Being a recent full time working stiff, I did not have the benefit of spring break. But fortunately for my friend Michelle (whom you might remember from her food discoveries in a Bangkok mall or her shabu shabu soliloquy), a member of that noble but oft disrespected breed known as an NYC public school teacher, she did have a spring break. And she took good advantage of it by going to Jamaica. Judging from her latest dispatch, it looks like she had a high time, indeed. You see, I’m alluding to the fact that people have been known to smoke the ganjain Jamaica. I think I might be the very first person to have ever done that in the history of words. Anyway, I am in no way implying that Michelle partook of such herbal remedies, but looking at the photos of the food she ate on her trip kind of gave me the munchies (not that I know what that feels like).
Click on the photo below for the full story and you too will be feeling irie.
This is the final installment of the NYC Eats (with Matt and other friends). I wanted to get this out sooner, but I got a little waylaid by the recently acquired full time j-o-b. So although this meal was eaten almost two weeks ago, its flavors have been seared into my cerebellum and I remember it like it was yesterday… okay maybe like a week ago. What I do remember is that with the exception of one dish (which was merely mediocre) the food was uniformly fresh, intense, full of strong, primary flavors and a whole lot of lamb. We went to a Dong Bei restaurant in Queens called Fu Run. Using a year-old NY Times writeup about the proliferation of Dong Bei Restaurants in Flushing as a guide, we suggested for Matt’s last NYC dinner one of the the recommended restaurants: Northeast Taste Chinese Food (don’t know if that was a direct translation or what). Running late as usual – my fault, as usual – Shefali and I speed-walked from the Flushing subway stop the nine blocks to NTCF where Matt, Alex, Waine had been waiting for about half an hour. Unfortunately, despite it’s super creative name, in the year since the article was published, Northeast Taste had changed ownership and was now a Peking duck restaurant. While, we all love a good Peking duck, were really had our minds and stomachs set on food from former Manchuria so we stopped by another of the four recommended restaurant from the Time’s article, a nearby place called Hong Yi Shun. Yet again – I was starting to sense a pattern here – HYS had transitioned into a different restaurant and while the menu looked appetizing, it didn’t offer quite the dishes we were looking for. The urgency of the situation was rising as I sensed the growing pissed off-ed-ness of everyone including myself due to our lateness and the continued emptiness of our stomachs. We decided to put our faith in the article one last time and headed to a third recommended restaurant, Fu Run which was all the way back where we’d all come from, a block from the subway. After a wrong turn had us panicking that this restaurant was also no longer in existance (what had we done in our previous lives to deserve this karma?), we finally righted ourselves and spotted the large awning and bright windows of the promised land, aka Fu Run. After another nearly interminable wait, during which I kind of lost it – I get emotional when I’m hungry – we were finally seated. And then we ordered. And then we ate. Praise Buddha, did we eat. Take a look for yourself.
Niels rocks his new Adidas jacket while we wait.
Waine shows he’s not a happy camper. Matt thinks Waine is funny.
Peanuts as appetizers. Common in Northern Chinese food. Good chopstick practice
Matt asks the waitress for a recommendation. It was our one mistake. She recommended some fried fish in a corn starchy salty sauce dish. I mean, come on!
Dao Miu: so fresh and clean. Good foundation for what was to follow.
Crispy cumin lamb. Wo ai ni. That means I love you. Wo ai ni crispy cumin lamb.
Say gwai dao – fried long beans cooked with picked vegetable. The wonders a hot wok works on beans.
With the firm potatoes and tingly addition of Szechuan pepper corn, it’s like no potato salad you’ve ever had.
with veggies like these, who needs meat?
Called lamb chops on the menu these were actually lamb ribs, braised (we think) and then fried with a crust of cumin, sesame seeds, chilis and othe spices. This dish was ridiculous.
This is what this restaurant is known for.
A contented and happy Niels and Waine. Phew!
Oh my God, Matt. That’s exactly how I feel. You’re like psychic.
We done good. Real good.
Everyone’s happy with bellies full of lamb.
May this place never change ownership.
[not pictured above: the two varieties of lamb dumplings]
Matt is long gone, but the memory of this meal remains strong. We wanted to take Matt to a Michelin star restaurant so we headed straight to Bay Ridge Brooklyn, of course, to one of our new favorite spots, Tanoreen. You might remember that back in November, I took Shefali there for her birthday. Since then, we vowed to return but with a larger group of people so we could further explore the numerous dishes on the menu. So, with Matt’s visit as an excuse, we got a great group of eaters to join us. In no particular order, the participating eaters were: Matt, Alex and Leo, Maria and Ahmad (my Tokyo eating buddy , Minori (of tonkatsu fame), Shefali and me. I’d say we did a pretty decent job. You be the judge.
Located on a quiet corner in Bay Ridge Brooklyn is Tanoreen
Tanoreen flat bread with sumac and other spices baked on. So good.
Puree of roasted red pepper.
Roaste brussel sprouts served with tahini and yogurt were simply divine. Seriously. I think God made them.
This dish is like the well heeled cousin to halal chicken and rice from a street cart in midtown. Don’t get me wrong, I’d eat both versions in a New York minute.
Palestinian Shephard’s pie
When I asked the waiter if the lamb shank would be big enough to share among eight people he said, “It’s pretty big.” He was wrong. It was enormous. And it was so tender and delicious.
Maria contemplates the entrees.
It’s go time at our table.
Ahmad contemplates eating more.
Minori and Matt debate the merits of spreadsheets.
Leo looking sharp as usual.
Chicken fetti be done!
we shared the sh*t out of this lamb shank.
Shef and Minori (post eating).Probably the most flattering photo ever taken of these two.
Why were all these waiters gathered at our table?
Because it was Matt’s birthday – his NYC birthday, anyway (we won’t be able to celebrate with him in CA)
Shef and Minori share a tête a tête.
This is when I was presented with that $20 fee for taking photos of the food! WTF?!
Here’s the actual receipt. To channel John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!”
Fortunately, he wasn’t. Phew! Atef the maître d totally punked me. Oh, good times at Tanoreen.
When I asked Matt what he really wanted to eat while in NYC, one of the first things he mentioned was DiFara Pizza. Because I’m such a great host – or a genie, I made his wish come true. But, I’m also a believer in the Protestant ethic – that one must earn one’s pizza (I think that’s what Protestants believe) – so I suggested that we hop on our bikes and make the four mile ride to Midwood where DiFara is located. I told Bret (aka meatball hands) and instigator of the original Brooklyn pizza tour to meet us at DiFara and he did. Then after we ate a whole delicious pie between the three of us, Bret suggested we head to L&B Spumoni Garden to sample a totally different style of pizza, so we did. Matt and I hopped back on the bikes for the three mile ride to L&B. On the way I suggested that we should hit Totonno’s in Coney Island but then I remembered we we had to meet Bret at L&B because he drove separately. Once there, true to our words, we each got a square of L&B pizza which was totally superfluous, but still delicious. Here’s the photographic proof.
We got here at 12 pm sharp. They weren’t quite open.
Each pizza that comes out of the oven is finished with this oil.
The man himself: Dom DeMarco
Prices have definitily increased since I first went there. The pie’s still really good though and the locals still seem to like it.
The Master’s hands. DeMarco doesn’t use oven mitts or tongs. He turns the baking pizza’s by hand.
The first pizza of the day. Simple and lovely.
DeMarco has been doing this for over forty years.
We went half plain, half topping. That way we could sample the basic flavor and enjoy the meeting sausage and meaty porcinis.
And absolutely different type of pizza from DiFara’s. Sweeter sauce, cheese underneath the sauce and an airier breadier dough.
L&B square: reminiscent to me of a good version of school lunch pizza.
Inspired by the pizza, Bret and I reminisce about foods we loved as kids.
Imagine these tables totally filled during the summer.
Day two of Matt’s visit saw us making big plans. First we’d get some culture by going to the New Museum. After burning serious calories appreciating contemporary art, we’d go have lunch at Peels where our friend Shuna is the pastry chef extraordinaire. So did we succeed in our grand plan? Well 50% percent of it. But for that 50% we gave 110%. You see, the musem was closed (that’s a proper excuse), so along with our friend Alex and later Shefali, who came after work, we devoted the entire afternoon to a four hour lunch. Basically, we showed up, Shuna recommended some things we should order and we ordered all of them. Here’s what it looked like.
Starters: Parker House rolls, andouille sausage corn dogs(!), shrimp grits
Buttery shrimp grits with housemade tasso bacon, because there wasn’t enough fat.
Spicy andouille with pillowy corn batter. These might be the gold standard for corn dogs.
Alex and Matt get down to business with the starters.
Matt savours the last of his little corn dog.
The after of the shrimp grits. They were kind of good.
Shuna described it as everything you like baked in a little cast iron pot. Eggs, grits, collards and chedder. That’s a pretty likeable combo.
Fried chicken sandwich: Although the dark meat chicken was excellently fried, I found the honey mustard sauce a bit too cloyingly sweet. The fries were delicious.
Blackberry Eaton Mess Fool: I guess it’s some sort of plumby English name. Refeshing and light, but also rich. Shuna recommended getting only a half to save room for other desserts but we forgot.
A beautiful lemon lemon meringe tart. The lemon curd was ridiculously good.
Spicy coconut sorbet. Shuna’s masterpiece and my favorite. So light refreshing and complex. Southeast Asian curries were a big influence but it was amazing to taste flavors familiar in a savory setting recast in a sweet context.
Shuna told us she loved taking the torch to the meringue. It showed
I don’t remember what this was called, but Shuna insisted that we really needed to finish our meal with some chocolate. So that’s chocolate cake with meringue, malted icecream and a homemade graham cracker.
Shefali and Matt post dessert
Shuna joined us througout the meal and thanks to her, it was one of the best four hour lunches I’ve eaten in a very long while.
So my good friend Matt, whom you might remember from such hits as Chinese New Years (One and Two), sourdough baby, wood oven pizza,pig breakdown (and the subsequent feast) and taco time (basically, I would have no blog without Matt) was in town last week for his first visit to NYC in six years! This is how it went down when he first arrived: “Matt! it’s so great to see you. Oh who is this small five year old child hugging my leg? Oh this is your son, Matteo. Matteo, meet your papa!” Actually, it didn’t go that way at all. That’s just a surreal and strange scenario. In reality, it was more like, “What do you feel like eating?”
“Hmm, I think pastrami.”
Fair enough. Matt was in New York. It was time to take the gloves off and put the eating pants on. Sure we could have gone to Katz’s or 2nd Ave. Deli, but – and I’m not trying to make enemies here – I felt like Katz’s while delicious is a bit played out and entirely too expensive now. And 2nd Ave. Deli was just too far. Instead I wanted to venture closer to home because I’d been reading and hearing about great places for Jewish deli food in Brooklyn. A brief google query yielded a place within walking distance of my apartment called David’s Brisket House. And then it hit me. When I was filming An at Bep, he told me that David’s was his favorite place to get pastrami. I love when all the pieces come together. I call it confluence.
We hoofed it nearby Bed Stuy and the unassuming store front on Nostrand Ave. that is David’s Brisket House. The front window displays xeroxed photos of the sandwich options along with a sign alerting customers that they are closed on Fridays for a few hours during mid-day every Friday for prayers. You see, David’s serves Jewish Deli food (actually, mostly meats) to a largely African American customer (it’s in Bed Stuy, remember) and the guys serving it all up are Muslim, so Friday is the most important day for prayer. You’ve gotta love Brooklyn. We stepped into the sparse interior took a look at our options and ordered. And then we ate. And it was awesome. My only regret is that I hadn’t experienced this place sooner.
On Nostrand between Herkimer and Fulton: David's Brisket House
Freshly sliced pastrami.
Matt is quite pleased with the size of his brisket and pastrami sandwich.
Matt sizes up his pastrami and brisket sandwich
Matt's double jointed jaw comes in handy.
My beauty of a pastrami sandwich.
I've always loved pastrami. This sandwich and I will go on to have a beautiful relationship.
That's a look of sheer bliss.
After eating we reviewed our options for the next time.
Fortunately for Brooklyn and more importantly me, because it’s close to where I live, a new gourmet donut shop opened a few months ago in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn . It’s called Dough. It’s run by Thierry Cabigeos the owner and proprietor of Choice Brooklyn, which consists of Choice Greene, a gourmet market and Choice Market, the sister café which serves a wide variety of baked and prepared foods. Now add donuts to his Clinton Hill mini food empire. When I was inquiring whether or not I could shoot the donut making process, I asked Thierry why he decided to open up a fancy donut shop. He said first of all, he needed a separate location to bake the goods he sells at Choice Market. Secondly, he also wanted to sell food at this location that was distinct from anything that one could find at Choice Market. He settled on donuts. He brought on Fany Gerson, a talented pastry chef (whose summer business involves making Mexican ice cream and paletas or popsicles – que rico, no?) who worked with him previously at Choice Market to help develop the donut recipe and come up with some of the unique glaze flavors. Judging from the many donuts I ate last week, before and after I filmed, I’d say they got it right. Extremely right.
You see, I’ve always had a warm spot in my stomach and my heart for donuts (for style purposes I’m using the American spelling). Speaking for the stomach and mouth, what is not to like about deep fried dough covered with some sort of sticky, sugary glaze? We as humans might have our differences when it comes to religion, political ideology or world view, but I would say our love for donuts transcends all cultural boundaries. France has beignets. Spain and Latin America have churros. China has you-tiao. I could go on and on. The simple fact is that wherever you find a culinary tradition that uses oil to cook and has some sort of flour based dough as a starch staple, you will find some version of a donut. A good donut engages all of our senses. We see something fried golden brown covered with a thick glaze that hints at the mouth melting sweetness to come. The smell of a donut alone with it’s hints of oil, yeast and sugar is enought to get the salivary glands going. Our sense of touch is engaged as we bite into a fresh donut as our teeth break through the thin barriers of sweet glaze followed by the outer deep fried layer of the dough until they sink into the airy, soft and chewy texture of the donut’s interior. Now as far as sound goes, I’m not sure you can hear a good donut, but at the very least, you can hear yourself chewing with delight.
My own personal relationship with donuts can be traced back to my early childhood growing up in San Jose, CA. Some of my fondest memories of this time were of my grandparents (Gong Gong and Popo – Cantonese for maternal grandfather and grandmother) visiting us from Hong Kong. It became a Saturday ritual: my older sister, Cheryl and I would walk with Gong Gong, doing the Old Chinese Man walk - more of a leisurely stroll with hands held behind his back – to a small family run donut shop called Manley’s on Lincoln Ave., a few blocks away from our house. As we entered the store, we were greeted by the smell of fresh donuts and the glass display which held a variety of gleaming, still warm wonders of deep fried dough: the simple plain glazed, the chocolate glazed, the cinnamon twists, the butter scotch and chocolate bars, the old fashioned chocolates and the big prize as far as I was concerned – the apple fritter. My sister and I would take our time picking out different donuts until we had a a box of a dozen donuts which somehow remained uneaten on the walk home probably because we fortified ourselves for the return trip with glazed donut holes. Once at home we’d dig into our favorites, our eyes inevitably bigger than our stomachs. Even with my parents doing their part we could never quite finish a dozen donuts (especially if there was an apple fritter) in one sitting. The box of donuts would sit on the kitchen table the rest of the Saturday and into Sunday, gradually emptying as we picked our way through the donut remains.
I remember when another donut shop called Yum Yum Donuts opened up close to our house which initially tested my loyalty to Manley’s. It wasn’t as good and with its big glass windows and banks of fluorescent lighting it had a more generic, 1980s feel. But, it was open 24 hours and I remember seeing workers making donuts late into the night, probably for all the cops who really did hang out there. Perhaps it’s a West Coast or California thing because whether I was at school in Berkeley (thank you King Pin for many late night runs) or living in SF, I’ve always been able to find great mom and pop donut shops which served delicious and classic donuts.
That changed when I moved to NYC. For a city that prides itself on being a place where you can find the best of everything, there’s a surprising lack of great donuts and good donut establishments. Sure, you can get a stale donut from a street side coffee vendor or purchase a dense, machine tasting donut from any number of Dunkin’ Donuts around town, but a great mom and pop donut shop? Forget it. That is changing though. But of course, like many things in NYC, it’s coming from a place of higher culinary ambitions. The Lower East Side’s now venerable Doughnut Plant, has been turning out all sorts of high end, rich and delicious donuts for a few years now.
Now add Dough to the small list of donut shops in NYC getting it right. They might not serve the classic American donuts I grew up eating, but they are classics unto themselves. As I was filming I kept thinking about something owner, Thierry Cabigeos, had told me earlier. He said, “I’ve never seen people’s faces light up the way they do when they come in and see the donuts. It brings back memories.” Good memories. Indeed.