Oceana in Manhattan, NYC – The World Is My Oyster, A Matter of Food and Life

I have been thinking a lot about how to write this post because the experience was not only about the food. The food played a big part for sure but the experience was more about connecting the dots in life, much like how the oysters showed up on the plate for me that night. Oceana is a seafood restaurant located on 49th Street and Ave of the Americas in New York City. It’s supposed to be a great one with a premier locale.

Oceana belongs to the Livanos Family who owns Moderne Barn in Armonk and City Limits Diner in White Plains. I was not aware of this fact until I did the research on Oceana post my dining experience.  Interestingly, the performance of Oceana is consistent with my experiences at both restaurants in the Westchester county. It’s consistently fine but not outstanding. Read my earlier posts, click here for Moderne Barn and here  for City Limits.image Chef’s compliment – Something about sunchokes with cream. Couldn’t really hear the waiter. It was good. imageOysters: Naked Cowboy (LI), Summerside (PEI), Dabob Bay (WA), Totten Inlet (WA), Fanny Bay (British Columbia), Tokeen Bay (AK).  I won’t point fingers since I am not 100% sure… I believe starting at 12 o’clock is the Naked Cowboy (2 each) and then rotate clockwise to Tokeen Bay. If that were true, Dabob Bays were really dumb! They were tasteless and meaty with a low salinity. Naked Cowboys and Summerside were everything one would expect from east coast oysters. They were beautiful, sweet and strong with a mineral taste. imageTamari Glazed Steelhead Salmon: soybeans, water chestnuts, shiitake broth. Excellent. Excellent. This was the best for the night.imageSticky Toffee Pudding: rum caramel, coconut ice cream, toasted coconut. Oceana’s dessert menu sounded very promising but the reality is far from satisfactory. This was ok but I certainly would not spend my calories on it.imageChocolate Layer Trifecta: chocolate cake, toffee crunch, chocolate crémeux. I love chocolate. Chocolate makes me happy. When a menu item lists chocolate three times, I expect the dessert to deliver a pleasant punch if not a high. Hershey’s kisses is the quality of this dessert. Mediocre and main stream. I had two bites.imageChef’s Compliments: They came by twice to try to give us the same complimentary dessert. My friend believes that the chef went out to a Duane Reade across the street and bought a bag of these to distribute to the diners. Sadly, they taste true to the Duane Reade candies.

Whenever I have oysters, I highly anticipate. Oysters are a representation of best things life can offer – smooth, alive, salty and sweet, mineral/floral, and filled with changes and surprises. They never sucked for me until those two dumb oysters that night. On that tray of twelve, some were pleasant highlights and two were not worth eating, reminding me to check my cavalier attitudes at the door, pay attention to my present-and-now, connect the dots and don’t let the restaurant bring their oyster sampler. Take charge to find that oyster high. Live deeply and fully.

Consistently with the other Livanos Family restaurants, Oceana was fine but not outstanding.

This experience took place at

Oceana

120 W 49th St
New York, NY 10019

Oriental Garden Restaurant 福臨門海鮮酒家 in Chinatown, New York- Dim Sum Brunch Anyone?

My sister and I met up in Oriental Garden in Chinatown for a dim sum brunch. In the last twenty years, I ate only once in Chinatown. Recently, I ate at Shanghai 456 and now Oriental Garden. I did not have a great experience at Shanghai 456 and hoped that Oriental Garden would be better.imageBaked Cha Shao Bao 叉燒包imageFried Dumpling, Chew Chow DumplingimageRoast DuckimageTurnip CakeimageSteamed Spare Ribs, Lotus Leaf Sticky Rice, Beef Balls and Shrimp Dumpling

Here is the comparison between eating in a good Chinatown restaurant (Oriental Garden) and eating in an equivalent restaurant in Asia:

The ambiance is much better in Asia
The service is better in Asia
The food is equivalent – the Chinese know how to cook!

Chinatown is good for tourists, the Chinese who live in the US and miss home, and the non-Chinese who need a little culture. Oriental Garden or not – really does not matter. They are all kind of good in their own way. But there is really nothing better than buying that ticket and get yourself on a flight. As soon as you land, you will be in awe of the difference. Take a deep breath in and let it soak in. The overwhelming amount of interesting food, the people, excellent service (no tipping required), and the culture.

I will not be home in Asia this Summer and it saddens me greatly. Chinatown – you and I will be much closer friends for the next few months.

This experience took place at

Oriental Garden Restaurant

14 Elizabeth St
New York, NY 10013
Phone:(212) 619-0085

Cellar 49 in Tarrytown, NY- A Weird Basement Restaurant in an Estate Mansion

I found myself at Cellar 49 in Tarrytown, NY. This is the on site restaurant for Tarrytown House Estate and Conference Center, one of the Destination Hotels. This was a completely weird experience. The estate is large and well-manicured; the restaurant is located in the basement or the wine cellar of this majestic old house. All sounds great so far, right? image For a 8:30pm dinner, there were no other diner in the restaurant. The servers had nothing to do and were way too friendly. See this little hut in the photo? It was built to block the entrance to the kitchen. The picture in the middle of the wooden wall blocks the window into the kitchen.imageWINGS / sweet chili or honey buffalo. Surprise! These honey buffalo wings were excellent. Not really spicy but they were fried perfectly and seasoned with enough sugar to keep me going until tomorrow morning.imageBABY BEETS / smoked / yogurt / candied cashews / herb puree. Interesting plating and concept. Liked the color play but the beets were not seasoned properly. The herb puree did absolutely nothing.imageSMOKED PORK CHOP / grits / chard / peach preserves. The glaze and the execution were what made the dish stand out. The meat was tender, juicy and sweet- like all good tropical fruits. I was impressed by how tender it was because this chop was thick and wide.imageDUCK TACOS / chorizo / onion slaw. The concept was intriguing and worthy. The execution was terrible. The duck was dry. The combination of duck and taco was a no go. Did not taste the chorizo – perhaps it was masked in the slaw.

Although we were the only ones in the restaurant, the noise level was intolerable. The loud conversations from the bar were piped directly into the restaurant space. It was not just loud, it was crystal clear. I heard the entire conversation about someone they know between a woman and the server.

Overall, the food was a little awesome when they hit it right; when they didn’t, it was disappointing. Out of the four dishes, two were excellent. The entire experience of eating at a restaurant alone in the basement of an estate mansion while listening to loud conversations next door was just weird. I wonder how destination hotels stay in business with no one dining in their restaurants.

This experience took place at

Cellar 49
Tarrytown House Estate and Conference Center

49 E Sunnyside Ln,
Tarrytown, NY 10591
Phone:(914) 591-3183

Sala One Nine in NYC – Eating, Seeing, Listening and Trekking

There is something about seeing Serrano ham, jamón serrano, on a hook next to a glass of wine that keeps me engaged. It’s the visual cue that evokes the memories of Madrid and Barcelona. A good restaurant serves good food. A great restaurant gives you the full sensual experience of eating, seeing and listening. Sala One Nine on West 19th Street in NY did that for me.

The restaurant was buzzing with young professionals, each better looking than the last. My friend and I sat on the bar stools, surveyed and feasted our eyes. The music was loud but the conversations around us were even louder. Loved the energy the place had. The service was so so. The servers were too busy to ensure that we had food and drinks. Minus one to Sala One Nine from an almost perfect score.imageThis is on the bar counter where I sat. As soon as I saw it, I was back on the streets of Madrid passing by many ham stores, having a big fight with my daughter’s father. Sometimes, life gives you so many cues to switch your path but you must be open and self-aware enough to see them. I was blind then. Having a young child and a promise of forever can take away one’s center and a sense of self. imageSpanish cocktails. It’s too bad that I did not document the cocktail menu while I was there. My pomegranate drink was excellent – a nice wind down from a rough day. We celebrated my friend getting into the medical school with these!imageChuleton A La Brasa grilled 16 oz. “vintage farm” rib-eye, roasted garlic butter and fries. imagePulpo A La Gallega: octopus, potato, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil and paprika. I am an Octopus whore and will pass on Serrano ham for grilled octopus. I did not regret it. The simple preparation is always the best for the octopus. This was yummy. Will need to return for the ham and the beef tripe.

I loved the experience at Sala One Nine. I loved the octopus and the cocktail. I love the cues I get and the trek I am on. The blinders are still on but I take them off once in a while to machete the overgrown vegetation in this hot mess of a jungle.

This experience took place at

Sala One Nine

35 W 19th St
New York, NY 10011
Phone:(212) 229-2300

The Spread in South Norwalk, CT- Happy Friday! Hope Your Day Will Be Just Fine

The Spread in South Norwalk, CT is a popular restaurant for a Sunday brunch. When I went there with a friend, the restaurant was full and the noise level was high, filling with energy. We were sat down immediately next to a wall of plants.
French press coffee. It was a pleasant surprise when the decaf coffee I ordered came with a French press. Even not so great coffees can taste better with a French press. I was really tickled when the coffee and the cream were served in delicate bone china. I straightened my back and sat up properly! See the sugars?  The container for sugar was an electrical socket box.Bloody Maria with bacon, tequila-spiked! I think it’s a little weird but who am I to judge?
illy espresso. Bone china saucer plate with the thick illy cup.  ALASKAN BENNY: poached egg | smoked salmon hollandaise | English muffin. This was ok. Just ok.

The restaurant itself is an experience with the plants on the wall, the cute distressed wood tables and the fine china. It’s a little quirky, a lot adorable and very fine. For that, it’s worth going.

This experience took place at

The Spread

70 N Main St
Norwalk, CT 06854
Phone:(203) 939-1111

IKEA Cafeteria in New Haven, CT- the POÄNG, A Beer, and A Diaper Meets Nirvarna

I miss the meatballs. I miss the IKEA Swedish meatballs, KÖTTBULLAR. I miss the simpler days of buying home furnishing from IKEA and put them in a box that is called home. Being in IKEA in New Haven, CT and seeing all the people doing the same, many with money-sucking children in tow, brought back lots of memories. The people were eager and ready for the next stage of their lives. Yet the most amazing realization was that the cafeteria has improved leaps and bounds since my last visit. Short of a restaurant setup and the long prison-like wait line, this was almost a culinary delight!If I could have veggies like this everyday, I would meet my daily vegetable requirements easily. Freshly steamed and with the right amount of butter and salt.The Swedish meatballs that I used to have in my freezer with mashed potatoes, gravy and ligonberry jam. Salmon Salad. Is that real Salmon color?
A real chocolaty chocolate cake. A so much better than a fancy expensive restaurant chocolate cake. A cake that is worth the calories and I am almost willing to die for. This is a diamond in the rough cake. This is an awesomely inexpensive, completely in disguised gourmet cake. This is a melt in your mouth and you are now in nirvana cake.Corn bread, freshly baked and warm. Lots of calories but this is you wish you had more room in your stomach corn bread.

I sat in the POÄNG armchair next to my friend, gently rocking back and forth observing the folks passing by. We pretended that we were an old couple who desperately needed a beer and a diaper change. This was a food experience like non-other before. This was nirvana.

This experience took place at

IKEA

450 Sargent Dr
New Haven, CT 06511
(888) 888-4532

Koku in Armonk, NY – Asian Fusion and Chinese Dialects at Their Best from Fuzhou, China

There is a new restaurant in Armonk, NY. As a resident of Armonk, I am so delighted that I now have more options on Asian Fusion restaurants. Koku took over Made In Asia next to the CVS in town. The restaurant is modern with hip designs that are comparable to those in the City.  I walked in with my 12-year-old and the brainless hostess sat us right in front of the bar where it was loud and child-inappropriate. Of course, I declined and sat ourselves at the sushi counter and watched the actions.

The friendly sushi chefs were absolutely amazing behind the counters. I couldn’t figure out what language they were speaking and I decided to ask.

“What language are you speaking?”
“Chinese!”
“That’s not Chinese!”

I exclaimed in both English and Mandarin, the official language of China and Taiwan. They then quickly switched into Mandarin and conversed with me. They were speaking the Fuzhou dialect.  I am slightly surprised because the Fuzhou dialect is close to the Min Nan dialect which is also known as Taiwanese. Yes, I can also maneuver in Taiwanese. Confused, I looked up Chinese Dialects in Wikipedia… OMG. This is a moment when having the 5,000 years of Chinese heritage means the world. We really should be more proud as a people. Grilled squid with Teriyaki sauce. Although this dish was in the menu in the restaurant, it is not listed on their website. That’s unfortunate because it was excellent. It was done the authentic Japanese way. The squid was still tender. It was so good that my picky small human changed her opinion on the squid and ate a lot of it! She used to reject eating squids. Salmon roll. Respectable. This is also not on the menu. My new sushi chef friends decided to treat us and made this crab and guacamole appetizer for us.Nabeyaki Udon: Noodle soup w. shrimp, chicken, egg, fishcake & vegetable. Sadly, this is the only dish that under-delivered. The broth was too young. The noodle did not absorb any of the goodness from the broth.

The restaurant appears to be staffed by people, other than the bartender and the hostess, from Fuzhou. They are the friendliest bunch I have ever known in Armonk. They all commute from Flushing; one of the chefs moved from Virginia for this job. They were so eager to please and to make sure that we like the food. They were so eager to deliver high customer service. I don’t think I could ask for more from a restaurant. Koku has great pricing, excellent food, wonderful staff, and a lively atmosphere. Highly recommended it.

This was a completely opposite experience than my recent trip into Chinatown. There was no belittling of me, click here to read my Chinatown post.  Koku’s people are young, vibrant and want to do the best they can. Chinatown is of the past and Asian Fusion in Armonk represents the future!

This experience took place at

Koku
454 Main St
Armonk, NY 10504
Phone:(914) 730-0077