Friday, May 31, 2013

This Train Stops at Flushing Main Street; Or, Chinese Soup at the Flushing Golden Mall Food Court

Post by Brian Castellani

Yeah, yeah, yeah, ... Manhattan food is great.  Everyone knows that.  But, what about Queens, bro?  Been out there for some great eating?  Most likely not.

Well, you should; cause, as far as the Phở Boys are concerned, short of traveling to China, Italy, Colombia, Taiwan, Greece or South Korea, this is as close to authentic, local, well priced food from these countries as one can get.  In fact, Queens feels a lot like Cleveland: a great place that people from the outside seem to ignore.

So, why Queens?  'Cause my brother Warren lives there, in Flushing to be exact.  While I am a Cleveland transplant, my family hails from the east coast--PA, Washington DC, New York City. Warren has been in Queens for 18 years.  Plus, my nephew, Kevin, lives in Brooklyn.  Yo!, A shout out to the family in Flushing and Murray Hill; respect to the folks in Brooklyn Heights!! 

Some Facts About Queens You may not Know

Here are some interesting facts about Queens most people probably do not know.  To begin, Queens is home to JFK International Airport and LaGuardia Airport. C'mon now!  And, in terms of sports, Queens has Flushing Meadows Park, home to the New York Mets and the US Open tennis tournament.

But, the most important thing to note is that Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the word, with a population of over 2.2 million, 48% of whom are foreign---presenting over 100 different nations and speaking over 138 different languages.  I tell you, when I am there, i can walk three blocks and feel as if I just traveled around the world.  I absolutely love it, love it, love it!!!!!!

And with cultural diversity like that, you are going to run into some absolutely incredible food.  Case in point: The Flushing Golden Mall Food Court.

Flushing Mall Food Court

If you like Asian food in all of its incredible variety and you happen to have a chance to go to Queens, then head straight for the Flushing Golden Mall Food Court (image to the right from VIP in the City).  Don't believe me?  Just type "flushing mall food court" into Google and see what you get.  How many food courts in Mentor or 'anywhere else USA' for that matter get the respect you find for such a place?

Yelp alone has over 209 reviews--click here to see--and Anthony Bourdain, the man/the legend, has even been there--click here to watch.  For tons of food pictures, click here.

You order, for example, rice and pork and you get a dish more delicious and unrecognizable than you can find at any "Americanized" suburban Asian restaurant--rice dripping with fat pork and pickled peppers and vegetables (the leftovers are shown to the right).  You just shove it into your mouth and go "Yummmmmmmm!"

Being a Phở Boy though, I mostly like the soup!

Getting to the Food Court

So, here is how it works.  First, you have to find the Golden Mall, which is no simple task, as it is tucked away on 39th street, near Main Street Flushing.  Then, you've got to find the basement, which is where all the food is.  (By the way, the upper floors of the Mall are a maze of clothing shops, learning centers, bulk supplies, wooden comb stores, tea shops, and exercise programs--all totally worth checking out--image to the above right comes from the Food Enthusiast, who provides a review of all the food stalls in the mall.)

Once in the basement, you navigate over to the food court.  Little is in English, so you just look around, see what other people are eating, ask them what the number for it is, and then order it.  But, ordering is no simple task.  See, you first decide what you want to eat; then you locate the cash register in the middle of the seating area; you tell the woman what you want and pay; then, without telling you, she electronically sends the order to the different food courts; you then run around, from one place to the next, listening for them to call your number, and get your stuff.  The first couple times my daughter and I went, we completely embarrassed ourselves.  People would giggle at us and then kindly tell us what to do.

Funny Brian Story

Okay, so for those of you who have not followed me on other blogs, I need to tell you now.  I am an idiot!  I mean it!  I am not being mean to myself--ask my family!  I really am an idiot who, in his own mind, thinks of himself as a rock-star-bad-ass who is all about keeping it real!  The problem is that I live in a total fantasy world.  In the real world, however, where keeping it real can go totally wrong, I am none of those things.

So, i come rolling into the Gold Mall Food court, right?  My daughter is just looking at me like I am a total freak--as only your kids can, right!  So, we order our food, pay the clerk, listen for our numbers, and everything is rolling smooth.  So, what do I do?  I fly to close to the sun, my friend.

As I am getting my soup--shown above: a thickened seafood soup, with fresh cilantro and vegetables, with the most wonderful rice noodles you can imagine--I decide to go for the heat.

On the stall table, to the right, is a small, inviting bowl of olive-oil-and-red-hot-pepper-seeds, just calling out my name.  Being a badass, I think to myself, "Yeah, I gonna have some of that."  So, I scoop up a spoon full and put it in my soup.  My daughter and the cooks around me stop and look.  What?

Not grasping the stupidity of my decision, I decide to go for a second scoop!  Everyone around me now looks nervous.  Hey, don't they know I am a Phở Boy!!  And that's when, as I said earlier, I flew too close to the sun, my friend.  I went for a third scoop!  Yes folks, as the bloated, sweating, red-hot picture here reveals, I am not lying.  I lit up like a damn Oompa Loompa!!!  I kept saying to Ruby, "Is my face red?"  Finally, she just took a picture.  I thought my eyes would burn away from the inside out.

But, true to the Phở Boy's spirit, I actually finished most of my soup before giving in.  It was one of the best soup experiences of my life!


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Seoul Garden, Korean Food, Parma Ohio

For our first Cleveland food review we made it easy for ourselves.  We went to the Korean restaurant, Seoul Garden, located at 5270 Pearl Road in Parma Ohio, 44129--click here for map. Kevin's opinion is that they have the best soup broth in Cleveland--end of story.

Their Kimchi (a traditional fermented Korean side dish made of vegetables with a variety of seasonings) is also some of the best I have ever had--spicy and tangy but mellow and cool at the same time.  Very good!

By the way, if you have not been to an authentic Korean restaurant, it is important to know that, just prior to each meal is served a long list of side dishes (called banchan) that, along with the Kimchi, vary from place to place--click here to see a list with pictures.  Educating yourself about these dishes is worthwhile; or, like us, you can just learn by shoving the food in your mouth and having fun! 

Really!  A moment, if you will, from the Phở Boys Food Book of Philosophy.  On page 75 it says, Don't go to a restaurant and order the same thing over and over again.  Try something new.  Or, better yet, go with someone who knows the restaurant and let them order for you.  Eating, no matter how little you have to work with, is not just about filling your stomach!  Eating is about art; eating is about life; and if it costs less than 20 bucks, all the better--which takes us back to the Seoul Garden.

The food at Seoul Garden is absolutely amazing!  As the menu to the right shows, they do a nice job of providing a basic description of each food item, along with a picture.  If you are not a huge fan of soup, there are lots of other things to try.

For our meal, along with an egg dish (Gyeran jjim) and soup, we got the Pajeon--which is absolutely huge and, when all put together, is more food than even the Phở Boys can eat! 

For those not familiar with this dish, Pajeon is a variety of jeon with green onions as its prominent ingredient, as pa literally means 'green/spring onion' in Korean. It is a pancake-like Korean dish made from a batter of eggs, wheat flour, rice flour, green onions, and often other additional ingredients depending on the variety. Beef, pork, kimchi, shellfish, and other seafood are used.

And, if you are interested in the heat!, Seoul Garden can deliver.  The general rule of thumb for the Phở Boys is when your eyebrows or the top of your head is sweating, you have hit the sweet spot of heat.  As the three pictures here show, while Rob and Brian can take the heat, Kevin is the man! For a demonstration of the sweet life in Cleveland, click on the video here.

And the cost of this incredible meal?  With tip it was 20 bucks a piece!  And, at the end, to take the edge off the heat, they gave us a quick yogurt drink.  Excellent!

For us, Seoul Garden gets our best rating:  5 SOUPS!

But, don't take our word for it.  See these customer reviews as well:

Urban Spoon Reviews

Thursday, May 16, 2013

LIving the Sweet Life in Paris; Food Blogger David Lebovitz

Brian's wife (Maggie) recently sent to him the following blog by Food Writer and Chef, David Lebovitz, shown here to the right.

Lebovitz is an interesting person, as he worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, with Alice Waters and the pastry Chef, Lindsey Shere, whom he considers his mentor.  So, he is very much grounded in the idea of high quality, healthy food.

Living the Sweet Life in Paris

In 1999, Lebovitz moved to Paris, where he presently lives.One of his most recent books (shown to the left) and his blog are devoted to living a life of food in Paris.

The blog is really useful if you want accessible ways into cooking French food and, more broadly, cooking in general.

The book is great food sociology!  One thing, in particular, is Lebovitz's discussion of food etiquette in Paris.

Brian can relate to iron-clad issue of food etiquette in Paris!  While in Paris, recently, Brian was sitting at a bistro watching this couple eat a cream puff pasty covered in chocolate.  With the most subtle and nimble of gestures, fork and knife in hand, they ate this thing without making one bit of a mess.  Not a flake!

Living the Sweet Life in Cleveland

Obsessed, Brian returned to Willoughby, Ohio, determined to eat his way to such perfection. Well, he is still trying.

The local Heinen's in Willoughby--one of the best family owned grocery stores in Cleveland, by the way; and a place where everyone should shop--had been touting their own fresh, locally-made cream-puff-pastries-with-chocolate.  Ugh!  Purchasing one, Brian brought it home, convinced to not only enjoy this gift from the gods, but also to eat it Paris-style.  No luck.  We mean, no luck at all!

Forks and knives in hand, Brian and his wife (Maggie) and their daughter (Ruby) just sat there, staring at the pastry.  "How," Ruby asked, "Are we to do this?"

Laughing, Maggie tried to cut the thing--but it just smushed!  "Here, let me try," announced Brian, as if trained by pastry chefs in Bordeaux.  To no avail: nothing but mess, everywhere!  Ugh!  Finally Ruby tried...  again no luck.  "Maybe," said Brian, "We need sharper knives?"  C'mon....

Castellani family decision needed?  Unanimous group conclusion: C'est la vie! Everyone just dove in, American style, like little piggies.

Sometimes living the sweet life in Cleveland means knowing when to throw etiquette out the door.

Bien manger nos amis!

p.s. If anyone can tell us how such things can be eaten properly, please do!

Our Rating System

So, every food blog has to have a rating system, right?

Because we are the Phở Boys, our rating system will be THE SOUP

Five soups is the best!

Zero soups is the worst!

Let the taste testing begin!  long live the phở!

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Yo, what the phở boys? Whatcha gonna eat?"

(Click on the following link to listen to while reading--see if you can watch all the food and not want to go eat something!)

Yeah, that's what they say when the Phở Boys roll into town: "Yo, what the phở boys?  Whatcha gonna eat?"

"You know what we want," we say. "Give us the soup, preferably the Phở, and make it hot and spicy.  C'mon now, we're the phở boys!--Rob, Kevin, and Brian!

By the way, make sure you get our name right. The Phở is pronounced Fa, as in fa, la, la, la, la... That's right,  fa, la, la, la, la.  You got a problem with that?  Do we got you shaking?  Do we got you nervous?  Do we got you dancing the robot?

No?  Our tough-guy act isn't working?  Not even a little bit?  Not buying it?  Okay, fine.  We'll stop.  No, we get it.  That's okay, you didn't hurt our feelings.  Brian is just crying; but that's alright.  Make fun of the foodies.  Go ahead.  We're used to it.  Even puppy-dogs don't show us respect!


But, let us tell you this.  If thinking that every day should be a rocking occasion to consume massive, ridiculous amounts of awesome food for cheap is wrong, then we don't want to be right.  In our minds, at least, we are hardcore and smokin'!  'Cause we're on a mission.

We have the audacity to believe that the local food in Cleveland, Ohio (or anywhere local for that matter), especially when cheap and served family-style, is as good as it gets.  No frills!  No garçons!  No expensive accouterments!  No restaurant coupons!    And, if they serve soup, that's were we start!

We also have the audacity to think we have an opinion on food quality!  Ha!  In our defense, as Freud said, it may not be much of an opinion, but it is all you got.  So, we will share our opinion, blogging on anything and all things food: other food blogs, food trips, grocery stores, food cooked at home, you name it!

By the way, can you guess what our favorite conversation is while eating?  Eating, C'mon!

So, come along on our culinary adventure, as we explore the best, local food that 20-bucks-a-person can buy!  Just look for Kevin's pickup.  That's right!  We're the phở boys dangit!

Picture of Westside Market by Brian