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Posts from the ‘Chains of Love’ Category

I Do(nut)/Un-American Activities: Dominique Ansel Japan

She said yes! 💍 Honored to be a part of a special moment here at the Bakery, when Allen surprised his girlfriend Sam – not only did she not know he was going to be in Japan, but then he proposed to her with a ring hidden inside our Blossoming Hot Chocolate! Congratulations to Allen and Sam! Wishing you lots of love and hot chocolates for many years to come. #DominiqueAnselBakery #DABJapan #shesaidyes #Omotesando プロポーズ大作戦! フィリピンからお越しのサムさん、何も知らずオーダーした花咲くホットチョコレートから輝くエンゲージリングが💍、そしてフィリピンにいるはずの彼のアレンさんがサプライズ登場!!✨ アレンさん、サムさん本当におめでとうございます㊗️いつまでもお幸せに!#ドミニクアンセルベーカリー #ドミニク #花咲くホットチョコレート #プロポーズ #表参道

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There is nothing un-American about using food in your public marriage proposal. I think it might’ve been one of the tenets our nation was founded on. So, I suppose it’s not that strange for someone to use a Blossoming Hot Chocolate for a “Will you marry me?” vehicle at a Tokyo branch of an NYC bakery helmed by a Frenchman. No idea on the nationality of the betrothed, though I think it’s a safe bet with names like Sam and Allen they are not Japanese.

I’ve never eaten a cronut before but I can’t resist seasonal, localized flavors so I did stop into the Omotesando location and order the November flavor, rose ganache, chestnut jam, even though floral edibles are not my bag. Also, the autumn religieuse, which turned out to be very pumpkin-y, just because it was so pretty.

Mr. Roboto buns, fake tomatoes, and more.

Our Oden Bûche de Noël, just in time for the holiday season here at @DABJapan. It’s inspired by our favorite kinds of oden! 🍢 The “Hampen” at the top is made with cheese cake, the braised egg in the middle is actually caramel with a yuzu mousse “yolk” inside, and the “Chikuwa” oden at the bottom is made with chestnut mousse. Available also as a mini version both @DABJapan Omotesando and Ginza Mitsukoshi.#DominiqueAnselBakery #DABJapan #Omotesando #Ginza #Christmascake 今年も人気のおでんのようなブッシュドノエル🍢 上から、滑らかなチーズケーキで出来た はんぺん に、煮卵 はキャラメルとユズムースで黄身もしっかりと表現されています。そして 一番下の ちくわ はしっとり大人な味わいの栗のムースです🌰 #おでん #ブッシュドノエル 大きいサイズは表参道限定 ミニサイズは表参道、銀座店共に販売しています! 注目のオデンブッシュ、ぜひお試しください。 #ドミニク #ドミニクアンセルベーカリー #表参道 #銀座 #三越 #クリスマスケーキ

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Sadly, there was no trompe-l’œil oden on my visit, though it was cool enough for real oden to make an appearance elsewhere. I wonder how much usage the 🍢 emoji gets outside of non-Japanese world?

Chains of Love: Ichiran

I used to get excited about foreign chains in NYC but lately I’m more indifferent. Case in point, Ichiran opened right around the time I went to Japan last year for Thanksgiving and I still haven’t checked it out and it’s almost the end of 2017. I don’t want to go to Bushwick to eat overpriced ramen, as in $19, even in a so-called flavor concentration booth. (I’d liken them more to library carrels, which I just spelled “carols” even though I’ve worked in a zillion libraries.)

Bowls of ramen are practically all under $10, even with tip, in Tokyo where novelty comes cheap and with the territory. Ichiran in Tokyo is 24 hours, you buy a ticket from a vending machine with large photo buttons kind of like a cigarette machine (you do remember those?), look for an open seat on the big electronic wall display, then proceed into a hushed room flanked by two rows of stools. You can fill out a card with preferences like degree of noodle doneness, richness of broth, garlic or no garlic, spice level, and extras and add-ins. And of course there is a red button if you want service. 

Each seating space has an individual water dispenser which is amazing. If you order a ramen that comes with a tea egg, it will be presented first in a little dish. At least I don’t think this is an appetizer as much as it looks like one. You will only see hands and lower bodies beneath the screen and once the hands place your order in front of you, they will drop the screen altogether.

As to the ramen, I never have the wherewithal to go nuts with flavor descriptions. I don’t think I’ve yet to encounter a meh bowl of ramen in Japan, and Ichiran’s was better than average. What makes it so? The tonkotsu-style broth is rich and assertive as a pork broth should be, but it’s not overpowering.  There is a balance to the amount of noodles and sliced not-that-fatty pork with just a pop of salt and heat. 

I hate to say that ramen isn’t my first choice unless I’m starving, but it tends to make me feel too stuffed and tired afterwards. I’m sensitive to carbs, though. I’m also not usually a food-sharer–in fact, I’ve been called a “food hoarder,” disparagingly– but I ended up giving some chashu and noodles to my travel companion (you can also fold the wooden walls to make a shared space). I can’t even imagine ordering extra noodles, which you can. I was the only one at group meals (even with super fitness-y women) to order a small rice instead of the standard and was the only one who didn’t finish it.

More to the point/less about my adorable eating habits: I would recommend Ichiran for the full immersive experience if you happen to be in Japan. There are 60+ locations around the country so it’s likely you’ll pass by one.

Ichiran * 3-34-11 B1F Shinjuku Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan 

Unamerican Activities: Taco Bell Japan

 

One of the most recent American fast food (re)entries in Japan is Taco Bell, and there was surprisingly little difference on the Tokyo menu from our standards. I was led to believe there was a localized shrimp and avocado burrito, which I didn’t see, and taco rice. There was beer (though we’re catching up). 

There were loaded fries (Taco Bell Japan are no racists) which I did order, though the nacho cheese was strangely low on flavor. Maybe it just needed more salt.

The biggest difference between the Taco Bells on two continents was price. Two hard shelled tacos, fries, and two Asahis cost over $20. I guess that’s the trade-off for $8 ramen that would go for $15 in NYC. There are no self-serve salsa packets, perhaps because Japanese don’t have spare kitchen drawers to store extra condiments and abhor litter. You have to specify spice level when you order.

A tacocat was posing out front, fortuitously. He (or she–the mane might’ve fooled me) was gone when we left.

P.S. A new Tokyo Taco Bell just opened today!

Taco Bell *  2 Chome-25-14 Dogenzaka, Tokyo, Japan

International Intrigue: Wagamama

We all have our biases. My ears prick up if I hear word about a Japanese chain coming to NYC, which means my ears have been pricking up a lot lately.

(And as an aside, it’s been a decade ago but I don’t recall that DaDong in Beijing was this upscale. I also doubt they will serve the black sesame sludge for dessert and crab apples with dramatic dry ice vapors rising between them. And because no one reads blogs anymore, I can say here that I’m baffled by the new sensitivity that has emerged surrounding anything derogatory said about food someone didn’t grow up eating, and if it’s not “othering” than it’s it’s liking it too much and being a cultural appropriator. Like Bon Appetit was called out the other day for saying matcha, turmeric, and spirulina tasted like dirt. Dried, powdered turmeric pretty much tastes like dirt, so I guess I’m a racist. Am I allowed to say black sesame pudding looks like sludge?

wagamama squid

UK chains? Not so much. Sure, I checked out YO! Sushi but I was only motivated to visit pan-Asian Wagamama when its newest branch opened recently in the former East Village Japanese convenience store, m2m, and they were giving away free meals to the general public.

The buns were nice, though the pork version was tastier than the beef, which is almost always the case unless you’re at a steakhouse or burger joint. And the fried squid was fine. The dipping sauce did have a little bite. 

wagamama ramen

The “ramens” weren’t so much ramen as noodle soup. And no, I’m not even sure now that I think about it what makes something a ramen. For me, it’s in the broth, and this version with duck was kind of wan and lacked the depth of even a simple shio ramen. At least they included a few fatty shreds of duck meat and skin for extra flavor.

The prices weren’t crazy, the dining room with lots of blonde wood communal tables was spacious for the East Village, and I imagine it will do well close to all of the NYU spillover. But it’s certainly not a destination, especially with all of the Japanese ramen in the neighborhood plus Little Tong, Yuan, and others. 

Wagamama * 55 Third Ave., New York, NY

 

 

International Intrigue: Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya

kizuki facadeRamen is all good and well, of course, though there is something to be said for the journey rather than the main event. Which is to say, there is practically nothing I love more than uncharted suburbs (and stumbling upon US chains abroad) and I’ve realized I miss driving through them. I’ve been away from Portland for nearly 20 years, and in my absence planned communities have sprung up from fields on the outskirts of town and people want to live there. (My first encounter with this boxy sprawl was in 2002 when I met my former library coworker at an Indian restaurant in the still-developing Orenco Station enclave.)

This visit 15 years later, I met a high school friend in a suburban strip mall on the westside because it was close to her office even though we both grew up in an eastside suburb where she still lives in the exact same house with her parents since the 1980s.

cedar hillsFirst, I had to find a Walgreens because I’d ran out of a prescription and ended up in some area called Bethany Village that seemed to consist of one giant earth-toned outdoor shopping center surrounded by new apartments, likely with vessel sinks and carpeted bedrooms. Or is Bethany a neighborhood? I don’t recognize fully half of neighborhood names in the Portland area and they are not inventions that nod to geography like South Slope or BoCoCa. No, they are confident, seemingly historical names like Arbor Lodge, Overlook, and Brentwood-Darlington that  materialized post-millennium and are now accepted as fact by new residents. If someone says a restaurant is in Cully, I have absolutely no idea where that is.

The young white woman who was working at the pharmacy had blue and magenta hair and she complimented me on my wallet, which only now I’m realizing was blue and magenta. I put a plastic bottle of Perrier in my purse and walked out without paying for it like an old shoplifter starved for attention.

To get to Kizuki (formerly Kukai, as it still reads on the facade, Kookai in Japan, but apparently the word means poop in Hawaiian?) my GPS steered me through ‘80s upscale neighborhoods anchored by a country club until I popped out in another development that looked like Bethany Village but without unified branding. These modern strip malls always seem higher-end but on closer examination this one contained a generic grocery store called Market of Choice and a Supercuts (though also a barre studio).

suburban cowboy

 

Even though these developments are meant to evoke small towns, there is no foot traffic, everyone drives. So a craggy man in a cowboy hat, maybe in his 50s, cigarette dangling out his mouth while taking a small dog for a walk seemed wildly out of place. I tried taking a few creepshots but he was too far away to capture all the detail. A woman my age with a grade school daughter glanced at my feet, either admonishing or admiring my grass green Swedish Hasbeens. I shot a glare at the back of her head to psychically signal that she couldn’t judge me because I’m not a Portland mom.

kizuki ramen

 

Will I get to the ramen? Maybe. I’m more ramen enthusiast (udon is more enticing, honestly) than expert. I ordered the gut bomb version, garlic tonkotsu shoyu ramen, with a photo in the middle of the menu, larger than the rest, which was pointed out to me when I asked the enthusiastic server what was most popular. I like a rich pork broth, though this was extra oily, with a whole soft-yolked egg, and lean cut of chashu. I’m a slow eater so my big bowls of noodle soup always cool down before I get to the bottom, which makes the fattiness more pronounced. I would try the yuzu shio next time to see how it compares to Afuri’s signature yuzu-spiked version.

I was surprised that my friend said she couldn’t use chopsticks, despite my knowing that Filipinos don’t traditionally use them, and yet unsurprised because there was something very Portland about this, like no matter your heritage or place of birth, each decade spent in Oregon diluted any evidence of being “ethnic” despite your appearance. Some go the other way as adults. I know non-religious black people who became Muslim and changed their names and Jews who I didn’t even know were Jewish move to the Upper West Side and become orthodox. But more typical are minorities who support Trump, which I discovered when I accepted a Facebook request from a middle school friend.

Upon arrival, I got the no seating incomplete parties story, which is unusual for the area, particularly since the restaurant was nearly empty. We overstayed our visit, lingering at our table for two that was blocked by a wall from the main dining room, and as we left, I noticed the restaurant was full with people waiting not just in the lobby but outside as well. Clearly, the suburban ramen chain has an audience.

Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya * 11830 NW Cedar Falls Dr, Portland, OR

 

International Intrigue: Tsurutontan

tsurutontan udon

Tsurutontan rode in on the wave of imports late last year that included Ichiran, Tim Ho Wan, and the promised Inkinari Steak that didn’t get off the ground until 2017. (I’m so mad they are going to add chairs in the US.) I meant to check one out when I was in Tokyo but put it off until my last night and I couldn’t get it together for the 9pm last order (I kind of appreciate the anal-ness of publishing last calls for food in Japan) but was dying for udon and couldn’t deal with the 10 person line outside of Shin Udon. I did end up getting a bowl of cold udon, which was maybe weird in December but it was on offer, at a restaurant up a flight of stairs with no English name. I finally was tough enough after two weeks to handle an all-Japanese language menu.

Tsurutontan, off Union Square, is no noodle hole-in-the-wall, with prices that are more akin to Ipuddo and beyond. Also, without the wait and counter seating. I liked the row-facing-row with a partition separating the sides for solo diners. Plus, the Japanese thing where you can order regular or large amount of noodles for the same price, thick and thin.

I chose thin for my summer special of cold dashi broth with uni. The broth was light but the sea urchin added creaminess, and a slight bitterness, plus shredded shiso that gave the dish more bite and held it just back from being too rich. This doesn’t look like a big portion (regular noodle fyi) but it was oddly filling. I let the little batter nuggets turn to sog and scooped them out with the giant metal spoon at the end, then slurped all of the remaining sesame-studded cloudy broth like fishy cereal milk.

Tsurutontan * 21 E. 16th St., New York, NY

International Intrigue: O’Tacos

franchise-o-tacos-depuis-2007-210716(1)

I was recently made aware of a French chain in Crown Heights called O’Tacos that, yes, serves tacos. Yet from the looks of these burrito-panini hybrids, I’m not sure the French know what a taco is.

otaco menu

There appears to be 50 locations of this restaurant, and the Brooklyn branch is the only one outside of France. This is more baffling to me than the bastardized taco. The website is only in French, which is very French. It’s easily discernible that fillings include chicken breast, ground beef, nuggets, tenders, merguez, and cordon bleu. I don’t see that they explain that french fries are sometimes stuffed in these tacos. There are are 12 less discernible sauces including Algerian, samurai, and giga.

I am curious about this taco, and might be blessed to live in the same city as the only foreign outpost, but not so curious that I’m eager to spend 1 hour, 9 minutes on two subways to try one.

 

International Intrigue: The Holy Crab

IMG_3248

I did not eat at The Holy Crab because I already have a Chinese-run Cajun seafood restaurant on my block with a better name (Oceanic Boil), but am mentioning it it is an Indonesian chain serving Cajun seafood in Canada, and that’s all sorts of layers to dissect.

There also appears to be a knock-off in White Plains.

Chains of Love: The Original Original Pancake House

original pancake house facade

You’d be forgiven for not knowing that the original Original Pancake House originated in Portland, Oregon. I only had a vague sense of this, especially since I grew up on the east side of the city and never had any reason to eat breakfast at a restaurant twenty miles away, on the other side of the Willamette.

pancake house

I almost visited an Original Pancake House in Seoul, since it was a few blocks from my hotel, before even seeing where it all began in Oregon. Even though I was chided for not really eating any Korean food during my two-night stay over Thanksgiving, it didn’t seem right to eat American breakfast in addition to Taco Bell and a mildly esoteric tasting menu.

original pancake house room

I can’t speak for any of the other Original Pancake Houses, but I can’t imagine a quainter place to choose from 15 or so pancakes. With its candy-striped awning, sun room, knotty wood paneling, decorative dishes, and smaller interior than would seem so from the street, the restaurant transmits wholesomeness with a touch of the old world. You would not suspect it was a chain if you didn’t know the name.

original pancake house dutch baby closeup

The glorious Dutch Baby, burnished upturned edges, custardy crater, lightly powdered, is their specialty. Lemon wedges, whipped butter, and more powdered sugar are served on the side. I wanted pecan pancakes but it would be a mistake to shun what made the place famous on my first visit. Many of the diners lolling around after prime breakfast time had plate-spanning versions topped with apple wedges that from a distance looked like they’d been served and entire pan of monkey bread.

original pancake house hash

Sure, there are also omelets and corned beef hash for the know-nothings like my dining companion who said it tasted canned despite the promises of “homemade,”but duh, you’re supposed to order pancakes.

original pancake house james beard

The James Beard American Classic award from 1999 was proudly displayed facing my seat.

old spaghetti factory BC

Bonus: Did you know that the oldest Old Spaghetti Factory is also in Portland? I had the good fortune to stumble upon a branch a few weekends ago in Vancouver, B.C.

The Original Pancake House * 8601 SW 24th Ave., Portland, OR

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