Mission Chinese Food: Crazy Spicy, Crazy Delicious
May 21st, 2013 by donuts4dinner

The first reviews of San Franciso’s Mission Chinese Food outpost here in NYC were written by professional critics and were, by my estimation, universally adoring. The New York Times said James Beard Rising Star Chef award-winner Danny Bowien “does to Chinese food what Led Zeppelin did to the blues. His cooking both pays respectful homage to its inspiration and takes wild, flagrant liberties with it”. The blog reviews that came soon after were less excited. I read complaints about the prices, which range from $4 for the vinegar peanuts to $14.50 for the mapo la mian. I read complaints about how everything was overwhelmingly spicy. Then I read complaints about how everything was overwhelmingly bland. I didn’t know what to think, so I thought I’d just go find out for myself.

Since I’m a woman who loves making and having reservations, I was pleased to find that Mission Chinese Food takes a very, very limited number of reservations per night. The website begins accepting them at 10 a.m. each morning, and 5 seconds later, they’re all gone. I had a few mornings of absolutely no luck and one morning where I was offered a reservation but then double-checked my calendar and lost it before I actually got a spot for a Wednesday night.

Walking in the door, which itself was almost too tiny for a person to fit through, we were underwhelmed by the little room we found ourselves in. There was a counter, a cash register, a window into the kitchen, and this backlit menu with only slightly better photos than your generic Chinese take-out joint:

Mission Chinese Food NYC

After an uncomfortable five-minute wait, though, we were led through a hallway past the kitchen to the dining room, which was like a whole different world. I felt like a soldier in Vietnam in the 60s, off duty for the night and looking to forget my troubles with help from the cocktail-slinging bartender in the corner. I have no idea why I thought Vietnam, since there were Chinese lanterns everywhere and a huge dragon snaking through the beams of the ceiling, but I kept expecting the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” to start playing. The whole place glowed red, and the servers were in tank tops and frayed denim shorts, appropriate to the Lower East Side location. In a few words, it was really fuckin’ cool.

Mission Chinese Food NYC

My boyfriend knew he wanted the pig tails, and I knew I wanted the thrice-cooked bacon, but everything else was off-the-cuff. Here’s what we went with:

Mission Chinese Food NYC
pickles and peanuts

Beer brined sichuan pickles, with Chinese cabbage, carrot, chili oil, peanut, and sichuan pepper, and Beijing vinegar peanuts with smoked garlic, anise, and rock sugar. I expected the pickles to be spicy and hoped that the vinegar peanuts would provide some relief, but these were equally loaded with heat. Being more a fan of chili than vinegar, I preferred the bowl of pickles and probably wouldn’t have ordered both of these had we known that the pickles would also be peanut-heavy.

Mission Chinese Food NYC
thrice cooked bacon, shanghainese rice cakes, tofu skin, bitter melon, chili oil

Eeeeeasily the best thing I tasted here. And you just know it wouldn’t have been nearly as good had the bacon only been cooked twice. Like the rice roll at Congee Village, I could eat these rice cakes for every meal ever. They’re a little bit chewy, a little bit gelatinous, and a lot purely satisfying simple carbs. This dish was spicy in a way that I’ve never experienced spice. It wasn’t the eye-watering, nose-running spice of Thai food or Indian food. It was a red pepper spice that literally made my mouth go numb. In a good way. In an I-don’t-want-to-ever-stop-eating-this-why-did-we-also-order-the-whole-side-of-a-fish way. It’s hard for me to express how much I loved this plate without writing a full-on love letter in drool.

Mission Chinese Food NYC
country fried hamachi collar, chili vinegar, diner slaw, beef fat biscuit

If you’d told me I’d someday find myself holding onto a fin and yanking the meat off not to torture a fish but to eat it . . . but this was a) fried, b) boneless, c) fishy as all get-out but strangely delicious. The breading was thick and crunchy, like a shell. And the fact that it was coupled with those fatty, buttery biscuit halves didn’t hurt.

Mission Chinese Food NYC
taiwanese clams, soy caramel, basil, yukon gold potatoes, lotus root, fried garlic

I only ate one of these, because clams are weird. But: basil.

Mission Chinese Food NYC
BBQ pigtails, smoked cola BBQ sauce, potato salad

Everyone, including me, somehow assumed that pig tails would be curly and skinny. But these were big and thick and meaty. If I hadn’t known they were tails, I’d think they were ribs. Only the meat was a little tougher and almost gamier, like it was on its way to being venison jerky. The smoky sauce made it a spicy/sweet mess that evoked all sorts of backyard barbeques when we added the meat to the white bun and potato salad.

Mission Chinese Food NYC

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Mission Chinese Food NYC

My descriptions of these dishes are a joke next to the actual flavors. As someone who’s suuuuuper picky about traditional Chinese food, I didn’t expect to walk away from Mission Chinese Food exclaiming over how delicious and exciting everything was. Especially since it was SO spicy. But in addition to loving the food, I really, really loved the cool, transporting-you-to-a-different-world-ness of the place in general. I’ve still been talking about it so much that my friends all want to go and have been, like, name-dropping it on their OkCupid profiles without ever having eaten there. I’ll just remember to bring a big flask of milk with me the next time.

Mission Chinese Food
154 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002 (map)

Congee Village: Craveable Chinese
Mar 19th, 2013 by donuts4dinner

I know it’s not couth to admit this, but I don’t care much for Chinese food. I love the ponzus and wasabis of Japan. I love the chilis and kaffir leaves of Thailand. I love the, well, everything of India. I love Vietnamese, Cambodian, Iranian, and Korean. But when I think of Chinese food, I think of brown sauce. To me, it’s bland and sugary and does nothing to make plain chicken any more exciting. If I’m eating Chinese, I’m going to avoid the brown sauce by ordering sweet and sour chicken–because breading automatically makes things 100% more delicious–but I know that sweet and sour chicken is the last thing Chinese people want representing their cuisine.

So when my boyfriend kept trying to push Congee Village onto me, I was understandably resistant. And then we went, and it was wonderful, and I liked it so much I’m actually the one trying to convince him that we need a whole garlic chicken for dinner every night. Here’s a compilation of most of the dishes we’ve tried so far.

Congee Village, NYC

The decor at Congee Village is, while a little cheesy (see wall mural above), so much nicer than most cheap Chinatown joints. The lack of fluorescent lighting is a lot of it, but the fact that all of the furniture is wood and wicker makes it automatically seem nicer. The upstairs is bright and open, while the lower level is darker and cozier. A girl wouldn’t be horrified if you took her on a date here. Just don’t order her the fish head in broth unless you know she’s that kind of girl.

The service is neutral-to-borderline-hostile, but the food makes up for it.

Congee Village, NYC
rice roll with XO sauce

This is easily my favourite dish here. XO is made of dried scallops, shrimp, and fish but mostly tastes like chilies and garlic. Since I had it first at Momofuku Ko a few years ago, I’m always excited to see it on a menu, and its natural deliciousness is only enhanced when its spread on something carby and comforting like these chewy fried rice rolls. The egg, chives, sprouts–it’s all complex and texture-ful.

Here’s a bad iPhone photo of it that gives you a better idea of what the rice rolls look like:

Congee Village, NYC

Congee Village, NYC
small juicy bun in Shanghai style

Otherwise known as soup dumplings or xiaolongbao. You bite the tops off of these, slurp the soup inside, and then eat the ball of pork inside. I’m sure any Chinese person would tell you that the skin of these is too thick and the soup isn’t plentiful enough, but at least you don’t have to deal with the long waits and gigantic communal tables of Chinatown soup dumpling favourite Joe’s Shanghai to get your fix. (And these are cheaper, too.)

Congee Village, NYC
minced pork bun

a.k.a. char siu bao. Mostly a cloud of squishy carbs but with a tiiiiiny dollop of hoisin-flavored pork in the center. Not for the diabetic. I probably could’ve eaten twenty of these but mostly just to finally get enough filling. They’re only $1.80 for two, though, so it’s not like I was expecting a pig feast.

Congee Village, NYC
pan fried minced pork and minced lotus root

Think sausage patties but with big cubes of lotus root in every bite. The minced pork with salted fish is actually the more oft-recommended dish, but the recommendation usually comes with a caveat like “it’s an acquired taste” or “you would most likely hate it”. This was a pretty familiar taste, but the texture was an entirely new thing with the addition of the crunchy/starchy lotus root.

Congee Village, NYC
assorted vegetable Buddhist style

My boyfriend is half-convinced that he should live like a Buddhist monk and avoid anything with too much flavor, so this dish was totally his doing and his responsibility to eat. I appreciated the sheer number of different vegetables and fungi in it, but it mostly just tasted like soy sauce.

Congee Village, NYC
rice baked with chicken and shitake mushroom

Brown sauce! This is a simple, belly-filling sticky rice with chicken, mushrooms, and vegetables. I wanted the salted chicken one, but our server told me it’s salty and recommended this one instead. I think he was worried about my blood pressure. Another time, we had the rice baked with two kinds of Chinese sausage, which I would more be likely to order again. Not only did it not have the dreaded brown sauce, but the sausages were very distinct and a little bit funky.

Congee Village, NYC
braised shark’s fin & crab meat soup

Apparently this is a luxury item served on special occasions in China, which explains why it was so expensive (and by that, I mean $15). We innocently ate this before learning that sharks’ rights groups are trying to get it banned because hunters will shear the fins off of sharks and throw them back into the water, where they’re unable to swim. In the U.S., though, shark fins can’t be imported without the rest of the shark attached, so . . . at least we force people to kill them completely? I guess we prooooobably wouldn’t order this again, knowing now what we do, but I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t an interesting bowl of soup. The flavor was mostly the crab, but the texture was gloopy and gelatinous and unique. I liked it, okay? I’m a bad person.

Congee Village, NYC
rice congee

I have no memory of the type of porridge I ordered (knowing me, the salted chicken or roast duck and meatball one), but it doesn’t really matter. I know there’s a variation of this dish in, like, every Asian culture, so there has to be something to it, but for us it was so flavorless we found ourselves mixing every condiment on the table into it. I guess that’s why it’s for sick people and babies. I can see how it’d make a decent side dish for the more flavorful main dishes (RICE ROLLS WITH XO SAUCE), but I probably don’t need to eat a whole bowl by myself again.

Congee Village, NYC
sea clams and sweet pea pod with XO sauce

I don’t even want to talk about this.

Congee Village, NYC
deep fried dough

Crispy outside. Doughy inside. $1. With icing-like condensed milk for dipping on the side. This and a bubble tea (ask to see their separate drink menu for the bubble teas and fruit drinks) is simple perfection in starch form.

Congee Village, NYC
house special chicken

This is a terrible iPhone photo of a really great dish. The most important dish, really. A whole or half chicken, crispy skin saltily glazed, big slivers of fried garlic, and juicy, flavorful insides. There were big pieces and small pieces, white pieces and dark pieces. The more we ate, the more there seemed to be on the plate. Any time we go here and don’t order this, I feel like we wasted the visit.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

Congee Village
100 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002 (map)

Opening Week at Pig and Khao
Sep 27th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

My friend Ash, a food blogger in her own right, heard about Pig and Khao (get it? cow?) from her sister, who must have a Google alert for the words “pig face salad” to have found out about this place so fast. We detoured from our already-scheduled dinner in Ktown last night and headed to the Lower East Side instead to catch this Filipino/Thai collaboration between former “Top Chef” contestant Leah Cohen and the Fatty Crew (of Fatty Crab and Fatty ‘Cue) on its second night in business.

Pig and Khao NYC

Pig and Khao NYC
Cutest pig butt ever, am I right?

Pig and Khao NYC

The promise of bottomless tap beer in the garden was tempting, but I couldn’t resist this Phuket Punch, a blend of prosecco, grapefruit-cinnamon syrup, and mint. The first note was biting citrus, then came the warming cinnamon, and finally the light, refreshing wine.

The tap was having a tantrum when we arrived, so my friend Kim ordered a Tiger lager instead and sipped it from a bowl as instructed. (The tap began working later in the evening, and the staff offered to let Kim have at it, too. Bonus!)

Pig and Khao NYC

Pig and Khao NYC
green mango salad

Succulent, slightly charred chicken over a lemongrass slaw where mint and cilantro were the stars, with a little bit of lime and plenty of ocean flavor from the tiny dried shrimp that flecked the plate.

Pig and Khao NYC
sizzling sisig

A classic Filipino dish that Ash called “pig face” but that the menu more delicately labeled “pork head”. Hot dishes with a raw egg to mix in happen to be a favourite of all three of us lady-diners, so this was an instant hit. It smelled like the barnyard, but it tasted like bacon wrapped in foie gras. I loved the blend of meaty chunks and melt-in-your-mouth fatty chunks.

Pig and Khao NYC
grilled sirloin

We ordered this to have a dish with some sauce, but we might have been better off with the khao soi recommended by our server. The sauce was indeed the point of the dish with its extremely spicy red pepper flakes, but the steak itself didn’t quite work for me in the context of a wrap. It was too tough for me to tear with my teeth, so I ignored the bibb lettuce and ate it with fork and knife. This is the one dish I would skip next time.

Pig and Khao NYC
crispy pata

This was another dish Ash wanted to compare with the ones back home in the Philippines, and we were all pleasantly surprised that it arrived off the bone and fit for rabid consumption with soy sauce and liver dipping sauces. There were juicy, meaty pieces and dessicated crispy pieces and crunchy skin with an inch of fat still attached. Heavenly.

Pig and Khao NYC

The point of Filipino food for me is the halo-halo, and this one will keep my tongue lolling for a while. Ash pointed out that the ice in your everyday halo-halo is crushed and therefore a little trying to eat; this shaved ice went down smooth and became a nice sweet milk slush as it grew warmer. Ash also pointed out that this is a pared-down version of the halo-halo she’s used to with so many ingredients it can overwhelm the palate. The strips of macapuno (coconut) were sweet, thick, and chewy, and the pinipig (crushed rice) added a toasty flavor and a light crunch. The ube (purple yam) ice cream was sweeter and more flavorful that I’ve had it, but the thing that really amazed me was the leche flan.

I will never order flan for dessert, because it’s too weak for me, too thin and gelatinous and slippery. I like a hearty dessert. I like cookie dough. You know what I mean. Ash described leche flan to us as thicker and creamier than the flans we’re used to, but I had no idea. This was like cubes of cheesecake. Only they tasted better than cheesecake. And there were only TWO of them in my bowl! Next time, I’ll be requesting extra leche flan. Because there will be a next time.

Pig and Khao NYC

Pig and Khao NYC

The menu is set to expand in the coming weeks, but you can view the prototype we ordered from here:

Pig and Khao Menu, side 1
Pig and Khao Menu, side 2

Pig and Khao
68 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002 (map)

wd-50 Attempts the Reinvention
Aug 10th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

wd~50 is one of the first restaurants my boyfriend and I visited once we agreed that while some couples exercise together and some couples vacation together, we were going to be a couple who ate really fantastically over-the-top meals together. We celebrated our second anniversary with a few savory courses and the five-course dessert tasting and then went back for the full tasting menu, which included dishes that we still talk about years later as iconic examples of molecular gastronomy.

When we heard that the menu format had changed to celebrate wd-50’s ninth anniversary, we knew it was time to go back again. The “From the Vault” menu is five of the most memorable courses from the restaurant’s past for $75, but we opted for the new twelve-course tasting menu for $155 with wine pairings:

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

Salsify, the root of a plant, as rice? It wasn’t unconvincing, and knowing that salsify is said to taste like oysters, using it as the base of a seafood dish is so clever. There was a heavy lime component to this, and the crisp texture of the sesame paired well with the springier fish and “rice”.

wd-50 NYC

It seems like a bit of a cop-out to hide the lobster roe in the dough, but no one would mistake this for plain old pasta. Not only because of the color (lobster roe is called “coral” for a reason), but also it was funky–not just salty like fish roe is but a little organy. Sweet, light grapes and sour pickled onion cut the richness of the buttery lobster coins nestled below.

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

Pho, the Vietnamese soup, has never been of any interest to me despite my boyfriend’s attempts at tempting me with it whenever we order Vietnamese takeout, because a) soup in general is dumb, and b) drowning good beef in water is dumb. Plus, pho–this one included–is so cumbersome to eat between slurping the noodles and spilling the broth and losing the meat at the bottom of the bowl. But this one was worth it. The broth was so wonderfully belly-warming and anise-flavored that I suddenly wished it was cold winter night in front of the space heater (not quite as romantic as a fireplace, but good luck finding that in NYC). The dwarf bush basil added so much to the dish that any bite without it seemed wasted. We loved the spicy lime-hoisin sauce under the puffed tendon on the side of the plate, but the real star was the tendon itself, which was like eating a really buttery packing peanut. The foie fell apart under my fork and made the broth richer and creamier than any traditional pho’s.

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

The New York Times tells me that the “amaro” portion of this dish is the “yolk of a duck egg that’s been bathed in amaro, the strident Italian spirit, after having been cured for six hours in salt and sugar so that its texture thickens”. But that’s not important. What’s important is that the thick, gelatinous yolk at the center of this nest of carrot shavings mixes with the fatty chicken confit to make the richest, most flavorful chicken. The peas–made of compressed carrot covered in “pea powder”–were firm, almost crunchy, while the carrot “pasta” was tender and sweet.

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

If you’ve ever tasted honey mustard pretzels, you know what it’s like to eat mustard meringue. Meringue cookies are one of the least-satisfying desserts I can think of, but savory meringue cookies are an extra-interesting way to condiment a pile of lunch meat. The mustard was the perfect spicy compliment to the herbaceous za’tar and its sumac flavor that my boyfriend recognized from his family’s Persian cooking. The sweet plum added great texture, but all of the flavors of the dish muted the veal, which I wanted to have an even punchier, pastrami-like flavor.

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

Chilled crab made for such a nice contrast to the crisp saffron cake, which brought to mind the warmer climates the kaffir lime also suggested. Crab lovers may find the saffron overpowering, but saffron lovers will be salivating uncontrollably.

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

To be absolutely fair, this dish made me appreciate black licorice in a way I never have with Easter jelly beans. To be absolutely honest, I only remember this dish because of how unremarkable it was. The fish had been poached and was basically flavorless; I’m really not sure why it hadn’t been at least grilled. It became nothing more than a vessel for transporting the pil pil sauce, which was luckily very balanced and not at all overwhelmingly bitter. The fried green tomato mostly tasted like its breading, which was quite a relief to this tomato-hater. This was an unfortunate misstep in a restaurant we associate with bold flavors (foie gras with a passion fruit center!).

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

It was Chef Wylie Dufresne who first made me like sweetbreads back in 2008 with his fried version paired with beets, so I was expecting a lot going into this dish and truthfully wasn’t all that in love. I liked the sauce the sweetbreads were rolled in, but their texture was not only not what I’ve come to expect from them but also just not that pleasant. When I think sweetbreads, I think of the ones from Momofuku Ssam Bar, which I described as “sweet and creamy inside, spicy and crispy on the outside, with a kick from the lemon segments arranged on top . . . like fried chicken, if chicken had the texture of custard”. These were more like little pellets of dry, chalky meat substitute, smooshed together to form what looked like owl upchuck. The pistachio brittle and zucchini were a relief after that, as were the very peppery nasturtium leaves.

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

Thank god this dish arrived next and canceled out any disappointment I had about the previous two courses (and oh, just wait for the desserts!). We were expecting ribs: you know, meat still on the bone, sauce all over our hands and mouths, not enough wetnaps in the world to clean us. But this was bacony, smoky pork deboned, cooked overnight, and formed into this lovely little slab fit for fine dining. The root beer was evident in the sauce, its flavors highlighted by the spice in the apricot spread. The rye really tasted bitter and wheaty and desperately needed the sweetness of the spread; together, they were complex and hearty. The filling, homey components of this dish made for such a nice contrast to the lighter dishes earlier in the progression.

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

You know how people always say, “This dish was a revelation,” when they mean, “I’m too lazy to describe to why this dish was good”? This dish was actually a revelation for me. I only started eating cucumbers a few years ago, and I only started liking them even more recently, so the idea that I would not just like a cucumber dessert but love it and love it even more than the chocolate-marshmallow dessert is astounding. And in fact, I loved this more than I’ve ever loved any of the Per Se palate cleansers. There were little cubes of the sweetest honeydew under that thick, salty, frozen cucumber disc, mixed into a creamy Chartreuse custard. Tapping through the disc with my spoon was like cracking the top of a creme brulee. The celery leaves made the cucumber taste sweet, and the cucumber made the honeydew taste sweet, and I’ve never liked any of them more than in this dish.

wd~50 has taken away its a la carte menu option but is serving two dishes for $25 and every additional dish for $15 at the bar, so you can bet I’m going to see if I can order this there.

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

This beautiful cloud-like puff of ice milk deflated under my fork like a sponge cake would and melted into the crunchy crust underneath. Seeing yuzu on any menu perks me up, and its sour citrus flavor was such a complement to these sweet, sweet ripe berries. The basil puree, something I’d usually salivate at the idea of, was so salty that I almost found it too savory; I probably would’ve preferred some boring basil leaves.

wd-50 NYC

wd-50 NYC

With a smoky flavor throughout, especially in the edible cocoa stick, this was authentic as a s’more could be while still remaining totally frou-frou. The crispy chocolate wafer absorbed the rich ganache underneath, the thin ice cream melted and became a glaze for the browned marshmallow, and the very intense currant became another element of richness. It was playful, artful, and just plain delicious.

wd-50 NYC

Tart raspberry, an element of crunch, and the taste of burned bread. Gjetost is a brown cheese made of caramelized cow and goat milk, and I’d seen pictures of the stuff, but I didn’t put two and two together as I was eating this. I also dropped it down my dress and had to fish it out while our server politely looked the other way, so . . . not a very successful end to the meal on my part.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

wd-50 NYC

Our impression leaving wd~50 is that the tasting menu just didn’t seem all that molecularly gastronomical. (I read an article recently where a critic said New Yorkers don’t embrace the really avant-garde culinary arts like Chicagoans do and wondered if Chef Dufresne was trying to cater to our stodgy tastes.) But then we started thinking about the menu and said, “Hey, but there was something special about that egg,” and “Remember those little yogurt drops on the crab?” Perhaps the newest techniques are still being used but in a more restrained, less showy way.

It seems that while wd~50 was busy growing up, so were my boyfriend and I. When we visited the restaurant in 2008 and then again in 2010, we had what were some of the most inventive, composed dishes we’d ever seen. Since then, we’ve been to all but one of the three Michelin star restaurants and most of the two stars. We’d never been to Per Se, and now we’ve been there three times. This weekend, we’re going to Momofuku Ko for the fifth time. After all of that, eating at wd~50 was like visiting an old friend, but it wasn’t as palate-inspiring as those places are. Even newcomer Atera was more playful, more can’t-wait-to-see-what-they-come-up-with-next. There were enough wow moments on this menu, though, that I’ll continue to be sentimental about wd~50.

50 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002 (map)

Doughnut Plant and Its Impossible-to-Pronounce Treats
Apr 25th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

You know how I have a blog? That’s called donuts4dinner? Well, until a couple of weekends ago, I had never been to Doughnut Plant.

Dunkin Donuts, where the doughnuts come stale and in ultra-boring flavors and always seem way more delicious in my mind than they actually are? All the time.

Doughnut Plant, where the doughnuts are continuously made fresh while you watch and come in flavors you’ve never seen before and are actually more delicious than you expect? Never.

Doughnut Plant NYC

I won’t tell you all of the things my boyfriend and I had already consumed during our walk around Chinatown and the Lower East Side that day, but suffice it to say that we only needed one doughnut.

After much deliberation–coconut cream? cinnamon bun? tres leches?–

OH, CRAP. I just remembered the most amazing thing that happened while we were waiting in line. It was all quiet in the store, and behind us, I could hear this skinny blonde saying, “Should we get the tres leches?” to her companion. Only she was pronouncing it tray lesh. You guys, she thought it was French or something. Which is hilarious on its own, because what kind of hole are you living in that you’ve never heard of tres leches cake and can’t figure out that it has a Spanish pronunciation?

But MORE IMPORTANTLY, if leche is a word in French–and I’m not even sure it is–it sure doesn’t mean “milk” like it does in Spanish. So what did she think this doughnut tasted like?!

I swear I’m not trying to be elitist here. I’m just so interested in what was going through this girl’s mind and am dying to know if she was visiting from Ohio, because that’s the only place I can imagine tres leches cake still being unknown.

Doughnut Plant NYC Peanut Butter and Banana Square Doughnut

Anyway, we ultimately decided on the peanut butter and banana square doughnut, because

1) the squares are the biggest and most gluttonous,
2) jam filling is too healthy,
3) peanut butter is, like, my favourite thing in the world next to pizza.

It did not disappoint. This thing was fluffy, fresh, crunchy, sweet, nutty, banana-y, and huge. I have to be honest here and say that I don’t even really care about bananas, and I loved the banana cream. I’m not saying marshmallow cream wouldn’t have been better, but still. I also don’t like eating sweet things with nuts in them, because long after the sweet taste has vanished, I’m still finding savory nuts in my teeth, but these nuts were brittle and easily crunched, as if they were caramelized. And when I found them in my teeth later, it was a treat.

Doughnut Plant
379 Grand Street
New York, NY 10002 (map)

220 West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011 (map)

Order Everything at The Stanton Social – Tapas – Lower East Side
Oct 27th, 2011 by donuts4dinner

My friend Anthony and I were out taking photos in Chinatown one Thursday night, when we decided to consult good, ol’ Yelp for something good to eat. There were so many four- and five-star options in the Lower East Side that it was hard to choose, but the small plates and small prices of The Stanton Social appealed to us and our wannabe-struggling-artist sensibilities.

Both the dining room downstairs and all of the tables upstairs were full, so we were ushered to the lounge area by the very friendliest Pennsylvania-born server ever to work in New York City. The long, low couches and tiny tables made a fine dining area for such an informal meal, but with only candlelight to work with, I’m afraid my pictures are severely lacking. Try to look past them, because they do the meal no justice.

The Stanton Social
skillet roast octopus: chorizo, garlic, sherry vinegar ($12)

I wouldn’t have ordered this on my own due to still being a newborn when it comes to eating seafood, and I didn’t walk away from it feeling like it really opened my eyes to octopus or anything, but it certainly wasn’t unenjoyable. The chunks of meat were a little chewier than I would’ve liked, but the contrast of the extra-crunchy bread was nice. Anthony seemed to think this was more excellent than I did, so maybe a real seafood-lover wouldn’t be as picky as I am.

The Stanton Social
Rhode Island style lobster roll ($9)

I guess I need to amend my admission that I’m not a real seafood-lover, because I am a real lover of lobster, especially lobster rolls. This was your usual chunky, creamy filling, but it had the advantage of a sturdy, pretzel-type bread and pickles. I understand that lobster rolls traditionally come with a pickle spear on the side, but to actually have the pickle in the roll somehow seemed like a great advancement in lobster roll technique. This was a pretty hefty price tag for two bites of sandwich, but it was certainly more delicious than the $12 and $16 rolls I’ve had.

The Stanton Social
Kobe Philly ($9)

Another great twist on a classic, with truffle and goat cheese fondue topping thin slices of tender Kobe beef. I might have actually liked this better than the lobster because its richness made the one bite I got seem more hearty and filling.

The Stanton Social
potato and goat cheese pierogies ($9)

We didn’t order these, but I’m glad our server thought we did, because their menu description belied their deliciousness. I think of pierogies as homey but a little bland, but with those caramelized onions, chives, and truffle creme fraiche, they were like eating a baked potato with the works. The truffle in the creme fraiche was so perfectly warming on a rainy, chilly night, but the flavor somehow managed not to overpower the all-important chives.

The Stanton Social
duck confit pizzetta ($14)

This mini pizza had a great part-crunchy, part-chewy crust loaded up with tender, flavorful duck, sweet figs, and funky blue cheese. It tasted very composed, with plenty of every ingredient and just the right amount of each.

The Stanton Social
French onion soup dumplings ($12)

I want to describe these as my new reason for living but don’t want you to think me an overexaggerator. Never was an escargot plate used better than to house these six soup dumplings. If you’ve ever had the classic Chinese soup dumplings filled with pork or shrimp, these will seem familiar to you for the one second it takes for the skin to pop in your mouth and the French onion soup to spill out. The layer of melted cheese and the speared crouton on top of each were true to form, but the dumplings were so good on their own I would’ve been entirely happy even without them. Next time, I plan to eat five orders of these myself and still follow it up with one of Stanton Social’s enticing desserts.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

The Stanton Social isn’t exactly cheap–two of us spent $120 with one drink apiece for a few bites of a few dishes–but being delighted by the flavor combinations over and over again made it seem worthwhile. I’m still thinking about the gush of those soup dumplings, that rich truffle cream, and the tang of blue cheese on fig weeks later. Even while relegated to the lounge, we got a good taste of our surroundings–candlelight, white furniture and dark woods, and a nightclubby vibe with beautiful people to match. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t really have to put out good food to draw a crowd, and yet everything tasted like some nerd back in the kitchen was hard at work, trying to impress the pretty people.

The Stanton Social
99 Stanton Street
New York, NY 10002 (map)

Meatball Shop – Italian – Lower East Side
Apr 29th, 2010 by plumpdumpling

It was just a couple of months ago that my boyfriend found a rudimentary menu for the soon-to-be famous Meatball Shop, and now the place has totally blown up into what you might call a phenomenon. And I love a gimmick as much as the next guy, so a co-worker and I rode the bus from our office in Battery Park up to the Lower East Side recently to give the balls a go.

The restaurant itself is all dark wood and old-timey feel, very small with a storefront entirely made of glass so that it gets plenty of natural light and air. The kitchen takes up the entire back wall and is also open so that you can see your meat being freshly-ground and your balls being freshly-formed.

Meatball Shop

My whole wheat hero with pork meatballs, spicy meat sauce, and mozzarella probably lost a lot of its freshness on its way back to the office, but that didn’t matter one bit. This wasn’t the biggest meatball parm I’ve had, nor the sauciest, but I’ve never had one made with better ingredients. Even the mixed greens salad with sliced pears and chives was worth talking about.

As usual, a small menu is a better menu when it means the chef can do a few things really well rather than a bunch of things mediocrely, and executive chef Daniel Holzman has meatballs down

Note: Everyone who tried my pork meatballs agreed that they were better than the chicken ones, so you know what to order.

Meatball Shop
84 Stanton Street
New York, NY 10002 (map)

Restaurant Review: wd-50
Jan 13th, 2010 by plumpdumpling

Evidently finally seeing my review of our first dinner at wd~50 made my boyfriend crave some foams and powders, so before we left for Christmas vacation in our respective home states, we made a reservation to return. The only time we could get on Saturday night, even with a few weeks notice, was 6 p.m. Which means that despite the terrible economy, New Yorkers are still lining up to pay $200 each for dinner.

We were oddly seated in the same exact table as last time, which happens to have a straight view into the kitchen, where we saw chef/owner Wylie Dufresne talking to Chef de Cuisine Jon Bignelli (who we recently saw on an episode of “Chopped” on the Food Network) all night. We started off with a couple of their inventive cocktails to give me the courage to eat the many fish courses (CAVIAR?!) that were coming our way, and then we ate:

wd-50 red snapper with pickled taro
Red snapper, pickled taro, wakame (seaweed), dandelion coulis

All of these things on their own–meh. All of these things together in one bite–harmony.

wd-50 everything bagel ice cream
Everything bagel ice cream, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese

That’s right–the second dish was ice cream. Perfectly flavored and made to look like a tiny everything bagel. The salmon had the consistency of a Brillo pad, but I didn’t find that to be entirely unpleasurable. The crunchy cream cheese shard really excited me but was sadly entirely lacking in flavor. Next time, I’m asking for a warm cream cheese drizzle over my bagel.

wd-50 passion fruit foie graswd-50 passion fruit foie gras
Foie gras with passion fruit center, chinese celery

We just loved the way the passion fruit spilled out like an egg yolk. This was so rich it was almost hard to eat, which is exactly how I like my food. The passion fruit overpowered everything else, which was good for someone like me who isn’t completely sold on organ meats but probably bad for a foie gras connoisseur.

wd-50 scrambled egg ravioli
Scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, kindai kampachi

I somehow expected the egg cube to be cold, but the firm outside shell held a warm, almost custard-like eggy inside. Egg and avocado, it turns out, are wonderful bedmates.

wd-50 cold fried chicken
Cold fried chicken, buttermilk ricotta, Tabasco and honey, American sturgeon caviar

Why is there caviar in my comfort food?! I didn’t think it necessarily added anything, and the dish sure didn’t need anything. The chicken appeared to be a terrine of dark and white meat, and the buttermilk ricotta was studded with the crispiest chicken skin.

wd-50 langoustine
Langoustine, licorice-style red pepper, black sesame, shiso

We both loved the way this tasted like it was poached in butter, but we agreed that it need some spice. The carpet of black sesame really made the dish.

wd-50 beef consomme and bearnaise gnocchi
Beef consommé and Bearnaise gnocchi

The menu simply said “beef and Bearnaise”, so I was looking forward to a hunk of flesh and some sauce to dip it in, but things are never that simple at wd~50. Despite the initial weirdness, this turned out to be the favourite savory dish for both of us.

wd-50 lamb loin
Lamb loin, black garlic romesco, dried soybeans, basil

Dried soybeans should be in every dish. The crunch of them was so perfect with the melt-in-your-mouth lamb.

wd-50 spruce yogurt and mango
Spruce yogurt, shattered vanilla-mango ice cream, vanilla bean olive oil, mango

Yogurt that tastes like the forest? Yes, please! The spruce taste was so delicate–not nauseatingly pine-y, as we were expecting–that we needed to taste the yogurt on its own to catch it. I could’ve definitely gone for more of it, but I’m glad it didn’t slap me in the face.

wd-50 hazelnut tart
Hazelnut tart, coconut, chocolate, chicory foam

Chicory is about as bitter as it comes on its own, but spread on top of the mousse-filled chocolate skin, it provided a great balance to all of the sweetness. And the salt on top! To think there was a time before salted chocolate. This was definitely my favourite dessert of the night.

wd-50 caramelized brioche
Caramelized brioche, apricot seed shards, buttercream, lemon thyme sorbet

This was delicious, but the Degustation caramelized brioche has ruined me for all other caramelized brioches. Sorry, Wylie.

wd-50 cocoa packets and milk ice cream
Cocoa packets, chocolate-shortbread-covered milk ice cream

The idea of milk ice cream is hilarious to us. So, um, you basically mean ice cream without any added flavorings, right? Thought so. It’s too bad that the cookie overpowered the ice cream, because I’d love to see what that tastes like. The classic chocolate packets–like Fruit Roll-Ups made out of chocolate–were actually better than we remembered them, even after I spilled half of the crunchy chocolate crumbs inside all over my lap.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The thing we think is funny about wd~50 is that the plate in front of you is generally full of familiar flavors, yet you know that the food on it went through several transformations involving plenty of chemicals. You have to ask yourself at some point, “Is it worth it?” I can understand why people who aren’t into novelty would make fun of this sort of food–expensive, tiny, laborious–but I just love the sort of deconstructionism of it. Beef consommé and Bearnaise gnocchi look and feel nothing like a steak with Bearnaise sauce, but they taste nearly identical, and you have to appreciate the craft that goes into that.

It kind of bothers me, actually, thinking that someone couldn’t like this meal. Once you get past the fact that nothing you’re eating looks like its original form, you have to admit that everything tastes great, and taste is obviously the most important attribute. When it comes to molecular gastronomy, I guess, an open mind is a prerequisite to an open mouth.

50 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002 (map)

Restaurant Review: wd-50
Dec 16th, 2009 by plumpdumpling

It was more than a year ago that I announced my impending trip to wd~50 on my personal blog and got a load of comments from my mostly-Ohioan readership that mostly talked about how ridiculously small and not-at-all-like-real-food the dish in the picture I posted was. I was skeptical, too, to be honest, but it turned out that the meal was fantastic–really, really fantastic–surprising, playful, and memorable.

It must have overwhelmed me so much, though, that I failed to write about it, and my boyfriend has been bothering me about it ever since. Now that we have a January reservation to try the current tasting menu, I figured I owed it to him to at least post my photos from the evening. Here’s all I can remember from September 13th, 2008:

I started out the night with a peanut butter and jelly cocktail that was more peanut than peanut butter, but the bold flavor really prepared me for what was to come. We ordered one appetizer, two entrees, and the three-course dessert tasting menu, but the waiter brought us the five-course dessert tasting on the house. (Which makes this review entirely biased, naturally.)

Fried quail, banana tartar, peppercress

Sweetbreads, peanut, beet-pomegranate sauce, pickled sweet potato

Wagyu flat iron, coffee gnocchi, coconut, cipollini, sylvetta

Something foamy and possibly celery-y that I can’t recall

Grapefruit curd, pine nut, meringue, nasturtium ice cream

Jasmine custard, black tea, banana

Toasted coconut cake, carob, smoked cashew, brown butter sorbet

Yuzu ice cream, marcona almond, chocolate packets

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The service was great, and the waiter didn’t mind repeating the word nasturtium for me about a hundred times until my boyfriend said he’d explain later. Like everyone else, we were impressed that chef Wylie Dufresne was actually in the kitchen, although my boyfriend happened to be directly in his line of sight and felt a little uncomfortable with the way Wylie was making eyes at him all night.

The decor was dark and simple, which made for a lovely contrast with the bright and complex food being served. Plus, there seemed to be a spotlight pointed directly at each table, which is why you basically never see a bad wd~50 photo.

I understand that looking at the menu alone, the dishes are a little intimidating, and the flavor combinations aren’t immediately complimentary (sweetbreads and beets?!). After my first meal there, though, I’m convinced that Wylie can do no wrong, and I’m excited to eat more ridiculous food (and less ridiculous ones, like the caramel apple) next month when we try the new tasting menu.

50 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002 (map)

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