Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Shanghai Park, Princeton

My friend Steph has been craving soup dumplings, so we went to Shanghai Park at the Princeton Shopping Center for the little pockets of perfection. Known alternately as xiao long bao (Little Dragon buns), tang bao (soup buns), or juicy buns, at Shanghai Park the English name on the menu reads innocuously as "crab meat and pork buns." Don't know why, but my friends were incredulous and I had to assure them that the Chinese characters next to those words did indeed say xie feng tang bao (crab meat soup buns).

There's a technique to the eating of soup dumplings:

#1 -- Get a little of the sauce of soy, vinegar, and ginger on your soup spoon.

#2 -- Carefully grab a dumpling from the steamer, making sure not to puncture the skin in the slightest, and nestle it in your spoon.

#3 -- Keeping the dumpling in your spoon, bite just a small hole open in the top of the dumpling to let some steam out so you don't completely burn your mouth.

#4 -- Bite and sip simultaneously as you eat so as not to lose any of the juicy soup goodness!

The other standout dish at this restaurant is the si zi tou Lion's Head meatballs. Named for their size, the meatballs are so soft and melt-in-your-mouth tender -- ground pork mixed with tofu, seasoned with ginger -- so simple yet so good...

I also like the stir-fried nian gao (sticky rice cakes), here with Shanghai salted cabbage (xue cai) and pork. They also make it with shitake mushrooms (which I've had -- really good) or with spinach.

The great thing about all these dishes is that they're all traditional Shanghai cuisine. The Shanghainese are known for their sweet tooths and their love of all things made of sticky rice flour. We also ordered wuxi spareribs, another traditional Shanghai dish, with a fragrant sweet sauce. I actually liked the ones we'd had a few months back at the New Chinese Restaurant in Hamilton better. But not to knock it -- it's not a dish you find on typical Chinese menus since it's a regional specialty.

Mmmm... soup dumplings. Lucky redneckhunter is going for them again on Friday!

Shanghai Park
Princeton Shopping Center
301 N Harrison St
Princeton, NJ 08540
(609) 924-8001

Monday, January 29, 2007

Kyotofu, NYC

After our meal at Pam Real Thai the other night, we walked a block and a half down to Kyotofu for dessert. Ninth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen is a veritable restaurant row -- there's really no other retail there except for food. Just opened last November, Kyotofu serves Japanese snacks and desserts primarily made of tofu.

Above is the Toasted Walnut Tahitian Vanilla Parfait with maple soy mascarpone mousse and caramel-apricot sauce, garnished with pomegranate seeds. The smooth walnut flavor was rich without being too sweet. I went with the simple perfection of the Original Sweet Tofu with Black Sugar Sauce (pictured right). So mild, smooth, and creamy, I could eat bowls and bowls of this every day!

Brownie ordered the Sansho Pepper Tofu Cheesecake with shiro-an vanilla cream, shochu ginger, and fruit carpaccio. The "fruit carpaccio" of thinly sliced grapefruit was beautiful. The cream had the thick texture of cannoli filling. The cheesecake itself was not too heavy with a very strong almost gingery flavor. I have to say though, what's up with everyone doing sauce smears?

They left us with an amuse bouche of pretty peach gelees -- so sweet and perfect.

705 Ninth Avenue (btw 48th and 49th), NYC
(212) 974-6012

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Gertrude's at the BMA

Recently, I went with some friends to Gertrude's, a restaurant located in the Baltimore Museum of Art. It's chef, John Shields, hosts a public television program, Coastal Cooking.
The cuisine is much inspired my Maryland cuisine with a touch of Southern cooking. On Tuesdays, they have a $10 menu special.
I had the trout with creole sauce on a bed of ham and chedder grits.
I also had a nice cup of cream of crab soup.

My friend Larry had the Maryland pan fried chicken. It was a half chicken with potatoes and veggies. The skin was really nice, light and flavorful. The waiter told us that he sees old ladies finish off the whole plate. Larry got a take home box.

My friend Kwan got a portobella crab imperial. The crab seemed to be all lump- delicious and sweet.

Our dessert was pretty unique- it was cheesecake made from goat cheese. It was a lot smoother that regular cheesecake. Tasty!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Pam Real Thai, NYC

We thought about trekking out to Queens to the beloved Sripraphai but it was a Sunday night when the trains don't run all that well, and a cold Sunday night at that! So our Manhattan choice was Pam Real Thai in Hell's Kitchen. We started out with a Yum Woon Sen (a salad of glass noodles with lime dressing, shrimp, minced chicken, squid, red onion, cilantro and chili) -- fresh, limey and delicious.

We had two appetizers: Shrimp Rolls and Thai Beef Jerky. The shrimp rolls were whole shrimp wrapped in spring roll skins and fried. Not what we expected from the menu description of "shrimp stuffed crepes" but really tasty nonetheless.

The beef was air-dried then deep-fried and served with sticky rice and a spicy limey sauce. I loved the crispy jerky-firm texture.

Instead of a coconut-based curry, which brownie finds too sweet and thick, we ordered a Kaeng Pa' (Jungle Curry), described on the menu as a "popular hill tribe spice watery curry" -- more like a soup with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and peppers, flavored by basil.

As a main dish, we got a Pad Kra Prow (crispy duck with basil, garlic, red pepper and chili. Again, I loved the crispiness of the juicy duck and the wonderful basil flavor. Our other main dish was Pad Prik Khing with squid, long beans and lime leaves stir-fried with curry paste. The squid was cooked perfectly -- juicy and tender without any chewiness.

All the flavors were wonderful -- spicy yes, but in a thoroughly enjoyable, not at all painful way. As my friend Steph said, it's so great to have a meal that makes you blow your nose!

Pam Real Thai
404 West 49th Street (at 9th Ave.), NYC
215.333.7500 or 215.333.7240

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Woo Jeon, Edison, NJ

Friday night we went to Woo Jeon in Edison for my friend brownie's birthday. She was in the mood for barbecue as we actually had a good-sized group for it -- you just can't do BBQ for 2 people.

I still think Woo Chon in NYC is the best -- the meat there is just amazing and sliced so thin. But for New Jersey, this place is good. Princeton professor and novelist Chang Rae-Lee has been spotted there.

I appreciate that they use real coals, as opposed to the mini- propane tanks used at most places. And that they change your grill pan mid-way.

In addition to the 2 barbecue meat platters and the many pajon dishes, we ordered a dolsot bi bim bop, a stir-fried squid dish with nice thick spicy sauce served with perfectly tender rice noodles, and a soon doo boo (tofu stew with seafood and pork). It was a lot of food, but we saved room for a beautiful pear frangipane tart brought by one of the girls. The restaurant staff, again with the good service, were kind enough to bring it out on a glass cake stand with a candle, and piped in a peppy syncopated Korean-accented "Happy Birthday" song over the sound system!

Woo Jeon Restaurant, 411 Route 1, (732)572-6100

Monday, January 22, 2007

Desserts: Lady M and The Little Chef

We're lucky enough in Princeton not only to be close to NYC, but to have a top-rate pastry shop right around the corner. Last week, after a trip to the Met, my parents brought back a couple slices of Lady M's famous mille-crepe cake. Twenty crepes with layers of cream between, and burnt sugar on top.

On Saturday, some friends were visiting from NYC and Philly, so walking home after dinner we stopped at The Little Chef and picked up some treats. I can't remember the name of this mini-cake, but it was light, chocolatey and cinnamony, and oh-so-pretty. The chocolate-hazlenut torte was rich and fudgy, and redneckhunter's a huge fan of the macaroons, though the plain ones while good, are nothing compared to the ones dipped in dark chocolate.

Lady M Cake Boutique
41 East 78th Street (bet. Madison Ave & Park Ave)
New York, NY 10021
Tel: 212-452 2222

Little Chef Pastry Shop
8 S Tulane St
Princeton, NJ 08542
(609) 924-5335

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Christmas Day Lunch

I've got a backup of posts to do from the holidays. Props to Fougoo for picking up my slack.

Anyways, Christmas lunch was at Fougoo's mom and dad's place like every year. They made some of my favorite dishes. For me, this is my comfort food.
These are curried beef pastries. When I was a kid, this was one of my favorite snacks my grandma used to make for me. You take a pie crust and fill it with ground beef and onions seasoned with curry, then paint on some egg on the top- simple, elegant- delicious.

Fougoo's dad is the master of frying the perfect spring roll. I don't think you can get spring rolls as good as this anywhere, and they should only be eaten when thsy are crisp right out of the fryer.

Fougoo's mom's wontons are the best, too. The filling is actually mostly vegetables with a little bit of pork or chicken- healthy and yummy.
It should be noted that all these items are so good that they require no ancillary items like soy sauce- all of them are best eaten as is.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mediterranean Eats in NYC

We had a friend from Omaha come to visit over the weekend, and she was in the mood for some hearty winter fare. We took her to 2 places that kind of embody the NYC casual neighborhood place -- small, cozy, crowded with walk-ins, exposed brick. Friday night was Il Corallo in Soho for simple homemade pasta, thick and al dente. The have a long pasta menu, and I always deliberate, but then end up always ordering the same thing: the pappardelle con funghi (pictured above).

Saturday night was Uncle Nick's in Hell's Kitchen. We started with some mezze -- the sampler of dips: taromasalata, an eggplant dip, a really garlicky potatoey one, and tzaziki, spicy meatballs, and a "flaming cheese." The waiter was too fast for me to snap the 2 foot flame that shot up when he lit the sharp ouzo-soaked cheese on fire.

I got the grilled sardines (below) as my entree. Redneckhunter got moussaka (a huge plate!) and our friend got grilled lemon shrimp. She was happy all around with the weekend eats!

Il Corallo Trattoria

176 Prince St (between Thompson and Sullivan)
New York, NY 10012

Uncle Nick's

747 9th Ave
New York, NY 10019
(212) 245-7992

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mie Thai, North Brunswick, NJ

I forgot my camera that night, but I did have leftovers from a surprisingly good dinner at Mie Thai in North Brunswick. Above is the Pad Prig Thai Sod -- beef with lime leaves, chili, Thai basil and young peppercorn in chili sauce. We asked for it Hot assuring the always cautious waiter that we liked spicy food. It had a nice kick -- just look at all the chili pepper seeds in it! The flavor was helped along by fresh peppercorns still on the stem (below).

The other dishes we tried were Larb with chicken, nice and gingery; and Pad Woon Sen -- shrimp and chicken sautéed with bean thread noodles, vegetables and eggs. There was something about this dish that made us not able to stop eating it.

My only complaint was that no one warned us that they were charging us $4 each for sticky rice! This place was good but way exceeded the usual $15 per person ethnic food max price tag, so definitely worth going back, but probably not as often as I'd like.

Mie Thai
2800 Route 27
No. Brunswick, NJ 08902

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Red Ginger of Georgetown, New Year's Eve

While I know that prix fixe menus are not the best judge of a restaurant, I was just hoping for more for New Year's Eve. While I didn't dislike the food at Red Ginger, it just wasn't anything special. The appetizers were the best part of the meal: mine was lobster with leeks and cremini mushrooms over grits with a curry cream sauce, redneckhunter got a jerk chicken served with vidalia onion, cabbage and potato hash. Both sauces were so good I sopped them up with the bread.

Started going downhill 2nd course: redneckhunter got a crab cake with mango relish (ho-hum) and I got crispy quail (not as good as Aladdin's Palace) with an enoki mushroom and three bean salad (kinda bland).

For the main courses, the main problem was that while the meat was cooked well, the flavors and sauces lacked any interest. I got whole red snapper (pictured above)-- the tomato-based sauce was like something I could have made myself.

Redneckhunter's adobo duck with a blood-orange reduction didn't really have any adobo flavor, and the sauce was just sweet. His side dish, a quinoa-pumpkin salad, was bland.

Dessert was equally disappointing: in the mango cobbler, the fruit wasn't cooked soft enough. The flourless chocolate cake should have been more decadently rich. The best part of both desserts was the ice cream.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Nashville Eats: The White Trash Cafe

I'll admit it, we picked this place off the Hollyeats list because of the name. But rather than Northeast hipster irony, here we were met by the super-sincere, super-nice, super-laid back proprietor who asked us where we were from and thanked us for taking the time to stop in at his place. It was pretty much just him doing all the waiting and bussing tables, and an older guy (his dad, maybe?) in an apron in back.

It was a simple down-home "meat and three" place (local speak for one meat with three side dishes). The menu was hand-written and photocopied -- so simple I can pretty much recreate it here: fried chicken, roast beef, country fried steak, mac and cheese, mixed beans, turnip greens, mashed taters, fried apples, corn - that's about it, no prices. After all our eating the past few days, we needed to take it easy and just ordered three sides to share, cornbread and coffee. "Are y'all vegetarian?" he asked.

Anyway when we were all done, he said, "How about... 5 bucks? 6? What do you think?" How great is this place?! Inside and out it was just full of great junk too -- he had a sign up saying if you wanted any of it, he'd let you have it in exchange for a donation to the SPCA.

White Trash Cafe
1914 Bransford Avenue
Nashville TN
(615) 383-0109

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Nashville Eats: Prince's Hot Chicken

Now on to the real food in Nashville. I saw this place listed on -- actually he had so many good-looking places, we just had to pick a couple and go for it. Prince's Hot Chicken: I love fried chicken and I love spicy food, so the thought of hot spicy fried chicken - how could I resist?

Clearly this place is a local favorite -- when we got there, every seat was taken and a line of people the length of the restaurant were waiting for their orders. You could order your chicken mild, medium, hot and X-hot. I read in a Nashville free weekly that mild would make you break into a sweat, so we opted for hot. A woman in front of us in line concurred -- she said the extra-hot was just painful.

We ordered a 1/2 chicken hot with baked beans and waited, and we waited, and we waited. An hour and a 1/2 later and still waiting, and the people coming in just never stopped. Finally got our chicken and ate it back in our hotel room, just tearing it apart. Man, it was worth the wait -- spice all over our face and hands, lips feeling the lingering burn, white bread to cool the heat and sop up all the sauce.

We head out in search of a milkshake after that, again on a Holly recommendation, but no dice -- the Elliston Place Soda Shop was closed. Too bad, the place looked cool.

Prince's Hot Chicken
123 Ewing Drive
Nashville, TN
(615) 226-9442

Elliston Place Soda Shop

2111 Elliston Place
Nashville, TN
(615) 327-1090