Monday, March 17, 2014

The DBGB Whole Hog Dinner, Who's Taking the Head Home?

It's my friend Jason's birthday. Jason is the guy who introduced me to NYC's culinary scene and taught me how to eat and appreciate "fancy" food; he's also the guy who arranged a 10pm Sunday night Momofuku fried chicken dinner and invited me to his birthday dinner at Vinegar Hill House, still one of my favorite meals I've had since living in the city. Most of my knowledge on food and drink from fennel salad to negronis, I learned from him. This year, in typical Jason fashion, he chose DBGB's whole hog dinner for his birthday. The drool-enhancing menu is as follows and is for a maximum of 8 people:
While the roasted suckling pig is the headliner, I actually think the sides are the spotlight, in particular the cheesy potato and kohlrabi gratin. I love a dinner where the sides shine on its own and bring everything together, which this meal did perfectly with fried pork rinds, thick cut bacon in the brussel sprouts and bacon cookies shaped as pigs to finish the meal. NOT TO MENTION THE BOMB-ASS BAKED ALASKA. I've never had a Baked Alaska before (or even knew what it was) but what I ate--a spin on spumoni with vanilla/pistachio/raspberry ice-cream blanketed by a thin layer of alcohol soaked yellow cake and whip cream--exceeded all my expectations.

Dinner was a hefty sum but worth every cent as it was my good friend's birthday, spent with my favorite people and another NYC culinary experience to add to my list. Here are some pictures from dinner:
FYI, I took the hog head home.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The 2nd Annual EPIC Oscars Dinner Party [PHOTOS]

Last year's Oscars Dinner Party was such a huge success that my friends and I had to do it again this year. The brief is simple, everyone has to bring a dish, dessert or drink inspired by a Best Picture nominee, which were: 
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Nebraska
  • Philomena
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
This time, most of us actually watched the movies AND we had two weeks to plan (instead of a few days), so I had somewhat high expectations for the food. I wasn't disappointed. I was so impressed by my friends' creativity and cleverness--and if not that, their effort--that I'm going to give out awards for the Best Picture award-inspired dishes (see what I did there? INCEPTION.). Here are the winners:

Best Cinematography aka "Use of Instagram Filters" - Peter
Budweiser Tall Boys for Nebraska
Best Last-Minute-Inspired-by-the-Trailer Dish - Ben
Fugazi Fugasi Frisee Salad for The Wolf of Wall Street
Best "I work in Film" Inside Joke - Jason
Angel HAIR ACTING for American Hustle
Best Foreign Surprise - Fiorella and Diego
South American Hustle Empanadas for American Hustle
Best Drunken Munchies - Jared and Kristen
Somali Samosas for Captain Phillips
Best Movie Title Spin-Off - Rachel and Tim
Club House Sandwiches with Mustard & Mayo Syringes for Dallas Buyers Club
Best "I didn't watch the movie but want British Food" Dish - Sean and Zeny
Steak, Ale and Mushroom Pie for Philomena
Best Sugar High - Juno and Stephanie
Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pies and Baggies of...

Confectioners Sugar! for The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Food for Movie Without Food (and Non-Astronaut Ice Cream Cop Out) - Alex
Moon Pies for Gravity
Most Ambitious Attempt - Hannah
Scarlet Velvet OS cakes for Her
Actual Best Picture Winner-Inspired Dessert - Jared
Warm Blackberry Crumble for 12 Years of Slave
Thank you to everyone who came and contributed. An Oscars dinner party is a great idea for any host who wants their guests to pass out before the Best Picture award is announced, if they haven't passed out already. My only complaint is I have to wait a full year for the next Oscars--what event could I do the next themed dinner party for?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Is GIRLS Right About Advertorials Sucking?

I was conflicted in last week's episode of GIRLS. Not about Marnie and Ray's hookup fest but about Hannah Horvath's disdain for advertorials. I mean are advertorials that bad? I guess I don't even notice them when I read print magazines, so I can't fairly judge their journalistic quality (they're usually lists with tiny photos or a collage of products right?), but when it comes to digital brand content, the line between editorial and advertising blur much much more. 
Credit: HBO/Craig Blankenhorn

In the last two years, there has been an exodus of Fashion Magazine Editors migrating to retailers like J.Crew, Artizia and Kate Spade to develop their brand content offering, which typically includes a blog or digital magazine and an active social media presence. I recently downloaded ASOS's Fashion Up app, which is a monthly interactive magazine filled with fashion editorial spreads, trend spotting, interviews and how-to tutorials. 

If ASOS's Fashion Up app is the direction brand content is heading, then Hannah shouldn't be so down on herself for writing on behalf of brands. I mean her "stories" could fit so well for the handful of hipster brands targeting the Brooklyn-dwelling 20-something year old. I'm hoping in tonight's episode, Hannah gets herself together.

Do It With A Smile

There are people who are good at what they do.
And then, there are people who are good at what they do and do it with a smile.

Watching Team USA Ice Hockey player T.J. Oshie kill it in the USA vs. Russia shootout was nerve-wracking and exhilarating all at once. His slow shootout style was different but that wasn't the only thing that was unique about the 27 year-old Oshie; before each of his six shootout shots, knowing that each shot was potentially a game winner or loss, he would flash a smile. Watching the game on my home TV, Oshie's smile made all the difference. In comparison to the serious-faced Russian legends Kovalchuk and Datsyuk (I don't blame them with Putin in the audience), Oshie just seemed damn excited to be on the ice and given the chance to shoot. If he was nervous, he channeled that nervous energy through his stick and released it with every shot that made it to the net.

Oshie's epic game-winning shot, poise and humility makes me think that society needs to recognize people who perform at the highest level with a smile on their face. In all fields of work, it is not just about talent anymore, it is also about attitude.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What Ever Happened to the New MySpace?

Remember eight months ago when MySpace relaunched with a brand new look, user experience and TV campaign? The commercial featured a hipster party that included Erin Wasson, Pharrell, Mac Miller, Ciara and other "it" celebrities trapped in what looks like an American Apparel explosion. A spray painted "Welcome to the neighborhood" tagline ends the TV spot, but how many people actually joined? Is the neighborhood barren or hopping like a Saturday night in Williamsburg?
To be honest, I'm not sure. I have not seen one headline in the last eight months about MySpace or the usage of the new MySpace. What happened? To answer this question fairly, I'm tasking myself to use the platform for the next week. Will keep you posted...
In the meantime, find me on MySpace here.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

New Orleans Reminded Me That Magic Still Exists

Having lived in New York City for so long, I've trained myself to be small--to squeeze into that 5-inch gap on the jam-packed L train, to slide pass strolling tourists on the sidewalks and to hold back my applause after "showtime". We go through our days with an invisible force field, a sliver of precious personal space that we protect from the millions of strangers around us. Last weekend, I temporarily escaped that oppressive bubble when I visited New Orleans.

I had little idea of what to expect... jazz, jambalaya and Mardi Gras? I was there for a quick 48 hours to celebrate my close friend's bachelorette. Between our costume shopping trip at Fifi Mahony's, a burlesque class and back-to-back 4am mornings on Bourbon Street--New Orleans is indeed a magical city.

For one, you can drink on the street. MAAGIC. Two, the people are friendly and genuinely talented. They have interests and passions, like our cab driver knew the entire history of the city as if he were Google, our petite Burlesque instructor could start a fire with her eyes, our waiter Judas was an expert group photo-taker (down-angle only) and a hot, mysterious girl jumped on-stage at Cats Meow karaoke bar dancing crazy hard like So You Think You Can Dance hard to "Wrecking Ball".  But my favorite and most memorable New Orleans personality was a street magician named Nico, who referred to himself as a Magician on a Motorcycle.
After browsing an antique lighting shop on Royal St, my friends and I stepped onto the street in front of a magician just about to begin his show. My love for magic is on abnormally high nerd levels so the barrier of me stopping to watch was pretty low. He invited the three of us, matching in our light pink bachelorette shirts, to step forward and help him create an "illusion of an audience". The rest is history. 

Charming and untraditional with his wrench, buzzed head and red sharpie, Nico had me convinced that magic still exists. He pulled a wine bottle out of his hat but the line that did it for me was: "this show brought you all together in this moment. You are all sharing this unique memory. And there is no app for that.

MAGIC. It took a street performer who travels across America on his motorcycle to remind me that there is so much more than the everyday digital grind. We are living in a ever-so-connected world that for me to spend 20 minutes of undivided attention with complete strangers in a completely strange city and enjoy the humor, beauty and energy of that moment cannot be replaced with a like, share, comment, tweet, post, email or text.

New Orleans felt liberating. The live music, street performers, big ass beers... it was a much needed reminder that the most important thing is to be present in the moment and every moment is precious. If I want to slow walk in New York City or get into a subway performance, then I should. I don't want to live in a bubble no more.

Some photos from the magical city of NOLA:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Will the NY Islanders Move to Brooklyn Hipster-fy Hockey?

For years, I've been telling everyone how hockey will become a widely popular sport and receive the attention it deserves on network television and in the media, mainly because I wanted more friends to watch games with me (...). Although football and basketball fans still outnumber hockey by a stretch, a recent article states that the NHL is selling out more arenas than the NBA this season. Yes those numbers might be skewed by the NBA's performance, but there are other signs that hockey might be growing in popularity; for one, I've been seeing occasional San Jose Sharks photos in my Facebook and Instagram feeds from unsuspecting west coast hockey fans, and two, Apple decided to include the LA Kings in their newest iPad Air commercial.

Apple approves of ice hockey.

But the true tipping point of my hockey popularity theory will be its adoption by hipsters. In 2011, I sensed the hipster hockey trend as the NHL and Versus' (now owned by NBC) aggressively marketed to hipsters in Williamsburg. Now, with the impending 2015 move of the New York Islanders to Barclays Center in Brooklyn--the hipster-fying of hockey is inevitable. Who wants to bet Pharrell will be sporting a throwback hockey jersey at the 2016 Grammys?

Will Hipsters ruin hockey?
The thought crossed my mind this Monday when I attended an Islanders/Bruins game at the current Nassau Coliseum venue out in Long Island. Stepping inside the Islanders arena was like stepping back into time, as if the arena hasn't changed since the 80s. Of all the NHL hockey games I've attended, this was the first time that prior to the game there was a moment of silence for an original season ticket holder who recently passed away. That and the rowdy Islanders fan section felt pleasantly intimate.

Sean and I are smiling because the Bruins won 6-3
Will the history, family-like atmosphere and camaraderie disappear at Barclays? I hope not. The move has received mixed feelings by Islanders fans, but my hope is the move will inject energy into the franchise while still preserving all its quirks and traditions (like those Ice Girls!).  In many ways, hipsters and hockey is a destined combination--eclectic warmup music from techno to country, beards and swearing. I have high hopes that Brooklyn, NY Islanders fans and hipsters can make it work.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What Does It Mean to Be 'Real' and Why Do We Care So Much About Retouching?

American Eagle's new Aerie REAL campaign for its womens underwear line has made headlines for featuring un-retouched models (SHOCKER, Dove did this back in 2008). On my office block, where American Eagle's Soho store is located are city-block length billboards featuring teenage-looking girls in neon cotton undies with the headline "THE GIRL IN THIS PHOTO HAS NOT BEEN RETOUCHED." SHE'S JUST PERFECT RIGHT? I applaud American Eagle for not masking the true beauty of these models and showing them as they would look in real life, but are models real? Not "retouching" makes a great PR story but the actual credit should go to choosing an ethnically diverse set of no-name models.

Many mass brands talk about the importance of reaching the growing population of multicultural youth--African American, Hispanic and Asian consumers make up 40% of Millennials--and are gradually diversifying the models they use in their ads; however, often this diversity effort is short-lived and only seen in campaigns but not throughout the brand experiences such as the website. 

The Aerie website shopping experience features the same multicultural models such as Amber and Hana modeling all the products. Additionally the "Bra Guide" shows you what the bra would look like on a model with the same cup size. Accurately, a 32B gave me the Asian-mixed model Hana who, of the models, is someone I relate to best.
While I truly believe beauty has no ethnic boundaries, Hana who is probably hapa (half white, half asian) is a familiar body type and face of many girls I grew up with in Hawaii and seeing her model the clothes strangely does make the shopping experience more personal.
With its REAL campaign, Aerie has established a brand distinction from its competitor Victoria's Secret PINK, as the underwear brand for the American girl next door (whether she be Caucasian, Hispanic, African American, Asian or Mixed), while PINK lives in its parent's model identity of being aspirational (see beautiful PINK models below).

Yes, American Eagle's efforts to create a bra shopping experience for young women that is more accurate to what it would look like to try on the bra in the store will help more consumers shop online. But "aspiration" can still be very appealing and may be more desirable than plain utility. Only time will tell.

As for America's obsession with retouching (the recent fuss over Lena Dunham's VOGUE cover), I think people need to remind themselves that models make up 2% of the population and celebrities are paid to look good. When women like Lena Dunham and Kate Upton make the cover--and perhaps an Asian American soon--we should celebrate their fresh perspective and personalities, which is more important than a few strokes in photoshop.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Heat and Homemade Pasta, Living the "Casalinga" Life

I just finished reading Bill Buford's Heat, a detailed account on how Buford, a former writer and editor of The New Yorker, quits his job to become an amateur cook in Mario Batali's Italian restaurant Babbo and travels to Italy to learn how to make pasta and butcher animals. Being that I'm newly Italian-by-marriage (Zeny Picone!) and a person who loves cooking, I soaked up every kitchen secret, tip and recipe that Buford revealed about making handmade pasta, short ribs, linguini with clams and tortellini the authentic Italian way.

Casalinga, which means homemade or "made by hand" in Italian, is a consistent theme in Buford's book which promotes the culture of "slow food"--the idea that food made by hand with better ingredients is more precious and delicious. The last couple of years I've embraced this idea of slow food, spending hours prepping and cooking large meals for dinner parties. The most recent a 10-person Chinese dinner consisting of my grandma's signature recipes.

Here's some pictures of my first time making homemade pasta with some friends, and as the pictures depict, our first time was pretttyyy dang awesome:
We found a basic fresh pasta recipe on Pinterest which called for equal parts semolina and flour.
Lesson learned, use lots of flour when rolling out the pasta.
We made linguini two ways--1) Carbonara and 2) with Wild Mushrooms