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Monday, November 30, 2009

Cantoon Garden (aka late Pearl River)

Trying to get to Chinatown has proved to be a challenge this summer, but finally got there week before Thanksgiving! Don't expect dining in Chinatown to be a Michelin experience, at least atmosphere-wise. There is no glitz or glamour about Cantoon, no music, no decor to speak of, annoying plastic tableclothes and a chef who smokes while cooking. If the aforementioned doesn't deter you, then dine here.

You begin with a nice pot of green tea. Seems nice. All the seafood is alive in the aquariums which somewhat substitute as decor in the front of the restaurant. As appetizer, the clams in black bean sauce were sub-par. The clams themselves were nice sizes, but forgotten in the thin, tasteless black bean sauce.

The beautiful dungeness crab was on a bed of thick, rice noodles suggested by our waiter. Again, the crab lost in the mixture of garlic and scallions. It was way too much work cracking a crab where the payoff was virtually nothing; though it was quite a presentation.
The seabass was the savior of this meal. We chose the fish to be steamed and served with ginger, scallions and soy sauce. The fish was light, fluffy with a meaty texture. I couldn't help but notice everyone (we were the only non-Asians) taking a spoonful of their order and serving atop their small bowl of rice. The rice absorbs the soy/scallion/ginger and leaves the fish as the succulent finish.

My belief in these cultural establishments is to let your waiter do the ordering. There were so many sensational-looking dishes! They just weren't on our table and we weren't daring enough to try something bizarre or awkward to our palate. If you try these, you can get a real sense of the cultures' culinary delights.

22 Elizabeth Street b/t Bayard and Canal

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Bite O' the Irish....

At the Irish bar across from work, where many a beer has been downed, I would eventually have to partake in the grub. During a late lunch, I tried a fluffy omelet. It gets a thumbs-up and this coming from a non-omelet eater (sometimes they are just too filling). All ingredients of this mushroom, red pepper and spinach were fresh! Now that's a rare find especially coming from a kitchen of a Midtown bar. Side dish of coleslaw had a touch too much mayo, but enjoyable nonetheless.

The chicken fingers, which were decent enough and accompanied by a homemade honey mustard. They were almost flash-fried tempura-style, but would have been tastier deep-fried. The meat was a tad inconsistent. Hard on the outside near the crust and somewhat juicy near the middle.

Emmett's is a great bar with good food and great service. The cleanliness of this establishment is extremely noteworthy. You would imagine it being a dingy, dark, dirty Third Avenue Irish bar congested with Midtown Happy Hourers, but Emmett's is spotless - from the bar to booths to the bathrooms. You gotta love the greeting from Emmett everytime and the quick refills of beer can't hurt either.

Emmett O'Lunney's 210 West 50th Street b/t Broadway & 8th Avenue

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Permanent Brunch (CLOSED)

When they named it permanent, they meant it not by way of food, but your butt on the banquette. Judging by the initial vibe of how quickly we were seated, there was no way I thought we would be wait 25 minutes for 2 bloody marys and 2 coffees. Look, during peak brunch hours on a Saturday, I will give a place 10 minutes for an alcoholic beverage (Bloodies served with V8), but 25 for watered down coffee? Come on now~ Especially in a restaurant so loud, I couldn't even hear myself think. On my observation track, I couldn't help but notice my neighbors receiving their bowls of soup as appetizers and three minutes later, their entrees arrive! No way, no how. That would have been sent straight back; or maybe not, depending if I thought I'd ever get out of there.

Too bad though. The food that finally arrived at my table was beyond just satisfying. Fried chicken & waffles. That's right, in addition to something out of the ordinary for me to order. The juices were beautifully encased in a salty, light batter laying on top of two triangular waffles. Two surprising twists to this dish: a grain waffle and fresh plums in a plum reduction in lieu of syrup. Instead of the extremes of salty and sweet, PB cut the salt with a savory sweetness.

The poached eggs, braised short rib ragu, duck fat fingerling potatoes and ciabatta bread for dipping was a natural symbiotic combination. The yolk coupled with meat isn't always delectable, but they chose well and without over-salting.

The food is pleasing enough, but I won't be rushing back. There are too many other brunches to be had.

Permanent Brunch 95 First Avenue b/t 5th & 6th Streets

Monday, November 9, 2009

Whose Druze?

Two words. Gazala Place. Hell's Kitchen, NYC.

This tiny, family run shop makes me love trying all that pops up in New York. Screw those restaurant giants and give me the humble proprietors of Gazala Place. Gazala came recommended by a Jewish friend who swears the burekas are identical to food carts in Israel. I head over during lunch and much to my dismay, Gazala did not make her famous, fresh burekas that day. However, she does make the Druze saag pita every single day. Druze pita isn't the fluffy, doughy bread you are accustomed to, rather a tortilla texture mobbed with wheat grains.

This round we got houmus, home salad and chicken and kafta sandwiches. To the amateur houmus eater, one would think Tribe or Sabra would taste close to the 'real' spread. Although, I do give a shout-out to Sabra! It's creamy delicious and always in my fridge. The way houmus is supposed to taste is grounded chickpeas sitting around a pool of oil and lemon or spices. It's foreign-tasting particularly when you are used to grocery store bought houmus. The home (Israeli) salad is nothing more than tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, parsley, scallions drenched in olive oil and lemon juice. Soggier than most I've had, it was tart, yet tasty and every last bit eaten.

A friends mother makes kafta for shabbat every week, so I had to see how this sized up. I had never had anything like it and when I tasted hers, immediately wanted the recipe. Kafta is ground meat rolled with parsley, onion and spices, which doesn't sound like much, but when made properly, the taste can be extraordinary.
(sorry, couldn't wait to eat)

I had hers with rice and Gazala's in a pita form. Ordering kafta or chicken in the pita sandwich, the actual meat gets lost. At a glance, the pita looks large, but to actually taste the meat, I suggest ordering the platters and save the pita for the spreads. The chicken equally as juicy and equally lost in the pita. If you want to spend a mere $5.50 for a sandwich, then that's the way to go, but for $13.95 (yes, a steep jump), you get more meat, a starch and home salad.

Next time, gotta catch Gazala on a bureka day and order a variety of appetizers. The way the kitchen spices, babaganush, labanee and lamb are next on the list.
Block out the better chunk of an hour for lunch. It will be worth it, but the service is a little on the slow side.

Gazala Place 709 9th Avenue between 48th & 49th (212) 245-0709