SOME DINING TIPS FOR A CHANGING FOOD WORLD
By F.O. Mann
November 2, 2006 -- If you think the airline business is changing fast, just cast your eye at the restaurant trade.
One of the most honored chefs of the post-war era, Joel Robuchon, is opening restaurants around the world faster than McDonald's. Krispy Kreme, the doughnut chain of choice just an eye-blink ago, is collapsing faster than a bad soufflé even while it is opening outposts in London and Hong Kong. And you'll also have to wrap your mind around the fact that the new center of cuisine and star-chef dining rooms is Las Vegas.
With that in mind, I submit these items for your palate's approval. I promise the eateries mentioned below will make your life on the road just a little bit more tasty.
THE BEST FOOD ON THE FLY IN NEW YORK
Looking for a quick bite in New York that's more exotic than a sidewalk hot dog or salted pretzel? Seek out the winner of a Vendy Award, an annual competition that selects the best pushcart food vendors in the city's five boroughs. The top honors this year went to Samiul Haque Noor, who sells spicy Pakistani grilled chicken and lamb from his cart on Broadway and 73rd Street in Jackson Heights, Queens. Runner-ups include the Arepa Lady (Maria Piedad Cano), also of Jackson Heights, renowned for her steaming Colombian corn cakes; Thiru Kumar, the Dosa Man of Washington Square Park, whose paper-thin Sri Lankan-style vegan dosas are perennial favorites; and Calexico, a taco restaurant on wheels run by three brothers at Prince and Wooster Streets in Soho. Or seek out 2005's Vendy Award winners: Rolf Babiel, whose Hallo Berlin cart at Fifth Avenue and 54th Street features a daily Oktoberfest of German sausages, sauerkraut and potato salad; Tony Dragonas, who serves char-grilled chicken and more at 62nd and Madison; and "the best Halal team" cart at 53rd Street and 6th Avenue. They dish up chicken, lamb, rice and delicious white sauce until 5 a.m. each morning.
VISITING THE HAWAIIAN VOLCANOES? YOU CAN EAT WELL. HONEST.
Business travelers get too little vacation time and one of their favored relaxation destinations is the Big Island of Hawaii and Volcanoes National Park. The problem? Where to eat. The only hotel in the park is dreary and the nearest town, Volcano, is small and somnambulant. But there are two places in Volcano where you'll eat well--and eat well by any standard that you wish to apply. The village's top table is the Kilauea Lodge, a carefully converted YMCA lodge from 1938 that doubles as the area's best bed and breakfast. At dinnertime, the rustic, high-ceilinged dining room offers inventive continental cuisine. There are several preparations of the daily catch from Hawaiian waters, of course, but also dishes such as osso bucco, hasenpfeffer (braised rabbit in wine sauce), venison and even antelope. And since it is often chilly and rainy in Volcano, about 4,200 feet up, many visitors dote on the potato-leek soup. A huge, roaring fire and the well-chosen wine list make the Lodge a surprisingly elegant place to spend an evening. Reservations are a must; dinner for two will cost about $100 before wine. Even more surprising is Volcano's Thai Thai Restaurant, which shares a building (and phone number) with the village hardware store. The menu features the Thai fare that Americans know best, but each dish is extraordinarily well-prepared and deftly flavored. And everyone orders the crunchy, tangy green papaya salad, which is flecked with tomatoes, scallions and peanuts. Decent wines are available, but the libation of choice is Singha, the justly famous Thai lager. Dinner for two runs about $60 with beer. The restaurant is located at 19-4084 Old Volcano Road. Reservations are advised (808-967-7969), but don't be shocked if the hardware store answers.
SOMETHING NEW FROM THE CHILDREN OF OLD-FASHIONED ROME
Rome's dining scene is changing swiftly thanks to the introduction of once-foreign concepts such as il brunch (the Sunday brunch) and the insalate grande (entree-sized salad). But nothing underscores the evolution as much as Roscioli, the sleek and stylish dining room just a cobblestone's throw from the world-famous Roscioli bakery. In years past, the Roscioli children would have gone into the family baked-goods and grocery business and happily turned out another generation of Roscioli's revered Roman "white" pizza. But brothers Pierluigi and Alessandro had much grander visions and their wine bar and restaurant, tucked in the back of the Roscioli salsamenteria (delicatessen) just off the Campo de'Fiori, is unique. There are more than a thousand wines on offer--many displayed on free-standing glass shelves--and dozens available by the glass. The menu is an intoxicating array of artisan cheeses, salamis and hams sourced from around Italy; elegant salads such as braised artichokes and arugula; house-made pastas with creative sauces; and the freshest seafood, usually served crudo (raw). An example: one recent lunch special was seven perfect scampi that were breathtaking to look at, to eat and, at €42, to pay for. Everything--the service, the fashion-forward tableware and Eurohip attitude--keeps pace with the cuisine. Needless to say, this is not your father's--or the fratelli Roscioli's father's--Roman trattoria. If you are looking for the good, cheap, Roman eats of years past, this is definitely not for you. But if you're looking for the next wave of Roman dining, start here. Expect to pay €40 a person before wine. Wines by the bottle start at about €15 for rustic local whites and reds and then head for the stratosphere. (Via dei Giubbonari, 21/23; 06-687-5287.)
MALAYSIAN CUISINE BY WAY OF DOWNTOWN WASHINGTON
Unless you are a frequent visitor to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian food probably is not in your regular rotation. Which makes Malaysia Kopitiam in downtown Washington such a treat: It's not only rare, it's also terrific and inexpensive. One of the few restaurants in the capital that makes Washingtonian magazine's storied Cheap Eats and "100 Best" lists, Malaysia Kopitiam isn't much to look at. But once you get past the drab décor that resembles a basement bar, your taste buds will take over. There's a delectable assortment of appetizers, including Lo Bak, a very long spring roll stuffed with pork, jicama and onion; Rembah Udang, minced chicken and shrimp inside a roll of sticky rice grilled in a banana leaf; or Achar, a salad of pickled pineapple and vegetables topped with peanuts and sesame seeds. Entrees include a huge assortment of noodle dishes and soups, vegetarian specialties and curries. The Rendang, a thick, coconut-flavored curry preparation, is especially succulent. Another notable entree: lotus root stuffed with chicken and shrimp and stir-fried with vegetables in black-bean sauce. Although Malaysian cuisine borrows freely from Chinese and Indian cooking, the variety is daunting, so ask the helpful servers for advice. Or consult the loose-leaf binder that accompanies the well-annotated menu for pictures of the dishes on offer. There's a serviceable wine list and an ample roster of beers, including Malaysia's crisp and justly famous Tiger lager. Dinner for two, including alcoholic beverages and tea, probably won't crack the $50 mark.
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