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Showing posts with label NYC Essentials. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NYC Essentials. Show all posts

Monday, August 4, 2014

NYC Trip: The End

If someone asks you how big is New York City? Just say “Too big,”.  It really is.  Over a week, I ate my way through the big Apple and found many places irresistibly yummy! Despite a sore foot, I merely covered an area in Manhattan that spans from the Upper East till Downtown.

Although I could never really finish the city, I think I did pretty well food wise and here is an almost complete list of places where I dined sorted into 2 price categories.

NYC Essentials (<$20)

An iconic burger places with occasional collaborations with top chefs that is neither too commercialised to be a joint nor too unique to be a one-off boutique burger place.  But if you are having one of those “days”, what better than a shack burger paired with fries and a happy ending of peanut butter shake.  Happy days!

Start the meal with a basic Gyoza before calling a main of Hakata Style ramen.  Black garlicky oil on an already amazing porky broth?  Damn it was heaven without the line.  

If Hide Chan was North Pole, then Totto Ramen would be the South Pole.  Different from start to end, the only thing similar between the two is its owner.  At Totto Ramen, enjoy a Chicken Paiten Ramen so amazing it makes one dreams of it at night.  This is a legit pork alternative.  Beware, queues are long.

With popular places like Junior’s in the area, it is easy to overlook this relatively unknown diner.  Yet this might be your best bet for quality breakfast pancakes.  Crispy, fluffy and cooked through with perfection, it was all too hard to ignore.

Being the first does not necessarily makes you the best.  But the best itself could not be anymore subjective.  Old school fit up in this humble little eatery maintains its olden day charm.  Come in solo or with the brood, Nom Wah has got you covered.  When you crawl out of the bed during winter, know that piping hot dim sum is not too far away.

I had one shot to get a taste of New York Pizza into my busy schedule.  Thankfully, a slice at ABP did not disappoint.  With the Artichoke slice spanning across two plates topped with their famous cream base sauce, stringy cheese and caramelised artichokes,  this might be NYC’s best value bite yet at just $4.50 a slice. 

An aluminium wrapped takeaway box with a Middle-Eastern scent is the biggest giveaway that someone is holding a box of faithful mixed platter and rice from the infamous Halal Guys.  From street culture to fast-food joint, the Halal Guys are set to dominate.  Cult descriptions of nuclear red rice topped with pieces of meat and lashing of white sauce is just the beginning of a happy end to the night.  Operating till 4am, now Twilight has no reason to exist. 

Chelsea Market (Chelsea)
So much to eat, so little space to put it in.  Here you can enjoy soup, fresh seafood, independent farmers’ produce, Mexican, Korean, pastries or simply just have a stroll.  From clothing shopping to a filling in a hungry stomach, I love this place.  Located indoors for your convenience too.  After the market, head to the Highline Park just outside Chelsea Market for a mile of enjoyable walk to aid digestion.  It is heaven on rails.


If fine dining has always been a part of your priority undertakings to understand the culture a city was built upon, these finer establishments might be the thing you are looking for.  NYC is a city of swag, so common delights can become fancy and clearly so when acknowledged by the headmasters at the Michelin corp.

Fine Dining at NYC
Classy,  sleek and inspiring.  This Jean Georges spinoff has more finesse in its fried chicken than a French bistro does with its Foie Gras. Its seasonal menu takes simple life pleasures and make it into something special.  The courteous service makes dining here a bliss.

Why is this fine dining?  This is because a $30 burger including tip ands tax is pretty damn fine!  But after 26 years of my life, this 1 Michelin star eatery has delivered what I call the “IT” burger.  With a claim like that, many people will have high expectations I know.  But as mentioned, the thick spread of Roquefort cheese on the brioche bun with a juicy patty shows that the Spotted Pig means business.  But that is IF you enjoy the Spotted Pig's take on the classic cheese burger.

The full tasting menu brought my bill beyond the $50 mark.  But a bread course, 4 seafood courses, a seasonal dessert and petit fours make this a bargain.  Sit down and let the jumbo scallops, sensational pastas, lobsters, crabs and briny sea urchins make their appearance as part of a seafood orchestra by Marea.  Top level service makes progressive dining here a seamless experience.
Another Michelin rated restaurant.  If a sushi master pressing sushi is artsy, prepared to be wow-ed by these handy skewer chefs.  Head to tail movement at its finest, see Chef Atsushi Kono coordinate the delicious transformation of the pedestrian chicken protein into something amazing.

One surprise after the other, the Gramercy Tavern is like a roller coaster ride in your mouth.  High and lows in this Modern American X Asian fusion delivers the best bang for your buck of the lot.  Ranked 1 star by the Michelin guide, the inventive savoury menu will keep your buds craving for more.  But when it comes to a sweet ending, good or bad really comes at the toss of a coin.  However, at $60 plus service charges, the tavern is a lunch time gem.

The Japanese culture is big in the States and Sushi Azabu the front runner for no-nonsense sushi exclusivity without the overwhelming price tag of the more mainstream establishments.  Do not expect California rolls or heavy lashings of pretentious Kewpie to make their mark.  Instead, Shim prepares sashimi prawns, tuna, sea urchins and other fresh offerings served on divine sushi rice.


Food business in NYC is big business.  NYC residents are fussy and no trend is always there to stay when you are at the top of the class.  Evolution counts for survival.  Thankfully, with a superbly variable price tag, there is something for everyone.  Whether it is Asian or Western, Chinese or Japanese, Italian or American, be prepared to eat.  But prices in the big Apple can quickly add up especially if you do not watch the cheque due to taxes and tips which usually bumps the bill up by a minimum of 25%.  So, do tell me what you think if you hit the big Apple and try out the food I had.  Note that all opinions here are a from a hungry traveller's perspective which is one that is open and receptive.  If you come here acting all big headed with a mindset from home, it is likely that you will have different views.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

NYC: Mixed Platter and Rice @ The Halal Guys, Mid Town.

Good food does not always have to come with a large price tag.  Hidden amongst the ritz and glitz of the Manhattan borough is a story about a food cart phenomenon.  Started by a Egyptian migrant in 1992 who belittled the boring hot dog stands, he started a stall serving halal Egyptian fare on the streets.  Hence the name, the Halal Guys.  His first stall  located between the 53rd Street and 6th Avenue opposite Hilton Hotel still serves up generous portions of meat (chicken or lamb) on rice and flat bread topped with delicious lashings of yoghurt based sauce.  Since then, he has inspired many imitations but none is a good according to biased fans.   
The original store operates between 7pm-4am, 7 days a week(apparently).  When I was there at 10pm, there was a long queue which cleared very quickly but be mindful of the service which deteriorates significantly between busy and calmer nights.

During my stay I could not help but come here twice for a quick takeaway that was surely to satisfy.  My choice here would be the mix platter as it gets you the best of both worlds.  For $6 with no tax/tips, you get a serve of nuclear red rice topped with tender pulled chicken and superbly flavoursome lamb mince as well as a serve of bread and  chopped lettuce.  Once you get your food, move out of the way and start pouring the sauce you like.  First up is a white sauce that resembles a creamy-tasty yoghurt-like sauce.  Then comes the party crasher, a bottle of barbecue sauce.  That was lame.  In the last bottle was a fiery chill sauce that I guarantee will have you tear and shit lava.  Not joke lol. My preferred mix would be a 5 portion of white sauce to 1 red sauce.  It was just right for my Malaysian taste buds.

Nuclear red rice @@!  Not sure what was in it but the right was tasty just by itself!
I really do not think there is much to say.  I would like to call it a Briyani but in no way did this famous rice platter have the same spices like a Briyani.  Yet, it was still every bit tasty.  At the Halal Guys, the food skips all the complexities and dives straight into the comfort food category.  Carbs, meat and delicious sauces.  After two meals here, I was completely satisfied.  Surely this had no Michelin grades or professional recognition.  But to establish a culture that sir, is a class act.  With up to 3 carts and an intent to take the States by storm with a chain-like store, the Halal Guys will not disappoint.   From the hundred dollar meals to the penny pinchers I had in NYC, the Halal Guys will always be something to remember.  No it is no molecular gastronomy but rather a simple pleasure.  Spending 8 days in this big city was definitely insufficient to enjoy all the goodies the city had to offer.  But if you are filled to the brim but still want a midnight supper to conclude, the Halal Guys will be there waiting.

The Halal Guys on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 25, 2014

NYC: Artichoke Slice @ Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, Gramercy

I was chatting to a couple of newly met friends when I asked "What would you recommend a tourist to eat in New York?", the prompt answer “Pizza” came first.  Without a doubt I enjoy crusty slices of pizza with generous toppings.  But with a city so bold so as to name a style of pizza after itself, it was clear that everyone will be calling their pie the best in town.  Online searches never quite worked either.  Too many haters out there.  So I fell back to a couple of Facebook schoolmates and the name Artichoke Basille’s Pizza came tops. 


They now have three branches and since I was about to dine at Gramercy Tavern, I decided to drop by for a slice of pizza at the Gramercy district branch. At 10.30am, there was absolutely no queue besides a granny.  Walking in I heard heard an old lady said, "I need this packed I cannot finish."  I was puzzled.  But not so after I ordered a slice of the infamous Artichoke slice @ $4.50.  

Stretched over two party plates.. wtfk was this monster?  American slice for the win.  It had a pretty good pastry that was cooked just nice.  Sadly though it did not sport the fragrance of a well-oiled pizza tray.  But I loved their tasty cream based sauce.  Very, very tasty.  It carried the hints of garlic, parsley and onions.  The stringy cheese topped the slices perfectly.  In other words, generous !  Then there were the little slices of translucent artichoke hidden the underneath but it was barely seen.  Weird to call this an Artichoke Slice. Could have had more artichokes :)! Toward the end I sprinkled some chilli flakes and really liked how it tasted.  Sprinkled more and more and more.  Oops.  Burnt tongue (and an ulcer soon followed =.=!)

Reading several reviews about Artichoke Basille's in the night got me annoyed when I found that many comments about this pizza place such as burnt crust, hyped for its hipster vibe, ridiculous queues and that sort of shit people make claims of were utterly untrue.  Coming in to see a granny at 10.30am, with no queues to eat a delicious slice of pizza reflected the credibility of the internet at times.  At Artichoke Basille's it was simple and tasty!  The only true part was the lack of artichokes which I was not really bothered by anyway :)!    Great stuff if you ask me!


Artichoke Basille's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

NYC: Nom Wah Dim Sum @ Doyer Street, Chinatown

Having spent over a month without a kick ass Asian bite saw my cravings for good Chinese peak when I was in Manhattan. After a few quick reads over the net, I quickly planned a short eating trail through Chinatown. Once done, I got on the tube and was there in a matter of minutes. First up was a random Chinese place a minute or two from the Canal Street Station. I believe it was New Wing Wah Bakery. Not expensive at all to my surprise. Including tax it was around 90 cents. In saying that, all it took was 2 mouths full to finish. Now wonder the aunty at the counter said in a familiar Asian accent “Only 1 enough?!”. It clearly was not enough to fill a hungry tummy.

3 streets down and I was at Tai Pan Bakery on Canal Street. The egg tart at Tai Pan was bright yellow (pic above) showing how eggy the custard was. In terms of taste, it was not too sweet and had a nice custard that is not too runny/firm. It wobbles just the way it should too. But I definitely did not find it significantly better than the one I had earlier at New Wing Wah. Both of them sported an equally amazing crusty. Love how short and buttery they both were. But because the one I had at Tai Pan was fresh out of the oven, the warmth made more pleasurable to savour compared to the other. The milk tea at Tai Pan bakery is terrible though. Too diluted! 

If you have read a post of me at an old lane way stall serving great packed Nasi Lemak back in Penang or my post at Mido Cafe, Hong Kong, you would know how I am a bit of a sucker for shops with a long history. Here in Chinatown, no one knows DimSum better than Nom Wah Tea Parlour. Handed down from one generation to the other, this was the first restaurant in Manhattan to offer Dim Sum. Modernised by the current owner, this place still proudly displays its dated past. Stained signboard, mosaic tiles and other furnitures from the past was a clear statement of its age. 

But despite my fondness of “all things old", it was not the main reason I was here. Nom Wah Tea Parlour understands the dilemma of the solo eater during a social meal like Yum Cha where sharing is a must. Hence, it offers a steamed or deep fried sampler which allows solo diners to enjoy all the perks of Yum Cha without having to bring the whole brood to town. 

First up was my steamed sampler.
Great assortment of little dumplings. While I only had one mouthful of each to judge, I quickly found my favourite amongst the crowded steamer. The dumpling wrapped in yellow wanton skin (not the pork siu mai) was the tastiest of the lot. Very good. The Pork Siu Mai did not quite pack the meatiness of the one I would usually get in Hong Kong or Australia. Not bad though. Then came the prawn filled dumplings, expect a crunchy prawns bursting with great flavours. The seafood in NYC is really fresh I have to say. The two let downs of the platter, the Taro dumpling and the Vegetarian dumplings! Whilst the fillings were great, the thick dumpling skin was not so great. It masked the taste of all the other ingredients in there. Nothing a little chilli oil will not fix though. 

Next up I ordered a serve of panfried dumplings in fear that I might not be able to finish a deep-fried sampler. On second thoughts, I could have finished it anyway.
The panfried dumplings were nice. Skin a little too thick but it was every bit crunchy. To pack an extra kick to the dumplings, I mixed a concoction of black vinegar, chilli oil and soy sauce. Damn it was good altogether. 

The dim sums at Nom Wah were not mind blowing but it was what I would call typical good. High and lows were apparent but still, hard to fault. Edible in every bite, I disliked nothing. Then comes my dramatic talk. Culture, history and legacy. What more exciting than a place older than myself.   Perhaps I am charmed by it being old because one can sometimes get sick by the sharp edges and clean lines of modern cuisines no? Lets dine at somewhere less pretentious. This is where Nom Wah fits in. ;)


Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

NYC Bites: The Best Burger @ Spotted Pig, Greenwich Village

There are burgers and then there is THAT burger.  The one that you have been waiting for.  After looking at tonnes of websites including the Gothamist, NYCSeriousEats and a whole host of blogs, I was on my way to what could possibly be the best burger on the East Coast.  Welcome to the Spotted Pig.  A Michelin starred casual dining restaurant set within the Greenwich Village.

Expect to see pigs on the wall, on the counter, along the rails and when your dish arrive, possibly on your plate too. But no pig on my plate today, it was all beef!  When my cheeseburger came, I was thinking “Wow!  This looked exactly what I expected to see,”.  And it was even more to be honest.  
It was simple and lovely.  The bun came with the most perfect chargrilled marks and the thick patty was cooked to order; spot on medium with that lovely pink middle.  Its meat was absolutely tender and seasoned right.  Salt and pepper.  Then comes my biggest love.  The smear of Roquefort cheese.  This French beauty with them lovely mould spots have always been a favourite of mine.  The fragrance of the Roquefort paired with its tangy, sweet - saltiness just provided a depth of richness not achieved by the boring Swiss.  No insults :P!  That is why, whenever I go to Jus Burgers it was always for their blue cheese burger!With a burger patty between two buns and nothing else?  Damn it was heavenly.   

Then comes the fries.  WOW!  So thin and crisp that the picture barely justifies it.   Not to mention the mild garlicky rosemary flavour infused into the regular potatoes that is even harder to explain.  

Alright.  I tend to talk about minimalistic dishes and several restaurants that focuses on purity.   It is usually difficult to relate such characteristics to a burger considering all the other elements that are usual slopped on to a burger including ketchups, mustards, salad and god knows what else.  But when you are presented with a patty, bun and cheese, it was hard to be distracted from the quality of each ingredient.   Here it simply worked.  No need for any special sauce.  No Shack Sauce, Big Mac Sauce or whatsoever Umami driving the sales of other joints.  Just plain old burger with whatever you might want to add after.  

A class act?  I definitely think so if.  And that is a BIG IF you enjoy the Spotted Pig's take on the classic cheese burger as this one is not for everybody.  Instead the Spotted Pig's famous Cheeseburger is likely to please people who enjoy cheese and burger rather than the cheeseburger one normally gets  as the Roquefort is not for everybody.  For me? Spotted Pig, damn you are good.  I loved every bit of this cheeseburger meal and would definitely come back if I ever made another trip to NYC.

The Spotted Pig on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 13, 2014

NYC Bites: Pancakes @ Pershing Square, Midtown

Some say breakfast is the most important meal.  You know what?  I cannot debate that.  With me covering 15 odd miles a day on foot, I take every opportunity to fill the tank.  Situated opposite Grand Central Station underneath an overpass, the Pershing Square serves good old diner style meals to hungry travellers and to its fellow New Yorkers.

Breakfast was going to be simple that day.  Pancakes.  A simple dusting of icing sugar, a bowl of blueberries and a side of maple syrup gave the pancake. This gave the dish an impeccable yet stunning presentation.  I try not to be too easily contented but with these pancakes, I was very pleased because it was cooked to perfection. Imagine biting into a pancake and to be greeted by a crisp crust with a fluffy centre. How can one say no to that?!

Also, you will realise that there is no butter along with these.  In fact, there was no need for butter as each bite was filled with a buttery note (presumably it was mixed into batter).  Comparing the pancakes at Pershing Square to another pancake I had later during the trip at Johnny’s diner, this always cut through very cleanly.  It was not stodgy unlike the one at Johnny’s or my extremely bad experience at Sayer’s Sister a year or so ago in Perth.  I hate stodgy pancakes that sticks like uncooked batter to the knife.  The pancakes here were all class.  100%.

Whilst there is no blogger/promotional hype on this little eatery it was definitely worth the visit. So if you ever get a chance and are on the lookout for an early bite, the  Pershing Square at Grand Central starts serving at 7am on weekdays and 8am on weekends.  

Pershing Square on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 12, 2014

NYC Bites: Hide Chan Ramen & Totto Ramen @ Midtown Manhattan

The Japanese culture is big in the States and ramen has a huge following in this part of town. Whilst chain stores like Ippudo are hugely popular amongst New Yorkers, I wanted to try something a little bit more independent.  During my trip I visited two places which very fitted very well into the category. That was Hide-Chan and Totto Ramen.  Coincidentally though, they were both owned by the same owner (see this article).   In terms of location, whether you live on the East side or the West side, consider yourself covered as Hide-Chan sits comfortably on the East side whilst Totto Ramen covers the West.

Hide-chan was the venue of my first ramen meal with its specialty Hakata Style Ramen!  If you have no intentions to be part of a queue, this was the place to be.  Coming in at 6pm, I was politely offered a choice at the table or at the bar counter.  Needless to say, I took a seat at the counter.  Unfortunately, the counter did not quite offer the view of men working hard to produce piping hot noodles.  Instead it was a normal bar counter. Naturally, my camera went back into the bag until the food came out =/.

It did not take long before a couple of perfectly cooked Gyoza came.  It looked great but in terms of taste, it was rather typical.  Decently marinated mince with all the essential herbs.  Nothing you cannot get elsewhere for sure. 

Then comes my main course, Hide-Chan’s Hakata Style Ramen with Black Garlic Oil.  The broth itself was good, thick and rich.  Just what a good ramen is meant to be.  But with the flavoured oil, it was heavenly.  The garlicky punch in the porky soup elevated this basic Fukuoka-styled Japanese noodle dish to a whole new level.  It made me reminisce my first meal at Menya Musashi.  Absolutely moreish.  
Slurping strands of noodles mouthful after mouthful were all part of the ever rewarding Ramen meal.  What made me a little confused though, was the noodle used.  It felt a lot thinner than what I was used too.  I later found out that the ultra thin and white noodles were common in the region of the Hakata style ramen.  Thankfully, I requested it to be prepared “ a little firm”.  This ensured that I did not end up with sloppy noodles. 

Hide-Chan Ramen closes really late at around 3-4am, so if supper is your sort of thing, definitely drop by then!
Hide-Chan Ramen on Urbanspoon

Totto Ramen was my next noodle haunt during my trip.  An establishment with queues out of the door which snakes down the street, this was definitely not the place for groups more than 4.  But if you are curious with patience to match, you are in for a treat.

I like chicken noodles but never quite the way the most people do it.  That was until I came here and tried what they call the “Chicken Paiten Ramen”.  To me, it sounded nothing more than a cross between Street Fighter and a Ramen Master creation.  In my mouth though, the soup was so potent in chicken flavour that it had me wonder how was this even possible.  The next closest thing to this was my very own mom’s special chicken essence which she makes 2 bowls from an entire chicken. 

Its condiments were a standard of blow-torched chashu, finely chopped scallions and chicken shreds.  To add my own touch, I chose to top my bowl of noodles with a soy egg and seasoned shoots.  Damn it was good. Springy noodles, fresh scallions, and man I was happy. My only discontent?  The yolk was not brilliantly orange and runny!  Big problem?  Definitely not.  Also, to big fans of melt-in-your-mouth chashu, this did not melt but had a very mellow smokiness that is equally pleasant!
Hide-Chan vs Totto Ramen verdict?  Different but equally good.  A pork broth vs a chicken base should never be a cause for an argument.  This is proven true here as both broth were equally rich, and tasty with its own bragging rights.   Looking for a sub-$20 meal in the Big Apple?  Sorted.

Totto Ramen on Urbanspoon


Friday, July 11, 2014

NYC Bites: Shake Shack @ Grand Central Station

Day one in NYC and I decided to start with a lunch at famous Shake Shack.  This branch was situated in the iconic Grand Central station.  Shake Shack to me is a cross between a boutique burger place and a chain store with a established reputation for its fluffy half open bun packed with a yummy patty.  This makes it sort of fall in the middle.  Meaning was it legendarily unique? or just you know, just plain old good.

Whilst their menu was a page long I decided to go with the fan favourite, the Shack Stack.  True enough, it was stacked the American way with a generous crumbled portobello stuffed with mozzarella, a slice of cheese burger patty, lettuce and tomato.  It was pretty damn big!
Taste wise, I felt a little hesitant to say that I was entirely bowled over by the combination.  The patty was tasty and the shiny bun was really a class over most but I did not quite like the stuffed portobello.  The mushroom by itself was quite bland and with a cheese like Mozzarella, the taste of the mushroom became less apparent.  To taste a real Shake Shack is to start with the basic cheese burger I believe :)!

Then came to the fries, and Shake Shack really shine in this department.  The fries were clearly less processed and tastes more original will little meddling with the potato.  It came out crisp and very yummy!
On a later occasion, I also managed to have a go at their famous milkshakes.  This time, at their very first location in Madison Square Park.  I have to say, their peanut butter shake is the best I have tasted.  The chemistry between the salty nuttiness of the peanut butter and sweet vanilla really won me over.  That was one bad ass shake which was super rich. I died halfway and will insist on sharing where possible.  

Legendary eat?  Perhaps not so, but definitely a good NYC essential.  Something that keeps your appetite as happy as your wallet :).  Also, never forget the milk shake! Its super yummy!

Shake Shack on Urbanspoon