If you found this blog by Googling my name or by following sundry noxious links (you know where), please note that all claims that I was fired from my job are 100% false, as are most of the other things written about me. I don't know the people who are libeling me, but it's clear they have some imaginary axe to grind and way too much time.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ashish@Franchia

Ashish is a life-long vegetarian who bravely emailed me to make the point that he does not limit himself to salads just because he is a veggie-eater.

I really admired his optimism in believing that a veggie and a carnivore can be great food buddies, so I challenged him to find the perfect vegetarian place for us to eat. I figured I should also try to be more open-minded. And so I detoured, for the sake of building diplomatic ties, away from meating up and deep into vegging up.

He didn't tell me where we were going until the very day. Because he's Indian, I half-expected an Indian restaurant, since Indian cuisine lends itself so nicely to vegetarian dishes. But I was truly impressed when he suggested Franchia. Ok, I had no idea what Franchia was, but I was truly impressed after Googling it, because it's a vegan Korean place. If there's anybody that can make veggies livable food, it'd probably be someone Korean. Hello, kimchee?

It was a lovely afternoon, so we sat outside under the restaurant's awning. The warm weather, the mellow ambiance, the healthful food, my good-natured dining companion...it was all very soothing.

And that was before we even got our tea. Ashish recommended we split the tea set, which comes with two teas, a tray of appetizers, and two small desserts. The tea menu is longer than the food menu, and we finally settled on white peony tea (my choice) and an iced fruit tea (his choice).


White peony tea

I've been on a tea kick lately, and this one was AWESOME. I could drink it every day. And how adorable are these little cups with the little sieve that fits over them?

The appetizers also had a pretty presentation:



Easily the best thing on this plate was the deep-fried veggie cake on the bottom left. There wasn't even fake meat product in there, and it was super tasty. The California rolls were also surprisingly fresh-tasting, although I may have been overly-impressed at the time, having forgotten that California rolls are vegan to begin with.

The other things? Just ok.

Here is where I got an unfortunate case of food envy:


My entree: cold avocado bibimbap


Ashish's entree: so-hot-it's-blurry-because-it's-still-bubbling vegetarian curry

I should have listened to him. I really should have. He said the curry was reeeaaally good and I was all "it's too hot for curry." God I'm dumb. I took one bite and said "I like yours better." He said, "me too."

I'd eat that curry every day. I wouldn't even notice there's no meat in it, it's so rich. My bibimbap wasn't bad at all, the sauce on the side actually gave it quite a dousing of flavor. But when I used the sauce, I couldn't taste anything else. After all, it's cold tofu and cold avocado over rice - bland in a bowl.

Good thing Ashish was pretty nice about sharing his curry. We talked about vegetarianism and people's reasons for it, his being that having grown up in a family of vegetarians, meat was simply an abnormal concept. Had he tried meat before? Yes, chicken, but it was not a fall-on-your-knees-seeing-the-light experience. Ok, fair, I'm pretty over chicken myself. But I pressed on - what about steak?

He smiled. "Everyone says that. No, I haven't had a steak."
"Would you try it?" What he said next was pretty endearing:
"Ummm I don't think I could ever try a beef steak. I would never eat beef. But a chicken steak? Yes I think I could do that."

Ashish moved from India to the US in 2003 to attend grad school, and most of his family is still in India. We started talking then about Indian mangoes, because I read lately that an Indian mango is, in fact, a fall-on-your-knees-seeing-the-light experience. Perhaps the only thing Dubya did right while in office was lift an 18-year import ban on Indian mangoes in 2007. (He also reportedly said, "This is one hell of a fruit," upon tasting them for the first time during the same state visit.)

I hear that they are still wildly expensive to import and can rarely be found outside of Indian groceries and supermarkets, where they sell for $3-$4 each. Ashish confirmed that they are probably the most delicious things on earth, but said that he'd never had them in the US or knew of any places that carried them. Carbon footprint be damned, I am going to try one, because that's all I can afford. I'll go to Queens if I have to.

We wrapped up the meal with three small desserts:


Lemon pudding, vanilla ice cream, mochi

I usually don't like fruit teas, but this one was perfectly refreshing and not a bit cloying. It also had bits of crispy vegan mystery molecules floating around in it, almost like puffed rice. Delicious. The lemon pudding, which is Ashish's favorite, was less so mine. It was good, but there was an aftertaste to it I couldn't really place. Ditto the ice cream, which had me marveling at how creamy it was.

Have I been converted? Definitely not. Would I recommend Franchia next time my meat-eating friends want a good restaurant? No. Would I go there with another vegetarian? Sure, I'd probably take my mom. But here's Angela's theory on vegan food, which makes a lot of sense to me - vegan places have dual (and dueling) priorities, and much of the cost goes toward making things like pudding and ice cream vegan, which leaves less money on the table to improve in the taste department. So while there were plenty of pleasant surprises, it's only because I'm forever qualifying praise with "...for a vegan dish." For the same price, it's just hard to beat meat.

Except maybe...

from Ashish Axxxxx
to Zoe Yang
date Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 8:17 PM
subject Re: I NEED AN EATING BUDDY - w4m - 22 (Midtown East)
Hey!
Let me know if you find anything about those Indian Mangoes! I love them!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chris@Shang

date
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 10:52 AM
subjectRe: I NEED AN EATING BUDDY - w4m - 22 (Midtown East)
mailed-by me.com

Hey Zoe,

I was wondering if we could change the venue to another restaurant? I am thinking something more low key, Susur is best left for a second or third outing. Some people love his food others just don't get it (even foodies).

Chris

This email raised a burning question in my mind - is there anything to "get" about food? I think not. At its craziest, maybe it's a little bit like modern art: every concept deserves a chance, deserves at least to be heard out, but people have every right to not like it without being condescended to. The fact that my dining companion only saw two options - loving it and not getting it - was a little ridiculous. A little annoyed, I wrote back to assure him that I could handle Shang, and he agreed to stick with the plan.

Shang was not a place I'd been dying to try on my own. The menu looked too expensive, too fusiony, too pan-Asian. But after emailing back and forth with Chris for two weeks, I had actually gotten pretty excited for it, because Chris, like Susur Lee, hails from Toronto. As I would learn over the course of the evening, Chris is a total Susur Lee fanboy and also happens to be a restaurant consultant. I thought it'd be interesting to get an insider's perspective on a controversial place.

Yet for all the gushing Chris did - "I've been following Susur's food for years." "The servers at his restaurants have to be so knowledgeable, otherwise they don't last long. I usually don't even order. I just tell them to feed me." "The kitchen's just not the same when he's not around." - he didn't do much emoting over the food. I can only talk about how I felt about the food because I have no idea whether it lived up to his expectations.

I think he might have been annoyed by the fact that Angela and I ordered from the menu rather leaving it up to our server to decide. Maybe he was also a teensy bit crushed that there was no Susur sighting: "I wonder where he is, you'll usually see him walking around six or seven times a night."

Anyways, I thought the food was pretty good.

Starters:


Curry beef and taro puffs with horseradish cream, octopus salad with tomatillo salsa and pennywort relish


The famous 18-ingredient Singapore Slaw


Singapore Slaw being slawed.

The puffs were a little heavy, the slaw good but for all the hype, still just a slaw (the secret ingredient out of 18 is raw Chinese cellophane noodles giving an unexpected crunch.) The octopus was the most intriguing dish to me - the slices seemed bonded together, but I couldn't figure out how, and the salsa and relish gave complementary spicy zings.

At this point, conversation naturally turned to "the industry," and while Chris was definitely knowledgeable, he also seemed jaded. Maybe it's the nature of his job, but he sounded passionless as he talked about the business, with emphasis on business.

"I think you'd have to be psychotic to open a restaurant in New York."

Gee, buddy, thanks for crapping on my dreams

So a couple of minutes later, when he asked me what type of restaurant I wanted to open, I hesitated, not wanting to seem psychotic nor just incredibly naive.

"A place that serves northern Chinese brunch."
"What's that?"

He was gracious in reserving judgment and polite in trying to understand just what I was talking about (I was pretty bad at explaining the concept), but I wondered how much he really knew about Chinese food.

"I think a lot of Chinese people have Susur's food because they expect it to be classical Chinese," he'd stated earlier. Angela and I had respectfully disagreed.
"Well, maybe that'd be true for our parents, but at our generation, we're pretty open-minded." This is not the first time we've seen fusion.

And it soon became apparent, as the entrees arrived, that this particular brand of fusion was not particularly hard to "get."


Caramelized sablefish, mustard green relish, miso mustard, salmon caviar



Mongolian lamb chops, glazed bananas, chili mint, carrot cardamom chutney


Szechuan half-duck, served with mantou bread, slivered beets, slivered scallions, and bean paste.

How far did it diverge from Chinese food and how well-conceived were the innovations?

Well, we'll skip the sablefish - I'd never had sablefish before and thus have no point of reference (Chinese cuisine also doesn't do this bullshit fish fillet thing). I will say that it had a very unique texture, each groove of muscle separating and feeling like an individual entity. Angela liked the texture, I'm meh.

The lamb chops were my favorite, even though I would've preferred a little more cooking time, but again, the reference here is not Chinese. "Chili mint" is a smoother version of the mint chutney Indian restaurants dole out in cupfuls. The other sauce was a carrot puree, and there were some slices of sweet plantain in the middle (huh?).

So that leaves the duck and mantou bread. The duck's trappings, except for the addition of slivered beets and swapping of mantou for flour pancakes, are exactly the trappings of classic Peking duck, arguably the Chinese national dish. I couldn't taste the beets and the mantou bread was too thick to be a good wrapper for the duck. I still have leftover pieces sitting in a takeout box. The duck itself was very bland, very fatty, and the skin was NOT CRISPY. Not saying that it should have been crispy, but if you're riffing on something that has been pretty much perfected, your alternative has to be all the more ingenious. I also don't see how these alterations make it Szechuan duck all of a sudden - not a hint of Szechuan spice in the dish.

The mantou bread straight-up pissed me off. Mantou in China is big, white, fluffy - the perfect sopper-upper of sauces and juices. Mantou is so beloved that when my grandmother came to visit, she smuggled two huge fresh mantou through customs for Dad. Shang's mantou was small, tough, pre-sliced, and made out of whole wheat.

Good God, even David Chang knows not to fuck (much) with mantou.

In any case, the food on its own would have been more than good enough to leave me satisfied, but with all of Chris's hype, I was underwhelmed. My suspicions about his (lack of) knowledge about Chinese food were confirmed when he revealed that he had never had Peking duck or knew what mantou was. You can't overly credit someone for changing the classics when you've never even had the classics. And you can't fault someone for not liking the innovations when they're just not as good as the classics.



I got this dessert because our waitress uttered the words "sparkling lemongrass, lychee..." and I stopped listening. Had to have it. (It also turns out to have mint and candied lemon.) I think it sums up Shang very well - great concepts executed in pretty, slick, and sometimes even solidly delicious ways, but ultimately not much depth and definitely not mind-blowing. All I tasted in this dish was lemon sorbet, although serving sorbet in a little puddle of fizzy liquid is a great party trick.

While we were eating, by the way, the restaurant had filled up, and at one point I realized I couldn't tell the hostesses from the female customers, as they were equally svelte and equally attired in itty bitty clubbing dresses. This place is far too trendy. I hate trendy.



Angela's dessert was more accomplished: an orange granite with fresh berries and lemon curd, capped with an adorable toasted-crepe cone. In the front is a slice of blood orange sorbet, with chocolate "seeds."

After three and a half loooong hours, we finally wrapped up the meal and took off. By this time I was antsy and could tell Angela was equally bored. It wasn't that the conversation ever stopped, the three of us just didn't...click. The conversation never moved past the stage of asking lots of questions about one another to develop a rhythm of its own. Unfortunately, when conversations can't sustain themselves, three and a half hours can seem really, really long, no matter how enjoyable the food.

One thing we all agreed on was that New York has too many great cheap restaurants for anyone to feel like they need to blow money to eat well. I'd venture to take that a step further and say one shouldn't feel compelled to drop a lot of dime at Shang, at least not more than once. Chinese cuisine outside of China seriously needs a makeover, and Shang is succeeding in making Chinese food a sexy destination for once. I couldn't be happier about that. But to me, it tasted like a flash in the pan.

Mikey@Nooch

“There’s only one-hour parking around here, let’s go to SoHo.”

On the way to meet Mikey at the Starbucks on 9th and 2nd, I had told myself, “Don’t get into a car, don’t get into a car. Honestly, how dumb would that be? Don’t get into a stranger’s car.”

But how was I supposed to say no? I was the one who suggest Pho Sure on Christopher Street after we’d already made plans to meet on the East Side. And I couldn’t ditch the guy who drove all the way from Long Island for having the perfectly reasonable problem of not being able to abandon his car.

I got into the car.

“Damn that’s a big bag,” he gestured as I wedged my Mary Poppins against my knees.
“Yeah, I hope you’re not trying to kidnap me, because I have a Taser in there.”
He laughed easily. “I believe it.”

I think he noticed I was a little nervous, and kept up a steady patter of conversation. My paranoid mind wondered if he was just tying to distract me.

But I loosened up since he was so easy to talk to – a thickly accented, freely cussing type. And he seemed to think the same of me:

“I love the fact that you swear, none of my girl friends swear.”
“Really? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t swear. And I don’t think I swear that much…”
“Oh, you do, you’ve said ‘fuck’ about five times. It’s great, ‘cause you’re like this cute little Asian girl with a total potty mouth.”

Yeah, I’m fuckin’ adorable.

We ended up circling the restaurant for ages, looking for parking. I don’t know what he was smoking, thinking it’d be easy to find parking in SoHo on a Friday night. Eventually, we just gave up and went to Nooch instead.

The selection of Nooch says a lot about Mikey, in the limited capacity that I now know him:
1) We decided to go there in passing, as we were driving up to Koreatown.
2) He found the place much the same way – stopping in on a whim
3) “The food’s pretty good. Not the best restaurant in the world, but okay. Any place I take you is going to be okay.”

He’s the only person in recent memory who has made the word “okay” sound like a positive in conjunction with food. I like that. He was laid-back, more in search of the act of searching than some ultimately sublime food experience.

So, Mikey was great. Nooch, on the other hand, was everything I’m suspicious of in a restaurant – overly designed, hip (with questionable success), having a nonsensical name that sounds like it should be dirty, and a pan-Asian menu.

And God, can we talk about GeishaFace for second? Nooch has some Asian girl’s dolled-up face in the window alluring passerby, but while not all manifestations of GeishaFace are this literal, it is quite a pervasive transgression.


Mikey in front of Noochy GeishaFace

Other perpetrators of GeishaFace: Tao, Suzie Wong, Geisha House, and um, every place where naked girl sushi is served.

[Memo to these tasteless restaurateurs: GeishaFace is sooooo ‘90s. It’s like restaurant equivalent of Chinese-character tattoos. Hire a real chef and stop culture-fucking me and my sisters to sell your mediocre food.]

But Mikey was right; it was okay for a restaurant with a dj booth in the middle of the room. Well, the summer rolls were terrible, but my crispy duck was surprisingly good and surprisingly generous. I had a bite of Mikey’s pad see ew, which was tasty if a bit too dark and too sweet.




"I don't do much," Mikey said toward the end of the evening. "Eat. Drink. Shop. That's all I do. That's it." A guy with simple pleasures.

I'll take his cue: the food was okay, and the company relaxed. Good times.

"You're pretty cool," he pronounced on the way back to the car. Thanks buddy, you're pretty cool too. I'd get into a car with you again.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Calendar

I've been so busy at work this week, I keep flaking and reflaking on my strangerdates. It's now gotten so confusing that I need to keep track of this somehow:

Tonight: Michael @ TBA
Tomorrow: BBQ@Coworkers', then either Ashish@TBA or Christopher@Shang or TBA
Sunday: David@Sripraphai
Tuesday: Angela and co@Matsugen
Wednesday: TM@Baoguette

I already have a couple of backed up blog entries to write, where is the time??

Monday, April 20, 2009

Things I'm Pondering Today:

1) Why are shellfish so irretrievably linked with summertime when true seafood lovers know that you're only supposed to eat shellfish in months ending in "er?" I propose a winter raw bar revolution.

2) Why doesn't Indian food (in the US, because I've never eaten it anywhere else) have more seafood? India has like, 49583493 miles of coastline, yet I don't think I've ever seen a seafood dish at an Indian restaurant. Is this another sad case of regional homogenization and Western acclimatization? (See also: Chinese, Mexican)

3) Why must a lobster roll have mayo? Couldn't they all come with hot butter?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Community Service Announcement

For New Yorkers, born and bussed:

If you're not reading Eater already, or at least just the Dealfeed portion, you really should be. If you still have a job, one upside to the recession is that tons of restaurant meals are now affordable thanks to special deals that will die as the Dow surges*. If you don't have a job anymore, one upside to the recession is that tons of restaurants are offering discounts and deals to those who can prove they're unemployed (Dear John from your previous employer or unemployment check will do).

If it wasn't good enough that someone else was diligently tracking these deals (some of which are admittedly only "deals"), it's like this magical someone else read my mind re: making a map of NYC restaurants and rolled out the Dealfeed Map!

Any takers for Craft's Frugal Fridays (which are now actually every night except Tuesday)?


*Of course, many of these deals might also die if the Dow plunges - along with the restaurants themselves.

Sunday Funday@Mitsuwa

I made the pilgrimage to Mitsuwa, and emerged slightly shell-shocked. I'm now officially auditioning a side role for Japanese Supermarket Buddy - an infinitely patient and food-loving Japanese person (or expat) who can explain, in detail, what the weird and wonderful items in that store are used for. Or just are, as in nature of existence. When I had trouble, I tried to make it a game: in the "sake snacks" aisle I did my best to pick up three bags of completely unidentifiable edibles. Plant, land animal, or sea animal remains to be determined.

For now, Google is my Japanese Supermarket Buddy. Thanks to the big G, I've been able to identify these mystery leaves:



When I saw them, so reverently packaged, I knew they had to be important. They are none other than whole shiso leaves!

Other clearly-marked things that were no less exciting:


I'd never seen fresh whole wasabi root before. It's like knowing what tigers look like from movies and books and then seeing one at the zoo for the first time: no touching allowed, and it's probably being really boring, but you gotta take a snap!



Mmmm bluefin o-toro. Seems wildly expensive until you remember how much it costs at a restaurant.


The takeout sushi counter to put all others to shame.

The whole time I was at Mitsuwa, I wished people were waiting for me at home, docilely opening their mouths upon my return to ingest my findings like little baby birds. No such luck. I left with meager loot including furikake for making tamago gohan.

And then.

And then I went to the food court. My North Bergen-bred friend Angela, who is the only other person I know who is just as obsessed with food as I am, had raved that the Mitsuwa food court had the best udon outside of Japan.



She wasn't wrong. She never is, unless you count the time my team beat hers in our school's Iron Chef competition, Battle Alligator (HA!).

I slurped it down as shoppers swirled around me, some giving quizzical (families) or scornful (teenagers) looks to the lone girl buried in her udon. Whatever y'all. More than one boyfriend has made fun of the way I wander aimlessly through supermarkets, eyes transfixed on everything but where my cart or myself are going. More than one boyfriend has subsequently gotten annoyed at me for taking too long after tiring of making fun.

Some people like dining alone, others like going to the movies alone. I prefer grocery shopping alone.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

StephenB@Casa Mono

Here's what I knew about StephenB before last night: 58, divorced lawyer, polite to the point of cautiousness.

Here's what I now know about StephenB: 58, divorced since 2002 over something vaguely to do with cats, tax lawyer, still polite but no longer cautious.

The last part may be a problem. He has a list of places for us to try next: Picholine, Bellavitae, The Modern.

It's not that he wasn't a nice guy. He was. It's not that he was creepy. He wasn't. He was just...sad. By the time our foie gras hit the table, I already knew way more about his divorce than I cared to:

"I think she just got tired of things and never bothered to tell me. My wife and I were married for 23 years, I never thought I'd be here..." he pauses, trying to come up with a positive way to depict "here," "...hanging out."

Indeed, from the way he spoke, it sounded like the divorce was something he was bludgeoned with recently. Dazed. Despite it having been 7 years, this man was clearly deeply lost, and deeply lonely. It was slightly painful to hear him talk about the one other time he'd tried to find a dining companion on Craigslist. The girl - another young 'un - had said brunch in her ad, but suggested a dinner date instead. A meeting in which she ordered 4 appetizers, twice, and a $48 entree.

"I guess she assumed I'd pay for it."
"Did you?"
"I did, because I'm a nice guy."
"How much was it?"
"Over $200. And I don't know how long it takes to figure this out about me, but I'm a nice guy. If she hadn't been so greedy, she could've gotten six months worth of meals out of me. Instead, she blew it by being greedy. She scammed me."

I think we both knew that "nice" was a euphemism for "desperate," and I tried to ignore his statement that "this is so much better than going on a dinner date" and how he seemed to be just a little bit too interested in my romantic life. It'd be easy to say that part was creepy, but I really do think he was just searching for a way to connect, since his failed romantic life was what he was clearly fixated on.

It got me thinking about a lot of other things though, like why dating sites never ask the right questions, why we tend to think of a person's life being either waxing or waning with age rather than a straight line of possibility, and whether you can count on serendipity for something as important as growing with your lover rather than without.

That really is the nicest part of this project: thinking and talking about things that don't come up with my friends. When you know someone too well, you have your petty conversations and in-jokes and gossip. It's rare that someone questions who you are. It's nice to revisit that.

As for the food, I learned that StephenB and I have in common our preference for nibbling on many small plates. Casa Mono (of Mario Batali fame) is known for its relatively large portions for a tapas place, and our five dishes plus dessert was plenty. I let him take the lead, because he had offered to pay.


Duck egg with mojama

I really need to remember my camera more often, the cameraphone is not cutting it. This dish was way better than it looks - runny duck egg, salty tuna loin, savory potatoes.


Bone marrow with watermelon radishes

This will be the last time I order bone marrow at a tapas place. I love it too much and there's never enough to share with someone else. This particular rendition was yummy, but I thought the tomatoes are little bit too astringent as an accompanying side.

One thing I picked up about Stephen by the second plate was that he was very precise when it came to splitting things. Fifty-fifty right down the middle and portioned off onto our own plates. I wonder if he was like that with his wife, whom he admitted was almost his opposite - a photographer to his tax lawyer.


Foie gras with five onions (red, green, cipollini, and two others)

The foie gras with five onions was easily the best dish of the night. But then, it's always hard to trump foie. Stephen also went for the daily special - a chorizo dish that was way too salty.


Pretty, but this was the worst dish of the night.

I eyed the grapefruit sorbetto for dessert, but agreed to split the manchego with quince jelly instead.



Blah presentation, supermarket-quality cheese. Yawn.

At least I wasn't paying for it. Oh wait.

After his sob story about the other girl, I chickened out on letting him pay. Yes, even though he did the ordering (and that chorizo dish was not my idea). Yes, even though a 58-year-old lawyer, even a tax lawyer, makes far more than a 22-year-old Junior Analyst.

"I caught a mistake on my tax return today, so I am in much better shape than I thought. We could split it if you want."

What the fuck is wrong with me? Maybe I thought he'd try to stop me, which he didn't (he did say maybe he'd get the next one - lunch at The Modern). Will it happen? I don't particularly want it to, but I already feel bad about saying no - he seemed so genuinely, happily, surprised by how well this meeting went. I guess even in platonic dating there's leading 'em on and letting 'em down gently. I never thought I'd be in this position with a 58 year old. At least not before turning 50 myself.

Fuck YEAH

Hi @jingtastic,

I came across your blog through Twitter. I really like your conversational writing style. I'm the community manager at GrubHub.com. I currently manage our company blog, The Daily Grub (http://blog.grubhub.com/), and I'm always looking for food bloggers who maybe interested in posting on our site. The blog itself just launched this week, so we're still new. It's a volunteer community food blog, so we can't pay writers, but I can offer up some gift cards to our guest bloggers for volunteering. I really like the angle you pitched on your blog as a new transplant in NYC looking to discover interesting eateries in the city.

We're currently in NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Philly. We get over 500,000 visitors a month to our Web site, so I imagine you'll have a pretty large audience to write for. If you're interested in contributing to The Daily Grub, let me know. No pressure. I have some guest bloggers who contribute weekly and some who want to contribute once a month. It's up to you, there's no set schedule. We're not trying to be food critics over here, just a bunch of nerds who love food and want to write about it.

--
Amy Le
Community Social Media Manager

Do I come off as the Simon Cowell of food or something?

alex: come by here
my office
we're ordering food
me: i cant
jim wants to meet with me
alex: lamesauce
me: just order something for me
alex: for how long
me: dunno
alex: I CANT DO TIHS BY MYSELF
okay
i'll try
me: dude i'll eat anything

Here's something you should know about me.

I judge food, and I judge what other people are eating. If I don't know you, I'm probably not going to want to know you if I see you order sesame chicken and a California roll at a sushi bar. But if you're ordering for ME, have no fear. I would never look unkindly on another person's efforts to provide me sustenance. In fact, I hate people who complain about a meal while they're still eating it. It ruins the atmosphere and boosts nobody's ego but the complainer's. When I'm out eating with friends, I rarely talk about what's being served, and if I'm asked what I think, I'll just say it's good.

Because, in truth, it's hard for food to be not good. I'm Chinese and I eat everything - there is that. But more importantly, I'm Chinese and my Dad, who lived through some of the worst food times in Chinese history, instilled me with gratitude for anything I have the privilege of eating. I have the tapes to prove it, courtesy of a 7th-grade oral history project: "I should really send you off to the nong cun, starve you for a few years so you'll know what it's like. Then, you eat anything, everything tastes good."

So, in the spirit of "eat anything, everything tastes good," Alex's choice of "
1 burger, 1 steak, 1 yellotail scallion roll, and 1 chicken wings - i hope youre hungry" will do just fine for lunch.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Feaster Sunday@Claire's Apartment

My favorite Christians are the once-a-year ones. My friend Claire, wanting to do her first Easter in NYC right, made vague promises of egg-dying at her place in Williamsburg. She didn't ask anyone to bring anything, but we all somehow knew to show up with yummy tidbits and soon we had a Feaster. Jesus has risen indeed.

I always use visits to Claire as a convenient excuse to stop in the Union Square area to buy things for eating or for wearing. This time, I made a beeline for Momofuku Milk Bar.

I don't really like baked goods, or sweets in general, but when I see something like Chinese sausage* focaccia or green curry banana bread, I have to try it. Asians don't bake, so Asian ingredients+yeast+heat is mindblowing to me. Also, AZN pride and stuff.


Chinese sausage focaccia


Green curry banana bread

I also got the pork buns for good measure. People think David Chang is a genius for the pork bun, but I think it seriously needs scallion (the menu says it's supposed to have scallions, but mine did not).

My mother would have keeled over if she'd seen me pay $9 for two tiny pork buns. Therefore, Chang is not a genius for creating this pork bun (nothing in there is particularly new), he is a genius for making basic Chinese ingredients sexy to white people. I don't mean that as either criticism or dismissal; after all, I plan on doing the same and only resent him for getting there before me.



Nevertheless, I got nothing but love for the way the grease ran down my arm.


Small girl, smaller bun, big fatty

The focaccia was good but I wish it had been fuller, crazier. Why stop at sausage? Throw some tea eggs in there! Bits of browned guotie rice! In the end we were trying to figure out how to divvy up the last piece according to where the two last morsels of sausage were buried.

Conversation at one point turned to food neuroses, like how there are people who only eat white colored foods (ask me about this sometime and I'll make like Freud and expound.) Claire and Janelle wanted me to blog a week of eating nothing but green foods. I decided green curry is the only way I'd survive such a sentence. I'd put it in everything, because this banana bread has proven you can:


I regret not getting the kimchi butter to go with this.

I can't be the only one with a face-stuffing pic:




Notice the mountain of individually-wrapped croissants in the back. They did not go unloved.

Eventually we got around to dyeing eggs. Craftmaster Claire found a method that involved wrapping silk ties (or scarves) around the eggs and boiling them so that the pattern from the ties transfers onto the shells.

How cool is this?!



Why would you dye eggs any other way?

Hope everyone's Easters were just as awesome. I decided to go to Casa Mono with StephenB tomorrow night after all. It was kind of a done deal after peeking at the menu, but none of y'all tried to dissuade me anyway. Your collective fault if I get creeped on. Stay tuned.



*Officially making a list of overlooked foods that I will singlehandedly popularize someday. Considering American highbrow obsession with salumi/charcuterie, it's only a matter of time before Chinese sausage gets its moment in the sun. I'll be there to see it happen, my porky pretty.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Coworkers@Joe's Shanghai (Midtown)

I had a devastating late-week craving for soup dumplings, so I dragged my coworkers to Joe's Shanghai for dinner on Friday.

We kept it simple:



Four orders of pork, two orders of crab and pork. Being from Nanjing, four hours away from Shanghai, I've been eating soup dumplings since birth, so I will now stop calling them by this bullshit name. Xiao long bao is what they are.


Alex demonstrates the correct way to eat xiaolongbao.

Did it stack up to the xiao long bao of my childhood? Of the touristy Nan Xiang in Shanghai or Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong? Eeeehhhh, what's the point in comparing a xiao long bao with the Platonic Ideal of a xiao long bao, which can only be found in China? Doing so would just make me sad. Suffice to say it is hard not to love a xiao long bao that is done even remotely correctly. I've made many a meal from the frozen supermarket ones.

Joe's Shanghai satisfied my craving. That was enough. The skins were a tiny bit tough and I found the dumplings a little too big - I like them small and dainty so they don't seem like giant meatballs once the soup and wrapper are gone. The boys loved the pork ones and said the crab ones were too salty and "too crabby." I thought both were equally delicious.

My one major gripe was with the service. I do not require much. I even think shitty service in Chinese restaurants is kind of charming, in a perversely authenticating sort of way. But when you give the four people who order six baskets of soup dumplings one tiny little soy sauce dish, and then stingily bring over one more when they ask for more sauce dishes, I get a little insulted. (Listen, I may be sitting with the baiguis, and your other customers may all be tourists, but I will not be taken for a pushover.) Also, your sauce isn't even very good, because it's been sitting around pre-mixed until the ginger goes soggy and tasteless, so really, you can afford to give it up.


Alex enjoys his xiao long bao

We also ordered salt and pepper squid, which is kind of my benchmark dish for judging Chinese restaurants. At $17, it was the most expensive I've ever encountered, and the portion was small. It was a solid fry job, if a bit under-salted. As usual, my favorite part was mixing the jalapeños, scallions, and lettuce bed with rice. Too bad they were even stingier with the peppers than the squid.

The takeaway: go in times of desperation. Be disciplined and just order the xiaolongbao.

Jen and Friends@Emporio

On Thursday night I went to Emporio with my good friend Jen and a chain-link assortment of other acquaintances. On Wednesday night, Emporio opened its doors for the first time.

Jen had suggested the place because it its liquor-license-pending embryonic stage, we thought we could BYOW. Turns out that was false advertisement. No matter, like I've ever let the lack of alcohol get in the way of my ability to taste food. This was a special challenge. Newly opened! No reviews to dissect yet! Who knows what Frank Bruni thinks!

Good thing Jen casually mentioned to chef/owner Riccardo Buitoni (also of Aurora) that I was a "food writer" within two minutes of being seated. I kind of stammered "well...actually...food blogger," but he had already pulled up a chair and started telling me that he uses all parts of the farm-raised pigs on his menu.

I asked what was good. He said everything. He's opening in the dead of recession and he wants to sell, but that's just frustrating. I can't order everything, so tell me SOMETHING.

Eventually, he gave us some ideas, and we followed them. The appetizers:


Grilled lamb spiedini, ceci beans, rosemary.


Wood fired octopus, risina beans, preserved lemon.


Home made testa (headcheese).

I don't know if the lamb was good, because I didn't get to try it, but I know we were all surprised by how small the skewers were. The octopus was deliciously savory and smoky, but again, there was very little of it. I'd forgotten it came with preserved lemon until I found a piece under all the beans - an afterthought. The testa was good when combined with the pickled onion, but I found myself wishing for more spice. I also had to order it twice - it didn't come with the other appetizers so I got it as kind of an awkward halfway course between appetizer and entree. The one other appetizer I ordered, fava beans, mint, and pea shoots with pecorino, was also bland. The greens needed a unifier; the cheese couldn't accomplish the task alone. Maybe if there had been more mint, the dish would've had more tang. As it was, I forgot there was supposed to be mint at all until I reread the menu just now.

My favorite thing all night was probably this:


Grilled (or fried?) polenta with some kind of creamy, spicy, spread.

It was a dish sent over on the house due to my food writerly status. I genuinely felt bad about this until I tasted it. Completely addictive. Will be an awesome bar snack once the bar gets going.


My entrée, the frascati braised local rabbit.

The rabbit was dry; I wanted to drown it in the delicate frascati sauce but there wasn't enough of it. My favorite parts of this dish were the rabbit liver pâté and the salty bed of greens, both of which gave my palate the flavor it had been craving all night. But still, a spread and a side of greens should not outshine the literal meat of the dish!



The other entrée I tasted was the 32oz porterhouse these two shared. It was a great steak, made more impressive by the fact that the kitchen had actually managed to accommodate their odd, uncompromising request for half-medium, half-medium rare. But I know the boys weren't full after eating it (32 ounces apparently goes by fast).

Basically, there are some kinks here, which is reasonable considering they'd only opened the night before. It was all just a bit anemic for my taste. But then, cautiously seasoned small portions shouldn't really suit anyone's taste. I hope Mr Buitoni - who was very kind - realizes it before the real food writers come along.

Help!

So I got back to the office after lunch with Noah the other day, excited about how well my first meat up went, only to have my bubble completely burst by my coworkers.

Alex: So how'd it go?
Me: Good! Really well! He wasn't creepy or sketchy or awkward at all! And the restaurant was really awesome - this underground Japanese place below an office building. He's really into Japanese food and his wife's Japanese.
All three of them: OOOOOOOOOO HE HAS A WIFE??
Me: Yeah, but it was totally platonic! He wasn't hitting on me or anything!
Chris T: Yeah right.
Chris L: Did he tell his wife he was having lunch with you?
Me: I don't know! But he talked about her pretty openly! He said she was awesome!
Chris T: Nope. Sketchy. No way he told his wife he was meeting a strange girl for lunch.
Me: IT'S JUST LUNCH! It's not like he saw pictures of me or anything, he had no reason to think I would be attractive.
Chris L: But what was he doing cruising the W4M section of Craigslist??
Alex: Ooo good point.
Me: THE STRICTLY PLATONIC SECTION!!

So guys, what's the jury on this one? Can a married man ever meet a 22-year-old girl off the internet for lunch? How about dinner? How about brunch? Can he ever tell his wife? I'd like to think, if I put myself in wifey shoes, that I would be cool with it, especially since I of all people know how innocent my intentions truly were. I mean, I'd really like to think other people's marriages are stronger than my desire to eat something tasty.

Anyways, the bigger question remains: what are the ground rules here?

There's a guy, StephenB, who is 58 and wants to go to Casa Mono on Tuesday. Our email exchange has already covered his age and our desires for something explicitly platonic. After Tuesday night was suggested, I asked to postpone a couple of weeks for my wallet's sake, to which he replied,

hmm ... I'd be willing to treat you to tapas .. it's not a major three course meal and Casa Mono's pretty reasonable and we could meet and see if we wanted to do another one in a few weeks... up to you

My caution-throwing, tapas-loving stomach agrees. "We could sit at the bar!" She says, "just nibbles!" But do I want to cross that line? He erases the line based on the price and formality of the meal, but is there really a difference between tasting menu at Per Se and Dollar Menu at McDonald's when someone is paying for your nourishment? Forget date territory for a second, is this veering into escort territory? Again, this should be ok, but as my ex-boyfriend constantly reminded me, I inhabit a different world from Most People, where gogo dancing/sex blogging are equally NBD. I can't think about me, what are this 58-year-old newly-divorced man's expectations?

Dammit.

Well, what if I stay away from the sangria?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Savory Tip

The mecca of Japanese food?

Apparently in New Jersey. From what Noah described, it sounds like an amazing treasure trove of Japanese packaging, with a FOOD COURT attached. Best of all, there's a shuttle from Port Authority! I might have to make the pilgrimage this weekend, if the weather is nice. Who's with me??

Noah@Sakagura

Any of my friends could tell you that I have something called "extreme menu anxiety" in which I am unable to go to a restaurant without first reading every published review, with a good smattering of Citysearch/Menupages/Chowhound/Yelp opinions to round out the picture. Even then, I try to drag as many people as I can with me, and once I'm there, will usually interrogate some poor server multiple times before I order.

I just don't want to order the wrong thing. You know, the thing that chefs throw on the menu to get suckers who don't know better to order, thereby boosting their profit margin and allowing them to afford the less cost-effective but truly passionate dishes on the menu. Examples? Seared ahi* tuna, goat cheese arugula salads, anything with salmon.

Which is why I love tasting menus and omakase. No dodging there; the chef decides what you eat and therefore stands behind everything you eat. And, coming to the point, it's also why I think this buddy search thing might be a really great idea.

Sakagura was Noah's recommendation, and it was a solid one. Here's a guy who is married to a Japanese woman, spent time in Japan, and is discernibly obsessed with Japanese food, and he led me - with all the confidence you could hope for in an eating companion - to an underground lair where all the Japanese nationals go. A place I'd never even heard of before.

Plenty has been written about Sakagura. I won't repeat them here. I'll show you some pretty pictures though:



This is the "Jewel" Oke Bento, which is charmingly described on the menu as "seasonal sashimi, fried tidbits, grilled tidbits." I fucking love that. It's like, "No, I won't tell you exactly what is going to be on your huge round plate, just trust me, it's going to be tasty because it'll be either grilled or fried." You can't say no. (Noah had the same.)

The sashimi was top quality, not too big and slabby. The purplish mounds toward the bottom are three individual rice cakes seasoned with pickled shiso. The grilled bits were tofu, a thin slice of steak, and eel. The fried bits were two fans of tempura'd julienned veggies. The little cup had pickled mountain yams, and in the top left was a melon-ball scoop of taro in what tasted like a sauce spiked with sake.

A word here about shiso. Food writers and Top Chef contestants seem to wank all over shiso, but I'd never encountered it before. One of the sashimi was squid rolled with shiso leaf, and it was a crazy flavor pairing - spicy, herby, oceany. I am now wanking over shiso.

I guess I should also say something about the decor here: it was cool. Honestly, I don't care much about that stuff, but if you do, you'd like it. Woodsy and clean and as Japanese as you can picture in that authenticity-seeking, culturally tokenizing head of yours.

On to dessert!

Noah and I discovered we are both into savory desserts. He ordered a scoop of sea salt chocolate ice cream, which was crazy good. I got this:



It's a black sesame creme brulee, and it was even better. My menu anxiety also stems from not wanting to ever get food envy, so this was a clutch win for the home team.

Definitely a great meal, and not even outrageous at $27 including dessert. For my first "meat up," I really couldn't have asked for better. Noah was engaging, interesting, not awkward, and definitely not sketchy. We talked about his time living in Qingdao, my time living in Oaxaca, our takes on fusion cuisine, law, finance, and eggs.

The takeaway of the day: cooking someone an egg, just the way they like it, is love. No other food is so versatile, yet so particular. My dad cooked eggs for me growing up, forever defining my idea of perfection as whites fried to a crisp brown on the edges, yolk gooey but never runny within. Just a little FYI.

We parted ways at 53rd and Lex with a handshake. Back at the office, I saw that Noah had sent me a link to a Picasa album of food pictures. I sent back an Amazon link to Jeffrey Steingarten, and a promise to update him on Shang, which is my next meat-up. Will I see him again? I hope so, he was fun.

*Which, the way, is just the common yellowfin. Bluefin or bust!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Confirmed

Sakagura for lunch tomorrow at 12:15.

Preliminary facebook-stalking of my lunch date reveals a mountain bike enthusiast with pensive eyes. Married, which at this early stage can be either a relief or a stealth bomb.

He definitely wasn't lying about his foodie credentials, though. The largest photo album consists entirely of food encountered on a trip to Osaka, 58 photos in all. I thought I was the only one who shamelessly records meals, disturbing-other-diners-with-my-flash be damned. Good to know, good to know.

One Possibility

Jen: instead of a food date maybe a "meat up"
me: hahahaha
i like it
but it sounds too dirty
like a boner
Jen: oh well
food is sexy
me: true

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I may have a date* as soon as tomorrow.

Noah is not a fan of bananas or raw eggs, thinks I should read FXCuisine, and prefers Japanese.

I told him about the worst raw egg I ever had, which was in the form of a Prairie Chicken. The story isn't interesting; I did it because it was there. It was bad, but not terrible. It tasted like rolling into Frary for breakfast hungover from 99-cent margaritas, asking for an over medium fried egg and getting it way slutty easy, and dousing it with Tabasco to mask the sliminess. In other words, it tasted like the aftertaste of a poor college-era decision.

He is currently pondering good Japanese spots for our midtown lunch meeting. He has been pondering for a while. I like that.



*Again, the label problem. "Buddydate" is clumsy, "fooddate" seems redundant. What should we do?

A Label

Lots of replies to the Craigslist ad already. One potential buddy responded,

I do love food but despise the label "foodie." Help me think of a new word and I'll share my culinary experiences with you. =)

Hmmmm. He's not wrong. I also hate the label "foodie." It's too iiiieeee, like indie for food. Punks. I'd like to think of myself as "gastronomically prioritized."

This Blog Is A Personals Ad For My Stomach

She's really quite easy to get along with. Less snobby than you might think.