Freemans

There is a type of magic to hidden nooks and crannies, when an unassuming entrance-way leads to a beautiful little corner that you would’ve otherwise missed. It reminds me of Narnia. Freemans capitalizes on that inner child in people, where we’d all like to discover secret treasure. You walk down a sketchy alleyway, and at the end you’ll find an adorable, charming restaurant complete with fairy lights and turquoise doors. Although, it really is an illusion of stumbling up hidden treasure because let’s be real here: we all came because we already saw on instagram, facebook, or the blogosphere exactly what Freemans looks like. Ah well, it’s a nice illusion to hold on to regardless.

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We came on the earlier side of brunch, and there was no wait at all. The inside goes for a rustic, farmhouse look, complete with beaten-up tables, rickety stairs, and lots of taxidermy. The stuffed bird next to our table definitely freaked me out.

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The hot artichoke dip is a must-order. If you get nothing else, get the artichoke dip. It comes out hot and gooey, perfect to slather on some toasted bread.

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We shared a savory and a sweet dish. The skillet eggs sit on a bed of spinach, topped with cheddar grits and bacon. A decent dish owed mainly to the grits and bacon.

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I was far less impressed with the lemon buttermilk pancakes. They were standard pancakes, not particularly fluffy or soft. For my favorite pancakes, head over to Friend of a Farmer in Gramercy. Those pancakes are somehow crispy on the edges and soft in the middle and have big, fat blueberries in the batter. The different textures between the outside and inside of the pancake make it sing. These Freemans pancakes fell flat though, so stick to the artichoke dip and the savory dishes here.

Freemans Restaurant
191 Chrystie Street #2F btw Delancey & Rivington, New York, NY 10002

99 Favor Taste

After I hurt my ankle last month, my mom came up to mother me for a weekend. Her reaction to my apartment was that it was a lot cleaner than she expected. Not sure why, but I think she imagined a pig sty. Even so, she did a full scrub down of my bathroom and kitchen, down to the floors. She then proceeded to stock up my fridge and freezer with homemade soups and ready-to-eat meals. Looking at the mountain of food, I should be good to go for the next month. It’s times like these when I feel like I have absolutely no desire to grow up. Can time go backwards? Can I stay a kid forever? It’s so nice to be taken care of.

Of course we also went out to eat quite a few times that weekend. 99 Favor Taste is a hot pot and Korean barbecue spot that newly opened not long ago. The original restaurant is in Brooklyn, and they have done so well that they’ve now expanded into Manhattan. From the looks of it, this new location is a huge hit as well. The line Saturday night was literally out the door, with the entrance area teeming over with people waiting for tables. We made reservations for 8 pm and still had to wait about a half hour before getting seated.

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The first thing I noticed, aside from the line situation, was how beautifully decorated the interior was. High ceilings, red draped curtains, elegant throw pillows on all the seats – this is definitely not your typical dingy Chinatown place. This is what restaurants in China actually look like. Add on top of that really attentive service (almost TOO attentive), high quality ingredients, and affordable prices, this is hands down the best hot pot spot in Manhattan.

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You can pick up to 3 soup bases, and we went with half spicy and half pork bone. There’s one called congee style, which I’ll have to try next time to figure out what that entails. Congee hot pot? Interesting.

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The wall of sauces is an impressive lineup with everything from the classic sesame paste to chives sauce and several different hot sauces. It’s fun to experiment with a dollop of this and that. My go-to concoction is a mix of sha cha paste, soy sauce, sesame paste, chives sauce, and a dash of vinegar and chili oil.

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For the food, I was so impressed by the quality of the meats. The beef (upper right) and the lamb (lower left) were beautiful. Sliced extremely thinly, it cooks in seconds. I like to dip it in the broth a couple times and then take it out immediately so that it doesn’t overcook. The slivers of fat in the beef kept it especially juicy and tender. If you get no other meats, you must try the beef. Really excellent!

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There’s a slew of other meats, seafood, and veggies to pick up too. We loaded up on: pork, fish, crab, frozen tofu (a must!), fried tofu, tofu skin, wood ear, seaweed, enoki mushrooms, pumpkin, potatoes, taro (my favorite!), and vermicelli for the end. This is a waistline-busting amount of food. Beware. Come dressed for the occasion, which in my case means stretchy yoga pants.

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Something else I love about this place is the sweet soups that serve as great palate cleansers, giving you a break from all the spice and oil, or as a refreshing dessert at the end of the meal. On the top is a pumpkin soup, and on the bottom is a tapioca soup. I’m such a sucker for these. I must have had at least 4 bowls.

And what is the price for this giant meal? A whopping $22 per person! I don’t know another all-you-can-eat hot pot place in Manhattan that can top this. I will be back (well, technically, I’ve already been back since this particular meal happened haha).

99 Favor Taste
285 Grand St (btw Eldridge & Forsyth) New York, NY 10002

Clinton Street Baking Company

February is a month of magical things including Chinese New Year festivities, City Bakery’s Hot Chocolate Festival and Clinton Street Baking Company’s Pancake Month. Featuring a lineup of pancake specials, these elaborate pancake concoctions are mouth-watering. Going to Clinton St for brunch is near impossible unless you are one of those people who find great pleasure in 5 hour waits, so I’ve only ever come here for dinner. Breakfast for dinner!

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Every table gets a plate of biscuits and butter. They are famous for having amazing biscuits, but I am sad to report that I am actually not a fan of these. I find that these biscuits are, dare-I-say, a touch undercooked for my liking. I want my biscuits to be slightly firmer, especially on the exterior. A bit more salt in the batter wouldn’t hurt either.

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Their pancakes are the real deal though. Chocolate chunk pancakes with warm maple butter. The pancakes are super thick and fluffy.

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Banana Walnut pancakes, also served with warm maple butter. That maple butter is amazing. It’s silky and smooth and not too sweet. It adds a sweet touch to the pancakes and does not overwhelm it, so you can still taste the actual pancake. However, not everyone at the table agreed. My friend who is a big fan of the Aunt Jemima variety wasn’t too happy with this rendition and felt that it was not sweet enough.

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The special for pancake month was the blueberry crumb streusel pancakes. The pancakes are layered with blueberries in between, and it comes with fresh blueberry sauce, vanilla bean whipped cream, and a mini blueberry muffin on top. Everything tasted so fresh. I love how the blueberries will pop out between the layers of pancakes. Add a dip in the warm maple butter, and that is a perfect bite.

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We also tried two types of bacon: double smoked and sugar cured. The double smoked bacon was really salty, so you have to alternate it with bites of other things. The sugar cured bacon was crazy good! The hint of sugar pairs really well with the bacon’s saltiness. I can have that whole order to myself. Actually, I think I pretty much did eat most of the bacon at our table. Hahaha

Clinton Street Baking Company
4 Clinton St (btw Ave B & Houston) New York, NY 10002

 

Hester Street Fair

The sad part about the weather getting cold, besides the fact that the weather is now freezing cold, is that outdoor fairs like Hester Street Fair on the Lower East Side are closed. Here are a couple snapshots from warmer days:

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Oaxaca tacos are small but tasty: chorizo on the left, and fish on the right. The chorizo was definitely the better of the two, as the fish taco was bland and too soggy. My heart still lays with their carnitas though.

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Deviant Chef does Asian/Latin influenced burgers, so imagine cemitas with curry chicken or a miso infused burger. I got to try their kalbi sandwich, which was pretty good. I also saw a mabo burger on the menu that sounded very interesting: “Berkshire pork and pork belly blended with fermented black beans, Korean pepper paste, Chili garlic paste, garlic, onion & scallions.” That’ll be for next time.

Thankfully, outdoor markets aren’t completely gone yet. Broadway Bites, where I just had an amazing lobster mac and cheese the other day, is here until Thanksgiving. Bryant Park’s holiday market opened last week. I’m also looking forward to the holiday market at Union Square that should be opening later this month. Put on some extra layers and go check those out!

Hester Street Fair
Corner of Hester and Essex St.

Oaxaca Tacos

Deviant Chef