after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Posts Tagged ‘New York City

t visits Momofuku and Ippudo

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t says:  I found myself in NYC last month so I visited two awesome venues in the local food scene.  First, I made it to the fabled Momofuku Noodle Bar.

November 2011, Thursday 4:22pm, Party of Me.  I rushed over to Momofuku with roller-suitcase behind me.  I made it in there just before the kitchen closes at 4:30pm (it closes for an hour before dinner).  I took off my jacket, and, despite eating a mere three hours prior, was in the mood for some pork buns (sorry – with the onset of December, it’s winter in my book, so Pork Caps is over).  The ramen was calling me as well, but I didn’t want to have to walk around the city with the slosh of liquid in my stomach – so pork buns it was!  Having had a number of Tyson Bee’s pork buns, I figured that I was prepared for Momofuku’s.  Actually, I was readying myself for disappointment, as surely this is one of those things that’s way overrated, right?  COULD NOT BE MORE WRONG.

pork bun = pork belly + pickle + sauce + ?scallion? + bao bun

HOLY CRAP.  I was so moved by it that I pulled out g’s iPad and started writing myself a note so I could try and capture what it was that I was experiencing.

“Holy bejesus.  Never have I seen pork belly this tender.  EVER.  I’m shocked to admit it but it kind of wrecks a LOT of other pork bellies for me – even those at restaurants.  So soft.  The softest ever.  Maybe not the crispest crust but among the best that haven’t been Fondified.  But not totally fatty – surprisingly little fat actually.  Puts Tyson Bee’s to shame.  No wonder they don’t serve it there anymore – someone must have sued them for having such an inferior product under the same name of ‘pork bun’.”

So yea, the buns had two of the awesomest pieces of pork belly ever.  If this pork belly and Fond’s got in a fight, I honestly don’t know whose would win.  Fond’s got the crust, but these have the fluffiest texture ever.  To boot, these tiny slabs were perfectly balanced little bites of heaven (sweet, sour, salty, savory – it was all here).  No wonder they cost $10 for 2.  They’re worth every penny.

I also ventured the “roasted rice cakes” appetizer.

roasted rice cakes

I do like the idea of this dish.  One would figure: if you take gnocchi and then brown them, they get a nice crispy outside, a soft pillowy inside, and an added layer of flavoring from the caramelized sugar.  Obviously, rice cakes could be done up the same way, right?  Eh … kinda …  The way it was done on this particular visit shows that the process added a crispy outside, but it didn’t quite add any flavor [that I could tell].  Then again, it also wasn’t really browned, either, so maybe it was ineffective application of heat?  That said, the sauce and sesame was spectacular. I think that because of these, I’ll label these as “good”, but look forward for [hopefully] a future visit that will prove to have a denser browning that the above.

So overall, I was satisfied with Noodle Bar’s offerings.  As I left, I was already dreaming of the return visit – after all, the ramen needed to be conquered, right?  During my stay in NYC, I got into a conversation with another about my recent visit to Momofuku.  He said, “yea, they have good ramen there – but if you want even better ramen, go to Ippudo.”  Whoa.  Better than Momofuku?  And this was professed to me by a native San Franciscan who also confessed to being food-centric.  I just had to go.  A few days later, before leaving NYC, I made the trek to Ippudo to confront their ramen.

November 2011, Tuesday Dinner, Party of Me.  As I stood around in the waiting area of Ippudo (i.e. the bar), I felt the energy of the place.  I was clearly in a hot-spot.  I was clearly out of my element.  It was loud and people were packed in tighter than sardines.  Patrons were willing to lie, cheat, and steal so they could get in – I heard the hostess tell people wait times of an hour or more.  Of course, maybe it was just a fluke and maybe this place is not as thumping/bumping/jumping as I perceived, but I just picked a bad night?  Regardless of the reality, I stuck with it and waited, silent and patient.  Why?  Because when you’re by yourself, the wait time is “5-10 minutes”.  It’s one of the few perks of eating alone.  But I wondered how many single-tops or bar-seating they had available for singletons like myself.  As the minutes went by, I missed g.  She’d probably like going to a noodle bar, and here I was about to go to two within five days.  Also, it was times like these when we’d look around an analyze things like the decor or patrons’ attires.  Later I found out that she had gone to Barbuzzo with some friends … I didn’t feel so bad anymore …

In 10 minutes, they took me to the main restaurant area.  As I walked in, some of the servers began shouting some sort of incoherent Japanese greeting.  Gimmick or legitimate or both?  Who knows?  That’s when I saw the communal tables.  Suddenly it made sense!  With all of the random-numbered parties in there, squeezing one here or there made it so they could fill the open gaps of the table with strangers.  And I didn’t mind, as I was here for one thing and one thing only: ramen.  Forget “socializing”.

I ended up ordering the “Akamaru Modern” which is their contemporary take on ramen (I think it’s one of the ramens they are most known for) and added a side of braised pork belly (“kakuni”).

akamaru modern ramen + kakuni

This ramen’s kind of different than what I think of when I say “ramen”.  It’s in a cloudier-sauced broth.  Furthermore, my addition of the the brown-sauced-shortrib yields a collision of the dark and light browns that you see in the pic above.  I must admit that I was totally digging having two porks in a single dish (the kakuni I ordered and the “chashu” which is included – I think both are belly).    What’s also fun is the additional soup spoon thing they give you.  While I’m not sure what the “right” way to use it is, I used it as an intermediate platform on which I set my noodles on so I can visualize how much I’m going to put in my mouth before I do it.  Like this:

the soup spoon is the last stop for those noodles and pork before my chopsticks lift them to my mouth

The ramen was pretty damn good.  The noodles had that alkali noodle taste and were perfectly al dente.  The broth was savory and had some weight to it in the mouth (?miso?).  The veggies still had bite while the porks were right on – perhaps not as soft as Momofuku’s, but respectable.  I felt that everything was in place for a nice solid bowl of ramen.  Mind-blowing?  No.  It’s not like there were unexpected tastes and textures, but it was very well-done indeed.  It was good enough that I’d definitely go back and try out some of their other noodles to see what kinds of flavors they might bring in (I think the special of the night was a wasabi one).  I suspect, however, that Momofuku’s is going to be a little more complex with the pork being more tender and flavorful (they use the same pork in their buns as they do in their ramen).  Alternatively, I recall Momofuku have a dinner special the night I went which was beef shank and gruyere … in ramen … crazy! … so that would have pushed the envelope a little.

I was about to leave but wanted a little something sweet and cold to close the meal.  I saw a number of sorbets and ice creams, but they looked a bit boring.  For $8, I’d rather hit walk around until I found some other dessert place.  Then I saw the “matcha brulee” which featured green tea brulee with green tea ice cream.  Gimicky?  Sure.  But I’m a sucker for green tea sweets.

the matcha brulee

You know – this was the surprise of the evening. The green tea ice cream had that bitter green tea taste, but wasn’t very sweet.  The creme brulee had more of creamier/sweeter profile and, obviously, a different temperature.  Add in the texture of the crust that kept the two from co-mingling until after they got in your mouth.  It was surprisingly good!  By themselves, the two components would have been a snooze-fest.  But together, and it was fun!  I’d say it’s worth 6 of the 8 dollars it cost.

In summary, what I found particularly interesting while I sat and ate and people-watched at Ippudo is that I feel like Philly desperately needs a noodle house like this.  Yea, we have some Asian-themed restaurants (e.g. Sampan) and some actual noodle houses (in Chinatown).  But we don’t have something like this.  This is like if Barbuzzo was a noodle bar.  It’s loud, it’s hip, and it’s a place to be.  That said, the food is good and it comes out fast.  Make sure it serves some vegetarian options (lookin out for you, dz!) and have the same servers that are friendly [enough] while executing exceedingly efficient service (they ran like machinese).  Considering what seems to be reasonably large profit margins (seriously – how much does it cost to make good ramen if Ippudo’s going to go and charge $15+ for it?), I think they could really do some damage on the Philly scene.  Maybe it won’t have the longest life cycle, but for a well-heeled restaurant group, it might be easier to get in and get out.  Ok, I’ll stop talking out of my derriere now – I just want someone to make a comparable ramen house here so I can get some ramen!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

6 December 2011 at 4:24pm

‘Ats a Lotta’ Chocolate

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t says:  I love chocolate.  For real.  Consequently, I’ve had many a recent chocolate experiences that I feel like sharing.

First up:  Vosges Chocolate in NYC.  g and I were in NYC this past weekend for a lovely wedding (more on that later).  We decided to run down to Soho and do a bit of shopping.  As the dedicated bag mule, I was perhaps a little whiny, as it was very warm outside and I am fairly heat intolerant (I’m actually sweat intolerant moreso than heat intolerant).  g decided to placate the 6-year-old in me with a trip to Vosges chocolate.  Now I know that in the world of real chocolate, perhaps Vosges isn’t the best, maybe some will view their chocolate as nothing but over-priced Hershey’s with upscale marketing – but who cares?  It’s chocolate.  And I like it.  So back off!  Oh … yes … back to the story at hand … This is what I saw outside.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

Ice cream, eh?  Ok, that’d hit the spot nicely.  So I went in and it was a glorious glorious place.

A peak inside Vosges.

There were a few items in particular that caught my eye …

A classy way to do bacon + chocolate ...

... and a not-so-classy way to do bacon + chocolate.

And then there were pre-made cookies (but they were pretty hard and likely stale – bad form, Vosges!), and baking mixes, and so much more!  In the end, I had no choice but to go with the ice cream – after all, it was hot outside.  I went for the “Pandan”, which incorporated some kind of Asian leaf that added a nice nutty flavor (something between a peanut and a hazelnut) to the chocolate ice cream, which was rich and velvety and not the least bit icy.  It was truly an excellent ice cream.  It did hit the spot nicely, and I’d be happy to carry shopping bags in Soho in the future if promised some more.  Thanks Vosges!  You saved g’s shopping adventure!

And writing this post reminded me of another Vosges bar I recently had which was pretty darn good.

Can it beat out the Chocolate + Bacon bar?

From a post of Vosges chocolate we did a while ago, you can see that I do like the Moe’s chocolate bacon bar a lot.  This was a very close second.  The chocolate squares have a layer of sweet caramel inbetween which is a nice contrast to the bitter chocolate.  The only problem is that it’s a smidge too sweet, so when I first stick it in my mouth, all I get is that super-sweet caramel flavor.  Fortunately, the chocolate and salt kick in and restore balance a few seconds later.  Overall, I was also happy with how intense a flavor this confection had, as it allowed me to pace myself and eat the bar over a few days … unlike the bacon bar … where I can’t help myself.

Moving on from Vosges … there’s another good chocolate-centric thing goin’ down as well.  But this time, closer to home …

Milkshake at Village Whiskey!

g and I dined at Village Whiskey for lunch today.  I had the BBQ pork sandwich and g had the veggie burger – no surprises here.  BUT, we did get some milkshakes, which are either new, or at the very least, something we had never noticed on the menu before.  They took forever to come out – not appearing until we were 3/4 the way done our sandwiches.  But they were worth the wait.  What you see above is the s’more milkshake which was fantastic.  The shake part was thick and creamy and not icy at all.  There were some toasted marshmallows and graham on top (which I crushed up and put in the milk shake) and some chocolate swirls.  This is not the most chocolatey milkshake ever, but it was delicious.  My only critique is that it is unbelievably heavy – I think I could only tolerate 2/3 of it before crying uncle.  I feel like I should go there for a milkshake dinner or something (mmmm … get an order of fries and a milkshake and call it a night … that … sounds … amazing).  g had one as well – caramel malt – but it had no chocolate in it, so I didn’t bother with a picture (but g says it was “deeeee-licious”).

And there is one more chocolate thing that I encountered recently that I’m going to hold back until later in the week.  This is a lot of typing for now.  So tune in soon for the exciting conclusion.  Hint: it’s going to be weird …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

1 June 2011 at 7:04pm

I Saw Mario On My Lunch Break!

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g says: Okay, this is so last week, but I just had a moment to share this bit of news…

Eataly, Mario Batali’s new “temple to Italian food” (or whatever he is calling it – it’s a market with every kind of prepared and unprepared Italian food you can imagine) opened just around the corner from my office, so I decided to take a peek inside on my lunch break. It is enormous and extremely crowded, and I totally felt from every patron around me exactly how Mario describes Italian people shopping for food (see our cooking quotes page).

I contemplated waiting in line for a sandwich or gelato until I was overwhelmed with claustrophobia and decided to instead quickly look around and then make a run for it. As I worked my way through the crowd toward the 23rd street exit, I did a double-take, as I spotted the unmistakable red-haired iron chef himself, heading toward me. (I’m good at spotting food people… remember Stephen Starr and Pierre Calmels?) He excused himself by dozens of people at a time, and all I could do was step out of his way and stare, starstruck. It took all of my might to keep moving and act cool; I desperately wanted to snap an action shot of him with my iphone, but the moment passed.

No one else seemed to notice that we were in the presence of greatness, but in Manhattan I guess people are used to celebrity sightings. I, however, am not, and I plan to return again soon to better assess the food situation (which looks promising!) – anyone want to join me?

Written by afterdinnersneeze

9 September 2010 at 8:07am

Posted in Happenings

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Tabla: You Have to try the “Green Drink”

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g says: I was browsing my Tasting Table emails last week and came across an advertisement for NYC Martini Week. I had no idea what that was or what it meant, but I sure liked the sound of it! I knew I must participate (at least for the sake of the sneeze).

After reading on, it became apparent that this martini week was indeed right up my alley – several restaurants around the city were serving special $10 martinis made with premium vodka or gin from 5:30-8:30 pm for a 2 week duration. We have been working really hard at the office, so a few of the girls and I set out to plan a little happy hour to celebrate our love of martinis and treat ourselves a bit. We knew it was meant to be when we saw that one of the participating locations was Tabla (located just across the park from our office); this was an offer we just couldn’t refuse!

3/2010, Wednesday 6:00 pm, Party of 3 – We arrived on time and were seated right away in the mezzanine dinner area. The atmosphere was comfortable, spacious, and afforded us a great view of not only the cool “bread bar” below (the lower level where there is more casual seating), but also the park right outside.

I have been to Tabla on 2 or 3 occasions before for lunch, and have never been disappointed. Their Indian food is creative, fresh, and always delicious. It has been a long while since I have dined there, so I don’t remember exactly what I have tried before, but I do remember being completely satisfied with my experience each time. I also don’t have a gauge for how authentic the food is; I am inclined to think it is more Indian-inspired than traditional, but it doesn’t matter to me as long as it’s tasty (and in my experience, it is).

The time came for us to order our drinks – I was so excited to hear what kind of special drinks they would be offering! They had an upgraded version of their signature Tablatini (pineapple with vodka — upped to grey goose from skyy) and something we referred to the entire night as the “green drink.” I forget what our server told us its real name was, and her description didn’t sound too fabulous either (green and spicy with muddled cilantro), but it was more interesting than pineapple and vodka, so I wanted to give it a whirl. Also, it was a gin drink, and I am usually a fan of those.

The girls ordered a dirty martini and a glass of cava respectively, and I ordered the mysterious green drink. Boy was I happy I did, for it was incredible! First, it was a more fresh, translucent green than the murky color I was picturing. Then I came to find out that it was composed of Bombay Sapphire, cucumber, lime, mint, and cilantro – not so much spicy as herbaceous and refreshing – a total hit for me. Gold star for drinks!

But what happy hour would be complete without something to nibble on as well? Tabla happens to also be a perfect place to get apps and small plates to pair with something from the bar. I was the only one of us who had visited there before, so I was able to make my recommendation: flatbread and chutney for all!

I love a good flatbread and chutney any time of day, and Tabla makes them both really well. We ordered both the rosemary and garlic tandoori flatbreads, as well as the 6 chutney sampler (cilantro-mint, tamarind-jaggery, mango, spicy chili, peanut, tomato), and a saag paneer pizza for good measure. My drink dates and I were delighted by the bold, yet approachable flavors of each item we ordered, and it was just the right amount of food.

I think the girls were pretty impressed, as we vowed to return again another time. I’m thinking that might have to be pretty soon…

t says: I’ll trade NYC our Cafe Spice for their Tabla any day …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

12 March 2010 at 7:39am

Babbo: New York’s Vetri

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t says: How dare I insinuate that a well-known NYC restaurant is a “version” of a restaurant in Philadelphia!?  Babbo was first!  Babbo was created by Mario Batali – who’s this “Vetri” guy?  I apologize, I didn’t know what I was thinking – but I got your attention, right?  I actually have no intention of trying to make the case that Babbo is New York’s Vetri …  I will mention, however, that Batali and Vetri are friends, and Batali has been quoted saying that “Vetri is possibly the best Italian restaurant on the east coast.”  … I’m just saying …

g was recently gifted Batali’s The Babbo Cookbook (thanks l!).  It brought back memories of the two times that g and I had visited.  Because they were so long ago (over 2 years ago), I’m a little fuzzy and what in particular made it so great.  Was it the energetic, yet soothing atmosphere?  Was it the impeccable wine service?  Or was it the gigantic wine list that included actually good makers from actually good years for only moderately-increased prices?  Or maybe it was the food – the way it was rustic Italian with a twist here and there?  All of the above. Because I have very little specific recollection of our visits, as they were so long ago, and so much wine was consumed, I guess this really isn’t a “proper” review – but take my word for it that it was delicious overall.  Interestingly, I remember that none of the pastas are horrendously expensive, so it wasn’t too much of a bankbuster (I think they rely on wines and the meats/fish to bring in the $$).

I do remember a single dish.  I had it on our second visit – it was the end of February 2008.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was cold outside, and we had just squeezed in to one of the few tables of the restaurant specifically set aside for walk-ins.  I wanted someting warm and rustic.  Something that was meaty and heavier than just “pasta”.  And there I found it: gnocchi with oxtail ragu.  This was the first time that I had had oxtail outside of Chinatown, and, despite the unattractive name, it was amazing!  The gnocchi were perfect fluffy pillows.  The meat clung to the pasta via a very thin sauce that brought forth sweet onion, tomato, and, of course, meat.  The meat, itself was as tender as can be.  It was like taking Osteria’s gnocchi and combining it with Melograno’s short rib ragu (well, except using oxtail instead of short rib).  As a whole, I think it still holds the title as the best Italian gnocchi/pasta dish I’ve ever had (I use “Italian” as a qualifier because Talula’s did have a dumpling dish that was equally out-of-this-world, but not traditionally Italian).

I bring all this up now because in the cookbook, there are recipes for some of the dishes we actually sampled on our visits.  Among them is the oxtail ragu.  It’s time to get cookin’ …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

6 March 2010 at 12:48pm