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Tim Ho Wan

Tim Ho Wan is famously the cheapest Michelin-starred
restaurant on earth. At least the original Kowloon location is, but there was
no way I was testing out the blog-chronicled two-hour-waits while on vacation.
I get enough of that nonsense in NYC, thanks. The snazziest branch is on the
Hong Kong side of Victoria Harbour in the IFC mall. I went for the
lesser-trafficked Kowloon location (The Guardian recently filmed a video there)
a bit higher up the subway line in Yau Ma Tei, which appeared to be a district
made up of blocks and blocks of toy and children's clothing wholesalers.

Tim ho wan yau ma tei

There was still about a 15-minute wait, but not so

Tim ho wan pork buns

This is dim sum, by the way, non-skippable in Hong
Kong even if only in town for two days like me. I couldn't even tell you the
best because there are just so many choices and it depends on if you want luxe
or old-school; many fall somewhere in the middle, and most now serve fresh dim
sum cooked on demand after checking boxes on a piece of paper instead of the
cart method that Americans have grown to like.

Tim ho wan pork bun

Often a restaurant is known for a specialty or two.
At Time Ho Wan it's undoubtedly the place for pork buns with a crackly shortening-and-sugar
enriched topping that bakes down into a barely golden, flaky crust. A softness without
fluff. I'd say they're a relative of the Mexico buns I was obsessed with on my
last Hong Kong visit. I don't consider buns chopstick food, but tried to do as
my fellow diners, using the little bowl to park it and taking awkward nibbles
before I dropped the floppy mound onto the spoon.

Tim ho wan shrimp dumplings

Hong Kong is modern, British-influenced, and all
that but there is still a substantial language barrier, and outside of the
central areas, foreigners still get stared at like you're in rural China or
something. I felt the eyes, and then a heap of trouble arose when I tried
asking for chile sauce for the shrimp dumplings.

Tim ho wan tonic medlar & petal cake

The table next to us, which being separated by
half-an-inch meant we may as well been dining with the middle-aged couple, had
a dish, so after futile attempts at asking for chile sauce I pointed at theirs.
And what I ended up with was the only thing on the fairly short menu that I
really, really didn't want to eat. I'm not crazy about eating flowers, but go
along with it at high end restaurants since it's en vogue and unavoidable, but
not with my dim sum! Um, so three wedges of the so-called Tonic Medlar & Petal
Cake were given to me. It's basically Jello with chewy bits of…I don't even
know. Apparently, medar is a fruit but these were dried petals and I think wolfberries suspended in
gelatin not fruit. Anyway, it was fine, and I ate it, but it was no cake and
did nothing for the Chinese dessert image problem.

Tim ho wan shrimp rolls

Shrimp rolls. I should've gotten the pork liver
version, but it slipped my mind.

Tim ho wan spare ribs

Spareribs with black beans.

I briefly considered getting another order of pork
buns to go, but after than medlar mishap I wasn't taking any chances.

Tim Ho Wan * 9-11 Fuk Wing St., Hong Kong

Ok Go

Go soupYou
may have heard that Campbell’s has introduced special soups for millennials.
Go! Soup, which comes in flavors like pulled chicken with black beans instead
of chicken noodle and makes use of edgy ingredients only young people can
appreciate like chorizo. These $2.99 pouches, which are more costly than
Campbell’s core offering, are the result of studying 20-somethings in the wild,
i.e. "hipster hubs" of  Portland,
Austin and San Francisco.

familiar? Probably not if you are under 35. OK Soda, Coca-Cola's attempt to
capture Gen X dollars, was also test-marketed in Portland and Austin, oh jeez,
19 years ago.


never tasted it, but at the time, using graphic novelists (when I asked for the comic books section at Powell's when I was in high school, I was passive-aggressively scolded Portland-style "We have graphic novels.") like Daniel Clowes
and Charles Burns was pretty cool. Then again, I am a sucker for packaging. (I
associate design firm Charles S. Anderson with that era and they’re still going
strong—they also now apparently own the rights to the image I used for a tattoo
in the early ‘90s). There was also a pre-internet social media-esque
ad campaign.
 It was a flop, obviously.

though capitalizing on youth demographics often has a way of backfiring, I
would certainly take the slack, disaffected tone over the XXtreme branding
that pervaded much of the ‘90s.

OK Soda via Wikipedia


Eaten, Barely Blogged: Black Labels & Seafood, City & Suburban

Minetta tavern black label burgerMinetta Tavern
Not-that-embarrassing-confession: I’ve never had the Black Label Burger
(though, I recently encountered a Thai burger bearing the same name) and when
you admit this, people always want to know what you thought of it. Ok, yes,  it was very much not a regular burger. It was
a rich, messy and amazing burger that actually gave me a stomach ache even from
eating half. (And now I wonder if it’s just because I’m getting old and can’t
handle fatty foods because the same thing happened with pork ribs a week later.
I fear turning into my boyfriend’s mom who says things like “I like
butter, but butter doesn’t’ like me,” which sounds quainter on paper than coming out of her mouth.) I’m not a
tasting notes type, but I can still recall the flavor even if I’m having trouble articulating it (I hate it when people online describe food as “flavorful”). The meat had that fleshy, aged steak flavor I think is more musky than minerally that
you get in particular when you gnaw on a porterhouse bone to eke out all the scraps and
congealed fat. There was also a lamb special involved and it seemed unnecessary
for the server to explain what merguez is, but then the crowd was weird. It was
also the first time I’d ever seen middle-American grownups taking
photos of their food with SLRs. Also, bros who didn’t know what animal bone
marrow came from and were dismayed at the cost of hair and makeup for

Nitehawk cinema quesoNitehawk Cinema Ok, these weren’t bad for movie theater
nachos (though chips, along with traditional popcorn, aren’t exactly the ideal
food for an environment requiring quiet). And it wasn’t ordinary queso. In
fact, the super-cinnamony chorizo and lime-heavy guacamole almost distracted
from the aggressively salty quality I look for in dishes revolving around melted
processed cheese.

Ditch Plains There was a lot of lobster in this roll, enough
to make for a surprisingly filling sandwich, though I still find the $28 price
tag tough to justify.

Extra Fancy The $12 shrimp sandwich in a split, buttered
roll and demure serving fries tucked into a paper fast food bag was certainly
cheaper than the lobster roll, but more of a snack than a meal.  It’s a shame that they switched chefs so
quickly since a city can only handle so many New England and Maryland
approximations–even when well-priced and easy to score a seat on a Saturday

Birthday bang bang shrimpBonefish Grill Free birthday Bang Bang Shrimp in New Jersey
on the same night that the chain’s first NYC branch opened in Staten Island. I considered
the opening, but the charity component seemed too serious and I wouldn’t be
able to use my coupon, which was the whole point. I’m pretty sure 90% of tables
have these crispy shrimp bathed in what I’m guessing is a sauce made of
mayonnaise and Sriracha. Apparently, Bonefish now serves a lobster roll, but I’d just eaten one the night before so it didn’t seem right. For the record, it’s only $13.90.

Buns For the Palette

While not as obvious as Taco Bell's adoption of a Doritos shell, Cinnabon's Pizzabon isn't that illogical of a progression. (And as concluded by Slice commenters, not all that different from an NYC pepperoni roll.)

It made me think, though, how I know I saw a cheese-sauce-drenched roll at a Cinnabon in Kuala Lumpur in 2005 and can find absolutely no online evidence of this creature. The photo I took of the menu at the time was blurry and I deleted it.

Cinnabon for the palette

Thank goodness for camera phones. Now nothing is too mundane to be snapped and saved for posterity. While taking a snack-free break at a Cinnabon during Ramadan's "takeway" (I'm still not clear why Dubai is so British-y) only hours–wouldn't that sweet smell drive you insane if you were fasting?–I couldn't help but notice that the palate/palette problem isn't restricted to the US.

Topical breadtalk buns

And speaking of buns, my favorite of the gazillion Asian self-serve bakeries, BreadTalk, is always topical. The last time I was in Singapore, they were advertising the Obunma. This time, in Bangkok, they were all about Olympicks, sadly free of bun puns.

Flosss and jerky

They're also really big on fluffy, dried meat floss, or rather, Flosss (there is a troubling mayonnaise layer that adheres the floss to bun, by the way) which like bakkwa, a.k.a. soft, chewy Chinese jerky, is a foodstuff I don't fully understand the history of but is inescapable, particularly in Macau.

And I Thought Tin Was For Tenth Anniversaries


Sometimes I like to feign horror (ok, I'm not pretending) over that special breed of public proposal: the good ol' ring in the food surprise. But I love this crazy, semi-related twist. Finding a pearl in Carrabba's mussels and using it as an anniversary ring gem? Perfect.

Ramadan For Mall Rats

Ramadan, which ends today, (time passes so fast) is something I’ve always been vaguely aware of (though not so aware that I booked travel to Dubai before realizing I’d be in the thick of it) but never so much as this year. I'm sure that annually the holy month gets covered by the media, but this year it felt like was seeping everywhere.

Cheesecake factory mall of the emirates

Without actively seeking out any articles, recently Ramadan has been the subject of a first-person account of first-time fasting  in the The New Yorker, in NPR about cheaters, and amusingly to a glutton like myself, mentioned in hand-wringing stories over perversion of its true meaning due to all the pigging-out at decadent iftars (hundreds ate themselves sick and right into the emergency room in Qatar). How restrained can a region that welcomes the first Cheesecake Factory outside the US be?

And malls–The Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates are the biggies, and I do mean that literally even if I'm too lazy to look up their square footage for comparison to their US counterparts–are the places that one (ok, me) might argue are the cultural hubs to best witness the collision of the modern and ancient, or at the very least how the West meets (Middle) East and adapts.

Ski slope mall of the emirates

The man-made ski slope would be the obvious start. And it is nearly the first thing you see when rising up the escalator into the entrance of the Mall of the Emirates where taxis let off passengers scrambling for air conditioned relief.

Apres mall of the emirates

You can have fondue and cocktails overlooking Ski Dubai. I'm surprised they didn't go all New Orleans and use real fireplaces despite the ridiculous temperatures (though Dubai was twenty degrees hotter than the hottest weather I've ever experienced in Louisiana).

Shake shack ramadan duo

Shake Shack holds prime real estate across from the slopes. And while no burgers could be consumed until after sundown, you're able to get your (halal, bacon-free) fix until 3am during Ramadan.

Mall of the emirates ihop

The IHOP directly next door has already opened, and I do hope a chicken veal sausage, turkey beef bacon version of the Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity is on the menu.

Magnolia bakery dubai

The Magnolia Bakery was deserted. No lines, no cupcakes.

Dubai chain grid

The concentration of American chains (ok, Tim Hortons is Canadian) was astonishing. Dubai has doubles and triples of restaurants with zero presence in NYC (though, oddly, Olive Garden was absent). And if you think they are filled with tourists (Americans definitely don't make-up any significant proportion of visitors, who seemed to be very British with a sprinkling of Russian) you would be mistaken.

Laduree duo

High-end imports like The Ivy also have doppelgangers in Dubai. As do confectioners like Laduree and Barcelona's Cacao Sampaka. Maison Kayser, recently exciting New Yorkers, is old news in the Dubai mall world.

  Ramadan hotel food

Covertly sneaking a sip of water or handful of Marks & Spencer trail mix in the bathroom can get old for a non-Muslim mall rat. I quickly figured out that mall hotels were safe havens. (Bizarrely, in Bangkok, a week later in my itinerary, I butted up against so-called Buddhist Lent, where no alcohol was sold anywhere for two days, except in hotel bars. If one must suffer Santana cover bands and iced Manhattans to get a fix, so be it.) The Kempinski, attached to Mall of the Emirates, had a bar full of secret smokers and eaters (no daytime drinking for anyone). We headed in for mini burgers and a dessert sampler, both far larger than the snack we originally were looking for. The Ember Grill at The Address Dubai Mall is where to do the same at the other big mall in town. There, we pit-stopped for a coffee and a smoke just because it felt forbidden and we could.

Texas roadhouse dubai after sunset

Even before 7pm, restaurants began filling up with those anxious to eat. As soon as the prayers sounded–around 7:15 during my visit–masses started trickling into the walkways (from where?) and by 7:30 some restaurants already had lines for seats. Texas Roadhouse was the surprise hit–a number of parties were waiting out front, beepers in hand. What I really wanted to know was if the servers in Dubai also periodically perform country line dances.

Shake shack dubai late night

I returned to the Shake Shack close to midnight, mostly to see if Dubai's version attracted NYC-length lines. That did not seem to be the case–at least not at that hour. It took restraint to not order a burger, but we had vowed to try local fast food brands instead (more on that later).

My biggest two Dubai regrets were being unable to explore more ethnic eats like those chronicled in I Live in a Frying Pan (normally, I balance the modern and franchise-y with local restaurants and street food) because none were open during the day, and my brief four nights in the city meaning only having time for as many dinners, too short a stop to justify a curiosity-satisfying visit to California Pizza Kitchen or P.F. Chang's.

Most Photogenic

Refreshed and invigorated? I don't know what that means. In fact, I may be one of the few people who returns from vacations feeling exhausted, vaguely depressed and unable to get back into routines like typing words for a small number of strangers to read.

So, here are some photos while I get my act together:

Summer Not Slow for Sneaky Foreign Imports

I'm only out of the country two weeks, obsessing over Americana in far-flung places. (I expected Shake Shack and Tony Roma's–all big cities on that side of the globe seem to have our failed rib chain–in Dubai, but Cheesecake Factory and Texas Roadhouse too? Many, many photos to come.) And yet I return to a slew of interlopers putting the moves on NYC.

Mohti Mahal Delux: fancy Indian from India, now on the Upper East Side.

Maison Kayser: I totally saw this Parisian bakery-cafe in a Dubai mall, which is no surprise. We finally got our first branch last week.

Big Smoke Burger: Toronto burgers and poutine coming to Manhattan (and Chicago).

Wasabi: Sushi, individually wrapped for some reason, from London will arrive in NYC next spring.

Bibigo: Healthy Korean chain that's already in LA, will be here next year. London and Tokyo will receive outposts sooner.