Because for my birthday, I asked for a new blogskin... And TPS decided to upgrade that gift by presenting me with a new address =) Bye bye blogger...
http://orderinny.com (my own domain!!! thanks tps!)
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Being so far away from home, it is a blessing to be able to share one's birthday with friends. It is an even greater blessing to have them go through the trouble of choosing restaurants based on thorough research, for the one dish that you love on a fall night, and endure all your rubbish about changing dates and times. So on Friday night, me, my roommates and some friends met at Gascogne for dinner.
Situated in Chelsea, Gascogne is a charming French bistro, with warm lighting, a genial staff and country-inn like decor. We were there early and got seated with no trouble, but by the time we left at 930, the seating area near the door was full, with would-be patrons drinking and snacking on crusty peasant bread the staff thoughtfully brought out. It also has the requisite tight New York quarters, so a group of six (as we were) is probably as comfortably big as it gets. On warmer days, garden seating is available and while we did not attempt to freeze ourselves on Friday, the twinkly fairy lights look very inviting indeed.
Gascogne focuses on rustic French dishes and has a game-oriented menu. The specials board listed pheasant, quail and venison. We were spoilt by the choice and the portions when the food came, so unaccustomed we were after 2 years in New York to see Midwestern portions in restaurants. Indeed, Walter's and Ceci's bisques were served not in cups but tureens and Gerrie's foie gras was a very generous, albeit oily slab. Yanru's pork dish reminded me of wiener schnitzel, rounded and crisp, while Justin's escargot were pretty wrapped in phyllo over a rich garlic sauce, an elegant take on the rustic baked escargot appetizer.
My entree was the cassoulet, which is a favorite dish, especially on a chilly night like Friday. A deep casserole of white beans, simmered in a tomato based stock, absorbs all the flavors of fatty bacon, duck confit, garlicky sausages and herbs. Bread crumbs scattered on the top of the dish adds color and crunch. While some others on the table thought the dish was overly aggressive on the garlic, I loved it, the thick pork sausages, the golden skin on the duck, and the starring beans, neither mushy nor crunchy but just right. Unfortunately I had lunch at Chipotle, but no matter, because the cassoulet tasted great even as leftovers.
Desserts were similarly huge and large on flavor. Prunes and Chantilly cream were steeped in heady Armagnac, while the apple tart slick with a perfectly burnt caramel sauce, so tasty we almost licked our plates. And the crepe Suzette, while not as crispy as the ones Madeleine makes, was saturated with a mixture of orange juice and liquor, and came alit with a candle and a rousing rendition of a birthday song. Thank you, thank you.
158 8th Ave (On 18th St)
Friday, October 05, 2007
Oktoberfest is the festival when people throughout German cities let their hair loose and partake in traditional Bavarian delights, brats and beer. If you ever find yourself on the Upper East Side, with a sudden urge to celebrate Oktoberfest by drinking a lot of beer out of a boot, Heidelberg is a pretty safe bet. The massive boot at Heidelberg stands about 2 feet tall, holds 2 litres of beer while keeping the liquid surprisingly cool for a long time, and commands a whopping $60 deposit. While I didn't get a boot for myself, some friends did, and they earned their bragging rights after draining 6 cans worth of beer.
The food at Heidelberg is hearty, filling and plain. Platters of unadorned sausages and other entrees are simply served with mounds of sauerkraut, sweet red cabbage and some potato sides. The three sausages I had were thick, plump and had a good snap to them, and I liked the smokiness of the fried bratwurst and a slightly milder boiled veal sausages that tasted of spices. The wiener schnitzel and fried potato pancakes suffered from pre-frying, and had grown stale and greasy by the time they landed on our table. Sides too left much to be desired, with cold fried homefries and an overly sour and watery potato salad highlighting a lack of care during the cooking process.
Interesting too is the Disney-fication of Heidelberg. If memory serves me right, I visited the city of Heidelberg during the summer of 2000 (having eaten many sausages but still underaged for beer), and the restaurant certainly looks overtly cheerful and rustic compared to its namesake. Its beer garden brethrens throughout the city too look like dioramas of "a typical bavarian village inn on a mountain top", complete with servers dressed in lederhosen and kneelength socks.
Despite the rather blah food, I would return back to the restaurant but with certain caveats. I would go back with a big boisterous group of friends, for the good selection of cold German beer, and the general feeling of good cheer. And that, when beer drinking and brat eating, is paramount.
1648 2nd Ave (Bet 85th & 86th Sts)
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Watching the Top Chef finale reminded me of the best dish I had this summer. Hung, the eventual winner had a duck dish, whereby the duck was cooked sou vide. Blue Hill had one too. Like the winning dish on tv, my duck was not the world's most attractive looking dish. Cooked skinless, the whole piece of meat was a uniform dirty pink. But the texture was so wonderfully smooth, like a piece of velvet ribbon, that you ignored how it look. It doesn't hurt that each bite yielded tender, juicy pieces of meat, uncharacteristic of duck, so often tough and over-cooked. Treated in this matter, the duck seemed to have lost its usual gristle and fat. The gamey smell too, had been toned down. I was stunned by its perfect texture, much like the esteemed judges acted during the tv show.
What made the duck even more spectacular was the flavors that it took on from the accompaniments. The chef at Blue Hill masters the seasons, putting out the freshest ingredients in a most unobtrusive way that is original, subtle but definitely not bland. Sugar snap peas in season during July added crunch and natural candied sweetness, along with tiny pearl onions. The minty jus added brightness, and an unexpected lime glaze, brushed on with such restraint that you could almost miss it if you were not careful, brought a fresh acidity and summery scent that lingered long after the last piece of duck was consumed.
I too remember the wonderful berry and goat cheese dessert that was at once sweet, tart, creamy and cheesy at the same time; and the apricot that came at the end in place of petit fours, so full of amber juice it was threatening to burst. Last but not least the servers and bartender were the most natural, relaxed and hospitable people I've encountered this summer, that whilst I sat alone at the wide U-shaped bar on an early Saturday evening I did not feel lonely nor out of place. I remember being so guilty about having such a fine time at Blue Hill that I walked home from the village to Hell's Kitchen, paying penance for consuming that many calories while reminiscing about what I had just eaten. With this reminder, it could be time again for another visit.
75 Washington Place (6th Ave & MacDougal)
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Both Ruoyi and Chloe were in town a few Fridays ago and as tradition would have it whenever my cousins visit town, I always get a treat courtesy of my uncle. We headed to Maze, casual sister to the more formal Gordon Ramsey restaurant, US outposts of the celebrity chef's restaurant empire. Unlike Gordon Ramsey's tv shows, where he raves and rants at incompetent sou-chefs, there are no theatrics in the restaurant, just solid food in a cool space. First impressions about the place was favorable. The banquettes wide and comfortable, and the place less than half-filled before 8 - seemingly undiscovered by the pre-theater set- was nice and quiet. Lighting was dim and flattering for pictures (which we took shamelessly) and service, besides our sullen and no-nonsense server, was efficient and friendly, but not overly pushy.
Desserts were next, with Ruoyi's apple themed shotglass being the best. Apple green gelee was sweet and tart, topped with foamy caramel and icy apple cider granite. If only there was more of that, and the accompanying beignet.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Something made me happy and a tad heavier on Saturday.
Trying to avoid the weekend masses at Starbucks, I decided to do some work instead at CyberCafe on 49th St instead. Since it's an internet cafe, there is obviously no free wifi to freeload, and there were all but a handful of tourists making use of overpriced internet quietly. No soccer games were showing on the projection screen slung across the backwall either. Peace and quiet finally.
What makes CyberCafe even more perfect for an antisocial reader is its bounty of more than decent coffee and food. While there are no pies on weekends, Madeleine, a sweet old French lady is on board to make some traditional French crepes. I was extremely pleased with my crepe, the simplest of them all, with all but a squirt of lemon, a brush of honey and a fairydust of powdered sugar. The crepe was paper-thin, crispy on the edges and with a little chewy give, not fat, doughy and tasteless like the foodcourt variants. Sweet, sour, buttery. It was delicious.
While I was polishing off my crepe, I felt a tap on the shoulder. There was Madeleine, smiling away with a fat slice of cake in her hands. "Here you go", she said. "You're my first customer today, so this is on the house."
Wow... When did I ever get so lucky? And it wasn't just some day-old cake she was trying to clear too! She had just baked it that day, an unassuming but rich butter-cake, almost dripping with moisture, topped with a compote of fresh plums to celebrate the end of summer and stone fruit season. The plums were sticky, sweet and tart at the same time, and a splash of grand marnier (her secret ingredient, she smiled conspiratorially as she told me) gave the jam a heady scent. The fresh cream that accompanied that cake was the real deal, creamy, milky and fragrant. Definitely not from a can. It took me willpower not to finish the cream. But the cake, I did. After all, it was a gift from a most charming hostess. One that made me heavy, but more importantly happy.
Madeleine the crepe lady
250 W. 49th St. (btw. B’way & 8th)
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
A Nathan's hot dog, some peanuts and a bag of Cracker Jack. This is the requisite dinner at the famed Yankee Stadium, which I visited with my colleagues for the very first time. The hot dog, while encased in a cold unremarkable bun had great snap, the peanuts was fun ammunition and Cracker Jack popcorn sure beats micronuked Orville Redenbacher's. Snoopy, with his Metlife sponsored Yankee shirt was an excellent dining companion, gamely posing with the vast stadium as its background. My coworkers weren't bad too, gamely coaching me on baseball basics. Had I known watching a live game was this much fun, I would have sang "Take me out to the ballgame" sooner!
Thursday, September 13, 2007
My little sister is in town for the very first time and like a proud, slightly over-coddling older sibling, I was eager to show her quintessentially New York scenes. She's covered the sights on her own, from the verdant fields in Central Park to the garishly mesmerizing lights in Times Square, so I decided to induct her to the decadent New York dining scene at Jean Georges.
The menu is built like this: for $28, one can choose two dishes from about 15 dishes, with each additional savory dish $12 and dessert for $8. To start, fresh bread and a trio of amuse bouches are served. The amuse bouches were fun, each yielding different textures and flavors. The pinkie sized ball of mozzarella was mild and sweet, the corn fritters a crispy bite while the cucumber water with lime "foam" tended to be a touch acidic, with a spicy kick at the end. Each bite into my starter, a bowl of corn ravioli, brings forth a burst of sweetness characteristic of fresh corn. The slightly charred kernels tasted a little like pop-corn, while the beautiful tomatos, at the peak of tomato season, was packed with flavor. Likewise, Ruoyi's ruby ribbons of tuna, a ceviche of sorts in a tangy ginger and soy based sauce was artfully presented and tasted as great as it looked.
A platter of expertly fried sweetbreads extended the summery theme, when paired with slightly tart roasted peaches and peppery arugula. A dash of pink peppercorn salt for added flavor and pizzazz. Throughout the menu, Ruoyi's braised short-rib was the only concession to the coming of fall weather, and it was no-frills but very hearty, though its vinegar base a tad sour.
No meal ends without dessert, and so we shared the summer themed one, as if that would make autumn stop dead in its tracks. The cherry souffle, with its fluffy purplish and white peak was pleasant but the accompanying cheese with peaches suffered from very aggressive cheese.
Even if one opted out of dessert, Jean Georges is still not letting you go without something sweet and petit fours are rolled out in style. We delighted in the surprisingly pleasant licorice-flavored chocolate bon bon, with a slight anisey rush at the very end, and ruoyi loved the plump marshmallow pillows that the server cut out of long marshmallow ribbons, particularly the strawberry ones, complete with seeds. Last but not least were lilliputan macarons that would surely interest any miniature enthusiasts.
In the realm of fine dining, Ruoyi is a convert. And who wouldn't be, when for a fraction of what dinner costs, one can immerse in the soothing grey and mauve surroundings and be treated, if not like kings and queens, then at the very least like princesses?
1 Central Park West
Friday, September 07, 2007
It only takes a trip to the furnace-like subway station to remind one that despite a humid August having given way to a slightly drier September, we've not quite seen the end of summer.
For a refreshing treat on that rare unpredictably hot September day almost guaranteed to come in the next few weeks, I suggest a quick jaunt to Cafe Whatever in Chinatown, for a big bowl of Chinese styled desserts. Whatever Cafe is a franchisee of a popular Hong Kong dessert chain, Hui Lau Shan, and serves up a repetoire of brilliantly colored fruit-based desserts. The most popular of them all is the mango pudding, a wobbly milk based custard dyed orange with the heady mango juice and topped with fresh seasonal fruits and a large scoop of coconut ice. Mango and coconut. You've almost left Manhattan for a tropical island.
If cool puddings and icy sago drinks aren't your cup of tea, there's a short list of traditional chinese desserts too. I am a fan of the double-boiled milk pudding with ginger, a sure cure for the common cold, as well as the double-boiled papaya with white fungus thats supposedly great for the complexion. For the chi-chi types, there are even desserts packed with ultra-luxe exotic ingredients, such as bird's nest and hasmar, although I can't vouch for their authenticity. But at such low prices, I suspect you'll enjoy it anyway.
150 Centre St (Between Walker & White Sts)
Saturday, September 01, 2007
At Spotted Pig, the massively popular "gastropub" in the Village, where an astonishing number of size zeros can be found digging into hearty dinners while drinking pints of beer, it is not the namesake but its bovine friend, in the form of an obscenely expensive, yet perfect burger, that enjoys #1 popularity amongst scores of diners.
A hefty beef patty, lightly charred and wonderfully juicy is topped with salty and stinky roquefort cheese that smells aggressive but tastes much mellower. The brioche bun comes with perfect grill marks and while soft and chewy, manages to encase the patty, juice and all, without falling apart. The near perfect meat-bun pairing ensured that by the time I finished the entire burger, self-control be gone, there was nary a drop of meat juice nor stray ground chuck left on the plate. Being a lover of thick cut fries, I'm somewhat ambivalent about the crispy but non-greasy haystack of shoestring fries that accompanies that burger, but these were made better with the addition of fried garlic slivers. The garlic chips, I am glad to report, are neither bitter or rancid from over-frying and adds flavor to the chips. A burger, a beer and a distended tummy in the aftermath, this is comfort dining at its best.
314 W11th St (at Greenwich St)
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The New Yorker talks about all things food in this fortnight's issue, and in it is a heartfelt and hilarious laugh-a-minute piece by my favorite writer Calvin Trillin and his adventures in my favorite country, Singapore! So when he told me he was going to my hometown to eat the food I grew up noshing, on the day I was star-struck at Singapore Day, he wasn't lying!
To critics of Singapore's hawker system, who believe that street food only tastes sanitary, but not authentic in hawker centers, Mr Trillin offers this insight:
"For years as I've walked past food stands in foreign lands, I've struggled to keep in mind that for an American visitor the operational translation for signs that ostensibly say something like "bhel puri" or " tacos de nopales" is "Delivery System for Unfamiliar Bugs That You Will Bitterly Regret Having Ingested."... Gathering food venders into hawker centers, ..., meant that a Western visitor not only can have a safe shot at a variety of Singaporean delicacies but can do so in a setting so convenient that his energy is reserved for eating."
Take that, you hawker center detractors! Even locals do not have iron clad stomachs, so indeed the hawker center is a boon to all eaters of Singapore food.
I've loved Calvin Trillin's writing ever since I picked up an old copy of Alice, let's eat! , and to read his take on Singapore, the system, the people, and last but not least the food that we are all hungry for is an extraordinary treat. His description of the culinarily homesick Singaporean, whose first stop after a 15 hour transcontinental plane ride is not home but to Geylang/Newton/East Coast Park for their favorite local food fix is so evocative and so personal I couldn't help but laugh out loud, to the shock of the other patrons in the Korean restaurant where I was reading/supping. Mine happens to be Qiu Lian Ban Mian, and I do not even need to leave the airport for it. What's yours?
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Poor Mark. First, I overpromised and failed to deliver on bbqed sambal stingray. Luckily for my reputation, our dinner wasn't completely ruined and Sanur sans stingray was still a hit with Auntie Hui, Uncle Sam and Mark who are in the city for a college tour. Then, weaving through the side streets of Chinatown, we then visited XO Kitchen for dessert and I managed to cajole Mark into ordering the Japanese deep fried ice-cream, thinking he'll enjoy the hot and cold contrast. WORST DECISION EVER.
Now ladies and gentlemen, please please whatever you do avoid #215 on XO's expansive menu. First of all, the plate of ice-cream was inexplicably adorned with a slice of tomato and cucumber and coleslaw. Perfectly respectable sides for a plate of say, fried calamari. But with ice cream? WRONG.
And the ice cream could have well been calamari, if not for the icy chunks of insipidly sweet ice cream in the middle of the severely battered balls that tasted of old oil. We all took a stab at ID-ing the flavor of the rapidly melting puddle of pink milk soup and halfheartedly agreed that it was supposed to be red bean. Thank goodness everyone else had much better luck.
That being said, I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from going to XO. In fact, I've enjoyed multiple meals there, including good desserts, such as a cool creamy coconut pudding and sweet steamed egg custards. I've recommended this place to friends too, who've enjoyed their congees and steamed rice crepes (perfect for a post wisdom tooth extraction dinner) But on a menu that stretches over 200 dishes, all I can say is that food can be terribly inconsistent, from good to pure HUH? But at such rock bottom prices, it doesn't hurt to try. But, avoid #215!
148 Hester St
p.s.: I only like this branch. Avoid the other branch off Centre St like plague...
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Boston in 30 hours. That doesn't seem like a lot of time at all, but yet I managed to fit in 3 square meals with a couple of dessert breaks thrown in for good measure. Of course, I can't claim credit for doing it alone. I had help from 3 ladies, who happily allowed me to dictate our dining schedule for a good day and a half. My partners in crime:
Ruoying, Wanling & Gerrie, aka the Superstar, her Assistant & the Manager
At $20, its definitely a fancy kind of sandwich, but the roll was toasted, buttered and then stuffed with fresh and succulent lobster meat loosely bound with mayo and a minimal amount of celery as filler. It was an extremely satisfying but messy meal. Cioppino is a great choice for someone looking for more variety, coming with a lobster claw, shrimp, clams and big, sweet mussels in a hearty tomato broth.
A few hundred feet away from Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market is the North End, also known as Boston's little Italy. Pastry shops are dime in a dozen, but Mike's Pastry is where the action's at judging from the crowds that spill over onto the sidewalk.
The shop operates on a mode of organized chaos. There are no lines at the counter. You just shuffle your way to the front of the counter and catch the countermen's eye. Then you select your cannoli, baba rums, eclairs, tiramisus, cheesecake, mousses, cookies, marzipan fruit to go. Or you can keep and eye out for one of the 10 tables in the shop to clear, park yourself there ASAP and wait for a stressed out looking but highly efficient waitress to serve you. Or do as we did, the hybrid way, getting the pastries in a to go box, then somehow managing to grab a seat, and then ordering coffee from the server. Whatever method works best in this crazy place.
We were really impressed with the dense, moist chocolate fudge cake and the peanut brittle like flavor of the cannoli shell. The Florentine cannoli was indeed redolent of burnt sugar, nuts and filled with cool, slightly grainy ricotta cheese and the best cannoli I've ever had. The cappuccino had a rich creamy foam and great with the decadent pastries. Sitting there in the midst of the cannoli buying maelstrom, we were an unexpected oasis of calm.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Besides Orange, these were a few other places I ate while in Chicago last weekend:
One of the few banquet restaurants in Chinatown, Phoenix is justly popular for the largest and freshest selection of dim sum in the Chicago metropolitan area. A table for five at 11am on Sunday morning requires a 45 minute wait, so be early or be prepared to spend some time lingering in the lobby. My girlfriends and I fed each other with months, years worth of gossip as we noshed on classic dishes: bouncy shrimp in the har gow, chewy lotus paste filled jian dui, yam cake squares with crispy fried edges. While I reconnected with friends, I also introduced Kathy and Maggie to TPS and Kayla. We've always thought that Phoenix was pricey for dim sum, but after the bill only came up to $10 per person, we realized it was the inclusion of boys with big appetites that pushed up the tabs during previous meals. So from now on, dim sum is an all girls affair.
I don't really care for its brusque service and the MSG laden food, but Joy Yee's does serve the best fruit shakes. UofC alum who've had many late night suppers at Joy Yee's will be glad to know that despite moving to a larger space close to the center of the same complex (yes, the coming soon signs finally came off), the shakes are still as good as ever. They definitely do not stint on the fresh fruit and my lychee-mango shake was fragrant with the perfume of lychee and yielded stringy mango pulp as I sucked up the juice via an extra large straw. Tapioca pearls here remain large and chewy, none of those mini undercooked crap found at Joy Yee's.
Midwesterners are reputed to be meat and potatoes type of people, so it should be no surprise a BYOB Argentine steakhouse like Tango Sur thrives in the Lakeview district. This is Peishan's go-to place whenever visitors come into town, and do the flavorful steak and mild prices wow guests. We sat outdoors on the balmy night, on a wide sidewalk that would make any New York restauranter green with envy and shared a bottle of red wine Jon, one of TPS's friends brought. Spicy and minerally were terms the wine afficionados thrown out as they swirled and sipped. We split a saganaki-like melted cheese appetizer that paired well with the warm, crusty rolls and a stuffed portobello that unfortunately suffered from an overdose of tomato sauce. 2 large chunks of filet mignon came in our El Filet entree shared between TPS and I, presented with a nice char and on top of wine sauce, as well as garlicky spinach mashed potatoes. The meat, while rather nondescript in flavor was tender, bursting in juices and the red wine sauce added oomph to the taste. Her friends shared an assortment of sausages, sweetbreads and meat served on a table top grill, enough meat for a family of five but shared amongst only 2 men. Needless to say, we rolled out of the restaurant many hours later very sated and satisfied. Once again, Peishan outdid herself.
Friends, food and fun. This almost makes the painful airport shenanigans bearable and has me looking forward to the next visit to Chicago!
Phoenix Restaurant (2131 S Archer Ave, Chicago)
Joy Yee's (2159 S China Place, Chicago) http://www.joyyee.com/
Tango Sur (3763 N Southport Ave, Chicago)
Posted by orderin at 10:07 PM