While New York City is undoubtedly a mecca of good ol’ American food, it also has a wealth of restaurants that draw their inspiration from international sources – from Venezuela to India to Japan, and everywhere in between. For whatever reason, we ended up eating at a lot of East Asian places, which was fine by me because almost all of it was friggin’ delicious. If I ever find myself living in New York, I’m sure it won’t be too long before I begin to resemble this guy. Here are some highlights:
Republic – I wouldn’t have expected a place called “Republic” to be all about Southeast Asian fusion cuisine, but with the Red-Star moniker I guess it’s a reference to the myriad of “republics” that make up that region of the world. From what I remember the food was pretty solid, though I just had a sashimi salad. They have a very generous “happy hour” – from what I remember, the only evening hours that aren’t encompassed by happy hour are 7-9pm (don’t quote me on that).
Xi’an Famous Foods – Looks like a hole-in-the-wall, but has its own merchandising! There were Mandarin speakers abound, so you knew the place had the approval of some actual Chinese people – and indeed, the food was pretty damn good! The fresh, hand-cut noodles (or hand-torn, it almost seemed) were nicely springy and the broth was very tasty (even if there was barely any meat in the soup). Pretty good value for NYC from what I could see – one of the few places that we ate at that ran under $10 per person, including a (non-alcoholic) drink.
Korilla – The food truck made famous through television (and accusations of cheating), Korilla is for some reason tiger-striped instead of gorilla-themed (but hey, it stands out!). We happened upon it when having a pint at The Lot (a nice, if pricey, beer garden/food truck hangout that also featured wine on tap!) This isn’t the only Korean taco truck in the city, but it’s the only one I tried – I really like the concept, but I kind of felt the execution was off. The sauces were good, but the meat and tortillas were rather poor in my opinion. Maybe my perceptions were biased by the fact that I was still more than full from our meal at The Park just minutes earlier.
Ippudo – Apparently this ramen place in the lower east side is a pretty big deal, because the first night we went there was a 2-hour wait (we didn’t actually stick around to verify the accuracy of that estimate though). We did wait an hour the second night we went, but were able to kill the time at the bar with some very tasty (if pricey) pork buns and plum wine at the bar.
Perhaps it is because this is the first time I tried this style of bun but I think I liked it more than the much more lauded ones at Momofuku Ssam Bar – the nice light, sweet bun with a bit of may and slightly spicy sauce combined with the super-fatty pork belly is just a great combo. The décor is modern but still very interesting, and with servers ranging from modest and polite Japanese to loud and spunky Japanese. The gyoza chicken wings were hot as Haphaestus (temperature wise) and brimming with juice (excellent!), and the ramen broth is incredible – nodogoshi is noodle nirvana! Unfortunately Matt had to leave early, but fortunately for me I got to eat the remaining half of his order of samurai ribs, which were killer. We finished up with a crepe cake, which is just like it sounds – a big stack of crepes held together with whipped cream. All in all, worth the wait!
Num Pang – This sandwich place close to union square serves sandwiches along the lines of some sort of Southeast Asian country (Cambodia, it seems?) – the takeout window always seemed to have a few people hanging around it so we figured it would be worth checking out. I had a porkbelly sandwich, which was one greasy motherfucker – the “meat” was probably 80% fat, and was dripping like Jabba the Hutt. The wetnap that was provided didn’t even come close to cleaning my hands afterwards, but it was pretty delicious, with some interesting flavours emerging from the pear and Viet sub toppings that were loaded into the bun. I also had the rootin’ tootin’est root beer that I’ve ever had (ie. it had a very rooty flavour), though I don’t remember what brand it was.
Momofuku Ssam Bar – This was one of the $$$ier places that we went, but graciously subsidized by Matt. The Momofuku name seems to be a great success story for its creator David Chang, and based on the Ssam Bar I can see why. They have the coolest (ha ha) ice cubes ever, and hey the food ain’t half bad.
We started with some pork buns which surprisingly I enjoyed less than Ippudo’s (maybe because they were less fatty), but they were excellent nonetheless. There was also some bread with lard “butter” – great stuff, though basically tastes like the lard packets that you get with Nissin beef ramen. Matt had ordered us the “Bo Ssam” special – which is something like 4 lbs of the tenderest, melt-in-your-mouth pork butt that you’ll ever have. Eat it up in a fresh lettuce wrap with some absolutely exquisite kimchi (you can even mix in your own raw oyster) – fuckin’ top notch. Definite Recommend, if you got the bones.
Spice Market – This trendy place in the meatpacking district came as a recommendation to Matt from none other than Lynn Crawford! The lighting is pretty low so you don’t have to worry too much about how underdressed you are compared to everyone else in the restaurant, and the décor somehow manages to look distinctly “Asian” without being a direct ripoff of any particular cultural style. The place seemed pretty classy but the staff was very down-to-earth, and both servers (we had a seamless transition from one to another over the course of the meal) were really friendly and knowledgeable about the food. We started with a couple drinks at the bar while we waited for a table – I had a cherry old fashioned, which was surprisingly sweet but not bad overall.
They kick it off by giving you complimentary papad, which was pretty good and comes with a kickass sauce. We grabbed a number of seafood dishes for our meal, since seafood seemed to dominate the menu – black pepper shrimp (nice level of spiciness, depth to it that reminded me of black bean sauce, and a mild moistness in the dried pineapple that accompanied it combined for a great dish), lobster roll (sushi-roll-like in consistency, with a nice tangy sauce but not the best dish of the night), steamed snapper (beautifully moist, mushroomy and minty), and laksa (perfectly done scallop, silky smooth throughout, and plentiful amounts of sweet succulent seafood – nice soup (if a bit light) and beautiful noodles – this dish was absolutely divine!). Something that we ordered came with free white rice (always a plus in my books!), but we also ordered a ginger fried rice that had a nice scallion-rich flavour – and the egg on it was done perfectly medium, which is my metric for a good line cook. We also ordered some eye-wateringly hot wings, that revoked memories of an Indian-Schezuan dish that I once had in Bombay – impressively, there were still some extra tangy flavours that shined through the heat. Kiran had to order a dish of vegetables with the wing sauce (which the restaurant graciously whipped up as a custom order!) just to see what we were raving about! Yeah so this review ended up way longer than I expected – but what can be said, this place was straight up amazing and justified a minor essay. Highly recommend!
And that’s a wrap! Next time we’ll be finishing things off with part 3: Sweet Dreams!