June 2006


We thought we were invincible. We had by either sheer luck or too much persistence managed to fish out a lot of kate spade goodies, in relative good shape, for very little moolah and were very pleased with ourselves. If we could pack so much shopping in such a short time, we rationalized, what’s a short walk from Century 21 to the village for pizza and some oddly flavored ice cream? What’s wrong with strolling in the sun, with no sunblock on a 90 degree day? We are from the tropics and therefore had a natural immunity to sweltering heat, or so we thought.
Just so you know, we did manage to get to Washington Square Park and did locate Otto. We also ate there. But the hour long walk was anything but short, and the initial excitement about trying olive oil gelato for the first time had died down somewhere between tribeca and soho. By the time we stumbled into the restaurant, thoroughly dehydrated and very sweaty at 4 pm we just wanted to crash into the chairs and be fed as quickly as possible.
It is under this premise that Ruoying and I tried the pizza and pasta at Otto, the most affordable Mario Batali-related establishment in the city. I had very inexplicably imagined the restaurant to be in a tiny and quaint cornershop, but it was pretty cavernous and comfortably dark. While it was extremely quiet at 4 pm, I can imagine it being a bustling and jam packed place during more normal dining hours. We ordered quickly and played safe on our choices. At 4pm, we really didn’t need added grief if the pizza lardo (lard on bread, dad would kill to try this) didn’t come up to our expectations. The server and efficient server, as if sensing our hunger (which is pretty apparent, it being 4 pm for lunch and all) served us rather quickly and plied us with bread and numerous refills of water. We tried the penne alla norma, very al dente, which is the way I like it but less to Ruoying’s liking. But the eggplant was nicely done and Ruoying, normally averse to eggplant actually fought me to get to the last couple of eggplant bits on the plate. The ricotta also binded rest of the ingredients together well without being an overkill.. The pizza margherita was also very yummy with a thin crispy base. An afficionado of thick and chewy dough probably would not appreciate it so much however.
With our tummies sated and with us having sufficiently recovered from our unfortunate walk, we then contemplated our gelato choices. Pickings were mainly conventional save for the house specialty olive oil gelato. We chose that of course, as well as chocolate and the hazelnut flavors. The trio was quite a good balance, with the saltiness of the olive oil balancing the sweet nutty hazelnut flavor. The chocolate flavor was somehow less creamy and more sorbetty, and served as a palate cleanser of sorts. Oddly, I was a little disappointed by the olive oil gelato, i had imagined it to be a putrid green or yellow and tasting of solidified evoo. Silly me, Mario Batali and crew obviously have a more understated and sophisticated palate than that! After all, he is an Iron Chef..
The wine selection at Otto is enormous and given its surprising affordability, I can’t wait to bring Peishan there when she’s in town again =)

p.s.: I thought i saw susan sarandon while in the bathroom. She had curly hair and a nice mellow voice. I was probably mistakened, but after spotting johnny depp and spiderman in the past 2 wks, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was her too… i love the cheap thrill of celeb spotting, don’t you?
Otto
1 Fifth Ave (on 8th St)

My PM managed to wheedle a meal out of my boss, for not informing us of his top secret island wedding and even worst, not bringing back some traditional Indian sweets to celebrate. So off we went to Curry Hill for a large and joyous meal to celebrate the occasion.
My boss chose to bring us to lunch at Chinese Mirch, a restaurant on Curry Hill specialising in Indian-Chinese food. The idea of marrying Chinese food with Indian spices, according to a blurb on the front page of the menu, was a brainchild of an early Chinese immigrant with the most mundane of names, someone called Yong Ah Huat (something like that) who arrived in the India, hankering for some hometown food hundreds of years ago. Hence, he introduced chinese food to India and it had apparently thrived in the subcontinent ever since. Unfortunately, a restaurant dishing out Indian-Chinese food hardly sounds exotic enough to people who grew up eating both ethnic cuisines, therefore I’ve never had it before. Still the popularity is not hard to imagine, given the universal appeal of Chinese food.
So how was the food? It was strange to me at first, because the scent and presentation was so Chinese, yet when you tasted it, there was not a doubt that it had been tampered with Indian spices and ways of cooking. We especially liked the Gobi Manchurian, which tasted more like Aloo Gobi than anything Chinese; the deep fried okra, dusted with paprika and crunchy like fries; and the complimentary dessert, a take on chinese sugared apples/yam/other fruit, with molten sugar poured atop deep fried wonton skin, with sesame seeds sprinkled liberally on top to provide extra oriental flavor. They really do a good job with their deep fried dishes.
But while my colleagues enjoyed the largely spicy entrees, I thought it was a shame that many of the dishes such as the chicken manchurian and the chili paneer came swimming in dark gloopy sauces. I know brown sauce, to many American Chinese food eaters, is a requisite component of a Chinese dish, but still the main ingredients would have had a better chance to shine with a drier finish than being brown-sauced to death. The only entrees i truly enjoyed was the spicy lamb with red, not brown sauce and a thoroughly chinese chicken dish, generously flavored with ginger, spring onions and tonnes of garlic.
So in the end, I liked the space, coolly decorated with some chinese accents including bamboo-print wallpaper and some lanterns, but was mainly ambivalent about the food. Its great fun to try a new cuisine, but subjectively speaking, the sum of parts was not any greater than the separate parts. I’ll take a dosa over manchurian chicken anytime.

Chinese Mirch
120 Lexington Ave (28th St)

Malaysian food that is…
Its funny how I do not hunger for Singapore/Malaysian food for about half a year, and the moment I eat it once, I need to get my fix on a weekly basis. Its not a very healthy addiction, but luckily in Manhattan, with a shocking abundance of Malaysian restaurants, its easily fed.
Yanru and I met up on Saturday to get Rosie a housewarming gift. Brunch however, was first on our minds, with the gift being more of an afterthought. Yanru had initially suggested crepes and coffee at cafe le gamin in east village, but I made her “reconsider her suggestion ” and go to Sanur (aka New Indonesia & Malaysia Restaurant) after she bragged about the cheap and good meal at Sanur she had on thursday night, complete with nonya kueh and pandan cake for dessert and breakfast the morning after. So we decided to get our butts out of our apartments early to grab some good old local breakfast, preferably fried beehoon drenched in vegetable curry.
Unfortunately, people in Chinatown eat breakfast a lot earlier than we do and by the time we got to Sanur, no later than 11 am too, the bee hoon was gone… =( It was dirt cheap too at $1.75…. I was muy upset…
We drowned our sorrows instead by downing cheap coffee and eating too much nonya pastries and other stuff. I forgot to take pictures but we ate: lor mai kai, curry puffs, some nasi kuning thingy with ikan bilis, a glutinous rice kueh with gula melaka, and kueh lapis (the colorful one, not the indonesian type) With all that glutinous rice we had, we were quickly sated. Still, I’m hankering for the beehoon that had escaped from my gluttonous clutches and will probably be back soon to get my hands on it.
p.s. the curry puffs were really good, better than Old Chang Kee in fact, and travels very well.. And cheap, for $0.70/piece… convert tt back to SGD and its still comparable to OCK. The 2 I carried in my purse for a day made for a squashed but very tasty snack after being warmed in the oven.

Sanur
18 Doyers St (a very charming, winding street)

A danger one faces when dining around Times Square is picking the wrong places, places that are meant as tourist traps serving expensive and bland food in a cheesy environ where servers, beyond bringing food to the table, try their darndest selling you sparkling water and expensive bottles of wine. Thus, when we decided to eat on the infamous restaurant row on 46th st this weekend, I sifted through recommendations from friends, authoritative new york food blogs and review sites to weed out the duds and to shortlist some potential places. In the end, I picked Pomaire over Becco, for the great reviews it got and the prospect of trying a novel cuisine, Chilean to be exact. Also, the thought of the All You Can Eat pasta deal at Becco was far too allluring and a truly dangerous path to take for a carb fanatic such as I.
Pomaire, advertised blatantly as the only Chilean restaurant in Manhattan serves up some traditional Chilean alongside entrees, such as panfried salmon and steak, that would not look out of place in most new american restaurants. I cannot judge the authenticity of the food, this being my first Chilean meal, but everyone thought favorably of their entrees. Ceci admired the texture of her pan fried hake while Ruoying’s combo of juicy ribs and warm mashed potato was full of flavor. I ordered one of the most traditional dish on the menu, the cazuela, or a chicken stew with root vegetables and rice and enjoyed it too, although it tasted too much like the chicken soup I cook at home and didn’t merit the $17 price tag.
Appetizers were less successful, the tamale being too watery and the empanadas just normal. And desserts were quite a disaster. The Thousand Layered cake tasted stale, the merengue cake tasted like confectionery sugar and the papayas in syrup were just that, papayas in syrup. All were too sweet, and a real pity because if done properly, the desserts could have been a stellar end to the meal.
We did however, love the extra attentive service. The servers were funny, patient, and went the extra mile to 1) turn an order of 2 large empanadas to 5 small ones so that we could have individual empanadas and 2) to gallantly retrieve my root vegetables from the cazuela to prevent them from disintegrating in the broth and bringing my extra hot sauce to spice the broth up. They weren’t overly pushy about selling overpriced drinks, but I thought they figured that we were an easy sell because Gerri’s Dad was eager to try all their recommendations and they could have taken some liberty by recommending a pricier bottle of wine and pushing more desserts than we could handle. Then again, I could be overly cautious, this being Restaurant Row and all.
So overall, the meal was enjoyable although the food was only average and a tad expensive, truth to be told. The ambience was quaint but not too chintzy and the warm service redeemed whatever misgivings I had about the food. However, it will be a while before I go back as the quality of the food just didn’t warrant the price tag. Still, big thanks to UNCLE & AUNTY for the wonderful meal!

Pomaire
371 W46th St (bet. 8th & 9th Ave)


Restorant Malaysia looks nondescript from the outside, tucked in the middle of a busy row of restaurants serving anything from taiwan beef noodles to foo chow fishballs. The shop front is narrow and the window was grimy from years of soot, soot created from the satay and stingray freshly barbeque-ed in the front of the restaurant. It is not a very attractive looking restaurant and you would walk right past it if you were not hankering for some authentic Malaysian grub, and Ruoying and I almost gave it a miss. Still, the lure of sambal kangkong and roti prata proved to be too much for two homesick Singaporeans and we walked in to find ourselves ordering way too much and with each bite, connecting what we see, eat and smell with events that happened long ago, linking each dish with places and faces we miss.
We shared a plate of hokkien fried noodles, malaysia styled; hakka style pearl noodles; bbq-ed stingray and finally a plate of sambal kangkong. The dishes were extremely flavorful, smelling of parfum de wok, the wok scent that you find at good zi-char places. The hokkien fried noodles reminded us of saturday lunches in Singapore, with Pa wielding the wok and cooking up enormous amounts of the same noodles in dark gooey sauce. The grilled stingray tasted like those at East Coast Park, plump, succulent and the perfect foil for the huge dish of sambal belacan that came with it. Ruoying was so excited to see the pickled green chillies that by the time we were done with dinner, we had eaten half a bowl of green chillies with our noodle dishes. We could have easily finished everything there, but great discipline restrained ourselves from becoming even bigger girls than we already are and brought most of the kangkong home.
Back home tody, we decided to complemented the kangkong, which by the way microwaves very well with homemade nasi lemak, fried egg and luncheon meat. Its strange how food ties people and places together, and the wave of nostalgia and the regret from being so far from home has not been so strong in a while. Maybe its a good thing that the restaurant’s in Flushing and not anywhere closer and the Malaysian restaurants in Manhattan are not nearly as authentic, or else I might be flooded with homesickness everytime i visit!

It was a hot, sultry afternoon on the last week of May. The girls’ blouses were damp by the time they reached Trump International Hotel and gratefully they ducked into the cool recesses of the towering building. The droning noise from the streets ceased as they entered the hotel’s famous restaurant and were greeted by a trio of smiling hostesses. “Welcome to Jean-Georges. Your table is ready. ”
Today, I played hooky from studying and with Ruoying, was set to enjoy 3 hours pretending to be a lady who lunch. Our destination, Nougatine, the casual dining space adjacent to Jean Georges, celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s flagship restaurant. While we couldn’t afford to feast on caviar on coddled eggs, thanks to a welcome attempt to bring elegant dining to the masses, were able to enjoy a 3 course lunch for $24.07 each. Walking into the restaurant, we were brought into a cool and airy space that was Nougatine. The bright and clean room, along with powerful air-conditioning, helped cool us down as we contemplated the short menu, consisting of 2 choices for each of the 3 courses. We chose everything naturally, save for the pasta dish that neither one was willing to forgo the steak for.
The appetizers came soon after we finished our first rolls, which were cold but tasty as cold rolls went.
A pink watermelon gazpacho slid easily down the throat, occasionally surprising us with the sharpness coming from the chili mixed into the soup. A dish of a poached egg wobbling atop a bed of asparagus and shaved bacon bits on the hand was hearty and highlighted the sweetness of fresh and young asparagus perfectly.
Soon after, entrees were served. Both of us ordered the steak with ginger polenta and sauteed greens. The meat was flavorful but why did it remind us of chinese sauteed beef? Perhaps it was the ginger, too familiar to our Asian tastebuds. Still, the beef was nicely done despite the ginger overkill.
Desserts came next, two simply dishes, unfussy but not unsophisticated. The blueberry pie was sweet and tart, the fruit sauce further accentuated by a tinge of meyer lemon and a light vanilla ice cream flecked with vanilla bean. The white chocolate pot de creme with strawberry sorbet and a light chocolate mousse was light but rich at the same time, and the tartness of the fruit helped quell the queasiness from eating too much cream.
Too soon, lunch was over. While not a stunning meal, it was still a solid lunch and a welcome respite from the mundane life of a working lady and a student. Sated, we walked out of the hotel back into the crowded streets of New York, allowing the humid air to lull us into a dull drowsiness that the big meal had started for us…