Bep Ga - Proudly serving one of the best Vietnamese food in NYC

Let me get one thing straight, I'm extremely picky (hence the name) when it comes to Vietnamese food. As a born-and-raised Vietnamese from the South of Vietnam, I carry a different set of standards from those in the US. But authenticity aside, good food will always be good food.

Why am I speaking about this you ask? Because Bep Ga - the newest addition to the Vietnamese food community in NYC fits into this category. It might not be the most true-to-its-roots, hands-down authentic Vietnamese restaurant, but the quality of food justifies the slight deviation and novel thoughts. 

Nestled in a small pink corner in the Lower East Side right next to Spicy Village, Bep Ga doesn't even have a proper store sign. In fact, it looks like something you're more likely to come across in Brooklyn than Chinatown. Their business model is simple: good food, hipster vibe, and a simplified menu. Bep Ga (Bếp Gà) is Vietnamese for Chicken Kitchen and, unsurprisingly, that's the only protein in all four of their dishes. We sampled 3 out of 4 on the menu: Phở Gà (Chicken Pho), Phở Gà Khô (Dry Chicken Pho), and Cơm Gà Hội An (Hoi An Chicken Rice). The Gỏi Gà (Chicken Salad) looked very promising also, but until they decide to serve it with congee (which is how we've always had it in South Vietnam) I'm not interested.

Our glorious meal after spending 15 minutes staring other customers down to fight for a table

Our glorious meal after spending 15 minutes staring other customers down to fight for a table

The interior of Bep Ga is very small. They could only hold up to 12 people or so at a time so be prepared to wait 15-30 mins for a table. Another option is to grab take-outs and eat it in the park right across .

One of the most lovely line-ups of Vietnamese food in NYC

One of the most lovely line-ups of Vietnamese food in NYC

Their Pho Ga is a semi-traditional bowl of pho with smooth chicken stock and sliced pieces of chicken breast. The steaming hot bowl is beautifully adorned with chopped up cilantro, scallion, and a handful of blanched bean sprouts. I didn't know what purpose the boiled quail egg was supposed to serve, but felt it was a wonderful final bite. I've had better chicken pho stock elsewhere (a.k.a. Thang Long restaurant in Philly) but this is one of the most solid broth I've come across in the Greater New York area. If you're a fan of a light and clear broth that still packs enough flavor to deliver a good dining experience, this is the bowl for you. One thing I didn't enjoy was how much noodles there were in the bowl, but hey isn't that a good problem to have? :)

3.7/5 stars for their Pho Ga: unlike the broth, the actual chicken is quite disappointing ($10)

3.7/5 stars for their Pho Ga: unlike the broth, the actual chicken is quite disappointing ($10)

That minced ginger was THE BOMB!

That minced ginger was THE BOMB!

My friend had the Dry Chicken Pho, which is basically a salad-like version of the same dish. They skimmed down half of the broth and put it in a paper cup that comes with the bowl so you can enjoy a "drier" version. This is not uncommon in Vietnam although I expected them to serve it with some kind of fish sauce vinaigrette instead of just the broth. I liked the addition of the fried shallots and red onions, but would recommend you guys to just go for the normal version.

Dry Chicken Pho - Pho Ga's twin sister ($10)

Dry Chicken Pho - Pho Ga's twin sister ($10)

But the real star of the show was the Com Ga Hoi An (Hoi An Chicken Rice), which I have no idea if it's authentic or not because I've simply never been to that part of the country. A few quick searches showed a clear difference in the two renditions, to which point I would reiterate my earlier comment that authenticity comes after taste. 

Google Image's return for the query "Com Ga Hoi An" (Hoi An Chicken Rice) Source: Google.com

Google Image's return for the query "Com Ga Hoi An" (Hoi An Chicken Rice)
Source: Google.com

And Bep Ga's version of the dish

And Bep Ga's version of the dish

And my oh my, their Com Ga Hoi An did not disappoint. The rice is beautifully infused with chicken fat and has such an amazing turmeric color. Dunk the chicken into the dipping sauce and place it onto a spoonful of rice. Layer the onions, fried shallots, and minced ginger on top and voilà, you've got the perfect bite. I was pleasantly surprised that they actually made an effort to feature "rau ram" (Vietnamese coriander) and "la chanh" (lime leaves), two of the most hard-to-find Vietnamese herbs in US supermarkets. The plump wedges of tomato on the side made the dish look like Japnese Hiyashi Chuka (Cold Ramen Salad) while the baby blue plate gave it that instagram-worthy look. I only took a few bites out of this from my friend's plate, but I'll definitely be back next time for the full experience. 

Vietnamese chicken rice meets Hiyashi Chuka 4.2/5 stars ($10)

Vietnamese chicken rice meets Hiyashi Chuka 4.2/5 stars ($10)

Conclusion:

Overall rating: 4.1/5

Upside: good food, reasonable prices, great concept

Downside: no AC, limited seating, chicken can be rather dry

Recommended dishes: Hoi An Chicken Rice, Chicken Pho

Bep Ga
70 Forsyth St
New York, NY 10002
 

Eating in St Andrews: The sugar overlords and ab destroyers.

If you are here, chances are that you are coming to St Andrews this coming September to commence your studies. Well done! You are coming to one of the best universities in the UK. But St Andrews is not only good for its academic prestige, the town itself is a wonderful little place to live in as well. 

If you are anything like me, the first thing you'd probably want to know before is, 'What is there to eat in this tiny town?' When I first thought of this, I went scrounging all over the Internet for an answer. I was disappointed to only find outdated and generic suggestions on travelling websites. 

Don't get me wrong. I eventually got to try out most of the restaurants on these "Best restaurants in St Andrews" lists, and they are not too far from the truth. Though I feel like as a current resident of this town, and a die hard food fanatic, I can contribute a bit more than the occasional travelers' comments. 

So let's get down to it, what exactly is there to eat in St Andrews?

Honestly, not a lot. Being a small town, there isn't a lot of room for dining establishments to prosper. Having said that, there are a fair number of eateries around. Some more decent than others. I am gonna go ahead and skip over the likes of chain restaurant like Prezzo and Tony Macaroni. You can get these anywhere you go in the UK, you don't have to go all the way up here for this. I am more interested in what is exclusively St Andrews.  

First of, DESSERTS. Because it should be the main course, or in my case, the only course in a lot of my meals. 

1. Sticky Toffee Pudding

I have a confession to make. I never knew what sticky toffee pudding was before I came to St Andrews. I don't (or rather, didn't) have that big of a sweet tooth, and the idea of a heavy, toffee drenched date sponge does not excite me at all. But after a year in St Andrews, I am a changed woman. 

Where do I get my sticky toffee pudding fix in St Andrews? Uhm..just about everywhere. Two of my hands-down favourite places though, are Cromars Fish and Chips Doll's House. I never expected to find my favourite sticky toffee puddings in a chip chop. But Cromars' STP really hits all the right spots for me. It is also the only place that serves it with pouring cream, which I prefer. Sadly, of all the times I have been in for meal, I have failed to take a photo because we inhaled it within minutes of its appearance, even after a large and satisfying main course of fish and chippies. It is that good. 

Here's the STP from Doll's House though. 

Sticky Toffee Pudding from the Doll's House. 

Sticky Toffee Pudding from the Doll's House. 

The Doll's House is one of my favourite restaurants in St Andrews. Its menu is not as extensive as others, but whatever you order, I can guarantee that it will be good. Speaking of menu, they just updated a new seasonal menu for the coming months. The STP is still there (thank God!), check it out here

Another place that's worth coming to try the STP in the Dunvegan pub on North Street. This is a lot less upscale than the Doll's House. And it is perfectly acceptable to just come for a wee sticky toffee treat. 

Sticky Toffee Pudding from Dunvegan.

Sticky Toffee Pudding from Dunvegan.

The STP from Dunvegan is a bit less rich and flavourful but no less indulgent. Taste-wise, I prefer the one from the Doll's House. But in reality I usually end up at Dunvegan because I can't really afford to eat out so often at real restaurants. Pub food is where it's at.

2. Gelato and Ice cream

St Andrews knows its ice cream. We have the local, family-owned Jannettas on South Street. Dishing out novelty gelato and sorbets. On Wednesday they offer waffles and gelato for £4.50. A pretty darn sweet deal if you ask me. :) I've been told their sorbets are amazing as well but have yet to verified this. 

Waffle Wednesday at Jannettas is a must!

Waffle Wednesday at Jannettas is a must!

The other place for crazy delicious ice cream is Nardini's. Situated just down the road on the same street. Closer to the town centre than Jannettas. This ice cream parlour boasts a melted chocolate tap. Yes, a constantly running tap of chocolate that goes into sundaes, hot chocolate and all sorts of things. They don't have as many ice cream options as Jannettas. But what you should definitely try is their extensive menu of sundaes. Oh my world,  I blame Nardini's for 4 out of the 5 kilos that I gained since I moved here.

Apologies for the horrible photo. I have annoying friends. 

Apologies for the horrible photo. I have annoying friends. 

My hands-down favourite at Nardini', the Sticky Toffee Sundae, with warm chunks of sticky toffee pudding in toffee sauce and cream and everything beautiful about this world. 

3. Cakes and Afternoon Tea

Okay, I can't profess to be an expert on this since I rarely ever buy cakes/sweet things in town. I like baking my own things. But I have spotted a few places in town that does good baked goods in case you want to treat yourself but can't be bothered to get in the kitchen. 

Gorgeous Cafe on South Street does big and wonderful scones. And I do mean, big. Its upstairs seating area has a cosy 1940s theme to it. It's a small place and a strong favourite for locals and students alike so if you want to have a huge gathering with your friends, this is definitely not the place for that. Also it's a cash only cafe. A word of warning though, stay away from the big breakfast fry-up. It's all bought-in food that you can throw together in your kitchen so don't bother wasting your time and money. 

Make sure to try the Special Scone they have on the menu. :)

Make sure to try the Special Scone they have on the menu. :)

North Point on North Street is another popular place to afternoon tea and brunch. It's one of the only places in town that offers all-day pancakes. Which I find weird, because when is a good time to not have pancakes? I heard the scones there are also a must-try. But they tend to run out of them when I come round. So that probably says something. Overall most items on the menu is pretty decent, and the smoothies looks good. The prices are a bit steep for my meager student bank account though. But if you ever have £6+ to spend on breakfast. This is a good spot to spend them. 

One of my fav here, Smoked Salmon and Scrambled Eggs Toast. The scrambled eggs at North Point is really good. 

One of my fav here, Smoked Salmon and Scrambled Eggs Toast. The scrambled eggs at North Point is really good. 

Some of the other places that has good baked goods are Cottage Kitchen, Bibi's and, according to popular opinions, Fisher and Donaldson. The last one is an actual bakery (the only one in town actually) whereas the other two are cafes. Personally I think the things they make at Fisher and Donaldson are a bit too sugary for my taste. But like I said, it's kind of the only bakery in town and people seems to like it.

Last but not least, a shameless bid for self-promotion. Call me biased, but one of the best baked goods in town are (lovingly) made by yours truly, the St Andrews Baking Society. You will see us around hosting bake sales, baking classes and all sorts of foodie events. So when you see us around with our aprons and our cakes. Come say hi and grab a bites. We're loving (non self-absorbed) people, I promise. :)

Homemade baked goods for a bake sale last year. 

Homemade baked goods for a bake sale last year. 

That concludes my first food review post for Two Picky Pigs. I am working on the second part with less sugary stuffs and more real stuffs (read: MEATS!!). That's me for now, until next time, however far off in the future that is. 

*I haven't put any addresses in because, uhm, we literally have 3 main streets in St Andrews. So it'd be pretty impressive if you can't find these places. Also, Google Maps is a wonderful creation. And as a dear friend of mine said, 'If you get lost, you'll just find another good place to eat.'

Game of Thrones Inspired Fondant Cake: Assembly.

Okay, this will be a massively wordy post since I didn't get the chance to take many pictures during the making of the cake. If you follow my Instagram (@pickypigatuni), you will probably have seen this. 

Source: @pickypigatuni 

Source: @pickypigatuni 

So this was my attempt at making yet another Game of Thrones inspired cake. Yes I have made others before. See below.

That was a prototype I made for a previous Baking Society event. Hence the strange/choppy arrangement of plaits. In any case, I ended up with a whole lot of fondant from said event, and decided I would get one of my friends to come round and make yet another Game of Thrones cake with me to celebrate the end of lectures and the new season premiere of Game of Thrones.

The throne on the prototype cake is a lot more detailed than the one we made for the cake, but it did take 9+ hours to assemble that alone compared with the 6+ it took for us to bake all of the cake tiers, decorate the cake, making the throne AND somehow cooking dinner because much as we'd like to, we can't live on sugar. 

This is where a disclaimer may be appropriate, I think. Daisy, the friend I dragged into this sugary, baking madness is the one who made most of the cake (and dinner). My participation consists of finding the recipe(s) + design, some parts in modelling the fondant, and mostly clean up duties. :D 

It was..an experience not being active in the baking process. But just being involved in the assembly is massively fun as well. So without further ado, here is how we assembled our Game of Thrones inspired fondant cake. 

Here's another photo for good measure

Here's another photo for good measure

As you can see, the cake has two separate tiers. the top bit is actually a vegan lemon cake I found on Pinterest, from a miss Sofia Von Porat. For the base tier I adapted Buttered Side Up's Lemon Cake with Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream frosting. An incredible amount of lemon zest went into these cakes, but both of them lacked a strong lemony zing. But it was probably my fault because I didn't have any lemon extract on hand. Either way, I compensated for this by brushing both cakes with a Lemon-Brandy syrup to help keep them moist and add more lemony flavour. It didn't work very well, sadly, I would 100% recommend more lemon zest than what both of these recipes called for.

For the throne, I followed The Icing Artist's Youtube tutorial here. I also draw inspiration from this Pinterest photo.

Source: Pinterest

Source: Pinterest

Sadly, I couldn't find the tutorial for this cake, so I attempted to recreate the dragon scales pattern you see above. It didn't turn out very well in comparison with the original. I basically stacked square-ish bits of fondant on top of each other, which appears to be what they did, it didn't turned out the way is should. Maybe the squares need to be thinner. 

Anyway, when that's over and done with I sprayed the bottom tier with some shimmer spray and left the top tier its original matte grey colour. I also made a braid out of the white fondant I had left, covered it with some shimmer spray and attached it around the second tier to hide the horrible fondant job I did on that one. But you can probably still tell from the cracks that by that point the fondant was pretty dried out and not ideal for covering cakes. :/

So yeah, that was an account of how two amateur home bakers went about their Sunday. We had a lot of fun making this. Fondant is definitely not my favourite thing to work with. It is superficially pretty (if you do it right) but absolutely gross to eat (sugar bits with corn syrup, yum). The taste always comes first, for me, closely followed by look. But I have matured a lot from my younger days, (19 is basically the menopause of teenager-dom), I realise now that baking is not just about finding you perfect and disapprove of everyone else's. It more of understanding people's taste and combining their ideals with my own. In this case I was happy to finally have an opportunity to make a vegan-friendly cake, play around with fondant (and failing :D ), and in turn introduced people to Swiss Buttercream Frosting (aka one buttercream recipe to rule them all) and my own way of making a layer cake. (Because apparently it's not a thing to bake a whole cake and cut out the layers?)

I don't know what about you but I felt like this was a day well spent. :) Many thanks to the amazing bakers and fondant artists that helped make this cake happen. And since I don't actually watch or read Game of Thrones, I hope you guys enjoyed the new season premiere and don't you dare comment spoilers on this post because I have so much to catch up on. 

As always, questions/advice are welcomed. Happy baking! :)