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.

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

Lunch at Peche – New Orleans

Peche was the first of Donald Link’s restaurants that we tried, a seafood-centric restaurant in a town leaning heavily towards all things fished from the Gulf.  The space is open and comfortable, the big windows along the street broadcasting light into the high-ceiling’d dining room.  Wooden tables, sturdy chairs, the back-of-house glow of the grill in the passe.  We came early for lunch, before we had to skip town, so the restaurant was just stirring to life, but a few older couples were already at the bar.  Nice way to spend a boozy mid-day in New Orleans, that’s for sure.House of Hao's Peche New Orleans Louisiana Better at Peche than some beer-soaked French Quarter establishment, I guess?

But we came for lunch, goddammit, and lunch we were going to have.  And lots of it.  Starting with this corn soup.  Myra ate all of this soup.  She did not save much for me, but the one spoonful of soup I had was pretty good.  Sweet and rich.House of Hao's Peche New Orleans Louisiana Corn Soup Crab claws, in a mint and shallot mignonette of sorts.House of Hao's Peche New Orleans Louisiana Crab Legs A white fish ceviche (I want to say hamachi?) topped with french fry sticks.  Very citrus-y, not sure how I felt about it.  The fish wasn’t all that noteworthy, was the main letdown.House of Hao's Peche New Orleans Louisiana Marinated Fish Potato Fries By god, these hush puppies.  So good, crispy, hot out of the frying pan (or deep-fryer, I guess).  Sprinkled with just the right amount of salt, and full of delicious herbs (I think scallions).House of Hao's Peche New Orleans Louisiana Hush Puppies Continue reading

Lunch at Barbuto – Meatpacking District, NYC

On a bright February afternoon, my friend and I met up in the Meatpacking District at Barbuto, in this garage space that had long ago been converted into one of New York’s seminal restaurants of the last ten years.

The restaurant is expansive and airy.  During warmer days the walls along the street can be drawn up (garage doors) to make the whole place an al fresco experience, and even with the window-doors down, the place is exceptionally bright.

I’ve read about the jw roasted chicken, and liked the easy-going Californian spirit, but I mostly knew of the restaurant as a kitchen where some of people whose cooking I really like had previously cooked there – namely Justin Smillie and Ignacio Mattos.  Chef-owner Jonathan Waxman is a bit of a godfather figure, having been on the ground floor of Californian cuisine and then bringing that aesthetic to New York.

There’s not much else, just relaxed but thoughtful dishes, highlighted by that ridiculous, baller roast chicken.

Shaved brussel sprouts with hazelnuts.  Refreshing, with the crunch of leafy greens and toasted hazelnuts.  Could eat this all day.House of Haos Barbuto West Village NYC New York City Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad Roasted chicken with salsa verde (“pollo al forno”), in a shallow pool of oil.  Crispy, flavorful skin, with tender meat.House of Haos Barbuto West Village NYC New York City JW Roast Chicken The sausage (chorizo?) pizza with greens (broccoli rabe?  kale?).  Flavorful, but not particularly memorable. House of Haos Barbuto West Village NYC New York City Sausage PizzaBarbuto (menu)
775 Washington St, New York, NY 10014
(map)

Barbuto on Urbanspoon

Fried Chicken Tour, Cont’d – Lunch at Blue Ribbon Bakery Kitchen, NYC

Before I heard about the standalone Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken in NoHo, I stopped by Blue Ribbon Bakery Kitchen in the West Village for lunch with some friends.  Half of a bird is admittedly a little aggressive for lunch, but there was something calling my name.

That something is called Old Bay.  The pieces of chicken came covered in a healthy shower of the red seasoning (at least I think it was Old Bay), that healthy mix of mustard, paprika, celery salt, and the handful of other spices and dried herbs I don’t care to name.

The mashed potatoes and gravy and the mustard greens were somewhat ornamental, although the vegetables were at times a welcome respite from mouthfuls of crunch and juicy meat.  The gravy was definitely extraneous.  (I never thought I would say that about gravy, but it just happened.)

House of Haos Blue Ribbon Bakery Kitchen West Village NYC New York Fried Chicken 2 House of Haos Blue Ribbon Bakery Kitchen West Village NYC New York Fried ChickenThe price point is a little hefty – $26 pre-tax-and-tip for a plate of chicken?  A little daunting for a casual, oft-packed lunch spot.  If this were Sunday at ad hoc, then maybe.  Highly recommend the chicken, just had a tough time digesting the bite it took out of my wallet.

Blue Ribbon Bakery Kitchen
35 Downing Street
New York, NY 10014
(Yelp)

Blue Ribbon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Lunch at ABC Kitchen – Flatiron, NYC

Dan Kluger’s ever-popular ABC Kitchen on 18th St has that wanderlust typical of Jean-Georges restaurants, a menu dotted with worldly flavors and international details.  On top of that, the restaurant is gorgeous, set to the backdrop of an upscale home furnishing store (ABC Carpet & Home), with expansive beams of exposed rafters, clean white tables and chairs, large tabletops of funky wood slabs, a semi-open kitchen adorned with trays of fresh flowers and seasonal vegetables.

I dropped by a few months ago for lunch with a friend, and got the three-course prix fixe, which started with tuna sashimi (marinated in ginger and mint) with some diced chives and vinegar.   This was as good as the first plate at Sugarfish, good (but not great) tuna with a strong acidic punch.House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Tuna SashimiThe rest of the food took a bit to get to us, so the kitchen sent a dish of roasted kabocha squash (with fresh ricotta underneath) on toast to tide us over.  There with a bit of acidity in this as well, with apple cider vinegar sprinkled somewhere.  Mildly sweet, the topping a nice pillowy texture, although the bread I found a bit too tough (rustic?) for my taste.House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Kabocha Squash Toast RicottaThen the other stuff arrived.  A side of roasted brussels sprouts with mustard vinaigrette.  I loved the vinaigrette, and the extra-browned outside crust, although the insides were overcooked to a bit too close to mushy.House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Roasted Brussels SproutsHousemade ricotta ravioli with a runny egg inside and pork ragu.  I loved how that luxurious creamy texture was achieved in different ways – the warm ricotta, the melting egg yolk, the fatty ragu with herbacious notes ringing the edges – and how the pork was the most textured of the entire plate.  And how wonderfully large this ravioli was, and how it largely held its composition even as I scooped out each cheesy spoonful.House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Ricotta Ravioli House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Ricotta Ravioli 2For dessert, my friend ordered chocolate gelato and I had a slice of concord grape tart with frozen sugared grapes.House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Chocolate GelatoI love the flavor of concord grapes (it’s my preferred jelly for PB&Js, if that’s any indication.  It’s probably not an indication for you, but just nod and walk away).  The pastry staff concentrated that love into sugar-crusted pie form and served it to me on a plate.  That’s how I felt anyway, after devouring this. House of Haos ABC Kitchen New York City Concord Grape TartABC Kitchen (lunch menu)
35 E 18th St, New York, NY
(212) 475-5829
(Yelp)
ABC Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Roast Chicken Lunch at the NoMad – New York

I’d been hearing great things over the interwebs about NoMad, and for the restaurant project I’d been working on in Shanghai, we’d been inspired by the elegant minimalism of the restaurant’s menu (the sleek layout and the beautiful font).IMG_1958 IMG_1954Alas, we knew that the restraint that NoMad displayed on its menu would undoubtedly invite questions about each dish, which then required a certain aptitude in service that at the time our fresh service staff in Shanghai, having not spent any time with the kitchen staff in tastings, wouldn’t be able to handle.  So in turn, I was very excited to see how the NoMad front-of-house would perform, given its proximity in concept and leadership to Eleven Madison Park, one of the city’s meccas of fine dining.

We started with this warm load of bread with beans and rosemary:DSC_0594-001As an appetizer, we ordered the tagliatelle with king crab, meyer lemon, and black pepper.  The balance of creaminess and sharp citrus was perfect, and the crab succulent and sweet.DSC_0595-001We had to get the whole-roasted chicken for two.  It was mandatory.  Especially when the stuffing is a heart-stopped concoction of foie gras, black truffles, and brioche.  And quite a show when they bring by the chicken en cocotte before taking it back to the kitchen.  I’m glad we came a bit later after the power lunch rush, if only because we didn’t have to see an endless parade of roast chickens through the dining rooms (I’m assuming other diners weren’t foolish enough to skip the dish). Continue reading

Saturday Lunch at the Grumpy Pig

The last time we went to Grumpy Pig (on a Sunday), there was only the brunch menu. This time, we had the regular menu.  All to ourselves.

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So we ordered the things that we missed very, very much.  Green papaya salad with orange and watermelon, pulled pork summer rolls, and Shanghainese spring rolls.

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I’d been hooked on the summer rolls (stuffed with pork, mushrooms, and cabbage) since last autumn, when I powered through six (by myself) while waiting for Myra and her parents.  When I need to pass the time, there are often food items involved.  Sometimes six of them, even.

After our warm-up, we ordered the barbeque ribs and, my favorite, the pork dumplings.  By we, I mostly mean yours truly.

DSC_0011 DSC_0012 DSC_0015The ribs were interesting – beer-braised, with a cumin-heavy dry rub, then “ghetto-smoked” in some contraction the Grumpy Pig kitchen figured out.  Not bad, actually – the best barbecue ribs I’ve had in Shanghai, for sure.  I could’ve used a more liberal dose of BBQ sauce.

And my favorite pork dumplings were as delicious as ever, overflowing with juicy chunks of pork.  Essentially the opposite to the thin-skinned soup dumplings so popular in Shanghai.  A much-needed boost of pork.

And that’s basically what I look for in life.  Pork.  In its various, amazing, God-given forms.

Dim Sum at Tim’s Kitchen – Hong Kong

After getting into Central abysmally late, following numerous delays on China Spring Airlines (the Chinese equivalent of every bad American or European discount airline you can think of) leaving Pudong and an impossibly long foreigners visa queue at the Hong Kong airport, then cabbing to my friend Arthur’s place in Aberdeen and waiting up til 2:30am on the Saturday morning for the McDonald’s delivery (out of Big Macs!  travesty!) – Saturday was bound to start late.

I’d originally wanted to go to Maxim’s Palace at City Hall for dim sum, but there’s no way that I would wake up in time to beat the rush there or at many other joints like Yung Kee or Tim Ho Wan.  So I went to Tim’s Kitchen in Sheung Wan, on the notion that we’d still be able to get a seat and get in some hopefully tasty dim sum.

The eatery has two other locations in Macau and Shanghai, with the Sheung Wan original as the (one) Michelin-starred location.  Upon walking in and being shown upstairs, I sensed a much more relaxed atmosphere than what I had expected, lacking the frantic din of crowded wait areas and boisterous family tables.  Tim’s was more subdued, even though it wasn’t more refined than, say, Lei Garden IFC (which was delicious, by the way).

We ordered a handful of dim sum items, and a few other regular-menu things that we saw from other folks’ tables.

Chiu chow tofu

This was my first time having chiu chow tofu, which I really enjoyed as a fan of both tofu and soy-marinated flavors.  Other than the paper-thin outer edge of the tofu block, the rest was tender and fresh, also a personal preference on the spectrum of tofu types.  I rarely use firm tofu (and never extra firm), preferring the cold, soft cuts more often found in Chinese and Japanese cooking, as well as the sweet tofu pudding dessert found in dim sum.

After so many trips to Tsui Wah (here and here), The BBQ pork platter has become a staple of my Saturday lunches.  Tim’s version was quite tasty: the honey glaze was sweet without being overpowering, and the roast pork was a nice surprise, smaller, and more “baby” (read: tender) than the Tsui Wah version.  The latter’s crisped crust I dipped in the small dish of sugar that came with the platter, similar to what they do with the Peking duck skins at Da Dong.

BBQ platter: honey-glazed bbq pork and roasted crispy baby pork belly

The next dishes came from the dim sum menu: Continue reading