Thursday, May 21, 2009

peter luger's

the two maitre'ds that held the power to deny you entry.
"steak you can cut with a butter knife." that's what someone at a dinner party once told me about peter luger's as she rabidly raved about it. i wasn't sure whether to trust her, seeing that she had spent most of the evening being very picky about the fabulous food that our host had made and had nothing but absolute contempt for the food at the fat duck. very opinionated utter contempt. but i suppose taste is subjective and who was i to judge her for saying that vegetables were evil. and being a self-proclaimed overly fussy meat eater, i reckoned she'd probably be picky about her steaks, and she had nothing but high praise for peter luger's.

after the scotsman's directive that i had to go (and i absolutely trust the scotsman about everything he says about food), i was still wavering as to whether i should go. but when tuty emailed saying that she and the gentlemen krauts were planning to go and would i like to join them, i thought - it's a sign, i have to go. and so on a friday evening, we trooped over the williamsburg bridge into brooklyn.

peter luger's was heaving when we arrived, despite it being almost 9pm. while waiting for the call from the maitre'ds to be seated, we hovered at the bar amongst a mix of old men, wall street types with their pucci clad, gucci toting hot totty, families with their awkward teenage sons. despite having made reservations, it was a good 30 minutes before we were finally shown to our table. it seemed rather appropriate that me and tuty had come to peter luger's with a pair of germans - the restaurant had the feel of being inside a bierstube - williamsburg used to be a predominantly german neighbourhood.

we were absolutely starving by the time we seated and we knew what we wanted - two steaks for two, with sides of german fries, creamed spinach. and bacon to start. bacon. this was no place to count the calories or to worry about cardiac health - this place serves bacon as a starter. and it was a fabulous starter - it was a nice healthy slab of thick bacon, nicely streaked such that each bite rendered a burst of healthy tasting hog fat. the bacon was smoky and not overly salty and had been grilled such it had nice cripsy bits at the right places.
the steak you could indeed cut with a butter knife. it was that soft. but the porterhouse/fillet mignon humongousity which was served to me and kraut #2 that day was amazing. although we had a party of 4, we had to order two steaks for 2 - one cooked medium rare and the other medium well. kraut #1 and tuty wanted their steaks cooked WELL. well done steak is a monstrous travesty to which i have no intention of ever participating in. i was quite ready to order my own steak, but kraut #2 thankfully was persuaded to have his steak cooked medium rare and so we shared. if i could do it again, i think i would have gone rare. i do like my steaks blue and bloody. or as bikesterbud puts it, black and blue.

the steak was served with much panache by the otherwise deliberately gruff waiters - it's all part of the old-school charm which is the peter luger experience. the extremely hot plates were placed on an incline so that the meat juices would flow down. the steaks were served sliced, and our waiter took a slice, swiped it along the sides of the serving plate, causing the meat to sizzle further before placing the slice on our plates. apparently the serving plates are heated to about 400F so that diners are able to further cook their steaks at the table if they so wish. i can't honestly remember any of the dinner conversation we had, if any. i was in a meat filled daze as i stuck my fork in and chewed and kept on reaching into the serving platter for more. there's something to be said about aged steaks. there's a nutty depth to the meat when it's allowed to age, a wholesome, heartwarming depth that screams - i came from a happy dead cow and i actually taste like beef! there came a point where i thought i couldn't physically take in any more, and then i soldiered on some more - i was compelled to. it wasn't just the meat, it was the german fried potatoes, with their bits of charred rosemary and sea salt, the luciously creamy spinach...

the krauts demanded that we had pudding after all that meat. it was unbelievable. these two skinny men, eating all this meat and still demanding pudding. and so we had the only pudding that they really wanted, the apple strudel. and so we shared the apple strudel, which came with a splodge of real cream - none of that overly white aerated transfat nonsense otherwise served in establishements all over northern america. here was good honest cream, and with the swollen apple chunks in their crisp blanket, it was the perfect end to our carnivourous meal.

was it the best steak i ever had? i can't honestly say that it was. but it was very good, and it definitely rates among the top five steak experiences. since peter luger's, i've had the chance to eat another steak (which involved some unintended illegality, the details of which are best never disclosed) which was amazingly melt-in-your-mouth-tender and will probably be THE best steak i've had to date (and my source of that steak told me there was even better stuff from where that came from). but the experience of being at peter luger's is something i will remember for a long time - its old school charm, its confidence, its easy informality. i had rung earlier in the day to ask if there was a dress code and could i please go in flip flops, i was told - we're casual. and they are, they're proper but casual. they take their steaks very seriously, they're waiters don't smile. but you have a good time. they throw gold peter luger chocolate coins on the table at the end of the meal - the kind of stuff you get at pirate themed parties for 6 year olds. there's a laugh in those waiters somewhere.

Friday, May 15, 2009

redhead and other fried chicken musings

i've eaten the fried chicken at redhead and i'm now spoilt for life. i will never be able to eat fried chicken without constantly thinking about the wonder that redhead fried chicken is.

the redhead fried chicken is a wonder. its a frank bruni appvoved wonder. the skin so crisp, the meat unbelievably moist, each bite oozes chicken buttermilky juicyness beneath the crunch of the crisp skin which floats in lightness above the meat. each bite brings you sadness - sadness because you're one bite to no-more-fried-chicken-on-the-plate-ness. and it is sad when you've finished the fried chicken on your plate. I suppose you could order a second serve, but that would mean you'd have just polished off a WHOLE fried chicken. each serve of this delectably perfect fried chicken is a half chicken - a quarter dark meat, a quarter white. and the white meat is just magic - fried breast portions usually suffer from the unfortunate consequence of being dried out in the process of deepfrying. not so, the redhead wonder. our breast portion was plumpily plump. almost more juicy than the dark meat. it was almost as if the chicken had a buttermilk breast implant.

the fried chicken was served on a goat's cheese and scallion bread pudding and a spinach salad. both were delicious.

and as if fried chicken wasn't going to be enough. we had a serve of bacon peanut brittle. yes. bacon. because bacon makes all things better. even peanut brittle. and boy were they right. it was salted caramel in peanut form - maple basted bacon bits interspersed amongst golden caramelised peanuts. one could possibly eat bowls of this endlessly while nursing endless beers (and quickly cultivating all sorts of cardio-health problems). it was salty, sweet and extremely moreish. i took some home and it's sitting in the fridge because i want dad to try some of it when he gets here. i've had to physically hide the pack behind the blocks of butter so that i won't see it and grab handfuls of it and stuff it down my greedy mouth everytime i open the fridge.
oh and did i mention our waiter/barman was really good looking? as if you needed any more reason to go to the redhead.

i did eat other fried chicken in the week - fried chicken being the main reason to go to new york (of course, after shazzer, bikesterbud, tuty and per se). they were pretty good too:

Amy Ruths

Chicken and Waffles - Mdme Jackson took me to harlem to eat at the institution that is Amy Ruth's because i had been harping on about chicken and waffles for weeks. it's such an amazing concept - my two favourite food groups on one plate: the fried chicken food group, and the waffle and syrup food group. Mdme Jackson ordered a couple of sides to let me have a taste of harlem soul food - so we had collard greens, mac n' cheese and potato salad. All artery cloggingly good.

Mama's Food Shop

Fried Chicken as a snack - Shazzer and I stopped by Mama's Food Shop on the way home, cos you know, we needed a snack. I know i'm truly mates with someone if they share my complete enthusiasm for, and don't find it strange that you could get fried chicken as an afternoon snack - just to shore up that deadbeat period between lunch and dinner (at Peter Luger's - yes i know i'm mad). We sat on the couch watching the FoodNetwork and ate our fried chicken - and it was GOOD and a sign of perfect contentment in friendship. Extremely crispy, with lots of blackpepper in its crunch. Wasn't as moist as the Redhead wonder, but it was not too bad. We ate it with sambal - fantabulous.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

flushing chinatown

shazzer and i had been gunning to go to flushing for weeks before i even stepped foot on american soil. i was so excited about the prospect of going to flushing chinatown i bored my dad, my boss and my neighbours endlessly about going to flushing chinatown. you had no idea. thing is, you can't get real chinese food in london. you can't get the gut busting, tear jerking, heart warming chinese soul food. and flushing Chinatown promised this real chinese food. so for weeks, i had been drooling over food porn in blogs and online articles written in awe of this mecca of real chinese food in Queens.

leaving the 7 train and exiting the bowels of the subway station, i felt like i had been beamed into downtown mongkok in kowloon - bikesterbud was the only white guy to be seen for miles and all around us, throngs of chinese people doing their food shopping, signs all written in mandarin, grocers selling dried mushrooms and seahorses, street food vendors plying scallion pancakes, crullers, chinese kebabs. it was surreal.

we headed first to the Golden Mall (41-28 Main Street, Flushing NY 11355) - a nondescript building that housed a warren of the most amazing eateries in its basement. shazzer and bikesterbud had first chanced upon this place when they had followed a troupe of dragon dancers (all of whom were white men, naturally) during chinese new year. here in the Golden Mall was Xi'an Xiao Chi (), a stall that sold food from Xi'an (where there are pandas). i went up to the stall owner and ordered a hot and sour noodles and dumplings. and liang pi (). the conversation with the stall owner went something like this:

"你一定要点凉皮!" - "you have to order the liangpi"
"我刚点了一盘." - " i just did."
"好! 你一定会喜欢!" - "good - you'll love it"

and i did. we all did. shazzer and bikesterbud were probably a little perturbed when i said i was going to order the liangpi - and understandably so, the picture of the dish stuck up on the wall or the idea of cold noodles didn't seem very appetizing. but i loved the stall owner's pride in his dish - it's the stall's signature dish and everyone orders this amazing concoction of cut up noodle sheets doused in the most amazing sauce - a sauce which was spicy, savoury, tingly, nutty and slightly vinegarish all at once. interlaced with the crunch of courgette strips and beansprouts, the soft and chewy noodles and the firm tofu slices soaked up this amazingly wonderful sauce. it was so good i went back to the stall owner to tell him i absolutely adored it, and took a pack to go for eating on the plane ride home. it was great plane food - no heating up necessary, and all that rolling about in my handbag on the way to the airport just gave opportunity for the sauce to reach every crevice between the noodles and the tofu.

we ventured out into the streets again after lunch in search of more chow. we stopped off also at the Flushing Mall (13331 39th Avenue, Flushing NY 11354) - yet another uninspiring building with a random selection of retail tenants, but in its basement, a food court with an array of food stalls selling shaved ice, japanese filled pancakes, scallion pancakes, hand pulled noodles, rice pots. i could have easily spent an afternoon just watching the various stall owners cook their yummy grub. the rest of the afternoon was spent meandering round the streets of chinatown and its koreantown annex - there are whole blocks where from downtown mongkok, you're suddenly beamed into suburbian seoul - nothing but rows of korean eateries interspersed amongst korean retailers, korean churches, korean laundry shops.

it was with a little sadness that i boarded the subway back to manhattan - i almost didn't want to leave. bubble tea in hand, a serve of scallion pancakes and pack of liang pi to go in my satchel, an afternoon with shazzer and bikesterbud and lots of chow - there couldn't have been a better way to spend my last full day in new york.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

crazy congee in nyc

shazzer demanded that the congee gets its own blog post. so here we are.

the congee was crazy. bits of chopped up roast duck in rice congee, the once crisp skin, little slivers of duck fat, bits of duck meat. it was insane. a drizzle of sesame oil and lots of white pepper. we had stumbled into this little underground eatery where for the entire duration, we were the only chinese girls in there. they first brought us English menus. I looked over at the waiter, telepathically transmitting the plea “please sir, please give us the real menu”. it worked. he read my mind and brought us over the real menus written entirely in chinese. and we ordered the real food.

and the little message in the fortune cookie at the end of the meal was so apt.

of course that wasn’t all we ate. here’s some of what else we ate.

I love the manhattan chinatown. it’s gritty, it’s real, it’s huge. streets lined with little authentic eateries, old school chinese bakeries, lots of bubble tea shops, the odd ballroom dance studio, fresh seafood markets with their styrofoam boxes of fresh fish and alligator meat, the old man and his cart selling his pancake batter balls with bach and beethoven blaring on the radio. it’s got heaps of character. I got yelled at by a woman conversing to herself about the size of my derriere for almost a block. it was flattering in a way – I’ve never had my derriere discussed at such length. and I can’t wait to go to the flushing chinatown on the weekend – I hear it kicks this chinatown’s ass.

Monday, May 04, 2009


i recently bought a glow-in-the-dark banana guard on the internet. it got sent to me at work and when I opened the package, my first (irrationally angry) thought was, who sent me a sex toy at work?!?!?!?! it took me a good five minutes to realize what it was. and despite what everyone says, it’s great. I can carry my banana to work in my handbag without worrying about it getting bruised. I won’t lose my banana in the dark either. the only downside is perhaps that JJ still gives me a strange look when I take it out at work.

so anyway, I’ve been on a mission to make good banana cake. and after almost a month of banana cake/cupcake experiments (and subjecting people at slavedriver’s inc with the results thereof), I’ve finally cracked it and made what I determine to be my best banana cake work ever. it’s good. very good.

my version of the ultimate banana cupcake:

banana, pecan and (rummy) raisin cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting and caramelized banana crisp

125g butter
125g self raising flour
125g sugar
2 large free range eggs
2 very mushy bananas, mushed
good handful each of chopped pecans and raisins (i sometimes use my stash of rummy raisins, and add a couple spoonfuls of rum while I’m at it)

maple cream cheese frosting:
250g pack of cream cheese
50g icing sugar
very generous glug of maple syrup

caramelized banana crisp:
very thin banana slices – I managed to get about 50 slices out of one banana
lots of sugar

preheat the oven at 180C. cream the butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time, add the mushed bananas, chopped pecans, raisins and fold in the flour. divide amongst cupcake holders and bake for about 15-18 minutes. cool. whip the frosting ingredients together and frost cupcakes. adjust the generosity of the glug for the strength of your maple syrup and to taste.

to make the caramelized banana crisps, sprinkle the banana slices with sugar and lay in one layer on a baking tray – grill to a golden brown crisp. it definitely helps with the cleaning up and the removal of the banana crisps if you first line the baking tray with a non-stick liner.