29.3.09

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.

27.3.09

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...

25.3.09

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.

24.3.09

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.

21.3.09

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...


WRONG!

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

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.)

19.3.09

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