New York: Lobster rolls, Korean fried chicken, Burgers, and Arepas!

I ate a lot (and I do mean a LOT) when I was in New York, but one of the most memorable foods I tried was the lobster roll at Luke’s Lobster.

I mean, just look at that baby. Chunks of perfectly cooked lobster, sandwiched between the lightest bread roll imaginable – and they even fry the roll in butter so it’s perfectly crisp. They keep it simple at Luke’s, and the roll is simply seasoned with a dash of pepper and some mayo – but my goodness it’s good. It was utter perfection. I’d heard a lot about lobster rolls (mostly from Catty), and now I know exactly why she was raving about them.

The only bad thing about those lobster rolls are the fact that I can’t get them here. Hawksmoor Seven Dials do have lobster rolls on their menu, but I honestly cannot stomach paying £25 for a lobster roll, especially not when it only costs $15 in New York. Sigh. Luke’s Lobster has absolutely spoilt me, for life.

There are several branches of Luke’s Lobster around New York – I went to the one in the Upper East Side, as well as the one in East Village. Whilst the Upper East Side store has more seats and had a better atmosphere, I preferred the East Village one. This is primarily because there was an excellent arepa bar right next to Luke’s Lobster East Village…

Luke’s Upper East Side
242 East 81st Street (southwest corner of 81st St and 2nd Ave)
212.249.4241

Luke’s East Village
93 East 7th Street (northeast corner of 7th St and 1st Ave)
212.387.8487
www.lukeslobster.com/

So Luke’s is next to an arepa bar. But what are arepas? I won’t lie, I had no idea either. Stephane mentioned Caracas Arepa Bar to me, and I was intrigued by it as its definitely not something I’ve seen in London. They are very popular in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. The best description of arepas are probably found on Caracas’ website:

Pale gold arepas, made from scratch daily, they have been described as “dense yet spongy corn-flour rounds, pitalike pockets, corn muffins, cake-swaddled mélange, white corn cakes, Latin sloppy Joe, sandwiches of a flat cornmeal patty, soft and smooth within, golden crispiness, tasty treats, burrito-killer, panini-killer, wheat-free, gluten-free crisp on the outside, steamy-soft in the middle…”

Their menu is divided into several sections: Arepas, Empanadas, Salads, Plates, Sidekicks, Beverages and Desserts. The arepa section of the menu is designed for quick ordering and serving, and are coded A1-A20.

Papelón con limón ($3.50) This was a refreshing blend of dehydrated sugar cane and limes – this was very good, and brought me back to my younger years *cough* where I used to drink it (I fondly remember it as “air tebu”).

We also tried Yoyos ($5.50), which were described as fried sweet plantain balls stuffed with white cheese on the menu. It sounded so strange that I simply had to try it. I mean, plantains and cheese? Really?? But you know what, it wasn’t bad at all! Taste wise, it reminded me of kuih kodok, a Malaysian kuih made from bananas and flour.

But of course, I was here for the arepas – which were delicious. We tried a a few different flavour combinations, but my favourite was the A20 – La Sureña ($ 7.50). This arepa was filled with grilled chicken and chorizo, paired with avocado slices, and topped with enigmatic spicy chimi-churri sauce. Caracas also has a special sauce which can be used with pretty much everything you order – and you know what, it was seriously addictive. I have no idea what was in it, but I suspect it was a mixture of herbs and possibly mango/papaya. R loved the sauce, and liberally doused his arepa in it.

A15 Los Muchachos ($7): grilled chorizo, spicy white cheese with jalapeños and sauteed peppers

A18 La de Pernil ($7): roasted pork shoulder with tomato slices and a spicy mango sauce

A word of warning though – arepas are NOT date food. It gets messy, especially if you order an arepa with a stew based filling. So yes, not a good place for first dates. Otherwise its a total win.

We also tried an empanada, just because. The De Carne Mechada ($5.75) was filled with shredded beef, and was pretty good. I have to admit that my favourite bit of the the whole thing was the crispyness of the perfectly deep-fried pastry. So calorific, but oh-soooo-good.

Caracas Arepa Bar (Manhattan)
93 1/2 E 7th Street (corner of 1st Ave)
212.529.2314
http://www.caracasarepabar.com/

One of the other things I was really looking forward to trying was Korean fried chicken. I’d been told to try Kyochon, and so I did. And I almost cried with joy (and heat) when I took my first bite of their delicious DOUBLE fried chicken wings. That right people, double fried. These were by far, the best fried chicken wings I have had. Ever. The double frying process makes for a very crispy chicken wing, and I wolfed everything down, skin and all. I usually try to not eat too much chicken skin, but Kyochon chicken skins were too good to not eat. After all I couldn’t let R have all the fun now could I?

The chicken wings come in two flavours, Soy & Garlic and Hot & Sweet. You can either get them in Regular ($17.99) or Large ($25.99). I honestly cannot remember how many wings were in the Large box, if anyone knows please let me know. There were at least 20, I think. But yes, the flavours. I am forever grateful to the lady at the counter who suggested we order half and half (we were going to get an entire box of spicy wings), because the hot wings were very, very spicy. I was tearing up, my nose was running, and my mouth was on fire. So if you’re not someone who can tolerate ultra spicy things (I love chilli, but this was honestly too much for me!), I would highly recommend going for the Soy & Garlic version. Much more enjoyable when you’re not feeling like you might just burst into flames at any moment.

I believe Kyochon also sell some other food items, but I have no idea what they are. All I wanted (and tried) was the chicken wings. There is also Bonchon (just a few steps away) that serve Korean fried chicken, but I didn’t get a chance to try their version. They *so* need to bring Korean fried chicken to London….

Kyochon
319 5th Ave (corner of 32nd Street)
http://www.kyochon.us/

And of course, I could not have gone to New York and not tried the burgers at Shake Shack. I’d checked out their menu beforehand (because that’s exactly what food obsessed people do) and was particularly intrigued by the Shake Stack.

I’m not surprised I was intrigued by the sound of it. The Shake Stack ($8.50) is one of the BEST burgers I have ever sunk my teeth into. It was essentially a cheeseburger served with a crisp fried portebello mushroom, topped with melted muenster and cheddar cheese. There was also the usual burger toppings – lettuce, tomato and their very own ShakeSauce. I always choose to add a portebello mushroom to my burger when I’m at Byron (I like the extra meatiness it brings to the burger), and having it deep fried with a crisp crust was simply a-ma-zing. I thought the beef was good, but not as good as the beef at Byron – but when it comes to the topping/crispy portebello mushroom/cheese stakes…. Shake Shack wins. Hands down.

We also tried the Cheeseburger (Single $4.00, Double $6.50). One thing I noticed about the burgers in New York was how good the cheese was. I’m not sure what cheese they used, but there just seemed to be more of it, and it seemed a lot more flavoursome than the cheese we get in burgers back in London. This cheeseburger was no exception. Whilst it was good, it just didn’t have a crispy portebello mushroom…

Shake Shack also do Frozen Custards, which is a mix of soft serve and ice cream. They cycle the flavours, and there is a daily special – which means you could go there every single day of the week and get a different flavour each day. I must admit that I didn’t get a chance to try this, but I will definitely aim to try it the next time I find myself in a Shake Shack. That is the down side of constant snacking… there’s less space for heavy duty things like shakes.

Shake Shack (Theater District)
691 8th Avenue (southwest corner of 8th Ave and 44th St)
646.435.0135
http://www.shakeshack.com/

I also have to mention Five Guys Burger, which was only a few blocks away from our hotel. Whilst I didn’t think they were as delicious as the Shake Shack burgers, what I liked was how you could personalize your burger. When ordering, you get a whole list of toppings to choose from, and you can pick as many/as little as you like. So beware if you order a cheeseburger, and say “no” to toppings – that will mean you don’t even get lettuce with your burger!

The best thing about Five Guys Burger was their Cajun Chips. Perfectly fried chips, with a delicious spiced powder blend doused liberally over them. There were hints of paprika, cumin, and probably at least 5 other spices. We got a regular serving of fries (which was HUGE), became full halfway through, but still continued eating them because they were too good. And then proceeded to feel absolutely stuffed for the next 2 hours, but it was worth it. Also, I don’t think there was a time when I wasn’t feeling stuffed in New York anyhow.

Five Guys Burger
36 W 48th Street (between 5th and 6th Ave)
212-997-1271
http://www.fiveguys.com/

I think I need to start planning my next trip to New York… soon.

Ham and cheese pancakes

There’s nothing more irresistible than a stack of freshly cooked pancakes. Maybe its the novelty of it being a “weekend” breakfast, or maybe its the excuse to overindulge in maple syrup – who knows?

Some of you probably know that my favourite pancakes are Bill Granger’s ricotta hotcakes. Truth be told, I’ve not made any other types of pancakes since I discovered those little morsels of goodness… (I don’t make pancakes very often – I’m usually too hungry and therefore lack the patience to make them). But since Pancake Tuesday was coming up, I figured that it was time to try something new.

Whilst I’ve got a massive sweet tooth, I do still love a good savoury dish. So I thought to myself “I should try to make a savoury pancake”. And so I did.

I adapted Bill Granger’s (yes Bill again) buttermilk pancake recipe to make these – I left out the sugar, and added some salt and pepper in its place. I also separated the egg whites and yolks, and beat the whites separately before folding them into the pancake mixture. This is because I have found that this results in a lighter, fluffier pancake.

I served the pancakes with some honey roasted ham and gouda cheese, and topped the pancake stack with some salad leaves and a drizzle of truffle infused oil. And you know what, it was a brilliant combination. A refreshing change from sweet pancakes, especially if you’re not a fan of sweet breakfast/brunch dishes. Definitely something I will be making again. 🙂 I might even experiment with adding the ham and cheese into the actual pancake batter…

Do try this if you’re in the mood for something a little different!

Happy Pancake Day, everyone!

Ham & cheese pancake stack
Adapted from a recipe in Bill’s Food

For the pancakes:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 3 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 3 cups buttermilk*
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, separated

To serve:

  • Ham
  • Cheese of your choice
  • Salad leaves (optional)
  • Truffle infused oil (optional)

1. Place the flour, baking powder, baking powder, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Mix well.
2. Add the egg yolks, melted butter and buttermilk to the flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Don’t worry if there are still some lumps in the mixture – don’t be tempted to overmix as it will result in a dense and stodgy pancake.
3. Whip the egg whites (in a stand mixer or with a handheld whisk) until they form soft peaks.
4. Fold the egg whites into the pancake batter mixture, until just combined.
5. Spoon 1/2 cup of batter into a oiled non-stick pan over medium high heat. Flip the pancake when bubbles start to appear on the surface of the pancake, and when the edges are starting to dry out. Once flipped, cook for a further minute. Remove and keep warm.
6. Repeat with remaining pancake batter, until all the batter is used up.
7. Serve with ham, cheese, salad leaves and a drizzle of truffle infused oil.

*No buttermilk? Make your own – add 1 tablespoon lemon juice to 1 cup milk. Leave to stand for 5 minutes. Voila, homemade buttermilk!

Pancake Tuesday!

I’ve been home for more than a week now, and I can’t believe how quickly time has flown by. This time next week, I’ll be getting ready to head back to London, eep.

Being in UK for the last 7 years has meant I’ve forgotten about how busy it gets during Chinese New Year. It’s been rather hectic over the last few days, with all the home visits and family gatherings – but rest assured that this has not stopped me from taking lots of photos! And for once I think I may just have more photos of people than I do of food in my camera. It’s been great fun though, and things should get slightly less busy now as it usually does around the 3rd day of Chinese New Year (for those of you who don’t know, we Chinese go all out, and the celebration lasts for a full 15 days).

Although I’ve been surrounded by lots of red & gold decorations, as well as lots of Chinese/Malaysian food, I didn’t want to miss the chance to post something on Pancake Day (even though it’s not in line with my plan to have Chinese New Year related posts). I’m a massive fan of pancakes, and try to make them whenever I can. I still remember the first time I made pancakes – they were upsettingly thin and dare I even say.. not fluffy in the very least! But practice always helps, and after many many experiments, I have found my favourite pancake recipe: none other than the lovely Bill Granger’s ricotta hotcakes.

I have previously blogged about these little babies, but as it IS my favourite pancake recipe, I hope that you will forgive me for blogging about the same thing. What I can say is that I now am able to make them fluffier than I could previously – I used to flatten the pancakes with my spatula as I thought this would make it brown more evenly, but I then realised that this meant my pancakes would flatten out and be less ‘fluffy’. So the best way to do this is definitely to just pour the batter onto the pan, and resist the urge to mess around with it! 😛

Bill’s original recipe calls for these hotcakes/pancakes to be served with bananas and honeycomb butter, but as I have never been one for following recipes to the T, I’ve always served it with the fruits I have on hand. I previously served them with a mix of summer berries (which I buy frozen from Waitrose – they come in really handy I must say!), and this time, I went for blueberries instead. And of course, lots and lots of maple syrup.

You can find the recipe for these lovely ricotta hotcakes here. A special mention goes out to the lovely Mowie, who introduced me to these in the first place – for which I am very thankful!

I hope you do try these, even if it’s not today. I promise it’ll be worth it. (And if ricotta pancakes are not your thing, maybe you’ll prefer these chocolate chip pancakes.)

Happy Pancake Day, everyone!

Upper Street @ Angel, Islington

First of all, I must sincerely apologise for the shocking lack of posts in the last two weeks. Planning R’s birthday present, meal and cake definitely took my (very) fickle mind a long time, but I was quite happy with how it all turned out. Will post about it sometime in the near future – I have a shocking backlog of posts like you would not believe. Eeep! This is precisely why I respect bloggers like Lorraine, she’s amazing and manages to find time to blog everyday – no easy feat, let me tell you.

But yes, let me stop rambling and introduce you to the yumminess of Upper Street. Now, I have to admit that I had never, ever eaten anywhere in Angel before this year. Shocking really, considering it’s actually not too far from where I’ve lived for.. well. Only five years. 😛 A friend who lived in the Highbury & Islington area was completely appalled by this, and thanks to her, I discovered some really interesting restaurants/cafes.

Fig & Olive is a pretty restaurant located halfway along Upper Street, which serves what they describe as “Modern European” cuisine. I’m a complete sucker for good decor, and Fig & Olive ticks all my boxes. Just look at those cool lamps!

[Please be forewarned that I could be making up the names of the following dishes as this meal took place quite a while ago.]

First up is the crabcake served on a bed of creamed spinach and mayo. I know crabcakes seem a tad boring, but this one was seriously good. The breadcrumbed exterior is beautifully crisp, and you are greeted with gooey crab goodness when you cut through it. The spinach (or what I remember to be spinach – please correct me if I’m mistaken) was a great pairing, as it had just the right amount of salt to complement the sweetness of crab meat.

The vodka flame grilled calamari salad is seriously good, and is one of my favourite ways to eat calamari. The salad itself is nothing special, but it’s worth a try for the calamari alone. There’s just the right amount of burnt-ness in the calamari, and although the you get a mild hint of the vodka, it’s by no means overwhelming.

The duck served with a cherry sauce and sauteed potatoes was interesting, but if I remember correctly – it was a little on the salty side. R felt that there were too many potatoes served on the side, and had to leave quite a bit behind.

The slow roasted pork leg with mash looked like a ridiculously huge dish, but in reality, there wasn’t too much meat on the bone (and I actually managed to clean my plate). Again, there may have been (possibly) too much mash, but I have never been one to say no to potatoes. Another thing to note that the sauce for this dish seemed remarkably similar to the sauce of the duck dish….

Fig & Olive does serve desserts, which are displayed beautifully by the entrance of the restaurant. However, we decided to not have dessert here as I had something else in mind…. cakes from Ottolenghi! 🙂 This restaurant is serves simple yet delicious food with a Mediterranean influence. Now, I have never actually eaten the food at Ottolenghi as I have always been too hungry to wait it out in the long queues for a table, but I’ve had the cakes and pastries (taken away and slowly devoured at home), and I must say that they are absolutely gorgeous.

The pastries at Ottolenghi are displayed in the most beautiful fashion, with platters of delicious looking creations sitting atop colourful stools of varying heights. I didn’t manage to get a photo of the displays, but trust me when I say you’ll find it hard to not swoon if you’re a dessert lover such as myself. But it’s not just the way they display the desserts which has me constantly raving about Ottolenghi, it’s the yummy desserts….

Raspberry mascarpone tart, topped with a berry jam/coulis. The crumbly pastry crust was just delightful, especially when paired with the sweet mascarpone filling.

Vanilla cupcake, topped with a vanilla bean frosting and some blueberries. The cupcake was light and fluffy, and I really enjoyed this. I also liked that the frosting was not overly ‘sickly’, which sometimes happens with some cupcake frostings.

Lemon semolina tart. I got this because I love polenta in cakes and muffins, and I figured that semolina would taste similar. I actually find that I prefer polenta to semolina when it comes to cakes as the texture of polenta is more evident (I hope that makes sense!). It doesn’t take anything away from this tart though, as it was very refreshing – a tad too much lemon sugar syrup over the top though.

Carrot cake with a cream cheese frosting. This was lovely – just the right amount of spices to balance out the sweetness of the carrots. I think they also used cardamom in their spice mix, which I’m not a huge fan of, so that meant the cake lost some of it’s appeal. The cream cheese frosting was awesome though.(which cream cheese frosting isn’t?) 😛

Now this is where is gets tricky. I think this was a custard tart…. but I can’t say for sure. This is what happens when you buy too many desserts. I might have also semi-erased this from my mind as this was the pastry I liked the least. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t live up to my high expectations of Ottolenghi.

And whilst I’m on the subject of Ottolenghi, here are some photos of other sweet treats I’ve had here in the past: (I try something new everytime I go there, and they have such a wide selection that it’ll be a while before I revisit these)

Passionfruit custart tart, topped with a soft meringue frosting. Just look at this tart, it’s so beautiful that it was I knew I had to try it the moment I laid my eyes on it. How I wish I could pipe that well! The crumbly tart case is baked to perfection, and the passionfruit pips add texture to the soft meringue which is already delicious.

Lemon (I think) polenta cake, topped with a lovely simple sugar icing. This was the first time I had eaten polenta in a cake, and I fell in love almost instantly. I really enjoyed the textures in the cake, and I suspect there may have been some sort of ground nuts in it as well. This is a cake I would buy each time I visit Ottolenghi (unfortunately they didn’t have any the second time I dropped by, sniff).

Hazelnut meringue, with gooey caramel on the inside. I could not resist buying one of these giant meringues as they looked sooo inviting (I seriously think I have a problem). The meringue was beautifully crisp like how all meringues should be, with a great hazelnut aftertaste. The caramel slathered on the innards of the meringue was a pleasant surprise, but one I only enjoyed for a few mouthfuls as it got seriously too sweet (i.e. it hurt my teeth) after a while. Didn’t stop me from eating up the rest of the meringue though, I just left out the caramel-y bits.

So yes. These are two of my favourite places to eat in Islington, and I hope I’ve managed to convince you that they are worth a try if you happen to be in the area. 🙂 If anyone has tried the (non-sweet) food at Ottolenghi, I would be very interested to hear what you think about it.

Don’t you just love the look of the stacked meringues? So pretty.

Ottolenghi
287 Upper Street
London N1 2TZ
http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/

Fig & Olive
151 Upper Street
London N1 1RA
020 7354 2605

Bill Granger’s Ricotta Hotcakes

I only got to know of Bill Granger earlier this year, when his show began to air on UKTV Food/Good Food channel. R actually started watching the show first as I was busy stressing out over exams at the time, and told me that Bill Granger cooked the “most amazing looking scrambled eggs ever”. And when I started watching his show, I grew to really like Bill, and the simplicity of his food. The sun and beaches in his show certainly lend a helping hand as well!

But to get to the point, I knew I had to make these ricotta hotcakes when I saw them on Mowie’s blog. And I must say it’s hard to describe how I felt when I first had these ricotta hotcakes – but I can tell you it went along the lines of “mmmmmm ohmygod this is so good, I must make more tomorrow”. 😛

These hotcakes are truly one of the best pancakes/hotcakes I’ve ever had, as they are delightfully light and fluffy (even lighter than my favourite go-to pancake recipe!), with the random bits of ricotta every now and then. And when topped with maple syrup and some fruit, these make for a perfect weekend brunch.

Bill Granger’s Ricotta Hotcakes
Tweaked from Mowie’s adaptation of Bill’s recipe

  • 250g ricotta
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 4 eggs, seperated
  • 1 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • some butter, to cook hotcakes

1. Pour milk into mixing bowl, and add egg yolks. Mix till just combined.

2. Add flour, baking powder and salt and mix.

3. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, and gently fold through batter.

4. Lastly, add ricotta and mix. (Take care to not overmix as you want to have chunky bits of ricotta to bite into later on!)

5. Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat, then grease lightly with butter. (I tend to use a small dollop, and then wipe the excess off with a kitchen towel so it doesn’t get overly greasy.)

6. Pour 1/2 cup of batter (per hotcake) into the pan. Cook on one side until little bubbles appear (~2 minutes), flip over, and cook on the other side for about 1 minute. (I only cook one at a time, so I keep the hotcakes warm in a low heat oven.)

7. Serve with a generous sprinkle of icing sugar, maple syrup, and fruits of your choice! (I have yet to try this with yogurt or jam, but I’m sure it’d taste just as good.)