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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Hao Noodles and Tea by Madam Zhu

First thing to know; do not visit their Web site (link though it'll load for minutes). But do visit this restaurant. The restaurant is airy, delicately decorated and though new, feels nicely worn in. The menu is fun to read (tip of the hat to "Make Winter Great Again") and all dishes are delicious.

One Saturday late last month, our family went for lunch. Every dish was recognizable to us. And each dish was better than we've had elsewhere. The lion's head meatballs were more delicate and flavorful than I've had before. The soup dumplings had incredibly thin skins, the most lightly flavorful broth, with high-quality pork. Spicy chic pea noodle soup (豌杂面) was unlike anything I've tasted. It had that ma la Sichuan flavor with a sort of Tuscan homeliness. Even the fried rice was excellent; each component separately fried to 90% completion before all being combined quickly My favorite dish was the spicy marinated pork trotters. When you order this dish in a Chinatown restaurant, the pork comes on in a gelatinous mess with non-uniform pieces and no real taste of the dry-fried chilies. This is a wholly different experience. SoS felt assaulted by the minuscule portion. I thought it was not filling but still a great value for that quality.

That's not to say Hao Noodles and Tea doesn't have it's problems. Or rather singular problem: service. The five of us were seated like the path a knight takes on a chessboard. It was the most awkward seating we've ever had. Our amicable server didn't know much about the food and even less about the teas. Tea is in the restaurant's name and the two wait staff I inquired with just re-read the descriptions.

If you're in a group of six with an interest in really exceptional Chinese food, family-style, I'd highly recommend Hao Noodles and Tea. Just like Pete Wells.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


Friday night brought me to Wildair with one of my favorite people in the world: Mister Editor. Wildair is a lot of fun. Mr. Editor and I drink similarly and so this was bound to be a great evening. The highlight of Wildair is the wine and trusting Jorge to bring out great wines. We had three wines (a bottle and then two glasses) that were all really interesting, very different from each other and wholly unique from anything I can recall (and we drink well thanks to Greg at Vanderbilt Wine Merchants).

We ate:

  1. Bread (with olive oil) - bread was fine but the olive oil was pretty ethereal.
  2. Half dozen oysters - fine
  3. Half dozen clams with XO sauce and some sort of chive - intensely great: salinity, spice, sour.
  4. Persimmon, stracciatella, and greens - excellent combination for a salad
  5. Boneless skate wing with arugula - not very interesting, yet flawless execution
  6. Beef tartare - excellent, perfectly chopped and seasoned.
Anyone interested in great wine would enjoy coming to Wildair.


Last week, Chef and I got out for a mid-week meal at Paowalla. (You may remember Chef from here.) Paowalla is the latest and hopefully long-term committed place for Chef Floyd Cardoz (disclosure: I cooked for Chef Cardoz for 5 months in 2002 as an unpaid externship.). First, Paowalla is not Tabla. The experience here is much more akin to Delaware and Hudson than the big Danny Meyer establishments of yesteryear. Paowalla has the tightly fitted tables in a low-ceiling dining room full of windows looking out onto Sullivan Street. Chef and I struggled to recall the restaurant that occupied this space prior. We settled on it being a semi-generic Italian restaurant from a generation or two ago.

Overall, I really enjoyed the food at Paowalla. I look for restaurants to inspire me to make better food at home and prepare dishes I won't attempt myself (e.g., mole poblano, vindaloo, Beijing duck). What did we have:


  • Tomato Kalonji
  • Spiciy Chili
  • Mint Cilantro

The tomato kalonji easily stood out as the most interesting and enjoyable. I think the tomatoes were late summer heirloom tomatoes that the kitchen broiled and then made into a chutney, finally canning it for use throughout the year. Bright. Flavorful. Summer.


  • Sourdough Naan
  • Garlic Naan
  • Tingmo

The two naan were fine. Better than a takeout shop, maybe similar to the ones I make at home (via Meera Sodha's recipe). The tingmo was a revelation. I had never had or even heard of tingmo prior. This was fantastic. It was similar to a Chinese man-tao but wrapped up with a flavor paste layered throughout. I felt sad when we finished the tingmo.

Small Plates

  • Shishito Pakoras
  • Burrata
  • Boodie's chicken liver

The burrata was outstanding and completely unexpected. You have a dish like this and remember the transportive qualities of inventive food with flawless execution. There were moments eating this dish (with the tingmo) that I must have been nodding as Chef spoke, but I wasn't listening at all. I thought the pakoras were disappointing because they felt room temperature or cool by the time we ate them. Pakoras - to be great - sort of need to be their own course.

Large Plates

Baby pig vindaloo was complex and interesting. For me, it was a little too cheffy. The pig was a perfectly braised massive cube of pork belly that had the skin crisped to order and came in the vindaloo. Anyhow that ever orders out for vindaloo needs to come to Paowalla and try it. You get the vinegar, heat, caramel notes from stewed tomatoes. There are a lot of flavors going on.


(Note: I did NOT want dessert but Chef did and that made all the difference) Saffron Yogurt Srikand. I grew up with srikand served at parties and weddings. Universally it was terrible. This was something wholly different. The yogurt was strained thoroughly. And it was good yogurt! I feel like the pastry team may have added gelatin or a potato starch slurry to give it just enough panna cotta giggle to make these amazing fried sweet noodles stand up.

We had a delicious inspiring meal in a lovely setting with satisfactory service. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

2017 Restaurants on My List

So I'll try a different tactic this year and list 20-ish restaurants with hopes to try 50%. Any 50%.

  1. Dirt Candy
  2. Eastwind Snack Shop
  3. Emmy Squared
  4. Freek's Mill
  5. Le Coq Rico
  6. Le Cou Cou
  7. Lilia
  8. Loring Place
  9. Madam Zhu's Kitchen
  10. MaLa Project
  11. M. Wells Steakhouse
  12. Okonomi
  13. Paowalla
  14. The Pines
  15. SriPraPhai
  16. Sushi Katsuei
  17. Superiority Burger
  18. Take Root
  19. Wildair

So that's 11 in Brooklyn, 7 in Manhattan, and 2 in Queens.

Saturday, December 31, 2016


SemillaWe were able to visit Semilla last month for a rare long dinner out. There's a fun duality to Semilla. The food is simultaneously simple and complex. The wine list is short and thorough. The service is not obtrusive but extremely knowledgeable. And though there's no menu, by the next morning you receive a lovely e-mail with the list of dishes we enjoyed. And we enjoyed all of them; some more than others no doubt. Each dish brought either a surprise ingredient, technique or both. For instance, the Carolina rice (a homestead favorite) was cooked in dashi and served in an earthenware bowl reminiscent of Japan. But the rice was 100% South Carolina! The bread recalled my best-ever attempts at Jim Lahey's no-knead bread. We ate multiple servings. The roasted leeks had the most pleasant aroma of tobacco (even for a non-smoker) and a perfect dice of scallops. It was the dish that won me over and something I'll try to replicate at home (without the tobacco leaf).

The only two dishes we didn't enjoy tremendously were the butternut squash and the fig leaf custard. The first was like something from the Moosewood cookbook. Nice. Well-made. But a little healthy-tasting. The custard was dull-flavored and texture-wise a bit of a tweener; not quite creme brulee, but not the texture of zabaglione.

Semilla is a special occasion restaurant. Plain and simple (see footnote). And if the occasion is enjoying many well-conceived dishes that spur your mind, then it's perhaps the top spot in New York.

I want to highlight the setting. The design is a u-shaped bar where any of the staff can walk up to any of the dining patrons. The lighting is subtle and bright enough to enjoy the visual appeal of each dish. If I ever opened a restaurant, this feels like a blueprint I'd look to.

Footnote: You can't simply walk in for a bite. You can't walk in for a meal. We saw a few people walk in from the street only to be turned away since they hadn't reserved.