Monthly Archives: March 2012

Mayan Food on 5th Avenue (Mexico)

I’m here, I’ve eaten, and I have wifi in my room!  We arrived at about 7:30pm last night and rented a car in preparation for a week of exploring.  Once we dropped off our bags in our hotel, we set off to find a quick bite.  We live right off of 5th Avenue, which is the main tourist strip where there are loads of souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars (having come from NYC, funny that 5th Avenue is also a big deal here…).  Most of the little taco stands and such off of 5th Avenue had closed so we were forced to stay on the main strip and eat with all the other tourists – yay.  Prior to coming, I knew this would happen at some point or another, so I looked up some of the better restaurants on the strip.  Yaxche is one of them; it serves traditional Mayan cuisine with a bit of a Disney-fied experience and hiked up prices.  AH weeeellllll… we were starving and it was close and it smelled good.

  Yaxche
5th Avenue and 22th Street
Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico

 

They started us off with a big basket of gleaming chips and dips.  The chips were very oily but were delicious, especially to two hungry travelers.  The dips were interesting and I’m glad I had the options.  One was a tomato paste that tasted oddly like ketchup but had a much thicker texture – that’s homemade ketchup for you right there.  Another was a creamy sauce that was deliciously garlicy and … well, creamy.  The last was an extremely spicy pepper sauce that went really well if you mixed it with the creamy sauce.  I never think twice when eating “extremely spicy” things in NYC because they never are that spicy.  Here, I’m going to have to take caution… one tiny drop of that pepper sauce was enough to burn a hole through my tongue.


We ordered two apps, one of which is called Tsic, a ceviche of shrimp and fish that are marinated in orange juice, xcatic pepper, and coriander, garnished with avocado, tomatoes, and coriander.  The seafood was not completely raw and tasted like they were poached.  I was a little put off at first but decided that I loved the sweet taste of the poached fish and shrimp.  The “fish juice” as LAW called it was deliciously fresh tasting.  I’m pretty sure there was lime juice added though not mentioned on the menu.  They came with, surprise surprise, more chips.  This time round instead of triangular.  Let’s see how many shapes of chips we will find this week…

Continue reading Mayan Food on 5th Avenue (Mexico)

Blog Crush: Garance

I seriously have a blog-crush on Garance.  Her writing style is so honest, adorable, and hysterical.  I will actually giggle out loud in my seat from some of her posts.  Fashion also magically becomes more tangible and accessible for everyone because her writing is so not pretentious nor intimidating.  Her focus is fashion but she also writes about women in fashion and their amazing achievements.  In fact, most of her posts include a series of photos of a woman and then a post about how awesome that woman is.  I’m all about celebrating our achievements.  She sometimes goes on tangents and will include her thoughts on random things… such as food.  She just posted about an article she read in Vogue about the fight against obesity and other complex relationships we have with food.

 

“I ended up realizing that a lot of women are dieting most of the year, without really saying or even being conscious of it. And for a certain number of them, it starts to blur the lines with a perpetual anorexia, a somewhat not very healthy juggle between fasting, juicing and green tea. I wonder what the result will be after yeaaaaaars of that “good” malnutrition. It’s tragic, and seeing as so much of this goes unsaid, there’s no way to help.” – Garance

 

Well written as usual, Garance.  I think she hit it spot on.  There’s always someone at the dinner table who is dieting or indulging-and-dieting-tomorrow.  Though it is of course important to eat healthy and exercise, the constant guilt that comes along with any sort of indulgence is unhealthy.  Because so much of this really does go unsaid, learning to speak to yourself positively is so much more important – and not just in terms of food and health. Continue reading Blog Crush: Garance

L’asso EV, I really wanted to like you.

edit: btw. I’m heading to Playa del Carmen this week so will be posting about my amazing Mayan food adventures instead!  I’m going to try and keep up with my Mon/Wed/Fri posting schedule but am sending out a warning that I may not be able to because I may not have consistent internet and I just maaaaaaaay have better things to do than sit at a computer and write for you all.  Please forgive me.

 

  
107 1st Ave
(between 7th St & 6th St)
Manhattan, NY 10003

 

I really wanted to like this place.  They are rated with 4.5/5 stars on Yelp.  I read all about the amazing brussels sprouts pizza and if you follow my blog, you know that brussels sprouts are my weakness.  I’m also all for trying new things and with potato chips and smoked mozzarella on the menu, I couldn’t resist.  I biked downtown with my roommates to check this place out as soon as we could.  I was peddling extra fast because I was that excited to find a new potential “favorite” pizza place.

  This is the Mégane.  The menu lists the following toppings: brussel sprouts, bacon, smoked and regular mozzarella, rosemary, extra virgin olive oil.  I was disappointed with how little brussels sprouts there were and how MUCH effing mozzarella cheese there was (none of which was smoked, or tasted smoked at least).  Bacon was good, no surprise there.  Crust was very mediocre, not soft or crisp.  Rosemary?  What rosemary?  Brussels sprouts were soooooo sparse I had like two bites of them per slice!  And each bite consisted of a tiny fraction of a wilted brussels sprout… not even crisp on top or anything.  Meep.  I was so, so sad this wasn’t great. Continue reading L’asso EV, I really wanted to like you.

Comfort Food for Speedy Recovery: Egg and Tomato


Still sick in bed.  I have very little energy today so I am going to repost a photo and add the recipe for it.  Egg and Tomato (鸡蛋炒西红柿) is a classic Chinese dish that every household makes when in need of a quick and simple dish.  It’s like the tomato sauce and pasta for Chinese families.  I’d like to think this is a pretty healthy meal; you have your carbs, veggies/fruits, and protein.  I crave this right now in my sickly state but would need to buy tomatoes to make this… reminder to self: ALWAYS HAVE TOMATOES IN THE FRIDGE. edit: NEVER STICK TOMATOES IN THE FRIDGE!  There’s a Z-3 compound in tomatoes that pretty much dies when it’s forced to live in cold environments.  Without that compound, the tomato apparently loses most of its flavor, shrivels up, and becomes watery and grainy – GROSS.  I can’t believe I’ve been making this mistake all these years.  Thanks, S.V.L. for the pointers!

 

Recipe (as usual, measurements are approximate because I never measure when cooking Chinese food*):

Continue reading Comfort Food for Speedy Recovery: Egg and Tomato

My Kind of Chicken Noodle Soup – Arirang

Arirang
32 W 32nd St, 3rd Fl
(between 5th Ave & Broadway)
New York, NY 10001

 

Meeeeehh I sound like a man right now because my throat is achinggggg.  I always tend to get a little sick when the weather changes.  It’s not so bad when it’s changing from warm to cold because then I have a good excuse to stay in a warm bed.  Now it’s the opposite; the weather is getting warmer, kids are all out to play, and my throat demands that I eat only mush.  Blegh.  Luckily, Arirang exists and they make amazing sujebe, a traditional Korean soup noodle dish.  The soup is usually made with anchovies, shellfish, and kelp, though Arirang is known for their Chicken Sujebi.  I swear after you have this, you can never return to having other chicken noodle soups.  And while you’re sick and can make a few demands, why not ask for Arirang?

  

Like most Korean restaurants, you’re served barley tea and a variety of ban chan, small side dishes that are always free with your meal (you can always ask for more too!).  Some places are known particularly for their yummy ban chan, such as Kun Jip, where you are served at least 6-8 kinds of dishes before your meal even begins.  Arirang does not provide as much variety as you are served just two kinds of kimchi: cabbage and radish.  The radish is my favorite.  It is not too sour and has a nice crunch, complimenting the warm bowl of noodle soup.

Their haemul pajeon (seafood pancake) is on the greasy side but is pretty good.  Unlike Chinese scallion pancakes, where the batter only consists of flour and water, pajeon (“pa” = scallion) is made with eggs, wheat flour, and rice flour.  The rice flour gives the pancake a chewier and more dense texture.  I can’t tell you which I prefer… they’re different.

I actually ordered the karjebi instead of the sujebi so that it included half handmade long noodles and half dough flakes.  I liked having two kinds of noodles in my soup, one long and chewy, the other flat, short, and thicker.  The flat ones are torn by hand to resemble “dough flakes” (wide, flat, short noodles).  Above is a photo of what the dough flakes look like.  The soup that they have at Arirang is amazing.  It’s made with chicken, onion, potato, and long slivers of scallions.  The starch from the potato makes the soup a little thicker, and the chicken of course adds tremendous fragrance.  The only problem is that the longer the noodles and potato sit in the bowl uneaten, the thicker the soup becomes.  You have to slurp up all your goods quickly to enjoy it in its best state (ahem… C.W.)!

 

If you didn’t get anything else from this review, just know that the noodles are chewy (very QQ, J.H.) and the soup is the most tasty chicken soup ever.  And it all only costs $10 per bowl.  Particularly yummy on a rainy or sick day.  Though the last time I went was on a sunny and very healthy day… still delicious.

 

Dim Sum at Nom Wah

Nom Wah Tea Parlor*
13 Doyers St
(between Bowery & Chatham Sq)
New York, NY 10013

 

Whenever my Beijing friends want to get together, it seems that we either go to Congee Village, Joe’s Ginger, or Nom Wah.  None of these restaurants are particularly fantastic, but they are all very accommodating to large groups, cheap (but not so cheap that you’ll find a leftover pork bone on your seat … another story for another time), and all have decent, somewhat authentic Chinese food.  Nom Wah is a dim sum restaurant that serves all the classic dim sum dishes though in a non-classic way.  Dim sum is usually served off of push carts where you simply take food off of carts as they roll by.  Nom Wah does not have push carts and serves its dim sum like any other restaurant with a menu and waiter/waitress.  I would probably go to Jing Fong Restaurant (20 Elizabeth St) if I was taking first-timers but since my friends and I are all seasoned dim sum eaters, the ordering method is preferred because the food is generally fresher.  Anyway, I thought I’d share a couple of my favorite dim sum dishes:

 

Sticky Rice in Bamboo Leaf
  Sticky glutinous rice is steamed with chicken and often shiitake mushrooms (though sadly, not at Nom Wah) in a bamboo or lotus leaf.  The leaf is supposed to infuse the rice with a fresh fragrant flavor.  Nom Wah’s leaves are probably pretty low quality because the rice does not have that extra umami factor.  Though, sticky rice is sticky rice and is very tasty with bits of chicken.

 

Shrimp and Snow Pea Leaf Dumpling / Shrimp in Bean Curd Skin
  
Steamed dumplings of all varieties exist in the dim sum world.  These two are some of my favorites.  The shrimp and snow pea dumpling is one I’ve never seen at any other restaurant (could it be a Nom Wah special?).  The skin is made with a wheat starch and tapioca, making it beautifully translucent and deliciously chewy.  Snow pea leaves are one of my favorite Chinese vegetables because they are leafy, tender and taste just like peas.  The combination of steamed shrimp and snow pea leaf remind me of spring… The shrimp and bean curd dumplings on the right are much heartier.  The bean curd skin is thinner than the classic tapioca skin and clings to the shrimp filling.   Continue reading Dim Sum at Nom Wah

I may have found the best eggs benedict ever. Prune.

I’ve been meaning to try Prune for both brunch and dinner for some time now because I kept coming across it in conversation or in other food reviews.  New York is one of those places where you will literally have a never-ending list of places to try like this.  As a friend said last night, you cross one off your list and always end up adding three more.

  
Prune
54 E 1st St
(between 1st Ave & 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10003

 

Gabrielle Hamilton started Prune in 1999 and has since won a James Beard award and published a bestseller that is now being displayed at the front of all bookstore racks.  For some reason, I was expecting a classy old New York restaurant before I got there.  Prune is quite the opposite actually.  The place is decked out in pink and is very lively and almost cute.

  

Their cocktail menu featured one entire page of different Bloody Mary concoctions.  Their twist on the classic brunch cocktail included all kinds of ingredients… clam juice, pickled egg, pickled brussels sprouts, wasabi, beef jerky, you name it!  My friend was planning to get the clam juice, olive, and citrus vodka Bloody Mary but chickened out at the last minute and had a mimosa.  Having never had a real Bloody Mary, I decided to go for the classic: vodka, celery and lemon.  I promised myself that if it was good, I would come back and get the weirdest one on the menu.  The classic Bloody Mary was very strong and flavorful.  It was almost like a gazpacho with a little something something.  I think I would enjoy the drink as an afternoon snack or something because my body was definitely not ready for it in the morning.  The drinks also came along with a small shot of … beer.  I wasn’t really sure what to do with the beer and didn’t know if it was supposed to “go with” my meal or anything.  I noticed that every other table had the same, small, untouched shot of beer.  I guess no one else knew what it was for either.  I can’t believe I didn’t ask the waitress but was engrossed in my conversation with my friend and completely forgot.

Prune had a number of very interesting dishes to choose from but I settled for a classic Eggs Benedict, firstly because I figure I’d test the kitchen out* and secondly because I simply love an eggs benedict.

Gah!  And let me tell you.  This dish absolutely blew me away!  I’ve had countless eggs benedict brunches and have become somewhat picky about them because I’ve experienced the spectrum.  The reason Prune has perfected this dish is because of a number of things: Continue reading I may have found the best eggs benedict ever. Prune.

Cooking for One: Shiitake Mushrooms and Pork Loin

This is the first dinner I have had to cook for myself in a long time.  Cooking for one is always annoying and difficult.  On the one hand, it presents an opportunity to be extra lazy… you could just make a quick sandwich to simply appease your growling stomach.  On the other hand, you’re eating by yourself, which isn’t exactly on my list of fun activities, so you want to make yourself something nice.  So last night, I made myself something simple and nice.  A little effort goes a long way when you’re cooking for yourself.  I made a shiitake mushroom and pork stir-fry and a tiny pot of rice.

I’m Chinese so I don’t follow strict recipes but I’ll try to describe as accurately as I can the portion* of ingredients that I used.  I first thinly sliced up a piece of pork loin, about the size of my palm, and marinated it in soy sauce, sugar, Chinese cooking wine, sesame oil, and a little bit of corn starch (helps to soften the meat).  While the meat was marinating, I removed the tough stems of two large handfuls of shiitake mushrooms and chopped them up into quarters.  Shiitake mushrooms are great because they are juicy, meaty, and very naturally fragrant. Continue reading Cooking for One: Shiitake Mushrooms and Pork Loin

Banh Mi Saigon, the best banh mi in Manhattan?

  

Banh Mi Saigon
198 Grand St
(between Mulberry St & Mott St)
New York, NY 10013

I posted about banh mi’s a bit ago in my Xe May Sandwich Shop post so you can read the earlier post for more details about the historic Viet-French sandwich.  I mentioned at the end of the post that though Xe May is great, Banh Mi Saigon is slightly better.  Well, after going back to Banh Mi Saigon recently, I decided that I was a fool and that Banh Mi Saigon trumps Xe May by far.

Banh Mi Saigon is a small Vietnamese restaurant bordering Chinatown and Little Italy.  It’s interestingly enough run by Cantonese (southern Chinese) people.  I couldn’t tell you if this has affected the sandwich’s authenticity because I have never been to Vietnam and tried a “real” one* nor do I have Vietnamese friends** who can vouch for it (always welcome to introductions!) but I do know that it is an amazing sandwich shop.  When you walk into the sandwich shop, there are two rows of long tables along each side of the wall and a jeweler who sells Asian jade bracelets and necklaces and such (see top left).  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone buy anything there so wonder if it is wasted real estate… perhaps if they converted it to a mini bubble tea seller…  As you continue to walk into this rectangular shaped shop, you approach the cashier and the open kitchen.  Stacks of freshly made baguettes are under the spotlight at a cutting station (see top right, center of photo).  Service is quick and friendly.

A classic banh mi includes fillings such as pork, spreadable pork liver pate, cilantro, pickled and shredded carrots and daikon, chili sauce and homemade mayonnaise.  The essential tastes of a good banh mi need to include a little bit of sweetness, sourness, saltiness, and spiciness.  In the US, the chili sauce is often replaced with jalepeno peppers, a type of pepper they do not have in Vietnam.

Pictured above is what Banh Mi Saigon calls “BBQ Pork Banh Mi,” which includes a sweet and salty pork that is crispy on the edges, some kind of ham, pork liver pate, cucumbers, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, and jalepenos.  The bread at this shop is amazing.  It makes that nice bread sound when you squeeze it.  Because they make their bread at this shop and are always busy, the bread is always freshly baked.

Pictured above is my favorite sandwich to get at Banh Mi Saigon.  They replace the BBQ pork, ham, and pate with juicy, hyper-tender meatballs.  These meatballs are definitely some of the best I’ve had (better than The Meatball Shop though I have friends who don’t think the two can be compared since this one is “Asian”).

Continue reading Banh Mi Saigon, the best banh mi in Manhattan?