There’s no theme this week. Just some interesting links and tidbits:
Flor De Mayo
New York, NY
It’s a well-known fact that Chinese food is available in most countries around the world. However, I have not had many of these international Chinese permutations. Flor de Mayo, an NYC restaurant boasts one of the more interesting amalgamations I have heard of to date, Chinese-Peruvian-Cuban. M and I were intrigued by the Upper West Side restaurant, which at first appears to be a garden-variety Chinese restaurant, with an unassuming exterior and simple decor. However, the posted menu was indeed extraordinarily eclectic and was divided into three neat parts: “Peruvian Specials,” “Spanish Food” and “Hong Kong Specials.”
On the front door of the restaurant there is a sign advertising their rendition of pollo a la brasa as “the best Chicken in NYC.” I (L) ordered a lunch portion, a 1/2 a la brasa chicken ($7.55) with a side of plantains. The plate of food was absolutely enormous – the chicken itself had a spice rub and was fall-off-the-bone juicy and tender. While we cannot verify the “Best in NYC” claim – it was some pretty good chicken. M ordered Ceviche de pescado ($9.25) a Peruvian-style fish salad tossed with onions & fresh lime juice. Though tasty, the dish was a little short on the seafood and heavy on the onions. But he was just happy to get some Peruvian food, one of his favorite cuisines. Our Chicago dining buddy Anne, who is now an NYC resident ordered the Sweet and Sour Chicken lunch special (normally off the Hong Kong Specials section) with a side of plantains, definitely the most cross-cultural of our dishes. Though we were expecting more of a fusion of all three cuisines instead of selection from each, we enjoyed our food at Flor de Mayo. I couldn’t imagine a Chinese/Peruvian/Cuban restaurant anywhere but NYC!
408 Broome St.
New York, NY
Though Chicago boasts a wide variety of specialty grocery stores offering Mexican and Central American foods, there are no continental Spanish groceries. So we were excited to check out Despaña in SoHo, NYC. The store itself is small but uncluttered with a large deli case on one side and shelves of packaged goods on the other. We perused the selection of vinegars and olive oils, and many varieties had little sampling dishes to try all the different varieties. There is also a small selection of sweets to try, like Spanish nougat candy Turrón. We picked up a Crema Catalana boxed mix to take home with us (a steal at $2.50).
At the deli counter, there is an extensive case of Spanish cheeses and meats. While there were of course well-known Spanish cheeses like manchego, we were excited to see some more exotic cheeses like the unusual sheep’s milk Murcia al Vino (also called “Drunken Goat“), which is soaked in red wine. At the back wall of the store there is also a section with pre-made foods to eat at the small table area or take home. Featured sandwiches included: Chorizo with Mahon cheese and hot peppers ($8.50) and Nocilla (Spanish Hazlenut spread) on Cibatta for $5. There were also small tapas-style dishes, called pinxtos ($3-5), for snacking. We opted for the homemade blueberry cheesecake made with Afuega cow’s-milk cheese, which was excellent.
At Despaña, also M got his first taste of Spanish horchata, which is quite different than the rice-based Mexican horchata that is common in the US. Spanish horchata is made from tiger nuts and mixed with cinnamon, so it tastes kind of like a spicy almond milk. A liter bottle of Chufi brand horchata set us back only $5. Another particular we enjoyed about Despaña was their helpful staff, who couldn’t have been nicer. If you are in the area, you should definitely check out Despaña’s Iberic treats. It’s a whirlwind culinary tour of Spain your pocketbooks can handle!
Astoria, NY 11106
Astoria in Queens, NY is known for its Greek restaurants, and M and I were treated to a tour of the main drag by our New York friends Lauren and Ryan. Omonia Cafe is one of many Greek restaurants in Astoria and has been commanding a prominent corner there since 1977. There is no way you can miss this place, especially at night, as it is covered with colorful lights and neon signs. Snagging an outside spot also makes for some good people watching, and on nice nights, the outdoor area is overflowing. The menu is huge and varied, but concentrates on Greek (no surprise there), Italian and classic American favorites. There are also several pages dedicated to desserts, but I’ll get to that later.
For an appetizer we all ordered saganaki, one of M and my favorite Greek indulgences. How can you really go wrong with fried kasseri cheese, now? Omonia delivered on this one, though it does not come to the table with the “opa!” fanfare of the Chicago Greektown restaurants. I (L) ordered homemade spanikopita spinach pie stuffed with feta. The homemade version of the pie was on the menu along side with a cheaper spanikopita that was not billed as homemade. I’m glad I went with the homemade dish – since you could really taste that it was. M ordered the Penne a la Vodka, one of his favorites. Despite coming from a Greek restaurant, their rendition of the Italian dish was solid. Lauren sampled a dish I had never seen before – Strapatsada, which were a kind of Greek scrambled egg dish mixed with feta, tomatoes, olives and oregano, with pita triangles. This new dish was intriguing to me, and if I ever come back to Omonia, it would make an awesome brunch dish.
However, the real showstopper at the Omonia Cafe is the dessert case at the adjoining bakery. My sleuthing even tells me that this bakery created the flamboyant cake for the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. How cool is that? The desserts range from traditional Greek (Baklava and Yianniotiko – phyllo with nuts and shredded wheat) to Italian (Cannolis and Tiramisu) to plain American (Strawberry Shortcake and Jello). We tried a sampling of desserts including galactoboureko, which was a milk and honey custard baked on a phyllo crust. This unpronounceable dessert was very light, and pleasantly sweet. We also sampled a little chocolate and almond tart, which had a filling of chocolate cream and an indescribable liquor (orange? hazelnut? almond? all of the above? we have no idea). With all of the tantalizing desserts on display, hopefully we’ll be back someday to try out some more!