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

From wikipedia: The word ciao (pronounced “chaow” /tʃao/) is an informal Italian verbal salutation or greeting, meaning either “goodbye” or “hello”.
How apt in this case to be greeted a good day by the lovely glass displays of stacked home baked goodies and a whirring espresso machine dispensing the scent of roasted coffee beans and fresh cups of daily joe. The adjoining dining room, where the walls are bare and interior design rustic, like the cookies and cakes they make, is the best place to enjoy a sit down breakfast. There is the added entertainment factor of watching children from the nearby kindergarten interact with their parents and of course, the fish in a television set.
While I cannot opine on the savory options (save for a not so satisfactory huevos verde a few weeks before), I have been savoring every pastry I’ve bought so far, be it a sticky cinnamon bun, any of the scones or my favorite square muffins, in traditional and some flavors that are more out there, like polenta with lemon lavender and golden pineapple. Their cupcakes are tiny and topped with just enough buttercream, quite unlike the frothy, frosted confections out in the market. Plain is good, when the flavors are there.
Ciao for now does not feel like New York, and instead of rushing from point A to B on the weekdays, I linger there for a while on my precious Sundays, reading the weekend news and taking in the neighborhood sights. Ciao. Goodbye when every crumb has been polished off the plate, and hello to the promise of another languid Sunday next week.

Ciao For Now
523 E12th St (Between Aves A and B)
http://ciaofornow.net/

Television can be such insidious poison, particularly reality tv shows like “America’s next top model” and tv challenges. “Man v. Food” belongs to the latter category. In the show, the host pits his stomach against some pretty extreme challenges, and on the New York stop, he takes on phaal, ostensibly described as the hottest curry in the country, at Bricklane Curry. Despite its rather senseless premise, “Man v Food” has a sizeable following, and amongst its viewers is my friend Sarah. Now Sarah is usually a very sensible girl, and I am still not sure why she was so eager to take on the challenge. But we are good friends, so if she had to succumb to the siren call of crass tv promotions and hot indian curries, I would be there to provide moral support.

After much mental preparation (what’s the most effective way to eat the curry? rice or no rice? should we bring milk to neutralize the acid?) we met at Bricklane on Saturday, where a line had spilled out of the door whereas its neighbors on Curry Lane were half empty, a testimony to its reputation as one of the better Indian restaurants on the block. No doubt business must have picked up since the show too, with many others like Sarah eager to try the phaal. According to our very chatty server Chad, about 20-30 bowls of phaal is sold every given day after the episode of “Man v Food” had aired. We were soon seated and after a plate of aloo chaat (very middling, needs acid) to line the stomach, and armed with raita and a mango lassi, S dug into her phaal. As for me? I am happy to be a pure spectator and ordered a dish of Goan fish curry (tasty, but not quite aromatic enough).

Forgive my pun, but the phaal was truly foul. Made with a paste of 13 different peppers and other assorted spices such as ginger.  In honesty, the spice level might have been tolerable if the dish tasted a little better, but the grey sludge was largely bitter and devoid of other more appealing flavors. Instead of an instantaneous burning sensation, one encounters a slow burn in the mouth that intensifies and travels down the esophagus. I had merely 3 small bites and was quite put off. Poor Sarah on the other hand had to struggle through the bowl, cooling off once in a while with the aforementioned yogurt mix and drink, and then plunging right back into the fiery depths of curry hell. By the time she had eaten all the chicken chunks in the dish and all was left was a third of the dish filled with black gunk (sauce), Sarah decided, in a haze of pain, that the virtual P’hall of fame and the free beer for completing the dare wasn’t worth it. Indeed, it isn’t, but for those foolhardy enough, game on!

Brick Lane Curry House

306 E 6th St (Between 1st and 2nd Aves)

bricklanecurryhouse.com

 
Potato Pancakes
Potato Pancakes
Online communities. Gotta love them. The genesis of my trip to Veselka came about when I commented on Jon’s facebook status that same weekend we both hit the slopes. Then we found mutual facebook friends, Mabel and Alex and decided to meet. Jon chose Veselka as it happened to be bookmarked on Jon’s Yelp.com to-do list.
Veselka is an extremely popular joint in the East Village but luckily spacious enough such that a 20 minute wait was all that took to secure us a nice 4-top in the middle of the action, so we could see what was being ordered around us. I liked the atmosphere of the place, with great natural light, a buzzy feel, friendly servers and a black-and-white wall mural I would love to haul home, if only I could afford it. The expansive menu is split into typical American diner and Eastern European standards, and we had a lot of ground to cover. Thank God for healthy appetites!
Beety borscht

Beety borscht

I generally consider brunch a one dish meal, but here at Veselka, wracked by indecision, we decided to order our overflow decisions as appetizers. I warmed up with a hot cup of borscht, packed rimful with beets, onions, carrots, dill and tender beef, the flavors rich and slightly sourish. Then I joined the rest in devouring a plate of potato pancakes, crisp fried but a little doughy and blintzes, think crepes stuffed with ricotta and doused with raspberry sauce. Not bad, a little bland.
As we were halfway through our appetizers, the oversized plates of “real” food came and we had to rearrange the table settings for everything to fit. A stack of kasha pancakes, oddly gray and with a nutty flavor graced M’s breakfast plate.  My tomato and feta omelette was rather mediocre, the only saving grace being its overwhelming, sides off the plate size, meaning ample leftovers for a second meal.
pierogies and other stuff

pierogies and other stuff

The boys fared better. J’s meat platter was a manly entree, the famed meat combination platter comprising of everything stuffed and delightful. Pierogies are little dumplings filled with ricotta and meat, while a hefty lump of stuffed cabbage revealed more meat and minimal cabbage.  From the starter salad and soup to the main affair, J was well pleased. A’s meal was a plate of bigos, a traditional Ukrainian stew that is “fit for a hunter” according to the menu. Again, not necessarily something I would order for my lunch, but for A, substantial, tasty and he needed no help polishing the casserole of meat, sauerkraut, meat, potatoes and more meat off.

Bigos!

Bigos!

   Overall, a very satisfactory dish. I got to tick off a neighborhood staple off my to-do list, Jon got to yelp about it, and we all got to catch up. Now, if facebook technicians can invent a share a meal function….
Veselka
144 2nd Ave (corner of 9th st)
Porchetta sandwiches

Porchetta sandwiches

Here is one way to feed a small group. A structurally unsound mountain of brown paper packages that reveal pork sandwiches. These sandwiches in question are Italian in heritage and purchased from Porchetta, a white sliver of a shop a few blocks down my apartment.  Slow roasted pork with crackly golden skin nests within a small, square ciabatta roll that soaks up all the juices. For sides, one can order beans, slow-cooked greens and roasted potatos studded with more roasted pork.  For pig freaks, this is all good, although the price at $9 a smallish sandwich is  steep. And frankly, we did not really get the raving “top 10 eats of the year” type of reviews.

 

 

Porchetta

110 E7th St (Between 1st Avenue and Avenue A)

www.porchettanyc.com

A solo lunch at Prune

A solo lunch at Prune

Staycation. A 2008 word of the year, and a day to enjoy New York City on my own pace, without having to mingle with the weekend crowds or scramble around town running errands. Also perfect days to check out immensely popular and impossible restaurants on less crowded weekdays. So while I had taken a bitterly cold Tuesday for my staycation, it provided a perfect foil to check out Prune by myself.

Sans crazy brunch crowds, Prune is actually a very nice place to have a meal. The room, while tiny is bright and airy, with floor length windows letting generously amounts of sun in. The decor is coolly shabby and furniture worn and purposely mismatched. Most cooks and servers were female and dressed in pink t-shirts. Even the menu was girlishly pink. It was my type of place, down to the pressed tin ceiling, cocktail glasses with hula girl motifs and the ramekin of olives and celery sticks to munch on while I decide what to eat.

Prune's manti special

Prune's manti special

My heart was set on the manti the moment my server recited the specials. The bowl of manti came with about 10 petite dumplings, each filled with minced lamb, wrapped into miniscule purses and then panfried ala gyoza style. The server said that when Turkish women made these dumplings, the smaller the manti the better wives they would become. The chef here would be a very worthy wife indeed. The manti is served in a spicy sauce redolent of garlic and paprika, and is topped off with creamy smooth yogurt. I asked for bread at the end to sop up all the wonderful sauce. Priced gently at $10, it was  a small dish with big flavors and matched well with my glass of medium bodied Italian red. Unfortunately, the size of the meal was neither large enough for a full sized lunch but not small enough to justify ordering a succulent looking burger every other diner was scarfing down, but that could just give me more cause to escape out for another lunch soon!

Prune

54 E1st St (Between 1st and 2nd Aves)

http://www.prunerestaurant.com/

Itzocan Cafe is a literal hole-in-the wall in my neighborhood, possibly narrower than my wingspan. It is uncomfortably packed, the table Angela and I sat in this past week was so close to the edge of the exit it would have fallen out the door had it not been closed. The room is quite an eyesore, the interiors looking like a bag of souvenirs from Mexico had exploded in it, from the floor to ceiling wall of  faux bricks that channel Aztec ruins to a print of Frida Kahlo with a bemused smile. Furthermore, ventilation is horrible, and my sweater still smells of Thursday’s dinner. Yet, in a neighborhood packed with eateries, it is perpetually popular. Why?
Perhaps it is the idea, that French culinary techniques and Mexican ingredients together could create a successful fusion cuisine. Or it is the honest plates of food, generous in serving size and flavors. The signature corn souffle appetizer arrives at the table steaming hot and flavored with an earthy scent of huitlacoche and truffles, both new and old world. Angela’s braised flank steak on this meal was fork tender and doused with a rich sauce reminiscent of boeuf bourguinon while my bowl of semolina dumplings, tomato, corn and grilled jalapeno satisfied my craving for a spicy, soupy meal. Admittedly though, this is a dish best eaten during summer, when the corn is sweeter and tomatos tangier. If it is neither the appetizers or the entrees, perhaps it is the desserts, effectively using very Mexican ingredients to good effect again. You will not be bored by its version of the warm flourless chocolate cake, made in this instance with Mexican chocolate that impart a subtly cinnamon flavor. The caramel sauce is enhanced with the scent of roasted hazelnuts. Only vanilla icecream would have made it better. The flans and creme caramels are straight forward and delicious and I really look forward to trying the blue corn crepes next time.
Itzocan Cafe is definitely not your typical south-of-the-border joint and thus not for anyone looking for a taco or burrito. But rice, beans and tortillas do not Mexican cuisine make, and a meal here should definitely convince you.
 
Itzocan Cafe
438 E9th St (Bet 1st Ave and Ave A)