Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Apart from Hangzhou and Shanghai, Grandma Kitchen () outlet is also located along Beijing's pedestrian street - Wangfujing (). This outlet, like those in other cities, was still very popular. Throngs of diners were queueing patiently to get a table and the wait was worth it. 

Without any hesitation, we ordered some of our favourite dishes, including the Spicy Potato Slices in Claypot (干锅土豆). Priced at RMB18, this was absolutely delicious. The sauce was rich and spicy. The potato slices were just right. You can eat them on its own. (Food rating: 4.5/5)

Hangzhou Braised Duck (杭州卤鸭) was one of the highlights. The duck meat was extremely tender and the rich sweet aroma in the duck was extremely addicting. We kept eating until it was all gone. (Food rating: 4/5)

Fried Chinese Long Beans with Red Chilli is highly recommended. I loved the crunchy texture of the beans and the spicy sauce blended very well with the vegetables. More importantly, the long beans did not have a raw taste but had the nice fragrance. Simply unforgettable. (Food rating: 4/5)

The Tomato with Egg Soup was a simple home-style soup that had a very nice subtle fragrance. The tomato chunks were sweet and fresh. The overall soup was unforgettable. (Food rating: 4.5/5)

避风塘豆腐鱼 was cooked in Cantonese style. The specialty was the garlic. This dish was crispy fish, garlic and spicy. (Food rating: 3/5)

Grandma's Rice Cakes (外婆年糕) was made of glutinous rice cakes drizzled with rich saccharine syrup and then sprinkled with nice smelling osmanthus flowers. The dessert was very sweet but the sweet-smelling osmanthus flowers were extremely fragrant. (Food rating: 4/5)

Address: China, Beijing, Dongcheng, Wangfujing St, 138号新东安广场6层
Rating: 4/5
Price: $
Stuffness Level (How full you are): 5/5

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Founded in Beijing, Dong Lai Shun (东来顺) is famous for its authentic mutton hot pot (涮羊肉) and Huaiyang cuisine. Huaiyang cuisine is derived from Huaian, Yangzhou, and Zhejiang with the style centering Yangzhou and Huaian. Huaiyang cuisine features light and sweetened taste, paying more attention on cutting technique and cooking temperature. Main dishes include large meatball, soft eels, etc.

If you have eaten hot pot from Haidilao, Tsukada Nojo, Qi Xiang Chicken Hot pot, Mini Steamboat, you may find Dong Lai Shun interesting. The broth was very bland even though you have ordered the Sichuan Hot and Spicy broth. I was in doubt for a month. I thought something was wrong with my taste buds.

For the sauces and garnishes, you have to order separately, each at a price. We ordered, sesame sauce, peanut sauce, sliced green and red chilli and gourmet light soy sauce.

We ordered the signature mutton slices, and other ingredients.

The National-Grade Mutton

Mutton Slices

Other ingredients

More mutton slides from other parts.

My favourite, Mutton Kebab.

Address: 北京东城区王府井大街198号
Rating: 3.5/5
Price: $
Stuffness Level (How full you are): 5/5

Saturday, December 03, 2016




Address: 王府井大街帅府园胡同9号
Food rating: 3/5
Price: $
Stuffness Level (How full you are): 5/5

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Wednesday, November 02, 2016


Paradise Inn is located at the Marina Bay Link Mall and the basement of Marina Bay Financial Centre. It is accessible via the Downtown Line (blue), Circle Line (orange) and North-South Line (red). The restaurant serves ambrosial dishes that you will keep coming back for more.

Thai Seafood Vermicelli, similar to Mee Siam, was spicy and sour. It exuded a nice aroma that you keep eating until the plate was empty. The fish was cut into thick slices and the squid rings were crispy. The portion was big and was best shared with friends. (Food rating: 4/5)

Poached Chinese Spinach with Egg Trio and Minced Pork in Superior Stock, cooked in Cantonese style, was delicious. The Chinese Spinach had a beautiful green sheen. In the broth, it is cooked in three eggs - Salted Egg, Century Egg and Normal Hen Egg. (Food rating: 4/5)

Hot Plate Tofu with Preserved 'Cai Xin' and Minced Pork, unlike the usual hot plate tofu or mapo tofu, it had a salty disposition due to the preserved vegetables. The tofu were so soft that it integrated as soon as it was put into the mouth. The toppings of minced pork and mushrooms were generous and flavourful. (Food rating: 4/5)

Sweet Sour Pork with Lychee, a popular dish, was sweet. The pork cubes were freshly prepared and the sweet sour sauce with lychee were extremely delicious. I always order this dish without fail. (Food rating: 4.5/5)

Honey with Passionfruit Drink was a little sweet to my taste but it was extremely refreshing. (Food rating: 4.5/5)

Supreme Seafood Fried Rice, Paradise Inn's specialty, was delightful. The roe made the popping sound, making it fun to enjoy the dish. The rice was perfectly cooked. The texture and colour were beautiful. (Food rating: 4.5/5)

Address: 8A Marina Boulevard #B2-20 Marina Bay Link Mall Singapore 018984
Price: $
Rating: 3.5/5
Stuffness Level (How full you are): 5/5
Recommended dishes: Fried Crystal Prawns with Salted Eggs, Sambal Kang Kong, Crispy Supreme Fried Rice

Sunday, October 30, 2016


The Zagat 2017 New York City Restaurants Guidebook is being published on Wednesday with a combination of spanking new and same old. What’s new, in addition to a brighter cover, is the scoring system.

After more than 37 years, the original format for rating restaurants, based on a scale of 1 to 30 as devised by the founders, Tim and Nina Zagat, is gone. In its place are rankings that go from 1.0 to 5.0, with decimals. The change was made, said a spokeswoman for the survey, now owned by Google, because the Zagat audience preferred a simpler system.

In the 2017 guide, Le Bernardin, which has received the top rating for food every year since 2010 (that’s what is not news), gets a 4.9 out of 5.0 instead of a 29 out of a possible 30. Le Bernardin also came in tops for service. Best for décor was Asiate.

Among the restaurants that made the list of the top 20 for food, there are newcomers: Gabriel Kreuther, Tocqueville, Tanoreen, Scalini Fedeli and Sushi Nakazawa. Per Se, which was rated best for food in 2009 and has been in the top 20 for the last 11 years, is missing from the 2017 ranking. Graffiti, Estiatorio Milos, L’Artusi and Annisa were also dropped from the top 20.
Also significant this year are a few newcomers that did not waste time rising to the top in their categories: Kingsley held the No. 1 spot for American restaurants, Indian Accent for Indian, and Llama Inn for South American.

Along with restaurant rankings, the survey includes questions about dining habits, likes and dislikes. Among respondents, 41 percent said they approved of eliminating tipping.

This year, there will also be a pop-up Zagat restaurant stand, called Tiny Cafe, where miniature portions of some signature dishes from restaurants like Los Tacos No. 1, Pizza Loves Emily and Jacques Torres will be served free. The cafe will be at the corner of Astor Place and Cooper Square from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

The 2017 book will go on sale on Wednesday for $16.95, zagat.com.

Source: New York Times, 26 Oct 2016
By Florence Fabricant

Credit Devin Yalkin for The New York Times

This article is part of a series aimed at helping you navigate life’s opportunities and challenges. What else should we write about? Contact us: smarterliving@nytimes.com.

Their Instagram photos are a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes, and yours are dark and grainy. Theirs elicit pangs of hunger, and sometimes envy. And they almost always leave you wondering, “How did they shoot that?”

Well, the pros do things a little differently than you do. Here are a few simple tips that will immediately improve your Instagram food photos.

Focus on the Food 

We mean that literally. It may sound like basic advice, but there are more fuzzy photos of In-N-Out Burgers on Instagram than there should be. Steady the phone to avoid shaking the camera, and focus on a point near the center of the dish or its most enticing detail, like the interior of a sliced layer cake.

Compose the Photo

While Instagram now supports vertical and horizontal photos, the medium is still very much square. Take a moment to frame the image. Try the rule of thirds.

Start thinking like a food stylist. Wait a minute for the ice cream to drip. Take a scoop out of the cobbler or lasagna and leave the full fork on the plate. Ruffle the cloth napkin near the dish. Experiment with utensil placement.

Fill the Frame

Get close to your subject, so the photo brims with food.

Shoot in Natural Light

Natural light allows for nuances in a photo that a phone flash does not. If you’re shooting your big baking success, take it to the window in your home that provides the most light. If that light is harsh, consider hanging gauzy curtains to filter the bright light. You can illuminate the shadowed portion of your dish with white poster board. To do that, have someone else hold the board so that the dish sits between it and the window, which will reflect more of the light onto the dish.

Use Your Friends’ Phones, Too

There are moments when you will be compelled to try to shoot your dinner in a candlelit dining room. You will most likely fail. The light cast by the flash on your phone will not flatter the food. But if you’re dining with friends, you can have them turn on the lights of their phones and point them toward the dish while you take the picture without turning on the flash. They can even diffuse or reflect their phone lights with lightweight white napkins. That said, be considerate. No one wants to dine next to the party that turns on the floodlights for every single dish. Use this trick sparingly.

Try a Different Angle
Stand up and take an overhead shot of your food, or duck down to meet your plate at a 30- to 45-degree angle from the table.

Don’t Be Afraid to Move the Plate Around

Follow the light. Sometimes you need to put that platter on the floor to make the best picture. (Don’t do this in a restaurant.)

Shoot With a Camera

Many of the best photos on Instagram are shot with cameras, not phones. Cameras with manual settings offer better control in low light, which describes just about any restaurant after dark. You will have to use your desktop computer to crop the photos to size (1080 pixels by 1080 pixels). Email the photo to yourself and save the image to your phone. You can upload it from there.

Use a Postproduction App

Color-correct photos on the fly using an app like Snapseed or Afterlight. These photo editing programs give you some of the benefits of Photoshop. You can tweak the image’s brightness, warmth and color saturation, but you don’t want to change them much — just enough to make the image pop. Don’t go overboard with the postproduction changes. The food should look edible, and not like a product of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Develop a Style

Pay attention to the kinds of images you like, and your favorite photos of the ones you’ve taken. Try to continue in that vein as you hone your style. Some people live to like supersaturated, high-contrast close-ups, while others desire the cool, blue hues of a Kinfolk table. The followers of our NYT Food account are partial to the eye-popping, the drool-inducing, the unfathomable mash-up.

If you’re keeping a daily diary of everything you eat, you may want to reconsider shooting every photo on the only orange plate in your kitchen. If the process of cooking is your thing, turn off the stove before snapping an aerial shot of your mussels lest your phone fog up with steam. If this is a brag book of your restaurant meals, by all means pepper your feed with It-list dishes.

Keep Shooting

If you’re serious about becoming a better photographer, you need practice. Take three or four or even a dozen photos of the same dish. Review them and pick the one you’re happiest with to post on Instagram.

As you take more photos, you’ll become more comfortable with your phone’s camera features, learning the benefits and limitations of the camera. You’ll also come to understand which foods are photogenic and which ones are not, how to adjust your framing or stylistic approach on the fly, and the time of day when your home gets the best light. Those are the details that will help you make beautiful images. 
Source: New York Times, 18 Oct 2016
By Sara Bonisteel
Peter and Maria Hoey

The New York City restaurateur’s perennial lament — that staying afloat is tougher here than anywhere else in the country — grows louder each time another restaurant closes. Rents are astronomical, the complaint goes; wages are rising, regulations are byzantine, and don’t even talk about the price of fresh produce.

But is it true? Is New York any less hospitable to independently owned restaurants than other big cities?

Recent figures suggest that it may be: The number of independent restaurants in the city fell 3 percent from March 2015 to March 2016, slightly more than the 2.7 percent drop nationwide, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm that tracks consumer spending.

Finding more conclusive evidence, though, isn’t easy. Privately owned restaurants don’t have to divulge what they spend. Lease terms are guarded like the contents of national security briefings.

One thing we do know: There is a rigid formula for survival. Whether a restaurant opens in hypercompetitive Manhattan or in California’s gold-rush dining scene, it has to make the same equation work: The costs of real estate, labor and food should add up to about 75 percent of its projected sales, leaving a profit margin of roughly 10 percent once smaller expenses are figured in.

A large restaurant group or chain may be able to skate below 10 percent because its volume is so high, but a chef who opens a starter full-service restaurant can end up in trouble if profits dip below that threshold.

To further break down the formula, a healthy restaurant aims to spend about 10 percent of its sales revenue on rent, utilities and other occupancy costs; 30 to 40 percent on labor, including payroll taxes and benefits; and 30 percent on food and beverages.

Because those three expenses account for most of a restaurant’s costs, we sought the best numbers we could find and compared them for three vibrant dining cities: New York, which has the nation’s largest roster of independent restaurants; Los Angeles, where the number of independents is growing; and San Francisco, a smaller, volatile market that has responded to restaurant closings with a real estate plan that enables start-ups to hedge their bets.

Here’s how the cities stack up, cost by cost.

Real Estate

Space in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn can cost twice as much as in Los Angeles or San Francisco.

CoStar, the nation’s largest source of commercial real estate data, tracks more than 980,000 listings. Though they are not broken down by use, Joseph Sollazzo, an economist with the firm, created a rough category of “restaurant friendly” spaces for us: listings from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet, a popular range for independent full-service restaurants, that met criteria like “available for all uses” and “ventilation.”

At the end of June, the average asking price for such a space in Manhattan and a handful of Brooklyn neighborhoods was $120 a square foot, a 6 percent increase over March 2008. In West Los Angeles, that city’s priciest area, the average was $52, an 11 percent increase in the same period. The average rent in San Francisco’s central business district was only $45, despite a 19 percent increase since 2008.

William Wheaton, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said restaurants are battling for a share of a limited consumer budget. CreditGretchen Ertl for The New York Times

“We’ve seen stronger rent growth over the cycle outside of Manhattan,” Mr. Sollazzo said. “Yet rents here are more than double what they are in the other markets, indicating that there’s still a long way to go before it is as expensive to rent restaurant space as it is in Manhattan.”

Garrick Brown, vice president for retail research at the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, produced restaurant-space listings that confirm the price gap: The company’s asking prices currently run from $120 to $180 a square foot in Manhattan, from $60 to $80 in Los Angeles, and from $60 to $100 in San Francisco.

Some San Francisco landlords offer promising but unproven tenants a bit of help known as a percentage deal. If a restaurant performs below an agreed-upon level of sales, the tenant pays only the base rent. If it takes in more than the stipulated amount, the landlord collects an additional percentage, which can double the monthly rent.

Mr. Brown says he sees signs that the Manhattan market is starting to soften, as landlords begin to lower asking prices and become more willing to negotiate; he expects the trend to continue through the end of 2017.

He is less certain that they will embrace percentage rents, which are not widely available in New York, but could become more popular if long-term vacancies make landlords, as he put it, “feel the heat.”

Most of them don’t, yet. He has heard of New York tenants paying as much as 13 percent for occupancy costs, which he considers a danger zone. “You get past 15 percent and you get into trouble,” he said.


It’s cheaper to staff a restaurant in Los Angeles than in New York or San Francisco, though New York still benefits from a tipped minimum wage.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that annual mean restaurant wages in New York City in 2015 were about $49,000 for a head chef, $28,580 for a cook and $29,290 for a server. In San Francisco’s much smaller labor force, pay was about the same for a head chef, $31,120 for a cook and $32,040 for a server. Wages were lower in Los Angeles: $40,740 for a head chef, $25,300 for a cook and $27,570 for a server.

In all three cities, restaurants pay more than the federally mandated minimum hourly wage of $7.25, and each city plans an increase to $15 over the next few years. New York businesses with more than 10 employees will reach $15 in December 2018, up from the current $9; smaller businesses, a year later. San Francisco will increase its minimum wage from the current $13 in July 2018, but Los Angeles will not reach $15 an hour until 2020 or 2021, depending on staff size.

New York State allows employers to pay a lower minimum wage for tipped front-of-house employees, while California is one of seven states that have abandoned the so-called tipped minimum wage — so a New York restaurateur pays those staff members less than a California owner does.

But New York State’s tipped minimum wage is going up as well, from a current rate of $7.50 an hour to $9 or $10 by the end of 2018, depending on the number of employees.

A small number of New York restaurants have abolished tipping and raised menu prices to absorb their added labor costs; an alternative, tacking a service charge onto bills, has run into legal challenges. Whether this new approach will raise or lower labor costs in the long run is still a matter of debate; advocates argue that higher pay will be offset to some extent by lower hiring and retraining costs.

Whichever path restaurateurs take, labor costs are on the rise. Overtime expenses around the country will increase on Dec. 1, when new federal Department of Labor guidelines make more salaried employees eligible if they work over 40 hours a week. And while individual restaurateurs may endorse higher wages in a traditionally underpaid field, they must still make the basic math work to survive.

The payroll increases are “a punch in the gut” for owners, because they mean more money out of pocket, said Richard Coraine, a 35-year industry veteran and the chief development officer of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, which is gradually rolling out a no-tipping system at its restaurants.

While an established group like his may seem immune to cost concerns, Mr. Coraine said that everyone worries about increased outlay. The single-unit owners simply risk “backing up against the wall” more rapidly, he said, because there are fewer dollars in their 10 percent profit margin.


Ingredients cost more on the East Coast than on the West Coast, and the gap grows when California produce is in season.

Baldor Specialty Foods is a major restaurant supplier for the East Coast, and West Central Produce is a major source on the West Coast. Their prices fluctuate on seasonal produce, and they give a price break to restaurants that buy across multiple categories like dairy, produce, dry goods and protein.

We asked West Central to price an order for fruits and vegetables from a 65-seat Manhattan restaurant that uses Baldor as a major supplier. A week’s produce order of 30 items cost $543 from Baldor and $423 from West Central, a difference of just over $6,200 a year.

Doing business in an agricultural wonderland further lowers costs. Michael McCarty, the owner of Michael’s in Midtown Manhattan and its older sibling in Santa Monica, Calif., pays $29.90 for a flat of farmers’ market tomatoes in Manhattan, while a double flat costs only $6.10 more in Santa Monica. Market strawberries are $65 a flat in New York and $36 out West.

Even red meat, chicken and some fish are cheaper in the West. Mr. McCarty said a dry-aged strip steak costs almost twice as much in Manhattan as in Los Angeles; a six-ounce portion of lamb rack is $24.95 in Midtown and $8.85 in Los Angeles.

The price difference, combined with lower rents in Los Angeles and San Francisco, helps offset labor cost increases and eases the pressure to raise menu prices.

The Bottom Line

It’s harder for an independent restaurant to thrive in New York, and harder everywhere than it used to be.

Traffic growth for all types of restaurants has flatlined at 1 percent since March, according to the NPD Group, which considers the number of visits a more reliable indicator of industry health than sales figures. The group’s projections through 2022 anticipate only a half-percent increase per year; before the Great Recession, from the 1990s until December 2007, normal growth was 2 to 3 percent.

Credit: Peter and Maria Hoey

William Wheaton, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says restaurants are fighting for a share of a finite consumer budget. Americans, he said, exhibit “an incredible regularity in what they spend on eating out: $1,200 to $1,400 per person” annually. And they tend to visit restaurants of any type, from fast food to fine dining, about 190 times a year, said Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant-industry analyst for NPD’s food service division.

If restaurants raise menu prices to reflect higher costs, they risk losing customers who still want to dine out as often without spending more than they’re used to — and fewer people at higher prices isn’t progress.

The customer base for full-service restaurants across the country started to shrink in 2007, Ms. Riggs said, as the recession led defecting customers to look for faster, cheaper food. Visits to quick-service restaurants — a catchall category that runs from markets with prepared foods to fast food and chains like Sweetgreen — grew to 80 percent of all restaurant visits by June 2016.

Less expensive options like those “have to be stealing from someone,” Ms. Riggs said. “Chains are growing and independents are closing, with the steepest decline in New York City,” where margins are so tight.

It’s culinary Darwinism: In what Mr. Wheaton calls an “intensely dynamic and competitive industry,” there’s one more sobering New York number. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have more restaurants than anywhere else in the country — 16.9 per 10,000 people as of spring 2016. (The greater Los Angeles area runs second, with 12.1 restaurants per 10,000 people.)

In a saturated market like New York’s, a chain’s advantage — greater financial resources — can spell the difference between survival and failure

“Let’s say you’re in some part of Manhattan that has 50 restaurants,” Mr. Wheaton said. “As costs rise, the guys with deep pockets hang in there for a while, and the others close up. If you’re a total go-it-alone-er without a patron to back you, you’re one of the first to go.”

Mr. Wheaton refers to the “exits and entries” cycle, an economic phenomenon that pertains to any competitive business: “The worse things are, the more casualties,” he said. “The more casualties, the better things get for the survivors, at which point competitors feel encouraged to open more restaurants. They whittle the sales volume of the existing restaurants down lower, to the point where they’re having trouble covering fixed costs, and too much competition leads to another cycle of closures.”

New York restaurateurs bemoan other enduring frustrations, including a complicated permit process and a two-tiered liquor license system that can take months to navigate. The city’s Department of Small Business Services recently announced the creation of the NYC Food & Beverage Hospitality Council, a group of over 30 industry representatives committed to improving the industry’s long-term health.

West Coast restaurateurs have their own set of complaints, including caps on the number of liquor licenses, which can drive up the price of acquiring one in a busy neighborhood, and the same skilled-labor shortage that New York faces.

None of it matters unless the basic numbers work.

Mr. Coraine says that in New York, they don’t. He believes the city has already forfeited its culinary supremacy, a casualty of costs. “People are leaving to find their dreams elsewhere,” he said.

When ambitious young chefs come to him for advice, his answer is terse: “Los Angeles,” is what he tells them. “And I’m not kidding.”

By Karen Stabliner
A version of this article appears in print on October 26, 2016, on page D1 of the New York edition with the headline: If You Can Make It Here. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe

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