Royal Seafood: A Singaporean Chinese New Year Feast

It’s difficult being far from home at the holidays — which is what makes February a trying time most years.

Living in New York, far from the Chinese new year feasts and festivities of Singapore, I always feel like I’m missing out. Thankfully, though, there was a special dinner this year — on the seventh day of the lunar new year no less. Now, the seventh day is the day that Chinese celebrate as “Ren Ri,” the day that humans were created. (According to Chinese mythology, the first life-form the goddess Nu Wa created on the first day of the year was the chicken — go figure.) And since it’s the birthday of humans, the Chinese celebrate it as everybody’s birthday.

So it seemed fitting to be heading out to a Chinese new year celebration at Royal Seafood in New York on a day that we could toast everybody’s birthday …

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Bacon Grease Cake: Resuscitating an Oldie

The same problem arises in my kitchen just a little too often: After a few days of intense bacon activity, what to do with the cup or so of grease sitting on the counter?

For years, my go-to use for this grease has been Swedish ginger cookies — a recipe from New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn that is fool-proof. (If this sounds insane to you, bacon grease actually works very well in spicy sweets — the smokiness of the fat is a nice foil for the tastes of cinnamon, cloves etc. Just ask Modern Woman magazine, which listed it as one of 10 ways to use bacon fat in 1943.)

One can only eat so many bacon-fat ginger cookies, however. And when I started itching for something else, a little poking around online unearthed an old recipe for an intriguing blackberry jam cake …

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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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Spicy Sichuan Sesame Noodles: Chilled Lunch With A Kick

If Achilles had ever cooked, I’m convinced noodles would have been his heel.

Getting noodles — especially Asian-style noodles — just right has always been a bit of a mystery to me. In fact, nailing the consistency of noodles — just a smidge over al dente — is so daunting that I tend to avoid making pad thais and Southeast Asian mee gorengs at home. (My first pad thai attempt years ago, after all, resulted in me using chopsticks to pull apart gummy ropes of noodles that had been welded together into a mound. I’ve never tried to make this dish again.)

After a recent lunch at a Sichuan restaurant in New York where I had a fiery and ginger-speckled dish of spicy chilled sesame noodles, however, I simply couldn’t stop thinking about them.

So when my Let’s Lunch group of bloggers around the world who gather for a monthly lunch date suggested making cold entrees for August, I decided to get back on that horse …

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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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Ciano: A Night to Remember


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The idea had been to have dinner, plain and simple.

No thinking about writing about the dishes as we're eating. No scribbling of notes. No blogging. This was a celebration, after all. There should be no room at the table for work of any sort.

But the moment our food started arriving, the game plan changed. Ciano, the much-anticipated new restaurant by Shea Gallante (who greatly impressed critics and diners at the now-shuttered Cru, where he earned three stars from The New York Times' Frank Bruni), pretty much had me at shrimp balls.

From my first nibble of rock shrimp polpette ($8 for five), the deliciously warm one-inch balls stuffed with big chunks of shrimp, I was hooked. Out came the paper and pen and off we were …

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Vino Rosina: The New Italian On The Block


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Years ago, I found myself creeping along the quiet streets of a swath near Baltimore's Little Italy, squinting through the darkness as I tried to find Charleston, a restaurant that had been highly recommended.

Even though this roughly eight-block area was flanked by the perennially packed and fratty Fells Point on one side and the touristy Inner Harbor on the other at the time, its streets were still largely undeveloped in the late 1990s. Charleston, a Southern-inflected French restaurant, was an early adopter in the neighborhood and once we'd located it, we were glad we went. The meal was phenomenal and it was thrilling to be at a place that felt like it was on the cusp of something larger.

The husband and I recently returned to Baltimore for a short visit and decided to trek to Charleston to take a look at the place where we'd had one of the first romantic dinners of our courtship. The restaurant, helmed by the talented Cindy Wolf in the kitchen, is still there and hopping but the area around it has since become unrecognizable. Now named Harbor East, the area has sprouted gleaming condiminium, office and hotel buildings and has become as packed with restaurants, cafes and bars as its nearby neighborhoods. (You can check out a piece I wrote for the New York Times Travel section this past weekend on Harbor East here.)

Amid the current hubbub, a new little place caught our eye: Vino Rosina, a modern Italian restaurant in the Bagby Furniture Company Building, a historic red-brick structure that used to be a factory. Outside on the street, we could hear laughter wafting out along with the intoxicating smells of oven-roasted meats. So of course, we decided to step in and give the place a whirl …

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Oyster Omelette (Or Luak): The Food Of Love


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Food, love, passion. They’ve always been intertwined for me.

Sure, diamonds and Louboutins are perfectly nice and all that. But a man who knows how to feed you well? Now that’s truly priceless.

I’ve been thinking about why that is the case ever since my Twitter Let’s Lunch bunch, a global group of cooks who have a monthly virtual lunchdate, decided to put together aphrodisiac-laced dishes in honor of Valentine’s Day. In a story this week in the New York Times, food researchers say that the powers of aphrodisiacs have been rather exaggerated. Very few of the usual suspects — asparagus, chocolate — have proven to be able to boost the libido, apparently.

But how else to explain oyster-induced tinglies or the quickening heartbeat that truffles inevitably seem to cause?

Science be damned. I’d rather carry on believing in the potent sexual powers of food, thank you very much.

For my Let’s Lunch afternoon delight, oysters immediately came to mind. They’ve gotten me into trouble more times than I choose to remember. And, they’ve also long been regarded as aphrodisiacs perhaps they’re filled with zinc, which is a key nutrient for testosterone production.

Besides, there’s a Singaporean fried oyster omelette dish that never fails to get my heart racing at the mere thought of it. 

Just like it can be with love (or what comes after love), however, this dish proved to be a little tricky to pull off …

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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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At wd-50: The French, They Came


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Walking into wd-50 early Monday evening, you couldn’t help but notice the distinct stillness.

It felt almost like entering a temple — the air was plump with reverence, laced with frissons of anticipation.

The dinner about to happen wasn’t just any dinner, after all — Michel Bras, one of France’s most highly regarded chefs, was manning the kitchen for just one night. And New Yorkers had been working themselves up into a lather over trying to get in.

Having had the good fortune of seeing the announcement of this dinner the moment Eater.com posted it (and also being in possession of fast fingers and a cellphone nearby), there we were, quietly filing into the dining room — hungry.

The meal that lay before us was a nine-course vegetarian tasting menu. Bras, a three-star Michelin chef, has made his name on dishes with inventive treatments and combinations of ingredients — powdered fruit, crushed seeds, sprinklings of whole flowers for added flavor — that are carefully orchestrated to taste anything but pedestrian. (It’s also worth noting that Bras, who also has a restaurant in Hokkaido, is also known for dishes that are presented with a tinge of Japanese artistry.)

Now, in his little restaurant overlooking Laguiole, a picturesque town in
the mountains of Aubrac in southern France, fresh fruit and
vegetables that grow wild in the region are the stars of the dishes. In New York, Bras applied the same strategy to his menu — from the moment he arrived three days before, he’d been scouring the city’s greenmarkets to come up with this meal after seeing what produce he could find, according to our waiter. In fact, Luc Dubanchet, one of the organizers of the meal along with three others featuring other French chefs at David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants this month, told the New York Times that Bras said he is “incapable of doing it any other way.”

And so it was that we arrived with open minds and eager stomachs.

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