Archive for the ‘Umamiventure’ Category

Umamiventure #8: Puerto Alegre

March 13, 2008

We met up for our special SF Umamiventure on a sunny Saturday at Puerto Alegre (PA) in the Mission. This place has been around since 1970 (!). I was excited for a lunch of CalMex delights, but everyone else was unphased. To them, this was just another lunch, afterall. These people in Cali take their Mexican food seriously, but also for granted. It’s not fair. They’ll never understand what us New Yorkers have to go through for good Mexican (there’s one place on 101st and Amsterdam, but who wants to trek up all the way up to the Upper West Side??? Or the 7 to Jackson Heights? Forget it).

Started with a pitcher of their margaritas that Yelpers won’t shut up about (PA currently has 3.5 stars out of 329 reviews. Jesus). Petey and Stu had already had a pitcher by the time we got there, and were practically wasted. Point being that they were really good margs. Love me a perfectly salt-rimmed glass.

The Meal: on weekends, PA has a brunch menu, but thank god they also serve the regular menu. Ya’ll know how I feel about brunch- NOT a fan.

I think Alice got the combo plate- beef enchilada and chicken tamale, doused in red sauce. Yum

My enchiladas: this was definitely one highlight of my Cali trip. That mole was off the hook.

Andy and Jenny copied each other and both got the chilaquiles (my new favorite word. Say it: chi-lah-kee-less). I actually never had heard of this before, being the ignorant eater that I am (a deep fried burrito is a chimichanga??). So this dish is deep fried corn tortillas cooked in red salsa or mole. It comes with this cream stuff too that is pretty crucial- it’s simple and genius. Andy says that his friend makes this dish better though. Incidentally, I’m reading on Wiki that this is a common cure in Mexico for a hangover.

Stu got the Super Meat Burrito- no frills, they keep it real.

Petey: Huevos divorciados- an egg with red salsa and another with green salsa. Pete was not impressed- he’s from Santa Barbara so his standards are high. BUT, he did say that the salsa was “awesome”. I do believe that the quality of salsa says a lot about a Mexican joint, and coming from Pete, that’s high praise.

James: steak and eggs. He wasn’t into it- but let this be a lesson: BRUNCH MENUS BLOW.

I was super into the kitchy 70s decor. I’m sure little has changed since they opened in 1970.
Isn’t this picture dope? It’s mounted high up on wall behind the bar, and I can only assume that it’s the people who opened Puerto Alegre in 1970. Were you even born yet?

In the end, this place was totally average for these Bay Area folks. To me, my enchiladas were the best thing ever. Has living in NY for 6 years lowered my eating standards?? Something to think about.

When you ask any Californian where they go for their burritos, they will start a drawn-out soliloquy about their spot- everyone’s is different. Expect a heated debate. Love it.

546 Valencia St (between 16th & 17th St)
San Francisco, CA
T: 415.255.8201

Past Umamiventures include:
Pacificana – 02/08
Jackson Diner – 01/08
Sripraphai Restaurant – 11/07
Taste of Jackson Heights – 10/07
Red Hook Ball Fields – 06/07
Ocean Jewel Restaurant – 06/07

Umamiventure #7 : Pacificana, Sunset Park

February 22, 2008

This past Sunday we intrepid Umami Marters made the trek to Sunset Park for an Umamiventure visit to famed Chinese joint Pacificana. Although Pacificana is best known for dim sum, we threw caution to the winds and reserved a table for dinner.

Waving aside the free (maybe? we weren’t sure…) soda awaiting us at our table, we ordered a bottle of wine and some frosty Tsing Taos and got down to the business of serious face-stuffing. $30 and about 10,000 calories later, we were a happy group.

Our first main dish and the undisputed hit of the evening was Peking duck (above), chopped up and served right at the table. While the pancakes served with the duck were thicker and fluffier than most of us were expecting, the overall package was fatty-salty-deeeelicious and well worth the longish trip on the N train.

Pacificana is (as its name implies) all about the food of the sea, and we put its substantial fish skills to the test. Two kinds of crab (“Hong Kong Style” and “Ginger and Scallion”) were both tasty and fun, requiring a sizable amount of upper body strength to get at the sweet sweet (and occasionally spicy) meat within. We also devoured a whole striped bass (the time lapse between the before and after photos below is about 5 minutes) and a number of shrimp dishes. Crispy baby bok choys and some “pea leaves” (which I’d never had before) were good, too, and made me feel a little bit less like I’d just consumed my weight in fried shellfish.

Was Pacificana good? Yes indeed. Was it as good as Chinatown stalwart Congee Village, where dinner never seems to cost more than $11, no matter how much you eat? That’s a toss-up. The specter of Congee Village was certainly raised during dinner (as is pretty much inevitable whenever you’re discussing New York Chinese Food That Is Totally Awesome), but we never did reach a verdict on whether Pacificana’s substantial charms were really worth the higher pricetag. Either way, the trip was worth it—as head Umami Marter Kayoko’s fortune cookie wisely noted “a gathering of friends brings you lots of luck this evening.”

Pacificana Restaurant
813 55th St @ 8th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11220
(718) 871-2880

Past trips include:
Jackson Diner – 01/08
Sripraphai Restaurant – 11/07
Taste of Jackson Heights – 10/07
Red Hook Ball Fields – 06/07
Ocean Jewel Restaurant – 06/07

Umamiventure #6: Jackson Diner

January 28, 2008

Trekked out to Jackson Heights on Saturday for our monthly Umamiventure- a food field trip that we take to cult-following foodie places all around the 5 boroughs (that the DOH wouldn’t necessarily recommend). After all the hoo-hawing about the Indian food at Jackson Diner, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to check out what all the hype is about.

Honestly, I was sorta skeptical about this choice, and even thought about changing it last minute– I heard so many mixed reactions from people! But since it’s such a famous destination spot, we figured we should all try it at least once. As my friend Radhika says, “Makes me giggle that the Indian restaurant with the most street cred in all the burrows is called ‘Jackson Diner’.” SO TRUE!!!

All in all, we had a great time. There were 14 of us, and even though I had only made a reservation for 8, they were really friendly and accommodated us in a smaller dining room upstairs (which was much better cause the downstairs area is really loud because of the high ceilings).

The lunch buffet is only $10, all you can eat, and they had all sorts of dishes: chicken tandoori/ makhani/ with chili sauce; goat curry; grilled veggies; pekoras; saag paneer; and even a man making dosas. Favorites around the table included the veggies, chicken makhani, chicken in chili sauce, pekoras, the saag, and the coconut rice dessert.

To be fair though, I would say the food was so-so– I’m a Indian food novice to say the least, but there wasn’t anything super spectacular about it, I didn’t think (Radhika agreed- she being my Indian food expert). People say that Jackson Diner isn’t what it used to be from 10 years ago, which may be true, I couldn’t say. This is why I normally don’t blog a place I haven’t been to at least twice though- it’s just not fair to rate the food on your first occasion. Radhika says that Saravanaas in the city is much better, so we need to try that pronto.

But for $18 after tax and tip for all that food and a Kingfisher beer, it was a fun day trip to Queens. After the meal, Mariana led us into the depths of Jackson Heights to an Argentinian bakery– they sold all sorts of Argentinian goods, and even bags of mate! Walking around the neighborhood (Betty Suarez born and raised), you really do feel like you’re in another place– makes you remember how great New York can be.

All photos by Christy Jones and Matt Myers.

Jackson Diner
37-47 74th Street

Jackson Heights, Queens

T: 718.672.1232

*PS- Umamiventures are open to everyone! I do post information about it under “UM News” or on our FACEBOOK page whenever they are coming up so don’t be shy and join us!

Past trips include:
Sripraphai Restaurant – 11/07
Taste of Jackson Heights – 10/07
Red Hook Ball Fields – 06/07
Ocean Jewel Restaurant – 06/07


January 21, 2008

Last month there was a gathering of sustainable purveyors in the space that use to occupy the historic Fulton Fish Market in NYC, near South Street Seaport- a place that, until recently, has held outdoor makets for New Yorkers since the 1600’s. An organization called New Amsterdam Public invited a group of local farmers, wild food foragers, producers, and cooks to create a happening called “Wintermarket”. It is hoped to be the 1st of many future outdoor markets held in this famous locale to help promote and support the “locavore” movement in the city. After a $5 donation, we were able to join the locals for tastings of fresh ricotta, organic honey, cranberry cider sorbet, liver pate, pine island oysters, ice wine from the upstate Slyboro Ciderhouse and Lady Apples from New Hampshire…to name a few.

Sheep Cheese from 3-Corner Field Farm

Hot Cider

Local Liver Pate

Scallops and other seafood from Wild Edibles

Local Nuts

Hot Cheese and Pickle Sandwich

Umamiventure Report: Sripraphai Thai Restaurant

November 12, 2007

UmamiVenture Archives:
Taste of Jackson Heights – 10/07
Red Hook Ball Fields – 06/07
Ocean Jewel Restaurant – 06/07

Taste of Jackson Heights

October 1, 2007

Taste of Jackson Heights was last weekend and some of us went on a little Umamiventure to Queens on Saturday afternoon. After attending “Taste of Times Square” and “Taste of the Village” in recent years, I have to say I like how they do it in the Heights! Very low key. Only about 8 restaurants had tables in the garden at a church, and tastings were only a dollar or 2. There was food from Argentina, Burma and India, to name a few. Here are a few pictures from our afternoon…

Mango Lassi

Burmese Banana Cake


This Halal cart won the “Vendy Awards” this year

Steamed Colocasia Leaves
served with Dhokla (Indian Savory Yellow Cake)
and Samosas

To see the rest of our pictures, please click here.
photos by erin gleeson

Umamiventure: Red Hook Ball Fields or Campo del Futbol de Gancho Rojo

June 27, 2007

(from left to right: that’s me with aldonymous and friend jenna)

The kids of Umami Mart can only be described as a fierce dynamic, set into motion by the powerful force of deliciousness, I met this awesome voltron-like force on a so-called ‘Umamiventure’. There were these Asian girls there, and some dudes too, they cackled like crazy in between mouths full of scrumptious central American culinaria…I knew then– I was among kindred spirits.

Aldonymous was my in, and we shared our Mexican corn and El Salvadorean revueltas…HOLA! Donde esta? Tasty TOWN! And I have to thank the ladies and gents of Umami Mart for leading me there. I beg…induct me into this dreamy coterie!ok so now for the topic at hand…actually no, let met get you into the mood with a little musical interlude

(sung to the tune of strawberry fields)… “let me take you down, ‘cause I’m goin’ to hook soccer field…tasty revealed…and there’s little to complain about… soccerfield grub for-eveeeeeeer…

so if you haven’t heard of it yet (I hadn’t until I arrived)…but the NY Times is well aware of it, despite this, if you go I promise you’ll still feel like you’re a member of a band of lucky insiders.

(The Breakdown)

Food vendors from many Latin countries descend upon a ball field where uniformed Latinos represent their native countries in a summer soccer league and something delicious happens.
I can’t claim to have sampled even a fraction of what this little tent city had to offer…I consider this a festive, yet pithy reconnaissance mission…thus I will return…I found out that this place is apparently the center of the universe…its gravity attracting countless young bodies to its well seasoned bosom, and for good reasons (here are a few)…

Ceviche mixto!

Sadly, I had only two bites…but those tiny bites impossibly included a sliver of red onion, a micro cilantro sprig, citrus bam, a succulent squid tendril, the sound of sirens, the saucy beep beep of mexico city traffic, 5 hail marys, 10 our fathers, liberation theology, can I have a hallejlujah?

Mexican corn!

Ok…so corn seems SO midwestern…and the Italians claim that polenta has been on the old continent since the beginning of time, but we, the educated know that those golden ears are a New World crop. Fittingly, the Mexicans know what’s best for the vegetable. They cut a compromise, figured the French had something to contribute, (given their rich history of condiments), and so slathered the kernels in rich velvety mayo. This class act is followed by some crumbly Cotija, lime and something spicy, in this case chili powder. These ears are in this city by now totally ubiquitous, but no, I’m not sick of it, especially when it’s served up with a side of lovin’ futbol. I friggin’ love it…foods with real history are NEVER formulaic.

Huarache (a deep fried vessel for the venerated chorizo)!

Is it any wonder these people came up with the intricate wonder of the plataresque? In the mighty Chorizo, no ingredient is a stranger, every friend in this casing is so tight you’d think chorizo was actually the sixth basic taste (i.e. sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami, chorizo), and there is a generous heap of it in a large fluffy fresh fried tortilla like thing…let me repeat…chorizo in a fluffy fresh fried tortilla thing…uh, yeah.

Watermelon, Mango, Cucumber!

Don’t you get annoyed when people remind you that cucumbers, like tomatoes are fruits NOT vegetables? Well, Mexico never lost sight of this fact and to prove it they serve it up alongside 2 fruit kingpins…the mango and the watermelon…the kicker is, is that they serve all three with lime, chili powder and salt. This is the pause that refreshes. These lovely fruits are served at the agua fresca stand where there are at least 5 varieties of said beverage in addition to Horchata! The version here is so rice milky and cinnamony it’ll blow your mind! And then it’ll bust your gut!

A special love: The pupusa and its sidekick the Salvadorean corn tamale!

The corn tamale has no filling, it is solid fresh corn goodness that transcends its seeming straightforwardness… the process of transformation begins when this precious morsel is swaddled in corn husks, it is then mated with a cumulus cloud, it rains down from the sky above, where it is baptised with a plump and shiny dollop of cremalicious crema.

In El Salvador November 13th is Día Nacional de la Pupusa “National Pupusa Day”, instead of describing this dish, I’m hoping that it suffices to say that this tender pocket of masa has a friggin’ day dedicated to it! and you shouldn’t die without having one…and there’s no better place than plopped on the verdant soccer lawns of sunny Red Hook.I love this place…from now on whenever I think of Red Hook, I’ll think “yummmmmmmm Red Hook”.


Umamiventure: Ocean Jewel Restaurant

June 8, 2007

A few weeks ago, we ventured on our first official Umami Mart field trip, which I hope we can organize once a month. The idea is to get people in the area, UM contributors and local eaters, to travel far and wide (an outer borough, OH MY!) for infamous eats.

In the five years I have lived in NY, I had never gone to Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, so a dim sum adventure seemed like the perfect choice. After some hard-core research, I finally decided on Ocean Jewel Restaurant, a place highly recommended to me by my co-worker Wayne, who grew up on the streets of Flushing. Nothing more real than word of mouth, wouldn’t you say?

With my fellow UMers, Troy Division and Tmonkey in tow (Hamamama, my Queensgirl, couldn’t make it), we set out for what was to be an awesome experience, from start to finish. Take my word for it when I say that the Flushing Chinatown is FAR superior to its Manhattan cousin: it is more spacious; less inundated with people, hence it is actually bearable; and the dim sum was the best I have had in all of NYC (In Manhattan, I generally go to Sweet ‘n Tart and Ping’s on Mott and Golden Bridge on the Bowery).

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves– let the droolfest begin!

About every 15 minutes, several little vans like this leave from Confucius Plaza in Manhattan Chinatown, whizzes you over the Williamsburg Bridge, speeds its way down the BQE and drops you off in Flushing in about a half hour. The best part? It’s only $2.50!!! There is no excuse NOT to go to Flushing!

Ocean Jewel is located in the heart of “downtown” Flushing. Right around the corner from the 7 train, and the little shuttle stop.

The restaurant is in a typical banquet hall style so it’s pretty huge. But despite it’s size, it was not so rowdy, well lit, the servers were all very friendly, we got our own table (I was fully expecting to share with strangers since there were only 3 of us, but they gave us our own!), and all very clean (I’m not such a stickler about “dirty”, but the cleanliness was a noticeable trait).

Such cute little critters. Now GET IN MY BELLY!

Allow me to start with my MUST HAVE dim sum item of all time, the siu mai. Steamed pork dumplings (sometimes they have shrimp in them or a scallop, but these didn’t) topped with roe. For me, these are the deciding factor of how good a dim sum place is, and on a scale of 1-5 (5 being the best), I give these a 5! Seriously, they were perfectly salted, perfectly steamed, simple and not overloaded with other stuff. They were excellent.

Pan fried turnip cake- I love these. Packed with bits of carrots and chinese sausage, the turnip has a smooth potatoey texture, which mushes in your mouth wonderfully.

The three of us talked about how the best part of dim sum is getting to order random things on a whim- it’s always an adventure! Troy sporadically pointed to these steamed buns, with absolutely no idea of what was inside. We were delighted to find sweet egg custard inside. GENIUS! It was the perfect combination of creamy and fluffy. From now on, I will be ordering them every time. Good call Troy!
I always order shrimp or beef filled rice rolls (you know the one drizzled with special soy sauce that comes on a plate?), but when I cut into these, they were filled with all kinds of other goodness. Bamboo shoots, ground beef, carrots, oozing in some special sauce (I think I remember some vinegar bite). I had never had anything like it, it was truly yummy.
You can always tell how good a dim sum place is by their hot chili sauce (much like how I rate other restaurants by their butter). This stuff was spicy, but the sesame oil undercut the heat, so it wasn’t crazy or anything. EXCELLENT!
Ah, the beloved char siu bao– tangy, sweet bbq pork nestled inside fluffy white doughy goodness. Tmonkey flipped out upon his first bite- he thought it was the best thing ever. Like the siu mai, these are pretty standard, but when it’s special, you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot.
Another Troy selection- and it was another good one (he has just the right dim sum instinct- you just have to aimlessly point and go with it). These were fried shrimp cakes– really satisfied that craving for something deep fried. I get those cravings pretty often.

This is something I’ve only started getting recently, warm tofu seeped in sugar water. Really comforting and simple, a good palette cleanser and dessert (along with the egg tarts, of course!).

Some of my favorites– shrimp and chinese chive filled dumplings in a transparent see-through skin. They usually come as round balls, but these were gyoza style. Mmmm…
Shrimp cake filled eggplant, in black bean sauce. I LOVE eggplant- pair it with shrimp, and you can’t go wrong.
Another dish I had never had before- these were basically the siu mai without the skin. They never did come around with my other favorite, steamed pork ribs, so these satisfied that void. Fantastic creation!

Har gow are little shrimp filled jewel pieces. Ain’t she a beaut? And these had something magical inside along with the shrimp (they are usually just shrimp)– celery! GENIUS! Now, I really am not a fan of celery (it’s one of two things that I never eat voluntarily), but they added just the perfect crunch with the shrimp. Oh so delightful.

So there it is, our meal in pictures– Ocean Jewel was fantastic, Wayne was spot on. Dim sum is perfect for big groups (you would have a tough time getting the bill to go over $15 per person), and for when you have a hangover. I’m serious, there is nothing like a Tsing Tao and a char siu bao to make the night before go away. The next time you NYers are planning on dim sum, I HIGHLY recommend skipping out on Manhattan, and taking the 7 or the convenient shuttle to Flushing. It’s so easy and a great excuse to explore!

Side note: My parents and I went to this great place for dim sum in Cupertino, CA, last weekend (I was hungover! I could eat dim sum every weekend, no joke), called Dynasty. Inside Vallco Fashion Mall! The only reason I went there is because my absolute favorite dim sum joint in the area, Canton Delights, has closed for good!!! I was horribly upset. RIP, Canton Delights. Anyway, I recommend Dynasty to all you Bay Area folks.


Ocean Jewel Seafood Restaurant
13330 39th Ave
Flushing, NY 11354
(718) 359-8600

7 train to Main Street (end of the line)

If you would like to join us on future Umamiventures, please contact us!