Archive for the ‘*Aya’ Category

Top 5 Food Moments of 2007

December 24, 2007

Manolha Dargis says (in her own top 10 list of films of the year), “Top 10 lists are artificial exercizes, assertions of critical ego, capricious and necssarily imperfect.” Well, how about a Top 5? Can that be any more meaningful?

Sure, why not– I think that Top lists are a fun way to exercize your brain, reaching back into the crevices of your memory to sift through the last 365 days. It’s pretty incredible actually– in terms of food, the possiblilities are endless. I asked UM contributors to send over their Top 5 Food Moments of 2007, where anything goes– meals, restaurants, kitchen accessories, ingredients, books, films– essentially, whatever they wanted to include (whether they had blogged it or not). I assure you that this is no easy task, but here they are.

1. Alan Wong’s 7 course tasting menu with wine pairing (is there even any doubt that this was the meal of the year???)
2. Chez Panisse kitchen tour
3. Draeger’s Cooking School!
4. United States of Arugula (so what if it was published in 2006)
5. Bodum Assam glasses (A housewarming gift from Kayoko, great for everything from coffee to ice cream)
The Top 5
5. Hudson Valley tomatoes.
4. Macallan 25.
3. Leeks.
2. The lunchtime burger at Prune.
1. Everything at Laduree.

The Bottom 5
5. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.
4. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.
3. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.
2. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.
1. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.

1. The Next Food Network Star (Season 3) – the surprising last-minute resignation of JAG, and the upset victory of Amy over Rory. this was truly must-see tv.

2. The rise of the “localvore” / eating locally.
3. Stacy’s pesto and sun-dried tomato pita chips – not sure when they came out, but in 2007 I began eating an entire bag everyday.
4. My dinner at Brown cafe, which included the best wine I’ve had all year: 2004 Castello della Paneretta Chianti Classico.
5. Jonathan Gold’s Pulitzer Prize – the first time the prize has been given to a restaurant critic

1. Spicy Mina
2. Sushi of Gari Omakase w/ dad
3. Wu Liang Ye’s Double Cooked Fresh Bacon ** With Spicy Capsicum
4. Go Go Curry w/ Mel & Kakabori
5. Spicy & Tasty Dan Dan Noodles & Sauteed Pork

1. Green tea chocolates from Tafu
2. Republic of Tea Wild Blueberry Black Tea
3. Konbini on 47th
4. Watermelon flavored hi-chew
5. Mochi Maker!!!!

OK the thing about me is that I am not just interested in the moment of consumption, but the process of getting there, and the event of the eating. I went to a lot of fancy restaurants, oyster bars and the like this year, but in the end, they don’t make a lasting impression on the heart stomach. So I would say my top five most memorable food experiences of 2007 were:

5. What about those awesome lunches at work, the series of home-cooked lunches made by JS co-workers, from Yamahomo’s beef tongue stew, to Futoshi’s curry, and my own Yum Woon Sen! Loved the sharing atmosphere and cut down on lunch costs too!

4. Oh wow definitely the Umamiventure to the Red Hook Ball Fields. That was hella fun NY summer activity! So much to experience, so many different foods, so many fun people, the great weather, the soccer, awesome times.

3. BEST RESTAURANT of the year for me was Aurora in Williamsburg. I went there this year for the first time, after hearing about it from others and it was amazing. Beautiful space, especially if you get the garden during the warmer months, nice rich wood interior and reasonable prices for delicious foods: octopus, hand-made pastas. A very close second would be Cafe Falai on Bowery. Loved the menus in the envelopes. yum yum yum.

2. Tmonkey and I did a colon cleanse together in the autumn, as our romantic activity. We kept track of our bowel movements and physical changes down to the finest details and shared these with each other. It was a fascinating process of fasting that stripped down the cycle of appetite -> consumption –> digestion, and realized that so much of what we experience as hunger is psychological. After 5 days of fasting my skin was clear and beautiful and I felt terrific – AND amazing things had come out of my body. O Boy. I also learned that what is as important as the fasting is how your BREAK the fast. I f*cked this up royally, but will make sure to pay more attention to this when I do the 10-day fast in the spring.

1. Helping to create and eating the ultra-thin million layered lasagna made by my dearest Tmonkey — just divine!!! Kayo was there too!

5. Mozza, Batali’s new eatery in LA. Went out to LA on business, had a friend whose boyfriend was the bartender there, and thus got the royal treatment. Incredible grilled octopus. Amazing amaro tasting flights at the end, free because amaro is apparently not legal in the states.

4. There’s nothing scientific about my selection methodology for this btw — I’m just picking food moments that actually lodged themselves in my brain. One of these moments was when I was in Guadalajara last month, my friends there took me to an open market (well it was covered with a roof, like Essex Market) and sat down at this stand where this young guy was cooking up a storm and I asked him what I should order, what their specialty was, and he hooked me up with this dish called “chafaldrana”, which was basically this seafood quick stew (tomato based) with tilapia (I think), octopus, scallops, and shrimp served with rice, onions, slices of tomatoes, tortillas, and these cute little mini-avocados. It was made “a la minute” right in front of me. I got it on tape — will upload pics and vid soon. Amazingly fresh and delightful.

3. Thousand Layer Lasagne: I was inspired by the recipe on to make this lasagne which requires you to roll out fresh egg pasta dough into incredibly thin layer. I usually don’t make recipes like this (which warn you that a super-herculean effort is required) sight unseen, but Aya made me do it. Actually it turned out to be pretty fantastic, but I’m wondering how much of it was because of the incredible amount of blood, sweat and tears that went into the making of it. I think you can taste those things.

2. Another Mexico moment: I was in Jalisco, the state where Tequila comes from. It was a few hours from the Pacific coast, and my friends took me to a lake called Santa Maria de Oro, which was surrounded by mountains on all sides. There was a lone restaurant at the base of the lake, and pretty much the only thing they served was chicharrón de pescado, which is basically fried fish, which I presumed to be from the lake itself. It came with a pink-ish colored mayonnaise, cucumbers and tomatoes, and tortillas, which made me realize of course, that these were actually fish tacos!!! Amazing ones, at that. Again, I’m sure the ambience had something to do with my memory of this — perfect 80 degree weather, eating them after I had kayaked out to the middle of the lake and swum in the perfectly warm, clean water. Yeah…

1. When Aya and I were doing our week-long colon cleanse, I experienced delusional hunger pangs, fantasizing about various random foods (the most hilarious was when we were in the subway standing next to a dumb Arnold’s bread ad with a ham sandwich and Aya looked at me and intoned with a zombie-voice, “Ham sandwich….”), but near the end I couldn’t get my mind off Franny’s wood-fired oven pizza. So the first real meal we had after coming off of the cleanse was there, and chalk it up to delayed gratification and wish fulfillment, but damn if we didn’t have a bacchanalia that night (grilled octopus, sausage pizza, orichiette, and for dessert…ANOTHER pizza — our waitron did a double take when we ordered that one). I count that as a double dinner, and any double dinner should be memorialized in my book.

1. Dinner at the Core Club prepared by Dan Kluger and pastry chef Rob Fitzhenry

2. Dinner on the house at Maremma, courtesy of the amazing and wonderful Cesare Casella.
3. Olive oil bon-bons at the James Beard Awards

4. Cooking Thanksgiving dinner in Santa Barbara in Aunt Janet’s ocean front kitchen.
5. My 1st shoot for the NY Times Dining section, The Kingswood restaurant, NYC.

Runners Up:
– Wylie Dufresne’s presentation at the Star Chef’s Congress, NYC.
– Blueberry picking in Vermont
– Jack’s Saturday morning brunch while listening to “This American Life” (below)

1. Sripraphai Umamiventure, all the way. Those drunken noodles were just out of this world, and I still dream of the fried watercress salad. Tmonkey and Ayagwa’s inspiring video immortalized the meal perfectly. It was one of those amazing meals where every single one of our 10 or so dishes were delicious, and, despite the fact that many people were meeting for the first time, we all left feeling as we were eternally connected through this one meal. Now THAT is the power of a good meal.

2. My meal at Taverna dei Consoli trattoria in Assisi, Italy. I was alone in the city for a night, and the hotel man recommended the place in the piazza. I never did figure out if this joint was what he was talking about, but it’s where I ended up and had the best dinner of my trip. They were about to close up shop but they indulged my hunger anyway. Fresh pasta with porcini mushrooms and a pork chop in a balsamic and prune reduction. Ooh la la. I went back for lunch the next day and had the same! This year, I learned to appreciate eating out alone, which is something I never did before. There’s something really meditative about it.
3. Lunch with Jose, Marta and her family at her apartment in Madrid. Nothing like Spanish homecooking— albondigas and boquerones filled with love.
4. Introduction to Shanghai Cafe by Tmonkey. It was love at first bite. Cravings for these incredible soup dumplings haunt me at all hours of the day– their steam, their scent, the marriage between crab and pork dipped in a vinigary concoction (the key: the crab does not dry out the way they do at Joe’s Shanghai, or any other “venerable” soup dumpling establishment). My dream meal is an order of the dumplings, and their lo mein, which are really thick udon-like noodles. It is by far the restaurant I frequented the most this year.

5. My chicken bag!

Runners up:
– The secret sea side shack Ayagwa introduced me to at Rockaway Beach
– Fresh northwest oysters and the cute bartender at the Seattle Airport
– The sardines from Don Quixote Restaurant at the Atlantic Antic street fair
– Leslie and Alex’s 4 hour wedding meal at Osteria Le Logge in Siena
Vintage Pyrex mixing bowls I bought from Yamahomo
– The “best cappucino in Italy” cafe in Roma

Aside from my top 5 (er, 11), the launch of this blog was perhaps the most meaningful food moment for me this year. I look forward to a plethora memorable food moments in 2008– too much for me to blog I am sure! Thanks to everyone for reading, contributing and commenting in UM’s fantastic first year.
Happy, happy holidays to you and your family, and always, happy eating!

Best Seafood in Queens

November 18, 2007

Friday was Astoria exploration day. After hitting P.S. 1 for a rooftop performance by Min Tanaka (which was more about the 4 or 5 photographers who were making so much noise throughout) Ryo guided us into her ‘hood. It was already nighttime dark at 6pm, and very chilly, so I was hugely relieved when we arrived at the unassuming restaurant Elias Corner.

I love how it says “for Fish.” I’d read up on the place on-line when Ryo mentioned this restaurant — she had wanted to go, because it smelled so good, and it was always packed, but always ended up at the Beer Garden down the block and never made it out.

When we arrived, we were the first ones in the dining area, but within 30 minutes the place was already packed. Upon entering, we passed by a huge glass case displaying the evening’s ingredients:

Fish, fish, shellfish and more fish. Dizzying!

There are no menus in the restaurant. You have to ask the waitress to tell you everything they’ve got for the day, or ask for something specific (and I assume they probably have it). We started out with the grilled octopus, fried calamari, small white fish fried, and chopped green salad.

The friendly waitress cut the octopus for us. SO moist and tender, absolutely delicious. There was an online review that complained that the octopus was rubbery, but not so! In fact it was so darned good we got another plate of it! Yummmmm

Both the calamari and the fish were beautifully fried. Light, crispy, not too greasy or batter-y. I am not the biggest calamari fan, but this was pretty nice. The little fish fried whole were AWESOME. We got our calcium for the day, for sure. Both dishes were nice and simple — served with a big lemon half. That was all you needed — a little lemony acid to cut through the oil.

The chopped green salad is worth mentioning as well. Dressed lightly, it also had dill, which added a lovely flavor to otherwise ordinary roughage.

For the main course, we decided to split two grilled fish — Mediterranean sea bass and red snapper. Again, there’s no mystery in the preparation here, just simple, straightforward, and beautifully done. Both fish were dressed in lemon halves and perfectly moist on the inside.

Mari preferred the sea bass, but by that point in the evening I was so content that I’d lost my faculty for discerning one great dish from another. It was all good. I didn’t take an “after” pic, but very little remained. Mari was sucking on the bass bones like a cat.

The only surprise was the bill. Since there is no menu, you don’t really know what you’re getting into. We got several carafes of white white, and maybe 6 Greek beers, and the total came out to $42 per person. A bit more expensive than we’d hoped for, but well worth the price and the trip out to Queens.

Elias Corner for Fish
24-02 31st St.
Astoria, NY11102
Phone (718) 932-1510

Umamiventure Report: Sripraphai Thai Restaurant

November 12, 2007

UmamiVenture Archives:
Taste of Jackson Heights – 10/07
Red Hook Ball Fields – 06/07
Ocean Jewel Restaurant – 06/07

Fear and Loathing in the Realm of Seafood-Lovers

July 13, 2007

WARNING: This post is not for the squeamish, overly sensitive, or the faint of heart. Skip this post if discussion of bodily functions offends you deeply. I’m serious!!!

I’ve mulled over in my mind, for almost a month, whether to blog about this or not. I wasn’t sure this was for Umamimart readers. Then TM forwarded me this link yesterday. Check out that fish.

It looks delicious right? And it’s being served at a fancy restaurant. But I was convinced: food-lovers need to be educated about the fish escolar!!!!

I have a deep appreciation for food. I am not super-picky nor super-gourmet, but I do get depressed if I am not eating good delicious food consistently. I am not an amazing cook, but I enjoy trying out new things, planning meals, and making food for friends and loved ones. It must have been a Wednesday night, in June. It was already hot in the city. I planned to make me and TM a fabulous fish dinner. I went to the market at Grand Central, and looked at their fish selection. I was hoping for sea bass, honestly, but it was so darned expensive. Then this caught my eye. Looks good, right?

The laminated article taped onto the display case is from New York Magazine, calling Escolar the “It” fish. I asked the guy how I should prepare escolar. “It is a very fatty fish, so you have to make sure you cook it all the way through,” he said, “I would broil it or bake it.” Sounded good to me, I bought two gorgeous fillets. When I got home, I got on the interwebs, to see if I could find a particularly appealing recipe. I googled escolar, and. to my great surprise, instead of pulling up a jillion recipes, I was faced with this, this and this:

“Escolar should not be offered on any restaurant menu. “Caution” is hardly the operative word. A friend and I each ate escolar at an upscale restaurant in New Jersey. The fish had been prepared superbly in modest portions and was delicious. Within twelve hours, my friend and I each experienced violent diarrhea. The unpleasantness was truly miserable. Following that initial experience, I explored various postings and other internet alerts. Trust me. This fish is vastly worse than ex-lax or castor oil. If you enjoy violent diarrhea, by all means, go out and order it.That was a comment posted by an anonymous person on a fish blog.”

OK so what to do? Here I was, planning to make a scrumptious dinner for my sweetheart, only to discover that the fish I’d purchased is known as the ex-lax diarrhea fish?! WTF?! What is a considerate person to do? I weighed my options. I could just toss this fish, and go out to get some pasta or something. But come on! How bad could this really be? I bought it at Grand Central Market, for crying out loud! And the chefs in the NY Mag article raved about it! And anyway, even if we did react to it, TM and I both have had diarrhea before — in fact we had both survived a pretty nasty bout of food poisoning together, and not that I’d want to relive that experience, but we are tough people, we could handle it! I ignored the warnings on the interweb and got to work.

It was a very simple preparation I settled on, finally — lots of lemon, salt/pepper and wrap the fish in foil, broil in the toaster oven for about 7 minutes per side. I forget what exactly I served with it — but when TM came home, we sat down for a DELICIOUS experience. The escolar was thick, moist, rich, so buttery. It tasted even better (fattier) than sea bass. It was cooked just right, and the lemon worked great. I tried to tell TM about what I’d read on-line, and my resulting trepidation about the fish, but he was so blown away by the wonderful flavor, I didn’t feel like ruining our lovely dinner with internet rumors.

The next day we got up and went to work. By the late morning, I was kind of in a panic. Along with my morning movement, there had a disturbing amount of ORANGE OIL (someone described it as pizza oil, which is exactly what it looks like) floating in the toilet bowl. I didn’t have any cramps, nor any diarrhea. But this oil was really frightening, and plus I noticed it was all over my underwear! Horrified, I got back to my cubicle and chatted TM, sending him this link:

10:20 AM me: have you had orange oil in your poo? TM:no, i had a perfectly fine poo thank you very much

3:42 PMme: this is crazy orange oil is coming out of my butt TM: for real??? oy that is not a selling point for that fish it tasted great though! me: i know! very richTM: OMG lemme go poop and see what comes out me: yeah take a close look3:43 PM seriously!3:46 PM TM: WHOA WHOA orange oil me: what TM: coming out of ass me: do you have it??? OMG OMG OMG TM: WTF LEAKAGE me: I KNOW TM: FUCK HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON??? me: OMG TM: HEEEELP3:47 PM me: the blogs were right, dude! fucked up, man
3:49 PM TM: what/ thefuck.3:50 PM TM: they should put a sign up at the fish monger3:51 PM “WARNING: MAY CAUSE ORANGE OIL TO SHOOT OUT OF ASS” me: HAHAHA For these reasons, escolar has been banned from consumption in Japan since 1977, as the Japanese government considers it toxic.3:52 PM TM: but that’s not necessarily true me: that it’s toxic? TM: wait so it’s a laxitive? me: well TM: it has “purgative” qualities if taken in small quantities purgative as in “violent diarrhea will ensue”3:59 PM me: Keriorrhoea, as opposed to diarrhoea, does not cause loss of body fluid and is therefore not life threatening. Not all people are affected by the wax ester. However, if it does, it causes significant discomfort ranging from stomach cramps to rapid loose bowel movements, with onset 30 minutes to 36 hours after consumption. Recovery is expected within 24 to 48 hours. do you have diarrhea? TM: great no4:00 PM just orange oil leakage me: this is what scared me when i was looking up recipes at home last night yeah me too it’s pretty disturbing TM: freaky me:
must expel orange oil

25 minutes

4:27 PM TM: i’m leaking!!!4:28 PM me: oh geez use a butt plug4:29 PM i was leaking this morning TM: i’ve never needed one until now! i think it’s showing through my pants! me: oh no, really?
4:30 PM TM: embarassing!4:31 PM me: that’s terrible, I’m sorry!!!!!!!!! 😦 (>_<)

16 minutes

5:46 PM TM:omg i just farted orange5:49 PM me: OH GOD5:50 PM i hope you have a tissue or something in your buttcrack

Escolar, the “IT” fish indeed. More like the “Sh*t” fish, if you ask me… anyways… You get the picture. Perhaps too vividly. TM was clear after a day, but I suffered through for another 2 days before I could relax about staining my underwear. And as much of a hedonist as I am, even the delectable flavor and texture of escolar are not reason enough for me to ever risk living through that experience again. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


June 24, 2007

Aya: Hey Tmonkey,

tmonkey: hey
have you recovered from The Banquet?

Aya: um I don’t even know what you’re talking about because I’ve had my memories from Friday night removed from my brain.

tmonkey: nooo
ok the movie was painful
but the ramen at Setagaya!
Can’t forget that!

Aya: hmmm seem to have a faint recollection….
ok jk how could I possibly forget?! SRSLY

tmonkey: omg u r such a dork
i mean, when we finally find the BEST RAMEN IN NY

Aya: WOW bold statement!!!!

tmonkey: some cat comes along and reformats ur hard drive

Aya: LOLCATS!!!! only eaten cheezbrgrs
ok ok — seriously…
I have heard that Setagaya is a chain restaurant from California and also from Setagaya in Tokyo (which, incidentally, is where my brother lives)

tmonkey: i thought chain meant it would be bad

Aya: I know, right?

tmonkey: but boy was i wrong!

Aya: OK let’s break it down

tmonkey: well, it started out kind of disappointing
no liquor license yet

Aya: yeah, wtf, how can they be “out” of gyoza?!?

tmonkey: after that, i was like (to the waitress): “This ramen better be damn good!”

Aya: Yah, i think she was like, whatever, dude

tmonkey: i mean, we were all prepared for some serious disappointment

Aya: It’s pretty bold for a ramen shop to serve only one kind of soup

tmonkey: we = a big table of Japanese (and Taiwanese) ramen freaks
what was it? shio?

Aya: yes, shio (salt) flavor. kinda risky, considering most pp tend to favor the traditional shoyu flavor

tmonkey: isn’t that what i ordered?

Aya: no you got the chashu ramen, which basically means you got 2 extra slices of pork
the soup was the same: pale yellow color, looks light but full of flavor!

tmonkey: i love how there’s a whole different menu listing for ADD EXTRA PORK SLICES
the soup!
nice saltiness (not too much) but with good depth, and it was clear

Aya: yeah the description on the menu in bad engrish was hysterical

tmonkey: they put those three oils in it..

Aya: something like “look for the bamboo shooting on the top”

tmonkey: oh yeah, i had some bamboo gunplay going on in mine
the noodles were AWESOME imho
al dente

Aya: u r such a dork

tmonkey: shaddap
what, i like my noodles thin and al dente!

Aya: anyway the soup — made from dried shrimp, dried scallop, garlic, onion, chicken — was so full! and they added the scallop oil at the end,
very complex

tmonkey: it’s amazing how hard it is to get the soup right
momofuku you would think would be able to conjure up a good broth

Aya: ugh

tmonkey: minca’s is too thick

Aya: i don’t know WTF they are doing over there, man

tmonkey: and everywhere else just has no DEPTH

Aya: minca is way too thick and salty

tmonkey: but Setagaya, I gotta admit, EXCELLENT

Aya: yes we are in agreement there.

tmonkey: that’s half the battle

Aya: the menu also talked about there being 3 different thicknesses to their noodles.
did you notice that?

tmonkey: not sure if i got that

Aya: me neither…

tmonkey: i was too busy slurping them into my mouth i didn’t have a chance to get my ruler out

Aya: but then again, we pretty much inaled that shit
that’s what i said

tmonkey: jinx

Aya: stop stealing my thoughts

tmonkey: dork
the egg, halved and poached to perfection
no piece of seaweed though
no fancy ginger

Aya: yeah. plus bamboo shotting — they had shredded seaweed (not nori)

tmonkey: what was that orange crumbly stuff on the scallions?

Aya: OHHH dried ground shrimp i thnk!

tmonkey: gave it some nice color

Aya: and packed a flavor punch

tmonkey: i liked the restraint and the humble presentation
it wasn’t trying to do too much

Aya: We should have order extra noodles

tmonkey: um, we should have just ordered another bowl

Aya: yeah second round!

tmonkey: hungry hippo

Aya: of course by that time there were like a dozen pp waiting in line to get in

tmonkey: yeah, we have to plan to be there at some odd hour to not have to wait in line, but you know
it’s totally worth it

Aya: yesh — and next time we’ll skip the crepes from next door that gave you the tummyache
and the poop poops

tmonkey: STOP

Aya: LOL



tmonkey: KTHXBAI

Aya: 😦
i don’t know why you insist on chatting with me when you’re sitting 5 feet away from me

tmonkey: because, sometimes there are things that are better said through chat

Aya: like what

tmonkey: like
i just farted

Aya: U NYERD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sent at 11:05 AM on Sunday

Ramen Setagaya

141 First Avenue
(bet. 8th and 9th Streets)
(212) 529-2740

Links to other Umami Mart ramen-related postings:

Burrata + Oysters: The Reckoning

May 12, 2007

tmonkey lost his mind last night.

I came home from work at 10:30. The apartment was sweltering. tmonkey was walking around, sweaty, shirtless with a small knife. He mumbling something about mozzarella cheese. He had been blogging. I knew there would be trouble.

“Do you know how to shuck oysters?” he asked. I told him no. “This is going to be harder than I thought. These Malpeques are tight.”

There was some blood on the wet paper towels. tmonkey blood. Or maybe it was from the tomato sauce bubbling on the stove. Six perfect green-grey oysters nestled atop a bed of ice, taunting us. I took a knife in hand. That was the beginning of the end…

“Bye, valve.”

That’s what tmonkey kept saying as we pried open the shells. I could almost hear the little soft bodies screaming as we slid the cold blade in and forced open their shells. But I didn’t care. I was possessed. After we had readied them for ritual sacrifice, the grey oyster flesh glistening with lemon juice, we turned our attention to the Burrata. (At this point I couldn’t control myself. I was trying to scrape off the little remaining meat off of an empty shell with my teeth. I offered some oyster juice-laced shell to the little hairless Buster, but he was entirely uninterested.)

I had never seen this before. Inside the plastic container, a plastic bag, and yet another plastic bag, tied up with a mint-green ribbon. Milky liquid collected at the bottom of the bags. The cheese was heavy and white. tmonkey carefully unveiled the Burrata mozzarella and placed it on the cutting board. It looked like a creamy tumescent heart from some unknown mythical creature, about to burst. “Get the camera,” he said. His eyes were bulging. He had a clean knife. We wanted to keep a record of this moment. The first shot was completely washed out. I turned off the flash. The knife pierced the heart and slowly made its way down its surface. Almost immediately, a viscous cream began to ooze out. The engorged cheese-heart, fell open easily against the blade. The flesh inside was not smooth and seamless like the outside. It had the look of delicate sauerkraut, shreds of heavenly string, bleeding cream.

When I saw this, I suddenly realized what we had done, and what we were about to do. It was too much. We had gone too far. But there was no turning back.

The spaghetti was boiling. We had time to kill.

tmonkey took an oyster in his hand. With a fork he jabbed into the Burrata. He wound a long shred around the prongs, and twirling it just so, daintily placed it on top of the oyster. I did the same. We looked at each other, and took the shells to our lips.

Words fail to aptly describe this ineffable experience. How can I write about the texture of the oyster as it swirled around my tongue, escaping the clutches of my teeth? Or the salty firm meat of the Burrata, spreading its flavor into the corners of my mouth? The sensations were overwhelming, totally engrossing, and then, it was over, all too quickly. Leaving only echoes of the salt and sea. Guilt at such pleasure. The remaining oysters were dispatched one after another. It was all over in less than 10 minutes.

I cleaned up the debris. The kitchen towel soaked in oyster juice. Lemon seeds. Knives. The dissected cheese-heart. I saw the bowl of empty oyster shells capsizing amidst melting chunks of ice. In a desperate attempt to cling to the experience that was already now just a lingering memory, I put my right foot in the bowl, imagining myself stepping into the ice-cold Atlantic Ocean. I let the oyster juice soak into my skin, shells digging into my toes. Melancholy sets in, when something is over. But somehow I knew this would not be the last time…

When in Monterey…

May 4, 2007

I’m from Monterey, California (home of the world-famous — and deservedly so — Monterey Bay Aquarium) which is one of the most beautiful places on earth (the breathtaking landscape was featured in Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo), but the problem with the beautiful places on earth are that they are usually turned into tourist traps — everything is outrageously overpriced and cheesy. Same goes with the restaurants. There is no lack of fancy schmancy dining on the peninsula, but like most fancy restaurants, you are paying for the attitude or the view, and not the quality of the food.

If you ever find yourself in Monterey, California, and want a great meal, I would strongly urge you to skip the Fresh Cream, Sardine Factory, Fandango, and Anton & Michel’s (all of which are the kinds of places kids go on prom night) and head to NaRa Korean Retaurant in downtown Monterey (420 Tyler St). My mom and I always eat here whenever I visit her — at least once, and sometimes twice per visit! OK, so it’s not an all-out Korean BBQ place where you grill at your table, but they cover all the basics and they do it well. Bulgoki, Jap Chae, Bibimbop, Sundubu — all solid — complete, of course with all the kimchi and other appetizers.

The most amazing dishes, though, are the two sea bass ones — which, due to recent hikes in sea bass prices, they did not have for the last year or so. But serendipitously, when I was home just a couple weeks ago, they DID have the sea bass! Here is the Grilled Sea Bass:

It’s grilled with this viscous spicy-sweet sauce made from daikon and chilis, served with healthy slices of zucchini and daikon. Totally delectable. We also got the Spicy Sea Bass Soup, which is like a kimchi jige except with luscious chunks of sea bass, and the Japchae, a great standard noodle dish. (I just realized all my photos are blurry so I’m not uploading the others… sux) It’s totally a cozy place that prioritizes food over decor (they put tennis balls on the feet of the chairs to prevent scratches on the lino floor, and there’s a gigantic plasma TV usually on CNN). I don’t think anything on the menu is priced over $20 — this homey place is a favorite among the locals, and is usually packed with language student-soldiers from the Defense Language Institute practicing their Hangul.

So if you’re ever planning a trip down (or up) the coast, here’s a suggested itinerary: hit the Aquarium and work up your appetite for seafood before heading over to Nara. (And then later you may want to relax in the hot springs at Esalen and get a seaside massage!!)

Ramen Haven? ISE

April 2, 2007

Lunch during the workweek has never struck me as an opportunity for a truly enjoyable eating experience — especially working in midtown! But I went to ISE for the first time in a couple months and you know what, I think this place might have the best ramen in NYC that I’ve tasted so far.

They are not strictly a ramen place – in fact they have sushi and other Japanese staples, but they always have a lunch special menu, and always have a ramen set special. I’d almost always gotten the shoyu ramen, but today, Futoshi & Ryo and I all got the Niboshi (dried sardine) Ramen set — the broth is made of the niboshi, and the set today came with a small bowl of curry rice. This is a really solid Japanese meal! The Ramen:

Broth — flavorful and rich. Two slices of Chashu, nice combination of fat and meat. Scallions, bean sprouts and menma (braised bamboo). Nothing fancy — I would have loved a piece of nori seaweed and a hard-boiled egg — but otherwise solid. Nice noodles, and a full portion.

The curry rice — when it finally came — did not disappoint. Solid, traditional Japanese curry, with sweet pickles on the side. Nothing fancy. (sorry out of focus!!)

For $11.50, it’s not the kind of money I’d want to spend on lunch everyday, but a pretty good deal. This is the least disappointing ramen I’ve had in New York. While it is still sad that I’m not jumping up and down saying “the is the BEST ramen in NY” (still hoping that there’s a place that really blows me away and captures the flavor and satisfaction of the ubiquitous neighborhood ramen joints in Japan) if you find yourself in midtown craving ramen for lunch, def go to ISE, over Menchanko-tei (barf).

(212) 319-1494151
E 49th St. btw Lex & 3rd Ave.


March 31, 2007

(Editor’s note: This post was co-written by Aya and Tmonkey. All opinions and typos are theirs.)

Aya: I am always hungry. But Tmonkey, you are always always hungry. What’s up with your metabolism?

Tmonkey: I burn a lot of chi doing kung-fu. Also my massive brain controlled by alien maggots requires about 3 times more energy than a regular human brain.

Aya: That’s cool. And where does your profound desire for ramen come from?

Tmonkey: I don’t know, I think it’s a primal instinct.

Aya: Yeah. I yearn for it in a way that’s like it’s part of my DNA.

Tmonkey: Though I think the movie Tampopo helped to shape my latent cravings for ramen–

Aya: Great movie! OK so Tmonkey and I went to Rockmeisha last night.

Tmonkey: Kayoko told me about this place. I tried to go for lunch twice this week, but they’re not open until 6pm.

Aya: It took you two times to figure that out?

Tmonkey: Chut up. Anyway, I was happy to try it out. It’s a cute little cozy place, and, incidentally, right next door to the magnificent Annisa restaurant run by Anita Lo. She trounced Mario Batali in Iron Chef America. I’ll take you there sometime.

Aya: You better.

Tmonkey: OK OK. Rockmeisha is really tiny. The kitchen looked like a kitchen in someone’s house. Stuff all over the place. Plus the whole joint smelled like grease. They fry lots of things. What’s an izakaya? We sat at the bar because I like to drink. A lot. I had 2 Sapporo drafts.

Aya: I had the lychee sake. Yummy.

Tmonkey: We started off with the Tuna and avocado salad.

It was delicious – nice ponzu dressing and lots of thinly sliced onion on top.

Aya: The deep-fried mackerel was even better.

Nice fish. But we should have ordered the porkbelly special.

Tmonkey: Now for the main course. I order the Chashumen, and Aya got the Tonkotsu Ramen. Can you tell the difference?

Aya: Um. No. Wait. Which one was mine?

Tmonkey: The second one. Look closely. Mine has 3 extra slice of pork (spoken in bad Chinese accent).

Aya: Oh right. Those 3 slices of pork cost you an extra $5!

Tmonkey: It was worth it! The noodles had very nice texture and resilience. I read they are imported from Hakata – where is that?

Aya: Uh Hokkaido? No wait, oops, it’s way down south actually, in Fukuoka in Kyushu. I don’t know shit about Japanese geography it’s embarrassing. It says here that tonkotsu (pork-bone base) ramen broth originated there, as did the convention of serving the pickled shoga (ginger) with the noodles.

Tmonkey: Yeah that was weird. I don’t know if I liked that. The broth was nice and thick. But you know, it lacked the most important flavor of all – UMAMI!

Aya: Explain.

Tmonkey: You don’t know what umami is??? What’s the name of this blog? Umami is the “fifth taste” — sour, salty, sweet, bitter, and….umami! It was “discovered” by a japanese scientist, Kikune Ikeda, at the Tokyo Imperial University when he was trying to isolate the flavor of seaweed broth. It’s the taste of mushrooms, parmesan cheese, tomatoes, that “earthy” flavor. It rounds out the flavor profile by hitting a certain region of your tongue. My favorite food writer/critic, Jeffrey Steingarten, wrote a defense of MSG, called “If MSG is bad for you, why doesn’t everyone in Asia have a headache”? Or something like that. Oh just go read this article. MSG! MSG! MSG!

Aya: We’re in agreement there. So overall, I’d say Rockmeisha, meh, it’s OK – kinda pricey for an izakaya, I guess you have to pay for the location.

Tmonkey: We have yet to find the best ramen in NYC.

Aya: OK, but how do you explain this?

Tmonkey: Hey. I was hungry!

11 Barrow Street
between West 4th Street and 7th Avenue
(212) 675-7775

Napa-Wrapped Pork

March 30, 2007

I am so lucky I get to see Kayoko everyday, so I can laugh at her for already blowing half her budget for the $100/2weeks. For lunch I brought leftovers from last night’s dinner and shared them with her — since she is starving this week and all. It’s a fun and easy recipe, and I highly recommend it. You can see it as either a variation on stuffed cabbage or, as Irwin aptly put it, an Atkins’ version of dumplings.

What you need:
1.) Fresh Ground Pork (I suppose you can do this with beef or turkey, too. For veggie recipe, I’d make a firm crumbled tofu – sliced shiitake – cellophane noodle – carrot mix)
2.) Chopped scallions
3.) Freshly grated ginger
4.) An egg (* optional rich coagulant — def necessary for the veggie recipe)
5.) Sesame oil
6.) Napa Cabbage (aka 白菜)

– First, stick the pork in a bowl, throw in the scallions, ginger, egg and a little bit of sesame oil and mash it up with your hands until everything’s all mixed up. You could use a spatula too, I suppose, but using your hands gives you the satisfying feeling that you’re manipulating the food, and plus it achieves an even texture.

– Salt and ground pepper as you wish. Then, take the washed napa leaves and cut them into 2 inch sections, and make little sandwiches of the pork mixture between them.

– Third, stick all the sandwiches vertically in a pot with a lid, and put over medium flame. No water necessary — the water from the napa steam/cooks the pork. Cook for about I dunno, 20 minutes?

– Check up on it now and then. (I don’t have measurements, nor precise times, just feel it out, it’s impossible to go wrong, even if it all falls apart.) Remaining soup after cooking should be saved for use in other soups/stews/broths.

Serve to your loved ones with rice — and ponzu sauce, ideally — and have a happy day.

` ‘ /\ /\
\ (^o * )/ aya