Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shanghai Cafe

Cheap dinners in Chinatown are great. They leave you satisfied with a full stomach for a low price. There are certain things that you have to give up when dining at places in Chinatown. First, the atmosphere. Yeah, most places look outdated, dingy, dirty, and cramped. Second, the service. The Chinese aren't known for their renowned service. In fact, most people would consider it rude. It's nothing against them. It's just how they operate. This isn't just the case in the US. In fact, it's the way it is in China. No eye contact, no hellos or thank yous. Yeah, it's really all about the food, fast service, and turning tables. I'm used to it because I grew up in that atmosphere. But someone who hasn't may feel alarmed and disgusted. Sorry, but good service at a Chinese restaurant is influence from the West. The only good service that really existed in China back in the day would be for the Emperor and his royalty. The commoners (99% of the rest of population) would indeed be subjected to the so called "rude" service. Don't think of it as rude. Think of it as "authentic". Happy now? And now onto the food. My parents frequented Shanghai Cafe a bunch of times. They liked the soup dumplings here. And it was relatively clean. How could I not try a place that my mom liked? I was there one night with just one thing in mind: Soup Dumplings. Those infamous chewy doughed dumplings, steamed to perfection with a fatty, pork inside and a hot soupy juice. Here's the bowl of vinegar that they give you with the dumplings. You want this kind of vinegar. It's the dark kind. Sour yet slightly sweet. I don't pucker with this one. The dumplings are made to order and you wait for them to steam. Once at the table, you don't want to eat them right away for the steam and the temperature of the dumplings are too hot. You'd surely burn your tongue here. Wait for the steam to subside. Trust me, your tongue and mouth will thank me. One cooled, pick one up with your chopsticks and dunk it into the vinegar (if you like that). Place it into your soup spoon for eating ease. Bite/nibble a bit of the dough. Suck the soup out or take a bigger bite. There's really no correct way to eat it. Though, I found that if you take a small bite first, then the soup doesn't squirt out. You don't want to lose any of that glorious soup. You could eat the whole thing in one bite. But you'd look silly. If you don't care, then go ahead. Beware, whole dumpling eating calls for even more cooling of the dumplings first. And this is what the inside looks like. Meaty, juicy, soupy, fatty goodness. Each steam tray includes 8 dumplings. I can easily eat 8 myself on a night where I'm not very hungry. On a starving night, I could eat double. But that's just me. We ordered 2 trays to share and the bill came out to be $10.80. Not too bad for dinner. Shanghai Cafe 100 Mott St New York, NY 10013 (212) 966-3988 Read more...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Five Guys Burger and Fries

A recent lunch with a couple of coworkers is few and far in between. But one day I was left with no lunch and wanted to go have something good. I convinced them to walk 10 blocks to Five Guys Burgers and Fries with me. They're normally McDonald's eaters. So I wanted to shine some light onto them. There's so much more out there. So we arrived at the 55th St and 6th Ave location. There's a small seating area and the counter is in the back. You order from the registers and wait for your food in the area next to it. I ordered a regular cheeseburger (~$6.50). The toppings are free (except bacon), so I added pickles, grilled onions, and ketchup. This is not a small burger. In fact, a regular has 2 patties. A little burger has only 1 patty. Either way, the burger was juicy and very flavorful. I will say this again, I think this is one of the best fast food burgers in NYC. Here's my coworker's burger. Isn't that huge? And we ordered a large side of fries (~$5) to share. One thing is sure, they give you a lot of fries. Not only do they fill the cup up to the rim, but they also throw a bunch of fries into the bag. I would even say that a regular size of fries would feed the 3 of us. I've been to Five Guys before but not in NYC. But it's as good here as it is in any other location. I'm just glad that they're opening a location that's closer to the office. Five Guys Burgers 43 West 55th Street New York, NY 10019 (212) 459-9600 fiveguys.com Read more...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Little Szechuan

Little Szechuan is a small restaurant in Princeton Junction, NJ. It caters Chinese food. There aren't many Asian choices in this part of NJ. So this place has become quite popular. It's not a normal take out place. It's an actual restaurant which is nice when you're in the suburbs. I know a place like this will not offer any authentic dishes even if the owner is Chinese and speak both Mandarin and Cantonese fluently. Most restaurants cater to the people of their neighborhood. And if that neighborhood wants Americanized Chinese food, then that's what you offer them. Unless, you're stubborn and drive your business into the ground. The food industry is a difficult one. It's a give and take relationship with your patrons. So coming here, I knew what to expect and what not to expect. I take it for what it is: Americanized Chinese food. We start the meal off with the PuPu Platter for 6 people ($39). For some reason, it's called the BoBo Platter here. No idea why. Anyhow, on it you'd find: fried chicken wings, battered fried shrimp, roast pork spare ribs, and dumplings. There's a little sterno on top for extra charring. Now onto dinner. Some shrimp fried rice ($7.75). Shrimp in Garlic Sauce ($13.90). Beef with Bamboo Shoots and Black Mushrooms ($11.45). Chicken with Black Bean Sauce ($10.60). And to end the meal, sliced oranges and fortune cookies. So what did I think of the meal? Eh. For authenticity, it's not at all. Notice how everything is the exact same color. That's a big no no. That mean they're using the same sauce base for every dish. True Chinese food has no sauce base. Everything is layered and built into a culminating flavor, just like in other cuisines. Also, they use almost the exact same vegetables in every dish. This makes for the dishes to taste basically the same. The only different is the black beans which is overpowered by the bright orange sauce anyway. For Americanized Chinese food, I've had better. But I've also had worse. Would I ever pick this place? No. However, this place has been around for over 30 years. They have a loyal, local crowd. Like I said, they cater to their neighborhood. Little Szechuan 2025 Old Trenton Road Princeton Jct, NJ 08550-2412 (609) 443-5023 littleszechuannj.com Read more...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

PJ's Pancake House

Ah, PJ's Pancake House. It's a local Princeton joint serving good diner type food all day. We like to go for the breakfast which is good and fast. Some people might say that you can make that food at home. Not true. I could never make my pancakes as good nor as fluffy as PJ's. Besides, a diner line cook is probably one of the most hardest positions in the food industry. If you're slow, you're not doing it right. I digress. On to the food! We arrive early one morning without a line in sight. Lucky for us! Usually the line is about 10 people deep. The place is small so a wait is normal. We quickly peruse the menu and settle on the usual. Ms. Pasty Chef picked the Two-fer with a western omelet with hash browns and toast. Mr. Meat & Potatoes had the Sausage and Cheese omelet with some buttermilk pancakes. And here are his pancakes. I had the Pigs in a Blanket: buttermilk pancakes wrapping breakfast sausages. And my side of eggs cooked over easy. I love runny yolks and they make good on everything, including pancakes. Yes, I threw my eggs on top of my Pigs in a Blanket. Good, good, good! PJ's is a solid place to eat for breakfast. I've never been there for lunch or dinner. Their pancakes are nice and fluffy and delicious. This meal for the 3 of us plus a chocolate milk cost less than $40. The majority of the cost was my meal. PJ's Pancake House 154 Nassau Street Princeton, NJ 08540 (609) 924-1353 pjspancakes.com Read more...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lunch Week 8: (My Poor Version of) Okonomiyaki

So every Sunday, I head over to the kitchen to whip up a big batch of food for lunch next week. Yes, I brown bag. And I almost always do it, unless I become too busy to even buy cold cuts from the deli. I do it for several reasons being health, finance, and laziness. Now, you may think that spending hours on a day off to prep and cook five meals at once is hardly lazy. But let me remind you, I hate it when the time comes to decide what to eat for lunch every day. I work in Midtown so the choices are endless. My problem, the more choices, the harder it is for me. So it's much easier for me to have my lunch ready and already decided. So my lunch for the week: Okonomiyaki I was craving Japanese pancakes. They're a great vessel for cramming a bunch of vegetables and meats for a fulfilling lunch. Also, they're not that difficult to make. And if you really don't care about aesthetics, then it's super easy to make. I start off with a head of cabbage. I think this is savoy cabbage here. I'm unsure really. It seemed more tender than some of the other winter cabbages available. Anyway, cabbage in general is a great vegetable because it has lots of vitamins and minerals and it's fairly cheap. However, people are always afraid of cooking it because of its unique bitter flavor. But, if you don't overcook it, it won't develop that bitterness. The only other thing is that cabbage is very gaseous on your digestive system. AKA, don't eat this on a date. I cut the cabbage head in half, then core it. Then I sliced it into strips. Next, some shitake mushrooms. Mmm, I love these mushrooms. The flavor is so strong. But do not eat the stems. They are too woody. But you can save them for stock. The mushrooms are sliced too. And some deli ham. I just bought a pound and sliced them into strips. See a trend here? Next up, a red onion for color and flavor. Also sliced up. And some carrots. These I bought already shredded into matchsticks. You can of course, shred up whole carrots yourself. And lastly, some scallions. I love the mildness of this vegetable. These were diced up nicely. So what you need to do is cook up all the sliced ingredients except for the ham and the scallions. I like to cook each ingredient on its own and then add them to a big bowl to mix. This insures that each ingredients maintains its own flavor. Oh and don't forget to salt each and every thing while it's cooking. I am a true believer in salting along the way. Anyway, while the mixture is still warm, add the ham and scallions. Mix well. And now the batter. I used 1 part whole wheat flour, and 3 parts all purpose flour. This isn't by any recipe that I know of. I was just playing around really. Add tonic water until it's mixed well and loose like pancake batter. The bubbles in the tonic helps keep the batter light. Don't forget to add salt to the batter. Blandness is not an option. Slowly add the vegetables to the batter. You want to make sure there's enough to go around. The new mixture should be loose. The vegetables should be fully covered with the batter but you should still be decipher the ingredients. And now the cooking/frying. I like to use a non-stick pan to fry up each pancake. It lessens the use of oil. But I have to admit that a regular pan produces the best crunchy crust. So, for health reasons, use a non-stick. For a treat, use a regular pan and bacon fat! Here on my first try, I covered the entire large pan with a large ladle of the batter. Just like pancake, you should see the edge brown up first, and bubbles beginning to form on the top. That means it's time to flip. However, unlike pancake, this thing was too big, too heavy, and too dense. Not a flipping type of food. But doesn't that crust look good? The first one (mistake) is always for the chef. But I finally got a hand of it. First, I made much smaller ones. I can fit 3 pancakes in the same pan. Also, I made them less thick my spreading out the batter with the ladle. Thick of spreading marinara sauce on a pizza dough. Yeah, that. And just like clockwork, I pounded out those pancakes in no time. And here it is all cut up into wedges so easy consumption. The taste: good with lots of flavors and textures. The cabbage is definitely noticeable. The ham gets overpowered. But the mushrooms add a nice flavor. The scallions are non existent but the onions add a slight sweetness. The batter itself is good. But it softened a lot overnight in the fridge. This is best enjoyed right away. In the end, I thought it needed something. So I made a soy sauce and sriracha mayo for dipping. Yes! This what it needed. A little kick. Next time, I'll add the soy sauce and sriracha to the batter. Read more...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Parsi Birthday Food

My birthday rolls around every year and what do I expect? Lots of good food, damn it! It's a variety of expensive restaurants, home cooked food, and comfort foods. This time, it was home cooked Parsi food. I get to pick what I want every year. I like variety so I go for it all. Hahah! Below is just a small sampling of what I had. Don't mind the salad. It's for health reasons. So we started off the night with some budja and peppers. It's fried onion fritters, and fried hot peppers. They're great! Here's a close up of the peppers. You can vary the type of pepper you want. Some were spicy and some were mild. I tend to like the mild. And here's the budja. Mmmm, onion-y battered fritters. And on to dinner. The ever so present salad. It helps you keep regular with all this heavy food. Ah, the chicken. I love this chicken. A crazy mix of flavors in your mouth. Sweet, tangy, slightly spicy. Ooh yeah. And crunchies on top. Good textural difference. Some kolmi palov. It's shrimp with rice. And there are some hard boiled eggs too. I love shrimp and eggs. And spiced rice. Yum! And the main dish: dar. A lentil based curry like mixture. It's thick and creamy but no curry flavor at all. I think there are a lot of nuts in it. A fan favorite: pattis. I've written about these before but I'll explain them again. Seasoned ground beef wrapped in mashed potatoes then deep fried. This is what the inside looks like. Drool... And here's another variation that has spiced scrambled eggs instead of beef. And lastly, a cake. Chocolate cake to be exact. Thanks to Ms. Pastry Chef. And no, it didn't look weird like the picture. I blurred out my name, duh. All sliced, this was the inside. A 3 layer chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Oh baby. A slice for good health. Oh, and this isn't an Indian nor Parsi dessert. Asian countries no not do chocolate desserts well. Read more...