June 2008


My college roommate was visiting last week and I found it extremely fitting to bring her to P*ONG for dinner. She was looking for something different, she enjoys dessert as much as I do, and most importantly, Peiyun also shares the same last name as the chef and in abbreviation can be called p-ong as well.

foie gras with chocolateI waited for P outside the somewhat empty restaurant, a little disconcerting at 8 on a Thursday night, and briefly considering making alternate plans at Bar Blanc. But once we got seated in the modern and slick room with an open kitchen and enjoyed some tasty girly cocktails (P’s had prosecco, dehydrated rose petals and gold dust), we settled in and got to the main business of ordering.

The chef made his name as a master patissier in the Jean Georges empire, so it was not surprising that the sweet/ semi-sweet dishes fared better. Thin chocolate and hazelnut tuile sandwiched 2 discs of foie gras terrine, the sweetness of the chocolate playing up the unctuousness of the foie. A grandiose smear of more chocolate and a dollop of pink pepper jam dressed up the rather large and spare plate. Very yummy but I wished there were some toast points to spread that foie on. And in general some bread to feed patrons while they peruse the menu would be nice.

rhubarb panna cottaThe other dish that worked very nicely was dessert, a light, almost milky rhubarb panna cotta that celebrated the tartness of the seasonal vegetable. Bay leaf is crushed into powder and sprinkled on the custard, providing a refreshing mouthfeel. A wafer of dehydrated milk candy tasted like the white rabbit candy of yore and was sticky fun. The accompaniment of a mini strawberry cupcake though was redundant.

The savory courses were adequately prepared, but at a high enough price point to encourage me to try out other places first before returning. The shrimp ceviche was the greatest disappointment. It had tongue-tingly explosive flavors with thai chili, icy mango sorbet and bright cilantro, but was unfortunately marred by the shrimp, which were overcooked and rubbery. I could not taste the chocolate within the duck pot pie for the life of me, but must concede that the dish was well prepared, and the other flavors advertised, that of plummy pinot noir and tart-sweet cherries were amply presented. The beef short rib was good, very tender with a deep, pungent sauce and roasted root vegetables. Not too appropriate for the weather now, but worth a try.

Peiyun loves food, and she also picked up a recent hobby of picture taking, so throughout the meal, we were two stereotypical Asian women furiously taking photos of the plates. It was quite an amusing sight. I’m so happy I got to reconnect with her after almost 2 years, to fill each other in on our lives and bask in the commonality we still shared. While there were some hits and misses in terms of food, our dinner was definitely an enjoyable one.

P*ONG

150 W 10th St (at Waverly Place)

http://p-ong.com

 

 

Its summertime and green is in vogue, from luxuriant trees casting dappled shadows in parks to the brilliant hues in our soupbowls. While P was in town, we drank a lot of soup, some grassy and light, others creamy and savory. We had a favorite though, and it came as part of Tocqueville’s value-for-money lunch prix fixe. It was a vichysoisse, chilled to refresh on a hot summer’s day, creamy to the point it smoothly slid down our throats, and a verdant green from the lightly spicy spring garlic that while much milder than the mature bulbs still retained a distinct garlicky scent without being overpoweringly so. I could drink a bucketful.

The rest of our meals were good too, with an exceptional bread basket, competent entrees and refreshingly light desserts. The tilefish cooked a la plancha retained its firmness and succulence, while the chicken confit was well flavored but a tad dry. Ruoyi licked her plate cold tangerine souffle with tea ice cream clean while the scoop of intensely dark chocolate sorbet on my sorbet platter elicited numerous oos and ahs from the table.

It is a pity then that the service was as terrible as it is, such that I hesitate to recommend this restaurant for the well priced lunch and amazing soup. While we were showered with attention at Jean Georges in the same week (which itself serves one of the best value-for-money lunch in the city), our server was negligent and rude. He could not explain dishes well enough for a restaurant of such aspirations, poured water sloppily, dropped instead of placed utensils on the table, exhibiting a frowny face and a nonchalant attitude throughout the entire meal. Even the sommelier, who was amiable at least,  carelessly poured red wine into a wine glass that had already been used for a previous, different wine in the $15 3-pour tasting before we pointed it out to him. Perhaps the restaurant was understaffed with only 3 servers and the sommelier performing double-duty in response to the light lunch crowd, but maybe they might consider increasing and training manpower, such that people who lunch might actually start visiting Tocqueville instead of nearby Union Square eateries that are packed full of business and pleasure lunchers, a demographic Tocqueville could capture if they got their act together in the front -of-house.

Tocqueville Restaurant

1 East 15th St (Between 5th Ave & Union Sq West)

www.tocquevillerestaurant.com

Dinner at a working farm, with food sourced straight from the barnyard and greens harvested in the fields, where mushrooms are foraged and butter can be attributed to the exact cows who produce the milk. That is a dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where one cannot find a greener dinner anywhere else around New York City.

P and I trudged to Blue Hill at Stone Barns on a steamy evening last week after a grueling shopping trip at Woodbury. After remedying the initial snag of being inappropriately (read too casually) dressed, we were ushered into a large, comfortable dining room inside a expansive barn. The server sat us with cold sparkling water, a menu with no options, just a long list of ingredients and set off a flurry of amuse bouches on us, including:

asparagus shooters

A creamy shot of asparagus soup with creme fraiche;

panko crusted asparagus

Skewers of asparagus crusted in panko and sesame seeds, a kebabs of sorts;

avocado burger

2 mini burgers stuffed with creamy avocado, sitting on a bed of white sesame seeds, while slathering on sweet churned butter sourced from the dairy cows on-site and thick ricotta drizzled with honey

charcuterie plate

We nibbled offerings from a homemade charcuterie plate, including an unctuous pork terrine, and great, spicy, slightly wet french sausage. Pickled ramps, cauliflowers and fennel, as well as sharp mustard helped cut the richness of our appetizers.

kampachi with rhubarb gelee

Our first courses only arrived after we polished the charcuterie, for me a beautiful slab of kampachi set over a bed of tart rose-colored rhubarb gelee and for P a refreshingly frothy shotglass of carrot yogurt and a tiny sliver of fiddle-head fern tart.

lettuce with edible flowers

Second courses were what I call a gorgeous pair of green, flowery things. For me half a head of young lettuce sitting in deep green, sweet lettuce broth.

asparagus terrine with goat cheese

and for P an even daintier plate of chopped asparagus wrapped with cooked chard on top of a swipe of tangy goat cheese.

smoked sturgeon

Finally we get to protein, some fleshy slices of smoked sturgeon, mild tasting yet reminiscent of bacon. Who can say no to smoked meats? The broth is green again, but this time nutty and creamy with the addition of pistachio and fresh green peas.  

gnocchi

Morels are in this season and the next course featured the meatiness and succulence of the mushrooms simply yet effectively. The gnocchi were plump and the potato pasta melds seamlessly with the ricotta filling.

this morning\'s egg

This morning’s egg is perhaps the most celebrated dish at Blue Hill and our tiny egg had a brilliantly orange yolk that spilled over the mixture of mushroom and greens to create a rich, savory dressing. However, the ones our neighbors had looked even more amazing with a deep fried poached egg and I suffering a serious case of covetou-ness

pork belly

We rounded out the savory courses with 2 meat dishes, a square of crackling pork belly on more green sauce and chickpeas. The meat was tender, the skin crisp but pork belly has become so de riguer that there is hardly any excitement in eating fatty meat left.

trio of lamb

The next dish of young spring lamb however was amazing. The trio of lamb included a lamb chop that was tender to the bone, a piece of confit lamb neck that was stronger tasting, and a quivering piece of sauteed lamb brain that was surprisingly mild tasting. These all sat on a bed of nutty couscous that were a delight to eat.

herbal tea trolley

We’ve been eating steadily for almost 3 hours by the time desserts were served. We polished off glasses of strawberries topped with champagne foam and other sweets that unfortunately slipped my mind. We moved outdoors to catch the last rays of sunlight and enjoyed a tisane of herbs freshly picked from the Blue Hill garden. The server picks honeysuckle, sage, 3 types of peppermint and other herbs I cannot even pronounce from a trolley wheeled to the table, boils the water in front of us and steeps the herbs in a see-through pot. A one-of-a-kind tea service, and at $15 is priced like it. But so is the experience of lounging outdoors with a loved one after a leisurely meal, watching geese amble through the slopes with the knowledge that almost everything you ate can be located within 100 miles. And that is almost priceless.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

630 Bedford Rd, Tarrytown

www.bluehillstonebarns.com

 

Its been two years since P visited New York and as the customs officer rightfully remarked, “What took you so long?!” The length between each boyfriend visit notwithstanding, we had a wonderful week together that moving 15 boxes cross-town to my new place amidst the horrid heatwave only made mini dents on our moods. As usual, our week was punctuated by good food and P’s endless quest for the best minced beef porridge in the city. 

Minced beef congee

I am always bemused that he would fly all these miles across the globe and request a mundane bowl of Cantonese congee but apparently Singaporean restaurants do not serve the simple but time-consuming dish. That or the fact that beef isn’t Singaporean’s protein of choice. Our searches brought us to Big Wong King, where the rice gruel is smooth and almost devoid of visible rice bits, the beef is tender and deep fried vermicelli strands added texture. The deep fried crullers was piping hot and great dipped in the hot congee. My century-egg and pork congee was full of flavor and ingredients but a tad too salty. Unsatisfied with just one bowl of minced beef porridge, we then headed to Great NY Noodletown for their version of the congee. Here grains of rice mingled with the soupy gruel, adding welcome texture, while the beef was soft and chewy. We supplemented the congee with a big bowl of wonton soup, the stock deeply flavored with a seafood base; a plate of tender stewed beef brisket, a big plate of roasted pork on rice doused with a dark sauce that tasted faintly of citrus and some green vegetables for posterity’s sake. P declared the winner to be NY Noodletown’s bowl for the grains of rice that provided an uneven texture and more heft and truth to be told, they were both satisfying and compared to the non-existent bowl in Singapore great.

Big Wong King

67 Mott Street (Bet Canal and Bayard)

Great NY Noodletown

28 Bowery St (At Bayard St)

With the temperature pushing a hundred these past few days, it’s hard to be excited about stepping out of the house, much less eat. Thank goodness frozen yogurt places are springing up all through the city like mushrooms after the rain, such that while its a trial to be outdoors, one can easily seek respite from icy, tart yogurt.

Yogurtland arrives from the West Coast after the uber-popular Pinkberry, the Korean Red Mango and countless others. What makes this froyo purveyor unique is its DIY business model. Enter the narrow but long space on Bleecker Street and you’d encounter a long row of frozen yogurt machines, each dispensing a different flavor ranging from plain to cookies-and-creme. Chloe visited 2 weeks ago and said that it was the actualization of her childhood dream to have a row of soft-serve machines lining her bedroom walls. Grab an empty cup and you can start concocting your own yogurt blend with as many flavors as you’d like. Fancy taro and strawberry, you’ve got it! Dress it up with an assortment of fruit, cereal and chocolate bits and then weigh it and pay up. The texture is similar to that of Pinkberry, although a tad creamier and less icy. And the flavors aren’t bad. While some like strawberry tastes artificial, the tarter fruit flavors such as mango and peach are refreshing and not too sweet. At $0.39/ounce, you can eat a lot more yogurt compared to a small cup at the other places. Curiously, it was empty when P, his JC friend and I visited this afternoon. Hopefully DIY yogurt will catch on as the days become hotter!

Yogurtland

267 Bleecker St (Between Jones and Cornelia Sts)

 

 

Come June 15th, I will bid farewell to my current apartment and move into new digs downtown. While I can’t say I’m sorry to leave the Times Square area with its frenzied traffic, stifling crowds and random drunks screaming at the top of their lungs at 4 am, I’ve definitely not been hungry and have even cultivated certain favorites that I would undoubtedly miss.

Amy’s Bread: Part of a mini-chain, I claim this outlet my own. In general, I find their bread better than the pastries, but that doesn’t stop me from purchasing the thick slabs of almond-crusted brioche. Dawn’s the most fervent Amy Bread loyalist amongst my friends and family. Amy’s is her first stop whenever she visits as she walks from the train station on-route to my apartment, and amongst her last stop before she leaves, so that she can procure a few of her favorite dense, dark, mildly sweet applesauce donuts. One for the road and another for good measure. As for me, I can’t make up my mind between the toothsome raisin and fennel semolina roll and the explosion of chocolate in the sourdough chocolate twist. I guess I’ll just have to try them both more this week to find out which is my true love.

Chili Thai: There must be at least a dozen Thai restaurants within the 3 block radius of my apartment, but I’m partial to the home-cooked quality at Chili Thai as well as the sweet and accommodating service. The ladies to run the place have a sense of humor too. I won’t forget the time they say Uncle Sam resembled a more mature Roger Federer during last year’s US Open. Ruoying got me hooked on the stir fried Pad Woon Sen that’s fragrant and mercifully not too sweet. The Khao Soi is authentic and my next favorite thing to order.

Afghan Kebab House: The lighting at this hole-in-the-wall middle eastern eatery is comically dark, so much so that it is sometimes hard to tell what I am eating. Regardless, the barbecued meats are always well spiced and tender, and even better are the flavorful rice and addictive yogurt sauce that I douse liberally on the meats. So the bread could be fluffier and the service less nonchalant, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Amy’s Bread

672 9th Ave (Between 46th & 47th Sts)

www.amysbread.com

Chili Thai

712 9th Ave (Between 48th & 49th Sts)

Afghan Kebab House 

764 9th Ave (Between 51st & 52nd Sts)