Posts Tagged ‘Chicken’

East Side King and Via 313 – Austin, TX

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 by virginia

Food trucks are pretty mainstream in Austin. Everywhere we went, there would be parking lots with multiple food trucks set up in what seemed like permanent locations, with Christmas lights strung up, picnic tables, and other assorted outdoor seating. It’s pretty different from NYC where food trucks park on the street and have to move to different locations each day and deal with parking tickets, street cleaning schedules, etc., and we knew that we couldn’t leave Austin without trying a few of the most popular ones.

We were pretty full after our incredible meal at Franklin Barbecue, so even though we walked miles around the city to burn off the calories, we didn’t have room to try as many places as we would have liked. The top of our list was East Side King, which is owned and operated by Paul Qui, the winner of Top Chef Texas. There are many East Side King trucks located throughout Austin, and we were hoping to try the one at the Grackle (which has since closed), since it was outside in front of the bar, which would have made it easier for us to sit there and eat with J.

Austin (and Texas in general) has super strict rules about children not being allowed in bars that don’t serve food. We tried to get into multiple bars on Sixth Street to listen to live music but were turned away every time. Some places even specified “no babies” on their signs that decreed no one under 21 was allowed in, so it’s not just a matter of trying to deter under-aged teens and college students from trying to sneak in. Unfortunately, the East Side King truck at the Grackle was catering a private event that night, and so we went to the next closest location, at the Liberty Bar, which was just up the street. However, the truck is located behind the bar, and to get there, you have to walk through the bar. Josh checked at the door, and they confirmed that they wouldn’t even let us walk a baby through to get the truck out back. So we did what we had to do – park on the street, have Josh go in to order and pick up the food, and then eat in the car.

East Side King at Liberty Bar

East Side King at Liberty Bar

It worked out pretty well, as the food was neatly packaged in takeout containers that allowed us to eat easily without making a huge mess. First we tried the brussels sprout salad, which was fried brussels sprouts with shredded cabbage, onions, and assorted herbs tossed with a sweet-spicy sauce. The brussels sprouts had a good char on the outside and had a nice texture to them – not mushy. The dressing and the herbs gave the salad a southeast Asian flavor, and it was both sweet and savory at the same time. There was lots of mint, basil, and cilantro, which made it quite a refreshing dish that was well balanced. The salad was topped with a deep fried mantou bun.

Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprout salad

Next we tried the Thai chicken karaage, which was a fusion of Japanese fried chicken bites with Thai flavors. The chicken was crispy on the outside and juicy in the middle. The sauce was similar to the dressing for the brussels sprouts, though a tad sweeter and stickier. Again, the fresh herbs mixed in helped bring balance to the dish.

Thai chicken karaage

Thai chicken karaage

The beet home fries were pretty intriguing – I love beets but I’ve never thought about deep frying them before.  The beets weren’t exactly crispy, but they had a distinctive shell on the outside, and the inside was smooth and creamy. It was like frying had concentrated the roasted beet flavor, making them less earthy and more sweet. There was kewpie mayo (sweet Japanese-style mayo) on the side topped with schichimi togarashi, which is a Japanese spice blend. We didn’t use a lot of the mayo though, as the beets were delicious on their own.

Beet home fries

Beet home fries

Lastly, we tried the Poor Qui’s buns, which is roasted pork belly on steamed mantou buns with hoisin sauce and cucumber kimchi. Pork belly buns were pretty trendy in NYC at one point, and this was a fairly standard version, though still solid. The pork belly wasn’t as melty as I typically prefer, but the cucumber kimchi added a little twist to the usual fare. I just wish there was more filling overall, as the innards were pretty skimpy compared to the bun.

Poor Qui's buns

Poor Qui’s buns

Overall, we were pretty impressed with the dishes we got from East Side King. Even though Josh had to carry the food through the bar outside to us, it was still hot and fresh when we dug in. Everything we tried packed a punch of flavor, especially the brussels sprout salad. It’s definitely something I want to try recreating at home. The only thing I might not order again was the pork belly buns, but there were plenty of interesting-looking things on the menu that we didn’t get to try.

After polishing off the food from East Side King, we continued up the street to Via 313, a pizza truck parked outside of the Violet Crown Social Club. Again, J and I stayed in the car while Josh ran out to order. It took about 15 minutes for our pizza to be ready, but we were parked just across the street so Josh was able to stay inside with us while we waited for order to come up.

Via 313 pizza truck

Via 313 pizza truck

Via 313 features Detroit style pizza, which a thick crust, square pie, similar to a Sicilian. However, the cheese is layered directly on top of the crust, and the tomato sauce is drizzled on top of the cheese. We ordered a plain cheese, so that we could taste the classic version of the pizza.

Classic Detroit-style cheese pizza

Classic Detroit-style cheese pizza

The crust was lighter and more airy than a usual Sicilian, though the very middle was a little doughy. The pizza is baked in a pan, so the bottom and sides are nicely browned. The cheese covers the entire top of the pizza, all the way to the edges where it gets all caramelized and crispy – that was the best part. The sauce was tangy, not too sweet, though I did wish there was a little more of it.

Underside shot

Underside shot

Overall, I had to admit, the Detroit-style pizza was pretty good. We’re NYC pizza snobs, but I could see the appeal of the thick yet crispy crust, the browned cheese edges, and the sauce on top. Via 313 makes a fresh, hot pie that we really enjoyed. J took down a whole slice by herself, and she’s pretty picky about her pizza.

Even though we spent the last night of our trip eating in our car, it was a fun experience, as we got to try innovative and well prepared food that is astonishingly cooked on a food truck. It’s pretty incredible, considering I used to complain about the size of our kitchen when we lived in NYC. The only downside to dining in the car was that we couldn’t enjoy any beers while we were eating, but that was a small sacrifice to be able to taste such great food. Unfortunately we weren’t able to hit all the spots that we wanted to try, but I do hope that we’ll be back in Austin at some point in the near future.

East Side King (multiple locations)
@Liberty Bar
1618 1/2 East 6th St.
Austin, TX

VIA 313 (multiple locations)
@ The Violet Crown Social Club
1111 East 6th St.
Austin, TX

Bistro Mezzaluna – Hilton Head, SC

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 by virginia


Whenever Josh and I are away on vacation, we prefer to eat the local cuisine rather than at places where we could find similar food at home. In Hilton Head, that usually means low country cuisine, seafood, barbecue, or Southern style food. Sometimes, though, usually towards the end of the week, we crave a little bit of comfort food. For us, that typically means Italian food. However, we haven’t found an Italian restaurant in Hilton Head yet that we really love (we’ve tried Michael Anthony’s and Antonio’s, among others in the past). Bistro Mezzaluna was a new place for us.

I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry that evening so I passed on an appetizer. Josh ordered the caesar salad, which looked really good. Unfortunately, there were raw eggs in the dressing so I wasn’t able to try it. Josh enjoyed it though, and said it wasn’t overdressed.

Caesar salad

Caesar salad

For his main course, Josh had chicken parm, which is usually our Italian restaurant barometer. It was a decent sized portion of chicken, though I wished it was pounded a little bit thinner. But if you prefer thick cut chicken parm, this was the way to go. It wasn’t overly cheesy, but had the right amount of mozzarella melted on top. It was served with penne pasta and a pretty solid red sauce that was sweet and tangy.

Chicken parmiagiana with penne pasta

Chicken parm with penne pasta

I ordered the linguini bolognese, which was unusual in that it included both ground meat and meatballs. The menu said it was ground veal, and it was served in a light pink sauce. The meatballs and the meat sauce were both pretty coarse, and slightly tough. I also wish there was more tomato sauce in the dish, as the pink sauce was pretty thin and runny, so there was nothing binding the meat and the pasta together. The linguini was nicely al dente though.

Linguini bolognese with meatballs

Linguini bolognese with meatballs

Overall we thought that Bistro Mezzaluna was a fairly solid red sauce Italian restaurant. The menu offers all of our standard favorite Italian dishes, though there wasn’t anything in particular that excited or wowed us. Prices are reasonable, with most apps and salads under $10, chicken and pasta under $20, and seafood and veal mostly under $25. The restaurant was spacious and pretty accommodating for our large group, though we still had to split up into two tables. It’s a place we could take or leave – if we went back, I’d be fine with that, and if not, I wouldn’t be upset.

Bistro Mezzaluna
55 New Orleans Rd. Ste 106
Hilton Head, SC

Cafe de la Paix – Quebec City

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 by virginia


Cafe de la Paix was not one of the restaurants I had researched prior to our trip – we sort of stumbled upon it when we were looking for a place to eat a late lunch and get out of the rain. We had finished up most of the Old City and had wound our way down the hill to the port area, near Rue Saint-Paul, when the sky just opened up and started pouring heavy rain and wet snow. We had already been looking for a lunch spot at that point, but there wasn’t much in that particular part of the city. We even tried to duck into a sandwich shop only to discover they had literally just one sandwich remaining, and it was pre-packaged in the refrigerator.

J was obviously not a happy camper, especially because in addition to the rain and snow, the wind was blowing like crazy (she hates wind). I even had to close my umbrella for fear that it would be ripped out of my hands and fly away due to the force of the wind. Fortunately, we had a plastic rain cover for her car seat, bought specifically for this trip with the weather in mind. It wasn’t the greatest cover but definitely served its purpose in keeping her dry. So with the rain pouring down on us, we booked it back up the hill to the main part of the Old City, hoping to find a French-style cafe or pub. Josh really wanted a croque monsieur, and I didn’t want to settle for just any old restaurant.

The rain slowed down a bit so we bypassed a hamburger joint (called the Chic Shack – haha!), a Chinese restaurant, and a “European” bar that served pub food (but no croque monsieurs). Unfortunately, J was getting hungry herself and was starting to get even more upset so we ended up entering the next restaurant we saw. It was a French restaurant, which is what I preferred given where we were, and I was really hoping to get a good meal out of the ordeal. It was late but they were still serving lunch so we settled in at a large round table near the door.

The restaurant looked fancier than somewhere I would normally pick, with white table cloths and ornate decor, but it also seemed a little dated to me. There was only one other couple eating in the restaurant, and they finished up well before we did, which was fortunate because J ended up causing a ruckus for basically our entire meal. As soon as we sat down, we asked the waiter for some hot water to heat up J’s bottle, and he obliged with a teapot full of water. She grabbed at the bottle once it was warmed up, but then refused to drink any milk for some unknown reason. She also refused to eat any cereal. And after that, it was pretty much over for her.

Our waiter was also nice enough to give us the wifi password so Josh could play some Elmo on youtube for J. That appeased her for a bit, but she was still bursting into random crying fits. Somehow in between all the mayhem we managed to place our order, though only one of us could eat at a time while the other held J and walked her around or pushed her back and forth in her stroller. So how was the food? (This is supposed to be a food blog after all!)

The basket of bread we received held some decent slices of baguette that had good flavor and an ok crust. It also included pieces of toasted baguette that were super crunchy, bordering crouton territory, but still good, especially slathered with butter.

Bread basket

Bread basket

The lunch menu was sort of a “menu of the day” option. You picked the entree and it came with the soup of the day and dessert. The price was based on the entree you selected. Josh picked mussels and I chose coq au vin. The soup of the day that we both received was cream of broccoli, which was perfectly fine. It was pureed to a nice thick texture, and was more broccoli than cream. It warmed us up after our bout with the weather.

Cream of broccoli soup

Cream of broccoli soup

The mussels were served mariniere style, in a white wine and garlic sauce. The mussels were plump and tender, not fishy tasting, but the sauce lacked pizazz. It could have used more garlic, more wine, and more salt. It wasn’t a bad dish, it just needed more punch. The fries on the side were a disappointment. They were the thin shoestring variety I prefer, but they seemed to be made from frozen fries and were soggy and oily.

Mussels mariniere with french fries

Mussels mariniere with french fries

I didn’t get to eat the coq au vin right away since it was my turn to walk J around, so it was a bit cold by the time I got to it. The chicken was still tender and came off the bone easily, but I thought it tasted more like roast chicken, not a chicken braised in wine. There was no wine flavor to speak of, just plain chicken taste. It was fine, just not what I think of when I hear coq au vin. It came with roasted potatoes and vegetables on the side.

Coq au vin with assorted vegetables

Coq au vin with assorted vegetables

Per the menu, our lunch came with dessert, but with J making such a fuss, we really didn’t feel like sticking around for another course. Our waiter, while accommodating to our requests, seemed a tad annoyed with all the crying (not that we blame him), and we just wanted to get her on the road again so that she could calm down on the walk back to our hotel. By that point, the storm had passed and it was sunny and blue skies all around. We quickly settled our bill (~$45 after tax and tip) and went on our way. It was pretty reasonable for a 3-course lunch (even though we passed on dessert), but the food was just ok. The dishes were mostly classic French, but nothing exciting or super flavorful.  I saw the regular menu and it seemed pretty expensive, so I don’t think it’s somewhere I would have gone voluntarily if I had a choice. We were sort of stuck with it due to the weather, and while it served its purpose, I wouldn’t recommend it or go back. Fortunately for us, that was the only time on our trip where J had a major meltdown in a restaurant, and we got through it somehow. It definitely wasn’t fun, but I hope with every restaurant experience, she’ll get better and better.

Cafe de la Paix
44 Rue des Jardins
Quebec City, Canada

Casa Bella

Monday, December 12th, 2011 by virginia

We used to go to Little Italy all the time for our weekly Sunday night dinners with Josh’s family. We had our favorite standby, Buona Notte, but went there so often everyone eventually got tired of it. We bounced around a few other places, like Angelo of Mulberry Street and Pellegrino’s, but nothing else stuck. The annoying part about walking down Mulberry St. is the people standing outside each restaurant trying to get you to go inside. They can be quite obnoxious, and we tend to avoid the pushier places. Since we didn’t have any real idea of where to go, we just looked at a few menus posted outside and picked a place that seemed to have a lot of people dining. That’s how we ended up at Casa Bella.

The restaurant is pretty big and has both indoor and outdoor seating (weather permitting, of course). They gave us a nice round table next to the window so we could people watch a bit, and it wasn’t too loud inside so we could still carry on a conversation. Our meal started off with a basket of Italian bread, which was pretty standard but tasty with butter. It had a nice crispy crust and a chewy inside.

Basket of carbs

There were five of us at dinner so we decided to share a caesar salad for two and a margherita pizza for our appetizer course. The caesar salad was well prepared, with lots of crisp romaine tossed in a creamy but light caesar dressing. There was lots of grated parmesan on top and some crunchy croutons.

Caesar salad

The pizza was pretty good for a place that doesn’t specialize in it. The crust was thin and crispy, with good color on the bottom. The sauce was tangy, not too sweet, and the cheese on top was browned and bubbly.

Margherita pizza

Underside shot

For our main course, I chose rigatoni alla vodka while Josh had chicken parmesan. The vodka sauce was a touch too creamy for my preference, but the flavor was there. The tangy tomato sauce helped cut through the richness, and the sauce was well seasoned. The rigatoni was cooked nicely to al dente.

Rigatoni alla vodka

Josh’s chicken parmesan was a massive piece of pounded chicken that was well breaded and nicely fried. The edges were browned and crisp, and the breading stood up under the thick covering of melted mozzarella and tomato sauce. I stole more than a few bites off his plate but luckily he didn’t mind since the portion was so big.

Chicken parmesan

Overall we were pleasantly surprised by the food at Casa Bella. We had initially written it off as just another Little Italy tourist trap but the food was solid. The menu is extensive and features the usual classics, and the red sauce is tasty enough to carry a lot of the dishes. Prices are average, with apps around $10-$12, most pastas around $15-$18, and regular mains in the $18-$22 range. Definitely not cheap, but reasonable, especially given the location. It’s not a special or spectacular place, but it’s one of the better places we’ve tried in Little Italy. I’d be happy to return.

Casa Bella
127 Mulberry St. at Hester St.
New York, NY

Grand Cayman Day 4 – Seymour’s Jerk Centre and Myrtle’s

Monday, August 15th, 2011 by virginia

We were pretty tired the morning after Claire and Sean’s wedding but probably not as tired as the people who partied on the roof afterward. Claire and Sean had organized a brunch at their hotel so we made our way over to the Beach Suites, via the beach of course. After a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, potatoes, and pancakes, plus some slices of leftover wedding cake, we felt re-energized. Silva, Felipe, Justin, Josh and I decided to head over to Georgetown, the main town on Grand Cayman, to check out the sights.

We took a bus to Georgetown, which we found was the best method of transportation. The buses, which are really just large vans with blue license plates and have stickers on them that say WB1 or WB2, run back and forth on West Bay Road and the fare is C$2 or US$2.50 (they take both forms of currency and will give you change in whichever one you prefer). Although there are bus stops along the road, the buses will pick you up anywhere. You can flag them down like a taxi, or if they are coming up behind you, they’ll give a little honk and you can wave at them to stop for you. They’ll also drop you off anywhere along the road, so it’s almost like taking a taxi, except much cheaper. Taxis are very overpriced compared to the bus, so I would suggest taking the bus whenever you can.

In Georgetown we pretty much just walked around. There wasn’t a whole lot to see – we were a bit disappointed. Sure, there were lots of souvenir stores and jewelry shops, but we were expecting more historical buildings or colonial architecture. The biggest attractions seemed to be Margaritaville and the Hard Rock Cafe. I guess the town mostly caters to the cruise ships that come in. All the stores boasted duty free signs, but only for the cruise ship passengers. We didn’t find anything interesting to buy, but the stores were nice for their air conditioning. It was really hot out and extremely humid. I ended up overheating at one point and had to find a bathroom to run some cold water on my face and wrists in order to cool down.

Random roosters outside the Tortuga Rum store

Pretty feathers

On the coast in Georgetown - there were groups of people snorkeling nearby

Can you see the little crabs along the edge?

A random anchor

Pirate ship!

We had some milkshakes and smoothies at a place called Paradise, which is right on the water. It was nice to sit and enjoy the view and the slight breeze. Afterward, we headed back toward the center of Georgetown, away from the water. There was a post office, a library, and a war memorial, though still not much to see. We took a few pics then continued on our way.

Post office

Pretty square with the library in the background

Peace memorial

I don't remember what this statue was for but it was around the square

Our next destination? Seymour’s Jerk Centre.

I hadn’t done much restaurant research on Grand Cayman before we arrived because I wasn’t sure how much free time we would have. Of the minimal research that I did, however, all signs pointed to Seymour’s Jerk Centre, which is famous for its jerk chicken. I knew we had to go there so we convinced the crew to meet up for a late lunch. I hadn’t seen pictures of the place beforehand and was surprised by how rustic it was. It’s basically a hut that houses the barbecue smokers where they cook the meat, a small kitchen where the workers prepare and serve the meat, and two picnic tables in the back where you eat. We could smell the barbecue from a few blocks away, and let me tell you, it was pretty enticing.

The jerk centre in its entirety - the smokers and the kitchen are on the left hand side, the picnic tables are on the right

The smokers where the meat is cooked - the smells coming off were absolutely incredible

The menu is pretty straightforward. There’s jerk chicken and jerk pork, fried fish, and a handful of other choices. We all got some form of jerk, since it is a jerk centre after all.

The menu

We were the first of the group to arrive but we were surprised to see Claire’s parents already there eating. They both enjoyed their meal, though I think Aine may have found the jerk seasoning to be a bit too spicy. We placed our orders and were just sitting down to eat when the crew from the Beach Suites arrived, including Sean and Claire. The rest of the Comfort Suites crowd followed shortly thereafter, and we all squeezed into the larger of the two picnic tables.

Josh and I decided to get an order of jerk chicken and an order of jerk pork to share. They also do a combo platter for single diners who would like to try both meats. The meats were wrapped in tin foil and served with two slices of white bread. We ended up forgoing silverware and just tore into it with our bare hands. Both the chicken and the pork were absolutely fabulous. I might have liked the pork a bit more, but only because there were pieces of pork belly in the mix, and I love pork belly. All of the pieces of pork were succulent and tender. The jerk seasoning was spicy but not overwhelming. The spices tingled on our tongues and lips but we could taste the different nuances in the seasoning.

Succulent pieces of jerk pork

The chicken was a mix of all parts as well, though I preferred the dark meat thighs and legs. There was a bottle of vinegary hot sauce on the table, which we liberally doused on the meats to add even more zing. I used the white bread to make little sandwiches out of the meat, and even though the portions were huge, I stuffed myself silly until all we had left were a pile of bones.

Tender jerk chicken

I absolutely loved Seymour’s Jerk Centre. The jerk seasoning was the best we tasted our entire trip, and the chicken and pork were obviously slow cooked so that they were falling apart tender. There isn’t much in terms of ambiance though, which might turn some people off. Like I said, it’s basically a hut. You eat outside on picnic tables, and there are lots of flies flying all around. Admittedly, the flies were a bit annoying, but I guess it’s part of the experience. This is an authentic, local joint. Everyone we asked knew about Seymour’s, and it was totally worth the trip. This was definitely one of my favorite meals in Grand Cayman, and I highly recommend it.

After lunch, we took a bus back to our hotel and changed into our bathing suits, then walked back over to the Beach Suites to meet up with everyone. Claire and Sean were finally able to hang out and relax with us for a bit. We hung out in the water for a bit, and then decided to get some exercise in with a friendly yet competitive game of ultimate frisbee. It was pretty tiring running around in the soft sand, so we took frequent intermission breaks and ran into the water to cool down. It was a tight game but our team ended up victorious, which is always nice. It was definitely a fun time, if a  bit exhausting.

We finished the afternoon in the pool, enjoying some frozen drinks from the swim up bar. The sun was starting to set and it actually got a bit chilly in the pool so we started to make our way back to the Comfort Suites. Josh decided to have fun with his wide angle lens on the walk back, taking lots of pictures of the beach, the water, and his footprints.

We took a short break before dinner, taking our time to clean up and relax a bit. For dinner, we decided to try out Myrtle’s, which was recommended to us by a few locals. It was noted for serving authentic, local Caribbean cuisine. We took the short walk over to the restaurant, which is located in a strip mall just down the road from the Comfort Suites. It’s nothing fancy, but we were there to try out the food.

When we walked in, the place was packed with rugby players. There was a tournament going on and a lot of the players were staying at the Comfort Suites as well. I think it was the team from Barbados, and they took up the whole outer room of the restaurant. We put together a few tables near the bar and settled in. We got a round of lemonades, fruit punch, and sodas, and tried to decide what we wanted to eat. I was debating between the turtle burger and a few other items, but then we got some bad news.

Because the rugby players were such a large group, the kitchen had prepared a buffet style feast for them. That meant they didn’t have capacity to cook many items on their regular menu, including the turtle burger, turtle soup, and marinated conch, all of which I really wanted to try. The choices we did have were pretty limited, but there wasn’t much we could do.

Josh and I decided to get conch fritters to start, which were better tasting than the fritters we had at the Beach Suites. There was more conch mixed in that added a chewy texture, and the flavors of the spices in the mixture really worked well. I just wish they had been slightly crispier.

Conch fritters

Josh wanted the shrimp curry from the menu, and fortunately, it was available. The curry sauce was a bit weird though, not what we were expecting. We thought it would be a yellow curry, similar to the curry that came with the curried chicken, but this was more like a brown curry that was sweet and sour. Josh asked for it spicy but it didn’t have too much of a kick.

Shrimp curry

I ended up ordering the stewed beef, which was not on the menu, but I guess it was one of the dishes they had prepared for the rugby players. It turned out to be a fantastic dish, with soft, tender beef that fell apart with the gentlest prodding of my fork. The beef was cooked with potatoes, carrots, and onions, and enrobed in a thick, rich sauce. All of the entrees were served with rice and beans, a small salad, and two pieces of fried plantain.

Stewed beef

Overall I was disappointed that we weren’t able to try out the normal menu at Myrtle’s, but what we had was pretty good. It’s simple, local cuisine, nothing fancy. Prices are a tad lower than some of the more upscale restaurants that we went to, but still kind of pricey compared to NY. I think the shrimp curry was about C$17, and the stewed beef was C$14.50. There’s a small extra charge if you use a credit card, but all the prices are laid out clearly on the bill and you can pay in Cayman or U.S. dollars as well. Service was friendly, and it’s definitely a nice, low key joint. I just wish I could have tried turtle!

After dinner we headed to the Beach Suites once more and hung out at Bamboo, of course. We had a nice semi private area in the corner because the bar was full, and we had a few round of drinks before saying our goodbyes to everyone, since we all had different flights out the next day. The walk back to our hotel via the beach route was peaceful as usual. It was our last full day in Grand Cayman so it was kind of bittersweet, but we managed to pack in a lot of sightseeing, food, and fun.

Seymour’s Jerk Centre
Shedden Road, Georgetown
Grand Cayman

Queen’s Court Plaza, West Bay Rd.
Grand Cayman

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


Old Sichuan Cuisine

Sunday, June 12th, 2011 by virginia

When Josh and I first moved into the city, we spent many weekends in Chinatown searching for the best soup dumplings. We never really found a soup dumpling that we didn’t enjoy, but one of our favorites was New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe on Bayard St. We hadn’t been there in years but when Josh’s parents suggested Chinese food in Chinatown for Sunday night dinner, we recommended going to New Yeah because we remembered the dining room being nicer than some of our other favorites (Nice Green Bo, Joe’s Ginger for example).

It took us a little bit to find the restaurant, however, because the name had changed to Old Sichuan. To make matters more confusing, there was a place called Old Shanghai Deluxe on the corner. Yet on an advertisement outside of Old Sichuan, it said New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe. We peeked inside Old Sichuan and it didn’t look like the decor had changed much since its New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe days, so in we went. We ended up at a table in the front where the decor is kind of nonexistent but we didn’t mind. The dining room in the back is a lot nicer though so if ambiance is important, ask to be seated in the back room.

They brought us a plate of peanuts while we looked over the menu. It looked like tables with Chinese patrons received plates of seaweed salad, but the peanuts were fine for us. They were slightly toasted and warm and crunchy – good for snacking on with some Tsingtao beer.

Complimentary peanuts

We had ordered some appetizers and a few main dishes to share but they brought everything to us pretty much at the same time, so that some of the entrees arrived before some of the appetizers. We found that a bit weird, and it made the service seem rushed. Nevertheless, we were all pretty hungry so we dug into each dish as they came. Soup arrived first – we got a corn egg drop soup for 2 and a wonton soup for 2. The serving sizes were big enough that we were all able to get a taste of each (there were seven of us altogether).

Corn egg drop soup for 2

The corn egg drop soup had sweet kernels of corn and strands of egg mixed throughout. The soup had a nice, clean taste to it, though I thought it was a bit bland. It just needed a bit of salt, but Alice really enjoyed it a lot. I preferred the wonton soup, which looked pretty clear and nondescript, but the amount of flavor in the broth was actually very surprising. It was well seasoned and a bit peppery, with lots of umami flavor that I enjoyed. The wontons were soft and had a good amount of filling in them (pork I believe), but I really enjoyed just drinking the broth.

Wonton soup

Alice and I both wanted an egg roll but the only thing they had on the menu was called a vegetable roll. It turned out to be more like a spring roll, though the size was more in line with an egg roll. While I found the spring roll wrapper to be pretty crispy, Alice thought it was a tad oily. I liked the filling though, with lots of crisp shredded veggies. It was flavorful and seasoned enough that we didn’t need any sort of dipping sauce.

Vegetable rolls

One of our favorite dishes to order at any Chinese restaurant is the pan fried noodles. Old Sichuan’s version was really tasty – chock full of crunchy vegetables and lots of meat. We got the house special version that came with chicken, pork, and shrimp. My only wish was that there were more noodles in the dish. The serving of noodles was a bit paltry, and there was so much sauce and toppings that they got soggy very quickly. The best part of pan fried noodles is the fried noodles, which should be thin and super crispy. While the dish tasted good, the noodles weren’t the star that they should have been.

House special pan fried noodles

Pork with garlic sauce is one of Josh’s favorite dishes, and Old Sichuan’s version was one of the best that we’ve ever had. The dish featured plenty of shredded pork sauteed with crunchy celery and wood ear. The garlic sauce was flavorful and had a nice kick to it, with just enough spice to tingle your tongue and lips but not to overwhelm your taste buds. It’s great spooned over a nice pile of white rice, which helps temper the spiciness.

Pork with garlic sauce

We ordered sesame chicken at my request. Kind of blasphemous I guess, considering this is more of an authentic Chinese restaurant rather than a place that caters to American tastes. But I was in the mood for a sweet, sticky sauce, and I was actually blown away by how good this dish turned out to be. Usually the chicken in sesame chicken is heavily battered and fried, so that it’s hard to tell if you’re eating breading or chicken. This chicken barely had any coating on it, and it was super tender and juicy on the inside. The sauce covering the chicken wasn’t overly sweet or gloppy, and had a nice savory aspect to it. There were lots of sesame seeds sprinkled on top, and there was some plain broccoli on the side that I enjoyed dipping into the sauce and eating.

Sesame chicken

We also got an order of house special fried rice that had lots of scrambled egg and pork, chicken, and shrimp mixed in. It was fine, not too greasy, and a good complement to our other dishes.

House special fried rice

Surprisingly, one of the last dishes to arrive at our table was the soup dumplings (usually they come first as an appetizer). We got an order of the pork ones, and they were absolutely fabulous. The skins were super thin but still had a nice chew to them, the filling was intensely porky, and there was lots of hot broth to slurp up. We doused them with a bit of black vinegar and ginger, and they were just perfect.

Pork soup dumpling

Overall we really enjoyed the food at Old Sichuan Cuisine. I wonder if the owners are still the same as when it was New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, but regardless, I would definitely go back there. Even though service seemed a bit off, with appetizers and entrees arriving all jumbled together, the food was some of the best Chinese food I’ve had recently. We ordered the perfect amount for seven people – every dish was polished off and we were all satisfied but not bursting full. Prices are incredibly reasonable, even for Chinatown. I think our bill was about $65 in total. The menu is extensive with lots of authentic Chinese dishes as well as standard Americanized favorites. Definitely try out the pork in garlic sauce if you go; Old Sichuan’s version renewed our love for this dish. And don’t forget about the soup dumplings!

Old Sichuan Cuisine
65 Bayard St. between Mott and Elizabeth St.
New York, NY


Rocco Ristorante

Thursday, March 24th, 2011 by virginia

Rocco Ristorante is an old school Italian joint down in the Village that’s been around for years. It has become one of our more standard destinations for Sunday night dinner with the family, as the restaurant serves solid food at pretty reasonable prices. The atmosphere is warm and homey, with lots of pictures hanging on the wall with all of the famous people who have dined there.

Our meal always starts with a round of bruschetta on the house. Thick slices of toasted Italian bread are covered with chopped tomato, a little bit of chopped onion, some garlic, basil, and a healthy dose of olive oil. It’s a simple dish but always perfectly seasoned and delicious.

Tomato bruschetta

The regular bread is decent, though it’s better when served warm. It has a somewhat crispy crust but the insides are a bit dense. I like the chewiness though, and it’s slightly sweet, perfect for slathering with salty butter.

Bread basket

Josh and I went halfsies on a caesar salad and the beef carpaccio. The menu says that the caesar is served for two, but they never give us any problems when we order for just one person. The dressing is really well prepared, creamy but not gloppy or overwhelming. I like the homemade croutons, which add a nice garlicky crunch.

Caesar salad

The beef carpaccio is a huge portion of thinly sliced raw beef on top of a bed of arugula. There are big chunks of shaved parmesan cheese on top, which I love. It’s lightly dressed with just a little olive oil and salt, and I always squeeze some lemon over the top and get a nice crank of freshly ground black pepper. The beef always tastes fresh and slightly sweet, pairing perfectly with the salty parmesan, bitter arugula, and tangy lemon juice.

Beef carpaccio

Linguine with white clam sauce is one of Josh’s favorite dishes, and they prepare it very well at Rocco. The pasta is always al dente, and there are lots of big, juicy clams scattered on top, still in their shells. The sauce is heavy on the garlic, which we enjoy, but is still light and not overly greasy. The flavor of the clams definitely takes center stage.

Linguine with white clam sauce

I usually get the chicken parmesan but on this particular evening, I decided to go with the veal. Both renditions are very good, with thick cutlets pounded out a bit and nicely breaded and fried. There’s lots of mozzarella cheese melted on top, and the red sauce is definitely a high point – sweet and tangy. I actually don’t have a preference between the chicken and the veal. Both are flavorful in their own way, and the meat is always tender. I just wish the restaurant would serve the dish with a side of pasta instead of the boring, mushy, buttery vegetables (carrots and zucchini this time) that come on the plate.

Veal parmesan

We don’t always get dessert but we’ve tasted the tiramisu before, which is always good. The zabaglione with fresh strawberries, however, is incredible. The zabaglione is thick, creamy, and rich, not too overpowering with alcohol flavor, and goes perfectly with sweet strawberries. Josh’s sister was tempted to lick the bowl clean, that’s how delicious it was.

Overall we always leave Rocco full and satisfied. The food is uncomplicated but solid Italian fare. The menu has all of the classic dishes, and nothing is ever a surprise. They have a great red sauce, which is important for any Italian restaurant. Service is always warm and accommodating, and the atmosphere is low key. I’m sure the restaurant will continue to be a part of our Sunday night tradition.

Rocco Ristorante
181 Thompson St. between Houston and Bleecker St.
New York, NY

Los Toldos (Cusco, Peru)

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 by virginia

We told our tour guide in Cusco that we really wanted to try pollo a la brasa, or Peruvian style chicken, but every time we asked someone they would send us to a fancy place that didn’t actually serve it. Our guide gave us two recommendations so we went to both places to check them out. We eventually chose the one that looked to be the most crowded, but both were actually pretty busy, and all the food we saw going by looked mighty tasty. What drew us to Los Toldos were the rotisseries right out front with lots of chickens going round and round, dripping glorious juices and fat everywhere.

Our idea to pick the busiest place backfired a bit because the restaurant had run out of regular Cusquena beers. All they had left were the malted version, which Josh and I weren’t big fans of because we thought the flavor was a bit too sweet and syrupy. We decided to go the non-alcoholic route instead (shocking, I know!) and got a pitcher of limonada, which is lemonade blended with egg whites, so that it’s nice and frothy. It’s tangy, sweet but not overly so, and extremely refreshing.


Josh and I decided to split an onion soup to start, and a half chicken platter for our entree. The onion soup was lighter than a regular french onion soup, but it was still topped with a nice stringy cheese. It had good flavor and I liked that it wasn’t too rich or heavy. The onions were soft and sweet, and we polished off the bowl quickly.

Onion soup with cheese

We were excited for the piece de resistance, the pollo a la brasa. The rotisserie chicken was tender and juicy, exactly as we had hoped. The chicken flavor was very pronounced, not like the flavorless chicken we get here at home. The skin was well seasoned and really delicious; it was hard not to eat it but we only had a taste and then pulled it aside. We started eating the chicken with knives and forks first, but we eventually abandoned all utensils and dug in with our fingers, making sure to get out all the best little bits from the nooks and crannies.

Pollo a la brasa

The accompanying french fries on the platter had soaked in a lot of the chicken juices so they weren’t as crispy as I had hoped, but they were really flavorful. The juices paired well with the starchiness of the Peruvian potatoes, and I was still happy to munch away on them.

French fries

Overall we were both extremely pleased with the pollo a la brasa at Los Toldos. It was exactly what we had been craving – simple, juicy rotisserie chicken. The onion soup was delicious as well, and we liked the casual, homey atmosphere. It seemed like most of the people eating there were locals, which is always a good sign. The portions were big, and our bill ended up being 52 soles (under US$20). It’s probably not the cheapest pollo a la brasa in the city, but we would definitely recommend this place to anyone looking for good chicken in a restaurant setting.

Los Toldos
Calle Almagro 171
Cusco, Peru

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