My Last Day of Fun…Fooding with Ariel (pre-Momofuku), Jumping Photos, and the Pork Fest!
Note: I had other food stuff to write beforehand but this post is waay more interesting. I’ll rewind later on this week, if I have the chance.
Yesterday was arguably the best day I’ve ever had in a while, besides my birthday lunch/celebration. What made it memorable is the fact that since I’m going to face finals next week(!) and my indecisive phase of life contemplating about my career. I don’t know if I want to do paralegal work or flirt with the idea of immersing myself to the food writing/photography world. The latter is quite tempting to go for but since I’m considered a newbie to food writing (and I’m just a blogger, for goodness sake), my chances are almost zilch. I’m freakin’ screwed…. As I’ve rambled a few seconds ago, my nerves are strained, stress is high, and I’m still sick. This day is and was my only highlight from any other day that has passed or coming upon my pending days of doom. Doom.
Anyways, going back to the happier times of yesterday. I got a call from Ariel while I was in my school campus taking care of last minute stuff near 1 PM. Here’s the general idea of our conversation:
Ariel: “Hey. What’s up? Are you in the city by any chance?”
Me: “Uh…nothing much. I’m in the Upper West Side. Why?”
Ariel: “Well, I’m in the city since I was locked out by [something, I don’t recall since he’s rambling quite fast]. I’m in the East Village right now and I want to check out this coffee shop that New York Magazine just written about…”
Me: “Oh, you mean Abraço. Yeah, I’ve been there before [Note to you people, I’ve forgotten to write about it but I’ve posted photos of that visit on my Flickr page back on October 30th.] Ariel: “You wanna go there again?”
Me: “Yeah. Sure.”
Ariel: “When will I meet you?”
Me: [looking at my watch] “Um…I’ll meet you at 1:30.”
Me: “Alright. See you then.”
After taking care of my school stuff, I hauled my ass downtown to the East Village. Once I arrived there, Abraço‘s packed with too many bodies, I mean people. I called Ariel since I don’t see him outside the place nor inside but he’s not picking up. Eventually, a few people left that place and I managed to squeeze myself into this tiny coffee bar with at least ten other people, since I don’t want to escalate my cold to pneumonia.
Eventually I saw Ariel appeared outside and called me which, I picked up and he asked me, “Where are you?” I just reached for the door and opened it for him, giving him my answer. Anyways, I never felt so claustrophobic before. I mean, I’ve ridden in packed subway cars where you’re standing elbow-to-elbow with everyone, but that’s typical; in a coffee shop it’s almost unforeseen for me. Some, like Ariel, would say this is cozy but I like to have some space.
It’s quite remarkable that in this shoe box-sized of a coffee bar with a kitchen, in fact, that they managed to produce such wonderful coffee and espresso drinks and foods. Despite the fact that their menu is limited but at least they can make their stuff spot-on…at least from the things I’ve tried.
Since Ariel and I taken a look at their menu (I can’t take one since I don’t have space), we picked our own espresso-based drinks and contemplated in what we want to eat. I don’t want to really eat a lot due to the bo ssam dinner about three hours, I didn’t really want to order anything except maybe their olive oil cake but since Ariel said he was hungry, he wanted a savory item, which ended up being their grilled cheese panini. But the barista said they ran out of all the savories except the fried risotto balls and the poached egg with fried bread. So, Ariel ended up ordering two fried risotto balls, also known as Arancini di Riso, for each of us.
Starting with the beverages, my macchiato was pretty damn excellent. I love the bold, bitter, earthy flavor with a bracing end note of acidity of the espresso contrasted with the thick, creamy milk foam. Ariel’s cappuccino, was great as well, taking from his only comment he said spontaneously while drinking it was, “I love thick drinks.” Or something along the lines of that. I’m taking he loves the steamed milk foam and the espresso itself was quite good to his tastebuds. When I had this the first time in October (yes, I forgot to write about it), it was fabulous but the good thing back then that I had the space pretty much to myself before the press got its hands on this precious place.
Anyways, the risotto balls or arancini di riso, was very good too. It’s fried to a beautiful golden brown, with the thin yet sturdy crust melds with the smooth, starchy, creamy risotto rice filled with melted gooey cheese (methinks small cubes of mozzarella?). Mmm…how can you beat that? I made these a few years ago at home and it went quite well. It didn’t appeal to me order this particular dish since I know how to make it, since it’s basically a fried ball of leftover risotto.
While we’re eating our risotto balls, Ariel said he wanted to check out Veniero’s afterwards. I’ve asked, “Why?” He said that he’d never been there before (despite the fact he’s an alumni of NYU and it’s so close to campus), he wanted to try out their desserts. Since I know debating with him would be futile and I don’t have the voice capacity to argue with him, I said, “Fine.”
Since I forgotten to take the storefront or their signage, I’ve managed to take a few photos of their pastries.
I’ve eaten a few items from Veniero’s a couple of years ago, nothing really made me want to have their pastries again and the same thought I had earlier is that I want to save stomach space for the pork fest. So, I let Ariel let him choose his desserts. After paying them, we walked back down to the Lower East Side since he remember seeing a tiny kiosk on First Avenue that sells smoothies and Mexican hot chocolate since he wanted to drink something while he’s eating the desserts. But when we actually inquired what’s in it, the woman who’s working there said, “It’s just regular hot chocolate.” Then I remembered that Helen’s coming for the jumping photos and I promised Helen hot chocolate in Jacques Torres’ Chocolate Haven post-jumping, I told Ariel that and he decided to wait for that.
So, we walked across the street to the park and eat the desserts. While Ariel and I were walking downtown earlier, I noticed Ariel (unconsciously) occasionally kicking his box of sweets. My thought about his desserts were, “It’s a goner…” And nevertheless, my thought was confirmed, as you see below.
Yeah, it ain’t pretty but at least it’s edible. I only took a bite of his tiramisu and I wasn’t at all impressed. To me, it’s like eating vanilla (with hints of espresso and chocolate) flavored whipped cream, 98% composed of it, with the remaining 2% of soft ladyfingers or yellow sponge cake. And what Ariel told me about the mini tart filled with custard and topped with a kiwi, it was “eh.” At least he ate Veniero’s stuff and no longer have to inquire me or anyone else how’s their pastries.
By the time we’re done eating, it’s almost 3 PM, which I told Helen that’s when the jumping photos should start. I called her and hoped that she didn’t lose her way in the city but I got her voicemail. She eventually called me back and told me she’s in Union Square. I told her to go to 6th Ave. and 14th Street to take the F or V train to the 2nd Avenue stop so she could find us there. I just hoped that she knows what I’m talking about after we hanged up.
Just to kill some time while we’re waiting, Ariel and I just hanged out in the park. In the freezing cold. But to keep ourselves occupied, I let Ariel listen to my iPod and let him dance away to the songs I’ve uploaded, which I cannot post publicly since he prevented me from doing so. It’s funny watching him dance…which he kinda suck but entertaining nevertheless.
After he warmed up a bit from dancing to his heart’s content for twenty minutes or so, he felt pumped enough to do the jumping photos. Somehow, he’s not a great jumper initially since I had so many outtakes and deleting a whole bunch of the crappy ones that it’s not worthy even trying to post up for laughs. So here’s the better of the two that survived my editing session.
And eventually he wanted to take my jumping photos after leaping for ten minutes, which thankfully on my part, I’ve accomplished in less than two minutes since I took off my coat and I’m really cold.
Eventually Helen found her way down here about 3:40 PM. She told me that she went all the way to 8th Ave and 14th and don’t know where’s the F or V train so…yeah she got lost but thankfully found her way. She wanted to do the jumping photos first with Ariel since she thought it was weird doing it alone.
Then she wanted to take photos of Ariel and I jumping…
And finally, her successful jump alone.
After the fun’s over (and there’s a few more on my Flickr gallery), we walked all the way to the west side to warm up to a cup of hot chocolate at Jacques Torres’ Chocolate Haven. Since it was 4:20 by the time we’ve got there, we quickly perused their display cases for a few minutes and eventually decided on having their hot chocolate. Ariel had the Wicked with whipped cream, since he’s craving a spicy hot chocolate. Helen and I had the Classic except she had it with the whipped cream. We quickly scooted over to the tables and sipped our piping hot chocolates, warming ourselves up after braving through the freezing, windy cold walking crosstown.
Since it’s Ariel’s first time coming here and trying their hot chocolate, here’s what he thought (through photos, that is):
Drum roll, please…
He approved it!
Ariel also taken a few photos of Helen and I for fun. But I’m not going to post this up since I don’t think you care too much about my scary-lookin’ mug… After that’s over with, I looked at my watch and it’s 4:45. And dinner’s supposed to be at 5. Since we’re technically on the very west side of SoHo and dinner’s at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in the East Village, we really have to get moving fast since it’s quite a trek to get there soon. Good thing, I called Robyn and told her to go in as me since I’m running late and I know there would be others waiting for me.
Eventually, Ariel, Helen, and I arrived there…like 20 minutes late and we all said, “Hi!” to everyone and get down to the business of ordering after greetings were exchanged. The majority of the table made up their minds what to eat while the three of us were walking our way over there. So here’s what we ordered: 4 orders of Steamed Buns, a Four Story Hill Farm Chicken Ballotine, everything in the Country Hams section (which is basically four different hams), 2 orders of Honeycrisp Apple Kimchi, and 2 orders of Satur Farms Fried Brussels Sprouts, all of that prior to the main event, the Bo Ssäm.
The apple kimchi was very delicious. It’s sweet, crisp, spicy, and a touch of tartness. Add the bacon, it’s changes the entire flavor spectrum. The crisp, salty, smoky bacon (or jowl, as the menu indicated) enhances the sweetness of the apples and added the extra crunch to the entire dish. The creamy, silky, maple labne (which I thought it was mayonnaise prior to reading the menu) augments the sweet factor by a notch with a touch of dairy tartness, since it is a cheese.
Then Adam’s main course of the evening, the Four Story Hill Farm chicken ballotine arrived. He ordered the chicken since he doesn’t eat pork. It’s sitting on top of a bed of walnuts and porcini mushrooms. I haven’t eaten it since I feel kinda bad eating his food. But he said later on the meal that it’s delicious.
Shortly, the fried brussels sprouts arrived to our table. I had this dish several weeks ago when I went to their Noodle Bar a few blocks away, and it still tastes delicious. I guess you can convert any brussels sprout hater to tolerate or love it once you have it fried and mixed in with some fish sauce, chili, and mint. Somehow those flavors work like a symphony in my mouth that I don’t mind eating the entire bowl myself, like I have in the Noodle Bar.
Several minutes later, the kitchen churned out our 4 orders of steamed buns (it’s 2 per order) and the entire section of Country Hams at the same time!
The pork buns are served like it one would normally see or eat when you have Peking duck, stuffed with a generous slice of pork belly, hoisin sauce and scallions. The exception that the pork fat is the star of the dish not the skin, per se.
Here’s the four Country Hams; each served with a side of coffee gravy and what looks like a small piece of Sullivan Street Bakery‘s Stirato bread…
Since I’m no ham connoisseur, I can’t really tell you much about the hams except that they all tasted good. Some were more smokier, sweet, or saltier than others and they were cut prosciutto-thin, in other words, see-through thin. The coffee gravy adds the coffee flavor but its typical bitterness has been toned down a bit with something dairy…which I don’t know what exactly. What it does to the hams is adds another dimension of sweetness or smokiness. Quite interesting.
After all of those dishes were eaten and cleared off the tables, they’re setting up the tables for bo ssäm. How can you tell? Once they start bringing out the large bowl of tender, green leaves of Bibb lettuce, and four different sauces (kimchi, kimchi puree, scallion-ginger, and kochujang) for each end of the table, with the dozen of oysters, you’ll know it.
After waiting a couple of minutes, we were all bestowed with the presence of the bo ssäm…
And let the carnage begin. Kathryn’s the self-appointed server for the bo ssäm (sort of) since she’s the one willing to touch the tongs first, willing to comply with the photos, and plate for everyone despite everyone didn’t mind helping themselves out. Just looking at the following photo makes one wonder how can this huge hunk of pork willing lift off with such ease and taste so sublime.
Since this is Ariel’s first time consuming the bo ssäm, I thought of taking a photo of him eating it but then again, he’s staring right at me which takes away the real interaction of the person and the food. He noticed my inhibitions of not taking a photo of him eating, that he demanded me to take a photo. However, this was the only merely decent photo of him and his wrap, which I don’t know what to think about his facial expression. Is it sadness for the pork he’s about to ingest? Sorry that he’s even asked for a photo to be posed? I don’t know.
But there were some better candid shots of everyone else who eating with me. Here’s a couple of photos to show you I’m not eating all of the food with Ariel.
When we pretty much felt full and everyone’s noticeably slowing down their pace of eating, we had so much meat left compared to last time. Technically, the most we’ve gone down to was half the amount you see, which I forgot to take a photo of.
Compare it when I went there for Robyn’s belated birthday party, we had this much left and that was with a vegetarian! I have to say, I’m a bit ashamed but the blame goes around the table. I would eat more but I had the other foods and hot chocolate with Ariel and Helen. Strangely, Ariel wasn’t really enticed to eat more than 5 or so wraps. He actually preferred the apple kimchi and brussels sprouts more.
After everyone was about to give up eating the pork, K just called. She left her company’s Christmas party early and she’s in the nabe and wanted hang around or have to have dessert around the area. Since I don’t know what’s the consensus of the rest of the table, she said she’ll just drop in first and we’ll take it from there.
I brought up the topic of dessert since I need to know what’s going on and what to do with K. Kathryn proposed that we have desserts here and share around the table and suggested the spicy chocolate crumb cake. Eva was curious to try out the PB&J.
The chocolate cake itself is dry and crumbly with a hint of heat from the kochukaru (Korean chili powder) but the real kicker was that red gel that probably held the most heat and it starts a few seconds after swallowing. The banana and banana cream contrasts the dry, crumbly cake to the smooth, creamy texture with a subtle hint of banana. Think of this as eating a sophisticated albeit spicy form of banana chocolate cake. For a very small portion for what we’ve paid for, it’s $9.
The PB&J was intriguing. The ice cream is flavored with saltines, which pretty much the background flavor to the entire dessert. The pool of concord grape jelly screams ripeness and sweet with the layer of crunchy peanut butter that have the texture like eating peanut butter tuiles, stacked one upon the other. Again, a tiny serving and it’s $10.
But generally, here’s what we thought of them…
For the dessert portion, I would rather pay that kind of money for WD-50 when I went there over the summer with Ariel and Seungmi. But then again, there aren’t that many notable dessert places in the East Village area and I don’t think we want to trek around somewhere for dessert in the cold.
Well, that’s my day of food indulgence and fun. Now I have to relinquish my happy thoughts for the last week of classes and the following week for the dreaded finals. And finding a job. Oh god help me…
86 E 7th Street
New York, NY 10003
342 E 11th Street
New York, NY 10003
Jacques Torres’ Chocolate Haven
350 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003