Tag Archives: Manhattan

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NYC: Ethiopian at Queen of Sheba

This post is a lot more pleasant to write now that the NY Jets have been knocked out of the playoffs. You see, my friends and I ate ate this meal the night the Jets beat the Patriots; it was only thanks to good company and an Ethiopian dinner that the night was salvaged. We’d just watched the game at Lansdowne Road in Hell’s Kitchen, and a little drunk and a lot unhappy, headed to Queen of Sheba where we shared two combination samplers.

The meat sampler included different preparations of beef and lamb, while the vegetarian sampler consisted of collards, lentils, split peas, green beans and cabbage.  This may be one of the better Ethiopian restaurants I’ve been to in NYC.  The injera was appropriately tangy, and each dish had a ton of flavor. A few were pleasantly spicy, too.

I left in a brighter mood than what I’d arrived in. The lesson: after your team suffers a crushing loss, go eat Ethiopian. It’ll make you feel better.

Queen of Sheba
650 10th Ave. btw 45th & 46th
New York, NY
212-397-0610

Food Truck Fest: We Came, We Saw, We Left Hungry

Food bloggers dwell in hyperbole.  We proclaim this the best, that the worst; we love this, we hate that, and so on.

And yet, I’m willing to bet that 85 percent of the unfortunate souls who attended the Parked Food Truck Fest on Sunday would agree with me that it was without a doubt, one of the most abysmally organized events ever.

Am I exaggerating?  I don’t think I am.  Can a food event be considered a success when the majority of people leave on an empty stomach?  You’re supposed to eat at these things, right?

But let’s backtrack.  What was The Parked Food Truck Fest?  It was a promising idea: a gathering of the city’s best food trucks on Governors Island. Wander around, sample from the various trucks, fill up your belly, go home.  Everyone’s happy. Right?

Wrong.

Danielle’s and my first inkling that we were in for an afternoon of futility came when we arrived at the Governors Island ferry terminal, and spied an interminable line of people snaking back almost a half mile along FDR Drive.

This thing was long.  DMV + Disney World Space Mountain long. But, being that it was a gorgeous Sunday, if we had to stand in line a bit — even though we had both skipped lunch in anticipation and were already starving — then so be it.

Ferries to Governors Island leave on the half hour, and to be fair, the line moved more quickly than expected, about an hour’s wait. The ferry ride itself takes about five minutes.  We arrived on the island, picked up an event flyer and immediately made a beeline towards the food truck area — along with thousands of other lemmings, like zombies from a B-horror movie. 

Danielle was looking over the flyer. “There aren’t as many food trucks as I thought there’d be,” she pointed out.  We saw something like 14 trucks listed. Some quick computing in my head: 14 trucks, tens of thousands of people (the final count was 17,000)… uh oh. I’m no mathematician, but to paraphrase Milton from Office Space, “The people to food ratio is too big.”

Welcome to the tenth circle of food truck hell.

14 trucks (seemed more like 10, but who’s counting) arranged around a grassy green in a large circle, with hordes of hungry people forming winding, criss-crossing lines. We made a lap around to survey the situation.

The Jamaican Dutchy line was monstrous.  The Rickshaw Dumpling line too, was epic.  There was no sign of the taco trucks, nor the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck, our first choice. (Apparently they were there, but I swear, neither Danielle nor I saw them).  My heart sank. And my stomach continued eating itself.

We spotted a hot dog truck (not part of the festival, just a random hot dog truck) near the fringes of the green. Danielle suggested we get a few dogs to tide us over. Evidently, everyone else had the same idea, since the hot dog line was not much shorter than the food truck lines.

Getting vaguely desperate now, we braced ourselves and settled into the Jamaican Dutchy line. Which… did not… move… at all. In 20 minutes we inched forward about eight feet — and that was only because people were giving up and abandoning the line.

Meanwhile, a buzz was filtering through the crowd that the trucks were running out of food.  This was confirmed when people began drifting away from the Indian food truck, and the vendor pulled the window cover down to indicate that he was closed.

Now we were left with a decision: stay on the Jamaican Dutchy line and face the very real prospect of waiting for another hour and having them run out of food, or get off the island, forget this ever happened Memento-style and go to an actual restaurant.  The third option was to gnaw off my own arm.

We decided to get off the island.  Only, so did everyone else, all of whom had come to the realization that this event was a complete disaster, and were queuing up for the ferry. Comments in the crowd ranged from “We’re never getting off this island,” to “I can’t believe there’s no food” and “This is the worst fucking event ever.”

At this point, I was mildly panicked — the hunger I was feeling was no joke now (it was after 4pm), and I was becoming light-headed.  Danielle was feeling the same.  We had seen a cafe on the island when we were first got off the ferry; Danielle held our place in the ferry line, while I went to investigate.

I called her from the cafe: “There’s still a line, but it’s not terrible.”

Down she came to join me on yet another line (are you sensing a pattern?), where we watched people walk out of the cafe with wraps, muffins and bagels. Looked promising.  But then the pace slowed and the inevitable happened — a woman stepped out with this update:

“They’re out of food, but they’re not telling anybody.”

What was going on??  Were we on a culinary version of Punk’d, with Ashton Kutcher about to run out and tell us it was all a joke and that, haha, there was in fact plenty to eat?

“Let’s just go,” Danielle and I said to each other.

Back to the ferry line, where we were stood wilting like un-watered flowers. I pulled up Yelp on my phone to find the nearest restaurant for when we got back to Manhattan. A couple of Japanese restaurants came up.  That settled it, after this debacle, we were treating ourselves to sushi.  Hell, we’d earned it.

A not-too-terrible wait, another ferry trip, and we were back in Manhattan. We made the ten minute walk to Ise Japanese Restaurant in the Financial District, which… was closed.  On to the next restaurant, Koodo Sushi, which didn’t seem to exist — there was a Starbucks where the restaurant should have been. This was becoming a cruel joke.

But then, there it was, like an oasis in the desert. (On a different street from where Google Maps directed us.)

“It’s open!” I yelped with joy.

The Koodo staff looked surprised to see us, as if they had just opened for dinner service. The hostess took us to a back table, turned on several lights, cranked up a floor fan and disappeared into the kitchen — I think to tell the cooks that there were customers.

I’m calling the rest of this story “Danielle & Doug Go To Koodo Sushi,” because if you’ve seen the denouement of the movie, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, you’ll understand the moment.  If it’s possible to make love to your food, we did. I wanted to marry it.

We shared everything.  Like Age tofu.

Pork and cabbage gyoza.

Chicken katsu.

Sushi rolls — spicy scallop and spicy crunchy yellowtail.

And dessert — red bean ice cream.

Tempura green tea ice cream.

(Danielle and I have a feeling the staff saw the desperation in our eyes, felt sorry for us and gave us extra food.  The chicken katsu came with two large pieces of chicken – usually there’s just one — and the tempura ice cream was the size of my head.)

Rapturous, rapturous enjoyment of this meal.  My brain began functioning again. My stomach untangled itself from its knots.  I could once again speak in complete sentences.  Food will do that to you.

In the end, the absurdity of the previous five hours was worth it. I’m not sure if I dreamt the Parked Food Truck Fest in a nightmare, or if it actually happened.  To those people who did in fact consume food there, I applaud you.  To the other 16,700 people, I hope your day eventually turned out as well as ours.  And by that, I mean I hope you got off that damn island.

Koodo Sushi Corp
55 Liberty St.
New York, NY
212-425-2890

Braving Times Square for a Lobster Roll

Whenever I’m in Manhattan, I avoid Times Square like the plague. I loathe Times Square. Schlock, sensory overload and a sea of tourists?  No thanks. Also, compared to the rest of the city, Times Square is a food wasteland of chain restaurants and tourist traps. I think the classic scene from The Office with Michael Scott having his NY moment, sums it up best:

Oh, look! [pointing to a Sbarro] My favorite New York pizza place. I’m going to go get me a New York slice!

My colleague Hector and I were in Times Square today meeting a friend of his, who works in the area, for lunch.  I whipped out my phone and frantically pulled up Yelp in an earnest attempt to find a suitable spot to eat.  It wasn’t much help — mostly what came up were Italian restaurants and pizza places, with a Bubba Gump Shrimp thrown in for good measure.

We didn’t have time to wander around indefinitely; out of desperation, Hector even mentioned Applebee’s, and I think he was completely serious, until he saw the look on my face. Finally, we ducked into the Westin Hotel where there was a Shula’s Steakhouse (of Don Shula, former coach of the Miami Dolphins). Good enough.

The restaurant’s got Don Shula and football memorabilia all over the walls, plus those goofy signed celebrity photos that you hardly see anymore.  I saw one of Jason Alexander.  George Costanza ate at Shula’s Steakhouse!

Hector’s friend had the Cuban sandwich and Hector had the BLT.

He wasn’t crazy about it and gave me one of the triangles to try — it was nothing special, but I didn’t notice anything glaringly wrong.  Tasted like your standard BLT.

I had the lobster roll.

It wasn’t bad — a little watery, but good bun, good chips, and I liked the side of diced pineapple and red onion.  Shula’s is expensive though, and at these prices, you expect sandwich greatness, not sandwich averageness.

My preference will always be for the cheap eat or the ethnic hole-in-the wall, but all in all, a decent if overpriced lunch in the land of billboards and neon lights. Could have been worse.  A lot worse. We could have eaten at Sbarro.

Shula’s Steakhouse (in the Westin New York at Times Square)
270 W. 43rd St.
New York, NY
212-201-2776


NYC: Num Pang or Banh Mi?

In food, as in life, your first instinct is usually the right one. I realized that today after searching out a banh mi sandwich for lunch.

First though, let me show you the spectacular view from the corner office where I had a meeting downtown. On one side was a direct look at Ground Zero.

I have never seen Ground Zero in person, and to view it so clearly from above like that gave me pause.  It’s eerie — on the one hand it looks like a generic construction site, but then you remember what happened there.

The other window looked out onto New York Harbor — there’s the Statue of Liberty on the left and Ellis Island on the right.

It was easy to picture the scene of 100 years ago, with steamships arriving in the harbor, passing the Statue of Liberty and entering Ellis Island.  When you’re on Ellis Island the place feels weighty and formidable.  From the window it just looks tiny.

Anyway, back to the banh mi search.  I’d been given a few Vietnamese restaurant recommendations in Chinatown that I fully trusted; I’d also read about a Cambodian sandwich shop in Union Sq. serving num pang, the Cambodian version of a banh mi.

My first instinct was for Chinatown, where I knew the banh mi would be fresh, authentic, and undoubtedly delicious.  But I wasn’t thrilled by the prospect of a Chinatown lunchtime rush and the possibility of not being able to sit.  Union Sq. sounded more manageable, and based on the merit of strong Yelp reviews, I headed towards Num Pang Sandwich Shop.

From what I can tell, a banh mi and a num pang are very similar. Both incorporate cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro and French bread, with some kind of meat choice (at Num Pang there were also options for seafood or roasted cauliflower).

Here’s my pulled durok pork num pang.

The toasted bread was spot on.  The rest — it was all right. Nothing really wrong with it, but the pork was unremarkable and the sandwich was kind of pricey ($7.50) and smallish.  (By comparison, a footlong banh mi would probably be around $3.75).

I left feeling a little disappointed and hungry.  Check that, a lot hungry.  Next time I’ll trust my gut, brave the Chinatown crowds, swerve around the men spitting on the sidewalk, and pick up an honest-to-goodness banh mi.

Num Pang Sandwich Shop
21 East 12th St.
New York, NY
212-255-3271

NYC’s Yerba Buena Esta Muy Buena

My friend Rishi knows Manhattan restaurants way better than I do, so I’m happy leaving it in his hands to pick a place to eat. On a sticky, humid Sunday, we met up for brunch at Yerba Buena, an East Village pan-Latin spot fusing South American and Caribbean flavors.

There’s not much of a sign — that tiny thing in the window is pretty much it.

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Yerba Buena’s not a big place, and a boisterous party of around twenty people brought the noise to near deafening levels, but then, what else is new.

We shared a fresh, chunky guacamole with queso fresco and moved into our dishes. For Rishi, the Frita Cubana, slider-like burgers of beef and suckling pig (the pork was nestled inside the ground beef) with pickled jalapenos and a red onion slaw.

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I’m a sucker for arepas — in this case, Tres Arepas: chicken tinga on the left, BBQ short ribs, and pork belly on the right — all three topped with a fried egg and spicy, tangy sauce.

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Crunchy arepas filled with flavorful meats is my idea of good eating, and pork belly is quickly becoming one of those menu items that makes my eyes light up.  It’s that textural play of a crispy crust, tender pork and soft fat.  I saved the pork belly arepa for last.

After brunch, I was still feeling the urge for a bit more food.  We walked past the iconic Katz’s Deli, famous for its heaping pastrami sandwiches, and site of the Meg Ryan orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally.

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A whole pastrami sandwich would have been pushing it, but a half?  A half I could have handled.  Next time.

And we checked out the mecca of all things pickled, Guss’ Pickles.

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Those big red barrels contained all sorts of pickles, peppers, mushrooms, artichokes and sauerkraut.  I buy generic pickles in a jar from the supermarket, but if you’re a pickle aficionado and want the good stuff, this is your place.

(But go quickly.  Guss’, a fixture on Orchard St. since 1920, is closing shop and moving to Brooklyn by the end of the year.)

On my way home, I stood waiting for the 6 train in a subway station so oppressively steamy, we may as well have broken out into an impromptu hot yoga class.  Just another summer day in NYC.

Yerba Buena
23 Avenue A
New York, NY
212-529-2919