The Shop at Andaz Fifth Avenue: Style, With Some Substance


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As hotel restaurants go, the shop at Andaz Fifth Avenue tries pretty hard.

Determined to cast itself as a New York restaurant, it likes to broadcast just how local it is. Its Web site rattles off a litany of New York purveyors — eggs hail from Feather Ridge Farm in the Hudson Valley; lox comes from Russ & Daughters on Manhattan's Lower East Side, which has been providing New Yorkers with smoked fish since 1914. And there's even a self-conscious little area that sells snacks made by small, lesser-known brands in New York.

This is all in line with the in-the-know feel that the hotel, part of Hyatt Hotels & Resorts' chain of boutique properties, tries to give off. It's a pretentiousness you can already sense from the fact that it is the shop — spelled all lowercase, the hotel insists — and not, well, The Shop. (You'll have to check out my review of the hotel in the New York Times Travel section for more on this Andaz.)

How would the food stack up against all this posing? We decided to find out …

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Xiao Ye: A Hainanese Chicken Rice Discovery




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There has been a flurry of buzz recently about Xiao Ye, a sliver of a place in Manhattan’s Lower East Side that would be easy to miss — except that you could just look for the gaggle of twenty-something Asians clogging up the narrow sidewalk, waiting for tables.

The prognosis of this Too-Cool-For-You Taiwanese comfort food restaurant that plasters the word “Dericious” above its kitchen and has christened its dishes with cutesy names that are also light jabs at Asians hasn’t always been good. Although chef Eddie Huang’s “Trade My Daughter for Fried Chicken” has gotten some raves in online reviews, the insatiable Gael Greene pronounced it too dry, “like wood shavings on chunks of white meat.” Last week, there was a final straw — Eddie (first known for Baohaus, the popular Taiwanese sandwich shop) announced on his blog, Fresh Off The Boat, that he was overhauling his menu after reading a lukewarm review on a New York food blog that expressed disappointment in Xiao Ye’s “normal” and generically flavored food.” As an experiment, Eddie, who calls his dishes “bootie call food” designed for late-night eating, has added items like Cheeto fried chicken and gochujang grilled cheese to the menu.

I don’t disagree with the criticism — when Gael and I hiked over to the LES for a catchup dinner a few weeks ago, the place had both misses and hits. Midway through dinner, we even decided to order a few more dishes after wondering if perhaps we had just made some wrong choices. 

I will say this, though — the restaurant has one shining spot that made this Singaporean transplant very happy: its Hainanese chicken rice (listed on the menu as “Big Trouble in Hainan Chicken” for $15) is a delight.

In the 16 years that I’ve lived in the United States, I’ve searched eateries all over for acceptable versions of the incredible dishes of my home country. I’ve managed to find decent versions of chicken curry, satay, tauhu goreng (deep-fried tofu that’s filled with julienned vegetables and drowned in spicy peanut sauce) and even oyster omelette, Teochew style. 

Good Hainanese chicken rice, however, was more elusive. This dish basically consists of chicken (steamed, boiled or roasted) and paired with a fragrant oily rice that’s been steeped in a broth with chicken fat and vanilla-like pandan leaves and a phalanx of condiments — minced ginger, garlicky chili sauce and “dark sauce,” a Southeast Asian soy sauce that’s sweet and as thick as molasses. It may sound easy, but the combination is harder to pull off than you’d think.

In the years that I’ve eaten my way through America, I had never sampled a passable version of chicken rice. Xiao Ye’s isn’t a dead ringer for the versions you’ll find in Singaporean hawker centers, of course.

But it’s not bad. And trust me, that’s high praise from this finicky Singaporean.

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Poilane Miche: Tackling A Legend


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As usual, I had bread on my mind the moment I returned to New York from my latest trip to Singapore.

After weeks away from my oven, I always touch down just itching to bake something. And this time, a quick check with my fellow Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge bakers revealed that they were mired in a difficult spot in the bread lineup.

“We are in Sourdough right now,” said Daniel in Berlin (a.k.a. @MisterRios of the Ährelich Gesagt blog). “Everyone is tRYEing their best.”

Ahh, bread humor. Gotta love it.

After the laughter subsided, however, I started to get worried. Sourdough in the hands of lesser bakers can be a massive pain in the tush. 

I should know.

Just last month, bolstered by a successful pane Siciliano and wondering what to do with a bowl of sourdough starter, I brazenly decided to take on a legend: Poilane miche — the Holy Grail of breads.

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Nantucket: The Art of Winging It


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I’ve always envied people who can look in a fridge, grab a bunch of things and whip together an impressive meal.

The times that I’ve done that, I’ve managed to oh, muster up a ham scramble.

As someone who entered the kitchen fairly late in life, my insecurities always get the better of me. So when it comes to cooking, I’m much more of a planner — I like to think things through a fair bit first if I’ve never made a dish before. I’ll look up dozens of recipes before settling on what to make. And I’ll read a recipe several times over to plan any changes or additions before setting foot in the kitchen.

But, watching the ease and freedom of chefs who cook purely by instinct — that confidence always gets me. I can’t help but feel like the child on a tricycle, watching far braver kids whizzing past on ten-speed bikes.

How to bridge that gulf?

In the kitchen of a little beach cottage on Nantucket, I started taking baby steps.

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Calexico Carne Asada: Taco Truck Fare With A Wait


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You would think that when a bunch of guys running a street food cart in one of the busiest neighborhoods in Manhattan get around to opening a restaurant, there wouldn’t be much of a wait for your food.

And yet there we were at Calexico Carne Asada in Brooklyn, mid-afternoon on a recent Friday, waiting for 10 minutes … 15 minutes … more, before our tacos and burrito finally surfaced.

We’re talking carne asada/pulled pork piled onto or wrapped up in tortillas, folks.

Assuming the meats have been prepped ahead of time, shouldn’t these be fairly easy to put together?

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