Inasal NYC

Are you ready for some honest-to-goodness Bacolod flavor, New York?

A few Saturdays ago, we spent an evening playing the role of *extremely lucky* guinea pigs for our friends Brandon and Nina Vargas' chicken inasal taste test. Inasal is a style of grilling chicken that stems from the city of Bacolod. It lends chicken a very particular and delicious flavor: smoky, slightly sweet, and with a bit of a tang. I ate copious amounts of chicken inasal back in college, trekking regularly to a spot just across Ateneo in Katipunan for a constant fix. It's a dish I've missed sorely since then as there's a conspicuous lack of inasal spots here in New York.

Well, I'm happy to report that this will soon change. Bacolod native Brandon has perfected his inasal recipe and will be bringing Inasal NYC to New Yorkers at the Philippine Independence Day parade fair on June 2. We got a sneak peek of delicious things to come at their home, where we feasted on paa (chicken leg and thigh) paired with steaming garlic rice copiously drizzled with chicken oil. Yes, I said chicken oil—all the drippings from the grill ladled right back onto the garlic rice to dizzyingly yummy effect! They also gave us a taste of their a special Bacolod atchara, which blew our minds before we even got to the chicken. It's a simple yet highly addictive pickled mixture of string beans, chickpeas and onion. Paired with juicy chicken inasal, it had us breaking diets and eating well into midnight. There was also grilled liempo (pork belly), but what really got me excited were the grilled offal: baticolon (chicken gizzard) and isol (chicken butt), which I gobbled up in no time. Rumors are these offal goodies will be available on June 2, and I can't wait to chow down on more! 
If you would like to get your inasal fix, come to the Philippine Independence Day parade on June 2. Inasal NYC's booth will be on Madison Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets. To keep tabs on Inasal NYC, like their Facebook page here.

Manhattan Cocktail Classic: Filipino Fiesta

I celebrated my birthday this year in the most wonderful way: with lots of cocktails and Filipino food at the Bowery Hotel Rooftop surrounded by some of my dearest New York friends. This year's Manhattan Cocktail Classic included a Filipino Fiesta among its slew of events over the five-day festival dedicated to libations. The Filipino Fiesta highlighted our country's many flavors in a way that's modern yet still faithful to the cuisine.
The cocktails were designed by Enzo Lim, Maharlika and Jeepney's master mixologist, and each one was inventive and delightful. My favorite was the Ayala Ave—a mixture of Haliya mango wine and elderflower cordial with muddled lime, mint and ampalaya. Non-Filipinos are probably unfamiliar with ampalaya,  which is called bitter gourd in English. As the name indicates, it is extremely bitter in flavor but is believed to deliver numerous health benefits. It is to the Filipino child what brussels sprouts are to Western kids: an instrument of dinnertime terror. Now that I'm older though, I love ampalaya as much as I do brussel sprouts—and I quite enjoyed the slight bitterness it imparted to what would have otherwise been a very sweet drink. On a hot New York evening, the Ayala Ave was like a refreshing breeze. Other yummy cocktails on the menu: a Mango Gimlet with gin, mango syrup, lime juice and bitters, topped with coconut flakes; and a Kalamansi Collins with vodka, lemon juice, kalamansi juice, smoked salt and dried hibiscus.

A ticket to the Fiesta came with unlimited drinks and food tickets for each of the food stands manned by some of the city's Filipino restaurants and caterers. I used two tickets for a double serving of Jeepney's Pinoy spaghetti, the quintessential birthday party food. The sweet bolognese with red hot dog slivers tasted just like my childhood. Jeepney elevated their version with some toasted queso de bola and crumbled longganiza, and I loved every bite! Kuma Inn/Umi Nom's booth was extremely popular as chef King Phojanakong pulled out all stops with a lechon (roast pig). The succulent piece of pork with a slice of perfectly crisp skin paired with garlic rice and pickled vegetables was so indulgent and satisfying. Zengo's kilawin was another favorite of mine. Kilawin is a Filipino-style ceviche, and it was the perfect little shot of tangy seafood and mango bits on that humid day. Other plates served were Ugly Kitchen's lumpiang sariwa (spring roll), Payag's chicken inasal (Bacolod-style grilled chicken), and D’Original Lapaz Batchoy's Ilonggo style noodle soup with pork liver, scallion and chicharron bits.
The event was sponsored by the Philippine Department of Tourism, and it was a really wonderful way of showcasing our country and all it has to offer. It's been so heartwarming to see how Filipino cuisine has come into the mainstream here in New York as of late, and I am so proud of all the wonderful work New York's Filipino restaurateurs and the Philippine Department of Tourism have been doing to bring our food to a wider audience (Mitch Dy, you are a rock star!). Congratulations to the wonderful people behind this event, and thank you for giving me everything a Pinay could want on her special day!

Long Island City

One of the most surprising parts of New York is oft-overlooked Long Island City. It's just a quick subway ride on the 7 train from Grand Central, but it's a trip many Manhattanites never seem to take. But as LIC comes up with more and more to offer, all this will perhaps soon change. Right now, LIC already offers one of the city's coolest one-two punches: a fantastic meal at M. Wells Dinette followed by a walk through vibrant 5 Pointz (you should actually tour MoMa PS1, of course, for the TKO, if you're able to get your act together earlier in the day than I am).

A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune of glutting myself at the original M. Wells with my friend Brandon, who was a cook there. It was an artery-clogging, heart-wrenchingly fantastic meal, so when M. Wells' doors were shuttered, I felt the immense loss to the city's hedonists, who had to relearn how to exist in a world without foie gras grilled cheese sandwiches and bone marrow escargot (insert #firstworldproblems here). But last year, M. Wells finally opened an outpost at MoMa PS1, and while the aforementioned dishes haven't been reinstated on the menu, they have come up with enough goodies to keep their clientele happy in the meantime. On that particular Friday afternoon, we lunched at M. Wells Dinette's cafeteria-styled digs and yes, they took us to school. We feasted on a tasty rabbit terrine bound with pork belly and dotted with figs; a comforting braised poulet with in-season asparagus, spring onions and young potatoes; and a heart-warming chocolate souffle sprinkled with caramel brittle—and every bite was an A+.
After a satisfying meal and a few libations, we were ready for a good stroll—and 5 Pointz had an approximately 200,000 square foot factory for us to walk around and explore. It had been over a year since my last visit, and it was cool to see what new things have popped up on those walls. There are a number of new pieces but these were my favorites: a Dali painting by Zimer, and an intricately detailed piece declaring Fressen & Gefressen Werden—eat and be eaten.

Towards the end of our walk, we came across this piece by Pablo Mustafa, which made me giggle at the irony, considering the day's activities: 

The PS1 tag is supposedly a vandal's work on Pablo Mustafa's piece but there are rumors to the contrary swirling about. Whether there is some animosity between 5 Pointz's artists and MoMa PS1, I am not privy to, but as long as they co-exist, I will keep coming by for  an LIC fling whenever possible.

How to get there: 

New York in Full Bloom

Every spring, there are a few magical weeks when New York is in full bloom. The most mundane tasks, from walking to the subway to taking a coffee break outside, take on a dreamlike quality, with delicate canopies of pink and white blossoms hovering overhead, curving over streets and lining pathways. Whenever this time of the year comes around, I make an effort to spend more time outdoors, knowing how fleeting it all is.

The highlight of the season is the full blossoming of Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Cherry Esplanade. It's an event that I always look forward to—but not without a feeling of wistfulness. Not too long after the cherry blossom trees turn into fluffy clouds of rosy blooms, the petals begin to fall, leaving only a carpet of pink flowers. With that, that magical season ends, ushering in the dog days of summer. But for one afternoon last weekend, we took some time to sit underneath those canopies of cherry blossoms, taking it all in.

As the cherry blossom season comes to an end, I find myself wishing, as I do every year, that it could last forever. But as with everything else in life, we just have to accept that nature will take its course. We have to let go of some things in order to make room for everything else that life has in store. 

Lucky Rice Grand Feast

In a fantastic opening salvo to a weekend of gluttony, I ate, I drank—but mostly, I got lucky. Thanks to my friend Mitch, I ended up with a highly coveted ticket to the Lucky Rice Grand Feast: a hedonistic spread with Asian-inflected food from over 20 high profile restaurants, as well as an array of beer, wine, sake and cocktail selections—all to be savored 36 storeys above Central Park from the Mandarin Oriental ballroom.
Lucky Rice is a festival that brings Asian flavors to a global, food-savvy audience. Now on its 4th year in New York, Lucky Rice has spread to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco, as well. This year's New York festival featured 11 culinary events over seven days, including a Filipino Feast at the James Beard House sponsored by the Philippine Department of Tourism, and featuring chef Lea Cohen of Pig & Khao and chef King Phojanakong of Umi Nom and Kuma Inn.

With a Culinary Council of heavy-hitters including chefs José Andrés, David Chang, Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain, Lucky Rice doesn't fall short of star power. At the event on Friday, chefs Masaharu Morimoto and Susur Lee were milling about the crowd, while Top Chef Season 3 winner Hung Huynh served up spicy chicken tacos for The General. 

With a ticket to Lucky Rice's Grand Feast comes unlimited access to every bite and every sip that you can fit into your stomachor at least, until supplies run out (I was stuffed to the gills long before that happened). There were a lot of inventive and yummy bites, although for some the "Asian influence" may have been a stretch. Public whipped up one of my favorites: pig's blood popsicles with tomato chili jam and toasted peanuts. I also enjoyed Ngam's Thai pomelo papaya salad, authentically prepared using a mortar and pestle. I loved how Miss Korea came in full Korean costumes to serve up clay pot galbi strips wrapped in shiso and topped with a strawberry sliver. Steamed buns have become so ubiquitous in the food scene that I almost skipped the stands that had them—but I didn't, and ended up enjoying some cool twists on the Asian hipster staple: Morimoto's were filled with eel and foie gras terrine, while Sakamai loaded theirs with roasted duck, lardo Iberico DeBellota and foie gras mayonnaise. Kittichai's lovely hot and sour broth laden with Manila clams and flavored with turmeric and dill was a perfect counterpoint after all the rich bites (and, to me at least, worth struggling with prying clams off the shell while grappling with a glass of rosé). To cap it all off, Spot Dessert Bar served up the cutest little matcha azuki: green tea mousse with red bean filling and a tiny scoop of green tea ice cream.

The stand we returned to the most, however, did not serve food but one delicious libation: D'ussé VSOP Cognac's Yoshino Blossom Fizz, made with D'ussé VSOP Cognac, St. Germain liquor, lemon juice, lychee juice, grapefruit bitters, soda and egg white, and topped with a beautiful orchid blossom. Despite the fact that there were multiple tables giving away sake, wine, champagne, and gin cocktails, we came back to this table time and again, patiently waiting as the bartender continuously shook up magic. 
Eat, drink, get lucky—Lucky Rice's mantra that pretty much spelled out our Friday night. Thanks, Mitch, for one heck of an epic girl's night out! 

Red, Yellow and Blue

There is something magical going on in Madison Square Park—1.4 million feet of magic, to be specific. New York artist Orly Genger has wrapped three large lawns with 50 tons of vividly painted, hand-crocheted lobster fishing rope, turning the park into a surreal and whimsical wonderland. 

I found the art and its juxtapositions fascinating: manmade against nature; the intricate made into something monumental; a traditional craft employed to create the avant-garde. It was a delight to see the art's interaction with the space. Red became a fanciful frame to the tableau of a cherry blossom tree at the peak of its bloom, its petals just starting to fall and carpet the grass underfoot. When I came upon Blue, a fluffy squirrel was perched on one of its cobalt walls, seemingly contemplating the handmade knots as intently as I was. Yellow, meanwhile, drew in people who found its undulating golden waves to be the perfect perch for a photograph.

Genger's monumental sculptures will grace Madison Square Park until September 8, 2013 but I highly recommend visiting now, while the weather is perfect and the park is simply bursting with the most beautiful spring blooms. For more information on this exhibition, as well as Madison Square Park's art initiatives, click here. To see more lovely pictures of the exhibit, including some cool panoramic shots, like The Happily Ever After Project on Facebook!