Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Wondee Siam II

"Squid in love?! Who could resist that?", I wondered to myself, chuckling at the thought of two squids trying wrapping their arms around each other, at the same time pondering how these cephalopods kiss (do they shoot ink at each other?!). Described in the menu as "sauteed crispy squid with string bean and chili paste sauce", I did go ahead and order the dish. Tonight's Pepperheads outing was at Wondee Siam II, a nondescript restaurant in midtown West offering reasonably-priced authentic Thai food. We were there to try a few dishes recommended by David's friend, who was a native of Thailand and raved about Wondee Siam II. I had been to the restaurant on several occasions a few years ago but hadn't been adventurous in trying their spicy offerings, thus wasn't all that impressed.

Our group of 12 was split into two tables. Among the six entrees our table sampled, the chicken pad thai noodles (first picture) stood out for two reasons: the heat it packed and the hints of bacon in the flavor. In most Thai restaurants, it is prepared with a tangy, semi-sweet flavor, but tonight's version was a pleasant surprise. It was the way it caught up with you too - after chewing on some noodles, just as you're conversing with your neighbor or scooping morsels of another dish onto your plate, the burning sensation in your throat intensifies and pretty soon the roof of your mouth is crying out for a fire extinguisher. Gulping down water or beer doesn't help, a lesson we learnt all too well at Sigiri. Dairy does the trick though, so I poured the coconut milk base of the pork green curry (surprisingly un-spicy) over white rice and scarfed mounds of it to stabilize my taste buds. Another standout dish was the yum woon sen, a cellophane noodle salad with shrimp, chicken, and chili, among others, that the other table shared with us. This was even more lethal than the pad thai, and despite the smaller serving I ate it had me grabbing at any liquids on the table.

The steak of Siam (2nd picture) with sweet sauce provided a welcome contrast to the mostly spicy dishes, and it came with sticky rice inside the bamboo container. Other entrees sampled were fried whole red snapper (pla rad prig) and crispy duck (duck kra prow), both fairly standard. (At this point, it is obvious that our group had overdosed on chili sauce). Oh, and yes, despite its fancy (and very un-Thai sounding) name, the squid in love didn't prove to be anything special. Maybe it was the preparation, since I prefer squid to be either grilled and a bit on the charred side. So-so fried ice cream capped off this interesting meal at Wondee Siam II. I enjoyed most of the entrees, and am humbled yet glad to realize that with if you order the "right" dishes, Wondee Siam II is worthy of return visits.

Wondee Siam in New York

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I hadn't eaten German food since, well, yesterday, when our cafeteria decided to hold a belated Oktoberbest celebration (sans alcohol. lame-o) that inflicted spicy sausages and dreadful sauerkraut on unsuspecting employees. Although that made me swear off cholesterol-laden sausages for a year, strangely enough when David's Thrifty Gourmets group decided to have an outing at Loreley, I jumped at the chance to join them. Mostly for a taste of German beer and lively company.
Things got off to a good start when we entered the restaurant and were greeted by the enticing, skimpily-attired image of Loreley, an alluring maiden who, according to German legend, lured many a sailor to his death with her hypnotic singing. I personally think that's hogwash - it's the see-through blouse and long legs that did the trick. LOL.

On to more important matters. Loreley's interiors can best be described as sparsely decorated. It's all large wooden tables and chairs and makes no pretense of being upscale. We were led into the crowded, lively outdoor dining area, which consisted of yet more long wooden tables and benches occupied by revelers partaking of the outstanding beer selections. In fact, if you close your eyes and really stretch the imagination, it's easy to imagine being in the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, albeit on a miniature scale, filled with NYU students instead of Germans, and without the robust frauleins holding eight gigantic beersteins in each hand. After much deliberation, I decided to go with the Schneider Wiesen Edelweiss, a special Oktoberfest brew from Munich. This pleasant beer turned out to have an after taste similar to astringent (beer connoiseurs, feel free to flame me), but check out the cool specially-labeled glasses below!

Ah, the food. Decided to give German sausages another try, and ordered the Wurst Teller mit Sauerkraut und Kartoffel Puree (sausage platter with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes). The mashed potaoes were yummy, the sauerkraut I didn't touch and insisted on foisting upon V. who sat across from me, the sausages were somewhat bland so I dipped them generously into the mustard. One weiner actually looked and tasted like supermarket Oscar Mayer. Hmmm. As my custom is, I started taking pictures of the multi-colored sausage dish. When M. saw this picture (on the left), he quipped, "Now, that looks vaguely pornographic", which elicited a belly laugh from yours truly. Trust me, it was funny. Or maybe it was the half-liter glass of Edelweiss beer working its magic that made it seem funny.

On the whole, the entrees were uneven. The Gebratener Schweinerucken mit Zweibel, Kartoffel-knodel und Rotkraut (pork loin with onion sauce, potato dumplings, and red cabbage) is quite a mouthful to pronounce, and that's about all my seatmate L. ate before declaring it inedible. Out of curiosity, I tried a little of the pork loin, and it was dried out from overcooking and I agreed with her assessment. V. opted for the "Rhineland-style" goulash whose appearance was so unappealing that it made me nostalgic for the Czech goulash I had in Prague (it was that bad). Nevertheless, V. gamely finished every morsel of it and complimented the spatzle side dish. At the other side of the table, D. and his cohorts enjoyed the potato pancakes and sauerbrauten, and thought the sides (mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, red cabbage) were fresh and tasty. A mixed bag, basically.

Would I return to Loreley? To sample specialty, seasonal beers - sure. And to get another glimpse of the nymph Loreley. See, she's got me under her spell already.

Loreley in New York

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Food Vendors @ Red Hook Ball Fields

I'm sure by now you've heard of the food vendors at the Red Hook ball fields who serve up cheap, delicious food from their homelands. Tacos and huaraches from Mexico, pupusas from El Salvador, ceviche from Ecuador, all side-by-side served in tents with long communal benches. In fact, word of mouth has spread (and NY Times articles written) that roughly half of their clientele are non-Hispanic. Since I had a hankering for ceviche, I took the F train to Smith St. and met up at the Red Hook ball fields with my fellow world food lovers.

I arrived late to find that the others already chomping on their quesadillas. Based on Paula's recommendation, I walked over to a tent with the banner 'Guatemala' and got a tamale (ground corn meal with pork wrapped in banana leaves; first picture) and some jugo de pina (pineapple juice) to wash it down. All for a surprisingly cheap $4.50, so much so that I bantered with the cashier, "Es demasiado barato" (Too cheap), to which she shot back, "Ok, ten dollars!". Next stop was the Ecuadorian tent for a container of ceviche mixto (uncooked seafood and fish marinated in lemon) that some people were hesitant to try owing to some fear about hygienic preparation, but eventually they relented and everyone agreed that it was pretty good. The tamale as well was roundly praised, with Paula going so far to say that it's the best she's ever had. High praise from a 20 year veteran of the culinary industry.

Feeling a little bit hungry, I ventured over to one of the Mexican tents and ordered two tacos. Didn't count on the spiciness of the pork that had be scrambling for another drink, this time some lemonade. Along the way, I shared in some of the food ordered by the other people in the group. The 2nd picture above shows some spicy chorizo, and to the left is a picture of a pupusa from one of the two El Salvadorian tents, basically a thick, hand-made corn tortilla stuffed with pork and cheese, or other fillings. The plantains on the side were coated with brown sugar and thus very sweet, just the way I like it.

Read more about the Latin American food vendors and their struggle to stay permanently at the Red Hook ball fields.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Eating ASAP @ New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe

Just so you know, the "ASAP" in the title means "Assorted Strange Animal Parts", and the picture on the left is a dish of duck tongues. Feeling queasy now? Our fearless leader Dave of the World Food Lover's Dining Out Group decided to crank up the adventure level and brought eight members of the tribe to New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe restaurant in Chinatown for some tasty bites of animal parts not to be found at your corner Chinese takeout joint. Or, the icky stuff, if you will. Duck tongue was one of the appetizers we ordered, and I did not care for it at all. Felt somwhat like swallowing hair down my throat.

The jellyfish was a little better, somewhat lacking in taste yet crunchy. It wasn't so popular at the table though, everyone was more focused on the beef tendons and ox tongue. I preferred those dishes too, although they were much better at the Pepperheads' meetup at Grand Sichuan St. Marks I attended just about a week earlier. Can't complain though, I love the tendons in general.

Moving on to the entrees chosen for this adventure trip. That huge thing swimming in thick brown sauce is sea cucumber (left pic), which was lacking in taste and the sauce was kinda lumpy. Not appetizing in general. There was also eel with chives, but seriously...eel no longer qualifies as exotic, for me anyway. What I did love was the dish of pig intestines (right pic, somewhat out of focus) - simply superb! With a silky smooth texture, it was just like eating braised fatty pig skin...heavenly! Muy delicioso! Ok, before I run out of superlatives, I'll just say it was easily my favorite dish of the night.

Lest you get the impression that we ate all funky stuff, the group did order some more conventional dishes, like crab, squid, and veggies (I don't eat veggies so wasn't sure which one). So less adventurous diners were sated as well. However, they're not worth writing home about so moving on to the final dish to make sure we all went home with our bellies full: pork belly with bean curd, which is essentially bacon or at least similar to. I liked this dish as well, especially the fatty parts. Doesn't everyone? ;-D

New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe in New York

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Amazingly, after years of reading rave reviews in the NY Times and other magazines breathlessly proclaiming Sripraphai as the "best Thai restaurant in NYC", it had never occured to me to take the #7 train out to Woodside to sample their dishes. And whenever I was in the area, it was to dine at Perlas ng Silangan or another of the Filipino restaurants nearby. So to make up for lost time and satisfy my taste buds, I made plans to meet outside Sripraphai with G. and J., both long-time patrons who were only too happy to describe what I had been missing all along. Stomach growling, I could hardly wait.

The first thing I noticed was how big the restaurant was. The original dining room was spartan and small, but with their popularity Sripraphai has expanded and now has two additional long, narrow and more alluring dining rooms, as well as a spacious garden decorated with hanging flower pots and flanked by water fountains. In short, the place is now glammed up. And crowded. Our party managed to land a table in the garden (the dining rooms were all packed), which was probably the best choice on this pleasant late summer night. I deferred to both J. and G. in choosing the dishes, only nodding my assent from time to time, as I busied myself studying the wine list (another recent addition) and pictures menu.

The chicken pad thai was tasty, without the overly sharp tangy aftertaste I find in other Thai restaurants. G. and J. insisted on ordering the soft-shell crabs with chili garlic and basil leaves, and after a bite I understood why. Normally not a fan of crab, I would definitely come back for this especially tasty dish. We only had it medium spicy, but the heat was sufficient for me. Perhaps in the winter months we can turn the heat level up to "hot". The other dish we shared was a fried whole red snapper with lemongrass sauce, which was also good but could benefit from a little more sauce. As the picture shows, we devoured most of it anyway :-) Although the tables around us were mostly occupied, the noise level was still manageable and didn't drown out our conversation. And after a glass of wine, you'd be hard-pressed to believe you're in Woodside, Queens.

As we prepared to leave, G. and J. were still discussing Sripraphai's Cinderella transformation, but at least a few things haven't changed: the prices are still reasonable for this reliable outpost of authentic Thai cooking, the service is still just adequate, reservations not taken, and credit cards not accepted. Not enough reasons to deter me from hopping on the 7 train again soon.

Sripraphai in Queens

Monday, August 13, 2007


You could be forgiven for assuming Sigiri was an Indian restaurant, being just around the corner from Curry Lane (or Spice Alley) on E6th St. where at last twelve Indian restaurants (an unscientific count I made while strolling along that block) via for your business. Sigiri, however, is the only restaurant in Manhattan specializing in hot and spicy Singhalese cuisine, or Sri Lankan food, if you prefer. Don't feel bad - I wasn't familiar with the term either, nor had I tried the cuisine before until a week ago. Did I mention the words "hot and spicy?". Well, if hot and spicy food is present, then you can be sure that the Pepperheads are not far away!

The management of Sigiri was nice enough to close down the restaurant to accommodate our group of 28 die-hard Pepperheads. David, our head Chili chief, worked with them to come up with a multi-course menu that guaranteed a hot, steamy night for everyone. Things started off with the appetizer sampler (dhal vade, fish cutlets, vegetable spring rolls, and fish spring rolls) which whetted our appetites for the stronger stuff. Then, the floodgates opened. In quick succession arrived the fish curry, beef curry, chicken curry, pork devilled grill, and dhal curry (lentils) - all fiery yet flavorful dishes that reduced the Pepperheads to a silent bunch concentrating intently on wiping our perspiring foreheads (and teary eyes), unbuttoning our top collar buttons, whining about the A/C, and gulping down glasses of water to put out the fires inside our mouths, which turned out to be quite ineffective. (Tip: the Sri Lankan mango cordials will do the trick). Some of the more genial Pepperheads were seen laughing and trying their best to cope with the stratospheric spice level, while others just sat shell-shocked waiting to regain sensation on their overwhelmed tongues.

At the end of the night, everyone agreed that this was the hottest meal (and biggest challenge) the Pepperheads had ever experienced, and Sigiri was an amazing discovery worth sharing and returning to.

Sigiri in New York

Monday, July 23, 2007

Cho Dang Gol

Coming off a week-long trip to the Czech Republic that was excellent in all respects other than the culinary department, I was in the mood for a pig out session in the company of other committed foodies. Thankfully, one of my favorite Meetup groups, the NYC Pepperheads, had an event going on - fiery Korean food at Cho Dang Gol in K-town. As the mission of the Pepperheads states, the group seeks to bring together people who like to sample cuisines that challenge the tastebuds (read: hot 'n spicy).

Pictured above is the seafood and tofu soup that I chose for the appetizer. Not too spicy, but definitely delicious and a great start to the meal. I already felt a bit full after finishing that and eating some of the traditional Korean pancakes. Other choices were kimchi/tofu soup and the milder vegetable/tofu soup, both of them similarly delicious according to the people at my table. To the right is pan fried spicy pollock which I couldn't get enough off, and apparently most felt the same way, as I snagged but one piece before it all disappeared.

But most of all, the entree that made me glad I had a bottle of OB Korean beer at hand was the pan fried spicy squid with noodles, veggies, and tofu on a hot stone plate. This one simply exuded raw HEAT!!! Eventually the sweat beads started to appear, and I was gulping down water as fast as the waiter could refill the glass. Whew! That capped off one heck of a meal, which along with the free-wheeling conversation/debate at the table, made it quite an enjoyable night with the Pepperheads. I eagerly await the next hot 'n spicy outing.

Cho Dang Gol in New York

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Never one to pass up on dessert, ventured into Midtown to search for Kyotofu, the relatively new Japanese dessert bar getting a lot of positive buzz. It was a bit hard to find (if you're unsure of the address or cross streets, as I was), with only a small red-lined sign set against the whitewashed wall to indicate the wooden door entrance. A full-height glass window entices passers-by to peek inside at all the happy folk by the bar downing their desserts and sake. The simple, low-key, elegant design extends into the minimalist dining room which is lined with white cushions, combined with wooden panelling and recessed lighting.

My friend R. had been to Kyotofu a few times, and since she had a lot of recommended desserts I opted for the three-course Kaiseki dessert sampler ($15) with sake pairing (additional $12). No, I wasn't trying to get drunk :-D. The picture on the left is the signature sweet tofu served with kuromitsu black sugar sauce topped by candied apricot. Mmmm...simple yet delectably sweet! The sesame shochu (distilled Japanese liquor) on the rocks provided a complimentary strong, bright finish that jolted my taste buds.

Next up was the Japanese okayu rice pudding, made with ginger infused soymilk, seven spice tuile and candied ginger (I admit, I'm reading off the cardboard menu). It is not the one pictured to the right. That one was ordered by R., and is the warm raspberry mochi chocolate cake topped by green tea anko cream, almond nougatine and kinako gelee. Yet another sharply sweet fancy-schmancy concoction especially the raspberry inside the chocolate.

Last course were a couple of chewy green tea-dipped cookies with almonds and sesame seeds paired with plum sake, a lighter less sweet version of plum wine. Speaking of sake, due to a minor snafu with bringing out the sake pairings, Kyotofu management provided complementary glasses of Komekome (Happy Bride) seasonal sake to our table, which was easily the best among the ones I tasted. R. and E. agreed with my assessment as well. A lovely gesture on their part.

Kyotofu offers a dizzying array of cocktails (shochu caipirinha anyone?), sake, and appetizers (e.g. cheese, rice balls) as well. Perfect for a light snack or after-hours hangout.

Kyotofu on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Big Onion Multi-Ethnic Eating tour

So, I had a free afternoon and felt like walking around the city while munching on goodies from different cuisines. Thus after a few years of putting it off, decided to join the multi-ethnic eating tour offered by Big Onion, which snakes its way through the Lower East Side, Little Italy and Chinatown. It's actually a combination walking and eating tour, with commentary regarding the neighborhoods' history, settlers, and architecture given by the guides, but we'll focus on the food and places we stopped at to nosh (a way of saying I forgot all about the historical part).

First stop was Kossar's Bialys, the oldest bialy bakery in the USA and a Lower East Side landmark. I've never had one before, so this was a good intro into the chewy, doughy baked Polish roll (somewhat similar to a bagel). Verdict: tastes ok, though not really something I'd eat on my own (for the record, I don't like bagels either. Give me a Dunkin Donuts Boston Creme donut anytime).

Then off we were to visit The Pickle Guys, which offer a huge variety of pickles, tomatoes, olives and more. They make the pickles by storing them in barrels and letting them sit in salt brine with garlic and spices for a period ranging from a day to six months. Ignorant as I was about pickles, I was surprised to find several varieties, like "1/2 sour pickles", "3/4 sour pickles", "horseradish pickles", and so on - who knew?? Certainly not me, who comes in contact only with the pickles on top of my Big Mac. We all got one pickle each but I politely declined my share. The other 29 people (mostly groups of tourists) savored their pickle contentedly. Bah.

Crossing over into Chinatown, our guide J. ducked into Lucky King Bakery and brought out assorted goodies - delicious cookies and other treats. Another bakery we visited later in Chinatown was May May Chinese Gourmet Bakery where the tour ended. Despite its name, May May actually sells all sorts of food - I had discovered a year ago that they offered several varieties of Chinese rice dumplings, made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings (meat, red beans) and wrapped in bamboo leaves. They offered us two pieces of dimsum each - one a conventional pork siomai, and the other a vegetarian dumpling. Tasted ok, but I've had better dimsum.

Finally, in Little Italy, we stopped at Di Palo's Fine Foods, one of New York's great family-owned Italian stores renowned for their cheese, prepared foods, and other traditional Italian delicacies. By this time the tourists had filled up on the bialys, pickles and cookies, thus it was my turn to uncontestedly gobble up the extra mozzarella balls (molto bene!) and thinly-sliced sausage. Unquestionably the highlight of the food tasting tour.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Look, ma...no sushi!"

It was ironic that I, possessing minimal cooking skills, actually ventured into the Cooper Square branch of Gyu-kaku, the Japanese BBQ chain specializing in tableside grilling of meats, fish and veggies. Thing is - as their slogan proclaims, "Be your own chef". Um, ok.
The restaurant itself is huge, dimly-lit and packed with groups of mostly Asian diners, who looked like they knew how to operate the smokeless braziers that were guaranteed not to make your clothes smell like grilled Kobe beef (says Gyu-kaku's site, and something I can attest to).

Our group of six (damn two no-shows!) hungry chowhounds opted for the Shogun and Geisha prix-fixe menus. Notwithstanding the title of this post, we did have some raw fish - the first appetizer was salty, diced chunks of ahi poke, a Hawaiian tuna delicacy. Next came more appetizers - kimchee (willingly gave away my share), salad, gyoza soup. By now we were raring to taste some juicy meat dishes and test our culinary skills (the others, anyway).

The server brought plates of US Kobe toro steak and my personal favorite Kobe kalbi (short ribs, pictured) and instructed us to grill them on each side for 45 and 30 seconds, respectively. The foil-wrapped asparagus and mushroom medley followed quickly, and these had to be left on the grill for 3 minutes on each side - the tell-tale sign that they had to be turned over was if the foil expanded. Hysterically enough, our group seemingly possessed a combination of poor listening and comprehension skills, as there resulted some mild confusion as to which dish had to be grilled for how long, and we had to ask the server to repeat the instructions. Good for some chuckles and kept the group's spirits animated (helped along by the sake).

Oh yeah, throw in poor time keeping skills as we sometimes lost track of how long the veggies had been sitting there while we yakked away, but the mushrooms and veggies were none the worse for wear and tasted delicious like all the other dishes. Pretty soon, Tai and Joel (the primary grill masters) got the routine pat down and worked their magic on the Chilean sea bass, harami (skirt steak), chicken basil, and shrimp garlic. Trust me, it was every inch the glorious feast that it sounds like.

Dessert provided a pleasing end to a fun, interesting and entertaining evening. The first one was a nostalgic favorite for all Boy Scouts out there - S'mores with marshmallows and chocolate (milk or dark). I let Joel do the honors in toasting my marshmallow lightly, as my camping skills are even more non-existent than my cooking skills. We were a bunch of happy campers (pun intended) munching on this sinfully rich, gooey treat.

Gyu-kaku's signature dessert, Dorayaki ice cream, followed suit. The pancakes are grilled for five (count 'em!) seconds on each side, and topped with a choice of green tea, red bean or vanilla (boring!!!) ice cream. An innovative if somewhat strange combination. The pancakes pictured seem to have been ever-so-slightly burnt but nonetheless tasted amazing. Dining at Gyu-kaku is a wonderful experience for every meat lover - even if you have to do your own cooking :-)

Gyu-Kaku on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Pam's Real Thai food

"Dinner at 5:45pm?! And we need reservations???". I typed the quizzical reply to my friend's email. If only she could see my eyebrows shooting skyward. Before pressing the Send button, I added sarcastically, "This isn't Nobu or Le Bernardin, right?". No, but what THIS was, as I discovered, is one of the most authentic Thai restos in the city - Pam Real Thai (is this bad grammar or what?!) on W49th St. & 9th Ave. In contrast to most places that water down the intensity of their dishes to suit the American palate, it's a no-holds-barred smorgasbord at Pam Real Thai. Lest you make the mistake of misjudging the hotness of each dish, the number of tiny chili peppers indicate the likelihood that you'll be frantically reaching for the glass of water.

We started of with the excellent som tum (green papaya salad), a mixture of shredded green papaya with garlic, chili, tomato, lime juice, and peanuts. The sharp, tangy lime juice contrasted with zesty chili produced an indescribably delectable taste. Another appetizer we tried was the hae guen, crab meat wrapped in bean curd sheets and served with sweet chili sauce (notice a recurring theme here?). This one tasted ok, if lacking in flavor. On the whole, somewhat forgettable.

The main courses were all excellent and ultra-spicy. In addition to the obligatory pad thai, our group had the crispy duck in chili sauce ("recommended by Village Voice", an opinion I concur with) and staring at you from the picture, a whole deep fried red snapper in basil sauce, bell pepper and chili. As you can imagine, by this time we wiping off our sweaty foreheads, loosening our collars, and heavily sniffling. All that HEAT!!! For good measure, I ordered sweet Thai iced coffee to eliminate any chance of my tongue bursting into flames.

And wouldn't you know it? By 6:30pm all the tables at Pam Real Thai were occupied, and by 7pm a waiting line had formed. Simply amazing, given the resto's spartan (ok, cafeteria-like) ambiance and non-acceptance of credit cards. Happily, great food trumps bad decor, so much so that they have a newly-opened branch two blocks over on 47th St. called Pam Real Thai Encore. This location is a more hip, dimly-lit version offering the same food at the same reasonable prices. Make sure to visit them before it becomes as widely-known as the original.

Pam Real Thai Food on Urbanspoon