Joe’s Shanghai review

Xiao Long Bow (pronounced: Soup Dumplings) is somewhat of a not too well kept New York secret. Judging by the multi-culti masses who clutch well-worn copies of Zagat’s or concierge-issued city maps while waiting in the doorway of any of the three Joe’s Shanghai locations (Queens, Midtown and Chinatown), it’s obvious that this is a very well telegraphed “must-try-when-in-New-York” hot item. But tourist agendas aside, from time to time, when New Yorkers get that umami-salty itch that needs immediate scratching, nothing satisfies quite like a bamboo steamer basket of tongue-blisteringly hot and uniquely delicious Soup Dumplings.

Soup Dumplings - Joe's Shanghai

Soup Dumplings

This rather curious method of trapping a tiny pork meatball inside a mouthful of meaty broth hails from a suburb of Shanghai and is rarely spotted on Chinese menus in the west. Before I divulge the secret behind their preparation, humor me and try to imagine just how tricky it would be to wrap scalding soup inside a thin, square piece of dough without any of it leaking out? (It reminds me of a “Candid Camera” shtick, where unsuspecting victims were asked to wrap helium-filled balloons in brown paper and string.) The answer is chemistry 101 – changing the state of the soup from a liquid to a solid before wrapping (either as ice or gelatin) which melts during the steaming process.

Pork Soup Dumplings with Vinegar sauce - Joe's Shanghai

Pork Soup Dumplings with Vinegar sauce

Enjoying Soup Dumplings involves a fairly specific protocol too.

Step 1: After a dumpling is carefully hoisted out of its cabbage blanket and lowered onto a spoon, bite a tiny hole into its side in order to suck out the soup.

Step 2: Add a spoonful of dark Chinese vinegar with shredded ginger to give the remaining solids a blast of sourness.

Step 3: Eat and repeat until complete!

http://www.joeshanghairestaurants.com/

Saxon + Parole review

Saxon + ParoleSaxon and Parole were two racehorses in the 1800’s, and they happen to be the inspiration behind the crop-and-bridle décor at Executive chef Brad Farmerie’s über-popular NoHo bistro. Horses are neither welcome here, nor are they mentioned on the menu in any way, but instead, the generous bar (serving ready-mixed, pre-chilled, ice-free Manhattans on-tap) leads to a couple of wood-framed dining areas teeming with dressage tchotchkes, amongst a spirited stable of regular diners.

 

Manhattans on-tap - Saxon + Parole

Manhattans on-tap

Chef Farmerie keeps the kitchen gimmickry to a minimum. His prowess is more evident in his confident broad-strokes menu featuring abundant favorites done impressively well, with a few whiplashing surprises mixed in. The raw bar items share space with a Razor Clam Egg-Salad or a Sea Urchin Muffin with bacon bits. See what I mean?

Brussels Sprouts with Poached Egg - Saxon + Parole

Brussels Sprouts with Poached Egg

The “First course” section offers a familiar variety of soup-salad-crudo options, with an obvious commitment to fresh, sustainable and fashionably de rigueur loco-moco-yoko ingredients like watercress and radishes, but the steamed Brussels Sprout Leaf Salad encircling a perfectly runny poached egg, covering smoky lardons with a zesty, salty and heavenly yuzu lemon hollandaise dressing combines everything I love about late autumn.

Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop - Saxon + Parole

Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop

Land and sea options are very well represented in the “Second course,” with some standouts including a simply seasoned, yet handsomely fileted Hangar Steak, revealing a dark-pink, marbled and juicy interior – in the shade of a marrow bone brimming with velvety Béarnaise sauce.

Farmerie’s perfectly measured use of Harissa provides just sufficient horsepower to spruce up the Crispy Roast Chicken (on a saddle of barley and faro wheat) giving it a marvelously Moroccan bite.

It’s hardly surprising that the supple, crisp and amazingly moist Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop has become one of the most loyally requested dishes. While it shares the plate with an all-too-safe glazed apple, the limelight is snatched by that creamy and pungent goat-cheese laden polenta.

The only under-whelmer of the evening was the offensively sweet, chili-caramel roasted Brussels Sprouts, which were soon forgotten by the arrival of desserts. As popular as they may be, the Warm Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts with a trio of dipping sauces were left at the starting line by one of the most original S’Mores presentations in history.

Infusing the S'Mores with barrel smoke - Saxon + Parole

Infusing the S’Mores with barrel smoke

We insisted on a table-side demonstration as a ball-jarful of chocolate pudding, graham crackers and marshmallows were forced to inhale a few puffs of barrel smoke before the lid was tightly sealed, trapping an authentic bonfire flavor into the dessert, instantly rewinding me back to my pre-teen summer camp nights.

And so while some from the chewing police may have hemmed and hawed that Saxon + Parole hasn’t altered the culinary horizon enough, I would argue that Farmerie has carved himself an uncontested niche as New York’s torchbearer for reliable, enjoyable and above all impressive comfort cuisine – and let’s not forget those Manhattans on-tap!

http://saxonandparole.com/

Saxon + Parole

Marta review

Marta

Marta

When I found out that yet another New York master-chef was about to create his version of yet another pizza joint in a city already so replete with pie options, that our municipal mascot has affectionately become a crusty wedge of pepperoni, I decided to measure the square-footage of my disappointment in advance. I figured that even if Danny Meyer (Mr. Mealtime Midas Touch himself) was able to do to pizzas what he had done to hamburgers with his chain of Shake Shacks, I still couldn’t imagine how much more runway there was to re-invent an 11-inch pizza with a handful of toppings. Couldn’t we all agree that the time has come to focus our culinary attention on a different hangover-curing, post-weed-munchie-satisfying, carb-diet-busting, TV-complimenting snack? Just how many more times does the pizza need to be reborn in our lifetime? Turns out, Marta might very well have been the one we’ve all been waiting for!

MartaThe newest star in the Meyer galaxy is a big, bright and bustling showpiece that isn’t just located in the lobby of the Martha Washington Hotel – it is the lobby. The ultra-high-ceilinged trattoria’s whitewashed walls offer views of 29th street, a voyeur’s mezzanine and a white, marble bar facing the demonstration-style kitchen, under the watchful eye of two inescapably huge, flame-licking, black-tiled pizza ovens.

In addition to a surprisingly affordable all-Italian wine list and an authentic selection of Roman appetizers, salads and entrees, Chef de cuisine Nick Anderer (graciously borrowed from Maialino) has crafted eleven pizzas in two categories: Rosse and Bianche. Heading up the Rosse group is the vanilla of them all, the Margharita Classica (originally made exclusively for Margharita – Italy’s Queen consort – in celebration of the colors of the Italian flag) delectably combining satiny-soft cheese, pungent basil and Mt. Vesuvius lava-sweetened San Marzano tomatoes. As you work your way down, ingredients like house-stretched buffalo mozzarella, anchovies, thyme and sausage are gradually added until we suddenly find ourselves face-to-face with tripe and mint. The tomato-less Bianche group enjoys even more freedom from convention with a wider variety of cheeses, eggs, potatoes, ham, vegetables and white truffles.

Salsiccia - Marta

Salsiccia

When the cracker-crisp, antique-paper-edged pies appear, it’s clear that Anderer has kept his promise about delivering the thinnest crusts in the land – permitting his fresh ingredients to relish unobstructed in the limelight. Never before have I enjoyed morsels of fragrant pork sausage, scattered between freshly sautéed porcinis, with cream oozing (literally) from dollops of mozzarella over a crunchy red crust as I did with the Salsiccia. And I couldn’t help recalling one of Anderer’s signature Maialino breakfasts with the black-peppery Pecorino and eggs as the heart of the Patate alla Carbonara, concealed beneath a delicious layer of soft potato chunks with chewy lardons of smoky guanciale. It felt a bit like walking in on texture, flavor and aroma in the middle an intimate group hug.

Patate alla Carbonara - Marta

Patate alla Carbonara

Ladies and gentlemen, Marta is not just another pizza joint – it’s front-page news!

www.martamanhattan.com

Mapo Galbi, Los Angeles review

Mapo Galbi

As downtown Los Angeles increasingly evolves into a hip canvas for new toques to show off their kitchen prowess, diners are just as increasingly tempted to cross the 405 and 110 Freeways after dark, in search of some of the city’s most acclaimed food. But as you head east from the familiarly popular restaurant rows of Fairfax Avenue or West 3rd Street, you venture through an oddly exciting (yet unnervingly foreign) neighborhood, which is home to some 120,000 Korean residents. And without GPS and a solid phonetic recommendation, finding an authentic and satisfying meal in K’town can be a bit of a long shot. You see, with the overabundance of brightly illuminated Korean signs screaming for your attention, what you hope might be a good steakhouse…could turn out to be a good gynecologist instead.

Mapo Galbi

Mapo Galbi

As far as first impressions go, Mapo Galbi is a slight jolt to the expectation system. But don’t let the indecipherable Korean sign, nor the rather nondescript storefront or any of the interior choices of functional vinyl, 70’s wood veneer and sensible mirrors sway you. When you sit around one of the 10 gas-griddle tables, and slip on one of those cute, red aprons – you realize that you are about to venture more than a few feet outside the box.

Dak Galbi Stage 1 - Mapo Galbi

Dak Galbi Stage 1

As our evening progressed, the hostess seemed to grow measurably more charming – even as we careened repeatedly into our substantial language barrier. When I mentioned that I had “wanted to try this restaurant for some time,” she obligingly pointed to the restroom door. The very succinct menu was equally tricky to navigate, but with the aid of hand gestures, charades and the translation services of a neighboring table in between a gush of giggles, we somehow managed to order the highly popular Dak Galbi (spicy chicken with vegetables).

Dak Galbi Stage 2

Dak Galbi Stage 2

Our appetizers included a sliced cabbage salad with a creamy dressing, and a small dish of Water Kimchi, which consisted of a few submerged crunchy carrot and radish sticks under a milky, briny yet pleasantly refreshing, fermented broth. At this point, our griddle pan arrived, and the dish assembly began with alacrity. The ingredients started with rather simple chunks of marinated chicken, sweet potato chips and short ropes of rice-cake. Once browned, these were followed with coarsely chopped cabbage and a most unstinting helping of Gochujang (chili, sugar, sesame, garlic) sauce.

Dak Galbi Stage 3 - Mapo Galbi

Dak Galbi Stage 3

Just prior to serving, sesame leaves and scallions were scissored in, giving the dish a fresh green accent.

Dak Galbi with Banchan (side dishes)

Dak Galbi with Banchan (side dishes)

The side dishes (Banchan) included a rather soft, sweet and chewy strip of kimchi fish cake, a wonderfully flavorful seaweed salad, roasted zucchini and a few very crispy taco-sized slices of pickled radish. Our challenge was to balance a portion of chicken, rice-cake and cabbage onto a radish slither – without dropping the contents during the chopstick-assisted journey toward the lips. (If the need for the red aprons wasn’t clear earlier, it was blatantly obvious now.) The delectable combination of the sweet, sharp, savory and spicy, warm chicken against the cold and briny radish was a perfectly restrained contrast of the foreign and the familiar. And the incredible texture variety of melt-in-your-mouth rice cakes on one hand with crunchy scallions on the other, took the rather simple and gimmick-free dish to a unique and unexpected level.

Kimchi rice stir fry - Mapo Galbi

Kimchi rice stir fry

And just when the evening began to wane, our hostess reignited the griddle and stirred up a small bowl of rice with chopped kimchi and a few black ribbons of dried seaweed, for a delicious post-course, sizzling stir-fry.

While I can happily vouch for the quality, I cannot speak to the authenticity of Mapo Galbi, but über-esteemed Momofuku chef David Chang not only can and does, but he even goes so far as to consider it one of his all-time favorites.

http://www.visitkoreatown.org/mapo-dak-galbi-restaurant/

https://wwww.facebook.com/…/mapo-galbi