deals


Forget what savvy advertisers have been telling you. Disney is not the happiest place on earth. Costco is. Well… at least for a money pincher with 12 mouths to feed for a weekend, and a grand old budget of $200. While Walmart staggers you with the breadth of choice, Costco stuns you with sheer quantity. Family sized is clearly the way to shop. For an urbanite used to shopping for one (i.e. buying 2 bananas, an avocado and 2 bars of chocolate at the bodega), it was refreshing to purchase 10 pound bags of chicken drumsticks and a clamshell of washed salad greens enough to feed a dozen yet cost the same as a lunch salad in my Manhattan deli, filling the car’s trunk at one go. A brick of cheese at Costco costs as little as 2 slices from Murray’s, albeit without the cheesemongers and the stickers with cute animal figures that informs if the cheese was made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk. Even the shopping carts are larger than life, big enough to truck a few people at once. As we got to shopping, my menu ideas changed with the sight of excessive food. Instead of a 2 pound pack of ground beef for my bolognese sauce, I ended up with 5. What to do? Make beef tacos the next day. And the giant bag of baby carrots ended up in the salad, the stew, was roasted as a side and eaten raw throughout the day. 

Best of all was the post shopping meal, when my fellow partners in crime and I noshed on jumbo hotdogs from Hebrew’s National replete with do it yourself condiments and a hand crank onion mincer, and washed it down with a 16 ounce cup of flat soda. All for $1.50 each. While sitting on a picnic table inside the warehouse. Gray’s Papaya, even with your recession proof deal, you lose.

Costco

Multiple locations with the closest in Queens

www.costco.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)

jfOur dim sum lunch at Jing Fong last weekend ended up being the victim of its own success. When Lily and I first started casually asking people to hang out on Chinese New Year’s weekend in Chinatown, we did not expect a 26 people turnout. And on a day that was purported to be frigid (but turned out not to be thankfully), we were fully expecting no-shows. But contrary to belief, everyone showed up and more, including Rosie and her beau who drove in from Queens and ended up leaving without eating, no thanks to my third rate organizational skills resulting in the lack of available seating. I am so sorry, jiejie.

Coordinating 20+ people in a popular restaurant that does not take reservations is a logistical nightmare I do not plan to repeat soon, but it resolved itself miraculously with help from Lily’s dad. Thank God for well-connected parents! If not for him, we would have been condemned to a 2 hour long wait instead the 45 mins that we dealt with quite stoically. Once past the ordeal of seating everyone and their significant others, we got to ordering and eating. The waiting sure did wonders to one’s appetite. Some friends new to the dim sum deal were mostly game at letting their Asian counterparts order pretty much everything that caught our eye. TPS even managed to get the people on her table to try red braised chicken feet, which c-ry pronounced tasty, particularly when paired with boiled beef tripe. My table wasn’t quite that adventurous, but I still managed to steer Angel, Dodd & Sara towards slimy looking steamed rice rolls studded with funky mini shrimp, some very good shrimp dumplings with chives in a shimmering translucent skin and deep fried taro balls that were very popular. The one unqualified hit on all three tables were the mini rolls of “ma lai gou”(马拉糕) or the steamed yellow cakes that were fluffy and custardy at once.  

After demystifying the rituals of dim sum, we of course engaged in a game of “guess how dirt cheap your meal was” while eating some tangerines (representing good luck, or 吉利)that I supplied in recognition of my southeast asian chinese roots. Looks of disbelief ensued when my friends realized they’ve just eaten royally in one of the most recognized Chinese restaurant in the city for less than a salad from a midtown deli. This is one Chinatown trip I’ll remember for a while.

For all the times I’ve ragged about restaurant week and its attendant negatives, such as menu limitations and substandard service, I have to admit that I succumbed on the first day of the 2 week event, meeting Ruoying at Inagiku for lunch.

asparagus structureInagiku, situated in Waldorf Astoria is the grand dame of midtown Japanese restaurants, as well as one of the oldest in the city. The innovative dishes and prices on the ala carte also differentiates itself from the neighborhood sushi place. By contrast, the restaurant week menu, with 3-4 options per course was decidedly pedestrian, but at more down to earth prices. Never good to judge a chef’s ability by the restaurant week menu.

Between Ruoying and I, we had the asparagus and the whitefish salad to start, tempura and sushi as main courses and both chose the tofu flan dessert. My asparagus appetizer consisted of short pieces of cold, blanched asparagus stacked artistically on top of a thick flavorful sesame vinaigrette. Ruoying’s whitefish salad in contrast was hearty, savory with a bright, tangy dressing. The entrees were fine, the standard pieces of sushi (shrimp, unagi, tuna, California roll etc etc) fresh but not as good as when I had ordered ala carte (with fantastically sweet uni ) the last time I visited the restaurant. Ruoying’s tempura was not as light as expected, and the smell of frying oil lingered on as the restaurant contends with its ventilation problem.

Inagiku tofu flanThe dessert was our favorite part of the meal, a delicate panna cotta like pudding with mild soy milk flavor, sweetened by a drizzle of brown sugar syrup and 3 types of fruit puree, the apricot being my favorite. Definitely not a dish that shouts assertiveness, but rather whispered quiet elegance.

Dessert was not the only unassuming thing at Inagiku. The Adam Tihany designed interiors, while slightly dated was faintly suggestive of the ocean, and the gold lacquered place mats understated luxury. Service was professional, prompt and very silent too. Kimono-clad servers shuffled across the carpeted room almost soundlessly, to the degree that I did not hear our server approach me from the back to attack my teacup.  

In all, not a bad restaurant week experience, and one I would recommend to Japanese food lovers who struggle to find decent sushi for lunch in midtown. Should you decide not to order from the limited restaurant week menu, the ala carte menu promises to be more varied and interesting, albeit at a higher price.

Inagiku

111 E49th St (Between Park & Lexington Aves)

www.inagiku.com