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Sietsema's 100 Best Asian Restaurants


Jinmyo
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Wilfrid - There are a few reasons that we don't write more about inexpensive places. One, this board is keyed into sophisticated cooking techniques and inexpensive places usually offer simple cooking methods. Second, we are all obsessed with the social context of fine dining and what it means in the history of the development of mankind. Inexpensive cuisine which is mostly ethnic, mainly explores the socio-economics of foreign places. And while I like a good Iskender Kabob, eating one at a place like Sahara in Brooklyn doesn't have much to do what is going on in Turkey.

First of all, Steve and others, I'm not really clear who this "cheap eats" crowd is, but I'll take you're word on it that there are foodies out there who believe cheap = better/more authentic cooking and that Seitsema doesn't always give an accurate, discriminating description.  However, as a regular reader of the Voice, a young person scraping by on very little in this city and hustling from a full-time job to my second life as a student/actor/filmmaker, and a worldly foodie, I got quite excited (for many of the reasons Pan already mentioned) to see cheap and best Asian in the same sentence.  I resent the tone that many of you have taken that people who value "cheap eats" or cheap ethnic do not have tastes sophisticated enough to tell when they are eating less than the best in ingredients, in preparation, etc.  I am not sticking up for Sietsema but more for the people on eGullet who ARE interested in inexpensive restaurants whether it's for the food item itself (how many sophisticated and technical discussions have we had about hot dogs and barbecue?  umpteen!  So don't make generalized statements about what people on this board are "keyed into") or because of the value (don't tell me that it doesn't give you pleasure when you come across a place like Fried Dumpling where the dumplings are actually some of the most delicious you can find in New York and they're also only five for a dollar!).

As someone interested in eating and cooking good food, reading about it, etc., I for one, am not "obsessed with the social context of fine dining and what it means in the history of the development of mankind" and I'm sure there are others here who aren't either.  No, eating at Sahara in Brooklyn may not give you much of an idea of what is going on in Turkey but it sure gives you a good idea of what is going on in its neighborhood in Brooklyn.  One last word on this point.  I have never eaten at Sugiyama, and I'm not sure that I disagree with you about Sietsema's writing as a "restaurant review" per se. But I have to say I was highly amused by his description of the other patrons (again am not sure if this is fair to do in a review when a restaurant's business are very sensitive to reviews).  It was a funny description of a bizarre dining experience and now that you mention it, it was an interesting comment on the "social context" of that particular fine dining experience as well.  I thought people's reactions on the Sugiyama thread were a bit touchy.

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Fried Dumpling where the dumplings are actually some of the most delicious you can find in New York and they're also only five for a dollar!

Oooh.  :smile:  :biggrin:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

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Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Yes, five dumplings for a dollar, but I'd pay another quarter not to have to eat them with a plastic fork.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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But I have to say I was highly amused by his description of the other patrons (again am not sure if this is fair to do in a review when a restaurant's business are very sensitive to reviews).

If the point of Mr. Sietsema's job is to inform the general public on the merits or lack thereof on any given restaurant, then Mr. S has no business describing the other patrons.  It seems to me that his purpose was to focus less on the food/atmosphere at Sugiyama than a statement on how the other side of the coin behaves (read:  people who don't fit the profile of "a Village Voice reader", whatever that is) while at a place like Sugiyama (or Le Cirque 2000, or Lespinasse, or any place where the bill may exceed the amount of an atypical New Yorker's weekly expenses).  Note how many lines in Mr. S's review focus on the food, etc. and how much space is devoted to something that has no bearing on an atypical experience at Sugiyama on any other given evening.

it was an interesting comment on the "social context" of that particular fine dining experience as well.  I thought people's reactions on the Sugiyama thread were a bit touchy.

Why interesting?  It seemed to me that the inclusion of his description was in poor taste; if the restaurant had been someplace like Vong or Nobu, you can bet that Mr. Sietsema would've never included his description -- I mean Asian fusion just doesn't hit the weirdness category or strike the same note as fingernail-long crabs and steak cooked on a hot rock.

I'll get off my soapbox now.  Time for lunch.   :smile:

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Lullyloo, I suppose the "cheap eats" guys are to some extent the ones that appeared in Calvin Trillin's New Yorker article  a while aback that had "Grub Street" in the title, although they perhaps ran a broader range of tastes than the criticism here is directed at. Also some of those people clearly made an attempt to distinguish themselves from others. As I recall, one in particular (and not Sietsema) was the butt of some disparaging remarks by most of the others. For the most part the remarks here are directed towards the abstract fringe end and not in any way meant to disparage bargain or economical restaurants, nor ethnic restaurants.

I value cheap eats, ethnic or not. I value introduction to strange and exotic foods. I place a very high value on "value" for my money.  Nevertheless, as I said earlier there's a dichotomy between cheap and best and the best value may likely be neither the cheapest nor the best and that's why I get excited when I see "cheap and best." I know it's unlikely and I'm curious as to what pretense caused him not to say 100 Best Value Restaurants or something like that. I know some fast food place has a lock on "value meal," but still. Thus we come back to the philosophy that maybe cheap is best and I don't buy that.

As I noted earlier my posts here may well be colored by my reaction to the Sugiyama review. As you noted, there was an aspect of "unfair" in singling out what may well have been a unique diner on a unique evening for ridicule in a way that was meant to slander both the restaurant and all those who are foolish enough to patronize it. It's the kind of cheap shot that invites the reactions you found touchy.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I think we may be starting to revisit an earlier argument about what the most "evolved" style of cooking is. Rather than go there I just want to say:

1. Steve P, I don't want to see this board become majorly concerned with "sophisticated cooking techniques" because

a) I don't want to cook this way every night and

b) I want to eat at a whole range of places (burger joint to high end)

2. I agree with Mao, there's a danger in always going for the top, most expensive range of item.  As Mao suggested, you need stewing meat to make a good stew, not filet mignon. I agree though, Steve P, if I want to sautee a scallop I want the top-notch dived-for one.

3. I have sypmathy, Lullyloo, with some of your points. I'd be careful with that use of the word "foodie: (only joshing--see below).  This may clarify what some of the above arguments are in reaction to:

"We are not foodies...Foodies eat where they're told; they eagerly follow trends and swallow the hype. Most of all, they fuss endlessly about ingredients, a fixation which strikes chowhounds as sheer culinary materialism. A brownie needn't contain imported French butter and Valhrona chocolate...it's gustatory gestalt we crave, and we comb doggedly through far-flung nabes where foodies never tread in quest for a deeper deliciousness. Our star chefs are Peruvian grandmas, renegade sushi guys, and elderly Brooklyn pizza makers who serenely slice mozzarella...It's not about eating on-the-cheap; chowhounds can be spotted at Lespinasse.. But, unlike foodies, we have not the slightest compunction about stopping for a really great slice on the way home." by Jim Leff, aka alpha-dog, or big-dog.

http://www.chowhound.com/writing/chowhounds.html

As you can see, fussing about the best ingredients="culinary materialism". "Deeper deliciousness" is associated with the far-flung nabes  Also, there is the inclusion of the high end restaurant (but see that it is the pizza maker who is serene), and the impression given is that a meal at the high end will not really satisfy--pizza needed on the way home.  Some of the arguments put forth above are those that I find lacking.

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Lullyloo - My apologies if you have been offended in any way and I don't think that is anyone's intent. I think you need to see our comments here strictly being limited to food quality. Cutting to the chase on this issue, I think most of the places on the list would suck if I tried them. And of the good ones, very few will be earthshattering. And if the people who can only afford to eat in that category find reading that offputting, I don't know what to tell them. The truth is the truth. And while there is a need for lists like that to exist, that need doesn't necessitate speaking of them in a

manner that doesn't conform with the reality of what is good and what is bad, and what is of good quality and what is not. Having said all of that, like you, I find his reviews and those from others like him to be very useful. As I said, I have no compunction getting in my car and driving from the Upper East Side out to Kings Highway in Brooklyn to eat Kosher Yemenite. But all too often the places really suck. And I have found that the reason is that Siesema and those like him aren't discriminating enough, even on a level even you can afford. In fact, I have had such bad experiences that when we do schlep somewhere these days, we take a list of recommendations because we have found that we don't even want to go into some places when we get there.

As for his Sugiyama review, I have no problem with any writer describing the patrons at a restaurant. I do it all the time. It brings the reader into the room. But it isn't a subsutitue for describing the food. The food is the food. It tastes good or it doesn't. And it is either worth it or not. Mink stoles shouldn't make the sushi taste any different. Yet he really tries to describe how the food tastes by describing the garishness of the customers.

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Lullyloo - My apologies if you have been offended in any way and I don't think that is anyone's intent. I think you need to see our comments here strictly being limited to food quality. Cutting to the chase on this issue, I think most of the places on the list would suck if I tried them. And of the good ones, very few will be earthshattering. And if the people who can only afford to eat in that category find reading that offputting, I don't know what to tell them. The truth is the truth. And while there is a need for lists like that to exist, that need doesn't necessitate speaking of them in a manner that doesn't conform with the reality of what is good and what is bad, and what is of good quality and what is not.

Having said all of that, like you, I find his reviews and those from others like him to be very useful. As I said, I have no compunction getting in my car and driving from the Upper East Side out to Kings Highway in Brooklyn to eat Kosher Yemenite. But all too often the places really suck. And I have found that the reason is that Siesema and those like him aren't discriminating enough, even on a level even you can afford. In fact, I have had such bad experiences that when we do schlep somewhere these days, we take a list of recommendations because we have found that some places we don't want to go into when we get there. From what I see, this lack of discrimination is mostly driven by the cheap eats crowd being mystified that cheap + authentic = delicious and as a result, awarding extra brownie points. And not only do I think that such a formula shouldn't be part of any review, it's inclusion actually detracts from credibility.

As for his Sugiyama review, I have no problem with any writer describing the patrons at a restaurant. I do it all the time. It brings the reader into the room. But it isn't a subsutitue for describing the food. The food is the food. It tastes good or it doesn't. And it is either worth it or not. Mink stoles shouldn't make the sushi taste any different. But whatv Sietsema does in that review  is try and describe the garishness of the customers as a way to describe the food. Like saying that only people who are as foolish as what I am describing would eat at this Emperor's new clothes type of place. That's the part that has gone too far.

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Not like you to be apologetic, Mr P.  I think we should say quite clearly that, assuming one exercises reasonable judgment, the more money one has the better one can eat.  That seems to me to be an unquestionable fact.  Now, there is a political debate to be had whether this is an iniquitous situation, but it seems to me the left should acknowledge it as eagerly as the right.  After all, it strikes me that the point of being on the left politically is to relieve poverty and deprivation, not to salute them as cool and funky lifestyle choices.

Having said that, I do find it useful when people on eGullet post tips and recommendations on cheap restaurants.  As with upscale restaurants, Zagat borders on the useless; personally, I don't read all the restaurant critics slavishly; and a thoughtful comment on eGullet gives me something to go on other than luck.  I hope discussion of fine dining and its role in our social fabric, which I love of course, does not dissuade people from telling us which restaurants in Chinatown are worth trying, where the good Puerto Rican lunch counters are, and which are the better hotdogs.  

If anyone wants to go to my chili thread and tell me where a good bowl of chili can be had, that would be an excellent start!  :biggrin:  :biggrin:

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As for his Sugiyama review, I have no problem with any writer describing the patrons at a restaurant. I do it all the time. It brings the reader into the room. But it isn't a subsutitue for describing the food. The food is the food. It tastes good or it doesn't. And it is either worth it or not. Mink stoles shouldn't make the sushi taste any different. But whatv Sietsema does in that review  is try and describe the garishness of the customers as a way to describe the food. Like saying that only people who are as foolish as what I am describing would eat at this Emperor's new clothes type of place. That's the part that has gone too far.

What he said!   :smile:

Seriously though, yes, that's the impression I received upon taking a close reading of Mr. S's "review", that the BEHAVIOR of the patrons mattered more to the overall experience than the food/decor/service, etc.  I agree that projection is sometimes necessary for the reader to make an identification with whereever you happen to be reviewing (certain of Ruth Reichl's reviews spring to mind -- i.e., Tabla, Le Cirque 2000, Kuruma Zushi, the one where she's describing a patron of certain means regarding a dish of sevruga caviar (the name of the establishment escapes me at the moment)), and such projection usually amounts to a few lines at best.  However, I can't help but wonder why Sietsema chose to review Sugiyama in a forum best suited for its polar opposite.

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Wilfrid - I think that one has to tread carefully with young'ns like Lullylou.  My preference is that they learn how to eat well. So it is important to help them see the light. Whereas one needs to apologize to you about as often as a game bird likes to play a pie tin. :smile:

As for cheap eats, I think we post on them as often as they merit posting about. However, one must admit that the conversation on this board exists at a high enough level that a place has to really be worthy to coincide with the other topics we discuss. Hopefully that means we only discuss the very top places.

Soba - Well that's the difference between food writing and quasi-political writing. The quintessential place where the type of people are a sure fire indicator of the type of food served are old school Italian restaurants and steakhouses populated by  guys who say "dese and dem." That the big hair crowd might be a predictor of a robust red sauce and thick chops has nothing to do with how good the sauce or the chops are. But in places when the sauce is a good one, they add a hell of a dimension to the experience

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Ah, well.  It struck me as a little much that he chose Sugiyama for his "this-place-is-so-expensive-that-only-stuck-up-food-snobs-or-elites-with-fat-wallets-could

-ever-eat-there" review.  I mean, I don't see him poo-poohing Patria or any of the other "expensive ethnic" places.  Why couldn't he have reviewed the place on its own merits?

*sigh*

I was first introduced to the concept of kaiseki cuisine several years ago, after learning about the Japanese tea ceremony where it originated, and all its accompanying nuances.  That a place like Sugiyama (or Kai, or any other place mentioned on egullet) exists in NYC is exciting and refreshing, and I can't help thinking that a piece like Mr. Sietsema's does a disservice to both the restaurant and the Voice, depending on your point of view.

(note:  I've been to Sugiyama only once! mind you, but will be back there in a month or so probably due to all this discussion)

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Halleleujah, Steve P!  I think I've seen the light! :biggrin:   Now that we've cleared up the "cheap eats" crowd discussion . . . I am really not in disagreement with you on Sietsema's merits as a food reviewer.  I always take his reviews with a grain of salt (or a whole shaker :wow:  sorry, couldn't resist).  You can tell just by his obsession with eating innards and other exotic animal body parts that the man likes to shock. (He also likes to use the word "slicked."  Has anyone else noticed this?  "oil-slicked," "butter-slicked," "gravy-slicked," Yikes!)  He obviously covers a certain "adventurous-eating" beat, just as the other Voice restaurant critic (Jessica Winters?) covers the more upscale, urban, trendy restaurant beat.  I don't trust her reviews any more or less than his.  Truth be told, I think I've gone to more of the restaurants that Fat-Guy recommended (before joining e-gullet) than any in the Voice.  However, Sietsema's lists can be very useful, especially on the VV website, if you are looking for something spur of the moment in a particular neighborhood in a certain price range.  His reverse snobbery just goes with the territory.  It's the Voice, for god's sake!  All the critics are pedantic.  If you really want to have a heated discussion, let's talk about their film reviewers.   :wink:

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Eeek!  The Voice hates SW:  AoTC as much as any of the other papers/publications.  I hope tomorrow evening won't be a disappointment, a certain computer generated frog-faced abomination notwithstanding...

I'm still waiting for Sietsema to review a Filipino restaurant (if he hasn't already).  Ya see, there's a national dish called dinuguan (sic) that's a stew composed of chopped beef hearts, pork, chopped liver, gizzard, vinegar, garlic, chilies, and pig's blood that's popular with us Filipinos, and along with adobo rellenong (chicken cooked in a sauce of vinegar and garlic), pancit (glass noodles or vermicelli with pork/shrimp/veggies), and pakbet (dried shrimp, garlic, bitter melon, okra, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, patis (fish sauce), and dried shrimp paste), these are sure to be on the menu.  

In fact, restaurant made dinuguan doesn't compare to my mom's version (which I haven't had in YEARS...in fact she doesn't make it any more now that she's been thoroughly americanized, but that's another topic/can of worms).  If there's a dish that's guaranteed to shock anyone out of their (American) sensibilities ( :wink: ), this is it.

So far, I've been to only one Filipino restaurant that dared to make dinuguan -- and that's the one on First Avenue near 13th St.  Not sure if it's still there, but their version didn't even come close.  On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best, it was about a 7, and I'm being generous.  Not enough vinegar to cut the richness of the sauce, if memory serves.

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Can I just say that I love innards.  I also enjoy shocking people, but the two are only contingently connected.  As for innards and cheap eats being associated, can I yet again recommend tripes a la armagnac at Le Cirque?   :smile:

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Lullyloo - My apologies if you have been offended in any way and I don't think that is anyone's intent. I think you need to see our comments here strictly being limited to food quality. Cutting to the chase on this issue, I think most of the places on the list would suck if I tried them. And of the good ones, very few will be earthshattering

You're probably right, Steve, but the difference is that you wouldn't be out an astronomical sum of money. I went to both Lutece and Chanterelle shortly after they were given 4 stars by the New York Times, and both places provided me and my family with supercilious service and mediocre food. Though the desserts at Lutece were spectacular, they were the only thing that was, and there was sand in the bottom of my soupe de pistou! Chanterelle served something with duck that tasted like mediocre, watered-down Mexican food, and my brother commented that he could get something much better at most any taqueria in the Mission District in San Francisco. He complained about it and was met with a surly and somewhat indignant reaction, if I remember correctly. (Both of these experiences were a bunch of years ago.) I have to say that having had experiences like that in high-end places, I am suspicious of the idea that there is an extremely high correlation between spending lots of money and having a good experience. Surely, a large percentage of expensive restaurants are less than consistently wonderful, too.

And another point: Some of the most memorable meals of my life have been at higher-end places like the old Jo Jo, a place in San Mateo called Viognier that I hear has since ceased to be special, and an amazing restaurant between Tarquinia and Tarquinia Scalo that specializes in seafood (sorry, I don't remember the name, but ask the cab driver), but some have been at places like a restaurant up a rickety staircase from the central square in Srinagar, Kashmir, where we were served amazing wedding food, and the "2nd-best" Chinese restaurant in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia, which served incredible chili jumbo shrimp (udang galah - lobster-sized shrimp which I hear no longer exist in Malaysian waters). Those last two places were cheap and informal but had wonderful, fresh ingredients and brilliant cooks. We knew the owner of the restaurant in Kuala Terengganu well (her husband was the chef), and we asked her once what kind of food she cooked (e.g. Hakka, Hokkien). She said modestly that it was just "home cooking." You know what? For "home cooking" like that, and without the attitude, a round-trip flight to KT could be a worthwhile investment, if the place is still there and still as good as it was.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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"I think we should say quite clearly that, assuming one exercises reasonable judgment, the more money one has the better one can eat."

I quite agree, though it sometimes helps to "be someone" or to seem like you are someone. I often think that the NY Times reviewers get better food because they're recognized. Yes, I _do_ think that it's possible for restaurants to be slipshod when they think their customers are "nobodies."

"Having said that, I do find it useful when people on eGullet post tips and recommendations on cheap restaurants.  As with upscale restaurants, Zagat borders on the useless; personally, I don't read all the restaurant critics slavishly; and a thoughtful comment on eGullet gives me something to go on other than luck.  I hope discussion of fine dining and its role in our social fabric, which I love of course, does not dissuade people from telling us which restaurants in Chinatown are worth trying, where the good Puerto Rican lunch counters are, and which are the better hotdogs."

I'm glad you feel that way, Wilfred. I'd hate to feel like my posts about places that charge less than $50+ for dinner are off-topic here.  :smile:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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(He also likes to use the word "slicked."  Has anyone else noticed this?  "oil-slicked," "butter-slicked," "gravy-slicked," Yikes!)

Interesting you should point this out, Lullyloo.  Seems to be a problem for a lotta restaurant reviewers, the repetitive use of a small list of descriptors.  Some of 'em, reviewers, you can identify just by a word's occurrence, without having seen a byline.  Signature style, would be a charitable explanation.

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