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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tacos from a truck parked in a New York garage

One of the two taco stands inside the Fonda Nolita garage
Nice touch: place for washing hands after getting tacos on them
View of restaurant with the famous red VW 'tacombi' taco truck on the far right
and the counter where meal tickets and drinks are sold on the left
Breakfast taco with chorizo
Seared fish taco
Taco con pollo al tamarindo (chicken and tamarind) with corn
Chef making tacos inside the VW.
LOCATION: Tacombi at Fonda Nolita, 267 Elizabeth Street, New York
CATEGORY: Mexican, taqueria, food truck
DRINK: Tap water
WE THINK: We put Tacombi's tacos to the test on a rainy day marred by a particularly bad hangover. This, you probably think, is giving Tacombi an unfair advantage, considering the hangover-curing properties of tacos. But the curing effect of Tacombi's tacos was balanced out by the amount of labour we put into actually getting them. We entered the big Nolita space (previously a garage) and were about to make ourselves comfortable at a table when we were directed by the waitress to the "ticket counter" where tickets for the two taco stands are sold. We paid for 3 tickets at $4 each, which isn't all that cheap. With our pathetic strip of old-school paper tickets (other customers, we noticed, had much longer strips of tickets), we headed to the taco stand in the back; the one with breakfast tacos and fish tacos. We ordered a chorizo breakfast taco and a seared fish taco, ripped off 2 tickets to pay for them, and joined a few other customers waiting next to the stand. Ten minutes later, we got our tacos which must have been sitting for a while as they were cold. The chorizo taco was nevertheless pretty delicious -- especially with a big daub of fiery green habanero sauce. The fish taco was ok but nothing special. (Hangover cured somewhat by now). The waitress came over and apologised for not telling us earlier that beverages should be ordered at the ticket stand. We poured ourselves some tap water instead and proceeded to the other taco stand: the original Tacombi truck ("Taco" plus "Combi", the name of the VW model) which used to brave the streets of New York. There we ordered a chicken and tamarind taco, this time prepared and handed to us in a matter of seconds. It was good. We wanted to try one of the nice-looking tamales, but had run out of tickets and by now there was a longish line at the ticket stand which we had no passion to join. The verdict? Maybe we were too hungover and grumpy to appreciate the fun, relative ease and convenience which is part of ordering tacos at Tacombi Fonda Nolita. Maybe it's all just a bit silly and unnecessary. We are open to giving it another try in the future. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ooh la la, tapas-so-tasty (take 2)

Bulots (sea snails) with garlic mayo
Rabbit and farro
Rillettes of pork with radishes and cornichons
Pasta with sardines and capers
LOCATION: Aux Deux Amis, 45, rue Oberkampf 75011 Paris
CATEGORY: French, tapas 
DRINK: Champagne and white Puzelat by the glass and some more delicious wine. Like last time, we got excited and forgot to take detailed notes.
WE THINK: Just because we already made a post on this place doesn't mean we can't do it again. Our love affair with Aux Deux Amis continues. Why? Because the food is light and delicious. Because the menu changes daily, is basic yet interesting and written in near illegible handwriting on the blackboard and on the greasy scrap of paper slapped on your table when you arrive. Because the space is unstuffy, comfortable, is the right degree of dingy and is small but not too cramped. Because the staff are young, unpretentious, friendly and knowledgeable. Because one of Paris' best coffees is served here. Because the wine selection is elegant, interesting, forward-thinking and reasonably priced. Because we like this neighbourhood and sitting at Aux Deux Amis' outdoor tables, basking in the Paris spring sun, is one of the best ways to enjoy it. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

South Indian Vegetarian Man Takes Over World!

"14 pieces mini ghee idlies"
(mini idlies immersed in sambar garnished with ghee)
Birds-eye view of South Indian thali. Counter-clockwise from 12 o'clock:
Pachadi (sour salad), Vatakhuzhambu, Poriyal (peas, cabbage, carrots, coconut),
sweet Pongal (rice, raisins, cardammon, rose water, nuts), lemon pickle, curd,
tomato Raita, chickpea Korma, Kootu with squash, Rasam (tomato-tamarind soup)
In middle: rice, papad and chappathi
Interior (5pm on a Thursday)
LOCATION: Saravanaa Bhavan, 81 Lexington Avenue (corner of 26th Street), New York
CATEGORY: South Indian, Vegetarian
DRINK: Water
WE THINK: This off-peak late lunch was our first dining experience at Hotel Saravanaa Bhavan, the South Indian vegetarian food empire that was founded in 1981 by the venerable Mr. P. Rajagopal (see photo here) and currently has 57 outlets across 11 countries. Impressive stuff. We ordered a starter of mini idlies which were authentically served in a shitty steel bowl by a grumpy waiter. They were delicious. We then had the South Indian thali which were also delicious and made us feel like we were back in South India (except that our food was not served on a banana leaf and there were no unlimited refills as is most often the case there). The rice and bread were not that great but with all those fantastic spicy/sour/pungent/tangy/tart/sweet flavours to dump on them, it didn't matter too much.
DID YOU KNOW? Saravanaa Bhavan does catering too. "For 100 persons to a maximum of 10,000 or above".

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Come for the wine - stay for the food

Steamed clams
Blanched grey shrimps
Grilled squid with ink
Terrine de campagne
LOCATION: Le Verre Volé, 67 Rue de Lancry, 75010 Paris
CATEGORY: Wine bar, French, bistro
DRINK: Nicolas Reau "Clos de Treilles" (2009) white Anjou, Ventadour sparkling water
WE THINK: Awesome little wine shop which also happens to serve delicious food and one of the best coffees in Paris, adjacent to the picturesque Canal St Martin in the 10th arrondissement. The wine selection is great and reasonably priced - lots of organic, biodynamic, weird and interesting wines, mainly from France. The wines served by the glass change often (if not every day), but we like paying the corkage fee and choose between the full selection of bottles sold in the shop which works out to be a good deal. This time we came for lunch and ordered 4 dishes that were all simple, well-executed and delicious (a second order of the clams was necessary, a second order of the squid tempting but we were too full). 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Spice I Am - Thai in Sydney

Som Tum green papaya salad with dried shrimp, peanut and chilli
Beef salad
(marinated beef with lemon juice, mint leaves, onion and coriander)
Yum woon saen (mung bean vermicelli salad with pork, cuttlefish,
prawns, peanuts,  dried shrimp, onion and coriander)
Lemongrass salad with king prawns, cashew nuts,  lime and sugar dressing
Pad Prik King crispy fish
Pad Thai (stir fried rice noodles with king prawns,
egg, peanuts, beansprouts, garlic, chives and tofu)
Basil crispy chicken
Nam Khao Tod (spicy crispy rice salad
with Thai pork sausages, chilli powder and ground peanut)
Basil crispy pork belly
Soft shell crab with green mango salad
Jungle curry with vegetables
Fresh young coconut juice
Inside/outside dining
LOCATION: Spice I Am, 90 Wentworth Avenue (corner of Campbell Street and Elizabeth Street), Surry Hills, Sydney
DRINK: Fresh young coconut juice
WE THINK: No doubt the best Thai food we've had in Sydney and among the best and most authentic we've had outside of Thailand. We took advantage of our large party and ordered a mountain of food from the enticing menu. The highlights were the Nham Khao Tod, the almost-as-spicy-as-in-Thailand Yum woon saen, the lemongrass salad and the delicious Pad Prik King crispy fish (the latter two of which we ordered an extra serving). We went back the next day for an encore, but unfortunately Spice I Am is closed on Mondays.
OUR TIP:  Go to Spice I Am at lunchtime if you wish to avoid the overwhelming queue that otherwise forms outside. Order the divine young coconut juice or bring your own booze at no extra charge.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Best soba in Tokyo?

Entrance to Matsugen
Soba gakki (buckwheat dumplings) 
Piece of soba gakki with topped with dipping sauce
Grilled broad beans 
Kamo Jiru soba with duck soup
Cold Mori soba with original soba dipping sauce
LOCATION: Matsugen, Hiroo 1-3-1, Hagiwara Bldg. 1F, Hiroo, Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
CATEGORY: Japanese, soba
DRINK: Green tea
WE THINK: Excellent place for handmade soba noodles (though not as good as this one), owned by the three Matsushita brothers who also run 2 other namesake soba restaurants (in Azabu-juban (Tokyo) and Honolulu (Hawaii)) and who made a brief appearance on the New York restaurant scene with a more upscale version of Matsugen (from 2008-11). The soba noodles at Matsugen are made in-house and are nicely textured, flavourful, perfectly cooked and served with a totally delicious broth (we prefer going traditional with a basic soba dipping sauce but also loved the duck soup) - all making it very hard to resist a kae-dama (extra serving of noodles). Make sure to order a soba gakki, the inexplicably delicious gooey lump of cooked buckwheat which is so much better than it should be.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seoul food

Mixed leaf salad with lotus root
Side dishes: various types of kimchi and seaweed
Broiled sliced beef rolled with fresh vegetables and herbs
Green onion pancake with seafood
Korean rib eye steak and onion...
...cut bite-sized with scissors
...and pumpkin
Dippings sauce and fresh garlic
Grilled dried pollack
Cold buckwheat noodles with chilli paste, beef, daikon, egg and cucumber
Cold buckwheat noodles in clear broth
Delicious seasonal pears
Cold roasted rice tea
LOCATION: Hanwoori, 91-18 Nonhyun-dong, Kangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
DRINK: Ginseng tea
WE THINK: Go to Hanwoori for a tasty - though maybe not that bold - introduction to traditional Korean food. This upscale restaurant has been named one of the best Korean restaurants by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and has apparently received an award from former President Kim Dae Jung, though we're not entirely sure about the importance of either of these achievements. Apart from shabu shabu which is the specialty of Hanwoori, it is possible to order set 'banquet' menus, which we decided to do. We enjoyed very clean and light dishes made from seasonal, local, and mostly organic produce and found the rib eye steak, the different kimchis and the cold buckwheat noodles to be particularly delicious.