Monday, January 30, 2012

Does Pok Pok Wing Deserve the Raves?

All hail Portlandia for bringing us the finest wings in NYC

Why should Korean fried chicken get all the love?

Portland-based Pok Pok Wing has just changed the local playing field with its first NYC outpost. The tiny Thai wing factory took over the old LES pork-bun haven Baohaus (which moved to bigger digs on E 14th St.). And the early buzz has been not just great but phenomenal. Add my two sticky, chili-crusted thumbs-up to the mix.

Try the free pandan water
Spicy Asian wings are an all-time favorite of mine. Crisp in Chicago holds the trophy. I even begged the owner to open in NYC to no avail. Instead, he just went on to win best in the country awards. Which doesn't help us New Yorkers.

Never mind, we now have Pok Pok. Wings are marinated overnight in fish sauce, sugar and garlic. Then deep fried and tossed in another coat of the same marinade kicked up with optional chili paste.

Ike, right, and his inspired recipe
Owner Andy Ricker's inspiration came from his travels throughout Thailand. Returning to Portland, he turned to Vietnamese friend Ike to perfect the flavors. The result, Ike's Wings, is a triumph, with the addictive blend of crispy, sticky sweet, salty, and spicy elements.

Wash 'em down with a mild drinking vinegar ($4) or soothing complimentary pandan water. Pandan is a fragrant tropical plant popular in Southeast Asia. Leaves are soaked in water to create a soft, slightly nutty flavor, perfect for tempering the chicken's saltiness and heat.

First timers should go for the full order of wings ($12.49) - six spicy or regular. They're too good to share, so don't even try. You can share the plenty of Fresh Naps on hand.

Brooklynites, don't despair. Pok Pok NY, a full service restaurant in Red Hook, is in the works this winter.

137 Rivington St. (between Norfolk + Suffolk Sts.)

Pok Pok Wing on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Craving BaoBQ

Asian BBQ comes to the East Village
Ever enterprising restaurateur Michael Bao Huynh (Baoguette, Mikey's Burger) strikes again. And I'm hooked. BaoBQ, his latest EV cheap eats dining concept, celebrates Southeast Asian barbecue, a favorite of Huynh's.

"In Vietnam, it's everywhere," he explains of his native home. I can see why.

Since its quiet opening just before Christmas, I've been a regular. I crave the chicken. A lot. Instead of writing about it, I've just been eating it.

Thai smoked BBQ chicken
BBQ pork chops with dirty rice

Two styles of BBQ chicken are house specials: lemongrass marinated Thai (my favorite), and chili glazed Vietnamese. Both are smoked and finished by char grilling over apple wood. The meat just clings to perfectly crisped skin as it falls off the bone.

Then there are the addictive homemade dipping sauces. Classic Vietnamese nuoc cham is mildly spicy and sticky, and Huynh's own "Super Bao" hot sauce lives up to its name.

Vietnamese grilled pork chops are also bone gnawingly good. The roasted cauliflower, and sticky rice top my list of mostly traditional sides which nicely compliment the meat. The underdressed som tam (papaya salad) could use more tang. Noodle dishes and other grilled items, including Korean bulgogi, round out the menu.

A new favorite BBQ with a twist
Huynh is a very physical presence at BaoBQ these days. But, not surprisingly, his mind is already on his next neighborhood venture opening in March: Mikey's Cheesesteak. No doubt the classic sandwich will get a Baoified twist.

Note: A few months ago, I wrote about best East Village deliveries for $10. BaoBQ now tops this list.

229 First Ave
(between 13th + 14th Sts)
212 475 7011
Delivery available
Average entree $9

BaoBQ on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Learning Butter Lane's Cupcake Secrets

Moo. A sweet cure for the January blues.

Now I love Butter Lane even more. Arguably makers of the best cupcakes in the EV, possibly in the city, the bakery actually teaches you its trade secrets at cupcake class.

The teaching kitchen adjacent to the store
The wildly popular classes are now offered seven days a week. I took one on a recent Sunday afternoon with two friends. Head baker and pastry chef Sunshine Flagg (wd~50, Momofuku Noodle Bar) took 12 of us through two entertaining hours of hands-on instruction. Three teams, three kinds of cupcakes (vanilla, chocolate, banana), six different frostings. Zero calorie counting.

High quality cakes start with fine ingredients. So the vanilla batter includes real vanilla bean. And thanks to Sunshine, we all now know the real origin of vanilla. It's not Tahiti or Madagascar. We also know to never overmix the batter, or undermix the frosting.

My final product - not perfect, but perfectly delicious
Ahh, the frosting. A basic buttercream, delicious in its simplicity, can easily be transformed by just one more ingredient. Will it be cinnamon, or peanut butter, or raspberry?

Once the cakes were cooled and creams whipped, we got a brief instruction on the Butter Lane method of frosting. The pat, twirl and whoosh technique is not as easy as it looks. There is a class prize for the best Butter Lane-esque cake, so channel that inner decorator. Regardless, everyone walked away with a box of personally decorated, perfectly scrumptious cupcakes.

Butter Lane clearly has fun with its classes. Look out for couples only classes on Fridays, frosting 101, and basic cake decorating. There are even private parties for birthdays, showers and other celebrations. On March 12th, it's launching a Cupcakes and Cocktails class. Sweet oblivion.

What else can we frost?

123 E. 7th Street (between 1st Ave + Ave A)
212 677 2880
Classes start at $40.

Butter Lane Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Puddin' is the New Cupcake

Pure indulgence

One of the most exciting - and nostalgic - new food destinations to hit the East Village has to be Puddin' by Clio, which opens on Friday. KikaEats got a sneak peek and sampled the goods. Yum.

The name alone conjures up the sweetest childhood memories. For me, it's coming home from school to the smell of warm chocolate pudding just barely set in five bowls on the counter. My mother would intentionally leave enough homemade custard in the pot for me to lick the spoon and scrape the sides clean.

Layers of flavors
Owner and pastry chef Clio Goodman (Cafe Boulud, Bar Boulud) takes the homemade concept to a whole new level. Over the past year, she has tested and perfected every recipe, from chocolate, and butterscotch (with real Scotch), to banana, lemon, and coffee. And every topping is made from scratch: 'Oreos,' marshmallows, sprinkles, graham crackers, etc. Pudding prices range from $5.50 for an individual bowl to $12.50 for a 20-oz party size.

"I found something New York doesn't have!"exclaims Goodman, who is serious about her craft. Her tiny 280 sq ft store on St. Marks Place has been designed so customers can watch the team  "tinker and work." If pudding's not your thing, no problem. Fresh cakes, pies and cookies washed down with thick hot chocolate will lure you in. And coming soon, look out for homemade pop tarts. Genius.

102 St Marks Place (between Ave A + First Ave)
212 477 3537

Puddin' by Clio on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Five New Years Resolutions

Some of my favorite things: grape tomatoes, red lentils, Karen's Armenian braided cookies, Darrell Lea's green apple licorice

Here's some food for thought as we start 2012 off sparkling fresh and new. Happy New Year and happy eating to all.

Make coffee

Skip buying overpriced coffee and start a food kitty instead. Not only do you get to experiment with beans from around the world, but watch your savings grow. And fantasize on what exotic edibles you can spend the extra dough on, like a...

Splurge on a Nice Meal

Your coffee kitty will add up quickly. Start pouring over menus from NYC's crème de la crème (or another great city) with the extra $100 you save every month. Do a Top 10 list of must try restaurants this year and stick to it.

Cook on Sundays

Plan to make a meal every Sunday and share it with others. Try that recipe that's gathering dust on the fridge. If you can't make a full meal, make something from scratch. If you can't eat it all, freeze the leftovers or share with your neighbor.

Recycle When Ordering In

The bags, both paper and plastic, and many containers, etc, can be recycled. When ordering, tell them not to include the plastic cutlery which often gets thrown away unused anyway. Save the extra napkins for another time.

Volunteer to End Hunger

Wherever you're reading this, there are people in your neighborhood going to bed without enough to eat. Whether it's feeding the homeless, lending a hand at a shelter, or working with an amazing child hunger organization like Share Our Strength, volunteer your time to feed others. It will feed your soul too.