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

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