I’m sorry to all of you guys who read my blog for health purposes, because I’ll tell you right now that this post is probably the most indulgent one yet. You guys might actually be grossed out by the amount of food we ate – please don’t think too badly of me.
Several weeks ago, my dear friend Euna suggested that we for a second round of food tasting around the city of Manhattan. Remembering how good the food was on our last fooding journey, of course I had to say yes. So little by little, she began to plan all the places that we were gonna go for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, etc. My darling Euna even planned a SURPRISE for me, but she wouldn’t even give me a hint to what it was. Kept me in suspense for a whole month, she did.
I am SO UTTERLY AND TOTALLY GRATEFUL to Euna for taking me around the city like this. She literally researched every single restaurant that we would go to so we could get the best dish that each place offered. Plus, she guided a directionally-challenged, NYC noob like me around for 11 hours. So even if I do get a little fatter because of her ;), I’m extremely thankful, all the same.
So, let’s get to the food shall we? Euna and I met up in Palisades Park and took the bus into Port Authority; from there we headed downtown. Our first stop was for breakfast at a little restaurant called ‘ino.
‘ino is a really teeny restaurant/bar in the Soho area. How should I describe it? I’d say that it’s almost like a bistro – it’s got coffee, wine, salad, and all the fixings. But instead of French food, ‘ino specializes in Italian food, bruschettas (mini-open faced sandwiches), panino (pressed sandwiches), and tramezzino (crustless sandwiches).
Euna and I decided to get the Bruschetta Plate (4 bruschettas for $10) and halve it, so that we’d get 2 bruschettas each. There were so many choices, but we both went with the ones that sounded the most appealing to us. (Euna is actually an ‘ino veteran, so she knew exactly what she wanted).
When the plate came out, it was a beautiful quartet of delicious toppings on golden, crusty breads.
Mine were the two in the front: ricotta fresca with oven-roasted tomato, and sweet pea and pecorino. Both were excellent – the green bruschetta was salty from the pecorino (it reminded me slightly of a goat cheese), but sweet afterwards from the pea puree. The white bruschetta was reminiscent of a pizza – the ricotta fresca was like a very soft, very mild cream cheese, and the tomato gave it the right amount of fresh acidity to cut through that soft pillowiness. Euna also liked her roasted garlic and rucola oil (the far left) and sweet onion and cacio (far right) bruschetta, although they were messier to eat. I was actually really impressed with the level of toastedness on the bruschetta bread – it was perfectly crunchy, but not hard to bite through or chew at all.
Next, we decided to order the truffled egg toast ($9) and split it between us.
From what we had read on various food blog, if you ever go to ‘ino, this is THE dish to get. Now I wouldn’t say it was foodgasmic, but it was still really good. It was like an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich with and egg in the middle. The bread was a little hard to cut through, but that crustiness was excellent in my mouth. And although the parts covered with just fontina were a little too salty, when we sopped up the yolk with the bread, the egginess helped balance it juuuust right. And isn’t it cute how it looks like a square sunnyside-up egg with the white of the cheese and the yellow of the yolk? :D
So to let ourselves digest, Euna and I walked through Washington Square…
to Union Square to see the farmers’ market. I was actually really excited for this – I love farmers’ markets! Seeing all that organic, fresh, local produce gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Speaking of warm and fuzzy, at the park we saw a bunch of kittens up for adoption.
They were so cute, but it was kind of sad how they were all strays… Most of them were living in the streets until a lady cleaned them up a bit so people would want to bring them home.
A few feet from the kitties, the farmers’ market started. The Union Square farmers’ market was so big! I’ve been to a couple of different ones in Bergen County, but none of them lived up to the size of this one. There was so much variety here too…
Some of the things we saw included:
There were so many different stands, and each of them either sold spring/summer produce (rhubarbs, berries, greens, cucumbers, squashes…) , meat (chicken, beef, seafood, etc.), bread, honey/jams, flowers… It was all a little overwhelming. I ended up buying half a loaf of a multi-grain bread from one of the many bread vendors. I’m looking forward to eating it tomorrow :D
Next on the schedule was DA SURPRISE. I was getting excited – the suspense was building!!
After walking around for a bit, we found it.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t open yet. The sign said that the tea house opens at 2 PM, but at that time it was still about 11 AM – so we decided to wait it out by walking for a bit. But now I knew part of the surprise – I wonder what the rest of it is…?
While tramping around looking for the tea house, we had worked up quite a sweat. So, Euna and I decided to cool off with some ice cream.
Sundaes and Cones is an ice cream store found in the East Village; it’s a store owned by Asians that specializes in unique, seasonal flavors. They’ve got all the regular ice creams like strawberry and cookies n’ cream, but they often have flavors like wasabi, ginger, green tea, red bean, and taro. I sampled a bit of the corn before deciding what I wanted. It was a very subtle corn flavor, with real corn kernels scattered throughout the ice cream.
BUT in the end, I decided on black sesame.
OMYGOSH IT WAS SO DELICIOUS. First of all, you guys have to understand that I love Asian dessert flavors. Sure, I’ll go for the occasional vanilla or chocolate chip, but my obsessive love is reserved for the flavors like green tea, red bean and black sesame. Black sesame in particular. I don’t know how I can convey this to you guys, but I LOVE IT. However, it’s not a very common ice cream flavor, or even a dessert flavor for that matter. So the times when I can get my black sesame fix are few and far between. Last time was when I tried the black sesame ice cream at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.
I’m sorry to all you CICF fans out there, but this black sesame ice cream absolutely owned the Chinatown version. Just looking at it, this one is a lot darker, so you can tell it has more sesame flavor. The S&C black sesame was a lot more intense, with that deep, roasted nutty flavor that I love so much. It was rich and creamy and cold – perfect for a hot day like today. I finished it off faster than Euna finished her scoops of taro ice cream and grapefruit sorbet. I think this cone is going to haunt my dream for weeks…
After taking the last licks of our ice cream, Euna and I contemplated what we should do; we still had about 3 hours to kill before the tea house opened. After a couple of different options were laid on the table, our conversation suddenly turned to this:
Euna: “You know, Momofuku Ssam Bar isn’t that far from here…”
Me: -o-; “Are you saying that you want to eat the lunch special at Momofuku..?”
Euna: “Yeah, maybe.. I’m actually not that full right now.”
Me: “Neither am I… but Euna! We must resist! Or else we won’t have room for the other stuff!”
Euna: >< “I know… But I want Momofuku sooo bad!”
Me: “… Do you want to just split the Prix Fixe?”
Euna: “YES. LET’S DO IT.”
So that’s how we went on an impromptu trip to Momofuku Ssam Bar. SO ALRIGHT, WE’RE FATASSES. WE KNOW. But that doesn’t change the fact we had a damn good lunch :D
Both of us had actually been to Momofuku Ssam Bar before for Euna’s birthday, but this was the first time that we were going during the day. Like most restaurants, Momofuku has a lunch special on weekdays, and you can get some of their best dishes for considerably lower of a price.
We got a few of the same dishes as before, but I think it wasn’t even better this time around. Maybe it’s because today we had it all to ourselves :D
As an appetizer we decided to get the pork buns.
I’m not going to lie – this was probably the fattiest thing I had all day. It’s pork belly (i.e. sam gyup sal) for Pete’s sake; there is an entire LAYER of FAT sitting on the pork meat. But was it good? Oh yes, YOU CAN BET YOUR LIFE ON IT. The bun actually wasn’t overwhelming fatty at all because the meat was so well cooked. Not only that, but the cucumber and the scallions helped cut through the fat and the hoisin sauce gave it a distinctive sweetness. Euna ate hers plain, but I added a little Sriracha sauce onto my pork bun because I liked the extra heat and the way the sweet and spicy mixed together. All this, wrapped in a pillowy, soft mantou bun… it was sheer, porky bliss.
Next to come out was our main course: the spicy pork sausage and rice cakes.
I’ve already reviewed this in my previous Momofuku post, but let me tell you.. THIS WAS SOO GOOD. It’s pretty much ddukbbokgee taken to newer and greater heights. David Chang has taken this common Korean street food and elevated it to levels of deliciousness that it never DREAMED it could attain. The pieces of dduk were crispy on the outside, but chewy on the inside, and each piece was coated with the spicy sauce. Oh my gosh, the way my teeth broke past that crunch exterior into that soft interior… ASDJLAKSDJKLASJLAKJ IT WAS AMAZING. The vegetables and the pork balanced each other nicely so that neither overwhelmed the other – it was a perfect dish.
At this point, I don’t know if it was the carb-overload from the rice cake dish, but Euna and I were both getting pretty full. We couldn’t finish the main course :( I had to watch sadly as the waiter whisked that ddukbokgee goodness away from me, bemoaning the limited space of my stomach.
But I was cheered up 5 mintues later because the dessert had… BLACK SESAME!
I guess you could say this was an echo of our ice creams at Sundaes and Cones – they were both cold, frozen sweets with sesame and grapefruit. But it wasn’t repetitive at all. What I love about Momofuku is the perfect balance they achieve in their dishes. This particular dessert was tart from the grapefruit, salty from the Ritz cracker crust, sweet (because it was a tart, duh), and nutty from the black sesame. I’m telling you, all of those flavors in one spoonful created a SYMPHONY in my mouth. Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish this either. I gave up as soon as I scraped off all the black sesame from the plate.
After our lunch, we headed over right down the street to Momofuku Milk Bar where I got a compost cookie for my sister and we marveled at the crazy things that are thought up in David Chang’s brain.
When Euna and I left the Milk Bar, we were both pretty freaking full. So we decided to walk it off and do some shopping – we ended up at a music store that sells only indie/underground music.
It was really cool – there was so much interesting music, and everyone who worked there were hippies/stoners.
After walking around some more, it ended up being past 2 o’clock, so we headed back to Cha-An for the REAL surprise this time around.
Also in the East Village, Cha-An was my favorite out of all the places that we visited today. It was a legit tea house, with a real tea room, excellent tea, and an all-female staff who are all fluent in Japanese. This place even has an actual tea room in one corner of the restaurant, where they hold actual tea ceremonies.
The atmosphere is amazing – everything is so authentically Japanese, from the decor to the food. Unfortunately I didn’t even get to look at the menu because Euna sent me to the bathroom while she ordered DA SURPRISE.
When I came back, the waitress brought this to the table:
This drink is actually a play on the classic root-beer float. Instead of root-beer, there’s an iced matcha tea, and the adzuki beans are the “ice cream” of this dish. And boy, did this hit the spot. It was so cold and refreshing after walking around in the afternoon heat. The matcha tea had a really good green tea flavor, with nuances of bitterness that was tempered by the sweet adzuki beans.
I thought this was it for DA SURPRISE, but then the waitress brought another dish.
I DIED AND WENT TO BLACK SESAME HEAVEN. That is literally what happened as I ate this creme brulee. The tuile on top was sweet, but the whole sesame seeds gave it a very pronounce sesame flavor – plus it was very crispy, and provided textural contrast against the other components of the dish. The ice cream underneath was a nice temperature and flavor change – although it was sesame ice cream, it wasn’t like the one at Sundaes and Cones. Instead of being all sesame, this was a vanilla ice cream with ribbons of sesame running through it – this stopped the dessert from being too black sesame-y. And the creme brulee on the bottom… Words can’t even describe it. This was actually my first time eating a creme brulee, so I OOOHed and AAAHed as I cracked the top shell. The burnt sugar flavor supported the black sesame custard underneath it really well. And the custard wasn’t heavy at all – it was almost pudding-esque or mousse-y; very light and smooth but with AMAZING black sesame taste. I loved this dish – it became my favorite dessert after one bite. I LOVE YOU EUNA FOR DISCOVERING THIS PLACE!
GO TO CHA-AN; it’s a unique dining experience that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else, and the desserts are excellent. Next time I go to the city with my family, I’m definitely bringing my mom and my sister here.
After shopping around Soho, Euna and I decided to go for an early dinner before we headed back to NJ. So we went to the store for all things Spanish, Despaña.
This store is as close to Spain as you’re going to get without crossing the Atlantic Ocean. And yes, it is a store.
You can see in the background all the olive oils, balsamic vinegars, sardines, and other stuff the owners had brought in from Spain. Not only that, but this place has Spanish cheeses, Spanish drinks, and Spanish cured meats.
They also have a little eating area when you can try some of their tapas.
They have 4 different types of tortilla (which are actually more like frittata), flan, salads, and all types of bruschetta like things, topped with everything from fish, to croquettes, to cured Spanish hams and sausages.
For the first of my tapas, I got los boquerones.
You would think that these would be very fishy because of the anchovies, but the fish taste was very slight. Instead, it was very acidic because of the marinade, and there were strong notes of vinegar and lemon. The tomato also helped cut through the fishes oiliness. A little too sharp and salty for my tastes, but I enjoyed it.
My 2nd tapas was los pulpos:
Like the Greek octopus dish, this tapa was also very – there’s almost no chew to these octopi. Instead, the’re a fall-apart-in-your-mouth tender, and slightly smoky from the Spanish paprika. Again, it was a little too salty, but the potatoes helped with their supportive starchiness.
The tapas came with a couple of slices of a not-very-good, crusty bread. But they gave me a reason to try out the olive oil at our table.
Like I said, the bread was pretty crappy. It was chewy and tough, and it didn’t have a lot of flavor either. But on the other hand, the olive oil had TONS of flavor. It was reaaaally green, greener than it came out in the picture. It had a very fruity taste with a slight bitterness that was almost grassy – it actually reminded me of the bitter notes in wheatgrass.
If I had to pick a low point of our fooding tour, I would Despaña was it. But you have to remember, this place is a store, and not a restaurant. They specialize in the ingredients, not the actual preparing of the food; all things considered their tapas aren’t that bad.
After our meal at Despaña, I was stuffed. But Euna though that we should go to the Breslin Bar & Dining Room to try the foodgasmic dessert that she had described to me before. And since we were in the city, why not? So, we took the subway uptown and hit the Breslin for dessert.
The Eton Mess was another type of dessert that I had never tried before. It was a fluffy, lemony meringue sitting atop a coconut sorbet, and garnished with pineapple and mint. I like the sorbet the best, because even though there was no dairy, the natural richness from the coconut made it taste almost like ice cream. The meringue contrasted the sorbet well, with it light airiness that was crispy on the outside but almost slightly chewy on the inside. It dissolved in your mouth the second it hit your tongue, which was pretty cool. The meringue was a little too sweet for me, but the coconut sorbet helped temper the sweetness. This dessert was pretty much a gussied-up, deconstructed piña colada but not in the fake coconut, overly sweet way.
After that, we FINALLY headed back to Port Authority to get on our bus home. It was an amazing day full of great eats, and once again, I thank Euna for planning everything :D
I know, I know you’re shocked. I kinda am too – there was stuff I ate today that I hadn’t eaten in AGES (FATTY PORK BELLY??!). It seems to happen everytime I go to the city to eat with Euna… Lol, but I don’t mind. Everyone needs a day when they can relax and eat without worrying about calories, to just enjoy the taste of their food. Besides, we did a TON of walking today – I’m sure that helped a lot because I wasn’t even that stuffed when I got home.
But I’ll admit, it’s been a pretty indulgent week for me, with graduation, and barbecues, and all that good summer stuff… I’ve been running low on time too, so I haven’t really been working out for the past few days, which DOES upset me :( But starting from tomorrow I’m going to get into my healthy mode. When you let yourself indulge like this, you can’t beat yourself up for it and regret what you ate. You just have to get back on track the next day! So I’ll be back to blogging about healthy stuff tomorrow – I’ll see you then :)
P.S. You’ll notice I changed my blog name. I thought it was clever when I thought of it, so I decided to switch it up :D