I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

L'Arte del Gelato: Getting a real Ice Cream Sandwich

On Nomz Hero Note to Self: Contrary to popular belief, not everyone screams for ice cream, I think Italians, pleasant announce a desire for gelato 
Memorial Day weekend was a busy one with me making food and stuff like it was nobody’s business but I am back, no vengeance, more like food-ventures.

I love ice cream. My first paycheck from my first real world job, I could have went with the typical purchase of a playstation (already had), car, a stereo, but like a true playboy I bought myself a ice cream maker. It was the coolest kitchen appliance I have bought to date and I remember I spent a whole night trying to figure out how I was going to christen the new maker (peanut butter ice cream). I was that fat kid when summer rolled around, would save pocket change and wait for the Siren call of the ice cream truck. I of course never had money ready or never realized it was around and ended up chasing the ice cream truck down a block or two. In retrospect I think the dude knew I was chasing the truck but did not stop for a while to get a good laugh out of watching a out of shape, pudgy 10 year old huffing and puffing. When I finally caught up with the truck and my breathe I would spend my savings of $1.25 (a lot of money for a 10 year old in the 90s)on the Double Play ice cream bar, which was in the shape of a glove, bubblegum flavor and always had a gumball in the middle (which was always stale). If I was lucky, they would have candy cigarettes because pretend smoking was cool.
Although the days of eating Double Plays are over, (I have not seen a box of those in at the freezer section anywhere) the majority of my body fat can still be attributed to ice cream and gelato. Disclaimer: I am not one of those weird people that are not Italian, and did not grow up in Italy that say “gelato” with an Italian flair. You are from Bucks County, not from North Umbria, chill out. If I see someone like you, I may or may not try and trip you.
Gelato is not just a fancy word for ice cream; there is an actual difference and not another word to call ice cream to show your date that you are worldly. The main differences are gelato contains less fat because it is generally made with whole milk. Ice cream has about 10% and gelato is about half of that so I guess it is healthier? It is something you can tell yourself when you are debating if you should kill that whole pint when you are wearing your fat pants and watching Conan. Gelato is churned at a slower speed, hence incorporating less air making it denser and intensifying the flavors. Now we got the food nerd part out, time for the eating. 

Gelato After the Jump!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fried Dough Goodness: Sullivan St. and DessertTruck Works

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Pizza Bianca + Bombolini = Viva la Roma hangover breakfast?

My fried dough quest led me to places that you would not think to have doughnuts and if they do, they would probably taste bad. Thankfully this was not the case when I ventured out to Hell’s Kitchen to Sullivan Street Bakery. Sullivan Street Bakery is not on Sullivan Street, more like 97th. 

The bakery is owned by Jim Lahey, most notably known for his no-knead bread technique which truly does work and produces great bread. Sullivan Street bakery is a bread bakery, and does not go for the whole, cupcakes and brownies and the cavity inducing sweets, but one of the few sweet breads that is being made there are the bombolinis. They sit there innocently enough on the counter and are outcast to the side, away from the savory breads and pizzas. To not try this would be a mistake on your part. The bombolini do not have a variety of fillings, it is either jam or cream filling. Given I just ate one of the potato pizza slice, which is the ultimate hangover morning food I realized, I just went with the cream filled bombolini. 
Bombolini at Sullivan
The Bombolini is different from others that I have sampled in which it was noticeably a lot less greasy and did not leave a translucent grease stain on the paper. The bombolini is a lot doughier and lacks the crisp lightness that the ones at Falai had. However, this bombolini is delectable and I actually prefer this one. Though it lacks crispness, it has a doughy and pillow like texture to it and the vanilla cream is thick and on the heavy side, but works well with the bombolini. This is a good donut that is a hidden treat in a bread focused bakery.
Donuts at DessertTruck Works 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Terroir Wine Bar- East Village

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Real men can drink white wines, anytime. Dare you to call me out.

Risotto Ball

Pretentious. Douche. French. Those are the first words that come to mind when I think of a wine bar. I grew up and went to school in New Jersey, there were no wine bars or was I influenced by a strong wine drinking culture. Sure the Pops, drank wine, but he did it was more recreational, and was more of a brandy drinker. The bar that I frequented when I was in college had wine, but not a strong seller. I think they had a red and white and they were the shutter home wines that come in packs. No offense to them, but they probably would have done better selling Boons Farm. I mean, they were a college bar, who drinks wine in college? Weird wanna-be Euro philosophy majors, that’s who, the ones that scoffed at dollar Yinglings and old white ladies that realized they accidentally are in the wrong place but to proud to leave and want to order something. But, I have always had a thing for wines and really have not been able to appreciate it until the last couple of years. Wine has always gotten the elitist branding and touting to be expensive, but thankfully in recent years that facade has changed in which it is becoming a socially acceptable drink for all, rather than booze, reserved for the right. Not to go into great detail, the flavors and taste of wine mainly come from the grapes and such but one factor and highly affects the taste of wine is the geography that plays an essential role in the development of taste and flavors and the Frogs even have a word for it, terroir. The word has been adapted by Marco Canora of Hearth and used it as the name for the wines bars that he opened up one in Tribeca and one in the East Village which I visited.

Food After the Jump

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Butterlane Cupcake Shop

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Say what you want, Hostess has got it locked on the frosting and cupcake ratio

New York City is saturated with cupcakes. It is hard to avoid them and I secretly am not actually the biggest fan of cupcakes. If I had to choose between a cake and the cupcake, I will take the cake hands down. My biggest issue that I have with cupcakes is the ratio issue. I like a balance between frosting and cake however it has gotten to that point where their will be more frosting than cake itself. How the hell am I suppose to eat it? I refuse to eat cupcakes with a fork. It was not designed that way. It is like eating a slice of pizza at Joe’s with a fork and knife. That ain’t right. I will stand by my note to self, Hostess gets the ratio right in which they have a great ratio of cake to frosting, and with the injection of frosting in the middle, you actually eat the cupcake without a frosting facial. So when it comes to cupcakes, I am critical because it seems like any place can just churn out cupcakes and apparently get an IPO on the exchange now so in a way, you have too. Only a few cupcakes shops or vendors have so far made the cut in making a cupcake that is superior in inflated market of frosting heavy sweets. In my quest on just being hungry, I finally decided to give Butterlane Cupcake Shop a shot.

Pumping out Cupcakes

Butterlane is located in the East Village, across the way from Porchetta and after eating a whole bunch of pork, you need a bit of sweet to balance it out before you slip back to your apartment for an inevitable food coma. Upon arriving at Butterlane they had a cupcake class in session that was for kids happening next door. First thought that came to mind, “that’s cute” (with a supersized dose of sarcasm). But I will give them credit for cashing in as much as possible on people infatuation with cupcakes, and besides its good for kids to learn how to bake, rather than be on the streets pushing dope (it is never too young to be pushing dope, have you not seen The Wire?). The cupcake shop is quaint and has little space and really just has a counter and a bench to scarf down a cupcake. Many will complain about this, but it is a cupcake, eating it should not be a sit down affair, if you have to sit down and eat it with a fork then you are doing it wrong. 

Thats a lot of Frosting
Butterlane stands out a bit from the competition in which they have a daily offering of cake bases and frosting toppings. This allows one to mix and match as they please allowing a combination of…a lot. I failed statistics so do not ask me. For those that really like cupcakes because it is a vessel for frosting, you can just skip the cake part and get a “shot” of frosting, which I have to say in ingenious.The cakes that they had when I went there was banana, chocolate and vanilla. The frosting toppings…were quite a few. I decided to go with 2 cupcakes and went with a banana cake with peanut butter frosting and wanted a bit of chocolate so I went with the chocolate cake with the salted caramel chocolate frosting. You know, just a smidgen of chocolate. 
Cupcakes- one day they will find a transport device that will guard against cupcake frosting box shmear
The cupcakes were piped on fresh, which is always a good thing. The frosting is a straight buttercream, I mean with a place called Butterlane it better be. The buttercream is an American-style buttercream in which there is a heavier usage of confectioner sugar which gives it a stiffer appearance rather than a French buttercream that has a higher butter to confectioner sugar ratio that makes it richer, obviously buttery and a glossier finish. First up was the peanut butter frosting and banana cake. To start is the cake, it was a bit dry but the banana flavor came all the way through. The peanut butter frost was good; it was thick and creamy and did not have any of that chalky taste that you get from inferior butter cream. The peanut butter frosting had a good dose of salt and was similar to eating the dry roasted peanuts and the combination I picked, worked well.

Banana cake and peanut butter frosting

Chocolate cake and salted caramel chocolate frosting
 Next up was the chocolate cake with the salted caramel chocolate frosting. The frosting was heavier on the salt that was extinguished by the caramel. The salt and caramel almost overshadowed the chocolate, but the richness of the chocolate broke through, making the frosting a worthy topping on anything. The cake however, was a bit of a letdown; it was dry and lacked any moisture. Even the rich topping could not mask or salvage the dryness of the cake. Although Butterlane lived up to the expectations of having tasty frostings, the cake bases were not up to the level of the frostings.
Butterlane Cupcake Shop

123 East 7th Street

New York, NY 10009

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Empellon: Brunch it up

 Om Nomz Her Note to Self: Stuff meant to be shared by the table, is still sharing if you are the only one on the table

Tucked away in a corner in the West Village, is a new restaurant opened by Alex Stupak. Making his name at WD~50 as the executive pastry chef, news of him leaving and starting opening his own restaurant made all the foodies go crazy in wondering what it would be. Given his reputation at WD~50, most speculated that would be a dessert focused restaurant doing crazy things and innovated (I refuse to call it molecular) food. To much surprise, he decided to open Empellon a Mexican restaurant. The reaction from the foodie sphere can be best described as: “WTF”. However, when asked why he decided to do a Mexican restaurant, he just said, “it is what I like”. It was a honest answer and made me want to go here. I have not been able to find anytime to go and hit up Empellon for dinner and try the tacos but he started to do a brunch service and on a quiet Saturday morning, I decided to make an impromptu trip and went to Empellon for brunch.
I was eating by myself and I go there a little after 11 and I was the only on there. Empellon thankfully forgoes any clichéd Mexican restaurant décor and goes for a whole modern look. Sombreros and ponchos were no where to be seen. The brunch menu does not have tacos, which is the main thing and the bulk of the dinner menu. Instead the bulk of the entrees here are egg based and savory. Many of the dishes have beans in them and the combination of meat, beans and eggs it is most likely you will not be walking away hungry from this meal. 

Churros and Hot Chocolate is my newest, tasty vice
Since my recent trip to Peru, I have been wanting (obsessing) over good churros and trying to find some. To my delight, under the share for the table section, had just want I have been hankering for, hot chocolate and churros. Although I am assuming this is supposed to be a shared dish, it was listed for the table, it did not say how many had to be at the table!
The hot chocolate and churros came piping hot and were clearly freshly made. The hot chocolate was thickened with masa and had a hit of mescal. The hot chocolate was thick, creamy and smooth and it was a subtle sweetness it was like awesome chocolate gravy. The hot chocolate was prefect consistency and taste for dipping churros in which were just as delectable. The outside was crisp and covered in cinnamon sugar adding even more to the crunch factor of the churro. The churro was denser than the ones I had in Peru however the inside was soft and custard like contrasting well against the crunchy exterior. Dipped in the hot chocolate, it was a delectable treat and because the hot chocolate was smartly sweetened, the combination of churro and chocolate did not send one into a sugary comatose and a great way to start a meal or the day. If it did not make me look like Paddy O’Fatty and I did not order an entrée I would be fine just chilling and munching on another plate of churros. 

Huevos Motuleos
For my main I got the Huevos Motuleos. The dish comprised of two sunny side eggs, sitting on top of a tostada with black beans, smoked plantains, and sprinkled with peas and ham. The tostada was a good contrast to soft and nicely cooked black beans and the runny egg. The star of this dish is the smoked plantains which took me about a quarter ways through this dish to find them hidden under the tostada. The smoked plantains were meaty, hearty and full on smoky. Adding to the smoky flavors of the dish was the cubes of country ham and although the dish was borderline just being a smoky dish, the salsa/sauce was sweetened, equalizing the dish.
Maybe I am an asshole, but I kind of wanted a taco or hell even a torta option on the brunch menu. I mean the dinner menu is full of them, and tacos are eaten in the morning in Mexico so something? However I do respect it at the same time he is not going for the expected. My knowledge of Latin American food and pretty much anywhere else eggs and beans are a staple morning ingredients which the brunch menu clearly represents and Empellon does a good job executing. Although I have not dined there yet for dinner, from what I have experienced from brunch, I am optimistic and looking forward to trying out the dinner menu. Also, there is something about chicharons on the dinner menu so I am down like a pork eating Charlie Brown. 

230 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10014

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Momofuku Ssam Bar: Bo Ssam, Korean for, "Whoa, thats a big piece of Pork"

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: A friend that complains about too much swine is no friend of mine…well close friend.

Bo Ssam from the first time around, photo courtesy of  www.conwayyen.com

I am about to be “that guy”. You know, that guy that wears the band tee shirt of the band he is about to go see, “that guy”. If you do not understand about “that guy” I highly suggest you go on your Netflix queue or…Blockbuster? Not sure if those exists anymore and borrow the underrated movie, PCU in which Jeremy Piven goes into great detail about not being that guy.

Magic Kitchen

Momofuku restaurants with the exception of Ko offer a family style group dining experience. Noodle bar has the chicken, Ssam has the pork and Peche has the beef. However, you cannot just walk in with a crew and just expect to get a fried chicken dinner; you have to make a reservation online through the Momofuku reservation system. Making a reservation via Momofuku brings me back painful memories of registering for classes in college. Momofuku only allows a certain amount of times in which you can do a group dinner and they do not release the new reservations until 10 am. I see no actual difference between registering for classes and getting a reservation for the group dinner except that Momofuku results in fullness and registering for classes hopefully results in Fridays off and no early classes.

I am fan of the Momofuku restaurants and have been to all of them. I have dined at Ko, done fried chicken fest twice and already did Bo ssam. So when I was asked to go to Bo ssam and make a reservation for it, I was all Momofuku’d out. I mean I know some people are dying to try the group dinners and the various Momofuku offerings but I was very apathetic going to go do bo ssam again. I have made the bo ssam at home and it has lost its charm to me. I was expecting the same experience when I did the fried chicken dinner for the second time in which I was underwhelmed and the level of excitement that I had the first time was nonexistent. So this is me being that guy, that guy that is complain and moaning about having the opportunity to eat bo ssam again while others around me are like…I hate you. Regardless how I felt before going into Bo ssam for round 2, I am still a fan of the OG of group dining in New York as well as the other menu items in which Ssam bar does well. 
Om Nomz after the Jump!

El Mercado Restaurante: Lima, Peru

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Apparently in Peru, it is uncommon to create your own tasting menu

I delayed this post for some reason but this was the last major place that I ate at in Peru. I wanted to eat at a place somewhat high class that showcased Peruvian food but I did not want to be eating “Elf Food”. as much as I like eating at bodegas and the locals only joints, I like to be spoiled and eat classy food. I was focused on going to a ceviche place and I was set on going to Pescado Capitales but before my trip, I changed my mind when I heard about this place called El Mercado Restaurante. El Mercado is the newest restaurant opened by Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling. Osterling is a Peruvian born classically trained chef and worked in such high profile restaurants as the River Café, now has a mini-restaurant empire and El Mercado is his newest venture. El Mercado differs from his other restaurants in which are it taken to a casual level but the food is highly refined.
El Mercado is a ceviche place and since ceviches use a lot of acids and such, most are only open for the afternoon and close around 4pm because it is believed that this is the best time of the day to eat it and eases the digestion process…or something like that. I had a 1 pm reservation here which is about the time that the place starts to pick up and get busy.

The space is trendy, picture the décor of any South Beach restaurant and you can get the gist of the placet: bamboo, palm trees, lots of wood and pretty people. However the space is designed tastefully, and with ceiling fans and the walls of the restaurant just being bamboo mats it imparts the feeling of a casual setting and bungalow setting. I felt I should have been rocking a Hawaiian shirt which is a note to self; I need to get a badass Hawaiian shirt. However service and waiters is not dumb down at all and they are attentive and very helpful, by helping my Gringo Chino butt navigate through an extensive menu. I was dining solo and once they took notice of this, they happily informed me that they were able to make half portions of their dishes. They most likely assuming a single person could not consume a single serving on their own. They just did not meet a person like me before as I happily created an impromptu tasting menu for myself. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

First look (taste) of Donna Bell's Bake Shop

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Paula Deen = What I think everyone in the South is like

I needed my bread fix and decided to make the trek out to Hell’s Kitchen and get me some Pizza Bianca from Sullivan Street Bakery, that is no longer located on Sullivan Street and now one 47th. Noshing on some fresh Pizza Bianca, I came across Donna Bell’s Bake Shop. Donna Bell’s Bake Shop opened up about a week ago and was very new. The place is small but loaded with lots of goodies and it is all about Southern baked goods. I sometimes secretly wish that I was from the South, well at least romanticized Southern. I imagine a childhood where I grew up eating homemade cobblers and pies from my Mom from recipes passed from generation to generation rather than sweet mung bean soup.
Big Cookies, everything is bigger in the South, or Texas...eh, close enough

Although this shop is new, walking in I was greeted warmly with a big, “Hey Y’All!” First off, awesome way to greet someone, I mean I do not think it is possible to not smile and not be cheerful when saying “Hey Y’all!” Hell, if Putin was working the counter and was all like, “Hey Y’All” I would be like, what a friendly, non-scary man. The shop is small and not much for sitting in and more from a grab and go and what they lack in space they make up for…stacking a heck of a lot of food on the counter. The counter is filled with biscuits, cookies and bars and a display case of cakes. For a small space, they most certainly fill it up. Although the bars and cookies and cupcakes (I mean, its New York, it’s a prerequisite nowadays that if you open a bakery, you need cupcakes) but I was in the savory mood so I got myself a Pimento, Cheddar Cheese and Chive Drop Biscuit and spotted some cornbread that they so happened to just put out and got that too.
Biscuit Mounds
            The biscuit is huge, like size of a fist huge. The first thing that came to mind was that it sure looks like a Red Lobster biscuit, but it was much better than that. The biscuit was tender and lacked dryness and the bits of pimento were a nice touch. It reminded me of eating Pimento cheese but refined and no Dukes Mayonnaise (what up Southern people, I know what Dukes is). 

Pimento, Cheddar and Chive Biscuit. Red Lobster biscuits orbit this biscuit
The cornbread I later found out is what they call Yankee (should we take offense to that?) Cornbread that is composed of whole wheat and jalapeno. I could not tell that there was whole wheat in it but I guess that makes you feel less guilty about eating a good hunk of cornbread. The cornbread had actual corn in it (a plus) and did not have any grit in it. The jalapeño was a welcomed addition that worked well with the subtle sweetness of the cornbread. The cornbread is very crumby which is a texture I look for personally in cornbread but it is probably best to eat this at a stationary position and not wearing black because you will get crumbs all over you and birds may or may not attack you like a Hitchcock movie. 

Yankee Cornbread, if this is Yankee cornbread why is it not white and blue pinstriped?

I only got a quick sample of the stuff they were offering but I was impressed and want to comeback to try more. Not only do they have the basic bake goods, they also have breakfast and lunch sandwiches as well as bread pudding one of them being a hummingbird cake bread pudding which I am looking forward to trying. They are also in the works of getting out some soups and now that I think about it, soup and cornbread would be a great lunch time fix. Those working around here are in for a new place to chow down at and with a drink menu that has Southern Sweet tea and Arnold Palmers, how do you not want to come here? Also, there is no Paula Deen-like lady working here, I know, I was totally disappointed.

Donna Bell’s Bake Shop
301 West 49th Street
New York, NY 10019

Friday, May 13, 2011

El Mercado Restaurante: Lima, Peru

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Apparently in Peru, it is uncommon to create your own tasting menu

I delayed this post for some reason but this was the last major place that I ate at in Peru. I wanted to eat at a place somewhat high class that showcased Peruvian food but I did not want to be eating “Elf Food”. as much as I like eating at bodegas and the locals only joints, I like to be spoiled and eat classy food. I was focused on going to a ceviche place and I was set on going to Pescado Capitales but before my trip, I changed my mind when I heard about this place called El Mercado Restaurante. El Mercado is the newest restaurant opened by Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling. Osterling is a Peruvian born classically trained chef and worked in such high profile restaurants as the River Café, now has a mini-restaurant empire and El Mercado is his newest venture. El Mercado differs from his other restaurants in which are it taken to a casual level but the food is highly refined.
El Mercado is a ceviche place and since ceviches use a lot of acids and such, most are only open for the afternoon and close around 4pm because it is believed that this is the best time of the day to eat it and eases the digestion process…or something like that. I had a 1 pm reservation here which is about the time that the place starts to pick up and get busy.

The space is trendy, picture the décor of any South Beach restaurant and you can get the gist of the placet: bamboo, palm trees, lots of wood and pretty people. However the space is designed tastefully, and with ceiling fans and the walls of the restaurant just being bamboo mats it imparts the feeling of a casual setting and bungalow setting. I felt I should have been rocking a Hawaiian shirt which is a note to self; I need to get a badass Hawaiian shirt. However service and waiters is not dumb down at all and they are attentive and very helpful, by helping my Gringo Chino butt navigate through an extensive menu. I was dining solo and once they took notice of this, they happily informed me that they were able to make half portions of their dishes. They most likely assuming a single person could not consume a single serving on their own. They just did not meet a person like me before as I happily created an impromptu tasting menu for myself. 

 To start was a basket of plantain chips with three dipping sauces. One was a salsa criolla, which I had previously which was a combination of red onions, vinegar, aji peppers and tomatoes. It is similar to a pico di gallo, but to really compare it to that is a bit of an insult, unlike the stuff that is served at a Chevys, this was fresh, vibrant and the peppers provided a nice kick. The other sauces were the huacatay sauce which is distinguished by the bright greenness. It is a classic sauce that of course has aji peppers, but uses the herb huacatay, which flavor wise is like a mint and basil that did some cross breeding. Mayonnaise is sometimes added to thicken the sauce but in this case and other places uses bread crumbs. The sauce was herbal and tasted of fresh greens. The last of the sauce that I personally thought was the most interesting is the aji Amarillo sauce which is showcases the ever popular aji Amarillo pepper. Mixed with cilantro, garlic, herbs and cheese (this case parmesan) it has a great smokiness and a heat that sneaks up on you. The colors of the condiments were vibrant and tasty. The plantain chips were freshly fried and crisp and took a lot of self control from destroying the basket. 


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kin Shop: Omg, the dude from Top Chef opened another place

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Just because you are eating Asian food, does not mean you need chopsticks

“Just give me a pair of chopsticks and I will be ready to go!”

This is what a middle aged Caucasian lady (cough, yuppie, cough) uttered when I was about to leave Kin Shop. I think she even glanced over to our table as if to see if I concurred with her statement and validated that apparently, eating food from the Asiatic region requires the usage of chopsticks in order to enjoy it. It is like eating Mexican food I need a stack of tortillas in order to get the full Mexican experience. That is the end of my miniature rant; I just thought it was amusing.

For Mother’s Day, I decided to go with the family to Kin Shop, the newly opened Thai restaurant by Harold Dieterle, the winner of the first Top Chef and already successful restaurant Perilla. Thai food is often all too synonymous with Pad Thai, sour soup, watery curries both ranging from the flavorless to colon-burning spice and the enemy cuisine of anyone with a serious peanut allergy. Since I do not have a peanut allergy and I enjoy a good amount of spice, Kin Shop seemed perfect. Also they had reservations open for lunch the past weekend. 
Thai Ice Tea
The food is meant to be served family style, which is great for me because it just opens the doors to let me try everything. Also I do not know if this is a constant, but there is also a pre fixe lunch menu option in which you get a choice of an appetizer, main and dessert for 20 bucks. It is a great deal, the portions are not skimped and something to keep in mind for the future. I thankfully have been blessed with a food-loving family so we ended up get 4 appetizers and 4 entrees and got a good feel for the menu. One the table was two condiments, one was a vinegar chili sauce and the other was a chili powder mix. The vinegar chili sauce was not spicy to me at least and offered a nice zing and the chili powder was a potent mix that should be used sparingly those sensitive to heat. Or liberally for those like me that love abuse chilies. 
Condiments, Chili Vinegar and Chili spice mix
The start we went straight Chinese style and started off with soups. First up was the Steamed Pork Meatball Soup with crispy garlic, bok choy shoots and black soy sauce. Dieterle, knows his balls, sorry I had to go there. However, Dieterle at Perilla already is known for the duck meatballs there, the pork meatballs had a lot to live up too. The pork meatballs did not disappoint, the meatballs were soft, tender and had a bit of spiciness to them which was balanced out by a savory broth. The broth was soothing, and would be perfect on a cold winter day, or in my case a nice warm afternoon. Food After the Jump!

Steamed Pork Meatball Soup

The other soup that we got was Garam Masala and Tomato Soup. In it was tofu, mung beans and holy basil. I am not too familiar with holy basil and do not know how it differs in taste from Italain sweet or Thai basil but the soup again was quite successful. The soup was simply a tomato soup that was brought a whole other level. I am not like tomato soup that much because versions I have had of it are usually, too sweet or acidic and taste like watered down ketchup. However, this soup restores my faith in tomato soup and straight up “clowns” Campbells tomato soup. The garam masala plays a pivotal role in this soup, giving it an earthy, floral essence that compliments the tomato flavor that is wonderfully balanced. The tofu offers a bit of a textural contrast as well as the addition of the mung beans. Give me a grilled cheese sandwich and that would have been lunch for me. 

Garam Masala Tomato Soup
 I knew that the Fried Pork and Crispy Oyster Salad was a must order. The first two words of the name are automatic food trigger words for me. I could have eaten a Vegas buffet, belt loosed, swollen gut and I see the words “Fried Pork” I am thinking, “Yeah, I got room for a bite…or more”. The addition of the crispy oysters I was sold. The salad came out just as expected, the fried pork, with the kicker that it was pork belly as well was tender and the oysters were fried perfectly and were still, “wet” inside. The fried goodness was blanketed by celery, peanuts, red onions dressed in a chili-lime vinaigrette which added a nice balance in flavor but I could have done without it, but I guess the greens were needed to classify this as a salad. 

Fried Pork and Crispy Oyster Salad- yeah its under there...somewhere
Finally for appetizers we got the Spicy Duck Laab Salad, which had toasted rice, ground chili, chopped strings beans served in romaine heart cups. They put an emphasis that this is a spicy dish with asterisk and warning from our server and he was right. This dish is what I call Thai spicy, the kind where if you eat a lot of it, everything starts to look like a Pink Floyd video. So for a chili head like me, this was perfect. Once you get past the spiciness of the dish, the dish is very tasty and the spice combination and ground duck works nicely. A fyi, if the dish is spicy, do not drink water to cool it down, it only makes it worse, try a Thai ice tea, it is refreshing and they make a pretty good one here. The appetizers all hit their marks and a good sign of things to come. 

Duck Laab Salad- muy caliente
I did not realize this when ordering but I realized that of the four dishes ordered, three of them were noodles making it a carb heavy meal. I guess that was why I had such an awesome run time the next morning when I ran. First up was the Stir Fried Wide Wonton Noodles. It was fried with a chicken sausage, Thai broccoli rabe and in an oyster sauce. This was my least favorite dish of everything we sampled. Although the noodles were cooked well and the sausage and rabe was tasty, it did not have interplay of spices or stimulated the palate and was a monotonous. It was just okay and felt like getting the vanilla ice cream at a Baskin Robbins. 

Stir Fried Wide Wonton Noodles

However the Stir fried Rice Flakes with Rock shrimp, Cauliflower was delicious. Upon looking on the menu again it also had sawtooth herb and fried garlic, I love garlic but I have no clue what a sawtooth herb is. It just sounds utterly badass and given that I liked this dish, tasty. Rice flakes are just another type of noodle which is similar to the wide wonton noodles but softer and not as wide. The rock shrimp flavored the whole dish and impregnated the briny, seafood flavors into everything. The cauliflower was still crispy; offering a textural contrast to the dish and the fried garlic was not overpowering and was subtle in the dish working out perfectly. 

Stir fried Rice Flakes with Rock Shrimp, Cauliflower

The Egg Noodle and Maitake Mushroom Broth with duck egg, green onions and spinach was a beautifully subtle dish. The egg noodles were cooked nicely, although did not have the Asian “Q”/chewiness to it and was closer to al dente. The broth was not heavily spiced, but it was a concentrate of maitake mushroom flavor. Although the only real protein component of this dish was the poached duck egg, the broth itself provided an intense, mushroom meatiness to the whole dish. The dish was not heavily spiced but showed restraint which added its own complexity and showing less is more. 

Egg Noodle and Maitake Mushroom Broth

Massaman Braised Goat
On the opposite end of the spectrum was the Massaman Braised Goat. The dish had fried shallots, purple yams, mustard greens and toasted coconut. This dish had a lot of flavors and components going on but it eventually all came together. The purple yams by the way I suspect are just taro, but I guess purple yam sounds less scary and threatening than taro. Everything came together is a slurry and the coconut provides an underlying sweetness that integrates nicely with the goat. The goat was tender, succulent and although I am a barbarian and like gaminess, the goat did not have that at all. We got an order of roti which came out fresh and finger burning hot. The roti was flaky, supple and lightly sweetened, could have been eaten on its own but worked well as a sponge for soaking up all that gravy from the braised goat. Originally it was suppose to be an order of roti and jasmine rice, but the rice apparently did not turn out right so they comped us a extra roti which worked out fine.

Roti- Pancake sauce sponge

Finally ending the meal was a scoop of mango sorbet and a scoop of Thai-Coffee chocolate ice cream, not mixed together. The mango was clean and crisp and had chunks of mangos in it which is always a plus. The Thai-Coffee chocolate was borderline chalky tasting and the coffee flavors were very subtle. Overall, Kin Shop dished out some great dishes and they were of adequate size and were not “elf food” in anyway. Many question the authenticity of the food well mainly because Harold is white and not Thai/Asian. I am not going to beat around the bush and pretend that is not what everyone is thinking. However the thing is he is not claiming that it is authentic Thai and the argument of authenticity food is something that can be debated until Two and a Half Men is back on the air (or check the chowhound board for the thread of authentic food). The point is that the food at Kin Shop is without a question Thai. He pays great respect to Thai and Southeast Asian cuisine and produces great food and whether or not this is the food that you will be eating in a dank street in Bangkok is up to you but at Kin Shop, the flavors of Thailand are there and they are good. 

Mango Sorbet and Thai-Coffee Chocolate Ice Cream

Kin Shop
469 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10011

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Donut Quest: Italians can make donuts too!

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Apparently I have been getting double espressos all my life and have not realized it.

Bottega Falai Bread

My continuance on finding and tasting the best donuts that the city has to offer has led me to Café/Bottega Falai and to Balthazar bakery. Falai is Italian influenced to the core that and Balthazar is a Francophile’s New York oasis that is like a bouchon plopped in the middle of Soho. Donuts are an American claimed pastry, one that America has forcibly adopted as their own creation, like we tried to adopt Elian Gonzalez, I was curious to see how two great cuisines stacked up in making fried treats. 
First up was Bottega Falai. Bottega Falai is newly opened, like with the past week or so it has opened. It sits next to Café Falai and it is the retail and takeout store of the Falai ever growing empire. Bottega Falai is modeled after a Bodega, but compared to the Bodegas I have been in this was clearly the nicest one and there was no Negro Modelo being sold either. The inside of the store has the ever popular Euro chic meaning it is white, lofty looking and sterile. Although they boast having Italian products and odds and ends of groceries, it was few in selection, maybe about 4-5 shelves worth and about 3-4 baskets of produce. It is mainly a pick me up kind of place, where you can grab a sandwich or something prepared and be out the door. The second I walked in, I was instantly greeted and berated by an over enthusiastic barista/counter person. I walked up to the counter and he was already pressing on what I wanted, I felt like he was interrogating me and given the chance, probably would have taken a car battery and alligator clips and went to town. I already knew what I wanted but dude, give me a minute. I got an espresso, single shot and I picked up two doughnuts, or specifically bombolinis.
Chocolate Bombolini
 Bombolinis are not the round holed doughnuts that you get at a Dunkin Donuts; instead it is round and resembles a beignet. They are filled with crèmes or jams. Here at Falai, the choices were chocolate, coffee, wild berry and a vanilla. I could have easily eaten all of them but with restraint I got a chocolate one and a wild berry one. After being told on how I should be drinking my espresso, in a ceramic cup and not in a takeout container I was finally left alone to have my single shot espresso and donuts. Oh and by the way, I do not even put sugar in my espresso and I was intending to drink it in the damn espresso cup so there!

Jam Bombolini
 The bombolini were made that morning next door at Café Falai. The chocolate was rich and thick. I cannot confirm but I am pretty sure it was filled with a chocolate hazelnut filling, not Nutella, closer to Nocello, I have eaten way to much chocolate hazelnut spreads in my life time and have unfortunately developed a palate in noticing the subtle differences between hazelnut spreads. Not really a skill that I want but oh well. The bombolinis were yeast based donuts which made them light and airy. Compared to other yeast doughnuts that have a doughy and chewy characteristic, this had a crumb structure to it and lightness. It was like comparing a brioche to white bread. The wild berry jam was apparently homemade as well and had the right amount of sweetness to it. All bombolinis are sugar coated and shower eaters with sugar after each bite. Bottega Falai is a neat place that not only has fresh breads and pastries, but also had a chocolate and macaron counter which I will most certainly come back and explore and try…and have a double espresso. 
Chocolate and macarons at Bottega Falai

Next up and within the vicinity, was Balthazar. Balthazar is a classic and old spot were it was doing the whole French bistro style restaurant before it was cool. They are like what hipsters would be seeking out when it first opened, because it was like, “no one else was doing it” coolness when it opened. However, Balthazar is still a bustling place that is filled with tourist and regulars and is rarely ever empty. Next door to the restaurant is the bakery which is a counter that is filled with breads and pastries to a point it is like a fire hazard…but a tasty fire hazard. Here I got one of their donuts as recommended by via SeriousEats the banana walnut cake doughnut and a coffee. I was not told how I should have my coffee, which by the way, either black or a little bit of cream. The banana walnut cake doughnut after first bite is apparent why it is rated as one of the best doughnuts. It also goes to show on why Balthazar bakery/restaurant has people lined up at 9 in the morning because even though they are putting care and great effort into all their food and doing it with quality ingredients.  

The donut was like eating a cake. The only resemblance to a donut was that it was round and handheld. First bite was moist and full of banana goodness but had a delicate crumb structure. It was topped generously with nuts giving a great meaty crunch with every bite and I devoured this thing. I am impressed by both places in producing some good donuts as well as other pastries (I had a canele at Balthazar, you cannot resist those!) and I am optimistic about my donut quest. This part of the donut quest was successful and did not require an outer borough trip. This quest is far from over though and I am craving another bombolini. 
Banana Nut Donut from Balthazar...and my leg

Bottega Falai

267 Lafayette St

New York, NY 10012

80 Spring St
New York, NY 10012

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Taiwan Dispatch: It’s Breakfast and I've got to Eat

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: carbohydrates are everywhere in this country. Resistance is futile.
Looks like Breakfast

Anyone that reads this blog can figure out that I really like breakfast. Due to my inability to sleep late, something that is the result of being part of the real world, I wake up really early, run and when I am done I am starving. Breakfast for me is one of the most important meals for me and during the work week, it is what gets me through the day. In Taiwan, throw in the jet lag and time difference its like 6 in the morning and I need something like now. Thankfully like New York, Taipei is a city that never sleeps…come to think of it, no city is ever really asleep. People are always up and about and they may not have jet lag, but damnit they are hungry and need something too. Some people I have talked to are under the impression that dim sum is the average breakfast fare in Taiwan which is clearly not the case because the Taiwan economy and social health would be on a downward spiral and would beat out the United States in obesity. However, a more common fare that is eaten for breakfast here is a bit more lighter, but do not worry, they do not skip out on the carbohydrates or the grease. 
Do Jaing- Soy Milk Hot and Cold. That ain't Coffee
Soy milk in Taiwan and Asian countries is nothing like the weird Soy milk that hyper vegans and the weird kids drink in the box. I am telling you right now, they have many flavors of soy milk here, but there is no vanilla or chocolate flavored soy milk. This is the legit kind of soy milk that main ingredients are just soybeans and water. Soy milk is served hot or cold or sweet or salty and if my math is correct from my failed statistics semesters, that is about 24 different combinations. Most Taiwanese enjoy soy milk hot and sweet and feel that soy milk in the morning soothes the soul and does not mess with the flow or energy in your body…or something like that. I personally have become to Americanized as my Mother says and I like it cold and sweet. Apparently only children drink it this way which is fine by me because the stuff that kids eat and drink here are awesome and cute. Excusing the tangent, soy milk does not have a chalky taste to it like the weird boxed soy I was forced to have for about a month. Instead it is truly milk, it is thick and creamy and richness that is almost comparable to whole milk. A warm bowl of soy in the cool (well, rarely cool) morning in Taiwan is a perfect remedy. 
Shao Bing with an Egg in it on Left, You Tau right

Like a coke and burger, soy milk is rarely separated by a stick of you tau. You tau is a cruller that is deep fried (hooray grease!) and is a crispy, lightly salted and has pockets and crevasses of air pockets. Biting into one you are welcomed by a satisfying crunch and a sprinkling of crumbs. A You tau does not really have much is taste by itself so it plays either the role of a crouton, in which it is cut up and thrown into a bowl of soy milk or you just go ahead and dunk it in. The You tau is like a sponge and soaks up soy milk giving the You tau a whole new taste to it. Now generally, this is where most people would call it a good breakfast and stop. Anther popular breakfast item is a dan bing which is a egg crepe. It is only a crepe by definition, which it is a thin pancake, but that is the only similarity that a dan bing has with the better known French crepes. The crepe itself is stickier, gummy texture to the crepe and has scallions in it. Before it is finished off, a beaten egg is thrown on top, complete this breakfast creation. Although it can eaten all on its own, most dip it in soy sauce paste or like me, with some hot soy bean paste for a bit of heat. There are many variations of this, such as adding in bacon/mystery canned meat and one of the more interesting ones cheese. Not like aged Gouda, more like good old American-never-spoil-singles-packet cheese. I have had such creation and you know what? It actually works. There is something about Asian countries and putting cheese randomly on things, specifically American or Parmesan cheese. I understand how it works, the savory unami flavors and all that jazz but I guess it still is a bit hard for my Gringo-mind to grasp it. 
Food After the Jump!

Egg Crepe- Dan Bing
A shao bing, is a flaky sesame flatbread. Many people split them open and fill them with fried egg or a You Tau. Sometimes you get lucky and get both the egg and you tau all shoved into a shao bing which is also the same formula if you do not want to do anything else for the rest of the day!

24 Hrs! Ever got a Hankering for Soy Milk here is your spot
I like the English translations of restaurants and places because I always get a good laugh out of them. One of the best examples is Yong He dou Jiang Da Wang which translates to Yong He Soy Milk King. From observation, Taiwan is apparently littered with royalty and getting a title such as a king is easy to get especially in food. It is like Ray’s pizza in New York, there are about 20 of them all throughout the city and like so, in Taiwan there are kings of Soy milk, beef noodle and other things. I mean, I will give the guy credit, someone must control the soy milk kingdom, and it is a demanding job. The place is open 24 hours so if you have that craving for soy, vegans you are in luck! This is a local place in which it is normal to see men wearing pajama pants and under shirts and school kids running in to grab a quick bite. At Yong He Dou Jiang Da Wang, I got my usual cold soy milk while my parents being the “natives” got theirs hot. The Soy milk here was not really rich but still packed a heavy soy kick. The You tau here was a bit drier than I would like it so it of course got the Soy milk dunk making it tasty. The dan bing here was gummier than I would have liked it but again, that is what soy sauce is for. We got a shao bing as well and it came piping hot and plain. Although I am weird and I can eat the shao bing all on its own, it was quickly gutted and a you tau was shoved in between creating something greater and still dunkable in the soy milk. Another common breakfast treat or just all around anytime eat as I see it is a Jiucai bao.
Juicai Bao
It is pan-fried hot pocket like bun that is filled with minced pork, rice noodles and Chinese garlic chives. It is a hearty thing to have in the morning, and the Asian equivalent of having a lox and cream cheese shmear on a bagel. It is hearty, filling, your cardiologist would not approve and your breath does not smell minty fresh after eating it. I like it that it is pan fried because it achieves a crispy layer on the outside and a satisfying crunch when you bite into it. A lot of these morning fares are rich and salty, which is why having soy milk is a common pairing because it cuts the richness of the food creating balance which is a main theme in food, especially in Taiwan. Yong He Dou Jiang Da Wang is overall an okay place. It has been around for many years,I remember coming here when I was a kid so although they may not have the best, the food and the soy milk is still solid. 
Cooking on the flat top
Fu Hang Dou Jaing is a bit newer and it is located upstairs a non-descriptive buildings. I just know it is close to the Sheraton Hotel and you have to kind of go through an lackluster market but this place is well worth the find. Finding this place and going here is the foodie equivalent of getting the Fireball in Super Mario Brothers. It is a very local place and there are no ma guo de (American in Chinese) here at all. Walking up some shady-esque stairwell you are greeted by a line, no matter what time you go and the furious shouting and people clambering for food and balancing trays filled with orders of blistering hot soy milk and enough you tau, shao bing and other treats providing you with enough caloric intake to run a half marathon.
Although the time I went there was considering the light and low period waiting in there was still that sense of urgency and wanting to get to the front of the line. It is like waiting in line to go to the bathroom when you have to go really bad, you shift your weight from one foot to the other, and you are constantly craning your neck and peering to the front of the line, to see when it will be your turn. There is no reason for this behavior; it is something that is triggered from the controlled chaos that is happening at the front of the counter. The counter is full of activity as people are placing their orders and counter ladies are impatiently rolling their eyes and waiting for the slightly indecisive ones that do not rattle off their order or hesitate when they get to the counter. From there people shuffle to the side, waiting and peering at trays hoping and impatiently waiting for their number to be called. Each time a patron is gifted with a tray and walks through the crowd while carefully balancing their morning bounty, it is visual getting dissected and analyzed by all that it passes by. Trust me, this experience and food is not getting the Lumberjack Breakfast at the Diner.  
Soy Milk hot, served in bowls. You drink that up like soup
At Fu Hang Dou Jiang, we got the same stuff such as the soy milk, dan bing, you tai with the addition of a hou bing and a radish and pork bing. The hou bing is something that I have not really seen or eaten in Taiwan. It is similar to the shao bing but the shao bing is flaky, the hou bing is doughy and there are no sesames in the hou bing, it has the addition of scallions and it is suppose to be eaten on its own. The hou bing is what the Chinese call “Q” which is the Chinese description of chewy and having a bite which is not really a pleasing texture for a Western palate, but a texture that many Asians look for from noodles and breads. 

Hou Bing

Shao Bing with Radishes and tiny dried shrimp

Shao bing is just a general term for the type of bread that is flaky and bombarded with sesames. Shao bing can also be filled and commonly filled with radishes and dried shrimp. The little dried shrimp are rarely visible and are there to add the unami factor and saltiness. We got a few here and they were fresh, biting into them, you get a mini steam facial that is filled with the aroma of radish and scallions, something that you cannot get at a spa. the food here was a bit better and fresher, I accredit that mainly to the high volume business that they do that forces them to be constantly pumping out fresh food. They open at 5am and are working well before then. Both these places are using traditional methods and are not shoving them into conventional ovens. The hou bing here is baked in a tandoori like oven pit and the you tau are not being thrown into frying pits and are still fried in pots. It is amazing to watch the people work here. Donning surgical masks, it is only appropriate to compare their work to a surgeon, it is precise work that they are doing in working in the early hours in the morning consistently producing common breakfast fare, not knowing that they are part of keeping traditions and Taiwanese culture alive. 

Tandoori-like oven baking up Hou Bings

102 Fuxing South Road
, Sec. 2

at Hua Shan Market, 2F
No. 108,
Zhongxiao E. Rd.
, Sec. 1