(This venue is closed.) That tingle tells you, if you aren't on top of your East Asian geography, that Tibet borders Sichuan province and that dofu khatse ngoen ma ($5.75) is a Himalayan take on Chinese mapo tofu. (Even at Chinese restaurants the name of the dish can vary. Szechuan Gourmet, which uses an older romanization for the province, gives it a curiously Western-sounding name.) This dofu khatse lacked complexity, but the bean curd was soft and the sauce had a bite; I was glad my sweet lassi ($2.50) was already at hand.
(This venue closed in 2014 after 35 years.) Two fried with potatoes ($4.25), part of a breakfast combo with juice, coffee, and rye toast, or "whiskey down," as my waitress called out to the short-order cook. In a quieter moment the two of them conversed in Spanish, but at busy times it seemed only diner-speak would do.
Olympic Restaurant 115 Delancey St. (at Essex St.), Manhattan 212-420-8153
(This venue is closed.) No, not Jamaican; the colors of the awning are all wrong. This tiny storefront serves takeout food from Suriname, a South American country whose colonial heritage is still evident in the names of many menu items. Listen to the pronunciation of garnalen as often as you like; for any but native Dutch speakers, the precise sound of that initial consonant may prove elusive. It's easier to stick with English and order the shrimp sandwich ($4), modestly sized but given bulk by potatoes that are curried with the crustaceans — the spiciness has a sweet undercurrent — and complemented by crunchy pickles.
(This venue is closed.) Frozen custard is richer and denser than ice cream. While both must contain at least 10 percent milk fat, federal regulations also require that frozen custard contain a minimum of 1.4 percent egg yolk solids. What's more, standard custard-making practice entails a lower overrun, the amount of air churned into the product. As a result, frozen custard can be served at a temperature about ten degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than ice cream, without going all runny; it doesn't need to numb your tastebuds or threaten the dreaded ice cream headache.
That's a long way of saying that frozen custard is tempting even in Wisconsin-like weather. Shown: chocolate-peppermint (5 oz., $4.75).
5 Oz. Factory 24 West 8th St. (Macdougal St.-Fifth Ave.), Manhattan 212-777-MILK www.5OzFactory.com
(This venue is closed.) In 2007 a BBQ restaurant called Oklahoma Smoke opened, and then closed, on West 145th. It's a convenient thoroughfare between Manhattan and the Bronx — the gas station across the way is never hurting for customers — but a bleak-looking street for a casual stroll. I never did make my way back for the baked potato, smoked and then stuffed with a choice of BBQ chicken, beef, or pork.
The contours of the 'cue joint are still evident in Mountain Bird, which opened in late 2013, retaining the wider-than-deep dining room that now snugs 20 or so in a hodgepodge of seating arrangements. Our threesome was seated at a circular table perched close to the dessert display case; I had my eyes on the sticky toffee walnut fig cake ($4) even before the menus arrived. We resisted dessert until after a proper brunch, but there's no harm in your learning up front about the moistness of the cake, the restrained sweetness of the toffee, and the just-chewy-enough texture of the fig. To no surprise, the chef, Tokyo-born Kenichi Tajima, is a longtime veteran of Payard.
Though first trained in Japanese culinary technique, Tajima has devised a bill of fare more befitting a French roadside inn, if French roadside inns sell burgers these days. Shown below: a truffle-mornay-sauce-stuffed BBQ turkey burger with potato croquettes; smoked salmon eggs benedict with creamy spinach, tarragon béarnaise sauce, and roasted vegetables; and chicken schnitzel with shrimp bisque mac and cheese. The richness of the burger, the crispness of the croquettes and the schnitzel, the lightness of the mac and cheese, and the freshness of the spinach were each a delight. And a steal: Each brunch entree ($15) also included coffee or tea; a trio of mini-breads accompanied by vanilla-bean-speckled butter; and, in lieu of the usual salad, a warming cup of cauliflower soup.
When I return for dinner (sooner rather than later), the "head-to-toe" cassoulet sounds perfect for the season; it sports turkey sausage and bacon, chicken comb, duck leg and gizzard confit, and a fitting roster of onions, carrots, and beans. I've wanted to banish thoughts of that BBQ-stuffed baked potato; the odds are good.
Mountain Bird 231 West 145th St. (Seventh-Eighth Aves.), Manhattan 212-281-5752 www.MountainBirdNYC.com Closed Monday
(This venue is closed.) Suvanique is a celebratory dish that has gone mainstream, at least in its native land. Especially when prepared for a big occasion, a traditional Guatemalan suvanique includes two or more meats that are set into a vessel lined with enormous, emerald green mashan leaves; the leaves are tied shut, then the vessel is filled with water and set into a fire pit, where the dish steams for many hours. Though I'm sure that my humble chicken suvanique ($7) was cooked on a stovetop, and in an unlined pot, given the ample accompaniments of salad, rice, and (not shown) black beans and soft, fat tortillas, for a midday meal I didn't want for more.
The dish is spelled at least four different ways at neighboring establishments. "Suban-ik" is closer to a baseline version; the ending "ik" means "chili pepper" in Q'eqchi', a Mayan language still widely spoken in Guatemala. Despite the etymology, such dishes tend to be piquant rather than fiery.
Also shown: ponche (small, $1.50). Though a Thanksgiving turkey decoration was hanging on the wall, this Christmastime treat was already on offer in mid-November. (The pace of the holidays seems to be faster all over.) Ponche is both a drink and a dessert: After drinking off the thin liquid, you eat the fruits with a spoon. This batch was thin on spices but thick with fruit, including apple, plantain, pineapple, and raisins.
Delicias de Guatemala 300 Anderson Ave. (Cliff-Walker Sts.), Fairview, New Jersey 201-945-0184
Food mart was just one stage in the life cycle of this corner storefront. Today it's a base of operations for no-frills auto repair, "flat fix" a specialty. And prior to its grocery days, before one could buy soda, beer, and sandwiches, the stock in trade included beepers and records, according to the old text reemerging on the awning.
On the wall in the distance — look above the young lady in the blue hijab — a sign for a seemingly much older and unrelated business proclaims that "We Certainly [something] at the Bronx [something] Store". What was on offer? Your guess is as good as mine.
Romano Grocery Store Surviving signage, Morrisania, Bronx
(This venue is closed.) Were burekas on the menu of The Garden Cafeteria? I don't recall ever setting foot inside that establishment, which occupied these premises for many decades until it shuttered in 1983, and I have little knowledge of the bill of fare. But if those flaky baked pastries with Sephardic roots were on the menu of the cafeteria — a longtime center of Lower East Side intellectual life, beside the building that once housed the offices of The Jewish Daily Forward — you can bet they weren't filled with roast pork.
This trio of roast pork so ($2.50) have the same filling as a roast pork bun; "so," more commonly written as "su," means that they're baked to a "crisp" rather than steamed. They make a nice nosh.