Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ethnic Eating Adventures: Sunset Park Edition

Last week, my intrepid band of adventuresome eaters journeyed to Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for an afternoon of cross-cultural snacking. Sunset Park is the perfect microcosm of the multi-ethnic diversity that makes NYC as a whole such an exciting place to eat. Since the 1970s, SP has been home to a large number of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants--in fact, by 1990s, 50% of the nabe's population was of Hispanic descent. * And since the 1980s, the west side of the park has been home to many East Asian immigrants, who've spread out along 8th Ave. and turned this part of the hood into Brooklyn's large and thriving Chinatown.
But enough of all this demographic background--I'm just trying to get across that an afternoon walking and eating in SP can result in a stomach full of tacos, tortas, bahn mi, dumplings, noodles and more, all within blocks of each other. And that, simply put, is awesome.
Here's a look at our afternoon of face-cramming-- it was cheap (we hit five places and I don't think anyone spent more than $8 at any one place), more than filling, and crazy delicious. I tried to get at least one unflattering action shot of everyone who came, but a select few escaped the the lens. Lucky bastards. Anyhow, some highlights and notes from our trip, below:

Ari slurping dumpling soup from Yunnan Flavor Snack. The soup ($4) was a red-hot, oily, smelly mess of chili oil, pork broth, and thinly wrapped, brain-looking dumplings. YFS is, as far as I can tell, the only Chinese restaurant in NYC serving Yunnan (a southwestern Chinese province)-style cuisine, which is characteristically spicy, herbal, and noodle-heavy. YFS looks like a dump from the outside, but don't be fooled. Get the pork noodle soup (more on this below) or the aforementioned dumplings.

Portrait of a pork noodle soup.

Rizzo, really psyched about some Asian soft drink.

Bertie with the (literally)-finger-licking good pambazo ($6) (see glamour shot below) from Tacos Xochimilco. Pambazos are a cousin to tortas, except that the bread of the sandwich is dipped in a red guajillo pepper sauce and seared on the outside, meaning your figers will be seared in sauce, too. But that's okay, when the filling--potatos, chorizo, avocado, refried beans, queso freco and shredded lettuce-- is this good, a little guajillo pepper stain is worth it in the long run. I've never seen pambazos on a menu before, and I'd like to give credit to the incredible NYC Food Guy for introducing them to me.

The pambazo, bisected.

Tony preparing to inhale a taco supreme at Tacos Matmoros.

A sampling of tacos from Matamoros ($1.25 each)-- chorizo, tripe, tongue, chicken, carne asada, and carnitas. What makes Matamoros stand out from the rest of the many tacos joints lining 5th Ave. is their attention to detail--griddling the tortillas before filling them, providing multiple salsas and sauces, and the overall quality of the meats. The standouts here were the chorizo (which is hard to screw up anyway), the carne asada, and the tripe. I'm not a huge tripe fan due to my aversion to rubbery, smooth textures, but this tripe was thinly sliced, heavily seasoned, and sauteed until it was deeply smoky and crsip--almost like bacon. I was pleasantly surprised and seriously impressed. Skip the tongue (too watery) and chicken (bland, though maybe that's to be expected).

Justin graphically devouring a pastry from Las Conchitas.

Las Conchitas is a fairly typical Mexican bakery, and while none of the offerings here were truly outstanding, they were fresh and dirt-cheap (I spent $10 on 10 pastries and 2 drinks). There was one bun, filled with a crumbly cinnamon-sugar core, that was particularly tasty. The Mexican cheesecake was also good--dense and tangy.

Yours truly, with bahn mi all over my face. Ba Xuyen is a longstanding Chowhound favorite for bahn mi in the city. The baguette was still warm, crispy on the outside, and I liked that they divvied up full-sized loafs for the sandwiches, meaning you could get lucky and end up with a middle piece that didn't taper down at one end. However, I was disappointed with the lack of spiciness on my #1 ($3.50), and I found the meatballs on the #4 borderline-gelatinous in texture. Points given for an even distribution of cilantro and pickled veggies, though, which is a pet peeve of mine at some Vietnamese sandwich places.

Super close-up ot TJ with YFS noodles--kind of looks like he's eating a tiny squid, eh? You're welcome, Teej.
Overall, a very successful trip. 5 stops left us plenty full but wasn't gout-inducing, and the view from the top of Sunset Park itself (the highest point in Brooklyn) is worth the trip alone-- though that wouldn't be nearly as much fun as bringing a crew and stuffing your face.
Yunnan Flavor Snack
775 49th St., near 8th Ave.
Tacos Xochimilco
4501 5th Ave., near 45th St.
Tacos Matamoros
4508 5th Ave., near 46th St.
Las Conchitas Bakery
4811 5th Ave., near 48t St.
Ba Xuyen
4222 8th Ave., near 41st St.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Greenpoint Meat Picnic

A lovely Sunday afternoon in Greenpoint's McGolrick Park: keilbasa, pork pate, poppy-seed rolls. And spicy mustard. Total cost: $7.62. 


Dim Sum A Go-Go

I've previously sung the praises of the 7 train, the elevated subway that cuts east-west across Manhattan and Queens, exposing the deep belly of some of the city's best ethnic eats. God, I love that train. I'd ride it start to finish, and in fact I did just that a few weeks ago, when I trekked out to its last stop, Main St/Flushing. Flushing is home to the country's largest population of Chinese immigrants east of the Rockies*. It's at once more dense and less hectic than Manhattan or Brooklyn's Chinatowns, and a real culinary wonderland. I've previously compiled entire walkable dumpling tours covering wide swaths of Flushing, but mostly focused on smallish stalls and restaurants doling out seriously cheap eats. This time, my trip was little different: I was out for dim sum, in the grandest fashion possible.
Tropical tiki tripe

Dim sum is not a casual affair in Flushing: massive, ornate banquet halls heave and ho with the weight of hundreds of diners, pressed tightly into circular tables, barking back and forth with the brusque waitstaff hawking their miniature wares. After some research, we settled on Ocean Jewels as our venue; it has a reputation for serving excellent seafood for dinner but is also renowned for their weekend dim sum feast. At Ocean Jewels, it’s best to stay seated to avoid losing a foot (or worse) to one of the ladies torpedoing down the aisles with a cart full of pork buns. It's also best to come with a group, to ensure maximum variety in dishes tasted, and it's probably best to designate one loud, slightly bossy person to deal with the cart-staff and order for the table.
Our bill after several hours of eating-- that's 37 plates

Major kudos to my adventuresome friends, who woke up early on a Saturday, rode the subway for over an hour, and were promptly greeted with braised tripe and abalone dumplings. Here's a sampling of some of our wares: some were fairly standard, some a bit more advanced. We had shrimp cakes, steamed pork buns, jellified tripe, egg custards, sweet bean rolls, sautéed morning glory, chicken feet, the aforementioned abalone dumplings, and a creamy, milky dessert with lychee and mung beans. This was dim sum for the masses: nothing was transcendent, but everything was solid and fresh. And when brunch for 8 comes to a grand total of $120, I’d take the 7 there and back again.

*Lee, Jennifer 8. “In This Chinatown, Chinese Is Just a Start.” The New York Times. 23 July 2006.