Egg Roll Hunt: First Stop, Chinatown!

Egg Roll

Egg Roll

Recently when Therese and I were having dinner at No. 1 Little House Restaurant in the FiDi, Therese remarked that it had been a long time since she had had a good egg roll.  So the first chance we got, we shot off to Chinatown in search of that most iconic, ubiquitous appetizer of American Chinese cooking.

Welcome to Chinatown

Welcome to Chinatown

Why Chinatown?  Two reasons.  First, there is a concentration of Chinese restaurants there unparalleled at least in Manhattan.  Second, the population of Manhattan’s Chinatown has traditionally been Cantonese, from Hong Kong, and I associate the egg roll with Cantonese cuisine – along with so many other conventional Cantonese dishes like Shrimp Toast, Scallion pancakes and Fried Pork Dumplings.

Now I should say just a few words about what we were looking for in an egg roll.  The filling should have more than just cabbage and bean sprouts – hopefully there will be a couple other vegetables, like mushrooms, and meat and/or seafood is always welcome.  But I don’t see anything wrong with a vegetarian egg roll, as long as the skin is right.

And what should the skin be?  To me, it should not be rice paper – a roll wrapped in rice paper is, to me, a spring roll, not an egg roll.  I look for a roll covered in a Wonton wrapper, deep-fried, so that the roll is bumpy, and when bitten into, is crunchy yes, but holds together and has a nice chewy, almost leathery texture.

My idea about where to search for our egg roll was to start at Canal Street and Mott Street, and then walk down Mott, branching off to Bayard and Pell Streets (and maybe Doyer Street).  We would stop in every restaurant we found that (a) had an A Health Department Rating and (b) had an egg roll on their menu.  We would buy one portion of 2 egg rolls (they always come in portions of 2 rolls, not 1) and when we finished our hunt, we would taste whatever we had purchased, side by side.

My friends, we did not have much luck.  We found only 2 restaurants – yes, that’s right, I said 2!  That met our two criteria.  Many many of the restaurants, I am sorry to say, had B ratings – I am sorry that we did not sample their egg rolls, but hey, we don’t want to eat something that might make us sick.  And a bunch of the restaurants that did have A ratings did not sell egg rolls!  What, no egg rolls?  We wonder if maybe the trend nowadays is away from egg rolls, toward spring rolls?  Obviously, we need to do more research into this.

In any case, since we were not having much success in our egg roll search, in the middle of our trek down Bayard Street, we stopped to get some wonderful hand-ripped noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods.  We have been to Xi’an’s sister restaurant, Biang in Flushing, and sure enough, many of the things we enjoyed there are also present at Xi’an – for example, the spicy cumin-seasoned lamb with large rustic hand-made noodles.

We nibbled and slurped, and then put our leftovers in go boxes and went back to our egg roll search, buoyed a bit by the yummy food in our bellies.  And we did find one more egg roll to add to our sampling after that.

So which egg rolls did we try?  The first was from Hoy Wong, on Mott Street not far from Canal Street.  Indeed, this was the first restaurant we stopped in along our crawl.

The second one was from next door to Xi’an Famous Foods, at 69 Chinese Restaurant on Bayard Street.  This place is noteworthy for its eccentric interior decoration – the walls, ceiling, and everything else is covered with dollar bills that have been signed by customers.

We finished up our crawl by walking down Doyer Street, where every restaurant on the street has a B Rating! and then decided to just hop in a cab, get home quick, and eat our egg rolls.  And this is what we found…

Hoy Wong’s roll, while the size of a proper egg roll, is covered with rice paper.  So while it had some nice flavor, I feel like it didn’t qualify as a true egg roll.

69 Restaurant’s egg roll was the real deal.  Chewy wonton wrapper, lots of cabbage inside, held together well while dunking it in the usual day-glow sweet orange sauce that came with it.

OK, so we got one decent example of an egg roll out of our jaunt.  Not bad.  But I am convinced that there are more, and better, egg rolls to be found on the island of Manhattan!  And Therese and I will find them.  I can’t tell you when we will go on our next egg roll hunt, but I am thinking that it will probably be in Midtown Manhattan.

Posted in Chinatown, Chinese food, Dairy Free, Food, New York, New York City, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

No. 1 Little House: Chinese Food in the FiDi

Two Fridays ago, after enjoying some warming beverages at Financier Patisserie, Therese and I were feeling like Chinese food.  I am always up for Chinese food, for one reason that I love the cuisine, and also it is usually reliably dairy free.  Usually when we have this craving, we hop on the subway and ride the short way to Chinatown, since there are so many Chinese restaurants there, many of them quite excellent.  But this time, we decided to try one of our neighborhood restaurants, No. 1 Little House, which we have walked past plenty of times after visiting some of our favorite places down there, like Luke’s Lobster and Dubliner Tavern.

The first thing we wanted to find out, before we walked over there, was what was No. 1 Little House’s Health Department Grade.  I know, not very romantic, right?  But ever since reading Anthony Bourdain‘s Kitchen Confidential, in which Mr. Bourdain heartily recommends that you not eat at any restaurant with a grade below A, Therese is very strict about following that advice.  So I whipped out my handy smart phone, looked it up, and sure enough, No. 1 Little House gets an A.  Yay!

The restaurant was fairly empty, unfortunately, but we didn’t take this as a statement of the restaurant’s quality.  It is a sad thing that our neighborhood empties out in the evenings, especially Friday night and over the weekend.  Sunday evenings are totally desolate, with practically nothing open.  So that we were, for a little while, the only diners in No. 1 Little House didn’t bother us in the least.

A quick assessment of the menu showed us that they have many of the typical American Chinese restaurant staples – Moo Shoo Pork, Beef with Broccoli, General Tso’s Chicken.  Therese ordered the Lemongrass Shrimp Roll, while I went with Fried Shrimp Dumplings – I have always loved shrimp dumplings, but don’t recall ever having them fried before.  Therese’s roll was shrimps rolled in rice paper and deep-fried – a bit greasy, but good – while my dumplings were quite good – the dough was not too doughy but gave them a bit of chew, and the shrimps were nice quality.

For main courses, Therese got Vegetable Chow Fun, and I went for one of my favorites, Shrimp with Lobster Sauce.

I often judge a Chinese restaurant on the quality of their Shrimp with Lobster Sauce – this was a really good one.  The prawns, huge shrimps (yes, I know, an oxymoron), were excellent, fresh and tasty.  And the sauce, with its egg strewn through it and ample peas, was luxurious and well-seasoned.

Therese’s Chow Fun was also quite good.  It was not greasy, and the noodles, while soft and succulent, were not mushy.

So our assessment of No. 1 Little House was that it is a quality conventional everyday NYC Chinese restaurant.  Our assessment was somewhat dampened by our realization that the food was, we believe, heavily laced with MSG.  Not that this is terribly unusual – it is common practice in Chinese restaurants to add MSG to everything. In this case, We based our assumption on the fact that both of us had trouble sleeping that night – we felt like we were hyped up on something.  Whether this was directly due to the restaurant’s overuse of MSG or not, when we go back, we are going to ask them to leave that seasoning off.

Posted in Chinese food, Dairy Free, Financial District, Food, New York, New York City, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blue Spoon Coffee: Dairy Free Coffee in the FiDi, part three

Blue Spoon Coffee

Blue Spoon Coffee

Blue Spoon Coffee may turn out to be my favorite stop along my slow crawl over the coffee shops of the Financial District.  It’s a fairly tiny place, with a couple stools and a countertop along one wall and 3 little tables with chairs along a second wall.  I don’t know if it has Wifi (if it does, I could actually work there, which would be cool), and I don’t know if any of their cakes are vegan.  But it just has the right vibe – Therese and I instantly felt at home there – and my chai latte with almond milk was awesome, easily the best I’ve ever had.  The spices tasted like real spices, and not just a pre-packaged mix – they easily cut through the creamy almond milk.  It was pre-sweetened, but not too much so.  Good job, Blue Spoon!

My Almond Chai Latte

My Almond Chai Latte

As for the coffee, Therese enjoyed her iced latte, but said that so far, Oren’s Daily Roast has had the coffee she liked the best.  But when pressed, she agreed that she would certainly come back to Blue Spoon without any reservations.

The decor, while simple, is very clean, and the shop has a nice retro meets modern vibe, with its silver-painted tin ceiling.  The young ladies who work there are very friendly – the one at the counter didn’t blink when I asked whether adding almond milk to my chai latte would make it dairy free.

Did I mention that, like Financier Patisserie and Oren’s Daily Roast, Blue Spoon is on William Street in the heart of the Financial District?  I guess you could call that street Coffee Central (there is also a Starbucks on William Street!)  So yes, the store’s location is perfect also.  Sitting inside at one of the tiny tables, sipping on my excellent chai latte, looking out the window at the bustling Maiden Lane crowd nearby, I felt truly relaxed and happy.  I have a few more coffee stops to make around the FiDi before I am done, but they will have to really be great to unseat Blue Spoon as tops in my heart!

Posted in Beverages, Coffee, Dairy Free, Financial District, Food, New York, New York City | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Red Lobster: Is Anything Dairy Free There?

Red Lobster

Red Lobster

It has been decades since I have eaten at a Red Lobster.  More than 3 decades, to be exact.  So when my Mom mentioned possibly going to the Iselin Red Lobster, on Route 1 in Woodbridge Township, for lunch, I was initially taken aback.  I have seen the restaurant’s tv commercials where all that seafood is swimming in butter and Alfredo sauce.

But I thought about it a bit more, and I decided that it was time to give the popular seafood chain a chance.  So when Mom picked me up at the Perth Amboy train station last Thursday and asked me where we going for lunch, I said without hesitation: “Red Lobster.”  After our usual routine of watching the noon news and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and checking with my brother to see if he wanted to join us (he did not), we drove out to Route One.  It occurred to me that this restaurant has been at this location since the 1970s, but it is actually the first time I have ever eaten there!  The interior looks pretty good – I’m sure they’ve renovated a couple of times over the years.

I found the restaurant’s lunch menu to be rather unwieldy – there were no less than three different booklets to look at.  But after giving it a good once-over, I decided to order blackened catfish (I would’ve liked to order the King Crab special, but felt that $20 was a bit much for an everyday lunch).  Dan, our server, who was great, checked and told me that the cole slaw did in fact have dairy – these days, that often seems to be the case (I guess people feel that sour cream is a better-tasting alternative to mayonnaise for the cole slaw base).  So I went with a house salad to start, with honey mustard dressing – nothing great, just some lettuce, tomato, crunchy croutons and a slice of red onion, but it did the trick.

House Green Salad with Honey Mustard

House Green Salad with Honey Mustard

Then came the blackened catfish entree, with some french fries.  I sent Dan to get me some tartar sauce, and all was set.

Blackened Catfish with Fries and Tartar Sauce

Blackened Catfish with Fries and Tartar Sauce

My Mom asked whether the portions were kind of small, but I felt it was just the right amount of food.  Sure, they do load up on the french fries a bit, but the catfish was quite substantial. And I enjoyed the fish – it was not overly seasoned, moist and flavorful, and my last bite was a nice big forkful of catfish.  I was plenty full.  At $8.95, the meal was very reasonably priced.

When I have some money to burn, I will definitely come back and order the King Crab!  In the meantime, as I told my Mom, I think we can add Red Lobster to our rotation of Thursday lunch restaurants.

Posted in Dairy Free, Food, Lunch, New Jersey, Seafood, United States | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dairy Free Traveler Goes Professional

I’d like to start today’s post by thanking all of you, my readers.  I enjoy writing this blog, and care passionately about the cause of promoting dairy free living and traveling.  But if it weren’t for you, if I didn’t know that all of you were reading and hopefully benefiting from what I share with you, I’m sure that I would not have gotten half as far as I have with this blog.  So thank you for reading, and remember that I care about your needs, so if you have any concerns that are not being met, if you have any subjects that you would like to see me cover, please do leave a comment, either here or on my Twitter or Facebook pages.

Those who have been reading since at least as far back as last October will remember how inspired I was to meet Tyler Florence, and my subsequent wish to take this blog to new levels.  I have been able to realize some of the goals I set for myself back then – for example, I started a newsletter (if you haven’t already joined, you will find the form where you can do so near the upper right corner of the blog’s home page).  But there is so much more to do, and I am eager to take on new tasks towards making this blog the best that it can be.  I want this blog to be, not just the best blog on dairy free living, but the best food allergy-related blog anywhere.

Right now, I am concerned about monetizing this blog, earning money from it, so that it will be something I can put more energy into now and in the long term.  I currently spend as many hours a week as I can writing, but I also work part time jobs to make ends meet.  If I can make money from the blog instead, that will free up time to devote myself to some big new projects.  For example, I would like to write e-books which would be available to you here.  But right now it is hard to find the time to start working on e-books, or any number of other things I would like to do.

I had already begun monetizing efforts many months ago, when I joined the Amazon Affiliate program.  You probably have noticed my Amazon Store, and you may have clicked on a product that I mentioned in a particular post which took you to an Amazon page – for example, this one for Blue Diamond Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Breeze.  When you do click through to Amazon from a link on this blog (either through my Store, or in a post) and make a purchase, Amazon pays me a small percentage of whatever you buy (usually 4%).  If you want to support this blog, that is an excellent way to do it.

In the next week or so, I am going to start using Google Ads on the Dairy Free Traveler as a second step towards monetizing.  As you begin to notice the ads, I would ask that you make a comment, either to this post or any post, letting me know what you think of them.  I know some people might think that there is something wrong with advertising on a blog.  I respect that, and if that is how you feel, please let me know.  I would hate to lose readers over this, but there is a certain degree of flexibility with Google Ads, so hopefully I can include them in a way that won’t be too obtrusive.  And again, if you’d like to support this blog, when you see the ads, please do click them.

I take writing this blog very seriously.  At the same time, that I have a lot of fun doing so.  And I’m sure the content of what I have been writing is getting better over time.  I truly do wish to make a profession, whether part-time or full-time, out of writing this blog.  To the extent that you would like to help and are willing to click on ads or Amazon links or get involved with further monetizing strategies I develop as time goes on, I am very thankful.

Posted in Blogging, Monetizing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Oren’s Daily Roast: dairy free coffee taste test, part two

Oren's Daily Roast

Oren’s Daily Roast

Not far from the juncture of William and Fulton Streets in Manhattan is Oren’s Daily Roast‘s Financial District location.  I say “Financial District location” because Oren’s has about 8 locations all over Manhattan.  It was to Oren’s on William Street that Therese and I went on Saturday, just one day after we had visited Financier Patisserie just a few blocks away.

Typical for a New York City spring, while Friday was cold and rainy and nasty, a day in need of a hat, umbrella and a scarf, Saturday turned sunny and warm and pleasant.  So when I entered Oren’s, I had my usual favorite, an iced chai latte, in mind.  Of course, they did have almond milk, and I also questioned the counter lady as to whether adding almond milk would make the drink dairy free, to which she replied affirmatively.

This was a drink reminiscent of my old favorite from Starbucks, in all the best ways.  It was sweetened, ok, but there was a nice chai punch to it.  No savoring a few sips to find the cinnamon and whatnot.

I’m sure they probably had a sweet snack or two to go with my beverage, but I did not investigate that.  I came for a good drink, and that’s what I got.  Oren’s does have a whole wall filled with every sort of coffee-related merchandise you can think of, for those who want to nurture their coffee hobby.

Oren's Wall of Goodies

Oren’s Wall of Goodies

They also have a coffee machine that looks like a 1950s sedan, with a shiny red exterior and a chrome nameplate.

Doesn't this Coffee Maker look a little like a 1950s car

Doesn’t this Coffee Maker look a little like a 1950s car

The one thing that Oren’s doesn’t have is seating of any description.  I don’t remember any seating, but there may have been a couple stools inside the door.  In any case, it is more the sort of place to get your coffee drink to go.  A small quibble for what was, for me, a great coffee (ok, chai latte) experience!

Posted in Beverages, Coffee, Dairy Free, Financial District, Food, New York, New York City | Leave a comment

Financier Patisserie: dairy free coffee taste test, part one

Financier Patisserie

Financier Patisserie

Financier Patisserie has three locations, all in the Financial District: their original location on Stone Street, one on Fulton Street, the area’s busiest street, and on William Street.  I chose the William Street location as the first stop on my exploration of dairy free coffee in my neighborhood, since I walk by there frequently.

Financier Patisserie's Inviting Interior

Financier Patisserie’s Inviting Interior

On the kind of cool rainy days we have been having so far this spring, the warm interior of Financier, with its old-fashioned wicker chairs and tables, is very inviting.  On just such a cool – no, let’s be honest, cold – day, Therese and I stopped in there.  Therese got a latte and I ordered a chai latte with almond milk – though I usually prefer to drink my latte iced, with the weather, I went for the warming effects of a hot latte this time.

I looked around Financier’s pastry case, with its large and very attractive looking array of cakes and pies and pastries, but there didn’t seem to be anything I could eat.  I asked, and the one thing dairy free was a package of mini, perfectly formed meringues.  Not a bad choice, really – since I drank my unsweetened latte without sugar, the meringues were a nice balance.  Financier does carry the popular Parisian cake from which the franchise gets its name – unfortunately, Financier cakes are full of dairy.  But Therese enjoyed a couple of them, which were complimentary.

Chai Latte with Almond Milk and Dairy Free Mini Meringues

Chai Latte with Almond Milk and Dairy Free Mini Meringues

As for my chai latte, it was very subtle.  No doubt this was due to the fact that the chai came from a teabag and needed time to steep.  As I drank it, the chai flavor became a little stronger, but not that much.  I am so used to being knocked over the head by chai spice in the Starbucks chai latte – this was more like being brushed on the cheek with a feather.  Not necessarily a bad thing!  Having drunk my warm mild drink, I was ready to face the damp windy weather with a renewed warmth within me.  I look forward to our next ventures out into the FiDi coffee world.  Financier Patisserie was a nice start.

Posted in Financial District, New York, New York City | Tagged , , | 1 Comment