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Archive for the ‘new york: snacks/small meals’ Category

Sangam is the no-longer-recently-opened-and-therefore-not-really-hot-news biryani joint in Greenwich Village. Of course I meant to write about it months ago….

The samosa is average, oily, but the vegetable biryani, flecked with long green beans, carrots, and cubes of potato, tastes surprisingly light although it is wholesome, flavorful food. The plump grains of rice are robustly spiced and topped with browned, tempting slivers of fried onion; a cooling yogurt raita is a refreshing condiment.

Sangam’s biryani is nothing like the decadent biryanis I sampled in Bombay last month, stuffed with nuts, mushrooms and cream, but I think it works well here in New York. The eatery provides a fairly light, tasty meal that is an addition to the cheap-eats scene but an alternative to the falafel, dumpling, and noodle joints everywhere in the city. One could eat a Sangam biryani and be happily full but still escape the hard-hitting waves of somnolence guaranteed to come after a few bites of richer biryanis…or falafels.

Sangam’s co-owner, Aslam Parviz, introduced me to Rafat Ansari, the wife of his partner Ishrat Ansari, and the cook responsible for the home-ground spice mixture (masala) that so fragrantly seasons Sangam’s biryani. Rafat’s masala, says Aslam, is what distinguishes Sangam’s biryani from that which you find at other restaurants; most places use a prepackaged biryani mix called Shaan, which he says, wrinkling his nose, “I can smell from a mile away.”

Despite the restaurant’s bare-bones setting (just a few tables and chairs, really) Rafat and Aslam’s faith in their home-ground masala and their belief in food prepared with care sets Sangam apart from the other cheap-eats ethnic places in the city. After the biryani, I tried Sangam’s version of the trendy Kati Roll and loved what an unfashionably straightforward package it was: flaky, freshly grilled paratha wrapped around a tomato-potato-carrot based vegetable dish accented with tiny black mustard seeds. This was not a glitzy roll, decked out in extra oil or garlic or hot green peppers and chaat masala like Roomali’s delicious wraps. Nor was it a party roll to satiate late-night revelry-induced hunger. It’s a seedha-saadha, freshly prepared Indian wrap, tasty and satisfying, sensible and wholesome, in the way that home-cooked food tends to be. I loved it.

I read somewhere that Sangam’s prices have increased since I took a photograph of this menu. I think the vegetable biryani, which was $6, is now $7.50?

Sangam is on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal at 190 Bleecker Street. (212) 228-4648. They deliver, oh and their website provides the menu along with the new prices.

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We went to BLT Steak for Sandeep’s birthday dinner. Steakhouse dinner invitations come my way infrequently (hmmm), so I thought I should scope out the scene.

Tanned people with nary a golden lock out o’ place milled around the bar, where we waited for 20 minutes despite being on time for our 8:45 reservation. We eventually got seated at a round table (always a plus) in the enormous dining room where the walls, ridged with angular siding, created an atmosphere reminiscent of a furniture showroom.

My friends all ordered steaks (1 medium, 3 medium rare) while I had the much more interesting and varied task of selecting the sides. I choose:

Stuffed Mushrooms: The breadcrumbs were deep-fried and their oiliness distracted from what could have been a meaty (ha!) dish that better complimented the juicy and absorbent qualities of mushrooms.

Parmesan Gnocchi: Delicious. I wish I had gotten a sharper picture of this snowy pile of Parmesan and the lovely clouds of gnocchi bathing in a cream sauce underneath. A little rich? Certainly… :)

Onion Rings: I realize that onion rings are very much a matter of personal preference. BLT’s looked funny, a congealed fried tower. I liked my first bite a lot but these onion rings did not stand up to the test of time- the tempura-esque batter became rapidly soggy from the weight of the oil.

Creamed Spinach: I was curious, never having eaten “creamed spinach.” Yummy! It tasted just like saag paneer from an Indian restaurant, minus all the spices.

My question, which I posed to my dinner companions and to the waiter, was, why are these steak sides so rich? People always talk about how filling steak is; my friends couldn’t manage more than two bites of the sides because they were stuffed from their entrees. I imagined that tomatoes and onions, or asparagus dressed in a light lemony butter would be more appropriate steak sides both for the contrast in taste and weight. But the waiter and my friends and Wikipedia told me that steak is traditionally served with starchy sides.

For dessert we ordered the chestnut chocolate sundae (see previous post for a full-length picture), beautifully presented in a tall skinny glass with whipped cream and a cherry on top, in which fleshy, sweet chestnuts and crunchy candied ones were hidden between scoops of chocolate ice cream and thick chocolate fudge. Delightful Decadence!

And finally, we ordered the peanut-butter chocolate mousse with banana ice cream but Sandeep ate most of it himself, not realizing it was one of the desserts we’d ordered to share. He had been silently working on his cake for so long that finally one of the other boys turned to him and said, Sandy, you’ve been quiet. How’s that cake? “Oh man, guys, this is the most incredible chocolate cake I’ve ever had- I was just thinking- you guys should really try some.” Waq, tasting his first bite, was like, “Sandy this is the mousse we ordered!…and you ate the whole thing.” And so we each got a lick of what remained.

Onion rings, spinach: $9; mushrooms: $10; gnocchi: $10; dessert: $10
Bistro Laurent Tourondel Steak is at 106 East 57th street, New York, NY.

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Dumpling House
118 Eldridge Street
New York, NY
(212) 625 8008
The line was snaking out the door at Dumpling House, a bustling little store on an otherwise quiet block of Eldridge street. It was getting dark and I groaned, thinking it would crowded, and we’d have to wait thirty minutes to eat. The evening was cold and a little drizzly. But fortunately, the line moved fast, and we eventually got seats.

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We studied the menu while waiting for our turn to order and I decided to go with boiled dumplings, a sesame pancake sandwich, and sesame noodles. My friend ordered the same, as well as a large container steaming with vegetable dumpling soup.

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The Dumpling House is essentially a take-out joint; most people order their dumplings to go and then wait as the four hatted women behind the counter boil them fresh. One woman works specifically on sandwiches, standing closest to the take-out window. Particular eaters watch her as she builds their meals according to their specifications. I sat saving two stools (out of seven) near a back counter top while my friend did the watching and waiting to make sure we got our seven items.

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Of course we ordered way too much food but we didn’t care, because the dumplings, noodles, soups, and sandwiches were cheap, and we were hungry. We held our 16 dumplings by their faintly pink, ridged peaks and dipped them into a mixture of sauces. The dumpling dough was tender and elastic; the filling was an enticing blend of scallions, greens, and carrots. They were distinctively fresh, prepared throughout the day by men in a bright kitchen behind the eating counter. The women out front boiled, fried, and served customers. In my experience, veggie dumplings are usually quite mediocre, so it was astonishing and delightful to eat quality ones, prepared in a little shop on a quiet street.

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To make the sesame pancake sandwiches, women pour a batter into an oil slicked pan. After the bread puffs out into a golden crisp, they slice the pizza-sized pancake into quarters, and use two per sandwich. The veggie sandwich is a popular item. I imagine it’s because the nutty, hot crust layered with sweet pickled cucumbers and carrots is an unusual and filling contrast of flavors. The tableside sriracha, a sexier version of ketch-up, is usually squirted on top for a saucy, sweet spice.

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[sorry I bit this before taking the photo]

After eating the dumplings and the sandwich, I was too full to enjoy the noodles properly, but they were long and thick and topped with a sesame paste and pickled cucumbers. I hear the dumpling soup was excellent; my friend had it the next day for lunch and couldn’t stop raving about it.

[vegetable dumplings (8): $2; sesame pancake sandwich: $1.25; dumpling soup: $3; sesame noodles: $1.25]

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I went to Indian Bread Co. last night for a second dinner. I was stuffed after my first dinner of dumplings but my appetite grew as I sat through this event. Then I remembered that Indian Bread Co. was in the area; I had recently reread the Nirali article on its owner, Nandini Mukherjee. Last night was my first time at this particular kati roll spot and to be honest, I really wasn’t expecting much. The hype over kati rolls seems to focus on Kati Roll, which I’m not a huge fan of anyway, because I think their rolls are unnecessarily oily.

I ordered a Paneer Tikka Masala roll and sat down to wait. Two of the other tables were occupied, but luckily the narrow shop wasn’t too busy. I asked for extra onions and green chilies on the side and when I picked up my roll, it came with a plate of amazingly stinky red onions (how I love love love red onions) and a cup of green, mint chutney. The chutney was obviously not the green chilies I had asked for, nor was it spicy, but it smelled like a minty forest and tasted great.

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I bit into the roll. I expected rubbery, dry paneer. But it was soft, almost creamy. It was fresh! And the masalaed, yogurt based marinade seeped its rich flavors into the small cubes of paneer. It was so unusual that I pulled out a piece, examined it, and passed it to my friend, who was eating an Achari Gosht Roll. He said, “Wow, I’ve never eaten such soft paneer before.” Well, I have! In Bombay, my masi makes paneer tikka at least twice while I’m there. Everytime, I blissfully stuff myself on marinated chunks of the freshest, milkiest paneer, tomatoes, capsicums, and onions (and then spend the subsequent hours with painful stomach aches but I don’t mind because it’s just so good). This paneer tikka reminded me of my masi’s. Other pros:

The paratha was not too dry nor too oily.
The chutney was evenly and liberally distributed throughout the roll.

A con:
The roll was tiny, about half the size of my usual Roomali rolls. The price is high for the size of these rolls but at least I know where to get my paneer fix now. Oh, and they also have stuffed parathas and “naaninis,” both of which don’t sound too appealing, but the “naanwich,” which I think is a pita-style sandwich made of naan and paneer instead of pita and falafel, sounds sort of intriguing.

And then we got chai, which was watery and totally blah. And it had cinnamon! I know Starbucks chai has cinnamon, but I’ve never been able to taste it our chai at home (which I know has no cinnamon) or other South Asian places in the city. For chai, I’d recommend going to Lahore Deli, on Crosby Street (so close to my job); their chai is fragrantly spicy and strongly comforting. Just the other morning, it was grey and drizzling, but the cup of chai I got from Lahore and sipped while walking to work reminded me why I like living in New York.

Indian Bread Company is at 194 Bleecker Street, between 6th Avenue and Macdougal, New York, NY. (212) 228-1909.
Paneer Tikka Masala Roll: $4.50
Chai: $1.50

Lahore Deli is at 132 Crosby Street, New York, NY. (212) 965-1777. Chai: $ 1.50

Related posts: Roomali is so much better than Kati Roll, 12 tastes of Bombay, Kati Roll, Brimful of Chat

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[sublimely sexy]

Ciabatta, toasted, insides scooped out, filled with 2 egg yolks and fontina cheese, baked, drizzled with truffle oil and sprinkled with black pepper and salt. Cooked, sliced asparagus forms a crown for this gem of a dish. The truffle smells and tastes so good, especially when blended with runny egg. The black pepper is accents the salty cheese and earthy truffle, and the crusty bread is the perfect edible bowl. Asparagus provides the relief from the intense decadence that is ‘ino’s Truffled Egg Toast with its bright, mildy sweet flavor.

Truffled Egg Toast: $8
ino is at 21 Bedford Street, between Houston and Downing, New York, NY. (212) 989-5769.

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[Katie Roll’s kati rolls]

Katie Roll
101 Lexington Ave
(between 27th and 28th streets)
New York, NY
(212) 683-4229

In the Belly: spicy chickpeas roll, spinach roll, paneer tikka roll, papdi chaat, pani puri, pav bhaji
Rating: go if you’re desperate.

I am never allowed to eat chaat from the street when visiting Bombay because it’s totally unhygienic, especially in the rainy season. But it’s also incredibly good, so I eat it anyway, sneaking out with my cousins to bite into pav bhaji on humid Chowpatty Beach. Of course, later I lie, saying yes, I’m so hungry for dinner, I haven’t eaten anything since lunch, and then stuff myself all over again – but then again, that’s how to eat in Bombay.

This past Sunday, we had chaat cravings. First we went to Dimple, a chaat shop on 30th, between 5th and 6th. My friend DV and I were particularly eager for chaat: he wanted pani puri and I wanted ragda pattis. Dimple’s menu had both. But it was closed and while we were walking down Lex, unsuccessfully trying to convince the rest of our friends that we really needed to go to Jackson Heights for proper chaat, and that it was the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon, I spotted a sign that said

pav bhaji: $5.95.

So we clamored in the shop and interrogated the man behind the counter: Do you have pani puri? yes. Raga Pattis? no. Pav Bhaji? yes. We ended up ordering a bunch of food and then went down the dingy stairs to wait.

We waited forever. We explored the back of the shop (dingier, very dirty bathroom, man sleeping somewhere). DV’s cousin Arjun, who is from Delhi, noted that we had found a real hole-in-the-wall. He said, “Thanks guys. I feel like I’m back home now.”

After about 30 minutes, our food showed up. The papdi chaat was quite good, but the dahi was very cold. Oddly cold.

We got spinach, chickpea, paneer, and some meat kati rolls. The spinach one was terrible, and the chickpea one was just okay, but the chickpeas were dry. The paneer was the best of the lot, but I much prefer Roomali’s rolls. Katie Roll’s kati rolls are wrapped in a very thin, very oily roti- not the thick textured goodness of Roomali. Also, Roomali’s seating area is cleaner.

We then ate the pav bhaji which was garlicky and fresh.We collectively approved. However, the pani puri was a disappointment. After waiting for the potatoes to boil (literally: they told us when we ordered that they had to boil the potatoes for the pani puri so that dish would take longer than the others) I think everyone was pretty unimpressed: the pani had no taste and the puris were stale.

Katie Roll is a place to go if you need a fix- whether it be decent pav bhaji or bad pani puri- but next time I’m craving chaat, I’m heading to Queens.

pav bhaji: $5.95; chickpea roll & potato roll: $4; paneer tikka roll: $4.25; pani puri and papdi chaat: $3.95

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Eating the scallion pancakes at Mr. Wonton is like being in a wonderful dream. Open the little take out box and discover six fresh, crispy wedges with soft, scallion stuffed layers, steaming and waiting for you to gobble them up. They are neither too oily nor too dry and tasteless, but instead, pristinely perfect and piping hot. I’ll add a picture soon, as I’m pretty sure I’m going to get them for dinner tonight: these six pancake wedges are just $3.05, which makes them a wonderful “cheap-eats” option for those of us living on a budget (me).

I haven’t tried the other food here yet, but plan on it, since it’s across the street from where I live.

Mr. Wonton is in Park Slope, at 73 7th avenue (and Berkeley Place), Brooklyn NY 11217. Tel: 718-398-7088.

Scallion Pancake Recipe
[from Saveur, December 2000]

3 1/2 cups flour
2 tbsp. vegetable shortening
2 tsp. Asian sesame oil
1 1/2 cups chopped scallions
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
vegetable oil

1. Put flour in a bowl and add 1 1/4 cups boiling water, stirring with a fork until dough holds together. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface, and knead together until smooth. Cover with plastic and set aside for 30 minutes.

2. Divide dough into 12 pieces, shape into balls, and cover with plastic. Working with 1 ball at a time, roll dough out onto a lightly floured surface into a 5″ round. Brush with a thin film of shortening. Sprinkle with a little sesame oil, some scallions, and salt and pepper. Roll dough into a cylinder, coil it into a circle, and tuck end underneath. Roll into a 5″ round. Repeat process with the remaining dough.

3. Heat 2 tbsp. vegetable oil in a medium skillet. Fry cakes, one at a time, until blistered and golden, about two minutes per side. Add more vegetable oil as needed. Drain on paper towels.

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