Friday, May 29, 2009


Just wanted to quickly apologize for not updating the blog. While there was a lack of internet as I switched carriers and I've been getting creamed at work over the last week, there is no excuse. Should have a lot more posts in June. Sorry.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Adventures in Flushing

55. Flushing

Some food tours reveal hidden culinary treasures and some food tours leave you disappointed with the food but appreciative of the journey. But some food tours are game changers that redefine your thoughts about NYC food and leave you feeling simultaneously like a kid that’s just been to Disneyland yet embarrassed that you hadn’t been sooner. When four of us set out to Flushing, Queens for our first taste of this culinary mecca, we knew we found that Disneyland experience. Exiting the subway to Roosevelt Ave. felt like bursting through the theme park turnstiles, carnival songs playing from the ice cream truck that seemed to follow us everywhere.

Our inspiration for the journey came from a post that we had all read on the Girl Who Ate Everything blog, our food destinations and menu items substantially mimicking their experience. For those that have been to Flushing, you area all too familiar with the story that is about to unfold and I humbly label myself as a novice with the hope that next time I go to Flushing it will be with another list of places to try. But for those that have yet to make the trip from Manhattan, I hope this will inspire you to go to Flushing in the same way that GWAE inspired us.

Welcome to Flushing:

The Great Flushing Dumpling Tour of 2009 began with the number 29, our place on the waiting list at Nan Shian Dumpling House where we were told our table would not be ready for 45 minutes. Though discouraged with such a long wait at 2:00pm, it afforded us just enough time to pick up some dumplings from two other spots nearby. We were all about efficiency, splitting into two groups to place orders and rendezvous back at Nan Shian.

A quick stroll down the block and half of us were at White Bear, a small dumpling shop with a handful of cramped tables, where we ordered wontons in hot chili sauce ($3.50 for 10), while the other half of the group made its way to Best North Dumpling House, a kitchen-front store inside of a grocery where we picked up an order of fennel dumplings ($3.00 for 10). Awkwardly crouched on the sidewalk outside of Nan Shian, we popped open our styrofoam containers to reveal our first tastes of Flushing.

Outside of White Bear:

Inside White Bear:

The juicy ground pork surrounded by paper-thin wrappers, topped with finely chopped scallions and covered in hot chili sauce from White Bear may have taken top honors for the day. Oily, soft and with just a hint of spice, we actually contemplated returning later in the day to get some orders for the subway ride home. Worth a trip to Flushing on its own.

Wontons in hot oil:

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the fennel dumplings. Though they were plump, filling and there was a considerable amount of fennel, the taste was a bit overwhelming. Sure, they were good, cheap, and if they were available in Manhattan, I’d probably order them on value proposition alone, but with so many options in Flushing, I don’t know if I’ll be able to allot stomach space for Best North. Definite points awarded for coolness factor given their awesome space (see photo below).

Best North Dumpling Shop:

Best North Dumpling Kitchen:

Plump fennel dumplings:

As we polished off most of the fennel dumplings and half of our White Bear order, our table was ready inside. We watched dish after dish of food being served to two older women at the table next to us and we were simultaneously intrigued by the dishes and baffled as to how they could eat so much. An order of pork and crab soup dumplings and an order of pork dumplings ($6.50 each) was more than enough for us to truly appreciate the art of soup dumplings and recognize why with so many options in Flushing, there is a 45 minute wait. Both varieties had a deep, creamy, rich broth which we delicately extracted from the balloon-like dumplings. Though the pork was excellent, the pork and crab was outstanding. Visible strands of crab meat were mixed in with tender ground pork. I could sit there all day, placing order after order, slurping and eating until the restaurant ran out of dumplings.

Inside Nan Shian:

Only 2 dumplings left:

Dumpling guts:

This was only the beginning. Our next stop took us to the Golden Mall, an underground food court marked by a handful of small stalls and cramped seating. It was here that we would sample TONY list item # 55, the lamb face sandwich from X’ian Small Delights. For $2.50, we were presented with a pita stuffed with ground lamb, grilled vegetables and a lot of cumin. Tasting more Indian inspired than of Asian origin, the sandwich was overshadowed by the other dishes that we ordered, including a spicy tofu and noodle dish in hot oil (liang pi) that I couldn’t stop eating, and beef noodle soup ($5.00) from the Hand Pulled Noodle stall directly across from X’ian that was both generous in flavor and portion size.

Into the Golden City Mall:

Inside the "mall":

Xian Foods

Lamb Sandwich:

Liang Pi:

Handpulled noodles:

Beef noodle soup:

Almost nauseatingly full by this point, we conceded dumpling defeat and moved on to dessert. There’s always room for cake and donuts. At Sun May Bakery we picked up egg tarts, a donut and a couple of pineapple cakes for a whopping dollar a piece. Though incredibly popular and I appreciated the concept, I couldn’t really enjoy the egg taste of the tart as a dessert item (for breakfast? that would be pleasantly decadent). The donut was another story. Coated in granulated sugar, doughy on the inside, slightly crispy on the outside yet not greasy, I would definitely return to Sun May for the donut while in Flushing.

Inside Sun May:

Awesome cakes in the window:

Egg tart:

Pretty pineapple cake:

Inside of the cake:

Awesome sugary donut:

Despite appeals to call it quits, we forged on to our final stop, the Flushing Mall, which houses a more typical food court layout (above ground this time), and while a full array of items were available, we were there for the shaved ice, and the donut with soy milk that looked spectacular. After waiting on line (shaved ice has considerable appeal after all), we ordered the ice with red bean topping and red bean ice cream ($5.00) while I snuck off to the next booth to order a donut with soy milk ($4.00), both recommendations from the GWAE blog.

Inside the Flushing Mall:

Flags adorning the entrance to the mall (Epcot?):

At first, we were baffled by our orders. A huge bowl of shaved ice, topped with syrupy red beans and ice cream. How are we supposed to eat all of this? The first half of this dish was great; the red beans were sweet, the ice cream was creamy and all of the flavors worked together. But after I had eaten all of the toppings, I was left with a block of ice. I chipped away for a good while before giving up.

Food Court:

Waiting in line for ices:

The donut didn’t live up to the hype, and even on its own, fell far behind the donut from Sun May. What was unique about this dessert though, was the bowl of soy milk used a la Oreos with milk style. Soaking the greasy pastry into sweetened (maybe I should have gotten unsweetened?) soy milk morphed the dessert into an overly sugary and soggy donut. On top of which, I couldn’t understand the proportion of milk to donut. There was definitely an entire quart of milk in this bowl. I can’t imagine that I was supposed to drink so much soy milk…

Red bean shaved ice:

Donut and sweetened soy milk:

Yes, there were considerable language barriers, etiquette mishaps and even bitter altercations that left us feeling like tourists in our own city (which we were nothing short of in Flushing). But to be able to escape to what almost feels like a different country for the cost of a Metro card is a privilege that I plan on exercising as often as possible.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sant Ambroues

54. Sant Ambroues
259 W 4th Street

Unfortunately I don't have a lot to say about Sant Ambroues the restaurant (atmosphere, service, etc...) since the TONY item is just a scoop of gelato which I picked up after my dinner Socaratt. After getting the rundown of flavors which included chocolate, vanilla, lemon, orange and passion fruit (originally identified as mango), we opted for a scoop of passion fruit and chocolate.

Well, our server should have gone with his gut feeling on the mango call since we wound up with mango (which I would have preferred anyway). It's decent gelato. Nothing crazy or worth getting again at the $3.25 price level. If it was $1 per scoop I'd sure go back. But with so many other choices at the $3+ dessert threshold (magnolia and sweet revenge are both around the corner), I don't think I'll make it back to try any of their other flavors.

Mango (aka Passion Fruit)


Monday, May 11, 2009

Socarrat Paella Bar

53. Socarrat Paella Bar
259 W 19th

What's not to love about paella? Oily, meaty, filling, and with so many different versions, it's pretty easy to find one that you like. At Socarrat Paella, the dish is the star of the show. It seems like the word is out on this new restaurant, and after reading a number of reviews online, I knew that I would have to come early just to get a seat at the long communal table where bumping elbows is commonplace.

For me, paella is usually made with clams, mussels, shrimp, chicken and sausage, and while I was tempted by all of the items, the TONY dish was the paella valenciana, using pork rib, rabbit, snails, scallions, sugar snow peas and asparagus ($22 per person). After ordering only the paella we were reminded that the dish takes about 40 minutes to prepare, as the waiter double checked that we didn't want to order any appetizers. For $22, aren't you already taking enough of my money? We waited patiently and were probably looked down upon by the noticeably pretentious staff for only ordering an entree but I wasn't about to be intimidated.
As if the service wasn't bad enough, what was incredibly distasteful was that the staff actually had the nerve to encourage diners to finish quickly to surrender their tables to waiting customers. I thought we were paying customers at a restaurant eating at a normal pace...

After watching other tables for quite some time, we noticed that most people ordered appetizers, and they did in fact look pretty good, though still a tad pricey for my taste. The paella arrived and if it's true that you eat with your eyes first, I was already stuffed. A marvelous display of cuisine, presented in a cast-iron pot was placed before us and I couldn't wait to dig in. I was pretty satisfied with the dish, as it had all of the elements that I was looking for; plenty of flavor, lots of food and complimentary ingredients (the snail, rabbit and snow peas actually worked). But it wasn't the best paella I've ever had, I didn't care for having to eat around the bones on each piece of meat and when the bill came to about $30 after tax and tip per person, I realized that it's not even close to being worth the cost when other restaurants have perfectly good paella for $30 total. The paella valenciana is good, but not worth the price or the wait (whether for a table or the prep time), or the poor service.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Russ & Daughters for Passover

52. Russ & Daughters
179 E Houston

When I wrote about Russ & Daughters a few weeks ago, I was there for the smoked fish and wound up leaving with an assortment of treats including chopped herring salad and pretty much the best whitefish salad I ever had. With the TONY item only served during Passover and the High Holidays, I returned to R&D to sample their whitefish-salmon gefilte fish ($3.50 per piece). Gefilte fish is something of a mystery to those who didn’t grow up eating it with Friday night dinners and Passover seders. Gefilte fish is a fish patty made mostly from pike and carp, usually topped with spicy horseradish, and given its texture I can see why there are many that shy away from this appetizer. I’m more than happy to take their serving. It’s part of my tradition and I remember how much of a grown-up thing it was to start using the white horseradish instead of the red horseradish mixed with beets. While there are homemade versions and already made straight from the can, given how much I enjoyed their other offerings, I was excited for R&D’s gefilte fish. Unfortunately, I was severely disappointed. Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe it was because it was simply not what I was used to, but nothing about this gefilte fish worked for me. The texture was there, but the flavors just didn’t work. I quickly pacified my dissatisfaction with a spoonful of whitefish salad, knowing that next time, I’ll save the cash and opt for a piece straight from the jar.

Monday, May 4, 2009


51. Terroir
413 E 12th Street

I made a quick stop at Terroir, fresh off its Time Out New York award for Best New Wine Bar, for my first taste of the back half of the TONY list. It’s fitting that I would want to make it there as soon as possible; the picture of the lamb sausages from the 100 best printout have been staring at me in the face for the last few months and now I can finally check them off the list.

With a happy hour that runs from 5-6pm and offers $6 glasses of wine or a free glass of ultra-dry sherry, I made sure to go for my free glass of sherry (nothing like a sharply dry beverage for an after-work escape). Drink I hand, I flipped through the extensive wine list while waiting for my order to be ready and chatted briefly with the staff about the award ceremony. The lamb sausage ($7) is wrapped in sage leaves and fried, creating a crispy shell. Fatty, salty, and crunchy, it makes for a great bar snack that is perfect for sharing. I think what could take this dish to the next level would be some kind of spicy dipping sauce like a mustard or a jalapeƱo mayo just to balance out the flavors…

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Spice Market

Spice Market
403 W 13th Street

Situated among the mega-sized restaurants in the Meatpacking District lies the NYC location of Spice Market, a member of the Jean Georges empire of dining destinations. After hearing nothing but positive feedback from my roommate and coworker, I opted to check it out myself for a birthday dinner, compliments of the girlfriend (Thank you again).

Pushing open the obscenely tall entryway doors we are led to a table on the upper level of the restaurant, around the corner from the bar / lounge area which I'm told can get quite crowded. Being that it was my birthday I opted for the suggested kumquat mojito which, while I'm not sure completely fit in with the rest of the menu which is predominantly inspired by Indian cuisine, was refreshing and not too sugary, as mojitos can get.

While snacking on papadum, we placed an order for chicken samosas with cilantro yogurt ($10.50) and black pepper shrimp with sundried pineapple ($14.50). The three chicken samosas were crispier than a more traditional samosa and filled with spicy ground chicken. Not too much heat, and finished with a touch of cool cilantro yogurt made it a winning appetizer. The black pepper shrimp was covered in some kind of hoisin sauce, which I am a big fan of, but it was clearly too peppery for my taste and while I enjoyed the sun-dried pineapple, I can tell that it's not for everyone.

Chicken samosas:

Black pepper shrimp:

Ready for our entrees, I was pretty impressed with the red curry duck ($19). With a generous portion, both in curry sauce and duck meat, I was able to thoroughly enjoy the sweet and savory flavors of the dish. Scooping up the last bit of curry from the pot to mix it with some rice, I knew that this was a winning dish and that I would not hesitate to order it again.

Duck Curry:

Plated duck curry:

Our other entree, however, was nothing short of a disaster. To me, spicy shanghai noodles ($12) with tofu, garlic and herbs, sounds like an oily noodle dish, with some tofu in a garlicky sauce. What I would have given for some lo mein takeout. The entree was a bowl of thick udon noodles, cold tofu and what was essentially an entire salad made out of basil. No consistency of textures or flavors, we found ourselves suffering through leaf after leaf of basil until both of us called it quits. If I don't finish the plate, it's not good, and in this case, I couldn't make it past even a couple of tastes. The coconut rice which we ordered as a side wasn't anything I would order again, though it wasn't particularly bad. Duck = good; Noodles = bad.

Shanghai Noodles:

Coconut Rice:

For dessert, we tried the ovaltine kulfi ($9), served with caramelized bananas. The size of a couple kit kats, its fudge-like texture delivered an intense chocolaty taste which paired well with the bananas. The coffee and chocolate tart ($8) was light, creamy and was also a great way to end the meal.

Ovaltine Kulfi:

Coffee and chocolate tart:

Sure, there were definitely some misses and it's not cheap, but I would go back with some friends to either make a meal out of appetizers or split a few entrees, just no shanghai noodles.