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Posts from the ‘Shovel Time’ Category

Shovel Time: Menkuikinya

Everyone–at least Americans–seem ramen-crazy. I like ramen, but I might like udon more. Soba? I could take it or leave it. So, I tracked down this counter that was walking-distance from one of the gazillion temples in Kyoto.

 

 Even though it was prime lunch time, there were two open spots at the far end of the counter, which was great but not so great for fat-asses sucking-in and shuffling sideways between the open foot of space between the customers’ backs and the coats hanging on the wall. (I felt better when I Google-translated some Japanese-and-Korean-language reviews that made reference to the narrow space.) I do like that there are always coat hooks in restaurants in Japan, though. 

I just ordered a simple kitsune udon because I love the sweetness of the broth and eggy texture to the big flat sponge of tofu. But the thing here, apparently, was udon with a big tuft of tempura green onion. It was a total Kyoto-style Bloomin’ Onion.

Tending to the noodles


Later on the subway, I thought I was clever for noticing the resemblance to the screens used for draining tempura to shelves for bags (I couldn’t even imagine shelves on the NYC subway). Then I started noticing food-like objects everywhere. The sponge in our Airbnb had a very tamago-like quality.

Who are you calling a baby?

Menkuikinya *112-2 Hakatacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Japan

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Portland Update January 2018

It is still slightly weird that I’ve been back to Oregon so many times since January 2016. Portland has its charms but I’m still wary of fully embracing them. It’s not a bad place to eat, though.

Nimblefish I wasn’t really impressed with Portland fave Bamboo Sushi or even Nodoguru, though that was due to more of a vibe thing than a reflection on the product, so I was curious about Nimblefish which seemed to fill the niche between generic sushi and omakase. You can walk in; it’s not a big to do. You check boxes and each piece is made and placed in front of you one-by-one, which I prefer to all-at-once on a plate. It’s not cheap since it’s a la carte not combo-style, but not prohibitive (many nigiri are $3-$4). The menu is tightly edited and changes based on availability. I wanted to try both Hokkaido and Santa Barbara unis (which I’d seen on Instagram) but only the latter was on hand. That was fine. I ended up ordering more than I had intended–seven pieces in all–because I was fresh off of multiple happy hour vodkas at Kachka: hotate, tako, maguro, uni, akami (not pictured), chu toro, sawara. I would probably go here regularly when I get the urge for good sushi without a wait or too much fanfare.

Ate-oh-Ate  I’ve probably said this before but Portland has an outsize Hawaiian presence. I’ve been told it’s because a lot of Hawaiians go to University of Oregon and just stay after graduation. Maybe. I don’t know. I was staying at an Airbnb and tried to acclimate to my daily 10:30am NYC work call at 7:30am, which is very West Coast. Just like the inexplicable Hawaiian thing, people start work very early on the West Coast–at least in Oregon–even if they don’t do business with the East Coast. Like an 8am start time is normal. My mom, who just retired, started around 7am, I think, and her crazy husband gets to work at like 5am when he doesn’t even need to. People think I’m nuts when I say I don’t go to work until 10am (which is more like 10:30am but I don’t want to shock them too much). Anyway, I was working “at-home” and wanted lunch delivered. The Seamless scene is kind of sad, delivery is not a thing, and extra fees abound. Ate-oh-Ate did deliver, though, and why not a plate lunch? The double starch of macaroni salad and rice always gave me pause but I’ll admit it’s really good together (one scoop of each is plenty, though). I completely underestimated mayo-heavy macaroni salad, here served with teriyaki beef, and a side of chili water (the middle container), which might be my new favorite condiment (it’s spicy vinegar, not water).

Langbaan I still love what Langbaan is doing. On my third visit the theme was Bangkok street food (both other visits happened to be Central Thailand). Not all the dishes sounded alluring on paper (think I was just objecting to the “spinach noodles”) but none turned out to be duds. The salad of oyster, tripe, trumpet mushroom, wood ear mushroom, ginger, scallion was up my alley and my favorite might have been one of the three entrees: kor muu pad kapi/pork jowl, shrimp paste, jalapeno, crispy betel leaf, which hit all my fiery, funky, fatty buttons. I discovered that the long-distance boyfriend isn’t really a tasting menu person, which I kind of knew but I wanted to treat because I enjoy the experience from time to time. It can be pretentious for a server to (over)explain all of the ingredients (his complaint) but that just goes with the territory. I’ve been to Yarowat, Bangkok’s Chinatown, but I’m not going to be a brat about someone explaining it to me in the context of a dish.

Chart House When you start your workday at 7am, you can kick off at 3pm, which is disorienting. That seems like a vast amount of free time but then you realize you can’t stay up as late as you’re used to. But one advantage is being able to go to happy hours, something I’m rarely able to do in NYC. Plus, happy hours are more of a thing in Portland, not just at bars but restaurants, even nice restaurants. Chart House is a “nice” restaurant in that it has a view (supposedly of all three area mountains) and it’s where people go for their anniversaries and maybe 50th birthday parties. This is probably the case in all cities (it’s a Landry’s chain). Apparently, in its former incarnation, Hillvilla, my mom went with her eighth grade class for lunch. When I ended eighth grade, we only got to go to Oaks Park on a school bus where the kids were screaming along to John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Rain on the Scarecrow” and mocking the lyrics. I would not eat at Chart House, the restaurant, but I was curious what the downstairs lounge would be like for happy hour. There is cheap wine and well spirits (the discounted cocktail are all too sweet) plus calamari, fish tacos, sliders, ahi nachos, and the like. Nothing mind-blowing. On the non-discounted menu, they featured cocktails made in those Porthole infusers made famous by The Aviary, a trickle-down effect in the wild.

Kachka I still haven’t eaten a proper meal here since I’ve only been solo during happy hours, which are very good value. I ended up with steelhead roe with challah and smetana butter (like creme fraiche), cabbage roll stuffed with beef, pork, and lamb, plus green walnut-infused vodka, cranberry-infused vodka shot and a beer, and one more vodka that I don’t even remember.

Clay’s Smokehouse I wouldn’t seek out barbecue in Portland, and have no desire to try the few spots that get acclaim (and even less desire to try vegan barbecue) but my vote for pizza was nixed when I discovered pies named after old-school Portland music scenesters. Farther down Division Street, it appeared that a long-time barbecue joint that I had never heard of but the companion always liked, moved across the street, so I was amenable to checking it out. The ribs were fine, I don’t love home fries, I wished the Texas toast was cheese bread, and the kale with almonds in a very tangy dressing was surprisingly good. I was more enamored with the Miller High Life pony bottle.

Shovel Time: Copacabana Brazilian Grill

In the last five years that I’ve lived alone, my interest in cooking has gone way down. Not into it after work, and not even into it as a Sunday project. Even when I force myself to make something Sunday night that sounds great (most recently, a Korean short rib stew) by two consecutive dinners and a lunch I’m sick of it. It’s only on the verge of moving that I’ve become ok with this. I’m not going to feel bad for relying on the completely reasonably priced restaurants in my neighborhood.

 

Which brings me to Copacabana, kind of like a low-rent churrascaria, which is very cost effective if you’re into meat trying to go light on carbs (I can’t give up bread!). I couldn’t justify buying ribs, pork belly, and prime rib just for a few slices.  On some nights the self-serve buffet is just ok (I’m sad when there is no chicharron) but on my recent visit it was great and had everything freshly replenished. There’s also a guy who cuts slices of around eight skewers of meat on a rotisserie. Most cuts are closer to well done than rare (and I’m sure you could ask for slices closer to the middle) but aren’t dry and flavorless at all.

There is green salad and toppings plus fried yuca (carby, whatever), plantains, beans, rice, and also multiple Brazilian dishes that I don’t know the names of like one with shrimp, mushrooms in a pinkish cream sauce, a black-eyed pea thing with ham and hard-boiled eggs that is almost like fried rice and I could eat a whole bowl of, and slightly odd cold dishes, one which looks like julienned beets from afar but is actually vinegary ham.

Anyway, you can be strategic and less dense items. If I’m correct, the meat is $9.99/lb and buffet and meat is $6.99/lb. The above takeout container’s contents cost around $12 (there’s more in there than it appears) and that was dinner and lunch the next day, which isn’t ridiculously cheap but totally reasonable considering I might spend $12 on a midtown sandwich when I go to the office.

Copacabana Brazilian Grill * 80-26 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, NY 

Shovel Time: Bar Masuda

I am a planner by nature, leaving little to chance or happenstance on vacations. I mean, I wander, but I often already have places in mind to eat or drink in the area I’m going. I didn’t, however, research drinks in Osaka. No idea why since I had a list of bars for Kyoto, none of which I ended up going to.

While joining the early evening crowds roaming Dotonbori, I did spy an unexpected fat-fetishy hostess bar, La Potcha Potcha, which is the kind of place I wouldn’t try to enter without prior research. Maybe I could write about it? Strangely, one of the only English language articles I found about it was in Vice from a few years back and it made it sound like white guys would be turned away, and definitely no women would be permitted. I don’t know if that’s true, but as a socially anxious lady, I wasn’t bold enough to test it out. I’ll never know if this was a missed opportunity. I’m no gonzo journalist.

But just down the street, there was a stone arch marking a non-flashy bar. It just seemed right, and by accident we stumbled into maybe the best bar in Osaka, Bar Masuda.

It had just opened so we had no problem getting a seat at the long narrow bar. There was a menu, which opened to a page that I think was meant to emphasize the importance of drinking water with your alcohol.

Osaka was the land of dubious drinking claims (though I’m not saying staying hydrated while drinking alcohol is dubious).

The menu also contained lists classic cocktails by primary spirit and Bar Masuda originals. Only titles were in English, ingredients were in Japanese so the so-called classics I’d never heard of like the King’s Valley or Emerald Cooler remained mysteries. Unlike in New York (or Tokyo, though Tokyo is surprisingly less expensive on many counts than NYC) the drinks were completely reasonably priced, many in the $10-$12 range.

There was a leg of what looked like serrano ham on the counter. This was promising.

It turned out to be Kagoshima Black pig, a local specialty, served in slices with cilantro, Japan by way of Spain.

And then I noticed a bunch of enamel pins high on a shelf, one of “Uncle Tory,” the ‘60s-style Suntory mascot, that I had just bought at the Yamazaki Distillery in Kyoto.

The bartenders were also wearing a few Bar Masuda pins on their lapels. I used my Google translate app to ask the young man behind the bar if I could possibly buy one. He went and got Mr. Masuda (son of the original Masuda) himself, silver suit jacket to match his hair, to come over. And just like everyone in Osaka, though we could only communicate in piecemeal English, he was chatty and generous. He reached down under the bar and pulled out a long piece of fabric with pins attached and gave me both that I had been asking about. Normally, this would call for a nice tip but no one even accepts them.

Boiled peanuts. I had no idea this was a thing in Japan.

When the lights dimmed and a pyrotechnic show started at the end of the bar, I was convinced to switch from my simple, well-made martini to a Blue Blazer. 

The drink really isn’t more than a hot toddy with scotch–at least in the US–but this version, a Blue Blazer II, added Grand Marnier and swapped lime for lemon. It is served warm in tin cup, heated by a flame that gets dramatically transferred from one metal mug to another as the liquor is poured from a great height. This is the specialty of the house, and I say it was worth the theatrics.

Bar Masuda * 2 Chome-3-11 Shinsaibashisuji, Osaka, Japan

Shovel Time: Kushikatsuryori Katsu

There are a handful of regional specialties unique to Osaka and environs, takoyaki being the biggest one, which I completely forgot to eat. That’s crazy. I’m also still kicking myself for not buying takoyaki Pringles that every single souvenir shop was selling.

Lesser known (at least to me) is kushikatsu, a.k.a. kushiage, which is kind of tempura on sticks. It’s deep fried meat, seafood, and vegetables, so yeah, the only difference is breadcrumbs in the crust where tempura is more puffy.

This was an accidental pitstop since we were in Osaka station, just wanting a snack, but around 5pm every restaurant was packed wall-to-wall. You’d think as a near-New Yorker I’d be used to squeaking into cramped seating arrangements but Japan takes close quarters to new extremes.

This place, which had no English name (that I have since deduced with 95% accuracy is Kushikatsuryori Katsu, based on many image searches), had open seats. The menu was a little bit confusing (no English, but pictures) so I ended up picking a set meal to split rather than going blindly a la carte, so it was a little pricey (for train station food) but it came with soup, a lot of cabbage and raw sliced vegetables, and a surprise scoop of ice cream at the end. It was also a little fancier than other kushikatsu restaurants I’ve seen online as there is no communal dipping sauce.

 

I have no idea how the chef decided what to place in front of my vs. my travel companion. We just went with it.There was a prawn, a giant stalk of asparagus, ham wrapped around a giant oyster that wasn’t battered at all. The fun is kind of in the dipping sauces like hot mustard and worcestershire-heavy tonkatsu sauce, some which we were advised went with specific skewers.

The star, though, ended up being a seasoned salt that just looked like salt with maybe a grayish hue and scant dark specks. I have no clue what was in it (Googling kushikatsu salt gets you nowhere) but probably MSG because it made everything taste more savory and amazing.

I only spent two days in Osaka, but my impression was that staff, while we couldn’t communicate well, were super friendly, more so than in Tokyo or Kyoto. We ended up with parting gifts at three establishments: chopsticks at a yakitori place, enamel pins at Bar Masuda, and here, the mysterious salt blend. We were talking about it while we ate but I’m fairly certain no one was eavesdropping. Maybe everyone gets salt to take home?

This was a very exciting part of the trip.

Kushikatsuryori Katsu * 1-1-3 Shibata, Kita-ku | B2F Hankyu 3-Bangai, Osaka, Japan

Shovel Time: Momiji

I’m sure there are exceptions but state capitals tend to be almost non-places and definitely not food destinations. Sacramento? Albany? Salem? Have you ever been curious about sushi Oregon’s capital? Probably not.

Salem is full of lesser regional chains like Izzy’s and Pietro’s, and also a Sizzler. (I can’t believe the only one left in Portland that I was supposed to go to on a Tinder date but ended up going to with my grandma is gone.) I went to the Oregon State Fair earlier and decided to stay the night. Momiji was one of the few places open late on Sunday (until midnight) and I kind of like this level of non-purist sushi: crazy rolls, all-you-can-eat specials, and saloon doors separating a video poker room. A lot of businesses in Salem are low-slung and windowless like they are up to something. 

You don’t even have to wear shoes.

When in Salem one must order the Salem roll, a holy trinity of cream cheese, avocado, and fake crab, fried tempura-style and drizzled with eel sauce. Momiji is the kind of place where you don’t feel guilty for ordering sushi with sweet and creamy sauces, though I still got some unadorned ikura and maguro.

I might’ve guessed that the poke on the appetizer list was just riding the wave of Hawaiian raw fish popularity, though it’s hard to say because I forgot how much of a Hawaiian presence there is in the NW. I’ve heard because many Hawaiians go to the University of Oregon and end up staying. I’ve been to multiple luaus in the 20 months that I’ve been visiting Portland. All that plus tempura was too much food.

Momiji * 4590 Silverton Rd., Salem, Oregon

 

Newborn: Khao Nom

Just around the corner from Khao Kang, in a similar rough wood style that all the new Elmhurst Thai restaurants seem to have adopted, is a newish cafe serving mostly Thai sweets. I don’t think the two businesses are related. (Ok, they are.)

Coconut pudding was a special so I tried an order of two (and I ate most of one before I took a photo). A salty layer of coconut cream hides a pale green gel flavored and colored with pandan. I also bought emerald sticky rice in a banana leaf, just because I love green and pandan might be my favorite natural scent in the world. They also have a short list of savories like curry puffs, salads, and noodles. I didn’t see any khanom bueang a.k.a. Thai tacos (crepes often with a marshmallow-like meringue which can be dressed up sweet or savory) though I think they do those as well.

The to-go packaging is cute, with a strong brand identity and a banana leaf laid inside the cardboard box. Tables inside have little place-markers that instead of names read cheeky words like “badass” or “sexy.” It’s something different, at least.

Khao Nom * 76-20 Woodside Av., Elmhurst, NY

Shovel Time: Khao Kang

I don’t know why I have never written about Khao Kang.  I guess for the simple reason that I never write about anything here anymore. As 2017 starts coming to a close, I can finally admit to myself and the world that I am going to move early next year. I’m manifesting shit as I speak. My amazing Queens food days are numbered (#queens4lyfe became #queens4now) so I might go hard and devote a day to Queens eats for a month. 

Khao Kang is maybe five blocks too far to run out for lunch when I work at home (Google Maps says it’s a 13 minute walk each way) but I’m going to try and remember it more. The concept is simple: you are given a big scoop of rice and can choose two ($8.50) or three dishes ($9) from 10 or presented behind glass to be ladled on the side.

It’s the closest thing to street and market vendors in Thailand with vats of earth-toned curries to choose from. But instead of tiny plastic chairs on the sidewalk, it’s more rough wood and dangling lights like a modern Bangkok restaurant.

Choices change daily, as I discovered on my last visit and they didn’t have the sweet crispy pork nuggets that I love. There are descriptions taped on the glass but I just go by what jumps out. On this trip I got a mild, almost Chinese tasting (I can’t pin down why I say that) shrimp and squid curry, yellow with turmeric, a fiery breaded fish and eggplant curry, as well as a dry curry with bamboo shoots and pork (there was a meatless version before). F.Y.I. hot is hot. I have a fairly high threshold for heat and some of these curries–I never know which ones, but always anything with bamboo shoots–are forceful.

Khao Kang * 76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, NY

Shovel Time: Fish Market Restaurant

twoshovelIn my nearly 20 years in NYC I’ve developed an embarrassing jaded side where I’m surprised and delighted by nothing, so I love reminders that I haven’t seen it all, not by any measure.

fishhouse exterior

I used to work in the Financial District and yet somehow Fish Market near the Seaport never made it onto my radar. (And god, I still miss Little Lad’s.) Maybe it was the generic name, or that it seems like the place where you’d have to eat fish and chips, or the dive bar vibe from the sidewalk (though that would probably appeal to me since grit is scarce around those parts).

fishhouse bar

I was just drunk enough on a balmy weeknight to become intrigued by Yelp reviews (yes, Yelp is a horror but it is good for facts or descriptions of atmosphere) that detailed shots of Jameson and photos of what looked to be Chinese food. Ok. There is a prominent bar, well, the entire place looks like a bar, with a bunch of TV screens and a few arcade games.

fishhouse bathroom

The bathroom door looks like it been used as a punching bag.

fishhouse food

Many plates of lobster, an item I didn’t even see on the menu and if I did I would hesitate to order it, were being placed in front of diners. (Apparently, it’s a Monday-Wednesday special: 1.5 pounds for $16.) Dishes include non-descriptive things like yummy noodles and hinted things like pescatore bowl.  I opted for the pork belly pot (as opposed to the pork belly meal for $4 less), some sort of wings that I don’t even remember, and crispy rice with shrimp, which is fried rice with the crust scattered on top, socarrat-style. 

fishhouse liquor

By the time we left, I had managed to be served four shots of Jameson in a little plastic cup. Yes, one of the owners makes rounds with the bottle, filling up your glass as needed.

Fish Market Restaurant * 111 South St., New York, NY

 

Sunday Best: Parm’s Ice Cream Cake

Ok, it’s Thursday, whatever, Sunday is a state of mind.

I have been ogling this pastel fat-striped ice cream cake for a few years (as well as M. Wells’ baked alaska) but rarely eat Italian-American food and always seem to have better things to do. It just so happened that I was a few blocks away from the Soho location on my honest-to-god real birthday (after randomly late-lunching at Balthazaar, which also wasn’t why I was in Soho, my first visit in my 19 years in NYC).

Two happy hour sparkling wines at the bar (after a handful of drinks already in my system–couldn’t say no to an 85-year-old buying me beer at Fanelli’s) and a slice of strawberry, pistachio, and chocolate cake with sprinkles was more than I could even hope for.

Then, the mid-30s guy with a neck tattoo sitting next to me who didn’t say a single word while he ate his meatless salad, got up to pay and added my cake to his bill. This gesture was very nice and very unexpected. If I had been sober, this generous move would be anxiety-inducing because I would fear that everyone in the restaurant would think I didn’t have any friends and it was pathetic for a grown woman to eat cake alone. Drunk me just said “thanks,” smiled, and enjoyed my cake.

(Though if I had one criticism, it was that the cake was frozen too hard, but I’m a weirdo who likes my ice cream slightly melted–dare I say medium-rare?–and concentrates on the runny parts at the rim of the bowl [never a cone] until and then you turn the scoop upside down and eat the melty bottom, tackling the softening core last.)

I’m not sure if Parm offers its full range of 12 cakes as was reported in 2015, as this location only had the classic and s’mores.