Category Archives: Food Reviews – New York City

Fundraising for Japan – A Success, And Yes, We Have A Winner!

Thanks to your generous donations, The Pleasure Monger’s fundraising event for Japan was a success! We may have fell short of the £2000 target, but we did raise a whopping £1510, which amounts to 76% of our target! To be honest, I wasn’t sure if anyone would donate when I organised this, but a number of you did; the funds that we’ve raised together are so much more than I could ever give on my own. I’m grateful for your support and I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The fundraising page that I’ve set up on JustGiving will run till 2016, so please continue to drop a pound or two to help the victims of the earthquake in Japan. I’m sure everyone knows that the people in Japan are still suffering from the aftermath. For people like us who can’t be there to deliver aid, we can help in other ways. Yesterday evening, I was just thinking how wonderful it would be if everyone who stops by this blog could give a pound or spare some change; we could very well raise £20000 in a month! And then we have other bloggers who are trying their best to raise funds (read the updates at the bottom of this post for more details on how you can get involved), bloggers who are way more popular, prolific and well-known than I am, and if every reader of theirs give a pound for every post they read, they could raise so much more. That £1 makes such little difference to us, but for the victims, every penny counts and the success of the fundraiser thus far proves that we can pool our resources together and make a HUGE difference. So please continue to give, within your means, to any of the avenues that are most accessible to you.

Now, let’s realise the promise I made. When I organised the fundraiser, I said that I would pledge a USD100 Amazon gift card to one lucky donor so long as he/she donates before 31 March 2011 (GMT2359h). So today, I used the random integer generator on random.org to pick a winner and the gift card goes to…….

SHIRLEY!

I’ll be in touch in the next few minutes with an Amazon email containing the gift card. Congratulations and thank you for your donation!

xx

 

Fundraising for Japan

Dear readers,

In light of the recent events that hit Japan, I have started a fundraising page on JustGiving to raise some money for the disaster relief efforts. My nominated charity is ShelterBox, which is rallying resources to help the people in Japan. Temporary shelters are getting increasingly overcrowded right now, and if you’ve read the news, many have died in the bitter cold. The Japanese authorities are requesting ShelterBox to deliver emergency shelter and lifesaving supplies to the north of Japan. Thousands of boxes of such supplies are either in Japan or ready to be mobilised now, and we can help to deliver to the needs of the homeless in Japan. Please, let’s not leave them out in the freezing temperatures, and let’s work to give them a home and some warmth, literally and figuratively.

Anyone can donate, you only need a debit or credit card to do so. I can’t make a difference on my own, so instead of donating the money directly to charity, I am pledging a USD100 Amazon gift card to this fundraising event. I will randomly select the gift card recipient (using http://www.random.org/) from the list of people who donate on my fundraising page before 31 March 2011 (2359h GMT). By giving a little incentive, I hope that this will boost numbers a little and make the event worthwhile.  The gift card can be used on Amazon.com and I will email it to you before 10 April 2011. I will also announce the winner on this blog.

Please note that whilst I am not allowed to publicise this gift card raffle on my JustGiving page (as I am bound by terms and conditions), anyone who donates on my page, with a valid email address, will be eligible for this raffle. In order for me to contact you, please make sure you make your email address available to me on the JustGiving fundraising page.

Thank you for your help. Please also spread the word around, the success of this fundraising event relies on our collective effort.

Updated: I would also like to bring your attention to other avenues of donation. Some of my food blogger friends have set up an initiative called Bento4Japan, they have very generously put up some bento-related items up for auction on eBay. Please visit this site and start bidding! Or you can visit meemalee’s kitchen to have a look, she has written a nice summary of how you can help the people in Japan. Chika of the very beautiful blog, She Who Eats, is also giving away sakura ingredients to raise funds for Japan.

P/S: The fundraising page will be active till 2016, but only donors who contributed to this page before 31 March 2011 (2359h GMT) will be considered for the raffle. I am doing this because I am trying to encourage as many people to donate soon as the relief efforts are ongoing and urgently needed – WE HAVE A WINNER!

 

NYC Luxe Eats: The Oak Room

[First guest post by M, my husband]

I have a theory on why people travel miles to seek the dining experience and I think it has very much to do with our five senses.

(Taste) Perhaps your friends raved about how wonderfully tickled their taste buds were and you want to be entertained by that unrivalled gourmet experience.

(Sight) Or perhaps, you were drawn to the grandeur and beauty of the restaurant.

(Hearing) Very possibly, some company told their mascot, which looks suspiciously like a marshmallow man, to feed you information on what’s good and what’s not, and you believed him.

(Smell) Sometimes, clever proprietors prey on the fat wallets of us poor starving tourists, and lure us in with the smell of heaven, often to hand us the taste of hell.

(Touch, or in this case, feel) Or maybe, you can’t quite fathom it, but you feel that there’s something magical about a certain restaurant, then you fall in love, like how I did with my wife.

I often like to be guided by the fifth sense, and this was how we ended up having the most memorable time at The Oak Room, which holds a very special place in my heart. It was first introduced to me by Mr Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. There was something magnetic about the scene at The Oak Room, I don’t know why. Little did I know that I would be off to New York City with my lovely wife for Christmas, more than ten years after watching the movie. The Oak Room was naturally on my wishlist, and my wife didn’t know it.

It was a painfully cold night in NYC on Christmas Eve. We found ourselves, accidentally or not, walking into The Plaza to dodge the freezing temperatures and we had aperitifs at The Oak Room Bar. I took a peek into the dining room, thought about Al Pacino and I knew that I just had to ask.

‘Will you have dinner with me at The Oak Room?’

My wife said yes, much like how she eagerly agreed to marry me when I got down on one knee.

We took a gamble, braced ourselves and asked if there might be the slightest chance of squeezing us into a table for two for dinner on one of our nights in NYC. Of course there wasn’t.

BUT, there was a table available for two for brunch on Sunday, our last day in NYC. And the rest was history. I’ll leave the details, as with the rest of my life, to my missus.

……

[Here's the missus talking]

I felt like I was transported to another place in time when we dined in The Oak Room. Stately, grand, old-fashioned in a good way, The Oak Room was one of a kind. We have never dined in a setting like this, and the impeccable service certainly made us feel like we were royalty, only in denim. This meant one thing; I had no regrets saying yes to M (to having dinner at The Oak Room, and to his proposal, of course).

The Most Amazing Sunday Brunch at The Oak Room

 

Sunday Brunch at The Oak Room is quite the experience. We were served whatever we wanted in any quantity we desired, right off the mobile tableside appetiser selection reminiscent of a dim-sum trolley, only better. Of course we tried to go for everything on the tableside selection. But we had to be wise and strategise brunch well, because great things laid ahead of us.

The tableside appetiser selection at The Oak Room

I went for the lobster roll slider, asparagus and white bean salad, smoked salmon with caviar, crème fraîche and pappadam, grains of paradise crusted beef carpaccio, hamachi mini fish tacos with avocado and masago caviar, and cured ham served with caramelised fig. The mini fish tacos and slider were my favourites.

Appetiser selection at The Oak Room

Then we had complete and unlimited access to The Raw Bar, lobsters, oysters, prawns, shellfish, you name it, we had it. Everything was incredibly fresh, the accompaniments such as the basil green goddess dressing were so refreshing and complimented the seafood so well that it was hard to stop.

 Oysters, lobsters and prawns from The Raw Bar

But we had to, because Sunday brunch came with a main course each. My love for eggs and everything decadent meant that I could only go for lobster eggs benedict  served with lobster hollandaise and chorizo sausage. It was absolutely amazing; the creamiest, cheesiest, gooey-est eggs I could have, served with generous chunks of fresh, succulent lobster juxtaposed with the smokey flavours of chorizo, what’s not to love?

The best Lobster Eggs Benedict

M went for a lobster cobb salad, in an attempt to have something lighter after all the rich food we had in NYC, but it came with such generous helpings of lobster pieces, that M quite happily allowed his efforts to be thwarted.

Lobster Cobb Salad

I couldn’t finish the eggs benedict, and neither could M polish off the salad. We were bursting at our seams after multiple visits to The Raw Bar before we could even tuck into our main courses, but no matter how full I get (not sure about M), I would always have room for desserts, as with most ladies. How could I not, when the dessert table was stacked full of pretty tarts and cookies and cakes, waiting to be devoured by yours truly?

Array of sweets at The Oak Room

The unidentifiable desserts were rather huge letdowns, but oh the chocolate chip cookies and the chocolate tarts, that you have to try. I had three of the tarts, and two of those cookies, while M witnessed (in horror, possibly) my ever-expanding appetite (and waistline). The cookies tasted of home-baked goodness, the chips were goo when I bit into them. And I usually don’t fancy tarts at all, even chocolate ones, but this went down too well. The chocolate centre was smooth, creamy and chock full of nutty flavours without any sort of grittiness. They epitomised simplicity at its best, and I miss them so very much.

A selection from the dessert line

We forked out US$65 each for our experience, a pricey brunch no doubt, but like I said, we paid for the experience. And it helps that the food was good (and mostly unlimited except the main course). The most important thing was M loved it. Ever since we bought our tickets to NYC, he was talking about the The Plaza and The Oak Room incessantly, and even made me watch Scent of a Woman when it was on TV. He was clearly drawn to this place, I don’t know why and neither does he. The way his face lit up when we were told Sunday brunch was available, and the way he looked up all around him in awe and admiration as we took our seats in The Oak Room…I knew it was the perfect way to end our holiday in New York City.

M has resolved to bring us back to The Plaza. And I can’t wait.

Check out my food and travel stories in New York City.

Also check out my other food adventures.

The Oak Room is located at:

The Plaza, 10 Central Park South, New York NY 10019


 

 

 

NYC Affordable Eats: Taste of Michelin-Starred Grub at db Bistro Moderne?

Daniel Boulud, one of the world’s top chefs, holds three Michelin stars for his restaurant, Daniel, in New York City. That was enough information for me to grab us two seats in his interpretation of Parisian bistros, db Bistro Moderne. Why not set aside a meal at Daniel instead? You might ask. Well, we had a reservation at Per Se but a grave grave grave (!) mistake by our concierge unfortunately lost us the booking, and by the time we were informed, it was too late to secure a table at Daniel. So there, tough luck for us!

db Bistro Moderne with its sexy deep red interiors and affiliation to the Michelin-starred Daniel, attracts a rather well-heeled crowd despite its casual settings. We were probably the only ones wearing jeans, oh what the heck!

The waiters were friendly, attentive and always willing to make recommendations. Not that I really needed the menu because I already knew what I came for.

M decided on the escargot and chicken oyster fricassee with hazelnut spaetzle to kick off our Boxing Day dinner, and the grilled seabass for the main course According to him, he wanted something healthier and lighter for mains because we were eating waaaay too much. I went for the (healthy too?) seared Nantucket Bay scallops with celery mousseline and citrus chicken jus for my entrée but was very, very naughty with my main course, because….

I went for The Original db Burger!

The most succulent seared Nantucket Bay scallops

Before I dive into the heart-stopping ingredients in the burger, please allow me to yak about the other dishes first. Nantucket Bay scallops are highly coveted for its delicate texture and ample sweetness. They are twice the size of the average bay scallops, half that of the usual sea scallops, and are harvested off the waters of Nantucket from November to March. True to its biography, these scallops were hands-down the best I’ve ever had. They came in perfect bite sizes, and were most succulent and sweet. The chef did an amazing job in searing it to perfection, caramelising its exterior to a seductive golden brown and subtle crisp, whilst keeping the scallops moist and just about cooked. It was so good on its own, there was no need for the mousseline and jus, although the savoury sauce did well to complement the sweetness of the scallops. My only gripe? The portion was too small!

M’s escargot and chicken oyster fricassee was amazing too despite its dismal appearance. It looked so unappetising with its nondescript and pale morsels, that I didn’t take a picture of it, but it was delicious. The chicken oysters were incredibly tender, moist and well-flavoured, and made up for the escargots which were missing in action despite its presence.

Grilled sea bass

M’s grilled seabass was very forgettable, unimpressive and painfully overcooked, which was a real shame because he had counted on a healthy and satisfying dinner. The poor husband stared at me as I tucked into my ginormous db burger. If you haven’t heard already, most flock to db Bistro Moderne to have a taste of the sirloin burger with braised short ribs filling, black truffles and foie gras in the beef patty. It is a very posh, upmarket, decadent sounding burger but poof, it was sorely disappointing like a soufflé that collapses if you so much as breathed on it. I couldn’t taste the truffles and where’s the foie gras, really? All I tasted was beef and it wasn’t remotely as good as the lovely, cheap burgers I had at Shake Shack and Corner Bistro. The meat was so low-grade for a restaurant of this reputation. The pommes frites were the best shoestring fries I’ve ever had, though, perfectly crisp, fragrant and far from oily, but…that wasn’t what I came for!

The Original db Burger

The starters were very well-executed but the lacklustre main courses simply took the experience away from us. Perhaps we ordered the wrong dishes, perhaps we came on a bad day, but I think if db Bistro Moderne rides on the borrowed reputation from its Michelin-starred counterpart Daniel, we could at least expect better main courses on the menu. Oh well, I could always have the Nantucket Bay scallops for mains, and for that, I’ll probably have to time my trip to NYC to coincide with the scallop season.

db Bistro Moderne will be launched soon at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, and Bar Boulud has opened in London. Maybe I’ll make a little trip down to the establishments and give Boulud a second chance, or perhaps you could try them out and let me know about your experience!

Check out my food and travel stories in New York City.

Also check out my other food adventures.

db Bistro Moderne (NYC) is located at:

55 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036

NYC Affordable Eats: Italian Marries Japanese at Basta Pasta

For Christmas dinner, I made reservations at one of the few decent restaurants that were opened for the holiday. I wasn’t about to surrender to cup noodles and cheesy movies in the hotel room on my favourite holiday!

Getting to Basta Pasta was a bit of a depressing journey. It was raining. The streets were darkly lit with barely any shops opened, and there was hardly anyone on the streets, except for us and a few tourists, who like us, did not have a family or roast turkey to go home to on a cold winter night. Boohoo. The walk to Basta Pasta grew so quiet that we almost gave up, until my always-eagle-eyed husband proclaimed we were finally there. We hurried out of the rain into an open kitchen near the entrance and were led into the cheery dining room. Apparently, the open kitchen concept was modelled after the popular television programme Iron Chef!

The menu was very straightforward and self-explanatory, and this was good because we were incredibly hungry after a somewhat disappointing day in Chinatown. We quickly ordered the grilled seafood from the special menu and Tonno Fresco Scottato (tuna tataki with wasabi tartar sauce, cauliflower and orange saffron sauce) for starters. M wanted the Spaghetti con Uova di Pesce (spaghetti with tobiko and shiso) and I settled on the Linguine ai Ricci di Mare (linguine with fresh sea urchin and basil in pink sauce) for mains.

Italian-Japanese fusion dishes at Basta Pasta

The grilled seafood was decent, but there was nothing memorable about that. The tuna tataki was good except that I was a wimp and teared slightly at the very potent wasabi tartar sauce. M’s tobiko and shiso spaghetti was lovely, but I think the winner was my sea urchin pasta!  It was soooooo buttery and creamy with the generous dollops of remarkably fresh sea urchin, well worth the cheap-ish price tag! After all, if you don’t know already, good uni is pretty expensive at Japanese restaurants.

The portions were rather sizeable, so we were too full for dessert, which was a shame. We paid up, and took a long walk to Times Square, Rockefeller Center and Fifth Avenue for a feast of Christmas lights and happy crowds. Then we trudged back to Park Avenue to rest our exhausted fat selves and watch Pavarotti belt it out on TV in the hotel. Christmas 2009, done!

Check out my food and travel stories in New York City.

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Basta Pasta is located at:

37 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011.

NYC Cheap Eats: Delectable Sweets at Taipan Bakery

What do you do on Christmas Day in New York City, when few places are opened for people to kill time? Hang around in Chinatown, of course, and that’s what we did.

Armed with cautious minds and disappointment at spending Christmas in (of all places) Chinatown, we found ourselves lost in seedy and grotty neighbourhoods where strangers came up to us peddling fake Rolexes and thrusting little turtles in plastic tanks right in our faces. Chinatown in New York City is incredibly huge and spread-out, nothing like the teeny, compact and better-kept Gerrard Street in London, so getting lost was a problem and it certainly felt like safety would become an issue if we were outnumbered.

We decided to shadow some other tourists who clearly knew where they were headed to, and ended up on what seemed like a main street full of eateries (Mott Street?). Lunch here became apparent by virtue of a lack of choice and we peered through dark-tinted windows to gauge the lunch crowds before making our.final.decision.

Lunch was thankfully not as bad as I thought it would be. We ate at the busiest eatery with tonnes of Chinese diners and had decent roast meats with rice and noodles. We took a walk further down Mott Street after lunch, wound up more deflated than ever at the lack of anything remotely interesting, and made a U-turn back to the subway on Canal Street.

Then….we found Taipan Bakery!

Egg tarts from Taipan Bakery

It was bustling, people were going in empty-handed and coming out with boxes and bags of buns, cakes, and tarts. I was determined to join the crowd to see what the fuss was all about, and we ended up with two Portuguese egg tarts, two green tea-flavoured ones and a vanilla buttercream sponge cake with strawberry jam.

We left for Wall Street, took some photos at the New York Stock Exchange, walked to South Street, sat down on one of the concrete benches to have a look at the Brooklyn Bridge, and savoured our souvenirs from Taipan. The trip to Chinatown suddenly made sense. The egg tarts were goooooooood with flaky shells and creamy custard. The green tea ones were particularly delish and incredibly fragrant; I’m not kidding when I say that we had green tea-perfumed breath for the rest of the day. The buttercream sponge cake was fluffy and the cream was whipped to the lightest texture; it reminded me of my childhood when my parents would buy me similar cakes from neighbourhood bakeries, only better!

So, if you happen to be in the vicinity of Chinatown, stop by Taipan Bakery for a little snack, everything is really cheap and you’re bound to find something delectable to munch on.

Check out my food and travel stories in New York City.

Also check out my other food adventures.

Taipan Bakery is located at:

194 Canal Street, New York, NY 10013

NYC Luxe Eats: Traditional Japanese Fix At Sushi Yasuda

Our first proper meal in New York City was, without a doubt, traditional Japanese (can’t say no to Jap, can we?!) and we had also made reservations a month before our trip. Our friends waxed lyrical about the fish and the seven types of salmon at Sushi Yasuda, and being BIG Japanese food fans, we simply had to pay a visit….afterall, we’ve never heard of or had seven types of salmon!!

Eager, curious and hungry as hell, we cabbed it from our hotel to East 43rd right about fifteen minutes before dinnertime, and found ourselves standing in a medium-sized restaurant with clean bamboo finishes and simple decor. It was bustling with diners and there were seven sushi chefs working very hard at the bar…a good sign!

We were very quickly taken to our seats, and given the menus. I was famished and practically snatched the menu from our waiter. Then I read on furiously for ‘seven types of salmon’, but ohmygoodness, it was nowhere to be found!! I was absolutely gutted. I had come for that, yet the legendary ‘seven types of salmon’ eluded me! I was sulking by then, stayed absolutely still and quiet, fingered the menu with much disinterest and managed a weak ‘I don’t know‘ when M asked me what I wanted to have. I-don’t-knows usually culminate in omakase (meaning ‘it’s up to you’) for us; as the word clearly implies, we left the decisions to the chef. The stakes were high.

Omakase: Sashimi

First, we had a rather forgettable appetiser (some, erm, fish and pickle in, erm, some sauce) and then a platter of sashimi was served for us to share. There were eight types of sashimi, all served in too-small portions (just one-squared inch apiece!). Having said that, I was highly impressed by the otoro, which was well-marbled with fat and melted so quickly in my mouth, I didn’t think I needed teeth for that. The wild salmon and wild hamachi were absolutely out of this world with deep, full-bodied and accented flavours. It was a double-edged sword though, as the wild salmon left a painful longing for the ‘seven types of salmon’ that I couldn’t have.

Omakase: Sushi

Next up was the chef’s selection of sushi. There were ten types, which again, were served in shrunken portions. Otoro, unagi, hamachi, hotate, the usual. The fish were incredibly fresh but there was nothing exciting or memorable on the plate. We felt that we have tasted better in London and Singapore at a more affordable price.

Have the oyster nigiri at Sushi Yasuda

That concluded the omakase, which was priced at a painful US$85 per person; we thought it was a tad expensive given the small portions that were served. Our still-hungry selves dived back into the menu in search for more items to save our barely-filled tummies,  and we decided to give uni and Peace Passage oyster nigiri a shot. The uni was mediocre at best, but the Peace Passage oyster nigiri saved the day. Those shiny slivers were the juiciest, freshest and plumpest oysters I’ve ever had, and they were such a delight to savour. The Kunamoto oysters at Sushi of Gari, whilst excellent, paled in comparison, and that’s saying something.

I would return just for the oysters, otoro, wild salmon and hamachi and I would also return to hunt down the ‘seven types of salmon’, but I think I would have to save up first, and fill my bottomless tummy elsewhere after a quality-not-quantity dinner at Sushi Yasuda.

Check out my food and travel stories in New York City.

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Sushi Yasuda is located at:

204 East 43rd Street (between 2nd and 3rd Ave), New York, NY 10017


NYC: Eat and Shop Your Way Down Bleecker Street

We had a wonderful time shopping in the well-stocked and ubiquitous departmental stores along Fifth Avenue in New York City, but we decided to indulge in another kind of retail experience on Boxing Day – boutique hopping, as I would call it – along Bleecker Street when we realised there were good eats in its vicinity.

To carefully replicate this itinerary, you will need:

1. His and Hers umbrellas

2. Comfy and good-looking shoes

3. A certain craving for unpretentious burgers

4. A curiosity for Sex and The City and cupcakes

5. (Optional) Loads of cash if you’re not satisfied with window shopping

Good and cheap burgers at Corner Bistro

Get on the subway and stop at 8th Ave-14th St station, and make your way to Corner Bistro, one of the last bohemian bars in West Greenwich village. Have a cursory look at the small menu and invariably order a Bistro Burger and a portion of fries. Sit back and marvel at the quick turnover of customers, who almost always come in for Bistro Burgers. Be amused as you are served a floppy burger, with bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and gherkins spilling out its sides, on a styrofoam plate. Launch into the burger, rather quickly and I advise that you do this in the most unglamourous ways to maximise your satisfaction. Have plenty of napkins ready to wipe the gooey cheese and grease off your face, the protruding crispy bacon always gets in the way, especially if you have chubby cheeks like me. Always, always lick your fingers and go ‘mmmmmm‘ as you savour the moist, juicy beef patties. Finish up, pay up and walk proudly out of the bar, into the sun hopefully and make your way to Bleecker Street.

Do the SATC at Magnolia Bakery

You have got to work up that excitement as you quickly glance down the long, long street, and realise that Bleecker is packed full of wonderful boutiques such as 7 For All Mankind, Marc Jacobs, yada yada. Rub your hands in glee and start walking and shopping, if you prefer.

Gasp in surprise as you stumble onto Magnolia Bakery, and hope against hope that you bump into Carrie Bradshaw and the Sex and The City ladies. Nah uh, you see a picture of Carrie and Miranda instead, that’s better than nothing, especially when you are retracing their footsteps by entering the bakery. Admire the quaint, messy, laidback bakery, and drool at the wide selection of the most beautiful cupcakes. Don’t forget to give the cheesecakes a try too, especially the chocolatey smooth Red Velvet and tangy Keylime ones. Don’t worry if you can’t have your cake and eat it there and then, I know you just had a burger, just get a couple of the beauties and make sure you have them back in the hotel when you get hungry.

Scrumptious cheesecakes and cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery

Throw a lingering glance at the phenomenal bakery and continue shopping your way down Bleecker Street. The designer boutiques seem to be burning a hole in your pocket now and you chance upon Pia’s Place, a nondescript little shop that appears to sell kitsch accessories. Don’t be too quick to dismiss it, pop in, have a look, and you will find some funky, edgy, or pretty pieces that can lift your outfits, rather affordably, if I might add at less than US$20 apiece.

Shop for accessories at Pia's Place

Congratulations, you’ve just eaten and shopped your way down Bleecker Street, whilst avoiding the maddening crowds that flock to Fifth Avenue on Boxing Day. Well done, honey, now, run back to your hotel and savour the sweet treats, you deserve it!

Check out my food and travel stories in New York City.

Also check out my other food adventures.

Corner Bistro is located at:
331 West 4th St, New York, NY 10014

Magnolia Bakery is located at:
401 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014

Pia’s Place is located at:
300 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014

Check out my other shopping posts!

NYC Luxe Eats: Amazing Modern Japanese at Sushi of Gari

It’s an unbelievably warm (almost 20 degrees Celsius, can you believe it?!) and sunny Sunday here in London. The sky is a beautiful shade of blue with nary a wisp of cloud in sight. No prizes for guessing where I am at the moment, since life usually prefers to have me stuck in the lab trying to get some science-y stuff to work on most beautiful days. People are donning shades and shorts, sprawling on every possible square inch of sun-soaked grass patches, which are highly coveted commodities in London. I watched in envy as I walked past them in a hurry to come to work this morning. This seems to be a recurring theme.

So today, as I wait for another certain something to incubate, I dream of yet another unforgettable meal in New York City. My favourite way of licking my wounds.

NYC Sushi of Gari

We were very fortunate to have received personal recommendations from our well-travelled friends and family for our food itinerary in New York City. We had the most amazing and comprehensive culinary experience in NYC, thanks to them and through our own research, it seems that NYC is never short of good food. My brother-in-law wrote to us when he heard that we were going to NYC for Christmas, and insisted that we had to stuff ourselves silly at upmarket Sushi of Gari in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We were told three things: Sushi of Gari is an expensive place to eat at, it does modern Japanese cuisine and if there’s one place we have to eat at in NYC, it’s Gari. It didn’t appeal to me, the thought of having what seemed like a loosely-termed ‘modern Japanese’ meal in an ang moh city, where taste buds surely differ from the Japanese food we have come to love over the years. One may argue that the Japanese food that’s palatable to us may well be very different to what authentic Japanese cuisine should be, but that doesn’t mean that the Japanese food we think we like, is scum. I accept, and on that note, I psyched myself up for Sushi of Gari.

It was Christmas Eve, again, we made reservations at least a month before our trip, and it was a good thing we did, because the small-ish restaurant was packed to the brim. It was a bitterly cold evening, and I remember being hungry, tired, and feeling unwell from the cold. The minute we stepped into the restaurant, everything changed. Perhaps it was the heated interior, but I think it was mostly the warm and friendly staff that made us feel right at home. No snobbish, upturned noses, no snooty attitudes, no pretentious decor, even though it is a much celebrated restaurant.

Gyoza for appetiser

One of the first things I noticed as I settled down at our table, was that the kitchen, sushi counter, reception and dining area were all run by Japanese. Also, the sushi counter is really tiny, but 6-7 chefs were working hard to churn out beautiful pieces of sushi and none of them seemed to take a break throughout our dinner. It seemed that the favourite dishes were mostly sushi. We spotted quite a couple of Japanese diners, so that reassured us on the quality of the fish. We felt like we were in good hands and we couldn’t wait to see what the fuss was all about.

Scallions rolled with rib-eye slices

As it was cold, we ordered some hot items to start, and went for the gyoza, which was tasty but nothing special, and the negimaki, which comprised scallions rolled with thinly sliced prime rib-eye steak and drizzled with teriyaki sauce. The negamaki was absolutely comforting. I love scallions, so that’s a plus point, but I have to say the thinly sliced steak was amazing. It was very moist, very tender, and had the right amount of fat in every slice. The scallions weren’t biting, they had the right amount of heat, and were sweet. The slightly savoury teriyaki sauce did well to bring the greens and meat together. I could have gone mad and ordered another portion, but it was huge and we had sushi to come.

Specific items on our selection of sushi

We had gone for some classics, to compare them with those that we usually have at our favourite sushi place in London (to be reviewed soon!), such as tamago, uni, mackerel, hamachi and ikura. The fish were delightfully fresh, very very good but they were nothing special.

Our selection from a la carte menu

Kunamoto oyster nigiri

We also went for the Kunamoto oyster nigiri, to see how it measured up to the Peace Passage oyster sushi we had at Sushi Yasuda (reviewed here) on our first night in NYC. I have to say that even though the oyster was very fresh and very plump at Sushi of Gari, Peace Passage trumped Kunamoto. The chu-toro (medium fatty tuna) was extremely disappointing, you would have thought that paying US$11 a piece would give you well-marbled otoro, but what we had was tuna trying to be chu-toro.

I know you are beginning to wonder where the modern Japanese part was. All we had were numerous high-quality, very satisfying fresh slices of fish, a miss in the chu-toro, and nothing exciting as what was suggested to us and now to you.

We actually swooped in to inspect, what was touted by most as the hottest item at Sushi of Gari, its famous salmon nigiri with sauteed tomato and onion sauce the minute our platter was served. It looked curious, nothing like the usual nigiri we see, with a heap of tomato semi-puree sitting on top of a fat piece of salmon. We were told to have that first, as the tomato was warm, and shouldn’t be left to sit in the cold. I was very hesitant to have it, warm on cold sushi seemed very odd, and tomato with raw salmon just seemed plain awkward. I waited for M to take a bite. Doubt was very quickly replaced with a stunned expression, followed by a growing smile and finished with a huge grin when he swallowed the lump of weirdness. I took a bite. Let’s just say I was a wee bit too animated, and very involuntarily let out an inappropriately loud ‘OMG!’. It was perfect. The warm sauteed tomatoes were well-seasoned with a hint of heat and touch of salt that brought out its sweetness. Another bite revealed the most delicious onion sauce that bridged a perfect marriage between the warm tomatoes and fresh salmon. It was too good, so good that I launched into a rather embarrassing, drawn-out, hyper monologue with M on how someone could be so intuitive on flavours and so creative in putting tomatoes on salmon nigiris and how anything could taste so delicious……only to be met with agreeing, clueless silence…you get the gist of how I am when I get excited by food. It was also too good, because we had to order more portions, even though it was US$5 apiece. I blame Gari’s ingenuity for my expanding belly and empty pockets.

My favourite: Foie gras sushi with daikon radish

To add salt to the wound, we were told by the waitress that the foie gras sushi with daikon radish was phenomenal too. Biiiiiggg mistake, because I’m the biggest foie gras fan and I would disregard my cholesterol levels, expanding waistline and humanity just to have a morsel. It looked like I had to break the bank too, because it was US$11 apiece. We decided to be wise this time, and ordered only one portion of it, given the disappointment with the inappropriately expensive and pretentious chu-toro. Well, we thought we were wise, because….the foie gras sushi was so annoyingly fabulous, we wished we had ordered two!! Rich, creamy, seared to a lightly-crisp and caramelised exterior, and sooooo madly delicious with the teriyaki sauce. Because this nigiri was incredibly tasty, and could be too tasty on its own, it was ingenious of Gari to add a slice of refreshing daikon to tweak it to perfection. Oh and did I mention the foie gras was pretty damn huge?

Full, broke but happy!

There were hits and misses, but I owe the misses to our lack of trust in modern Japanese food. On hindsight, we should have taken the waitress’s advice to go for the original sushi items that Gari came up with, because that is what Sushi of Gari is famous for, modern Japanese flavours and its creative use of original sauces on sushi. I’ve been told to try tuna nigiri with tofu sauce amidst many other recommendations; I will and I must, when I have the chance to return to NYC.

P/S: We have experimented with the salmon nigiri with sauteed tomatoes and onion sauce in our kitchen a couple of times ever since we returned to London and we’re just about to tweak it to perfection. Hopefully, we will be able to share the recipe when it’s ready!

Check out my food and travel stories in New York City.

Also check out my other food adventures.

Sushi of Gari is located at:

402 East 78th Street New York, NY 10075

NYC Luxe Eats: Best Steak at Peter Luger Steakhouse

It’s almost 4pm at work on a perfectly sunny Saturday in London. While I wait for a certain something to incubate in the water bath, I can’t seem to ignore my hunger pangs as I regret the lack of breakfast and lunch. And here I am, dreaming and drooling over the best steak I ever had in my life, to stave off that growing hunger before I get off work to grab a bite. Yes, I am quite a loser.

We attempted to make a reservation at Peter Luger Steakhouse at least a month before our Christmas holiday in New York City, and to our horror, it was fully booked at the Brooklyn branch, so our kind concierge made a booking at the Long Island branch instead. I wasn’t very happy about that because Long Island was too far off for our packed schedule in NYC. And then we received a call one day and yay, someone cancelled their reservation at Brooklyn, so the table was ours!

In anticipation for glorious, glorious meat that our dear foodie friends have so lovingly spoken of, we had a typical American breakfast at a diner round the corner from where we were staying, and decided to skip lunch. I should have known that our constantly hungry selves would take over because at about 3pm, we were painfully hungry and chomped down hotdogs in desperation. We could only hope that we had room for steak at dinnertime.

NYC Peter Luger Steakhouse - The Bar Area

We took a cab to Brooklyn, and found ourselves walking into a madly-packed and rowdy bar at Peter Luger Steakhouse. It was full of men, all waiting to pounce on bloody pieces of meat after good rounds of beer. I felt slightly out of place, being one of the possibly three women in the steakhouse but the waiters were a delight and made me feel right at home with nary a glance that sneered at the sheer audacity of an Asian woman to enter premises that so clearly belonged to hungry, meat-loving men.

The menu is no-nonsense, short and sweet. There was only one thing that everyone came for, its famous steaks, so I wasn’t surprised at the small selection.  If you don’t like steak or meat, it’s best to  have a full meal before you meet your pals here, or avoid the steakhouse altogether. We quickly ordered a Porterhouse Steak for Two, a portion of onion rings and a bottle of red wine to share. No healthy salads, no additional main courses, just steak, onions and red, which is pretty much the way a steak dinner should be. The service was prompt, friendly and the kitchen must be quick on its feet because our steak arrived in no time, resting on a huge plate.

 Porterhouse steak for two

And then it was showtime. The waiter tilted the plate and anchored it on an inverted saucer, allowing the oil and meat juices to collect on one end, while keeping the steak on the other. He proceeded to describe the different cuts present on a Porterhouse steak  and (wipe your eyes before you read the following) then dipped pieces of the steak into the hot oil. The lovely chunks of pink meat sizzled before our very eyes. I was bordering on insanity as I watched this. Such theatrics to get the salivary glands and piranha behaviour going!  What followed, was a hurried scramble for utensils to tuck in.

Juiciest meat for the most discerning diner

Oh the meat…..the meat!!! It was so buttery, so perfectly charred on the outside and lusciously pink and juicy in the middle. I’m not kidding when I say this, but it is possible for steak to melt in your mouth, Peter Luger steak that is. I was torn between savouring the steak whilst keeping my mouth shut and wondering aloud to my husband. How can steak be this good?! Isn’t it just a slab of meat cooked on a grill? The texture and flavours clearly suggested that Peter Luger Steakhouse prides itself on procuring the finest meats that fulfilled its criteria – pink, well and evenly marbled with fat, and the meat only comes from cattle graded PRIME by the United States Agriculture Department.

Crispest onion rings ever!

And the onion rings were sooooooo divine and crisp. It wasn’t dripping in oil, and it was so light, I didn’t particularly want to share it with M. Oh what wouldn’t I do to get my hands on these again?!

Happy diner at Peter Luger Steakhouse

We were happy and satisfied, albeit overly-stuffed diners. We completely regretted the hotdogs we had succumbed to in the afternoon, and if it weren’t for that, we would have willingly choked ourselves to death with another portion of steak, and packed another to go so we could hug it to sleep.

M fell madly in love with the steak at Peter Luger, and we are immensely disappointed to say that we haven’t managed to find a piece of meat cooked so well, that could rival that. Our hunt continues in London, but I doubt anything will turn up. There must be a reason why it has been voted the best steakhouse for years and years, just look at the number of people who pack the house on a week night, in Brooklyn, no less!

This won't be the last time we'll be seeing you, Peter Luger!

We have to go back to Peter Luger Steakhouse for another round of steak and onion rings, and to try the other sides that we’ve missed. This I have proclaimed to M and judging from his response, I’d say that We Can Hardly Wait!

Check out my food and travel stories in New York City.

Also check out my other food adventures.

Peter Luger Steakhouse is located at:

178 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211

and

255 Northern Boulevard, Great Neck, NY 11021