Nothing beats a small group dinner party at a friend’s house. The energy is relaxed and positive, which makes enjoying yourself possible in a way that you can’t at a formal sit-down restaurant. This is what a meal at Dinnertable, a secret restaurant hidden in the back of The Garret East in the East Village, feels like. You enter the bar, muscling your way past some tipsy Millennials until you reach the curtains and pull them aside to flick the secret switch for Dinnertable. A hostess will slide the door and lead you into the peaceful oasis inside. This is where the grown ups are, catching up over good food and wine, carrying on quality conversation and being able to hear one another, while the kids are running around outside.Read More
Everyone knows that Din Tai Fung makes the best soup dumplings ever. And NYC doesn’t have a Din Tai Fung, so when we eat out and order soup dumplings in the city, we are knowingly eating something inferior. We have to make our way through leathery, lukewarm xiao long baos from Joe’s Shanghai and watch in envy as the West Coast keeps getting all the new Din Tai Fungs.Read More
You might describe a sushi omakase as luxurious, long and expensive, but rarely is it ever fun. At Shuko, sitting through 29 courses of the sushi kaiseki is the most fun you’ll ever have. With rap music blaring on the background, the friendly staff plying you with drinks, and the sushi chefs answering questions like, “what’s your guilty pleasure?”, there’s no way you won’t have a good time. Read More
Everyone knows about hot pot, but what about dry pot? I didn’t even know dry pot was a thing until I heard about Málà Project, a restaurant in the East Village that specializes in it. I was trying to research the origins of dry pot, and I found a few links that referenced the Chongqing area of Sichuan as the birthplace. It uses the same seasonings and ingredients as hot pot, except there is no soup base, hence the name.
The East Village is home to both dry pot and hot pot, and the restaurants are nearly a block away from one another. Málà Project is on 1st Ave and 7th St, and Hou Yi Hot Pot, the extremely popular hot pot restaurant in Chinatown, recently opened a location on 2nd Ave and 6th St. So what do you do when you’re at a hot pot crossroads, do you make a left and go wet, or do you turn the corner to go dry?
It’s not even a question, as I would choose Hou Yi over Málà any day. You simply cannot complete with an all-you-can-eat $30 hot pot buffet with unlimited drinks and ice cream. This is how the dynasty of Todai wields its power in the suburbs of America, and now the children of those value-driven Asian families who’ve moved to cities will gladly keep those traditions going at Hou Yi. I am one of them, and I cannot tell you how excited I was that I got to drink as many lychee and chrysanthemum drinks as I wanted, and we were not shy about asking for multiple orders of beef, to get the most out of our $30 buck.
Obviously quantity over quality has its drawbacks. The quality of the beef, fish balls, tofu and vegetables are good, but the chicken and fish are not. The sheer number of options at the sauce bar can be overwhelming. Do you use peanut sauce, bbq sauce, sesame paste, soy sauce? Do you mix every single thing together? Are you even supposed to do that? I decided to throw together a base of sesame paste, some soy sauce, a little chili oil, some fish sauce and a few scallions, and that actually worked out pretty well.
Another drawback is the smell. Hot pot stinks up your clothes, and in anticipation of that, the staff covers your jackets in plastic. The hot pot cooks directly in front of you, and all the meat-broth steam gets up in your pores like the steam machine at a sauna, so you are literally saturated in hot pot broth. There’s no way around it. Just wash your clothes immediately after. This is one area where Málà has an edge. All the dry pots are cooked in the back, so your clothes are safe.
One thing that both hot pot and dry pot have in common? Spicy means SPICY. At Málà, we ordered one non-spicy pot and another mild spicy pot, and everyone was struggling with the mild one. Meat sweats, hiccups, multiple glasses of water, you name it. They are not messing around with heat at either place. Hou Yi at least has a remedy for bringing down the heat, an unlimited ice cream bar. The whole experience at Hou Yi is just so sweet, from beginning to end, and there’s no question which kind of pot will reign supreme.
Hou Yi Hot Pot
97 2nd Ave (between 5th and 6th St)
New York, NY 10002
122 1st Ave (between 7th and 8th St)
New York, NY 10009
Our goal Friday night was to walk into Babu Ji and put our names down for a table, thinking we would probably wait an hour for it. Turns out the wait was more like 2 hours. Time for a back up plan.
It was a bit of a challenge trying to find other options all the way over on Ave B. There are a ton of scrappy little bars and restaurants in the area, but we wanted a restaurant that wasn’t so Alphabet City-ish. Something like a Hearth, which also had a 2 hour wait, or a Flinders Lane, which miraculously did have availability. We wanted to try something new, so when a waiter at Babu Ji tipped us off to a new Vietnamese restaurant called Soothsayer that had just opened on Ave A, we followed his lead.
We were relieved to find a pretty space with a decent atmosphere that had plenty of seats available. I was a little thrown off by the fact that Soothsayer looked more like a stylish neighborhood wine bar than a traditional Vietnamese restaurant. Should I order something more fusion or something more traditional? There were options for both on the menu. I figured I should trust the soothsayer’s vision of a future where a banh mi “burger” and taro “tots” can comfortably coexist with traditional lemongrass grilled beef.
For the most part, I liked what I was seeing in the Soothsayer’s crystal ball. The little nuggets of starchy, fatty carbs that were the taro tots was the most exciting discovery, so much so that we ordered another. I was hoping for more from the bahn mi burger, but it didn’t taste that much different from a regular banh mi sandwich. Even though it wasn’t a revelation, it was perfectly solid, and I couldn’t complain about the juicy patty with the sweet relish on top.
The chicken wings, on the other hand, probably could have used a little editing. They were clumsily drowning in too much batter, rendering the chicken part of the wing irrelevant. I also didn’t love the fried rice, which utilized Western ingredients like duck sausage and apple in lieu of lap cheong or basic chicken. It was too salty and overseasoned, with the flavors of the sausage and the smoked chicken muddying together and weighing down the rice, which should be lightly salted with a sprinkle or two of MSG.
The fusion dishes are the way to go, as the more authentic offerings can’t quite capture the hearty, homey flavors that you’d get at a traditional place. I wanted the grilled beef to punch me with its fish sauce and lemongrass flavors, but it was more like a light jab. The stir-fried morning glory also felt a little under-dressed, seemingly made by the hands of a cautious Vietnamese grandchild than by those of an experienced Vietnamese grandmother. The soothsayer’s culinary future wasn’t totally perfect, but I’m for the most part sold on it.
171 Avenue A (between 10th and 11th St)
New York, NY 10009