I've never really understood why people in New York City have a tendency to go apeshit over weekend brunch. Not to say that pancakes, waffles, and ten variations of eggs aren't delicious, but it never struck me as anything worth fawning over.
Dim sum, on the other hand, is worth the pain that comes with dragging my sleepy weekend butt out of bed. The Chinese version of weekend brunch, it is one of the greatest meals ever invented. Great because people just keep bringing you little plates of food—many in the form of the almighty DUMPLING—and you can stuff yourself for $10 or less, downing pots of complimentary tea the whole time. The more people you have, the more stuff you can eat, so find your dim sum entourage for optimal gluttony. The only downside may that you may not know what the hell you're eating if you're not familiar with dim sum or speak Chinese, but that's part of the fun. IT'S AN ADVENTURE!!!, goddammit.
The entourage for this meal at 88 Palace, located in the dingy East Broadway Mall, was Serious Eats-derived. We decided to gather once a month (October being the inaugural meal) to review a dim sum restaurant for Seriuos Eats: New York. Unbeknownst to me, I was the reviewer, but I got help from Gordon and the others as far as identifying what the hell we ate. Aside from me, the full group consisted of Kåre, Diana, Kathy, Zach and his wife Sarah, Alaina and her husband Anil, Gordon, and Ezra (I'm sorry if Sarah also has a website and I can't find it). The vegetarians and vegans had to find other activities as dim sum is quite non-vegetarian friendly. :'(
Soft, slightly chewy rice noodle rolls are so simple, but so so so good. I like rice noodles in all its forms, but this is one of my favorites. In rolled-up sheet form.
Super-soft beef meatballs lined with tofu skin! You are tasty.
Fried sticky rice with meat bits and other bits of deliciousness! I like chewy rice bits.
Steamed sticky rice is also good, but more soft and less chewy.
Surprisingly, I was a big fan of the pig stomach herbal soup. Pig stomach reminded me of tofu skin if it were chewier, meatier, and played a role in the pig's digestive process.
I can't eat dim sum without getting favorite dessert #1, fried sesame rice balls. A crisp sesame seed-crusted shell gives way to chewy, glutinous rice innards and a dense mung bean paste center.
Favorite dessert #2 is egg custard tarts. These were some of the flakiest ones I've had in a long time. Creamy custard filling + delicate, flaky crust = WIN.
The most interesting dessert of the meal (and a first for all of us) was the fried mantou with condensed milk. How could you not like a crispy, golden nugget of steamed bread dipped in the thick, sweet condensed milk? THAT'S UNPOSSIBLE.
After ordering 23 dishes, the final damage was $9 per person with tip. It's meals like that that make me feel totally awesome. Zach said if we were really hardcore though, we would spend at least $15 per person and have no leftovers. We'd probably all need to puke afterwards as well. While 88 Palace may not be the best dim sum in Chinatown, it's worth the price, and for some reason I like going to the East Broadway Mall. Kåre said it was like being in another world; I say it feels very Chinese, in that kind of "run down, yet still thriving" way.
While walking on Division Street towards nothing in particular, we passed a restaurant with a giant pile of fried eggs in the window. My first thought was, "I really want one," and then I remembered, "No wait, I just ate a huge meal, thus putting more food in my body is unnecessary and will probably result in physical discomfort, such as the eruption of an important organ." The master of reason, I am.
On the way to the West Village, we went to the temporary Outsiders show held by the Ladarides Gallery at the corner of Bowery and Houston. Here's one example of art from the show: Alcoholic Bum Grover.
We headed to the West Village to check out Banksy's temporary non-pet shop, The Village Pet Store. A real pet shop has live, breathing animals; a non-pet shop has animatronic animals and animal-derived things like hot dogs, fish sticks, and chicken nuggets. You should check it out in real life if you get the chance since photos don't give the whole effect of the Fish Stick that Undulates or the Little Hot Dogs that Wiggle Somewhat Freakishly.
And for no reason, a "DO NOT FEED THE PIGEONS" sign because I had never noticed one before and I thought it was pretty freakin' cute. Of course, if it were in Japan it'd be 500% cuter, and the pigeon would probably say something like, "LET'S BE FRIENDS," but you have to lower your standards when you're anywhere else in the world.
Ian took us to Roger's Time Machine, a completely awesome comic book and retro magazine store I would have never noticed on my own. I'm sure I've passed it many times as it's right by the Donut Pub, but it's a second floor store that you have to ring a buzzer to get into. That's two deterrents right there, which is two more than I usually feel like engaging in.
But you should ring the bell and climb a flight of stairs so you can gaze upon Roger's bounty of comic books, magazines, sci-fi novels, and...old Playboys.
For dinner, Kåre and I ate at Shachi's, primarily because it was only a 10 minute walk from my apartment and my desire to walk far or take a subway was nonexistent. The last time I went to Shachi's I felt unsatisfied with just one arepa—a kind of Venezuelan sandwich made with cornmeal patties—so I thought we should order more than one each.
"I think we're going to share some arepas," I told the waiter.
"Uh...how many?" he ask with a friendly, yet concerned look. "Each one is kind of big, about the size of a burger," he said while making a round shape with his hands. "I'm not sure you can eat that many of them."
While my initial thought was, "Pfft, I can totally eat two of those," I decided to ignore my gluttonous pride and heed his warning. We ordered three arepas and an order of guacamole and chips, which in the end was probably more food than just getting four arepas and, of course, resulted in me feeling bloated and stuffed. Moral of the story: Listen to your waiter. If he works at Shachi's.
My favorite is the pabellon filled with juicy, shredded beef, black beans, sweet plantains, and grated cheese. That it didn't fill me up the first time I ate it is frightening because...did you see what it's stuffed with? A combination of four very filling things. Every bite is a delicious mix of fat, protein, and starch.
We also got a reina pepiada filled with chicken potato salad and avocado.
And another filled with ham and cheese.
And then I went into a food coma and never wanted to eat an arepa again. Not until I had deflated, that is.
Although I have no sense of what good Venezuelan food is, I'd say the arepas from Shachi's are worth eating. Most of the deliciousness comes from the hearty crisp and soft cornmeal "buns," but unless you have something against beef, beans, plantains, or cheese (NOOO, SAY IT AIN'T SO), you should stick with the pabellon. (I apologize if it sounds like I'm not putting my all into this review; it's mostly because I already reviewed Shachi's on Serious Eats, and partially because it's 1 a.m. and my brain is half asleep.)
Our waiter didn't look like he was going to give us our check anytime soon even though we were one of two parties in the restaurant, so I got up and walked the few yards to the counter to get it. "I'm sorry, you guys looked like you were having a good conversation and I didn't want to intrude," he explained. I didn't think he was being neglectful or anything; we could just have easily asked for the check but it seemed easier to get it myself.
On the walk home, Kåre said that the waiter probably thought we were on a date. The idea completely surprised me; it's not something I would've ever thought of, but I guess it makes sense for dates do occur in restaurants. As far as I know, I've never been on a date, and if anyone ever took me on one he'd have to be explicit about it beforehand. On that note, you shouldn't tell me if we're going on a date because then I'd probably refuse to go out, meaning that anyone who wants to date me would have to trick me into it, which is probably why I'm single. The bigger reason for that though is that I'm mentally unstable. (Am I joking? Nobody knows.)
I bet I just intimidated a bunch of people. Ahhh fuck.
Something funny about the earlier part of the day was that the group I was in kept shifting. After leaving 88 Palace, it was whittled down to Diana, Kathy, Ezra, Kåre, and me. At some point Ian joined the group and brought us to the Outsiders show, after which Kathy went home. When we got to the West Village we met up with Alex and Sophie. One of Ezra's friends popped in after a while, and after getting our fill of undulating fish sticks, the seven of us walked up to Roger's Time Machine. We left when Alex had to catch the bus back to Philly (sniffles!). Feeling tired and full, Kåre and I went back to Brooklyn and the rest of the group went their separate ways. Stuff like that doesn't usually happen. Really.
88 East Broadway, 2nd Floor,
New York, NY 10002 (the East Broadway Mall under the Manhattan Bridge)
Roger's Time Machine
207 W 14th St # 2
New York, NY 10011