Momofuku Nishi and Blue Ribbon Federal Grill

April 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

Recently, I got to catch up with two separate groups of former co-workers at Momofuku Nishi and Blue Ribbon Federal Grill. While the types of cuisine and locations were very different, both places provided a really fun and casual place to reconnect with friends and tuck into some good drinks and food.

At Momofuku Nishi, we ordered a couple of small plates to start but the main event was the Pok Pok and Nishi fried chicken offering, while at Blue Ribbon Federal Grill, which had only just recently opened in the Financial District, we ordered as much food as three girls could stuff down our gullets.

Jajangmyeon with pork sausage; chili pan mee and fried egg. A riff on a traditional Korean/Chinese noodle dish made of fermented black bean paste and usually pork but here, dressed up with some spice and a runny egg. Typically, the noodles are served with julienned or grated cucumber and/or carrot to add some freshness and crunch and I think that element was unfortunately missing here.

Bone marrow with XO sauce, milk bread and herbs. An interesting and slightly funky take on the typical fatty bone marrow and toast combo, which had a nice balance between the sweet and slightly squishy bread and the pungent flavors of the marrow.

And finally, two fried chickens – one midnight fried chicken from Pok Pok served with chili garlic sauce and tamarind sauce and then the Szechuan style fried chicken from Nishi with hot sauce and honey butter. Side dishes included an absolutely monstrous plate of super dense and buttery green onion biscuits, a papaya salad with miso (because you know…plants) and toasted rice. We dug into this hard and actually managed to finish it all, which we’ve found is surprisingly hard to do on most large format Momofuku dinners. My favorite of the two chicken styles was the spicier and tangier Szechuan and even though it was absolutely freezing outside, my post-dinner flush kept me warm enough to walk all the way home from Chelsea back to Soho.

When Blue Ribbon Bakery Kitchen in my neighborhood closed this past winter after years of serving American comfort food, it definitely felt like there was a sudden dining hole in the neighborhood. Luckily though, the Blue Ribbon family was able to move all of the staff down to the new restaurant Federal Grill in the Financial District at the AKA Hotel, where they’re now offering slightly fancier fare in a posh setting. Alice, Vanessa and I got to try it for the first time right around when it opened to the public and it was so wonderful to see so many familiar faces and treat ourselves to a really standout dinner where the service was incredibly warm and gracious.

Below – beef shin with spatzle, cornichons, beets and caraway cream; shishito tempura with malt ponzu; baby kale caesar salad and farro and shrimp with poblano peppers, grilled corn, pomegranate and mint labneh. Of these, my favorites were the beef shin, which was perfectly tender and full of earthy flavors, and the farro and shrimp, simply because it was a really well executed dish and something completely new to me, bringing together flavors I never would’ve thought would complement each other.

For our mains, we split the bavette steak with bourbon and black pepper sauce; the insanely good, perfectly cooked Maine lobster with potato, corn and miso butter (highly addictive) and then the truffled potatoes and cheesy spatzle (think macaroni and cheese on crack). So much food but we had no problem eating it all. Luckily we were seated in one of the larger banquettes, where if we really needed to, we probably all could’ve lay down for a quick nap in between courses.

Alice and Vanessa insisted on also getting dessert even though we were absolutely stuffed so we went with the apple pie with cinnamon ice cream, which I actually ended up being crazy about, and the incredibly alcoholic baba au rhum with creme fraiche. I took a couple of bites of each and finally gave up.

I’m definitely biased when it comes to Blue Ribbon but have to say that they’re doing a really nice job at the new location, which is completely different from what Bakery Kitchen ever was. The food walks a nice balance between the familiar and domestic vs. unique and worldly, the service is as awesome as ever and I’m sure they’ll have no problem filling their seats with new regulars downtown. Especially want to thank Roghan, Laraugh, Bessie, David and Sam for their wonderful hospitality and can’t wait to go back soon.

Momofuku Nishi

June 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

Dinner at Momofuku Nishi, David Chang’s newest NYC restaurant in the Chelsea neighborhood, featuring a kind of mash-up of Korean and Italian food.  The interior is typical for Chang’s restaurants (spare, not particularly comfortable furniture and a cramped, loud space with mostly communal seating) and service would sometimes disappear and pop up again randomly, but there were a number of interesting dishes that conveyed the concept particularly well and made the visit worthwhile…

To start: whole fried shrimp with salt and pepper…a perfect bar snack to pop into your mouth, head, legs and all, while drinking a refreshing beer or cocktail. Crunchy and heavily seasoned, brightened with a squeeze of lime.

Instead of getting any protein-heavy dishes (the brisket had run out by the time we arrived), we ordered a number of pastas, including the much-hyped ceci e pepe with chickpea hozon and black pepper, a funky take on the classic Roman pasta. Here, the usual pecorino cheese is swapped for a chickpea miso-esque substance that doesn’t skimp on the umami and maintains that velvety texture.  It looks super simple on the plate but don’t expect it to be bland.

One of my favorite dishes of the evening, Nishi’s Asian take on chicken and dumplings. It was a lighter version of the Southern comfort dish, with strong hits of toasted sesame oil, wide flat noodles and meaty, smoky shiitake mushrooms. It reminded me of the minimalist, medicinal soups that my mom and dad would prepare when my sisters and I were young, consisting mainly of a milky bone broth made pork back bones, sesame oil and other Asian ingredients like goji berries and ginseng.

Here, clams grand lisboa, a potentially great dish that was unfortunately way over-salted on our visit (and I tend to like a lot of seasoning). Topped with tender clams, the noodles were cooked like Spanish fideos or Cantonese pan-fried noodles, with crunchy, almost charred noodles around the perimeter and heavily sauced, softer noodles in the middle. At some point, I’d like to try a better executed version of this dish because it has everything that I like – briny seafood, lots of different textures and an interesting sauce.

Our final pasta dish, spicy beef Sichuan noodles, a decent dish but not particularly memorable. It evoked a hybrid of pappardelle bolognese (and looks a lot like it too) and the addictive sauce in the spicy pork sausage and Chinese broccoli dish at Ssam Bar but didn’t have as much of a kick as I would’ve expected from a dish labeled “Sichuan”.

We also tried the fried fingerlings with smoked yolk and tarragon and while the sauce was delicious, I didn’t really care for the large, thick chunks of potato, which were missing that crispy exterior and creamy interior that I look for in any fried potato dish.

Dessert, however, was delicious and wonderfully simple. We ordered the pistachio bundt cake with ricotta because everyone had been raving about it and it was a lovely, not-too-sweet slice offset by the tangy cream. So many carbs in one meal…in the end, while I was happy to have tried this cross-cultural restaurant, it will be a while before I feel the need to go back.

Rouge et Blanc

May 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

Family dinner at Rouge et Blanc, an awesome French-Vietnamese wine bar and restaurant just a couple blocks away from the apartment, to celebrate Katie’s birthday back in March:

The menu consists of mainly small plates divided into vegetables, proteins from the earth and sea to be shared with the whole table and Tom, the owner and wine director, is super friendly and great at choosing the perfect wine to go with your meal. They have a killer version of brussels sprouts with Korean chili vinaigrette and corn nuts and crispy broccoli and kale with sesame, ginger and yuzukosho, which adds a hit of umami.

We also ordered the grilled duck hearts with ponzu, celery and scallion – very tender and surprisingly refreshing due to the herbs – and the special of fried chicken skins (yes, just skin) and honey scotch bonnet sauce, which was so hot it basically melted my face off. For some more veg, we also got the slow roasted carrot with maple chipotle glaze, goat feta, sunflower seeds and dill, sweet and smoky with some tang thanks to the cheese.

The larger plates were the pork belly pho and the Vietnamese beef cheek with rice cakes, green papaya and roasted enoki, my favorite dish of the meal. Both were really comforting and savory and I really loved the roti and the rich sauce that came with the fall apart beef cheek.

We also split a couple desserts with the port that Tom generously shared – I don’t remember exactly what these were but the chocolate covered cake with burnt marshmallow was amazing. As someone who doesn’t usually order dessert, I was pretty blown away by this one.  Definitely recommend Rouge et Blanc as either a romantic date spot or place for special occasions if your group is the type that likes ordering a bunch of dishes to share.

Branching out at Ssam Bar

January 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

Photos from Esther and my summer meal at Momofuku Ssam Bar, which is still one of my favorite places to eat in the East Village.

A seasonal cocktail and the Penicillin – scotch, lemon, honey and ginger…all my favorite ingredients in one beverage with a giant ice cube.

The famous steamed pork belly buns with hoisin, cucumber, and scallions. Still so good that I could make a full meal out of these babies.

A new addition to the menu since my last visit – bbq buns with crispy pork belly, coleslaw, and smoked mayo. Maybe it was the novelty of the dish, but I think I actually preferred this version to the original, and Esther and I seriously contemplated ordering more.

A classic – spicy pork sausage and  rice cakes. I always tell myself that I won’t order these again, but something about the crispy starch mixed with the crunchy Chinese broccoli and spicy meatiness of the sausage just keeps calling me back.

Silky Santa Barbara uni with some melon ice and a strange but tasty gelee (I vaguely remember a porky, ham flavor) with summer tomatoes.

Beef, two ways, with bulgur, fava beans and soubise. I think this may have been the first time I’d had bulgur actually and it was totally great – nutty flavor and a toothsome texture. The meat, as you can see, was also perfectly cooked. Just goes to show that while it may be easy to fall into the same great dishes again and again, it’s definitely worth your while to try new dishes at places where you’ve eaten many times in the past.

Wong + Grom

January 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

Cornelia Street off Bleecker has a trove of great restaurants – Pearl Oyster Bar (where I had my first lobster roll), Cornelia Street Cafe, Le Gigot, Home Restaurant (a brunch favorite with killer oyster po’boys and duck confit butternut hash). The newest of these gems is Wong, by Simpson Wong, whose cuisine can only really be described as Asian fusion. Unlike typical notions of fusion, however, the food here is not as contrived at all and familiar Asian dishes are delivered with unique flair.

Sorry in advance for the very dimly lit, awkwardly tinted photos. The restaurant was extremely dark, even by 5:30pm, and our candle gave everything a reddish glow. The interior is much like any other casual dining place nowadays, minimalist with classroom-style chairs, open kitchen so you can see the chef working on your dishes, and a long, wooden bar where patrons can sip Asian-inspired cocktails while waiting for their table.

 

The waiter first brought us some curry with paneer and naan, the restaurant’s version of bread and butter. The flavors in this little dish were incredibly sharp, and it bode well for the rest of the meal.

Our starter were the house specialty, Wong’s duck buns, with cucumber and chinese celery. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the herbal taste of Chinese celery in what I’d assume would be a fatty bun (akin to Momofuku’s pork belly buns) but we ordered them anyway since they were one of the better known dishes and we weren’t disappointed. The celery definitely added an earthy element, balanced against the fatty, tender duck. The buns were also crisply fried, which was a very nice and unexpected touch.

Initially, we also wanted to try the Hakka pork belly small plate, served with turnip, taro root tater tots (I wanted the dish for this alone), and greens, but the kitchen had sadly run out so we got the shrimp fritters instead. Normally, I don’t like foods that are too tart, and this dish had a really bracing, acidic vinaigrette (no doubt nam pla played a part) poured on everything else immediately before eating. It was a bit shocking for my taste buds at first, but as we continued to mix the sauce with the noodles and fried shrimp, the flavors began to meld together and harmonize with one another.

Our shared main course was a real show-stopper, Wong’s egg foo young. I’ve never actually had regular egg foo young before, so I had no base of comparison, but this was perfect in so many ways. The day’d been extremely cold and we had basically walked the length of Bleecker Street, so to dig into such an insanely comforting, egg-yolk-and-lobster-filled dish was a real treat. Add crumbled salted duck-egg yolks (which my family goes absolutely nuts about), and we were mopping the last scraps up with whatever bread there was left.

We didn’t get to try the famous duck fat ice cream (served with poached plums, tuile, and 5-spice cookie) since we were worried it’d be too much rich food but picked up some gelato from Grom on the way back, though in retrospect I suppose Grom ice cream isn’t that much less indulgent than duck fat ice cream. Mandarin and torroncino (nougat) for me, pear and cassata Siciliana (almond chips, candied lemons and oranges) for Laura.

Wong
7 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014
212.989.3399

Grom 
233 Bleecker Street (and Carmine)
New York, NY
212.206.1738

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