Many of my best dining experiences never make it to the page: If an eating establishment doesn’t merit a first look, dish of the week, is it still good?, 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 seventeenth installment along with the previous edition.
Earlier in the year, I reported on a line of vending windows along Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing that sold snacks that included pot stickers, sausages on sticks, scallion pancakes, chicken and leek buns, and duck parts. The most prominent of the windows was named JoJo Duck and had a logo that featured a cartoon quacker brandishing a red chile pepper — though none of the snacks I tried were particularly spicy.
Earlier this year, a JoJo Duck window appeared on the western edge of Manhattan’s Chinatown, selling pretty much the same range of snacks. Prominently displayed were Chinese hamburgers featuring lamb or beef called rou jia mo, with highly seasoned ground meat shoved into a pudgy pita, for $6 each: I picked the lamb version. It was studded with carrot cubes, and, lest you think this ingredient functioned mainly to attenuate the meat, it added a welcome sweetness and texture.
As I gobbled it down, I examined the other viands on display. There was a glass case under the cash register that offered shredded pork ears; chicken feet, livers, and hearts; and duck wings and necks. JoJo Duck, indeed! 131 Walker Street, near Baxter Street, Chinatown
An Antiguan local platter
NYC has a wealth of Caribbean restaurants serving Dominican sancocho, Jamaican jerk, Cuban ropa vieja, Trinidadian doubles, Puerto Rican asopao, and Barbadian flying fish and cou cou, but what about the other 700 or so islands less represented by restaurants in the metropolitan area?
That deficiency was partly remedied in 2020 by the appearance of Freetown Road Project in Jersey City a few blocks from Journal Square. The menu represents the food of Antigua and Barbuda, and the chef is Claude Lewis, who grew up in the Jersey City Heights of Antiguan parents. He also won an episode of Chopped with a recipe for gefilte fish.
The menu at Freetown Road Project includes lots of dishes you might find on any Caribbean menu, including goat and oxtail curries, chicken roti, and jerk chicken wings, but there are also recipes fairly unique to the pair of Anglophone islands in the Lesser Antilles.
The best introduction to the cuisine is the “local sampler” ($18). The selection of dishes varies, but a friend and I sampled fungee (a cornmeal porridge), dumplings, pepperpot (salt beef stew), fried plantains, and troba (an eggplant stew). Individual items may also be ordered separately, and I’d have to say the pepperpot was the best I’ve had, deeply colored, slightly spicy, and fully flavorful. It reminded me of a serving I once had in Negril, Jamaica, ladled from a big cauldron in the village square when Negril was still a fishing village. 640 Newark Avenue, near Summit Avenue, Journal Square
A Japanese burger
The sinister-sounding Dark Bullet sports bar, steps from the express stop at 72nd and Broadway, is the Upper West Side’s foremost dive bar — spacious, raucous, and beery smelling — but it is much more than that. Dark Bullet is also an izakaya, with a full Japanese American fusion menu, but also with row upon row of sake bottles, with a special menu that includes a section that directs neophytes to glasses of carefully selected styles.
I was there for the oysters, but my eye also fell on a hamburger ($11) and my mouth watered. When it arrived, wrapped up in tissue like a present, it was compact and topped with raw onions and a slice of American cheese that was just begging to grow limp and melt. Underneath was a cushion of lettuce, more than expected, and beneath that lots of thick flavored mayo. It was damn good, and it was surprising how well my glass of milky Nigori sake ($18) went with it. 154 West 72nd Street, near Broadway, Upper West Side