The Little Street That Could

Mosco Street is one of Chinatown's little secrets. While it lies near the neighborhood's heart (it runs between Mott and Mulberry just north of where the two dead-end into Worth Street and the Bowery), it's an empty-looking passage that's often overlooked. For years I'd heard tales of an amazing, cheap dumpling place on Mosco (Gourmet's Editor, Ruth Reichl, mentioned it), and intended--some day--to find this mysterious, hidden street.

Throughout the late 90s I'd often stop by the Hong Kong Cake lady's stall just off Mott (she disappeared a few years ago, and I hope she's enjoying a happy retirement), but I'd never actually looked up at the street sign above or wandered down the little hill towards the south end of Columbus Park (the former location of Five Points, which Martin Scorsese revisited in Gangs of New York). But finally one day, during one of my wanderings through Chinatown 3 or 4 years ago, I spied a street sign above the abandoned Hong Kong Cake stall: Mosco! Was this truly the street I'd heard about? Had it been right here under my nose for all these years?

I took a right turn, and there it was: Fried Dumpling. A dingy hole-in-the-wall, I stepped through the door to find 3 women making nothing but beautiful pork and leek dumplings: one was sitting at a table with a bucket of the ground pork and leek mixture, making dumplings; another was rolling dough; and a third was cooking and serving customers. These juicy, partially steamed/partially fried gems are 5 for $1, and well worth the trek. You can also buy bags of frozen, uncooked dumplings, but they're just not the same. I'd suggest ordering the already-cooked version to go and reheating them in a skillet.

Right next door to Fried Dumpling is Bangkok Center Grocery. Clean and well-organized, the owner, Premjit Marks, is helpful and friendly. The store carries a variety of Thai ingredients including curries (canned and fresh), noodles, green peppercorns, hot sauces, Kaffir lime leaves, sausages, frozen meats, and fresh herbs, which arrive Wednesdays.

An aside: Scorsese's Gangs of New York is loosely based on part of Herbert Asbury's 1928 book. I actually found its most interesting part to be the chapter on Chinese gangs, which, in their day, ran the show on Doyers, Mott, and Pell Streets. Doyers street, at the height of the gang wars, was called "the bloody angle" because people would hide, then attack as their enemy rounded the corner. Asbury also tells the story of a Chinese comedian who was murdered by a rival gang member. After the comedian's guards thought he was safely in his room for the night, the murderer shimmied down the air shaft, crawled in the window, and killed him.

Fried Dumpling is at 106 Mosco Street. Bangkok Center Grocery is next door, at 104 Mosco.


Good Deals -- Zucco: Le French Diner

Jimmy and I stumbled upon Zucco: Le French Diner a while back, and it quickly turned into one of my favorite places in the city. A teeny-tiny place with lots of French attitude, it's colorful, crowded, and always tasty. Admittedly, I'm always drawn to Le Merguez De Barbes (lamb sausage, roasted red pepper, and harissa on a super-fresh baguette, served with fries). It has a nice spicy kick and super-fresh flavor, which, for me, makes the sandwich completely addictive.

The first time I went there we sat at the bar, and were completely amazed by the goings on in the kitchen. Every single thing that zoomed passed us looked beautiful. That night, the snow peas and carrots were gorgeous, so we ordered a side to sample. They were absolutely perfect. Since that initial visit I've shared the cheese plate, tasted the salmon (marvelous), and Le Poulet De Belleville sandwich (chicken, goat cheese, and ratatouille, perfectly balanced).

The wine by the glass is inexpensive, though like the venue, the pours are tiny. If you're eating with friends, you're probably better off buying a bottle.

Yesterday, celebrating Nancy's birthday, I finally tried one of Zucco's desserts. She chose the crème brulée, and it was out of this world. The thick crust was nutty and full of flavor, and the custard was astonishingly tasty, with hints of vanilla and orange essence (I think?). It was kind of unbelievable, and we both agreed that it was the best we'd ever had.

Zucco: Le French Diner is at 188 Orchard Street, south of Houston. It's open from noon to midnight, give or take a few minutes...


Coffee at Casa Cupcake

A large chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing (to share!) with rich afternoon macchiato goodness from Cupcake Café's Casa. The cupcakes are soooo much better (and prettier) than Magnolia! And the vibe is chill--it's a great place to meet a friend, chat, and/or relax. (I also hear there's free wifi?)

Glad it's in my neighborhood!

Cupcake Café's Casa is at 545 9th Avenue, between 40th and 41st, right behind the beautiful Port Authority Bus Terminal.


Leafy Harmony

Lest you think I eat everything I want all of the time...sadly, that cannot be. I wasn't blessed with the world's greatest metabolism, so I must always strive to keep some sort of balance. Besides, after my recent butter binge (via crepes and other friendly foods) and Friday's double sautéed pork/Magnolia madness, I need to cleanse a bit.

My favorite food habit has become a certain type of salad that I've been hooked on this for quite some time. For whatever reason, this salad combination seems to work for me--very flavorful and happily satisfying.

KK's Salad

about 2 cups lettuce (your choice--red leaf, romaine, mixed greens--whatever looks and is priced best), washed and torn up (or more if you're hungry!)
1/4 cup. shredded chicken AND/OR about 1 tbsp. goat cheese
1 tbsp. nice extra virgin olive oil (or olive oil infused with hot red pepper flakes)
pinch of Maldon Sea Salt
1 tsp. fried red onion (available at Asian grocery stores)
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toss everything together and serve with a slice of whole wheat bread or pita.

I usually like to mix this up a bit: sometimes chicken, sometimes goat cheese, sometimes a little of both. I'll often warm the shredded chicken in a little olive oil and salt, and sometimes add a little piménton for some extra zazz.


No Friday Night Whoopie

After a day that kind of went off the rails richness-wise (lunch at Grand Sichuan 24th Street...comparison dinner at Grand Sichuan 7th Avenue South), I was walking up Bleecker with some friends who desperately needed to top things off with something sweet. Who was I to say no? One of us, a fairly recent addition to New York, said he'd never been to Magnolia Bakery. Now, many of my friends have heard me complain about this place for years (unfriendly service, annoying lines of people from the Sex and the City tours, waaaaay overrated cupcakes). But, after reading Wednesday's New York Times article about whoopie pies, I was curious about Magnolia's version. So, as it was after 10 and the place was relatively empty, I agreed to go.

I made a beeline for the counter, searching for the whoopie pie area, and my eyes fell upon...



Admittedly, these are called "whoopie cookies," so maybe they decided to do their own weird thing (according to the menu on Magnolia's website, they are "two brown sugar cookies with a dollop of maple cream cheese icing in between"). But if that's the case, call them something else! They look more like Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies, so why not go for something emulating that idea? No, instead they offer a pile of faux Pennsyltucky Dutch wrongness that screams "someone needs to do their research!"

(Also, why didn't the Times article mention the Magnolia version isn't really Whoopie-like at all?)

After recovering from my little freak-out, I decided to pick up a chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing while I was there (if I'm going to continue to complain about the place, I might as well be up to speed on its most famous offering). The Magnolia virgin among us went nuts and ordered a miniature flourless chocolate cake and a slice each of red velvet, coconut, and one of the chocolate cakes.

After a taste test, I'm happy to say that I can stick to my guns on the Magnolia ban. The cupcake's cake was dry and the frosting was sickeningly sweet. The red velvet was unremarkable (but I'm admittedly spoiled by the insanely amazing version made by my friend, the cake mistress Suzanna), the coconut was OK, and the chocolate cake was similar to its cupcake cousin--dry and tooooo sweet. I didn't try the flourless chocolate cake (I couldn't take any more sugar), but the Magnolia virgin liked it, so at least it made him happy.

A good note, though: the guy behind the cash register was actually friendly. I guess they've finally tried to hire staff with people skills?

Today's overall impression is that Magnolia Bakery must own stock in a sugar cane plantation. Everything's too sweet. I'll continue to stick to Billy's, where they seem to maintain a better butter/sugar balance.

(A brief Grand Sichuan comment: The new 7th Avenue South location is, unfortunately, too restrained. It's menu is tiny compared to the ones at 24th and St. Mark's, and everything's dialed back flavor-wise. It's still better than a typical Chinese restaurant, but I'll be sticking to the 24th Street location.)


Beef & Leek Green Stir Fry

Most recipes for leeks tell you to discard the beautiful greens on top, but, inspired by one of my favorite dishes (the 24th Street Grand Sichuan International's Double Sautéed Pork), I decided they shouldn't go to waste. Leek greens have a wonderfully strong, grassy, and slightly oniony flavor that, as Grand Sichuan has shown, stands up to a spicy stir fry.

I had tons of greens in the crisper after making a few batches of melty leeks. I used the greens from about 5 leeks (I wanted it to be vegetable-heavy, but I'm sure you could use less and even throw in some other veggies), and went to town with the jars of various Chinatown treasures hanging out in my fridge: Sichuan Pepper Pickle, Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce, and--feeling too lazy to deal with Sichuan peppercorns--Sichuan peppercorn-infused oil (it's probably flavored with antifreeze, but whatever).

Beef & Leek Green Stir Fry

2 tbsp. Sichuan Pepper Pickle
1/2 lb. sliced beef
greens from 3 to 5 leeks, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorn oil (or 1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns, toasted)
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. Vietnamese chili garlic sauce

In a large frying pan or wok, sauté the beef in the Sichuan Pepper Pickle (if you don't have SPP, just sauté in a small amount of vegetable oil, or another spice/curry of your choice). Add the leek greens, Sichuan pepper oil (or peppercorns), soy sauce, and chili garlic sauce, toss, and cover. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until greens are a deep, bright green. Test to make sure greens are crunchy, yet not too chewy, and for flavor (adjust seasoning if necessary). Serve, if you like, with rice or toss with your favorite noodles.


Fresh Chickpeas

Jimmy spotted these mystery objects in Manhattan Fruit Exchange yesterday. What? Chickpeas don't come from Goyaland via bags and cans? We asked what we should do with these little bright green gems (a.k.a. garbanzos): Boiling, then roasting was the guy's favorite method. He made many yummy sounds while he described what to do, so I decided to buy a couple of handfuls to try them out.

I did a little research online, and Califresh's website had a few recipes. I decided to try their steaming method, a la edamame, as I figured it would offer the truest taste. They were, honestly and not surprisingly, a little boring.

So, I decided to shuck the cooked chickpeas, then sauté with a little olive oil, pimentón (of course!), and salt. It was a pain in the butt to shuck them (they really seemed to be attached to the shell), and of course I managed to shoot one across the room (too bad I don't have Sookie Stackhouse's vampirically-enhanced sense of smell...it would really help in moments like these). I finally ended up with about a cup of shucked chickpeas, which I sautéed with the other ingredients for about 5 minutes. The pimentón added a nice little roasty flavor, and the chickpeas went from bland to pleasant snack.

If I ever decide to make fresh chickpeas again, I'd prepare them as a nice little appetizer for a dinner party. Perhaps I'd leave them in the shells, boil to cook, then sauté in spices, and serve like edamame.

Apparently, Whoopie Pies are Fashionable?

Where have I been? Somehow, I've completely missed the beginnings of a whoopie pie craze...probably because I generally try to avoid bakeries and their dangerous offerings. According to a feature in today's Times Dining section, they're everywhere now. Are they perhaps the next post-cupcake fad? The whole thing kind of makes me laugh, but also makes me sad, in a way. Does everything eventually need to be fashionably retro-cool?

I've previously posted a piece on my memories of these childhood Pennsyltucky faves, along with a recipe from my hometown published in a 1976 community cookbook.


Lemon Zest Chicken

This weekend we wanted to make something to go along with our popover fiesta. We had some thinly-sliced chicken breasts (about 1 lb.) in the freezer, so I decided to throw together an easy, delicate marinade:

zest of 2 lemons
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp. Herbes de Provence (I prefer the version without lavender)
1/4 cup olive oil
salt & freshly-ground black pepper

Combine everything, then marinate the chicken in the mixture a few hours. Sauté or grill--your choice!


Pimentón Popovers

Popovers have been on my mind for some months, and Sunday's article in The New York Times Magazine (which we received on Saturday), prodded Nancy and I to finally experiment. I Googled popover recipes, looked in Nancy's Joy of Cooking, and decided to go with the Times' recipe (Maida Heatter's from 1966), figuring it must be good since it was tested by Chez Panisse's David Lebovitz (and it had 50% more egg than the other recipes--what could be bad about that?).

Of course, I had to play. Before dinner, we'd run down to Beacon's Artisan Wine Shop to check out Tim and Mei's Saturday tasting. They'd made some mac & cheese to go with the two reds, and as Tim ran down the list of ingredients...what was in it? Pimentón! After a discussion about its addictive qualities, I decided that sweet smoked pepper was going into the batter. (I added 1 tsp., in case you're interested in trying it out).

Perhaps the pimentón contributed to the ultimate not-total-success of the experiment, but we think it may have been the recipe or our inexperience...or both...

The final step tells you to cut slits in the top of the popovers, then return them to the oven. When we initially pulled them out--pre-slit--they were beautiful and perfect. But when we pulled them out post-slit, they deflated...and totally stuck to the pan. Did we need to leave them in longer? Perhaps. But I don't remember my mother ever "popping" the popovers when I was a kid... Mystery.

At least they tasted great, and I think the pimentón added a wonderful depth to the flavor. They weren't just eggy--they were something else entirely. I think next time I'll use my mom's recipe, keep the pimentón, avoid popping them...and remember to take photos.


Two New Columns

After chatting with numerous folks about how many "cheap eats" lists include restaurants that aren't really cheap, I've decided to introduce two columns to KKNY: Truly Cheap Eats and Good Deals.

Truly Cheap Eats will feature places that, by definition, are cheap. For example, Fried Dumpling on Mosco Street in Chinatown sells 5 kick-ass dumplings for $1. That's cheap.

Good Deals will cover inexpensive to moderately priced restaurants that, while they might be a little bit of a splurge, are worth the money. Becco, Lidia and Joseph Bastianich's outpost on Restaurant Row, is a moderately-priced place that's a good deal. You can easily end up dropping some coin there, but between the $25-a-bottle wine list, great service, and generous portions that always result in a doggie bag (for me, anyway), the money is well spent.

(We all know the best deal is cooking a killer meal at home for friends, so I'm off to Beacon to spend the weekend playing with food. Report to come.)


Teatime with JC

Yay! It's officially Hot Cross Bun season! Such an odd thing, in a way, to eat food with an implement of death drawn on it (shouldn't the big "x" on top warn us away?). But no, childhood memories of singing "Hot Cross Buns" at the piano continue to draw me to their fluffy sweetness. Besides, its origin may actually be pagan, and the cross may have originally represented the four quarters of the moon. Much more pleasant.

I picked one up during my jaunt to Chelsea Market for veggies. Amy's Bread had a sign in the window announcing their arrival, and I just couldn't resist... I got home, made some tea, and had my treat. While I usually love Amy's, I have to say that they were really skimpy with the best parts: the currants and the icing (let's all admit it, we all love the icing, and it just makes everything soooo much nicer). At $1.50 (!) for a little bun, you can afford to be generous, Amy!


As movies and The Daily Show are what I stick to on TV, my commercial viewing time is lower than most other Americans. A little while ago, as I was crawling out of bed on this dreary day, I flicked on NYC's Channel 4 to check out the weather (they seem to get it right a little more often than the folks at The Weather Channel, but I still think forecasting has something to do with dart boards). I hadn't had my coffee yet, and I was faced with this, first thing:

Really?! Disney's selling eggs now? Why? Are kids not eating eggs anymore? I don't remember eggs being an issue when I was little. Was I weird? What's next, spinach stamped with Minnie Mouse ("Eat your spinach and you're on your way to her sexy figure!")? Carrots with the likeness of Chip and Dale? Cattle bred to look like Goofy?


Truly Cheap Eats: Tako-Yummy

(Title stolen from Steve Smith's text message to me, upon discovering Otafuku.)

Yesterday was the day nature reminds us winter really doesn't last forever. It was over 60 degrees in New York, and I needed to be outside after months and months of bundling up against the bitter cold.

The sun was shining in the morning, so I made myself a fortifying crepe brunch with leftovers from the Friday night pre The Savannah Disputation crepefest (similar to the Shrove Tuesday recipe: galettes, aged Asiago, melty leeks, bacon, and Cremini mushrooms cooked in bacon fat and Herbes de Provence). Filled with buttery happiness, I made my way into the sunshine with my copy of Julia & Julia--which I'd almost finished--and no real plans.

Things in New York have a habit of changing at the drop of a hat... Two hours later I was standing with Steve and Lara in front of Otafuku (236 East 9th Street). Octopus takoyaki was our objective, and yumminess we received. A favorite in Osaka, takoyaki is a puffy Japenese dumpling sort of thing made from batter and cubes of octopus, topped with okonomiyaki sauce (sort of like barbecue sauce), seaweed sauce, mayonnaise, and katsuobushi (bonito flakes). The balls themselves kind of look like a Drunkin' Donuts Munchkin...I wonder if their stores in Japan have takoyaki...

I'd had takoyaki at Sake Bar Hagi on West 49th Street (also a fun must-visit, but be prepared to wait in line), but heard that Otafuku was great. A little hole-in-the-wall, it's kind of like an inexpensive trip to Japan via the East Village. They have 3 kinds of takoyaki (two without octopus, for the squeamish), okonomiyaki (a pancake made primarily with cabbage and your choice of meat or veg), yakisoba, and a collection of combo platters. There's no seating except for a bench outside, but St. Mark's Church is around the corner, and benches await in the little park out front.

After tako-yummy, it was so beautiful that we ended up taking the longest possible route to Chinatown for dinner: over to the Christopher Street Pier on the west side, south along the river to Battery Park City (where we spied snowdrops and crocuses--hurrah!), down around the battery, to South Street Seaport via Stone Street, and north to Chinatown.

We ended up at Fuleen Seafood Restaurant, a Michelin rated (!) place on Division Street. While Sichuan cuisine is my favorite style of Chinese cooking (so far...), this Cantonese seafood establishment is excellent, working within a more refined, balanced palate. It's the kind of place where the seafood in the window actually looks cheerful in the face of doom, and your still-flopping friend is brought to your table for approval before being taken to the kitchen.

We took the iPhone's suggestion and ordered the Dungeness crab, which as always was a pain to eat, but wonderfully done and absolutely dripping with garlic. The spicy shrimp still in their shells were flavorful (but could have used way more chili) and the noodles with crab were lovely (but didn't have much crab!). The sautéed snow pea shoots kicked ass, the hot-and-sour soup was homemade and a must-have, and I had a taste of the...um, interesting...black chicken soup with ginseng (Where can I find some black chicken? It has an amazing, deep flavor. But the ginseng...ech...). I definitely want to go back for the Peking Duck, which looked beautiful and was served with little fluffy buns. And to boot, the plate was garnished with Pringles! How many Michelin-rated restaurants use Pringles?! Awesome.

Our feet were throbbing, but were our stomachs sated? No! Off to Orchard Street for il laboratorio del gelato (which was closed!). Up to Houston, where we were drawn into Yonah Schimmel's Knishery (I bought a freshly-baked rugelach and a poppy hamantaschen, to be eaten later). Then we finally found the Ciao Bella gelato outpost on Mott Street, where I had a scoop of Limoncello Marscapone and a taste of the pistachio...the best pistachio I've had...

Exhausted but satisfied, I walked home to 34th Street. It was a beautiful night!


Breakfast Redemption

Last night at about 10:15, I remembered that I wanted to experiment with sweet crepes for breakfast. The batter needs to rest overnight, so even though I was in the middle of watching my favorite movie on TCM, up from my couch I popped. I grabbed Chocolate and Zucchini's recipe, and as it's just me, I made a 1/3 batch in my blender (it calls for three eggs, so a half-recipe would be problematic...). The batter went into the fridge, and I went back to The Philadelphia Story.

I'm not a big breakfast person (I usually have toast and fruit or something), but this morning I made what was, perhaps, my best weekday breakfast ever: A Baby Moro Blood Orange Crepe. Easiest. Thing. Ever. Peel a blood orange and section it. Place the sections on the crepe while the second side is cooking, and fold when it's finished. Dust with a little powdered sugar. Enjoy!

Jerusalem Artichokes--oops...

Things don't always go well in my kitchen. While it's a shame, it's an important learning process.

A week and a half ago I picked up some Jerusalem artichokes (a.k.a. sunchokes) at the Union Square Greenmarket. I'd never cooked them before, but have heard raves from friends and read articles praising them. For something that was historically shunned, they were a little expensive, but whatever!

Finally last night, with the post-snow temperatures outside dipping into the teens, I decided it was a good night for a roasting advenutre. I peeled them (R.I.P. peeler guy), cut them into uniform chunks, and tossed them, along with some small potatoes (why not have a roasting frenzy while I'm at it) with olive oil and Maldon salt, then popped them into a 350 degree oven (which in my oven, means about 375-400). The trouble began when I checked them after 20 minutes. I decided I needed to add garlic, so I minced some and threw it in. I roasted them for another 15 minutes, noticed things weren't browning, and I turned up the heat. I was hungry.

Five minutes more, stir. Five minutes more, stir. Five minutes more--finally brown.

I took them out and served them with the last of my melty leeks. Alas...I'd overcooked them...well, I'd actually overcooked the garlic, which was a brown chewy nightmare. From what I could tell, the Jerusalem artichokes were probably really yummy--nutty and interesting--but the garlic killed the dish. Oh well. Live and learn...


Sushi Cam

It's a dreary, snow-filled, first Monday in March, and it's day 65 of me being completely over winter. Thanks to BoingBoing for posting this video of a camera on a sushi conveyor in Japan--people's reactions are priceless, and it's a brilliant, happy idea. Now I can face the day...


Crepe Discovery

This week, I have been enlightened ... for better or worse. A magical IM from Paris on the Upper West Side invited me to a Shrove Tuesday supper of crepes. I'd fallen in love with their amazing wonderfulness in France. During my Parisian wanderings I often stopped to gaze into creperie windows, watching the masterful technique using giant pans and crepe squeegees (see photo). It looked so easy, but something about it was so daunting...

But thanks to the Shrove Tuesday crepe feast, I've realized how easy they are. Sweet crepes and Bretagne-style galettes (savory, made with buckwheat flour and cooked with salty butter) were on the menu, along with a host of possible fillings. For the galettes: Hickory smoked bacon, Emmental cheese, melty leeks, and mushrooms sautéed with sage. For the sweet crepes: apple/pear/rum compote and rhubarb/blood orange compote. It was, perhaps, one of our most satisfying meals ever.

Completely obsessed for the next few days, I purchased some buckwheat flour from International Grocery on 9th Avenue between 40th and 41st. I found a galette recipe on Chocolate & Zucchini (a wonderful Parisian blog and the first place I go when researching French recipes), and went to work. Realizing I really should invest in a scale (the rest of the world weighs dry ingredients), I converted the measurements and tweaked the amounts to guess at a half-recipe, since I was just cooking for myself. I ended up with:

Galette Experiment #1
(makes 7-8 crepes)

1 egg
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup regular wheat flour
1 cup milk
1 cup water
Bretagne or Norman-style salty butter
(today's filling, melty leeks--see below--and goat cheese)

Put all ingredients into a blender or bowl. If using a blender, pulse lightly until well mixed. If using a whisk or fork, beat until blended. Place batter in refrigerator for at least two hours, but overnight is definitely best (the batter takes on the quality of a true galette the longer it rests).

Heat a crepe or frying pan over fairly high heat, then add a liberal amount of salty butter to coat. Stir batter to make sure it's mixed again (the flour will settle a bit while resting), then pour a ladle-full into the pan, tilt and move pan to coat evenly. Cook until bottom is nicely browned, then flip. Top with ingredients of your choice (they will warm up while the second side cooks). When the bottom's nicely browned, fold and serve hot.

Melty Leeks

3 leeks
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup chicken stock or water

Thoroughly wash leeks (dirt often hides between leaves, so keep an eye out while chopping). Slice the white and light green portion into strips that are about 1 inch long by 1/2 inch wide (save the green parts for a stir fry). Heat butter into a sauté pot or pan with a lid. Add leeks and sauté until they begin to wilt. Add the stock or water, cover, and cook for about 30 min (until the leeks are very well done and look "melty"), checking occasionally to make sure they're not sticking or burning. If there's liquid remaining, cook uncovered until it evaporates. Serve with anything--in a crepe, as a bed for fish, etc.