The Dish

After finishing finals for the day, the boyfriend, two friends and I headed down to Chelsea for the American Apparel sample sale. Since it was around 12:30, we decided to head for some lunch before we hit the sale. A quick Yelp search led me to The Dish, which is a diner, located in the Chelsea area. I had a big craving for chocolate chip pancakes so I knew I had to give them a try.

When we arrived, we were given the option of sitting downstairs or upstairs. We chose downstairs because everyone was too lazy to walk up the stairs. We were immediately given menus and glasses of water. I already knew what I wanted, their banana chocolate chip pancakes, but my companions didn’t. The boyfriend’s eyes caught sight of the words “fish and chips” and also knew instantly. The night before I was telling him about a new fish and chips food truck traveling through Brooklyn and Manhattan so the idea was still fresh in his mind.

We decided to start off with a French Onion Soup, since we haven’t had it in a while. The soup came quick and was steaming hot. The melted cheese on top was perfection and the croutons in the soup were soaked with the oniony flavor. I crumbled some salted crackers into the soup after I finished all the croutons and it was oh so good. 

The boyfriend’s lunch order came with your choice of either a salad or soup. Since I ordered the French Onion Soup, the boyfriend decided to go with the salad. This was your typical salad with lettuce, tomato, onion and cucumbers with Italian dressing. Halfway through our appetizers, the boyfriend and I swapped dishes. He finished the rest of the soup while I ate the rest of his salad.

 My order of pancakes came with three gigantic banana chocolate chip pancakes. The pancakes came with a plate of butter and syrup. I drizzled all three containers of syrup on the pancakes and dug in. The pancakes were fluffy and delicious! The chocolate chips and banana slices were dispersed evenly throughout the pancakes. The combination was perfect.

The boyfriend’s order of fish and chips came with four pieces of beer batter fried fish and a side of fries. The fish was tender and soft and piping hot! The fries, though, was the best part of the dish. The fries were very crispy and crunchy. The worst fries are the ones that are soggy and wet. These fries were the exact opposite. I dipped the fries in the tartar sauce and kept sneaking them off of the boyfriend’s plate. I think I liked the fries more than the fish!

The service was quick and our water glasses were always full. I can definitely see myself coming back to Dish whenever I’m in the area. The only complaint I had about Dish was the bathroom. There was only one per floor and I had to wait an extremely long time for the lower level bathroom to be free. With such a big diner, they really could use more bathrooms. Therefore, I am giving Dish 3/5 stars. Definitely check them out if you’re in the area!

Dessert Post

It might not be that surprising when I say that I have a big sweet tooth. Or as I tell the Boyfriend, sweet teeth. I love all things sweet – especially desserts. Which is exactly what this post is going to be about. My favorite desserts are all from various places and majority ranging under $10.

First up is Panya Bakery, which is located in the East Village. They are a Japanese bakery but they sell all sorts of foods – riceballs, sushi, noodles, sandwiches, bread and an assortment of desserts. Their logo is this cute little cartoon baker, which I find absolutely adorable. I’ve been to Panya on several occasions and have tried a couple of their desserts. 

The most recent Panya sweet is their Pumpkin Tart. Don’t be fooled by the word pumpkin – there’s also caramelized apples on top. The dessert has a pumpkin tart bottom, which is then topped by caramelized apples. The whole thing is then topped with a dollop of whipped cream. I particularly loved this dessert because it sort of married a pumpkin pie with an apple pie. There was the best of both pies all wrapped up into one. The tart crust was soft and delightfully easy to cut through with just a plastic fork. By the time I finished this tart, I was ready to go back for another one!

Wafels & Dinges has several trucks and carts all around Manhattan. On Tuesdays, they always park a cart in front of Fordham University at Lincoln Center. On a sunny Tuesday in September, the boyfriend and I walked by the cart after lunch. I had a 3-hour block class so the boyfriend decided to buy me a treat before class. The ice cream cones come in a large waffle cone. The inside of the waffle cone is drizzled with hot Belgian chocolate fudge. You can choose to add an extra scoop of spekuloos ice cream or leave it as one vanilla scoop. I chose to add the extra scoop. The spoon is then covered with more Belgian chocolate fudge. The result was delicious chocolate infused ice cream cone. When I got to the cone, I was pleasantly surprised. The chocolate fudge that was drizzled on the inside that solidified due to the coldness of the ice cream. I now had a chocolate covered cone as well!

The best cheesecake that I have ever eaten has got to be from Eileen’s Cheesecake. I was first introduced to this little bakery, located in Soho, by the Boyfriend. He was appalled that I had never tried Eileens, despite it being named one of the best in NYC. Ever since he brought me my first mini cheesecake from them, I’ve been hooked. Their cheesecakes come with an assortment of toppings, but only two sizes. You can either get a mini, which is a baby version of their 12-inch cheesecakes. I usually go with the mini because their size is just right to finish by myself. Every time I go, I always order their strawberry cheesecake, which is always delicious. The cheesecake is smooth and soft. There isn’t an overbearing taste of cream cheese, which I think is perfect for cheesecakes. Each mini costs around $3, making it super affordable for a tiny treat for yourself,

I first discovered Bisous Ciao on one of the many food adventures the Boyfriend and I made down to the Lower East Side. We always walked by this little macaron parlor but never stepped inside to buy one. Every time I’m in LES, I always go for Sugar Sweet Sunshine and one of their Sexy Red Velvet cupakes. But for Asia Night, the biggest event of the year for APAC (I’m the president), we decided to get a green tea dessert, just like we did last year. After some searching, I found out that Bisous Ciao sells Jasmine+Green Tea macarons, which fit right into our criteria. After some emailing with their chef, I was able to purchase their Jasmine Green Tea maracons in large quanities for our event. They turned out to be a big hit! We ran out right away. 

These macarons are filled with a white chocolate ganache that is infused with jasmine and green tea. The result was a ganache that is thicker than I am used to. But it was a good thick! The filling kept the macarons together without oozing out between the two cookies. The cookies had just the right amount of crunch and softness. I know I will definitely be back to Bisous Ciao to try some of their other favors. With new favors every season, I know I won’t ever get sick of them.

All of these desserts were some of my favorites, but my absolute favorite dessert  would have to be La Lanterna’s pumpkin cognac cheesecake. I’ve blogged about this cheesecake before, but I feel like it deserves a second mention. This cheesecake has been my favorite since I tried it. And before any of you tell me that I called Eileen’s cheesecakes my favorite, I have to specify that this cheesecake is more pumpkin mousse than cheesecake. My favorite part of this dessert is the pumpkin chunk on the bottom. Every time I have this dessert, I can almost feel my taste buds dancing. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourselves! I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Playing with your food

Months ago, I purchased a Groupon deal for Arirang Hibachi Steakhouse and it was nearing it’s expiration date. So on a windy Friday night, I finally used my coupon during dinner with the boyfriend and his parents. We decided to order three dinner sets to share along with some sushi rolls, since my coupon was valid for hibachi and the sushi bar. Each set dinner comes with hot green tea, soup, salad, and ice cream for dessert along with whichever meat you choose. Fried rice is a separate order, which we also got.

A typical Japanese hibachi is used as a heating device, not for cooking. In actuality, the way foods are cooked in Arirang is a teppanyaki cooking style, which uses gas-heated hotplates that are integrated into tables to cook. There are many people (often multiple parties) sitting at the table and eating together. The chef performs the cooking in front of the diners.

Our chef started off with putting oil on the hotplate. Then he put on mixed vegetables. He left some on his platter, which he cut up into tiny squares to pitch at each member of the table so they could try to catch it with their mouths. The boyfriend caught his piece of vegetable on his first try!

The chef then moved on to making a volcano fire out of a row of onions. He stacked the onions in a volcano shape and put oil inside the hole on the top. Fire swooshed up like a volcano. He then pulled out a little toy boy, which “peed” water when his pants are pulled down. He hosed down the fire while singing “Fire Burning” by Sean Kingston.

After he put out the fire, he then proceeded to put on a show with some eggs. He spun the eggs on his spatula and then threw it up into the air to catch it with his hat. After a brief show, he cracked the eggs onto the hotplate to start making the fried rice.

The white rice that is used for fried rice comes in big balls, since it is two bowls made into one. He assembled a Mickey Mouse with one flattened bowl of rice and two balls. The rice is then incorporated with the eggs along with some veggies to make fried rice. The chef used two spatulas to flip and mix all the ingredients on the hotplate. The end result was a heart shaped mound of fried rice that he then split into several portions for us to eat.

After the fried rice, our chef proceeded to cooking the seafood – shrimp and scallops, along with some mushrooms. The shrimps are placed on the hotplate with the tail. The chef then uses his sharp knife to cut off all the tails. Each of us are given an even portion of scallops and shrimp – both of which were very flavorful and had that smoky flavor that comes from the hotplate.

After the seafood, our Chef moved on to cooking our steaks. The steaks are placed onto the hotplate whole. But after some cooking, the chef cuts them into smaller squares so they can be tossed around. Our steaks were chewy but not too cooked. There was a slight pink hue on the inside without it being too red. The mixture of steak chunks and mushrooms was delicious and juicy!

Our chef ended the show there and cleaned the hotplate before leaving. We were left to finish the food that we had neglected in order to watch the show. After we finished eating, we were offered ice cream. I opted to go for the green tea ice cream because I am always a sucker for green tea flavored foods. 

The food is good but never anything spectacular. The main reason why I still go to Arirang is for the shows. I love Arirang for their dinner shows. They are always super fun to watch. The chefs sing and perform a variety of tricks with the food right in front of you. I recommend that you go with a large group, because then you can have the entire table to yourselves. Go for a birthday and order the special birthday cake treatment. I guarantee you will receive an experience you never could have imagined!

Tiny but so large in flavor

Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop, located at 129 Rivington in the Lower East Side, is perhaps one of the tiniest sandwich shops I’ve seen. The small storefront seats about 20 with most of the tables being two seaters. There are around two tables for a larger party of four. This sandwich shop offers waiter service although you can also take your sandwich to go. One distinctive feature of Tiny’s is that they offer their signature sandwiches with a vegetarian option. Their Spicy Rizzak, Southwestern Chicken, The Cobb and Buffalo Chicken sandwiches all come with a vegetarian option. Besides their signature sandwiches, you can even make your own sandwich in either a large or a small size with a variety of meats, toppings and sauces to choose from. Tiny’s also offers homemade sodas with special flavors like Thai Basil Lemongrass and Lychee White Tea.

On my visit to Tiny’s, I went with a friend and the boyfriend. We ordered three sandwiches – two of their signature sandwiches and one make-your-own-sandwich. First up is the Spicy Rizzak sandwich. This sandwich offers sliced turkey with crispy bacon, melted cheddar, tomato, onion, and a spicy chipotle mayo on a sesame semolina hero. The spicy chipotle mayo was a perfect compliment to the sliced turkey and the crispy bacon. The sauce was not too spicy, which is perfect for those who don’t like their foods too spicy. All of the sandwiches at Tiny’s come with a side of rippled chips, which was a really nice snack on the side.

Our second sandwich was another signature – The Cobb. The Cobb features grilled chicken, bacon, avocado, lettuce, and tomato with a blue cheese dressing on a sesame semolina hero. The Cobb is modeled after a typical Cobb sandwich but without the usual mayo or mustard. A typical Cobb sandwich also only has bacon. Personally, I believed that this was the best sandwich that we had because the blue cheese dressing really brought a tang to the standard bacon, avocado, tomato and lettuce mix-up. The use of grilled chicken in this sandwich was a really good bonus and made it more filling than the typical Cobb sandwich.

The last sandwich we sampled was one we created on our own. It consisted of breaded chicken cutlet with melted mozzarella cheese and balsamic vinegar spread over a semolina roll. This sandwich was created with the small option. The small option was actually quite big and was almost the same size as the large hero’s! This sandwich was very good and the cheese was melted to the point where it became chewy when you bit into the sandwich. The sandwich could have used a bit more balsamic vinegar because the lack of made the sandwich a bit dry.

All of the sandwiches came up to the price range of $8-9 for each. A bit pricey for a sandwich but they are big enough to completely fill you up! All the sandwiches were quite good but I believe the highlight wasn’t the meats, fillings or sauces. The highlight of the sandwiches was the bread. All of the sandwiches we sampled were made with either a sesame semolina hero or roll. The bread was very flavorful and soft. I firmly believe that the bread really did make the sandwich in this case.

I would give Tiny’s a 3/5 because the storefront was a bit cramped and the service wasn’t as attentive as it could’ve been. We were sitting for around 10-15 minutes before a waiter came to offer us a glass of water or even a menu. The redeeming factor of Tiny’s would be the sandwiches so my advice would be to get them to go instead of dining in.

13-Pound Lobsters

Francisco’s Central Vasco Restaurant, located in Chelsea, is perhaps one of the most interesting restaurants I have ever been to. Dubbed “the best lobster in the city’, this Spanish restaurant specializes in lobster and seafood. Upon entering the lobster house, you’d notice the intriguing decor. Right above the bar hung lobster claws from lobsters ranging from 50 pounds to 25 pounds. Their largest lobster claw is from a lobster weighing around 70 pounds. Talk about serious lobster eating!

Once you are seated, you are given a menu with all sorts of seafood – seafood paella, crabmeat stew, lobster bisque, and much more. Then you are given a separate sheet of paper for just plain lobsters – steamed or boiled. The smallest lobster, around one and a quarter pound will cost you around $21.

After ordering, your waiter will bring over a lobster bib and put it on for you. The bib is plastic and has a cute lobster design over it. After the bibs, come the appetizers. Each house special comes with side dishes so when the entire table orders, the side dishes come out family style. A large plate of fresh garden salad is brought out, followed by a large plate of Spanish rice, fried plantains, and boiled green beans. Fresh bread is also presented along with the side dishes. Majority of the time, no appetizers are needed since the lobster and the side dishes are enough to fill you up. 

As someone who could not decide between a steak or lobster, I chose the Surf and Turf, which consisted of one and quarter pound of Maine lobster along with a sirloin steak. The steak is cooked to your choice while the lobster is steamed to redness. The order is quite large but with time, it is possible to finish the entire meal. I always eat the lobster first because it does not taste as good cold. Melted butter is offered on the side for dipping the lobster meat and a shell cracker is also offered on the plate. A1 steak sauce is given when asked. Running at $39, the Surf and Turf isn’t exactly budget eating but your portion will be large enough for two people to share.

Eating the lobster at Francisco’s Central Vasco is always a joy to me because it tastes superb. The lobster is cooked just right so that it’s not overcooked and stringy. When you crack open the lobster, the juices are flowing out because it hasn’t been overcooked and remains juicy. The best part of the Surf and Turf is that the lobster is steamed. The steamed lobster retains all of its original flavors without being overwhelmed by another other added in ingredients. You can taste the freshness and the sweetness of the lobster meat. After the lobster, my favorite would be the side dishes. No matter how full I am from the lobster and the steak, it seems like I always have extra room for the Spanish rice. Most of the time I even doggy-bag the rice because I can’t get enough of it.

Francisco’s Central Vasco isn’t cheap, but the quality of the food is well worth it. If you’re ever in the mood for good quality lobster and are willing to splurge, pay Francisco’s a visit. You won’t be disappointed.

Dim Sum

When you’re Chinese, Saturday or Sunday mornings mean yumcha, which literally translates to “drink tea”, with family. You wake up early and pile out to a restaurant to wait for a table to grab some dim sum and hot tea. Once you sit, you’re given a bill card for your table. Everything you order will be on that card. It is divided into several sections – small items, medium items, big items, and special items. Women push around carts that contain all sorts of food –some hot, some cold, and even desserts and baked goods. When you order something off the cart, the cart lady will stamp your bill card, marking off the size of your item.

Ever since starting college, yumcha has been a rare occurrence. Saturday and Sunday mornings are usually spent catching up on the sleep I didn’t get during the weekdays. But last Saturday, the boyfriend and I went yumcha with his family at Golden Unicorn Restaurant in Chinatown. The moment you sit down, the waiter will ask you what kind of tea you want. Once that is done with, you start ordering dishes from the various carts that are running up and down between the tables.

First up is the typical dimsum order – Shui Mai. These are little pork dumplings that are left open at the top. The filling is ground pork with variations of shrimp, mushrooms, and green onions. The dumplings are then steamed in a bamboo steamer. All of these dishes are pushed around in a cart with hot water on the bottom to keep the food hot inside their steamers.

Next up is Ha Gaows, which are shrimp dumplings. The filling is entirely shrimp while the outside is a thin wheat starch skin. Like the shiu mais, these dumplings are steamed in a bamboo steamer. The key to figuring out if you’ve been served a good Ha Gaow is testing the skin. If the skin is thin but chewy, then it is a good ha gaow. If the skin is hard or un-bouncy, then you’ve been served either an old dish or a badly made skin.

Another typical dim sum staple is the Cha Siew Baos. These are little steamed buns filled with sweet barbeque pork and onions. Dim sum cha siew baos come in two forms – steamed or baked. The steamed baos, shown here, are white and fluffy while the baked ones are brown and sticky. Both have the same filling. When it comes to cha siew baos, I always prefer the steamed ones because they’re soft and piping hot when they arrive at my table. The baked baos are usually cooled and served on a dish versus in a steamer.

No yumcha meal is complete without rice crepes. Rice crepes, or churng fun, are rice noodles that are steamed and then rolled. They are pulled into their shapes after being cooked. They usually come in three forms: beef filling, shrimp filling or no filling. Churng fun is usually topped with sweetened soy sauce – the more the better! I’ve been eating churng fun since I was a little kid, so every time I yumcha I must have them. They’re soft and chewy and very filling. My favorite has always been the plain rice crepes but the beef seems to be the most popular among the kids.

By this point in the meal, it’s time for the law bak go, or fried turnip cakes. They’re pre-made by the kitchen and then fried in front of you by a cart lady. Her cart is different then the others because hers is actually used for cooking. She puts the pre-made turnip cakes onto the grill she has and makes them nice and crispy right in front of you. Turnip cakes are usually served with a side of oyster sauce for dipping. Fried turnip cakes are loved because of the texture when you bite into it. The outside is crunchy while the inside is smooth and chewy.

Next up are the Spring Rolls. Spring Rolls served during yumcha are usually not piping hot. They are placed on the cool dishes cart, along with the other fried foods. When you’re a Chinese person eating spring rolls during yumcha, there is only one dipping sauce you use – worcester sauce. It sounds a little weird, but we don’t eat it any other way.

After so many dishes of hot delicious good, it’s finally time for dessert! Most restaurants have a dessert cart. Golden Unicorn has several. They have a cart just for various puddings, a cart just for tofu pudding, and a cart for baked desserts. When we were browsing and trying to decide what to order, the baked desserts cart rolled by and the cart lady told us that her don tats, or egg custards, were fresh out of the oven. There is nothing better than hot, fresh-out-of-the-oven egg custards. They didn’t look like they were fresh, but moment I bit into them, I knew they were. The inside was still warm while the crust melted in my mouth. It was such a small dish that I already wanted another order before I even finished my first egg custard.

And now, we reach the highlight of the meal. For me, no yumcha is complete without Malaysian Rolls. These rolls are yellow, small, and super cute. They are made from a very soft sponge cake that is flavored with molasses.  The result is a spongy soft roll that is just the right amount of sweet. The rolls are steamed inside a bamboo steamer, so they’re best eaten when they’re hot. Nothing is worse then a cold Malaysian roll. If you don’t try anything else that I’ve eaten today, you HAVE to try these Malaysian rolls. Golden Unicorn makes them perfectly.

Golden Unicorn is a bit expensive for standard dim sum but you really do get the quality you pay for. The food is always hot and delicious while the service is quick – the waiters always pick up empty steamers and plates from your table. If you’re ever in the Chinatown area and want some good dim sum, definitely give them a visit!

Sanctuary T

A couple of months ago, Restaurant.com was having a 90% off sale on their $25 for $10 restaurant certificates. I managed to snag a certificate for a restaurant named Sanctuary T for only $1.

It was a rainy day and we didn’t really know what to eat for lunch, so I ran through my list of restaurant deals (I have quite a lot of them). Sanctuary T was fairly close, just a short train ride away, so we decided on paying them a visit.

We arrived a little after the lunch rush on a rainy day, so we were seated immediately. We started off with some cold water while we perused their menu. The water had a mysterious taste to it- we narrowed it down to the use of flower petals in the water tank. They also have a variation of teas so I decided to try their Apple-Cinnamon Tea. The tea comes in a cup with a tea infuser to hold the dried apple and cinnamon. There aren’t any actual tealeaves in this brew, which made it a very different taste. A stick of rock sugar was also provided for you to decide how much to melt into your tea.

My entrée was the Stuffed Grilled Chicken. This dish came with a side of mashed polenta and steamed veggies. The Grilled Chicken was stuffed with ham and cheese followed by their own special sauce on top. The chicken was very delicious, but the highlight of this dish was the mashed polenta. The polenta, or mashed cornmeal, was very fluffy and almost melted in my mouth. I actually wouldn’t mind eating an entire bowl of it!

The boyfriend ordered their Traditional Fish and Chips, which was hand-battered Pollack served with house made tartar sauce and fries. The fries came in a tiny little metal bucket, which I thought was really cute. The fish came in one whole filet instead of a couple of separate pieces, which made the use of a knife necessary. The tar tar sauce was the highlight of the dish. It was so good that I started dripping the fries in it! It was very flavorful and definitely added a lot to the dish. The fries were also really delicious – they weren’t too soft or too hard. I’m often annoyed when I get fries that are too soft and oily. These were perfect!

The service wasn’t as attentive as I’d hoped. Our waiter disappeared and then reappeared often. It took a while for us to receive our waters and he also took our tea orders separately instead of waiting a bit for us to finish deciding. The prices at Sanctuary T are also a bit on the high side for a lunch. My stuffed chicken cost $18, which I think is a bit expensive for just a lunch! If you’re able to score a Restaurant.com deal when they’re having a sale, definitely try this place out. But if you’re going on your own, I’d definitely recommend somewhere else that’s cheaper and has more attentive service. For Sanctuary T, I give them 3/5 stars.