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