ABCV – review

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Roasted Cauliflower, ABCV

In my mind, there’s a good reason why beige gets such a bad rap. As a color, it’s neither brown, nor cream, nor yellow, nor orange, nor white. It’s refusal to take a stand one way or the other locks it into the nethersphere of indifference. I also find it timid, inconsequential and perhaps even lazy. In fact, the only thing going for beige is its invisibility. After months of trying, I finally landed a spot at Jean Georges Vongerichten’s much-fussed-about 3rd act within the Flatiron district’s ABC Carpet & Home. After the inextinguishable farm-to-table success of ABC Kitchen, followed by his mostly-Iberian bistro ABC Cucina, he then tripled-down with ABCV, a robust commitment to vegetarianism that I can best describe as…beige.

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ABCV

The white-washed techy space is the brightest of his ABC’s with a few vague, non-comital splashes of pale colors here and there: pale pink, pale green and of course – pale beige. Even the wait staff seem to have been hand-picked for their pasty skin tones – which against their faded-pink T-shirts makes them all appear to be headed for a slumber party at the Langone Hospital emergency room at the end of their shift.

 

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Heirloom Tomatoes, ABCV

As expected, aside from a few cocktails and a limited wine selection, the non-alcoholic libations include an array of smoothies and veggie juices with a litany of promises, from a healthy heart to a clean spleen. But what did surprise me was the illustrated vegetable encyclopedia for idiots, which I found both startlingly unnecessary and oddly insulting. (I know what an eggplant is. It’s an emoji metaphor for a man’s endowment!)

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Avocado Lettuce Cups, ABCV

 

After the first few bites of the Avocado Lettuce Cups It became brutally evident why that darling little antique salt-boat containing vegan hot-sauce was waiting patiently in front of me. I figured that if the only discernable flavors were the total sum of the ingredients listed on the menu, I should still be in good shape flavor-wise with the cumin, serrano and lime, but all I got was a mouthful of fresh and crunchy beige.

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Wok Fried Ramen noodles, ABCV

I won’t bore you with repetitions, but suffice it to say that the next few dishes including Heirloom tomatoes with figs, Roasted Cauliflower with turmeric-tahini, Roasted baby Artichokes with green olives, Wok fried Ramen noodles with marinated cucumbers all left the kitchen fervidly vying for “dullest dish of the decade” – and frankly, it was a very close call. I’d happily argue that my vegetarian meal kit delivery service leans into its flavors with more conviction. Heck, even Langone Hospital offers more flavor off their heart-healthy iPad menu. And although I have yet to vouch for them, I’m told that Old Mother Hubbard Classic Country dog-bone shaped treats promises irresistible pumpkin flavor too. Let’ s just hope they’re any color other than…you know…

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Tim Ho Wan – review

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Tim Ho Wan

Given my proclivity for impatience, I have always admired the concept of Dim Sum. No sooner have you sat down, than the food starts showing up via a Formula 1 rally of tin carts, dodging and weaving between the tables, where dripping steamer baskets are distributed and score cards are stamped. If you don’t recognize the dish being wheeled past, you might not like (or believe) what you hear under the infernal din and acute language barriers. I once inquired what was inside some odd-looking dumplings, only to be told, “a European!” Never mind, it’s all part of the experience. And if you’re very lucky, all of your small plate preferences might be the first to show up, and you can be napkins down inside of twenty minutes.

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Tim Ho Wan

Thing is, as efficient as the experience might be, just getting seated can feel a lot like day one of boot camp as a military recruit. Lots of high-pitched yelling into walkie-talkies; being shunted into different snaking lines; having one’s name horribly mis-pronounced, or being given a ticket with a number that stretches into the next millennium. Or worse yet, the food itself can show up in dire need of a pit-stop – the oil can do with a change, the driving crew can do with a break and some of the ingredients can do with a major disposal.

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Har Gow, Tim Ho Wan

So to learn that Mak Kwai Pui, one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated dim sum chefs, decided to open a local branch of his mega-successful chain Tim Ho Wan, I had to indulge. Their claim to fame as “the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world” is as bizarrely fascinating as it is annoyingly challenging due to their über-popularity yielding the longest wait times in the city. Curiously there are no actual lines outside the East Village corner establishment. That’s because after putting your name down, the hostess with smile and promise to text you in: “Two hours and forty-five minutes!” Zzzzzzzzz. So I set out for a vexingly early slot on a Monday morning and snagged a table in the middle of the cheerful room. The placemats are the menu, with familiar names, pictures and strictly single-digit price-points. Service is prompt, and before you know it, a steaming feast materializes magically before you.

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Siu Mai pork dumplings, Tim Ho Wan

It didn’t take the double order of Har Gow to realize that we weren’t in Manhattan anymore. Micro-thin rice wrappers bursting with plump, crisp, unexpectedly large prawns with a heavenly Shaoxing wine and ginger flavor. The Siu Mai pork dumplings with shrimp are a close second, but way fresher and meatier than any of their Chinatown cousins. And biting through the crispy, sugar-dusted surface of the Baked BBQ Pork buns revealed a dark, thick, smoky, silky sauce with mushrooms and pork bits within.

 

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Baked BBQ Pork Buns, Tim Ho Wan

Everyone loves Deep Fried Springrolls, but how many times have you bitten into an oil-drippy, doughy envelope of goo and old sprouts? Not these big boys. The wrappers disintegrate into dry, crispy flakes yielding steaming hot vegetables that won’t leave you with an oil-slicked chin.

 

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Deep Fried Springrolls, Tim Ho Wan

We didn’t have room or time to sample some of the other house specialties, like the Steamed Egg Cakes, and Beef Balls with Bean Curd, or the Pan Fried Turnip Cake. Have to wait for another free mid-morning mid-week, or perhaps another hurricane threat when no-one’s around, so we won’t have to be told: “Three days, six hours and eighty-five minutes!”

http://timhowanusa.com/