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

Han Bat Korean in Midtown Manhattan, NYC- Salty Korean Dishes at Reasonable Prices for the Location

It was a hot August night and I found myself in midtown Manhattan wandering upon Han Bat, a Korean restaurant with an extensive menu and filled with people, Koreans and more. Rule of thumb on eating in a restaurant that you have not done any research on – look to see whether the restaurant is full and who are inside. This rule seems to work most of the time. I stopped in and was immediately seated. The restaurant was buzzing with energy; many middle-aged Korean waitresses were walking fast back and forth and giving directions to the bus boys. This could not be bad, could it? There were groups of Korean women coming in and out; there were groups of non-Koreans ordering very advanced Korean dishes and there was me- the Asian non-Korean types.Complimentary side dishes. From top left going counter-clockwise: spicy cucumber, kimchi, seaweed, bean sprouts and lettuces. The kimchi was too salty.Complimentary side dishes. From top left going counter-clockwise: bean sprouts, seaweed, greens, fish cake. Fish cake was very yummy and the bean sprouts were king (sweet, juicy and crunchy).Haemul Dolsot Bibimbap: Seafood, octopus , squid over rice in hot and spicy stone pot. # 50 on the menu. Yes, there are probably a hundred dishes on the menu. It took me a while to sort through. This has the making of all possible good things for me: I love bibimbap; I love octopus; I love seafood. It was meh. Meh. Meh. The burned rice at the bottom of the stone pot (Dolsot) was the best part of the meal. The sesame leaves on top added no value from my limited culinary perspective. The rest was nondescript. I ate because I was hungry.Soon Doo Boo Chi Gae: Soft bean curd with hot and spicy sauce. Seafood. # 6 from lunch special. This was an interesting experience. It came with an egg that is supposed to be cracked over the boiling soup. However, the egg came by itself on a dish with the complimentary dishes, without instruction. So the egg sat there until it dawn on me that it should go in the dish long after the soup came. By then, the soup was no longer hot. One of the middle-aged Korean waitress (mama san) saw it and took the entire dish back into the kitchen to heat it up. She came back with the boiling hot soup and then the egg was properly dropped into the soup. The service is outstanding! She insisted that the dish is served properly. The broth was delicious and spicy. The tofu was silky smooth. Drinking boiling soup on a summer night is an experience that makes you sweat!

In conclusion, Han Bat was ok. The place is obviously popular. The prices are very reasonable for a midtown location. The food is a hit or miss. I feel the chef was a bit rough with the food. The food is not very refined. A lot of salt. I had been to Han Bat once before and I recall I felt similarly. Would I return? Maybe – to try other dishes on the menu and see if my experience is consistent.

This experience took place at

Han Bat Korean Restaurant

53 W 35th St
New York, NY 10001
b/t Avenue Of The Americas & 5th Ave
Midtown West
Phone number (212) 629-5588

Penelope in NYC – Long Wait, Tight Space, Hip Young People, and Average Food

Let me make this short and sweet. Penelope is a cute little busy place on Lexington and 30th Street in New York City. The food is average but somehow it draws a long line every weekend. The last time I was there, my friend waited for a good 20 mins outside in the cold when I was running late (Thanks, Kathryn!) We enjoyed the Apple Cider Mimosa and Pomegranate Bellini with our Farmer’s Market Omelette, an $18 prix-fixe.


Farmer’s Market Omelette: Farm fresh egg omelette filled with your choice of three: mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, peppers, spinach, bacon, ham, sausage, or cheese. (cheddar, american, swiss, brie, fontina, provolone, feta, or goat) Served with toast and house made home fries.

The couple that sat next to us spent most of the time on their phones.  The man checked out other women in the restaurant.  My friend thought they were brother and sitter and I gave them three more months as a couple.

Do not need to return unless you enjoy waiting in long lines.  In comparison, Uva in the upper east side has a much better brunch menu.  See my Uva post here.  Penelope should turn their business model into a quality fast food joint.  I would go for that.

This experience took place at

Penelope

159 Lexington Avenue
@30th Street
NYC 10016
212-481-3800

Má Pêche of Momofuku in NYC – An Unfortunate Incident

I met up with a friend from The Hun School of Princeton at Momofuku’s Má Pêche in midtown Manhattan for dinner. Since Brad and I have not seen each other since our first year in college, the dinner was filled with nostalgia and the fascinating tales of our lives. Má Pêche’s dim sum style food service, blending American and Asian cuisines, provided a much needed interruptions to our intense conversation.

IMG_1661
Pork Bun. They recommend that we pair the pork bun with sake, which Brad did. As far as the pork bun goes, it was ok. The flavor was not as intense as those I could get from the street vendors in Taipei. I will be sure to blog about those street vendors this summer when I return.

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Lobster Rice. This was delicious. Not exactly the Asian flavor profile because I believe there was some cream mixed into the rice. The lobster was succulent. The banana leaf steamed method kept all the moisture in and made the rice a bit sticky.

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Pickled Shiitakes, with baby bok choy and crispy fried onions. I am happy to report that this is authentically Asian with soy sauce and sesame oil as the base. Stir-fried soft baby bok choy contrasted nicely with the meaty shiitakes. There is no funny business with this dish, nothing fusion.

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Cod Fritters. These were not good. Too salty. The outside is not crispy and the inside was mushy.

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Arctic Char Toast. The toast was pumpernickel; it was very hard to chew. The seaweed wrapped around the pumpernickel was just weird. The texture was off. Imagine eating a piece of cardboard wrapped with a soft rubber band. No redeeming quality.

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Honestly, I do not remember what these two desserts are. Toward the end of the meal, I was feeling a little sick.

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Overall, the food was acceptable. Some were even good. However, I became sick immediately after we left the restaurant. This was the first time I had such a strong reaction. So perhaps this is a biased review. Perhaps I needed to focus on the hygiene of the restaurant instead.

This experience took place at

Má Pêche | Momofuku
Chambers New York Hotel
15 W 56th St,
New York, NY 10019
(212) 757-5878