Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Happy Year of the Pig

Mindful of the winter storm slush and barricades, the throngs patiently waited at the intersection for the light to change as the cars on Canal St. slowly passed by, tangled up in the usual traffic. Members of New York's finest were on hand to regulate the flow of pedestrians crossing onto Mott St. As the newly-arrived descended upon the area, they found themselves jostling with yet even more visitors on the confetti-laden streets, most of whom had their digital cameras or camcorders held high up in the air, trying to capture every scene from the Chinese New Year festivities.

Two feisty looking dragons, accompanied by drum beats and squealing trumpets, strutted their way down Mott St. followed by a huge crowd that virtually made the street impassable. After performing a brief mambo in front of each establishment, the dragons would then make their way inside to better ward off the evil spirits. After all, who doesn't want a fresh start to the New Year? Numerous celebrants held long, thin noise makers - as they are wound, a loud pop guaranteed to scare the living daylights out of unwitting passers-by is released, while simultaneously a shower of colorful confetti shoots out of the tube. Some couldn't quite grasp how to work the noise maker though, eliciting much giggling among their family members. A crowd pleaser, indeed.

After a few minutes of loitering and watching the festivities, I took a circuitous route along the parallel side streets and arrived at my destination, Mr. Tang, for the true purpose of my foray into Chinatown on this crowded day - a sumptuous banquet with friends. What could me more appropriate to celebrate the Year of the Pig than by pigging out on an eight-course meal, including succulent peking duck? As expected, the assorted meat, poultry and seafood dishes were demolished in due time - so, to all my readers, Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Super Sushi Samba

I was skeptical when we decided to have my birthday dinner at Sushi Samba. But trying to decide while walking down Park Ave. on a cold miserable night was not my idea of fun, so I relented. Reasons for my skepticism? Well, pardon me for being somewhat suspicious of a restaurant that serves three cuisines - Japanese, Peruvian, and Brazilian - as if mastery in one isn't enough. Also, Sushi Samba's gaudy, bright orange interiors, loud music, and attractive bartenders lent an aura of style over substance. And of course, everyone knows that Samantha (or was it Miranda?) dined here in an episode of "Sex and the City", thus attracting mobs of celebrity-seekers and camera-toting tourists. Are these sufficient enough?

Took a while for our party to figure out what we wanted, we kept flip-flopping among dishes from the cuisines mentioned above. They all sounded so good. Started off with a pisco sour, the Peruvian national drink. It came just as expected, with egg white foam on top, and tasted as good as the ones I've had in Peru. Food-wise, I stuck to the small plates and ordered king salmon ceviche (uncooked fish marinated in lemon) and shrimp anticuchos (skewers) over corn. Struck gold with both dishes as they were perfectly executed. Had to admit, I was impressed...make that very impressed.

As per our usual practice, my dining companions and I freely shared the various small plates we ordered. Other standouts were chicharon de calamar, with its light cornmeal coating and tamarind sauce leaving a sweet sensation on the tongue, and the miso-marinated sea bass anticuchos which were devoured in a snap. Just when I was about to get more...they were gone!!! No wonder then that they were the general consensus for best dish of the night.

We stumbled out of Sushi Samba delighted at our discovery. I was happily disabused of my preconceived notions and despite the adage that a "free meal is always delicious", I am eager to return to Sushi Samba for seconds.

Sushi Samba on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 12, 2007

Le diner au Le Tableau

Although I'm reaching that point when I dread that annual reminder of loss of youth, it still excites me when my friends offer to celebrate my birthday in style by voluntarily spending their money on filling my belly and plying me with drinks. Especially if the resto and cuisine are a grand departure from our usual cheapo haunts. So that is how I found myself at Le Tableau, an intimate bistrot moderne in Alphabet City, last Sunday night. M. highly recommended this place and while waiting for her to arrive, I sat at the miniscule bar at the left of the entrance drinking sauvignon blanc and surveyed the red-colored walls decorated with contemporary paintings and framed mirrors. The day's specials were crawled on a huge chalkboard on the far wall towards the kitchen, though with the dim lighting it was hard to decipher the handwriting.

With fond memories of the Paris trip still in mind, I started off with the "Escargot Classique with butter & garlic sauce". How fun it would be to try to pry them out of the hard shells with those tiny forceps! However, the escargot that arrived looked much different than expected. They were already out of the shell, came with a light white sauce, and came with a generous helping of spinach! Horrors! (No big fan of veggies, as you can tell). At first I thought the restaurant staff had made a mistake because in the dim light I couldn't see the escargot under all that spinach! The dish tasted pretty good, actually, but I do miss the butter and garlic classic way of preparation.

We fared better on the entrees. The salmon strudel with fingerling potatoes (left) was flaky and sufficiently moist. The pan roasted monk fish (right) was just cooked right, and the cauliflower puree underneath was simply superb, even though I initially mistook them for mashed potatoes - again I blame the dim lighting, and my general unfamiliarity with veggies :-D

For dessert, we chose from the hard-to-decipher specials board and wound up with a creamy, not-too-sweet ricotta tarte with white wine and thyme sauce (left), and gianduja chocolate cake. Both desserts were simply delicious, especially when washed down with two glasses of Rosa Regale Brachetto 2004 sparkling red wine. I am so enamored with this wine from the Tuscan region of Italy that I am on a mission to hunt it down at my local liquor store. M. had the St. John's Commandaria dessert wine from Greece to pair with the ricotta tarte, which I found somewhat (for lack of a better term) cough-syrupy.

In all, Le Tableau offers good simple French dishes, attentive wait staff, extensive wine list, and a conducive atmosphere for a quiet, relaxed dinner. Check out their website.

Le Tableau on Urbanspoon