Monday, January 31, 2011

got lunch? by kickshaw cookery

Some people have a problem with drunk dialing. Me? I have a problem with hunger-pang-induced texting. The absence of food in my fridge tends to screw with my judgment so I'm prone to harassing friends, neighbors and generally anyone who makes the mistake of responding to my whining on Facebook on weekends and during snowstorms to placate my voracious appetite with brunch and coffee (why I haven't thought of funneling that energy into Seamlessweb orders, I'm not really sure either).

On those desperate mornings, I wish I was in on Kickshaw Cookery's Got Lunch? program. The brainchild of New Yorkers Pilar Valdes (by way of Manila) and Binh Ly (who is of Chinese-Vietnamese descent), the program is inspired by CSAs or community supported agriculture groups that bundle up resources to purchase a "share" from a local farmer. With this "share", members of the CSA get the benefit of receiving deliveries of newly harvested, in-season produce every week or every other week.

As with a CSA, one can get a membership to Kickshaw Cookery and get deliveries of delicious gourmet lunches twice a week for a month. For $140 for the Winter season, you get a total of 10 meals, which will be delivered to you on Mondays and Thursdays. How would you like to have a box containing cider and juniper brined porkchop with sauteed collards and radishes plus roasted jewel yams just show up at your door?
Like a CSA delivery, you won't know what you're going to get until you pop that box open. Kickshaw Cookery uses whatever's freshest and in season. I would not be opposed to getting surprised with a meal like this:
If you're not as big a fan of surprises as I am, you can get an inkling of what may show up for lunch by checking out their sample menus here. If you fall in love with Kickshaw Cookery's food and decide you want to take this relationship to another level, you can tap them for your catering needs, whether it's for an intimate dinner or a party for 120.
The Winter season for Got Lunch? begins on February 7, 2011 and ends March 10, 2011. To get a membership, click here. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

restaurant week diary: mr. chow

"It's sad," I said to my friends as we dug into our Restaurant Week meal at Mr. Chow in Tribeca on a jam-packed Friday night.

"What's sad?"

"Think about all those celebrities in Hollywood ... this is what they think good Chinese food is," I replied. I like to think of myself as an ambassador of Asian cuisine of sorts to my non-Asian friends, taking pleasure in bringing them to out-of-the-way spots with delicious food they'll crave and come back for even without me. It's not often that I feel sorry for Playboy bunnies and Kardashians, but if this is what they think good Chinese food is, that's pretty tragic. 

I can't seem to learn the lesson that Chinese food is best eaten in Chinatown and not at some chi chi spot. I realized this when I went to Buddakan and found that their soup dumplings didn't even come close to Joe's Shanghai's. I'm sorry to say it, but Mr. Chow's food cannot hold a candle to our 4AM Chinatown stalwart, Hop Kee. The consolation is that we gave the spot a whirl during Restaurant Week and didn't have to break the bank to do it.

The glam interiors are a nice change from dingy Ctown tabletops, and the pushy tuxedo-clad Italian waiters easier on the eyes than pushy Chinese waiters. The blaring club music during dinner service reminded me of Bagatelle in the Meatpacking District; I half expected the patrons to start dancing on chairs while waving chicken satay in the air. The cachet of Mr. Chow is definitely in the glamorous ambience that hints at celebrity.

Not having done my research, I at least thought that we would be given nicely plated Chinese food for the price. Wrong. Mr. Chow does family style-servings much like the aforementioned Hop Kee. Our group of five was given all four options for appetizers and entrees available for Restaurant Week. The portions were fair and there was definitely more than enough food to go around.

The first starter I tried was the chicken satay, which took me aback. I didn't realize satay existed in Chinese cuisine but hey, there's such a thing as Filipino barbeque so I guess anything's possible. It tasted like lemon chicken placed on a skewer and dunked in some sweet mayo-based, peanut-inflected sauce.
The famous Mr. Chow Noodles reminded us of Filipino-style spaghetti with its handmade rice noodles topped with a sweet ground meat sauce. If an authentic Chinese dish like this does in fact exist, it explains how Filipinos came to butcher Italian spaghetti so spectacularly (Let me be clear that I do actually love and occasionally crave the sacrilegious Filipino preparation of spaghetti—but I wouldn't involve anyone who isn't Filipino in this).
The jade dumplings brought me back to that episode of Top Chef All Stars where the cheftestants commandeered a dimsum restaurant. "This is white people dimsum," grumbled one cranky Chinese lady. I can commiserate.
The appetizer that we liked best was the squab with lettuce because it tasted good and had some discernible texture (mainly because it's tough to mess up fresh lettuce).
Then came the entrees. The most popular dish on the menu is green prawns. I initially thought it was broccoli and was happily surprised to find out otherwise. Again, it's not bad but the texture is generally mushy and there's no sophisticated technique used to turn that prawn green—just food coloring here, people. I would take Hop Kee's walnut shrimp over this, any day.
The Drunken Fish, fresh sole poached in wine, tasted okay. But the textures were quite dreadful. The fish is mushy, not flaky, and obscured by some frightening-looking, cornstarch-heavy sauce. 
I think this was supposed to be crispy beef and it was tasty, though we also concurred it seemed someone in the kitchen had a heavy hand with the monosodium glutamate. 
The velvet chicken was inconsequential, and the green beans might've tasted like the dish Jamie and Antonia cooked in the Top Chef dimsum episode. Enough said.

For desert, we were given yummy raspberry and vanilla gelato—the only dish that looked right being dished out by the primarily Italian staff. What can I say about this ... they did a good job scooping it from the container? It was nice, but had absolutely nothing to do with Chinese cuisine.
What can I say? I enjoyed our dinner because of the great company and because it's good fun to get dolled up and check out "the scene" every so often. But if you come here for the food, the only feeling you'll have at the pit of your stomach is the sickening sensation of getting ripped off. If you must go, go for Restaurant Week and pay a negligible $35 per head. But if you're looking for good, comfort Chinese food, know that the $35 is better spent at a hole in the wall farther east below Canal Street.  

Mr. Chow is located at 121 Hudson Street, New York, NY 100013. Tel. (212) 965-9500

Saturday, January 29, 2011

let's do brunch: locanda verde

I still recall being completely confused by the New York concept of brunch when I first arrived in the Big Apple. Elsewhere in the world, brunch refers to a meal had between the hours of breakfast and lunch, with brunch partakers usually good and stuffed by 11:30AM. In New York, brunch is a meal best enjoyed after a long night of debauchery. Brunch-goers typically roll into establishments hung-over and looking to sop up the remnants of last night's dirty martinis with a serving of Eggs Benedict and perhaps get some hair of the dog with a freshly made Bloody Mary. New York brunch starts around 11AM and typically ends at roughly 4PM. It can either be the cure or the precursor to further debauchery. I for one, love it!

I had a great brunch awhile back at Locanda Verde in Tribeca with Zoe, Amanda and Brandy.  It has been said that Locanda Verde may have the best brunch in the city, but that's a tough call that I'm more than willing to investigate. It was tough pulling myself out of bed on a freezing cold Winter day to go for brunch but once I had a bite of burnt orange toast smothered with sheep's milk ricotta drizzled with truffle honey ($12), it was all worth it.
I loved, loved, loved my lemon ricotta pancakes topped with tart meyer lemon curd and fresh blueberries. I feared it would be ricotta overkill but it turns out the concept doesn't exist.
I normally order something with eggs for brunch but this time I decided to forego it. There were some very yummy egg dishes on the table, however. Amanda had a fluffy zucchini frittata with roasted tomato, goat cheese and basil ($15).
Brandy had the soft scrambled farm egg crostino with leeks, mushrooms and speck ($16).
Zoe had the scrumptious Uovo Modenese ($17) with cotechino hash, spinach and tomato hollandaise. Cotechino is a type of pork sausage from Italy. This plate looks like the epitome of the perfect  post-party Winter morning meal. 
I'm not fit to say if Locanda Verde does in fact serve the best brunch in the city, but it was pretty damn good, and I am willing to sacrifice and try as many brunch spots as possible in an effort to find out! For now though, it is a freezing cold Saturday morning in New York and my appetite has been whetted so I'm off to forage for food. Enjoy your weekend everyone!

Locanda Verde is located at 377 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10013. Tel. (212) 925-3797

Friday, January 28, 2011

let's do brunch: maharlika

I first heard the term "pop-up restaurant" from what I consider the most awesome reality series on TV: Top Chef. A little more than a week ago, Top Chef All Stars had its restaurant wars. For this episode, they brought in a guest judge who knows what it's like to pull together a renegade restaurant for a brief culinary fling: Chef Ludo Lefebvre. Chef Ludo is the man behind LudoBites, an establishment that has been popping-up in various locations with different concepts for a few months at a time, effectively stringing along Los Angeles' food enthusiasts.

It thought it very cool, then, that just as most foodies had this popular concept on the brain, a pop-up restaurant with a Filipino bent cropped up in my neck of the woods. Maharlika has brought a Filipino take to Manhattan brunch in its temporary digs at Cafe Leon. The venture is the brainchild of Nicole Ponseca (GM at Juliette) and Enzo Lim (head barkeep at Minetta Tavern), and has chef Miguel Trinidad putting a New York spin on Filipino breakfast classics (and vice versa).

Brunch in New York is like a sacred ritual, with groggy urbanites braving sleet and snow for a much-needed noontime pick-me-up after a night of partying. I was hurting from an evening of far too many lychee martinis and would not have gotten up from bed if I had not been lured with the promise of arroz caldo. This was the best hangover cure on the planet:
Arroz caldo ($7) is a garlic-flavored rice porridge with a hearty portion of sliced chicken. Maharlika's version is jazzed up with a little bit of saffron and tastes like home. My cousin Melissa went for the classic Filipino breakfast of tocilog, a place of cured pork, fried egg and rice. I was intrigued and insanely jealous of our friend Chini's order, the Eggs Imelda ($11), which puts a Filipino spin on Eggs Benedict by substituting pan de sal for English muffins and prawns for the ham. It also comes with kamote fries, laing (taro root leaves, coconut milk, shrimp paste and chilies) and calamansi-spiked hollandaise sauce.
I am dying to come back and try the Eggs Benigno, a genius Filipino take on Eggs Benedict that involves that canned mystery meat that we love with a passion called Spam. I am also hoping to be ready for cocktails the next time around as there are some intriguing ones on the menu: particularly the Bloody Mary flavored with good old patis (fish sauce).

There are plans to make Maharlika a proper brick-and-mortar spot and I pray that it will happen. So many people in New York are curious about Filipino cuisine and I feel that this is one good way to slowly ease people into eating our type of food. The restaurant has been packed for the last two weekends so reservations are highly recommended. I for one am looking to cure (or create) a few more hangovers at Maharlika!

Maharlika is located at 351 East 12th Street, between First and Second Avenues.
Email or text 917-710-5457 for reservations.
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