Nom Wah Tea Parlor Is Back, Baby!

That's right, folks, what's apparently Chinatown's oldest tea shop has most definitely been reborn, to my incredible happiness.

For years, I've frequently wandered past Nom Wah Tea Parlor, basically because I just love Doyers Street: One of Chinatown's two original streets, it was once known as The Bloody Angle for all of the Tong Gang murders that took place there a century ago. Today it's a tiny little bend balancing old and new New York, with high-end speakeasys beginning to nestle in beside a few longtime survivors.

Each time I meandered by Nom Wah I almost went in--it's a Chinatown landmark that's been on Doyers Street since 1920. But because I had an unfortunate experience there more than ten years ago (bug in a dumpling), I always continued walking by. I hate bugs.

Recently, though, I was happy to see--and read--that Nom Wah has been revitalized by the previous owner's young nephew, Wilson Tang. He's spruced up the place and renovated the kitchen--and it is now a truly wonderful, bright, and happy space.

I finally made my way there, and--hooray--the dim sum is as tasty as the space. While it lacks the carts and the madness of the dim sum palaces most of us frequent for weekend brunch, Nom Wah's advantage is that everything is made to order. And even better, they're open until 9pm, so you can have dim sum any time of day, seven days a week. Heaven!

We filled out our card and tried a small selection of their numerous offerings. The stand-outs were the steamed roast pork buns, which were fluffy, a little yeasty, and filled with a great pork concoction; the steamed shrimp dumplings with snow pea shoots, which were almost transcendent; the fried rice, which I actually liked (I usually think it's boring); and the turnip cakes, which were crispy and actually made from fresh turnip--and therefore completely addictive.

Nom Wah also has a large selection of inexpensive teas, but it was a warm, sticky evening, so I just wasn't in the mood. Next time.

The restaurant stands out, to me, for two main reasons: it has a wonderful sense of history, and offers great food at a reasonable price. The atmosphere is also really relaxed (though we were there for an extremely early dinner), there's some new cozy window seating, and it has, by far, the cleanest bathrooms in Chinatown (which...for those of you who know, is something the neighborhood needs to work on in general). So, if things keep up, Nom Wah could easily take the crown for my favorite place in Chinatown. I'm just going to have to go back and see...

Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street.


Sign O' The Day

Actually, Sign O' Two Days Ago, in front of Atomic Wings on Ninth Avenue.


Battleyaki #1: Vivi, Oh! Taisho, & Otafuku

On Saturday I finally participated in a long-awaited food challenge: Battleyaki! In honor of a Birthday Royale, a group of us set out to pit takoyaki joint vs. takoyaki joint and find the best octopus balls in NYC.

For those of you who don't know the joys of takoyaki, it's a ball of savory dough containing a large chunk of octopus (or a few smaller pieces) and a few other flavorings, like pickled ginger and green onion. Cooked in a specially-designed takoyaki pan, the balls of goodness are usually topped or served with okonomiyaki (similar to a sweet/mild barbecue sauce), mayonnaise, and bonito flakes. Tako (octopus) yaki (fried or grilled) originated in Osaka, Japan, and it is one of my life goals to go on a serious takoyaki bender there...

We began the Battleyaki in Chinatown at Vivi Bubble Tea (49 Bayard Street). A to-go bubble tea joint, takoyaki is among one of the few savory snacks Vivi offers. Some were surprised that they were kind of sweet (I wasn't getting that so much), and we were worried about the amount of octopus (the first taster ended up with an octopus-free ball!), but both of mine were chock-full of multi-legged sea creature goodness. The balls themselves were nicely crispy on the outside, too. At a dollar less per six than the other places we tried, we all ended up pleasantly surprised.

Next up was Oh! Taisho (9 St. Mark's Place), one of the multitude of Asian joints that has sprung up where all of the tattoo parlors and bong shops used to be. Specializing in yakitori, takoyaki is on the appetizer menu (as it is at its sister shop at 5 St. Mark's, Yakitori Taisho). Oh! Taisho served the takoyaki differently: Okonomiyaki and benito on the top, mayo and ginger on the side. While the other dishes we ordered there were wonderful, the takoyaki left something to be desired: not very flavorful, not much octopus, and kind of soggy.

Finally, we headed around the corner to Otafuku (236 E. 9th Street), which actually seems to be part of a larger company? I've had many takoyaki at this little take-out place, and once again, they did not disappoint. Really rich and complex with a huge chunk of octopus in each ball, we were all happy--as per the usual there.

And the winner of Battleyaki #1? ...*drumroll*... It was kind of a tie! We all love Otafuku and think it's wonderfully tasty, consistent, and satisfying, but we were really surprised by Vivi. While many weren't sure about the sweetness, we were all really impressed by the texture.

But really, we couldn't come to a definitive answer anyway, since we only made it to three of the five places on Saturday's list, which didn't even include all of NYC's takoyaki purveyors. So, we're already working on Battleyaki #2!

And to tide us over, here's a video of one of our favorite takoyaki bonuses: Bonito in motion!


A Lamb Sandwich Just In Time For Easter @ElsewhereNYC

If you haven't made your Easter plans yet--and really don't want to cook--you might want to head over to Elsewhere and partake of the leg of lamb sandwich. Run by the Caselulla folks (which I love), I'd been wanting to go check out what they'd done with the famous old Le Madeline space (in which Petit Un Deux Trois tried, but...), and I finally made it there last weekend for a pre-Jerusalem brunch with my folks (Mark Rylance is FAB--go see it!). The back room with the tree is still there and comfortable, and what we tried foodwise was pretty great.

The lamb sandwich (with horseradish, eggplant, tomato jam, and piave jus) was complex and flavorful, and definitely worth the splurge. But Elsewhere's menu is seasonal and will apparently change, so get over there and grab it while you can!

Elsewhere, 403 W. 43rd Street, just west of Ninth Avenue. Brunch is from 11–3, Saturdays and Sundays.


The High Line's Non-Billboard

Looks like The High Line Phase II's non-billboard at 26th Street is going to have some seating...for some extra relaxed city viewing (and vice versa)?

I also noticed that further north, where The High Line curves west as it heads towards 30th Street, a long row of benches has been installed. Looks like I've found the official location for KKNY's summertime outdoor office!

Worth The Wait: Totto Ramen

Frankly, I've been avoiding Totto Ramen since the place opened. The buzz was more than annoying. I'd heard about the lengthy wait for a table or spot at the bar. I figured I could get great freshly-made noodle soup in Chinatown for half the price. And for whatever reason, I thought it was closer to the annoying Sixth and Seventh Avenue parts of midtown.

On an early dinner whim, I finally went. And wow, Totto Ramen is totally worth it. Number one: If you're lucky enough to sit at the bar, you get the typical ramen shop show, highlights of which include giant bubbling vats of broth and a blowtorch. Number two: The soup is really, really fantastic, and stars its chicken-based broth, which is incredibly rich and wonderfully schmaltzy.

I was starving, so I chose the Totto Miso Ramen, figuring I'd get a little extra protein (that plop in the middle of the bowl is the miso, BTW...). With three slices of torched roasted pork, half a boiled egg, and lots of veggies--and noodles, of course--this, I think, was the most filling bowl of ramen I'd ever consumed. And by far the tastiest.

So, I must admit...the buzz was right on this one. I'm willing to go back and wait in line to try one of the other varieties, because they looked really, really good.

Totto Ramen, 366 W. 52nd Street, just east of Ninth.


Sign O' The Day: Fading Millinery, No. 4F

Walking to the Union Square Greenmarket this morning, I spied this vanishing bit of Old New York on W. 22nd Street.


Truly Cheap Eats: Pork Buns In My Neighborhood

I spend so much time wandering around other parts of town that, sometimes, it takes me a while to discover things in my own backyard. Living on the edge of the Garment District, I know there are a handful of Chinese places that cater to the few garment workers left in the neighborhood's remaining factories. But somehow I've missed one particular gem--35th Street Bakery--which looks like it's been around for quite some time. It's a little divey hole-in-the-wall, but note its "A" rating from the Health Department(...), and most of the baked goods in the case look fab.

Running home from an assignment today--starving--I decided to pop in for a baked roast pork bun...which happened to be right from the oven. While it won't top my list, it's better than many I've had in Chinatown. There's lots of filling, the dough is light and fluffy, and it's only 75 cents, which is cheaper than most.

I'll be going back. Next on the list: red bean buns.

The address for 35th Street Bakery is 494 Eighth Avenue, but the shop is located around the corner, just east of Eighth. 


Department of Bad Ideas?

Why do I think parking such a beautiful ship at the end of the Chelsea Piers driving range is just asking for trouble?


True New Yawk Pigeons

How to tell a pigeon is a native New Yorker: it folds its slice properly.


Truly Cheap Eats: Revisiting Sheng Wang

I've written about Sheng Wang on Eldridge Street before, but haven't visited in a while (especially after having discovered Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodle on Doyers). Last week I finally went back, and was surprised to see that they'd fixed up the joint! It's still pretty divy, but there are fresh walls and many more tables, which will probably make some sort of difference to people who may have been a little too scared to venture in. (Unfortunately, though, is that they've moved the kitchen to the back and added a door, so there's no watching the chef make the noodles anymore.)

It seems like the Sheng Wang folks have also upped their game a little bit--there were definitely more veggies in the soup, and my friend's dumplings were fresh and tasty. I stepped out a bit and ordered the rabbit soup, which was, of course, bony, but pretty good and had lots of meat. Regardless, I don't think I'll get it again...there's a spice in some Chinese cooking I don't really like (I haven't yet managed to place it), and this was chock full of it, alas...

I have to say I still favor the other fresh noodle joints--primarily because Sheng Wang still serves everything in disposable plastic--but it's worth a visit if you're interested in stepping out a bit and experimenting with the huge menu's truly unusual offerings.

There's A Pole-Wielding Chinatown Noodlemaker!

Via the newly-launched OurChinatown blog, a fascinating video about the Chen family's noodle shop on Madison Street. I think I may go buy some tomorrow!

The Noodle Makers from OurChinatown on Vimeo.


Discovery: Chinese Chives!

Now that spring has arrived (finally!!) and thoughts of ramps have been dancing in my head, I've been obsessively craving some oniony/grassy goodness (I really should've gone to the Union Square Greenmarket this morning, but I still have a feeling the extended cold weather this year means it's still too early for ramps...and I don't want to wait in a long line of desperate people). So a few days ago, when I was killing time in a Chinatown vegetable market, I spied some beautiful Chinese chives. They're really inexpensive (a fraction of the price of the oh-so-hip ramps) and easy to use, so I thought I'd buy a bunch...a very, very large bunch...

Why haven't I played with these beauties before? If you're comparing them to ramps (which I am...) they're obviously more chivy and slightly less grassy, but the flavor's wonderful. They're simple to use in stir-fry: I've made a fabulous pseudo cold sesame noodle using the Chinese chives, a little almond butter, the Sichuan chili paste I discovered, and soy sauce (the version pictured has a little beef, too). Stir-fry everything over medium-low heat until the chives wilt, and it's a wonderful, eye-opening dish.

I had so many chives--I'd ended up with about two pounds--so I decided I'd try to make a purée similar to what I'd done with ramps last year. I roughly chopped about a pound of the chives, put them in the processor, added a generous pinch of salt and about a quarter-cup or so of olive oil, and blended everything together. Easy. It's not as sweet as the ramp pesto (believe it or not, I still have some scrapings in the bottom of the jar from last spring!), but I think it's going to be as incredibly useful. Pizza, pasta, stir fry, crepes...who knows?!

Turns out Chinese chives are a wonderful, wonderful discovery. I'll be less desperate for ramps, will be able to emulate a similar flavor year-round, and--most importantly for my friends--I'll be more willing to share the goodness!