Saturday, January 4, 2014

European Brunch(es)

One day, I just decided to wander around brunch-hopping from one place to another, and yes these places are walking-distance from Chinatown. I didn't quite drink even though these places serve alcohols, but hey, who needs a drink when you get to eat good brunch? :D

Cafe Katja

This place is totally a wiener (pardon my pun lol). Very authentically German, with very cozy atmosphere and decent selection of drinks. I went here for a brunch of wiener schnitzel/cucumber-potato salad/preiselbeeren and it was definitely the quality that I expected. You might heard a saying that Germans like to eat everything cold. Well, this platter really went along with that saying.

Funny thing during my brunch was that the place next door was "surprised" by the sanitation department. I happened to sit by the window and watched it all. It wasn't anything big, just random inspection. And the super-friendly waiter explained what typically happens during that kind of inspection.


Tucked in a quiet corner of Chinatown, away from the hustling and bustling of meat markets and rows of tourist shops, I've found my oasis at Skal. The homey vintage decoration really made me feel so calm and warm. Topped with the super-friendly Scandinavian-accent-speaking servers, my Skal experience was way different than any other. For a second, I almost forgot that I was in New York City.

Embracing myself as a weirdo eater,  I totally went for the Salt Cod Hash, Lamb Tongue, Hyssop, Confit Potatoes and a Runny Egg. It was quite and adventurous plate, but I loved it. Their menu is very original and of high quality, so the prices definitely worth it (well, not too often for me though!)

South East Asian Findings in NYC So Far

If you read my other blog, you might get a better understanding of why South East Asia carries so much memories to me. The food, the sights, and the people are amazing. Moreover, with this wintry weather here in the States, I'd rather be there. Anyhow, since work schedule and other priorities haven't allowed me to do so, good authentic food from their land will do for now. These are what I've found so far, and I'm pretty sure there will be more good ones coming in the near future.

Num Pang Sandwich Shop

This is by far the holiest hole in the wall that I've been to since I moved to the greater NY area. It took me 3x walking back and forth down the block until I found the tiny #21 sign sticked at the door. Don't give up if you don't find it the first try. At a glance, it looks more like a very shady convenient store.

No, some cons of this place:

1) It's a cash-only establishment. They don't take any cards
2) Space (the downstair "order&pay" area, the circular stairwell, and the upstairs seating) is very bad for claustrophobic people. I had a bad childhood experience with circular stairwell, so it turned me off
3) All the sandwiches are served as is. They don't take any modification

Anyhow, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed my sweet pulled duroc pork sandwich. The cilantro and julienne carrot are what makes it so South East Asian. It reminds me of the baguette sandwiches I typically had for lunch while traveling in Cambodia, even though the baguettes were slightly longer back there. If I'm not mistaken, the baguettes here are baked by Parisi Bakery, which is the king of Italian sandwiches Little Italy.

Pongsri Thai Restaurant

This is another hole in the wall. Located in the little "Vietnamese" pocket of Chinatown, I would never know the existence of this place if I didn't walk the wrong way and found it one time.

It's definitely a good spot to people-watch if you get a window seating. The service totally reflects Thailand as a very warm and hospitable land with beautiful smiles. I ordered vegetable Pad Ke Moy and told the server that I like it super spicy. They understood exactly the level of Thai-spicy that I was craving for.

Since mango sticky rice gets so overrated, I was opting for something new for dessert. Boy, all the dessert items here are still related to sticky rice, so oh well, custard sticky rice was it. Presentation-wise, it could have been better (as in the custard shouldn't be breaking apart).

Big Groups on a Budget

Ever since I joined ALESN, Saturday nights after class has become bonding time with fellow students and teachers. We typically go in a big group 10+ people, so finding a place in Chinatown has became sort of an art. Our mantra is find a place that is cheap and can fit all of us, the rest is whatever. After a semester, here are the places that I find to be good for group and your pockets:

X.O Taste

This is our most frequent stop because of their wide variety of menu (200+ items and counting) and spacious seating. The service is very quick and prompt too. I usually go here with a $5 budget and come home quite satisfied. My go-to item is this delicious Taiwanese-style pork steak with rice (and yes, only $5 for this humble plate of meat and starch (+hard boiled egg and a leave of veggie):

Congee Village

Don't expect a good service here. Everyone always ordered congee in our group, but the servers always fail to remember which congee is what or whose. The last time I was there, they ran out of you tiao too! Anyhow, the congee is alright. It comes in a small sauce-pan sort of thing. For the price ($5 average), the serving size is quite generous. My favorite item from here is Sampan Porridge, because I haven't found it elsewhere:

Feng Cheng Yuan

This place is actually right next door from Congee Village. Below-mediocre Chinese restaurant that has typical take-out items, just with plenty of seating and servers. I had this bowl that they call "Szechuan-style Noodle Soup", and oh please, not again. So much sprouts as opposed to the noodle, very little meat, and no taste at all:

Dessert Bonus: Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

Dessert time! Everyone who's taking the subway from Canal Street with me love to stop here for dessert. Their space is rather tiny, but don't underestimate their ice cream and the power of long line of customers waiting to be served. I totally love their exotic flavors that are rather hard to find elsewhere (lychee, pandan, ginger, green tea, red bean, and the like). Here's me posing with their dragon mascot and my pandan ice cream:

New Year, Snow Day, and What's Good for Snow Day


I hope everyone's New Year was a blast. 2013 was definitely a very monumental year for me, despite of all the negative feelings most people had about that year. 2012 ended with full of uncertainties and thoughts that my story would be different, but hey, 2013 ended 10,000x better than I thought at the start. The year might've ended, but I would always remember 2013 as a year of so much stress but the good that came out eventually was just overwhelmingly awesome.

As a start to my 2014, my office closed on our 2nd workday into the year due to the Hercules storm. It was snowing about 9 inches where I live.

It was definitely a good day of rest, catching up with laundry, ironing, sewing, and reflecting on what I would like to accomplish this year. This snow also reminded me of food. Specifically: Taiwanese snowy desserts, for which I've found a nearly-good substitute for my snowy dessert craving:

Momofuku milk bar in New York City, that's where it is. Both of the items above are their signature items.
The cereal milk topped with crushed corn flakes kinda looked small to me at first, but boy, they could fit/give quite a lot in that one tiny cup.  Compost cookie, which is my kind of dream cookie, pretty much has everything good in it like chocolate, pretzel bits, oats, butter-scotch, potato chips, and heaven knows what else. I just wished they came in smaller size to prevent me from getting cavities lol.

The East Village location has very very tiny space, only fit 4 at a time to stand on their window bar, and maybe another 4 on the outdoor store-front bench. Definitely don't go here in groups or with young children because it can get quite irritating (for you and other guests).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Elmwood Park Gem #2: Juicy Platters

I've found another gem near  Elmwood Park! Well, technically this place is located at the border of Fair Lawn and Elmwood Park, but whatever.

I'm a big fan of falafel, and I haven't had one since my days patronizing University City halal food trucks. Juicy Platters definitely fulfill my cravings!

I came here one Saturday, 11 AM at the dot (that's what time they're supposed to be open). The cashier graciously opened the locked door for me.

And you might guessed already, I went ahead and ordered my falafel wrap with salad. So good, so much healthier and hygienic compared to whatever I used to feed myself back in my college days. I was so tempted to buy a bottle of the white sauce too!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Elmwood Park Gem #1: Mama Fina's

I am not Filipino.

But 100% of Filipinos that I've met always thought of me as one.
To them I do look like one, and the warmth of their hearts always make me feel like I belong.
I found that same warmth at Mama Fina's House of Filipino Sisig :)

I came in on a Saturday on 11 right at the dot. The ladies were cheerfully welcoming me as if I was a Filipino. They spoke Tagalog and made me feel like a part of their family.

I went ahead and ordered the famous pork sisig. Boy, it came in a sizzling skillet! I've never had this dish before, so I'll try my best to describe it. It was kind of like chopped bacon, but the only difference is that it was 100x more flavorful than that. Have it with rice, and you'll feel the comfort indescribable with words.

Also, this young coconut water is not to be missed. It has pulps in it, which is as real as it could get in a non-tropic climate.

To close my awesome brunch off, I ordered halo-halo. I love how they gave me a "bonus" flan on top.

From what I've seen, they were very busy taking orders for pick-up and delivery. I guess most of the Filipinos here would rather entertain their family and friends at the comfort of their home, rather than going to some restaurant. Anyhow, I'm definitely coming back for some more :)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Creamy Mushroom Soup

I swear I don't have a Seasonal Affective Disorder or anything, but this fall weather has just been getting the best of me. It was super nice last weekend, but came Monday it was all cold all over again. Whenever the weather is doing this kind of thing, I tend to find comfort in anything warm like tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and soup. I've lost count on how many different type of soups I've made since the beginning of Fall, but here's another one :)

Creamy Mushroom Soup

3 Tbsp. flour
4 c. water
4 tsp. chicken bouillon
5 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
8 oz. portabella mushrooms, sliced
5 large celery stalks (you can tell I love veggies), diced fine

1) Put water and flour in a blender. Blend until smooth and pour into a dutch oven pot over medium heat

2) Add celery, mushroom, bouillon, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until celery and mushrooms are soft

So simple and so fast, yet so good and comforting. I like putting crushed pepper and herb (like cilantro) on mine for more flavor.