L’Amant: A French-Colonial Homage

The perfect boîte can be an elusive thing.

For me, it has to have several components — a seductive yet comfortable setting, cocktails that are as delicious as they are inventive, and a menu that goes far beyond basic nuts and cheeses, filled instead with snacky dishes that actually excite.

Recently, I found a new little place in New York‘s West Village that checks all those boxes: L’Amant, a French-Vietnamese bistro that opened early September …

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Minh Hoa Restaurant & Cajun Seafood: Vietnam in the Heartland

It’s always a treat to find good Asian food where you don’t quite expect it.

Recently, that unexpected place for me was Wichita, Kansas, where yes, I’d thought I’d find terrific steaks but Vietnamese? Never crossed my mind.

Now, no matter where I’ve been, be it little Strasburg, Virginia, or Boring, Oregon (yes, there is such a town and yes, I have been there), I expect to find decent Chinese food. (I’ve learned that any place in the U.S. tends to have a Chinese family hard at work somewhere churning out OK versions of General Tso’s chicken and kung pao beef.)

Any other kinds of Asian food, however, is a different matter. So I was pleasantly surprised to come across a restaurant in Wichita that served up not just Vietnamese — but good and less usual Vietnamese dishes.

You can read my full report on Minh Hoa Restaurant & Cajun Seafood in this weekend’s New York Times Travel section. But if you want to see more visuals, carry on reading here…

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Sri Pra Phai: A Thai Pilgrimage

Just because I’ve written a book that touches on Singaporean food, people tend to assume I am an expert on all cuisines Southeast Asian.

In New York, this means I sometimes get asked: Have you been to Sri Pra Phai?

There’s always a look of disbelief when I say, Well, no.

Understandably so, perhaps. Not only have New Yorkers been raving about the cheap Thai place all over Chowhound and Yelp for years — but New Yorker magazine has also weighed in with a review sprinkled with words like “revelatory” and “superb.”

Recently, I decided enough was enough. Time to fix this once and for all. And so when my trusty food guide, Chef Simpson suggested heading to Queens for a Sri Pra Phai fix one evening, I was only too happy to oblige …

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Lotus Blue: Durian Season

Summer in New York can be a difficult time for me — not because of the stifling heat or the endless streams of tourists who claim my city.

Rather, it’s the height of durian season — a time that I looked forward to when I was growing up in Southeast Asia. It’s when this “King of Fruit” (as it’s called in Asia) is at its peak — roadside stalls selling it are impossible to miss at this time in Singapore. In New York, however, the fruit can still be hard to come by.

What is durian? If you’d ever been within a 100 meters of one, you’d know. This fruit, unopened, looks like a spiky medieval weapon the size of a football — and it’s the shade of Incredible Hulk, no less. The more noticeable thing about it, however, is its scent, which is so pungent that it’s banned on public transportation in Singapore. I’ve seen the smell of durian described by some as akin to burnt tires or feces — lovers of the stuff, though, think that’s, well, c***.

In Singapore, bakeries and restaurants put durian in many things — cream puffs, dessert sandwiches, cakes and puddings. Because of its smell, I’ve only seen it in a U.S. restaurant once — at Jean-George Vongerichten’s Spice Market in New York City.

So when I spied durian puffs on the menu while out with the insatiable Gael Greene recently, I knew I had to order it …

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The Lobster Roll (Amagansett): A Hamptons Classic

It’s hard to mention visiting the Hamptons to anyone in New York City without them assuming you’ve been to the Lobster Roll.

This festive roadside shack in Amagansett has been serving up lobster rolls to year-rounders and the well-heeled beach set since 1965 — clearly, the folks there are doing something right.

After years of visiting the Hamptons, I was starting to feel it was a little remiss to not to at least try the place once. So on a recent summer weekend at the beach, chef Simpson and I decided to take a break from cooking and headed over to Amagansett …

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Traditional Cafe at Lonpo House (India): Coffee in the Himalayas

There’s only one thing better than having a well-traveled friend with a good appetite — one who also takes phenomenal photos wherever he lands.

By now, you’re probably familiar with the work of my dear friend Jesse, who shared some lovely pictures from a little coffee shop in Shimla, India, earlier on this blog.

As with any good thing, I always want more. And Jesse, knowing me all too well, quickly obliged.

So soon enough, a next despatch arrived from India — this one from a little cafe nestled in the Himalayas …

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Indian Coffee House (Shimla, India): Breakfast.

One of my absolute favorite photographers (and people) is on the road, wending his way through lesser-known India as I write this.

As much as I miss my dear friend Jesse when he’s off on these trips, I always look forward to seeing what treats he sends back. The first batch that arrived were of a gem of a coffeeshop in Shimla — a little place called Indian Coffee House that looks tightly swaddled in a bygone time and serves up terrific breakfasts.

With Jesse’s blessing, I’m sharing his photos with you. And I’ll let him tell you what transpired one morning in Shimla …

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Pier 23 Cafe (San Francisco): Bacon, Oysters and A Beer

If you, like me, head to the Ferry Building each time you come to San Francisco, you’ll know the problem that lies ahead.

After all the honey sniffing, cheese poking and book browsing you’ve done, a question inevitably arises: Where to get a lovely drink and nibble with a sweeping view of the water and Bay Bridge?

If it’s anytime after 4:30 p.m. or so and you’d like a comfy spot in the Ferry Building — good luck. Some of the places there have such terrific happy hours that you’ll be battling swarms of commuters and tourists all looking to belly up.

On a recent visit, however, my friend Matt had a better plan. Outside, on the Embarcadero, he started going north, pushing head-on into thick gales determined to blow us back. After a few minutes, our struggles were over when we came upon a little shack of a building.

From the palm trees plastered on its side and the kitschy neon sign that said “Pier 23,” I knew this would be the perfect spot …

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Mama’s (San Francisco): Eggs Worth The Odyssey

I have been called “the world’s most easily bored person.” By someone who knows me well, too. (And yes, despite such insensitive name-calling, we remain married.)

And so there are very few meals for which I would happily line up more than an hour — if I’m going to subject myself to all that boredom, the food had better be nothing short of earth-shattering.

In San Francisco, the one place that commands a wait of at least 90 minutes on most days and still has my devotion is a little corner restaurant on Washington Square Park called Mama’s …

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Fishermen’s Grotto (San Francisco): A Taste of The Old Wharf

It’s not every day that I look forward to eating at a cheeseball tourist trap.

The Fishermen’s Grotto in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, however, holds special meaning. Thirty years ago, when the sous chef was an undergrad at Stanford University, his father would breeze into town from their Iowa homestead and whisk him away to San Francisco.

There, the man would regale his son with stories of his own youth in 1950s San Francisco — and invariably, these trips would land the pair at a little place in the wharf. The old man would order a Shrimp Louis, remarking with prickly nostalgia that the pricey platter of creamy shrimp “used to cost just $3.50 back in the ’50s.” And over heaping plates of shrimp and fish, he would share the colorful stories of his bygone years.

So when the sous chef and I found ourselves in San Francisco last week, a visit to the old hangout became a must.

Battling sidewalks jammed with tourists and street artists offering to sketch our portraits, we wended our way along the breezy waterfront and found it: Fishermen’s Grotto, the very first restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf …

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