Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NY Labour Day Weekend Saga: Kyotofu

Friday Lunch: Kyotofu (705 9th Avenue,
We came here as part of Steph's personal cupcake tour (which will be the final New York post). In 2007, New York Magazine rated its cupcake as the best in the city, but I also thought it'd be nice to have lunch because the prices seemed reasonable and the menu pretty interesting -- kind of Japanese-French lite.

Like at Chelsea Market, I was surprised to find the place nearly empty, as its small to begin with. The server was ├╝ber-sweet and accommodating, but I guess that's expected when you're one of two occupied tables. In any case, I was just glad to be seated and have water in front of me. We walked from Chelsea to midtown, and already spent two hours sightseeing.

Each lunch entree came with soup or salad. We both decided on the carrot miso soup, which was rich and creamy and soothing. Steph opted for "pigs in a duvet," berkshire pork sausage wrapped in puff pastry ($10), while I had the shiitake mushroom quiche ($11). I changed my order at the last minute from barbecued unagi because I'm no longer eating non-sustainable fish, and on our way to New York, I got Steph to download the Seafood Watch guide on to her iTouch. Alas, it said unagi is to be avoided.

When our plates arrived, the portions seemed small but somehow we were quite full by the end. I wasn't crazy about Steph's dish because the sausage reminded me a little too much of a hot dog. And my quiche wasn't phenomenal either but I still liked it. If you're in the area during brunch on the weekend though, instead of side salad or soup, the entree comes with a complimentary cocktail, which isn't a bad deal.

As for the cupcake... well, you'll have to wait for my cupcake tour review (and photos) on that one!

Rating (out of five stars): *

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A little less means a little more: Meatless Monday, Week 5

Last night I went to dinner with my friends Karen and Steph. Steph was already well aware of my Meatless Monday pledge, as we went to New York together, and that was plenty of quality time for me to ramble on about sustainable fish and reducing your carbon footprint by giving up meat one day a week, etc., etc. Karen, on the other hand, I haven't seen in awhile so this was all brand new territory for her.

She, of course, said the obvious thing I knew she would say because I've thought about this *problem* myself -- that what's the point? If the non-sustainable fish (or any other animal for consumption) is already caught, killed and prepped, if you don't eat it, someone else will.

I think in some distant past of mine, I used to make this same argument or at least come to this same conclusion for myself. For instance, if my dad makes a meat-ful meal on Monday, and I don't eat it, it'll eventually be consumed by him or my brother or even myself on Tuesday, so how does this equate to a reduction in meat consumption? For that particular problem, I reasoned the way I eat and the way my brother eat (i.e. a lot), I am giving him the chance to eat my meat-ful portion, which means he won't have to cook or buy something else containing meat for another *extra* meat-ful meal.

So if I use that theory stretched to wider consumer demand, I do feel my little decrease of demand can make a difference. In theory, at some point in the chain, there will be an *extra* helping of meat for someone else to eat and thereby they won't need to consume or purchase another portion, thus reducing my carbon footprint.

As an aside, yesterday was the first week since I started Meatless Monday that I had seafood too instead of just vegetables and grain. It was just shrimp, which is sustainable.

Monday, September 21, 2009

NY Labour Day Weekend Saga: Chelsea Market & Amy's Bread

Friday Breakfast: Chelsea Market, Amy's Bread (75 9th Avenue,
Upon 9 a.m. arrival, after dropping our bags off at the Upper West Side hostel and changing, my first choice place to go to was Chelsea Market, where they film Iron Chef America. Somehow I thought I would stumble across Kitchen Stadium and Bobby Flay, or even Alton Brown -- hell, I ran into and chatted up Kevin Brauch at The Drake Hotel once -- but I settled on tomato foccaccia from Amy's Bread instead. After a 12-hour overnight bus ride, it was the best US$2.25 R&R ever.

Chelsea Market itself was very cool with lots of posh bakeries, a high-end milkshake shop, a seafood-focused grocery store and plenty of tables for enjoying a cup of coffee -- but it was all practically empty. Maybe because it was 10 a.m. on a Friday of a long weekend?

I guess I'll never know. While it was fun to check out, I have no pressing need to return next time I'm in Manhattan. Unless, of course, I land a spot on the judges' table for Iron Chef!

Friday, September 18, 2009

NY Labour Day Weekend Saga: DBGB Kitchen & Bar

Friday Dinner: DBGB Kitchen & Bar (299 Bowery,
The latest gem in Daniel Boulud's crown that opened this past May, DBGB Kitchen & Bar is the casual eatery with mains in the $17-25 (all prices listed in US) range, lots of French offal for sharing, and fancy-pants burgers prominently featured. I considered blowing my New York food budget on a single meal at the flagship Daniel, one of only six restaurants with four stars from The New York Times critic Frank Bruni, and sustaining myself on bagels for the rest of the time but I couldn't ask Steph to do the same.

Our friend Kayla, who was also visiting New York that weekend with her sister and aunt, met us at DBGB. The place was packed. Every table in dining and bar room filled. Sleek, cool, dark, metallic with an exposed wrap-around kitchen; copper pots, jar preserves sitting on shelves; black booths and tables; loud but somehow could still hear my friends across the table; a French-accented waiter.

When we sat, before we even glanced at the menu, I promptly told them they were both going to try the bone marrow ($11) I would order. They looked at me skeptically but I insisted. If it was good enough for Top Chef Masters winner Rick Bayless (@Rick_Bayless), it was good enough for me. (I saw him Twitpic the dish the weekend before when he helped his daughter move into the NYU residence from their homebase, Chicago.)

I never had bone marrow before. I don't think I liked it. It had a gelatinous texture I wasn't very crazy about. I suppose you're essentially eating fat, which I'm normally all for, but I couldn't convince my taste buds to think "yummy" for this first time around.

Taking somewhat of a foodie 180, I opted for the Frenchie burger ($17) as main. Pork belly came with it. Do I need to say anything else? My burger was cooked to medium-rare as specified. I don't know what possessed me to ask for such a thing, but it turned out to be a good choice. Slightly bloody, tender meat ( Meatless Mondays have helped me love my carnivorous days that much more). I liked peppery arugula as the green choice; brioche bun was nice and toasty; accompanying fries were crisp, and not those super thin frites crap I've come to dislike. Unfortunately, I don't think I really tasted the pork belly. Yet overall, I think I actually liked the Harbord Room burger more... Or maybe I should stop trying to find the perfect gourmet burger, and just stick to the Johnny's I know and love!

L: Us in the reflection of the DBGB window sign; R: The instructional wallpaper of the washrooms, excuse me, I meant restrooms

Steph got the lemon&rosemary roasted chicken with ratatouille and baked garlic head ($17), while Kayla ate a huge plate of curry mussels ($18), which was completely authentically Thai rather than French. Both were very good. Nothing mind-blowing but comfort food done right.

I'm not sure if I would recommend this place. The bone marrow came quickly but our entrees took a very long time, and I think it's simply because our waiter forget. Another server had to point out to him that we were still waiting. A solid meal, sure, but I'm sure there were lots of other solid meals I could've got out of SoHo, New York.

Rating (out of five stars): *

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Meatless Monday, Week 4

There were only two occasions when I wanted to consume meat, and neither time did the desire arrive when I was actually eating my meatless meal, which I think is a huge step.

Breakfast: Banana and peach. (I realize this may not qualify as breakfast to some, but I'm not exactly an early riser.)

Lunch: Leftover fusili pasta with red&orange peppers and frozen peas that I made for Sunday night dinner. Are you starting to see a theme here with peppers, peas and pasta? It seems to be what's always available in my house. I'm not sure why my dad is obsessed with buying peppers, but they are always there, newly bought, without fail, every week. I've also taken to adding butter and 35% cream to everything. Butter and cream makes life better in every way.

Meat "craving" No.1: Kenzo Ramen noodles thanks to @chantalbraganza's post yesterday. I was meeting Irene later that day for dinner and a TIFF movie. I had already decided on Jules Bistro at Queen and Spadina, but thought of changing it to Kenzo at Dundas and Bay. (We rushed The Invention of Lying by Ricky Gervais -- of The Office and Extras TV shows fame -- at the Elgin theatre at Queen and Yonge.) Then I realized, a vegetarian ramen would not fulfill my desire to recreate my Momofuku Noodle Bar experience. So stuck to Jules. Later, I would find out vegetarian ramen -- even bad vegetarian ramen -- would have beat Jules without a blink.

Meat "craving" No. 2: Jules Happy Hour special is steak frites for $12.95. I contemplated breaking my Meatless Monday vow for a total of five seconds. French bistro vegetarian food was tempting enough to sate my craving. Again, how wrong I was.

Dinner: Jules Vegetarian Sandwich of ratatouille and dijon; plus vegetarian French onion soup ($12.95 all together). An incredibly small portion for 13 bucks. Food was fine but seriously I felt jipped. Plus, I wasn't keen on the service. I get really annoyed by servers who are sweet from the onset, and slowly become more stiff and curt, and are outright rude by the end of it just because I'm not ordering an expensive meal. At one point, I also thought the streak frites may have been better value but probably not. It probably would have been a cracker-size and cracker-thickness piece of flank with possibly 10 frites for accompaniment.

Dessert: Small coffee and chocolate chip cookie at Le Gourmand. Thank gawd for that monster cookie. It filled me right up and gave me the fuel I needed for a two-hour TIFF rush-line wait.

P.S. The Invention of Lying was so much better than I anticipated. Not sure if I would recommend watching it in theatres but it's definitely an unusual (in a good way) storyline.

***Update: Apparently all of Kenzo's broths are pork-based. There are no vegetarian options, which seems very un-Japanese to me.***

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fanfreakintastic Momofuku Meal

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Ave
New York, NY
(212) 777-7773
Proprietor, Head Chef & Mini-Resto Empire Mogul: David Chang
Date visited: Saturday September 5, 2009
Small plates $9-15; large $11-20 (all prices in USD)

If you haven't heard about Momofuku before, well, you just suck. It's chef David Chang's mini New York restaurant empire that includes a noodle bar, a ssam bar, a slightly more "upscale" tasting menu restaurant Ko, and a dessert/pastry "milk" bar. In 2007, Chang won the James Beard Foundation rising star award for best new chef.

But enough about accolades. This blog is about me.

We were on a budget for New York, so I decided on the noodle bar as the most cost-effective way to experience Momofuku. The casual eateries have no-reservation policies, and we waited nearly an hour for a table but it was worth it. We ended up being seated at the open-kitchen bar, and I know because of this chance seating, this meal will go down as one of my most memorable.

From top left, clockwise: Prepping steamed buns; getting Momofuku ramen noodles ready; cracking perfectly poached eggs; plating roasted corn with potatoes

We were right in front of the action, and I was giddy with delight. Watching the chefs prep and cook, learning the processes of the kitchen, seeing the efficiencies and the behaviours... and smelling the smells... A meal at its coolest point.

Steph and I started with Momofuku Soju Slushies ($5 each for a small) -- hers watermelon, mine spicy ginger. Soju is a strong, clear Korean liquor made primarily from rice. I'm not a huge soju fan but these slushies were delightful. The alcohol content was wicked strong and I was glowing beet red (as usual) in no time, but I loved drinking something spicy and cold.

I don't know if it's because I ordered the prix-fixe (probably), but we got a surprise amuse of grilled peach, salty ham and mint. And I just read on the website that "momofuku" means "lucky peach." Lucky indeed. A cleverly themed amuse with the added advantage that it is just at the end of peach season. The amuse was a great contrast and fun burst of flavours in my mouth. I was deliriously happy already.

The prix-fixe was four courses for $30. All Momofuku restaurants change the menu daily according to what looks good in the market that day. They have a very close relationship with the farmers they source from. So how could I not do the prix-fixe? I didn't even really understand the descriptions I was reading - tataki, bibim, skate. I've never heard of tataki before; Chantal (@chantalbraganza) just introduced me to bibim rice this past year; and sadly I didn't know skate was a type of fish. Anyway, the website says the food is American, but who are we kidding here? This food is better characterized as Korean and Japanese with American-style sensibilities.

So here's the breakdown of my meal:

1st course: beef tataki - a rare steak salad with roasted chilis
I'm starting to fall in love with rare beef. Tasting all the strands and fibres of the meat... That's all I can say. I love it.

2nd course: bibim spicy noodles with pork shoulder and a soy-marinated soft-boiled egg (Chang is infamous for his love of eggs)
I'm not super keen on the ubiquitous Korean "red sauce." I don't know why but I just know it's not my favourite. I still really liked this dish though. I think because the pork shoulder meat was nice and tender, and the egg yolk had been cooked to this cool almost jello-like consistency.

3rd course: roasted skate on a bed of heirloom cherry tomatoes
The skate was a little oversalted but a fine piece of fish on fresh veggies. I can't complain.

4th course: house-made angel food cake and strawberry soft serve ice cream with graham crumbs
This tasted like a reverse cheesecake. Which was a great thing.

The meal may not have been the most glamourous, but everything was fresh (after all, I watched them prepare every single dish), innovative and cooked consistently. I loved my meal and am very happy I ordered it; but I also loved that Steph opted for the Momofuku Ramen Noodle, which includes pork belly, pork shoulder and a poached egg. I love this concept of having a soft egg served to you in a super aromatic broth, so that you have the pleasure of breaking it and mixing it in yourself.

And so you can also enjoy this pleasure, I videotaped it and did a play-by-play commentary because I was pretty tipsy off the soju by this point. I only wish you could smell it too:

I want to try Ssam Bar next time I'm in town. I would move to the East Village just so I could eat Momofuku every week.

By the way, all together the entire meal cost us $70, including tax and tip. Service was spot on and we were very full by the end of it.

Rating (out of five stars): *****

Friday, September 11, 2009

Unidentified Flying Chickens

7122 Roosevelt Ave
Flushing, NY
11372, USA
(718) 205-6662
Owner: Young Jin
Small plate $10, large $18 (USD)

For Labour Day weekend, I went to New York for my first time ever. And me being me, I designed the entire trip around where to eat. No meal was left unplanned. On Sunday night, after watching The Lion King on Broadway in the afternoon, Stephanie and I trekked out to Queens for Korean fried chicken.

I never heard of such a thing before, but trusty Twitter led me to the suggestion via @rolandgonzales. He pointed me to a 2007 New York Magazine article that gave UFC a hefty five drumsticks out of five. Up until this point, Steph and I had not left Manhattan. Why would anyone need to leave Manhattan? And we were taken aback when we found ourselves in a down-and-out, mostly Latino neighbourhood where when I asked for directions, people either said they didn't speak English or stared at me blankly or ignored me entirely!

In any case, the eatery was not even a block away from the Roosevelt-Jackson Heights subway stop, and we found it soon enough.

I expected the place to be hopping, and signs of no one was not a good sign to me. But it was Sunday night, 7 p.m. on a long weekend -- not exactly the best time for fried eats and beer.

My friend Steph took one of these chopsticks home because she loved the logo.

On the ground level is the take-out shop, and downstairs is a small dining room. Green walls, flat screen TVs playing episodes of The X-Files, and a very sweet, smiling server who sounded like she just aced her English-as-a-second-language exam. The menu didn't have many choices. The fried chicken option is divided into drumsticks, wings, or drumsticks&wings; and you can pick small or large. If you choose large, you can try two sauces and it comes with two sides.

The sides are completely filler. It was like eating bagged lettuce, store-bought dressing, and that pre-made macaroni salad crap (I have always hated macaroni salad from childhood to adulthood). But the chicken... my god... the chicken. This is why people need to leave Manhattan.

Our plate of the best fried chicken I've ever had. Sweet&spicy on the left, soy&ginger on the right.

I knew it was going to be like American wings, but I didn't know why it was going to be so different. We ordered large drumsticks&wings, half sweet&spicy, the other half soy&ginger. (Normally I'd just go for hot but Steph can't handle heat.) As soon as we took our first bite, we knew we discovered fried chicken like no other. The skin is perfectly thin and crispy throughout. No sogginess, no little nubby bits of fried breaded batter -- just a smooth but crunchy layer. And the meat was ridiculously tender and moist, no part under- or overcooked. The sauces were great too -- a light coating of tangy, sweet, salty sauces.

I wondered out loud why I never knew of this before? Toronto has a huge Korean population with at least two very distinct Koreatowns. I was determined to find the dish upon return.

In the meantime, we ate about two-thirds of the plate, and thought we could not eat anymore. But the crispiness, the tenderness, the sauciness was tempting me, and before we knew it, it was all done.

I will never look at wings the same way ever again.

Rating (out of five stars): *****
To read more about Korean fried chicken, here is a great New York Times article about it from 2007.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Redemption for Week 3: Meatless Wednesday

I love bechemal. Velvety, creamy, ivory white bechemal sauce. When I first started making bechemals, I looked up recipes and followed measurements. Now I wing it: butter, flour, milk/cream, cheese -- done.

Some bechemals have been terrible. Others have been divine. And sometimes I stumble upon new creations, like once I somehow ended up with a brown butter sauce. The nutty, buttery flavour was a stand-out.

But I've been trying, as I'm sure many, many cooks have tried in skipping the separate sauce pan part, and make my pasta creamy and buttery in one shot. And you know what? It worked. After draining my pasta, putting the stove at low heat, I added a couple of tablespoons of butter and slowly worked in 35% cream right over the cooked spaghetti. Mix, mix, mix and suddenly I was done. (No cheese because I had nothing in the fridge but those processed Black Diamond singles I stupidly put in the quasedilla last week.)

I added a little jarred tomato sauce, a handful of frozen peas, chili flakes, chili olive oil and instant creamy pasta for me. I was sad when I failed Meatless Monday this week, but I think I definitely made up for it yesterday.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Week 3: Meatless Monday in NYC

I failed. I ate meat. Due to sheer forgetfulness.

I took my first trip to New York, New York this past Labour Day weekend and it was a trip completely designed around eating in the city (more on those meals later this week). The only meal I didn't have planned out was Monday morning breakfast/lunch before we left for home in the early afternoon. It all depended on whether we had enough cash left over to spoil ourselves at Norma's at the Parker Meridian Hotel on Central Park South, which @JenniferBylok said is the best brunch of life. Or not.

It turned out to be not.

But I had told my friend from the beginning, I can't eat meat on Monday.

Then we were at a cafe on the Upper West Side, ordering our food. We paid, sat down on the patio and out came my bagel and soup. I slurped up my soup, happy to have something warm soothe my throat, when I realized there was chicken in it and I ate the chicken already.

I had said the words "chicken pasta soup" when I ordered but it didn't occur to me what I was doing.

I was going to make up for it today but I only had tofu&ground pork in the fridge for lunch, and I don't want to buy anything after spending so much this weekend. I will make up for it tomorrow. Meatless Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Queen and Beaver Public House

35 Elm St
Toronto, ON
(647) 374-2712
Chef: Andrew Carter (@ARJCarter)
Date visited: Friday July 17, 2009
Apps/snacks $4-12; sandwiches/burgers/pot pies $14-17; mains $17-23

1. Most interesting menu in Toronto I've seen in a long time.
2. The food is "authentic" English pub fare.
3. Fried cod cheeks and tongues. That's why I came.

Victorian home, mismatched but matched decor, over-sized comfy chairs, the Queen's photos all over the place, English china with the gold trim and floral patterns. It's a pub you go home to instead of a pub you feel over-greased from.

So the cheeks and tongues. I didn't see the big deal. It was little pieces of fried fish. But the housemade relish that came with it... Now that's a different story. The tangy, honey, slightly spicy, citrusy relish -- I could eat that for days.

For main, apple cider braised duck leg in a curry sauce ($17) -- I don't think there's anything else to describe. The duck was a little dry, and the apple cider could've stood out in flavour a bit more, but the curry sauce was a nice accompaniment and I had no trouble eating it all up.

Now, here's what you should go for: The Q&B BLT with maple glazed pork belly, butter lettuce and smokey tomatoes ($16). It was best BLT of life. The pork belly was mouth-watering -- smokey, sweet, meaty, salty.

To end, sticky toffee pudding ($9) because we're at a British pub, and sticky toffee pudding has climbed the ranks of being my favourite dessert over the long-time stranglehold of creme brulee. The pudding was definitely traditional -- warm caramel toffee goo that keeps your soul filled. (Not better than Nota Bene's! but nothing to complain about either.)

Service was pleasant, but kitchen was somewhat painfully slow to deliver. I'll chalk that up to still trying to get into the routine of things (they opened on June 15, and there were two large parties when we went).

In any case, screw the bad reviews from The Globe & Mail and Toronto Star. Q&B, I like you.

Rating (out of five stars): **1/2