pig & khao

I don’t know why it has taken us so long to try Pig & Khao – it has been on my list since the start. It moved to the top when we tried to get in with a group of six during primetime after a nearby show last Friday. The food smelled amazing, and we were disappointed, but not surprised to hear it would be a two-hour wait. After an average meal down the block, I vowed to make a reservation soon. The next Saturday offered a 5:15 pm or a 10:30 pm, so we chose an early dinner.

pig and khao peanuts baboy daiquiri rum & hydeThe cocktail menu seemed so interesting we had to start there. The Szechuan peppercorns in the rum-based Baboy Daiquiri caught my eye, and Derek went for the Rum & Hyde. The numbing spices added a subtle depth to my drink, and the Roasted Peanuts with coconut, lemongrass, and kaffir were an ideal match. We decided to only go for small plates to try more things and settled on the Thai Mushroom Salad, Green Papaya Salad, and Baby Octopus Paksiw.

pig & khao thai mushroom salad green papaya salad coconut rice

With a beer and white wine as an accompaniment, we dug into the mushrooms, which were expertly roasted to smoky, chewy perfection. Normally averse to cream sauces piped onto a plate, we loved how the coconut cream calmed the heat and served as a becoming partner for the sweet and tart chili jam. Next up, the green papaya salad held its own with the most authentic ones we have tried over the years, although the chef spun the dish a bit differently with charred chicken and taro.

pig & khao baby octopus

We closed the meal by dredging each sauteed baby octopus through the buttery black vinegar broth and relishing the bitterness of the watercress and garlic chips. I almost forgot the sweet coconut rice which cooled the tongue between spicy bites, and we had enough to bring home for a side dish the following night.

We want to try everything on the menu and look forward to going back for the food and the lovely people at Pig & Khao.

la contenta

Our original plan was to finally try the oden dinner set at Davelle before heading to the Marc Strauss Gallery opening night, but unfortunately, we arrived to find a note that said the restaurant was having Davelle Boot Camp and would reopen soon. Fortunately, my map showed that La Contenta, other “want-to-try” was just around the corner and Mexican seemed the thing to do.

All of the seats were full, but we are fans of eating at the bar and were able to grab a couple of stools. It wasn’t difficult for either of us to choose our beverages. Derek is always going to go for a margarita, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off the yellow cocktails in the coupes with rust-colored salt rimming the side that seemed to be sitting on almost every table. This canary concoction turned out to be The Mayan, a tequila-based drink with lime, habanero bitters, and a surprising addition of corn purée that is responsible for the interesting color and texture. My problem with this cocktail is that it goes down way too fast. I chose a glass of red wine next to remedy this issue and was amazed to find that it was 1) from Mexico, and 2) delightful. It had some fruit on the front and a deep, earthiness on the finish. Who knew?

Since this was our first time, and it happened to be happy hour, we decided to stick with the botanas menu. The Guacamole arrives as a sculptural piece in a molcajete with warm tortilla chips pointing upwards for easy grabbing, and it tastes just like what we make at home – simple and fresh with a hint of spice. The salsa that comes out before is a pleasant surprise, more like the adobo sauce from a can of chipotles than the pureed tomato sauce you find at most cantinas. Two sets of tacos – Pescado & Carne Asada – rounded out the meal. Hot and crispy tempura catfish nestled among cole slaw and pico de gallo in corn tortilla melted in our mouths, and the marinated hanger steak with guacamole and tomatillo was tender with a bit of sear.

Our experience was just a hint at the capabilities of La Contenta, and I am looking forward to experiencing the full dinner menu soon.

cafe china

Although we have several Chinese restaurants that we love, none compares to Cafe China, You won’t find a better value, even now that they have abandoned their no tipping policy, and the entire experience – from the wine, cocktails, food, staff, and decor – is enchanting. The captivating photos of winsome Chinese women take you back to a more romantic time and place. Our most recent visit was with friends, which is the best way to experience more variety.

We started with cocktails – 2 vespers, an Ashes of Time (whiskey and scotch-based), and an Old Fashioned. I love that the classics are available, along with some newbies. They also have a nice, but reasonably-priced wine list that includes choices with a touch of sweetness like the Vouvray to hold up to the numbing Sichuan peppercorns that permeate many of the plates.

Our first course included possibly my favorite dish in the entire world, the Husband and Wife Special. We still haven’t quite figured out exactly what is in this spicy, multi-textural concoction – maybe lung, tendon, tripe, etc. – it varies by the restaurant, but Cafe China makes the best one. They add finely chopped celery and peanuts to the “parts” (in this case, it’s beef and tripe), along with the traditional chile oil. It’s too adventurous for most, but I recommend you try it at least once. Anything served in the spicy chile oil is a winner, including the Pork Dumpling appetizer. The numbing peppers lend a fun and elegant flair to the Szechuan Pickled Vegetables, and we appreciated the silkiness of the Butter Squash Soup.

Moving on to the mains, we chose Beef Sautéed with Pickled Chili, Ma Po Tofu, and then the Sautéed Pea Shoots as a break from the heat. Each option on the menu takes a traditional plate and elevates it with the flawless sophistication that has earned Cafe China their Michelin Star.

I have one complaint about Cafe China. They only deliver to a small section of Manhattan, so our weekend orders had to stop when we moved south. The absence just makes our heart grow fonder.

russ and daughters cafe

We were even more impressed with Russ and Daughters Cafe on this visit. As part of the Stone Series Music Series, Bill Frisell was scheduled to play, and we made reservations well in advance. Emily, the General Manager, emailed my husband to ask if we wanted to be close to the music or in the back, where it was quieter. She gave us the perfect seats – close, but out of the way of the crowd. The bartenders were lovely also. Since the musicians performed in the bar section, the staff waited for breaks to add ice to the shaker for mixed drinks, gently lifted the wine from the ice bath, and tenderly placed each dish on the counter to avoid disturbing the music.

Kudos to the restaurant for sponsoring this series. A popular venue, yet management allowed people to stand and enjoy the show with minimal (or any) purchases. The concerts demonstrate a real commitment from the restaurant to the community.

Russ and Daughters Cafe specializes in smoked fish, putting its unique spin into dishes like Pastrami Russ, a pastrami-cured salmon sandwich similar to a Reuben.  The Chopped Liver with matzo escorted me back to my childhood days helping my mom prepare the communion “crackers” at our small town church and sneaking a couple for a snack. The fennel, dill, and capers added character to the Mixed Green salad. We finished off the meal with the Russ & Daughters Knishes – light, fluffy, with a hint of sharp mustard.

Our beverage choices included the Lower East Side, a fragrant gin cocktail with lime, dill, and cucumber. Derek couldn’t resist the Smoked Martini, gin-based, with the smokiness coming from a rinse of Laphroaig. It’s always nice to see more savory beverages. The Daniel Dampt & Fils Chablis was a bargain at $56 a bottle.

russ and daughters bill frisell updo

It was one of those crazy hot Manhattan Summer nights, so I ended up having to hack a pen into a hair accessory to beat the heat. All in all, it was a delightful evening of food, drinks, and music.

staycation 2018: day 3

One of the keys to a fantastic staycation or vacation is the ability to pivot when needed. Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night to Derek reading, which meant he could not sleep. We didn’t really have to leave for the Cloisters at 10:00, so I decided we would sleep in a bit.

I was craving Ethiopian, but there seems to be a dearth of this cuisine in NYC, especially for lunch. There may be lots of great places, but no one is writing about them. We tried Meskerem several months back, and it was fine, but we wanted to find something better. Injera has gotten some press, as well as several spots in Harlem, but all dinner-only. Derek volunteered to research the genre while I showered. He found Awash, which took us over to the East side, somewhat on the way to The Met. We walked a bit over a mile, only to find the restaurant closed. Time to reboot. Fish Cheeks had caught our attention on the way over, so we decided to go back and revisit it. Some of the dishes we have had here before are so amazing, it was hard to not reorder them, but we ventured into all new plates this time. Happy hour starts at noon, so we began with six $1 oysters, served with fried shallots and a spicy sauce that was uniquely Thai, and discounted glasses of wine and beer. Next came a raw shrimp with spicy fish sauce, basil, and garlic appetizer, a side of morning glory (described as a Thai watercress ) sautéed with Thai Chiles and fish sauce, and a whole fried snapper, covered with chili peppers, red onions, and fried kefir lime leaves and shallots. All excellent choices for an authentic and delicious Thai meal.

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Next was The Met. I wanted to see the Heavenly Bodies exhibit (catholic costumes), and Derek was excited about the Souls Grown Deep outsider art sector. The outfits were exquisite with their gold accents and precise embroidery. So beautiful, but hard to imagine necessary when the church’s mission should be to help the poor, feed the hungry, etc. We paused for a refreshment on the rooftop while taking in the Huma Bhadha sculpture. Cast in bronze, the colors and textures were mesmerizing while at the same time creepy. On to the outsider art in the modern department. Many of the artists are from my home state of Alabama, and their assemblages are pretty amazing. They used such elementary objects and made them into beautiful pieces.

existing conditions cocktail menu

1st round – Professor Plum + Banana Justino

existing conditions cocktail menu

2nd round of Saratoga Paloma + The Remedy

After the museum, we decided to skip The Pool and go for Existing Conditions, which was more in our neighborhood. I had been excited to share this place with Derek, but it just wasn’t his thing.  He appreciated the fact that the fizz lasted the entire Saratoga Paloma, but the rest didn’t impress him. Oh well, hopefully, the rest of the staycation will appeal to both of us. This cocktail lounge probably won’t be your food destination, but the inventiveness of the beverages are worth a trip. I thought every drink we ordered was amazing.

bathtub gin

My colleague and I obviously looked confused when we arrived at 132 9th Avenue and were asking each other if we had the correct address. Then the door opened, and a kind voice said “Bathtub Gin?”. The hostess invited us into a small coffee shop where another door opened, leading to the speakeasy for which we were searching. Our friend was waiting for us at our table along with multi-page cocktail and spirit menus.

Our selections consisted of a Manhattan, one of the Gin & Tonic specialities of the house, and a spicy cocktail named The Red Coal. At first, I was having trouble deciding, but when I was sold when I spotted the gin, horseradish, and Sriracha blend. A sucker for savory drinks, I absolutely loved this one. It had a citrusy kick that didn’t smack you in the face. The only problem with it was the ease and speed in which it went down.

Some olives, almonds, jamon, and cheese rounded out the happy hour. Reservations tend to be limited to two-hour increments, and we nursed our drinks a bit, so we didn’t really have enough time for a second round. I want to try some of the other options, but it will be difficult to pass up The Red Coal if it is available on my next trip.

 

 

existing conditions

As a fan of the shuttered Booker and Dax (shared space with Momofuku Ssäm Bar), I have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Existing Conditions. My high expectations of creativity and deliciousness were completely met.

Our first round leaned towards the vegetal with a Carrot Vodka Soda, a carbonated blend of vodka, carrot juice, orange syrup, and clarified lime juice and the OG Celery, a riff on gin and juice with celery, parsley, orange syrup and lime. My Turkish friend couldn’t turn down the Edessa, a rye drink with Benedictine and sherry infused with urfa biber, a Turkish chile. There aren’t enough savory cocktails, and I applaud bars like this one and the George Washington bar for proving that vegetables are a worthy mixer. Each of these was the perfect blend of savory and sweet without being muddled.

OG Celery, Carrot Vodka Soda, Edessa at Existing Conditions

OG Celery, Carrot Vodka Soda, and Edessa at Existing Conditions

The theme of the next series of libations was fun with fruit, with a Strawberry Carborita, a carbonated margarita with all of the fruits – lime, orange, and strawberry – clarified; the Joy of Mango, consisting of mango rum and clarified Jamaican pepper sauce; and a Canary, saffron-infused gin combined with fino sherry and yellow Chartreuse (so I broke the fruit theme). Tangy and sweet, each went down almost too easily

The planning and precision that go into these cocktails come out in distinct and well-balanced flavors. Our server, which I’m pretty sure was one of the owners, told us that each potion had to pass two tests to make it to the menu – one, would you drink three of them in a row, and two, will the beverage hold up to 30 minutes of sipping.

We didn’t try the food, but I am anticipating it to be prepared with the same imagination and care as the drinks. Will definitely be back soon.

mission chinese

Mission Chinese is one of our most beloved places in the city, so we were delighted when we were able to make a last-minute reservation for 7:00 on a Saturday night. Our original plan was to check out Gitano, the Mexican pop-up in SoHo that has hosted many celebrity-spotting. I made the reservations before the palm-filled outdoor space opened, but after one of my team mentioned that they had been closed temporarily by the health department, it made sense to see if any reviews had been posted. After a quick search, I found only negative comments about the food and service, plus it didn’t seem the exterior atmosphere was going to be very comfortable with the Summer heat. We’ll probably try it for drinks at some point. So long Gitano; hello Mission!

We arrived a bit early and headed to the bar for a apertif while we waited for our friends to arrive. I think this may be the first time we tried their cocktails, as we tend to just go for a bottle of Reisling to stand up to the intense heat of the food. This time we went for both since there were four of us. The drinks were delicious and fun; my personal favorite was the Phil Kallins – gin, coconut milk, kaffir lime, tianjin chili, ginger, lemongrass, and sesame oil. It had a savory quality with a slightly sweet creaminess. The chili-sesame oil really made it. Other standouts were the electric blue MSG Margarita (tequila, bitter melon, blue curacao, aloe salt, and citrus) and the General Tso’s Whiskey Sour (rye, pineapple, roasted peanut + sesame, ginger, chili, and umami bitters). I love how they sprinkle just a bit of seasoning on the top ice cube versus the usual rim.

The Quick Mission Dinner is our go-to, but we decided to continue on our a la carte spree. One of our companions is gluten-free and vegan, and the menu was very accommodating for her. Wood Fired Celery, Effervescent Sichuan Water Pickles, Smoked Mushroom “Jerky” Fried Rice, and Vegan Mapo Tofu provided the base, and then the other three of us supplemented with Chongqing Chicken Wings w/XXX Spices and Kung Pao Pastrami. I don’t think it is possible for my husband to go to Mission without ordering the chicken wings, but I don’t discourage. The pickles, which are served with chunks of ice – I know, weird, right? – are spicy and exquisite. A lot of the dishes, including the wings and pickles, contain the spicy, numbing Sichuan peppers – you love and curse them in the same bite. The lobster fried rice is still my number one pick in the rice section, but the mushroom one is a worthy second. We’ve never had a dish at Mission that was anything less than extraordinary, and I’m so glad our friends were just as mesmerized.

bohemian

This is our 3rd or 4th time to Bohemian. I read about it a couple of years ago online, probably on the Eater secret dining guide, and sent an email pleading my case for access to the reservation line.

I’m trying to think of something clever to warrant an invite, but my mind seems to still be on holiday. My husband and I are adventurous eaters (shirako and baby squid are two of my all-time favorite dishes) who are always looking for something different and delicious. We recently moved to NYC, and I read about Bohemian while searching for culinary experiences that celebrate food over hype. If you feel inclined to invite us, we would love to come for a visit.

It worked! I love the fact that they gave us the number to call for reservations and still asked more about us.

Thank you for contacting Bohemian New York. My name is Karen and I am returning to you on behalf of team Bohemian.  We, Play Earth, create hide-out spots in our favorite places across the world to meet and connect with people from a variety of experiences and backgrounds.  Our concept is to nurture the human connection within the confines of our intimate space, which is why we ask for a self-introduction or a personal referral from a friend.  Could you tell us a little more about yourself?  Where are you and your husband originally from?   How are you enjoying life in NYC?  It would be a pleasure to welcome you into our intimate dining space for a memorable evening.  I love shirako and baby squid too!  Although we don’t serve those traditional dishes here at Bohemian, we hope you won’t be disappointed with our eclectic menu filled with our passion to serve good food and hospitality.

And we weren’t at all disappointed with the menu or the hospitality, especially tonight. Just a quick FYI and the only slightly negative thing you will read in this blog post – don’t arrive before 6 pm if you have the first reservation of the night in the Summer. The hallway leading up to the locked restaurant door doesn’t get any air movement and will make you sweat in less than a minute.

But once you are inside, everyone and everything is lovely. You know it’s going to be a good meal when the bartender directs the same attention to chilling a glass for beer (by swirling ice water in the glass) as he does to the preparation of the cocktails. We began with two libations sharing a Japanese whiskey base – the Little Devil, a spicy and light number, and the Jaguar No. 2, a little heavier drink with egg white and a torched almond garnish. Both were well-balanced and delicious.

We have always ordered the tasting course but decided to go a la carte this time to try new things. Plus, the tasting price has gone up from $63 to $80, which weighed in on our choice. People on Yelp say you should go for a la carte, but I think you should try one of the tasting dinners (there are two now – the other for $90) on your first visit, and then move to single servings.

We ordered five dishes, which was one to two more than we needed with our lighter appetites, but is probably perfect for most couples. The Farmers’ Fresh Vegetable Fondue has always been a favorite of ours, so we selected it again. Yelpers discount it as “just” a crudité, but it is worth the $24 because each item nestled into the crushed ice bed tastes like it was picked right before serving – bitter treviso, sharp radishes, sweet carrots and juicy tomatoes. Another repeat was the Pan-Roasted Branzino (the small one) which is seasoned and cooked perfectly and served with more farm-fresh veggies. The anchovies really make the entree.

New items for us were the Garlic Shrimp, Menchi Katsu, and Mushroom Risotto. The shrimp come out sizzling in a terracotta cazuela. No matter how much you know you need to wait for it to cool, it’s impossible to delay topping the grilled bread with the garlicy goodness, taking a bite, and burning your mouth. Same with the katsu, a beef version which comes in its own pouch. There is a bit of work involved to make your own condiment by grinding sesame seeds in a minature mortar and then mixing in sweet tonkatsu sauce, but it is totally worth the effort. We finished the meal with risotto (well, half of the risotto – we brought the rest back with us), made in the simple, clean style of Japan.

Last, but not least, we come to the wine. A stable-y, light red called Romuaid Petit Chiroubles paired perfectly with the variety of dishes. $250 with tax and tip, so not an every-day meal, but a special experience to repeat every few months or as the budget allows.

her name is han

It’s hard to go wrong when you start out with an electric blue drink. We tried three of the cocktails among the group, and they were all tasty. I’m not usually one to drink cocktails during dinner, but the sweet worked with the spicy dishes.

Thank you to our server for not letting us over order. If you’ve read my blog before, you will know it annoys me to no end when we are told to order more and then end up completely stuffed and with a large check. We will probably differently next time because we ended up with a plethora of rice cakes. They were delicious and light, so it wasn’t a big deal.

Corn and potato croquettes were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside – a winning combination. Korean-style BBQ Vegetables made for a solid side dish, and Rice Cake, Fish Cake, Noodles, Beef, Sausages, Assorted Seafood & Vegetables in Spicy Fish Broth rounded out the meal. The soup was flavorful and full of surprises (ok, not really surprises because each ingredient is pretty much in the name except for the breaded and fried hard boiled egg), but made the table extremely hot. It would be ideal to order on a cold night. I would have been fine without the beef because it was tough without much flavour.

All in all, the meal was good, with no real misses, and we will probably try it again in the winter. In our group of four, each had a cocktail (would have ordered either another cocktail or wine, but the food came out fast and furious – no waiting here) and more than enough food for a total check of $170. For modern Korean, Atoboy is better, but Her Name is Han provides a reliable option that won’t break the bank.