Category Archives: Food

Crying for Uncle

Photo: James Boo/

Thirty years ago in America, you’d be hard-pressed to find Chinese food outside the culinary continuum of wonton soup, lo mein and sweet-and-sour chicken, a dish designed as a delivery system for sugar and red dye. But in the last decade, as sour-spicy Hunan and hot-and-numbing Sichuan restaurants fired up their woks, the country has been introduced to a growing galaxy of flavorful Chinese cuisine, not just deep-fried meat of dubious origin.

Of all the cuisines that have lately attracted our appetite — Southeast Asia–influenced Yunnan, seafaring Qingdao, hearty, dumpling-and-meat-heavy Dongbei — one school of cookery stands out: Henan cuisine.

Do not confuse this with Hunan. Located northwest of Shanghai, the cuisine of the Henan province, known as the breadbasket of central China, is heavy on noodles, dumplings and lamb. Garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, star anise and chili oil are common additions, though the fare is not as mouth-on-fire as Sichuan food.

In New York City, Henan cuisine has lately main inroads in both Manhattan and Queens, with the best eats found at the homespun Uncle Zhou. Like most Chinese restaurants, the frills-free décor runs a distant second to the food. There are a handful of tables and a refrigerated case displaying the day’s cold appetizers, including plenty of spicy mushrooms, shreds of pressed tofu and oodles of sliced offal.

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My Five Favorite Pairings From SAVOR

Hello, SAVOR! (Yes, it’s supposed to have big ol’ letters.)

Too many times to count, beer has served as our appetizer, entrée and dessert, the sole source of our evening’s caloric intake. Solid food is an afterthought to loads of liquid bread.

Not so last weekend in Washington, D.C., where the Brewers Association hosted SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience. The festival’s mission is simple to take over the National Building Museum, then partner some of the country’s top breweries with dishes devised by Adam Dulye of the Monk’s Kettle, one of San Francisco’s finest beer-focused restaurants.

Before Saturday night’s main course, we broke bread at the Brewer’s Brunch at Birch & Barley. The restaurant and its upstairs bar, Churchkey, have become the epicenter of the city’s beer and dining scene thanks to the one-two efforts of chef Kyle Bailey and beer director Greg Engert. Taking advantage of a quirky local law that allows the bar to pour just about any beer it can acquire (instead of wading through the legal muck), Engert sources beers not commonly found on the East Coast.

The main event assembled some of America’s best brewing talent to lead diners through six courses complemented by beer as unusual as they were delicious, such as the Black Berliner Techno Weiss devised by Bluejacket (the restaurant’s in-the-works brewery) and Virginia’s Devil’s Backbone. “It defies expectations,” said Bluejacket brewer Megan Parisi, holding aloft a glass of the dark and sour German ale that only weighed in at about 3.4 percent. The tangy ale was a fine fit for the pickled vegetables, while Boulevard Brewing’s wild yeast–spiked Saison Brett found harmony in the beet-cured Arctic char.

Also intriguing was Durham, North Carolina–based Fullsteam Brewery’s Carver, a lager made with plenty of sweet potatoes. “We’re all about being a Southern brewery,” explained founder Sean Lilly Wilson as we dove into buckwheat crumpets studded with bacon, English peas and corn. On the other hand, homemade ricotta cavatelli and breakfast sausage sidled up to Terra Incognita, a dark, lightly leathery barrel-aged curiosity also dosed with the wild yeast Brettanomyces. “We wanted to do something that was earthy and had food-friendly flavors,” explained Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman of the beer made in conjunction with Boulevard Brewing (it was SAVOR’s official commemorative beer).

That sour, wild yeast–infected beers were the stars of brunch was no accident. That evening, as we ping-ponged around the 74 breweries scattered beneath the towering ceiling, the coming trends of craft beer became apparent. More than ever, breweries are tinkering with souring bacteria such as Lactobacillus and the wild yeast Brettanomyces, creating tart, funky beers that’ll make you pucker with pleasure. Fruit, vegetables and herbs are also taking their starring turn, as are smoked malts that are providing beers with a campfire complexity. Here are five of our favorite finds from SAVOR 2012 and their accompanying food. Note: Some courses were paired with multiple beers.

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Here’s Why Boston Made Me Fat

Hello, precious. A lobster roll from Island Creek Oyster Bar.

I liken living in New York City to being trapped in a cocoon surrounded by a force field. There’s so much to eat and drink in the metropolis that it’s tough to break out. Weeks and months pass before residents escape the city limits.

This brings us to Boston. It had been too long since my wife and I had driven the 220 miles north, so we decided to spend a weekend diving face-first into the city’s food and drink scene. Here’s how we happily came back five pounds heavier. Continue reading

General Tso, Meet an IPA

Fellow Americans, we’re living in a golden age of craft beer and Chinese grub as our nation is finally moving beyond Budweiser and General Tso—that fictitious soldier who led chicken charging into a deep fryer. But despite all the bitter IPAs, inky stouts and lip-singeing dan dan noodles currently awaiting your stomach, craft beer and Chinese food hardly ever intersect. At restaurants, the fieriest Far East fare is typically served with Tsingtao, a lager that’s every bit as nuanced as MGD. Bold foods deserve equally bold beer.

That’s the modus operandi at AmerAsia, the rare restaurant to combine top-flight Chinese food with beer not grabbed from the bottom shelf. Located in Covington, Kentucky, within spitting distance of Cincinnati and the Ohio River, AmerAsia is a funky little place in a sleepy little downtown. The walls are decorated with graffiti-style murals and kung fu movie posters like Enter the Dragon and Game of Death, as well as, uh, lesser-known classics like Beverly Hills Ninja. Continue reading

My Obligatory St. Patrick’s Day Beer Story

Can’t wait till Saturday. Whee!

Each year, it seems, I can’t escape St. Patrick’s Day without being forced to write a story incorporating Guinness, corned beef and at least one Gaelic pun. Well, no fear! This year is no different. Click here for my Epicurious rundown on the best way to pair food with an Irish-themed pint or two. Or, more likely, 11.

Here Is Why I Gained Weight in Hanoi

Mmm…bia hoi in Hanoi! That is, fresh, cheap beer.

Food-loving globetrotters, here’s a bit of sound advice: If you’re headed to Vietnam’s northern city of Hanoi, we’d recommend you pack a pair of elastic-banded pants. The city is a wonderland of cheap eats and drinks, offering an endless variety of soups, noodles, buns, rolls and sandwiches paired with plenty of fresh herbs — and fresh beer, too.

You could spend a week eating your way through the hectic, motorbike-clogged streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter and never eat the same meal twice. I know I didn’t on my recent trip. Here are 20 dishes and drinks from Hanoi that haunt my hungry dreams.

Curious what I ate?  Check out the full story at Food Republic.

A Bloody Good Boat Noodle

Mmm…bloody boat noodles. Photo: Flickr/djjewelz

As the eldest son of a doctor and a nurse, I have become numb to blood. Talk of tricky needles was bandied about like baseball scores, and the plentiful sights of IV bags and gauze punctuated visits to my parents’ hospitals and nursing homes.

Thus, I am not freaked out by gashes and scrapes, punctures and pricks. Eating blood? One St. Patrick’s Day, I began my morn with eggs and blood pudding. The mixture of grains and hemoglobin was desert-dry and intensely minerally, akin to licking an iron bar in the desert. Another time, congee mixed with thick, arterial-toned slices of congealed pig’s blood triggered an instant gag reflex. My throat was a one-way street.

But a man can’t live his culinary life in fear. So last week in Los Angeles I decided to once more give blood a whirl. After an early morning appearance on Playboy Morning Radio, a radio show that features a former Playmate as an anchor, I convinced my driver—well, friend Steve—to steer us to Saap Coffee Shop for an early morning lunch. Continue reading