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Newborn: Sushi Inoue

Despite its less than savory reputation, it’s because of Tinder that I was able to enjoy a preview of the delights (that would still be delightful full price) being prepared at Sushi Inoue, a restaurant with 14-seat sushi counter that opened this weekend on the ground floor of a newish condo building in Harlem. This is less neighborhood takeout sushi than an understated showcase for hyper-fresh seafood flown from Japan and prepared by Chef Shinichi Inoue, formerly of Michelin-starred Sushi Azabu (and app-introduced friend of a friend).

A la carte sushi and omakase (three levels ranging from $80 to $120) are both available. What follows is a sampling of what you might expect as part of the chef’s choice.

sushi inoue one

Amuses like a cherry tomato in gelee, tender nuggets of tako wasabi, and a jumbo pacific clam, large enough to be sliced into three bites and spiked with black pepper.

sushi inoue two

There’s something about being instructed “Don’t touch the head” that only makes you want to prod it more. Ten minutes on, the shrimp’s spindly legs and antennae were still moving with only the slightest provocation. While the sashimi was pristine, the squares of tomago stood out, sweet, with the texture of a burnished sponge cake rather than custardy. The chawanmushi topped with corn and two rounds of okra was smoky, from what, I’m not sure. Any morbid temptation to rip into the translucent flesh hidden in prawn’s shell was worth suppressing for its re-purposing as messy finger food in an intense mushroomy miso broth.

sushi inoue three

The sushi, compact and incorporating barely sweetened rice dabbed with wasabi, was the highlight despite my inability to recall every nuance  (many pours of  sweetish Junmai Daiginjo, “Dreams Come True” followed by Dassai Beyond, apparently good enough to serve Obama, didn’t help my memory). Four days later, and I can still taste the uni, creamy, almost like seawater emulsified with happiness. Probably because I ate two. My favorite, though, was the pink chevron-patterned nodoguro, sea bass barely seared and garnished with the tiniest dollop of yuzu kosho, a spicy paste of pickled green chiles and yuzu peel. Eel, octopus, scallops, otoro, what looked like mackerel but was actually shad, were all lovely too. Oh, and matcha cheesecake, accompanied by a round of “Happy Birthday” sung by the staff, just an hour before my day kicked in officially.

Sushi Inoue * 381 Lenox Ave., New York, NY 

Nice Rack

Tangentially related to food and drink, I’ve created yet another certain to be updated only sporadically (unless you send me submissions–and please do) Tumblr to distract me from the important things in life. Don’t be afraid to take a look at Nice Rack, my attempt to document dish drying racks on screen. My newish dishwasher-free existence has been painful, but perhaps these reminders will keep my grounded during this difficult time.

International Intrigue: Uncle Sam’s Burgers

twoshovelClose to a year ago, Uncle Sam’s was being touted as a coming attraction. A burger chain rooted in Beijing? I was sold on concept yet not fully convinced since I couldn’t find any evidence of such a creature existing in China. It turns out, two did open in Beijing but not until six months after the announcement, which still makes me suspicious. (I would love it if the Australian rules footballs being used as a decor element in the Chinese shops instead of American pigskins was a brilliant faux-naive marketing ploy.) Would an impending NYC branch somehow make the restaurant seem more legit on its home turf?

uncle sam's duo

Uncle Sam’s opened to little fanfare in May, along a corridor of Fifth Avenue that’s home to other foreign imports like popular Korean fried chicken chain Bon Chon and lesser known Turkish cafe Simit Sarayi. It’s not particularly obvious that this isn’t a homegrown establishment. There are wacky Asian-tinged combinations like the 888 Burger (shumai patty, Canadian bacon, char-siu and Sriracha mayo) and K-Town (galbi beef, kimchi, white American cheese, spicy black bean mayo and pickled daikon) in the current more is more style, cold brew coffee from Kopi Trading Co., a kale side salad, and a soundtrack piping in Matt and Kim (followed by samba and reggae). This may as well be Brooklyn.

And that’s the genre it traffics in, at least from a price perspective. With the specialty burgers ranging from $7.95-$10.95, sides extra, it’s an expensive proposition for an unproven brand with beef of unknown origins. That said, it’s fun, and you can do worse in the tourist-heavy zone flanking the Empire State Building.

uncle sam's trio

I went with the relatively demure Signature, which is more or less a Swiss and mushroom burger with scallions and oyster sauce, because at 11:30am, still my breakfast time, and anything bolder seemed untoward. The burger was larger than a fast food version but still petite, and a total umami bomb with deep, concentrated double mushroom flavor and slight nuttiness from the soft blanket of melted cheese. You can spruce up as you like from the selection of Lee Kum Kee condiments, nearly all untouched, foil seals intact.

The Sichuan chili, pepper jack cheese, and sriracha mayo-topped tater tots and sesame miso caramel milkshakes will have to wait until a later hour.

Uncle Sam’s Burger * 307 Fifth Ave., New York, NY

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Taco Salad, Hot & Messy Sandwiches, Cheddar Bay Biscuits

el cortez duo

El Cortez. If you like piña coladas…then 2015 is a great time to be alive. Technically, this isn’t a piña colada but The Commodore (rum, coconut, pineapple, amaretto float) which only serves to remind that El Cortez is a clone-in-spirit of said Williamsburg bar but more tiki and ’80s-leaning (I refuse to let the ’90s claim this breed of suburban junk food Mex) hence the additional presence of the Orange Julio, a nod to everyone’s favorite Creamsicle-esque mall beverage. I don’t even like taco salad (I was so traumatized by a spell in the early ’80s where my mom made weekly taco salads with packet-seasoned ground beef, canned kidney beans, grated cheddar, shredded iceberg, Catalina dressing, and tortilla chips that turned to damp mush when we had to eat leftovers that it somehow made it into my 2011 Elle profile–pretty much my only food blog fame) but I couldn’t stop thinking about the taco salad after learning of its existence. It was totally a crush from afar. But it held up in reality, as well. It’s all about the fried shell, really. Ripping and dipping. If you just eat the beefy bean guts out, you may be saving calories and carbs but you may as well be dead inside. The taco salad, itself, is pure of form, with a base of beans and ground beef, heaving with all of the classic cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and importantly sliced black olives, no overt twists or upgrades–that’s all in the condiments, a line-up of squeeze bottle salsas (the orange one packs serious throat-tickling heat). The finishing touch? A ramekin of dill ranch foam. I am so going back for the chimichanga.

union pizza works pie

Union Pizza Works. The thing about dining at 5pm is that by 10:30pm, it’s entirely possible to eat another meal. No regrets about sharing an onion and Gorgonzola pizza and a carafe of Chianti out on the cement patio. And if you’ve had enough to drink, you might hear biscuit pronounced with an Italian accent as Bisquick and order the chocolate dessert for the novelty.

streetbird trio

Streetbird. Surprisingly little chicken got eaten for being a restaurant supposedly specializing in rotisseried poultry. That’s because the Hot & Messy, an open-faced toasted cornbread sandwich smeared with peanut butter, and smothered with avocado, bacon scant pulled chicken, and runny-yolked egg jumped off the page with its excess. (Plus, I don’t know if I need to go all the way to Harlem for roasted chicken when I’m surrounded by Peruvian and Colombian renditions.) The notti greens, green beans pan-seared in a vaguely Asian manner with chiles and peanuts and a small bowl of wildly acidic pickles provided some counterbalance. The mac and cheese, of course, did not.

apollo red lobster quad

Red Lobster. It’s perfectly acceptable to linger over a Warm Chocolate Chip Lava Cookie and a margarita with a tequila sidecar at the Apollo-adjacent Red Lobster, afterward, or probably any time. It’s a big place. The best part is you’ll still get a basket of Cheddar Bay Biscuits with the menus before they realize you’re not ordering a full meal. Don’t feel bad about it.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Hudson, NY

Hudson, New York, which I kept referring to generically as The Catskills despite being informed on Facebook that technically it’s not, is the type of bucolic, bougie paradise I’m not typically attracted to (if I’m leaving NYC, give me the suburbs) and yet I went up by myself on a near whim because that’s what you’re supposed to do in summer. Elsewhere, I’ve described it as if Red Hook was an entire Ikea-less town, the projects were ramshackle wood-clad homes with saggy porches, and Van Brunt was more densely packed with galleries and antique stores and perfumed with essential oils. I did not visit purely for food purposes, especially with my solo dining weirdness, but of course eating happened though not as much as one might think for four days.

I will say one thing about Hudson: the bread and butter is very good everywhere.

fish & game trio

Fish & Game recently went more a la carte, which is great if you’re not willing to fully commit to a tasting menu. Still, you will need two for the shared roast chicken, rack of lamb or whichever big meats are getting the wood-burning oven treatment that day. Oysters, eggs, both chicken and sturgeon, were playing a large role on the Thursday night I visited. I started with the shellfish, roasted, encrusted with a less-overpowering-than-it-sounds kimchi hollandaise to snack on with my Dr. Mephisto Swizzle (white rum, sherry, turmeric liqueur, husk cherry). I treated a hefty slab of smoked and grilled pork belly nearly hidden in a mound of thinly shaved Hakurei turnips and doused with the F&G house sauce that smelled strongly of fish sauce and was similar to a Vietnamese sweet-savory caramel yet also managed to taste like pizza as a main, along with a glass of orange wine (Franco Terpin Quinto Quinto Bianco) because that’s what one must drink at 2015’s midpoint. Really, though, the tartness was right on with the pork that would’ve been better split with another diner to free up stomach space for a third dish. Sitting at the bar, I had a view of a more granular demographic division than townie/”citidiot” (as I was later told interlopers were called by a retired NYPD libertarian who also relayed a Father’s Day sob story and wanted to talk guns with me) which boiled down to boisterous group-dining golf-shirted men in their 40s vs. the cocktail-sipping millennial topknot girls who probably harvest their own honey.

swoon kitchenbar duo

Swoon Kitchenbar is kind of the original upscale, locavore restaurant in town (founded in 2004). The kind of place we almost take for granted in every tier of city now. Once again, I was more of a snacker, trying the greaseless fried artichokes with black olive aioli and a roasted beet and goat cheese salad that swayed me with the inclusion of crispy onions because double fried vegetables for one meal is a sound decision. I appeared to be the only unknown entity dining at the bar. It’s also that kind of place. There was confusion about the lady at the end of the bar who’d ordered the beet salad. Both I and the older solo woman with short spiky silver hair, similarly toned statement jewelry, and funky glasses were brought the same dish at the same time and I had a vision of one possible future if I started making different life decisions. I don’t think I’m ready for that.

helsinki duck confit

Helsinki Hudson. I went twice, once just for a drink, because this restaurant/performance space was very close to my airbnb, and left with two very different impressions. At the bar on weeknight there’s a more casual menu and on the early side was province of solo-dining (there are a lot of solo diners in this town) men over 50 who appeared to make money in mysterious ways and have homes in town and elsewhere. On a weekend evening in the outdoor compound, I had Hudson Valley duck confit made Southern with collard greens and a slightly incongruous puck of blackberry cornbread, and the crowd was a hodgepodge of gay seniors, non-young moms with newborns, a plethora of Eileen Fisher and straw hats, plus a woman in a one-shoulder cocktail dress who looked like a vixen from an ’80s video but was a little too old to be ironic yet not old enough to be time-warped.

Cafe le Perche is a French-ish bakery/bistro with scattered service and an assumption that reservations are required on a Monday morning. I’ll take my black coffee and almond croissant to go, though I should probably shouldn’t take it at all.

The Cascades, on the other hand, is not terribly fancy but where to go for solid American sandwiches named after mountains. Because I was starving, I didn’t even take a photo of my Mount Baker, roast beef and provolone on a hard roll, with shredded iceberg balanced out by vaguely chichi balsamic mayonnaise.

grazin' burger

Grazin’ Yes, there’s one in Tribeca, but this is the original. It’s the pseudo-diner to visit if you want hyper-local burgers (Grazin’ Angus Acres beef), cheese (Prodigal Farm bleu), and beer (I don’t remember) and to observe children trying their first tastes of gazpacho and attractive, middle-aged couples without wedding bands having quiet fights. When “Movin’ Out” started playing, I braced myself. There. “Heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack.” As if on cue, the dressed-down tortoiseshell frames finance guy confided to his bird-tattooed, age-appropriate girlfriend in expensive clogs and crowned with sun-streaked waves , “I used to be so into Billy Joel.”

relish blt

Relish. Maybe you have an hour (or more once you get an Amtrak text alert) to kill before your train back home? This is really the only daytime hangout in the vicinity of the station, directly across the street. Have a BLT on multi-grain bread, side of the day (a chickpea salad that I swear had wasabi in it) and a cucumber mint soda, and try to mentally will your train to arrive faster by staring at the Hudson sign in your line of vision.

american glory improved whiskey cocktail

American Glory. Just for drinks (like the improved whiskey cocktail above) and friendly bartenders, not the bbq. If you wear a Target dress, moderate heels, and lipstick, everyone will think you are up from the city for the weekend.

half moon

Half Moon. The good dive bar to go to if you need something open after midnight. I still feel guilty for under-tipping the bartender who gave me more free drinks than I realized.

melino's beer & shot

Melino’s Pub. The dive bar you go to before you realize Half Moon exists when you need something open after midnight and want to scare your beer-hating, skinny-jeans vegan Tinder date and make them drink Fireball shots against their will.