Where do chefs go to eat on their nights off? We’re asking them — and they’re divulging the best things they’ve eaten in the last month in this weekly column.
The Chef: Jen Luk
The Gig: Pastry chef at Andrew Carmellini’s Little Park (85 West Broadway; 212-220-4110)
Known For: “Memorable sundaes” and lots of fruit-forward sweets
The Best Thing She Ate This Month: 3 Dishes at Aladdin in Astoria (29-06 36th Avenue; 718-784-2554)
“I’ve lived in Astoria for four or five years now. A friend introduced me to the Indian restaurant Aladdin, and now it’s one of the five or so local restaurants I always have in rotation.
“I grew up in Hong Kong, so I love yellow curry, which is not native to Hong Kong but is a result of their cultural mishmash with Thailand and India. You walk in the door at Aladdin and the fragrance of curry hits you; it almost punches you in the face. I originally fell in love with Aladdin because their yellow curry is exactly like the curry I’d get growing up in Hong Kong. It was pure nostalgia.
“But in general, I eat a lot of rice; much more so than bread or pasta since it sits the best with me digestively. Knowing this, my friend introduced me to their goat biryani. The first thing that hit me was the fragrance of basmati rice, which was new to me, and cardamom, which my friend told me was common in southern India. I’d never had goat meat before, either, and always assumed it would be dry and tough, like the lamb and rice you get from a halal cart that sinks in your stomach and gives you heartburn after. But the goat in the biryani is so lean and tender, and not dry at all. Mixed with the rice, it’s a dish you can eat regularly without it feeling heavy or overwhelming.
“Finally, I also love the chicken roll. I don’t really like fried food in general, but this is so good. It’s a fried roll stuffed with chicken and herbs, and the thing that really makes it is a tamarind-water spice sauce. It’s sweet, a little spicy without burning your tongue, with a sour element too. But altogether it doesn’t have the thickness of a traditional sweet-and-sour sauce. You dip the chicken roll into it and it gets soaked up with the flavor of tamarind. It’s just so good.
“You have to get there early, because the dinner menu rolls out at 6 p.m. and they sell out of things early on, especially the chicken curry and the curry roll — once they’re done, they’re done and don’t make any more. It has a neighborhood, local ambiance, with a Bengali and Indian crowd, and all the taxi drivers eat there. It’s very family- and community-oriented, with everyone meeting to talk about their day, and kids running in and around. And then there are people like me, who are neither Bengali nor Indian, but get treated well, too. It’s clean, it’s fast, and it’s consistent. I always order a chai tea, slightly sweetened, and pretty much always get those three dishes, sipping and watching the crowd until my food comes.”