Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Tag Archives: favourite

New York City 2012: Dominique Ansel Bakery

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The sidewalks of Soho are seasoned by the pounding footsteps of thousands of tourists and locals alike, filtering into fashion boutiques like the tributaries of a constant river. Soho is, first and foremost, a shopping district, and the Broadway strip is a haven for lazy shoppers who needn’t so much as think as to forge forward in a Zombie March under the sheer influence of brands the likes of Zara, Aldo, H&M, and more. It’s too easy to ping-pong straight along the avenue, completely missing the quieter streets to the left and right – and overlooking Dominique Ansel Bakery at the end of Spring Street. Balthazar, Dean & Deluca, and other big-named (unfortunately over-hyped) dining establishments usually manage to suck in the strays that wander from the main shopping belt. Needless to say, famished and bleary-eyed shoppers don’t wander very much, and certainly not far enough.

That suits me just fine. While every other bistro, restaurant, and chichi café is packed, the five blocks of walking distance from Broadway means that Dominique Ansel usually ends up being relatively quiet no matter the time of the day. The best pastries would still be sitting in their displays.

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It’s a little ludicrous that I’ve even been there thrice, at every opportunity that I had found myself in Soho – reliable food does that to me. Its consistency may have something (or everything) to do with how Pastry Chef Dominique Ansel used to work for Daniel Boulud at his 3-Michelin-starred restaurant, Daniel. You can be assured that the quality is strict, and the pastries no less stunning than his star-studded background.

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The DKA, which sounds like a cross between an underground criminal syndicate and a weapon of mass destruction, was at the top of my list. Dominique’s Kouign Amann ($5.25) looks like an actual explosion of liquid gold happened in the tiny confines of a muffin cup, got flash-frozen in the nick of time, and was tipped over unto a plate and served.

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New York City 2012: Bánh Mì Zòn – Wicked Vietnamese Sandwiches

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I’m in the midst of hammering out a proper article. I’m experiencing full-blown Hamster Complex (you know, the one where you want to destroy something you’ve created?), and should stop before I trash it in rage and regret it after. There are only so many words that I can beat out of my brain into something that – hopefully – doesn’t sound nauseatingly contrived considering the…genre…of material I’ve been forced to read and re-read this past week, as some of you may know. I am giving up on that for the moment and resuming my usual food-psychobabble.

What a relief. Urgh.

I’m continuing with my chain of sandwich posts, and have saved the best for last.

I had long since given up hope of finding the perfect Bánh Mì in Singapore. I may not have tried hard enough, but no matter. There’s no point anymore. Bánh Mì Zòn has got it. This small eatery in East Village NYC will send all other imitation Vietnamese sandwich stalls running back home, tails between their legs.

A Vietnamese friend, of unusually small appetite (it’s true isn’t it Linh?) had remarked that the sandwich at Bánh Mì Zòn is better than what she could find in Vietnam, and had thereafter proceeded to polish off the entire thing on her own. So if my unrestrained rambling has made everyone skeptics by now, that should add some credibility.

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This is a Bánh Mì (pronounced ‘bang-mee’ – for real), a Vietnamese-style sandwich. The Zon Sandwich ($6.50) has made me realise how my palate has been asleep all my life, and has never readied itself enough for so much sensation. Some part of me feels guilty for sharing this experience on such a public space, to be gloating about having eaten something that most of everyone else has not. I would apologise in advance, except that I truly feel smug about this. I hope you understand.

I know I said that Taïm‘s Falafel Sandwich is the epitome of an awesome sandwich, but I have to retract my words. I have gone back to that post and edited that line out. I am serious. This is the perfect sandwich. Does it not look like The Perfect Sandwich? What obscene filling-to-bread ratio is that?! Nine to one, or something.

Packed into the cavity of a warm, crackly footlong baguette is a dizzying mix of freshly sliced Vietnamese bologna and pork head cheese, a generous schmear of sweet pork pâté, fragrant pork floss, cool and crunchy shreds of vegetables just lightly pickled and tangy, and a chockful of shockingly green cilantro. It’s a riot of flavour and texture, an Adult-Only party in the mouth. The bread itself remains unrivaled, fluffy and crisp, yielding easily with each bite. And I never eat cilantro raw, in any amount, but to much of my bewilderment, the bed of cilantro worked. I ate them all. With mighty squirts of Sriracha sauce.

The second time I returned, I ordered the same footlong sandwich and demolished it. Heck, anyone can finish this on their own. This is a sarnie that will surprise you in more ways than one.

Bánh Mì Zòn

Address: 443 E.6th St. New York, NY 10009

Opening Hours: 

Tue-Sat: Noon-9pm

Sun: Noon-8pm. 

Closed Monday.

New York City 2012: Taïm – Best Falafel Sandwich

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The pair of degenerates featured in this picture of Taïm’s shopfront refused to step out of my camera frame. They also happen to be my accomplices – or, well, ‘friends’ if I must be so kind as to admit – for a falafel getaway in West Village. My friends clearly get treated to a healthy dose of my special blend of humour, and fortunately for them, my affection takes the form of sarcastic, deadpan remarks, with the occasional tongue-in-cheek comeback. I only give my friends the best.

Now, on to the point of this post: Falafel. Deep-fried rounds of ground chickpeas or fava beans of Middle Eastern origins. It’s hard to directly attribute any one country for this marvelous creation, so let’s just skip the historical commentary.

The last time I had falafel so good that I was convinced that I could give up meat was in Paris, at L’As du Fallafel (I do plan to write about my European foodscapades before the turn of the next millenia). The falafel sandwich I had was messy and wholesome. Skills in serviette management were crucial. The falafels themselves were amazing. Those were the best I had had in my life up until then. The operative words being ‘until then’, because I have found the best since then.

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These are the best falafels in New York, as voted by countless reliable food snobs, the NY Times, Serious Eats, and me. Not to promote Bobby Flay any further, but I also happened to watch how these chickpea fritters bowled him flat on his back in yet another staged Throwdown on the telly.

I run the risk of gushing, and no one likes digital diarrhoea, so I’ll keep this short.

The falafels are freshly fried, deliciously nutty and fluffy. If you order the Green Falafels, split them open and you’ll be stunned to see a vibrantly green core, bright and dewy with flecks of parsley, cilantro, and mint. I don’t have a picture. I spent only a second admiring them before I stuffed my face.

The Falafel Sandwich ($6.25) is Taïm’s ultimate crowd-pleaser from their extensive menu of other crowd-pleasers. The pitas (wholewheat or white) are unbelievably fresh, made in-house perhaps, warm and soft, yet reliable enough to support the weight of copious amounts of hummus, israeli salad, pickled cabbage, and creamy tahini. This sandwich is warm and cool, luxurious yet light, crunchy, smooth, and so darn tasty. Almost every possible component of a great sandwich is embodied in this one. I’m not ashamed to say that I ordered a second.

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What’s interesting is that Taïm’s falafels come in three flavours: Green, Harissa (with Tunisian spices), Red (with roasted peppers). Think of the Green as a classic falafel, the Harissa as fragrant one, and the Red as the sweet one. I had friends ordering the Mixed Falafel Platter ($12), which comes with all three types of falafel, israeli and tabouli salads, and sauces.

I had to skim through Taïm’s menu again for this post, and let’s just say that I’m beyond frustrated right now. If I wasn’t limited by stomach capacity and time back then, I’d have tried their babaganoush, their French Fries with Saffron Aioli (I know!), Fried Eggplant, all their salads and smoothies, and the falafels, and falafels, and more falafels.

I did get a bite of the Baklava ($3), but I wasn’t sure what I was comparing it against since I don’t think I’ve had good baklava, ever.

Everything is freshly made. You can taste it, smell it, see it. This outlet at West Village is small, a hole-in-the-wall. There’s another outlet at Nolita, and – if social media is on your side – there’s their food truck, cruising through NYC every day feeding its lucky, lucky people. Follow them on Twitter…

…while I unfollow them, to spare myself the agony of receiving updates on something I can’t have, three oceans away.

Taïm

Address: 222 Waverly Place, New York 10014

Phone: 212-691-1287

Hours: 11am-10pm Daily

Twitter: TaimMobile

New York City 2012: Shake Shack

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This probably needs no further elaboration from me. Even if it does, a quick Google search should suffice. I’m lazy, and weaving together repeated bits of information into a paragraph free from plagiarism is utterly banal.

I just want to get right in to the meat of things, right here, right now. Chop chop. It’s like I’ve got a ticking-time bomb counting down the seconds before I self-implode or start gnawing at my keyboard in desperation for a Shack Burger. I need to get this out of the way because just the memory of the taste of the beef patty can induce seizures and hallucinations in me.

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Gourmet burgers need to get out of the way, for the same reason that souped-up hawker food and deconstructed table staples need to stop since the simple things done right will always, always take the limelight. I’m not carelessly waving aside the time and effort it takes to craft a molecularly-gastronomic xiao long bao (there is much to be respected and admired in such endeavours), but all I’m saying is when I want a burger, I want a burger in the truest sense of the word – beefy, cheesy, unctuous, eyes-rolling-to-the-back-of-your-head-till-you-see-your-brain good.

My first encounter with a Shake Shack burger was the Shack Stack ($8.85USD) – a burger with a single beef patty, a battered and deep-fried portobello mushroom stuffed with melty cheese, a couple of slices of juicy tomatoes, and crisp lettuce. This was after waiting in line for 15 minutes and waiting 10 minutes for a table. Shake Shack is popular, and with good reason. I shared the burger with a friend, and if there was one lesson that I learnt, it was that I was going to get a double burger with the works, fries and all to myself the next time round. And those Yukon crinkle-cut fries were confoundingly crisp, fluffy, yet slightly springy. I don’t even eat fries, but these were criminal.

DSC_1515Behold, the Double Smoke Shack ($8.80USD), a double-beef-patty wonder with melted American cheese, Niman Ranch all-natural applewood smoked bacon, chopped cherry pepper, and Shack Sauce. See, when I make promises to myself, I keep them. Under other circumstances, I’m probably not as resolute.

So here’s why Shake Shack burgers are maddeningly good: it’s all in the beef. For the nutrition diehards, this is 100% all-Angus beef, with no hormones or antibiotics. To be honest, that doesn’t explain its taste, but to some people, that description gives the burger a little extra shine. I’m usually particular about details like that, but now I’m just concerned with the fact that, without a doubt, the beef was grain-fed (that could only explain its richness), freshly ground, moist, chunky, pink, and griddled till crisp on the outside. I’ve heard things from friends about there being bits of liver in the patties, therefore explaining its superior beefy taste, but I haven’t found any information on that. If Shake Shack had the option of just ordering beef patties, I’d do just that, because words cannot completely describe how good they are.

Then there’s the potato bun, vibrantly yellow and softer than brioche. It’s the perfect vessel for drinking up all the delicious beef fat that trickles out of the patties. Things still get messy anyway, so grab a handful of serviettes just in case.

I’m also tiring of spamming adjectives at this point, so if you’re ever at Shake Shack, just order this sterling burger combination. Truth be told, I’m just getting hungry now, and I want to get away from the laptop. The glistening cheesy patties are driving my digestive enzymes crazy.

DSC_1893According to friends, the milk shakes are fantastic. Don’t listen to me, because I’d never order a milkshake in this lifetime, or in any other. I’d rather drink melted ice cream.

As a general rule (both for myself and for anyone reading), if an establishment manages to get me to return more than once, it’s got my golden stamp of approval. I had Shake Shack three times, because if I’m ever going to eat fast food, I’m only going for the best and will go all out.

So if you’re ever in New York, or some of the other neighbouring states, you need to hit up Shake Shack. That’s an order, under oath of reading this post.

I need to clean up the drool now.

Locations and Menu can be found at www.shakeshack.com

Koh Grill & Sushi Bar – Eye on the Maki

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Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

I am alive and well, much to the disappointment of many, I’m sure.

This writer’s block of mine, however, I have underestimated. I had likened it to passing a brick out my behind, among other unsavoury metaphors, and have woefully declared to all unfortunate enough to listen to my rants that I’d much rather endure physical pain. My friends have gotten the brunt of my frustration.  They still love me though, I hope.

I realise I need to start small. So this is me, attempting (once again) to sit myself down on my metaphorical ceramic throne, and do the deed. It’s a small consolation for me if you happen to find this hilarious. It turns out that I’m still capable of entertaining.

Over the past few months, I have been frequenting Koh Grill & Sushi Bar at Wisma Atria. It’s a gem of a place within Food Republic. A friend had insisted that I needed to try this, and that, in spite of knowing of my sky-high benchmark for Japanese food,  she was still willing to place a huge bet on this place. Well, thank you Joyce. You have ruined me.

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It’s impossible to dine at Koh Grill & Sushi Bar without ordering the Shiok Maki ($16.80 – first picture). This maki is not to be trifled with. Make fun of its name only once, and never again after you’ve eaten it. It has been named appropriately.

Its core is stuffed with unagi and avocado, and then wrapped in a thin layer of rice, draped in thick slices of salmon, drizzled with mayo, and blowtorched to a sizzling marvel. I have not come across another maki with all my favourite ingredients. Admittedly, I could do without the mayo, but that mound of tobiko (flying fish roe) is almost too good to be true, and I suspect that they must have very chummy ties with their suppliers. There can’t be any other possible explanation for being that generous! I’ve thought very deeply about it.

This is a maki that has been thoughtfully created and balanced with much textural deliciousness. It’s crunchy, gooey, moist, and incredibly flavourful. I have brought many friends along for a meal there, and I have seen them being reduced to slobbering messes in front of me.

Contrary to its name, the Crappy Maki ($18.00 – second picture) is another wonder. It’s stuffed with crispy soft shell crab, crunchy seaweed, topped with layers of swordfish belly, and finished with the mandatory shower of roe. The Pi Tan Maki ($15.00 – not pictured) is another crowd-pleaser, and if the thought of century egg sauce makes you cringe, then all I can say is…well, get over yourself and eat it. Take my word for it.

There are plenty of other dishes on the menu, but due credit must be given to what I think are the rockstars in this sold-out concert. It’s obvious that the makis have been lovingly crafted and contemplated on in both the flavour and textural departments. I adore such attention to food.

I also wanted to keep this a secret. There may well be a death warrant hanging over my head by now, but it’s helping the brick on its way out.

Koh Grill & Sushi Bar

Address: 435 Orchard Road, #04-21 Wisma Atria Shopping Centre

Tel: 91803805

Aoki – Other-worldly Set Lunch

It’s a little difficult to wax lyrical about Aoki now for two reasons, the first being that this lunch was more than half a year ago, and the second being that it’ll only be about another week before I fly of to stuff my face proper with sashimi in Japan. But see, this post will never go up if it doesn’t right now, because I’m afraid Aoki will lose its charm, its Zen minimalism, its serenity, after I get back.

Aoki is under the Les Amis group of restaurants, but stands out in its austerity, and although it is situated in the row of the Les Amis Empire (as I like to call it) to the side of Shaw Centre, its easy to waltz by without a second glance, if you even gave it a glance to start with. I had to peek past the drapes, and ask if it was indeed Aoki, before proceeding into dark corridor and into its hushed interior, half expecting to be walloped over the head and taken to see the Yakuza.

I didn’t dare snap pictures of the interior. And if you’ve been in Aoki, you’d understand why. The entire restaurant seats no more than perhaps 28 people, with private rooms hidden out of sight, I’m sure. All you’ll see are three or four partitioned tables, and then the sushi counter down a short flight of steps. It’s so small that any new arrival warrants everyone’s attention. I wasn’t about to whip my camera out anytime soon.

It’s minimal, furnished in lightwood, lit mostly by the bright ochre lighting atop the counter seats, and shrouded in a reverent sort of silence. Yet, the activity is a sight to behold – hushed, diligent, confident, and directed, from wait staff and Sushi chefs alike. It’s another world, where time slows down, where you sit back and let people take care of you, and where you’ll notice thin rice cloths hanging from the ceiling, swaying lightly in gentle drafts.

I made reservations a few days in advance for lunch, where their lunch sets go for $35++ in contrast to their dinners that rocket past $100. I’d advise that you do, for the counter seats especially, because these seats give a show more spectacular than a conveyor belt of listless-looking sushi. You see the chefs in action, blowtorches blazing, razor-sharp knives deftly slicing equally portioned slices of sashimi from slabs of fish, and the swift, almost effortless formation of sushi. It’s $35++ for amazing quality food, and meal-time entertainment. You don’t get that at many places.

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artichoke cafe + bar

In the 4 months that I’ve been away from writing proper, I’ve been violently sucked into a whirlwind of events, bludgeoned with massive amounts of food, met the incredible people behind food establishments, harvested an insane amount of food photographs, and got tossed into the world of publishing – all in the name of Urban Relish. What was supposed to be a small-scaled summer food publication almost immediately blew out of proportion and there went 4 months.

But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is: Meet my latest obsession.

Moorish Cuisine – a melange of cuisines from the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean countries. Turkey, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, and more, Moorish cuisine is best summed up as probably the best thing that the rampaging Ottomans left behind before the empire was broken up into what we know today as Turkey, Arabia, Syria, and the like.

In a nutshell, you’re supposed to be feasting at a table with friends whom you love enough to share the bounty with. You order up a storm, and dive right in. And there’s so much to love about such a philosophy that I’ve been back about a total of 5 times now, with a handful or so of returns in the planning.

As part of the mammoth food guide, Urban Relish, that I was slaving away for, I had the opportunity to visit Artichoke for a tasting session. All I’d heard about them was their brunch. And if you’re like me and have only heard about their brunch, well I have just one thing to say: Stop hearing it, because I’m going to tell you about their dinners.

Of course, it’s chef Bjorn Shen who has crafted this contagious culture in his restaurant, and all I needed was just a little chat with him for it to start infecting (in the best way possible). If you need an example of his kitchen philosophy, just have a look at that chalk-scrawled wall in the picture on the right. He’s great with his meats, just in case you can’t tell.

It’s all about great food, colour, texture, boisterous groups of people, passing around a Forgotten Grain Salad to share, mopping up plates of dips with flat breads, and perhaps a meat platter if you’re so inclined. Although I must say that if you do order a meat platter, chances are, Chef Bjorn himself might just come right up to your table in the midst of grilling some haloumi and try to convince you to order a Beetroot Tzatziki instead.

When at Artichoke, if something on the menu looks foreign to you, order it. Don’t know what’s blackened Turkish butter? Or the aforementioned haloumi? Only one way to find out. If you’re still insecure, I’m telling you they’re all good. Details in a while.

Here he is, orchestrating the photoshoot as I was perched atop a high stool. He admitted to having dabbled in food photography a while back before starting Artichoke, and burst out of the restaurant arms full with cups, bottles of cider, cutlery, napkins – anything and everything that could be a prop.

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Dino Cakehouse & Cafe – Strawberry Delight

Strawberry Delight ($8.50)

Mommy bought home my favourite strawberry cake!

Well she bought home a whole load of stuff, as is the norm when she goes off to NTUC and sprees away, claiming that when I do grocery shopping, I ‘never buy all [her] things!’. But that’s not the point. The point is that the occasional cake, tutu kueh, tau huay (beancurd), min jiang kueh (peanut pancake), sometimes find themselves into one of the 3 large recyclable shopping bags mommy always brings out. And after an entire week of consuming food purely for sustenance because there’s no time to venture out for better things, my favourite Dino’s Strawberry Cake is like a beaming ray of light in my fridge.

Half a beaming ray of light, that is.

The other half’s shimmering away gleefully in my tummy.  Read more of this post

Cafe Hacienda

 

Cafe Hacienda

 

In a direct one-eighty to the Choupinette post I put up a while back, I’m embarrassed (well, a little) to admit that yes, I’ve been brunch-ing far more frequently than I would normally and that I will now openly declare that I’m brunching as opposed to just having a late breakfast. It sends a chill up my spine that I realise that I don’t think I can return to that normalcy. I’m afraid, very afraid.

The thrill of finding an awesome brunch place now supercedes the steady thinning of my wallet.

Well almost.

See, the novelty of doing something unconventional (like having brunch dishes at 4pm, brunch-ing on a weekday before class, playing with Google Man to find brunch places..) will never wear out as long as this idea of brunch is still shiny and new to me.

And as long as I keep chancing across gems like Cafe Hacienda, nestled in the lush foliage of Dempsey Hill, all peaceful and warm and blissful and cozy and empty during weekdays and with killer Eggs Benedict…

I’m saying tata to breakfasts and lunches.

 

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All-day breakfast and brunch places are sprouting up all over the island, and while Café Hacienda’s brunch and breakfast spread of waffles, egg dishes and pastries aren’t going to win an award for variety, it is much appreciated and admirable that they make up for the lack by executing the few that they have to offer fantastically. Now that’s reliability – doing one thing right and well each time without fail, namely, their Eggs Benedict.  Read more of this post