Category Archives: Food


At DaDong in Midtown, Modern Art and Lame Duck

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Every so often, I’ll wake up to an inbox full of friendly emails from people volunteering to help me do my job. The specific assistance they are offering is to meet me at some forthcoming restaurant, their stomachs empty and ready to contain at least half the menu covers.

When I get three or four of these volunteers on the same morning, it invariably means that while I was sleeping other people were reading the advance press on an incipient opening that sounds both unusually enticing and intimidatingly expensive.

The most recent rush of volunteers, it turned out, was inspired by the arrival in December of a Manhattan branch of the Beijing-based restaurant DaDong. While the Beijingese have excelled at the art of duck roasting for centuries, DaDong, I learned, is a relative newcomer, founded in the 1990s by the chef Dong Zhenxiang.

At the restaurants — there are 10 in Beijing and six in other Chinese cities, not counting casual spinoffs — the birds revolve, a dozen at a time, inside a circular wood-fueled oven that Mr. Dong has patented. The result is what some people consider Beijing’s best Peking duck.

This is a magical combination of words. “Beijing’s best Peking duck” suggests a mandatory eating experience in a way that, say, “Russia’s best Russian dressing” does not.

It took me and my first corps of volunteers some time to find one another because the restaurant’s address, 3 Bryant Park, implied that the entrance would be somewhere around Bryant Park.

DaDong is inside a stack of glass-and-steel blocks that has somehow been plunked down west of the park between 42nd and 41st Streets, beside a pocket plaza that was new to me, although the skateboarders seemed to know all about it.

Inside the front door was a lobby where a host stood by herself behind a desk made out of a rock. I gave her the name and she gestured toward the elevators, sending me up to the dining room on the second floor.

This space, designed by the hotel specialist George Wong, is the latest manifestation of modern China in Manhattan, a soothing study in straight lines and neutral tones with random outbreaks of contemporary Chinese art. A wraparound bar sits in the middle of the room under a hanging sculpture that looks like a flock of gold paper-towel tubes learning to fly.

In this room, it is not exactly shocking to learn that the usual Peking duck garnishes may be supplemented with 10 grams of caviar for $42. In lieu of toast points, servers recommend a shard of skin.

If you skip the fish eggs, they will tell you there are three ways to eat the duck: wrapped in one of the very thin and tender pancakes with scallions and a smear of sweet soy-black bean sauce (great stuff); poked into a round sesame puff with julienned cucumber and melon, raw garlic paste and the black bean sauce; and finally, dipped in a small pile of sugar, recommended for the skin alone.

This kept everybody busy for some time. The bird was precisely carved, as if by a laser. None of us had seen crisper skin — you could bounce a quarter off it. The dip didn’t improve it, but it is always nice to find a new use for sugar.

The meat didn’t make as firm an impression. It made very little impression at all, apart from my strong sense that there ought to have been more of it. Tasted on its own, it reminded me a bit of the lean, whitish, noncommittal supermarket pork chops I grew up on.

Slowly, gradually, with great mental resistance but still inexorably, it dawned on me that I had paid $98 for a duck with almost no flavor.

It was dry, too.

New York City being a lush jungle of regulations, DaDong was forced to convert its wood-burning ovens to gas. Smoke might have added some flavor, but something seems to be lacking in the birds themselves, members of the Pekin breed raised on a farm in Indiana with special instructions to keep them lean, the way Mr. Dong prefers them.

Unfortunately, DaDong’s problems don’t end with the duck. The leather menu covers in New York has been trimmed down considerably from the 280-page book presented to diners in Beijing, but it is still rife with dishes that are dead on arrival.

Kung pao shrimp with beet coins and raw mushrooms tasted like ketchup. Sweet-and-sour pork ribs with preserved plums were as sweet as if they’d been stewed in Dr Pepper, and a dusting of powdered sugar at the table didn’t help.

Little teepees of Ibérico ham came wrapped around cold, dry wads of sticky rice. Champagne-glazed tomatoes were sweet enough to serve for dessert, and the “crispy mushroom salad” they were stuffed with wasn’t crisp and didn’t particularly taste like mushrooms.


Lennys Grill & Subs Celebrates National Cheesesteak Day with System-Wide Giveaway

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Memphis, TN ( Lennys Grill & Subs prides itself on its World Class Philly Cheesesteak on their menu cover, with over 27 Million sold since its founding. That’s why it’s no surprise that the brand is calling for a system-wide celebration of the hero product on Friday, March 24, National Cheesesteak Day, on all of their cheap menu covers and custom menu covers.

As part of the festivities, Lennys will be giving away a free 7.5” cheesesteak to the first 25 guests, at each participating location, who order any version of the signature sandwich on Friday, March 24. And the festivities don’t stop there. Lennys restaurants will also offer $2 off any cheesesteak of any size through Sunday, March 26.

“When I think about our Philly cheesesteak, my mouth waters,” said Kevin Martin, president and CEO of Lennys Grill & Subs. “It’s something I crave, and it’s why so many of our loyal guests keep coming back. Our Philly cheesesteak isn’t just one of the best products on Lennys menu, it’s one of the best Philly cheesesteaks in the world.”

The holiday comes as Lennys Philly cheesesteaks continue to experience record sales, with more than 200,000 cheesesteaks sold every month. The irresistible flavor of one of the brand’s delicious signature sandwiches is made Philly style with grilled onions, grilled to order beef and Swiss American cheese. The Philly cheesesteak is well known as Lennys number-one seller, and has become the focal point of the brand’s grilled sandwich line.

Lennys is committed to a reputation for authenticity and quality in its Philly. They even source their proprietary steak and chicken from a well-known vendor in Philadelphia. And that authenticity and quality is recognized by the loyal guests who continue to come back for more.Lennys Grill & Subs Celebrates National Cheesesteak Day with System-Wide Giveaway

As the brand prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2018, Lennys Grill & Subs is celebrating its fan favorite item. Lennys Grill & Subs sold over 2.5 million cheesesteaks last year, and over 27 million in all. That makes its Philly category of sandwiches the number one category of sellers of all the grilled and deli sandwiches that Lennys offers. That popularity has truly made Lennys a destination for a delicious cheesesteak.

“Our cheesesteak is a hero product for us because it is a standout item for our guests,” said Chairman and Chief Concept Officer, Rick Johnson. “It is really something that our guests have authenticated. They’ve shown us that it’s something that they want to enjoy time and time again, and we’re looking forward to celebrating that passion for a World Class Philly Cheesesteak on National Cheesesteak Day.”

About Lennys Grill & Subs

Since the first Lennys Subs opened in 1998 in Memphis, TN, the mission has been simple: to make and serve great food. Known for serving entree favorites like “World Class Philly Cheesesteaks” as well as unique grilled sandwiches, deli sandwiches and salads, Lennys Grill & Subs offers breads baked fresh daily, premium meats sliced to order and freshly prepared toppings. With more than 100 locations today, Lennys Grill & Subs continues to expand throughout the southeast by offering single and multi-restaurant franchise territory opportunities while selling the best-tasting all-American subs available. For franchise information, visit


Dishes you should never make at home

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Jennifer En
Whether they take too long, use too many obscure ingredients, or simply require an excess of effort, some dishes are simply not worth making at home. While I fully get that nowadays making food from scratch earns you a badge of honor, I am also a strong believer in leaving it to the professionals when it’s the most cost-effective thing to do. I say all this as someone who loves spending time in the kitchen, so believe me when I tell you why you ought to skip making the following dishes at home.


I love ordering sushi at Japanese restaurants because it feels special. Part of the sentiment has to do with going out to enjoy a delicacy prepared by professionals who have spent years to learn how to do that work. While I understand the desire to give sushi-making a try, the fact that it is a practiced craft is one good reason to skip the homemade session. Another reason? Authentic sushi uses raw fish, which can be tricky if you’re not a seasoned pro. From procurement to cleaning to preparation, working with raw seafood can pose serious food safety hazards. As such, sushi really isn’t worth trying to make from scratch, as it’s just one of those things that’s best left to a professional.

Pho and other Vietnamese soups
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There’s something incredibly comforting about sitting down to a steaming order of pho, bun bo hue, or any other insanely flavorful, meaty Vietnamese soup. As such, I totally understand the desire to replicate the experience at home. While there are countless recipes out there for Vietnamese soups, most of them are quasi-authentic takes on the originals at best. The reason is that the bowls of soups you order at Vietnamese restaurants get their delicious appeal from rich and flavorful bone broths that require several hours to make. In most cases, a generously sized bowl of pho can be had in New York City — one of the most expensive cities in the world — for $10 or less. Due to the time-consuming nature of the Vietnamese soup-making process and the relative low cost at restaurants, I really can’t justify making any of these soups at home.

Deep-fried anything
Deep frying is a culinary activity I find truly annoying. Whenever I have subjected myself to frying foods in my kitchen (sans deep fryer, mind you) I have regretted the experience immediately after it has begun. Sure, I like old-fashioned doughnuts, onion rings, and the occasional fried chicken, but boy, do I hate the mess that ensues. Filling an entire large pot with oil always seems extremely wasteful — and gross — since I know I’m only cooking a small batch of whatever I’m making. Afterward, I inevitably strain the oil and keep it around for a few days until I realize I have nothing else I want to deep fry for another stretch of several months and finally throw it out. Between the splatter, oil burns, and waste, I tend to satisfy my rare cravings for deep-fried foods when I’m eating out instead.

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