Archive for the 'New York Cuisine' Category

07
Aug
08

Doughnut Plant

I grew up in a small town in California where teenagers had nothing to do at night.  I wasn’t a hoodlum by any stretch of the imagination and so, my friends and I would, quite often, stay up until ungodly hours of the morning in order to go to the local doughnut shop and get those glorious rounds of fried dough while they were still hot.  This meant going “downtown” at 3 am and sitting at the bolted-to-the floor table waiting for the single dooughnut shop employee to finish the frying.  She got to know us quite well.  Not surprisingly, she was a large woman with a personality to match and, as the bells attached to the door would give their late-night ring, she would come knowingly out from the back with a grin on her face and welcoming words coming from her mouth.  She would make the raised crumb doughnuts first for the occasion when we would come in (we’d often buy a dozen between the three or four of us and take them home with a half gallon of milk).  I can remember the smell of those calorie bombs. I can remember how the glaze, just barely set, would crack when I bit into it.  I can remember how the crumb exterior would stick to my lips as I excitedly bit into the warm dough with my eyes closed.
I have rather fond memories of doughnuts….
I heard about The Doughnut Plant a while ago but only recently was able to try it for myself. Getting rave reviews from the likes of the NY Times and most recently The Boston Globe (June 18, 2008), the local bakery has a cult following and for all the right reasons.  In preparing myself for a flavor explosion, I fasted for the morning before heading over to the far east location through Chinatown on Grand.  I had read about the doughnuts baked on the store’s premises each morning, about the fruit and cream fillings made from local ingredients and from scratch each day, about the luscious combinations of flavors such as their “Blackout” doughnut (a cake doughnut filled with a chocolate pudding, layered with chocolate icing and dipped in brownie pieces), about the churros and cinnamon buns and muffins…I was thoroughly excited.
I took a walk to the location from Broadway and took in the morning grocery scene of Chinatown (a favorite of mine).  The fresh fish markets, the exotic produce, the street corners that could be New York, Beijing or Bangkok if one didn’t know; I can get acupuncture and fresh eel in the same building…I love it.  But the eels must wait, I’m on my way to doughnuts.  
The Doughnut Plant has a small entrance and a corner register from which any of the doughnuts may be purchased.  On the day I came the specials included a lavender yeast doughnut and a blueberry cake doughnut.  I decided upon a sampling of their “classic” doughnuts and, along with the excellent palate of my fiancee, finished off three of them and a cinnamon bun.  We tried the Valrhona chocolate, the coconut creme, the blackout and the cinnamon bun.  
Unfortunately, The Doughnut Plant is short on comfortable seating so we took ours to go and eventually found a decent place to sit down and indulge our tastebuds.  Maybe it was the high expectations or the build-up from the rave reviews, but overall, I was not impressed.  The doughnuts were quite good, don’t get me wrong, but I would prefer a good old-fashioned raised crumb from my local shop growing up to the greasy, coconut-milk-filled square yeast donut I ate from The Doughnut Plant.  Even the cinnamon bun, a weakness of mine and a pastry of which I’m not difficult to please, was sub par by my normal standards.  The valrhona chocolate was tasty, but not a substantial improvement over traditional chocolate glazes.  One caveat I must include is the blackout cake doughnut.  If you are a chocolate lover and have a gallon of milk by your side, you should try this doughnut.  It is by far the most decadent, indulgent and rich doughnut I have ever consumed (in a good way…I think).  
Doughnuts are a food that strike an evolutionary nerve with people: our bodies are adaptively designed to crave fats and sugars (foods that are difficult to attain in a natural setting) and since we can get these crucial ingredients whenever we we want these days, it seems inevitable that the doughnut be created to meet every possible culinary weakness we have.  I am definitely included in that group…but next time, I’ll just go to the doughnut shop down the street.
The Doughnut Plant
379 Grand St.
Far to the east and several blocks north of E. Broadway
07
Aug
08

Wild Ginger Kitchen

I consider the Wild Ginger Kitchen an oasis of sorts.  It once served as a culinary beacon of light for me and I won’t forget my gratitude.  My fiancee and I were wandering aimlessly through SoHo (an organic and romantic way to find a good place to eat, though probably not the most efficient) and for whatever reason, felt uncharacteristically picky.  Italian, everyone’s standby, wasn’t as appetizing as usual and the heavy fare we passed at every other storefront looked like bricks waiting to be swallowed.

We ended up walking down Mulberry in the heart of tourist’s Little Italy.  Not intending to eat in the neighborhood, I vigilantly attempted not to make eye contact with the foaming-at-the-mouth Italian call boys each restaurant employs to lure unsuspecting tourists into its mediocre culinary interior.  Still, as a couple walking arm in arm, we were prime targets to be called at,  be sung O Solo Mio, and to be physically approached by the circus vendors from the other side of the street.
We kept walking.
Though we had half-decided to eat at a dozen locations, we couldn’t come to a consensus and ventured on.  Our stomachs began to get the better of us and just as we had weakly decided to walk to a favorite location in the West Village we reached the corner of Mulberry and Broome.  There, just down from the corner, seemingly backlit with heavenly light, was Wild Ginger.
An unassuming exterior leads to a transformed interior of exposed brick, bamboo and soft candle light.  Immediate friendly service and comfortable seating completes the intimate atmosphere.
The Pan-Asian cuisine of Wild Ginger is exclusively vegan.
Okay, hold on carnivores, stay with me.  I know what most people think when they hear the word “vegan”: turn the page, tofu, bland, keep walking, I’ll get a hot dog and wait for you at the corner.  I promise you, this is not what you expect.  The options at Ginger Kitchen are loaded with such succulent and inviting flavor that even the most staunch, anti-tofu carnivore would bat his/her eyelashes at these entrees.
For starters, the reliable standbys are here: taro and yam tempura, spring rolls and miso soup, all of which are exceptionally executed.  However, the seitan skewers and tempeh come highly recommended.  The seitan is lightly glazed in a sweet hoisin sauce and served with red and green bell pepper and onion.  Seitan (sat-tan), for those of you who don’t know, is wheat gluten at its simplest and a carnivore’s delight at its most decadent.  Once the wheat gluten has been isolated it can be simmered and marinated in whatever flavor you want it to take and with its “meaty” texture and high protein content, it makes for a filling and flavorful main course.  Tempeh, on the other hand, is a traditional Indonesian creation made from a variety of fermented grains tightly packed into a firm cake.  Once the tempeh is thinned and fried, it takes on a hearty texture and is heavenly with a BBQ sauce, hoisin glaze or (one of my personal favorites) added to a Caesar salad.
Entrees at Wild Ginger Kitchen are surprisingly reasonable given the portion size (expect to pay $12-14).  The chefs specialize in the preparation of soy cutlets: soy protein that has been lightly breaded and fried and mimics the texture of chicken.  The most impressive demonstration of this mouth-watering treat is in their General Tso’s “chicken” and the mango soy cutlets with plum sauce.  General Tso’s chicken is served with a traditional spicy (but not too spicy) sauce over a bed of perfectly steamed broccoli.  The mango soy cutlets include the cutlets, fresh mango and a variety of stir fried veggies in a mildly sweet plum sauce.  I challenge any carnivore to eat these dishes and complain about missing the meat!  Perhaps my personal favorite at Wild Ginger is the jade mushrooms.  Shitake mushrooms are lightly fried and coated with a thick sweet plum sauce.  Served over a bed of kale, served slightly al dente, the crispy mushrooms begin to melt in your mouth and are perfectly balanced by the salty greens.  With some hot sake on the side, these dishes become utterly cravable.
The next time you’re wandering aimlessly in New York, remember Mulberry and Broome and make Ginger Kitchen your dinner destination…you won’t be disappointed.

Wild Ginger Kitchen

380 Broome St.

(On the NE corner of Broome and Mulberry)




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