Jjajangmyun, Cocktails, and Otto Gelato

Friday, February 29, 2008 15comments No tags Permalink 0

Off to sleep in a little bit.

But check out these noodles Don and I had in NJ last weekend!

I mentioned my cravings for a good dish of jjajangmyun earlier this month, and before you know it, Saturday night we’re in a car heading to New Jersey in search of an elusive restaurant. Don had only been there once before, and didn’t remember two very important facts:
1) the name of the place
2) the address
But a few detours here and there, coupled with gut instinct and hunger, and soon enough we found ourselves at the door of Mandarin.

The noodles are hand-pulled on the spot, served separately from the dangerously deep and gleaming raw onion and pork studded black bean sauce. It’s a DIY pour and mix affair – wear black, or be careful not to spill. We ordered it spicy and they sure delivered, almost to the point where the heat overwhelmed the dish. The texture of the slippery fresh noodles was the highlight, with a luxurious toothsome pull. Completely coated in the sauce, each bite, perhaps with a chunk of pork or crunch of onion, satisfied a hunger you never knew you had…all you wanted was more, and more…till your stomach could really hold no more ^_^

And then you had to stop.

We each had our own hefty delicious bowl and split an alarmingly large dish of fried pork, which I was told, is the traditional accompaniment to jjajangmyun.

As for dessert? We headed back to the city, where Don concocted cocktails and a hot toddy.

And then for no particular reason, other than a craving (and isn’t that reason enough? ;) we placed a gelato delivery order from Otto. Hooray!!

No more than 30 minutes later, a pint each of Olive Oil and Caramel arrived at the door…

…we alternated between pints, and goodness, it was difficult to decide which one I liked better so I took three spoonfuls of one, then three spoonfuls of another, repeat, repeat. OOOh much deliciousness! In the end though, if I had to commit to one, it would be the caramel. I’ve spoken about the flavours here before, and indeed the caramel is this crazy dark, smooooked caramel that teeters on the boundaries of sweet and bitter. The texture is velvety, full-bodied and demands to be savoured with endless spoonfuls. OH manns. I can almost taste it again. This is bad. Am getting hungry again. And I was just about to go sleep!

(Shuffles to the fridge)

Goodnight! :)

Mandarin Chinese Restaurant
110 Broad Avenue, 2nd Floor
Palisades Park, NJ 07650
(201) 313-0121

Otto
1 5th Ave
NY, NY 10003
(212) 995-9559

Gramercy Tavern

Saturday, February 23, 2008 7comments No tags Permalink 0

(Sorry have not posted in a while – tax season has completely sucked up my life. But only till April! And then…and then I get my life back…mebbeee :)

Don and I stopped in at Gramercy Tavern around 8pm last Thursday and to no surprise the place was completely full. We were told there was a 40 minute wait for a two-top so we saddled up to the bar for a bit, a Rye Witch for him and a Mint Tea Toddy for myself. I’ve always been told how beautiful the interior of this restaurant was, and it’s all very true – rustic and cozy, elegant, though far from over the top. It’s welcoming. The interior of my dream home would look somewhat similar…but with brighter lighting and an enormous bookshelf ;) Shame, I neglected to photograph the flower arrangements, easily the most beautiful I’ve seen at any restaurant.

It seemed but a few minutes, or maybe it was really 40, I don’t recall, but we were soon seated at a table next to the open kitchen…so close to the cheeses that I could have easily leaned over just a tad and sliced off a nibble or two for myself. Thinking back, I probably should have :)

Service here is, to say the least, extremely efficient and attentive. Alert without hovering, informative without being intrusive, and always very kind. Our server started us off with slices of a hearty wheat bread, a dish of salt and another with butter at that perfect spreadable room temperature.

Don picked out a bottle of wine for us to share (I know my pastries and desserts a bit too well, but I’ve yet to venture into the fields of wine…o_O!)

Two appetizers for the evening, first a charcuterie plate consisting of headcheese, mortadela, salumi. Pity, I can’t remember the name of the third one. (Actually, to tell you the real truth…I couldn’t remember the name of anyone…had to go bother Don on gmail chat today – thank you, Don! :) The headcheese was my favourite for the texture alone, easy and luxurious with a wonderful creamy fattiness. The apple compote on the side would later reappear in the dinner during the cheese course.

Chicken liver mousse served with swiss chard stems and baby turnips. The six lavishly buttered and toasted cuts of bread were most delicious vehicles, and I was rather tempted to spoon up all the mousse in one go and sandwich it between two cuts, buttered sides out.

Don and I were each debating between two entrees, and lo and behold, it turned out to be the same two entrees! Woohoo! So we ordered both and ate half of each – now this is my idea of teamwork. The Stuffed Meatball is the most popular dish here and justly so. One tennis ball sized baby, a charming blend of pork, beef and veal, is served split deftly down the middle, oooooozzzing innards of fontina cheese. The meatball ooozes cheese! zomg! zomg! Yes, yes! The velvety soft potato puree, and sweet onion marmalade nestled between the two halves does the dish great justice…though with my Hawaii upbringings, I could see myself happy with a great big bowl of white rice in place of the potatoes and marmalade ^_^

…Maybe throw a sunny side egg on top, ladle over rich gravy, steaming rice, and it shall be the haute loco moco. Ohlala!

My interest in the Smoked Kielbasa dish was more for the spatzle and butternut squash, as opposed to the kielbasa itself. I’ve only had spatzle once before, and that was at Balthazar way back in Spring of 2005. But I remember it quite well, gorgeously fried and browned niblets…it came with chicken, but alas, who needs chicken when you got spatzle?? The spatzle here at Gramercy Tavern was lightly pan fried with small sweet dices of butternut squash. I would have preferred it more crisp, to hold up better under the kielbasa…also thought there should have either been less kielbasa or more spatzle to balance out the proportions. Either that, or I just love starch way too much.

I was feeling quite full at the point, but I couldn’t argue the fact that Don did warn me to save room for cheese. Alas, no room was saved…but I can always make room! A wide selection of cheese is offered, in sets of three, five, and seven. We took the middle path and went with five. From left to right: hillman harvest (raw cow), tomme crayeuse (raw cow), vacherin mont-d’or (raw cow), bayley hazen (raw cow), and roquefort vieux berger (raw sheep). Don selected all the cheese (I kid you not when I say he knows his cheeses very, very well!), which were arranged from left to right in order of pungency. They started off on the mild end, moving to the creamy middle one, my favourite of the set, mostly because of the milky melt at touch texture, supple and so easily giving. The latter half was quite strong, and the last was near heady – a bit of the hillman harvest after the roquefort vieux berger would be nearly tasteless.

A trio of breads to accompany the cheese: raisin-walnut, white, and a plain walnut. I’ve always been a fan of raisin-walnut in any given assortment of breads, and only recently have I started to learn paring certain breads with certain cheeses, and oh man, there’s so much more I’m curious to learn. I suppose this is what keeps life exciting, no?

Cheese and bread snug in our tummies, we had a pot of Yrgacheffe Coffee, fragrant with hints of cinnamon and orange, with cardamom showing through most clearly. Every time I have coffee or tea served in beautiful pot, I’m always reminded that my apartment is long due for a pot or tea kettle of its own. Zabar’s has a pretty nice selection, as does the new T Salon in the back of the Chelsea Market. Okkkay, sorry going off subject. But yes. New tea kettle in the plans :)

And because drinks, a bottle of wine, two apps, two entrees, five types of cheeses, and coffee wasn’t enough, we called the night in with a duo of desserts. Narrowing down the selection was no easy feat as one must debate among the likes of smoked chocolate bacon tarts, earl grey creme caramels, butterscotch puddings and oh so much more. And I don’t if it was because I was overwhelmed by options or because I craved something simple, but at the moment the simply named “Cookie Plate” sounded perfect. Six different cookies, perfect for sharing, biscotti, soft peanut butter cookies marked with a shimmery disk of milk chocolate, checkerboard cookies, pistachio studded cocoa ones, vanilla shortbread rounds with bits of dark chocolate, rolled in sugar. A bit of this and a bit of that, you’re bound to make everyone happy.

With cookies must come ice cream, and these were a most delicious trio of flavours. Clockwise from top: vanilla, sesame-chocolate and gingersnap cookie. Texture was more akin to gelato than ice cream with its cream silky mouth feel, though it melted at an alarmingly fast rate. No less than a minute after the dish was set at the table, the gingerbread turned into a milky brown puddle, albeit a rather decadent puddle…which induced cravings for hunks of dense buttery pound cake (preferably from Liliha Bakery ;) to soak it up! The sesame-gingerbread was the most memorable, encompassing the toasted nutty flavours of the seed, studded with thin sharp dark chocolate shards melting at the touch of tongue.

We lingered a bit, post cookies and ice cream. The hour was nearing midnight, and still, the place was lively, though with a calmer crowd that Thursday evening. Four hours since we first set foot in the doors? Times does fly by when you have a good time.

Gramercy Tavern
42 E 20th Street
NY, NY 10003
(212) 477-0777

Tax Season = Inevitable Weight Gain…o_O!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 19comments No tags Permalink 0

For the past month, I’ve been eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at work. The audit team I’m currently on is a small group, just four of us, and luckily we all get along very well! :) D, B, R, and I spend more time with each other than anyone else these days, bonding over financial statements, excel documents and the fax machine.

And of course we eat.

Food is the main topic of our daily discussions, and yes, it’s great fortune that we all bring to the table different viewpoints on food. It’s always quite interesting to hear different perspectives on food, eating, and dessert. R eats for health (his vices are but few: Coke, Chips Ahoy, and Haagen Dazs). D has the most self control of us all when it comes to eating – often times it seems that she’s the only one who is able to find sane compromise between indulgence and moderation. As for B and I? Well let’s just say that we fall prey to whimsy and favour indulgences far over moderation ;)

What have we been eating so far this week?

Monday:

An egg salad sandwich from Mangia, heavy on the dill. I felt some strange urge to add curry powder, but alas, a thorough search of the client’s kitchen pantry proved fruitless. Next time I must remember to ask them to add tomatoes to my sandwich…and maybe slices of avocadoooooo? hehe.

A simple caesar salad to go with my sandwich, but of course, my mind was on dessert as I munched away on my weekly intake of greens.

All possible health benefits I may have obtained from the salad (not that I believe there were many…or any for that matter ;), were gladly cancelled out with a decadent chilled slice of ricotta cheesecake. Simple vanilla sponge base, with a creamy, spoon-soft ricotta based top, too sweet for my tastes, but oh man, love, love, love the texture.

And because I always like a bit of salty either with, or after sweets, I more than willingly partook in B’s broccoli and cheddar quiche. B and I sit but a foot away from one another in the audit room (the team shares one massive conference table), and often share our lunches…never say ‘no’ to an opportunity to share or taste something different :)

For dinner that night, we all craved burgers and placed an order to P.J. Clark’s just a few blocks from us on 3rd Avenue. B and D went with normal sized burgers, while D did a chicken sandwich. I had my eye on the mini cheeseburgers and was quick to decide on the three mini cheeseburgers, done rare, with bubble & squeak

I nabbed some of D’s onion strings from her massive, and I mean massive, side order…

…and topped off my mini cheeseburgers, yay! :) The bubble & squeak turned out to be a pan fried potato pancake, nary a hint of vegetables. As for the cheeseburgers? Delicious, yes! Soggy bottom bun though, but I’m a fan of soggy buns, hehe.

Tuesday:

We kicked off the day with the usual milk and cereal, and by the time lunch time rolled around I had an unexplainable burrito craving. Of course, I had to go about and carrying on my cravings like a delicious disease and soon, B and R also wanted burritos. So we all ordered the exact same dish from Mama Mexico, the burritos norteños. The menu wasn’t very clear, and we expected one big burrito a la Chipotle, so we were surprised to find two skinny burritos rolled with shredded chicken and green peppers in a mild red sauce. A smatter of fresh guacamole on the side, and where, where in the world did the rice and beans go?

Ahhh, well it turns out that the rice & corn with black beans comes on the side, in a completely separate container. A re-construction your own burrito I suppose! :)

And because I can never ever get enough of sour cream, I ordered a side of sour cream. The ‘side’ turned out to be a massive tub of white bliss! Oh goodness, I get weak in the knees at the sight of sour cream, and it took many urgent demands on the part of D that I “better not finish it cause (I) may get a heart attack.” Hehe. But sour cream is sooo goood!!

Dinner tonight was not so awesome…which is a bit sad cause I can usually count on Mangia to deliver both quality food at a highly efficient speed. My rigatoni with veal ragu was tired looking with the tiniest nidbits of ‘veal ragu’, scary bits of pale brown ‘meat’ in a watered down tomato sauce/juice, if you could even call it such a thing.

But alas, dessert saved the day, as we can often count on it to do! Tonight it was the walnut brownie. D first turned me on to the Mangia brownies, as all of us on the audit team have a strange fascination with sampling all the brownies throughout Manhattan’s midtown. (We’re still working on it – there are plenty of brownies to go though :)

Mangia does insanely delicious brownies, easily the best I’ve had in midtown, including this sour cherry studded version pictured above.

But my favourite of their brownies will forever remain the cream cheese brownie, a tall creature with a wonderful 1:1 ratio of cream cheese top to brownie base. Luxurious is the right word, you must let the brownie come to room temperature (they deliver it chilled – if I’m really desperate, I put it near the heater ^_^) till the cream cheese is softened just so. Take a spoon, fork, or heck, use your fingers (just make sure not to get the financial statements dirty!) and sink it all the way down, taking in the soft creamy mouthful melting into mild dark base, it is of the fudgy breed, devilish I dare say!

Well, that’s all I’ve got for you tonight! Hope everyone is having a delicious week! :)

Mangia
16 E 48th St
NY, NY 10017
(212) 754-7600

P.J. Clark’s
915 3rd Ave
NY, NY 10022
(212) 317-1616

Mama Mexico
214 E 49th St
NY, NY 10017
(212) 935-1316

Weekend Flew By, Once Again…

Monday, February 18, 2008 7comments No tags Permalink 0


Not food related, but I saw this somewhere today, and couldn’t help from taking a photo :)

…much too quickly. But each moment, (work included!) was indeed one to savour. Should be getting to sleep soon…those who get Monday off, enjoy it for me, won’t cha? ;)…here’s flash by recap of the weekend!

Friday night, Robyn invited Olivia and I to join her for a dinner organized by Lauren. Lauren’s family owns the Korean-Chinese restaurant out in Flushing, Sam Won Gahk…oh man, what I wouldn’t give to be raised in a restaurant family, heheh ^_^. We covered a vast range of dishes over a short time span, but there were two major dishes which caught my attention (along with my chopsticks!)…

First, a massive dish of jjajangmyun that arrived at the very end of meal. The noodles were served separately from the sauce, and mixed in right before we ate. Its been a while (more than two years!) since I’ve had my last bowl of jjajangmyun and for a minute, if I closed my eyes, it was almost like I was back home in Hawaii, at Eastern Paradise on King Street, chowing down on the black bean sauce coated noodles, tangled with bits of pork and just enough raw onions for a sharp crunch. Almost like I was home…sooo close.

The second highlight? Well let’s just say I gave a little gasp when a glistening dish of Ba Si made it’s way to the table. ZOMG. My brain was running a million baszzzzillion miles an hour. I’ve only had ba si from ONE restaurant before in my life, and I had it many, many, many times there. That one restaurant was located in a strip mall in Rowland Heights, CA. And it’s now closed. So. I’m sure there are many other places in LA that churn out wonderful renditions of ba si, but that one restaurant was my first and only. Until now. Half the fun in eating this dish is what you must do before the actual consumption. First, use a fork and pull off a chunk of the candied sweet potato. Then, quickly, dunk it in the bowl of ice water. The cold water will ‘freeze’ up the hot sweet potato, turning the sticky candied concoction into a shell of sorts. When you bite it you get this crazy contrast between the sharp, crackly shell and inside, soft steaming potatoes. It’s heavy on the belly, but you’re best off banishing that thought. Eat it up quick, because once they cool down, they’re no good anymore! ;)

We were quite stuffed after the meal, but most happily so – thank to you Lauren for inviting for dinner! A ride on the 7 train took us back into the city where all eight of us parted ways to our respective homes.

Saturday and Sunday consisted mainly of work, work, and more work, with brief opportunities to steal time that ought to be stolen. A meal with Don at the relatively new Noodle Village on the south end of Mott Street was particularly nice on a cold evening.

Don went with the Teo Chew mein with fish balls and fish cake. Must note that these fish balls were of the extremely bouncy nature, most of the ones you find in this city are solid boring creatures, muddled and muted in flavour (all you in SoCal – don’t take all those delicious noodle soups you have in SGV for granted!!)

My oxtail and potato curry, while enjoyable, doesn’t live up to the chicken and potato curry at Bo Ky just a bit further up the block on Bayard Street. The menu would lead one to believe that noodles would be served with the curry, but alas, such is not the case, and it turns out that you must ask for it.

The noodles are then served in a separate bowl with its’ own broth, which makes it feel like you’ve ordered two servings. Needless to say, the steaming bowl of luxuriously slippery ho funn in a rich sweet broth more than redeemed any confusion. The broth was so delicious that I’m tempted to stop in on another day and just order a massive cup of broth to drink, hehe.

Don made breakfast this Sunday. And when he said the words “breakfast”, I was thinking BREAKFAST. But then I always forget how much I underestimate him…remember that time he said we were having a “simple” dinner and somehow we ended up making gnocchi over a feast of cheeses (including my favourite, burrata!), and cocktails? ;)

And so I should not have been surprise when he set a glass of almond milk in front of me. We have a strange history of almond milk discussions which include a combination of arguing/attempting to find fresh almond milk. The other night, we stopped in at a few places to look for almond milk, but strangely enough, everywhere was sold out! I kid you not. So I went to sleep that night, craving almond milk, but alas, what could I do?

Almond pulp!

Well Don took the matter into his own hands and actually went to MAKE almond milk. HE MADE ALMOND MILK. He assures me it was quite simple, but still…how many people do you know who MAKE almond milk! But I cannot say I was anything less than delighted as I downed my glass at a remarkably fast pace. Made from nothing but water and almonds, Don left the milk unsweetened, which is exactly how I like it. Almond milk purchase from the markets often have a bunch of sugar added to it, and while that satisfies my sweet tooth…the simple, untampered flavour of pure almonds is nothing short of bliss.

He said we were having crepes, per my request for breakfast. And yes, Don made crepes. But he neglected to tell me he was also ROASTING AN ENTIRE CHICKEN. An entire delicious, mouthwatering, drooling all over myself on a Sunday morning kind of chicken. My goodness, it was fantastic! :) He bought it from the Union Square Greenmarket just the day before, and roasted it along with onions, artichokes and garlic. Swoon? Yes.

We did a sort of assemble your own version of sweet and savoury crepes.

I was finally able to satisfy my incessant craving for fresh ricotta during our breakfast feast. I’ve been craving ricotta since forever (no joke ;), so I have Don to thank for being so thoughtful! Mounds of ricotta, lemon zest, raspberries and cherries. Just a sprinkle of demera sugar, and whether you want to call it dessert or breakfast…well, who cares? Such a creation is bound to put a smile on your face.

For the savoury crepes, we tore apart the roasted chicken (it was sooo good, I swear I can still taste it now =), and piled it on with whole pearl onions and garlic. Aged parmesan, black pepper and a dash of Maldon salt and sheeessssehhh, we were good to go! We switched it around for some of the crepes (I ate four in total ^_^) and replaced the parmesan with cubes of feta in olive oil.

All this before noon!
Trust me, my mornings are not usually so eventful!

I took the afternoon for myself, doing the things I like to do and the things I need to do. Such is Sunday – the best day of the week. Later on in the day, I met up with the best apartment-mate ever, Shann, up at Zabars where we purchased baguettes and whitefish salad for dinner.

And to close off Sunday? We took the train back downtown and stopped off in the West Village. No nicer way to end the day than with a stop to L’Arte del Gelato.

Pistachio, Chocolate-Banana, Strawberry

My visits here as of late have been infrequent at best – I used to come around twice a week…before tax season started! Trips to L’Arte are magical, for every time I slip a spoonful of the pistachio gelato right between my lips, and let it melt at just the right pace, tasting that creamy nuttiness which manages to all at once be subtle and rich, I cannot help but sit back and think, man, life is good :)

And that’s the kind of magic we should be after!

Sam Won Gahk
25128 Northern Blvd
Flushing, NY 11362
(718) 747-2800

Noodle Village
13 Mott Street
NY, NY 10013
(212) 233-0788

L’Arte del Gelato
75 7th Avenue
NY, NY 10014
(212) 924-0803

On Wednesday…

Thursday, February 14, 2008 7comments No tags Permalink 0


…I started the morning with Cheerios & milk, followed by a bottle of Honey Green Tea from Honest Tea.

As lunch hour rolled around, I broke into a salmon-avocado wrap from Spoons. I’ve been ordering lunch a lot from Spoons recently because the food is simply prepared, fresh, and the prices are good. Run by a Korean family the menu covered a broad range of items – from basic wraps to spicy seafood dumplings and bulgogi, they’ve got you covered! An extra bonus is that the delivery guy is always reliable! Salmon, slices of avocado, tomato, lettuce and just a smear of mayo tightly bound in a whole wheat wrap. Simple and good is all we really need.

2:30pm called for a cookie break, more specifically, a duo of cocoa flaxseed cookies (also from Spoons). Similar to the ginger cookie from yesterday, the cookie was rather soft, a cakey, melt-in-your mouth type cookie, save for the crunchy flaxseeds mixed throughout. The cocoa was whimsy in flavour, coming in as a light afterthought. Dandy with a cup of hot darjeeling.

For dinner, Robert and I ordered delivery from FreeFoods NYC, a place I’ve been meaning to try since reading Zach’s post. Delivery took quite a while, and it was nearly two hours before my Roasted Portobello Sandwich arrived. Borderline starving, I broke open the neat packaging to find a crisp pressed rectangular sandwich tightly hugging a bed of roasted portobellos. A thin layer of macadamia hummus with preserved lemons and artichokes on the bottom bun completed the creation. Many uncommon flavours going off simultaneously, but all complementing and light…you could almost call it refreshing. A tad overpriced at $10.25, but there was no denying it was an excellent sandwich.

The Ginger Mango Chai I had for ‘dessert’ was warm by the time it arrived, but good nonetheless. An intriguing blend of Mangos, Chai, Almond Milk, Ginger Root and Vanilla Beans made for a deep yellow coloured drink. Thin, by ‘smoothie’ standards, but not too sweet with mango and ginger flavours coming through most clearly. Also pricey at $7.50…but better to try once than be curious forever, no?

Spoons
235 E. 53rd St.
NY, NY 10022
(212) 371-3111

FreeFoods NYC
18 W. 45th St
NY, NY 10036
(212) 302-7195