Jay and I had heard tales of the legendary Beijing night market – that they sold still-live animals, blood and hearts, and other unappetizing tidbits. So of course we had to go.
If Beijing could be said to have one signature dish, it would have to be Peking duck. Quanjude was actually one of the first Peking duck restaurants to open in the city, in 1864. Their claim to fame is that they cook the ducks by hanging them in a large oven for about 45 minutes, over an open fire that uses the hardwood of peach or pear trees.
One of the specialties in Xi’an is the dumpling, and one of the best places to sample the dumpling is De Fa Chang, where you can get an 18-course dumpling banquet. (That’s right – 18 courses, though thankfully each course consists of only one dumpling.)
Xi'an's Lao Sun Jia is famous for its yangrou paomo, also known as lamb and bread soup, a traditionally Muslim dish. Though the servers speak little to no English, there's a huge menu of other foods with pictures you can point at, but you really don't need to order much else since the soup is so satisfying.
After Sam Sifton of the NY Times wrote that Motorino "serves the city's best pizza" on February 17, I had to give it a try to see for myself. I'd been to a couple of the other trendy New York pizza places – Company, Keste and, of course, Franny's, which is just down the block from our Brooklyn apartment – so while I'm by no means a pizza expert, I at least had some basis for comparison.
I had expected the Mermaid Oyster Bar, on the edge of Greenwich Village, to look more like a ramshackle fish shack. Instead, it reminded me of an upscale Nantucket restaurant, its white walls covered with pictures of beachy-looking scenes and a specials board announcing the day's oyster selections.
Jay and I are a little obsessed with uni. So we were really excited when we first went to Soto a couple of years ago for my birthday: The chef, Sotohiro Kosugi, ran a successful sushi restaurant in Atlanta before opening this intimate place in the West Village that specializes in uni in many guises.
Jay and I have never been that happy with Manhattan Chinatown dim sum. In our experience, it tends to be greasy, heavy on the fried items and not as fresh tasting as meals we've had in San Francisco, Vancouver and Hong Kong.
The restaurant is named after the crunchy, slightly caramelized rice that sticks to the bottom of the paella pan. Your server comes back at the end to scrap off the socarrat for everyone to enjoy -- and it truly is the best part, crispy with a yummy nutty flavor.
I hadn't eaten at En Japanese Brasserie in several years, during a New York Restaurant Week where all I remember is that we were served tastes in a Bento box and we saw Zac Posen. This time around, Jay had just eaten at En the week before and raved about the yumminess of the food, saying we needed to go back – and soon!
From the outside, the place wasn’t much to look at – and from the inside, it wasn’t either. J’s was more like a dive bar with food than a restaurant, with many diners eating at the U-shaped bar that dominates most of J’s interior and a few at tables scattered near the windows. The clientele appeared to be mainly locals sharing gossip about other locals (and easily identified by ordering non-seafood dishes like chicken salad) and a smattering of tourists ordering many, many plates of shellfish in all its forms.
Jay had done a lot of research before our trip to find a table for our last night, in Madrid. He settled on Gastro for two reasons: one, the chef, Sergi Arola, had trained at El Bulli and apparently was one of his most promising disciples, and two, he was also a rocker.
For our next dish, we ordered the Palamos prawns, very lightly grilled with salt on top. The meat was very tender, almost sushi-like, with a slight smoky flavor. We finished them off by sucking out the meat (and other assorted items) in the heads, which had more of a briny seafood flavor but still tasted nice and smoky. We could have eaten dozens more of these.