Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Drinks | coffee shops in the District

One of my favorite things to do while traveling and exploring a new and unfamiliar city is to scope out its share of coffee shops, cafés, and bakeries. Marcus and I were fortunate enough to squeeze in three different spots during our long weekend trip to DC in late April.

Our first stop was to Peregine Espresso, which I had remembered reading about in Bon Appetit a few years back, where the magazine noted its offering of coffees is similar to microbrewed beer -- i.e., "several single-origin coffees" can be made to order. While I'm not a coffee aficionado or connoisseur (farrr from it!), I appreciate the art of it all -- definitely wanted to see it all in action!

{1} With three locations in DC, Peregrine Espresso first opened its doors in 2008 by Ryan and Jill Jensen. Ryan Jensen has over ten years of experience in the specialty coffee industry, where he began as a part-time barista during his university days in Montana. After moving to DC in early 2003, he worked as a barista through to general manager at Murkey Coffee, later leaving three years later to work as a customer relations representative in DC for Counter Culture Coffee, a wholesale coffee roaster based out of Durham, North Carolina. After winning the 2005 Southeast Regional Barista Competition, he has trained baristas at many of top cafés and restaurants throughout the Mid-Atlantic region as well as at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Additionally, Jill Jensen has worked at Common Grounds Coffee & Tea in Arlington, Virginia, as well as Big Bear Café in DC.

01 - Peregrine
{3} The interiors of Peregrine Espresso at the Mid City location has a great wall of exposed brick opposite the barista counter, which includes {5,8} a pourover station and {6,7} a legit espresso machine made by La Marzocco. Each morning, Peregrine offers "a smooth and balanced, single-origin, macro-brewed coffee" in addition to "a variety of single-origin coffees" available by-the-cup micro-brew. As the day progresses, only the micro-brewed coffees will be available in an effort to serve only the freshest coffee to its patrons. I love the coffee shop's name, as its meaning (i.e., "foreign, alien, roving, wandering, migratory") rooted in the Latin meaning for "wanderer/pilgrim/foreigner/being abroad" -- all appropriate for its specialty in micro-brews.

{4} In theory, I love mocha lattés, more so because I love dark chocolate, and it helps me enjoy coffee without too much bitter intensity. However, I find the problem with mochas at most coffee shops is two-fold. First is that the ratio between milk, espresso, and chocolate is imbalanced, resulting in something overly milky, too chocolatey, or extremely bittered with espresso. The other is that the quality of the chocolate sauce is lacking where it doesn't blend well with the milk and espresso. Plus, I don't usually drink coffee unless I'm in desperate need of caffeine (and tea won't be enough to get me through) or on a trip like this, boutique coffeeshop-hopping. Sometimes I am disappointed by inadequacy and reminded of how much I don't really enjoy espresso beverages (Starbucks is the epitome of this for me); other times, I am pleasantly surprised to the point where I can potentially resurrect my faith in a really good cup of joe (excuse me as I'm still feeling my way out of sugar-coated coffeeland). The latter doesn't happen often, but I had a moment of this while at Peregrine. I had a soy mocha, which not only had a pretty latté heart but tasted unbelievably perfect. It was so smooth, going down easy yet I could really appreciate the underlying macro-brew of coffee. The chocolate used was velvety rich and bittersweet, so it wasn't overwhelming in sweetness. If a cup of coffee could embody the word beautiful, this would be it. {2} Marcus had a plain ol' latté, which he found to be a little too intense and bitter for his liking. Our fault, though -- we definitely should've asked the baristas more about the other micro-brews so we could choose something more fitting. Next time!

Later that afternoon, we were getting post-lunch cravings for something a little sweet, so we made our way up to Adams Morgan, {1,8} to check out Tryst Coffeehouse Bar & Lounge, where its tagline is "No corporate coffee, no matching silverware." This coffeehouse stands in "stark contrast to the suburban culture and coffee chains that proliferate the country" as it has a single location, owned and operated by the same couple that started it back in 1998, where everything (both food and drink) is made to order.

02 - Tryst
{2,5Tryst is a charming little coffeehouse with an eclectic collection of furniture that reminds me of Central Perk, the fictional coffeehouse where the cast of Friends would always be hanging out throughout the series. The rich reds and woods from the walls and table/chairs gives a really warming and welcoming feeling upon sitting and sipping there. {3} Marcus had a frozen chai while I had {7} a regular chai latté. Both were great, as you can tell they were steeped using real chai tea leaves, not from a concentrate. As far as snacking goes, Marcus opted for {4} a chocolate croissant, while {6} I had an orange-pistachio biscotti. Really well-made pastries here! We spent a good amount of our afternoon chatting over our chai drinks and nibbles as the energy of this place was very positive and friendly. It's also worth noting that this place turns into a bar in the evening, with a dynamic offering of quality cocktails and a generous variety of craft beers.

On our last morning in DC, we made a stop into {1Chinatown Coffee Co. for some caffeine and a quick bite to hold us over until our brunch reservations later that afternoon. Chinatown Coffee considers itself a part of the Third Wave Coffee movement, where the focuses are to produce high-quality coffee and  to consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, rather than a commodity.

03 - Chinatown Coffee
{5-7}The interior design of Chinatown Coffee Co. was created by award-winning architect, Robert Gurney -- the light fixtures were certainly my favorite part of the space, which were industrial yet inviting. {3}It's so nice that they offer "Black Card Specials" during the week!

{2} Marcus enjoyed my mocha quite a bit from Peregrine Espresso that he ordered one for himself at Chinatown Coffee, along with a miniature croissant that the shop had delivered from Hawthorne Breakfast Pastry. His verdict was that he preferred the one at Chinatown Coffee, which really just came down to his preference for the variety of coffee used here. Croissant was good, too. {4} Though there was a "Black Card Special" for an iced chai, I opted for a hot soy chai latté because of the chilly weather that morning, along with a sticky bun. Decent chai here -- again, being steeped from loose tea leaves (from The Chai Co., to be exact) makes a chai that much more enjoyable -- and the sticky bun really hit the spot.

Findings: Where there are coffee enthusiasts, there will be places to find a legit cup of brew. This is no exception in DC, where the three spots we visited really embraced the Third Wave Coffee movement (officially or unofficially). The baristas really know their stuff, and the varieties offered are unique and made-to-order. There wasn't one café that I preferred over the other -- I liked them each in their own ways. Peregrine Espresso was most refined and laboratory-like; Tryst Coffeehouse Bar & Lounge was more warm, homey, and comforting; and Chinatown Coffee Co. would be the spot that I could see myself going to daily if I lived in DC (a blending of the first two).

I still don't know much about the world of roasts and pour-overs, but I'm slowly catching up! Hopefully paying pilgrimage to the hardcore coffee spots during my travels will help me get there. So if you're in DC, I highly recommend any and all of these spots -- you'll be paying a pretty penny for the special brews there, but it'll be worth the splurge!

Price point: $3.50-4 for each beverage at Peregrine Espresso; $4-4.50 for each beverage at Tryst Coffeehouse Bar & Lounge, $1.99-2.70 for each pastry; $4.25 for each beverage at Chinatown Coffee Co., ~$2.50 for each pastry.

--April 20-21, 2013

Peregrine Espresso
1718 14th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20009

Tryst Coffee House Bar & Lounge
2459 18th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20009

Chinatown Coffee Co.
475 H Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

Monday, April 29, 2013

Lunch | Good Stuff Eatery

Over the past weekend, Marcus and I made our way down to Washington D.C. to celebrate our anniversary. Not arriving to Union Station until late afternoon (many hours after lunchtime), we were beyond starving and hurried over to Capitol Hill for some burgers at Good Stuff Eatery after checking in with our Airbnb host (which I highly recommend doing for multi-day stays!).

Good Stuff Eatery first opened in 2008 by Chef Cathy Mendelsohn and her son, Chef Spike Mendelsohn (of Top Chef fame!) over on Capital Hill, with a subsequent location opened later in Arlington as well as upcoming locations in Georgetown and Philadelphia this year!

Love this cowbell fixture near the entrance of Good Stuff Eatery!

Following suit with its locale of neighborhood, there's cheeky little decorations like this one throughout the space. Gotta love puns!

The mother and son team were inspired by a vision for "a place where people can enjoy the nostalgia of eating the best of their American favorites" -- handcrafted burgers, handcut fries, handspun shakes, and farm fresh salads made with the highest quality ingredients from local suppliers. The restaurant is also constructed almost entirely of recycled materials.

Along with this, Good Stuff Eatery strives for "sustainability in all of its business practices" as every business decision is made with its environmental impact in mind. Every effort is made to recycle all waste from the restaurant, spanning from the delivery boxes and the oil from fryers.

Goodness gracious, indeed!

While patrons can place their orders on the main floor, where limited counter seating is available, the upstairs portion of Good Stuff Eatery has a lot more seating, including this communal table.

Along with the wide varieties of burgers offered at Good Stuff, it also has for its patrons a condiment bar, which is mostly comprised of different mayonnaises including mango, Old Bay, sriracha, and chipotle varieties. We opted for the traditional ketchup and mustard along with some mango mayonnaise.

Marcus had the Farmhouse Bacon Cheese burger, served with Applewood bacon, American cheese, and lettuce. We also shared a side of Sunny's handcut fries sprinkled generously with sea salt. First off, I would just like to say that I love the size of these burgers -- they're slightly bigger than a typical slider, which makes it the perfect portion for lunch or one to be split with a friend as a snack. Plus, there's no issue with trying to figure out how to eat the burger -- it doesn't stack up super high nor does it have a difficult-to-conquer circumference. As for the Farmhouse Bacon Cheese, the bacon was crispy and savory and melded well with rest of the standard burger accoutrement. The patty was cooked to an ideal temperature -- somewhere in the medium region -- where it was juicy on the inside without spewing out with meat juices and oil. Whatever blend of beef is used at Good Stuff Eatery, I now want that blend for all my burgers. And the icing on the cake was the bun -- well buttered and toasted/grilled to a warm yet soft delectableness that made every bite into the burger so glorious.

The handcut fries were great -- such a refreshing contrast to the usual frozen shoestrings we're used to -- as they were fried to a lovely browned crisp without being at all oily. They went surprisingly well with the mango mayonnaise -- the tangy flavor was very interesting against the delicate starchiness of the fries.

I opted for the Steakhouse burger with roasted cremini mushrooms, onion straws, Emmental Swiss cheese, and tangy steakhouse mayonnaise. With the same basic characteristics of Marcus's burger (delicious blend of beef, well-toasted bun, ideal portion size), the Steakhouse burger was fantastic, too. I love me a really good mushroom-and-swiss burger, and this one is undoubtedly a list-topper, especially with the pleasant addition of onion straws, which not only added a nice flavor to the burger but another textural dimension as well. Even with all of the condiments and toppings on this burger, the super soft bun (mine with sesame seeds!) was strong enough to withstand it all without becoming soggy -- the meat-to-bun-to-condiment ratio (as Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory postulates here at 1:14) is, simply put, just very satisfying.

Findings: Marcus and I left Good Stuff Eatery quite happily, where we even are audacious enough to declare the burgers there the best we've ever had, a close one for us, making it slightly ahead of how we feel about our home city Shack burger at Shake Shack. The combination of well-portioned burgers, favorable meat-to-bun-to-condiment ratios, original condiments (c'mon, mayonnaise bar = AWESOME), nicely toasted bunsm and super flavorful, juicy (but not at all greasy!) patties made Good Stuff Eatery an instant winner in my "best of" chronicles in eating. I am officially making this a must-do every and any time we're down in DC, because it'd be blasphemous to miss out on such deliciousness otherwise! :P

Price point: $6.95-6.98 for each burger, $3.69 for a regular-sized order of hand cut fries.

--April 19, 2013

Good Stuff Eatery (Capitol Hill)
303 Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast
Washington, DC 20003

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Toasts | three years

Today I celebrate being with Marcus -- the one who knows exactly how to hold my heart -- for three years. That's a whole lot of kisses goodnight, crispy chicken tacos from Dos Toros, silly fights over who stole the covers from whom, shared French macarons from La Maison du Macaron, crossword puzzles, and hot beverages at Argo Tea. In the past, we had celebrated in grand ways with dinners here on the actual day and continued the celebration months later, once in the Napa Valley and another time in Chicago. This year, we're doing something a little different as the date falls on a Saturday evening -- we've decided to explore Washington, D.C., over a long weekend, planning our three days in the Capital City through meals and morsels (essentially how all our trips turn out to be -- an eating expedition). I'll definitely be blogging about our time there and all of the fun and delicious things we will have encountered -- so expect full, robust posts in the next couple weeks!

© Photograph by Alice Gao Photography
Marcus and me at Madison Square Park enjoying some French macarons, September 2010.

I am unbelievably lucky to have such a wonderful guy in my life -- one who always finds a way to calm me down when things go crazy and awry, whom I can talk to about literally anything, who will give me a tummy rub when I have an upset stomach, who is always down for a midnight snack even after we've brushed our teeth. I find myself (as cheesy as it sounds!) close to pinching myself, just to see if I'm dreaming all of this, dreaming I've found the one person that completely understands me and my quirky ways. It is hard to find the words to express the happiness I feel to have finally realized the love that we are all destined to find in this universe, this lifetime -- but I'll try anyhow. I stumbled upon a letter written by the late novelist John Steinbeck in response to his son, Thom, where he spoke of Susan, a young girl with whom he had fallen in love during his time at boarding school. This letter, which can be found in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (editted by Elaine Steinbeck, the writer's wife during the last eighteen years of his life), embodies how I feel about my relationship with Marcus, so here I dedicate the following excerpt to our love, a love that still gives me butterflies and turns me into the giddiest girl ever, even after sharing an apartment and adopting a kitty together.

New York
November 10, 1958
Dear Thom:
First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you. 
Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.
You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply—of course it isn’t puppy love. 
But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it—and that I can tell you. 
Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.
The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it. 
[...] It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.
Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it. 
[...] And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.

Happy Anniversary, Marcus -- thank you for being you, for being my best friend, for being a great listener, for being my rock in the stormiest moments, for making me a better person, and for being the good that never got away. Love you always! :)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Literary Fare | my very own (cook)bookcase

If there's one thing I am proud of -- that is, something that I've created, curated, and cherished -- it is my collection of cookbooks. My collection started out around the same time my fascination with glamour of haute cuisine (and eventually, the technical and culinary aspects behind it) with the serendipitous and thoughtful gift from my Uncle Alan: a lightly tattered yet beautifully aged copy of The French Laundry Cookbook -- the token compendium of gorgeous photographs laced with sophisticated food styling and plating that can only be conveyed in Chef Thomas Keller's spot-on word choice: finesse.

This was where it all began, and in the last eight years since then, my tastes have evolved to include cookbooks of different cuisines and disciplines. And it wasn't enough for me to just pick up cookbooks from the local bookshop or digitally drop it into a shopping cart from Amazon -- after an ugly break-up during my university days, I randomly became obsessed with attending book signings, inevitably leading to new cookbook releases where I would meet well-renowned chefs and food writers with/from whom I've always imagined conversing and learning. My collection grew from a select household favorites to a dynamically quirky stack, inscribed with personalized messages from the crazy talented individuals that I bring with me into the kitchen on print whenever I want to conquer a coq au vin, a flavorful new pasta dish, or even a complicated French pastry.

Between never having legitimate bookcase growing up (the ones I had were more storage units than vessels for displaying a library of spines) and moving into the city with my better half, my dreams of owning my very own bookcase were finally realizable. The collapsible bookcase that I had purchased during my dorm room years served me well for a while, but with too many oblong-sized cookbooks and just not enough shelf space to accommodate these thriving stacks, it wasn't going to be a sustainable solution. So I found one free Saturday where I went to IKEA in Red Hook to pick up a larger bookcase. I perused the selections available through its online catalogue beforehand, setting my heart on the beautifully crafted, wide Hemnes five-shelf bookcase in "black-brown," which was further confirmed with this product review by Making a Mark Reviews. To my dismay, the warehouse in Brooklyn was completely sold out of this model, in every single color!

After going through what was left, I was fortunate enough to find the tall-and-wide Billy six-shelf bookcase in "black-brown" still in stock (thanks for the recommendation, Debra!). I was worried it would be too tall or even wide for the corner in my bedroom I was hoping to have it displayed, but I really lucked out -- it was relatively easy to assemble, and it fit perfectly in its nook. Plus, I spent less on the Billy ($79.99 versus the $149 Hemnes) AND was able to score more shelf space (deeper six shelves versus the shallower five-shelf Hemnes). I am so incredibly pleased the end result:

Yes, I am that total dork that arranged the shelves by spine color! :P

Disclaimer: I've also changed some things up since first assembling it all, so you may notice some discrepancies between photographs. Here are some close-ups of the shelves!

{1} "Circle" illustration quote print by Obvious State via Fab, $24 / {2} "2013 Cities" calendar by Rifle Paper Co., $26

{3} couple portrait photograph by Alice Gao Photography / {4} "Lucky Cat" ceramic figurine from Japanese Tea Garden gift shop at Golden Gate Park / {5} "Skyline: Mid Town" greeting card by Ted Naos via MoMA Store, $3.50 / {6} postcard from Omnivore Books (my favorite cookbook shop, located in San Francisco)
{7} various volumes of Kinfolk magazine, $18 each / {8} large glass jar filled with restaurant matchbooks and matchboxes

{9} medium glass jar filled with wine corks (thanks for the idea Linda!) / {10} signature ribbon from a post-meal complimentary bag given by The French Laundry

{1} "New York Coffee Cup" ceramic cup by Graham Hill via MoMA Store, $15 / {2} "Chefs I Met and Liked" notebook by Archie Grand via Jasper + Black, $11 / {3} signature clothespin from The French Laundry / {4} "Delicious City: NYC" postcard from set of 15 via Fab, $14 / {5} "Chef's Hat, Coat and Utensils" greeting card by Papyrus, $5.95 / {6} homemade triptych with photographs by Alice Gao Photography


{7} "Jacques Torres" greeting card by Quotable via Jacques Torres Chocolate / {8} "Pluggis" magazine files from IKEA, $8.99 for set of 2

Findings: Given the bargain price for the Billy bookcase from IKEA, the relatively easy assembly job for it, as well as how surprisingly well-built it is, I highly recommend this line of bookcases (comes in many sizes besides this one!). Its design is quite minimalist and offered in a few shades of wood, bound to fit into any interior design scheme very well. As you can imagine, my cookbooks together form a heavy collection of tomes, but I haven't seen any shelf warping -- so far so good. These shelves are growing fuller as weeks go by, but I'm hoping this bookcase will sustain me for awhile longer than my last measly one! :)

After all, Jules Renard said it best -- “When I think of all the books still left for me to read, I am certain of further happiness.”

Price point: $79.99 for the Billy bookcase from IKEA.

--circa March 2013

IKEA Red Hook
1 Beard Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Monday, April 15, 2013

Chef's Tasting | Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen

Back in January, Chef Yuji Haraguchi launched his very own Kickstarter campaign that would, if backers pledged enough to meet the financial goal, bring the "first-ever ramen omakase tastings in the U.S. at a new pop-up location from mid-March through mid-May in Manhattan's East Village" through his Yuji Ramen enterprise. Having tried the awesomeness of Yuji Ramen at Smorgasburg for the first time this past fall, I knew this venture would be nothing short of amazing, if it came to fruition. As a result, I immediately pledged an amount for a tier that promised an Omakase Date Night for two to attend one of the five-course ramen omakase seatings with priority choice of date and time (on a first come, first served basis of course) before the opportunity would be released to the general public.

The Kickstarter campaign was open to pledges through the end of February, where Chef Haraguchi not only met his $3,000 start-up goal, but did so four-fold, raising nearly $13,000! I was so excited to know that Marcus and I would be attending one of his ramen omakase dinners sometime this spring, which took place this past Friday. {1} The pop-up restaurant, entitled Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen, found its two-month home at the second level of the Whole Foods Market located on Houston and Bowery, near the East Village.

01 - signage
{2,4} The Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen is open daily from 11 AM to 6 or 9 PM, depending on the day, available for take out and sit-down. The omakase seatings are only available in the evenings, and  the last I heard, have been sold out through its last run date in mid-May. {3} The daily shoyu ramen at Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen is an original development by the team at Yuji Ramen just for Whole Foods Market. The Test Kitchen sources its bones from the Whole Foods Market Bowery butcher counter for the ramen broth that is made fresh daily. As the bones are based on availability of what the butcher counter has, the broth will change accordingly, as the kitchen works to "promote sustainability and a respectful relationship for its food supply." {5} The ramen found at Yuji is also unique -- it makes a new style of ramen called mazemen, which is ramen without broth. Ramen, instead, is served with tare (i.e., sauce), flavored oil, and a variety of toppings.

Chef Haraguchi, founder of Yuji Ramen, has over six years of experience working in seafood supply. In the earlier days of Yuji Ramen, Chef Haraguchi "strived to import the highest quality seafood from Japan to the East Coast." However, over time, he "soon fell in love with the many possibilities of locally sourcing American seafood." He and his team have spent the last year developing over thirty new preparations of ramen here in New York City, beginning with Yuji Ramen's temporary home at the Kinfolk Studios space in Williamsburg as well as the weekly outpost at Smorgasburg and finally resulting in the carefully curated, every-dynamic menu at the Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen. In addition to this, Chef Haraguchi created mazemen in order to move away from the traditional style of ramen you would typically find in noodle shops of Japan. His mazemen has a deliberate lack of fat and salt, so that the focus on quality ingredients is very important and can clearly show its true flavors without being overcompensated with salt and overdressed in oily fats. He has always believed that a meal should start off heavy and finish light -- as if the "main course" should come first with the typical first courses (i.e., smaller in portion) coming later.

01a - DSC_1056
As we sat at the counter, we were presented with these mysterious dinner cards, tersely summarizing the focal ingredient of each course, and not revealing much else.

02 - tsukemono
The pre-omakase dish was the tsukemono -- pickled market vegetables sourced from Whole Foods Market and served in a thin wooden boat. Sharp yet refreshingly vinegary, these vegetables packed a nice punch on the palate, preparing us for the savory courses ahead.

03 - salmon
The first course was salmon, which was cured with lemon and sansho pepper, served over mazemen noodles with cheese (a Camembert  sauce), lemon zest, shiso, shredded nori, and pieces of crispy salmon skin. Essentially a more delicate, Japanese take on a "bagel with cream cheese and lox," this course was beautifully done, as the salmon was the right balance of savory and silky interplaying with the cream cheese which had a lighter consistency more like crème fraîche. The aspects which made it truly Japanese was the shredded nori and the well-browned bits of salmon skin which added an interesting textural contrast and smoky flavor to it all. The ramen noodles were thick and al dente, allowing it to handle and hold all of those toppings nicely. Loved this!

04 - squid
Next was the squid ramen -- a squid bolognese sauce and nori bread crumbs served over squid ink shell ramen. Chef Haraguchi was inspired to make this dish while making sausage, as it is typically found in Italian bolognese -- his twist on it would be to make a seafood bolognese. Within the bolognese sauce was some ramen broth that was made using lots of squid to get an intensely concentrated flavor of squid throughout. Just as he did with the first course, Chef Haraguchi created an Italian-influenced ramen dish here with shell-shaped pasta like an orecchiette (but taking it up a notch and making it from squid ink), a thick "meat" (in this case, seafood, and flavored with sesame) sauce like spicy bolognese, and breadcrumbs (instead of garlic and herbs, they are of nori origin). This course was certainly was our top favorite of the evening, as it had really bold flavors (you could really taste the squid thoroughout) had the warmness that I love about ramen (though without being completely traditional), and had perfect crunch with each bite.

05 - uni
The third course was uni served with blood orange, tare, shredded nori, and shiso over whole wheat ramen raviolo. Here, Chef Haraguchi was inspired by Shanghai-nese xiao long bao (i.e., soup-filled dumplings) and filled these ramen ravioli with miso broth and liquid uni. The uni was luscious and buttery and tasted great with the tare, while the orange added some sweet-and-tartness to the salt and brine heavy ingredients. The raviolo shell tasted a little hard for my liking, but I think that was to be able to strongly hold in the hot contents of the broth and uni without leakage. I really enjoyed the flavors in this course.

06 - oyster
The following course was oyster, which began with two separate components: {1} slightly chilled oysters from Long Island, charred bacon, cubed cucumbers, and a gelatin broth concentrated with essence of oyster and {2} hot ramen noodles. {3} Chef Haraguchi asked us to pour the contents of the clear bowl (oysters and bacon) into the bowl of hot noodles and {4} stir until the jellied broth fully dilutes into a slightly darkened broth. The resulting ramen course became a room-temperature dish, meaty with oysters and chunks of bacon. We got to taste the silky brine of the oysters with the thick, slightly fatty cross slices of bacon in a refreshing broth mixed in with cucumber. You would think that mixing a delicate bivalve like the oyster with the heavier bits of bacon would be an odd combination, but surprisingly enough, it is a delightful combination. Plus, I slurped up every last drop of the broth.

07a - mussel
For the last course, Chef Haraguchi started to torch a bunch of mussel shells.

07b - mussel
{1} He then placed them into individually-sized French presses with a hot, concentrated broth, as to really steep in the smoky flavor from the dark, pearly shells, along with shaved bonito and a mussel-duck broth. {2} As the broth steeped in the French press, we were given a hot bowl of ramen (sourced from Sun Noodle Company in New Jersey) with mussels, scallions, shredded nori, Japanese chili powder, and a dash of soy sauce.

Once the broth was done steeping, we were told to pour the broth directly over our dressed noodles.

The resulting ramen course swam in the most fragrant broth, deeply concentrated with the smoky flavor from the mussel shells and the dark and flavorful intensity from the duck bones. The mussels were the perfect temperature (served at room temperature, but well heated with the steeped broth. Just in Chef Haraguchi's approach to the progression of a multi-course meal, this was a very light and delicate ending to the heavier, more savory first courses we had.

Findings: It is so wonderful to finally see the brilliant culinary approaches curated by Chef Yuji Haraguchi in action at the much anticipated opening of the Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen. The creative potential with Japanese ramen is executed here in the most interesting ways and in the most unlikely techniques. Drawing inspiration from other international cuisines and applying those traditional ingredients and compositions to the world of Japanese ramen and noodles, Chef Haraguchi provides an enlightening experience at his counter omakase seatings. Not only are the courses colorful, each and every aspect of a given dish is deliberate and explained in the most poetic gastronomy I've had the pleasure of witnessing.

I am so incredibly thrilled for the team at Yuji Ramen and the success they've garnered in the short span of a year -- I can only imagine that this is only the beginning for them. I can't wait for the next iteration of mazemen and delicious twists on Japanese ramen here at the Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen. Rumor has it that it'll extend its time at Whole Foods Market through the summer, which means Marcus and I will be back for more as soon as possible. So if you're curious about how something as simple as ramen noodles can really surprise and haunt you, you'll definitely find it at the Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen.

Price point: $120 donation to Yuji Ramen's Kickstarter campaign in exchange for an Omakase Date Night at Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen; $40 per person for the general public via KitchIt.

--April 12, 2013

Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen
Whole Foods Market Bowery
95 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002
omakase seatings available through May 12, check KitchIt for updates for upcoming omakase seatings


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