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Not-So-Black Friday

In a twisted way, you might consider rising at 3pm on “Black Friday” as the mark of a fun Thanksgiving. Inevitably, food and drink combined with bad TV results in staying up until daybreak. That’s the beauty of Friday off; it’s kind of luxurious to squander it doing absolutely nothing except eating leftovers and lazing about. It’s certainly not any more grotesque than lining up at 4am to buy crap no one needs.

Last year I forwent a whole bird and created a Middle Eastern inspired menu. This year I went traditional and straightforward. I didn’t mean for nearly all of my recipes to come from Epicurious, it just happened. Is that tacky like decorating your house with too many things from the same store? Er, I guess that’s me—over-reliant on Ikea—too.

The gathering was small enough, five including myself, to not feel pressured, and mellow enough to watch the first two episodes of Project Runway while eating (who knew that Sara Jessica Parker could induce bawling in grown men?). At some point Kid Nation was pulled from the DVR. Dawn of the Dead turned out to be a 4am mistake because I ended up having to watch Three’s Company afterwards to counteract the scariness. I’m not thankful for zombies. And while I’m at it, I’m not thankful for Style’s new unsexy, Hot Guys Who Cook, either.

Unfortunately, most of my photos are crooked and out of focus. It’s possible that this was a direct result of too much zinfandel, 1621 cocktails (I actually had Applejack and blood orange bitters on hand, which influenced this drink choice) and hippied-out mac and cheese brought by a friend (that’s not really my kind of baking).

Miso-rubbed Turkey

with Bourbon Gravy

It may seem that I went a little wild with miso, using it in two dishes, but it’s subtle and just creates a vague salty, savory flavor. Trying to get compound butter between a turkey’s skin and flesh is a fussy pain in the ass that I won’t likely repeat. Gravy is also kind of a pain. It turned out that I didn’t have any whisky around so I resorted to Applejack, which I’d used to good effect in Thanksgiving gravy a few years ago.

Winter Fruit and Nut Stuffing

I usually go meat-less with the sides to accommodate a range of tastes. I’d forgotten that I’d thrown out a box of prunes last month, so I had to increase the dried cranberries and apricots. It all worked out. This was a drier-style stuffing; I kind of like mine wet and mushy which might transpire after sitting in the fridge overnight.

Sweet Pickled-Cranberry Compote

The stuffing was sweet so I wanted the cranberries and sweet potatoes to avoid candied flavors. Tart and pickled was a good antidote to sugary and jellied.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Scallion Butter

Well, I didn’t seek out Japanese tubers like the recipe called for, and I didn’t serve them individually. To save time, I roasted them and mashed them with the miso-scallion butter and warmed in a dish. It was just as well.

Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts

I love chestnuts in vegetables and the addition of heavy cream amps up the richness even further. Honestly, I’m not sure what the difference is between the $10+ jars of roasted chestnuts in specialty stores and the ones you get in foil packs emblazoned with anthropomorphic logos at Chinese stores for a fraction of the price. I like to stock up at Hong Kong Supermarket and doubt that I would be blown away by the European imports. But I’ve been wrong many times before.

Pecan and Salt Caramel Cheesecake

You probably already know that salt and caramel are amazing together. Caramel, pecans and cake made with four blocks of cream cheese would’ve been sufficiently decadent, but the sprinkling of crunchy sea salt added interest to the sweetness.

Western Sichuan

Chain restaurants and hotels aren’t necessarily top dining choices in the US, but in much of Asia there’s nothing wrong with them. And the malls aren’t half-bad either, as I found out with Western Sichuan.

I didn’t expect to go hungry on vacation, it never happens, but Beijing really messed with me. I kept falling asleep around 6pm and waking up in the middle of the night, which caused me to miss two potential dinners because I couldn’t get out of my painfully hard bed. Dining on the fruit left in our room every day wasn’t what I had in mind for Chinese food.

I also never thought I’d be up and at the bus terminal to get to the Great Wall by the 11am cut off (I rarely get out of bed before 10am out of free will) on a Saturday but I was so screwed up that we were left our hotel by 7am. Coffee wasn’t to be found anywhere along the way but we did pick up a two bings from a window we passed. I didn’t realize that starchy disk was going to have to sustain me for the next eight hours.

The Great Wall scarred me enough (no one understands why I found the stairs and heights so frightening and I can’t be bothered to try and articulate it again), the $12 bus ride was borderline traumatic too (we originally thought we’d pay the $25 or so each way that I heard taxis would charge, but in practice I had no idea how to hire one since the language barrier was so thick).

No one ever said the face of fear would be pretty. Just being that close to the opening in the wall almost induced pants-crapping.

Being the most foreign, a gay German twosome, a non-Chinese-speaking Asian couple from San Diego and James and I were all a bit lost during the ride and even after our arrival at Badaling. We were all paranoid we were going to get left behind. Then the girl who was apparently hosting this trip got in front of the bus and proceeded to do an ear-splitting spiel in rapid-fire Mandarin via microphone that lasted over half an hour. I thought I was going to lose my mind or at least go deaf. It induced the Germans sitting behind us to mutter under their breath in English, no less, “holy hell, please shut the fuck up.”

Then I got my first whiff of stinky tofu. Wow, I thought I was tough—I’ve never understood the hullabaloo with durian—but the festering body part stench started taking its toll on my resolve. At first I thought I was just smelling dirty hair wafting around, and I was, then I got a whiff of decaying corpse and prayed that it was actually food. It was.

After futzing around on the Great Wall for a bit, then deciding I’d seen enough, I would’ve been happy to find one of those evil American chains like Starbucks to grab a coffee and heck, possibly a red bean scone, but I saw no such thing. Hunger had set in by afternoon and all I saw was corn on the cob, roasted sweet potatoes and a ramshackle food court permeated by the aroma of stinky tofu. Argh, I resorted to the apple in my bag and I rarely eat fruit by choice. We Blackberried Starbucks and Great Wall like crazy trying to pinpoint its location and only came up with impassioned anti-corporate rants, no hard details. Thanks for nothing, internets.

It doesn’t take long for leg pains, general malaise and hunger to take a turn for the worse. On the winding journey back into the city I deliriously imagined the bright, shiny food court-plus at Oriental Plaza (there are way more dining choices than listed on their website) near our hotel. We made it there by late afternoon and I was ravenous. Ah…lamb curry puffs: awesome. Beard Papa? I got a puff for later. Oh, and I also popped into BreadTalk where I ogled miniature Hello Kitty cheesecakes. We were overwhelmed with choice for the main event.


Instead of patronizing the food court proper, we picked a peripheral sit-down restaurant. Would mall Sichuan suck? No way. I don’t know if the food tasted better because we were so hungry, but I can fairly say that what might’ve been mediocre by Chinese standards was up there with NYC’s best (which are slim pickings). Not being able to eat leftovers the next day, as is my usual way, we tempered our urge to over order.


Chile oil rules. This cold chicken dish pushed the boundaries of mouth-numbing. I like the ma la tingle, but this was more of a creeping wallop that seemed to affect the sides of the tongue then trickled down the throat. I’m not honestly sure why this is a desirable sensation while eating and why it plays such a role in one region’s cuisine. It does create a fun trick on the palate where beverages like beer or soda taste much sweeter after swallowing a bite of food teeming with Sichuan peppercorns.


Our tamer fresh bacon with chiles is similar to the “enhanced pork” at Spicy & Tasty in Flushing. We probably should’ve also ordered a vegetable to cut all of the richness and spice but two items were plenty. As you can see from the photos, portions are similar to what you’d get at a Chinese restaurant here. I was under the impression that servings would be smaller but that really didn’t turn out to be the case.

This was intended as late lunch but became our only real meal of the day since I fell asleep like an hour later and never made it to Hot Loft, a modern take on hot pot dining, I had scheduled for Saturday night. Jet lag really put a kink in my planned gluttony. 

Western Sichuan * Dong Chang'an Dajie 1, Beijing, China


Mazzat certainly isn’t going to help re-gentrify Red Hook or that isolated sliver of Carroll Gardens that some call Red Hook. I was excited to see something new show up on Columbia Street earlier this year but the Mediterranean tapas (so says their awning) aren’t really any great shakes. Then again, they’re not horrible either. If the urge for Armenian string cheese and a glass of wine ever strikes when in western Carroll Gardens, you’ll know where to go.

Chicken cigars aren't such a crazy concept, but served with honey mustard?

Don't worry, there's no honey mustard in the hummus.

Soujouk, a crumbly, mildly spicy Armenian sausage with cheese.  It's not pretty, but at least it's something you don't typically see at a tapas bar. I also don't think Armenia is Mediterranean–maybe it's one of those Carroll Gardens/Red Hook debates. 

Read my review

Mazzat * 208 Columbia St., Brooklyn, NY

Yang’s Fry Dumpling

Ok, I’d better start practicing the difficult (for me) art of succinct-ness or else I’ll still be rambling on and on about Chinese food eaten in October 2007 well into 2008. Don’t hate me but I never ate xiao long bao in Shanghai. I know, I know, but there was just so much else to sample. However, I did try shengjian mantou, which in many ways I found preferable. It’s all a matter of delicate vs. rustic. I was going to say refined but that’s not accurate because the broth inside these steamed and fried pork dumplings was really stellar. I rarely notice things like the quality of stock but when it’s outstanding and bursting with what I can only imagine is that elusive umami, I get it.

There are two Yang’s stands just a few storefronts apart on Wujiang Lu. It’s chaotic at lunchtime and might be at all times. Because I leave nothing to chance, I read up ahead of time and learned that you order from the woman at a stand on the right, she gives you a ticket and then you stand in the long line on the left and pick up your dumplings. And ordering in fours is the standard. We got eight.


As you can see in the picture, the vessel doing the frying is a huge round affair. It looks like there’d be an endless supply, but the dumplings get burned through in no time. It’s very New York in a way, even though I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. Customers were making the girl turn over dumplings to get more color on the sides, pointing out ones that looked better, like our equivalent of “gimme that one, no that one” or “cook it good.” I’m still flabbergasted at how much New Yorkers boss around the counter/cart guys and I’ve lived here nearly a decade.


Our line wasn’t that long and we had to wait for maybe three replacement batches, mostly due to the greedy gus three ahead of us who’d brought a soup pot with a glass lid from home (the server is holding it in the top photo) and had that filled, then he pulled out plastic containers from a bag and got those topped off, too. We were like save some for us, mister, and the people in line behind us began grumbling too. Thinking in multiples of four, he had to have ordered at least 32. The pan was decimated. But they’re speedy and a fresh replacement was there in minutes.


We didn’t dare try to snag an inside table (I have horrible fears of ordering food to stay only to end up seat-less) so we tracked down a rare outdoor seat on a low concrete wall and dug into our steaming messy snack. We got stared at by nearly every single passerby. I don’t know if it was because no one eats outside (there were a few others on benches nearby), we weren’t Asian, we were mangling our food or committing some unspoken faux pas, they were curious about what we were eating, or what. This is a modern city with decent amount of expats so it was kind of baffling and nothing like the time James accidentally got a skewer of chicken hearts in Thailand and wound up with unwanted attention from amused locals. Maybe these fried dumplings are good enough to elicit stares. I would certainly swap them for my usual granola bar breakfast.

Yang’s Fry Dumpling * 54 Wujiang Lu, Shanghai, China


The Quiznos in the parking lot of Linden New Jersey’s Aviation Plaza shopping center is the only one I’ve ever been to, and three times now. I work across the street from one and never go. This shopping center off Route 1 has become my go-to weekend destination for important destinations like Target, Old Navy, Marshall’s, Home Depot, a 24-hour Shop Rite (I like grocery shopping post 10pm), not so much the Polish and Slavic Credit Union or Avenue, but I was excited to find Applejack at Pied Piper Liquors—none of the shops in my immediate neighborhood sell it. And we persist in doing a bulk of our shopping out this way even though it costs a ridiculous $15 in tolls (the west coaster in me still can’t fathom such nonsense) to go through Staten Island into Union County.

And I found myself at Quiznos again this weekend because it was 5pm, I hadn’t eaten lunch yet (that’s what happens when you get out of bed at noon) and was starving but didn’t want to ruin my appetite because Sichuan food in Flushing was going to happen around 8:30pm. Applebee’s, Chevy’s and Boulder Steakhouse were out of the question; this was the perfect opportunity to try one of those two-dollar, despicably named Flatbread Sammies I saw advertised on TV last week. Yes, advertising works on me.

This is the Bistro Steak Melt, much flatter and less stuffed than the promotional shots. They’re not bad, though a little mixed up, using flatbread, meat, mozzarella, peppercorn sauce and what seems to be salsa. Middle Eastern? Mexican? I guess that’s wholly American. I don’t believe that they are terribly healthy but for something small and cheap to supplement my brought-from-home apple and yogurt it beats the $3.85 half-sandwich at Pret a Manger. (11/18/07)

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Spicy & Tasty

Apparently, I didn’t get my fill of Sichuan food in China because last weekend I couldn’t stop thinking about tracking more down. Little Pepper was my first choice, but it was full at 8:30 on a Saturday. We could’ve waited but it was a good opportunity to give Spicy & Tasty, just around the corner, a re-visit.

I think some prefer Little Pepper because it’s grittier and less English-friendly. Somehow that implies authentic. But still in a fluorescent and formica vein, S&T is hardly upscale. I find the food comparable, if slightly pricier. We scored the only open table for two.


I settled on beef tendons from the long list of cold appetizers. It turned out that they had exhausted their supply, but in a way I lucked out because they topped off the plate with tripe. Double whammy. And to their credit, they did ask first before substituting. I know not all Americans are as tripe-crazed as I am.

Cold dishes are made on demand at a bar in the front of the restaurant. And the balance of chiles and peppercorns is right on. You feel the heat and the numbing tingle, but it’s not so overwhelming that you lose flavor. And the fresh crunch of cilantro stems enlivens the thinly sliced meat.


Next time I’ll branch out and try fish but I wasn’t in the mood for the unknown. I knew that enhanced pork was up my alley and similar to a dish I’d recently eaten in Beijing. Essentially, it’s a stir-fry of fresh pork, leeks and chiles. Everything gets a caramely sear; the vegetables turn sweet and play off the chile hotness.


The translations explain little and make it difficult to know what you’re going to get. For instance, there’s lamb with red chile sauce, lamb with chile pepper and sliced lamb in sliced fresh hot pepper on the menu. I have no freaking idea how any of those differ. In fact, I can’t remember which one the above photo is though I suspect it’s lamb with chile pepper. The chile used was dried and ground and seemed to only show up in random bites of food. This was wonderfully gamey and oily, but I actually prefer a less saucy lamb like the cumin dusted version at Little Pepper.


I’ve tried making dry-cooked string beans before but they never quite turn out like this. These taste almost meaty and chopped preserved vegetables scattered throughout was an unexpected touch.

Lord, I can't believe my last visit was four years ago, and almost to the day. Is this what aging feels like? (11/17/07)

Heading through Flushing on the way back from a tough afternoon IKEA shopping on Long Island, I knew it was the perfect time to check out this restaurant I'd been hearing about. Since the car was literally bursting at the seams with enough cheap furniture to add up to $475, James was hesitant to park on the street. A parking garage was requisite or he said we couldn't stop for dinner. That was like a mean dad thing to say, and I wasn't so sure they would have indoor parking nearby. I was nervous. But luck was shining on us because there was a Sheraton on the same block as Spicy & Tasty with a parking garage. And this hotel experience was almost equal to the food.

I love hotels. Or more properly I love being in foreign cities, and as I recently discovered, Asian ones. It's so not "Lost in Translation." I mean mid-range hotels with stores and services in them, travel agents, random clothing stores, and the like. Our last day, a rainy Sunday in Singapore we strolled around the food court in the basement of the Meridian hotel. The food stalls were open, but there were also quiet halls on other levels with glass facades, darkened rooms and closed doors. Boutiques, graphic design firms, the only life being a room filled with teenage boys playing computer video games. It was fun and felt like you shouldn't be there since we weren't hotel guests (though it was all public space). The Sheraton LaGuardia (as it was called, though not all that near the airport) had the same feel, levels and stairs and businesses on the perimeter and a fancy, near deserted Japanese restaurant you look down on from above. It was like a mini-vacation wandering around, and accidental. We were just trying to figure out how to get from the basement garage to the main exit but went too high on the elevator and had to saunter down oddly positioned stairs, accompanied by the strains of soft music.

Spicy & Tasty continued the feel. I've never been to China, but I like to believe it felt very Chinese. Or Sichuan at least, as that is their thing. I wasn't blown away by the peppercorns as I expected to be. Maybe I was thinking Thai heat, not subtle buzzy Sichuan spicy, or maybe the food wasn't heavily spiced. It was certainly good, though. I go nuts for bamboo shoots in chile oil, and they were made all the more attractive by being prepared up front by a cold dish guy. There were all sorts of appetizers, jellyfish, sliced tendon, eggplant and more that I would've liked to try, but you can only eat so much with two people. I had to order the enhanced pork, if not for the name alone. I'm not sure what the enhancement was referring to–there was a copious amount of leek greens in the dish, which could be construed as enhancement (a few days later that green onion hepatitis outbreak began and like a good hypochondriac began wondering if leek greens were also a danger). James got the Szechuan lamb, which was like a rich, almost Indian spiced stew that came in a metal dish over a flame.

I left feeling uncharacteristically upbeat and actually looked forward to walking through the hotel lobby back to the car just for shits and giggles. The odd thing was that the elevator places you right inside the office where you pay and no one was around, but you could hear footsteps and clear-as-a-bell voices from the garage where the cars initially drive in. The place was miked, for what reason I'm not sure, but it was kind of creepy. We were quiet as mice when we got back into the car just to be safe. Of course all they'd hear us saying was how great the food at Spicy & Tasty was. (11/14/03)

Spicy & Tasty * 39-07 Prince St., Flushing, NY

Are You Chicken?

Pollocampero The last Wal-Mart I went to only had a lame Subway inside. I’m not one for dining in discount stores anyway (and as much as I like cheapness and crap, Wal-Marts tend to give me the creeps—they’re always heavy with a crestfallen vibe that’s barely masking something violent. What, I don’t know, but they always exude potential danger. There was even something scary about the rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel” blaring from the ice cream truck cruising the parking lot at the one in Linden, NJ that I last frequented. After the song cycle would finish, this crazy cartoon sound effect “boing” would reverberate like the worst jack-in-the-box ever was popping out and coming to get you, but then, I’ve always been scared shitless by jack-in-the-boxes) but I might change my tune if there was a freaking Pollo Campero tucked between those Faded Glory brand denim shorts and Looney Tunes nursing aide uniforms .

I knew we were behind the times in NYC. We couldn’t even sustain two Guatemalan fast food chicken franchises in a city of 8 million, yet they flourish elsewhere in the US.

Despite a sad lack of fried chicken, I might have to make a Wal-Mart visit this weekend because I’m seriously coveting this wood grain tablecloth. I have no idea when or why this faux bois thing became so out of control, but I’ve been buying it up for the past few years.

Are You Chicken?

Pollocampero The last Wal-Mart I went to only had a lame Subway inside. I’m not one for dining in discount stores anyway (and as much as I like cheapness and crap, Wal-Marts tend to give me the creeps—they’re always heavy with a crestfallen vibe that’s barely masking something violent. What, I don’t know, but they always exude potential danger. There was even something scary about the rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel” blaring from the ice cream truck cruising the parking lot at the one in Linden, NJ that I last frequented. After the song cycle would finish, this crazy cartoon sound effect “boing” would reverberate like the worst jack-in-the-box ever was popping out and coming to get you, but then, I’ve always been scared shitless by jack-in-the-boxes) but I might change my tune if there was a freaking Pollo Campero tucked between those Faded Glory brand denim shorts and Looney Tunes nursing aide uniforms .

I knew we were behind the times in NYC. We couldn’t even sustain two Guatemalan fast food chicken franchises in a city of 8 million, yet they flourish elsewhere in the US.

Despite a sad lack of fried chicken, I might have to make a Wal-Mart visit this weekend because I’m seriously coveting this wood grain tablecloth. I have no idea when or why this faux bois thing became so out of control, but I've been buying it up for the past few years.

Din Tai Fung

1/2  This was our first restaurant meal in Beijing, and I realize it’s mixed up to be eating soup dumplings in a city not known for them, especially when a Shanghai visit is only a few days off. And it’s even more mixed up to eat a Shanghai specialty at a Taiwanese chain that’s branched all the way to L.A. But Din Tai Fung is highly regarded and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Plus, we were foreigners so we could do whatever we wanted. Well, at least that’s what one of James’s Chinese coworkers told him when he asked about etiquette and making restaurant reservations in particular. I love dubious information from Chinese living in America. This same coworker was also horrified at my hotel choice in Shanghai, Old House Inn, which she originally thought was James’s idea because no female would pick  a place like that (I choose all the hotels and restaurants when we travel—I guess that makes me the decider? And while I’m all for splurging on meals, I’m stingy with lodging. I don’t need luxury, coddling or spa treatments, but I hate ugly and generic too. It’s not always easy finding something boutiquey under $120 night, my rough limit for hotels in Asia). “Five star all the way” was how she described her mode of travel. “Five star all the way” and “we’re foreigners, we can do whatever we want” became the catch phrases of China vacation 2007.

Not knowing Beijing for shit, we had a heck of a time finding this place even armed with a map. We tried the subway, which isn’t so bad despite what guidebooks tell you. Not to be all proud and mighty, but if you ride the subway in NYC every day you’re fairly desensitized to supposedly off-putting things like crowds, buying tickets from machines and transferring lines.

Though, I will say that a full train by NYC standards is not so in Beijing. We crammed in one that by my reckoning was at capacity, packed enough that here a rider would just wait for the next one. But in China that does not prevent people from pushing your back with much more force than one would expect from such small frames and squeezing in another five humans. With bikes that fit through impossibly precarious spaces on the road and taxis maneuvering through traffic, missing pedestrians’ legs by inches, I couldn’t help but think of Chinese as mice burrowing everywhere unscathed. I’m hyper aware of personal space so it was mystifying.


We trudged on a busy road for a while, then meandered through some back streets, not hutongs per se, and took a shortcut through a housing project, which ended at a fenced-off canal. I could see what I thought must be Din Tai Fung (there wasn’t any signage, at least not in English) across the water and parallel street. It was much fancier than I’d anticipated; this was no hole in the wall dumpling joint. People on bikes were walking their vehicles through a little open section in the metal fence (once again squeezing through smallness—they could’ve just opened the gate, it looked like) so we popped through, too.


I’ll freely admit that I’m not a xiaolongbao connoisseur at all. I’ve never been to Joe’s Shanghai, in fact I’ve only eaten them in New York maybe twice. I still think it would be safe to say that Din Tai Fung’s version is exemplary, if only because of the insane thinness of the dumpling skins.

pork soup dumpling

And just like unnecessary subway warnings for tourists, I don’t get all the caveats that go along with eating soup dumplings. You bite a little hole, suck out the broth and eat the thing. It’s not really that messy or complicated. Oh, and you dip the delicate package in black vinegar laced with julienned ginger first. You kind of have to eat them fast, we made it through eight and then the last two in the steamer had cooled down enough to start sticking to the bottom. There’s nothing worse than a soup dumpling bursting before you can get it on your spoon.

hairy crab dumpling

We ordered a batch of pork dumplings and another of hairy crab with roe. There was something very pristine about these little buns, despite their juiciness. In a way, the pork almost seemed more appropriate being simple rather than luxurious. We ate all twenty no problem.


Orange flavored pumpkin slices were kind of unusual. I expected a softer texture, but I’m fairly certain the squash was raw. James isn’t really a picky eater at all, as far as picky eaters go, but he’s not into organ meat which was kind of unfortunate. I love cold, spicy appetizers made with tendon, tripe, jellyfish, tongue, any of that. Pumpkin slices are what you get when you’re trying to steer clear of weirdo meats.


I’d read something about red bean buns for dessert, but I didn’t see them on the menu. When I asked about them, well, I experienced my first China mishap: an outrageously large portion of red bean ice. Yikes. I’m not opposed to less than sweet Asian treats, but this was way too much for two to pick at.

Din Tai Fung also introduced us to a few quirks of Chinese dining that existed at every single restaurant we dined at bar our two most expensive meals:

1. A ticket with your order is either left on the table or put in a slot along the table and gets pulled out and scrutinized by various staff members maybe every five minutes. Nothing changes, nothing extra has been ordered, but everyone seems very concerned with double checking. Or maybe I totally misunderstood what they were doing.

2. You put your jacket over the back of your chair and someone comes along with a nylon cover that fits over the whole thing. The coat protector is way easier than a coat check.

3.  You only get one menu, and this was the case at all restaurants high end and low. I suspect it's because one diner is meant to act as host and order everything for everyone but it did take getting used to.

Din Tai Fung * 24 Xinyuanxili Zhongjie, Beijing, China

Exterior photo from Din Tai Fung. Mine has cars in it so it's less attractive, though it's notable that the professional one also looks gray and gloomy. I think Beijing just looks like that.

Cafe Noir

1/2 I never eat in Soho, mostly because I’m never in the neighborhood. But there’s always a sense of style over substance, as well. Café Noir strikes me as one of those good enough restaurants, more geared to sustaining drinkers with passable Moroccan/Spanish/Middle Eastern/French bistro nibbles.

I knew I was in trouble when I ordered steak tartare and the waitress felt the need to explain, “you know that’s raw, right?”


And the customers weren’t much better. Bare feet don’t belong in a dining establishment and they most definitely don’t belong atop the long shared booth, inches from my leg. The offending appendages belonged to a sweet young girl who seemed very interested in probing her Swiss “date” about his income and career goals. When he mentioned that he might just go back to school, she then offered up that she had an investment banker boyfriend. Clearly, this dinner mate wasn’t enough of an upgrade to maintain her façade.


The merguez wasn’t half-bad, though I felt like the scoop of couscous should’ve been warm since the carrot salad was also cold.


Seafood croquettes were ok too.

Read my less anecdotal review

Cafe Noir * 32 Grand St., New York, NY