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Posts from the ‘Manhattan’ Category

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

Sunday Best: Otto’s Bucatini

A post shared by Krista Garcia (@goodiesfirst) on

Ok, I guess pasta is really good. Who knew? I rarely seek out Italian or Italian-American food beyond pizza, and especially not pasta because it just seems heavy and boring. The last high-end Italian restaurant I went to was Marea when I took out my then boyfriend for his birthday a million years ago (ok, six) and the now CEO of my company was sitting nearby and sent over a bottle of champagne because the company was then still small and people liked me. Of course, the octopus bone marrow fusilli was amazing.

Anyway, I had three hours to kill late Friday afternoon so I was day-drinking and ultimately needed to be on Fifth Avenue near the Flatiron. Otto is great for solo dining, the food is reasonably priced, and the bartenders/servers are always gracious. My intent to order pizza turned to pasta as the simple bucatini with black pepper and guanciale was beckoning. The server offered to make it with tomato sauce i.e. All’Amatriciana as I suppose that’s more popular? But the main reason why I don’t eat Italian food is because I don’t like all the tomato sauce (yes, I realize that’s more of an American thing). Is this a safe space to admit I really don’t like pesto either? Basil is one the most overrated herbs.

It was so good as is, very al dente, just the right portion to serve as late lunch/early dinner, rich from the cured meat and just oily enough that it didn’t need sauce. It looks like nothing but tasted like everything, made nicer with a quartino of Orvieto Classico.

Sunday Best: Sushi by Bae

No one cares about every single thing you eat. Even I’ve lost interest in keeping up with or documenting every meal in NYC. That’s kind of what Instagram is for now. I’m just going to pick the one thing at the end of every week (I refuse to believe Sunday starts the week) and say a few words. 

sushi by bae grid

I counted 18 different pieces of sushi (plus an amuse) served by Oona Tempest (formerly of Tanoshi) at her showcase pop-up, Sushi by Bae, which seems like a lot but photos don’t lie. That would make this a very good value $100 omakase to my mind (though I’m not sure that volume is standard or because I was with a regular). Sometimes boo-hoo-ing on social media works since I was essentially thread-jacking  someone else’s Instagram post to voice that I had been burned by this venue’s rigid seats for 2 or 4 only policy (which apparently has been lifted) and it turned out this person had booked a reservation for 4 and one guest had to bow out, leaving a spot for me, a near-stranger.

I already want to go back. My attempt at quickly typing each description in Evernote before too many seconds pass and it seems rude to not pop the piece in my mouth as you’re supposed to immediately tends to result in garbled notes. This is what I ended up with:

Shima aj (aji)
Kisu
Golden eyevampper licorice sea salt. (snapper)
Chu tor (chutoro)
Shari (shari is the rice–don’t know what I meant to say)
Miso cured but refuse (no idea what “but refuse” meant)
Barracuda
Nodoguti black throat sea bass (nodoguro)
RBI ebi with koji (RBI?)
Santa Barbara roe
Santa Barbara uni
Otoro
Truffle

International Intrigue: Yo! Sushi

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

yo sushi menu

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

yo sushi collage

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

yo sushi fruit salad

 

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

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

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

 

International Intrigue: BB.Q Chicken

bbq chicken facade

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

bbq chicken downstairs

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

bbq chicken

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

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

bbq chicken upstairs

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

bbq chicken uni

Chicken University!

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

 

International Intrigue: Uogashi

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

uogashi room

 

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

uogashi duo

 

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

uogashi sushi

 

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

Uogashi * 188 First Ave., New York, NY 

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.

IMG_9386

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.