Braised oxtail at Rolfs Kok, Stockholm, Sweden

Lunch at Rolfs Kök, Stockholm

Rolfs Kök (Google maps) is a cozy restaurant in what feels like a neighborhood of only wine bars and white-collar offices (isn’t that what Swedes all do anyway – white-collar design work?  pretty sure that’s what the Wikipedia page says.  anyway.)

The place is delicious – short lunch menu, just a handful of options, including a daily special, but Myra told me to get the braised oxtail and truffle potato purée.  The red wine sauce was perfect on both the tender beef and the creamy potatoes.  Simple stuff made well is always impressive, whatever country or continent.

Stockholm Sweetheart

Even in the winter, or maybe especially in the winter (unclear on this distinction, frankly), Stockholm is a beautiful city.

It’s a wonderful walking city, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the snow.  Everything’s actually pretty close, and worse case, you’re thirty minutes from the next thing.  And there’s all this water and open sky.  Reflections on ‘flections on ‘flections.

View of Djurgarden from the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm Sweden View of Djurgarden from Fotografiska, Stockholm Sweden Stockholm, Sweden Look at this badass motherfucker.  Courtesy of a gallery of old school portraits at the Fotografiska.Fat chef, Fotografiska, Stockholm, Sweden Orchid in Kungsholmen, Stockholm SwedenDjurgarden, Stockholm, SwedenDropped by the Vasa Museum, where they have a reconstruction of an actual ship from a bunch of centuries ago when they made ships out of wood.  Also, whoever made this particular ship fucked up real good because it sank after a few miles.  By a few miles, I mean less than five miles.  That’s about as good as those origami boats I used to make in third grade and put it in some sink water.  But it does look like a pretty badass warship.

If it could only float.Vasa Museum, Stockholm, SwedenShipbuilding tools at Vasa Museum, Stockholm, SwedenAnd of course, Stockholm has some cool shops.  Check out this dope poster.  City of champions indeed.Poster in Sodermalm, Stockholm, Sweden

Fika, fika, fika

Stockholm is all about dat fika, a culture of coffee and pastries that seems also to extend to a broad array of other drinks and snacks and sandwiches.  Two forms of deliciousness, one liquid and one to eat.  And folks take their coffee seriously, as much as they do their leisure time.  There are a lot of young families in these shops during the day.  So many baby strollers, and so many dads.  God bless your 18-month maternity/paternity leave policies.  I feel like such an American barbarian in that regard.

People with laptops and also with books.  Homogeneous as all get out, but whatever.  I still ride for coffeehouse culture.  We visited a handful of places – Cafe String (Sodermalm), Drop Coffee (also Sodermalm), Bakverket (Bondegarten), and Snickerbacken 7 Cafe (Norrmalm).

A latte and a peanut butter chocolate rice crispies at Cafe String (Google Maps).

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Some breakfast pastries and coffee beans at Drop Coffee (Google Maps), also in Sodermalm.  Across the street from the Sandqvist store where I got my backpack.

Mazariner (almond tartlet) and a jam shortbread cookie at Bakverket (Google Maps) in Bondegarten.  The space has a more proletariat vibe, if you will, but whatever, they still put butter in the pastries, don’t they?

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Mazariner and latte at Bakverket Sodermalm Stockholm Sweden

And later on our trip, we had ourselves a real healthy lunch at Snickerbacken 7 Cafe (Google Maps) in Norrmalm.  It’s a really hip, but lovely space, and gets super busy around lunchtime, humming with meetings and mommy meet-ups and co-working and readers alike.

Houseofhaos Mu Ramen LIC New York Duck Broth Shoyu

Mu Ramen

Long Island City isn’t the easiest place to get to, and it’s not a food destination per se.  Some places serve as a good reason to venture out to a neighborhood less traveled.  Mu Ramen is one of those places.

I remember visiting them years ago when they were just a pop-up inside of a Long Island City bagel shop in some warehouse-y stretch by the water, and there was already this rare sense of comfort and wonder about the food.  Ippudo is reliable and reliably busy, Setagaya is a dive, Takashi is pure indulgence – those ramen spots have their feel and familiarity.  Mu has a sense of refinement, sureness about its craft, and confidence in turning up the details and luxury in its versions of things you think you know.

Look at the beautiful uni.  And ikura.  And under that pile of rich umami goodness some nori rice and spicy tuna and rice.  Fresh AF.Houseofhaos Mu Ramen LIC New York Uni Ikura Rice And fried chicken wings stuffed with foie gras.  A little decadent, delightfully crispy without being gummy or over-breaded or oily.  A little dangerous to bite into because the foie gras is pretty hot.  Delicious though.Houseofhaos Mu Ramen LIC New York Foie Gras Stuffed Chicken Wings This deeply satisfying shoyu duck broth.  So good.  Interesting to have a non-chicken clear broth.  The duck broth is gorgeously rich without being fatty, bright and complex, something you just want to keep sipping on a chilly day.  The runny egg, creamy, just melts in your mouth.Houseofhaos Mu Ramen LIC New York Duck Broth Shoyu house-of-haos-mu-ramen-lic-shoyu-duck-closeupI don’t remember what this tonkotsu-looking bowl was – maybe the Mu Ramen?  At that point, my mind was already a little mushy from deliciousness.

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Mu Ramen (menu)
1209 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, NY 11101

Gramercy Tavern, Rounds 2 and 3 – Burgers, Burgers for Everybody

The one thing that I didn’t get the first go-around in the tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern was the infamous burger, which is only available in the Tavern.

Gourmet burgers, the ultimate high-brow/low-brow question mark at so many restaurants in the city, have been having their moment for a while – and as much as I hate being a sucker for food media-driven trendspotting, when it comes to burgers, I’m still a sucker for a good one.  Let’s be honest, I’ll always be a sucker for a good burger.  And sometimes, even if you’re at a fine-ass restaurant, you want a burger.  This is one of those burgers that won’t make you regret ordering one.

off-menu-burger-gramercy-tavern-new-yorkI mean, for the love of God, just look at that.  A lot of housemade details: condiments, brioche-y bun, potato chips, pickled chilis, cured bacon.  These things, plus a lava flow of funky white cheddar.

Most importantly, you can really taste the beef, the grind and the juices.  The patty does not break into chunks.  The bun holds its weight against the grease drip and the heft of the meat.  I guess I’m not really surprised, but nevertheless it’s a damn delicious piece of culinary engineering.

Power lunch Wednesday, pt3: this medium-rare bad boy @gramercytavern #latergram #eeeeeats

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Some stupid-delicious blend of beef cuts (a base of chuck, plus brisket and short rib).  That’s a good mix, flavorful, still a little bloody, beefy/funky, fatty, done medium-rare.

House of Haos Gramercy Tavern Burger 2 New York

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Gramercy Tavern (menu)
42 E 20th St, New York, NY
(212) 477-0777

Houseofhaos Gramercy Tavern New York Dessert Strawberry Tart Sesame

Gramercy Tavern, Round 1 – Lunch Tasting Menu

It took me several years before I finally made it to Gramercy Tavern.  But I felt right at home as soon as I stepped inside with Francesca (whose sister works on the line at GT) and her friend, thanks to that gorgeous dining room.  (Seriously, that restaurant is beautiful.)  A lot of suits having power lunches, some Asian tourists, and the three of us scallywags sneaking away from work for this treat-yo’self-type situation.

I came ready to eat.  The tasting menu, which at $65 (excluding drinks and before tax/tip), is of pretty decent value.  On a broader note, a lot of fine-ass New York restaurants have really good lunch deals.  More on that in later posts.

Bread.  Butter.  Yay.

Houseofhaos Gramercy Tavern New York Lunch Bread Butter Houseofhaos Gramercy Tavern New York Cosmonot

Bread and butter to start, plus a zero-proof cocktail called the Cosmonot (pinot noir juice, grenadine, citrus).  Probably a better pairing with the meats that came later, but a strong punch of tartness to kickstart the meal.

Houseofhaos Gramercy Tavern New York Amuse Houseofhaos Gramercy Tavern New York Sweet CornHouseofhaos Gramercy Tavern New York Mussels Ikura

A spicy tuna tartar with heirloom tomatoes.  Sweet corn and corn mousse with cherry tomatoes.  A crudo with mussels, salmon roe, and cucumber broth.  Light and fresh to start, alternating notes of spice, sugar, and salt.

Houseofhaos Gramercy Tavern New York Arctic Char

Arctic char with corn, popcorn, and plum.  This was probably my favorite dish of the meal, if not for the whimsy then for the tender fish paired in a beautiful way with that sliver of plum.  This the second time I’ve been pleasantly surprised by fish and fruit (the other time: tuna and strawberry, courtesy of Arzak). Continue reading

Stockholm Escapades – Pt 2: Oaxen Krog

The other half of Oaxen is Krog, this polished open-kitchen powerhouse of a fine dining establishment.

We sat at a communal table for six people, sharing the same tasting menu, some with wine pairings and myself with the juice pairing.  Initially, I didn’t know we’d signed up for the communal dinner, but it turned out to be one of my favorite meal experiences – not just in an asterisk’d way (like, favorite meal in a foreign country or something) – but one of my favorite meals.  It was a four-hour marathon, paved with luxurious bites and flavors, blessed with laughter and stories, that showcased the magic connectivity of what good food and drink can conjure at a dinner table of strangers.

We started with some amuse-bouches.  Not all of these I remember, but the bone marrow dish had a really nice clean finish. And I’m always about that head-on shrimp.

Oaxen Krog also served up some luxurious bread – some brioche knobs, some fresh butter, and this warm black bread, savory, sea-salt crunch, syrupy sweet.  Basically cake with butter at mid-meal.  It was cool to share the meal with Swedes who had grown up eating variants of these dishes, obviously more homey versions, to see them wax nostalgic about their childhood food memories and the long-ago places and times that these flavors recalled.  I just love that stuff.  Food with stories, with soul. Continue reading

Herring with fried rye bread, potatoes, sour cream at Oaxen Slip in Stockholm

Stockholm Escapades – Pt 1: Oaxen Slip

One of the small blessings of travel and studying abroad is that you meet and befriend folks from different walks of life, corners of the map which you hadn’t previously visited, people who grew up in different circumstances, with different interests.  In the decade since, my path and theirs have often diverged even further on many levels – jobs, education, geography, experience, love, food.  But it’s also funny how life (and discount airlines offering an undeniable deal) can reconnect those threads.

We were in Stockholm in mid-winter to visit Antony, an Australian friend from my year abroad in Paris who found a career in foreign service and who was now assigned to the consulate in Stockholm.  Stockholm, and Scandinavia in general, was a first for me, so we’d lucked out having a second bedroom in a lovely, light-filled apartment in Kungsholmen as a home base for a few days.

A few of our meals brought us Oaxen, a restaurant on the quiet south side of Djurgarden, past the Vasa and ABBA museums (yes, it’s a thing).  Oaxen is split into two parts, the more casual Oaxen Slip and the two-Michelin-starred Oaxen Krog.  We ate at both, and had a swell time at both.

This post is just for Oaxen Slip, where we shared a meal with two friends who live in Stockholm.  The fried mushroom, meaty and savory, was delicious.  Whoever thought to butter-fry the rye bread is a genius – it inverted the experience of that dish.  There’s a giant boat suspended over your head, which lends both a surreal quality to your dining experience, but also connects you to the idea of Sweden so far as I have any idea of Sweden, a country and a culture long on seafaring and seafood, on craft and simplicity.  None of these dishes felt overthought or overworked – each dish was three or four things done well and in earnest.

Oaxen Slip
Beckholmsvägen 26
115 21 Stockholm, Sweden

Hattie B's hot chicken nashville tennessee fried chicken

One Night in Nashville – Hattie B’s Hot Chicken

Earlier this year, I stopped by Nashville for a hot second to visit a hotel trade show (the Asian American Hotel Owners Association – long story).  The trip also had a great chicken-related benefit – the opportunity to eat at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken.

I jumped out of my Uber and saw a big line – a good sign.  Luckily, I had phoned in my order in advance.  Half bird to go, baby, with mac & cheese and some banana pudding!

The order wasn’t ready yet when I checked in, so I stood by the pass and watched the goodness go by (other people’s orders…alas).  Look at all that beautiful nonsense.

I got half of my order hot, and the other mild.  Definitely get the hot – not that the mild was at all bad, but the hot was so much better.  Hattie B’s does a good brine, so that the chicken is juicy and flavorful, and the spice is a great first hit paired with the crispy skin, right before that beautiful smooth music of brined chicken grease and dark meat comes through right after like that soft bass on a slow jam.  The heat is not overwhelming (I felt like it was mostly cayenne), and builds as you eat, so you get a little bit of that delirious nose-sweat by the time you’re done, but mostly it was an excellent partner and facilitator of flavor.

Definitely some of the top chicken in the land, right up there with Willie Mae’s.

xiao long bao golden imperial palace sunset park chinatown brooklyn nyc

A Day of Eating in Sunset Park

A few months ago, I took a waistband-stretching jaunt through Sunset Park, a quiet neighborhood in the southern edges of Brooklyn, eating a bunch of Chinese food (and a stop at a phenomenal banh mi shop as well).  Sunset Park sits south of Red Hook and surrounded by other names that do not yet mean much to me, like Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst.  I know each of these neighborhoods have long histories of settlement, trade, migration, immigrants, and the attendant richness of food culture that come with tides of people flowing in and out of the region.  In recent years, these areas are the landing spots of Chinese immigrants, particularly from my home province of Fujian.

Predictably, I went for the food, and made a list of places to hit up, guided in part by Andy Ricker’s Instagram:

Emerging from the 59th Street N-R station and strolling up and down Eighth Ave, I found a quieter, more residential replica of Flushing, restaurants and shops catering to the Chinese community, shoppers picking their way through crates of seafood, grandparents pushing strollers, the throat-y rap of Fuzhou dialect bursting from dining rooms and cash registers.

The first stop was East Harbor Seafood for some dim sum.  For a mid-week morning, the dining room was surprisingly packed with families, including some really big round tables full up with three or four generations, old and young.  I shared a table with two ladies talking in a dialect I didn’t understanding, enjoying my personal array of dim sum classics – steamed tofu skin, spare ribs with black bean sauce, shu mai, and a personal favorite, chicken feet, finished with a bowl of fresh silken tofu drizzled with simple syrup:

Continue reading