Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Basta Pasta

In honor of Xinghong's graduation, we hit Basta Pasta for some Jap-Italian (Italianese, Jatalian) food to witness what the Japanese can do to classic Italian cuisine. While pan-asian fusion food is commonplace (foie gras wonton anyone?) and championed by many influential celebrity chefs in the city, Basta Pasta is quite the anomaly as it injects asian sensibilities into western cuisines without killing the italianness of its food. What do I mean? While you do see some Japanese ingredients in certain menu items and the portions are on the light side, most of the dishes remain true to form and very classically italian.
We started the meal with breadsticks, followed by bruschetta with a cheese spread before they finally brought out the bread basket stocked with 4 types of bread. Yup, 3 bread-related courses before the meal began in earnest. Luckily the entrees weren't too big.
I ordered spaghetti with tobiko roe and shiso leaf, the most blatantly Japanese inspired dish on the menu, and liked the buttery flavor of the sauce spiked with the slightly sharp taste of shiso. I also liked the texture of the roe with the firm pasta, although the roe for some reason was kind of sweet. I liked Gerri's spicy spaghetti dish too. The jalapeno taste was mild as you put it in your mouth but intensifies at the back of your mouth as you chew and swallow the noodles. Ruoying's roast duck was nicely rare and juicy and I liked XH's seabass too, although I can't remember too much about it. So entrees were generally well done.
Desserts were also a mix of classic Italian and Asian inspired. I liked XH's hefty slice of tiramisu , generously spiked with coffee and liqeur, a lot. Gerri's coconut panna cotta was so cool and smooth it slides right into your mouth, but we felt that the cantaloupe soup that the panna cotta was swimming in was a little too flavorful and distracted our attention from the mild coconut flavor. I had houji tea icecream, which tastes much like usual green tea icecream, but with a denser and smokier flavor.
We really liked the food and had fun watching the chefs cook in the open-concept kitchen. What we didn't really understand about the restaurant though was the space, which felt very make-shift. With the pictures on the walls and the exposed ceiling, we felt as though the restaurant space could have been an art gallery in the day and converted into the dining room in the evenings by pulling a couple of table and chairs together. Still, it was a comfortable enough room and a great meal to round off a school year.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

yeah! shanghai

The Mexicans have their tamales, the Italians raviolis, the Eastern Europeans their pierogis, and of course, the Chinese have dumplings in all shapes and forms. The cantonese have 20 different types of dumplings come dim sum time, while the northerners slurp theirs down by the dozens. And for the shanghainese, nothing but soup dumplings is good enough.
While the soup dumplings at yeah shanghai are not as good as those I've eaten in China and Singapore, they rank among the best in nyc's chinatown. Even though they are not as hefty as the ones at Joe's shanghai, they are a little more refine and the skin quite a bit thinner and not as chewy. The pork is also lean and fresh, which makes the soup residing in the dumpling tasty but not too oily. I once ate 16 dumplings all by myself in Shanghai, but since I eat with people here, I had to restrain myself to two. The act of eating soup dumpling the proper way is so stressful, from transferring it from the bamboo steamer to your spoon gingerly to avoid poking through the delicate skin and losing all tt juicy goodness, to biting slowly and sipping the soup carefully out of the dumpling so that 1) the dumpling will not explode on your and 2) you will not scald your tongue. Given the stress level, i guess that two is manageable. Of course, since you want to eat the dumplings while they're piping hot, its a good idea to share an order instead of hogging the steamer all to yourself.
Besides soup dumplings, the other menu items are also worth ordering, especially the specials listed on the chalkboard, written in Mandarin, for those in the know or who are just lucky enough to know Mandarin. That night, 6 of us had, besides dumplings, fried spinach, a slightly fishy but light fish soup, Tong-Po Pork and a huge plate of crabs with rice cakes. The Tong-Po pork was a special order by Ruoying, who had seen another table of diners order it a couple months ago. She was determined to have it this time, and we were happy to oblige. Who could resist a huge slab of fatty pork braised until the skin and fats literally melt in your mouth? The pork comes with steamed plain buns, so stuff some pork in the bun and you have made yourself the asian variant of hamburger.
The crabs with rice cakes is also worth a mention, even if we didn't really enjoy it. It was tasty no doubt, and the crabs were fat and full of roe. Unfortunately, we had anticipated shredded crab stir-fried into the rice cakes, instead of pieces of crab still in its shell sitting atop a mound of rice cakes and minced pork fried in a thick savory sauce. For our very lazy group, it was too much work to get the meat out of the crab, but if you love the challenge of sucking every ounce of meat stuck in the leg, I urge you to order that dish and eat it to your heart's delight. It is afterall, only $12 dollars. That was the price i paid for my crabcake salad in Maryland for a miserable crabcake. Ever wondered how the Chinese did it with their cheap groceries??

Sunday, May 21, 2006


For better or for worse, koreanfever has swept into the rest of Asia since the earlier part of the century and remains extremely strong. I unabashedly proclaim myself a k-drama fan and devour every single dvd set I can get my hands on, happily forgoing sleep and human interaction for the sake of finishing up an episode or five. The most memorable one I've seen so far, and the one that has ruoying wasting away on the couch watching 15 hours non-stop has been Dae Jang Geum. The best part about the show for me, besides the exhibition of office politics in its finest and the epic love story that spans 65 episodes, must be the food. platters and platters of food, from the identifiable congee and bibimbap to the exotic, all fit for a king on celluloid...
so from the land of

May i present to you (cue Dae Jang Geum theme song) dinner, K-style! (aka commoner style, we obviously do not live on the emperor's budget and don't have the great fortune of eating special golden roosters and bear paws and what not...

Yanru's friends are on their grand graduation trip, are spending some time in new york, and would like to try food not easily found in Singapore. It is difficult to find a good korean restaurant in Singapore even though there are more popping out now, with the recent interest in everything that starts with a K. The couple I've been to when I was home left me with a bad taste in my mouth and were too expensive given what they had served up. Y's friends were therefore game to have dinner in manhattan's ktown, and so we made plans to meet up at Kunjip at 7pm.

I love korean food because I'm a big fan of spicy stews, and kunjip does a great job with its spicy chigaes. Well besides being spicy, I guess Korean food can be characterized as a little on the sweet side, and very vege-centric, although we do identify Korean food with BBQ. Kunjip, with its huge menu spanning from vegetarian bibimbaps to spam casserole is a great place to try the full spectrum of basic Korean food. Lastly, walk past kunjip at dinnertime on any day, and you will see a line. There was a line at 6:45 when I got there, and a even longer one at 9 pm, when we left... What instills more confidence than seeing a crowd outside your restaurant of choice? Well, a crowd of native diners, and there were plenty of Koreans waiting in line with us as well, so we were in good hands.

A korean meal always starts off with some side dishes (ban chan), and if you're not too careful, you end up snacking too much and becoming full even before your entree gets here. Kunjip serves up a mean bubbly pot of steamed egg custard, somewhat akin to chawanmushi but without the peripherals and not quite as smooth. Still it's silky and goes down well with kimchi and other preserved veges. The secret must be the hotpot in which it is cooked and served in. Be careful not to be overzealous and burn your tongue while you're at it (which I of course did)

Other stuff we ate:

Seafood pa jeon, the pancake , while a little soggy in the middle, was well-received, and was our only in-your-face deep fried and therefore unhealthy dish.

Sundubu chigae and deon jang chigae: Spicy tofu and spicy miso stews, Sundubu is my all-time favorite korean dish. I also love the fact that tofu = dubu and ma po tofu = mabodubu in korean =)

Nakji Bokum (fried squid in red sauce).. yum yum yum yum yum. The udon that comes with it sops up the go chu jang sauce so well...

A large saba simply broiled with salt... very healthy and tasty but not very photogenic. I think the saba dish was not as popular that night because it was the most tasteless dish, not in a bad way, but because everything else was heavily flavored. It might also be the fact that its just fish and not some unidentifiable korean dish, which would have been more fun to try =)

Last but not least, the piece de resistance, a spicy variation of Gal Bi Jim... Korean beef stew, extra spicy, quite sweet with meat that falls of the bones literally and melts in your mouth. Yanru was not feeling well that day and still couldn't stop eating it. I think its a keeper. Yes there's oil glistening in the photo, but what's a good dish without some healthful beef fats?? And spot the carrots? how's that for a well-balanced meal =)

Since 2004, when I fortuitiously crashed some friends' dinner gathering at Kunjip, I've faithfully returned more than a dozen times, and its been great so far. I've recommended this place to so many people and my roommates both love it too.

So the wait is a little long and service can be brusque, and when they set the food in front of you you feel compelled to scarf everything down in 15 minutes to allow other people still in line to have their turn at ordering, but for some culture and a great meal at under $20 in ktown, where the bakery half a block away is charging $6 for tea, its still my favorite midtown pick!


9 W 32rd St (between 5th and 6th Ave)

crabcakes and cheesecake

Its official... I am the size of a pregnant whale. Ever since Ruoying moved in for the summer two weeks ago, I have steadily been piling on the pounds... soon, I'll need a new wardrobe. Good thing summer sales are around the corner...
I was in Baltimore for 3 days on a conference and in 3 days i visited cheesecake factory twice... and of course loaded myself with a thick slice of cheesecake each time. I adore cheesecake factory! I know.... its a chain, quite like the applebees and olive gardens of the world... But it held good memories for me as a student, where it was our source for good bread, huge basins of pasta and the designated birthday cake supplier back in Chicago. I would say really good things about the place to my family and by the time Ruoying visited Chicago shortly after starting her freshman year, she had given such glowing reports of the restaurant that every family and friend were demanding to be brought there for lunch/dinner/cheesecake break... My sisters and cousins are equally enamored by the place and for our blowout Jay Chou/West Coast/Winter Break holiday, I remembered me choosing to stay where we were in San Francisco based on its proximity to the CAKE (tt's cheesecake factory's ticker! yah yah I'm a nerd) and I also remember us jumping around gleefully but unglamorously in the San Francisco branch, when our beeper finally started vibrating, signalling that after waiting for 90 minutes, there was finally a table open for the 5 of us. We had even bought a whole 7" strawberry cheesecake (349038475 calories) and dug our way through with 5 plastic forks in record time... fun memories those were, although my younger siblings and cousins probably had much higher metabolism rates than i had... sigh... Anyway, I was too disgusted by my lack of self-discipline in Baltimore to even take pictures and remind myself that I actually inhaled about 2000 calories with 2 teeny pieces of cake...
Besides that, I had an utterly unmemorable crabcake salad in a restaurant called J Paul's on Baltimore's inner harbor... Good view of the harbor, but you know what they say about the negative correlation between views and meal satisfaction... Despite not being a fan of crusteceans, I had to order crabcakes, they being Baltimore's proudest invention and contribution to the world... The salad was really not bad, the bibb lettuce was crunchy, but the salad dressing was probably storebought. And the crabcake... I dont think i've eaten enough to judge, but i guess it was fine, but again,I should have listened to my inner gourmet voice and gotten a burger instead.

Better luck next time, if I ever do head back to Baltimore again... Can the next conference be in Chicago please? I'll like some steak and a good slice of deep-dish pizza, thank you very much =)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Les sans culottes

"Do you want to go to yoga with me on friday?" Rosie asked. "Sure, but only if we go out for dinner after that" was my reply... so on friday we had yoga, but my focus was more on the ensuing meal. No wonder my balance was a little off... Anyway, I had wanted to eat korean food but Rosie was more inclined towards something French, and having consulted with Andreea, decided to try les sans culottes, it being french, cheap and close enough from the gym. Besides Rosie and I, Andreea, Yanru and Ruoying also joined in for a night of over-eating.
At around 830, we walked into a busy room, and there wasn't a table large enough to fit the five of us. A couple sitting on the long banquette offered to move so that we could join two tables together, but luckily, it didn't take long before another couple left, leaving us enough room without having to trouble any other patrons into moving for us.
Le sans culottes has a really cheap pre-fixe menu. $22 for appetizers, entrees and dessert... what a deal! Of course the food wasn't very delicate, but its not a fancy shmancy kinda place anyway. So we had a good, hearty meal consisting of crudites, pate and sausage for appetizers, entrees of our choice (all huge platters, and pretty decently, if plainly cooked) and our choice of creme caramel or chocolate mousse.. Andreea broke her diet for dessert, but we all decided it was well worth it... Yanru had dinner before joining us, so she declined to have the whole meal and opted just to get dessert and helped herself to the ample appetizers on the table. More on Yanru's crepe later.
The appetizers were the most gimmicky I've had in a while. Instead of individual salads, we were given a huge basketful of vegetables and fruits, whole apples and tomatos, big slices of cantaloupe and a big chunk of cabbage... we didn't really know what to do with it, since raw cabbage isn't the most appetizing of vegetables. And the three foot sausages came draped on a cage like contraption, like a sausage tree... It looked a little curious looking, and we were slightly put off by the comically grotesque sight in the beginning, but once we got past that, and the thought that many others had handled the sausages with their bare hands before us, we had a lot of fun slicing off the parts we wanted to eat and watched the sausages get shorter and shorter as the night went on.
The entrees were ok, v. filling but nothing to wow about. Rosie complained about the mussels in her pasta being overcooked while there were too many bones in my trout. It tasted a little frozen too, but still pretty tasty.
Desserts were again simple, but pretty tasty. Again, 22 dollars... i will not complain tt there are only two choices of dessert, especially when one is my favorite flan. Yanru decided to get a more substantial dessert off the a la carte menu since she did not order dinner, and got a huge crepe filled with icecream... The owner of the restaurant jokingly brought her crepe out a lot earlier before he brought ours, because he said since she's been waiting patiently for us to finish our meals before getting her own food, its only fair that we should watch her eat now... And the best part about the crepe, besides it being thin warm, and filled with vanilla icecream? it was FREE!!! when was the last time you had something FREE?? the owner decided that Yanru deserved to have a crepe on the house, and he didn't charge her for it! definitely made our day =) So overall, an affordable, fun-filled night with great eating buddies. what more can a cheapskate glutton hope for?
Last curious point about the restaurant. apparently the name stand for "without underwear" and its supposed to have some kind of political connotations to it. If someone would enlighten me that would be very helpful!

Les sans culottes east
2nd Ave, between 57th and 58th st

Sunday, May 07, 2006

gimme some dim sum!!

Last weekend, I went out for sunday tea canton style with walt, gerrie and ruoying at the Golden Bridge restaurant in Chinatown. I've never had trouble with the wait for dim sum on saturdays, but sunday, i surmise, is family chow-time... tables of 8, 9, 10, 11, 12... they were all there, the kids, the adults, the grandparents and a random grandaunt here and there... luckily the wait for smaller tables weren't as long and we got seated after 15 minutes. phew...
Can't really remember much about the food, but remembered that it was uniformly good. I think the quality is a lot more uniform than a lot of dim sum palaces in Chinatown, e.g. Jing Fong, Mandarin Court etc. The steamed items were especially well made, although we were very disappointed about the lack of har gows in the menu. We must have been seated too far away from the kitchen, but the time the carts came rolling our way, the popular items (aka har gow) were taken away already. Disappointments about har gow aside, we ate... a. lot.
A sampling of the best golden bridge has to offer:

Weird looking fish.. Chinese style tempura... see the eyes staring right at' cha? Good crunch factor though...

Carrot Cake, crisp on the outside, soft and gooey, chockful of ingredients inside:

Ma lai Kou... my favorite... the tasty factor is unfortunately untranslatable through the photos...

And something others ate... we were too chicken to try:

Clams in the higher bucket and snails in the lower one... yummy, if you like extracting things from shells and then putting it into your mouth...

And in the typical fashion of a v. cost conscious person, i have to report that we spent a grand total of $8.50 each for a tummy-busting lunch... I believe its cheaper than jing fong (my standby dim sum pleasuredome) Other reasons why you should come to golden bridge? 2 simple reasons. 1. the cleanest female bathrooms in the whole of chinatown and 2. the picket line outside the restaurant, made up of former workers demanding unionization and better pay blah blah... We felt a rush defiantly striding past them into the restaurant for lunch... yah yah cheap thrill =)

Golden Bridge Restaurant

50 Bowery St (Canal and Bowery)