Thursday, November 29, 2007

Momofuku Noodle Bar

On the way to Setagaya, I passed Momofuku Noodle Bar at their new location. It reminded me that I'd been wanting to eat there for a while. So after Setagaya, we went to Noodle Bar.


The only problem with the two restaurants being in the same neighborhood is that I know I like Setagaya. And if I want noodles, I have to eat there. So the only choice was to eat at both.

I'm glad we ate at Setagaya.

But first, the good news. Mabel couldn't eat any more noodles, so we split an order of Brussels sprouts with kimchi puree and bacon. Priscilla recently forwarded me the Martha Stewart take on this dish. But the original is much more involved, and better.

The kimchi puree tasted more like sriracha than kimchi which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I'm just saying. It looked like they used baby Brussels sprouts. And the bacon tasted like BBQ pork which was nice. It was really good. The Momofuku restaurants work magic with Brussels sprouts. They should open a third restaurant called Momofuku Brussels Sprout.

Mabel ordered a soft serve pumpkin-cheesecake swirl to eat while I ate my noodles.

I ordered the Momofuku Ramen.


It was all wrong. I mean it just didn't seem right. It wasn't savory enough. There was no umami. And the stuff in it just didn't make sense to me. Why were the ingredients there together like that? There was shredded pork, pork belly, collard greens, bamboo shoots, green onion, a poached egg, and two large pieces of dried seaweed sticking up out of the bowl. It didn't really come together in any way (although I'm not complaining about that pork belly). And the noodles were too soft and too long.

I'm trying not to hate on their noodles. I can't stand when people say that their ramen is not authentic, because they never claimed to be authentic. Momofuku is an American restaurant, and their noodles should be judged on whether they simply taste good. But this bowl of noodles did not taste good. They didn't taste bad, but I would never order them again. I think I understand the debate surrounding this place now.

I've decided to think of Momofuku's ramen as a gateway ramen, that is, it is for people who have never had ramen before. But it could potentially introduce them to the good stuff. Priscilla says the first time she went, there was a small family sitting at the table next to her and the father said, "Kids, this is supposed to be the best ramen in New York City!" I'm not sure if they would have made a special trip if it weren't for the hype and broad appeal of the place.

On the up side, I discovered that there are several Korean-inspired soups on the menu. There's an oxtail soup, a kimchi stew, and bibim gooksu. I have a feeling this is where the true heart of the restaurant lies. And we really liked our waitress. She was very little, which she had to be to squeeze through the closely packed and cramped tables. We're sitting at the bar next time.

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Ave (btn 10th and 11th St)
New York, NY 10003

Setagaya, part two

Mabel's on home call tonight, so we thought we'd have dinner on the east side in case she got an early page.

Actually, I wanted to find a way to rationalize a meal at Setagaya and that was a pretty good reason.

She ordered the Tsuke-men this time, which is a dish with the noodles separated from the broth. The noodles are broader than the ramen noodles, and they're cooled a bit. The broth is almost the same as the ramen broth, but it's more concentrated.


She really liked it. I think that's what she's going to be getting from now on. She likes things separated.

I got Shio Ramen.

I tried the Tsuke-men on a previous visit and while I like the Tsuke-men noodles way more than the Ramen noodles, I find that the Ramen as a whole is more satisfying. The Ramen somehow seems more harmonious and balanced. And there's more stuff. And it stays warm the whole time whereas the Tsuke-men starts getting cold right away.

I thought about whether it would be possible for them to make an ultimate version that takes the Tsuke-men noodles and puts them into the Ramen. But I think that would probably not seem quite right. Even though there are specific things about each dish that are better than the other, they are perfect compositions on their own. At least that's true for the Shio Ramen.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cassoulet

I just ate my first cassoulet. It was one of the most satisfying things I have ever eaten in my life. Maybe it was the cold. Maybe it was because I had a light lunch today. Those factors probably played into it. But there's no doubt that there was something intrinsic to the dish that made it so memorable.

This particular version from Le Singe Vert had beans, sausage, slab bacon, salami, ham, and duck confit. At first I thought it was just the beans, duck, and sausage. But I kept uncovering more stuff as I ate. It was awesome.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Electrolyte Enhanced Water at Whole Foods

Since we were in the neighborhood, we figured we'd stop by the
Whole Foods in Chelsea to pick up stuff for dinner.

I noticed this display next to the checkout line.


This is beyond gimmicky. Electrolyte enhanced water! The ingredients listed distilled water, sodium bicarbonate, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride. So they basically remove all the minerals from the water by distilling it, then add them back again? And they advertise it that way? What a total waste. And from a supermarket chain that purports to champion the All Natural. This is the most unnatural way to treat the most essential and easily natural substance on Earth.

I mean, I guess there are other examples of this, like with brown sugar. They refine the sugar only to add back some molasses. But in that case, it doesn't seem quite as deceptive as this electrolyte enhanced water. They make it seem like it's a good thing. Ugh.

Update 5/25/08: I've noticed that when doing a google search on "electrolyte enhanced water" that no really definitive sites appear. To clarify, all natural fresh water contains electrolytes. Electrolytes are simply charged versions of various elements and molecules such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, bicarbonate, etc. To say that electrolyte enhanced water is special is like saying that wet water is special. Or that cold ice is special. Here is a webpage that goes through the electrolyte or mineral composition of fresh waters from several different sources. You will notice that they all contain significant amounts of electrolytes or minerals.

Whole Foods (Chelsea)
250 7th Avenue (at 24th St)
New York, NY 10001

Landmark Wines

Landmark Wines has one of the best selections of sake that I know of. And they have a pretty good selection of reasonably priced French wines.


They also have occasional small tastings in a space upstairs. If you sign up for their email list, they let you know about those as well as periodic 10% off sales.

Landmark Wines
167 W 23rd St (btn 6th and 7th Ave, close to 7th)
New York, NY 10011

Le Singe Vert

We had lunch at Le Singe Vert today.


It's a straightforward French bistro with very good service and a great upbeat vibe. The food is standard bistro fare. I first learned about it when Henry had a birthday dinner here a few years ago. I really like this place.

We passed by a deli flower stand after leaving the restaurant.


For some reason the flowers were super fragrant. I could smell them from across the street. I think it was the lilies. I said to Mabel, what I like about lilies is that you don't have to stop to smell them.

I also spotted a place on a cross street called the Gypsy Tea Room.


It wasn't quite what we were expecting. I thought it was going to be a place that served tea. It turned out to be just another fortuneteller.

Le Singe Vert
160 7th Ave (btn 19th and 20th St)
New York, NY 10011
212-366-4100

Dinner 11/17/07

Last weekend was so relaxing. Every time I leave the city I remember how stressful it is. The morning after we arrived in PA, I woke up and saw this on the way to the bathroom.


That beats our view of the Javits Center any day.

Our dog, Joey, passed away the day before, a few hours before we arrived. My brother spent part of the morning digging a grave in the backyard, and we had a funeral around noon.

We harvested doraji on the way back inside.

For dinner, my mom made king trumpet mushrooms, a seafood stirfry, asparagus, and prepared the doraji. My brother and dad grilled kalbi. I made sea trout with beurre blanc and a grilled romaine salad.


We left the next day.

Doraji

I learned about doraji last weekend when I was at my parents' place.


This is the Chinese bellflower plant--also called doraji--in late fall. Wikipedia has a good entry on it and its confusing etymology. The vast majority of people keep it only as a decorative flower. But Koreans have a secret use for it.


We dig up the flower and eat the root. These particular roots have been growing for about 5 years.


It's a lot of work. My dad was given the job of scraping them. It took him about an hour.


Then you soak them for a few hours.


Then you cook briefly and season in a typically Korean way.


I've seen this dish before. I just never realized where it came from. It really gives you an appreciation for how long it takes to make certain things. It took 5 years for the root to grow. Then all day to prepare it from start to finish. And this is a side dish. And one you don't even eat very much of.

As for why to eat it. Well, it has a distinctive taste, but it isn't particularly pleasurable. The Chinese use it as medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties, but I can't imagine that's how it first got eaten. I imagine that it first got eaten because it was winter and there was nothing else to do but dig up and eat the roots of anything with a substantial root.

I think that this might be the first time I have gotten some sense of a greater food tradition, distinguished from childhood food memories. I enjoy eating it because my grandmother planted the first doraji plants in the garden and because of all the time and care that went into its preparation. And because that's just what Korean people eat, even though it probably seems strange to eat the root of this very nice flower.

Cake from Cupcake Cafe

Last weekend was my Dad's 70th birthday and my Mom and Dad's 43rd wedding anniversary. So Mabel and I went down to visit. James extended a business trip and drove us down from New York.

We picked up a cake from Cupcake Cafe for the occasion.


We're not a big cake family, but everyone in the family loves flowers. Cupcake Cafe is known for their buttercream flowers which you can order by season. It seemed to make sense to get autumn colors.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Best mint ever

After Joe's Shanghai, we wanted to get a drink. We came really close to getting a novelty cocktail at Benihana, but concluded that it might not be so fun (and funny) after all. I've always wanted to eat there, though, even though I know it's kind of tacky.

Anyway, we decided it'd be better to just make mojitos at home, but we were out of mint. We passed by a random Ernest Klein supermarket and found the best mint I've ever seen.


I guess I'm easily impressed. I don't know. But the leaves were huge, the bundle overall was pristine, and it was super fragrant. Anyway, it was notable.

Between finding the miracle mint and reaching the E train, we were drawn into an alley between 55th and 54th St by a sign for The London hotel. I wanted to see if we could check out the new Gordon Ramsay restaurant on the cheap by getting a drink at the bar. It was nice inside. We never actually went inside, but we were on our tiptoes looking in. The bar was full. We both felt a bit like ragamuffins watching the rich through the windows. There was even a boy out on the street asking if someone would donate a coat. He was really trying to scam them, but I imagined that he wasn't.

Ernest Klein supermarket
1366 6th Avenue (btn 55th and 56th St)
New York, NY 10019

Joe's Shanghai, midtown

After an unexpectedly long afternoon of shopping at Bloomingdale's, we decided to treat ourselves to soup dumplings at the midtown outpost of Joe's Shanghai.


The midtown restaurant is nicer than the Chinatown Joe's Shanghai, with tablecloths, a fancy chandelier, and an upgraded teapot, but it's pretty much the same food. Although it's double the price.


If anything, the soup dumplings might have been a little less soupy, but I'm okay with that since this time I didn't burn my mouth on the first one. We also didn't make the mistake of ordering 4 batches of dumplings again. We went with 3 batches plus Shanghai fried rice. It was the perfect quantity.


I thought the steam basket top on the menu was neat.

And the location is really easy to remember. It's on 56th between 5th and 6th.

Joe's Shanghai (Midtown)
24 W 56 St (btn 5th and 6th Ave)
New York, NY 10019

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

Mom and Dad decided to drive up to New York at the very last minute for Thanksgiving. They called as I was cooking yesterday morning. It was great. It was only going to be me, Mabel, and Ben, but I decided to go all out anyway. So it worked out pretty well.

It was one of the nicest cooking days I've ever had. I started prepping at around 9, so I took my time. Mabel and I took a little break at 11 to check out the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade, but we couldn't figure out the access points. They blocked off all the cross streets east of 8th Ave. The best view we got was of a disassembled Statue of Liberty float that reminded us of Planet of the Apes.


Anyway, I discovered a Taco Bell on 8th Ave and got 2 Tacos Supreme out of the trip.

On Wednesday I picked up a pumpkin pie at Fairway and some cookies at Levain Bakery. We had dinner at Burgers & Cupcakes that night, and the waitress gave us half a dozen free cupcakes. How nice! We whipped up some whipped cream to go with the pumpkin pie. Our family isn't very dessert-oriented, so we had way more dessert than we usually do.

I used the Harold McGee method of roasting a turkey combined with the dry-salted method I like for roasting chicken.


By Harold McGee method, I mean putting ice packs on the breast meat for a few hours. I'm not the one who thought it up.

For wine, we drank Cava and the Fantino red wine that Mabel and I like so much.

For the rest of dinner, we made cranberry sauce with mint, Brussels sprouts cooked with bacon, green beans with mint, fat asparagus with soy mustard sauce, beets from the PA garden, garlic rice, mashed potatoes, maple syrup yams, and a three mushroom stuffing.


My mom brought water from the well in PA and doraji from her garden. We also had kimchi and pickled kkaennip that she made.

Beets

Last weekend, we went down to PA and came back with a few beets.


I never knew that the beets peeked up above the soil.


I saved them to cook for Thanksgiving dinner.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Shortages at local food pantries

Nicole volunteered to write a guest post to call attention to a recent shortage at the city's food pantries. So, without further ado, here is Nicole's first guest post. Hopefully there will be more in the future.


Hello readers of Chungfood! Dave and Mabel have kindly let me act as a guest writer today. Given the devotion of their blog to food and the proximity of Thanksgiving, I recently found myself acutely aware of how often I am fussy about food, forgetting that having food at all, let alone good food, is a privilege. This awareness was provoked by news that there are severe difficulties at local food pantries. Food shortages and/or greatly increased demands have been reported at the city's pantries.

If you would like to learn more you can go to:

A Withered Harvest in the Bronx

Supplies Dwindle at Food Pantries as Financing Bill Stalls in Washington

Manhattan: More Hunger in New York

Since I know many people often donate to charities around the Holidays, I thought that perhaps some of you readers may find the food shortage a worthy cause.

Donation Page

If you are looking to improve your vocabulary, practice for GREs, or are just bored, there is a new, free way you can donate food to needy people outside the US. The United Nations World Food Program has created the website freerice.com. There you will find a vocabulary game, that adjusts to the appropriate level of difficulty based on your answers. For every word that you correctly define, 10 grains of rice are donated to someone in need. (There are about 1000 grains of rice in a cup, so you can quickly give a hungry person one meal by answering 100 questions.) Donations are paid for entirely by advertisers on the site.

Thanks very much Dave and Mabel for letting me put my 2 cents in the blog. Have a happy holiday season!


Update 12/1/07

More bad news about the nation's food banks.

Food Banks, in a Squeeze, Tighten Belts

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Popeyes Chicken

A new Popeyes Chicken opened up near lab recently, and yesterday I decided to check it out.


I got dark meat and mashed potatoes. The gravy on the mashed potatoes was beany.


This is actually the first time I've ever been to Popeyes. It's notable for being really good. Their style is crispy. I like it better than anything I've ever had from KFC. I've been missing out all this time.

Popeyes Chicken
601 W 172 St (at St Nicolas Ave)
New York, NY 10033

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fattoria Poggettee Rosso Amerini 2003

We had a fairly strong wine tonight.


Fine tannins, and a lot of them. I made braised short ribs, so it went well with what we were eating, but this is not a good wine for anything other than red meat. It's good with food, but with a wine like this, I can't really figure out what else is going on other than the tannins. I wouldn't drink this on its own.

Fattoria Poggette Rosso Amerini 2003 oo

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dinner 11/15/07

Mabel put together dinner tonight.


She made Patricia Wells' Pan Bagna which is a Provençal sandwich containing anchovy, tuna, red pepper, and other goodies. She's made it several times before, so she's pretty good at it.

Mabel also picked up this French cheese called Chaource from Buon Italia. Cecile said that she recognized it from France. At the stage of ripeness that we had it, it was like two cheeses. The outside was gooey, and the middle was almost chalky.


We could only eat that little slice. The entire thing was half a kilo. Hopefully it'll get eaten at Thanksgiving dinner.

We had this really wonderful wine with dinner tonight.


It smelled like a moscatel, but it wasn't sweet. It was buttery and a bit viscous, but then turned light and fresh in the mouth and had a long finish.

I bought it from Italian Wine Merchants because the salesperson said that this is the kind of wine that Italians would drink on a fine spring day on the terrace of a cafe. You can't really walk away from a description like that even when you know he probably gets a commission. After a sip of the wine Mabel thought the description was apt.

Poggio Le Volpi Frascati Superiore People 2005 oo

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Grand Sichuan 11/10/07

We went to Grand Sichuan last Saturday for dinner and ended up waiting 50 minutes for a table. That's longer than Shake Shack!

A passerby asked us how long the wait was and we said that we were told 20-30 minutes. He said, "Oh, so 45 minutes." At the time I thought, what a rude thing to say. But I guess he knew what he was talking about.

When we finally got seated, we noticed that they gave us paper plates.


We're not really that picky, but we were not going to eat off of paper plates after waiting 50 minutes, especially when no one else in the restaurant was eating off of paper plates. They swapped them out for us.

In the end, Mabel says the wait was worth it. We got Double Cooked Pork with Sweet Bean Sauce, Auzhou Spicy Fresh Chicken, and Sauteed Three Greens.

The Double Cooked Pork with Black Bean Sauce was amazing. We tried it because the double cooked pork we got at Wu Liang Ye last month was a little gross, and I wanted to see how Grand Sichuan would handle it. We wavered between fatty or lean, and I'm glad we ordered the fatty part. Mabel says that it was the best bean sauce she's ever had. She noted that she has been using a lot of superlatives since we've been starting to eat out more often, but she means it.

The Auzhou Spicy Chicken wasn't the same as when we had it before, but it was still really good. I had been craving this particular dish lately, so it was a little disappointing that it wasn't the same. Last time it was spicier and the chicken wasn't battered. This time the chicken was lightly battered. Maybe there was a mix up. Who knows?

Since we got 3 dishes, we were planning on having leftovers, but we ended up eating everything.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fresco Tortillas

We ate at the Fresco Tortillas in our neighborhood twice last week.


The first time, we were just wandering around looking for a cheap place to eat. We gave it a shot and it was pretty good. It doesn't seem authentic at all, but the food tastes really good and it's filling. The tortillas are freshly grilled. I remember saying that we could probably make the grilled steak they serve in their tortillas, but at these prices why would we? Mabel got a burrito and I got a tortilla combo deal with grilled chicken and steak.


The second time we went, we were looking for a place that still served food at 10:45 PM. All the kitchens on 9th Ave close at 10:30! Fresco Tortillas came through for us. The person at the counter was really enthusiastic about the chicken quesadilla, so I got one. And a taco. Mabel got another burrito, and we shared a thing of nachos with guacamole.


We got a kick out of their Zagat rating from 1994.


Fresco Tortillas
536 9th Ave (btn 39th and 40th St)
New York 10018

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Terrific Broth

I'm in lab waiting for my gel to finish running so I thought I'd do a post about lab food.


"Molecular Genetics Powder" translates into "This is food for bacteria." I'm tempted to see how terrific it really is, but I'm not so brave.

Although if Wylie Dufresne is using agar agar in his food, I wonder what's stopping him from moving on to Terrific Broth for his soup stock.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Bouchon Bakery

We went to Bouchon Bakery a few weekends ago to pick up a snack for the park.


We got a peanut butter cookie--a huge version of a Nutter Butter--a pistachio and cherry brioche, and a pear tart.

We saved the pear tart for when we got home. It was tasty.


Mabel was a little suspicious of the brioche, but after tasting it she thought it was great. Me too. It's a keeper.


Bouchon's peanut butter cookie is one of my favorite things to eat. But on that last visit, it was so horrible that we couldn't finish it.


Priscilla was there twice last weekend and found the same thing. She said that on Saturday the cookie tasted stale. I've had that cookie lay around for 2 or 3 days in the past and it has never tasted as bad as when I last had it. It's delicious even when a little stale. There's something strange going on.

On Sunday, when she ordered hot chocolate she says that the workers seemed to be whispering to each other about it. In retrospect it seems like she wasn't just being paranoid. When she took a sip, she says her hot chocolate tasted a bit like olive oil. When she opened the lid she found a greenish yellow oil slick on top of her hot chocolate. Kind of gross. She wants to be quoted as saying, "Don't ever get the last hot chocolate."

I'm a fan of Bouchon Bakery. I'm rooting for it. Maybe they have a new manager or their peanut butter supplier has changed. Who knows? I'm hoping that Ed Levine can find out. In the meantime, well, there aren't any alternatives for my peanut butter cookie fix. Maybe I'll try real Nutter Butters.

Bouchon Bakery
Time Warner Center
10 Columbus Cir
New York, NY 10019

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Zabar's Nova Salmon

Mabel and I were near the Upper West Side last Sunday so we stopped by Zabar's to pick up some of their Nova Salmon.

We've been there before to buy stuff for the kitchen, and also to buy cheese and coffee and bread, but we've never tried their smoked fish. Which is crazy since that's their thing.

Anyway, it's something wonderful. They hand slice the salmon for you to order. And it's, as Mabel puts it, the smoothest silkiest creamiest salmon ever. It's milder than what we're used to, but I think that's because the flavors are more balanced. It's definitely the best smoked salmon we've ever had. I can't believe this has been around for all this time and I'd never tried it before. It seems somewhat of a crime to buy lox at Gristedes with Zabar's in the city.


Zabar's
2245 Broadway (btn 80th and 81st St)
New York, NY 10024