Friday, July 31, 2009

Push Th' Little Daisies

Who said the concrete jungle's not beautiful?

The Republic of Good Food

When we first walked into Republic (37 Union Square West), we weren't expecting it to become one of our reliable go-to places. It's located right across from the Union Square Farmer's market so we go to Republic for lunch before we do our vegetable shopping, and we were surprised to learn they deliver (for free) into our neighborhood so we've taken advantage of that as well. And we love that the food is $13 and under.

Republic's concept is to provide affordable noodle and rice dishes that combine the various ingredients, flavors, and cooking methods from different Asian countries; so their menu has unexpected dishes like tomato beef stew, curried duck noodles, salmon broth noodles, and grilled Japanese eggplants. Not a typical menu for a place that also sells the standards like Vietnamese sandwiches and Pad Thai.

The vegetarian sandwich is almost as good as the classic Vietnamese sandwich. They offer the sandwich only for take out and if you dine in, you can't order just the sandwich, which is just fine because you can choose from their delicious salad options, like their green papaya salad. People who can't eat spicy food should beware of the jalapeno peppers in the sandwiches - it really creeps up on you.

A great vegetarian option at Republic is their Vietnamese vegetable noodles, with cold rice noodles, tofu, mint, broccoli, celery, carrots, egg, shallots, bean sprouts, and peanuts. The food is fresh (like they just bought the vegetables across the street at the Farmer's Market) and the portion is generous. A good deal for $9.

The vegetable noodles go well with their healthy juices, although their lemongrass juice tasted a bit wheatgrass-esque healthy for us.

Republic's Pad Thai is another good item on their menu. What makes this dish different from other Pad Thais is its spice and the tender calamari and shrimp it's served with. However, it's not nearly as good or as good a deal as the Pad Thai from Chelsea Thai Wholesale (it's still the best Pad Thai we've had and it's under $8!).

Okay, now for the numero uno dish from Republic - their BBQ Pork cold rice vermicelli at $11. If there's only one chance you have to eat here, order this dish. The pork is marinated in garlic and soy and includes bean sprouts, peanuts, scallions, cucumber, pickled carrots, and daikon. This is an exceptional dish. It tasted so good I was ready to have another one delievered that same night. The flavors on the meat is wonderful (and has a spicy kick to it) and the meat's pairing with daikon and pickled carrots really takes this dish to another level. Their grilled pork is also great (with Vietnamese crushed rice, soy-ginger glaze, scallions, pickled carrots, daikon, garlic, and cucumbers, $11).

Another delicious and surprising dish on their menu is the grilled marinated salmon - lemongrass, curried rice with raisins, pickled carrots, daikon, and cucumber ($13). The curried rice is really unique and has what seems like hundreds of different flavors going on. The salmon portion is very generous.

The interior decor of Republic is nothing special; just clean and modern. It's a large restaurant that caters well to its large volume business. The back area of the restaurant includes a communal table, the long bar is an entertaining area to be seated as you watch the kitchen staff exuberantly cooking food nonstop at a frenzied pace while the delivery guys with their bicycle helmets on anxiously await the food, and the front area includes the small take out area where the Vietnamese sandwiches are made. It's a money making operation here.

Consistently good food, good prices, and very fast food delivery . . . just how we like it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Union Square Farmer's Market

Another (hot) walk to the Union Square Farmer's Market.

One of the farmers told us one that one of her two favorite places to get vegetables are at Keith's Farm. Good recommendation.

We bought a huge fresh bunch of basil from Keith's for $3.

The other place she recommended was Evolutionary Organics.

This guy was playing the Star Wars theme song on his accordion.

Bread Alone has fantastic healthy bread (they taste so good they don't "taste" healthy, if you know what we mean).

As opposed to most supermarkets (with the exception of Whole Foods), all the vegetables and fruits looked so fresh. One thing that was missing from the scene was Joe the Potato Peeler.

We wanted to buy some fresh fish and hormone/antibiotic/steroid/preservative-free meats but they were all a bit too expensive.

We bought an absolutely delicious block of cheddar from Millport Dairy.

Thanks to these farmers, we had a delicious dinner.

And a yummy breakfast.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Parisian Style Bakery

Despite its crappy location inside the Time Warner Center (think mini mall for rich people), Bouchon Bakery has amazing pastries and sweets that cost less than you think it would considering the location and its owner Thomas Keller, who is better known for his restaurant Per Se located just one floor above Bouchon. Per Se has been described as one of the best restaurants and most expensive dining in New York City.

Bouchon's gigantic and creamy nutter butter (if you love peanut butter, this is one of the best peanut butter cookies you'll taste) and their chocolate croissants . . . are simply amazing.

But Bouchon's TKO is one of the bakery's standout items. It's an over sized oreo cookie for grown ups, with a white chocolate ganache filling and a chocolate sable dough that doesn't crumble like your childhood favorite oreo. This oreo you have with espresso, not milk.

Bouchon also has a lunch and early dinner menu. Most of their items are a bit overpriced for normal folks and probably considered cheap as dirt for Keller's Per Se customers. I did, however, try their foccacia bread with prosciutto and sweet onions and it was one of the best foccacia breads I've ever had.

They also offer the classic grilled cheese and tomato soup combo. The second best grilled cheese sandwich I've had in NYC (the first being Corner Bistro's grilled cheese).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Whitney Museum

Last Friday evening, we took advantage of "pay what you wish" Fridays at the Whitney Museum of American Art located on Madison Ave at 75th Street.

We waited in a fairly long line before the 6 pm pay what you wish free admission began. We decided to pay $2.50 each. We're so glad we didn't have to pay the normal $15 admission price because we weren't thrilled with the artwork on display, particularly the current special exhibits, and the third floor was closed to the public. We did the entire museum in less than an hour. There was a live alternative rock band playing in the lower level gift shop and booze was being sold, but their music wasn't swaying us one bit so we passed. We did, however, enjoy seeing Edward Hopper's paintings and we got to experience the Whitney at least once on a budget. What's really odd is that the Met allows you to take photos (without flash) of the finest, oldest, and most famous paintings in the world, but at the Whitney they wouldn't even let you take a photo of crap like an inflatable toilet, which is somehow supposed to be art.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Chinatown and Little Italy

Chinatown New York - where vendors are selling anything from seafood to I Love New York T-shirts for cheap, where you can buy an affordable lunch or dinner for under $6, and where there's a theatrical display of fake designer purses and Rolexes being sold out of brief cases, suitcases, and vans on literally every street corner. It's large, crowded, dirty, and smelly and one of the last parts of New York City we'd want to live, but it's always a good time to walk through the streets and take in the sights (and smells).

We went back to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory to see if we could finally try their Durian flavored ice cream. No luck again. Why do they list is under their regular flavors?

We weren't brave enough yet to try the actual Durian. We're still sketched out by Andrew Zimmern finding this one of the most repulsive things he's tasted considering he's eaten raw cow balls and brains.

Columbus Park is crowded and most of the people there were grandmas and grandpas just hanging out, clipping their toe nails, and playing some serious card games.

Then you cross the street and you're in Little Italy, which is just Italian restaurants, one after another. It's too dizzying how many pasta places there are. The restaurants are mostly catering to tourists and you're not going to get the best Italian food in the city here, but it's also fun to see the crowd and the restaurant workers trying to get you into the restaurant. There were also some deals we saw, like pizza and beer dinner combo for $6.

My friend Vinny told me to go to Vincent's since that was one of his favorite Italian restaurants when he lived a long time ago in New York City and told us to try the linguine with clam. Sorry Vinny, we skipped the restaurant this time and maybe we'll try to make it back there before we move.

We ended up eating at La Mela, a large three-room family style restaurant whose motto is "sit down. eat. and shut up." The walls are covered with photos of celebrities that have eaten there, like what seemed like the entire cast of the Sappranos. We thought the restaurant better suits a large family dining with kids and the service needed work, but we had no complaints about the pasta dishes we tried.

The ravioli tasted great. The sauce was delicious. The portion was just right.

The spaghetti and meatballs were as basic as it gets, but in a good home cooking kind of way. The sauce was good, the meatballs were juicy, and the portion was enormous.

We had a difficult time walking back to our subway stop.