and appeal to the nostalgia of all the people who used to read our magazine (or at least wish they had).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I didn’t read Gourmet for the recipes (although some of them were good). I read it for its unique, thoughtful point of view on food politics and culture and the wonderful writers it commissioned to discuss these topics.

Nonetheless, if people find it easier to remember their experience reading Gourmet by commemorating it with recipes, then I am happy to oblige. In that spirit, I continue my year-long tribute to Gourmet with a recipe for Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Sautéed Apples from the September 1991 issue. At first, the idea of sautéed apples seemed a bit too autumnal for Labor Day weekend, but then I thought the dish would make a nice entrée to the Jewish High Holidays, which begin next week, and during which apples play an important symbolic role. The pancakes turned out rich and delicious: They’re round like the calendar, and they’re sweet like the kind of year we all hope the next one will be.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Sautéed Apples

yield: Makes about twelve 3- to 4-inch pancakes

For the sautéed apples
4 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
fresh lemon juice to taste

For the pancakes
4 large eggs, separated
1 1/3 cups ricotta
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
melted butter for brushing the griddle

maple syrup as an accompaniment

Prepare the sautéed apples:
In a large heavy skillet sauté the apples in the butter over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until they are softened, sprinkle them with the sugar and the cinnamon, and cook them over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, or until they are tender. Stir in the lemon juice and keep the mixture warm.

Make the pancakes:
In a bowl whisk together the egg yolks, the ricotta, the sugar, and the zest, add the flour, and stir the mixture until it is just combined. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they hold stiff peaks, whisk about one fourth of them into the ricotta mixture, and fold in the remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Heat a griddle over moderately high heat until it is hot enough to make drops of water scatter over its surface and brush it with some of the melted butter. Working in batches, pour the batter onto the griddle by 1/4-cup measures and cook the pancakes for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until they are golden, brushing the griddle with some of the melted butter as necessary. Transfer the pancakes as they are cooked to a heatproof platter and keep them warm in a preheated 200°F. oven.

Serve the pancakes with the sautéed apples and the maple syrup.

See my other Gourmet, Unbound posts:
August 2010, Deviled Chicken Drumsticks
July 2010, Ratatouille
June 2010, Potato Salad with Olives and Peppers
May 2010, Moroccan-Style Mussels
April 2010, Shrimp Scampi Pasta
March 2010, Chicken with Black Pepper Maple Sauce
February 2010, Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream
January 2010, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Pancetta
December 2009, Walnut Spice Cake with Lemon Glaze