Food & Travel / Words & Photos
On a recent trip to Richmond, B.C., the value of a good guide was reaffirmed when exploring Chinatown. (Anywhere, for that matter.) With thousands of options, how do you figure out where to go, let alone the two specialties on 100-item menu?
Craig Nelson figured out Manhattan’s Chinatown on his own. Not For Tourists guide editor by day, Nelson spent years worth of lunches trying every place he could walk to near their offices. Then he made his own app – Chinatown Chow Down. (Insert gong sound here).
We started with pork buns at Mei Li Wah Bakery – brown (baked) or white (steamed) – is about all you need to say at the counter. We scarfed them in the street - they’re packed with sweet, meaty flavor. Total cost for both? $1.60! Cheaper than a Snickers bar!!! Ha!
We had sit-down handmade noodles around the corner, fritters and a mustard green sandwich from a street-food vendor which we ate in the park under the West Side Highway. We capped the tour with my favorite – fresh sour plum juice at Yuen Yuen. It’s sweet, sour, funky and smoky. How did they make it smoky? No matter – just keep it coming. How much? $1.25! Fresh juice for less than a Coke! Where’s that gong?!?!
“Look at those fries,” a friend said walking past Seattle’s Capitol Hill sandwich shop, Homegrown. Stuffed to the gills, we still considered a plate.
I wound up there for lunch a few days later, convinced we’d head to the neighboring Sitka & Spruce, but for reasons I didn’t understand, nothing on Sitka’s menu looked as interesting as Homegrown’s catfish po boy with slaw.
Homegrown calls itself a ‘sustainable sandwich shop’ which is about as interesting as sustainable wine - it’s only worth it if it’s good.
It’s worth it. We try a fun spin on grilled cheese made with cured ham and mozzarella, along with solid homemade chips and a beet salad, but the po boy, made crispy with the slaw, is the show stealer - a sandwich with momentum. So much momentum, we forget to order the fries.
After lunch, visit Homegrown’s top-notch neighbors: The Calf & Kid for cheese and sausage from Rain Shadow Meats. I’ll go back to try Sitka & Spruce, though I might smuggle in some Homegrown fries.
1531 Melrose Avenue
+1 (206) 682-0935
Count on $10-15 for lunch.
SEATTLE - “I love how this neighborhood smells like garlic,” said a friend as we walked from Stumptown coffee down into the International District.
Coffee and frying garlic - what a nice way to lead into dim sum.
We’d tried to get into Harbor City last time I was in town only to be discouraged by the line at the door on a Sunday morning. Today, our group of eight got there early and waited it out.
Moments after tea is poured and my nephew Eli is installed in his booster chair, the first cart arrives - hum bow (pork bun), salty long beans, broccoli rabe, shu mai, fried calamari just need to have their little bamboo steamer opened and showed to our crowd to start a “Yes” chorus.
There’s something about dim sum that makes you forget that more will come if you wait. Whoever thought of the dim sum cart was a business genius: seat the hungry customer then immediately wave hot, fresh food under their nose. You may have a little mountain of dumplings in front of you, but would you like an order of sticky rice with meltingly good meat?
Count on $10-20
Harbor City Restaurant – MAP
707 S King St.
Dear catastrophe waiter
Dear catastrophe waiter
I’m sorry that you seem have the weight of the world over you
I cherish your smile
– Lyrics (with a tiny gender substitution) by Belle and Sebastian
I’m not sure what phase of the meltdown I arrive in, but the sweet-as-honey waitress hadn’t started crying yet.
Walking into at Café Gadagne, a beautiful spot with a terraced patio designed to be a compliment to the newly-refurbished Musée whose name it bears, I’m glared at by the waiter, a walking black cloud whose pants hang a bit too far down the southern half of his rear end for a place this nice.
Turns out he glares at everyone, clanking plates, occasionally pretending everything’s ok, but his whirlpool of bad juju sucks the place down around him. A smart teacher would put this kid in the ‘time out’ corner. Instead, he bosses the hard-working waitress around in front of everybody until she implodes.
Too bad. The food would be good if you could get past his distraction. I would have enjoyed my pumpkin ‘cappuccino’ soup with roasted chestnuts – there was a nice hot/cold thing going on, but it’s lost in the chaos. Ditto for my steak tartare.
Appropriately chaotic jazz warbles out of the kitchen and at one point, the chef comes out, smiling and oblivious. This is where I realize the bigger failure: nobody’s in charge.
Who knows? I was there a few weeks ago and maybe he’s gone by now. We can all hope, but I’m not going back to find out.
Count on about 20 euros.
Café Gadagne – MAP
1 Place du Petit Collège
+33 4 78 62 62 34 60
I’ll begin with the closer; sometimes I talk about a meal having ‘momentum,’ something that gets better and better with every bite making you want more. Le Severo served a meal’s worth.
I’d wanted to come here since I first walked by years ago when I lived on place Denfert-Rochereau. The chalkboard wall full of good wines and the short menu had a wonderful ‘serious food’ air that tripped my radar.
The hard-working waiter speeds around the floor by himself. He also happens to be the owner, a former butcher and a man who knows how to age meat, which he does for 40 days in the space beneath the dining room.
Did I mention he can carry three wine bottles in one hand and though very busy, is unfailingly polite and patient with my table of nine?
On this night, we order appetizers, passing them around to share. When cep mushrooms, seared in generous quantities of butter make it to Mom, she takes one bite and commands, “Order another plate.”
There’s also a meatier-than-most blood sausage served without casing and cooked crispy on the outside, melting within. Mom immediately declares one of the best she’s ever eaten.
I mention this to the owner and he blushes.
After this, we pass to the serious meat. Just before taking our order, the owner declares that all meat will be cooked rare, fanning his arms out over the table. I mention that Mom prefers her meat on the done side and he blushes again, then caves to her wishes.
Dad and Jim get a côte de boeuf with intense marbling served blissfully rare and accompanied by fries that would make a Belgian proud. Jim gnaws on the bone, smiling the whole time and Dad’s got that “ooh, baby, baby” look on his face.
At the end of the night, the owner’s got time to come by and talk about his food – he’s wonderfully proud of it, rightfully so.
Count on 40-50€.
Le Severo – MAP
8 rue des Plantes
A bit out of sequence, but, this stuff isn’t getting any younger. Above, a shot from the scene at the ‘pop-up’ Fatty Johnson’s in the Village last night - barman/journalist/pal Toby Cecchini announced “sundry a selection of reviled cocktails from the 70s through the 90s” signing off on the invite saying “Join us
if you dare, and feel free to bring anyone you don’t particularly like.”
Jello shot and a Blue Hawaiian, anyone?
CANCALE, France - Dad, Jim and I leave the ladies to roam on their own for a bit and we head to the oyster stands to split a few plates, sitting on the sea wall and flipping the shells into the sea.
Later, we double back for lunch at the Breizh Café. With the mother ship here, and branches in Paris and Tokyo, this place is multiplying like, um, hotcakes and that’s not such a bad thing.
Bertrand Larcher serves classics with high-quality fillings or more creative combinations like my smoked herring, lumpfish roe and cream - smoky, salty and just a little sweet. Whatever you get, the buckwheat crepes are crispy on the outside, downy within.
Nobody at the table offers to share - a good sign - and we wash it down with a Fouesnant cider that has a wonderful, farmy funk.
I run out to feed the meter before the dessert crepes - chocolate and butter and apple compote, cider syrup and whipped cream - are ordered and return to two rather tiny wedges the gang has ‘saved’ for me. Not bad considering I had to push the idea of dessert on them.
After that, we go back out and have more oysters on the sea wall.
Not really. But we thought about it.
Count on 15-20€ with cider.
I’ve just made a mad dash inside the walls of Saint-Malo, trying to find a restaurant for my party five and left glassy-eyed. I’m sure some are fine, but most look like they’re made to accomodate the hordes that descend on the city in the warmer months.
“Bof!” the nonplussed French would say.
Crestfallen, I meet the gang.
“There was a good-looking place back by the hotel,” suggests Dad.
The place near the hotel, are you kidding!?!? I think. I’m the food guy - I should be able to find something better…Except I had noticed that place and it’s getting late…
“Perfect! Let’s go!”
La Brasserie du Sillon, a 10-minute walk down the beach from the center of Saint-Malo is bustling when just about everything else out this way is quiet. The food will be good and after a week of translating menus for my folks and their friends, the service is blessedly, impressively bilingual. While there are several à la carte options and shellfish platters a gogo, there are good values in the 25 to 40 euro prix fixe menus. My favorite is the whopping raie à la Grenobloise, skate served in brown butter, capers, lemon and walnuts. Roasted, it makes the tip of the skate wing flip up like Tintin’s hair. Mom gets an Italian-themed salad with a great slab of cured ham and the best mozzarella I’ve had in France.
Good call, Dad.
This is a public service writeup for what we call the “run away” column on the Simon Says site.
I’ve spent the last few weeks on the road, working on a Frommer’s guide update in Burgundy and the Rhône. Meeting an out-of-town colleague and his wife for brunch right after my return to Paris, I was happy to have someone else choose the location.
Les Editeurs sits across the street from Yves Camdeborde’s wonderful Le Comptoir and a stone’s throw from the Odeon metro. Walls of books and red-leather chairs make Les Editeurs look like a nice place to while away an afternoon, perhaps that’s best done with a beer or something else that they didn’t create on site.
Yesterday morning, 25 euros bought Sunday brunch at Les Editeurs. Brunch is a Parisian trend I’ve never understood in ten years here - a bad translation from the beautiful, bountiful American original. The French version is often overpriced and boring. Les Editeurs version included watery OJ, bad coffee, a basket of croissants and soggy toast and a plate with small ramekins of unremarkable scrambled eggs, a fruit cup, yogurt and something else that my mind has blocked out.
My colleague’s wife ordered a fifteen-euro club sandwich which she asked for without bacon. She was informed the sandwich was pre-made, but she could remove the bacon.
Really? Why do you need to pre-make a club sandwich in a restaurant? There are other time-saving/corner-cutting measures to take in a kitchen that don’t make bread soggy.
She did her best to push the sandwich around on her plate, but couldn’t bring herself to eat it. The waitress asked her about it and she couldn’t lie. To their credit, they comped it.
I’ve just come off of three days of incredible food in Lyon - fantastic three-course meals for under 20 euros. Yes, you can argue you pay for a prime location, but today’s brunch made me want to walk to the train station and have a few more meals in the Rhône before returning to Paris and pretend like I just got back.
4 Carrefour de l’Odéon