Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Chinatown’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Oldies, a Goodie

 

ny noodletown crabs

Great NY Noodletown I know this old-timer has detractors, but I’m still a fan and it’s not all driven by nostalgia (or even poor late-night decision-making–I’m quite capable of that at 8:30pm on weeknight). Get a group and over-order hacked-up duck, glazed roast pork, a heaping pile of pea shoots, crispy pan-fried noodles topped with squid and scallops, and a few lightly battered soft-shell crabs sprinkled with what I swear are jalapeños (my personal nostalgia since this was the first place I ever had crabs, shells and all, which is hard to believe in the Northeast in 2015). Manhattan’s Chinatown can be touristy and a little down at its heels and maybe each dish isn’t exemplary of its form, but the whole spread taken together with the right company–plus a few drinks–can be a can be a reminder that this part of the city still has charm. Here is every time I’ve mentioned Noodletown over the years, though definitely not every time I’ve eaten there.

tangra masala trio

Tangra Masala Remember when everyone was excited about Indian Chinese food even though a lot of it is fried and sometimes involves ketchup? The smaller, original, alcohol-free location across Queens Boulevard from Target is still a decent pit stop for paneer-stuffed wontons with a minty vinegar dip, lollipop chicken with a thousand island-esque chile sauce, and bright orange chow mein that tastes like Doritos (seriously).

lui's panang curry

Lui’s Thai Food is not the worst idea if you’re looking for a BYOB spot in the East Village on a Saturday night (and possibly trying to escape a group dinner after a memorial at HiFi because group dinners are stressful 90% of the time even though I was just singing the praises of commandeering a round table at Noodletown). I didn’t have the highest hopes and was pleasantly surprised. No, it’s not Queens Thai. It’s not Zabb Elee either. But the crispy basil duck and shrimp panang curry were right on–and intentional–dishes are dishes, none of this pick a protein nonsense. There was a tight selection of entrees to choose from like the above medium-spiced panang curry thickened with ground shrimp and featuring plump fried shrimp and garnished with a hard-boiled egg. You can be an NYU kid with a bottle of Woodbridge Chardonnay and it’s fine or pop around the corner to Urban Wines for something a little nicer. (If it’s Friday or Saturday night, my friend Lindsay is likely working–ask for a recommendation like the off-dry Mosel Riesling we had from a producer whose name I’ve already forgotten.)

Real Cheap Eats Spring Edition: Chinatown

Bo ky cambodian noodles

The spring edition of Real Cheap Eats is live, and it's all about Chinatown(s). I'll admit that I don't spend much time in Manhattan's Chinese enclave anymore, so this was the perfect excuse to get re-excited. My contribution is about the not-really-Cambodian Cambodian noodles at Bo Ky.

Bo ky chile sauce

They also make a killer hot sauce.

Bo ky spring rolls

Serve Vietnamese-ish spring rolls.

Bo ky country style duck

And country-style duck, soy-braised with pickled radish.

Great New York Noodletown

twoshovel New York Noodletown, or Great New York Noodletown as they’ve been calling themselves for some time, has always been a Chinatown standby and not just for late night. I haven’t been drunk in the vicinity of lower Manhattan in years. Murmurs of its decline have come and gone for ages.

Me, I’ve never had a problem with the food, though I never stray far from roast pork wonton soup, roasted meats with rice or salt and pepper soft shell crabs (though in a recent Travel & Leisure article that gathers a bunch of chefs to eat at Noodletown and discuss late night eats, David Chang declares the ginger scallion noodles his favorite—maybe I should branch out?) That’s it. And brusqueness in this genre of eatery doesn’t bother me.

I recently went straight after work before seeing The Box on opening night for reasons I can’t yet determine, not so much that the movie was weird/slow/unsatisfying but because I rarely even see movies, let alone on opening nights. Like I said, I wouldn’t call efficiency and lack of smiling brusqueness, and the burgundy-vested waiters hear everything. They’re on it. We were speculating to ourselves not loudly whether we should order the soft shell crab and were cut off by a waiter walking by, “No soft shell crab!” Ok, roast duck it was.

New york noodletown roast pork wonton soup

I forgot to take a photo of the duck, which proves how tastiness of the meat and crispiness of the skin. Or maybe I was just starving. I have to admit, though, that my soup was a little troubled. The broth was hot, maybe a little less complex and rich as ones I’ve had there before, but clearly the noodles and pork had just been sitting out as they were coldish, not even quite room temperature. The noodles were still springy and the pork had a nice charred flavor but warm would be better.

The wontons? Maybe I’ve said this before and I still can’t determine where the flavor is coming from since they look simply like shrimp encased in dough, no herbs, but they taste like marijuana. Just subtly and I’m no stoner but I swear they are like pot dumplings, if such a think existed. I’ve never heard anyone else ever say that so maybe it’s how my tongue processes a certain taste, in a soapy cilantro manner.

Previously on New York Noodletown

Great New York Noodletown * 28 Bowery St., New York, NY

Lam Zhou

Hand-pulled noodles for less than five bucks are a wonderful filling thing. It’s too bad that I’m rarely in Chinatown because this would be an ideal lunch.

Lam zhou exterior
I recently had the opportunity to stop by Lam Zhou (previously I had only tried Sheng Wang, which I never posted here but reviewed for nymag.com) on the way to a party in one of those co-ops along the East River that look like projects. A million blocks from any subway station, I needed fortifying on the long trudge from the East Broadway F station to the F.D.R. Even though I’m not fanatical about Flight of the Conchords, I did recognize the building they use as a stand-in for the New Zealand consulate as we walked past.

Lam Zhou is typically no frills, fluorescently lit with diners ordering, slurping and out the door in minutes. No time need be wasted on deciding what to order since they really only do two things: noodle soup or dumplings. Soup requires choosing your meat from options like beef, pig’s feet or fish balls and the dumplings are both sweet and savory, boiled or fried.

Lam zhou noodle making

Immediately after placing your order (it seems that if you’re non-Asian a server will come take your order where you sit but Chinese speakers tend to just walk into the middle of the small room and shout out their wishes to the kitchen in back) a dull thwacking sound fills the air. Dough is pounded out at a stainless steel table in a corner and long, thin noodles are coaxed from the floury mass within seconds. That’s a lot of on demand craft for $4.50. Hey, there’s an untapped artisanal product ripe for hipster plucking.

Lam zhou tripe soup

To me beef tripe is honeycomb tripe, the thick, lacy webbed part of the stomach you normally see cut into curled strips as in the center of this photo. But this bowl contained a bonanza of bit parts: cuts that looked like shiitake mushrooms, clear gelatinous tendons and darker beef slices with transparent striations.

The noodles are amazingly chewy and springy and there are a ton of them. So much that the chopsticks can barely pick up strands without succumbing to the weight. Too many bowls of noodle soup and you might develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Our waitress seemed disappointed that we didn’t also want dumplings but I knew the soup would be substantial. An ideal cushion for drinking.

Chinese bechamel

I like adding in a heaping spoonful of pickled mustard greens and a tinier amount of chile oil. I don’t think anyone would mistake what’s labeled here as Chinese Bechamel for the classic white sauce.

Being a party with a large contingent of Johns Hopkins alumni, professionals from the medical field weren’t scarce. I was particularly amused to meet a psychologist who specializes in workplace matters. She thought the peanut butter and jelly hoarder I was recently fascinated by wasn’t a problem worth making an issue out of as long as the worker was doing his job well. We’ll see about that.
 

Lam Zhou * 144 East Broadway, New York, NY

Vegetarian Dim Sum House

I don’t understand people who hate tofu and mock meat. Sure, fake buffalo wings and tofurky are kind of wrongheaded, but bean curd and gluten can be completely tasty, especially when transformed into dim sum. It doesn't seem unnatural.

I only ever seem to patronize Vegetarian Dim Sum House when my sister is in town. It was a hit on her last visit so a repeat performance was in order. This time we totally went overboard. What’s shown below is only about half of the food that was on the table, and even with five diners we all were able to take home leftovers. It’s easy to order wildly because you just check off boxes with the quantities you want and just about everything is $2.95.

Vegetarian_dim_sum_turnip_cakes

Turnip cakes are the most like "real" dim sum. The only thing missing are the pork bits. These are served with oyster sauce, though, instead of sweet soy.

Vegetarian_dim_sum_stuffed_lotus_ro

Lotus root slices were sandwiched between what I swear was mashed potato. The crunch and mush was a nice combo.

Vegetarian_dim_sum_potato_balls

Ok, more potato. These were essentially fritters.

Vegetarian_dim_sum_rice_roll

We had three varieties of rice flour rolls. White fungus and golden mushrooms are above. There were also mock ham and coriander and mock shrimp.

Vegetarian_dim_sum_fried_blobs

Fried dough blobs.

Vegetarian_dim_sum_bean_curd

Buddha's bean curd rolls were a hit.

Vegetarian_dim_sum_lotus_paste_buns

You never know if you're getting a sweet or savory. I thought these would contain lotus seed paste, but they were filled with crushed peanuts.

Vegetarian_dim_sum_shark_fin_dumpli   

Obviously, these shark's fin dumplings didn't contain any endangered species. They did mimic the texture, though.

Vegetarian_dim_sum_pork_buns

Pork buns are one of my favorite Chinese snacks. You might think faux ones would be a bust but they are fairly convincing. You can't completely match the sweet meaty, roasty flavor of char siu, yet these are respectable in their own right.

Vegetarian_dim_sum_sesame_tapioca_d

Tapioca dumplings filled with sesame paste were a little heavy. Half of one is plenty.

Vegetarian_dim_sum_shrimp_dumplings 

Classic shrimp dumplings minus the shrimp. I've always liked fake crab so mock shrimp isn't much different.

Vegetarian_dim_sum_almond_jelly

Honestly, I'm not sure what this was and if anyone actually ordered it. It seemed like one of those bland almond jelly desserts. Very blanc mange. The nuggets might have been mung beans even though they look like corn.

Vegetarian Dim Sum House * 24 Pell St., New York, NY

Skyway Malaysian

1/2  Assessing a restaurant based on two take out dishes is never wise. So I won’t. My foray to Skyway Malaysian was kind of peripheral anyway. I wanted to make something non-labor-intensive for Christmas Eve dinner, but still interesting and most likely S.E. Asian. This meant no complex spice and herb pastes because I don’t have the energy for pounding or foraging for obscurities.

I initially researched devil curry recipes before it dawned on me that I just made that Eurasian holiday meal two years ago. Duh. Even if no one else reads this site, it at least serves as a great memory-prodder for me. I don’t think Alzheimer’s runs in my family (though that’s hard to determine since no one makes it past 60) but keeping track of life’s minutiae might prove become practical in a decade or so.

Skyway_shrimp_and_green_beans

As it turned out the only ingredient I needed for my roast chicken was kecap manis, oh, and the chicken, which still precipitated a four-subway-stop trip to Chinatown. I’m all about efficiency so decided to pick up a vegetable side dish at Skyway, just a block from Hong Kong Supermarket at the F station. Shrimp and green beans seemed right with chicken. I had to stop myself from ordering the curry fish head casserole because that would be overkill.

Skyway_curry_mee_components

I couldn’t resist getting prawn mee to go, though. It could be a late lunch (I didn’t end up eating it until 7pm so now my dining schedule is screwed up). I hate dining in restaurants alone or else I would’ve just eaten the soup on the spot. Luckily, they do package the broth separately from the noodles, shrimp, kangkong and hard boiled egg, so sogginess is averted.

I was imaging a more coconut milk-based, Singapore laksa-like soup but this was a deep, spicy, very shrimpy broth. I could just eat a big bowl of the liquid but the chiles might make me cough if I slurped too fast. My only criticism is that it was a little too salty. But I’m very sensitive to salt, so it might be spot on for an average palate. I'm not sure why the broth looks frothy after I combined the two plastic tubs.

Skyway_curry_mee

All I can say is thank god that I’m stuck here for the holidays. The sidewalk in front of Skyway happens to be one of those cheap Chinatown bus’s stops, and there was a massive luggage-toting crowd filling the entire stretch of Allen Street and blocking the door to the restaurant. It looked like a fun bunch of people: pushy non-lining-up Chinese and African Americans mocking the way the driver was saying Richmond. Ok, it did sound like he was yelling, “Reecheemon” but everyone knows you’re supposed to make fun of others quietly. Uh, or on your blog.

I was thinking the subway wouldn’t be crowded even though it was rush hour because the city had thinned out for Christmas, but no luck. I still had to stand with all my bags and the seated woman I was hovering near began covering her nose. “Oh shit, my shrimp paste.” I’d also bought a baggie of dried shrimp at the grocery store, which couldn’t be helping matters. I felt nervous for a second, then I was like, “Fuck you and this whole subway car. Oh, and seasons greetings.” I’m annoyed on a daily basis by my fellow riders, so grossing out strangers for fifteen minutes on Christmas Eve was the least of my concerns. In fact, I kind of enjoyed it.

Thank you, Skyway for empowering me to shed my usual self-consciousness. I should stink up subway cars more often—a lofty goal for 2008.

Skyway Malaysian * 11 Allen St., New York, NY

Bacaro

Apparently, sales people don’t eat sardines, chicken liver or octopus, or at least that’s what I was led to believe by my coworker who planned our holiday party at newish, strange-for-the-neighborhood Bacaro. I didn’t want to believe the meat and potatoes of it but I’m afraid it might be true.

As I grow more entrenched in market research surveys, I see people in percentages. I’d love to find a study on eating habits by job function, which would probably correlate to personality types. My half-baked theory is that extroverts are conservative eaters and introverts more culinarily adventurous.

At lot of food went to waste and that concerned the spend thrift in me. Even though I did try everything except the dessert (tiramisu, panna cotta and possibly cheesecake) I had to remind myself that just because the catacombs (yes, the subterranean dining rooms are tricked out with stone walls, wooden beams and lots of candlelit nooks and crannies) were teeming with plates of pasta and antipasti it wasn’t my duty to eat everything in front of me like my sweet but obese cat would.

Bacaro_interior

Really, holiday parties are more about drinking and socializing; good food is just a fringe benefit. Normally, I’d be all for unlimited alcohol but I was still feeling the disastrous effects from the previous night’s holiday party (the best part of James’s company’s fete was the free photo booth. I was too scared of the caricature artist and most definitely avoided the face painting station. I’m not sure if I loved or hated the DJ playing Bell Biv DeVoe and Journey) so I stuck with a reasonable number of glasses (uh, five instead of 8+) of fizzy, fun, low-alcohol Lambrusco.

It’s hard to fairly assess catered food since it’s served in bulk and tends to sit out. And I have no idea what the portions and pricing are like when ordered a la carte. Though we were offered most of the cicchetti on the menu so at least I’m now familiar with the majority of what Bacaro does. There weren’t really any misfires and I would have no problem returning for snacks and wine, though if I’m ever near the East Broadway F stop I’m more inclined to think Chinese.

Bacaro_sardines

The dreaded sarde in saor . There was lots of grumbling about these poor pine nut, raisin, onion and olive oil dressed fish. I love that Moorish combination of ingredients. One of my favorite tapas ever uses similar flavors with chickpeas and morcilla, but there would’ve been a mutiny if blood sausage made an appearance at the party. My only complaint was that this was difficult to eat standing up with a drink in hand.

Bacaro_salumi_and_cheese

Meats and cheeses seemed benign enough, but numerous people expressed dismay/confusion/fear at the dark red folded slices. I’m fairly certain it was bresaola. I was like “it’s beef.” Don’t all non-vegetarians like beef? Air-dried beef isn’t scary and everyone seemed to dig it once they took a bite. The rest of the tray contained prosciutto, salami, mortadella, parmesan and mozzarella.

Bacaro_crostini

I also assumed crostini would be inoffensive. I liked the chicken liver spread best. The dark ones were kind of dull and mushroom based. The light ones might’ve been salt cod.

Bacaro_mushroom_gnochi

Gnocchi con funghi was a hit. I forget how likeable gnocchi is because I never eat Italian food. These potato blobs were unusually large and pleasantly chewy. I’d like to say toothsome but people hate that word. I might say pillowy instead and that would still set off some florid prose meters. Personally, I like cliches.

Bacaro_risotto  

The second pasta, risotto al nero di seppia, also had a lot of takers despite its squid inky color. I did hear someone say, “What’s that? Dip?”

Bacaro_calamari

I didn’t eat much of the frito misto. It seemed to be a mix of octopus and vegetables, heavy on the octopus.

Bacaro_octopus_salad

Insalata polpi. I guess you either love or hate octopus. This was a simple salad with tiny wedges of potato and slivers of celery. Fresh though not wildly exciting.

Bacaro_meatballs

Polpette. That’s a spicy meatball. No really, they were. Even these straightforward little orbs gave people pause because they didn’t know what kind of meat they were made from. I’m guessing pork but it could’ve been a combo with beef or veal and I wouldn’t have known the difference.

Bacaro * 136 Division St., New York, NY

Peking Duck House

After researching where to eat in Beijing, the urge for peking duck became hard to ignore. I can’t say for sure that Peking Duck House is a top contender in NYC—I’ve only tried a few places for this delicacy—but it’s where I tend to go and I like to believe that it’s above average.

Two diners are tricky. We wanted a whole duck, but the $25 per person combo dinner with more side dishes and appetizers only offers half a duck for two. It’s not immediately apparent from glancing at the menu that you can just buy a duck flat out for $38, but you can.

The bird comes out whole and is shown to you before being taken to a nearby table to be carved. I always wonder what they do with the carcass. I know that some restaurants will make a soup course from the leftovers. The pancakes at Peking Duck House are large, more burrito sized that normal, so each bundle is substantial. I actually prefer the sweet fluffiness of mantou that some restaurants serve; it feels more decadent.

I never know what to order to compliment the duck. Cold sesame noodles seemed innocuous to start. A vegetable would be smart to counteract the fatty meat and skin, garlic eggplant wasn’t the wisest since Chinese-style eggplant is rarely healthy with all the oil and sauce it comes in. It was good, though incredibly garlicky.

My fortune didn’t sit well with me, true as it may be. “Perhaps you’ve been focusing too much on yourself.” Well, duh. (9/28/07)

Read more

Paris Sandwich

1/2 I’m frequently torn between trying to learn what patience means (I already have prematurely high blood pressure and am half-convinced that a heart attack will seize me before forty) and being uncontrollably speedy and efficient. Today, I was able to put both lifestyles to the test when I became stricken with a violent craving for a banh mi around 11am.

Normally, I don’t eat until 2pm and have a hard time getting worked up over anything, especially in a five-block radius. But obtaining a banh mi became such an overwhelming mission that by 12:55 I couldn’t sit still any longer. And I didn’t care how far I had to go to find one.

I have a full hour lunch, which I rarely take advantage of, so it wasn’t as if I was in a real hurry. But because I’m always manic and huffy, I had a self-imposed sense of urgency. How fast could I get to Chinatown, order, and get back to the office? It would be a fun, sweaty little contest with myself. Never mind that I did so many leg presses and thigh squeezey things at the gym on Sunday that it still hurts to stroll with a normal gait. (I recently re-joined my gym and clearly didn't realize how out of shape I'd become even though I'd continued to exercise on my own. All I know is that when I last frequented the place I didn't have an iPod yet and there was lots of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on my mp3 device, so I'm fairly certain it was 2005.)

So, out the door at 12:55. I don’t wear a watch so I could only get so frantic on my sandwich run. Getting to Canal from Broad was a breeze. Navigating the three blocks to Paris Sandwich (there might be a closer shop to Centre St. but I’ve been meaning to try this bakery) was anything but. Between the meandering tourists, three-foot tall Chinese shufflers and thick-headed locals, it’s always perpetual gridlock.

Thankfully, Paris Sandwich’s service was crazy-fast and organized. Simple, you order in the front from a photo menu, and pick up in the back. My number #39 was squawked and I had a grilled pork and standard sandwich in less than two minutes, way before I expected them. That’s an assembly line. There was no time for dilly-dallying, scrutinizing the menu, searching for anomalies and atypical gems. I barely glanced at the refrigerated case and shelves of baked goods. I tried to ignore the sign on the door for a tomato slushy, which would normally weird me out enough for a double take, but not this time.

The north side of Canal St. is minutely more walkable, so I tried maneuvering through jewelry shop gawkers. Despite my initial annoyance at a woman in a wheelchair clogging up the already maxed out sidewalk, I lucked out on the way back. I realized that everyone willingly moved aside for her and her motorized ride, so I got right behind it like a speeding car trailing an ambulance and benefited from the temporary path she created.

Paris_bakery_banh_miI was pleased with myself until I got thwarted by the turnstile pile-up while trying to get into the subway station. I got downstairs just in time to see the J pulling out. Damn. The next M only went one stop to Chambers St. where I got stuck at 1:21pm and lost steam. I didn’t get back on track literally, until 1:31. When my mom was in town a few months ago she thought it was strange that I’d complain about waiting ten minutes for a subway since the light rail runs like every 15 minutes during rush hour, but ten minutes is a freaking long time to stand around in the dank humidity (and no one takes public transportation in Portland anyhow).

When all was said and done, the trek spanned from 12:55 to 1:45. I really thought it’d be quicker. Fifty minutes to go three stops, walk three blocks, get take out, and then do the reverse? If there had been better subway and elevator (I can only take one elevator from bank of four to get to 33, the top floor, mine) alignment, 15 minutes could easily be shaved off.

Paris_bakery_cross_sectionOddly, the special banh mi contained no cucumber and next to no mayonnaise, which didn’t traumatize me because those are my least favorite components even though I hate to admit it (phew, now that’s off my chest). Some vegetables creep me out warm, lettuce and cucumbers are two. While a solid amount of cold cuts are folded inside the roll, there was a surprising lack of flavor and more cartilagey bits than I’m accustomed to. The pickled essence could’ve been stronger. And I like more of that reddish ground up mystery meat. But these are all nitpicks; the sub more than served its purpose.

I ate half of each sandwich and saved the rest for tomorrow’s lunch. The grilled pork was very sweet and saucy, more candied than the grilled pork you’d find atop a bowl of rice vermicelli.

Paris_bakery_summer_rollsAs is often my way, I grabbed some summer rolls at the cash register (they’re always at the counter). I didn’t even have time to see which variety I snagged. They all looked brown through the translucent skins, I’m fairly certain they were all pork, no shrimp anyway. Nice and compact, the fillings stayed put and didn’t make for messy at-desk eating, though the nuoc cham was dangerously drippy.

I never got the point of a camera phone until today when I left the house camera-less.  I’m not even joking when I say that I’m not even up to speed with texting and talking and walking at the same time. Forget about control over focus, lighting, sizing or any of that. What you see is as good as it gets.

Paris Sandwich * 113 Mott St., New York, NY

Pho Grand

I’m just getting the point where I can re-hash Christmas dinner and it’s already the day before New Year’s Eve. Sadly, I don’t even have an inkling of a plan yet. But that’s how Christmas was too. I didn’t do a single notable thing all day and didn’t leave the house until 8pm.

I met random mix of people at Pho Grand (Chinatown without the Chinese food) that included my friend Jane, her father who’d literally just gotten into town, her sister and boyfriend, and a mutual friend Heather. I was hesitant to tell Heather that we were doing Vietnamese but it turned out she’d been to Pho Grand before, coincidentally with the guy I’d ran into at Snacky a few nights before.

I forgot to take photos, that often happens when I’m with people I don’t know that well. We shared a few grilled pork chops, a large order of spring rolls, and everyone got some pho permutation except Heather, a.k.a baby palate (I’d nearly forgotten that I’d dubbed her that until she mentioned it) who ordered grilled beef over rice vermicelli and wouldn’t add the accompanying sauce. It pained me to watch her using soy sauce instead of hoisin or chile paste but the holiday spirit doesn’t allow for food nazism.

I couldn’t bear Williamburg drinks afterward, so Heather and I set off in the rainstorm looking for any place open and serving dessert. That limited our options to Little Italy where we found one restaurant that met our criteria. I couldn’t even tell you the name. Our shared black forest cake, cannoli and strawberry tart were anything but remarkable but sometimes you have to take what you can get.

Random_strawberry_tart
This is not pho

Pho Grand * 277 Grand St., New York, NY