A Tale of Two Meals: Profile of New Sichuan Restaurant, Hui

Emily Atlas and Donna Tallent

Emily Atlas:

Donna and I recently met at a Natural Selections interest meeting and learned that we both love food and exploring the various food options of the Upper East Side and beyond. Although some friends have told me that the Upper East Side has limited interesting food options, in my two months so far as a student at Rockefeller, I have found that this is not entirely true. We heard about a new Sichuan restaurant called Hui that opened about three months ago and thought it would be fun to share a meal together, try a few dishes, and then tell a Tale of Two Meals.

Donna Tallent:

If you’re walking up 70th Street toward Second Avenue, it’s hard to miss this ground-floor spot with its large maroon awning. Hui is situated in the Lenox Hill neighborhood, equidistant from Hunter College and Weill Cornell Medical College, and three short blocks from The Rockefeller University. Even at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, which is an early dinner hour for most New Yorkers, I observed a steady stream of pedestrian traffic heading inside or pausing to check out the menu as I stood out front waiting for Emily to arrive. One woman, someone who I imagined was local to the neighborhood, stopped and addressed me where I stood, as if I were some sort of an ambassador for the restaurant: “Grand Opening…Is this a new Chinese restaurant?”, she asked.

EA:

We had a 5:30 p.m. reservation at Hui. Having just come from an interesting Friday Lecture, I hustled to Hui, a 5-10 minute walk from Rockefeller’s campus. As I walked, I thought about how I had not yet found many Chinese restaurants near Rockefeller. In fact, before going to Hui, I had only been to Xi’an Famous Foods, a small shop on 78th Street that serves thick hand-pulled noodles, famously spiced with cumin. Delicious as it may be, Xi’an Famous Foods focuses mostly on noodles and regional specialties from the Xi’an province of China. While I am excited about the uptick of more authentic and regional Chinese restaurants in New York City, my childhood memories of Chinese food consist mostly of Chinese-American versions of Sichuan and Shanghainese food, and I still crave many of those dishes.

DT:

Hui, with its white tablecloths, attentive staff, and family-style portions, reminded me of the Chinese restaurants my family frequented when I was a child, but with much more of a modern-day feel. The exposed brick walls, grey wood floors, and sculptured metalwork décor give the restaurant a polished yet comfortable and inviting vibe. There’s also a lovely yet sleek, soft-lit, fully-stocked bar if you’re looking for a cocktail and a quick nibble. Hui is a place to have an after-work drink, an intimate meal with a friend, or a large family gathering.

EA:

The first thing I noticed was that the décor shows a lot of attention to detail. This is a place to go for a sit-down meal in a way that Xi’an Famous Foods is not. The restaurant was a tad empty at 5:30 p.m., but it filled up over the course of our meal, and was near capacity by 7:00 p.m.

The attentive wait staff quickly informed us that it was Happy Hour (every day from 5-8 p.m.). I ordered a glass of a dry Riesling ($6 at Happy Hour), a good wine to pair with Chinese dishes.

The menu had a near-overwhelming array of choices. Luckily, Donna and I agreed to share our dishes, so we could try as much as possible. We decided on scallion pancakes (six pieces for $7.95) and pork steamed buns (six soup-filled buns for $9.95). We also ordered the spicy and sour beef pot ($21.95) and the spicy and sour shredded potatoes ($13.95). Scallion pancakes and pork steamed buns (also known as pork soup dumplings, juicy pork buns, or xiaolongbao [shau-long-bau]) are two familiar dishes I try, if available, to get a sense of any new Chinese restaurant I check out.

When the scallion pancakes arrived, I wasn’t sure whether I would like them. I tend to look for crispy, browned, bubbly scallion pancakes with only a slight sheen of oil. These particular scallion pancakes were not browned, and frankly looked a little greasy. However, I was struck by how delicate they were. They were both crispy and chewy and paired perfectly with the dipping sauce of soy sauce, ginger, and rice vinegar. The pork steamed buns arrived piping hot in a bamboo steamer. The soup inside the buns was flavorful and rich and the pork was well seasoned. I was most impressed with the dumpling dough, which was delicate and cooked perfectly. You could tell that the dumplings were freshly made.

Finally, our main dishes arrived. The waitress had told us earlier that the sour and spicy shredded potato dish was one her mom used to make for her when she was a child, and eating the dish evoked nostalgic feelings of home for her. I dove right into the potatoes, which were very thinly julienned and crisp, with a vinegary tang. There were many thinly sliced red chilis and the dish was extremely spicy. I have a very high spice tolerance and I enjoy spicy foods, but by the end of the meal, my lips were definitely feeling the effects of the capsaicin. The spicy and sour beef pot was less spicy, but still flavorful.  Donna seemed to prefer this dish, but I found it hard to enjoy the subtler flavors after digging into the potatoes; that is one of the perils of highly spiced foods.

DT:

Emily and I ordered beer and wine from the almost-half-price happy hour menu (beer is $4 a glass, wine is $6 a glass) and then pored through pages and pages of glossy menu items, including full-color photos of dishes from ten different categories: Cold Appetizers, Hot Appetizers, Soup, Salad, Vegetables, Entrees, Rice and Noodles, Special Clay Pot, Chef Specialties, and Desserts.

It didn’t take us long to pick out several items we felt were worth sampling: From Hot Appetizers, juicy steamed buns and scallion pancakes. Emily showed me how to eat the steamed buns, piping hot and full of luscious, savory broth, by gently balancing a bun on your spoon, nibbling the top until the broth trickles out, and then slurping up the broth. I attempted to be graceful with the first dumpling, but by my third, I began to shove them into my mouth whole. The scallion pancakes were light, crisp, and flaky. I imagined they received a quick, delicious dip into a shallow pan of oil and told Emily I could just eat an entire plate of only them. From Vegetables, spicy and sour shredded potatoes, which were too spicy for me but Emily seemed to love; and from Chef Specialties, the spicy and sour beef pot. Now this specialty dish was the plate of food that will make me return to Hui. A generous pile of shredded beef lay on top of rice noodles, which swam in a perfectly seasoned beef broth. I left my to-go box on the table and truly mourn for my abandoned, uneaten leftovers.

EA:

All in all, I had a great meal at Hui with Donna and would definitely return! Hui has a reasonably priced lunch menu and it would be a good break from my usual Collaborative Research Center or Weiss lunches.

__________________________________________

Hui Restaurant and Bar

314 E 70th Street, between First and Second Avenues

(646) 869-0339

Lunch specials served Monday-Friday, 11:30–3:30 p.m.

According to Web site, online orders are 10% off until December 31, 2018

Visit Web site for hours and additional daily specials.

Nessa Noms: Flip Sigi

 

Vanessa J. Wu

 

Flip Sigi has been a long time coming. This Filipino taqueria is headed by Chef Jordan Andino who was born in Canada, grew up in California. He takes inspiration from his Filipino grandmother and draws on skills from the time he spent working in fine dining.

 

Jordan’s first restaurant in the West Village was originally named 2nd City, but has now joined the second restaurant located on the Upper East Side (UES) in sharing the name Flip Sigi.

 

With two locations, limited edition menu specials every month, and collaborations with other businesses, there’s always something new to experience, but always with a hint of familiarity, maybe even nostalgia. And don’t forget the distinctive hot sauces! There’s 1st Base, 2nd Base, 3rd Base, and Jordan’s very own recipe: Home Run. Put it on your burritos, bowls, burgers, and even Bloody Marys for an extra kick!

 

Like his hot sauce, Jordan is anything but bland. I had the pleasure of meeting him, and his energy is always so high that you’ll probably feel it leaping off the page!

 

NS: What is the meaning behind the name Flip Sigi?

JA: Flip Sigi basically means “Go Filipino” coming from a play on the words ‘Flip’ – Filipino and ‘Sigi’ – which basically means go!

 

NS: Why do you think Filipino food is gaining momentum?

JA: Filipino food is gaining momentum because, as a whole cuisine, it speaks to the 3 major cuisines that are popular and understood in the United States: Chinese, Spanish, and American. The fact that Filipino food has all these small elements people are familiar with will make them more keen to try something new.

 

NS: I know you take inspiration from your grandmother’s Filipino recipes. Why do you choose to remake other known foods with a Filipino take rather than traditional Filipino dishes?

JA: I like to remake the classic dishes because it helps introduce my culture and cuisine to a wider range of palates. The more that try it, the more people get introduced to my culture via my cuisine.

 

NS: What are your hopes for the future of your restaurants? Any specific goals?

JA: I hope my future restaurants will be great in number and widely respected among my cohorts and peers. Ideally, we create a culture, company, and restaurant that all people from the US can feel comfortable going to and eating at!

 

NS: How has your Californian identity influenced your food? As a Californian myself, I actually do get quite a bit of a Californian vibe from your food, your personality, and, to some extent, your restaurant decor!

JA: I would say that California influences my restaurants in two different ways: in my use of avocado and my vibe!  I can’t help but love that laid-back feeling while trying to eat because it’s just how I was raised!

 

NS: Why did you choose New York to open your restaurants in?

JA: I opened in NYC because as cliché as it sounds, when it comes to food, if you can prove yourself successful here, you’re now universally respected.

 

NS: Why the UES and West Village neighborhoods specifically?

JA: Luckily for me, both the West Village and UES locations came from great contacts in the real estate business. We initially searched [in the West Village] because the reputation that restaurants have in this neighborhood is that of class and quality. We just had to be here to establish our brand as food-serious. We initially searched [on the UES] because with the opening of the 2nd Avenue Q train, this area will eventually be a hotbed of youth and an area that will attract guests in our price range.

 

NS: Is there anything that sets apart your UES location and your West Village location other than what’s explicitly on the menu and what’s on the “secret menu?”

JA: The locations are the same but have different fingerprints, so to speak. We want each place to have their own identity for the neighborhood that they’re part of.

 

NS: Of all your monthly specials and collabs thus far, which would you say is your personal favorite? I was a fan of the December longanisa poutine. You should definitely make that a regular item!

JA: I’ve done so many of the specials and collabs that it’s hard to remember. I’d say my two favorites are the Flip N Out Burger and the Sinigang Flip Bowl. Both are regular menu items now, but started as specials!  Although I do agree: the longanisa poutine was insane!

 

NS: What about your favorite non-rotating menu item?

JA: Favorite non-rotating menu item – Cali Burrito.

 

NS: I saw that you’re going to be a part of the Food Show at the Javits Center in March. What are you planning on demo-ing? Anything from Flip Sigi?

JA: For the food show in March, I’m going to be on center stage demo-ing the highlights of Flip Sigi as well as some fun hacks for the general cook.

 

NS: Bonus Question: In-N-Out or Shake Shack?

JA: In-N-Out for life!!!!

 

The author with Flip Sigi’s chef, Jordan Andino.

 

From left to right 1) Flip Bowl: one of Jordan’s favorite limited-edition item, now here to stay; 2) Longanisa Poutine: Natural Selection’s Vanessa’s favorite limited-edition item; 3) Cali Burrito: Jordan’s favorite regular menu item.

 

Flip Ramen: The first limited edition item of 2018 – a ramen with both chicken and pork adobo!

 

L.A.E. Me: a collab with black seed bagels now on the official Flip Sigi menu – longanisa, American cheese, and a fried egg on an everything bagel.

 

Poke Me: a twist on the classic tuna poke bowl served with sweet miso coconut steamed rice.

 

For my review of this restaurant and others: vanessajwu.yelp.com

 

For more photos from this restaurant and others: instagram.com/vanessajwu

 

Nessa Noms: Paku Pakus

 

 

Vanessa J Wu*

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Paku Pakus is a new ramen restaurant on 2nd Avenue, between 72nd and 73rd Streets. It is right off the 72nd Street stop on the Q line and opened on Monday, October 23. The restaurant is the culmination of two sisters’ love of food and Japan, modified to fit the needs of those on the Upper East Side. They are enthusiastic about their housemade products, signature flavors, and quality you can taste. I spoke with both the owner, Chin Ip, and the chef, Sarah Ip.

Paku Pakus Sisters.

 

NS: Would you say there’s a special meaning to the name Paku Pakus?

CI: Paku paku literally means open and close. So for dining, it means your mouth is opening and closing constantly. Eating nonstop and also in big mouthfuls. Paku paku is also this [picks up origami fortune teller]; it is part of our logo. This paper-folding is like fortune-telling, so it would be good to expect what is unexpected and let life tell you what is going on and the next step.

Paku Paku.

 

NS: What inspired you to open this restaurant?

CI: I spent quite some time in Japan–a lot of different kinds of places, a lot of different kinds of food. But ramen has really become my passion. I like trying different kinds of ramen from different regions. Different regions have different kinds of soup. Like kaito is more fattening, more rich. Soup noodle is one thing, but I found out I also like mazemen, which is with different kinds of sauce; it’s kind of spicy. In the Upper East Side, you don’t see a lot of ramen shops, unlike Lower Manhattan, so I saw this as a good opportunity to open one for myself. And I knew to find a good chef, so I hired Sarah and the team in the kitchen. I think, together, we can really make it work.

 

NS: Sarah, how did you start working with Chin and Paku Pakus?

SI: Actually, we’re sisters! So we’ve been working together for quite a long while. We’re always looking for good food, good restaurants. If we thought a restaurant was serving crappy food, we thought, “Oh, if we had a restaurant, we could do it better.”

 

NS: How long have you been cooking?

SI: I’ve been cooking since I was young! Actually, I was a pastry chef before. I love cooking and I went to Paris for cooking classes. Also, I spent time in Japan. We tried many different places for ramen, so we were like “Oh! Maybe this is something we can handle and try to make our own.”

 

NS: How long were the two of you in Japan?

CI: I have been on and off for 2-3 years; Sarah would travel to Japan and visit me. She also visited her friends there before. She and our cooking staff have been working on Japanese food for quite a while, so I thought this would be a good team to start with.

 

NS: What do you both think makes for good ramen?

CI: First of all, it should not be soggy. The noodles have to be chewy, but not undercooked. For soup noodles, the soup has to be steamingly hot, especially to fit the cold weather in New York. The meat–the chashu–has to be melty, not dry; it should still be moist, so we keep the fat to keep the moisture of the meat. Egg-wise, it should not be overcooked, it should be—

SI: Soft-boiled.

CI: Yes. That’s what I was thinking. How about you?

SI: No MSG! The soup that we cook, I cook over 8 hours. A lot of people just use from concentrate.

CI: We are trying to tell the story to the community about the birth of our most popular dish so far, the Rich and Creamy. So how we get it, we have a big pot and we load it with a lot of bones, full of gelatin, which is good for our cold weather.

Rich and Creamy.

SI: We use maybe 60-80 pounds of meat in order to reduce to only 20 quarts of soup. So in the summer, we will probably make it less concentrated, because it will likely be too rich for people in the summer. But in the cold, it is really good when it’s really thick. So if you put a spoon to your lips, it’s gonna’ stick.

CI: It’s one of our most popular ones so far. It’s really picking up in the cold weather.

SI: For the dumplings and everything, we grind the pork ourselves, do the dumplings ourselves, instead of just buying it from the store.

CI: The principle is that we are not making anything for our customers which we ourselves don’t eat. So for us, no MSG and the pork has to be hand-ground. That’s our principle; that’s our rule.

 

NS: What would you say is your favorite item, for each of you, on the menu?

CI: Tantan men! I always go for some strong flavor–black coffee, strong tea. So tantan is my favorite because it is spicy, nutty, sour. Everything seems to be going on in your mouth.

Tantan Mazemen.

SI: The chicken lollipops. First, we got the Japanese wing sauce, and after that, we thought why don’t we put some strawberry puree and balsamic vinegar? We loved it. That’s still my favorite.

 

NS: What are your future plans for the restaurant?

CI: After we get more business, we will be thinking of spinning off to other areas in Manhattan or Queens. That will be some years down the road. We want to really stabilize our quality, make this one successful, and make a name for ourselves before we start expanding.

SI: After we make this successful, maybe we can have a central kitchen and make our own noodles. It is only one store right now and the space in the kitchen is not really big, so we cannot make our own noodles. But if we have a central kitchen, we could.

CI: Our next step is making our own noodles. That’s how you can maintain the quality and customize it, too.

SI: For example, some of our customers think the lunch portion noodles are too big. If we could make our own noodles, we could make it a smaller portion for lunch hours. For lunch, we have our lunch combo with the salad and appetizer; if they have the full portion of the ramen, it’s probably too much and they’ll fall asleep when they get back to the office.

CI: Also, we think the mazemen, those with sauce, should go with a thick noodle. It’s like pasta. To me, I’d like for it to be like linguine, but when we check with our supplier, the thickest they can offer us is not really to our standards.

 

NS: And are you planning on expanding the menu?

SI: We are minimizing at the beginning because we like to do everything step by step. We still have a lot of interesting dishes that we’re going to do.

CI: Some of the items printed on our flyer, we are taking out from our menu, because we talked to the staff and they said it’s better to minimize the number of dishes and make sure it’s good quality before we expand the menu. I think the next step is vegetarian stock. We are now offering fish stock and the pork stock that we are proud of. It used to be a Jewish area, so the pork stock is actually a minus here. As for the fish stock, some people are vegetarian, so they can’t even take the fish stock. So we really want to embrace our vegetarian community.

 

NS: Do you have any sneak previews of what you want to add to the menu once you start expanding, besides making your own noodles and veggie stock?

CI: The ones we planned before that we’ve taken out from the menu. Like the cheesy gyoza. We find it quite interesting. The first few days, we offered it and people loved it; it’s just a little labor-intensive.

SI: It has parmesan on the bottom, so it’s crispy.

CI: It takes a long time to prepare, so I said let’s sacrifice it for the time being and come back later. That is one thing. Another is the eggplant, which is on our flyer, but we took it out as well. That one is –

SI: Spicy miso and also lime miso. We use the Korean spicy sauce, mix it with the miso on the eggplant, and grill the top; you can eat it alone or with chips.

CI: The miso that we use is four types of miso; we blend it all together in different portions, so it is something that is really house-made for us. It’s not something you can get from the supermarket. We want to use this miso blend that we have, our signature one, and use it in more and more dishes.

 

NS: The area we’re in is more Eastern, traditional seating while the rest of the restaurant is more Western style seating. What made you choose this difference in layout?

CI: Tatami is very uniquely Japanese. I thought a tatami table would be good especially when it’s facing the street, kind of overlooking the street: being seen and also seeing people. The problem with the tatami is that a lot of Westerners, probably with long legs, would have a harder time, because with the real tatami, people sit on the floor with their legs folded at the back. That’s why we have the hole down there so people can stretch out their legs. We tried to make it Japanese, but we modified it in order to try to fit the Americans. We have the long table over there in the back as well. We thought of putting those low stools, which is very Asian, but we found out this area, the Upper East, has a lot of elderly people, so they may have problems with backless seating. So for the backless, we have it at the bar, but for in the dining hall, we have something with a back.

 

NS: There’s this eye-catching mural all along the wall when we walk in. Tell me about how that came to be.

CI: Noodle shops usually have a long noodle bar. This was our first thought of what to do with our décor. But the thing is our setup is a little difficult, so we changed our mind. When you think of a noodle bar, it’s a long table. And we wanted to have a lot of different, colorful characters. When you think of a long table, with a lot of characters, the first thing that comes to mind is Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” So when I talked to my manga artist in Tokyo, I gave them the idea of a long table with different characters that [mimicks] Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”. So some of the gestures, you can find in “The Last Supper” as well. The judge who is holding back those two guys behind him, you can also find in “The Last Supper,” but we kind of changed it a little bit. The theme is still there, but instead of Jesus saying someone betrayed him, we get the reactions of colorful figures and how they handle their different bowls of noodles. A little boy gets shocked by his dad and drops his bowl, so it flies off the table and we have a girl in school uniform flying off and catching a mouthful. And we have a guy nonstop paku paku, nonstop eating. We also have a ramen competition–three contenders trying to get in the competition: the winner and the other two, still trying to fight for it and stay in the game. We’re thinking of different ways people will handle their noodles, how people treasure it, and fight for what they want.

 

NS: You mentioned the ramen eating contest. Do you think you’ll have anything like that here?

CI: That would be a very good promotion for us, but we haven’t really thought that through yet.

 

NS: Is there anything either of you would like to add?

SI: I really want to take any comments where we can make improvements from it. At the beginning, I don’t mind. Tell me, instead of not coming back!

CI: Daily, we are fine-tuning our recipes from the comments we are getting from our customers. The serving team and the cooking team are working very closely. If anyone isn’t finding it good enough for any reason, we always tell the cooking team.

 

*This interview was conducted on November 4, 2017. Since then, Paku Pakus has made some of the changes mentioned in the interview, such as creating a vegetarian-friendly broth.

 

Dominique Ansel Nominated Best Pastry Chef in the World: A Cronut Comeback?

 

Juliette Wipf

Picture by Edmondo Campisi

Who hasn’t heard of the famed 2013 food the Cronut? After quickly gaining worldwide attention, Cronut followers were soon considered frivolous, and the pastry over-hyped. TIME magazine naming the pastry one of the 25 best inventions of the year in 2013, can be a particularly bittersweet pill for us scientists to swallow. However, the fame of this hybrid delicacy is based on the skills of an extraordinary chef, Dominique Ansel, creator of the Cronut, who recently won the title of “Best Pastry Chef in the World,” as part of the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. Ansel received his training at Fauchon in Paris, a legendary delicatessen company and symbol of French-style luxury. Without having any sort of culinary degree, he started as a seasonal staff member, and ultimately worked himself up to head of Fauchon’s international expansion. In 2005, he settled down in New York City and worked as the executive pastry chef at Daniel, a renowned French restaurant on the corner of 65th Street and Park Avenue. Many ascribe a large part of Daniel’s success to Ansel, who worked at the restaurant when it first received three Michelin stars. He finally opened his own bakery in Soho in 2011, which gained cult status long before the Cronut® hype. Other popular pastry creations by Ansel are the DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann, a Breton puff pastry), Frozen S’mores (ice cream covered in chocolate millefeuille and flamed marshmallow, served on an apple wood-smoked willow branch), the Chocolate Chip Cookie Shot (a shot glass shaped cookie filled with cold-infused vanilla milk, only available after 3 p.m.), the Magic Soufflé (notably the only soufflé that does not collapse, with Grand Mariner liquor and orange blossom), the Gingerbread Pinecone (a layered pastry finished with 70 individual chocolate petals), and the Christmas Morning Cereal (only available in December). You can also choose from more conservative, but similarly beautifully presented pastries on display, or a classic chocolate croissant. My favorite is the Pear & Champagne Mousse Cake.

In case you decide to try a real Cronut, let me give you some advice. Everyday, about 350 Cronuts are made. The flavor of the Cronut changes every month, and is never repeated. Dominique Ansel Bakery opens at 8 a.m., and to secure a Cronut you should arrive before 7:30 a.m. If you are lucky, the bakery will serve you a sweet little appetizer while you are waiting in line. Once you get to the cashier, you can purchase two Cronuts per order. However, you can go back to the end of the line, wait again and purchase two more. If you don’t want to wait in line, you can plan ahead and preorder the pastry online. Every Monday at 11 a.m. sharp, orders are taken for dates two weeks out. You will therefore wait longer for your pastry fix, but are allowed to purchase up to six Cronuts at a time.

Good Luck!

Picture by Juliette Wipf

Picture by Edmondo Campisi

De Gustibus: The Bird’s the Word

By Mark Rinaldi

lIf you’ve never had occasion to enjoy the marvel that is Japanese yakitori, I’ll break it down for you: wooden sticks are stuck through bits of chicken, and then those bits are grilled over coals. Simple, right?

Not so fast–there’s a bit more to authentic yakitori. The grilling medium absolutely must be binchōtan, a slow-burning, low-smoke charcoal made from oak (specifically Quercus phillyraeoides, for those dendrologists among us) the gentle embers of which impart a flavorful char to poultry and vegetables. After their time on the fire, skewers must be glazed with tare, a sweet-and-salty reduction made from rice wine, soy sauce and chicken stock. A procession of condiments also accompanies these bites of fowl–some sweet, some sour, some funky and some incendiary.

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