Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jing Fong

The groundhog saw his shadow. Sigh. It's officially the dead of winter with countless cold days still ahead. Apparently, Geithner has also seen his shadow along with the rest of the world's. It's the beginning of what may be a very long recession. There is no doubt about it - times are tough. The thought of vacations and exotic getaways may seem like wishful thinking or just a distant memory. I am here to tell you that adventures are still a possibility - even in your own backyard. While you may not get the change in climate you are in desperate need of, you can still soak up a new culture without even heading to the airport.

Pack your purse (lightly) and head down to Chinatown. As soon as you cross Canal St, you just might feel as though you have just stepped off an airplane and onto foreign soil. This past weekend, I ventured down to Jing Fong on Elizabeth Street for a dim sum brunch. It's hard to tell whether it was the smells, the crowds, the spitting, or even the high pitched street music that brought me immediately back to my great journey to China last winter. While unappealing to some, each bold and basically unavoidable reminder brought a smile to my face. I was completely reminiscent and missed my days wandering the streets of Hong Kong and Beijing. What took me a step further into the East was setting foot in Jing Fong and realizing this would be like no other brunch experience in NYC.

After taking a number to get in line and joining the crowds of mainly Chinese and a scattering of Americans, I looked up at the massive escalators and was fairly certain I was standing in the middle of one of the enormous shopping malls in China. Within a hasty 20 minutes, we were granted access to the next level - a dining hall nearly the size of a football field packed with tables and moving carts full of the various shapes and forms of Chinese dim sum. We were seated by 12:30, but apparently, the earlier you arrive, the better. The carts basically cruise around the room until they are empty which means some items may circulate for several hours before being selected. I'll be completely honest in admitting that I couldn't tell the difference. Everything was extremely warm and fresh tasting upon arrival, although we may have had a more limited selection as popular items probably disappeared early on. I guarantee amateurs like myself could never tell the difference.

While carts are full of dumplings, rice, spring rolls, meats, seafood, sweets, and many other unknown items, we mainly stuck to the noodle dishes. We sampled everything from pork to chicken to seafood to vegetable dumplings - as well as various combinations of the ingredients. Eating dim sum is like an art - and perhaps almost like a game of memory. Once you identify a dish you really like, it is fairly tricky tracking down the right cart and basket containing a match. This isn't the biggest worry since most dishes we tried ended up being extremely tasty. Our favorite was the shrimp and pork dumpling photographed above with the pea on top of it. Sadly, we were never able to find its match and only had one helping. After filling up on savory dishes, we figured we had to round out the adventure with a dessert and went for the most colorful looking dish - let's call it a green bean curd surprise. While it was not the highlight of the meal, it did add to the overall experience and was well worth the few dollars that it cost. Again, I was taken straight back to China- where meals are delicious and affordable - but, where it's always best to avoid desserts. This was certainly the cheapest adventure I have taken in awhile - and one that I know I will do again soon. Don't let the recession get you down. You can leave your passport and big bills at home - just head to Chinatown with a little patience, a sense of humor, and adventuresome eaters.

Jing Fong

20 Elizabeth St 2nd Fl
New York, NY 10013-4802
Phone: (212) 964-5256
FOOD RATING (out of 5):

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fueling up in Jackson

Skiing is one of the most rewarding sports. The amount of energy spent not only skiing, but carrying skis, traversing flat terrain, walking in ski boots, and even just putting all ski gear on and off justifies each and every encounter with food - and there are plenty of those throughout a ski day. Whether you realize it or not, food and skiing go hand in hand. A trip to Jackson Hole means no exception to this. In fact, the amazingly steep and vast terrain only makes you work harder - increasing the need and excuse for ample food breaks over the course of the day. I spent the past week in Wyoming and discovered my new favorite ski mountain. The physical beauty in Jackson Hole is breathtaking in itself. However, large wide-open bowls coupled with a laid-back atmosphere full of skiers who truly live up to the work hard, play hard lifestyle is my idea of ski heaven. While I could go on and on about the skiing, I will cut to the chase and tell you what exactly powered me through the slopes.

Each day, there were at least 4 fuel-ups - breakfast, lunch, apres-ski, and dinner. Between the town of Jackson Hole and Teton Village, there are numerous options. Below are the spots that are definitely worth visiting to help you through the rewarding aches and pains of days spent on the slopes.

Breakfast Boost:
While I typically eat breakfast at home when on a ski vacation, a trip to Corbet's Cabin at the summit of the mountain is well worth a change in routine. A ride up the tram will lead you straight to the top of the world waffles - both savory and sweet options - and get you ready to cruise down Rendezvous Bowl. If you want to change it up even more and take a half day of skiing, I recommend still getting up early and stopping by The Bunnery in town. Their signature bread products, served with all of the egg dishes, are made up of whole wheat, rolled oats, sunflower seeds and millet grain. This is the perfect energizer.

Midday Refueling:
I usually ski the best and the hardest in the mornings. This just means that it is never terribly long before it's time for a little rejuvination. I typically enjoy eating lunch on the mountain - making it easiest to continue for a more relaxed afternoon of skiing. Casper Restaurant was my favorite option on the slopes. There is nothing I crave more than a good old chili dog when skiing. This is the perfect place to indulge in one of these - especially on sunny days when you can do so on the outdoor deck. On colder days, warm up indoors by the fireplace and try one of their signature burritos. If you have skied too hard in the morning and are looking for a more leisurely afternoon, I recommend skiing to the base of the mountain and visiting The Peak at the Four Seasons. Prices are hardly much higher than the cost of eating on the mountain and food quality is definitely much better. Instead of the traditional soups, they serve elk and black bean chili as well as chili with braised wild boar stew - local specialties.

Afternoon Delight:
Whether you admit it or not, the purpose of afternoon skiing is really to get to the Apres-Ski - there is really no better time of day, especially in Jackson Hole. If there is one place to stop by, it's The Mangy Moose - located at the bottom of the mountain near the tram. This is the perfect spot to enjoy pitchers of local beer, great music, and be surrounded by some good-looking company. You will be surprised how comfortable bar stools and booths suddenly become even while still wearing ski boots. If you are craving a hot toddy in a more relaxed setting, I recommend stopping by Cascade Grill House and Spirits - just a few extra steps from the base of the slopes. It's nearly impossible not to get too comfortable while enjoying cocktails and a mammoth plate of nachos by the cozy fireplace.

Nighttime Treats:
After a dip in the hot tub or even a little shuteye, believe it or not, there is still room for one more meal in the day - and your stomach will probably let you know! While I know that Jackson Hole does have a high-end dining scene, we opted for some of the more affordable dinner options - skiing is certainly no cheap sport these days. For an extremely laid back setting, stop by Calico Restaurant and sit in the bar room by the fireplace. Here you can enjoy pizza and delicious, large gourmet salads while sipping on my new favorite discovery - cans of Sofia Coppola's sparkling blanc de blanc. These now sell in four-packs and come with straws! For large groups and a nicer setting, Rendezvous Bistro is a wonderful and affordable option serving upscale comfort food. I highly recommend the tuna and steak tartares as starters. For heartier items, the pork chop, steak frites, and coq au vin are excellent. A meal here will surely store up enough food for the big day ahead.

And, the best part is that you can do it all again in the morning - another day of skiing and eating is always ahead of you. As I said, Jackson Hole is my ski heaven. But, it is probably just as obvious that it is just as much my eating heaven too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The John Dory

White fish have always been somewhat of a mystery to me. Don't get me wrong, it is something that I love to eat and very often order. But, when it comes down to it, I am far from an expert on differentiating between the various types of fish. I see sole, flounder, cod, sea bream, John Dory, skate, catfish (you get the idea) on the menu and I really never know what makes a certain fish unique or more appealing than the next. Well, John Dory (aka St. Pierre) just moved up in the ranks in the sea of white fish for me. A restaurant serving seafood as excellent as The John Dory has given new meaning and recognition to what I used to think of as just another white fish. While a restaurateur's mission is to come up with a catchy name, he or she would never settle for using mediocre food to draw in diners. Without having to ask or even ordering it, I am fairly confident I can tell you what their signature dish would be.

The John Dory is located on tenth avenue in the land of large-scale restaurants. It is sandwiched between Del Posto and Craftsteak while facing Morimoto across the way. Unlike its neighbors, it is actually a smaller, more intimate atmosphere. And, unlike its Italian, Japanese, and red meat focused counterparts, the John Dory is based around a nautical theme - both in setting and its menu. In this long, narrow space with stained glass ceiling lined with fish, there are numerous options for diners. Up front there is the regular bar backed by a live, bright aquarium where those enjoying anything from cocktails to a full meal are able to dine without having to reserve in advance. The oyster bar, further in the back, actually takes reservations and, while it specializes in raw fare, full meals are also encouraged. For additional seating, but equally as intimate, there are a few tables in the main room as well as in a tiny room tucked away behind the aquarium. No matter your location, you definitely feel as though you have stepped off of Manhattan soil and into a world under the sea (far from the East or Hudson Rivers).

This is not the kind of place where I would have expected an amuse bouche, but right away, we were offered a taste of smoked arctic char with creme fraiche served with crispy yuca chips. This reminded me of one of my favorite Nantucket treats - blue fish pate from the Straight Wharf Fish Store. Not only was I brought back to one of my favorite destinations, but I immediately realized that this was going to be an evening of high quality food - and I probably should have raised all expectations - perhaps, petit fours at the end! Besides mains, appetizers, and sides, The John Dory offers raw bar and crudo selections. While the oysters are as delicious as expected, the live sea urchin with blood oranges is worth trying for both taste and presentation. For those of you with texture issues, this might not be your dish, but I highly recommend it for an adventuresome palate. For a more traditional appetizer, the grilled octopus salad with celery, fennel, and bottarga (cured fish roe) is an excellent choice.

It goes without mention that the whole roasted John Dory for two is an excellent main course. However, I was blown away by another fish - the pan roasted cod with mantecato, chili, and artichoke chips. The flavors and level of spices were the perfect combination - starring yet another white fish in my books. If you are looking for a taste of meat amidst all of this delicious seafood, the seared squid stuffed with chorizo is a great option. Even though you probably don't need to order anything more, at a restaurant this good, it is hard to pass up on affordable options such as the side dishes. The sweet potatoes with marrow are extremely hearty while melting in your mouth. And, my end of the meal prediction was right on. Just when you are nice and full, patting yourself on the back for closing up the dessert menu without ordering, a small plate of sweets is automatically placed in front of you. The John Dory surely does not cut corners as the night winds down - serving a unique pomegranate, chipotle caramel and a more traditional hazelnut truffle - both rich and full of flavor, officially setting you over the edge.

Any themed restaurant, especially a nautical one, has high potential of not being taken seriously in the culinary world. Let's hope The John Dory has just raised the bar for the genre. This may be the first restaurant with pet fish while actually knowing how to cook fish. The John Dory is not the kind of place where you need to go for a big event, but rather a fun, yet relaxed night out with a friend or two. I have a feeling when eating out at other restaurants, I will hear myself saying "I'll have the John Dory" more often these days. But, I am even more certain, whether it's a weekend or a weeknight, I'll be saying "Meet me at the John Dory" - it's the perfect, island escape and you don't even have to worry about costumed and singing waiters or sharks!

The John Dory
85 Tenth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Phone: (212) 929-4948

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bar Blanc

So this will be the true test for my readers. Back to the days of no photos! Let's just say that sometimes, it's just not the time or place to be whipping out the camera at dinner. My only regret after dining at Bar Blanc last weekend was that I hadn't taken pictures. But, I soon realized that should not be an excuse for keeping a new, great spot from others. In fact, I really enjoyed having a meal and not having the pressure of continuously taking out my mini digital camera only to capture mediocre images of excellent food. So, bear with me, turn up the imagination, and try to envision the cool, sleek interior of the West Village's Bar Blanc.

The name is a true testament to its interior - white walls, white chairs, and white couches take up this long narrow restaurant with a white, marble top bar up front. The darker lighting is a perfect balance to the bold white-washed interior, creating a very chic, yet comfortable atmosphere. Bar Blanc is a great spot for a fun night out. The bar is extremely appealing whether you are enjoying a fancy cocktail or even an entire meal. But, whether you end up at a table or remain on a barstool, I recommend exploring their specialty drinks. They definitely catered to my weakness - Hendrick's Gin - serving it in their pamplemousse (grapefruit) martini. The cocktail list even offers their version of an Old-Fashioned, my mother's personal favorite. I am pretty sure the drink list appeals to those outside of my family too - there will be an aperitif enticing you in no time.

If your thirst isn't driving you through their front door, then maybe the very generous recession special - a 3 course $35 prix fixe menu available daily or on Friday and Saturday from 6 to 8 pm - will answer to your rumbling stomach. This is a great deal given the high quality of both the food and setting. And, almost everything we ended up ordering (we just happened to be there in the few hours that this deal doesn't exist) was offered on this special menu - a prix fixe rarity, as most are usually limited to the cheaper, less appealing options. Overall, Bar Blanc's menu offers inventive, New-American cuisine focusing on seafood, yet still offering an array of delicious dishes appealing to all palates. For starters, the seared Maine day boat scallops with curried carrots, house cured lardo, and topped with bibb lettuce sauce were delicious. Last weekend, they offered a special of oysters served with a champagne and shallot sauce - a very fresh and light complement to some of the richer dishes. For the main course, if you are needing a break from seafood, the butternut squash risotto with wild mushrooms and shaved pecorino is a great choice. However, my favorite dish of the night, not surprisingly, was a fish - seared black cod served with wilted arrowleaf spinach, celery root, fennel, and saffron sauce accompanied with a salt cold brandade. Not only was the fish perfectly prepared, but the combination of vegetables brought out all of the right flavors.

Bar Blanc is the best of both worlds - an attractive bar and a top-notch restaurant. I recommend making a night out of it - taking advantage of its dual personality especially on cold winter nights when the simple thought of making two stops already causes goose bumps. If my words have not been enticing enough, their website should do the trick. But, I promise an evening there will surely seal the deal.

Bar Blanc
142 W 10th St (near Greenwich Avenue)
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (212) 255-2330
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Monday, February 9, 2009


I know I haven't written up a new, hot spot in awhile, but I just cannot seem to resist my old, affordable favorites right now! On cold, winter, recessionary evenings, Moustache is exactly the kind of casual restaurant that has been motivating me to continue to get out and eat. The price and location couldn't be better - and the food continues to just get better and better. I almost always hit up the quaint west village location on Bedford, but there is also one in the east village, and most recently, an upper east side outlet on 102nd and Lexington. No matter the spot, you will find high quality, yet very well priced Middle Eastern fare.

It's ok to admit if you feel a little confused when you open the menu and see a section for "Pitzas." This is not a typo, but rather what truly sets Moustache apart from other Middle Eastern restaurants. Pitzas resemble the Italian pies, but instead of a crust made of dough, they are made with their signature oven baked pitas - a much lighter, healthier option. I definitely recommend sharing at least one for the table. On my most recent visit, I opted for one of my favorites, the chicken pitza - lemon marinated chicken with garlic, red bell pepper, scallion and parsley. Since you will see how delicious, yet light and airy the homemade pitas are, it will also be hard to pass up on their spreads. While the traditional hummus is always a reliable option, I recommend the faoul - fava beans with tomato, parsley and garlic - as an alternative. It is also nearly impossible to pass up on their small salads. The spinach and chickpea combination with onion, tomato sauce and lemon juice is extremely fresh and full of flavor.

There are just as many tough decisions to be made when selecting from the specialties for the main course. On colder nights, I love their version of chicken pot pie, aka the Moustache Ouzi - chicken, carrots, sweet peas, onions, raisins, almonds, basmati rice and special spices enclosed in filo and served with a yogurt sauce. Even though this dish contains almost every ingredient from their tiny kitchen, the fluffy puff pastry actually lightens it up. The sandwiches are another great option - my favorite being the pita stuffed with boneless lamb, grilled onion, tomato and homemade lemon mint mayonnaise. If you have had enough pita at this point, which I find nearly impossible since both the whole wheat and regular breads are so delicious, you should go with the chicken kebab plate served with cilantro, garlic and lentil puree. Although, I guarantee you will still use some of the leftover pita from the appetizers to soak up the chicken and lentils.

Maybe the mention of Moustache has reminded you of this little gem. Maybe you are just hearing about it for the first time. Or maybe you frequent it on a weekly basis. Whatever your connection may be, I just hope that this serves as a reminder of how easy it is to have a casual, affordable, and also delicious night out in New York. Don't worry, I still have the need and will always make room for my more upscale meals. I'll even admit that I have since eaten at that new, hot spot you are secretly dying to hear about. More to come on that later in the week. How's that for whetting your appetite?

90 Bedford St
New York, NY 10014-3764
Phone: (212) 229-2220
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Thursday, February 5, 2009


When I think of Boston, cold weather, die-hard sports fans, the Commons, and the Ivy league first come to mind. I sometimes think back to Revolutionary days - admiring the architecture of this historical city on the Harbor. Enjoying all of the above, but mostly spending time with college friends has always taken precedence over any food excursions on my visits. Well, move over San Francisco, Chicago, even New York, here comes a city who wants to and can join the culinary ranks. I can finally admit that my most recent weekend in Boston turned into a typical travel weekend for me - a culinary adventure. While I do have friends who know me well and put much thought into every dining experience, each meal, from brunch to lunch to dinner, was a complete success. But, it was our dinner at Stella on Saturday night that was really top-notch and has forever changed my view of Boston dining.

Stella already gets praises in my books for being located in the South End - one of my favorite neighborhoods in Boston; and, a second round of praises for serving Italian fare, my weakness. And, to top it off, I couldn't believe it when there was a section on the menu for grilled pizza! New York's Gonzo had introduced me to this delicious creation, but I had never seen it any other restaurant. Luckily, I was with a group of ten and so we were able to order several of these as well as other starters to begin with. I may now be convinced that all pizzas should be grilled as both the homemade meatball with buffalo mozzarella and toasted garlic as well as the shitake, crimini, and oyster pie drizzled with truffle oil were absolutely delicious. There was an even draw at the table as to which was best - but, the meatball pizza definitely gets my top vote. We also shared the crispy fried artichoke hearts with a country mustard remoulade and a couple orders of the parmesan arancini - risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella topped with a spicy pomodoro fondue. Needless to say, the meal started out with a bang.

As we moved onto the main course, our table was a true testament to the versatility of Stella. The preparations were all so appealing that we actually ventured away from a typical pasta-only Italian experience and sampled everything from the chicken to several different fish to pork. Of course, there were still many pasta dishes on the table and rightfully so, since the orecchiette with sausage, cured tomato and chile flakes ended up being amazing. Although this dish sounds rather basic, it was the perfect preparation of many of my favorite flavors. Another wonderful, traditional Italian dish was the Osso Buco. However, to stray from the norm, the chefs used pork instead of veal and served it over basil parmesan risotto in a red wine sauce. Since I rarely go the seafood route in an Italian restaurant, I was nicely surprised by both the salmon and the swordfish. But, my favorite seafood dish was the saffron risotto with calamari, mussels, and shrimp in a citrus tomato broth - creating a sort of Italian bouillabaisse.

Overall, it was a wonderful, memorable evening. It is not every day that I get to enjoy a delicious dinner with 9 friends, enjoy it in a chic setting, and continue to enjoy it once the bill arrives. I apologize now for my previous misconceptions, but, I still would have never guessed I could have enjoyed all of this in good old Beantown! Stella has certainly set me straight and raised the bar for all future visits up north. One last praise: although we didn't have time (or really room for dessert), I walked out the door with my small, but still usually quite apparent sweet tooth more than satisfied. There is a small jar full of chocolate mints at the hostess podium. Be sure to grab a handful or two before heading out - it never hurts to go out on a fresh note!

1525 Washington St.
Boston, MA 02118
(617) 247-8747
FOOD RATING (out of 5):

Monday, February 2, 2009


Enough with the brief shout outs. It's time Westville became a full-feature. You might recall this restaurant from a mention in the Recession Edition or, more recently, in Where is the Toast in NYC? Or you may just be an NYC villager and it has become a household name over the years. This post goes out to my oldest friend from Richmond who discovered Westville with me over five and half years ago when I first moved to the city. Midway through our grueling search for the perfect west village apartment, we stumbled across yet another imperfect one on West 10th and Bleecker - located directly above this newly opened, farm-focused restaurant. The amazing smells from the tiny space below nearly sold us on the spot. But, in the end, a two bedroom apartment with no living room for $2600 a month in 2003 wasn't quite going to do it. We realized we'd be just as well off if we moved a few blocks south - still close enough to frequent Westville almost once a week!

Well, more than five years later, Westville is still doing everything right. Each time I am there, I wonder why it's no longer one of my weekly traditions. I blame that on my best friend's departure from New York several years ago and just too many temptations to try out new spots. While my life has changed quite a bit over the years, Westville has generally stayed the very same. And that is a great thing. The main menu and affordable prices are no different from opening day. Each day the chefs continue to serve excellent farm-fresh comfort food from one of the tiniest kitchen's in the city. As daily specials almost double the size of the menu, my only complaint is that there are just too many great options. However, whether you are going as basic as hot dogs and burgers or more adventuresome with the trout or pork chops, you cannot go wrong. I have probably tried almost everything on the menu over the years and still can never easily decide what I want when I am there.

To solve this problem, I recommend going with at least a few other people or just making sure you are very hungry. The important thing is to guarantee ample sharing opportunities. To start, you cannot go wrong with an order of the smokey mac and cheese with bacon and the corn on the cob with lime, cumin, and cotija cheese. Westville focuses on comfort food and vegetables - these two dishes covering both spectrums. For a healthier start, all of their salads are excellent - also great for sharing or even for a lighter meal. These typically change with the season, but when on the menu, the grilled salmon and sliced steak salads are two of my favorites.

For the main courses, it really depends on my mood. One of the best features of Westville is their side dishes. Each night they offer nearly 20 different preparations of seasonal vegetables. Since I often have a hard time deciding which one or two to order, I sometimes make an entire meal out of the sides. They have an option of ordering 4 market vegetables for $13 - more than enough food for those of us who typically eat hearty meat dishes for dinner. In fact, Westville might be the one place where I would actually consider being a vegetarian. Although, that idea never lasts very long as the sausage and peppers served over grilled bread and their Niman Ranch hot dogs are also some of my favorites. Well, last week I was having one of my vegetarian moments and ordered a plate of lemon grilled asparagus with parmesan, honey-dijon roasted Brussels Sprouts, cauliflower dijonnaise, and sauteed mushrooms with herbs and leeks. All were delicious, but the two greens were probably the winners. Some of the other hits from the night and in general are the turkey burger and the veggie burger- both served on an English muffin. Again, because of the organic ingredients, the flavors just taste fresher here.

I guess my only other complaint about Westville would be their amazing dessert options. Not only are they too tempting to pass up, but it is honestly hard to decide what to order as they are all delicious. If you are in the mood for cookies, they offer two of my favorites - a homemade oreo, two chocolate cookies sandwiching vanilla frosting, or a homemade Lil Devin, two cranberry oatmeal cookies filled with cream cheese frosting. Deciding between those two is hard enough! And then there are the crumbles and the pies all dependent upon the berries or other fruits of the season and served with homemade ice cream. I think I now remember why I had to cut back on my visits to Westville. Good luck turning down any of these options!

210 W 10th St
New York, NY 10014-6411
Phone: (212) 741-7971

FOOD RATING (Out of 5):