Some scenes from two very intense days of eating and touring Tokyo, including deluxe salmon onigiri, Senso-ji temple, Asakusa noir, and breakfast omakase at Toyosu Fish Market.
As some of you may know I recently took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. Before getting into the wonders of Hirokawamachi—and there are many, from artisanal textiles to amazing matcha—this installment takes a look at what I ate in Tokyo. I would like to thank Kazuki Chito of @mcnaieatmecrazy who graciously guided me around Tokyo.
I’d arrived in Tokyo late the night before and hit the ground eating as best as I could. That is to say I ordered a sea bream ochazuke and some grapefruit juice from room service. The dashi broth poured over rice and fish proved most restorative after a long flight.
Luckily Kazuko-san picked a hotel attached to the Haneda Airport. Not only was this convenient for arrival, it was convenient for breakfast. Haneda’s domestic terminal and its shops lay just outside the hotel’s doors and is eerily calm and serene in the early morning. I quickly found Sato Suisan a gourmet rice ball stand. I was particularly impressed to see a gent making fresh onigiri with ikura, or salmon roe. I also took note of a really cute airplane-shaped bento named for the Blue Impulse (Burū Inparusu) the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s equivalent of America’s Blue Angels.
Next time I find myself at a Tokyo airport snack shop I’m getting a Blue Impulse bento box!
The ikura onigiri—still warm and packed with salmon roe and salmon—was a fine breakfast, but by the time we got to Asakusa at 1:30 p.m., I was pretty hungry. “This is my favorite place for tonkotsu ramen,” Kazuki-kun said as we entered Urimbo. “It’s Hakata style,” he pointed out as he ordered the noodle with egg. I quickly took my guide’s lead and copied his order. Even though the broth was rich, it was cleaner tasting and less unctuous than tonkotsu I’ve had in the States. It knocked out the remnants of a lingering cold I’d brought to Japan from New York City. (more…)
The year that just drew to close was a year of personal challenges—coping with chemo via congee—and achievements—publishing a guidebook to Queens—all while eating my way through New York City’s most delicious and diverse borough. Herewith, are 17 from 2017.
1. Most Super Soup Dumplings
I’ve been a fan of Helen You’s dumplings since long before she became the empress of Dumpling Galaxy. My favorite at Tianjin Dumpling house in Golden Mall remains the lamb and green squash. Yang rou xiao long bao, or lamb soup dumplings, are one of the off-menu stars at Dumpling Galaxy. The little packages bursting with unctuous lamb broth are so good that they have become a staple of my Flushing Chinatown food tours. Dumpling Galaxy, 42-35 Main St., Flushing, 718-461-0808
2. Choicest Chang Fen
I cut my teeth on Cantonese steam rice rolls at Mei Lei Wah in Manhattan’s Chinatown, so this breakfast staple will always have a special place in my heart and stomach. About a year ago Joe’s Steam Rice Roll opened in downtown Flushing and I knew right away that it was somethings special. For one thing he’s grinding fresh rice as opposed to using rice flour like everybody else in New York City, which imparts a delicate flavor and texture. Turns out that Joe himself went to Guangzhou to learn his craft and brought the equipment back with him. My favorite is the shrimp and egg with green onion. Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing
3. Duckiest Thai Arancini
OK fine, they’re not quite Italian rice balls, but the trio of crispy sticky rice balls served with Thailand Center Point’s larb duck with crispy rice ($13.95) do a great job of soaking up the piquant sauce. The shredded meat—mixed with roasted rice powder and shot through with herbs and just the right amount of chilies—is superb. Thailand’s Center Point, 63-19 39th Avenue, Woodside, 718-651-6888(more…)
A rendang roll, with wasabi,ginger, and spicy mayo, natch.
Southeast Asian restaurants with sushi bars usually raise a red flag, and I tend to pass them by, with one notable exception, Awang Kitchen. Like many of my fellow Indonesian food nerds I’m unabashed in my enthusiasm for this restaurant that opened last spring, giddily eating my through bowl after bowl of various baksos and other Indonesian delicacies. Until just last week though I’ve avoided the chef-owner’s sushi bar, harboring a secret wish it would eventually evolve into a satay station. And them some rolls with a decidedly Indonesian accent began to show up on the specials board.
It began with beef rendang ($10). Tempe, peanuts, anchovies, and of course beef rendang, packed in seaweed with rice and cucumber a bit of peanut sauce and the requisite spicy mayo make up this cross-cultural creation. With the crunch of the dried fish and the candy coated peanuts known as sambal kacang, it’s tempting to dismiss the rendang roll as just nasi lemak in roll form, but it’s really an entirely new animal, a true Indonesian fusion dish. It’s served with the same green horseradish and pickled ginger you’ll find at many other sushi spots on Queens Boulevard, but it didn’t need either. Since the kitchen doesn’t make miso soup, I asked for a bowl of beefy, garlicky bakso broth. (more…)
Slippery chewy cold noodles coated in a chili-spiked sauce have been a favorite since I slurped my first sesame-slicked strand. Here in Queens the cold noodle game gets way deeper than sesame noodles, Sichuan noodles, or even near ubiquitous cold skin noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods. That depth is best measured by something I like to call Tibetan style cold skin noodle sushi. I discovered it at Lhasa Fast Food, a Himalayan hot spot hidden behind a cell phone store. (more…)
Gimbap—a Korean after-school snack that at its most minimalist form consists of little more than American cheese, white rice, and daikon rolled up in seaweed—is not exactly anybody’s version of extreme eats. Sure there are more flavorful varieties like spicy tuna and spicy squid, both of which I find quite lovely and enjoy at Song’s Family Food in Murray Hill, Queens. To find a truly extreme kimbap, or gimbap, as it’s also spelled, I had to turn to the internet, specifically Korean cooking Youtube channel cookat TV.(more…)
The Madison Square Park area has never been known for izakaya, the Japanese gastropubs that are haunts of salarymen, sake drinkers, and adventurous eaters alike. Izakaya NoMad is out to change all that as I learned during a press dinner recently. With a whimsical dining room featuring a Godzilla mural, it offers an accessible alternative that sits somewhere between the rarefied air of a Sakagura and St. Marks’ grease bespattered yakitori joints. (more…)
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of dining at Momo Sushi Shack with my good friend Tyson Ho. While everything was excellent—especially the red wattle pork chop with greens—the standout of the evening had to be the live uni. With its creamy texture and marine flavor with a touch of funk it was like the triple crème brie of the sea. Tyson pronounced it his “best bite of the year.” (more…)
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ordered salmon at a sushi bar. At least one of those times was a monstrous Philadelphia roll. Novelty rolls are common at Japanese restaurants in Queens, but not at Katsuno. Yuka Seo and her husband Chef Seo pride themselves on authenticity at their Forest Hills sushi haven. (more…)
Thanks to Gary Stevens for turning me on to this great piece on Wai Wai, the Nepalese snack that’s become something of an obsession for me. In it the author describes how the noodles eaten raw were the province of the cool kids in his school. Nice to know I’m finally one of the cool kids.
Max Falkowitz waxes rhapsodic about his favorite steakhouse, and it’s not Peter Luger’s, but rather Argentinean steakhouse El Gauchito in Corona. “The crust is a rich, purple-tinged mahogany, heavily dosed with salt; it gives way to a buttery, resoundingly beefy interior without a trace of chewiness,” he writes of the skirt steak. Have a feeling I’ll be going there soon. (more…)
O.G. ethnic food scribe Robert Sietsema is back in the saddle with a new column at Eater, which specializes in microneighborhoods. First up Neptune Avenue in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, with Pakistani goat feet and some stupendous sounding khachapuri, from Georgian Bread.
James Boo is also on the khachapuri trail, with a 1 Minute Meal video for Serious Eats New York about the tasty cheese-enriched bread, as baked by Shorena Dalakishvili, who says that in Georgia, “Everywhere, everybody have khachapuri.” No word on whether everybody weighs 300 pounds.
And SENY’s J. Kenji López-Alt has a stunning report on the “Holy Grail of New York Sushi,” including hotaru ika, baby firefly squid smeared with kani miso, a paste made from the guts of cooked crabs. J.K. writes: “This one is no joke—you have to like intense ocean aromas to get past its take-no-prisoners approach to flavor.” Sounds great J.K., I’m all about intense ocean aroma and flavor. (more…)