Sunday, June 20, 2010

Joe Shanghai

Joe Shanghai is THE soup-dumpling place in Chinatown, and in my post on Shanghai Kitchen I referenced it, so now for a comparison:

My buddy Steph was visiting for the weekend, and the only means I had of entertaining her was through food. Having been upstate for the past year (as in upstate New York and NOT "Upstate" in prison), she mentioned that one of the things she's missed the most was good soup-dumplings. We went around noon on Sunday and I was worried that there would be a long line due to the weekend lunch crowd, but we got lucky and were able to be seated immediately. We ordered two sets of the pork and crab dumplings - which I personally find to be more flavorful than the plain pork ones.

As you can see, the wraps on the dumplings at Joe Shanghai are much thinner than the ones used at Shanghai Kitchen. In fact, they're thin enough that you can see the soup inside - plenty of yummy soup that the crab gives a nice, rich flavor. There was one casualty as Step was transferring it to her plate, but in all we did pretty well: there are 8 dumplings per order, and out of the 16 we received, we only popped one, and one was already leaking when the dish arrived at our table.

For dessert I introduced Steph to the "fried tiny buns," which are basically deep fried little balls of dough that can be dipped into a side of sweetened condensed milk. They're wonderfully crispy on the outside, and light and fluffy on the inside - one of my favorite things on their menu. 

This was all followed up with a second dessert: black sesame and almond cookie ice cream from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for Steph, and taro bubble tea from Ten Ren for me. In all, today was a very good food day. As for tomorrow: I think I might need to do some running... maybe several laps around the island to burn off all these calories...

Overall rating: 8.5/10

Joe's Shanghai
9 Pell Street
New York, NY 10013

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hummus Place

When going out to lunch with a big group of friends, it's always hard to find a place that fits everyone's taste. Even when it's only 8 people, you tend to run into trouble. Chances are that at least one person hates Mexican food, another one is tired of sushi, a third one doesn't like Indian food, someone recently had food poisoning after a bad batch of Pad Thai, and at least one person doesn't eat meat. [On a side note, although I respect the principles behind vegetarianism, I have to say: cows, pigs, and chickens taste GOOD] Another possibility is that everyone is so easy-going or too well mannered to express a preference, and the end result is the same: it takes forever to choose a restaurant.

In our case, we had just finished our last exam of the academic year, and I was pretty darn hungry. However, despite the hypoglycemia, my friends were still in the mood to be easy-going/well-mannered, with nearly everyone giving the same response: "I don't care where we go." Luckily for me, my friend Johanna had a few suggestions up her sleeve, including one that pleased even the meat-hater in our group: we decided to go to Hummus Place in the East Village.

Hummus isn't exactly a staple in Chinese households, and it's still something that I don't eat very often - not because I don't like it, but because I just don't tend to think about it. Because of this lack of experience, I'm not exactly a hummus connoisseur, but I personally thought that Hummus Place had the best hummus that I've tried thus far.

They have a nice lunch special, where you can choose a hummus entree and an appetizer for $7.95. The people sitting closest to me all chose the Hummus Tahini, which looked beautiful. For those who aren't familiar with it, Tahini is a paste of lightly roasted, ground sesame seeds that is normally a major component of hummus, but can also be found in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese dishes. The Hummus Tahini was just regular hummus with extra Tahini topping and a hint of spices. I snapped a picture of Daniella's since she was sitting next to me, but it was Tiff who gave me the review: "Good, and the sesame flavor of the Tahini is solid, but it would be nicer with extra garlic flavor."

Daniella chose the Falafel appetizer, which she barely touched. This was mostly because they served it after her hummus had already arrived, and she was full by the time she got to it.

I chose the stuffed grape leaves as my appetizer, and these were served with a mint yogurt sauce. I'm not a big fan of yogurt in general, and I thought the mint yogurt sauce was a bit too sour and detracted from what would have been very good stuffed grape leaves. To be fair though, the sourness of the yogurt did bring out the sweetness of the rice in the grape leaves (even though I still wish that the dish had been unadorned). My friend Tiff actually really liked the mint yogurt sauce, and thought that the mint flavor was strong, but not over-powering. She liked it enough to eat with the baked pita alone.

As my entree, I selected the Hummus Mushrooms, which I highly recommend to anyone without a mushroom allergy. [The dish was good, but probably not quite yummy enough to risk anaphylaxis] The mushrooms were sauteed with olive oil and sweet onions, and this sweetness went well with the otherwise mild flavor of mashed chickpeas. Even better is the fact that it was super filling, but low-carb. Well... correction: the hummus was low-carb. The pitas that I ate with it - not so much. The pitas were warm when they arrived, and fluffy. There were also both wheat and processed-flour varieties - with my preference being for the wheat.

A part of me was hesitant to write a review on Hummus Place, because Johanna is a major fan, and considers it very close to her heart. During the meal she informed me (in as pleasant a way as possible given the underlying threat) that I "better give it a good review. OR ELSE." Since I'm a stickler for honesty though, I wouldn't have lied, even had I NOT enjoyed the food. Anyway, since I DID enjoy it a lot, I guess it's now a moot point... and Johanna - if you're reading this: good choice!

Overall rating: 8/10

Sunday, June 13, 2010


What's the best way to spend your Sunday morning when you have an exam looming in less than a week? Having a nice leisurely brunch with a friend that you corrupted into accompanying you (when you know very well that both of you should actually be studying)!

Today I decided that paying a visit to Veselka would be the be best choice, as my friend Anna had never been there before. AND, since she's Russian, I figured that the Ukrainian food would make her feel "at home." (Now before you release your cry of outrage: No, I am not a racist. See my post on Shanghai Kitchen if you don't understand the reference.)

Veselka is located on 9th street and 2nd avenue on the East side, so it's a pleasant walking distance from our medical center, and I've been there on several other occasions - including once before for brunch. The last time I was there, my companions and I noted that their eggs benedict looked pretty yummy, but too late - we had already ordered. So, this time I arrived already knowing what I wanted. Their eggs benedict is served with a potato pancake and a small cup of fruit, and I must say that out of everything, my favorite part was the potato pancake. This was nice and crispy on the outside, but thick enough that there was also about 1/2 - 3/4cm of soft interior. The eggs benedict itself was actually quite disappointing. By the time it arrived at our table, it was cooled enough that the Hollandaise sauce had pretty much solidified, and the english muffin had become moist from the steamy heat of the overlying poached egg (even with the layer of Canadian bacon in between). As for the fruit... fruit is fruit... and hard to ruin. One gripe: it DID attract an annoying fly that kept circling our table. I wanted to swat the little sucker, but in the end decided that it would be poor etiquette and restrained myself.

Anna decided on the Monte Cristo sandwich, which consists of smoked turkey, Krakovska and Swiss cheese, and on batter-dipped Challah bread with maple mustard sauce on the side. The batter-dipped Challah bread (a special braided bread made with a large number of eggs that is generally eaten by Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews on the Sabbath and holidays) actually looked a lot like French toast, and Anna seemed to enjoy it. What she REALLY liked though, was the maple mustard sauce which she also used as a dipping sauce for the sweet potato fries that came with her entree. She was less a fan of the veggies that accompanied her burger, and they remained on her plate untouched at the end of the meal.

Of course to me, no meal can be complete without dessert, so I ordered some. Anna - being someone with more self control - was able to resist and settled for coffee (which arrived 15 minutes late). I've had Veselka's cheesecake before, and I found it enjoyable each time, but I wanted to try something new today, so I opted for the apple crumble a la mode with vanilla ice cream. The crumble of the apple crumble was great, but the apple filling was a bit too sweet - even for me. The vanilla ice cream is pretty much impossible to mess up (seeing as how most people get it from a carton) and it did a good job of diluting some of sweetness of the apple filling... at least at first. After I was about 2/3 of the way through though, I couldn't take it anymore and had to stop.

In all this was a much more pleasant way to spend the morning as compared to studying personality disorders (of which I'm beginning to realize that I have PLENTY) and antidepressant medications, but I'd be lying if I said that the food was very satisfying. At least I can rest assured that I'm not the only person who slacked off today. So... if I fail the exam, I'll at least have the satisfaction of knowing that I probably took one other person down with me ;)

Overall rating: 4/10

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food

For a girl who's never been that connected to her Chinese heritage and who can barely speak enough of the language to order dim sum, I've been spending a lot of time in Chinatown recently. Worried that our Psychiatry rotation might be slowly killing my spirit, my friend Tiff suggested that we head over to Allen Street for some nice cheap comfort food. The place we decided to visit is another tiny little restaurant - this one being too small to even have real tables - although one wall is lined with a counter and enough chairs to seat about 6 people.

Hua Ji was recommended to us by Tiff's brother Nicholas (who has already blogged it previously, but I figured that I would give my own opinion on it) and I was told that it pretty much serves up a Chinese version of soul-food. Everything on the menu is $5, and it's a pretty extensive menu considering the size of the establishment (91 items including 7 different kinds of fried rice).

Tiff ordered their Black Pepper Pork Chop as per her little brother's recommendation, and was impressed by the speed at which it was prepared for her. They seriously aren't kidding when they refer to their food as "fast food." Everything came out in tupperware, which I suppose helps with the clean-up, as their kitchen wasn't big enough for a dishwasher... or even a decently-sized sink for that matter.

I didn't see a lot of black pepper on Tiff's pork chop, but she seemed satisfied with the taste anyway (I can't give much detail since I didn't taste it for myself). On my part, it was pretty amusing watching her try to eat the pork chop without a knife, and eventually she was forced to struggle through it with a combination of chopsticks, a plastic fork, and her teeth. To her credit, she did a very neat job given the limited resources available.

I opted for the Black Pepper Chicken Leg - my decision partly being influenced by the fact that upon first entering the restaurant, I had already noticed right off the bat that not only were there no knives, but all of the utensils were made of flimsy plastic. Anticipating the difficulties that this might pose when dealing with a more fibrous type of meat (like pork chops), I went with a safer choice. My chicken also didn't have a visible amount of black pepper on it, nor could I really taste any black pepper either. In fact, it just tasted like fried chicken. However, I can't complain too much, because the chicken was well-fried - not too greasy and also tender. It came on a bed of rice with relish and a yummy type of gravy that DID have some black pepper. In my opinion, they should re-name the dish "Chicken Leg with Black Pepper Gravy," to clear up the confusion.

Nicholas had said previously that during his last visit here, he would have been satisfied with the rice and gravy alone - the meat being an added bonus. I would have to agree. The gravy was yummy. The black pepper flavor was not overwhelming, and the consistency of the gravy was moderately thick, and perfectly smooth. With gravy, there is always a fear that it can be too salty, and leave you thirsty for hours afterwards, but that wasn't the case here. In fact, the gravy had a nice hint of sweet (which works well for me, because I have an insane love for sugar). The relish was... just relish. But when eating something like fried chicken, I always like to have a bit of green in the meal just to ease my conscience. So, I guess the relish served that purpose pretty well.

In the end, I enjoyed the food, and for $5, the portions were pretty substantial. I'm not sure if it was good enough food to make me completely forget that come Monday, I'll be returning to a job where I have to listen to people telling me about "the voices of demons" in their heads for 14 hours straight... but not bad. Not bad at all. AND, on the bright side, so far none of those "demon voices" have told any of the patients to stab their little Chinese medical student, so I guess I shouldn't be complaining TOO much...

Overall rating: 5.5/10

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Shanghai Kitchen

Manhattan's Chinatown is a huge tourist attraction - sometimes there's even more white people than Chinese people (ok... maybe just a slight exaggeration... but there's at least equal amounts of both), and the truth is, Chinatown's really not the best place for Chinese food in New York. That honor generally goes to Flushing. However, on hot and humid days like today, it's impossible to motivate myself to make the 45-minute trek from east 33rd street all the way to Queens, and we end up just settling for something sub-par but closer to home. Lured by the tempting thought of Chinese pastries, my friend Tiff agreed to accompany me for a brunch excursion that brought us to Bayard street, at an itsy-bitsy restaurant next door to the Chinatown Ice cream Factory, called Shanghai Kitchen.

Every time I'm here, it reminds me of an anecdote that a friend shared with me a few years back. She was waiting for her boyfriend outside their favorite dim-sum place in Seattle's Chinatown, when a stranger about to enter the restaurant turned to her and asked: "Isn't this great? When you're here, does it remind you of home?"

Her response was: "I'm VIETNAMESE, you fool." Maybe he was just trying to be friendly and make conversation, but seriously... what kind of question is that?! I'm Chinese, and I've never even been to China. As for Chinatown "being like home...?" not a chance. When I was a kid, my elementary school had 4 Asian students total.

Anyway, I digressed. Shanghai Kitchen is a place that I've passed by many times, and previously have always been struck by their sign advertising "tinny buns." Today, Tiff and I were gratified to see that the sign has since been revised, and now encourages people to try their "tiny buns." Which is exactly what we did. Their Tiny Pork Buns were actually not tiny at all. Each one was about 6cm in diameter, and there were 8. The buns were a size that would fit well in my palm, perfectly pan-fried and crispy on the bottom, but otherwise spongy through-out. Inside the buns was a small amount of soup surrounding the pork, but amazingly nothing was soggy. The dough of the buns had a hint of sweetness, which I thought balanced well with the slight saltiness of the pork. If I had one compliant, it would be that the pork-to-bun ratio was a bit low.

We also ordered the Pork Steamed Buns, which we expected to simply be a steamed version of their "tiny buns," and were surprised to see that they weren't. Instead, they were Shanghai soup-dumplings, similar to the ones that Joe Shanghai is so popular for. The soup-dumplings at Shanghai Kitchen were smaller than those at Joe Shanghai, both because there was a smaller volume of soup inside each, as well as a smaller amount of pork. Each dumpling had only about 3 teaspoons of soup. The wrap was also a bit thicker, and neither Tiff nor I had any "accidents" with our dumplings breaking. However, I personally feel that half the fun of having soup-dumplings is the gamble that you take each time you lift one up to eat. You ask yourself: "Do I feel lucky? Or is this going to pop and make a mess all over my plate - leaving me with a feeling of emptiness as I look at the wasted soup pooling on the table (that I won't get to drink)?" In regards to flavor, neither Tiff nor I could tell the difference between these dumplings and those that we've had at Joe Shanghai.

Prices were insanely cheap, but what else would you expect from Chinatown? Each dish was $3.95, and we left feeling full. After we finished, I made a stop at the Chinatown Ice cream Factory for a scoop of their red bean flavor, and then called it a day.

Overall rating: 5/10

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Black Shack Burgers

Black Shack Burgers opened in the Murray Hill neighborhood not too long ago, and with my friend Andrew being a HUGE fan of Shake Shack, three of us decided to pay a visit to the "competition." It was close to 90 degrees outside today, and the walk to the burger joint was just a little bit gross, but we had a nice surprise along the way. There was a street fair on Lexington Ave, and some random guy was handing out free sodas as advertising for Dr. Pepper. I'm the type of girl who generally stays far away from strange dudes that call out to passer-byes on the street, so I was going to ignore this fellow in the same way that I do all the others. Luckily, Andrew and Tiff are a bit more well-mannered (or maybe they just like free stuff more than I do) so we paused long enough to realize that no - he was NOT a psych patients who had just escaped from Bellevue Hospital, and was in fact giving away something useful.

It seems like I'm completely off-topic, but I can explain myself: like Shake Shack, Black Shack has a nice selection of milk shakes - none of which we sampled because we had our free Dr. Peppers to drink. In particular, their mint chocolate chip and white chocolate vanilla cherry flavors sounded pretty awesome, but they'll have to wait until next time.

At Black Shack, these are NOT gourmet burgers. Like Shake Shack, they're meant as fast food, and fit the budget of poor medical students who want something just a tiny bit more glamorous than McDonalds. I wasn't expecting anything exciting - other than getting a whole day's worth of saturated fat in one meal. Andrew decided to stick with basics, and ordered the regular hamburger. By basic, I mean really basic - it was pretty much only beef, onions, pickles, and ketchup. I didn't get a taste of his burger, but according to him, it needed more umami flavor. The meat patty was described as being a little too "lean," and "too firm" in texture. He also ordered the french fries, which weren't anything special. In all, the assessment was that everything needed "a little more grease."

On their menu, they state that all burgers are done "medium" if you don't specify a preference. When we took bites out of our own burgers though, we unanimously agreed that our beef patties were done more along the lines of "medium-well." I'm not going to complain, since I have no real desire to catch the 057H7 strain of E-coli, but I figured that this might explain why Andrew thought his burger was a bit on the "firm" side.

As for Tiff, she decided to go for the Black Shack Burger. This burger had the most toppings out of the three: mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, ketchup, and mustard. Since 3 out of these 6 "toppings" are sauces though, her burger wasn't any bigger than mine, and only a little bit bigger than Andrew's. As for the taste, it was deemed "alright."

I went for the Western Burger, which is topped with mayo, crispy onions, pickles, and BBQ sauce. I also opted to add mozzarella cheese, since I'm lucky enough to not be lactose intolerant. In the end, I thought that the BBQ sauce was a bit too mild. The flavor didn't really stand out, but it did leave me feeling a little thirsty afterwards. Maybe a bit TOO much of the umami? Like Andrew, I felt that the beef patty was a bit drier and firmer than I would have liked, and the bun was no longer "toasty" after having been wrapped up with the steam of the burger meat. The crispy onions were sufficiently crispy, but not good enough to save my opinion of the meal as a whole.

The prices were decent, considering that most things in Manhattan are oober expensive, but for the quality of food that we got, I wouldn't consider it that great of a deal. Andrew's hamburger was $5, Tiff's was $5.75, and mine was $5.25 before tax. Both of my buddies seemed to think that their food would have tasted yummier had everything been $1 cheaper, but I disagree. I think the food would have tasted better if we had gone to Shake Shack instead of Black Shack.

Overall rating: 3.5/10