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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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.┬áThe 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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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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Brushstroke: Art on a Plate

In New York, the city that has pretty much seen it all, when one of the more intriguing restaurant concepts in recent memory finally opens its doors after three years in the works, important writing deadlines simply have to (temporarily) be damned.

After a long fascination with and love for Japanese food, David Bouley, the American restaurateur behind New York’s upscale French standard Bouley, finally dipped his spatula into the country’s culinary heritage in April, opening Brushstroke in TriBeCa, a collaboration with the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka that was conceptualized as an homage to the cuisine. (The name is a nod to the artistry that goes into Japanese food presentation.)

We were curious to see what a French-inflected American chef and some of Japan’s best culinary instructors would cook up. So with great appetites, we closed our laptops and off we went …

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Spicy Pickled Beets: Holiday Crunch


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I've had the great fortune of not having to worry about making my own lunch recently.

Up in the woods of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., I wake up every day to breakfast and a prepared lunchbox, courtesy of a precious place that graciously gives artists (and misfits like me) space, time and food to create. (You can donate to the cause here. No, really. DO IT.)

I haven't forgotten my Let's Lunch friends, though — so, just for a day, I'm coming out of seclusion to share a recipe for a holiday side that's a true knockout: Spicy pickled beets …

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Lotus of Siam: The Best Thai Restaurant in America?


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When a nationally respected critic declares in only the most revered food magazine in American history that a restaurant is the "single best Thai restaurant in the country," it's hard not to sit up and pay attention.

Now, ten years after the Pulitzer Prize-winning Jonathan Gold penned those words about Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas in Gourmet magazine, the restaurant has opened a branch in New York

The excitement and the buzz has been palpable since its early November opening, naturally. So the first chance we got, the lovely and insatiable Gael Greene and I were making plans to meet there for dinner.

Would it live up to the hype? We were eager to find out…

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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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Eataly (Il Pesce): A Mixed Bag Of Fish


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Eataly can be a hard place for the hungry.

For starters, chaos rules the moment you set foot in the door of this cavernous Whole Foods-meets-tony-food-court Italian emporium in New York City that opened at the end of summer. Believe me, you’ll need all the strength you can muster to bulldoze your way past the bodies before you can get at any food.

And while you’re pressed up, body against body, there are the displays of cheeses, desserts, milk and coffee you’ll be breezing past. You’ll want to stop, of course — but the mosh pit all around owns you. All you can do is cast longing glances, hoping for some private time with that fetching taleggio later in the evening perhaps, as the crowd carries you helplessly along.

Our destination on this particularly mobbed Saturday evening is Il Pesce, the fish restaurant within this 50,000 square foot-place that partner Mario Batali has famously billed as a “temple,” where “food is more sacred than commerce.”

Amid the sections where you can buy pasta, bread, cookbooks or stand around tall tables in a “tasting piazza” and nibble on cured meats, there are a few eateries devoted to specific categories — vegetables, pasta, fish, meat. Our dining companion for the evening, the insatiable Gael Greene, has already eaten her way through a few of those places. “I was curious to try the fish restaurant …” she says.

So, Il Pesce it is …

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