Rhetorical Answer


A response to the question never asked


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.

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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, ,

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

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My food is staring at me

During my time in Taiwan, I was always well-fed. The tour bus would drop us happy vacationers off in front of a restaurant, and we’d sit down family-style and eat whatever was placed in front of us. Most of the time this turned out fine, since I obeyed the one rule required for foreigners to enjoy East Asian cuisine – never ask what it is you’re eating.

But then we went to Do Fu Jia 17 Seafood Restaurant in a small fishing village. There was a giant serving bowl on the table filled with what I thought was egg drop soup. Judge for yourself from the photo, and see if you can fault me for the assumption. Since it was one of the most familiar dishes I’d seen on my trip so far, I wasn’t shy about portion sizes. It was delicious, too. About halfway through my second bowl, I noticed there were a bunch of weird little silvery specks scattered among the threads of egg whites that laced the soup. What could they be? Wrong color for pepper… What spice is silver-colored, anyway? I peered into the bowl more closely and noticed they weren’t completely silver. Each speck was actually a silver ring with a black dot in the center…kinda like…a tiny eyeeeeeaughhhhhhh! There were eyes in my soup!!! Each “egg white thread” had two of them at one end.

I still tell myself that most of that white stuff in the soup really was egg whites, because I can’t imagine eating that many sea worms, or whatever the hell they were. I still don’t know, and my mind refuses to dwell upon it long enough to find out. So now I tell you that not only must you never ask what you’re eating in an East Asian restaurant but YOU MUST ALSO NEVER LOOK AT WHAT YOU’RE EATING!

Thus concludes my public service announcement for today. You are welcome.

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