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The Week in International Intrigue: Chicken & Noodles

Photo: Jollibee

Photo: Jollibee

NYC may finally be getting the Ichiran, the Hakata-style ramen chain with partitions for solo diners, it was promised in 2007. Just in time to ride the pork bone broth wave.

Jollibee, the Filipino fast food restaurant that serves spaghetti with wieners, American cheese, and ketchup, is reportedly looking to buy a US chain. Speculation includes a range of brands including Popeyes, Sonic and Krispy Kreme. Now knowing that the Philippines is responsible for KFC turning fried chicken into hot dog buns, the acquisition may produce surprising results.

South African chicken chain Nando’s is a big deal in the UK. (We only have them in the D.C. area.) Here’s why (sort of) Also, anyone who watches Looking–didn’t you think that Dom’s peri-peri pop-up was really just an artisanal Nando’s?

Hooters didn’t just go big and bi-level in midtown, the wingery has serious international ambitions. Already in some of the touristy parts of Thailand, Southeast Asia, including Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, will be the target of 30 new locations in the next six years.

Punch has an interesting account of a Guinness “Stout Evaluative Engineer” in Dubai. This is technically from more than a week ago, but I’m kind of a sucker for tales of drinking where it’s weird to be drinking.

By the way, Vice Munchies has been publishing a lot of interesting cool-to-me things lately, not subjects I see elsewhere, not big names, definitely not the big guy Action Bronson/Fat Prince stuff (which may or may not be good–I don’t like watching videos) but lots of posts with a strong international bent like an account of hospital food in Thailand, covert moonshine-making in Egypt, and what female members of ISIS cook for their husbands,



Newborn: Red Velvet Oreos

red velvet oreos

Like Argentina’s dulce de leche Oreos or China’s green tea localization, Oreo’s newest domestic flavor couldn’t be more quintessentially American. Yes, that would be red velvet.

Unlike the pumpkin spice and caramel apple limited editions released in fall, this special has one unique claim and that’s that the cookie itself is new, not just a reworking of the traditional or Golden Oreo with different fillings.

How does it taste? The stuffing, meant to resemble cream cheese frosting, is the most noticeable difference. It’s good, a little cupcakey, and not overpowering. Chocolate is chocolate, though, and isn’t red velvet just dyed devil’s food? I haven’t eaten a standard Oreo in some time, so I would have to taste the old and the new side by side for comparison. I could’ve been imagining a lighter, more cocoa powdery flavor with the red velvet simply because of the color.

And frankly, it’s the color that gets me. I’ll try anything rebooted into an unnatural shade.

You’ll be able to judge for yourself when these become widely available February 2. (And yes, this was a freebie.)


Soup’s On: Kitchen 79’s Tom Sabb Ka Moo

kitchen 79 hot & spicy pork knuckle soup big bowl

When you want something soupy, and you’re trying to avoid noodles but aren’t quite feeling bone broth (I’m still not getting the big deal with this craze beyond convenience–I spent less than $15 and 15 minutes prepping an enormous supply of chicken broth two weekends ago and have since moved onto what I’m calling beef broth but is really oxtail soup) Thai soups can be one way to go.

The tom sabb ka moo/hot and spicy pork knuckle soup at Kitchen 79 looks unassuming. The light amber broth is broken up by a floating slices of mushroom and pale red onion, the only edible vegetable matter. This bright soup is about the aromatics, filled with jagged strips of nearly medicinal galangal and citrusy from lime juice and woody spirals of lemongrass–and far spicier than the pale hue lets on.

You have to do a lot of fishing around to get a solid sip, free of organic debris. And even more so, depending on your tolerance for soft pork rinds. I like the rubbery, gelatinous skin encasing the wedges of meat, but I’ve seen others leaving the flab behind with the other tough-to-chew additions.

kitchen 79 hot & spicy pork knuckle soup small bowl

At $13, the pork knuckle soup is meant to share and easily fills four of the small glass bowls.

It may sound strange to call a pork-based soup light. Tom sabb ka moo, however, is a quick-simmered broth, nowhere near the intensity–in time or richness–of a Japanese tonkotsu broth. Now that I’ve worked my way through poultry and beef, I may tackle a similar porky soup at home next.



twoshovelAccording to my stats, someone from my hometown, Gresham, Oregon, United States, searched for Izzy Covalt using 53 minutes and 36 seconds after midnight EST. Izzy’s (named for co-founder Mrs. Covalt), a pizza buffet, is one of those increasingly rare regional chains that no one outside of a state–and possibly a geographic neighbor or two–has ever heard of. As much as I enjoy American chain restaurants abroad, I do love place specificity in a world where borders (and you know, hindrances like human rights violations) no longer prevent mediocre barbecue ribs from being served in Myanmar.

I am also shameless about my love of old Portland nostalgia. On the what-homegrown-brands-are-left-in-Oregon beat, I can only think of the aforementioned Izzy’s, as well as Elmer’s, Taco Time, and Shari’s, which will be the heart of this discussion. (Carrows and the now-dead Lyon’s also belong to this third-tier category but are Californian.)

shari's cotati exterior

Shari’s is like a local Denny’s but pie-centric, and being more of a suburban fixture, rare in accommodating round-the-clock schedules. Shari’s is where those who are trying drink cup of coffee after cup of coffee with dinner because it’s the only acceptable vice remaining to them. Shari’s is where I went after senior prom, which I didn’t take very seriously and consequently have little fodder for Throwback Thursdays. I’m not sure that anyone purposely goes to a Shari’s–2002 was the last time I found myself approaching a Safeway parking lot housing the familiar low-slung concrete building topped with curved, clay shingles. It was the only place open near my mom’s mobile home park by the Nike campus where I could continue catching-up with an old pal who I’d met for Indian food in a “transit-oriented development” i.e. high-end ghost town in Hillsboro.

I definitely did seek out a Shari’s on purpose during my recent-ish visit to the Bay Area to hang out with distant cousins I’d reconnected with on Facebook. I had also recently reconnected with Shari’s on Facebook. Pretty much all I use Facebook for is reconnecting with brands and people from my past.

The two converged when one cousin, Angie, noticed my posting and informed that there is a Shari’s near her home in Cotati, a small town in Sonoma County more known for its hexagonal layout than wine, where my sister and I were planning to spend a few nights. I passed up an opportunity to eat at an In-N-Out (yes, better than Shake Shack), the other option I was given for an after-church (my sleeping in) meet-up. This was serious business.

shari's cotati

Despite its generic looks, Shari’s is not stuck in the past. Even the most uncool of chains make some attempts to be on trend. To wit: Shari’s advertises items made using Sriracha when Taco Bell acts like it’s cutting edge for adding the hot sauce in late 2014. Like Elmer’s, Shari’s has also starting touting local, seasonal credentials while remaining anything but artisanal, an attribute I guarantee the average diner could give a rat’s ass about. Shari’s is so Northwest, or rather just so un-NYC, that when I asked for seltzer and then corrected to club soda, our server said she’d have to check if they had “fizzy water.” As reads the website copy, illustrated by a snowy peak that I’m pretty sure is Mt. Hood:

Shari’s is committed to our Pacific Northwest roots. We source our foods and ingredients from regional farms and suppliers whenever possible. Our never-ending pursuit of fresh, regional ingredients extends across the great Northwest as we seek the sweetest berries, the freshest veggies and the choicest cuts of meat. That’s good for our local economy. And it’s good for your family.

Ok, but this Shari’s is in Sonoma County, one of six in the state of California.

Let’s not dwell on that.

Some time in the not so distant past, this Shari’s replaced Baker’s Corner, a restaurant I’d never heard of (same too, the nearby Black Bear Diner) My cousin’s husband was a regular there (and at least one of my second cousins worked there) and is now a regular at Shari’s, despite a menu change, and orders an off-menu skillet that he claims has its own button on the register (I did not fact check this!). Frankie also has his own table.

olive garden dressing

I looked for clues indicating family resemblances over this week. The fresh, unopened bottle of Olive Garden salad dressing laid out for our first dinner hit me over the head with “hospitaliano.” If I had any reservations about staying with blood-related semi-strangers, it disappeared upon realizing that I could finally use “When you’re here, you’re family” unironically. I would not, however, ever order a burger well-done, and I’d never heard of ordering fries cooked to the same degree of doneness, though I’ve since discovered it’s not all that unusual. People like their fries crispy and golden. If anyone had ordered steak fries, I would’ve had to have walked out, though.

shari's cinnamon roll french toast

Me, I settled on a nice little 1,100 calorie french toast crafted from three cinnamon rolls bathed in caramel sauce. If anything, the plate of sweet spirals made me impervious to the hard sell we were given on pies at the end of the meal. I half-seriously considered getting one to go, as suggested, but I knew I’d be eating at a Guy Fieri establishment for dinner, and that level of excess was a bit much for even me.

If you are fortunate to come across a Shari’s in your day-to-day life, please do have a slice of Velvet Chocolate Silk pie for me.

Shari’s * 301 Rohnert Park Expressway, Cotati, CA



Un-American Activities: Brooklyn Donuts & Jars

Mister Donut, the American brand that turned Japanese, is the latest to appropriate the borough of Brooklyn for added cachet. For the new year, the chain has created a donut-danish mash-up called Brooklyn D&D (croissant donuts were so last year) available in flavors like chocolate-banana and strawberry.

If danishes don’t read as particularly Brooklyn, the other component to this promotion, so-called Brooklyn jars, kind of do even though they shouldn’t.

And now that Kraft has also started suggesting that home cooks serve food in Mason jars, can restaurants in Brooklyn and beyond begin retiring these folksy vessels in 2015?

Shovel Time: Momofuku Ko

threeshovelOthers might get shocked into acknowledging the passing of time when seeing kids, maybe on the occasional holiday, markedly older and bigger. I get a reality check when I realize how infrequently I revisit restaurants.

When asked if I’d eaten at the original Momofuku Ko, I answered naively, “Oh yeah, when it first opened.”

“So, seven years ago?”

Er, closer to six and a half, but ugh, yes, I guess so. Those toddlers would be third graders now.

It’s slightly odd that I would go to both iterations of Momofuku Ko in its early days because I’m not a Chang fanatic in any way. (I’ve only been to Ssam Bar once and just for lunch.) It’s happenstance. In this case I was looking for an extravagant holiday dining experience on short notice (Eleven Madison Park was booked, Blanca was available) and ultimately counter seating is more conducive to solo dining.

Or so they say. It is slightly jarring when 97% of a restaurant’s clientele is made up of 29-year-old couples. The imbalance was neutralized and then some when I realized that the teenage boy and parents who had been seated on our shared corner weren’t VIPs but the visiting family of one of the chefs, Ecuadorian living in China, who were finally getting to see what he does first-hand. Those 13 cocktails, wines, beers and sakes certainly helped smooth my jagged edges, but my heart had grown maybe two sizes after observing such pride and appreciation.

What’s different? Well, it’s been a while. The space, clearly. I prefer a little more distraction, less intimacy, and that’s the case with more seats and a very open kitchen. The approach feels less precious and more luxurious at the same time. The backed stools are plenty comfy for the gramps in your party, and I didn’t even notice the music this time around, though I do recall going from liking to not liking over the course of the evening. Something distressingly close to world beat crept in.

March 2008 was the pre-SLR days (and pre-camera ban, as well). Now I’m living in a post-SLR world where everyone, not just food bloggers, snaps photos of what they’re eating, whether movie theater nachos or an acai bowl. Taking pictures of your food is now right up there with brunch, avocado toast and pumpkin spice lattes in its basicness. I’ve come to rely on a phone, myself. It just feels weird to tote around a camera in NYC now, even one small enough to fit in my purse. These photos don’t pretend to be anything they aren’t.

momofuku ko amuses

The meal was kicked off with a so-called grape soda that tasted like grape candy in that way that Concord grapes do and an aperitif (verjus, cappelletti, soda) that was also grapey but stiffer and more bitter. A tartlet, half-filled with chewy sopresatta that looked like tartare (my neighbors exclaimed “picante” but the spice was just an undercurrent) and lobster paloise followed. Apparently, paloise is a Béarnaise that uses mint. More apparently, I have a grotesque palate because my first impression was that of cream of mushroom soup. And then, a vegetable roll.

momofuku ko millefeuille

Mille-feuilles (and matcha) are going to be a bigger thing in 2015, aren’t they? This savory version made from rye flour with trout roe and green tea powder had an earthy, burnt flavor–intentionally, I’m assuming–that I’m not sure I loved.

red snapper, green chili, shiso, consommé

red snapper, green chili, shiso, consommé

What stood out in this tartare were the bright pops of flavor that came from finger limes.

scallop, pineapple, basil

scallop, pineapple, basil

The dashi was both saline and fruity sweet and stood out even more than the scallops while sipping it from the bowl after they were gone.

branzino, myoga, shiro shoyu

Much raw seafood. This incorporated what thought were banana blossoms but are actually ginger buds, which made the dish read Thai to me despite the soy and more delicate flavors.

beet, brown butter, anchovy, furikake

beet, brown butter, anchovy, furikake

I haven’t discussed beverage pairings because at some point they start blurring together. The beets, brightly acidic, fishy and packed with umami were an inspired match the Goose Island Lolita, a tart wild ale aged with raspberries–and this is coming from someone who thought most of the sour beer pairings at Luksus were too sour. I don’t know if I would find this dish as dynamic without the beer.

One unanticipated side effect of opting for the pairing (something I hadn’t originally planned on) while solo dining is that I started falling behind, a surprise since keeping up my drinking has never been a problem. It’s that you’re not talking while eating and taking those pauses and sips.

mackerel sabazushi, wasabi, leaf, dashi ponzu

mackerel sabazushi, wasabi, leaf, dashi ponzu

One bite was not possible, despite the instructions. The rice had chewy, molten bits like the socarrat that forms at the bottom of a  paella.

trout consommé, sunchoke, kale, mousse

trout consommé, sunchoke, kale, mousse

The hyper-smooth trout was more akin to pate, but once again my brain immediately shifted lowbrow and imagined the pink slabs would taste like  bologna. Maybe I was just ready for something heftier and less precious at this point.

soft scramble, potato, caviar, herbs, bread & butter

soft scramble, potato, caviar, herbs, bread & butter

Oh yeah, like the bread, a warm sourdough with radish butter.

This was a riff on the soubise dish of yore, eggs now fluffed rather than precise and runny-yolked, the potato chips more of a crumble.

During this course one of the male youngsters asked a female counterpart “Are you going to be OK with it not being egg whites?” And then I snapped both their necks before he could continue on about wanting two kids and any more than that being “up to the uterus I’m with.” No, no, I just diverted my attention back to that nice bread and my glass of champagne (Suenen Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru) and remembered that no conversation has its perks.

celery root, white truffle, tandoori

celery root, white truffle, tandoori

I’m always indifferent to pasta, then blown away by renditions like this agnolotti. Crisping the truffles was a bold move and the resulting nuttiness stood up to the tandoori spicing.

halibut, brussels sprout, uni, apple

halibut, brussels sprout, uni, apple

The halibut didn’t really work for me. The flesh was watery and increased the sensation that I was eating cheese sauce (bizarre because processed cheese is practically what gets me out of bed in the morning) not uni. What looks like black pepper was possibly pulverized bits of char–or possibly something else completely.  I know this dish was on the lunch tasting menu at one point, so clearly someone demanded its comeback.


lobster, sweet potato, tonburi, sauce

lobster, sweet potato, tonburi, sauce

Then, boom. It was back on. If I were asked (actually I was asked upon leaving) about my favorite dish, this would be the winner. I don’t know exactly what is going on here to create such intense flavors. The lobster sauce is rich and buttery and hides a thin layer of parsley oil while the sweet potato is very present but not cloying. The tails, themselves, are a highlight. The crispy nest is a mystery.

foie gras, lychee, pine nut, riesling jelly

foie gras, lychee, pine nut, riesling jelly

A classic. The thing about this snowy shaved foie gras dish is that I certainly remember it from my last visit, everyone seems to, but the version I tried those six-plus years ago didn’t contain the pine nut brittle. That little extra completely changes the texture and adds a different type of sweetness than the lightly perfumed lychees or sharper gelee.

momofuku ko duck

duck, lime pickle, watercress

The meaty course was just right. The portions seemed spot on,  fatigue never set in and by the last savory dish I didn’t want to die. And that knife!

momofuku ko mignardises prep

Mignardises being assembled.

momofuku ko clementine, campari

Clementine sorbet and Campari as palate cleanser.

coconut, banana, rum

coconut, banana, rum

The showcase dessert was light and tropical, topped with a rum-infused meringue.

momofuku ko mignardises

I was excited for the canelé that I had seen prepped earlier. The macaron was made of chickpeas and miso.

I couldn’t think of anything obvious or major that I would change (feedback that was solicited). My only request would be a selfish one and that’s the option for a shorter tasting. I’d like to return before 2020 (you know, when those grade-schoolers become freshman) and a smaller commitment would ensure it.

Momofuku Ko * 8 Extra Pl., New York, NY

Shovel Time: Kin Khao

twoshovelWhen a mushroom mousse turns out to be the most exciting dish in spread that includes an easy win like pork belly, you know there is something crazy going on. In the US, Thai food rarely gets tinkered with in ways that successfully builds upon tradition. Kin Khao, with an emphasis on seasonality and sustainability, is the happy result of old-school food blogger turned restaurateur Pim Techamuanvivit and chef Michael Gaines (Manresa).

kin khao mushroom hor mok

But back to that mousse. Normally, hor mok is a curried fish paste steamed in banana leaves and topped with coconut cream and lime leaves, here wild mushrooms foraged by an Edible Selby subject are transformed into a custard, called a terrine, and served in a canning jar. And none of it is obnoxious because the result is rich, meaty, and quite possibly tastier than any fish version I’ve tried. Rice crackers are the accompaniment.

kin khao yum yai salad

The also meatless yum yai salad, which mixes a slew of vegetables in contrasting raw and tempuraed forms, was interesting but could’ve used something more than the mild chile jam–or a fishier or hotter version–for emphasis, though. I’m not sure that I would make this at home, but The New York Times did publish a recipe earlier this year.

kin khao caramelized pork belly

Sweet, soy glazed slices of pork belly with caramelized edges did their job, balancing out the relative lightness of the vegetable dishes.

kin khao plah pla muek

The grilled Monterey Bay squid in a lime-heavy, chile sauce, and garnished with crushed peanuts, got a little lost in the shuffle. There’s usually a dish like this, no fault of its own, when sharing plates and drinking (a bottle of biodynamic Pinot Gris rather than one of the fun-sounding cocktails) and paying more attention to the company than the food.

I will admit that half the reason I went to Kin Khao was because it was only one block from the deeply discounted Priceline hotel I stayed at my one night in San Francisco (the other half being that I love out of the ordinary Thai food) but I can’t really think of a better choice in the heart of touristy Union Square. This, plus Danish beer import Mikkeller Bar, also one block away, makes Times Square’s food and drink offerings look even sadder by comparison.

Kin Khao * 55 Cyril Magnin, San Francisco, CA