NYC Ramen Tour #3: Ippudo

Friday night, Evan and I finally tried the famed and much hyped Japanese ramen noodle chain, Ippudo. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures, but we probably would have been tsk'd and shamed if we even tried -- not by the restaurant itself, but by the weirdly uptight, too-cool for school clientele. Ippudo has a trendy, clubby atmosphere, which I would have preferred to take in from one of their bar seats versus from one of their communal tables. Whatever your preference, it's definitely a lively scene.

As for the ramen, it really didn't disappoint. Evan called it "contemporary Japanese ramen," which seems like an appropriate description. In the realm of New York City ramen shops, Men Kui Tei is the old-school, old-world Mom and Pop shop, while Ippudo is the dolled up, sophisticated, and a little rebellious daughter.

I ordered the Tonkotsu ramen special and Evan ordered the Spicy Tonkotsu ramen. Both were superb in terms of savory, porcine broth flavor and springy noodle freshness; far better than Minca. The only complaint I have, besides the atmosphere, is the lack of pork. Props to Ippudo for using top quality, deliciously tender Berkshire Pork, but one thin slice is pretty piddly for a $13 bowl of soup. (Please sir, I want some more!) Still, I'd definitely return. Perhaps not for dinner, but absolutely for lunch.

65 4th Ave., New York, NY 10003


Best discovery of the weekend

Oh, Dr. Brown, where have you been all my life? I've never been a regular imbiber of sodas, save the occasional frothy mug of root beer with a slice of pizza, but upon a trip to Artie's Delicatessen, I found a new refreshing soda to love. Behold: Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Soda.Flavored with celery seed extract, according to Wikipedia, this soda is apparently fairly easy to find in New York City, but rather obscure outside the region. I've been hoping for a vegetal flavored comeback of this sort after I first tried an inspired and subtly nuanced cocktail featuring fresh celery juice at The Alembic on Haight Street, in San Francisco. Sadly, I don't see it offered on the current cocktail menu. I'll have to see if I can recreate that cocktail, but until then, I'll be sipping Cel-Ray when I can. Anyone know where, or if it's sourced anywhere in the Bay Area?


Day #5, Veggie Challenge

Full disclosure: we may have consumed some chicken wings in a night of drinking for a coworker's good-bye. What can I say, except that meat eating habits tend to resurface after four gin and tonics, oops. But, we did get back on the wagon yesterday, starting with a lunch consisting of slices of Zucchini and Gruyere, Cauliflower and Gruyere, funghi, and tomato pizza from Grandaisy Bakery.Our day ended with a restaurant quality dinner of Jamie Oliver's Mushroom Risotto with Garlic, Thyme and Parsley. Definitely don't miss the meat in this dish. It requires a bit of attention and frequent testing to make sure the rice isn't overcooked, but is otherwise an easy, but impressive meal -- and the last of our vegetarian challenge.All in all, a good week of delicious eats!

Mushroom Risotto with Garlic, Thyme and Parsley
From Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef
Serves 6

approximately 1 quart stock (chicken, fish or vegetable as appropriate)
1 T olive oil
3 finely chopped shallots or 2 medium onions
1/2 head of celery, finely chopped (discard any tough outer ribs)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
14 oz risotto rice
1/2 c dry white vermouth (dry Martini or Noilly Prat) or dry white wine
5 T butter
3-3 1/2 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Sauteed Mushroom Recipe
9 oz fresh mushrooms (one type, or a mixture)
3 T olive oil
1 small handful of thyme, chopped
1 handful of parsley, roughly chopped
1 pinch of chili powder
a squeeze of lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper

Stage 1: Prep the mushrooms
Slice the mushrooms thinly, or tear depending on the type (see above), in half. Don't cook all the mushrooms at once - do them in 2 or 3 batches. In a very hot pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and add the mushrooms and thyme. Cook for a bout 1 minutes, toss them, then add the garlic and a pinch of salt. (It is important with mushrooms to season them slightly, as they cook.) Cook for another couple of minutes then taste, then add some parsley, a very small pinch of chili powder, a squeeze of lemon juice and a little pepper. Toss again, taste again - by now they should be pretty much perfect.

Stage 2: Start the basic risotto recipe
Heat the stock. Then, in a separate pan, heat the olive oil, add the shallot or onion, celery and a pinch of salt, and sweat the vegetables for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and after another 2 minutes, when the vegetables have softened, add the rice. Turn up the heat now.

While slowly stirring, continuously, you are beginning to fry the rice. You don't want any color at any point. Keep the rice moving. After 2 or 3 minutes, it will begin to look translucent as it absorbs all the flavors of your base. Add the vermouth or wine, continuing to sir as it hits the pan.

Stage 3: Add the stock to the rice
Once the vermouth or wine seems to have cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a pinch of salt (add small amounts of salt to taste while you are adding the stock). After the first ladle of stock has been added, add 1/2 of the sauteed mushrooms.

Turn down the heat to a high-ish simmer (the reason we don't want to boil the hell out of it is because, if we do, the outside of the rice will be cooked and fluffy and the inside will be raw). Keep adding ladlesful of stock, stirring and allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. This will take about 15 minutes. Taste the rice -- is it cooked? Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. Check seasoning.

Stage 4: Finish the risotto
Remove from the heat and add the butter (yup, all 5 tablespoons of it) and the Parmesan, saving a bit of the latter to go on top if you like. Stir gently and add other 1/2 of sauteed mushrooms. Eat as soon as possible while it retains its moist texture. Serve it on its own with a crisp green salad. Enjoy!


Veggie Challenge, Day #4

It's a chilly 15 degrees outside, an airplane fell out of the sky earlier today (just a few blocks away from my building), and I'm still stuck at work. Alas, I'm sticking to the veggie challenge. Tonight's dinner: delivery in the form of a ginormous serving of spaghetti with eggplant parmesan from Angelo's Pizza across the street. Not homecooked, but not DiGiorno's either. The recipes will continue tomorrow night. At least I hope!

Success, in the form of $30 Sport Chalet kid's boots

My snow boot dilemma has been solved! My mom kindly mailed me my old pair of kid's après-ski snow boots. They're perfect!I think these will do the trick. Can't wait to test them out. Maybe this week's arctic chill will bring snow?

*Update: Total snowstorm outside and the boots are great! Yay!


Veggie Challenge, Day #3

Day 3 and still going strong! I didn't even succumb to the free samples of various salami slices set out at the deli of our local Garden of Eden market, which says a lot from a girl who considers pork products crack.

Tonight's dinner is both good for your health and your wallet. Turning back to Deborah Madison and unattractive looking dishes, we made Mujadarrah, a Middle Eastern dish of lentils, rice, and slowly caramelized onions. Adding a side of garlicky kale and several dashes of Crystal hot sauce turned our Middle Eastern affair into a version of pure Southern comfort. Lest you think we've become total health nuts, we finished our meal with homemade Scharffenberger chocolate pudding, mmm.Thanks, Deb and John!

Lentils and Rice with Fried Onions (Mujadarrah)
From Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Serves 4

6 T olive oil
1 very large onion, sliced into rounds 1/4 inch thick
1 1/4 cups green or brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
Salt and freshly milled pepper
3/4 c white or brown long-grain rice

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it's a rich, dark brown, about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, put the lentils in a saucepan with 1 quart water and 1 t salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Add the rice, plenty of pepper, and, if needed, additional water to cover. Cover and cook over low heat until the rice is done, about 15 minutes. Stir in half the onions, then cover and let stand off the heat for 5 minutes. Spoon lentil-rice mixture onto plate or platter (insert Arrested Development reference here) and cover with the remaining onions.

Veggie Challenge, Day #2

Apologies for the belated post. Was anyone else very technically challenged yesterday? Not only did I jam a printer and copy machine at work AND break my DVD drive, but I came home to find our internet down, blerg! But alas, we have not fallen off the veggie wagon yet! Last night's dinner was a lovely Quinoa Chowder with Spinach, Feta, and Scallions. Though certainly not much to look at, it's very fresh, light and wholesome.
A bowl of this chowder with some simply roasted beets will definitely keep you on the veggie wagon too.

Quinoa Chowder with Spinach, Feta, and Scallions

From Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

The soup tastes quite bland until you add the scallions, feta and cilantro. After that, it really blooms.

1/4 c quinoa, rinsed well in a fine sieve
2 T olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and finely diced
1 t ground cumin or to taste
Salt and freshly milled pepper
1/2 lb. boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 bunch scallions, including an inch of the greens, thinly sliced into rounds
3 c finely sliced spinach leaves
1/3 c chopped cilantro
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped (we omitted)

Put the quinoa and 2 quarts water in a pot, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. While it's cooking, dice the vegetables and cheese. Drain, saving the liquid. Measure the liquid and add water to make 6 cups if needed.

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and chile. Cook for about 30 seconds, giving it a quick stir. Add the cumin, 1 teaspon salt, and the potatoes and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Don't let the garlic brown. Add the quinoa water and half the scallions and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the quinoa, spinach, and remaining scallions and simmer for 3 minutes more. Turn off the heat and stir in the feta and cilantro. Season the soup with pepper and garnish with the chopped egg.


Veggie Challenge, Day #1

It's a new year, and everyone is making all sorts of crazy promises to themselves that, let's face it, they probably won't keep. (And yes, this means that I have yet to arrive at work earlier or at least on time.)

This week, we're trying out one of Evan's goals -- a week of vegetarian eating! A challenge for him...not so much for me (even if it does look like I'm eating a burger every other day). Tonight's dinner? Hashed brussel sprouts with whole wheat spaghetti, a dusting of parmesan and a drizzle of top (Fairway) shelf extra virgin olive oil. This dish is a healthy, easy, and delicious keeper. Care to join us? For a recipe, click here. Tune in for tomorrow's meal!


NYC Ramen Tour #2: Men Kui Tei

Long cold weekends are good for more than just ice skating. We capped off our day of skating by continuing our ramen tour. This time, we returned a repeat: Men Kui Tei.It's a hole-in-the-wall place, packed with Japanese and Asian diners. In the battle between Men Kui Tei and Minca, Evan choses the former, hands down, swearing that it's the most true to what he's had while living in Japan. Having never been there myself, I can't vouch for that comment, but I will say that the Tan Tan Ramen has become a solid favorite. At least my nearest substitute for the hot bowls of pho I used to eat every week in San Francisco.
This time, we ordered the gyoza to start A side of curry rice, which was spicy and sweetA bowl of my usual, Tan Tan RamenAnd a bowl of Extra Spicy Ramen.The broth is thinner and not as porky as that of Minca, but the meal was just as quietly comforting, which is all I really want in a bowl of ramen. Next on the ramen tour: Ippudo!
Men Kui Tei
60 W 56th St, New York 10019


Resolve, 2009

I gave up making resolutions long ago, but have always started the year with a list of things I'd like to do. Even if I don't get to them, I'm of the camp that thinks it's always good to at least strive for something. This might make me type A, but as someone who is rapidly approaching her 30s (!), I'm actually ok with that. Imagine that!
Without further à dieu, here's what made the list:
* Improve my posture (every year, I swear)
* Eat less meat and more veggies
* Blog more consistently
* Run a sub-4 hr marathon
* Incorporate more color into my wardrobe (this is coming from a gal on day 3 of wearing either black or charcoal or a combination of the two)
* Practice yoga and/or pilates in the mornings before work
* Get to work earlier or at least on time
* Take time to enjoy my mornings (noticing a pattern here that seems to suggest getting up earlier)
* Keep bringing my lunch every day to work (this one actually took!)
* Master a mean coq au vin
* Make a soufflé
* Call family and friends more regularly
* Shop less and save more in these lean times
* Continue my professional development the only way I really can (this is code)

 I'm sure there's more I could do, but I think that'll suffice for now. Here we go, 2009! What's on your list?


Follow ups

A couple of quick follow ups to some recent posts:

1) The boots arrived and man, are they UGLY! I know, some readers, (i.e., Krissy and Bee), told me so, in very polite terms, but I've seen so many girls sporting the proverbial boots with the fur, and they looked so cozy. I thought I could do it, but not without looking like a woolly mammoth or some Long Islander chick. Next option...
2) With regards to our ice capades, we even witnessed a proposal! As we were leaving the ice for the resurfacing, an announcer overhead said, "please turn your attention to the center of the ice for a special treat we know you'll all enjoy." Et voilà! A proposal and an acceptance to the tune of a cheesy romantic R&B song (which alludes me now.) A cynical lady next to us said, "that's it? I mean, it's nice and all, but I thought it was going to be a a show or something." Ha!


On sporting Kristi Yamaguchi hair in Central Park

We haven't seen snow in a few days, but that hasn't stopped us from partaking in all the winter activities that living in a colder climate affords. Like going for a walk on a brisk New Year's morning, buying a cup of hot chocolate and warm packet of honey roasted nuts on the street corner, and biding our time inside the Niketown on 5th Avenue as a brief reprise from the chilly air. But the most quintessential of our winter activities in the city has to be ice skating in Central Park, which is what we did yesterday.

Having harbored childhood dreams of being an Olympic figure skater, an Eastern European pairs ice dancer in a spandex dream of a costume, or the world's fastest speed skater, I couldn't wait to hit the ice. So we headed to Wollman Rink -- where Donald Trump makes some of his $3 billion. After forking over $14 each for admission, $6 for me for skate rentals (Evan had his own, of course, as an ex-hockey player), and another $4 for locker rental, we made it into the rink. Packed with skaters of all abilities -- young hockey players, figure skaters, and 2 year-olds who were probably putting on skates for the first time that very morning -- there was someone falling down every time you looked left or right. In a nutshell, it was like seeing all of New York on the ice.Yes, there's a line to get in; yes, it's expensive; and yes, the ice is packed with tons of people. But it is absolutely worth every penny.


The Cure for a New Year's Eve Hangover

The Proper Bloody Mary

In a tall glass mix the following over ice and stir well:

2 oz. top shelf gin (Hendrick's or Bombay Sapphire)
1 T Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
1 t horseradish
Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon (or equal parts)
Drizzle of green olive juice
2 green olives with pimentos intact
Generous pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 t Tabasco sauce
1 t Bubbies Pickle brine
2 Rick's Picks Mean Beans

Top off with Spicy Hot V8 or Regular V8. Garnish with lemon and/or lime wedge, fresh celery stalk and/or cucumber, pickle and mean beans.

Variation: A light drizzle of dry vermouth will add an interesting dryness and bring out both the vegetable flavors of V8 and the herbal subtlety of the gin.

Not for the faint at heart.

New Year's Eve, Zuni Café style

It's never too late to cross items off your culinary to do list. Case in point: the famous, much blogged about Zuni Café Roasted Chicken with Bread Salad. Having once lived in a sweet little studio apartment above the restaurant, I've been wanting to make this recipe for years. Rather than fight any crowds or the chilly 14 degree weather, we opted to stay in, roast a chicken, and finally drink Evan's $75 bottle of wine. (Yes, old age is getting to me, and yes, I haven't shaken my San Francisco sensibilities yet. Clearly.)

With a Hendrick's gin and tonic to start,Some addictive warm rosemary spiced pecans to nibble on,A bottle of Clos Mimi 2000 Bunny Slope Vineyard Paso Robles Syrah,Said roasted chicken with salad,
And a side of sautéed kale,We bid a quiet farewell to 2008. I don't know what 2009 will bring, but I know for sure I'll be making this dinner and those pecans again soon.

Spiced Pecans

Adapted from Frank Stitt's Southern Table

4 cups pecan halves
1 1/2 t salt
Pinch black pepper
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 heaping t dark brown sugar
1 heaping T freshly chopped rosemary
Couple of shakes of Tabasco sauce
1 T melted butter
2 T olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place pecans on baking sheet and bake 10-15 minutes (watch closely as they burn very easily). Combine the lightly toasted pecans with salt, pepper, cayenne, sugar, rosemary, Tabasco sauce, butter, and oil. Toss until nuts are thoroughly coated, then return to the oven for 2-3 minutes until toasted and fragrant. Enjoy warm and try not to eat them all.