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Posts from the ‘Manhattan’ Category

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

Eaten, Barely Blogged: French-ish, All-American, Mexican Mash-Ups

mimi trio

Mimi The mark of a good restaurant is one where you leave feeling better than when you arrived (despite young men good-naturedly but firmly asking you to move down six inches so their lady can have more room even though you’re already arm-to-arm with the older-but-not-old man waiting for his lady on your right, being there first [the first customer period to avoid this situation because you know your limits], the isosceles triangle napkin placed by a server establishing your plot of land at the bar). That’s not a lot to ask, though it’s scarcer than it seems. Mimi succeeds. The sliced madai in brown butter with lemon curd and dried seaweed was like candy, or more accurately, caramel corn, fish caramel corn, which sounds dubious but is brightened by the citrus and amazing with nice bread and butter. I would go back and have this as a bar snack with sparkling wine in a second.  Don’t play around with it too much or else the sauce will start to cool and congeal. Peppery calves liver, rare and steak-like, is served with boudin noir-stuffed eggplant, studded with golden raisins, and also blended sweet with savory well, potent and energizing in the same way as the crudo without being heavy, matchingwith a glass of equally bold French red wine that I vowed to remember without taking a photo  and promptly forgot (comped, I realized later, which occasionally is a benefit–at least at a certain type of casual-polished place–of dining on your own) Even approaching fullness, I was never bored.

emmy squared duo

Emmy Squared I forget if this is supposed to be Detroit-inspired or Detroit-style pizza (which I did try last year for the first time in a very different setting i.e. one that doesn’t threaten a $25/per person fee for no-shows because you just show up and eat pizza). The slices are square, the crust thick but not Chicago deep, with crisp edges and plenty of cheese. I will take any excuse to eat Hawaiian variations in an acceptable manner. Here, that would be ham and spiced pineapple on the Lou-Wow. I’m also a sucker for pretzel buns, which hold together Le Big Matt Burger, the formerly semi-secret double-pattied, white american cheese, and sambal-spiked mayonnaise monster that’s now formally on the menu. Split a burger and pizza if possible. Both are good but you’ll probably leave feeling more or less the same as when you entered. 

mission cantina trio

Mission Cantina is as good a spot as any to unintentionally stumble into on a weeknight. The whole operation from service to menu feels haphazard, and that’s not a criticism (though I almost ordered a drink special because it was green until I parsed that it contained  Midori, god no, which the server thought was cucumber liqueur). It’s a perfect place to knock back micheladas and marvel at more fried chicken than would seem imaginable for $26. That would be masa-crusted, spicy, honey-drizzled, and tarted-up with pickles and pickled jalapeños in a vaguely Southern/South of the Border/Korean way. Like pretzel rolls and Hawaiian pizza, I will always order crab rangoon if I see it. There was an undercurrent of what I thought was curry powder in these fried wontons, which you have to be in the mood for, and then the next day while sweating on a walk home it hit me that the abrasive seasoning was likely Old Bay, with celery salt being the offender.  Limey, lightly funky mussel tostadas, chosen instead of a side vegetable that was practically insisted upon, were more guacamole than anything.

 

Shovel Time: Agern

threeshovelTwo-and-a-half hours after taking my seat at the counter, early Friday evening (the only one doing so until a Japanese guy with hint of a man bun arrived later and was seated way on the other side of the open prep space), I was glad I didn’t change my reservation for something cooler. My original instinct.

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Sure, high-end dining is a little weird just a few steps down the 42nd Street ramp into Grand Central. More than a couple under-dressed walk-ins looked at at menu at the host stand before leaving But also, and maybe more so, do we need more Nordic-tinged food in NYC in 2016? I wouldn’t say I get excited about nasturtium leaves or nettles and especially not dill. You know there is going to be pine somewhere and pretty borage petals are going to make an appearance. (Sure enough, was seated facing the woman prepping the lavender flowers.) It keeps persisting. Cooler might’ve meant waiting a few days and trying the new Aska. I still haven’t been to Blanca or Semilla, though. No one is giving-up tables for one at Le Coucou or that would’ve been part of my Solo Birthday Dining week. Honestly, I chose Agern in part because I suspected it was good value for a tasting menu. And it really was. $145, service included, for the land and sea menu. With beverage pairings (surprisingly heavy on New York state wines) you’re right at $230. Pricey, obviously, but not to the degree of more established, possibly more luxurious, tastings in the city. You feel good about the time and money spent at the end of the meal.

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The non-table-seated view of Friday rush hour bustle. I watched someone struggle with rolling their wheelchair up the ramp for far too long. I wasn’t staring, but it was in my line of vision and struggled myself to come up with an apt metaphor. There wasn’t one. Just a non-young lady willingly eating algae alone.

agern snacks

You don’t receive any silverware during the series of snacks involving cucumber, fluke, horseradish, pine, celeriac, dill, oyster, awesome fried potato bread, and sweetbread that tastes like a fancy chicken nugget, and ends with a steaming, soft-centered round of dense sourdough cut into four wedges and served with butter whipped with buttermilk, which took me a few to realize was intentional. Lemon balm and cucumber gets distilled into a broth poured into a vessel the size of a Chinese teacup from a French press. And then you are on your way.

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Points given for full loaves for one. So nice that bread is back.

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Oof, I can’t remember the details other than tomatoes that I thought tasted dangerously close to melon were involved, something creamy, roe too, and that it probably could’ve been one-third smaller and have had more impact. It was the first night they were serving this dish and it’s not currently on the menu.

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Beef heart with green strawberries, tiny rounds of grassy asparagus, and dusted with a nettle powder was a stand-out. This was more vegetable than meat and tasted like the color green.

What’s the vibe? Well, kind of formal. There is a lot of staff. I appreciated that the front of house wasn’t hyper-white. My server had just moved from Puerto Rico to work at Agern and was jazzed about foraging and local ingredients but still happy to talk to me about alcapurrias and morcilla. Not the youngest crowd. A twee version of “Teenage Kicks” started playing in that Nouvelle Vague manner. It probably was Nouvelle Vague. (Yes, I wasn’t sure if they still existed.)

agern beets

Then it’s the salt and ash baked beet. It’s quite a production, cracked and carved and extras plated on the side. It’s a lot of beet for one person. The sweet vegetable, paired with huckleberries, is accompanied by a really great chewy rye bread.

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This is when I started getting full and fuzzy. Monkfish and apple…

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The pork neck was rich but a little tough, at least too tough for a butter knife to saw through, but also very bright and vegetal with pea shoots and green beans, plus seaweed crackers, more specifically made from a dulse called söl. This was just about right for the savories to wind down.

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My worst nightmare of a dessert. Cantaloupe (ugh) and cucumber with frozen skyr, lemon balm, and there’s that boarage. Minus the melon (which I realize is my own personal Kryptonite), this was a perfectly nice and refreshing palate cleanser. And then I got worried that maybe it was the main event and not an interim course.

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Phew. We’re still not talking caramel, chocolate, or nuts, but I can deal with strawberries, kombucha, and rose vinegar. Ok, who am I kidding? That’s not a dessert either.

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Candies are more me, earthy or not. Little Play-doh doses of chocolate (Brooklyn chocolate) with anise hyssop, chamomile caramel, mint dusted with ivy powder (yes, ivy).

agern bread duo

You get sent off with a loaf of bread, more of that delicious butter, a tin of jam, which I want to say was apricot and it’s a shame my fruit palate isn’t fully developed. Not quite peachy. Best Saturday morning breakfast really.

Agern * 89 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: French Schmaltz, Thai Soup, Mexican Sandwiches

sauvage quad

Sauvage is one of those curiosities where you remember looks more than taste even if your photos don’t convey it. And by you, it’s quite possible I mean just me. Light and airy. Windows open to the street. (My first thought was just because everyone speaks French and Spanish on Bedford Avenue, doesn’t mean we’re in Europe. Some of us enjoy A/C.) Where high-waisted jeans in pale washes and Keds look pretty. (Or maybe that’s just how everyone under 30 looks now–the young women working at Pye Boat Noodle, below, had a similar aesthetic plus straw hats encircled by a fat black ribbon). Service was gracious (even though I was given a time-limit on my table for arriving early but reservation-less). How could this pretty (and those coasters) crushed ice cocktail topped with purple petals not be delicious? Ok, with Macvin du Jura, Aveze gentian, and pear, it was, and hard spirit-free refreshing. This delicate quality was also present in the food to lesser effect. Sunchokes with green garlic, sunflower sprouts, and ‘nduja vinaigrette managed to make something with an oily, spicy component neither luscious nor hot and more like the crunchy tubers they were. Pike with so-called mountain vegetables (morels, asparagus, mystery green), and sour beer sabayon was chosen because it was described as the heartier of the two seafood dishes (oh, there was also a fish special that our server seemed very disappointed we didn’t go for), a word I would use more for the pot au feu chicken with skin schmaltz toast, despite chicken fat on bread translating as, yes, delicate. Maybe I’m just losing interest in full meals. I would totally return for cocktails and snacks at the bar if anyone suggested it (though I’m not sure they would).

cemitas el tigre tinga

Cemitas el Tigre I’m kind of jealous that Sunnyside and Woodside gets modern restaurants like Dawa’s and this former Smorgasburg sanwichery now with seats, subway tiles, wood arranged into chevron patterns, and a bar with bottles of Negro Modelo and gose on tap. Jackson Heights never changes no matter how much people who don’t live here seem to think it’s gentrifying. Rent and co-op prices continue creeping-up, and it’s still impenetrably pollo a la brasa, momos, and sports bars. What’s the difference between a Mexican cemita and one meant for a broader clientele? About $1, papalo, and a seeded roll. The thing is, I didn’t really miss that traditional herb’s almost menthol obtrusiveness on this chicken tinga sandwich, hollowed-out roll stuffed with avocado, saucey chipotles, and Oaxacan string cheese. I’m half-ashamed to admit that I pulled 60% of the herb off the last cemita I had a few months ago from El Rico Tinto Bakery. (This might all be moot because Cemitas El Tigre’s menu claims to use papalo and sesame seed rolls. Maybe sometimes they do?)

pye boat noodles

Pye Boat Noodle Ok, it might seem lame to bemoan the loss of nam tok soup a.k.a. boat noodles when there’s a restaurant with the dish in its name a few neighborhoods over. I’m not intrepid as I used to be. Luckily, I had an afternoon to take advantage of the quiet backyard and happy hour beer special in that murky zone between lunch and dinner. (I’ll have to double-check and see if I was charged lunch or dinner prices on the soup–there’s a dollar difference.) A condiment caddy is always a good sign, the cracklings were a nice touch, and the soup itself was rich, complex, just a little livery, yet still buoyant enough for the steamy weather. Astoria, which I’m slowly getting to know, is a small town because the same loud millennial who was making fun of his 40something aunt for getting breast implants the first time I went to Mar’s, also showed up here and I recognized his attention-getting voice before even looking up from my bowl of noodles. Eerily, while typing this District Saigon liked a bunch of my Instagram photos (maybe you should follow me–I’m friendly) which reminded me that’s where I had intended to go this particular afternoon, but it’s one of those closed between lunch and dinner places.

olive garden spaghetti pie

Olive Garden You might think you want pasta formed into a pie (and there are plenty of reputable examples online that I’m not going to link to) but you probably don’t need Olive Garden’s new spaghetti novelty, either Alfredo’d-up with chicken or with tomato sauce and meatballs. No one needs that level of pasta density, unless we’re discussing kugel. Then again, the ramen burger was a runaway hit. I wouldn’t eat that either.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: A Bender Just Because

When you post lots of food and drink photos (though who doesn’t anymore?) there is an assumption that you’re always out eating and drinking when in my reality there’s a good deal of cheese and crackers, eggs and bacon, yogurt, seltzer, and other mundanities consumed at home.

dallas bbq pina colada

But when visitors are around who think you’re perpetually having fun, you might have to give them the full eight-hour bender experience, day job be damned. This is now your job. What started out as an innocent lunch break across the street at my favorite regional chain Dallas BBQ (one piña colada) resulted in a two-borough excursion that served to blow the mind (and health) of a long-distance old friend-turned-boyfriend who hadn’t drank for the 25 years leading up to our reconnecting in January. I’m a horrible influence, no question.

jimmy's duo

Jimmy’s Corner (one Sam Adams, two Maker’s on the rocks), not just the best boxing bar in Times Square but possibly the best bar in Times Square period (this is a great recent ode) carried me into oyster happy hour territory but Cull & Pistol, where I was lured by a friend, was too crowded and I wasn’t hungry anyway after ribs and fries, so Corner Bistro minus the burger (two McSorley’s dark ales) became stop #3 for a little anti-Dallas BBQ atmosphere.sea wolf duo

Yet oysters (and two $5 frozen Painkillers) ended up happening anyway at Sea Wolf, the newish beachy restaurant off the Jefferson St. L where getting off the train I came face to face with a coworker whose name I don’t know and initially made me panic since I was being a truant but by 6:30pm I was in the clear. A barely perceptible nod of acknowledgement was sufficient. The point of Bushwick was to hit a few vintage stores, something I haven’t done in decades, and fittingly demonstrate what the Portland of NYC looks like (equally young with free-time during the day, better educated and likely to be secretly wealthy, far dirtier and more industrial, less white, duh).

tomo sushi

By this point, rando sushi seemed like a good idea and a sandwich board on the sidewalk worked its magic. Shared rolls (and a Sapporo) at Tomo just opened the floodgates, though, and Dorito ramen (oops, carbonara) at King Noodle, a few doors down, started seemingly like an even better idea, except I forgot that they had tempered the kitsch a while back and now the menu was more straightforward Asian, slightly SE. Oh, but thank god, and thank you, if you made it this far because the whole point of this exercise is this: ma po tofu fries!

king noodle trio

This is my kind of junk food: melted, processed cheese and fried starch and intensely seasoned ground meat. I love salty soy (fish sauce ideally) with melted cheese and a little (a lot really) heat. Ok, the overriding theme was salt in all the dishes, in an extreme way that was too much in the Spam fried rice and Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce (a nod to health). Maybe not the lemongrass wings, which felt a little wan in comparison, probably because I’d lost all taste for subtlety at this point. (Eaten with coconut porter and a second completely unnecessary beer in a style that I don’t remember since it was the eleventh drink of the day.)

me at king noodle

Drink #10, still going strong. There’s no way to make the neon lighting flattering.

Once you start binging at 1pm, you’ll get tired unless you keep up a steady pace. It may seem dangerous, but the beauty is that you’ll probably make it home by 10pm and get a full eight hours to digest all that sodium, fat, and alcohol and will wake up feeling only sort of like crap (but maybe not at all depending how far from middle-age you might be). To really tempt fate, you can start again the next day but two back-to-back benders is my maximum as a non-young, employed person. Most importantly, I really impressed a now-drinking, self-described Country Mouse (only if you consider Portland’s outskirts country) into boxing, whose going out consists primarily of ramen with his kids, with my fortitude and disregard for work ethics and diet. 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Birds, Blood, Chile Oil

paet rio nam tok soup

Paet Rio take two. I didn’t do a very good job of selling someone who wanted Japanese noodles for lunch and isn’t into Thai food because he thinks it’s all sweetness and coconut milk. I said no pad thai because I’m controlling, then eased up and didn’t provide enough guidance and he ended up ordering rad na, which is the weirdest, blandest, gravy-drenched Chinese-Thai noodle dish that I’m convinced only means something to people who grew up with it. So much so that I passed on a photo. I went looking for a nam tok soup replacement post-Plant Love House (Pata Paplean succeeds, but that’s not a weekday affair) and received an ok rendition. It was a little wan when I was seeking something more powerful and dank.

ivan ramen trio

Ivan Ramen came through on the Japanese noodle front, though accidentally, while weaving from the East Village to Chinatown, not all that hungry after green tea bun at Panya and afternoon beers and a shot at 7B.  The spicy broth slicked with chile oil was softened by finely minced pork and a yolky egg fluffed into an almost-scramble. The tangle of noodles light and springy. I wouldn’t consider $22 a bargain lunch special but with a can of Japanese beer and a chosen side (cucumber pickles in my case) it’s as good a way as any to spend a leisurely afternoon.

le coq rico trio

Le Coq Rico is where you’d expect a prix-fixe lunch to be $38 (though I had a $27 deal because I’m a grandma, see above). The Parisian import is all about aged birds of many breeds, some more than $100 a pop. This particular week, and maybe always, the featured non-whole chicken was a 110-day aged Brune Landaise, roasted with riesling and other aromatics, ideal for the dark meat types (I’ll never understand white meat-lovers), plated simply with jus and a side salad, but not necessarily revelatory. It’s chicken. I’d need to taste more varieties in quick succession to better suss out this particular breed’s attributes. First course was chicken livers with another salad. There is a lot of liver lurking under those leaves, plus some unexpected smears of hummus for added creaminess and richness. That île flottante, though (baked Alaska is next on my list of classics). The meringue mound surrounded a crème anglaise moat and slivered toasted almonds was the breakout star. It was practically a sext when I sent a pic of myself cradling the dish–and now, I’ve firmly entered middle-aged Better than Sex Cake (Better than Robert Redford Cake, if you’re even more aged) territory. Wow. 

duck soup

And speaking of poultry offal, the shop with a three duck logo and name I can’t recall because I don’t think it was in English, is where to go in the New World Mall food court if you want a bowl of mild, cloudy broth full of clear bean thread noodles and bobbing slices of fried crueller and hidden cubes of duck blood, gizzards, and other, livery bits instead of the more popular hand-shaved noodle soups. It lacks the luxuriousness of fatty roast duck and the herbs to read as medicinal. I’d say the soup is restorative. When in doubt, add chile oil. It’s Probably good for a hangover.

white bear wontons

White Bear is hardly an unknown. All non-Chinese order the 12 for $5.50 #6, and I’m not one to buck that wontons with chile oil trend.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Ears, Tongue, Pizza, Pizza

margot's hot supreme

Margot’s Pizza It’s doubtful I would order a supreme anywhere else but this Saturday pop-up. Hawaiian is my suburban pizza  of choice, ham and pineapple being the sweet-and-kind antithesis of ground sausage and green peppers, but a supreme also seems like the ultimate bar pie style (casual, thin, crispy) even if I went slightly out of bounds with the Hot Supreme that wisely subs pickled jalapeños for those diced green peppers. This was a very good pizza, with a nearly frico’d rim and wonderfully anisey free-form sausage that made me wonder why I had a problem with it in the first place. All that was missing was a pitcher of beer (insert your own regional cheapie brand of choice). I lucked out when a friend and his friend turned out to be in attendance (the other two bar-sitters until Margot herself showed up) so I could swap for a slice of pepperoni drizzled with honey, more to my natural sweet-and-savory tendencies. Why is honey on pizza so good when it can be so gross in other guises?

el atoradero duo

El Atoradero Since I rarely stray beyond North Brooklyn if I’m going cross-borough due to public transportation logistics and general impatience, I had to squeeze in a second meal to make my Clinton Hill pizza journey more worth the while. After killing some time, trying to work up another appetite by counter-intuitively drinking beer and buying doughnuts in Bed-Stuy, double-borough-crossing Bronx-to-Prospect Heights Mexican it was. (And if you think I’m bad and provincial, I couldn’t convince any Brooklynites to meet me.) I had a nice taco, blue corn tortilla and chewy-crunchy pig ears, followed by tongue, dead opposite texturally, described as “like filet mignon” because of its softness, drenched in a moderately spicy salsa verde. Look at those tasty slabs. I’d prefer this to that pricier cut of beef even if it provokes revulsion on social media. It’s doubtful anyone would identify braised tongue if fed a delicious bite. As an aside, if I were someone else, someone to whom Plant Love House wasn’t dead to after abandoning Queens, I might’ve stopped by Look too on the way back to the G train.

00+co farro fennel pizza
00+Co If I were to choose a new-school, unconventional pizza in the East Village I would probably pick Bruno because I like cheese, but this was not up to me. Birthday dinners that aren’t yours are like that. I like modern vegan food. No biggie. It’s more like you have to evaluate a non-traditional pizza against itself not some Neapolitan standard. Same for Chicago pies. These are hardy pizzas, no doubt, with farro-fennel balls standing in for sausage on the one of my choosing, along with tomatoes and cashew mozzarella that was a little overshadowed. My favorite was the smoky, tangy grilled trumpet mushroom and walnut cream pizza with green harissa, an overall earthy vibe and noticeable lemony brightness that once again made me covet my neighbor’s slice. 

alewife solo lady receipt

Alewife is a fine enough place for a sour beer (and maybe a super dark stout or two if its Friday) and a pile of duck confit poutine on the way home from work if those two points are connected by the 7 train and and both Corner Bistro are Casa Enrique are full, but if you are a woman doing so alone at the bar it will not go unnoticed and might be used to identify you on your receipt. Yep, just a “solo lady” here. That’s me.

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Pizza, Pizza, Sushi, Himalayan and Not

pizzeria sirenetta arugula & prosciutto pizza

Pizzeria Sirenetta This is type of place–pizzas, pastas, snacks, all under $20–just taken for granted in so many neighborhoods. (A little less so in this more-desolate-than-you’d-think pocket of the Upper West Side.) I mean, it’s kind of boring. Also, I would kill for one. There just isn’t anywhere to get skinny linguine creamy with meyer lemon-spiked ricotta and sprinkled with micro-croutons or what I’ve decided is my favorite pizza, the perfect bitter/rich/salty combo of arugula and prosciutto. Instead of the little chocolate pudding freebie offered at the end of the other Mermaid restaurant meals, you will receive a tiny panna cotta with a droplet of balsamic vinegar.

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Eaten, Barely Blogged: More Ramen, Bhutanese Queso, Boat Noodles

ramen by mew

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.

ema datsi bhutan

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.

lots of memories but it’s time to move on

A photo posted by บ้านปลูกรัก/ ร้านลูก (@plantlovehouse) on

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. 

pata paplean nam tok

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.


 

Newborn: Pokéworks

I managed to completely avoid poké while in Los Angeles, a city practically synonymous with the 2015 iteration, and assumed I was in the clear as long as I stayed on my side of the country. But within a matter of months, no less than three restaurants featuring cubes of raw fish dressed and gussied-up in bowls appeared nearly as far as one can get in the continental United States from Hawaii.

pokeworks interior

I don’t dislike poké. I just had better things to do in LA. In fact, it’s kind of a perfect office-day lunch: light with lots of satisfying texture and flavor. Except that I didn’t realize quite how popular Pokéworks was. I’m not sure if the new aspiring chainlet always has a line 30 deep at 2pm (enough to warrant a passing-out of samples and menus to soothe the eager) or if my inadvertently showing-up the same day The New York Times wrote about poké had any bearing on the line apocalypse that out-snaked Chick-fil-A’s corner queue a few doors down.

pokeworks line

Originally, I mistook this as a poké bouncer–until I realize he was there to keep fish freaks from blocking the entrance to the gentleman’s club.

pokeworks poke

Pokéworks offers eight signature styles, including a vegetarian and chicken version, but after waiting 25 minutes, menu in hand, then eyes on the assembly line, it almost feels irresponsible to not attempt a custom order even though that might be the optimal way to assess what a restaurant is all about. Every option (it’s a six-step process) has already been computed mentally by this point. I felt like confident when I went for a brown rice base, a two-protein combo of ahi tuna and salmon, edamame and hijiki as mix-ins, classic salt (Hawaiian salt and sesame oil) flavor, masago-only topping (seaweed and salad and crab salad were tempting), plus garlic chips for crunch.

So many components might threaten to overwhelm the whole point of this purist dish, and I didn’t need all that rice, but the firm chunks of tuna and salmon still shone through, a bright counterpoint for a blustery winter afternoon in NYC.

Pokéworks * 63 W. 37th Ave., New York, NY