The Dim Sum Warriors Find A Winner

December 22nd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

SJ here. I’ve ridden with the Hell’s Angels. Boring. Tried rumbling with street gangs. Over hyped! Done Drive-bys with posses. Nothing to write home about. But for the last month, I have been part of the Dim Sum Warriors. A gang of hepped up dumpling fiends out for kicks and bragging rights for nailing the most awesome Har Gow in NYC.

Let’s break down the members…Myself, a.k.a. Johnny Choppers; Jamie S. a.k.a. Cheeseburger; Michael L. a.k.a. Big Mike and Maya L. a.k.a. Le Pew

We started our Dim Sum rampage last month at Oriental Garden in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Overall, the place rated high. Small room. Vast selection of Dim Sum. A stand out version of Steamed Pork Spare Ribs and a great steamed pork bun. Shrimp based dumplings and rolls suffered a touch from over steaming but, overall, things were good, but not overwhelming.

The next week we strapped on our colors on and rolled on through to the Manhattan classic, Golden Unicorn. The Unicorn is a classic of the New School Hong Kong Dim Sum Palace — it is huge (2 floors), wildly gaudy and absolutely packed. Food-wise, it is a better bet than Oriental Garden — flavors were a bit cleaner and overall quality was a bit higher. Still…No yelling from the roof tops.

The next week disaster hit. We went to 88 Palace which, for a while, was being hailed as having the best Dim Sum in New York. Well, those days are sadly past and what comes out of the kitchen can barely be called food. As Cheeseburger put it — “Everything tastes like it came out of a dumpster.” And not only was the food bad, but the service was rude and the whole place gave off a vibe as if they owed some major cash to some Chinese gangsters and they were just letting the whole restaurant fall apart. Terrible in the extreme. In fact we could not finish the Dim Sum that we had ordered and were still hungry so ended the meal by going outside and getting lamb burgers from X’ian Famous Foods. Avoid 88 Palace!

The next week, we decided to head to Flushing on the advice of a whispered rumour that the chef at Grand Restaurant was doing some amazing things with Dim Sum. Well, Grand Restaurant is certainly grand — in fact in takes up the entire top floor of the New World Mall (which has one of the world’s great food courts nestling in the basement) and is swathed in an over-the-top decorating motif that shimmies from 1980s Miami Vice style Greek Revival to Versailles style opulence to just plain nutty. How many rooms does this place have? No idea. There’s banquet halls, aquarium rooms, karoke centers and probably some tanning salons as well. And PACKED!!! Packed with Chinese families happy beyond belief eating an immense amount of good looking things. After the requisite 30 minute wait, we were led to a huge table in a room off the main dining room. I got very nervous that we would be ignored so I grabbed a manager and told him how hungry we were and asked him to make sure that the carts sped our way. Man was on point and after referring to me as “Mr. Hungry” (Mr. Hungry Jr., I should have said!) directed carts to us like a general at D Day. Soon our table was filled with some of the most flavorful, freshest, hottest, interesting and most high quality Dim Sum I have ever tried. They serve over 100 different Dim Sum items but let me list a bunch that we had: Roast Pork Turnover, Fried Watercress Dumpling, Crystal Shrimp Dumpling a.k.a. Har Gow, Salt & Pepper Large Shrimps, Sausage & Taro Dumplings, Congee With Vegetable and Pork, Beef Ball With Fresh Bamboo Shoots, Steamed Pork Spare Ribs with Pumpkin, Shrimp Shu Mai, Fried Shrimp Roll, Fried Stuffed Tofu, Sticky Rice with Mixed Meat, Fish Ball In Curry Sauce, Shark Fin Dumpling in Soup, Clams with Black Bean Sauce and Steamed Pork Bun. WOW! As mentioned, the food was of the highest quality — the Har Gow were by far the best I have ever had, the Sticky Rice (which I normally dismiss) was heavenly, the Beef Balls were rich with flavor but still light, the Steamed Pork Spare Ribs were stunning…everything really was just great and we barely touched the surface of what they have. True, the service was a bit off — BOWLS please!!! — and it was tough to get some Chili Sauce or extra soy sauce, but the gang agreed, hands down, that a winner had been found. A winner that could mock our other experiences.

True, Grand Restaurant may well be the crown jewel, but as Dim Sum warriors, we do no rest on our laurels. Other names have been mentioned, other experiences have beckoned and back on the road we shall be until that last Char Siu Bao is ripped out of our cold, lifeless hands.

The Har Gow At Grand Restaurant

The Golden Age of Food On The Upper West Side.

December 21st, 2011 § 52 comments § permalink

It was 1963. HG and BSK were beginning their marriage in an artist’s studio apartment on West 67th Street just off Central Park West. Huge high ceilinged living room with north facing floor to ceiling window, small kitchen, small bedroom ( former model’s changing room), big bathroom with enormous tub. Very romantic. The rent: $140 per month.

This was The Golden Age Of Food On The Upper West Side. Gentrification and escalating real estate prices removed the gritty, funky luster. The neighborhood had junkies, muggers, burglars, hookers and bag ladies. It also had tons of artists, writers, academics and free ranging intellectuals lured by big apartments and cheap rents.

Here’s a smattering of the food and drinks establishments that delighted the newlyweds: 67th St. Wines (67th and Columbus): Splits of good champagne for a dollar. Volk’s German Restaurant (78th and Columbus): Bratwurst heaven. Fleur de Lis French Restaurant (65th off Broadway?): Escargots. Sole. Steak frites. C & L Restaurant (70th and Broadway?): Huge, Exceptional apple pancakes. Vast menu. Tip Toe Inn (86th and Broadway). A sister restaurant to C & L with a great delicatessen. Also, notable chicken in the pot. Recently the Tip Toe Inn was featured on the show Mad Men and they were quite true to most of the original details. Zabar’s (81st and Broadway): Need HG say more? Now a New York landmark.

Zabar's Fish Counter

Barney Greengrass (87th and Amsterdam): Sturgeon and eggs with crisp fried onions. Daitch Dairy (79th and Broadway): The best cream cheese. Gitlitz (78th and Broadway): The unsurpassed Jewish delicatessen. A chopped liver and pastrami sandwich for the gods. Nevada Market (80th and Broadway): Steaks. Chops. Chicken. Citarella’s (74th and Broadway): Everything fresh from the sea. Paramount Famous Jewish Dairy Restaurant (72nd west of Broadway): Blintzes. Gefilte fish. Kasha varneshkes. Steinberg’s (84th and Broadway): Same cuisine as Paramount but classier. Very good herring. Great Shanghai (98th and Broadway) Chinese lobster and shrimp dishes. Dumplings. Szechuan (95th and Broadway) Fire on a plate. New York’s first and best Szechuan restaurant. Broadway Nut Shop. (East side of Broadway and 81st): Encyclopedic array of fresh roasted nuts, dried fruits and candy treats from across the globe. Eclair Bakery and Restaurant (72nd Street): Vienna, Berlin, Budapest and Warsaw transplanted in New York. Senate Cafeteria (96th and Broadway): Where I.B. Singer ate his tunafish salad in the company of tea sipping, Yiddish speaking European survivors.

As HG remarked, this is just a smattering. There was much more. Sadly, only Zabar’s, Greengrass and Citarella’s remain. On the bright side: The West Side has added Fairway.

The Lost Bar Snacks of New York

December 19th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Haven’t seen these delicious snacks in New York for years (maybe banned by the anti-cholesterol crusaders and the stricter standards of today’s Health Department): Jewish rye bread topped with 1/8 to 1/4 inch of chicken fat. The base for very rare, room temperature roast beef and sliced raw onions (much coarse salt and black pepper). Kosher garlic dills on the side.

Meaty, pickled pig knuckles. A staple at Third Avenue Irish bars. Every bar had a big jar of them (many Irish bars also served hard boiled eggs). During HG’s journalism days he often supped at the Mirror Bar in the Daily Mirror building (east 45th off Third) — two shots of Imperial Rye Whiskey, one hard boiled egg, one pig knuckle, one Ballantine Ale. Meal and beverages cost a little more than a dollar.

The Jewish bars on the Lower East Side served thickly battered, room temperature fish fillets as a thirst producing giveaway. The fish was fried in chicken fat and given zest with grated garlic and a dusting of cayenne pepper. HG enjoyed this savory snack at a bar on Essex (off Delancey) favored by small time gamblers, shylocks and other unsavory types.

All delicious. All un-healthy. All Missed.

New Mexico Family Christmas.

December 17th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Going to be a family Christmas at the HG/BSK hacienda compound. SJ, Exquisite Maiko, Adorable Haru plus Family Martonovich will be in attendance. Some food stuff HG is anticipating: Christmas Eve smoked fish feast courtesy of Russ & Daughters. SJ’s super creamy, yummy mashed potatoes. BSK’s stuffing and cranberry chutney. SJ & BSK’s roast turkey. HG pouring frozen vodka to accompany schmaltz herring. Adorable Haru gobbling up red caviar, rice and crisp nori. Noel M’s baked goodies. SJ’s Christmas morning potato latkes with red caviar and Greek yogurt. BSK’s soft, buttery scrambled eggs (with red caviar and sour cream, of course) and warmed (not toasted) New York bialys and cream cheese on the side. Lightly toasted New York bagels with scallion cream cheese, Nova Scotia smoked salmon, thin slices of sweet onion and capers (a couple of Kalamata olives on the plate).

Pre-Christmas birthday celebration for SJ at Gabriel’s with margaritas, sangria, tableside-mixed guacamole, pork carnitas with onions, peppers and warm tortillas. Charro beans. House-made flan for desert. (Maybe some breakfast burritos smothered in green chile the next morning at Tune Up–a continuation of the birthday festivities). Menudo at El Parasol with SJ to chase away any vodka hangovers.

One thing for sure: The best family cook, Expectant Mom Exquisite Maiko, is not allowed to display her skills. Time for her to rest and be pampered.

Farm Raised Fish.

December 15th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Farm raised salmon. Despicable. Farm raised bass. Nasty. Haven’t tasted farm raised tilapia. Any opinions? The fish from the Spanish farm Veta La Palma is said to be delicious.

Farm raised catfish is excellent however. HG does it this way: Brief soak in buttermilk. Dredge in flour. Dip in beaten egg. Dredge in black pepper seasoned matzo meal. Fry in a big cast iron pan with plenty of sizzling canola oil. Pass the lemon, Frank’s Hot Sauce and cold beer. HG ate plenty of wild, bottom feeding catfish in Harlem cafes during his college days. Always had a slightly muddy taste effectively masked by super-peppery crust crisped in bacon fat or lard. Today’s catfish has a nice, fresh texture. BSK, once a catfish hater, has been converted.

Paris. 1966. Food, Wine and Resistance.

December 13th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Paris. Autumn of 1966. HG and BSK’s first trip to Paris. Trip was paid for by an American surveillance equipment firm (an HG pubic relations client). HG was in Paris to meet with important French electronics company which was the European and African distributor of the equipment. So, while BSK strolled the boulevards with two-year-old daughter Lesley, BSK met with the partners in the French firm — a tall, suave Frenchman (sales and marketing) and a short, tough Jew (technical and manufacturing). The French guy took HG to a nearby bistro in the Bastille arrondissement.

“I know you Americans like a cocktail to start and Jackie, the barman here, is famous for dry martinis,” he said. Thus, HG had a huge (served in a chilled ballon) excellent martini. Sensible French guy had a small Kir. Then followed: Parma ham with ripe melon accompanied by Macon-Villages Chardonnay. Quenelles in a sauce Nantua (small helpings) and some glasses of Chablis. A braised daube of beef and carrots in a powerful wine sauce. Accompanying wine was Morgon. A wedge of ripe camembert and a glass of Pommard. Creme brulee. A few shots of fiery marc. Cafe. A tidy lunch. Back to the office.

While the Frenchman responded to a phone call, HG — overpowered by lunch — fell fast asleep. To the amusement of the staff, HG was revived with an ice pack. The business meeting was interrupted later by the arrival of the most dangerous man HG had ever seen. French. Six feet. Some 190 pounds of muscle, Shaven head. Face carved out of rock. Deep scar down cheek from eye to lips. Black suit. Black turtle neck sweater. He and the small Jew greeted each other with wild laughter and hugs. Hadn’t seen each other in 20 years. Turned out small Jew was a Resistance leader and Very Tough Guy was directed to his group.

Very Tough Guy explained, pointing to small Jew: “He was suspicious. Thought I could be a rat. Shoved a gun in my mouth. I had to open wide or I would have lost teeth. Asked questions. I nodded yes or no. He was satisfied. We had good group. Killed a lot of Nazis. And, Vichy scum.”

Very Tough Guy was in Paris to buy surveillance equipment. He was the security consultant to a number of small, independent African republics. Small Jew confided in me: “Probably has a few sidelines that aren’t strictly kosher. He had been a very bad boy in Paris before the war. But, was my very good, brave comrade during serious times,”

Sol Hyang Lee: A Northern Chinese-Korean Gem In Flushing

December 12th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

SJ here. New York for all of its size and population often seems like the smallest of small towns. You live here for enough time and you develop a personal circumference — where you walk, where you eat, where you live. And, if you are like me, you get to know that personal space down to its grittiest details. You learn the smells, the people, the graffiti, the cracks in the sidewalk, the empty lot that sprouts wild sorrell and the ancient Chinese woman who shuffles along with 400 crushed cans of Malt Liquor on her back. You mark this space like a lion on the Savannah by infusing it all with your personal mythology, your stories, your emotions — you superimpose a map of your own interior over the narrow map of the city that you know the best.

This is why I love Flushing. It is the opposite of my personal New York. It is a place still marked with mystery and discovery for me and like some big game hunter, it makes my forays to Flushing seeking food feel like an adventure. Well, last night I scored the Big Buck, the Big Kill when I went to Sol Hyang Lee, a noted Northern Chinese – Korean hybrid restaurant owned by ethnic Koreans who were raised in China on the borderlands between the two countries and whom speak both languages. I was tipped off to the spot by the excellent food blog Lauhound.com.

Skewers Grilling Over Hot Coals

Sol Hyang Lee specializes in BBQ skewers cooked at the table over real charcoal (a sad rarity in these new gas and electric dominated times). We ordered Mutton, Chicken and Lamb Chunk Skewers from a menu that ranged to such esoterica as pork heart and bull penis. They come 10 to an order (except for the Lamb Chunk which is cooked in the kitchen and comes two to an order but with bigger pieces). The meat is tender, well seasoned and redolent of smoke. It is served with a spice blend made up of peanut powder, cumin seed, chili powder, salt and sesame seeds. You roll your meat in the powder and eat it right up! Cumin and smoke are a beautiful combination, each complimenting the other, egging their unique properties onto higher levels. We also ordered a brace of boiled dumplings (nothing amazing, but hearty and and unstructured in a very home-made, authentic way), pitchers of cold beer, water spinach in garlic sauce and a killer dish of tiny squids served whole on a bed of dried chili pods, cilantro and garlic scapes.

Squid with Chili Pods

The waitress, who was super nice and friendly, but none too adept in English, gave us a complimentary pickled cucumber dish which snapped with heat and bits of tofu skin and rubbery, clear noodles. There was also Ban Chan (the traditional small dishes served at all Korean restaurants). This was a totally unique meal with unexpected flavours (the cumin/peanut poweder will haunt my brain for a few weeks) and the joy of discovery. Everything I had was top notch and prepared with joy and love and I can’t wait to get back and try some deeper menu items including some of their offal choices and a quail dish that people seemd to be noshing on with much joy.

HG Tells It Like It Is

December 12th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Okay. In his last post, HG claimed that the world’s best green chili stew is in Colorado (HG fears a New Mexico hit squad bent on avenging this slur to the Land of Enchantment). And, where is the best meat sauce ragu? In BSK’s New Mexico kitchen.

Six hour drive from Denver to New Mexico under grey, cold skies. Famished and chilled upon arrival at Casa HG/BSK. Time for a fireplace blaze and comfort food on the table. BSK checked the freezer and there was a container of BSK’s ragu, saved for just such an occasion. The ragu was BSK’s creative variation on Marcella Hazan’s classic Bolognese ragu. Accompanied by a bottle of Willamette Valley red, steaming bowls of pasta topped with BSK ragu restored the travel weary.

HG made a judgment. He pronounced BSK’s ragu the world’s best. HG made this judgment after spending three weeks in Bologna devouring tagliatelle with ragu at the city’s best trattorias. HG adores BSK but sentiment has no place in HG’s culinary judgments. BSK ragu rules.

The Great Denver Omelette.

December 10th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

HG and BSK were stranded in Denver for a day by a big time snow storm before motoring to New Mexico. There’s always a silver lining. Bob Sweeney, HG and BSK’s gracious host took them to Pete’s Cafe & Steak (514 E. Colfax) for breakfast. Sweeney is a Colorado force for good. The Kenneth Kendal King Foundation, which he heads, supports numerous cultural and charitable organizations (including an innovative new muscular dystrophy center). And, the big guy knows his breakfast vittles. Pete’s Cafe has no connection with the excellent Pete’s Diner except for the fact that they are both located on gritty Colfax Avenue. HG has reported on both down-to-earth eateries. Pete’s Cafe is a very plain, totally unassuming place. The kind of joint you remember from your youth called “Eats” or “Mom’s.” The food is outstanding, Very generous (mammoth) portions served with a smile. HG and BSK had Denver omelettes. These were the real deal. Three egg omelettes folded over fried onions, peppers and chunks of ham. Nestled on top of lush potato and onion home fries. And, now for the best part. All smothered in an incomparable, spicy, hot (but not numbing) green chili sauce. Sorry, New Mexico. This is the green chili sauce for the gods. The gold standard. The perfect breakfast for a frigid, snow day in the Mile High City.

Vicki Whites

December 9th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

HG’s usual beverage with Chinese food is beer (sometimes mixed with Guiness Stout for a Black-and Tan). Never found an agreeable wine that enhanced Chinatown cuisine. Until…

At the feast HG recently enjoyed at Congee on the Bowery, Restaurateur Daughter Vicki F. brought two wines that added a new, positive dimension to the meal. Wine One: Sauvignon Blanc. Box O’ Birds, Marlborough, New Zealand 2011. Wine Two: Riesling, Thirsty Owl, Finger Lakes, N.Y. 2009. Super yummy. Would go nicely with Indian food, HG believes.