Eurasian Fusion

Cuisine, French, Malaysian, New York

The Battleground

Aux Epices, Chinatown, New York


The Contenders

Vegetable Curry vs. Peanut Noodle Big Bowl

Legs:

foods foods foods

A cornucopia of vegetables bathing in a lovely pool of spicy coconut red curry. Living the lux life, one curry at a time.

This adorable walk-in-closet-sized Manhattan eatery is truly unique. Run by a French/Malaysian husband and wife duo, this may be in the only place in New York where one can order both escargot and satay tofu. Eager to try this (affordably priced) culinary mishmash, I couldn’t wait to see what was in store.

Everything on the menu looked awesome. Seriously, everything. But I’m a sucker for curries, and I’m a big sucker for coconut curries. Top it off with the promise of a multitude of vegetables and you’ve got me hooked.

These veggies were just wonderful. Broccoli, carrots, red peppers, cabbage, zucchini, a HUGE hunk of eggplant… All were cooked beautifully and not stewed to death, which is a hard task to pull off when it comes to curries. They also absorbed that fragrant coconut bath they were lounging in, enabling me to get a sweet and spicy punch with every bite.

When requesting extra spice, our knowledgeable server actually brought out two different types of hot sauce for Snax and me: a different one to compliment each dish. Mine was tangy with a big whiff of umami and a lovely kick that was just what my curry needed. Very good recommendation; it really brought my dish up to the next level.

Unfortunately, I could only order one thing. But I will most definitely be back to explore more of their menu offerings.


Snax:

my foods

Peanut sauce and noodle big bowl with tofu, lettuce, cucumber, red onion, and pineapple garnished with a lime wedge. Large wooden spoon added for tossing/whimsy.

 

I sincerely had no idea what we were getting into as we escaped the cold and rushed into Aux Epices. It’s one thing to call your establishment a fusion of culinary styles, but you can’t tell where the balance lies until you’ve actually sampled the food. Malaysian-French sounded a bit risky until I opened up the menu and began drooling with reckless abandon.

By the time we got to Aux Epices I had worked up quite the appetite. I was tempted to go for the ratatouille, but when I saw the section listed as “Big Bowls” there’s no point in wasting another moment.

The peanut noodle big bowl is fundamentally sound and full of delightful flair. The peanut sauce is everything you would expect and then some. It’s rich, creamy, and chock full of nutty goodness. The sauce alone performs magnificently but is further elevated by the pineapple’s sweetness. Never overcompensating, like that one coworker who is all smiles and doesn’t know when to let a conversation die, the pineapple’s profile meshes well beneath the sauce and provides a smooth transition from noodle to salad. The extra punch of lime juice gave just the right amount of tang to wake the noodles and keep the lettuce, cucumber, and red onions interesting.

There were just three pieces of tofu in the entirety of the big bowl. They were cooked well but faded in the background as the other elements came to light; good but nothing special.

An overall successful dish from an impressive little bistro. From one fusion to another, you’re one of the best Aux Epices.


And the winner is… another tie?!

✓Protein ✓Sauce ✓Sides/Veggies ✓Presentation

Both dishes were wonderful in competing ways. Although Snax’s sauce was ultimately superior, his hilarious little salad stood no chance against Legs’ vegetable bouquet. And while Legs’ was more visually enticing, her complete lack of protein left an entire category to be desired.

Stay tuned next week for a Thanksgiving-themed food battle. We need to eat to the death and settle the November score.

November wins:

Legs: 1 – Snax: 1

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Where the Wild Things Are

American, Cuisine, New York, Specialty Shops

The Battleground

Bareburger, 366 West 46th Street, New York City


The Contenders

Southern Elk Burger vs. Roadhouse Wild Boar Burger

Southern Elk Burger

Ready to be more jealous than you’ve ever been before? Fried green tomato with whole grain maple horseradish mustard top off pepperjack cheese, applewood-smoked thick-cut bacon and an ELK PATTY. Yeah, you’re jealous.

 

Legs:

Choosing from the incredible selection at Bareburger was difficult to say the least. I went in knowing I wanted an elk patty, and from there experienced mental agony as I longed for every burger option and could only choose one. Since my favorite burger style is western (fried onions, pepperjack, bacon, BBQ sauce), I decided to try Bareburger’s take on it, although they placed it a little closer to the equator than I’m used to. Southern Elk Burger, here I come!

Commence flavor explosion. Let’s start with the elk burger itself. Super juicy (read: actually dripping juice), bright red, tender and full of wonderful, amazing, gamey flavor. It tasted like I took a bite out of a living elk that had quickly grilled itself for my dining pleasure. And oh, what a pleasure it was. This game-changing patty was seriously enhanced by all of its condiment friends.

Everything on this burger was necessary, and everything on this burger was delicious. Thick-cut applewood smoked bacon was so thick I literally mistook an escaped piece for a french fry. This bacon stepped it up a notch and all other types of bacon should be ashamed of themselves for not living up to thick-cut’s exacting standards. Fried onions and bacon pair SO well together, and this was no exception. The caramelization of the onions and the smokey saltiness of the bacon is a classic combination that no man can come between.

My whole grain bun was garnished with two things:

  1. Fried green tomato
  2. Whole grain maple horseradish mustard

I cannot even begin to convey how astounding these two flavors are together. The tart, almost vinegary flavor of a fried green tomato needs this exact sauce to complete it and make it whole. Whole grain mustard is a long-time favorite of mine. Put in horseradish to make it even tangier? I’m intrigued. Add in maple to balance out the sourness you’ve just concocted? Completely sold. This was the single greatest bun-condiment-tomato combination I’ve ever had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into.

I’m ruined for other burgers.


Roadhouse boar burger decorated with pepper jack cheese, turkey bacon, hass avocado, sweet apple grilled onions, red piquanté peppers, and smoked paprika mayo. Served with a side of meerkat. Not really. That would be awful.

Snax:

I was confident of two things as we were sat in the quirky space that is Bareburger. One, my life was now a little brighter as I stared up at the painted wooden bear head over our table. Two, I would not be leaving this establishment without an exotic burger in my belly.

Choosing from just one of Bareburger’s signature styles was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever faced on a menu. Every style has its own unique charm that beckons burger enthusiasts with a wink and a smile. After carefully reviewing my suitors I selected the Roadhouse with wild boar and began life anew.

The first bite had me peeling back layer after layer of bold flavor. Creamy, sweet, smoky, and even the slightest hint of spicy came stampeding out of this magnificent burger. All of the toppings flowed flawlessly from one to the next and came as close to the edge of being too busy without falling off. Pairing smoked paprika mayo with pepper jack cheese was a particularly inspired choice. Without the added flair to the mayo and cheese this burger could have become dangerously creamy, much like my River Grill experience. In fact, there was even more creaminess on the horizon as a slice of hass avocado joined the flavor bonanza.

Every topping on this burger was a winner from the get go, but the sweet apple grilled onions, turkey bacon (substitution), and red piquanté peppers brought out the best in my boar. The duality of sweet and savory in the onions and peppers helped contrast the boar’s slight char and welcomed tinge of gaminess. As a secondary protein, the turkey bacon worked as a gateway from topping to boar with the kind of humility you would expect from the perfect sidekick.

The boar itself was like pork’s far cooler cousin from out of town. It carried a char much like a beef patty but had a distinguishable flavor all its own. A bit gamey at times, but if you order a wild boar burger not expecting gaminess, then you should just keep quiet while the adults talk about burgers.

I really don’t see how this burger can be topped.

 


And the winner is… a tie?

✗Protein ✗Sauce ✗Sides/Veggies ✗Presentation

You might think this is a cop out, but you weren’t there. Both of our burgers were astounding. Like, game-changing, life-altering, head-over-heels fantastic works of burger art. Both proteins: succulent. Both sauces: legitimately incredible. Both veggies: lovely. Both presentations: well I mean they’re just burgers.

It’s a wash. How can you choose a favorite child? How can you choose a favorite Bareburger?

November wins:

Legs: 1 – Snax: 1

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A Chinese Bistro?

Chinese, Cuisine, New Jersey, Specialty Shops

The Battleground

A & J Bistro, East Hanover, New Jersey


The Contenders

Hong Shao Niu Ro Mian vs. Dan Dan Mian

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup vs. Noodles in Hot Spicy Sesame Sauce

Tender, tender beef. Handmade wide noodles. Flavorful spicy broth. Bok choy. Fairy dust.

Legs:

A & J Bistro. What a place. Although the name would lead you to believe it’s French, actually they specialize in some of the best, most honest Chinese food I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong, I love lo mein, but General Tso never darkens the doorstep of A&J. At a place where the Chinese guests outnumber everyone else by at least 20 to 1, you know you’ve hit gold.

Except for our century egg, I’ve never had anything here I didn’t like. If ordering a noodle dish, they’ll ask you if you want wide or thin noodles. The answer is wide. Always. Their wide noodles are handmade, misshapen and absolutely mouthwatering. The thin? From a machine (can you blame them?)

Their beef is so tender. Like, cut-in-half-with-your-chopsticks tender. It also acts as a wonderful vessel for the lovely sauce it’s been simmering in. Packed full of flavor, this bovine knows what’s what.

But back to the sauce, which is more of a spicy vinegar oil than anything else. Maybe that sounds weird, but trust me, it works. It’s a thin sauce that’s a beautiful dark reddish brown and carries all the depth of flavor that hue would inspire. Just the right amount of acid, a subtle hint of sweet and a punch of umami all come together with a spicy finish. Of course, I went ahead and added more of my own rice vinegar, soy sauce and spoonfuls of A & J’s amazing chili oil, because you can never go wrong with (much) more chili.

The bok choy was an add-on and totally worth it. Gotta have my green. Steamed to a lovely shade and refreshingly crisp, I honestly believe it completes the dish.

Final note: A & J is so cheap. Like, every time I get the bill I’m astounded by how little the wide array of food has cost (you have to get some of their small plates to share – amazing). They are cash only, though, so come prepared.


Homemade wide noodles with sesame sauce and a stylish bok choy beret.

Snax:

Prior to meeting Legs I had never had authentic Chinese cuisine. The furthest I got was General Tso’s, pork fried rice, and eggrolls. As I am a functioning human being, eggrolls still hold a place in my heart, but the rest went by the wayside a long time ago. Now with a newfound sense of self-preservation and a love for A & J Bistro I never have to call Ming-Feng ever again.

My first steps into life after Tso lead me straight to dan dan mian. A & J’s handmade wide noodles left me with a sense of wonder as I entered the new frontier speeding passed towers of takeaway containers overflowing with lo mein. These noodles are nice and soft, devoid of grease, and gently carry a flavor rather than inducing the headaches I was so accustomed to when in range of its fast food cousin. Toto, we’re not in Grand Sichuan anymore.

I have never felt greater empathy for the seed/nut allergic masses than when slurping down noodle after sesame sauce covered noodle at A & J. Get your EpiPens out boys and girls. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. This lovely sesame sauce topped with peanuts delivers a creamy, rounded out nuttiness that delights with every bite. Never overwhelming in thickness and always exits the palette and just the right time, this sauce is a true professional. Adding chili oil, soy sauce, and rice vinegar gives the sesame a little more complexity, but it’s not essential to its resounding success.

Some protein would be nice and a lot more bok choy, which doesn’t come standard, but this modest little meal is the perfect introduction to the ill-informed. More Chinese please!

 

 


And the winner is… Legs!

✓Protein ✓Sauce ✗Sides/Veggies ✓Presentation

Snax didn’t even have protein. Chump. His sauce though… wow. He actually ordered what I wanted to get, but out of benevolence I allowed him to dine upon my (formerly) favorite dish. Looks like it pays to be kind.

 

November wins:

Legs: 1 – Snax: 1

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Healthy Revival

American, Cuisine, New York, Specialty Shops

The Battleground

ReViVer, Hell’s Kitchen, NYC


The Contenders

Loco Moco vs. Mahi Curry

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Loco Moco = an over easy egg sitting on a “chicken burger” served on a bed of brown rice and sauteed veggies, all topped off with a tomatillo sauce. Sounds too good to be true?

Legs:

While visiting ReViVer, which specializes in healthy fast food, I just couldn’t say no to something named Loco Moco. ReViVer offers nutritionally balanced food with quick service at fast food prices – and who doesn’t love a fried egg?

If only reality lived up to expectation. This was not a bad meal by any means. It was fine. Just fine. The chicken burger truly was a burger. The ground and then reformed patty just felt far too mushy, ruining its lovely balance of smoky seasonings. This came as somewhat of a nasty shock as I had been expecting a chicken breast, but I guess the fault there lies with me.

What I was hoping would be the epic climax to a roller coaster of a meal also left me wanting more. My over easy egg just wasn’t runny enough for my taste. It was more of a solid than a beautiful, creamy yolk. Combine that with the under-seasoned tomatillo sauce smothering everything and choking the meal’s life away, and the nail is in the coffin.

My rice and veg were great. Simply delicious. Perhaps because they weren’t trying as hard as their fancy neighbors. Brown rice, black beans, spinach and roasted tomatoes. Honest, hearty, down to earth.

Tofu, fennel, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, cannellini beans, radish, and red quinoa, tossed with orange miso dressing and topped with toasted almonds and just the right amount of "oh my God."

Tofu, fennel, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, cannellini beans, radish, and red quinoa, tossed with orange miso dressing. Topped with toasted almonds and just the right amount of “oh my God.”

Good thing we got the most delicious salad on the planet for a starter.


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A huge slab of mahi-mahi served as a vessel for the coconut curry sauce I’ve been waiting for my whole life. Served with some pretty stellar vegetables to cheer the stoniest of hearts.

Snax:

When I went out on a limb and ordered fish at a fast food joint, I was numb with anticipation. Would I be rewarded for my risk and pull in higher earnings? Or would it explode in my face and further my losing streak?

Both. The answer is both.

On one hand, my meal was a Southeast Asian delight. My coconut red curry sauce is hard to play down. It tasted like a coconut got married to curry and served party-in-my-mouth for the reception. All of the guests were satisfied, most of all me.

On the other hand, the fish was “meh.” Any flavor the mahi-mahi originally had was completely overwhelmed by that beautiful, albeit powerful, curry sauce. The fish was basically just a hunk of protein sitting on veggies.

But oh, what veggies they were. Roasted zucchini, butternut squash and carrots provided the perfect amount of sweetness to the coconut curry marriage sauce. They complimented each other and were cooked very nicely. Spinach and broccoli came back in from the savory side of life to balance out all the flavors and make sure my taste buds got the full one-two. Brown basmati rice on the bottom of everything acted as a sponge to ensure that not a single drop of sauce got wasted.

This dish also came with a completely superfluous avocado salsa verde. I’m not sure why it was there and I barely remember eating it. Completely overwhelmed by the other great flavors going on.

Turns out you can have great fast food that’s healthy, but you still shouldn’t order the fish.


And the winner is… Snax!

✓Protein ✓Sauce ✓Sides/Veggies ✓Presentation

This one was kind of a no-brainer. Legs’ sauce had no flavor and mine was packed full of it. Legs’ veggies were good too, but my zucchini and butternut squash really brought this win home. She gets protein because I ate a flavorless slab of fish while her chicken mush actually had seasoning. But overall, I’m definitely the champion this time around.

November wins:

Legs: 0 – Snax: 1

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Banished to Siberia

New Jersey, Russian, Specialty Shops

A few months ago, Snax and I took a trip to Coney Island with some friends. For those unaware, there’s a huge Russian population over there, so we seized the opportunity to view their grocery store delicacies. Always ones for something new to try, we were appalled and intrigued when we stumbled across a cold, jiggling tray of aspic. We passed on it that beautiful summer day, but it’s been on Snax’s mind ever since.

He insisted – yes, insisted – on using it for his punishment this month. I’m rather fond of him, so I tried to talk him out of eating meat jello, but he would not be persuaded.

Where does one find aspic?

I’m so glad you asked. We had to hunt this down, seriously. Snax located Emporium International Foods about 30 minutes south of where he lives, and we went there blindly assuming they would carry this delicious Russian favorite. Despite having an exact address, we drove past it twice, due to the building be dominated by Just, the attached restaurant. When we did finally locate and walk into the Emporium, oh what a treat. It. Smelled. Incredible. That heavenly aroma wafting through our sensory receptors was due to the most amazing bakery display I’ve ever seen. A significant amount of the pastries and breads seemed to be made in-house, as well as a huge selection of cold meats and salads to take home. Sausages, cheeses, canned foods, dried foods, you name it. The food here is fit for the Kremlin.

deli2_thumb  bakery

Photo credit: www.emporiumfoods.com

We finally located the object of our trip and bought a few snacks for the ride home. Flaky, yummy, meat-and-potato-filled pastry goodness.

Without any further ado… Snax’s October punishment. I’m so glad it’s not me.

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