Sushi of Gari’s Unexpectedly Whimsical and Wonderful Omakase

I like to plan my special nights out on the town. I research restaurants, read reviews, and select my meal ahead of time. I pick my outfit, eat nothing but miso soup the day of the dinner, and mentally prepare for an incredible night.

However, sometimes, a truly exceptional meal pops out of nowhere on girls night. When you just wander into a sushi restaurant with your favorite gal pal and end up not talking at all – a rarity on any night – because the food is so mind-blowing.

It might not be Nakazawa, but Sushi Gari is a celebratory, destination worthy meal for those who want a combination of excellent fish and total ingenuity.

20140529_202433 Toro with ginger and yam paste

What a start to a meal. I’m not used to such a fatty fish starting omakase, but then -I haven’t ever had an omakase like this. Buttery, lush toro topped with a zippy, piquant ginger paste. It’s fatty, savory, and tart – already, I was intrigued. 20140529_202705 Salmon with jalapeno and yuzu

I have had this at least a hundred times before, and yet I felt as though I had never tasted this combination before. After the toro, the salmon seems less fatty than usual and its oceanic flavors stand out. The bright, citrusy jalapenos cut through those deep flavors and the slightly warm vinegared sushi rice adds sweetness and a temperature contrast. It might just be the perfect bite. 20140529_202933Miso marinated cod

Not since the creme brulee has a blowtorch been used to such satisfying effect. The cod is just like miso marinated cod – sweet, salty, and irresistible – but with the added addition of pleasantly charred, crunchy bits from the blowtorch. It isn’t swimming in sauce, it’s just accented by the miso taste. If you like miso cod OR sushi, this dish will make you sit up and take notice.
20140529_203154 White fish with crispy lotus root, arugula, and basil oil

WHOA! Here is where the innovative part of the night really starts. Tradition has no place in the meal from here on out. The whitefish is sliced so thinly that it is translucent – slippery and very mild. It’s topped with crispy, salty lotus root that is like adding a potato chip to a sandwich  -ie, brilliant. The garlicky basil oil is warm and somehow accents the fish’s mild taste instead of covering it. 20140529_203501 Tuna with pureed tofu and chili oil

Once again, the chefs pair incredibly flavorful ingredients with mild ones to a surprisingly complementary effect. The tuna is tender but not too soft. The soft component is the tofu, which is so light and creamy that it tastes like it must be full fat yogurt. The chili oil is applied sparingly is intensely spicy – just a drizzle picks up the sweet flavor of the tofu and the meaty texture of the fish. Yes, yes, yes to this.

20140529_204041 Fried white fish with green tea salt

I mean, what?! This is fish and chips, Japanese style. Fish encased in such a light, puffy batter that it seems as though it might float away on a cloud. It has a fragrant, herbal green tea salt on top that acts as the vinegar of this fish and chips. It sits on the warm, sticky rice and wow…the crispy, flaky texture just works. 20140529_204950Salmon with tomato, onion, and pepper

Um yeah, this is a showstopper. It’s Gari’s signature piece of sushi and I see why.  I can safely say that I have never before eaten a piece of sushi like this. The salmon is flame torched and then the skin is removed. It is laid hot on the salmon with savory sautéed onions and freshly cracked black pepper. It seems so weird, but I’m telling you..it works. It’s savory, it’s salty, it’s meaty, it’s soft, it’s tart, and it’s just a little bit spicy. This isn’t an overly fishy piece of sushi and I can’t think of ANYONE who wouldn’t love this.

I didn’t even photograph the fantastically fatty toro or the sweet salmon sashimi. I didn’t even comment on the engaging and delightful sushi chefs who talked and chatted with us at the sushi bar as if we were the only patrons at the restaurant. This is an expensive meal, but it’s a worthy splurge. Special occasion – head here!

Dan Tempura House – a Perfect Date with Myself

There is something to be said for the solo lunch. A break from work, only an hour from when you leave the desk to when you are back. A day when you can’t look at a computer screen for even one second longer. An afternoon when you have a wonderful novel or a terrible magazine. A moment by yourself where you don’t need to eat the best food for it to be…perfect. 20140328_122741 Dan Tempura House isn’t ever busy, especially at lunch time. That’s perfect for the solo diner. No one to look at you with pity while you pore over the latest issue of New York Magazine or Young Adult novel, thinking “what a sad soul who must eat lunch alone.” All you want to yell to those people is “are you kidding me?! This is better than therapy! Those silent monks don’t know what they are missing! THIS is the way to achieve ultimate happiness!!”20140328_122750 Low sodium soy sauce, an unpictured Diet Coke, and a date with myself. Perfect. 20140328_122948 Ginger-miso salad

The same all over town. Fresh lettuce and taught tomatoes served with ample dressing that isn’t the water stuff found at some places. It’s thick and pleasantly pulpy with spicy ginger.

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Miso soup

The standard stuff you make at home – salty, warm and savory, filled with slippery tofu and a few scallions. Filling and exactly as expected.

20140328_123619 (1)Spicy tuna roll with avocado and asparagus

This is barely sushi. The rolls are huge and sloppy with rice that is too warm and borders on mushy. But the tuna is very fresh and very spicy. It’s minced with Japanese mayo and chili sauce until it is soft and creamy. The asparagus is crunchy and grassy and the avocado is buttery. It’s fresh and plentiful. It’s possibly the worst fresh sushi I have ever had. And yet…it’s perfect for a solo meal. It’s trashy. It’s delicious. It’s what I want to eat with no one to judge me.

It’s a cheaply priced lunch special. It’s always efficient, properly performed service.

And it goes so well with People magazine.

It doesn’t go so well with other actual people.

It’s a lovely date with yourself.

Another Look at Koi

While reviewing  the Trump SoHo, I realized that I have been back to Koi uptown multiple times but had not re-reviewd it for years.

Let’s take another quick look, shall we?

20140325_174251Spicy tuna on crispy rice

This never fails me. The rice is always crispy without and chewy within, with soft, fatty tuna atop. It’s pleasantly salty and a little buttery from the tuna. The kicker is that crisp, cold jalapeno that is mild at first with a heat that creeps up on you. Consistent and magnificent.
20140325_174756Spicy and creamy shrimp tempura

So much better than Lure’s that it blows my mind. Tender, clean tasting shrimp in a crackling, thin coating and a sauce that is part hot sauce, part sweet Kewpie mayonnaise, and part crack cocaine. It’s really that good. Piping hot and a large portion. This is enough for a main meal for any appetite. It’s also a great way to get non-seafood eaters to eat shellfish. It’s crispy, mild, and covered in hot sauce…what other endorsements do you need?
20140325_175400Shrimp chili roll

This is just damned good fusion sushi. It ain’t Nakazawa, but then, nothing is. This shrimp is wonderfully fresh and free of any off, iodine-y taste. It’s sweet and snappy atop the crispy shrimp tempura and creamy avocado roll. The sweet chili sauce is a tangy, zippy accompaniment that does nothing for its authenticity but loads for its flavor.
20140325_185125Rice pudding brulee

Why didn’t I think of this? Sweet, rich coconut milk rice pudding under a sweet, thin sheath of crunchy sugar. Um, ideal.

This restaurant is a winner. Yeah, it’s overpriced, but it’s chic, it’s delicious, and it’s reliable. It’s a great gals night or out-of-towners rendezvous and that crispy spicy tuna is the best in the city.

So glad I took it for another spin around the blog.

Sushi Nakazawa – A Transportive Experience

I talk a big game, but a lot of times – dinner is just dinner. My family is hungry and so we go out for Korean or order in pizza or I make a quick quesadilla with some fresh guacamole. We eat, we chat and laugh, and then the meal is over – we really don’t think about it beyond that.

However, every now and then, when all the stars align perfectly, I eat a dinner that is more than a meal. It’s a total experience. It’s transportive, it’s intoxicating, and it’s something that I think about for days and months to come. Occasionally, it even changes my life.

Such was my dinner at Sushi Nakazawa.

This restaurant, given four stars by Pete Wells, is the hottest restaurant to hit New York in ages. It makes NoMad look like a positive sleeper hit, that’s how hard it is to get a seat. I logged onto the website for days at exactly 12:01 am, trying to get a seat at the sushi bar, only to fail again and again. It’s easier to get a seat in the dining room, but that’s not where you want to be. You really want to be at one of those 10 seats at the sushi bar, where you get your fish mere moments after the chefs prepare it. I happened to get the seat from the kindness of a stranger on an internet forum who wanted to make my fiance’s birthday a special one. That’s right – I posted for help on an internet forum and someone actually gave me his reservation. I can’t imagine anything more kind and unselfish. HM, you are a gentleman and a scholar. I hope that I can one day repay your kindness.

Now, onto the main event.

You might recognize the head chef, Nakazawa-san from Jiro Dreams of Sushi. He is the apprentice who worked for years to make the perfect omelette,a dn when he finally made one fit to his master’s approval, he cried from frustration, joy, and gratitude. It is one of the film’s most moving parts. He is just as sweet and focused in person – not overly chatty, but if you speak a little of your rudimentary Japanese with him, he is so gracious and overjoyed at your efforts that you may feel like you just served him dinner instead of vice versa.

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Much is made of the $40 sake pairing, but take my advice and go up a level for the $80 version. It is filled with so many delicious sakes that are both tasty on their own and paired ideally with the flights of fish. One is effervescent and bubbly, the next tastes oddly medicinal until it is eaten with the aged mackerel – then it becomes woodsy and cinnamon-y. It’s truly an excellent parings with a sommelier who is helpful and knowledgeable without being a know-it-all or overly chatty. In fact, when I mentioned that I liked nigori sake, he changed the entire sushi bar’s pairing to make sure that everyone could try this creamy, coconut-y type of unfiltered sake.

Once you are seated at the sushi bar, take in the serene black and white surroundings and relax into the  comfortable padded chair.

It’s going to be a long and luxurious night.



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Salmon from Hokkaido

The first bite of the evening – the bite that made my fiance look like he had never before used his taste buds. As his lips closed around the soft salmon and the chewy, slightly warm rice, his eyelids fluttered and he had a strange look on his face.

Oh great, I have created a giant sushi snob.

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Hay smoked salmon from Hokkaido 

The same soft texture with a slightly earthier, smoky taste.

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Scallop with yuzu and sake sauce

Buttery but clean. The yuzu is slightly spicy, with a heat that keeps deceloping long afte the bite is gone.

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Giant clam seared with soy

The only misstep of the night, and not because it isn’t repreared ideally  -it is! But I do not like the crunchy texture of these large, slightly tough clams.

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Black fin sea bas from Nakasaki with daikon

Mild and clean with a light snap from the daikon

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Golden Eye snapper from Japan

One of my favorites of the night – like a less fishy albacore with the buttery texture of maguro and the light taste of white fish.

photo 3 (11)Spotted knife jaw

Sorry for the lack of notes here…I’m blaming those generous pours of sake.

photo 4 (12)Horse Mackerel

photo 1 (15)Kohara (Shad)

A strong tasting fish – ideal for someone who loves briny, deep, metallic flavors. Notice how it is scored so it is the ideal texture.

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Mackerel, aged 7 days with Japanese mustard

One of the best pieces of this fish that I have ever had. It’s scored so that it is tender, and though it has an oceanic taste it isn’t at all fishy. The Japanese mustard clears your nasal passages and wipes away any muddy residue. Beyond sensational. Worth the ticket price for this piece of fish alone.

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Florida shrimp

Seconds before I ate this, it scampered across the counter in front of me. Then, deftly and without gore, Nagasawa-san and his sous -chefs deftly killed and cleaned the shrimp, ensuring that the taste was soft and sweet.

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Madagascar Prawns

The best tasting shrimp in the world is Madagascar shrimp. The sweetest, the lightest, the most tender. This is the way that all shrimp should taste.

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Yellowtail, aged 10 days

The ageing process is what is most interesting at Nagasawa. I always thought that the best fish was the freshest fish – that isn’t necessarily so! The best fish is sometimes the fish that has been cured, that has had time to develop its flavors and become tender. That’s certainly the case with this yellowtail, which taste deeper and fuller than its unaged counterparts.

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Bonito

Tuna. Good.

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Medium fatty tuna with spicy mustard

Slightly fattier tuna, with some of that spicy mustard to cut through its rich taste. Very good.

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Toro

Exquisite. My fiance’s favorite taste of the night. Simple – fish so fatty that it literally melts upon the heat of your tongue. Served on slightly vinegared rice. No marinades, no garnishes. Just the perfect fatty, clean, singular bite.

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Santa Barbara Uni

The queen of uni. Creamy, soft, with the mineral-y taste of foie gras. Balanced between toasty nori and the bite of the rice.

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Ikura from Japan

Briny little jewels that pop in your mouth and release the taste of the ocean. Not too fishy, with the signature tense, hard bubble that means it’s fresh.

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Anago from Japan

Not quite up to the level of Yasuda, but wonderful all the same. Meaty and rich, with just enough sweet sauce to emphasize its buttery texture and taste.

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Tamago

Perhaps the world’s most famous omelette. Fluffy and very sweet. I have heard that here are yams in here, along with shrimp…who knows? This is the best dessert on the planet – bread putting or egg custard in a fluffy slab. Ask for seconds and you will get it served on some of the expertly made rice. You can taste Nakazawa-san’s blood, sweat, and tears in this omelette. It is a revelation.

This meal is so expensive. It is hard to get a reservation and the dessert is just a sorbet. But its the best meal I have had in oh so long. It made me thing of focus, of passion, of how hard my parents worked to give me the life that I now enjoy. It made me think of my dreams and of how to achieve them. It made me think of how food is not just for filling the belly, it’s for filling the soul.

Oh, and how did it change my life?

Well, the old ball-and-chain and I are currently talking about our first trip to Japan together.

A totally life altering meal. 

Totto Ramen – Reasonably Priced and Pork-a-licious

Originally published here

Here is an article I wrote several years ago that I never shared here. I thought I would because I went back recently and the food is still fantastic. And I didn’t eat much this weekend because I had a horrific case of food poisoning (no barf, just facial hives…are you jealous?). So, this is about all I have to share.

So, here ya go!

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Ramen has long been the dish of starving students. That Styrofoam cup, filled up to the line with boiling water. The strange way that the dehydrated orange and green bits became vegetable-like substances. The uncanny aftertaste of chicken, no matter WHAT flavor you get. Aah yes..this is the ramen we all know and love. Because, besides being filling, it is incredibly cheap.

But, when you dine out for ramen, things can get tricky. Gone are the freeze dried veggies and brick of noodles, and in their place, artisanal cuts of pork and long-simmered stocks. With these additions, the price of ramen in restaurants quickly adds up, and it’s not uncommon for a bill to be over $20 for one person.

Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case.

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 Totto Ramen, in Midtown West, offers a menu with options for those trying to save a few bucks. The secret is to come with a friend.

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Be prepared to wait if you get there at prime dining hours. The cash-only restaurant seats only 25, and does not seat parties larger than four. Just put your name on the list and wait outside.

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The best way to go here is to split a specialty ramen and and a side dish. Though you could each order a ramen , that would end up costing more for less. If you do it right, you can be eating restaurant-quality ramen on an instant ramen budget. Let me explain:

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A plain or spicy bowl of ramen costs $9.

The mammoth bowl includes flavorful chicken stock laden with chewy noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, a melting slice of nutty nori and 2 slices of BBQ pork.

OR…

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You can spend $15 and get the meaty ramen.

This includes the same gelatinous stock, homemade noodles and toppings, but throws in what must be an entire pig’s worth of meat. Charbroiled, meaty BBQ pork, tender braised pork shank, pork belly with a layer of fat an inch thick, and probably a few more cuts hidden there in the depths of the cloudy chicken broth.

The insane amount of pork is not overkill, because instead of the pork broth that restaurants so often use, Totto Ramen uses chicken broth. This balances the heavy, porky taste with the restorative and relatively light taste of your grandma’s chicken stock.

The huge bowl of noodles and pork is easily enough for two people when you factor in an inexpensive side dish.

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Try the potato salad, classically Japanese, with its mashed potato texture, sweet Kewpie mayonnaise and use of corn. Or, try the avo tuna, which pairs torched sashimi with velvety slices of avocado and a citrusy, garlicky dressing. If you are really a glutton, you could even go for the char siu mayo don, which layers that spectacularly juicy and charred pork over tart yuzu mayonnaise and sticky white rice. Add any of these onto your already filling meal, and you are looking at a meal clocking in at $19.50 for two people. And when I say a meal…I mean a banquet. If you and your dining partner are hungry after this meal, I will PERSONALLY buy you your next one. And have you immediately checked for tapeworms.

Morimoto – Sensational the Second Time Around

I haven’t been to Morimoto in years. When I went back recently, I almost wept.

How much time I have wasted! How quickly I forgot how delicious the food is!

For a quick description of the ultra modern, dreamy interior, check out my previous review.

And yes, have a laugh at my expense…if I’m not a great blogger now, I was an ABYSMAL one then!

Now, onto the good stuff!

IMG950637Morimotini with wasabi vodka and cucumbers

A drink worth mentioning. Not too spicy, but with a very slight nasal-clearing aroma that comes off as clean and crisp. It’s almost like a salad – it is light, fresh, and really stimulates the appetite. The alcoholic tang is really tempered by that slight wasabi kick.  It’s easy to drink this too quickly…be careful with this one!

IMG950638Yuburatta with black truffles and dashi

This delightful play on burrata is actually better than it even sounds. Homemade creamy, smooth ricotta is wrapped in tissue thin yuba skin. When you break it, it indeed resembles burrata both in texture and rich taste. It’s soaked in a salty, savory dashi broth and topped with truffle shavings. Spread on chargrilled sourdough bread, it is UMAMI (in capital letters). It’s so intensely savory from the broth – it really enlivens the cheese and helps the milky, clean flavors shine true. And those truffles almost take it over the top but not quite – it takes the flavors right to the brink of being overpowering without overstepping its bounds. This is a must order.
IMG950639Yosedofu

Some tableside magic that should make Benihana hang its  head in shame.

Did I just really mention Benihana in the same post as one on Morimoto? I really am FRITOS and foie.

Imagine a 140F bowl brought to your table, filled with soy milk. Imagine a server pouring a few ingredients in there, stirring it, then leaving it in the center of the table with strict instructions to leave it alone. Touch it at the risk of losing a layer of skin and being rebuked by your server.

When the server returns…
IMG950640The soymilk has transformed into silken tofu! It is cut with a spoon and served with a mushroom broth, dashi soy, and crisped rice.
IMG950642 Transportive. Very light but intricate in flavor and texture. Soft, crispy, silken, meaty…the mushrooms provide heft and earthiness and the pops of crisped rice are unexpected and fun. That tofu is otherworldly. It’s soft but not mushy, with a cloudlike mouthfeel. The broth is very full bodied – meaty, somehow, and savory but not at all heavy or muddy. It’s a clear, clean midcourse…and it beats the hell out of sorbet as a palate cleanser!IMG950643 Miso glazed bone marrow with ikura and chimichurri

The standout dish of the night. In fact, a destination worthy dish. This is unbelievable – by FAR the best marrow that I have eaten in a restaurant ever. Sorry, Ai Fiori. You have officially been displaced. This shows me what marrow can become when it surrounds itself with good influences. The marrow is unctuous and smooth but not totally liquid – it spreads like liquid gold on the thick bread. It is laquered with garlicky, herby chimichurri and salty, briny pops of sake cured salmon roe. It’s a little spicy from the miso glaze, a little floral from the chimichurri, and soft and decadent all on its own. Creamy, zesty, garlicky, and salty…it’s indulgent and it’s perfect to share. It would be far to decadent to enjoy alone but as part of a suite of shared dishes…it’s unbeatable. IMG950644Foie gras and eel with Meyer lemon gelee and Asian pear

Decadent and rich. Well seared foie with a crunchy exterior and a still pink, soft interior. The bbq eel is sweet and fatty – it really doesn’t taste fishy – it’s the prime rib of the seafood world. However, next to the foie, it does taste brinier and actually leaner. Of course, next to foie, anything seems like a diet food. The teriyaki glaze is sweet, the Meyer lemon gelle is sour, and the entire dish – minus the sour Asian pears – is unique and delicious.

There were no missteps in this meal – not one. From the excellent service to the hip but welcoming decor to the truly memorable food, it is a night out to remember. Who cares if it’s old hat by now? Who cares if the sushi isn’t the main draw? What matters it that the food – especially that bone marrow – is not only commendable but destination worthy. It isn’t a cheap night, but it is well, well worth the money.

Even the second time around.

BassaNova Ramen Shows Chinatown Who’s Boss

When I go to Chinatown, it’s not because i am in the mood for fine French food.

Hell, I’m not even in the mood for fine Chinese food.

I want down home, familiar, had-it-a-million-times-before Chinese food. The sweet, sticky char siu bao. The soft, slippery dan-dan noodles. the dumplings with crisp wrappers and juicy fillings.

I really don’t go there for ramen. And neither does anyone else. Other than a random bodega, you aren’t likely to find much besides Chinese food in Chinatown.

So imagine my shock when I came across a ramen joint in Chinatown.

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BassaNova Ramen is a basement level restaurant and it’s very modern. All white, impeccably clean, and minimalist. It’s just a place to stop in with family or a friend – not a good date spot. It is so totally different from all of the bustling dim sum palaces that I couldn’t help but be curious.

Of course, if I had read The Bible, I would have known…this palce is a Tokyo export known for its super rich, porky Tondaku Ramen. So, obviously…that’s what I got:

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Tondaku Ramen

Not for the faint of heart. This broth is almost gelatinous. It’s very rich and nutty, with the unmistakable tastes of pork and sesame. The flavor isn’t overly salty but the real standout here is the texture. It is almost a broth you can chew – does that make sense? It’s so full bodied and silky that it is actually filling on its own. Days later, I still remember it and can’t get the memory of the texture out of my mind. It’s so comforting and at the same time, new and exciting. I can’t recommend the broth enough.

The noodles are also excellent. Thin and very bouncy/springy. They really soak up all of the flavor from the nutty nori, the sweet toasted garlic, and the soft wood ear fungus – don’t be scared, it has the texture of bamboo shoots and is really tasteless.

And the pork. That PORK! How I wish I had gotten the full portion instead of the lunchtime one so I could have had another slice of two of that wonderful pork. It’s so soft that it really does melt in your mouth – sorry to use that expression, but how else can I describe what is essentially meat butter? The edges still manage to be charred and a little smoky, in contrast to the silky, lush meat.

This ramen rocks. 

And it’s a good thing, too, because this ois one of only a few items on the menu. It’s a really minimalist place - they don’t even serve Coke!

But they don’t need to. The staff is excellent, the price is right (bring cash for your cheap, delicious lunch), and the food is really great. It doesn’t have the signature kick of most ramen, and the noodles are a little thinner, but wow…it’s so complex. It’s so different. It’s so great.

Because even I occasionally need a break from dim sum.

Your Friday Lunch Plans!

Before I head out of town for the weekend, I thought I would leave you with a few ideas for lunch today…

why not…

IMG_20131001_201332_324Hit up Madison Square Eats for its final day

Try any of my favorite dishes , including this ramen from Hong Kong Noodle Cart. It’s made with fresh artisanal noodles and served with a nicely medium boiled egg with a fluorescent yolk. The garlicky broth is punchy without being too strong and the other flavors of the broth – the ginger, the pepper, and the hearty beef-  just sing. The beef itself is tender and juicy, and the spinach in the bowl really fleshes out the dish. The noodles are bouncy and totally addictive – I finished this bowl no problem, even though it was huge and I was overstuffed. 

TWSS.

IMG_20131009_135254_885Trek to the UWS for Amber’s great lunch deal

I love great sushi. I mean the really good stuff that costs as much as a small car and should take many hours to eat, each piece placed lovingly on a mother-of-pearl dish by a sushi chef related to Jiro. 

BUT…

For those occasions when neither money nor time will allow for such delights, I head to Amber. This Buddakan design knockoff  offers extremely fresh sushi made right in front of your eyes at the sushi bar, or you can sit at a table if you prefer. If you order the lunch special, for about $10, you get miso soup (bad), ginger-dressed salad(with pine nuts and raisins – surprisingly good!), and your choice of 2 sushi rolls. The spicy tuna might be totally trashy but hey, so am I – it’s fresh and well spiced, with excellent texture and slightly warm, vinegared rice. The salmon is also excellent – firm and mild, with no fishy aftertaste or tough texture. It’s absolutely one of my favorite well priced sushi restaurants! 

IMG_20131022_120013_746Check out Michel Richard’s new fast-service restaurant Pomme Palais

Disclaimer – I work with Michel Richard. But honestly…the food at Pomme Palais is good. Really good. It’s sandwiches, soups, and salads done gourmet and to go. The croque monsieur is cheesy and creamy and super awesome. The turkey, cheese, and spinach crepe is what quesadillas always want to be – sophisticated and filling without being a total gut bomb. And the lemon egg-ceptional is easily the best dessert in Midtown East – sorry, Buttercup, you have been replaced. It’s a lemony, light mousse inside a creamy white chocolate shell, atop a crispy kataifi nest. It’s so textually interesting and playful – it really captures Chef Michel’s whimsy. Pomme is on the pricier side, so I would really recommend this mostly if you need a quick business lunch or if you can put it on the company card, but please try that lemon egg-ceptional on your own dime – I have!

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Abiyura Kinnosuke – Lost inTranslation in Midtown

If you wander by an unmarked door in Midtown East, please just pass by.

Don’t listen to the loud pop music playing, and ignore the fabric door waving in the wind. Just walk on by it.

pix 005Please don’t walk into this tiny, bustling, dark restaurant filed with small private rooms and booths with partitions separating the tables. Please ignore the fact that almost everyone here, from patron to server to chef is Japanese, and ignore the wonderful warm towels that are offered to you, a truly Japanese touch.

pix 008Blackened Edamame

Don’t get these edamame, which are so unique that they made me gasp with delight. Smoky and blistered in spots, with a really nutty, roasted flavor inside. They are unlike any edamame I have ever eaten and I really want to recreate them at home.
pix 010Berkshire pork belly

You should definitely skip this pork belly. Served in an almost embarrassingly large portion, it is all tender meat, crispy fat, and luscious, melting texture. Shellacked in a salty, umami miso sauce and topped with sharp greens caillions, it covers all the tenets of flavor. Fresh and deep and warm and soft…it is unmissable.
pix 011Stewed beef and potatoes

This ain’t your grand-mere’s beef stew. Thin, gyudon style beef in a light, consomme like broth with sweet carrots and flavor-saturated russet potatoes. Very light but intensely beefy, too. The vegetables are tender and vibrant with sweet, earthy flavors that compliment the rich meatiness.
pix 012Chicken thigh

A dish with a name this simple couldn’t possibly be special. It couldn’t have the chicken arriving on a cast iron plate, still sizzling, so you can finish searing the barely translucent flesh yourself. It couldn’t have the smokiest, crispest skin on the planet. It won’t come with a fresh wasabi sauce that is spicy, verdant, and perfectly lip searing in all its shiny jade glory. You probably won’t fight over the last pieces with your girlfriend.

And if she ends up winning, I’m sure you won’t passive aggressively moan of hunger until the end of the meal. 
pix 014
Mushroom rice

This rice won’t be memorable. It’ won’t be perfectly cooked, with each grain the ideal mixture between fluffy and sticky, studded with woodsy, tender, meaty mushrooms. It definitely won’t round out the meal well.

I mean, if you do go here, the meal definitely won’t be worth it. It won’t be a fair price for the amount and quality of food. It’ won’t be a perfect place for a date. It won’t have wonderful service and you definitely won’t feel like you are in Japan for a few hours. You won’t enjoy yourself so much that you almost cry when you leave.

You definitely won’t want to go to Aburiya Kinnosuke.

And if you do…keep it a secret.

Because it’s my new favorite restaurant and I want to be sure that I can always get a reservation.

Aburiya Kinnosuke on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Noodle Bar – Unique Ramen and Rockin Buns

It’s hard to have a restaurant in NYC that is cool and relevant for even a minute. If you have one for years? Along with an ever expanding empire, a name in the media, and a highly acclaimed magazine? Well then, you are probably David Chang. The man behind the Momofuku has several restaurants, all of which are still so cool that you will have to wait a minimum of 25 minutes, no matter what time of day you walk in. Don’t expect his restaurants to be traditional, but do expect them to be delicious and very inventive.

Case in point: Momofuku Noodle Bar.

This long, light East Village restaurant is always packed, but the tables turn quickly. Expect to be jostled as you wait for your seat (don’t forget to put in your name with the host), and then consider yourself lucky if you get a booth. Most of us are sat at a long, high communal table with stools without backs. Just FYI.

Brisket buns with horseradish mayo, pickled red onions, cucumber, and lettuce

Having already tried the famous pork buns, I went with the brisket buns this time. Wow. Really, really awesome. Very tender brisket, with a melting layer of fat, smoky as if it was on the BBQ, but soft as if it were cooked the Jewish way. Layered on a soft, sticky bun with cool veggies and creamy, hot horseradish mayo, this really hits the spot. It also prepares you for the rest of the meal – not traditional, not totally Korean OR Japanese OR anything else…just totally Chang. 

Chilled spicy noodles with sichuan sausage, spinach,a nd candied cashews

Stop the presses. This may be my new favorite noodle dish in NYC. 

The noodles are incredibly springy and al dente, with just enough give to absorb the mouth numbing, lip tingling, nose running house made chili oil. The sausage is hot and juicy, filled with Sichuan spices that are warming and aromatic. The spinach soaks up more of that delicious chili oil and even the cashews – not my favorite nut – were a welcome crunchy, sweet note. The portion is extremely generous and the flavor is well balanced. I really can’t say enough about it.

Mint Chocolate Cake Truffles

Not my favorite cake truffles, as they are a bit aggressive in the mint department, but still tasty enough to gobble down whole.

A lunch here will cost you about $20, but I am shocked to say that it’s worth it. The ingredients are high end, the food is really unexpected, and it is so tasty. I am craving those noodles as I write this and can’t think of another ramen in town that is more unique or better balanced in terms of flavor. Add to that excellent, fast service, and you have a restaurant that will absolutely last the test of time.

Actually, it already has.