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!

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.