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!
Aska might be the hottest ticket in town right now (it’s been at or near the top of Grub Street’s Restaurant Power Rankings for weeks now). Chef Fredrik Berselius, formerly of the pop-up restaurant Frej (which we loved, check out our prior post: http://photo-hungry.com/post/23044904789/frej), recently opened this modern Scandinavian venture in the same Kinfolk Studio space that formerly housed Frej. The scene: industrial meets magical forest/Atera-like setting (an Atera alum, Eamon Rockey, is also involved in this partnership). It’s a very casual, chill-laxing, semi-hipster vibe. I liked it.
Unfortunately, given the hype and how much we loved Frej, the food was underwhelming. Inventive and intriguing? Yes. At times brilliant? Definitely. Best butter in town? Might be. A great deal? $65 for 7 courses, yo! But despite all of this, my overall reaction was that it fell a bit flat. I was hoping for much more.
Ah, the bread and butter, of which we each had about 3 normal servings. Our waiter even noted how impressed he was with our butter intake. RP exclaimed after one bite of this flavorful, fresh goodness - “This butter needs to be mentioned in the blog!” Well, it’s being mentioned, and worshipped. This was truly amazing butter. We all took down reckless, copious amounts; enough to clog our hearts on the spot. It was worth the risk.
Time for our starter snacks! Dried pig’s blood crisps dotted with sea-buckthorn jam. I couldn’t get past the very distinct iron blood flavor that clung to my tongue and wouldn’t let go - I’m no vampire, I have no taste for blood!
A much tastier snack in my opinion, the scallop crisps with dill sour cream. Uh… how did they fit my scallop into the shape of this crisp? Seriously though, this crisp reaaalllly tasted just like a fresh scallop. Bewitching.
Finally, a little cheese plate and sweetness to end our progression of snacks: the molasses shortbread with smoked cheese. YUM.
We started with a very light and enjoyable dish of oysters with cucumber, dill and tallow. So everyone has seen a white fish paired with cucumber and dill, but an oyster? A brilliant idea; the more pronounced oceanic and musky qualities of the oyster brought a depth to this plate that’s missing with fish.
Next up, the herring with anchovies and new potatoes. Very clever presentation. There was no chance I was going to eat this, but my companions really enjoyed the dish. ATO decided early on that the fish head was the best part and was ecstatic that he got two. When RL tried his, he enthusiastically concurred, “The head is where all the juice and flavor is!”, to which I quipped: “That’s what she said!” I’m always happy when presented with the opportunity to use my favorite catch phrase.
The next dish was a variety of salsify, lichen, turnip and celery root, bathed in a winter leaf broth. While I love root vegetables and recognized the satisfying hearty qualities of this dish, these particular veggies were a bit too par cooked for me, and the broth was too salty (to the point where you couldn’t just take a spoonful of broth on its own).
Our fourth course: pork trotters with shaved apples and sunchokes. WTF. This was not good. Conceptually I get it, but the dish set in front of us was frightfully dreary in execution. The pork was distractingly bad (I think my pork was only 1/10th edible - most of it was pure fat), the apples were too sweet and the sunchokes were sliced too thin and tasted like paper. FAIL.
Our next dish was an improvement: a white, tender hunk of monkfish with an accompanying monkfish liver served atop savoy cabbage. While I preferred the more mild monkfish itself, RP and ATO favored the monkfish liver, which was much more powerful in flavor. While neither were really great, at least we all agreed: the savoy cabbage was delicious!
Our last savory course: flank steak and brisket cooked in hay and served with parsnips, thistle and caramelized butter (picture of the butter below). Finally, a dish worth all the hype! The meat was perfectly cooked and the undertones of earthy and smoky goodness from the hay really peeked through. The parsnips and thistle countered well with crisp herbaceous notes. And the butter…….
Caramelized butter! And we thought the butter served with our bread was good….this was insane! I slathered it onto each forkful of already decadent beef. Super intense, super awesome. This one dish may have been worth the trip alone.
Our palate cleanser: Frozen whey with oat crisp. A bit nutty, a bit oat-y and a bit cold and tart.
We ended our meal with cardamom ice cream with brown butter mousse and hazelnuts. A lovely combination. The brown butter mousse (of course, it’s more butter!) was our collective favorite component. The nuts added a nice textural contrast.
The moral of this story is: don’t go with your expectations set too high, and take advantage of the BUTTER!
Dinner Club makes a 2nd attempt to branch out and have dinner in Brooklyn! To date, Saul was our only other attempt…. unfortunately it was muy disappointing (serving cold food, and then reheated food, does not make a good impression). I’m happy to report that Gwynnett Street, in comparison, was received with open arms and resulted in happy bellies. This cozy, exposed brick room of a restaurant is set in East Williamsburg and is led by Justin Hilbert, a chef with an impressive resume that runs from WD-50 to Mugaritz. The food is sophisticated and inventive and, well, kinda cheap for what it is; one entree was offered for $30 and the rest spanned the range of $20 to $28.
Dinner Club consists of 6 members, and with Gwynnett Street’s relatively small menu, we were able to order one portion of each dish offered, from appetizers to entrees to desserts. Woot woot!
We started with the miniature loaf of dense whiskey bread, served warm and with a side of cultured butter. Ooooh so fragrant and sweet! And the lovely flavor of the whiskey peeked out in just the right amount. The cultured butter (which is supposed to be even more “buttery” than normal butter) however, suffered from being a bit lackluster.
A look at some of the apps….. Below is the gem lettuce soup with salmon roe, cured egg yolk and creme fraiche. Shared qualities among all of the apps (although some were better than others): they were clean, bright, fresh and light. ATO and EA very much enjoyed the soup, which tasted fresh and healthy but unlike many other super green soups, was more savory and satiating.
Pea shoots and leaves with snap peas, radishes, curds and whey. Probably our least favorite appetizer, which was good because it was an extra app that we ordered to share (it was the only thing on the entire menu someone hadn’t already ordered, so we had to get it!).
Summer beans garnished with garlic, fennel and paprika. VK seemed to be happy enough with his plate.
Slow poached egg with cauliflower and crispy pork. I was so especially looking forward to the cauliflower, which I usually really enjoy cooked - it was served two ways in this dish. Apparently our love was not meant to be….this whole concoction was a bit tasteless and texturally bland to me. I couldn’t even get a hint of the crispy pork!
A look at the entrees! Here we have the lamb with eggplant and red peppers. Looks delicious, and apparently was very good indeed.
Scallops with zucchini, sorrel and blue crab. I think I just ordered badly. The scallops were cooked to perfection, but the blue crab tasted like paper and added nothing. The rest of the accoutrements were just OK. Some of my favorite ingredients too! Sigh….
Grouper with corn and sea arugula. ATO gulped this down; the fish was tender and perfectly crisp on top, and the sweet corn was so tasty and popped in your mouth. The sea arugula also offered a nice salty punch to the more classic combination of light fish and creamy corn.
Hazelnut tofu with asparagus, morels and smoked grapes. Our resident vegetarian, VK, really liked this dish. And based on all of the reviews I’ve seen, so does everyone else. Many restaurants will just throw together a vegetarian dish just to be able to offer one, but this dish was clearly carefully conceived and well executed.
Duck with peach, chanterelles, farro and pecan. This dish also managed to please its recipient - perfectly cooked and well balanced. Mmmm…. just looking at it makes me hungry!
EA ordered the chicken, soaked and cooked in ash, served with broccolli and buttermilk. As soon as it arrived I suspected I had made a mistake in not ordering it. EA was nice enough to share a bite or two, but that only confirmed my suspicions. Dang! It was smoky and flavorful but so tender and succulent. It taunted me with how good it was! I definitely give it the title of best dish of the night and one of my favorite chicken dishes in recent memory.
And now for a look at our round of shared desserts…..
Top left we have the raspberry, red beet and shiso and top right is the cherry, coffee and almond. Bottom left is the milk, strawberries and cornflakes and bottom right is the formage blanc, lemon and blueberries. This is not coincidentally also the order of bad to good. The raspberry dessert tasted like bathroom cleaner and the cherry dessert was just a weird blend of flavors that didn’t quite harmonize. The strawberry dessert was like eating a delicious bowl of Kashi Strawberry Fields cereal (my favorite!), but better, and the formage blanc dessert was totally inspired and completely delicious.
Overall, a solid meal. Not really too memorable for me, but a good value. I definitely think others were way more into it than I was though (a case of bad ordering). Best part of meal: since Dinner Club is composed of 3 investment bankers and 3 corporate lawyers, my law firm allocated business development budget covered the whole meal for all! A great value! Thank you “Uncle G” ;-). And special shout-out to MO for recommending it!
Watch out SF, NYC’s got pop-ups too, and they might just be better than yours! Frej (pronounced “fray” and named for the Nordic God of Harvest), a Scandanavian pop-up restaurant, has occupied a Kinfolk Studios space in Williamsburg for the past few months, serving up dinner from 6-10pm on Monday through Wednesday to those lucky and patient few who are able to snag a reservation, often at least two months in advance (the restaurant seats 18 people). While the two young chefs have had stints at Corton and WD-50, respectively, at Frej they focus on foraged foods, in the realm of Isa, Acme (see archived post!), Atera and Noma.
And now for the most exciting part: the dinner is a 5-course prix-fix for $45. And, BONUS: they threw in a 6th course for us! And although I’d like to think it’s because they wanted a good write-up in Photo Hungry!, alas, I’m sure they’ve never heard of it, and we were not special. They gave that 6th course to everyone that night. 6-course meal in NYC for $45? And for this caliber of food?? And not even in a far, random part of Brooklyn??? C-R-A-Z-Y. Best deal ever.
Alright, enough annoying question marks: on with the food! The first picture above is our very enjoyable amuse of thinly sliced pear and crispy sunchokes sitting atop a meeting of sunchoke puree and beef liver mousse. Oh and there’s a lovely burnt hazelnut in the middle and (my favorite!) an elderflower. Now why don’t we all eat beef liver mousse more? It’s always chicken liver mousse on every menu. I think we (and by “we” I mean elite chefs, not me) should no longer discriminate, and should serve both more often, because they are equally delicious.
First course: Maine shrimp with kohlrabi (a German turnip), cucumber and oyster cream. I was not able to objectively judge this dish for my hate of anything that tastes like an oyster. It’s just such a strong fishy taste! ATO liked it though, for its lightness and nuanced flavors: some crispy freshness from the turnip and cucumber, the subtle but tender shrimp and the flavorful oyster cream.
Second course: baby scallops with ramps, cabbage and seaweed. The use of the fried crunchy seaweed was intriguing and successful; however, the rest of the dish fell flat. The scallops were cloaked in an unappealing corn starchy sauce that suffered from being both too sweet and too citrusy. A very weird combination.
Third course: the “extra” course! Balanced in texture and in flavors, we have the pike with fiddlehead ferns, egg yolk, potatoes and dill. This fish dish was so clean and pure that even I was able to enjoy it (and I don’t usually like fish at all!). The egg yolks were amazing and provided the perfect amount of richness. The dill taste was distinct but not overpowering. And I am now a zealous advocate of fiddlehead ferns.
Fourth course: tea braised pork belly lying atop a bed of nettle puree and blanketed in a smoked cheese sauce, garnished with rye bread. What a delightful, sinful treat. Now this is my kind of comfort food. I am actually not a big fan of pork belly generally - it’s where all the chub is, and I always find it too fatty for my taste. This little piggy must have hit the gym, because it was quite lean for a piece of pork tummy. And can you really go wrong with a smoked cheese sauce? Add some bright green herbs and crunchy crumbles of rye bread and you get an excellent dish that was surprisingly not too heavy.
Fifth course: This one took my breath away. It was love at first bite. Beef served with grilled onions, roasted parsnip, parsnip puree and garlic mustard, all drizzled in a beer and smoked hay jus. Phenomenally good. This is the kind of food that makes me want to spend all my free time researching restaurants, eating at restaurants, blowing all my money at restaurants and blogging about restaurants….cos every once in a while you might stumble across that unexpected but stunning find.
Dessert: chamomile parfait with carrot and sea-buckthorn. So thoughtful. I mean, these are not obvious ingredients, nor is this an obvious combination for dessert! It took 3 bites to convince me on this dessert, but at the end I was sold. I love NYC! Where else can you get this kind of creativity in food? I live in the bestest city in the entire whole wide world ;-).
PS - Is foraged food all very white and green and leafy? There’s a definite look to it, isn’t there? Oh yeah, and they made all of their own servingware too! How cool. Check out the fun video on their website: http://www.frejnyc.com/.
It’s springtime in NYC! And you know what that means… outdoor food markets galore! In past years we’ve hit up Madison Square Eats (opens 5/4), Brooklyn Flea (opened in Ft. Greene 4/7 and Williamsburg 4/8), New Amsterdam Market (opens 4/29) and the ubiquitous NYC street fair that jumps from avenue to avenue each weekend. On this past beautiful Sunday afternoon we set out for Brooklyn Flea on its 2012 inaugural day in Williamsburg.
Brooklyn Flea is a collective of vendors that sell everything from art to furniture to clothes to antiques to jewelry. And of course, yummy food. I’ve gotta say - I’m not a flea market fan - I hate used stuff. It kinda just grosses me out, and the superstitious Asian side of me is always a little weary of bad karma being passed down through things. But, it’s worth it just for the food and the atmosphere.
First stop: Brooklyn Soda Works, for a draft soda made from fresh ingredients. This is the grapefruit, jalapeno & honey soda: awesome! Just the right amount of heat and sweet. Deliciously refreshing.
ATO’s first food stop: Cemita’s Mexican Sandwiches. The helpful sign on this stall showed the “Anatomy of the Cemita”: bun, chipotle spread, papalo, avocado, cheese, pickled onion, tomato, lettuce, chicken/pork/beef (in this case angus barbacoa), mayo, black bean spread, bun. While not floored, he was satisfied.
My first food stop: Asia Dog, selling “hot dogs with Asian-inspired toppings”. I got the “Mash”, which is a hot dog with sweet and spicy ketchup, jalapeno mustard and crushed salt & pepper potato chips. WOW. Maybe I haven’t had a hot dog in a few years and have forgotten how good they are. This one was fantastic! Sweet, sour, spicy, salty, crunchy, juicy, carby.
Next shared spot: Handsome Hank’s Fish Hut (same owner as Cemita’s, above). We got the fried shrimp & chips. YUM. The shrimp were so fresh and tender, they just popped in your mouth; they were lightly battered and fried. The fries were my favorite kind: super crisp on the outside and squishy on the inside.
For dessert, ATO bought a cup of coffee at Crop to Cup while I went for a fresh fruit pop at People’s Pops. The ice pops and shaved ice here are made from real local fruit, and include funky flavors such as blueberry lavender or blackberry sour cherry. I, however, went for the children’s favorite, the strawberry rhubarb. Oh delish.
Bonus: new tables to enjoy your grub this year. And look at that view!! Word to the wise: it is WINDY down there so avoid eating your hair and bring a hair tie. The gravel also annoying finds its way into sandals and ballet flats, so opt for sneaks!