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Posts from the ‘noodles’ Category

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar: Excellent Concept, Not So Excellent Execution

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar is probably one of the best concepts ever – a “fast casual” restaurant devoted to DUMPLINGS. I mean, really, who doesn’t love dumplings? From the get-go, Rickshaw was pretty much guaranteed to be a hit. And, in fact, a hit it has been with food truck off-shoots and a line of kitschy-charming t-shirts. However, regardless of how popular this Flatiron dumpling mecca is, there are some problems with execution and the actual quality of the dumplings.

The restaurant is a tall and narrow sort of thing, with soaring ceilings and a stark & modern Japanese look constructed out of what seems to be concrete. The first things you see are the cashiers, smiling all sorts of big goofy smiles. Above them towers a gargantuan menu board, listing every sort of tasty Asian drunk food you could imagine: pork dumplings, szechuan chicken dumplings, shrimp and wasabi dumplings, noodle soups, sesame noodles, pork buns, bubble tea, and so forth. The selection is dizzying, tantalizing, overwhelming for Rickshaw first-timers. So, in classic fashion, my boyfriend and I order enough food to feed the entire military, take our number and wait.
In less than 5 minutes, our order is sitting at the pick-up station – impressive! All in all, the dumplings are mediocre, and some are better than others. The fillings are better than the wrappers, and the addictive dipping sauces are better than the fillings. To maximize dumpling enjoyment, skip the szechuan chicken variety and head straight for the kimchi beef with a sekom sauce (reminiscent of the best sort of creamy spicy mayo) and the shrimp with a sweet jicama, scallion and creamy wasabi dip. These two options beat out the other middling dumpling choices with their smooth flavorful filling and utterly fantastic dipping sauces. Interested in pork dumplings? Rickshaw Dumpling’s rendition are just…OK. Other than the dumplings, Rickshaw’s food is just fine – noodle soups are brothy, salty, and toothsome, and the pork buns are satisfying without being anything amazing.
In sum, Rickshaw’s food is nothing to write home about; however, the ‘restaurant’ is exceedingly accessible for all the yuppies milling around Gramercy, Flatiron, and Chelsea. If you’re on your way home from work, Rickshaw Dumpling is a safe and quick option to consider (though by no means the best) without much thought. Not great, not horrible, just easy.
Perfect For: dumplings on the go, trendy Chinese takeout, being the fat kid

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

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Lotus of Siam: Manhattan’s Best Gourmet Thai?

As my boyfriend astutely noted, Thai food can unfortunately often taste cheap and oily. The truly superlative cuisine at Lotus of Siam, a Las Vegas transplant that recently opened in the vacated Cru space, is a refreshing change of pace from the mediocre Thai spots that pepper Manhattan. In fact, Lotus of Siam is pretty revelatory, 100% worthy of the praise I’m about to shower on it profusely.

The restaurant is mellow, set in the spacious former Cru space. Everything about it is muted: a neutral color scheme, chic yet minimalist pan-Asian decor, warm wooden furniture. The most striking thing about Lotus of Siam, other than the remarkable food, is the ultra-modern kitchen, hidden behind frosted glass sliding doors, that open elusively, offering peeks into the magic being made, as cooks shuffle around behind them. Early in the night, Lotus of Siam is almost eerily quiet, serene, detached from the bustle of New York University outside. As peak dining time rolls around, the noise intensifies, though never above a hum. The clientele seems to consist of curious foodies, tasting everything raved about by early reviewers, and families and couples from the neighborhood, embracing the newcomer warmly. It runs like a well-oiled machine, with seamless table service, friendly staff, and well-timed meal delivery; it’s hard to leave without remarking on what a wonderful dining experience it all was.

Perhaps though the best thing about Lotus of Siam is the completely authentic and outrageously delicious Thai cuisine. The menu is extensive, offering pages upon pages of regional specialties and well-known favorites. There is something for everyone between the salads, soups, curries, noodles, fried rice, stir fries, and the plethora of various appetizer and entree options; with such a cornucopia, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. To start, try the Northern Larb salad, a very spicy and succulent ‘salad’ of minced seasoned pork with a wedge of crisp and soothing Iceberg lettuce, or the Crispy Rice, a crunchy delight with Thai sausage, fresh chilis, peanuts, zesty lime, and ginger. Both dishes are hot and spicy, with a range of vibrant and classic Southeast Asian flavors. Interested in a something a little bit more basic? The crispy fried marinated shrimp is a guilty pleasure, served wrapped in bacon and deep fried in a crunchy spring roll wrapping; though I’m pretty sure this is in no way a traditional Thai dish, it’s just damn good.

It’s essential to get a Thai curry, and the red is my favorite – creamy and spicy, devoid of that cloying oily taste that haunts curries poorly made, and stuffed with texturally-fun shards of bamboo shoots. Green, yellow and massaman options are also offered, depending on your personal predilections. The Rad Na, with prawn, is also wonderful – flat rice noodles bursting with nutty flavor, served thick and luscious with yellow bean paste and fried garlic – a great option for noodle lovers. Perhaps the one dish not worthy of a gold star though is the Pineapple Curry Fried Rice with Yellow Curry; ultimately a limp rendition of fried rice, it just wasn’t flavorful enough to be interesting; the large chunks of pineapple were too sweet without any contrasting flavor note. When it’s all said and done though, the food at Lotus of Siam is just fantastic. You can taste the authenticity in its preparation, the care taken in its presentation.

It’s inevitable to compare Kin Shop and Lotus of Siam. Both are new press-hounded gourmet Thai restaurants opened a few short blocks from each other in the West Village. In trying them both within a week of each other, my vote is firmly with Lotus of Siam. Not only was the entire dining experience more relaxed and less chaotic at Lotus, but the food was also vastly superior than Kin Shop’s. Try them both if you’re curious, but the best option for authentic, fresh and high-quality Thai food in downtown Manhattan is, in my opinion, indisputably by the experienced Thai food restauranteurs behind Lotus of Siam. Bravo, to them, for bringing such wonder from a Las Vegas strip mall to the posh ‘Golden Mile’ on 5th Avenue South.

Perfect For: family dinners, Greenwich Village locals, Thai scholars and students

Lotus of Siam NY on Urbanspoon

Kin Shop: An American Chef Does Thai

Kin Shop opened quietly last fall, the second restaurant of Top Chef winner Harold Dieterle. It sits hardly noticed on 6th avenue, between and around delis and nail salons, specialty stores and pet grooming shops. Not until New York Times’ restaurant critic Sam Sifton’s glowing review did Kin Shop blow up into a foodie hotspot, visited by trendy young folk and big celebrity names, alike. On a frigid Friday night, wait times for tables at the bar were about 90 minutes and a wait list wasn’t even started for dining room tables.

The restaurant is small, announced only by a discrete blue awning amongst many blue awnings. Inside, the dining room features zen-like decor, cool colors and modern art. At the back is a small bar, mostly used for dining room overflow, and an open kitchen accompanied by a dining bar, prime spots for foodies interested in watching the kitchen work. Everything about Kin Shop is relaxed – unfussy design, casual crowd, family-style dining, well-priced bottles of wine.

Kin, in Thai, means “to eat” and that’s exactly what the diverse crowd has come to do at Kin Shop. The menu is contemporary Thai, modern riffs on traditional dishes. Though there are a few specials nightly, expect to see on a regular basis a succulent braised goat massaman curry, flat and wide wonton noodles with chicken, a jungle curry with bamboo shoots, soups, salads, and the house specialty grilled prawns. The garam masala and tomato soup is the perfect way to kick off a meal on a chilly night: smooth and creamy, intensely aromatic, and packing just enough to spice to warm you from the inside out. An equally delicious alternative is the steamed pork meatball soup, vaguely reminiscent of matzoh ball soup, done Thai. The small pork meatballs are succulent and juicy, salty in the toothsome and well-seasoned broth. The house grilled shrimp are served for $4/shrimp, heads-on, simply grilled; the taste is briny and fishy – not for those squeamish around overtly ‘seafood-y’ seafood.

The curries are the way to go – the braised goat massaman is sublime. Impossibly rich and silky, the curry tastes authentic and fresh; the meat is tender, falling off the bone with little resistance, and not too much oil is sitting around, pooling at the top as is too often seen in the curries of take-out containers. Not a curry person? Try the stir-fried wide wonton noodles, served with chicken sausage, broccoli rabe, and oyster sauce. Though just a touch too sticky, the dish is hearty and satisfying, packed with interesting flavors, and made fun by the knobby texture of delicious chicken sausage nuggets. For riskier eaters, the kitchen offers blazing spice with the Spicy Duck Laab Salad or offal with the roasted bone marrow and duck tongue specialties. Don’t hold your breath for a good dessert – with only one option on the menu besides ice creams and sorbets, it’s slim pickins and best to fill up with the savory starters and main courses.

Kin Shop is a great place to eat – warm and casual with interesting food and interesting people. Is it awe-inspiring? Worthy of top 10 lists? Deserving of the maddening hype? Probably not. There are better restaurants in New York. Kin Shop’s novelty is that it’s both Thai and gourmet, a surprising rarity in a city with so many ethnic eateries. If you succeed in getting a reservation, good for you and you’ll most likely very much enjoy your meal. If you don’t, try not worry, you haven’t missed the greatest new spot of 2010.

Perfect For: trendy eaters, hot spot trackers, B-list celebrity spotting, the adventurous type, Top Chef fanatics, haute hippies

Kin Shop on Urbanspoon

Hide Chan: Traditional Noodles, Quirky Noodles Shop

Ramen shops are a dime a dozen in New York and most of them are very similar. Hide Chan, a second-floor sliver of a restaurant in Turtle Bay, is quirky enough to be memorable (perhaps for the wrong reasons) and tasty enough to warrant repeat visits. On a quiet block in the 50s, between 2nd and 3rd avenues, Hide Chan is easily missed, with no name printed in English and just a slender staircase leading mysteriously upwards.

The restaurant itself is sparse and narrow, with cheap tables and cheaper design flourishes. I won’t lie and tell you that I remember anything in particular about the look of the place, but I think that just underlines that it doesn’t really matter. People don’t come here for the atmosphere. Perhaps the most striking thing about Hide Chan, other than the ramen, is the music in the background – a strange mix of Barbara Streisand, the early years, mid-90s rock, and old-school lounge crooners.

A list tacked to the wall outlines Hide Chan’s most popular items, and it’s pretty accurate for what to order. The traditional Hakata Tonkotsu ramen tops the list and for good reason. The bowl of thin noodles, steeped in a rich oily broth, with slices of pork layered on top, is satisfying, addictive, and somehow both simple and decadent. Add slices of ginger, provided, to give it an extra kick. The Hakata Spicy ramen is the same scrumptious broth and noodle combo as the traditional option, yet with splashes of rayu, a traditional spice that adds enough heat to clear the sinuses. Always a fan of cold noodles, I couldn’t say no to the Hiyashi Tsuke-Men, a rendition of cold soba, served thick and chilly with a mildly spicy sesame oil and a small bowl of dipping broth, if you feel so inclined. While the traditional Tonkotsu ramen was definitely the highlight, Hide Chan’s noodles are all distinguished by a not-too-slippery and not-too-sticky texture, marvelously rich broths and sauces, and just enough spice to keep you awake.

Hide Chan’s not necessarily a destination ramen shop, but if you’re in Midtown East and desperately searching for something different among the rows of big bucks steakhouses, red sauce italian joints, and mediocre sushi takeout windows, this delectable option on 52nd street will save the day. Don’t be surprised if the music’s more than a bit off or if the service ranks beyond bizarre, just put your head down and slurp away at what you really came for anyway, the ramen.

Hide Chan Ramen on Urbanspoon

Cafe Asean: Generic Asian With Character

There are a lot of cheap generic Asian (excuse me, pan-Asian) spots in Manhattan, and most of them either have no character, crappy food, or both. Yet, luckily enough for me, just around the corner from my Perry Street abode is an Asian restaurant that not only charms patrons with it’s quaint decor but also serves flavorful and well-executed Vietnamese, Thai, and Malaysian cuisine.

The unexpectedly spacious spot on W. 10th Street seats no more than 30 guests in the front room, which evokes old American farmhouse rather than authentic Southeast Asian eatery. Tables are fashioned from recycled metal and wood and painted bright candy colors. The exposed brick walls shelve potted plants, various items of cookware, and the occasional burned-down candle. Colorful paper lanterns dangle from the ceilings, lending a soft and funky flair to the already casual environment. Through to the back though is an airy windowed interior ‘garden patio,’ complete with lush greenery and lots of natural light. The vibe is relaxed and intimate; conversations are carried out quietly amongst dining couples, friends looking to catch up, and those just stopping through for a quick n’easy meal.

The food is Cafe Asean’s greatest asset. Fresh, flavorful, and satisfying, it’s a welcome retreat from the over-cooked and soupy crap that’s usually delivered to your door by various vaguely Asian vendors. The kitchen takes liberties with the type of food it serves, especially on the specials menu. The decidedly non-Asian shrimp-stuffed zucchini blossoms were delectable and refreshing, an unusual yet surprisingly tasty starter for those lucky enough to catch it as a special. The “sotong” is another remarkable starter, turning basic calamari into an explosion of flavor with just salt, pepper, and a spicy mango salsa. A curry fan, the “kari kapitan” is a personal favorite. While simply a chicken curry dish, Cafe Asean’s version goes above and beyond with succulent and juicy chicken tidbits and an uncharacteristically thick coconut curry sauce with diced potatoes. A house favorite is the “hu tien,” broad rice noodles sauteed in either beef or chicken (beef is the best.) and bok choy; it’s simple, hearty, boldly seasoned, and authentically prepared.

Cafe Asean is a breath of fresh air in a neighborhood dominated by either expensive and chi-chi haute restaurants or ultra-cheap delivery hovels. A neighborhood spot with oodles of charm, it’s quaint and friendly in a way most Manhattan eateries aren’t. Despite spot-on good food, you’ll never have to wait for a table and if things get unexpectedly busy, they do some of the best take-out you’ll have downtown.

Perfect For: quick bites and takeout, satisfying that curry yen, dinner with your best friend, a relaxed and unfussy dinner out, indulging in a little escapism

Cafe Asean on Urbanspoon

Hakata Tonton: A Bostonian’s First Venture into Kyushu Cuisine

Let me preface this review with an important timeline. Ten years ago, hamburgers, roast chicken and pizza were the heart, soul, and body of my eating experience; five years ago, I had finally tasted my first sushi roll (spicy tuna) and enjoyed medium spicy chicken yellow curry; just 5 months ago, tuna was still the only fish I agreed to eat. Last night, I went balls-out at Hakata Tonton, a self-preclaimed house of ‘authentic Kyushu Japanese soul food,’ and tried pig foot, tendon, and collagen.

Hakata Tonton is not for everyone, and I’m not convinced that it’s for me. Most of the items on the menu are, as they say, ‘strange to the eye;’ dishes walk the line between sounding too unusual and sounding potentially good. If you’re not accustomed to the cuisine, the best way to dive right in is to sample all of the house specialties and be open to confusing and frighteningly new flavors.

The menu features hot plates, cold plates, and ‘hot pots’ that are cooked in front of you. Expect to see a variety of carpaccio plates, including Japanese Veal Liver sashimi, many permutations of ‘pork tonsoku’ or pork trotter, collagen soup, sauteed pork tongue, foie gras inari sushi, foie gras soba, collagen spring rolls, fried octopus sushi, and such Korean favorites as bibimbap and kimchee. My friend Jen and I, overwhelmed by the extensive menu, opted to start off slow with the spicy tuna carpaccio. It was good and by far the highlight of the night for me. Thick slices of fresh tuna were arrayed in a savory vinaigrette loaded with salt, scallions, and a creamy spicy mayo. Zingy and zesty, this carpaccio was a great way to start the increasingly bizarre meal to come.

Next? The grilled pork tonsoku, or in other words, pork foot. Despite being tagged as a recommended dish and as a speciality of the house, this was the real disappointment of the evening. Tough with tendon and fat, the trotter lacked any seasoning whatsoever. Instead of eating something savory, I was ingesting what tasted like bland slabs of lard.

The requisite ‘hot pot’ we tried steered clear of trotter, focusing instead on pork sirloin and pork belly, plenty of vegetables (read: bean sprouts), and a tangy complicated collagen broth. The broth was unlike anything I have ever tasted, leaving a salty zing in the back of my mouth for hours; the pork bits were presented like bacon and very tasty with some spice and sauce. Regardless though, the hot pot was lacking as well, tasting pretty good but just immensely unsatisfying.

Halfway through a bottle of sake, Jen and I decided that if we were going to try the house specialties, we had to try the collagen with spicy sesame sauce. It arrived diced into slivers in a bowl with vegetables (more bean sprouts) and a coating of savory sauce. Although a strange consistency, it was surprisingly tasty (if you just ignore the fact that you’re eating straight tendon).

The desserts were great, not only in that they offered more familiar flavors but also in that they allowed us to leave on a good foot. The cheese mousse was a light and fluffy blend of cream cheese and heavy cream atop vanilla ice cream and thick strawberry jam – it tasted like the mangled daughter of cheesecake and strawberry shortcake (not altogether unpleasant, as you can imagine). The mochi cake was soft, sticky, and texturally glorious, served atop a generous dollop of creamy vanilla ice cream. After this, it’s official – I really love Japanese desserts.

Hakata Tonton is a strange place – small, crowded, hot, and stuffed with young hipster couples and friends feasting over bizarre foods and flavors. The staff is female and pretty, young, friendly, with torn t-shirts and fiesty attitudes. Certainly not an experience everyone would enjoy, Hakata Tonton offers something unique in the otherwise often ‘copy-and-paste’ New York dining scene. Like S’MAC and mac & cheese, Pomme Frites and french fries, The Meatball Shop and meatballs, Hakata Tonton harps on two Japanese delicacies: collagen and pork foot. Whether that’s your cup of tea or not is for you to decide; however, if you’re in search of something unusual, something truly out of the ordinary, Hakata Tonton will deliver.

Hakata Tonton on Urbanspoon

Koodo Sushi Gives FiDi Pan-Asian Hope

Koodo Sushi has long-deserved a review, as since early last year, it has been a steadfast standby for top-notch sushi and diverse pan-Asian offerings in the depressingly boring Financial Distract lunch scene. It’s not open early; it’s not open late; it’s pretty threadbare; and it 100% caters to the banker set; yet, Koodo Sushi succeeds where many neighboring Japanese spots fail. It’s quick, high-quality, and, well, not nausea-inducing.

I know – you’re thinking “not nausea-inducing? That’s a great endorsement…” In the barren culinary desert that is Wall Street, food that doesn’t make the stomach turn over deserves a gold star. Koodo offers extensive sushi options, from standard rolls to complicated special rolls, Chinese entrees and appetizers, ramen noodles, Vietnamese starters, dim sum, innovative weekly specials, charcoal grill specialties, and a variety of healthy dishes for those looking to keep it light.

As a primarily Japanese establishment, the sushi, sashimi and traditional Japanese hot dishes are the best and most creative choices. The sushi rolls vary regularly offering such wild options as the Black Pearl Rolle with tuna, salmon, yellowtail, tobiko, avocado and kumbu seaweed or the Golden Pond Roll with steamed lobster, avocado, cucumber, red leaf lettuce, and tobiko in an orange soy bean pepper wrap. My personal favorite? The Red Phoenix Roll – a fat roll-up of shrimp tempura with spicy tuna and tobiko.

The lunch specials offer cheap alternatives to the otherwise pricey menu. For $10, you can get 4 pieces of assorted sushi with a California roll and miso soup. For $9, you can get 2 pieces of shumai, 2 rolls, and miso soup. And for $9.75, you can get tender salmon terikyaki with rice and soup or salad.

Koodo keeps it simple. The bare main dining room features wood tables, simple kitschy Japanese art, colorful lanterns, and plenty of space. The service is very friendly and rapid; the bustling waistresses are eager to please and offer up recommendations for the best new dishes. Perfect for a lunch with colleagues or visiting friends in the financial district, this underground and hard-to-find Japanese spot is worth the hunt.

Koodo Sushi Corporation on Urbanspoon