Why Chase in the First Place
A recent brunch at Marea reminded me why we started this food blog.
We started chasing Michelin-starred restaurants when my sister was in culinary school. She had just moved to the city, and we justified the cost by calling it “research.”
My sister and I are about as opposite as can be, but we are both completely passionate about food.
She is the kind of person that naturally shines at every hot, hard-to-get-into restaurant. I am the kind of person that will sit in any cafe to talk deeply with an old friend.
Besides loving great food, we love sharing culinary experiences.
If I ate a delicious octopus without my sister, I would need to take her there immediately.
The best quality I think we both inherited from our big fat nosy Texas Chinese family is the overwhelming urge to share all good things with as many people as possible, most specifically your family.
If a pot of soup my aunt made was particularly delicious, she would scoop a gigantic container full of the not-to-be-missed soup to share with my mother and another gigantic container for her brother. When it was discovered that TOD’S loafers were especially comfortable, shoes in every color were purchased and disseminated to every woman in the family (luckily everyone wears a 6 and 1/2).
Three years after starting this blog, the most perfect bite I have yet to have in New York remains the grilled octopus at Marea. The attention to detail in every aspect of this food is extraordinary - the two-toned sauce, the fresh flair of greens added in multiple ways…
The words “perfectly cooked” can not do it justice.
I hope my aunt comes to New York wearing TOD’S soon so that I can take her to Marea.
But in the meantime, I hope you go as well.
(Source: The New York Times)
It is a very special ritual for many. It is a cozy time to gather with family and close friends. A time of rest. And a time for laughter. A time to reflect on the last week and plan for the upcoming one.
So, Crown - our favorite restaurant in the world for a multitude of reasons - started Sunday Supper last night.
You get a whole chicken. And, it is so tender and juicy, that you have to wonder if they are raising chickens in the kitchen.
The roasted market vegetables are so delicious, while sweet and bitter, that you thank goodness for sides.
But the perfect bite, and surprisingly so, was the Endive and Radicchio Salad. Laced with dill and tarragon, it was barely splashed with the finest of olive oils to bring out the consistency and pureness of raw vegetables.
Bravo, Crown. Bravo.
A Restaurant Named After the Birthplace of Bourbon
Whatever. I love bourbon.
And, I love smoked and charred food.
But, I don’t love Maysville.
Don’t worry - the New York Times does however.
Pete Wells loved it. Our friend Julie recommended it. I discussed it with a roomful of journalists while watching the Westminster Dog Show. I bumped into a former colleague’s husband on the street who was headed there.
Everyone loves Maysville. Except me.
I cannot tell you how excited I was to try the Crispy Grits with Country Ham and Bourbon Aioli. The poor fried grits weren’t even hot, and the country ham was so salty that I couldn’t even taste the bourbon aioli (which I can only imagine is intended to cut the ham with sweetness and tartness).
Speaking of saltiness, the homemade Fettuccine with Ham Hock, Shrimp, Mussels, Celery Root and Horseradish had to be sent back.
That’s pretty bad.
And, the fact that they are able to send it back with less salt is even worse.
The Smoked Trout with Watercress, Pickled Mushroom and Charred Red Onion was not bad, but also not memorable. I could barely remember which entree I ordered while trying to write this.
However, these are the same dishes that Petey commended.
My sister and I are arguing about whether or not we should go back. All new restaurants deserve time to work themselves out. And, we both admire the chef, the concept, and the physical restaurant itself.
Just don’t give me any more of that apple granita creatively infused with tarragon. I like salt in my caramel, balsamic glaze with my strawberries, but I don’t like a tarragon snow cone with apples.
What is a Michelin star?
Doesn’t a restaurant by any other name smell as sweet?
For Chinese New Year, we went to Cafe China, a Szechuan restaurant on the East side. Decorated as a Shanghai tea house, it serves mostly white people. And, not ordinary white people - but hipsters and other sundry NPR-listeners.
Typically my rule for Chinese restaurants is simple - look for as many people, preferably of Asian descent as you can possibly find.
The food at Cafe China is good, borderline great. The dan dan noodles, lamb with cumin, and sauteed string beans are pretty excellent.
But Cafe China has a Michelin star.
Did the fried rice (with mustard green shoots) deserve to compete with the fennel ravioli with basil salad at Daniel?
Does the fish swimming in hot oil rate against Le Bernardin’s poached skate with warm oysters?
I don’t think so.
But is Chinese food a thousand times more difficult to cook than French food?
There is a very special time at the beginning of every new restaurant - it’s called “Friends and Family.”
It is the safe space where chefs work out expediting the food, where servers figure out their stations, and where friends and family members give input on the restaurant experience.
Last week, we went to “General,” the gigantic and quite spectacular new restaurant helmed by Top Chef winner Hung Huynh, of current “Catch” in Meatpacking fame.
I expected at least one tiny Vietnamese aunt, possibly a terrific chef herself, who might have inspired a dish or two.
Instead, we found ourselves in a room filled with fabulous people - models and the good-looking men (gay and straight) who accompany them. And, I’m not just talking about the staff!
Restaurant groups, especially high-profile ones, have become excellent at creating glad-you-were-invited events.
We come from simple family-run restaurants - where each family member eats every kind of food on all of our menus in order to critique and improve it. The sauce on our Sesame Chicken, the tuna on our sushi, and even the ice cream is fair game.
Maybe this is the reason we have a food blog after all. I can’t seem to eat a bowl of cereal without talking about it.
A Chicken Biscuit Christmas and A NyQuil New Year
My absolute favorite thing about the holidays is eating, of course.
And, when I think about the holidays in Texas, I never think about all of the wonderful presents I have received, I think about all of the spectacular meals I have eaten.
There are multiple chefs in my family: my aunt cooks the best Chinese food I have ever tasted, my dad throws a can of cream-of-mushroom on a pot roast to create magic, and of course, my sister, continues to recover from chef-iness.
So, in preparation for my trip home, I accidentally stumbled into Hill Country Chicken for a cup of coffee. What is a good Texan to do, but to order a chicken biscuit for breakfast?
I, unlike my sister, did not go to Austin for college. Whilst she was eating BBQ and Tex-Mex in hill country, I was eating falafel and Sicilian pizzas.
The Hill Country chicken biscuit is superb. The biscuit itself is made from butter, and a succulent (large) piece of chicken is fried with just enough spice. Their country gravy is wonderfully sausage-y, and the whole thing is topped off by perfectly cooked and peppery cheese grits.
I bought the combo, and ironically, they sadly ran out of coffee.
One of the best parts of goin’ home is the food that I endeavor to eat: Mexican, for sure (God knows that New York may never get that right), BBQ, if possible (although with Big Apple infusions like Hill Country - where I last went when my pregnant friend wanted to get back at her Muslim boyfriend - smoked meat has become less of a priority), something chicken-fried, and Chick-fil-a.
I am angered by the company’s stance against gay marriage, but I shall never base my eating habits on politics (just like I won’t stop attending the ballet no matter who the theater is named after).
The Chick-fil-a chicken biscuit has a biscuit so light you wonder if it floated down from heaven. And, they do fried chicken to perfection (you almost don’t feel guilty eating it).
There is no fancy sauce, just honey!
Unfortunately, this Chicken Biscuit Christmas (Hill Country is the victor) ended in a NyQuil New Year.
Luckily, I have wonderful friends and a chef for a sister. I consumed a Hale and Hearty Chicken and Couscous soup (secret ingredient: dill) that was wonderfully healing before I lost my sense of taste altogether. Then I was given Cherry NyQuil - it makes your face go numb and cures everything before you fall asleep, which is immediately.
The next day my sister steamed the crap, I mean essence, out of two chicken breasts with orange skins and ginger for me, which resulted in 3 excellent tablespoons of homemade soup.
To be fair, she also made a hearty Chicken Curry to soak up the powerful NyQuil.
The winning soup came on New Year’s Day, which combined with a Lost marathon, is guaranteed to cure me for sure. The homemade Chicken Noodle from Citarella is superb.
My new year’s resolution is to ween off the NyQuil. In the meantime, if you get sick, let me know, and I’ll bring you a chicken biscuit.
The Perfect Storm - Monday, October 29, 2012
It’s name is Sandy. It took down the subway system. It took down Broadway. People were wrapped around Trader Joe’s. It did not take down Cafe Deli-cious, our Korean deli (get it, get it) across the street.
In preparation for a natural disaster, it is very important to approach it calmly and rationally.
Eva and Julia’s checklist for Hurricane Sandy (around 2pm in the afternoon on Sunday, October 28th):
1. Batteries / Flashlights
2. Bread with peanut butter / jelly
3. Canned protein
We had a lovely brunch yesterday at Crown, the fabulous UES eatery and discussed how people were going to get to work if Mayor Bloomberg shut down the NYC MTA system. Eva said she was going to walk to The Met Opera. Kevin, a dear friend, was jumping for joy because he works for the School of American Ballet and of course, schools were shut down first and he was delighted for the extra vacation day. John was trying very hard to figure out a way to keep his restaurants in operation. Tara darling and I were trying to figure out what restaurants were open. After brunch, we did decided to stock up on necessities in case Sandy decided to be one fat, scary bitch.
Since I was driving the Rover around Manhattan, Eva and I decided after brunch to begin the shopping process. After dropping John off at an appointment in Union Square, we easily concluded that Trader Joe’s Union Square was going to be our first destination. As luck would have it, a space opened up right in front of the Trader Joe’s Wine Shop. We parked the car and got out.
We looked at each other and jumped in line for wine, instead of the much longer, more important line for food.
After separating, we both went shopping.
The final hurricane stash consisted of this:
1. Cheese (Eva bought brie, I bought manchego)
3. Lettuce (Eva sauteed it, I planned sandwiches around it)
4. Chocolate chip cookies
It’s time for a kiki!
In a land where great food is everywhere and easily accessible, it is very difficult for “foodies” to control what they eat. In a land where girls are abnormally skinny and beautiful, women (me) think about everything we eat and how it will affect our bodies. Of course people say proper diet along with proper exercise will keep most people fit and trim if good practices are followed daily. However, hidden in this message is the “one-drink-a-day” rule. WTF is that? In a land of trendy restaurants where Chefs are superstars, food is made to look “sexy,” and people are dressed like they are going clubbing or off a runway, how can women (me) be expected to only have one drink?
Therefore the battle continues daily, BUT luckily, some really smart bastard decided to bottle the solution! It’s called Blue Print Cleanse. You pay $200 for a three day cleanse, which includes 18 drinks (6 per day). Some taste like shit, others less like shit, and some drinkable. The purpose is to control your calorie in-take to about 1200 a day. You obviously cannot eat anything or drink alcohol, so of course your going to lose weight. But instead of society (me) using what is called self-control and discipline to simply watch what one eats and drinks, people (me) have to spend $200 dollars to put us in control of our own mouths. That bastard is a fucking genius.
So last week, I did the cleanse. I was super skinny in every aspect. My check bones stuck out, my arms were skinnier, my thighs were shapely, my boobs shrank, etc… It was great. I wore short shorts for three days. The couple days after a cleanse, is what I call the “Epiphany Days.” During these two days, you realize you don’t have to stuff your face every meal and it is possible to only drink three nights a week instead of six. And surprisingly enough, one drink got you slightly buzzed because your extremely hungry and haven’t eaten for three days. This is fantastic news by the way! Less alcohol equals less calories.
Then, the third day after the cleanse, life settles back in. You meet the girls for brunch on the UES and that itself requires alcohol for just making the trek uptown. You casually walk into Annisa and have a fabulous dinner that is accompanied with an amazing glass of burgandy. The next afternoon, your sister is on her first day of vacation and you and your girlfriend take her for a boozy lunch to celebrate! This happens everyday - life. And because we are so lucky, there is always something to celebrate or to drink too. Thus, the eternal battle between mind and mouth.
The next day proves to be the hardest challenge of all. I leave the fabulous city of Manhattan to go to the fabulous land of endless Chinese food, aka Los Angeles. There are cities known as Alhambra, San Gabriel, Monterey Park, Roland Heights, Diamond Bar, Arcadia, and they are all 110% Chinese filled with Chinese restaurants. I am on Virgin America flying cross country sitting comfortably in the awesome white leather seats of first class, chanting - DO NOT STUFF YOUR FACE, DO NOT STUFF YOUR FACE.
My sister picks me up and we go to San Gabriel to a little Taiwanese deli. I stuff my face. The mouth won this round. I am staying in LA for a week. But don’t worry. My initial thought is that I am screwed, but then I find solace because there is a solution. And it’s bottled up nicely for me in 18 little packages.
My lunch in San Gabriel at Liang’s Kitchen. 7 dishes killed by 3 ladies.
Blue Print Cleanse.
A Tale of Two Cities’ Corn
Fresh corn is absolutely delicious. It is sweet and juicy, unpretentious, and can be eaten off a cob - what could be better than that?
Corn smattered in crema, cheese, and hot sauce - that’s what.
Right before Labor Day, I went to Habana Outpost in Brooklyn, one of my favorite places to drink and people watch in the summertime. Their corn is slightly burnt, off the cob, very good, and extremely unassuming.
(WARNING: In a moment of temporary insanity I also ordered their chicken wrapped in waffle on a stick - it was advertised as a sort-of new fangled corndog and I couldn’t resist. Not good.)
But then I went home to Dallas for the long weekend. After a boozy day by the pool, I was taken to the corn man in Oak Cliff.
This man stands outside of a taco hut with his corn steaming with freshness from a less than sanitary cart. He removes all the corn from the cob for you, swishes it around with a chunk of butter, and then puts it in a styrofoam cup.
Then the fun begins - he wipes off his brow since it is 106 degrees outside, throws in a huge glob of Mexican sour cream, heaping scoops of cotija cheese, and hot sauce. You pay 2 dollars for this corn that you have to wait 20 minutes to receive.
This man is my hero. He stands outside in the Texas heat year after year, never upgrading to an air-conditioned food truck. He probably swims in his millions in one dollar bills in off-shore accounts underneath a mattress. I imagine his daughters go to Harvard.
This is my culinary dream.