Hi there! It's been awhile, hasn't it? My partial apology. I've been on the 'gram and Tweeting so even if you're not following, I'm counting that. And you totally should be following. You're missing some good stuff.
Speaking of good stuff, I enjoyed some seriously tasty bites in the city the other night with Steph. We nibbled our way across East 14th Street, which brought me back to my grad school days when I student taught in the area. The East Village and LES are home to some of the best, most diverse food in the city (don't worry Astoria, I didn't forget about you). You can go from Cuba to Poland to China and back again, never having the same thing twice. It's like the gastronomic version of Carmen San Diego. This trip we were on a bit of an Asian kick. It's a big continent with an array of flavors and while these places are by no means large, they are certainly charged with immense taste.
We didn't quite make it to the LES this time but two favorites, which happen to around the corner from each other, always come to mind. The first is Kuma Inn , A Filipino tapas style restaurant on Ludlow Street. You have to look carefully or you'll definitely miss the entrance (a bold red door). It's a simply decorated second floor establishment with a menu that embraces traditional dishes and kicks others up a notch. I'm happy to have four to six of any of the dishes, as long as one of them is tofu with Thai basil and spicy mirin sauce and another is the market mushrooms with bamboo shoots. Oh, and some fluffy, aromatic coconut rice. Do not forget the rice.
Around the corner is Cocoran, a small soba restaurant on Delancey. On crisp fall evenings or rainy spring nights that drench you from sweater to socks, this is the place to be. Grab a seat at the L-shaped bar or wait to be seated at one of the few tables. I must say, three giant Sapporo's and a gargantuan bowl of noodles, mushrooms and veggie broth that still manages to incorporate significant umami flavoring will warm up any night.
While we didn't end the night with a noodle bowl, we did beat the rush at Baohaus. I'm pretty sure steerage quarters on the Titanic were bigger than Baohaus but I'm pretty sure they weren't clad with black tile walls and pounding rap music. Had I known we weren't making it to the LES I would have ordered a few more bao but whatever, I'll go back. I tried, and thoroughly enjoyed, Steph's pork belly bao but instead went with the Birdhaus Bao: fried chicken with seasoning salt, lemon garlic aioli, crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar and cilantro. My tastebuds hadn't been this happy about chicken in a while. I usually don't order chicken when I go out. Most times it disappoints me because I probably could have made something equally as good at home. Well, I've leaned the secret to making everyone ever order chicken: brine it for 24 hours like Baohaus does. Perfectly crisp on the outside and an inside that melts better than butter. I would never have believed chicken could taste so good. The creamy lemon garlic aioli doesn't hurt either.
We walked a few storefronts over to the unassuming Vanessa's Dumplings. During grad school, which feels like eons ago, I made a stop or two here for a quick and hearty bite before 7 p.m. class. The fried dumplings of any variety will leave you sufficiently satiated but since I was on a chicken kick I went with the steamed chicken basil dumplings. Stuffed to the max, these dumplings were filled with the perfect basil to chicken ratio. If I order basil it's because I want to taste it and these dumplings delivered.
These places are not doing anything new. They're doing traditional food with a bit of a riff and, damn, are they doing it well. They might not be quite as influential as the Ming's or Tang's but they have been around long enough to leave their savory mark on the New York City dining scene. Until the next dish, ciao!