Posts Tagged ‘Noodles’

Pure Thai Cookhouse

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 by virginia

Josh and I ate at Pure Thai a little while ago, when it was called Shophouse rather than Cookhouse, but the menu looks the same despite the name change. We were there for lunch, when the portions are slightly smaller but the prices are cheaper as well. I loved the decor of the restaurant, which reminded me of the food stalls in Thailand, Singapore, and Taiwan. It was pretty rustic, with plain tables and low, backless stools. There were assorted condiments on the table so that you could adjust the spiciness and sourness of your dishes accordingly.

We shared a few appetizers from the “snacks” section to start. First was crispy tofu, which we can never resist at Thai restaurants. It wasn’t a huge portion but there were five large pieces of tofu, freshly fried, with crispy outsides and soft, slightly chewy insides. There was a dipping sauce on the side with chopped peanuts, tamarind, and chili sauce mixed together. The sauce was slightly sweet, slightly sour, and paired nicely with the plain, crispy tofu.

Crispy tofu with peanut and tamarind-chili gastrique

Our other appetizer was the steamed fresh roll stuffed with crab meat, pork sausage, cucumber, and smoked tofu. The wrapper was soft and chewy and could barely contain all the ingredients inside. I tried to bite a piece in half and it sort of fell apart, but the flavors melded together pretty well. There were lots of different textures going on, and the sausage was the predominant flavor. There a tamarind reduction underneath the roll that provided some sweetness and moisture to the dish.

Steamed fresh roll with crab meat, pork sausage, cucumber, and smoked tofu

For our entrees, we split two noodle dishes, since we had heard that the restaurant was famous for its noodles. First was their signature dish, the ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles. The thin egg noodles are handmade and have a wonderfully springy texture to them. They’re firm but not overly so, with a nice chewiness that I found pleasing to eat. The noodles are topped with roasted pork, lump crab meat, yu choy (a green leafy vegetable), and scallion. The roast pork was similar to Chinese style roast pork found in fried rice, with pink edges and a slight sweetness to them. The pork was slightly dry but flavorful. The crab meat wasn’t abundant in the bowl of noodles, but the dish was deliciously savory. I don’t know if there was a sauce or what, but it was like a big bowl of umami, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles

Everything all mixed together

Our second dish was the pad kee moa, which has replaced pad thai as our standard for testing out new Thai restaurants. The kee moa on the menu features calamari, but we substituted chicken instead. The dish features flat wide noodles with tomato, baby bok choy, snow peas, chili puree, and thai basil. The dish is also known as “drunken noodles” or “spicy basil noodles”. The noodles have a slight kick to them but aren’t too spicy, and basil is the flavor that I find most predominant. Pure Thai’s version was pretty good flavor-wise, but I thought the noodles were a bit too soft for my liking.

Pad kee moa with chicken

Overall Josh and I both really liked Pure Thai. The food seemed more authentic to us in terms of flavor, and they are willing to adjust the spiciness of the dishes upon request. The menu isn’t very extensive but they have some of the more standard Thai dishes available, as well as a choice of protein. We loved the flavors and textures of the ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles. It was my favorite dish of the meal, hands down, but there are lots of other things on the menu that we didn’t get to try. Pure Thai isn’t the standard hell’s kitchen Thai restaurant, which definitely makes it worth checking out.

Pure Thai Cookhouse
766 9th Ave. between 51st and 52nd
New York, NY

Social Eatz

Sunday, October 30th, 2011 by virginia

Social Eatz is a restaurant that garners a lot of buzz because it is the restaurant of Top Chef alum Angelo Sosa. Josh and I are big fans of Top Chef but we didn’t root for Angelo when he was competing the first time around. While his food always looked good and his competitors clearly respected him, we had other favorites. Nevertheless, we didn’t object when Jess and Jack told us we should try the food at Social Eatz. They had eaten there before and enjoyed it, and so we decided to go on a double date with them and check it out.

Jess made a reservation for us on a Saturday night, but the restaurant was surprisingly empty when we arrived. We got a great table right next to the window in front. Jess and I got some beer while Josh ordered the carrot ginger fizz, an interesting cocktail featuring carrot juice, ginger beer, vodka, and citrus. It was sweet, tangy, and bubbly, and very drinkable.

Carrot Ginger Fizz cocktail

We decided to share a few appetizers to start. The first was edamame fritters, which our waiter said was a new dish for the restaurant. For some reason we were all expecting the individual edamame beans to be fried, and were quite surprised when we saw that it was actually like falafel balls made from pureed edamame. The fritters were fantastic – crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The edamame flavor definitely shined through, brightened up with some citrus. There was also garlic mayo on the side for dipping that was addictively delicious. I could have used that mayo on just about anything. My only complaint was that there were only two fritters in the order. I wish there had been more!

Edamame fritters with garlic mayo

Our other appetizer was the noodle salad with plum ponzu. It featured cold buckwheat soba noodles with baby bok choy, sugar snap peas, and sliced scallions all mixed with a sweet plum and citrus dressing. It was light and refreshing and also a good mix of sweet and tangy. The noodles were cooked well so that they still had a nice chewiness to them, and this time I had no complaints about the portion size.

Noodle salad with plum ponzu

Both couples decided to share a bibimbap burger and a pair of tacos. There are lots of different burgers to choose from but the bibimbap burger won Eater.com’s best burger in America contest so we wanted to try it out. We were happy to see that they cut the burgers in half for us in the kitchen, because they were really quite messy. The burger featured a beef patty topped with a runny fried egg, shredded lettuce, and pickled carrots and cucumber. There was also sriracha mayo on the burger that oozed out when we bit into the burger and dripped everywhere.

Bibimbap burger

Autopsy shot

The burger itself was very flavorful, with the pickled vegetables and sriracha sauce definitely showing its Asian influence. The beef patty was cooked to a nice medium rare but it was kind of mushy in texture and got a bit lost under the egg and all the other components. What meat I could taste was well seasoned, and while I really did enjoy the burger, it didn’t seem like a regular burger to me. I wouldn’t compare it to a Shake Shack burger or Corner Bistro, because it’s a totally different genre of burger. So even though it was pretty delicious in it’s own way, if I’m craving a burger, this isn’t what I’d go for. Nevertheless, we were happy to have tried it.

As for the tacos, we got an order of the Korean beef tacos and the tilapia tacos. The Korean beef tacos featured marinated skirt steak that had a slight kick to it from gochujang, which is a spicy Korean pepper paste. The taco was supposed to have bean sprout kimchee as well but I didn’t really see it or taste it. There were pickled carrots and cucumber on the taco, as well as more of that sriracha mayo, which actually made the whole thing taste very similar to the bibimbap burger. The skirt steak was pretty tender, however, and flavorful on its own, and I enjoyed the fresh cilantro on top. I just wish that the taco had more pronounced kimchee flavor.

Korean beef tacos

The tilapia tacos were pretty spicy, as the fish had been brushed with Thai chili. I enjoyed the fish and the accompanying green tomato salsa and avocado, which helped temper the spice. It was a flavorful combination of spicy and tangy, and I preferred these tacos to the Korean beef tacos. I just wish they hadn’t added sriracha mayo to these tacos as well, as after a while, everything just started tasting the same.

Chili kissed tilapia tacos

Both the burgers and the tacos were a la carte, so we got two orders of fries to share. They were thin cut and crispy, like McDonald’s fries, and dusted with a bit of paprika (I think). There was a mayo based dipping sauce on the side but the fries were good on their own and seasoned enough that they didn’t need the sauce.

Side order of fries

For dessert, we split an order of the yuzu cream puffs. The choux pastry was filled with yuzu curd, which tasted similar to lemon or lime curd. It was slightly sweet but the citrus flavor made it refreshing. The cream puffs were served hot, which I liked, and delicately crispy on the outside. We quickly took down the whole bowl.

Yuzu cream puffs

Overall Josh and I both enjoyed Social Eatz but didn’t find it to be outstanding. The food was tasty but nothing was distinctive. The menu indicates Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese influences, but mostly, I just found it to be generically Asian fusion food. Sriracha mayo was on almost everything, and that flavor really dominates. After a while, all the flavors got muddled and everything just tasted like the mayo. I did enjoy the appetizers though, which were well executed and the highlight of the meal for me. On the surface, the menu at Social Eatz is very affordable. The burgers and sandwiches top out at $12, and the tacos at $9. Most things are under $10. However, since everything is a la carte, adding on a side dish is an additional $4.50 each. That means for a burger and fries, it’s really about $16.50, not $12, which is really not that cheap. In terms of atmosphere, the restaurant did fill up by the end of our meal. It was a bit loud but not overly so, and the place has a trendy but casual vibe. I would probably go back, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to make another trip there.

Social Eatz
232 East 53rd St. between 2nd and 3rd Ave.
New York, NY

Pho Pasteur

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011 by virginia

Ever since Josh and I tried out Vietnamese food at Pho Grand last year, we’ve been eager to explore more of the Vietnamese restaurants in Chinatown. We finally found some free time to head downtown on Memorial Day and stopped into Pho Pasteur to check out the offerings there. The restaurant, which is located on the southwestern edge of Chinatown, was bright and clean and a lot of the tables were full. We got a spot in the far corner and settled in to look over the fairly extensive menu.

Even though the restaurant has “pho” in the name, we opted not to get any because it was way too hot outside to think about drinking a big bowl of hot soup. Instead, we decided to start off with one of the house specials – banh hoi bo nuong, which is barbecued beef that you wrap into rice crepes with rice vermecilli and other garnishes.

Ingredients for banh hoi bo nuong

The slices of beef were rolled into a tight spiral before they were grilled, and while they were slightly chewy, they had a nice smokey, sweet flavor.

Barbecued beef

The assorted accoutrement included pickled carrots and daikon, thin rice vermicelli noodles, and lettuce and mint leaves. The pickled vegetables provided a nice crunch, and had a sweet, tangy flavor. I also used a lot of mint in my crepes, which added a fresh brightness to each bite.

Pickled carrots and daikon

Rice vermicelli noodles

Mint and lettuce leaves

We had fun piling on the different ingredients and rolling them into the rice crepes to make our own version of summer rolls. We dipped the rolls into bowls of nuoc cham sauce, a sweet and sour dipping sauce that I really love.

An assembled roll

Nuoc cham sauce

My only complaint about the dish was that the thin rice crepes quickly got glued together on the plate and were hard to separate. While the first few crepes came off cleanly, we really struggled with the rest and ended up tearing most of them. Eventually I gave up on the crepes and wrapped the ingredients in a lettuce leaf, which was still quite tasty.

We also got an order of curry chicken with rice. We were hoping it would be like the curry chicken we had in Singapore and Malaysia, which has a thinner but flavorful curry sauce. However, this version was more like Thai massaman curry. It was a thick brown curry sauce and the chicken was slices of boneless breast meat rather than chicken on the bone. There were also potatoes in the dish, and while I usually like the combination of curry and potatoes, these were a bit undercooked and hard to eat.

Curry chicken with rice

Lastly, we got a bun – rice vermicelli noodles – topped with barbecued pork and spring rolls. The pork was delicious, with the same sweet, smokey sauce that was on the barbecued beef, but the meat was more tender and easier to eat. The spring rolls were hot and crispy, though oddly, they had a distinct vanilla flavor to them. I’m not sure what exactly contributed to the vanilla flavor, but it was slightly off-putting for me. Nevertheless, this is one of our favorite Vietnamese dishes, as it is really refreshing and delicious. The ingredients are simple but pack a lot of flavor.

Bun with barbecued pork and spring rolls

Overall we enjoyed the food at Pho Pasteur, though the curry chicken is a pass. We liked assembling our own summer rolls, and the barbecued pork in the bun noodle dish was fantastic. While I still slightly favor Pho Grand, I would definitely come back to Pho Pasteur, especially to try out their pho when the weather gets cooler. Vietnamese food is quickly becoming one of my favorite types of cuisines, though I think we need to expand our ordering horizons since we always seem to get the same dishes everywhere. If any has any suggestions on what we should try, please let us know!

Pho Pasteur
85 Baxter St. between Bayard and Walker St.
New York, NY

 

Thai Basil

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 by virginia

In our neck of the woods, there is no lack of Thai restaurants. It seems like there is a Thai restaurant on every block in Hell’s Kitchen. We’ve been partial to Wondee Siam II but I always like to try out different places. Thai Basil is a tiny place that I’ve walked past many times and we decided to try it out with Mike and Melissa one evening. I was a bit worried when I saw the “C” health rating on the door but no one had any major reservations about it, so in we went.

The restaurant was empty except for one other table, which wasn’t really a good sign either. Nevertheless, we pressed on. The menu is pretty straightforward with typical Thai fare. We decided to start out with a few appetizers to share. The curry puffs were filled with ground chicken and potato. The crust was warm and flaky but the filling didn’t have much flavor – they definitely needed a heavier hand with the curry powder. They came with a cucumber sauce for dipping that I thought was a bit unusual, but the crunchy cucumber was actually a nice complement.

Curry puffs

We also split an order of fried tofu. The tofu was nice and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. It came with a chili sauce topped with lots of peanuts on the side, which tasted good but was kind of hard to dip into. The chili sauce had a really thick texture to it that didn’t stick well on the tofu. Still, I thought it was a pretty decent rendition of fried tofu, though the portion was a bit small.

Fried tofu

Melissa and I both ordered the pad kee mao, which is flat wide noodles sauteed with onion, bell peppers, and basil. It was a dish that Melissa introduced us to last year and is now one of our favorites. Thai Basil’s version was super flavorful and very spicy – I think it was the best pad kee mao that I’ve had so far. I loved the complexity of the spices, and while it was hot enough to make me sweat a bit, it wasn’t an overpowering burn. I couldn’t stop eating it even when I was full, and ended up cleaning my plate.

Pad kee mao with chicken

Josh ordered the massaman curry with beef. It was mixed with coconut milk, potato, onion, avocado, and cashew nut. The curry was also very flavorful and had a nice, slow burn to it. I found the avocado to be a weird but interesting addition to the dish; its creaminess helped tone down the spice a bit. I actually really enjoyed the massaman curry a lot, and it’s definitely something I would order again.

Massaman curry with beef

Overall I was pretty impressed with the food at Thai Basil. Melissa, who is from Malaysia and is definitely well versed in Thai food, thought the flavors were more authentic than at Wondee. I really liked all the spices in the entrees we ordered, though if you don’t like spicy foods, I’d suggest asking them to tone it down a bit. As with most Thai restaurants in this neighborhood, prices are extremely reasonable. I’m not sure why this place gets a low health rating (and I don’t really want to know) but I didn’t see anything out of place in the dining room. I would definitely go back, and I’m glad that we have another go-to Thai restaurant in the neighborhood.

Thai Basil
860 9th Ave. between 55th and 56th St.
New York, NY

Sake Bar Hagi

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011 by virginia

Sake Bar Hagi is sort of like a Japanese tapas restaurant that’s been written up about in numerous papers and magazines and was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. It’s in midtown so it draws the happy hour crowd, and it’s a great place for pitchers of beer and lots of little snacks. It’s important to get there early though because the place really fills up quickly. Josh and I had been there once after work and really enjoyed it so one Sunday night when it was just us and Josh’s parents, we suggested trying to get in for dinner.

The restaurant is located downstairs below street level but it’s a pretty large and bright space. The tables are kind of cramped together though, and it does get a bit noisy. We had to wait for about half an hour before we could get a table. Fortunately the waiting area wasn’t crowded and we were able to sit on some benches while we waited.

After we were seated an ordered a pitcher of beer, we set about perusing the extensive menu. There are so many different options to choose from, it was almost a bit daunting. There were the usual Japanese appetizers, like gyoza and edamame, different types of yakitori, as well as some more unusual offerings.

We started out with an avocado salad, which was pretty standard. It featured a good portion of sliced avocado on top of iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, tomatoes, and asparagus. The ginger dressing was flavorful and not too sweet.

Avocado salad

We also got a yakitori set that included skewers of chicken meatballs, chicken, garlic, pork belly, and beef. The meatballs were a bit bland but the other meats were well seasoned and had good barbecue flavor.

Assorted yakitori

Agedashi tofu is something that we always order when we’re at a Japanese restaurant, and this version was pretty good. It’s deep fried tofu that’s silky on the inside sitting in flavorful broth, topped with grated daikon, bonito flakes, and shredded seaweed. It’s a good mix of textures and flavors.

Agedashi tofu

The bonito sashimi was one of our favorites of the evening. It was served with citrus soy sauce and topped with chopped scallions, fried garlic chips, and thinly shaved daikon. The fish was a gorgeous deep red color and tasted fresh. The combination was light and refreshing.

Bonito sashimi

The tatsu age, or Japanese fried chicken, was light and crispy on the outside, though I think there may have been a bit too much breading. Still, the chicken was pretty juicy and all it needed was a squeeze of lemon over the top.

Tatsu age (fried chicken)

An interesting dish we ordered was grilled clams topped with scallions. They were big and juicy, not too chewy, with lots of briny flavor. We just shot them straight from the shells, making sure to drink up all the delicious liquid.

Grilled clams

Another one of my favorite dishes was a grilled eggplant topped with miso sauce. The sauce was nicely caramelized on top, and it had sweet, slightly smokey flavor. The eggplant had a creamy texture and wasn’t bitter.

Grilled eggplant

I had high hopes for the grilled yellowtail collar as it’s usually a tender, luscious part of the fish. This version, unfortunately, was a bit dry and really bland. There was no seasoning or sauce on it, and even after we squeezed lemon over the top, it was pretty flavorless.

Grilled yellowtail collar

We got an order of gyozas filled with pork, which were decently pan fried and brown on the bottom, but flavor-wise they were just meh. These were probably the frozen pre-made kind, and not great ones at that.

Pan fried gyozas

Much to Alice’s dismay, Josh and I shared a yakitori of chicken skin. Crispy on the outside, slightly chewy, well seasoned, and very flavorful, we thought these were pretty fantastic. Probably not great for our cholesterol, but we only had one bite each.

Chicken skin yakitori

We got an order of shiitake mushrooms, which were topped with lots of bonito flakes. They had a meaty texture but were kind of plain, and I probably wouldn’t order these again.

Shiitake mushrooms

I enjoyed the fried octopus balls (takoyaki), which was kind of like eating an octopus doughnut. The balls had a light, slightly chewy texture and were filled with little chunks of octopus.

Fried octopus balls (takoyaki)

I wanted to try a grilled rice ball (onigiri) filled with spicy cod roe. I’ve eaten regular rice balls before but never the grilled kind. The rice on the outside was browned a crispy, and the spicy cod roe filling was definitely spicy. I just wish there was a bit more filling, and that it was more evenly dispersed throughout the middle of the rice ball. Otherwise it was pretty good.

Grilled spicy cod roe onigiri (rice ball)

Last, and definitely least, we got a yaki udon with chicken. It’s pan fried udon noodles but the sauce they used was cloyingly sweet and gloppy. There was so much sauce that it totally overpowered everything on the plate, so that was all we tasted. It was probably the worst yaki udon I’ve ever eaten, and it was a disappointing way to finish our meal.

Yaki udon

Even though the yaki udon was terrible, the rest of our meal was pretty good. They have a nice variety of yakitori, and I liked being able to try all the different skewers of meat. The fried items were all served fresh right from the fryer, which meant they were hot and crispy, as they should be. I think the best part of Sake Bar Hagi is the extensive menu and getting to try lots of different things. Most plates are small but shareable, and we washed them down with cheap pitchers of Sapporo. It’s definitely a great happy hour spot, though if you plan on being there for a while, you have to keep ordering food and drinks, otherwise the servers will tell you that other people are waiting for a table. It does get crowded but it’s got a nice low key vibe. I highly recommend checking it out.

Sake Bar Hagi
152 West 49th St. between 6th and 7th Ave.
New York, NY

King 5 Noodle House

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011 by virginia

Ever since our fun Flushing food run, way back in July, I’ve been itching to make a return trip. But the fact of the matter is, Josh and I are lazy. It’s one thing to walk 15-20 blocks for a meal, it’s another thing to take a subway ride for almost and hour and have to switch trains along the way as well. But to be honest, the trip really isn’t that bad, and we really should try to do it more often. The best part about Flushing, for me at least, is the access to some of my favorite Taiwanese treats. I was craving Taiwanese breakfast foods and read on a few different blogs that the place to go was King 5 Noodle House in Flushing. So one nice Saturday afternoon, after Josh and I went to the gym, we hopped on the train and made the journey out.

Our first stop in Flushing, before King 5 Noodle House, was the peking duck window at Corner 28 where they sell peking duck buns for $1. We showed a bit of restraint and ordered just one bun each. The meat was a bit chewy and the skin wasn’t so crispy, but there were lots of scallions in the bun and plenty of hoisin sauce. It’s not the best peking duck, but for $1, it’s not bad. I enjoyed eating it while we walked over to the restaurant, and it definitely whet my appetite.

$1 peking duck buns

When we got to the restaurant, we only had to wait a few minutes for a table to open up. It was early afternoon though, and I was worried they had run out of soy milk by then, but we were in luck and everything was still available. We kind of went a bit crazy with our ordering. There were just so many things I wanted to eat, and I knew we wouldn’t be able to finish it all, but I also knew that it will probably be months again before we come back, so I indulged all of my cravings.

We started off with a big bowl of soy milk and an order of fried cruller (yeoh tiao, or “oil stick”) with a Taiwanese sesame pancake. Basically what you do is split open the sesame pancake lengthwise and stuff the cruller inside. Yes, you’re basically stuffing a carb inside of a carb. Then you dip the “sandwich” into soy milk (I prefer sweet soy milk, rather than salty), and eat. The cruller at King 5 Noodle House was light and crispy, and despite its name, it wasn’t the least bit greasy. The sesame pancake was flaky, and I like the combination of the savory carbs with the sweet milk.

Sesame pancake and fried cruller

To be honest, I don’t love drinking soy milk. I really only order it so that I can dip the cruller into it. The milk is served warm, and just so that you’re warned, in case you’ve never had homemade soy milk before, you have to drink it fast, otherwise it develops a weird skin that I find pretty unpleasant. It’s sort of like drinking milk that’s curdled, and has little bits in it. I mean, the skin really is perfectly safe, but that’s the impression I get, and just the thought kind of grosses me out. So drink up quickly! Or just do what I do, just use the soy milk as a dip.

Dipping the sesame pancake and cruller sandwich into sweet soy milk

Another one of my favorite Taiwanese breakfast food is a dan bing, or an egg pancake. Basically it’s a scallion pancake rolled around a layer of scrambled egg. In Taiwan, the pancake is usually pretty thin, almost like a crepe. Here it was thicker, like the scallion pancake you usually get as an appetizer. I wish the pancake was flakier, but I guess the heat and moisture from the eggs made it a bit soggy and chewy. Still, I like to dip slices of dan bing in some soy sauce and the combination of the sweet egg, savory pancake, and salty soy sauce is just heavenly. If you’ve never tried eating your eggs with a bit of soy sauce doused over the top, you’re missing out!

Egg pancake (dan bing)

Autopsy shot

The next item is sort of debatable as to whether or not it’s a breakfast food. But in Taiwan, we eat soup dumplings for breakfast. Yes, that’s right. Soup dumplings for breakfast! How awesome is that? The version we got at King 5 Noodle House was just ok; the ones we get in Taiwan are much better. I think they had been steamed earlier and reheated, so the skins were slightly tough and chewy. There just wasn’t enough soup, and they seemed slightly dried out in general. Too bad, because I liked the thinness of the skins, and the pork filling was tasty. We just doused them with a lot of black vinegar sauce.

Steamed soup dumplings

Moving on to lunch items, I realized that Josh had never eaten beef noodle soup (niu ro miem) during any of the trips we took to Taiwan. Beef noodle soup is almost like the Taiwanese national dish. There are so many hole in the wall places and food stalls in Taiwan that serve amazing beef noodle soup for incredibly cheap prices. Josh is a big fan of the beef brisket noodle soup that we get at Lan Zhou Hand Pulled Noodles, and I told him that while the noodles might not be as good, the Taiwanese version of beef broth would knock his socks off. King 5 Noodle House’s beef broth did not disappoint. It was rich and savory with a great aroma and lots of different spices that give it such depth of flavor.

Beef noodle soup

The noodles in the soup were pretty good as well, thick and chewy, though not as springy as hand pulled noodles. The bowl we got was such a huge serving that we ended up taking most of it home.

Thick and chewy noodles

On every table, there are containers of pickled greens. Put a spoonful into the soup, and the crunchy, slightly sour vegetables add even more flavor to the soup.

Chopped pickled greens

Lastly, we got an order of deep fried bean curd. I originally wanted to order deep fried smelly bean curd (stinky tofu) but Josh saw this on the menu and thought it would be the same style of deep fried tofu, just not the stinky version. We had amazing fried soft tofu in Taiwan that he absolutely fell in love with, so we were hoping this would be similar. Unfortunately, what they brought us was yeoh tofu, or “oil tofu”. Unlike the cruller, this was actually really very oily. It was fried tofu that was soaked in an oily mixture that had mushrooms in it. While flavorful, it wasn’t what we were craving. I regretted not getting the fried stinky tofu because when we saw an order go by, it was the crispy cubes that we had been looking for. It didn’t smell very stinky though, but I guess it’s hard to get truly stinky tofu around here. Nevertheless, we probably wouldn’t order this dish again.

Fried bean curd

We were really full by the end of our meal and probably didn’t need to order the noodle soup or the tofu, but like I said, I wanted to indulge all of my cravings. The Taiwanese breakfast foods at King 5 Noodle House didn’t disappoint. I’m not much of a breakfast person in general, preferring to order lunch foods whenever we go out for brunch, but Taiwanese breakfast is different. Most of the foods are savory, not sweet, and it’s very carb heavy, which always makes me a happy girl. Eating all these things again really brought back fond memories for me of being in Taiwan. It’s been a few years since we were last there, and we don’t know the next time we can make a trip back. So even though we find the subway ride to Flushing to be a bit long, it’s still shorter than a 17 hour plane ride to Taiwan. The next time I have a craving for Taiwanese food, I’ll happily hop on the train and return to King 5 Noodle House.

King 5 Noodle House
3907 Prince St.
Flushing, NY

Lunch at Skyway Malaysian, Takeout From Hua Ji and Xi’an Famous Foods

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by virginia

Every time that Josh and I finally make our way to Chinatown, I constantly ask myself why we don’t go so often anymore. Yes, it’s a huge pain to get downtown on weekends because we never know how the subways are running, but it’s totally worth the journey. Every time we go, we eat delicious food for super cheap, and we pick up tons of goodies for later. It makes absolutely no sense why we’re so lazy that we only go once every few months.

Because we go so infrequently, we’re always tempted to only go to our favorite places, like Lan Zhou Hand Pulled Noodles or Banh Mi Saigon Bakery. But that means we end up missing out on the million other great places in Chinatown. Now when we go, we try to go somewhere new to us, so that we continually expand our horizons. On a recent trip, we decided to check out Skyway Malaysian restaurant, a place I had read good things about.

Located on the east side of Chinatown, which is less touristy, Skyway is kind of off the beaten path but not too hard to find. The menu has pretty standard Malaysian fare, stuff that we fell in love with while in Singapore. We originally planned on ordering light so that we could eat more food elsewhere, but as usual, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.

We decided to share an order of roti canai to start. It’s a flaky, buttery, layered pancake that’s dipped into chicken curry sauce. However, our waitress convinced us to order the “special” roti canai, which she said was hand made and much better than the regular roti because it was much crispier. What we got basically a single layer of dough, which was crispier only because it was dry. There was no butter, no flakiness, no richness that we love about roti canai. This was more like pappadum, basically just a large, thin cracker. It was a huge disappointment, and more expensive to boot. While the chicken curry dipping sauce was wonderful, we couldn’t help but wish that we had gone with the regular roti canai. We won’t make that mistake again!

"Special" roti canai

For our main courses, we split an order of mee goreng and curry chicken with rice. The chicken was served in pieces on the bone, and the curry sauce was different from the chicken curry dipping sauce that we had with the roti canai. This was much thicker and richer, less coconuty in flavor. It was definitely like a stew rather than the thin curry sauce that I’m used to. The flavors were pretty concentrated though, and I liked taking the chicken off the bone and mixing everything into the rice.

Chicken curry with rice

Mee goreng was one of my favorite dishes when we were in Singapore. My favorite version was from Jumbo, though Josh hated it because ketchup was the predominant ingredient. The version at Skyway was more like the standard kind we got at most places, meaning it wasn’t as sweet or tomato-y. There was a good balance between the sweet, salty, and sour aspects in the sauce, and the lo mein noodles were chewy and bouncy, not mushy. The mee goreng was topped with shrimp and bean curd, as well as other ingredients that added various textures to the dish. I enjoyed it a lot, though it was pretty rich and we ended up taking half of it home.

Mee goreng

Overall we were pretty happy with the food at Skyway Malaysian. Aside from the mistake in ordering the “special” roti canai, which wasn’t bad, just not our preference, the curry and noodle dish were both really tasty and seemed pretty authentic to us. As with most places in Chinatown, lunch was a bargain – less than $20, and I had leftovers for lunch the next day. If you haven’t tried Malaysian food before, this is a good place to go because the menu is really extensive. It’s not hard to find something that would be “safe” but still completely representative of Malaysian cuisine.

We were completely stuffed from lunch so rather than continuing on an eating tour, we decided to pick up a few things that we could eat later in the week for dinner. Our first stop was Hua Ji, a small takeout joint that was conveniently located just a few doors down from Skyway. Hua Ji is known for its pork chop over rice, a Taiwanese staple that I remember eating a lot when I was little. Josh had never tried this dish before so I was eager to have him taste it.

Pork chop over rice

We just heated it up in the microwave so it might have lost its crispiness on the outside, but the pork chop itself was still pretty juicy. It’s covered in a Chinese five spice powder and is slightly peppery. The rice is topped with a pickled cabbage and ground pork mixture that is slightly sour and very savory. I mix everything together and it just reminds me of my childhood. Hua Ji’s pork chop over rice was one of the best versions that I’ve had, and super cheap at just $5.

We also got a lamb burger and pork burger from Xi’an Famous Foods. We had gone to the original branch at the Golden Mall in Flushing, and we were thrilled when they opened up a store in Chinatown. It’s super tiny though so there’s no real place to sit and eat. We got the burgers to go and then heated them up in a nonstick pan, covering it so that the filling would get hot, then turned up the heat and let the outside of the bun sear a bit to crisp up.

Lamb burger

Pork burger

The lamb burger is chock full of cumin flavor, and is slightly spicy. It has a chewy texture to it and can be a bit gristly at times, but the flavor really packs a powerful wallop. It’s definitely a must-have if you like cumin. The stewed pork burger is more tender and juicy, though the flavor isn’t as intense. It’s slightly sweet and has a more homey, comforting flavor.

All in all it was a successful outing to Chinatown. I can’t wait for our next trip!

Skyway Malaysian
11 Allen St. at Canal St.
New York, NY

Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food Incorporated
7 Allen St. between Canal St. and Division St.
New York, NY

Xi’an Famous Foods
88 East Broadway at Forsyth St.
New York, NY

Liberty View

Saturday, November 20th, 2010 by virginia

At a recent Sunday night dinner with the family, we revisited an oldie but a goodie. When all of us lived downtown in the Financial District and Battery Park City, Liberty View was our go-to Chinese restaurant for Sunday night dinners. Since Josh and I moved uptown, we haven’t been to the restaurant in probably a year, which is too bad because the food is really quite good.

Every time we go, we always make sure to order the steamed juicy buns, or soup dumplings/xiao long bao. These are some of the best ones that we’ve had, and believe me, Josh and I have eaten our way through most of the soup dumplings in Chinatown. I was happy to see that they were still as tasty as ever. The skins are super thin but still slightly chewy, the meat full of porky goodness, and the soup inside is hot, flavorful, and has just the right amount of fatty richness to it. Delish!

Soup dumpling in all its glory

Another of our usual appetizers is the spare ribs, which are sticky and citrusy and not too sweet. They can be a little fatty sometimes but they’re generally pretty tender.

BBQ spare ribs

We also got an order of the cold noodles with sesame sauce, which something that we hadn’t tried before at this particular restaurant. It’s a pretty standard, simple dish, but unfortunately, this version was pretty bad. The sesame sauce was watery and not very flavorful, and there just wasn’t enough of it to cover all the noodles. The dish wound up being extremely bland, and it’s not something we would order again.

Cold noodles with sesame sauce

For entrees, the moo shu pork is one of our favorites. Strips of pork are stir fried with scrambled eggs and shredded cabbage, then rolled into thin pancakes dabbed with hoisin sauce. Just make sure you ask for the same number of pancakes as you have people, because if you don’t specify, I think they only give you a certain number. We were short the first few times we ordered so we learned our lesson. The good thing is that they’ll wrap up the moo shu for you and portion it out evenly across all the pancakes.

Moo shu pork

Another favorite is the crispy spring chicken in house brown sauce. The chicken is always tender and juicy with crispy brown skin. The house brown sauce is a mixture of soy sauce and chili oil, and is chock full of scallions and black pepper, which gives it a little kick. The dish comes garnished with crispy prawn crackers that are puffy and crackle delightfully if you leave them on your tongue. These were one of my favorite snacks growing up, and while they don’t really do much for the chicken, they’re a fun addition.

Crispy spring chicken and prawn crackers

My personal favorite dish is the Shanghai style pan fried noodles. It’s a bed of thin egg noodles that have been fried until crispy, then covered in a mix of chicken, pork, broccoli, carrots, snow peas, wood ear, mushrooms, and other assorted items in a flavorful brown sauce. You mix everything together and the noodles add a wonderful crunchy texture to the dish.

Shanghai style pan fried noodles

To add some veggies to our meal, we originally asked for hollow water spinach, which is my favorite vegetable, but they were out of it that evening. We settled for pea shoots instead, which are another leafy green vegetable similar to spinach. The pea shoots were sauteed with garlic and cooked until just wilted, so that the stems still had a nice crunch to them.

Sauteed pea shoots

Last but not least, we got an order of pork fried rice. It was fairly standard but there was lots of pieces of roast pork mixed throughout, and the rice wasn’t overly mushy or greasy.

Pork fried rice

Overall Liberty View is one of our favorite Chinese restaurants in the city. It’s a bit more refined than some of our go-to places in Chinatown, though I wouldn’t really call it fancy. It’s in a nice location though, right along the Hudson River, and has a nice view of the Statue of Liberty. Service can be a bit overbearing at times, however, because they try to plate and serve everything for you. What I like about Chinese food is that it’s served family style, so everyone should be able to help themselves. Aside from that, I think the food is really good, almost up to Chinatown standards. Now that we’ve rediscovered how much we like the food there, I’m sure we’ll be going back more often.

Liberty View
21 South End Ave. at West Thames St.
New York, NY

Pho Grand

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010 by virginia

So I realize that I’ve been neglecting this blog in terms of NYC restaurant posts. I’m really far behind on posting, considering I have yet to write about the fantastic anniversary meal that Josh and I had at Eleven Madison Park in May. Yes, May. It’s bad. I have restaurant pictures going back farther than that as well. Between work and all the travel posts, I really haven’t put much thought into the NYC restaurant scene, although we have been eating at lots of new places. So I’m going to start mixing in regular posts with the travel posts, and hopefully that will force me to start covering more ground. At the rate I’m going, I’ll still be writing about Peru for the next six months!

In terms of some good meals we’ve had lately, I had an odd hankering for Vietnamese food one weekend so we made the trip down to Chinatown where there are several highly touted Vietnamese restaurants. My hankering was odd because I’ve never really eaten Vietnamese food, aside from a bowl of pho in San Francisco five years ago, plus all the banh mi sandwiches we eat. But I had seen pictures of Vietnamese dishes in several blogs and I just got an uncontrollable craving to try some for myself.

We ended up at Pho Grand, a restaurant that I’ve read about, plus it was super close to the subway. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the restaurant had received an “A” rating on their health inspection, not that a lower rating would have stopped us from going.

The menu was massive, and I started to feel a bit overwhelmed because I had no idea what to order. We selected a pho, since the restaurant has “Pho” in its name. For our other dishes, we ended up choosing “Cari Ga”, or curry chicken, because we’ve still been searching for a curry chicken that is similar to the dish we had on Sentosa, in Singapore. Lastly, we ordered “Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong”, which is grilled pork and spring rolls with lettuce on rice vermicelli.

The pho we chose was the “Xe Lua”, which was beef soup with rice noodles and six different cuts of beef, including brisket, tripe, tendon, eye of round, navel(?) and frank (flank?). It came with a little dish of fresh bean sprouts and basil that we mixed in, plus a wedge of lemon that we squeezed into the soup. It was an enormous portion and we dug in right away. The slices of rare beef on top were super tender but my favorite pieces were the chewy bits of tendon and tripe. The soup itself was flavorful yet light, and the lemon juice and fresh basil really brightened it up.

Pho xe lua

The curry chicken was pieces of leg and wing in a large bowl full of curry sauce and potatoes. The chicken had bones and skin so the actual meat was a bit sparse, but everything was tender and pretty tasty. The curry sauce was rich but not overwhelming with coconut milk, and it’s the best version that we’ve had so far in the city. I would improve it by adding some more spice and punch, since it was just slightly on the mild side.

Curry chicken

We had a choice of rice, vermicelli, or bread to accompany the curry. We chose the bread since that was what we had on Sentosa. It was a long piece of french bread that wasn’t as crispy on the outside as we would have liked, but it was fresh and chewy in the middle. We ripped off chunks of the bread and tucked in some chicken meat, then soaked it all in the curry sauce before gobbling it up.

French bread to go with the curry

The grilled pork and spring rolls with lettuce on rice vermicelli dish is the one that threw me off the most. I thought it was the dish where you wrap the pork or spring roll in lettuce leaves with some of the rice noodles and eat it like a summer roll (turns out that dish is called “Banh Hoi Thit Heo Nuong”). What arrived was just a large pile of rice vermicelli topped with some pieces of grilled pork and spring rolls. The lettuce was shredded and buried underneath the noodles. It came with a little bowl of nuoc cham sauce, a sweet and sour dipping sauce that usually accompanies fried spring rolls. We didn’t know if we were supposed to pour the sauce over the dish, or to pick up bites and dip it into the sauce. I was afraid of committing a faux pas, so I actually had Josh google how to eat the dish. Turns out we were supposed to dip bites into the sauce so that’s exactly what we did.

Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong - grilled pork and spring rolls with lettuce on rice vermicelli

I was worried that Josh would think the dish was too plain and get mad at me for ordering it, but he absolutely loved it! The rice noodles by themselves were plain but they had a nice chewy texture. When combined with the pork or the pieces of spring roll and dipped into the nuoc cham sauce, it was a great mix of flavors. The pork was slightly sweet and smokey and the spring rolls were crunchy and meaty. There were also pieces of pickled daikon and carrots that added a niceĀ  tangy crunch. It was a filling dish yet light enough that we didn’t feel heavy after eating the whole thing.

Overall we both really enjoyed our foray into Vietnamese food at Pho Grand. We thought all the dishes were really tasty and well prepared, though we really don’t have a basis for comparison since we’re Vietnamese food newbies. Service was fast and efficient, and prices were pretty cheap. We got a ton of food for about $20, and we had an entire takeout container of pho left over that we took home with us. I definitely plan on eating Vietnamese food more often, and this was a good place to get our feet wet. Vietnam is one of the places on our pre-baby bucket list, mostly because we’ve heard the food there is wonderful. If what we had at Pho Grand was authentic, then we’re definitely in for a treat.

Pho Grand
277 Grand St. at Forsyth St.
New York, NY

Bun Cha Gio Thit Nuong

Flushing Food Run

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010 by virginia

This actually took place a few months ago, but Josh and I finally made our way to Flushing for a little food tour. As I’ve admitted many times, we’re pretty lazy, and we always say that we “don’t do boroughs.” However, after reading several posts on other blogs about some of the great snacks available in Flushing, I couldn’t take it any more and had to go try it for myself. I was especially excited to be able to eat some Taiwanese foods, as there really aren’t many Taiwanese options in Manhattan.

My family is from Taiwan and whenever we go there to visit, we eat nonstop. The food there is just incredible, with so much variety and lots of unique options. Josh has been to Taiwan with me three times and has fallen in love with the food just as much as I have. He’s proven himself to my relatives as being an adventurous eater, as demonstrated by our quest to find and eat a rooster’s crown at the Shilin Night Market, a mission we accomplished. We weren’t seeking to eat quite so adventurously in Flushing, but we did have a list of several places that we wanted to hit up.

On one sunny Sunday afternoon, Josh and I hopped on the train and made our way all the way out to Flushing. The 7 train wasn’t running from Manhattan, which only made the trip even longer. About 45 minutes later, we finally arrived. Our first stop was right outside the subway, a little takeout window outside the Corner 28 restaurant. There we purchased two peking duck buns for just $1 each.

The peking duck bun takeout window at Corner 28 restaurant

The buns were the soft, fluffy mantou variety, and the duck itself was perfectly roasted, with crispy skin and nice, juicy meat. The buns were stuffed to the brim with duck meat, cucumber shreds, and scallions. The whole thing was topped off with a healthy squirt of hoisin sauce. These peking duck buns were made fresh right before our eyes, and we quickly stepped off to the side and devoured them. They were delicious, and a total bargain at $1 each. We were tempted to go back and get a second, but we knew we had a full day of eating ahead of us, so we showed some rare restraint and continued on our way.

Freshly made peking duck buns

Our second stop was a tiny hole in the wall restaurant called White Bear. The menu there features several kinds of dumplings and noodles, but we were there only for one dish – the wontons in hot oil.

These gorgeous little meat-filled packets were doused in a chili oil mixture that was flavorful but surprisingly not spicy. The wontons were plump and meaty with nicely thin skins, and were tasty on their own but were even better dipped in the chili oil sauce.

Wontons in hot oil

The sauce tasted a little peppery, and there was also some minced pickled vegetable sprinkled over the top that added a slight sourness that complemented the savoriness of the dish. These wontons were probably my favorites of the day, and at $4.50 for a dozen, pretty reasonably priced as well.

Wonton innards

Next we visited the food stalls of the famous Golden Mall. This place has been featured in many different blogs, articles, and even on tv. On the surface it’s not much to look at but inside it’s a food lovers dream.

The entrance to the Golden Mall

I was surprised by how tiny the food stalls were, with small tables and stools crammed inside, but that really gave an authenticity to the place, as I was immediately reminded of some of my favorite food stalls in Taiwan. The stalls are located down a flight of stairs and as soon as we entered, we smelled the familiar stench of stinky tofu. We followed our noses and immediately found a stall that offered the smelly delicacies.

The Happy Family Restaurant food stall

We pulled up some stools and placed our order for stinky tofu, watching as they deep fried a batch and topped the pile with hot sauce, sweet soy sauce, pickled cabbage, and cilantro. The first bite was deeply satisfying, as I had been craving stinky tofu since the last time we were in Taiwan, in November 2008. Although the stinky tofu here is nowhere as stinky as in Taiwan, we could still taste the subtle funkiness in the background. The smell might turn people off but the flavor is really something deliciously unique. It’s a little bit sour but also a little bit sweet. The tofu should have a nice crispy skin and silky innards, and topped with the spicy chili sauce and salty fermented cabbage, it’s a great combination of flavors and textures.

Stinky tofu in all its glory

After finishing up the huge plate of stinky tofu (also a bargain at $4.50), we traveled down the hall to Xi’an Famous Foods, probably the most well known of all the food stalls at the Golden Mall. It was featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and has been highly touted in numerous articles. They’ve since opened up a few branches in Manhattan, but I’m big on trying out the “original” restaurant, if it’s an option.

Xi’an Famous Foods stall

There are many things on the menu that I wanted to try, but I also wanted to save some stomach room for more stops on our food tour. We had intended on getting a lamb burger and a pork burger to go, but as we were waiting we started chatting with the guy at the register, who I think is the proprietor of the place (he’s the one in the pictures on the wall with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert), and he convinced us to get an order of liang pi cold skin noodles, one of their most popular dishes.

The liang pi cold skin noodles feature slippery and bouncy thick wheat noodles and cubes of gluten, that have a similar texture to bean curd. The noodles are doused in a spicy, slightly sour sauce that is heavily seasoned with cumin. If you had no idea where this dish came from, you would think it tasted middle eastern because of the spices. It’s a dish with complex flavors but was also really spicy, so much so that my eyes and nose both started running. Yet we couldn’t stop eating it. There were fresh bean sprouts on top that provided a bit of crunchy, cool relief, but that wasn’t enough.

Liang pi cold skin noodles

I needed something milky and cold to relieve the burning in my mouth, so I sent Josh off in search of bubble tea.

The stall with the bubble tea

He came back with cups of ice cold green tea milk tea for me and black tea milk tea for himself, both with thick tapioca pearls floating inside. The milk tea immediately soothed my taste buds, and we polished off the entire plate of liang pi noodles. We decided to save the lamb and pork burgers for later, as we had more eating to do.

Bubble milk tea to pair with the spicy liang pi cold skin noodles

We headed towards the Flushing Mall for some shaved mango ice but I got sidetracked along the way when we passed some takeout windows (AA Plaza) under the railroad overpass that boasted scallion pancakes for $1 and 4 steamed pork buns for $1.25. How could I resist?

AA Plaza takeout windows

We picked up one order of each and continued on our way. The food court of the Flushing Mall reminded me of the food courts in Singapore, with lots of different options and places that specialize in just a few dishes.

I wanted to try many things but we were pretty full at this point so we just went straight to the shaved ice stand and got an order of mango ice.

The assortment of shaved ice toppings

I first had mango ice in Taiwan, at a place called Monster Ice, and it was absolutely wonderful. It featured delicate shreds of shaved ice topped with ripe, juicy mango cubes, mango ice cream, and sweetened condensed milk drizzled all over. The version at the Flushing Mall looked somewhat similar, with mostly the same ingredients, but the differences were huge. The mango here was sour and unripe, and the ice was shaved way too thickly, so that it clumped together instead of melting like snow in our mouths. The mango ice cream on top was tasty, but I was pretty disappointed with the dessert overall. It looked good, but taste and texture-wise, it fell far short.

Mango ice

We ended up eating the lamb and pork burgers for dinner the next day, as well as the scallion pancake and pork buns. I ended up reheating them in a skillet so the textures might have been off, but they were still mighty tasty. The lamb burger was served on a griddled bun and the meat was heavily seasoned with cumin. Again, it tasted more middle eastern than Chinese, but it was wonderfully exotic.

Cumin lamb burger

The pork burger was served on the same bun, and the pork itself was stewed so that it was tender and falling apart. It definitely tasted more Chinese, but the spicing was more subtle compared to the lamb burger.

Stewed pork burger

The scallion pancake wasn’t as fluffy and flaky as I would have liked, but I’m sure it was due to the reheating. When we first bought it I could see that it was hot and crisp on the outside, so I know it must have suffered after spending the night in the fridge.

Scallion pancake

The pork buns were still really good, even after being microwaved. They were juicy and meaty on the inside, and the bun itself was still soft and fluffy. I would definitely get these again, and more than just four.

Steamed pork buns

Overall we had a really great time walking around Flushing and trying food from numerous places. The Golden Mall didn’t disappoint, and I wish we had more stomach space to explore the food court at the Flushing Mall. I smelled stinky tofu in there, plus I saw people with bowls of soy milk with fried cruellers, one of my favorite Taiwanese breakfasts. I loved the wontons at White Bear, and there are countless other restaurants in Flushing that we didn’t get a chance to try. I definitely want to go back, even if it means another 45 minute subway ride. The food really brings back great memories of my trips to Asia, and it’s definitely closer than taking a 14 hour plane ride.

Corner 28
40-28 Main Street
Flushing, NY

White Bear
135-02 Roosevelt Ave, #5
Flushing, NY

Golden Mall
41-28 Main St
Flushing, NY

AA Plaza
40-66 Main St
Flushing, NY

Flushing Mall
133-31 39th Ave
Flushing, NY