September 2008


char siew bao

char siew bao

When it comes to Chinese food, I am a perpetrator of reverse snobbery. I do not believe, at least in
chinatowns across america, that good food and trendy interior decor go together. Therefore I must admit my expectations for the food at red egg, a newish chinese peruvian restaurant, whose design is more fitting for the LES than chinatown, was decidedly low. So imagine my surprise when my friends and I dove in to the better than average dim sum that was refined, piping hot and varied. The carrot cake had a good crust, the pork buns light and fluffy with a savory, not gunkily sweet filling, and the beef cheung fun packed with juicy, fresh meat. They also had a dessert section within the dim sum menu, which had, on top the staple ma lai gou and egg tarts, hot chinese desserts such as a very smooth egg custard. We opted out of entrees, but the fried noodles our neighbors order had good wok hei. No, we did not order from the peruvian side of the menu, absent as it was last sunday afternoon, and no, they did not have carts rolling around the slickly decorated room, colored pink with silver accents. But a serious contender of dimsum if there ever was one in the city. Who would have thunk?

Red Egg

202 Centre St (at Howard St)

http://www.redeggnyc.com/

It had been an awful awful week at work, and as Friday rolled in, all I wanted to do was go home, order Chinese takeout and then crawl into bed and not get up for the next 15 hours. Unfortunately, I had to honor previously made plans with friends and as dinner time approached, made my way up 80 blocks to Pisticci, Sarah’s (our dinner mastermind) favorite Italian restaurant in Manhattan. With an Italian grandma, that is no small praise indeed.

It is easy to see why Pisticci earns Sarah’s praise. The decor is charming in a quirky, kitschy way, with canary yellow wallpaper on one end and a mural of painted bookcases (replete with painted hardcovers) on the other. The pieces of art available for sale are electic and original. The service is friendly, quick, laidback and non-obtrusive throughout dinner, and no one attempted to rush us through our very long meal. Last but not least, the food is straightforward and very tasty. We shared a heaping bowl of spaghetti and meatballs to start, with the pomodoro sauce done just right, not too watery nor tart. I was having dinner with a group of carbophiles so after spaghetti came more heaping bowls of pasta, all al dente and slick with a myraid of tasty sauces, the most memorable being Chri’s fresh tomato and mozzarella mixture and Joanna’s rich, lemony broth that was as seductive as advertised on the menu. My bowl of fresh maltagliati (ie “badly cut” pasta similar to my favorite mee hoon kuay) was one of the heaviest dish, the pasta mixed into a thick lamb ragu and topped off with ricotta as if it was not rich enough. Not too distinguished, but it was a comforting dish suitable on a very cool night.

We then slowly whiled the night away with coffee and desserts which like the savory dishes were simple, traditional and delicious. Katherine’s bowl of fresh whipped cream and fruits was no doubt the most decadent, but the most delicious? I’ll give that honor to the hefty brick of moist coconut cake and the chocolate mousse that was not too sweet, super-smooth and without the grittiness that sometimes plague mediocre mousses. The evening went quickly, as we passed around desserts, shared stories of our lives, and talked about everything, from food trends to books to politics. We finally left the restaurant after an epic 4 hour meal (3.5hrs for me the latecomer). After a very trying week, dinner with friends in a welcoming spot such as Pisticci was exactly what the doctor had ordered.

Pisticci

125 La Salle Street (Between Broadway & Claremont Aves)

www.pisticcinyc.com

The boyfriend was in town for a whirlwind 36 hours and I sent him off to the airport at 5 am this morning with promises to meet again soon. The next rendezvous, we decided, was going to take place in Paris, city of light. Thus french pastries were in my mind as I journeyed home and in spite of only 4 hours of sleep under my belt, I decided to postpone rest and find consolance in a good croissant.

I landed up at Patisserie Claude after a good walk from Union Square, where I was so early that the vendors were only setting up for the greenmarket. Luckily for me,  Claude has already begun churning out his pastries and was serving a discerning cabbie when I reached his shop at 740 am. The notoriously ill-tempered Frenchman was sweet and all smiles this morning as he plucked out a hefty pain au chocolate and a brioche from the trays into my paper bag. Sitting on a stoop overlooking Washington Square Park, I bit into the chocolate croissant, still warm from the oven, with a rich, glossy, semi-sweet chocolate paste oozing into my mouth. Objectively, the buttery dough is flavorful but too heavy in texture, and the interiors were a little too wet, but that did not take the pleasure of eating away. I meant to save the brioche for mid-morning, but could not resist pinching the topknot off for a bite. The broiche is excellent, with a tender crumb, slightly salty and with a deep eggy flavor. I applaud my self-restraint to keep the rest until I got home. Claude’s coffee is mediocre but did its job of washing the pastries down, and I walk home a little more awake and with slightly better spirits.

I look forward to Paris, to daily visits to local boulangeries and patisseries, to discovering favorite tarte tatins with Pak. But for now, I have Claude, and I am satisfied

Patisserie Claude

187 W4th St (bet Barrow & Jones Sts)

Emma, a fellow UofC alum was in the city for training, and Karen decided to introduce her to me over a girlie dinner last week. Coming from the gustatory capital of Hong Kong and in a line of business where there is no lack of exposure to fine dining, Emma would be a tough critic to impress. Thankfully, Degustation, with a fun concept, delicious food and value for money proposition knocked our collective socks off. Score one for New York.

Degustation is a 16 seat restaurant with an open kitchen concept. The concept and sparse, modern decor is reminiscent of another popular East Village restaurant, Momofuku Ko but except without the pomp and circumstance. Reservations proved easy to score on a Wednesday night, as Karen managed to make the booking for prime time dining the day before. The counter seats are more comfortable than the backless bar seats at Momofuku Ko and service is more on point with a brilliant, all-seeing head server (together with Jack Lamb who occasionally popped into the restaurant). As far as non-food comparisons go, it must also be mentioned that while the chefs here were as reticent as those at Ko, chef Wesley Genovart is a hottie who can cook. Yet another reason to visit.
Tortilla Espanola

Tortilla Espanola

Chef Genovart hails from Spain and serves a Spanish influenced menu, tapas style. Diners can choose to go ala carte or pick the very reasonably priced tasting menus (5 courses for $50, 10 courses for $75).

 Since Karen was keen on the tasting menu, all three of us had to participate. Thankfully the restaurant is flexible enough for us to swap a few dishes, allowing us to taste more. I opted out of the poached egg course and went for the Degustation’s version of the spanish traditional tapas, tortilla espanola. Imagine my surprise when out came not a hefty slab of potato omelette, but a pair of little munchies made up of a thin potato slice wrapping a quail egg, pan fried and then topped with the thinnest slice of cherry tomato. Clever and tasty, but much smaller than the first courses my companions had, a colorful salad and a composed soup of poached egg and tempura-ed vegetables.

oil poached cod, clams, peas in bacon broth

oil poached cod, clams, peas in bacon broth

For our second courses, all three of us opted for the cod fish. It turned out to be the right choice, this being one of the highlights of the meal. The fish is perfectly moist, the clams big and juicy, and the taste of bacon enhanced without overpowering the flavor of the delicate fish. We cleared our plates on this one.

quail with pinenut puree

quail with pinenut puree

I went from fish to fowl with my next dish, a simply grilled quail with mushrooms and a thick, buttery pinenut puree. The quail is cooked on a charcoal grill situated right in the middle of the room, and the aroma was amazing. The meat was juicy, and the gaminess accentuated with the sweet and earthy flavors of the sauce.

pan seared scallops with shiso puree and saffron risotto
pan seared scallops with shiso puree and saffron risotto

Karen and Emma switched out of the quail and ended up with plates of seared sea scallops. The brilliant green of the shiso puree, the scallop’s white flesh and distinct brown sear sitting on a yellow and orange bed of oatmeal risotto made for a beautiful and edible Rothko-esque picture.

pork belly

pork belly

The meat dish is always the weakest for some reason and I honestly cannot get excited over crispy pork belly anymore, no matter how well done. I liked the garlicky sides though, which helped ease the fattiness of the pork. Karen and Emma stuck to the Wagyu beef and porcini dish, which had a really pleasing sweetness to it that I could not identify.

bread pudding

bread pudding

We were very ready for dessert after the meat course, and were served a simple but effective dish of bread pudding, soaked in milk and then treated to a round of brulee-ing. The sourish berry coulis and fresh berries helped temper the sugariness of the pudding.

4 cheese, 4 accompaniment plate

4 cheese, 4 accompaniment plate

We were by this point full, but continued to order a plate of 4 cheeses after a bout of dish envy as we saw the chef prepare a cheese plate for other diners. Each cheese came with a mate, and the pairings worked really well to highlight the characteristics of the cheeses. The honeycomb that accompanied a stinky cheese whose name I no longer remember did me in. I had to have the cheese plate simply for the thrill of eating honey straight out of the comb. After the cheese and the attendant basket of bread that came with the cheese, we were now approaching more than comfortably full, and since the restaurant does not serve coffee due to lack of space, we paid our very reasonable bill and ambled out of the restaurant in good spirits and with plans to meet again on Sunday.

Ever since dinner with Karen and Emma at Degustation 5 days ago, I’ve been recommending this little restaurant to everyone, to the point it seems as though I have an equity stake in the place. But dinner left me truely impressed, with the talent of the chefs, the solid and often creative cooking and the warm reception. For a romantic dinner date or a cozy gathering of 3-4, Degustation is definitely one of my top picks in the city.
Degustation
239 E 5th St (Between 2nd Ave and Bowery)
Summer is not officially over until the 22nd, but today is the psychological end to a brief but sunny 3
strawberries in june

strawberries in june

months. I confess that summer is my least favorite of the 4 seasons given my childhood in ubiquitous heat and humidity, but I did a lot this year and consequently had an enjoyable summer.
I moved from Hell’s Kitchen into a tiny studio in the East Village and welcomed a host of visitors there. A sister, two cousins, both college roommates, the boyfriend and my dad. I explored east village restaurants with my siblings, countered the worst heat wave with pakshun by eating a lot of frozen yogurt, entertained friends for the first time in a long time in my building’s central courtyard on shopping from the greenmarket, whole foods and specialty grocers, ate my weight in fragrant berries and juicy stone fruits, and got to make amends to my father by bringing him around New York in summer, where we visited a musuem, shopped and people watched while dining al fresco in my neighborhood. It must have infinitely more interesting than his last trip made in winter, when mum and I made him sit through a not very interesting musical. 
Nathan's hot dogs

Nathan

I finally made it to coney island to eat a hot dog from the original Nathans, to ride the ferris wheel and take in the view of the boardwalk and ocean. We shared the beach with seagulls, mountains of trash and the assortment of people that made up the crowds.

Howard's fish, steamed Cantonese style

Howard's fish, steamed

Not satisfied with merely sitting on the beach, I joined rosie and co on a deep sea fishing trip, on a fishing boat docked on Sheepshead bay, Brooklyn. Despite over 20 cumulative hours of choppy waters and terrible sea sickness shared between the 6 of us, we caught fish in waters so populous with sea bass that the first catch of the day bit less than 30 seconds after Yu Gang lowered his bait. Once onshore, we sped to Flushing, Queens, begged the chef at Imperial Palace, a fancy for Chinatown Cantonese seafood restaurant- to steam our largest catch (courtesy of Howard) and devoured our spoils of war. It was one of my most well earned meal and darn delicious, as it should be, given the fish was still flopping around, alive, less than 2 hours before being cooked.

And now on labor day, after a few hours in the office, I am doing a stint as a tourist in the city, on a beautifully sunny but breezy day, one of those days when the city conspires to make you fall in love with it. I am sit beneath the shade of a palm in rockefeller center, bustling but mercifully not overrun with people, with a book (now blackberry) in hand and a cup of creamy gelato from a stand operated by the rock center cafe on the rink. It is an indulgent cup of bacio gelato by a Philadelphia base company called Capogiro, and the cold treat is both luxe in ingredients and in price, expensive even for NYC standards. Of the 2 fruit base sorbets and the sinful chocolatey gelato, I of course choose the fatty, creamy, sinful gelato. When one wastes empty calories on sweets, one might as well go for the extreme. The chocolate is sweet but not cloyingly so, and the luscious gelato is generously speckled with fresh roasted hazelnuts before it melts. A perfect antidote for the heat and 5th Avenue crowds.  
It has been a good summer indeed. I’m sad to see it go as everybody else is, but at the same time looking forward to fall fashion and cold weather foods. I wonder what I’ll be eating.

Nathan’s Famous

1310 Surf Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11224 ( the original, multiple locations nationwide)

www.nathansfamous.com

Imperial Palace

136-13 37th Ave, Flushing, NY 11354

Capogiro Gelato Artisans @ the Rock Center Cafe

20 W50th St (Between 5th & 6th Aves, right by the rink)

http://www.capogirogelato.com/main.html