If you want me to go out to Forest Hills, Queens, just entice me with Uyghur food. Or a bucket of money. Or a unicorn. But Uyghur food would probably be the easiest to come by.
Cafe Arzu may not look like much from the outside, squished between a dry cleaner and photo-video equipment store on a desolate-looking block where seemingly every other shop was closed, but step inside and...
...It's a hopping place! Or at least far from empty.
Lee Anne, having actually been to the homeland of Uyghur cuisine (Xingjiang, the north west part of China) and politely forced to eat much of their food, was given the task of ordering for our party of six. She would be the key to our successful dinner. No pressure...no pressure at all.
First up was a huge plate of assorted pickles. Tomatoes! Cabbage! Cucumbers! Unidentifiable brown thing! Cabbage was my favorite for its superior crunch factor, but they were all good. Even the unidentifiable brown thing, which is probably not that hard to identify. I would put it in the category of "not a potato."
The lepeshka, a tire-sized, sesame seed-sprinkled round of bread, was deliciously crisp on the outside, soft and slightly chewy on the inside. You know bread's good when you don't even need butter or oil to go with it (not that those would've hurt).
My favorite dish was the lagman, a spicy soup with thick hand-pulled noodles and tender beef chunks. I've had hand-pulled noodles whose texture was too soft, but these were firm enough—think (unevenly shaped) Japanese udon. As for the flavor of the soup, the best comparison I can think of is that it reminded me of Taiwanese beef noodle soup (my favorite Chinese noodle dish), more so than any other soup I've had since being in Taiwan. I suppose that some of the ingredients in Taiwanese beef noodle soup may also be in lagman. If you've never had Taiwanese beef noodle soup, this description means nothing. Just order the dish.
It was hard to eat more than half of one samsa, sporting a heavy combination of flaky triangular pastry stuffed with a mixture of chopped lamb and onion. ...But I did eat a whole one, because it was tasty.
The manty, which look like soup-less soup dumplings, seemed to be filled with the same filling as the samsa. Meat + dough = yay.
Meat + pointy metal stick = also yay! Perhaps even yay +1, if the meat is right. And all was right with the surprisingly freakin' awesome lamb shish kebabs, surprising because I didn't expect each lamb chunk to taste like a lamb sponge saturated with lamb juice, with each bite through the pillowy soft meat (pillows...PILLOWS) releasing a gush of...lamby juices.
Yeah, that's the best description I can come up with. In conclusion, ORDER THIS. ORDER THIS, IN CAPS, AND STRONG TAGS.
A little bit of everything remained at the end of our meal. One samsa. One dumpling. One meat chunk. One...loaf of bread. We tried, oh, how we tried. And we weren't allowed to leave without the extra lepeshka. No really, the waitress was semi-horrified at the idea of it being left behind. Lee Anne ended up being the designated Keeper of the Loaf.
All that deliciousness for $14 a head—this dream can too be yours to fulfill. As long as you have at least five other friends to help you reach your goal. Do it. Now.
On the way back to the subway station, we passed Martha's Country Bakery, aglow with happy baked goods-derived sunshine, even after 10 p.m. This could be suspicious—aren't bakeries supposed to have exhausted their supplies of tasty treats by that time?—but man, when I want a cupcake, I just don't give a crap.
Now that I've had two experiences eating cupcakes from Martha's, I'm pretty sure that it's my favorite cupcake in the city. Not that I would tell people to trek out to Queens to get it, nor would I; I mostly like cupcakes when they're conveniently located. But what do I like so much about these cupcakes? The cake is light, moist, and tender (Olivia compared it to an angel food cake) and the frosting is smooth, creamy, and not tooth-achingly sweet. It's a well balanced treat. Full of sugar.
I would be willing to recreate this night of noodles, skewered meats, and cupcakes in the future, in case anyone else is interested.
10105 Queens Blvd
Flushing, NY 11375