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Monday, October 24, 2011

Nose to tail hotel - St John goes to Chinatown

Devilled Pig's Skin with cayenne pepper
Snails, pig's cheek and lovage
Mackerel, kohlrabi and coco beans
Cauliflower, lentils and childwickbury
Squid, artichoke and potato
Roast pheasant, savoy cabbage and bacon
Girolles, butterbeans and Berkswell cheese
Cucumber salad
Skate, bread and brown shrimp
Roast lamb shoulder with butter beans
Anjou on tablecloth
Welsh rarebit
Watercress salad
Chocolate sundae
Custard tart
Apple and Calvados trifle
Armagnac and coffee
LOCATION: St John Hotel, 1 Leicester Street, London WC2H 7BL
CATEGORY: Nose to tail, British
DRINK: Gin and Tonic; sparkling water
53' 2009 (Cabernet Franc) La Grange Aux Belles, Anjou
Pierre Henri 2006 (Grenache) Domaine Pierre Cros, Minervois
WE THINK: We kinda wanted this to be better. Which is not to say that it wasn't good or worth writing about--it just wasn't that good. Having had several really great meals at Fergus Henderson's famous michelin-starred nose-to-tail restaurant on St John Street in Clerkenwell and having heard much praise about his newly opened hotel in Chinatown, our expectations were high. Maybe unreasonably so. We came a little early for our reservation and were shown to the bar upstairs which was a very confusing space and very un-St-John-like. It looked like an over-furnished waiting room in a Scandinavian hospital--complete with blue linoleum floors, birch-wood Aalto tables and a clinical feel which was accentuated by the low chatter and lack of background music. All that was missing was old beat-up magazines on the tables. And of course, this was better than a hospital waiting room because we could drink tasty Hendricks gin and tonics. Downstairs, the 6 of us were seated close to the open kitchen with the douchey W Hotel (also just opened in Chinatown and the antithesis of St John Hotel) visible through the window across the street. True to form, we ordered way too much--"for the table"--including many duplicates of the same dishes. Our favorites were the spicy pig's skins which were like yummy pork-flavoured prawn crackers and the tender snails which were cleverly served with pig's cheeks and porky croutons. We also liked the skate and the pheasant. The lamb for 2 (more like 4) was well-cooked but a little bland which was a recurring problem with many of the dishes. We loved the chocolate sundae very much. Since the restaurant at St John Hotel is the same price as St John Restaurant, we'd rather work a bit harder and get a reservation there next time. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Happiest pepper in town

Spicy cold noodles
Cold pickled wood ear fungus with chilli
Hot and spicy fish soup with mushrooms and bean sprouts
(make sure it's the 'ma la' one with sichuan peppers - there are 2 versions)
Dry-fried Chongqing style chicken
'Ants climbing a tree' (minced pork and bean thread noodles)
Sautéed shredded potatoes
Dumplings in chili sauce
The owner and chef (left), his wife and manager (middle)
and the confused and 80% non-English speaking friendly waiter (right)
Interior (sparkling and so clean!)
The Little Pepper logo - happiest pepper in town
LOCATION: Little Pepper, 18-24 College Point Blvd, Flushing, Queens, New York
CATEGORY: Chinese, Sichuan
DRINK: Tea and ice water
WE THINK: Finally! After a long, focused and disheartening hunt for a good Sichuan Chinese restaurant in New York City (sure, there may be some that missed our radar but it can't be many) we found our spot. Unfortunately, like many good Chinese restaurants, it's a bit of a trek unless you live in Flushing. Newly reopened after the owners moved the restaurant a few miles north from Roosevelt Avenue, Little Pepper is by far the best and most authentic (and cleanest!) Sichuan restaurant we've been to in NYC and among the top 5 we've been to outside of China. We ordered some good old classics (all highly recommended) which were very well prepared, spicy and numbing (lots of Sichuan peppercorn) and surprisingly light and clean. Happy little peppers! As happens so often when we eat out, we over-ordered by 200%. No big deal - the leftovers were almost better the next day. Especially the ants climbing a tree which we ate cold so the noodles and the ants (minced pork) were nice and springy. We are already booking a Zip Car for our next visit.