Queens in the House

There is a comic by the Oatmeal that gave me big chuckle the other day.  It is a drawing of a restaurant storefront that is a combination Japanese/ Chinese/ Korean/ Thai/ Vietnamese.  It has a bit of a smug superiority complex to it, since not all small cities and town can support a restaurant dedicated to one ethnic cuisine.  I myself have eaten many times in such restaurants, with mixed level of satisfaction and stomach upset.

This weekend, we were in Queens, New York, running several errands.  I've mentioned how Queens is the most diverse area on the planet and the likelihood to encounter some previously untried ethnic cuisine is pretty high.

This is an anti-Oatmeal photo.  This was taken on my phone from a moving vehicle so you picture is sucky, but in that one strip mall there are two Vietnamese restaurants in fierce competition, one pizzeria, one Malaysian restaurant, one Chinese restaurant that also serves bubble tea and a huge Chinese supermarket.  Of course down the block in either direction are numerous Taiwanese restaurants, Pakistani, Indian etc places.  It's almost a level of variety that is embarrassing.  Moving to the suburbs, this is probably the thing I miss the most.
Today I share with you what I had at one of the Vietnamese restaurants (minus the spring rolls, which were wrapped up in lettuce and herbs and devoured too quickly by the family to be photographed).

This is in Elmhurst, a neighborhood in Queens.  Nondescript interior, but soul satisfying food.
I love the fresh herbs.  When I lived in Korea, I was able to find Vietnamese restaurants, but they never served fresh herbs nor lime wedges.  Limes were really expensive in Korea, so there were rare.  Also, even at a very high end cocktail bar, it was rare to see fresh lime in drinks.  Also the broth in Seoul was plain beef broth as opposed to flavored with all the spices, which was altered for local preferences.

Hmm, lemons.  This was disappointing to me as they always served limes before.  But the basil and mung bean sprouts were nicely crisp and fresh and abundantly provided.  We nibbled on the sprouts dipped in hoisin sauce.  Each table is provided with various delicious saucy condiments.
The rest of the family ordered Pho Tai which is a bowl of rice noodles served in a most magical beef broth loaded up with all sorts of spices (all spice, clove, etc) and raw beef sliced paper thin which is cooked in the piping hot broth.  I ordered the "weird meats" version of it which in addition to the raw beef had also sorts of weird cartilaginous tendon, tripe and unidentifiable jelly (maybe knuckle?) in it.

Here's mine dressed with sprout, a drizzle of pungent sriracha sauce and squeezed with the citrus.  (would be better with lime)  Also various additional herbs are tossed in for additional fresh flavor.
It was simultaneously light, soulfully rich and beefy and full of all the freshness of the cilantro and other herbs.  Whatever ails you, this might make a good cure-all and may give chicken soup a run for its money.

And because I love coffee, I always try to order the Vietnamese ice coffee when I am in a Vietnamese restaurant.  Dark french roast coffee is is put into a little drip press over a little cup.
After the coffee drips into the little cup, you stir it into the pool of delicious condensed milk in the bottom!
The dark strong coffee is poured over ice, well stirred and sipped into delicious happy oblivion.
I would never attempt to make the pho at home.  I just don't have a culinary proficiency for working with spices I don't normally work with.  But Vietnamese iced coffee is something I make from time to time and offer when I have friends over for brunch.  Because really, who doesn't like condensed milk?!

Brew strong French roast coffee.  (I lie, I just brew my regular Dunkin Donuts extra strong)
Fill a tall glass with ice.
In a separate cup mix your hot coffee and condensed milk.  (to whatever happy dark sweet ratio you like)
Pour coffee mixture over ice.

Sip with straw.
Enjoy your buzz.

What delicious eats have you had this weekend?

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