October 2008


Danny Ng’s appears to be party central on Saturdays. All the round tables were filled with large raucous parties and whilst my friends and I were there last weekend, we heard 3 renditions of the birthday song being sung at every corner of the tight room. I was mercifully spared by my dining companions from the humiliation.

It seems to be a curious case, at least on the outset, because Danny Ng’s looks like any old Cantonese restaurant in Chinatown to me. It is small and cramped, not particularly festive looking (discounting the red table clothes and wall displays of dried shark’s fins), service is as Chinatown advertises – quick and brusque- and the menu choices verged on staggering but that is nothing too out of the ordinary. But after working through the sprawling menu (with suggestions by Lily’s mum, Mrs Chan), my crew and I enjoyed an excellent meal without a big dent in the pocket afterwards.

The pace of service is frenzied, and no longer then 10 minutes after ordering did our food arrive, without any distinctions between appetizers or entrees. As in most Cantonese restaurants, we got the soup of the day (ginseng chicken) and desserts (red bean and sago soup, oranges) on the house.

Next up – a barrage of food pictures:

Baked conch

Baked conch

Baked conch: Michelle and I wanted to cut down on the conch orders from one each to one for every two people to avoid over-ordering. In the end it was a futile attempt as those who did not get one each decided to take matters in their own hands and order their share because it was super tasty. The conch shell was filled with chewy meat that had been sliced up and filled back into the shell and then broiled. The hot soup trapped in the shell was particularly delicious and umami packed.

Fruit Salad Jumbo Prawns

Fruit Salad Jumbo Prawns

Fried shrimp with walnuts and fruit cocktail: How long have I not ordered this childhood favorite? The Chinese love mixing sweet and savory and this is a textbook example of how to do large bouncy shrimp with mayo and condensed milk, sitting on a mound of fresh fruits. Non-Chinese may be a little irked out, but I tell you, this is crazy stuff.

Chicken

Chicken

Chicken with preserved vegetables: Very moist roasted chicken with thin, crisp skin and a coating of salty preserved vegetables. Rustic and great with rice.

Beancurd roll

Beancurd roll

Beancurd roll: Because one has to counter all that meat eating with a bit of greens. But the packet of mixed vegetables wrapped with a steamed beancurd skin is both virtuously healthy and delicious that even the most avowed carnivore gladly dug into it without being strongarmed.

Prime Rib

Prime Rib

Prime Rib: Some of the menu items sound more Western than Oriental in the menu. Examples are Pastrami Fried Rice and the Prime Rib, which one typically associates with a steakhouse. The meat is tender and swathed in ubiquitous brown sauce. Unfortunately, it was bland and not very memorable.

Ee fu Noodles

Ee fu Noodles

Ee-fu Noodles with mushroom and chinese leeks: My special order. Noodles on a birthday symbolizes long life, so a platter of noodles at any birthday banquet is de rigeur. I love ee-fu noodles, and Danny Ng’s was non-greasy and packed with ingredients.

Steamed Crab

Steamed Crab

Dungeness crab steamed over glutinous rice: Loved the sucked in breath of anticipation and the united sound of exclamation my friends made when the top of an oversized bamboo steamer is lifted up to reveal, under a puff of steam, an orange crab packed with fresh meat sitting on top of a mound of soft, sticky glutinous rice, the crab juices staining the rice a uniform golden color. Curiously, people demolished the rice but left a good amount of crab alone as it was a messy endeavor cracking crabs. It meant a ton of leftovers for crab omelette, crab rice, crab noodles that I fed myself with the next week.

Eggplant

Eggplant

Egglant Casserole: The dish to make it 8. Good luck that eggplant’s my favorite vegetable too? Excellent on rice.

Danny Ng’s Place

52 Bowery (Bet Canal and Bayard St)

So my birthday came and went rather uneventfully. That is not to say I did not celebrate. Au contraire! In a market as crazy as it is right now, I would say a day of calm is not a bad thing at all. AND I did celebrate with many friends and a lot of food over the course of the week.
On the day itself, my boss decided to get me something good. When one’s boss is in the mood to buy one cake, one happily complies and so we traipsed to Grand Central Terminal towards the direction of Little Pie Company’s corner in the food court, and I got to pick out something I liked.
Little Pie Company's Apple Walnut Sour Cream Pie

Little Pie Company's Pie

Which would be pie! And not just any pie, but an apple pie befitting of the seasons. Little Pie Company’s sour cream apple walnut pie is exorbitantly expensive yet so worth it. The tart and sweet apple and the silken sour cream is a marriage made in heaven, the pleasure of eating the pie filling only enhanced when combined to the perfectly buttery crust topped with a walnut streusel. As Alan pointed out, only vanilla icecream would have made it better.

Yasuda's Peace Passage Oyster Sushi
Yasuda’s Oyster Sushi

For dinner, I opted to eat alone. My friends are still not quite convinced it was intentional, but I must say my date with the sushi chef at the sushi bar was quite a success. Since there was no dining companion, I did not have to waste time on chit chat, and the 90 minutes at Sushi Yasuda was spend singularly focused on the fish. My favorite piece was the peace passage oyster sushi. I’ve had many an oyster, baked, raw, on the half shell, in a chowder. But on rice? Definitely my first time. The combination of plump oyster and the compact mound of sushi rice was simply alchemy, the minerally and iodiny taste of oyster melding into the soft sweetness of the rice as the sushi hits the mouth and disintegrates. It is the taste of the sea and the paddy fields compounded multiple times. So magical, I had to have another piece before I was satisfied. Highly recommended, along with the rest of the super fresh seafood at sushi palace Yasuda.

Besides these, I feted throughout the week with Katherine’s homemade cake and a kickass birthday banquet at Danny Ng’s with 8 dishes for good luck. Not bad indeed, for an uneventful birthday.
Little Pie Company
243 Grand Central Terminal (In the basement food court)
Sushi Yasuda 
204 E 43rd St (Bet 2nd & 3rd Aves)
Steak au Poivre

Steak au Poivre

In France, Les Halles refers to the markets, culinary bellies of french cities. In New York, Les Halles means steak frites in a bustling brasserie. Besides serving straightforward bistro fare, Les Halles also dishes up a side of celebrity through its association with Anthony Bourdain, the irreverent and foul mouthed author/ travel show host who once cooked there. It is quite well known that Tony Bourdain is no longer and in fact has not been for a long time affiliated with the restaurant, but of course there is no stopping fans who still show up at the restaurant hoping to catch a glimpse of him.

While ones chance at sighting celebrities are low at Les Halles, the probability of getting tasty, generously proportioned food is quite a bit higher. There has been talk on the blogosphere and foodie world that Les Halles is a mediocre, over-hyped restaurant, but by wisely steering away from the more complicated sounding dishes and opting for the traditional fare such as steaks, mussels and chops, we ate well. The steaks were largely cooked to the right temperature and while I did not eat any of the mussels, Alan seemed to enjoy it a lot. We largely skipped the undistinguished side salads and attacked the nicely done fries, fried golden brown and piping hot. Sides in general were simple but effective too, particularly a dish of mac and cheese with the cheese bubbling merrily away.

The creme brulee was on point

The creme brulee was on point

My dinner companions hardly needed any coaxing to get dessert. So we shared almost everything on the menu, from the crepe suzette made tableside, to the profiteroles literally drowning in deep, rich chocolate sauce and the satisfying dishes of creme brulee, their brown caramelized tops producing a crackling sound when hit with the back of a metal spoon. Yummy.

Les Halles is fashioned like a traditional French brasserie, large, crowded and very loud. Some of us may have had to rotate seats in order to talk to the others, and most of us strained our voices and ears a little to speak over the cacophony and to catch what others were speaking about. So recognize that it is definitely not the best place for a romantic tete-a-tete, nor is it for innovative cuisine. But for a large gathering of 14, who just want to enjoy each others company while simultaneously indulge in a little meat and wine  no matter the time of day, Les Halles is a fitting spot.

Les Halles

Multiple Locations (we went to the one on 411 Park Ave South)

www.leshalles.net

 
Donut Plant

Donut Plant

Do you believe in serendipity? I do, since how else was it possible that the day I decide to randomly hop on a bus just to see where it goes, the bus winds up right in front of the Doughnut Plant? The Doughnut Plant is famed throughout the city (and apparently Japan) for innovative doughnut flavors and fillings, yet I have never actively sought it out, because fried sweet dough as we all know, are BAD. Tasty but sends you to calorific hell.

However, since the bus deposited me right in front of the store, there was no way I was not at leasting trying one. The tres leches cake doughnut it was, and wow was it worth the hype. The fried tube of cake dough was filled with a semi-viscous condensed milk that just oozes out. The firm cake and the warm filling milk collapses in my mouth and melds together into a sweet mush. Delicious.

Since the first trip, I’ve been making occasional sojourns back to the doughnut plant since I now know how to get there. I love their cake doughnuts, be it the pumpkin that’s packed with cinnamon and spice, and the ultra-indulgent chocolate blackout cake. I have been unimpressed with the yeast doughnuts however, finding them too leaden and greasy, but they too have their followers. And while you’ll find the doughnuts sold in many other locations such as Dean & Deluca, they are still best in the original store, where turnover is fast and the supplies always fresh.

The Doughnut Plant

379 Grand St (at Suffolk St)

http://www.doughnutplant.com/

Nicoise Salad
Nicoise Salad

As its name suggest, the New French is a French restaurant. Well… sort of. Its short menu consists of some traditional bistro items such as the steak frites and mussels; a sprinkling of regional dishes like the Provencal salad Nicoise; select specialities from the colonies such as a Vietnamese pho and some North African couscous; and then brisket and chili and beer braised pulled pork? and Italian pizza bianca? That is clearly veering off the already loosely interpreted French context. Luckily, the kitchen manages to pull most of the dishes off, the traditional dishes adequately traditional, the fusiony stuff successfully executed save for some heavy-handed treatment with ginger in Joanna’s lamb dish and an unsatisfying onion and goat cheese topping on the excellent pizza bianca. My Nicoise salad was packed full of confitted tuna, olives, haricot verts, chopped eggs and a briny anchovy sauce that tied the flavors together while Julie raved about her tender roast chicken that sat in a Thai influenced coconut broth.  Dessert was a disaster however, with the lemon curd too thin and runny and the ginger creme brulee overtly spicy. Only the caramelized banana and chocolate cake dessert was acceptable, so until they tweak their dessert selection, I am going to have to skip and opt for the french press coffee, just for the sake of playing with the mini hourglass they bring out to ensure proper steeping.

I would characterize the New French as a reliable neighborhood joint that serves tasty food at reasonable prices, but definitely not a destination. It does have its charm though, with walls filled with random doodlings (truly, how can one call it a mural?) and a server who when noticing Sarah’s regretful grimace over her foul tasting wine immediately whisked it away with a replacement, no questions asked. If I lived in the West Village, it would be a strong contender for my neighborhood standby.

The New French

522 Hudson St (at 10th St)