Rhetorical Answer


A response to the question never asked

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Filed under: Uncategorized


Tucked among the brownstones in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village is a take-out bakery called Batch, operated by Chef Pichet Ong. I had heard about this place a while ago, and as someone who makes it her business to know NYC cupcakes, I paid it a visit after brunch at the ever-crowded Jane last weekend. Batch cupcakes are, shall we say, unusual. For example, the ones on the lower center tray in the photo above are topped with bacon. Do I have your attention now?

It was a toss-up for a few minutes as I stared at my options, which ranged from chocolate green tea to pumpkin maple rum raisin. I went with a drunken peppered pear cupcake, and while I can’t say I noticed anything particularly drunken or peppery about it, there were some moist swirls of pear purée in the center. A thin layer of frosting provided all the sweetness, and a sprinkle of coconut shavings on top added texture. The cake portion was less oily than Tonnie’s minis but still held together without crumbling, even as I pulled it apart to share a bite with my companion. The frosting, on the other hand, crumbled at the slightest contact, and I made a nice little mess on the window seat in the shop in evidence of that fact.

The very sweet female proprietor, who I assume is a relation of Chef Ong’s, emerged from a back room to speak with the girl working the counter and stayed to chat with us as we finished our treats. She recommended we stop by later to try the cheesecake at P*ONG next door, and while we did not follow her advice, I did take note of the special (read expensive) Valentine’s Day menu in the window as we left. If you like your romantic dinners in parts puréed, jellied, moussed, and gold-plated, you may want to check it out.

Filed under: Food, New York, , ,

Insomnia Cookies

My friend and I were making our ways home around 12:30 AM this evening after a leisurely dinner at Khyber Pass, an Afghani restaurant on St. Marks Place in the East Village. Icy pinpoint sprinkles swirled in the frigid air, slowly coating the quiet city sidewalks and making my meal of mantoo (steamed dumplings filled with minced beef, onions, herbs, and spices and topped with yogurt and meat sauce) a distant memory. What better way to fortify our constitutions for the rest of the cold journey than to stop in at Insomnia Cookies? If you want warm, gooey smores IN COOKIE FORM any time up to 3 in the morning, this is the place to get them. They also deliver. New York City spoils me so.

Filed under: Food, New York

Korean Tea Meets Danish Design

From the people who brought us HanGawi comes a vegan Korean tea house on Park Avenue called Franchia. Situated across the street from Norman Thomas High School in Murray Hill, Franchia offers a wide range of green and herbal teas. The menu also includes my favorites dishes from HanGawi, as well as a prix fixe Royal Tea Tray for people who like an assortment of savories and sweets to nibble with their tea.

I, however, was not there to mess around with such nonsense. I went to a tea house, and I wanted tea straight up, no dumplings. Franchia has three levels of seating: a ground floor with a tea bar where you can get tea takeout, a mezzanine level that overlooks the bar area, and an upper level with a full-blown traditional Korean tea room enclosed by carved wooden sliding doors. I sat at one of the square wooden tables in front of the tea bar and, as I waited for my persimmon leaf tea to arrive, contemplated the repeating turquoise pattern above my head that was reminiscent of a Buddhist temple ceiling.

The tea leaves came in a simple, white ceramic infuser set in a matching cup. In contrast, the hot water came in a tall stainless steel vacuum jug with a black rubberized handle. As good as the tea was, this jug stayed at the back of my mind long after my cup was empty. A little research revealed that it was made by Danish company Eva Solo and apparently “designed by Tools.” Self-deprecating they may be, but they make one sexy jug.

Vacuum jug designed by Tools for Eva Solo

Filed under: Design, Food, New York, ,

Hugging Hour!

For those of you with children, those who have friends or relatives with children, or those who just enjoy children’s books with beautiful, whimsical illustrations, Aileen Leijten’s new picture book Hugging Hour! is out now. For the locals, there will be a book release party at the charming space that is POMME in Brooklyn on February 7th. Hope to see you there!

Filed under: Writing

Comment Vitriol

In perusing the comments sections of several high-traffic blogs lately – Freakonomics and TechCrunch in particular – I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: someone will post a comment that the majority of other commenters perceive as overly judgemental, hostile, and extreme. I’m not sure you could call this person a troll or label their comment as flamebait since they usually have a lengthly explanation for why they feel the way they do and will even post follow-up comments to defend their viewpoint against the avalanche of criticism that ensues. Trolls don’t usually care about what they are posting; they are just trying to get a rise out of the population. So in this case, I’ll just call the person the Irritant. Reading through the entire comment list, the Irritant’s viewpoint clearly becomes the dominant one out of all those presented. He may have only commented once or a handful of times, but because so many of the other comments are a direct response to the Irritant’s viewpoint, that viewpoint gets reinforced through repeated analysis, to the point where it becomes more memorable – and perhaps more influential? – than the message of the original blog post.

I wonder if this is so different from the propagandist tactic of repeating a misstatement or lie so often that facts become irrelevant. Not to suggest that the unpopular viewpoint is a lie, but if we consider majority perception of reality as de facto reality, then something that goes against that majority perception could be considered a rebuttal of that reality, aka a misstatement or lie. If repetition is really more influential than reasoned, substantiated argument, then the echo chamber that is the blogosphere suddenly seems a whole lot more sinister that traditional propaganda machines. As my parting line, I leave you with exhibit A. Comments?

Filed under: Reflection, , , , ,

Merry Christmas!

Seasonal cupcakes at Balducci's

Seasonal cupcakes at Balducci's

I wandered through the gourmet grocery store called Balducci’s on 8th Avenue and 14th Street last weekend. In addition to being a winter wonderland of cheeses, it also had these cute holiday cupcakes I couldn’t resist photographing. The store itself is visually striking, occupying a domed 1897 landmark building that used to be a bank. There is a small mezzanine in the back that affords a view over the entire store and the soaring ceiling.

Balducci's mezzanine view

Balducci's mezzanine view

My camera phone doesn’t do it justice, so you’ll need to go up there yourself for the full effect. Take a cup of coffee with you, too. There are a few tables and chairs up there, and I saw several people enjoying a quiet moment high above the fancy foods.

In all honesty, I don’t buy anything at Balducci’s. I prefer buying fresh over jarred and prepared items, but it’s never short on eye candy. And real candy, if you like that sort of thing.

Filed under: Food, New York, ,

HanGawi Restaurant

Tofu pizza

I had been meaning to go to HanGawi restaurant for months but had an unbelievably difficult time getting anyone to go with me. Something about the phrase “Korean vegetarian place” made most people immediately lose interest. Fortunately, I finally made it to this little K-Town gem last weekend and enjoyed a meal that was well worth the wait.

My party made dinner reservations in advance, and I would recommend others do the same, since it was completely full the entire time we were there, though never loud. The entrance to HanGawi is dark and unassuming, to the point where it doesn’t look like an open business. Pulling open the door, however, we slipped out of the bitter cold and into a dimly lit foyer lined in rich, dark wood. The hostess directed us to remove our shoes and place them on the floor, which staff discreetly tucked away as we were led up a raised platform to our table. The table appeared to be very low to the floor, but there was actually a well for guests’ legs, so we could still sit in the Western style once we clambered down into our places. With a colorful butt cushion for each of us, we quickly settled into our cozy environs and studied the menus by flickering candlelight. All of us agreed this would make a good date restaurant, assuming any guy could get over the fact that there is no meat on the menu.

HanGawi has an interesting selection of beverages, and since my nose was still numb from being outside, I ordered a cup of the date paste tea. Sadly, the person who took our drink orders was not our assigned waiter, and we did not actually get our drinks until our second inquiry near the end of the meal.

The dinner menu has two prix fixe four-course options, but the rest of the menu looked so enticing that we decided to select an assortment of items and dine family-style. Our waiter smilingly accomodated our request for four sets of plates and bowls so that we could all share each dish, and I have to say that the little golden soup bowls, earth-colored ceramic plates, cloth napkins, and wooden utensils lent a refined yet rustic charm to the meal.

Kabochi pumpkin pancakes and spicy baby dumplings

Kabocha pumpkin pancakes and spicy baby dumplings

First to arrive were the appetizers: kabocha pumpkin pancakes and spicy baby dumplings. The pancakes were fried to perfection – light golden brown and crisp on the outside, a warm, chewy yet fluffy texture inside, and a subtle pumpkin flavor that made them stand out from the more common scallion pancakes typically served in Asian restaurants. Since the place is vegetarian, I am 99.9% certain that the “baby” in the spicy baby dumplings does not refer to their filling. Yet neither could it describe their size, for each turned out to be a respectably dumpling-sized two mouthfuls of deliciousness. The inside was reminiscent of tender minced shrimp, but again, likely not. Since none of us could keep from devouring them long enough to inspect the filling more closely, they retain their mystery until next time.

HanGawi vegetable and mushroom wraps and tofu pizza

HanGawi vegetable and mushroom wraps and tofu pizza

Next came the entrees: Mongolian hot pot, spicy rice cakes, HanGawi vegetable and mushroom wraps, and tofu pizza. The stand-out here had to be the tofu pizza – thin, crisp squares of fried tofu topped with finely diced shitake mushrooms and zucchini and drizzled with a strawberry-pinenut puree. There was no way to eat these neatly, and they were so good that we didn’t try. Our waiter assembled our wraps table-side, and though their pale crepe-like exteriors couldn’t compete visually next to the colorful tofu pizza, the medley of flavors definitely got our attention, both with and without the accompanying tangy dipping sauce.

Mongolian hot pot

Mongolian hot pot

The Mongolian hot pot turned out to be a spicy soup containing several kinds of fungi, cabbage, leeks, and a few random vegetables. The enoki mushrooms were a personal favorite of mine.

Spicy rice cakes

Spicy rice cakes

Tossed in a red pepper sauce with vegetables and fried tofu, the spicy rice cakes caused unexpected confusion by closely resembling the sliced white mushrooms that were playing hide-and-seek with them in the dish. They weren’t actually that spicy compared to the hot pot, but with a soft, chewy texture and decidedly cute appearance, there was palpable tension over who would get the last one.

When the tea finally arrived, the meal was all but done. Luckily, the beauty of vegetarian dining is that there is always room at the end for tea. My date paste tea arrived in a large, round cup, shimmering orange and gold with pine nuts and minced date pieces floating on the surface. It gave off the most tantalizing sweet aroma and had a flavor to match, erasing any need for dessert. Of course, that didn’t stop us from going to Koryodang afterwards anyway, but it was only to prolong what had already been a delightful evening with the help of some tiramisu and chocolate chai.

Tiramisu and chocolate chai

Filed under: Food, New York, , , , ,

Subway beauty

Subway ceiling

Subway ceiling

If you’ve ever smiled at the little brass men in the 14th St subway station or admired the colorful tilework at City Hall station in New York City, I think you’ll agree that this subway ceiling taken inside a Taiwan station blows all that out of the water. Standing underneath it, I really felt like I was looking up from beneath the ocean surface. Beautiful. The rest of the subway was impressively clean and pleasant as well, despite the crowds.

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The End of Wall Street’s Boom

This recent article by Michael Lewis, author of the infamous book Liar’s Poker, is long but once you’ve read it, you and your former office mates can sit around the flaming garbage can and discuss the finer points long into the cold, cold night:


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