I ate breakfast at Denny’s in Tokyo and wrote about it for Extra Crispy. Spoiler: there are no Grand Slams.
I ate breakfast at Denny’s in Tokyo and wrote about it for Extra Crispy. Spoiler: there are no Grand Slams.
I was blessed to be in Japan in December because I got to witness first-hand the phenomenon that is KFC at Christmas. However, I wasn’t able to partake in it because all those displays and set menus plastered on the wall (Sparkling cider with the Colonel’s face on it! Chicken cordon bleu! A $50 whole turkey with its own tote!) are for pre-ordering only. I had no idea.
So, I settled for a four-piece meal with biscuits, no finger sheaths provided. I love how even at fast food restaurants (well, at least KFC and MOS Burger) if you order iced coffee you receive a little plastic container of simple syrup and the creamer comes in an even tinier plastic container (even though I take it black).
Official Pizza Hut Japan Online!
Fast delivery to your home and hotel by online order in English!
Order Now!! https://t.co/nd2M0cOM6v
— ピザハット (@Pizza_Hut_Japan) May 5, 2016
Twitter knows me far too well, as evidenced by Pizza Hut’s enticement of online ordering (no human interaction!) in English (bonus!). But after a solid 20 minutes on their site and being surprised that pizzas cost $30+, I kept getting a garbled message after inputting what I thought was my postal code, which I took to mean I was out of their delivery zone even though I was in a centrally located neighborhood. I was not going to give up ordering pizza to my Airbnb even though it had a wonky address that confused multiple cab drivers.
Plan B. Domino’s, similar oddball flavor combinations (roasted pork with demi-glace and mustard sauce, crab gratin and something called Mayo Jaga with potato, corn, sausage, and mayonnaise obvs) also offering online orders in English, and no less expensive. I, no joke, spent a half hour trying to type my address into a form so the system would recognize it.
I thought with near 80% certainty that I would be charged, and then like an hour later would receive an angry call in Japanese and I would have no way to direct the driver. I clearly have been living in in NYC too long because in Tokyo you could track your pizza every step of the way. I registered for the service (and received a 1000 yen coupon for another order) about ten minutes into waiting and was shocked to see the pizza was 9 minutes away, marked with a cartoon reindeer (despite Domino’s shelving reindeer delivery in Hokkaido) and moving fast. I could also read about the driver’s favorite pizza, music, and sports team, except that I couldn’t read them.
I made my boyfriend put on pants and run down to the street from our second floor (first floor in everyone else in the world’s parlance) to intercept a potentially lost driver, still not convinced we were actually going to receive our pizza. No worries, two friendly guys on mopeds showed up and the box was handed off (I love no tipping culture even if it results in a $33 pizza).
I was the proud owner of Cheese ‘n’ Roll Quattro Delight. That meant a surprise cheese-stuffed crust, and one quarter each of Margherita, deluxe, special seafood, and garlic master. I kind of was the Garlic Master. Japan can thwart visitors in so many ways–procedural, cultural–so I felt a strange sense of accomplishment for having conjured a pizza to my door without speaking the language. Also, I wonder how long my coupon is good for?
Ramen by MEW Maybe at a certain point even ramen obsessives (which I am not) give up on keeping tabs on every new option’s appearance. To me, they just blur together and I’m never going to click on the whichever best-of round-up emerges weekly. I know Ramen-Ya is the more lauded newish West Village shop but at Ramen by MEW you can just walk in and be slurping within seconds. The karamiso tonkotsu, melding earthy miso and chile heat with pork broth into an opaque orange brew, is seriously hefty. There’s no way that tuft of spinach can balance out that lovely slab of of fatty chasu porking-up the bowl even further.
Not terribly related, there was an unusually long reported piece in Tasting Table today about Japanese chains opening in the US, mostly in NYC with some focus on Portland, Oregon. The ramen’ed-out like me have udon-focused Tsurutontanto and standing-only Ikinari Steak to look forward to. Yes.
A little related to the above, Portland’s Original Pancake House is opening in Hakata, its third Japan location.
Bhutanese Ema Datsi Controversial blanket statement: I’m kind of indifferent to most Himalayan food, which is shameful since I live steps from its New York epicenter. (Ok, I almost ordered delivery from Phayul the other night, but they have Sichuan leanings so it’s not all bland beef and starch.) But I got caught up in the spirit of neighborhood adventure–this unusual restaurant at the nexus of Woodside, Jackson Heights, and Elmhurst is the only place in the city serving Bhutanese food, after all–after some back and forth with someone who might turn out to be my last-ever NYC Tinder date (a development having nothing to do with this benign individual). I was fond of the namesake dish, ema datsi, in that it was like eating chili-studded queso with nutty red rice instead of chips. The confusing aspect was being warned about heat, specifically the soup that came with the sekam thali, akin to a milky seaweed-heavy miso broth, was baby palate mild. Maybe I’d just revved up my taste receptors too high, having come straight from Plant House Love (r.i.p. Queens location). Sekam, by the way, is practically Bhutanese chasu; thin, still-fatty, jerky-like strips of pork belly interspersed with daikon and rehydrated red chiles.
More unrelated-ness: with the recent defection of Biang! (and humble kin Xi’an long before) and Plant Love House to Prospect Heights, plus Bun-Ker’s expansion to Bushwick, there must be a Queens is the New (Old?) Something or Another trend piece to unpack.
By the way, it’s not like you can’t still get petite servings of blood-enriched nam tok in Elmhurst. If you can work out Pata Paplean’s quirky hours, there will be a nice bowl of boat noodles in your future.
This re-grammed spread from Dominique Ansel Tokyo reminded me that I haven’t posted about some good old fashioned international intrigue for a while, mostly because it’s not the best use of my time, but look at those milk tea cronuts.
What else happened this week?
Tokyo will have a second Shake Shack soon.
Well, there’s now a Burger Joint in Singapore. Just the usual, though, no sambal spreads, mantou buns, or whatever else one might imagine could be done with burgers in Southeast Asia.
Slightly stranger is the PDT reproduction in Hong Kong with site specific cocktails. Lucky Peach uses its Meehan connection to bring us recipes. I am feeling the Rice Milk & Honey.
Starbucks in China isn’t exactly big news (there are already 2,000 in the country) but 2,500 more are planned over the next five years, which is crazy I suppose. Separately, Starbucks will be subsidizing housing in China.
For years I’ve vowed to stop being so restaurant-y, at least here, because who cares, and go full-on freakshow. I mean, what else is the point of a blog on the cusp of 2016. Twitter or Instagram is where one performs. I don’t want to talk about Snapchat or Vine.
I’ve tried writing two short off-the-cuff takes on a few new Bushwick restaurants for days now (never mind the 25 800-word pieces on a much drier subject that I have due the first week of January for real) and just can’t get the words out, partially because I’m not amped-up but mostly because I’ve started taking migraine medicine that makes me really stupid and also makes me not care that it takes half an hour to write one paragraph (and if it’s anything like before I gave up on it last time in June, it also eventually makes me not that hungry, which is a little weird).
While I couldn’t write about two restaurants, I did see two press releases that I wanted to say had something to do with each other. Both involved an American brand and an foreign pizza chain with an odd name. Domino’s buying Joey’s (German) and something about Subway and Kotipizza (Finland). That’s as far as I got. It’s a confusing time we live in.
Actually, I just got a baby step farther in a different direction. Kotipizza makes a pizza called the Americana and it’s a Hawaiian with blue cheese and I would eat that in a heartbeat. The New Mexico Monster is something else that also exists.
Like black holes of the international chain restaurant scene, Burger King and KFC suck up all of the black bun attention. Now Hard Rock Cafe is playing me-too, and quite charmingly, with a series of “locally inspired burgers,” unique to particular branches, one which happens to employ a black roll.
Universal Citywalk’s offering in Osaka, the eho-maki burger, is meant to mimic the girthy, un-sliced good luck sushi eaten on February 3. It uses seven ingredients “to represent the 7 gods of happiness,” which include an 8 oz patty, onion, tomato, lettuce, monterey jack cheese and bbq and doro sauce (the Worcestershire-esque sauce served with takoyaki and okonomiyaki in Osaka).
Apparently, the roll must be eaten in silence while making a wish for the new year, which kind of contradicts the whole hard-rocking concept.
Back in 2013, while still a Brooklynite, I wasn’t crazy about the idea of moving offices from the Financial District to Times Square. Who would be? The only thing that soothed was the promise of a Señor Frog’s on the ground floor of 11 Times Square, same as my soon-to-be work address. Not that I’d ever been to a Señor Frog’s. I barely went to a real college, so spring break was never a thing, no ironic nostalgia, and I’ve yet to pass through Cancun, not even as the gateway to Williasmburg-on-the-Yucatan Tulum. I just liked the idea of a novel bar in the basement. So what if the seats were shaped like bikini-clad butts.
Except that Señor Frog’s is much more than a bar, it turns out. “Fun, Food & Clothes” are advertised prominently, and the street level space (the free-ranging restaurant is entirely below grade) is dedicated exclusively to merchandise.
If commemorative mugs and plastic yard drink vessels aren’t your thing, don’t worry. There are mix tape pillows for the basic ladies and straw hats and flip flops for the bros. License plate are a slightly strange offering in NYC and if you’re an out-of-towner do you want a licence plate frame that says New York Señor Frog’s?
On day 2, there were still service kinks to be worked out despite a staff large enough to periodically break into choreographed group song and dance. I also didn’t realize that there was going to be a Coldstone Creamery/Johnny Rockets/Texas Roadhouse entertainment factor. Bonus?
One rule of thumb. The balloon hat-maker and sign-holder (yeah, I have a photo with a “bootylicious” arrow pointing my direction even though I happen to have a very flat ass, if the truth be known) should not be allowed to approach your table until a drink has been been at least sipped. There was a solid, jarring 20 minutes between ordering a $5 happy hour margarita and its blessed arrival.
A few other things to know:
There is a taco salad, but it’s not served in a fried shell.
Señor Frog’s is a Mexican brand, part of Grupo Anderson’s (Carlos’n Charlie’s, Carlos O’Brien, El Squid Roe) portfolio, not an American company capitalizing on drunk tourists.
Melon liqueur finds its way into more cocktails than one would think possible, including the Frogasm (tequila, melon liqueur, orange liqueur, lime juice, orange juice and simple syrup). The women’s bathroom even smelled like watermelon, though it’s possible I was experiencing pre-stroke phantom scents.
Food is kind of beside the point, but that doesn’t mean it won’t make you think.
If you saw the nachos show up like ordinary nachos, though slightly soggy…
and the honey-Sriracha wings, tangy and hyper-crisp even after lazing about…
or the white-on-white cheese enchiladas, initially mistaken for tacos (not pictured)…
you might assume that food comes relatively composed on standard white plates.
But you would be wrong.
Carne asada tacos arrive in a real kitchen sink, yet you are in no way prepared for this. There is no reference anywhere, especially not on the menu where it would be warranted, to everything but the kitchen sink puns. (All of the bon mots are painted in neon signs plastered to the ceiling.) This isn’t Farrell’s. (And if you’ve been to a Farrell’s in the past 20 years–or even know what Farrell’s is–I would probably want to be your friend for life or more even if you objected.) But perhaps, even more unexpected was the little ramekin of sweet, molassy pork and beans hidden among the salsa and guacamole. The most positive thing I can say is that at least they had the decency to use corn not flour tortillas.
So, who goes to Señor Frog’s at 5pm on a Friday? Despite the woman out front handing out coupons and touting with a banner and a whistle, I would say the clientele was peppered with a good number of locals and that there is likely some crossover with the Dallas BBQ crowd across the street even though the prices are not as gentle (though not crazy either) as at the homegrown chain, especially if you’re going large format with drinks. I happened to pick one of the most expensive regular-sized cocktails, a $14 rum runner, because I wanted high-alcohol, low-fruit, and absolutely melon-free.
Am I scared? In on the joke? I’m still not sure. I would meet you for a happy hour drink, no question, though.
Señor Frog’s * 11 Times Sq., New York I would , NY
When Iceland receives its first Dunkin’ Donuts, there are not only blue-and-red-glazed flag doughnuts but a DJ (playing J Dilla, reportedly) to entertain the masses. Of course.
Fresh off the success of its Tough Guy Burgers, Dunkin’ Donuts India is now further cementing its reputation for savory over sweet with new Voodoo Wraps, burrito-esque items featuring red and green tortillas.
The Burger King black bun craze that gained notoriety in Japan has spread to Russia as part of a promotional tie-in with online game World of Tanks. Fat potato wedges appear to be a prominent topping.
Kuwait now has a Dairy Queen in a mall as it should. And right next to a Popeye’s.
Starbucks opened its first store in Panama and it will serve locally harvested coffee.
Close to a year ago, Uncle Sam’s was being touted as a coming attraction. A burger chain rooted in Beijing? I was sold on concept yet not fully convinced since I couldn’t find any evidence of such a creature existing in China. It turns out, two did open in Beijing but not until six months after the announcement, which still makes me suspicious. (I would love it if the Australian rules footballs being used as a decor element in the Chinese shops instead of American pigskins was a brilliant faux-naive marketing ploy.) Would an impending NYC branch somehow make the restaurant seem more legit on its home turf?
Uncle Sam’s opened to little fanfare in May, along a corridor of Fifth Avenue that’s home to other foreign imports like popular Korean fried chicken chain Bon Chon and lesser known Turkish cafe Simit Sarayi. It’s not particularly obvious that this isn’t a homegrown establishment. There are wacky Asian-tinged combinations like the 888 Burger (shumai patty, Canadian bacon, char-siu and Sriracha mayo) and K-Town (galbi beef, kimchi, white American cheese, spicy black bean mayo and pickled daikon) in the current more is more style, cold brew coffee from Kopi Trading Co., a kale side salad, and a soundtrack piping in Matt and Kim (followed by samba and reggae). This may as well be Brooklyn.
And that’s the genre it traffics in, at least from a price perspective. With the specialty burgers ranging from $7.95-$10.95, sides extra, it’s an expensive proposition for an unproven brand with beef of unknown origins. That said, it’s fun, and you can do worse in the tourist-heavy zone flanking the Empire State Building.
I went with the relatively demure Signature, which is more or less a Swiss and mushroom burger with scallions and oyster sauce, because at 11:30am, still my breakfast time, and anything bolder seemed untoward. The burger was larger than a fast food version but still petite, and a total umami bomb with deep, concentrated double mushroom flavor and slight nuttiness from the soft blanket of melted cheese. You can spruce up as you like from the selection of Lee Kum Kee condiments, nearly all untouched, foil seals intact.
The Sichuan chili, pepper jack cheese, and sriracha mayo-topped tater tots and sesame miso caramel milkshakes will have to wait until a later hour.
Uncle Sam’s Burger * 307 Fifth Ave., New York, NY