June 2009


I wish I could tell you how I spent my last 12 hours in the city revisiting favorite haunts, or dining at my most beloved neighborhood hole in the walls. Unfortunately, I’ve just been buzzing around since waking up prematurely early today, anxious about the packing yet to be done and finally realizing that I am leaving. Not just going on a vacation, but packing like I will never be back in my cozy little studio, which turns out to be the case, since I have no idea how long this move back home will be. Still, in between all the shuttling between the local UPS, Jeremiah’s house and constant trips up and down my building carrying emptied boxes and heavy white rubbish bags, I managed to do a little eating with mum. I introduced her to Fage yogurt, which I was obsessed about one point in my life about 2 years ago, creamy and tart when paired with dried fruit. Then, when tempers started flaring about the lack of progress with packing, we calmed down with cups of decent coffee and buttery croissants at Taralluci e Vino. And finally after all the errands were completed, a slice of New York pizza pie at Vinny Vincenz, where the crust is crisp and tomato sauce bright and sweet.

Still, there are blog posts still to be written, like my long overdue report on Le Bernardin, a tasting at Blue Hill and my foray into vegetarian dining with mummy. But that will have to wait until I am safely, comfortably ensconced in my room in Singapore.

Until then, a list of my favorite things:

1. Pizza Bianca at Sullivan Street Bakery

2. Shiotama at Ramen Setagaya

3. My daily oatmeal with everything at ‘wichcraft

4. Peace passage oyster sushi at Sushi Yasuda

5. Artic Circle at Aquavit

6. Hiyashi Chuka at Menchanko Tei

7. Chocolate Edamame and other random titbits at Trader Joes

8. Long walks home to pay penance after particularly rich meals

9. My studio and the courtyard just right for summer dinner parties

10. Friends who shared many many many meals

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Noodle Salad

Noodle Salad

The mention of terms like vegan and macrobiotic usually gives me hives, but my mum is vegetarian, so I’ve been accomodating her tastes while she visits this week. Mum was seriously craving noodles the day she got into New York after a grueling 20 hour flight, so I brought her for some vegetarian ramen at Souen, a relatively new noodle joint in East Village. It has 2 sister shops in Union Square and West Village, but the EV one specializes in noodles, offering not just vegetarian, but also chicken and seafood broths. No milk white pork broth reminiscent of Ippudo in sight, but my mother’s ramen was springy, chockful of fresh vegetables and the miso broth actually had depth and flavor. Not as flavorful as less healthy versions of ramen, but nonetheless pretty tasty for a meatless stock.

My ramen salad was even better. Souen’s version of the hiyashi chuka was packed with fresh and pickled vegetables, the lotus roots and seaweed providing crunch and chew, the sprouts and carrots natural sweetness. The cold broth enhanced by a lemon’s tang and the addictive ume paste made for a most refreshing light lunch. Just perfect for the long, hot summer.

 

Souen Organic Ramen

326 E 6th St (Between 1st and 2nd Ave)

http://www.souen.net/menu.html

bread & gougeres

bread & gougeres

First impression of steak tartare came courtesy of Mr Bean, on his “travels” to neighboring France on the eponymous show. Judging from the wild antics that ensued, there was no doubt he was more than a little perturbed by the mound of chopped raw beef. Thank goodness I share none of his squeamishness, because a good version of steak tartare, with quality hand chopped meat mixed in with sharp, tangy accoutrements including onions and my favorite capers is a light, refreshing meal. The most traditional accompaniment is golden pomme frites, making the dish even more so appealing. Benoit, a member of the Alain Ducasse empire serves steak tartare, which was exactly what I ordered, a little too dressed for my taste but still a tasty treat on a wet Saturday afternoon.

My friends whom I was lunching with picked the lunch special, an absolute deal at a mere $19 for 2 courses and $24 for 3. The menu, while severely truncated provided enough choice with only one clunker that afternoon, a very pedestrian slab of pate. Otherwise, everything else were delicious, the salmon en croute delectably moist yet with a flaky, buttery shell while yc’s slow baked pork butt had a super tender consistency reminiscent of bbqed pull pork. The red and yellow room, dressed in the classic Gallic brasserie style was bright and cheery, but serene enough on a relatively slow afternoon for us to relax, chat and eat. Remarkably, service is attentive and warm, quite unlike what I’ve read in other media and expecting. So I’ve never made it to the original in Paris, but its American facsimile ain’t bad either!
Post lunch, Cezi and I adjourned to Saks where I introduced her to one of Britain’s oldest chocolate maker, Charbonnel et Walker’s cafe for some respite from the relentless rain. The lovely cafe, hidden away in a corner of the 8th floor of Saks is an oasis of calm compared to the frantic energy of the designer shoe salon right next to it. Loubutins at 400 are cheaper than loubies at 900, but it still means I can’t afford them. Thank God for affordable luxuries like chocolate! Besides truffles and bon bons, one can also order sinfully rich chocolate based drinks and enjoy fresh pastries such as a rich brownie and butter croissants. The ganaches are pretty decently, but the shell was much too thick. Its a good stop when you’re in the neighborhood, but not something that’s going to make me give up going to Kee’s or La Maison. Still, a good place to rest and conduct post-mortem on one’s purchases, and definitely a place to impress!  

Benoit

60 W 55th St (Between 5th and 6th Aves)

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

Charbonnel et Walker

611 5th Ave (8th Flr)

http://www.charbonnel.co.uk/erol.html#758X0

I love to eat. I also happen to enjoy eating what I cook. However, 4 years of city living has rendered any techniques I used to possess lost. Shamefully I admit I now cook only about once a week, and that meal typically consists of  Shin ramen or fried eggs. So a cooking class is long overdue, and I can only say that the intensive week of training at ICE, for its most popular Techniques of Fine Cooking 1 class under the watchful eye of my instructors was comprehensive and illuminating, the $600 upfront fee well spent.

I consider myself a proficient, or at least confident cook, but I do not possess any culinary skills to speak of, and my knowledge of the western larder rather lacking. So over the course of the week, I learnt to identify herbs, dice mire poix into perfectly uniform cubes, strussed chickens, whipped fluffy souffles, braised, roasted, baked and grilled. I made made sure my mayonnaise was emulsified by painstakingly stirring oil, drip by drip, into the egg and mustard base, and rolled chocolate truffles that were laced with rum and kahlua. My instructors, Chef Richard the avowed food snob and locavore and Chef Dan, the bubbly and enthusiastic man honest enough to confess a weakness for Hamburger Helper were patient, helpful and knowledgeable, teaching not just the dishes of the day but the underlying techniques and science behind cooking. Hopefully those theories would stick and translate into my future culinary trials.

The best part of class was perhaps dinner as the class sat down to eat what we made every day, me gaining about 5 pounds over the course of the week as a result of the rich diet. Another unintended consequence of cooking with fellow enthusiasts was making new friends out of classmates as we shared culinary ideas, fooding experiences and shopping tips in the city. As we celebrated the end of the intensive week by knocking back a few pints at the local pub across the school, we made plans to form a class again for Techniques of Fine Cooking 2 and 3. Learning can be addictive, especially amongst great friends.

Techniques (Menu):

Day 1 – Knife skills, sautes, vinaigrettes. (Gazpacho, Lamb chops, Sauteed vegetables, Frisee aux lardon, Orange Supreme in Grand Marnier)

Day 2 – Roasts and Bakes (Roast chicken, chicken broth, Italian chicken rice soup, rice pilaf, clafouti)

Day 3 – Braise, Boils and Chocolate (Braised lamb shanks, braised vegetables, endive salad, mussels in wine sauce, chocolate mousse, chocolate truffles)

Day 4 – Eggs, eggs, eggs (Scrambled with caviar, French rolled omelettes, Eggs Benedict, Salad Nicoise, Souffles)

Day 5 – Grills and composed salads (Slaws, Salads, Guacamole, Grilled Flank Steak)

www.iceculinary.com

Fish head with minced peppers

Fish head with minced peppers

Rosie postulates that spicy food alleviate allergy symptoms, so with my nose congested through memorial day weekend, we decided to lunch at Hunan house and test out her theory.
While Cantonese and Sichuan food are familiar to the western palate, Chinese cuisine varies greatly based on regional differences. Hunan cuisine, like the two above-mentioned, reigns among the eight most famous Chinese culinary styles. Hunanese cuisine, like Sichuan food is spicy, but it relies not on tongue numbing characteristics of tiny but deadly Sichuan peppercorns. Instead, a ton of fresh chilis, both green and red are used in abundance. We recruited JW, another spice lover to test out 4 dishes.

The cold spicy tongue and tripe appetizer is authentically Sichuanese, slick with fiery red oil and those potent peppercorns that render your tongue momentarily dysfunctional. Next was a platter of tofu soaking up some light red sauce that had been enhanced by broth and peppers. Although humble looking, the tofu was smooth and nutty, and possessed a clean, bracing flavor from the light sauce. Large chunks of bell peppers and very tender ginger finished that dish. Next was a humble looking dish called chicken casserole on the menu. We would not have ordered it had it not come highly recommended by the helpful proprietor, with its really generic name and the fact it was not even on the specials page. However, the lean and flavorful chicken (unlike the garden roaster variety) stewed in a deep flavorful sauce that thickened as the casserole bubbled over an open flame was my favorite dish, the sauce, both spicy, sweet, salty with a little funk from fermented soy bean paste addictive particularly with rice. I ate a second bowl of rice just sopping up the sauce.

The unassumingly delicious chicken dish

The unassumingly delicious chicken dish

Just wonderful as the chicken may be, the piece de resistance was definitely the fish head cooked with fresh minced peppers. The braised fish head is not presented whole but thoughtfully chopped into 2 inch chunks to facilitate marination, rendering the freshwater fish tender with minimal mud taste and saturated with the delightly taste of soy and chili. Another dish that requires plenty of rice, which we happily ate, seconds and thirds included. Only quibble about this dish was that the chopped up head made it really difficult to locate the fish eyes that rosie and I both coveted. Hehe.

With Hunanese food  conveniently found in Flushing, the regional cuisine is definitely going to break my usual rotation of Canton/Shanghai and Sichuan food!

Hunan House

13740 Northern Boulevard, Flushing