Hunters Point is well served by Asian restaurants, whether Sushi, Malaysian, Chinese or Thai. There’s a nice range – from smart Shi to mid-range Tuk Tuk and cheaper BANY. There are others I haven’t tried yet and then there are the delivery specialists who slide their menus under your apartment door and you wonder how far they are prepared to bicycle in order to sell their wares.
I’ve talked about Tuk Tuk (http://www.tuktukny.com) before so won’t spend long on them today. I was there last night, having been tempted by their current “special” of Salmon with Lemongrass Sauce. This was a generous portion of Salmon, it could easily have been half a pound, covered with a spicy deeply flavoured dark mushroom, lemongrass and chili sauce; all on a green salad with Jasmine rice, for $15. So, with a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc this came to a bit more than my “cheap meal” standard of $40 for two, with drinks. The salmon was tasty and the sauce rich and spicy. Placing the fish on top of a green salad provided for a nice contrast, the fresh clean leaves providing a good foil to the richness of the sauce; which itself set off the texture of a perfectly prepared piece of grilled salmon. Once again I enjoyed the warmth of the welcome and the relaxed, yet smart ambience of the restaurant, which was busy on a friday night, but not noisy. They do well in placing a board with their “special” on the sidewalk so that you are tempted to enter on your way past from the subway! Just when you are thinking “what shall cook for dinner?”, Tuk Tuk makes a suggestion that you make other plans! The power of advertising to hungry people cannot be underestimated!
It was a while after moving here last year before I ventured towards Jackson Avenue. It’s a busy thoroughfare and has a dustier, not-quite-so-well-cared-for feel. I’ve loved Manetta’s family Italian restaurant and have tasted the French style “Macarons” from the Little Oven (http://www.littleoven.com/). I’ve drunk the excellent coffee in “Sweetleaf”, which is the only local barrista that offers flat whites (great coffee but a really awkward place to get a less than comfortable seat); but had yet to try some of the other cafes in the neighbourhood. Last week turned out to be an Asian week and we came back late from an evening with New Zealanders in Manhattan and needed food. Having found the kitchen closed at Cranky’s we ventured to BANY (http://banynyc.com), an unassertive Japanese/Malaysian style restaurant on Jackson Avenue, just next to the Chase Bank at the Jackson Avenue entrance to the 7 subway.
Although late we were greeted in a friendly way and offered a table, only three other people in the place after ten o’clock, and we were the last to leave. We only needed a simple meal so ordered examples of what I refer to as “hawker” food – classic noodle dishes that, are often the quickest to appear and are usually well cooked and flavoursome. So we had Pad Thai and and Malaysian Flat Rice Noodles (chicken prawn, egg and soy). Both compared well with the kind of dishes we had eaten on a trip to Malaysia a few years back – unpretentious but well cooked and at $9 each a good alternative to 45 minutes at home over the wok. With a Sapporo beer, our check before the tip was only $28 – well below our $40 standard and a good option for a spontaneous meal late in the evening. BANY has a simple, pleasant ambience. Not quite as stylish decor as Tuk Tuk but certainly better than your average deli/cafe. I’d certainly go there again.
Shi (www.shlic.com), on Center Boulevard is our closest restaurant. As style goes it is probably the most sophisticated of the neighborhood restaurants, with a pleasant cocktail lounge area, a bar and restaurant seating that offers spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, especially at night. It’s a place that changes as the evening progresses and becomes a gathering place for groups who want to meet up for late night drinks, when the music gets louder and the place has more of a night club feel. In warm weather there are also outside tables. These, however, were not to be used on one of my first visits. That night the party with whom we dined were greeted to a display of thunder and lightning over the city; a vivid and entertaining spectacle which made me think of the “Restaurant at the End of the Universe” in Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” series, where the meal is paid for by the interest accumulated over a few million years on the dollar you invested in your own time. Check out the original BBC radio series on http://hggbbc.podomatic.com/.
Shi is a pleasant and relaxing place to go for a cocktail in the evening. Although there is sports TV projected onto a large screen above the bar this is no sports bar. The sound is off and the captioning is on. Of their cocktail menu I particularly enjoy their Ginger Mojito and Tamarind Margarita, as well as other nicely prepared and presented cocktails. The have a reasonable wine selection with the usual beers and spirits from the bar. You can eat snacks from the menu at the bar or in the lounge, including some delicious pot stickers and satay sticks offering temptation if you are not there for a full meal.
As meals go, Shi offers well prepared and imaginative dishes that have their origins across South East Asia: including Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai. Their menu is long and the choices are difficult. One thing I find with Asian dishes is that their menu descriptions are often very little help to what will actually arrive. It’s not that anything is misrepresented, it’s just that titles like chicken w/ garlic sauce really tell you very little about what you are about to receive (and for which you may be truly thankful). I’m not sure about prosciutto wrapped prawns, not that I’ve tried them – it’s just that the sound of the combination of flavours doesn’t appeal, much like scallops wrapped in bacon. They may be “fusion” but I think fusion should be something that builds on the finest of traditions and not one that randomly mixes and confuses tastes and textures.
Shi deserves its Michelin recommendation (that’s not a rosette, just a recommendation). It isn’t highly priced and fits well in the moderate range with very few dishes over $20. It’s a popular venue, especially at weekends. I’ve had mixed experiences with trying to book ahead but have never found it hard to get a table as a “walk in”. They’ll also do take-outs and deliveries, and even have their own separate counter off the sidewalk.
Three new eating establishments have recently opened in Hunters Point – Petey’s Burgers, Corner Bistro and Casa Enrique. We tried the latter last week and came away pleased with the experience.
Casa Enrique (apparently an offshoot of Cafe Henri – corner of 51st and Vernon), on 49th just next to the children’s park, is a modestly presented Mexican Cafe in a space which, in my time here, has been distinguished only by a large tantalizing yellow awning with “Bistro” in big letters, that advertised an empty premises. The awning has gone and the premises are now occupied by a team that is taking great care with a simple presentation that does not overwhelm its clientele with fake Mexican “authenticity”.
Casa Enrique offers a range of dishes that tempt from the very start and are served in a plain white painted environment where the staff is pleasant and easy going and we are not thrust into an artificial “Mexican” set up that owes more to Hollywood than Oaxaca. This small restaurant offers a selection of ordinary tables at the rear and a large community table at the front. I often walk past this place and have never actually seen anyone sitting at the community table and wonder whether they would do better to place this at the rear, for large groups, so that the smaller tables, and their occupants, can be at the front, visible from the street and thus attracting those customers who, like me, are not attracted inside empty places.
We had a good meal at Casa Enrique. I chose a Chicken with Mole sauce and rice, with PJ chosing a Poblano Pepper stuffed with Chihuahua cheese and covered with tomato sauce. My chicken was well cooked and smothered with a tasty sauce that had that clean kind of spicyness that one expects from fresh chili. The chicken was well flavoured and tender, the rice was a mix of white rice and diced vegetable – plain and simple – and both our dishes were accompanied by plain freshy made tacos, which were useful for soaking up the sauce that remained on the plate after the chicken leg had been cleaned of meat. PJ (unlike me, is someone of few words when it comes to food) described her poblano as “nice”.
We were going to leave after our main dishes but were tempted by the offer of a complimentary dessert, this being the restaurant’s first week. We were glad that we did. PJ is an aficionada of creme caramel and has compared these simple but yet complex desserts in restaurants around the world. The Flan that was offered at Casa Enrique was “really nice”; the chef there should take that as a great compliment. I had a layered cream sponge cake that was laced with some kind of alcohol and was light, creamy and delicious (also a compliment),
The restaurant is in its early days; they didn’t have any electronic payment options and did not yet have a liquor licence (hence a limited selection of Mexican sodas and water as drinks). They don’t have a website and their printed menu is still in transition. I imagine that the payment options will be available soon but that the liqour licence will depend upon the vagaries of the city council. They do, however, offer take-outs and are likely to do deliveries – all you need is the menu.
I will definitely return to Casa Enrique. Try it – it’s a welcome addition to the range of eating places in the local community.
One last excuse to include another photo:
It has been good to be able to see Jupiter and Venus in the clear evening skies earlier this week.