Sunday, 31 January 2010

NY: Eating Excursions in the Empire State

I have a good excuse for the lack of activity on my blog this month. For the past three weeks, I’ve been in New York with one primary goal: to eat and explore the diverse cuisines of the big apple. And what an exhilarating journey it has been! New York has a vibrant and thriving culinary culture. The melting pot of immigrants-cum-citizens has produced an array of cuisines that span the globe, and fierce competition to succeed has brought out the best in these restaurants. The result is a host of amazingly delicious restaurants that make your tongue tickle with ecstasy, and the most surprising part is that many of these restaurants are not expensive. Only in New York can you find such original and delicately made food at the cost of a mere 30 USD. How can one not love New York?

The Stanton Social
99 Stanton Street

The tapas style eatery was very hip but I found the restaurant to be too dim and noisy. I don't find bitchin' loud hip hop to be the most appropriate choice for this stylish restaurant. Nevertheless, the food was very good and inventive: Lobster sliders, Philly Cheese and Meat steak sliders (their take used kobe beef cheeks and Asiago); Empanadas with duck confit and black beans; Red Snapper tacos (which made my night); Miso-glazed cod steak sticks... and for dessert a chocolate platter (just average in my opinion) and these phenomenally fresh fried doughnuts with a trifecta of dipping sauces: raspberry, chocolate and caramel. Presentation was delightful but portions were tiny. To the restaurant's credit, the doughnuts were so satisfying that it really left me wanting more despite our expensive tab.

I can't seem to figure out what this is, but it looks like some sort of savoury mousse atop of a crostini. This might have been a complimentary pre-dinner canape? Guess it couldn't have been that good if I can't remember what it was!


20 Spring Street near Mott Street (in Nolita)

- Good sandwiches and classic brunch spot, I got the eggs benedict with prosciutto

Ippudo: Japanese Ramen Noodle Brasserie

65 4th Avenue (near East 10th)


- Best spot in the city for ramen, definitely get the Akamura Shin-aji; the broth is tantalizingly tasty. I had to wait 1.15 hours for a table on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I’m not a patient person. Was it worth it? Yes, and I’ll say yes a thousand times. Again, I want to stress that the broth was very flavorful, it literally transported us to Tokyo. The side of pork buns tasted like God's gift to the Japanese.

Caracas Arepas Bar

91 East 7th Street (and 1st Avenue)


- Last Christmas when I was plagued with jetlag, I stayed up watching Bobby Flay’s Throwdown with the girls of Caracas Arepas. I hate Bobby Flay (he gives American’s a bad rep), so I was thrilled to see the girls from Venezuela kick his tush with their mouth-watering arepas. Arepas are kind of like tacos, but crispier on the outside. They’re split in half and stuffed with pulled pork, cheese, black beans, rice and much more. They may look small, but don’t be deceived. After months of waiting, I finally went and indulged my lactate-prone tummy with fried cheese and 2 arepas. I had a classic arepas, and another one stuffed with chicken, chorizo, avocado and beans. Viva Venezuela!!

Classic Arepas stuffed with plantains, black beans, shredded pulled pork, rice and crumbled white cheese.
The decor was rustic but authentically kitsch, with candles and flowers festooning mini shrines hanging on the walls. Rosaries dangled off the napes of mother mary statues and portraits. It felt very catholic and solemn.
Fried plantains (above) and fried white cheese sticks (below).

Lady M Cake Boutique

41 East 78th Street (and Madison)


- There is a story behind Lady M. Many years ago, Honmura (on East Houston) dominated my trips to New York with their incredibly succulent king prawn tempuras with cold soba and soy broth. The restaurant had originally started in Japan, before the owners ventured to New York to open shop. Unfortunately the restaurant closed 2 years ago after the son was asked to return home to run the family restaurant. Apparently handing or selling the restaurant would have been sacrilegious, and so Honmura closed its doors to New York. The shop front still sits there, but the floors are caked in dust and the chairs sit atop of the tables shrouded in cloth and cobwebs. But there is a silver lining to this story: the desserts at Honmura, in particular a Mille Crepe Cake, were actually made by Lady M herself. This crepe cake is a sculptural piece of art: 30 layers of gossamer thin crepes, each layer slathered with a light, Japanese cream, the top sprinkled with sugar and bruleed to a nutty caramel crisp. My sister Karla found the place and had been raving about it for years, so it was only apropos that we check it out to get my fill. And it was exactly how I remembered it to be: light, delicate and utterly to die for. (Sorry Cibo, but your version just cannot compare to Lady M).

The Breslin

16 W 29th Street


-The Ace Hotel, a boutique hotel, just opened in the city, so one morning my sister and I decided to check out the spot. It was very hip, and had the feel of a rustic bibliotheque in a country home. The Breslin is run by April Bloomfield, and the food was British gastro pub food. I’ve eaten at the Pawn in HK, which was average, but the food at the Breslin was both creative and inventive. I really enjoyed (in order of pictures) the salad of shredded duck confit and brussel sprouts, with toasted pumpkin seeds, pomegranate seeds, parmesan and a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette. Karla had the pork belly with mashed potatoes, which literally melted in your mouth like butter, while I had a sumptuously juicy lamb burger with red onions, cumin mayo and hand cut fries. The side of tomatoes, which had been blanched and peeled, then slow roasted with some balsamic vinegar, was delicious. The rich tart burst of flavour exploded in your mouth like a firecracker that was at once sweet and sour.

ChikaLicious Dessert and Bar:

203 East 10th Street


We were both craving sweets and Emi had said the cupcakes were mind blowing, so we headed over to Nolita and stopped by Chikalicious' take away dessert counter (not their sit down dessert restaurant) for an afternoon snack. The cupcake was great, buttery cream icing with a moist interior followed by a third layer of chocolate fudge at its core.

We then shared a Molten volcano chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream. The cake was made famous by Jean Jorges Vongritchen of Vong (the now deceased fusion restaurant of his namesake at the old Mandarin in Hong Kong)- least that's where I first tried it back in the 90's. It was good, but then again it's difficult to screw up something so standard.


110 East 7th Street


After Chikalicious, we realized we were both still hungry (despite me having had lunch two hours before) so we stopped by Karla's famous pork joint for some good old fashioned pig sandwiches. They literally roast whole pork bellies until the meat falls off the bones and the skin is cackling with caramelization. The skin looks like sheets of brittle tiles that glisten like translucent amber stones. The pork is then shreaded and stuffed in French baguettes. You need not put anything else in it, the pork itself is tastier than any condiment, and nothing should adulterate the smokey flavors of the pork. If I were an observant Muslim or Jew and were given one chance to try pork once without guilt, remorse or vindication, I would lose my pork virginity here (or maybe over Lechon, it's a toss up...)

Roasted potatoes with burnt edges (aka shredded pork bits), fried crisp to near perfection.

Kees Chocolate

80 Thompson Street or 40th Street and 5th Avenue (inside the HSBC main HQ)


When I was in college, I would order a dozen Dark Chocolate Creme Brulees, pick them up the morning I was heading back to Boston, then proceed to eat them on the train ride back. The chocolatier is run by this Chinese lady who does the most creative truffles, but my heart still loves the octagonal creme brulees. The contrast between the bitter-sweet exterior and the burst of vanilla egg custard in its chamber is orgasmic. Now that they've opened one inside HSBC across the street, I walked across the street every morning to pick up a goodie or two whenever I had lunch at home.

Dark Chocolate Creme Brulees are behind the Dark Chocolate Truffles
128 East 7th Street

To celebrate what I thought was my final farewell dinner in New York (who could have anticipated a storm brewing that would end up canceling my flight, giving me one last night in the city?) my friends and I went to the Greek restaurant. The food was nothing short of phenomenal. Terracotta urns hung from ceiling, while a communal marbled table at the centre of the restaurant gave the place a more relaxed, home-like setting.

I had the cretan-honey braised lamb shank served with giant bean and roasted garlic puree and roasted tomato; Alex had the champagne avgolemono, PYLOS’ smooth as silk classic egg-lemon soup with chicken stock and rice; Yoni had braised pork shank with lemon and herbs, served with fingerling potatoes and leeks, and Jane had the Moussaka. We all shared the Dolmathes, PYLOS’ homemade stuffed grape leaves filled with rice, herbs, golden raisins and pine nuts, served with a dill flavored greek yogurt sauce; crisp, fried zucchini and eggplant rounds served with tzatziki; a spicy chickpea soup; and for dessert we ordered two pieces de resistance: a crisp phyllo napoleon layered with greek yogurt and sour-cherry mousse, and delectable buttery phyllo triangles filled with greek custard and drizzled with cinnamon and greek mountain honey. The desserts were so good I could have died right there and then in total bliss, I literally licked the mountain honey off the plate of the phyllo triangles.


210 West 10th Street (between Bleecker and West 4th)


Casual and simple, southern-inspired comfort food done really well. Best crab cakes I had in years, fried to a dark crisp shell but when bitten, the cakes are airily flakey and fresh. Also get the platter of 4 vegetables.


299 Bowery


Daniel Boulud’s latest joint is a sausage fest. By sausage, I mean the restaurant is known for its sausages- Beaujolais, Sweet Italian, Merguez... you name it and they’ve got it!

Squab en Croute with quince remoulade.

Mussels in an Indian coconut milk- curry sauce with salad greens. The sauce tasted great mopped up with pieces of crust bread.

My beaujolais sausage with pork butt, pancetta and herbs, served on a bed of stewed lentils.

Spinach with chickpeas. The vegetables look so dark and slippery they could pass for kelp.

Sundae that came with Karla's set lunch.

Company- Our Pies are not always Round

230 9th Avenue


We ended up coming to this pizzeria because Tchikito, a Basque tapas restaurant next door was closed on Monday. My flight was cancelled that day and I was relishing at the opportunity of finally eating here (the last two attempts to go the past week had failed because of laziness/drunkeness). You can imagine how disapointed I was when we saw it was closed on Mondays. Alas, dining there was just not meant to be. Instead Karla made an executive decision and put our name down at Co next door. It was fortuitous, the food was great and very reasonably priced! The restaurant served New American cuisine but specialized in "pies" or pizzas baked in wood brick ovens (the menu stated that the pies were not all shaped equal, hence the distorted shapes). We had these crostinis with cannellini beans to start that made my brain go psycho because they were so good. I'm guessing the beans had been braised in a stew with minced carrots, celery and pancetta, and the bread had been rubbed with garlic. I'm planning to email Bon Appetite magazine to see if they'll pick my entry in the restaurant recipe requests section.

Honshimeji mushroom, Guanciale (Pig's jowl, which is three times tastier than pancetta), bescamel, fried quail eggs, carmelized shallots and mozzarella. It was like a pie had fallen from the sky and into my lap: everything I could ask for, from the mushrooms to the guanciale and runny quail eggs had somehow come together in this oblong shaped pizza. A miracle I say! After the meal, I was ready to go back to HK in a satisfied, zen-like comatose state.