BEST PLACES TO CATCH A LITTLE OF THAT WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC “FLAVOR”
by Nick D'Arienzo
Mar 19, 2009 | 10181 views | 0 0 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Well, if this incarnation of the WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC hasn’t quite whetted our appetite for our international pastime, here at “BEST OF THE BEST” it’s most definitely whetted our appetite for some of those oh-so-savory international flavors. Especially from countries that made it to Pool 1 and Pool 2, like, for example, Cuba, Puerto Rica, Venezuela, The Netherlands. (The Netherlands?! Que lastima, D.R.!) Anyway, while it’s all fresh in our minds (and while everyone else is in San Diego or Los Angeles), we heartily recommend a couple of these places. In fact, we’d recommend them ANY-time of year!

Japan

MIDORI MATSU

111-16 Queens Boulevard

in Forest Hills

(718) 263-4110

Step away from the hustle and bustle of Queens Boulevard and into MIDORI MATSU, and you will be instantly enveloped in the calm and serenity that characterizes a lot of really top-notch Japanese restaurants. MIDORI MATSU in particular, though, seems to have a couple of extra things going for it – like, for example, the gently cascading waterfall atop its impressive koi pond/fountain, and that high ceiling, and those pagoda-like booths to your right as you first enter. But step forward and into the main dining room, and you’re going to see what’s truly special about this place – it’s their hibachi tables. You’re seated around the hibachi grill, while your chef prepares/demonstrates/cooks/maneuvers everything from steak, chicken, shrimp, salmon, chilean sea bass, vegetables – it’s all good, and has to be seen (and tasted) to be believed. Oh, and by the way, the sake’s really good here, too!, too!

Cuba

RINCON CRIOLLO

40-09 Junction Boulevard

in Corona

(718) 639-8158

Authentic, authentic, authentic is the only way to describe RINCON CRIOLLO. It’s like having your very own Buena Vista Social Club right in Corona. The moment you walk in, and you catch a glimpse of the black-vested waiters, and the cantina-style seating, you will know you’re in the right place. But even moreso, if you’re an aficionado of Cuban cuisine, this is some of the finest you’re going to find this side of Havana. Gringos usually opt for the Black Bean Soup and the oh-so-inexpensive Ham Croquettes or Spanish Sausage. But why not be a bit adventurous and treat yourself to a real feast here? Like the Bistec Rincon Criollo (Beef Steak), for example, or the Pechuga al Ajillo (Chicken Cutlets in Garlic Sauce), even the Rabo Encendido (Ox Tails). And by the way, desserts here are indelibly and unforgettably delicious, no matter what you choose – Pudin de Pan (Bread Pudding), Coco Rallado con Queso (Shredded Coconut), and the crème-de-la-crème Bunuelos Rincon Criollo (doughy fritters very much like zeppole or beignets, and easily the best you’ll ever have). What can we say, but long after this season of beisbol is a distant memory, here at “BEST OF THE BEST” we will still be fondly grateful for the assignment that led us here, without question one of the most fabuloso places en nuestros viajes.

Mexico

RESTAURANT AZTECA

47-16 Greenpoint Avenue

in Sunnyside

(718) 389-6969

Hard to believe, but yessir, right there on the corner of 48th Street and Greenpoint Avenue, step into this combination deli/grocery/restaurant, and you will feel like you just stepped in off the streets of Mexico. Up front is more of a mercado, serving some of the choicest and most savory produce from Mexico – like Manteca Pura (pork fat, or lard), for example, or Carne Cecina (salted beef), and Queso Cotija (the best kind of salty, dry cheese – akin to Parmesan – to crumble or melt over your salad, refried beans, etc.). While you’re at it, you can even grab a JUMEX Nectar from the fridge or sample some of their fantastic home-made Flan. But you will definitely want to make sure you check them out in the evening some time, too, because their back room is as casual as it is inviting, and in addition to some fantastic Platos Al Estilo Rincon Azteca you’ll be enjoying – like the exotic Barbacoa de Chivo (goat) or the Lengua (beef tongue) – you’ll also want to kick back with a Tecate or a Dox XX because they’ve got some live music and entertainment now and again, as well.

Venezuela

AREPAS CAFE

33-07 36th Avenue

in Astoria

(718) 937-3835

Whether you’re pulling for Venezuela or not, it’s hard not to root for the very simpatico Riccardo Romero and the continued success of his AREPAS CAFÉ. For years, Romero was one of the top truffle purveyors in the city, until he decided to spread his wings a bit and open up his own place. Several years later, his casually stylish and inviting café serves up the best of Venezuelan arepas (in 20 different combinations) without sacrificing any of the flavor or ambience. To call them mere cornmeal crepes would be a tremendous injustice. Choose from, among many others, the Carne Mechada (shredded beef), the Mami (roast pork and avocado) or Riccardo’s special (tuna, avocado, and truffle butter). And make sure to wash it all down with one of those intriguing fruit juices you see spinning behind the counter – like the Parchita (passion fruit) or the Papelon (lemonade), or even better, a sweet little Chicha, a Venezuelan specialty drink made from rice and cinnamon. Muy sabroso!

Korea

KUM GANG SAN

138-28 Northern Boulevard

in Flushing

(718) 461-0909

KUM GANG SAN is admittedly a bit expensive, but it’s also an incredibly worthwhile experience. First off, you’re going to want to valet park your car, so you can meander into the restaurant through the back door, via the exquisite garden and gargantuan waterfall. Korean BBQ is the specialty here. Marinated meats like beef, pork, chicken, all grilled to perfection right in front of you (but especially make sure you go for the Bul Go Gi, or traditional Korean Sesame Steak). The other thing that makes Korean restaurants so special, though, are what are called banchan dishes, which are appetizers or side dishes ranging from marinated vegetables to tofu, some fish bits maybe, and of course, kimchi or Korean pickled cabbage. The Seafood Pancake here is also terrific and memorable, and I’m told to make sure to try the broiled fish here at some point, too – the Spanish Mackerel (Samchi Gui) seems to be a particular fan favorite. Anyway, you’ll also be pleased to know that KUMG GUN SAN is open 24-hrs, how cool is that!

Puerto Rico

CARNICERIA LA ESPANOLA # 2

181 Havemeyer Street

in South Williamsburg

The Puerto Rican flag flies proudly along Havemeyer Street in South Williamsburg. In fact, up and down South 2nd Street, you can’t miss the richly-colored murals (red, white, and blue, too, you know) proclaiming “Puerto Rico en Brooklyn!” While nothing is truly exclusively Puerto Rican anymore – it’s all mezclado with Colombian, and Dominican, and Peruvian, and Ecuatorian, etc. – if you’re looking for some “flavor” as they say, how about you check out the CARNICERIA LA ESPANOLA and make some Pernil of your own. Spend a couple of minutes inside this authentic butcher shop – perusing, for example, their Bistec (steak) or their Chuletas (pork chops), just to name two – and you’ll forget you’re still in the United States, let alone Brooklyn. (Be fore-warned, though, while we certainly wouldn’t want to say Anglos are not welcome in these parts, it’s probably a good idea to just keep it moving, people, keep it moving, know what I mean…)

Netherlands

SPUYTEN DUYVIL

359 Metropolitan Avenue

in Williamsburg

(718) 963-4140

Well first of all, the borough’s original name was Breukelen, right? I mean, seriously, how Dutch can you get? And speaking of Dutch names, the words “Spuyten Duyvil” (Spinning Devil) sure do have a nice ring to them, don’t they? Anyway, this bar without a sign outside (“Havemeyer dead-ends right at our front door,” they always say) is one of the foremost destinations for beer devotion you’re going to find in all of New Amsterdam. And given that they’ve proclaimed themselves to be Netherlanders in origin, you’d definitely do well to avail yourselves of any number of selections from the homeland. Like, for example, Jopen Koyt, Adriaan Wit, Bok, Hansje Drinker Tripel, Hemel Niew Ligt Gran Cru, Ij Zatte, Natte, Columbus, Mestreechs Aajt, Christoffel Blonde, and Robertus (just to name a few)!

USA! USA! USA!

JUNIOR’S

386 Flatbush Avenue

in Downtown Brooklyn

(718) 852-5257

“Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet” is, I believe, the expression. But don’t you feel like we ought to throw a little cheesecake in there, too? And hey, if you do, well there’s really no better place for that than JUNIOR’S in Brooklyn, the self-proclaimed home “of the world’s most fabulous cheesecake.” With its nostalgic charm and neighborhood bonhomie, JUNIOR’S is a throwback to an era when the world was a much better place. (And so are their French Toast, and their Cheeseburger and Fries.) In fact, come to think of it, some of the things we’ve always loved about that time-honored marriage between Brooklyn and baseball, for example, are probably some of the very same things we love about JUNIOR’S, too. “I remember a time when…” “Let me tell you something, kid…” “Geez, they don’t make ‘em like that, anymore…” Well, guess what, folks, here’s the best thing about JUNIOR’S. As long as they’ve been around, and no matter how long it’s been since you’ve been – yes, yes, yes, they still do make ‘em like that, especially the cheesecake, and there ain’t too many other places can still say that.

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