And now the French

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I discovered myself in French food fairly regularly in the last few days. I also realized that for some reason all French restaurants in New York look very similar. The first was Les Halles, one branch of which is right around the corner from my house and open till midnight. yes there's a celebrity chef involved, but the place isn't fantastically expensive. The roast duck was basic and simple, but beautifully executed - enough to overcome the bother of constant jabber from my somewhat inebriated (and male) neighbor. It had this half-inch thick meltingly sinful skin, browned and crisp on top but a sweet yam mash on the side that I didn't care for. Then there was Artisanal, widely known as cheese heaven with another celebrity chef in tow. The cheese plates are excellent; amazing choice and good presentation. A waiter with a disappointing lack of accent informed us that there was a short list of cheese (around 40) on the specials and the whole list of over 150 (some of which may not be there anymore) but our best bet if we insisted on seeing everything was to visit the temperature-controled cheese shelves at the back called the 'Cave'. The $35 plate came with four cheeses (that my Swiss companion and the waiter conspired to choose) generously sprinkled with pate, cold cuts and preserves and even some wonderful dijon mustard. I licked my chops through a fairly expensive cheese plate and a bottle of bourdeax but didn't get as far as the food - though we did try the competent gougeres as starters. Also on the list was L'Express, open 24 hours on Park Avenue. Nice seating, decent eggs - probably the only place for a sit-down breakfast in that area. They didn't seem to worried that I kept talking like a retard into a cellphone while ordering.

Southeastward ho

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A drive to get rid of excess clothes on a Sunday took me to the east village, where I stumbled upon Ma*ya Hurapan. It turned out to have nothing to do with Mayans; the food is a scattering of dishes from South East Asia. The interestingly colorful two-level eatery was empty when I went (for a late late late lunch) so I got myself a nice seat at a window (all the better to see summer belly-buttons through) and ordered Roti Canai and Chinese Sausage topped Vegetable Fried Rice. Before the roti canai, however, came a free plate of shrimp crackers with peanut sauce of the satay kind. I must tell you, however, that the peanut sauce was incredibly fantastically wonderful - this from a guy who's punded the streets of Singapore trying out every satay vendor there is. It's not as good as the best that a Singapore street vendor can offer, but it's close - and certainly far above the namby-pamby versions every other New York place offers. Even better - its free. The roti canai was very good too, nice crunchy crumbled parathas with an excellent chicken curry. The fried rice initially came with no chinese sausages at all, but a profusely apologetic waiter got them for me afterwards. The place is definitely worth trying again, if only for all those bold complex flavors. I still wonder about the Ma*ya, though...

Fishing in Hell

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Hell's kitchen isn't on my normal routes, but a friend who lives there assured me that it would be well worththe trip so I found myself in his neighborhood Italian restaurant - Osteria Gelsi. It wasn't merely Italian; it was Puglian (they don't let you into New York City Italian restaurants without a geography exam nowadays - Puglia happens to be on the boot heel of peninsular Italy). I dont know anything about Puglia, but its obvious they're fond of fish. The menu leaned heavily towards seafood, but more interestingly (in a city of a million Italian eateries) promised fishes that I'd rarely seen anywhere else, such as porgie or rock scorpion fish. We ordered one of each, preceded by baked baby squid and followed by a huge square of (what else) tiramisu. The food was fantastic. Both the fishes were revelations; the assertive, coarse-grained porgie simply grilled with herbs, the flaky, buttery rock scorpion fish with cherry tomatoes. The baked baby squid starter - tiny morsels of squid breaded and baked - was very nice too. The standard but fabulously airy tiramisu was a great ending to the dinner. So calm and mellow was my mood after the meal that I was even persuaded to pay for the whole thing.

The Best in the World

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CNN Money has come out with The World's Top 50 Restaurants taken from a survery by the British Magazine "Restaurant".

Its an interesting excercise; and of course a deeply flawed and controversial one. The western-palate bias is obvious; the London outpost of a New York sushi joint (Nobu London #20) supposedly makes better sushi than anywhere in Japan. And who knew that the best Chinese in the world (Hakkasan #30) is found in London's Fitzrovia? The only representative from all of Asia (Felix Hong Kong #49) is a bar that serves throughly western creations such as seared Ahi Tuna. European food doesn't always fare well, either. England, France and Spain appears up there but poor Italy is left out of the top twenty altogether - squeezing in with Checcino dal 1887 only at #23.

Interesting also to see its variance from another great restaurant list - the Michelin guide. The long-time bible of star eateries does not cover New York (they dont have an office here), but the divergence with this list in Europe is stark. London, which ranks as the greatest food destination according to the Restaurant magazine's survey, has only a single three-star restaurant (and a handful of two -stars, some of which I've talked about earlier). Paris, on the other hand, has half a dozen three-stars and plenty with a mere two. Many of the two-stars dod not even make it to the list on the Restaurant magazine survey.

However; it does list a wide selection of excellent restaurants that should be useful to every wannabe gourmet - even more so if you're in London or New York. While you have fun trying out and trashing the rankings, you're going to have some seriously satisfied bellies (unfortunately, along with badly damaged pockets). Also of interest is last year's list, which deigns to rank an Indian restaurant as the best restaurant in Asia - oh the poor Chinese.

One hit wonder

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This sunday a charming woman chose academics over me, so I was left to my own devices. And, just by that solace of abandonded souls (Bed Bath and Beyond) was a very interesting restaurant indeed.

Almost as soon as I had gotten on my trusty steed, my eye was caught by a chic modern whitelaminate space that prominently announced "Tebaya" and threatened to sell me Japanese chicken wings. What captured my interest was that for such a slick space the menu was miniscule; Nagoya-style chicken wings in three portion sizes, kushiyaki (chicken on a stick) and a katsu burger. Teba, it turns out, is deep fried chicken wings with a secret sauce - soy, sesame and pepper to be sure, but there's more in there. The sides are gummy, sticky potato balls in a wonderfully buttery soy sauce called potemochi.

It takes some courage to sell such a small menu, but Tebaya does a great job. The wings are fabulous, and messy and cheap to boot. The potemochi is kind of strange but addictive - specially with that sauce (I even drank some after the potatoes were over). And its close by the next time you want to fix your bath up, and cheap enough to forget you spent too much making your towels look good.

What's in a name

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So, I changed it...the name of the blog, I mean. I think it's cool to have a name that matches the URL. Gives an aura of...of...well something.

Fast food

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This book deserves a place on my blog as a whole new take on the concept of fast food - look here

Saigon falls

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Every once in a while, you stumble upon a restaurant that you really like but critics ignore and no one else knows about. A few weeks ago I was led to a small, almost unseen vietnamese restaurant nestled in Tribeca between much more famous neighbours. We could see Bouley from our window, and Nobu, Megu, Chanterelle and a dozen critical raves were staring over our shoulder, but our quiet little place held its own. Not unlike Vietnam itself, one might say. Hoi An, named after a once-famous port town in Vietnam (ok I googled that) is small, unpretentious, inexpensive and strangely enough staffed by small cheerful Japanese women. There is no easy way to discover Hoi An. I was taken there by a friend, and that's probably the only way to go; on your own you'll almost always get distracted by one of the much better reviewed neighbours that abound in Tribeca. That would be a mistake, though - the food there was some of the best Vietnamese I've had in recent times. We ordered the starter combination, an artfully presented set of four starters that you get to choose - of which the only false step was the strange and slimy salt squid. Entrees; I went for pork and boiled egg in caramel sauce while my friend ordered grilled seasoned beef in rice paper (no I'm not even going to try those x-laden vietnamese names). The pork was wonderful, soft and melting; the caramel thankfully described the color rather than the taste of the sauce. And the rice paper - this was my first experience with that rather fun thing, made even better by the wonderful grilled beef. And it was inexpensive. Hoi An is definitely a hidden gem.


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