Food and the City: Ethnic Restaurants

Tofu and Vegetable Arepa

And let me open this week’s program with more food memories from my trip to New York City, introducing a handful of ethnic restaurants. (Apologies for the not-so-great picture, I only had my phone with me when I encountered this arepa!)

Dim-sum @ Golden Bridge

I will start with a sore disappointment and just get it out of the way. Maxence and I love dim-sum, the kind that comes on a cart wheeled around by little ladies through a loud ballroom-sized restaurant, packed full with families and screaming children. Catching the cart-lady as she glides by, watching intently as she opens the different bamboo baskets to show you what she has, asking what this or that is and failing to understand, hurrying to choose so she won’t get impatient and leave, having her apply the appropriate stamp on your ticket, picking up a little dumpling with your chopsticks, blowing on it so you won’t scald your tongue then dipping it in chili sauce, gobbling it up and starting all over again — this was a favorite Sunday brunch meal when we were in California. We haven’t been able to find a good and easily accessible equivalent here in Paris (the New Nioulaville in Belleville is but a sad ersatz) so we were eager to indulge in it again in New York.

At the Golden Bridge in Chinatown, where we chose to go on Sunday after a fun walk around the fascinating food stores, the ambiance was just right — fight for a number then wait in the crowded lobby until the lady calls your number, in Chinese then in English, in the screaming microphone — but the food, unfortunately, didn’t deliver: the dumplings were greasy and tasteless and barely lukewarm. Oh well.

Sushi @ Hedeh

Hedeh is an upscale sushi bar that had been recommended to us by Kate, just off of Lafayette. We went there for dinner on Saturday night — after a long and surreal search for the street which inexplicably wasn’t where it should have been, until we realized the map in the Lonely Planet guidebook had a major misprint — and absolutely loved it. The place is a little odd because you first have to walk through a dimly lit cocktail bar — making you fear that this is just a trendy bar serving sushi, not an actual sushi bar — before you reach a reassuringly traditional restaurant room, decorated like 99% of Japanese restaurants in the Western world.

We sat at the bar so we could admire the sushi chefs’ skills while we ordered and shared an assortment of appetizers (small bites of fish or chicken with different sauces and garnishes), a sushi platter, as well as a couple sushi (uni and unagi) and one roll (my beloved spicy California) from the menu. (Strangely enough, an order of sushi got you just one, something I’ve never seen in any other Japanese restaurant — I thought an order of sushi was universally understood as a pair.) Everything was absolutely delicious and beautifully plated, the assortments featuring more than just the usual suspects, and the fish super fresh.

Arepa @ Flor’s Kitchen

On the afternoon of my last day in the city, my little shopping expedition had taken me to the East Village. I was about to return to my hotel, and I wanted to pick up dinner for the plane along the way. I meant to walk back to Once Upon A Tart on Sullivan, having earlier spotted that their sandwiches looked like pieces of fine craftsmanship, when I suddenly happened upon Flor’s Kitchen, a tiny Venezuelian restaurant that came recommended by two readers. It was right in the middle of the afternoon and the restaurant was empty but open, and I thought I would just go and check out the menu. It looked so nice and intriguing (I had never had Venezuelan food! I had to try Venezuelan food!) that I stepped inside and asked the lady (Flor, I suppose) if she could pack me an arepa (a Venezuelan sandwich made on a soft corn flour bun) and a small salad, to go. Since the arepa was destined to be eaten on a plane, she suggested the tofu and vegetable one, which would keep and taste fine at room temperature. As for the salad, the cauliflower and mango one sounded too good to pass up.

And when I got to the airport later that night and found out that my flight was delayed two hours, when I had to sit for ages on a sticky chair in the loud and gloomy waiting-room, only two things kept me sane and happy: Chang-Rae Lee’s really good latest novel and this great Venezuelan meal. The cauliflower and mango pairing was delightful, and the arepa was a great discovery (although it would have benefited from the addition of a spicy condiment, a little salsa or something) — I am not sure how typical these specific dishes were, but I will have to go and explore recipes!

Golden Bridge
50 Bowery Suite 2F (Btwn Canal & Bayard St)
(212) 227-8831

Hedeh
57 Great Jones St (Btwn Bowery & Lafayette St)
(212) 473-8458

Flor’s Kitchen
149 1st Ave (Btwn 9th & 10th St)
(212) 387-8949

  • E.

    Yay! You like Chang-rae Lee too! I heard him speak a while ago when “Aloft” hadn’t come out yet, and he seemed like the most normal person ever. It’s always so strange to meet writers after reading their books.

  • http://www.travelerslunchbox.com Melissa

    I first tried arepas in the Canary Islands, where an influx of ‘reverse immigrants’ from Venezuela brought them back. They’re actually really really easy to make, as I was thrilled to find out – look for ‘Harina P.A.N.’ (visuals available here: http://www.lapaella.co.uk/culture/harina_pan.html ) in ethnic food shops and just follow the package instructions. I’ve been able to find it in both Germany and the UK, so I’m sure it’s available in Paris. A fresh hot arepa sure beats a plain old sandwich any day! :)

  • http://mylittlekitchen.blogspot.com Cathy

    I had never had arepas until a few months ago when I went to Flor’s (Adam at Amateur Gourmet had done a review and it sounded great). Our entrees at Flor’s were OK, but the arepas were out of this world. I’m not sure which ones we had… I think one was black bean, one was beef, and I can’t remember the third… but I am longing to go back and have more!

  • maria

    I visited NY last month and enjoyed dinner at Flor’s too (Waverly Place, another location). We chose cachapas con queso (corn pancakes with cheese), arepas pollo (chicken arepas), cauliflower and mango salad (first time to hear of this combination; a bit unusual but I really liked it; refreshing), and camarones tropicales (grilled shrimp with salad, rice, and plantains). I remember having a spicy green salsa that had peppers and cilantro. Not sure if it was served with the arepas or cachapas but it went well with both items.

  • Diana

    Hi Clotilde, first time I post a comment here but read your blog everyday. I’m Venezuelan and I’m so glad that you liked the arepa and that you are curious about Venezuelan food. It makes me proud that someone who knows so much about food and have tried a great variety of cuisines, someone like you that is, would actually be interested in this not very well-known cuisine but so rich and diverse in its origins. Because, you know, I often think that Venezuelan food needs more publicity. Anyways, the filling of the arepa you had is rather unusual for traditional ones, so is the salad of cauliflower and mango, at least this is not common in the capital. The most common fillings are “the reina pepeada” (minced chicken, avocado and mayo), “domino” (refried black beans and grated “queso blanco” -some sort of salty fresh cheese), hard-boiled quail eggs with “salsa rosada” (literally “pink sauce”, which is a mix of mayo and ketchup), any kinds of cheese, ham and cheese, etc. Of course, what you fill in your arepa depends on your imagination, the combinations are endless and there are no rules! And we usually put a sauce very similar to guacamole which is called “guasacaca”, and spicy sauce too (like tabasco). If you want to know a little bit more about this cuisine, go to http://members.tripod.com/~cocinavzla/welcome.html, it may serves you as an introduction, as Venezuelan food is so complex that common natives like me only knows a tiny portion of the dishes. Also, there aren’t many sites about it in English, even rarer in French.

  • http://richardab.typepad.com/iheartnyc RichardAB

    There are so many good dim sum places in Chinatown, it’s a shame you has a dull experience!

  • http://cocola.blogspot.com eliana

    Hi Clotilde,
    I read your blog everyday but this is my first comment here. I’m from Venezuela and live in Caracas.
    As Diana said the arepa with tofu you have tasted it is not very common in Venezuela, however with “arepas” there is no rules you could fill them with anything you like. One of my favorites is the “reina pepeada” and the one fill with scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions that we use to call “perico”.
    Next time in New York you should try Caracas Arepabar http://www.caracasarepabar.com/, I haven’t got the chance to try it yet, however I got good references of the food.
    I haven’t hear about a venezuelan food place in Paris but I’m sure that there should be a place at least to buy “Harina Pan”, which is the basic to make arepas at home.
    About the salad it sounds good but it is not a typical food here, but the Mango is one of the fruits that you could find in Venezuela almost everywhere, you should try to make salad with mango and spinach. It’s a great combination.

  • http://www.blog.verbosecoma.com Andi Teran

    Hello again, Clotilde! Glad to see you enjoyed the Sugar Sweet Sunshine bakery on your trip to NYC (can’t believe you ran into someone familiar!). I had to respond to your regret of missing out on the many delights of Once Upon a Tart in Soho. When I was working in the area, this little haven was my escape a few times a month. My boss was close with one of the owners, so delectable tarts and yummy sandwiches often found their way to our workplace. Many of us couldn’t get enough, so we’d make pilgrimages over there on our lunch break and sigh at the thought of having to walk out the door and back into the real world again. I can’t believe I didn’t recommend it initially! Anyway, because of my egregious error, I would like to point you in the direction of their lovely cookbook entitled, simply, Once Upon a Tart. I think it’s a wonderful addition to any cook’s growing library…

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0375413162/qid=1120535654/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-8798236-5476717?v=glance&s=books

  • http://www.firstratekate.blogspot.com Kate

    Hi Clotilde,

    I’m so happy you liked Hedeh! It was the place that really broke me on raw fish — I always liked sushi, but hadn’t really been able to handle sashimi or just plain raw fish until there — it’s just so fresh. And don’t worry, Great Jones (even with a proper guidebook) is a tricky street even for New Yorkers. I’m glad you found it!

    Kate

  • http://www.toomanychefs.com Meg

    Clotilde, I am so with you on the disappointing atmosphere and food at New Nouilaville! We have a friend who insists on going there every time he comes back to Paris to visit and it’s a testament to how much we like him that we are willing to go.

    If you ever find a good dim sum restaurant in Paris let us know!

  • http://www.milsabores.blogspot.com milsabores

    Hello Clotilde. I’m from Venezuela. You should come to our country some time and enjoy our really nice food. (We also have hallacas) Arepas are only from Venezuela, and are very good. Yes, they’re made with Harina P.A.N. which you can find in some places around the world.

    Honestly, I think your phone camara was Ok, what was not right was your arepa. I have to say you should go to http://www.stockfood.com and search for arepas pictures. They have several good pictures.

    Valerie Irribarren was the venezuelan first chef for Caracas Arepas Bar, I know her well and supose those arepas in New York are good. She´s now in Venezuela.

    Armando Scannone is the best venezuelan recipe writer. We all love him. His web page is: http://www.elplacerdecomer.com

    If someone reads this comment and wants to come to Venezuela and enjoy our food, please do so. Call me, I will be very happy to guide you around our best restaurants. We have many great chefs, some came from France and staid here for long. Others have gone and studied in the CIA, the French Culinary or even the best schools in Paris.

    In the US you can also eat our wonderful food in Edgar Leal’s Cacao Restaurant in Miami. He and his wife (both from Venezuela) are among the Miami Rising Stars Chefs reviewed by Starchefs.com

    Thank you for writing about our food.

  • http://www.milsabores.blogspot.com milsabores

    If you decide to come to Venezuela I’m sure you would enjoy visiting cacao plantations. Many say venezuelan cacao is the best of the world.

    Please read in Condé Nast Traveler “Brown Gold” by John Newton http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/articles/Editorial/Article/data/cntraveler/2005/03mar/brown_gold.xml/

    You will enjoy it.

  • http://thehungryrose.blogspot.com Rose

    Ah, Clotide!

    It all sounds so good like usual. It seems that the cauliflower and mango salad is not a dish found in Venezuela, but it sounds absolutely delicious. I must try an arepa when I return to NYC.

    Next time in NYC, you must go for a visit to Flushing Queens. Besides the Chinese supermarkets (which are like a playground for foodies), there are, in my opinion, the best dim sum restaurants in NYC. And then there’s the special smoked tea duck shop I mentioned previously.

    Hope you can make it back soon!
    Rose

  • sally

    Hi
    Mmmmmm….dim sum. Next time try Dim Sum Go Go in NY’s Chinatown. Duck dumplings, and pea shoot dumplings. No little old ladies with carts, but steaming hot and made to order. And if you’re really serious about dumplings, and sticky rice, and har gow, you need to come to Vancouver.
    Sally

  • flo

    Hello Clotilde,

    if you like dumplings, you will have to try Chinatown’s Joe’s Shanghai – I believe they have more than 1 location in NYC, but the original Chinatown one is still the best. This is not a dimsum place, they specialize in steamed soup dumplings ( they are steamed on a bed of lettuce, and you have to pick them up ever so carefully with your chopsticks so that the dumpling won’t burst and the heavenly soup leak out), either plain pork ones or pork and crab . They are the best I’ve had, even compared to lots of places I’ve been to in Hong Kong and China.

    Love your site and your food jones by the way.

  • Mm

    Sorry to be the lone voice against dim sum in Chinatown. Without going into details, I must disagree with the very vocal majority fans. New York dim sum is not dim sum and sometimes not even fit for consumption.

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