Tag Archives: asian

Las Vegas: Sushi Samba and Tao, two NYC transplants


It’s ironic that such a culturally dry place like Las Vegas can be seen as a microcosm of the world – in an hour, you can visit the Eiffel Tower, ride on a Venetian Gondola, pass tourists of every nationality and eat at some of the world’s best restaurants, most of which were founded in NYC. While I like to branch out when I travel, Las Vegas is the type of place that’s so shocking to my system that it leads me to resort to the familiar. So, when I was given the opportunity to dine out during my two nights there for a work conference, I decided to go with two old-time New York City (and Miami) staples: Sushi Samba and Tao.

The big difference between hotel restaurants in Vegas and New York is that in Vegas, there are very few windows. You feel like you’re eating in a dungeon most of the time, and it could be any time of day. Sushi Samba and Tao, both at the Venetian Hotel, were no different. Dark, somewhat depressing, and sterile. The food, however, was better than I remembered it. At Sushi Samba, my friends and I had a reprieve from heavy food with the tuna tataki salad, the mushroom toban yaki, and the neo tokyo roll with big eye tuna. While the mushrooms were doused in butter, the rest was light and refreshing.

inside sushi samba

inside sushi samba

tuna tataki "salad"

tuna tataki “salad”

Neo Tokyo roll with big-eye tuna

Neo Tokyo roll with big-eye tuna

mushroom toban-yaki

mushroom toban-yaki

The great thing about Tao is the large round tables, the perfect set up for a big group of people. Because we were in a rush to make a concert, I was given the privilege of ordering for the entire table – my favorite thing to do! I selected a few from each section, but the big standouts were the crispy peking duck spring rolls, the pad thai, and the satay of chilean sea bass. But for once in my life, I was less focused on the food because the lychee martini was so delicious.


the iconic massive Buddha

sea bass satay (photo from StarChefs)

sea bass satay (photo from StarChefs)

duck spring rolls

duck spring rolls

Vegas hotel restaurants and restaurants on the strip have their routines down to a T. Because everyone’s pumped on adrenaline and hotels want their patrons back at the Black Jack table, there’s no time for slow service or cold food. As much as I wanted to hate the food at these commercial, table turning restaurants, I was actually really pleased. But next time, I’m going to make reservations at the restaurants that aren’t so accessible at home.

Grade: A for both for high quality food and service. 
Location: Venetian Hotel


Leave a comment

Filed under Asian, Featured U.S. City Posts

Omai: authentic Vietnamese in an upscale setting


After reading Gabe Thompson’s Chelsea Neighborhood Guide on SeriousEats, I became inspired to branch out of my typical West Village confines to explore the bordering neighborhood that he so loyally promoted. Omai was the restaurant that stood out most on his list, and as a recent fan of Baoguette for delivery, I was curious to see if there really was a better nearby Vietnamese restaurant that I had been missing out on. I’m not one for settling when there’s potential for improvement. My conclusion? Omai has knocked Baoguette off my delivery list – bittersweet given my recent love affair with Baoguette’s grilled chicken pho.

Everything at Omai is done with a little more care and attention to detail than usual. The typical tom cuon shrimp rolls, for example, are made with plump grilled prawns as opposed to cold sliced shrimp. The eggplant hasn’t absorbed loads of grease because they’ve flash sautéed it in a gingery, vinegar-fish sauce. And the bun ga nuong, rice noodles with grilled chicken, lettuce and herbs, is utterly addictive tossed in their tangy vinaigrette.

rice noodle salad with chicken

rice noodle salad with chicken

beef pho

beef pho

Most remarkable, however, is the Pho. It took my tasting awe-inspiring pho to realize that what I had been eating for so long was actually not that great. The cinnamon-scented broth that was so simple, yet so rich in flavor, and it tasted like it had been brewing for hours. The noodles are wonderful too; long and thin, they perfectly capture the broth between each strand to make each bite a soupy one. I only wish there had been more bean sprouts. Either way, this is the type of food I love because it doesn’t leave you feeling heavy and gross.

In terms of service, the rhythm of our meal was a little spotty: everything came out one at a time with odd spacing in between. Given that, it’ll likely (as planned) be my go-to for delivery as opposed to a night out, though it got pretty lively with the techno music they were pumping.

Grade: A-
Location: 158 9th Ave btwn 19th and 16th Streets

Leave a comment

Filed under Asian, Cheap Eat, Chelsea, Vietnamese

Maharlika: Brunch

You should all know by now that Maharlika is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. I’m in awe that they’ve figured out the perfect menu and space to introduce Filipino food in an approachable, non-intimidating way without removing its essence. After growing up eating traditional Filipino food either at home or on styrofoam plates in malls, eating adobo while sipping delicious cocktails and listening to hip hop throwbacks at Maharlika feels like I’m reliving my childhood on mushrooms. It’s a good thing.

I’ve been craving a solid Filipino meal since I returned to New York, so my friend Lauren and I decided to meet at Maharlika for brunch today. You can always expect a crowd at this place, especially considering their constant press – check out Chef Miguel’s feature in last week’s NY Mag. Fortunately, we got my favorite table for two right near the bar. I’m a creature of habit and ordered my childhood favorite with a twist – fried egg over rice with fried milk fish and a side of cucumber salsa. Lauren had the fried chicken and ube waffle, served with a velvety, buttery caramel sauce that I’m pretty sure has crack in it. While sipping mango and kalamansi mimosas we stuffed our faces, dipping our meats in suka (garlicky, flavorful vinegar), patis, and bird chilis to spice things up.


Filipino Pride Chicken ‘N’ Ube Waffle

Owner Nicole was nice enough to bring out my favorite dessert here – the ube ice cream, along with a scoop of rich, bright green avocado and a subtly sweet mango ice cream. The coconut pudding, a relatively new addition to the menu, was a textural masterpiece with chunks of mango and crispy coconut.

Owner Nicole and Lauren

Honestly, I’ve never left this place disappointed. I just wish it were less than a 30 minute walk from my apartment. West village location next?

Grade: A++
Location: 111 First Ave @ 7th Street
Website: http://www.maharlikanyc.com


Filed under Asian, Brunch

Kin Shop

Kin Shop

I feel accomplished now that I can finally call myself a veteran of Kin Shop, most famously know as Top Chef’s Herald Dieterele’s Thai noodle house. Though I tend to be wary of  reality TV chef establishments, my entire experience tonight left me convinced that fame and talent can actually go hand in hand.

It all started with the delectable vodka drink, as it usually does. As my friend Lauren and I sorted out our plan of food action, I sipped on a Phuket Fizz – a perfectly sweet pineapple-basil cocktail that I could have easily chugged in minutes had I not been pacing myself with a wine drinker. As such a stickler about overly sweet drinks, this simple-syrup-free concoction tasted like a dream come true, especially after a 20 minute walk in 94 degree weather (pain also mitigated at the sight of Rihanna at Da Silvano).

cocktail with fresh pineapple and basil..mmm

Inventive currys and salads overwhelm the menu at Kin Shop, and after so many recent meals at Western-style restaurants, I was relieved by the challenge of selecting our courses. With dishes ranging from stewed goat to squid ink soup, this place can’t possibly remedy a craving for Pad Thai, but can no doubt satisfy the Anthony Bourdain adventure-seeker within us all. Regardless of the menu shockers, Lauren and I decided to keep it somewhat straight forward for our first go round and started with our waiter’s first recommendation: the fried pork and crispy oyster salad. Though the sound of fried pork and crispy seafood had no initial appeal, upon one bite of the beautifully deep fried oyster, I was sold. The description of “crispy” rang true throughout – from the celery, to the peanuts, to the crunchy oyster and the perfectly fried pork fat. The tangy flavors of the vinegar sauce on top of the buttery soft oyster, complimented by the thick, crispy chunks of the pork created an unimaginably incredible combination. With the unifying ingredients of vinegar and spice, this dish just about surpassed every surf and turf interpretation I’ve ever tried. Gotta taste it to believe it!

crispy pork and oyster salad

For our entree, Lauren and I split the pan roasted halibut with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and green curry. Expecting large chunks of fish and vegetables masked by an overwhelming sauce, I was thrilled to find a perfectly clean pan roasted fish atop a beautiful, pea-green, subtly creamy curry. The vegetables were perfectly crisp and delicately cooked. The sauce beneath the fish was such a relief – it was nice to have the option to eat cleanly when the curry got too overwhelming.

Eggplant and Halibut

We paired the fish with an interesting selection of grilled egg plant pan fried with fish sauce and a light portion of freshly chopped mint. Though the grilled eggplant all appeared to be the same breed to me, the soft, glistening slices were addictive.

A pot of rice would have tied all of this together well, but we instead fell for the perfectly fried roti, an indian bread that was as beautifully flakey and buttery as a fresh baked french croissant. With the coriander nam prik, a decadent dipping sauce made with shrimp paste and duck fat. I don’t regret the decision to opt for bread over rice, and I would even consider a trip to Kin Shop just for this side.

golden brownroti

After an amazing meal orchestrated by wonderful, timely service, I left Kin Shop with full confidence that I would be back at the next sign of a bold-flavored, spicy cuisine craving. And, second time is always easier than the first: I’ve got that spicy duck salad on my radar for next time around.

Grade: A

Location: 469-6th Avenue between 11th and 12th Street

Website: http://www.kinshopnyc.com

1 Comment

Filed under Fun Group Dinner, Thai, West Village

SF – Betelnut

Across the street from Betelnut

Betelnut has outlived almost every restaurant on the yuppy-laden Union Street of San Francisco, which is quite impressive considering the area’s rapid turnover rate. Now that I’m an adult, the dark, sultry restaurant no longer exists as a mystery to me, and I now frequent this place for festive dinners with tropical cocktails and family style pan-asian fare. Last week, I met 7 of my local SF friends here, and expecting a standard white person’s interpretation of an Asian meal, I left totally impressed by Betelnut’s respect for traditional eastern flavors and undeniably delicious food.

After downing a rum-filled “Scorpion bowl” with 2 foot straws, we ordered a series of appetizers to share: chicken satay, shrimp dumplings, vegetarian dumplings, and Cecilia’s chicken-lettuce cups. Everything was delicious, but the chicken lettuce cups, served as a heaping of chopped sautéed garlicky chicken aside fresh, crisp lettuce leaves, stole the show.

Cecilia’s Minced Chicken & Lup Cheong with lettuce cups

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

The vegetarian dumplings, which consisted of tofu, pea shoots, and fried challots beautifully wrapped in a thin chewy wonton had deep, earthy flavors that would even cater to meat-eaters. The soy-broth surrounding the shrimp dumplings was subtly buttery and delicious on its own.

Veggie Dumplings

The success of our first round of food inspired us to order much more than we needed, but I have no regrets. The Penang Rice Noodles with large cunks of buttery, soy sauced crab mimicked the flavors of delicious Benihannah fried rice. The duck noodles also had generous portions of meat, and with thin, short glass rice noodles, I felt like I was eating my mother’s famous pancit.

Penang Rice Noodles with king crab, shrimp, sprouts, chives & chili-soy

We also passed around chunks of crispy firecracker chicken with almonds and scallions, “Beggar’s” chicken, deliciously crunchy vegetable wood-ear mushroom springrolls with a creamy mustard sauce, and garlic sautéed string beans that wowed us all.

Szechuan Green Beans

The claypot chicken was probably my least favorite in terms of notable flavors, but it provided good entertainment value – my friend Stacy, who was closest to our waitress, was tasked with breaking the clay surrounding the chicken with what looked like a sledge hammer.

Claypot Chicken Before

Claypot Chicken After

Although some could consider Betelnut on the pricier side for a city filled with incredible (and cheap) Asian food, portion sizes were perfect, service was attentive, dishes were creatively presented, and the food was nothing short of delicious. Though each dish stood on its own, their mutual garlicky, spicy, and vinegary flavors united them into one perfectly well rounded meal.

My assumption that Betelnut has survived the critical San Francisco food audience purely because of legacy is totally wrong. With high quality food and an incredible cocktail menu, it has rightfully earned its permanent spot on Union Street, and the day it’s gone we’ll know that there has been a serious shift in the taste buds of the city’s population.

Grade: A

Location: Union and Buchanan Street

Website: http://www.betelnutrestaurants.com

*pictures via Yelp.com and Flickr

1 Comment

Filed under Affordable Date, Asian, Family Style, Featured U.S. City Posts, Sex & The City Swank

Ma Peche

Ohhh David Chang. You just keep on getting better and better! I actually had no intention of visiting Ma Peche until my colleague proposed it as an idea for a client dinner. The fact that we didn’t have a reservation made me nervous, but we were pleasantly surprised by the exceptionally accommodating host upon arrival. We put in our name, requested a table for 8pm, and they eagerly put us in their book, happy to make it happen. Sure enough, we came back at 8pm after getting manicures, and were seated after 5 minutes. From the beginning Ma Peche impressed.

The vibe at Ma Peche is very laid back, but in a modern way. Light wooden tables, stiff, uncomfortable chairs, high, white-walled ceilings, and bright lighting give it a very sophisticated, classiroomy feel. The waiters are all very young, chummy, and evidently passionate about the food they’re serving. You can tell that everyone there, waitstaff and customers alike, all feel privileged to be a part of the Ma Peche experience.

Considering we were taking out clients, the sky was the limit with our menu choices – my favorite type of dining experience! We literally picked everything that caught our eyes on the menu, and it ended up being a complete success. And for this reason (and because I’m lazy), I’m going to describe everything we ordered in list form:

1. Squid salad with scallions, peanuts – light with bright, citrus-y flavors
2. Beef tartare, soy, scallions, mint – not my typical appetizer choice, but the accompanying shrimp chips were tasty
3. Asparagus salad with crab and egg yolk – perfectly al dente aspargus with a creamy yet delicate crab dressing
4. Pork ribs with lemongrass caramel – one of my favorites, crispy fried pork that falls off the bone
5. Huge scallops, seared with brown butter, lime, pea shoots – gigantic scallops, perfectly cooked and buttery
6. Rice noodles, spicy pork, sawleaf herb – the oddly shaped noodles, crispy on the inside, were not at all what I expected but a nice surprise. The fleks of pork added great flavor and texture to the dish
7. Short ribs with carrots and spaetzle – another hit – melt in your mouth cubes of short rib with a light yet flavorful broth
8. Fried calamari with scallions and fish sauce – a vinagary delicacy, I could eat a whole bowl!

Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos of the food, but I did get a chance to take photos of two equally stellar sightings: Neal Patrick Harris and Mark Summers, who were dining together amongst a large group of young men and one woman. After a cocktail and a glass of wine, I couldn’t resist asking for a photo upon their exit. Success! They were both incredibly nice, and pleased to take a photo with their fans (especially Marc Summers, Double Dare blast from the past). If you are dying to see food photos, though, don’t fret – about every blog out there is filled with Ma Peche slide shows – check out Grub Street for a sneak peek.
The experience didn’t end with dinner, of course, though for the unmotivated it normally would. Ma Peche doesn’t serve dessert in the main dining room. This, to me, is a huge setback. I don’t want to get out of my chair to get dessert, because that’s when I realize I’m too full to actually eat it. Ma Peche gives you two options – take dessert to-go from the Milk Bar that welcomes you upon entering with bright neon lights, or sit in the quiet upstairs lounge and order. We opted for the latter and pre-ordered four of the famous freshly baked Milk Bar Chocolate Chip Cookies, which take 10 minutes to bake. These were absolutely incredible, and washed down with a cold glass of milk, brought me more back to my childhood than Marc Summers and the classroom like setting did combined. Pure bliss. Warm, doughy, chocolatey, chewy cookies. We also ordered the Candy Bar pie, which is the perfect combo of salty and sweet, chocolate and caramel, hard and smooth textures.

Overall, Ma Peche was awesome and scored especially high on food and service. The host even left us with his card so we could give him a heads up on our future visits. He may regret that, because I will definitely be making this place a stop when visitors come to town!

Grade: A-
Address: Mezzanine of Chambers Hotel, 15 W 56th St between 5th and 6th
Website: http://www.momofuku.com/mapeche/

1 Comment

Filed under Business Meal, Fun Group Dinner, Midtown West, Thai

Buddakan NYC

Since writing in my blog has become a daunting task as I have increased my visits to notable restaurants, I have decided to revamp my review style. From now on, I will simply list the drinks and dishes I tasted, comment, and judge taste on scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the best); and write a line or two about the ambiance and service. Then, some closing remarks. So, let’s see if I know how to be succinct!

Buddakan Dishes I tasted:

1. Edamame Dumplings: Green bite size dumplings with a thick and dense skin. Inside, a buttery, savory, smooth, creamy, and incredibly tasty soy bean filling that just melts in your mouth. Served with a delicious dipping sauce. (5)
2. Chili Rock Shrimp: Generous portion of crispy fried rock shrimp lightly glazed with a tangy sweet & sour sauce. Perfectly salty and delicious with rice. (4)
3. Tuna Tartare Spring Roll: My favorite. Thin rolls of chilled fresh tuna wrapped in a crispy (yet non greasy) wafer thin lumpia wrapper. How do they do this? (5)
4. General Tso’s Dumpling: round dumplings with potsticker like skin encompassing a ground chicken mixture and a sweet and sour soy sauce that bursts in your mouth as a surprise Deliciously chewy – but need to eat these in one bite to avoid any spillage! (5)
5. Wild Mushroom Chow Fun: Gummy wide egg noodles made elegant with generous portions of wild mushrooms – great soy saucy accompaniment to the rest of the dishes, and not terribly greasy like most noodles. (4)
6. Lobster Fried Rice: Flaky fried white rice with large chunks of lobster. Surprisingly generous with the lobster, but rice wasn’t as sticky as I would have liked, and lacked a lobster flavor. (3)
7. Charred Filet of Beef: Perfectly tender sashimi-sized chunks of beef with mild buttery mustard dipping sauce. Quite clean and delicate for a beef dish. (5)
8. Glazed Alaskan Black Cod: Another favorite – light and delicate chunk of fish with miso sauce – falls apart with the touch of a fork and melts in your mouth! Great partner to rice dish. (5)
9. Chocolate Mille Feuille: Light but beautiful dessert, dark chocolate thinly layered cake w/ bruleed bananas and spice chocolate cream. Had a light wafer crunch, great amount of sweetness. (4)

Considering the trendiness and hype of Buddakan, I had very low expectations for this restaurant’s food. I was stunned by the quality and quantity of its dishes, and even more surprised to find that for four people, we were able to consume all the food plus 1-2 drinks each for only $200 total! No doubt you will have to wait for your table at the bar (regardless of reservations), but it’s definitely worth it. Dress to impress. Waiters are accessible and helpful, but not over the top friendly.

This restaurant deserves a 5!!!! So delicious and so much fun to bring a group.


Filed under Business Meal, Drinks & Apps, Fun Group Dinner, Meatpacking, Parents in Town, Private Party, Sex & The City Swank