Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Biryani Revisited

So, I'm leaving my job in two weeks (surprise!). I'm not going to talk about work or the reasons, but I mention that solely to introduce my new project - what to eat for lunch in Midtown before I go. 

Coming up with a list was more challenging than I thought it would be. I wanted to skip anywhere that I could easily visit on weekends or elsewhere in the city (so that eliminates chains I commonly visit like Hale & Hearty, Just Salad, Chop't, Maoz and Potbelly, and even smaller or independent places like Margon and Xi'an). Some of my favorites have closed recently (Karam, Indus, etc). Even the food trucks that set up in Midtown during lunch are often roaming the streets on the weekends or at night. I didn't come up with a full list until last night, and I think even now that's in flux.

But yesterday for lunch when the idea for the project surfaced, one place popped into my head as the first place I must go - the Trini-Paki Boys cart at 43rd and 6th.

Packed container of biryani and extras

A wrote a post a few years ago about their biryani and how much we love it. We could have sworn that we've written about their chicken and rice, doubles, samosas, and more... but since I can't find it, I'm guessing that we planned to but never got around to it.

This cart was one of the first places I visited when I first came to Midtown many, many years ago, prior to all the food blogs that introduced me to new and exciting places, and it has remained my favorite street meat cart. For awhile I was just getting the chicken over rice, but once the biryani arrived, I started getting that instead. I just love all the spices. I wish I could cook like this!

White and hot sauces mixed together over the food

The biryani is topped with curried vegetables, curried chickpeas and a fresh salad, along with white sauce and hot sauce. Yesterday she also added some extra chicken to the top. The chicken was a little more well done than usual but that could be because I was having a very late lunch and it had been on the heat longer. I still recommend the biryani and am considering a second trip during my "revisiting" period to get the chicken over rice as well. And a samosa. Maybe doubles if A has time to come with me.

Underneath the salad and vegetables - biryani!

This family-owned cart is truly one of Midtown's treasures. The line has been longer during the past few years than I remember from when I first started going, and while that makes my wait time longer, I love that they seem to be doing good business. But since they are only out for lunch on the weekdays, I needed to make sure I went there before I go. Love this place!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Best Restaurant in the World

The 2013 World's 50 Best Restaurants list came out today and the amazing Girona restaurant El Celler de Can Roca is now the best restaurant in the world! When we visited last May, they were #2 but as of today, they are #1!

We haven't gotten up to writing about El Celler de Can Roca in our Barcelona trip recaps (we did touch on certain dishes in our 2012 favorite dishes lists), but considering the recent news, I think we're going to skip ahead in the chronology and relive that meal sooner rather than later.  Congratulations to El Celler de Can Roca! They are incredible and they definitely deserve it.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Der Krung

For our first real dinner since returning from LA (yes, this is a bit delayed), we ordered some Thai food from Der Krung, a place in Hell's Kitchen that used to be called Thai Basil. We always intended to visit when it was Thai Basil and thought the new menu for Der Krung looked interesting, so it seemed like a good time to finally try it. Some people say that eating Thai food in LA is so good that you can't eat Thai food back in NY again. That might be true but didn't really apply to us. We love Thai food and I don't think I could go without it for that long even if it were better in LA. Plus, in LA, we only went to Jitlada, and had some southern Thai specialties there that we can't even get here if we tried. So, no overlap!

We decided to get one appetizer (dumplings), one salad (our usual larb), and two types of noodles to see what Der Krung had to offer.

Homemade Der Krung Dumpling ($7): Thai style chicken and shrimp dumpling served with homemade soy sauce.

These dumplings were pricey! For almost $2 per dumpling, I expected something large and meaty. These were definitely better than some of the others we've tried which are like dried out meatballs wrapped in wonton paper, but they weren't amazing. They looked like ground chicken and shrimp dumplings with a small piece of imitation crab on top, and didn't have any remarkable flavors. I love dumplings but am not sure we would get these again.

Larb Gai ($9): Medium hot, minced chicken salad, chili, scallions, onions, roasted ground rice with spicy lime dressing.

Larb gai is one of my favorite dishes and this one was pretty good, although quite spicy. It seems that their "spicy lime dressing" means dressing with lots of chopped up jalapenos. Otherwise this was like most larb dishes - ground chicken, carrots, red onions, scallions on a bed of lettuce. Such a healthy dish. Probably not my favorite larb ever but a good one.

Kee Mao Noodle (Drunken Noodles) ($11): Medium hot, flat rice noodles with chicken, egg, onions, bell peppers, basil and chili basil sauce.

These were pretty good, and perhaps even better on reheating the next day when the noodles had more time to soak up all the flavors. There was a decent amount of spice to it and they included plenty of basil. One of my dislikes is when a place sends you pad kee mao with no basil. What's the point if they're basil noodles? Definitely not an issue at Der Krung.

Der Krung Noodles ($11): Medium hot, angel rice noodles with chicken, bean sprouts, scallions, onions and curry powder.

The appearance of these noodles reminded us of Singapore chow mei fun, except with just chicken. I liked these more than A did. There was a nice curry flavor to the noodles, but it's not as strong or powdery as it usually is in Singapore noodles. There were lots of chopped up vegetables which also made it seem healthy.

I don't think Der Krung will replace our go-to Thai delivery places (those would probably be Qi and to a lesser extent Wondee), mostly because they are on the expensive side, but I would go there again. I would probably just skip those expensive dumplings! Maybe I'll also try out their weekday lunch special one of these days.

Der Krung is located on 9th Avenue near 56th Street.


In early 2012, Japadog opened its doors in the East Village, giving everyone an opportunity to try their Japanese-style hot dogs that had become so popular in Vancouver. We were excited to try their hot dogs with savory toppings like Japanese mayo, seaweed, bonito flakes and miso.

Yes, they have ice cream "hot dogs" too!

Although they're Japanese hot dogs, we planned to visit for the Canadian portion of our WorldEats challenge. Japadog started in 2005 as a street cart in Vancouver and steadily grew to multiple street carts and 1 restaurant there. It's not cheap but the hot dogs are loved and famous in Vancouver. Also, since Asian cuisine is a big part of the Vancouver eating scene, for us that made Japadog a perfect stop for our Canadian exploration.

Imported from Vancouver

Since they opened last year, we've been to Japadog twice, most recently in December. It looked like they tweaked the menu between our two visits, adjusting for things that sold well and also newly available ingredients (I think they didn't have kurobuta yet on our first visit). We went the second time because we wanted our memories of the hot dogs to be fresh for our WorldEats post, but here we are in April posting about them. Time to do it before we have to go for a third time!

The menu, last December

The Japadog menu has lots of options and it's difficult to choose between so many things that sound so tasty. On our second visit, we saw this handy flow chart that helps you pick based on how hungry you are and your other preferences.

I really love this flow chart! Everyone should do this...

The hot dog I heard most about before Japadog opened was the terimayo. On our first visit, we got the classic beef terimayo, but on our second, we opted to try the kurobuta terimayo, advertised as a top seller.

Kurobuta terimayo

The terimayo consists of the hot dog (beef/kurobuta), topped with fried onions (although they seemed more stir-fried than crispy fried), teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayo and seaweed.

Terimayo cross-section

From what we remember, this was good with both the beef and the kurobuta. The combination of onions, seaweed, mayo and teriyaki sauce went well together, so we could see why it had become so popular.

The second dog we got on both trips was the okonomi, which consists of pork sausage (probably not kurobuta on our first trip), fried cabbage, Japanese special sauce and bonito flakes.

Okonomi, March 2012

It looked a little different on our two trips (the dog from our March visit above and the one from December below), but I'm pretty sure they were both the okonomi as we were drawn to the bonito flakes.

Okonomi, December 2012

The kurobuta sausage worked really well here with its richness and saltiness. We love bonito flakes and eating that on top of a hot dog was a lot of fun. Bonito flakes just add so much flavor and made this a really tasty hot dog.

Okonomi cross-section (March)

On our second visit, we opted for a third hot dog instead of fries and picked one from the "heavier" portion of the menu - the croquette dog.

Croquette hot dog

The croquette dog had Arabiki pork sausage, fried cabbage and mashed potato croquettes. That's right, potato croquettes inside a hot dog roll. Starch on top of more starch!  If you don't want potato croquettes, you could always opt for your double starch through the yakisoba dog.

Croquette dog cross-section

This hot dog was heavy. We love potato croquettes and these were good, but it was kind of like having 2 different things - a hot dog and a croquette. Not sure how well those actually went together but they were tasty separately. The cabbage was good because it added some nice crunchy vegetables, which you really need after all these hot dogs!

On our first visit, we opted for a side of fries. They were just regular thin crispy fries (a little dry), but topped with a choice of seasonings. We opted for the shichimi (basically hot pepper/togarashi) and garlic powder, which was tasty, but in the end they were just fries, so we didn't get them again. You could also get sauces on the side like ketchup and wasabi mayo.

Togarashi fries

Japadog isn't the only Asian hot dog place in New York (there's also Asiadog) and isn't the only creative hot dog place in the East Village (can't forget Crif Dogs!), so it faces a lot of competition. But the Canadian import is a nice place to stop if you're looking for a Japanese hot dog snack!

Japadog is located at 30 St. Marks Place (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues) in the East Village.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Grilled Chicken and Cheddar

I went over to Potbelly for a late lunch today, intending to get my usual turkey and provolone, when I encountered a sign advertising a new grilled chicken and cheddar sandwich.

I'm a sucker for new Potbelly sandwiches, like the Mediterranean I tried not long after it came out last year. So of course I tried the chicken and cheddar sandwich instead of my original plan. I like grilled chicken and cheddar cheese, and thought it would be a good combination on nice toasty bread.

This sandwich was okay. I got it on multigrain bread with my usual set of toppings (mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, oil, Italian seasoning). The grilled chicken, advertised as hand-sliced, was fine. The texture was good and it had a nice chicken flavor, but it didn't seem like the chicken was very seasoned. Although the cheddar cheese (advertised as aged cheddar) was clearly present, it also didn't have very strong flavor. I had been picturing thick and oozing slices of cheddar cheese, like a tuna melt, but that didn't really happen here. If you like grilled chicken, it's worth a try but I think I'll stick to my usual turkey, tuna or meatball in the future. I love those!

The Potbelly website claims there is also some new buffalo chicken sandwich with Frank's RedHot sauce, but I didn't see any signage for that. When (if?) I do, I think you can be sure that I'll check it out!

Friday, April 26, 2013


When we come home from trips, we usually look for a "detox" dinner, something relatively clean and healthy, to recover from days of unhealthy vacation eating and hours of sitting on a plane. This usually leads us to our neighborhood sushi spot, Ajisai. Yesterday for lunch I was feeling kind of similar and was in the mood for something relatively light and healthy, so I decided to try out Ajisai's lunch special.

Ajisai has a number of lunch specials - for kitchen entrees like teriyaki, bento boxes, sushi combinations and roll combinations. Most are priced over $10, so I went with the $9.50 special for the 2 roll combo. Combining that with the current 10% Seamless discount, it kept me under $10 with tax included.  The combo came with 2 rolls plus soup and salad (a lot of places only give you one).

The miso soup was your basic miso soup - small tofu cubes, pieces of seaweed and light miso flavor. This was fine.

The salad consisted mostly of lettuce. The entire small takeout container was filled with large pieces of iceberg lettuce, plus one cucumber slice and some shredded carrots. The dressing was the usual orange ginger type of dressing you get with Japanese garden salads which I love. Not a very exciting salad and mostly lettuce, but I was kind of in the mood for something like this - light, crunchy and full of dressing.

For the two rolls, I went with the salmon/avocado and the spicy tuna. Similar to Aoki, they let you pick from an entire list of rolls, and not just something basic like tuna rolls or cucumber rolls. I appreciate that I can get "real" rolls for the price. Ajisai also let me substitute brown rice on both rolls for no extra charge. That's really rare. I don't like brown rice sushi rolls as much in texture as regular rolls, but it's so much healthier and I need that right now!

The rolls were fine. The salmon/avocado was a little bland. The spicy tuna had a good balance of mayo and tuna, and you could definitely taste the "spicy" flavor and the fish (and not mostly mayo, like some other places).

I would get this combo again, since it's a good deal and the quality is fine. I think where Ajisai shines in rolls is their special rolls (which we've never gotten around to writing about here) but their basic rolls are just fine for lunch, especially as part of the combo.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Welcome Xi'an Famous Foods

The official grand opening for the new Midtown branch of Xi'an Famous Foods was today. (They soft opened late last week.) Going for opening day lunch was a little bittersweet for me since they're taking the place of the recently shuttered Lebanese spot Karam II, which was one of my favorite places for a cheap, healthy and vegetarian lunch. On the bright side, a good place like Karam isn't being replaced by a crappy place that I'll never go to, but it's still sad that they won't be around for any more fasoulia.

In the announcement about their grand opening a few weeks ago, Xi'an Famous Foods offered a free coupon for their stewed pork burger or spicy cumin lamb burger. Free good food? Yes, please. I've had my coupon printed and ready to go since then, waiting for today. 

My free burger!

The lamb burger usually goes for $3, and contains chopped up pieces of lamb sauteed with jalapenos, onions and scallions (and lots of cumin and other seasonings) and stuffed into a bun (which had a texture similar to an English muffin). Since a lot of people came with their free burger coupons, I watched them make a bunch of burgers, and they all looked delicious.

Spicy cumin lamb burger - looks just like its menu photo

Inside the spicy cumin lamb burger

The lamb burger was delicious. I went to lunch on the early side so that the line would be shorter (good decision considering things were a little slow on opening day), so this was pretty filling. It was a tad bit oily, but I'm willing to look past that for such a delicious sandwich.  I loved all of the seasonings. There was so much cumin that the air in my office smelled like cumin for hours. It made me want another burger by the time 4 pm snacktime rolled around!

I'm so excited for the new location of Xi'an Famous Foods because it means that A and I can go back on the weekend to try more dishes without having to trek downtown. Can't wait to get some noodles for lunch!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

We Welcome Ourselves to LA

As East Coasters visiting the West Coast, one thing we're always really excited for is heading to In-N-Out. In fact, the nearest location to our hotel is always the first place we've hit up whenever we went out to California in the past. So where do you think we went this time for our first meal?

Yup. It's sort of a tradition, but it's also more a satisfying of a craving that we can barely ever actually fill.

 All this? $11.72

One of the most amazing things about In-N-Out aside from their freshness and overall flavor is the fact that it costs so little to buy. Neither M nor I can figure out just how they do it. Of course, the freshness and overall flavor are obviously the best parts, but the price really makes it amazing. One thing that's really surprising about the fact that it costs so little is that all of the food (toppings, meat, potatoes, etc.) are all delivered to each location fresh, daily. It's this freshness that really sets In-N-Out's burgers apart from almost every other fast food chain in this country.

Double-Double Animal Style Protein Style

I opted for their "secret" menu double-double animal style and protein style. It's a double cheeseburger with thousand island dressing and caramelized onions (animal style) and wrapped in lettuce in lieu of a bun (protein style). It comes with a couple slices of tomatoes to finish it all off. The fresh-made patties and fresh vegetables form an amazing burger.

Burger Animal Style with Extra Lettuce and Raw Onions 

M got a regular cheeseburger animal style with extra lettuce and raw onions. (The cheeseburger usually comes with raw onions but with animal style they replace it with the grilled onions.) She had been reading online that you could request as many extra vegetables as you want for no extra charge, and loves piling extras onto a burger.

 Animal Style Fries

The animal style fries are their normal fries with a slice or two of cheese layered on top and then smothered with the caramelized onions and thousand island dressing. It's easily one of the least healthy things you could ever think to eat (that doesn't contain bacon), but it's also really delicious. I've always found their fries to be a bit dry when not all trussed up, but thankfully you can truss them up :)

Why not one more burger?

We met up here with my friend J and his girlfriend S. S is a marathon runner, and she had a training run this night. She came later with some sort of healthy food, and I didn't want her to be the only one eating so I went up and got another cheeseburger, this time animal style and with raw onions. No protein style this time, but hey, you have to mix things up.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Godfather of Virgin America

I love Virgin America's on demand food system. I wish they had some free snacks, but I really love the way their program operates and appreciate that the food is actually pretty good.
Since we ate our snack early in the flight from Newark to LA, we waited until about halfway through the flight before ordering some sandwiches for lunch. We placed our order through the in-seat touchscreen monitors and within a couple of minutes our food and lots of free drinks arrived. No waiting for the cart to make its way to your seat, no worrying about whether your choice of meal will be sold out, no issue getting complimentary drinks whenever you need them. I really love this system and wish more airlines would embrace it.
We got two sandwiches. The first was one I had heard about as one of Virgin America's best offerings (but I can't remember where I read that): the Godfather sandwich ($9.50).
The Godfather sandwich consisted of roasted turkey breast, beef salami, sliced pepperoncini, provolone, lettuce and tomatoes on a cheese focaccia roll with an olive, tomato and parmesan spread.
The sandwich was really tasty. The combination of meats and cheese, along with the spread, had such a multitude of flavors, and the cheese focaccia roll was soft and delicious. A really enjoyed the sliced pepperoncini as it added a good, subtle heat as well as a bit of sourness. It was a more complex sandwich than the Java Moon one and it showed. This was worth the price.
The sandwich came with a small piece of chocolate for dessert which we split. It's always nice to have something sweet to eat at the end of a meal.
We also shared a Thai vegetable half wrap ($7.50), which came with a half sandwich and a small salad cup.
The Thai vegetable sandwich had chickpeas, edamame, black beans, chestnuts, carrots, daikon and cilantro with Asian vinaigrette and Thai pepper spread in a spinach half wrap.
The wrap was good, but I wish it were a full wrap instead of just a half! I would trade in the salad for the rest of the sandwich, since I liked the sandwich much more. The crunch of the vegetables, the creaminess of the spread and dressing, and the healthy flavors of the ingredients made for a good combination.
The salad on the side (which is not very big, about the size of two chocolate squares, even though it appears rather large in the photo) consisted of daikon, carrots and a piece of cilantro. I thought this was fine, although not very exciting. It just tasted like the raw vegetables it contained. That said, it's nice to have fresh vegetables while on a flight. A liked the sweetness of the carrots since he's a fan of raw carrots, and the daikon added some crisp moisture to cut the sweetness just enough.
As I mentioned above, one of the best things about the Virgin America on demand ordering system is the free drinks. The complimentary drinks include coffee, tea, soda, water and juices. They come through the aisles with some drinks soon after takeoff but after that you're free to order more whenever you please (whether or not you're ordering other food), which is fantastic.
In addition to multiple bottles of water, I also got a couple of orders of cranapple juice, while A got some Coke zero. The drinks were good for our snack of raspberry m&ms (which were really overpriced from the airport store since I forgot to go to Duane Reade before the trip).
That's three different sandwiches we've had now on Virgin America (turkey one reviewed here), all of which have been good. At least we know we can get a good meal that's worth what we're paying for on this airline!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Not Locos for Cool Ranch

One reason we were counting down the days until Easter was because we wanted to try the new cool ranch Doritos locos tacos at Taco Bell. We gave up red meat for Lent which meant no locos tacos. We really liked the original Doritos locos tacos when we tried them last year and have been looking forward to the cool ranch flavor ever since we heard they were on their way. 

Just like last time, we each tried one of the supreme tacos, which meant it came with lettuce, tomato, cheese and sour cream.

Sadly, this taco did not live up to our expectations. We were really excited about cool ranch, especially with the hype that led up to it for months and months. But the flavor match just wasn't there like it was with the nacho cheese Doritos locos tacos. (The taco last year looked better too.) The shell here did taste like cool ranch Doritos, but it just didn't work as well with the rest of the taco ingredients. Our guess is that the sour cream flavor was too similar to that of the cool ranch.

What we are on the lookout for are the new Doritos locos tacos Doritos chips. We originally thought it was a little circular - Doritos that taste like the shell of the taco which is made of Doritos - but we have since heard that there are actual taco flavored chips mixed in with the Doritos flavor chips. Definitely worth a try for us!

Java Moon

Hello from Southern California! We're excited to tell you about our LA adventures and hopefully we'll actually finish this series of trip recaps...
Our first food stop was at Newark Airport. While we knew that our airline (Virgin America) would have pretty good food for purchase on the plane, we were hoping to get a snack at the airport that might be cheaper or better. Unfortunately, we were at Terminal A at Newark, and the post-security options in our gate section (30-39) left much to be desired. The food court and some other options (like Golden Krust) were pre-security and the Earl of Sandwich sadly wasn't in our section. I think all we had was Phillips (a sit-down seafood restaurant and we had no time for a leisurely meal), Ruby Tuesday (sit-down and to-go), and Java Moon.
We ended up grabbing a sandwich to split at Java Moon, a spot in the middle of the gate section which offered sandwiches, salads, and other snacks. Nothing looked that inspiring to me so I let A pick. He came back with orange juice and a turkey sandwich.
The sandwich consisted of oven roasted turkey, smoked mozzarella cheese, tomato and spinach on multi-grain bread.
It was okay. I didn't really notice that it was "smoked mozzarella" as it just tasted like some sort of non-descript cheese, and the turkey just seemed like plain cold cuts. The tomato and spinach did seem fresh, but didn't really add a lot of flavor. Adding mustard helped a little. Overall, the sandwich was fine, but just kind of boring. It was, however, better than the plain turkey sandwich we got at the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia, where there are far less options than Newark. So, I guess that's positive.
The sandwiches we got on Virgin America (which will be in the next post in this series) were much better and I always forget that you can just get food on-demand on Virgin America. I think I've learned my lesson and will just stick to the Virgin America sandwiches!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Every Grain of Rice Preview

We recently purchased Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice after reading so many rave reviews, and this weekend I decided to try out some of the recipes for our next cookbook project.

I was hoping for better light on our dinner table but I am very slow at prep

For a simple introduction to the cookbook, I decided to go with one of the "menu ideas" (suggestions for a complete meal based on the number of people eating) and chose "vegetarian menu 1" for two people. This menu included:

- Smacked cucumber in garlicky sauce
- Pock-marked old woman's tofu (aka ma po tofu)
- Stir-fried beansprouts with Chinese chives

We added some brown rice on the side and then enjoyed our spicy vegetarian dinner.  Recaps of the individual dishes will follow. I think dinner turned out well. I was especially happy with the ma po tofu. It was my first time ever making it and it's a dish I've always liked. We're really satisfied with our cookbook purchase and can't wait to try more!

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Custard Calendar

It's April and it's finally starting to feel like spring (at least for today). I was excited to see what types of spring flavors would appear on the April custard calendar and was a little disappointed to see only one fruit flavor listed. 

What we've tried before (with the average of our ratings in parentheses): 

     Tuesday - honey roasted peanut (7/10)
     Wednesday - red velvet (6.75/10)
     Friday - malted marshmallow milk chocolate (6/10)
     Saturday - salted caramel (4.75/10)
     Sunday - Boston cream pie (7/10)

The new ones for us are Arabic coffee crunch (Monday) and strawberry rhubarb cobbler (Thursday). Hopefully this month we remember to try them both. We intended to try waffles and bacon in March, but on our last opportunity to try it, we were running around all day and it completely slipped our minds. Not feeling that compelled to re-try any of the repeats, but if I had to pick one, it would be Boston cream pie and for A it would be honey roasted peanut.

The coffee one sounds interesting. A likes coffee much more than I do (see the coffee and donuts review) but I'm intrigued by the "crunch" part of it. 

We're hopeful about the strawberry rhubarb cobbler since we seem to like the custards which mix in cake or similar desserts (I'm now dreaming about blueberry coffee cake). Last April we got the orange rhubarb meringue, which we didn't love, but hopefully this will be better. We think strawberry and rhubarb usually go well together, and it sounds like something we've tried before, but I can't find a review.

Happy April!