Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The New Kitchen

The Old Layout

Well, at long last, after a few false starts, some meddling from the NYC Department of Buildings, about four weeks of actual work, and slightly more money than was allocated, the kitchen is done. DONE. And all I could say... was nothing. Speechless. I was absolutely speechless (something quite rare, I assure you).

Let me share with you what I see now every morning, the culmination of a dream 14 years in the making:

The New Layout

Words can not do justice to how I feel when I see this sight every morning. To say it is firing up the cooking juices is an understatement. I just want to stand there and never leave, soaking in the sight of a real kitchen in a New York apartment. "Happiness" seems like a quaint way to describe it.

Every detail has been painstakingly paid attention to by my contractor, who ended up being a complete pleasure to work with. I never felt like he was up-selling me on anything, and I rarely had cause to question his pricing. And the quality of the work can be seen, he used some great guys who were really proud of their work.

The sink, Bosch dishwasher and Bosch range

The peninsula workspace with two hanging halogen lights

Close-up of the sink, faucet and glass backsplash (from Costco online, no less!)

View of the range and the Broan ductless hood

The track light

Close-ups of the Bosch appliances

The decanter cabinet (how cool is that? My contractor came up with that idea)

Close-ups of the backsplash and under-cabinet lighting

The wall workspace, lit up

As I said, this has been a long time in the making and planning, and now I can't wait to start cooking. I've had some test runs, soft openings if you will, especially Sunday French-style omelettes (runny, baby, runny!), and so far so good. The real test comes in a few days when I plan on making a full dinner for some friends over the Memorial Day weekend.

But every morning when I wake up I can't help just stopping and staring, this is absolutely unbelievable. There are a few little details left to finish up (the dry bar really) but for the most part everything's done. Unbelievable.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I love New York (the hidden one)

There are times when I forget how much I love New York. Despite the non-stop gentrification, the banks and drugstores on every corner and the loss of character in our once proud neighborhoods, there does remain a little bit of the Olde New York that I grew up with and grew to love. It hasn't completely become a Las Vegas version of itself (yet).

Hidden within the maze of new antiseptic glass towers, one can still find vestiges of the real Gotham. Some small places have managed to survive, fighting off greedy landlords and the temptation to become tourist traps, offering great experiences at good prices. And there's nothing I like more than finding hole-in-the-wall types of joints, as I did a few months ago in Brooklyn. These are family-run operations who try to remain true to their heritages.

Two of these places can be found in Chinatown (no surprise there) and offer excellent quality at great prices. And in these recessionary times, what more can one ask for?

-A Chau Deli
This small hole in the wall deli on Mulberry has been open for several years and has been written up in several foodie blogs. But I only discovered it in early January, when I visited it with a friend who also loves good food. They offer a wide selection of dishes, but my favorite has been the Banh Mi, the traditional Vietnamese sandwhich. The vegetables are crunchily fresh, the bread is crusty on the outside and soft and light on the inside, quite a fine rendition of the baguette, if I may say so myself. And lastly, the price of the Banh Mi is so ridiculously low that it's worth a trip from almost anywhere in Manhattan and even maybe the boroughs...

On my first visit, I tried the #6, the Bánh Mì Ðặc Biệt, full of porkalicious goodness: BBQ pork, steamed pork, pork pate, Vietnamese ham, crispy veggies and spicy chilies. WOW. THIS is #6? Should have been #1, frankly. But at the time, I couldn't judge, as I hadn't tasted any others. To be honest, I was hard-pressed to try the others considering how amazingly good this one was. The meats were well-cooked but not dry, neither the BBQ nor the pate overpowering the other tastes, and the ham and steamed porks flavorful but not fatty nor greasy. We sat in Columbus Park, or as I call it Ho-Chi-Minh Park, and enjoyed our sandwhiches despite the howling January wind.

My next visit entailed tasting the #3, the Bánh Mì Bì, or shredded pork sandwhich. This was (and still remains) my only disappointment there. The meat was well-cooked but rather flavorless, considering how much I loved pulled pork.

The next attempts were the #8, the grilled chicken Banh Mi (no translation, sorry). Delicious, thin slices of moist grilled chicken interplay with the crunchy vegetables. I have to admit I felt like I was cheating a bit on the #6, but that's because I'm insane.

I also had a chance to taste the vegetable Banh Mi, which was good but rather boring if well-made. Granted, I need meat in most of the foods I eat, so take that with a grain of salt.

I should mention two things if you go: their iced coffee is fantastic, made with condensed milk and quite buzz-worthy. Also, don't expect fancy decorations: this is as plain as it gets, with a small counter and three stools squeezed in if you try to eat there.

A Chau Deli
82A Mulberry Street
Chinatown, New York, NY (212) 766-3332
Banh Mi: $3.50 (yes, you read that right)

-Fried Dumpling
On my last trip to A Chau on a glorious Spring day, we wandered over to tiny Mosco Street, where we began smelling the lovely aroma of frying dumplings. Something was different, something was more beguiling than the usual fatty notes that cling to your nostrils and make you recoil in disgust. This actually smelled really good. And wouldn't you know it, there, hidden away in a tiny storefront, was a kitchen where three women were kneading meat and dough into dumplings and buns. Our palates tempted by the smell, we hesitantly wandered in, looking at the menu: $1 for 4 fresh pork dumplings.

Oh, man, how could we say no?

Crispy, slightly darkened pillows of pork were placed on a paper plate and we grabbed the plastic forks and sat at the counter. At the first and very hot bite, juicy moist pork and crispy chives tumbled out onto our eager tongues, making us look at each other in wonder. Whoa, this wasn't bad. Heck, this was positively delicious! My only quibble was that sometimes the dough was a bit thick, but when I say it's a quibble, I mean it. This was a great find, and one I'll have to return to.

Fried Dumpling
106 Mosco St
New York, NY 10013-4321
Phone: (212) 693-1060
Dumplings: 4 for $1 (yep)

These are the types of places that remind me of the old New York I grew up in, the one where there were actual neighborhoods and not facscimile versions thereof (walk down Bowery near Houston and you'll see what I mean, it looks more like a Hollywood back-lot than an actual city, or check out where CBGB's used to be... **shudder**). This city has really sacrificed its soul to the gods of development and we've lost more than we realize.

Luckily, there are still joints like A Chau and Fried Dumpling to remind us of our past and keep us grounded.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Let the Countdown begin...

There are some momentous things afoot, but they won't come to fruition until the end of the month. Not the least of which are the impending end to my kitchen renovation, my 100th Blog Post, which will be quite soon, and which I will try to make as special as possible, and something else, something huge, something so wonderful that... well, you'll see.

Who'd have thought, in September 2006, when I first started this Blog, that I'd have so much to say? Or that so many folks would sign up to hear me rant and rave about wine, food and travel? It does do wonders for the ego, however...

Ah, but what have I been drinking lately? I love good sakes, and have been seeking them out and trying as many as possible as this is a fantastic food wine. So the other night I met up with a friend at a local sake bar and had a delicious bottle:

-Mu Junmai Daiginjo Sake ($48 on the list)

Beautiful, floral and with some soft peach and pear fruit aromas, this was not your Daddy's sake. Dry, and very smooth on the palate, with a rich yet light feel that filled the mouth with a perfumey note. Only at the back was there any hint of alcohol. "Mu" means nothingness, but in a good, ethereal sort of way, and this fit the bill perfectly. While it had presence, it didn't overshadow either the food or the ambience of the bar, it sort of floated in and out of your perception, unlike some other sakes which pummel you with alcohol. I might have to seek some out for my home.

I might also add that I have been finding that drinking a high-quality sake from a regular wine glass amplifies the experience, as opposed to the martini-like glasses or shot glasses that they are regularly served in. But that's just my opinion.