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

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

456 Shanghai Cuisine in Chinatown, NY- Authentic Food and Authentic Belittling of Asian Women

I am Taiwanese. I am not Chinese. I love all kinds of food, including Shanghainese Cuisine in Chinatown. I can be wary of going to an authentic Chinese food place in the US. I have not had much luck whenever I go. Let it be a food hygiene issue or simply the fact that I am an Asian woman and I speak the same language as the servers. Sometimes, they have a problem with it, especially if I go with a white male friend. At 456 Shanghai Cuisine in Chinatown, NY, the unfortunate scene repeated.

All was good in the beginning when I spoke only in English. Troubles began when I started speaking in Mandarin to the servers.Soup dumplings. Delish!
Cold Jelly on the left and braised beef on the right. The beef was not tasty and I remembered how this dish is usually served in Taiwan – adding a little bit of dark vinegar and chili. I asked the server (this is an older gentleman) for the dark vinegar in Mandarin. He was a little surprised that I spoke the language. Quickly answered that I already had the vinegar with the soup dumplings and corrected my vocabulary.

People- the vocab for the same item can be a little different between Taiwan and China. This server is from China. I then asked for chili because what they provided was not spicy. He laughed at me and said that what’s on the table was all they got. Told me all I needed to do was eat more chili, implying volume will increase the level of spiciness. His reaction toward me can be considered as a typical treatment from someone who is an older male to the younger and less worthy female.

In the Chinese culture, I can do one of two things in response: suck it up because I am younger and I am a woman or I yell back and be mean. I usually do the former because I find it unnecessary to get all riled up by a server from the old world. But it really sucked to be belittled. I did nothing other than being a customer who wanted her condiments. It was a punishment for showing that I am one of them but have crossed into the other world.

Inevitably, any white friends I have experienced such a scene with (and there were many occasions) always find the situation interesting. For me, not so much. Peking duck pancakes, green scallions, and Hoisin sauce.
The duck. Fatty though…This is how you put them together.Voila!

I am proud of my heritage. I am proud to be able to speak the language. I am also proud to be a New Yorker who loves food. Sadly, this kind of experience keeps me away from authentic Chinese restaurants in the area and makes me long for the days in Taiwan when I am respected regardless of my age or my gender.

P.S. I did want to smack the waiter around at some point that night.

This experience took place at

456 Shanghai Cuisine
69 Mott St # A
New York, NY 10013
Phone:(212) 964-0003

Cafe Spice in Grand Central Station, NY- Underrated Delicious Indian Food for the Westchester Commuters

I had eaten in Cafe Spice before but I forgot how underrated they are. Cafe Spice in the lower level of Grand Central has delicious and well-priced Indian food. If you go at the right time (when they are not too busy), they will even warm up your roti in the oven for you! The food made such an impression that I went back the next day.
I had the lamb curry the first time around. The menu changes in a small way from day-to-day.
Lamb curry, salad, rice, and dal (lentil). Look at the size of my whole wheat roti! It was super warm after being in the oven for two minutes. What a joy that was.  I had the lamb again on the second try. The yellow dal was drier than the dark but still very yummy. I had a little trouble understanding the young server at the counter asking me whether I wanted the dal over the rice. I made him repeat three times. He was so kind and relaxed that we laughed about it instead.

What great experiences I had – all for less than $20. It was fulfilling, savory, flavorful and healthy. I could eat Indian food everyday. Highly recommend Cafe Spice for the Grand Central commuters. I ate mine on my lap heading back north on the Harlem Line.

This experience took place at

Cafe Spice
Grand Central Terminal
109 E 42nd St,
New York, NY 10017
(646) 227-1300

Il Gattopardo in Manhattan, NY- Impressive Rockefeller Townhouse with Not So Impressive Food

I met up with a chef friend in the City for a day. He was looking to revisit restaurants that he frequented with his parents. Unfortunately we were zero for two and we ended up at Il Gattopardo on West 54th Street between 5th and 6th. We stopped in front of the townhouse, impressed by its architecture and the fact that a restaurant is inside. This is one of The Rockefeller Townhouses designed by “architect Henry Hardenbergh (Dakota Building and Plaza Hotel), on the so-called ‘Millionaire’s Row’ in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.” “The buildings were designed in the Beaux Arts Renaissance style.”

Perhaps it was the location. We had a weird experience at Il Gattopardo. With its exterior and prestigious address, we assumed the food would be decent and the interior would match the outside. We were wrong. Once we walked in, we were transformed to the 80s, where the color brown and an out-of-date approach dominated the decor.
Brown wicker dinning chairs for a “loyal upscale New Yorker clientele,” per Il Gattpardo. These maybe more appropriate for their atrium.
Chef’s compliments. The round ones had cheese and the other ones had spinach inside. We were not impressed. They were at best, ok.  Special: Campanelle with a rabbit ragout. This was the best dish for the meal. The pasta was fresh and cooked perfectly. The rabbit ragout was a tad salty but fine.
Spaghetti alla “Carbonara”, with egg yolk, pecorino cheese and black-pepper corn. This was horrible. The spaghetti was too al dente , bordering on being uncooked. The entire dish was way salty; I think it was salted at least twice. These are rookie mistakes. This was my friend’s dish. Being a chef, the last thing he would ever do was sending back a dish and he considered it very seriously. For $22 a plate, this hurt even more.  

Do not recommend this restaurant. Not worth the money.

This experience took place at

Il Gattopardo

13-15 W 54th St
New York, NY 10019
212 246 0412
contactus@ilgattopardonyc.com

P.S. Their website is also terrible with unnecessary cooking noises as the audio. The user experience is sub par with confusing navigation functions.

Obicà Mozzarella Bar in Manhattan, NY- The Best Mozzarella Money Can Buy, What a Claim!

OBICÀ is a global mozzarella bar in midtown Manhattan. There is a location on Madison Ave and 56th in the IBM Atrium and one in the Flatiron district. I walked by the Atrium location with a friend on a weekend night and thought the Atrium setting was nice to rest our tired legs. We had no idea what we walked into… “Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP is the best Mozzarella money can buy,” said Obicà.

This is a short clip on how Obicà make their mozzarella. The director went a bit long-winded and arty yet still very enjoyable.

Mozzarelle di Bufala- Burrata: deliciously creamy. Other than the perfect soft cheese that oozed out when the knife cut in, I also found their menu well written. Here is what they said:

“From the fertile plains of Campania comes the unique Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, endowed with a Protected Designation of Origin certificate. We have selected the very best farms, which milk their own herds and ensure a superior product, with the characteristic porcelain white shine, milky texture and distinctive taste.”

They touched upon the origin of the ingredient, the trust from a certificate, and the look and taste of the cheese. Covered all basis. It was not the best burrata I have ever had but it was pretty awesome. It was indeed deliciously creamy. They have lived up to the marketing hype.Accompanied the burrata with cherry tomatoes and basil pesto. Hmm. Thought this would have been a slam dunk. But it was not. The cherry tomatoes were perfect and sweet but the pesto somehow did not go well with the burrata. We ended up doing our own vinaigrette for the cherry tomatoes and adding burrata to the bite. That worked much much better.  Tiramisù Ricetta Tradizionale – Homemade Tiramisù. My friend loved the Tiramisu. It was melt-in-your-mounth sweet and creamy, like the burrata. It was not pretty to look at but it was definitely quality Tiramisu. I could have had the whole bowl by myself.
Torta di Capri – Flourless Chocolate and Almond Cake. Flourless chocolate cake is one of my favorite desserts. Unfortunately, this cake was crumbly and tasted bad. The almond was a miss. Luckily, the same friend also loved this cake so he polished it off for me.

In retrospect, I should have ordered the Selezione di Salumi – Prosciutto Crudo, Salame Felino, Bresaola, Speck to go with the burrata. I saw other tables having it with their mozzarella and I was jealous.

This was good eating. May not be the best money can buy but I will definitely repeat and sample more. Two thumbs up!

This experience took place at

Obicà Mozzarella Bar
590 Madison Avenue (56th Street)
IBM Building, ATRIUM
NY 10022 – New York
Tel. (212) 355 2217
ny-madison@obicausa.com

Ali’s Roti Shop in Brooklyn, NY- Doubles, Buss Up Shut and Dhalpuri

Thanks to my Trinidadian friend, Shawn, I was introduced to Trinidadian roti in Ali’s Roti Shop on Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn. It was absolutely sensational. Roti, the common street food, is fulfilling and filled with yummy ghee, channa (curried chick peas) and cumin. I gained an appreciation for roti and loved the new education that came with eating it.

As I was taught, there are three types of roti that are commonly eaten in Trinidad for breakfast or anytime really (things have changed from eating roti only on special occasions to eating roti daily for breakfast) :

  • Doubles: a sandwich made with two bara (flat fried bread) filled with channa (curried chick peas), eaten with spicy and sweet sauce. This is a food that was pioneered by a Trinidadian entrepreneur.   We started with Doubles, almost like an appetizer.
  • Buss Up Shut or Buss Up Shot (Busted-up Shirt): A lighter version of the Indian Paratha roti made to look like a busted-up shirt. I asked Shawn to repeat his explanations since I was surprised to learn of the colorful description. The texture was like shredded thin paper bread that is both airy and chewy. Here is another explanation of Buss up Shot by PRI.
  • Dhalpuri: My commoner explanation of this is that it is a roti with the channa filling in a pocket and folded up to look like a regular roti. So you eat until you are surprised with the present in the middle – kind of like a toy inside of a cereal box.

Apple Cinder and Solo Kola are the quintessential beverages to accompany our roti brunch.
A Doubles when we first got it.    A Doubles revealing its middle.
Voila! This is what a Doubles looks like when opened!  Busted-up Shirt, Buss Up Shut or Buss Up Shot. Sorry for the terrible photo that doesn’t do it justice . Dhalpuri
 Dhalpuri with curried goat and curried chicken. Curried goat and curried chicken. We slathered so much tamarin sauce and spicy sauce on top of these stewed and meat-falling-of-the-bone dishes, eaten with either the buss-up shut or Dhalpuri. It was unreal. It was messy but good. We were using our fingers to dig in and I felt like a child! It was a sensational treat for the mouth and the stomach. It was fulfilling. While I was eating, I kept on thinking how many miles I have to run to burn all the calories off. This is a food fit for the physically active.
Ali’s Roti Shop is funky, with neon lights for the ceiling and walls and red leatherette booths and ottoman. Em, fyi, the lights were running during a sunny October afternoon while the owner’s young daughter (maybe 5-year-old?) was moving from ottoman to ottoman, playing with her Barbie. This is definitely Brooklyn, NY.

Thank you, Shawn, for indulging my food and cultural desires.  This is friendship at its best. I love learning from friends. #BussUpShot

Lastly, this is my December challenge of 4 of 17, writing a post a day until I leave for vacation, along with the Runner’s World Holiday 37-Day Challenge (running one mile a day from Thanksgiving until New Year’s.) #RWRunStreak Seems like a very tall challenge now, coming down with a cold.

This experience took place at

Ali’s Roti Shop
589 Flatbush Ave,
Brooklyn, NY 11225
(718) 462-1730

Sweet Yummy House 三好小馆 in Elmhurst, Queens, NY- Cheesy Name and Poor Hygiene Gets an A from NYC Department of Health

Sweet Yummy House’s Chinese name, 三好小馆,  means “Three Good Things Little Restaurant.” It does not refer to anything sweet nor yummy. As I begin describing my experience at the Sweet Yummy House  in Elmhurst NY, I want you to remember that this restaurant received a grade A from NYC Health and Mental Hygiene Department on October 8th this year. Although my visit was in September, this rating should still apply. Here is the screen shot of the Grade A from NYC Department of Health website.Sautéed Cabbage in Hot and Sour Sauce四川泡菜。 This is definitely not sautéed; it is pickled. This is an inaccurate translation. But the dish was darn good. A perfect representation of the Sichuan cuisine: bold, flavorful, and spicy!Spicy Pork Kidney 麻辣腰花。 I was not a fan of the kidney but my friend loved both the kidney and the wood ear mushrooms. The slightly metallic taste strongly cut right through the spiciness. The photo sure is colorful and inviting. I think the photo looks more tasty than the actual dish.Diced Rabbit with Red Chili Sauce 麻辣兔丁。 This was just bad… The bone was still on the rabbit. The peanuts and the sesame created a weird contrast to the bones – they were all chewy and crunchy just at different levels. If you get a mouth full of bones, peanuts and sesame, your mouth would be confused by the size and the hardness. Your teeth would not know which to chew first because there is no right answer. The peanuts were the best part of the dish. I could not tell that there were rabbit meat involved. It was mostly bone!Sautéed Potatoes Leaves. This was excellent. Fresh veggies quickly sautéed in the wok. Can’t really go wrong unless you overcook it.Wonton in Red Chili Sauce江油抄手。This was acceptable.

The food, overall, was not bad. Mostly tasty. Sweet Yummy House offered authentic Sichuan dishes that are rarely seen outside of heavily concentrated Chinese neighborhoods. So that was a treat for me, for an Asian living in a white-washed suburban town. The restaurant had mostly Asian diners, even young kids who spoke only Mandarin (with Beijing accent, with the Fujian accent and with the Taiwanese accent). I inevitably eavesdropped and translated the conversations around me.

So I left the restaurant thinking that this was a good experience until… Both my friend and I had mild tummy aches and further digestive trouble for the next 12 hours. It’s either the rabbit bones or the hygiene of the restaurant. My money is on the hygiene or the lack of it.

WILL NOT RETURN. DID NOT PASS MY HYGIENE TEST.

This experience took place at

Sweet Yummy House 三好小馆
83-13 Broadway
Elmhurst, NY 11373
(718) 878-6603

The Grill in Forest Hills, NY- A Surprise Find in Capers, Rice, Cabbages, and Tandoori Bread

The Grill in Forest Hills, Queens classifies themselves as a Mediterranean restaurant. I guess that’s correct. They serve a combination of Greek food and Shish Kebab (which is more Middle Eastern for me). Amongst the restaurants in Forest Hills on a Saturday night, The Grill was not very busy at all. This would usually be a red flag but the dining experience turned out to be a surprise.Burratta: served over ripe grape tomatoes and fresh basil. Cutting into this burratta is an experience by itself. It felt very organic; had a lot of give and take like a woman. The ripe grape tomatoes and the basil sauce completed the dish by giving the Burratta the oil and the acidity. Octopus: fresh charcoal grilled octopus with authentic herbs and seasoning drizzled with fresh lemon and olive oil. This was acceptable. The best part, unfortunately, was not the octopus. Instead, it was the capers. The mistake is all the onions that were used and the complexity that was unnecessary for a fine ingredient like grilled octopus. You can even see it in the photo- too busy. Lamb Shish Kebab: tender chunks marinated with chef spices. Grilled to perfection on an open flame. This came with the Greek yellow rice and the red cabbage which turned out to be the best part. The lamb chunks were a little dry on the outer rings but acceptable.Seafood Bouillabaisse: Clams, mussels, shrimps, scallops in spicy beer broth in tandoori bread. Aha, there is a theme here. The best part, unfortunately, was not the seafood. Instead it was the tandoori bread. The beer broth was an interesting touch.

In summary, The Grill is worth a repeat visit because the food is decent and the restaurant is not too crowded. The service was both excellent and terrible, depending on who was paying attention to the customers.

On a side note, there was a “first date” happening next to my table. I felt awful for the guy because the girl was bored, picking at her nails, and looking into space. There was no conversation between the two. It was painful to watch. I wanted to intervene and say, “Time Out.”

This experience took place at

The Grill

107-12 70th Rd
Forest Hills, NY 11375
Phone:(718) 544-4600