Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Little Chihuahua

I'm a fan of Mexican flavors and although I couldn't classify Little Chihuahua as having classic Mexican recipes, it's nice to have it within walking distance of my neighborhood. They serve the kind of Americanized Mexican food that many of us grew up with; safe, filling choices from the shallow end of the culinary swimming pool. No big splashes are to be found here, but it can be refreshing all the same. This is by no means a destination restaurant, but a friendly neighborhood venue for a quick bite.

Chips and salsa, something often expected, but rarely ordered. At least they keep you busy while you peruse the short menu for something more substantial to eat.

Quesadillas make for a quick meal. The flour tortilla, filled with melted cheese is fine on its own, but everything goes better with avocado, doesn't it? It's too bad they weren't a bit more generous with that dollop of it. Maybe it's a ploy to get you to order a separate order of guacamole.

Their pork tostada showed more character than the quesadilla, as it was not the standard version served in so many restaurants. Small chunks of mango and queso fresco were added along with a creamy, ranch style dressing to perk up the flavors of the beans and stewed pork. It was good enough to encourage a return visit to try some other dishes and explore this restaurant further.

Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant

There is something to be said about a Chinese menu that does not include pork, and that something would be lamb. As a lamb aficionado, I was more than delighted to try Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant and it did not disappoint in the flavor department on several of the items we tried, but the restaurant itself is very small and not only dated and worn, but kitchy in an odd and distracting fashion. Did I really need Mickey Mouse peering over my shoulder during the dining experience, or his endorsement of this restaurant?

The Peking Beef Pancakes were a very pleasant way to start this culinary journey and they are memorable. Very flaky pancakes swaddle the spicy beef filling and these surpass in flavor similar meat filled offerings from Indian restaurants using lamb. These would be easy to order again and again.

No pork in the pot stickers but they were nicely cooked. Although they could have used a stronger flavor, the lamb was a nice substitute. I also wished the condiment selection was a bit broader. I think Old Mandarin's pot stickers could easily be improved, but since I do not know how to cook Chinese dishes, I'm not the one to make suggestions (like more use of garlic and ginger).

It's not easy to order a meal in any Chinese restaurant without including fried rice and Old Mandarin would have made that impossible, since they offered their version of fried rice with lamb as well as others with chicken, beef and seafood. To round out the meal we decided on the sauteed Lamb with Green Onions, a house specialty.

The rice was light and fluffy and as fried rice goes, a very good one with the richness added to it by the lamb and the requisite eggs, green onions, peas and carrots. The sauteed lamb was good, but not memorable as far as enhanced or complex flavor goes. It was lamb, pure and simple, but that in itself can be good. Still I'd come back to try a few other items on the menu that looked quite unique and more complex than what we ordered for this particular meal; for instance, one of the Hot Pots.

3132 Vicente St( between 42nd Ave & 43rd Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94116
(415) 564-3481Mon, Wed, Fri-Sun 11:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Tue, Thu 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Golden Unicorn

Golden Unicorn was a circus with a fast paced staff and people scurrying to and fro. They must have traded in their 3 rings for 3 stories of dining space; their main attraction was the dim sum. The side show barkers remained downstairs to call out names of clients who had waited long enough to get to the front of the line, where they were then dispersed among the dining rooms. Curtain material covering every wall including those without windows was certainly plentiful enough to be repurposed as “the big top”, but that is where the circus reference ends. This was not all fun and games but a serious business that has earned its reputation for quality food.
Steam carts were abundant and piled high with bamboo steamers filled with delectable morsels. This was something one could expect from a dim sum house, however, the table with roasted duck was new to me and was making quite a few stops. It also made a quick turn and we never saw it again. That was nothing to fret about as there was plenty of food to go around and we found other diversions.

For years I’ve been wondering whatever happened to the small condiment bowl that contained ketchup and hot Chinese mustard. Maybe they were being sent to Golden Unicorn, since they were plentiful here. It’s a very nice condiment combination, although I prefer the combination of vinegar, hot pepper oil and soy sauce. At any rate, all dumplings were served with condiments of one kind or another as they should be. We seemingly split our dim sum into two groups, dumplings and buns.

Don’t quote me, but I believe the top left photo is of Fun Gor, a shrimp, pork and spinach dumpling wrapped in rice flour. Ha Gow has always been my favorite and consists of shrimp, sometimes with a bit of bamboo shoot, but not always. It too has a rice flour wrapping. The photo on the lower left was described as a shark fin dumpling and contained shrimp. The last item has been described as beef noodle, but I’m certain that it’s just a rudimentary description of the ingredients, since the noodle is in essence a wrapper. Golden Unicorn calls it a Steamed Rice Roll with Beef on their dim sum menu.
Ah, now it gets a bit more interesting when the cart with clams in oyster sauce comes around. It was difficult not to order these, just for the pure enjoyment of the “show”. It wasn’t the Peking Duck, but this cart filled the bill for something out of my ordinary dim sum experience. But I left room for the bao.
This type of custard filled bun tastes almost as good to me as the small custard tarts that one usually sees at a dim sum restaurant, so I generally reserve it for last as a dessert of sorts.

Char Siu Bao, a BBQ pork bun has been a staple in my dim sum experience and I favor the yeast dough that is baked rather than the steamed version on the right, but they both have the sweet and savory filling of the barbequed pork and each is a good choice. The baked version has the added interest of a sweeter more flavorful dough.
18 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002
(212) 941-0911

Friday, April 9, 2010

Katz’s Delicatessen

Whenever anyone mentions pastrami, I immediately think of Katz’s in NYC. They are masters of the art of making pastrami and corned beef. If there is better in the country, I’m unaware of it. Sure, you can get more meat in your sandwich at Carnegie, but you’ll also pay more for it. Carnegie Deli has so much meat in their sandwiches, it borders on being obscene as do their prices, but Katz’s is more user friendly; you can actually get your mouth around their sandwiches.
The meat is moist and bursting with flavor. We discovered why on our last visit, when we had a chance to  talk to one of the owners; it’s the water. We complained that we have noting like it in California, so he asked where we were from and when we said San Francisco, he told us he had actually tried opening a restaurant in S.F. during the early 1970’s. After his first or second batch, he realized that he could not reproduce his family’s world famous pastrami and abandoned all hope of opening a branch on the west coast. He did everything exactly the same and the only variable was the water.

After you enter Katz’s, you’re required to stand in a very long line at the counter to order. Once there you will keep turning around wondering where on earth you’ll sit, because every table is full. In the very back of the restaurant, there is an area reserved for table service; make a beeline there, grab the first table available and let the waiter do the work for you. When your order arrives, you will receive a small pink ticket looking similar to those you buy for a raffle. Do not lose this ticket or leave it at the table thinking it is of little importance; trust me on this one.
One does not live by a sandwich alone, although if it’s from Katz’s you might be able to manage it. Each table is graced with a plate of kosher pickles and every one of them is very good. side dishes are primarily cole slaw or potato salad, but my favorite side is a Chocolate Egg Cream, that epitome of New York City culinary specialties that is made of neither eggs nor cream, but milk, seltzer water and a flavored syrup.

This Ruben made with Katz’s corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and a pickle relish rather than the traditional Russian dressing was all that and so much more. Being greater than the sum of its parts is typical of a Katz’s sandwich.
Here’s my Hot Pastrami on Rye again, and I can almost taste it. Hope you get the chance to try it.

205 E Houston St
New York, 10002
(212) 254-2246
Open Mon-Tue 8am-9:45pm; Wed-Thu,Sun 8am-10:45pm; Fri-Sat 8am-2:45am

Thursday, April 8, 2010

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous….East Buffet and Restaurant

Another restaurant in New York catering to those of us who love dim sum and to the immense  Chinese community of Flushing is East Buffet and Restaurant. It is so Chinese centric that the website doesn’t have an English translation. We considered ourselves lucky to have been told about this authentic establishment, until we arrived. The enormous dining rooms boded well for the quality of the food, because mediocre quality, even sold very cheaply couldn’t possibly keep this place full, or so we thought. The rooms were full, the dim sum was cheap, but it wasn’t worth the time it took to ride in on the subway from NYC precisely because of the mediocrity.

As we were led to our table, I couldn’t help but notice that the linen on the table had several holes in it and many large patches applied to other holes. My dining companion was mortified when I called the waiter over and asked for another table, because I was not happy to see holes in the table cloth. The photograph above was taken at the 2nd table where we were seated. Something must have been lost in translation concerning my complaint, because the waiter was oblivious to my disappointment at being seated at such a shabby table, even with the visual clue of poking my finger through the linen. Perhaps I used the wrong finger. This photo was actually cropped to eliminate several other holes. The Ha Gow on the right was actually decent and so was the dumpling on the left.
This particular dumpling was composed of several vegetables and whole peanuts. I’d never seen anything like it before and was intrigued by the crunchy texture the peanuts provided. I’d order it again, if I ever saw it served anywhere else. The egg rolls were as greasy as any I’ve ever had and reminded me why I usually refrain from ordering them. I have yet to taste an egg roll that is worth the effort. It may have been more palatable with a sweet and sour sauce, but none was provided.
Carefully rearranged plates manage to hide all the holes in the linen on this photo, but it also shows the balance of our meal. We simply cut it short because the carts were few and far between and the decor was distracting at best. I do not like to “pan” a restaurant, but being seated at a table with a table cloth that is patched and or is filled with large holes is just beyond the pale.
The shrimp rice rolls were not the best because the sauce was truly inferior to the one served at Golden Unicorn. The  Char Siu Bao were baked as I prefer them, but the barbequed pork inside was not very flavorful, nor was the dough. The condiments amounted to a red vinegar and soy sauce and also provided little in the way of flavor or good taste, no chili sauce or oil was present at all. Even if we had not tried Golden Unicorn, this restaurant would have been a bust. Luckily we already knew what good dim sum tasted like or this restaurant could have put us off it for a very long time. I find it ironic that it should be in a locale named Flushing.
4207 Main St
Flushing, NY 11355

Saturday, April 3, 2010

2nd Avenue Deli

My heart was nearly broken when I originally heard of the closing of 2nd Ave Deli in New York City. It was a always a stop on our trips to New York and we loved their selection of menu items. We had tried Lindy's but didn't like it and Carnagie Deli served portions that were practically obscene. Both of these other delis were cramped for space and you really felt like you were being packed in for higher profits, where the service suffered and portions were excessive to justify prices. Not so with 2nd Avenue Deli, perhaps because it was off the usual tourist radar around midtown. What a surprise we had in store, when we walked down East 33rd to see it again.

No matter what time of day, 2nd Ave always has pickles for each table. A bit odd with breakfast, but appreciated none the less. The green tomato dill pickles were especially good and the cold cured pickles are always a treat seldom seen on the West Coast, so it was easy to dig right in no mater what time of day.

Normally I wouldn’t consider pedestrian choices like scrambled eggs and potatoes, but my dining companion was very happy with this choice and thought 2nd Ave did a  bang up job with them. We each received a small chocolate egg cream as a sweet farewell to our breakfast order.

For me, breakfast at a Jewish Deli must have a blintz or two involved, so being able to order three, each with a different filling was something I could not pass up. My choices were apple sauce, sour cherries or cheese; no blueberries were offered. No matter, what they did have was wonderful enough and the egg rich blintzes only added to the richness. I’d say I was in hog heaven, but it’s a kosher restaurant.
162 East 33rd St (between Lexington and Third Ave) NYC, (212) 689-9000 | Fax: (212) 689-9001