We should have known better. No, I should have known better (I’m the one who picks the Netflix movies). More than 15 years ago, we saw Yimou Zhang’s Ju Dou, which was one of the saddest movies ever. This kept us away from Zhang’s movies for a long time, in spite of the hype around films like Raise the Red Lantern and To Live. But Shanghai Triad was described as a gangster movie; I thought it would be a thriller.
Wrong. Not a thriller, but a downer, albeit beautifully done, and lovely to look at.
One evening as I was heading to Penn Station, I noticed Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen and stopped. I was hungry and wanted to eat before I caught my train. I hesitated, though, because I’d been to Ben’s before, and found the food just adequate, though expensive, and the service indifferent or worse. However, in my walk down W 38th I’d seen nothing that made me suspect I would meet with any treasures between here and the train station.
So I went inside and withstood the unfriendly service to eat my adequate, expensive meal. I came out uncomfortably full (the inevitable result of going to eat at a Jewish delicatessen by yourself) and continued down W 38th, where, to my chagrin, I spotted a downstairs storefront advertising “Authentic Balkan Cuisine.”
Better luck next time. A month or so later, Victor and I found ourselves taking the same route to Penn Station, and decided to check out “Authentic Balkan Cuisine,” otherwise known as Djerdan, which is almost directly across the street from Spandex World (this part of town is full of trim and fabric shops of all types).
Djerdan offers Bosnian specialties, and is particularly proud of its bureks, which are savory, multilayered pies made of flaky pastry with spinach or meat or potato and cheese. We tried a slice of the spinach, which was rich and almost creamy.
We also tried a bowl of the vegetable soup, which was deliciously homemade-tasting, and the Bosnian special. The menu describes this as a vegetable stew (cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes) with “bits of veal.” In fact, the stew features rather enormous hunks of tender meat. The amount of meat surprised us, but it was very tasty.
For dessert, we chose the Keks Torta, which was like tiramisu without the coffee. Since I’m not a coffee drinker (and am indifferent to tiramisu for that reason), I found it pretty heavenly.
In general, everything was very savory and homey. My grandmother was Hungarian, not Bosnian, but this was food I could imagine her making. In spite of its downstairs location, Djerdan has a cheerful, bright atmosphere, and we will certainly return when next we’re in the area.
Djerdan 221 W 38th Street New York, NY 10018 212/921.1183
We first happened upon Bamiyan about seven years ago and as a result we check for Afghan restaurants wherever we travel.
We lived in Columbus, Ohio, then, and the roster of ethnic cuisines there was pretty limited. When we came to NYC, we were always on the lookout for ethnic food we didn't have at home. This corner restaurant near “Curry Hill” and (back then) across the street from a retro diner with a line out the door caught our attention as we strolled up Third one afternoon.
Lacking experience with Afghan food, we were interested to learn from the restaurant’s many posted maps that Afghanistan is surrounded by countries with very distinct and delicious cuisines: Iran, Pakistan, China, and three former Soviet Socialist Republics.
The menu reflects the country’s location: appetizers include mantoo, steamed dumplings like Chinese wontons; sambusas, similar to Indian/Pakistani samosas; stuffed grape leaves (Iran); crispy meat or vegetable filled pastries (SSRs); many of them accompanied by savory sauces made from yogurt or lentils (SSRs and Iran). Salads are simple and herb-fresh, with lemon juice or yogurt dressings. Entrees include an assortment of kabobs, rice dishes, and curries; as well as noodles covered with yogurt, meat, or bean-based sauces; and vegetable main dishes featuring spinach, eggplant, squash, or okra.
Today, the trendy diner that was across the street is gone, and we are pleased that Bamiyan (named for the enormous and ancient Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban in early 2001) has survived. The food consistently delights us, the service is very pleasant, and the atmosphere (which includes window tables where diners can recline on pillows) extremely comfortable; exotic in a way that feels authentic rather than tacky.
Bamiyan 358 Third Avenue (at 26th Street) New York, NY 10010
Walking around is hazardous downtown this morning. Chunks of ice are flying off buildings. Some of them are tiny, but others are the size of a toaster oven. I saw a big one come down and narrowly miss a pedestrian as I headed into the office. Certainly, being hit would’ve hurt, but it’s sort of surreal to consider how quickly the evidence would disappear. Which makes me think of that old puzzler about the dead person found in a locked room with no murder weapon, but there is a puddle of water.
Stabbed with a dagger made of ice.
So I’m wondering, is that actually possible? Wouldn’t the dagger shatter or melt on contact with body heat? A question for the Straight Dope guy, I guess.