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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Turkish Delight at Taci’s Beyti

On a recent voyage to Little Pepper to indulge a second time in some of the best Szechuan food ever to grace this continent, I met Imperial Stout, a fellow food-adventure seeker and a friend of Dan Dan Noodle. As we sat digging in to our dumplings, Imperial Stout told us of another restaurant we had to try. It served the best Turkish food in the five boroughs, he said, and a group would need to be assembled to properly sample its wealth of offerings. A few weeks later, Imperial Stout set to work assembling that group, sending us a link to the mouthwatering menu of Taci’s Beyti, located in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Dan Dan’s roommate, Steve Vanilla, and Imperial Stout were with Dan Dan in his car when Empanada Boy and I piled in. He followed Imperial Stout’s driving directions as Imperial Stout treated all of us to pre-dinner samples of nutmeg and mole-flavored salami that he had brought back from Armandino Batali’s Salumi on a recent trip to Seattle. When we pulled up and walked into the restaurant, we saw a long, thin, cafeteria-type space, too-brightly-lit with fluorescent lights. Mirrors covered the upper two-thirds of one wall and terrible dance music played loudly through speakers in the ceiling. Waiters dressed in black and white moved in and out of the kitchen in the back. Many of the tables around us were filled with people eating and talking. This was clearly the place to be for fine Turkish cuisine.

Imperial Stout took charge of the ordering with a little input from the rest of us and then revealed the beers from his collection that he had brought to share with us, including Pliny the Elder, an American double from California’s Russian River Brewing; a vintage bottle of The Abyss, an imperial stout by the Oregon brewery Deschutes; and for dessert, a bottle of Cherry Adam of the Wood by Portland’s own Hair of the Dog. (First salami, then fine beer—this is a good friend to have!) Soon the food began to arrive. The first dish was eggplant with spicy tomato sauce: cubes of eggplant sautéed with tomatoes, garlic and peppers to create a sweet-savory spread to top the thick Turkish bread delivered in baskets to our table. Next came the salad, a platter of brightly dressed tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives and green peppers topped with a mountain of fresh-grated feta and intermingled with tasty morsels of air-dried pastrami, seasoned with cumin, garlic and paprika. Cubes of calves liver were delicious in their crispy pan-fried shells. A squirt of lemon juice and a salad of seasoned onions kept their richness in check.

Then the server brought us the baked items we had ordered. The first, lahmacun, was thin circles of doughy bread topped with ground lamb, tomatoes, parsley and onions, seasoned with cumin, garlic and pepper. It tasted like a Middle Eastern pizza. We also sampled beyaz peynirli pide, a flaky pastry stuffed with that same fresh feta, an egg-milk custard, parsley and dill. The salty edge of the feta and the brightness of the herbs cut through the decadent pastry and custard to some degree, but this was not a dish to be taken lightly.

Just as I was started to get the first sensation of fullness, the meats arrived at the table. We ordered the Betyi kebab—savory skewer-grilled lamb, served in a slightly spicy sauce of tomatoes, garlic, green peppers. This was delicious, but the meat was almost too shrouded in sauce for my taste. I preferred the Iskender kebab (see second photo above)—thin shavings of gyro kebab (made of different meats ground together and reassembled) came topped with a lighter tomato sauce on top of a bed of yogurt-soaked pita. This meat was perfectly spiced and the thin slices meant we could keep adding more to our plates. The dish was like a fresher, more complex, disassembled gyro sandwich served on a platter. And what, I ask, could be wrong with that?

We were all quite full at this point, but we couldn’t leave without eating dessert. Imperial Stout had preordered kunefe, a unique pie of sorts, made with finely shredded dough baked until crispy and filled with stretchy and sweet kunefe cheese. It was soaked in a not-too-sweet honey syrup and topped with crunchy pistachios. It was a fantastic way to end a great meal. I only wish I had more space in my stomach to fill with it.

Taci’s Beyti
1955 Coney Island Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11223

Taci's Beyti on Urbanspoon

Xi’an Famous Foods Deserves More Than Its 15 Minutes

After taking my first bite of the spicy cumin lamb burger from the outpost of Xi’an Famous Foods inside the Golden Shopping Mall Food Court, I knew I would have to come back and sample more of the items off Xi’an’s menu. Memories of that burger wafted up again when Empanada Boy and I were looking for a place to meet for dinner the other night. I knew Xi’an had a couple Manhattan locations, but it turned out that only one of these—the one in the East Village—has tables. When I say tables, I meant about five tiny tables with plastic chairs and a thin counter along the wall, allowing space for a line to form at the register where every patron must order before sitting down. These are the kinds of sacrifices one is gladly willing to make in order to eat delicious, distinctive Chinese food.

As we stood in the not-too-long line, we scanned the photos of the dishes on the wall that serve as the menu and contemplated which to order. After some flip-flopping, I decided I couldn’t go wrong with that same cumin-coated lamb that had haunted me since the burger, so I ordered the spicy cumin lamb on hand-ripped noodles. EB ordered the pork “Zha Jiang” on hand-ripped noodles. And because we couldn’t resist the temptation, we got an order of Chang-an spicy tofu. As luck would have it, a tiny scrunched table for two opened up just as we were done ordering. We sat down to wait there and were soon able to move to a better, slightly less scrunched table in the window looking out to St. Marks Place.

Before I describe the food, I should explain how different the cuisine served at Xi’an Famous Foods is from what most Americans think of as Chinese food. The city of Xi’an in central-northwestern China was once the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, so the spicing is heavy and sometimes reminiscent of the Middle East. Such was the case with my lamb, which arrived redolent with cumin, almost popping off the plate with flavor. Beneath the chunks of meat were thick, wide, irregularly shaped noodles that literally seemed as though they had been torn from a sheet of dough. There is almost nothing it in the world so satisfying to eat! EB’s pork was ground, and the sauce on his dish was considerably sweeter and less spicy than mine. We had requested the dish as spicy, but it said “normal spicy” on our receipt, which made me think we should have requested “extra spicy” instead. Still, the sauce was nuanced and delicious and what could be disappointing about thick, rough, chewy noodles coated in glistening pork? The tofu was silken and spicy, sitting in its fiery broth. Each bite contained a bright green sprig of cilantro or a piece of crisp scallion, which added an herbal freshness to the dish.

Feeling full, but thirsty, we decided to walk over to Saint’s Alp Teahouse, a Hong Kong-based chain with locations in New York and Chicago. I ordered a gingerbread milk tea, and EB ordered a strawberry milkshake. Both flavors were distinctive, although mine might have played better in the winter. In the context of bubble tea, a milkshake is actually a thin, milk-based drink, not like the thick milkshakes we’re used to. EB ended up wishing he had gotten a smoothie, which is actually a thicker drink. Still the tapioca had a pleasant texture, and the drinks helped soothe our spice-laden stomachs.

Not that I mind that now-familiar burning sensation in my stomach. It’s that internal fire that keeps beckoning me back to regional Chinese restaurants like Xi’an Famous Foods.

Xi’an Famous Foods
81 St. Mark’s Place
New York, NY 10003
And three other locations

Saint’s Alp Teahouse
39 3rd Ave.
New York, NY 10003

Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon

Saints Alp Teahouse on Urbanspoon

Zuzu Ramen: Proof That You Really Can’t Go Wrong With Braised Pork

Perhaps Empanada Boy said it best when he observed: “The main difference between ramen and pho is that ramen costs at least twice as much.” While that’s certainly not a precise assessment, it captures the way I often feel when ordering ramen at a restaurant. I think to myself: “This had better be good because I’m paying $14 for this bowl of soup.” This thought crossed my mind the other day when EB and I met my friend Oyster at Zuzu Ramen, a restaurant on Park Slope’s industrial 4th Ave. Oyster lives nearby, and the pork belly in the signature dish had been tasty enough to beckon him back more than a few times. It turns out that Oyster’s instincts about this being more than the average ramen joint were right on. The chef at Zuzu, Akihiro Moroto, has worked at fine dining establishments such as the now-shuttered Lespinasse and at Jean Georges. But did that make a bowl of his Zuzu ramen worth $14? I was game to find out.

The small wood-panelled restaurant has high counters and tables, equipped with stools. It has large windows looking out into the street and windows at the bar, offering patrons views of the chef at work in the kitchen. As I sipped an interesting Japanese IPA, I watched the chef using a torch to crisp the long thin pieces of fatty pork that would soon grace our soups. Oyster and I ordered the namesake Zuzu ramen, with charshu (the blowtorched pork), bamboo shoots, bok choy, Thai basil, noodles and a slow-cooked egg, served in a slightly spicy, fragrant dashi broth. EB went for what turned out to be a somewhat spicier green curry-miso ramen, redolent with cilantro and featuring charshu and a slow-cooked egg. We sipped our beers and eagerly awaited the arrival of our soups.

In due course, three steaming bowls of soup were delivered to our table. I started with a bite of the charshu, which was floating, silken and buttery, at the top of my bowl. It was certainly tasty. The noodles had a nice chew to them and a springiness that shows they were fresher than average. Breaking the soft-cooked egg allowed some of the yolk to run satisfyingly into the broth. The broth itself was tasty, particularly bites that included Thai basil, but it was not remarkable. I preferred the green curry-miso broth in EB’s bowl. It was punchy and flavorful, but still nuanced, and set off the richness of the meat and the egg more clearly. It was also $11, compared to the $14 Zuzu ramen (the latter admittedly delivered in a slightly larger bowl).

There is no doubt that Zuzu makes the best ramen in Park Slope. It’s far better than the fairly generic bowls I’ve had at the recently-opened Naruto Ramen around the corner from my house. I don’t think it quite holds up to the addictive ramen at Ipuddo, the Japanese chain with a single New York location in the East Village. But then again, I’ve waited for a table at Ippudo for more than an hour and was once simply turned away at the door at 8:30 pm or so because the list of people waiting was so numerous. There would never be such a wait at the relatively serene Zuzu. And while I could always go to Chinatown and fill my soup craving with a $5.75 bowl of pho, there are times when the top-notch ingredients in a good bowl of ramen, and the subtleties of the flavors they create, really hit the spot. When that contemplative mood strikes me—or when I’m simply craving a nice slab of braised pork—Zuzu Ramen will be right there near the top of my list. Is that occasional feeling of pure satisfaction worth $14 a bowl? I suppose it is.

Zuzu Ramen
173 4th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Naruto Ramen
276 5th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Ippudo NY
65 4th Ave.
New York, NY 10003

Zuzu Ramen on Urbanspoon

Naruto Ramen on Urbanspoon

Ippudo on Urbanspoon