Pok Pok NY: Thai, By Way of Portland

The thing I adore about traveling is discovering a terrific restaurant — a place with dishes so delicious that just the memory of them, even months later, gets you instantly salivating.

Of course, the downside to this is your immense sadness over the fact that you won’t be able to sample those flavors until you travel back there again.

Which is why I just about had a fit when I heard that Portland, Ore., chef Andy Ricker was opening Pok Pok NY in Brooklyn.

Now, I had the great fortune of dining at Pok Pok in Portland not once but twice last year thanks to my book travels — Ricker’s Thai and Southeast Asian noodle dishes tantalized; his intensely flavorful crispy fried chicken wings were seared in my memory. Each time I left I found myself wishing he had a branch in New York.

And then, a few weeks ago, it happened …

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Hill Street Fried Kway Teow: True Singapore Noodles

As a New Yorker who has written a fair bit about food in my native Singapore, I’m often asked the question: “Where should I eat in Singapore?”

It’s a head-scratcher. Where to begin? You could have six meals a day for an entire month in Singapore and still stumble upon some delicious morsel you’ve not sampled before.

Even so, I have short list — one that runs through the curry shops, nasi padang (Malay rice smorgasbord) and Hainanese eateries that fill my head when I’m far from home.

The one place I rarely include on this list, however, is a tiny hawker stall located in the neighborhood of my youth — Hill Street Fried Kway Teow …

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Le Sèvero: Steak Frites Perfection

Anyone who knows me even remotely knows this: I am just about the biggest red-meat lover you’ll meet.

Diets and doctors be damned — if it were possible to eat a big hunk of steak every day, you know I would.

So when I found myself in Paris recently with just one night to have steak frites, I knew it had to be the best I could possibly find. “I know the perfect place,” my Parisian friend Kevyn said, mentioning a restaurant called Le Sèvero and then quickly ticking off favorable reviews in the New York Times among others when I gave him my super-skeptical eye.

I figured if it’s good enough for Mark Bittman (and the venerable David Lebovitz) then it’s certainly good enough for me …

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Verjus: Two Americans in Paris

When two people have been cooking together online for almost three years, feeding a budding transcontinental friendship with tales of chili, liquid lunches and more, there’s a lot of pressure to make that first actual meal they have together truly special.

So when I started planning where I would meet Ellise (or, Cowgirl Chef, as you may know her, from the monthly Let’s Lunch posts on this blog) for the first time — in Paris, where she lives, no less — the hunt was on for a suitable place.

Where to meet? It turned out a little place we’d been curious about sounded just perfect: Verjus, a new-ish wine bar and restaurant near the Palais Royal by a young American couple who made waves in Paris a few years ago when they opened Hidden Kitchen, a private underground supper club in a tiny flat.

Now, I’d not been able to check out Hidden Kitchen in its heyday so when I heard that its owners — Seattlites Laura Adrian and Braden Perkins — opened a place last year that I could actually get into, I was all over it.

Almost as soon as I landed in Paris, off I headed …

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Candelaria: Eating Tacos in Paris

The gastronomic Paris in my mind is a swirl of glistening pastries, heady fromages and smoky bistros serving up heaping platters of seared steaks and frites.

It is most certainly not tacos. Not until recently, anyhow.

When a Parisian whose appetite you trust tells you that a certain taqueria is a must even if a visit there is going to take up a valuable dinner spot on a far-too-short trip, I figured it’s good to listen.

Which is how a little group of us hailing from Singapore, New York and a few points in between found ourselves tiptoeing along a dark and silent street in the Marais on a Sunday night, in search of good tacos …. Continue reading

Peaches: Comforting Southern

It’s hard to resist a challenge when you read in the papers of a Southern restaurant owner boasting that his spicy fried chicken is so hot that it “will kick you in your face and make you cry.”

Anyone who’s been to Singapore or sampled real Singaporean food knows that my people don’t shy away from spice. My mother, in fact, has been observed eating the tiniest, spiciest raw chilis– like candy.

So when the sister was in town recently, we immediately set off to see what all this making you cry business was all about.

With Singaporean blood coursing through us, this chicken couldn’t possibly take us. No, we would take it.

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Tasty n Sons (Portland, Oregon): Eggs, Anything But Easy

Perhaps you have noticed that it’s been a little quiet on this blog recently. The igvoiding (a word my sister loves) hasn’t been intentional, I assure you.

Travels for A Tiger in the Kitchen have taken me around the country and across several oceans in recent months. And when I haven’t been on a plane, at an event, prepping for an event or trip or simply recuperating from jet lag, I’ve been taking it (relatively) easy. I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of slowly reading a book — two I recently finished and can’t recommend highly enough: the elegantly written and enchanting “The Manual of Detection” by Jedediah Berry and “Three Junes” by the charming Julia Glass, which I dearly loved and also won the National Book Award for fiction in 2002.

As you might imagine, I have also been eating — very well, in fact. And one of the highlights occurred in Portland, Ore., when a break in the Wordstock Festival gave me a chance to visit a brunch spot friends had been raving about for months: Tasty n Sons.

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Town House Books & Cafe: A Gem of a Meal

When you are known for your appetite and have spent some months on the road, taking the gospel of Tiger cookery through cities from far west Seattle to down south Atlanta, people invariably want to know: What was the best meal you had?

I have been incredibly well-fed, that is true. There was an unforgettable meal at Thistle, a quaint hyper-locavore place in McMinnville, Oregon, where some of the produce on our table that evening came from a co-owner’s mother’s garden nearby. In Seattle, there was the discovery of a superb rendition of New York-style pizza at food blogger Molly Wizenberg’s Delancey. And then there was the restaurant that made me consider packing up and moving to Houston just so I could eat there every week: El Real Tex Mex, where the ethereal refried beans, crunchy puffy tacos and stacked enchiladas share a sacred secret ingredient: lard, which the kitchen itself renders from heritage pigs.

The meal that stands far above all others, however, didn’t occur in a restaurant of great repute or one of the must-try scenes of any city I’ve visited. Rather, it took place in a darling little bookstore in St. Charles, Ill., a town 40 miles west of Chicago that’s perched by a pretty river. At Town House Books, owners Doug and Dave set out to not just host a reading for “A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family.” No, they were determined to truly bring the book to life.

And so it was that just a few days before my June reading there, I got a call from Doug, asking me how exactly did my Singaporean aunties wrap the bamboo leaves around the bak-zhang (rice dumplings) and did my late grandmother’s pineapple tarts need to be kept in a fridge if they were made far ahead?

Bak-zhang? Pineapple tarts? When Town House had mentioned a dinner pairing for my reading, these ambitious offerings were certainly not what I had in mind.

The pangs for my family’s dishes immediately set in. And suddenly, I just could not wait to get to St. Charles …

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Hanco’s (Brooklyn Heights): Finally, Pho

As you may have read on this blog, I live in something of a gastronomic wasteland.

Don’t get me wrong — I adore Brooklyn Heights and its picturesque streets and 19th century brownstones. What it does not possess, however, is more than two really good places to have a meal.

So when a new sign went up on the neighborhood’s main street recently, we all began watching the storefront’s papered-up windows with great anticipation. On Sunday, the paper finally came off and Hanco’s, a little Vietnamese sandwich and pho shop was in business. Would it present a third viable option for good food? We immediately got in a very long line to find out …

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Jake’s Wayback Burgers: New Burgers On The (Brooklyn) Block

Burgers are my big, decadent cheat.

When I’m too tired to cook and there are no dinner plans on the horizon, my neighborhood Five Guys Burgers is my instant best friend.

And so it was with great excitement that I read about a new burger joint opening near my Brooklyn neighborhood this spring — Jake’s Wayback Burgers, a chain that began as Jake’s Hamburgers in 1991 in Newark, Del., and in 2010 changed its name to brand itself as a throwback to a time before “frozen hockey-puck burgers” or celebrity chefs “selling overpriced burgers for $20 at their upper-crust burger boutiques,” so says its Web site. Now, having had some of these types of burgers — and enjoyed them very much — I was curious to see how a chain that slams other burger purveyors would make its own.

So, on a recent afternoon, we set off to see how this bygone burger would taste …

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