Thai Market, daydreamed and real

When my newly married friends Vanessa and Jon recently honeymooned in Thailand, I went along with them. Well, not really, not physically in the third wheel sense (cause how awkward would that be?) but vicariously through the Instagram pictures Vanessa posted daily.

In my Thai reveries I lounge around deserted beaches, play with baby elephants and feel small before giant Buddha statues, just like my married friends did, but mostly in my daydreams, I roam around the food markets, eating all sorts of things. And because it’s a daydream and not real, nothing has a single calorie. (In the beach part of my daydream, I look damn good in my bikini.)

Vanessa’s street food stories, like the ones I read on another favorite blog, The Londoner, left me with not only more wanderlust than ever, but with a ravenous hunger for Thai food. So when I asked a friend for a lunch recommendation on the Upper West Side earlier this week and she suggested a place called Thai Market, it was just what I needed.

write something here

Tom yum goong soup. Emphasis on the yum.

To start, I had the tom yum goong soup, a reddish-brown blend of tangy, zesty lemongrass, tamarind, juicy shrimp, and plump, soft mushrooms.  It was colorful and warming, with just enough spicy heat to give my tongue a tingly little prickle without breaking out into full on nose sweats.

write something here

Pad kee mao… that means give me more, right?

After it, at the server’s suggestion, I ordered the pad kee mao, large, flat rice noodles with tender strips of chicken, Thai basil, chili, tomato and bok choi. It wasn’t crazy hot but this time I definitely had to guzzle cold water throughout eating it. The flavors, like the colors of the different ingredients, were bold and bright, with chunks of bright green peppers, juicy tomatoes and red swirls of chili oil all mixing around in the most delicious way.

The restaurant’s overall look is supposed to transport you to Thailand, with giant photos of markets as a backdrop, along with Thai street signs and large red umbrellas that kind of make you feel like you’re outside. I popped in for lunch, and while I don’t doubt that the food sold by street vendors and at markets is way better and cheaper, Thai Market’s $8 lunch special makes it a pretty good alternative for being on the UWS.

Thai Market on Urbanspoon

Hey there, sweet stuff

Say what you will about Valentine’s Day, but I for one, am a fan. I mean, how could I not be when there are so many sweet things to be had? Yes, kisses, cuddles and hanky panky are fun but I’m talking the real sweet stuff: SUGAR.

Valentine's Day can't be anything BUT happy when it involves this.

Last year, my darling boyfriend got me doughnuts (from my favorite place to get them in the whole wide universe, Doughnut Plant) so this year I decided to take his idea and put an Italian spin on it. I schlepped it uptown to Bomboloni, an Upper West Side bakery specializing in— you guessed it— bomboloni, which for those of you who might not know, are the Italian cousin of the traditional filled doughnut, and came home with a box of six. Bomboloni are more round than American doughnuts, almost perfectly spherical, and back on the Boot, they’re covered in a sparkly dusting of sugar, with usually either cream or chocolate filling.

At Bombolini in the UWS (there’s also one in Rome), the bombolini come in a whole assortment of flavors and only one, which was actually called a bomba and was much bigger than the rest, had the traditional sugar coating. The others varied between caramelized sugar, chocolate glaze, confectioners sugar, crushed nuts and other toppings. In the picture above, the middle one is crème brulee, then starting with the red one and going clockwise: raspberry, banana, chocolate cherry, vanilla cream, and toasted marshmallow cream. We both agreed that our favorite bombolone, with its  bright, thick jammy filling, was the raspberry (even though in Italy I’m a cream girl through and through).

My Italian beau likes to complain that while he can get almost any food in the world here in New York, the Italian pastries, like bomboloni, are not as easy to come by. My box from Bomboloni was a nice way to prove him wrong and get a sugary treat all in one present. Made Valentine’s Day all the sweeter.

Best in the universe

To say that Levain Bakery‘s signature cookie, the chocolate chip-walnut, is just another cookie is like saying that a unicorn is just a horse with a horn. It’s SO much more than that. It’s magic, it’s wonder, it’s a source of pure, concentrated joy.

Levain’s signature cookie might just be the single most delicious chocolate chip cookie in the universe. If a greater one exists, I almost rather not know about it, I’m not sure my little heart could handle all that. It already came so close to bursting with happiness when I bit into Levain’s chocolate chip-walnut cookie during a recent day spent in the Upper West Side.

Chocolate chip walnut cookie from Levain Bakery

At a hefty $4 it might seem like a lot for a cookie, but like I said, this is no ordinary cookie. About four inches in diameter and with a mind-boggling height of about two inches, this cookie is big. Jutting out from its craggy surface are golden  chunks of walnut next to soft, fat smudges of chocolate, half melted chips just begging to be eaten. The outside has a nice, firm crust but the real magic—oh man, my heart speeds up just thinking about it— that is waiting inside. The moment you bite into this cookie masterpiece you realize that it’s just the exact amount of cooked (or wonderfully uncooked, I should say) so that the core is soft and chewy, still a bit cookie dough and not completely turned cookie. The chocolate chips melt pretty much on impact and the walnuts lend a buttery, nutty crunch to everything. It’s madness, I tell you. Madness.

I’m a huge fan of Roasting Plant’s chocolate chip cookies, which I previously wrote might be some of the best I’d ever had, but Levain’s, I’m pretty positive, are the best this whole universe of ours has to offer. How I’ve lived in this city for this long without having one makes me think I have a lot of catching up to do. And let me tell you, I’m excited.

Levain Bakery on Urbanspoon

Yes, more pumpkin!

 

Spiced Pumpkin Pie

Just when I thought pumpkin-flavored foods had been retired till November, BAM! I found something new! And delicious, I might add.

This classy cocktail from the Mandarin Oriental’s Lobby Lounge,  made me want to rekindle my annual pumpkin binge. The creamy, dessert-like drink was a velvety sweet concoction of Stoli Vanilla Vodka, Kahlua, Coole Swan Irish Cream, pumpkin purèe and spiced pumpkin syrup.

Sigh. It’s always a good time for pumpkin.

Hangover comida

Sunday hangover, meet mofongo.

After a night of too much drinking and staying up too far past my bedtime, I like to seek comfort  in food the next day: usually standard American breakfast classics, preferably greasy, and heavy on the carbs. Biscuits and gravy in particular are a life-renewing source for me.

But not all hangovers are created equal and neither are their cures. Just the other day, for example, a friend told me about an out-of-town guest of hers who wanted to know where to go for curry, because that’s what he woke up craving after a night on the town. Curry! Can you believe it? Now, I love curry— don’t get me wrong—but after a night of boozing? Not likely.

Recently though, while staying at a friend’s apartment in Astoria (while I waited to move into my own apartment) my gracious host came over to my room (her guest room) and asked how Flaneur and I felt about going for mofongo.

“Mo-who?”

“Mofongo! That’s exactly what I feel like eating right now.”

Continue reading

Space snacks

No gelato for this guy.

Back when I was 11 years old, what feels like 5 lifetimes ago, I went to Washington D.C. for a Safety Patrol end-of-the-year fieldtrip. (Yes, I was a Safety Patrol, complete with a fluorescent orange across-the-chest belt with a big, shiny badge. I was a raging dork and it was awesome.)

Of all the things I saw that blew my young, impressionable mind, it was something at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum‘s gift shop that excited me the most: astronaut food.

The package said it was exactly like what the real astronauts ate in space, and I was sold. $3 later I ate dehydrated strawberries thinking they were the coolest thing ever.

Fastforward to almost 14 years later… strolling through the American Museum of Natural History’s space gift shop after seeing a show at the Hayden Planeterium, I saw a familiar, over-priced, edible souvenir: astronaut food!

There's no substitute for real ice cream.

$4.34 later, I left the museum and gift shop with a dehydrated ice cream sandwich alla astronaut, just as excited as I was the first time I tried this gimmicky space food.

Later that night, I tore it open and Flaneur and I bit into respective chunks of crunchy, dry, almost dusty ice cream sandwich. Yes, it looked like an ice cream sandwich, and sure it kind of tasted like one, but in no way was it as good as a real, cold, creamy-on-the-inside, soft-cookie-on-the-outside ice cream sandwich. We ate it none the less, and I for one was glad I never became an astronaut. Sure, space is cool and all, but chalky, dry ice cream sandwiches? No thanks. I’ll stay here on Earth with the creamy, delicious cold stuff.

Shacking up

I grew up with loads of junk food, TV dinners and all things fatty and American. My Italian boyfriend on the other hand, was raised on healthy eats like freshly laid eggs, homemade pasta sauce (never ever the stuff in a jar), and home-produced olive oil.

It’s an interesting dichotomy we have going. He’s all about organic produce, hormone-free meat and staying away from artificial sweeteners and MSG. While I’m all for healthy eating, I’m not as committed to the cause. I indulge in many a treat jam packed with all sorts of ingredients that are terrible for me, and I know it.  That’s just how it is.

But every once in a while, probably because of my bad influence, he surprises me. Of all the things on a menu, he’ll order the one I would least expect him to. That’s what happened recently when we went to Shake Shack, the always crowded, always smile-inducing delicious burger joint on the Upper West Side.

There's a whole lot of deliciousness going on here.

I ordered first: an order of fries and a small cup (which turned out to be a pretty large small cup) of frozen custard in the flavor of the day, “Bee Mine” (vanilla custard blended with strawberry puree, honey and rosewater). Then I slid over to let Flaneur order: a Shack Stack burger and a vanilla milkshake.

“What’s that?” I asked as my eyes scanned the wall-mounted menu, before reaching the last item on the burger list. “Shack Stack: cheeseburger and a ‘shroom burger topped with lettuce, tomato and Shack sauce.”

Wait a minute. What’s a ‘shroom burger then?

“Shroom burger: crisp fried Portobello filled with melted Muenster and cheddar cheese, topped with lettuce, tomato and Shack sauce.”

I was stunned. He was a getting a cheeseburger topped with a big, fat, cheese-stuffed Portobello mushroom on it, basically two sandwiches in once! And so much cheese!

The only way you're mouth isn't watering is if you're a vegetarian or blind.

After waiting and whining about being hungry, then nudging through the packed restaurant, and then staring down people who were done eating and just lingering around, we planted our tray at an open table in the corner.

The burger looked interesting, practically open-faced and oozing cheese from all angles, but there was no food envy from this girl. My fries were fantastic: the ideal size, color, consistency and above all, taste! And I swear I didn’t order them because the menu said, “100% free of artificial trans fats and made from Yukon Gold potatoes, 25% less fat than average fries.” (That was just a bonus.)

Frozen custard, frozen goodness.

My frozen custard, a wonderfully thick love child of ice cream and soft-serve, was rich and creamy with a nice subtle hint of the honey and rosewater amidst the strawberry. And the color was sweet too: a shadowy pink, not the garish, Pepto-Bismol pink of so many other strawberry ice creams.

Flaneur’s vanilla milk shake, made from the same vanilla frozen custard used as the base for “Bee Mine,” was also creamy and dense, much more like something you’d eat with a spoon than through a straw. But it works out better that way. If it were any more liquid, the whole thing would be gone with the first slurp.

But the star of this show was without a question, the Shack Stack burger. The second Flaneur bit into it, his whole face lit up like a Christmas tree. It was a mouthful of happiness.

“You gotta try this,” he said, cheeks puffed out as he continued chewing.

I took the burger, not quite sure how to attack it so that I got a little bit of everything. I must’ve looked like a python about to unhinge its jaw and swallow a horse.

As I chomped down on the Shack Stack, the warm melted cheese oozed into my mouth and mixed with the juicy patty, the crunchy breaded Portobello and the tomato and lettuce, to make for one of the best burger mouthfuls I’ve ever had. And while it probably packed a mind-boggling amount of calories and fat grams, honestly, who even cares?

If my ever-health-conscious boyfriend did, I sure couldn’t tell.