Royal Flushing. Five Stops in the Other Chinatown.

CHRISTINE:
Deciding on the spur of the moment to head off on a foodie odyssey, a quick internet search pulled up an interactive map of 20 Great Dishes from the New York Times.   http://tinyurl.com/brkd8j3

We hopped on the subway and plotted our course, circling, starring and strategizing to make the most of our time and appetite.   Our first stop was Nan Shian Dumpling House, previewed as a popular place.  Rounding the corner, we saw the crowd, knew we had found it and started to devise Plan B.  With a 30-minute wait, we took our chances and dashed off to the next nearest spot:  Yipin Chinese Cuisine for cold sesame noodles.  We grabbed an order to go, sampled them as we waited to cross streets, hightailed it back to Nan Shian in time to hear our name called.

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LUC:
Oh man, those soup dumplings are good stuff.  Filling even tho they were little hollow dough balls filed with broth.   Love the broth.

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CHRISTINE:
Our next stop was the Golden Mall, as several spots were listed at that location, including our pick:  Lanzhou Handmade Noodles.  This ‘mall’ no shiny retail emporium.  Down some dodgy stairs, are barely defined spaces with make-shift kitchens — hot plates cook stoves and propane-fueled griddle tops.  The area where Lanzhou’s hand-pulled noodle man stretched and bounced the long strips if dough barely gave him enough space to spread out his arms.  We tried not to be too put off when he took on his next task and began taking out the garbage.

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LUC:
Golden Mall looked like a subway station but not as clean  There was at least a 90 percent chance it wasn’t deserving of the posted A grade.   We told ourselves: if it’s good enough for the New York Times…
The noodles were in fact delicious.  While we were eating, a crowd of eager eaters were gathering across the way — not even a hall way, more like an aisle.  The place was plastered with photos of celeb foodies. We took a closer look and saw pictures of none other than Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern — who is my adventurous eats idol.  The place was also on the Times’ list, so we grabbed the recommended dan dan noodles with pork to go.  Chewy, fresh noodles are made to order.  The sauce was rich and delicious and the pork very flavorful.  In between, we stopped for Bubble Tea, which is an acquired taste to say the least.

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Next we hit an authentic supermarket.  What would be definitely be a PETA nightmare, with live turtles countless amount of inhumanely  treated fish and frogs a foot-deep in a plastic tub, the supermarkets in Flushing are not for the faint of heart.  The frogs are not the nice French ones, but big bullfrogs you find in a reedy pond.   Instead we shopped the for noodles. The rice and wheat noodles were stacked to the rafters in every conceivable variety.  We took home rice vermicelli in bulk (which we have yet to make). Outside the display of dragon fruit was a barrage of color.  Almost like the color of a Starburst fruit chew.
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Though foreign and familiar at the same time, flushing definitely transports you to another world.

Blistering Hot

Luc: One of my all-time favorite dishes is the blistered peppers with sea salt at Tia Pol — right in our Chelsea neighborhood.  Not always on the menu, look on the chalkboard for daily specials.

Blistered Peppers

Christine: Luc wanted to try and re-create them with an everyday green bell pepper.  He headed for the knives to slice them up and I told him to hold off, I had a surprise for him. His eyes lit up along with the stove as I placed the pepper directly on the flame.   He went for the tongs, turning frequently for the perfect blistered effect.  Off the stove and onto the cutting board Luc removed the seeds, moved them to a plate, sprinkled with sea salt and declared them just as great.  Okay, nearly as great, he admitted, but equally satisfying by having made them himself.

Tia Pol
205 10th Avenue
(between 22nd and 23rd)
New York, NY 10011-4719
(212) 675-8805

Mamma Mia (Part Due) by Luc

Back to the courses … one of the most important parts … of course!

“Spaghetti of the Farmer” with tomatoes that were grown there is one of the courses we make. They make 1000 bottles of tomato sauce each summer. It’s really a working farm and everyone in the family helps out. It’s a family business and for a day, you’re part of the family as you stand in their kitchen, eat on their terrace and watch as they go along with their daily lives – children going to the beach; village ladies braiding garlic, and a daughter coming into the kitchen for a snack; Chiara’s father came back with family dog and going to work in the garden.You were invisible and were taken back 100 years and just observing the family going along with their daily lives. But, it’s certainly not like we weren’t there – as we were treated like kings and queens. Like you were royalty made to feel good and welcome.

Spaghetti of the Farmer

The sausage that was made from the pigs they raised on another property, which had been in the family for 10 generations.For the pasta with sausage and peppers, Chiara softens the peppers in peanut oil to make sure you can digest them more easily.

Sausage and Peppers

With every course they poured – not for me, of course – their own wine, which they make without sulphates. It can not be transported, except the cellar to the kitchen. From what I heard it was wonderful – or at least it seemed that way from how much they were drinking.

Fine wine

Helping with service

We all sat down. The size of the portions was gigantic. That’s Italy. And that, was a lunch of a lifetime.

Post Script

Chiara invited me to come back to work in the garden and roam around as I wanted.  I without a doubt accepted the offer.

In the garden

The face of Chiara just lit up when she saw me. I sat down to a few slices of lemon cake. Today’s guest were a traveling UN. I met people from Canada, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Australia and Cleveland. I started off working in the garden with a family friend. I though heard something that sounded like a cow moo-ing. I saw Chiara’s farther emerge holding an onion stalk. It was a thin tube with a bell-like bottom. He started blowing into it and gets me one. Suddenly we start blowing them all around the garden. I get one for a boy I met from Canada. We started blowing the onion stalks all around the garden.

Herb garden

My visits to Mamma Agata were major highlights of our trip to the Amalfi Coast. I will remember those moments forever because they’re funny, interesting and insightful. If there was a best part, I’d have to say it was getting to go back was eat the whole, gigantic meal over again. Guess I have to make that two lunches of a lifetime.

Mamma Mia (Numero Uno) by Luc

Luc at Mamma Agata Cooking School, Ravello

After winding among the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast to the town of Ravello, we pass a café with the older gentlemen of the village playing poker under a carved-out rock made into a crescent moon.

The entrance to Mamma Agata Cooking School doesn’t look like much: just a stone wall with a little door. On the red door there are white, wide brushstrokes – so many of them it looked like they kept testing the paints. Did it a million times, but all the same color.

We ring the bell. A helper-outer answers it. Says ‘hello’ with a warm welcome.
We were the first ones alone on the terrace with a beautifully set table overlooking the sea. Then suddenly, Chiara pretty much the warmest person you will ever meet — never met a person as warm as that — greeted us with a big ‘hello’ in such a way that no one can replicate it. People started arriving and everyone was so nice. Chiara introduced each one as they arrived and gave each a little nickname – “The Newlyweds” or “The Couple from North Carolina.” Hearing my name is Luc and that I’m from New York, she dubbed me “Luca the Lion King” – since she loved seeing the Lion King on Broadway. It felt like you were automatically part of their family.

Chiara gives us the whole run-down of everything we could possibly need to know. The history of Mamma Agata – the cooking school and the chef.

We start with a slice of Mamma Agata’s signature lemon cake.  I’m not usually a big fan of birthday cake. I’d rather have chocolate cake – only the ganache kind, not the spongy one. This was the moistest cake, I or, I think, anyone has, would or will ever taste.  It was such a joy to have that cake. It was the starting point and everything took off from there.

We go into this old little home kitchen yet it had funny industrial touches. A small, two burner stove in one corner with this gigantic industrial black stove with flames that just flared in the center of the kitchen.

Teacher's Pet

And center stage behind it was Mamma Agata. She was frying eggplant. You could smell how delicious it was going to be. I was lucky to get the best spot in the room. There were fans on the other side of the kitchen and every time she cooked something, the fans would blow the smell toward me!

The first dish we made was Eggplant Parmesan. It wasn’t a typical lesson – it was less hands-on and more of a demonstration with the best tips on cooking that you could ever receive – practical, helpful, useful in making any food more delicious. There is no doubt that these tips are from 200 years of tradition.

For the eggplant parmesan, we learned that you slice the eggplant, but not too thin. Sprinkle with salt all over it to draw out the water. Then you wash all the salt then wring out the eggplant of all the water to keep it from getting mushy. The amount of layers – all the cheese, sauce and eggplant – at least five layers went into a clear baking dish. You had to see it to believe it.

Eggplant Parmesan in the making

The finished Eggplant Parmesan -- As delicious as it looks

When we took a break, we explored the garden that was really a farm on a cliff-side hill. The best way for me to describe it was like tiers on a cake.  One tier down you have zucchini and tomatoes. The next level is the wine cellar. Next level is lemon groves. Then lemon groves again. There were turkeys and chickens and bunnies and cats and dogs. It was a sight to seen. The views were un-, un- unbelievable. It was amazing. It was such an experience. I don’t want to tell you everything, because you should book and experience it for yourself.

Luc

Terraced garden

View of gardens and Amalfi Coast from Mamma Agata Cooking School

Food Trucks Coast to Coast

This summer we grazed at food trucks in New York City, where we live, and Portland, the last stop on our summer vacation traveling along the spectacular coast of  Oregon.   Here’s our take on tasty truck fare:

Luc:  In Manhattan, we had lunch at the Hell’s Kitchen flea market, where food trucks gathered in conjunction with the Food Network’s Food Truck Challenge.  We ate at the Rickshaw Dumplings truck — one of my neighborhood favorite places for good  food fast — followed by very good dessert from The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck where they had pretty cool flavor and topping combinations (wasabi pea dust or cayenne pepper) and fun names to go with them – Cococone (vanilla and coconut), Bea Arthur (vanilla, dulce de leche and crushed Nilla Wafers) and the Gobbler (cranberries and pumpkin butter).  We had the “Salty Pimp,” a combination of vanilla soft serve ice cream (I substituted chocolate), piped with stripes of caramel, dotted with salt, dipped and covered with chocolate.  Delicious salty chocolate-y goodness.   You can follow the Big Gay Ice Cream truck

In Portland, trucks are nearly everywhere.  Not just in the city, also in the suburbs.  Interesting fare of good food — really good food in some cases — on the go.   Good food for anyone, a quick office break or just want some good food.  I love Thai, so I tried some stir fry.  I love stir fry.  It was one of my favorite dishes to make for a while.  This was one of the top stir fry I ever had.  It was fun to watch them make it right there, the ingredients were very fresh and had a great blend of flavors.

We tried a sample of steamed dumplings.  I usually prefer pan-fried, but  they were surprisingly just as good.  The sampler included pork and an interesting combination of potato curry and bacon and cheese.   At night, after dinner at a local restaurant with friends just outside the city center in Sellwood, we already had dessert, but passing by the Oregon Ice Works we couldn’t resist trying the Italian ices — especially when we saw one of the flavors was Mojito (a virgin version).  Ice Works quickly became my favorite truck in Portland.  Next day we returned to the same group of trucks for lunch to try some of the savory fare.  This time it was grilled chicken sandwich with pesto on ciabatta.  It was up there with the best chicken sandwich I’ve ever had.

Christine:  A sweltering day made Hell’s Kitchen live up to its name as I waited more than a half an hour in the 90+ degree hit and burning sun to get a taste of The Krave’s Koren barbecue.    The sampler taco trio of the day was pork, chicken and short ribs.   Well well worth the wait.  I tried some Koren tacos from a Portland food cart.  Nearly as good, but The Krave’s barbecue meats were more flavorful, making it even more delicious.  Have to agree with Luc that Oregon Ice Works was a fav of mine, too.   There’s a slush truck that we waited (and waited and waited) to open at the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market, but gave up waiting and tried the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck.  I think Luc’s description says it all.  The owner plays trivia games and gives out prizes to make the wait less tedious.  I wish Manhattan had a truck, cart, kiosk scene that was even just a fraction of Portland’s, whose providers number more than 200 (I’ve even read that there are 400 carts).   I guess we have that many if you count all the dirty water dog seller (NY-speak for hot dog stands) and middle eastern push carts, but I much prefer Asian, Mexican and Indian.  As such,  I crave Krave.

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck — for schedule and locations, biggayicecream.com

For a guide to Portland’s street food — foodcartsportland.com

The Krave — for schedule and locations, thekrave.tumblr.com

My Day with Bobby Flay

By Luc Cea-Sanson

Summer is grilling season.   During Spring break I met the Grill Master himself, Chef Bobby Flay, on the set of a video series of cooking demonstrations he appears in for Hellmann’s mayonnaise, a product made by my mom’s company, Unilever.  The series is part of Hellmann’s Real Food Project to help families cook and eat better.  I’m in the videos, too! There are new ones (and a sweepstakes and coupons) all summer long at realfroodproject.com.

I love to cook… any style, anything. Bobby’s a great “burger guy” and he gave me a few tips:

The first is to make a well by pressing your thumb into the burger.  This will contain the juices as the burger expands when it cooks. The second tip is to only flip the burger once and third is don’t press the burger down or the juices will run out.

Hanging out on set and appearing in a video with Bobby Flay, I mean, that’s cool!  I can’t believe how much crew, lighting, props and cameras there are on set.  So much goes into the making of a two-minute video – and that’s only a short list!  While on set I had the chance to speak with the grillmeister.

Luc Cea-Sanson: If you could eat any food everyday, what would it be?

Bobby Flay: A cheeseburger and vanilla ice cream.

LCS: Why did  you want to work with Hellmann’s on the Real Food Project?

BF: Hellmann’s has been a part of my life since I was a kid.  I think it’s a fantastic product and it’s also good for you – it’s made with eggs, oil and vinegar.

LCS: When did you start cooking?

BF: My first memories of cooking were when I was six and made devilled eggs with my mom and Hellmann’s!

LCS: What is one important cooking tip you could give someone?

BF: Not to be intimidated.  A lot of times, people over-think it and all it takes is some common sense.  Also, when you’re grilling or sautéing something, the best advice I could give is leave it alone, let the grill or the pan do its job.

Barber’s Shop

Luc and Chef Dan Barber

Luc and Chef Dan Barber

Blue Hill at Stone Barns menu

Luc: Within moments of sitting down, the servers came out with a selection of vegetables, mounted on something that you would not find any type of food on. it was a solid block of wood with nails poking out of it. They put the vegetables in the middle of the nails and made it look like a shish kabob.

Nail Bed Crudite

After they came out with the vegetables, they gave us a menu, but the menu. menu not usually find in a restaurant, more like you would find in a grocery store — but not an ordinary grocery store. The restaurant cooks with fresh and local foods and ingredients that they grow either on site in their fields and greenhouses or buy from local farmers. The menu had listed every food available in the kitchen. The server came over to us and asked what you’d prefer, what you disliked. The rest was up to the kitchen to make each meal different for every table.

The icing on the cake (not that we actually had cake), was going into the kitchen and meet Chef Dan Barber.

Afterwards we went to the farm and saw the sheep, the chickens and the great greenhouses — even saw the same little vegetables, like icicle radishes, we had.

Greenhouse

Greenhouse of greens

Radishes

From farm to fork

Christine: Blue Hill at Stone Barns is one of those transporting experiences. Not just that it’s an hour drive out of Manhattan to the rolling hills alongside the mighty Hudson. Arriving at the compound also includes stepping back in time to a day when farms like this one populated the region. The beauty of the dining room and impeccable service are present-day standard-bearers as are the innovative approaches to creating a memorable experience.

The food is truly great. The novelty of how a meal is composed is part of the specialness. As Luc describes above, the menu does read more like the line up of the finest and freshest ingredients stocked by a gourmet grocer. With that as a guide — for both table and kitchen — the dishes begin to arrive and arrive and arrive, a near endless parade. Surprise and delight, I kept saying over and over. First those little vegetables on the bed of nails, followed by luscious little beet burgers, cooked-to-perfection arctic char that even Luc liked as he was not previously a fan of that fish.

Beet Burger

Beet Burger

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Artic Char

Artic Char

They call the approach “farmer’s feast,” multi-course tastings around the day’s harvest. What a day it was.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hill, NY 10591
914-366-9600