Why I keep reliving summer vacation, part 2
Breaking my usual pattern, I chose to spend time with my parents. Must be getting family oriented in my old age or something. Dad wanted to take us to a Shanghainese place in Flushing that he's been going to for years (without telling me or giving me an invite). Or maybe I was too busy running out the door for falafel.
I inhertited my instincts for finding good food from him, because his place turns out to be Joe's Shanghai, internationally renowned for their soup dumplings, or xiao long bao. When we walked in, the manager greeted him by name. My dad. How about that?
Neon sign touts Joe's specialty
The chefs form the dumplings with a bit of cold gelled broth in the filling, which liquifies into a hot soup after they're steamed. It's splashed with black vinegar & shredded fresh ginger and plopped atop a spoon to catch all the juice that spills out. Open carefully so the hot soup doesn't scorch.
The dumpling skin is medium thin and tender, with lots of rich soup inside. As with Peking duck, pastrami, or southern barbecue, seek out a specialist restaurant where every table is ordering that one thing, or you'll wonder what the big wooptee-do is. If you need help locating a dumpling specialist in your city, stop by chowhound.com and ask on the approriate discussion board for your town.
Pork and shrimp xiao long bao
136-21 37th Ave
(other locations in NYC as well)
In the greater LA area, I like Din Tai Fung, a Taipei based mini-empire whose various dumplings are all very good, if different than Joe's. But let's not split hairs over these differences right now. As with New York pizza, these fine distinctions among shops are important and you won't understand until you understand, dig?
Din Tai Fung
1108 S. Baldwin
That segues into my lunch the day afterward. I continued breaking my usual NYC eating habits and spent the day in Brooklyn. I hit Di Fara's pizza just as they opened. The legendary Dominic De Marco has made masterful pies for over 40 years. He stands at the pinnacle of New York pizza makers along with a very select group of pizzaiolos. If I have to explain New Yorkers' obsession with pizza, you haven't had the real thing. I nudge you to buy Ed Levine's book, "Pizza: A Slice of Heaven." It will guide you to the best New York pizza on your next visit.
Unassuming hole in the wall with world class food
The Legend at work. Note herbs growing in window pots.
Di Fara Pizza
1424 Avenue J
In the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge lurks a French magician in a chilly lair, stirring a copper cauldron full of brown elixir. Ancient cobblestones line the row in front of the wizard's shop, where ladies driving Saabs and Volvos visit.
Inside, the ladies' eyes glaze over, captured by the gilded glint of glossy chocolate truffles, a spell as powerful as any in the enchanted city.
But beware the poor soul that touches lips to the plastic chalice protected with a paper covered sippy straw, for it takes its victims words and renders them rather like moo cows in heat. Inside this wicked chalice awaits... the Frozen Hot Chocolate!
Fast forward to the happy ending: magical fairytale chocolate shop. Fantastic truffles assortment. Chocolate covered corn flakes. Genius without pretense. And that frozen hot chocolate: thick, rich cocoa and chocolate flavors with just a touch of sugar sweetness. It's fuller bodied, not as chilled and has fewer ice granules than the city's other famous frozen hot chocolate served at Serendipity 3 on the Upper East Side.
Go. Fall in love.
Jacques Torres Chocolate
66 Water Street
One other location in Manhattan, see their website
PS - This trip happened a month ago at this point, and I've had a chance to reflect on the differences between New York and California. Los Angeles has a high end patisserie called Boule that makes phenomenal chocolates, pastries, candies and even ice creams & sorbets that'll blow your mind. As great a product as Jacques Torres, but served with a heap of annoying attitude. The entire store, the gift boxes, and even the website is done up in robin's egg blue to evoke a Tiffany's-like boutique feel. I asked them if I could take a photo of the chocolate display, because that's what I do. Got the sneery look like "this is a boutique, daahling, a temple. You must not photograph it, for our souls will be stolen."
Boule people: please take a cue regarding service from the friendly, unpretentious Jacques Torres people, like the girl who gladly posed for the frozen hot chocolate photo. I would also like to ask why you framed a letter of congratulations from Chef Daniel Boulud only to adorn the men's bathroom with it. Does he know you put that in the crapper?