Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tao, Midtown East, NYC

I should backdate this post to August, when my computer was broken, but I am too lazy. I went to Tao with 7 other friends on August 8 (reservation for 8 at 8pm, on 8-8-08). While everybody else was watching the Olympics' Opening Ceremony, we were eating copious amounts of sushi in a loud and huge restaurant. Reservations are months in advance, so make your reservation early (unless you are related to Uncle Richie).

Since it was the summer, we gravitated towards more refreshing dishes. Not pictured is the table-full of appetizers that we all shared. At first, the atmosphere was very much like a family dinner in a polite family. We were passing dishes around and making lettuce wraps for each other. When the sushi came out, the atmosphere changed to "fend-for-yourself."
By the time dessert rolled out, we were all in a feeding frenzy, digging madly at the mounds of ice cream and sweets.
Check out the little buddhas in white, milk, and dark chocolate! After dinner mints or after dinner buddhas?

Stanton Social, LES, NYC

Stanton Social is a bar/restaurant in the Lower East Side that was "the IT place" to go to for starlets back in 2005/2006. It is still a happening place, years later, as we had trouble getting reservations before 10:45pm on a Saturday night. For those of you who only go for the purposes of drinking, you really should try a few (or 10) of the dishes there. On a dark and rainy night, trust that Stanton Social's specialty cocktails and tapas-sized dishes will warm you up. Small groups would have a good time sharing the plates, but if you went by yourself, it is recommended that three plates will be enough to fill you up.

Well, because one of our party was related to one of the owners, we would order things and more things would come out with the things we ordered. Got that? Here are the tasty treats...I apologize for the quality of the photos. It was VERY dark inside the restaurant. I could barely see where I was aiming, much less read the menus lit by small tea light.

Crab cake corn dogs - very crispy, a little heavy to be the starting dish. - Tasty, but would probably have them serve it later in the meal.
French Onion Soup Dumplings - a portmanteau of asian soup dumplings and French onion soup. The cheesy crust is very tasty, but watch out for the HOT HOT HOT soup inside the dumplings. Six dumplings served in traditional escargot plate, with individual dimples for each dumpling. - Interesting combination that works. A Stanton Social special that should not be missed.
Chicken and Cashew Spring Rolls - I would have liked to see the "skins" of the spring rolls less browned and more crispy, but that's just the Chinese girl in me talking. It was hard to tell that there was cashews inside the rolls. - Perhaps it would be better if the sauce were more spicy than sweet?
Red Snapper Tacos - the upscale version of late night taco trucks' fish taco. The dipping sauce on the side didn't really augment the flavor of the taco that much. I was pleased that there was corn salsa inside the taco though. - Tacos with corn = THE BEST!
Herb-dusted Frites with Red chili aioli and ketchup - The fries were tasty alone or dipped in ketchup. Dipping them in aioli was a little hard to justify, as the flavor wasn't anywhere strong enough to warrant the added calories. I had AMAZINGLY delicious truffle oil aioli with frites before at Riviera, and I think that has spoiled me in the frites-avec-aioli category. - fries were good, but again, not very strong in the sauce department, are we, Stanton Social?
Stanton Social Beef Wellington - I could see how this would be the perfect meal if I had not had all those other tapas right before this was delivered. Filet mignon coated with delicious mushroom duxelles (minced mushrooms and spices) and foie gras, all wrapped up in puff pastry and baked. - If you don't get anything else, at least get the Beef Wellington.
Duck Confit Empanadas - duck confit has always been my favorite thing to order ever since I had a taste of its rich and crispy flavor at a restaurant in Arles. The strength of duck confit is that it is at the same time juicy and crispy; putting it inside empanadas is an interesting combination, but loses that crispy quality. - Despite that, I would definitely get the duck empanadas again. TASTY!
Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Ravioli - I once tried to make acorn squash ravioli and it was probably the worst thing on the face of the planet. These butternut squash and sweet potato ravioli at Stanton Social are a far cry from my acorn version. -Slightly sweet but not dessert-sweet, they are a good bridge between the "meal" and "dessert," at a restaurant where the progression of the dinner and courses are not well defined; eating outside the box, so to speak.
By the time desserts rolled out, my stomach had already left for the day. Note the double shot of dark liquid in the background. I believe it is espresso with Patron (tequila). One whiff of that and fly-weights like me will be drunk in a second. It is a very good way to end dinner/charge up for a night of going out.
The long tray is the Chocolate Sampler - Left to Right: "ring dings" (like truffles coated with nuts?), chocolate muffin, chocolate panna cotta, chocolate pudding (in the cup), chocolate gelato, and chocolate peppermint patties. The peppermint patties were VERY heavy on the mint...I would not eat it in one bite. Chocolate pudding was amazing, definitely try that and the chocolate gelato. The panna cotta was a little thick but very smooth. - For single ladies out there who spend weekends eating Ben and Jerrys Phish Phood while watching chick flicks, I would recommend putting on some clothes and ordering the chocolate sampler plate. Chances are you'll get your chocolate fix and maybe some drinks purchased for you by strange men. Win-win situation for everybody!
Last but not least is the warm donuts. These are the same donut balls you would get at dim sum (Hong Kong's version of tapas). The three sauces are raspberry, caramel, and chocolate. -This dessert wasn't out-of-this-world-omg-amazing, but it was a pretty good end to a very long meal.
Dishes I could not order but wish I had space for: beef carpaccio, chicken mole taquitos, tuna tartare roll; and for dessert, "Coffee for Two"

I definitely recommend getting reservations if you are planning on going as a group of more than 3 people. Each plate is designed to be shared among 3, but they will serve the food in servings of four and just charge you for one extra if you do go in a group of four. The bar scene was pretty lively, a good mix of down-and-dirty-LES-ers and yuppies/trust fund NYU-ers/everybody else. I've had great experiences dining out in groups, and Stanton Social is no exception. The servers are very friendly and eager to give suggestions, and they pace the plates in waves so that you aren't overwhelmed with a bunch of plates but the flow of food is constant. The total bill for 4 people, including 5 drinks, was around 200 dollars. I think that's a pretty good deal for dining out at a posh restaurant in New York.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Shaved Ice, Yuan Shu Ling

During a frigid torrential downpour in the middle of summer, I went back to the small town in Taiwan where I spent most of my childhood. It was only gloomy when we embarked on visiting our old elementary school, but the day became quite wet by the time we hit the old shaved ice store. I use the word "store" very loosely because it was just some tables set up in somebody's living room. In Slovenija they had similar house-restaurants called gostilnas, interspersed among tightly spaced houses. Unless you live in the neighborhood, these small eateries are hard to find, as they hardly post signs advertising their existence.

My old elementary school - It seemed much bigger when I was a kid. Perhaps if I were looking at the school from the perspective of the child laying on the ramp, it would still appear as big.My friend Angela seeking shelter from the rain under a lamp post. If you look carefully at the ground, you'll see how rainfall in Taiwan is unique (at least, I've never seen it in other places I've been to). When a droplet of rain meets its cousins on the ground, it doesn't merely join them in a big puddle. The droplet forms a bubble, floating on the surface of the puddles. Don't ask me why that is.What to do when there's a drenching storm outside? Eat shaved ice! Here's an alley much like the one where our shaved ice shop is located.
The brown one is chocolate flavored, and the yellow mound is passion fruit.
This one is called "trekking in the snow in search of berries."(踏雪尋梅 ta shue shun mei) The term is usually used to refer to the popular activity in Japan of trekking in the snow to look for cherry blossom trees in bloom, but the last word also means berries. Clever, eh? The little bit of yellow you see peeking out from beneath the strawberry syrup is passion fruit.