Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hole in One!

Everybody has a hole-in-the-wall spot they love. We love.

We eat there when we're in the neighborhood, we eat there when we get a craving for the kind of food only they can provide. We eat there every chance we get.

It's a go-to spot for cheap filling food.
It's a go-to spot to be alone.
It's a go-to spot to bring friends.

We share. We love.

Here's one of my hole-in-the-wall spots. (of course I have several, duhhh)

Bliss Bakery. It's not on any review sites, and it's hard to find. So I'll give you the address. 1412 Avenue U, Brooklyn, NY. It's right next to an awesome market.

Located in the heart of Brooklyn's Avenue U Chinatown, this little bakery offers more than the standard Asian bakery. In addition to the obligatory buns and rolls, this little gem boasts noodles, snacks and various goodies.

I went recently for lunch.
All three of these items cost a total of $4.75

Lo mei gai, my favorite handy snack is a touch different here. Instead of two layers of rice with chopped pork and mushrooms in the middle, everything is mixed together with the rice. This means more than one piece of Chinese Sausage! Yes!

Studded with shittakes and sausage, this sticky rice concoction is cheap, delicious and portable. Like so many good things are.

Tea eggs. 3 for a dollar or something like that. Maybe 25 cents each.
Hard boiled eggs cracked and steeped in a dark broth. The broth should impart a grassy tea flavor in addition to salt, spice and sweetness (everybody has their own recipe). Want to make them yourself? Try Saveur's recipe. Bliss certainly nails the salty and grassy elements of the egg, but the spices (usually 5-spice) are missing in this equation. 

The other item on the plate is a small container filled to the brim with hand rolled noodles and pork.
They literally fill both sides of the Styrofoam clam shell and snap it shut. They cut the extra noodles poking out the sides with a pair of scissors. $2.50 each. What!?

They've got thick noodles, thin noodles, long flat noodles, rice noodles, etc. etc. So, go nuts. Two for $5!

Oh, did I mention that all their baked goods are pretty good for a Chinese bakery? Aptly priced for sure.

They have some interesting sweets and some interesting savory baked goods (four-eye hot dog bun anyone?) but in general I come here for the noodle bar.

Where is your favorite hole-in-the-wall spot?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Viva Guayaba!

Not many North American pastries have guava jelly as an ingredient. But the tropical fruit is a perfect pairing for sweets. It's aromatic and luscious, a little goes a long way, and it reminds you of summer. (which really seems like yesterday)

Fortunately for us, Mexican pastry shops are making guava pastries. And because it's the authentic thing to do, they use lard in the dough. This makes for quite a combination. Slightly savory dough is offset by the borderline cloying sweetness of jelly. Awesome.

Perfect with cafe con leche on a brisk fall morning. There are many more Mexican and Hispanic bakeries around than you may think. After all, who else is going to bake you a cake for your QuinceaƱera?

Here are two guava pastries that I am quite fond of. The first, being enormous, is great to share and has the distinct advantage of being 3 blocks from my house at La Nueva Union bakery.

Two large yellow cake halves are held together with just enough guava jelly to offset the dryness of the dough. The entire thing is covered with sugar. This was the first guava jelly pastry I've had, and since have had it many times. It's led me to look for guava jelly in many other places.

See how yellow that cake is! Also, do you see how little jelly is in there? It's cool though cause it's balanced just right.

In Spanish, the word for guava is Guayaba. So ask "Tienes algo con guayaba?" Which translates to, "do you have something with guava?"

This guava jelly pastry is a little different, and the cafe I got it from had fantastic coffee - strong and hot.
It has decidedly more guava jelly for the amount of pastry there is. It's also a layered and flaky dough. It was no less fantastic than the first pastry, but had considerably more jelly in the middle!

I suggest you go out early, find a nice Hispanic bakery or coffee shop get a coffee and a guava pastry, and close your eyes when you take the first bite.

Trust me.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Vietnamese Addictions

Vietnamese food holds a special place in my heart. I literally could eat it every day. It's a borderline addiction.

Rice noodles, grilled meats, FISH SAUCE. It's all freakin' fantastic.
I can't get enough.

Now that August is over, it's okay to order a big bowl of soup. Still want something light? Get some rice vermicelli or lettuce wraps with mint. Whatever, order out of season; who cares? Just enjoy it.

I've realized that Vietnamese food is perfect for every season. In summer, the fresh vermicelli and cooling mint accentuate grilled pork and shrimp. Salty, briny, sweet fish sauce tastes much better when you've been sweating all day, replacing salts and electrolytes lost throughout the day. In winter, a fat bowl of Pho can nourish you in ways you cannot imagine, warming your stomach and soul. Banh Mi sandwiches are perfect for quick pick me ups during the crunchy leaves and hoodies of fall, or the crisp chilly evenings of springtime.

So here is my favorite place to eat Vietnamese food in Brooklyn. Next time I'll give you the Manhattan goods.

To be honest, I haven't found good Pho since I first discovered it and fell in love in Maryland. (So tell me where you get good pho in NYC!) I've tried places in the city, I've tried pho at my favorite restaurants. I haven't found good pho. Come colder weather, I'm going to need a fix.

First up, for my Brooklyn foodies, is Nha Trang Palace. (I think most of the yelp reviews are stupid, although some are helpful.)

This place is awesome. I love the delicious food, fast service, and ample fish sauce.

The dishes to get?

Rice Vermicelli with grilled beef and spring rolls. They have several variations of this. Recently I went with my sister and she got the beef. Delicious. The choice of meat is less important than the composure of the whole dish. Pickled daikon, carrots and spring onion bulbs, raw cucumber, a sprinkling of scallions and cilantro get the job in ways you have to taste to believe. I would also suggest you pour all of your fish sauce over the top. I also highly suggest the same dish with grilled pork and spring rolls.

Crispy squid with garlic sauce. The squid are crispy, with enough give and chew to make them joyous. The onions underneath and the shredded wilted lettuce are reason to get this dish alone. I fight for them when I share. It comes with a sweet chili sauce I don't even use. The garlic on this is not heavy brown bullshit like at the ghetto Chinese spots that riddle every corner in many NY neighborhoods. No, this sauce is lightly garlicky and sparingly applied. No swimming squid with this dish. Order rice on the side if you like. I usually dip my squid in  nuoc mam, or a mix of hoisin and Sriracha.

Spring rolls! (No matter what you order, get these.)
Served with mint and large romaine leaves, these crispy morsels start your meal off right, whetting your appetite and readying your palate for the pleasure to come.

These are so good, it's hard not to pick them up right away. They arrive promptly and are bubbling hot with oil, fresh from the fryer. Here's what the inside of these bad boys look like. Cheaper places will fill these with a vermicelli and egg mixture to stretch the meat. Not ideal. Nha Trang does not disappoint.

Grilled shrimp on tiny rice stick! In fact, any dish on tiny stick is awesome. Eat with your hands! It's another dish served with mint and lettuce leaves. I like this combination in particular. I also love that the rice stick soaks up a decent amount of the nuoc mam I pour over top. Sorry no pic of this one. It really is a stunning dish both visually and flavor wise. The tiny rice stick is a mat of cold tiny rice noodles that are cut into squares and layered underneath the shrimp.

Another fantastic dish is Marinated Beef cubes over salad. This dish is so good. So good.
The greens in the salad wilt slightly with the heat of the beef on top. It's a fantastic dish that can be called upon anytime you need a big meaty dish.

Oh man, I can eat almost anything here. Stay away from the dishes on the back of the menu that are sopping with ugly sauce and not worth the trouble.

I've been to this restaurant so many times and there are still things I have yet to try.

Although the soup is good, it often leaves something to be desired. So whatever; skip it, there's probably enough food on your table already. A lot of the locals and regulars will be slurping down soup around you; so if you're curious, go for it. I've had better, and I think the other dishes are too good to  pass up.

I just ate here, and I already want to go back right now. Did I mention my addiction to Viet food?