The current, Chinese-owned grocery looks out on a high school and on Sara D. Roosevelt Park. It's a good bet that if you step inside (I didn't), you'll still find chocolate, java, and pop, and many more packaged snacks and soft drinks, too. The grocery's much older predecessor, whose surviving signage can also be glimpsed at the far left of the first photo, may well have been a pizzeria. The curve, below and to the left of the "big cans" sticker, turns out to be a capital "C" when the deteriorating facing is bent back (it doesn't bend far). C-a-l-z ... "calzone".
(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
Bánh cuốn can be found throughout Vietnam and in Vietnamese restaurants throughout New York, but they are particularly associated with the North, and Hanoi, first home of Tonkin Kitchen's owner. She employs a wooden dowel, I noted with delight, much like the proprietor of the old December 19 Market, with similar silky-textured results.
Tonkin Kitchen specializes in a style called bánh cuốn trứng (about $8 each); "trứng" denotes the addition of an egg, in this case poached. Mine featured sauteed ground pork, with wood ear and shiitake mushrooms; you can also swap in shrimp for pork or enjoy mushrooms alone. The house fish sauce (in the second photo, it's pooled at the bottom) is relatively mild; indeed, it's an essential complement to the bánh cuốn. Don't pass it up.
Dondourma, Turkish-style ice cream, is more chewy than creamy. The elastic consistency is traditionally provided by sahlep, the powdered tuber of a Middle Eastern orchid, but in recent years the orchid has become increasingly endangered and Turkish sahlep has been barred from export.
A common substitute is konjac powder, derived from the corm of a plant that grows abundantly in East and Southeast Asia. Even if you spent your formative years chewing on dondourma in Istanbul, you might find it difficult to detect the difference. Here konjac adds its distinctive texture to a cup ($4) of spiced date ice cream.
In a two-scoop cup of jaggery atop durian-banana ($6), you'd expect the latter — which features the infamous "king of fruits" — to have the stronger flavor. Jaggery, you may know, is an unrefined sugar usually made from palm sap. Often it has a golden brown color and molasses-like undertones, both of which were nearly absent in the scoop on top.
The paleness of its company, however, didn't diminish the durian-banana. To my delight that scoop tasted very little of banana, which is employed more to temper the durian pungency and to help smooth the texture. What comes through is the lush and fragrant flavor of the best durian ice cream in the city.
No doubt you can name a pizzeria or two that deals only in whole pies, "no slices." For years this purveyor of bespoke wedding cakes and specialty cakes, many with Asian-inspired flavors, has operated on a similar basis; its Lower East Side shop, as you might imagine, is open by appointment only.
At long last, Silk Cakes has opened up a slice joint, albeit with limitations. Walk-ins are welcome, when you find yourself withing walking distance of Forest Hills; seats are unavailable, so you must take your order to go. And there's no option of a "plain slice," only the likes of black sesame cake, yuzu buttercream, and green tea truffle ($5.50).
Silk Cakes 98-14 Metropolitan Ave. (69th Rd.-70th Ave.), Forest Hills, Queens 718-830-3838 Closed Monday Also by appointment only at 53 Ludlow St. (Grand-Hester Sts.), Manhattan 917-892-5851 www.SilkCakes.com
Years ago in Guangzhou, I chanced upon an outdoor restaurant where almost everyone was working on a plateful of noodles. First formed into thin sheets, the noodles had been rolled into rods and then cut into pieces. They were served only with soy sauce and sesame seeds; the main appeal was in the relative firmness of the noodles, once rolled.
The rolls in this rendition — called to my attention thanks to the typically exhaustive scouting of Chowhound regular Chandavki — were not as snug as in Guangzhou, but the layered noodles still offered a very pleasing chewiness. The counterman referred to these noodles as chee cheong fun, a name that I had wrongly lumped together with cheong fun. Unless you speak Cantonese, you may do better with the menu's English name, steam rice rolls ($6.50). These were stir-fried with vegetables, mushrooms, and soy sauce; a tempting-sounding alternative is topped with beef stew.
85 Chinese Restaurant 85 Chrystie St. (Grand-Hester Sts.), Manhattan 212-680-0118
(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.