Progression | Mission Chinese Food, Maialino, Gramercy Tavern

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My dreams are back up and running. As I get more rest during the summertime, my mind frequently conjures up mental images about restaurants and begins to break down menu prices in the form of Excel spreadsheets.

It’s easy to fall asleep, but it’s difficult to suppress visions about restaurants, especially when my late night readings consist of cookbooks and dining columns delivered straight to my iPhone.

But I’m perfectly comfortable with these dreams. Now that I’m back and running in New York City, I don’t just think about dining destinations. I eat out every single day.

– Mission Chinese Food –

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As soon as I settled down in my new home in the Lower East Side, I met with a family friend from back home. As soon as he let me set the time and place, Mission Chinese was inevitably #1 pick on my list. It’s also three minutes from my house (solid real estate location). When I was residing in Italy for four months, I had feverish dreams about re-igniting my taste buds with spoonfuls of salt cod fried rice.

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The menu has expanded since last winter. There are new faces like crispy country fried hamachi collar with hot pepper jelly (split in half and use your hands) and pok pok pig tails, a take on Chef Ricker’s fish sauce wings. Mission Chinese’s interpretation of the pok pok favorite is pretty good, but those Vietnamese wings are a tough act to follow.

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My favorite classics at MCFNY are still on the menu and they’re still excruciatingly spicy. Whether it’s the spicy Chongqing chicken wings with explosive chilies or the runny-nose/coma inducing bites of smoky kung pao pastrami, they haven’t lost a step on the mala scale.

But it always keeps me coming back with my friends. Most importantly, I think that the notion of breaking bread (in our case: breathing in heavy doses of szechuan peppercorn) with the people we love is truly endearing. I’d imagine it’s what a runner’s high feels like.

– Maialino –

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Several weeks later, I bit off more than I could chew.

Although I assured myself that I would never seek after pasta for the next few months, I was back on the trattoria train as soon as I returned to the city.

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That night, my friend and I gorged on summer pea salad, salumi, and plates of cacio e pepe, farro orecchiette, and tortelli. Although I never shy away from a classic bowl of tonnarelli with pecorino and generous helpings of spicy black pepper, the tortelli was clearly the winner of the night. The musky scent of pork and chicken liver in the tortelli balanced by the drizzle of balsamic made my head spin.

It’s hard to recreate the spectacles and sensations of dining in Rome. However, Chef Nick Anderer’s pastas are just as magical if not better than many of the restaurants back in the mother country.

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After dinner, Chef Nick showed us around the Maialino Kitchen and delighted our eyes with sights of suckling pig and mortadella.

_MG_8964 MaialinoThey’re Working on Mortadella Hot Dogs for 4th of July

The team is also working on the gluten free pasta program everyday which is exciting for many of my friends who’ll be back in the city. I’m excited to see destinations like Del Posto and Maialino embrace new challenges and take on pastas without regular flour. Instead of finding a substitute for pastas, these two restaurants are taking on new challenges and paving the way gluten-free dining.

– Gramercy Tavern –

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My friend and I left Maialino, happily limping, and strolled over to the Tavern room for desserts. We had to get one last bite of Pastry Chef Nancy Olson’s desserts before she headed back home to North Dakota.

I remember my first dessert experience at Gramercy Tavern. It was Chef Nancy’s chocolate bread pudding. The sticky brioche and chocolate pieces melts away sadness at a moment’s notice. To this day, only the sundae at ABC Kitchen and the salted crack caramel at Ample Hills Creamery stack up against the warm bread pudding.

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Before Gramercy Tavern turned a new leaf, I had to pay my respects to Chef Nancy’s comforting desserts. My friend and I lamented over chocolate pudding, lemon icebox, strawberry pie, and a killer cookie plate.

Last year, I grieved over the fact that strawberry pie would be gone after the summer season. Now I’m sad that Chef Nancy will say goodbye to Gramercy Tavern. We, as diners, are indeed a part of the boundless cycle of change.

Tonight, I hope that I’ll dream not only about past memories of delicious dishes, but also think about the positive future ahead in my favorite, competent New York City restaurants.

Whether it be new, mind-numbing Chinese dishes at Mission Chinese, gluten-free pastas at Maialino, or dessert creations from Gramercy Tavern’s sous chefs, these creations will be tangible representations to show that my favorite New York City restaurants are increasingly getting better each and every day.

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Leaving the Mother Bird’s Nest | Bror, Geranium, Relæ

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March 2013. I was content in Italy, but my hunger for Copenhagen began to grumble. It started with the countless hours I spent peering at Adam Goldberg and Bonjwing Lee’s images from the world’s greatest restaurants. Before I traveled to Europe, the idea of going to Copenhagen seemed like a distant dream. So when the opportunity presented itself during my stay in Italy, I had no hesitancy booking my reservations and my flight (in that order).

I had peacefully retired the hopes of dining at Noma and because its reservation system was ultimately too difficult to infiltrate. No worries.

There was a silver lining. Many chef/owners of successful restaurants in Copenhagen had crossed paths with Noma at least once in their lifetime (many of them were René Redzepi’s sous chefs). And for me, this was more than plenty to warrant a travel to Denmark.

However, I discovered at the end of my trip that my notion of these great restaurants were all wrong. Dining at Geranium, Relæ, and Bror was not a consolation prize. These three meals alone were worthy of a trip to Copenhagen itself no matter Noma was in or out of the equation.

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I. Bror

It was my first night in Copenhagen. Chefs Sam Nutter and Victor Wågman, two recent Noma alumni, set the bar high. To accompany the tasting menu, the team paired the four courses with natural wine. The aroma of natural wine resonates like a mysteriously stinky cheese on a warm evening. It’s intimidating at first, but gradually fine tunes itself into the progression of the meal.

The chefs prepared a barely touched slices of pike, cucumber, and pine for the first course. It was a pleasant start, but the dish’s simplicity made me feel empty.

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Fear not. The 2nd course was a memorable piece of catfish which fine tuned my expectations once again. The elements of the warm spring weather in Denmark (around 70 degrees at the time) and the salty aroma of red onions and seaweed really made me feel at peace.

The onglet was even better. This course was a serving of hanger steak with grilled wild garlic and cauliflower. The charred scent of grilled vegetables induced memories of being at home with family and staining my clothes with the smoldering smell of barbecue. It was extremely gratifying. A pretty great opening act in Copenhagen, indeed.

_MG_7973 GeraniumII. Geranium

The next day, I woke up way to early and strolled through the parks of Copenhagen. I was ready for my lunch at Geranium. The restaurant holds two coveted Michelin stars and provides a culinary experience that is comparable to Atera in New York (Chef Matt Lightner also had a stage at Noma).

Behind the transparent glass doors is Chef Rasmus Kofoed, a three time Bocuse d’Or competitor who holds the bronze, silver, and gold medals. The restaurant manager is none other than Søren Ledet, also previously a sous chef at Noma.

_MG_7992 GeraniumBaked Potato, Sheep’s Milk Butter

The twenty-course Universe Tasting Menu passes by in a heartbeat. I also opted for the juice pairing which was delicious, but also very, very fibrous and restroom-inducing a few hours later.

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The portions at Geranium were small, but fulfilling. The inedible stones and seabuckthorn twigs were a bit distracting at first, but I gradually began to welcome the ornaments as they offered a sense of time and place, an embrace of nature in Copenhagen.

Relae-5III. Relæ

I arrived at Relæ for dinner. It’s safe to say that this was one of my favorite meals this year. Chef Christian Puglisi and GM Kim Rossen, who also worked together at Noma, hit all the right notes on my vision of a great restaurant.

The wooden countertop at the bar offers a great level of interaction between the guests and the kitchen. There’s also the condensed menu which gives tremendous amount of focus into creating six to seven great pieces. Some might perceive tasting menus as a tyrannical and oppressive, but I believe that putting trust into the chef’s hands is extremely stimulating and gratifying. Here are some of the highlights.

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I began the dinner with a plate of Danish mussels. It was invigorating and clenched my palate right away with peppery notes of acidity and cool crisp bites of cucumber.

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Few courses later, a presentation of steamed Danish enoki mushrooms and sand leeks graced the stage. The runny, but rich black sauce had a similar taste to black bean noodles which had me transported into a state of perplexity. Perhaps the wine was sending me into a daze.

Relae-7Chef Christian Puglisi

Chef Puglisi emphasizes his desire to break away from the restrictions in Scandinavian cuisine and embraces the enjoyment of using ingredients like olive oil, lemons, and tomatoes. Chef’s Italian heritage instinctively breeds his pleasure for foods that are packed with umami. I find his food so delicious because they incorporate and sweet and savory elements that are prevalent in Korean cooking.

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Even this piece of pork from the Danish peninsula of Hindsholm and the beautiful scales of Jerusalem artichokes don’t evoke a Nordic interpretation. The flavor profiles are fundamentally Italian in my eyes.

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To finish the meal, Relæ has a killer milk ice cream topped with kelp and caramel. The menu changes throughout the course of the year so it’ll be difficult to see this one disappear. *(I checked the menu today and it is indeed gone).

There’s a silver lining. Although some of my favorite dishes fade away over time, chefs will be there to create new, innovative ideas.

Chefs hang around for a long time and they give opportunities to new cooks who will leave the nest one day to become chefs of their own visions. Whether you’re a cook or a restaurant patron, whether you like change or not, we are all part of this boundless cycle. 

When Vegetables Go to Heaven | Restaurant Review: L’Arpège

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I can only recall the end of the meal when I was graciously escorted out the front door with a menu in one hand and a pocket knife in the other. The rest seems like a big blur. A giant, buttery, cloudy blur. Consequently, everything written today may or may not be the figment of my imagination.

_MG_5717 L'ArpegeMy reservation was at thirty minutes past twelve, but I decided to arrive early that day so that I would be the first to see all the courses first before anyone else. As soon I entered the restaurant, I remember the smell of butter flowing throughout the room. I quickly excused myself to the bathroom before the start of the meal. Indeed, the bathroom smelled like butter too. This was a good sign.

L’Arpège overturned my assumption that fine dining restaurants in France are strict and overbearing. In fact, the experience at this establishment in the 7th arrondissement of Paris was very much fun and playful, just like my time at Eleven Madison Park. The young staff at L’Arpège, albeit a bit frantic, seemed all aboard on the L’Arpège vegetable trail. That day, Chef Alain Passard was in the driver’s seat.

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When vegetables go to heaven, they’ve probably also crossed paths with Chef Alain at L’Arpège. In the spring time, the L’Arpège garden gives life to crudités of baby radishes and an amuse bouche of vegetable tartelettes. It’s no short of warmth and delight.

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This is only the beginning. As courses began to flood my table, I quickly realized that magic was ensuing in the kitchen. First, it was an earthy bite of beet sushi made me grin with pleasure. Then the simple mixed salad of Japanese mustard plants and hazelnuts. There was a flashback. I remember an episode of The Cosby Show when Rudy refused to eat her vegetables. It hit me that if Rudy was at L’Arpège, she’d finish her plate in a heartbeat.

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Next, a beautiful, runny poached egg on top of a veloute graced the stage. It’s rich, it’s creamy, and it’s everything that my Korean mother would detest to (Sup, Mama Cho). But I’ve joined the dark side. And I do like my velvety veloute with heavy doses of butter. Then, I encountered a dish not so delectable. A bowl of vegetable ravioli in an amber consommé left me looking for the wonderful richness that was present in previous courses. Then, a smoky soup with black forest ham picked up the pace again. It conjured up memories of the smoky Benton’s Bacon ramen broth at Noodle Bar.

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Afterwards, one of my favorite dishes at L’Arpège! A vol-au-vent (hollow puff pastry) with the spring season’s garlic shoots and clams (pictured at the top of the page). It was more than a consolation for missing ramps season. Then a piping hot gratin of sweet onion made its way. I was more than content.

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Vegetables are the center of the universe at L’Arpège, but a beautiful catch of the day from the sea is also an important treat. During my lunch visit, I scored a monkfish which was served over smoked potato and cabbage. There’s also room for chicken, of course. It was grandmother’s chicken recipe and I couldn’t turn it down. However, after tasting the plate of spinach, garlic, and sausage, perhaps I should have declined the offer. Not the most pleasurable dish of the afternoon.

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But few moments later, the pleasure was back. I scored a pungent portion of goat cheese (very delicious) and a precious plate of delicate mille feuille. It’s a true display of “treat-yo-self” at the end of the meal. The magnificent vanilla pastry and plates of petit fours including macarons, chocolates, and nougat capped off of the meal just right.

This is both one of the best & favorite meals that I’ve had in my lifetime. It not only allowed me to first-mouth experience the greatness of dining culture in Paris, but it also shattered the notion that all of the great restaurants in France are hoity toity and disdainful towards non-Parisians. I know that this is not the ase at L’Arpège.

Although I’ve gotten a taste of lunch, I’d like to one day make enough bucks to return for dinner. I can attest that going up to vegetable heaven is one hell of a ride. Perhaps its my imagination acting up again.

See the Entire Meal Here: L’Arpège

Best versus Favorite | Restaurant Review: Osteria Francescana

Petit FoursUltimately, I have to push the rankings aside and let my heart decide.

It’s already been 10 weeks in Europe. If I can take away one important lesson from this experience, it’s to chase after what I love rather than seek after perfection. Pursuing perfection will only leave me in a puddle of disappointment.

When I was studying in New York City, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List and Michelin Guide were my culinary scriptures. Number five is better than number ten. Three stars are better than two stars. I used to tell my friends about collecting stars and checking names off the list. But times change. I’ve decided that I can’t let intangible figures dictate where I should go.

For me, Osteria Francescana helped me reached this verdict. It was definitely one of the best meals I’ve had, but it wasn’t my favorite meals. Eleven tables in the heart of Modena tell a story of tradition in evolution. It’s truly a really great narrative that everyone should taste at least once in his or her lifetime. But in my collection of culinary memories, some tales will inevitably be consumed less than others.

The meal? The Classics Tasting Menu is a rapid three hours journey that travels through the Emilia-Romagna region. Chef Massimo Bottura speaks about cooking as if he was having an out-of-body experience every time he takes a bite of food (I’d be down for that). I’d also like to believe that I shared some of the same sensations that he underwent when I got to experience his cooking.

Tempura of Freshwater Aula with Carpione Ice Cream

For example, the tempura with carpione ice cream is such a mind-boggling start to the meal. Any conventional ice cream is cold, creamy, and sweet. However, my brain had to rewire all the circuits once I realized that the ice cream was a savory blast of freshwater fish. Man, that was fantastic.

Baccalà Mare Nostrum

The fun didn’t stop any time soon. Tasting the filet of cod with layers of caper broth and tomato water is nostalgic. I’d imagine the memory would be like if I had a barely-touched piece of wonderful white fish with a hint of lemon for the first time on a boat in the deep blue sea.

A Journey to Modena: Adriatic Eel, Polenta, Campanine Apple Jelly, Saba, Burnt Onion

Adriatic eel with polenta, apple jelly, and burnt onion particles would conjure up memories of a campfire. It’ would serve as the rustic piece of fish cooked on an open flame in the hills of Modena.

Think Green

But Mother Nature doesn’t always play in our favor. The 4th Course on the Classics titled Think Green was an assemblage of raw mushrooms, black truffle, and chlorophyll. The terms “interesting” and “delicious” do not always correspond. Then the famous five ages of parmigiano reggiano arrives next. The 30 month aged foam was my favorite while the 36 month old creamy sauce happened to be a work of art that I’d be better off observing from a distance. The compression of pasta and beans featured a humble glass of chalkiness which makes me long for the wonderful fresh yellow pasta that is flowing throughout the city of Modena.

Guinea Fowl Not Roasted

The main course was more of a delight. I was already so full from the homemade sourdough bread and endless batches of grissini (breadsticks) so I almost couldn’t finish my guinea hen prepared in two ways (but of course I did). The flesh was sprayed with the fowl’s bones enriching the dish with a hint of musky magnificence.

Guinea Fowl Not Roasted Part II

Guinea Fowl Not Roasted Part II featured chicken skin, white chocolate with garlic, dark chocolate with liver, and ice cream. This was my favorite part of the entire meal. I feel like pigs always get its fame and glory for head (or nose) to tail, but maybe it’s time for the chickens to shine.

Foie Gras Crunch with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena

Pre-dessert is always one of my favorite parts of the meal and Osteria Francescana definitely satisfied my cravings with the also-very-famous foie gras with crunchy caramelized almonds. The buttery foie is paired with a sweet balsamic from Modena. The aged vinegar cuts through the richness right away. Stellar combination.

Oops! A Broken Lemon Tart

Then, it was the lemon tart. It’s one of the few dishes that are meant to be served broken (Alinea’s Dark Chocolate is the most well known masterpiece). Sweet is often paired with savory. However, their sweet zabaglione and sour lemon was paired with capers and chili peppers. It was definitely the right way to stimulate the senses at the end of the lunch. The petit fours were also one of the best selections I’ve had all year. I still dream about the pralines and tiramisu.

Even though I was disappointed with some of the selections on the Classics tasting, I have the feeling that I’ve only scratched the surface level of Osteria Francescana’s true abilities. I do believe that I’ll be back the future.

However, it won’t be for the stars or for the rankings. Next time, the Traditions and the Sensations will be waiting for my return. Perhaps one of my future best meals here will turn into one of my favorite meals. I’m positive that my curiosity will lead me back into one of the eleven tables.

The Insatiable Palate’s Last Meal of 2012 | Restaurant Review: Shimizu-san at 15 East

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My friend and I were discussing how the month of December is meant for embracing the holiday spirit and spending time with our family and friends. Unfortunately, my festivities will not start for another two weeks. It’s finals season at NYU.

To cope with exams and the thought of moving back home for an entire month in January, I eat. I try to eat well and often in New York City restaurants because I’ll be leaving the States for the next five months.

My first destination was 15 East for unforgettable sashimi and sushi with Chef Masato Shimizu. This restaurant’s welcoming hospitality distinguishes itself from many of the other high-end sushi bars in the city. The experience is even more electrifying when Shimizu-san is at the counter, reading your reaction to each bite and making some very importance decisions about your next piece of fish.

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First, pieces of slow poached octopus arrived. The Tako Yawarakani has gathered lots of attention after the rumor that members of Shimizu-san’s staff massage the octopus’ skin 500 times before hitting the gently simmering water. It’s one hundred percent true. It makes the pieces of octopus taste like butter.

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Next is the sashimi plate. I imagine that this moment was so special to me because it was my first time having freshly grated wasabi. Fresh wasabi plant has a much sweeter taste and doesn’t shock your nose like American horseradish. My mouth started salivating after the first bite of needlefish and smoky grunt fish. The wooden counter formed a puddle after devouring the o-toro (fatty tuna) and raw spotted sweet shrimp. Shimizu-san’s freshly shocked scallop was not only a show stunt, but a technique to make the bivalve a surprisingly tender piece of sashimi.

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Few minutes later, the head of the shrimp was deep fried in the kitchen and then sent right back. So good! My fondest memory of shrimp head was back in the dirty piers of Redondo Beach (circa ’06) and this was just as memorable (and as delicious). It tastes like warm shrimp crackers.

   –    Sushi    –
Kanpachi (Amber Jack)
Hirame (Flounder)
Seared Barracuda
Chu-Toro (Medium Fatty Tuna)
Katsuo (Bonito)
Sumiika (Golden Cuttlefish)
– Ikura with Yuzu Zest –
Santa Barbara Uni (Roe)
Hokkaido Uni (Roe)
Anago (Sea Eel)
Tamago (Egg Omelet)

Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo has garnered lots of attention after Jiro Dreams of Sushi got the nod at the Tribeca Film Festival. Although people around the world dream of one day making a pilgrimage to dine at Chef Jiro Ono’s restaurant, the meal can cost around 35,000 Yen (~$425) and the meal can be as short as 19 minutes. I assume I have to sell one of my internal organs at the Tsukiji fish market to afford a lunch at Chef Jiro’s restaurant.

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15 East is a much more comfortable (and less expensive) meal. It is not only a Japanese restaurant, but it is also very much a New York City fine-dining restaurant. A meal lasts around two hours (time passes by really fast) and the service is attentive. Most importantly, Shimizu-san is right in front of you during every single step.

Sushi is not only about the fish. It’s also about good quality rice. The rice should be vinegary, slightly soft, loose, and crumbly. People are under the assumption that the rice is only a vehicle for the fish to rest on. However, this assumption is wrong. Good sushi rice is its own entity.

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My most memorable parts of the meal were the soft piece of amberjack, the succulent bite of chu-toro, both the uni dishes (from Santa Barbara and Hokkaido) and the warm fall-off-the-bone piece of anago.

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Shimizu-san asks us for our input throughout dinner. Be conscious during every bite and do not stumble when he asks you about your thoughts on the differences between the uni from Japan and the one from California. Be a good student.

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The most underrated treat is the tamago, a humble piece of Japanese egg omelet that is a sweet and savory end to the meal.

There’s so much passion and excitement in Chef’s eyes when he is working at the counter. If you develop a sense of curiosity about fish during your lunch or dinner, Shimizu-san will even pull out his tattered books from his shelf to show you the anatomy of the katsuo from Spain. If you’re respectful throughout the meal, he’ll even slip you a piece of paper that lists his most memorable restaurants in Japan. This experience is worth every penny.

Find Out What Else was on the Menu

The Recyclable Menu Comes with Our CSR Report | Restaurant Review: ABC Kitchen

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I recently celebrated a birthday at ABC Kitchen. I used to walk by the restaurant every day after work and felt like I was underdressed as soon as I peeped through the window. The bar fills with trendy walk-ins as soon as dinner time strikes in Union Square.

Restaurants like ABC Kitchen often make me hot and uncomfortable. The music from Today’s Hits bounce off the wooden tables, the people at the table next to me are scanning my unacceptable outfit of the day. I feel more at ease when I’m slobbering over behemoth-sized pork butts at Momofuku Ssäm Bar or getting the tongue experience at Takashi. All these descriptions about sustainability and all organic cleaning products are making me feel like I’m at a Hampton’s (fashionable people only) climate crisis convention (seems appropriate based on the wonderful weather we’re having today).

IMG_8466Shaved Raw Fluke

Fortunately, all the discomfort seems to melt away as the soon as the food arrives. The shaved raw fluke appetizer packs a tingling acidic punch, giving a good impression for the other items to follow.

IMG_8485Roasted Kabocha Squash Toast, Fresh Ricotta, and Apple Cider Vinegar

Ordering at restaurants is like investing in stocks. It’s extremely important to diversify to maximize the returns and minimize the risks. However, you have to take a chance and buy all the toast options on the market table menu this time. I also understand there are over 40+ options on the menu and that it doesn’t make any sense to pay for toast after getting free house bread, but the creamy chicken liver mousse and roasted kabocha squash toast are at a different level! I tried to replicate the kabocha toast recipe at home, but my concoction will never even compete with the original. The savory and sweetness of the Japanese pumpkin is on full blast after the first bite.

IMG_8549Kasha and Bowtie Pasta, Veal Meatballs

Kasha and bowtie pasta with veal meatballs and homemade sour cream is just as exciting. The veal is moist and vigorous, not like the mystery meatballs that plays second fiddle to overcooked pasta at many Italian-American restaurants. It makes me wonder whether the kitchen staff raised the veal themselves.

IMG_8572Mushrooms, Parmesan, Oregano, and Farm Egg 

A few whole wheat pizzas couldn’t hurt. The loaded mushroom pizza with a runny farm egg in the middle is pure delight for fungi-philes. Clam pizza lovers are also in for a spicy and briny surprise.

IMG_8664Wood Oven Roasted Maine Lobster, Oregano,
and Lemon-Chili Vinaigrette

Wood Oven Roasted Maine Lobster is the most luxurious dish on the menu, but the MVP of the night is the shimmering Roasted Suckling Pig with smoked bacon marmalade (pictured at the top). The baby pig’s meat is soft and tender and the skin reminds me of quality chicharrónes. Braised turnips and plums will offer you a reprieve from the richness of the meat, but it’s best to split your dish with two people.

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Then, top off your night with sundae. Salted caramel ice cream with candied peanuts, popcorn, whipped cream and chocolate sauce reminds me of the Salted Crack Caramel from Ample Hills Creamery in Prospect Heights. Unlike the suckling pig, it is best that you never split this with two people. If this ice cream hits the stores, find me chillin’ on my bed on a Friday night, eating a tub of salted caramel ice cream and watching 30 Rock re-runs on Hulu.

 Many of my friends who’ve visited ABC Kitchen talk about the wonderful ambiance and the beautiful decor of the restaurant. For me, it’s the attentive service and reassuring food that will keep me coming back. I’ve already forgotten about being too underdressed to the event. When dinner starts, it’s just me and the food.

86ing Authenticity | Restaurant Review: Kin Shop

Last week, the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives fans got a harsh reality check when Pete Wells reviewed and implicitly named Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar as the shitshow of the year. People assume that the status of celebrity chef automatically turns you into a good cook. Maybe you’ll make a lot of money by signing a book deal and releasing a line of cookware. However, getting your own cooking show will not make you a better cook. Look at Food Network/chef/owners like Marco Canora at Hearth or Justin Warner at Do or Dine. These two are respected in the culinary scene because they man the posts at their respective shops and put heart and soul into their work.

There is no immunity challenge in New York City’s intense dining scene. New Yorkers will kick off any chef who becomes too complacent and forgets to operate a competitive restaurant.

Thankfully Chef Harold Dieterle, has not let his Bravo status get into his head. Perilla might have earned a lot of buzz because it opened in ’07 (a year after Chef’s win on Top Chef Season 1), but Kin Shop continued to shine because the food was delicious. White people cooking Thai food seems like a cliché these days, but Andy Ricker and Harold Dieterle have earned every bit of acclamation. Pok Pok serves an unbelievable interpretation of Northern Thai cuisine and Kin Shop delivers exciting contemporary American food with Thai flavors.

Take crispy roti. Dip the buttery pancake in Chili Jam and Coriander Nam Prik and it’ll make Aunt Jemima look like fool. It’s a perfect snack at the beginning of the meal or as a third utensil to soak up all the fragrant Green Curry on Pan Roasted Golden Snapper.

Then there is the killer Fried Pork & Crispy Oyster Salad. Large hunks of deep fried pig parts and oysters are accompanied by a refreshing crunch from celery and peanuts. The mint and chili-lime vinaigrette shocks the palate with pleasure.

However, Spicy Duck Laab Salad on romaine hearts is the opposite of satisfaction. The four asterisks (indicating spice level) will make it very tempting to order, but the meat itself isn’t very appetizing. If you’re training for the Brick Lane Curry House challenge, maybe it will serve a useful purpose during your meal.

The wise option is to order a plate of hearty Fried Brussels Sprouts and Chinese Sausage. The acidic kick from the fermented apple vinegar will make eating vegetables fun again.


No Pad Thai? No Problem.

Kin Shop is far from a stereotypical experience. Instead of gloppy American favorites, Kin Shop serves Stir Fry Rice Flakes with rock shrimp and cauliflower. The sweet layers of vegetables and the wonderfully chewy texture of rice flakes will leave pad Thai in the dust.

Kin Shop also fulfills carnivorous desires. The Roasted Duck Breast with Green Mango Curry and Tamarind Water is an outstanding seared piece of poultry. Wrapped pieces of the duck with Crispy Roti, sticky rice, and Chili Jam make for one of the best single bites I’ve had all year.

If you have an early reservation, you might also score Thai Style Fried Chicken with Sweet Chili-Fish Sauce (pictured at the top). The chicken is brined overnight in oyster sauce, shrimp paste, garlic, herbs, and spices. Then the chicken is coated with rice flour and cereal to give it an extra layer of crunch. It usually sells out by 7 pm on weekends.

Desserts are much more subdued. Coconut Cake impresses in size, but doesn’t offer an exciting surprise like many of the savory dishes at Kin Shop.  The Calamansi Sorbet is a refreshing end to the meal, but Thai Coffee-Chocolate and Galangal ice cream seem like rejected ice cream concepts from Häagen-Dazs Thailand.

Many of the successful Top Chef Contestants don’t open up their own restaurants. The finalists often end up getting invited back into subsequent seasons and start getting endorsement deals from department stores to sustain themselves.

Even as a fan of the show, I considering it a blessing that Harold Dieterle has never reappeared on Bravo ever again. His time and attention will be dedicated to his third project (The Marrow, a Northern European and Italian restaurant) which test his culinary credentials once again.