The steamed fish head with pickled chili sauce is a Hunanese miracle.
Reviewing restaurants requires a long lag time, and two or three months often separate the first time I visit a place and when the critique appears in print. But sometimes, dishes are so exciting that I can’t wait to tell you about them. Here are five I ate recently.
1. Steamed Fish Head With Pickled Chili Sauce at Hunan Kitchen — Fish head conjures up ideas of penurious pots of soup, but this specimen is magnificent: lots of flesh around the collar and jowly cheeks like Winston Churchill, all deposited in a rich limpid broth into which the color from the red pickled chiles leeches. And, over rice, the copious broth turns out to be the best part. 42-47 Main Street, Flushing, Queens, 718-888-0553
My crew one weekend at Hunan Kitchen (steamed fish head in center of table)
2. Baigan Hyderabadi at Indian Clove — The meat dishes abound at Indian Clove — a splendid upscale Punjabi improbably located down a steep hill from Silver Lake Park in Staten Island — and so do the dishes designated vegetarian. But a smaller section offers vegan fare, including baigan Hyderabadi, a slurry of whole baby Asian eggplants in a peanut sauce so memorable, you may never be able to look at a peanut butter sandwich the same way again. 1180 Victory Boulevard, Sunnyside, Staten Island, 718-442-5100
3. Plain Slice at Patsy’s Pizzeria — Don’t be tempted to put on mushrooms, pepperoni, olives, or any of the other false toppings offered at the northernmost storefront of Patsy’s linear East Harlem empire — where the coal oven resides. Splendid in its bland simplicity, the plain slice is one of the city’s best pieces of pizza, and more closely resembles the pies found in Naples (thin, somewhat soggy crust, perfect mozzarella) than any of the $16 Neapolitan pretenders around town. 2287 First Avenue, East Harlem, 212-534-9783
The 1933 coal-burning oven at the original Patsy’s — no franchised branch location is nearly as good.
4. Chocolate Flan With Masa Cocoa Streusel and Cinnamon Ice Cream at Empellon — My favorite part of the pudding is the skin, and the dense disk of choco-flan is just like skin. Add the masa crumble — which looks and tastes like graham cracker crumbs — and ice cream that will remind you of the beverage horchata, and you have a dessert that’s as memorable as dessert ever gets. With a little honey here and there for added sweetness. 230 West 4th Street, West Village, 212-367-0999
5. Foul Mdamas at Man’ouChe – Finding stewed fava beans in a Middle Eastern restaurant isn’t uncommon, but at Lebanese newcomer Man’ouChe the brown breans with a black stripe are happily joined with a few chickpeas to vary the terrain, and further improved with a luxurious quantity of very pungent olive oil. The freshly baked pita, continuously replenished, sends the dish into orbit.7701 Fifth Avenue, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 718-200-0150
The freshly baked pitas puff up extravagantly at Man’ouChe.