Wednesday, August 31, 2011
It's cornbread inside suckling pig. Yes it was delicious, no I did not pay for it.
When I first started this writing thing I thought getting invited to press events was the epitome of baller status in the food blogosphere. You're probably thinking "wow, you're a gigantic toolbag for thinking that!" Haha... fuck you. To be entirely fair, I was a junior in college and I basically fed myself by going to random talks I didn't care about in hopes that there'd be free pizza. Shameful. If you were me, and someone told you that you could have free food in exchange for press... you'd probably piss pants in excitement too. Now that I'm a wily veteran of this demented food blogging game, I can safely say - food PR events are incredibly stupid. Why would I say that? First off, no one really invites me to these things because... well my blog doesn't get that much traffic. Am I bitter? Yes I'm bitter! Other people are eating free food that I'm not. I'm losing in this endeavor. I don't like losing. Secondly, no one else can experience the same thing as me afterward, so what's the point? Doesn't make much sense if you put it that way, right? Third, it's a zero profit system. Either I think something is awesome and I'm called a shill... or I bitch about something that's free and I'm a giant asshole for doing so. Screw that. I'm not gonna play a game where I always lose.
Now let us delve into each one of those points a little deeper shall we? About a month ago I went to some random press shindig at Rub BBQ. Naturally I was not invited, I only went because a friend of mine was, and she realized that I greatly enjoy eating things. Awesome. See why this system sucks? I don't get invited to shit because my blog doesn't get traffic. I guess that makes sense to people hosting the events, but to me that screams unfair. I take time to bitch about things online too! Why can't I get all the perks of other bloggers?*
Onto point two. These events are snapshots in time. What I experience... no one else can ever have again. Does that make any sense to anyone? See that salad above? I don't normally eat salads, but I ate that one. Know why? It was drizzled with a bacon fat vinaigrette and had bacon lardon pieces. Bitchin' salad covered in pork oil, sprinkled with rendered pork fat, and topped with a poached egg. Erotic salad is wonderful indeed. Then there were also...
Fuckin' lamb sliders. Cooked to a gentle medium rare and served with fried spicy eggplant and a mint-basil aioli. Probably one of the dopest "burgers" I've had in a long time. Here's the funny thing - you'll never have one like it! You'll never have that awesome pork flavored salad either. Sucks for you. Now I seem like an asshole right? Wrong. Press event people are the assholes. They're the ones doing this, not me.
I also ate bacon and cheese. Because that's what classy people do, I guess...?
Now this last point... this one's key. No one wins in these situations. Press events are built on the concept of good PR. Shit is free because they expect you to say good things about it, but there's also the unspoken agreement that you do say good things about it. Here's the thing, because it's free... you really can't expect jack shit from the organizers. If you decide to show up, that's on you. So what do you do? The food at Rub was pretty sick and I had no complaints, so I write good things about it. Now I'm a shill. If the food didn't meet expectations can I bitch about it? No, it doesn't work that way either because I would have to accept responsibility for being a retard and expecting something for free. Basically you're dicked either way, so... why bother? There's been a lot of beef going on lately about things at press events not living up to expectations and people getting duped... here's my take on it: calm your hormones. It's like if a dude in an unmarked van offers you candy, then you get in and get molested. That's on you bro. There are no free lunches.
tl;dr? Press events embody everything that is dumb about food blogging. It's really no more than people writing about nonsense that doesn't actually exist anymore and people expecting things from nothing.
*If you can't tell, I'm being sarcastic. I think getting free food solely on the basis of being a "Yelp Elite" or influential blogger is pretty much one of the douchiest things you could ever do.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
There are a lot of stories on the internet telling tall tales about how ridiculously great the Google cafeterias are. While I will admit that having an endless supply of coconut water and fig newtons is pretty fantastic, it's not all sunshine and lollipops here bro. Do you know how much it sucks to have to walk downstairs just to get cookies? Do you know how infuriating it is to have steak three days in a row? Just because you put chimichurri on it doesn't make it a different dish ಠ_ಠ. To be honest, it's pretty frustrating. So frustrating that yesterday I was actually driven to pick up a vegan meal... just for something different. It was a pre-made box of sprouted brown rice with sundried tomatoes, onions, and tempeh (which according to my friend is no more than a shitty version of failed tofu). As I sat there lamenting - crying into my container of brown rice - over both the lack of variety of free food and my decision to pick up a box of glorified kitty litter, I realized something. I missed outside food. I missed pork. Good pork. Like the pork chops they make at XO Kitchen.
There are some things I get really sick of, really fast... like the steak in our cafeterias. Then there are things like the pork chops at XO Kitchen. If you told me I could eat nothing but their pork chops w/sauce over rice for a month I think I'd cream myself. They're marketed as "台式豬排" or Taiwanese pork chops, but don't be mistaken - they're not the crispy as fuck kind you'll find at Hua Ji, these are a whole 'nother animal all together. Probably not the pinnacle of pork and sauce technology, but good in their own right. Know why? Because they basically take the fattiest cut of pork you could find, fry it (plain) until even the fat is crispy, then slather it with a savory sweet concoction whose composition I don't even want to know because it's probably bad for me. Just think of thick cut bacon... fry that shit up good, now smoosh a bunch of it together. It's a magical thought to behold, and that is essentially what their pork chop is. A mass of crunchy pork fat covered in sauce. Paired with rice. I'm Asian, I'm programmed to love rice and sauce.
Unlike my cafeteria, XO Kitchen values variety. Instead of shoving pork tenderloin in my face everyday with a different accompanying sauce, they actually use it in different dishes. Like their 腸粉 (cheong fun). I'm pretty sure this is what they're actually famous for, and their version is pretty dope. Bouncy and "QQ" rice noodles usually get rolled together with various types of filling. The XO pork sauce version is just that plus a slurry of ground pork, what I can only assume is "XO sauce," and a host of other stuff that's super fragrant. End result is a super sick dish of rice noodles, pork, and more pork. None of it repetitive, none of it boring.
BUT WAIT, there's more! I'm pretty sure this shit ain't vegan friendly (for all I know it's fried in lard), but they also do cheong fun with "油條" (oil sticks) shoved inside. Then they put some sesame seeds on top, and a sprig of something green on the side. Goddamn. No, it's not meat filled, but there's something inherently satisfying about carb on carb action. You get your teaser in the rice noodle, but once you get to that crispy stick of oily dough? Game over. The flavor profile isn't anything special - it's really just noodles and soy sauce - but it's pleasurable from bite one through the last. I don't know if anyone else did this, but when I was a kid I used to lick 9v batteries. Can't tell you why it was fun to me, but it was. This is just like that. Inexplicably good.
They also have fried mantou (銀絲卷). I don't really have to explain why this tastes good right? It's freakin' fried bread that you dip in condensed milk. Fat kids everywhere just peed themselves in excitement. XO Kitchen's probably aren't the lightest, fluffiest, most sensual golden fried buns I've ever had, but you know what? They're kinda like me complaining about Google's cafeterias, the commentary has very little merit and I'm just being a nitpicking asshole. Makes sense, right?
Of course, for the lazy, the illiterate, and my asshole friends who really only look at the pictures... tl;dr - Google needs to stop serving steak all the time, it gets boring. Instead they should be more like XO Kitchen, where you can get kickass pork chops, things wrapped in noodles... and other shit like fried bread w/condensed milk.
148 Hester Street, New York, NY 10013
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Remember a while ago when I talked about how much I hate food bloggers? I bet you probably thought my 24 pack of Haterade™ had run dry, but you'd be wrong. This shit is real, this shit is happening - I'm making an addendum to my somewhat exhaustive list. Reason number - er... whatever it is, I lost count - to hate food bloggers: they're fickle-ass motherfuckers. Equipped with memory capacities only slightly better than those of common goldfish, a lot of bloggers drive food trends for a couple of months, writing fervently about a single dish or cuisine as if it were truly the apex of culinary innovation, before quickly switching to a new "golden topic" of the day. Remember when cupcakes were all the rage? Then people decided that they wanted artisan pies? Which was followed by a sudden "renaissance age" of doughnuts? Well that shit is stupid. It's not like cupcakes suddenly started tasting like stale bread frosted with crap or that pies became second-rate desserts, it's really just that people tend to have a sheep-like tendency to do the popular thing. Not me though. I'm a shark. Sharks are winners, and they don't look back because they have no necks. Necks are for sheep.
Just like bánh mì. Two years ago, there wasn't a single person who wouldn't shut up about bánh mì. Then slowly, everyone made a mass exodus to some other hot issue in the very important world of food blogging. Probably something stupid like ramps.
Now I'll be straight with you upfront - I really don't know jack shit about Vietnamese food and I really don't know that much about bánh mì... so I'm not gonna tell you some nonsense like where to go for the best one (let's be honest, everyone knows how much bs those lists are anyway). What I will do, is tell you that Bánh Mì Saigon (located in the back of a jewelry store) makes some bombin' sandwiches in general. Also they're cheap. That's always a plus in my book.
That would be $4.25 worth of sandwich. Their most popular sandwich is probably the bbq pork one. It's pretty simple really, just a plain baguette that balances a nice crispness with compliance that's sliced and stuffed. The filling is fairly... subtle. The roast pork is a loose ground meat mix that's semi-sweet, semi-savory, and relatively tender while possessing an unexpected crusting from the cooking process. Combined with cucumbers, radishes, cilantro, carrots, and all the standard accouterments (don't ask me what else goes inside)... this is a pretty damn tasty sandwich. With the cucumber slivers, daikon, and cilantro there's a certain refreshing lightness to the taste profile, and with the roast pork, pate, and mayo-ish sauce there's definitely a contrasting dense part to the equation. When added together and put on fresh bread? It's like seeing baby unicorns prancing across rainbow bridges suspended on puffy clouds - goddamn magical.
In closing, I'm actually gonna throw some more salt in your game by giving you a bonus reason to hate food bloggers. They steal shit. All the time. Ideas, content, photos... you name it. I wasn't actually gonna write this post for a few weeks, but you know what spurred me on? When I found out some asshat on Tumblr jacked my photo. My copyrighted photo. That little 'c' in a circle on Flickr? That means you should probably ask my permission before posting my shit on your demented blog. Just because you posted my Flickr username doesn't mean you credited me, it just means you just have the slightest bit of moral sense to admit that you didn't take the photo yourself. You're probably thinking, "bro you should chill out, you download shit all the time... what's one photo in the grand scheme of things?" Well first of all, it's not exactly an isolated incident. People take my photos all the time without asking. It's the fact that they don't even respect my content enough to at least ask to paste it all over the internet. What really boils my britches though, is the fact that the photo in question now has 2400+ pageviews. Pageviews that asswipe-content-stealer got that should've been going to me. Fuck this. I don't take pictures so other people get praised for shit. I do that for me. Frustrating.
Right. So in case you didn't feel like reading all that jazz (don't know why anyone would skip my Pulitzer-caliber writing...) tl;dr - a lot of food bloggers are like sheep because they have necks. There's a tendency to follow a retarded mob mentality and to forget that newer doesn't exactly = better. Also, some food bloggers are assholes and jack content like there's no tomorrow, stealin' mah pageviews... and stuff. Finally, Bánh Mì Saigon makes really good sandwiches that all cost less than $5. It is awesome. Also you can shop for jewelry while you wait for your order.
Bánh Mì Saigon
198 Grand St, New York, NY 10013
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Good things come in threes. That's a fact of life. The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, The Mighty Ducks, High School Musical (okay, maybe not that one) - all come in triplets, all awesome. The problem with trilogies is no matter how good the overall concept is, and no matter how great each might be on their own, there's the unavoidable problem that one of the three is going to look like crap... simply by association with two similar yet slightly superior offerings. Just like movies, with three big Taiwanese pork chop places in Manhattan's Chinatown, someone had to be the ugly duckling. The slightly demented slow child in the family if you will. I feel like that's what happened to Excellent Pork Chop House. Remember when Saruman gets his ass beat down in Two Towers? It's not that I didn't enjoy watching that film, but it feels kinda pointless when you find out he's not even the final boss. Excellent Pork Chop House is like that. It isn't bad, but if you've had the others you'll have a - meh, that was okay - moment.
I do find it amusing that they're super proud of their MSG usage. Maybe it's because when I was growing up, my family would always have a bag of MSG on hand for cooking, but I feel like it probably makes things taste better. Asians have been using it for years (soy sauce and kelp both have high quantities of glutamic acid) in their cooking, so there's probably something to it. Oh, and all those people telling you how MSG will give you cancer, killer headaches and probably aids too? They're apparently just crazy. It's science bro. Come at me (when you have statistically significant data).
Know how I said Hua Ji had epic-ass crispy crusting? Yeah well, Excellent does not. They still pound the pork harder than BrO-J Simpson on the gridiron, and they still season it with generous amounts of salt, pepper, and five spice, it's just... the final product doesn't have the same refined crunch as its neighborly counterpart. Tastewise it's also not as in your fact as Hua Ji's. Given the lack of textural distinction you'd hope for a more heavyily flavored sauce, but they chose to go plain. I understand that maybe they want the flavor of the pork to shine - and if it were the only game in town, I'd probably be singing its praises - but in its current situation it comes off as somewhat boring.
Did you know... that there was still shell on the outside of my soy sauce egg? True story.
As for the pork sauce? While May Wah could lay claim to some legitimately dope pickled veggies and pork mix, Excellent can't say that either. Again, it's not like they're bad at playing this pork and rice game, they just don't do anything particularly well.
So for the lazy ones who just look at pictures, here's the tl;dr - everything here is adequate, but sometime that's just not good enough. If there's anything I've learned from Will Ferrell movies... "if you're not first, you're last" -Ricky Bobby. Excellent Pork Chop, no one remembers second place. You're not too far off from the competition, you just gotta step up your game whether it's in the sauce or in the chops. Do it. I believe in you.
Excellent Pork Chop House
3 Doyers St # 1, New York, NY 10013
Saturday, August 13, 2011
It's not that I'm some sort of cheap soulless asshole (okay... maybe just a little), but I hate tipping. I don't understand the point of it, and I doubt I ever will. Before everyone goes apeshit explaining how "tips are the only way a lot of waiters/waitresses make ends meet as single parents supporting their five kids when their spouses fail to pay child support," let me explain exactly what I mean - I think the current system of tipping is dumb. There are certain expectations I have when I go to a restaurant. I feel like good customer service is a fairly reasonable one. So why exactly do I have to pay extra on top of the bill for something that should inherently be included? Because the social norm in the US is straight demented. The way the system in Japan works... everything that goes into the meal - ingredients, preparation time, service, etc. - is already priced into final cost. Maybe costs at restaurants would be higher, but there'd be no awkward post-meal deliberation of how much to leave and no one would leave feeling jipped for paying for an awful experience. That would be just dandy wouldn't it?
It's bad enough that I basically have to dole an additional 20% just for sitting down in a restaurant, but there's something worse. Far worse. Like when restaurants automatically append gratuity to their bills (party of two if it matters). When they do that... it removes any incentive for the waitstaff to do anything and it also removes my ability to voice displeasure without being confrontational. That's not me. I sip Haterade™, but I'm not out to advertise that. Anyway, why am I bitching about tipping all of a sudden? Because it happened in the last place I'd ever expect it - in Chinatown, at a place called "Lucky Plaza Restaurant," where I got hit with a $5 tip on an $18 meal. Are you freakin' kidding me? That's almost 28%. If I'm paying that much then you best be wiping my ass after I use the bathroom too. What makes this even more ludicrous is the fact that the service straight sucked. When I asked to box stuff up to take home, some chick literally tossed takeout boxes on the table and told me to do it myself. That ain't worth a 28% tip yo.
I wish I could tell you not to go there because half the staff needs to chill their hormones, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit the food was actually pretty dope. Lucky Plaza's a Cantonese restaurant with a menu that looked pretty stereotypical of random diner places in Hong Kong. They like doing shit like roasting meat and putting over rice, frying up slick plates of oily noodles, and making various types of dumplings - all of which are awesome things. That said, their char siu fried rice (叉燒炒飯) isn't bad. It's basically one part oil, one part rice, and one part roast pork... a delightfully heavy dish that's moderately flavorful for its simplicity. The pork isn't so tantalizing that the dish becomes the epitome of all fried rices, but it's on par with generic places in Hong Kong. I feel like the act of simply replicating an "authentic" version is testament enough to how well this was made. It's something I'd probably enjoy infinitely more if I were drunk... that kinda thing.
Check that shit out. Glossy as a motherfucker. I'm probably not really the best person to ask about beef chow fun, because to me... the oilier it is the better it tastes. In my mind, there are few things in the world more sensual than rice noodles swimming in a pool of rendered beef fat. Aw yeah. Lucky Plaza might not be very good at refilling your water and junk like that, but at least they understand that oil is the key to making some sick rice noodles. Their version screams mediocrity, but given how difficult it is to make oily noodles taste any sort of bad, by default that makes it taste decent. Does that even make sense? Probably not. Peep this - similar to the fried rice, it's not a destination worthy dish, but if you're hungry and don't feel like waiting for the line at Wah Fung... it's not a bad consolation prize.
They also make soup dumplings. Eight of 'em for like $5. When you compare that to places like Joe's Ginger - and other places with "Joe" in the name - that seems pretty awesome (before they decided to tack on their asshat automatic tip I mean). To be entirely honest they're like everything else this restaurant does - good, but not life changing. Solid enough where you're impressed, but not so ridiculously awesome that you'd ever sell your firstborn for the recipe. Their soup dumplings have that stupid little nubbin of dough at the pinch point, and they don't possess translucently thin skins, but they are filled with a fairly surprising amount of soup. All for a super reasonable price... sort of. Plus if you think about it, most dumplings taste okay anyway. It's a meatball wrapped in dough... a pretty likable combination... even mediocre ones.
So yeah tl;dr time - Lucky Plaza makes pretty good food. They're pretty good at shit like roasting meats, stir-frying things with lots of oil, and making reasonably priced soup dumplings, but they need to chill the fuck out with their automatic tip (or step up their waiting game). That shit is ridiculous. I'd probably get food there again, but probably not eat there. Also, I still think tipping in the US is stupid.
Lucky Plaza Restaurant
81 Chrystie St, New York, NY 10002
Monday, August 8, 2011
I know what you're thinking... "goddamn son, you sure do eat a lot of pork chops. You should probably chill on doing that or you're probably going to have health problems in the very near future." While it is true that I have been having intermittent chest pains for the past week or so (living life dangerously sans health insurance!), that is probably entirely coincidence and most likely has nothing to do with the fact that I've been wafflestomping pork chops like I have a vendetta against pigs. Anyway, I've already made my point sufficiently clear on why I think Taiwanese pork chop over rice tastes like frolicking through a field of wildflowers i.e. awesome, so now let me address another pressing issue that definitely needed looking into - given the staggering number of places that serve this stuff (that'd be like... four?), who's serving up the dopest Taiwanese pork chops in all of Manhattan?
Well I'm not really sure how to answer that. I hate ranking things and using words like "best," "ultimate," or "perfect" - seriously, bloggers who use those superlatives need to calm their hormones when describing food... I'd love to see anyone definitively prove that something is the absolute pinnacle of culinary innovation. But... when it comes to pork chops in Manhattan Chinatown, Hua Ji (華記) pretty much shames the competition into looking like demented elves. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but it is my favorite place for fried pig.
$5 bro. That's all it takes to purchase a plastic bowl of ecstasy. Sure May Wah might be cheaper at $4.50, but I'm pretty sure I prefer Hua Ji's pork chops by more than 11.11%. Why? Their pork chops tend to be crispier, fattier, and in general more... in your face. May Wah and Bian Dang Truck both have a tendency to rely on sauce for flavor, and while that's perfectly cool with me, it mellows the texture from the frying into something that's in general smoother (never thought I'd describe pork chops like that...). Hua Ji does their shit right - minimalist seasoning and proper frying - and the end product reflects that, a tender hunk of meat and crispy fat that spurts oil as you bite through the crust. If that doesn't sound great to you, then you probably hate eating bacon too... we have no further business to discuss.
It's unfortunate that their pork sauce is only "okay." That's not to say I don't find it delicious and totally worth eating plain with rice, just that May Wah's is probably better. Ideally the mixture should have an adequate saltiness that's balanced by the tartness of the pickled veggies and neutral flavor of the cabbage, but Hua Ji's lacks the certain oomph that would make me crave more white rice. It's inoffensive, but in a bland sort of sense rather than a pleasant one. Still, you're paying for pork chop over rice and not pork sauce over rice, so it's not a deal killer.
tl;dr - Hua Ji makes some sick pork chops. Probably some of the finest shit I've had outside of Taiwan yo. Sure their pork sauce might not be as sickeningly delicious as May Wah's, but it's okay. Remember... you're only paying $5. That's pretty good for $5.
Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food
7 Allen St, New York, NY 10002
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
In my idiotic opinion, there are few sensations as pleasureful as biting into a freshly fried Taiwanese style pork chop. If you're a dude, think about getting punched in the nuts. Unpleasant right? Now think the opposite of that. That, is the kind of effect a properly fried pork chop has on my life. The feeling of um... not getting punched in the nuts? If you're a girl, I don't know how to describe it, but it's awesome. I promise. On the surface there's nothing that would suggest this dish is anything special, but when you beat the shit out of a slab of pork, starch it up, fry it, and doll it up with that trademark sweet soy sauce and garlic marinade, my knees go weak, I lose control over my bowels, and I inevitably soil my pants in excitement. Crispy, oily, flavorful, tender, sensual are all words that would be appropriate to describe this dish. What could make it even better?
If you charge less than $5 for it. Yep, that would do it. I haven't really started my job yet, so technically speaking I'm unemployed. Also my parents cut me off... so I'm currently big on finding cost efficient meals... by which I really just mean cheap things that make me go into food coma afterward. Possibly with the added bonus of butthole pleasures. I know what you're thinking, "But wait... where is there such a deal? Fried pork over rice and anal excitement for the low low price of $5?"
This place. Random factoid - back in 2006 this place used to be called "Mei Wah." For one reason or another they closed up shop and reopened a few years later as "Wah May"... spelled even more incorrectly (from standard pinyin) and evidently with a case of dyslexia since the Chinese characters still read "Mei Wah." To be honest, I can't really tell if the food tastes any different, but the general premise is still the same - they fry up cuts of thinly pounded pork with salt, pepper, and all that other shit that makes it smell dope.
I think their standard pork chop over rice w/soy sauce egg costs $4.75... but I'm not really sure. I gave the woman at the counter a $5 bill and for some reason she gave me $5 back in change. I'm not someone who would ever question another Asian person's mathematical abilities (don't ever do it... it's straight insulting), so I didn't say anything. I guess I should probably mention that I ate this meal for free then?
Their version? Not too bad. Definitely better than the Bian Dang Truck guys... and cheaper too. Wah May's isn't as crispy as it could be, but it finds a decent balance between distribution of marinade and crust. The frying definitely plays its role in the texture, but it's not nearly as pronounced as in some versions I've had which possess a potato chip like crunch on the exterior. Whether that's a good thing or not is debatable. Not that it really matters, I'm down with pretty much any preparation of pork. A tad salty (which seems to be a complaint a lot of people had since it reopened), but the meat aspect of the dish is certainly passable. The star though... is the pile of sauce that looks like shit blanketed by the massive piece of fried pork. While this olive green and brown mixture looks like the spawn of Satan's asshole, it is in actuality worth its weight in gold. It is hands down the greatest thing Chinese people have given the world since fireworks... or kites. Kites are pimp. Little more than a blend of ground pork, soy sauce, pickled veggies, and napa cabbage, pork sauce is an instance where the sum of parts far exceeds the individual components. I don't really know how to explain how good it is, but I would have paid $5 just for them to mix pork sauce with rice.
Wah May probably isn't my "go to" pork chop place, but I'd be a huge asshole to complain about it given the price. It's good. And it's cheap. That's fine by me.
May Wah Fast Food
190 Hester St # 1, New York, NY 10013