5 Reasons Why Chinese Food in America Is Better Than Ever
No matter where you live (and eat) in the United States, chances are you’re no farther than a short drive from a spot where you can get wonton soup, scallion pancakes, and General Tso’s chicken. Chinese restaurants, it seems, are as ubiquitous as pizza parlors and Irish pubs. And while Peking duck will never fall out of fashion, a new crop of chefs are offering some pretty inventive, if not radical, twists on familiar dishes.
1. UPSCALE NOODLES
You could make the case that David Chang started it all. The New York chef’s name remains synonymous with his first venue, Momofuku Noodle Bar, a lively, funky joint he opened the East Village in 2004 that famously offered modern versions of his favorite dishes from Chinatown’s gritty old-school noodle houses. Later came Momofuku KO (ko.momofuku.com), offering more polished selections, including Asian morsels enhanced with foie gras, truffles, and other global morsels. Now he’s gone on to open a veritable empire of clever Asian eateries—throughout New York but also in Sydney, Toronto, and Las Vegas.
2. A FRESH, GREENMARKET SENSIBILITY
These days, though, Chang hardly has a monopoly on intriguing Chinese fare in Manhattan. A few years after Momofuku opened came RedFarm (redfarmnyc.com), a project by Joe Ng and Ed Schoenfeld, both notable figures in the New York dining scene. Today there are three outposts in the city. Billing itself as “Innovative, Inspired Chinese Cuisine with Greenmarket Sensibility,” the menu runs the gamut from dumplings that are a far cry from classic, what with they’re being shaped like Pac Man and those ghosts, to a full papaya/ginger/soy-sauce-marinated rib steak and the most New York-y eggroll you’ve ever seen: stuffed with Katz’s pastrami and served with honey-mustard and kaffir-lime sauce.
3. REGIONAL FLAVORS
Chefs elsewhere around the country add their own regional accents, like Ryan Bernhardt, who opened TKO (tkotn.com) in Nashville in the fall of 2016. He brings a strong southern influence to his recipes, making creative use of pickles, porridge, buttermilk and other classic flavors. To wit: the kale salad, cruciferous veggie du jour, appears here adorned in shallots, cashews, crispy pork and chili vinegar. A buttermilk-dressing-slathered medley of broccoli, raisins, spicy peanuts and lemon. A cocktail list that leans heavy on rum- and rye-based drinks seals the deal.
In Atlanta, Chef Wendy Chang offers something not often associated with the deep south: soy beef and soy chicken. Herban Fix (herbanfix.com) is her airy and modern vegan restaurant, where she fuses traditional Asian tastes with all the wholesome elements frequently found in cafés in San Francisco and Burlington, Vermont. There’s Pan seared soy fish w. organic kale simmered in spicy curry noodle soup as well as a mushroom/quinoa/cherry tomato/kale. All the classic preparations are along for the ride, too—in vegan form, of course—like scallion pancakes and sweet and sour tofu.
4. WEST COAST INNOVATORS
Regional obsessions play into the style at HRD (hrdcorp.com), a longstanding coffee-shop-style restaurant that bills itself as serving “global fusion” cuisine, but regardless of what you call it, it’s uniquely San Franciscan, as beyond the rice bowls, curry plates, and salads, the menu offers a wide range of burritos and tacos with inventive fillings, like spicy pork, organic tofu, and panko-crusted pork, each with kimchi and a few other eastern-leaning flavors. While we’re on the west coast, Portland, Oregon can always be counted on to throw some creative culinary mojo into the ring. We were particularly taken by Expatriate (expatriatepdx.com), a hip, dimly lit cocktail lounge with inventive craft drinks alongside a menu of inspired bites that fuse all sorts of global tastes and traditions. China meets the American South the Chinese sausage corn dog, a heat-fiend’s fantasy with hot mustard and “xxx death sauce.” Consider yourself warned. A tremendous nachos platter dubbed the Expatriot Nacho with a wink is a tremendous pile of fried wonton chips, thai chili cheese sauce, spicy lemongrass beef, crema, kaffir lime, and tomato salsa, and herbs. A feast for the eyes and the body.
5. DINER KITSCH MEETS ASIAN FUSION CUISINE
Moving north, Joanne Chang broke the mold in Boston in 2007 when she opened Myers + Chang (myersandchang.com, pictured above), an eatery that blends American diner kitsch with a down-home Chinese style in terms of both food and décor. You can also spot Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese touches on the menu, which, in addition to a roster of noodles and familiar dishes, includes options like fish tacos with kimchee sesame salsa and fried chicken with ginger waffles, an elevated spin on the country classic.
Chang told us she recommends Bao Bei (bao-bei.ca), a self-styled “Chinese Brasserie,” in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown. The small shabby-chic spot puts a premium on local, seasonal, organic ingredients and the thoughtfully designed menu blends Shanghainese, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese traditions, with a little French flare tossed in for good measure. The result: dishes like spicy noodles flat wheat noodles swimming in chili lamb mince, pork fat, sesame sauce, cucumber, and preserved yellow bean. Steelhead trout is adorned with crispy squash and cumin gnocchi, rapini, and velvety shiso butter clam sauce. A far cry from beef noodle soup, to be sure. And certainly only a hint of what's to come from this new generation of chefs.
#BTReads: Rick Steves’s ‘Travel as a Political Act’
When was the last time you read a travel book from cover to cover? Those of us who are guidebook fans tend to skip from chapter to chapter, site to site, neighborhood to neighborhood, comparing prices, menus, and hotel decor, in search of the ideal itinerary. But Rick Steves’s Travel as a Political Act: How to Leave Your Baggage Behind (Avalon Travel, February 2018) is not a typical travel book. You may find yourself devouring every word on every page, emerging with something much more valuable than a go-here-then-here-then-here itinerary: A transformed view of what it means to be a citizen of this world, and some common-sense tips for navigating that world. GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE “My goal is to inspire Americans to go beyond Orlando,” Steves told me in a phone interview last week. The PBS TV host, bestselling guidebook author, and esteemed European tour guide (he brought 20,000 travelers to Europe in 2017) has set his sights high, distilling a lifetime of world travel into a pretty basic concept: “I love the idea of travel as a way of getting out of our comfort zone.” That that philosophy remains surprising, even shocking, to some travelers, simply underscores the need for this new, fully revised third edition of Steves’s award-winning book at this moment in American history. GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS That said, however, Travel as a Political Act is an especially inviting, non-confrontational celebration of the ways in which “transformative travel” can enrich any trip for any traveler (even those who cherish their comfort zones). At the heart of Steves’s message is the notion of embracing local culture wherever you go: Connect with people, take history seriously, and overcome fear. He devotes chapters to such disparate destinations as El Salvador (where Americans can see firsthand the impact of globalization on a small, relatively poor country), Turkey and Morocco (Islamic nations that do not fit the common media narrative of religious extremism and terrorism), Israel and Palestine (where he simply urges visitors to talk to both sides), and a variety of European nations that challenge Americans’ views. UNDERSTAND YOURSELF “America is a great and innovative nation. But other nations have some pretty good ideas, too,” says Steves. In Travel as a Political Act, the author consistently invites readers to join him in opening their minds, but, as a truly open-minded writer himself, he avoids condescension and lecturing. “By bringing these ideas home, we can help our society confront its challenges more wisely.” WHERE WILL RICK STEVES GO NEXT? Because we ask everyone, "Where will you go next?" I asked Steves where 2018 may take him, and I got possibly my favorite answer I've yet received: "I'm off to Europe to make guidebooks, particularly in Sicily and Scotland, and I'm preparing a TV show about the history of Fascism in Europe and another about cruising in the Mediterranean."
Hotel We Love: Windsor Boutique Hotel, Asheville, NC
With its cozy lobby arranged with old-timey furniture and antique décor and lighting, the Windsor Boutique Hotel, in Asheville, NC, does a terrific job at making you feel like you’re not actually entering a hotel at all. It feels more like the sitting room in a private home, and with the staffers helming a wide wood desk, it’s clear that all the formalities of check-in have been swapped for a laid-back personalized welcome. THE STORY The Windsor opened as apartments in 1907, but over the years, downtown became quite unsavory, and many buildings, including this one, fell into disrepair. But an investment firm bought it and undertook an historical renovation, keeping as much of its architectural detail intact, down to the banisters on the staircases. It opened as a hotel in 2013, restored it to its former glory. And with 14 rooms set up like apartment suites, it’s a glorious accommodation indeed. THE QUARTERS Each of the 14 rooms has its own unique décor that includes playful antiques. This being an old building, that aesthetic perfectly suites the original design elements, like dark, textured wood floor panels, soaring ceilings, tall windows, and brick walls. Bed sizes vary, ranging from a king, queen, and double queen. Each suite has a rain showerhead in the spacious shower, a sleeper-sofa in the living room, a washer and dryer, and a complete modern kitchen with a full-size stove, fridge, and microwave. Most also have a dishwasher. THE NEIGHBORHOOD The Windsor is smack in the middle of downtown Asheville, on the same block as various cafes, a Thai restaurant, clothing boutiques, and local amenities aplenty, like a hair salon. Chocolate Gems, which offers decadent handmade chocolates and gelato, is a few storefronts away. The hotel does not have its own parking, but street parking is available and there are several city garages nearby, including a new one on the block. There are two more within two blocks. THE FOOD The Windsor does not have a restaurant of its own, but there’s a small fridge in the lobby with complimentary soda, water, and snacks as well as both a Keurig and N’Espresso machine. Asheville is a popular destination for weekend getaways because it’s within hours drive from Charleston, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, and more. With guests’ ride home in mind, on Sunday mornings the hotel offers pastries from The Rhu, a bakery/café offshoot of Rhubarb, a celebrated locally minded restaurant from James Beard nominated chef John Fleer. One of the many benefits of its downtown location is that you’re never more than a few footsteps from a great place to eat or drink. Across the street, for instance, is Social Lounge, which is known for its rooftop dining. It’s open until midnight during the week and 2PM on weekends. Just around the corner, about a four-minute walk away, Sovereign Remedies, which serves elevated comfort food (bone marrow tater tots, anyone) and mixes some of the best cocktails in the city, is open until 2AM nightly. With a kitchen open late, expect to find plenty of industry people there after midnight. ALL THE REST The hotel lobby is connected to Desirant, a boutique that sells all manner of Southern living essentials (and a number of non-essentials) in a vintage Parisian flea market setting. Browse jewelry and accessories, books, home goods, cards, clothes, local crafts, and a few antiques that the owners handpicked in France. Hotel guests get 10% off. In a nice touch that gives the rooms a local flavor, each is stocked with a bag of freshly ground coffee from Dynamite Roasters a few miles away in Black Mountain. RATES & DEETS Starting at $200. The Windsor Boutique Hotel 36 Broadway Asheville, NC 28801 (844) 494-6376 / windsorasheville.com
Miami's 10 Tastiest Secrets
Miami’s reputation for excess is the stuff of hip-hop video fantasy: Parties on yachts with models and oligarch henchmen; bottle service at the latest nightclub next to pro athletes and career scenesters; James Bond-like characters making mojitos at the wet bar in your penthouse suite. In summary: debauched, superficial, and vastly expensive. Or so the stereotype goes. This is the Miami that was concocted to appeal to people’s most aspirational and competitive fantasies--but it’s not how regular visitors or part-time residents try to live. You can actually have the boat life, nightlife, and even the penthouse views in Miami for a much more reasonable cash outlay. And pro tip: Fantastic restaurants and bars abound in the city, and they’re are rarely ostentatious even if they’re expensive, certain parts of mid-beach and Brickell notwithstanding. Planning an escape to Miami? We’ve rounded up 10 local favorites that offer great value and ambience aplenty. 1. THE WYNWOOD YARD There are patches of old Wynwood, a mural-splashed urban warehouse neighborhood, left in Miami’s now ultra-gentrified arts district, and The Wynwood Yard (thewynwoodyard.com), an outdoor community bazaar/food truck park/urban garden is the best of them. The grounds are green and abundant with flowers and food plants; the outdoor bar and food vendors serve drinks and eats that are just as quality as what you'd get in any formal indoor establishment. What's more, local organizations and promoters are always running some kind of cool event. Depending on when you visit, you might wander into a yoga class, a crafts market, an entrepreneur networking event, or a free reggae show. On one night that'll go down in the history books, Shakira showed up and played a free midnight show. It was only two songs, but still. Shakira. 2. COYO TACO Miami does tacos as well as anywhere on the West Coast or Texas, but here, taquerias are not expected to be a humble, hole-in-the-wall experience. Even the cheapest of eats can be served with a little flair. Local favorites, of which Coyo Taco (coyo-taco.com) is right at the top, play to Miami’s fashionable crowds and penchant for day drinking. The Latin Caribbean-influenced menu showcases a fresh approach to fast-casual (the website advertises guacamole “smashed to order”). Toss in ice-cold beer and margaritas and colorful slightly urban décor and it adds up to the perfect dine-in experience at grocery deli prices. 3. PUBBELLY NOODLE BAR There’s something immediately charming about a Miami brand that gives a shout-out to the belly. Not that the trio of male founders of Pubbelly Noodle Bar (pubbellyboys.com/miami/pubbelly) fit the dad-bod physical profile, but they do have a passion for rich food and friendly hospitality. Chef and founding partner Jose Mendin, a native Puerto Rican with classic culinary school training, began his career with the Nobu restaurant group (first in Miami, and then London). He’s equally talented working with pork – the beloved staple protein of Puerto Rico – as devising colorful, delicious Asian dishes. The cozy, constantly packed noodle bar, located next to Pubbelly Sushi in Miami Beach's Sunset Harbour neighborhood, is the best of both worlds on one umami-rich menu. It isn’t quite cheap eats, but a ramen bowl can serve two. 4. MONTY'S ON SOUTH BEACH The marina views of millionaires’ yachts lend Monty's on South Beach (montyssobe.com) a luxe vibe, even though the décor is a step up from picnic tables and there is a family-friendly swimming pool on the main deck. As long as it’s not raining, the large wraparound deck space is normally packed with a happy mix of local professionals, South of Fifth residents, and tourists feeling clever that they found this spot. Stone crab claws—South Florida’s claim to shellfish fame—are a huge draw during Monty’s wildly popular Happy Hour (Monday through Friday from 4PM to 8PM), when they're often only $5 each in season. Happy Hour raw bar specials change, but oysters and jumbo shrimp also make frequent appearances. Well liquor is half off, and beer and wine 30 percent off. 5. LAGNIAPPE In Louisiana and the Cajun parts of Texas, lagniappe is “a little something extra”—a little gift, a gratuitous favor. And while nothing’s gifted at Lagniappe (lagniappehouse.com), a Bohemian-jazzy backyard bar, gourmands will find many little gifts in the refrigerator case by the back bar counter. Specifically, there are dozens of small plastic-wrapped packages of fine cheese and charcuterie, which mostly cost between $4 and $12. Choose whichever ones look good, hand them over the counter, and the staff will turn them into a bespoke charcuterie platter. Other guests forgo the snacks and just buy a couple bottles of wine to accompany the live music, buzzy vibe, and occasional summer downpour. 6. SHUCKERS WATERFRONT GRILL The lively happy hour is just one of the many reasons that Shuckers Waterfront Grill (shuckersbarandgrill.com), a sunny, raucous outdoor bar on Biscayne Bay can't keep count on its regulars. (See also: its epic sunset views, its grilled wings, its boat-up dock that accommodates everything from small yachts to rickety two-man rowboats, the sports on TV.) It's also notorious among locals because not very long ago, the entire main deck collapsed and fell into the bay while approximately 100 people were seated on it. Only after spending an evening at Shuckers can you understand why such an event, while it may have been very shocking and very wet for those who experienced, did absolutely nothing to discourage the standing-room-only crowds who show up every night. 7. DRUNKEN DRAGON With a name like Drunken Dragon (drunkendragon.com) in Miami, there’s no telling what the venue might be. A tattoo parlor with an adjacent liquor store? A geisha drag pop-up? In fact, it’s one of the city’s best Asian fusion restaurants, hidden away behind an anonymous door in a strip mall resembling Ali Baba’s treasure cave decked out in leather club chairs. Sexy-sophisticated décor blends bling (golden strand curtains) with tiki touches with eyebrow-raising art. A limited number of Korean barbecue tables are available, usually after a wait, for those who want to get hands-on with their food. Others order from the small plates, often showing up for the great Happy Hour, which starts at the hour most of the world leaves the office, but Miami-ites leave the beach. 8. TAURUS BEER & WHISK(E)Y HOUSE An icon in one of Miami’s classic non-beach neighborhoods, Taurus Beer & Whisk(e)y House (taurusbeerandwhiskey.com) is known by night for its comedy and trivia nights, plus its encyclopedic selection of 100+ whiskeys. The food is basic burger and bar fare, with nightly specials offering prices from last generation ($2 taco Tuesdays, $5 chili dog Thursdays, 15% industry night discount on Sundays and Mondays). Though historically an evening spot, Taurus’s 2016 foray into daytime dining, specifically weekend brunch, was received with great enthusiasm. This is largely due to the $19 bottomless booze option. A bacon rye old-fashioned and an jalapeno bloody mary are among the all-you-can-drink offerings. 9. VAGABOND KITCHEN Avra Jain, owner/developer of Vagabond Hotel, is the force behind the Upper East Side’s urban revitalization—and definitely one to lead trends, not follow. So it stands to reason that the Vagabond’s retro-sexy-deco-cool restaurant/bar, Vagabond Kitchen (vagabondkitchenandbar.com) is home to all sorts of interesting goings-ons. Whether it’s bottomless Sunday brunch, the launch of a new burlesque cabaret, a DJ on the pool deck late-night, or an impromptu art collaboration with a Miami-based collective, the property regularly partners on creative missions. Its typical vibe is boozy, experimental, and inclusive. Except during normal meal hours, when the staff keeps food as the focus, executing contemporary American fare with TLC. 10. IVAN'S COOKHOUSE Most Caribbean restaurants in Miami strive for the bare-bones ambiance of island shacks, better suited to takeout joints than special occasion dining. There are exceptions, the most interesting of which is Ivan's Cookhouse (ivanscookhouse.com), a stylish restaurant that "Chopped" winner Ivan Dorvil opened in 2016. You can really tell why this chef did so well on the cooking show: he never puts his restaurant on autopilot. He's constantly changing up the menu, creating specials, or hosting live bands. He even decided recently to open for breakfast during the week. His menu is as Asian and European as it is Caribbean, but all the island staples are represented somewhere. Jerk chicken, fresh-caught fish, Haitian-style oxtails, plantains and fritters are among the top items, and his sampler platter is popular with people who want to sample several Caribbean flavors.
Acadia's Dark Sky Festival Is Calling All Photographers and Artists
There are few places in the U.S. that enjoy a truly dark sky at night anymore, and the area in and around Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island on the part of the Maine coast that locals call Down East, is one of them. Each year, the Acadia region celebrates its awe-inspiring starlight nights with its Night Sky Festival. A GROWING ASTRONOMY FESTIVAL The Acadia Night Sky Festival has grown over the past decade from a small local event to one that draws visitors from all over the U.S. and Canada and offers dozens of workshops and esteemed astronomy researchers. Participants can stargaze from the top of Cadillac Mountain, take evening cruises on Frenchman Bay, and sign up for telescope lessons. A COOL CONTEST The 10th annual Acadia Night Sky Festival (acadianightskyfestival.org) will run from September 5 through 9 this year, but there’s an inspiring contest happening right now that might interest the photographers and visual artists in your life: The festival planning committee is soliciting entries for its festival poster now through March 16. “Art submissions should portray the night sky above Acadia and/or Down East Maine,” says Alf Anderson, co-chair of the Acadia Night Sky Festival marketing team. A PRESTIGIOUS PRIZE The winning image will be featured on the festival’s posters, brochures, website, and other marketing platforms, and the winning photographer or visual artist will receive two round-trip tickets from Boston to Bar Harbor, ME (Acadia’s gateway community), courtesy of Cape Air. For contest rules, visit acadianightskyfestival.org.