Featured Spotlight: The Little One NYC

Only a few months ago, a new space serving unique high-quality desserts opened around the corner of East Broadway and Rutgers Street in Chinatown. Bordering the Lower East Side, The Little One brings a whole new vibe to the area with its contemporary look and Japanese-inspired menu. Married couple and owners, Olivia Leung and Eddie Zheng, had always wanted to open a place of their own after studying at the Institute of Culinary Education and working besides renowned chefs and bakers at Dominique Ansel, Tour Les Jours, La Sirena, and The Elm.  While traveling in Asia for inspiration, they were especially blown away by Japan’s attention to detail and the quality of ingredients in their productions. “We wanted our store to be similar in a sense where we really care about our ingredients and the aesthetics of the space,” Olivia explained as I asked her how her trip shaped her business.  “When we went to Japan we loved how simple, modern, and clean ALL the little cafes, coffee shops, dessert shop , and sushi restaurants were. They’ve incorporated a lot of wood, white, and even concrete. So with our space, we wanted to use all those aesthetics and put it into our space.”  Though decorations are soon to come, The Little One really does present a beautiful clean space to catch up with a friend or to experiment some new flavors.

If one is not used to desserts in Japan, a menu can be difficult to decipher, so I asked Olivia to explain what some of her signature dishes are (and means).  Here is the breakdown:

Pictured above are the strawberry and the matcha Kakigōri, a Japanese shaved ice that has an icier texture than other types.”Traditionally, kakigōri is made with flavored syrups,” Olivia explained. “But now there are some places in Japan that takes it one step further and garnishes with creams and fruit sauces or other textural elements. This is where we got inspired to take something very traditional in Japan to make it our own but still keep some Japanese roots. For example, we love using matcha and hojicha (traditional Japanese teas) and we get them from Kettl, a tea shop based in Williamsburg that sources tea from their farms in Japan everyday!” To further make the dessert their own, they have also experimented using some Chinese influences such as the coconut pudding that one may find at dim sum.  This resulted in the Coconut Kakigōri.

Pictured here is the Dorayaki, fluffy pancakes made with honey that traditionally contain a red bean paste filling.  Similar to their take on the Kakigōri, Olivia and Eddie wanted to take the traditional recipe and make it their own by using different fillings.  With the most recent menu, they added a red bean cake with matcha cream, chocolate coconut inspired by the Mounds candy bar, and pineapple caramelized in brown sugar and spices with yogurt cream and shortbread crumble.

Above is the unique and light Monaka, thin crispy wafer shells made out of rice flour that are popular in Japan. They are traditionally served with red bean paste, but at the Little One, they are incorporated with ice cream flavors based on likes and seasons.  Currently, they used buckwheat and chrysanthemum.  Why these flavors?  “Buckwheat has a toasted and roast flavor that we wanted while chrysanthemum is a flower perfect for spring,” Olivia answered.  “It’s also a tea that Eddie and I grew up drinking at dimsum and from boxed drinks.  We wanted to keep it simple but thought that adding a local honey from the Union Square Market will also enhance the dessert.”  

While these beautifully crafted, made in-house desserts already have flavors attractive to many, expect some to change every so often as they have a seasonal menu in addition to their regular one. With Eddie’s love for technical aspect as well as working with hydrocolloids in desserts and Olivia’s love and feel for breads and pastries, the two are always concocting and improving their dishes with the best quality ingredients. “The best part of this business is that Eddie and I love doing what we do,” Olivia said.  “Everywhere we go we are intrigued by new and different ingredients that we have never come across before.  As they say, if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life!”  

Be sure to check out The Little One if you get a chance.  A special thanks to Olivia and Eddie for allowing me to share their story with Lilspirations and sharing the photos that I am not able to take during this maternity time!  As always, thanks for reading! xoxo

 

Picture credits for this post:

Dorayaki (Vicky Lee)
strawberry kakigōri (Jacky Chen)
behind the scenes ( Jennah Moon)
chrysanthemum (Alan Li)
matcha kakigōri (Alan Li)​​

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Featured Spotlight: Alimama Cafe

If you’ve ever been in New York City’s Chinatown multiple times for the last 10 years, then you’ll notice how much it has changed.  Luckily there are still a few of the classic and historic spots left, such as Columbus Park where the elder gather, the re-located Tasty Dumplings, the old school bakery known for their buns, and Big Wong famous for their roast pork and meats. There are no more bootleg designer bags spread out on Canal Street (Instead, look for Asians randomly whispering “Coach, LV, Michael Kors, etc.” as you walk by. They’ll show you their stock digitally now! hah).  There are fewer Cantonese-style restaurants and heaps of bubble tea and dessert spots, but most recently, a new addition  has brought a more organic style to Chinatown. That place is Alimama.

 

Squeezed between various small shops on Bayard Street around the corner from Columbus Park, this little spot catches everyone’s attention because of its modern looking front with its cute, slanted, easy-to-miss concrete seating. Inside is a crisp, clean look where you’ll find a friendly face greeting you while making her products fresh. Meet Janie of Alimama.  I had the opportunity to chat with Janie a few times pre-baby after walking in spontaneously one day to check out the menu. Although she was never professionally trained, her parents and her love for exploring and experimenting with cuisine blossomed into cooking and baking.  “Some of my earliest memories are of the energetic frenzy of my parents’ kitchen, and their passion for food has really rubbed off on me,” she explained as I asked about her motivation to start her own business. “It’s just genetic.”  If she isn’t in the kitchen, she is always hunting for new inspirations in food, arts, and culture.

While Alimama has been in its soft opening phase, you can definitely find Janie concocting goods everyday from different flavored mochi donuts to ube charcoal bread to lightly sweet drinks. However, her mochi donuts and cream puffs seem to be the signature items as of now.  Unlike any other I’ve tasted, these desserts don’t make you walk away feeling guilty. They are much lighter in weight as well as in sweetness than the ordinary donuts and puffs.  Since Janie is gluten intolerant herself, her products also appeal to those who can’t eat gluten, which makes Alimama one of the few places in Chinatown that offers gluten-free desserts.  Although the protein is not in her diet, she has a strong sweet tooth especially for Japanese desserts. “That has been a strong influence across all of my desserts, from the ingredients to the flavors,” she says. “My cream puffs are a lighter take on a classic dessert that I’ve always loved. Mochi naturally lends itself quite well to all of those, in addition to its wonderfully chewy texture, so I’ve tried to incorporate it throughout my menu.”  My personal favorite is the ube and matcha cream puffs, both with a crisp textured outer layer and a creamy filling that tells you what flavor it is without being overly strong!

With almost 5,000 Instagram followers in less than two months, Janie plans to have her grand opening before May 1st.  I asked her what the best part of being in this business is and doing what she does.  “Seeing my customers’ eyes light up, the uncontrollable smiles, the gasps of delight and satisfaction,” she responds. “All of these are what gets me going every morning!”   For anyone looking to start something new, not having any background experience didn’t stop her from opening this shop. “Very few people know exactly what it is they want to do,” she explains. “So it’s okay to feel lost or confused – you’re not alone! Instead, just be open to new opportunities and take them one step at a time.”  

If you get a chance to be in Chinatown, be sure to stop by Alimama to try some of these treats out.  A huge thank you to Janie for sharing your behind-the-scenes with me and to all the readers!  xoxo – Lilian
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Featured Spotlight: Coffee Project

“All you need is love and a coffee,” and that’s exactly what you’ll get at Coffee Project in the East Village.  As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by a friendly hello and some smiles by co-owners, Chi Sum Ngai and Kaleena Teoh (pictured below, respectively).  Sum, who is Malaysian-Chinese, had completed her barista training in Portland. She learned to blend different beans together, creating flavors that were beyond just the popular coffee that comprises of nuts and chocolate notes.  She moved to New York City five years ago and began her planning to open a shop with Kaleena.

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Featured Spotlight: Mahalo New York Bakery

Imagine a drive along the coast of a Hawaiian island. One minute you see sea turtles washing up on the shore of the beaches. Then you’re swerving left and right along the cliffs and passing by banana and guava trees. You decide to hop out of the car and jump into the most refreshing pond of water, swimming to the waterfall to let it crash over your head.  Lastly you drive to see the sunset on top of the mountains. There seems to be nothing but beauty, nature, and relaxation. Hawaii is one of those places in the world where your breath gets taken away.  It’s also one of those places where you will never forget how good their food tastes, and luckily, there are some people who have finally brought Hawaii’s exotic tastes to New York City.

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Meet Mike and Sunita (Sue) Shiwdin, the couple who owns Mahalo New York Bakery.  They met back in high school, when Sue was already dreaming of opening her own bakery one day. Back in Guyana where Sue grew up, there wasn’t much electricity, so you can imagine how having an oven to work with when coming over to the States meant exciting times to bake and make her own creations.  After a trip to Hawaii for their honeymoon, she realized how much the food and culture there resonated with Guyana. Flavors such as guava, mango, and hibiscus, as well as friendly people saying hello were all very similar.  She and Mike decided to open a bakery in New York City that spoke to this resonance. “We named it, Mahalo New York Bakery,” Mike explained, “which means thank you New York for giving us this opportunity to open this bakery.”

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Featured Spotlight: Wine O Club’s Mark Fang

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Ahhh it’s that time of the year again!  As you may or may not know, I LOVE featuring some incredible founders / artists every summer. If you know anyone who would love to be featured, please contact me and I’ll be glad to share their story! It’s incredibly inspiring to hear what happens behind the creation of a particular product, company or store. For the next month, you’ll learn about 3 founders that I met who are incredible human beings with such a strong passion about what they do.

First, I’m thrilled to introduce Mark Fang, the witty and humble co-founder and teacher of the Wine O Club.  Co-founded with Jabin Kim, the two have created a club that customizes to people’s personal tastes and provides classes to teach the basics of identifying, tasting, and pairing wines.  It’s up to you what wines you get, when you get them, and how often. What makes this company stand out for me was that the 2-hour wine tasting session was classy without being pretentious and provided a really fun and comfortable way of learning the different kinds of wines and what to look and smell for.  If you think your sense of smell is strong, you may be surprised (I sure was!).

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So to find out a little more about the story behind this company, I was fortunate to have a one-on-one interview with Mark at Wine O Club’s new event space in an elegant but casual atmosphere in Midtown.   If only you can hear the chuckles and the sense of humor behind the scenes with him, but you’ll definitely know what I mean by that if you sign up for the class as Mark is often the teacher!
When you’re done, be sure to read below for a little surprise just for YOU!

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A Valentine Special

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Are you ready for a special treat?

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It has been a while since Lilspirations had a Featured Spotlight post! (In case you didn’t know, Featured Spotlight is when we shine the light on someone and readers can go behind the scenes to learn about the maker/owner!)  2015 was a good year where I had the incredible opportunity of meeting owners such as Solomon Choi (founder of 16 Handles), Tony Quach (founder of Snowdays), and makers like the talented Andrea Watson and Kristine Brookshire.  This time, I’m super excited to feature someone new to the business and having a really awesome purpose behind her work.  

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Got a Picky Eater at home?

Since this isn’t a mommy blog, I won’t have the answers for you.. But I know someone who will!  Parents of picky eating munchkins, this one’s for you! 

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I’m so excited on this February 1st to announce a Kickstarter project created by my close friend and mentor, Kendra Chao. Kendra is now the author of Read Them and Eat, fun interactive books that help children see food in a new and adventurous way.  Because her son Lucas, is a super picky eater, she created these books to help children enjoy eating their vegetables. Sometimes, the airplane trick doesn’t work and neither does bribing your kids. So why not turn eating into an activity that results in a finished plate?  It’s an awesome idea, and I know it’ll positively impact many people out there!

If you’re interested, through the Kickstarter website here, you can support her project (even $1 helps!) or get your own copy of Sally Strands and her Wacky Hairstyles and The Most Delicious Train Ride.  I’m quite excited to get my own copy to read to my niece! 

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Here’s Kendra and her son, Lucas! 

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 I hope you’ll support this wonderful project and really fun cause! The campaign will run until February 22nd!  xoxo 

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Featured Spotlight: 16 Handles Founder, Solomon Choi

Are you all ready for another featured spotlight?? This will be my last one for the summer and I am super honored to share this as this person really hits the spot when it comes to success. Not to mention he is someone who can easily inspire you to do ANYTHING your heart desires.

Recently, I had the opportunity of meeting founder of 16 Handles, Solomon Choi, at a friend’s birthday dinner. Sitting across from Solomon with good friends, I listened to his story about finding the frozen yogurt company and was inspired by his philosophy, his passion and drive to go beyond simply having a good product to sell.  I remember when he shared, “Be authentic. Stand for more than your product if you want to build a lifestyle brand.”  So I asked if he can share this story with Lilspirations and we enjoyed a nice interview and conversation over a frozen yogurt at one of his stores. For those of you who seek to be entrepreneurs, perhaps this may give you a little push and bring a smile as well!

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Featured Spotlight: Christina Seid

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Happy National Ice Cream Day! While I am away in the bustling city of Hong Kong right now, it doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten to celebrate this awesome day that gives all an excuse to eat ice cream till there’s no tomorrow! 🙂 In celebration of this day, I would love to introduce to you the owner of one of the top ice cream stores in New York City. Meet Christina Seid from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. She has a huge heart for the community and runs a blog that confirms her passion for giving back and for her business. Recently, she awarded three students from the Lower East Side prep high school with scholarships for contributing to the Lower East Side and Chinatown. “I have never been so moved by a graduation!” she explained.  While chatting over some condensed milk on toast and sipping tea at a local restaurant, Christina shared her story with me again about her store! Enjoy this read of a glimpse from our conversation!

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