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An Insider's guide to restaurants, wine, spirits and culinary travel

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                              dim sum palace, nyc

Dim Sum has been with us for several thousand years, ever since weary travelers stopped to refresh themselves in tea houses along the Silk Road. It came to the U.S. with the wave of Chinese immigration during the 19th century, and initially took root along both coasts---particularly in San Francisco and New York. Literally translated, it means “to touch the heart,” and the phrase alludes not just to the restorative powers of the dumplings but also to the delicate, translucent beauty of dim sum at its best.

Whether at home or abroad, elderly Chinese will typically gather to eat dim sum after morning exercises. For enlightened Westerners and Asian businessmen, dumplings are a lunch or brunch indulgence. Purists often assert that the best dim sum can only be found in the Chinatowns of major cities, but this is nonsense: Yank Sing, in San Francisco’s Financial District, easily has the best dumplings in town. And in midtown Manhattan, there are any number of restaurants that make it unnecessary to shlep the 20 or 30 blocks down to Chinatown.

Dim Sum Palace has two locations in New York City, with a third on the way. The menu is the same wherever you choose to go: roughly 50 varieties of dim sum on a rotating schedule, spanning a range from steamed to fried and savory to sweet. The traditional method of delivery is to serve the dumplings from rolling carts. This works best in large, busy restaurants with lots of floor space, but is impractical given the cost of real estate in Manhattan. At Dim Sum Palace you order off the menu, and each dish is freshly prepared to order.

We had the opportunity to sample ten or twelve items over the course of several visits. Experts will evaluate dim sum chefs on their har gow, shrimp dumplings with a pleated skin that resembles a clam shell. Here they are nearly perfect: ethereal yet firm, easily picked up with chopsticks, compact enough to be devoured in one bite. Somehow, the scallion pancakes manage to be both fluffy and dense at the same time. Shredded roast duck dumplings are curled like tortelloni, filled with savory bits of duck meat. Some dishes aren’t dumplings at all. Crispy garlic spare ribs are hacked into bite-sized pieces before being fried, and the amazing jumbo salt and pepper shrimp are wok-seared to perfection and served with their shells on.

What you drink with dim sum, of course, is tea. Jasmine may be too perfumed for some, so many beginners opt for green tea, which is light, grassy and flavor-neutral. Many Chinese will insist that bo lay, or black tea, is the perfect match for many dim sum dishes, but the earthy aroma and rustic flavor are not for everyone. A good middle ground is guk fa, or chrysanthemum tea, which is herbal, refreshing and slightly sweet.

If you’re craving dessert, don’t miss the sweet egg yolk creamy bun. The plump, round buns are filled with a mixture of egg yolk and sugar; the yolk oozes out when you cut into it, and you use the sweet dough to sop up your dish. They are time-consuming to make and difficult to find, but don’t ever pass them up.

                                  madangsui, nyc

Among New Yorkers, it’s an article of faith that if you find yourself to be the only non-Asian in an Oriental restaurant, you’ve struck gold. Like many clichés, the axiom is true. The only Caucasians who venture into Madangsui are generally in the company of Korean friends or business associates.

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        the michelin guide comes to guangzhou

Suppose Rip Van Winkle had been a foodie, a devotee of the Michelin Guide, and had fallen asleep in 1998. He would remember a culinary landscape that was totally dominated by France, with the rest of Europe grudgingly included. The United States, South America and Asia weren’t even considered as serious restaurant destinations, nor could anyone have imagined such a situation to be possible.

Twenty years later, the world is a very different place. Japan has more Michelin stars than France, and some of the world’s greatest restaurants are located in places such as Copenhagen, Spain and Manhattan. He would have been further surprised last week, when the Michelin guide to Guangzhou, China, was released.

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              to kalon: the importance of place

There are few vineyards in California---or anywhere else on the planet---with the importance and impact of To Kalon in the Napa Valley. The site was first planted in 1868 by Hamilton Walker Crabb, who purchased 240 acres close to the Napa River and named the property for a Greek expression meaning “the place of highest beauty.” In recent years it has been most closely associated with Robert Mondavi, who chose the vineyard as the home base of his winery in 1966 and said that it had “a feeling that was almost mystical.”

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           the confidence game that changed wine

The recent death of Hardy Rodenstock reminded many wine collectors of an earlier and more innocent era: a time when consumers could buy fine wines without worrying about whether they were fakes.

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    celebrate world gin day with a frozen negroni

For some people, every day is World Gin Day. If you’re not one of those folks, the date is Saturday June 9. Most cocktail enthusiasts will celebrate with either the trendy gin and tonic or the classic martini, which evokes nostalgic images of James Bond.

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              the unhealthiest appetizer in America

Every July, the Center for Science in the Public Interest announces their Xtreme Eating Awards, honoring the worst calorie-laden dishes in American restaurants. The winners usually rank high in the areas of fat grams and sodium content as well. Last year’s stars included items such as Chili’s Ultimate Smokehouse Combo, boasting 2,440 calories, 41 grams of saturated fat and 7,610 milligrams of sodium---well above the recommended daily intake for most human beings, and the proverbial heart attack on a plate.

This year, we didn’t have to wait for July. May 5 was the FDA’s deadline for restaurants to list calorie counts on their menus. Not everyone has complied, due to lobbying from Domino’s Pizza, convenience stores and supermarkets, but there are some horrifying results among the establishments who have chosen to follow the law.

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       the single barrel tequilas from casa noble

Super premium tequila is hot: According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., category sales have increased a staggering 805% since 2002.

There was very little luxury tequila back then. The category was created in 1989 by Patron, who charged an unthinkable $40 per bottle at the time. Prior to that, tequila in America had been the drink of bikers, frat boys and bums. In fact, the standard method of ingesting it---downing a shot quickly, along with a dose of salt and lime---had been developed specifically to mask the aroma and flavor of the stuff.

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         flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegar

                                                               By Ken Schechet

        Our roving correspondent looks at a culinary trend going mainstream

Did you know that olive oil can reduce the risk of many types of cancers? It can make you less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.  It can slow the aging of your heart, lower your bad cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of stroke and of getting Alzheimer’s. Such are the claims made by the Olive Oil Times, (yes, there is such a publication), as well as many, many other sources.  There is a lot of evidence that the monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil can have a very real and positive effect on your well-being. 

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                        a primer on vietnamese food

                                                                  By Ken Schechet

This is the last in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, who has been eating his way through Asia

I have been to Vietnamese restaurants in the United States, France, and several Asian countries.  I recently spent two weeks eating my way from one end of Vietnam to the other and quickly realized that before I got here I had absolutely no clue what Vietnamese food was all about.

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                                 hanoi street food

                                                                      By Ken Schechet

Eating his way through Asia, our correspondent has reached Vietnam. Here is his report on the street food vendors of Hanoi.

Like many foodies I have a Tony Bourdain addiction.  I have followed him through three networks, actually ran into him filming in a butcher shop in Tuscany, and have seen every show he’s done from his favorite country, Vietnam.  According to a recent New York Times Magazine story he seriously considered moving to Vietnam, specifically Hanoi, a few years ago.  So Vietnam went to the top of my bucket list and I finally got there recently.

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                              singapore street food

                                                                    By Ken Schechet

This is the second in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.

Singapore is probably the most food obsessed place I’ve ever been.  It is a constant topic of conversation.  Cab drivers ask you where you’ve eaten.  It’s a place where WTF stands for “Where’s the Food”  (I didn’t make that up.  It was on a billboard.)  Being a major trading and banking center there are no end of fine restaurants, but what Singapore is famous for is street food.

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                              singapore food wars

                                                                  By Ken Schechet

This is the first in a series of dispatches from our correspondent Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.

If you’ve ever been to South Philadelphia and are a foodie, you have probably been to the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue where the two signature cheese steak joints, Pat’s and Gino’s, are directly across the street from each other and staring each other down constantly.  Of course, you need to try them both.  Rivalries like these are so delicious to me, on so many levels, that when I heard about two similar situations in Singapore I had to see them on a recent visit.

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                     great wine for under $15?

It’s not a typo, oxymoron or stupid question. There’s a lot of very good wine at very low prices, but discovering it is a challenge---particularly when you’re strolling the wine aisle of your local supermarket or beverage superstore, staring at a tsunami of unfamiliar labels.

The answer is Mark Spivak’s Affordable Wine Guide to California and the Pacific Northwest, available as an e-book for $7.99. The book profiles 43 producers and contains hundreds of wine reviews, and gives you a clear-cut view of the good and the bad. The criteria are simple: What does the wine taste like? What kind of food does it go with? Is it worth the money?

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