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Friday, June 17, 2011

Totto-ly Ramen

"Avo Tuna" (Torched tuna sashimi with avocado
marinated in yuzu garlic sauce, topped with scallion)
"Totto spicy ramen" (Rayu spicy sesame oil, topped with scallion,
bean sprouts, char siu pork and nori)
Side of spicy bamboo shoots
Spicy bamboo shoots and a small dab of very spicy sesame oil (rayu)
Making ramen in the small kitchen: guy on left cooks noodles...
...guy on right makes broth...
...guy in middle pours broth...
...and torches char siu (on right)
Waiting customers.
Put your name on the list hanging on the door
LOCATION: Totto Ramen, 366 W 52nd Street (between 8th and 9th Ave) New York, NY 10019
CATEGORY: Japanese, ramen
DRINK: Tap water
WE THINK: Totto Ramen is tiny. Like a ramen bar in Japan. A few tables but mostly seats at the bar where the ramen is cooked. We had already been warned that we might have to wait in line so we decided to go early on a weekday--at 12.05pm (they open at 12.00pm)--to beat the crowds. That didn't work. At Totto you have to write your name on the sheet of paper hanging on the door and wait outside on the sidewalk for your name to be called. We did that, all hungry and sweaty in the heat, observing what was a confusing and seemingly random seating of people. 40 minutes later we got a seat at the bar where we ordered from one of the 3 chefs. He warned us that the "Totto extreme spicy ramen" that we had our eyes on was actually "extremely spicy" so we agreed to get the extra rayu (spicy sesame oil) on the side so we could experiment. A very good idea because that stuff is spicy! The ramen was delicious--fresh and al dente--and the broth was tasty--a Paitan broth made with whole chicken and soy sauce that simmers all day in the giant vats behind the bar. Toppings included scallion, onion, char siu pork, an egg and nori. In addition, we had ordered a side of very spicy bamboo shoots which weren't necessary. We also ordered a tuna sashimi starter which was too garlicky. Taking pictures wasn't easy as pretty much everyone else sitting at the bar were taking photos for their own food blogs, lens caps, camera cases and straps dangling all over the place, which made us hate ourselves and them at the same time.
OUR TIP:  In retrospect, it seems obvious: go off-peak, late lunch or early dinner, to avoid the crowds.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Going to Eataly

"Chicken of the sea" - fried blowfish tails
Raw razor clams with jalapeño, scallion and mint
Roasted branzino ('al forno') 
Collard greens
"Grande piatto misto salumi e formaggio" - assortment of cheese and cold meats
A mess of wine and food on a too-small table
"Pesce azzuro e peperonata" - marinated sardines with sweet peppers
LOCATION: Eataly (we ate at Il Pesce and La Piazza), 200 5th Ave., New York, NY 10010
At Il Pesce: glass of 2010 Langhe Arneis, Brandini, Piemonte and a glass of 2009 Orvieto, Campogrande, Santa Cristina, Umbria
At La Piazza: Monte Rossa, P.R. Rosé Brut, Franciacorta
WE THINK: We like buying groceries at Eataly--the giant Italian food hall on the corner of 5th Ave and 23rd st. In the fruit and veg section we'll buy white aubergines, fiddleheads and morels... yellow tomatoes, English peas and a bundle of ramps. We'll buy nice sparkling wine in the wine store, great pecorino in the cheese section and fresh pasta from the pasta counter. And it's not even that expensive. It's also possible to dine at Eataly. This, however, is expensive. There are a dozen different eateries, ranging from sandwich and cake shops to fine dining--even a vegetarian restaurant. And there's a newly opened beer garden/restaurant on the rooftop with views of the Manhattan skyline. We had lunch at La Piazza and Il Pesce on two different days. At Il Pesce, as the name suggests, it's strictly seafood. Renowned seafood chef, David Pasternack, serves up a selection of crudo and cooked seafood with ingredients from the neighbouring fish counter. We were not impressed by the blowfish tails (crust was dry and almost cold, boning was inconsistent, and the dish just wasn't that tasty), we liked our razor clams and we loved the baked branzino with plenty of lemon sprinkled on top. Collard greens were "meh". We asked for olive oil to accompany our bread and got it after asking 4 times, at the very end of our meal. It was very good olive oil. A second bottle of water never arrived but was politely struck off the bill. White wines by the glass were decent. At La Piazza you stand up and eat from tall, marble-topped communal tables that are way too narrow for the serving plates they use, and too small for the amount of people they stuff on each. Quite frankly pretty inconvenient. Our experience was nice, though. We had some tasty salumi and cheeses and some cute little yummy sardines, and the rosé prosecco was beautiful. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Blue Ribbon Sushi in Soho

San Daikon (three radish salad)
Chawan Mushi (steamed egg custard with shrimp, unagi, shiitake and spinach)
Chu toro (medium blue-fin tuna)
Seki Aji (horse mackerel)
Shima Aji (striped jack)
Hiramasa (king fish)
Katsuo (Bonito)
Binnaga (albacore tuna)
Kohada (spotted sardine)
Mushi ise ebi (cooked Atlantic ocean lobster)
Ikura gunkan maki (Salmon roe)...
...and a close-up because we think salmon roe look so amazing
Hokkaido uni (sea urchin from Hokkaido)
Shime saba (house cured mackerel)
Karai ise ebi (Spicy lobster with egg wrapper)
Kaibashira temaki (handrolls with spicy scallops) 
Sushi bar
Lobster tails and raw fish in sushi bar
LOCATION: Blue Ribbon Sushi, 119 Sullivan Street, New York, NY 10012
CATEGORY: Japanese, sushi
DRINK: sparkling water
WE THINK: A classic sushi spot in Soho and still regarded among the most reliable in NYC, Blue Ribbon Sushi has been around since the mid-90s (the same period from which most of the tracks on their annoying trip hop playlist date). The sushi is good and expensive and seems to attract a gaggle of tourists and couples on romantic dates - often a combination of the two. We sat at the bar watching the sushi chefs in action and ordered from the à la carte menu. We were very pleased with most of our choices - especially the kohada, shime saba, bonito, spicy scallop handrolls, spicy lobster, and ikura maki. We were not so pleased with our cooked lobster which didn't taste particularly fresh but we were very excited we could get one of our favourite things in the world: chawan mushi!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Our favourite Sichuan in London!

'Sichuan folk appetizer platter' (from top clockwise): pickled carrots and daikon,
numbing and hot dry beef, green beans in ginger sauce,  spare ribs and
'Sichuan Folk special flavoured cold chicken' (chilli / peanut / sesame sauce), 
Cloud ear fungus with coriander
'Twice-cooked' fish
Seaweed and egg soup
Dry-fried potatoes
Sichuan curry beef stew with potatoes and corainder
Cucumber and peanuts in garlic/chilli sauce
'Numbing and hot' fried chicken wings
Pork slivers with garlic sprouts
'Traditional boiled fish slice' (fish fillets cooked in chilli oil and sichuan pepper)
'Ants climbing a tree' (beanthread noodles with minced pork and chillies
Stir-fried potatoes with vinegar and chillies
Rice is nice
LOCATION: Sichuan Folk, 32 Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QR
CATEGORY: Chinese, Sichuan Chinese
DRINK: Tea, water, beer
WE THINK: Since Sichuan Folk opened in the fall of 2010, we've been more than 10 times and the above photos show a few of the things we've eaten. Once we ordered delivery but as they didn't own a vehicle (they were too embarrassed to say so) our food was delivered on foot. Once we went to eat but there was a power failure on the block so the chef could only prepare cold appetizers which were served by candlelight. Once the only other guests were a group of loud, drunken Chinese girls who had been singing in Sichuan Folk's karaoke room. We later met them in the bathroom where one of them was throwing up. A couple of months ago we went three times in a week! We've made friends with the likable manager, Chao ("when I was in Italy, everyone was shouting my name ha ha ha"), who came to Sichuan Folk from Orange on Oxford Street where he used to sell mobile phones. The head chef is more familiar with the restaurant business - he is the former chef at the good but pricey Ba Shu in Soho (sister restaurant of Ba Shan) which is evident from the high quality of the food he cooks. We really, really like this place! The food is excellent, authentic, spicy and relatively inexpensive. Favourites that we've ordered over and over include the fungus, chicken wings, potatoes, boiled fish slices, cucumbers and ants climbing a tree (all spicy). The other cold starters on the menu are delicious, too (e.g. the cold noodles with chicken and the century eggs). In fact, everything we've ever had here has been delicious EXCEPT FOR the hot pot (chinese soup-based 'fondue') which was a disappointing affair and not worth ordering. It's not on par with the rest of the menu and very far from as good as what you'll get in China - the main problem being the quality of the ingredients (especially the seafood) that are provided with your hot pot on an all-you-can-eat basis.
OUR TIPS: It's best to go to Sichuan Folk if you like spicy food since the majority of the items on the menu are very spicy (and 'numbing' from the Sichuan peppers). It's not worth ordering the seafood dishes though the fish dishes are usually good. And, to state the obvious, come with a big group so you can try more dishes!