I just finished a whirl wind eating adventure in the Bay Area. As opposed to last year’s Bay trip, which mostly consisted of San Francisco eating, I stayed close to Oakland this time around. Well, except for when I had to go to Mission Chinese. Or, when Katie and I drove an hour and a half to shuck our own oysters at Hog Island. But still, mostly Oakland.
And Oakland FAR exceeded my eating expectations. Between Burma Superstar, Boot and Shoe, and another lavish AJ/Hilary eating extravaganza at B-Dama, I truly ate my fill of Oakland’s finest.
1. At Burma Superstar, we ordered everything. I of course did my due diligence, and so I knew to order the Samusa soup and the Tea Leaf Salad. I just didn’t know they would be SO good. I also didn’t know that everything else we ordered would be equally spectacular… mostly, the coconut rice and the mango tofu. My mouth is actually watering right now in remembrance. The whole meal made me ask, “Where am I? How did I get here? How do I get back here? Why isn’t this in New York? Am I making this up?” and of course…………… “do I have to eat anywhere else?”. PS- the leftovers were just as good.
2. More on Mission Chinese Food once I eat at the new Mission Chinese on Orchard St in NY. I want to conduct a precise comparison. But I already know that the New York version will not compare to the hidden wonder of the San Francisco branch, where you really could walk past the place a billion times and never know the glory of what is inside.
3. Hog Island. I am a BAD shucker. It is HARD. And I was EMBARRASSED. But the Oysters were phenomenal. Especially grilled with a little garlic and barbecue sauce!
4. Boot and Shoe. While we sat at B&S, with the hot fresh tomato sauce leaking all over, Dan Rosen asked me why I am not fat and dirty. I had no response. I was wearing white pants and the sauce was so close to ruining them forever. I think just the sheer joy of good pizza propelled the sauce to levitate above my pants. Magic sauce, that Boot and Shoe pizza. (What I am trying to say is that Boot and Shoe is AMAZING.)
5. I can’t go to the Bay and not talk about farmer’s markets. Dan Rosen did me up good with a true Oakland experience, where we bought all the ingredients for a Shabbos feast. Dan and Aileen wowed me with charred peppers, heirloom tomato salad, herbed rib eyes, kale (sooo bayyy), and a peach galette for dessert. I have talented friends.
6. B-Dama. B-Dama. B-Dama. As usual when I go out to eat with AJ and Hilary, I treated myself like royalty and I pretended that my stomach was disconnected from my body. And, as usual, it was worth it. B-Dama showed me a whole new side to Japanese food that I didn’t even know existed. There were grilled chicken skewers, charcoaled fava beans, whole pieces of fish cheek, crunchy daikon salads, and tofu that slithered in a tangy broth. And there was uni, that ethereal orange goop that is mythically out of the future and also so real that you can feel it in your whole body as you swallow. And it just kept coming and coming, because AJ was in the house, and because luck is on our side when we’re all together. Which is what friendship eating is all about.
I know I’m late, but summer has been long and only around Labor Day do I start hitting the grind. But, OH BOY, have I done some eating this summer. Get excited.
In July, I once again went overboard with New York Restaurant Week. I made reservation after reservation, and ate at five amazing restaurants: Kutschers, Bar Boulud, DBGB, Junoon and Ai Fiori. DBGB was too dark for photos, but the rest of the documentation remains. Enjoy!
Kutshers- Zoe Grade: B-.
Although I have eaten here before and enjoyed it, this time around Kutshers seemed unprepared for the volume of Restaurant Week. The meal felt mass produced, the service was slow, and the food lost its characteristic charm. Most importantly, we were served rice that I wouldn’t have even dared eat on an airplane. I still like Kutscers, but mostly when its fare comes out deep fried.
Bar Boulud- Zoe Grade: A
Beautiful space, surprising bites, impeccable service, luscious cocktails. An all around Daniel Boulud quality experience. The Borscht was crisp and full, with gems of dill and anise sprinkled throughout. The pasta was creative, the fish was delicate, the room was bright. The more Boulud, the better.
Junoon- Zoe Grade: A-
I love fancy Indian food. I didn’t know I loved fancy Indian food until I ate at Junoon. I thought that Indian food was for buffets and stuffing your face and feeling deathly ill for forty eight hours. Junoon changed all this by reminding me about melt-in-your-mouth slow cooked meet, nuanced spice combinations, hot and cool flavors all at once, and all the other glorious potential intended by Indian cuisine. Not to mention watermelon cocktails.
Ai Fiori- Zoe Grade: B+
Ai Fiori is a quality restaurant, no question. And the food was great. But the space was sterile and the lunchers were tourists and the whole experience felt a little bit passed its time. I think Ai Fiori would do well to update its dining experience. No menu improvements necessary.
Despite all the cheap eats and street food that I stuffed my body with in Beijing, I did also indulge in some nicer meals. Two staple Beijing meals are Hot Pot and Peking Duck. Bailey and Alex and Tyler, guides of the highest caliber, took me to Haidilao and to Da Dong for these experiences.
At Haidilao, we were treated to the finest service: constant attention and hot towels from our fuyen. As Alex predicted, the best part of the meal was the sauce, as we each prepared our own little dipping bowl for our hot pot delicacies. Mine was mostly sesame sauce, with cilantro (coriander) and garlic. A huge higlight was the shrimp balls (“cheeseballs of shrimp” as Alex calls it, which really is the most astute explanation), which were poured into our broth with basically a frosting cone, and turned out as little poppable cheeseballsofshrimp. But the real extravagance of the meal was the fresh noodles- which were pulled right in front of us to the rhythm of a hip hop break dance and then plopped right into our broth. I will never have a fresher noodle.
Da Dong felt like high dining. The menu is enormous, and decorated with high-resolution glamour shots of every dish. The appetizers were creative and special, especially the candied cherry tomatoes with pecans that Tyler ordered. But of course, the centerpiece of Da Dong was the Peking Duck, which was brought right to the side of our table and carved in front of us. I’ve had peking duck many times, but never like this. We were each provided our own plate of duck accessories, which included garlic mayo, radishes, leeks, and wheat flour paste. But the wildest bite was the crispy skin. I was instructed to dip my duck skin directly into a bowl of sugar, so that my first bite of duck resembled a Sour Patch Kid, coated in white sparkles of sugar. Let me tell you: crispy duck skin dipped in sugar is one of the most insane tastes I have ever experienced. If there is a form of drug abuse in a food, this has huge potential for narcotic addiction.
Enjoy the photos!
The courses are listed above so I do not need to elaborate. I’ll just say that my favorite course was probably the fried mushrooms, photographed just below. I would have probably loved the pork belly the most if I had the stomach to try it. But, even with my adventurous Beijing spirit, I couldn’t eat pork belly at Shabbat dinner. I just couldn’t.
Despite the expertise of BSK chefs, they succeed in giving the foreign eater an experience of “home cooking.” I truly believed that I could be in the kitchen of Chairman Wang and Chef Zhang, as though they had welcomed me into their home and delivered me ten courses of their favorite Chinese dishes. Truly an experience worth having if you are visiting Beijing with friends.
On my first morning in Beijing, I attended a dumpling making class at the Black Sesame Kitchen. It was hard to find; Bailey had to maneuver me through the Hutongs and around some twisty turns before I found the elegant room where BSK unobtrusively resides. Behind the Hutong’s back crevices and hidden tours, BSK is a vibrant culinary school, with classes four times a week and communal Friday night dinners. The BSK family is welcoming and enthusiastic, making me feel immediately at home despite having my no Chinese culinary experience.
The dumpling class is three hours, during which we prepared the dough and filling for two different types of dumpings.
We began by preparing the dough. Making dumpling dough is actually easier than it appears! The real trick isn’t in a special dough recipe; the special chewiness simply comes from gluten flour after a lot of kneading, and the delicate texture is just from a lot of rolling. Plain and simple!
Next we prepared the two fillings. The ingredients were straightforward– pork and pumpking, and then the second vegetarian option with tofu, shitake, carrot and glass noodles. On top we added leek, ginger, soy sauce, salt, pepper and chicken bouillon, which we learned are the classing Chinese components. The most important lesson was to mix in only one direction in order to obtain the right texture for the filling. Not too airy but not too hard!
Next: dough dough dough! First roll into balls, then flatten with the palm of your hand. Then roll, until we reach the right thinness. This took a lot of arm strength, but only because we each prepared about twenty dumplings.
And now you will witness my attempts at finesse. The hardest part of the process is clearly the folding, which requires a delicate touch. I tried hard, but only a few came out with an appearance I could be proud of. You can see below the range of my success.
And then, voila! Pan fried or boiled, these dumplings came out just like I wanted! Although I can’t argue that I’m a professional, I bet I could make these at home if I had the patience. A good lesson to keep in my back pocket.
For more information, please visit http://www.blacksesamekitchen.com
When visiting Beijing, I recommend booking some tours. The city is too sprawling to navigate without some help, and the overwhelming stimuli of the modernized financial district make it all too easy to miss the city’s hidden gems. On the search for more manageable corners of the city that I’d be able to familiarize myself with, I signed up for the Hutong Culinary Market Tour. For only about $15, I spent two hours learning all the local Chinese veggies, tasting fried street food, and meandering a smelly and crowded Beijing morning market.
Here are some photos of the market’s greenery. I clearly focused my camera on the scalliony/leeky looking items, because I was hungry and those are my favorites. Another important highlight was seeing the sesame oil machine as it crushed the sesames and separated paste from oil. It made everything feel fresh, even with the overwhelming stench of dead rabbits and fish balls.
For more information, or if you’re visiting Beijing and want to join the Huton Market Tour, please visit http://thehutong.com/blog/events/?event_id=77835
When a friend owes you money, there’s always a chance that you will end up spending the money on something stupid. Getting money back weeks or months after spending it, makes the money feel like a gift, instead of the reimbursement it is. Knowing me, the $110 that Eric owed me would most likely have gone towards nail polish from Duane Reade. Hence- the plan was born: Eric would pay me back in dinner, a much more worthwhile use of payback. He proposed the $120 tasting menu from Craft, and I could not object. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but in this plan I was offered a $10 dinner. I have great friends.
Craft was Eric’s first experience with the fine dining tasting menu. My first experience was at Jean Georges, and since then I’ve crossed a few memorable landmarks off my list. But despite my accumulating familiarity with fine dining, I still find the real pleasure of gourmet experiences in their rarity. With Eric’s excitement in tow, that “special occasion feeling” was certainly pronounced, making Craft all the more memorable.
We began with Hamachi, as Craft’s version of the token seafood carpaccio starter. This particular hamachi dish succeeded because of the high quality of the fish– that melt in your mouth rawness– and because of the creativity of Colicchio’s vision for this plate. There was a seamless blending of airy citrus and earthy mushroom atop the hamachi, and I applaud Colicchio for imagining these flavors together.
Next came the Jerusalem Artichoke soup. In contrast to the creativity of the hamachi plate, the soup course highlighted kitchen skill and flawless execution of a concept. Not to mention that I will never object to floating truffles and deep fried egg yolks.
Our following two courses overloaded our bellies. The sturgeon and the poussin wonderfully showcased both vision and execution, but by the end, we were more full than impressed.
Unsure of whether we could handle any more protein, we tested the lamb course with hesitation. I didn’t expect much; entrees are never highlights for me, and lamb isn’t my meat of choice. But after one bite we were totally reinvigorated. The lamb was perfect, and the combination of elements on the plate was simultaneously innovative and classic. I loved the full mustard grains on top of the lamb, and the crumbs of black olives surrounding the vegetables. This plate reminded us of the quality of Craft that elevates this restaurant to a top tier New York establishment, and of all the reasons why fine dining is remarkable in the first place.
(Dessert was also delicious.)
At the end of the meal, I asked Eric to guess what time it was. After six courses, two glasses of wine, and many moments of amazement as to our surroundings and our fortune, I expected him to assume that we had been sitting a very long time. He guessed that an hour and a half had passed. Two and a half had passed. Time flies when you’re eating well.
This is the story of a newbie New Yorker, for whom, in the month of January, three momentous events converged. 1) The release of NYMAG’s top 101 restaurants, 2) her birthday, and 3) restaurant week.
I have, officially, eaten too much. This month, with all the celebrations and opportunities to dine, I have overextended my stomach’s and my wallet’s capacities. I would not trade in even one of these meals, but with two more planned before Restaurant Week finishes, I am desperately yearning for the moment when steamed broccoli is the only item on my dinner plate.
Take a look.
These photos occur at, respectively, Esca, Empellon, Ilili, Imperial No.9, and Yasuda. Four of these are from the 101, two from restaurant week. By next week I will have added DelMonico’s and D’Alsace to the roster, squaring up at an even four-to-four.
Empellon was the highlight, I think. The creativity of the dishes and the vibe of the restaurant stand out, especially since Mexican food can be done so cheaply and badly. But, apart from being accompanied by one of the best cocktails I’ve ever tried (the Por Que No? with tequila, pineapple juice, cilantro and habanero), the tacos at Empellon are presented beautifully, and with high quality produce, and with full gusto. A proud plate of tacos.
I also want to mention the sushi at Yasuda. I will quote my dining companions when I say that the fish just melts in your mouth, and you leave feeling strangely cleansed. Plus the presentation is beautiful, making the whole simplistic sushi experience work on a whole new level.
Esca and Ilili and Imperial No.9 were all delights themselves, serving wonderful food in beautiful spaces. I would go back to all three. Just not this week. Maybe not for a month. My body can’t handle all the love.