Thursday, December 31, 2009


There's just nothing like a roasted duck bun.

Happy New Year!


Wow, it's already the close of another decade. So much has happened in one year, but I won't attempt to do one of those "Year-End Food Recaps" because that might take awhile...not to mention Serious Eats already did a pretty good review.

Mariebelle Aztec Hot Chocolate.

One thing I will say: Let's not lose our hope. Even when times are rough, we still have the capacity to make our world a little better, to cheer up the people in our lives and to persevere in pursuit of our dreams. And for those of you living in more frigid climates - let's resolve not to succumb to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Onward march!

Christmas Fixins

Apologies for the lack of regular updates. I've been down and out with a bad stomach virus for the past week and haven't had much appetite for anything other than congee. However, I'm back on my feet once again and ready to tackle more salivating gastronomica come 2010.

Here's a brief recap of Christmas dinner (which I still tasted here and there, stomach bug notwithstanding). Hey, a foodie's gotta eat!


Clockwise, from left: Turkey with apple stuffing, baked ziti, sweet potatoes (I helped prepare those), turkey gravy, turkey juice, string beans, more sweet potatoes.

Turkey with apple stuffing.

We picked this one up at Iavarone Bros, an Italian deli/grocery in my town. Iavarone always has a great selection of meats, cheese, and soft, fluffy bread fresh from the oven. I like to pick up one of the many sandwiches for my lunch shifts at work. The turkey-apple-on-pita-bread is one of my favorites, so it's little wonder that apple stuffing complements turkey. Add some cranberries for a delicate, sweet balanced taste. Why hadn't I thought of this earlier? Maybe next year I'll attempt my own version.

Baked Ziti.

Mom's baked ziti always comes out a winner. Perhaps it's the homemade ingredients, or all the love that goes into preparing it. All I know is that ricotta cheese rocks!

Pumpkin Pie.

Sis and I make pumpkin pie every year during the winter holidays. It's our tradition. However, this time around she was solo chef (since I was bedridden). I couldn't get a shot of the entire pie - it's just too popular to be left alone. And Grandpa loves it!


Of course, our doggie received a present as the form of a donut squeaky toy. Paws off!

PINTO: Would the Real Pad Thai Please Stand Up

Pinto Place Setting.

This review originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

I've had my share of good pad thai before - from Boston's Brown Sugar to Penang Grill in Stamford, Conn., and Soho's Peep. But the best so far would have to be Pinto.

I picked this spot to celebrate my friend's 22nd birthday because of good reviews from friends over the summer. It was just the three of us. For first-timers, the West Village can be disorienting and you can get lost even with a map. After sufficiently walking in enough triangles to make our heads spin, we finally made it.

Pinto was darkly lit, like a demure, mysterious lover trying to play coy. Small candles throughout illuminated the small L-shaped bar. Our bartender clinked glasses as she deftly blended liquors in the cocktail shakers. Our two male waiters, both lanky and tall, looked like they had popped out of a GQ magazine, or maybe just hipster Williamsburg - one in wavy, messy curls and the other in an asymmetric faux Mohawk that curled into a mini bouffant on top. They were men of few words but were very accommodating, especially when I asked one of them to bring out the cheesecake at the end and surprise my friend.

PCU Noodle.

The guys scarfed down the food fast...especially D. D ordered the PCU Noodle ($10), rice noodle sauteed with sweet dark soy sauce, baby bok choy and egg. I couldn't wrest a complaint from him as he was silent most of the time, forking down to the last bite.

Pad Thai.

A had a very solid Pad Thai ($10), or sauteed rice noodle with tangy tamarind sauce, smoked tofu, Chinese chive, egg and peanut. Maybe not the softest noodles ever, but Pinto's got its flavors down pat. This version is everything that pad thai is supposed to taste like: tangy, peanut-y, slightly sweet, with a spicy finish.

Curry A La Penang.

My eye was immediately drawn to the Curry A La Penang ($12), a red and sweet homemade curry with rice on the side. The tender beef and fresh bok choy were pleasantly pared with a complex medley of milky coconut and sharp, rich spices. That's one lip-smacking sauce, perfect poured over sticky Asian rice. Even better since Pinto uses local, organic ingredients.


Pinto's imaginative creations extend to their specialty drinks. D ordered a cold Guinness and I had a Strawberry Mojito, which I highly recommend. Real crushed strawberries, mint sprigs, rum and other ingredients floated around this leafy concoction (trust me: it tasted better than it sounds). Another signature cocktail is the "Ginger Zinger" (citrus vodka, banana liqueur and fresh ginger).

The cozy, modern decor and subdued atmosphere is low-key enough for a first date and the perfect antidote to a harried work week in the office (or, in my case, the selling floor). Plus, Pinto gets extra points for classy food presentation.

I still don't understand the meaning behind the restaurant's name, as it conjures images of beans and Mexico...and not anything related to Thailand. I grant this is an attempt to be "different" and set itself apart from its peers, which it does skillfully.

Affordable prices, homey Thai food and non-snobby service = relaxing evening spent with friends. Celebratory night achieved!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. OK, so the noodles may not have the most ideal give and the tofu could be softer, but for the sheer "magical" feeling of this place, I give it 4 stars.

118 Christopher St.
New York, NY 10014

Saturday, December 19, 2009


"Super Dry" Asahi.

While this is Japan's No. 1 beer, I'm not sure I prefer it over Sapporo. Asahi is certainly very dry, if you like your beer that way. I think I prefer dark lagers over light. The headier the better!

Asahi Beer.

Straight from Tokyo.


Daifuku is a thin, glutinous rice cake (mochi) filled with sweet red azuki beans - the same beans used to make my refreshing warm-weather favorite, pat bing soo. This white variety is the most common, though daifuku also comes in different shades. My friend Wendy loves these. I took just a quarter of it and had my fill already. They're way too sweet to eat in one sitting!

Mochi is nice. Mochi is rice.

Shiitake & Choy.

Anything for You, Pumpkin

Pumpkin bread this good could have only been made by the able hands of Chef Mom.

Salivation ensues...

Soupy Seconds

Tomato Soup and Panini.

...Because some days you're just in a tomato-soup-and-apple-cranberry-turkey-panini kind of mood. Don't forget the crackers!

From Barnes & Noble Cafe.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Little Saigon: Service with a Song

This article originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

Sometimes it can be hard to muster enthusiasm over food when your daily staples consist of PB&J, ramen an chicken (albeit cooked four different ways, at the end of the day it's still chicken). Lately, these have been my home meals. My lunching and snacking habits at work aren't much more inspiring. Granola bars, nuts, raisins, copious ham, egg & cheese sandwiches, tacos, a cheese slice.

Thank goodness for Little Saigon! When I'm stuck in a food rut or just longing for some quick Chinese-Vietnamese food, Little Saigon provides fuel for the brain.

Mainstays: Pho, lemongrass shrimp fried rice, chicken/beef satay, spring rolls, any of the bun (or rice vermicelli) dishes, and bottomless refills of oolong tea - a full-bodied, nutty brew with a tinge of sweetness. The curry isn't bad either, although it definitely tastes more Chinese than anything else.

Satay Combo.

For appetizers, the Ga & Bo Satay, or combo chicken & beef skewers, is among the better ones...perhaps not the most authentic, but since this restaurant is a fusion of Vietnamese and Chinese, it's bound to have more of a Chinese bent. And that's OK. Plus, how can you say no to peanut sauce? (Apologies if you're allergic.)

Bun Cha Gio Bo Nuong Xa.

I'd also recommend the Bun Cha Gio Bo Nuong Xa, or marinated grilled lemongrass beef and spring roll, served with lettuce, bean sprout and cucumber on rice vermicelli. I had it once and it was scrumptious. My only complaint is that it could have used more turmeric to up the flavor ante. But other than that, the beef was cooked and marinated thoroughly, the crunchy fried spring roll flaky and hot. Generally, I prefer hot noodles over cold, but I wouldn't mind having this dish again.

Com Chien Tom.

My parents really liked the Com Chien Tom, or lemongrass shrimp fried rice with crushed peanuts, basil and lime zest. No MSG here! Carrots and celery add some color.


Of course, any real Vietnamese meal wouldn't be quite complete without mentioning pho. Pho keeps the winter blues away. A surefire hit to warm the body and soul. My favorite combination thus far is the savory Tai Nam Gau Gan Sach (rice noodle soup with eye of round beef, brisket, tendon and omosa - tripe) but I also like the Xe Lua (rice noodle with brisket, navel, flank, tendon, meat balls and eye of round beef) for its generous amount of meat. And don't' forget the Sriracha sauce! Toss in your basil springs and bean sprouts and squeeze the lime over it.

The pho is much better in the restaurant than the take-out version. When I ordered pho to deliver, it didn't seem to maintain its shape well. Since the soup and broth were separated, the noodles were dry and stuck together. Despite the fresh ingredients, the broth was missing an element of spice. Not the best place for pho, but for a location that doesn't require me to beat it to Manhattan, thoroughly acceptable.

But what really makes Little Saigon stand out is our waiter. I call him "our" because he's the waiter in charge who always greets us promptly and is known for singing songs as he works. He behaves like he truly loves his job! What a joy (and anomaly) to behold. The service industry is no light matter - people can easily get burned out from the long hours, physical toil and high stress level. But not he (oh, I think he goes by the name Alex, as I've heard other customers call him). Alex is always ready to serve with that winsome smile and solicitous bearing. I never need to remind him to refill our tea cups. When he's not busy helping other customers, he'll come by and chat with us for a bit.

The restaurant ambience is a standard, small Chinese restaurant feel. Most dishes range from $6-$9 and dare meant to be served family-style. Top-notch service with large portions and an economical price = great value. Alex, you can sing me a tune any time!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. It's the service that really stands out, even if the take-out pho was a tad underwhelming.

Little Saigon
253-09 Northern Blvd
Douglaston, NY 11362

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Taste Test


Dddukboki. Chewy rice cakes slathered in spicy gochujang = love at first bite.
Location: Dokebi Bar & Grill. 199 Grand St. Brooklyn, NY. (718.782.1424)


Baklava. Layers of wispy-fine phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts and sweet syrup or honey. A vestige of the Ottoman Empire.
Location: Pizza Palace. 2929 Ditmars Blvd. Astoria, NY. (718.728.1060)

Gyro Platter, sans Pita Bread.

Gyros. Meat, tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce and pita bread. A Greek favorite. The Gyros Platter comes with a salad and inch-thick house fries, much like the ones I used to have with my Fish 'n Chips.
Location: Pizza Palace.

Pork Katsu Curry.

Pork Katsu Curry. Panko bread crumb-battered, deep-fried slab of pork ("tonkatsu") drenched in Japanese curry sauce and fortified with sticky Asian rice. GoGoCurry does it right with their mouthwatering version.
Location: GoGoCurry. 273 W 38th St. New York, NY. (212.730.5555)

Akamaru Modern.

Akamaru Modern Ramen. Previously featured on this blog. I don't need to reiterate: It's heaven in a bowl.
Location: Ippudo. 65 Fourth Ave. New York, NY. (212.388.008)



We don't eat hamsters...

...we create replicas of them! ("We" meaning the bro and I.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Kunjip: Stew on This

This article originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

If Koreatown was a high school, Kunjip would be the popular kid. It's one of Koreatown's more established late-night standbys and the go-to place for all things concerning Korean cuisine. And everyone knows it. The restaurant, which means "big house" in Korean, never lacks customers. From your first step inside, a menu is shoved in your face. Before you even get a table, you've probably already placed your order.

Budae Chigae.

This time around, I had the Budae Chigae ($12.95), which translates into "army stew" in Korean. It's a thick soup made with spicy kimchi, ramen noodles, sausages, spam, rice cakes and tofu. The cool part was that it came served on top of an individual burner that kept the whole thing hot the entire time. And trust me, it gets to your heart in more than one way. Heartburn, anyone? If the red color wasn't enough of an indication, your innards will feel it after slurping several mouthfuls of this deliciously spicy stew. If the weather outside is leaving you frosty, after feastong on this dish, you won't be chilly anymore. It's not for the faint of stomach, however. Chances are this classic cold-weather dish will have you sweating all over (in a good way).

Budae Chigae, Aflame.

Budae chigae originated during the Korean war when meat (and food) in Seoul, South Korea, was scarce. People used the surplus foods from U.S. Army bases in the Uijeongbu vicinity, incorporating canned ham (Spam) and hot dogs into their traditional spicy soups peppered with kimchi and gochujang (red chili paste). These days, the dish is still going strong in South Korea, where creative minds now make budae chigae with ingredients like American cheese, minari (dropwort), onions, tteok, mushrooms, macaroni, chili peppers and in-season vegetables.

Suk-Uh Chigae.

My friend had the Suk-Uh Chigae ($13.95), or spicy mixed seafood and vegetables stew, which had a plentiful assortment of seafood favorites, like mussels, clams and squid. Hot and fiery!

Gyeran Jjim.

The restaurant makes good HaeMool Pajun, or seafood pancake (Small $9.95, Large $14.95), Gopdol Bibimbap ($13.95), or rice on a heated stone pot with vegetables, ground beef and egg, and Gyeran Jjim (steamed egg with scallions), which we had the pleasure of consuming as one of our banchan appetizers.

We witnessed long lines to get in during lunchtime on the weekends (and equally long lines for the ladies' room). Inside is a flurry of activity with harried waiters balancing hot, piping dishes. We had to flag down a waiter to refill our water glasses, and the waitstaff seemed to be in a hurry to get us out as soon as possible, but I'll cut them some slack since the high volume of customers can certainly be distracting.

Kunjip offers more than 80 dishes - from BBQ to casseroles - so you'll never be at a loss for trying something different. The picture menu is especially helpful (and tempting!) for those new to eating Korean cuisine. As for the lunch specials, I want to try the Gopdol Bibimbap+DeonJang/Soondubu Chigae combination, which comes with ground vegetables and egg in a hot pot and bean paste/spicy soft tofu stew ($12.95). Other tasty options abound, most for under $9, including Sulungtang (ox bone soup with sliced beef) and Kam Ja Tang (spicy pork bone and potato stew).

Am I coming back? Is that even a question at this point? No doubt.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. I know I'm being generous with the 4+ stars lately, but I can't help that I usually choose tasty finds. With wallets so lean, why waste your time on anything less, right?

9 W. 32nd St
New York, NY 10001