Going by this policy, summer still hadn’t hit for me in early August. This late in the game, that certainly had to be fixed.
While it’s true that I have managed to eat my way through impressive swaths of New York City in my eight years as a New Yorker, there are some rather untouched spots in in my eating landscape. Based purely on subway inconveniences (and my great sloth) the gastronomically rich far East Village, sadly, is one of them.
So when I recently found myself in that neighborhood, still coming down from the high of having just met and read with the lovely Gabrielle Hamilton, chef of Prune and author of “Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef,” at KGB Bar and completely ravenous from our joint reading from our food memoirs, the stomach, naturally, started calling.
“Mmm … Snack Dragon,” my friend Noa said, her eyes getting so large I instantly could envision them popping out of their sockets. When she started smacking her lips at the thought of the place, I knew we had to go.
Despite the raves that this little taco stand has gotten in the five years it’s been around, I’d never been there. From Noa’s look of utter shock, clearly, this was something that needed to be remedied. Pronto.
The first sign that the newest Tom Colicchio restaurant in New York City is going to be a little different pops up the moment we step out of the cab at 29th and First.
The desolate street is so brightly lit it feels like we've dropped into an oddly quiet lull in a tense Cold War movie. It is discombobulating, to be sure — especially when we spy a sentry eying us suspiciously. He points, indicating that we should just keep walking down the road. And soon enough, signs of life appear when another uniformed guard toddles out of a tall metal building. The man is frantic, waving his hands and saying over and over, "NO pictures allowed."
This is a science park, after all, and Alexandria Building, the structure we've been snapping, houses a host of biotech tenants such as ImClone, the subsidiary of pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly that handles cancer research. The tenseness and growing paranoia persist until you walk across the stark silver lobby and come upon the warm glow of a sign that says "Riverpark."
And that's when you start to feel relieved. You're in the right place after all. Your camera hasn't been ripped from your hands and stomped on. Scully and Mulder haven't appeared. (Not that Mulder would be an unwelcome presence.) You've not been grabbed, shoved into a black sedan and spirited away.
You step into the restaurant and quintessential Colicchio starts to take over…
This time last year, I was in Singapore, learning how to make mooncakes, learning about my family.
The lessons in the kitchen were both informative and intense. Along with their braised duck recipes, the women in my family imparted their tales, their advice. I won't go into detail — you'll just have to buy the book when it comes out in February.
But I found myself thinking about my aunties and their life lessons as the Mid-Autumn Festival (which falls today) approached and mooncakes began appearing in Chinatown stores. The celebration, also known as the Mooncake festival, marks the day that the moon is supposedly the brightest during the year. In Singapore, we also call it the lantern festival because it's the night that children wielding lanterns in the shape of dragons, dogs, even Hello Kitty, take to parks and playgrounds to create a river of bobbing lights.
In China, the celebration also commemorates the 14th Century rebellion against the reigning Mongols. Members of the resistance spread word about their planned uprising via notes tucked into cakes, which they smuggled to sympathizers.
While I learned to make traditional mooncakes in Singapore — filled with lotus seed paste and salted egg yolks — my aunties also taught me a version that's indigenous to my Chinese ethnic group, the Teochews. Filled with sweet mashed yam and wrapped in a decorative rippled fried dough, these "mooncakes" were simpler, less cloying — and just lovely with a hot cup of Oolong.
I’ve been on a hunt.
The object of my obsession has been a man who is one of the last of his kind in Singapore — the traveling Satay Man, a person of a breed so rare that, sadly, he’s not likely to be replaced when he finally he hangs up his tongs.
For the last 32 years, this particular satay man has plied his trade almost every day in the Tiong Bahru neighborhood in central Singapore. He spends hours pushing his little wooden cart along the narrow sidewalks near Tiong Bahru market, pausing occasionally to bellow, “Sa-TAAYYYYYY! Sa-TAAYYYYYY!”
Those who live there know to run down quickly when they hear him — you never know how long he’ll stop for. And, at 40 cents (about 28 U.S. cents) for a stick of satay, he often sells out pretty quickly.
I’m happy to report that I finally did catch him. And the news, I fear, is not good.
At 43 years old, he’s looking to quit. There’s a home in China he’s dreaming of retiring to, you see. As soon as he can comfortably close shop for good, he’s gone.
For now, however, he’s got a job to do. And what a job it is — after having tasted his satay, I rank this guy up there with Santa Claus in the “bringing joy (and calories) to folks” category.
Seriously, people, we’ve got to find a way to clone him.