Skip to content

International Intrigue: Yo! Sushi

yo sushi beltI don’t generally get excited about U.K. imports that interpret Asian cuisine. I still haven’t been to Wagamama, though I do frequent Wasabi at least once a week because it’s a block from my office and they have passable ready-made poke bowls–and just added bizarrely flavored popcorn to their repertoire. (This routine made me recently think about lifestyle creep. When I started my job–jesus, ten years ago–I wouldn’t spend more than $5 on lunch and now don’t blink at $12. I’m still too cheap to spend that daily, though. I only go to the office two to three times per week so it’s justifiable.)

yo sushi menu

But Yo! Sushi? I can stand a little novelty. Conveyor belt sushi has never really thrived in NYC and, sure, it’s not the highest quality or the best value in the city. You could do worse, though, for entertainment while dining, and you’re not restricted to what whizzes past you. You can order both sushi and non-sushi items from the menu.

yo sushi collage

When I first showed up at 6pm, there were only a few plates passing by but by 6:30pm the rotating display was much fuller. Seven plate colors dictate prices: from a $3.50 green to an $8 yellow. I think I spent around $35 with a cup sake and a few beers but I by no means consumed a lot of food. There were some shrimp tempura rolls in there, off-belt scallop nigiri, tuna carpaccio, all shared.

yo sushi fruit salad

 

You could pay $4.50 for fruit salad, if you’re that kind of monster.

Despite this branch being touted as the first US location, that’s completely untrue. Just like Uniqlo when it first came to America, Yo! Sushi originally tested the waters in a few New Jersey malls and then shuttered so quietly no one seemed to notice it coming or going. There are now also locations in Boston, Sarasota, Florida, and at Westbury Commons. 

Yo! Sushi * 23 W. 23rd St., New York, NY

 

International Intrigue: BB.Q Chicken

bbq chicken facade

It was over a decade ago that BonChon first showed up in NYC and made a splash with the novel concept of Korean fried chicken. With Kyedong (now Kono), Kyochon, Turntable, and Unidentified Flying Chicken, among others, it’s different landscape now.

bbq chicken downstairs

In Manhattan’s Koreatown, Kyochon fizzled a few months ago and a flashy bi-level flagship BB.Q Chicken might be here to reclaim Korean fried chicken’s former glory. (There were two previous incarnations in Manhattan and still one in Flushing, I think.) Despite the unremarkable name (it stands for Best of the Best Quality) the word has traveled fast. Early on a Friday night, a line started forming for the subterranean table service space and wound up the stairs.

bbq chicken

I tried a sampler of the four primary styles. The simplest version, maybe the calling card, is fried in olive oil and supposedly is the product of a two-day marinating and coating process. It’s very good, juicy, super crisp (rice flour is no joke) and just the right batter to meat ratio. A honey glazed version was like candy, which I loved, though people who don’t like monte cristo sandwiches, bisteeya, or just Chinese-American sweet and sour nuggets should steer clear. Gang-jeong was lightly sweet, garlicky, and spicy, and similar to the non-hot style at BonChon.

I was actually impressed with the “cheesling” style (top right) first for cute name and novelty (mascarpone and cheddar?), but then for flavor. It was totally like cheese popcorn, maybe specifically Smartfood, but meaty. I like the modern Korean taste for adding cheese where it doesn’t belong. The first sit-down thing I ate in Seoul were kimchi fries and there are similar snacky dishes on this menu like bulgogi nachos and cheese fries. 

bbq chicken upstairs

Counter service and to-go are on the main floor. (There was a suspicious lack of cheesling on the shelves). There were an impressive range of alcoholic beverages like canned Pampelonne rosé lime wine and a handful of German beers in addition to the OB, Hite, and fruity shoju. 

bbq chicken uni

Chicken University!

BB.Q Chicken * 25 W. 32nd St., New York, NY

 

Chains of Love: Claim Jumper

claim jumper facade

Similar to Cheddar’s or  Souplantation, Claim Jumper has always struck me as a not terribly appetizing name for a restaurant. Prospectors, floppy hats, droopy mustaches, pick axes in hand, don’t make me think of steak or whatever it is that they serve there. And after finally dining at a Claim Jumper, I’m still not sure what to make of it.

claim jumper room

 

I loved it less than I thought I might. (As opposed to the P.F. Chang’s which I’m not blogging about but enjoyed–it will shock you that I don’t post everything here–in the upscale, outdoor shopping center practically across the street.) I assumed it was akin to Cheesecake Factory, something for everyone, kind of bananas decor, but the menu is far smaller in contrast to the enormous dining area that reads like three different ski lodges cobbled together. Nothing on the pricier-than-expected menu (not much under $14.99 and many of the steaks and seafood were over $25) made me excited about ordering.

claim jumper pretzel

Soft pretzels a.k.a pub pretzel, are just a vehicle for cheese sauce. The appetizers were all buffalo wings, mozzarella sticks, artichoke dip with no twists at all. It was like they weren’t even trying. TGIFriday’s, just to use one example, adds asiago to its mozzarella sticks, panko-coats its chicken fingers, and makes its soft pretzels seem more special through adjectives. Witness “craft beer cheese dipping sauce” with “crispy applewood-smoked bacon.” Maybe I should appreciate Claim Jumper’s confidence and simplicity.

claim jumper salad

 

Cobb salad might’ve been a vehicle for the only vegetables I ate in my nearly two weeks. I topped it with semi-tough beef tips for an $18.99 salad, which is more than touristy midtown pubs charge (I’m a mild connoisseur of pub steak salads).  I actually took leftovers home despite salads always being gross later, and the tiny house where I was staying did not have a refrigerator yet. I just gnawed on the cold meat the next morning.

Claim Jumper * 18000 SW Lower Boones Ferry Rd., Tualatin, OR

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Two Meals in Astoria (Oregon not Queens)

buoy window

Buoy Beer Company Everyone, if they even know what Astoria, Oregon is, says to go to the Goonie house but I don’t really give a shit about Goonies. It’s a weirdly millennial folly despite the movie coming out in 1985. I mean, there was an entire big spread a few summers back in Lucky Peach devoted to Goonies (which doesn’t appear to be online and it’s just as well because my links might be dead sooner rather than later). I was really more impressed by the seal, ship, and rainbow I captured through the window while sitting inside Buoy Beer Company.

buoy 6

I lucked out because it was stout month and that’s my scene, not the IPAs plaguing the Pacific Northwest. And the food was surprisingly (not sure why I was surprised) good. I had an oyster pot pie, filled with super plump oysters, local, of course, with maybe the best side salad (pickled vegetables, asparagus spears, homemade croutons and dressing, a scattering of seeds) I’ve ever encountered. The Oregon pink shrimp cheesey bread was totally overkill but delicious, nonetheless.

humps

Fort George Brewery Astoria was meant to be a day trip since it’s only an hour-and-a-half up Route 30 from Scappoose where I saw a second branch of Itxtapa, a bar/restaurant called Hump’s, and a long-closed dilapidated near-shack called Myong’s Seoul Food, surprising since I can’t imagine any Koreans living in this part of Oregon, but I got a motel for like $60 and decided to stay overnight.

fort george fish

Dinner was tricky because after dark, in winter, on Monday, the town was ghosty, the only people on the street were shouty doorway-sleepers. I wanted to go to Albatross & Co. (dungeness crab deviled eggs, oyster chowder poutine, craft cocktails, blah blah) but it wasn’t open.  It’s not that weird to eat at two different brewpubs for two meals on the same day in Oregon. I really wanted the steak frites with blue cheese sauce, which my companion ordered, but settled for a smoked fish plate teeming with salmon, trout, pickled herring. Also smoked hazelnuts/filberts (I’m trying to bring back the latter usage). Yes, we could’ve shared.

astoria video store

Astoria, set where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, is hard to pin down. Like most Oregon Coast towns it’s a bit rough and tumble but there are cutesier elements creeping in. There was just not a video store still in business downtown, but also a JCPenney and Sears in 1940s (just guessing the era) storefronts, which I didn’t get to take photos of before the sun set. But also a vintage hardware shop, a hair salon called Hygge, and a modern, faux old-timey butcher, which I have a hard time imaging enough clientele to sustain it. I swear my grandma worked at a Kenny Roger’s Roasters in Astoria in the ’90s, but maybe that was Seaside since I never ever visited her in Astoria, and now that I say that, it seems mildly absurd like something fleeting that occurred in a dream and decades later it seems like a fact. Maybe I’ll ask her about it.

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Two Meals in Eugene

mame duo

Mame It took the longest time to realize this restaurant was pronounced mah-may not like mame as in Auntie. Sushi in Eugene is something I never thought I’d care to experience but I told my sister I would take her and her husband out for her birthday and she chose this place, which requires reservations weeks in advance, not typical of this town, because Mame is tiny but also because it has a good reputation.

The sushi was very good, a mix of traditional and creative. I didn’t parse it. We were just drinking a well-priced Honjozo sake and having a good time. (The server animatedly described every single bottle on the menu. This would be weird in NYC–or I suppose, Tokyo–but she was just excited about the list she’d put together.) Omakase starts at a bargain rate $20 so I went wild and asked for $40 per person.  The top photo illustrates what was presented for three. My fear was that Mame wasn’t the best idea for my sister’s vegetarian husband (both former vegans) was unfounded. Duh, it’s Eugene. He was presented with tons of vegetarian sushi, a noodle dish, followed by hand rolls that he couldn’t finish, and we were only charged $30 because the chef (I think the partner of the server) didn’t think the ingredients merited $40. The dinner was capped off with a free red bean cheesecake for the birthday girl.

My sister, with a critical eye, said that none of the diners looked like neighborhood types. I couldn’t tell because I have no idea what passes for upscale in Eugene. I had just seen a man with a hook for a hand in a bar. I guess not living under a bridge? The bathroom isn’t inside the restaurant. It’s outside, around the back. We were joking, after my sister returned, that a homeless guy was camped out in the bathroom and the wildly ebullient server overheard (there’s no private conversations in this space) and apologized. Eugene is very earnest.

The Vintage Probably not my first choice for brunch. The website makes it seem more modern, but it’s kind of fusty. Can you shoehorn a restaurant in a old house (I don’t think this is only an Oregon thing but it’s definitely not an NYC thing) and make it feel otherwise? I don’t really even do brunch but I hadn’t seen my friend from college for at least eight years and this was her pick (everyone in Eugene is more money-conscious than I’m used to in NYC, and I don’t hang out with anyone rich–this friend had been at the same retail job for 15 years, making $2.25 above minimum wage–and I didn’t want to inadvertently choose someplace pricey). There was a 20 minute wait for a table and another 20 minute wait for food. It’s all crepes during the day and fondue at night, in a two-story old house, self-described as “quaint.” Enough said.

Chains of Love: Benihana

I was in Las Vegas for business, which sounds more important than it was, but I can’t not mix business with pleasure so I turned it into a mini-vacation since I happened to be there during my boyfriend’s birthday (who has the same birthday as my ex-boyfriend and my sister’s ex-husband, all different years) and flights from where he lives (Portland) are fast and cheap.

We’d planned the Benihana birthday when I was in Portland a few weeks prior. Neither of us had ever been. There is one in Beaverton, the only in Oregon, but on spur of the moment there were no reservations until 8:45pm (the restaurant closes at 9:30pm) and as I’ve learned (once years ago when I attempted to walk-in at the Edison, NJ location) you have to have reservations if you want to be subjected to the whole dinner and a show thing. I even signed up for the $30 off coupon if you dine in your birthday month. That’s really the only way to do it because Benihana is not exactly cheap, though you do get soup, salad, shrimp appetizer, rice, and ice cream. My Splash ‘n Meadow (hibachi steak and shrimp) was $42. (Strangely, this combo doesn’t appear on the Oregon or NYC menus).

benihana interior

There is a newer Benihana location on the strip but I was not risking it with a new-and-improved modern version. Benihana should not look like it was designed in 2016. This restaurant at the Westgate, neon visible all the way from my hotel, the El Cortez, downtown Vegas (distances are super deceiving in this flat, plunked-down city–Benihana was three miles away) was sprawling with little indoor fountains, bridges, and semi-private rooms. And most impressive to me was a roving photographer who would take your photo before the meal had begun, posing and staging diners like I haven’t encountered since my senior portrait, and putting two images in a padded display binder to sell you as you left. I had never encountered this practice, which I thought was extinct, yet there was a woman with a camera doing the same thing at the Peppermill where we went afterward, my third time at the infamous fire pit lounge. This time I had a valid excuse, “Thanks, but we just got our picture taken.”

Usually I’m opposed to communal dining. On my left was an adult child and spouse taking parents out to celebrate a 40th wedding anniversary. The father, wearing a baseball cap, arms crossed and stony nearly the entire meal, was not having any of it. On my right were women from somewhere in the South, one 30something and single, the other 40ish with a teenage daughter at home who was also celebrating a March 22 birthday, and were there for a different conference than mine and appeared to already have a few drinks in them. They were old pros at Benihana, made sure to tell staff it was the boyfriend’s birthday and were even trying to finagle free photos (no dice). Two of the six strangers had dietary restrictions (one, no shrimp, the other no meat at all, which if you have a legit allergy, um, the food is all being cooked on the same grill) and concerns were voiced about the sauce being too spicy.

benihana trio

I haven’t spoken about the food because it’s not really the point. You get your onion soup, salad with miso-ginger dressing, and chicken fried rice. My steak and shrimp had fine texture, and my medium-rare request was granted, but the beef barely tasted of anything despite lots of a vaguely teriyaki-ish sauce and butter splashed on it while it was grilled.  It reminded me of when I get desperate and buy meat at a C Town.

Whatever, Yan, who was Chinese, did the shrimp flipped into the toque trick, made lots of puns, “Have you ever seen butter fly?” as he plopped half a stick with his spatula, and…

benihana love

…clearly was a romantic at heart. All that you could hope for celebrating a birthday in Las Vegas.

benihana photos

And I even paid $40 for the not-super-flattering, dough-faced (far more common than doe-eyed, I’m afraid) photo, something I normally would not do, but being in a long distance relationship, I’m a little more frivolous when we get together every few months. The photographer said I reminded her of her sister-in-law “she has pin-up bangs too” and was trying to find a photo of her and I was cringing inside because I was worried she’d show me a chunky rockabilly chick. (I’ll own my growing plumpness but I think I dress fairly modern/contemporary. The default style in Vegas if you’re not touristy or preppy is ‘90s burlesque. I did not see a single person in four days that could be characterized as “hipster,” despite that tired term now being devoid of meaning.) The sister-in-law ended up being an attractive blonde with a flower in her hair, similar age as me, honestly a little too old for that look if I were being judgy. (Dita Von Teese is the only example I can think of as a 40+ woman who can get away with that retro style. It ages you after a certain point.) But everyone, servers, bartenders, Lyft drivers, was so nice in Vegas–or maybe everyone is chatty everywhere except NYC–I felt obligated to engage when my instinct is to brush off. It’s kind of scary now that I think about it. Considering I work at home 2-3 times per week and rarely go out on weekends these days, I think I had more extended conversations with people I just met in those four Vegas days than a month in NYC.

Benihana * 3000 Paradise Rd., Las Vegas, NV

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Portland (and Outskirts) One More Time

biwa quad

Biwa I suppose Portland Dining Month is much like New York Restaurant Week, except that I never partake of the latter. I only accidentally stumbled upon the prix fixe at Biwa because I had one last meal and it seemed negligent that I’d never been despite it being open for a decade. (Not really a completist though–not in a hurry to try oldies that passed me by while I’ve been hanging out in NYC a la Nostrana or the Coquines, Jacquelines, and Davenports of the world). It was a super great deal for $29 despite abysmal photographic evidence. Lots of otsumami, all nice (miso sesame cauliflower, pickles, dashi ricotta dip with rice crackers, pickled and fried mackerel) a little salmon sashimi with umeboshi, and then all at once daikon salad with salmon roe, buta no kakuni (braised pork belly) with I think pears, kimchi fish stew with rice cakes (could eat Korean rice cakes until I barf), and hojicha ice cream (a nice respite from matcha). I supplemented this with Washington State oysters, three Capital and three Churchpoint served with a yuzu kosho (an ingredient that everyone seems into all of a sudden) sort of sorbet. Oysters are strangely more expensive in the NW than NYC; even the happy hour prices are more than our typical $1 per.

langbaan multi

Langbaan Second time (first here) 13 months apart and the monthly rotating menus were both Central Thai! Glad it’s my favorite region and obviously everything was new (more seafood, less meat, and a different butterfly pea flower blue rice dessert) this time. Langbaan remains one of my favorite restaurants in Portland and I was able to get a table for two without advance planning because there are often cancellations if you get on the waiting list. 

808 grinds

808 Grinds Oregon isn’t particularly close to Hawaii but maybe if you drew a line from the islands to the continental United States, Portland would be on a direct path? (I don’t think so.) There is a substantial Hawaiian presence in Portland, though. I remember church people having luaus with poi and kalua pork when I was a kid and now my boyfriend has lots of Hawaiian (though of Japanese heritage) transplant friends through judo. You’ll have no trouble tracking down poke and moco loco in the city. Everyone likes the guava chiffon cake here, which I did try, but the mochi-textured coconut squares that I don’t know the name of are better. I’m still not convinced scoops of mac salad and rice are compatible. 

babica duo

Babica Hen My sister came up to my mom’s neck of the woods (she just moved to Lake Oswego and is already decamping to Tigard) for a birthday brunch. I hate when people order the same dish (though it’s kind of mitigated when you have a party of 5) so I didn’t copy my mom’s showstopping chicken and waffles with sweet potato mousse and coconut-rum caramel and ordered a special of beer battered chicken and an orange-whiskey sauce instead and it was kind of spartan and I began regretting my petty rule.

helvetia trio

Helvetia Tavern I had never heard of this place though it apparently is famous for its jumbo burger. I imagine Guy Fieri has been here (this does not seem to be the case). And it is a jumbo double-patty burger, more jumbo than this photo conveys, deliciously oozing “fry sauce” served with more fry sauce on the side for fries and onion rings.  I only wish that 75% of the time I enter a car (and Skyline Blvd. is no joke for the queasy) I didn’t end up wanting to puke. Maybe I’m allergic to all the wet moss, ferns, mushrooms, and general greenness.  I discovered that pot helps with this sensation so took to carrying a low THC vape in my purse specifically for this purpose. This is very un-NYC behavior. I feel like I have developed West Coast and East Coast personalities.

boxer ramen

Boxer Ramen Once again, I was on the verge of puking before I had this bowl of non-traditional tonkatsu ramen set before me so I can’t say for certain that it was extra porky, a little too much so, or if I was just sensitive. I wouldn’t be one to normally complain about extra chashu, though. And I loved the black garlic oil. They were sadly out of okonomiyaki tots.

st jack duo

St. Jack  I will concede that Portland has really great happy hours, at all levels of dining. I suspect it’s the case because no one seems to ever work, despite stupefying rising rents, or at least not 9 to5. They were packed at 4pm on a Thursday. My $5 fried tripe and $6 chicken liver mousse, not my $12 burger. I just realized they serve $1 oysters during the first hour of the 4-6pm happy hour so maybe I was wrong about my above statement.

lighthouse trio

The Lighthouse I’ve become more familiar with the 20-mile stretch of Route 30 between Portland and Scappoose than I would ever care to. There are all these outskirty places you pass through with names like Linnton and Burlington but they are still technically Portland (and I always thought it was Sauvies Island, not Sauvie Island, but whatever, everyone calls it Fred Meyers, not Fred Meyer). The Lighthouse is an amazing maritime-themed bar that looks rougher than it is from a moving car at night, smokers out front. Sure, it’s a dive and no one blinks an eye if you start drinking before noon, but the bartender, a woman in jeans and a tank top who seemed to know everyone coming in for lunch, was playing Beach Fossils and other such bands that rotate on my Spotify Discover playlist, which totally didn’t jibe with the atmosphere and blue collar clientele.  But that is Portland. The wings, burger, and pork tacos were just ok. I would definitely return for drinks, though. Pro tip: a few storefronts down you can gawk at baby chicks, five different breeds, at Linnton Feed and Seed. Also, between the Lighthouse and Linnton Feed and Seed, is another bar/restaurant called Decoy which serves diner fare and apparently also Chinese food. I’m definitely going to get crab puffs when I’m in town next.

ixtapa trio

Ixtapa I ate lunch at this cheap Ameri-Mex Scappoose near-institution as well as eating a takeout chimichanga during my boyfriend’s dad’s 70th birthday party. The dad reported the runs the next morning. I can eat fried tortillas, melted cheese, and refried beans, with abandon, no problem, and I hope this is still the case in three decades. I also had no idea that there were so many White Russian variations, which only stood out because I had my first White Russian on this trip. Not at Ixtapa (at Holman’s).

 

 

International Intrigue: Uogashi

It’s getting harder to keep up with all of the Japanese (and Roman, and Korean, and Malaysian) imports lately. I could be more on top of things. Sometimes I’m just not very inspired.

uogashi room

 

I went to Uogashi at least a month ago, but I haven’t written anything about it because it didn’t make me feel anything one way or the other. It’s my own fault. I was a walk-in and was seated at a table–I like the curtains though–rather than the counter.

uogashi duo

 

As I’ve come to learn, omakase just isn’t the same when it’s presented all at once on a plate. It goes too fast and I like a deliberate procession. You enjoy each piece of nigiri more when it’s assembled in front of you, and you wait in anticipation of what’s next. I didn’t even attempt to take in the rattled off descriptions of my $45 Uogashi Sushi Moriawase set, though obviously there is salmon, big eye tuna, medium fatty tuna, and shrimp.

uogashi sushi

 

The value and quality is there, though. And I’m fairly certain the $38 and $45 sets, two sushi, two sashimi options, are served in one go regardless of where you are seated. I’m glad we’re getting more sushi options in that hazy middle between utilitarian and waiting-for-a-promotion precious. I could be convinced to go again.

Uogashi * 188 First Ave., New York, NY 

Chains of Love: Yard House

yard house facade

Despite possessing a master’s degree, I wouldn’t say that I’ve had an academically rigorous education. In art school in the early ‘90s we met credential-granting liberal arts requirements with classes where we read biographies of our choosing and essentially wrote middle-school level book reports. (A Korean exchange student brought in a copy of Stuart Smalley’s “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!” believing it was non-fiction.) There was one freshman class, though, Art and Ideas, where we were expected to take a more critical approach, or maybe it just seemed more serious since the instructor was British.

pioneer place food court 2

An early assignment was analyzing a regional landmark. I chose the newly opened Pioneer Place mall, as it was pure transitional 1990s–lots of muted pink and mint hues, curves and waves, glass block walls–and was trying very hard to convey an upscale atmosphere. It wasn’t clear who it was for since–at least in my mind–downtown was playground to panhandlers and street kids at the time. (They haven’t been pushed out in the New Portland of 2017, don’t worry–now, there are entire homeless camps under bridges, along medians, and behind bushes.) The only memories of that essay was that I got called out for the use of “sea foam green” which the instructor didn’t get.

pioneer place food court

 

More than 25 years later, and now Pioneer Place is dated (there is not a single photo of the mall on its website) and going through an aesthetic overhaul, which I discovered while passing through the drained fountains, shuttered food court to get to Yard House in an attempt to be a Darden completist. (Breaking news now means I’ll have to add inexplicably named Cheddar’s to my list. And I couldn’t justify a trip to Eddie V’s on my one weekend in Austin, the only city I’ve visited where the chain exists, so that’s a knowledge gap.) Also, I had a $40 gift card from my birthday that I had been saving for just the right occasion. 

vault

Based on the above hint, I’m guessing the new food court will be flush with reclaimed wood, hand-drawn chalkboard menus, and filament bulbs. Maybe an 18-year-old with middling writing ability can deconstruct it.

yard house duo

The Yard House is at its heart a sports bar, touting classic rock, vast and on multiple floors connected by a staircase (apparently it replaced a Saks in 2012) and to my surprise it was very full at lunch with office workers and an enormous table occupied by what seemed like a tour group. (I thought everyone ate at food carts downtown.)  It’s eerily dark because the bulk of the restaurant is in a windowless basement, booths, walls, and ceilings black semi-matte, lit primarily from the multiple TV screens.

yard house chicken sandwich

The menu is a mishmash of what-millennials-eat fare, despite the boomer-leaning rock angle: “street tacos” with a Korean short rib option, deviled eggs with candied bacon, poke nachos, and my choice, a Nashville hot chicken sandwich enlivened by “fried sage, sweet potato pancakes, pickles, ranch dressing, honey hot sauce.” Wow, that’s a lot of trends for one sandwich. I don’t have any recollection of sweet potatoes and the chicken, itself, wasn’t particularly spicy. The bun, not unusually large, muffled a lot of the expected distinct flavors. It was exactly what you would expect of a regional specialty filtered down to KFC and elevated by a gastropub-ish chain.

The previous night’s stay at the nearby Hotel Monaco, festivities kicked-off at 4pm with poutine and happy hour martinis at Red Star Tavern (Portland does have some of the best, most loosey-goosey-houred drink and dining deals), squeezing  in one $5 Vieux Carré at Imperial before the 11pm happy hour cut-off, continuing at Little Bird with the late night happy hour $7 (once $5 but now service-included) double brie burger, then prolonged until the wee hours in my room, meant that by noon check-out my insides were trying to escape my body. My first meal of the day was irrelevant, but I could’ve done worse than a free hot chicken sandwich eaten in a faded glory of a mall basement.

Yard House * 888 SW Fifth Ave., Portland, OR

 

International Intrigue: Ikinari Steak NYC vs. Tokyo

 

ikinari steak interior duo

Tokyo vs. NYC

Unlike the first US outpost of Afuri, the Ikinari Steak that popped-up near St. Marks in that international chain mini-district held down by Ippudo and Tim Ho Wan, was almost identical to the one I visited in Shibuya, just swapping Japanese staff for locals. Oh, and also that it was at capacity while the similarly sized Tokyo branch was maybe one-third full also around 6pm on a Friday night. A line started to form at the cutting and weighing counter and a good-natured staff member who was acting as ring-master, shouted a few times, “Stand close to the wall as you can!” which definitely wouldn’t happen in Japan, though no one seemed to mind.

ikinari steak cutting

Four cuts of steak were offered in Japan: rib-eye, tenderloin, US Angus beef sirloin, and Japanese beef sirloin. Hamburg was also an option–hamburg steak is rampant in Japan–but maybe that doesn’t translate to the US. I chose the latter, 200 grams, and the most expensive at 10 yen per gram. The US is also using grams (though they provide a handy conversion table on the menu) and lists rib-eye, filet, sirloin, and a combo of scraps. I went with the cheapest cut, sirloin at 8 cents a gram, also 200 grams.  I paid roughly the same price: $17 in Tokyo and $16 in NYC but clearly the US’s prices are higher. Both are non-tipping restaurants, though, which I love.

ikinari steak duo

Tokyo vs. NYC

You’ll get the same corn on the side, browned garlic and butter on top, and onions underneath, which get great char as they mingle with the juices. This is not dry-aged prime steak, though it’s not quite the Tad’s (r.i.p.) of Japan either. The sirloin was not supermarket steak bland, picking up smoke from the grill, and the little rim of fat adding extra lushness (if you prefer lean, just ask the butcher to remove it). You can add garlicky soy-based “J-sauce,” garlic paste, mustard, and wasabi, which are stationed at the standing tables. I don’t recall that it was recommended you order your steak rare in Japan–there are lots of signs stating this in NYC–I ordered medium rare both times. Rice and salad (radish or green) are extra. I skipped salad this time because I don’t care about roughage, but they are selling bottled dressing at the register so I guess someone likes it.

ikinari steak basket

I also love the foldable baskets for storing your coat and bag, found at Japanese restaurants everywhere, some taking the form of little hammocks adhered to the bottoms of bar stools,  though there was only one allotted for my face-to-face solo standing table, and the gentleman before me had commandeered it. (I’m also in love with the current season of Baskets, just FYI. Louie Anderson is genius as Christine.)

ikinari steak order

You verbally tell the meat cutter what you want here while you brought a little wipe-off card, filled out by a server, to the counter in Japan. This wouldn’t be a bad idea in NYC since I had to repeat myself a few times and with the crowds, the staff has high potential to become overwhelmed. 

They really think of everything.

They really think of everything

ikinari steak facade duo

Tokyo vs. NYC

I did not eat at this Bunkyo branch (there are over 100  locations in Japan) but I only just noticed the same style basket outside with what I assume to be clothing freshener. The East Village facade is more minimal, no menus out front, though there is a photo, out of frame, of the same executive chef.  

I haven’t even mentioned the standing concept yet because it’s not really that weird, though Americans prefer to sit even for tapas. There’s no one rushing you, and you can have your steak re-heated if it gets cold. Of course, it’s not leisurely either, and supposedly the price reflects the high turnover. This also reminds me that the Japanese Michelin-quality standing restaurant that was promised for Manhattan in 2013 never came to fruition. Perhaps the seeming success of Inkinari Steak may pave the way for similar concepts.

Ikinari Steak * 90 E. 10th St., New York, NY