The Wharf (Rockaway Beach, N.Y.): A View — With Food on the Side

Remember how I mentioned that people love to tell me where I must eat when I travel?

Well, The Wharf in New York‘s Rockaway Beach is certainly not one of those places.

Check it out, yes — I definitely heard that. With its outdoor dining deck with sweeping views of the water and Manhattan’s skyline in the distance, The Wharf’s vista for a sunset cocktail can’t be beat. But eat? We had read and heard enough about the food to know there were probably better restaurants in Rockaway Beach.

Even so, on a recent evening, as our cocktails on that famous deck were disappearing, the vaunted view was nudging us to stay.

How bad could the food truly be? We decided to find out …

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Soondubu Jjigae: Korean Silky Tofu with Beef & Seafood, A Quick WeeknightTake

Fiery foods are never far from my mind — but the summer months are when this yearning really consumes me.

Perhaps it’s because spicy food and sweltering weather are so intertwined in Singapore, where I grew up. Regardless, whenever the weather turns hot in New York, that’s when my hankering for mouth-numbing flavors truly rears its head.

This week, this led me to try my hand at a dish that I’ve adored for years in Korean restaurants but had never considered trying: Soondubu Jjigae …

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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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Hong Kong: Sunday in the Sai Kung With Daphne

Sunday in Hong Kong and two sisters have nothing but empty hours and sunshine ahead of them.

The possibilities are plentiful — shall there be some dimsum? Or a lovely pork chop bun, perhaps? Because the day is beautiful, however, something outdoors becomes a must. Into a car we hop, squeezing through the city’s narrow, congested lanes, whizzing down a highway past thickets of toothpick -thin skyscrapers. Before long, there is a blur of greenery, squat shophouses, the sounds of children squealing.

As we tumble out, there is a smell. It’s the sea — and there is a vast expanse of it.

“I thought you would like Sai Kung,” Daphne says. And she is right, even if this is just the beginning.

We gather ourselves and amble on. Not so far away, a lively fish market awaits …

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Razor Clams: A Southeast Asian Kitchen-Sink Tale


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The dinner gathering has been impromptu and Chef Simpson of Cafe Asean is feeling a little guilty that he hasn't had time to plan what to cook.

Calmly but quickly, he zips about his spacious Manhattan kitchen, pulling out bags, inspecting his fridge. "This is a good time to eat razor clams, you know," he stops to say, showing us the big bag he acquired from the farmers' market that very morning. "They taste really good right now."

Now, while I've eaten razor clams — or bamboo clams as they're called in some parts of Asia — I've never even thought to cook them at home. A slab of steak, pieces of chicken, a whole turkey — those I can comprehend. Razor clams? They had just always seemed a touch too exotic for my abilities.

Simpson, however, shares none of my apprehension, looking at me like I'm crazy and then shrugging when I ask, "How are you going to cook them?"

"It depends on what I have in the kitchen," is his simple answer. With that, Simpson fires up his stove and away we go …

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Doenjang Jjigae: Tofu & Seafood Stew (Commoners’ Food)


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You could say I haven't exactly been the kind of daughter-in-law a Korean mother would have wished for.

I can't speak Korean. (I don't think being able to say "kalbi" and "bulgogi" counts.) And while I'm awfully good at eating Korean food, well, making it is another matter entirely.

I'd never attempted many Korean dishes simply because they seem terribly complex — each stew, each grilled meat I sample is always bursting at the seams with complicated clusters of flavors. How could I ever replicate those tastes in my little Brooklyn kitchen? No, no, it was always far easier to just throw in the spatula and hop on a train to New York's Koreatown.

After spending some time in the kitchen with my mother-in-law in Honolulu for book research last year, however, I started to come around. 

Since she lives in Hawaii and I live in New York, it's been impossible to keep the lessons going. So I've been turning to a blogger whom I deeply admire — and adore — who's essentially a one-woman Korean cooking school: the irrepressible Maangchi.

Many of her recipes are incredibly simple — foolproof, almost — and watching her videos helps you figure out whether you're chopping things the right size or grilling meats to the right doneness. Recently, I had her to thank for a lovely tofu and seafood stew I'd been craving …

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Red Hook Lobster Pound: Maine, Transported


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It's never easy for me to admit that summer's over.

Once 70-degree temperatures take hold, nostalgia for those seemingly endless sweltering days and salty breezes at the beach sets in. This tropical Singapore girl starts yearning for spring, which is just too many months away.

This year, however, the husband — looking out for his own mental well-being, no doubt — has a solution for the seasonal bitchiness moodiness. "The new seating area at the Red Hook Lobster Pound appears to be open," he says one day. 

Instantly, the air brightens. As soon as we can plan it, we're on a bus to Red Hook, racing toward a lunch of lobster rolls, plump and buttery…

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Top 10: The Memorable Eats Of 2009


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You know it’s been a good year when you are able to say this: 2009 was when I began to eat for a living.

I’d always been a devotee of affairs of the stomach. I may have written about fashion and other lifestyle areas for a living but baking, braising, trying new recipes, eating out — those were what consumed me when weekends rolled around. 

Luck has its ways of finding you, however. Now, on the precipice of 2010, I’m beginning to close out a lunar calendar year of cooking and eating with my family in Singapore as research for my book, “A Tiger In The Kitchen.” 

My journey so far has taken me many places – France, where I had the loveliest gingery champagne cocktail with friends old and dear; China, where my father and I went in search of my great-grandfather’s footprints in the village of his birth. And, of course, Singapore, where my aunties and maternal grandmother have been plying me with meals, recipes and much, much love along the way.

With all that I’ve packed into 2009, it’s hard to decide what the highlights have been. But, inspired by some stellar Top 10 gastronomic lists out there (definitely check out Sam Sifton’s list of Top 11 dishes in New York in the New York Times), I decided to give it a go.

Here, in no particular order, are my 10 memorable eats of 2009. 

Enjoy, buon appetito and listen, let’s do this again in 2010 …

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Sin Huat Eating House: A Red-Light Special


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To say that the prospects of having a good meal at Sin Huat Eating House seemed dim when we first arrived would be quite an understatement.

For starters, it was hard find the place. Located in a desolate corner of Geylang, Singapore‘s big red-light district, this restaurant situated in an open-air coffeeshop was so dark that it blended right into the furtive blackness of its block. On top of that, every so often, its few fluorescent lights would flicker and go out for several seconds.

Then, there was the row of grimy, green fishtanks displayed front and center. And the sweaty cooks who would emerge now and then to reach into these fishtanks up to their arm-pits in order to scoop out shellfish whenever someone placed an order.

This was the place that Anthony Bourdain had included on his list of “13 Places To Eat Before You Die” for Men’s Health magazine?

In all my years of eating around Asia, however, I’ve come to learn that it’s usually the least appetizing-looking places that create the most memorable dishes. And in Singapore, some of the best places to eat are to be found in the seediest of neighborhoods. (In a travel story I did for the Washington Post this weekend, I list a number of mind-blowing places to check out in Singapore’s red-light districts. These would be places to eat. Food, that is.)

And Sin Huat, once you get past its stomach-churning trappings, definitely fits this bill.

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Cowgirl Sea-Horse: Fish So Good It’s Got To Be Bad For You


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It’s always a little unfair to judge a restaurant based on its first week out the gate — kinks still have to be worked out; the kitchen may not have found its rhythm yet.

Judging from a visit to Cowgirl Sea-Horse just days after it opened, it’s a place well worth checking out. If things are only expected to get better after the first week, well, let’s just say they’re already pretty darn satisfying.

This new seafood outpost of the popular Cowgirl in the West Village has the same Southwestern flavor and Steel Magnolia bartenders that the original restaurant does. But it offers slightly different fare from the chicken-fried steaks and smoked barbecue ribs that have been mainstay of Cowgirl for decades.

On the menu are $12 to $14 seafood gumbos, fish tacos and shrimp cornettas (crispy cones filled with shrimp). Like Cowgirl, it does a good job at what it does — uncomplicated comfort food. One thread links the two restaurants: there’s an awful lot of fried in both places.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

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