Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Today was the last day of my friend Vera's visit from Seattle, and the place that she wanted to hit up for lunch was Ippudo. Despite the fact that it was about 80 degrees outside (not exactly ideal weather for ramen) and I warned her that the place has been way over-hyped, we arrived on 10th street and 4th ave a little before 1pm. Luckily the warm weather probably scared most people away, and there was no line outside (shocker, since the last time I was there the wait was over 2 and a half hours. I personally don't think any sort of soup-noodle is worth that sort of wait. I don't care if they shipped it directly from Japan on a super-sonic jet - NOT WORTH IT).

We were seated right away amidst some yelling in Japanese (did I mention that the wait-staff would yell things periodically in Japanese - during which time they received response yells in Japanese from the kitchen staff? It seemed pretty routine and the first thought that crossed my mind was: Dude. This reminds me of Coldstone where every once in a while you hear a cow bell and then all of a sudden the employees break out into a song about tip money), but the food was as I remembered: not awesome enough to warrant all the gushing that people do about it.

Vera and I both ordered the Shiromaru Hakata Classic Ramen with additional kakuni (braised pork belly) on top.

The broth was ok, the noodles were like any other noodles that you would get at any other ramen place, and the chashu pork was nothing like what I'm used to. It was not particularly tender, and bit too salty for my taste. The entire meal would have been a complete failure had it not been for the kakuni. The pork belly was tender with nice layers of lean meat interspersed with fatty, but it still wouldn't be enough to entice me to come back again. I was reminded of why I had never previously been back since the first time - which was over 2 years ago.

Overall rating: 4/10

65 4th Avenue 
New York, NY 10003

*Note: I may be somewhat biased since I don't care much for soup-noodles at baseline, but I did attempt to be as impartial as possible

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Spotted Pig

Tonight was my friend Niu Niu's birthday, and a few of us decided to take her to dinner at the Spotted Pig located on the intersection of west 11th and Greenwich streets. The chef/owner April Bloomfield was a judge on Top Chef, is buddies with Mario Batali, and has 2 Michelin stars (one for the Spotted Pig). The restaurant (like Chef Bloomfield) has gotten tons of positive press, and I've been wanting to go for a long time (somehow it was always hard to make motivate myself to trek all the way to the west side during school).

Let's just say that the food didn't disappoint. For appetizers we got the devils on horseback (prunes stuffed with pear and wrapped in bacon):

These were much yummier than they sound. I'm usually not a fan of prunes. I know that old people like them for the beneficial effects they have on facilitating bowel movements, but I'm not at that stage of life yet. However, the sweet and salty combination worked well together, and the textures did as well. Cooked prunes can be soft and -dare I say it- mushy, but the firmer bacon wrapped around them did a good job of distracting from this.

The other appetizers included the marinated olives (I didn't bother including a picture of this because we all know what olives look like right?) and chicken liver toast:

The chicken liver toast was fresh toasted brown bread slathered with a chicken liver paste that had a texture similar to hummus but wonderfully seasoned and -like the devils on horseback- was a combination of sweet and salty. I don't eat liver often, but this dish was AMAZING. I don't even know how to do it justice. Sorry guys - guess you're going to have to go try it for yourselves.

For my entree I got the roasted beet salad with walnuts and young goat's cheese:

I opted for the salad because my post-graduation celebration encompassed nearly 5 days of over-indulging on rich foods with visiting family and friends, and I don't have a desire to start work looking like a giant butterball (note the pun - I'm Asian and therefore yellow, as is butter. Get it? Haha...?). The salad was almost entirely beets, with a few sprigs of green, a tiny sprinkling of walnuts, and some goat cheese. Although the goat cheese was a good pairing for the sweet beets, there's a limit to how much beet I can tolerate before I get tired of it. The salad was good, but halfway through I was regretting my choice.

My friends John and Liz ordered the chargrilled burgers with roquefort cheese, but I wasn't able to get good photos due to terrible lighting. I hate using flash and actually would rather sacrifice a photo than post an ugly one that has been washed-out by the flash. Niu Niu ordered the buffalo burrata (a type of cheese usually made from mozzarella and cream) that was accompanied by rainbow chard bruschetta on toast, drizzled with olive oil.

Although watching John and Liz chow down on their juicy burgers while I was delegated to eating a healthy salad was one of the most painful things that I've done in a while, I was overall very impressed with the Spotted Pig. I would definitely go back - even for the chicken liver alone.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

314 West 11th Street 
New York, NY 10014

Monday, May 23, 2011

Grand Restaurant

So now it's official. I've been to all three major Chinatowns in NYC. It's been said that Manhattan's Chinatown has pretty poor-quality food compared to Flushing's, but I never even knew that Brooklyn had a Chinatown at all.

This past weekend some of my family and friends came to the city for my graduation, and that's when I also learned that my mom has some distant relatives (who I've never met or even heard mentioned before) that live in Brooklyn. My parents thought Saturday would be a fantastic day for a family reunion, and that's how I ended up in Brooklyn's Chinatown.

My brother, brother-in-law, and I all arrived at the dim-sum restaurant before the rest of the family, and that was a disaster. DISASTER. My mom had reserved a private room, and now the three people in my family who don't speak ANY Chinese were trapped in a limited space with about 40 old people who don't speak ANY English (did I mention that my brother in law is Japanese?). Somehow I managed to survive the morning by just smiling and nodding, but to be honest the food was a disappointment. The dim-sum wasn't any better than what I've had at Golden Unicorn or Jin Fong in Manhattan's Chinatown, and being in a private room also meant that fewer of the food carts came our way. However, my mom had so much fun that she decided to continue the reunion with a few of her cousins.

After stopping by a laundromat and a nursing home (during which time everyone under the age of 30 waited patiently outside for about an hour and a half while everyone over the age of 30 was inside visiting someone over the age of 80), we ended up in Flushing where a new restaurant had opened last week. That restaurant - called Grand Restaurant, in Flushing's Chinatown, is decorated with everything that most Chinese people would consider "grand." Massive chandeliers hung from the ceiling, the linens were all pinks and reds and golds, and there were poles of light that changed color on a timer.

My mom, who thought the understated elegance of The Kitano (hotel that I booked for my family's stay in the city) was "not fancy enough," wanted pictures all over the gaudy restaurant. Chinese people. Go figure.

The food at Grand Restaurant was much better than what we had in Brooklyn, and I think Flushing's Chinatown lives up to it's reputation for having superior food as compared to the others.

We started off with the seafood soup:

Next was Peking duck (my brother's favorite):

The remnants of the duck after the best parts were made into Peking duck:

T-bone steak:

Chinese broccoli with dried scallops:

Sea bass:

I didn't get a chance to take a picture of the tofu and abalone dish before it was decimated by my family - by the time I remembered to take out my camera, all of the tofu was gone and there was only a small mound of veggies left:

Lamb chops:

Dessert was melon slices with red-bean jello

Overall rating: 8/10

Grand Restaurant
40-21 Main St. Flushing
New York, 11354

Friday, May 13, 2011

Alice's Teacup

I actively try to avoid any restaurants/cafés/dessert venues that have overly-pink décors, sickly-romantic themes, or that seem to be designed for couples consisting of girlie-girl females (who dream in pastel colors, began planning their wedding days at the ripe old age of 5, and dot their i's with hearts) and their whipped boyfriends. So when my friend Nicole suggested a group lunch at a place called Alice's Teacup in the upper east side, I cringed inside. At the time I had no idea what this place was. Hearing the words "Alice" and "Teacup" in the same name were enough to make me assume the worst. Each one alone = not so bad. Put them together, and it sounds like the makings of a fluffy pink disaster. It ends up that Alice's Teacup is a pretty famous restaurant (apparently it's frequented by Tom Cruise and wife Holmes, but don't let that put you off) that -you may have guessed by the name- has an Alice in Wonderland theme for it's interior and a menu which consists of all the items you would expect to be offered at high tea. This includes a huge variety of teas, scones, cookies, cakes, and a decent selection of small sandwiches.

The menu offers a package called The Mad Hatter which feeds two people and consists of 3 types of scones (you get to choose which 3), two pots of tea (also flavors of your choice), two types of sandwiches, and a dessert that comes with cookies: a deal that my friend Daniella and I couldn't pass up.

We chose the chocolate chai and regular afternoon teas, the curried chicken and smoked salmon sandwiches:

the pumpkin scone, chocolate chip strawberry scone, and cheddar bacon scone:

For dessert we had the mocha chocolate chip cake with various cookies (most of which also had chocolate chips):

The salmon sandwich was underwhelming and was merely a slice of smoked salmon served on top of half a slice of bread. The curried chicken salad sandwich was yummy - it had yellow curry with a hint of sweet, but my absolute favorite was the pumpkin scone. Because of the pumpkin it was much more moist than most scones I've had - with a texture more similar to cake, and was still nice and warm when served to us. The cheddar and bacon scone had a texture more similar to a biscuit, but since almost everything else we ate was sweet, it was nice to have something else savory.

By the time we got to the chocolate chip strawberry scone, I was getting pretty full and skipped it in favor of the dessert. Sadly, it was a bit of a disappointment. The mocha chocolate chip cake was too sweet - with the problem being the frosting rather than the cake itself. In fact, the pastry chef was not satisfied with just putting mocha frosting on this cake. He went crazy on top of it with squiggly lines of dark chocolate piping. I was in desperate need of some cold milk but instead all I had was my chocolate chai tea (which did not taste of chocolate at all. The menu tells you that: "with honey and milk, this tea is sheer bliss." I beg to differ, but probably because I made the mistake of overdoing it with the honey).

Overall it was a pretty good lunch, and my friends seemed pretty pleased by both the food and the atmosphere but I also felt that in the end everything combined was a little bit toooooo sweet, even for me. We were so sugar-buzzed afterwards that we ended up going to Central Park to do some rowing. I realized then that I might have missed my calling in life. I think I could have made a great crew coxswain.

Overall rating: 6/10

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


The stop after Pigeon Forge on our southern road trip was Nashville, where we continued our food-adventures. By this point we were half-way through our week and were already weighed down with more biscuits and butter than could possibly be considered healthy, and I had forgotten what hunger actually feels like.

In hopes of working up a real appetite again, I bullied the others into another bout of horseback riding which was slightly more eventful than our previous experience. My horse (obviously not the brightest creature in the world) decided to run herself (and me) into trees and thick bushes on multiple occasions despite my futile attempts at steering. While she happily chomped on the leaves of said trees, I was busy beating giant spiders off of myself and trying not to scream like a girl (I admit that I did scream once - when a spider the size of a yo-yo landed on my chest).

Daniella had it even worse: she managed to pick up a tick somewhere along the way. Google for iPhone informed her that Lyme disease is indeed endemic to Tennessee, as are Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Ehrlichiosis.

After horseback riding we were in the mood for lighter fare than we had previously been enjoying, and therefore decided to hit up a place called Marche just outside of Nashville. The menu consisted primarily of sandwiches and egg products (ex. quiche and omelets).

One of the ladies at the next table had a bowl full of something that looked creamy and yummy. It ended up being a chai tea latte. I've been told that in France (and therefore also in French restaurants in the U.S) it's common for coffee items to be served in large bowls (they also do this at Balthazar in Soho) rather than in coffee mugs. Classy.

I ordered the omelette du jour as an entree. The center of the omelette consisted of cheddar cheese, bacon, and sweet onions. The omelette had a decent filling-to-egg ratio, however the egg seemed a bit over-cooked. Not that I have any desire for salmonella poisoning, but I would have preferred for my eggs to be a bit fluffier.

On the side was a mixed green salad with vinaigrette that was both sweet and tangy in flavor.
The vinaigrette was super-yummy. Normally I'm the type of person who prefers real dressing on her salads - none of this silly "healthy" vinaigrette nonsense or simple drizzling of extra virgin olive oil - and maybe it was delirium from too many meals of fried foods, but the simple salad with vinaigrette at Marche was one of my favorite things on the entire road trip.

For dessert I ordered the strawberry boston cream pie (in honor of the fact that Boston will soon be my city of residence for the next 5 years). The custard was great - not too sweet and very smooth, the cake was light and airy, and the layer of chocolate ganache was appropriately thick. My only gripe was a desire for a few more strawberries as there was only a thin layer of them under the custard and one or two chunks mixed in.

Daniella and Anna both ordered the strawberry tart for dessert. Although I didn't photograph their entrees because they were hungry and impatient to start eating, the tart was too pretty for me to pass up a photo-op.

Overall rating: 7/10

Mama's Farmhouse

So we finally did it - my classmates and I finished med school about 2 weeks ago, and what better way to celebrate than with a trip down south to pig-out on some good 'ol home-cookin'? My friends Daniella, Anna, and I decided to cruise into Confederate-country (a first for all of us) in Anna's tiny Toyota Yaris to experience how the other half lives (the half on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line).

We made a stop in a town called Pigeon Forge where we did some horseback riding and hiking to counter-balance the calories we were shoving into ourselves. One of the major calorie culprits was lunch at a place called Mama's Farmhouse where the menu changes daily according to "Mama's" mood and the cuisine is intended to reflect the typical southern staples. Mama's is so authentic that the sodas come in jars!!! Ok just kidding - when I got excited about this at the restaurant I was informed by Daniella that a bunch of bars in NYC do this too.

On the day we were there, the menu consisted of fried chicken and chicken-fried-steak entrees: (I was pleasantly surprised by the chicken-fried-steak since most of my previous experiences with that dish resulted in consumption of gallons and gallons of water to wash away the excessive salt that it is often over-seasoned with. At Mama's Farmhouse they must be pretty blood pressure conscious since they played it safe with the sodium)

The sides included corn pudding (my favorite out of all the dishes - it was pretty much creamed corn that was thickened with some other additives that I can't name since I know almost nothing about cooking):

The other sides were mac and cheese (a little bland despite the dusting of black pepper), mashed potatoes with gravy (I didn't actually taste this because I'm not normally a fan - I personally like my potatoes in the form of fries), collard greens (not pictured here because they aren't a very photogenic vegetable - the ones at Mama's Farmhouse were mediocre, although I may also be biased as they aren't anywhere near my favorite vegetable at baseline), and kidney beans (also not pictured here because I hate beans and had them placed as far away from me as possible. In fact, I think Mexican food would be a zillion times better if it wasn't so bean-happy)

For dessert we had two options: peach cobbler which Daniella and Anna both loved (I was too full at this point to make much progress with mine, although I DID succeed in finishing off all the vanilla-bean ice cream that came with it)

and banana pudding - which was very rich. They were very generous with the cream and this made it DELICIOUS - probably as good as the banana pudding at Magnolia's Bakery here in NYC but at a fraction of the price.

One of the things that struck my attention about the South is how strangely friendly everyone was. That and the fact that Daniella and I were the only two Asian people in all of Pigeon Forge. I do not exaggerate - we were the ONLY ASIANS and I know this because I was on the look-out. How is this possible you may ask? How is this possible when my people make up about 75% of the world's population?

Anyway, everywhere we went, random strangers - whether on the street, in our hotel, or at restaurants - would greet us with the question: "Where ya'll gals from?" Here in the city that question either comes from sketchy dudes trying to pick you up at a bar, or else from the homeless dudes outside Bellevue's men shelter who want to ask for money. In the south however, the people are genuinely interested, friendly, and most of the time just trying to make polite conversation. My response (which has become second-nature after 4 years of living in NYC) - consisting of a half-smile and curt nod - did not go over well, especially in comparison to Anna and Daniella who were much more willing to humor them with a real answer.

The exception to my rudeness was towards the waiter at Mama's, who was a jolly old dude in overalls. I have a soft-spot for old people, and this guy in particular was so sweet that being cold towards him would probably be akin to drowning a dozen kittens in the eyes of Karma. Even more quaint than the wait-staff in farm-attire though was the out-door farm machinery and Mama's reminder to "Stay off my truck and tractor."

Overall rating: 5.0/10.0