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Obao – Pan-Asian – Midtown East
Jul 21st, 2011 by plumpdumpling

Dr. Boyfriend and I had been watching too much “Bizarre Foods” and desperately wanted some pho from Xi’an Famous Foods, but we were too lazy to take the bus two miles downtown, so I hopped onto our favourite delivery site, Seamlessweb, to find someone who’d bring it to us.

And that day changed our lives forever. Since then, we’ve tried as much of Obao‘s menu as possible, but the problem is that everything is so good that we hate to give up our favourites to order the dishes we haven’t tried. So here’s what we’ve managed to eat thus far:

Obao NYC
crispy pork belly ($9)

My friend Chubby Chinese Girl thought this was too dry and hard, and I can see where she’s coming from, but for me, the caramel glaze framing each piece more than makes up for any juicy pork expectations you might have. Plus, I actually enjoyed tearing the pork apart with my teeth like a wild person. I didn’t care much for the too-vinegary pickled papaya on the side, but the fresh mint was perfect.

Obao NYC

Obao NYC
spare rib on sugarcane skewer ($9)

I was skeptical about these. Dr. Boyfriend had them one weekend while I was away and assured me I would be impressed, but I . . . I don’t know what I was thinking. The spare rib is so deliciously grilled, and when you chew on the sugarcane as you sweep the meat off, the sweet juices leak out. Plus, the hoisin-peanut dipping sauce is just so rich you want to use the sugarcane to sponge it all up at the end.

Obao NYC
crispy spring roll lettuce wraps ($7)

The fact that these are called “lettuce wraps” and are served with big pieces of nice-looking lettuce would make one assume that you’re supposed to wrap the spring roll in the lettuce and eat them together. But we have yet to do that. The spring rolls are perfect just as they are–fried and crispy on the outside but never overdone on the inside–and slapping some boring lettuce around all of that just seems like a good way to detract from the flavors of pork, shrimp, taro, and mushroom. But I’m open to debate.

Obao NYC
sambal-spiced calamari ($10)

I’m under the impression that sambal is usually a spicy chili sauce, so the fact that the flavor is worked right into the calamari batter seems pretty neat to me, and Dr. Boyfriend appreciated the cooling cucumber relish on the side. Naturally I didn’t try this, because I still don’t entirely trust delivery seafood. Stop judging me.

Obao NYC
Laos beef salad ($10)

A salad that doesn’t actually include any lettuce and is full of flank steak? Yes, please. These slices of tender steak and sweet fruit are marinating in cucumber and lime juices when they arrive, but don’t be fooled: this dish is spicy! So spicy that we sometimes can’t even finish it because we’re too busy crying and wiping our noses on each other. You think, “Pineapple! That should counteract the peppers.” But no. The only way to quench the fires is to cut out your tongue. And this salad is worth it.

Obao NYC
Vietnamese chicken salad ($8)

For those of you who don’t like to weep in your dinner, this salad with shaved cabbage, rau ram herbs (the cilantro of Vietnam, apparently), lime dressing, and crushed peanuts is bright and summery. I liked it so much I was inspired to make my own cabbage salad the next weekend, which, if you know anything about me, is a major feat.

Obao NYC
Pho Bo ($9)

This is a terrible picture of a much more interesting dish. With thinly slices of beef and rice noodles in a broth that punches with bold ginger and anise flavors, it’s messy and belly-filling. Dr. Boyfriend gets his with these beef balls that are kind of slick and slimy on the outside, but he swears they’re delicious.

Obao NYC
Kua Gai ($11)

I often say that I don’t find Asian food comforting. I find it exciting and interesting, but if I’m looking for feel-good food, it probably doesn’t involve sesame, and it sure doesn’t involve lettuce. But I crave this dish. I think about it when it’s not near. I doodle its name on my memo pads at work.

It’s broad flat noodles with egg, sesame oil, scallions, and lettuce. I usually get mine with chicken, but I once accidentally ordered it vegetarian and still thought it was the best. I love the texture of egg mixed into dishes like this (soboro don is another favourite), and the sesame provides this deep, rich flavor that makes it seems like the chicken was cooked in it for hours. And the noodles. The noodles are pan-fried in such a way that their edges get crispy. I’m salivating here.

This is the very essence of comforting. Even with that lettuce.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

I’m no Asian foods expert, so I won’t bother trying to speak of authenticity of the flavors and preparation at Obao, but in terms of sheer visceral experience, I look forward to ordering from Obao like other people look forward to Christmas. While I do think the appetizers and salads are each a few dollars overpriced, my Kua Gai is worth its weight in gold. For the well-developed flavors of absolutely everything we’ve ordered, 4.5 donuts.

Obao
222 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022 (map)

Restaurant Review: Tao (Restaurant Week Summer 2009)
Jul 27th, 2009 by plumpdumpling

I’m sure I knew what Tao was all about by virtue of watching this past season of “Celebrity Apprentice” and seeing how many times Dennis Rodman recommended it, but the Restaurant Week menu somehow made that seem unimportant. It became important again, though, about five seconds after I walked in the door and heard the thumping club music and saw the crowds of yuppies and tourists holding drinks in the waiting area.

After an uncomfortable fifteen-minute wait where we were bumped into multiple times despite leaving plenty of room around us for people to get by, my boyfriend and I were led upstairs, across a bridge, and to a booth along one wall. Kamran ordered two TAO-tinis for us (a super-girly raspberry drink served in a martini glass to make it look more masculine, $12.50), which were very alcoholic and delicious.

We drank them as fast as we could in an attempt to forget how annoyingly trendy the atmosphere was and prayed to the giant two-story Buddha statue in the front of the restaurant for our appetizers to arrive quickly. And they did.

I had the pork potstickers and thought they were really good aside from the completely unnecessary baby greens on top. The spicy sauce was good enough to be eaten on its own by the spoonful, and the side of each dumpling that was seared brown and crispy made me want to not share them.

Kamran ordered the TAO Temple Salad simply because he was trying to choose the healthiest option, but not only was he disappointed in how unexciting the salad was, but there were fried dough strips on top that made it unhealthy, anyway. I thought the dressing made it bearable as far as salads go, but I only had to eat one bite before I got to go back to my potstickers, so maybe I’m biased.

My entrée was truly, truly delicious. The wasabi-crusted filet mignon was what had drawn me to the menu in the first place, and it only exceeded my expectations. I’d asked for it to be cooked medium-well, as I don’t care to see my meat bleed, but the chef as usual had insisted on sending it out still very red. And of course it was perfect. The wasabi crust on top had the consistency of sugar crystals and enough spice to please me but not so much that it made my nose run. The beef was tender and flavorful, and the portion was huge.

The real standout was the pile of onion rings on the side, though. I hadn’t expected them, which made them all the more delightful. They were sweet, they were buttery, they were crunchy, and they had chive blossoms poking out of them. They were undoubtedly the best onion rings I’ve ever had and are worth the $35 dinner prix fixe price tag themselves.

Kamran ordered the Chilean sea bass, and for someone who doesn’t make much to-do about great food, he was very intent on making me try it. I’m the type of person who hates seafood so much that I’ll spend twenty minutes picking all of the clams out of my clam chowder, but I have to admit that this fish was awesome. It was extra flaky on one side and extra crispy on the other, and the crust that gave it its crisp was so delicious that I held on to a hunk of it to eat after my steak was gone.

Desserts seem to err on the side of caution during Restaurant Week, but the banana bread pudding I ordered was no slouch. It wasn’t actually bread pudding at all, though. It was banana pudding (as good as the kind you get at Magnolia Bakery) with a layer of vanilla wafer cookies underneath, a layer of cookie crumbs on top, and a tempura-battered banana to boot. The fried banana and the banana pudding were both so good that I had a hard time figuring out which to save for my last bite. Kamran was ridiculously jealous.

Kamran ordered the ginger fruit having no idea what it was but figuring once again that it was the healthiest option. It turned out to be a huge dish of the sweetest, freshest fruits with a scoop of ginger sorbet on top. The lychees were the finest I’ve had, and all of the fruits were so sweet that the sorbet didn’t seem to compete with them. I couldn’t necessarily taste the ginger, but Kamran assures me he could, and he does have the superior palate, after all. My picture’s too dark to see the dish, but we’ll always have the memory of it.

On the way out, I got into a scuffle with a guy on the bridge who wouldn’t move to let me pass by (“Take it easy, girl.”), but that’s the sort of thing I expected from the clientele. I commented to Kamran that it’s a shame there were so many people there who probably couldn’t appreciate the food at all, but he called me a snob, so I guess I’m alone in thinking that.

Aside from my astonishingly negative thoughts about the too-loud, too-obnoxious atmosphere, my dining experience was top-notch. I don’t have a bad thing to say about my food, the huge loft-like space was surprising to find in Manhattan, and the waitstaff was accommodating. I’d love to go back sometime, although maybe at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday night.

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