1. Congee Village



    Congee Village 
    100 Allen St, New York, NY 10002
    www.congeevillagerestaurants.com

    There’s nothing more comforting than congee, scalding in temperature, for when you’re feeling sick. Cantonese congee is boiled for such a long period of time that each millet of rice has melted into a porridge state. The balance of the rice’s earthiness and salt is delicious and goes down just right, even if it’s pipping hot and making you wince. 

    The first time I went to Congee Village, the BFF and I ran through torrential rain fall and entered the restaurant half soaked. We tried to hide under the oning of a fruit stall in Chinatown, but neither us or the fruits were kept dry. We decided to just run for it. The faster we ran, the faster we’d get to eat. 

    There aren’t many places in New York that does congee well. In fact, there aren’t many places offering it. (The market is saturated with “Chinese takeout” joints.)

    In Toronto, Congee Wong is our family’s go-to spot for Sunday lunches, right before we have to make a Costco run for water and produce. Other than congee, there’s an assortment of rice and noodle dishes as well as “appetizers” like spicy stir fry radish cake with egg, scallions and preserved radish bits or dough fritters wrapped in rice paper. These are often dipped in tahini, plain soy sauce, hoisin sauce or a whatever combination you fancy.

    On a rainy Spring day when I felt so ill, there was nothing more I wanted than congee. (My roommate ordered tomato soup and a grilled cheese to cure her flash sick day.) If I couldn’t stay in bed, snuggle into a ball while my mom made congee for me in the kitchen, then I was going to order it from a place where I knew could deliver the same nostalgia. 

    I ended up ordering a plain congee and an “assorted” congee. This is always a roll of the dice, but I was feeling adventurous that day. I also felt like dipping dough fritters into the rice porridge and ordered two of those. 

    Ooh, and scalding hot they were! As soon as I got home, I poured them into pots because high temperature and plastics scare me. Although the dough fritters were fresh, I opted to toast them in case a they had gotten a little soggy. What a great idea because they came out to the perfect texture for garnishing the congee with.

    I snipped thin chunks onto the congee with scissors and hit it with a dash of black pepper. 

    The flavour of the congee is on point. The dough fritters are surprisingly meaty. Down the centre, you can split it into two separate sticks, and then again resulting in 4 thin sticks of fried dough. Some places make them very thin, but this was almost the consistency of a doughnut with a nice fluff on the inside. 

    3.75/5
    The dough fritters are greasy, but that’s the point. The grease is cloaked in a layer of glutinous congee and it softens right before the point of entry — into your mouth.

    Toast the dough fritters before eating them for that extra crunch.

    If you’re feeling homesick, coming down with the flu or just simply want this ancient peasant cuisine in your belly, Congee Village is a good place to fulfill your wish.

    —Amy

     

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    Juice Press
    70 E 1st St, New York, NY 10003
    www.juicepress.com

    Everyone’s juicing these days. I see green juice like I see tomatos. I eat tomatos because I know they’re good for me. Likewise, I drink green juice when I’m not feeling 100% and want to feel like my gut is getting the flora it needs. 

    Juice Press seems to be taking over downtown and at a rapid pace. When I first started drinking green juice, I would frequent Organic Avenue or Juice Generation. I like Organic’s glass bottles, but when placed in my bag, they would spill everywhere. Juice Generation has a sweet Hail to Kale I like to get — it mostly tastes like watermelon juice with a tiny hint of green. When I juice at home, I like to pack the kale in and add lots of lemon and ginger. 

    This morning both the roommate and I felt really under the weather. Two days ago, it was around 25C-28C in the city. People were decked out in shorts and girls were flaunting their legs in summer dresses. Today, it’s cold and rainy. 

    "You even brought your own canteen?" Anthony laughed as he filled it with water at his apartment yesterday. 

    "I just feel a little sickness coming on," I replied as I sipped from my Kleen Kanteen. 

    Braving the rain and looking/being that I just rolled out of bed, I decided to head 20 blocks south to get that thing everyone drinks at Juice Press when they feel sick. 

    It was pouring on my way there and I as soon as I retracted my broken umbrella at the doorway, I looked to the fridge with all the juices placed in alphabetical order . There are metal plates on each rack, labeling the letter [A], [B], [C] and so on followed by the drink name. 

    "What do I get if I’m feeling a little sick," I asked the cashier.

    "It depends what symptoms you feel. Is it a cold, upset stomach?" she responded.

    "I just feel a little something weird and want to stop," I said. 

    My two options for banishing cold and flu were a) tropizyme and b) ginger fireball. I was told ginger fireball is more for upset stomach and tropizyme would be a better bet for nursing my health.

    I grabbed a tropizyme ($7.99), a GLO ($7.99. Grapefruit, Lemon, Orange because I’m always up for a good grapefruit juice) and a Doctor Green Juice ($10.99)

    image

    If you like your esophagus attacked by the sting of ginger, drink the Tropizyme. With the first ingredient being pineapple juice, I thought it’d taste like coconut water, but in pineapple flavour. Instead, I got kicked in the throat with the spiciness of ginger and I’m one to juice with half a ginger. This probably makes sense since it only has three ingredients: pineapple, wheat grass and ginger. Between sips, I felt the ginger warming my throat and it actually felt kind of nice. The bottle is tiny and cute and girls like cute things. It’s like a square Chubby, remember those? 

    The GLO was fantastic. I was thinking it would taste like the grapefruit sorbet from il laboratorio del gelato - a very tart taste with sharp flavors from the bitter peel. There is NO acidic residue on the tongue like from other citrus drinks. I think it even cleansed my palette. Out of this world good! 

    Doctor Green Juice goes down very smooth. All of Juice Press’ juice are consistently smooth, which would be impossible homemade unless strained multiple times. I would classify this as a “beginners juice” since you can barely taste the kale. Try it through a straw — you don’t even taste it. The only trail of kale is the colour and the whiff that you get when going in for a slurp. It’s good, but wouldn’t be my choice of green and especially not at $10.99 a bottle. 

    4/5 (docked one point for the staff)
    I like that the bottles have their prices directly labelled on them. I enjoy the clever copywriting and the listing of ingredients, calories and vitamins. However the real estate for print gets a little messy after that — just packed with organic and green brainwashing, like “If it’s not organic, it’s not the earth’s fuel!” I rolled my eyes. 

    To me, the girls that work at Juice Press are the same girls that work at Aritzia or American Apparel. This is not a bar, I don’t need a lackadaisical attitude from you and I certainly don’t need to hear that you need to make a phone call and then brush by me as I’m signing my bill. (I just paid for two hours of your salary so crack a smile even if the ironic hair turban you have gives you a headache.)

    I’d like to be greeted by a Pinkberry or Shake Shack employee because that makes it a happy experience that I’ll tell my friends about. Perhaps it’s an image thing, but the too cool hipster thing really made me just want grab my juice and GTFO instead of browsing the store and maybe buying a kale salad or the ridiculous grain sprouted cookie. This Soup Nazi mentality is so New York and I…will probably subject myself to it over and over for damn good juice.  

    Juicing can become quite expensive. The total for my three juices was $26.50. However, I’ve gone out and bought ingredients to juice and buying juice is actually more economical. Someone does it for you, there’s no clean up and all the ingredients are organic. Stores buy at wholesale and there’s no way you can compete with those prices.

    If you’ve been looking to try out green juices, Juice Press is a good place to start. With their ever growing empire over New York City, finding a location near you shouldn’t be tough. They have a lot of flavours that can range from mild to intense, even for the seasoned ginger drinker. 

    —Amy 

     

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    Bao Haus 

    238 E 14th St, New York, NY 10003
    www.baohausnyc.com

    I really wanted to like this, I really did. The combination of Bao Haus being a Taiwanese second gen thing through Eddie Huang, the owner, and his family, made it kind of a motherland connection. 

    This wasn’t my first time at Bao Haus. I’ve probably been here a handful of times with different people, ordering different items off the menu. Being the 14 street location, I walk past it almost every day. And every day I tell myself, “I might try it again.” because I really want to rave about it like I rave about Totto or Milkbar or Tacombi. I believe in second chances, but I’ve given Bao Haus plenty. 

    I didn’t grow up eating “guabaos” styled a la Bao Haus, though my Mother&Co. would sometimes make “hua juan” (with green onions sporadically smashed into the dough) that had the same consistency as the white doughy exterior of these baos. This type of dough is more of a northern China cuisine, something my grandparents loved for breakfast with assorted pickled side dishes and congee. (Oh, the different types of congee my grandma used to make! Mung bean, millet, plain — freezing cold with ice cubes, steaming hot or tempered, with sugar, with fish floss, with salted eggs.) 

    The first time I tried Bao Haus was with my cousin and his fiance. I just had arrived in the city and they were visiting. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t expect Momofuku Noodle Bar or Ippudo Ramen to be such a wait so we just chose to eat somewhere randomly. We ended up at the Japanese place known for its curry at 10th and 1st. But it wasn’t what we were craving and we just needed to stuff our faces even more.

    Walking around, we ended up in Bao Haus, each with a bao, though none of were too impressed. I had gotten their Ai-Yu Jelly Lemonade because I was born to drink Ai-Yu jelly. (Ai-Yu is a light yellow and transparent in colour, texture similar to grass jelly and just like a jello. It’s made out of a plant I believe, where you have to sift the seeds in a cheese cloth and let the gelatinous substance run out. I’ve seen them make in the traditional markets, side by side with grass jelly. Lemon juice and slices, water and some ice will complete this drink.) 

    We also ordered the Sweet Bao Fries with sesame paste. Decent, but again, it was something our grandparents would order for us and we’ve had better in Taiwan. (Our fav kind is the deep fried man tous, braided on the inside — the outside would be golden brown and crispy, and the inside white and fluffy. The dipping sauce would be thick condensed milk.) 

    I was over the moon with my Ai-Yu because this is NYC and even Toronto didn’t always have it. I mentioned it to the BFF and we stashed it in our to drink list.

    We ended up there one night, where we got the lemonade jelly and the “fries”. It wasn’t a busy night and one of the brothers was actually our cashier. Since the lemonade is pre-made, we couldn’t ask for less sugar. 

    Determined to get it to the way I wanted it to taste, I asked if he could make it less sweet. He apologized and said he didn’t know how to make it less sweet. Fair enough. I went back to the booth disappointed, but with a whatever attitude about it. A few seconds later, the cashier came to us and offered us free Apple Sidra and boxed tea instead. We refused the nice gesture, but he insisted we keep it. (I think he might’ve also refunded us our money for the drink too.) 

    "That’s how you do business — the Asian way," the BFF whispered. 

    More recently, around November 2012, we decided to give the drink another chance. We even requested more ice and less drink so it would mellow out the sugar. Nope, just as sweet or even sweeter! (I feel like I need to be fair with my war on sugar and say perhaps we just don’t like sweet things…?) 

    To be relevant, the photo above is of my most recent visit to Bao Haus. I ordered the Birdhaus Bao to stay. Nothing tastes as good on a take out, so I was being extra generous with my last straw. 

    I waited for an insane amount of time for such a small bao. I would say 10-15 minutes. I sat at the bench and examined the graffiti on the walls, on the tables etc. The titles on the wall were even now black and shiny. Before, they were white tiles with cute paintings of their menu.

    Anyway, bao came and almost soaked my hand in grease. It was placed in a white paper bag, like the ones they use for beef patties but in half, just perfect for the size of the bao. Maybe I hadn’t been there in a while, but when I used to order, they came in paper boats, which I prefer. 

    The bao is decorated with a speckle of cilantro, not enough for my taste. Same with the crushed peanuts — definitely needed more.

    After a few bites, I noticed a slight sweetness. I couldn’t tell what it was and when I went in for another bite, it was mostly gone. (Their menu says Taiwanese red sugar.) 

    The chicken had a very strange breading and wasn’t juicy like the Birdhaus Bao I had almost two years ago. The breading was the type that separated from the chicken once you bit into it and had almost a sticky film. 

    At the very end of the bao is a dollop of mayo, which would’ve actually been nice if it were spicy. 

    1/5
    This probably has been the most disappointing “hype” place I’ve been to in NYC. Try it if you’ve never had these types of baos, but it’s not a place I would recommend friends to go to. 

    —Amy


     


  4. Russ & Daughters

    179 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002
    www.russanddaughters.com

    For a while, I was scared of bagels. Breakfast was most of the time, bagel with a fried egg. (Mother&Co. had to make breakfast and lunch for 4 kids — I can’t blame her.) Then I started really liking bagels once I discovered cream cheese. Cinnamon raisin bagel with strawberry cream cheese was my fourth grade discovery, as I had seen a classmate with it at lunch time. Our family loves fresh Muesli bagels with raisins from Longos. That is something we just eat plain because it’s so good. (And by good, I mean tastes almost like a New York bagel. The right chew thanks to the gluten.) 

    Up at Columbia, Absolute Bagel was a hop away. My goodness, I finally knew why New Yorkers were obsessed with bagels. (I’ll do a review on Absolute because it deserves its own post.) 

    But lox and cream cheese is something I never bothered to try. Smoked salmon, from the few times I did have it, was always too fishy to taste. 

    I decided I just needed to have a cream cheese and lox bagel from Russ & Daughters. I read all the Yelp reviews, looked through their pictures and then proceeded to go on FourSquare to save it on my to-do list. It made me nervous to read about the lines and the frantic pace in there. I better get my order right before I go there, I thought.

    I went in around 6:00 p.m. on a weekday and was surprised there was only a few people in there. No chaos, no screaming, no tourists. 

    I took a number and waited for someone to take my order.

    "Mini bagel with lox and cream cheese please?" I timidly requested.

    "What kind of bagel — we have plain, everything, poppy seed…," the man behind the counter said.

    I decided to go with everything and a smoked salmon that wasn’t “too intense and too salty.”

    "Nothing here is too intense," he added while slicing a sample of salmon for me to try. It was just a tad too salty for me.

    I tried the Irish next and it was just the most mild and the one I chose.

    The mini bagel with lox and scallion cream cheese and tomato came out to almost $10 and I was excited to have it for dinner.

    I opened the bagel once I got home and realized it was a plain bagel. 

    The pairing of cheese cream and the smoked salmon was excellent and I liked it better than I expected. The bagel was a little hard so I toasted the remaining half. The cream cheese became melty and the lox slid off. I ended up eating it as a open faced sandwich.

    3.5/5
    I wish the guy hadn’t gotten my order wrong. I liked that he let me sample the different salmon, but for almost $10 a mini bagel, can I at least get what I ordered? I wanted sesame seeds stuck in my teeth and I didn’t get that from my plain bagel. If you’re looking for a nice intro to lox and cream cheese, Russ & Daughters is a place to start. Not the most affordable, but certainly quality.

    —Amy

     
  5. at a coffee shop in queens, right after I filed a story.

    to all the new york city coffee shops that generously served me caffeine concoctions and free wi-fi as I rushed to file a story—thank you.

    - aby

     

  6. "

    Hi friends, Aby and I are sharing our personal photos here, so if you like them, then our hearts are happy. But please don’t steal them and repost them as your own. You’re welcome to share this blog though. Thanks!

    Aby & Amy

    "
     

  7. Central Park “The Pond”, 2011

    I think I was walking through the upper half of the park, near Columbus Circle. The other half of the pond was still frozen.

    —Amy

     

  8. Columbia’s Hamilton building, Fall 2011

    On Fridays, we had law and history class in Hamilton. It has one elevator, the size of a child’s fisher price toy car. Needless to say, coming down the stairs is easier than going up.

    —Amy

     

  9. Norfolk Long Island, May 2012

    This was taken from our limo. We were heading back to the city after our wine tour. Finally, a part of New York that looked like the surburbia I grew up in.

    —Amy

     

  10. Chelsea, 2011 or 2012

    One of those nights, where you star gaze in the concrete jungle.

    —Amy