Archive for the tag 'restaurant reviews'

randazzos

THE BITE: Here on Sheepshead Bites, we’ve covered some of the recovery of Randazzo’s Clam Bar (2017 Emmons Avenue) after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the long-standing waterfront spot in October 2012. Despite heavy damage, they managed to reopen within months, which was a great source of comfort for a lot of Sheepshead businesses and locals. They are fully up and running, and serving up the seafood and Italian dishes they’ve been known for over the past several decades.

As we’ve mentioned in a previous article, Randazzo’s wasn’t always the only game in town. Joe’s Clam Bar and Rubino’s Crab House each occupied a plot on Emmons Avenue, and Lundy’s was an imposing presence in it’s heyday. But Randazzo’s is the last man standing when it comes to Italian seafood, with many of its competitors replaced by Greek, Turkish and Eastern European takes on the ocean’s catch.

Randazzo’s began in 1916 as a fish market with a small counter for quick and easy food. In the 1960s, a clam bar was added and Helen Randazzo, daughter of the fisherman founder, began making her famous red sauce in medium or hot. A larger cafeteria opened next, and pastas and more robust Italian dishes were put on the menu. Ultimately, the fish market closed and the cafeteria and clam bar consolidated, evolving into the restaurant we know today. Still a family-owned operation, Helen’s grand- and great-grandchildren now run the place.

Feeling the need to order clams and sauce to properly pay my respects to this long history, I got the red Zuppa di Clams for $18.95.

The soup arrived in an enormous round white plate, steam curling off the bright red sauce that shimmered golden with olive oil. About a dozen clams lay open at odd angles in the dish, and with just a little coercing I pulled the meat out of the shells with my fork. They were soft, slightly chewy, and very fresh, going great with spoonfuls of that oregano-spiked sauce. I asked for the hot, which wasn’t extremely spicy, but did have a little kick. A hunk of hard, white Italian bread was served alongside with butter. But with a plateful of sauce like that, who needs butter?

If you’ve come to Randazzo’s, I’d venture to say you either came for the fresh seafood, or for the famous red sauce. If you can’t decide which you’ve come for, then get both – you have plenty of options that combine the two at “The Pride of Sheepshead Bay.”

Randazzo’s Clam Bar, 2017 Emmons Avenue, (718) 615-0010.

– Sonia Rapaport

The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.

matchaTHE BITE: Kung Fu Tea is a bubble tea chain that has been spreading, with several locations in Queens, a few around Manhattan and Brooklyn, and locations in four other states. Sheepshead Bay’s own Kung Fu Tea is at 1422 Avenue U, just off East 15th Street.

Bubble tea originated in Taichung, Taiwan, in the 1980s. The “bubble” part of the name is an Anglicized form of “boba” which refers to tapioca pearls in the tea, and is Chinese slang for “large breasts.” Finding this out creeped me out a little. Bubble tea comes with a handful of boba at the bottom of the cup, which are not very large, but slimy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside balls of starch. Also, bubble tea has primarily been fashionable with young people, including kids.

In any case, it’s up for debate which tea house in particular came up with it, but bubble tea was first made with hot tea and tapioca pearls, mixed with milk and sweet syrup. The trend spread through East and Southeast Asia during the 1990s, becoming popular in Western culture as well during the past decade. Menus now include options of fruit flavors added as syrups or blended fresh fruits, powdered or fresh milk, powdered or brewed green, black or white tea, or no tea at all, or coffee, a variety of additional toppings such as red or mung beans, jelly cubes in different flavors and shapes, pudding in the bottom of your cup, not to mention different sizes and flavors of tapioca pearls. Your options will depend on which tea shop you’re at, but basically, the choices have become endless. At Kung Fu Tea you can specify if you want less, little, or no ice, and less, little, or no sugar. Freedom like this can be exhilarating and exhausting.

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Photo by Robert Fernandez

Photo by Robert Fernandez

THE BITE: I’m going to dive into the great pizza debate that rages over Brooklyn.

Here in Southern Brooklyn, we are lucky to have two of the best pizza parlors in the world. Di Fara, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s personal favorite, and Totonno’s, labeled best by one of my favorite food writers, Robert Sietsema. But, there’s one other, a recent arrival to the neighborhood who in its original location vied for the crown, called Grimaldi’s.

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papaya

THE BITE: Thai food is one of my (many) weaknesses. I have a special place in my heart (read: stomach) for its spicy, sweet, pungent, sour, textural goodness. Complex and varied, I never get tired of it. Today on The Bite, we’ll delve into the wonders of green papaya salad, with the help of Thai Basil, at 3682 Nostrand Avenue, between Avenue W  and Avenue  X.

Green papaya salad is a ubiquitous dish in Southeast Asia, known in Thailand as som tam (literally translated as sour pounded). It is made with papayas that are unripe so they are tangy and not yet sweet, and in this dish they are cut into long thin strips so if you didn’t know, you might mistake them for some kind of vegetable stalks. The papaya is then pounded with lime juice, chili, palm sugar and fish sauce using a mortar and pestle. Next the papaya is mixed with the customers’ choice of sliced string beans, tomatoes, shrimp paste, and dried salted tiny shrimps. In Thailand this is done street-side and swiftly put into a clear plastic bag, juices and all, to be consumed without utensils, often together with fried chicken and sticky rice.

The Thai Basil version was Americanized in a few ways: a few leaves of lettuce were added at the bottom to more closely resemble what we think of as salad; they went easy on the fish sauce; and they excluded the shrimp. Instead of slicing the papaya lengthwise with a knife, it was prepared with a grater so the pieces were smaller and soaked up the lime juice dressing really well. These changes did not bother me in the least- the salad was delicious, super fresh and crunchy. The customer here doesn’t get a choice of add-ins, it just comes with sliced  tomato and string beans, but the spiciness level is adjusted to order- I ordered it extra spicy, and that’s just how I got it. Also, it comes in a dish with a fork, so it’s a little easier to eat than out of a drippy plastic bag.

At $6.00 for a nice portion size, my stomach (and heart) were really happy with this savory mound of shredded fruit.

Thai Basil, 3682 Nostrand Avenue, (718) 891-8889.

– Sonia Rapaport

The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.

duck

THE BITE: Comrades! Today we admire Soviet kitsch in a Soviet kitchen: Back to USSR, at 2817 Coney Island Avenue off of Avenue Z.

Here you’ll find an oversized bronze monument of Lenin in the main dining room, and walls emblazoned with waving hammer-and-sickle flags in the side room. There’s 70s-style rotary phones hanging off the walls, and all kinds of memorabilia of the Soviet era.

The menu features 10 flavors of homemade infused vodkas and an extensive list of cleverly named Russian dishes printed in both English and Russian. I know, I’m supposed to be focusing on the food, but you can’t talk about this place and not mention the ambiance.

And, actually, after chuckling a little every time I passed, I was so very curious if it was a mistake that the definite article “the” was left out of the restaurant name. Is there a sense of humor about the good old USSR here?

Curiosity got the best of me. I gathered some friends and made the trip.

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tart

THE BITE: Way back in 2009 when Ka Ka Bakery opened at 1505 Avenue U, we all had a good laugh. Ned made some puns, got a pork bun, and invited us to share in the joy of this oddly named bakery. Maybe it means something in Cantonese or Mandarin? I don’t know. Anyway, good times.

Well, a few years later, it still stands, amid heavy competition. I think there are about four Chinese bakeries within two blocks of each other on that stretch of Avenue U by the Q train station, but the pink Ka Ka Bakery sign still got a smile out of me and I went in for a quick bite.

For 90 cents I decided to go with an egg custard tart, or dan tat, which I’ve seen (and eaten) at many Chinese bakeries.

There are two origin stories for this pastry:

  1. They were first baked by nuns in a monastery outside Lisbon over 200 years ago. These pasteis de nata became popular in Portuguese baking, and made it to the Portuguese colony of Macau, right next to Hong Kong, where they also took off and slowly seeped into the culinary awareness of Taiwan, mainland China, and eventually the rest of Asia.
  2. They were brought to Hong Kong and Canton (now Guangdong) by English colonists in the 1940′s and have evolved from English custard tarts with more egg and less milk. They were first popularized in China at cha chaan tengs, which were tea houses that served tea and Western-style foods and cakes to working-class Chinese at affordable prices. That was something unprecedented as Western food had previously been considered only for Chinese elite.

Whatever the true origin, I like that these are a little less heavy and less sweet than what you typically get from Western desserts. Each bakery seems to have their own specific take on these, and while you can find them in chocolate, green tea, or honey-ginger flavors at some places, plain sweet egg is the standard, and you will see some variation in texture from one baker to the next. The crust can be either buttery shortcrust or puff pastry, and the filling varies in ratios of egg yolk, egg white, milk, sugar, and gelatin.

Ka Ka Bakery’s egg custard tart has a shortcrust shell that is neither too thin nor too thick and in good proportion to the filling. The inside doesn’t come in any fancy flavors here, but it’s fluffy and not too yellow, which makes me suspect a higher ratio of egg whites. It’s got just a hint of jelly-like texture, holding everything together well enough and there’s a bit of sweet mystery liquid on top of the custard, which you can see glistening in the photo. Personally, I prefer these to be a bit less creamy and a bit more gelatinous (I’ve grown to like that wiggly texture) so I may be trying around the competitors just to see, but if you’re preference is for milky and not wobbly, these are for you.

Ka Ka Bakery, 1505 Avenue U, (718) 998-2229.

– Sonia Rapaport

The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.

seaweed

THE BITE: Today on The Bite, it’s seaweed time!

Seaweed comes in many varieties as it is an umbrella term for all species of ocean plants, and it can be prepared many ways. The one pictured here is Korean kim (or sometimes spelled gim, pronounced with a hard “g”), which is actually a type of red algae. It is harvested in cold waters usually during the winter, and is boiled and dried in big lumpy masses.

This is the same stuff that gets fried up to make Welsh laverbread, or left in big plain sheets as nori to roll Japanese sushi. The type we have here is a Korean side dish where paper-thin sheets are toasted with sesame oil, cut into little rectangles and seasoned with salt. Not only is kim a popular dish in Korea, it is also the last name of about 21 percent of the population there.

Some people, including myself at times, can be averse to seaweed because of its slimy coldness, but this is a whole different textural experience. Gim is super crispy at first bite, sometimes leaving little green flakes behind. If you eat it too slowly, the heat inside your mouth makes it seem to melt on your tongue, which can be counted as a point for or against it, depending on what you’re into.

In the same way that American bars sometimes serve free pretzels or peanuts to keep patrons thirsty, bars in Korea and Japan sometimes serve this kind of seaweed as a salty bar snack. Surprisingly delicious as it is with beer (or soda for the kids), I don’t really see this taking off as a trend at Southern Brooklyn watering holes any time soon, so if you’re interested in trying it, better to buy it at Sea Bay Seafood & Meat Market Inc. (1241 Avenue U, at East 13th Street) where this A+ brand kim comes in a 3-pack for $1.39. Crispy, sesame-flavored, and salty, this is filled with all the goodness I would expect from kim.

If the super saltiness of it gives you pause, know that it also contains a wealth of nutrients, including iodine, iron, amino acids, B vitamins, and protein, so acquiring a taste for it has some perks.

Cheers!

Sea Bay Seafood & Meat Market Inc., 1241 Avenue U at East 13th Street, (718) 382-8889.

– Sonia Rapaport

The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.

mexi-steak

THE BITE: I order my Mexican fare solely from El Mexicano Restaurante, which I consider the best place in the neighborhood to get my taco and burrito fill. The delivery men are friendly, the food reasonably priced. So much so that fellow Bite writer Lenny Markh has already tackled the restaurant’s tacos for this column. But I still wanted to find an unexplored gem on their menu, so I took a tough look at it for this week’s piece and decided to give the Mexican Philly cheesesteak a shot.

Like so many Chinese restaurants in America, I noticed that El Mexicano’s menu also tries to appeal to the American palate by including items such as French fries and chicken wings. Looking at the photos of these American-style foods, they seemed uninspired – until my eyes fell up on the Mexican Philly cheesesteak. This is not something I would normally do. I trust them fully with guacamole, rice and beans, and any incarnation of tortilla or marinated pork, but sesame-seed sprinkled hoagies? It seemed suspect.

But this sandwich was amazing for take-out joint fare. The bread was toasted golden and slightly crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, holding in place marinated beef, salty queso blanco- a mild Mexican cheese similar to mozzarella – and a spicy mix of onions and peppers. Bonus tip: I also got a side of guacamole to go with this. This may have been an extravagant move, but I assure you they go well together.

In short, every bite of this enormous sandwich was delicious. I don’t know what possessed me to take this risk, but I’m really glad I did. I think I just learned an important lesson about… not judging a book by it’s cover?… or something…

El Mexicano Resaurante, 2102 East 15th Street, between Avenue U and Avenue V, (718) 676-2700 or (718) 676-2703.

– Sonia Rapaport

The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.

samsa

THE BITE: The heat wave broke and temperatures dipped to a chilly low 80s earlier this week, so yesterday I figured, “Hey, fall is here, let’s get a taste of it.” Judging by today’s weather, I was clearly a day off.

What flavor is more autumnal than some spiced pumpkin? Not much. So it was with delight that I sat down at the newly renovated and expanded Nargis Cafe (2818 Coney Island Avenue) and saw a new offering on their specials menu: pumpkin manti. For $7.00 you get four manti stuffed with pumpkin filling, either fried or steamed, and with a side of sour cream.

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THE BITE: What’s more Brooklyn than cheesecake? How about a New York-style cheesecake baked by immigrants, topped with Oreos? Did you know that the Oreo was invented by NABISCO in New York City in 1912 and originally came in two flavors? One version came with the cream you know and love, the other with lemon meringue. Did you know that Oreos are kosher? I wonder if they still are when placed on a cheesecake.

Brooklyn Bloom (1607 Avenue U, between East 16th Street and East 17th Street) offers up an interesting take on the traditional New York style cheesecake for $3.50 a slice. Baked to about three inches high, this golden crust cake is built on a nest of ground graham crackers and topped with whole Oreos. Why do I say interesting take? Well, this cheesecake is lighter than most. While still creamy, this cake somehow manages to avoid the heaviness of the cheesecakes we’re more familiar with – Junior’s, I’m looking at you.

But, something was sacrificed with the weight. While this was a good cheesecake, it just seemed to miss the mark. There was no trace of vanilla, or any other flavoring agents besides the cream cheese and sugar. While the blandness of the cake allowed the flavors of the graham crackers and Oreo to dominate, I would have preferred the cake itself to be much more assertive. Usually there’s a slight tang that comes from the cream cheese; it didn’t make itself known here. Pity.

The graham cracker crust is thick, almost the same thickness as the Oreos that top the cake. The Oreos themselves suffer from the placement on the cake, with the bottom layer of the cookies becoming very soggy as they melt into the cake batter. The sweetness of the Oreo filling is lost in the sweetness of the cheese cake, and the sudden texture switch is a bit off-putting; give me a plain cheesecake any day.

While this cake has some problems, it still is a good cake. It’s not outstanding, but it is enjoyable if you keep it on the surface. It’s much like the champion feather weight fighter taking on the heavy weight champion of the world. He’s a good fighter in his realm, but no match for the master – Junior’s, I’m still looking at you.

Brooklyn Bloom, 1607 Avenue U, between East 16th Street and East 17th Street, (718) 339-1333.

The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.,

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