Christmas Dim Sum

February 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Over the years, our Jewy Christmas traditions have evolved into an annual day of dim sum. This year we made our usual pork buns, potstickers, shui mai, and green onion pancakes.

Pork buns pre-steaming filled with Chinese BBQ pork.

Filling the shui mai. Usually we make a shrimp and pork filling but this year we did lobster. Unfortunately the texture and the flavor of the lobster didn’t quite hold up to the steaming process.

Finally the potstickers. Regional Cooking of China by Margaret Gin and Alfred E. Castle is our go-to cookbook for dough and filling recipes but this year I used a recipe for pork filling from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen. I was definitely apprehensive about taking a departure from what we usually do, but these were great.


NYC Eats Round-Up

February 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Crif Dogs on St. Marks (Photo: flickr4jazz)

First, Crif Dogs. I managed to hit up both the new location in Williamsburg and the old standby on St. Marks. Got Chihuahua dogs (bacon wrapped dog covered with avocadoes and sour cream) at both places. My usual, although sometimes I’ll go for the Jon-Jon Deragon (crif dog with a schmear of cream cheese, scallions & everything bagel seeds). Williamsburg location seems up to snuff but I had to wait for almost 40 minutes for my dog at the EV location (pretty unacceptable).

Chihuahua Dog (Photo: star5112)

I also managed to get to the new Meatball Shop location in Williamsburg. I wasn’t too hungry so I had a couple of sliders.

Chicken slider with tomato sauce and veggie slider with pesto (Photo: gsz)

I had the spicy pork ball with tomato sauce and the special, which was a Bolognese ball, with spicy meat sauce. I thought it was good, but not as spectacular as I expected based on how everyone raves about them. I have been informed that I may have orderly badly so I’ll have to give it another go.

Minetta Tavern (Photo: wallyg)

Another first for me was Minetta Tavern where I, of course, had to sample their Black Label Burger (which is selection of prime dry-aged beef cuts with caramelized onions and pommes frites). This is a seriously hyped burger and, amazingly, it does not disappoint (although it’s pricey). The meat is juicy and packed with beefy-flavor. The Mouclade (bouchot mussels, white wine, saffron, curry, crème fraîche) which my dining partner ordered, while perhaps less famous, was also enjoyable.

Bon Chon Chicken (Photo: Leica at Le fang, le kwatsa)

Somehow Bon Chon has become my last night in NY tradition. This time we went to the 5th ave location and got the usual mix, one spicy and one soy. There is something incredibly satiating about Bon Chon chicken, simultaneously sweet and crunchy. In a word, perfect. A satisfying end to a satisfying week.

Per Se, New York, NY

January 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Per Se (Photo: niallkennedy)

Per Se! Finally! I can cross #1 off my list of RESTAURANTS I WILL EAT AT OR CRY. Unfortunately it was too dark for photos (there are some very lovely photos of a different tasting menu here). In any case, I was far too stupendously busy enjoying my selfish self. We had the chef’s tasting menu with a partial wine pairing and it was, as I suspected, a perfectly spectacular meal. I wouldn’t say that it was surprising, but it was done right, in every imaginable sense.

Salmon Tartare Coronets (Photo: roboppy)

The Salmon Tartare Coronets were one of two amuse-bouche.

Oysters and Pearls (Photo: roboppy)

Followed by the first course on our menu, the Oysters and Pearls (“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar).
This is the rest of our menu. For dessert my brother got the Champagne Apples while I opted for the Salted Chocolate Peanuts. They were both immaculate, but we both preferred the ones we ordered.

Coffee and Doughnuts (Photo: roboppy)

The ‘coffee’ component of the ‘Coffee and Doughnuts’ dessert (cinnamon sugar doughnuts with a cappuccino semifreddo topped with foam). I was already about to split at this point, but I still came close to eating the whole thing.

One thing I have to say is that I would have enjoyed the meal a lot more if I didn’t feel like I was going to die at the end. Half-tasting menu please?

Roberta’s, Brooklyn, NY

January 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Roberta's (Photo: Adam Kuban)

Roberta’s, about a ten minute walk from my apartment, was always my go-to neighborhood spot when I lived in Brooklyn. It’s really one of the only decent places you can go without taking the subway plus it has the added bonus of being close to the Narrows (the only place in the neighborhood that serves up a serious cocktail). No doubt you’ve heard a thousand wonderful things about Roberta’s from the NY Times, GQ, and any food critic that matters.

The thing is, I love Roberta’s. But I don’t agree with the critics. I will defend Roberta’s as having one of the city’s best brunches. Their pancakes are irreproachable, the pork jowl with poached egg and polenta is more than noteworthy, and the fried chicken is my favorite in NYC.

Pork Jowl, Poached Egg, Polenta (Photo: star5112)

I will even defend their pizza. This wasn’t true for a long time. Their pizza has always been decent but expensive and not nearly on the level of places like Motorino. The last time I ate there, when I still lived in Brooklyn, I had the Beastmaster and was shocked to find Roberta’s pizza, suddenly on par with pretty much anywhere in NY. On my return this winter I shared the Duck Hunt (pawlet, duck prosciutto, sweet potato, leek, onion, chili flake, black pepper) with a couple of friends. While I still prefer Motorino, there is no denying this is an impeccable pizza.

Beastmaster (Photo: roboppy)

But at that time, and to this day, I will not defend their other dinner options. Let me rephrase. Their dinner options are not bad, per se. But they are small and overpriced, especially taking into account that they are hardly perfect. Let me start with my minute serving of Foie Gras (almond, black pepper, apple) for $17. I admit, the waiter warned me it was small. In general, I have no issue with this kind of portioning, especially for an ingredient like foie. And the foie was perfectly fine. But for $17 dollars (for what is really a small plate), I expect at least perfection. The dish was, unfortunately, ruined by the ‘apple’ component. Not only did it not make sense in the context of the dish but, even more reprehensibly, the apple was mealy. In my book, mealy apples are unforgivable and that bite of apple ruined my entire experience.

This brings me to the Octopus (black garlic, treviso, sea bream) and Bay Scallops (trout skin, meyer lemon), which my compatriots ordered, $16 and $17 respectively. These were well composed dishes but again, the portions were tiny. Where does Roberta’s get off serving food that, while relatively good in quality, is regularly overpriced? And I mean overpriced compared to any fine dining restaurant in the Manhattan with a similar creative aesthetic and quality.

Roberta’s gets away with it because of the novelty of being a good restaurant in an unlikely neighborhood, for being ‘hip’, and for being over-hyped by critics like Sam Sifton. People with money from Manhattan come and they think, wow I’m in some godforsaken area of Bushwick, it feels underground and undiscovered and unexpected and well, cool. This is despite the fact that these days the place is always crowded. I think people who are blown away by Roberta’s have merely lowered their standards, perhaps without consciously realizing it. Because it’s in Bushwick. Because the exterior looks abandoned.

Roberta’s has value to me for their brunch, for their pizza, as a place to hang out and have a drink, and as a neighborhood restaurant. But in the larger arena of fine dining, it simply isn’t a contender.

Duck Lunch at Ssäm Bar, NY

January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

New York City (the only place that could ever matter!). I was fortunate enough to have a brief respite from my self-imposed exile to Hokkaido over the holidays, five days of which were spent in (and around) Brooklyn. Since my time was so limited, my meals were meticulously planned. And duck lunch at Ssam Bar, one of my favorite meals in the city, was a non-negotiable.

It was interesting to compare the rotisserie duck over rice I had last spring, about a week after they started serving, with their current offering. The good news – duck lunch is still amazing. Duck is great, I love duck. But this is duck like you’ve never had it before. The crispiness of the skin combined with the fat (which really actually melts in your mouth) is probably one of the most heavenly mouthfuls you could wish for. The meat is incredibly tender and full of ducky flavor. Part of the slice is actually composed of a duck sausage (containing pork) which has been stuffed into the duck under the skin and then cooked on a rotisserie. And trust me, it’s groundbreaking.

The rice component, however, was a slight disappointment. Under the sliced duck and on top of the rice are bits of fatty crispy duck. The first time I had the dish this was incorporated throughout the rice, making the rice unbelievably necessary. This time, with just a sparse sprinkling across the top, the rice felt like an unnecessary extra. The scallion pancake was also a little thinner than I remember, but equally buttery and delightful. I also tried the duck bun and have to say I was unimpressed. The duck had a strange texture, the seasoning was too sweet and acidic, and I absolutely despise the mayonnaise in that context. I would advise sticking with the pork buns.

Despite the slight flaws, duck lunch is still one of the best and most necessary meals NYC has to offer.

Why Chowhound (and Yelp) Should Warrant Your Disdain

November 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

1. Nonsensical, arbitrary moderation.

The rules, and moderators that enforce them, at Chowhound are striking. In the current climate of the internet, one might expect a moderator’s calling to be most intimately concerned with deleting spam, or perhaps calling out reviews that reek of shill. I am not in the employ of a restaurant or advertising agency, nor am I interested in promoting my blog. I’m not even a terrorist. I started posting on Chowhound in the past few weeks from the desire to share the restaurants I love with other people, for the benefit of those not privileged enough to be my friend. Plus I’m bored and Hokkaido is cold.

I have had approximately four posts deleted. And I know I’m not the first.

My first post was in response to a thread about restaurants everyone loves — except for you. I said, more or less, ‘The Breslin. Overly salty and just… gross. Made me sick.’ Were you aware that it is against Chowhound rules to assert a restaurant made you sick — in any sense? I wasn’t.

Chowhound does not believe that you are qualified to gauge whether something you ate made you sick or not. Here is a portion of the email they sent me:

Medical authorities inform us that it’s extremely difficult, given the differing gestation times of different agents and organisms, to determine when/where a bad stomach originated.

What’s more, even if one could pinpoint the origin, it’d be even more difficult to make a determination as to whether the sanitary issues at that place are ongoing or were a strictly one-time problem. We chowhounds are expert in gauging food quality. We are anything but expert in gauging these sorts of issues. For this reason, such accusations are unfair and perhaps even libelous.

The moderator assumed that 1) I was asserting I had gotten food poisoning (I wasn’t) and that 2) a ‘one-time problem’ at an establishment should not be enough to damn them (it should). I will acknowledge the fact that some diners will get sick and wrongly blame an establishment which was not responsible. But are the people reading these posts so guileless that they are unable to take such claims with a grain of salt? And how do we not know that all bad food/service is not a ‘strictly one-time problem’? Are we to be trusted at all and why is this message board even here if we are too stupid to use it?

Is it not my right to make the claim that a restaurant’s food made me feel ill? Is this not an important factor in my review of their food and of my experience at the establishment? And is Chowhound claiming that I am not qualified to understand what makes me ill? As soon as a restaurant makes you sick you better shut your mouth because you’re automatically disqualified from talking about that restaurant on Chowhound.

I was equally taken aback by the following incidents in which I had posts deleted. I responded to a post in which someone recommended Yan Toh Heen (a Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong) saying that I had found it disappointing. I was asked to elaborate. I provided a summary of what I found disappointing. I did not want to bother anyone with a blow-by-blow, but I provided a link to my blog post in case they were interested in a more in depth description of my experience.

The post was deleted and I was informed that I had to ‘cut/past’ my blog opinions or ‘encapsulate’ them in my posting. The guidelines I was linked to, however, state that one may provide a link where there is supplementary information you want to provide that Chowhound’s formatting does not support (i.e. photos, videos). My post does have this supporting information (photos). I responded to the moderator stating that I had encapsulated my post and was providing the link as an extra resource (for photos, etc). I received no response so I reposted my comment, explaining the link and my post. It was deleted again. This is the email I received:

Sorry, we’ve removed your post again.

If you have pictures to go along with your post, you may include a link to a specific entry in your blog, but only if you’ve already included the ENTIRE relevant text of your blog entry in your Chowhound post. Otherwise, the only allowable link to your blog is as a simple signature with the main URL of the blog (not a link to a specific page) at the end of your post, without any text telling readers to see a review on your blog.

The goal is not to post the minimum possible in order to be permitted to link, but rather, to include as much information as possible in the thread. Chowhound is a conversation, and it’s difficult to have a good discussion of information that only exists off-site.

So the point, one would assume, is to cut back on the practice of posting self-promoting links. The previous email I received said:

We understand that there’s a fine line between sincerely wanting to point your fellow hounds to good info which happens to be elsewhere and plotting to steer our large audience elsewhere for promotion/ self-promotion. The problem is that we have far too many users and far too little time to draw this distinction. We need to stave off the considerable desire to use our loud microphone for promotion.

Yet the practices described by the second email seem to entirely negate this point. So I can post my blog link as my signature but I am not allowed to add a link where relevant? Unless I’ve copied ‘the ENTIRE’ text from my blog entry? So the seemingly logical practice of summarizing your blog post so that the other user doesn’t have to read it, and then providing a link in case they want to, is somehow SELF PROMOTION. Sorry guys, I guess I’m just a dick. My response (which was never acknowledged):

I didn’t want to inundate the thread with an entire review when I was not asked for one. You’re right, the point is that we’re having a conversation. So i’m going to respond to someone like it’s a conversation, not like I’m trying to promote the content of my blog by copying and pasting it. I provided a link IN CASE there was interest. I am not assuming there is. It seems pretty ridiculous that you would permit me to link to my blog but not the specific entry that has to do with the post. I thought the point was adding to the conversation not ‘promoting my blog’.

If you need to have such a long list of completely nonsensical rules I think I will refrain from using your site in the future.

2. The uncultivated palate of the masses.

Refraining from using Chowhound is hardly a loss. A more extreme example of the problem with trusting Chowhound reviews can be seen in Yelp, the voice of the people. The problem is that the people don’t have very good taste in food. Yelp is a very poor indicator of the actual quality of a restaurant, and this is because the majority of people have a very low standard of acceptable food. For me to take the recommendations of people who don’t have the experience or distinction of taste to truly understand what they’re eating is a recipe for disaster. I don’t deny that these people are enthusiastic about food, and that’s great. Why else would they be on a food website? (Well, maybe not Yelp.) Let me put it this way. Just because you’re enthusiastic about reading doesn’t mean you know the first thing about literature. And it doesn’t mean that I am going to take your Twilight book recommendations with anything but derision.

It is truly unfortunate that there is no better forum for the discussion of food world-wide. In New York there is Eater, NYMag, NYTimes, and a handful of trustworthy bloggers and critics. Researching the best places to eat outside of NY, however, is problematic. In this sense Chowhound and Yelp are truly wasted opportunities. Not only have they failed to fill this void, but they have failed in a way which is frankly insulting.

Vietnamese Bun Cha, Pho in Hanoi

November 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

The last of our Hanoi eats.

Kayo is really happy about the chicken pho at Cafe Mai Anh. I was honestly pretty skeptical when I saw this place, which Kayo’s guidebook recommended, but this pho was miles ahead of anything I’ve had in New York.

We paid about $1 for some tasty, satisfying street food (spring roles, pork belly, morning glory greens, etc).

On our last day we had bun cha at 1 Hang Manh Street. This was my first time eating bun cha, so I kind of peeped around to see how all the Vietnamese people were doing it. Basically you put all the things together and dip them in one of the broths. I really wanted to try banh cuon, bun bo nam bo, and real Vietnamese banh mi, but sadly we didn’t have enough time (or room in our stomachs). All the more reason to return!

Here is my favorite lady in the world making spring rolls.