Monday, May 31, 2010

Korean Goodness @ Hangook Kwan

As I'd mentioned before, St. Louis is not known for its Korean food. However, last week we celebrated Jake's birthday at Hangook Kwan in Creve Coeur... and we LOVED it! We heard it was the best around town, and now I can see why. Everything we ordered (and we ordered PLENTY) was great.

I really liked how we each got individual sauce plates with two quintessential korean cuisine dipping sauces: gireumjang (sesame oil + salt + pepper) and gochujang.

The restaurant offers the standard banchan (side dishes), and they were all gobbled down happily. We sat at a self-grill table, and we ended up ordering multiple orders of galbi and samgyeopsal (thick fatty slices of pork belly meat. Could anything be better? No). But while we waited for our meats to cook, we dined on other delicious things, like this seafood pajeon.

Crispy where it needed to be, this pajeon was pretty solid.

Here's the dukbokki (spicy rice cakes). It came hottttt and steaming, yum!

I don't usually order this dish, but it was really tasty! The rice cakes were fresh and had a nice 'bounce' to them.

Would you like to take a peek at our galbi on the grill? Of course you would, you carnivore, you! (*points to Han*)

Solid galbi. Well-marinated, and pretty much everyone's favorite.

The other grill, with a little bit of everything:

The above is a slice of the cooked samgyeopsal. This doesn't come marinated, and most people in my party didn't like it as much. However, I know a few folks in Fairfax (*ahem* John and Eric) who love samgyeopsal. I really enjoy it, too... dipping it in the gireumjang really brings out the basic flavor of pork. And that's really all you need in life. Flavor. Pork. Yes.

My favorite Korean noodle dish is japchae:

Hangook Kwan's version is pretty good. It may have been a little too sweet/saucy, but I still liked it a lot.

And of course we couldn't leave without getting an order of dolsot bibimbap. Deeeelicious. Sigh, I've missed the fantastic crunch of rice in a blazin' hot stone pot. So much love:

Here's our party, mid-feast. Look at that amazing spread. And we had no trouble finishing all of it!

Hangook Kwan
1261 Castillons Arcade Plaza
Creve Coeur, MO 63141

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Momofuku Ssam Bar Medley + Milk Bar Nightcap

On Sunday night, Greeshma and a couple of her friends gathered together at Momofuku Ssam Bar to bid dear Belmund adieu in style.  Belmund even showered for the event.  We all appreciated it.

Momofuku was bumpin' per usual, and we waited about 25 minutes for a table of 4.  Tables can be a tad communal; we shared a long table with a party of 3 who kept making comments about my picture-taking.  "Maybe a food blog?" they said loudly to each other.

Oh, how astute the patrons of Momofuku are.

Momofuku's menu changes often, but typically feature the following sections: Raw Bar (i.e., oysters, uni), Small Dishes (i.e., steamed buns), Country Hams (variety of ham options, because as Greeshma put it, ol' David Chang likes his hams), Seasonal (veggies of sorts), Fish (including seafood) and Meat (i.e., meat).

We decided to order one dish from every section excluding Raw (that's for you, Diana).

Momofuku steam buns ($9)  featuring two slices of well-cooked pork belly, with the perfect balance of meat and fat, nestled inside a thin steamed bun lightly slathered with hoisin sauce with expertly sliced, wispy scallions and cucumber slices.

Momofuku bun opened. 

Every review you'll read of this bun is right: it's a good bun !  It's solid in every single way EXCEPT if you favor the bun part of pork buns most, which we all know Greeshma does very much.  If that is the case, then this one is probably not the best one for you since the bun itself is very thin.  And I am not sure why this is, but the bun always sticks to my teeth while I'm eating it.  It's a bit annoying, especially when you want to look sexy for your man (who doesn't?).  So, while it's good, it's not my favorite.

Benton's country ham from the Country Hams section.  This came at the recommendation of the waitress as most popular.  It came with two small slices of French bread which happened to be the toughest bread Greeshma and I have ever tried to slice with a butter knife.  The ham was sliced paper thin though so it looks rather pretty.  It also came with some sort of mustard that looked like peanut butter.

My ham and bread assembly.  I would say that if you're looking for instant hypertension, definitely order the Benton's ham.  It was the saltiest thing ever.  My jaw also got a good workout trying to chew that bread.  I would recommend saving your $11 and not ordering this dish.

Chili soft shell crab with asparagus, green plum and lemon confit ($21)

Soft shell crab piece.  The crab is a bit small, so we all just got a couple bites of it each.  I mostly tasted the fried exterior versus the crab itself.   The small pieces of asparagus were good, but it's the kind of veggie that's kind of tough to mess up.

Fried baby artichokes with pistachio, sunchokes and bottarga ($14).  My taste palate may not be discrimating enough - it just tasted like fried leaves.  The green sauce was good, but I really have no idea what was going on here.

Spicy pork sausage and rice cakes with Chinese broccoli and crispy shallots ($18)

The rice cakes tasted just like clumps made of the rice crepes or bánh cuốn except chewier.  I especially liked how spicy this dish was.  The serving was a pretty healthy size compared to our other dishes.

I was glad to have been able to eat at Momofuku with a group of people, because it really is hard to get a nice sampling of the restaurant when dining by yourself here without footing a large bill.  The four of us got out of Momofuku for about ~$26/person and were able to taste a nice assortment.  While the food tasted fine, I just didn't feel super impressed by it: it wasn't necessarily outstanding in any way.  I keep thinking that maybe I just don't have the right palate to appreciate fancy foods, but whatever it is, it was nice to eat there once, but I don't know if I would return again anytime soon.

During dinner, Belmund kept reminding us that we had to check out the Milk Bar, David Chang's extension to Ssam Bar, offering a variety of desserts.  We could never forget Milk Bar after trying their red velvet custard recently.

Dark Milk Bar interior with chalkboard menu.

Birthday cake.  Greeshma and I shared our love for Funfetti cakes while looking at this one.

My heart was set on the chocolate malt cake.  Just look at the gooey icing and the mounds of marshmallows, and try to convince yourself you don't want a hot bath in that deliciousness.  Unfortunately, when I tried to order myself a fat slice, they informed me that they have stopped selling cake by the slice.  You can only order a whole one for $38.  In my humble opinion, I call this the worst move ever, Momofuku!  Patrons behind me also shared this sentiment.

Sample of the cinnamon bun soft serve.  Buttery and cinnamony.

Blueberry soft serve.  Tasted just like blueberry muffins.

Cinnamon bun pie, which tasted like its namesake, of course.  Was served warm and oozy.

Crack pie.  One of Milk Bar's most popular.

As you can see from this side shot, it has a pure stick of butter in every slice.

The grasshopper pie.

So. Minty. It was very refreshing.  Greeshma says the best part of it were the toasted marshmallows.

The candy bar pie (my poor alternate to the chocolate malt cake) which has peanut butter and caramel nougat.

Man, this was peanut buttery.  And tooth-achingly rich from the thick layer of caramel.  It was good but in small doses.  I still have about half of this left in my fridge.
All in all, Momofuku Ssam Bar was okay.  Milk Bar, pretty good.  I think any quintessential New York visit is not complete without a visit to one of his spots, but I still need to try his others to recommend you the right one. 

207 2nd Ave
New York, NY

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream in Greenpoint

On the same day as the Doughnut Plant, Shopsin's and Hester Street Fair (my Saturday was a serious marathon), I also headed up to Greenpoint to check out the Greenpoint Food Market, but due to our wonderful NY Transit system on weekends, I did not quite get there on time.

I was then stuck in Greenpoint with a belly already full of doughnuts, so I couldn't even do Peter Pan Bakery to make my trip worthwhile (no really, I could not.  I am but only human!).

But you know what my stomach always has room for?

Ice cream.

I know your stomach always does too.  Don't deny it.

So, near the shuttle station was a Van Leeuwen Ice Cream shop which has always attracted me because of the bright yellow hanging nameplate and a blessing from Greeshma (I think she loves their coffee).  They specialize in pure, natural ice cream made from hormone free milk and no preservatives, stabilizers or unnatural emulsifiers.

They were out of the Earl Grey and Currant flavors, which was fine by me, because I couldn't get past the cinnamon and ginger flavor options.  I think you can see by now that I do not stray far outside my flavor box.

Ginger and cinnamon ice cream in the small size

I always appreciate perfecty round ice cream scoops.

The cinnamon was good but not great.  I find myself comparing all cinnamon ice cream and gelatos back to Il Laboratorio del Gelato and no other place compares.  The cinnamon flavor was not strong enough, but the texture of the ice cream was fine and smooth.

Ginger was the same story.  I could hardly discern any ginger notes in the ice cream though sometimes I could spot a strand of ginger here and there.

I really wanted to like Van Leeuwen, but I just was not impressed.  Perhaps it's the flavors I picked, but I think I'm sticking with Il Laboratorio here on out for ice cream / gelato cravings.

And then while I ate my cup of ice cream and waited for the shuttle, this vagrant told me I looked really pretty.  I think anyone holding a cup of ice cream automatically looks a little better.

632 Manhattan Ave
Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shopsin's and The Hester Street Fair for Some First Prize Pies

After Ida and Lauren left to meet Ida's sister for Penn Station on Saturday, I decided to check out the Shopsin's line "just to see" how long it was, and it was so short (a smattering of couples) that I decided to stay and wait.  When the line is short enough, it really is a crime not to dine there.

Shopsin's is located in the Essex Market in the Lower East Side, and it is one of my top 5 favorite breakfast / brunch places in the city.  When you enter, you wait along the metal shelf / mirror on the side opposite of Saxelby's Cheese Shop (a super cute shop specializing in local cheeses).  There is no list, no nothing.  Just good ol' fashioned single file action.

Cheese to the left.  Line to the right.

Shopsin's is tiny tiny and seats about 15 people at a time.

The wait turned out to be 25 minutes.  Enough for me to finish my strawberry lemonade and digest a bit of my morning's doughnuts.  I snagged a single seat at the bar, studied the fantastically extensive menu (just look at it and fall instantly in love) and discovered that ol' Shopsin had added some new pancake options to the list.  Diana and I had discovered the geniusness of his mac 'n cheese pancakes on a previous visit, and we now know how to make them ourselves courtesy of his cookbook.

Mac 'n cheese pancakes; picture courtesy of Diana

But since we have those badboys already perfected, it was time for me to branch out:

Introducing red velvet poppy seed pancakes !  Brilliant red, aren't they?  They also come with the option of being filled with fudge.  While they actually do not taste anything like red velvet, they are still very good, buttery pancakes.

I also ordered my favorite, albeit boring, breakfast plate, the "Breakfast Special," which comes with scrambled eggs, toast and your option of sausage, bacon, hash browns, grits or pancakes.  Diana knows which one I would pick:

Breakfast special: sausage links + wheat toast + scrambled eggs

I heart their sausage links.

I also heart their scrambled eggs.

And I do heart their wheat toast.  I know!  I'm a maniac!  The toast is nice and thick, encrusted with sesame seeds and bits of grains.  It's slightly buttered and very crisp.  I need to ask them where they get their bread.  It is so good by itself.

What is great about Shopsin's, besides being family-run, is the sheer novelty of the menu, the quality of the food and the unique ambience from Shopsin cursing at his kids and his kids cursing at him while preparing your meal--all factors leading to just a fine ol' time for all.  You can also get chocolate covered bacon from Roni-Sue's ("Pig Candy") in the same building.  You can't really beat that kind of convenience.

One tip though if you're planning on dining here: 1) cash only, 2) they typically stop taking new customers at 1:45p-2p in order to officially close at 3p.  I've been there several times when they turn away hungry stragglers, and it ain't a pretty sight.

After gaining five pounds at Shopsin's, I waddled over to the Hester Street Fair, located conveniently at Essex + Hester, and runs on both Saturday and Sundays from 10a-5p.

Of all the street fairs I've attended in NYC, Hester is probably the smallest, specializing in handmade jewelry, vintage clothing and a handful of food shops.

I really came for to the street fair for one reason: to check out the First Prize Pies table that is one and the same with Roni-Sue's (the girl behind First Prize Pies is Roni's daughter!).  You can get pies and "bacorn" (popcorn with bacon) all at the same time. 

Mmm.  Pies.  I bought the S'mores Pie (in the back) even though that chocolatey pretzel pie was calling my name.

After I snagged that purchase to go, I perused the other eateries and saw more tantalizing goods:

Truffle cheddar pretzels?!

I really wanted to stick my face in there and take a bite of that cheddary crust.

They also had giant chocolate chip cookies that appeared to also have chunks of pretzels!  Definitely noted, to be eaten at a later date.

La Newyorkina, specializing in Mexican popsicles.

Avocado mini popsicle for $1.  Was more ice than avocado flavor, but refreshing all the same.

Later, I finally mustered up the appetite again for sweets (after first having to finish chowing down on that crazy cinnamon bun), so I got my S'mores pie out to eat:

Such a cute plastic container made for the tiniest s'mores pie.  It's about the size of an egg tart from dim sum.

Toasted homemade marshmallow fluff tops the chocolate ganache filling and thick but soft graham cracker crust.

Perfection.  The marshmallow had the right amount of chew, the ganache was smooth and not too sweet, and I lurved the crust.

And judge me if you want, but I am totally getting s'more tomorrow night with Greeshma when we eat at Fatty Cue for dessert (Fatty Cue is run by her brother!  What a great family!). 

120 Essex Street
New York, NY

Essex & Hester
New York, NY