NEW YORK — Gazing at the pig’s blood chip on the plate at Aska, one might think: I’m supposed to eat this thing? It looks so . . . scab-like! But of course you eat it; after all, Aska (www.askanyc.com) is one of the hottest tables in New York, so how bad could it be?
Tucked behind a gallery space in the hipster haven of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this Scandinavian restaurant is one of Bon Appetit magazine’s top 10 new restaurants of 2013. So even if you hide out in the restroom during the blood course, you’ll probably discover something else you love — cured duck heart, or locally foraged greens, perhaps — on chef Fredrik Berselius’s tasting menu.
If you’re tired of the same-old same-old stuff on a plate (can we please declare the slider to be over?), the city is a great place to cleanse — and challenge — the palate. With more than 20,000 eateries, representing a United Nations’ worth of countries, New York offers diners the opportunity to table-hop around the world.
On a recent three-day weekend, we sampled dishes from Sweden, Peru, Indonesia, Ecuador, Nepal, northeast Thailand, India, and China, no passport required. A course here, a course there, a few local beverages (even a Durian milkshake) and you’ve got a culinary journey around the world — and a cool way to explore intriguing melting pot neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, Queens. Eight plates or 80, it’s a fun way to sightsee.
Last year, Peruvian cuisine was all the rage in New York, underscored when the ultra-trendy Spotted Pig put crispy pig’s ear salad on the menu. And it’s still a popular dining option, as evidenced by the full tables at Pio Pio in Murray Hill. On the recommendation of our waiter, we ordered the seviche limeno, consisting of fresh corvina (white fish) marinated in lime juice, with red onions, cilantro, hot pepper, and chunks of sweet potato and white Andean corn. If you really, really love lime, this is the dish for you. Just be sure someone in your party orders the Pollo ala Brasa, a Peruvian specialty. It’s a whole chicken marinated in soy sauce, red peppers, and spices to smoky, salty wonderfulness. And it’s just $12. (Did we mention Pio Pio is a bargain?) 210 East 34th St., andother locations in the city, 212-481-0034, www.piopio.com
BALI NUSA INDAH
Ninth Avenue is chockablock with ethnic eateries, including this little place that bills itself as “the only Indonesian restaurant in Manhattan.” Ingredients like lemongrass, kaffir lime, galangal, coconut oil, chili, and turmeric lend a complex flavor to even a simple curry. We tried the Rendang Padang ($14.95), beef chunks simmered to tenderness in coconut and chili sauce, and happily scooped up every last bit of sauce with a spoon after the meat was gone. No vegetables are involved, so you’ll want to order, say, Sayur Asam (vegetable tamarind soup, $6.25) to round out your meal. And don’t order a ho-hum drink when you can try an Indonesian beverage like Es Cendol (jackfruit with coconut milk and palm sugar, thickened with rice flour) or, if you’re bold, Juice Durian, a milk shake made with the very smelly (when you cut into it) but very sweet durian fruit. 651 Ninth Ave., 212-974-1875,www.balinusaindah.net
On the day we came here the place was buzzing in anticipation of a pay-per-view boxing match on TV. Located in Queens, Barzola is authentic Ecuadorian, from the pop music on the sound system to the menu, which includes tipico (traditional) foods like goat stew and tripe. We opted for a traditional dish, the Llapingacho platter, a yellow potato patty under a blanket of cheese and egg, served with sausage, fried pork chunks, and sauteed plantain. A lot of food for $11, so we didn’t mind springing for an order of pescado curtido ($11) to share, one of the best seviches we’ve ever had. And we had to try the fruit drink called Quaker, made with passionfruit and lulo, a citrus fruit. “You really feel like you’re in another country here,” our companion said as she piled more seviche onto her plate. 92-12 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, 718-205-6900
You don’t go to Hawa Food (a.k.a. Hawa’s Hut) for the atmosphere. At this Queens hole-in the-wall, we were seated at a table wedged between a roti counter and a refrigerator (one of only two tables in the place). But we had a great view of the two Nepali ladies rolling out dough and shaping momo, the Nepalese dumplings that everybody orders. For $7 (cash only) you get a plate of momo stuffed with beef, chicken, or vegetables, rolled super-thin and steamed. You dip them in one of three sauces, all very spicy. 37-38 72d St., Jackson Heights, 718-457-7766
Unless you’ve traveled to Thailand, you probably haven’t tried Isan Thai (also spelled Isaan) from the northeastern region of the country. There are a few Isan Thai places in New York, but the hot spot of the moment is Somtum Der, a new restaurant in the East Village. Don’t judge by the graffiti-marred exterior; inside is a bright, welcoming space, with lots of pale wood, wicker, and a mirrored wall. Thai waiters, wearing rakish Panama hats (a nod to the trendy ’hood) will recommend good combinations of small plates to share. This isn’t wimpy Americanized fare, so expect assertive flavors and plenty of heat. Don’t miss Tum Thai ($10), the spicy papaya salad that’s a staple. We especially liked the Larb Ped, a minced duck salad with vegetables and green chilis ($11) and Sa Poak Kai Tod Der (fried chicken thighs). If you’re adventurous, there’s Nam Sod (marinated raw pork sausages), and a soup made of pork cartilage. Their pad Thai with crabmeat and crab paste ($15) is far more zingy than any pad Thai we’ve ever tried. We loved it all, and didn’t have room for the dessert our waiter recommended: black jelly with fresh milk.
85 Avenue A, 212-260-8570, www.somtumder.com
This authentic Georgian restaurant in the East Village has become a go-to spot thanks largely to one dish: adjaruli khachapuri. Basically, this is cheesy bread, Georgian-style: a football-size crunchy loaf with a crater scooped out of the middle, filled with a bubbling blend of feta and mozzarella cheese (subbing for a brined Georgian cheese). As if that weren’t enough gooey deliciousness, they drop in a raw egg at the last minute, creating a thick, salty dip. You break off chunks of the bread, dip it in the goo, and are instantly transported to cheese-drenched heaven. Although chef Maia Acquaviva, a former plastic surgeon in Georgia (the Eurasian republic bordering the Black Sea), creates other tasty dishes with herbs and spices, minced lamb, pinto beans, mushrooms, and so on, it is this one that put Oda House on the map. Menu items about $7-$30. 76 Avenue B, 212-353-3838, www.odahouse.comDiane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.