Category: Family

MoKo overload

Thursday, April 17th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Family

Subtitle: Food I did not eat (but wish I did).

At the risk of covering David Chang more ardently even than the staff of New York magazine (who have name-checked the award-winning chef in the magazine or on the Grub Street blog every 1-5 days since March 4 — twice on March 6, days before Ko’s online reservation system even went live), I’m putting up these last few photos of the Momofuku Ko tasting menu.

J took these photos after the Ko reservation gods smiled upon me yet again one fine Thursday morning, and we were able to get him and his wife in for dinner the week before her milestone birthday. (And yes, it was just good fortune, and not Craigslist. That, and a timely telephone conversation with SYB.)

So a few things have changed on the Ko menu since SC and I were at the restaurant two weeks earlier. For starters, Times reviewer Frank Bruni finally got in, after his well-publicized difficulties in securing one of the dozen seats. (Critic Gael Greene, too, though that’s a somewhat more complicated story. Also soopling.) It seems that the chefs are now making more of an effort to vary the menus for parties of two. At J and J’s dinner, one was served this bright pea soup with grilled crawfish tails and trumpet mushrooms, while the other had our grilled pork belly, oysters and kimchi consommé:

And instead of our wonderful seared scallop dish, J and J had deep fried soft-shell crabs — newly in season. Difficult to say which of us got the better end of things on that score. (The smoked egg with caviar, shaved foie gras and deep fried short rib crowd pleasers appear to remain unchanged.)

J and J split on dessert, too: one McDonald’s-inspired deep fried apple pie (with that luscious sour cream ice cream) and this Cereal Milk Panna Cotta, with crushed corn flakes, brittle chocolate and avocado purée, which SC and I had noticed set in front of other diners during our visit.

How many more changes need to be made to this menu before I can justify a return visit?

Catching up on Ko: three stars and a “promise of unwavering transcendence” from Bruni, a rave from Tyan Sutton of Bloomberg, Time Out‘s take and a brief moment in the spotlight, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal‘s Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan.

Here’s Savory Tidbits’ Momofuku Superlative Matrix — a compilation of the critical commentary on Ko in one handy spreadsheet.

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Taste of the West Side

Sunday, April 6th, 2008 | All Things, Family

With just a few hours left for our West Coast visitors to explore (or is that: devour?) our city and its delights, the question was raised over brunch: What is New York City food? We didn’t attempt to provide an exhaustive answer this afternoon, but we spent a good part of the day walking — lots of walking! — along the West Side, sampling the wares of a few local representatives.

Our first stop: Alice’s Tea Cup to purchase a hostess gift — and okay, one warm pumpkin scone. Just me and BY, though; the place was deemed just a bit too twee for the men, who opted to wait for us on the sidewalk. (LL later claimed not to realize that men were allowed inside the cafe.)

A few blocks north, we spied Thomas DeGeest’s cheery yellow Belgian waffle truck (license plate: WAFEL) parked in front of Fairway Market. A hot (albeit premade and imported) waffle seemed like a perfect lead-in to sorbet and gelato from Grom, which was thankfully free of lines this chilly afternoon.

One $115 parking ticket later (ouch!) we set off to meet J & J at Chelsea Market. Presented with all the food options inside, we ended up devoting the next couple of hours to a graze-fest of sorts: brownies from Fat Witch Bakery, (more) gelato samples from L’Arte Del Gelato, a surprisingly tasty lime cornmeal cookie (and an ultimately underwhelming brioche loaf) from Amys’ Bread, a perfect cappuccino from the Ninth Street Espresso kiosk…

While BY and IC considered the prepared foods display outside Buon Italia market for reinforcements to take onto their impending flight, I picked up mangoes at Manhattan Fruit Exchange -– for a curried chicken salad — and a tub of farmer’s cheese from the Ronnybrook Farm Dairy Milk Bar. (J ordered a “Moocachino” from their menu of milky treats.)

Errands done, we wound down the clock in the Meatpacking District — far less objectionable this late Sunday afternoon than on most weekend nights. As we carefully made our way along the uneven, cobblestoned streets, I entertained (or perhaps: disturbed) our guests with the storied, not-so-ancient history of the space currently housing upscale Italian restaurant Vento. Well, as Sam Sifton notes (in the last paragraph of The Times writeup), it was “a different time.” Yes indeed.

The entire neighborhood is changing. Soon, The Hog Pit will be gone, and much-loved late night fixture Florent will be shuttering its doors after 23 years on Gansevoort.

Another sign of the times: the tri-level MePa Apple Store, which opened to great fanfare last December. This corner of 14th Street and Ninth Avenue was once home to supermarket Western Beef (now on Tenth) and then to Belgian brasserie Markt (which moved to Chelsea). Unlike its predecessors, Apple probably has the deep corporate pockets to afford the reported $5-6 million annual rent. (Neighbors Moschino and Hugo Boss coming soon.)

I made the tactical error of first checking out the shiny new Macbook Airs while shopping inside for my laptop replacement. Compared against the Air’s super-slim silver sleekness, the Macbook had the heft and clunky feel of a Zack Morris cell phone. *Sigh*

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Congee Bowery

Saturday, April 5th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Family

I’d been to the Congee Village on Allen Street several times now — the first visit most notable for our dish of duck tongues — but this was my first time to the smaller Bowery location, just a few blocks away at the edge of SoHo and up the street from BLVD. Similar gaudy-tacky decor as the original, with an emphasis on red and gold, faux-greenery, neon accents, and… well, you can see for yourself.

The website explains the design aesthetic thusly: “Built with all authentic materials imported from China, Congee Bowery presents itself with a gorgeous intricate play of wood and marble, decorated in traditional chinese style, with a fountain of stones, real plants and real gold fish, bamboo trees and original art from the great land of China.” Mmhmm.

The Cantonese food is well-prepared and authentic, though… a favorite of my family’s, though I’ve yet to introduce them to Amazing 66 on Mott, mostly because my parents don’t make it out to Manhattan’s Chinatown much these days. Two tables were gathered tonight to celebrate J’s birthday with a traditional Chinese banquet. The dishes were part of a pre-set special menu, and followed the usual progression, beginning with a platter of cold appetizers…

…and continuing with a tureen of seafood soup, fish fillets two ways (wok-tossed and battered/fried), a T-bone steak, a steamed whole fish… and of course, no birthday feast would be complete without a whole chicken — symbolic of the phoenix, that harbinger of good fortune. (Congee Bowery serves a very good one, crisp-skinned and topped with flakes of fried garlic.)

I lost track of the parade of dishes after a while. Here’s the Jumbo Shrimp with Walnut & Broccoli, coated in sweet mayonnaise sauce:

And a dish of what I thought was abalone, but which turned out to be a mix of mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, enoki) over vegetables:

One of my favorites of the evening: Pan Fried Bean Curd with Soy Sauce. A seemingly simple preparation: squares of tofu seared just enough to impart an outer texture, while keeping the insides soft and silky.

Lobsters with Ginger & Scallion. Congee Bowery also has a version made with Butter & Cheese… which may be good, but I’m too skeptical to find out.

The banquet ended with platters of E-Fu noodles and dried scallop fried rice studded with golden raisins, which I did not have, but heard was rather delicious.

For the more adventurous eaters among you, Congee Bowery’s menu (.pdf) is chock full of exotic-sounding items that push the limits of omnivorousness: Sea Cucumber & Goose Web, Roasted Young Pigeon, Duck’s Blood with Chives, and Baked Fish Intestine In Clay Pot, anyone? Anyone?

After dinner, several of us accompanied the out-of-towners for a night stroll through SoHo — with a pit stop for rice pudding at Rice to Riches — while the New Yorkers debated the relative merits of Eileen’s and Veniero’s. The latter, though far more touristy, maintains the edge at least in terms of operating hours… at 11PM this Saturday night, there was a twenty minute wait for take-out cheesecake.

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