5 Napkin Burger at 14th and 3rd Ave

Holiday decorations inside the 5 Napkin Restaurant at 14th Street
Holiday decorations inside the 5 Napkin Restaurant at 14th Street

I don’t remember exactly when the place opened, but for the past few months the 5 Napkin Burger restaurant has been full of people almost every time I’ve gone by. The smells of cooking hamburgers wafting out of the restaurant onto 14th Street made it hard to walk by without getting hungry. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise when my mom asked me and my wife to take her there for her birthday dinner.

Christmas ornaments hanging from the pipes on the ceiling
Christmas ornaments hanging from the pipes on the ceiling
Chalk board covered with drawings, including a flask and Bunsen burner.
Chalk board covered with drawings, including a flask and Bunsen burner.

The holiday decorations inside the restaurant are nice. It felt festive. My wife pointed this out to me later, but it looks like the restaurant has a biology lab decor underneath the Christmas decorations. I don’t really get it. Is the implication supposed to be that they’ve used science to perfect their burger recipes? It feels like a bit of a mental stretch and personally I don’t want to think about biology labs or what might be festering in Petri dishes while eating.

5 Napkin's signature 5 Napkin Burger
5 Napkin’s signature 5 Napkin Burger
5 Napkin Steak and Eggs (Eggs hidden behind fries)
5 Napkin Steak and Eggs (Eggs hidden behind fries)

My mom and I opted for the signature 5 Napkin Burger. I figured I might as well get what should be their best dish. My wife opted for the steak and eggs. I was tempted to join her. We’ve been watching King of the Hill on Netflix and the night before we’d seen an episode about Hank, his propane and propane accessories and grilling steaks.

The 5N burger costs about 15 bucks. That’s steep, but they do give you a very, very large portion of food. I cleared the plate but my mom took half of her burger home for dinner. I should have done the same because later I wound up with a stomach ache that left me incapacitated on the couch for about two hours. The burger sat in my stomach like a lead weight for most of the day and then just sort of knocked me down for a while late in the evening. Luckily, everything cleared up the next day. If you know what I mean.

Anyway, the food quality is decent.  According to the missus, the steak and eggs were good, but she’s had better.  She said the portion was a good size, but it wasn’t extraordinary and the quality wasn’t comparable to the price. The 5N burger itself was tasty, but the portion was so big it was hard to hold it all together, especially when the juices from the meat started to run out onto my hand. Not that I’m advocating dry burgers, but I think the whole thing would come together better if the portion was just a more… normal size. The heavy garlic butter stuff (I forget the fancy name) along with the extra juiciness (grease?) and the lack of vegetables in the burger caused it to have a very unbalanced taste, and it might also be what led to my discomfort later in the day.

Some bizarre "cocktail" that tasted like flat champagne and cost 10 dollars.
Some bizarre “cocktail” that tasted like flat champagne and cost 10 dollars.

The worst part of the meal was this holiday cocktail that was supposed to be a mix of champagne, some essence of elder flower, mulled ginger and some other essence of something that came in a tiny glass (that I got charged 10 bucks for…) and tasted like flat champagne. The only bubbles in the glass were coming from the interaction between the ‘champagne’ and the translucent slice of ginger in the bottom of the glass, which didn’t seem to help the taste of the drink at all. I can’t figure out why it cost so much, either. Do essences of stuff that add no flavor to a drink cost a lot? It certainly wasn’t costly because of the size of the drink. We mentioned the lack of taste to what I assume was a manager, since I think I remember him wearing a suit, and he said he appreciated the suggestion.

The best part of the meal was the onion rings. I’d go back for the onion rings. The chunks of onion are big and they’re not buried in batter. When I bit into them I could taste the onion and the batter instead of heavy oil. The other good thing about the meal was the service, up until the end when we were getting ready to leave. Some server had added an extra table to the booth across from where we were sitting that took up more than half of the walking space, so when we were trying to get out and leave, waiters and waitresses kept asking us to move out of their way. It was slightly annoying.

Thinking about the meal as a whole, we didn’t dislike it at the time. We didn’t have a ‘bad’ experience. I mean, no one left the restaurant upset, angry or disappointed. But, I don’t know that I’d want to go back and get what might be another mediocre steak and eggs or heavy (flavor-wise) burger, or flat champagne cocktail, all of which are highly (over) priced, just to get good onion rings. With three entrees, three sodas, one cocktail and two extra sides of onion rings, plus a tip, our bill wound up being 98 dollars. We could probably have been just as happy for half of the cost at any number of other burger places. So, while I think 5 Napkin is a decent meal, it’s not a decent meal that’s worth the price and I don’t think we’ll going back.

4 Year Anniversary Dinner at Olive Garden in Times Square

Two glasses of Olive Garden Rosso House Wine
Two glasses of Olive Garden Rosso House Wine

Last Saturday was my and my wife’s fourth anniversary together.  We spent our first anniversary in Singapore.  Our second anniversary was in the Philippines.  Our third anniversary we spent apart.  I was here in the US and she was in the Philippines.  We spent a lot of time talking about how we would spend our anniversary this year, after having missed one.  I don’t recall what we had in mind anymore, but I think it was especially appropriate that we went to Olive Garden in Times Square for our Anniversary Dinner, since we spent so much time talking about being together in New York while we were apart.  Plus, the food is pretty good!

Olive Garden's Lasagna Classico
Olive Garden’s Lasagna Classico
Olive Garden's Shrimp and Crab Tortelline Romana
Olive Garden’s Shrimp and Crab Tortelline Romana

The amount of food was just right for me.  My wife wound up taking a lot of her dish home in a take-out bag, but she had a big breakfast and I just had cereal.  Our dishes came with a soup or salad and breadsticks.  We both got the chicken & gnocchi soup.  It’s outstanding!

I’d like to have done more over the weekend, but I suppose we can put off a trip until a little later in the summer when the weather is nicer.  Coney Island maybe?  We did spend some time talking about the last four years and it’s hard to believe it has been that long.  Time seems to have gone by so fast.  It seems like just a little while ago we were doing the 5k run at Pulau Ubin for Run350, or watching fireworks in Singapore on New Year’s Eve, or hanging out at Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand.  Time seems to be moving even faster now that we’re both so busy.  Hopefully we’ll find time in the coming year to go out, despite our hectic schedules, and create more wonderful memories together.

Boka Bon Chon & Wafels and dinges

Boka Bon Chon Fried Chicken
Boka Bon Chon Fried Chicken

I just can’t get enough of those damn fried chicken wings and drumsticks!  I don’t know how they make them, but they come out so crispy and delicious that I don’t mind that the spicy ones are burning my face off.  I just keep eating them!  They also come in soy & garlic flavor, which is great.

Kim Chi Bi Bim Bob and Beef Bul Go Gi
Kim Chi Bi Bim Bob and Beef Bul Go Gi

I’ve been gradually getting my wife around to all of the places I want to show her here in NYC that I already know about and Boka Bon Chon finally came up on the list.  We were in the mood for something Asian and we were in the neighborhood, so we went on in.

Besides the wings, which are an absolute must if you ever go to this place, we got the kimchi bi bim bob and an order of beef bul go gi.  The servings are generous.  Maybe we were hungry, or it was just particularly good yesterday but we cleaned our plates and stripped the bones.

Waffles and Dinges Truck at Astor Place
Waffles and Dinges Truck at Astor Place

Then we saw a food truck.  A bright yellow food truck with a delicious scent coming from it.  It turned out to be “Wafels and dinges,” which sells different types of waffles with a variety of toppings, including one called a “WMD” and, gross as it sounds to me, waffles with bacon or pulled pork.

Brussels waffle with chocolate and powdered sugar from Waffles & Dinges truck.
Brussels waffle with chocolate and powdered sugar from Waffles & Dinges truck.

We were feeling the food we’d just eaten, so we got one and shared it.  It was incredibly good!  I’m looking forward to the next excuse we can find to eat at this food truck again.  =)

For a Sunday afternoon, this was a great meal.  I love NYC.

Hawkers: Southeast Asian Food in New York City

Hawkers, located between 2nd and 3rd Avenues on 14th Street in Manhattan, is a restaurant that serves Southeast Asian food.  I’ve passed by this place almost every day for over a year, but I’ve never gone in because I assumed it was just a bar, and judging from the layout, serving alcohol is its primary function.

Hawker's Bar

The restaurant seating is laid out as one long bar that covers the center of the space from front to back.  It’s simple, but functional.  The layout maximizes space, but sacrifices comfort.  The seats aren’t exactly something you’d want to spend a lot of time sitting on, so don’t plan on spending a lot of time enjoying your meal.

Small porcelain jar of warm sake and two metal shot cups

The food itself is excellent.

Satay and peanut sauce

The satay tasted authentic.  The peanut dip was a little off from what I remember, though it could just be a difference between recipes.  The only satay I have to compare this to was satay my wife and I ate in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  I’d go back to Hawkers just for this, if nothing else.  It’s simple, but satisfyingly tasty.

Green curry

The green curry was really, really spicy and completely awesome!

Popiah

The popiah was ok, but not something I’d order again.

Grilled eggplant lunchbox

My wife cleaned her plate, so I guess the grilled eggplant “lunchbox” must have been delicious!

The bill for what you see in the photos (including a gratuity they helpfully add to your bill for you) added up to about 74 dollars.  That’s a little on the high side for me for a two person meal, though it was quite a bit of food. In fact, it was too much food for two people.  The only reason we went with this option was because of a Groupon deal.  When we go back, we’re going to stick to the lunch menu, or whatever they have for smaller portions.

The last two things I’d like to mention about this place is that its empty in the photos because we went early on a Monday afternoon, and the service was really great.  The girl that served us is from Thailand and we chatted with her about our trip to Phuket, Thailand in 2008 I think it was.

Veselka: Ukrainian Soulfood

Veselka's 1

In 2008, one of the last things I did before leaving the United States and moving to Asia was to have lunch with family at Veselka’s in the East Village.

I don’t remember too much about the visit, except that the pierogis were awesome.  They were so awesome, that I lamented the fact that pierogis weren’t available (at least that I ever saw) during my stay in Asia.  Maybe they were.  Maybe they were hiding on a menu in an overpriced boutique restaurant in an upscale mall somewhere.  Who knows?  Either way, I kept telling my wife about how good they are, pierogis I mean, and I was excited to take her to Veselka’s so she could experience them for herself.

 Veselka's 2

Veselka's 3

Needless to say, she was a bit overwhelmed.  When we got there, she just sat at the table, looking at her phone.  I asked her if she was going to choose what she wanted to eat, and she said, “Oh?  I thought we were having pierogis?”  I told her, “Of course we are, but you have to pick which kind of pierogis you want.”  Then she got excited!  There are plain potato, cheese, meat, spinach & cheese, sauerkraut & mushroom, sweet potato, and arugula and goat cheese.  There’s also the “boiled” or “fried” option to think about.  Veselka’s offers two pierogi plates: the big plate (7 pierogis) and the small plate (4 pierogis).  We both went with the big plate.  Might as well get what we went there for, right?  My wife tried one of each and with the exception of the sweet potato pierogi, which seemed to just not be consistent with the rest of the dish, she said they were all excellent.  I picked and chose but had one of everything but the sweet potato and meat pierogis.

Matzah Ball Soup
Matzah Ball Soup
Ukrainian Borscht
Ukrainian Borscht
Fried pierogis
Fried pierogis.

Dessert board at Veselka's

We thought about having dessert, but after the pierogis and a bowl of soup each, we were full.  The best part is that the food is good quality, but priced to not break your bank.  You can take a look at the full menu by clicking here.

Also, I was happy to see that the murals on the walls in the dining area had been replaced with something more upbeat.  I found two old photos I took in 2006 of the wall murals:

 Old Veselka's Wall Mural 1

Old Veselka's Wall Mural 2

Somber looking aren’t they?

This is definitely better:

New Veselka's Wall Mural

Thanks again for the good food, Veselka’s!  We’ll be back.

Katz’s Delicatessen: Awesome Sandwiches, Well Worth It!

Katz's Delicatessen Facade

I have the vaguest recollection of eating at Katz’s Delicatessen as a kid.  The place has been open, in the spot, since 1888 and is frequently visited by famous people.  The walls inside are covered by pictures of notable diners, like Johnny Depp for instance.  Today my wife and I decided to go down there and give it a try.

Katz's Delicatessen Facade

Despite the hype, we were not prepared for the line we saw when we passed the end of the last block.  Both facades of the restaurant were covered by the lines of people.  The line going down Houston (on the right in the picture) was for take-out; the line going down Ludlow was for dine-in.  Like my wife said, “Thank God for smart-phones.”

Katz's Delicatessen Interior

The wait wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be, but the line outside wasn’t a line for a table.  It was a line for another line.  Well, really it was for the set of lines where you line up to get your sandwich.  Also for the line where you line up to get a drink.  On one hand, the madness and the business of the set-up adds to the excitement of eating there.  On the other, it was very time consuming.  I suppose there isn’t a faster way to do it though.  Table service would likely take even longer.  My only real gripe was that there was just one guy at the soda/fries (and other extras) counter, which made that a really, really long wait to just get two cans of soda.

Katz's Delicatessen Pastrami Sandwiches

Complaints aside, the wait was worth it.  The food is awesome and you get a huge portion.  One sandwich is enough for two people, unless you’re starving to death.  I have half of the sandwich I ordered sitting on my table next to me, still waiting to be eaten.  I had to go ask for a sheet of wax paper so I could wrap it up to bring it home.  The prices aren’t that bad for what we got.  The sandwiches pictured above are pastrami on rye.  I think they were about 15.75 apiece.

Katz's Delicatessen Pastrami Sandwich

If you’re visiting New York City (or if you live here and just haven’t gone yet) and you’re doing the food tourism thing, pizza isn’t the only must-have while you’re here.  Definitely do stop by Katz’s.  It’s worth the time and money.  Oh, and one last thing: Dr. Brown’s root beer kicks ass!

Back to Boka: Delicious Fried Chicken

A half-half plate of spicy and teriyaki wings at Boka: Bon Chon, NYC.

Last May I went to a restaurant called Boka: Bon Chon on St Mark’s place in Manhattan.  I wanted to take my mom out for something nice for Mother’s Day and she’d never had Korean food so it seemed like a good choice.  We were both very satisfied with the food we ate, and after hearing back from some people that the fried chicken there is really awesome, we decided we’d go back to try it out at some point.

We finally did manage to get back there and try the fried chicken at the end of last month and it is amazing!  We only ordered a small plate because we weren’t sure if we’d like it or not.  Now I wish we’d just gotten a big plate of the fried chicken and nothing else.  Just looking at the picture is making my mouth water.  The skin of the chicken was crispy and tasty and the meat wasn’t oily.  I could sit down and eat a bucket of the stuff.  Well, maybe not the spicy fried chicken.  The spicy fried chicken has a real kick to it.  I can’t figure out which I like more.  I think I actually prefer the spicy kind, but I probably couldn’t eat as much of it as the other.

Fried dumplings from Boka: Bon Chon, NYC.

We also got a plate of fried dumplings.  They were crispy and looked nice, but the inside was a bit mushy.  Maybe that’s the way they’re supposed to be.  I don’t know, but my mom didn’t care for them too much.

A 'box lunch' from Boka: Bon Chon, NYC.

We also ordered this.  I don’t recall the name of it now, but it’s a spicy chicken ‘box lunch’.  I was surprised when they brought it out, because the tray looks just like trays used at Korean restaurants in Singapore.  I’m not sure if it’s still there, but I specifically remember there was a Korean restaurant that used these trays in the basement level of the Cineliesure (?) Mall in the Orchard Road area.

We figured that between the chicken, the dumplings and the ‘box lunch’, we’d have more than enough to eat for two people, and we did wind up bringing some of the chicken and dumplings home as leftovers (which disappeared quickly that same night).  It was pretty filling, especially since we were eating it all with white rice.

In the future, when I go to Boka: Bon Chon, the fried chicken will always be one of my choices.  Maybe the best option would be to get a large order of the fried chicken and another dish (like a bowl of bibimbap) and then ask for smaller plates and share the meal.

A Taste of India at Newport Centre

Taste of India, Authentic Indian Cuisine at Newport Centre Mall.

I went up to the food court at the Newport Centre Mall for the first time last weekend.  I saw some old favorites that I hadn’t been to since before I left the US for Kuwait in 2007 and I was pretty sure I was going to wind up eating at Sarku Japan.  It’s not real Japanese food, but it tastes pretty good.  Then I saw a place called A Taste of India: Authentic Indian Cuisine.  I went over and they were handing out free samples of chicken.  It tasted pretty good, but I wasn’t really convinced.  Then I saw that they had chicken biryani, and I wondered if it was anything like the nasi briyani I’d had in Singapore.  I asked for a sample and while it wasn’t exactly the same, it was really close and really good.  It was really spicy too!

Chicken biryani from A Taste of India at Newport Centre Mall.

I wound up getting a bowl of it, with spicy curry on top.  It doesn’t look too appealing in this photo, but most of the foods I ate in Asia tasted better than they looked anyway.

Something about the restaurant was kind of jarring.  They all seemed to be first generation immigrants, judging by their accents, possibly from the same family.  The way they were working the crowd and cajoling people into taking samples and then buying food from them reminded me of street vendors in the Asian countries I’d visited.  They could have just as easily been on a street in Kuala Lumpur or a food court in Singapore.  The weird part is that they were all wearing cheesy looking, brightly colored, standard uniforms.  I guess it was something about the authentic taste of the food and the authentic behavior of the employees clashing with the American franchise store and uniform designs that threw me off.  I suppose it doesn’t matter though.  I paid for good food and that’s what I got.

Boka: Bon Chon on St. Mark’s

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day.  It’s been years since I’ve lived near my mom on Mother’s Day, so I wanted to take her somewhere to get a nice lunch.  My mom has lived in the city for years, so I wasn’t sure what would be appropriate (some place she hasn’t eaten at quite a bit already), but I settled on a place called Boka: Bon Chon.  It turned out to be a good thing too.  Boka is a Korean food place and my mom had never had Korean food before, so besides lunch she got the gift of a new experience for Mother’s Day this year.

Boka: Bon Chon on St. Mark's

As for the restaurant itself, I was a little skeptical at first, because when you first walk up to it, it looks more like a bar than a place you’d go for a good meal.  From the outside, it’s pretty unassuming.  You would hardly know it’s there.  There’s no large sign or store front to speak of.  It occupies just the bottom level of the building seen above.  There’s a karaoke bar above it, a Japanese noodle place to the right and another restaurant that I didn’t really pay much attention to on the left.

Interior of Boka: Bon Chon on St. Mark's

The interior was a surprise.  It’s really nice and really clean and the décor was classy, if not something I’d think of when I think ‘Korean’.  The place gives more of an English pub impression, to me at least.

We got there at around 2 PM, between lunch and dinner, so the place was empty.  By the time we left, it was starting to fill up.  It looked like the crowd was mostly younger people, which makes sense since NYU has dorms in the area.

Pork bibimbap from Boka: Bon Chon on St. Mark's

I chose the pork bibimbap.

Beef bulgogi from Boka: Bon Chon on St. Mark's

I helped my mom pick something from the menu, since she wasn’t familiar with the food choices.  She got beef bulgogi, which is pretty tame and a good first taste of Korean.  I think that’s what I had, the first time I ate at a Korean place.

The lady that served us seemed to be the only server working at the time, but it wasn’t busy.  She seemed a little unsure of herself and I got the impression that English was still a bit of a struggle for her, but she was very friendly.  Our food and drinks came to the table quickly, though she seemed a bit surprised that we just wanted water and Coke, rather than soju, sake, or beer.

Overall, the place is pretty cool.  The atmosphere is comfortable, the food is good, the prices are reasonable and the service was good.  I’m looking forward to visiting again.  I think next time I’ll try the Korean style fried chicken.  I saw a tip on Foursquare, after we’d ordered of course, that the Korean style fried chicken there kicks ass.

The Dancing Jollibee Mascot

Jollibee is a fast food chain in the Philippines that’s reminiscent of McDonald’s.  It’s a burger joint, but it also serves a lot of traditional Filipino foods.  I’ll go more into that later.  What I wanted to show in this blog post is the mascot dancing.  I don’t remember ever seeing something like this in another country, but apparently Jollibee (the mascot) likes to dance at birthday parties and do ‘dance-offs’ with other mascots.  I don’t mean cheesy dancing either.  Here are two examples:

I used to wonder why people seemed so excited to have their kids’ birthday parties at a Jollibee, but I guess this explains it.  I bet your average Ronald McDonald can’t pull off those moves!

There are also a few Jollibee franchises in the US in California and I think New York, due to there being a lot of Filipinos in those areas.  I don’t know if the Jollibee mascots there dance like this though.  This might be a uniquely Filipino thing.