Han Dynasty Comes To Brooklyn

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

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Vegetarian Greek At Athena

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

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Revisiting L&B Spumoni Gardens

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

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Jordanian Specialties At Bedawi Cafe

When Bedawi first opened in my neighborhood I ate there once, was unimpressed, and then completely dismissed it from my mind. I must have walked past it fifty times and didn’t give it a second thought. But on a recent summer evening my girlfriend and I went out for dinner and she wanted to try Bedawi. We got a seat out in their back patio and ordered an appetizer platter, plus a bowl of lentil soup and a couple of falafel sandwiches. And oh boy, I’m glad Carolyn insisted on Bedawi. The soup and the falafel were good, but the appetizer platter was great. You can choose five of their appetizers — we went with spinach & chickpeas, beet salad, potatoes with lemon, fava beans, and tabouleh. Everything was bright and fresh, and refreshing on such a hot evening. I really need to stop judging places on a bad first impression.

Bedawi Cafe — 266 Prospect Park West

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Vegan Spicy Cold Noodles

We had a brutally hot start to the summer here in NYC, and eating a hot supper was the furthest thing from my mind. Still, I was getting hungry and wanted to eat something, as long as it wasn’t hot. Then it occurred to me — cold spicy noodles. Yes, I was craving cold spicy noodles and I would not rest until I had them. I knew exactly how I wanted them to taste — somewhere between the cold Szechuan noodles at Lucky Vegetarian (which may be my favorite cold noodles in all of NYC) and Xian Famous Foods liang pi (which is a close second). I just wasn’t sure how to get what I wanted. I started mentally cataloguing what I thought would be involved — black vinegar for the tang, chili paste for heat, soy sauce for seasoning, maybe some tahini for the sesame flavor, plus shredded cucumbers and tofu for texture and nutrition. I cobbled together a version with all of those things, and although it was delicious the texture wasn’t quite right. It was more like cold sesame noodles, the kind you can find at your neighborhood Chinese restaurant. I wanted more, though, so I resorted to searching the internet for an answer. The answer, it turned out, was water. Not just water, but water was the key. I’ve made it again twice now, with a few variations, and it’s great no matter what the weather. Here’s how I did it.

In a small pot bring a half cup of water to boil, along with a tablespoon of sugar, a pinch of salt, and a heaping tablespoon of five-spice powder. When it boils stir it together to make sure the ingredients are well incorporated, then turn off the heat and let it cool.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and prepare your favorite long noodle. I’ve used both rice noodles and wheat noodles for this, and both work great. Prepare them as per the package directions, then drain and rinse under cold water until they get to room temperature. Let them drain until completely dry.

In a large bowl or measuring cup combine a half cup of Chinese black vinegar, a few splashes of soy sauce, and your favorite chili paste or chili oil. I’m partial to Spicy Chili Crisp but anything you like will work fine. Also add some thinly sliced scallions or shallots, and finally two heaping tablespoons of tahini. Mix well to combine all of the ingredients into a paste. Then ad the seasoned water, and stir it all up again. Check for seasoning and spiciness and adjust as needed. This thinned out sauce will better coat the noodles, and ti pools in your bowl so the noodles at the bottom soak in it.

To top the noodles you’ll need some thinly sliced vegetables. Cucumbers work well, as do carrots and celery. If you want some protein you can julienne some baked or pressed tofu as well. I also recommend more scallions, and some cilantro if you like it.

Put the cooled noodles into a bowl and pour the sauce over them (reserving some for later). Garnish with your choice of the veggies and/or tofu and mix well before consuming.

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Battle Hill Tavern Is Toby’s Pizza Reborn

I was pretty disappointed when Toby’s Public House closed. It was a true neighborhood favorite, with good pizza and friendly staff. Then I heard a rumor that a new place had opened up in the old Toby’s space, a place called Battle Hill tavern. We stopped by on a recent summer night and I’m happy to say that it lives up to the Toby’s legacy.

The menu, in fact, is pretty close to Toby’s. We shared a salad, which was great, and then I had the Spinaci pizza. The Spinaci is a white pie topped with fresh spinach and truffle oil, and it was my go-to order at Toby’s. The crust, while not as puffy as a Neapolitan-style crust, was thin, crisp, and tasty, and the balance of toppings was spot on. Carolyn got the Funghi, another white pie but topped with mushrooms and onions, and it was also delicious. I’m happy that the neighborhood has high-quality pizza again, and I’m looking forward to a return visit.

Battle Hill Tavern — 686 6th Ave

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Vegetarian At The BAM Africa Bazaar

I first heard about BAM‘s DanceAfrica Bazaar (which has apparently been going on for over 40 years!) last year, but I wasn’t able to go. This year I managed to fit it into a busy day, and I’m glad I made the time. All of the streets surrounding BAM are closed off, and vendors line every inch of the streets. You can find art, books, clothes, essential oils, beauty products, and of course food. There were actually a couple of vegan vendors there — both Nyota’s Ting and Lady M Vegelicious had promising-looking menus. But an hour into the Bazaar neither one of them had opened for business, and I was so disappointed I had to make do with an enormous veggie roti from Kim’z Guyanese. The stew of curried chickpeas and potatoes in a flaky wrap (topped with sauteed cabbage and spicy pepper sauce) more than made up for my disappointment, especially when washed down with fresh ginger lemonade. The 2018 Bazaar was held from May 26-28th, so be sure to check the BAM website for 2019’s schedule.

BAM DanceAfrica Bazaar — Ashland Pl / Lafayette Ave

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