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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Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel

Journey to the West

I recently attended a free talk at the McNally Jackson bookstore lead by Lucky Peach magazine on the topic food + travel writing, which is something I am interested in learning in crafting and potentially getting a few gigs (fingers crossed!)  eat, travel, write, repeat, that’s my dream job.  The subject on “authencity” was repeated multiple times but is that all there is to it?  What resonate with me from the talk was in reference to Columbus and how he discovered such and such food.  Which reminds me traveling is more than for leisure, it’s a continuing education.  It’s about discovering something you never had or experienced before or revisiting a place and rediscovering it.  One of my favorite cities is San Francisco, California.  My first time visiting San Francisco was in 2004 when I was 18 years old and I returned in 2007; six years later I am curious in how the food scene has changed in comparison to the East Coast.  I invited my sister as my eating companion on this nine day journey (2/23 – 3/3) starting in San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA and concluding with Vancouver, BC Canada.

sf_seattle_van_20132photos taken with instagram by iLuvpotato © 2013

2.23.2013 San Francisco, CA (Day 1):  I have been hearing a lot about the SF Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and luckily we arrived on the day there was an active farmers market which operates only on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. With a little bit less than an hour, closed by 2pm, we caught the last robust 45 minutes.  It’s a nice time of the year to visit SF farmer’s market as it is citrus season and it’s unusual to see an abundant variety of citrus at a farmer’s market because it is not locally grown on the East Coast.  More amazingly was walking through the market and absorbing the citrus fragrance and tasting the samples.  You would not believe the difference in how oranges taste in comparison to a seasonally and locally grown orange until eating a Californian grown orange in California, sounds crazy but now I know how oranges should taste like!  I wish I was able to stock up on cheeses, kale, mushrooms, romanescos, Meyer lemons and more but maybe another time.  Instead, we noshed on a few things: salmon lox, raclette, and mac ‘n cheese.  SF Ferry Plaza recently celebrated their 10th Anniversary restoration in the rebirth of a landmark, read more here.  The SF Ferry Plaza is a central and active port also with an interior retail space with shops including Blue Bottle Coffee and Cowgirl Creamery. In addition the farmers market is a formula to the success of the revitalization of Embarcadero neighborhood which creates a bustling marketplace for local and tourist who enjoys food to visit.  This is a dream in the making for New York City Fulton Fish Market site, a project I am proud to be currently involved with, visit here.

Later that afternoon, we encounter a couple of Chinese New Year floats parked not very far from the market and learned that there was going to be a Year of the Snake parade.  San Francisco has a long history of Chinese immigrants in the city and has one of the oldest Chinatown in North America and one of the largest Chinese community outside of China.  Even the current SF mayor is Chinese.  We stayed to watch the parade and was mesmerized by the quality in how well the parade is organized and the sense of community and respect in celebrating in more than a holiday but an heritage.  The lions, dragons, and firecrackers reminded me of my childhood before firecrackers were banned in New York City.  The SF Chinese community, not only do they know how to put on a party but reminded me in what it means to be Chinese and how these traditions needs to continue in the generations to come. 

2.24.2013 San Francisco, CA (Day 2): Since it is my third time visiting San Francisco, I wanted my experience to act as a local, so what better way than to jog the city.  My sister and I woke up early that morning and ran through Chinatown, Financial District, and Little Italy. We didn’t have a route planned and ran aimlessly with the goal of reaching the Golden Gate Bridge Park but how to get there, one tip is look out for other runners and so we did and reached Fort Mason and ran towards the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was a whole new perspective on the city and a good one.  At the end of our jog, we ran a total of about 6-9 miles and even discovered Fort Mason Sunday farmer’s market and was rewarded with a heavenly fresh squeezed orange juice and had brunch at La Boulange Bakery which I saw on our our path earlier.

Being an instagram user, I have seen a lot of photos of Ocean Beach.  With only a bus ride away, the Pacific Ocean is right before your eyes and feet!  Without timing it, my sister and I were able to catch the sunset which was spectacular.  It happened to be a full moon that day and we observed while the sun was setting, the moon exactly the opposite was rising.  I’m not an astrological geek but you don’t have to be one to appreciate it.

Because it was the 15th day of the lunar calendar month which my sister observes, meaning she has to be on a vegetarian diet for that particular day.  To acknowledge that I also went on vegetarian diet for the day.  For dinner we went to a Chinatown vegetarian restaurant, Enjoy.  My sister and I decked out and ordered a banquet for ourselves, my favorite was as simple as it sound was the pine nut and spinach fried rice.  It was chopped really fine and stir- fried in what we called in a good Chinese prepared dish pronounced in Cantonese – “wok hay” and that dish embody that taste.  All the dishes had a great combination of fresh vegetables, flavors and had a great visual presentation with vibrant colors from the assortment of vegetables.  It was not drenched in oil as we are familiar with here in New York City Chinese cuisine and the SF Chinese food proves how Chinese food can be a healthy alternative diet.  This would probably be one of my staples if I were to live in SF and for a omnivore, this is a huge compliment.  Without doubt, I enjoyed Enjoy very much.

2.25.2013 San Francisco, CA – Berkley, CA (Day 3) Being that San Francisco is one of my favorite cities that I have now visited multiple times, I have a favorite restaurant spot located in Chinatown, Yee’s Restaurant.   It’s one of those old timey neighborhood spot where every waiter knows their customers and vice versa for their morning, afternoon tea and low key family meals.  I go back each time for their big bowl of congee and my favorite is the complimentary side dish stir-fried noodles and all for under $4 per person.  You know it’s good if it still exist since 2004 and what I love about it, is the restaurant hasn’t change and the food taste the same.  After breakfast, we made our way to the SFMoMA which will be closed by June 2013 and will go under renovation until 2016.

We then made our way on foot to primarily the reason in why I wanted to revisit San Francisco, Tartine Bakery in the Mission District.  The Mission is what Brooklyn is to New York City in terms of the young entrepreneur food scene.  Most businesses are coined with Mission “blank.”  You name it: cheese, bicycle, even Chinese food – Danny Bowien Mission Chinese.  The neighborhood is located adjacent to a heavily Mexican populated neighborhood and on my way to Tartine Bakery, there were so many Mexican restaurants I would have love to try, the more reason to go back next time.  I couldn’t resist at Tartine Bakery and ordered a number of things a mushroom croque monsieur on sour dough bread, a beautiful latte prepared with Four Barrel Coffee. And for take away, I bought a croissant, scone and a bag of crisp citrus peeled cookies for the next day.  It’s a local leisure coffee and pastry spot but also globally visited by many people from all over.

A restaurant globally known and also visited is Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse.  My boss made a table reservation for me prior to the week I was visiting San Francisco and normally the popularity of Chez Panisse would have required months in advance. What makes Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse so special and for so many reasons,  it’s worthy of one entire post about it but in a nutshell if it’s even possible, Alice Waters redefined American cuisine in the 1980s and have influenced so many talents to start their own food careers.  This includes David Tanis former executive chef and now food writer of NYT, David Lebowitz former pastry chef and writer of several culinary books, and from what I learned while dining, Acme Bread which provides San Francisco including at Chez Panisse excellent breads.  Alice Waters is a chef, restaurant owner, a food activist and also runs the Edible Schoolyard which is a nonprofit organization committed to educating children in where food comes from.  She was currently involved with working with the state of California in passing the prop 37 in proper food labeling non-gmo.  She is one of the most influential women in the food world and I am all giddy and fortunate to be able to dine at Chez Panisse.  Located in Berkley, CA on Shuttuck Ave which is a beautiful and quaint town.  Chez Panisse immediately stood out with an unusual tree growing in front of the restaurant that no one else had on the block.  The structure and ambiance of the restaurant felt like a cabin.  The menu changes every day from what is in season to what is fresh and locally available at the farmer’s market on the day when conceptualizing the menu – genius!  Dining at Chez Panisse was like a well orchestrated symphony; it’s a masterpiece.  From the service to the taste of the food to the presentation was on key every second.  Every dish was thoughtful and executed so well and truly interacts with all the senses, especially sight, smell and taste.  Never have I ever had anything so aromatic as the pork shoulders both sense of taste and smell.  It’s a restaurant institute for everyone who is serious about food and I am a lucky gal.

Here’s what I ate:

February 25, 2013 Chez Panisse Menu
Starters:
Sonoma county squab and duck salad with rocket radishes and sherry vinagrette
Red beet soup with horseradish

Main:
Wood oven braised pork shoulder with fennel seed and rosemary with cannellini beans, kale and herb salsa
California sea bass with celery root purée artichokes and tapenade

Desserts:
Pink lady apple and sour cherry galette with meyer lemon gelato

Complimentary:
Flying disc ranch barhi dates and Churchill Brenneis Orchards kishu tangerines
a pot of Mint tisane tea

Unfortunately, an electrical fire broke out on March 8, shortly after a week and a half since dining there and damaged the facade of Chez Panisse, read more here.  Alice Waters announced it will be reopen for business by this summer and I am sure it will be better than ever.

sf_seattle_van_2013photos taken with instagram by iLuvpotato © 2013

2.26.2013 Seattle, WA (Day 4): Heading northwest to Seattle, Washington.  There is the iconic Pike Place Market, Space Needle Tower, the original Starbucks which I overheard from some guy who was leading a walking tour that it is not?  … jaw dropped, but whatever, I’m in java city!   Unfortunately, my sister was not feeling well and the cloudy weather in Seattle certainly did not help either but we manage to make the best of our visit there.  Geographically, the west of North America is closer to Asia, which Asians have a long history in settling in cities on the west coast, this includes Cambodian Chef Seng Kok Ung.  A refugee in 1980 who fleet from Cambodia to Seattle to achieve the American dream in making a living and sharing his culture through his passion in food and is the chef and owner of a humble restaurant, Phnom Penh Noodle House.  These are the reasons why I love food and travel; discovering these stories and flavors.  My sister ordered a tender duck noodle soup and I ordered a Battambang’s Favorite Noodle and an appetizer Hay Cung, which is an interesting version of a shrimp roll and delicious, click on the menu for a full salivating description.  One of my favorite cuisine is Vietnamese because it is light and always highlights the ingredients.  Because Cambodia is a neighboring country of Vietnam, the two cuisine is fairly similar and has influence from one another.  Phnom Penh Noodle House certainly knows how to use ingredients and it really defines the importance of the quality of fresh ingredients and it makes all the difference.  Also important to have a knowledge and palette combination and this is what Chef Seng Kok Ung does so well in all of his dishes.  I don’t think you can go wrong with anything you order from here and besides it’s modestly priced, I would try everything if I had the iron stomach to.  I’m not from Cambodia nor have I been to Cambodia but it has the quality of comfort food that warms your heart.  Who would’ve thought I would find such amazing Cambodian food in Seattle, WA?  Liking the city already…

2.27.2013 Seattle, WA (Day 5): It was our second and last day in Seattle, WA, too short indeed!  During the day, we visited a historic neighborhood in Seattle, Pioneer Square and visited the Smith Tower.  Afterward, we had an early lunch at Salumi which is all things pork and cured meats by salumist, Armandino Batali, Mario Batali’s father.  This narrow storefront with no more than 20 seats would have a line out the door and wrapped around the block during lunch.  All the cured meats are made in house including mozzarella.  For lunch, we had a porchetta and a salumi with mozzarella sandwich to share. The little storefront/ restaurant felt like we were invited to a house party with a mantle of figurines, you guessed it, pigs!  Family portraits hung on the wall and cookbooks stacked on the shelf.  It is nothing like the restaurant empire Mario Batali has built, quite the opposite and what I generally prefer, the ambiance and taste of grandma’s home cooking with a lot of love.

We spent the afternoon sipping coffee, watching the rain fall and listening to music from my high school days at a cafe.  Before our dinner spot, we took a stroll at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Then headed to the outskirt of Seattle, a town called Ballard which seemed far more interesting and wished we had the time to explore the neighborhood more.  We decided to conclude our visit in Seattle at the critically acclaimed  Walrus and the Carpenter.  This place is a hidden gem and literally very hidden; located in the back of what seemed to be an office building.  As quiet and deserted the neighborhood may have seemed on a Wednesday rainy night, entering Walrus and the Carpenter was like time traveling to a vibrant, sunny, warm, happy place; after all what an awesome restaurant name.  Without a table reservation, the wait was no longer than half hour and we were seated at the bar which is my preferred seating where I can observe the oyster shucking, cooking and mixology action.  My sister is not the biggest raw oyster fan and it was only in recent years she started eating raw fish.  On the other hand, I like raw oysters but I now officially love west coast oysters!  And Walrus and the Carpenter does a fine job from sourcing to shucking.  It even changed my sister’s perception on raw oysters on a half shell which is that good.  We ordered only a half dozen and selected: Barron Point, Blue Pool, Hama Hama, Sun Hollow and 2 Totten Virginica – cool names huh?  Each oysters is named after the inlet of the bay the oyster is harvested in and the Pacific Northwest is one of the best, learn more here.  With only a light squeeze of lemon juice, sip and slurp paired with a pint of local Georgetown Porter, was refreshing.  The best was probably the fried oysters.  The panko battered fried oysters with aioli sauce melts in your mouth and plenty to go around until satisfaction for only $8!  We celebrated our last day in Seattle also with a cabbage salad, cured salmon, salmon roe with asparagus and to top off our meal, a creamy panna cotta with a hint of lemon zest and berry.  Walrus and the Carpenter is a young, up and coming restaurant that has already received top reviews from New York Times to Bon Appetit.  I can see what the buzz is all about and it’s definitely worth traveling to Seattle for and solely for.

sf_seattle_van_20133photos taken with instagram by iLuvpotato © 2013

2.28.2013 Seattle, WA to Vancouver BC, Canada (Day 6):  O Canada!  I think taking the train is underrated and not enough travelers take advantage of this experience in seeing America.  It’s a beautiful scenic route on the Pacific Northwest on the Amtrak from Seattle, WA to Vancouver BC, Canada and rather inexpensive ($28 one way per person).  The train ride was 4 hours long.  It was a perfect way to gather thoughts.  We arrived to Vancouver around noon with rain. There was apparently a tropical storm while we were there called Pineapple Express which the meteorologist explained it was a warm air mass from Hawaii.  Not far from our hotel was a strip of shops and many were Japanese and Korean restaurants.  We had lunch at Ramen Jinya.  A bowl of ramen was spot on and perfect for the Vancouver kind of weather.  We took a stroll at Stanley Park but it was raining quite heavy and decided to spend most of the afternoon in the hotel which was nice to wind down and laid in bed and watch television.  I later caught a PBS series called The Mind of a Chef.  It is food series narrated by Anthony Bourdain in the footsteps of Chef David Chang from the Momofuku restaurant empire.  It’s a travel, eating and cooking show and both entertaining and educational.  That evening, we had Korean food at Red Chicken.    As you can tell, we’re taking the Asian cuisine route in Vancouver!

3.1.2013 Vancouver BC, Canada (Day 7):  The beauty of the cities in the west coast is the proximity to the great outdoors.  Within 30 minutes on a public transportation it literally transports you to the wilderness.  We visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge which is a national park surrounded by acres of evergreen from red cedar wood to douglas fir trees to ferns dating back to more than 1300 years old!  Incredible.  It’s an oasis for urbanites.  While we visited, there were downpours and rained especially hard because we were more north; after all it is a rain forest.  Despite the weather the rain, mist and fog created a beautiful also a mysterious visual landscape, it smelled absolutely wonderful, clean crisp oxygen exert from the trees and the rain drops like soothing music to my ears.  I can spend all day at the Capilano Suspension Bridge park and by far one of my favorite destination of the trip.

That evening, we had dinner plans at Dinesty Chinese with my sister’s friends from her study abroad in Beijing, China.  It has been 10 years ever since and two of them coincidentally resides in Vancouver.  Dinesty Chinese, a Shanghai restaurant and is known for their soup dumplings. It was a fairly new restaurant on the block and pretty high tech, taking orders on ipod, waiters communicating with each other on blue tooths.  I was most impressed with their menu design.  All the dishes had a photograph of the dish with English and Chinese translation and icons of the type of meat or vegetarian friendly.  The food reflects the authenticity for flavors, technique and creativity.  It was the first time I probably had such delicate thin soup dumpling skins and still maintain the broth innards which is a technique that is hard to achieve. The Chinese food in New York City has got to step it up!  I agree with Chef Hung Huynh in a recent interview with Serious Eats. We are spoiled with the $1 dumplings in New York City.

3.2.2013 Vancouver BC, Canada (Day 8): Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic and we were hoping to visit Whistler and ride the gondola to see the wintery scenery, except it was just our luck that our Greyhound bus had broke down on the middle of our journey or the bus driver was playing hookie. All for nothing waking up at 4am!  Nonetheless, we took it easy and had brunch at Two Chefs and a Table in a nice part of town known as, Gastown.  I was craving for fried chicken and luckily there was chicken and waffles on the menu.  The waffles was a home run, it reminded me of Hong Kong hot cakes and the pecans added a nice nutty and sweet touch.  The maple syrup was…well, we are in country of the maple leaf.  Although, I still prefer my Pies n’ Thighs fried chicken or deep south New Orleans fried chicken.  Later, we spent the afternoon on Granville Island for some public market reference.  Granville Island is a combination of artist studio space, artisans hand made crafts from yarn, soap to textiles and a public market food hall.  It was an urban redevelopment project and have done a good job in preserving the facade and feel of an industrial mill but made to be a destination for shoppers and visitors from all over.  On our way to the Oakwood Canadian Bistro for our last meal of the trip, a peak of sun came through the clouds.   The sky cleared in beautiful shades of colors and finally we were able to see Vancouver.  There was the landscape with the snow cap mountains on the peak, the tall evergreens follow by the Vancouver cityscape.  Where we were viewing this magnificent view was on a beach.  I cannot think of any other cities in the world where the landscape and the cityscape juxtapose and for this reason is probably what makes Vancouver such a unique city and so desirable to live in.

3.3.2013  Flight back to New York City (Day 9)  After a whirlwind west coast dining tour, there is always something magical about home cook meals and a simple bowl of white rice and being back in New York City.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed visiting the west coast and America & Canada!   I’ve always dreamed about moving out there and according to plans which have been derailed I should have moved to San Francisco at 25.  The trip assured me that it is possible, maybe… maybe, in six months or in a year from now, I will be writing in the pacific time zone?  A thought to be continued…

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Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel, New York City Eats

Deep Impact

2012 food
Photos taken with Instagram by iLuvPotato

I am writing this on 12.21.2012 and the world was suppose to end according to the Mayan calendar.  If the world did end and my last meal was at Runner and Stone grand opening party with a 6 course meal then I feel pretty content.  Although, I am glad the predictions of the world ending was false rather it is a beginning to a new era, which sounds very hopeful.  One of my favorite quotes comes from the holy XIV Dalai Lama:

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to have woken up I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it I am going to use all my energies to develop myself to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry, or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

This quote reminds me to be thankful each and everyday at the best and worst of times and as I reflect back on 2012 it was a memorable, an eventful and because this is a foodblog, it was one delicious year!   So here is my annual top 12 of year 2012 eating adventures:

Parkway Bakery and Tavern /// I started my 2012 with a sister bonding trip to New Orleans.  It’s been a city I have long awaited to visit and with Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf coast oil spill it continuously put the city in the spot light in a negative way which caused the delay to journey down until now.  New Orleans is a unique city with multi-cultural and flavors and is highlighted through the origin of food.  I was recommended to several restaurants but the one I am still salivating over is Parkway Bakery and Tavern.  Known for their Po’Boy sandwiches and probably the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. We ordered the catfish po-boy and the grilled smoked hot sausage pork link po-boy and an order of chili cheese fries along with two vintage bottled of Barq root beer.  The decor, ceiling fans and the Parkway Bakery waitstaff were wonderful with their Southern hospitality making this place worth the trip visiting New Orleans.  Read more here: Fat Tuesday Indeed.

The Breslin /// There are very few women chefs in the culinary industry restaurant world and within that circle, the chefs I admire includes: Chef Gabrielle Hamilton, Chef Anita Lo and the goddess Chef April Bloomfield. I first had a dish by April Bloomfield at Le Grand Fooding in 2010. It was a Blue cheese inspired dish, a Beef, Bleu D’ Auvergne and Suet Pie…mm.  For my birthday this year, I had a birthday brunch at Essex Street with my friends and a post birthday lunch at a restaurant of my choice with my boss.  Thanks RLV!  I had chosen The Breslin because I have been dying to try the lamb burger.  It is probably one of the most photographed, yelped, twittered dish at The Breslin but photos and what you read will not do its justice, most things are better when you try them.  A rustic and beautifully presented burger on a butcher block along with a side of fries or chips as the British calls it was as expected mouth watering and incredible!  A good way to celebrate another year older.

Phayul Tibetan /// I received an impromptu invitation to a Tibetan community artists dinner gathering from my old friend, a Tibetan artist GG. I had to journey out to Jackson Heights, Queens which little did I know it was more than a little India but also resides a great population of Tibetans and Nepalese which means the food must be pretty darn good, authentic and budget friendly.  Phayul Tibetan is a small Tibetan family owned restaurant, hidden on the second floor.  Greeted with “tashi dele”, hello in Tibetan.  We were seated in a long communal table and ordered multiple dishes to share in family style.  Signature dishes included laphing made with mung bean into jelly noodles with chili sauce and parsley and momos – Tibetan dumplings.  We concluded our meal with Tibetan sweet butter tea – po cha which is misleading because it is actually salty and has an acquired taste – similarly to my mother’s DIY teeth whitening recipe: baking soda, hot water and salt.  Sipping teas and exchanging stories in a hidden gem in New York on a drizzly rainy evening into the midnight was poetic.

Roberta’s /// Located in a remote part of Bushwick, Brooklyn an industrial factory neighborhood, Roberta’s is packed on a daily basis.  My friends and I, a group of 4 people waited for over 2 hours to be seated.  Roberta’s is known for their seasonal pizza menu.  They would have their usual margherita, tomato, basil and mozzarella but every time you go, there is something different, innovative and delicious to offer.  The vibe of the restaurant is great too.  Roberta’s is beyond just a restaurant , there is also a radio station streaming from the restaurant, known as Heritage Radio, a station with all things food related including Saxelby Cheesemongers Cutting the Curd segment all about cheeses.  There is also a garden where Roberta’s grows their own basils, tomatoes, and produce when weather appropriate for their pizza.  The thoughtfulness and creativity of Roberta’s is what makes it more than another New York City slice and worth making the pilgrimage here.

Pies ‘n Thighs /// I have a pretty high standard for my fried chicken and especially after visiting New Orleans which made my standards even higher.  I didn’t think I would come across fried chicken as good and as reasonably priced as New Orleans but Pies ‘n Thighs proved me wrong.  Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this place is hillbillyburg good.  I recommend for the first timer to try the fried chicken box, it’s a million times better than KFC and Popeyes, with 3 pieces, a side and a biscuit.  What’s great about Pies ‘n Thighs is their sides and it goes above and beyond the overly processed mashed potatoes, mac n cheese.  The sides are refreshing with a take on what is in season at farmer’s market such as kale, string beans, berries, and currently a lot of squashes on the menu.

Ocakbasi Dürüm Ve Kebap Salonu /// It has been 4 years since I have taken an international trip and this past May I had the opportunity to travel with my friend (MN) to Istanbul, Turkey and Athens, Greece and Greek Islands.  Read more here: Along the Mediterranean Sea in Twelve Days.  One place that really strike me was Ocakbasi Dürüm Ve Kebap Salonu, it was hidden in an alley way near the Spice Market in a market place with only few tables indoor and outdoor seating.  Dürüm is a word seen in many Turkish menus and on signage.  And it will very likely have grilled meats and flat breads.  At Ocakbasi Dürüm Ve Kebap Salonu, it was a feast platter made for a sultan for a modest price.  The platters of grilled meats were seasoned and cooked to perfection.  We were lucky to stumble upon this great restaurant.

Nefeli /// Without knowing it was a hiking and eating tour, a 9 day guided tour with REI, this trip was the odyssey of a lifetime.  Greek cuisine is far more than the diners in New York City and spinach pies, it is full of flavors, nutrition and variety from beans to meats.  One of my favorites includes an authentic gyro pronounced yeer- oh, was from a restaurant in the Greek Islands of Tinos, called Nefeli.  The meal in it’s entirety was mouth watering but one dish in particular made its impression on me that I have since been inspired to use more parchment paper in my cooking. The dish at Nefeli was rather a simple dish, a baked parchment chicken with aromatic rice but the method created a crispy texture on the chicken skin and the flavors absorbed making it a well- balanced dish.  And since my travels, I have cooked and experimented with fish, sausages, and vegetables with parchment paper along with my handy convection toaster – oven.  It is what traveling is all about, being inspired.

Totto Ramen /// After watching Batman’s Dark Knight in late August, I found ourselves in Totto Ramen area between Hell’s Kitchen and Columbus Circle.  Japanese ramen is one of my favorite comfort foods and Totto Ramen really hits the spot.  With very few seating and the popularity of the restaurant, there was a long wait but totto worth it!  I always take the bar seats if the opportunity is given and luckily we did. Of course the reason is to get the full experience and to observe the cooking action, it’s so much more entertaining than a hibachi grill.  Surely, New York City have experienced a growing popularity and demand for Japanese ramen joints.  But what makes Totto Ramen stands out from the pack is their broth since it is a chicken broth instead of the common pork broth most ramen places serves with and the handmade ramen noodles cooked al dente is perfect.  What I appreciate even more is it is actually cooked by Japanese!

Toby’s Estate Coffee /// Among what makes up a New York City block and within less than a mile radius are: banks, drugstores, restaurants and coffee shops.  These are the quintessential of a New Yorker every day needs and if it is the beauty and quality of Toby’s Estate Coffee in their Williamsburg shop, then I would be in pure heaven and New York City would be a better place.  It was in April when I discovered the new coffee shop and ever since I have been addicted.  The interior decoration resembles my dream loft apartment living room and the coffee roasted freshly at the shop literally in a Probat coffee roastery fills the room with the scent and sound of a genius at work.  The coffee is consistent each time, which I recommend their espresso beverages: a macchiato, americano or a latte.  Also while at it, take home a bag of coffee beans for your loved ones.

Má Pêche /// One of the perks in working in the food industry is being invited to forums revolved around the subjects on food.  In late August, my boss was a speaker for a forum, a food series created by Má Pêche in collaboration with NYPL, pretty cool combo.  The subject was on street food vendors, from pedlars to the current popularity of gourmet food trucks.  Inspired by the subject, the theme for the lunch was street food but done in Má Pêche style.  This is my second David Chang’s restaurant empire experience – adding to the list with Momofuku Ssams Bar.  It was an informal cafeteria style and coming back from a trip recently to the Middle East and the Greek Islands, Má Pêche’s take on lamb with tzatziki was a rather nice interpretation and hinting for a visit soon for a real meal.

Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle /// Disgracefully, I was introduced to Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle by none other than my white friend, thanks WG!  Located on East Broadway, Chinatown and owned by Fujianese – which is probably the reason why I always shy away from because I speak the lingo and its often very sketchy looking.  But this place is different, there is a secret weapon and that is a non-Fujianese noodle master who really makes hand pulled noodles.  The menu is no more than 20 items: bowls of noodle soups, dumplings, and glutinous rice balls (sweet and savory) all range from $2 – $5.50 per dish.  The handmade pulled noodle is impressive. The texture is quite the way I like it, fresh, al dente unlike the doughy hand pulled noodles and the combination of soup noodles range from lamb to vegetables.  My favorite is the fried dumplings and dry noodle with minced pork sauce, a meal under $10.

Le Diner en Blanc ///  It never crossed my mind that I would participate in a flash mob but of course if any it would be food related.  Le Diner en Blanc started originally in Paris, France as a garden party with guests dressed in white for a picnic and quickly grew into the size meant for iconic locations like the Eiffel Towel, the Louvre and Nortre Dame which is kept secret until the last minute.  New York City adapted this concept and now is a global celebration.  My sister and I participated in this year’s second annual Le Diner en Blanc and planning for it was stressful because less than a week prior I received an unexpected invitation and was ecstatic!  The event is BYO: table, chairs, food, table clothes, utensils, decorations, etc.  The rules was to dress elegantly in white and it had applied to white table with a certain dimension, white chairs, and plates.  Sounds crazy right?  We spent a whole weekend planning and scouting for the table and chairs but eventually came to a solution.  How it worked was we picked a group to meet and there was a team leader for each group and this was happening all over Manhattan who then takes us to our secret location and the only method according to the rules is to take the subway.  It was during rush hour where we mobbed the trains with everyone dressed in white and carrying bulky tables, chairs, and picnic baskets to a secret location and this year was at the Lincoln Center.  When everyone finally settled down with tables and decorations set up, everyone was in awe.  It was visually spectacular.  To witness and experience a gathering of 3,000 strangers from all over the city for a giant picnic at Lincoln Center is one of many things that makes New York City so special.

I must say I ate really well this past year and when I step onto the scale it reflects that. But as the saying goes, life is short and if it looks good, eat it!  Part of growing up is through exploring and doing things that is out of our comfort zone and experiencing changes and events.  This past year, our family welcomed a new addition to the Yeung family, Allyson Nora Yeung, I jet set to the South and across the sea and have also experienced and witnessed how fragile humanity can be when Hurricane Sandy hitted and attending to two funerals.  But I also witnessed how resilient humanity can be, when tragedy hits people come together to support each other and give each other condolences that creates a ripple effect.  That is what food does, it is beyond the trend, the popularity and perfecting the craft but the impact food has to bring people together because frankly, everyone needs to eat whether in good or bad times.   Thank you to everyone who shared a meal with me in 2012.  Happy holidays and to a healthy happy new year! Cheers!

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Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel

Along the Meditteranean Sea in Twelve Days

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A long overdue travel post but better than never.  I do regret that I never wrote a recap on my trip to Italy and France in 2008.  Well, since then I haven’t traveled out of the country until this year during late May,  I was fortunate to share my travel memories with my friend again, Michelle Ng whom I have known since Kindergarten.   Four years later we realized how much of a better traveler we have become but also how much we have yet to explore.  This time we visited Greece and Turkey.

So why Greece and Turkey?  Sure, Greece economy is not doing very well these days and the media portrays the country in a lime light with riots and petitions.  But to be honest during New York City Occupy Wall Street was much more worst and disruptive than the current Greece economy slump.  It’s actually a great moment to travel to Greece because so many foreigners are avoiding to visit it thus it is less crowded even during high travel season which makes it a perfect getaway.   We were part of a tour REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated) which may have contributed to my opinions on the country.  It was a 9 days (5/26 – 6/3) Greek Island hiking tour and we visited the city Athens followed by the Greek Islands in respective order: Tinos, Naxos and Santorini.  Of the three Islands Naxos was my favorite, after all they are agriculturally famous for their Naxos potatoes!  And to my fancy, little did I know it was a hiking and eating tour, which are two of my absolute favorite things.  Normally, I would dread traveling with tours as they are on a time schedule but it helped that our tour guide Dimitri and Christiana who are Greek natives were young, energetic, and are Greek food connoisseurs.  Also given I regularly organize events for a career, it was nice for a change that someone did the planning and where I sit back, relaxed and went with the flow.

Prior to our visit to Greece Michelle and I traveled on our own for 3 days (5/22 – 5/25) in Turkey, Istanbul which has been on both of our minds for quite sometime.  Istanbul is a city like no where else in the world.  With the iconic mosque in art history slides, textiles that paints the city and with peddler who are the faces and sounds of the city; it is a modern city in an ancient world.  It’s a magical city with a cross cultural influence from Asia, Middle East and Europe and an unworldly experience I will never forget.  There is so much culture in Istanbul from the food, arts, architecture, language (literally the street peddlers are multilingual), to their religion.  Istanbul, Turkey is a heavily Islamic populated country where people are devoted and still pray five times a day.  It was so amazing to observe how a religion shapes the way people live and how respectful people are in their belief.  It was remarkable to experience and to participate during a prayer.  Of all cuisines, Middle Eastern is probably one of my top favorite cuisines based on New York City, Mamoun’s Falafel and Halal street meat only.  To my surprise, Turkey is a heavily meat consumed country, with various grilled meats, kebabs, kofte, dönor and endless Turkish delight and baklava you can imagine.  Here is some of my favorites from what I ate along the Mediterranean Sea:

5.22.2012 (Day 1, Istanbul, Turkey): We arrived at the Atatürk airport late afternoon and at the customs we were greeted by a wave of people in head wraps covered with only the eyes peaking through and signs in Arabic.  We have arrived in a Middle Eastern country.  We took the metro to our hostel and being two young Chinese girls we had stood out regardless of looking lost, although admittedly we were lost.  We were assisted with directions and approached by at least seven Turkish men before finding our hostel and some who appeared untrustworthy and being from New York City we are custom to trust no one.  Finally, when we found Cheers Hostel, located in an alley way it was a sign of relief. Let the adventures begin!  We were still in US time zone and without much of an appetite, we settled for some Turkish tea at a tea house tucked in a cemetery where I had my first sage tea and have since been obsessed with the herb. On our way back to our hostel we nibbled on baklavas.

5.23.2012 (Day 2, Istanbul, Turkey): Our hostel was only walking distance from Aya Sophia and we made sure to arrive early to beat the tourist crowds and without a doubt there was a parade of tourist and surprisingly a lot of Asian groups from cruise tours that docked for an Istanbul excursion. Seeing Aya Sophia in person which is one of the most famous mosque was breathtaking.  It use to operate as a place for prayer but now operates as a museum.  The structure is nothing like anything I have seen with the rocket like towers known as minarets and used to call for prayer. The interior is why the Aya Sophia is so iconic and it is absolutely beautiful.  The ambiance has a a feeling like the Grand Central Terminal with its own uniqueness.  With chandeliers, mosaics, and Farsi scripture, Aya Sophia is a true work of art.  From the Aya Sophia to the underground palace, Basilica Cistern where hidden are two mysterious medusa head sculptures. We then walked to one of our highly anticipated places to visit, the Grand Bazaar.  In the Grand Bazaar it consists an overwhelming 700 and more shops, restaurants, and vendors selling anything and everything you can imagine from leather, rugs, purses to pepper grinders.  With some vendors more aggressive than others speaking in multilingual and a guessing game of my friend and I, ethnicity: Japanese! Korean! Chinese! Ni hao!  Ah! The shopping built up an appetite, at a corner, a man was  shaving off meat and wrapped in a pita and for a dönor kebab at Cardak Büfe.  What I enjoyed most about the Grand Bazaar was not quite the shopping but observing how important Turkish tea is to their culture where there is the the usual afternoon tea delivered to shopkeepers.  Later we walked to the Spice Market where I found the shopping experience much more relaxed and enjoyable and best of all sampling!  This was where I stocked up on Turkish Delight at Malatya Pazari which their customer service is above and beyond.  I bought a couple of boxes of Turkish Delight as souvenir and told the sales associate that I will be traveling for a week before heading home and he vacuum sealed it for freshness and waterproof. We visited the New Mosque, then walked across the Galata Bridge and made our way to the Galata Tower for a bird eye’s view of Istanbul.  We concluded our first full day in Istanbul with dinner from a street cart.  We were in the part of Eminonü and read about the least expensive way to eat seafood was from a street cart for a grilled fish sandwich (similar to a Vietnamese banh mi)  was like observing a masterchef perform on the streets without the fuss. Watching the chef skillfully deboning the fish and seasoning it with spices was incredible.  The 5 Turkish lira sandwich (US$2.50) was a steal and a deal and we finished off with Turkish tea and coffee at Karkoy Gulluoglu.

5.24.2012 (Day 3 Istanbul, Turkey) Across from Aya Sophia was another mosque known as the Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Mosque and is still a place to practice their religion and for prayers. The courtyards and the minarets is what makes Blue Mosque distinctively different from any other mosque.  The gold Farsi scriptures on a beautiful teal colored is eye popping. We then visited Topkapi Palace which was once lived by the royals during the Ottoman Empire.  For the afternoon we decided to pamper our feet and took a cruise ride on the Bosphorus River.  We ended the day back near the Spice Market and stumbled upon what became the highlight of our trip a kebap house: Ocakbasi Dürüm Ve Kebap Salonu (no website but here is another blog).  Without a menu we were dictated what options we had and we just decided to go for everything.  We were seated in mini stool chairs with a big round tin like table and we watched the chef grilled the meats.  We were presented with a platter made for a Sultan with a variety of meats: chicken wings, lamb kofte, beef skewers, and pork skewers on fragrant rice and some onions, peppers, tomatoes and on the side flatbread.  It was grilled to near perfection and seasoned well.  It was by far one of the best meals we had in Istanbul, Turkey and to this day I am still salivating.

5.25.2012 (Day 4, Istanbul, Turkey)  It was our last day already in Istanbul, Turkey before our 9 day hiking trip in Greece.  So to conclude our stay in Istanbul, Turkey we made a visit to Taksim Square for some last minute shopping and had lunch at Sultanahmet Koftesi which is a famous luncheonette kind of dining with celebrities signed autograph photos on the wall that reminded me a New York City old school diner. The menu was very limited and we ordered their signature kofte which are meatballs, a piyaz which is a bean salad and a corba for lentil soup.  So to prepare ourselves for the hike ahead, we pampered ourselves with a traditional Turkish bath/ spa at Cemberlitas Hamami where we were given a head to toe bath and oil massage.  It was my first experience in getting a massage but the best part was being inside of the ancient bath house where the architecture is a must see on its own.  After being fully cleansed we ended our trip in Istanbul with a sacred dance performance at the Hodja Pasha Arts Center: Whirling Dervish which was exactly what it appears to be a lot of spinning but it was very tranquil and peaceful.

5.26.2012 (Day 1: Istanbul to Athens) After a whirlwind trip in Istanbul, we took an early flight to Athens.  We arrived to the hotel and crashed. We met up with our REI group in the early evening and surrounding us were the people we will be traveling together for the next 9 days. We had dinner near the Acropolis called God’s restaurant and we were offered family style platters of authentic Greek dishes one after another and it was a much needed transition as we ate vegetables for the first time since the trip!

5.27. – 5.28. 2012 (Day 2 & 3, Tinos: Τήνος) The next morning we started our morning tour of the Athens Olympic stadium in 2004 and a visit to the Acropolis which the history and the ruins was miraculous.  Shortly after we made our way to the Rafina Port for lunch at the Galini Seafood restaurant before boarding on a high speed boat to our first Greek Island: Tinos.  The Rafina Port was filled with several seafood shops selling fresh, seasonal catch and amongst the shops there were of course seafood restaurants which was delicious and fresh.  But one of the best meals of the whole trip might possibly be in Tinos at Nefeli, located near the ocean breeze. The restaurant can easily be a home-run if the establishment was in New York City.  One of my favorite dishes was effortless but complex with flavors was a rice and chicken baked in parchment paper. The rice was aromatic with herbs and the baked chicken had a nice rotissarie crispy chicken skin, and fell right off the bone.  It was cook to perfection.  On day 3, we finally started our hike and the view was picturesque with dovecotes, white washed houses and a four legged friend who joined us on our trail from our restaurant lunch pit stop.   That evening, we ate at an elegant restaurant Portioli famous for their shellfish pasta.

5.29 -5.30.2012 (Day 4 & 5, Naxos: Νάξος) Our second island was Naxos and it was my favorite of the three islands. It was one of the most fertile and agriculturally abundant also known for their Naxos potatoes. Our hotel was only a walk away from the beach which was awesome.  Hiking, eating, and swimming…life does not get any better.  As soon as we arrived in Naxos, we immediately started hiking.  The hike was unlike anything in the Northeast of America with the vast mountain landscape and the stillness of nature and the percussion of goats. These trails led us to a small village where local artisans handcraft distillery, goat cheese and weaving was a nice break from a hike.  Follow by our first dinner in Naxos at a kebab garden seating restaurant, Yanni’s. We ended the day with a nice sunset and an ocean breeze at the beach by our hotel.  The next day we had our epic hike to Mt. Zeus and were rewarded with an in house authentic Greek picnic prepared by our guides Dimitri and Christiana.  That evening we went to town of Naxos for dinner but the highlight was probably the ice cream!

5.31 – 6.2.2012 (Day 6, 7, 8 Santorini/ Thira: Σαντορίνη/ Θήρα ) Before we depart Naxos, that morning Michelle and I took a last stroll at the beach and absorbed the beautiful deep blue ocean view and met a couple of local fishermen preparing their fish net for the day’s catch.  Off to the third and last island and probably the most touristy of all, Santorini.  It is the most popular islands of all for it’s spectacular sunset and at every corner and for every photo taken was like a computer desktop wallpaper artwork or a postcard. Hiking through Santorini was probably the oddest because everyone looked so fabulous with white colored clothes, and rather than a conventional hike it was more like property shopping…if only.  We stopped by at an untitled restaurant for lunch where we had gyros or pronounced as yeeros.  One thing I love most is fast / street food with fresh ingredients and the gyros was spot on.  The flatbread was freshly baked and the meat (pork or chicken option) was cooked to perfection.  The gyro is worth traveling to Greece for.  We ended our second day at Santorini with a sunset view dinner at Ellis.  The next day we did an optional hike and was accompanied with our guide’s friend who owned a restaurant in Santorini, Doris.  She owned a bistro and more than a restaurateur, she was also a forager. Hiking through, she picked wild herbs: thymes, rosemary, sage for her own pleasure.  Also she pointed out Santorini was rich in natural pumice stones which I saved a couple.  We ended our hike and our trip at the Black Beach before taking a late afternoon flight to Athens.

6.3.2012 (Last Day, Athens)  Everyone we met from the states were heading back home and Michelle and I had one extra day to explore the city. We visited the Acropolis Museum which opened in 2009 with an extensive collection from the Acropolis and to learn the history.  A must visit while in Greece. We ended our adventure back were we began nine days earlier at the peak of the Acropolis over looking the city of Athens with all the memories I had experienced within the past twelves days sinking in.  Pinch me because it still feels surreal to this day.

Thank you to REI for this valuable experience and to our amazing guides Dimitri and Christiana.  And to my awesome friend Michelle who accompany me as a travel buddy, where to next?  The list is endless.

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Beyond 5 Boroughs Travel

Fat Tuesday, Indeed.

 

at Cafe Du Monde, photo taken by my sister

What a better start to the year 2012 than a trip to a city on my list of places to visit for awhile, New Orleans!  Last month my sister and I flew to New Orleans for a four day food trip (1/5 -1/8) and it is the ultimate foodie city.  The cuisine in New Orleans is distinctively unique with a lot of bold flavors and bizarre food; care for some alligator jerky or posums? As much as I am an adventurous eater, I am not that daring.  I like proteins I am familiar with and craft well with a lot of soul and in New Orleans you’re in luck.  New Orleans cuisines are known as Cajun or Creole and  in a nutshell is the influence from the once colonized of the French, Portuguese, Spaniard and the African slave trade all into one melting pot.   Thanks to my friend/ co-worker Matt gave an exceptional guide and recommendation of where and what to eat while visiting and below are my favorites:

January 5, 2012 (Day 1 French Quarter)
We got off the plane and we wasted no time and headed to the French Quarter, our first lunch spot: Coop’s Place.  New Orleans is saturated with bar one after another especially on Bourbon Street.  Unlike any other bar I’ve ever been to, the food is amazing at Coop’s Place and I mean real food like entrees, not just you’re average starters like nachos and fries.  It’s a bar that takes their food as  equally serious and love as their alcohol menu.  I wanted to try everything but knowing I was going to be in New Orleans for a few days I had calmed myself and ordered, you guessed it Fried Chicken!  It came with slaw and jambalaya and  3 pieces of fried chicken for only  $10.95!  An amazing deal and amazingly good!  The fried chicken was lightly battered and seasoned so well, without needing any excess condiments like ketchup, hot sauce or honey, it was by far one of the best fried chickens I’ve ever had.

Later that afternoon, after admiring some Gallier architecture which Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt apparently owns an estate in the French Quarter, we had our afternoon coffee and beignet at the famous Cafe Du Monde. It may appear to be a touristy spot but it is a confectionery- java heaven.  Cafe Du Monde is open 24 hours and it is brilliant for a breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between kind of pick me up.  The menu is rather simple with less than essentially two things on the menu: cafe au lait and beignets, the pairing is a match made in heaven.  Unlike the orange tin can of ground coffee of Cafe Du Monde you can purchase at a supermarket, the coffee and cafe au lait is exceptionally good and without the need to add any sugar, the sugar powder dusted on the beignets sweetens the coffee.

January 6, 2012 (Day 2 Epiphany ):

Epiphany is the start to carnival season leading to Mardi Gras also known as Fat Tuesday (February 22).  The one thing you eat is the King Cake, which is a tri- colored (purple, yellow and green) cinnamon like cake.  In a king cake there is usually a plastic doll hidden in the cake and whoever finds it is a symbol for luck.  I had a slice of king cake but no doll, nonetheless, I felt pretty lucky.  We started the day at 9am and joined a local kayak tour with Kayak-iti-yat and did a 4 hour trip on the historic Bayou St. John.  Our tour guide Sonny was a friendly fellow and gave us an incredible tour with historic facts, on the local hot spots and the appreciation of wildlife. Highly recommended for anyone who visits New Orleans and wants to escape the touristy areas.  We made our way to Parkway Bakery and Tavern after our 4 hours kayak trip which was around the corner and was a well- deserved lunch of po boys – oh boy! and chili cheese fries – hell yes! This place is amazing, the food and the decor.  There is indoor and outdoor seating and for a fine day in the mid-60s  in January, who would not opt for the outdoor seating?  Parkway Bakery and Tavern was one of the many who were devastated during the Hurricane Katrina.  There were photos of the restaurant submerged into water but I am glad they have recovered and are doing well, even President Obama made a visit shortly after his inauguration.  We ordered the catfish po-boy and the grilled smoked hot sausage pork link po-boy and an order of chili cheese fries along with two vintage bottled of Barq root beer.  I am drooling and getting very giddy as I am writing and recollecting memories of Parkway Bakery.  If this place existed in New York City and specifically in Brooklyn, it would be packed with hipsters but gladly it was not,  just locals, food fiends, and families.  The ceiling fan, the vintage wall bottle opener, to the paper wrapped sandwiches and paper boat fries, what makes this place so cool is of course the food but also the great southern hospitality and the authenticity and you cannot get this anywhere else other than making a visit here.

January 7, 2012 (Day 3 The Saints Come Marching In )

My co-worker had recommended to me to visit the Vietnamese farmer’s market because I would like it since I work for one!  This time around I really wanted to go to Asia and Vietnam was on top of my list but since my sister and I were both expecting the arrival of our second niece we couldn’t travel out of the country with all due respect to our brother..ugh but I’m glad we literally came back in time after our trip to New Orleans and welcomed, Alyson Nora Yeung to the family (January 9, 2012 – more January babies in the Yeung Family – yipee!).

Oddly, there is a large population of Vietnamese in New Orleans since the 1970s as refugees and what they brought with them from Vietnam, of course is their cuisine and this community farmers market. There were live poultry, fresh caught fish, and scents of lemon grass.  Around the corner, we stopped by for a bowl of Pho for breakfast and got a to- go Vietnamese po boy/ bånh mi.  Later in the afternoon, we drove into the inner city for a swamp tour in the honey islands and every now and again I see this poster in New York City of the history channel, Swamp People I think of the lady who has a peacock, two dozens of chickens, a dog and a cat as an animal sanctuary, this makes a lot of sense in why it’s a reality tv show.  The drive to and back from the swamp was just absolutely magnificent.  The drive was across a bridge which the view was just clouds and a body of water, no billboards, no flashy lights, no industrial buildings, it was the purest and scenic view we both intake while driving, the beauty of road trip.

That evening was apparently a huge football game, the home team, the Saints were playing at the Superdome in their home turf..who knew!  We went to the French Quarters for dinner and it was paraded with Saints fans, everywhere you turned people had Saints jerseys on and every restaurant/ bar you went to had the football channel on.  For someone who never follows sports nor interested other than the Olympic games this was extremely bizarre to us.  Although, I’m glad we chose to have dinner at a cafeteria style restaurant, Mother’s, which was the perfect kind of restaurant to go to without any comprehension of the game.  Although, the people you are surrounded by and the cheerful spirit from the fans, it’s hard not to get into the game as it is rather contagious.  For every touch down the Saints made, a staff at Mother’s would rang the bell.  They’re the different kind of fans and I must say very sober which I find very ironic considering all the bars and the liberty to drink on the streets.  I was getting to understand football a little more but I was fixated more on the food which we ordered a feast!  It was our last night before we headed back to the frigid cold and we celebrated with a table full with softshell crabs, crawfish etouffee, famous baked ham, collard greens, grits, and lemonade and bread pudding!  The food was a little salty for my taste, sorry for the criticism – but the vibe of the restaurant on a game night is definitely a winner.

January 8, 2012 (last day)

One of my favorite things to do when I’m on vacation is watching television in bed and it’s usually at a hotel since we don’t have that kind of luxury back home, so we stayed in a little later.  We went back to town, which the football madness continues with their college teams Louisiana State University vs. Alabama.  By this time we knew it was time to head back to reality but before heading home, the last item I needed to have was a muffaletta which is an Italian inspired New Orleans kind of wheeled sandwich.  The place my friend had recommended, Central Grocery was closed on Sunday which was lame and so disappointing, so we went next door to a place called Frank’s for their muffaletta which probably is not as good as Central Grocery but will do for this first visit.

Every travel is a growing experience and surely my waist but I felt like I really connected with my heritage as an Asian American, and nothing is more American than football.  I had the privilege to take this trip with my sister and ate our way through this wonderful city.   The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the impact of the Gulf Coast oil spilled have definitely scorned the city but similarly to New York City, the strength of the communities and the uniqueness is what makes New Orleans so special and I highly encourage everyone to visit for a taste of the warm Southern hospitality.

Until my next chapter in travels,  stay tuned for my whereabouts in my home New York City.   Happy Mardi Gras!

Coop’s Place /// 1109 Decatur Street  New Orleans, LA 70116

Cafe Du Monde /// 800 Decatur Street New Orleans, LA 70116

Parkway Bakery Tavern /// 538 Hagan St New Orleans, LA 70119

Mother’s /// 401 Poydras New Orleans, LA 70130

Frank’s ///  933 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA

Central Grocery /// 923 Decatur St New Orleans, LA 70116

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New York City Eats

In Pursuit of Eating

2011 can be summarized as the year of the oysters.  I even learned to shuck a few, all under the influence from work in planning for an oyster saloon and also the trend in seeing bivalves on the menu and oyster bars opening across New York City.  Sure, they’re great finger food but  oysters was once a New York City delicacy.  It dates back to the 1800s when New York City was once an oyster bed, hence the street names such as Pearl Street and was once commonly eaten by everyone at a very affordable cost and for these reasons it is great oysters are back.  Food connects us to our history and more importantly it connects us with people.  As we come to a close for 2011, below is my annual recap of my favorite finds this year and with the special people I shared a meal with:

Prune

Prune /// Brunch is one of my most favorite meals because I don’t do brunch enough in New York City other than when I go on a road trip so I find it always a treat.  It’s my preferred meal to cook at home during the week when I have the time and besides the wait for brunch in New York City is too damn long.  Rarely, do I ever like to wait in a line for anything but Prune is definitely worth the wait, promise.  For my sister’s 31st birthday (wow!) I treated her and pampered myself and indulged in a 3 hour meal (this includes waiting time).  The place is small which is another reason for the wait.  Renowned chef Gabrielle Hamilton created a creative brunch menu with many methods to cook an egg and is very well done and exceptionally delicious,  all for a moderately budget friendly cost.  It’s not your only typical scramble or sunny side but on the Prune brunch menu, a fried egg in Monte Cristo and coddled egg baked in a ramekin with savory chickenI’m looking forward to my return soon to try the dutch style pancakes.  Perfect to fuel up for a Saturday afternoon walk from the East Village to Central Park to explore the New York City’s Autumn foliage.

Diner

Diner ///  Every well known poet, writer, artist has a spot where inspirations are drawn from, for my boss it might probably be Diner. I went to Diner twice this year and it has become one of my most favorite New American restaurants in New York City.  The first time with my friend Anneliese for dinner where I ordered a grass-fed beef burger and the second time lunch with my boss, Robert.  I’ve only learned about Diner through Robert since he had given the restaurant rave reviews as a pioneer in the food industry and I cannot agree more.  To order at Diner, you must listen very carefully as the waiters recites to you and as soon as I heard fried chicken sandwich, I had to have that.  I have a serious achilles heel for fried chicken and partially it runs in our family genes as I recalled my grandfather would always snuck in the back kitchen with fried chicken wings which my grandmother would prevent him in having due to health concerns.  The sandwich came with a pickled farm fresh egg, ramp mayo, lettuce, boneless fried chicken on a brioche roll and fries.  To finish off the meal, a seasonal bartlett pear tart.  A delightful, local, and amazing lunch was where Robert had drawn a sketch of the last market of the year on the table cloths of Diner.   Later that afternoon, we had a personalized tour at Mast Brothers Chocolate and that evening I attended a free book signing and talk by Michael Pollan at Barnes & Nobles !  It was the ultimate foodventure.

Brooklyn Bowl /// This year all my 86′ year born friends turned 25 and a making through a quarter of a life is rough which calls for a celebration!  Being born in January, I inaugurated the year of birthday celebration at Brooklyn Bowl since I love fried chicken and bowling, there are no place other than at Brooklyn Bowl that has both.  This fall I joined a bowling league that met once a week through NYC Social Sports Club which is not meant to be competitive at all but a great place to meet new people and throw a ball at pins at the end of a stressful work day which I have revisit Brooklyn Bowl multiple times since my birthday.

The Green CupParker Pie ///  In late March this year, my colleagues and I made a trip to Vermont and had one of the most memorable and well-fed supply of cheese, beer, and maple syrups.  It was important to make these behind the scenes food production tours to witness small food start ups are creating and are in the movement to change our food systems.  During our visit there we were recommended by our local friends in Vermont  to both restaurants: Parker Pie and The Green Cup.   I was amazed to find amazingly delicious pizza in Vermont.  Parker Pie had a wide selection of creative and appropriate topping like local maple syrup and local cheeses from Vermont dairy farms.  The weekend trip had concluded with a farewell brunch at The Green Cup which similarly to Prune is heavily focused on egg dishes.  I was sad to learn, The Green Cup was devastated by Hurricane Irene in August and are currently seeking for donation of help to get its feet back on.  To help please visit: http://www.greencupvt.com/

Mermaid Oyster Bar

Mermaid Oyster Bar /// Oysters are suppose to  be eaten in the months with “R” but heck with that, at Mermaid Oyster Bar it’s happy hour & half every day 7 days a week from 5:30pm -7pm and if you say “yelp” you get a free appetizer, though the limited time special offer is now over.  Regardless, this place is a lot of fun with a group of friends.  My friend Sandra had recommended and it was a nice Friday night dine out spotI especially like the touch, ending the meal with a surprise chocolate pudding and a conversation piece, fortune miracle fish.

Radegast Hall & Biergarten /// Besides oysters, this was the year in which I have consumed the most German food.  Of all the three restaurants: Loreley, Heidleburg, I really enjoyed Radegast Hall & Biergarten in Williamsburg, Brooklyn the most. The pretzel is my favorite, soft baked in house with a few condiments presented on a butcher block, made for sharing.  Bratwurst and sausages are grilled and topped over a paper boat of fries and slaw and the best spaetzle which is a German version of mac n’ cheese.  And what kind of beer garden would it be without good beer.  The decor transports you to Medieval times, with long communal tables and benches and truly qualifies to be called as a Hall.

Porchetta /// I rarely eat alone and when I do I am either at work or at home and under the sun by the waterfront when possible.  Meals are meant to be shared with someone but at Porchetta because of limited stool seating and meant to be a carry away restaurant, I was happily satisfy to be eating alone.  Named after the sandwich, I rebelled and went with their special of the day and order a lasagna and a mushroom soup instead which was perfect on a frigid snowy day to make a lunch pit stop.

Hakata Tonton ///  I had to roundup my annual recap with at least one Asian cuisine and that is Hakata Tonton which is Japanese soul food and pork (tonton).  They’re best known for their hot pot dish but frankly I was really disappointed with how shallow the pot was and salty it tasted.  Rather, the appetizers are the real highlights to the meal reminding anyone who has traveled to Asia of late night street food bites. 

Iris Cafe ///  I should have included Iris Cafe on last year’s list when I was introduced to their cheddar bacon biscuit from Iris Cafe by a dear friend, thanks Makalé!  Their plain biscuit with jam is delicious too.  For many who knows me well, one of my aspiration is to own a cafe, well, if I ever do it would very much be similar to Iris Cafe.  The decor, the vibe, the neighborhood, oh the food especially.  Though, I’ve only had their biscuits and the best Americano in the city, I absolutely adore this cafe and lucky it’s occasionally on my errand route.

Cowgirl Seahorse ///  Sometimes  you yearn for bad food and Cowgirl Seahorse near the South Street Seaport might probably be it.  I’ve been there in a record 3x this year.  The draw of returning as a customer is groupon and amazon had good deals and it’s close to work. The beer battered onion rings are scrumptious and cocktail in a mason jar!  Every now and then there are some derogatory themed nights, like “White Trashed Christmas” with whimsical surf, mermaid, fishnet decor.

Oasis ///  I was always curious about this little Middle Eastern carry away/ dine- in restaurant near the L train on the Bedford stop.  Oasis indeed, it reminded me of a Middle Eastern neighborhood in London where I had the best Middle Eastern food ever.  Oasis is good but not quite the best.  Like most, there are the usual falafel and shawarma sandwiches and platters. The highlight was oddly the soup or lately I’ve been very fascinated with soup which is one thing I have grown to love more and more as I get older. The soup tasted like puree lentils or a harissa soup and was tasteful with subtle spices.

2011 has been a rewarding and a busy year. With many experiences, majority work related have broaden my perspective and knowledge on food on many levels.   Many through conversations shared through meals and people I’ve met.  Everyday has been filled with wisdom, thoughtfulness, and creativity in which I am humbly appreciative, thankful for and truly inspired by.

Looking ahead,  I hope to document in my 3rd year of food journal with more food travels (New Orleans, backpacking through Istanbul, Greece Islands and elsewhere) reviews, shared home cooked meals, and in what I am most passionate is to share my latest food finds.  In pursuit of eating,  let the adventure continue.  Wishing everyone a happy new year!  

 

text and images © iluvpotato 2011



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Micellaneous

All I want for Christmas is Kitchen Supplies

I finally purchased one of these!  Merry Christmas to me!   It’s been on my wish list for a very very long time.  Recently I discovered a charming kitchen appliance shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn called Whisk Though I did not purchase this seductive red, 2 Quart Le Creuset Dutch Oven at Whisk, it reminded me that I needed one!   I stumbled into Broadway Panhandler on my way home this week and decided to pampered my inner self.   Broadway Panhandleris one of my favorite kitchenware, equipments, gadgets shop in New York City and they offer really reasonable prices.  For this Made in France, (beware of Made in China and Thailand, they may cost a little less but the quality is not as good)  Le Creuset was $118.  It’s quite an investment but irreplaceable and meant to be passed onto generations.  Now onto perfecting my paella, casseroles, cheese fondue action!

Other items I purchased at Broadway Panhandler is: Made in Vermont,  JK Adam Pig serving/ cutting board that I’ve also been sniffing out for.  🙂

Here are my top 5 places (top to bottom) to shop this holiday or any day for kitchen related items:

Fishs Eddy/// 889 Broadway at 19th Street New York City, NY 10003.  Recommend: Storage Bowl Teal Swag, Glass 16 oz.  We have 4 of these at home and it’s perfect to store leftovers or half of a lemon, tomato, or half of something sealed with a lid rather than plastic wrap.

Broadway Panhandler///  65 East 8th Street  New York, NY 10003.  Recommend: Le Creuset pots and pans & Bialetti Moka Pot

The Brooklyn Kitchen /// 100 Frost Sreet  Brooklyn, NY 11211.  Recommend: Cooking Classes

Whisk ///231 Bedford Avenue  Brooklyn, NY 11211.  Recommend: Kyocera ceramic coffee grinder

Pearl River Mart/// 477 Broadway, New York, NY 10013.  Recommend:  teapots

 

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