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Grand Sichuan, Billy’s Bakery, Taim, Otto’s – Eating Out with Robyn!

September 12, 2007

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Last Wednesday I had dinner with Robyn, who I haven’t see in nearly forever. As two Asian girls with big appetites and a love for white rice, we met up at Grand Sichuan in Chelsea. As luck would have it, Robyn transferred into NYU the same semester I transferred out of NYU. And it wasn’t until I visited NYC a year later that I finally met her in real life. And yes, she is super fun to eat with!

We perused through the lengthy menu, pondered our options, and wondered how the heck we could decided on only two items when what seemed like a hundred choices were offered. “The portions are pretty big,” Robyn warned. But I really did not expect THIS BIG. Our eggplant in garlic sauce came on a dish big enough to feed three reasonable sized eaters, it was huuuuge. Four-inch cuts of eggplant bathing in a savory garlic sauce, a wealth of spicy grease included. It was perfect for lathering over our hot bowls of rice…it would have been an awesome winter meal (ignoring the fact that it was sweltering hot outside!) My first thought was that, “oh man, we should have just ordered one dish.” My second thought, “no way we can finish this.” However, I was quickly proved wrong, as we somehow (I don’t know how) managed to wipe out this dish and…

…an order of spicy double cooked pork. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect by, ‘double cooked pork’, but we both like pork, spicy food, and since the words ‘doubled cooked’ seemed to hint at the involvement of some deep frying…we were suckered in. Yeesesssesss, suckered into a plate just as, if not, more enormous than the eggplant, thinly sliced pork, onions, green peppers and who knows what else. I liked the eggplant much more cause it was saucyyyy…and you know, I like saucy things! The pork was cooked dry, almost to the texture jerky and spotted with plenty of Sichuan peppers. My experience with Sichuan food in NYC has been limited (but that will change with time, no worries!), but for the most part, restaurants here seem to be a lot more cautious with applying spicy heat to food. In LA, the Sichuan food will send you up in flames and numb you to death, but in NYC, it’s just merely spicy, and definitely manageable.

We were so full after dinner. Like exploding, moaning, uggggh, stomach clutching full. BUT. Yes, BUT. We decided to go to Billy’s Bakery after dinner. Why do I eat so much when I’m with Robyn? I don’t know. I think it’s just cause there’s no one else there to stop us and say, waaaaiiit a minute. You’ve eaten way too much! Or maybe I need to listen to my stomach better. It just feels funny to end dinner, or any meal for that matter, without dessert. So dessert it is!

“I think I’ll have a cupcake,” Robyn said. But she didn’t! Bwhahahahha. Before she could decide on a cupcake, one of the bakery guys whipped out a banana cream pie from the fridge…and well…the cupcake was history. It was such a dense, heavy pie. I’m sure we would have enjoyed it much more if we had, say…a salad for dinner. But we didn’t have a salad. We had super greasy Chinese food and rice.

I had my eye on the chocolate icebox cake from the start. This is the dumbest cake ever. But I really like it, which explains why I am willing to continue paying $5 for chocolate wafer cookies layered with whipped cream. The cake doesn’t even involve any cooking…all they have to do is assemble! Step 1: layer chocolate wafer cookies on the bottom. Step 2: cover in a layer of sweetened whipped cream. Step 3: repeat Step 1 & 2 over, and over again. Step 4: sell at a 500% markup. It so simple. Maybe that’s why I like it. Softened chocolate wafers, a bushy cloud of cream. I wanted to screw the utensils, stick out my tongue and smash my face in it. But that’s just bad manners. So I ate with a fork.

Robyn clearly enjoyed her pie (between moans of, “oh my god, I’m so full!!!” Yet we continued to eat. Bite after bit of that creamy sweet banana pudding (a shocking yellow shade), with slices of bananas hidden between the layers of cream and pudddddding. Gah. I love pudding.

Photo courtesy of Robyn’s Flickr – my photos are a shame compared to what she takes!

Sadly, we could not finish both the cake and pie. Isn’t that sad? This was one of the few times in my life where dessert had to go to waste. But we were just SO FULL. I would have seriously exploded if I took just. one. more. bite. So sad. But perhaps it was for the better. Fewer calories ingested now just means I can eat more tomorrow, heeheehee.

I saw Robyn again the next day when I visited at her work – this girl has the most enviable job on the planet at Serious Eats. …and I’m going to be an…accountant?? Robyn gave me a copy of Adam Robert’s new published The Amateur Gourmet, which I read cover to cover that very evening. His book made me all motivated to start cooking (and stop eating out for breakfast/lunch/dinner)…so later on that week, I cleaned the kitchen and bought cooking utensils, woohoo! Maybe I’ll head over to the Union Square Greenmarket later on today :)

I brought over bars of the chocolate covered halvah from Russ & Daughters which were enjoyed by all at Serious Eats. Couldn’t you just imagine how simply awesome it would be to work in an environment of people who love food? Later on, I ended up going to dinner to Robyn and her friend Diana to Taim in the West Village for FALFAEL! You know what? We have a lot of great food in Hawaii, but I truly had no clue on how many different types of cuisines I’ve been missing out on until I got here. The options are incredible. Daunting even. The only hard part of eating out in this city is deciding where and what to eat. I had the harissa falafel this time around, but I think I’ll stick with the roasted red pepper falafel (eaten on my first visit) in the future – it’s much more moist, and a tad sweeter, which I think is pretty darn cool.

Robyn and I only planned on having dinner once together this week…but somehow, one turned into three…cause I saw her again the following night at Otto! I dragged my apartment-mate Shann along to meet with Robyn and two of her friends from Vassar, Alex and Alison. The more the merrier! The place was completely packed that Saturday night…we made it just in time to avoid a long wait.

It was also noisy. Super noisy. Our dinner conversation included a lot of, “wait! I can’t hear you! What did you saaaayy?!” hehehe. Service was consistently good, and my water cup was never ever left empty, which is surprise, cause I down water faster than a fish.

We each went with a different pizza and ended up sharing them all. Counterclockwise from the top: my potato, anchovy, ricotta pizza, Alison’s swiss chard and goat cheese, Robyn’s roasted eggplant and smoked mozzarella, and Shann’s fennel and bottarga. Not shown is the Alex’s pizza margherita. The swiss chard and goat cheese ended up being my favorite of the bunch. Sigh. I always suffer from post-order-stress-disorder. You know, that problem where after everyone orders and all the food comes, you end up wishing you ordered something else? haha.

A closer peek at my potato, anchovy, ricotta…you know you want it! There’s just enough anchovies so that you get a whole fish on each slice of the pizza. Good thinking. My father is a staunch anchovy hater which drives me crazzzzy, I don’t understand how could anyone not like anchovies.

FIVE big cups of gelato…so much deliciousness! Maybe one day when I’m older, I’ll learn that sharing desserts is the best way to go. But for now, when I’m still young and (relatively) healthy, I’ll have my own cup of gelato, thank you very much :)

They let you choose up to three flavors, and of course, I had to go and choose three different flavors cause I hate missing out. Running clockwise: caramel, olive oil, and ricotta. Three bits of info. #1: I love, love, love the olive oil gelato, it’s sublime, smooooth a tad salty, and just soooo olive oil-ly. Sorry I suck at descriptions. If you want a better idea, come try it for yourself. #2: Caramel – this just might replace olive oil as my favorite flavor. Why? It’s dark, subtly sweet, almost not sweet enough, and it taste smoked. Yes. As if they took caramel and smoooked it to perfection. Like Shann said, “you know how you have chocolate and then dark chocolate? Well this is like dark caramel.” Oooh, it was a glorious flavor! #3: Ricotta – I like strange and odd food, but the ricotta flat out sucked. I didn’t even finish it. Which is very strange for me cause I suck at wasting food. I love ricotta on pizza (hence my potato, anchovy and ricotta pizza). But here. In this gelato. It was all wrong. It was like stinky, near bitter gelato. Blech.

And that marks my Saturday night. I’m still blogging with Shann’s computer while making use of Whole Food’s free wifi. The weather has cooled down considerably after a huge downpour yesterday. Fall is coming. And then winter. I have no winter clothes. Pray for me that I don’t freeze into an ice cube! :)

Grand Sichuan International
229 9th Ave
NY, NY 10001
(212) 620-5200

Billy’s Bakery
184 9th Ave
NY, NY 10011
(212) 647-9956

Taim
222 Waverly Place
NY, NY 10014
(212) 691-1287

Otto
1 5th Ave
NY, NY 10003
(212) 995-9559



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