Sunday, January 29, 2012

Getting a Piece of That Henan Flavor

Over the span of the last year, I may have exhausted much of the original charm of Xian Famous Foods.  Although the cumin-spiced lamb and fiery soup still hits the occasional craving, the quality has been a bit lacking of late from the St. Mark's location.  So, in third-wheeling onto a pal's Chinatown lunch adventure, I was excited to find familiar looking fare at Henan Flavor, a warm, cozy spot on Forsyth.

We began our family-style meal with the griddled pork sandwich.

The bread was hot, crispy and delightful, similar to Xian, but the tender minced pork filling was merely fine, highlighted by cilantro but little else. Skippable at best.

Our second appetizer, egg and tomato lo mein was a homey, colorful bowl of sweet crushed tomatoes swirled with golden cooked egg.

It was a refreshing and light dish (how I felt so healthy eating this vegetarian dish!), but my spice-lusting heart yearned for something more..

...which was answered with the main event...

Oh, Big Tray of Chicken, how thy name suits thee well!

A glorious stainless steel tray piled high with jagged, handpulled noodles swimming in a crimson chili oil infused with Sichuan peppercorns and spices.  The plate comes with only chicken, however, for a couple dollars more (and highly recommended), noodles can be added to the tray.  The thick strands soak up the peppered oils perfectly.

Though the handpulled noodles lacked a bit of chewiness, the dish was so warm and comforting.  The subtle heat graduated with each bite, a welcomed contrast to the freshness of the tomato lo mein.

The Big Tray is a dark meat lover's dream, juicy, flavorful and plentiful, though a little work is needed to maneuver around the bones.

I sometimes find myself thinking about this Big Tray of Chicken.  I am not sure what it is - the simplistic name of the dish?  The spicy Sichuan flavor?, but with other Henanese places in the New York area (including my favorite - Flushing (!)), a visit to Queens may be imminent in my future to see what else is going on in this Henanese scene.

Henan Flavor
68B Forsyth
New York, NY 10002

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Adventure of Sannakji Chulpan @ Sik Gaek - Part 1

This is a story of how four Asian vagabonds banded together on a swashbuckling quest to defeat an eerie and mystical enemy named Old Sannakji Chulpan (to be said with a low and breathy voice for proper effect).  The epic journey began on a dark and mysterious corner of Woodside known as Sik Gaek - home of some lunch special.  We didn't care about the lunch special though (because it was night time), and because we had much more important matters of concern.

Immediately, ol' Sannakji's minions tried to distract us by frying a trio of eggs in front of our unwavering eyes.  I admit, I instantly grew weak at the thought of eggs over medium, but Thanan perservered and ate his yolk in one fell swoop.  "What else you got?" he said with his signature jeer.

They didn't have much.  Some baby carrots that I passed on, so while those other knuckleheads nibbled on rabbit food, I couldn't stop staring into the flames that resembled the tentacles of ol' Sannakji!

I glanced at Sannakji's distant relatives, waiting in a tank beside us, a good audience for the battle that was about to ensue...

Oh wait.  Another distraction.  Steamed egg.  Okay.  I like the egg theme here.  These are hot and delightful.
I must remain strong!

Ugh, Greeshma.  Don't look at that dimpled Korean eye candy cutting our paejan with such cheer, another ploy launched by Sannakji to weaken our resolve, or particularly, Greeshma's Korean-boy-fetish-resolve.  Must. Look. Beyond. These. Distractions !  No, Greeshma, no!

The paejan was crispy, albeit a touch greasy, and could've used more seafood.  I was so over it, with or without the dimpled server.

And then, as mysteriously as the head bosses appear in the dungeons of Zelda...

Old Sannakji Chulpan appeared before us!

The shocking vision caused sheer horror and terror to ripple through our skinny-fat frames!

We stared deep into the many eyes of Old Sannakji, as it writhed and slithered before us...Thick black claws waving to us from the steamy broths of hell.

Thanan felt confident, exclaiming, "You are no match for me, ha ha ha!" as his spiky hair flopped back with glee.

Greeshma looked dumbfounded yet excited:  "It's like Sannakji is looking right into my soul...but the joke is on him!  I don't have a soul, and I am about to eat his! MUahaHaHa"  Whoa.  Vicious!  Don't mess with Texas, y'all!

There was no way Old Sannakji could be a match against our valor, our determination and most importantly, our appetites.

Thanan described his method of attack: "I'll just basically take all the seafood pieces that I like.  You guys take care of the rest."

And then his eyes honed in on sea snail #1.

Plentiful pieces of octopus and squid could be found throughout the savory, spicy and utterly delicious scarlet broth.  It was going to be an exciting time!

And so we began, the three of us, digging into the depths of that giant pot of richly flavorful seafood stew, tossing the shells and remnants of the glory that used to be old Sannakji into sad, 99 cent Ikea buckets beneath our tables.

Hiya, conch.  Conch wait to eat you.  (Ha!  I kill myself sometimes.)

It was a joyous time, full of laughter and merriment.  Nothing is more satisfying than witnessing seafood die before you and thriving on their freshly cooked flesh!

Hi sea snail. I'll sea you in my stomach.  (Okay, I did say I only kill myself sometimes.)

And then we called for reinforcements because Greeshma was starting to hyperventilate.  The pot was neverending - a deep abyss of Korean ferocity!

"I can help you with this," said Anne, suddenly appearing with an interesting facial expression that reassured us completely.

But as she stared into the mile-wide pot filled with growing tentacles and udon noodles,

Anne began to feel a little...full...and human.  Old, wily Sannakji can humble the best of them!

" keeps growing!..."
Ha.  "Told you," said Thanan with his super signature all-knowing jeer (and finger point to boot).

...we let Sannakji win this time.  I know. (Sigh.)  After three hours of exhausting non-stop eating (#firstworldproblems), we decided to pause this ambitious conquest for now, to be continued on a future, imminent date...

We then gave our overworked jaws a break from the smorgasbord of chewy seafood flesh and sank our teeth into some Cake Man Raven confections that Anne stealthily snuck into the restaurant (the way that vagabonds and rapscallions often do).

The whole feast was washed down with some invigorating green drink that might have tasted like sweet cucumber and called it a night.

You may have won this one, Sannakji, but we will be back, revitalized and stronger than ever!  

Until then,
Your frenemy,

Sik Gaek
49-11 Roosevelt Ave, Woodside, NY 11377
Sik Gaek on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cafe on the Green @ the Four Seasons

I know it's only January, but I already miss the holidays! So today, while there's still snow on the ground - making me feel all warm and cozy inside - allow me to reminisce about my amazing Christmas Eve dinner buffet at the Four Seasons in Dallas. Nice buffets are often hit or miss, but this one hit all the right spots and then some.

It was in Cafe on the Green, already a beautiful spot with views of sprawling greens, and I'd be lying if I didn't think to myself, "Wow, this would be a gorgeous place for a wedding." I mentioned that to my father, and he said, in the nicest way possible, something to the effect of "Dream on." And so I will dream! ;)

The first thing I noticed about the buffet was the dessert room. Not just any dessert room. A dessert room full of holiday displays of adorable winter settings - all made of chocolate and candies and other edible delights. It took my breath away. I felt like Reese Witherspoon in the opening scenes of Sweet Home Alabama, where Patrick Dempsey takes her to a Tiffany store, gets down on one knee and says, "Pick one." Except I'm luckier - because I didn't have to just pick one... I pretty much picked everything.

Did you see the chocolate fondue tower? Yeah. Even the food labels were made of chocolate, written with even more chocolate.

I was so distracted by the desserts, I didn't get a chance to take a picture of the other food setups, except for the kids station.

Um, awesome.

You'll be happy to hear that I actually did eat some substantive food.

Boom. Christmas in my stomach, without the hassle of preparation or cleanup. I loved the crab claws and cocktail shrimp. Fresh, plump, delicious. I took a couple of broccoli florets from the salad station for good measure. You know, to be healthy. The best part was the combo of the turkey+dressing+gravy+homemade cranberry sauce. All of it was spot on, with perfect texture and moistness. None of it tasted like it came from a buffet.

After a couple of plates of that, I tackled the desserts. Started out with this plate of goodness:

Clock-wise from top left: apple quince purse, chocolate pecan tart, fudge brownie with caramel dipping sauce, blueberry tart, raspberry macaron, madeleine with fig dipping cream. A strawberry pavlova fills out the center of my plate. I included a close-up of the pecan tart... because hello, who doesn't love gold-dusted food? Every single thing on my plate was absolute quality and delicious.

And also, I love pavlovas. I've loved them ever since my friend Jen made a spectacular chocolate pavlova years and years ago.

This one was also pretty wonderful - light, airy, with just the right amount of sweetness.

My second plate of happiness:

Clock-wise from the top: coffee panna cotta, pistachio mousse and tuiles, cognac pear tart, and caramel cream puff. Again, everything was a winner! My favorite of the night was the pistachio mousse and tuiles. The mousse was nicely light and flavorful, and the crisp of the tuiles was a perfect complement.

My third plate:

By this time, I was keeling over with fullness, but I couldn't pass up the chocolate fountain, or the creme brûlée, or the pretty cheesecake and chocolates. I just couldn't. And yet again, my stomach found this plate to be thoroughly enjoyable.

My point is, every once in a while you gotta treat yourself to a room full of dessert. And if you make it to the Four Seasons in Dallas, you won't be disappointed. I'm already looking forward to next year's Christmas Eve buffet.

4150 North MacArthur Boulevard
Irving, Texas 75038