January 2009


Its no big secret Japanese food is amongst one of us sisters’ favorite cuisines, so while in Vegas, we set our sights on dinner at Raku, a small izakaya off the Strip that comes highly recommended by bloggers and chowhounders.
cute little sake bottles

cute little sake bottles

If not for the internet, we would never have found our way to Raku. The Japanese restaurant is tucked in the corner of a slightly run down strip mall. Except for a sign hanging next to the entrance, there was little indication it existed. In fact, we almost missed Raku because the large store signage above the shop was written in Korean, and most definitely did not spell Raku. The interiors were almost as nondescript as its exterior, a smallish squarish space painted in dark brown/eggplant (lighting issues). Truely, the Totoro-like cartoon sake bottles warming in the water bath were the only design detail worth mentioning. Yet Raku is immensely popular, and it took us an hour long wait before we were given permission to perch ourselves along the bar. Needless to say, the food made the wait endurable.
 
We ordered rather liberally across the expansive menu, calories be damned, starting with fresh, thick slices of bluefin tuna sashimi, the toro meltingly soft. We swooned a little, there and then.
yakitori

yakitori

 Yakitori made up a big part of the menu, and we ordered most skewers and found them largely good. The pig’s ears were unexpectedly satisfying, a contrast of gelatinous and crunch with minimal pork funk. Bacon wrapped anything is always tasty, especially when its thick spears of asparagus.

tsukune
  tsukune

Chicken featured prominently in the skewered and grilled section, so we worked our way through chicken wings, breast, skin and meatballs. Our favorite, the succulent meatballs drenched in slightly sweet barbeque sauce. As we dug our chopsticks to dislodge the minced meat off the skewers, little puffs of smoke brought the smokey scent straight to our noses. Ah.. my favorite type of perfume.

agedashi tofu

agedashi tofu

 Raku makes its own tofu and the difference between homemade and industrial is immediately apparent when we tried it’s Agedashi Tofu. The tofu came shaped in a disc, silken soft and only lightly battered and fried without a trace of oiliness. The sauce was also more refined than regular agedashi tofu, topped with enoki mushroom caps and ikura that provided a savory pop.

shrimp!

shrimp!

 Raku really does a commendable job with deep-fried foods and a dish of fried shrimp was extremely tasty. The skin was so thoroughly fried that the entire shrimp could be eaten, skin and head on, yet the meat was not over-cooked. Bravo.

grilled corn

grilled corn

Grilled corn was the dish that made me think. Its a special piece of grilled corn, and not just because of its bicolored ears and pretty grill marks. No, the corn’s cob has been removed, and the hollow were the cob is had been stuffed with mashed potato. How on earth did they do it? Till now we still can’t figure it out. No matter, we’ll just let Ruoying eat there more often until she digs out the secret!

Raku

5030 Spring Mountain Rd #2

 verygoodtaste’s blog has an uber-popular post that has elicited over 1000 comments, and here I am joining the bandwagon. Because, it is fun to take stock of one’s foodie history! After crossing out all that I’ve eaten, I’m left with only 24 more items on the list to fulfill (and Sarah to at least tackle phaal with). Ok, sans roadkill only 23. So I will hereby set a belated new year’s resolution, to end 2009 with 99!

1. Venison

2. Nettle tea

3. Huevos rancheros

4. Steak tartare *

5. Crocodile

6. Black pudding

7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp

9. Borscht

10. Baba ghanoush*

11. Calamari

12. Pho*

13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi

15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses*

17. Black truffle

18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes

19. Steamed pork buns

20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes*

22. Fresh wild berries

23. Foie gras

24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese

26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper

27. Dulce de leche

28. Oysters

29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda

31. Wasabi peas

32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi

34. Sauerkraut

35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar

37. Clotted cream tea

38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O

39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat

42. Whole insects

43. Phaal

44. Goat’s milk

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more

46. Fugu

47. Chicken tikka masala

48. Eel

49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin*

51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi*

53. Abalone

54. Paneer

55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (have had all the components, just never the meal)

56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini

58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine

60. Carob chips

61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin

64. Currywurst

65. Durian***

66. Frogs’ legs

67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis

69. Fried plantain

70. Chitterlings, or andouillette

71. Gazpacho

72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe

74. Gjetost, or brunost

75. Roadkill

76. Baijiu

77. Hostess Fruit Pie

78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong

80. Bellini

81. Tom yum

82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant*

85. Kobe beef

86. Hare

87. Goulash

88. Flowers

89. Horse

90. Criollo chocolate

91. Spam

92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa

94. Catfish

95. Mole poblano

96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor

98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake

Note:

* favorites

hot pot!

hot pot!

Happy Niu Year! I am spending Chinese New Year in NYC again, but had the great fortune of spending the last few days in Las Vegas with my sisters, hanging out, eating, and watching Wang Li Hong live in concert. Instead of cooking our own reunion meal on the eve of CNY, we opted for hot pot at Champion Gourmet, a Taiwanese restaurant in Las Vega’s Chinatown strip. We had eaten there only 2 days before, dining on Taiwanese street food like a bowl of spicy beef noodles, the broth rich and the meat well-braised and fried oyster omelette, more sticky tapioca gum than egg and covered with a ketchup based sauce. Wonton in spicy sauce was indeed swathed with a piquant, garlicky mixture that brought tears to the eyes.
On the night of Chinese New Year’s eve, my sisters and I sat down to a bubbly pot of clear broth, accompanied by platters upon platters of meat and vegetables. We swished the paper thin slices of beef through the boiling water and our own sauce concoctions, and sampled fishballs stuffed both with meat and fish roe. We sipped the scalding soup and slurped noodles loudly, appreciatively. Halfway through our meal, the proprietors closed shop and sat down to their own reunion dinner with their daughters and granddaughters, also sharing hot pot, the big communal cauldron of broth symbolizing unity. Although our parents were thousands of miles away, it felt like we were eating with family.
Champion Gourmet
5115 Spring Mountain Rd
(702) 388-1168
 
Potato Pancakes
Potato Pancakes
Online communities. Gotta love them. The genesis of my trip to Veselka came about when I commented on Jon’s facebook status that same weekend we both hit the slopes. Then we found mutual facebook friends, Mabel and Alex and decided to meet. Jon chose Veselka as it happened to be bookmarked on Jon’s Yelp.com to-do list.
Veselka is an extremely popular joint in the East Village but luckily spacious enough such that a 20 minute wait was all that took to secure us a nice 4-top in the middle of the action, so we could see what was being ordered around us. I liked the atmosphere of the place, with great natural light, a buzzy feel, friendly servers and a black-and-white wall mural I would love to haul home, if only I could afford it. The expansive menu is split into typical American diner and Eastern European standards, and we had a lot of ground to cover. Thank God for healthy appetites!
Beety borscht

Beety borscht

I generally consider brunch a one dish meal, but here at Veselka, wracked by indecision, we decided to order our overflow decisions as appetizers. I warmed up with a hot cup of borscht, packed rimful with beets, onions, carrots, dill and tender beef, the flavors rich and slightly sourish. Then I joined the rest in devouring a plate of potato pancakes, crisp fried but a little doughy and blintzes, think crepes stuffed with ricotta and doused with raspberry sauce. Not bad, a little bland.
As we were halfway through our appetizers, the oversized plates of “real” food came and we had to rearrange the table settings for everything to fit. A stack of kasha pancakes, oddly gray and with a nutty flavor graced M’s breakfast plate.  My tomato and feta omelette was rather mediocre, the only saving grace being its overwhelming, sides off the plate size, meaning ample leftovers for a second meal.
pierogies and other stuff

pierogies and other stuff

The boys fared better. J’s meat platter was a manly entree, the famed meat combination platter comprising of everything stuffed and delightful. Pierogies are little dumplings filled with ricotta and meat, while a hefty lump of stuffed cabbage revealed more meat and minimal cabbage.  From the starter salad and soup to the main affair, J was well pleased. A’s meal was a plate of bigos, a traditional Ukrainian stew that is “fit for a hunter” according to the menu. Again, not necessarily something I would order for my lunch, but for A, substantial, tasty and he needed no help polishing the casserole of meat, sauerkraut, meat, potatoes and more meat off.

Bigos!

Bigos!

   Overall, a very satisfactory dish. I got to tick off a neighborhood staple off my to-do list, Jon got to yelp about it, and we all got to catch up. Now, if facebook technicians can invent a share a meal function….
Veselka
144 2nd Ave (corner of 9th st)
Porchetta sandwiches

Porchetta sandwiches

Here is one way to feed a small group. A structurally unsound mountain of brown paper packages that reveal pork sandwiches. These sandwiches in question are Italian in heritage and purchased from Porchetta, a white sliver of a shop a few blocks down my apartment.  Slow roasted pork with crackly golden skin nests within a small, square ciabatta roll that soaks up all the juices. For sides, one can order beans, slow-cooked greens and roasted potatos studded with more roasted pork.  For pig freaks, this is all good, although the price at $9 a smallish sandwich is  steep. And frankly, we did not really get the raving “top 10 eats of the year” type of reviews.

 

 

Porchetta

110 E7th St (Between 1st Avenue and Avenue A)

www.porchettanyc.com

A boiling cauldron of sundubu
A boiling cauldron of sundubu

Cold, frigid winter, meet your arch nemesis, the bubbling hot casserole of Korean tofu stew, the formidable sundoobu. At BCD Tofu house in Ktown, one can order sundubu multiple ways, with pork, beef, the broth kimchied and dumplinged. I choose the unconventionally sludgey curry tofu because I knew no one else would, and I got a pot of soft beancurd cubes bubbling away in a gooey brown sauce that is thinner than the regular japanese curry, but not by much. It is tasty, but next time I am opting for the regular broth, the blood red witches’ brew that promises burnt tongues and numbing heat. The menu suggests that no MSG has been added and despite it, the soup is meaty and flavorful, the pork and beef versions superior to the seafood, because the shellfish tasted frozen.

Like other Korean restaurants, the meal came with a full suite of panchan, Korean side dishes. The most unusual side dish must be the whole fried pollock, one each for everyone that orders sundubu. A little salty on its own, it was tasty mixed with rice. We could not resist the siren call of fried dough, and both times I’ve visited in as many weeks, we ordered the seafood pancake, BCD’s a worthy version that was crisp, not greasy, and came with good filling-dough ratio.

Apparently I am not the only one with hot tofu stew in mind these days, and last Friday, the restaurant was a madhouse. While the decor is more modern than its neighbors, the service was the same, i.e. harried and brusque. Still, when in need of a spicy antidote to winter blues, this isn’t a bad place to be.

BCD Tofu House

 17 W32nd St

www.bcdtofu.com

octopus salad

octopus salad

It was boxing day and bargains were abound. While $200 Christian Louboutins did not set my heart afluttering, the lunch time prix-fixe at Eleven Madison Park (EMP) sure did. $28 buys one an appetizer and entree at a traditionally spendy spot, where dinner is at least $76. Would be a fool not to take advantage, no?

$28 is a veritable steal, but EMP lacks the little extras that puts Jean Georges, another multi-starred restaurant with an extraordinary lunch deal over the top.

oxtail parmentier

oxtail parmentier

 

The two types of bread on offer were good but amuse bouches and mignardises were missing. Lobster was on the menu, but foie gras wasn’t. And certain items such as the lobster roll required a supplementary charge. Egg and caviar was the only dish with the charge at JG. 
Flavorwise, the meal was uniformly good.  A simple winter salad was very well dressed and yanru’s egg and parmesan dish was sufficiently rich and fitting for the cold weather. Ruoying’s lobster risotto was generously studded with fresh lobster, and my oxtail parmentier was hearty and savory, with a creamy potato layer encrusted with parsley for that added textural contrast. However, in a face-off, I would still tip the scales towards Jean Georges, who uses a lot of acid and Asian flourishes to provide wonderful bites. EMP’s food, while comptetently made and tasty struck me as a little boring and on the safe side, with no fireworks to be found.  

Still, the meal was enjoyable, with a very attentive and enthusiastic crew offering efficient and friendly service and a dining room that while dated looking, is iconic, if only because Mr Big broke the news of his engagement to Carrie in the said room. Good food, irreproachable service and a touch of showbiz glamour for $28? This is a deal I would recommend.