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Bit(e)s and Pieces, May 2011 report

I'm in NYC for a quick visit. First meal off the train yesterday was at Momofuku Ssam and WOW. I had been to Ssam a few years ago on my last visit. I was a solo lunch diner and couldn't explore as much as I wanted to but loved the pork belly buns. I mean really, what's not to love? This time, C and I hit Ssam so that I could introduce him to the pork belly buns (v. my homemade ones) and to check out their new duck lunches. Specifically the duck over rice.

We put in a order of those two items, plus duck dumplings, broccoli salad and pickled radishes. The pork buns came first and they were just as tasty as I remembered. I nearly swooned. Then the duck on rice came, with the requested chive pancakes. Good god, I did swoon. I didn't think anything could top the pork buns, but this dish could be it. The duck was tender, and flavorful. And, the chive pancake and watercress were perfect accompaniments.

The duck dumpling soup was also very good. the meat texture was not what I expected. They really were like duck meatballs. I would have liked this dish more if I hadn't first had a bit of the duck over rice. I did find the soup a touch bland.

Lastly, the broccoli salad was a nice, lighter green to go with all the animal fat. I love Ssam and am wondering if I can convince parents to come with us for lunch on Sunday.

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

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  1. Milk Bar. We went after Ssam because I had been wildly curious about crack pie. Overall, I liked it, didn't love it, and don't feel the need to go back.

    We tried crack pie and the candy pie. They were tasty enough but way too sweet. After I finished my share, I definitely felt that sugar rush that would lead to a crash.

    We also bought three cookies for later: blueberries and cream, cornflake chocolate chip and compost. Again, all fine. A little busy for my taste and a tad too sweet.

    But, I'm glad I tried these desserts.

    Momofuku Milk Bar
    251 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003

    1 Reply
    1. re: beetlebug

      Shake Shack in Madison Square Park for my last lunch. I had to see what all the fuss was about. So we decided to have this as our last, in town, lunch. And, I get what the hoopla and lines are about.

      So, we ordered 2 shack cheese burgers (one regular and one with no lettuce and tomatoes but with pickles and onions), fries, chocolate malted shake and the special concrete (I forget the name but it had peanuts and crushed up cone).

      The line and wait for food took a bit longer than anticipated and we were in danger of missing our train back home, so we grabbed it to go and dashed to the subway. Before we entered, we each had a handful of fries and a couple of bites of the burger. We wanted to taste the foods while they were fresh and hot. We were quite sad that we had to put them away until after retrieving our luggage and got to the waiting area at Penn Station. The food was pretty cold then and the custard products were melty.

      However, we enjoyed both the hot and cold bites of our food. I would have liked the concrete better if it hadn't gotten all melty causing the cones to soften up. But, that's not SS's fault but ours.

      Next time, I'm going to plan on having a more relaxing meal. This is excellent fast food. I was a total and complete stress case until we got to Penn Station.

      Shake Shack
      Madison Ave and E 23rd St, New York, NY 10010

    2. Yakitori Totto for dinner. I love this place and we were last here a few years ago. This place was still great but not as good as it had been. Some of my favorite things were no longer on the menu, namely the tofu stewed in the clay pot and the fresh wasabi.

      But, the chicken oysters were as delectable as ever. Crisp in the skin and the meat was just so flavorful. Also of note was the tontoro (pork), various chicken pieces and the hot pepper stuffed with chicken. I can't get over how tender all of the chicken is there.

      It just goes to show, food does taste better when it's on a stick.

      Yakitori Totto
      251 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019

      1. Kyotofu for dessert tonight after a full day in Flushing. I loved this place. I was mildly intrigued mostly because of my love of tofu and its derivatives. But, we went to Kyotofu for dessert mostly because it was close to the hotel.

        We split the strawberry anmitsu and the ice cream sundae with vegan brownie, fruit compote, matcha mochi and pocky. The soymilk soft serve flavors were strawberry and cream and lemon vanilla. Both were delicious. But I wanted to give a particular shout out to the matcha mochi. This stuff was amazing. I could get the swirled soft serve with a double serving of this mochi alone. Perfect combo of flavor and texture.

        I'm also curious about the cupcakes. The server said that when they serve it in house, they stuff the cupcake with ice cream. I just wasn't hungry enough to go for a third dessert. But, there's always tomorrow night.

        705 9th Ave, New York, NY 10019

        3 Replies
        1. re: beetlebug

          Have you been to/are you planning to go to Spot Dessert Bar? I have a sneaking suspicion you'd really like it.

          Spot Dessert Bar
          13 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10003

          1. re: daveena

            That's funny that you mentioned Spot. I'm planning on going after dinner tonight. I love Pichet Ong's cookbook and have baked many things from it.

            1. re: beetlebug

              I was disappointed with Spot. Only one of the three desserts we tried really appealed to me -- the Soft Cheesecake, which I thought was delicious. The Jackfruit Cake's flavor was not one I was familiar with. I didn't find it offensive, just o.k.. But what did surprise me was that I didn't care at all for the Yuzu Eskimo. I like citrus desserts and have had them with yuzu before. But this one didn't work for me. I found the bar's texture odd, more candy-like than ice cream-y. And the yuzu flavor didn't pack much punch.

              All that said, since you've baked from Ong's cookbook, I'm sure you'll enjoy the desserts at Spot.

              Spot photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

              I am a huge fan of ChikaLicious. You might want to give the desserts there a try.

              ChickaLicious photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...


              203 E 10th St, New York, NY 10003

        2. Sullivan Street Bakery

          We bought a bunch of stuff for breakfast this am. And, it didn't disappoint. I've made the famous no-knead bread many times and wanted to taste more unbready items.

          We had the flatbread with rosemary and sea salt, chocolate and almond croissant, banana bread, the italian donut and whole grain bread.

          The banana chocolate chip bread exceeded expectations. At first I thought that the top was burnt (it was burnt looking) but when I bit into it, it gave a nice crunch (not quite the right word), before sinking into the softness of the bread. I saw visible chunks of banana and there were just the right amount of chocolate chips.

          I was a little disappointed in the italian donut. But, to be fair, it was the last thing I tried, and I may have been over sugared at this point. I loved the flatbread. So simple and delicious.

          Sullivan Street Bakery
          533 W 47th St, New York, NY 10036

          1. Xi'an Famous Foods
            67 Bayard Street

            I thought this place was absolutely wonderful. I decided to try and go here on the off chance that it wouldn't be a zoo. And, we completely lucked out. But, take this report with a grain of salt: I've never tried the Flushing or the Lower Broadway location. And, the last time I was in Xi'an was in 1998.

            That said, I thought this place was extremely strong, especially since it just opened. We ordered a couple of spicy lamb cumin burgers, Chang'An Spicy Tofu, tiger Vegetables, Lamb Pao Mao, Mount Qi Pork Noodles, Stewed Lamb Spine Noodles and pork burger.

            I thought the pork burger was the weakest of the bunch. But, it was the last thing we ate AND I thought the lamb burger was just superb. If I had the pork burger first, I'm sure I would have been more thrilled with it. The Stewed Lamb Spine noodles were just wonderful. A bit earthier tasting than the Mount Qi noodles but it could totally stand on their own. The lamb pao mo soup was also quite good. I don't really like the pao mo bread, in general and these were a bit coarse since they were cut and not hand torn. But, the broth was amazing and the bread had clearly been soaking in the broth. I wish there were a bit more rice vermicelli noodles because that is my preferred vehicle for the broth.

            The hand cut noodles were wonderful. I can't believe that many hounds ate these noodles sitting in a park somewhere. We had a hard enough time managing the noodles at a table.

            Not much more to say, but we had a lovely meal here.

            Xi'an Famous Foods
            67 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013

            1. Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.

              Loved the lychee sorbet. Pure lychee goodness. I also tasted the black sesame ice cream and that was also lovely. My parents had gobbled down the mango and chocolate ice cream before I had a chance to snag a bit. Clearly they loved those flavors, or they weren't willing to share with their only daughter.

              Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
              65 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013

              1 Reply
              1. re: beetlebug

                Ha! If it makes you feel better, I think lychee and black sesame are better.

              2. Ma Dang Sui - Korean BBQ.

                Dinner spot and it was quite good. The strong points were the kalbi and mushroom platters. The spicy pork was also good but really, not much beats the kalbi in my book.

                They seemed to be low on many of the panchan items but we were more than satisfied with our dinner.

                1 Reply
                1. Sweet Spot for dessert.

                  After some slight subway snafus, we finally made it here. I had been wildly curious about this place since I love the cookbook. But, when I saw the menu, I had some slight reservations. Each dessert had SO many components. And, I didn't want to be disappointed especially after yesterday's dessert at Kyotofu.

                  But, I'm happy to report, that it was worth the trek down to this neighborhood. We went for the three dessert tapas: Chocolate green tea truffle cake, yuzu eskimo and white miso semi freddo. And, that was the order they served the plates to us. I think they should have done the reverse.

                  Chocolate Green Tea Truffle Cake - the green tea ice cream was amazingly earthy and complemented the chocolate cake beautifully. It was very rich which is why I thought it should have been the last dessert.

                  Yuzu Eskimo - Unlike RGR, our eskimo plenty of yuzu flavor. And, if you ate all the elements at the same time, the flavor just burst in your mouth. My issue with this dessert is that the eskimo was too frozen. It needed to thaw out a few minutes before service.

                  White miso Semi freddo - this could have been my favorite dessert. It was light and the raspberry sorbet was just a taste of summer. The white miso didn't have much flavor to it, and the olive oil cake was a bit too hard. I've made the olive oil cake and that crumb is very fine and delicate (it's triple sifted). But, this cake didn't have that and I had unmanaged expectations.

                  The service was a bit haphazard but my big complaint was with the guy who put the desserts together. He didn't seem to have great time management skills and couldn't seem to keep a good flow of plating the dishes. On top of that, he appeared to be training a new person so he may have been overwhelmed with the steady business.

                  I ordered three cupcakes to go and once I taste those, I'll report back.

                  I'm a bit fooded out and am feeling like I should beach myself.

                  705 9th Ave, New York, NY 10019

                  Spot Dessert Bar
                  13 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10003

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: beetlebug

                    Ah, I think you've put your finger on the problem with the Eskimo's texture, i.e. too frozen.


                    1. re: RGR

                      The three cupcakes were pretty mediocre. To be fair, we ate them last night so they had been sitting around for a whole day. But, the cake part didn't have a lot of flavor, instead, it relied too much on the frosting to give it an oomph. We ordered the lemon yuzu (flavorless), mocha with maldon salt and chocolate with green tea frosting.

                      I've been mulling alot about this dessert place. While I liked it, I wanted to LOVE it and it just didn't happen. It's disappointing because the cookbook is one of my favorite dessert books. And, I think I know what the problem was (besides overly high expectations). While the desserts seemed busy they were thought out with what flavors worked well together. But, the execution of the desserts were careless and without soul. The dessert person didn't think about the order of how he would serve the tapas, or take care of details, like taking out the eskimo out earlier so it would soften and achieve its full flavor. He was just doing his job - plating desserts, no more, no less.

                      This was such a contrast with Kyotofu where not only were the desserts well thought out, but they were also well executed. And, it was with real care and love on each plate.

                      1. re: beetlebug

                        Since I had the same problem with the Eskimo, it's not just the person who plated yours. Thus, I have to surmise that Ong wants it to be served that way.


                        1. re: RGR

                          When I had it, it was so soft I double-checked the menu to make sure it was really a semifreddo.

                  2. La Bergamote Patisserie - met a friend here for breakfast. I've eaten a lot of sweets lately and am feeling a bit sluggish from it. But, how could I resist all the luscious pastries displayed? So, we decided to split the scrambled eggs with mushrooms over wheat toast, side salad and berries. The scrambled eggs were good and the mushrooms was a nice mix. The wheat toast it was on was ok. I would have preferred it on the side. The side salad was a nice touch and hit the spot.

                    We also split two pastries - chocolate almond croissant and an apricot danish. The chocolate almond croissant was good but it was heavier. I think Sullivan Street's version was better. The apricot danish was outstanding. Great flake and lightness to the dough and the right amount of sweetness to the fruit with just a bit of pastry cream underneath. I would have loved to try the other fruit flavors, especially the blueberries but I don't think I could have handled another pastry at this point in my life.

                    La Bergamote
                    515 W 52nd St, New York, NY 10019

                    1. Saigon Banh Mi

                      We ordered sandwiches to go so that we would have something to eat for dinner when we arrived home. These were still delicious but I think they switched the bread since the last time I ate these (3 years ago). The fillings were still delicious (bbq pork) and the stuff stayed inside the bread much better than in the past. I also liked the bread to stuff ratio. But, the bread didn't have as much flavor as it used to. More salt needed to be added to the dough or something. Sandwiches are now $4.25 which I think, is slightly more then in the past.

                      Anyway, it was still a nice way to end our NYC trip.

                      Banh Mi Saigon
                      198 Grand St, New York, NY 10013