TGR: NYC (The FOOD edition)

Hello! Sorry I’ve been away for the minor part of an eternity, and haven’t actually gotten around to continuing my GREAT REVIEW of the GREAT CITY of NYC. We filled the days in NYC with so many adventures that every night I was left way too beat to write a word, and since I’ve been back in Singapore 2 days ago, it’s been a flurry of Christmas activities, gatherings, and general huddling around the dining table to gormandize well-missed local food with the warm company of well-missed people.

Anyway, after spending a good 8 days in NYC, it has come to my attention, as it must inevitably have to any visitor to the Big Apple, that it is incredibly apt to give the city a nickname that’s to do with food, because indulgence manifests itself most greatly in the pleasure of eating. The city strikes me as 70% food places, 15% skyscrapers, 13% central park and 2% NYU. So it seems fitting that of the NYC reviews, one should be solely dedicated to food, as is befitting of this city’s obvious esteem for satisfying the palate, whether it be by a humble street-store hotdog or a delicately prepared bowl of piping hot ramen.

Minca Ramen

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We were introduced to this lovely place by a friend who studies in NYU (remember what I said about the 2%?) and who has practically made it his mission to find and eat all the good food in New York, and, I believe, someday he may well conquer the world. (You can read his food blog here). So on a cold night as we tried our best to thaw, frozen still from spending way too much time up the Brooklyn bridge and getting way too emotional, we found ourselves crammed into this tiny ramen shop in the East Village, tempted by the overwhelming aroma of miso and soup stock but having to wait, tummies growling, for a table, while a chorus of hearty slurps chimed all around us. Because the place is so small, with maybe 5 or 6 proper tables and 2 areas for bar seating, it probably is not advisable to bring your entire clan with you, however tempting that might seem, Thankfully the wait was not excruciatingly long, and as we settled down we were handed the menus by a friendly japanese who was no less brisk. The menu is simple to read but the plethora of choices make it hard to decide. You get to pick from the style of broth – pork, chicken, pork and chicken, vegetable, spicy, ‘special’ – and even the thickness and flavour of your noodles (basically wholewheat, or not). The full menu is available on their website (link below). It took forever but I finally decided to go with what seemed like a classic: the Minca Sio, their classic soysauce flavoured broth with a touch of salt and a generous addition of garlic. It was amazing. I might have been thawing from the cold adventures of the evening and starving from said activity, but I think I could have been less of each and still have enjoyed the ramen as immensely as I did. The broth was thickaromatic and full-bodied, the ramen noodles springyfresh and well absorbent of the wonderful flavours from the soup. They’d been extremely generous with the stewed pork, which was tender and equally tasty. I’ve eaten lots of ramen in my lifetime (something of an addict, really), and I’ve had some that were tasty but quickly veered toward either too oily or too salty. Minca has managed to achieve a remarkable balance between the two, and I would say it’s a choice you can’t go wrong with.

Portion wise, they dish up hearty amounts of it, all for the extremely decent price of $10.50. I would be hard pressed to name even a ramen shop of equal standards in Singapore that would serve you the same thing for the equivalent of that price. For those with bottomless pits in their stomachs, there are always the sides to choose from. We opted to share a plate of homemade pork Gyoza ($5.80); fried dumplings of fragrant minced pork in doughy skins. They were okay, nothing to shout from the rooftops about, but were great for sharing and not unpleasant at all, though a tad oily.

Me thinks: Definitely worth a try. The soup base is to-die-for, and I cannot imagine anything better on a cold winter’s night than a steaming bowl of ramen. The service is wonderful and warm, the place cosy. Be prepared to queue if you hit the place at peak hours, but I assure you, it will be worth it.


Minca Ramen

536 East Fifth Street, New York, NY 10009

+1 202 505 8001

http://www.newyorkramen.com/index.html


Momofuku Milk Bar

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So a freaky number of conversations I had with people where I told them I was in New York led to the question ‘So DID YOU TRY MOMOFUKU??!’. I had no idea what that was. My first impression from all these questions was that, gee, that’s a pretty crude sounding name. After some googling and consultations with my NYU homies (2%, remember), I found out that 1) There’s a Momofuku ramen bar 2) There’s a Momofuku milk bar, though what ramen and milk have in common I’m still trying to figure and 3) I have to try the crack pie and compost cookie because ‘Your tummy will thank me for it’, as one friend so graphically justified.

The milk bar (Minca was pretty much enough ramen for the week, thank you) is tucked away in the eclectic East village, with no obvious sign boards whatsoever. We had to place our faith in google maps and step in before seeing the ‘I LOVE MILK’ and various other unusual professions of milk-love on posters, books etc. Still, it wasn’t that obvious. You may want to spot the few benches arranged outside the store as an indicator. The shop is tiny, obviously not made for sitting down with coffee and a laptop and begging to the wifi Gods. The menu is scrawled in colourful chalk on a board above the cashier, but I didn’t look too long because I knew what my deal was: crack pie and compost cookie, duh. When I gave the buzzing waiter my order, I tried to hide how appalled I was when he pulled these 2 packaged items out from beneath the counter. It was so quick that the word ‘cookie’ had barely left my mouth before both were already sitting on the counter in front of me. I kinda thought, I came all the way here to get …. packed desserts?? I mean I sort of expected freshly baked goods, for all that hype. I can get all the packed foods I need in the supermarket. Still, I bundled them up in my bag, paid and left, still slightly puzzled.

Brought them back to my apartment to eat, which explains the gaudy bedspreads as photo backgrounds. *apologies* Now, I’m not going to talk about the cookie much at all, because it was basically an ordinary cookie. Nothing spectacular whatsoever. It was even a bit too sweet for me. Texture wise, it was neither too soft and mushy nor too hard, quite ideal, but that coulnd’t make up for the taste. Truly nothing to get excited about.

The crack pie, however, was something more interesting.

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With my first bite, I was struck by 2 things: how soft the filling was (by how it looks, I guess I expected something slightly more set), and how, mysteriously, it seemed to taste of a lot of things but not really one thing at all. It tasted like basic cake batter; butter, egg probably, sugar. It was a taste that should have been so ordinary, but gradually became rather addictive. I liked it more and more as I ate it, so that the last bite was a lot more enjoyable than the first. The filling is not too sweet either, as most desserts can be, and well complimented by the salty oat base. It’s not big, but the portion is just nice for one and doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve had either too much or too little.

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This sweet thang.

Me Thinks: Crack pie should definitely be tried. At $5, it’s pretty expensive, but I would get it to try just once. It’s hard to go wrong with such a basic but pleasing flavour, and is a nicely filling dessert. Don’t bother with the cookie. I hear the soft serve is great as well, but I couldn’t try it because my throat was sunk in the doldrums of illness. 😦


Momofuku Milk Bar (East village)

251 e 13th st, ny 10003
corner of 13th street / 2nd avenue

+1 347 577 9504

http://milkbarstore.com/main/stores/


Dominique Ansel

If you have ever heard of cronuts (if not, please come out from under your rock), you’ve probably heard of this bakery/person who started the whole craze when the heavens opened and bestowed upon him the ultimately very lucrative notion of inventing the by-product of a rendezvous between a croissant and a donut.

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‘You are beautiful’, I whispered to my precious one.

The second thing you’ve probably heard of, is the monstrously long queues that form in lieu of this pastry. They only sell cronuts in the morning, and from the moment they open at 8am they sell out so quick that they’re almost always gone before 10am. So, it was a miracle in itself when we turned up at 9:15am on a monday morning to find only a handful waiting in the ‘cronut’ line (and no one in the other, ha ha), and that we actually managed to get our hands on these babies. There isn’t a choice of flavour, by the way. They only make one flavour a day so your choice is limited to how many you want (there’s a cap of 2 cronuts per walk-in customer). We didn’t entirely miss out on the rush of having to fight for these though, because just as we picked up our pastries, turned around and sat down at the counter seats, the cashier was apologising to the lady who’d just walked in that cronuts were sold out, leaving her none too pleased. Jasmine and I stared, wide-eyed, at each other, and silently uttered prayers of thanks in our hearts.

The first bite answered to question ‘what could a croissant + a donut taste like?’ very nicely, along with a generous helping of milk chocolate topping that cracked gently with each chew, bits of sugar for you to lick off your lips and prolong the joy, and, best of all, an ooze of chocolate cream and raspberry jam.

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Stay with me. Baby, stay with me.

While I’ve tried a couple of other ‘cronuts’, they’ve all fell more towards either croissant or donut. These Dominique Ansel ones were special because they sat so perfectly in between both that they truly were a new thing altogether. They were the perfect density, and neither too oily, as some pastries can get, nor too flaky, so they become an unwelcome mess.

I thoroughly enjoyed mine. It’s only a palm-sized thing, but filled me up nicely. Enough for a breakfast. Even if it doesn’t, don’t forget, this is a fully-equipped bakery! These people don’t just survive off cronuts. There’s a full range of treats to choose from, delicate cakes, tarts, eclairs, and french pastries. They’ve got fuller meals like sandwiches and salads as well, for perhaps the slightly more well-endowed wallets. Us struggling students proceed outside to eat random street-cart bagels for $1 instead (next item in the review).

Just a heads-up, the queue situation, or lack of it, that we faced seems to either be an anomaly or saved only for the weekdays. We came back on a weekend at around 9am and there was already a snaking line outside the bakery’s doors. We ended up being about 10 people too slow to get any cronuts, so we tried DKA’s instead, some sort of small pastry that looks like a mushroom and has a sugary sweet glaze lining the hollow insides. Not … bad … but still nowhere near cronut-goodness.

Me thinks: DEFINITELY TRY THIS! It’s worth it. At $5 it may seem quite pricey, but it’s filling and very original. It’ll keep you coming back for more. Please go early, though! I think a weekday would leave you with a far better chance of getting any at all. You can call in advance to reserve, but I think you have to make an order of at least, like, 50 (check the website!), so unless your entire extended clan plans to be fed dessert, just go early and queue.


Dominique Ansel

189 Spring St, NY, NY 10012

+1 212 219 2773

http://dominiqueansel.com/


Random street-cart bagel

You would have to be either blind or exceedingly blur to not notice that, almost everywhere you go in town, you meet a multitude of random street-carts selling not a large variety of food – pretzels, hot dogs, bagels, donuts – for cheap. I figured I had to give one of these a go at least once, so I bought myself a bagel. Here it is:

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Yes, kids, this is what a square and circles look like!

Yes, it is a very simply put together food-thing. It looks more like a lesson in geometry than anything edible. Oh well, you don’t expect anything fancy for $1. The bagel was surprisingly fresh: doughy and chewy, not rock-hard as some can get. The cream cheese was soft, though not spread, and, as you can see, generously cut. Not bad.

Me thinks: Good value for a dollar. It was nice to munch on something fuss-free while walking down the street with the Empire State in view, too.

*Word of warning: The pretzels are badddd, if the one I had was anything to go by. Tasted burnt, dry and unfresh. DON’T GO THERE.


Random Street-cart

Everywhere


Shake Shack

One word: H E A V E N.

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Why did I ever leave New York? *wails*

Shake Shack is a burger joint that does loads of other things too. Other than being famous for both their Shack Burger (a life-changing cheeseburger) and their ‘Shroom Burger (a massive fried portobello mushroom … in a burger of course), they are also great for their milkshakes and concrete (frozen custard). The peanut butter milkshake is THE BOMB of a milkshake and, if you have the appetite for it, really completes a burger meal great.

So I’ve actually had Shake Shack in London before (Covent Garden), but I was told that nothing comes close to the original. Of course, I had to try. And I was blown away.

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Someone say CHEEEEEEESSSSE?

I decided to go all out and go for the most hardcore of them all – THE SHACK STACK. That’s a luscious combination of both the 100% Angus beef patty and the fried portobello mushroom. The first bite yielded an ooze of beef juices, lavishly melted cheese, and the hot cheese+mushroom juices from the portobello. The burger buns aren’t too soggy, well toasted and sweet. Unbelievable. Best burger ever. Did I say that already?

The Shack Stack is a good size, but for smaller eaters, better approach it with a big appetite. The fries, however, though nice, are not nearly as great as the burger, and the cheese on them not quite as generous. Still, it’s hard to have a burger without them fries.

We were told by a NYU chum (2%, ya’ll, 2%) that the best location to visit was probably the one at the Upper East Side, just to avoid clashing with just about every other drooling tourist in Manhattan. It was sound advice; we barely queued 5 minutes to get our food and another 5 to find a table for 4. We were there at 6pm, though, and later in the evening the traffic did pick-up abit, but not anything too hard to manage. It’s walking distance from the Met and the upper east side of Central Park, so that can be all done in the same day. A couple days later, we attempted another visit at the Theatre District joint, and barely made it out – the amount of frustrated, hungry tourists jostling for a table and inching along in the queue was enough to give you a headache after 5 minutes.

Me thinks: Come on guys. This is your chance to take a bite of heaven. At $9.15 (less then a tenner! Seriously!) for a Shack Stack, you do not get a better deal than this. Pick up a couple of side sweets and salties to go with it and, voila, you’re in pa-ra-dise.


Shake Shack (Upper East Side)

154 East 86th St

+1 646 237 5035

https://www.shakeshack.com/home


Eileen’s Special Cheesecake

So I was told (by, yes, an NYU friend) that Eileen’s has the best cheesecake in NYC, and was worth the visit. Since I had some unexpected extra time in the city, and my citypass weekly pass was used up, I decided to screenshot some maps and find my way there on foot. And find it I did! Hooray! And glimpsed one or two snowflakes in the air on the way too.

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The shop is small, with 2 small tables and a couple of counter seats, so I gather it’s more for takeaway than anything. It was empty when I got there so I ordered these 2: the original and cookies & cream cheesecake, and ate them there.

First impressions: they’re an unusual shape. The cheesecakes I’ve encountered have all been slices: these are more like tarts. Pretty cute, and they turned out to be ample portions as well in spite of their small sizes, and at $3.50 each it’s good dessert without breaking your wallet. They sell larger, complete cheesecakes too.

I asked what the most popular flavours were, and was recommended original and strawberry, but I wasn’t feeling strawberry so much, so, oh well, cookies and cream.

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Nom nom and it’s gone gone

The cakes are nicely light and airy, not at all wet and dense like some cheesecakes are (not a bad thing at all!). The flavour is subtle, not strong, so for anyone who prefers stronger tastes of cheese this might not be the thing for you. The base crumbles nicely and it the perfect consistency.

Me thinks: A nice treat that’s not too sweet, but also nothing incredibly memorable. Their size and look makes them great for parties! I still think my mama makes cheesecake the best though. *heh*


Eileen’s Special Cheesecake

17 Cleveland Place, New York, NY 10012

+1 212 966 5585

http://www.eileenscheesecake.com


Prosperity Dumpling

prosperitydumplingnyc

This picture was taken off google (source: randalllovesfood.wordpress.com). Darn, people take such good pictures!

This was a funny one. So early in our stay we casually mentioned to someone that we were staying in an apartment on Hester street, who excitedly replied that we were staying right round the corner from ‘one of the best dumpling places in the city‘. And it turns out we really were. This shoebox of a place has a website that is at least 10 times fancier than the restaurant itself. It can hardly be called a restaurant: customers stand elbow-to-elbow inside, waddling precariously forward to try and timidly place an order with the waiter who looks so grave you wonder if his cat died or something. Oil, steam and the unmistakable smells of Chinese food – ginger, chinese wine, an array of chinese sauces – hang heavy in the air of the minuscule place. The only seating available is 2 narrow counters that line the parts of the wall that aren’t the kitchen or the door. Still, everytime I’ve been there (quite a lot), every seat has been taken, the place cramped with people shoving dumplings down, and there’s a great deal of chaotic talking and laughing. Well, it really wouldn’t be a chinese restaurant without all that, and it’s a fine and warm atmosphere for a fuss-free supper.

Let’s talk about them dumplings. Firstly, they are cheap. At 4 for a dollar on their pork & scallion (and a variety of others – check the menu on the website, or rather just peer like the rest of us at the one casually pasted on the door), it’s total value for your money. The dumplings aren’t small, either, almost the size of a palm (if you’re palm’s small-ish like mine). There’s an alluring charm to their crudeness and uneveness that screams homemade. I mean even if they didn’t look that homemade you can literally see the bunch of kitchen-warriors at the back – one dude frying away, a couple making the dumplings, and one pouring some mysterious black-ish liquid into a bucket at the back … let’s not go there.

Taste wise, these taste far more expensive than they are. The meat is tender, pinkish but not undercooked, and the chives are flavourful. The filling tastes strongly of chinese wine, which makes it extra aromatic and sets it apart from your usual everyday dumpling (you know, if you have one of those). I ordered the dumpling noodle soup ($4) everytime I was there, which was fresh, homemade flat noodles in a clear soup with 4 of those pork dumplings, and a fried egg. I’m a noodle addict so I did a crazy thing like that, because the real stars of the show are the wok-fried dumplings, which you should probably get instead. They make tantalisingly large and colourful chinese pancakes too – thick, fluffy, savoury things that you should NOT mistake with the round brown kind you eat with blueberries and cream. Can’t say much about their taste because I never tried one, but I did witness one come straight out of the wok, and it was a beauty.

Me thinks: Ideal for when the moment comes that you start to feel the burden of fancy cronuts and ramen etc etc on your increasingly-light wallet. Also great when you just want good dumplings. Perfect for a night snack. If you’re in chinatown, go jostle with the crowd-who-knows and stuff yourself on these delicious dumplings too!


Prosperity Dumpling

46 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002

+1 212 343 0683

http://prosperitydumpling.com/


So, folks, that’s the end of my GREAT REVIEW of the THE NOMS of NYC. I will likely be back with more specific reviews from *the greatest week* of my life thus far (almost), and I hope this post has been of help, interest, or at least amusement.

I miss New York already! If you’re reading this from NY, know that there is a geeky chinese person somewhere who envies you something terrible.

Cheers (to food and fun and foodie fun!) x

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