Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ippudo: Where Ramen Reigns Supreme


This review originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

College students, take note: Ippudo is not your MSG-laden instant ramen packet. In fact, it's a far cry from the run-of-the-mill supermarket variety, taking ramen to another level.

My friend and I were in the area for a Susie Suh / Big Phony show later that night at Joe's Pub. It was a teaser of a fall to come: Brisk, chilly and decidedly ramen-worthy weather. What better way to warm up than with ramen?

Ippudo is considered high-end ramen. In Japan, it is among the most famous ramen chains selling Hakata-style tonkatsu ramen from the southern island of Kyushu. There are 34 branches throughout the country, with this one being its first international branch. The restaurant's founder, Shigemi Kawahara, is hailed in Japan as "The Ramen King." And with good reason: Ippudo puts the 'soul' in Japanese soul food.

Witness how palatial it is. Dark chocolate walls are covered by a collection of Japanese scrolls, indecipherable to the non-Japanese reading population. Save for flickering tea candles here and there, the restaurant is so dimly lit that I almost had to squint to see in front of me. A giant rectangle mirror at our communal table allowed me to feast my eyes on the sumptuous ramen before me (or inconspicuously check my hair...). I kept sliding out of the cream chairs, which were alternately missing a left or a right arm. Then I noticed that the seats convert into loveseat mode. Genius! Perfect for a date: Slurping ramen noodles side by side. The romantic candle inset added an earthy, let's-roast-marshmallows-by-the-fireside touch.

A bar in the front entrance resembles the laid-back, non-fussy izakayas in downtown Tokyo. Three hostesses took over the foyer, one of whom led us through a set of Japanese curtains to the main dining area. Ippudo doesn't take reservations, so we arrived just before 6 p.m. and were seated promptly.

As if on cue, a chorus of loud voices exclaimed together: "Irasshaimase!!" ('Welcome,' in Japanese), along with a long string of greetings in Japanese. It was the staff, and they sure have a knack for putting you at ease. If I hadn't known better, I would've thought it was a happy birthday song. My meager comprehension of Japanese couldn't pick up the words quickly enough. On the right-hand side, Japanese chefs tossed and turned their pork, stirring thick broths and chopping up mushrooms and other vegetables to go in the ramen. You could watch them in action, done up in hakatas (traditional Japanese kimonos), their hair rakishly held back with coordinating bandanas.

Akamaru Modern Ramen.

I already knew what I wanted: the Akamaru Modern ($13). After reading countless reviews about how amazing this dish is, I thought it would be foolish to pass it up. The Akamaru Modern, dubbed 'the original tonkatsu' (pork cutlet), contains soup noodles with Ippudo's special sauce, spicy miso paste, fragrant garlic oil, slabs of simmered Berkshire pork, onions, scallions, cabbage and kikurage. The milky, light brown broth had a distinct pork flavor containing nutty, roasted notes, and the fatty pork slices were the epitome of melt-in-your-mouth, effortless eating. Not too greasy, though definitely on the salty side (but what's ramen without salt?). The noodles were cooked firm and al dente - perfection. Ask for extra crushed ninniku (garlic) to mix in with your ramen.

Musashi Ramen.

My friend had the Musashi Ramen ($14) with pork. His was good, but I still liked mine better.

Hirata Buns.

For appetizer, we ordered the Hirata steamed pork buns, filled with Ippudo's original spicy buns sauce and garnished with scallion. The pork was oh-so-tender and marinated seamlessly to the right texture, as if the pork and Japanese mayo sauce were truly one. At $4 a bite, these are some upscale buns - but definitely worth the price tag. The presenation reminded me of the Chinese Peking duck-in-a-bun that is served at Cantonese banquets (and is also available at the local Chinese meat market).

Next time I'll be sure to grind some toasted sesame seeds on top of my ramen to enhance the nutty taste. Even though we bypassed dinner rush hour, I would be down with waiting upwards of an hour for another bowl. The ramen's just that good. Craving sated.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed this dining experience so much that it's hard to be nit-picky. Maybe the saltiness of the broth, but sodium didn't kill the ramen for me. However, the dim lighting could work against less-romantic pairings, making it awkward for first dates. Check out more menu options here.

65 4th Ave
New York, NY 10003

Friday, October 23, 2009

Not Terrible, But Not So Teariffic


This review originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

Fresh from a weekend trip to Boston, my friend and I arrived back in the brusque city streets of Chinatown where the scents of fish markets, dumplings and automobile exhaust accosts you from every angle and the food is plentiful. Famished (notice how most of my entries mention acute hunger pangs), we trudged along to Mott Street, my wheeled luggage jolting up and down over crooked sidewalk cracks.

Destination: Teariffic.

Squid Balls & Shrimp Balls Noodle Soup.

I had the Squid Balls & Shrimp Balls Noodle Soup ($4.85) and small hot Honey Green Tea ($2.55). I like the squid balls, which had a chewy give, but for some reason I couldn't get into the shrimp flavor. It was off-tasting. Perhaps this was a subtle hint to me that shrimp should stay in its original form and not morph into a ball. Ever.

The udon noodles were overcooked and lacked any al dente buoyancy. Lucky for me, I was too hungry to obsess over the texture, so long as I had sustenance in my belly. Also, the hot broth worked wonders in clearing up my nasal congestion. For brisk fall and winter nights, hot stews and soups are just what the doctor ordered.

Hot Honey Green Tea.

The green tea was steeped too long and had a bitter, acidic quality, despite tasting like a sugar pill - no shortage of honey in here! Generally, for green tea, the tea leaves should remain in the pot for no longer than two minutes.

Service lagged, and the waitstaff seemed inattentive and unenthusiastic. Our waiter looked indifferent - or maybe just tired. I think the restaurant was short on staff. Luckily, we didn't have to wait too long for our food. As for the decor, it was very much like Saint's Alp, except transported in a Chinatown setting. Small wooden tables matched with low, square stools. Each party sat in close proximity to one another, enhancing the convivial atmosphere.

Steamed White Rice with Marinated Pork.

My friend had Steamed White Rice with Marinated Pork ($4.85). As always, Taiwanese cafes serve boiled tea eggs with their hot meals. I happily chomped on mine, but my dining companion does not enjoy boiled eggs. The pork was plentiful, however, and a sufficient amount of sauce covered the hot rice.

Prices were very affordable, as are most of the restaurants on this strip of Chinatown (Mott St). The cafe was 80% full, which, on a weekday at 5 p.m., is saying a lot. It seems people aren't cutting back on their bubble tea anytime soon. I didn't try the boba, but I hear the ginger black tea and mango with green apple and aloe vera are a thumb's up.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. While the food is decent, the spotty service and ultra-sweet tea detracted from the tea-drinking experience.

51 Mott St.
New York, NY 10013

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

MOCA Presents: The Chinatown Film Project

This is kind of off-kilter, but really rocks. It's the Chinatown Film Project, a short film exhibit produced for the Museum of Chinese in America. Video by Rich Wong.

As a result of watching this video, I have a newfound appreciation for the melodica (showing up at 1:18). And that chick playing the red drums is nothing short of awesome.

Chinatown's got spunk!

Curry in a Can

Photo by WIRED.

Canned Japanese curry. I'm not sure what to think about this.

Sure, Japan has vending machines for almost anything you can think of - from batteries to booze. At one vending machine in Shibuya, actual humans dispense umbrellas (that's right - a live jack-in-the-box).

But back to the curry: WIRED's Daniel Feit reports that the liquid concoction is little more than bland soup. Everything tastes the same, and the fake rice is especially disappointing. This is one curry-in-a-hurry not worth trying.

Big Phony on KoreAM Webcast Tonight

Photo by knots0fast.

Big Phony fans take note: KoreAM is hosting a live webcast of the singer/songwriter tonight at 7 p.m. Pacific Time (that's 10 p.m. EST). Big Phony will be playing some of his new hits, as well as answering questions on the chat. So tune in for what's sure to be a rousing performance!

Tokyo's Plastic Food

Life-like versions of the real thing. In Tokyo, it's an art you master.

If only all menu display showcases could be like this.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Recipe Teaser

Sweet Chili, Chacarero's, Starbucks Challenge

Before I totally forget about this, I'm posting some pictures of Boston from last week. I stayed with A in Arlington, and we caught up with another friend, R, over some (surprise surprise) Thai food near A's house. The restaurant is called Sweet Chili. I've been here before in college...

Unfortunately, the waiter misunderstood A's body language and served her the Pad Thai instead of the Drunken Noodle that she wanted. (A case in which, ironically, pointing at the item backfires on you.) It turned out that the Pad Thai was quite tasty, as I ended up discovering (I ordered it). I don't think A would've minded eating it, even if she had had it the last time she came here. We all ordered off the lunch special, which included an egg roll and a spicy triangle along with your main dish ($6.95).

Sweet Chili also sells udon and bibimbap, but common sense told me to steer clear of the non-Thai offerings. Simply put, you don't order Korean or Japanese food at a Thai restaurant - you get the well-known Thai items.


R ordered a beef dish...the name I can't remember. In the name of adventure, she decided to try the Singha beer, which is locally produced. Singha beer is the oldest and most popular Thai beer in Thailand. It's a relatively smooth pale lager, though it doesn't really stand out in any way.

Singha beer.

I liked the glass it was poured in.

Testing the beer.

This is not an iPhone ad.

Drunken Noodles and Thai Iced Tea.

I had a picture of my scrumptious Pad Thai but it didn't come out right. All the ingredients were fresh and crispy, from the bean sprouts to the fat rice noodles. I ate it all!

Next morning (Sunday), M took D and I out to Chacarero's, located in Downtown Boston. We arrived early at 10:45 a.m. and found the windows dark and the doors locked. Luckily, a friendly chef opened it for business in 15 minutes.

"It's worth the wait," said M.

According to the restaurant's website, a chacerero is a traditional Chilean sandwich. M recommended the small Chicken & Beef Combo. For $7.50, you get a hefty amount of soft, grilled meat with your tomatoes, Muenster cheese, steamed green beans and avocado spread. It's all contained in homemade bread. I don't know why I didn't think of inventing this myself! The avocado really ties together the bulky sandwich and gives it a moist flavor. I only wished I'd tried the hot sauce! Sans hot sauce, it was rather plain and a tad bland. Satisfying nonetheless.

Chacarero's also offers empanadas, sweet oven fried potatoes (I heard those are divine) and a selection of omelets.

While in Boston, I took the Starbucks Challenge. Starbucks insists that, given a blind taste test, you won't be able to tell the difference between its regular brew and its new instant coffee.

Well....I squashed that pretty soon.

In fact, I didn't even need to taste the coffee. I just took a whiff of each one and determined which was which after all of two seconds.

And I was right.

Who's the biggest coffee addict??!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Go!Go!Curry takes over Japan

This Wired article isn't new, but apparently the enormous popularity of New York's Go!Go!Curry is taking over Japan as well. I'm so ready to jump planes right now. Ah, the taste of curry.

We Belong in Phuket

And now, for some shameless promotion...

So I don't usually use this space to advertise myself, but my friend Joe and I are entering the Ultimate Thailand Explorers competition and we'd love to have your support! Please check out our video below, and rate/comment on it at YouTube.

We both really want to travel to Phuket and explore all that the area has to offer, including but not limited to: snorkeling, windsurfing, Muay Thai, riding elephants, sampling the tangy-spicy joys of Thai street food and learning the local customs.

Let's make this happen!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Blue Velvet Sea

Photo montage taken October 4. Arlington Pond. Arlington, MA.

PC Cafe's Patbingsoo

Patbingsoo. I could eat this thing anytime, anywhere. And I mean that.

There are many ways to make patbingsoo, or Korean shaved ice with fruit. But I like PC Cafe's version best. I've scoured New York City for a dessert as refreshing as this...and have come back empty. So I was thrilled to go with T & T. We split a large patbingsoo (this one's ice cream wasn't in the shape of a heart, unfortunately).

The flavors rocked, as usual. We got a generous helping of tapioca pearls, strawberry, banana, peach, mango, kiwi and azuki red bean, along with the dollop of vanilla ice cream on top. The ice is always crushed properly and complements the rest of the ingredients, so it never feels like you're just crunching on a wad of flavored ice (cough. Cafe Zaiya).

Side note: The cafe's real name is Between Hours, but I've come to know this place as PC Cafe for (what else?) its gamer community and rows of PCs.

Pssst: Try the red bean patbingsoo version next time. Or how about some green tea ice cream? PC Cafe makes some mean boba, too.

Rating: 5 stars. I have no complaints, except to make the tower of patbingsoo bigger. Is that possible? So as to savor it all the better, of course...

Between Hours
154 Harvard Ave
Allston, MA 02134

Roppongi Sushi: Slick Peeps

Mildly spicy honey glazed 15-set wings, with lettuce.

After filming our crazy [music?] video for Thailand, Tiff & Tiff graciously took me out to Roppongi Sushi for dinner. Roppongi, or Sushi, as it's more commonly called, is across the street from the Uno's off the Harvard Ave. B line T stop.

Now, I've never been a huge fan of chicken wings. I don't know if it's the heavily fried factor, the grease, or the thought of tearing into cooked birds with my bare fingers (yuck!). In any case, when my friends ordered a bunch of Korean mildly spicy wings, I didn't expect the hulking behemoth of a plateful that we got.

These wings looked like they'd been injected with super-steroids (I don't know if that's actually true). In any case, they were truly hefty. After digging through wing #2 with chopsticks, I promptly thought - to heck with decorum - tossed the stix and just used my hands.

While we were initially up for the 'spicy' wings, our waitress politely pointed out that they're "really spicy," so we took her word for it and ordered the mild wings. Which is not to say that we won't try the 'actually spicy' ones next time.

...And she was right. Something about red hot chili peppers worms its way to the back of your throat and stays there. Great for clearing sinuses!

The menu listed several other varieties of wing sauce concoctions, including spicy, sweet & sour, buffalo and honey glazed.

Little peepers would like your bones.

The wings came with a bucket decorated with little chicks. Inside the pail, written in black permanent marker, were the words: "Please put your bones in here." Followed by a profusion of hearts and a drawing of a huge bone that reminded me of my dog Nikki's biscuits. Hrm.

Colorful depictions.

Advertised on the wall: Sake bomb and fruit sorbet.

Eel and spicy white tuna rolls.

Our sushi was edible but clearly not Roppongi's specialty. Nothing about it really stood out to me. Way too much mayo in the white tuna (a 50/50 ratio is overdoing it). The presentation was better than the taste.

Hi, Tiff!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. The staff seemed like they were lazying in la-la land behind their counter, talking amongst themselves in rapid Korean (nothing against Koreans, mind you). It's just that when I order, I don't expect to have to get out of my seat and walk over to the front just to flag down a waitress. However, the wings earned considerable points. I'd drag my butt out here for them again! I heard I should check out Privus for their Korean BonChon wings.

Click here and here for more fun articles on fried chicken.

Roppongi Sushi
1245 Commonwealth
Allston, MA 02134

*Apologies for the fuzziness/darkness of the pics.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sunrise and Sunset...and Some Beer

"Stolen Lame Beer Glass."

BOSTON - I'm back.

I was in town this past weekend to film a video with my friend for a travel contest. While there, I figured I'd catch up with as many people as possible. And treat myself to some good eats.

First up: Sunset Cantina. Back in college, Sunset was best known as the local go-to joint for Mexican fare and (what else?) beer. The restaurant has more than 112 beers on tap. They also make a pretty mean margarita.

For the love of beer.

My three buddies and I decided to sample the beer selection.

Guess which one is mine? (The one with my namesake.) I enjoyed the fruity Ipswich, though the beer itself wasn't as smooth or fizzy as I'd prefer. The infusion of blueberries lent a definitive taste to the beer. No doubt about it: Blueberries washed in a bath of beer.

I think I'll try the pumpkin beer next time. I've been in a fall kind of mood lately.

Above, from L-R: Ipswich Blueberry with real blueberries, Narrangansett Lager, Guinness, Hommel Ale.

Famished after filming, we all eagerly dug into our appetizer - a humongous batch of nachos drenched in cheese, chili, guacamole and salsa. Soooo good...

I had the Jerk Chicken Sandwich. The chicken was tender, though a mite overcooked. I wasn't expecting authentic Southern-style soul cooking, but the chicken could definitely have been more flavorful. Bring on the spices, please! Watermelon was kind of a random addition but refreshing nonetheless. No complaints on the hot, crunchy fries. After all those filling nachos, however, I ended up bagging half the sandwich.

Bruh love.

Some of us were knocked out by Our waitress, Bianca, drew a heart on our bill (heart, Bianca).