Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ramen Ramen

Up until about 10 years ago, my idea of ramen was a rectangular brick of MSG-laden, curly, dried noodles that I would reconstitute with water I boiled in my hot pot in my college dorm room. Back then, I could get ten packages of Top Ramen for $1 from Wegmans. (For those of you unfamiliar with Wegmans, if I actually believed in an afterlife, it would the super market I want in Heaven). It wasn't until I moved to NYC and started "doing lunch" with friends, that I had my first real ramen experience.

I realize that the underlying theme of this blog seems to be situations where I have had food epiphanies after moving to NYC. Hm.... I think this is the point where I have a meta-epiphany and realize that NYC is my true obsession... I digress...

Eating a bowl of really authentic ramen is an extraordinary experience. Ramen is usually served in a piping hot pork-based broth and is topped with things such as sliced fatty pork belly, bamboo shoots, nori, fish cake, and scallions. Some places also have extras like wontons or mochi.

I am by no means a ramen expert, but since I tend to get obsessed about things, particularly food, I made it my mission to try out a bunch of different ramen shops around the city (I even made an excursion out to NJ) and write about my experiences. Each shop will be a separate entry since I have so much to say about each place!

My first stop was Momofuku which is not actually an authentic ramen shop. Rather, it's this notorious little shop in the East Village. I went there to meet up with my dear friend Wendy, whom I hadn't seen in many years. We caught up over delicious food and the experience rekindled my interest in ramen.

As I said before, I tend to get obsessed with food items, so shortly after my trip to Momofuku with Wendy, a very famous and authentic Japanese ramen shop, Ippudo, opened a branch in NYC. You will have to wait until the next entry for details about this place.

Third stop was the midtown location of a place I had frequented prior to 9/11, Men Kui Tei. I used to go to the one that was very close to one of the WTC towers for lunch. Next, I ventured out to Mitsuwa in Edgewater, NJ to have ramen from Santoka, which is the ramen shop in the food court. My last stop was Setagaya in the East Village.

The noodles and broths from each shop are different, so I feel that each one deserves its own entry along with beautiful pictures taken by my wonderful husband and fellow ramen enthusiast, Terence.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Most Delicious Cookies in the World

When you hear the word "macaroon", most people that I know think of those really dense and sweet, mountain-shaped coconut cookies. That's what I thought too until my friend Peter started bringing over these outrageously delicious vanilla macaroons from La Maison du Chocolat. (Now, I know what you're thinking, "La Maison du Chocolate makes VANILLA macaroons?" Well, they DID, but now they only make ones that are filled with a ganache au chocolat.)

These french macaroons look nothing like the american ones. For one, it is a sandwich cookie. They are also not made with shredded coconut flakes nor sweetened condensed milk. If you google "french macaroon", you'll find various photos along with online recipes, websites, and discussion threads dedicated to this cookie. Turns out, there are a lot of people who are OBSESSED with this cookie. Trust me, it did not take very much for Terence and me to become obsessed as well.

So here's our story: Soon after we started eating the vanilla macaroons that Peter so kindly shared with us, La Maison du Chocolate stopped making the vanilla flavored ones. So we started eating the chocolate ones. As much as I adore chocolate, the vanilla macaroons from La Maison were far better than the chocolate ones they continued to produce. So we stopped getting them. Then one day, while Peter, Terence and I were in the Time Warner Center, in search of another type of cookie at Whole Foods (shortbread cookies by Dancing Deer,, the three of us happened upon at least 5 different flavors of macaroons at Bouchon Bakery, which is upstairs from Whole Foods. I ordered 3, vanilla, pumpkin spice, and caramel. They were phenominal! Problem is, they were expensive. We're talking at least $3 a cookie! Granted, they're not small and they're very very delicious, but still! We paid $10 for 3 cookies!! I would have been happy paying for the cookies, but I'm a lazy Manhattanite and venturing out of my neighborhood for a cookie every time I get a craving (which was almost every day at one point) can get a little old, especially in the dead of winter. And Terence, being much more money savvy than I, decided that sugar, flour, eggs, and butter mixed together was not worth $3 a pop. So he started obsessively researching these cookies for a recipe.

After several iterations, Terence perfected the recipe. There are only 3 ingredients needed for the cookie, egg whites, blanched almonds, and powdered sugar, but making them is an intricate process. For example, you have to set the egg whites out overnight so some of the liquid evaporates. If you don't do this, the cookies may crack in the oven while baking. They may crack anyway, for no apparent reason. But when they come out right, they are beautiful.

A perfect cookie will have what is called a "foot", which is the little edge on the cookie that forms as it bakes. It will also have the right combination of crunchy and chewy as you bite into it. Perfection is difficult to achieve. After the cookies are baked and cooled, they can be filled with many different things. Traditionally, they are almond flavored, but I have seen many different flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, violet, caramel, gingerbread, rose, and raspberry flavored ganache. It's no wonder the cookies are expensive!

All of the pictures posted here are Terence's creations. The first cookie is a vanilla macaroon. The second is a chocolate one. (He made a modification to the recipe and created a chocolate cookie and I made a dark chocolate ganache as the filling). The last picture is a pistachio macaroon. The cookie itself it the same as the vanilla one, but it is filled with a pistachio flavored buttercream. We made it using this pistachio flavored liquer that we purchased from Curacao.

My favorite flavor is almond, which looks exactly like the vanilla macaroon. I prefer the almond because I think the almond extract that is used in the buttercream brings out the sublte almond flavor of the cookies. So if you ever happen to encounter one these little gems, I encourage you to splurge and taste for yourself. You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My Brush with Greatness

I had a brush with Greatness last month and the experience has really stayed with me. Of all of the celebrities out there, the ones that I'm ga-ga over are the chefs. Regular celebrities aren't really my thing. One time, I rode in the same subway car as Conan O'Brien and it barely even registered. My thought process consisted of, "Wow, that guy is tall and has really red hair. I like redheads... Terence is a my honey-bunny, Terence..." It wasn't until Conan got off the train at 72nd street and I overheard someone say, "OMG, that was Conan O'Brien!" did I realize that it was in fact Conan O'Brien. But my fanaticism of celebrity chefs does not include any and all celebrity chefs, only the super awesome ones, in particular Masaharu Morimoto. I had the honor and the pleasure of eating his food once at Nobu while he was still the executive chef there, once at his Philadelphia restaurant, Morimoto, when it first opened, and on several occasions at his NYC restaurant, Morimoto.

My brother and I and our spouses treated my parents to dinner at Morimoto's NYC restaurant this past February for Mom's X0th birthday. (The 0th birthdays are a big deal in Chinese families). Not only was the food excellent, but Morimoto was on the floor and socializing with the patrons. Being quite intoxicated from cocktails and wine, I convinced my brother to use his cell phone to take a picture of me with my IDOL. See? And yes, we are a bad Chinese family. None of us had a camera with us! We were also unable to take pictures of the food! All we had were the wonderful memories of that fabulous omakase at Morimoto's, until recently.

Fortunately, I have girlfriends with birthdays, who love to eat and don't mind shelling out the cash for fine dining. So last Friday, we went to Morimoto's again and this time, I remembered my camera. Luckily, it was the same tasting menu and no, I did not mind one bit! I spaced out and ate the first course before I remembered to take a picture, so there is no picture of the first course, which is a tuna tartar, but there are pictures of everything else. So feast your eyes on these beautiful courses:

First Course: Tuna Tartar (Too bad there is no picture, b/c it was beautifully presented, but I assure you it was delicious!)

Second Course: Japanese filefish and scallops served with tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, microgreens, and chives and drizzled with soy and hot oil.

Third Course: Japanese Jackfish served with a tahini and soy dressing and microgreens. This was by far, my favorite course. The fish was velvety and the tahini sauce was just the right viscosity, not too thick, not too runny. You can't see it very well in this picture, but the plate was dusted with Japanese red chili flakes. This dish was perfect.

Fourth Course: Chawanmushi and Oysters with uni and fois gras for my fois-eating girlfriends and Smoked Salmon ravioli with salmon roe and some kind of foam for me since I prefer not to eat fois because ducks are too cute to eat, even if they do taste delicious when they are tea-smoked or baked and rolled in a very thin flour pancake with hoisin sauce and scallions.

Fifth Course: Sushi!!! Need I say more? From top left to bottom right, tuna, fluke topped with roe, bonito topped with scallions and ginger, amaebi (sweet shrimp), and Japanese snapper topped with a Japanese lime.

Sixth Course: Intermezzo. Green tea with a green tea macaroon. For those of you who know me well, you know my obsession with french macaroons. If not, stay tuned for a posting on the most delicious cookies in the world!

Seventh Course: Surf and surf. Indian-spiced lobster with a lemon creme fraiche served with a miso cod with Japanese sweet black beans which I got in lieu of a slice of Kobe beef. If I hadn't been stuffed by this course, I probably would have enjoyed it more!

Last Course: Dessert! We were very fortunate and had 3 different desserts which we shared. The first is a sweet potato and red bean souffle cake which is served with red bean ice cream.
The second is a chocolate tart which is served on sliced bananas, meringue, with passion fruit drizzle (yum!) and rum raisin ice cream (yuk!). The last dessert is a trio of sorbets: mango, lychee, and guava.

Sadly, Morimoto did not grace our table with his presence this time around, but we enjoyed an exquisite meal and now my family has pictures to remind them of the meal as well. My next blog will be about the most delicious cookies in the world, French macaroons!!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Good Ole Fashioned Carolina Pork BBQ

by Erin Carr

This week's posting is by my pork contributor, Erin Carr. She went down south this past weekend for an opera competition and was able to sample the local cuisine.

I have to say as a lover of good pork I was happy to make a trip to South Carolina to taste what they are famous for, pork BBQ. Crossing over into South Carolina I saw many places that boasted the “best BBQ in South Carolina.” But which one should I believe?

Here are a couple rules: always look for the smoker on the side of the road, if you can smell it when you drive by, it is going to be good. So we found our place, the Kickin Pig in Rock Hill, a div-ish looking place with a smoker outside the front door. When my friend and I walked in, you couldn't help but notice people at lunch playing pool and drinking some Pabst. This totally makes the experience more authentic. The menu is very basic, chopped pork platter, pork sandwich, a few sides, and pecan pie. The limited menu made my decision easy; pork platter with a side of fries and a corona. A few minutes later I had my pork on a paper plate. It smelled great, no sign of burns and it looked and tasted incredibly moist. I decided to add some hot Carolina BBQ sauce, a vinegar-based topping. Awesome! It is some of the best pork I have ever had. I am totally in love with this place. On a scale from 1 to 5 pigs, I give this a 4 ½ on the pigometer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sushi Love Part I: My First Encounter

Sushi is my most favorite food. And I don't mean that lightly. If I could eat only 1 thing for the rest of my life, it would be sushi. In fact, it is the only reason I cannot ever become a vegetarian. Well, ok, sushi and bacon.

Sushi entered my life relatively recently. I never ate sushi growing up and was for most of my life, one of those "raw fish is gross and slimy" people and ate only California rolls. My brother, Kent and our dad would go to the local fish monger and bring home POUNDS of sushi grade tuna and salmon and feast while our mother and I would look upon them in part amusement, part disgust.

I finally came to my senses and saw the light after moving to NYC. It was at a sushi restaurant on the upper west side called Roppongi. I was feeling culinarily adventuresome because Terence and Kent were both raving about the quality of the salmon toro that day. I figured, if my brother and my then-boyfriend were both so ga-ga over a piece of raw fish to the point where they were ordering 3 more pieces EACH, how bad could it be? So I took the plunge and tried my first piece of nigiri sushi. Talk about a transcendent experience! The fish was so buttery it felt like it was melting in my mouth. The most surprising part was that it wasn't fishy at all. It was incredibly delicious and I became an addict.

My favorite sushi place is called Sushi of Gari on the upper east side. My brother-in-law, Brendan and his wife, Francesca introduced us to this place. If you're lucky, Gari himself will be there. Omakase is the way to go and you will not be disappointed. They bring out a few rounds of nigiri sushi with 4 to 5 pieces for each round. After each round, they ask you if you want to order another. One time, Terence and I ate so much, the waiter was relieved we didn't order another round.

Ah sushi...consider me one of those zealots who found "religion" later in life...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

My New Year's resolutions for 2008 are:

1. To go to the gym more often
2. To start a food blog
3. To not waste my taste buds

Since I already blew my first resolution by not going to the gym, let's move on to the second: To start a food blog.

Many thanks to Terence and Lisa for suggesting that I start this food blog. Also, much gratitude to all of my family and friends who talk about food with me constantly. I know that I will always have material for this blog.

And finally, the most important resolution of all: To not waste my taste buds. Some people eat to live. I live to eat. I am ALWAYS thinking about my next meal. Before I'm even finished with the current meal, I'm already thinking about the next one.

I'm not advocating being a glutton. Not at all. In fact, I urge people to put thought into what they ingest. I am, however, formally starting a lifelong pursuit of eating only delicious food. I get very upset when I eat something that is not tasty. To me, it's a complete waste of my taste buds. So I want to avoid mediocre or lousy food whenever possible. It is of course, inevitable, but I hope that those encouters with bad food are limited.

Next posting, I'll start discussing something substantial like sushi. Stay tuned...