I love Asian food. I think its the complexity of the flavors that is the main draw – hot, sour, cold, spicy, sweet, I never am disappointed. That isn’t to say I love anything you put in front of me. It needs to be good to be noteworthy.
My real introduction to great Asian food happened when Anna was doing her MBA internship out in New York City. I’ve always been a fan of David Chang, and at the first chance we got we went to Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village, forever changing my perception on what ramen should be. Those noodles you drunkenly made back in college? That ain’t ramen. Real ramen consists of an ungodly savory broth (usually made of pork or chicken bones, or both) accompanied with roasted meat (pork is great), some vegetables, and an egg on top is ideal. Too bad I would have never known if I wasn’t dead set going to Momofuku, and since then the bar has been set very, very, high.
Asian food is almost like Italian food – overall, it is universally loved. Some of my favorites are geographically dispersed below so you can get your fill from Amsterdam to San Francisco.
Oriental City (Amsterdam)
My recent trip to Europe was the “Summer of Duck” for my brother. He grew up thinking duck was gross, but after traveling with Anna and I for two weeks throughout Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands he changed his mind, and for good reason. Oriental City resembles the classic Chinatown restaurant but with the twist of being in the Red Light District. We went for a late lunch (very reasonable at $50 Euro for 3), and had our fill of Sui Mai, Soup Dumplings, Mapo Tofu (probably my favorite Sichuan dish of all time), and Peking Duck. So old school yet, feels so new world. Don’t pass on the Peking Duck if you make it – 1/2 feeds 2, easily 3, but I wish I had more. Don’t repeat on my mistake and just get a full duck – after all, there are plenty of coffeeshops in Amsterdam to boost your appetite.
What a novel concept – no reservations, stand at a queue across the street, and once a table becomes available nosh on Taiwanese buns. With three locations in London, we checked out the SoHo location. Bao offers a full menu, but you come for the buns. Usually there are about 4-5 on the menu, and while the classic and confit pork (pork belly – hell yea!) are a must order, I really loved the fried chicken bun. Suffice it to say, with a couple of cold beers we ordered a second round of buns and left very happy.
Thai food is not just curry or paid thai. There is a whole other world of Thai food, that I personally think is more interesting, in northern Thailand that gets no love. Think a range from grilled, stir-fried, to cold, with a whole bunch of interesting herbs thrown in. So, when I saw Kiln featured in a few food magazines I put it on my London to-do list and didn’t look back. The entire menu is great (and a steal for the price), but the lamb skewers and langoustines particularly stood out as appetizers, and for that sweet, sour, hot flavor that makes Thai food so great you shouldn’t miss out on the Southern Style Dry Pork Curry. Worth mentioning also is Kiln’s wine list, which serves up a great variety of white and orange wines to compliment just about everything on the menu.
Joe’s Shanghai (New York City)
There is only one thing you need to order here: soup dumplings. Get a couple orders and cold beer and you will be satisfied. Nothing further to say.
I have a lot of affection for Momofuku – in many ways it served as a catalyst for really loving Asian cuisine. Your first time there at Momofuku Noodle Bar, go straight for their signature pork buns and ramen. Once you’ve had that experience, dive down the menu even further – those garlic scallion noodles are to die for. Ssam Bar offers a completely different menu focused on seasonal small and large plates with seasonal sides. The Ssam (roasted meat rolled in lettuce with rice) is worth seeking out, but I’ve left pretty happy just working my way through what looked great on the menu that particular day.
Side note: since my last visit Momofuku Noodle Bar now offers fried chicken on the menu. Yea, I think I will go out of my way to visit next time I’m in New York.
Le Thai (Las Vegas)
After a night of drunken gambling, I prefer to bask in the glory of victory or the anguish of defeat knee deep in some spicy Thai food. Isn’t that what God wants you to do after spending an evening playing single-deck blackjack? Conveniently located next to the Golden Nugget and El Cortez, Le Thai is a pretty great way to end an evening in old Vegas. You can’t go wrong with any of the curries, but I know what I want: waterfall beef, papaya salad, pad prik, and plenty of ice cold beer. Tomorrow morning can wait.
Z&Y (San Francisco)
Look, dining in the wine country is great but after awhile you can only eat so many persimmons, figs, etc., on a bed of arugula with goat cheese. Yes, Californian food has its place, but you can’t visit the Bay Area without going to Z&Y. This is classic Sichuan to the max, and one would be remiss to avoid classics such as the Tan Tan noodles, spicy wonton in chili oil, or the restaurant’s signature dish: Chicken with Explosive Chili Pepper. Yes, get something to cool you down (i.e. beer), but if your liver is in need from a detox from wine country I found the honey walnut shrimp to be quite satisfying. Note that you can wait a long time to get a table at Z&Y (in our case over an hour), but it is so worth it.
The Slanted Door (San Francisco)
My wife beat me to The Slanted Door, and for a year I heard her rave about the tea menu, the Shaking Beef, and the Slanted Door Spring Rolls (yes, they live to the hype). This is a restaurant I highly recommend going to with a dining companion just to tackle as much of the menu as possible, mostly because you won’t find this type of refined Vietnamese cuisine often. The imperial rolls and Slanted Door rolls are a must, but don’t miss the cellophane noodles – they are hauntingly good (with all that fresh California crab, you won’t forget it). The Shaking Beef and lemongrass chicken are excellent entrees as well, and ask for wine pairings as you go – I promise you will be drinking more Austrian and German white wines in the future.