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.
This is not pho
Pho Grand * 277 Grand St., New York, NY
You might think that I'd eat Malaysian/Singaporean food more than I do since those are my favorite countries to eat in and I'm frequently trying to reproduce the cuisine in my cramped kitchen, but I dine on Chinese and Thai fare way more often. Much of the fun of Malaysian fare is the hawker or food court experience, the caliber of the cooking itself and cheap cheap prices. It doesn't quite translate in NYC.
James and I did a Mott and Canal after work meet-up to see what struck our fancies. I couldn't make a restaurant decision (I've noticed one of the many downsides of my not-so-new-anymore job is that it has made me exhausted and indecisive) earlier so wandering seemed like a good antidote.
I'd eaten at Singapore Café, twice before, though not recently, and it appears to be under new management. They now have two menus, one Chinese and the other "Asian fusion" which contains the Singaporean stuff. That's an interesting tactic. I guess they think that no one knows what Singaporean food is because they explain it to you without being prompted, and it appeared that most diners were eating Chinese food either because they were Chinese or because they were tourists (yes, I'm generalizing).
We had adequate versions of char kway teow, roti canai, grilled chicken in pandan leaves and beef rendang. I'm sure purists would find nitpicking points galore, but it was about what I'd expected going in. It's wise to be wary of restaurants that offer two cuisines because it's likely one is going to suffer. I don't even know if there are any Malay-run Malaysian or Singaporean restaurants in NYC. It's a more Chinese-y kind of city, I think.
My only complaint was the hovering service, which I realize sounds petty considering many consider Chinatown the epitome of brusqueness (I do not). Everyone watched us like a hawk, filled drinks too frequently and generally made me self-conscious. Two of the waitresses kept staring at my feet and I couldn't figure out why. I was too unnerved to snap photos, primarily because I was convinced that it would lead the host to think we were tourists who'd never seen Singaporean food and he'd come over and school us. Maybe I'm just an unfriendly crab but I'm a leave me alone kind of person.
Singapore Cafe * 69 Mott St., New York, NY
It's strange that I have such a S.E. Asian food fixation—I'm visiting
Singapore for the second time next month—but never eat that cuisine in
NYC. I think its because this isnt the city for doing that style right, not
that I'm an expert by any means. But vegetables, herbs and fish just arent
the same half way around the globe. It's not like Manhattan is teeming with
pandan, coconuts, rau ram, and Sri Lankan crabs (preferred species for chili
crab). Regardless, I needed a restaurant near F train Chinatown (because its
super hot out and after shopping at Hong Kong Super market on Allen St.,
there was no way I was heading to the heart of Canal St. for dinner) and
Oversea Asian fit the bill.
When I arrived shortly after work, the room was primarily filled with
guys drinking BYOB Heineken and Guinness. I don't know if they were staff
just kicking back because it wasn't busy or if they were just hanging out. I
wasn't sure if the fact that none of them were eating was a good sign or
James finally showed up (it goes without saying that whenever I meet
anyone for dinner, I will always be the one kept waiting. I'm not sure if
this says something about me or the company I keep) and we ordered a roti
canai to share, which Ill admit is odd since its really no more than one
serving, but we also wanted chicken satay. The skewered meat was right on,
slightly sweet and charred around the edges, the peanut sauce oily, rich and
slightly spicy (though James preferred dipping his poultry pieces into the
leftover roti canai curry, which wasn't a half bad idea).
We then moved on to mee goreng (I was just reading an account on a
message board how someones mother got food poisoning in Malaysia and when
they asked the doctor what ailment she had, he replied, “mee
goreng.” I don't know why I find that anecdote so amusing, but I hope
I don't catch any mee groeng while I'm visiting), which you never know what
is going to be stir fried into the mess of egg noodles. Shrimp and tomatoes
seemed like okay additions, but there was also bean curd, possibly potato
and flat crispy shards, kind of like scallion pancake pieces. I didnt mind
the mish mash. Sambal shrimp, a little heavier on the onion and green pepper
than shrimp, was more of an accompaniment. We probably shouldve ordered a
more proper entre, but its not like we left starving.
Oversea Asian Restaurant * 49 Canal St., New York, NY
You can eat well here for $20. And that's for three big-appetited adults. No
it's not as full of greasy, porky goodness as traditional dim sum, but it is
tasty and you don't feel so gross after over-ordering. I know baby-ish
carnivores that eat here because they claim Chinatown food is full of
gristle and weird unidentifiable bits. That's so not true. I mean, that's
only one step away from saying they cook stray cats and dogs (I'm not saying
they don't eat "pets" in Asia, but I don't think it's common NYC practice.
And if dog meat turned out to be the secret ingredient in yummy dim sum,
then I'd be all for it). Anyway, fill up on meat-free renditions of turnip
cakes, shrimp dumplings and pork buns and rest easy about the gnarly bits.
Vegetarian Dim Sum
House* 24 Pell St., New York, NY
Good World isn't half bad for dining. It's pretty obnoxious for drinking. Go early if you're claustrophobic. See my Time Out NY Eating & Drinking Guide review.
Good World Bar and Grill * 3 Orchard St., New York, NY
I knew the name, I was aware of the place, but I'd never been inspired to
pay a visit. But for some reason James was bitten by the Goody's bug (it's
one of those deals where he reads about or sees something on TV about a
restaurant and freaks me out by out of the blue telling me that's where
we're going). He'd heard about some Sichuan shrimp dish. I thought they were
known for soup dumplings. To cover all bases we ordered both. The garlic
might have been a bit charred on the shrimp, though I still liked them (they
were sort of orangey, clovey and spicy). The dumplings were properly soupy,
and an impulse order of sesame noodles was the perfect antidote to the
sub-tropical NYC summer heat.
Goody's * 1 E. Broadway, New York, NY
The most direct route from James's to my place involves a straight, but
treacherous shot down Bowery to the Manhattan Bridge. It's a total obstacle
course, but at least mini traffic jams allow me to take note of new
restaurants like Big Eat. The name alone sold me. Big Eats would've been ho
hum, but Big Eat…now that's got flair. I vowed to check it out the
very next day, and for once, I actually did what I said I was going to.
It was a big, flashy, two-level, Hong Kong-style (not that I've ever
been to HK, but it's the look that I imagine they're going for) affair. We
were the only non-Asians in the place (which could be good or bad, who's to
say) which proved to be a tiny problem when it became apparent that the
waiter couldn't really understand or read English (though he seemed able to
speak it). Not a big deal, after I figured out that pointing to the Chinese
(Sorry, I don't know my Cantonese from Mandarin, though I will start a
Mandarin class next month) characters worked like a charm.
We ordered crazy east-west things like crab wrapped in Canadian bacon
(it was fake crab and regular bacon) and honey-garlic chicken. There was
also a scallop in XO sauce dish in there somewhere. The overall impression
was that Big Eat was akin to Sweet and Tart in mood, though in menu less dim
sum-y. I'd go back.
Big Eat * 97 Bowery, New York, NY
I like this place because if you're taking the M from Queens, it's kitty
corner from that odd Canal St. exit that puts you out on Centre St. No
transferring trains, no treks through town, just a 30 min. straight shot
from Ridgewood. Convenience and good Vietnamese food. They've got the
typical subtle variations of pho and all sorts of stuff with beansprouts and
basil. But the last time I was there right before a job interview, I
branched out and had this pork chop thing (have to re-look up the name) that
was amazing and at $5.25 didn't put a dent in even an unemployed gal's
pocket. I also slammed a Tsingtao to calm any pre-interview jitters and
worried for a moment that I was delving into Uncle Ned (Tom Hank's one shot
"Family Ties" character) territory. The dish came with two barbecued pork
chops on rice with some sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots, and a piece
of this "egg cake" which was like scrambled egg with something black like
beans inside. I felt pretty invigorated, albeit stuffed, upon leaving. And
no, I didn't get that job. Keep your eye out for the waiter who goes,
"Yummy, yummy" and then mumbles something under his breath when he brings
I'm tackling my eating alone phobia and trying a different Chinatown
place every Tues. night before my writing class. I thought I'd already
battled this affliction when I'd reluctantly eat lunch alone while working
at the library in Portland. I was a total spazz about it in the mid '90s,
and unfortunately the new millennium hasn't improved me much. I'm convinced
this Fred Durst guy was staring at me the entire meal, not a glare, but
every time I'd look up our eyes would meet, and not in a wanted way. Then a
skinny young girl sat down facing me and also kept catching my line of
vision. Such paranoia. I find it hard to chew when you feel eyes are on you.
Anyway, the #1 pho was tasty, filling and cheap and that's what counts.
Nha Trang Centre * 148 Centre St. New York, NY
I've only ever eaten at the Nyonya in Chinatown where the service has that
odd Asian curtness (like the waitress telling my sister and her friend
visiting from England they couldn't have two orders of the same stuffed
tofu. "Too much food," "order another one if you're still hungry.") Being in
Brooklyn, perhaps the Sunset Park branch would be more relaxed. It was
Chinatown bustling at 10pm on a weeknight, but not harried.
We ordered the requisite roti canai, then a smoky char kway teow and
house special shrimp, which were mammoth and in a totally rich, almost black
sauce, heavy on the shrimp paste, which I love. After toasting shrimp paste
for a homemade curry, James declared I'd finally achieved that Asian store
smell in the privacy of my own apt. Yeah, it's pungent, but it always
bothers me how cookbooks will substitute anchovy paste instead…and ginger
for galangal. Bah. I got my Malaysian fix without a hitch. The only dilemma
is squelching my perpetual laksa craving in favor of food that can be
shared. I prefer variety, and laksa will plain fill you up. Maybe the
gluttonous solution would be to get the laksa to go? Coconut milk overdose
Nyonya* 5323 Eighth Ave., Brooklyn, NY
Pretty much banquet-sized room dim sum. Not sublime, but satisfying. I'm not
one of those finicky, stickler types. My only complaint: no turnip cakes.
Triple Eight Palace * 88 E. Broadway, New York, NY