The Incredible Adventures of Gourmet Gal

Thursday, September 28, 2006



75-02 Roosevelt Ave @ 75th Street
Jackson Heights, NY 11372

We've peeked inside this charming Mexican restaurant many times on our way to the Jackson Diner. This Monday night, I finally said to J that it was time for us to try it. Stepping inside, we were greeted by the terracotta tiled floor and cheerful Mexican pop songs. The waitress let us pick our seats and we settled into a fabric-upholstered booth where two diligent young cooks were in full view from the open kitchen. Everything had the warm impression of a family dinning room. It felt as if we happened to drop by a friend's house and her mom just pulled out two empty plates for us to join in their dinner in progress.

The appetizer section featured simple dishes like guacamole and tamales. The main platters consisted of varied affairs of grilled meat and fish. There were also hand-written notes of today's specials in Spanish without any English translations. "Do you know what they are?" I asked J hopefully. On more than one occasion, he had claimed that he spoke some Spanish. J squinted to read the menu then nodded quickly. "Some sort of soup."
"What kind of soup?"
He shrugged, "Dunno."

Gees, that was informative.

I inquired our waitress on the specials and she smiled.
"Order?" Her pen and notebook were ready in her hands.
"Can you tell me what the specials are?" She smiled some more and winked at us.
"Preparado?" She pointed to the menu enthusiastically.

Great. She doesn't speak English. This is going to be harder than I thought.

I looked to J for help and he swiftly hurled himself to hide behind the menu. I pointed at a random listing, "Cal do de Camaron? What's this?"
"Ah! Soup." She seemed relieved that I picked this particular item.
"What kind of soup?" I was intrigued. She stared at me for another minute before realizing that it was a question.
"Uno minuto!" Our lovely waitress lifted up her index finger and disappeared into the back.I glanced at J. He looked so thoroughly immersed in the menu.
"Didn't you say you spoke Spanish?" I demanded.
"I did! I mean I do speak Spanish! Didn't I tell you that it was soup earlier!" J looked sincerely insulted.

Five minutes later, the waitress returned with a winning smile."Eh, shrimp. Shrimp soup." Oh, I love shrimp soup! That was worth the wait.I gave her the go ahead and we ordered quickly.

TAMALES RANCHEROS (corn chicken tamales) $2.95
CALDO DE CAMARON (shrimp soup) $7.95
POLLO A LA PARRILA (marinated boneless chicken breast served with Mexican rice and
beans) $9.95
COCHINITA PIBIL (marinated roasted pork wrapped in banana leaves) $11.95

She walked away briskly and returned with my melon juice and“Caldo De Camaron". The blonde drink had the faintly sweet taste of a Russian melon, kind of like a watered-down Mountain Dew without the bubbles. Not really my cup of tea. The aroma rising from the piping hot soup was enticing. Inside the big bowl, at least a dozen of plump peeled shrimps curled up their ripe bodies and swam contently in the tomato-colored broth with irregular pieces of coyotes, carrots, celery, and peas. I took a spoonful of the broth.


Another mouthful of everything, my eyes lit up and my body erected. It was intensely savory and packed with Latin passion. The shrimps were so fresh and crunchy that they literally popped in my mouth. Very nice! I could probably do without all the flavorless veggies though. Somehow they tasted bland and really only provided some colors to the visual.

J's "Pollo a la Parrila" came in a big oval plate with two pieces of grilled boneless skinless chicken breasts on top of Mexican rice, and a small salad comprised of shredded iceberg lettuce, slices of tomato and avocados. Hum, not exactly what it promised on the menu (chicken breast served with rice and beans). The rice was flavorful but the chicken breasts turned out to be just a notch better than the chicken platter you would have gotten from Ranch 1.

Our waitress appeared suddenly. "No Cochinita Pibil!" She looked sincerely apologetic.


She handed me the domed menu again. "What would you recommend? Any other specialty from the house?" I still had hope.
She smiled and shook her head gently, "Yes, no more Cochinita Pibil! Oh, excuse one minuto" she lifted up that index finger again and disappeared into the kitchen.

Finally, after ten minutes of miming and her frequent intervals of attending to other customers, I decided to be brave and picked something that looked like fish from the specials.

FILET DE PESADO AL MOJO DE AJO (grilled fish filet) $11.98

The tamale arrived with the alluring fragrance of banana leaves. Both me and J inhaled deeply into the steam.
"Piquante?" The waitress gestured to the tamale and inquired.
"What?" I was really lost.
"Piquante? You want?" She asked again patiently.
"Pecan!" J suddenly exclaimed.


Our now-exhausted waitress nodded fervently to the sound that J made. "I bring!" She hurried into the back.
J patted the back of my hand and beckoned with confidence. "Don't worry hon, she's going to bring you some pecans."

Pecans with tamale?! This was definitely an interesting combination which I've never heard of. The tamale was delicious by itself. It melt in my mouth with a fragrant aftertaste.

"Piquante!" The waitress came back and placed something onto our table with beaming eyes.

There were no pecans nor peacocks.

It was a little bottle of Sauce Piquante.

I looked up at J's surprised face and we both burst into laughter within seconds. "Hahaha! Pecans!" I laughed so heard that tears was running down my face. J rolled up the napkin and threw it at me for revenge. For the rest of the night, we couldn't stop giggling and eating. The light gradually dimmed and the Spanish music in the background got a little louder. Suddenly, I had the illusion that we were not in Queens any more. We were in Mexico on vacation, just relaxing and having fun in a local dive where no one spoke English; kind of like, you know, the opening scene of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”.

"Filet de Pesado Al Mojo de Ajo" arrived when we almost polished everything else. It turned out to be the same disappointing matter as the "Pollo a la Parrila", bland and safe. Definitely not something I would order again.

The dessert menu was simple. Two Mexican specialties and chocolate or strawberry cake. I wanted something that would thrill me a little.

CREPAS DE CAJETA (handmade crepes served in a goat's milk caramel sauce) $4.

Minutes later, three little tan crepes folded into neat triangles came on a warm plate pooled in thick amber sauce. It looked appetizing. I eagerly took a bite. The crepe dissolved instantly on my tongue while the ample caramel sauce lingered on my teeth teasingly. It had the right balance of light and heavy, sweet and savory. Just what I liked in a dessert. I took a sip of the smooth coffee and savored the entire plate.

The night had turned pitch dark by the time we left the restaurant. A line gathered in front of a street cart selling Authentic Chinese Food. I stretched out my neck to see what was on the menu. The corner Pakistan restaurant was having a Ramadan special. Deafening noises from the subway roared overhead. Ah, we were not in Mexico on vacation after all. But somehow I felt refreshed after the meal. This was where I came thousands of miles for. This was my diverse, rich and delectable nation of Queens, New York.

Thursday, September 21, 2006



Madison Square Park southeast corner
Enter @ Madison Avenue and 23rd Street

It seemed like I was the last person on earth who had not been to the Shake Shack. When I revealed the destination of my next review, even J blurted out surprisingly, "You've NEVER been to the Shake Shack?" ? He stared at me as if I were some evil clone of his lovely wife. Fine. Be that way. Let's just, go now.

We arrived at the park on a Monday night. The air was crisp with my favorite autumn breeze and the line to order was miraculously short. I was told that during the lunch rush, people wait on line for up to 45 minutes before even getting their food, giving them only fifteen minutes to eat and get back to work. Under the precious Manhattan trees, couples and groups of friends occupied the metal chairs around the shack munching heartily out of big cardboard boxes, while their waiting dogs licked their mouths anxiously. The whole scene had the feel of a happy zoo outing. I instantly loved the casual atmosphere.

The menu displayed five kinds of burgers, three types of hot dogs, and two varieties of French fries; very straight forward and all at reasonable prices. We settled on the order quickly.

LARGE COKE ($1.85)

No shake?!

I'm glad you're paying attention. After carefully studying the separate board of countless shakes, floats, concretes (frozen custard blended in high speed with homemade mix-ins), and the "custard calendar," I decided to come back later for dessert.

The service was pleasant and relatively fast. It was a nice night, we stood under the swaying trees pretending it was our first date. Ten minutes later, before J was able to put any moves on me, the food was there.

Everything came neatly packed in a cardboard box. We dug in eagerly. First impression? Friendly. Friendly, in that happy American way. The Shack burger had lettuce, tomato, American cheese, and shack sauce on it. I could barely taste the shack sauce, which according to the cashier, was supposed to be a blend of mayonnaise + ketchup + mustard + ground onion + lemon juice. Although juicy, tasty, and even with a hint of my favorite charcoal smoke, the meat patty was a little too thin to my liking. But I guess that was why they had the double stack version.

The fries were the thick, wavy-cut types, and they turned out to be perfectly seasoned and crispy. Very nice. The Chicago Dog was an all-beef dog on a poppy seed bun, topped with lettuce, tomato, sport peppers, green peppers, pickles, onion, neo relish, cucumber, celery salt and mustard. ("Drag it through the park!" the menu exclaimed). I took a giant bite in order to get all the hot dog's entourage in my mouth. Hmmmm. It tasted like, like an 80's wild party. All the savory mysterious meat danced abundantly with spicy peppers and relish, while the rascally sour pickle seduced straight-jacked lettuce & tomato, with mustard as his partner in crime. A handful of life force partied ecstatically under the poppy seed roof.

I hate the 80's.

Growing up in Taiwan, my memory of that whole decade was filled with endless exams and unbearable pressures to get into top schools, instead of decadence and fun. I also like my hot dog only with mustard and nothing else. But this ..., I curled up the corners of my mouth and savored all the characters inside. This totally took me by surprise. This was great! I thought about how much my teenage years must have missed by burying myself into books and took another hearty bite for revenge. J tried it and instantly nodded his head and widened his eyes, "Wow, this is GOOD!" I knew it. Of course he liked it. The 80's was like the best time for him. No worries, no grown-up crap, just plain fun. God, I hate American kids! They don't realize how good they have it.

After the satisfying meal, I was in full gear for my frozen custard. Today's flavors were, vanilla, chocolate and cinnamon toast (Yikes!). J is lactose intolerant, so I went ahead.


The custard was amazingly dense and fine-textured. The exuberant taste of fresh dairy was so creamy that I fantasized about smearing it all over my body for nourishment. It was just what one needed after a robust burger! I also loved the fact that it was not too sweet nor watery (That's right, I'm talking about you "Tasti D'lite"!). It turned out to be one of the best frozen custard I have ever had.

We strolled down the street after I licked the last bit of cream off of my finger. The air was still pleasant and cool. I leaned against J's chest and felt blissfully content. Before we entered the subway, J caught my glowing eyes and slowly leaned forward, "Can I have that kiss now?" I closed my eyes and let the thrilling little tingles run all over my body.

Yeah, I missed out on the 80's, but I make up for it by living my life right now! And guess what, on the custard calendar, it said that every Wednesday of this month is FIG SHAKE!!!! MAJOR GODZILLA-SIZE... YUMMM!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006



It all started out very innocently.

Summer time in NYC. You stroll down the plentiful street fairs in your flip flops and felt ecstatic to finally kick off that pair of snow stained dirty boots. You munch on the whopping $3 cup of watermelon and even smile at the pushy tourists next to you. Within the smell of greasy sausage and fake pad-Thai, you sniff something delicious. You follow the trail and find the red tented Kettle Corn NYC stand. A huge line has already accumulated before you. You sneak to the front and sample the original flavor. The buttery caramel popcorns tangled with sea salt hops in your mouth with passionate vitality. This ain't no ordinary popcorn! You sample some more, one handful, another fistful, and finally decide to buy a bag for your Netflix viewing tonight. On the train ride home, you smell the enticing sweet whiff seeping out from the bag and battle with the weakness of the flesh. But you are only human! You dive in and surrender to the whole bag before even reaching for your keys. You can barely remember what Netflix DVD you watched that night. The next day, you wake up with the sweet memory and sultry taste in your mouth. You can't stop thinking about it all day. You must have it again! Only then you realized that you didn't know where s/he lived nor did you have his/her number! The worst of all, at the heat of the passion, YOU THREW THE BAG AWAY!! So you spend the rest of the day dodging your boss and googling Kettle Corn NYC to download their street fair schedules and count the days when you'll meet again while vowing to never touch any other popcorn ever again! (baby, there are just ho's! But you are my LAA-DY!)

Ever heard of KCA (Kettle Corn Anonymous)???

Wednesday, September 06, 2006




Could there be a light I'm seeing at the end of this tunnel?

"Before we go in,”my hubby pinched the space in between his eyebrows with his thumb and index fingers to emulate the phrase “Im deeply concerned and … scared at the same time” in that classic “actors studio” acting technique. “I want you to set your expectations low. Zero. Nada. Otherwise, lets go to a place we know is good.” It was Monday night at 9pm. He just finished work, while I spent the whole day googling the word “meat buns” and perfecting my eyebrows. Poor thing. I crossed my heart and promised to behave like a Stepford wife for the remainder of the night.

J's got some points though. We've passed this place numerous times since moving into the neighborhood. I was tempted to try but never really did it, mainly because this place boasted“excellent beef noodle soup.” Now, let me tell you a little something about my culture. Taiwan is THE capital of the beef noodle soup kingdom. Walk down any random alley blindfolded and you will be sure to find at least a dozen beef noodle soup stands. Movie stars from Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea make bee lines to their favorite beef noodle soup places right off the plane when they arrive in Taiwan. Sometimes even before any public appearances they have been paid to attend. (Don't ask me if Mr. Chow Yun Fat was standing on that line to get in. Go watch the trailer for his current role in "Curse of the Golden Flower." There is even an annual Taipei International Beef Noodle Festival to showcase the best bowls of these delectable beauties and promote healthy competitions among the countless beef noodle soup restaurants.

Now this being said, I knew that the place would not be up to my standard. But I was willing to give it a shot, and I promised J that he could order anything he wanted.

The place was pleasantly spare. The round-faced waitress greeted us warmly with English. I could tell by her accent that she is from Taiwan. A GOOD SIGN! I inquired about the menu in Chinese and she looked slightly startled to hear such sounds coming out of my mouth, but none the less recommended their signature dishes. “Do they have pork chops and rice?” J flipped the menu back and forth wildly. NOW WHY WOULD A BEEF NOODLE SOUP PLACE HAVE … OH, WAIT, HERE IT IS, Pork chop over rice. A promise is a promise. I bit my lips and ordered the followings for us.


“The fried buns with chive & eggs will take fifteen minutes. The chef makes it fresh. Is it okay?” The waitress informed us. HAND MADE FRESH?! Oh, YEAH! We'll wait the whole night if necessary!

To start the meal, the waitress brought us two small bowls of soup. “On the house,” She beamed. I LOVE MY PEOPLE! The soup turned out to be the very tasty “4 spirits soup” which consisted of little pieces of remedial Chinese herbs, slivers of black mushrooms, and chucks of chicken meat. I have not had this soup for over two years! It brought back so many memories. J was not so fond of the soup. I didn't blame him. Not everyone likes that faint Chinese herbal taste.

“Beef with Sesame Cake” turned out to be slices of braised five spice beef shank with julienne cucumber + scallions wrapped in a large sheet of scallion pancake smeared with tangy Peking duck sauce. We both took a piece and dove into a giant bite. Smiles everywhere. IT WAS A HUGE HIT! The pancake was lightly crunchy on the outside and pleasantly chewing on the inside. The beef melted in your mouth with a naughty kick of my favorite five spices. J finished his and immediately claimed the last piece on the plate as his breakfast for the next morning.

All was good so far.

My beef noodle soup came with a jar of pickled sour cabbage, the way it was supposed to be. I placed a spoonful of the cabbage inside the soup and took a tentative sip of the glistening broth, HOT! My eyes lit up. VERY NICE! There is nothing that I HATE MORE than eating a bowl of LUKEWARM SOUP! Soup has to be hot! I proudly inherited this gift from my Cantonese mother, and we all know that the Cantonese people are notoriously obsesses with hot soup! (There is even a “hot soup club”, consisted of five very lively old Chinese ladies in my mom's building.) I took a bite of the noodle. Hum, not hand made, a bit on the limp side. I chewed on a piece of beef with amber colored tendon in the middle. Good. Better than I expected.

“How was it?” J was curious. “Your zero expectations theory worked,” I said. He grinned with delight.

J's pork chop over rice came with a piece of crisply browned chop, sautéed spinach with garlic, and a soy sauce marinated hard-boiled egg. I glanced at it and felt a wave of nostalgia washing over me. It looked like the countless lunch boxes I had growing up! J and I both reached for the chop. I eagerly gnawed the meat on the bone. Proficient. J nodded and gave it a thumbs up.

The “fried buns with chives & eggs” was really what we called, “Chive Box”. It arrived piping hot, but I was disappointed after taking a mouthful. The filling was too watered-down for me. Back home, the chive boxes were PACKED with, well…chives! Here, it was only a couple of chopped chives with lots of other crap. I understand that Chinese chives stink, but some of us happen to like scandals! It's a good thing I've never developed that fine Disney taste.

After leaving the restaurant with a delightfully full stomach, I felt glad that we gave it a shot. “We should come back for breakfast one day!” I announced gleefully. The menu stated that every Saturday and Sunday morning they serve Northern Chinese country style brunch, which consisted of deep fried cruller, sesame cake, sticky rice roll, pancake with eggs, all sorts of dumplings, and home made soy milk (choice of hot/cold/sweet/salty/with raw egg yoke). J carefully avoided eye contact and mumbled, “will there be anything I can eat?”

Love is to love someone without judging what they eat …