27 December 2009

The Micro Family Does NYC Day 2-3

Our snacking finally over with we decided to head up to Union Square to try to get rush tickets for Fuerza Bruta. Basically they sell 20 tickets at the box office 2 hours before showtime at a serious discount. We waited in line for the 7pm show but unfortunately we were beaten to the punch. So we decided to go back to the hotel room to freshen up and come back and try our luck at 8pm for the 10pm show. This time there was a substantially shorter line and we easily got tickets. This was most certainly one of the best $25 I've ever spent. More on that later.

So we had time to kill and dinner to be had. I had a random want for some great red sangria so I texted my friend who's a NYC native and he recommended Pipa Tapas y Mas which was only a few short blocks away. We walked over but unfortunately the place was jam-packed with a 1.5 hour wait. Unsure of what to do I whipped out my 2009 Zagat book and found a very similar spot down the street called Sala 19. Sorry no storefront pic. They said if we could eat in 45 mins we could be sat immediately as they had a large party coming in. Since we needed to get back in time for the show that worked out perfectly for us. We threw down an order for 2 glasses of red sangria as soon as our waiter arrived.

I'll be honest, I like my sangria on the sweeter side and this was more tart. I like more variety of fruit as well. It was decent but not quite as good as the sangria my mother's friend Di makes. But it was sufficient. I mean it couldn't've been all bad, here's a picture of me pounding the stuff down:

Don't you judge me! I was trying to get a nice buzz for the show, plus I was jonesin' for the stuff! Anyway, Nikki wanted the datil, bacon wrapped dates stuffed with almonds so I opted for the queso de cabra con miel which was fried goat cheese with honey and caramelized onion.

These turned out to be fantastic. The dates were roasted so they caramelized nicely. The salt from the bacon and the nutty crunch from the almonds rounded out an almost stellar mouthfeel. Great appetizer.

The fried goat cheese turned out to be another excellent, albeit expensive, appetizer. The terrific tang from the goat cheese was reigned in slightly by the honey and the onions added a nice bite. The subtle fried crust was the similar to a croqueta and suited this application. Here's a nice interior shot:

We'd heard so much about the greatness that is paella but neither of us had ever really had the opportunity to try it so we decided this would be the perfect time to do so. So we ordered the paella de mariscos for two, which the waiter told us would take roughly 35 minutes to prepare. I figured if he was offering then the incoming dinner party couldn't be that important so we placed our order. Shortly after finishing our appetizers and another round of sangria our paella arrived.

Neither of us had ever had paella before this so we had no basis of comparison. That being said we felt the seafood was mostly overcooked. The rice was great but the seafood, especially the shrimp, was definitely overcooked. We both did like the clams and mussels however. I really enjoyed the rice but Nikki was overall unimpressed with the dish. She gave it a 5/10. Here's a closer shot of my individual plate:

I decided to try the white sangria to end the meal and ended up liking it better than the red. It was a bit sweeter.

With three glasses of sangria and a full stomach I was amped for the show. We headed over to the Daryl Roth Theatre to see Fuerza Bruta. Past the front door there was a coat check and a little bar area to hang out until the show started. The show turned out to be an unreal experience. I've since encouraged everyone I know who frequents the city to make a point of seeing it. The room filled with mist before the show started to keep everyone cool.

There are no seats and the show takes place on platforms and from cables above the audience. There's a guy running on a treadmill through breakaway walls, dancers destroying an office space, chicks running across reflective sheets, and scantily clad women doing belly flops on plexiglass platforms covered in water just inches above the audience. I took some videos during the performance but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post them due to copyrights and such. Better safe than sorry I reckon.

After the show we went back to the hotel, making a slight detour to hit up the huge Hershey chocolate store on the way, and shortly after passed out. We needed our rest in order to conquer Flushing the next day.

The next morning we packed up and checked out. We boarded the 7 train and rode it all the way out to the last stop, Flushing. Our first stop? Quickly on Kissena Blvd.

This is my Starbucks. Why can't there be one of these on every street corner? I'd order a bubble tea every day. After perusing the menu I ordered an almond milk bubble tea, extra boba, and Nikki ordered a passion fruit slush with extra boba.

We've been in the habit of ordering extra boba due to the chain places in our local mall skimping on the wonderful tapioca balls. Real bubble tea places DO NOT skimp on the boba, so as you can see extra boba means half your cup is filled with them. I didn't think you could have too much boba, but I guess there really can be too much of a good thing. Nikki especially. Look at all that boba in her slush! If you've never been to a bubble tea place you basically are given a large pointed straw with which you break the top seal. I should point out to use caution when doing so because if you get too overzealous, like I did, you may end up covered in bubble tea.

The drinks were awesome. Definitely the best bubble tea I've had. The tapioca was cooked properly and the tea was very flavorful and not watered down like most chain venues tend to do. The boba can also be used to plug up any gaps one may have in one's teeth. Observe:

Hideous, aren't I?

Our next destination was Xi'an Famous Foods in the Golden Shopping Mall.

The building may be a bit dilapidated but that should in no way deter potential diners from feasting upon the goodness found within.

Anthony Bourdain featured this venue on his show 'No Reservations' on the travel channel. And for good reason. Their signature dish, liang pi, is one of the best plates of food I've had the privilege of consuming. The dish is named after the owner and translates to 'cold skin'. The establishment expanded recently, opening a location in Manhattan. I was extremely excited about the prospect of having liang pi sans the hour subway ride. Now about that dish... I find it very hard to describe. I'll borrow a snippet from Serious Eats' Joe DiStefano:

"It's a cold salad of squidgy wheat gluten chunks and wheat starch noodles mixed with cilantro, bean sprouts, a touch of chili oil and some Chinkiang vinegar. And it's one of the best things I've eaten in a long time."

I could not stop eating this plate of food. It was indescribably addicting. I know it may not look all that appealing, but trust me, even Nikki was wolfing it down. We need more pictures!

Look at how sexy that closeup shot is. Man I wish I had a plate of liang pi in front of me right now, I would wreck house. Perfect harmony is reached in this dish with the freshness of the cucumber and cilantro, the amazing noodles, and the perfect level of spiciness of the chili oil. Ahhhhh, I need to go to NYC again soon. This has become one of the culinary highlights of my newfound obsession with food. This is up there with Tony Luke's RPI. That says a lot.

We had a lot more food to get to. We hiked back up to the block of Prince Street b/t 38th and 39th. Located on this block right next to each other are Nan Shian Dumpling House and Happy Beef Noodle House. There was a large wait to dine at Nan Shian so we decided to go there first before the wait got any longer, which it quickly did.

The reason do dine here is their famous soup dumplings. I'd never had soup dumplings before but I'd read a lot about them and I was definitely jonesing for some awesome dumplings. The wait was pretty long, about 40 minutes, but the hostess and the rest of the staff for that matter was very nice and lightened the burden of the hefty wait. We were sat and presented with very simple table settings:

ordered a single order of soup dumplings. The informed us the wait would be a little while because they steam them to order so we waited and sipped hot tea and people watched. Finally our lovely steam basket arrived containing the supposedly best soup dumplings in New York.

Even after reading about the proper way to eat these and watching the other diners, it still proved to be a difficult task. The soup contained within was scorchingly hot so after using the tongs and moving a dumpling to my spoon I bit off the very tip to allow the soup to cool before diving right in. I'm very prone to burning my tongue so I had to wait quite a while.

You really have to bite-suck these dumplings to eat the properly. If you merely bite into it, it would cause the soup to spill out. Still, even after trying that the only success I had was shoving the entire thing in my mouth. While the dumpling itself was wonderful, and the soup was equally as good, it wasn't really all that spectacular. I would only come here again if I were with a group of people and we planned on eating a full meal.

We left Nan Shian and garnered some strange looks as we turned around and walked right into the Happy Beef Noodle House.

I liked this place a lot more as there was more room to dine and it wasn't nearly as crowded. The table was similarly laid out, this time with large individual cups of tea and a large squirt bottle of Sriracha.

As you can imagine, the dish to order here is the beef noodle soup. The first thing on the menu. And one bowl is more than enough to feed two people.

Again this soup was good but was overshadowed by the revelation had at Xi'an earlier that day. The one thing that really shined in the soup was the ultra-meaty chunks of beef. This was like the best pot roast you'd ever had. I don't know how they got the meat flavor so concentrated but it was like 1/2 lb. beef patty in every bite. My only picture of the meat came out a bit blurry but here it is:

You can see the grill marks. Those aren't out of a can like the ones you find at Burger King. Those are the real deal. I'm surprised just how much of this soup we finished off. We got the check and proceeded to our final destination just around the corner, the Flushing Mall.

Unfortuantely this is when the trip didn't go as planned. We entered the mall from the above pictured entrance and scoured the entire premisis and while we definitely found a food court, there was no S&C Shaved Ice to be found. When we returned from NYC I re-checked my sources and we definitely didn't see anything that looked like the mall pictured here. I'm not sure what happened and why we couldn't find this place. The mall we walked through was mostly deserted and a lot of the shops were empty. Ah well, maybe next time. It was probably a good thing since we were both on a one-way trip to a pretty serious food coma.

We went back to the hotel because Nikki forgot a library book in our room then started making our way down to the bus stop at Penn Station. We stopped at the first place we could find that was showing the Ravens game and caught the last 4 minutes of their loss to the Bengals. Bummer. We left after the game and continued our trek south. Nikki had a grilled cheese at the bar but I refused to consume mediocre bar food just because it was there. Something caught my eye on the way though, a Grey's Papaya hot dog stand.

I ordered the recession special of two dogs and a beverage. I ordered my dogs with mustard and onions and yelled at the guy when I saw him covering my dogs with some red liquidy stuff. "I didn't order chili!" I said to which he slowly responded "These are onions..." I'd never seen onions like this but I guess it was Grey Papaya's house recipe. As soon as I spotted banana daiquiri I immediately selected that as my beverage. I didn't dive into my food until we found our place in line for the bus. This proved to be a very bad idea.

The liquidy onion topping had completely soaked through the buns. And if there was any mustard on these hotdogs I certainly couldn't taste it. I took two sips of the overly coconutty banana concoction and threw it in the trash. I knew any more would've caused severe stomach issues. The only redeeming quality of this meal was the dog itself having a nice beef flavor and a good snap to the casing.

I could see this being a sufficient meal when severely inhebriated, but it fell way short of anything even remotely satisfying while stone sober.

Thus ends our 3-day trip to NYC. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did living it. Until next time!

23 December 2009

Nutty time of year

It looks like I probably won't have time to finish my NYC post until after the holidays. With starting a new job on top of the usual holiday business I just haven't had time to update my beloved blog. I've got dinner reservations tonight at Pazo so hopefully I'll be able to get some decent info and be able to do a Pazo post soon as well. Here's a pic of the Micro family xmas tree!

Have a great holiday everyone!

18 December 2009

Cooking for Turkey Day

I just wanted to shoot up a short post about the Pumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel Bourbon Sauce I made for Thanksgiving. It turned out wonderful. During the baking process I neglected to add the 2T of flour (don't drink while baking kids it makes you forget things.) and I added 4 ginger snaps to the crust mixture. Yes, I did put in the extra effort to actually toast the pecans and yes I think it was worth it. I did miss the flour as I think it would've made the consistency more cakey which I think it lacked without the flour. Also I would've baked the crust longer, I put it in for 35 minutes and I still would've liked it to form up a bit more. The sauce was the shining star of this dish. I have no qualms with eating a pile of horse manure were it covered in this heavenly sauce. Here are a few pics of the creation process:

The crust in the food processor:

The crust pressed into the spring pan after baking:

Some of the high quality(hah!) ingredients I used:

The batter:

Right out of the oven:

Making the sauce the next day:

When doing laundry on Thanksgiving morning I cleaned out the lint trap in our dryer only to find that the ball of lint looked disturbingly like a heart!!:

Freaky, eh?

And finally the money shot. The finished product:

Just look at it. Ain't it sexy?

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I'm working on Day 2-3 of our NYC trip so it will be up soon, don't you worry.

11 December 2009

The Micro Family Does NYC Day 2

Let's cut the BS and get right to it. The first stop on our Saturday itinerary was Shopsin's located in a little corner of the Essex Street Market in the LES. After a bit of exploring we found it tucked away in the back and immediately I recognized Kenny Shopsin sitting in a chair against the wall taking a break.

I also immediately noticed that the place was full and there was already a standing line. So we busied ourselves perusing the unholy mammoth of a menu posted on the wall. I'd looked it over many times online but that didn't make the task any easier. I can't even fathom how a chef could commit all of those recipes to memory and have the ability to put out any dish on there at the drop of a hat. After physically being there and witnessing firsthand just how small the kitchen is I also cannot comprehend where he keeps all of the ingredients to make all of those dishes. There must be some secret passageway to a cavernous stockroom. Who wants to go spelunking?

I'd read online that the must-try items on the menu were the mac & cheese pancakes and the slutty cakes(more on those later). So I ordered a half order of the mac & cheese panckes for us to try and the slutty cakes as my meal. I recalled a rave review of the banana ebelskivers by chef Aarón Sánchez on an episode of 'The Best Thing I Ever Ate' on Food Network. I love banana so that was a natural choice for dessert. Nikki wasn't trying to eat very heavy because of the imposing culinary tour we had planned for the day so she ordered the Saxelby with avocado and bacon.

Let me take this opportunity to say that this is EXACTLY my type of food/cuisine. In my opinion the most rewarding aspect of cooking is when you take a bunch of ingredients one would never think to put together and make them work harmoniously in a dish. This has to be Kenny Shopsin's mantra because it is exactly what he does. I mean come on, mac & cheese pancakes? But oh sweet fancy moses they work and they're freakin' delicious.

I can't even begin to guess how they make these things. They're pancakes formed from a batter that I can only describe as a mash of spongy overcooked pasta and cheese. I managed to grab the monstrous squeeze bottle of house-made hot sauce I saw floating around and squeezed out a healthy pool onto the plate. It was freakin delicious. The hot sauce tasted like what Frank's hot sauce must've tasted like when he perfected the recipe in his own kitchen. It was fresh and potent and paired perfectly with the pancakes. But the best is yet to come. I speak of course of the slutty cakes, quite possibly the most delicious pancakes ever conceived by man.

Slutty cakes, slutty cakes, slutty cakes, slutty cakes, SLUTTY F'IN CAKES. I can't say it enough. It's like Kenny Shopsin telepathically read my mind and found out all of my favorite ingredients and put them into pancakes. Pumpkin? Yes. Pistachios? Yes. Peanut butter? God f'ing YES. These panckes could've been such a cop out. They could've been regular pancakes topped with these things, or with them smushed into the cakes. But no, the damn things were MADE of those things. The middle of each pancakes is a gooey mishmash of pumpkin, peanut butter, and pistachios. Fantastic. I wish I could post one of the pictures I have of the interior but they all turned out horribly blurry.

Nikki's breakfast sandwich was also quite good. The ingredients were fresh. Nice fluffy eggs, and crispy bacon. The use ciabatta is usually very risky but here it paid off. This was some of the lightest and softest ciabatta I had come across to date. She gave me a bite and I approved, but it was still slightly overshadowed by the sexiest sluts I've ever tasted.

The ebelskivers were a great way to finish off the morning carbo-loading. They were like doughnut holes with a custardy interior with a slight hint of banana flavor. The sugar dusting on the outside was a great touch and added a little crunchy texture. Here's an interior shot:

My final verdict? Shopsins is a monumental breakfast experience and could quite possibly be the first place in NYC I visit twice.

The next planned activity for the day was a trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Nikki had never seen the Statue of Liberty but I had on a previous trip to NYC years ago. So we decided to take in the sights and walk down to the southern tip of Manhattan through the streets of Chinatown. We randomly came across the awesome Mahayana Buddhist Temple on Canal St. and had to take the opportunity and check out the interior:

We also stopped in for a look at St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway:

XI Thou shalt not have erotic fantasies involving pancakes.

Forgive me father for I have sinned.

By this time the wind was really picking up so we happened across a street vendor selling hats and scarves and such and I picked up a banging cashmere scarf for 5 bucks. Just another reason to love New York. So we finally make it down to Battery Park and encounter a nice big sign that says "Crown tickets sold out". So in other words they were still selling tickets to go to the statue, you just couldn't go up into it. Nikki and I discussed this and decided there wasn't really any point in going if we weren't allowed to go up in it. All for naught!

We decided to walk up towards South Street Seaport until we decided what we wanted to do next. I'd been there before as well and it looks disturbingly similar to the Inner Harbor here in Baltimore (i.e. tourist trap). So we just passed it by. We spied signs for the Bodies Exhibit and I since I had raved about it so much after seeing it a few years ago Nikki wanted to check that out. It was no less impressive the second time around.

After all this walking and sight-seeing it was time to grab ourselves a little snack or two. I had our options all laid out for us so we headed for the LES and the much raved about Doughnut Plant at Norfolk and Grand St. Any normal being would be carbed out from breakfast, but not us. We live on carbs, baby. Bring on the doughnuts!

I'd been dying to go here ever since I saw this post on Serious Eats. I mean, who wouldn't want to go here after that much intoxicating food porn? The line exploded shortly after we arrived so we were glad we got there when we did. This shop was bustling with vibrant life in an otherwise quiet and empty block.

It angers me to no end that once again most of my pictures were plagued with blurriness. The damned camera has seen better days I guess. Nonetheless, it's all I got! We finally arrived at the counter so I ordered the peanut butter and jelly doughnut and the much raved about crème brûlée doughnut and sadly after the girl in front of us snagged the last pumpkin doughnut, Nikki decided to order a blackout doughnut. But our luck turned around as right after we received our food the window seat opened up right by the doughnut rack.

MMmmmm blurry doughnuts... Here is the one fantabulous picture I got of our order. Look how GD sexy these things are!

I, of course, went for the little guy first. This was one of the culinary highlights of the weekend for me. Simply fantastic. The crackly sugar crust on top created a doughnut experience that I'd never had before, coupled with the cool vanilla custard inside, wow. I wish I had taken a shot of the custardy interior, but I was too caught up in doughnut euphoria. Moving on to the peanut butter and jelly doughnut, where the crème brûlée doughnut was to be eaten slowly, savoring every bite, the PB&J doughnut was to be utterly devouring in a slobbery gluttonous orgy. The peanuty crust and the light cakey inside and the perfect amount of strawberry jelly filling made this another home run for the tastebuds.

That may look like a skimpy amount of filling but trust me, it was just the right amount. One can only imagine how this would've tasted had it been filled with our household favorite: black raspberry jelly. Maybe I should write a letter? Nikki gave me a bite of the blackout and it was good but nothing special. She took a few more bites and found a molten chocolate center that apparently didn't make it all the way through the doughnut. I took another bite and it was infinitely better with the gooey chocolate core. Here's a blurry picture of said goo:

I was discussing this trip with some friends here in Maryland and I remember someone saying "they were better than Fractured Prune?" And I just laughed. I think I responded with something like "these doughnuts are on an entirely different plane of existence than Fractured Prune". Don't get me wrong, I like Fractured Prune, but they're child's play compared to Doughnut Plant. I think in my letter I will include the offer of my body as a playground in exchange for the opening of a Doughnut Plant in Bel Air...

After our meal at Doughnut Plant we still had room for another snack, so we made our way to Houston Street for some sexcellent salmon and bagels at Russ & Daughters.

We went inside and it was pretty crazy. There were lines here and there and everyone was being helped by a different associate. We loved the old world feel of the place. We made our way to the back where the salmon was located and were presented with a plethora of options:

I had no idea which to choose, as my smoked fish experience is mostly limited to the stuff my dad gets at Costco, which is damn good I might add. Luckily I witnessed a girl tasting samples so I followed suit. I tried a few but none of them really hit the mark, they were either too light or too salty(Belly Lox!!) and I was just about to settle when I decided to try one more, the Irish organic smoked salmon. This one hit the perfect balance of flavor.

I overheard another patron mention scallion cream cheese so that sealed the deal on that front. My order? Sesame bagel with Irish organic salmon and scallion cream cheese.

As you can see they didn't skimp on the salmon. The flavor combination was stellar. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. The bagel was light and fluffy and while it wasn't anything amazing it was more than satisfactory. The scallion cream cheese was super fresh, the scallions adding a nice brightness to the sandwich. My wife concurred. This was one badass snack:

She lovingly left the last bite for me. What a lucky glutton I am.

I think I will leave you hanging here. We have our Saturday night dinner and a show to report on plus our Sunday adventures in Flushing, the highlight of which is without a doubt the lovely dish known as 'liang pi'. You'll just have to keep checking back for all of the juicy details. As always, thanks for reading.

Doughnut Plant on Urbanspoon
Russ & Daughters on Urbanspoon
Shopsin's General Store (Essex Street Market) on Urbanspoon