Friday, August 31, 2012


After our rehearsal dinner (still wedding week), we went to Toloache, a posh Mexican restaurant located in the heart of theater district.

Originally I wanted to go to Pomaire, a Chilean restaurant in the similar area, but it somehow didn't let me book a party in advance, so I yelped away and found this.

It looked pretty nice online and in the review pictures.

It was pretty busy when we got in around 7, so we had to wait a bit outside until we were seated upstairs. I loved this authentically Mexican ceramic moral of a lady in traditional garbs. This definitely grabs your attention as you head upstairs.

It wasn't as big as I had imagined, but at least there was space for a table of 10. Everyone was seated and water was served. Since it was a large group, we had to wait for a long time before everyone perused the menu to order (plus translating Mexican dishes into Chinese isn't an easy task).

The menu was seemingly standard with the usual Mexican dishes like tacos, quesadillas, salsa. But what was unique is their stand-alone entrees that fuse together Mexican and Asian cuisin, like their Adobo marinated japanese eggplants (which made my Mom think this was a Japanese restaurant).  

 I almost jumped when I saw their Oaxacan-style dried grasshoppers on the menu.

Some waiter came by our table and told us the special of the day. I couldn't really catch a single phrase he said because of the noise level and his thick accent. I think it was something like fish with pinenuts or something.

Also, when we told our drinks waitress that we were all dry, she seemed stunned and became wide-eyed. Really, is that that shocking to have non-alcoholic guests?

For starters, we got some chips and guacamole. The waiter told us to order a couple of these, because their portions apparently were small. But they cost $15 per guacamole! So we got the traditional mild guacamole with avocado, tomato, onion and cilantro, and the frutas medium with pomegranate, vidalia onion, mango, peach, apple and Thai basil.

The waiter was not kidding when he said these are small portions. Normally, chips this size are on the house. But not these ones apparently.

We had to wait a ridiculously long time for these. During that time, I tried to carry some conversations but to no avail, because my stomach was rumbling and it was too loud.

Finally, it came. Our end of the table (the unmarried end) got the traditional guacamole, which was really fresh and chunky. It was gone pretty quickly.

The other side (moms and dads) were almost afraid to try theirs. My Dad refused profusely until I insisted. I didn't get a chance to try their pomegranate dip, but I'm sure it was pretty good.

 Quasadilla de Camaron

I ordered a Quasadilla de Camaron with shrimp, chili del arbor salsa, onions, and pineapples. It's like a Hawaiian-Mexican style pizza. It tasted a bit sour, probably because of the pineapples and the salsa.

I was amazed by the simpleness of this dish - basically it was ingredients scattered on what appeared to be a thin layer of tortilla bread. All this for $13? Not worth it. (Plus I came two pieces away to my Mom and hubby's Mom.)

 Berenjena Adobada

My maid of honor, being vegetarian, got the Berenjena Adobada, which is the Adobo marinated Japanese eggplant, lentils, sweet plantain, and achiote-habernero salsa. I tasted a bite of her eggplant, which was pretty juicy and marinated.

Carnitas de Lechon

Hubby got this Carnitas de Lechon, which is brick oven-roasted shredded suckling pig, habanero-sour orange salsa, cactus avocado and chicharron salad. Obviously I have no idea what half those ingredients are, but it looked pretty juicy.

Hubby's Mom got some tacos because she's all about portion control (especially because when we got our orders it was already 8pm).

Pescado Sarandeado

My dad got the wild striped bass with cauliflower puree, Brussels sprouts salad and chile pasilla de Oaxaca salsa.

This was the special of the day that hubby's best man got, which does look like sea bass with pine nuts or lily bulbs. It was again, a ridiculously small plate but looks very exquisite.

I have no idea what this dish (above) is, but it looks like fish.

Our photographer got a load of shredded meat.

And our officiant got this meaty dish, probably the Rib Eye with grilled rib eye, fried Brussel spourts, queso fresco, picked red onion salad, salsa trio, chile de arbol and panco chimichurri. Again, no idea.

Being a Chinese party, no one ordered dessert, although I was still largely starving from my "dinner" and wanted ice cream. But alas, it was too late and we had to get a good night's rest for our big day the following day.

Three major complaints about this restaurant:

1. Noise level way too high - can't hear the person across from you
2. Portions waaaay too small for the price point
3. There's only one bathroom!

All and all, horrible restaurant if you're expecting something excellent, like for a rehearsal dinner. Verdict: please go to your corner Mexican joint if you're looking for something authentic, or if you're actually hungry.

** (2/5 - I know, the lowest rating I've given any restaurant thus far)
Kids-friendly (with reservations only)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Best Ever Chinese Dumplings

Before picking up the wedding dresses, we made a short stop in Chinatown last last Thursday to grab some lunch. It was at a place called Lan Zhou Noodles. Lan zhou is a province in China that's renowned for its  - not surprisingly - hand-pulled noodles.

It was a hole-in-the-wall diner with two tables facing the window to people watch, and some benches along the wall for quick dine-ins. We grabbed two stools facing the tiled wall.

Since hubby is a huge fan of potstickers, we ordered a plate of those. It's only $2 for eight of these babies, which could fully be my lunch and then some. For a dozen, it's $3.

They came so promptly that I didn't even have time to watch the chef make the handpulled noodles by rounding out the dough and pounding it out on the board. I wanted to take a picture of him, but hubby stopped me =( out of embarrassment (hey I need to learn!).

The dumplings were also all handmade by another worker. You can see all of them make it outside the kitchen. They were pork and chive dumplings - actually, let me rephrase that - they were the BEST dumplings I've ever had. Yes, this includes years of mom-and-dad dumpling making sundays with the best ingredients and hand-grown chives.

At first bite, you wonder whether you've hit dumpling euphoria, because the outside skin is fried to a perfect crisp, and the inside tastes like a xiao long bao with the juices rolling into your mouth. Then you're filled with a mouthful of chewy and tender pork and chives. I know, even for me, an ethic Chinese-Muslim (gasp! betcha didn't know that) who is not supposed to eat pork, loved this dish.

The noodles came like 2 min after we started digging in. We ordered the beef tendon hand-pulled noodles that came with floating pieces of bak choy.

The noodles were a delight - very al dente and chewy, giving your mouth a good exercise. The broth is rich and doesn't taste pull of msg like most of the other dishes in Chinatown. The bak choy is a good balance between the mildly salty broth and the chewy noodles, adding a bit of colour and nutrition to the dish.

The only thing I didn't like is the tenders (unfortunately). They were a little too tough for my liking. I would have rather preferred sometime more melt-in-your mouth.

Another side dish I liked is the salted pickled veggies at the side, which was at once refreshing and added some flavor to the noodles. I can't comment on the sanitary-ness of them because it seems like its home-made and put into a plastic container with a common-usage spoon, but I really liked its marinated taste.

While we were eating, hubby pointed out to something that struck us both as odd. On the glass door leading to the sidewalk, there was a sign plastered in red that said "glass". Well, I suppose it's to help people not bump into it if the glass is too shiny, but c'mon, it's inside a doorframe for goodness sakes.

Oh yes, and the best part about this meal? It's only $7. Ridiculously cheap, right?

If you happen to fall in love with the dumplings like I did, you can also opt to purchase a bag of 50 frozen ones for $8.50.

Lan Zhou Noodles

$ (should be half a $ actually)
**** (4/5)
Kids-friendly (at least not during peak hours)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Taverna Kyclades

Thursday of wedding week I went to dine with my in-laws at Taverna Kyclades, the popular Greek restaurant in my hood.

The lineup wasn't that bad when we got in around 6.30, which subdued hubby's mom concern about the wait. We were seated inside in a table of four, although I really wanted to be outside to get some fresh air.

The menu is pretty standard with the usual Greek fare. But what is unique is their seafood, in particular their market fish. I've walked past this place many a time, and have always seen giant platters of fish flanked by sides of beets, rosemary potatoes, garlic bread, rice...

Here's a (sideway) look at their seafood menu. I was pretty tempted by the scallops, but it was kind of pricy. The stuffed fillet also looks very tempting, but unfortunately I wasn't really hungry that day to become even more stuffed. So I settled on the obvious choice - the grilled baby shark.

Hubby's dad is a carnivore, and loves his meat. He ordered some pork chops. Mom is more of a regimented dietician, so she opted for the grilled whiting. But unfortunately they ran out (at 6.30?) of the whiting, so she went for the shark. Seeing this, I changed my entree to the quail.

I really wanted to order an appetizer of pan-fried Greek cheese, but judging from the portion size I knew we'd be way too stuffed. Oh well, maybe next time.

Our garlic bread came in prompt time as we were waiting. The golden loaves came drizzled with a thick layer of olive oil and pesto. It looked really tempting, but I resisted from grabbing the whole loaf in the spirit of family sharing.

This bread is amazing. I would come here for the bread alone. The crust gives you a bit of a bite and chew, but then you're rewarded by a complex flavor of soft starchy bread inside, which is even better when you dip it in olive oil.

Hubby's mom told us not to eat too much of it lest we lose our appetites for our entrees, which looking around we could only guess how stuffed we would be.

So I killed some time by looking around the decor inside the restaurant, like this painting of a dock. Everything about it is evolved around the sea and fishing it seems.

And although I haven't been to the similar Greek restaurant across the street, I can already tell by the Zagat reviews why this is the go-to place for authentic Greek cuisine. The reviews lauded the chef for his authenticity and ingenuity, while remaining true to the freshest ingredients.

Our dishes came about 15 min later. Hubby was quite happy with his stuffed fillet with crabmeat. I really liked the presentation, because it looks rustic and hot off the grill. I tried a bit of it, and it was just as I expected - full of chunky meaty goodness.

Stuffed fillet with crabmeat

Of course, my quail was more elegant. It came in three pieces, charcoal grilled and all (wings included!). I gave one to hubby's mom, who traded it for five pieces of baby shark, and one to hubby's dad. I actually had trouble finishing mine because the ashy charcoal was a little too pungent, and it was hard to get the meat off the tiny bones.

BBQ Quail

Hubby's dad's pork chops also looked pretty appetizing, even I who don't eat pork wanted to try some.

The entrees are all accompanied by a generous side. I ordered the rice, hubby and his dad ordered hortas which is a Greek green, and hubby's mom got the beets.

Wow this rice was the most tender, creamy, well-seasoned rice I have ever tasted. It was so smooth and tender that I could just eat this for my dinner. Everyone loved the rice. (And the carrots made it look healthy too!)

The hortas was kind of bitter and tasted like mush. It was almost as if someone collected leaves and steamed them. Although I didn't enjoy this dish, I tried to eat as much of it as I could to appear like I'm a healthy eater.

I really liked the sliced beets. Beets are naturally sweet in its own right, but I think they probably marinated it a bit in sugar because this was extra sweet.

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the baby shark, which turned out to be my fav dish. It was surprisingly tender and chewy, contrary to my vision of a rubbery meaty texture. And it came with a side of garlic mashed potatoes, the only potato dish of the meal (I should have asked hubby to get the roasted lemon potato as his side).

While dining, the table next to us filled with a Greek family of two uncles and a small girl. They ordered some feta tomato salad as a starter, crumbling the giant block of feta into cubes before eating, which made me want to ask for a bite. Then they ordered some fried sardines, market fish, grilled salmon, the whole shebang. It was then that I understood the true nature of Greek hospitality - that even with three people, you still have to eat to your fullest.

I also learned something from the table to the left of us, which appeared to be two newbees like us with a Greek tour guide. She explained to them to wait until the olive oil has fully been settled into the bread to eat it. I made a mental note of that for next time.

In the end, the only true finisher was hubby, who somehow ate all of his dish. Even hubby's dad, a champion plate-cleaner, didn't finish his pork chops because he was busy eating the rest of the stuff. Hubby's mom rationed most of her shark away, and I just ate the rest of her shark and the rice and beets. We had a lot of hortas left over because everyone got sick of the medicinal herby taste after a while.

Then to top it all off, they gave us free on-the-house desserts, which is a creamy cinnamon ricotta pudding.

Warm ricotta bread pudding

It was so heart-warming and rich that it was almost a little too much especially after a loaded meal. I managed to finish half of mine, stopping halfway mainly because hubby's mom was saying it was a little too much cholesterol to handle in one day.

I also really wanted to take some of the bread home, but hubby resisted, saying "who takes bread home?" A good food critic that is!

This is a restaurant for family get-togethers, so bring your love and a really really empty stomach!

Taverna Kyclades
** (3/5)
Kids-friendly (with reservation)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Room Service

I know it's been a while since my last post. Sorry about that everyone. Lately it was crazy hectic with the wedding, so much so that I got a little stuffy nosed from all the stress + planning + execution. Thankfully, I'm happy to report that hubby and I are both still happily married (after a week, and counting), although both of us are suffering from symptoms of pre-marriage stress syndrome.

So to get updated again, last last Wednesday (the wedding week) we went out to meet one of hubby's best friends from high school. Mostly to get her acquainted with her "date" for the wedding, who is hubby's best man.

The venue we chose was Room Service, a popular Thai restaurant located on 9th avenue. I read some yelp reviews and perused their menu before coming, and was impressed by their elaborate turn-of-the-century decor.

You get the feeling right off the bat with the Victorian-style lettering on the awning and the nice park chair outside. (We actually didn't know they were part of the restaurant until we saw people dining on our way out. I just thought it was kind of random how there was a park chair on the sidewalk).

I saw this in the pictures online, but it was even better in person. Their signature crystal chandelier felt a bit out of place for a Thai restaurant, but it was classy enough to pull through.

Our friends had already arrived and were waiting for us by the bar. We grabbed a table for four at the back. It was pretty crowded I must say between the tables, as I had to squeeze (really hard too!) between a small space to get to my seat at the booth.

I ordered a Thai iced tea, and so did hubby's best man. Hubby got his usual gingerale, and his friend got an alcoholic beverage whose name I did not remember. My tea was pretty well balanced with smooth cream and dark tea. Unfortunately I drank too much coffee that day to fully appreciate its taste.

I had read on Yelp that their sesame covered tofu and the corn spring rolls were pretty good. So we ordered that for starters.

Spring Roll

The spring rolls did not disappoint. So crunchy on the outside, and inside was a gush of corn and healthy goodness like slivers of carrots and glassed noodles. And it tastes even better when you dip it in the plum sake sauce it's even better!

I was kind of disappointed by the crispy tofu however. Although the first bite is an awesome integration of sesame seeds and tofu, it tasted kind of bland after a while, almost like chewing on a piece of crunchy fried rubber. We probably should have gotten the pan steamed mussels with Thai herbs or the Tofu Tod (crispy tofu with crushed peanuts in chili sauce) instead.

For the entree I ordered the Chu-Chee salmon with thai herbs, butter and spices in a mild chu-chee chili paste with asparagus and kaffir lime leaves.

Our dish came out pretty fast. But during the wait it was hard to carry out a conversation even with the person sitting next to me, because they play some really loud club music.

The salmon was quite succulent, with the meat was cooked to medium well, just the way I wanted. You can't really taste the chili sauce because it was like the menu said, pretty mild. The asparagus was pretty tender too, though I'm not a big fan of it.

I'm not sure which dish hubby's best man got, but it was something to do with chicken. The pictures turned out pretty dark because I didn't want to embarrass everyone with flash.

Hubby's friend ordered a glass noodle with chicken. It was funny because she forgot what they were called and had to describe it to the waiter like "you know, those thin see-through noodles".

Hubby got a pad thai with vegetarian duck with drunken noodles. He didn't really like it because it tasted a little too sour for his liking, but I found it pretty good.

The rice was decent. Although I had no curry to use it for, I ate most of my mound because after a while the salmon gets a little sickening (I gave half of mine to hubby hehe).

Cheesecake with lychee ginger sauce

It was a good thing that hubby's friend is huge on desserts, because I was a little too stuffed to ask for some. We actually ended up ordering 3 out of 5 of their dessert menu - the keylime pie, lychee ginger cheesecake and thai pumpkin flan.

The cheesecake was uber rich and satisfying. The ginger added an extra kick to dampen the sweetness with a bit of fireyness. The lychees were just cute.

I really, really liked the key lime pie. Funny because I've never put much thought to it before, but boy this was so refreshing. At first bite I didn't even know what hit me, other than a cool rush of tranquility. Okay, maybe not that. It was so cool and refreshing that believe me, you will not stop until it's done. (Somehow, we managed to share these three desserts well into the late of the night).

And the flan was amazing. It came in a blue china porcelain bowl, with a few drizzles of chocolate by the side in a zen-like circle. It was pretty hot at first, so my first bite was a little bit of burning sensation. But afterwards, I was soothed by the mildness of the pumpkin, which was actually kind of salty compared to the outside skin, which provided a nice contrast of flavors. Everyone was impressed by this dish. 

I think next time I have to try their signature pad thai, which comes enclosed in an egg omelette (yumm...noodles + eggs), topped with an orchid flower decoration (yummm...orchid flower). Some of their other noodle entrees look pretty good too, and are relatively cheap compared to other restaurants on the block.

Unfortunately, we didn't have much time to walk around Times Square to walk it all off. But we did chat until the parties around us all left and were replaced by newcomers. I think hubby's friend and best man had a good time, which is good because the next meal they will sitting together will be even longer =).

Room Service
**** (4/5 stars)