Tuesday, January 5

BRRRR it's finally winter

for Christmas, my sister gave me the Flexitarian diet book in an attempt to help me lose weight and facilitate my conversion to vegetarianism.  in the spirit of the new year, i decided to go for its 5-week diet menu with as much gusto as i can physically and monetarily accomplish.

which is how i found myself at Rego Park Center on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. worst mistake ever.  no surprise that the place was completely packed, as most people would think to go grocery shopping on Sunday, before the week starts. but when you team a Costco and an Aldi's in the same shopping complex, expect chaos to reign. Aldi's is on the 1st floor and Costco is on the basement level. if you make the unfortunate decision to park in the basement level and would like a shopping cart for your Aldi's shopping needs, be prepared to wait for an elevator.  there was actually a ridiculous line for the 1 working elevator. and of course, as happens all the time, there will always be assholes who attempt to cut the line, as if the rules of society and civilization don't apply to them. 

after surviving the hell and nightmare of that ordeal, we headed over to Trader Joe's in Forest Hills. because i like to make myself suffer. our entire trip was probably 35 minutes. 20 minutes to get there. 15 minutes inside the poorly laid out store, where the lines are outrageous, and because of the exorbitantly long lines, it's impossible to shop for anything in the aisles. i grabbed a free turkey chili sample and bolted out of there. it made me deeply appreciate the Trader Joe's on Atlantic near my apartment for the efficiency of their layout.

since we were in Forest Hills, Sandlot was clamoring for a stop at Eddie's Sweet Shop, the oldest ice cream shop in New York. however, since Sandlot's lactose intolerant, he needed to fortify his stomach before he filled it with lactose. luckily, there was a pizzeria just down the block so we stopped in for lunner/dinch. 

Dante's Pizza is clearly a local pizzeria. sparse decoration, the old school orange plastic booths and tables. clearly most of their business is delivery and take-out. the regular cheese slice had a layer of glistening grease on top, so i opted for the spinach mushroom slice instead, extra crispy. the mushrooms were canned (which i secretly like more than fresh) and the toppings were abundant, covering every inch of the slice. aside from a wish for more sauce, i was pretty satisfied with it overall. and they did the extra crispy request perfectly.

Sandlot got a meatball hero (no cheese), which was good if not generic. he also felt they were a little stingy with the sauce. but otherwise, no complaints about the food.

my only really complaint is that our entire meal was $14. the hero was $7 and my bottle of diet dr. pepper was $2. which made my slice $4-5. yikes.

next we walked over to a completely empty Eddie's Sweet Shop. the decor borders between nostalgic and old-like-it-needs-to-be-renovated. 3 teenage kids were hanging out behind the counter. friendly and attentive enough, although their presence seems contrary to the nostalgia of the place.  especially as they played songs from their iPod over the speakers i.e. hotline bling.

full from our prior meal, we each ordered a single scoop sundae: strawberry with hot fudge and vanilla with hot fudge and walnuts. the strawberry ice cream was average, without the frozen strawberries or homemade taste i tend to like. the color was that processed bright pink that blares unnatural. the vanilla on the other hand was pretty good, as was the hot fudge, although based on the yelp pictures i had expected some more of it. the walnuts were finely chopped, which was a nice touch. and the whip cream was definitely abundant. although by the end i was feeling a little whip-creamed out.

$13.75 for 2 scoops and 3 toppings is a little steep, but i guess it's worth it to sit in a part of history. once.

Thursday, November 5

getting vegucated about the cowspiracy

i recently watched 2 documentaries on Netflix: Vegucated, about 3 New Yorkers attempting a vegan diet for 6 weeks and the education provided by the documentarian about the environmental and humanity reasons for the lifestyle; and Cowspiracy, an environmentalist documentary about the huge detrimental impact animal husbandry and fishing has on our environment.

both documentaries shed a lot of light on how much of a detrimental impact humans make to sustain an omnivorous diet.  ultimately, both documentaries conclude that a vegan lifestyle, wherein animals are not raised in mass quantities for human consumption, including milk and eggs, is the best solution.

like the participants in Vegucated, i've never been able to understand vegans. vegetarians, i get (a little) but veganism seemed so extreme.  however, these documentaries point out how little we, at the top of the food chain, have to do in order to help the environment by embracing a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. our only sacrifice is what we ingest. it's really not that hard when you weight the benefit to the environment vs. my sacrifice to not eat delicious yummy proteins.

so, beginning November, Sandlot and i decided to give vegetarianism a try. it's week one, but we've already gone all-in with commitment. the only animal items we're allowed to eat are eggs and dairy and we went on a massive grocery shop in order to feed our new diet and avoid temptations.

Sandlot likes Aldi's vs. Trader Joe's, and since they're technically related companies (owned by brothers, each running one entity), i decided to give it a shot. Trader Joe's has an abundance of vegetarian and vegan options, primarily in the frozen foods section, but still a very varied selection. alternatively, Aldi's doesn't really have a lot of vegetarian/vegan meat alternatives, although their gluten-free options are very abundant.  we left with lots of beans varieties and cheeses.

to supplement our choices, we stopped into Costco, located in the same shopping complex.  although i was expecting more options, Costco's choices weren't disappointing. in terms of ethnic vegetarian food e.g. hummus, stuffed grape leaves, cheeses, tofu, there's definitely a lot of choice.  in the frozen foods section, there were some choices e.g. vegetarian quiches, edamame, vegetable ravioli, but the big ticket items i was hoping for like tempeh and soy hot dogs were sorely missed. we did pick up some Morningstar Chipotle Black Bean Burgers, which i have yet to try but which Sandlot says is surprisingly tasty. still tastes like a veggie burger, but the chipotle aspect helps to add some nice smoky flavor.

so far, we've been making most of our meals and lunches at home and have been doing well with options and variety. but then again, it's been less than a week so far....

Tuesday, September 1

東北 cuisine

before Sandlot and i started dating, i didn't spend a lot of time in Flushing. the most exposure i would get would be when my parents went to visit our relatives in Fresh Meadows. and when we went out to restaurants with them, i never really paid attention to the restaurant we went to/the food that we ate because i was in perpetual "little kid" mode, where you just tag along to wherever your parents take you and eat whatever they order for you.

now that i'm older, i'm appreciating the restaurants and cuisines my elders are taking me to, like Golden Palace. Golden Palace serves northern Chinese cuisine, which i have no knowledge about, except to say, after tasting it, that it varies in its use of vegetables and the way it prepares its dishes and meats. well, that and it's delicious.

if you're looking for savory, full flavored punch in your food, then  東北 cuisine is definitely the way to go. they have a Spiced Beef Shank ($10.99) which is a specialty of the house and is only available for a limited number of servings a day. it's available warmed or cold. although usually i would opt for the warm version, the cold version is just as good. although the meat's been cooked, cooled, and then sliced, it retains a moist texture. with the accompanying garlic soy sauce, it's hearty and delicious.

similarly, the 大拉皮 Green Bean Sheet Jelly ($9.99) is a tart and cooling dish with cucumbers and carrots, like a cold salad. The 尖椒肥腸 Intestines in Fresh Hot Pepper ($8.99) packs a punch of spice and is a great accompaniment with rice. fair warning, the green peppers are very spicy.  

One of our favorite dishes was 酸菜粉絲 Sour Cabbage with Vermicelli ($7.99). the stir fried sour cabbage provides instant umami inside your mouth, and the vermicelli adds heft and contrasting texture to the crunchiness of the cabbage.

an interesting dish is the 血肠 Blood Sausage. i've never encountered it before, although Uncle informed me it is a very authentic dish that has died out in most restaurants. it's essentially a sausage casing filled with pigs' blood that is steamed and then sliced. it's served with a garlic soy dipping sauce. i love eating offal, but i found the texture of the dish... unpleasant. the inside is just too mushy and off-putting for me to enjoy.

there are also some dishes that, unfortunately, i can't recall the name of but are a house specialty. a vegetarian stir fry consisting of wood ear mushrooms, bean sprouts, and carrots is served with handmade pancakes, raw sliced scallions, and the brown sauce usually served with Peking duck to be wrapped like a tiny burrito. every table orders this dish so i recommend giving it a shot. if anything, you'll feel healthier for having done so.

Dishes we could have done without: 焦溜茄子 Eggplant with Brown Sauce ($7.99). i'm a huge fan of eggplant, and while the eggplant was properly tender, the dish felt overly greasy and lacked the flair of the other dishes. a similar problem occurred with the 回鍋肉 Sautéed Sliced Pork w. Pepper & Chili $8.99). the 蒜蓉空心菜 Sauteed Chinese Watercress with Garlic ($9.99) lacked any uniqueness of flavor, but then again, it was mainly ordered to provide some much needed green vegetables to our growing table of dishes.  Uncle was a big fan of the 肉絲炒乾豆角 Sautéed Sliced Pork w. Tofu ($12.99) but i found it a bit salty. according to him, the dish was extremely authentic and i did like the dried tofu sheets, which i rarely see used in the Chinese cuisine served at restaurants. 

another warning: the portions at this restaurant are pretty epic. my mother's side of the family tends to over-order when they go out, but our table was pretty daunting and the servers kept running out of room to put each new dish that arrived. which reminds me: the service is friendly but not the best. it seems to be 1 waiter and 1 busser for the entire restaurant, and neither can keep up with the speed in which the dishes come out of the kitchen. so be prepared to have empty dirty plates on your table for the duration of your meal or to have clean plates stacked upon old empty dirty plates.

as if we hadn't stuffed ourselves enough, after finding out that they make their dumplings fresh on the premises, Uncle ordered a plate of 三鮮水餃(蒸) Seafood Dumplings with Pork ($8.99). as with all dumplings that are freshly made, the filling was succulent and juicy, and the skin retained the fresh dough snap, although a little on the thicker side.

Wednesday, August 19

One of my favorite videos.

i saved this link as an, "i'll come back to this and share it" sort of thing.

which i did.

but, i could never get myself to delete the link from my Favorites. and i always watch it every time i stumble upon it.

it makes me happy.

Thursday, July 16

mixing business and pleasure

i freely admit that i'm weird. 

i have a weird stance/posture about certain things that others take for granted.  for instance, i am not the most comfortable about mixing business matters and personal matters. i mean, i'm fine with the occasional happy hour, a co-worker's birthday, but it takes a special person/connection for me to discuss my personal life or invite them to a personal event.

usually i don't have to worry much about it and i'm more than capable of navigating a work happy hour. but every once in a while, the 2 spheres cross paths. like when my boss tells my group he has extra tickets to a client's son's concert and asks us to go.

what're you gonna do? say no to your boss? i don't think so.

the concert starts at 8 pm. which turns into dinner beforehand. where we invite our significant others and family members.


and then the jackass you work with suggests eating at Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse because it's right next to the concert venue. and your boss LOVES the idea. and so now you are roped into going to an overpriced kitschy steakhouse that will not be expensed which means you'll have to pay. and to top it all off, the jackass that suggested the restaurant tells everyone he can't go. jackass.

and now you have to invite Sandlot to the work event because your other co-worker, the one who you have a social connection with outside of work, has told your boss about him. and you start getting a small bout of anxiety akin to introducing your significant other to your parents for the first time but on a much smaller scale because you CARE what your boss and co-workers think about your relationship, but not THAT much.

of course, as i'm sure you know, everything worked out fine. 

in general, it was a good time. overpriced, but good. sometimes awkward, but good. 

as for Sammy's, it's an event to get tucked under your belt if you like meats, have a nostalgia for staple Jewish cuisine, and are a New Yorker. definitely not a romantic dinner option. and lots of birthdays, engagements, bachelor/bachelorette parties. so get ready for some drunk screaming and yelling. drinks are ridiculously pricey so get ready to just give in and get wasted, because if you're already spending that much, why not?

you start with a bowl of bread, pickles, tomatoes, and roasted green peppers. basically, a pickled assortment. which is delicious. my boss wanted full sour pickles, which Sammy's gladly provided.

we ordered a round of appetizers to share, including the Chopped Liver (Sammy's Style) and Romanian Karnatzlack, which appears to be garlicky sausages. the liver was to die for. so creamy, with that unctuous liver flavor that is so satisfying. and yes, there's a table show since it's mixed by hand table side. the karnatzlack was also very good, with a distinct garlic and ground meat flavor. there's quite a few in a single serving, so have more than 1 at your own risk. 

my boss also ordered his own serving of  Kishka, which according to Wikipedia is a "types of sausage or stuffed intestine with a filling made from a combination of meat and meal, often grain." yuuuuu, (insert sarcastic tone here).  i had a bite, and it was ok. definitely very dense and grainy/mealy, but very bland. the taste was more texture than taste.

for entrees, Sandlot ordered the Double Romanian Tenderloin, which is big, but not HUGE. or maybe that's just me being a typical american with ridiculous serving size expectations. it is big enough to share between 2 people, with no leftovers.  the steak was pretty good, and a novelty of sorts.

i ordered the Broiled Veal Chop, which was just meh. the veal chop was crispy on the outside, which resulted in a slightly dry inside. plus, the portion was really 60-70% giant bone vs. meat.  my boss had the Jewish Veal Chop, again because he was hankering for some good ol' Jewish specialty/home cooking. this turned out to be a GIANT serving of breaded and fried veal chop. if ordering, don't make his mistake. make sure to get some sauteed onions and schmaltz on top to give it some more flavor.

to complete the meal, we ordered a side of Latkes and Mashed Potatoes. The latkes was very good, particularly heaped with the accompanying applesauce. The mashed potatoes were, for lack of a better word, meh. pretty bland and requiring a lot of schmaltz and salt and pepper.

basically, go once to say you've done it and then go somewhere else.

Monday, June 8

dim sum is my jam. i have never ever never ever ever said no to eating dim sum.

so when BB's family offered to take us out to dim sum for lunch, i was delighted! at their suggestion, we went to The Grand at the New World Mall. i never even knew there was a restaurant located there, aside from the extensive food court in the basement!

luckily BB's cousin goes to The Grand frequently and gets the VIP treatment, so we didn't have to wait to be seated. the line looked moderate when we arrived around 12:30 p.m., but it blew up when we left about 45 mins-1 hour later.

overall, the food was good at The Grand, and everything was served fresh and hot. however, the ladies pushing the carts seem to hate doing their job and never want to stop at your table. when you do get their attention, they want to drop their item and leave ASAP. we had to stop more than 1 cart lady from leaving before we could ask for additional items from her cart.

now that i think about, it seems that none of their employees seem to want to do their jobs. BB's parents wanted to order a crispy noodle dish, so we flagged one of the waiters near us to order. she asked if we wanted to settle our check and i advised her that we wanted to order a dish instead. to which she responded that she couldn't do that.

ok, i can accept that. it's a very large banquet hall with a large and quick turnover for dim sum. perhaps her sole purpose is to quickly settle up checks for tables so new customers can be seated. so imagine my surprise when she made the biggest stinkface and exasperated sigh when we asked her to settle our check and gave her our credit card.

lastly, i was surprised with the lack of options being carted around. i'm not sure if it's because the hall is too big, but there were some main/usual dim sum characters that never made it to our table e.g. shrimp balls, shrimp crepes, turnip cake.

however, the service issues aside, the food wasn't bad, and there were some interesting options. not sure if i'll make it back, especially with that food court located right below it.

Thursday, May 7

a trendier Mission Chinese

i've been horribly remiss in updating this blog. and i don't really have a good excuse for it except to say i am extremely lazy.

i'd been to Mission Chinese when it was located at its former LES location on Rivington (i think that's where it was?) but hadn't been back since they moved. so when a date suggested going there, i was more than happy to give it another shot. i had vague memories of the food being good, if a little salty, and Bubby's lips being burned off her face (figuratively, not literally of course).

perhaps because it was a weekday, and relatively early (6:30ish), we had no problem getting a table although the place was packed and got more so as the night wore on. although there were pockets of couples out for dinner, it seemed like the place was more popular as a foursome or a large group. a smart move because that offers you the option to order more items from the menu.

i let my date do most of the ordering. as i found out through subsequent dates, he has a big hankering for asian fusion food.  he ordered the 2 main staples at Mission: (1) Kung Pao Pastrami (home fries, tianjin chili, celery and peanuts) ($14); and (2) Chongqing Chicken Wings (crispy beef tripe, explosive chili, xinjiang spices) ($13). the wings arrived first, and while yes, they are crispy and yes, the spice is that numbing szechuan spice which can be fun at times, i was reminded of my last visit to the restaurant: SALTY. which was further emphasized with the arrival of the pastrami dish. MORE SALT.  the pastrami had a great chew to it and the potatoes add a balancing starch, but both dishes uses some powdery spice substance that appears to make them super salty. no wonder i drank 4 jamesons before the last 2 dishes arrived.

we also had to wait an inordinate amount of time before we were served the complimentary scrambled eggs gyoza/fried dumplings. an innovative twist, Mission doesn't provide anything as traditional as a bread or crudite service. instead it offers starchy pan-fried goodness in the form of dumplings. 

what i did insist on was a vegetable dish. i'm a big proponent of ordering a balanced meal, which tends to get overlooked when you order the most eye-candy menu items. in order to appease me, we ended up with an order of Black Kale and Pea Greens (bone marrow broth and healthy grains) ($14). ultimately, this was the perfect complement to the rest of the spicy and salty dishes my date ordered. it has a very mild but substantive flavor (is that contradictory? well bully to you, because that's what it tasted like). although i didn't get an overwhelming bone marrow flavor, the broth was a soothing and gentle accompaniment to the greens. 

i can never resist a Salt Cod Fried Rice (chinese sausage, lettuce, egg) ($14), so i was really looking forward to this dish, but Mission's was a huge disappointment. the rice was extremely undercooked which made the whole dish pretty much inedible. furthermore, it didn't have the nice salt cod kick that makes the dish so unique. 

there are so many other dishes on the menu that i'd like to try, so i'm not completely writing Mission off, but i also wonder if it's worth it to go a third time and spend money at a restaurant that, if salty again, i wouldn't be surprised isn't as good as the hype.

fool me once, shame on you. fool me twice...

Monday, March 9

an italian feast at home

this weekend could be called a splurge weekend-at least when it came to food. and to end it all, V and i started Sunday with brunch at Cafe Luluc. i'd always heard great things about their brunch, especially their pancakes, and since V usually has a sweet tooth for breakfast, i figured it'd be a good suggestion.
lo and behold, the one day where V doesn't want to eat too much. turns out he'd had a fast food junket the day before and he wanted to try and eat healthier, a la yogurt and fruit for breakfast. 

however, undeterred, i forged ahead with our walk over to Cafe Luluc. arriving around 11:15 a.m., the wait was a reasonable 10-15 minutes. shortly before 11:30 a.m., we were seated at the counter and ready to order. 
a sucker for savory breakfasts, especially eggs benedict, it's no surprise i ordered the eggs benedict with smoked salmon ($10). it's served with french fries (hooray! i'm actually not a big fan of homefries-i always prefer french fries) and a small salad. overall, i wasn't that impressed with their dish. the eggs were overcooked and the salmon portion was meager. 
courtesy of blissfuleats.com
V on the other hand ordered the goat cheese and spinach quiche, which was a special for the day. the spinach was well seasoned and was perfectly paired with the creamy saltiness of the goat cheese. also served with french fries and a small salad. this was clearly the winner amongst our 2 dishes.
their service was impeccable and friendly, even though the restaurant was overwhelminingly full with diners. i also noticed that they have dinner specials Monday-Thursday and Sunday which were interesting, especially the drinks specials (all $5). definitely worth looking into.

you would think that after such a bountiful brunch, V and i would've relegated ourselves to a light dinner. but V, who clearly possesses the metabolism of a teenage boy, was already planning our dinner before we'd even left Cafe Luluc.
his interest had been piqued for Durso's Pasta & Ravioli Company after seeing it featured on Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. and so a few hours later, we found ourselves at the quaint italian shop purchasing the featured osso bucco ravioli and accompanying osso bucco sauce. to add carb on top of carb, V purchased half a dozen garlic knots ("to soak up the sauce" he said). in an attempt to balance out our carb feast, i got a half pound of broccoli rabe sauteed with garlic and some hot peppers.
in total, we spent about $50 for dinner for the both of us, which included all of the above and a box of lobster ravioli and spicy fra diavolo sauce. the osso bucco with the accompanying sauce was pretty epic. the sauce isn't a traditional red sauce, but instead more of a gravy which accents the taste of the ravioli perfectly. plus those garlic knots were heavenly with a strong garlic scent but not an overpowering garlic flavor. and it really was the perfect vehicle to sop up that amazing sauce.