August 2006


This probably sounds like a travesty on a classic american dish, but my favorite hamburger is bunless, tomato-less and lettuce-free. It instead comes with an egg, fried sunny side up, and topped with a good ladle of bolognese sauce. And a big plate of rice on the side provides the diner with the necessary carbohydrates. The hamburger I’ve just described is a Japanese take on the good old burger that defines Americana, and is as, if not more satisfying than the original, especially on a chilly and gray weekend afternoon. It is a mushy, meaty, carb-laden meal that works miracles at kicking start one’s urges to take an afternoon nap, again, the perfect rainy day activity.
I had my plate of hamburg rice at Hiroko’s Place in SoHo, which also serves coffee brewed in the siphon method. Other food items include Omu-raisu (literally omelette rice, or fried rice wrapped in an omelette), spaghetti with shitake mushroom and taroko roe, and hot dogs ala nihon, which looked and tasted like regular hotdogs and were not as satisfying as those from Gray’s Papaya. The dishes are mainly conventional japanese-western food, and simply cooked, but had a very home-cooked quality to it that made it comforting to eat. The comfortable sitting, dim lighting and 2 bookcases filled with magazines and japanese manga in the restaurant also gave it a lived-in look. As though as you were visiting a slightly kooky but well-loved aunt (the ones that wore fringed skirts, were constant travellers and part-time tea-readers) and lounging on her green polyester couch, waiting for the sleeping bug to kick in after a heavy, comforting home-cooked meal. A blissful venture indeed.

Hiroko’s Place
75 Thompson St (bet Spring & Broome)

In an attempt to break out of our chinatown rut and try something different, my friday evening dining companions and I made our way 10 blocks south of the office to Barbes, a french moroccan restaurant at Murray Hill. While the restaurant was crowded on a weekday during lunchtime when I last walked past it, the dune colored dining room was only half full when we walked in at 630 on a friday evening. However, the crowd grew larger as the night went on, and so did the chatter and clatter of the plates. Still, the tables were nicely spaced and the huge palm tree that sat squarely in the middle of the room (and next to our table) gave us a semblance of some privacy and probably acted as a noise buffer, or buffer others from the noise we four loud females were making.
While a few dishes showed signs of french inflection, the menu is largely focused on traditional moroccan items, namely tagines (hearty stews in a moroccan clay pot) and couscous (semolina grains. semolina is also the main ingredient for pasta, and therefore some people identify couscous as a type of pasta) . And since neither ying nor rosie had not had moroccan food before, and it is harder to find compared to french cusine for sure, all 4 of us ordered either one or the other dish. We also ordered a very french, and very good duck confit salad to share. The composition was an amalgation of well balanced flavors, with the salty and earthy duck blending extremely well with the mild lentils and the sharp and peppery mesclun and the sweet roasted beets.
Unfortunately, the moroccan entrees did not fare as well. The couscous were well cooked and non soggy, although a little lacking in sale. However, the meats that came with the couscous, grilled or stewed, were all overcooked. Grilled chicken breast on top of a plate of couscous dressed up with plump golden raisins were stringy. And the lamb in the tagine was too tough and underseasoned, despite the best efforts of the prunes in the same dish to provide some seasoning and taste. The tagine unveiling ceremony was however, very impressive. So points for that. The fish tagine in a spicy tomato stew happened to be the best entree that evening, but the favorable impressions was marred when Ying ate a spoonfull of clay. When questioned about it, the servers explained that the pot might have chipped because she had dug into the pot too vigorously. But points still go towards the service, as the servers were pretty apologetic about the mishap and the overall service was attentive and prompt.
We surveyed the dessert menu afterwards and found the offerings of about half a dozen french based desserts perfunctory at best. Still, we ordered a molten chocolate cake (mistakenly advertised as chocolate souffle to us) which was pretty standard.
In the end, we had a really enjoyable dinner. However, it was more a function of the boisterous conversation and the enjoyment of each other’s company, and food unfortunately, played second fiddle.

Barbes
19 E36th St (At Madison Ave)

NB: My pictures of the tagines did not come out properly so i filched a picture online. Ignore the gnome =p

After 2 years and multiple tries, I finally made it into Serendipity 3, the famous ice-cream parlor made even more popular by the ill-fated, bland (un)romantic movie with the same name minus the number 3 (Why John Cusack? Why?) The “general store” in its late-afternoon glory

After a 30 minutes wait on a Tuesday afternoon, instead of the usual 2 hr wait during the weekends, we entered the dining room, dimly lit by tiffany lamps and adorned in that haphazard manner, romantic enough for lovers and quirky enough to appeal to children, the two group of diners largely responsible for the crazy lines. And for both groups, the place is perfect for an afternoon snack, a romantic jaunt, or for dessert after a hard day of shopping at Bloomingdales. For other diners, the place might not be worth the wait.
We had the signature frozen hot chocolate, an oxymoron in any case and a disappointment if you were counting on getting a drink both chilly and boiling hot at the same time. However, the huge bowl of frozen chocolate ice, topped with a big dollop of whipped cream and shaved chocolate was still refreshing and while expensive, was not exhorbitant in the city. Throw in the quaintness found in the cool recesses of the room and the hype at dining in one of the most popular restaurant/cafe/ice-cream parlor in the city, $8.50 is not such a bad deal after all.

Serendipity 3
225 E 60th St

Three consecutive meals at three different Chinatowns (two in NY, one in Boston) later, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you can stomach 1) a little bit of attitude from the servers, 2) sitting with others on the same table and 3) the insanity that’s called parking in Chinatown, you most definitely be able to find some excellent grub at hit me its so dirt cheap rock bottom prices. And have money to spare to eat dessert too!
Anyway, P and I hit Boston’s Chinatown for Sunday brunch and both of us remembered a taiwanese restaurant (uncreatively named Taiwan Cafe) which we had been to and really liked 3 summers ago when visiting a friend at MIT. So we had the signature pork chop rice, not very suitable at 11 am, but very satisfying, with a huge pork chop deep fried in star anise-spiked batter laying atop a huge mound of rice, which was in turn drenched with dark, sweet and salty meat sauce. The plate of the rice also came with a hard boiled egg cooked in soy sauce and some pickled vegetables which helped balance the oily factor. We washed down the rice with a fresh bowl of sweet soy milk served in a bowl and picked up another plate of fried vermicelli, once again topped in the tasty meat sauce and also a big roll of baked chinese dough (烧饼)All that for under $15 bucks with a hefty tip!And the leftover dough served us well as an afternoon snack while stuck in traffic too! Parking was a crazy affair however, with hungry chinese eaters double parking, placing cars blatantly next to the fire hydrants etc, so if we do ever go back, we’ll be taking the metro.
Almost 10 hours after our foray into Boston’s ctown, we landed in Flushing, Queens. This time we headd to Shanghai Tide for what else? shanghainese food, including a steamer full of soup dumplings, which, while competently made did not wow us. We also had 2 not tt memorable dishes and a bowl of spicy dan dan noodle that stole the show. Its amazing how good a little bit of minced pork and a lot of chili oil mixed together with handfuls of scallions can taste. While we were there, we observed the bulk of the diners actually eating hotpot, which while did not seem like the best summer dish to us, was indeed a huge bargain, as $18.95 yielded an all you can eat buffet and as much beer you can drink. Again, we spent no more than $25 dollars, tips included. We blew the remainder of our cash on cantonese desserts at Sweet & Tart Cafe, where we had a hit in the doubled boiled ginger egg custard (姜汁炖奶)and a miss in the classic green bean soup (绿豆汤). Still at $6 dollars, the entire tab cost less than a frozen hot chocolate in a certain Manhattan eatery, which while satisfying, is definitely not worth its price.
Chinatown #3 is our very own sprawling Manhattan version, where littered amongst some serious duds like the (un)Yummy Noodles are several more worthy restaurants. We discovered a newfound favorite in Great NY Noodletown, where the minced beef congee is up to discerning standards, and the portions for the wonton soup are huge, with more than half a dozen wontons, all swollen with fresh, succulent shrimp. We liked that place so much we were there three times (once we didn’t get seats because it was so darn crowded) in less than 2 weeks. Talk about an obsession. We ended our mad eating session that day with a superlative bowl of sweeten silken tofu (豆腐花) for a princely sum of $1 from Kong Kee Food Corp. This made our total lunch expense that day $10 including tips! Slap me now, I’m giddy with the realization that I fed me and my bf for the same cost of a salad in midtown! How much less I would be spending if the office was closer to ctown =(

Taiwan Cafe (34 Oxford St, Boston)
Shanghai Tide (135-20 40th Rd, Flushing)
Sweet & Tart Cafe (13611 38th Ave, Flushing)
Great NY Noodletown (28 Bowery, NY)
Kong Kee Food Corp (240 Grand Street)

Before you leave on a holiday to Maine, which unabashedly proclaims itself as the vacationland of USA on its license plates, consider this: make sure everyone on the trip enjoys eating seafood. Any partiality towards fried food is also very welcome. Seafood, largely fried, sometimes boiled, but always served alongside wickedly good french fries fueled our traipse through the beautiful Maine coastlines and Acadia National Park. Fortunately, we love seafood, and were determined to try everything Maine is famous for, including lobster in any permutation, fried seafood of all kinds and wild blueberries, fresh, in compote, pies, soda and even beer.
We began our education on Maine seafood the moment we crossed the stateline, leaving the highway via Exit no. 3 towards Kittery. There, nestled in the midst of several factory outlet malls is Bob’s Clam Hut, a classic New England fry shack famous for what else? clams, and the in-season lobster roll. At 1pm, there was a long line at the place, with shoppers and roadtrippers eager to nosh on some good lunch. We grabbed a lobster roll and fried haddock and sat in the picnic area behind the shack. While the backsides of outlet malls didn’t exactly provide much scenery, that also meant we weren’t paying for ambience and every dollar spent was going towards the succulent lobster meat binded very lightly in mayo and the freshest bits of fish we have eated in a while.
Next stop, Mount Desert Island, where we stayed for two nights at the Hearthside Inn and made our way on the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak in eastern US, and invariably ate more seafood. Our dinners were classic Maine experiences, the lobster bake, complete with steamed clams, corn on the cob, clam chowder, lobsters and a lot of drawn butter. Slices of freshly made blueberry pie completed the artery clogging meals both times, once at Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, where we shared a table with two men travelling on their RV from California to Canada, and Stewman Pounds, a tourist trap on the water in Bar Harbor, which surprisingly served up a really tasty and large lobster for very little moolah, courtesy of the 4-6 pm early bird dinner special =p At Ben & Bill’s ice cream and fudge shoppe, we saw an interesting ice cream flavor, the lobster flavor, made with fresh vanilla icecream and real lobster chunks. Unfortunately, I was too chicken to try it. For those with unadventurous palates like me, they do serve conventional flavors, including a wild sounding moose droppings flavor, which was actually just malt balls mooshed in chocolate icecream. Nothing quite extreme at all =p
After bidding our goodbyes to Bar Harbor in all its picturesque glory, and to the yummy breakfasts our host Barry and Susan prepared, including blueberry pancakes (yep, we just couldn’t get enough of blueberries), we made a stop to the Kennebunks to catch a glimpse of a lighthouse and some fried clam strips at

in Kennebunkport. Chewy, briny and coated with a crunchy batter, they sure made it easier to say goodbye to Maine, where the water’s clearer, and air crisper and the skies are bluer anyday.

You know there can’t be too many worthy burgers to be eaten in Singapore when Carl’s Junior is the most serious contender. Hence, I entertain my boyfriend’s whims to eat burgers (as with creme brulee and too many bowls of onion soup) with minimal persuasion, or coercion involved. Also, I was interested in checking out Lucky’s, a somewhat new burger place 2 blocks from home, and so we went.
While Lucky’s was pretty busy on a weekend afternoon the last time I passed by, the sitting area was relatively empty and customer-free. We were a little skeptical, but got past that quickly, ordered our food at the counter and sat down on the uncomfortable and very bright chairs. While waiting, the 3 plasma screens mounted on orange walls provided us with entertainment in the form of tonight’s Yankees game. Besides the plasma screen, there wasn’t anything else to distract you from your burger, or the bright walls or bright furniture so flourescent that they bordered on being clinically deranged.
I had the standard cheese burger while the bf went upscale and ordered the swiss cheese and mushroom burger for $2 more. We also ordered an order of crinkled fries to share, which at $3 was not a great deal, but I don’t care coz what is a burger without fries? Also, the fries were fantastic with the spicy “lucky” sauce that was served alongside it. The burger was not too charred and was juicy enough, enough though slightly more cooked than I normally like my burgers. P’s burger was less well received however, as the cheese was not melted enough and the mushrooms were a little underseasoned… We also bought a burger and some humongous onion rings back for my sister, who was blase about her burger as well. I think burgers don’t travel well, that’s why. Nevertheless, a good burger in the neighborhood in my humble opinion, in a psychotically cheerful environment. I would go back.

Lucky’s Famous Burgers
52nd st, bet 8th & 9th Ave