Saturday, December 29, 2007

Prune

Mmmm, marrow bones.


We ate at Prune Thursday night for the first time. They serve our kind of good food in a laid back atmosphere. You don't get a sense of innovation or creativity, just satisfying food.


I've been wanting to go for a while but I get easily obsessed (e.g. ramen mania), and also we've been trying to go super value lately, but they recently made an appearance in an episode of No Reservations and that motivated us to go.

We ordered marrow bones, stuffed lamb loin, stewed pork shoulder, and a side of Brussels sprouts with cauliflower and turnips.

I want to eat marrow bones all the time. Mabel doesn't understand the appeal.

We were messy enough with the bones, which we got as a first course, to merit Prune's version of the Napkin of Shame. They switched out the butcher paper covering our table for us. Although this is much, much better than the actual Napkin of Shame which just sits on top of the tablecloth indicating that there's a big mess underneath. The Butcher Paper of Shame is simply a new table covering. It makes us look like immaculate eaters.

The stuffed lamb was fairly terrible--dry, chewy, and gristly--but I'll guess that someone just forgot it in the oven.

The stewed pork shoulder was really good, one of those dishes that warms you to the core on a cold day and is completely satisfying. We asked for some bread to sop up the pork broth which made things even better. Mabel suspected their supplier was Sullivan Street Bakery.

The vegetables were just nicely prepared vegetables. I don't eat turnips very often. Maybe I will more often. And I'm starting to come around to cauliflower.

We drank a bottle of Chinon (Philippe Alliet 2005) which was just right. It reminded me of a bottle Jen gave us a few years ago. Mabel was thinking of the fantastic wine we had at our meal at La Regalade.

For dessert I got a pear and apple tart with ice cream, and Mabel got something called Sugared Hay. Both were fine. The sugared hay was shredded wheat with Greek yogurt and candied pumpkin.

Overall, 6 out of 7 is pretty darn good. Nobody's perfect. But we're just getting to know the place and looking forward to coming back.

On the subway ride back home, a violinist and saxophonist played this great duet.



Prune
54 E 1st St (btn 1st and 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10003-9313
(212) 677-6221

Thursday, December 20, 2007

La Maison du Chocolat

La Maison du Chocolat. This is where Mabel and I got our wedding chocolates. It is our favorite chocolate shop in the world.


I took Crystal here on her visit this past week, and we did a sample of LMC's greatest hits: candied chestnuts, macarons, and their hot chocolate. We left out their ganache-filled chocolates, but those are superlative as well.

It was a really cold and miserable wet day when we visited the shop. After we left, Crystal went through the 4 stages of it's-an-awful-day-but-wait-I-like-this-hot-chocolate.



First stage: Eww! It's windy and cold!




Second stage: God, why is it such a miserable day?




Third stage: Hey, wait, this chocolate isn't half bad.




Fourth stage: Happiness





The candied chestnuts are sublime.

The macarons are the best ones we've had, although we've never tried ones by Pierre Hermé. We did try buying them after lunch at Ladurée two years ago but a French woman cut in front of us to order and we were so infuriated that we gave up. That was before we knew that a line is literally a foreign concept to the French (we took it too personally) and before we had our first good macaron. Anyway, we made a big mistake.

Robyn at seriouseats.com and Girl Who Ate Everything wrote three great posts on the subject of macarons. The first is an introduction and short history, the second is a list of where you can find them here and across the world, and the third contains more first hand experiences with macarons. She loves LMC's the most too!

We went to the Madison Ave shop on this visit, but there is another location in Rockefeller Center that is just as good. Something to note about the Madison Ave shop. They have a nice cafe in the back where you can get their hot chocolate and other delicacies, but they close it off around Christmas. Their US shipping center is based in that shop and they use the cafe space for storage during the holidays.

Along the same lines, I noticed that even though the Madison Ave store is pretty professional and polite, there seems to be an amusing fly by the seat of your pants feel to the place. It's as if the people working there sort of don't know what's going on or they're just filling in temporarily or something.

You don't get that feeling at the Rockefeller Center store, though maybe it's too uptight there. I took Vickie once and she was totally creeped out. I don't know. I kind of like the nice service.


La Maison du Chocolat (Upper East Side)
1018 Madison Ave (btn 78th and 79th)
New York, NY 10021

La Maison du Chocolat (Midtown)
30 Rockefeller Plz (49th St, btn 5th and 6th Ave)
New York, NY 10112

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Almond Cookies

I was mining through some old cookbooks and found this 60's era Chinese cookbook (ketchup features in the recipe for Sweet and Sour Pork). At the back was this recipe for Almond Cookies, which turns out surprisingly good cookies. I've made these for David's birthday for the past 3 years.

Almond Cookies
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 12-15 minutes per batch
Makes: 30
"In China these are often eaten as a between-meal snack. In Western style cuisine, they make a good accompaniment to fruit or sorbet."

1 stick butter or margarine
4 Tbs granulated sugar
2 Tbs light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
Almond essence
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
1/4 cup ground almonds, blanched or unblanched
2 Tbs water
30 whole blanched almonds

Cream the butter or margarine together with the two sugars until light and fluffy. Divide the beaten egg in half and add half to the sugar mixture with a few drops of the almond essence and beat until smooth. Reserve the remaining egg for later use. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the egg mixture and add the ground almonds. Stir well by hand. (me: a mixer works just as well.) Shape the mixture into small balls and place well apart on a lightly greased baking sheet. Flatten slightly and press an almond on to the top of each one.

Mix the reserved egg with the water and brush each cookie before baking. Place in a preheated 350 degree F oven and bake for 12-15 minutes. Cookies will be a pale golden color when done.

Note: Blanched almonds are almonds with the skin taken off. To do this, place almonds in a bowl, pour boiling water to barely cover almonds. Let sit for no more than 1 minute. Drain almonds, pat dry, and slip skins off.

Setagaya is not that busy and that's crazy

We ate at Setagaya tonight so that we could pick up the umbrella I left there Sunday night. They were really nice to save it for us.

Both times the place was almost empty. I don't understand why. I mean, I don't want to complain about not having to stand in line, but I also don't want them to close up shop. They had the full 3 waitresses. That's how many they have on packed nights. And on Sunday Mabel caught one of the cooks practicing his ramen straining skills. Without even a colander. She thought it was cute, but I think it was also so sad that they didn't have real work to do.

I thought maybe it was because Sunday and Wednesday are just not that busy, but Momofuku Noodle Bar was packed. I wanted to go in and tell the people waiting at Momofuku that there's a great noodle place down the street which is better, cheaper, and has no line, but they would have thought I was crazy. But they're the ones who are crazy.

Pork omelette

On Monday, I made an omelet out of pork butt leftovers.


I usually exert more self-control over the quantity of stuff I put into my omelets, but I decided that when you're dealing with barbequed pork butt, balance and restraint isn't really what you're aiming for.

The leftovers are from a surprise party my friends threw for me last Saturday. The party was really great. Mabel and Crystal knew that I would love the pork butt from Daisy May's and got it delivered, in pulled form. That was a total surprise. But the best part was seeing all my favorite friends from the city at the same time. I like birthday parties.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Birthday almond cookies

Mabel made me almond cookies for my birthday last weekend. There aren't so many left.


By now it's somewhat of a tradition.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Shangrila Express at the Javits Center

Last Saturday on the way back from Fairway, we ran across something more random than the Christmas tree sellers.

We were rushing back to the apartment with only 15 minutes to get the Zipcar back in the lot. I was taking a left from 11th Ave onto 36th St, right in front of the Javits Center, and on that corner was a bright light in the darkness. It was a food cart. At 7:45pm. In the middle of nowhere.

We had to stop.


I was so confused. It didn't make any sense. And where did all these Asian people come from? There were about 10 of them in line and eating to the side. It was surreal.

Things became a bit more clear when I asked the cart person how long they'd been here. It turns out that they're usually in Jackson Heights and they made a special trip just for the night. Apparently, there was an Indian Idol concert going on at the Javits Center. That prompted two questions. What on Earth is Indian Idol and the Javits Center has concerts?

When we got back to the apartment, we dug in to find out how a Momo differs from other dumplings and whether a Shangrila was better than regular chicken and rice.


The Momo were pretty good. The Shangrila Chicken was better than typical chicken and rice. It was curried and there were some dessert-like spices thrown into the mix. It isn't worth a special trip to Jackson Heights, but it was still pretty cool that we caught them at the right moment.

I did some googling and found this article from Gothamist. The first Tibetan food cart in the city. Awesome. And it's called the Shangrila Express. And, at least from the Gothamist review, it seems like their hours and typical location are difficult to maneuver. So it's even more miraculous that we stumbled upon them in the wrong neighborhood.

I found out that the Indian Idol is this person named Prashant Tamang. I still have no idea what the hullabaloo is about.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Chelsea Papaya

On my way to Tekserve last weekend, I got a snack at Chelsea Papaya.

It's a great place to get a snack or a super cheap standup or takeout meal. I always get my hot dogs with mustard.


I think their prices went up recently. Now it's $1.25 a hot dog. Still not bad given the location.

Chelsea Papaya
225 7th Ave (at 23rd St)
New York, NY 10011

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Takeout from RUB BBQ

I was going to save writing about RUB but the last order of spareribs I got for takeout yesterday were so awesome I wanted to record it here.


The thing that impressed me was that I noticed a layer of beautiful intact fat. If you don't cook the ribs enough, that layer of fat is probably gross. If you overcook the ribs the fat disappears. But the way they prepared this slab of ribs, the fat was just right.


The ribs were so good. Smokey and melt-in-your-mouth-but-still-a-bit-of-bite. Just about perfect.

RUB BBQ
208 W 23rd St (near 7th Ave)
New York, NY 10011

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Harlem Fairway trip surprise

I thought it would be nice to reserve a Zipcar and go to the Harlem Fairway for groceries tonight. Mabel and I ended up getting so much stuff that the receipt was 3.5 feet long.

They had a fresh mozzarella station near the cheese department which I thought was super cool. It was still warm when I picked it up. Mabel was underwhelmed and pointed out that it was the third time I'd mentioned the cheese was warm when I bought it.

Anyway, aside from being overcharged for a persimmon, the trip was as nice as trips to the Harlem Fairway are when you have your own car.

The surprise for us was on the way back when we spotted a Christmas tree outpost on 11th Ave near 50th St. I pulled over and Mabel got out and grabbed what the tree guy called "a Charlie." As in the sad little Christmas tree from A Charlie Brown Christmas. We put it in the back of the car with our groceries.


When we got home I put it in the stand and Mabel decorated it.

We got our lights last year when I was tutoring a 10th grader in Chemistry. His younger brother went out and bought a string of lights from a drug store, and his mom was all "Why'd you get Christmas lights!" and he was all abashed and said, "I thought we could put them in the window." I asked what the big deal was and it turned out I forgot they were observant Jews. They gave me that string of lights and some Christmas wrapping paper that the younger brother bought on a separate trip. We didn't have a tree at the time, and those lights inspired us to get our first Christmas tree in Washington Heights.


I'm glad we got a chance to use them again this year.

Fairway Market (Harlem)
2328 12th Ave (at 132nd St)
New York, NY 10027

Friday, December 7, 2007

Falafel cart in Washington Heights

This is the falafel cart where I usually get my lunch.


They have other things, like grilled chicken, beef, and gyros, but a $3 falafel sandwich totally beats them in value.


The only caveat is that the falafel is really inconsistent outside the hours of 12:30-1:30 PM. But within that window of time, you can expect fresh falafel with a crispy outside and soft non-mushy inside.

Falafel cart
622 W 168th St (in front of old Presbyterian Hospital entrance)
New York, NY 10032

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Mee Sum Coffee Shop

The Mee Sum Coffee Shop. This is one of my favorite places in Chinatown. I almost don't want to write about it here because I'm afraid that the secret will be out. But I figured that not enough people read this blog to let the secret out, and, besides, I can scare away a significant number of people by saying that they passed last year's health inspection by only 1 point. Not enough? Last time I checked, they don't stock toilet paper in the bathroom. Or soap.


The draw is the Salted Chicken Noodle Soup. As Julia Child would say, the soup has chickeny chicken.


It really is the most chickeny chicken noodle soup I know of. And at a ridiculous $3.25 a bowl, it is a ridiculous value.

The chicken itself is salty all the way through, and moist and tender. At least it was very moist 2 out of the 3 times I've been here. And, as already mentioned, it is very chickeny. The broth is also quite chickeny. And there are lots of wonton noodles to help fill you up.

I keep mentioning the chickeny-ness of the chicken because when I first had this soup a little over a year ago I realized that most of the chicken out there lacks that essential chickeny-ness. When people say something tastes like chicken, they're referring to some bland generic neutral meat taste. If people were used to truly chickeny chicken, they wouldn't say such-and-such tastes like chicken. Anyway, it was a modest revelation.

On this particular visit, the coffee shop was livelier than I've seen it before. I think it was because it was Sunday around lunchtime and the regulars were there catching up with friends. I felt a little like I was intruding on a gathering in someone's apartment when I walked in. But I really wanted those noodles.

The waitress reinforced that a bit. She seemed a bit wary of us the entire time. She seated us then said, "What do you want?" No menu or anything. On the wall was a menu in Chinese. They have English menus you can ask for, though. Anyway, no problem. We knew exactly what we wanted.

But then we realized that they were making Vegetable Shumai at the table next to ours.


So we asked for an order of Shumai as well.

It never came. But no matter. It all contributes to the charm of the place. I have to say, though, I like the middle-aged guy waiter we had on our previous visits a lot more. He would fall asleep on a chair near the counter and we'd have to wake him up when we needed anything.

We picked up a box of the freshly-made Shumai on the way out and had them with dinner tonight.


They weren't bad. But they cost more than our lunch.

Mee Sum Coffee Shop
26 Pell St (between Mott and Elizabeth St)
New York, NY 10013

Deluxe Food Market

This is another one of Lei's recommendations. Deluxe Food Market is currently our preferred market for various Cantonese roast meats.


Today we got half a duck and some roast pork. If you're ever in need of a whole pig's head, they'll set you up. I think they'll even give you a bisected pig's head if you can't eat a whole one.


We usually also pick up vegetables or other supplies here. They're the only place we know of that stocks Smithfield Hams which are important in some Chinese recipes, though I'm sure there are plenty of other places that sell them.


The major problem with Deluxe is that it's always packed. I thought that there would be fewer people today because it was the first snow day of the season, but I was completely wrong. You have to keep moving or else you stop up foot traffic. It's crazy and a bit exhausting. But it's worth it. I saw some salmon that was selling for almost half of what it would at Whole Foods. And Mabel spotted tiny baby baby bok choy.


Deluxe Food Market
79 Elizabeth St (btn Grand and Hester St)
New York, NY 10013

Lung Moon Bakery

We bought our first egg tart today, at the Lung Moon Bakery.


I'd never heard of an egg tart before, but Lei said we should try one. We stopped specifically to try it. They happened to be in the window.


It was different. I'm not quite sure how to put it. Usually when I eat a custard like creme caramel, it doesn't taste particularly eggy. I think the point of the Chinese egg tart is that it tastes a bit eggy. We also got an egg tart from the Deluxe Food Market. I like the one from Lung Moon Bakery better because it was less eggy, and the crust was better.

Mabel was very satisfied with their sesame ball. She liked that it was utterly covered with seasame seeds. You don't always get that. We'll be back to at least pick up more of those.

Lung Moon Bakery
83 Mulberry St (btn Canal and Bayard St)
New York, NY 10013

May May Bakery is closed

We passed by the now old May May Bakery spot only to see it closed down.


So soon! Oh well.