Tuesday, March 26, 2013


One of my recent projects has been trying out the lunch specials at various restaurants in Hell's Kitchen. Yesterday's lunch special to go? Breeze, a "Thai-French" (not really sure what's French about it) restaurant on 9th Avenue near 46th Street.

A and I have been to Breeze before and I have ordered delivery from them at work a fair amount (I'm a big fan of the five star basil chicken), but this was my first time getting a lunch special. For about $7.50 (with tax), you get a spring roll, option of salad or soup, and your lunch choice.

I started with the crispy spring roll, which was your typical spring roll- glass noodles, cabbage, carrots and taro wrapped up and fried.

When I first opened the bag with the spring roll, I was a little alarmed. It looked like there was a lot of oil and grease on the bottom of the bag, but on second look, it was sitting in the sauce you would usually dip it into at a restaurant.

The spring roll was good. Somehow, despite the long walk back to the office while sitting in sauce, the spring roll stayed crispy. Since there was no sauce on the side, I was glad that they included some in the bag. The spring roll also had a nice flavor and you could see and taste the vegetables inside, unlike some places with very bland rolls.

I wasn't really in a soup mood, so I picked the mixed green salad instead of the tofu & mixed vegetable soup.

The salad was a mix of lettuce, mesclun, carrots and other vegetables in an orange ginger vinaigrette. I really liked the salad. All of the ingredients were fresh and the vinaigrette added a nice zing. The healthiness of the salad offset the fried spring roll, but both were really tasty.

Unfortunately the weakest part of the lunch special was the "main course" - the grilled chicken breast sandwich. I was kind of in the mood for a banh mi and thought I would try Breeze's take on it. They described their sandwich as having grilled chicken breast, lettuce, cilantro, green chili mayonnaise, pickled radish, carrots and cucumber on a French baguette. Sounded like a banh mi to me.

The sandwich wasn't that large (I should have done the usual Metrocard comparison to show that). Inside I found strips of grilled chicken, lettuce leaves and a few strings of carrots and radish.  No cilantro or cucumber even though those were in the description.

The insides of the sandwich were healthy, but kind of flavorless. The sandwich really needed the green chili mayonnaise that came on the side. Without it, it was just a plain grilled chicken sandwich, and very boring in composition and flavor. It could have used some cilantro and some more vegetables. There was also a random pickle on the side which also got dipped into the mayo, since for me, green sauce makes everything better.

With the green sauce, my verdict was that the sandwich was okay. Without it, it wouldn't be worth a try.

Overall, this was a pretty good lunch special. The discounted lunch price was nice, since the sandwich usually runs about $11 pre-tax (with salad and fries, instead of salad and spring roll). I liked the lunch special "accompaniments" (the spring roll and salad) so I think I would try the special again, but get something else instead of the sandwich. Also, if I get another banh mi craving, this would not be the place.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Grand Sichuan

Sometimes you just want spicy Sichuan food delivered for dinner. That was the case for us the other night and we placed an order with Grand Sichuan, a place we have ordered from before (but never blogged about).

We started out with the Sichuan dumplings. So far our favorite version of these is from Szechuan Gourmet, but we're testing them out at all the Sichuan places we try to see if we like any of those better.

Little Sichuan dumplings

This order came with about seven dumplings (that larger one in the photo is two stuck together) in hot oil. These were okay, but I think we would still rank the ones from Szechuan Gourmet and Ollie's Sichuan higher. The nice thing about this type of dumpling is that it's not all heat and spice. They have a subtle sweetness in the sauce as well.

We also got an appetizer that was called XieLaoBan's Dan Dan Noodles From Dunlop's Book. I've been intrigued by Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice cookbook for a bit and thought maybe this recipe came from the cookbook. After all, it's arranged almost exactly like the photo on the cover.

Dan dan noodles, Dunlop style

These dan dan noodles had that spicy numbing feeling that you get from Sichuan peppercorns and were pretty much what we were looking for. Noodles, ground pork, spinach and lots of peppery spiciness. The only issue is that the numbing feeling kind of ruins the rest of your meal until it actually passes. Flavor-wise, this is an amazing dish.

Dan dan noodles mixed up

We bought the cookbook, if that tells you anything about our thoughts on this recipe.

We also went with two main dishes that we usually get. The first was the dry sauteed string beans (with pork).

Green vegetables are always good for you

I could eat this all the time. I love string beans, I love this method of cooking them, I love the olive leaves paste that is mixed in with it. It always feels really healthy to me, and even when I'm full, I find myself snacking on more string beans. Maybe I should learn to make it so we don't have to constantly order it. Anyway, we liked this.

The other dish we got was ma po tofu, which we have gotten before but has never looked this thin and watery. The tofu blocks also looked more fried than usual, there were no scallions, and there was all of that thin watery sauce instead of the usual thick sauce. The tofu also wasn't soft or silken; it was firm which neither of us have had before in this dish.

Ma po tofu, 2013

For comparison, here's how it looked the last time we ordered it from Grand Sichuan, which was more like how we imagined it. Soft cubes of tofu, thick sauce, scallions and small pieces of pork.

Ma po tofu, 2012

The new "recipe" or cooking method of the ma po tofu was a little strange but at least it still tasted good. Not as spicy as we were expecting though. Also, it didn't look too bad once we threw it on top of the brown rice. In fact, that looks like a nice healthy bowl of Chinese food.

A nice healthy bowl of Chinese food!

I'm excited about the Every Grain of Rice cookbook, which was one of the best things to come out of this meal. Maybe someday I'll be able to make all of this on my own. I'm definitely looking into it for the next cookbook project...

This branch of Grand Sichuan is located at 368 West 46th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chili Thai

A few years ago, if you had asked us what our "go to" restaurant was in Hell's Kitchen, it would probably have been Chili Thai. With so many restaurant options in the area, we don't really go anywhere that "regularly" but if there were anywhere, at the time that would have been it.  We liked the flavors of the food, we liked the people that worked there, we liked that they were one of the few places that had larb (and that was probably the place where we realized we loved it), and they were reliable and relatively consistent.

At some point things changed. I don't know if there was a change in chef or ownership when they renovated, but we started to not recognize any of the people and, worst of all, the quality of the food declined. It's always sad when a place you love isn't the same anymore. Since then, we have tried it every so often. Our last delivery order wasn't too bad, so this week I decided to pick up one of their lunch specials to test out one of my old favorites.

For $6.90, you get an appetizer (salad, soup, spring rolls or dumplings) and one of the basic entrees. I started with the steamed chicken dumplings:

Steamed dumplings in my lunch special

The dumplings were like formed meatballs inside.  They were okay, but nothing special, and certainly not as good as they used to be.

Inside the steamed dumplings

For comparison, the old dumplings were more like the steamed dumplings currently offered at Noodies, a combination of chicken, water chestnuts, vegetables, spices loosely wrapped and steamed and topped with toasted garlic.

Steamed dumplings, 2009

The current dumplings don't have the garlic (now, accompanied with some sad pieces of lettuce) and just don't have the same flavor and appeal as the old ones. Very sad since we loved their kanom jeeb before.

The real test for me was going to be the pad woon sen. I love pad woon sen, a dish consisting of cellophane noodles with chicken (or some other protein) and a variety of vegetables.  The thing that makes pad woon sen special is the sauce. I don't know exactly what goes into it but the flavor is unique and I really love it. I used to order the pad woon sen at Chili Thai all the time but it had been years, and I was hoping it would still be the same.

Current pad woon sen

Unfortunately it wasn't.  The chicken and vegetables were fine, although a bit bland. The whole dish was fairly subdued, I didn't really taste much of that special and unique flavor in the sauce, and it didn't even have the pepperiness that it used to. I was really disappointed to find that one of the dishes I loved there just isn't the same anymore. Pad woon sen isn't on every Thai menu and it's harder to find a good one than it is to find a good pad thai or pad kee mao. 

For comparison, this is what it used to look like. 

Pad woon sen, 2009

Even from the picture alone, you can see a huge difference in the color (and it just looks like a better dish). It was like they forgot to mix in the sauce in the current one, which looks kind of like Chinese mei fun since it's so white. Only after I had eaten all the chicken and vegetables and was down to the last cellophane noodles on the bottom of the box did I get a faint hint of that special pad woon sen flavor. It wasn't enough to save it.

Sadly we probably won't be ordering from or going here anymore (unless we hear that something's changed). It really used to be one of our favorite places to go and a reliable spot, and it would be great to hear if it improves. Until then I guess we'll be sticking with some of our other reliable Thai spots in the area.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fri(e)day Lunch

I was uninspired by lunch options today. I really had no clue what I wanted, but I knew I wanted to get out and walk a bit. Too often I had stayed within a couple North-South blocks of my office because it was convenient.

I ended up wandering to Domo Taco which I hadn't been to in nearly a year. It wasn't really that much further than I normally walked, but at least it was something different. I thought their tacos were okay if nothing special, but that was their first week or two out, and they were still working out the kinks. Oddly enough I never found myself back at their truck until today. I totally misread their menu and was a miserable failure at ordering, though, probably due to not having visited them in nearly a year...

I ended up ordering just one fish taco and an order of their Japanese tater tots. I say it's a failure because, at my size, one taco and tots just isn't enough food. It actually took me about 5 minutes to realize my error, and by then I felt too embarrassed to go back up and amend/add to the order.  In the end, I happily accepted my bundle and walked off kicking myself for my stupidity. Luckily, fate was on my side this time. Clearly the universe knew that there was more in store for my lunch hour as I passed by Tony's Empanada cart while walking back to the office. Fortune shone on me indeed! I ordered myself a cheese empanada to round out my thoroughly unhealthy meal and happily walked back to my office.

I started out eating the fish taco.

The taco itself is better than my first trip, but overall it isn't anything that special compared to the other Asian fusion tacos out there. The fish was a touch soggy by the time I got back to my desk, but it didn't take away from the overall flavor of the taco. The mix of flavors from their salsa roja, salsa verde, soy miso slaw, and sesame crema had all basically melded together after the journey so I can't comment on them individually, but the overall effect combined with the fish and corn tortillas is one of fresh flavors and varying textures. I almost thought I tasted pineapple somewhere in there and caught myself looking for pieces in the salsas. While I thought that they had improved the taco offerings, I still think this was my least favorite thing I ate today.

I next ate Tony's cheese empanada.

I don't know if the guy running the cart is Tony, but whoever he is, he knows how to sling up some empanadas. For $2, you get a fairly big empanada offering. I opted for cheese since I wanted to get a non-meat lunch for some odd reason. They also have chicken and beef variations available so maybe next week I'll go get some of those. The dough itself is flaky and crispy and has a touch of salt for flavor. The cheese is rich, but it was a little solid as it had cooled a little on my walk back. On its own the empanada tastes great. However, I was given a little cup of their hot sauce, and that was something else. There is some definite heat being packed in this little container of sauce. It also adds a really nice flavor that, for the life of me, I can't remember anymore. All I know is that I ate half of the empanada without sauce so I could comment on the basic flavor, and I'm now regretting it. That's not to say that the empanada on its own isn't good, I just really liked it with the hot sauce.

I saved the Japanese tots for last figuring I would like them the most.

Domo Taco's Japanese Tots are a thing of beauty. They take a small batch of tater tots and proceed to pile on what is, essentially, an okonomiyaki set of toppings. There's Japanese mayo, okonomiyaki sauce, nori, shaved bonito, their salsa roja, and some nacho cheese for good measure. I love okonomiyaki, and this was really just such an amazing little side. I was a little unsure about the nacho cheese, but it really worked. To make sure I got as much of the combined flavors as I could in each bite, I mashed it all together in one gigantic, messy mush. Sure, it's not how I would normally eat tots, but these aren't regular tots. I would certainly get these again whenever I next make it back to Domo Taco's big green truck.

In the end, I was extremely satisfied with my unbelievably unhealthy fried meal. I did manage to keep it meat free, though, and for that I was happy. The lunch may have started out rocky, but it all worked out. Please excuse me now while I go find a place to take a long nap...

Lime Coconut Crumble

Tonight we picked up the first new custard we've had at Shake Shack in a long time - lime coconut crumble.  We were really looking forward to this one since lime, coconut and crumble all sounded like ingredients in key lime pie and we thought this would be a key lime pie flavored custard.

Custard was free thanks to our Valentines Day gift card!

We were wrong. We didn't taste any lime at all in the custard, only coconut. And the "crumble" was less graham cracker crumble and more coconut macaroon. This was what we thought the Mom's coconut cake flavor would be like. It didn't really meet our expectations if we're judging this as "lime coconut crumble" but as a coconut cake custard, it was pretty good.

Lime Coconut Crumble
A's rating: 7/10
M's rating: 8.5/10

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Evolution of World Eating

Over a year and a half ago (I can't believe it's been that long), we set forth our plan to "eat around the world." The goal was to eat at restaurants representing the cuisines of all of the countries of the world. But the rules we made - to focus on one country at a time and to only count visits made during that period of time - were a little restrictive and arbitrary. The important part of this, and the reason we're doing this, is to explore other cuisines, and there isn't really any harm in going out of order. We'll still "focus" on one country at a time, which will help us make sure we try as many areas as possible, but if we go "out of order," there's no reason it shouldn't count.

I doubt we'll include something from years ago unless we feel it's relevant and/or noteworthy, and will most likely try to do as much as we can from each country when we get to it in our "walk." But some flexibility is always good.

That said, we really need to get started on recapping our Canadian cuisine exploration. We visited two different places twice because it had been a long time since our first visits and we wanted to make sure each meal was fresh in our minds. Not that we would mind going to Mile End a third time, but we really need to get out of Canada!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Jambalaya Empanada

Last week I tried the spicy chicken empanada at Nuchas, which I really liked. Before the end of the week, I was back for another snack - this time, the jambalaya empanada.

The jambalaya empanada was made with turmeric dough, and had shrimp, andouille, arborio rice, tomatoes, onions and peppers.

The taste of this empanada was dominated by the rice, tomatoes and onions. Similar to the paprika dough in the spicy chicken empanada, I didn't notice much flavor from the seasoned dough (here, turmeric); it really just seemed to give the empanada a special coloring. I also didn't taste the spicy flavor that usually comes with andouille and the shrimp was not really distinguishable. It was kind of like having a tomato rice empanada, which isn't bad, but isn't exactly what I was expecting for jambalaya.

Between the two empanadas, the spicy chicken is definitely my favorite. I think next I'll try one of the vegetarian ones (maybe the shiitake curry?) and then after Easter, can try the Argentine (ground beef one). Curious if any will be better than spicy chicken!

Friday, March 1, 2013

March Custard Calendar

We weren't very good custard eaters in February. We stopped by on Valentines Day for bee mine, but that was it. We didn't get around to trying either of the new flavors in February, but we are determined to be better for March. After all, we still have our free custard coupon to use!

We have tried 5 of the custards before:

      Monday: Boston cream pie
      Tuesday: Buttery caramel cocoa nib
      Wednesday: S'mores
      Sunday: Mint chocolate chip

From that bunch, A's previous high rating was for salty chocolate peanut butter and mine was for s'mores. Mmm, s'mores.

The two new custards (lime coconut crumble on Thursday and waffles & bacon on Saturday) should be interesting. We've had pancakes and bacon custard before, but not waffles and bacon. And coconut and lime are some favorite dessert flavors for us key lime pie lovers. I think we'll definitely be trying the new custards this month!