Reviews

Bao Chikka Bao Bao

I went to The Bao with a couple of friends for a dinner a few weeks ago since we were all craving Chinese food.  Friend 1 had tried it before and was a fan.  Friend 2 was my sister who hadn’t been there before.  The atmosphere and decor were pleasant… I liked the natural wood look and the decoration on the ceiling was made from different sized aluminum rain gutters.  How creative!  I am always fascinated at the unique and thoughtful designs that restaurants have.  Hotels seem to go for high end design, but restaurants tend to try quirky and imaginative things.  I love that out-of-the-box spirit.

We snagged a table right by the big front window looking down onto St. Mark’s Place.  It’s definitely a nicer looking spot than you’d typically find in Chinatown.  Friend 1 took the lead and ordered an excess of food for just three people, and then, in her bad-assness told our server IN MANDARIN, to space the food delivery out.  (Take heed friends because all the dishes (apps and entrees) came to us way too quickly and my friend laid down the law for the folks to remind them to slow things the hell down).  Here’s my breakdown of the meal.

We ordered drinks first.  Ever curious, I asked about the “champagne milk tea.”  What is that?  I didn’t really understand the server’s description, but I was game anyway, so I ordered it.  It came in a bottle which was, in turn, placed in a small ice bucket.  It was delicious.  It was sweet and reminded me of a Thai Iced Tea, but it was not cloyingly sweet and it had a really good tea flavor.  I guess the “champagne” part was simply the way they served it.  It was gimmicky but I ordered a second one anyway.

The cucumber garlic was simple but delicious.  I’m a big fan of these cucumber dishes and love to start an Asian meal with them, so I was happy.  (Note:  the best cukes I’ve had were at Ippudo).  Incidentally, the NY Times food section just had an article saying that smashed cucumber salads are the new hotness, so jump on board folks!

The scallion pancake w sliced beef was ok.  I think I just don’t happen to be a fan of scallion pancakes because even though I could tell it was flaky and made from quality ingredients, it was just ok for me.  Friend 1 ordered the hoison on the side (a good call) so it didn’t overpower the pancake.

The shrimp w scrambled egg was just that.  It was a decent helping of barely set scrambled eggs w lightly sauteed shrimp, and it was good… but it was just shrimp and scrambled egg.  I mean, I think I could make a tastier version in my own kitchen.

We were next served four little turnip puffs sprinkled with sesame seeds.  I loved these steamy little darlings.  They were unusual, tasty and piping hot.  They were quite small, but I’d order these again.

Out came the soup dumplings, which are called Xiao Long Bao.  We got the crab version.  Friend 1 explained how to eat the fragile morsel, and as I wondered how to describe it to you I read the most beautiful instructions in a NY Times article by Ligaya Mishan:  “It’s a perilous moment, lifting a soup dumpling from its basket, hoping it won’t tear and spill its beautiful guts. This one’s skin is delicate but does not break, at least not yet, not under the tongs’ little teeth. The dumpling lands in the spoon intact, plump but not sagging, buoyant as a ball gown. Take a bite, gently, from the top; watch the steam flee; sip the broth inside, just enough to taste; then down it whole.”  Isn’t that fantastic?  The dumplings were thin and light and the broth was wonderful.  It is a souper (see what I did there) soup dumpling (maybe only to be outdone by Anita Lo’s dumpling at Annisa… but… that is the incomparable Anita Lo.

A huge bowl of Mapo Tofu was next.  Friend 1 was smart to order a bowl of white rice (I hate when restaurants charge for a tiny bowl of white rice, which they did.) to eat with this.  It was decent, but again, I have a favorite which can be found at Mission Chinese.

Squashed Pepper and Eggplant came out next.  I helped myself to some and was put off by the amount of oil in the dish even though the taste was ok.  I didn’t notice that it came to the table in a little bowl with a pestle.  Friend 2, ok, I’ll call her sis, proceeded to pound together the contents of the dish to mix the flavors.  I’m guessing that might have helped but I didn’t try it all mixed up because I just couldn’t deal with the oil.

Rounding it out was the sauteed cauliflower which was surprisingly delicious.  I could eat a dish like that every day.  It was so simple and so tasty.

Bursting at the seams we plonked our credit cards down to pay the bill when it came but were told that their policy was to only accept 2 cards.  Excuse me?  What kind of ridiculous policy is that?  It makes no sense and is frankly inconvenient and dumb.

This place had some hits and some misses, but the hits were good enough to make me want to go back.  I’m interested to try the Pork Soup Dumplings, which are highly recommended on other sites, among a few other things.  I will definitely make sure I have cash next time too.  *eye roll*

20150807_231421465_iOS

Scallion pancakes and smashed cucumbers

20150807_232145950_iOS

Scrambled eggs w/ Shrimp

20150807_232125263_iOS

XLB Crab Soup Dumplings *sluuuuurp*

20150807_232141145_iOS

Ma Po Tofu, don’t forget to order rice

20150807_234846643_iOS

Sautéed cauliflower

Advertisements

proud roomie

WP_20141101_17_07_48_Pro
You know you want it… Irish Car Bomb cupcake

Carrie was my roommate for two years in college.  A year below me, she was this independent, feisty girl with a big laugh.  (We have a lot of traits in common… no wonder we became fast friends.)  Carrie got a job working at a local bar near campus.  Balancing school and long, late hours at the bar was tough, but she loved it.  And she was good at it.

Sadly, but typically, we lost touch after school.  Then, happily, with the invention of Facebook we reconnected online, though we haven’t been able to catch up in person.

Following Carrie on Facebook I found that she was working at Eli Cannon’s Tap Room in Middletown, a bar fiercely focused on micro brews and non-mainstream imports.  Their philosophy was to provide variety and they were zealous about it.  Knowing her personality and barroom background I thought it must be a perfect fit and it appeared that she was happy and doing well.  Some years passed and I began to see updates on Facebook about a new venture for my friend.  A cupcake shop opening across the street from Eli Cannon’s.  With the owner’s blessing and partnership, Carrie opened NoRA Cupcake Company on New Year’s Eve 2011.

The strong opinions and philosophies at Eli Cannon’s seemed to carry over to the new bakery which took pride in being “NOT your mother’s cupcake company”.  Their emphasis is on variety and non-traditional flavors.  They want to expand your horizons.  NoRA’s complete menu features over 100 different flavors, with at least a dozen available on a daily basis.  They have a daily vegan option and a daily gluten-free option too.  It would be tedious indeed to list out all the flavors offered, and despite the categories like Rockstar (fan favorites), C&C (cookies & candy), R&D (research & development), Savory (well… savory), the group that gets the most interest are the Cocktail Cupcakes.  That’s right, boozy sweetness for you to devour.  Check out the flavors on their website and then wipe the drool from your lips.  These are cupcakes born in a bar after all.

The décor is non-traditional too.  I’d describe it as eclectic goth chic.  Think cartoony dancing skeletons offering you cupcakes on a black and pink background.  Can you picture it?  No?  Here’s a pic of the Lil’ NoRA cupcake truck.  Carrie is legit yo.  She has a food truck!

nora_truck_gallery09
photo courtesy of NoRA’s website

I’ve followed Carrie’s Facebook updates, read the articles she’s posted and watched/listened to the video and radio clips of her burgeoning business.  Shamefully though, I haven’t made it out there.  N, however, was in the area one afternoon with her friend K who has a well-known sweet tooth.  They visited NoRA to sample the decadence.  N said a quick hi to Carrie, and brought me back the one cupcake that I’d heard most about and had been dying to try – the Irish Car Bomb.  (Chocolate Guinness cake, Jameson dark chocolate ganache, Bailey’s cream cheese frosting topped with a malt ball.)

I am delighted to say that this cupcake is the best I’ve ever had.  And the BEST part about that is that it’s not simply because it’s Carrie’s.  I know that I gush a bit on this blog… but it’s because when I want to tell you about something, I’m excited about it!  There is plenty of stuff that is not worthy of a post, and I try to spare you lovely people.  I am excited about these cupcakes!  Crumbs who?  Sprinkles what?  Magnolia where?  I consider myself a rather tough critic, and I was slightly nervous to try Carrie’s confectionary creation because if it wasn’t great I’d be disappointed.  But now I can shout it from the rooftops and recommend it unreservedly to you.  Go visit NoRA Cupcake Company!  You will not be disappointed!

One day I’ll get together with Carrie in person.  We’ll catch up… no doubt over cupcakes.  Old friendships are the best, and this particular one is a little bit “sweeter” than the rest.

For more background on the company, and to salivate over their long list of unique flavored treats follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Cascabel


Cascabel:  a small, round Mexican chile pepper.
Cascabel:  A gourmet Mexican feast with wine, beer, circus, flamenco, comedy, live music and love story performed on a Chicago stage starring Chef Rick Bayless.

N and I were recently in Chicago and snagged one of the hottest tickets in town to see “Cascabel” at the Lookinglass Theater.  Rick Bayless is the co-creator and star of this one-of-a-kind sensory dining experience. He doesn’t actually cook for the 100+ guests, but he does a bit of acting and a small amount of dancing towards the end. I have watched Rick Bayless’s cooking shows since before the Food Network began, and as a fan I was curious to experience his latest creative attempt… and hopefully his mole.

The base story in the show is one of an unhappy woman, brooding over a long-lost love as a new suitor woos her. She refuses all food that the chef in her boarding house has worked tirelessly to make. Can he prepare something that will pique her curiosity and lure her out of her melancholy? As the supporting stories unfold they incorporate some stunning acrobatics and dare I say… magic? One character performs a risqué hand balancing act from a bathtub after sampling the chef’s cooking. Another manages to change clothes while walking a high wire. My favorite was the gasp-inducing, seductive, and spectacularly athletic routine of the last two characters… in essence an acrobatic pas de deux on a stripper pole.

LTC-Cascabel-Press-0219-composite-WebLTC-Cascabel-Press-0407web
photos by Sean Williams

And what of the food you ask? I shall tell. There is a single menu for everyone with no substitutions, but since you’re in Rick Bayless’s skilled hands, there really is no cause for concern. We were greeted at the door and ushered to a long community table, designed to look like a courtyard table joined to a Mexican boardinghouse. The chef was already on stage, in character, and was preparing a meal. Audience chatter bubbled noisily around him as each guest was served a margarita dusted with ground cascabel chile. Qué apropiado! On each end of the table were galvanized tubs holding several [fancy, still and sparkling] waters and beer and at each setting was a mysterious dish enclosed in a banana leaf and pinned shut with a toothpick and a note that “Patience is a virtue. Do not open.” More on that later… after all, patience is a virtue.  ; )

A series of small bites were offered to guests. There was no real description of the food we ate, which was a little frustrating, though no less delectable. Happily, guests received a thank you email following the show which detailed the entire menu. Here are the bites as listed in the email:
“All-Green Guacamole and Crab”  Green pea guacamole with Bayless garden hoja santa and mint, Alaskan king crab, pumpkin seed crunch, peashoot
“Eggs Benedict”  Sweet corn sphere, “hollandaise” (saffron, heavy cream, house-made crema), smoked paprika
“Smoked Salmon and Caviar”  Apricot “salmon” lámina, kaffir-lemongrass coconut crema, red chile apricot bits, black garlic and squid ink “caviar”
“Burnt Toast”  Crispy pork belly in salsa negra glaze (mulato and morita chiles, garlic, piloncillo), huitlacoche toast

The lights dimmed after the last tapas were served and the show began. The maître d’ character orchestrated the consuming of each dish from the stage and the audience happily obeyed his first directions to open, inhale and savor the mystery plate in front of us. We were served the same dish that the characters on stage ate. It was a delight to consume the food and listen to commentary and description as we savored it. The first course was a “Ceviche de Salmón en Maracuya”: Lime-marinated salmon, jicama, and cucumber, limey avocado, coconut-passion fruit tapioca ceviche which was topped with an orange passion fruit habanero gelée veil, and enclosed in a banana leaf surrounded with popcorn. The popcorn on my plate was finished well before I was instructed to dig in. Patience is clearly not chief among my virtues.

The main entrée was “Lomo de Res en Mole Poblano”: Grilled beef tenderloin in traditional Mole Poblano (mulato and pasilla chiles, almonds, peanuts, and 16 other ingredients), braised black kale, avocado leaf-black bean tamale with toasted sesame salt. This is the dish that I’d been waiting to try, and Chef Bayless’s legendary mole did not disappoint. Complex, nutty, spicy, velvety… it was everything, everything I thought it would be.

Mole
photo by Sean Williams
The sweet finale was “Oaxacan Chocolate Cake”: Chocolate cake, orange cinnamon ganache, blood orange buttercream, blood orange mousse, obleas. *sigh*

LTC-Cascabel-Press-1066web
photo by Sean Williams

Cascabel is a very sexy show and its magic lies in environmental immersion. It is designed to stimulate all the senses. The sincere and rowdy ovation was well-deserved by both the performers and by the kitchen staff who trooped out to the stage to bask in the adulation. We the audience were entertained, we were impressed and we were sated.

City of Brotherly Love


Ok.  I know I haven’t written in a while. 
I haven’t made time since I went on vacation… which was in early May. Yikes! I got a kick in the pants from my friend KSL, so I’m refocusing and trying to bring you good people a dose of Fatty Bombli for your reading pleasure. Now – what to write about?

Should I tell you about my trip to Paris… clue you in to the delicious nibbles and also the disappointments that I experienced? Should I give you my verdict on Annisa, Anita Lo’s spot in the West Village? Should I tell you about the Bacon Jam I made?  Or of Bobby Flay’s Gato? All of the above? None of the above? Bueller?

I have to start somewhere, so I will tell you about my trip Philadelphia, with a promise to revisit the topics mentioned above. Yes friends, earlier this month the family and I went to Philadelphia for a weekend. It was a nice way to kick off the summer season and left me feeling very patriotic indeed, which was great since July 4th was approaching.

We kicked it off with dinner at Buddakan on Friday night. I’ve been to the NYC Buddakan in Chelsea, which is also very good, but we stopped at the Philly location for one specific thing – the cilantro martini. I know all you cilantro haters are cringing, but I am a vociferous cilantro lover and this verdant cocktail (named “Strength”) is one of my favorites. It’s unique, and it’s delicious. *Tear* that they don’t have this on the NY menu. We started out with a few apps. Spotlight on the Tuna Pizza. I’ve had versions of this dish before at other restaurants, but this one was my favorite. It was tuna carpaccio, spicy aioli, pickled jalapenos and ponzu sauce on naan bread. All the ingredients worked so well together… even my parents who don’t usually dig the “raw” thing loved it. Our entrees were the Sizzling Short Rib, Korean Beef Fried Rice, and the winner of the three — the Miso Black Cod. Since its creation at Nobu, this dish has popped up everywhere, but it’s not always done well. Though Nobu has the edge, Buddakan definitely does it well. I was full after dinner, but N insisted on sharing the Dip Sum Doughnuts, and I have to say… I regret Nothing. They came to the table warm and covered in Chinese Five Spice sugar. The dipping sauces of chocolate, blackberry jam and gingered cream cheese were delicious by themselves but incredible when piled together. They were even listed as one of the “Best Things I Ever Ate” on the Food Network show of the same name. Seriously… don’t skip them.

I’m embarrassed to tell you that for breakfast the next day… we had donuts! It’s funny, because donuts are not my breakfast of choice, but when traveling, I try to experience the best of what a place has to offer. Philly has Federal Donuts. This chain proudly serves up a unique offering of coffee, donuts, and chicken. Yes, chicken. It being about 10am we did not sample the chicken, though this dish was also listed as one of “The Best Things I Ever Ate” on the Food Network show. Instead we tried their “fancy” donuts and their “hot & fresh” donuts with coffee. The hot & fresh were the victors. They were not cloying, even though they were covered in sugar. The cute donut guy behind the counter threw in a salted tahini donut for us to try. It was a little weird, but oddly good. P.S. I loved the cute donut guy because he was super friendly and liked my “Clizby” t-shirt. 5 points and a high five to you if you know about Clizby.
federal-donuts

From there we started our sightseeing for the day. We hit the usual landmarks… the Liberty Bell, Carpenter’s Hall, the President’s House, and the Museum of Art. Of course I ran the stairs there a la Rocky Balboa – theme song pumping in my head. In the afternoon we incorporated sightseeing and lunch into one scrumptious item. When I walked through the doors of the Reading Terminal Market my eyes widened and I heard a distant chorus of angels singing. Markets like these, in all their delicious neon chaos, are my happy place.
reading-terminal-market-23350

 

The market itself was N’s choice, but I wanted to go there to sample what Adam Richman (of Man vs. Food fame) crowned the “Best Sandwich in America” – Tommy DiNic’s Roast Pork sandwich. I shall tell you right off the bat that N did not like this sandwich. She hated the broccoli rabe. I’m usually not a big fan myself, but I totally “got” what they were going for and I loved this sandwich. They offer a few options, but I went with the classic pork/rabe/sharp provolone combo. Everything was in perfect balance for me. The juicy pork bathed in an herb rub, the very sharp cheese, the fresh and slight bitter edge to the rabe soaked up by the soft Italian sub roll…. Whoa. I would do it again. And again. And again. I don’t have pictures for you dear friends. N usually gives me a disapproving look when I bust out my phone to take a pic. Yeah, yeah, the flash is distracting… but still. Next time I will just ignore her and you shall have photo goodness to revel in.

More sightseeing ensued, with a side trip to Mac’s Tavern of “It’s Always Sunny…” fame for some beery refreshments. For dinner we didn’t have set plans, and so we wandered aimlessly around downtown for a while. N didn’t want the pressure of making all the plans, nevertheless she found a good review of the Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant which we settled on. Good call N! The place was a dive in appearance, and I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t be appropriate for the parents… but looks were deceiving in this case. This is a little gem of a place with a surprisingly interesting menu. I actually tried their special – a Caribbean burger – after our friendly server gushed about the Jamaican hot sauce that was on it. Side note: if you’re going to Jamaica any time soon, please let me know. There’s a bottle of hot sauce that I would like you to pick up for me.

The next morning we visited the Barnes Museum followed by a tour of Independence Hall. Independence Hall is a must-see if you visit Philly. It thrills me to stand in the same room where the founding fathers of our country signed the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. I wonder if they could fathom that more than 200 years later their beautiful and inspiring words would mean so much to the millions in this country. My secret thrill is that the movie musical of “1776” built a replica of Independence Hall to film in, and I vividly remember each scene when walking through the original, with the soundtrack running on loop in my head. “I say vote yes! Vote yes! Vote for independency!”

We closed out our weekend with lunch at National Mechanics, so named for the building’s original incarnation as Mechanics National Bank. Built in 1837, the structure itself is very stately and walking through the ancient doors curtained with red velvet sweeps you right back in time. The food was decent (I ordered the corn dog, which was fine, but not comparable to the golden goodness I’d sampled at the Houston Rodeo earlier this year.) but I was impressed with the service. There was a big delay on N’s fried chicken dish (due to a mishap, we guessed, based on the loud clatter from just behind the door to the kitchen that sounded like a piping hot plate of chicken crashing to the floor), and so our server kept checking in to apologize and give us an ETA. At the end of the meal, she removed the dish from the bill without us asking. Despite the error I felt very well taken care of and so wanted to share my experience.

Thus ended our trip to the city of brotherly love… minus cheesesteak, and no poorer for it. I don’t know when the next visit will be, but I know that I’ll want to try some new things, and will have some old favorites to hit.

Yum Pang

I am a theater fan.  I love straight plays, but I adore a good musical.  This love was cultivated at an early age by my parents who would borrow movie musicals from the library to watch with N and me.  I vividly remember snuggling under a blanket on our brown plaid couch with my mom in hysterics after listening to Eliza Doolittle trying out the new “small talk” at the Ascot races.  I recall the look of pure enjoyment on my dad’s face when Captain von Trapp sang Edelweiss.  To this day, one of the things that I love about my dad is that he unashamedly enjoys musicals.  I don’t recall when it started becoming uncool for guys to like theater or musicals, but the men in my life better be on board with this passion because my love for theater runs deep.  Being a huge theater fan, I am lucky to live less than an hour away from “The Great White Way.”  Brooooaaaaaaddwaaaayyyyyy!  (Imagine me belting that out in an Ethel Merman voice).

 My weekday theater routine has been to catch the Metro-North train into Grand Central after work.  The challenge then, has been to find a spot for dinner that is conveniently close, tasty, and inexpensive – because honestly, Broadway tickets ain’t cheap.  I’ve discovered a place that fits the *ahem* Playbill nicely.  (Ok.  That was terrible pun.  I apologize).  Num Pang is a chain of Cambodian sandwich shops in NYC.  There are currently 5 locations, and the most convenient one when attending a Broadway show is the one in Times Square.  It’s an energetic little place with hip hop music pumping and graffiti-decorated walls.  You can grab a stool or stand at the high counters that ring the seating area.  The sandwiches they are churning out are DELICIOUS.  Bon Appétit, The Village Voice, Zagat and many others happen to agree with me.  A fulfilling meal is inexpensive, it’s fast and boy is it tasty.  You basically choose your main filling which gets piled onto a toasted semolina baguette, topped with pickled carrots, cucumber, cilantro and homemade chili mayo.  There are year-round classics, and seasonal sandwiches.  I’ve had the Grilled Khmer Sausage seasonal sandwich twice recently because it was that good.  I tried the Blood Orange Lemonade once… but it was a little bitter for my palate.  I LOVE that N and I were able to eat here on a Friday in Lent thanks to options like the Roasted Cauliflower sandwich, Peppercorn Catfish sandwich, Coconut Tiger Shrimp sandwich and even a Spicy Organic Tofu sandwich.  There are salad options for the carb conscious.  A few soups and some sides round out the menu.  I read on their website that they’re working on dessert offerings. 

No pictures for this post kids.  Sorry about that.  You can find plenty of pics on Yelp or at http://numpangnyc.com/.   Anyway, I’m fairly certain that I’ve started hoovering my sandwich before I’ve thought to pause and snap a pic.  The only thing I may have paused for would be to drizzle my sandwich with extra Sriracha – oh yeah, bottles of the stuff dot the counters for your drizzling pleasure.  Cash is king at the Times Square location, so stop by the ATM before you go.  Then, enjoy the show!

 Xx,
fb

 p.s.  You know my penchant for a pun by now… so you get the title of this post right?  Tee hee!