Friday, February 27, 2009

Lan Zhou Noodles + North Dumplings (Chinatown megapost)

Lam zhou menu

Second Friday in a row I had to go to Brooklyn, not by choice of course, but because the first time I went, the FDNY refused to give me my certification of fitness (something about being an undergraduate student... pssh). So I went back, passed the certification exam, and got my card, which lets me stay in the lab by myself... unsupervised haha, worried yet? Of course it would be a complete waste of a trip if that was all I did...

Prior to going, I had planned out a meetup in Chinatown with Chris, Wayne, and Han... (some guy named Rich was noticably absent, claiming he needed to be in lab). So after my exam, I started my run from downtown Brooklyn to Chinatown. I don't want to dwell on the this topic, since it has nothing to do with food, but it was mid 50's weather, and the run across the Manhattan Bridge was actually ridiculously pleasant. Anyway, got to Chinatown way early, since the others couldn't leave until around noon, and just wandered around in circles, exploring the random streets for shops. I stopped by one of the many "Hong Kong Supermarkets" and picked up napa cabbage (7 pounds of it lol) and some tea leaves. To my surprise, upon checkout, I found a bottle of premium dark soy sauce and a small bag of cured tofu (豆腐趕) that I hadn't been charged for... another day, another 'friend.'

Come 12:30, I finally meet up with the guys and we head over to Lan Zhou Noodles, which has been receiving raves from pretty much every food blogger in NYC for the past month. Entering the restaurant, it has the same homely feel as Super Taste did, a couple benches on either side, and 3 or so tables... the bare minimum, check on the authenticity so far. In the far back, you could see the head chef going nuts on a piece of dough... twisting and beating it down on the metal counter top repeatedly (it's ridiculous that this was soon to become our noodles), and a couple women furiously filling dumplings with their pork and chive mix (they gotta work fast since as you can see from the menu... 50/$8... what a freakin' steal!). Being able to see the people who make your food... another plus one on the legitness scale. If you haven't noticed yet, I give big points not only on the quality of the food, but also how well it stacks up with true the true Asian way of serving said food, maybe this isn't fair, but hey... I want the real experience!

Duck noodle soup

Han, being an idiot, wants something that they're not even famous for... soup noodle with duck (鴨肉墨魚麵)

Beef tendon noodle soup

I never actually go traditional beef noodle soup unless the price for beef tendon is unreasonable (牛筋拉麵).

Beef noodle soup

Traditional beef noodle soup (牛肉麵)! The standby dish if you have no clue what to get in a noodle shop.

Pot stickers

And of course, the obligatory order of pot stickers (鍋貼) to share. Anyhow, the food was delicious (as expected) and I have to say, those other food bloggers aren't lying when they say it's a really good bowl of hand pulled noodles. Wayne and Chris had no qualms with the traditional bowl of beef soup noodles, in fact, Wayne went 100% authentic and added the pickled mustard greens (酸菜) in the spirit of things... what a trooper. I have no clue how Han's duck was, but since it's not even what they're known for, I won't let that weigh on the review. As for my bowl, even though I had to change my order (grrr... they said they didn't have enough tendon for an entire bowl) to the brisket, a pleasant surprise came to the table when my order was half brisket half tendon (半筋半肉) like they serve it in Taiwan! Yes... another 'friend' on the same day, what are the chances. In any case, the broth was nice and beefy, spicy enough after addition of Sriracha, and good enough for me to drain my entire bowl. The greens were the standard Shanghai greens, enough said there, and the brisket/tendon mixture offered a nice balance of chewy softness to crunchy that was a standout point for me at Super Taste... dare I say, an even more subtle balance? The noodles were indeed the star of the show, al dente in texture, but still soft and chewy enough to play around with in your mouth, which is more or less the qualifications of good hand pulled noodles. Indeed, this was an excellent bowl of noodles, which was on par with those at Super Taste (though Lan Zhou does get bonus points for using real bowls). In any case, this joint is something any noodle lover should check out, with my belief that their bowl is Super Taste's equal... in both value and flavor. Oh, and one last thing, while the noodles are the focal point of Lan Zhou, their fried dumplings are ridiculous... seriously, think juicy like soup dumplings (小龍包), but at the same time crispy... not to be skipped if you go!

North dumpling

After we had paid our bill at Lan Zhou, $21 dollars which left us all stuffed btw, I asked if the rest of the group wanted to get authentic scallion pancakes from a spot I spied during my hour wait (also a promise of minced pork noodles (炸醬麵) to Han). They, of course, said yes and we headed up Essex to North Dumpling, another one of those 5/$1 dumpling places. We weren't there for the dumplings though (not after the ecstasy that we experienced with Lan Zhou's... that would be like cheating), no, we were there for their scallion pancakes, priced at 2/$1, and their beef filled sesame pancake, which was fairly massive in size for $1.75. The rest of their menu is actually more of the same really, you could get any of a variety of dumplings either boiled or fried (with the option of cabbage instead of chives being pretty nice), as well as other noodle dishes priced reasonably similarly (nothing went above $5 here... winner). Did I mention they have hot soy milk (豆漿), another traditional Beijing delicacy? In fact, this is something they did really well, as they offered both the salty and sweet varieties.

炸醬麵 (Bean paste noodles)

We order up Han's noodles, another genuine steal at $2.50 for the massive plate you see in the picture.

assorted carbs

... and our order of assorted pancakes. To be honest, the pancakes weren't very authentic, at least not to what I know them as. In Asia, when I hear scallion pancakes, I think of something thin like a normal pancake, but deep fried to a golden brown, speckled throughout with diced scallions. Their version was a pillowy bun, more akin to a pork bun known as xian bing (餡餅) that was filled with scallions, vermicelli, and egg. It was good... but different. Their beef sesame pancake was more of the same, the pillowy bread, which I guess can be compared to an oily paratha(?), which was filled with thin slices of slow roasted beef (醬肉)... at least the meat was pretty legit I guess. The winner here was the noodles, which was both ridiculously cheap, and also reminiscent of the ones you get a streetside carts in Taipei. I actually think we made a mistake here... going into a place called Northern Dumpling and not getting dumplings, but still, it was cheap and good all the same. I'll recommend it on that basis alone, a Lincoln'll get you mighty far in this hole in the wall joint, but uh... if you go? get the noodles or the dumplings haha.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Super Taste... is super tasty!

Super taste storefront

Another Friday, another day of glorious non-self cooked lunching! Today was different though, because instead of heading to midtown, I had to go to Brooklyn. Why? Because apparently I need to get a certificate of fitness from the FDNY, saying that I'm safe to be alone in a lab. What a joke, I'm not even safe to be alone in my dorm by myself (I injure myself in a surprisingly diverse set of ways). Anyway, first thing in the morning I head over to 9 Metrotech Center, figuring that I'd be out of there by 11:00 at the latest with my card of certification. Yes, I did end up leaving by 11:00, but without my certificate of fitness because I needed a note saying I'd taken a lab safety course before... what a crock (In other news, I'll be headed back to Brooklyn next week!). Did I mention that I also lost my mailbox key AND got lost on the way there? Not really important, just thought I'd throw that out there.

Super taste menu

Back on point, by this time, I'm pretty annoyed that I had to come back a week later, and that I'd lost my mail key, but I didn't want to make this a wasted trip. So what does a good luncher do? Go to Chinatown. I love Chinatown... but it's far... and would normally cost me $4 ontop of the cost of food, so really it's not cheap for me. Today was different though, I was so close already! I made up my mind and hopped on the F train, and got off on East Broadway, rather than going straight to work. Having my heart set on a bowl of hot beef noodle soup, I marched towards Eldridge street, home of both Lan Zhou Noodles and also Super Taste Noodles. Ultimately, I chose Super Taste because numerically it came first... but Lan Zhou is next on the chopping block (maybe as early as next week haha).

Beef noodles w/hand pulled noodles

It is what it is, a super small shack of a store, not unlike those that you would actually find in Taipei. So on the basis of authenticity, it gets a nod of approval before even walking in. Inside you find just a few tables, with the kitchen nestled in the back, very homely I guess. The menu... all Chinese, legitimacy was now through the roof. I quickly ordered the classic, the spicy beef noodles (辣牛肉拉麵), priced at $4.75... something that would easily cost $7 in midtown. Yes, there are more adventerous things on the menu, but hey, you always start with a standard right? Within a couple of minutes, a bowl of piping hot red brothed noodles sat in front of me, generous portions of thinly cut beef, a layer of bok choy, and a nice serving of handmade pulled noodles in a white plastic tub (lol at that). On another tangent, I tried to buy a plastic bowl from the woman behind the counter, but she kept insisting that since the manager wasn't there, she wasn't allowed to sell anything aside from noodles... which is a pity, those plastic bowls were pretty versatile (what with all the microwaving and crap that I do in my dorm).

Cross section of tendon

Was it good? I'd have to say that it could match the average noodle shop in Taiwan, which is to say it was excellent by US standards, and on cold day like today... I was in heaven. The texture of the noodles was soft, yet resilient, which is a defining characteristic of hand pulled noodles (they also serve the knife cut variety), the broth was rich and clearly stewed for a long time, and the beef... just look at the mix of tendons with lean and fatty meat (what's known as 半徑半肉 in Chinese).

Hand pulled goodness

This is definitely a bowl that could stand up to any I've had in NYC. So in the end, I do recommend this as a great place for cheap eats ($5 will fill you up). If you want a traditional bowl of noodles that is high on authenticity, then you shouldn't have to look further than Super Taste. It really is good... or should I say... Super Tasty! Haha, I'm sorry for that last bit, it's getting late and I just wanted to get a little bit of humor in this post.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lazzara's Pizza review done proper

Lazzara's storefront

It's Saturday afternoon and I'm actually just posting this now because I don't want to start a problem set, so here goes. A few weeks back, I made a post that referenced Lazzara's, a fairly well known and beloved midtown joint. Known for their thin, not quite Sicilian, square slices, Lazzara's has become one of my favorite midtown slices ever since my first encounter about a month ago. At $1.85 a slice, it's certainly not an expensive or overly fancy place, but for the size of the slice it's definitely not what I'd consider a true cheap eat. I felt like I owed it myself to make the trip to the actual pizza place and grab a slice as it should be... fresh from the oven.

So after someone had graciously left a few boxes of cold cheese pies in the American Express kitchen a few weeks ago, I've pretty much been craving a few of these little slices, and I knew I wouldn't be satisfied until I got to enjoy them hot once again. Wayne and I made our early lunch trek over to the 43rd and 9th location of Lazzara's (there is also one on 38th), since I have a retarded schedule that includes a 1:10 class. First off, we went by midtownlunch's directions, which said it was between 44th and 45th... not really... it's on the corner of 43rd... semi fail number one, but no big deal. We arrived at 11:22, not realizing that they don't even open for lunch until 11:30... semi fail number two. Is this the making of another day where everything would go wrong?!

Lazzara's slice

Anyway, we order up a full cheese pie for $8.99 and one chicken parm for $9 (with free drink!), a bit expensive, but it's midtown... what do you expect? Both of these are part of their 'recession special' menu, along with an option to buy a coke and get a $.99 slice + $1.50 for every additional. We decide to split the chicken parm and the pizza... I ended up bringing home a couple slices for my mom, since she always says I never bring her food.

Chicken parm

The chicken parmigiana arrived first, and it was absolutely terrific. I had read about Lazzara's chicken parm on midtownlunch as part of their search for the best in midtown. It wasn't the crowd favorite, so I had my doubts, but it's definitely a good sandwich. At $9 I was primed for disappointment, but what arrived was beyond my heightened expectations. First thing to note, the size... it's a big sandwich. From the picture it's pretty easy to see that each half is almost the length of an average paper plate, easily besting most normal sandwiches from a generic deli (Wayne and I both agreed it would make an adequate meal on its own). So far so good in terms of value. Next came the quality of the bread. What's to say, it comes on an hoagie roll, studded with sesame seeds, that's been lightly toasted. It definitely wasn't too crunchy or soggy under the weight of the marinara sauce. Now... the ultimate test... the one thing that can ruin a chicken parm... the innards. The chicken was pounded nice and thin, adequate in quantity and piping hot, the sauce was plentiful, but not overpowering, and the cheese was evenly melted and not terribly stringy. Overall it was a glorious mess of flavor that really did ooze when bitten into. Parmigiana success. How were the slices? No comment. Seriously, I don't feel like I have to justify how good they are (see here). Actually, I'll append to that post with a single thought... I thought I had enjoyed one of the best slices in midtown back then, but that was before it was served up hot. As I bit into the slice... there was an unadulterated symphony of cheese and tomato flavor in my mouth (okay, so I went heavy on the garlic and chili peppers too). In conclusion, it is without reservation that I recommend this hole in the wall pizza place by saying... Lazzara's is probably my favorite slice in midtown... so far.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Burger Joint (a.k.a. Carnegie John's where are you?!)

Burger joint, with everything

Fridays kind of suck now, since my midtown lunches consist of me going to places insanely early (around 11:30) so I can rush back to Columbia to go to Chinese class. What happened to those glorious days of hour long lunch breaks *sigh*?

Anyway, with fellow foodie Wayne notably absent, taking... and failing his road test, I wanted to pick a lunch spot that was both, on the way back to school along the 1 line, and also cheap, light, and quick. Having agreed that we'd hit up Lazzara's to try the chicken parm, I decided to look uptown, along 6th or 7th avenue. Naturally... a challenger appears! haha, in the form of Carnegie John's. Having been massively pimped by both Midtownlunch and A Hamburger Today, I felt inclined... no... compelled to go get the "best cart burger in midtown." So I leave work around 11:00, a 20 minute walk to the corner of 56th and 7th, and I expect a grand cart with 'Carnegie' pasted all over it, but no, I see a hotdog cart with the mundane and stupid yellow and blue umbrella. Disappointed, I was prepared to return to Columbia empty handed. Wait a second... 57th... and 7th... is just one avenue away from, of course... Le Parker Meridian!

Now those of you who know me know that I love a good burger. I've tried a crapload of them too, from the incredibly boring hamburger at m2m to the monstrosity known as the 'judge' at Hamilton Deli (I'll eventually review these... don't worry). I am also not much of a burger snob, in the sense that I'll eat pretty much any beef patty between bread, but I do recognize quality when I taste it. That said, Burger Joint is one of the best burgers I've ever had in my life. Plain and simple is their menu, hamburger or cheeseburger, with the relishes listed for your picking. I paid homage to the vintage, and ordered up the cheeseburger with the works (lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard, mayo), no fries for me... today was about the burger. So I paid the $7.50 for the burger, which is to be completely honest, sort of a ripoff and sat down. How can I call what I consider to be one of my top burgers a ripoff you might wonder? Well, it's not a large burger, halfway in between what shake shack delivers and maybe a big mac, I can't really say I was completely satisfied after eating it. However, what it lacks in bulk, it makes up for in... beef juices?

Cross section

Seriously, this is a top notch burger. Cooked on a griddle (to your specification of how well done), you can actually tell that it's made with ridiculously good beef, and not some frozen patty like a Burger King conception. Look at that patty, nice and pink in the center, medium rare as requested, I don't think the picture actually does justice to the quality of the taste. In fact, when I cut it open, I actually cried... not really, but I did feel guilty because I was losing so much juice in the process onto the paper it was wrapped in. How was the burger as a whole? Terrific, outstanding, sensual(?)... I can't give enough praise to this masterpiece, the lettuce was nice and crispy, tomatoes were surprisingly firm and resilient, and the mustard, oh how I wish I could buy a vat of the Burger Joint's special blend (Wayne can account for this, last time I tried to see if they had any in large bottles). The bread, while nothing special, also didn't interfere with the rest of the sandwich in the way that some brioches do. Man, I didn't even care that I didn't find Carnegie John's afterward, although I was still a hungry... should've gone with fries too.

Moral of story, do yourself a favor, don't skimp on luxury just because you have a burger craving, and go to Burger Joint. Uh, but plan on going early, since apparently if you go at normal lunching hours the line is absolutely ridiculous (think in terms of an hour or so). Oh, and I did find Carnegie John's in the end... I realized it was that stupid hotdog cart. Maybe if John was smarter, he'd advertise better.