April 2009


You can have your fruit this way…
chico fruit! + angel the hand model

chico fruit! + angel the hand model

But it is so much more fun when you have it in a cone!

jocote sorbet outside the shop

jocote sorbet outside the shop

Tucked away at the back of the crumbling Cathedral in Antigua Guatemala is La Tienda de Dona Gavi, an apothecary with a twist. While the soaps, essential oils and medicated shampoos lay in full display, the ice-cream freezer stays hidden behind the counter, surreptitiously away from the casual shopper’s eye. Even the wooden signs announcing the flavors are placed inconspicuously on one side of the narrow doorway. It is perfectly understandable therefore, for one to browse through the entire shop without stopping for some icy treats. To do that, however, would be remiss as the ice-cream (or sorbet) flavors are unique and outstanding. On my first day, I had the best bite during this entire trip. Jocote fruit, a small, red local plum is immortalized in a scoop of yellow sorbet, refreshingly tart, with the taste of stone fruit and the bite of citrus. I smiled all the way walking home with my cone. The next day, pink zapote, sweet with a musky melony flavor. Day 3 got me a pale green scoop of avocado, very subtle, perhaps a little too subtle and too sweet, but well, 2 out of 3 isn’t bad. At 18 q ($2.25) per scoop, a little pricey for Guatemala, but it is definitely a step-up to the generic icecreams that are in abundance in the town and a worthy stop.

La Tienda de Dona Gavi

3 Avenida Norte 2 # (Right behind the crumbling Cathedral)

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It became clear to me the minute I started researching about mithai in Jackson Heights that Indians love their sweets. How else would one account for the proliferance of sweet shops, of which I counted at least 5 in the small triangle between Broadway, 74th St and 37th Avenue? Eager to reacquaint myself with Indian dessert, I arrived at Jackson Heights an hour before my scheduled dinner in search for some sweets.
sweets galore

sweets galore

The sweet shops in Jackson Heights are generally humble looking establishments. With the exception of Maharaja Sweets’ chandeliers, the main aesthetic feature at a sweet shop is its glass display filled with trays of sugary tidbits. Deep fried dough steeped in syrup, hard milk and cashew candy rolled with flecks of silver, moist milk cakes tasting of cardamom and saffron, all in full display. At the three places I did go, the shopkeepers were friendly and helpful, steering Sarah and I towards their favorites.

falooda

falooda

Curiosity got the best of me at Shaheen’s, where I opted for a very foreign sounding falooda. I am glad that Sarah was here to share the dish with me, as this dish of Persian origin was big and very saccharine. The dish, very popular in Mumbai is filled with kulfi, milk, milk curds, vermicelli, basil seeds and topped off with rose syrup, and is a myraid of textures in a bowl, ranging from icy, creamy to slithery. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I am glad I tried it. We also split a gulab jamun, a round ball, similar to a donut hole but denser soaked through with sugar. To our surprise, this was not quite so sweet, and really freshly fried and pleasant with cups of fragrant chai.

boxes

boxes

After dinner at Jackson Diner (good but overrated), I presented our group with the spoils of Sarah and my sweet escapade. From Al Naimat, I purchased Jalebi, straws of fried cake batter bent in a pretzel shape and coated with a crystallized sugar exterior. I say straws because the hardened strings seemed almost hollow, that sugar syrup flows into the mouth upon one bite. Strangely, it reminds me of Grandma Cheng’s favorite Cantonese sweet, Sa Chi Ma, also best when fresh and sugary. Al Naimat must go through a lot of Jalebi, because the box I bought tasted fresh, not tainted with the foul scent of stale oil.

From Rajbhog we had a selection of burfis, cham chams and halwas, more subtle than the jalebi, also not quite as sweet. Milk acts as a base, and mixed with other components allows the different flavors to shine. Kaju burfi remains my favorite, the smoky nuttiness of cashew clearly apparent. Cham chams are new to me and delicious, tasting faintly of rose syrup and saffron and very moist from the cream that is nozzled into it.

Indian sweets are not very easy to like, especially for people not used to the saccharine or the spice profiles that sometimes appear potpourri like. And while I still don’t know what makes one mithai good and the other mediocre, I’ve discovered a taste for sure, and am glad to extend my mithai education in Jackson Heights.  

Al Naimat

3703 74th St, Jackson Heights, NY

Shaheen Sweets and Cuisine

7209 Broadway, Jackson Heights, NY

Rajbhog Sweets

7227 37th Ave, Jackson Heights, NY

Funghi Pizza

Funghi Pizza

I’m generally not a big pizza person, but once in a while, the craving hits. When it happens, I know just who to call. Pizza is something Juewei and Germaine are especially passionate about, so when my last minute email went out, I got immediate responses to the affirmative. Yay to great eating buddies. The pizza at Keste is not the typical New York thin crust JW favors. Rather it is made in the Neapolitan fashion, plate-sized and to be eaten with cutlery. I’ve never been to Naples, but judging from early reviews, the pizza here is authentic, with slightly puffy dough, very nice char marks creating a mottled crust. I liken it to good naan, and forgive the sudden California Pizza Kitchen wild irreverent though, I think tandoori chicken and sweet grilled onion would make awesome toppings to this pizza crust. 

pizza del re

pizza del re

 

Keste’s toppings are of course more authentic then my whimsies, are used sparingly but are all of top quality. I especially like the tomato sauce, naturally sweet without being overtly acidic, a fine base to our mushroom and sausage pizzas. But our favorite pie of the night happens to be the Pizza del Re, a white pizza laden with bufala mozzarella imported from Italy, truffle oil, mushrooms, olive oil and curls of pink prosciutto di parma. Oh, that scent as it arrived on our table was just heavenly. The middle of the pie got a little soggy from the truffle spread, but it was fine since we gobbled this pie up so quickly the juices had no time to penetrate through the crust.

Despite a packed house on Friday, our pies arrived a scant 10 minutes after ordering, thanks to the ultra-short cook time of the soft crusts and the frenetic tempo of the kitchen staff, constantly molding dough, layering ingredients, pulling cooked pies out of the oven, never stopping. If I had wanted a more leisurely meal, I might order an appetizer or a dessert (nutella pizza is on the menu, as well as tiramisus and other Italian standards), and a bottle or two. For now, the restaurant has yet to receive its liquor license, so BYOB is in effect. But when it happens, I expect the restaurant to make good on the Vino part of its name and offer some good choices to go with the well-made pizzas.

Keste Pizzeria & Vino

271 Bleecker St (Between Cornelia and Jones St)

http://www.kestepizzeria.com/home.html

Parmagiano cheese souffle
Parmagiano cheese souffle

Something was amiss at Luxee, where at Michelle’s behest  the four of us went after dinner at 1492. Ten o’clock  is very early for LES standards, yet it was all calm and serene at Luxee when we arrived for dessert. In fact, we were the only customers for the next 2 hours before they closed for the night. Shouldn’t Luxee be most thronged with crowds during the late night like its neighboring bars and restaurants? 

The desserts, despite the  lack of business ranged from good to very delicious, more so than Kyotofu and Chickalicious, 2 other Japanese influenced dessert bars that have no want of customers. We picked three desserts, but before that, our server sent a plate of extremely addictive rosemary sables, the butter cookies crumbly like sand, the herb imparting an alluring woody scent.   
The desserts we paid for ranged from the humble looking houji-cha creme brulee that’s creamy and tasting of the bitter japanese tea it is made of, to a very ambitious looking composition of a granny smith apples present in multiple forms (sorbet, gel, caramelized, fresh) that would not look out of place in one of the fancier places around town. But my favorite is the airy souffle, a cotton soft tower tasting like extremely light japanese cheesecake, the liberal shaving of parmagiano reggiano literal icing on the cake, providing a savory, nutty tang to the dessert.
As we left, we vowed to return and to tell our friends about Luxee. Its desserts are as good, in fact better than some of the more well-known dessert bars, so it only makes sense it is just as popular, lest it fall prey to poor business exacerbated in the bad market. Perhaps they should be promoting more heavily, or serving alcohol to target those who frequent its neighborhood. Whatever it is, Luxee is worth visiting and keeping around. 
Luxee
6 Clinton St (At Houston St)