Sunday, February 26, 2006

On a Whym

When Tanying and M.P.S. left it up to me to decide on a dining venue for our big “Three Amigas” dine out night, I knew we needed something different from our regular afternoon lunch spots—cheap sandwich places with little décor and often scruffy looking patrons. And I was lazy—I really didn’t want to venture far from my humble abode on such a cold wintry night. So I needed to find a place close by, new to all of us and a place that wasn’t going to trim down our already slim graduate student wallets.

I remembered reading a post on Whym a few weeks ago by the guys at NYCNosh, who waxed on about the creativity of the dishes. I took a look at the online menu and the prices seemed really reasonable, it was within walking distance and the website’s photo gallery seemed to indicate pretty sophisticated interior design (not the place to attract scruffy clientele).

Whym’s cuisine can be defined as eclectic American with breezes of Asian influence, like their Duck Negamaki and Wasabi Pea Crusted Tuna. When you first walk into Whym, you are struck by the contrast of the deep brown sleek chairs, tables and bar wood panelling against the bare white walls, ceiling and floor of the dining room (well, the floor is a bit more beige, but it’s still a steep contrast to all the darker elements). It’s sleek, but simple—there is really nothing adorning the dining room, but a long mirror that runs across half of one of the long walls. When we started our dinner, around 6pm, remarkably the lights in the restaurant were on full blast and it was very, very bright—the brightness was the first thing I noticed when I entered the restaurant because I’m so used to exceptionally dim lighting in restaurants these days.

I was intrigued by the appetizer named “Sexy Mushrooms.” How did these ‘shrooms get their sex appeal? Our waiter claimed that it was the marscopone cheese that “dressed” the fungi up. Well, that was enough for me to know—I figured a bit of sexiness is good for my meal anyhow, so I went for it. Tanying decided to have the Asian inspired Duck Negamki and M.P.S. ordered the dressed up Chopped Salad with apples, asparagus, beets and feta cheese.

A sophisticated restaurant (no matter what the price range) brings not only tasty food to the table, but they bring it to you in-style. Whym really wins on this score. All the dish presentations were stylish and lovely to look at before devouring.

My mushrooms may or may not have been sexy, but the dish was smooth in texture, which I liked, and a bit too salty in taste which I did not like so much. The Chopped Salad was a nice combination of sweet, crunch and soft flavors and textures--an inspired reinvention of a rather traditional dish. The hit of the appetizers was the Duck Negamaki, chunks of soy sauce sweetened and coated duck on a bed of "forbidden" rice (a black highly textured variety). The gritty bits of rice was a compliment to the soft tender duck.

The night was bitter cold and the warm thoughts of a Chicken Pot Pie called to me when I scanned the menu. Whym’s version arrives covered in melted chedder cheese and chopped chives. It is HUGE. It could have served two, maybe even three people. Underneath a delicious golden, crispy biscuit crust (making a wonderful “riiip” sound as I plunged my fork in) were bits of chicken apple sausage, carrots and potatoes. Pot pies are one of those American classics that I’ve found to be mediocre at best in restaurants—this is not one of them.

Tanying enjoyed the Pan-Roasted Cod and M.P.S. ordered the Grilled Salmon for her entrée. In restaurants fish can be overdone, oversauced or just plain bad. Whym gets it right with both of these dishes. The cod was accompanied by a pretty decent tomato-aspargus risotto and the salmon was cooked in a distinctive black pepper sherry sauce.

For dessert, I ordered what sounded the most interesting—this is can be a hit or miss method—the Peanut Butter Martini. A large glass arrived at the table filled with alternating strips of a peanut butter cream and a dark chocolate ganache and topped off with some cream and sliced strawberries. It was a rich as it sounds—the chocolate was so thick it stuck to the roof of my mouth before melting away to my stomach. In my opinion peanut butter’s best compliment is always chocolate and this dessert is no exception. However, it should come with a warning that it should be a shared dish—even with the help of my two amigas, we could not finish it. Plus, Tanying ordered the Warm Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream for herself. I must say, she had the winner of the two desserts. It was a soft fluffy puff of dark chocolate and the ice cream was smooth, sweet and silky.

The service at Whym was outstanding, from the friendly hostess to our knowledgeable waiter and even to the manager who made sure we had our water glasses filled while eating our rich desserts. We were even more impressed when our bill came—for such great food and service in a chic atmosphere, Whym is a steal. It is an excellent choice for a weekend lunch or weekday dinner, especially those who are looking to find an inexpensive location before a show in the nearby theatre district.

Whym, 889 9th Avenue @58th Street, (212) 315-0088

For this week’s Weekend Dog Blogging event, hosted by the recovering Sweetnicks (I hope you're feeling better!) I’m contributing a photo of D in restful sleep as she recovers from a bad eye scratching incident this weekend. On Thursday evening went to grab a raw hide bone, the trouble was it was G’s bone—and he's bigger and tougher than her (he's a sweet one, really, he is and I'll feature him in a future WDB post). An hour later she was in the animal emergency room. Fortunately, the scratch wasn’t too bad and the doctor expects a full recovery. In fact, D was in pretty high spirits all weekend—you wouldn’t know she had gotten hurt with all her running around—she puckered herself out and slept peacefully here on the couch.

I’ve never contributed to Weekend Cat Blogging run by Clare because I don’t really know many people with cats. However, my little brother now has two very cute kitties. So here’s my entry of K, a purr-ty black male with an affection for the bathroom sink.


to continue reading...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Say Cheese!

Not too long ago a certain James Beard Award-winning writer wrote an article about food blogs in Food & Wine Magazine. And then all hell broke loose.

The dust has settled and most of us food bloggers have chosen to respond with what we know best: food. In particular we're featuring a certain type of food that the writer took as symbol of bad food blogging, the cheese sandwich. This gave me the perfect opportunity to try a local shop that I keep walking past and telling myself to go try it.

Say Cheese! has been a Hell's Kitchen spot for the last several years and it bills itself as the "Home of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich."

The shop is filled with just a few tables and chairs in primary colors against a natural brick wall on one side and simple long white wall running back to the counter, above which hangs a blackboard listing the different sandwich and smoothie options.

The menu features a number of melts and flats filled with everything from pesto to artichokes. I decided to go a bit more traditional and ordered "The Big Cheese", a three cheese (muenster, provolone, wiss) sandwich with roasted red peppers, garlic and red onions on olive bread.

The crunchy and gooey combination are what make grilled cheese sandwiches so delicious for me. But the sweetness of the peppers was an unwanted contrast to the salty melted cheese and it interrupted my moment with with Mr. Crunch and Mr. Goo. My first bites were also rather messy as I fought valiantly with the pepper bits and onions when they tried to slide out of the sandwich; I would try to ram them back in, but I lost that battle and they ended up spread all over my tin foil covered basket. The bread was decent, but its crunch could almost be defined as "jaw-breaking." I yearned for Wonder Bread.

Maybe its my not-so-refined palate or that I just like to reminisce about the simple versions I ate during childhood, but I think I prefer a plain grilled cheese sandwich on that Wonder Bread, even ones with *gack!* Kraft singles. Yes, the orange hue is unnatural (and probably terrible for you, too), but there is something so strangely comforting in that color. I connect happy moments in my youth to that bright orange-as-Halloween cheese sandwiches.

Reflecting on this particular cheese sandwich, I probably would've been better choosing a funky version with some odd combination of ingredients. Well, at least I had my say and my cheese for food blogging.

Say Cheese!
649 9th Ave,
NY, NY 10036
Between 45th and 46th Street

to continue reading...

Friday, February 17, 2006

No cheese sammichie for me today!

Yesterday was the official Cheese Sandwich Day, which unfortunately I could not participate on time due to an exam. However, big cheese sandwich plans are in the works for tomorrow!

to continue reading...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Here in New York we had a delighfully warm january that felt like spring. So it was wishful thinking that such nice weather would last through february. Today's storm has brough nearly two feet of snow into manhattan! I've gotten as far as the front door, but I have yet to venture outside.

Inspired by the lovely notion of still far distant summer weather I present a very cute picture I snapped in Himeji, Japan last June for Weekend Dog Blogging.

to continue reading...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Rangers, 4 vs. Devils, 1: Bistro Du Vent

This post is part of a hockey sports bet I made with my friend Y.O./J.C. back in September. If you follow the NHL, then you might realize I’m a bit behind in posting—the Rangers have beaten the Devils quite a few times so far this season. My first hockey bet post can be found here.

For weeks I egged on Y.O./J.C. to own up to his end of our sports bet. The Rangers had not once, not twice, but three times won against those menacing horned ones across the Hudson River, the Devils. Initially we planned to go to L’Impero—an Italian restaurant in Tudor City that Y.O./J.C. kept raving about to me. However, with his hectic schedule as a nubie lawyer (i.e. he’s being slave driven by the law firm's partners), he couldn’t commit to a specific day to make a reservation.

Finally, I called him and put it to him straight: “Me hungry...please meal, now!” Okay, I was bit more polite and articulate than that—but I sure felt that way. After a few more calls to harass—er, remind him of our dinner deal, he finally showed up in my neck of woods one cold winter night.

“Where do you want to eat Rose?” he asked.

“How about Esca?” I reply with enthusiasm.

“Uh, how about something that won’t lighten my wallet so much," he quickly shot back.

Dang it. I really wanted to go there.

“Okay, how about Bistro Du Vent around the block?” I replied.

“Never hear of it.”

Fantastic—he’s clueless!

“French fare from the guys who run Esca. I hear good things about it,” I say with a devious smile.

“Okay, but is it Esca expensive?”

Again with a smile I said, “Oh no, it’s much more low-key. It’s a theatre district restaurant. Serves those going Broadway bound.”

Okay, so I told an itsy bitsy untruth here. Esca and Bistro Du Vent are both co-productions from Mario Batali, David Pasternack and Joe Bastianich (now producing the much touted, yet much plagued Del Posto Restaurant in the Meat Packing District)—the prices are nearly the same—but not being a foodie or very aware of the NYC restaurant scene, I snuck this past him.

When you walk into Bistro Du Vent you get a sense of rich colors and fabrics—from the wood paneling at the entrance to the deep tones of the leather upholstery in the back section. The subdued and very dim lightening matches the décor—it was so dark unfortunately none of my pictures came out very well. One large wall of the restaurant is dedicated to the restaurant’s wines—it almost jutts out into the main dining area. Behind white wooden doors with large glass cutouts were racks of their wine collection. We were seated near the windows, which are lined with bottles of fancy fizzy water which did seem a bit casual for such an otherwise stylish interior.

I started my meal with a crab salad with Peekytoe crabmeat, celery and green apply curry. I was impressed by the presentation—strips of apple crisscrossed on top of the crab mixture—it seemed so perfectly set in place I almost didn’t want to break up the harmony. That thought lasted two seconds and then I dug right into it. The curry was mildly sweet with a touch of spice that cut through the creaminess of the mixture and it turned a slightly boring crab meat mix into something a tasty and different from the norm.

For my entrée I ordered a wild stripe bass with a side of gnocchi in a shrimp-bouillabaisse sauce. I’m always hesitant about ordering fish. Some of my worst dining experiences have been when the “fishiness” of the fish cuts through and overpowers every other ingredient in the dish. Bistro Du Vent’s kitchen, however, has gotten the art of cooking fish down. It was cooked just long enough to render it soft and flakey which allowed the sauce to shine through instead of the fish. The sauce went incredibly well with the handmade delicate gnocchi.

The portions are a wee bit on the small side and my friend is a big eater. No, I take that back, he's a HUGE eater. So we ordered a side of pommes frites initially to share, but he pretty much ate them all. I did enjoy a few pieces, but nothing about them shouted "WOW!" They were just good, decent french fries.

To wash it all down I asked our waiter for some suggestions on wines that might compliment my dish selections. Our waiter seemed very knowledgeable about the wine selection and felt very certain that a glass of Henri Bourgeois "Le Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon" 2004 would be the best choice. It kind of took me back as how sure he felt about his suggestion. In most of my fine dining experiences the waiters or the sommeliers will often pepper me with questions about my own wine preferences and even then suggest several options, not just one. But I decided to go with it and he was right on the money. The glass was a perfect match for the light seafood dishes I chose—clear and subtle with a bit of zing.

Bistro Du Vent is clearly what it aims to be, an upscale French bistro restaurant that caters to the out-of-town theater going crowd. The dishes are a clever and smart twist on French bistro cuisine by using ingredients that we don’t normally associate with it. The waitstaff were very attentive and even my all wine knowledgeable waiter, while a bit assured of himself, was cheerful and positively on the mark with his suggestions.

to continue reading...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Chinese Lunar New Year Part 3: Customs

In my last two posts I’ve discussed Lunar New Year food traditions in Chinese culture from fruit to sweets, but there are lots of non-food customs associated with the holiday as well. Many of these may seem familiar to you but you may not have a clear understanding of their meaning or history.

Lion Heads/Lion Dance/Dragon Dance

I’m sure you’ve seen a lion dance performed in person or on television. In Chinese culture, lions symbolize protection and goodness and they aren’t limited to being performed during the Lunar New Year either—owners will have them at business openings and couples will invite them for their wedding celebrations.

The lions’ heads are actually based on Tibetan dog heads rather than an African lion head. The dances are normally performed by Chinese dance troupes or martial arts groups. It requires two dancers, one maneuvers the head and his partner moves like the body of a lion behind him, covered by a large swath of fabric that is connected to the lion head. The performances require musicians to play the drums and cymbals and the lion should be accompanied by a smiling monk named Mi To Fu who holds a leaf of lettuce and lures the lion through the dance. The dance’s finale entails the lion grabbing the leaf in its mouth and then spitting it back out again. Why does the lion do this? Once again, homophones are at play—the word “green” in Chinese sounds like the word “shared prosperity,” so eating the lettuce and spitting it sends out good fortune to the community or the new business or the newlyweds.


Couplets are poetic and lucky proverbs that represent good wishes for the new year. Normally they are written with black ink on vertical strips of red paper. They are hung on either side of a door or in window, entrance or hallway. Some of the most common messages: May you have good health, May the Star of Happiness/ the Star of Wealth/the Star of Longevity Shine on you.

When I took a quick look through the flower market this year I noticed these elderly Chinese gentleman writing couplets for passerbys. And then I noticed they were sponsored by Foxwoods Casino! Need luck for the craps table anyone?


The character “Fu” in Mandarin or “fook” in Cantonese means fortune. During the Lunar New Year season families hang signs with this single character on doors, entrances and anywhere else in their home in order to bring in fortune. In the northern areas of China, the “fu” is hung upside down to suggest that luck as already arrived because the word for “upside down” and “to arrive” sound very similar in Mandarin. However, in southern Chinese dialects the words aren’t similar and therefore families from the south many not hang their signs upside down.

Red Envelopes (Hong bao/laisee)

During the Lunar New Year adult members of the family will give small red envelopes filled with a bit of money to their children (or grandchildren). Money is normally given out in even numbers with the exception of “four” because the word sounds like the word for “death.” The children are persuaded to save their money until the next year so that they may maintain their luck through the year. The family hopes to entrust the family luck by giving out these cute red envelopes to their children. Most envelopes are decorated with emblems of luck such as the character “fu” for fortune or peaches and oranges that symbolize prosperity.

The Kitchen God

A domestic deity, the Kitchen God lives in the stove of every family and watches over them throughout the year. Many Chinese family kitchens acknowledge his presence with a wooden figurine, a plaque or piece of paper with his image or name on it that sits above or near the stove. A week before the Lunar New Year, the family will remove that image and burn it thereby sending his spirit to the heavens were he will report to the Jade Emperor about the family’s behaviour over the past year. Sweet and sticky foods are offered to the Kitchen God at this time so that his mouth will be so full and gluey he won’t be able to open it and verbalize his report. Some examples of the foods that are offered: honey, molasses, sticky rice and sweet treats I mentioned in my last post like Nian Gao.

The Do’s and Don’ts of the Lunar New Year

There are lot of superstitious traditions that many Chinese continue to practice every year. Here are a few:

- Don’t get your hair cut on New Year’s Day because sharp objects like scissors could possibly cut your luck
- Don’t wash your hair either on New Year’s Day because you don’t want to wash your luck away
- Don’t sweet the floors or good fortune will be swept away
- Don’t argue on New Year’s Day because the negativity (or harmony) you show on this day will follow you through the year
- Do wear red and don’t wear black
- Do Wear jade jewelry to increase your good luck

So now you know what to eat, say, decorate and wear for next year! I hope you have enjoyed reading about popular Chinese Lunar New Year traditions as much as I have had in writing about them.

For this week's Weekend Dog Blogging event, held by Alicat at Something So Clever this week, D has a special message:

*Yawn* ...all this celebrating for the Year of the Dog can wear out an 'ole pooch like me. Woof to peace and prosperity, but I need a nap folks.

** Much of my information are sources from tour guide materials provided by MoCA.

to continue reading...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Chinese Lunar New Year Part 2: Sweet Treats and Edible Eats!

I don’t think I need to wax on about how food holds such a prominent position in Chinese culture. Food is the CENTER of Chinese culture and the Lunar New Year holiday is no exception—it is traditionally believed that what you eat can affect next year’s fortunes. So what are you going to eat this year?

Like the New Year customs I mentioned in my previous post, Chinese food traditions are based on homonyms. Sweets are particularly ubiquitous during the Lunar New Year—Chinese bakeries all over the world produce lots of different yummy and delicious treats because having something sweet to eat will help make your New Year just as sweet as well.

Tray of Togetherness

This is a really good example of how symbolism works during Lunar New Year. The Tray of Togetherness is often offered by the host to her/his guests when people visit each other during the season. The tray is divided into eight sections because the word “eight” in Chinese sounds like the word “prosper.” Typically it will be filled with dried fruit and seeds, but more contemporary versions have candies and chocolates in them. Here a few good examples along with their intended meaning/purpose:

Traditionally, melon and lotus seeds are believed to bring a family many sons (progeny) in the New Year. In the past, having sons were critical to the Chinese family as they would carry on the family line and take on the financial responsibilities. Times have changed, of course, and the meaning of these (dyed) red melon and lotus seeds now signify joy, happiness and sincerity. Also, having longan fruit implies the wish to have many sons, too.

Lychee nuts symbolize the hope of strong family ties, while peanuts represente the desire for a long life. Candied coconuts suggest togetherness (amongst family and friends) and candied pineapples signify prosperity in the coming new year. Red dates also mean prosperity as well as the ability to have “all good things” and obviously their bright red color is an indication of a lucky new year.

I've been trying to get a good picture to show as an example, but I have not found any good ones. Anyone have any pictures of their own?

The Sweet Treats

Tong Yuan

This is can be roughly translated into “sweet glutinous rice ball soup.” The words “tong yuan” sound like the Chinese word for “togetherness” and therefore the soup is eaten on the eve of Lunar New Year to ensure the family will all be together for the coming year. Tong yuan can be filled with black sesame paste, red bean paste or even peanut paste. You can find savory versions that are unfilled and arrive in a broth of mushroom and dried shrimp. I had a sweet black sesame paste filled one this year and it was absolutely delicious—there is usually a slight tinge of vinegar in the soup that accents the sweet mushy glutinous rice ball.

This cart at the Lung Men Bakery on Mulberry Street was stocked full of Lunar New Year sweet treats for sale. The top two shelves you see are many of the edibles I explain below.

Xiao Kou Zao

This dish’s name translates literally into “Crunchy Smiley Face.” It is a sesame-coated sweetened dough ball. Some believe it looks like a laughing face (hence the name) and that the face symbolizes the happiness you will have all year long.

Yau Gok (Cantonese transliteration)

This Lunar New Year treat can be translated as “little crescent” and it is a favorite because it is shaped like traditional Chinese gold ingots. The dough is filled with peanuts and sesame and fried to a golden brown color. This is the "must have" treat for families during the Lunar New Year because these golden treats symbolize the stuffed pockets you’ll have in the coming year.

Fa Gao

We can accurately translate this as “prosperity cake” and it is customarily made with wheat flour and either yeast or baking powder. This simple batter is steamed in order to allow it to rise and then splits open at the top—this indicates that your fortunes will rise and spill out to you in the New Year. The ones pictured above are the "extra big" variety.

Jin Dui

Jin Dui are Chinese sesame balls that are rounded out of glutinous rice flour and mashed sweet potatoes before being filled with red bean paste, deep fried to a “golden” hue and then finally rolled in sesame seeds. This sweet and crispy treat is a symbol of prosperity in the coming year (are you catching on to the theme here?). I love these crunchy balls that are subtley sweet. I am especially fond of the texture of the sesame seeds on my tongue. Note: You can find these all year round at many dim sum restaurants.

Luo Bo Gao

“Turnip cake” can be found in restaurants and supermarkets all throughout the year but during the Lunar New Year season it can be found in every market in a Chinese community. It is often served on New Year’s Day because it implies prosperity and rising fortune. The word for "cake"--“gao” is a homophone for the Chinese word “tall” or “high” and children eat it so they may grow taller or adults will eat it hoping they can achieve a higher position in their careers. A classic version would have turnips, bits of Chinese sausages, black mushrooms, dried shrimp and flour. I found it sold in large blocks in several bakeries and when you bring it home you slice into smaller portions, pan-fry it and then serve with oyster sauce.

Nian Gao

This is the most significant cake eaten during the Lunar New Year. The words literally translate out to “Year Cake” and it is similar in texture to pudding, albeit stickier. Again, the word “gao” sounds like the word for both “cake” and “high” so eating it would guarantee you progress in the New Year. In most versions, the cake is primarily glutinous rice flour whose sticky quality is a symbol of cohesiveness and family. Plainer varieties have just sugar, oil and white sesame seeds, while more impressive ones are mixed with brown sugar, dried red dates (see explanation above), yams and nuts. I have actually never tried this before, it wasn’t a tradition in my family, but I’m looking forward to having a bite of it this year. If you are visiting a Chinese family for the Lunar New Year, this is the ultimate gift.

The Fruit of the Season

In my last post I discussed the different symbolic meanings of fruit during the Lunar New Year. The exchanging of fruit among families and friends is one of the most common traditions amongst Chinese people all over the world. This year my mom received a beautiful box of Korean pears from our friends the T. family. Sweet and crunchy they were the perfect refreshing end to our New Year’s Eve meal.

I wanted to share with you a few of the photos I took of the fruit vendors last Friday. On the streets of Chinatown I saw these fake peach trees which imply longevity next to the much more edible pomegranates which represent children (or the hope for them). The picture below show these gi-normus grapefruit being sold by the street vendors and which were very tempting, especially at such cheap prices, but I had no more hands to carry such large pieces of fruit.

I hope this post helps explain a lot of the sweet treat food symbolism of the Chinese Lunar New Year that you may have glanced at or even tried, but not understood its symbolic meaning. This is a special season to celebrate family, friends, home and of course, food. Through decorations and special dishes we can express our desire for happiness, prosperity, peace and many other good things through the new year.

* I almost exclusively use Mandarin transliterations unless noted.
* Much of my information are sources from tour guide materials provided by MoCA.

to continue reading...