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