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NYC ExTRAVELganza! Part 3: Sweet Dreams

Ouch!  This article has been sitting in my “to finish” pile for months, but I’ve finally just gotten around to putting the pictures in – hopefully all of these places are still around!  This last article in the series covers the dessert/sweets places that I visited last September, as well as the restaurants that I remember most fondly.

Petit Abeille Petite Abeille on Urbanspoon – The “little bee” is a nice little shop with a surprisingly big behind, equipped with charming checkered tablecloths and floors and old-world sensibilities. If you want a little taste of Belgium, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – Tin-Tin comics, Belgian waffles, and an extensive Belgian beer menu make it abundantly clear which country inspires this place. Turns out that there are four of them in NYC, though I went to the one close to Union Square for breakfast – the waffles were crisp and delicious (even if the strawberries were a little tart for my taste) and the coffee nice and robust. Recommend!

Quite the charming interiorNothing says Belgium like waffles!


Max Brenner Max Brenner on Urbanspoon – For those with a full set of sweet teeth – Chocolate by the Bald Man! It’s a pretty stylish place that’s still reasonably casual, and might be a good date place if it wasn’t chock-full of noisy tourists 😉 This place is surely diabetes in disguise – diabolically delicious! I ordered a frappe, which oddly came with a metal straw – I’m not sure if it was just a mental thing but it seemed to impart a metallic taste to the drink. The frappe was also on the edge of being too sweet, though given that it was the dulce-de-leche flavour that only makes sense.  They offer a number of sickeningly sweet indulgences, including a giant chocolate-filled syringe!

[Ohnoes, no pics!]

ChikaLicious ChikaLicious Dessert Bar on Urbanspoon – My first thought when I heard that this was a place that served a 3-course prix fixe menu for dessert only – too rich for my blood. But in reality, it’s a sweet little place where the diminutive but charmingly stoic owner/chef Chika makes you your dessert as you watch while seated at the bar. It was pretty cool to see the fresh figs get chopped up and the crème brulee torched in front of me. The “sous” chef (or whatever you might call them for a dessert bar) was an intense guy who beat the whipped cream as if it had committed crimes against humanity. The lemongrass panacotta and cantaloupe sorbet were both very nice, though I don’t remember much about the petit-fours that we had at the end.

Chika and her sidekick prepare the desserts while you watchEver seen a creme brulee like this?Why are these called petit-fours when there are only three? ;)


Big Gay Ice Cream Truck Big Gay Ice Cream Truck on Urbanspoon – One of my friends was adamant that I check out the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, so luckily we happened to see it parked around Union Square one afternoon (Union Square seems to be a pretty popular hangout for the food trucks).  I was REALLY hoping to get an ice cream cone covered in Trix cereal, but unfortunately they only had flavours like the Salty Pimp (soft serve impregnated with dulce de leche and coated with sea salt and chocolate dipping) and Bea Arthur (crushed wafers and dulce de leche).  I ended up going with a wasabi peas cone, as it sounded pretty interesting, but unfortunately the wasabi peas were tres bland.  Far from fabulous, I’m afraid.  Soft serve is what it is, though, so if you’re looking for your fix of ice cream with a twist it’s worth checking out.

Their flavours are loud and proud


Dirt Candy Dirt Candy on Urbanspoon – Kiran had been wanting to try a place that dealt in “molecular gastronomy” so we went to one of the more affordable places that offered something resembling that – a cute-as-buttons vegetarian gig in the lower east side called Dirt Candy. It’s a tiny, tiny, place with 7 tables that seat 20 people max (I think 18 more typically). The menu seemed simple enough, so we ordered one of everything – literally! – to split between the three of us. That worked out to four-and-a-half appies, four mains and four desserts – which turned out to be just about right for three strapping young lads such as ourselves. The appetizers came out super fast, which is always nice. I don’t normally care too much for cornbread-like substances, but the hush puppies that we had were MINDBLOWING – not too dense, nicely crispy and accompanied with a lightly-sweet maple butter that complemented it perfectly. The mushroom “pate” was decent, if a little subtle for my tastes – but the mushroom “calamari” on top of the celery salad that we also got was downright terrific. It still didn’t make me like celery, but the baby celery bits that were spread around the plate made me smile. The deep fried cheese curds on the salad prompted Matt to swear to find a recipe for them. A couple of the appetizers were less impressive – there was a red-pepper soup which seemed rather watery (though I only tried a couple spoonfuls) and a “BBQ pork carrot” bun which confirmed to me that sometimes meat just can’t be replaced with vegetables.

What is dirt candy, exactly? Vegetables, of course!The lighting was VERY red and VERY dark - perfect for mushrooms?NEED MORE MAPLE BUTTER FOR THESE PUPPIES

A lot of the dishes seemed to be designed in a manner where meat/seafood would normally be found, in fact – besides the “pate,” “calamari” and BBQ buns, there was a tofu dish that could easily have been fish instead, and a smoked cauliflower & waffles dish that was a clear homage to chicken & waffles. It takes some real chops to fashion up dishes that contain only vegetables and have them stand up to their meat-bearing counterparts. For the most part, I’d say they succeeded – of the mains, my only disappointment was the gnocchi with chard, garlic granola and fig jam. It smelled like garlic heaven, but unfortunately I didn’t think the taste lived up to the smell – while there were some killer flavour/texture pairings (chard + garlic, granola + jam, garlic + cheese + gnocchi) I didn’t enjoy it so much when mixed all together. Oh well, taste is a subjective thing! Desserts ran the gamut from weird to wonderful – my least favourite being a very clever but unfortunate tasting watermelon-radish sorbet, with my personal favourite being the seriously solid pea and mint “Nanaimo bar” ice cream sandwich. There was also a straightforward but well executed pudding topped with popcorn, as well as a rather interesting beet chocolate cake.

I had to use flash because it was so dark, but this was "calamari" and saladTofu, with copious amounts of shizo and cucumberCorn dish not mentioned in text - grits, deep fried egg

Whew!  Well you can tell based on the space I’ve given this piece relative to the others that I really enjoyed this restaurant!  Another thing that I enjoy immensely is the absolutely hilarious blog that Amanda Cohen, the chef/creator of Dirt Candy, maintains at (if you ever want to start a restaurant of your own, make sure you are familiar with the oil rig scam!).

Amanda Cohen is from Canada <3, so here's tributeYessir, we finished everything to the last bite!


Les Halles Les Halles Downtown on Urbanspoon – This turn-and-burn French restaurant was once run by Anthony Bourdain, so it seemed like a good place to check out as a traveller.  The venue was bustling when we arrived, with wait staff that seemed to be made up of people from every corner of the Earth.  Service was stellar, with a server seemingly ready to swoop in and refold your napkin anytime you stood up from your table (though I’m used to sub-par service in Calgary, so maybe this is just the norm at any restaurant of note in NYC).  Without Kiran there to induce meat-guilt with his vegetarian visage, Matt and I were free to order dishes to satisfy our inner carnivores – starting with country-style pate, and ordering – what else – NY sirloins for mains.  The pate came out immediately and was absolutely delicious – well spiced and well salted – though country-style chunkiness surprised me, as the pates that I have had in the past had all been blended to be mousse-like.  The mustard that came on the side wasn’t even necessary.  The fries that came out with the steaks were some of the best fries that I’ve ever eaten – just the right mix of fat and potato, fresh, and perfectly crispy.  And mayo with the fries?  My arteries screamed no but my tastebuds quickly overruled them.  As for the steak – incredibly smooth, juicy, and flavourful – I couldn’t ask for more in a steak.  The salad was alright, but honestly I couldn’t care less about that given the quality of the rest of the meal.  To finish it off, we ordered a crepe Suzette – because honestly, who doesn’t love flambee’d shit?  It was quite citrusy and left my mouth with a little tingly sensation, but we ordered it mainly for the show anyway.  A fitting last meal for an incredible trip!

Pate tastes better than it looks - way betterFlambee away!Nothing quite satisfies like a great steak


A ten day trip, with 21 places to write about – I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the smorgasborg that is New York City.  If you’re ever in NYC, hopefully you’ll have the chance to check out these places and enjoy them like I have.  I am sure I will be back again sometime in the future – so if you have any further recommendations on places to check out, be sure to let me know!  If you missed them, you can find part 1 (American food) and part 2 (Asian food) through the links!

These fake postcards are all pictures I took!




NYC ExTRAVELganza! Part 2: Asian Invasion

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 Republic on Urbanspoon – 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 Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon – 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.

Many lambs sacrificed their lives so people could enjoy these delicious bunsWe hogged 3 out of the 6 or so seats insideMmmm, spicy noodle soup!

Korilla Korilla BBQ ( Mobile Truck) on Urbanspoon – 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.

Sadly The Lot on Tap might not exist anymore, seeing as it is no longer on the High Line websiteDid these Koreans get lost in Mexico? Not quite as tasty as it looks though

Ippudo Ippudo on Urbanspoon – 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.

That's quite the bowl collection you got there, lady!Sake in a box!  Quite customaryNothing beats a nice firm bun stuffed with hot juicy meat

Instructions, in case you don't know how to eat noodles!Is that meant to be some sort of tree in the background?

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!

Looks like it's straight out of JapanOMG wings stuffed like dumplings!!!They have at least one vegetarian dish, if you're into that sort of thingTonkotsu is the classic pork broth ramenHow many crepes does it take to make a cake?

Num Pang Num Pang on Urbanspoon – 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.

Apparently, this place is just called "Sandwich" (in Cambodian)Look at that f*cking grease in the box... and I hadn't even taken a bite yet

Momofuku Ssam Bar Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon – 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.

86 Porgies left? (whatever those are...)Everywhere does long benches now for some reasonMomofuku's magical ice cubes! (Plus Kiran's shocker)

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.

Fall off the bone, baby!Good food, good conversationOnly the freshest pickled ingredients here!You call that a wrap? THIS is a wrap!This swan has some disturbing looking bulges coming out of it... better put it out of its misery

Spice Market Spice Market on Urbanspoon – 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.

Did we come underdressed, or was everyone else just way overdressed?Ah, makes me miss the days of the old EmpireHe who controls the Spice, controls the universe

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!

This wasn't quite the lobster roll that I was looking forI gotta figure out how to make laksa, 'cause I don't know of where to get it in YYCCustom order of spicy wing sauce veggies, comin' right up!Sometimes a simple fish dish is all you needThese wings were so red-hot that I had to dial back the white balance to compensate!


And that’s a wrap!  Next time we’ll be finishing things off with part 3: Sweet Dreams!


NYC ExTRAVELganza! Part 1: America, F*ck Yeah!

New year, New York!  Actually, this trip was from last September, but as I am a procrastinator extraordinaire, I just now got around to compiling all my notes into an article – however it turned out to be so much content that I decided to break it down into a three-part series.  Kiran and I went to visit my friend Matt in NYC, and naturally food was a big part of the trip – luckily for us, Matt had lived there for several months already and had a number of stellar recommendations for places to try.

Writing a full review about each of the places that I ate at would take an eternity, so I’ll try to keep things in bite-sized pieces!  This first article covers all the classic American food joints that I had the joy of sampling – burgers, hot dogs, pizza, pastrami – all the greasy goodness that you could hope for, and more!

The Smith Smith on Urbanspoon – My first dinner in NYC was at a place in the east village called The Smith – classic American food in a trendy setting. It seemed pretty busy for 9:30PM (though I would soon learn that this is the norm in NYC) but we were still able to grab a seat reasonably quickly. The short ribs were the fattest that I’d ever seen and were absolutely delicious – though unfortunately I only got a taste because Matt had ordered that (I had the “sticky ribs” – St. Louis style – which were pretty good but not mindblowing). The grits here are like eating pure butter with a bit of cornmeal thrown in (a bit rich for my taste), but the biscuit was really quite good (and I don’t even like biscuits normally). The waiter had no idea how to describe the Rare Vos beer that I ordered though – at least he could have told me that it was from Belgium!

[Sorry no pics! As if this page wasn’t long enough already…]

Luke’s Lobster Luke's Lobster on Urbanspoon – There’s not many times that I would be willing to put down 16 hard-earned bones for a sandwich the size of a hot dog, but the lobster roll from Luke’s convinced me to do it – twice! Even though they’re expensive as fuck, they are goddamn delicious – they pretty much fit an entire lobster’s worth of meat (though there’s no tail meat – so multiple lobsters worth of claws) into the nicely toasted bun. This place also introduced me to the wonders of pairing pickles with crab claws, as well as the sweet sweet taste of sarsaparilla (one of many Maine root sodas that they offer). Their Lower East Side location has a punk rock/maritime thing going for it, though they also have a food truck kicking around NYC that I saw but didn’t have adequate stomach space to try. Highly Recommend! (if you aren’t a dirt-poor student, a vegetarian, allergic to shellfish, or for some godforsaken reason someone who dislikes lobster)

Somethin' stronger? Sarsparilla!LOBSTER MAGNET

Park Park on Urbanspoon – Just off the highline in the fashionable Chelsea district, this spacious place has a classy lounge atmosphere from eras gone by (except filled with hipsters). The Old Fashioned that I got at the bar wasn’t the greatest nor the cheapest, but helped kill the time while we waited for an actual seat (it seemed to be pretty understaffed, given that it seemed like 1/5 of the tables were empty yet it still took us 20 minutes to get a table). I greatly appreciated the fact that their free bread was banana bread, but wasn’t a huge fan of the degassed water that they had as the table water. I ordered some brisket and eggs, which wasn’t too bad and reminded me of Chinese-style anise-heavy braised brisket. The smoked salmon on bagels was really solid as well – perfect proportion of toppings (capers, arugula, cream cheese, onions) and the bagel itself was nicely toasted. I had a bite of Matt’s burger and was instantly converted to being a proponent of medium-rare burgers.

Their burger is solid thoughPark lox and capers - sexy!Looks simple, tastes simple (brisket)

Papaya King Papaya King on Urbanspoon – Apparently papaya joints are a big thing in NYC, with joints like Grey’s Papaya featuring in several shows. Papaya King claims to have started it all, and Kent said it was a must visit – so visit I did! Can’t say I’m the biggest fan – the papaya juice was pretty good, except for the tasteless, pasty dregs at the bottom, and the hot dogs were among the worst that I’ve ever had. I honestly think that I might have preferred the free cook-your-own hotdogs that you can get at paintball over these. The onions were in some kind of bizarre red sauce and the buns were “toasted” to the point of dryness. I quite liked the various motivational signs, nutritional information and propaganda that they had inside though.

The ORIGINAL Papaya King!I don't know why New Yorkers seem to love these thingsYou can get juices other than papaya too, but why take a chance?

Shake Shack Shake Shack (Madison Square Park) on Urbanspoon – Can you get more American than burgers, fries and milkshakes? Shake Shack was one of the places that I received recommendations for from multiple people, and for good reason! We went to the original one in Madison Square Park, and while the 55+ person lineup looked a little concerning it moved at a pretty good pace (took about 30 minutes from entering the line to receiving our food). Worth it? HELLS YES. The meat is absolutely amazing – done a tender, juicy medium – though the buns are only alright. The ripple-cut fries were pretty solid too, with just the right crispiness – and though the shakes are rather pricey the creamsicle one is rather delicious. I’m not sure if it tasted so good because we had to wait so long for it, but if so maybe this is party of their strategy!  Highly Recommend!

Mmmm, mmmm, medium :)Nice day for a stroll in the park... WHAT'S THAT, SHAKE SHACK?!?!Those big deep-fried things are portabello mushrooms stuffed with cheese!

Katz’s Deli Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon – Another one of those famous places where lineups are de rigueur – they got lots of neon signs and a strange “one per person only!” ticket ordering system for all your kitschy needs. When you look at their menu, you might think “$20 for a sandwich and a soda? You gotta be kiddin’ me!” But you should probably plan to split it or come with an athlete’s appetite, because the pastrami sandwich here comes loaded with what seems like a solid pound of succulent meat. Smooth, moist, thick-cut and perfectly salted – THIS is pastrami! Plus they give you an entire cucumber AND and entire pickle (quartered, of course) – so all in all it even turns out to be pretty decent value!

This must rival Schwartz's Montreal Smoked meat sandwiches for meat:bread ratioThis was at ~3pm - is it ever NOT busy?

Crif Dogs Crif Dogs on Urbanspoon – Brooklyn’s answer to Tubby Dog? Ok, I guess they’ve been open for longer than Tubby Dog, but sorry dudes this is one where I think YYC does it better. Not to say Tubby Dog is some sort of gourmet joint, but when it comes to the toppings Crif Dogs looks somewhat tame in comparison. We went to the Crif Dogs in Williamsburg (not sure if they’re all the same), which was all hip-hop and hot dogs (well plus the dozens of Star Wars figurines for which I must give major kudos) – seemed cool enough, but unfortunately the hot dogs are NYC style (read: tiny sausages). I ordered the BLT dog, which wasn’t bad but wasn’t anything special – basically, it was exactly what it sounds like, a hot dog with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo. The late 80’s/early 90’s videos that they were showing on their TV were kind of cute though.

Even bacon, lettuce and tomatoes cannot make a happy dog out of NYC frankfurtersWho doesn't love arcade tables? Crif is stylin' at least

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria Grimaldi's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon – Unlike Kiran, I enjoy doing super-touristy things, so I dragged Matt along to check out this famous symbol of NY-style pizza. There was a pretty healthy-looking lineup when we arrived, but fortunately we cruised through in around 35 minutes – not too bad since I’ve heard people will often wait over an hour to get a seat. They really play up their Italian background here, with a seriously Sicilian-looking doorman and the motto “I’m gonna make you a pizza you can’t refuse.” As for the pizza – yep, it’s pretty damn good. Piping hot, delectable cheese and great crust – the only downside is the somewhat steep price. We ordered 2 toppings for each half of the pizza, though they charge you the same price for each topping whether it’s for the whole pizza or half, so the toppings cost almost as much as the base price of the pizza itself. Fortunately, they are reasonably generous with the toppings so perhaps they give you the same amount of toppings either way and just concentrate it on half of the pizza. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to compare this to other coal-fired institutions such as Lombardi’s or Patsy’s, but regardless I’ll give Grimaldi’s a thumbs up (as long as you don’t mind tourists).

Gracious doorman or mobster bouncer?  You decide!Kiran saw this line and said "fuck it"Pizza worth it's wait in minutes


Whew!  That’s it for this episode – tune in next week for part 2: Asian Invasion!