Bun Bun

Ever since I tasted the pork bun at Momofuku, I’ve been hooked. Homemade steamed bread filled with glorious Berkshire roast pork and scallions. Wouldn’t it be great if hot dog vendors would also sell these mouth watering Chinese street sandwiches?

At Province, a Chinese Canteen located on the corner of Church and Walker, nothing about the décor distracts you from its purpose; devour as many pork sandwiches as Wimpy would a hamburger. And that’s all you can get there. Braised pork, spicy pork, or the killer short rib and kimchi. There is a chicken sandwich, although I can never bring myself to order it.

The fall off the bone pork is wrapped in a mantou, a steamed bread which is a staple in Northern China. Romaine lettuce can be substituted, but this would be a mistake. These pork buns will set you back $3.75, but two rounds out at $7.00, and three at $10.50.

Province gets on the noodle bandwagon with spunky cold sesame noodles adorned with either chicken, roast pork or sweet & spicy tofu. What an absolute treat. I still enjoy the traditional form from old bastions like Mei Lah Wah on Bayard, but the new style is here to stay.


Pizza is a hotter topic than August weather and hurricanes, and anyone who has spent time residing in the big apple has formulated some opinion as to where the best slice is being crafted. Amid all the hype of the recent New York magazine proclamation that Una Pizza Napoletana is best, my buddy Scott (an Italian from Staten Island with serious pizza opinions) and I went investigating, appetite in tow.

It opens at five sharp, and already there was a line to fill the very few tables available. Three very disgruntled men were frantically trying to repair the air conditioner. I overheard that the dough might rise too much if the temperature was not controlled, and I started to worry that they were going to close up shop.

The menu serves as an historical overview of proper traditional Neopolitan pizza-making. In breve, use only the best, native, fresh ingredients. Follow up with a secret family recipe. Bake in a wood-fired brick oven. Open to the public for few hours and close when the dough runs out.

There are four variations of pizza offered, from Marinara, Margherita, Bianca to Filetti. The toppings are San Marzano tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, buffalo mozzarella, and fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, garlic and sea salt.

The pizza came out within minutes, and in my opinion too quickly. The ingredients had not been given ample time to coagulate, making for a sloppy slice. Every other aspect of the pizza was sublime. I could taste every single element of the pizza, and thankfully so.

First came the tomatoes, pure, sweet and tangy. Then the olive oil, fruity and balanced. The fresh herbs tasted just picked off the mountainside. The mozzarella ethereal. Somehow I believe the bufala contributed to the wetness of the slice, not a feature I enjoyed. But this shortcoming was made up for by the dough, which is easily the best I have ever had, including my travels to Italy. The dough was a cross between great tandoori oven nan and the greatest pizza dough on earth. It made the trip well worth it, and caused much intellectual discussion over the product.

All in all, in a search for a harmonious pizza, I felt shorted, but in terms of a fabulous pizza experience, I was rewarded. At nineteen dollars for a twelve inch pie, the only problem remaining was how to afford more than one pie. Skill costs money, and at Una Pizza Napoletana, the skill level is at a zenith.

Arriba! Arriba!

In response to the tequila craze this week, I recently took my friend Billy out to drink a proper tequila. He invited a lady friend, and as there was some sexual tension, I broke the ice by ordering a tequila shot and then teaching them how to perform a body shot. Once applied, you know exactly where you stand for the night, and can plan accordingly.

If this is too racy for your blood, then try it the way most Mexicans take it, a blanco with a chase of sangrita. Premium white tequilas are 100% percent blue agave and have not been aged in oak barrels. They display more of the terroir in tequila, thus expressing its original intent. The sangrita recipes vary, but its components resemble that of a Bloody Mary mix.

The Body Shot is performed as follows:

Rub lime on partner’s neck.

Pour salt on the same spot.

Place lime in partner’s mouth.

Take ½ shot.

Lick the neck.

Take other ½ shot.

Kiss for the lime.

Any other variations should be performed only if you are really friendly with your partner(s).


2 cups tomato juice

1 cup orange juice

2 oz. lime juice

2 tsps. Tabasco sauce

1 tsp minced yellow onion

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

pinch white pepper

Celery salt to taste

Blend all ingredients in large pitcher and chill for three hours before serving.

Some recommended blanco tequilas

El Tesoro






Cabo Wabo

Spain in the city

Specialty shops thrive in neighborhoods that were once delineated by the type of immigrants. In an age where every ethnic store is under attack from wealthier franchises such as Starbuck’s and Duane Reade, the survival of these shops is at critical mass. Imagine Arthur Avenue without Teitel’s, Washington Heights without bodegas, or Greenpoint without the local Polish kielbasa butcher. Curiously enough, certain countries appear underrepresented. Perhaps because a country like France is so diverse, items like olive oil is sold separately, so is chocolate, etc.

Nowadays a consumer can find ingredients over the internet, almost taking away from the pleasure of shopping in these types of general stores, where a family behind the counter and free samples are the norm.

Spain, however, has been well represented for over twenty years. Jackson Heights has been home to Despana brand products and recently has opened a Broome Street branch.

Jovial owner Marco and his lovely wife Angelica have created a slice of Spain, showcased in a trendy format, fitting for its new address.

The store is visually astounding, with black lacquered shelves opposite shiny white tiles, separated by an attractive glass casing displaying artisanal cheese and meat products. A fabulous collage of Spanish life centers the back wall, and a large leg of jamon Serrano keeps the eye on the prize. The shelves are stocked with everything from Arborio rice to honey to jams to olive oil to whatever the well-stocked Spanish kitchen should have, with little tastings offered along every step of the way. Towards the rear is a glass enclosed open kitchen where delectables are put out daily by Chef Ignacio, a great interpreter of Spanish cuisine. To the right is a small eating area, flanked by a cooler of wines, waters, and ciders. You can buy boquerones, the prized white anchovies from the Cantabrica coast, and even buy sangria pitchers or paella pans too. Whatever you don’t see on display, you can order from the Queens flagship store, and after a round of fried almonds, cheese, olives, and sausages, you’ll be hard-pressed to leave empty handed.

Aside from the traditional chorizo, there are other pork sausage products offered such as fuet, chistorra, butifarra blanca y negra. Don’t miss out.

Many tastings and classes are scheduled at Despana, and they usually are taught by an expert flown in from Spain. They should not be missed, as invariably there is a meal at the end of the rainbow, delicious and refreshing.

At a recent event, I learned much about Spanish olive oil. Categories include Hojiblanca, Picual, Arbequina, Greca Empeltre and Gold Empeltre. The Gold happens to be my favorite. It is an extra virgin olive oil that is even, smooth, silky and golden. The Greca was a bit harsh, but tasted of almonds. The Hojiblanca was strong and pungent, almost woodsy and raw. The Picual tasted of figs and was very fruity. Finally the Arbequina was medium bodied, herbal and grassy. It boasted a long finish and seemed to be the most balanced.

Then a repast followed. First a pea shoot salad with Serrano and melon balls. Then boquerones under tomatoes and anchovy paste. A stellar black mushroom risotto anchored the meal, followed by a salt cod with cured Serrano ham. A mousse in the shape of a chocolate pyramid capped things off with a few glasses of albarino as the paired wine.

Then the ham expert was on hand, giving a slicing demonstration, and offering delectable pristine, glimmering slices of jamon Serrano. He explained the slicing technique and preservation tactics. It was all quite fascinating. The ham was of course delicious.

The famous iberico de bellota (pata negra), or black footed pig will finally become available in the states, and Despana is the place to get it. These pigs dine only acorns, yielding a meat that is swirled with high levels of flavorful natural fats, tasting like no other ham in the world. The hams will prove to be very expensive, but call the store for scheduled free tastings.

Sometimes you stroll into Despana and you’re in the middle of a party, with people mingling, noshing and having a good time. That’s is what Despana is all about, promoting the culture, cuisine, and spirit of Spain, all from a modest ethnic shop.

Perhaps this is a model other stores can adapt to, keeping the claws of franchise at bay.