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Queens Represent! – Mapo Korean BBQ

November 9, 2010 Leave a comment

And we’re back…

So much has happened since our last post.  Thirty-three trapped miners in Chile were rescued.  The San Francisco Giants(?!?) won the World Series.  Andrew Cuomo won the gubernatorial election in New York making Allegations of Deliciousness’s “favorite” chef Food Network personality, Sandra Lee, the first lady of our fine state.

Yes, I know we promised more regular posts as we transitioned from summer to fall, but like going to the gym, when you are not in a routine, it is hard to keep any momentum going.

No fear, dear readers.  Inspired by this past Sunday’s annual running of the NYC Marathon, we’re trying to break our nasty habits long before New Year’s resolutions rear their ugly heads.  I finally got my butt to the gym…and am giving you a long awaited post.  I have no doubt that J. Frankfurter will soon follow suit.

Now, let’s get to the food…

While J. Frankfurter and I enjoy arguing over which of our respective boroughs is better, I have to begrudgingly admit that when it comes to authentic Asian food, Queens may have an edge over Brooklyn.

For Korean BBQ, my friends “Tracy and Don” suggested we check out Mapo BBQ.  I grabbed two other friends, “Edna Krabappel” and “Sleepy Gonzales”, who are big fans of Korean food and took off for Flushing.  Admittedly, Mapo BBQ is not easy to get to without a car (although there is a LIRR stop right across the street), but Tracy and Don were nice enough to pick us up at the end of the 7 line and drive us over.

Mapo BBQ is known for two things: (1) using charcoal, which is our preferred grilling fuel, instead of gas like most of the restaurants in Manhattan’s Koreatown, and (2) kalbi – deliciously marinated beef short ribs.  Trust me.  Order the kalbi.  The quality of the beef, seasoning and perfect char from grilling (the waitresses cook for you) make the kalbi phenomenal.  Everyone was also very impressed with the variety and quality of the banchan (little dishes of various pickles, salad and accompaniments that come at the start of the meal).

There is usually a wait out the door, but tables turn quickly thanks to the fast and efficient service of the ladies who work there.  The ladies are also super nice and helpful.  We got recommendations and plenty of refills on our preferred banchan dishes even though none of us spoke Mandarin or Korean (the two languages the ladies seemed to be more fluent in).

If you’re looking for the best Korean BBQ in New York City, trek out to Queens.  While pricey and a bit of a journey, a trip out Mapo BBQ is well worth it.

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Queens Represent!: All’s Well At M. Wells

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Would you travel to a desolate street in Hunter’s Point, Long Island City, to eat at a diner?  I am here to suggest that you should strongly consider doing it.  There, on the corner of 49th Avenue and 21st Street, nestled between the train tracks and the toll plaza for the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, is possibly the best brunch spot in Queens.

Described as a “Quebeco-American Diner,” M. Wells was opened by Hugue Dufour, formerly of Au Pied Du Cochon in Montreal, a restaurant that has been an innovator of contemporary Quebecois cuisine and a veritable temple to foie gras.  Of course, despite its impressive credentials, M. Wells is still just a diner.  That means it looks like a traditional diner (long and thin, with pies and pastries behind glass, virtually the entire kitchen behind the counter) – but more importantly, it is priced like a diner – in fact, I would venture to say that it is less expensive than many diners in Queens (and certainly many diners in Manhattan), with dishes running from $5 up to  a few “high end” entree items at around $15 (there is currently an $18 lobster roll, still a good deal).   M. Wells currently serves brunch Sunday through Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – however, they will soon be adding dinner, and the menu will doubtless expand accordingly.  The dishes described below are all from their current brunch menu.

Here is where M. Wells is different from the typical diner: the food is excellent, made from top quality ingredients, cooked properly and satisfying.   Not to say that “typical diners” cannot turn out tasty and satisfying food, but M. Wells is clearly on another level regarding the care and skill that has gone into selecting and preparing its ingredients.  In addition, it has a small but eclectic menu that will appeal to those seeking a satisfying traditional brunch as well as those who are interested in exploring more of the Quebecois style of cooking.  One the former end of the spectrum are a massive egg and sausage breakfast sandwich served on a “fat” english muffin, a variety of spanish tortillas, as well as a cuban sandwich and, of course, a hamburger.  On the latter end of the spectrum, M. Wells offers dishes such as pickled pig’s tongue and escargot with bone marrow.

I ended up sampling some dishes from both ends of the spectrum.  A tomato salad was simple but tasty, lightly dressed with basil, parmesan and containing several varieties of in-season tomatoes.  Buckwheat crepes had an excellent flavor, but as my wife commented, they could have benefited from some fresh fruit or jam.  My favorite dishes, however, were the more  atypical offerings.  The pickled pig’s tongue (pictured below) was absolutely delicious, very lightly pickled but not briny, perfectly grilled, tender and served with mustard and homemade soda crackers.  The escargot and bone marrow (pictured above) was presented as a large split bone, filled with its marrow, escargot, a red wine sauce and, of course, butter.  Slathered on small toasts, the mixture was decadent and delicious.

Finally, for dessert I sampled a piece of maple pie.  I was a bit hesitant about this choice but I ultimately figured that Canadian cooks know their maple, and everything previously had been so well done I figured I couldn’t go wrong.  It turns out I was right – the pie was delicious – full of maple flavor but not cloyingly sweet as I had feared, and covered in a sort of clotted cream that complemented it well (below, Allegations of Deliciousness’ toughest staff critic samples the maple pie and pronounces it good).

M. Wells is literally steps away from the Hunter’s Point stop on the 7 Train, which is the second stop in Queens and about a 5 minute train ride from Midtown.  I went at 2:30 on a weekday afternoon and it was not crowded, although I imagine weekend brunch at peak times must get quite busy. It is unexpensive and thoroughly unpretentious, and well worth the (very) short trip into Queens.

Queens Represent!: Better Chinese Than Your Neighborhood

August 16, 2010 2 comments

Super Happy Fun Spicy Time!  In this edition, J. Burger and I report back on our mission to Flushing (Queens) where we ventured in search of an authentic Chinese dinner.   No General Tso’s here!

For this expedition, we brought along two dining companions – Edna Krabbapel, whose dining exploits have been featured elsewhere in these pages, and a mysterious frenchman named Francoise.  Actually, he may not have been French, but he seemed to know an awful lot about France.  We rode the 7 Train until its very end, where we reached the mecca of Chinese dining in New York City.

The challenge in Flushing is figuring out where to go – there are tons of Chinese restaurants, and you can’t just walk around until you see a nice one because (as we discovered), some of the best ones do not look attractive at all. But we knew we wanted a Sichuan place, none of our intrepid party being at all adverse to spice, and one that came well recommended was Xiao La Jiao Restaurant, translated as (and alternatively known as) “Little Pepper.”  As it turned out, the place was indeed little, and the food was chock full of chili peppers.

“Little Pepper” had maybe 8 tables, filled almost exclusively with Chinese patrons.  The decor was sparse and both the atmosphere and the physical space were grungy.  However – the beer was cold and the service brisk and we were soon comfortable and ready to start eating.  First up – Sliced Beef Tendon In Spicy Sauce: This was a cold dish, perfectly spicy and not chewy at (as one might fear), with a nicely funky flavor.  This was both mine and J. Burger’s favorite dish of the evening, and was an excellent start to the meal, washed down with a cold Tsing Tao.

Next up: Rabbit Meat Sauteed With With Chili and also Tea-smoked Duck. Following the mantra of “one of every animal,” we set upon these dishes. The rabbit was fiery, chunks of juicy rabbit meat sitting on a deep bed of chilis and scallions.  Francoise later declared this to be his favorite dish, and spent a good deal of time pulling out and devouring the chili-oil soaked scallions once the meat had been finished.  In contrast, the duck was not spicy at all, but pleasantly smoky and tender (pictured: the duck is on the right, the rabbit is on the left.  A close-up of the picture will reveal the sheer number of chilis included with the rabbit).

At this point, we realized that we had not ordered any rice, as we have been trained to do at all Asian restaurants in this country.  However, three things happened: first, we looked around at the surrounding tables and noticed that none of the Chinese patrons had ordered rice. Next, we looked at the menu, and there wasn’t really any mention of rice, other than a fried rice dish.  Finally, it was noted, and all agreed, that rice was okay but really it just filled you up and took up room in the stomach more properly devoted to other things.  So we never ordered rice, and it was not missed.  These dishes finished, it was time to to order the next course, and another round of beers.

For the second course, we looked to the other patrons of the restaurant for inspiration.  A good number of number of them seemed to be enjoying some stew-type dishes, served in large metal tureens.  So we ordered Braised Lamb In Spicy Soup Base.  Having now consumed rabbit, cow and duck, and soon to add lamb to that menagerie, our stomachs were becoming a veritable Noah’s Ark (of sorts) – so we decided to give the animal kingdom a break for the next dish.  The table next door had just received a particularly intriguing tofu dish, so we pointed to it – “bring us what they’re having.”  As it turned out, it was Ma Pa Tofu – tofu in a spicy ground pork sauce.  Francoise raised his eyebrows at the notion that tofu would be served with pork, but it was noted that the Chinese don’t eat tofu because they are vegetarian (as the contents of the menu made abundantly clear), but because they like the taste.  And the dish was excellent – soft silky tofu in a rich gingery sauce flavored with diced pork.  As it turned out, this was Edna’s favorite dish of the evening.

Finally, the braised lamb. Essentially, ultra-tender (and suprisingly non-gamey) strips of lamb, cabbage and bean sprouts, swimming  in an angry red, spicy and oily braising liquid (the “Soup Base”), with a small mountain of garlic and herbs sitting on top (see picture above).  Not for the faint of heart, to be sure.  Each piece of lamb pulled out of the liquid was coated in garlic and chili pieces, but that wasn’t even the hottest part of the dish.  The bean sprouts absorbed the spiciness more thoroughly than anything else and seemed to emit a cloud of heat such that, if one inhaled while eating a mouthful, would send searing vapors into the sinuses.  We had weathered the previous dishes without flinching, but this one set off some rounds of coughing and led to sweating as well as very clear sinuses.  Of course, more beer soon put out that fire.

Satiated, we lingered for awhile and let the fire die down a bit.  When the check came, it was roughly $20 per person, including several rounds of beer.  All agreed that it had been an excellent meal, and that every dish had been enjoyable.

The bottom line is this: if you can muster up the energy to ride the 7 Train all the way out to Flushing, there are great rewards awaiting you – namely, interesting, authentic Chinese food that is dirt cheap and will give you definitive bragging rights as to your adventuresome culinary spirit.  So join us on our next trip to “Little Pepper.”  There is a huge menu and much still to explore – as I learned later, the dish to get there, apparently, is the “Lamb With Cumin.”  And of course, the traditional Sichuan “Hot Pot” remains to be tried, in addition to several dozen other dishes.