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Monthly Archives: November 2009

Birthday Feast At Imperial Palace

SoupI turned 27 last week and decided to celebrate in the Mango way: with a feast. I had read New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton’s one-star review of Imperial Palace a few weeks ago and had been intrigued by the expertly made Cantonese seafood dishes he described. It sounded worthy of the trek to the Flushing neighborhood of Queens to try it out. (It’s also worth noting, as Eater did, that Sifton went to Queens within his first month on the job when most reviewers have stuck primarily to Manhattan.) Unlike most of the restaurants Sifton reviews, I figured this would actually be one in which my friends and I could afford to eat—and not just eat, but feast. With this goal in mind, we took the 7 train to the end and met on the corner of Roosevelt and Main Street.

Four of us arrived before the rest of the group and decided to get a drink while we waited. Suitable bars did not seem forthcoming until we happened upon Mingle Beer House, a Taiwanese bar with an international selection of beers, karaoke and what looked like delicious food. We ordered beers and sat at the neon-lit bar chomping those delicious Asian peanuts and listening to a female karaoke singer belt it out while a group of men dined on hot pot. It felt like a scene from “Lost In Translation,” and I loved it. I plan to go back for food soon.

Cold Jellyfish SaladWe finished our beers and then walked to Imperial Palace. In many ways, the large dining room with red-tablecloth-topped, round tables is like so many Chinese restaurants we’ve all been to. The difference here was that my friends and I were the only non-Chinese people in the near-full restaurant. We were immediately shown to an empty table and got down to the business of ordering. The only alcohol served here is beer—Tsingtao, Heineken and Budweiser. Tsingtao seemed the way to go. Following Sifton’s advice, we also started with soup made with pork, tofu and mustard greens. After the review’s description of the dish as “verdant, porky mustard greens and white pillows of tofu in a glistening broth,” I was frankly disappointed. The pork was dry and too lean, and even the pleasant gingery broth wasn’t enough to boost the flavor. I had not given up on Sifton yet, though, so we ordered the cold jellyfish salad, another of his recommendations. That dish (pictured here) was better. The texture of the strips of jellyfish reminded me of eating seaweed. They were chewy with a little crunch as you managed to bite through them, and the soy and black vinegar sauce kept them lively.

SablefishThe favorite dish of the evening was the sable, served on a sizzling cast iron platter and positively melting in a delightful savory pile of onions and salty black bean sauce. The crispy fried chicken was also a winner with its crackling exterior and moist, tender center. The sauce that came with it (Sifton described it as fermented red bean sauce, but it didn’t taste like that to me) was too thin and too mild. I wanted something spicy or with a punch of pungent flavor to complement the sweetness of the chicken. Still, we ordered a whole bird and left nothing on the plate.

Dungeness Crab and Sticky RiceAs a Northwesterner, I was looking forward to the Dungeness crab cooked in a steamed over sticky rice and river leaves. I continue to believe that Dungeness crab is sweeter and more tender than lobster, but Imperial Palace’s preparation did not do it justice. The crab tasted a little mealy and overdone, probably a result of the fact that it had to be shipped here from the Pacific. For this reason, it might have been worthwhile to try the more local lobster. The rice had good texture, but I found it surprisingly bland. I wanted sauce or ginger or heat or something to make it sparkle.

Clams in Black Bean SauceI felt a bit discouraged by the mixed bag of dishes we tried, but our grand finale the clams in black bean sauce was another keeper. The sauce was nuanced and coated each of the tender clams in a flavorful, salty bath. Scallions dotted the landscape. As we finished off the dish, our server brought plates of lychee and pineapple for dessert. It wasn’t exactly a birthday cake, but it was an appropriately authentic finish to our eating adventure. The food at Imperial Palace was successful in many instances but didn’t knock it out of the park. Still, it was a great place to share a meal with friends who are devoted enough to come to Queens and eat jellyfish, all to celebrate the birth of little ‘ole me.

Imperial Palace
136-13 37th Ave.
Queens, NY 11354

Mingle Beer House
37-04 Prince St.
Queens, NY 11354

Imperial Palace on Urbanspoon

Mingle Beer House on Urbanspoon

A Pair of Francophile Sandwiches

Banh Mi and Bubble TeaEmpanada Boy and I are moving to Brooklyn in January. We don’t know where we’re moving, mind you, but we know we’ll be going to that borough. After a year in Mahattan, we are ready to move to a neighborhood that’s more our speed and one that’s not an hour’s subway ride from the majority of our friends. In search of the right neighborhood, we set off on Saturday on a walking tour through Prospect Heights, Gowanus, South Slope, Windsor Terrace and Greenwood Heights. We walked for miles, through light rain at times. As we walked up to the Prospect Park F Train Station at 15th Street, it started to pour. I spotted a tiny Vietnamese cafe called Henry’s. It didn’t take much to convince EB we needed a lunch break.

As the rain started coming down harder, we went up to the counter in the closet-like restaurant and ordered a classic banh mi and an almond bubble tea from one of the red-shirted servers. The classic is made with pate, Vietnamese ham and roasted ground pork with a tangy carrot and radish slaw served on a toasted French baguette. The bahn mi is an amazing amalgam of Vietnamese and French flavors—the bun is even buttered as the French do with their sandwiches—reflecting the history of French colonization in Vietnam. We split the sandwich, and I was glad we did because it was rich and packed with deep, satisfying pork flavor. The ground pork gave it extra crunch, while the layer of pate added foundation. But my favorite element was definitely the vegetables, which were seasoned with the same vinaigrette you find on a green papaya salad.

Unfortunately, the bubble tea was a poor choice, flavorwise. It tasted like pure almond extract blended with some milk. This may well be what it actually was. I couldn’t stand the taste of it, but EB successfully managed to fish out the tapioca balls.

Po' BoyAs soon as the rain cleared up a bit, we continued on our tour by about 6 pm, we were totally exhausted. We took the train to Vladimir Pudding’s house in Boerum Hill and crashed wearily onto his couch. After a few drinks, we called Basedrum Crumb and invited him to come from Park Slope to meet us for dinner. (We had been planning to meet somewhere in the middle, but EB and I were too tired/lazy to walk.)

Instead, we walked down the street to a New Orleans-style bar and cafe called Stan’s Place. We had Abita beers (made in New Orleans) and three out of four of us ordered po’ boys. EB got catfish; Crumb got fried shrimp. Still in the mood for sandwiches, and having just finished reading a New York Times article on the dying art of the New Orleans po’ boy, I ordered the fried oyster po’ boy.

Like bahn mi, po’ boys owe some of their influences to French colonizers, in this case those who occupied the Louisiana Delta. They are made on the same baguettes and are sometimes also smeared with pate and filled with lettuce. After reading the article, I was looking forward to that crisp bread with a chewy interior. Unfortunately, the po’ boy at Stan’s didn’t live up to the ideal flavors and textures I had envisioned. The chew was lacking, as was the kick. The sandwich was also a steep $12. The oysters were tasty, though, and the crispy potatoes on the side were delicious. Probably the best thing we ate at Stan’s came before the sandwich: a spicy grilled andouille sausage appetizer with a soft homemade biscuit.

We still don’t know which neighborhood we’re moving to, but it’s clear that coming to Brooklyn will open up a whole new array of food options to explore. I’m looking forward to sampling the flavors of our new neighborhood.

433 7th Ave. (at 15th St.)
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Stan’s Place
411 Atlantic Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Stan's Place on Urbanspoon

Saying Cheese at Murray’s

La TurIf we were stranded on a desert island where baguettes grew on trees and La Tur—a soft Piedmontese blend of cow, goat and sheep milk cheese—could be netted in the waters, Empanada Boy and I might just live happily ever after. This was only one of the four amazing cheeses we sampled last week at a tasting and cave tour we attended at Murray’s Cheese, in Greenwich Village. Murray’s, whose earliest incarnation dates back to 1940, is a gastronomic temple oozing with fine cheeses. It is one of the few cheese mongers in the U.S. that stores and ages its own cheeses in temperature-and-humidity-controlled caves below the street level. When the Columbia University Alumni Arts League advertised a cheese tasting and tour there, we eagerly signed on.

Beekman 1802 BlaakLa Tur, described quite accurately in the tasting notes as being “like ice cream served from a warm scoop; decadent and melting from the outside in,” was definitely our favorite, but the other cheeses were among the most complex, delicious and thought-provoking I’ve tried. Our second cheese, called Beekman 1802 Blaak, is the first cheese attempt from the Beekman 1802 farm, based in Sharon Springs, NY. (The farm was founded in 1802.) The texture of the cheese was slightly chalky with a surprisingly subtle goat’s milk flavor. It didn’t quite pack the punch I was hoping for, but I suspect that was because it followed La Tur.

Pyrenees BrebisWe paired these first two cheeses with 2006 La Segreta Bianco from Planeta, a winery in Sicily. It’s a carefree blend of Chardonnay, Fiano, Grecanico, Sauvignon and Viognier. The second half of the tasting was paired with 1999 Domini Douro, a blend of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (Portuguese Tempranillo) from the Douro region of Portugal. Portuguese wine is still coming into its own, so it’s possible to get a bottle this old for under $12. This one had plums, blackberries and vanilla with soft tannins—pretty complex for the money.

Our next cheese, the Brebis, came from the Basque country and the Bearn region of the French Pyrenees. It was aged for four-to-six months (in an old railroad tunnel, no less) and had a beautiful, smooth and creamy texture with sweet, nutty notes. We saw numerous cheeses like this in one of the caves down in the basement on our tour. A cheese like this would probably have to have its rind washed in water or a saline solution every so often and be turned lovingly and cradled a few times each day. I’m telling you, these cheeses get a lot of pampering!

Cabot Clothbound CheddarThe final cheese in the tasting was the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Vermont. It was dry, crumbly and tasted strongly of the fresh cut grass the cows that made it had undoubtedly been eating. There was also a great balance between saltiness and sweetness in this one, helping it stand up to the robust wine. This baby was aged (and coddled) for a year to enable all the proper molds could grow—it’s good to be a cheese at Murray’s!

CaveWe discovered exactly how good it was once we donned our hairnets and followed one of the cave managers down into the depths of the store. There were four caves and a walk-in refrigerator. We toured through the three where the most action was happening. The first was filled with soft, ripe blue cheeses and was calibrated to let the proper molds grow. The second housed primarily hard cheeses with washed rinds and all different colors of mold (humidity: 93%). The final cave, which also had high humidity, was home to the rounds that aged for even longer like Gruyere and Parmesan.

The smell was strong throughout all three rooms, but what we were smelling was not the wonderful scent of stinky cheese I had expected. Instead, we smelled tremendous wafts of ammonia being released by the cheeses as they aged. My nose hairs trembled under the sheer power of it! If we were not already convinced enough, the smell reminded all of us that the cheeses we were visiting and consuming were, in many ways living, breathing, creatures. And like all living creatures, our trip to Murray’s reminded us, cheeses should be treated with appropriate respect.

Murray’s Cheese
254 Bleecker St.
New York, NY 10014
888.MY.CHEEZ or 212.243.3289

Murray's Cheese on Urbanspoon