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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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

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

eating ice, busan in winter (tbt)

Of all the countries I’ve visited (excluding China and the US where I’ve lived), I’ve visited Korea the most – three times. That being said, I haven’t actually seen much of Korea because all of my trips were more for visiting people than exploring or adventuring. So when my sister and I took a short trip to Busan in January 2015, we went to the beach and ate ice. Yeah, we’re all about contradictions like that. But it was good. And it had mango. Yum.

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We went to a place called Binguru just across the street from the Gwangalli Beach, and although there are many, many places in Korea that sell shaved ice, it’s definitely more popular in the summer. I was told that this was Taiwanese shaved ice (baobing) rather than the very similar Korean version (bingsu), but honestly I’m not too sure what differentiates them … I think they’re basically the same. Both use a fluffy form of shaved ice and are served either with red bean topping or sweet with fruit.

In contrast, the good ol’ American snow cone is ground-up ice with syrup for flavor … totally paling in comparison to the fluffy and fresh Asian ices. However, as good as baobing and bingsu are, I could totally go for a snow cone right now.

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

indian food, oh how i crave it (tbt)

Ah, it’s been such a while since I last posted! Shame shame on me. I’m currently up to my eyeballs in work, and am at this moment sitting on a hotel bed in Hong Kong taking advantage of the fact that I don’t have to use a VPN to access WordPress. Hurrah for no GFW!

Anyways, here’s a throwback post from my last trip to India in 2013. The best part of India? Indian food. Ah yes. Haven’t had Indian food since I’ve been in China. Sigh.

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I went to India for the first time in 2012, and it was way outside my comfort zone and all-in-all a valuable experience, but I gotta say, I never thought I’d go back. That time around we were traveling around Delhi and Agra (North India), and we mostly ate vegetarian curries … which I got super sick of after a while.

Then I went back to India in 2013 with some work/school colleagues, and again, I thought it would be the last time. It was an all-around better experience because we went to Mumbai, which was safer and cleaner, and we went in January as opposed to July. And the food! Much more varied. Egg bhurji, chicken lollipops, oh so much naan, and lots of masala chai. And now I kind of want to go again. It’d be nice to explore more, especially cities where you can still see the old colonial influence like Kolkata or Chennai, but I’d definitely stay in the developed areas and travel with a group given all the recent news.

Basically I think I’m getting a bit sick of China and Chinese food and want some adventure. I’m currently in Hong Kong, but still. Starting to get super restless, ya know?

mr & mrs bund at night

I’m not what one would call a ‘gourmet’ or ‘foodie’. I could eat macaroni and cheese all week. That being said, I do appreciate good food. And Mr & Mrs Bund is real good food.

After 11 PM, they do set late night dinners, which are quite the steal considering their normal prices. I chose the two-course set, with smoked salmon (appetizer) and steak with béarnaise sauce (main), with mashed potatoes (side). Oh my gosh. Heaven. Just wonderful. I often find French food too pretentious, but this was simply delicious.

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I’ve heard it gets quite crowded, but on a rainy summer Thursday night around midnight, my group of four was seated immediately. However, due to the rain we couldn’t check out the terrace, which I’ve heard has quite the view since the restaurant is located on the Bund and all. Quite pricey (I ended up paying about 250 RMB), but a fantastic ending to a girls’ night. All in all, a great special occasion or impress people place.

Mr & Mrs Bund
mmbund.com
Bund 18, 6/F, 18 Zhongshan East 1st Road
Huangpu District, Shanghai
Daily, 5:30 – 10:30 PM
Thursday to Saturday, 11 PM – 2 AM

dixie grill: yummily non-dixied

A new little restaurant (er … hole-in-the-wall) called Dixie Grill opened, so I went with a friend to try it out. And the food was really good. Fresh but hearty Asianified American – think wraps, salads, sandwiches, et cetera with a hint of vaguely Asian flavors. Truth be told, I barely tasted anything Asian, save for the obvious use of kimchi in the kimchi pulled pork fries, but everything we ordered was great nevertheless.

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I love Southern food and I love fusion food, but tacos and fries don’t make it Dixie. The food was straight-up random American. And who says Dixie anyway? To me, it’s one of those borderline offensive terms that used to be a source of pride and isn’t in itself offensive, but has all those negative historical connotations that have caused it to fall out of favor. But the proprietor’s not from the South (he’s Canadian-ish), so I guess I shouldn’t blame him too much, even though I’m sure I was rolling my eyes when he talked about the Tex-Mex style as being ‘Dixie’. Sorry honey, but Dixie is down-home cooking like biscuits and gravy or chicken fried steak. Tex-Mex, as much as it is Southern, ain’t Dixie Southern. I think Texas has always been a bit weird to that regard – South, but not ‘the South’.

Naming complaints aside, the food is delish. Delicious. Fried chicken taco was great. Fresh pear and orange juice was refreshingly fresh. Kimchi pulled pork fries were ohmygosh amazing. And the prices are reasonable. The chipotle sauce was a bit meh though. Apparently Dixie Grill opened for business around seven or so weeks ago, so it’s still in its fledgling stages. I hope it survives, if for those fries alone. They were talking about starting up delivery service, which would be a really, really great idea since the place is too small, even though it is clean and bright and in a good location. Try it out. The proprietor’s name is Jeff and he’s very willing to chat and listen to your advice on how to improve his place. And while you’re at it, check out DiscoverWish.com, founded by two guys, one of whom is a Houstonite I met here.

Dixie Grill
688 Changle Road, near Fumin Road
Jing’an District, Shanghai