Some of my best experiences eating food never make it to the page: If a dining establishment doesn’t merit a first look, dish of the week, point on a map, or paragraph in a feature story, it often disappears. Those fleeting encounters with restaurants are often the most enjoyable. Accordingly, I resolved to keep an informal diary reflecting my unvarnished daily experiences. Here’s the fourth installment and here’s the debut.
Of all the great restaurants in Chinatown, Taiwan Pork Chop House is certainly among the five best. The trouble is, many customers don’t bother trying anything but the eponymous pork chop over rice ($7.75), a pair of thin specimens deliciously fried and served over rice with a wad of pickled vegetables, usually mustard greens or Napa cabbage, and a positively medieval ground-meat sauce. Sometimes customers order the second thing on the menu, a chicken drumstick in the same configuration.
But Taiwan Pork Chop is a full-blown Taiwanese restaurant, and lurking on the long menu are a vast assortment of dishes rarely ordered compared to the headliners. I went with some musician friends from Germany with the intent of exploring some of the old-timey dishes that characterize Taiwanese food, neglecting the more-contemporary popcorn chicken, spicy beef noodle soup, and bubble tea.
“Pork thick soup” ($5.50) features chunks of ground meat mashed with starch so they form irregular dumplings dropped into a thin soup, a great cool-morning pick-me-up. Shredded pork with pickled cabbage over rice ($8) showcases traditional Taiwanese flavors, meaty and tart. Wonton soup ($5.50) is a huge bowl much like the Cantonese version, only dolled up with strips of the dried seaweed.
Pay special attention to the section of the menu called “latest dishes,” where you’ll find Taiwanese marinated duck ($6.45), a close cousin of Teochew duck with its rich flesh and floppy skin; and savory pan-fried oyster cake ($9), the classic oyster omelet of coastal southern China amped with sweet potato starch so it turns in a kind of rich, vegetable-laced flan. It’s also related to California Hangtown fry, one of the earliest Chinese American dishes — but that’s a story for another day. 3 Doyers Street, near Bowery, Chinatown
Soft serve days are here again
When the mercury finally hits 70 degrees on a sunny spring day, I begin looking around for Mister Softee. Well, he’s largely gone, but other trucks, some with similar names, continue to circulate in the five boroughs, cruising by children’s playgrounds and other places customers might congregate. This last Saturday was that day, and I had more trouble finding a truck than usual, my ears straining for “Pop Goes the Weasel.” I finally found one in the shadow of the High Line at 10th Avenue and West 15th Street.
I tried to keep it simple by ordering a wafer cone with vanilla soft serve and a chocolate dip ($5). It was heavenly, and it was one of those situations where, once I approached the window to place my order, and the soft-serve gentleman (the dairy king?) leaned over to take it, a giant line of customers began to form behind me, as if they, too, had been waiting for a sign that the season for grabbing a soft serve had arrived.
Another great meal under $10
I’m often asked this question, and one answer might be, “a pair of dollar slices from anywhere in town,” which these days would probably set you back $3. I have a much better solution, though. Located just above the Jackson Heights subway stop on the E, F, M, and R trains (and below it on the 7), the extremely well-lit Merit Kabab Palace replaced Merit Farms — a convenience store that also sold fried foods — over 20 years ago. You can tell because the place still sells some of the same fried foods like shrimp, chicken wings, and french fries among the Bangladeshi ones that beckon from the front window.
There is a steam table operation with a half-dozen forms of biryani deeper in the store, and beyond that an unrelated Nepalese counter, both exceedingly good. But to confine myself to my original attention, I advise you to stick with the snacks in the front window, which include bright red tandoori chicken legs, breaded-and-fried green chiles that will sear the inside of your mouth, split-pea-stuffed flatbreads something like a Trinidadian dal poori, and best of all, giant samosas the size of a prizefighter’s fist.
These bulge with a masala potato mixture with plenty of cumin, and are shot with slivered carrots and a green pea or two. At $1.50 apiece, including a very green chutney, they are a spectacular deal, and one that I avail myself of every time I decamp the subway. 37-67 74th Street, at Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights