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

Thai Village in Princeton, NJ- A Local Favorite with Tasty Food and A View into Life

My high school friend, Monica, took me to Thai Village in Princeton, NJ. I have a special connection with Princeton because I spent three years living as a boarder at The Hun School of Princeton and loved every minute of this quaint university town. Since I last lived there, Princeton has become very global and very Asian. I lost count of the Asian restaurants on Nassau Street. Thai Village is the favorite Thai place for Monica. It’s a no-nonsense, looks like a take out joint but is also a sit down place, restaurant. The conversations surrounding us included one on technology startup infrastructure and one on pharmaceutical clinical trial. Monica and I chatted about her photography business, MK Photography, and the pleasure in creating beautiful images. For her, it’s the headshots. For me, it’s the food, nature, far away places, and people.See Me: Crispy egg noodles topped with brown gravy and cooked with shrimps, bamboo shoots, scallions, and straw mushrooms. I ordered this dish largely because of its name. I want you to SEE ME! Chicken with red curry and coconut milk.

The food was fresh and tasty. No complaints for a $20 meal for two. It’s even better by the simple fact that there is a free parking lot attached to the restaurant. Of course, love from a long time friend is definitely priceless. If I lived in Princeton, I would frequent the place.

This experience took place at

Thai Village
235 Nassau St # C
Princeton, NJ 08540
Phone:(609) 683-3896

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

Bartaco in Port Chester, NY- Sexy and Yummy

The thing about Bartaco in Port Chester, NY is the fact that they somehow transformed the experience of eating simple food like tacos into something sexy. It reminded me of what Abercrombie & Fitch did with their clothing- finding young, fit and sexy people to wear and sell their clothing. Bartaco did the same with their food, website and menu. The site is beautiful, easy to navigate and well designed for their young audience. Their menu is simple yet filled with items that are a little risqué for the norm. Great job.

When it comes to the restaurant decor, the same technique is applied. So once you start drinking the Bartaco CoolAid, the food started to taste good as well. Well, good enough anyway.
Grilled Corn with lime, cayenne, cotija cheese
Guacamole, Chipotle Slaw, Spicy Cucumber SaladCheese Quesadilla and Plantains
Rotisserie Chicken  Pork Tamale
Tacos​: steak, pork, chicken  Tacos: baja fish
Tacos: Portobello mushrooms, falafel   Churros with chocolate dip

The food is not superb but pretty good. The variety is amazing. It’s fresh and interesting enough to keep the diners entertained, engaged and wanting to come back again for the party atmosphere and interact with the casual and easy going wait staff. I was pleased and happy.

This experience took place at

Bartaco

1 Willett Ave
Port Chester, NY 10573
Phone:(914) 937-8226

Coriander Modern Indian Restaurant in White Plains, NY- What Delicious Indian Fare!

I LOVE Coriander’s food! Let me get down on my knees and be thankful for the delicious Indian food I had the other night with my wonderful friends. I only stumbled upon Coriander’s in White Plains because one of my friends is a vegetarian.

Why do I love Corianders? Because it is Indian food that is re-imagined, cooked to near-perfection and served in a contemporized setting. Only one down side – slightly dried lamb and a very very nosy and pushy waitress named Rositta. During dinner, Rositta had asked me to “read” her the menu because she could not see what I was pointing to; Rositta also took my menu away with force while I was “reading” the menu; Rositta loudly interrupted our conversation multiple times to make sure she was heard. Rositta acted like our aunt and we were in Kindergarten. I guess I can love that, too, as long as I am in the right mood. It can be liberating to be bossed around.Eggplant Chaat: thinly sliced globe eggplant, garnished with sweet & sour chutneys, candied red onion, fresh cilantro & dusted with garam masala.This was awesome. This was a vegetarian’s delight. It made vegetables taste like proteins. I LOVED it.Edemame with Indian spice: Yum.Naan: Solid.Basmati and Mint ParathaShrimp Rangoli: pan seared shrimp, garlic, curry leaf, mustard seed, tomato cream sauce. The sauce was to die for. The shrimp was inconsequential. Spicy sauces made out of Ghost and Habanero peppersLamb Vindaloo: a spicy red & green chili, tomato based sauce, with tender, curried lamb & baked potatoesHomestyle Lamb Curry:slow cooked, tender lamb in a browned tomato & onion curry. Flavored fully with traditional indian spices.Pumpkin Kofta Curry: handmade vegetarian “meatballs” roasted with Indian spices, simmered in a new england Pumpkin curry, flavoured with garam masala & cinnamon. My vegetarian friend loved it but I found it to be too sweet. Macaroons: nothing special.

The food is outstanding. Minus Rositta, it would have been just perfect. 🙂

This experience took place at

Coriander
74 Mamaroneck Ave
White Plains, NY 10601
Phone:(914) 358-4500