Friday, April 1, 2011

Food in NYC is often about hype (food)

In NYC, food, like many other things, is often about good PR, hype, and trendiness. Two of the most popular food trends right now are food trucks and Korean tacos. So obviously, a food truck selling Korean tacos gets a lot of hype. So I was in the city with a friend and we decided to try the Kimchi Taco Truck. Our verdict? All hype.

KIMCHI ARANCINI These tiny rice balls were 3 for $3. The panko coating was fried well, but there was no real substance taste-wise. You had to dip it into the red pepper paste to really get anything out of it.

TRIO OF TACOS Korean BBQ beef, braised pork, pulled chicken. There's salsa, there are scallion bits, but where's the kimchi? There was very little kimchi in everything we had, which confused me as I wouldn't have thought kimchi to be very expensive. The lack of kimchi revealed the real weakness, which was that the meat did not have much flavor in it.

TOFU EDAMAME FALAFEL This actually had the most flavor, with the "signature Asian spices" being very pronounced. It's not a taste for everyone though, and the spices definitely cover up any flavor the base ingredients might have had. Fried well though.

SPICY PORK KIMCHEESESTEAK This had the best flavor of anything we ordered, although it still didn't manage to be spicy.

There's a decent amount of meat here for $7, and this is honestly the only thing we would order if we had to eat from this truck again.

The prices are good for midtown Manhattan, although I don't know if that makes it worth the wait. If you really want tacos with flavor and a Korean twist, I recommend getting tacos from a real Mexican taco truck, buying some kimchi (it's not that expensive), and making your own "Korean" taco.

The next place I want to talk about is Red Rooster in Harlem. This place has had tremendous buzz and hype, with reservations filling up early, a two star rating in the NYT, and Obama holding a DNC fundraiser there just this past week. My friend TF lives nearby and managed to snag the tough reservation, so 4 of us decided to give it a try and share a bunch of things on the menu. Our verdict? Not all hype, but not particularly impressive either.

Decent, crusty, bread with a chickpea dip.

RED GRITS WITH SHRIMP, CHORIZO, PEPPERS This was a solid side with a good amount of shrimp and chorizo. I enjoyed it.

PULLED PORK WITH RAINBOW SLAW AND LEMON AIOLI The pulled pork was not particularly special, but it was tender and tasty and the slaw and aioli matched it well.

CORN BREAD WITH HONEY BUTTER AND TOMATO JAM The corn bread was moist and the honey butter was delicious.

CORN TACOS AND TOSTADAS WITH CEVICHE YELLOWTAIL, SALMON, AND AVOCADO Honestly, I didn't even know until I reviewed the menu to write this that there was seafood in this. The corn, onion, and avocado flavors were quite strong in the bite I had.

CHICKEN AND EGG WITH SPICY SAUCE AND SEARED LIVER A nicely cooked egg oozing yolk over chicken, bread, and a small lobe of seared liver. Can't really go wrong with this one.

FRIED YARD BIRD WITH WHITE MACE GRAVY, HOT SAUCE, AND SHAKE The chicken was definitely moist, but the skin was not particularly crispy, and there wasn't that much flavor going on. The greens underneath were nice though.

MAC AND CHEESE (GOUDA, NY CHEDDAR, COMTE) AND GREENS I liked the contrast of the greens with the rich mac and cheese. The mac was good and creamy, but there are a lot of places in NYC with very good specialty mac and cheese.

BRAISED OXTAIL WITH MOTHER'S MILK STOUT AND PLANTAINS This was good, but not particularly novel in my view. I liked the presence of both plantains and plantain chips as texture contrasts.

SWEET POTATO DOUGHNUTS WITH CINNAMON SUGAR These were nice and light, and I liked the accompanying lemon sorbet.

BLACK AND WHITE MUD WITH CHOCOLATE COOKIE CRUST This had a good contrast of textures and flavors.

SPICED CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH BRANDY CHERRY ICE CREAM The spice in the cake was evident, and my friend SM really liked the brandy cherry ice cream.

MALTED FROSTY Not on the online menu, this was essentially a frosty with some crunchy malted bits on top. Was this significantly better than a Wendy's frosty? I wouldn't say so.

In all, the food was good. The bill was very reasonable (<$50pp with tax and tip, no drinks). It's a really nice neighborhood restaurant that any neighborhood would be happy to have. I understand that its location is a big part of the good PR and hype, and I understand that people want it to do well and attract people. I also want to see it succeed. However, the chef is not doing anything particularly exciting or impressive, and I wouldn't say that it's a destination restaurant worth travelling a long distance for.

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