Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel, Events, New York City Eats

2015 Year in Food Review

Food Collage 2015_3

“I’ll have the usual.”  Maybe its a sign that I am getting old or as my friend tells me, I know what I want. 2015 marks my final year in my twenties. I’ve noticed my eating habit very often included the restaurants I have already been to and I would order my usual.  There’s the tonkatsu ramen at Ramen Setagaya, grilled chicken bowl of pho at Thai Son, brunch at Cafe Mogador and my guilty pleasure carnitas burrito at Chipotles. In a city like New York City with so many cuisine options, the convenience of ordering food at your finger tips and the constantly opening and closing of restaurants that keeps the dining scene exciting makes it difficult to limit to any one restaurant as a repeat. 2015 year in food certainly had some patterns.  I found myself eating various interpretation of ramen, fried chicken sandwich, tacos, Middle Eastern food, the contemporary smoked salmon bagel or is it a lox bagel?  Here is my annual mouthwatering recap of restaurants and cafes I know I will return to soon:

:: MAMAN ::
Among the cute, cozy cafes, Maman in Soho opened in Fall 2014 is a new addition to that list and really hits the spot.  The interior of the cafe is rustic chic inspired by French boulangerie with blue and white floral tiles that is also used on their disposable cups which is too pretty to throw away.  During my visit last winter, I had their lavender hot chocolate which lavender anything in food may not be suitable for all taste buds but the floral taste and bitter sweet chocolate is surprisingly a nice balance. Maman also serves no fuss takeaway meals that includes salads, quiches, and rotisserie chicken and is perfect for the busy New Yorker on the go. Since their Soho location open, Maman has expanded and can now be found in Tribeca, Greenpoint and Toronto, including their offshoot rotisserie chicken takeaway place Papa Poule which is still on my list of places to visit.

:: BAR PRIMI ::
Chef Andrew Carmellini of NoHo Hospitality Group, Bar Primi is the reincarnation of this corner Bowery restaurant, formerly the beloved restaurant Peels. With the rise of gluten intolerance and for some people who choose to be gluten-free is missing out on one of the best squid ink pastas.  Bar Primi, squid ink campanelle is worth breaking the rules. With generous portions of crab meats blended into the pasta and with a subtle hint of fresh red chili pepper.  It is a reminder of how delicious and complex the flavors are for a simple pasta dish when it is done well.  It’s true when they say, “Once you go black you can’t go back.” I should also mention the baguette at Lafeyette their sister restaurant is also exceptional.

:: RUSS & DAUGHTERS + BLACK SEED BAGEL + MAIDEN LANE ::
New York City classic breakfast, smoked salmon or lox cream cheese bagel has made a comeback in recent years and this year the bagel game is strong.  There is the legendary, family owned and operated for over 100 years, Russ & Daughters. Their deli remains a quintessential New York experience. Order the lox bagel with the works which includes tomato, onions, capers with thinly sliced choice of fresh wild salmon is truly the breakfast of champions.  There are the new kids on the block, Black Seed Bagel and Maiden Lane both open their second or third locations in Manhattan this year, also serves smoked salmon bagels.  Black Seed Bagel is a take on the Montreal bagel. The bagel is delicious on its own but by all means go all out on on their signature sandwiches, the smoked salmon is highly recommended.  Maiden Lane known for their tin fish and bar also serves an excellent smoked salmon bagel on a hip Baz Bagel.  The best thing about a bagel is it will last for at least for two meals or of course sharing is an option with someone special.  Sadelle, you’re on my 2016 list.

:: KABAB KING ::
What I noticed in my recent visit to Jackson Heights is the format of the restaurants.  There is the cafeteria style for takeaways on the ground floor and above is a banquet hall version which is brilliant. It is a way to provide food accessible for all and for any occasion. I was invited to my sister’s friends dinner at Kabab King. From the name you guess it they’re known for their kababs.  The restaurant has an extensive menu of Middle Eastern style kababs, traditional Indian naan and biryani to Chinese haaka noodles. The customers range from families, seniors, men and then there was us.  Imagine children running around, while waiters carrying trays of lassi and men tearing up a stack of naan while a serious game of cricket was on television. Platters of food are served family style, beef, chicken, lamb kababs, goat biryani, lamb chops, curries and  stews. Every dish was bold in flavors and a feast meant for a king.

:: HOT KITCHEN SICHUAN STYLE ::
Queens was named No. 1  tourist destination in U.S.A in Lonely Planet this past year.  It’s the borough of new immigrants where they bring their exotic flavors which is usually authentic and a lot more affordable.  Hot Kitchen Sichuan Style in Flushing is an example and is the new restaurant that has taken over formerly known as Little Pepper.  I came here recently after a day at Spa Castle and had hot and sour soup, mapo tofu, lamb cumin, stirred fried string beans and Sichuan chicken. Every dish was delicious, seasoned well and soulful.  If you can endure the heat and spiciness, a couple of sweat bullets wouldn’t hurt then Hot Kitchen Sichuan Style is worth the trip.

:: GOA TACO  + EMPELLON AL PASTOR ::
I was first introduced to authentic tacos served in soft tortilla oppose to the hard shell at Tehuitzingo , a hole in the wall deli in Hell’s Kitchen.  Fast forward to 2015, everyone with the desire to sell food seems to be selling tacos because it is a lucrative food business and very often translates to awful tacos.  Goa Taco is not one of those and has taken a traditional Mexican dish and reinvent it with an Indian twist.  Instead of a tortilla soft or hard shell, it is served on a flaky paratha flatbread.  The fillings are Indian inspired as well, stuffed with paneer, masala chickpeas and there are the more Westernized ingredients options like butternut squash and kale. There is also Empellon Al Pastor in Alphabet City, thanks to my friend who brought me here, I am now addicted.  Al Pastor is a  Mexican taco meets Lebanese shawarma, the best of both worlds. The pork is spit-roasted, a common technique for lamb shawarma and is delicately, thinly sliced onto a house made tortilla and is topped with some pineapples for an acidic kick. This technique was introduced by Lebanese immigrants to Mexicans and is a great example of why immigration and cultural diffusion is awesome when great food meets.

:: FUKU + DELANEY CHICKEN SANDWICH ::
There is no shortage of fried chicken in New York City and the fried chicken sandwich seems to be the star of 2015 and it is only the beginning. Chef David Chang of Momofuku empire introduced his fried chicken sandwich with Fuku. Visually, the fried chicken and bun ratio is intended to be out of proportion and those on low carb diet may prefer it including myself.  There is the new fried chicken with Chef Daniel Delaney’s, Delaney Chicken.  The fried chicken and bun ratio is less or more equal with Delaney Chicken sandwich and it is a little slightly more seasoned with mayo, hot sauce and pickles which creates more substance. The fried chicken sandwich as I recalled was juicy and the bun was large enough to hold the grease.  A fried chicken sandwich is certainly not the everyday ordinary meal but for those who loves fried chicken like I do then it is the best item added to the fried chicken repertoire.

:: LOLO’S SEAFOOD SHACK ::
Labor Day weekend unofficially marks the end to Summer days. With the long weekend and on a tight budget, a staycation is ideal.  My friend and I decided to bike our way to High Bridge Park the aqueduct which reopened this year after being closed for the last 40 years.  After making our trip there, we cruised through Harlem and nothing shouts summer more than a seafood shack, at Lolo’s Seafood Shack.  Its perfect for a summer day with their outdoor backyard seating with a bucket of crabs and pitcher of beer.  I had their soft shell crab sandwich served on their signature in -house bread known as Johnnycakes which was a delightful treat to refuel my bike ride home.

:: AFTERNOON TEA a.k.a HIGH TEA at RITZ CARLTON ::
Every girl most likely played tea party as a child.  For my summer staycation my friends and I dressed up for the occasion and spent an afternoon indulging high tea like proper ladies at the Ritz Carlton by Central Park.  High tea occurs between anytime between 2pm – 4pm.  We each got a pot of tea and was presented with a three tier selection of tea sandwiches, scones and petit fours.  The whole experience was relaxing and extravagant.  A royal custom I can get used to.

:: RAFIQI’S ::
The one thing I’m most excited about working in Manhattan again is not only the convenience but Rafiqi’s food cart.  I’ve seen this Halal cart around town before but never really interest me until now. For $5 Rafiqi’s has on the menu options like falafel, gyro and my favorite is the chicken rice platter, covering all the food nutrition a person needs.  For $5 comes with an impressive assortment of vegetables that includes lettuce, tomato, black olives, corn, red onions, cilantro, the legumes from the black beans and the fluffy yellow long grain rice and protein from the chicken topped with the mysterious white sauce. A great meal to power through the work day on a friendly budget.

:: SENOR POLLO ::
Senor Pollo in the East Village specializes in Peruvian rotisserie chicken and on a lazy day or really any day is a great dish for takeaway to add a bit of oomph to any meal. The housemade green sauce or Peruvian Aji sauce is amazingly good. Its traditionally used as a dipping sauce for Peruvian rotisserie chicken and I use it on my cubano sandwiches.  Don’t forget to ask for extra green sauce!

:: LE JARDIN BISTRO ::
Aside from Buvette, there is a lack of good French restaurants in New York City. When my friend suggested Le Jardin Bistro because they had escargots on the menu, I had to go!  My friends and I went there in mid- June shortly before it permanently closed.  Le Jardin Bistro had all the classic French dishes, cassoulet, coq au vin, bouillabaisse, steak and frites it was like eating out of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking cookbook, a very home-style French cooking.  The restaurant located on Avenue C had a second level with a beautiful patio and during our meal there it was magically lit by natural sunset.  Dining at Le Jardin Bistro felt like miles away from the city and this gem will surely be missed.

2015 was off to a rather slow start.  I was motivated to find a new job and while I did, one of the biggest highlight was celebrating my big sister’s wedding day.  As the Maid of Honor I had the pleasure of hosting and cooking for a group of her friends with a pig themed bridal shower. With the help of another bridesmaid, we spent a month planning and a week shopping for the menu which included pork belly tacos, pulled pork sandwiches, pigs in a blanket, bacon pesto pasta salad, vegetable crudites, and charcuterie plate. I think it was the breakthrough moment for the food business I have envisioned for years that it could possibly become a reality.  The twenties was about exploring, educating myself through food, trial and error and more importantly having fun. Here’s to 2016 and to turning 30 – bring it on!  Wishing everyone a Happy New Year!  xo

 

 

 

 

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Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel, Events, New York City Eats

2014 Year in Review

2014 eats_text

photos taken with instagram @iluvpotato

“Nothing is achieved without effort.” 2014 has been a milestone. It was not easy, starting the year and on my birthday being unemployed. But it was an opportunity to take the time to rejuvenate, rethink, and rediscover the city I grew up in and reviewing my personal goals. A transition was exactly what I needed and ever since I have moved out living on my own in an exciting, evolving part of New York City I hardly knew. I also settled into a new job with healthcare and after 4 years it was the perfect timing for a trip to Japan. While I did all of the above, it was the first half of the year during my unemployment when I was able to slow down and leisurely enjoy a meal without the weekend crowds and without the urgency of going back to work or eating at my work desk. Dining out was therapy with the company of friends to help me get through what would have been a stagnant year. Here is my annual top 12 from 2014:

:: TASTE TALKS ::
I was unexpectedly invited to Brooklyn’s Taste Talks early this Fall via OpenTable. I have been fortunate through my previous work to have been to a number of food events but it was for the first time and hopefully not my last through my work as a foodblogger where I was invited to a food event. Taste Talks is a weekend festival celebrating New York City food culture and media. I was only able to attend the second portion, the All-star BBQ at the East River State Park. It was a nicely organized group of intriguing chefs and restaurants currently in New York City. Each chef participant exhibit their interpretation of barbeque. My favorites were from Chef Ivan Orkin from Ivan Ramen- grilled duck hearts, Chef Jonathan Wu from Fung Tu – Pig head salad and Chef Rob Newton from Nightingale 9 – barbeque duck which all had an Asian inspired touch to their dishes.

:: MAIALINO ::
Moving out from my parents has been the biggest step. To celebrate this milestone, I took my parents to Maialino for a 3-course lunch during restaurant week. It was by far one of the best restaurant for restaurant week I have been to and a great spot to bring parents to. My dad being a retired chef / restuaurant owner and my mom, a vegetarian, homecook but somehow still manage to season meat dishes really well are both really hard to please when it comes to dining out. Maialino, nailed it. The ambiance of the restaurant was appropriate and service was exceptional. The food by executive chef Nick Anderer is rustic, refined Italian and the olive oil cake is a must. It is why Danny Meyer’s restaurants continues to have the reputation and the respect the food industry has for him as a restauranteur and his team’s craft.

:: BOBWHITE LUNCH & SUPPER COUNTER ::
Alphabet City remains to be a less known part of Manhattan or a part we recalled in the musical Rent. Tompkins Square Park for instance has transformed to a dog loving park and the neighborhood is home to many community gardens and the new St.Mark’s bookstore. It is also a neighborhood with a couple of awesome fried chicken options. I discovered Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter while on the elevator. The restaurant is very small with limited seating but the bar counter is my preferred spot, even with a group of friends. They have a fried chicken supper for four that includes sides and biscuits. A low key spot and has quickly become a favorite of mine in a new neighborhood I am excited to call home.

:: CONG LY ::
For cheap eats in New York City, you can always count on Chinatown. One of my favorite cuisine is Vietnamese for a bowl of pho, sandwiches, or spring rolls. For a very long time, Thai Son was my go to spot until I stepped foot into Cong Ly one day and since then haven’t been anywhere else. It is a family owned spot and a restaurant you can linger as long as desired over a bowl of pho. Other than their configuration of tables, which I am tempted to rearrange, the food is delicious, inexpensive and comforting.

:: BAKERI ::
I made a few visits to Bakeri this year. A small café in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with an assortment of cookies, freshly baked rustic breads, pastries and several savory options. The décor of the café and choices of ceramics and silverwares is one of many reasons why I keep going back but mainly because of their lavender shortbread paired with a cup of latte – every girl and gent treat. Bakeri has since expanded a second location in Greenpoint, which I have yet to visit. In the meantime, it is worth heading across the East River.

:: LOBSTER JOINT ::
This year marked my 10 years High School reunion, in addition to an impromptu mini middle school reunion at the Lobster Joint on the Lower East Side. After 14 years, it’s amazing to reunite with friends and to be able to casually catch up where we left off. The Lobster Joint on the Lower East Side sadly recently closed but their Greenpoint location remains open. It had a great happy hour with a wide selection of beer, wine, and affordable, pretty delicious fried oysters, shrimps and lobster rolls sliders. It will be missed.

:: HOMETOWN BARBEQUE & STEVE’S AUTHENTIC KEY LIME PIE ::
World Cup and barbeque at Red Hook’s Hometown doesn’t get any better on a hot summer day and is how we celebrate Father’s day. The place is only a ferry ride away from Lower Manhattan and a few blocks from Ikea. Hometown Barbeque is as good as any Southern, Texas barbeque and the food is presented on butcher paper, the authentic way. For dessert, save room and head over to Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie. The graham cracker crust and the amount of citrus is a nice complement after a heavy barbeque meal.

:: FRENCH LOUIE + BUTTERMILK CHANNEL ::
Two is better than one. Some of the sister restaurants I went to this year included: Freeman’s + Isa and The Fat Radish + The East Pole. Rosemary also opened Claudette, which will be on my list for 2015. Read more on my review on some of the listed restaurants on Brunch. Buttermilk Channel has a cult following and it is likely to be busy even on a rainy, Monday evening which is when I went. On the contrary their sister restaurant, French Louie is far more mellow. The outdoor backyard dining space is probably the reason why I would go back. It is hard to believe it is Brooklyn because it’s damn pretty.

:: MAK’S NOODLE ::
It has been over twenty years since I have been to Hong Kong and the city is glowing and the food culture is astounding. Sorry New York City, but Hong Kong is the new city that never sleeps because its non-stop eating. Mak’s Noodle is an example of what a Michelin Star restaurant taste like without a need for reservation and without splurging. With only a few items on the menu, the wonton noodle soup is the signature dish. The wontons are silky with the perfect ratio of shrimp to pork filling and the handmade noodles are refined submerged in a tasty broth. The bowls are petite but ultimately satisfying.

:: NISHIKI MARKET ::
In the heart of Kyoto, Japan, Nishiki Market is a long strip of various food vendors or also known as food heaven. A taste of everything Kyoto has to offer and surprisingly the best pickles and fermented food I have ever had. There are specialty items to take home and small bites like tofu doughnuts, soymilk ice cream, onigiri, octopus on skewers, rice crackers, and all the samples you can indulge on. I miss the warm welcome of irasshaimase and the hospitality of the Japanese culture. More on Japan in a future post.

:: HONG KONG AIRPORT ::
The Hong Kong Airport food court is amazing. On our way back to New York City from Japan, we had a layover at the Hong Kong airport and enough time to eat some more delicious Cantonese Chinese food. The challenging part is narrowing down to which one. The Hainese chicken rice dish and Penang style rice noodles was unlike anything I had in an airport and frankly with the limited amount of days spent in Hong Kong, it was one of the best meals we had.

:: PICNIC ::
Summer went by far too quick this year. At one point I was juggling 4 projects and finalizing the apartment was very stressful. One fun activity I did manage to pull together with the help of my sister was an outdoor vegetarian friendly picnic. I made a mushroom, asparagus quiche, quinoa kale salad, a platter of crudités with garlic labneh and pita and homemade lemonade. I have a long way and a lot work to do to become a professional chef and have no means or interest in becoming a chef. What I find most satisfying and joy is creating the menus, preparation and organization aspect. The picnic was a preview of what I am sure will be more of in 2015 – potlucks, picnics, and gatherings. More news on that next Spring.

“Without effort nothing is achieved.”  Food keeps me going, it’s an endless discovery and I am excited to start a new chapter in my new home in this diverse city where you don’t have to travel far to get a bowl of ramen and a lox bagel.  As always, thanks to those who shared a meal, their positive energy, laughter, tears, words of wisdom and the kind support from readers, making 2014 a memorable year. Happy trails and to a fruitful New Year!

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New York City Eats

New York City Brunch

text and photos by iLuvpotato © 2014

text and photos by iLuvpotato © 2014

We work for the weekends and brunch is one of the many more reasons to why.  It is the one meal that fanfare into the weekend and it is the one meal people seem willingly to queue up to a hour or more for a table in the city.  Perhaps it’s the bloody marys, the bottomless coffee, the egg benedicts or the chicken & waffles.  The dining culture and brunch menu has come quite a way since Denny’s, Ihop or your roadside diners and the current brunch scene is worth celebrating.  With tiny New York City apartments, brunch is a meal to sink into for an escape which the interior restaurant decor and ambiance seems to play an integral part as much as what’s on the menu.  Here are my most recent noteworthy, unobnoxious brunch dining in the New York City area:

Isa ///  For the last couple of years my girlfriends and I have celebrated each other birthdays over a shared meal.  For the third consecutive year, I chose brunch cause it’s my favorite meal of the week. Our past brunch includes: Essex Street and Cafe Mogador and I sure do have the greatest friends who would sacrifice in the frigid cold to the verge of frost bites for a table with me.  So this year I had picked a brunch spot that would take reservation and  Isa in Williamsburg, Brooklyn conveniently does via Opentable.com.  It was a luxury to be seated immediately to a table.  Isa, a cozy little restaurant infused with the perfume of bacon and a wall display of cut wood feels like dining in a cabin, it’s a treat for any city girl who is nature deprived like myself.  On the menu is their signature breakfast pizza – yep you read that right, pizza for breakfast topped with two sunny side up and bacon which you cannot go wrong.

Rose Water /// Located in Park Slopes on Union Street is Rose Water.  A nice neighborhood brunch spot that is more than the average salmon egg benedicts or omelette.  They have a prix fixe menu that includes a drink like a ginger pear or hibiscus juice. I had the smoked fish cake with poached eggs and salads which the batter of the fish cake was bread crumbed or panko dressed with chipotle salsa.  I think what really stood out was a side of fuji apple pancakes with walnuts.  I rarely see pancakes as a side dish on the menu which should probably appear more often as a side dish to devour without the guilt.

Freeman’s /// The same owners behind Isa owns this charming restaurant, Freeman’s tucked in the heart of Lower East Side, Freeman’s Alley.  We celebrated my good friend’s birthday at Freeman’s.  The decor similar to Isa has a heavy nature theme with taxidermy in every nook but somehow achieved tastefully without feeling like eating at the Museum of Natural History instead I can spend hours exploring each corner and admiring the decor.  The food was up to standards and I was quite frankly nauseous from eating eggs from all the brunches we’ve had that I had opted for a roast pork sandwich with fries instead which was delish!

Jack’s Wife Freda/// There is always a massive brunch crowd for Jack’s Wife Freda on the weekends.  Instead I recommend going either during the end of brunch service or thankfully they serve brunch during weekday too!  The menu at Jack’s Wife Freda is Mediterranean inspired and it was my first time I even heard and had a shakshuka which essentially are baked eggs and their version is with a salsa verde.  I love the Stumptown bottomless drip and the whimsical tiny touches to the restaurant from the menu, sugar packets and stationery.  A fun, casual spot for a meal to unwind with friends.

The Fat Radish/// There are many restaurants who claims that they are farm to table but The Fat Radish goes beyond the farm to table model and support local purveyors like Saxelby Cheesemongers not too far away from their restaurant for fine cheeses on the menu.  The chefs/ owners of The Fat Radish are from Great Britain, so naturally I had to have the seasonal celery root, gruyere cheese pot pie for one and pot pie for brunch? – Yes, please.  It’s hearty, soulful and comfort food at its best. With rustic table tops and natural sunlight through the skylight makes it one of my favorite neighborhood gems.  Their newest Upper East Side restaurant is worth checking out too, The East Pole.

Friend of a Farmer/// Irving Street is one of my many favorite streets in New York City, located below Gramercy Tavern and not too far from Union Square is home to Irving Coffee, Beford Cheese Shop and Friend of a Farmer.  They have quite a list for brunch with various filling combination for an omelette that you could imagine. The best dish however, was their special of the day, crab cake on English muffin which I was picking off from my cousin’s dish. The pros of dining at Friend of a Farmer it was surprisingly a pleasant family friendly dining spot with children under the age of 5.  A treat on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

The weekend is a time to unwind, relax and recharge from the work week and the last thing you want to do is wait for a table.  Make a reservation at Opentable NYC restaurants page for your next brunch date. I love to hear what your favorite brunch spots in New York City are or a brunch spot worth traveling out of state for, so don’t be shy and leave a comment. Cheers!

{ Directory }
Isa
Rose Water
Freeman’s
Jack’s Wife Freda
The Fat Radish
Friend of a Farmer

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New York City Eats

Ten Under a Buck

text and photos by iLuvpotato © 2014

text and photos by iLuvpotato © 2014

With high cost in rent, food, transportation in most cities these days, it can get depressing living in a big city like New York City where on a daily basis where most of us are watching our budget.  I am probably the worst Chinese when it comes to crunching numbers but what I did inherit is a tolerance for cheese (my god, I love cheese!) and being economically savvy.  I went on a mission to find what is available for a dollar and still eat well, without the usual greasy fried dumplings or 2 Bros Pizza – which I have never tried before and still hesitant to.  Here are 10 items under $1 or less in New York City metro area and no, it’s not an April Fools’ joke:

1. Sullivan Street Bakery
Pizza Bianca:  Sullivan Street Bakery is celebrating their 20th Anniversary and for a limited time only they are offering their signature pizza bianca for only $1. Until April 17, so get there fast.

2. Hong Kong Hot Cakes
Hong Kong Hot Cakes: These are similar to the French madeleines, Southern hot cakes or Belgium waffles. There used to be a popular red kiosk selling Hong Kong Hot Cakes on Mosco Street in Chinatown.  The lines would be as long as the lines for cronuts.  It closed in the early/ mid-90s and now are sold in street carts in various locations in Chinatown.  The way it is made is on a cast iron waffle-like pan with no more than few ingredients of egg, sugar and flour.  A treat for all ages. $1 for 15 pieces.

3. Fried Dumpling
Hot and Sour Soup: Located in one of my favorite streets in Chinatown on Mosco Street, Fried Dumpling is a hole in the wall shop and has a variety of items for $1 including fried dumplings of course.  Although, I recommend having their hot and sour soup instead.  It’s served piping hot and perfect for a frigid day or to fight a cold. There are generous amount of ingredients in the soup that includes tofu and mushrooms. Though avoid going on weekdays after 3pm as the place will get very crowded with school kids.

4.  Fong Inn Too
Herbal Tea: I have been going to Fong Inn Too since I was a child.  My mom would buy their turnip cakes or soy pudding dessert. Since then I have become a regular myself but for their $1 herbal tea.  It comes in black and unlike many herbal tea, it is not bitter and naturally sweeten.  It is also said to get rid of toxins or inflammations. Its purpose, although not proven should have similar affect as juice cleansing if not greater and much friendlier on the wallet.  If you’re lucky sometimes they bottle the chrysanthemum tea for $1 too.

5. Bakeri
Assortment of cookies $1 each (lavender shortbread, earl grey tea, peanut magic bar):  I’m obsessed with Bakeri in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and their $1 assortment of cookies have me return consistently.  My favorite is Bakeri’s lavender shortbread cookie.  I usually dislike lavender baked goods because of the perfume taste but this version is fresh and subtle that I could eat a jar of it.  Its a charming little cafe, bakery and I guarantee it will be hard  to resist not to spend more than a dollar.

6. Golden Manna Bakery
Egg Tart:  A variety of baked goods in Chinatown are still $1 or less but if you must choose wisely on how to spend the dollar, I recommend the egg tart from Golden Manna Bakery. The inner egg has the texture of a flan or a custard on a flaky miniature pie crust. It’s a favorite among many during dim sum or for dessert.

7. Bagel Bob’s
Assortment of bagels: New York City hands down has the best bagels and is an iconic food item.  It’s cheap and satisfying.  Bagel Bob’s in Greenwich Village has probably one of the best hand made boiled bagels and on Mondays from 4-7pm they sell their freshly baked bagels for only $.45 cents! It’s so cheap it almost feels wrong. There is usually a mini line but moves efficiently with friendly counter staff, armed and ready.

8. Kossar’s Bialys
Bialy (onion, garlic, or poppy seeds):  Kossar’s Bialys on Lower East Side is an old school bakery making their signature bialys for over 65 years. The recipe and craft is based on traditional methods past down through generations and truly defines the meaning of artisans. For $.90 cents each, there are 3 kinds of bialys, traditional- onion, garlic and poppy seeds.

9. Tea Eggs
Tea Eggs: I got the idea of writing $1 food when my local dry good store on the corner of Catherine and Division street introduced selling tea eggs, 3 for $1.  The aroma of the marinated tea, soy sauce and spices could be smelled from a distance and it’s a great replacement as a hand warmer in the winter months. Since then they have raised it to $1.25 but it’s worth the extra quarter.

10. 83 Elizabeth Street Chinese Sausage ( lap cheong)
Chinese Sausage (lap cheong):  Chinese sausage is cured meat and is similar to chartcuterie.  There are various grades of Chinese sausages but my favorite is their house cured one which you can get it loosely, 2 for $1.  It’s one of my favorite ingredients and a better alternative to Spam meat.  In fact during Hurricane Sandy, it was one of my survival gourmet food items.  All you will need  is a butane gas stove, clay pot, rice, water and Chinese Sausage and you have yourself a clay pot rice or an inexpensive version of paella.

{ Directory }
Sullivan Street Bakery (both locations)

Hong Kong Hot Cakes (various Chinatown locations)
a. Corner of Canal St and Mulberry St
b. Corner of Bowery St and Pell St

Fried Dumpling

Fong Inn Too

Bakeri

Golden Manna Bakery (various Chinatown locations)

Bagel Bob’s

Kossar’s Bialys

Tea Eggs (various Chinatown locations)
a. Corner of Catherine St. and Division St.
b. Corner of Rutger Slip and East Broadway
c. Corner of Hester St. and Elizabeth St.

Chinese Sausages or Lap Cheong
83 Elizabeth St.

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Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel

Austin, Texas

austin_2013photos taken by iLuvpotato © 2014

SXSW 2014 may be over but Austin, Texas is a great city to visit year round.  I made a visit to Austin, TX last year during labor day holiday weekend and stayed with my friend.  There was no better way to celebrate the last days of summer than swimming holes, the best barbecue and live music.  Here is my overdue post, a recap of my trip to the Lone Star state and one of the best capital city in the country.

08.31.2013 (Day 1)
I met my friend, a native Texan who now lives in Austin, Texas through working and both for our love of farmers market, so naturally our first stop was the farmers market for a light breakfast. It was considerably early or at least in my internal clock but many items was already sold out.  It made sense because of the climate in Austin, Texas by noon can reach up to and over 100F, so the locals really start their day early then off to swimming hole we go!  One of the most visited and popular swimming hole is Barton Springs Pool and it is a definite must.  As I’m used to swimming at my local recreational center in a body of bleach water, Barton Springs Pool is a whole new experience, with natural mineral water generated from underground springs with an average temperature of 70 degrees is an ideal treat from the heat.  Our lunch stop was at Lucy’s Fried Chicken.  We ordered a 1/2 dozen of Austin oysters, corn on the cob, corn bread muffin, collard greens and a basket of fried chicken to share and to fuel our appetite.  That evening we went to my friend’s parents lake house in New Braunfels, TX for an ‘Open Grill’ which was a term that was new to me and meant you bring your own meat for the barbecue like a pot luck in which I bought some sausages from a local German butcher shop.

09.1.2013 (Day 2)
This was my second time staying at my friend’s parents lake house.  They have visited me a number of times in New York City and in many ways have become my extended family. We made breakfast tacos from our leftovers from the open grill.  It was one of those Sunday meals to linger around with good company without the fuss. Later that afternoon, we drove through the roads passing ranches from New Braunfels to Wimberly, TX.  The views were spectacular and even quoted in guide books, “the Tuscany of Texas!”  My friends and I arrived to Jacob’s Well which was overcrowded, even one man came dashing out after taking a glimpse  and said in a fury with an European accent, “this is disgusting.”  Instead we went to Blue Hole but was also disappointingly full.  Finally we settled and picnic at a less populated swimming hole.  The biggest accomplishment was I successfully conquered my fear in attempting the tarzan swing which was one of the most liberating thing I have done in awhile and I recommend everyone to do the same if you never have.

We drove back from Wimberly to Austin and had dinner at a drive-thru at El Chilito.  I had three tacos a fish, a shrimp and a Puerco en Cascabel aka Cactus tacos with a plate of rice and beans along with horchata.  Later we went to a trendy bar, The White Horse.  It happened to be conjunto night which means ‘gather’ and the Mexicans really knows how to have a fiesta.  There was the usual bar scene with a good selection of beer, pool table, live music and dancing but rarely an old school of Mexicans and young hipsters under one roof in a bar.  The intermix of culture and generation was what really distinguished The White Horse from any bar I have ever been to and the friendly, social atmosphere really made the experience fun.

09.02.2013 (Day 3)
Despite the heat wave, the locals in Austin, TX remains very active with outdoor sports.  People were running, hiking, kayaking, bicycling, you name it.  Well, my friend and I tried paddle boarding in the heart of city.  In addition to being very active, it is also the city where Whole Foods supermarket chain stores was born in the 80s and remains to be one of the biggest Wholefoods in the country and that’s where we had an al fresco lunch follow by some shopping.  I was hoping to purchase a pair of cowgirl boots but a pair goes for about more than a roundtrip airfare. I’ll have to save up besides it will give me a reason to go back.  Instead we opted for some ice cream at Amy’s which are known for their ‘crushn’ method and I had the triple mexx with pecans.  To conclude my trip in Austin, TX, it had to be Texas barbecue at Salt Lick BBQ.  This was the real deal and Salt Lick BBQ takes it very seriously.  There was a bocce court, a wine cellar and a vineyard but the main attraction was of course the pit where a ton of meat was firing up.  We did a family style with an assortment of meats which the ribs and pickles really stood out. It was an epic way to end my visit to Austin, Texas and what the city reminded me was to let loose a little and enjoy the pleasures in traveling and in life.  Thank you to my friend and her family for being such gracious host.

I was lucky to have a friend to take me around on all the hot spots.  An alternative source to plan your next trip to Austin, Texas I discovered while visiting is this charming collection of city guide books: Wild Sam Field Guides.  Unlike any other guide books, I find these personal, authentic and visually creative.  A perfect addition to any traveler or designer’s collection. And for the outdoorsy person, Hill Country Outdoor Guide is a good source.

{ DIRECTORY }
eat.
Amy’s Ice Cream
El Chilito
Lucy’s Fried Chicken
Salt Lick BBQ

play.
Barton Springs Pool
Blue Hole
Jacob’s Well
The White Horse

shop.
Sustainable Food Center
Whole Foods Austin, TX
Uncommon Objects

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Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel, New York City Eats

2013 Year in Review

FOOD_2013photos taken with instagram by iLuvpotato © 2013

It’s hard to believe another year has gone by and as I get older, “staying in” has a whole new feeling.  Maybe because I traveled more frequent than any other years.  I started 2013 with an annual sister bonding West coast trip from San Francisco, Seattle to Vancouver.  Went to Washington D.C with my family for the spring cherry blossom and visited my friend in Austin, Texas to soak up the summer sun on labor day weekend.  And joined a spontaneous, intense 6 days bus tour with my parents from Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, to Utah, which redefine my perception on how I see America and especially Chinese bus tours.

Or maybe because I will officially be in my “late-twenties” one month from now and in the latest Kinfolk issue covering the subject on Age in an article I can resonate with is David Coggins piece “Acquired Tastes: Only Time Will Tell.”  I’ve noticed my taste palette has changed, where some dishes have really grew on me with an appreciation. When I was a child I used to push aside soups, avoided hot pot and Chinese rice porridge aka congee or ‘jok’ but now I can devour an entire bowl.  Currently, I am passing the oatmeal with black sesame seeds and goji berries my mom prepares me on weekends, well, – only time will tell.

Sometimes it is necessary to “staying in.”  To catch up on personal emails, a book for leisure, or using kitchen tools.  It helps to recharge and rejuvenate from the work week whether in the comfort of my pjs or with a group of friends lounging where time feels endless.  The end of the year is a time for reflection and as we wrap up 2013 what I am most appreciative and find most satisfying is that one good meal.  The one good meal is define by the service, the quality, the environment and most importantly the people you share the meal with.  Here are my top 12 for the year 2013:

El Poblano Farm /// One of the highlights this year was joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with El Poblano Farm. A small one acre farm with varieties of produces to Mexican herbs like papalo, all grown in Staten Island.  By joining a CSA, it introduced and motivated me to cook something I would never have bought. Some of my favorites were, squash blossoms, papalo, acorn squash, and chamomile.  The experience of being part of a CSA that was most rewarding was being part of a community, a visit to the farm and a shared home cooked meal with CSA leftovers.  It also helps the organizers Erica, Ken and farmer Gudelio are all so friendly and such loving people. Thank you for a great season.

Cafe Mogador /// I rarely revisit a place for brunch twice in a year as there are too many choices in New York City but Cafe Mogador is an exception.  Primarily because I am obsessed with their harissa. It’s a condiment that comes on the side upon requested and it gives an extra kick to brunch. I especially love the hustle and bustle environment of the restaurant and the Moroccan inspired decor.  No wonder it’s a favorite for the locals and tourist alike since 1983 in the East Village and it’s certainly has become one of mine.

Dominique Ansel Cronut /// New York City is notorious for long lines for always something.  Since May 2013 when Dominque Ansel Bakery launched the cronut, there has been outrageous lines from 5am. These would be sold out from the moment the doors open, limiting 2 cronuts per person. I would have patiently waited but I’m not a early morning person.  My cousin however, crazily waited and hand delivered to my door and surprised me with a cronut – she is the best.  The flavors changes each month and I had the coconut. We both agreed it was not the best thing we ever ate but I must praise Chef Dominique Ansel for creating this hybrid dessert between croissant and doughnut where both two iconic pastries from France and America meets.  The idea is truly a masterpiece.

Bar-b-cue /// If it’s one cuisine that defines America, it’s barbecue and it’s hard to narrow down to only one when I had so many good barbecue this year.  Mighty Quinn’s who started at outdoor markets opened their brick and mortar shop in the East Village earlier this year. They’re known for their briskets but when I think of barbecue I think of finger food. Ribs is the way to go and their less traditional but creative side dishes like the edamame & sweet peas salads.  I visited my friend on the last days of summer, a native Texan with New York City at heart who drove to the outskirt of Austin, Texas where I witnessed and tasted how it’s really done at Salt Lick BBQ.  It is an impressive estate, there is bocce, a vineyard, a wine tasting room but the main attraction was of course the pit where the meats are smoked.  One of the best barbecue experiences. My friend even tied the knot at a barbecue joint this summer at Dinosaur BBQ in Harlem, one of the married couples favorite spot and how barbecue and weddings is meant to be, pure fun.

Fried Chicken /// If barbecue is the cuisine that defines America, the one dish that defines America has to be the iconic fried chicken – sorry burgers and hot dogs.  Everyone who knows me by now, knows that I Love Fried Chicken and I’m not the only Asian or person who is fascinated with this fried bird.  Foodblogger Donny Tsang started a fried chicken project where he chronicles all the fried chicken he has eaten in New York City. For really beautiful fried chicken photos see his blog.  Chefs across New York City has taken this classic dish and elevated it with their interpretation including renowned chefs David Chang and April Bloomfield with their advanced reservation group fried chicken dining experience.  [Read my Momofuku Fried Chicken Dinner here]  There’s also Chef Robert Newton’s version on a boneless fried chicken at Seersuckers, although the biscuits with three way jams was what really stood out in the meal.  Then there is the Blue Ribbon empire where they finally opened a fast food style or 2013 update on KFC, Popeyes or Hill Country Chicken with Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken.  The wings are outstanding and spices on the fried chicken are flavorful with numerous honey options on the side to experiment with and where playing with food is encourage here.

Mission Chinese /// What’s great about New York City restaurants is, what is authentic when it is common to find a Mexican cooking a bibimbap and a Chinese cooking an enchilada, or who cares as long as it tastes good.  This goes for Mission Chinese, Chef Danny Bowien who is frequently spotted on Lower East Side or Chinatown with his striking long blond hair is Korean descent from Oklahoma and makes kick-ass interpretation on Chinese food including spicy sizzling cumin lamb platter and don’t be too surprise to find kale on the menu.  It’s ashamed the New York City Department of Health closed the location but a block away, visit Mission Cantina where he takes on Mexican food in which I have yet to try.

Lafeyette /// Formerly the Chinatown Brasserie, the location of what is currently Lafeyette has gone through multiple reincarnation and from the two experiences I had, I hope it stays in the years to come. Without having to travel to Paris, Lafeyette has one of New York City’s best croissants that consists the perfect amount of butter and flakey texture, let’s not forget the crumbs. I was lucky to get invited to one of the most lavish and delicious cookbook launch of The Way We Ate.  Where platters of cheeses, charcuteries, olives, mixed greens paraded out and was a preview to what Lafeyette had to offer in which I know I will be back in the nearest future.

Best of Gowanus: Four and Twenty Blackbird /// Lavender Lake /// Runner & Stone
My work office had temporarily relocated to Gowanus, Brooklyn from late April through October and boy did I eat well within the seven months. Gowanus, is sandwiched between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens and it is transforming with the new Wholefoods Market open.  A once industrialized neighborhood and the ever so infamous highly polluted Gowanus Canal is gaining momentum as a food destination.  While working in Gowanus, I got to explore the neighborhood and some of my favorites includes a humble pie shop, Four and Twenty Blackbird.  Where pie by the slice or a whole pie can be ordered and flavors changes according to season. Right on Carroll Street near the Carroll bridge is one of the best bars in Brooklyn, Lavender Lake.  Named after what used to be the color of the Gowanus Canal and formerly a horse carriage house, the structure of the bar has excellent indoor and outdoor seating, with a terrific bar snack menu and the must try roasted brussel sprouts with aioli and beer on tap, although they need to bring the Lefthand stout back on tap!  Last but not least, Runner & Stone.  I’ve always been a fan of their pastries and brioche that they sell at New Amsterdam Market but the baguette is exclusively available at the shop and is incredible.

Egg /// Breakfast is probably the most commonly skipped meal, as I am guilty in being one of those people. We’re always on a hurry in the morning with the extra 20/30 minutes sleep or simply have no appetite.  Egg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn however, if you by chance have a weekday off is a nice trade for the daily bagel or toast.  There’s a set of crayons and white paper as table covering where your inner child or artist is encouraged.  The menu also reflects the contemporary fine art, with dishes like the Egg Rothko, probably inspired by the artist Mark Rothko, in which the tomato resembles that iconic Rothko “red.”

Walrus and The Carpenter /// I’m still Seattle dreaming from my visit to Walrus and the Carpenter in February. Those fried oysters, holy sh** [Read more here]  The team behind Walrus and the Carpenter had open this past year with The Whale Wins which by no surprise has already received critically acclaimed reviews. Walrus and the Carpenter has my dream kitchen and everything about it is spot on, even if you do not like oysters you will likely be converted, I promise.

Buvette /// One of my favorite neighborhoods in New York City is the West Village.  It’s one of the parts in Manhattan that is not a grid and every street corner has it’s own character. Buvette is one of the reasons why I love the West Village even more so than ever.  Voted by Village Voice, “the best cassoulet” and I cannot agree more [Read here]  In my recent visit, I had the opportunity to meet the man behind the design for Buvette, Max Poglia. over croissants and coffee.  It’s rare to find a restaurant that put so much thought into the food that also complements the visual aesthetic.  If you are still figuring out New Year’s Eve plans, why not ring in with their annual Nuit Blanche.

Chez Panisse /// “What is the best meal you’ve had this year?”  Well, it’s hard to pick that one place after eating at so many but the most epic, would have to be at the legendary Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. [Read more here]  The concept of the menu changing daily according to what is available on the day of the market is so simple yet brilliant.  That is how our grandmothers and mothers shopped for their daily cooking and luckily with walking distance to fresh produce, butcher shops and fish market is how I was raised to cook too. My impression I left at Chez Panisse is the definition of success.  Alice Waters has created an institution where like Chef David Tanis and David Lebovitz have all started their career in food.  When you measure success, it is more than your very own but those surrounds you and Chez Panisse has achieved that, in fostering these talents in today’s food industry.

Thanks to the dreary, grey weather we are having in New York City today has allowed me to “staying in” in writing this.  The blinking blank cursor can sometimes be intimidating and distractions from the outside world can get me sidetracked.  So a little encouragement from the rain goddess really helps.  I started writing my annual recaps in 2010 and have continued since.  [Read them here: 2010. 2011. 2012.]  It has always been one of my favorite pieces, as I get to highlight and share these listings.  Rather than one long end of the year post, I will do my best effort to write shorter but more frequent posts in the new year. Until then, it’s good to go out, explore, get a breath of fresh air, travel, get inspired, meet new friends, develop deeper friendships and reunite with old ones over a shared meal.

happy new year and best wishes in 2014!

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New York City Eats

A Double Life

nyc_2013 photos taken with instagram by iLuvpotato © 2013

I had the privilege to talk to second grade students for career day at a public school about my profession earlier this week.  My friend, a teacher at the school who invited me thought I was a full time foodblooger and did not know that I actually have a full time job ( here ) Foodblogging is my side gig or more of a portfolio of my dining adventures.  It would be difficult to sustain on one post a year and to be self-employed.  I don’t think I have that kind of discipline yet and occasionally need a push and someone to motivate me, so thank you to everyone who has been following me and for reading my posts over the last several years!  Also to those who shared their appetites with me.

Since I’ve been back from the West Coast in March, I have been contemplating on moving out there for a different pace and scenery. Being New York City is my hometown where friends, family and work is all here, it’s difficult to make that move.  Also the dining scene has never tasted or looked better than it does now.  Here is what I am currently obsessed with:

M. Wells Dinette /// I regret never having the chance to eat at the original M. Wells in Long Island City, closed due to increasingly high rent in the lease renewal, a common New York City story these days which is a pity.  But Chef Hugue Dufour remain unstoppable and collaborated with PS1 MoMA with a comeback, M.Wells Dinette which is a perfect pairing.  The interior of M.Wells Dinette resembles a classroom as a homage to PS1 MoMA former existence as a public school and similarly it is reflected on the menu, innovative and whimsical. The best dish was the guanciale salad with layers of unexpected flavors, textures and colors.  It’s beyond an average salad but a thought out work of art.

Fort Defiance /// Red Hook was one of the many hard hit neighborhoods during Super Storm Sandy.  For my friend’s birthday, we decided to support a local business in the area.  Fort Defiance is a bit off the beaten path but an insider tip is on the weekend, take the free Ikea water taxi from Pier 11 in Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn and walk from there.  It will save you the metrocard fee and the weekend train suspension headache while absorbing in the New York City scape with a bit of escape.  The menu is heavily Southern influenced with careful sourcing of ingredients where farms are identified.  I had the Huevos Rancheros and it came with two sunny side eggs with a dollop of sour cream – oh my!  The chili base with pork jowl was hearty and decadent.  It was spot on for a March snow day.

Buvette /// One of my favorite dishes is a cassoulet, which is a Southern French traditional one pot dish with beans, meats, sausages and duck confit. Buvette located in a charming part of New York City tucked in the West Village operates practically 24 hours from 8am breakfast to noon lunch and from early supper to 2am midnight snack.  It’s how all restaurants, cafes and bars should open until the wee hours as those are the most magical in New York City.  What I admire is the decor and the aesthetic of the restaurant / cafe and how much a little restaurant can do as seen on their instagram.  The tartines and coffee is superb.

Peels /// Voted for the best bloody mary’s is what drew my friend and I here for celebratory reasons.  Not sure who awarded Peels for that title instead I vote Peels for the best shrimp and grits!  Bowery Street in the last decade has transformed drastically with hotels, museum, galleries and a future home to Anthropologie.  I certainly do not miss the tumbleweed, mobbed with drug addicts/ homeless days on the Bowery.  Peels is a nice addition to the Bowery’s restaurant scene and with a Southern themed menu with their signature biscuits.  The shrimp and grits melts in your mouth with the right seasoning and flavors. It’s also very photogenic.

The Hungarian Pastry Shop /// There are the iconic dining scenes when visiting a city or a neighborhood and for the Upper West Side, near Columbia University would have to be The Hungarian Pastry Shop.  It’s a bustling cafe with tourists, students from C.U, bikers and people like me who is catching up with a friend in the area who recommended the place.  I love the energy of this cafe where the waitstaff yells out your name. Though, up by the counter is where heaven is calling with assortment of pastries.  A no fuss hot brewed coffee with an apple strudel and flaky napoleon dusted with confectionery sugar… O-M-G!  I’m positive I will be back again.

Momofuku Noodle Bar Fried Chicken /// My guests from out of town asked, “so what do people do in New York City during Memorial day weekend?”  Well, we dine out!  Momofuku Noodle Bar the very first of Chef David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant empire started a group dining experience for 4-8 people for the fried chicken dinner.  With very odd hours available, I manage to make reservations for the Saturday of Memorial weekend.  People treated the restaurant as if an amusement park, waiting patiently in line for the restaurant to open at noon.  The fried chicken meal is created to feel very exclusive as we were the only ones who had a butcher paper covering our table.  It is two whole chickens made two ways, one Southern fried chicken and the second Korean fried chicken.  I have to admit I was a little disappointed by the fried chicken …yes, disappointed.  But what made Momofuku Noodle Bar Fried Chicken stand apart is the condiments from hoisin / plum sauce, jalapeno, gochujang and my favorite ginger green onions in oil…mmm.  Also a bowl of greenmarket bib lettuce, radishes, carrots, mints and an insulated plate of mooshu pancakes.  What I liked about it was it encouraged diner to play with the food and to be creative with multiple combination in eating the fried chicken and there is no wrong way.

“Why do you love your job?”  One of the students asked.  A very simple answer: food!  Everyone has to eat regardless of the economy and it’s an exciting time for those in the industry and as diners, especially in New York City.

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