Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chinese beef jerky? Oh yeah.

I emerged from my lunch at Nom Wah Tea Parlor into one of those glorious early spring days in New York City. Sunny and 70 degrees, it was too beautiful a day to pass up so I decided on a stroll through Chinatown. The streets were alive with activity, and you could feel the energy in the air on this bright Friday afternoon.

I walked slowly, looking in every window, making mental notes of the restaurants and pastry shops I had to try in the future. I wandered the aisles of a supermarket, fantasizing about the elaborate Chinese Feasts I could make. I stocked up on Yam Yams and Pocky Sticks for my girls.

On an impulse I made a left onto Bayard Street from Mott. As I made my way toward Mulberry a store front caught my eye. It had a number of articles posted in the window. I read them and went in. I had discovered New Beef King.

New Beef King is owned by Robert Yee. Using an old family recipe he makes Chinese style beef jerky. The jerky is not dehydrated. Instead, it is marinated and slowly baked at four different temperatures. Finally it is grilled with a special sauce. The result is a delicious, moist and chewy jerky that is unlike anything you get in a bag at a Duane Reade.

Most of the jerky is made of beef. There is the regular (which is made with a tasty, tangy oyster sauce), fruit flavored (a bit odd but worth trying) and spicy (delicious). New Beef King also makes pork jerky which has a lighter flavor and is quite good. The pork and beef also come in a spicy "wet" style, with the jerky doused in the special sauce.

In addition to the jerky strips New Beef King also offers the beef in chunk style, which give you a meatier bite.

The folks at New Beef King could not be nicer. The store is bright and clean and the jerky is delicious. For the jerky fan it is a must. It is the perfect snack for a day wandering the streets of NYC.

New Beef King - 89 Bayard Street, NYC -

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Respect Your Elders - Nom Wah Tea Parlor

By a stroke of good luck my wife was called for jury duty last week. I have never understood why most people in Manhattan hate being called for Jury Duty. I suppose if you are self employed (although I am) or have outstanding warrants jury duty is not ideal. Otherwise, why fight it? You generally do not spend more than two days on Jury Duty. By law your employer has to let you go and still pay you. You can bring the Times or a good book and stretch out and get some reading done. You are done by 4:30. And the best part is you have an hour for lunch.

Why is the lunch hour so great? Because you are in the midst of one of the most vibrant immigrant communities in New York, Chinatown. Walk out the doors of 100 Centre Street and the wonderful world of Chinese Cuisine is at your disposal. Roast Duck, soup dumplings, pork buns and more are yours for the eating. So when my wife asked me I if wanted to come downtown to join her for lunch, you know I said yes. I thought about where we should go and I suggested Nom Wah Tea Parlor. She happily agreed and away we went.

Nom Wah sits on tiny Doyers Street, more of an oversized alley, right where it turns at a sharp angle. When Nom Wah opened in 1920 (originally at #15), Chinatown was just a few blocks, with Doyers at the center. Nom Wah survived the bloody history of Doyers Street and the massive expansion of Chinatown and is generally recognized as the oldest dim sum restaurant in Chinatown.

Nom Wah Tea Parlor has not changed much in the last 60+ years. Wally Tang first went to work at the restaurant in 1950 when he was 16. He became the manager at 20, bought the place in 1974 and ran it until 2010 when he handed over the reigns to his nephew, Wilson Tang. A few upgrades were made, mostly to the kitchen, and Nom Wah seems poised to continue for another 50 years.

The exterior looks like it hasn't been touched since the day it opened. The interior of Nom Wah is mostly unchanged, which is a good thing. It has a different feel than a lot of restaurants in Chinatown. It is a spacious room, with walls painted a bright yellow and the tables covered in red and white checkered table cloths. The old booths with their coat hangers remain.

One of the highlights of the room is the large tea shelf, arranged with beautiful antique tea tins, tea pots and metal tea bins, a nice nod to the history of Nom Wah and Chinatown.

The one big change at Nom Wah is how you get your dim sum. They no longer have the metal carts that go table to table. Now you have a full menu with descriptions and you fill out an order form at your table. The waiter comes and checks it and your food is made to order. The food is as solid as ever with some real standouts.

We started our meal with the Cilantro and Scallion rice roll, warm and chewy with with the fresh bite of the cilantro and scallion. Next up was the House Special Roast Pork Bun, a bun the size of a throw pillow. The bun was thick but soft and lightly doughy. The filling, when you got to it, was generous, richly sweet and satisfying. Take a big, deep bite. Sometimes bigger is better.

Shanghineese Style Soup Dumplings were decent, but the Shrimp and Snow Pea Leaf dumplings were home runs. The shrimp was firm and the snow pea leaf had a bright snap. Prepared open face with a thin wrapper, this is a dumpling where the filling is center stage and deserves the spotlight.

In a lot of Chinese restaurants vegetables are a second thought or a mere accompaniment. Here they are listed under specials and rightfully so. Chinese Greens (or Chinese Broccoli) with Oyster Sauce is a must. Stacked high on a plate, the fresh greens are perfectly blanched and served with just the right amount of Oyster Sauce. Even the most dedicated carnivore will find them addictive and find themselves digging in for seconds and thirds.

One of the other can't miss specials is Salt & Pepper Shrimp. Large, unpeeled shrimp are seasoned with salt and pepper than deep fried. Served with a garnish of jalapenos, the shrimp are crispy, savory and finger licking good. This is why we go for Chinese.

Nom Wah Tea Parlor has been serving dim sum for over 90 years. Chinese culture teaches you to respect your elders. In the case of Nom Wah Tea Parlor, that respect is well deserved.

Nom Wah Tea Parlor - 13 Doyers Street, NYC -

Monday, March 19, 2012

Checking in: Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter

On Friday I took a stroll down to Bobwhite for a late lunch. I had enjoyed my first meal there and was in the mood to try more of their menu. It took a Herculean effort not to get the fried chicken sandwich. Instead I went with the Pork Chop Sandwich and it was a winner.

The sandwich starts with a seared, butterflied pork chop. It is a nice chop, not to thick and cooked well. It is served with house made chow chow and mayo on a toasted bun. The bun is light and toasted, the perfect vehicle for the chop, and the mayo is laid on with a light touch.

What really brings the sandwich alive is the chow chow. It is essentially a pickled vegetable relish. Bobwhite's is cold, tangy and a little sweet. It is the perfect contrasts to the hot pork chop and makes the sandwich sing. You will find yourself dipping the bun in the chow chow juice runoff and making sure you don't miss the smallest bit of relish on your plate. They need to sell bottles of the stuff. The sandwich comes with a nice green side salad that features a tangy house made mustard vinaigrette that matches well.

I figured the Pork Chop Sandwich would be all I needed, then I happened to glance at the daily specials and saw this:

Pimento Cheese Biscuits. $1.50. Well, hello.

A warm, fresh biscuit spread with creamy, spicy pimento cheese. The cheese slowly melting from the heat of the fresh biscuit. $1.50. Need I say more?

Bobwhite continues to spread their humble Gospel of Southern Cooking. Consider me a convert (and a regular).

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter - 94 Avenue C , between 6th & 7th Street

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Winner and Still Champion

In 2008, in a small store front on East 7th Street, Sara Jenkins opened Porchetta. It was a trendsetter in many ways. A well regarded chef helming a small restaurant with a singular focus. The focus being pork. A commitment to top ingredients. In 2012 this is business as usual, in 2008 it was unique. The results of Sara's efforts were a four star review in New York Magazine, the #1 item in Time Out New York's list of the Top 100 things they ate in 2008 and a successful restaurant still going strong.

When Porchetta opened I had no idea what porchetta was. For the uninitiated, it is roasted pork, highly seasoned with crispy skin. This is street food in central Italy where it is traditionally made with a whole pig. At Porchetta, they use whole loins, with belly and skin attached, sourced from Niman Ranch. They are seasoned with garlic, rosemary, sage, salt and wild fennel pollen then slow roasted.

The result is heavenly. Rich, juicy pork, perfectly seasoned, with crispy bits of skin adding crunch.  You can have the porchetta as a plate or sandwich. I always go for the sandwich. Served on a ciabatta roll from Grand Daisy Bakery this is a sandwich of the highest order.

Thanks to the success of Porchetta, porchetta can now be found on the menus of numerous restaurants, at street fairs and flea markets. Porchetta's is still the standard bearer for me. Four years on, with a second restaurant, Porsena, under Sara Jenkins command, Porchetta still delivers.

Porchetta offers a few things to go with your plate or sandwich. Daily soups and salads are on offer. Sides include beans, cooking greens, crispy potatoes with burnt ends (as good as they sound) and daily specials. They are all delicious and compliment the main event. Boylans sodas and other drinks are available.

There are days, when trying to decide what to have for lunch, I hear the siren call of Porchetta. I always answer and I am never dissapointed. You won't be either.

Porchetta - 110 East 7th Street (between 1st Avenue and Avenue A)

Monday, March 12, 2012

The National

What was once called The Bowery is now known as The Lower East Side. Growing up it was a derelict area of old tenement buildings and abandoned theaters. The lighting and restaurant supply stores, as well as Gus's Pickles, were the main reason anyone would venture there during the day. CBGBs and Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse were about the only reason to head there at night. Obviously, that has changed.

Starting with The Bowery Ballroom and culminating in The New Museum, The Bowery, and the LES as a whole, has seen a remarkable transformation. Gone are the homeless men huddled around open fires in trash cans trying to keep warm. Now you have brand new condos as well as a booming bar and restaurant scene.

Freeman's Alley was the trailblazer. It was the first destination restaurant in the area. Hard to find, hard to get into, in a neighborhood people did not go to. Now the area is filled with restaurants like La Esquina and Osteria Morini that are as much about the scene as the food. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of good food in this neighborhood now. One of the best meals I had last year was at the popup "What Happens When..." and lunch at Freeman's Alley, away from the dinner crush, is a treat. Still, Freeman's now has a bespoke tailor, barbershop, haberdashery they call a Sporting Club. It can be a little much.

My old friend GK was in town last week and we made a plan to have dinner and catch up. He was going to a show at Bowery Ballroom after dinner so I decided to look for a spot near the club. First and foremost I wanted really good food and a nice cocktail. Second, I had to be able to make a reservation. None of this waiting for an hour for a table that has become a badge of honor for so many restaurants. And I wanted to be able to talk and catch up with an old friend. After much scouring I had my answer: The National.

The National sits on Rivington Street between Bowery and Chrystie Street. It is next door to Freeman's Sporting Club but a world away. The National is a small, brightly lit restaurant. White tile walls hung with mirrors set a warm, welcoming tone and make the room feel bigger than it is. A beautiful bar, lined in white tile with a dark wood top commands the right side of the restaurant, always a good sign when you are looking for a drink.

The lovely hostess (who was also our waiter and bartender) welcomes you with a smile and makes you feel right at home. First up was the drink menu. Out of the eight or so house cocktails on offer the Rattlesnake was the drink that called our names. Rye based, with sugar, lemon, egg white and an absinthe rinse, the Rattlesnake was exactly what we wanted. A refreshing cocktail with the right balance of sweet and sour so it wasn't cloying and just enough of a hint of the absinthe for a perfect final note. It is the kind of drink I would return for.

The menu at the National could be considered comfort food with a global view. We started with Braised Pork Tacos and Duck Rillette. Finding pork tacos this good in a Mexican restaurant in New York is hard enough, but to find pork tacos this rich and bright at The National was truly a surprise. The tacos start with two tortillas stacked on top of each other, a good call considering how juicy they are. They are piled high with moist, spicy pork and topped with pickled cabbage, hot yellow pepper, cilantro and crema. Any fans of pork or Mexican food should search them out. Fish tacos are also on offer and I will definitely be returning to try them.

The Duck Rillette came piled high in a mason jar, served with toasted baguette, mustard and cornichons. The duck is rich and meaty, a rustic French country treat. Two countries represented in our appetizers, two winners

While looking at the menu, the tantalizing scent drifting from my neighbor's dish made the main course decision for me. Jerk Pork Ribs. Slathered with a sweet, spicy sauce, the ribs were thick and generous, topped with roasted pineapple. This is finger licking food. The ribs come with sauteed Swiss chard, a nice counter point so the sweetness of the ribs sauce.  They also come with side is a deviled egg potato salad. An unusual choice and all the better for it. Do they go together? No, but I devoured it anyway.

Truth be told, I was too full to even consider dessert, though a few were on offer. The National serves lunch and has an espresso bar all day, so a nice array of Counter Culture coffees are available as well.

Standing on the sidewalk after dinner, fully satisfied, I was looking back into the restaurant through the big front windows. The warm glow of the restaurant bled through and the title of a Hemingway short story popped into my head. "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." Sometimes that is exactly what you are looking for. The National is that and more.

  The National - 8 Rivington Street, between Bowery and Chrystie Street.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Yin and Yang of Coffee: Part 2

Here is part two of my coffee rant, my step by step guide to making great coffee at home. I am focusing on espresso, but I will finish with a quick Chemex demo as well. This easily applies to French Press, pour over, etc.

Stove Top Espresso

Here are the three things you need to make great stove top espresso:

Bialetti espresso pot - These come in multiple sizes (3 cup, 6 cup, 9 cup) and cost between $15 and $35. They last forever.

Bean grinder - These cost about $20. (If you get obsessed with coffee you can get into the whole burr grinder business and spend hundreds of dollars. Does it make a difference? Maybe. I am perfectly happy with my little Krups grinder.)

Beans - A 12oz bag of great beans will cost you between $14 and $18.

The total cost to start making great espresso is between $60 and $70. All in probably half of what you would spend on a pod machine, and this includes a big supply of beans.

Making espresso:

Step 1 - Fill the bottom of the pot with water (there is a fill line to indicate how much water to use):

Step 2 - Grind your beans:

Step 3 - Place grinds into holder (a):

and insert into pot (b):

Step 4 - Screw on top of pot and brew (set over medium heat):

Step 5 - Enjoy!:

Seriously, it is that simple. If you are a cappuccino or latte fan you can get a milk frother or steamer. Very simple and very good.

For coffee fans, it is essentially the same. A Chemex pot looks like this:

It will cost you around $35. The process is simple. You place a Chemex filter (similar to coffee pot filter) in the top. Add grinds (one big tablespoon per cup). Add desired amount of hot water ( 1 cup of of water = 1 cup of coffee). Let it drip. You are done. (One tip. Pour a little bit of water on the grinds, enough to get them all wet, and let it rest for 30 seconds before pouring in the rest of the water. This will open up the grinds and make an even better cup of coffee).

I get that the pod machine is easy. But so is this. And beside saving you money (and counter space), the coffee is just better. Brewing your own also gives you the chance to sample the remarkable variety of coffee available to us today. So give it a try. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Yin and Yang of coffee: Part 1

The Yin and Yang of the universe always intrigues me, especially when it comes to food culture. We have become much more aware of the food we are eating. Where it comes from, how is it made and what is in it. Yet at the same time 7-11 announces massive expansion plans for New York City. They are basically trying to buy out every little bodega and grocery store and bring SuperMegaGulps to every street corner.

There is something similar going on with coffee. Great coffee shops are popping up everywhere. They are usually one of the first things you see in a neighborhood that is in "transition." Beans have become like wine. You have tasting notes. You know who the producer is and where they are located. You know where and when they were roasted. And forget a Mr. Coffee Machine. French press? Pour over? Chemex? You have a choice in how it is brewed. Admittedly this can border on farce. Here is an actually conversation I had with my wife this morning at O Cafe on 6th Avenue (and by conversation I mean me yelling to her across the room as she holds seats for us):

Me: What would you like?

Her: Just get me a regular coffee.

Me: OK.

Me: What kind? Pour over or French Press?

Her: Pour over.

Me: OK.

Me: What kind of coffee?

Her: I don't know. What do they have?

Me: Let's see. Brazil, Peru, Guatemala.

Her: I don't know. You choose.

(Lengthy conversation ensues with barista about the various coffees available. Options are weighed and Brazil is chosen)

I realize that this can get to the point where you feel like you are in an episode of Portlandia. The real point is that if you love coffee you have a world of choice. This world of choice extends to the coffee you make at home.

The Yang of all the great coffee options (beside the proliferation of Dunkin's and 7-11s) is the rise of the single serving, or pod, brewing machine. It is the fastest growing sector of home brewing according to a recent article in the New York Times and the second most popular after drip brewers. The appeal is understandable. Pour in some water, pop in a pod and in a few seconds you have a cup of coffee. If you are someone pressed for time that is really just looking for a caffene fix this may seem like the way to go.

So how good is the coffee these machines make? Since you can't make it through a Bed Bath and Beyond these days without at least three of these machines being demonstrated I have had a chance to sample many different brews and they are all the same. Mediocre at best.

While the sub-par coffee produced by these machines is the main strike against them, it is not the only one. With these machines we have discovered another way to fill up our landfills in the name of convenience. Millions of discarded pods are being thrown out each year. More garbage we do not need.

And, as always, convenience costs. The Times article calculated that the cost of coffee by using the pods ends up at an average of about $50 a pound. A pound of coffee from Counter Culture or 9th Street Espresso, on the other hand, costs about $20 a pound. That is a big difference.

As the saying goes, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." Even if it takes a little more time. And I submit that rather than giving into the hectic pace we all now accept as normal, making yourself a cup of coffee is an opportunity to stop, slow down, and treat yourself to something good. And my guess is that if you are dragging and in need of a cup of coffee, giving yourself the time to make and enjoy a good cup of coffee will pick you up as much as the cup of coffee itself.

(Next up, in part 2, we will make a good cup of coffee.)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Another great doughnut

As the quest for great doughnuts here in NYC continues I bring you a new addition to the list. At a recent brunch at Back Forty I was very happy to discover that they offer a doughnut on weekends. The flavors rotate and the one on offer the day I was there was a Chai doughnut.

The doughnut itself runs closer to fried dough or a zeppoli than your standard cake doughnut. It is thin with a crispy crust and warm, chewy interior. It is delicious, and I promise you it is better than anything you will get at a street fair on Third Avenue. As for the topping, rather than a standard glaze spread on top, a warm Chai syrup was poured over doughnut. It was sticky and sweet, with a wonderful blend of Chai spices that balanced the sugar. Familiar and unique at the same time, this is globe-trotting comfort food.

Back Forty is always worth a visit for brunch. Their doughnut just seals the deal. And with news that Back Forty West is opening in the old Savoy space, and serving breakfast, here is hoping doughnuts are at the top of their menu. Fingers crossed.