Monthly Archives: November 2005

Siam Garden celebration.

Wow! Big day for the blog – we got a link from Gawker and our traffic shot through the roof! Thanks again, guys, and welcome to all our new readers.

Some celebration was in order, so my roommate and I went and had a couple of beers at Floyd’s on Atlantic Av, where we enjoyed checking out their selection of canned beers – never seen Stroh’s in any other bar. Could it be the next Rheingold? Afterwards, we wandered back down Atlantic and Court St, wondering where to procure dinner.

After rejecting a few places and collecting a few menus, we stopped to read Siam Garden’s menu (172 Court between Amity and Congress), and noticed they had larb listed – the salad that I’ve loved since first trying it a month or so ago. Sold! We went in to the nearly empty restaurant and procured one of the prime tables by the window. The décor of the place is quite nice – one wall is totally done in burgundy, and there are nice-looking paintings on the wall and statuettes positioned throughout the restaurant. A couple of (decorative) fish tanks sit towards the middle, one of which features a barb as its inhabitant. They even have a retro-foreign ‘pay’ phone in the back, which was ringing for a constant stream of delivery orders. I guess this is how they’ve stayed open since 1985? The very friendly staff and quick service don’t hurt, either.

Needless to say, we ordered the beef larb ($7) to begin, and I made sure to order it Thai spicy. Fortunately, she believed me – this stuff was way effing out! Far hotter than Myrtle Thai, and still hotter than the catfish labb that I loved at Zabb, it had both of us sweating underneath the eyes and gulping water for a momentary cooling effect – after we ate it, the fire didn’t subside for at least ten minutes. Thankfully, it wasn’t just flavored with spice – the subtle fermented fishy flavor tipped us to the use of fish sauce. The scallions complemented the fishy beef perfectly, and I also liked the shredded red onion that was mixed in.

For our entrees, we scaled back a bit on the spice – my roommate ordered something called Bangkok chicken ($11), which I’m ready to anoint the king of all sweet and sour chickens the world over. Fried but not heavy or too greasy, the chicken pieces were doused in a plum-ginger sauce that really put all of those sticky-sweet sauces you know from bad Asian restaurants to shame. The presentation was even impressive – not merely slapped on a plate with garnish, lettuce was used to give the chicken elevation, resulting in a three-dimensional look that we thought was at least as classy as the restaurant’s décor. Plum pits were even included on the side!

I opted for my other favorite Thai dish, that wonderful cashew-nut-featuring stir-fry, pahd med ma muang ($9). Upon receiving the plate, my first curiosity was, as usual, were the cashew nuts roasted? Fortunately, the answer was yes – not quite blackened like Zabb, the cashews were nonetheless roasted enough to give the nuts that hearty flavor I like so well. Big points over Myrtle for that. The beef was tender and tasty, with just a hint of fish sauce and spice (thankfully, I don’t know what I’d have done with another larb-spicy dish). Also included were slightly sautéed white onions, scallions, and bamboo shoots.

Needless to say, my roommate and I were VERY pleased with Siam Garden, and we will be eating there again soon.

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Michelin: will it drive American chefs to suicide, too?

Last night’s activity was probably outside the bounds of this blog, I’ll admit, but I thought I’d post today about the Michelin Guide NYC 2006 launch party anyway – hey, it was free!  Full disclosure: I’d like to say that I got in via credentials and yukked it up with D-Meyer and Jean-Georges, but in reality, my girlfriend works for a magazine and the invitation was her doing rather than mine.  Thanks, hon!

Located at the lovely, scaffolding-clad Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on 5th Ave. and 89th St, the event began at 7pm and had a line out the door by 7:15, when we arrived.  After filtering in, slowly, we made our way to the bar to pick up our complementary beverages.  I opted for the Verve Cliquot champagne (sponsor of the party) – is this good stuff?  I have no idea.  My girlfriend chose the red wine.  Can’t really go wrong with beverages at a French party, I suppose.  Just don’t put your dirty champagne glass on a tray filled to capacity with clean wine glasses, as I saw one probable Madison Av. resident try – show a little class like the Park Av. types and hand them to an empty-handed busgirl who’s obviously trying to go do something else.  Thanks!

We made our way over to the only spot left with breathing room, near the fountain at the bottom of the circular interior ramp.  This was to be our vantage point for the next hour, and a fortuitous spot it was indeed, except for the acquisition of the tiny morsels of sushi and hors d’oveurs that apparently were the only food.  They were coming out of the kitchen/back room area, and I think that the folks standing over there basically scarfed them all – probably press types (who, incidentally, are the shabbiest-looking people in any gathering like this – love it!).  I suppose all of the heavy hitters were retiring to Jean-Georges afterwards, but I was starved and certainly not going to any 3-star restaurants any time soon.

Not long after we got to the fountain, the mascot of the evening – the Michelin man – danced by.  Lord, I wish I had a camera; it would have gone nicely next to the picture of me with the Bowlmor Lanes bowling pin mascot.  Unfortunately for the struggling yet oblivious actor-dancer who likely inhabited the Michelin costume, he danced right into the guy next to us, spilling his champagne all down his front and my girlfriend’s back.  Fortunately, for comedic purposes, he did this in front of a party organizer, who promptly led Michelin Man outside and threw him under the M5 bus, returning to hand the guy a cloth napkin and a commemorative square of the costume with a Michelin tire mark on it.  Ah, marketing synergy.

We scanned the crowd for most of the time we were there, in search of a familiar celeb face, but quickly settled on pointing out the most bizarre-looking people we could find.  First and foremost was the lady with a REAL beehive hairdo – only Marge Simpson’s would have been longer.  Second, there were a ton of really short dudes there.  Was Napoleon a chef?  Third, half of the people looked as though they had  chain-smoked Gauloises for thirty years – yes, it was easy to tell the Americans from the French.  Last and perhaps most weirdly, they packed in enough people to this event (wall-to-wall packed on the floor of the museum) that it really reminded me of a frattish keg party – pre-gaming was probably necessary, because it was too crowded to get to the bar, and the patrons were of inappropriate drinking age anyhow.  So, if any of you are wondering when people grow out of wanting to go to extremely crowded places and drink, the answer is “never.”

Just when I was starting to get a little bored, 8pm rolled around and the speechifying began.  Of course, it didn’t begin without five minutes of concerted crowd-hushing effort by some VP of corporate stoogery from the podium.  Took me right back to middle school assembly, particularly when the crowd had to be re-hushed halfway through the second speaker (and these people didn’t talk long).  Classy!

Fortunately, after the awkward attempts at colloquial English enthusiasm by the last (native French) speaker, we had a spectacle to check out.  In true “send in the clowns” style, the books were “introduced” by a series of Michelin-apron-wearing waiters, brought down the Guggenheim ramp on silver platters.  It was cute, really, particularly when they started playing “New York, New York.”  Is it possible that we can find another New York song to play at these events?  Like, say, “I Feel Safe In New York City” by AC/DC?  Or “New York City Blues” by the Yardbirds?  Or “Across 110th St.”…okay, never mind, stick with the Sinatra.

Of course, once they started passing out the books, there was a scrum.  I mean, seriously, it was a rush to get them, even though everyone was getting one.  Was it the sticker inside proclaiming “first edition” and bearing an individual numbering that got people excited?  I mean, the internet, people – this information has been out in public for several days!  I realized almost immediately, though, that old people don’t use the internet.  Best part of the book, to me?  The subway map inside the back cover is relatively to scale and shows, in the finest European style, which streets the trains run under.  Obviously they’re hoping to sell this to tourists, because three-star restaurant patrons who live in NYC certainly don’t take the subway, dahhhling.

Anyway, we made our exit shortly after collecting our loot, just in time to watch someone practically shove a guy on crutches aside so she could walk down the white carpet to exit.  Absolutely a tremendous comedic event – thanks, Michelin!


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New Green no-no.

It’s always a delicate task to review restaurants to which friends have enthusiastically taken you.  I’ll admit: I dislike raining on people’s parade, particularly in the food category, where tastes and perceptions of quality differ greatly from person to person.  However, I’ve got to be honest in this case: I didn’t think New Green Bo (Bayard between Mott and Elizabeth) was all that great.

The atmosphere is certainly different than what I had been used to – the only table available to seat us was half of a communal table, so I was a little embarrassed when the topic of conversation turned to New Year’s parties gone awry.  I guess this was my comeuppance for complaining about the brahs at La Taza De Oro last week, because the conversation across the table stopped every time a vomit story was related (frequently – New Year’s parties apparently being a good occasion for chundering).  Yes, I died a little inside last night – but on to the food!

The recommending friend suggested we order several things from the dim sum menu, and left it to me to select a dish from the normal menu.  She elected an order of the steamed vegetable dumplings, the pork soup dumplings, and a scallion pancake.  The steamed vegetable dumplings ($4.25) were interesting – I thought I detected a slight flavor of mustard, but I’m not really sure what exactly was contained therein.  It’s hard to vouch for their freshness, too – or am I confusing the pleasing greasiness of the pork soup dumplings (which, I believe, are on the menu as “tiny buns” at $4.25) with the veggie dumplings?

The soup dumplings, I thought, were not at the same level as the best batch I’d had at Grand Sichuan in Chelsea.  I’m willing to grant, though, that they were tasty, grease-laden, and the most satisfying item of the evening.  Not so pleasingly grease-laden was the scallion pancake ($1.50), of which I have yet to taste a version good enough to make me want another one.  Much like the thousand-layer pancake in a Malaysian restaurant, I’m not sure that the category is something that will ever yield something that is, to me, tasty.  It’s just greasy, flaky dough, right?  Am I missing something, or do the Indians really make Poori with some kind of magical power?

Anyway, the dish that I ordered was the Sietsema-recommended stewed pork with bean curd skins at $9 (he’s quoted on the front of the restaurant along with seemingly all other press on the restaurant – this place must have been open for a while).  The bean curd skin was the revelation of the evening – pasta-like in consistency, yet chewier and, well, less like a wet noodle.  The pork that accompanied the skins was also chewy, with a layer of fat on the outside that I found delicious and my girlfriend found excessive.  Unfortunately, the thick brown sauce didn’t help matters – a little too sweet, perhaps, and it tasted like it came from a bottle.

After hearing it talked up, New Green Bo was a great disappointment to me.  I guess I can’t expect every Chinese restaurant to crank out great food, and this one didn’t, for the most part.  A further strike against the Canal St.-area of Chinatown, culinarily – I can only blame myself, though, that I wasn’t even hungry enough afterwards to try the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory after dinner.


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Great soup and dessert in Washington Heights.

Another neighborhood thus far neglected by this survey is Washington Heights, and my trip there last night was designed in part to rectify that oversight.  I have a friend at Columbia Medical School who came along for the ride (and, fortunately, was downtown to keep me company on the not-insignificant A train trip uptown).   I hadn’t been to the area in several years, and I still don’t think I’ve been there during the daylight, but walking from the train station, I noticed several intriguing fusion possibilities – chief among them the Dominican-Chinese place on Broadway and 170th.  Perhaps they’ll merit another visit?

For this trip, though, we settled on a restaurant on the way uptown and stuck with it.  Sietsema pretty much ignored the nabe on his 2005 list, but there were several possibilities mentioned on the 2003 “Latin” list.  We selected his 19th choice, Galicia #2, located at 4083 Broadway (a short walk north from the 168th St. station).  As the candy-seeking youngsters charged in and out, we perused the menus kept under the glass top of the table, discovering that none of the entrees were what we would consider cheap, to my chagrin and my friend’s consternation (apparently med students are more broke than college students – who knew?).

We also didn’t find the caldo gallego that Sietsema described in his entry on the list on either the menu or the neighboring daily specials list.  Needless to say, I was scratching my head.  Fortunately, just before the waitress arrived to take our order, I remembered that Sietsema loves to order stuff from chalkboard special menus, and I looked to my right and found the chalkboard containing our salvation – $4 bowls of the caldo gallego and, for my friend, a $6.50 half roast chicken.

Neither of these dishes required any prep time – we were served posthaste.  I tucked happily into my soup, pausing occasionally to soak one of the toasted pieces of bread that we were supplied with in the thick broth.  This was great soup.  It’s built on the leafy green known as kale, which is not exactly the same as collard greens (but close), big chunks of potatoes, white beans, slices of what I believe was tripe, chunks of bony meat that Sietsema dubs pork foot, and chorizo.  My stepfather makes a similar Portuguese stew called “Cal de vert,” though it omits the hoof and tripe in favor of more chorizo, perhaps at the expense of the meaty flavor that permeates the soup from green to starch.

My friend’s chicken was tender and juicy, though lacking in the distinctive flavor that I had come to expect from rotisserie chicken following my Pio Pio experience.  It was sided with a large portion of white rice and a cup of very good black beans – two could easily share a half chicken with these sides included.

Feeling flush with cash and having only spent $4 thus far on a grand feast, I ordered the dulce de leche ($2.50) for dessert, and was surprised to note its configuration when it came.  Expecting a caramel spread-like dip for bread or some kind of cookie, I was surprised when a plastic dish of something that looked like feta cheese with a maraschino cherry on top arrived in front of me.  Upon tasting it, I was further surprised to note that the cheesiness of the curd was not merely an appearance – it tasted, with its light, sugary topping, like a cross between the top of your mom’s apple crisp and mascarpone.

Needless to say, I was enthralled – when searching for clues later, I found what I believe is the answer – that the traditional dulce de leche recipe of South America differs in the Caribbean by virtue of separating the milk solids with vinegar.  Anyone know if that’s actually the case?  I didn’t see any reference to that step in the Argentinean dulce recipes I found.

Anyway, it’s nice to know that I’ve introduced my med school friend to what may be the cheapest decent restaurant in his vicinity, and it’s still nicer to know that I have more reasons to go visit him than to hang out at Columbia Med parties and wonder if I’ll ever trust a doctor again.  Thanks, Galicia!

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