Home for the Holidays

I've spent the past week in Washington State with my family having the most wonderful holiday break. We met the Mayan Apocalypse with an Aporkalypse; I've been naughty and nice; I've been brewed, wined, dined ... and yes, I've fallen in love

Here's hoping that your holidays are chock-full of love and good cheer! Merry Christmas and have the happiest of holidays!


Holiday Notes:
  • Aporkalypse. On 12.21.12, we trekked to Salumi in Seattle and braved the rain and chilly temps for a taste of those fabled meats and sandwiches. We were second in line for Salumi's last day of service for 2012, and were rewarded with freshly baked ciabatta overflowing with hot and tender pork cheek (the day's special) and flavor-soaked porchetta, as well as a plate loaded with salumi, cheese and olives. We were drunk on pork fat by the time we got up, but as far as last meals go, this was a winner!
  • Naughty. Like a sneaky little devil, I planted ideas in my Mom's head about cooking a Filipino-style porchetta—one flavored with garlic and lemongrass for that Cebu lechon taste. Mama happened to indulge me on Aporkalypse day, causing us to tempt cardiac arrest for a taste of that fragrant and flavorful Pinoy porchetta!
  • Nice. On a crisp and misty Washington morning, I suited up for a run with my sisters and my cousin on a paved path by a picturesque creek. It was nice to get in a work out with my now very health conscious family and find out that my baby sister turned into a speedy gazelle while I wasn't looking! After a respectable run, we had breakfast at Le Rendez-vous Cafe, where I miraculously resisted digging into a tempting pile of Nutella brioche.
  • Brewed. According to Wikipedia, there are 146 active breweries in Washington State—which explains why my sister never runs out of new spots to take me with every visit! This time we went to Snoqualmie Falls Taphouse And Brewery, where we enjoyed a crisp Belgian-style Wit beeer and their deliciously creamy special version of Copperhead Pale Ale on nitro. We also took home a growler of their seasonal Avalanche Winter Ale. Next, we visited Black Raven Brewing, where we took two beer flights to get to taste all their standards and "rare birds." Again, our top pick was a velvety Morrighan Stout—it seems 'tis the season for nitros!
  • Wined and Dined. In what is becoming something of a tradition, the cousins got together to spend a day winetasting in Woodinville Wine Country. There are over 90 wineries in this pocket of Washington State, and we visited two of my cousins' favorite haunts. We had a lovely tasting at Kestrel Vintners, where my cousin generously got me a bottle of the rich 2009 Cabernet Franc from the Winemaker Series that I liked the most. Then, at Patterson Cellars, we sampled special tastes of their great Forbidden wines (not part of the tasting, but a perk that comes with my cousin's membership) together with some fabulous pizzas from The Station Pizzeria next door. My sister got me a bottle of the 2011 Patterson Cellars Late Harvest Roussanne, a sweeter white that I really enjoyed.
  • Fallen in Love. Yes, dear friends, it has happened. I laid eyes on my adorable little lamb of a niece and fell head over heels! The last time I was this crazy over someone was when my little sister Katie and my little niece Nikki (both not quite little anymore) were born. Like everyone else in my family, I am smitten by her smile, tiny little hands and feet, and sweet baby smell. It is pure joy to hold her and I know that my heart will ache when I leave to go back to New York. But for now, I am cherishing every minute that I have with our little angel. She is the most precious Christmas gift anyone could ever ask for!

Christmas Spectacular: BG Follies of 2012

For my last evening in New York before Christmas, I took a walk down a misty Fifth Avenue to soak up the holiday cheer. Fifth Avenue can be punishing during the holidays with tourists and shoppers four deep on the sidewalks. But on a chilly Monday evening lightly dusted with rain, Fifth Avenue was all but empty, allowing me to enjoy the delightful displays to my heart's content. I made my yearly pilgrimage to Bergdorf Goodman to take a peek at their windows and as always, they blew me away.

Themed BG Follies of 2012, they are stunning celebrations of Art Deco ...
Ziegfeld follies ...
Vaudeville revues ...
... and all that jazz!
This Christmas has been marked by far too much anguish, from the families still rebuilding their lives after Sandy to the thousands of Filipinos devastated by Bopha to the unspeakable tragedy at Newtown last week. In the face of so much pain, I think we all feel some guilt for celebrating when so many are unable to do so. While we should, without a doubt, do everything that we can to help those who aren't as fortunate, these events should also serve to remind us about how short and fleeting life can be and how we should squeeze every bit of joy out of it while we are still able to.

Count your blessings. Hold the ones you love closer. Soak up everything wonderful that life has to offer. And my dear readers, please have the happiest holidays that you possibly can.

Winter is Coming ...

For a girl who grew up in year-round flip-flop weather, winter can be a daunting thing. What's to love about piling on thick layers on a daily basis and having to trudge through the gray slush that collects on Manhattan's streets after snow and grime mingle and mate, after all? I bitterly suffered through New York's blisteringly cold winters for years—until I found something to love about it.

A few years ago, as part of my 30 Before 30 Project, I fastened my feet onto a snowboard for the very first time. I went home that day with a bruised rib and a battered ego, but also with a firm resolve to conquer those slopes. So as soon as the next season started, I bought a full set of gear and just went for it.

I was lucky to have a group of similarly enthused friends, so we spent practically every weekend snowboarding and, little by little, I went from a rag doll flopping wildly down the mountain to a girl just happily breezing her way (and only occasionally unintentionally cartwheeling) down the slopes.

A friend of mine once told me that she'd read in the book The Happiness Project that one of the ways to stay happy is to constantly improve at something. I see the truth of that. It made a world of a difference to have snowboarding to escape to every weekend. On those slopes, the burdens of daily life did not weigh heavy on my mind; it was just me getting to know the board and the mountain. With every toeside turn nailed and links finally done right came a sense of accomplishment—a high that would stay with me long until after I'd unstrapped that board from my feet.

When I think about the girl who used to whimper at the sight of snow, she seems like someone from another life. Now, I can hardly wait to rekindle my romance with those snow-covered mountains.

The moral of the story: Find something to love in whatever seemingly interminable situation you're in. Do that well enough and not only will you forget what was so unbearable about the situation in the first place—you might even start to enjoy that challenge-filled time of your life.

Summer in November: Escaping to the Dominican Republic

In the midst of all the crazy weather that hit New York, we slipped away for a much-needed Caribbean getaway.

What I experienced of the Dominican Republic, I found enthralling. In some ways, it is almost disconcertingly similar to the Philippines. The aquamarine waters and tropical vegetation could be on any of our 7,000+ islands. The concrete structures lining the streets of the barrios and the neighborhood folks hanging out on corner stores were reminiscent of rural towns back home, too. Even Cabarete's bustling, right-smack-on-the-beach nightlife could easily be mistaken for that of Boracay. 
But the local culture and flavor, from the unending medley of merengue and bachata on the radio, to the rich Caribbean cooking—all of that is unmistakably Dominican. Shopping for groceries was endlessly fascinating, and feasting on everything fresh and local was sublime.
We were lucky enough to have a lot of authentic home-cooked food. But the meal that really stood out for me was at La Casita de Don Alfredo. I loved the Shrimp a la Papi, in particularthat massive cast iron pan of juicy whole shrimps swimming in buttery cream sauce was positively decadent and delightful. 

The trip was far too short to squeeze in everything that I would have wanted to do so I am dying to come back. I didn't know that Cabarete has very good surfing and unfortunately, we just weren't prepared to catch some waves—so a quick escape to the DR to surf is on my to-do list. This agenda item is bolstered by the fact that the DR is one in a (frustratingly short) list of countries that Filipino citizens living in the US can visit on a whim, as we can simply get a tourist card upon arrival. It's a travel advantage I definitely plan on taking advantage of again the next time I hear the call of summer.

For more information on this lovely part of the Dominican Republic, click here.

Um Segredo: New York's Secret Dinner Party

Better late than never. 

Last Saturday, we were fortunate enough to join the last of chef David Santos' Um Segredo Supper Parties. Chef David, a Per Se and Bouley alum, has been spinning magic out of his home for some time, hosting secret dinner parties that have earned raves from beginning to end. I had been stalking his themed menus for months, salivating over the uni-focused night and wishing I had a seat at the Ferdinand Magellan-themed dinner (for which there was a suckling pig shout out to the Philippines, despite the great Portuguese explorer's meeting his demise on our shores at the hand of our local hero, Lapu Lapu). This was the last Um Segredo dinner to be held in David's home before he brings his vision to the larger public at last with his restaurant Louro (funded in part by this successful Kickstarter campaign), which opens on December 1st.

The journey to the secret location felt like a scavenger hunt, with a scenic tram ride and a bit of wandering through unfamiliar territory before we finally came upon that candlelit path to culinary heaven.
Our group was quickly christened "The Puppies" as we were the youngest and least experienced of the lot—and by the latter, I mean that we were the only Um Segredo virgins among a table of regulars. As one delightful plate after another was placed in front of us, not only did we understand why these folks kept coming back for more—we also wished fervently that we had gotten to partake in more of those wonderful dinners.

The meal began with freshly baked bread and what has to be one of the most addictive dipping sauces my taste buds have ever encountered. That little ramekin with olive oil, garlic, herbs, duck fat and copious amounts of pepper was so delicious, I could've bathed in it. Chef David explained that pepper used to be a very precious commodity to the Portuguese, so the amount of pepper one lavished on food was indicative of one's wealth. For his dinners, Chef David usually uses lardo in the dip—but this being game night, he thoughtfully gathered up duck fat to put into our dipping sauce. It was love at first bite, I tell you, and a mere indication of wonderful things to come. 
The six-course dinner menu consisted of the following:
  • Venison carpaccio with rosemary, juniper, mache and cranberries—my favorite plate of the night partly because it showcased the quality of game meat we were being served but mostly because fresh raw meat is one of my favorite things in life. The venison was very delicate and tender—not as gamey as I thought it would be. Absolutely lovely.
  • Striped bass with tempura scallion, leeks and beet foam—a plate that came with a lovely historic tidbit:  Did you know that tempura originated in Portugal? Now you do.
  • Partridge with wild mushrooms, onion puree and thyme pan perdu—the most unusual and prized of game birds, the meat was extremely flavorful. I was particularly enamored with what I dubbed "country fried partridge." I woke up with the smell of battered and deep fried partridge still in my hair and salivated immediately.
  • Mallard Duck on a forbidden rice risotto with kale, spiced honey and paprika foam—a close contender for my favorite dish of the night, with the perfectly cooked duck suffused with a smokey taste resting on that sublime spiced foam and a bed of nutty-flavored forbidden rice.
  • Hare "Shepherd's Pie" with baby vegetables and a garlic potato froth—our group's most anticipated dish did not disappoint though unfortunately, my stomach did, as I was too stuffed by then to give that bowl the cleaning out it deserved. Chef David explained how he had used his grandma's technique of boiling the hare in vinegar and water to draw out the gaminess. As a result, we had tender shredded hare underneath an airy garlic potato froth. So lovely on a chilly fall night with my glass of (BYOB) Malbec. 
  • Apple roasted cinnamon crumble and caramel ice cream—despite not being a sweet tooth, I was able to locate some back up stomach space for every last lick of this dessert. Chef David served hot tea and strong coffee to go with our final treat.
It was such a privilege to be part of one of Chef David's phenomenal dinners, and I am so excited to see what he'll bring to Louro's tables once the restaurant opens in a few weeks. He assured us that he plans on having more Um Segredo dinners in the future, but in the meantime his focus will be on Louro. I look forward to seeing what his new endeavor brings—but when Um Segredo returns, you can be sure I'll be at that table sooner rather than later.

Autumn Hike: Stairway to Heaven

The last Saturday of October felt like the last carefree and beautiful day of fall.

I spent that day hiking on a section of the Appalachian Trail called Stairway to Heaven with some friends. Superstorm Sandy was looming on the horizon and we realized it would probably be our last chance to enjoy the outdoors in all its autumn glory. It was a bit of a poignant experience walking through that beautiful forest, knowing that destruction would in all probability come. Now that both Sandy and Athena have blown through the tristate area, I'm thankful that we got to enjoy that beautiful fall day when we could.

The hike was breathtaking, with fall leaves in shades of pumpkin, pale lavender and fiery red covering the forest floor and forming canopies above our head.  
We started out at the hiker's lot on Route 94, following a path that wound through a moderately steep path up Wawayanda Mountain. There were some large boulders and slippery stone switchbacks aplenty—hence the trail's moniker, Stairway to Heaven—so it was good to be wearing shoes with good traction. But every precarious step was worth treading to see the view from Pinwheel Vista. At the height of fall, when the turning of the leaves had painted a riot of colors on the landscape, it was breathtaking up there.

It's the second year in a row that I've managed to go out for a fall hike to see the turning of the leaves and every time, it's been a wonderful thing. If you've never done it before, I highly recommend adding a hike to your yearly fall to-do list, too. Fall is a beautiful, fleeting time and we should enjoy as much of it as we can, while we can.

More information on the Stairway to Heaven hiking route is available here.

Surviving Sandy

Over a week ago, I wrote about what a nice "No Subway Weekend" I had, not knowing that New York would shortly thereafter experience what it would be like to have absolutely no subway service for days on end as Superstorm Sandy delivered her promised wrath.
Sandy blew through the tristate area on Monday and was every bit as powerful as promised, causing devastating flooding throughout downtown Manhattan and Hoboken, and heartbreaking destruction throughout the Jersey Shore. Lower Manhattan, where I lived less than a year ago, is still without power, and a lot of people I know from the area have had to evacuate from their homes.

I am among the fortunate ones who live on higher ground and experienced, at worst, a short loss of cable TV and Internet. As someone who has lived through my share of extreme flooding and days of blackouts and water shortage in Manila, I know that I was extremely lucky to be minimally affected by this storm, and for that I am truly grateful.

Brooklyn Heights pulled through Sandy relatively unscathed, save for a fallen tree here and there. Over here, it's business as usual. While waiting for a friend outside an apartment with a downed tree in front, I was shocked to see one resident duck under the tree to go out for a jog and another pull out a bike to go for a ride. Restaurants and bars were open and packed with people last night, and I woke up to the sound of kids in my building laughing and playing tag. Knowing that the situation is dire elsewhere in the city, I am thanking my lucky stars.
Since my friends who needed to evacuate could not be enticed to Brooklyn even with offers of hot caramel macchiatos, I've had to look for other ways to help! This really helpful post on the Wall Street Journal lists a few different ways, if you would like to help in whatever way you can. The quickest way, for now, is to make a donation to the Red Cross by texting REDCROSS to 90999. You can also send an email to nycservice@cityhall.nyc.gov to enlist as a volunteer.

I hope, with all my heart, that everything goes back to normal soon. In the meantime, I pray that all of you are warm and safe, wherever you are.

The No-Subway Weekend

I have a love-hate relationship with the New York subway system. On one hand, I do love how it allows me to reach numerous pockets of the city with just a swipe of a subway card. But on the other hand, it has the potential to hand me the most cringe-worthy moments of the day, whether its witnessing the vermin ducking through tracks or coming upon highly suspect smears of foul-looking substances on its surfaces.

Last weekend, I gave myself the gift of a break from the (figurative and, unfortunately at times, also literal) subway rat race. It was a small adjustment that made my weekend that much better. Instead of slogging to Chinatown on the F, I walked over on the Manhattan Bridge—a method of "transportation" that got me there in the same amount of time but with far more gorgeous views and extra calories burned, to boot (which translates to more soup dumplings guiltlessly consumed—definite win!).

I've spent most of the past few weeks working through lunch so all I've seen of the "outside world" during daylight is the little expanse between my apartment and the subway, and skyscraper-crowded Midtown Manhattan. It came as a bit of surprise to me that while I was chained to my desk, Fall had settled in and the leaves had turned into brilliant reds and oranges. I seriously need to get out more.
In my dogged determination not to travel too far out of Brooklyn, I managed to convince everyone to come to me instead. It wasn't really difficult as the idea of indulging in delicious artisanal grub while soaking in the beautiful views of the Brooklyn waterfront pretty much sells itself. But if Smorgasburg decided to reward me in the form of Yuji Ramen's uni mazemen, I wouldn't be opposed. That bowl of goodness haunts me on a daily basis, I swear.

Now that we're back to the daily grind and enduring subway delays "because of train traffic ahead of us", the no subway weekend seems an even happier memory. Try it out before winter is upon us! 

Smorgasburg Sundays

How does one make Smorgasburg better? Bring it within walking distance to my apartment and keep my belly happy every Sunday until mid-November, that's how!

Since this wonderful food fair set up shop in Brooklyn Bridge Park's Tobacco Warehouse, it has brought lovely doses of sunshine and good eats to my Sundays. I'd be hard-pressed to think of anything better to do with my Sunday morning than rolling out of bed, taking a leisurely walk featuring stunning views of Manhattan and two of its loveliest bridges, and medicating the inevitable Saturday night hangover with a beef brisket sandwich/thick slabs of maple bacon/uni mazemen/deep fried anchovies/*insert other drool-inducing-specimen-of-goodness-here*.
There are some truly delectable eats in this picturesque food fair, my friends, and after a few visits, I've grown partial to more than a few. Mighty Quinn's beef brisket sandwich haunts my foodie dreams constantly: those delectable slices of beef meat with a perfectly charred crust and tender pinkish center topped with crunchy slaw and onions, and all tucked into almost comically small pieces of bread that are more useful for shoveling pieces of meat into your mouth than actually holding the sammie together. I can't decide which plate of food is more indulgent: the fresh and deliciously briny oysters from the Brooklyn Oyster Party or the thick chunks of sweet, salty, lusciously fatty maple bacon from Landhaus. And boy, do I have big plans for those crispy deep fried anchovies at Bon Chovie. One of these days, they're gonna come home with me to be noshed on, Filipino-style: with some steaming white rice, patis-spiked tomatoes, and spicy Pinakurat suka! It will be glorious, I tell you. Glorious.
I am also jonesing to come back for Yuji Ramen's uni mazeman. Mazeman is a brothless ramen, which is apparently quite the in thing in Tokyo at the moment. It's no wonder because it is refreshing, bursting with intense umami flavor, and plain old delicious. Proof: I don't have a picture of it because we slurped it down as soon as the bowl changed hands. But just so you know what goes into it, here's a picture of a magical bowl of uni goodness being made. Oh yes. Come to Mama ...

Smorgasburg will keep churning out the good stuff in Dumbo until November 18, and I intend to stalk those stalls as much as humanly possible. I can only imagine the terrible withdrawal that will come when Smorgasburg closes down for the season ... but until then, I'll take what I can get!

For more information on Smorgasburg Sundays, click here.


This made me smile (and feel a tiny bit homesick) first thing on a Monday morning. This new ad from the Philippine Tourism board is chockfull of everything that makes my Motherland really special. I'm coming back for a visit next year but seeing this is already making me antsy for the beautiful beaches, delicious food, and unfailingly sunny disposition of my peeps. If this doesn't make you want to explore the Philippines, I don't know what will! 

They don't exaggerate. It really is more fun in the Philippines! Come see it for yourselves; you won't regret it.

Sometimes, I can really be full of sh*t

The mind can be a powerful thing.

I'm living proof that "faking it til you make it" can actually work most of the time. With my powers of delusion, I've talked myself into doing a lot of things that quite honestly I didn't truly believe I could pull off. Did I know that I wouldn't have a claustrophobic meltdown when I set out to spelunk a few pitch black caves for four hours? No. But I did know that passing up the chance at something really amazing was a regret I couldn't live with, so I jumped in nevertheless and if I failed, at least I knew unequivocally that it couldn't be done—and that, I can live with. Thankfully, for this adventure and a few others, it turned out that I could—I faked it, and yes I did actually make it. Times like that, I was glad that I was full of sh*t.

Other times, though, my prowess for bullsh*t works against me. For the past few months, I've been slacking off on running and thought it was justified because I felt a bit of pain in my feet. Never mind that whatever discomfort I felt had more to do with my penchant for wearing ballet flats with zero arch support than actual running. But last weekend, I finally had to face the music. The half marathon that I had signed up for with a bunch of friends had finally rolled around and I couldn't bullsh*t my way out of it without getting bombarded.

"You've already paid for it. You can always run-walk-run if you have a hard time."
"You did a full marathon! All those miles on those legs—you can do this."
"You were fine in Brooklyn. You'll be fine this time."
"Come on, you'll get a pretty medal! You know you want it."

Still, I was so indecisive that when my alarm woke me at 5:30am on Sunday, the first thing I did was check the weather. Please, show me rain, I thought desperately, wanting an easy out. No such luck. Wearily, I pinned the race bib to my shirt and put on those neglected running shoes (I also made sure to put my insurance card inside my running pouch in case I had to be peeled off the pavement somewhere in Staten Island). As the ferry pulled away from Whitehall, I watched a beautiful sunrise come up over Brooklyn. No turning back now.
I was petrified when the race began, not having run any long distances since the Brooklyn Half Marathon. But as mile after mile passed and I found myself running and holding my usual 10-minute mile pace, I started to inwardly berate myself.

"You are so full of sh*t! I can't believe how many runs you talked yourself out of when you're perfectly capable of running all these miles!"

Somehow, I made it past that finish line—and did it in my second best time to date, phantom injuries notwithstanding. Oh the lies I tell myself, I thought sheepishly when I woke up the next day feeling pretty darn good—a bit tired and stiff maybe, but nothing remotely approaching an injury.

I hope this lesson sticks—not only because I will eventually hurt myself if I keep running races improperly trained, but because I could have improved my life even a little bit had I not bullsh*tted myself into complacency. I could've made a new personal record. I could've been faster and stronger. I could've been better.

Mind over matter. But please, always for the better.

New York Fashion Week

For me, New York Fashion Week is something of a paradox. The shows are supposed to be about looking forward—defining what we'll be seeing in magazines, on store windows, and on stylish bodies in seasons to come. But for me, fashion week always feels like looking back—on a life that I used to know.
It's been four years since I turned my back on a career in fashion. I'd spent a big chunk of my life dedicated to it: buying trips disguised as vacations to help out with the family business, a couple of years churning out fashion pages for a magazine, a short stint creating and selling my own line of accessories, a year immersed in fashion school, and yet another toiling away at New York fashion internships in everything from forecasting to PR. At the end of it all, I threw in the Hermès scarf and bowed out, realizing that I would be far happier as an appreciative consumer of fashion rather than a slave to it.

But fashion week always sucks me back into the vortex, as publications that I once worked for tap me to cover a show or two on their behalf. It brings me back to a past life where work trips consisted of jetting off to Singapore or Hong Kong to attend fashion shows and store openings. While my life is a lot less glamorous these days, I quite prefer being able to just dabble in the fashion circus. I feel that I'm able to appreciate the experience much more when my mind's not working overtime to wring out as many stories and editorials from each collection as possible. I get to enjoy the show as it unfolds, and marvel in the designer's talent and vision.

As exciting as it was to be in the thick of things with all the celebrities, models, and fashion cognoscenti, when the runway cleared and the crowd started to filter out, I found myself saying quite happily, "That was great! Now back to my real life." 

Greenwich Polo

No matter what your level of knowledge of the game, it is difficult not be entertained by polo. Dubbed the sport of kings, it is a breathtaking thing to behold: these strapping men wielding mallets with such skill and aplomb, all the while maneuvering such powerful, splendid beasts.

But if I'm truthful about why I really love watching polo matches, I'll give you the unvarnished truth: It's a picnic with live entertainment! What's not to love?

The sheer majesty of polo aside, these events are replete with eye-candy, from adorable little children dressed to match their preppy parents to the young fillies sauntering on the polo field bedecked in fascinators and Lilly Pulitzer prints. Our Sunday afternoon at the Greenwich Polo Field did not want for constant visual stimulation, with a picnic beside us that seemed torn right out of a magazine and cute dogs that appeared to be just as fascinated as we were with how many layers of pastel-colored clothes some men could use in one outfit.
It's difficult not to think, "Ah, this is how the 1% lives" while at these shindigs. Polo matches, after all, seem to also be a great excuse to show off some massive horsepower. While we were gawking at a line of sports cars parked by the field, I overheard a man say to his date, "I wouldn't get an open-top convertible. People spit in those." Ah. The 99% gets their street justice, after all.
Economic inequality notwithstanding, polo afternoons are loads of fun. The emcee at the Greenwich Polo Club always has me in his stitches when he accompanies a surge to the goal with a heavily accented, "Tiki, tiki, tiki!" (I still have no idea what that means) And who doesn't love channeling Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when it's time to stomp the divots? Or, if you're like me, bringing divot-stomping to 2012 with a bit of Gangnam Style (that video did not start in a stable for nothing).
The match that we watched between White Birch and Heathcote appeared to be the last of the season. But I highly encourage adding this to next summer's to-do list! Make sure to come in your flowered summery best, and don't be shy about whipping out your favorite straw hat. 

'Til next year ... tiki, tiki, tiki!  

Sheer Indulgence at Per Se

For someone who derives tremendous joy from the partaking of delicious food, indulging in the chef's tasting menu at Per Se is ... well, it's quite assuredly living happily ever after. I must have done something really wonderful in another life because I was lucky enough to be treated to this dinner to celebrate my longtime friend Avery's birthday. When she asked me if I was free for dinner at the East Coast gastronomic wonder that Thomas Keller built, my reply was an incredulous, "What kind of ridiculous question is that?" If I wasn't free, I would make myself free.

Our meal began with some delightful amuse-bouches: a tiny gougére with a melted gruyere center that felt like a loving little hug to eat, and Keller's signature cornets—sesame seed-sprinkled little tuile cones filled with sweet red onion crème fraîche and a tartare made out of salmon belly minced to an astonishingly fine consistency. Then came our first course: Keller's famed oysters and pearls—a pair of perfect little Island Creek oysters alongside a generous lump of sterling white sturgeon caviar, all swimming in a pool of sabayon that emphasized the sauce's bubbly quality with the tiniest of tapioca pearls. The textures are sexy and seductive, and the interplay of brine and cream an utter delight. If you're feeling particularly overindulgent, a serving of Tsar Imperial Osetra caviar with blini de crustacés, English cucumbers, dill coulis and horseradish crème fraîche can also be had for a $75 supplement.
For the next course, I was very tempted to order the moulard duck foie gras since Per Se is now the only Keller restaurant able to serve the good stuff. But we had just been talking about how many Brooklynites apparently had fig trees in their backyards, brought over by Italian and Greek immigrants, and after all that talk, I just had to have them. So out came a salad of black mission figs with Belgian endive, young fennel, toasted almonds and red amaranth, drizzled with aged Balsamic vinegar. I like figs, even unaccompanied, but in this salad that perfectly balanced bitter, sweet and sour flavors, as well as crunchy, crispy and tender textures, they were sublime. In the end, I did get to have the foie gras anyway as I had the incredible luck of being seated next to a light eater. I could hardly believe it when he handed over a third of untouched foie gras terrine but I did not give him any time to change his mind. Dig in, I did, and shivered from the spine-tingling richness of foie gras, getting only a tiny bit of respite with the pickled corn kernels, celery branch and bing cherry (there was a cornbread madeleine, too, but that was devoured before the plate changed hands).

Next came a perfectly sautéed fillet of Atlantic cod, with a beautiful golden crust on top and tender flakes of meat inside. The ragoût of summer pole beans and tomato concassé made the dish more hearty, and I appreciated the crunch lent by the garlic melba and beans on top. My absolute favorite dish of the entire meal, however, was the succulent butter poached Nova Scotia lobster, which was served with pearl onions, petite turnips, and as if I wasn't already enthralled, sweetbreads, too! I would do bad, bad things for a plate of this (or maybe just very willingly fork over $40 and change at the Per Se Salon).
The next few meat dishes seemed anticlimactic after the delightful seafood. I didn't think I could ever be opposed to bacon, but the huge chunk of applewood smoked bacon we were served was overwhelming, and there was no refuge to be found elsewhere on the plate. The cuisse de poularde à la Forestière, chanterelle mushrooms, braised collard greens, and sauce Périgourdine were all rich and earthy, but quite the same in texture and flavor profile, so after a few bites I couldn't have any more. The herb-roasted lamb served with a golden polenta, ratatouille-stuffed zucchini flower, and globe artichoke in lamb jus was not at fault for my not falling in love with it. I shot myself in the foot by having some of the 100-day dry-aged American Wagyu ordered by one of my dining companions. This Wagyu was incredibly tender and flavorful on its own, without need for much fanfare. After a taste of that, you might as well go vegetarian because nothing else will compare. 
Per Se is one of those places that explain, to an almost absurd degree, the provenance of each and every thing on the table—right down to the salt and butter. By the time we got to the cheese course, I suppose I had gulped down the Kool-Aid and needed to know everything. The cheese specialist introduced the cheese served as Meadowcreek Dairy’s "Mountaineer", and said that because the farm is located at a high altitude, the cheese tastes more fresh.  I couldn't let it go as I dug into the dish, which also included a cauliflower gratin, Medjool dates, broccolini florettes, crispy red onion rings and burgundy mustard. Why would high altitudes cause a more fresh taste? It seemed like a thinner atmosphere would cater to hardier plants and animals, and maybe a more concentrated (not necessarily fresh) taste? I was so confounded that they had to bring back the cheese specialist to say that perhaps fresh wasn't the right adjective to use; grassy would've been more accurate but was not necessarily something people like to hear. Curiosity placated, I finished my cheese course and moved on to the finale.

I'm not much of a sweet tooth but I enjoyed all the desserts that landed on our table. I prefer desserts that don't hit you over the head with sweetness, and these fit the bill.  I picked the "Junior Mint", with a fluffy chocolate Bavarois, juniper ganache, and refreshing peppermint ice cream. I was tickled pink with the "Ants on a Log", which elevated the flavors of this childhood snack with Per Se raisins, salted peanuts, lime-celery soda and concord grape sherbet. We all agreed, however, that the best dessert was the birthday cake that they brought over for Avery. Apparently, they've been told repeatedly that the birthday cake ought to be on the dessert menu but they're keeping it special.
The meal ended with a generous amount of mignardises to go with our espressos and Grand Marniers. There were lovely macarons, rolled truffles, salted caramels, and a selection of exotic chocolates with flavors like matcha, madras curry, and mojito. And when we walked out at the end of the night, more treats awaited by that cornflower blue door: shortcake and even more chocolates. I went home in a daze—part food coma, part sheer incredulity at the meal that had transpired. Thank you, Ajay, for the very generous treat—and thank you, Avery for taking me along on an amazing experience! If that night was any indication, you've got one heck of a year to come!

Just Another Day at the Electric Zoo

In case you were wondering, Electric Zoo is still hella fun.

I spent another day at the Zoo this year, and it was every bit as awesome as the last. I find Electric Zoo endlessly entertaining: equal parts ragefest and anthropology exercise. While I personally can't summon up the chutzpah to party all day in a neon tutu, furry boots and wig, I do appreciate the unfailing devotion these party animals have to their day-glo looks. It wouldn't be a Zoo without these crazy kids. 
I came to the Zoo with a merry menagerie this year so I didn't worry too much about the lineup and just went with the flow. We caught some pretty good music even without stressing over running from one tent to another. We danced our little hearts out to Nervo then enjoyed Bingo Players with food, beer and sunshine on the lawn. Somehow, Bingo Players hadn't been on my radar before but I'm definitely adding them to my music stalk list. Yesterday's mash-up of Ni**as in Paris and Walking on a Dream was just too sweet, and the ever-infectious Cry (Just a Little) never gets old (I am a child of the 80s, after all).

The only DJ I was dead set on seeing was Rusko so we braved the steaming hot Hilltop Arena tent for his set. I know dubstep isn't for everyone and lately there's practically a backlash on it but I can't help it I just love raging to those dirty beats! When I think about shimmying to David Guetta in glamazon heels versus getting sweaty as b*lls while rocking out to Rusko, I just get so much more satisfaction out of doing the latter. I suspect I'm just a mosh pit-loving teenage boy at heart.
As much as I would've loved to see Steve Aioki's set, the Riverside Dim Mak tent was packed to bursting.  We had to content ourselves with listening to his tunes and watching him jump like a maniac onstage from our spot on the lawn—though I couldn't help but rush the tent when he started up his mix of The Bloody Beetroots' Warp. I am inexplicably addicted to this song.

My favorite set of the day ended up being Axwell's. His mix of Coldplay's Every Teardrop is a Waterfall and Resurrection was both spine-tingling and mind-blowing, and that mash-up of Sweet Disposition and Beating of my Heart had us jumping like mad. Also heaps of fun: we had some extremely tall and beefy boys in our crew who thought nothing of putting me on their shoulders for extended periods of time. As much as I generally like being my compact little self, I have to say I did enjoy the view of that sea of party animals from high up above.

And so the sun sets on another epic Electric Zoo weekend—and also on this crazy, fun summer. I'm not worried; New York never runs out of surprises, no matter what season it may be.

Dim Sum Sundays

Is there anything better than a no-holds-barred dim sum feast on a Sunday afternoon? If there is, I haven't come across it. 

I love everything about dim sum, from the steaming little parcels cradling all manners of culinary treasures to the aggressive little old ladies that throng around the carts, battling for the best stuff. That I am able to cure nasty Sunday hangovers with massive doses of har gow and chicken feet is a blessing from the Chinatown gods, and I have been wholeheartedly grateful on more than one occasion.

I've been told that it's just as good to give than to receive so I'm going share my favorites for others out there who share my penchant for medicating hangovers with dumplings. It would be great if you could share your favorite spots, too—particularly the New Yorkers who may know the boroughs better than I do. Because nobody wants to spelunk through the boroughs for food when you're already saddled with a hangover.

Some say that Dim Sum Go Go is too Westernized and pricier compared to other dim sum spots. But I like it. When you're having one of those mornings when you just want to plow through piles of shrimp dumplings without having to elbow a little old lady at the dim sum cart, this is the place to go. The biggest hurdle is getting seated as this is a popular spot, but once you're in, it's smooth sailing. Just tick your orders off on a paper menu, sip your jasmine tea, and appreciate how clean and modern the interiors are compared to some truly dodgy spots in Chinatown. In good time, a feast similar to the carnage displayed above will be delivered and you will enjoy it. I would recommend this as an entry point for those without too much dim sum knowledge—and to those who prefer their dumplings without the drama.

The Golden Unicorn is located at 5 East Broadway between Bowery and Catherine Street.

If you want dim sum just the way they have it in the Far East, the Golden Unicorn is your spot. This means stumbling upon odd Chinese medication promising "hard ten days" at an adjacent store while waiting for your table; getting chummy with complete strangers you'll have to share a table with if you're a party of 4 or less; and chasing the dim sum cart to get your share of har gow (that would be the lovely specimens of shrimp dumpling perfection pictured above right—and they are absolutely worth the chase). My last outing there was unfortunate as we were seated at the table farthest from the kitchen door. You don't want to be too far from the kitchen because by the time the dim sum cart gets to you, all the good stuff will be gone. As a result, we ended up getting just decently full and not I'm-so-stuffed-I-want-to-die full (which is obviously the goal). But what we did get to eat was absolutely delicious, and I intend to come back ready for dim sum cart battle the next time around.

The Golden Unicorn is located at 18 East Broadway (at Catherine Street).

I like to think of Royal Seafood Restaurant as one of those truly authentic dim sum spots in the city. So authentic that I once arrived to find my group of non-Chinese friends relegated to the basement floor, where one dourly remarked "they put the white folks." This didn't turn out to be such a bad thing as our very capable waiter delivered our har gow, siomai and salted fish fried rice in an expedient and beneficent manner. On another visit, a friend and I sat with the locals who, at first, were indifferent towards us. But when our order of a large steamed fish arrived, smiles erupted all around. Two tiny girls who can dig into a dim sum feast and thereafter order and devour this huge hunk of fish, they will welcome into their fold.

Royal Seafood Restaurant is located at 103 Mott Street between Hester Street and Canal Street.

Ping's Seafood is another go-to spot where succulent dumplings can be had without the dim sum cart chase. The dumplings are solid, and their pork spareribs remind me of the ones served in Manila. On my last visit, I thought they were a tad heavy handed on the salt and oil, but that could've just been me fumbling with the soy sauce in a hungover daze. Plus points for proximity to Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.

Ping's Seafood is located at 22 Mott Street (at Mosco Street).

For extra credit: Get a scoop or two at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. My favorite flavors are black sesame and taro, but there's a wide range of choices ranging from plain vanilla to ginger. Palate cleansing, refreshing, and plain old delicious.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is located at 65 Bayard Street between Mott Street and Bowery.