Legend Bar and Restaurant
Despite the cheesy decor, the unfriendly and hurried service, the long and repetitive menu where the same dishes appear over and over in various forms of English translations, the A.D.D. nature of the menu (offerings jumped from Shanghai to Hong Kong to Chengdu to Vietnam to… you get the point), the odd presence of a karaoke stage and the rather weak drink selection (Tsingtao!), Legend is freakin’ LEGIT and definitely worth the visit. This is unadulterated, fiery, authentic Sichuan food. It’ll light a fire in your mouth that trails down deep into your belly, but boy does it feel good. Equip yourself with water and beer and go all out!
Shrimp wontons in a hot red sesame oil. The wonton skins were dense, almost rubbery, which threw us off at first. The shrimp were ground up and scarce. But somehow this grew on us. The sweet heat of the sesame oil on these chewy little wontons was strangely addictive.
Little juicy pork buns, aka xiǎo lóng bāo, aka my favorite type of dumpling by far. These were not good. But I take full responsibility for that. I had a craving and tested fate and ordered Shanghai cuisine at a Sichuan restaurant, and this is what I got. Thick, unpleasant skin, little to no soup. Bleh.
ATO loves a good plain and simple chicken with broccoli. We ordered “Chef Wang’s signature” version. And I have to say, it was pretty dang good for chicken with broccoli. No trace of MSG, not drowned in unidentifiable brownish gravy sauce and clumps - it actually reminded me of my mom’s home cooking - and there really is nothing better than that.
Cheng Du style stir-fried eggplant. Best dish of the night. So much better than your typical Chinese-style eggplant, either sauteed or braised in a hot casserole dish. Ridiculously hot and crisp, bursting with flavor, but soft and stewed inside….. this eggplant is out of this world. The peanuts bring a nice crunch and nuttiness against the overall burn and mouth-numbing qualities of the other ingredients. It’s like Pringles: once you pop, you just can’t stop.
Finally, another winner. The “house stir-fried hand rolling noodle”. The name was not a good description of the dish. Cellophane noodles are covered by a light but flavorful ground pork, fresh chive and plump chopped shrimp mixture. Sriracha sauce decorates the edges of the plate, and a bowl of sweet ginger sauce is offered on the side and poured over the noodles to taste. Served room temperature/on the cold side. The mixture of ingredients and flavors is totally bizzare, and I know it looks off-putting. But it was marvelous. You’ll just have to try it for yourselves.
Mmmmm, probably the best Sichuan cuisine I’ve had in this city (although I know we didn’t entirely order Sichuan food). Definitely added to my list of go-to Chinese places from now on!
There’s not much Austrian (or German) food in this city. This didn’t bother me until a recent meal at Seäsonal, in Midtown West. I generally classified this genre of cuisine as heavy and coarse bar food, only palatable when washed down with a sh*t ton of beer. Now I just want more! Despite its coveted Michelin Star and rave reviews, Seäsonal flies under the radar. Even Wallsé, its Austrian downtown counterpart (which in my opinion is like 10% as good) gets more play. I can’t explain it. But I can highly recommend that you all go to experience it for yourselves!
Even the starter spreads were unique and yummy, although after some research it turns out they are quite common starters in an Austrian meal. Left: pumpkin seed spread. Right: a paprika based spread.
For just $53 per person, sample the “Taste of Austria”: a traditional 3-course meal (with several choices for each appetizer, entree and dessert) complete with amuse and petite fours. The amuse, above: a frothy and delightful shot of pumpkin puree soup.
It’s a good thing this blog is written, not oral. Because I definitely butchered the names of each dish I ordered. Above was ATO’s first course: fruhlings zwiebel suppe. You get the point? A light, and a bit bland, spring onion soup garnished with chives, a thin terrine-style guinea hen (that lacked a meaty goodness) and lemon. Our least favorite dish of the night.
The pochierte ei, otherwise known as the soft poached egg with lobster, hen of the woods and pumpernickel was super tasty and texturally satisfying. And very generous on the soft sweet lobster. Yum.
The tafelspitz: flat iron steak stewing in oxtail consommé, this meat defied the bounds of tenderness. Like butter. Wow. A subtle dish, but sizeable and delicious.
Fish the beef out of the consomme and set it on your plate. Then dress it to your heart’s desire: you’ve got a mild sweet apple sauce, a nice and creamy horseradish sauce and the most pureed creamed spinach you’ll ever meet to work with. The spinach was ridiculous. Like baby food on steroids. I mean that in a most flattering way.
Fried, crisp potato rösti to perfectly round out the entree. So good.
But after just one bite I knew I should have ordered the classic wiener schnitzel. F*ck. It was pounded thin and fried in that airy, “greaseless” way. The potato salad, which wasn’t weighed down with mayo, was fantastic. The lingonberry sauce served on the side was tangy and vibrant. But the best part…
The very fresh and verdant cucumber salad, rolled in a tight little ball, added just the right amount of crispness to each bite and took this dish over the edge.
The desserts, while good, generally lacked excitement. Above left: the apple strudel with raisins and cinnamon. Above right: the chocolate pudding with cherries, more chocolate and cream. I did appreciate the tartness of the cherries against the richness of the chocolate.
The only dessert really worth the calories: the kaiserschmarrn. Whaa?? Just think of it as exploded bread pudding (aka the stars aligning). Crumbled caramelized pancakes, burnt and sticky and chewy on the outside, hot and gushy on the inside, served with apple compote. Heavenly.
So what are you waiting for?? GO!!!
And in the words of Heidi Klum, auf wiedersehen!
Burger Joint (new Greenwich Village location!)
The perennially packed and always delicious Burger Joint, tucked away in the dark recesses of Le Parker Meridien, has finally taken a cue from its more popular rival, Shake Shack, and opened a second downtown location. Thank the lord, this one has not caught on like wildfire (yet) and eating here did not require, as is so often the case in the midtown location, a dreadfully long wait (or any wait for that matter). Win.
Same short and sweet menu. Step 1: hamburger or cheeseburger (easy: when is cheese not a good idea?). Step 2: choose your meat preparation (medium rare is the way to go… YUM). Step 3: toppings to your liking (no need to choose, just say “the works” and get them all! Lettuce, tomato, onion, sliced pickles, mustard, ketchup, mayo galore).
And of course, an order of french fries. Thin and crisp and all-around McDeezy style.
CHOMP! Just as satisfying as the midtown burger, none of the wait!
PS -these burgers are a bit bigger than the Shake Shack versions. Our boys had a more difficult time stuffing down two burgers than they normally do…. altho they still happily did so ;-).
Momofuku Milk Bar (the pork buns!)
I’m not a huge fan of Momofuku Milk Bar. There, I said it! While I do appreciate cereal milk soft serve (how my ice cream can taste so much like the leftover milk of a super sweet bowl of cereal gets me every time!), the appeal of other cult classics like crack pie, candybar pie or the compost cookie is just way over my head.
After frequent visits to Milk Bar, I’ve discovered that for me, its their savory treats that reign supreme. Like the banana curry bread, which is very tasty - it’s strange and numbs your tongue a bit - but it’ll grow on you. But that’s a story for another day. Our focus today: the pork bun. (It’s only available at the UWS, Williamsburg and Carroll Garden locations!).
At $8 a pork bun, it’s not the cheapest snack. But it is big in size and big in taste.
And very generous in pork! Salty sweet tender shreds of Asian-style barbecued pork (and lots of it), perfectly balanced with crisp thin slices of cucumber (very refreshing). None of that gloppy sweet sauce that often attacks pork buns. All served in a big fat steamed bun (unfortunately, it kind of had a dense re-heated consistency, but we got over that).
Definitely more satisfying than the saccharine globs of sugar on offer!
When I think of Queens, my one-tracked mind thinks of one thing: amazing ethnic food. To be broken into 4 categories: (1) Thai food, (2) Greek food, (3) M. Well’s Dinette (while not ethnic per se, M. Well’s gets its own category) and (4) Flushing. So after our friend’s very cool art show in Long Island City, ATO, RL and I headed to M. Well’s Dinette for dinner. Except it wasn’t open. Because it’s only open for lunch. Doh! We hopped back in a cab in search of replacement dinner. We literally didn’t know where we were going, just told our driver to keep driving, somewhere, anywhere (cabs aren’t as easy to come by out there so we weren’t about to let this one go!). Meanwhile, in the backseat, we were frantically Google searching, browsing Yelp, checking out Eater and basically screaming at each other, in our frenzied attempt to quickly determine our destination. Sometime during that ride I declared that it was Thai food or bust. We ended up at Ayada.
We had underestimated how big Queens was. Ayada was not close to where we were. It took over a $20 cab ride to get us there. I started questioning how smart this decision was: afterall, I live in Manhattan’s Thai food mecca (Hell’s Kitchen), where I can easily pick up a great pad thai or curry every other block. Was this really worth the trek? Yes, yes it was. Cos you can’t get Thai food like this in Manhattan! This was the real deal, Thai food for non-gringos, Thai food un-compromised for Western tastes, Thai food with real heat and authenticity.
We started with an order of crab rolls: chicken and crab wrapped in tofu skin, deep fried and served with plum sauce. Gluttonous for sure, but irresistibly crisp on the outside and plump and flavorful on the inside. A true crowd pleaser.
We moved on to one of several “salads” (I wouldn’t actually categorize most of the listed “salads” as actual “salads” as we’d commonly think): the raw shrimp topped with bitter melon, garlic, chili and lime juice. ATO went wild for this dish. The tangy hot mix of garlic, chili and lime juice was a wonderful contrast to the cool raw shrimp. The bitter melon added the perfect palate cleansing aftertaste. I couldn’t handle the texture of the shrimp tho… too, um, raw. Beware of the heat from this dish: seemingly mild at first, it clings to your tongue and makes your eyes water long after your last bite. RL and ATO were gulping down water by the cupful after this dish!
We moved on to a classic Thai “salad”: pork larb with mint, dry chili and lime juice. The flavors were more mild than I expected, and a bit disappointing. The crumbly ground pork was chalky and dry. Least successful dish of the night.
Next up, the salted crab with mango salad. I know I’m in the minority, but I’ve never been a big fan of Thai mango or papaya salads. This dish therefore never stood much of a chance with me. On top of that, add raw crab served straight in its shell. You had to gnaw and crack each joint to suck out the fresh meat. Way too much work; I didn’t even bother. ATO, however, thought it was better than a similar crab papaya salad at Pok Pok NY.
And now for our main dishes: the Kang Som sour curry with shrimp and broccoli omelet. When it came to our main dishes, we each had our favorite. This was ATO’s. The curry wasn’t quite a “curry” - it was more a super complex murky, salty, sour broth - much thinner than a typical curry. The fat little shrimp were fresh and flavorful, and the soft fluffy cubes of omelet happily soaked up the delicious broth. Definitely a must-order.
I can be a very boring person. My favorite dish of the night was the Pad Gai Kua: sautéed wide noodles with chicken, squid and egg. I recognize that this plate probably most resembles any dish I could order in the comforts of Hell’s Kitchen. However, I LOVE Thai noodles to death, and this one was fantastic. Sooo much better than my typical Chai Thai, Wondee Siam (I, II or III), Chili Thai, Pam Real Thai, Room Service, Yum Yum, Thai Basil (dang, there really is a lot of Thai in my area!), etc. And believe me, I’m an expert. The luscious folds of the big wide noodles were soft and yielding and held the perfect balance of sauce to salty to sweet to chicken. Love, sweet love.
RL’s favorite dish, and a close second for both me and ATO: the duck panang curry in coconut milk. This curry puts any other curry to shame. It burns, it makes your mouth water, it violently shakes up your taste buds and it leaves you breathless and craving more. The duck itself was also fabulous; cooked to perfection, the meat was so delicate and tender while the skin hugged it like a crackly case. Ahhhh…. if only Thai food could always be like this.
PS - this place is so much better than its more famous nearby competitor, SriPraPhai! Skip the hype and come here instead!
I generally think that all Mario Batali restaurants are overly-inflated, much like his giant belly :-). Del Posto is always a disappointment (one of the biggest gaps in critic ratings vs. actual food served that I’ve experienced in recent years), and even Babbo, while good, doesn’t live up to its hype (why it is so difficult to snag a reservation is beyond me). (Otto and Lupa are fine, but not in that same category of restaurant). And even though Dave Pasternack is the chef at Esca (Mr. Batali is the co-restuauranteur), after two luke-warm tries, I have to throw Esca in that category as well. Don’t get me wrong, Esca is definitely not bad (in fact it’s pretty tasty!) but to say, as NYMag says, that Esca has done for “Southern Italian seafood what Le Bernardin has done for French”…. gimme a break! And 3 stars from the esteemed Frank Bruni, who refers to Chef Pasternack as a “fish whisperer”? Whaaaa???
I started with an appetizer of baked Jonah crab tossed with fiddlehead ferns, baked in a layer of buttery crumbled Ritz crackers, all served in the shell. The crab itself, juicy and flavorful, was delicious and contained a whole slew of crab parts. However, I found myself picking out crab shell from every bite, which greatly disturbed my enjoyment of the dish.
ATO’s appetizer: the house-made guitar cut spaghetti with sea urchin and crabmeat. Creamy and good, but sheisty on the crab and lacking in sea urchin taste.
Grilled halibut with asparagus. The asparagus was the best part of the dish! So fresh and tasty. The fish, while nicely charred, was a bit dry.
Scallops with fresh green peas. Mario Batali was recently on The Morning Show demonstrating a pea recipe. The hosts were raving. Well, if those peas tasted anything like these peas, I can see why. Super simple in preparation, but the pork bits mixed in added a great savory note, while the addition of mint lent some necessary brightness. The scallops - while not the most tender - had an awesome crisp top which really hit the spot.
Banana pudding to end. Fine, but no Magnolia Bakery.
Overall, a pretty satisfying meal but definitely nothing to go nuts over. By the way, last time we came, we had the restaurant’s “famed” dishes (the branzino for two and the tasting of crudo), so this was not a case of ordering wrong!
Sadly, I just think the fish whisperer has lost his voice….
In a city saturated with ramen houses, I think I found my favorite: Chuko. The menu is short but satisfying: choose from three different appetizers, three different “bites”, and four different types of ramen. Add either roasted pork or steamed chicken to your hot bowl of noodles. Choose a poached egg or a hard-boiled one. Simple. Delicious.
This is the type of place that serves sake from a can. I found this very cool. And very representative of the general vibe of this ramen joint: super casual, laid back, a bit funky and new-fangled, but keeping to authentic roots. And very Brooklyn.
Our “bites” came first: a salad of crispy brussel sprouts tossed in fish sauce with peanuts. Super savory and addictive, but a bit too Ma Peche-style for me (ie - too heavy on that “Asian” flavor, aka fish sauce).
Though some might call it gimmicky, I happily took down a shrimp bun with garlic tartar sauce. The shrimp was amazeballs. The three proprietors of Chuko hailed from Morimoto, which serves up one of my favorite guilty pleasures: rock shrimp tempura. Unsurprisingly, the shrimp here were super similar, but had some nice shredded greens on top that brightened them up.
ATO ordered the miso ramen with scallions, a poached egg, corn and roasted pork. So much depth of flavor in that murky broth. The pork was meaty and nice and charred on the edges. Mmmmmmmm.
I asked our waitress for a recommendation. She said the veggie broth was the best. Veggie broth at a ramen joint? Blasphemy! But she was right. Above is the veggie miso based ramen with market vegetables and steamed chicken. Best ramen ever. Better than the chicken broth ramen at Totto, better than any I’ve had at Ippudo (only because it didn’t upset my stomach afterwards) and better than Dassara (even the mushroom ramen, which I love so much!). Filled with unexpected veggies - sweet potatoes in ramen? But by God, it worked! The whole bowl was rich without being a gut bomb, the ingredients were fresh, the steamed chicken was tender and fantastic and the noodles were curly, springy and cooked just right.
My only complaint: it was quite a trek to get here. Open one in Manhattan!!
Parm (ice cream cake)
A very sophisticated, adult-satisfying house-made spumoni ice cream cake that will make you as giddy as a kid at a 1980’s birthday party! Except this version is actually ridiculously good.
Let’s face it - the concept of an ice cream cake has always been more grand than the versions pumped out by Carvel, Friendly’s, Baskin Robbins and the like. But here’s a cake that’s actually worthy of the concept. The “ice cream” used is actually gelato, which comes in three fantastic flavors: chocolate, strawberry and pistachio. It is smooth, creamy and full of that nostalgic, artificial taste. The whipped cream is fluffy, light and fresh, the sprinkles carry no hint of staleness, and the chocolate crumble between each layer of gelato is fudgy, rich and wonderfully decadent. The maraschino cherry is the perfect last touch. Best ice cream cake I’ve ever had, for sure. And the experience of time traveling back to kiddy birthday parties? Priceless.
Spring Natural Kitchen
One beautiful recent Sunday, ATO and I, feeling very “un-us”, decided to take a yoga class (if you know me at all, you know I can’t stand yoga!) and follow that up with some healthy eating… well, sorta healthy eating. We hit up a late afternoon yoga session at Equinox, and then skipped over to Spring Natural Kitchen, in the UWS. Spring Natural Kitchen is younger sister to Spring Street Natural, in Soho, but the focus is the same: “good, wholesome, unprocessed cooking from scratch, everything homemade from all-natural ingredients” (from their website).
We started with a chopped Asian salad. Asian salads are a guilty pleasure of mine; something in that sweet and salty ginger dressing gets me every time. And I’m a sucker for those delicious fried cracklings on top, which, unfortunately make this salad less than healthy. Doh!
ATO is a fan of their Spring Natural house-made veggie burger. It’s dense with all sorts of veggie proteins and almost a bit mushy, but has a good crisp outer shell. It’s also nicely seasoned, but maybe a tad too sweet (it’s too heavy on the sweet potatoes). Served on toasted whole wheat bread with chipotle vegannaise (which ATO always gets on the side), lettuce, tomatoes and onions. ATO subbed the sweet potato fries for regular french fries cos - let’s face it - sweet potato fries are never as good as the real deal!
This is my current food obsession. The stir-fried glass noodles with basil vegan “chicken”, baby shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, sugar snap peas, scallions and baby bok choy. I LOVE this dish. I’ve always been madly into faux meat. At any give time there are probably 2 to 3 varieties of it in my freezer. My favorite right now is the Morningstar sausage patties. So good! Anyway, I digress. The vegan chicken in this dish is awesome - if you’re OK with the texture of fake meat - which is admittedly a bit rubbery (I like to think of it as “toothsome”). I also love all the other veggies in this dish, which are super fresh and flavorful and cooked just enough (I hate a pile of raw veggies). I’d normally complain about the noodle to veggie ratio (heavy on the veggies), but I’m totally OK with that here cos the veggies are just so dang yummy. The glass noodles pick up so much soy sauce goodness, without a hint of MSG. The best part: you feel full, but not sick and weighed down, after eating this massive plate! I feel so accomplished after eating this dish, like I did something right in life. Yay!
I’m Chinese and I grew up eating Chinese food. But for some reason, when I crave homey comfort food, it’s always been Italian. So after a long run followed by some mid-afternoon drinking, with my stomach growling and my mind spinning, I had it bad for some good ol’ home-style Italian food. MO and JS took us to Perbacco. Sigh of happiness. The perfect solution. This is the type of food that fills you up and makes you warm and fuzzy. And then sleepy ;-).
Sicilian arancini (rice balls) stuffed with mozzarella, served with a tomato dipping sauce. Those little fried balls were quite addictive! But my favorite part was actually the fresh and tangy tomato dipping sauce. I was wolfing down spoonfuls on its own.
The homemade grilled shrimp and scallop sausage over chickpeas, simmered in shrimp reduction, were even better. The shrimp and scallop were ground up together to form this incredibly tender - almost springy - and oceanic sausage.
Other starters included this fantastic 18-month aged Parmigiano crème brulée, topped with a caramelized 12 yr. old balsamic vinegar. I will never love a purely sweet crème brulée again after this. This cheesy version was about 100% better than any dessert version I’ve ever set my taste buds on. Super savory and custardy and hot, and nice and bubbly and sweet on top.
Finally, a lighter appetizer and some veggies in our diet: grilled zucchini carpaccio stuffed with goat cheese and ricotta, served with arugula salad, orange and toasted almonds. Good, but unremarkable.
The pastas! Above is the homemade spaghetti tossed in roasted garlic, extra virgin olive oil and mild hot pepper sauce topped with thinly sliced imported salted mullet’s roe with lemon zest. ATO’s only complaint: it was too mild! He was looking for more of that salty fishy roe flavor.
I LOVE a good lasagna. It’s one of the greatest food splurges in life. This one was amazing. Traditional Emilian green lasagna layered with beef, veal and pork ragout, béchamel and Parmigiano Reggiano. Green lasagna has always tasted better to me than any normal lasagna. This one had the texture of a medium firm tofu. So luscious and creamy and meaty. I’m head over heels in love.
Great neighborhood vibe, super tasty comfort food and very affordable prices. This one is a keeper!