Monday, July 27, 2009

Outer Borough Tour

Last week I was watching the latest No Reservations from Anthony Bourdain, when he was traveling with his crew to Melbourne, the city that I consider "forgotten" in Australia. I really don't know anything about the place, which is why I found this particular episode intriguing. What I didn't realize is that Melbourne is a huge melting pot that he described as the San Francisco of Australia. So he waltzed around sampling the local fare (and tasty beverages) like he typically does on his show and then he hit up a simple, back-street Szechuan restaurant. The food that he had there looked absolutely amazing and loaded with hot chili peppers. He commented that it is hard to find amazing Szechuan Chinese food even in a place like New York, which I mildly scoffed at - until I remembered that I can no longer consider myself a Manhattan snob anymore, considering I am the Jack of Queens (get it?). I have heard about some diverse food out in Flushing, Queens, which sounds like a disgusting place to me. Flushing, as in a toilet. Flushing, as in a part of the sound where all the pollution ends up. Flushing, as in a melting pot to where you can take a $2 shuttle from Manhattan Chinatown to. Wait, what was that?

So, Friday night after work, it was on; destination neighborhood: Flushing; destination cuisine: legit Szechuan Chinese; restaurant name: "Spicy and Tasty"; ethnicities represented in the discovering party: Latina, Gringo, and Indo-Caribbean; number of ethnicites other than Chinese in "Spicy and Tasty": 0. That's right, Erika, Priya, and I landed in a hotbed (pun intended) of spicy and tasty Szechuan cuisine. In Queens. That amazing part about this neighborhood is that I got off on the last stop on the 7 train and was immediately transported to Chinatown's Canal St, only with a few more buses (commuter, not tourist). It was jam packed with a wide variety of ethnicities and there were a ton of places to go eating. This is actually a legitimately sweet neighborhood, I could say.

Spicy and Tasty did not tell a lie about their food. The appetizers were being made at the counter next to the entrance and they were already prepared, so we knew that we were getting the spicy goods that couldn't be watered down like our entrees would be. They produced an inferno for my taste buds, but I couldn't get enough of the bamboo shoots and the bean curd? Amazing. Bean curd, who the hell eats bean curd. I didn't even know what bean curd was, but I couldn't understand what the waitress was saying so I said "yea, we'll take that one". Bean curd is like tofu, except it's more firm and tastes like CHEESE! Awesom stuff, I ate every last sliver of it.

After a dinner of double-cooked pork bellies (like a plate of thick bacon and veggies), spicy shrimp (juicy), and lamb home-style (blazing and succulent), we were all fat and happy and had enough left over to feed us for the next two days. But, being in this neck of the woods, we couldn't just go home without getting some legit boba tea. Question: why is boba tea so expensive? Those tapioca balls can't be that expensive to make, and surely the tea is cheap. Whatever, it's still great to drink and to introduce to the eager-to-try, easy-to-please wife :o).

Next stop: Priya's new apartment in Jackson Heights. Well, technically it's a year old and we visited it last year after she bought it and it was completely empty. And MASSIVE. It's now nicely furnished and is still the biggest one bedroom apartment I've seen in my life and is located in a very charming, historically protected neighborhood where something like 180 languages are spoken. Slightly diverse. Priya is awesome to hang out with and like a true Trini (from Trinidad), she busted out a bottle of quality rum (which was actually from Guayana) to treat us to some stiff rum and cokes. Just the smell of rum brough me back to the days of Bacardi-induced hangovers. But quality liquor never does that to you, so I got to enjoy some risk-free Cuba Libres for the evening. Before we knew it, it was 2:00am and we had to get home since we were planning on exploring Brooklyn the next day (in a blog to be named later). But we have lots of plans for hanging out with Priya this summer, like hitting up some clubs, eating some home-cooked caribbean food, getting her to come to our salsa classes, and drinking some more of that goooood rum!

J. Riley, a $10 taxi ride and we are home!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer Starts....Now!

Scientists haven't figured out why yet, but lately I've been....motivated. It's really weird. I am not sure what it was that flipped the switch for me - among other things, it could have been the realization that I will most likely live until I'm only 60, it could have been the wife telling me that I should try to accomplish more things with my plethora of free time, it could be the start of summertime in Astoria, or it could have been the new book that I'm reading that has opened my eyes and my mind to what is there for me to experience.

So on the weekends, I've started exploring my living environment - destination unknown. Well, that's not totally true. Last weekend, out of sheer boredom, I decided that I had to experience an article that I read when I first moved to this hood: The Top 5 Sandwiches in Astoria. Sandwiches? Really? It sounds kind of boring in light of the fact that we live in a crazily diverse area, but I decided that it would be a worthwhile adventure to undertake on a beautiful weekend. Unfortunately, I didn't start until Saturday evening on the 4th of July, so I only got through two of them - last weekend. The first one I hit was the one with the most consonants and the fewest vowels on the list: Cevapdzinica Sarajevo. Apparently Google Maps can't figure out our weird hyphenated addresses any better than me, so it was quite an experience finding this place. Was it worth the journey? Yes, because I got to see a new neighborhood and found some cool looking places to hang out and eat. But the Cevapi were a little bit fatty/greasy for my taste. But at least it was interesting!

The next day, I was going to hit up Sal, Kris & Charlie's Deli on my way to the park after stopping by the office to pick up my sunglasses. On my five minute walk to the office from the bus, I came across a gem among the chop-shops and warehouses that line the roads near my office: A newly opened dance studio that has lessons nightly on Latin dancing! Wholly crap, I had totally been thinking about taking some lessons with Erika when she gets back, and this place is like 5 minutes from work with reasonable rates and probably no customers! More on this later...

So after snatching my glasses, I headed to the deli to get me a monster 'which. I was cracking up because this deli is just that - a typical New York bodega-style deli, but they were packed with customers ordering artery clogging meat between two slices of bread. This thing probably had more calories than I had eaten in a week but, you know, I didn't really care! For the first time, I had a sandwich in my hands that brought me back to the epic meals I used to eat on the weekends in SLO-town during college. I mean, look at this thing!

Anyway, after spending the day basking in the sun and digesting five pounds of processed meat, cheese, and bread, I came home with my next mission in mind. The community college next to my office offers Spanish conversation courses that I neglected to enroll in a few months back due to me being lazy and assuming that I shouldn't have to pay for something that Erika can do for free. I found out how well that worked when I went to Peru last month and was more mute than at any period in the past! So I checked into it again and found that a class that offers two hours of lessons two days a week is going to be starting in August. I figured that I could enroll in Spanish II since I'm not completely hopeless in Spanish, but Erika insists I need to enroll in Spanish I. I guess I should have figured that out after being out of my league in the free classes I took in the past :o/ .

So, this summer is shaping up nicely. I took my first Salsa class last night (free every Thursday night) and, as expected, I was the only student who showed up. This place is fresh off the boat, so that didn't really surprise me. But it turned out to be brilliant - personal classes are normally expensive and I got a lesson customized to me! I was actually surprised at how my limited knowledge of the basic salsa step and rhythm carried over to the moves that I learned. I had an awesome time though and pretty much quadrupled the number of steps and moves that I can break out on the dance-floor now :o). Erika and I will certainly be attending a plethora of these classes starting Sunday!

Of course, I'm going to have to try to fit those classes in between the other events going on this summer, though, such as the free movies in the parks that are starting this week. Free mainstream DVDs in Astoria Park on Monday nights followed by independent foreign films at Socrates park on Wednesday nights. So it looks like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights are scheduled. We've gotta take Salsa lessons somewhere in between, though!

The J. Riley, taking full advantage of the summer this year!