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Sri Lankan Ambassador Dinner at Bownie Restaurant

Bownie Restaurant
A stack of idiappams with mutton curry, coconut chutney and Sri Lankan-style sambhar.

Just one short bus ride away from the bustling satellite Chinatown of Flushing, Queens is Bownie restaurant, a modest Sri Lankan eatery that has been owned and operated by Nanthini and Sri Kandharajah and their family for 11 years now.

While there are plenty of appetizing traditional Indian dishes on the menu, you’ll find that the Sri Lankan specialties really stand out. That night, dinner at Bownie was one in a continuing series of ambassador programs organized by Jeff Orlick, and Joseph Aranha of the Asian Arts and Cultural Alliance was our ambassador for the evening.  So, how exactly does an ambassador dinner work?  According to Jeff, this is what goes down: a guide (ambassador) “will order for the table and discuss what we are eating and why we are eating it. Not a classroom experience, but more of a familial gathering centered around the food.”

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Plates & Records Brunch

It’s been a long way since my freshman year in college, when skipping out on greasy cafeteria grilled cheese to indulge in restaurant brunch was a regular occurrence. Since then, I’ve wised up on my spending habits, and sadly, this has meant goodbye to the weekend brunch, for the most part.  But there are times that I’ll make an exception to the rule — for a very worthy meal.  Last Saturday, Talisa, my first friend in college and a current Greenpoint, Brooklyn resident, asked if I wanted to go to brunch in her hood hosted by the Plates & Records supper club.  After looking at the menu, I didn’t need much convincing to say yes.

Menu:
*Kimchi Omelette
*Brioche French Toast with Maple Syrup, Berries and Bacon
*Savory Tart with Caramelized Onions, Gruyere, and Roasted Tomatoes
*Wild Blueberry Scones with Clotted Cream and an Assortment of Jams
*Tea & Coffee with Buttermilk Rusks

Plates & Records is a nomadic and themed supper club organized by Joann, Ram and Andrzej, a writer, a human rights lawyer and an artist respectively.  To attend, all you need is a plate, a record, an empty stomach, and an Andrew Jackson ($20).  The original P&R trifecta includes Andrzej, but in his place at the stove that morning was their friend Georgie.

Joann and Ram
Joann and Ram

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Mind-blowing Sushi at 6 am

One late December night, I was in New York at Rolf’s sharing a beer and schnitzel with Lee Anne under the hypnotic glow of the festive holiday lights.

heffeweisse
Beer

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Duck Embryos for Dinner

Balut, an Asian delicacy popular in the Philippines, is a fertilized egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. It is traditionally made with duck eggs, but balut also comes in the chicken variety. While I have an undeniable love for eggs — fried, boiled, scrambled, cooked any and every way, I had never considered eating an embryo until my Filipino friend Louie sang praises about balut. The idea of slurping a duck fetus straight from its shell both intrigued and frightened me.  Sadly, during my summer in Asia, I never got to try any balut. But all of was not lost. My chance arrived two years later, in an email from Chef King of umi NOM.  I clicked open the email and read:

“Duck Balut tonight @ umi nom!!!”

And just like that, I was headed to Brooklyn.

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Taipei: A Desperate Search for Soymilk

On our second day in Taipei, my family and I, along with our three close family friends, set out on a journey in search for Taiwanese breakfast. A common Taiwanese breakfast consists of sweet or salty hot soymilk paired with some form of fried dough to dunk in it. That morning we gathered excitedly in the lobby and asked the hotel doorman to direct us to the nearest breakfast spot.

With a scribbled map at hand, we scaled the streets and alleyways near the hotel, but no Taiwanese breakfast was to be found. Stomachs were rumbling as the seven of us wandered desperately around what looked like the financial district, pulling aside locals and asking them where to find hot soymilk. Most were puzzled. Finally, Agnes made a quick decision for all of us. She shot her hand in the air to summon an approaching taxi.

“Where can we get hot soymilk?” she asked the driver.

“Oh, Soymilk King is very close”, he replied.

… Soymilk KING? Take us there, taxi driver!

The taxi driver’s “very close” translated into a city tour across Taiwan, through a tunnel and over a bridge. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived in a district even my dad had never been to, right in front of the famed Yong He Soymilk King (or just “Soymilk King” as I like to call it). Our eyes scanned the open air kitchen, and our ravenous expressions quickly changed to joy.


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A Spicy and Tasty Sichuan Lunch

fish cooked with sichuan spices

Back from London and tired from bland British food, Hope had only one request when I asked her where she wanted to go out for lunch.  “I need some SPICE!”, she pleaded.  Somehow I managed to convince Hope and Davis to wake up early on a cold day and venture into the inner depths of Queens for a taste of Sichuan cuisine.

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Van Gogh is Bipolar

van gogh is bipolar
photo: Regina Belmonte

This is going to be my third time in Van Gogh Is Bipolar in the span of three weeks. My cousin Ashley introduced me to this small, beautiful hole in the wall when I was down in the dumps some two weeks ago, and the cafe’s pebbly courtyard, the violet fairy lights and a perfect cup of tea was the best defiance to a thoroughly rough day.

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Thanksgiving, Posh Nosh & Teatime at Podunk

I’d typically be brining and prepping a 10 pound flightless bird right now, but this year my parents made the executive decision that our Thanksgiving dinner will be a sans turkey endeavor.  I know, this is quite sacrilegious for a holiday where the turkey usually plays a starring role. But, rather than wrestling with over-sized poultry, our efforts will be spent preparing a meal with a smattering of international fare, including Hainanese chicken, Scallops with Tomato-Onion Relish, Hamachi tartar, Cauliflower and Leek Soup, and a slew of Mark Bittman’s 101 simple Thanksgiving dishes, especially prepared by yours truly.  Will these whirlwind of flavors work or will it be a Thanksgiving catastrophe?  A full post-Thanksgiving progress report is to come, complete with accompanying recipes, so hang in tight.

In the meantime, while you lucky ones are wrestling with your turkeys at home, I recommend taking a break from basting to watch a few episodes of Posh Nosh on Youtube — a British TV program on BBC recommended to me by Elsapeth, the nicest bonnet wearing, bespectacled lady and owner of Podunk, a homey little nook of a tearoom in the heart of the East Village.

Podunk is where butter is used unsparingly and cookies are sprinkled with love..and sugar.  Like a cross between an antique store and a cozy country house kitchen, a varying assortment of tea pots and children’s books populate the shelves, which sit beside the brightly painted wooden furniture and a sundry of knickknacks.  Entering the tiny tearoom, I was transported from the dark, rainy streets of New York City into a warm, familiar place.

tea and cookies

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Pizza Tasting: Motorino in Manhattan

After reading the rave reviews about Di Fara pizza, my sister Kelly and I prepared our descent to Brooklyn to brave the hungry lunch crowd.  We were going to go witness the painstaking arugula-cutting and finally get a taste of Dom DeMarco’s legendary pizza.  We set a date, penciled it in our calendar, and eagerly waited for our anticipated afternoon of pizza.

margherita

The next day, while my cousin Wesley was over at my apartment, we told him about our grand lunch plans.  “So, why are you going all the way there to get pizza?” he asked.  Kelly then went on to explain, concluding with “…he then slowly cuts the arugula with his scissors.  Want to come?”  We didn’t have to do much more convincing after that; the three of us set our lunch date.  Later the next day, while reading some more reviews online, I stumbled across an online review titled “Sink Your Teeth Into $14 Motorino Pizza, Skip Brooklyn Commute”.  The title alone challenged the need to venture deep into Brooklyn for pizza. We did our own investigating, and upon evaluating the time it’d take to commute to Di Fara’s in Brooklyn versus Motorino in Manhattan, our trip to Motorino would require less transit time.  After extensive deliberation, we made the executive decision to go to Motorino.  Did Motorino live up to the glowing review?  Well, we won’t know until our trip to Di Fara.  In the meantime, here’s an idea of what you can find at Motorino if you’re hungry in the East Village on a weekday afternoon.

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Cape Cod: Whales, lobster rolls, and dinner at the Red Inn

To escape the sweltering subway stations and crowded streets of August in New York City, my family took a road trip to Cape Cod two weekends ago.  My sister and I have been wanting to go whale watching since our days at Sea World camp–many years ago, back when we were four feet tall and in elementary school.  We spent that summer feeding manatees and dissecting squid.  It was only the beginning of our love for the creatures of the sea.

After five long hours of driving, we arrived in Provincetown with aching legs and growling stomachs and made our way to the nearest wharf-side food shack, John’s Footlong, to refuel before we boarded the boat for our whale watching tour.

Lobster Roll
Lobster roll busting at the seams

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