brunching and the swing of things

For some reason I’ve let this blog just slide on by. Sadness. So now that I’ve been in New York over a year, am busy as heck with work but otherwise fairly settled, and it’s SUMMER again, here’s to getting back into the swing of things with a nice, simple, easy post on one of my favorite topicsfood. And not just any food, but brunch food.

Before moving to New York I always associated ‘brunch’ with ‘after-church Sunday brunch’ or ‘late breakfast brunch’, but in New York, brunch is something altogether different. It’s typically an hours-long meal with friends that implies, a) it’s the weekend, b) you woke up when the sun is already high in the sky, and c) there’s day drinking involved. Granted, alcohol isn’t required for a successful brunch, but at Vynl, one of my go-to brunch spots (due in part to not being overly crowded, having solidly good food, and being within walking distance to my house), I highly recommend their frozen mimosas. Yum. I’ve heard Vynl has a good happy hour as well, but I’ve only ever been for brunch, so to me, Vynl is a solid brunch place.

Last weekend I went to Vynl with my roommates for brunch. They went to the gym beforehand, while I slept in and met them later. Despite having just worked out, they ordered the chicken and waffles, and the chicken chilaquiles, and I, who have never been particularly health-conscious, ordered the biscuits and gravy (pictured). Oh so yum. Isn’t it amazing how good food makes you so easily forget your diet? Not me (because I’m not a dieter), but I find it such a sight when girls in workout gear are chowing down … I guess it balances out?

Vynl
756 Ninth Avenue
(between West 50th and 51st Streets)
Hell’s Kitchen, New York, NY

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ramen weather!

When it starts getting chilly outside, nothing satisfies the soul better than a nice warm bowl of ramen. It’s quite solidly fall these days, and now that daylight savings is over (I hope you remembered to change your clocks!), it’s darker earlier. Which means that I want nothing more than to curl up in bed and hibernate through winter. But since that’s not an option (or at least not a viable option if I want to maintain my health/work/life), thank goodness there’s ramen. Nothing makes you feel like a human faster than being warmed from the inside out and left happy and full.

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Totto Ramen
464 West 51st Street
(between 9th and 10th Avenues)
Hell’s Kitchen, New York, NY

gin + tonic + tapas = cata

Over in the Lower East Side is a restaurant called Cata, which, although not my normal vibe, is definitely yum. It’s a Spanish tapas place known for their gin and tonics and it would probably make a great date place. It’s somewhat pricey, but on par for restaurants of its level in the area. As I mentioned previously, I’m a fan of a good gin and tonic, and my friend H said that any fan of gin and tonics should visit Cata, so off we went.

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And yes, their gin and tonics are pretty good. Quite a few untraditional options too. I had the Thai chili pepper gin and tonic, which was yum. And since it’s an actual restaurant and not just a bar, they had food, which was on point. We ended up sharing deviled eggs, chicken croquettes, and paella – all super yum. Loved those croquettes. I spent more than I thought I would, for not all that much food, but alas, such is the way of New York. Unfortunately, as good as Cata is, on my budget, it might be a while before I’m back!

Cata
catarestaurant.com
245 Bowery
(between Stanton and Prince Streets)
Lower East Side, New York, NY

izakaya mew – the pride of midtown

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Midtown Manhattan has horrible food options. Ask any local and they’ll tell you. Midtown Manhattan is full of quick sandwich lunch options and crappy bars with decent happy hour specials. In other words, food options are usually geared towards the working masses. But since I live in Midtown Manhattan, I know three things: The food options really do suck. But they’re great if you’re looking for Korean. And if you’re not, there’s always Izakaya MEW.

32nd Street is known as “Korea Way” according to the street sign, but no one calls it that. It’s Koreatown, pure and simple. There’s a host of great Korean food in the area: Jongro (fantastic Korean barbecue), Miss Korea (not that great, but decent enough), and Food Gallery 32 (food court with good options but limited seating) all on 32nd Street, and Turntable Chicken Jazz (fried chicken!), KyoChon (more fried chicken!), and Cho Dang Gol (standard Korean) not too far away. In other words, I’ve had a lot of Korean food since I moved to Midtown. But otherwise? There’s Izakaya MEW, which I have been to waaayyy too often.

In basic, Izakaya MEW is a decently-priced restaurant with good drinks, good Japanese food, and a great environment. Its entrance is a fairly nondescript staircase leading down to its basement level, located right next door to Cho Dang Gol. The ramen isn’t too great, but I highly recommend their drinks, sushi, fried baby octopus, and potato croquettes. Wait times can vary from no wait to an hour, but they stay open quite late and in all honesty, there ain’t much else!

So yay for Izakaya MEW, you make Midtown less horrible!

Izakaya MEW
53 West 35th Street, Basement
(between 5th and 6th Avenues)
Midtown, New York, NY

yum yum chinatown dim sum

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I love dim sum. Absolutely adore dim sum. But strangely enough, in the two and a half years I spent in China, I only had dim sum once. As much as I love dim sum, it’s not something you can really eat on your own and dim sum options in Shanghai aren’t as plentiful as one might expect. My sister was in town last weekend so I took her to Jing Fong in Chinatown, which is my favorite best dim sum place in New York. It’s been around for a while and is fairly well-known, but it’s fairly big so the wait isn’t as horrendous as the crowd outside would suggest.

Most people probably refer to it as the restaurant with the escalator. If you’re walking along Elizabeth Street, you’ll probably see a crowd of people waiting outside, and inside there’s a little podium with a guy giving out numbers and waiting times and two big escalators connecting to the actual restaurant area above. Once you ascend (after a 35-minute wait for us, on a Saturday around noon), you get seated at a table (a shared table if you’re a small party) in this giant space that looks like it was decorated by the same person that decorates all Chinese restaurants in the US, and it’s time to order! Ah, the thrill of having to hunt down or beckon for your food, one eye on your plate and the other on the carts circulating between the tables!

Since it had been such a while since I last had dim sum and I do love my dim sum and I had been craving dim sum, I admittedly went a wee bit crazy with the ordering. It’s just so easy! You see food, you point at food, you get food. All my favorite foods! Foods that I only know the Chinese names of! 咸水角 (xián shuǐ jiǎo), 虾饺 (xiā jiǎo), 芋头角 (yùtóu jiǎo), oh my! And since my sister hadn’t had snails in a long time, we ordered a plate of those. Yum. The bill ended up being about $50, which is more than usual due to my gluttony, the snails (not a standard dim sum dish), and the extra food we ended up taking home. But oh, so worth it.

Jing Fong Restaurant
20 Elizabeth Street
(between Canal and Bayard Streets)
Chinatown, New York, NY

grilled cheese for the win

There’s a new restaurant in town and it is beyond amazing. Right next door to CinnaSwirl and actually sharing the same address is Co. Cheese, another sign that Americans are taking over this city. But instead of that being an apocalyptic statement, it’s a glorious one (although maybe not for the traditionalists). Co. Cheese is a sign that not all Americans are English teachers, we don’t eat McDonald’s all the time, and lowbrow food can be darn good food.

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Co. Cheese is a grilled cheese restaurant. Oh yes. But it’s not just cheese, bread, and butter; it’s got options. Back when I was in New York, there was the whole gourmet simple food thing going on, like specialty hot dogs, fancy mac and cheese, et cetera. In a city like New York, known for both the best pizza on the planet and dollar cheese slices, it made perfect sense and I didn’t think that much of it. In Shanghai, where it’s a struggle to find decent comfort food, and where you’re usually stuck deciding between the fancy schmancy restaurant with food flown in straight from France (with its associated prices) or the somewhat sketchy place on the corner with its ten-kuai noodles in a plastic-lined bowl, a proper grilled cheese sandwich is like ambrosia not meant for mere mortals.

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At first the thought of a grilled cheese restaurant was like “those crazy expats,” but upon first bite of a brie, avocado, ham, pear, and arugula grilled cheese sandwich from Co. Cheese, I was in heaven. And instantly I felt three times more American, remembering all those grilled cheese sandwiches I used to make with Colby-Jack on sliced sourdough bread. Let’s face it, as simple as the grilled cheese sandwich is, there are probably a million ways to make one: In a toaster oven, on the stove, with an iron? Kraft Singles, a mix of cheeses, shredded or sliced? White bread, whole wheat, sourdough? Which sides get buttered? Any toppings or tomato soup to dip it in?

There’s just something so great and democratic about a grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese sandwiches are for everyone, and everyone loves ’em. Co. Cheese steps things up a notch by offering a wide range (I need to try the mac and cheese one next) so it’s beyond the standard grilled cheese that I could make at home. But even if it were just cheese, bread, and butter, being that this is Shanghai, where you have to go to specialty or import shops for good cheese and bread, Co. Cheese is greatly appreciated and fills a niche. It’s simple lowbrow food, but it’s so darn American, so darn appreciated, and so darn good.

Co. Cheese Melt Bar
32 East Yuyuan Road
Jing’an District, Shanghai

burger at the camel

Ah, burgers. I try not to be one of those obnoxious “look at me, look at me” Americans because they give the rest of us a bad name, but it’s still pretty obvious that I’m American. Not only because of my accent and the way I project my voice without consciously meaning to, but in my absolute enthusiasm for meat, cheese, and bread. And being from Texas, not only do I like burgers, I am a burger connoisseur. And sadly most of Shanghai’s options land on the mediocre to mediocre-good portion of the scale.

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A bit back I went to The Camel, a pretty popular sports bar in Shanghai, for their Wednesday burger deal (burger and beer/wine for 50 RMB). I had their bacon cheeseburger and yum it was good, but just the standard kind of yum. You know what I mean? Meat, cheese, and bread will nearly always get a checkmark in my book, but it was a bit lacking in flavor and seasoning and just didn’t have that greasy richness I was hoping for. So The Camel won’t make my list, but if I’m in the area on a Wednesday … it’s still a good deal.

The Camel
camelsportsbar.com
1 Yueyang Road
Xuhui District, Shanghai

cinnamon rolls, oh my, oh yes

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The world is a much better place with cinnamon rolls. Yep. Most definitely. A cinnamon roll bakery opened up not too long ago not too far from me, and oh my gracious goodness it’s amazing. Oh wow. Oh yes. I’ve always loved cinnamon rolls, but they are incredibly frustrating to eat. There is absolutely no way to look sophisticated eating one and you definitely need some wet wipes on the ready to clean your sticky hands. That being said, when faced with the prospect of eating a gooey cinnamon roll, who cares about sticky fingers?

CinnaSwirl is a bit pricey, but alas, such is the Shanghai condition. The high price is probably a good thing anyway, because too many cinnamon rolls is definitely not good for the cholesterol level. Oh, and not only do they have a small little storefront, but they also deliver! Woah.

CinnaSwirl
cinnaswirlchina.com
32 East Yuyuan Road
Jing’an District, Shanghai

munching on munchies

Because sometimes you just need a hamburger. And crinkle fries. Especially when there’s free delivery. And if that craving happens about once a week, what’s the big deal?

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Oh yes. I don’t understand why people think burgers are oh so unhealthy. What’s in a burger? Bread, meat, vegetable, fruit (the tomato), and dairy. Right there you have your five major food groups. Granted there’s not much nutritional value in the accompanying fries, but they’re good for the soul, so they’re a-okay in my book.

Five years ago when I first arrived in Shanghai, I heard about this hamburger place called Munchies, which was opened by an American, so I gave it a try and promptly fell in love. A lot of the burger joints in Shanghai are the gourmet kind, but Munchies is more of a normal burger place: good service, good food, and decent prices. The food isn’t write-home-about, but it’s solid. Now Munchies has two locations, although I’ve only been to the one. And I will keep going, because it’s good eatin’.

Munchies
munchies.cn
974 Wuding Road
Jing’an District, Shanghai
+86 4008 008 420

why i like wednesdays: pizza street

Ah Pizza Street, how I adore you! Wednesday is quickly establishing itself as pizza night for me. They do a special deal, two pies for 110 RMB (including delivery) and the pizza’s actually pretty good! Apparently there’s a physical location, but I’ve only ever ordered online. Because when I think pizza, I think delivery and pajamas.

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Pizza Street
pizza-street.com
477 Aomen Road, Block 4, Shop 103
Putuo District, Shanghai
+86 21 6233 5969