Tag Archives: queens

Knafeh: A sweet treat for the whole family

A half-eaten tray of knafeh

Last week, I wrote about my favorite Middle Eastern meal. I’d like to tell you about my favorite dessert, the dessert that I look forward to having every time I go home: knafeh, also known as künefe in Turkey, and kadaifi in Greece. This popular Middle Eastern dessert originates in the Palestinian city of Nablus, which is a historically busy commercial center located in a valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. This city is well renowned for its white, brined cheese made from sheep’s milk, known all over the Middle East as “Nabulsi cheese.”

The soft, mild Nabulsi cheese is the main component of the knafeh, which is made by sandwiching a tray-full of cheese between two layers of noodle-shaped semolina dough. Once baked, the knafeh is soaked in a sweet sugar and orange-flour syrup, and topped with some crushed pistachios. Made in big, circular trays, this dessert is served at very, and I mean very, large family gatherings, where everyone gets to cut off a slice from the tray at the center of the table. Enjoying the knafeh in a communal setting is a tradition all over the Middle East. There aren’t many desserts that bring families together like the knafeh does, and it is because of this, and its delicious, gooey sweetness, that knafeh is by far my favorite Middle Eastern dessert.

Craving it once in a while, I find myself heading to Falafel on Broadway for a bite of their knafeh. But, if you want a place that serves an authentic slice of this dessert, take the M60 towards LaGuardia Airport, and stop at Steinway street, otherwise known as Little Egypt, in Astoria, Queens, where you’ll find many Middle Eastern bakeries serving it warm and freshly made. It is also worth making this thirty-minute trip for the great Middle Eastern restaurants and shisha lounges concentrated in the neighborhood.



Spicy and Tasty

Happy Chinese New Year!  This editor is heading downtown to Chinatown to see the parade (Year of the Snake) and invites you to check out Melina’s appropriately themed Hidden Gems article of the week.

With a name like that, who wouldn’t want to give it a try?

That was a rhetorical question, by the way. Maybe (hopefully) Spicy and Tasty sounds better in its original Chinese dialect. Despite its awful name, the restaurant serves food that lives up to the claim.

Spicy and Tasty is located in the heart of my favorite Chinatown.  Flushing, Queens is not really called Chinatown, but I would argue that it is more Chinese than the one in Manhattan. Wikipedia seems to agree.

As you walk down the street, you will notice that there is one Chinese restaurant after the other. I lost count.

So if Spicy and Tasty is a restaurant among a handful of similar restaurants, why should you not keep walking to the next place?

Spicy and Tasty offers some American Chinese-food favorites, but has incorporated more traditional dishes onto its menu. I am willing to bet that you would never find Beef Tripe and Pork Liver on the menu at your local take-out joint.

The menu is a little difficult to navigate, which makes it a learning experience too. The dessert is mixed in with the savory dishes on the menu, so you just might glance over it. I suggest you pay attention and save room for something sweet for the end.

My friend and I decided to split an order of beef with scallions. We were worried that it wouldn’t be large enough, but there was no need for that. It had an overly generous amount of beef. The soy-based sauce was rich but not too salty. Even after finishing the plate, I did not feel the need to gulp down water.

The sesame rice balls with rice wine sauce dessert is located in the Szechuan Delicacies section, alongside wonton in chicken soup. See what I mean about the hard-to-navigate menu? All that aside, don’t leave this place until you try this soupy dessert. It is the most interesting and unexpected item I’ve ever ordered. The rice balls are quite gelatin-y. The liquid in which they swim looks like it has cabbage bits. Those shreds are actually egg.

Take the 7 all the way to Main Street. The walk to 39-07 Prince Street shouldn’t take much longer than a few minutes.

Note: Not everything on the menu is spicy. But everything is tasty.

Cash only.

Rincon Criollo

When you want to experience a little taste of Cuba without having to apply for a travel license, try out this edition of Hidden Gems…

If Rincon Criollo was in La Habana, it would be the neighborhood restaurant that families would frequent, old men would play cards in, and tourists would come to in minute numbers (only those who actively avoid tourist traps and befriend kind locals who are willing to offer the inside scoop). It radiates an aura of traditional and down-to-earth hospitality.

Cuba has a history infused with European and African elements. Rincon Criollo means Creole corner. Creole implies syncretic culture and ancestry. This can best be heard in the musical styles of Afro-Cuban son and salsa—with their unique blend of congas, percussion, brass and piano.

Creole can best be tasted in a restaurant like this one.

The ham croquettes, a typical Spanish tapa item, are a wise choice of appetizer. Every entrée comes with a side of rice and beans (or your choice of substitutes from the sides section of the menu). You will walk out of this restaurant full, even if you did not intend for that to be the case.

The yucca (cassava) comes crispy and fried or baked and drenched in a garlic sauce. It is one of their specialties, so you should try it in at least one form. The plantains are very well-prepared. The menu offers both a sweet (Madura) and savory (Verde) option.

The pan de pudin, a Cuban bread pudding, has an unexpectedly solid consistency. If you are not usually a fan of bread pudding because of its soggy characteristics, this is for you. If you like bread pudding to begin with, this will be a nice change. Flan is usually too syrupy for me, but this version is not. In case it was not clear enough, you would be doing yourself a large disservice by skipping dessert.

PS- If you want to give a friend a birthday celebration that is the perfect combination of hilarious, unforgettable and uncomfortable, make sure you let someone at the restaurant know. It becomes dark, there are flashing multicolored lights and a server wearing a ridiculous hat begins to sing, as the rest of the wait staff chimes in.

PPS- Rincon only accepts American Express & cash

Take the 7 to Junction Boulevard. It is in an area called Elmhurst, Queens’ unofficial Latino-town.

Artopolis (the one in Queens)

Melina unleashes the treasure trove of the mother ship Artopolis bakery in Queens, located conveniently near several other shops you’ll also want to take a peek into.

We all love the friendly neighborhood café on Amsterdam between 113th and 114th street that offers a summery European “order a frappe and sit for hours” kind of vibe year-round. Artopolis Espresso blends Greek specialties such as spinach and cheese pies with American staples and a classic French and not-so-classic selection of crepes.

As if that was not good enough, I come blogging good news. The Manhattan location is not the only Artopolis. The main Artopolis is actually a bakery located in Astoria, Queens.

It is in a shopping complex, adjacent to a main road. The shopping complex features a Greek specialty market, a butcher, an herbal shop, an orthopedic office and a large parking lot. All that to say that one would probably not walk alongside these shops, browsing as though it were 5th avenue and stumbling upon Artopolis. It also doesn’t help that it lays tucked away in the corner.

While the Astoria bakery does not have much seating like the Morningside Heights location does, and while it does not serve crepes, it is renowned for its traditional selection of Greek sweets. Artopolis transports its customers to a small Greek village; one where a little old grandmother makes fresh batches of cookies and pastries, constantly making sure that no shelves become dessert-less. The entire establishment is off-white and beige, with a gazebo-like structure in the middle where you will find the cashiers and registers. The cookie section is covered in mesh material, which serves as a protective veil that still allows customers to feast with their eyes. Continue reading Artopolis (the one in Queens)

Introducing Hidden Gems

Quite honestly, this blogger does quite a fine job introducing herself, so without further ado, here’s Melina with Hidden Gems.

Dim Sum pic from Flickr Commons
Barnard College mandates that all first-year students pay for infinite access to the dining hall. Essentially, I am forced to pay the steepest possible price, regardless of how much college food I actually consume. It’s not easy being on an unlimited meal plan. Sure, I can swipe into the dining hall for just an apple without feeling guilty, but I often do feel guilty when I exit the gates on 117th and Broadway with the intention of having a quality meal.

I come blogging good news. I have discovered a solution. Whether you are a college student who detests your current school food almost as much as you hated lunch in your old high school, someone who wants to impress friends with your knowledge of all things cool in NYC, an aspiring city-dweller, or just a perpetually hungry human being, I’m your girl. The stresses of everyday life can get overwhelming, so if you experience a strong impulse to do something spontaneous that does not impoverish the contents of your wallet, here me out. I have taken it upon myself to seek out the hidden gems in NYC. It is a big task with potential risks. I might offend a few hipsters along the way, as I reveal some of their under-the-radar whereabouts, but my job is to give you all the inside scoop on the best places to wine and dine, and I hereby swear that I will not let you down.

Jade Asian
Where it is NOT located: Queens @13628 39th Ave Flushing, NY 11354
(718) 762-8821
I could have some title-humor fun with this obvious Gem of a restaurant (which I already did…oops) but I want to get right to it and uncover this treasure for all you lovely readers.
This establishment is a monstrosity, so I guess I am already getting a little liberal with my “hidden” criterion. But ask any non-Chinese person who does not hail from Flushing, Queens where to have the best and cheapest dim-sum experience, and they will look at you with a blank face.
Jade Asian is filled with Asian people. I have been either among the only or the only Caucasian each of the four times I have dined there. You might be wondering how I do not find this intimidating. First off, it is a great sign when a place is filled with ethnic people of that ethnic cuisine. It screams out, “the food is legit and tasty.” Second of all, I get a kick out of it when elderly couples turn their heads at me in confusion. There isn’t anything confusing about a Greek girl craving a quality Chinese meal! Continue reading Introducing Hidden Gems