179 Second Ave (between 11th and 12th streets)
New York, NY
When Mimi Cheng’s first opened in 2014, I was skeptical. But now I feel bad for judging Mimi before even trying them out. I was skeptical because it seemed like an upscale dumpling restaurant pandering to people who are willing to pay too much for, what I assumed to be, meh dumplings. There was too much branding. Too much buzz. For some reason, I thought a polished restaurant couldn’t be a great dumpling restaurant. It’s like having an expensive chicken and rice.
But now thinking about it, why can’t we have an expensive chicken and rice? Why is it that Korean food is in general more expensive than Chinese food? Or that French food is almost always pretty upscale? It can’t just be that ingredients may be more expensive. I should be promoting the elevation of Chinese food!
Anyway, let me get back to Mimi’s. The place is super cute. It always seems to be bright inside. Lots of natural light. They have a good spot.
I had the boiled Reinvented Classic (six piece for $8), which had a filling of pasture-raised pork, baby bok choy, and cabbage. The classic is usually pork with cabbage. The addition of the baby bok choy was great. More color and an extra bit of crunch. You can taste that the meat is so much higher quality than the usual chinatown dumpling. It was tender yet not full of fat, and did not contain any cartilage bits that you sometimes get with chinatown dumplings… really tasty and light. How dumplings should be! Continue reading
163 1st Ave (10th st)
New York, NY 10003
I’ve been wanting to come to Fuku since I first heard that David Chang was creating a restaurant solely dedicated to fried chicken sandwiches. I… love… chicken sandwiches. And I’ll let you in on a secret. Every time I go home to Beijing, I have a list of restaurants I always have to hit up, ranging from my favorite peking duck to THE GREATEST spicy fried chicken sandwich ever from KFC. Yup, KFC. Those of you from Beijing will understand. KFC does not have it on its US menu. They call it the Zinger burger. The sandwich consists of a big, thick piece of dark chicken thigh meat fried to perfection, a smear of mayo, and a light sesame bun. It’s amazing. Just take my word for it.
Anyway, that was for context. In my mind, Fuku was benchmarked against my glorious Beijing fried chicken sandwich.
LAW and I came around 1:30pm this past weekend. Fuku is only open from 11-4 Wednesdays through Sundays. The place was packed with Asians. Maybe everyone else is benchmarking against Beijing KFC too?
I ordered everything on the menu sans alcohol: 1 spicy chicken sandwich + 1 Koreana (Fuku’s newer off-menu spicy chicken sandwich with daikon radish) + 1 fuku salad + 1 french fries + 1 seltzer water.
God I was excited. H.W. had visited a few days earlier and said it was the BEST THING he’s had in NYC. People waited HOURS in line when the place first launched mid June. Continue reading
349 East 13th St (between 1st and 2nd Aves)
New York, NY 10003
The Redhead is a restaurant I’ve passed many, many times before but had never thought to walk in. It looks like a dark dive bar from the outside and frankly, the name “The Redhead” never sounded like an appetizing name for a restaurant. Butttttt… don’t judge a book by its cover right?
Eager to try something new one Friday night, LAW, H.W., T.W. and I came to check it out. It’s rated surprisingly well on Yelp and is known for its fried chicken. Can’t say no to fried chicken! We started with a couple drinks. I got the Porch Swing ($11), which is pretty much a spiked Arnold Palmer with cognac, Redhead sweet tea, fresh lemon, and mint. VERY strong. VERY delicious. Definitely exceeded my expectations.
We started with the Grilled Octopus ($12) with marinated beets, chorizo, rye, and pickled mustard. Deeeeelicious. The marinated beets and pickled mustard added a nice acidity to the almost-creamy octopus. Octopus was soft, but not too soft. Had a nice bite to it. Chorizo added a little extra flavor. All round solid dish. Continue reading
351 East 12th Street (between 1st and 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10003
I haven’t been this psyched about a restaurant in a while (The Bao aside, of course). I didn’t know what I wanted to eat but wanted something new and great. I was looking for an unconventional place with unconventional food. Ducks Eatery happened to be exactly what I was looking for. The menu is like a blend of comfort soul food with Southeast Asian flavors. Very, very interesting. And surprisingly very, very good.
T.W. and I both had the Watermelon Gimlet ($12) with watermelon, gin, lavender, and lime. Very light and refreshing.
We all shared a couple appetizers. FIrst up is this Smoked Duck Salad ($13) with black rice, pomegranate, apple, and black garlic. The pomegranate and apple added a great tartness and crunch to the almost creamy, smokey duck. Black rice was a really interesting addition. It was a little sweet and chewy, which rounded out the dish quite nicely.
These are the Smoked Mussels ($14) with chili oil, house cultured smoke butter, and toast with maple and chive. Also H.W.’s favorite appetizer of the night. The smoked mussels were pretty damn intense. Slightly fishy, very smokey, and bathed in a flavorful oily sauce. It was a serious flavor trip. Continue reading
St. Marks between 2nd and 3rd Ave
(no website yet!)
This might be the most excited I have been about a restaurant in a long time. The Bao is a new Chinese restaurant in East Village. It’s so new it doesn’t even have a website or Yelp review yet (someone please get on it!). I was lucky enough to be invited (okay, forced to go because I was already so full at this point) by N.T. because her aunt’s friend opened the place. And let me tell you guys, it has, HANDS DOWN, the BEST 小笼包 xiao long bao (aka. soup dumplings) I have had in the United States. Thanks, N.T. and Auntie Judy for bringing it into my life!
The restaurant sits in the middle of the craziness on St. Marks, yet offers a peaceful, spacious space with pretty great modern design. We literally just had a huge barbecue meal and ice cream before this, so only came to show support for the restaurant. We said we’d just try one soup dumpling each and would be on our way. One led to two, three, four, five…
The restaurant serves up a combination of Shanghai, Hunan, Sichuan, and Guangdong dishes – all the owner Richard and his wife’s favorite foods. This here is a glass of sour plum juice, which tastes slightly medicinal but is super refreshing. I love that they have some of the lesser found things like this on the menu.
TURNIP PUFF PASTRY (萝卜丝饼). I friggin LOVE this and have only ever had it in Beijing where I get it at every restaurant I go to that has it. I’ve never seen it on the menu over here and was so excited when I saw it at The Bao. Unlike the traditional kind that are a bit bigger, about 2 inches in diameter, these little guys are bite size. The filling is typically freshly shredded turnip, scallions, some ginger (I believe), and a little bit of Chinese smoked ham (fattier the better). Not sure exactly what The Bao uses, but the filling tastes very similar to what I get in Beijing, maybe even less greasy. Continue reading
Tompkins Square Bagels
165 Avenue A (between 10th and 11th St)
New York, NY 10009
My go-to bagel spot is Ess-A-Bagel on 1st Ave and 21st street. And one really only needs one bagel spot in their life. This is why I had yet to venture to Tompkins Square Bagels, even though many East Villagers have told me about how great it is. Seemed like TSB is a lot of people’s bagel spot. One weekend, I decided to cheat on Ess-A-Bagel (yikes) to see if TSB was really all that.
It is a cute open spot on Ave A, with plenty of seating in the back.
The bagels are made in-house everyday. There are a ton of sandwich combinations on the board for you to pick from. Ess-A is a little more no-frills (no “Jessie Jane Roast Beef” type of sandwiches at Ess-A, you just tell them what you want in your sandwich and they make it for you).
LAW and I shared the cream cheese and lox ($8.00). Really nothing special. The lox was very mild, and almost not salty enough for the cream cheese and sesame bagel. This needed at least some capers or something to get rid of the blandness.
LAW and I also shared the BLT, which was better than the lox but still was lacking. The saltiness from the bacon helped add flavor to the overall blandness of the bagel. Iceburg lettuce was fresh and gave the sandwich a nice crunch. I think it needed more mayo, because the whole thing was just so dry.
My favorite, if I had to pick one, is this scallion cream cheese with cucumbers and tomatoes on an everything bagel. The cream cheese is NECESSARY because the bagel is just so damn dry. The salt crystals on the everything bagel is also necessary because the bagel is so damn bland. Tomatoes and cucumbers were average. Nothing to write home about.
Close up of the bagel. Looks lame, yeah? Am I missing something?
19 1st Ave
New York, NY 10003
E.L. had her birthday dinner here recently. I was pretty stoked because I love Italian food (as you know from my delicious trip to Italy!) and had heard from a number of friends that it was worth going to.
Above average bread quality, but nothing to write home about.
J.L. ordered the Wood Fire Roasted Eggplant ($7.95) with cyprus black sea salt and peperoncino oil. The menu description says it “Melts in your mouth!” None of the other menu items had any descriptors beyond the ingredients, so I felt like this had to be a signature. Also, Wood fire roast anything and I’ll probably love it. Sadly, all of our expectations were way too high. It was mushy, bland, and the skin was really hard, almost like plastic. Not only was it unsavory, the eggplant also lacked its natural sweetness. No bueno!
I had the special, which was a Vongole. Can’t remember how much it was, but all the pasta prices ranged from $12 to $18 ish I believe. I’ve been on a vongole kick lately. As a kid, I never liked non-creamy or non-tomatoey pastas. As an adult, I now love the more subtle garlic and olive oil nuances and the not so subtly infused clam flavor. Deeeeelicious! Spaghetti was thinner than usual, and very al dente. Excuse me while I go wipe off the drool from my laptop… (it’s almost dinner time as I write this, forgive me). Continue reading
101 St. Marks Place (between Ave A and 1st Ave)
New York, NY 10009
Cafe Mogador is the definition of the type of restaurant that I love. It has all the right components to keep me going back again and again. I’m almost sad that I just discovered it now because it is just that good. It satisfies my criteria of:
- Having really great food (duh)
- Having a speciality food (I hate places that do “all things” because it is impossible to do all things well) – Moroccan specifically (think tagines, cous cous, hummus, babaganoush…)
- Having really reasonable prices (~$20 an entree and ~$10 an appetizer)
- Having the right “mood” that pauses time and allows you to get lost in your food and conversation
The drinks are also strong. There’s really nothing not to like! It’s been around since 1983 so is pretty much an East Village landmark. A colleague of mine said his wife grew up going to Cafe Mogador as a little girl. I can’t imagine growing up in East Village but if it involved coming to Cafe Mogador every weekend, I’d be pretty happy about it.
LAW, B.A., B.P., H.W., and I came on a Friday night and definitely waited a good hour before we got a table. It was warm out (YES warm nights!) so it wasn’t so bad. We started with the Hummus Falafel Platter with green sauce ($12). The hummus is the best I’ve had in the city, not quite at Jordanian hummus level, but very, very, good. Not as machine-made smooth as store-bought… FRESH is how I would describe it. Fresh, light, and creamy. The falafel was also the kind I like: small, crisp on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. Hate it when falafels are over fried and have a thick crust and dense filling. Continue reading
113 Loisada Ave (Ave C and 7th Street)
New York, NY 10009
I was lucky enough to meet CutiePatroller last week over dinner at Apartment 13. CutiePatroller is a NYC food blogger recently started working for Tabelog. Tabelog is a review site curated by other food bloggers. The idea is that the reviews you read will be of higher quality and will contain better photos so you can make a more informed decision. You might remember, but I was a judge for Tabelog a while ago for one of their many restaurant awards. It was awesome to connect with CutiePatroller because a) I don’t really ever connect with other food bloggers and it’s great to learn about their processes and challenges; and b) she’s super cool and fun AND has had her own little boutique clothing store (Cutie Room) in NoHo. Needless to say, I had a great time! Now onto the food!
Apartment 13 serves up fusion Japanese, Caribbean, and American cuisine. It’s well rated on Yelp and sounded like it has interesting flavor combinations so I was pretty excited to try it. We started with Mimi’s Maryland Crabcake with coconut crema, sour mango, and scotch bonnet (don’t know what that is) ($13). $13 for a single crabcake is definitely on the pricier side. Given the price and that it was pretty mediocre, I wouldn’t recommend it. It came not cold nor hot, symbolic of our meal to come. At least it was packed with crab and not just filled with breading. Continue reading
104 2nd Ave (between 6th and 7th streets)
New York, NY 10003
Before Hot Kitchen opened, the only Sichuan food I ate was from my own kitchen and the occasional trip to a random Gourmet Sichuan-esque restaurant. Most of these restaurants had the basic necessities: the double cooked pork, the mapo tofu, the GBSJD (we actually call it that – the 干煸四季豆, or dry sautéed string beans), the fish fragrant eggplant (check out my recipe here!). All these basics were too sweet, too greasy, and not spicy enough, and not nearly numbing enough. Hot Kitchen does all the basics a bit better, and has dishes beyond the basic Sichuan ones that I love. As a result, I go at least once or twice a month. The restaurant is always packed with sounds of home: loud chattering in Chinese and Qing Dao beers clinking.
I always get the 川北凉粉 or Mung Bean Noodle with Spicy and Peppery Sauce ($6.50). This is a Shi’s family favorite. The sauce is a classic Sichuan sauce. It’s spicy, sweet, numbing, and crunch from all the crushed peanuts. The noodles are served cold (goes great with the spice) and are thick but light. You know you’ve got some good noodles when they are elastic and don’t break on contact. Too many Sichuan restaurants in NYC use day(s) old noodles that are refrigerated, which causes the noodles to break. Hot Kitchen doesn’t!
麻婆豆腐 or Mapo Tofu ($13), always a must. Mapo Tofu sauce should NOT be brown. If you order this dish and get brown goopy sauce, you know your chef isn’t Sichuan. It should be bright red and way less viscous than goopiness. The tofu isn’t silken, but also isn’t that hard stuff you find at salad bars. It has enough density that it holds its own shape and doesn’t break. Hot Kitchen’s Mapo Tofu tastes pretty different from how my family makes it (we have more numbingness), but it’s still great. Super flavorful. Could just have this with a bowl of rice and be the happiest person ever. Continue reading