Category: Eats

Courtyard Cocktails at The New School

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Events

100 degree temperatures recorded at LGA today. Another scorcher of a day, another train delay. This time, I was stuck on the 2, inside the Fulton Street station – subway doors open, air conditioner churning ineffectually – for over twenty minutes before the conductor sent everyone off the train. Half an hour to travel three blocks from my office — thanks, MTA. In related news, the Straphangers Campaign released their 8th annual “State of the Subways” Report Card this week. This year, the 2 train tied with the C for the cleanest line (come to think of it, my car was pretty clean – just, you know, not moving ), but the group’s “MetroCard Rating” estimated the worth of a ride on the 2 at $1.00, $1.05 for the 3 and $1.10 for the 9 – yay, West Side.

Face flushed and running late, I arranged to meet SYB (and our CSA vegetables) down the block from where The New School was hosting their Courtyard Cocktail Party. The air-conditioned lobby offered sweet relief, and we hung back a bit, drinking in the cool before powering through to the courtyard where the festivities were taking place. A singer and his accompanist were set up and performing a repertoire of standards, much to the enchantment of one young blond in particular, who was focused on the singer with an intense, laser-like stare and mouthing along with him to every lyric of Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” Hmm.

Performers

New School party

The New School building at 66 West 12th Street was the last major New York City structure designed by Joseph Urban, who two years earlier had planned the International Magazine Building, out of which now emerges Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower.

Attendees were crowded around the food tables, and although the focaccia sandwiches did look good, it was just too hot to attempt jockeying for position. I satisfied myself with the chilled rosé, and managed to snag a prettily iced chocolate cupcake off one of the silver trays being whisked around.

We collected our goody bags and headed over for dinner at DoSirak on 13th Street.

In its previous incarnation, this charming, casual spot was “Hero’s Sweet Potatoes” – a Japanese fast-food snack spot with a menu entirely devoted to dishes made with a Japanese variety of yellow-fleshed sweet potato. I had gone in a few times, and gotten to know a little bit about the owner, Hirokazu Sakai. The first time I visited, Hiro (Hero), a Japanese native, explained to me the inspiration behind his restaurant’s concept: growing up, he had always admired the success of McDonald’s fast food and sought to replicate it “with a Japanese twist.” By his reckoning, “Americans love sweet and Americans love potatoes. So… sweet potatoes!” Who’s to argue? I smiled politely, and ordered another sweet potato with peanut butter to go. He seemed to need the business. Six months later, Hiro reportedly ran into visa troubles and the place was shuttered.

The new owner kept the Asian theme and now churns out simple, home-cooked Korean fare. I enjoyed my tasty bulgogi bibimbap topped with a poached “hand-gathered Knoll Crest egg,” but was less impressed with the kimchijeon (kimchi pancake) appetizer, which I found a bit too salty, and not as spicy and flavorful as I would have liked.

Kimchijeon

Bibimbap

Incidentally, after dinner, we passed the singer from the New School party on the street with a blonde, who was not the would-be groupie. Popular boy!

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5 Star samosas in L.I.C.

Sunday, July 30th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, NYC History

Headed into Long Island City for the Summer Celebration at P.S. 1, and while in the neighborhood, I decided to check out Chowhound and taxi driver favorite, Five Star Punjabi.

The nearest subway station was Queensborough Plaza, and from there it was a several block walk, along an eerily deserted, depressing stretch of Long Island City marked by warehouses and taxi depots. When we finally came upon the spot, though, it was unmissable:

Five Star PunjabiUpon approaching the door, we saw a sign advising us that the diner was closed for renovations — which explains the industrial dumpster out front and the piles of garbage bags in the adjacent alley… I hope. Thankfully, given the fact that we had made the trip — and there didn’t seem to be any other options in the immediate area — the diner was operating temporarily out of the fancier “banquet hall” next door.

Five Star Punjabi

Once inside, we were seated next to the white-clothed steam tables and handed round wooden paddles on which the menus were printed. We decided upon the samosas, garlic naan and entrees of butter chicken and tikka masala, which it turned out was entirely too much food for the two of us.

The samosas arrived first: hot, crisp and remarkably ungreasy, stuffed with a tastily spiced mixture of peas and potatoes. I happily could have made a meal on those alone. The chicken entrees, despite looking disconcertingly similar, were in fact, different in texture. My chicken makhani was delicious: tender chunks of buttery meat in a wonderfully creamy, spice-flecked sauce spooned over fragrant basmati rice. And the naan was warm and pillowy, with a crunchy crust of garlic.

Great find. I’ll be back at least for those samosas — maybe after the intriguing little diner reopens in the Fall.

Butter Chicken et alJust a short stroll away, we detoured into the anachronistic block of 45th Avenue, between 21st and 23rd Streets, a.k.a. Hunters Point Historic District, or according to the National Register of Historic Places, Dominie’s Hook or Bennetts Point. This remarkably preserved row of brick and stone Italianate, French Empire, Neo-Grec and Queen Anne houses, dates from the 1870 and 1880s — 15 acres among 19 buildings.

The posted sign announces the landmark status, granted in 1973:

The houses on 45th Avenue (then called Twelfth Street) were built mostly in the 1880s when Hunters Point was part of the independent Long Island City. They represent, in frame and brick, a Victorian middle-class urban building type and remain almost untouched. The nicely articulated details of Neo-Grec style cornices, window frames, iron railings and stoops recall the days when uniform building design was a proud symbol of domestic respectability.

Hunters Point Historic District

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Banh mi, oh my

Friday, July 28th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Friends

For lunch this afternoon, I decided to stroll up to the Chinatown border for a bánh mì — the Vietnamese sandwich of warm, toasted French baguette, pâté, shredded carrots, daikon, cucumber, cilantro and meats topped with a variety of sauces and seasonings, a culinary marriage of French and colonial-era Vietnamese cultures.

On a nice day, it’s a pleasant stroll past City Hall Park to the closest sandwich shop, on the corner of Lafayette and Walker. Today, however, was not a nice day: it was, in fact, very hot and very humid, and halfway through my decidedly unpleasant 20 minute walk, I was berating myself for not having taken the subway.

Sáu Voi Corporation is not the name of a place one would associate with cheap and tasty sandwiches. In fact, it’s a tiny, no-frills convenience store, crammed to the brim with a random assortment of brassieres, Vietnamese pop music, cigarettes and lottery tickets. The neon sign advertises the primary reason for most visits to the shop.

Sau Voi Corp

The right half of the store is dedicated to the Sáu Voi “Cafe” — really just a counter loaded with prepared Vietnamese snacks, behind which two women work in cramped quarters, brewing coffees and slapping together some dozen or so varieties of bánh mì.

Vietnamese snacks

Maximum capacity for the store is about half a dozen people, and during peak lunch hour the line can spill over to the outside. The women working the food counter, though, are models of efficiency: from order to pick-up, I’ve never had to wait more than five minutes.

According to the menu, the Saigon bánh mì I ordered is made with “BBQ minced meat and slices of pork roll or ham.” Not sure what “pork roll or ham” means… is that chef’s choice? Or are they unsure about what to label the mystery meat? Well, whatever it is, it’s tasty — if not quite as tasty as the one I had in Ho Chi Minh City last month — and for $3.00, tax included, I’m not going to think about it too much.

Banh Mi

New York City has several bánh mì shops scattered mostly throughout downtown Manhattan and in Brooklyn. The best one is a matter of some foodie debate, but many seem to recommend Saigon Bánh Mì, formerly located in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, but recently relocated to Mott at Grand Street. That’s about six blocks farther from my office than my old standby Sáu Voi, so I’ll wait for the weather to turn cooler before I investigate.

After work, I dashed home to pick up the pasta salad I made last night for SYB’s dinner party. As per sketchy usual, M and I had arranged to meet on the subway platform. She’d brought her usual contribution of booze, and we flirted briefly with the idea of ditching the dinner to set out on our own picnic. Cooler minds prevailed, though, and we made it to Sunnyside with our cargo intact.

Full house at SYB’s. We missed out on AC’s Baltimore crabcakes, which made me a little sad, but at least people seemed to enjoy the pasta, enough at least that I was spared having to carry home any leftovers. As the night wore on, the talk turned saucy — could it have been the effects of the Summer savory in my salad? More likely M’s giant pitcher of Sex on the Beach, made with cranberry juice, orange-pineapple juice, and entire bottles of Absolut vodka and Peach schnapps.

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