Lunch at Pok Pok – Brooklyn, NYC

On a sunny summer day, my sister and I ventured to Pok Pok, Andy Ricker’s Brooklyn homage to Thai food, a passion that I can absolutely identify with.  There are but a few things in life that I appreciate, and have felt so earnestly, as the wholeheartedness and humility of Thai hospitality.  If I can make a caricature out of it, permit me to do so.

I attended a cooking class with Chef Ricker, and with the same warmth that certain Thai establishments exude through their hospitality, I felt like he had the same intensity and spirit in his dedication to and study of (and love for) Thai cuisine.  This dude was knowledgeable and serious about his Thai food.  In a way, it’s refreshing to see that – usually you see guys go off to Italy or Lyon and come back with this repertoire and adherence to certain European traditions, but here was a dude that slums it to the dirt roads and backwoods and beaches of Thailand to bring back some crazy recipes and preparations that rock my mouth with flavor and spice.

We started with some refreshing drinking vinegars, tart, syrupy concoctions topped with soda.  There are, like, 25 flavors to choose from, so you’ll find something.  Be warned though, the vinegar part is no joke.House of Haos Pok Pok Brooklyn NYC Drinking Vinegar A duck salad, with specks of toasted rice to add a heavy crunch to the funkiness of raw onions and duck liver and duck skin.House of Haos Pok Pok Brooklyn NYC Duck Larb Ike’s fish sauce wings.  Phenomenal.  Coated with tangy, sugary, spicy sauce and flecks of crispy garlic.House of Haos Pok Pok Brooklyn NYC Fish Sauce Chicken Wings Smoky slow-cooked pork ribs.  In retrospect, I would’ve rather tried something else, perhaps a fish, but these were pretty tasty just the same.House of Haos Pok Pok Brooklyn NYC Pork RibsPok Pok NYC
117 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Google Maps

Pok Pok NY on Urbanspoon

House of Haos Dinosaur BBQ Harlem NYC

Uptown Funk – Dinosaur BBQ, Harlem, NYC

Dinosaur BBQ is a bit out of the way, at an oddly criss-crossing corner of 125th St in Harlem near the Westside Highway.  The squat brick building that houses the restaurant is unremarkable but expansive, so even though it was busy (2 hour wait) when we visited, it doesn’t feel like a crush of bodies.  Very much the opposite, actually: a fun, lively space.  Plus, we didn’t have to tough out the two hours, as we lucked into two comfortable seats at the end of the bar just as we’d put our name on the waitlist, with a prime view of the kitchen and passe.

House of Haos Dinosaur BBQ Harlem NYC Menu Kitchen House of Haos Dinosaur BBQ Harlem NYC Sauce A sweet tea, of course.House of Haos Dinosaur BBQ Harlem NYC Sweet Tea Meaty BBQ wings.  The skin, gorgeously charred, is deceptively crispy – I expected that bitter smokiness, but mostly just texture, and plenty of flavor.House of Haos Dinosaur BBQ Harlem NYC Chicken Wings Continue reading

House of Haos Maialino New York Bacon Toffee Brioche Bun

Brunch Game Strong – NYC

I have mixed feelings about brunch.  It’s sometimes a pompous social excuse to start drinking and act like douches.  And I know I’m overpaying for eggs.  I get that it’s a great way to restaurants to juice margins and give their dinnertime staff a break.  It’s just that the food usually isn’t as exciting as the dinner menu.  New York offers to full spectrum of brunch-friendliness, some excessively clubby and bro-y, some relaxed and homey, others a bit more formal (sometimes elevated).  Nobu does brunch.  The NoMad does brunch.  Marea, a two-Michelin-star restaurant with a crazy decadent octopus and bone marrow fusilli, has a brunch menu (the fusilli is on the menu).

But it sure is comforting.  It just feels good.  There’s something uniquely satisfying about rolling out of bed at 10:30 (or later), not dressing particularly nicely (in my case, haha), and getting a gussied-up omelette or some butter-charged pastry or fried chicken and waffles, and just enjoying the feeling of the weekend.  That’s probably more what it’s about, an unspoken celebration of things that only a weekend allow.  Relaxed conversation and an expensive juice (maybe with champagne in it), living as if on a staycation in the city.  It’s a chance to enjoy the sunlight and the crisp air of the late morning, when the weather’s nice, or to see friends without the formality of dinner.  It also makes me fat and lazy, and that feels great.  Sometimes, anyway.

Andrew Carmellini does a mean brunch.  We’ve been to the Dutch (menu) more than a few times, for lazy weekend feasts, fried chicken dinners, and a few decadent lunches on days when I was less than fully employed.  Jason Hua and company do good work there.

Soft-scrambled eggs with cured salmon and a sesame bagel.  Fat margins be damned when it comes to butter and eggs.  The Dutch also has some tasty pastries as well – a mildly sweet berry tart, and a tart and gooey peach pie.

And his NoHo spot, Lafayette (menu):

Again, great pastries (the bread basket, with overly flaky and butter croissants) and some heavy All-American action – like a thick burger dripping with cheese on a brioche bun, with a side of crisp fries and candied bacon.  Not pictured, but there’s really tasty (and ridiculously expensive) juice – I had a carrot yuzu something that I could’ve had three more glasses of, if not for the exorbitant price.

On to the next, as they say – Maison Premiere (menu), the hipster seafood-and-drinks enclave in the thoroughly gentrified Williamsburg corner of Brooklyn.  We visited during fourth of July weekend, when the weather was gorgeous and the back patio was bright and lovely and dandy.  Another fantastic bread basket fortified with butter; dollar oysters plump, cold, and crisp; even a Thai iced coffee to go with my steak and eggs.  Myra got an order of duck hash, everything came with wonderfully soft-boiled eggs.  We also got a side of potatoes and really great smoked meats (the bacon was great, the sausages were a little more herbaceous than desired, but hey, when the bacon’s charred and thick-cut and delicious, then all is forgiven).

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Cook Your Own Korean Meat – Don’s Bogam, NYC

When my sister was visiting New York, we dropped by Don’s Bogam for what we hoped would be some really good Korean barbecue.  I forget where exactly I’d heard of the place, but I think it was on a mention in passing on Floyd Cardoz’s Instagram.  I’ll take my chances in following the leads of chefs and sommeliers on where to eat.  Anytime.

Don’s didn’t disappoint.  A clean, gas flame and copper grill, with some banchan to nibble on.  Nothing about the banchan was that notable, but the soy-braised lotus roots were pretty tasty.House of Haos Dons Bogam NYC Korean BBQ Banchan We ordered a seafood scallion pancake to share, as a starter.  Decent. House of Haos Dons Bogam NYC Korean BBQ Seafood Pancake For meats, we ordered the maeun galbi, a marinated short rib in the chef’s housemade spicy sauce.  Some really top-quality meat, marbled and sliced at a respectable thickness, holding up nicely to the licks of the blue flame.  Fatty and chewy and full of flavor (wasn’t actually very spicy, but also not as sweet as galbi typically is).  The ventilation tube is also positioned strategically right over the grill, so there’s not this overabundance of smoke.House of Haos Dons Bogam NYC Korean BBQ Maeun Galbi House of Haos Dons Bogam NYC Korean BBQ Maeun Galbi 2 House of Haos Dons Bogam NYC Korean BBQ Maeun Galbi 3 House of Haos Dons Bogam NYC Korean BBQ Maeun Galbi 4 Between the galbi and the bulgogi, we split a bowl of spicy bibim-naengmyun, cold arrowroot starch noodles with cold broth, spicy gochujang-based chili sauce, and a hardboiled egg. House of Haos Dons Bogam NYC Korean BBQ Nangmyeong Buckwheat Noodles We finished with a steaming pan of bulgogi, aromatic and sweet, cooked also atop the gas grill flame.  Generous amounts of halved green onions and enoki mushrooms steeped and cooked in sweet soy-sauce and onion.House of Haos Dons Bogam NYC Korean BBQ Bulgogi House of Haos Dons Bogam NYC Korean BBQ Bulgogi 2 House of Haos Dons Bogam NYC Korean BBQ Bulgogi 3Really good stuff, on par with some of the better meals that Myra and I had had in Seoul, back when we ate nothing but barbecue for about four straight days.  Cordial, attentive service.  But mostly, really delicious meat.

Don’s Bogam (website)
17 East 32nd Street, New York, NY 10016
(Google Maps)

Don's Bogam BBQ & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

In Search of Thai – Ayada Thai, Queens, NYC

The fried catfish salad from Ayada Thai in Woodside, Queens, is probably one of the best things I’ve eaten in 2014.  Bits of flaked fish fried into pure crisp – but without any overbearing oiliness or taste of deep-fryer dredge, but it does perfectly soak up the dressing – lime and fish sauce and Thai chili.House of Haos Ayada Thai Woodside Queens  NYC Fried Catfish Mango Salad Grilled tiger prawns in a sweet curry sauce.  Meaty and enormous, with the funky headcheese-y goodness of head-on shrimp.  It looked like the prawns were cooked after being halved, the shells serving as a cooking vessel. House of Haos Ayada Thai Woodside Queens  NYC Grilled Prawns A somewhat lackluster plate of pad see ew, with Chinese broccoli and egg.House of Haos Ayada Thai Woodside Queens  NYC Beef Pad See Ew Thai omelet, simple and delicious, fluffy and crisp.House of Haos Ayada Thai Woodside Queens  NYC Omelette Crispy pork with Chinese broccoli.House of Haos Ayada Thai Woodside Queens  NYC Crispy Pork BroccoliThe service here, given the smallish restaurant, is a much bigger part of the experience, and other than the sometimes unpredictable waits, we’ve only had pleasant, engaging, helpful, even funny exchanges with the staff.  It feels much more like a family-run place, with a conviviality and coziness that recalls the best of Thai brand of magnanimous hospitality.

 

Ayada Thai (website)
77-08 Woodside Avenue, Queens, NY 11373
(Google Maps)

Ayada on Urbanspoon

House of Haos SriPraPhai Woodside Queens NYC Fried Snapper Chili Sauce

In Search of Thai – SriPraPhai, Queens, NYC

The best Thai food in New York is a bit of a hike from our place in Hell’s Kitchen.  It’s a straight shot on the 7 train out to Woodside, Queens, a historically Irish part of the metro area that since the 1990s has been a magnet for a multicultural smattering of immigrants, including large Filipino and Thai communities.  Hence its reputation as host to the city’s best Thai food.

In my time in Los Angeles, Jas and the fine folks at Jitlada showed me what Thai food could really be, beyond the peanut-sticky-sweet pad thai and tame tom yums of university take-out joints.  New York has in the past few years experienced an incredible reception to the peculiarities of Southeast Asian food.  There’s Laotian cuisine offered up by Chef Phet over at Khe-Yo (which I unfortunately haven’t been to yet), Isaan-inflected Lower East destinations Somtum Der and Uncle Boons, Andy Ricker’s dedicated etude of the best things Thai at Pok Pok, and my neighborhood go-to Larb Ubol (as well as its new Soho outpost Lan Larb).  There’s also a Burmese restaurant opening soon in Manhattan, I hear.

So I took two trips out to SriPraPhai (its backstory here), on the recommendation of one of Jas’ customers, once alone and once with a group of five.  Here are all the things we ate.

Shrimp tom yum soup – no shortage of flavor or spice here, with hearty stalks of lemongrass and a bowl rimmed with red.House of Haos SriPraPhai Woodside Queens NYC Tom Yum Soup House of Haos SriPraPhai Woodside Queens NYC Tom Yum Soup Shrimp Sour Isaan sausage, sturdy and chewy, with a crisp casing.House of Haos SriPraPhai Woodside Queens NYC Isaan Sour Sausage Fried marinated pork – chunkier and a bit less seasoned than I’d like, but perfectly crisp.House of Haos Sripraphai Woodside Queens NYC Fried Marinated Pork Strips Beef tendon soup – gelatinous, with fat, chewy strands of tendon, the soup is surprisingly sour, the fresh cilantro a faint breath of lightness in what is otherwise an exercise in depth and richness.House of Haos Sripraphai Woodside Queens NYC Stewed Beef Tendon A vibrant roast duck salad, with onion, chili, ginger, lime juice, mango, pineapple, tomato, cilantro, and crushed peanuts.  The fatty slivers of skin-on roast duck combine with the fruitiness of citrus and tropical fruit, and the slow-building kick-in-the-mouth, sweat-out-of-my-nose spiciness of whatever the dressing is comprised of.House of Haos Sripraphai Woodside Queens NYC Roasted Duck Salad Soft-shell crab in basil chili sauce.  Fried basil is the boss.  For me, it’s hard to distinguish soft-shell crab past the obscene crunch (I mean that in a good way), but there’s just enough sweet, creamy innards for each crab to be worth it.House of Haos SriPraPhai Woodside Queens NYC Soft Shell Crab Continue reading

Red Hook Summer – Brooklyn Crab

The second part of my day in Red Hook I spent right next door from Hometown BBQ, at Brooklyn Crab.House of Haos Red Hook NYC Brooklyn Crab As one might imagine, there’s a lot of seafood here.  The wait here can get really long, so get here early and put your name on the list and wander the neighborhood until they call you.  Or you can kill time with some beers and some snacks at the bar downstairs, or in the back patio, where you can play cornhole.House of Haos Red Hook NYC Brooklyn Crab Oysters Crab Claws House of Haos Red Hook NYC Brooklyn Crab Fries A dozen beautiful blue crabs, doused in Old Bay and served up hot on a tray.  My family grew up on seafood, a love of mollusks and bivalves and shellfish and crustaceans of all sorts.  It’s a very hands-on love, a painful love, of hard work and dedication, because we do not believe in crab crackers or mallets or bibs, just hands and teeth and lips.

For my family, eating seafood is a deeply visceral experience of stained fingers and aching molars and weathered lips almost pruny from the salt, of process and old-timer tricks, knowledge of the tradition.  Knowledge of the sweet curd of the crab roe and the sweeter-still butter of brains, pouring out of the split shell, and the highest sweetness of succulent white flesh, pried from its cage with no shortage of effort and maneuvering.House of Haos Red Hook NYC Brooklyn Crab Blue Crab Corn Old Bay House of Haos Red Hook NYC Brooklyn Crab Blue Crab Corn Old Bay 2

Brooklyn Crab (website)
24 Reed Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231
(Google Maps)

Brooklyn Crab on Urbanspoon

Red Hook Summer – Lunch at Hometown BBQ, NYC

On a gloriously sunny weekend day, I trekked to meet some Brooklyn friends in Red Hook, a quiet (and not very conveniently close) part of the NYC metro area that also plays host to some fantastic restaurants.  It’s a pleasant neighborhood to spend a day, and I arrived at Hometown BBQ for some lunch.House of Haos Red Hook NYC Hometown BBQ 2 We split a tray of ribs, brisket, cheesy kielbasa, some sides (beans and burnt ends, cole slaw, mac and cheese, cornbread), plus a half-chicken.House of Haos Red Hook NYC Hometown BBQ House of Haos Red Hook NYC Hometown BBQ Pepper Baby Back Ribs The ribs and brisket were fantastic.  I don’t know the intricacies of barbecue enough to talk details, but meat was smokey and balanced in texture (with enough chewiness to remind you that these were indeed ribs and good ones at that).  The coarsely cracked black pepper added to the crunch of charred ends.  House of Haos Red Hook NYC Hometown BBQ Baby Back Ribs 2 The brisket was equally good, even more crusted with a heady, burnt-sugar crunch, with glistening veins of fat and collagen.House of Haos Red Hook NYC Hometown BBQ Brisket House of Haos Red Hook NYC Hometown BBQ Brisket 2 House of Haos Red Hook NYC Hometown BBQ Sauce This half of a chicken.House of Haos Red Hook NYC Hometown BBQ Chicken And this cheesy sausage, fatty and fiery with a Jalapeno kick.House of Haos Red Hook NYC Hometown BBQ Cheese Sausage House of Haos Red Hook NYC Hometown BBQ Cheese Sausage 2 We couldn’t leave it with just meats.  A little banana cream pudding, and chocolate and key lime pies (the latter of which is from Steve’s, this authentic pie place next door).House of Haos Red Hook NYC Hometown BBQ Dessert Banana Pudding Key Lime Pie House of Haos Red Hook NYC Hometown BBQ Dessert Banana Pudding Key Lime Pie 2Hometown BBQ (website)
454 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231
(Google Maps)

Hometown Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

House of Haos The Cecil Harlem NYC Menu

The Cecil – Harlem, NYC

The Cecil is a ground-level restaurant in Harlem.  Esquire named it the best new restaurant of 2014, and although I am not informed enough to agree or disagree, the experience is certainly a culinary departure from convention.  There is a distinctly African theme to the menu, one that invokes a broad diaspora of African cooking, from curries, piri piri, and za’atar, to okra, plantains, and guinea hen.  But there’s also a really interesting (and in-your-face) Asian subtext, with wok-fried dishes, dumplings, Japanese eggplant and shiitake mushrooms, sticky rice, and udon.  It’s a bizarro world of inflections and influences, but somehow most of the dishes come together with gusto and zest and creativity and heartiness and no shortage of strong flavors.

The restaurant is also way too cool for me, as I discovered when I walked in the first time, with a backpack and no fedora, no clue what jazz was playing on the sound system, no pedigree in any tertiary education that ends in “studies.”  It’s emblematic of the neighborhood, sure, but it’s also a destination now, so there is a pretty wide spectrum of people.  It’s a testament to the potency of good, interesting food, rooted (conceptually) at least in the history of the neighborhood (I speak in broad strokes because I am not at all an expert in the genealogy of the area), but certainly in the way that it brings people together over a common table, the boisterous dining room a united voice.  Just one way to look at it, anyway.

Crispy fried Portuguese sausage dumplings.House of Haos The Cecil Harlem NYC Fried Dumplings Oxtail dumplings with green apple curry sauce that tasted like a tart, curry-infused butter. House of Haos The Cecil Harlem NYC Oxtail DumplingsCrispy prawns with piri piri sauce. House of Haos The Cecil Harlem NYC Giant Prawns Macaroni & cheese casserole with garganelli, caramelized shallots, fresh scallions (which were  a great, subtle touch), and smoky pepper ham. House of Haos The Cecil Harlem NYC Macaroni Cheese Casserole Afro/Asian/American gumbo, with smoked chicken, fried okra, sausage, and shrimp.  Spicy, with a touch of sweet, and a good amount of texture to balance out the thick, luscious roux.House of Haos The Cecil Harlem NYC Gumbo House of Haos The Cecil Harlem NYC Gumbo on Rice Continue reading

House of Haos Peter Luger Steakhouse Brooklyn NYC Steak 3

Dinner at Peter Luger – Williamsburg, NYC

There’s not much to say about the iconic steakhouse that does some of the best dry-aged butter-drenched porterhouse steaks known to man.  It’s a historic place, dating back in various incarnations to 1887, with a fanatically loyal customer base and a famous secret dry-age technique, a mecca of all things beef.House of Haos Peter Luger Steakhouse Brooklyn NYC Onion rolls.  Everything in Peter Luger smells in a marvelously stinky, savory way.House of Haos Peter Luger Steakhouse Brooklyn NYC Bread Bacon, smoky and charred and meaty.House of Haos Peter Luger Steakhouse Brooklyn NYC Bacon House of Haos Peter Luger Steakhouse Brooklyn NYC Shrimp Cocktail Steak for four, baby.House of Haos Peter Luger Steakhouse Brooklyn NYC Steak There are no words.  Just tender beef goodness, the spectrum of dark burn to pink to ribbon’d fat and back, with a sheen of seasoned grease.  The dry aging is something special, imbuing the rich, succulent steak with a beefy tang, the glorious aftertaste of climate-controlled decay.House of Haos Peter Luger Steakhouse Brooklyn NYC Steak 3 House of Haos Peter Luger Steakhouse Brooklyn NYC Steak 2 A side of German fried potatoes.House of Haos Peter Luger Steakhouse Brooklyn NYC Potatoes And for dessert, the Holy Cow hot fudge sundae, with a mound of whipped schlag (cream), sturdy and sweet.House of Haos Peter Luger Steakhouse Brooklyn NYC Sundae 1 House of Haos Peter Luger Steakhouse Brooklyn NYC Sundae 2 And this amazing slice of cheesecake.  Creamy and dense and more funky and sour than anything you’ll get out of a frozen Sara Lee box.House of Haos Peter Luger Steakhouse Brooklyn NYC Cheesecake As a side note, despite our somewhat brusque (brusque-friendly?) experience with the reservation line (but nothing less than professional), we didn’t have a wait to be seated, which I hear can be hit-or-miss, even if you arrive with full party and on time.  So everything worked out great.  The leftover steak made for fantastic steak and eggs in the morning.  God bless America.

Peter Luger (website) – cash only
178 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Google maps

Peter Luger Steak House on Urbanspoon