A few years ago I wrote about the abundance of Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi restaurants along Coney Island Avenue. In the last few years some restaurants have come and gone, but I haven’t really kept up. Then I got a message on Instagram from Kim, a food blog friend who seems to know about all of the new restaurants around the city, with an article about Jalsa Grill & Gravy. They had a lot of clearly marked vegetarian and vegan options, so I decided to check it out.
Everything at Jalsa is made fresh, to order. That means you may have to wait a little longer than normal for your food. It also means the food is delicious, and doesn’t taste like your usual cookie-cutter Indian restaurant. The star of my meal was the (vegan) gobi mirhci keema — small pieces of cauliflower cooked in a rich, smoky sauce full of garlic and green peppers. I normally don’t care for green peppers, but in this case they actually added both flavor and texture to the dish. Scooped up with torn pieces of fresh roti the dish was like nothing I’ve ever tasted before.
The staff was friendly and attentive — after making sure I wasn’t a vegan they brought out a shot of homemade mango lassi, made with homemade yogurt. It was the perfect capper to a great meal.
Jalsa Grill & Gravy — 964 Coney Island Ave
Even those of us who write about food (however intermittently) get stuck in our food ruts. Almost every time I go to Sunset Park I end up eating at Lucky Vegetarian. That’s not a bad thing, since it’s so good. But when I read about Chuan Tian Xia over on Eat the World NYC I thought it was about time to shake up the routine. I had two amazing dishes at the Sichuan restaurant on a recent visit, and hope it was just the first of many. The cold Chengdu noodles were as garlicky and spicy as they were wobbly and slippery (which is to say very). But the standout dish was called simple “griddle cauliflower”, heated at the table in a wonderfully flavorful chili-garlic-ginger sauce. It danced right up to the edge of too spicy without going over, and the cauliflower itself was perfectly crisp. It’s been a while since I was so excited by a restaurant, but Chuan Tian Xia lives up to the hype.
Chuan Tian Xia — 5502 7th Ave
I’m ashamed to say that although I’ve spent a lot of time in the Asian side of Sunset Park I haven’t spent nearly as much time on the Mexican-Latin American side. This past weekend I stopped by a place I had heard good things about – Tacos Matamoros. I got the enchiladas de hongos (mushrooms), which come in your choice of sauce. On my server’s recommendation I got the green sauce, which had great heat and nice acidity. Topped with radishes and crema to tame the heat, it was a warming dish for a blustery wintery day.
Tacos Matamoros — 4508 5th Ave
At a ramen joint focused on beef bone broth is this particularly delicious vegetarian miso ramen. With a vegetable broth that highlights the fermented flavor of miso, some wonderfully chewy noodles, and toppings that range from fresh cucumbers to fried lotus root there is so much to like in this one bowl.
Za-Ya Ramen — 545 Court St
I’ll be honest — I’m not a fan of the DeKalb Market food hall. I think it’s too crowded, too loud, and too expensive — I guess I really am getting cranky in my old age. But I was excited to hear that a branch of Philadelphia’s Han Dynasty would be opening there. I enjoyed my meal (several years ago) at their East Village location, and I was glad to hear they were coming to Brooklyn. I went with some friends during their soft opening a few months ago, and made a return visit now that they’ve been up and running for a while. Some of the menu is hit-or-miss, but when it’s good it’s really really good.
The entree section has a list of different styles, and you can choose which protein you want to be cooked in that style. Not all of them offer tofu, but enough of them do that there are enough vegetarian options to warrant repeat visits. I chose to have my tofu Cumin Style — fried with a cumin crust and stir-fried with onions and hot peppers. I’d only ever seen this preparation with lamb, so I was excited to try the tofu version. It was everything I was hoping for: crunchy, aromatic, well-seasoned, and spicy enough to make my nose run a little. That’s a level 7 spicy at Han Dynasty; some of the dishes, like the cold sesame noodles, have no spice at all but others go all the way up to a level 10 (you can also ask them to adjust the spice level if you can’t handle it). We found the Scallion Style tofu (zero spice) to be a little bland, but the spicy crispy cucumbers (level 7) were good and definitely lived up to their name. Han Dynasty is a good enough reason for me to brave the nonsense of DeKalb Market, and there are so many other styles I haven’t tried yet.
Han Dynasty at DeKalb Market — 445 Albee Square W
Conventional wisdom has it that if you want good Greek food in NYC, you need to go up to Astoria. I’ve been walking past Athens, a Greek restaurant on 6th Ave here in Brooklyn, for years without stopping in. I like Greek food, and it’s pretty close to my apartment, but for some reason I never went in. Carolyn and I had been talking about trying it, but somehow never actually went. But when my parents wanted to come in to Brooklyn to meet us for lunch it seemed like the perfect occasion to finally give Athena a try.
We started out a with a trio of appetizer dips — potato with garlic, artichoke with peppers, and hummus — which came with vegetarian stuffed grape leaves and olives, as well as some warm pita triangles. We also got a special appetizer of mushrooms stuffed with feta and topped with tomato sauce.
I couldn’t decide between a few different entrees, so I split the difference and ordered the vegetarian version of the Spartan Combo. This consists of moussaka (thinly sliced eggplant and tomato sauce), pasticchio (pasta baked with a layer of thick bechamel), both with crumbled falafel instead of ground beef, as well as a spinach pie and a greek salad. It was so much food we had plenty leftover to take home. Everything, from the appetizers through the entree, tasted fresh and delicious. I found myself wondering why we had never been.
Athena seems to be a family-run restaurant. Our server appeared to be one of the owners, and he referred multiple times to his brother’s recipes. He also brought us complimentary “Windex” shots — ouzo, blue Curacao, and Sprite — that we could have done without. I drank two of them.
Athena — 535 6th Ave
L&B Spumoni Gardens, which has been serving their square pizzas in Brooklyn since the 1950’s, is famous for their slices where the cheese is baked under the sauce. I went there once, many years ago, and my impression at the time was that it was good but not really pizza. More of a bread-cheese-sauce casserole. I didn’t even realize they had a whole inside, sit-down restaurant with plenty of non-pizza options, until we met up with my family to celebrate a birthday. I ordered a side-slice as an appetizer, wondering if time had changed my opinion. It had not — I still think it’s good, but I don’t crave it the way I crave really good Neapolitan-style pizza. I also ordered an eggplant parm hero, and I added the optional broccoli rabe. The eggplant was fine but the broccoli rabe was fantastic. It was perfectly cooked, bright green and still a little crisp, and saturated with garlic. It was so good that Carolyn ordered a side of broccoli rabe after tasting it, and we agreed it was the best thing on the table. L&B is a little out of the way for me, and I wouldn’t call it destination-worthy pizza, but if you’re eating int he dining room be sure to grab some of that broccoli rabe.
L&B Spumoni Gardens — 2725 86th St