Friday, January 30, 2009

Halal Guys

I've eaten so much street food in New York I figured it's time to write a post about one of my favorite lunch foods. This is probably more interesting for my friends living outside New York because as far as I know, this type of street food/halal food/street meat/whatever you want to call it, is a uniquely New York experience.

I'm lucky to work around the midtown neighborhood where the famous 53rd St. Halal Guys cart is located (on the south east corner of 53rd & 6th during the day, and on the south west corner of 53rd & 6th during the night). There are many reasons why I like it, and eat it about once a week - it's cheap, tasty, very spicy, filling and a perfect blend of nutrition.

I usually order the combo platter with rice, it's chicken & lamb over yellow basmati rice, with a side of salad with "white sauce" and hot sauce, with a few pieces of pita bread. I did some research on what the white sauce is, apparently it's just vinegar & Mayonnaise, I always just assumed it's tahini sauce but I am sure every cart has a slight variation. The hot sauce from the Halal Guys cart is quite spicy, so be warned.

Is the 53rd St. Halal Guys cart that much superior over the others? Frankly, I can't really tell. But the 53rd St. Halal Guys cart was voted the best by the midtown lunch crowd, so if you are ever in the neighborhood, why not try the best..?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hakato Ippudo

I've tried a lot of different ramen places in New York, and hands down Hakata Ippudo is my favorite. Hakata Ippudo opened its only branch outside of Japan last year.

Since my first visit at Hakata Ippudo in March 2008, I get hit by frequent Hakata Ippudo ramen cravings, particularly on weekend mornings, which is also the best time to go there. They don't take reservations, and during prime dinner hours, it's very packed and the waiting time can be as long as 1-2 hours. But fear not, if you ever have to wait and you manage to squeeze yourself into the bar, order the pork buns. It's a slightly stingy slice of chasu with a piece of cabbage. I usually ask for the chili sauce (Sriracha), add a bit of that and I've got myself a great way to coat my stomach while waiting.

While doing some reading before writing up this entry, I learned that Hakata ramen originated from Fukuoka prefacture. What makes the soup so great is that the pork bones are thrown in and it is slowly cooked over high heat, the richness of the soup comes from the bone marrow (I'm salivating as I am writing this). The two signature ramen dishes at Hakata Ippudo are the Shiromaru Classic and the Akamaru Modern. The Shioramaru Classic is the original recipe with Berkshire pork chasu, scallion & cabbage. It is flavorful, satisfying and the pork chasu just melts in your mouth. The Akamaru modern, which is my favorite, is basically the Shiromaru Classic plus their "secret sauce". I don't know what the "secret" in the sauce is, and frankly, I don't care, all I know is I LOVE IT, to the point of addiction. I also love the noodles, which is thin and firm. You can order extra noodles, and they will only bring them to you when you are about done with your current portion because it gets soggy if it sits in the soup for too long. Brilliant!

I've also tried the kakuni which comes with daikon raddish in soy sauce & wasabi sauce. The shrimp in mayo is also good, somehow fried shrimp and Japanese mayo make so much sense together. The matcha green tea creme brulee is a nice way to end the meal on a high note!

More Hakata Ippudo Pictures

Address: Ippudo, 65 4th Ave, New York, NY 10003

Saturday, January 24, 2009


When you walk into Bobo on the second floor of a brownstone right off 7th Avenue, it's like walking into someone's apartment, circa 1900. It's filled with antique furniture, but not in a bad way. It's candlelit, intimate and you are instantly transported from the chaos on 7th avenue into another place and time.

When we went at 9pm, the restaurant was surprisingly only semi filled. For appetizers, we had crispy veal sweetbread (with pear, guanicale, collard greens & verjus) and potato gnocchi (with smoked bacon, cranberries & pecorino). The appetizers were great, especially the sweetbread, it was deep fried but not greasy, and the collard greens were delicious. The potato gnocchi was creamy & tasty, albeit a teeny bit too salty. We were off to a great start, I was excited about the entrées.

By the time the entrées arrived, it was close to 10pm and the restaurant was buzzing. In fact, every table was filled, and it got louder and louder. For entrées, we had duo of cod (with crispy pork, pickles & hazelnut mustard) & the skate wing (with sunchoke fondue, broccoli rabe & pomegranate). I have to say, for me, the entrées fell flat. The cod was served in two ways: fried cod fritter and seared cod. I just came back from Portugal so the fried cod fritter did not impress (the Portugese does it so much better), and the seared cod was forgettable. The skate wing was marginally better but unimaginative, it did not impress.

By the time we finished the entrées, I was eager to get out of the restaurant because the English dude next to us who was trying very hard to impress his girlfriend's mom was SO LOUD I could hear his entire life story. I was in the annoyed mode, plus the service was getting lousier and lousier as they incapable of coping with the volume. Coffee, while good, took about half an hour to arrive, and the quaint antique chairs, while charming to begin with, were starting to hurt my dining companion's larger posterior (in his own words).

The bar downstairs was also hopping when we left, maybe Bobo is a better place for drinks, food wise, I think it has a long way to go.

Interestingly, they billed us $1 each for tap water described as "water charity" on the bill, which was puzzling. Later I read in that the proceeds go to build wells in Ethiopia. Now I wish more restaurants would do that...

More Bobo Pictures

Address: Bobo, 181 W. 10th St., New York, NY 10014

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I'm one of those people who feels weird if I don't hop on a plane to go to a new place every once in a while. Essentially, I'm cursed (or blessed, depending on where you are coming from) with a travel-itch.

Over the Martin Luther King long weekend, I went to Portugal. I was exited to get the hell out of New York because it was freezing (single digit in Fahrenheit)! Lisbon's weather forecast was 15 degress celsius, I was thrilled! I flew to Munich (Lufthansa had a sale and I was being cheap, hence the circuitous route). I had 30 minutes to run to the other terminal, which you would have thought might have been too little time, and by the time I got to the gate...uh oh....problemo! It wasn't that the plane left, in fact, it didn't even show up because it was foggy and snowing in Munich. So they re-booked me on a later flight out on TAP Portugal, I had close to 3 hours to kill in Munich airport, and discovered that Munich airport is great! Free coffee, free tea, free newspapers and they gave me 10 euros for lunch.

Long story short, I got to Lisbon a few hours later than expected but I got there. I checked into Sweethome Hospedagem, a guest house owned by a brother and sister. The guest house wasn't busy since it was the low season, only one other room was occupied. In fact, the next day, those folks checked out and I was the only person staying in the guest house for the next three nights. If it wasn't for the fact that I kept reading about the earthquake of 1755 that wiped out 1/3 of the population in Lisbon, I wouldn't be so freaked out. Not to mention, they don't have central heating in the older buildings in Lisbon, so besides my room which has a space heater, I was greeted by sobering chilled air whenever I stepped out to the bathroom/living room.

The craziest thing that happened on this trip was that Julia (a Romanian lady that I met on my excursion trip to Sintra on the second day) was almost pickpocketed by three young girls in Alfama (the oldest part of Lisbon town). The three girls approached us (Romanian lady Julia, Italian girl Melissa and me) with a map and asked us about the big castle, we kept telling them that it was closed but they shoved the map under Julia's face and tried to open the slingbag hanging infront of her. Luckily Julia felt the tug on her bag and caught them with her wallet half way out of the bag. Melissa and I were oblivious because they crowded around Julia and we didn't see what was going. Gosh, that was close. I reminded myself to be extra careful for the rest of the trip. I was told that Lisbon is fairly safe except for some petty crimes.

Lisbon is charming, it's understated compared to Spain. The city is filled with old buildings with mosaic tiles on their facades. The city is lined with cobble stone streets, and they love their statues, squares and parks in Lisbon. On every other block, you'll find a statue in a little square. The food is delicious, especially the seafood. I tried the salted cod (Bacalhau) fritters, grilled sardines, pork Alentejo (pork stewed with clams and herbs), spit roast chicken, seafood stew (a Nazare specialty) but my absolute favorite was the Pastel de Nata (custard tart, or in Asia, egg tart). The most famous place selling Pastel de Nata is Pasteis de Belem, right next to Jeronimos Monastery. It's crispy on the outside, and the custard is not too sweet, when you bite into the warm custart tart, it's just...PERFECT. I had two of those with a cup of espresso, and I bought two more for the road, I was in heaven.

Lisbon is fairly cheap compared to other Western Europe cities. If you plan carefully, you can avoid paying a lot of entrance fees. Some places are free on Sunday mornings, some will waive the fee or charge you half the price if you have a student ID. Public transportation is cheaper than other European cities as well, a full day pass costs 4 euro, which can be used on the metro, furniculars, elevadors & buses. My favorite place on this trip was Jeronimos Monastery in Belem, the Manueline architecture was beautiful and there was a mass going on when I went on with a beautiful choir. I explored the cloisters inside the monastery, I instantly felt calm the moment I stepped into the cloisters which was drenched in details. Pena Palace in Sintra was also interesting, it is situated on top of a hill, the view was fantastic and I love the colors. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside, but the palace was filled with very interesting furniture, paintings, collectibles from India, China, Spain, etc.

I'm lazy to write the full travel journal but below are the pictures from this trip with captions. :)

Portugal Photos

Monday, January 12, 2009

Barney Greengrass + Snowday

Last Saturday afternoon a bunch of us "yaokuis" (literally means hungry ghosts) ventured into the Upper West Side to visit The Sturgeon King aka Barney Greengrass. This establishment has been around for 100 years, it's an old school deli + restaurant all in one. Now, Barney Greengrass is not just a regular deli, they specialize in smoked fish. Wipe away the image of the kind of deli where you would go for a lunch sandwich, instead, imagine Katz's Deli but a more high-end version and you have *drum roll* Barney Greengrass.

We went a little overboard and ordered a whole lot of food:
- Nova Scotia Salmon Scrambled with Eggs and Onions
- Sturgeon Scrambled with Eggs and Onions
- A Combination of Sturgeon and Nova Scotia Salmon Scrambled with Eggs & Onions
- Matzoh Ball soup
- Challah French Toast
- Latkes with sour cream & apple sauce
- Smoked sable & sturgeon platter
- Carbs! (Bagels & bialys)

They were all great. The matzoh ball soup had "comfort food" written all over it, you could taste the real chicken stock in the soup. As for the eggs, all the variations were great. I've never had latkes before until my friend O.Y. ordered it, it's basically potato pancakes, with sour cream and apple sauce on the side. The challah french toast was not the best I've ever had but it was still awesome, especially for someone with a sweet tooth like me. Total damage to the wallet was close to $40 per person. That's some seriously expensive deli food.

By the time we finished lunch, it started snowing. We decided to weather the cold and went to Central Park to take some pictures/play in the snow. It was FREEZING, but it was fun. We ended the afternoon with tea at Tafu. There's nothing like a cup of warm tea to defrost my fingers & toes. Tafu is a cute little place that serves Japanese tea & Japanese desserts. It's small, and you can only sit along the bar against the window, there were exactly 4 seats in there.

I had a great day -> good food + good friends, I couldn't ask for more...

Barney Greengrass pictures
NYC Snow Day pictures
Tafu pictures

Address: Barney Greengrass,541 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10024
Address: Tafu, 569 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10022

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Tailor is a restaurant tucked in a corner of Soho. It's the brainchild of Sam Mason, the ex-pastry chef at WD-50. If you are familiar with WD-50, you know where this is going. Tailor is a place to go if you want to try "experimental cooking" by exploring the possibilities of sweet & savory combinations. I read some reviews prior to going and they were mixed. I had a feeling that this is the kind of place you either love or hate. But hey, if someone can make me change my mind about mustard ice cream, I'm all up for it!

Started with a foie gras terrine with plum and nasturtium. It was delightful, the sweetness of the plum and the richness of the foie gras terrine was a great combination. I can't recall what the little rice crispy looking thing was, but I remembered liking the texture of it.

My second dish was the skate frites with tater tots, malt vinegar mayo and sweet ketchup. The skate frites was crispy on the top and the fish itself was fresh, soft and had the slightly stringy texture of skate. The tater tots were also great, though it's hard to screw up tater tots. I thought the description of "sweet ketchup" was a little bit strange, I mean, isn't all ketchup sweet? He didn't just invent sweet ketchup, right??

For dessert I had the mango ravioli with black rice ice cream, cilantro and coconut. It was actually a little anti-climatic. It was good, not great. The mango ravioli was interesting texture wise, it's like a thick jello.

All in all, I gave it a 7.5 out of 10.

Address: Tailor, 525 Broome Street | New York, NY, 10013

Friday, January 9, 2009

15 East

15 East is my current sushi restaurant of choice. My all time favorite sushi restaurant is still Sushi Yasuda, mainly because prior to Sushi Yasuda, sushi was just sushi to me. After dining at Sushi Yasuda, I became a "sushi-snob". It was Yasuda-san who showed me what a real piece of oh-toro is (screaming inside my head: Ohhh! Toro!!!). After my first dinner at Sushi Yasuda, I concluded that "Oh wow this is amazing"; after the second time I dined at Sushi Yasuda, it was a foregone conclusion - I LOVE SUSHI. Subsequently, whenever I went and got seated by Yasuda-san, we would chat about anything but the food. I sat there, he brought me whatever, I ate the whatever he put on my plate, but it's the best whatever ever!

Ok, I am digressing. My point is, 15 East is a close second to Sushi Yasuda in my opinion. Do try to get a seat at the sushi bar by Masato-san, he's a pretty fun guy. 15 East is not just a sushi restaurant, they serve cooked food as well, but for cooked food, I personally prefer an izakaya. I did try the Squid Ink Risotto on the dinner menu before, it was very delicious and delicate, but the portion is rather small. You can also do an omakase (chef tasting menu) if you are up are comfortable with the unknown. The decor of the restaurant is minimalist chic, and service is very attentive.

Executive sushi chef - Masato-san

15 East is owned by the same people who opened Tocqueville (which is two doors down). The first time I showed up at 15 East, the table wasn't ready yet so we were sent to Tocqueville for a drink. Note that 15 East has no bar, and only a few seats by the window as their "waiting room". When we showed up at Tocqueville, my dinner companion got a drink, and they brought us some mini cheese puffs (Brazilian pao de queijo) except smaller and oh so delicious! It was warm and the perfect bite-size, I must've eaten about 12 of those before I forced myself to stop. Note to self: must go to Tocqueville, if the menu fails me, I'll load up on the cheese puffs.

Unagi sushi

Tamago sushi (a sweeter version, with a spongecake-type texture)

Heavenly chu-toro (fatty tuna)

More photos of 15 East here.

Address: 15 East, 15 E 15th St, New York, NY 10003

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

My dear friend S.T. scored reservations at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, so last Sunday four us trotted up (since we are going to a farm, I figured we should use some animal term *dork*) to Pocantino Hills to dine at Blue Hill for lunch. While Blue Hill at Stone Barns opened in 2004, they've had an outpost in Manhattan for over 10 years.

It was a gorgeous day - while it was very cold (around 32F), it was also bright and sunny. The restaurant was situated on top of a little grassy knoll, and its decor was surprisingly very minimalistic chic. Our Sunday lunch was a 4-course tasting menu, omakase-style (chef's choice), so you'll get what the chef decides unless you have dietary limitations.

amuse bouche

The first course was a very fresh salad with a mixture of raw and roasted beets, homemade yogurt and pine nuts. I am not a big fan of beets for no apparent reason but the beets were sweet, and the slightly sour yogurt complimented it perfectly.

The second course consisted of purple gnocchi with pecorino cheese, with insane forraged mushrooms, in a black truffle sauce. The mushrooms elicited the first "TDFs!" (to-die-fors) for the afternoon.

The thid course was prime venison rib, on a bed of fresh Brussel sprouts and carrots. I took one look at it and went "uh oh", it's very rare. I am not a big meat eater (I know, so technically I can't call myself a foodie) and no matter how delicious all my dining companions said it was, I only ate the not-so- bloody part because the thought of eating rare meat is really not my thing. I have this image of a cow/deer/pig/whatever standing there with its flesh exposed and I am just biting into it. Ok, fine, I have an overly vivid imagination and I am sure I am missing out on a lot but my point is, I couldn't really enjoy the food. The waiter noticed my dismay and asked why I wasn't eating and after I explained, he promptly offered to find an alternative dish. Again, they have no menu, so it was a vague description of my options: chicken, pork, lamb or fish. I decided on fish (I mean seriously, who eats fish at a landlocked farm??) But dude - the fish was delicious! It was cod lightly seared, accompanied by flavorful brussel sprouts and carrots. Seriously - who usually raves about the brussel sprouts and carrots? In this case, I make an exception - The carrots were so sweet they tasted like sweet potatoes. The entire dish was complimented by a light orange pumpkin based sauce (maybe?) with some other secret ingredients, I'm sure.

For dessert, they brought out apple compote with rum ice cream for the girls and flourless dark chocolate-hazelnut cakes with truffle ice cream for the boys. Both were good, but I thought the apple compote was slightly better. The chocolate dessert was heavy and the truffle ice cream, despite sounding really decadent, was rather bland, though the idea of offsetting the sweetness of the chocolate with a slightly savoury ice cream was innovative and different.

After the food, we went to visit some sheep, chickens and pigs. After touring the farm where they introduced to the source of our meal, we drove to the nearby town of Sleepy Hollow (yes, that Sleepy Hollow) to go visit the headless horseman, except we didn't find the headless dude, instead we found an amazing sunset view from a park by the Hudson overlooking the Tappan Zee Bridge. I love getting out of the city and seeing the open sky.

All Blue Hill Photos

Address: Blue Hill, 630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills, NY 10591

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I've been "thinking" about starting a blog for 2 years, and I've been "wanting" to start a blog for a year, and yes, I do procrastinate, especially at things I don't particularly excel at, e.g. writing. So maybe more pictures, less words then?

Anyway, there are many things in this world I care about and I shall slowly write about them. However, the title of my blog is "My Little Piece of Paradise", and this paradise I am referring to is one of the things I care about: my hometown, a small little island on latitude 5° 25' N, longitude 100° 19' E. Penang is what it's called. The reason I love it, besides that fact that it is charming, is that it is my roots. What they say is true, you can certainly take the girl out of Penang, but you can never take the Penang out of the girl.

I sometimes wonder, if I still lived there, would I yearn for home as much as I do now? Maybe distance does make the heart grow a little fonder. I will like to start my blog by paying homage to my roots....

I recently came across this video on Penang (Penang was added to the Unesco World Heritage list in July 2008). Penang is the apple of my eye, so to me, it does have it all (echoing the slogan of Penang).

In the last 2-3 years, whenever I go back to Penang, I will go around like a tourist and snap pictures. I try to imagine seeing Penang from a non-local's eyes, and it's amazing how many things I find amusing when I don't take it for granted. Enjoy.

Link to Penang Photos