Sunday, July 31, 2011

Perfection and dumplings (Prosperity Dumpling 興旺鍋貼)

Prosperity Dumpling storefront

What constitutes a perfect dumpling? That's a hard question. One I'm clearly not smart enough to answer... but I'll try anyway. Know what I think? It's a tremendously stupid question. Ask 10 different people and you'll probably get 10 different responses (unless you're talking exclusively to food blogging assholes who've developed a formulaic answer based mostly on what #{insert prominent food person's name} says). If you ask someone from Southern China they'd probably tell you that thin, almost translucent, skins are dope as fuck. If you ask someone from Northern China they might say that thicker skins are where it's at. If you ask someone from Taiwan they'd probably tell you that elongated dumplings are the most phallic shape and therefore the best. Of course, then there's the issue of how to cook them... fried, steamed, or boiled? So many choices. Which one is the pinnacle of dumpling technology?

Correct answer: there is none. They're all pretty legit to me. Whether they're doughy and thick, delicate and light, or elongated and greasy... I love them all. There's a time and place for every kind of meat pocket! For that very reason, I refuse to write a post waxing poetic about how one place serves up the best dumplings in the city, because to me that's an utterly dumb statement... one I don't care to defend. Instead, I'll define perfection by another metric - with purchasing power.

5 for a dollar

You can argue all day with people about the characteristics of your favorite corner dumpling place makes the bitchin'est nuggets of pork and dough, but you can't argue with cost. There used to be a time when every place in Chinatown did the five dumps per $1 deal, but that time is long gone. Most places are down to four per $1. That's a whopping 25% more per dumpling. Either that means that those other places make dumplings that are 25% better tasting than Prosperity's or they're a shittier deal. I don't know how anyone could ever quantify the taste of a dumpling on a percentage scale, but I doubt there's that much variance from one shop to another. Infallible logic.

Box of 10

I always feel like such a baller in Chinatown. Layin' down bills and makin' it rain like it ain't no thang... ordering dumplings by the tens. That box right there? Only $2. Truth. Prosperity's dumplings are fried rapidly and on the spot, none of that reheating nonsense. They usually have a line during lunch so the turnover is sufficiently high where you'll never get anything more than a few minutes old. The skins probably aren't going to impress you if you want paper thin wrappers, but they're good enough unless you're a butthole who expects the world from a 20 cent dumpling. Fried just long enough to lightly brown the exterior, they retain the compliance and chewiness of boiled skins while still possessing that carcinogenic deliciousness we've come to associate with fried foods.

Pork and chives

The innards? Well it's pork and chives. Probably some other shit like ginger and garlic to make it smell real good too. You'd probably like it if you like eating pork products. The meat clearly isn't of the finest cut, but truthfully... the coarseness adds textural contrast rather than just having a ball of mush in the center. Flavorwise, nothing is particularly overwhelming i.e. the fact that these use chives isn't offensive to the haters. All in all, they're just... good. The skins are crisp yet chewy and the filling is inoffensive yet still flavorful. There are absolutely no negatives to these babies unless you're an orthodox Jew. Plus they're cheap. Can't forget that.

Sesame pancake

They also do other stuff good too! Like make scallion/sesame pancakes. Theirs aren't like the deep fried ones that I normally rub on my face in Taiwan. Theirs are light, fluffy, and breadlike. To be entirely honest? Don't get the plain ones. They're boring as fuck (although I imagine I'd be singing a different tune if I were drunk). They also make a beef filled variant for 75 cents more. DO THAT. Everything tastes better with beef... unless you're Hindu or vegetarian.

Anyhoo, until they raise prices or someone else makes a dumpling that is better (I probably won't believe it unless the difference is both tangible and proven to be statistically significant), I'm gonna go on thinking that Prosperity Dumpling makes the "best" dumplings in the city. By which I mean they're the cheapest and taste pretty decent.

Prosperity Dumpling‎
46 Eldridge St # 1, New York, NY 10002-5229


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Disappointment shaved into ice (Oh Two Five)

Oh-two-five signage

Something you might not know about me: I don't believe in the idea of perseverance and all that "The Little Engine That Could" jazz. When the going gets tough I usually give up. What I mean is - I don't like partaking in things that are difficult. Or things that I'm not particularly good at. For example... I gave up on skateboarding because I was fat and couldn't jump very high, I gave up on violin because I realized there were too many people that were better at it than me, and I gave up on grad school because my research skills are pretty weak sauce. The list goes on. Maybe this makes me sound like a failure as a person on some level, but I actually think it's a pretty good policy to go off of in general. Like restaurants. If you're going to open a new eatery, it should be innovative and improve upon the status quo. That seems reasonable right? I mean, if you're aiming for mediocrity... why bother?

When I saw "Oh Two Five" I got really excited. It's a place that serves snowflake ice in Manhattan. It's the shit my childhood was built on. It's the stuff that made me into the awkward tubby fat kid through my teenage years. It's what made me... me. The fact that it's available in the city now is incredible to me.

Snö ice?

I have to admit. The fact that they used an umlaut and called it "snö" ice seems unnecessarily stupid to me, but hey... whatever. If they're willing to shave ice that's laced with condensed milk into smooth as hell layers of sensuality then they could call it butthöle nipple ice for all I care. I'm all about the bottom line. Plus look at that poster. Giant pile of sugar, water, and milk. And strawberries too. Nature's sluttiest fruit (only fruit with exposed seeds!). I would pay a king's ransom for this shit.

Snö ice with mangoes and mochi

Too bad they basically lie to you about what you're getting. Instead of a magical mountain of creamy ice shaved finer than fart particles, I ended up with a small pile of fail. The actual ice itself didn't exactly meet the expectations set by my memory of the places in Taiwan. Ideally the dish has a consistent sweetness and possesses a milky sorbet-like texture - straddling the line between a light airy condensed milk flavored ice cream and an Italian ice. Their version is slightly tart, only mildly sweet, and somewhat thin in consistency (maybe because it was a bajillion degrees outside). Add to that the fact that they only give you a small spoonful of each topping and the final product isn't just disappointing, you almost feel cheated from the advertising. Basically they took my dangled my childhood nostalgia in front of me then proceeded to stomp on it just to mock me. Also they charge you money for this. Straight wack.

tl;dr? While I'm super amped that more and more places are pimping out snowflake ice, it's not cool if you're going to put out a substandard product. Guys, I really want to like you, so... fix your shit, stop deceiving people with false advertising, and up your game yo.

Oh Two Five
43 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Does dollar pizza get you hot and bothered? (Real Cheap Eats)

Shack stack

Know why I haven't been posting as frequently lately? Partially because I've been moving shit to my new apartment, but mostly because I've been wasting my time watching the Tour de France on TV. I forget who, but someone once said that those guys must all be high as shit to be willing to ride hundreds of miles per day for three weeks straight in the pursuit of a few flamboyantly colored jerseys. That's probably true. Man I feel lazy. Anyway, to prove that I'm not 100% worthless, I'm gonna give myself a quickie <boner!> and pimp the shit out of a little side collaboration that I've been working on lately... a dandy little site called "Real Cheap Eats." Ever find yourself broke, tired, slightly aroused, and furiously hungry in the middle of NYC? I know I have. Instead of going to useless sites that rhyme with "kelp" and reading hipster prose, now you can just mosey on over to "Real Cheap Eats," where you can find suggestions on what to put in your mouth with content from actual food bloggers... and me.

Okay, so maybe I didn't write that many entries, and maybe I just cropped photos... whatever. You should still use it, it's awesome. Impress all your clueless friends with dope-ass food. They'll think you're hot shit and uber-cultured when you bring 'em to eat spicy lamb noodles. Bitches love spicy lamb noodles.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Roast pork and butthole pleasures (Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food)

So much pork

Here's a somewhat difficult to answer question: how much is good tasting food worth to you? I realize there's a few different ways you can qualify the cost of food, whether it's monetary value, distance traveled, or wait time... but let me offer you another way of quantifying the cost of a meal - your health. Now I'm not talking about getting herpes from eating a sandwich or anything drastic like that, what I mean is... would you eat something that's breathtakingly delicious if it meant that there was a 50/50 chance you'd also get a free side of mudbutt? This is the dilemma that plagues me about Wah Fung's roast pork over rice. It's a dish that has a lot going for it... it's cheap, it's plenty filling, and tastes delightfully sexual - satisfying me in ways that only pork can - but it has a menacing side to it as well. The same gloopy grease that makes this dish taste oh-so-good also has a tendency to "unleash the warrior within." Some real black swan shit going down.

Listen, if you enjoy having full control of your rectal muscles, then maybe Wah Fung's roast pork over rice isn't your thing. Not me though, I like living life dangerously, and if it means I get to put some dope-ass Chinese roast pork in my mouth while doing it - that's just icing on the cake. Remember, according to The 40-Year-Old Virgin, "life is about love and passion... it is not about the butthole pleasures," and I am positively smitten with Wah Fung's pork over rice.

Best deal ever

Before I continue creaming myself over this dish, there is one thing that annoys me. The price. I probably sound like an asshole complaining about something that costs $3, and maybe I am, but I am absolutely livid with this change. When I was still a wee undergrad at Columbia a few years ago, this shit cost $2.50. Yeah. The cost-value function was insane. Then all of a sudden it was $2.75. Now it's $3? Pretty soon it's going to cost $3.25. I don't know how I'd feel about that... probably hurt and lonely. Definitely devastated.

Choppin' some pork

I guess I should probably talk about the food now. For $3, this dude right here will fill a small aluminum box and shove it full of rice. I'm sure at some point the rice is/was fluffy, but he packs that shit in tighter than an FCC lattice (can't get no more efficient than that bro). Then he takes some cabbage and broccoli and layers it on one side... I guess to make people think they're eating a well-balanced meal (it's really not). Whatever, those are trivial details... it's at this point that mr. pork goes apeshit. He'll pull slabs of meat out from a tray that's filled with the honey/grease sauce and go "Yan Can Cook" on it. Surprisingly... he still possesses all 10 of his fingers. The box gets padded with a 1" thick layer of pork and finished with a ladle full of sauce (read: grease). It is basically a brick's weight of rice and meat in a to-go container. It is beautiful, and it is a spectacle to behold, I swear.

Roast pork

If you've never had Chinese roast pork before... you're missing out. You really are. While I can't actually tell you how it's made, I can tell you that it's some pretty sick stuff. If I had to rate it on a scale of awesome from 1 to 10, it would be past bacon. That's how good it is. As for what it is? It's usually a fairly fat cut of meat that gets roasted until the fat renders off and crisps the skin, it's normally coated in some sort of sweet oily concoction that can only be described as magical, and it's almost always red. Don't ask me why, I don't know... it just is. In the end it really doesn't matter, Chinese roast pork has a certain sweet savory complex that delivers a disgustingly rich flavor profile all at a very reasonable price.

So back to the question at hand... is the juice worth the squeeze? Oh yes.

Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food
79 Chrystie St # A, New York, NY 10002


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Colonel Sanders, go eat a dick (KyoChon Chicken)

Signature flavor drumsticks

If you know me at all, you're already well aware that while superficially I appear to be a fairly normal 23 year old guy - loves sports, pees on things in public, makes completely inappropriate comments on Xbox LIVE - I actually have the persona of a teenage Korean fan girl residing within. I mean... Korea's given us so many things to be grateful for that its hard not to be appreciative... countless tear-jerking dramas, innovations in Starcraft strategy, ddeokbokki, "We Got Married," and SNSD. There're nine of them! That's not even fair. In any case, all of those things are pretty awesome to me, but there's something that transcends all of their contributions to my happiness (yes, even nine very attractive women singing and dancing)... Korean fried chicken - erection inducing drumsticks and wings that are crispy as fuck.

They were wrong

Ha KyoChon... you make it sound like I've never touched myself after eating fried chicken before! Well joke's on you...

I bet you're probably wondering... "what's so great about Korean fried chicken? This is Uh-meri-cuh. We don't need no imported fried chicken." While I do agree that Popeye's, KFC, Chick-fil-A etc. all serve up some decent fried chicken, when it comes overall flavor... they're all a bit mundane. Even with radical changes in spicing, they all tend to converge on a similar platform, one that's often plagued by dry meat, soggy skin, under seasoning, or just a general heaviness from excess oil. Korean fried chicken doesn't, or rather shouldn't, suffer from any of those problems. I won't pretend to understand the science behind their frying process (probably has something to do with the high APMs possessed by the line cooks), but there's a scary consistency. Every time I've had it, the meat has been succulent, the skin has been crispy, and the sauce has been titillating. Just like magnets, how do they work?

KyoChon's signature recipe (as seen in drumstick form at the top) was textbook KFC i.e. Korean fried chicken. The skin is something worthy of being eaten independently of anything else - like torikawa at a Japanese izakaya - and far more than just superfluous breading. It possesses both a structural crunchiness as well as a certain suppleness that I think of when eating a good katsu. As for the meat? It acts as the yin to the crusty yang. Ridiculously moist and tender, it provides a mild texture and flavor to counter the boldness of the protective layer. Despite how good the signature flavor tasted, it was still relatively disappointing. It's not that they weren't tasty as hell, I just don't know that I'd describe it as "sensual" or anything remotely inappropriate. They just couldn't really match up to these bitches:

Honey wings

Honey badgers don't give a shit about anything. The honey flavored wings are pretty much the bees knees for me when it comes to sauced chicken. Take everything good that I said about the signature recipe, and then lightly glaze it with a thin coating of a sweet soy garlic sauce. Every one of those shallow channels that exist on the surface of the regular fried chicken now gets filled with more sweet lovin' than you could ever imagine. Added bonus? It doesn't even stick to your fingers. Yeah, my brain is still full of fuck. Now that is full on sexual chicken.

I would like some of these cups

One does not simply "walk" into KyoChon...

I'm convinced that everything about KyoChon is magical. They have these kick-ass cups that work exactly like those nifty cold activated Coors cans. They come to the table looking like frosted glasses, but once you pour cold beverage inside, writing appears. It's kind of like when Gandalf taps on the dwarf door to Moria and words show up, but without the embarrassment of getting shown up by a hobbit when he outsmarts you and says "friend" in Elvish. Punk-ass... if I were Gandalf I would've kicked his midget ass. Regardless of how I feel about small people with large feet, I think you get my point. KyoChon is something magical to me, like most things Korean. Anyway, back to watching K-dramas.

KyoChon Chicken‎
319 5th Ave # 1, New York, NY 10016


Friday, July 8, 2011

Pulled pork and bacon (Jake's Sandwich Board)


Sometimes I think Jewish people have things pretty sweet. Extra days to study for exams (when tests fell on religious holidays), matzah ball soup, eight days of presents - that's a whole 8x more than your average Christian family and an infinite number of times more than my family - and let's be honest... who doesn't want to have a bar/bah mitzvah? Color me green with envy. Then I think a little bit harder... and realize that for all those sweet-ass perks there is a terrible price to pay. If I were Jewish, I'd have to give up eating pork. Whoa there. Can't do it. That's not the life for me. So to all my Jewish bros and broettes out there. If you havin' bacon problems, I feel bad for you son... I got 99 problems but eatin' pork ain't one.

Enter Jake's Sandwich Board. Yes, we might've got off on the wrong foot when they set my butthole ablaze with the fury of 300 Spartans, but they definitely redeemed themselves with another of their creations... the 50/50. Half smoked bacon and half pulled pork topped with shredded provolone and a Sriracha mayo, the 50/50 is a pork lover's dream sandwich. All meat and none of that lettuce, tomatoes, and onions nonsense, this is a sandwich that doesn't fuck around with filler. All around smart dude, Ben Franklin once said that "beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." He is wrong. Pigs are that proof. Have you ever had bacon? Have you ever had pulled pork? Sweet Jesus. If you take two of my favoritest things in the world and shove them inside a seeded hoagie roll, yeah... I'm down with that.

Bacon and pulled pork

The bacon is thickly cut (yet surprisingly crisp). The pulled pork is moist, tender, and pure in flavor... unadulterated by an ejaculation of sauce. The combination of the two is a magical existence that rivals the beauty of tides going in and out. You can't explain that ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. It's not even that Jake's makes phenomenal roast/pulled pork (although it is pretty bitchin'), and it's not that their bacon is the stuff of legends, it's just that everything in this sandwich is... pleasant. The flavors of from each component act in a complementary manner and in general improve on the overall equation. The two kinds of pork act as contrasting elements, one salty and the other mild... one crisp and the other succulent. The provolone adds a certain twang to the taste profile while the Sriracha mayo provides for a cooling effect and also a decent spiciness in the aftertaste. I don't know what else I can say to convince you that bacon and pulled pork in a sandwich tastes awesome. It just does.

Okay, I'll admit it. I'll sort of miss you Philly, but only for your sandwiches.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Food that looks like poo, but also tastes good (Shanghai Mong)

Reese's looks like poop

My Reese's peanut butter cup melted in the car... it looked like dog poop. Then I ate it. Cool story bro.

A long time ago, one of my best friends remarked that "most things that look like shit probably also taste good, everybody knows that." He might've been drunk when he told me that, so I didn't really think too much of his comment, just passing it off as another idiotic musing that really didn't make any sense. After all, as someone who likes taking pictures of food... aesthetics mean a lot to me. I don't like when people say they "taste first with their eyes," because it sounds dumb as hell, but it's kind of true. I refuse to believe anyone looks at a puke green colored slice of cake and thinks "shit, that looks delicious." Anyway, I've had a lot of time on my hands lately (what with the not doing anything), so I've also been spending a lot more time reading other peoples' food blogs. When I came across this post on Ben's Chili Bowl in DC, the first thing I thought was... "man, that looks like Vesuvius exploded out of someone's asshole straight onto a hot dog." Except... Ben's Chili Bowl is pretty damn famous for making some delicious-ass franks... so maybe my less than brilliant friend was actually onto something? Let's examine "foods that look like poo, but also taste good."

After putting more thought into the issue... a lot of foods that look like shit also taste fantastically awesome. Things like Snickers bars, uncooked brownie batter, pudding, half melted rocky road ice cream, dat sauce (bites lip) they put on 甜不辣, and yeah... chili. These things all look like the spawn of my dog's butthole, but I think they all taste pretty swell too. Maybe the converse isn't true, but things that look like poo do seem to taste good. Let's consider another example.

menu w/edit

Black bean noodles. It's a Korean-Chinese thing. Since my grandfather was from Northeastern China... it's a childhood favorite, and pretty much what I grew fat on. Basically it's some sort of sauce derived from black beans (in Chinese cuisine it's often soybeans, 甜麵醬, or 豆瓣醬) mixed with ground meat, and sometimes vegetables, that gets put over noodles. If I had to find an equivalent in American cuisine, it's like mac & cheese. It's comfort food. I appreciate the ninja-edit on the menu, it's almost as if they added an advertisement that says "now w/pork!"

There's a few places you can get it in Manhattan... I know that Hyo Dong Gak makes a dope bowl of black bean noodles, but I've been wanting to try Shanghai Mong's for a while, so that's why I went. On a completely non-food related thought, whoever named their restaurant is pretty wack. I know in Chinese, 上海夢 (Shanghai Dream) sounds ethereal and peaceful and whatnot, but it also kind of sounds like one of those 很黃很暴力 (very erotic and very powerful) massage parlors.

Anyway, back to the food. Since Shanghai Mong is a semi-Chinese-Korean place, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect... the lighter, spicier, more pork focused version from China-r or the heavier, sweeter, more paste-ish variant from Korea.

Jajangmyeon (자장면)

Definitely more Korean than Chinese. Their version was... okay. The noodles were acceptably compliant (let the waitress cut them for you), and worked well enough as faithful sponges for the glorious sauce. Except the sauce wasn't entirely "fabulous!" Not nearly as thick as Hyo Dong Gak's, theirs was kind of like a runny poo. Kind of like when I feed my dog fried chicken. Not thick and paste-like at all. Flavor-wise it seemed pretty decent. Not too heavy on any particular flavor, it possessed a subtle sweetness that paired well with the pork, but let's be entirely honest... sweetened pork is a flavor that plays nice with pretty much everyone's palate (except for hippies and vegans). All in all, it's a fairly good rendition of jajangmyeon, but you could do better just next door at Hyo Dong Gak. Still, for something that looks like mudbutt, it's pretty damn tasty.