Saturday, March 31, 2012

Q&A | Jess

This month's Q&A features my former co-worker, Jess, with whom I've become great friends over the last three years. We worked in the same bean counting enterprise (on the same team to be exact!) before moving separate ways with our careers, but we've remained very close ever since. Besides bonding over our time in the treacherous bean counting trenches, we've also found common ground over fun things, such as our love for wine (especially enrolling in multiple classes at New York Vintners), fluffy flapjacks, BYOBs, and all things sweet. As you can see, she's been mentioned many a time on Four Tines, so I thought it'd be fantastic if I finally introduced her to you! She's always been there for me (in celebration and in cope), and I'm happy to have such a wonderful friend like her in my life.

Thanks again to Jess for participating in this month's Q&A session!

Jess and me at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum for Art After Dark: First Friday, July 2011.


New York, NY

My "old" favorite is Beyoglu over in the Upper East Side for its Mediterranean cuisine -- best hummus ever! My "new" favorite, however, is Flex Mussels -- name says it all, as it offers over 24 varieties of mouthwatering mussels!


My drink of choice is wine, which includes both reds and whites -- from Franzia (yes, I said Franzia!) to JAQK Cellars' High Roller, which I might add I had the pleasure of enjoying while in the company of Stefie (here and here)!

Anything sweet -- I have an obsession.

I can whip up one mean peanut butter and jelly sandwich! 365 Everyday "Crunchy Peanut Butter" from Whole Foods is key.

Thanksgiving dinner -- it really doesn't get any better than great food, a glass of wine, and family! :)

France, for the bread, the cheese, the pastries! What more could one ask for?

This would be my dad. Let’s just say his mid-life crisis consisted of the desire to cook. Over the past ten years I really can’t recall one dish that he hasn't prepared. My mom is quite okay with this arrangement I might add! ;)

Although my dad never had formal training in the art of cooking, over the years, he’s developed the skill from practice. So simply put, my dad loves to cook. When I'm back home for a visit, it is quite common that I'll sit to enjoy the classic eggs, bacon, and toast breakfast prepared my dad, and before I even have a chance to lift the fork, he'll inquire, “Well, what do you feel like for lunch?!" And come lunchtime, I'll barely have a chance to pick up that burger he so kindly served me before he will ask once more, “What would you like for dinner?!”

Honestly, anything my dad makes. He never follows a recipe. It is all from scratch and by taste!

Food served cold -- i.e., any dish intended to be served warm that has clearly been sitting behind the scenes in the kitchen for a bit too long.

The birthday cakes which are made by someone by the name of Mr. Kilmore. He owns a small catering business in my hometown of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He has been making birthday cakes for my sisters and me for the past twenty years. The best birthday cakes of my life, no joke.

The Clinton Street Baking Company Cookbook, which I received as a gift from Stefie. The recipe for the infamous Clinton Street pancakes was divulged in it, and I've conquered it many times already! I have prepared these fluffy flapjacks of joy on five separate occasions for different friends and family. Its sugar cured bacon recipe has also been a big hit!

fold (n.): to mix gently, bringing the spatula (or other cooking utensil) down through the mixture, across the bottom, and then back up over the top until blended

My reasoning: Really, the answer to this question took my mind to this word. In order to achieve the perfect “fluff” when it comes to those fluffy flapjacks of joy I just mentioned, I must carefully fold the batter!

Hint: Fork. Need I say more ;)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chef's Tasting | Kajitsu

Christine and I decided to go to Kajitsu to celebrate the end of bean counting busy season. It has been on each of our lists for a while, and since Chef Masato Nishihara will be finishing his tenure at Kajitsu through the end of March (with a new chef in tow for the restaurant's big move to Midtown this summer), it seemed like the opportune time to go. Plus, I didn't even realize that kajitsu actually is Japanese for "fine day" or "day of celebration" -- the restaurant chose this name so that "a visit here will always be a special occasion for its guests."

Around the time of the release of Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas's memoir, Life, On the Line, I read an interview conducted by Grub Street New York where Chef Achatz cited that he "had one of the best meals of [his] life last night." It was at this very spot -- Kajitsu, the famed vegan (yup, you heard me correctly) Japanese restaurant. To further quote Chef Achatz, "What that guy did with vegetables … you don’t even know. Mind-blowing. Mind-blowing." Given the reputation of Chef Achatz in the culinary world, I was quite curious to check it out. Furthermore, a recent article-recipe written by The New York Times Magazine columnist, Mark Bittman, on Chef Nishihara's vegan Worcestershire sauce earlier this year persuaded me to check it out ASAP.

Chef Nishihara worked at Kitcho, one of Kyoto's most regarded kaiseki restaurants, for ten years. During this time, "he gained extensive knowledge of the techniques and traditions of Japanese cuisine," training in kaiseki cuisine as well as the Japanese arts of tea ceremony and flower arrangment. This helped him "develop a deep respect for seasonal qualities of ingredients and the importance of antique Japanese dishware in presentation." Together, these comprise the "integral parts of kaiseki cuisine, in which tranquility, beauty, and hospitality merge to enhance the food."

After Kitcho, Chef Nishihara became the executive chef at Tohma, a soba kaiseki restaurant in Nagano, Japan. Soba kaiseki is a form of multi-course kaiseki cuisine (more on this shortly) that includes hand-made buckwheat soba noodles. Two years later, he came to New York City to head the kitchen at Kajitsu. Here, as he "believes shojin cuisine embodies the spirit and the origin of all Japanese culinary categories while dealing with the constraints of not using foods of animal origin," Chef Nishihara said he "strives to get the very best out of each ingredient, and of using one's creative ingenuity to entertain the customers."

The kitchen at Kajitsu is focused around
shojin cuisine, "a type of vegetarian cooking that originates in Zen Buddhism." Though strictly "vegetarian," shojin is "regarded as the foundation of all Japanese cuisine, especially kaiseki, the Japanese version of haute cuisine" which consists of "a multi-course meal in which fresh, seasonal ingredients are prepared in ways that enhance the flavor of each component, with the finished dishes beautifully arranged on plates." Shojin is still prepared in Buddhist temples all throughout Japan today.

Given the "Zen" philosophy embraced in the restaurant's cuisine, it is no surprise that its décor draws influence from minimalist tenets of Zen thinking -- the warmth and organic feeling from the woods and sparse artwork displayed undoubtedly aligns with this belief. The ambiance itself is very, very quiet (you can pretty much hear a pin drop) to the point where it encourages inner rumination. The intentional lighting and the aforementioned backdrop certainly calls a focus on the courses at hand, given that there are very little distractions to take you away from them.

The shapes "○∆□" were taken from a painting sketched by Sengai Osho (1750-1837), a Zen monk, to illustrate one of the most essential principals of Zen: the journey to bring meaning out of something that seems to have none. Kajitsu embraces this and displays this painting as to illustrate its respect for Zen philosophy and the traditions of shojin cuisine.

Dishware and pottery are an integral part of the meal in traditional Japanese cuisine. The repertoire of dinnerware at Kajitsu includes pieces created by master Japanese potters over 200 years ago as well as pieces created by modern ceramic artists. Due to the unique colors and quality of these pieces being unable to be reproduced, dishes are carefully repaired if they are chipped or damaged, resulting in small, noticeable patches. This indicates the "deep respect for the work of old masters and for the shojin tradition of frugality."

Instead of going down the sake tasting route (still getting acquainted with the Japanese spirit), I decided to have a pot of the hoji tea (hojicha) -- a dark roasted green tea which the menu claims to pair well with food. Kajitsu sources its highest quality Japanese green teas from Ippodo, a 300-year-old tea maker in Kyoto. I enjoyed the roasted flavor throughout the dinner, and I felt that it definitely went well with the eight courses we had awaiting us ahead. Though I enjoy having the traditional konacha (i.e., coarse, powdered green tea) at sushi restaurants, it was refreshing to have something different than the usual offering. Plus, I loved the handle on this little tea pot -- it was fun to pour!

After contemplating the three tasting menus offered that day -- the four-course Kaze, the eight-course Hana, and the special Takenoko dinner (same as the Hana, with a different fourth and sixth course) -- Christine and I decided opting for the Takenoko tasting would best way to experience Kajitsu menu. I later learned the reason for the dinner being dubbed the Takenoko dinner is because takenoko is the name for the edible part of bamboo (bamboo shoots, essentially) in Japanese, and the differing fourth and sixth courses were focused around takenoko. The offering of this menu began starting March 17, which was earlier that week.

The first course of the Takenoko tasting was the nagaimo hishimochi (hishimochi being red, white, and green lozenge-shaped rice cakes) with spring vegetables and sweet soy gelée. Per our waitress that night, it was to be eaten with a spoon.This course was a well-adorned salad course with freshest raw vegetables I've probably ever had placed throughout the composition of the plate. My palate felt like a novice forager, working its way through a forest of the most exotic greens. The sweet soy gelée layered a touch of umami over the vegetables with its in-between solid-liquid state -- it was a pseudo salad dressing. The nagaimo (a Japanese yam) was an interesting combination of crunchy and soft (like a hybrid of potato and turnip). Subtlety was definitely key. Overall, I found this to be very interesting. It wasn't something I fell in love with, but I appreciated its presentation as well as the deliberate placement on the tasting menu.

The second course was a grated kohlrabi soup with grilled gomadofu with karashi and fresh green pepper corn. Now, I never drink Asian soups (broths, miso soups, etc.) -- I'm more of a Western soup drinker. However, this soup concocted by Chef Nishihara was unbelievable. The soup base was made from grated kohlrabi, which is a type of cabbage whose root comes from the German word for cabbage (kohl) and turnip (rabi, the Swiss-German variant) because the swollen stem resembles the latter. Given the simplicity of kohlrabi, it was hard to believe that it was just that. It had so much overflowing flavor and depth that I slurped every ounce that remained in my bowl until no droplets of soup remained. The gomadofu, typically made from sesame paste, kuzu (a white starch), and water, was warm and had a very thin-skinned exterior -- almost like agedofu (a fried Japanese-style tofu) but softer, more delicate, and unsoggy from the soup. Its texture was firm yet velvety with each bite. The topped karashi (a mustard made from crushed mustard greens) and the fresh green peppercorn (sliced crosswise) gave the soup and gomadofu a spiced kick.

The third course was four-fold: (1) smoked satoimo (taro) with tofu-yo sauce; (2) Brussels sprout with fukinoto paste; (3) spring scallions with white wood ear mushrooms, mustard miso, kaffir lime, and lemongrass; and (4) peach flower nama-fu with shredded daikon. All was served with shredded daikon and a sweet sauce (whose name escapes me now). There was a lot going on here, so I will do my best to convey it all.

{1} The smoked satoimo was served on a fancy dual toothpick. The sauce is made using tofu-yo, which is actually the result of fermenting and aging regular tofu. The sauce was interesting, but because I'm not really a fan of taro, I wasn't too crazy about this dish, mainly because its awkward texture. Christine enjoyed it though!
{2} The Brussels sprout was really good -- the fukinoto paste (made from butterbur buds) created an interesting, subtle variations of bitterness along the palate. Very fresh.
{3} The spring scallions with white wood ear mushrooms, mustard miso, and lemongrass were served in a kaffir lime. This was probably my favorite "item" within the third course. With the presentation both resourceful and aesthetic, it was a very citrus-driven salad of really fresh scallions and white wood ear mushrooms with a light bite from the mustard miso.
{4} The peach flower nama-fu (a kind of wheat gluten) was very gelatinous and had a fruity touch to it. I appreciated its inclusion, but thought it was just okay.
{5} The accompanying shredded daikon was to be dipped in the sweet sauce, which I enjoyed. Crunchy and crisp, the shredded daikon mixed with the sweet sauce gave it a more rounded flavor rather than just texture.

The fourth course was one of the highlighted dishes on the Takenoko tasting -- house-made soba with Kyoto bamboo shoot tempura and accompanying wasabi and scallions. I had never had homemade soba before, and as it is made daily at Kajitsu, it was really fresh. A little firmer than I had originally expected, the house-made soba was served chilled in a light cool broth. The highlight for us, however, was the Kyoto bamboo shoot tempura. It was quite possibly the neatest and cleanest coating of tempura batter I've ever witnessed and tasted. The skin of fried tempura batter was so thin yet remained crunchy all around and intact -- not soggy at all. It was perfect. The bamboo shoots were juicy and crunchy, almost like biting into a piece of fresh fruit, only instead of a sweet interior, it has more of a crisp vegetable consistency. Great course -- its simplicity was what was most astounding, further proof that I'm glad we went with the Takenoko tasting menu.

The next course was the fifth one -- shredded phyllo wrapped yomogi nama-fu with house-made Worcester sauce along with a corn husk packet. The phyllo (i.e., paper-thin sheets of unleavened flour dough) was playfully shredded and wrapped around the yomogi (i.e., Japanese mugwort that yields a muted green color) nama-fu (the white gluten seen earlier). The green interior was very soft and mushy, similar to the consistency of lightly whipped mashed potatoes, with an earthy taste to it. Overall, it tasted (to me, at least) like a tastier fried taro ball in traditional Chinese dim sum.

There were also two accompanying "condiments" -- house-made Worcester sauce (the famed sauce featured in Mr. Bittman's article!) as well as lemon and salt (see photograph below). Christine and I made sure we tried both combinations on each piece. The house-made Worcester sauce was incredible -- similar to katsu sauces I've had before, but so much better! After knowing how much labor goes into making what appears to be a "simple sauce" (40 hours!), you definitely appreciate the sauce's complexities and deliciousness with the shredded phyllo-wrapped yomogi nama-fu. Tangy, a bit sweet, and savory all at once, this sauce will pretty much go well with anything fried. The second combination of lemon and salt (it may have been Himalayan because of its pink color) reminded me, in the best way possible, of the German pancakes at IHOP (probably because of the lemon and the phyllo). It was great to experience the same food, two different ways by means of a condiment.
Along with the yomogi nama-fu were some sides.{1} The grilled cabbage with arugula sprouts and watermelon radish along with snap peas with parsnip purée were really crisp and fresh. {2} The fresh lemon and salt for the yomogi nama-fu shown here, as mentioned previously. {3} The sautéed glass noodles with kinugasa mushrooms and leeks were wrapped inside the corn husk packet. Still warm, as the noodles were smooth and earthy with the vegetables. {4} The roasted chickpeas in shells were just like edamame, only with chickpeas -- loved the roasted, smoky flavor.

By this time of the meal, we were well on our way to becoming totally stuffed.

The sixth course was another Takenoko offering -- {2,4} takenoko gohan, the donabe clay pot cooked rice with grilled Kyoto bamboo shoots and house-made pickles (served family style) along with {1,3} red miso soup with wakame, nameko, and scallions. This was Christine's favorite by far. I liked that the rice was really hot and that the grains closest to the surface of the hot clay pot became a little crusted, giving the rice a more textured character. The Kyoto bamboo shoots were lovely (gotta love that crisp bite with each morsel), too. Even though we both came to our late dinner with practically empty stomachs, we didn't get to finish and enjoy all of the rice -- I was so very disappointed in us for being so full already! The red miso soup (with brown seaweed, Japanese mushrooms, and scallions) was a lot less milder than the traditional miso soups served in Japanese restaurants, so it was very explosive in flavor. It was a good complement to the takenoko gohan. That container was so dainty and cute!

The dessert part of our tasting began at course seven with sakura mochi (glutinous rice) wrapped in salted cherry leaf, which we were instructed by Chef Nishihara to eat from left to right. To the left of the mochi was red bean paste gradually becoming white bean paste with almond flour to the right. Along with the dessert itself, we were given a dish with a wet napkin for cleaning our fingers after eating the mochi with our hands. I thought the interior of the dessert was great -- loved the contrast between red and white bean paste as well as the fresh and moist glutinous rice. As for the salted cherry leaf, I probably could have done without that -- for me, it took away from the mochi -- but nevertheless, I understood its aesthetic and culinary importance.

Our last course (number eight) concluded with warm matcha tea with candies by Kyoto Suetomi from Kyoto. The matcha tea was rich in taste, mainly a pleasant bitterness, with a silky graininess -- funny how oxymoronic words are somehow the best way to describe this gustatory experience. Presented as a blooming cherry blossom, the sakura-shaped candy was very chalky (pretty much like those Valentine's Day conversation heart candies) while the stalk-like leaves were like pâtes de fruits, only flavored with black sesame.

Findings: Overall, our eight-course meal at Kajitsu was very lovely and enlightening. It is hard to put into words the class of flavors in which it is classified (I only can think of an adjective in Chinese that I cannot seem to translate well into English). But if I could attempt to describe it decently, the meal was comprised of clean, refreshing flavors that by no means were bland -- simple yet refined may be the appropriate phrasing.And the biggest mind boggler of this wonderful meal was that it was entirely vegan. The first couple courses eased us into what glorious wonders were to be explored -- they were clearly vegetarian -- but by the third course, you'll pretty much forget that it's all vegetables and animal-free. I mean the presentation alone is enough to distract you from this.

At Kajitsu, Chef Masato Nishihara is certainly an artist in his own right -- the unique pieces of pottery presented serve as canvases on which he paints, however seemingly flawless, breathtaking seasonal landscapes of traditional shojin cuisine. Both from a visual and gustatory standpoint, each course presented for the guest's pleasure envelops and nourishes with intellect and culinary finesse. I learned so much just from writing about our eight-course Takenoko tasting dinner -- I had never heard of nearly 75% of the ingredients prior to this meal. The service was quick and precise, as our waitress was very patient and thorough in her explanations, recited each course eloquently and carefully from practiced, seamless memory.

Those who don toques in the culinary universe are constantly finding ways to challenge themselves to creating new things blazing trails for new ways of cooking. The usual challenges (e.g.,keeping it as locally sourced and seasonal as possible) along with the trending challenges (e.g., embedding new techniques and current technology into what may be referred to as "modernist cuisine") are ubiquitous, though in good way, and are almost to be expected these days. While shojin cuisine has been around since the time of Zen Buddhism, Chef Nishihara set on the task of mastering it, which ultimately means conquering the world of vegetables and vegan ingredients (like Chef David Santos at Um Segredo Supper Club with his recent tasting of vegetables and the famed vegetarian and vegan restaurant, Ubuntu, in Napa). The word substitute is not a part of the gastronomic vocabulary in the kitchen of Kajitsu -- the courses prepared stand proudly lone, without any of its observers and eaters thinking otherwise. Instead, Chef Nishihara is able to craft courses that have ingredients, both familiar and obscure to the Western palate and repertoire, together embodying the tenets and ideas behind shojin cuisine and Zen Buddhism.

I'm curious to see where the restaurant will go once Chef Nishiahara departs at the end of the month -- will it retain the same spirit in cuisine? Will moving to Midtown Manhattan cause any change in ambiance? I guess only time will tell, but for now, it is nice to have pocketed a unique meal like this in my collection of noteworthy eats. It really is captivating what one man, so in tune with shojin cuisine can do without anything of animal origin.

Price point: $100 per person for Takenoko special 8-course tasting menu, $5.50 for each pot of hojicha.

--March 21, 2012

414 East 9th Street
New York, NY 10009

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fresh Find | MaeMae Paperie custom stamps

I first heard about MaeMae Paperie through a sample sale deal going on at Joss & Main. MaeMae Paperie is a multi-faceted stationery company that offers custom wedding stationery services, celebratory paper goods, and social stationery as well.

What took my interest, though, were its business card stamps that come in 20 different designs. The minimalist yet quirky style displays originality as well as effective communication of relevant business information. It is versatile as well, allowing the creation of asymmetrical, original-looking business cards as well as stationery headers for business correspondence. The deal for this MaeMae Paperie product on Joss & Main was almost too good to pass up for a custom stamp -- $39.95 for a business card stamp that is originally priced at $72!

Here's the one I made for Four Tines and a Napkin! I went with the "Harriot Outline" design because liked the postage stamp outline of it as well as the typefaces used. Cannot wait to use it on all types of papers, stationery, and the like!

MaeMae Paperie
business card stamps, here at MaeMae Paperie
Price point: $72 at, $39.95 with Joss & Main deal*.

* This deal is no longer available, but if you sign up at Joss & Main to receive daily deals that may include MaeMae Paperie in the future!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lunch | Asiadog, ii

During the weekend that Marcus and I made it to Greenpoint/Williamsburg (here and here), we actually began our day with a little lunch at Asiadog, the "brick-and-mortar" Nolita storefront of the initially mobile venture. I bought a Gilt City deal for the shop ($10 worth of food for $5), we were in for quite a bargain! We've had grub from Asiadog before while at the Brooklyn Flea and during a concert at the Central Park SummerStage last summer, so we were quite familiar with its diverse Asian-inspired toppings on hot dogs.

Love the woods used in front of the store!

Sandwich board for hot dogs!

The menu at Asiadog. Love the minimalist graphics next to each menu item!

Marcus tried the fresh-squeezed limeade soda, and it was as refreshing as it sounded! Great ration of sweet and tart while bubbly throughout.

As for hot dogs, Marcus had our usual favorite, the Wangding (i.e., Chinese BBQ pork belly with cucumber and scallions), along with one we hadn't tried before, the Sidney (i.e., Thai mango relish -- cucumber, red onion, and cilantro -- and crushed peanuts). The Wangding was a little more saucy than usual, which kind of overpowered the pork belly and accompanying cucumbers. However, the Sidney was surprisingly refreshing, like a Thai-flavored slaw topping the hot dog. The peanuts were a nice touch, adding a hearty crunch to the vinegary texture of the relish.

I also had the Wangding and the Vinh (i.e., banh mi style with pork paté, spicy aioli, cucumber, pickled carrot, daikon, jalapeno, and cilantro). The Vinh might be my new favorite hot dog at Asiadog -- it was basically a banh mi sandwich, only instead of the traditional minced pork meat, it was a beef hot dog underneath the pickled vegetables, paté, and aioli. Absolutely delicious!

Findings: After assessing Asiadog more closely at its shop and comparing it to our experience at Japadog, I still think Asiadog is my favorite (Asian) hot dog spot in the city. The variety of the menu's offering spans the gamut to fit any one's palate for most popular Asian cuisines (e.g., Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, etc.). Also nice to have a new favorite every now and then -- the Vinh for me and the Sidney for Marcus. So if you're in the area and are looking for a quick, inexpensive bite to eat, go to Asiadog! It satifies any lurking hunger for sure :)!

Price point: 2 hot dogs for $8, $3 for freshly squeezed limeade soda; $5 for $10 worth of food via Gilt City!

--March 3, 2012

66 Kenmare Street
New York, NY 10012

Gilt City
Asiadog deal was available here*!

* This deal is no longer available, as the event has passed.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dinner | EN Japanese Brasserie

Last Friday, Erin and I made plans to go to EN Japanese Brasserie to belatedly celebrate my birthday! It had been on her list of places to take me for the longest time, so it was great to know that we were finally making plans to go together!

Opened in 2004, EN Japanese brasserie embraces the "rich traditions of Japanese home cooking" with "Chef Abe Hiroki's modern approach to washoku, a relaxed style of dining centered around a procession of small plates." This New York location has sister restaurants back in Japan as well, with which recipe ideas are constantly exchanged "to provide a transportive dining experience."

EN has a shochu bar as well! Also loving these display banner curtains.

The interior of EN was created by Ichiro Sato, who brought "Tokyo aesthetic to New York City" with "the restaurant's soaring ceilings and oversized windows" along with "warm woods and authentic, antique panels." All design aspects of EN were custom-designed and imported from Japan, including the furniture, the block-printed fabrics, and tabletop accessories.

Erin and I each started with the Red Grapes cocktail with "Rain" organic vodka. For someone who likes an even and enjoyable balance of alcohol and accoutrement (juice, soda, bitters, fruit, etc.), this was very watered down. Maybe there was too much ice. Either way, the ingredient ratio in this cocktail needs to be restored to the optimal balance.

As recommended by Lisa, I had to order the "mushroom dish" at EN (per Lisa: "OMGGG -- the umami sensation!). With that being said, I believed it to be the kinoko kiriboshi daikon ohitashi -- assorted Japanese mushrooms and sun-dried daikon radish with yuzu. I found it to be very refreshing and had very clean flavors. There were only little tinges of umami popping in every so often -- not at all what Lisa had described. Perhaps the "mushroom dish" she had in the past at EN was during a different seasonal offering or it was including with the kaiseki multi-course tasting menu. Have to go back and see if they'll have that again!

What has to be ordered during any meal at EN is its signature dish -- the freshly made scooped tofu served warm with wari-joyu, the restaurant's sweet mix of soy sauce and fish broth. The tofu is made regularly at 5:30, 7, 8:30, and 10 PM, respectively, and can also be ordered cold. Light as a feather and silkier on your palate than the smoothest of fabrics on your fingertips, this freshly made tofu is breathtaking. I don't believe I've had tofu this smooth before. Don't let its lightness in texture fool you -- shared between the two of us, it was quite filling already as our first course. Definitely great for sharing in a larger group!

We also had the clay rice pot with salmon and ikura roe. The clay pot was really hot, keeping the rice and the salmon nice and warm. Once it arrived to our table, our server scooped a mound of rice and salmon into smaller bowls, allowing us to top with however much ikura roe we desired. I liked that the rice had a lot of textural depth due to the high heat from the clay pot. There were parts of the rice that were a little harder (on the burnt side) and the remaining which was fluffy. The salmon, flaky and tender, was mixed very well in with the rice, enhancing its overall flavor. The pearls of ikura roe gave a nice salty-savory touch to it overall. If you like rice and salmon, this is another great course to be shared.

We also had the crispy fried chicken with aromatic rock salt. Lightly battered and incredibly crispy, these were so good! If we hadn't ordered so many other things or if we had a larger party, we would've been able to finish it, but we were getting so full from the freshly made tofu and the clay rice pot, that we had to pack it up to take home. If you're more of the adventurous stuff, I would advise passing on ordering this (even though it's great) and trying something a little more "outside of the box."

{1} Our last course was the kuroge washugyu yaki shabu -- thinly sliced washugyu Black Angus short rib from Lindsay Ranch, Oregon with a hot stone for grilling. We were instructed to take the piece of short rib fat (all the way to the left of the platter) and {2} run it along the surface of the (very, very) hot stone, ensuring the cooking area is nicely coated to prevent sticking. After cooking the washugyu cuts of beef briefly on the hot stone, we had ourselves some amazing pieces of marbled perfection. Its soft and mouthwatering touch along our palates was a lovely treat.

Findings: I think the most notable parts of our dinner at EN Japanese Brasserie were the freshly made scooped tofu and the kuroge washugyu yaki shabu. They were both completely different dishes that I've never personally had before in a Japanese restaurant, so it was nice to be able to experience that here. The tofu was amazingly soft and almost weightless, but as we ate more, it mysteriously filled up in our stomachs so quickly, so be sure to share this with more than two people if you're hoping to sample more things from the menu without sacrificing "prime real estate" in your stomach (as Lisa would say). The kuroge washigyu was also fun because we didn't lose any time from the beef leaving the cooking surface to reach our table -- it was as fresh, as aromatic, and as savory as it grew from raw to rare in a minute or two. I was only disappointed with our cocktails (too watered down), but the other courses we ordered were lovely. Even with those, we barely made a dent in the menu. Looking forward to returning, with more people in tow, to try more seafood dishes (lots of uni and hamachi options!) and possibly working up an appetite for the kaiseki tasting menu!

Thanks again to Erin for taking me out to celebrate my birthday! You're the bestest :)

Price point: $6 for each small plate, $11-35 for remaining larger courses, $13 for each cocktail.

--March 16, 2012

EN Japanese Brasserie
435 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Food for Thought | Brad Garrett as Auguste Gusteau

“Anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great. ”
--Brad Garrett as "Chef Auguste Gusteau"
from Ratatouille, 2007.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Brunch | Trestle on Tenth

Another work-free weekend called for a real brunch date -- Marcus and me, just the two of us.

Per a recommendation from Derek, we decided to check out Trestle on Tenth over in Chelsea. Open since 2006, Trestle on Tenth has "a respect for local ingredients" focusing on Swiss cuisine by Chef Ralf Kuettel. The mission behind Trestle on Tenth is simple: "great food and great service -- without the pretension" through "homegrown cuisine and honest hospitality."

Growing up in Switzerland in a town at the foothills of the Alps, Chef Kuettel developed an early appreciation for "the earth's bounty and a taste for fresh, seasonal ingredients." He embraced this philosophy as he worked through restaurants in Switzerland which later landed him a spot in the kitchen of Union Square Café, Zoë, and Cena, as well as in top restaurants over in Seattle and Breckenridge. Along with "his pursuits in the kitchen, he also worked to expand his wine expertise through a wine buyer position at Chelsea Wine Vault -- a role that brought his food and wine knowledge full circle." Shortly after, Trestle on Tenth was born.

Modern and rustic ambiance are married together inside Trestle on Tenth.

Full loose leaf pots of tea -- Marcus and I both had the Earl Grey.

Fresh bread!

Marcus started with a croissant from La Bergamote, a nearby bakery.

Per Derek's recommendation, I had the duck confit hash with poached eggs and sauce béarnaise. It had all the elements I love in a brunch dish -- poached eggs, a hashed potatoes, and an -aise sauce. The added bonus was the generous amount of shredded duck meat mixed in the potato hash. The béarnaise sauce gave this dish what hollandaise gives to eggs benedict -- a creamy unifier of flavor that blends together the starchy potatoes, savory duck confit, silky egg whites, and runny yolk. Highly, highly recommended. The perfect Sunday brunch lies ahead with this choice!

Marcus had the salad "niçoise" -- smoked salmon over greens with mustard green dressing and capers. Though a very basic salad, Marcus enjoyed this very much. Perhaps the simplicity of its ingredients matched with their freshness.

Findings: What I liked most about Trestle on Tenth is its "low-key" atmosphere. Brunch tends to be a bit too focused on the "seen and be seen" aspects of the experience here in the city, and I'm not too crazy about that. Ultimately, I just want to enjoy delicious food with great company, and leave it at that.
Trestle on Tenth is perfect for that. No pretension -- just comfort and delicious brunch grub. Treat yourself to the
duck confit hash -- I promise you'll be back for more.

Price point: $12-14 for each brunch course, $3 for each pastry, $4.50 for tea.

--March 18, 2012

Trestle on Tenth
242 Tenth Avenue
New York, NY 10001

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dinner | East

On St. Paddy's Day, I met up with Lisa and Dani, an awesome girlfriend of ours from high school to catch up over some sushi over at East (full name: East Japanese Restaurant).

What's so special about this sushi joint is its kaiten sushi -- Japanese for "rotating sushi," which is essentially Japanese fast-food-style. Just as a little background, kaiten sushi (i.e., conveyor belt sushi) was invented by Yoshiaki Shiraishi, who had problems staffing his small sushi restaurant which resulted in difficulties managing the restaurant solo. Consequently, he came up with a solution, after watching beer bottles move on a conveyor belt in an Asahi brewery. After five years of development, including the design and the speed of operations, Mr. Shiraishi opened the first kaiten sushi restaurant, Mawaru Genroku Sushi, in Osaka in 1958, which eventually expanding to about 250 restaurants all over Japan. However, by 2001, his company had diminished to eleven restaurants.

I haven't come across any other kaiten sushi places in the city, so it was nice to finally find one! I've only had it one other time (in Hawaii actually), and it was so much fun!

Ultimately, the sushi rides along a long conveyor belt that runs through the length of the restaurant from the kitchen and back. The plates ride along, each with plastic lids.

Then the kitchen will replenish the belt with raw and cooked items as it becomes necessary.

Wonder how they keep track of what you've eaten? Well, they have a color-coded plate system (as shown here) that ranges from $1.50 per plate to $6.50 per plate (this excludes other menu items and "specials"), so all the "plates" of sushi that you eat are piled up right in front of you so that at the end of the meal, they can tally them up to come up with the final tab owed.

Our feast of kaiten sushi included some tuna rolls . . .

. . . salmon lover's roll (salmon tartare and veggies on the inside, salmon sashimi on the outside, topped with red onion and ikura),

. . . spider rolls,

. . . octopus nigiri sushi (just okay -- a little chewy),

. . . uni (pretty fresh considering we were at a kaiten sushi joint)!,

. . . and tuna toro nigiri sushi for $8.50 (a little stringy, but still melted in your mouth)!

By the end of our dinner, we had about 10 (or more) small plates each, all stacked up neatly. We certainly pigged out and took advantage of the "instant gratification" aspect of kaiten sushi. So be wary -- your eyes can become bigger than your stomach at
East, so slow down and make your choices count!

Dani, Lisa, and me at our counter seats at East.

Findings: Kaiten sushi reminds me a lot of Chinese dim sum (small plates), only with sushi. I'm not gonna lie -- I definitely found the gimmicky aspect of conveyor belt sushi quite amusing and really fun as it makes dinner a little more interactive on part of the diner. The quality of sushi at East, surprisingly, was pretty decent quality -- nothing to brag about, but certainly edible! This was a great spot for our trio of girlfriends to catch up -- no interruptions by the waitstaff as meal was dictated by whatever we pulled off the conveyor belt.

I would recommend this spot for a girls' night out, decently sized groups, or even for a quick bite of sushi. You can share plates or pick something for yourself -- that's the beauty of it! But don't expect anything lifechanging -- that's not what East is about. Rather, expect an exciting dinner where small plates of yummy sushi under flashing neon lights are brought for your leisure without you having to wave down a waiter.

Price point: $1.50-8.50 for each plate of sushi.

--March 17, 2012

East (Japanese Restaurant)
366 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10016


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