April 2008


Its been a rough week at work, and I’d been seeking solace in snacks. And I found this funny little thing called Happy Hippo at the food world deli on Thursday that completely made my day. Its made by Kinder, the maker of Kinder surprise and kinder bueno, and is shaped like a pea pod with the facial features of a hippotamus down to a pair of dopey looking eyes and flaring nostrils. Each of the three segments made a mouthful, so this is definitely smaller and less sinful that eating an entire bag of m&ms (Wednesday’s poison.) The body is made of a crisp and crunchy wafer, and the insides are filled with 2 different creams, a dark chocolate hazelnut spread and a light milk flavored cream that were thick and creamy without being cloyingly sweet. Sprinkles decorate the edges of the hungry hippo to prevent the two halfs from splitting and provide added texture if not taste. Definitely one of the more fun candy I’ve had in a long time!

 

 

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More than once have I fallen prey to the bakery case at Starbucks, ordering a giant slab of lemon pound cake iced with a thick coat of sugared frosting. The lemon financier at Bakery and Bar Oro beats Starbuck’s by a mile. Whereas Starbuck’s version is a pale yellow, Oro’s lemon cake has a brilliant yellow sheen to it, courtesy of lemon oil. The rectangle of cake is buttery and super-moist with slightly crispy edges and the taste of citrus intensified with the addition of lemon zest and little sacs of fresh pulp. It’s probably not a traditional financier as I could not make out any strong nut flavor, but its still perfect with a cup of strong coffee in the afternoon. The only thing it has going against it is that its size, about a quarter of what’s served at starbucks, but for the quality, its worth it.

carrot financier

Besides the lemon financier, the little bakery also serves a few types of pastries, tarts and cakes, along with salads, sandwiches and quiches for those looking for more than sweets. The smell of the freshly baked quiche cooling on top of the bar is positively addictive. Besides the lemon financier (which I had 2 weeks in a row), I also tried a chocolate dipped madeline, that was nicely eggy and soft. It converts into a bar serving alcohol and snacks in the evening, which should be a nice addition in the neighborhood.

The cute little storefront is situated in little italy, and is still flying under the radar for the most part despite heavy foot traffic in the area. It makes it a tranquil spot for afternoon tea, but I’m rooting for them and hope they can get busier. Surely their pastries are much tastier than the insipid offerings at those little italy tourist traps!

Oro Bakery and Bar 

375 Broome St (Bet. Mott & Mulberry Sts)

 

Disbelief. I got reservations for 8 pm on Friday at Momofuku Ko, the new white-hot restaurant in town, where reservations are solely taken online, and go out after 1 minute of new openings? Unbelievable, but then few are awake before 10 am on Saturday when I struck gold. Sometimes having the sleep schedule of an octagerian has its perks.

Antsy was how I felt waiting for Cezi to show up at the restaurant, hanging out at the lone square table placed between the coat cabinet and the service counter. No seats, since the only 12 in the house are along the open-concept kitchen counter. The confirmation slip said I needed to be there within 15 minutes of my reservation, or else they would not seat me in order to accomodate the next set of diners coming in after me. Surely they wouldn’t throw me out if she showed up at 816? Luckily they didn’t and even eased my wait with a complimentary drink of non-alcoholic gewurztraminer juice and soda, and a bowl of Momofuku Trail Mix, similar but not really the type you buy from the vending machine, a little bowl of umami packed nibbles including dried seaweed, nuts and some strange salty/sweet/chewy but tasty things. Cezi shows up around 817 and we get seated. Phew…

The appetizers seemed so unsophisticated when taken at face value, but it is all tongue in cheek. Chicharron spiked with togarashi pepper is glorified fried pork rind, providing a little humor at the beginning of the meal. Home made mini English muffins were slathered, not with butter but with a decadent layer of lard and then toasted straight on the griddle. You luxuriate in the smell of sizzling fat long before popping the hot, oily little pillow of flour into your mouth.

momofuku ko pea soup

We next had raw fluke carpaccio mixed in sour cream and poppy seeds that was tart and refreshing after the lardy onslaught. Next the chef served several courses in pairs to the many double seatings that made up the table. For our soup course, I got a bright green pea soup, sweet and appropriate for spring, topped with lightly cooked crawfish, bitter watercress and a roasted yuba roll filled with inky black trumpet mushrooms. Cezi on the other hand was served the kimchi consomme with a slice of roast pork and a raw oyster. The pork had a melt in your mouth tendency while the broth is ultra concentrated and deeply flavored, except without any real hint of kimchi. I guess we were looking less for refinement and more for the blatant. The cooked seafood course consisted of two different dishes as well. Both Cezi and I both had expertly pan-fried scallops with bacon puree (read: liquid fat… so yummy) that we enjoyed tremendously, but we were secretly coveting our neighbors’ dishes of fried soft shell crabs instead. 

momofuku egg & caviar

The crowd pleasers have already been talked and talked about all over the blogosphere and online communities, which unfortunately caused us to be less impressed with the truly indulgent double egg dish. It was a beautiful plate consisting of caviar spilling out of a half broken poached egg which could have been slightly less cooked. The silky yolk blends pretty well with the mild salinity of the caviar and the sweetness of the slow cooked onion tempers the tang from the vinaigrette. Unfortunately, we didn’t experience fireworks. The deep fried braised beef rib with mustard seeds and daikon and the shaved foie gras dish were amazing though, the former more traditional and satisfying and insanely time-consuming to make, the latter innovative and fun. There was almost no chewing involved as we spooned a mixture of semi-sweet riesling gelee, litchee bits, nutty brittle and shaved foie gras into our mouths, an insta-dissolve foie gras dessert.  I wanted so much to lick my plate clean.

momofuku ko foie gras

We finished our savory courses with a tradition rice/pickle/miso soup combo, and then prepared ourselves for dessert by polishing 2 scoops of home made creamy sorbet. Cezi and I then got a pair of desserts, the deep fried apple pie, a homage to the MacDonald’s classic, and a corn flake panna cotta, which is made out of corn-flake soaked milk to impart that salty-sweet flavor into the panna cotta. Paired with a slab of soft hazelnut flavored chocolate and avocado puree, its whimsicality bordered weirdness. Fortunately the combination was absolutely fabulous. One of my favorite dishes of the night.

cereal panna cotta

With 10 courses accounted for, we got off our bar seats close to bursting and blissfully sated. Being able to watch the chefs in action is another bonus and it was cool watching David Chang run errands and buy Gatorade for his crew. Would I go back again? In a heartbeat. So what if the reservation is tough to get? I guess I’ll just have to wake up early on the weekend again.   

Momofuku Ko

163 1st Ave (Between 10th & 11th sts)

www.momofuku.com

Ah.. the pitfalls of hotspot dining. We originally had plans to go to Perilla for dinner. A addition however could not be accomodated however, despite me giving the restaurant notice a week in advance so we scrambled for backup options. We picked Olana and I now thank the stoic reservationist at Perilla for helping me discover this new restaurant serving very sophisticated dishes in a really comfortable space that could be suitable for all occasions, be a romantic tete-a-tete to a corporate wine and dine event. First impressions were favorable as we took in the lush red interiors and the very spacious settings. Its refreshing to be eating out in the city and actually have ample space between you and the neighbor for a change. While respecting the restaurant’s namesake is the upstate estate of an artist known for the Hudson River style, I still don’t get the illuminated murals done in the style he helped popularized. It looks like cheesy stained glass and just isn’t very attractive. The oversized stuffed chairs and the blood red banquettes were however.  

tacconi pasta

The restaurant serves upscale American food in a manner more intricate and fussier than what I usually am attracted to (e.g. authentic ethnic cuisines or upscale comfort food). Yanru was a little wary of the menu at first, each dish consisting of what seemed like one too many ingredient. Fortunately most of the dishes delivered with nuanced but not jarring flavors. We started with housemade rolls (4 types a little cold) and an amuse bouche of very subtle goat cheese flan with dollops of asparagus puree. Appetizers were really strong on the whole. I was charmed by my pasta, thin squares of pasta dough sandwiching a mint leaf between each pair, dressed in a light lamb sauce that drew inspiration from Morrocco. Yanru’s chestnut crespelle stuffed with ricotta and mushroom was at once rich and earthy yet tangy at the same time.  A must order. Gerrie’s ordered a daily special and was rewarded with a poached duck egg oozing rich creamy yolk over leeks and some other seasonal vegetables, simply but effectively cooked. A tartare of some sort is de rigeur, and Olana’s version which Simon picked was a delicate seabass shaped in a disc and swimming in a pool of lightly acidic grapefruit juice. Yummy and refreshing.

slow roasted halibut

We all agreed that entrees were not as satisfying as the appetizers. They were still good, my slow roasted halibut perfectly flaky and delicate in a saffron and mussel jus that had just the tinge of minerally and musky mussel taste. Simon’s rabbit dish stuffed with foie gras, almonds and apricots was a revelation, unfortunately not because it tasted great (it did) but because it tasted uncannily like cantonese roast pork. I swear it did. Gerrie’s pork tenderloin was staid and a tad dry while Yanru just didn’t enjoy her duck ravioli as much as the chestnut crepe appetizer, which was really great.

strawberry and chocolate napolean

We finished off with 2 desserts, a rich meyer lemon creme brulee with almond biscotti and ice cream and a very attractively presented strawberry and chocolate napolean with rich gianduja ice cream. The napolean consisted of white chocolate discs layered with a spongy, chocolate mousse like filling that was ingeniously surrounded by a ring of strawberry mousse, so subtle that it took me until my very last few bites to figure that out.

Along with the check then came a small pot of molten chocolate with mini macarons, chocolate pinwheels and housemade mint marshmallows that were pillowy soft and lovely dunked into chocolate and equally good eaten alone.

The evening would have been perfect but for some issues with respect to service, which was attentive in general and helpful. We got some wrong utensils but remediated that with switcheroos amongst ourselves, and the maitre’d was seriously confused by our request to split our bill with a mix of cash and credit cards (we were going dutch, and who carries so much cash in the wallets? no one). But they are but in their second month of service, and given the experience, this is definitely a place to return.

Olana

72 Madison Ave (between 17th & 28th Sts)

http://www.olananyc.com/index.html