Thursday, December 28, 2006


Clockwise from topleft: Yuzu custard, spruce yogurt, pistachio; Irish cream, chocolate, coconut, hazelnight icecream; Soft chocolate, avocado, chocolate soil, lime icecream; Beet, umeboshi, chocolate
For lovers of simple, traditional desserts like brownies and ice-cream, or pie ala mode, the dessert tasting at WD-50 is not for you. My experience Wednesday night was an exercise of mind calisthenics, as me and my girlfriends waded through 6 desserts, some more conventional than others but all containing no less than 3 different flavors. Each artistically plated dish, with a touch of beet foam, a dab of avocado puree or a sprinkling of licorice powder demanded our full attention as we tracked down each subtle flavor with the tenacity of bloodhounds and then try to guess the chef's intentions behind creating each quirky dish.
Some dishes were straight forward enough. Our amuse bouche was a smart riff on breakfast spreads, with a grape jam injected in a disc of cream cheese. Sesame seeds and sauce on the side emulated peanut butter, rounding up the breakfast trinity. A deconstructed Irish coffee dish was a crowd pleaser, with hazelnut icecream paired with a cyclinder of coffee ice filled with extremely spiked whisky caramel.
Some flavor combinations made us pause and go hmmm, but the final presentation and taste worked pretty well and we cleared those plates. Shortbread crumbs with tea flavored ice cream and marshmallows, guava puree and peanut butter/brittle was an explosion of flavors and textures. A long swirl of soft chocolate was paired with avocado sauce, chocolate and licorice soil and a scoop of lime icecream. While the avocado was a surprisingly mild and good fit with the chocolate, the lime icecream didn't fare so well. While it did cut down the richness of the chocolate, the aftertaste was overly bitter and the limey taste jarred disharmoniously with the sweet chocolate. The spruce flavored yogurt (as in the coniferous type) with yuzu custard and pistachio puree was medicinal when it tried it alone, and overwhelmed by the lime and pistachio when paired with the other ingredients on the plate. Still the yuzu custard was without repraoch and the dabs of yogurt thankfully insignificant enough that we too polished off this dessert.
And then there was the dish made us pause and go HMMM. Despite being a big fan of beets, I do not think beets should be dessert, even after having a go at the mildly sweet and very vege-tasting beet foam that came with some chocolate bits and umeboshi plum bits. We were however very impressed with how the kitchen could foam up beet and make thin glassy shards of sweet and very yummy beet chips. WD-50 with its signature method of molecular gastronomy has had a fair amount of hype, and it sure is entertaining and a visual treat if not always tasty.
While its easy to find a slice of pie or cheesecake anywhere, WD-50 offers something unique, even borderline strange to adventurous dessert lovers. And with so much fodder for discussion at reasonable ($35 for 5 courses, $25 for 3 courses) for New York prices and courteous and attentive service, WD-50 is a great alternative New York experience.

50 Clinton St (Bet Rivington & Stanton St)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Brunch at Balthazar

An American tradition I have not really picked up all these years is the concept of Sunday brunch. Sure, I like the occasional pancake but I can do that for breakfast and still have lunch as a separate meal. Also, the criminally long waits for overpriced plates of eggs are often not worth the effort. However, there are certain sunshiny holiday weekends when you want to run out of the house into a bustling restaurant to soak in the festive atmosphere, to indulge in well made brunch classics with friends. For that purpose, Balthazar is a perfect choice.
Balthazar is perennially crowded, and at brunch time on Sunday, it is practically a zoo. However, once we were led to our tight little corner right next to the floor length windows that allowed the sunlight to stream into the cavernous room, I forgot the short but uncomfortable wait near the doorway, and smiled as I took in the room, the high walls, the bronze etched ceiling, towering platters of fruit de mare and the frothy bowls of au laits.
While the décor is classic French brasserie, the food was decidedly more American and very good on most accounts. Gerrie’s salad, the only thing off the regular menu that we ordered was laced with a brightly acidic vinaigrette. The egg dishes were varied and interesting. Yanru’s had a decidedly Italian flair, perched atop thick creamy polenta cakes and served with tomatoes and pancetta; Emily’s was lightly poached in a decadent red wine and bacon sauce while Xiaohong’s was scrambled and stuffed into a puff pastry. Unfortunately, the eggs were a little overcooked, marring the pretty picture of eggs in an edible shell. Dawn’s brioche French toast was thick, yummy and a perfect foil for the best bacon I’ve had in a while. Smoked salmon with brioche toast and the traditional garnishes of capers, chives and egg is the French version of bagel and lox and I happily bartered the extra slices from my generous platter of smoked salmon for bites off my friends’ plates. We washed down our meals with cups of coffee and then shared a portion of superior fries just because, hey who doesn’t like fries?
Blasé service at slammed brunch palaces is a common complaint and the servers at Balthazar can be a little tricky to wave down in a room buzzing with activity. But when the servers did get to us, they brought bread, extra coffee and water as swiftly as they could, remembered what each of us ordered and put the correct cutlery on each place setting. Sitting in the warm and delicious smelling room, watching happy and therefore smiley diners around you enjoy their food, chatting comfortably with your friends without actually having to yell, I have to say I understand the appeal of brunch at Balthazar. If a meal was taking a two hour holiday from the real world, Balthazar had transported me to a smoky brasserie in Paris (sans the cigarettes).

80 Spring St (Bet Broadway & Crosby)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Don Bogam

I remember the day korean barbeque entered my life. It was a cold fall night in 2001, my college friends and I had a car at our disposal, for some reason I can no longer remember, and someone suggested we make the northward trek to the part of Chicago that housed many good Korean restaurants for something different. We complied, piled on the car and reached this standalone 24 hour shack that was sitting squarely across from a funeral home. We walked into the restaurant, bundled up in our woolen sweaters, for it was cold, and entered into a haze of smoke, smells and general cacophony. We left sated from the copious amounts of chewy kalbi, numerous small plates of banchan and with the garlic and soy scent stuck to our sweaters for the next week. From that moment on, my was I hooked and thank God K-town in New York is only 15 blocks away from home.
It wasn’t that difficult for me to like Korean food. I had grown up tasting soy sauce, dried shrimp, hot peppers and the other common Asian condiments that made up a Chinese or Korean meal. But many of my friends that went with me to Don’s Bogam did not grow up eating those foods and Korean bbq was a novel thing. Luckily, barbeque is not a foreign concept and people jumped on the opportunity to watch their own food cook.
Don’s Bogam, with its honeycombed window design and sleek white bar is very modern, and familiar to the new Korean diner. Kneeling during dinnertime can be an excruciating exercise, especially for those not used to it, so we sigh a breathe of relief upon finding out that the squat tables in the dining room were really faux squat tables with big holes beneath to allow diners to rest their feet in. Also absent on its walls were slips of writings in hangul that are common fixtures in restaurants catering to the native eater. This calms the non-Koreans diners, who may feel alienated otherwise, obsessing about potentially missing out on a particularly tasty special or that the paper was in fact a health warning that was concealed to them. Even more calming is the presence of Korean friends in the midst, who took charge of the ordering situation so all we needed to do was smile at the servers, raise our hands when we needed more OB beer (uncannily like a Bud in terms of bottle design), lift our chopsticks and dig in.
Our group of 10 ate heartily on surprisingly fresh and sweet seafood lightly grilled on the table, and different cuts of beef, both marinated and sauce-free. Being a flavor freak, I preferred the heavily sauced ones (yes I ought to be shot). Still, the chicken bbq at Shilla beat the beef cuts at Don’s Bogam by a long shot. We also had an order of bulgogi, thinly sliced beef cooked with vegetables, a lot of onions and garlic and a sweet sauce. The only disappointment for me was the jap chae, which like most restaurant cooked jap chae was a sweet sloppy mess. The restaurant served a variety of banchan, and it was interesting inducting new eaters into the delights of fish cake (or fish sausage as we like to call it), multiple types of kimchi and the spicy dried shrimp that unsurprisingly made some flinch. Oh well, a few more meals and we’ll have them down the tiny shrimp like the rest of us.
We rolled out of the restaurant reeking of smoke and garlic despite ominous warnings not to wear wool. But what can’t a little dry cleaning do?

Don’s Bogam
17 E 32rd St (bet Madison & 5th Ave)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fika espresso bar & Petrossian bakery

I cannot think of a more ideal way to start the day than to have a croissant in one hand and a cup of joe in the other. Unfortunately, that thought apparently isn't too unique, and my original breakfast spot, Petrossian, a place better known for its caviar flights and cans of imported foie gras but also a seller of a superior croissant was filled with like minded people at 10am today. Disappointed but not defeated, I weighed my options, and decided that a croissant to go was better than none at all.
Luckily for me, a standby cafe was only 1 block away. So I paid up and toted my croissant, along with 2 crunchy on the outside and custardy on the inside canneles to my standby, FIKA espresso bar, a Swedish cafe that invites all to " drink coffee". I ordered a cup of cappuccino brewed from swedish coffee beans from a cool Nordic blond (but only in appearance, she was v. nice), perched myself on a steel countertop and uncomfortable bar stool that exuded Scandinavian design asthetics, stopped myself from getting a swedish meatball sandwich with lingonberry sauce and dug into my croissant.
The coffee was smooth and nutty, but the croissant, with its glossy exterior, a great shatter factor, flaky and light insides and a 100% buttery but not cloying taste stole the show. If only it wasn't so bad for me would I eat one more gladly for lunch.
So the moral of the story is this. Do not allow a little hitch like the lack of sitting room to get in the way of good eating. Oh no! Apply a little thought and always have back-ups, and you can have the same great breakfast one-two punch like me =)

FIKA espresso bar
41 W58th St (bet 5th and 6th Ave)
911 7th Ave (bet 57th and 58th St)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cheap treats @ economy candy

I find it hard that anyone would dislike Economy Candy. It is both a purveyor of kitsch and candy for serious chocolate connoisseurs, with the candy types ranging from wacky giant PEZ dispensers and anatomically correct chocolate babies (taste more like taffy), to hard to find imported Cadbury chocolate from the UK and chi-chi Scharffen Berger bars. You may go in with a certain item in mind, but you'll never know what you'll end up buying, because temptations are abound. If in case you're just browsing, rest assured you'll find something calling your name. And no matter what you end up buying, you are quite certain you are getting quite the bargain here. Case in point, a 1 oz bar of Scharffen Berger milk chocolate, retailing for $4.50 per bar on their website only costs $3.50 at Economy Candy.
I, for one, was highly distracted the moment I was let into the shop, literally on a sugar high by just inhaling the sweet scent of the hand-dipped chocolate and the huge slabs of halvah. I saw the colored candy buttons of my childhood (the ones my mum told me were toxic and would stain my stomach neon pink and yellow) ; really hard to find European items such as Kinder-Surprise eggs with a toy inside and those Mozart chocolate and marzipan balls that my choir friends and I raided the Germany supermarkets for; the Giant PEZ dispensers, gummy dentures; different types of dried fruit and old fashioned American candy bar, some that I've never seen.
Being rather ignorant of the history of candy in the U.S., I picked up the Sky Bar, an unconventional chocolate bar with 4 distinct fillings that was produced by Necco, only to go home and find out that it has been in production since the 1930s. And all I thought while getting it was "hmm.. tt's a great bar for a commitment-phobe"!!
While I think everyone would like this funky sweet emporium, the economy candy store is truly highly recommended for those who are 1. nostalgic for some old school candy; 2. looking to experience the LES pre- the invasion of the bobo eateries and 3. in serious rebellion against their dental surgeon. In any case, eat up and have fun!

Economy Candy
108 Rivington St

Monday, November 27, 2006

Quickly shabu shabu

Shabu shabu and bubble tea are strange bed-fellows indeed. One's great on a sunny and sweltering afternoon while the other is a perfect antidote against the cold when it's billowing snow outside. Oddly enough, the two happen to share top billing at Quickly, a shabu shabu place fronted by a bubble tea counter.
On a late November evening, my companions and I were there for the bubbling vats of soup and some meat swishing action, although some bubble tea with the meal would not hurt. We were a little skeptical going into the restaurant, as the shopfront looked tiny and a little dingy, and the idea of hotpot and bubble tea specialist just did not elicit much confidence in us. But as we were led to the basement, which was bright, clean and filled with groups of young Asians who seemed really into their food, we relaxed and started ordering.
The concept is simple: an individual sized hot pot for each diner, your choice of 3 soup bases and meats and vegetables to dip into the soup. A bar is stocked with all types of Asian dipping condiments, from chilli oil to sesame paste, as well as a never-ending supply of eggs, which we cooked hard boiled, stirred into egg flowers or mixed raw with the various sauces for a tasty but salmonella-prone dip. We chose a few set meals and some extra plates of meat, which came with fresh thin cuts of beef/chicken/pork/lamb that fortunately did not suffer from freezer burn, vegetables and vermicelli that miraculously multiplied in the pot. Yanru and I kept fishing and fishing and still more would surface when we thought we were done eating. While we were eating, the server (who was kind of spaced out or just overworked most of the time) brought us our bubble tea drinks that came with the meal. Yes, you get tea along your shabu shabu, in case you needed a cool respite from the steamy dinner. My Singaporean friends and I were waxing nostalgia (ok I was) over how Quickly, a bubble tea franchise from Taiwan had quickly whipped up a bubble tea frenzy in Singapore when we were high schoolers only to shut down really quickly too, due to overzealous copying by local bubble tea shops that unfortunately did not make great tea. While the tea we had were not as good as I had remembered it to be, it was definitely somewhat of a pleasant surprise to see the brand alive and well 10000 miles away from home!

237 Grand St

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thank you Mr. Turkey

And Auntie Hui, Uncle Sam and everyone else who made this Thanksgiving so tasty and memorable! The holidays are always festive affairs, and feasting, which inevitably leads to over enthusiastic gorging is not only condoned, but expected. Indeed, our hosts would be offended if we didn't try our best to clear our plates, which explains why I am still feeling bloated. While I try to recuperate from gross overeating this weekend, let me count the ways I ate:
1. Sampling homemade scones that Gerrie and I made, to make sure their edibility
2. Licking the left-over sweet cream cheese mixture meant for the highly addictive mini chocolate cupcakes straight from the bowl
3. Surreptitiously tasting everything that goes out of the kitchen in the name of quality control
4. Spooning heaps of yams and stuffing that go with the tender bird that 2 years ago were billed as "White House Turkey" because George bought his from the same farm
5. Feeling torn between chocolate cake or strawberry and banan trifle, both from the kitchens of WW's v. capably baker girlfriend, and finally just eating both, in between popping bite-sized creme puffs, cupcakes and butter cookies from Philly.
All these, and that's only Thanksgiving! I've not even described our post Black Friday meal in vietnamese town, lamb bbqed over an open grill and served with dollops of mint jelly and the most pungent fish sauce flavored croutons one has ever encountered...
No wonder Tyler had been training for Thanksgiving since last week. Next year, I will be a champion eater too!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sweet Treats

I have a sweet tooth and am unabashedly upfront about it. As a result, I've borne a fair share of good natured ridicule from time to time, when colleagues jokingly hand me the largest slice of cake during "birthday tea-breaks" or snarkily inform me about leftover cookies sitting in certain conference rooms. However, my well-publicized weakness for candy has perks too. For example, I do get the largest slice of cake around, and people remember to bring me desserts whenever they go on trips. John for example brought back some interesting Indian traditional sweets back to the office after his whirlwind trip to India and I was the lucky recipient of my own box when others had to share... MUAHAHAHA
For the uninitiated, India is a sugar-loving nation, but one can hardly tell from surveying the dessert menu at most Indian restaurants in the US. Besides the standard gulab jamun and ras malai, desserts are pathetically under-represented. And you are hardly missing anything if you choose to skip the commercially produced and oversweetened balls of flour and sugar. But sweets, or mithai, are a big part of life, featuring not only during festivals and religious days, but also as common fixtures during weddings. More importantly however, the small but intensely sweet nuggets are so good that you want them to be part of a daily routine, as a after dinner sweet or something you savor with your cup of chai tea.
Of the selections within my personal box of Delhi sweets, I adore the pistachio and almond burfi, decorated with edible silver leaf most. While not as pretty as some of the more colorful sweets, the blocks of candy made from condensed milk, flavored with a smoky nutty flavor are simply irresistable. The ladoo is another popular sweet, reminiscent of a gulab jamun in its shape and sugar-soaked nature, but even more sinful (and thus better tasting) since its deep-fried in ghee. Unfortunately for the health-conscious, we all know that the best sweets are made with real butter, lard, and in this instance, ghee, but sacrifices have to be made, and for now, taste trumps calories, even as I fruitlessly try to limit my Indian sweet consumption to one after each meal....

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Novecento & Vegetarian Dim Sum House

Otherwise known as "Steak night and how I paid penance the day after".
A couple years ago, some friends visited Argentina and came back with hundreds of pictures, mate cups and stories about the best steaks they've eaten in their lives. In fact, they regaled us about how they would eat steak for lunch & dinner a few days in a row, often with a few good bottles of malbecs to wash all the protein down. The Argentineans, with the highest per capital meat consumption in the world, sure take their beef seriously. And at Novecento, a small Argentine steakhouse tucked in the slightly scene-y part of West Soho, the gaucho nation showcased its flair for cooking beef.
All four of us, Gerrie, me and two friends had the surprisingly affordable signature skirt steak served with chimicurri sauce. The restaurant did justice to the typically inexpensive and not very tender cut of meat, rendering the steak a nice char outside and moistness inside. While the steak did not need any additional embellishment, the fragrant and slightly spicy chimicurri sauce gave the creamy but bland mashed potatoes a much needed lift. The fries however, were really nicely fried and very flavorful. Yummy. With a few glasses of red wine and serviceable desserts, we had a very nice friday night satisfying our carnivorous tendencies.
A night of vegetables and gluten followed the guilty meat and potatoes meal, as Yanru convinced me to join her for dinner at the Vegetarian Dim Sum House in Chinatown, a place she's been thinking about checking out for months. My initial skepticism about all-day dim sum, meatless to boot was happily proven wrong as we dined on steam tofu-skin rolls stuffed with fresh vegetables and a big casserole of vermicelli and mock ham, which tasted exactly like spam, but guilt-free. However, meatless doesn't always mean healthy, as the lack of meat is compensated by heavy seasoning and liberal dosages of cooking oil. Also, its curious that vegetarian food should cost more than meat, which it did, albeit just slightly in Chinatown. Nonetheless, it was a very filling and tasty meal, and we spotted a few interesting dishes on the other tables that we would like to try. For those leery of vegetarian food, or just Chinese food in general, it should be noted that the room was packed with a predominantly young Caucasian crowd, as the food is probably very suitable for vegetarians and vegans, so come on down and try it yourself. You'll be very contented with your mock meats and feel good with the knowledge that no animals had been harmed in the process of your culinary enjoyment =)

343 W Broadway

Vegetarian Dim Sum House
24 Pell St

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Soup noodles on Eldridge Street

When Yanru first suggested eating Lanzhou hand pulled noodles with a side of Fuzhou stuffed fishballs on Eldridge St, I was a little confused. Lanzhou is famed for its thick strands of chewy, udon-like noodles, while meat-stuffed fishballs are known specialties of Fuzhou. No disputes there. But with Lanzhou in the interior of China and Fuzhou right on the southeast coast, how did the cusines of the two regions collide and interact, and in New York no less?
Questions aside, both the noodles and the fishballs at Sheng Wang were pretty good, especially considering the rock-bottom price of $4 for a basin full of homemade noodles, hand-pulled by the chef standing behind the narrow counter. The list of toppings for the toothsome noodles was long and varied, ranging from pig innards to cantonese roast duck, which is certainly not made in-house and which we avoided. After some inquiries, we ordered the house specialty pork bone soup, which ostensibly came with a few hunking chunks of bones, hacked right in the middle such that the marrow was sliding into the rich, meaty broth. To cut the grease factor, the noodles are topped with pickled vegetables. It was certainly not a dainty dish and Rosie and Ying valiantly tried to finish their portions. A good half dozen Fuzhou fishballs, the size of golf balls came afloating on top of Yanru's fishball noodles, and they were a little doughy but also very satisfying.
Besides Sheng Wang, a few other noodle shops with similar menus line Eldridge St, catering to the immigrant community, largely from Fuzhou, who need a fuss-free and nourishing bite. While the food and the shoebox frills-free basement dining room were a little coarser than we are used to, the humble fare did me good, as I warmed myself on that cold and rainy night with the vats of soup and reflected on my fortune once again, to live in a great, diverse city where $40 and $4 entrees exist within a short 15 block radius and are celebrated alike.

Sheng Wang Noodles
27 Eldridge St

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Chicago, my kind of town

As a student with a limited budget, I spent four years in college largely surviving on dorm food, take out from Hyde Park chinese joints and home cooked meals made by myself, my roommate or friends. Even when I did go out for meals with friends, we invariably wound up in Chinatown, where huge plates of roasted meat along with slushy and sweet bubble tea can be had for next to nothing, or to cheesecake factory along Michigan Avenue, to reward ourselves with cake after a day of window shopping. On those special occasions where pak and I did go out for dinner, I would yield to his francophile tendencies and we would test out the house's coq au vin and creme brulee each time. Hence, with the exception of an arsenal of knowledge around french bistros in chicagoland, my grasp on the local restaurant scene was a little less than desirable.
Without the tight budgetary constraints and with the absence of a certain escargot lover, TPS, ruoying, rosie and I set out to out-eat each other at various Chicago restaurants serving a myriad of different cuisines.
We went russian for lunch at the Russian Tea Time a block away from the Art Institute. With its dark wood furniture, chandeliers, oversized pots of fresh flowers and dark colored walls, the room exuded a faded glamour. And under the ministration of our charming server we noshed on a lamb stuffed blinchinki and enormous platters of assorted appetizers and meats. We washed down the sweet stuffed cabbage and dumplings with house flavored vodka. The black currant tea, slightly bitter at first sip but with a wonderfully fragrant aftertaste was a clear favorite.
Next stop is Cafe Iberico, an old favorite of mine. If you can endure the sometimes interminable wait during dinner time, you will be rewarded with potent sangria, luscious desserts and the tasty and big "small-plates". The tapas portions at Cafe Iberico are huge, and for less than $15 one can get full and/or roaring drunk and all have a great time. Between the four of us, we had my favorite tortilla espanola, a big plate of potatos in pungent and garlicky aioli, perfectly pan seared scallops served with saffron rice, more garlic in the generous bowl of shrimp and a big platter of paella. Throw in half a pitcher of sangria and we were only $12 poorer each leaving the place compared to when we got there. Unfortunately, the wait can be a trial to all, especially those with little patience. Thankfully Macdonald's is always nearby for a short respite while we endure the hour long wait.
Even though the crema catalana at Cafe Iberico's one of the best I've had so far, we saved our stomachs for the real treat of the night, a luxurious night-cap and dessert at Tru. Tru's one of the top restaurants in the city, and when I heard about its dessert offerings in the less formal lounge, I jumped on it and made reservations. I have had dinner a few years ago at Tru, and had shelled out an obscene amount of money for the caviar staircase in the multicourse tasting menu. Dessert was a high point then, and I was hoping it to be the same this time too. Unfortunately dessert this time was rather mundane and unimaginative. The cornbread topped with blueberries was really dry while the napoleon with chocolate mousse and caramel ice cream was merely passable. Luckily, at around $10 per piece, it wasn't too much of a heartache. The unimpeachable service and the after meal gift of moist banana bread helped soften the blow. But what really saved the evening and made it a truly memorable one was what happened post meal. We asked the hostess to help us hail a cab, and instead she offered us the use of the restaurant's towncar! So instead of having to stand unglamorously at the kerb waving for an elusive cab, we were whisked back to TPS's apartment in no time in a slick black limousine. That, my friend, is class.
The next morning, we woke up still full. Still TPS wanted us to try breakfast at Melrose Cafe, her favorite brunch spot, and so we dragged ourselves to Belmont for a spot of hot coffee, gigantic omelettes and a first class hash browns. The runners participating in the Chicago marathon was passing Belmont as we ate our fill and rubbed our bloated bellies. Talk about compare and contrast!
By the time we rolled out of Melrose Cafe, rosie and I were already planning our salad lunches for the rest of the week to pay penance for our gluttonous exhibition. But, we had still one last stop to make before swearing of cholestrol and calories. Peishan had been raving about a certain bread pudding at Rose Angelis, a really cute Italian restaurant that would be a sure neighborhood favorite had I lived in Lincoln Park. Walking by a bar in the front of the room, we were led through a short corridor to our table located in one of the multiple partitioned rooms. Walking through the restaurant reminded me of walking through Peishan's old house on Kimbark, the one she shared with Chuck and Amanda, where a similar corridor connected the living room from the dining area. Anyway, the salad with a peppery ceasar dressing and the chicken marsala wafting in a haze of steam and alcohol was sized with Midwest sensibilities. The pudding was also enormous, more like a brick than those dainty things you find in martini glasses in a New York eatery. The dense pudding was drenched in warm sweet, slightly salty caramel sauce and wow was that a potent combination. Even without wine, I was feeling heady with all that good food and that much sugar in the system.
While I dont lament my poor student lifestyle ( time in the kitchen did hone my culinary skills), am I glad I have another chance to check out what Chicago has to offer!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Gracie's apple pie

This weekend I returned to the alma mater, to relive some good old memories with TPS and to show off to Rosie, our small but charming campus. As visitors, TPS and I reveled in the ordinary, delightfully witnessing the creeping ivy that adorn the grey gothic buildings change from green to gold to red. We walked through the silent hall of the Rockefeller chapel trying to remember the "Aims of Education" message we heard 5 years ago as freshmen while Rosie admired the stained glass. We peered into Hutchinson Commons so that TPS could catch a glimpse of the picture of "the president who looked like Richard Gere". I was comforted that I still remembered all the names of the halls, and gaped in astonishment at the dvd machine on the basement of Reynolds Club, where the ORCSA noticeboards were. What a sign of progress!!!
Unfortunately, the weather, while not too uncharacteristic of a Chicago fall, was a little too chilly for us to continue hiking beyond the main quads, so we decided to warm ourselves over hot drinks and maybe something sweet to eat. And by dessert, both TPS and I wordlessly agreed, that we had to go to Medici for the definitive slice of apple pie.
For the thousands of students attending the University of Chicago each year, Medici is a familiar haunt. With its graffiti loaded walls, good and filling diner food and very, very affordable prices, scores of bookish students take the short walk from the quads to 57th St each day to the Med as we call it, where politics and the arts are discussed, gossip shared and soup sipped. For me and my friends, it was a place to share in our love for good food and great company, as well as to revel in our common identity as survivors of the harsh UofC regime. Between me and my friends, we have had multiple first dates, pre-exam binges, post-exam leisurely chat-n-chew, bitch and snitch sessions at the Medici. We have slurped thick milk-shakes during hot summers and warmed ourselves with spiced cider during winter. When the proprietors opened a bakery next door to the restaurant, I had on many occasions taken the long way home so that I could duck in there for a cup of spicy mexican hot chocolate. But while we mulled over the long list of appetizers and entrees, dessert was a foregone conclusion. We would like to order Gracie's apple pie, ala mode, thank you very much. Sure, our affection for this apple pie may be tinged with more than a little bit of fond memories, but that's not to say that it isn't a mean slice of pie. The pie at Medici is baked to order, wonderfully crusty and redolent of cinnamon. The generous scoop of vanilla ice cream melts slowly into the bowl, its sweetness balancing the tartness of the apples. And the sensation of both hot and cold is plain amazing. Unsurprisingly, we licked this bowl clean, like the many orders of apple pie before it. While the school has progressed in my absence, the taste of apple pie remains the same.

1327 E57th St

Monday, October 09, 2006

munching on the east side

Last weekend, while my usual dinner pal was out of commission due to an oral surgery, I had the good fortune to replace her with two friends who were visiting the city, both friends since Chicago, both students in the east coast, both with a hearty appetite and most importantly, both game enough or foolhardy to agree to a 5 destination within 1.5 hour whirlwind eating exercise.
While both Wellian and Walter have been to New York at least half a dozen times in the past year, both of them are relatively unfamiliar with East Village and the LES. Since that is also a great area for cheap chow and relatively close to the used book cafe, we selected to start of in the East Village and work our way down to Chinatown and back to Soho in one and a half hours. Ambitious? Definitely? But sometimes, its the effort that makes it even more satisfying.
Both Walter and I are certified sugar fiends, so it should not surprise anyone that our first stop is Beard Papa, the noted Japanese chain specializing in cream puffs. The cream puffs are made to order, pumping different flavors of thick, fresh cream into the empty puffs, yielding big puff balls of choux pastry that is full of yummy goodness. While the boys chomped down their cream puffs, we headed a few blocks east to Cafe Zaiya for my breakfast and some coffee. Zaiya happens to be a must-visit for me everytime I go to E. Village, or am in the vicinity of the Bryant Park Library, which is near a sister branch. What makes Cafe Zaiya a favorite of mine is the yakimochi, a traditional Japanese bean pastry that is best eaten when its freshly baked and still warm to the touch. The lotus seed paste is fragrant but not as cloyingly sweet as a Chinese bun filling, and the pastry is both flaky and chewy at the same time, a texture that really appeals to me. The other baked goods, deep fried croquettes and various bento sets are good as well, and Walter couldn't resist buying a deep fried curry bun to eat along the way to our next stop.
Holding our coffee cups, half eaten buns and pastries, we meandered our way through St Marks Place. We peered into the neon pink automat shop that sold overpriced and non-too appetizing looking snacks, identified a few other prospective chow spots, walked down to Tompkins Square Park and reached Houston St, the border between E. Village and the LES. We wandered around for a bit, for I had lost my bearings, but we found our third spot of the day, Il Laboratorio del Gelato right next to the Tenement Musuem and for fear of not having consumed enough sugars, decided to share a cup of icecream. Il Laboratorio is quite the royalty of the New York icecream scene and dominates the freezers of many top notch restaurants in the city. Luckily, the retail store allows us to enjoy the same flavors at a much lower pricepoint (although still expensive when compared to mr. softee) and we happily dug our way through a cup of mint and fig icecream while taking in the sights and marvelling at the pace of gentrification in the still relatively grungy neighborhood.

While the LES had been the stronghold of an older Jewish generation, the influx of Chinese immigrants in the last century, and particularly the last few decades have changed the demographic make-up of the area quite significantly. We observed many signboards in Chinese and even more Fuzhou eateries popping up further north from Canal Street, where Chinatown is largely situated. Another type of eatery that is highly popular in the area are the northern Chinese dumpling houses that served up dirt cheap dumplings in tiny and cramped shop fronts. We visited one of the oldest dumpling shops, simply called Dumpling House to sample the wares. The dumplings, fresh out of the frying pan was crisp and hot to the point of scalding. They were also plump and filled with fresh meat and chives, making for a very greasy lunch. Walter even proclaimed that he could "stand there and eat this all day long." The fact that the dumplings were $1 for an order of 5, or 20 cents each was icing on the cake. We also shared a sesame pancake stuffed with cold spiced beef. What's not to like about fried dough? Better yet, fried dough served right off the griddle, sprinkled with fragrant sesame seeds and filled with slightly spicy and aromatic beef jerky? Just thinking about it makes me hungry =)
At this point, we were all feeling the effects of heartburn, plus had run out of time as my shift at the cafe was about to begin, so I bade my buddies goodbye and rushed to the cafe. I felt a little disappointed as I still had one more place I wanted the out-of-towners to visit to round up our mini snack expedition. Luckily Wellian came back to look for me after I was done for the day and we finally managed to hit Bahn Mi So 1 for a huge vietnamese sandwich ostensibly for some greens (it had cilantro and pickled vegetables) and iced vietnamese coffee. While the sandwich is a great grab-and-go type of food, we decided to rest our feet in a small playground in Nolita to refuel and watch the diverse group of kids, from chinese kids in the neighborhood, to well-dressed children of yuppie European parents who just spent hundreds of dollars in the boutiques on Elizabeth St, to tourists who are enjoying a slice of New York pizza, play in the background. Only in this great city can you simultaneously see people from all walks of life congregate in one spot, and only in this place can you enjoy foods from different ethnicities, price points and stature in the culinary scene within a short 20 block walk.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Pearl Oyster Bar

As readers of this blog well know, I have two roommates. While we all fit the stereotype of nice Asian girls overworked in the financial world, have similar hairstyles and share a kitchen and a vacuum machine, we also all have a good appetite and a distaste (or rather, lack of motivation to go on) for diets. However, when it comes to what we eat, our individuality shines through somewhat. Gerrie's the trendiest amongst the three of us, with an admirable goal of dining at as many brand-name culinary temples in the city. I am the eclectic eater who will munch at anything but the kitchen sink and have a weird fascination for off-beat eats , and Ceci's the classy chick who goes for classic and elegant food. With that in mind, for Ceci's belated bday dinner, we decided to go to Pearl Oyster Bar, a homey New England style seafood house in the village for an unpretentious evening, slurping down fresh shellfish and trying out the "best" lobster roll in the city.
After a 3 day survey of lobster pounds in Bar Harbor during August, I thought I would have good authority to say that the cramped dining room was prettier than any simple shack I had been to in Maine. The seafood at Pearl was also as fresh as those I had eaten in Maine, and perfectly cooked to yield an even better taste than the great tasting, but simply boiled lobsters and sublimely fried fish and clams I had. Between the 5 of us (rmmates + friends), we split a platter of fried oysters (a little over battered), and another plate of briny and yet sweet raw clams and a refreshing, fruity riesling to rouse up some appetite.
After we hacked away at the appetizers, our entrees found its way onto the table and we tasted through 5 dishes, including a good sized and nicely grilled lobster, a generous bowl of bouillabaise that was stuffed with small and plump mussels, a roasted whole fish (snapper? or mullet?) that I did not taste but looked and smelt fantastic. I ate a slice of snow white cod, succulent and flaky, tasting like what fish fingers would taste like if they had been made of real fish and only lightly dusted with floor. And Gerrie ordered the house specialty lobster roll served with a heap of shoestring fries, which at twice the price and almost twice the size of any old lobster roll you see in a fish shack in Maine, was quite a tasty, mayonnaisey monstrosity.
Dinner for the three of us must end on a sweet note, so despite already stuffed stomaches, we ordered a slice of blueberry pie and two sundaes to share. The pie was great. Not too sweet and the slightly sour tang of the blueberries blended well with the creamy sweetness of the vanilla icecream that topped it. The hot fudge and butterscotch in the old-fashioned sundaes were unapologetically viscous and rich and the whole deal with thick fresh cream and more vanilla icecream was pure fatty sin. But so good we ate it all up.
Like Ceci, Pearl Oyster Bar is a classic.

18 Cornelia St

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


It was an indian summer night of sorts this evening, where after a week of grey skies and chilly temperatures, the weather warmed up to hit mid-70s, the perfect weather for a cool treat. Frozen yogurt comes to mind, and with that I walked to ktown for a cup of the heavily touted Pinkberry yogurt.
Pinkberry is an LA transplant, and the Los Angelenos apparently love it so much that it launched a thousand parking tickets, as the yogurt eaters had no qualms double parking and making all sorts of parking violations in order to get to their yogurt. After a small cup of plain yogurt topped with fresh raspberry, I could see what the fuss was about. I really enjoyed the tanginess of the yogurt, which was great alone but also served as a bland enough canvas to highlight the flavors of the toppings. Detractors complain about the texture, citing iciness. Although I enjoyed the taste and the texture, I can see where the complaints are coming from, particularly if they are more used to the creaminess of ice-cream.
Cost-wise, a cup of Pinkberry yogurt is slightly higher than a similar cup of icecream, but in the land of absurd rents and labor cost, I can forgive the slightly higher prices as well. For people who are determined not to be fleeced, the fresh fruit toppings may offer more value for money than say Cap'n Crunch.
To sum up, yes the fro-yo is a little icy, a little tart and a little expensive. But it sure beats the artificial creaminess and sweetness of Tasti-Delite IMHO. I wish the proprietor luck however in attracting enough customers, because despite all the publicity and hype, the customer flow was a little slow on a warm Wednesday night. One can imagine how much business they will get on a cold January day...

7 W 32rd St

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Breakfasting on the UWS

Of all the days in the week, I choose to be the most productive on Sunday. Sunday, of all days... i don't get myself....
Anyway, a typical routine would be like this: Wake up a little past 8 am and immediately panicking, for church starts in an hour. Rush out to church at 9 and by 10:30, I get out of the service, and have a good day ahead of me to waste. With the extra time on my hands, compared to the more sensible people who are still sleeping in, I also have the tendency to wander around the UWS more, buy things I don't want and shop for food I am certainly do not need. Case in point: I had 2 breakfasts today. I certainly wasn't starved the day before, nor even mildly famished after i devoured my first meal, but I felt compelled to have the second breakfast, because it was pastry =p
First stop: Le Pain Quotidien for a good cup of latte in a handle-less cup, and a huge eggy brioche, slathered in marmalade and strawberry confiture. Although its part of a chain, the big and brightly lit room and the fresh smell of baked bread and other yummy sweets gave the place a friendly, warm personality unlike regular chains.
Next stop: Soutine Bakery for a thick slice of honey cake. Unlike the brisk efficiency experienced at Le Pain Quotidien, service at the tiny storefront was a little more languid and even warmer. The shop assistant served up freshly made croissants, cakes and tiny fruit tarts filled with seasonal fruits to all her customers, regulars or not, with a wide, lazy smile. The honey cake, bought in a whim, was really sweet, tasty and very filling, particularly after being heated up in the microwave and paired with tart yogurt. I would definitely eat it again. So thanks to some spontaneity and a good appetite, I had yet another productive and happy fooding sunday.

Le Pain Quotidien
60 W 65th St
Soutine Bakery

104 W 70th St

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Soba Koh

It was a beautiful summer day last sunday, possibly the final summer weekend warm enough for beach afficionados to get some tanning done. It was also a perfect day to slurp some soba to cool off from the unseasonal heat. So I made my way to Soba Koh in East Village for a late lunch, only to find myself the only customer at 2 pm. While its a shame business wasn't as brisk as the proprietors would have liked, I rather enjoyed the calmness of the dining room, further set off by the austere decor (all dark cherry wood and minimalist sharp planes).
What a setting for a solo bowl of hand-made buckwheat noodles! With a healthy dose of wasabi and fresh scallions, the dipping sauce transformed from monotonous to bracingly refreshing. The generous serving of anago and green pepper tempura was crunchy and greaseless, complementary to the slick coolness of the otherwise bland and slightly chewy noodles. I ate quickly, unable to stop from alternately dipping the noodles and the tempura into the sauce and putting the food straight into my mouth. Soon my soba craving was sated. While slightly more expensive than my usual midtown lunches, the luxury of enjoying good food in the stillness of an empty room, where the only distraction you have is whether to eat the tempura or the noodles next and not which report to read while you eat and type simultaneously, well that is a good feeling worth its weight in gold.

Soba Koh
309 E5th St (bet. 1st & 2nd Ave)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Saigon Bahn Mi

Soho has become my new neighborhood ever since I started working at the Used Book Cafe on saturdays, and it is no wonder I've started scouring for things to eat while working the espresso machine for a good 4 hours meant to be tea-time. As comprehensive as the drinks and sweets menu is at the cafe (macaroons and stella artois make a killer combination) , its a little lacking in the savory foods line-up. Luckily, Saigon Bahn Mi is there to the rescue, keeping the hunger away with a warm crusty french bread sandwiching crunchy pickled carrots and refreshingly fresh cilantro, salty vietnamese pastrami and a weird-looking but tasty orange pate that's supposed to be the "supreme" version of pates.
While reference to it being the best sandwich in town is contentious, it is definitely the most value-for-money sandwich however. A huge hunk of bread, meats and vegetables all for $3, enough to tide me through a 4 hour shift, and even dinner if I manage to stop myself from eating it all at once. So far, it hasn't happened yet, but the sandwich is really best eaten in whole, so say I...

Bahn Mi So 1
369 Broome St (Bet. Mott & Elizabeth Sts)

Sunday, September 03, 2006


If the mess of dark purple rice studded with green edamame beans remind you of the south east asian dessert pulut hitam, you are not too far off the mark. The rice is indeed the same variant of those used in the making of the sweet, coconuty dessert, but instead of finding it on the menu of a Malaysian restaurant, right below bubur chacha, Yanru and I found the black rice sharing a bowl with a variety of rice-toppers in a cheap and shabbily cool restaurant in the hipster-infested area of Nolita. Besides black rice, which we suspect was also cooked in coconut milk, the restaurant features about half a dozen or more other types of plain and flavored rice, from japanese to basmati, and even to one dish flecked with cilantro, parsley and spinach.The rice-toppers, from curries to ratatouille, to surprisingly hefty tofu balls drenched in a fiery sauce weren't bad either. Prices are very reasonable, and we walked out paying less than $10 with tax and tips. Rice the restaurant, attempts to make the act of rice-eating new and fresh, and even an old fogey like me, who likes her standard jasmine rice chinese takeout style, with a slight al dente texture, can't help but have to try something new. But if you are not willing to try, there will always be jasmine rice.

227 Mott St (Bet. Spring & Prince St)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Daisy May's

The pig gig, as with any semi-important thing in life, like buying an air ticket, requires a certain level of commitment. First, you must be curious and eager enough to fork out $400, non-refundable, for the whole pig (because why go for half if you can get the whole thing?) at least 2 days in advance. Next, you have to assemble the crew of 12-15 friendly pork eaters to share your meal, and cajol/beg/threaten them not to ditch you at the last minute. But once you've followed through, you will, as I had last night, enjoy a close encounter with Mr. Pig, and make a really fine meal out of it.
Daisy May's operated only as a take-out counter and a couple of food carts in the city, but they have expanded since to also include a sit down area, which resembles a mess hall more than it does a formal dining room. The service is largely DIY, but that doesn't mean there was no service, as the chefs did their best to keep our raucous bunch happy, fashioning a makeshift bottle opener so that we had access to our beer (they don't have a liquor license, thus we were supposed to bring our own alcohol and corkscrew etc), and carrying out the pig with some sense of solemnity and gravity, as we and the rest of the diners gaped at it.
Now to the pig. To be honest, I was a little let down, thinking that it was going to be bigger than it actually turned out to be. But as we started chomping our way through, it dawned on me that I didn't need a pigger animal. That the suckling pig was deceptively meaty and that none of us would be going home hungry. We started out civilized, picking the meat using tongs, but heck, it was a lot more fun just ripping out the choice cuts with our bare hands (lovingly gloved in latex, to keep us from burning), and we were well acquainted with the different cuts by the end of the meal. The pig's cheeks were lusciously fatty, the loin meaty and the ribs, so perfect, smoky and so good to chew on. So good in fact, that we couldn't help but gnaw on it until the last drippy drop of meat juice had been sucked out. The sides were awesome too, from the tangy slaw, to the bacon-laden beans and the outrageously sweet watermelon that served as dessert. The evening was a resounding success, aided by liberal consumption of beer no doubt, and I have no experienced a night of corporate cheeriness in a while. Let it be known that eating pork boosts office morale!
I must admit the meal isn't for the faint of heart, there were definitely people who looked a tad green in the beginning, and the restaurant does serve the pig headless, under request and heavy duress to accomodate diners. But I mean, seeing the head is part of the experience! But if you are really squeamish, don't sit facing it! That works too =)

Daisy May's
623 11th Ave (corner of 46th)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Hiroko's Place - when the japanese flip burgers

This probably sounds like a travesty on a classic american dish, but my favorite hamburger is bunless, tomato-less and lettuce-free. It instead comes with an egg, fried sunny side up, and topped with a good ladle of bolognese sauce. And a big plate of rice on the side provides the diner with the necessary carbohydrates. The hamburger I've just described is a Japanese take on the good old burger that defines Americana, and is as, if not more satisfying than the original, especially on a chilly and gray weekend afternoon. It is a mushy, meaty, carb-laden meal that works miracles at kicking start one's urges to take an afternoon nap, again, the perfect rainy day activity.
I had my plate of hamburg rice at Hiroko's Place in SoHo, which also serves coffee brewed in the siphon method. Other food items include Omu-raisu (literally omelette rice, or fried rice wrapped in an omelette), spaghetti with shitake mushroom and taroko roe, and hot dogs ala nihon, which looked and tasted like regular hotdogs and were not as satisfying as those from Gray's Papaya. The dishes are mainly conventional japanese-western food, and simply cooked, but had a very home-cooked quality to it that made it comforting to eat. The comfortable sitting, dim lighting and 2 bookcases filled with magazines and japanese manga in the restaurant also gave it a lived-in look. As though as you were visiting a slightly kooky but well-loved aunt (the ones that wore fringed skirts, were constant travellers and part-time tea-readers) and lounging on her green polyester couch, waiting for the sleeping bug to kick in after a heavy, comforting home-cooked meal. A blissful venture indeed.

Hiroko's Place
75 Thompson St (bet Spring & Broome)

Saturday, August 26, 2006


In an attempt to break out of our chinatown rut and try something different, my friday evening dining companions and I made our way 10 blocks south of the office to Barbes, a french moroccan restaurant at Murray Hill. While the restaurant was crowded on a weekday during lunchtime when I last walked past it, the dune colored dining room was only half full when we walked in at 630 on a friday evening. However, the crowd grew larger as the night went on, and so did the chatter and clatter of the plates. Still, the tables were nicely spaced and the huge palm tree that sat squarely in the middle of the room (and next to our table) gave us a semblance of some privacy and probably acted as a noise buffer, or buffer others from the noise we four loud females were making.
While a few dishes showed signs of french inflection, the menu is largely focused on traditional moroccan items, namely tagines (hearty stews in a moroccan clay pot) and couscous (semolina grains. semolina is also the main ingredient for pasta, and therefore some people identify couscous as a type of pasta) . And since neither ying nor rosie had not had moroccan food before, and it is harder to find compared to french cusine for sure, all 4 of us ordered either one or the other dish. We also ordered a very french, and very good duck confit salad to share. The composition was an amalgation of well balanced flavors, with the salty and earthy duck blending extremely well with the mild lentils and the sharp and peppery mesclun and the sweet roasted beets.
Unfortunately, the moroccan entrees did not fare as well. The couscous were well cooked and non soggy, although a little lacking in sale. However, the meats that came with the couscous, grilled or stewed, were all overcooked. Grilled chicken breast on top of a plate of couscous dressed up with plump golden raisins were stringy. And the lamb in the tagine was too tough and underseasoned, despite the best efforts of the prunes in the same dish to provide some seasoning and taste. The tagine unveiling ceremony was however, very impressive. So points for that. The fish tagine in a spicy tomato stew happened to be the best entree that evening, but the favorable impressions was marred when Ying ate a spoonfull of clay. When questioned about it, the servers explained that the pot might have chipped because she had dug into the pot too vigorously. But points still go towards the service, as the servers were pretty apologetic about the mishap and the overall service was attentive and prompt.
We surveyed the dessert menu afterwards and found the offerings of about half a dozen french based desserts perfunctory at best. Still, we ordered a molten chocolate cake (mistakenly advertised as chocolate souffle to us) which was pretty standard.
In the end, we had a really enjoyable dinner. However, it was more a function of the boisterous conversation and the enjoyment of each other's company, and food unfortunately, played second fiddle.

19 E36th St (At Madison Ave)

NB: My pictures of the tagines did not come out properly so i filched a picture online. Ignore the gnome =p

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Serendipity 3

After 2 years and multiple tries, I finally made it into Serendipity 3, the famous ice-cream parlor made even more popular by the ill-fated, bland (un)romantic movie with the same name minus the number 3 (Why John Cusack? Why?) The "general store" in its late-afternoon glory

After a 30 minutes wait on a Tuesday afternoon, instead of the usual 2 hr wait during the weekends, we entered the dining room, dimly lit by tiffany lamps and adorned in that haphazard manner, romantic enough for lovers and quirky enough to appeal to children, the two group of diners largely responsible for the crazy lines. And for both groups, the place is perfect for an afternoon snack, a romantic jaunt, or for dessert after a hard day of shopping at Bloomingdales. For other diners, the place might not be worth the wait.
We had the signature frozen hot chocolate, an oxymoron in any case and a disappointment if you were counting on getting a drink both chilly and boiling hot at the same time. However, the huge bowl of frozen chocolate ice, topped with a big dollop of whipped cream and shaved chocolate was still refreshing and while expensive, was not exhorbitant in the city. Throw in the quaintness found in the cool recesses of the room and the hype at dining in one of the most popular restaurant/cafe/ice-cream parlor in the city, $8.50 is not such a bad deal after all.

Serendipity 3
225 E 60th St

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Chinatowns

Three consecutive meals at three different Chinatowns (two in NY, one in Boston) later, I've come to the conclusion that if you can stomach 1) a little bit of attitude from the servers, 2) sitting with others on the same table and 3) the insanity that’s called parking in Chinatown, you most definitely be able to find some excellent grub at hit me its so dirt cheap rock bottom prices. And have money to spare to eat dessert too!
Anyway, P and I hit Boston's Chinatown for Sunday brunch and both of us remembered a taiwanese restaurant (uncreatively named Taiwan Cafe) which we had been to and really liked 3 summers ago when visiting a friend at MIT. So we had the signature pork chop rice, not very suitable at 11 am, but very satisfying, with a huge pork chop deep fried in star anise-spiked batter laying atop a huge mound of rice, which was in turn drenched with dark, sweet and salty meat sauce. The plate of the rice also came with a hard boiled egg cooked in soy sauce and some pickled vegetables which helped balance the oily factor. We washed down the rice with a fresh bowl of sweet soy milk served in a bowl and picked up another plate of fried vermicelli, once again topped in the tasty meat sauce and also a big roll of baked chinese dough (烧饼)All that for under $15 bucks with a hefty tip!And the leftover dough served us well as an afternoon snack while stuck in traffic too! Parking was a crazy affair however, with hungry chinese eaters double parking, placing cars blatantly next to the fire hydrants etc, so if we do ever go back, we'll be taking the metro.
Almost 10 hours after our foray into Boston's ctown, we landed in Flushing, Queens. This time we headd to Shanghai Tide for what else? shanghainese food, including a steamer full of soup dumplings, which, while competently made did not wow us. We also had 2 not tt memorable dishes and a bowl of spicy dan dan noodle that stole the show. Its amazing how good a little bit of minced pork and a lot of chili oil mixed together with handfuls of scallions can taste. While we were there, we observed the bulk of the diners actually eating hotpot, which while did not seem like the best summer dish to us, was indeed a huge bargain, as $18.95 yielded an all you can eat buffet and as much beer you can drink. Again, we spent no more than $25 dollars, tips included. We blew the remainder of our cash on cantonese desserts at Sweet & Tart Cafe, where we had a hit in the doubled boiled ginger egg custard (姜汁炖奶)and a miss in the classic green bean soup (绿豆汤). Still at $6 dollars, the entire tab cost less than a frozen hot chocolate in a certain Manhattan eatery, which while satisfying, is definitely not worth its price.
Chinatown #3 is our very own sprawling Manhattan version, where littered amongst some serious duds like the (un)Yummy Noodles are several more worthy restaurants. We discovered a newfound favorite in Great NY Noodletown, where the minced beef congee is up to discerning standards, and the portions for the wonton soup are huge, with more than half a dozen wontons, all swollen with fresh, succulent shrimp. We liked that place so much we were there three times (once we didn't get seats because it was so darn crowded) in less than 2 weeks. Talk about an obsession. We ended our mad eating session that day with a superlative bowl of sweeten silken tofu (豆腐花) for a princely sum of $1 from Kong Kee Food Corp. This made our total lunch expense that day $10 including tips! Slap me now, I'm giddy with the realization that I fed me and my bf for the same cost of a salad in midtown! How much less I would be spending if the office was closer to ctown =(

Taiwan Cafe (34 Oxford St, Boston)
Shanghai Tide (135-20 40th Rd, Flushing)
Sweet & Tart Cafe (13611 38th Ave, Flushing)
Great NY Noodletown (28 Bowery, NY)
Kong Kee Food Corp (240 Grand Street)