Prior to visiting Phayul, I hadn't imagined there could be a better view than that afforded by Deccan Kebab (which is just next door). Those who have been lucky enough to lasso a window seat at that Hyperabadi joint have been able to peer straight up 37th Avenue upon the Eagle Theatre's rapidly decaying awning. Phayul, though, affords a second floor view of 74th Street's constant criss cross and bustle, the green and rickety elevated on Roosevelt, Delhi Heights, throngs of people, honking horns - a whole world is going on down there.
Inside, though, Phayul has a quiet, relaxed, spacious, clean and quiet feng shui, with an open- aired kitchen, a beatific photo of the Dalai Lama on the high wall behind the cash register and beautiful old black and white photos of Tibet on the opposite wall. Although not a big or fancy place - it shares a second floor landing backed by a beauty salon - Phayul is like entering another world, a place where you can sit, chill out, have some elbow room and, most importantly, eat some seriously good food.
The menu is divided between Chinese-leaning dishes with a twist and more nuts-and-bolts Tibetan offerings; what the best dishes have in common is a complexity of earthy, savory, fragrant and spicy flavors, utilizing ingredients that all taste fresh. This is the kind of food that comes from people who really care about what they're doing.
In three visits, here's what I've had so far:
Phaksha Siphen Ngoenma (sliced pork with leeks and green peppers) - This was recommended by the waitress on my first visit when I asked about the more spicy offerings. This dish is a close cousin to the Sichuan dish, Double Cooked pork. It's almost identical except for one main difference: these guys use a marinated and spiced black bean - they sort of look like little flies - that really make this dish explode. It's got more pure flavor, and perhaps less spice, than its' Sichuan inspiration. Highly recommended.
Tsak Sha La Kor Hot - Though not described as such on the menu, this is a soup. The main ingredient is bone-on chunks of beef, supported by huge radish slices, chopped scallions and long, deep-red peppers. The broth is fantastic - it's flavors a combination of spice and mountain herbs. It is also lent an everslight sweetness. I'm usually not the biggest fan of radishes, but these muthers both lend and absorb flavor beautifully. The beef is chewy and lends its' fat and juices. There's a lot happening in this bowl, but perhaps the best part is what lays waiting at the bottom of the bowl - Sichuan peppercorns. The lead chef/proprietor explained that this is one of the more traditional Tibetan menu offerings, and that it's generally eaten in winter. That said, this is less heavy than, say, Thenthuk, and the heat and herbs have a residual effect that blows a cool breeze through you as well. This is probably my favorite dish here thus far.
Chicken Momos (Tibetan-style steamed dumplings) - These round, dense little orbs have thick, firm skins, with fillings that burst with fragrant, salty and savory flavor. I look forward to trying the beef version, and would gladly get these again. There's 8 to an order.
Lhasa Fried Noodle - These were spied, during my first two visits, on every other table. The wife and I are noodle fanatics, so ordering this dish was inevitable. It's lo mein with beef, scallions, green and red peppers. Nice spicy kick. The problem I've had with most Lo Mein dishes is that they tend to be overly greasy; not the case here. This was solidly good all around - another dish I'd be happy to get again.
Dofu Khatse Ngoen Ma (Tofu with garlic, ginger, spring onions, long red peppers) - The "Ma", I'm guessing, alludes to the Sichuan nature of this dish. This had a lot of similarities to the sliced pork and leek dish mentioned above, which I got on a previous visit. Although one doesn't exactly cancel out the other - there are some differences - I wouldn't order them both in the same meal. If I had to choose, I'd go with this one. The garlic chunks make the difference, and the tofu has the perfect level of firmness. This is another deeply flavored dish that is so simple yet so beautifully executed.
Tingmo (steamed Tibetan bread) - I love this stuff. I could eat it all day. It's a dense, steamed bread about the size of a Nerf football. In all its' wonderful twists and turns, it looks like something out of a surrealist painting - think Magritte or a cheesy UFO from a 50's B-movie. It's perfect for this food as you can tear off pieces and sop up various oils or sauces with it. Think of it as the Tibetan bagel. These guys do a good job with it, but I'm not sure they make them fresh all day. The earlier you get there, the better a chance there is that they'll steam one to order for you.
Sweet milk tea - The best I've had in the neighborhood. Although I can't see for sure behind the counter, I think they make this to order, as opposed to everywhere else, where it's pre-made and in a big dispenser together with the milk. It has a great thickness, to the point where you can skim off the top of the milk, and the tea leaf grounds lay in wait at the bottom of the cup.
The waitstaff and owner here are laid back, friendly, gracious and hardworking. It's pretty much a brand new joint, and you get the feeling immediately that they're in it for the love.
I had originally read about this place on Yelp - as of last week, there was one review - but, following my first visit, I discovered that Joe DiStefano of World's Fare had been here, perhaps before any of us. Here is a link to his wonderful review, which also includes some info about the owner:
I will do my best now to link some I-Phone photos. All food pix are as listed according to the order above, except for the last, which is a shot of a vagrant who just walked off the street and started eating our momos. We were so happy here, that we didn't even care.
37-65 74th Street (entrance actually on 37th Road), 2nd Fl,
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
Hrs: 10-10, 7 days per
37-66 74th St, Queens, NY 11372
37-65 74th St, Queens, NY 11372