Whose beki? Uzbeki

Taste of Samarkand

It’s packed at 830pm on a cold almost spring night in Queens. And it’s a Sunday. Kosher-Uzbeki food. Who would have guessed? Inside is a leafy trellised ceiling adorned with bunches of plastic grapes and draped colored sheers framing the crowd below. Two waitresses took turns approaching us in the entry way, each shaking their head sadly and glancing back to the very convivial room and brightly clad tables as if to say – what were you thinking? The buzz of camaraderie, clinking glasses and mouthwatering aromas were preparing to send us back to the black crusted snowbanks outside. We just stood there. We persisted. The waitresses had disappeared to handle fast moving plates and requests from the lucky groups seated and sated. A few moments later, a lovely woman, wearing seniority and not the traditional vibrantly colored caps, kuilak (tunic) and lozim (pants) like the others, came over and asked softly – would you wait 20 minutes? We’d wait longer. I really wanted in.

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Luckily an extended family celebrating their patriarch’s birthday gathered their coats spread over several seats and motioned for us to join them while we waited for a proper table. Immediately they sliced two large pieces of birthday cake for the four of us, which thankfully we elected to save for after our meal. Because we ordered a lot. There were toddlers, adult children and Poppa, the birthday boy. I was on the verge of getting over-excited. It was like being in another country, in another time and the menu – fabulous. Big Poppa pushed an almost full bottle of vodka towards us. We demurred, said we couldn’t but he insisted saying…I have plenty of vodka at home and look at the name on the bottle, I can’t bring that into my house.

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It’s BYO here and name not withstanding, it was especially kind of him.

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Great spout.

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The menu is written in Cyrillic, Latin and happily in English – sometimes with a poetic slant.

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They have three breads and we didn’t skimp. The Noni Toki is thin and crispy, baked similarly to a matzoh, billowy and blackened. It’s 14 inches in diameter and curled just so by baking it on the underside of a traditional bowl-shaped Uzbeki frying pan on top of the oven until it crisps. Sometimes it’s referred to as hubcap matzoh.

Lepyoshka is puffy bread with a chewy glossy crust and an open air crumb. There was enough bread for leftovers at home the next day.

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Their signature bread is Fatir, gratifying layers of buttery pastry dough. Beautiful. I tried to count them like the rings of a tree and hit 25 before I abandoned the plan so I could just eat it.

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Detail of a single layer.

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A splendid version of babaganoush – rich, smokey and creamy. It became a repetitive motion, bread-dip-bread-dip. The hummus was equally good. Had we realized how much food we’d actually ordered, we might have censored the dip-eat motion earlier. Oh well.

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Koreans immigrated to eastern Russia in the 1860’s but in wartime almost 200,000 were banished by Stalin to what is now Kazakhastan and Uzbekistan. What remained of their culture became a significant influence on their food, their heritage merging with their newly adopted land creating a meld of ingredients. There are several Uzbek restaurants around town that focus on Korean/Russian inspired dishes but at Taste of Samarkand, this is the only one. Korean Carrot Salad á la the Silk Road looks so fresh but deceptively unsurprising. Marinated in traditional korean spices, honey, garlic, cayenne, coriander seeds and vinegar, the sweetness and acidity lent itself well to our cavalcade of meat dishes plus it turned out to be one of the best choices of the night.

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A bracing Tashkent Salad is described as a perfect blend of boiled beef tongue, radishes, and greens but is further enhanced with crunchy green bits and crispy onion rings, all dressed with mayonnaise. They looove mayonnaise here.

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Ochor, marinated mini eggplants stuffed with herbs and scallions. The eggplant was a little too cold as well as too al dente to fully enjoy but a lovely combination of flavors.

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Sheepskins depicting hand painted landscapes of The Silk Road are rustically framed with sticks and decorate the walls.

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Maybe my favorite description of any dish on any menu ever. Read the Nakhot Garmack. It’s poetry. And then there’s Jiz-biz…just saying.

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Here’s the Jiz-biz with lamb chops and the kitchen’s very favorite add-in, house made potato chips. They turn up in many a surprising dish.

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Juicy, seared, tender.

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Ahhh, the Veal tail with its leached soul. That menu line from above.

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My second favorite description with the dish below. Twelve hours for ten bucks.

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The hardest working man in Uzbeki show business it seems. Flashy production numbers on the muted televisions and very hard working staff in the kitchen and dining room.

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Georgian Lemonade which seems to be naturally flavored soda and unrelated to lemons. The pear was a bit less sweet than the atomic green tarragon flavor but both were actually good, even for all the tarragon’s nuclear possibilities. Not pictured is the tasty kool-aid looking fruit punch which is made from a mix of real fruits and listed on the menu as fruit compote. Our server graciously left a full pitcher on our table when one person ordered a glass. She said in case we’d all like to try it.

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In contention for the most popular dish at our table of a zillion plates, Samsa  (the Uzbek samosa) is a layered pastie wrapped around finely chopped veal, lamb, onion and spices…coriander, cumin, black and a little red hot pepper. Then they’re baked to a flaky floaty puff topped with sesame.

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Samsa innards…

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Herring with boiled potatoes, onions and lemons. Refreshing and just what you’d expect it to be. Combined with the Lepyoshka bread mentioned earlier, made for a perfect breakfast the next morning.

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Uzbek Manti. Juicy dumplings. More finely chopped veal, lamb, onions and spices delicately wrapped in a fine pliant dough and steamed.

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Smokey charred kebabs were salty and satisfying but I bet the meat skewers are where they shine. Beware the blades. You could duel for a kingdom with these.

Vegetable -Kebab

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Wild Salmon-Kebab

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The plates are beautiful, and the extremely kind staff seems to take pride in how everything looks. Our table must have been quite a challenge for them as our expanded order just kept coming.

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Georgian tea completes everyone’s dinner and green tea is the custom choice. It’s fruity with a distinct apricot aroma.

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Accompanying tea were these lovely bits of candied pineapple, sugared chickpeas and peanuts gilded with sesame and honey.

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We missed out on the baklava as we had the aforementioned birthday cake so kindly shared by the family that let us sit with them. Vodka and cake. We scored. The chocolate was delicious.

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From the outfits to decor and most importantly the food, Taste of Samarkand offers a glimpse and a taste of the ancient influences of the Silk Road from Uzbekistan to Persia, China and India. I was surprised that it wasn’t particularly spicy but no matter, flavors are very distinctive and the food just beautifully prepared.

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This area of Queens serves a large population of Bukharan Jews and Uzbek immigrants. As noted in the New York Times, “Rasul Hoshimov, an Uzbek Muslim from Samarkand, runs the restaurant with David Abramov, a Bukharan Jew from Dushanbe in neighboring Tajikistan. The chefs — Mahmud Shokirov, who handles the meats, and Cholpon Turganbaeva, in charge of everything else — keep the kitchen kosher…” The restaurant is a perfect example in how to get along and a good idea for our present world to follow. Plus a wonderful spot for the rest of us to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

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Taste of Samarkand

62-16 Woodhaven Boulevard

Border of Middle Village and Rego Park, Queens

718.672.2121

Open Sunday through Friday for lunch and dinner but only for dinner on Saturday

Special note: BYO

 

 

 

 

 

Procastination Is Off The Menu!

I’m Baaacck!
&
Park Side Restaurant

I may not have been writing but I have definitely been eating. Many of the restaurants which I might have scooped, having tried them before word got out – have either soared or closed since my last foray into blogging. But the silent period is now fini. Too much great food, lovely experiences and spectacular dishes hither and yon have crossed my lips, it’s time to invite anyone along who is food curious and isn’t spent from reading everything else out there!

A little dining smorgasbourg to begin. I’ll slip in and out of time and start with the past, zoom into the present and go back and forth, weaving meals together until I eventually catch up with myself!

Going back a bit, I want to give a shout out (a lip smack?) to a fun birthday dinner two years ago at the venerable, much touted and for good reason – Park Side Restaurant in Corona, Queens.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 1.35.29 PMI’m a Don Pepe girl but a little side bar for another glamorous old world red sauce Italian is always in order.  There’s supreme comfort in a large menu filled with east coast classic Italian as I think of it. More Italian American than true Venetian or Roman. But it’s good. And there’s valet parking!

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You start off with a complimentary antipasti that includes hunks of parmigiano, sausage bites and little tomato covered bruschetta. And…a bread basket that has become legendary for its prosciutto stuffed lard bread. It’s almost an avalanche of sesame bread sticks (just like you remember them), dinner rolls and the aforementioned stuff-them-in-your-purse-for-tomorrow meat bread. Everything is very generously portioned and somehow good enough if not the best you’ve ever had. Maybe because there’s heart if not spice and it’s served by bow tied waiters in tuxedo jackets.

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It feels like you’re the star of a Scorsese film and for this dinner, your trip to the 1980’s is a big shouldered, married to the mob feeling blast from the past. Women who come here on a Saturday night were most certainly at the beauty parlor earlier in the day in preparation.

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Just what you imagined. A smattering pictured here. Shrimp Fra Diavolo could use more devil but the shrimp were nicely cooked and the pasta was al dente. Veal Parm was apparently satisfying in the way that your favorite diner in NJ always pleases. And it does, doesn’t it? The sauce veers to the sweeter edge and there’s enough mozzarella to feed a family of ten. I’ll always vote the way of Clams Oreganata and a big stuffed lemony leafed artichoke. Whatever you do, get an order of the Hot Cherry Peppers and add them to each of your dishes. The zing will bring a smile to your face and when offered the complimentary Sambuca and biscotti at the meal’s end, they’ll reduce any fire.

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Park Side still gets a celebrity or three and they proudly share a wall of photos.

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There are three floors of dining including the Marilyn Monroe salon on the second floor and the Garden Room on the main level. Party rooms are available for a big shindig. There’s a long wooden bar to wait at if you are foolish enough not to make a reservation.

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Park Side definitely has its fans and regulars. I really enjoyed being there but I couldn’t help comparing the food to Don Pepe’s and they long ago stole my Italian American craving heart. However, after dinner you can venture down the block to the illustrious Lemon King of Corona and watch the decades old rivalry on the bocce court just across the street – while you lick delicious icy-ness in your flavor of choice and cleanse the hot cherry peppers and time machine travel out of your system.

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Park Side Restaurant

107-01 Corona Avenue

Corona, Queens

718.271.9871

Monday-Saturday 12-1130pm, Sunday 1230-11pm

“Double Double Toil & Trouble…

Little Pepper Hot Pot

…fire burn and cauldron bubble”! And bubble it does. My pot bubbles over with love. There’s no bubble like hot pot bubble, like no bubble I know. Because I have to say – everything about it IS appealing. Little Pepper has long been my temple (as noted way below in an earlier post) and having gone day 1 when it was on Roosevelt Avenue and followed its move to the shiny new space in College Point, I was thrilled to return to the original shop for straight on hot pot. The basement dining is gone, you now enter through the infinitely more elegant street level entrance, where the old kitchen used to be. And it’s bright, simple and festive.

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Each pot of broth can be ordered as a whole or one pot divided in half between the two house broths, the Sichuan spicy pot or the House original milky non spicy broth. They also do a vegetarian version of either so anyone can Chinese fondue it. You automatically receive one plate of mixed vegetables like wood ear mushrooms, corn on the cob (surprisingly great) and cabbage as well as thinly sliced fatty beef. That alone would probably be more than enough food for two people but there’s no way you’re going to go and not partake of the parade of enticing offerings. It would just be foolhardy to resist.

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Dunk, swirl, scoop, dip and dine. You get little metal nets and long prongs, a much more interesting than normal table setting. Healing…satisfying. And frigging fun. Four of us sampled far too much. The tofu skins (called bean crud stick here!), the fatty lamb, the parsley pork meatball, lotus root, 4 of the 7 varieties of mushrooms, fried tofu, fresh soft tofu, frozen spongy tofu, house made citrus flavored sausage, sliced pork belly, fish fillets and snow pea leaves. A Chinese friend loved the spam. Go figure.

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To this feast we added two favorite appetizers from the list brought over from the main Lil Pep. Didn’t need them but just had to have them. Szechuan noodles like no other and cucumbers in garlic sauce. They were actually a nice respite from the bites of hot pot wonder. And an unneeded reminder of why it’s so glorious to dine here.

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But all of this is brought home to that sweet spot in your mouth with the condiments. I worship the spicy green chive sauce but not more than the jar of thickly fermented soy from the sauce service station. There are pockets of delight to be discovered there that serve to beautifully enhance all that cooking you’re doing! It’s a necessary field trip from your table.

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It’s interesting that it’s not just how good the food is, how it touches you at the very very bottom of your soul, it’s the scent, the vibrant colors of the broth, your plate, the spirit of the place. That joie de vivre is at play in your hostess with the mostest, half of the couple who own the restaurant and the one with maybe the most welcoming smile ever…Jacy Wu. She welcomes you into this enchanted Sichuan kingdom and you dine under the spell.

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My pot at the end of the rainbow…

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Little Pepper Hot Pot
133-43 Roosevelt Avenue
Flushing
718.690.2206
** Cash only
Open daily noon-midnight

See The Pyramids Along The Nile…

Ali’s Kebab Cafe

Once upon a time there was a King of Alexandria. Well, from Alexandria. Okay, maybe more of an Egyptian tour de force. Half man – half culinary guru. And he wasn’t actually in Egypt, he’d become a local hero dispensing politics, philosophy, humor, passion and pretty wonderful food right here in NYC’s Astoria. He’s randomly known as the Mayor of Little Egypt, a far off land bordered by Steinway Street and your every desire in Queens. So yeah, set your sail, have your ankh in hand, man that barge and sail on to the tiny storefront/kingdom that belongs to the charming Ali El Sayed.

Much has been written about Kebab Cafe over the years. It’s special. Seating for maybe twenty people. Atmospheric barely captures it. The decor is whimsical, offbeat, personal. The ancient world through more quirky modern times are represented – down to the wall mounted innards of a true Steinway piano, an homage to the address. Moustafa, Ali’s brother who just happens to own the larger Egyptian clay pot restaurant down the block called Mombar created the furniture and some of the art. Their mother’s portrait hangs prominently on the wall, quietly keeping an eye on her sons.

He’s a treasure.

Just put yourself in the charming Ali’s hands and let his fingers do the cooking. And serving. And espousing. And maybe they’ll be sharing a glass of wine with you too.

A few basic tenets to dining here. A. Never ask for a menu, you tell him what you’ll eat (as in vegetarian or offal lover) and he’ll tell you what you’ll have. Trust him. He knows the goods. B. Bring your own wine. There is wine for sale but honestly, you don’t really want to drink it. It’s mostly Algerian and Egyptian and bringing your own is a far better plan – plus the only corkage fee is a possible glass or two for your host, Ali. C. Prices can vary, it’s generally quite a good deal given the quality and preparation but pricing can be subjective. Don’t worry, it’ll work out.

We started with the mezze platter. Most people do. It’s not your average bear. Lemony hummus, fava spread, a babba ganoush lovingly infused with cumin, one friend’s comment – it’s babbalicious. The falafel is feather light and char crusted, fried escarole sits atop a circle of refreshing apple slices and it’s beautiful. Savory, crunchy, hauntingly seasoned. Plus it kind of melts in your mouth.

Pillowy warm pita arrives followed by his signature bowl of pickled chili peppers (please bring me a vat) and his imprint is on every plate to come, a dusting of sumac and za’tar.

Along with the help of an assistant, for many years it was just him – miracles are created in this slip of a kitchen. It’s crazy. Having this view of the inner workings is akin to being at Lourdes. All hail the Per Se of Queens!

There’s a strong Mediterranean influence in the food, as reflected by the history of Alexandria, Ali’s home town. France comes by to say hey as well as Greece and Italy.

Pumpkin dumplings delicately flavored with yogurt and mint make for a perfect second appetizer.

Then we threw back for the real deal. I was there with organ loving friends and they fell in with the lamb brains in lemon and basil. Sensational…

and the stewed lamb cheek with a poached egg mixed right in at the table, like an Egyptian Caesar salad…

and then my friend the porgie came out.

A poem. True joy on a plate.

Ali’s attention is like a beam of sunlight. His fervor for history, philosophy, conversation and even romance is endearing and that ardor is reflected in every nuance of his food. It’s truly part of him and as luck would have it, a part of us now too.

Kebab Cafe
25-12 Steinway Street / Astoria
718.728.9858
Cash only / Closed Mondays

* Header photo by Angela Carbonetti / http://www.angelacarbonetti.com

Why For 2 Cents Ayada…

Ayada

I jest but no joke. And I’d pay more than 2 cents. This Thai restaurant is serious. The real deal. Not Bangkok via McDonalds. One of the all-star top tier Queens five as I think of them.

Part of the specialness of Ayada is that besides the outrageously fabulous food, it has a lovely cozy charm, takes cc and you can make a reservation. Small gestures can sometimes be the coup de grace.

There’s an artfulness to the decor as well as the food on your plate. Candles float in clear vases of water, vintage photographs are carefully arranged on the bright spring green wall, a backlit blue bar doubles as the service station and white geometric shaped dinnerware overflows with the terroir of Thailand.

The food is real. Traditional, and though considered Issan (northern Thai) seems to fall in with a more southern regard, with all of the various and insanely good curries. The staff is friendly and very generous with their advice on spice. In your local Thai delivery spot, you have to beg for “Thai spicy” just to get a slight fur on the tongue. At Ayada, I don’t think “Thai spicy” will ever pass my lips. We had a combination of medium spicy and spicy – the tiny step but large leap before the Thai extreme. I’m no novice but I think I could live happily here with medium. I swear I wouldn’t feel like they were pandering to a westerner. My usual complaint. It dazzles. The gleam comes from the layers of divine cooking, not just how many chilies you can adorn a bowl with. The food is nuanced, herbed and considered. Plus it tingles.

Started with fried tofu as requested by one of my companions but the sauce was lively enough and the tofu crisp-tender that I was happy to score two pieces. However it’s the plate that arrived with it that blew me away. Chive “dumplings”. Not dumplings at all but fried cakes of chive and maybe glutinous rice? And paradise.

The richness of the chive cake is my new siren’s call. Moist tinged with earthy crunch, so flavorful yet without an indication of the heat level to come next in the signature raw shrimp. Nine shrimps topped with garlic, fish sauce, a chili-lime combo, with every component bright and raw so the one bite pop into your mouth is sublime, arresting, and unlike anything else on the table. It also made another dining companion gasp. That’s where we veered into step 3 level spiciness so buyer beware.

I could finish the dish once I ordered the quasi antidote! A sip and roll around the tongue before pressing on gives you a new lease on spice. It’s the condensed milk in the iced coffee that will soothe the burn.

And we needed the Thai iced coffee to accompany the oh so very piquant papaya salad.

This is one stellar dish. A shrine of shredded green papaya tossed with a mouth tingling array of lime juice, dried shrimp, raw garlic, peanuts, fish sauce and a resounding o-m-g level of bird’s eye chilies aka Thai chilies aka heat. High heat, tongue whipping, duct tearing, palate shimmering heat. Good heat. Ha. Fantastic.

Kang som sour curry stayed on course with the spice scale. Sour tamarind paste beautifully complimented by sweet, hot, salty tartness. Perfectly cooked shrimp, assorted vegetables and we were lucky to have the ribbons of cha-om (from the acacia plant, sometimes it’s broccoli) in the frizzled pieces of omelette soaking up the curry broth.

Seafood Mango Salad proved an oasis of cool charm in the desert heat. Squid, shrimp, shredded mango, pure delight. And still tangy.

Several more dishes for reverie – green curry with chicken, esan sour sausage on a plate of ginger, peanuts, and cucumbers all to be wrapped in the big lettuce leaves and then fried fish with yup – more mango. It was delectable snapper, no tilapia thank goodness and as long as you pick around the bones, you are treated to sweet and crispy bites that keep you hunting for more.

A favorite for me were the dan dan noodles. Not greasy, ultra peppery and yes there was a burn, but oh yes there was layered crazy flavor. And the desire for more.

One way to dine here is to gather your notes from reviews or blogs, trust the wait staff or ask for Kitty, the chef owner aka Ms Thammasat and if possible, she’s happy to do her own version of omakase for you. There are so many more dishes to sample and some to revisit, perhaps a little chef guidance would be an extra push for getting you to Elmhurst.

I love the attention to detail. It’s in the service, atmosphere and food. You feel taken care of and yet ever adventurous at the same time. I even like the way they fold the doggie bag.

It’s a wonderful meal no matter your preference. My table didn’t love the sausage dish we chose but there’s much more pork to be indulged and I’ve dined with others who praised the pink sausage slices. Go with an open mind – you’ll be greeted with open hearts, full bowls and when your open mouth has been filled with Thai treasure, it will thank you.

Ayada
77-08 Woodside Avenue
Elmhurst, Queens
718.424.0844

THIS…is amore.

Don Peppe

*a few dishes are from subsequent visits*

Happiness is here to be had. Likely covered in red sauce that packs a zing. And garlic. I say, grab yet another piece of bread and start the dunk. Into happiness. Into paradise. Into amore. You found it at last.

Don Peppe has been under the JFK flight path for just under half a century and I imagine its healing-through-good-old-fashioned-red-sauce-Italian food powers has never wavered.

It is just so entertaining. A ritual for many and a grand surprise for initiates. No reservations, fellow diners congregate in the vestibule and share menu tips. Freshly tanned clientele just off the sand at Rockaway Beach perhaps, the smiles, the glow, the offered affirmations of what you should order and an implicit understanding not to diverge.

So you wait. Hopefully no more than 20 minutes or so although in summer, longer is a possible reality. But as soon as your name is called and you round the corner into ecstasy, it doesn’t matter.

Ahhh. The aroma, the genuine joy pulsating from every table, the real fun is about to begin.

Homemade house wine. Our waiter said – don’t be difficult. No need for the list. And several unmarked icy cold bottles of red later you can see why. It’s twenty bucks a bottle, tastes like you’re in an Umbrian trattoria and gives you a sweet cherry buzz. Done. No upstarts at our table.

There’s a chalkboard menu on the wall with prices reflecting dishes meant for three people. Everything is served family style, the platter size determined by number of diners at the table. Since the waiter serves it up, there’s no muss no fuss. Which translates as…no fighting over the bigger piece. However, it also means the waiter is the only one aware of your total on the check and there have been inconsistencies. Sometimes it seems to be a fairly good deal and other times, it’s eye-poppingly high. Best advice – get a nice waiter.

Our lovely Marco swept his tie behind him in a clearly oft repeated gesture and started serving the salad. Your seemingly garden variety red wine vinegar staple but with roasted red peppers and lots of oregano. Fresh, crunchy and bright.

Onto the next de rigeur dishes. One mighty stuffed artichoke fed four of us happily. Butter, garlic and mushy, comforting bread stuffing. Perfectly cooked artichoke. I was dunked into euphoria.

Stuffed peppers. All the bread crumbs, parsley, garlic and oil a pepper could hope to be adorned with. Perfect combination of sweet bitterness and rich earthiness.

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The signature baked clams. They do it beautifully though we thought cherrystone clams might have been better. Blackened with oil and finely finely finely chopped garlic. The char thankfully lingers on your lips.  Shells surrounded by puddles of clam juice and butter. Another perfect reason for – yup, more bread.

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Diner desire also informs platter size. The table next to us were served a gigantic order of spaghetti with shrimp bolstered by a kind of pink sauce. They couldn’t help but notice our stares and the patriarch nodded, “we get a double order, it’s our favorite.” He leaned in conspiratorially and in a loud raspy brooklyn-eese asked, “are you dunkahs?” Huh? DUNKAHS?? Wait. Ohhh! Yes, yes we are. We dunk. He shrugged and said – “get the Shrimp Luciano, it’s a 10. It’s beyond a 10.” (wonder if he’s seen Spinal Tap?) “Youse will not want to lose a drop of this gravy.” Apparently the linguine with clams is also a 10 but every table around us insisted on the spaghetti with shrimp. For the gravy. Respect. We were in. Vongole next time. But meanwhile, the Luciano is the stuff dreams are made of.

At this point I was practically cut off from the bread tray by Marco our waiter. But it’s impossible not to sop. Sauces are off the hook. Maybe I did need a bread nanny…

The world renowned (okay, Ozone Park famous) Veal Don Peppe. Pounded thin, lightly fried and smothered in chopped fresh tomatoes, peppers and olive oil. One more hallmark dish. A bit like a Veal Milanese with tomato instead of arugula. Like buttah, you can cut it with a fork. There’s a Chicken Don Pepe as well should that be a preference.

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Been back many times since my original blog and the Linguine with Clams is now part of the rotation. The white sauce is grand. Butter, oil, lemon and garlic won’t ever lead you astray but you can also ask for the off-menu Marechiare, a pink clam sauce. Al dente pasta, juicy clams and garlic cloves you can almost bench press.

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Chicken Scarpariello with added fennel sausage and peppers next. Fabulous sausage. Chicken pieces baked at a super high temperature until crispy. No sauce. Tons of garlic. The accessories are extra but worth the investment.

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Lucky for us the next dish was a twice a year special. For me it was the apex of all things Don Peppe. Ricotta & spinach canneloni. It’s only offered on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day weekend. I’ve never been so grateful for a Hallmark card holiday.

This is the Don Peppe version of molecular gastronomy. As if. Pasta as air. So light, the flavors truly seem to burst into song as if from some magical musical of food vibrations. Melt in your mouth quivering Italian air. Velvet on the tongue.

And if you don’t happen to catch the above dish (we never did again), here’s your substitute offering the same crazy-good-what-your-fantasy-Italian-mama-made marinara, this time embedded with ricotta, safely inside their homemade dough. Stuffed Shells. Bring it on.

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A little green to counterbalance the carb loading. Beautifully cooked broccoli rabe with sweet nuggets of garlic.

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Next time the escarole, fried peppers, lobster fra diavolo with linguine, the not always available grilled portobello mushrooms, a steak, and the Chinese chicken that takes 55 minutes to cook and…and…and. Of course, there’s always more of the same too. It’s hard to not order all the dishes you crave from last time. Maybe don’t eat for a week before you go? 🙂

The unfortunate thing here as one dining companion said, is that the lighting is almost intolerable. You’re at an eating orgy, the homemade wine is flowing, this is too much fun, so you quietly pray to the Madonna for a dimmer. But as salt and garlic are the true staff of life, we’re sucked back in, say to hell with the glare and keep dunking.

The birthday friend was feted with two desserts, a bisque tortoni and a white chocolate tartufo. Ahh, nothing like a tasty 1950’s suburban style capper to the meal.

We actually closed the place. A rare glimpse of DP at rest.

Wow. A meal well met. A fantastic time. A NYC tradition of the highest order.

Don Peppe…heaven’s back door.

Don Peppe
13558 Lefferts Boulevard
718.845.7587
Ozone Park, Queens
No reservations, Cash only. Closed Mondays.

 

A Whale Of A……

Carvel

Come on. Impossible to say no, yes? Even after a fantastic and more than satisfying meal at my all time favorite Sichuan temple – Little Pepper. But then… there’s soft serve. Oh I had to go there. In every sense of the phrase. By the way, this includes having had the ultra french fry dish Chinese style. Fries covered with Sichuan peppercorns, cilantro and crushed chilies! However I digress. Now we’re here to whoop, Viva La Carvel and it’s very own whale of a…Dasher. Wha??

Cool and creamy is such a perfect follow to heat infused food, so on the way home driving through Queens, we decided – in for a penny, in for a few more pounds. Found a local Carvel (only one still exists in Manhattan) and saw the following sign saying limited time only, get your Girl Scout Cookie Dasher!

I asked our server, a kind of female Rocky Graziano what a Dasher might actually be, to which she replied, “well…it’s a name!!” Okay then RG, two can play this game. The sign specified Samoa cookies or Thin Mints and as it had been decades since a beloved Thin Mint crossed my lips – I went all in. A friend snapped to and immediately ordered the Samoa cookie version with vanilla soft serve, whipped cream and butterscotch sauce. Very tempting.

Layers of crushed cookie, thick, strong butterscotch and soft serve. Not half bad.

I was a tougher sell. I had questions. Mine came with mint marshmallow sauce. Not my thing though my pals and Ms Rocky G thought I was nuts. I asked for some chocolate crunchies instead, no whipped cream and thankfully Rocky (who’d been treating me like I had two heads) was finally on my team.

Ahhhh!

It was practically bedazzling. Thin Mints for days.

Normally I have a few bites and give it away to a hungrier companion. But not this time. I never even got a bite of The Samoa version though two people said it was off the charts. I didn’t care. I had crunchies and soft serve chocolate and Thin Mints and Rocky G smiled.

It gets better with age!

Carvel
Wherever you can find one