Boston Hound Hits Doma, Falai, Chengdu tianfu xiaoshi, Africa Kine and P*ong,
Had a late breakfast or early lunch at Doma in the West Village. I had an avocado, cucumber and cheese panini, which was good, but nothing special. My friend, however, had an artichoke, roasted fennel and morbier panini which was unusual and terrific. The morbier cheese is a little soft, but it actually complements the sandwich really nicely. Excellent coffee at Doma, as usual.
As a frequenter of 71 Clinton Fresh Food back in the day, and a great admirer of WD-50, I had often walked by Falai, with its intriguing little table in the window. I had often stopped to look at the menu and read the reviews and both intrigued me, but I finally got a chance to go. It was terrific. The amuse bouche was a little dome of ricotta cheese with little balsamic vinegar balls (I believe these were made with a colloid), and a squash soup. Scaled up, this would have been a delightful soup. The DC and I shared an appetizer, pasta, and main course, which the staff split for us without us having to ask. We started with chicken livers, which were absolutely delightful and paired perfectly with the miniature mushrooms they were served against. Our pasta were tortelli infused with cocoa and had a very rich creamy sauce. The texture of the pasta was terrific, although the cocoa did not impart any noticeable flavour. The taste of this dish came entirely from the sauce. Our entree was the venison. The parts of the venison that were cooked rare were just bursting with flavor --- the parts that were a little thinner and so cooked a little more were missing the inherent flavor of the meat. Venison is very lean, and I find cooking it just a touch too much looses the intriguing flavors. What was lost in flavour and moisture was made up by the fine sauce along side the meat. The best part of this dish, however, were the brussel sprouts. There was also a chocolate truffle filled with venison. I love the idea, and I wanted to like the taste, but it just didn't work. We shared a passion fruit souffle for dessert, which felt like a delicate cloud of passion fruit, and a bitter chocolate tortino, which was very tasty but a slightly difficult texture --- it fell apart too easily. We also had a dessert "amuse bouche" which was a liquid orange juice ball --- again, frozen orange juice coated in colloid and then melted back to liquid. It was refreshing. Excellent coffee.
I really enjoyed the food at Falai, although the food reached from the truly terrific (the amuse bouche and the chicken livers) to the merely "quite goo" (the tortelli, venison, and the desserts). The food was beautifully plated, the decor interesting inside, but the best part of the experience was the service, which was extremely professional. I arrived ten minutes late, my dining companion got lost on the way and she arrived half an hour late, and even though they were very busy we never felt rushed even for a moment. Although it should be de rigeur for a restaurant at this price point, their service was among the best I've received in New York, and exhibited the kind of professionalism I've come to expect only from the most elite restaurants.
All told, I look forward to returning.
The next morning I headed out to Flushing in search of good Chinese food, an unfortunately rare commodity in New York --- a city otherwise so blessed by terrific food from so many traditions. I don't know exactly why good Chinese food is so rare in New York, but at least a little sliver exists in the basement of the Golden Harmony Mall at 41-28 Main Street in Flushing. We went to Chengdu tianfu xiaoshi stall. The best dish we had was fu1 qi1 fei4 pian1 with delicate slices of beef tendon and beef intestine coated in a beautiful and complex sauce, accented by cilantro and crushed peanuts. The chuan1 bei3 liang2 fen3 had simple strips of bean jelly topped with a hefty portion of crushed hua1 jiao1 to give that numbing sensation and a light red oil. The hong2 you2 chao1 shou3 were decent wontons with a substantial proportion of the red oil, which had a delicious bite. The dan4 dan4 mian4 were terrifically prepared noodles not in soup, with a dusting of ground meat on top and an occasional piece of simply prepared da4 dou4 miao2 throughout. The niu2 rou4 mian4 was a large bowl of beef noodle soup with the same noodles as the dan4 dan4 mian4 but they became a little over-cooked and over-soaked by sitting in the soup. The beef slices were thin and flavorful, and the soup was a pleasantly spicy broth. I had requested it spicy, but ended up dumping in the oil from the chao1 shou3 and the sauce remaining from the fu1 qi1 fei4 pian1 to give it more complexity. The only disappointment was the zhang1 cha2 ya1 (tea and camphor smoked duck). Both tea and camphor flavors came out, but the duck itself wasn't particularly good. This is also not my favourite dish --- if it is yours please give it a try and see. All in all, a very satisfying lunch, and $27 for three people ordering a lot of food. The owner is from Chengdu, and knows of the xiao3 chi1 cheng2, on which I think some of his menu items are modeled after. This is real-deal Sichuan food, in the somewhat dirty basement of a somewhat humble mall in Flushing. Well worth the trip.
After all that spicy food, we headed around the corner to 39-02 Main Street to the Sago Tea Cafe, where I have a soft-spot in my heart for their kumquat lime juice. Unlike Chengdu tianfu xiaoshi, Sago is above ground, brightly lit, modern, clean, and has a menu and staff in both English and Chinese. There are some very interesting drinks on the menu that are generally not found at other bubble tea locations.
Dinner was up in Harlem at Africa Kine, a Senegalese restaurant right at the 116th Street stop on the B and C trains. Three of us shared the Mechoui (grilled leg of lamb) with a side of couscous; the baked fished with a side of salad, and the cow's foot soup with potatoes and carrots. We had Bissap Juice (hibiscus sabdariffa) and ginger juice, both of which were excellent. The ginger juice is not for the faint of heart; the bissap juice is similar to aqua de jamaica, but a bit stronger and sweeter. The food was excellent --- the leg of lamb was exactly that --- a seriously flavorful and very large leg of lamb, grilled but very moist and rubbed with spices. It is challenging to eat, but the reward is well worth it. The couscous was composed of very, very small grains and had some spices throughout but didn't hold moisture very well. Excellent grilled onion slices were served alongside. The baked fish was perhaps the best dish of the evening --- a beautiful whole white fish was baked to create flaky meat and bathed in a light mustardy sauce. There were also grilled onions with this dish, but they adopted a different flavor from the mustard sauce. The cow's foot soup was a homestyle beef soup, but nothing special. The lunch menu has more stews --- apparently sometimes there are still stews left-over at dinner time, which you can ask about, but none that night.
We tried to go to Cafe Grumpy afterwards for coffee from their Clover machine, but didn't arrive in time before they closed. We did get to chat with the guys for a few minutes --- apparently their Clover machines are #1 and #2 --- they've made more cups of coffee with them than any other Clover's sold.
So we walked down from W 20th to W 10th, and had dessert at P*ong. We walked in around 11 PM on a Friday night without a reservation, and sat at the bar. We tried both the calamansi soda and the passion fruit soda, both of which were excellent and made in front of us. I had the simple chocolate mouse with wedge of bitter-sweet soft cheese and quince paste. My mouse was very rich, although nothing particularly special --- the fleur-de-lis cheese was outstanding. The quince paste was attractively plated, but a bit flavorless. Others had the apple tarte tatin and the pear with a sesame cookie and miso ice cream. I didn't try the tarte tatin, although I did try the miso ice cream, which was good, but had only a hint of miso. However, the sesame cookie paired with the pear was absolutely terrific. I like P*ong --- it was a pleasant place to spend the rest of the evening chatting, drinking, and eating dessert. It seems that everyone enjoyed their dishes overal, but each component was either hit or miss.
I was also able to hit up Ito-En on Madison Avenue for some terrific teas --- this season they have some interesting Chinese yellow teas and a sakura sencha. Stopped by Jacques Torres in the West Village for some chocolate covered orange peel (Orange "A" Peel in the red fruit-shaped boxes), and stopped at a candy shop at about 170 W 4th Street for some freshly dipped dark chocolate marzipan.
All in all, a very nice New York trip! :)