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.

marc straus gallery

We considered ourselves patrons of the emerging art scene in Atlanta when we lived there. I mean very emerging or in other words, very low cost to fit our budget. None of our purchases were for investment purchases. The requirement was just that we both fell in love to some extent with the piece. It was a little tough to only bring half of our collection to NYC with us in the move, but we’ve slowly retrieved almost every piece from my father-in-law’s basement.

We’re trying to find our way in the NYC art world – visited a few galleries here and there and bought one piece, a lucite sculpture by Phillip Low from Totokaelo of all places. Of course, our art-buying budget has greatly decreased as our cost of living has increased, and our walls are pretty full, but there is still the possibility of an interesting find out there.

Enter Marc Straus Gallery. Still not quite in our price range, but closer and fun to visit with each new exhibition. Opening night brought a world of amazement. The first floor was occupied by Antonio Santin whose beautifully-crafted textile renderings took our breath away. Piping vibrant paint into textural patterns and then spraying the shadows on top for dimension, Santine creates amazingly realistic two-dimensional compositions that appear as three-dimensional folded cloth.

The second level continued the textile theme with Sutures, a group exhibition of artworks that celebrates the crafts of sewing and weaving to create colorful and textural pieces with yarn, fabric, and other materials.


Photo from marcstraus.com/exhibitions/jong-oh-sept-2018/

Jong Oh appropriates the top floors with his architectural pieces crafted from string, nails, wire, stones, and plexiglass. The precision and illusionary quality he achieves mystifies the viewer and conveys serenity and fidelity.

Check it out while you can. On view until October 16, 2018.

ohii

You gotta love a pop-up. Throw in quality coffee, helpful and friendly staff, and make-up without irritating ingredients, and you have a winner.

We were killing time before dinner with $50 in my pocket given to me by my husband to purchase “something frivolous” from his Vegas winnings, so it made sense to see what was happening when we spotted the neon “ohii” sign on Bowery. While Derek hooked us up with a latte and a turmeric latte, I perused the offerings.

My host for exploring the store had a natural makeup style I liked, and she steered me towards the Soft Glow Highlighter, which can be used as eyeshadow, blush, or contour. It has become my new go-to for an easy weekend look. The hyper-pigmented Treasure Shadow Palette took the rest of my funds, and I am really pleased with the effect. A lighter shade for under the browbone would be nice, but I just borrow from one of my other sets.

Bonus points for the Bluestone Lane coffee which Derek loved enough for us to search it out for purchase later, the helpful barista who offered to give us some beans to try at home, and my velvety turmeric latte. The popup is temporary, but the products will be available at Urban Outfitters.

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.

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.

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.

hemlock

Hemlock was a place I had been wanting to try for their biodynamic wines, and we thoroughly enjoyed our bottles of cider and orange wine. The rest was just “ok’.

The simple decor was lovely. The staff were friendly, but our server recommended that we order more dishes that we needed. It always drives me crazy when they insist you haven’t ordered enough and say it may take too long if you ask about ordering more items later. I normally don’t fall for it, but thought they wouldn’t lead us astray at a place like this. The food was perfectly fine, but nothing was amazing.  Combined with the lack of air conditioning, too much lacklustre food left me feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. We probably won’t be dining here again – there are too many amazing places we want to try or revisit.

davelle

Derek and I went for brunch on Mother’s Day 2018, and it was amazing! We wanted one of everything but settled for the curry w/rice and the uni pasta, both of which came with potato salad and soup. The flavors were simple and elegant. We want to go back for dinner soon. Eater recommends the buttery milk toast with red bean paste and coffee for the breakfast hour, the gluten-free curry rice for lunch, and the oden (Japanese street food simmered in dashi) sets (five-set for $19 or ten for $36). It is BYOB at least for the moment (March 2018).

oxalis

It’s so strange how an experience can be pleasant for 99.9% of the time, but the last 0.1% can make you second-guess the entire event. We decided to try the Oxalis pop-up in LES last night. The $95 price tag for a 6-course tasting menu seemed like it might be a good value, and for most of the meal, it was.

We started with “potato and leek” which tasted like a fancy potato chip with even fancier french onion dip – a great start. The “grilled beets, bone marrow, watercress” was cooked in a way that gave it a tasty meaty texture and smoky flavor. The salad was similar to one of our favorites from One Eared Stag in Atlanta, the dumpster salad – nice crispy bits of fried herbs along with peppery nasturtiums and mixed greens, dressing on the side through which to drudge the greenery. [I lost my menu after writing the first part of this post, and can’t remember the rest.] It was rounded out by a beef dish, one more plate, and a frozen dessert, but unfortunately, I don’t recall the details. Each glass of wine was interesting and paired well with the accompanying dish.

All in all, it was a pleasant experience – a deal for a tasting menu with pairings in NYC. Since we had paid for the dinner online ahead of time, I wondered aloud how the dinner would end. Maybe they would bring little pastries like a lot of the tasting-only restaurants. Instead, several minutes after our last dish, someone came over to ask about our meal and thank us for coming. Still good. We were getting ready to leave, when I heard the host tell the table next to us that they were leaving a check for $0.10 so they could tip the waitstaff with a credit card. A bit later, the host brought our check with the same message. I wonder what would have happened if we had unknowingly left before they brought our unexpected bill. The staff shouldn’t have to suffer for the restaurant’s strategy and execution.

I know it is not a big deal to go from $200 to $240 for a good meal, but the unexpected addition changed our whole outlook on the experience. We then began to second guess the value of the meal. We questioned their commitment to the staff, since it is likely that some diners just said “no”. My husband determined that the total amount of wine and other spirits served was probably not much more than a $25 retail bottle of wine between the two of us. While the flavors were definitely flavorful, we began to ask ourselves if they were really any better than a normal meal at somewhere like Caffe Dante or Atoboy or Wildair that comes out to little more than half the cost of this meal. My advice to Oxalis – go ahead and charge the $95 + 20% to take care of your staff, and then diners can make an informed decision. We probably would have still decided to go and would have left thinking it was a lovely experience, but now, we won’t be going back or recommending it to others. A small but crucial misstep on their part.

Photo courtesy of: https://www.easytogrowbulbs.com/products/oxalis-iron-cross-good-luck-plant?variant=42687270860

Update: I found my menu, and the other dishes were “lettuces with anchovy”, “sunchokes, walnut, mushroom, comte”, “beef, black garlic, endive, horseradish”, and “citrus, osmanthus, white chocolate.”

wildair

OK, I’ll admit it – I got a little snippy with the hostess when we arrived less than 20 minutes after the restaurant opened (stupid bus was not on schedule), and she said it would be a 45 minute wait. She probably loved it when I told her how we came another time right at opening, and they were closed. Fortunately, she was very gracious, as everyone at Wildair is, beginning a lovely Saturday evening.

About the wait – there are just so many places to try that we usually avoid standing in line for the newest, hippest spot. We don’t mind eating early, so we arrive when these types of restaurants open.

We haven’t had a single bad dish here. Some of the standouts – crispy grain salad, beef tartare, potato darphin. Each small plate has a delicate balance of creaminess, texture, and bite.