Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cafe Zaiya: Bento Boxes and a Whole Lot More

Cafe Zaiya meal.

This review originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

Everyone who works in midtown knows it's difficult to find lunch without draining your bank account, especially if it's quality food you're after. I was skeptical about this area's offerings as well, until I happened to walk by E. 41st St., where I found a block of Japanese establishments. There's Chiyoshi Sushi, Yagura Japanese Sushi, and BOOKOFF, a Japanese used bookstore that also sells manga and import CDs. And then, like a beacon in the dark, there's Cafe Zaiya.

Cafe Zaiya's steady stream of customers told me that despite the recession, this place is still going strong. Three separate lines snaked out to the entrance. The front door kept swinging open to usher in more hungry people, each person trying to elbow past others to scan the lunch racks. Convinced, I decided to check it out.


I've heard Cafe Zaiya makes an excellent bento box (called "Cafe Zaiya meal"). For just $4.99, you get to choose from a fish, chicken, pork or beef box that comes with a hearty serving of rice, vegetables and pickled appetizer, along with a cup of coffee or hot tea. Vegetarian options are also available for those with more restricted diets. Selections vary by day. A word to the wise: Touch the top of the box first to check the temperature level before you buy it. You want to be sure you're getting a hot meal.

But Cafe Zaiya doesn't just specialize in hot prepared foods - there's sushi (discounted 30% after 5 p.m.), onigiri (starting at $1.69), chicken sandwiches and hamburgers (called 'hamburg'), pastries (from melon pan to curry buns and croquettes - most under $3) and an assortment of cold drinks and desserts, such as green tea ice cream and shaved ice.

In the past month, I've already been here at least seven times. There's always something new to try. Perhaps my curiosity gets the better of me, but at such affordable price points, who could really argue? Careful, though - during the lunch time rush, Cafe Zaiya fills up quickly and items run out, so you'll want to come early to grab your first pick.

If it's a clear day, take your lunch to nearby Bryant Park and sit in the sun (or shade, if you want). I've had some entertaining moments observing a rousing game of ping pong or chess in the park, or just straight-up 'people watching.'

Next time you're in midtown and craving some well-crafted lunch fare, give Cafe Zaiya a try. You're sure to be rewarded for your time. As for me, I'm going to mentally index this spot under my "Midtown Eats Favorites."

Rating: 4.5 stars.

Cafe Zaiya
18 E 41st St
New York, NY 10003

Froyo Lovers: Can You Handle This?

Temptation in a cup.

My review of 16 Handles originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

If you're not ready to switch over from summer to fall weather just yet, check out my post (Because true froyo lovers will eat this sour-sweet concoction even if it's 30 degrees I right?).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

David Choe timelapse at Nuart 09

This is just cool. David Choe is a street artist to watch (I've been watching him for four years now). His "City Girl" piece spent several months as my laptop's wallpaper. Here, Choe paints his time-lapse piece at Nuart, an international street art festival in Stavanger on Norway's west coast.

There's plenty more where that came from.

Gobbling White On Rice

One of my favorite Bay-area singer-songwriters, Goh Nakamura, just released his new music video for the movie White on Rice. In it, Goh ruminates about Wikipedia, mace and Gladys Knight. Heck - a guy who can come up with rhymes for "Fibonacci sequence" earns extra points in my book.

The music video also features the beautiful mugs of James Kyson Lee and Lynn Chen. White on Rice, a comedy, is currently playing in California and will open up at select theaters throughout the U.S. Can't wait til it comes to New York!

In the meantime, check out Goh as he's traveling the country on his Follow Your Whim Tour. According to his website, Goh "writes ditties about parking tickets, impossible crushes and faraway dreamlands." Exactly my kind of music...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What's Cookin'

Udon with bok choy and bulgolgi.


Coffee, jam toast, fried egg open sandwich on rye.

Mister Softee to the rescue!

Welcome to the Latte Zoo

Dragons, piglets, bunnies, swans and more - all in the comfort of your espresso cup!

Grizzly Bear

He looks...





Success in a box frame.

Photo montage taken September 7. Queens Zoo. Flushing, NY.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Word Makers

We Make Words is the brainchild of Amy and Luci, two ladies who decided to combine photography with their love for words. The result? Some clever, smile-inducing designs. The ladies "photograph a word made of things, [and] each word somehow relates with the one that has gone before."

Get your fill of alligators, meteorites and 'whatever.'

"100" - The Centenerian Blows Her Candles

Happy Birthday Bok-Bok!

Photo montage taken September 2.
Jade Asian Restaurant. Flushing, NY.

B.Y.O.B.: Bring Your Own Bunny

For the love of bunnies...

Scene in Tokyo

All photos by Tokyo Times.

Northern Manor: Dim Sum Dujour

Beef Tripe, Preserved Duck Egg Congee, BBQ'd Pork Bun.

This review originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

"Dim sum taught me Chinese."

As a kid, I learned the bulk of my Cantonese Chinese food words from simply hearing the ladies who strolled past me hawking their carts' wares. I never cease to marvel at the sweet, salty, spicy, fried and steamed aromas and textures wafting by me every time I'm out to yum cha. In Cantonese, 'yum cha' literally means 'drinking tea' but has become synonymous with the dim sum we know today (eating small servings of different foods). Most traditional Chinese restaurants that sell dim sum have a sit-down menu in addition to the carts of steaming hot plate-sized Chinese delicacies. Wash it all down with jasmine or oolong tea, and you're good to go.

There's a reason why dim sum has become so popular: It's quick, tasty and cheap.

Northern Manor fits the bill. It's located on the border of Queens and Long Island, which is great because that means I don't have to trek out to Flushing every time I'm in the mood for dim sum. I tend to go with my family - the bigger the group, the better! I once had dim sum with just two other people, but it wasn't quite the same experience. Especially when you calculate the amount of food you're eating (count on a minimum of six or eight dishes). If you want to sample other things, it just makes more sense to go with a crowd.

Dim sum dining.

Here's a breakdown of the popular dim sum eats we feasted on:
-pay dahn sow yook jook (preserved duck egg congee - my preferred congee)
-law bahk go (white turnip cake with hoisin sauce)
-siu mai (pork dumplings)
-ha gow (shrimp dumplings)
-ngow pahk yeep (beef tripe)
-pie gwat (spareribs)
-ngow toe (beef stomach)
-ha chong fun (shrimp rice roll)
-ngow yook chong fun (beef rice roll)
-cha siu bao (barbecued pork bun)

Jasmine Tea, Joong, Shrimp Rice Roll.

After all these years, Mom's favorite dim sum dish is still shrimp dumplings - I think because her grandma used to make them from scratch. Of course, nothing can compare to homemade, but when you can't be bothered to cook, dim sum is where it's at.

Personally, my cousin's auntie in California makes the best joong (sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves), but Northern Manor's isn't bad. The Chinese sausage is sharp and aromatic; salted eggs, mung beans, chestnuts, dried shrimp, dried black mushrooms, pork and rice are rolled into a tight hot mess (the good kind).

Turnip cake.

I also like the don tat (egg custard tart) and law my gai (rustic lotus-leaf wrapped sticky rice) here. It's a tough call, but my hands-down favorite dim sum dish is the turnip cake (which is actually made of Chinese radish and rice flour, not turnip). Taro cake is it's nearly identical, denser cousin. But given a choice between turnip and taro, I'd choose turnip every time.

Downside: No sesame balls or mong gwor bo deen (mango pudding) to be found. What gives!

Although dim sum allows you to try a variety of dishes, it can also turn out to be an MSG-laden grease fest. Luckily, Northern Manor shuns the overly processed gook in favor of fresh ingredients and healthier methods of food preparation. This means that the congee is seasoned correctly and utilizes a finer grain of rice that isn't just mush on the table, barbecued pork buns have a just-baked, golden sheen and the shrimp dumplings haven't been dragged through a vat of oil.

Final consensus? Northern Manor is a dim sum restaurant that even Grandma would approve! (Just don't come here if you're on a diet.)

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars. Northern Manor does a solid dim sum, but something's not quite allowing me to give it 4 stars - could be the tight quarters, the wait (try to avoid prime time lunch hours between 12 - 2pm) or the lack of some aforementioned dishes. Be aware that it may take several tries before you master of art of not overeating. Good luck to you.

Northern Manor
251-15 Northern Blvd
Little Neck, NY 11362