It’s taken me nearly a week to fully recover from the week spent in New York City. I was there for a packed schedule of conference sessions, meetings, and good food. New York over-stimulates your senses the moment you set foot outside.
Food stylist Karen Shinto and I rented an apartment in the Gramercy Park area, located a couple of blocks away from the Flatiron building. (That’s us above, famished enough to eat the Flatiron. Just kidding.) While we did graze at nearby Eataly, the Italian food emporium endorsed by Mario Batali, most of our meals were at Asian restaurants and snack shops. It was fabulously fun, inexpensive and overall very tasty. Here’s a recap:
Rhong Tiam Express – Our apartment was right next to this popular spot on East 21st. Karen and I had flown red eye flights so we somewhat discombobulated on our first day in the city. After settling into the apartment and going to Trader Joe’s for provisions, we needed lunch. Something spicy and jarring to jolt us from jet lag. We scanned the Rhong Tiam menu and ordered so much food that we couldn’t finish most of it.
The outstanding dish was fried yucca. The relatively light, wonderfully crisp pieces were accompanied by a Sriracha-like spicy mayonnaise. The khao soi noodle soup was gentrified with chicken breast but there was enough complex heat to satisfy. I still think about those yucca sticks, wondering how they got the starchy tuber so light…
Banh Mi Saigon – A couple of years ago, this favorite banh mi shop in Chinatown, NYC, relocated to Grand Street. Their lease had run out, the man behind the counter told me. I recognized the name of the joint but wasn’t sure because of the new location. The clue was the jewelry case, which they had at the original spot on Mott.
On our way to find ingredients for my tofu workshop, we got a banh mi dac biet special at 10:30am (7:30am Cali time). We split it and ate, talked and walked through Chinatown. It was an old-school sandwich eaten on the street. Kinda like as if we were in Asia.
Xi An Famous Foods – What a name, huh? This was a pick by Wiley cookbook editor Justin Schwartz. He’s on a gluten-free diet and Xi An Famous Foods has GF options for him. (Xi An is known for its terracotta soldiers too!) Karen and I ordered the wheaty “hand-ripped” (think stretched and cut) noodles with spicy pork, cilantro and celery salad, and savory Chang An soft tofu (a delicate version of Sichuan savory tofu pudding that’s in Asian Tofu, page 59). There was also pocket bread stuffed but greasy and delicious lamb.
Xian Famous Food has several locations but Justin took us to the one at 67 Bayard Street as it’s less crowded. Food comes up from a basement kitchen via dumb waiter. The joint was cramped and rather soulless, reminiscent of spots in Asia. I mean that in a good way. No glitz. Just the food.
Kang Suh – New York-based photographer Yun Hee Kim hosted Karen, fellow stylist Katie Christ and me at this Koreatown establishment for drinks and snacks. It’s a two-story bustling restaurant where the banchan side dishes are prepared with a light hand. We had kimchi, pork belly, and tofu (see my recipe for it at Serious Eats) along with a great seafood pancake and kalbi. Yes, there was beer and soju too.
The address is 1250 Broadway but look for Kang Suh on West 32nd Street at Broadway; it’s on the south side of the street. Afterwards, walk to the Hotel Metro on West 35th, go to the rooftop bar and get a magnificent view of the Empire State Building!
Wong – Located in the West Village, Wong is named after its chef/owner Malaysian-born Simpson Wong. We went there with novelist Monique Truong and her husband for dinner. The food is Chinese and Southeast Asian, with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients.
Simpson is playful with his descriptions so you have to ask the wait staff for clarification. “Shrimp Fritters” is his well-done take on Vietnamese banh tom (see Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, page 272) served all in a bowl and ready for you to toss and eat. It’s not a traditional approach but plenty tasty. The Hakka pork belly was a standout, and so was the lobster egg foo yung, which had the buttery savoriness of salted egg yolks. The cocktails and beer selection were terrific.
Gahm Mi Oak – On my last day, I was back in Koreatown for a meeting at Saveur magazine and ran into Robyn and Dave of Eating Asia. Saveur editor-in-chief James Oseland tipped us up off to the bibimbap at Gahm Mi Oak, located at 43 West 32nd, basically across from Kang Suh (above). The Korean restaurant was decorated like a humble rural hut with lots of wood and a small kitchen in the back. The menu is well explained in English and the kimchi was freshly prepared and delectable. The bibimbap didn’t hit you over the head either; it was made with a certain finesse and restraint. Look at the fine cuts made to the ingredients:
The server explained that the milky broth that accompanied the rice needed a bit of salt and scallion to perk up the flavor. The salt turned out to be MSG salt and it did the trick.
After the bibimbap lunch, I took a cab to JFK airport to catch a 5pm flight home. It was a good trip to NYC.
There’s one other Asian spot that we ate at that I’m going post next. A really interesting ramen joint.
(Btw, I went to a handful of non-Asians spots too: Blue Hill Farm and Monkey Bar for wine and cocktails, Seasonal for wonderfully light German fare, and Eataly for panini and wonderful seafood at Il Pesce.)
If you have a recommendation for New York, please share your pick. We’re all looking for the next tasty meal.
- Top 10 Vietnamese Restaurants in NYC (per Adam Rose, 2/17/09)
- NY Vietnamese Restaurant Recommendations (per Jennie M, a VWK visitor, 10/09)
- Guide to Little Saigon in New York