My Fave Japanese Duo in NYC

27 November 2016

I was still stuffed from Thanksgiving week, where at home I roasted a nice chicken and duck for the stressful week. I had to deal with an unplanned move and things were at a crunch. And to throw into the mix, I had to run to NYC for something unexpected and unpleasant…

I was on the 6am flight to NYC on Saturday morning where some moo cow cut in line and proceeded to blame me for complaining…I hate idiotic, self-centred people, even more at 6am before coffee. Whatever. I spent several hours hiking in Brooklyn at one of the best places to do it, Green-Wood Cemetery, enjoying not just the peaceful environment but taking in some seasonal sights like this.

That night I went back to my old haunt downstairs from my old apartment and re-lived a bit of what used to be my normal life. Good to see so many old drinking buddies. But time marches on, and it was a sad reminder of what used to be the best times of my life. How I miss those days…

The next day, with a raging hangover, I met an old friend and his family for a nice brunch. But that evening I had something else planned. With only 2 days and a ridiculously stressful morning coming up before I take a train to Philadelphia, I wanted to get all my old fixes in. So I came up with this “Japanese duo” thing and decided to do something dumb.

I was gonna have 2 dinners.

Yeah. I am gonna have one at 5pm, and another at 9pm. And an ugly night of drinking excess after that. And I’m gonna re-live my past for a night, just to escape to a happier time… So that started near my hotel at one of my regular haunts in the East Side, Yakiniku Gen.

Ever since I stumbled in here one late night by mistake I’ve dropped in here very frequently for late-nite offal and BBQ. Amazing quality stuff here, from wagyu beef to raw tripe, I love this place. They even joked that this was earlier than they usually see me!

With the “double” dinner coming up I knew I had to limit my ordering, so I did. With a beer in hand, I chilled out. Most people would appreciate the heat from the grill, but I always through it was too hot — and a great way to get me to drink more.

wasabi-tako

Then the first snack appeared, octopus. A nice start, very tasty. Love the freshness of the chopped octopus with the wasabi, which was not very strong tho.

tripe-sashimi

Next up was one of the usual things I have here, sen-mai. Lovely to get good tripe like this, always loved this simple dish here. By then the grill got hot enough and the garlic was starting to cook nicely…

garlic

Then the meats arrived. We went on a journey from rib fingers…

rib-finger

…to flap…

flap

…then tongue…

tongue2

 

Excellent, all with their own special qualities, which is why I chose them so deliberately. Excellent meal. But knowing I have a “second dinner” coming later on, I called it a day and thanked the always gracious and friendly host here who always makes time for me. I know I’ll be back whenever I’m in NYC again.

I headed out and took a breather back at the hotel. After all, it was just about 6pm and my “next” dinner wasn’t to start until 9pm at least… With an anticipated heavy drinking session afterwards, I need this fortification by food…

So after a bit I headed down to the East Village, my former haunt, and got to one of my all-time favourite haunts — Hakata Tonton. Always loved coming here, despite the utter difficulty in getting a space. It’s been a long time since I’ve been tho since I moved away from NYC… I got a counter space, which was always nice, and chilled.

To be honest service was a bit confused at first, but I put my order in. And eventually I got my sake… In any case, as I enjoyed the light drinking the first item arrived — some grilled mentaiko.

mentaiko

Perfect drinking snack, I love these things. Not as good as karasumi, but they do a great job. Then next up, the whelk sashimi.

whelk-sashimi

Now unfortunately these didn’t taste that great. Very flimsy compared to usual. Perhaps it’s the Sunday curse here. Then came the best dish of the night, the charsiu duck.

charsiu-duck

These were fabulous, lovely flavours and texture. This is a newish dish I’ve not had before, and it worked perfectly! Then the next one was something I really looked forward to, motsu.

motsu

Sadly this didn’t work that well. Motsu is great in a hot pot, or even better fried (like they usually do it here). But this is a boiled version cold. At the beginning it was good, but within minutes the fatty chitlins basically coagulated. And you’re eating cold fat most of the night. This is not a good way to serve this dish…

gyoza2

Anyway, the last bits came next, the gyoza, as good as it usually is. I was beyond full at this point and called it a day. It took awhile to get the bill as the service was more chaotic than usual. I headed out very full, generally happy. Not as stellar as usual, but…

I needed all this fortification as I walked back to 8th Street, past what used to be my restaurant, and into our former de-stressing place, the 8th Street Wine Celler. And as usual, a lot of good chat, a crap load of wine into the night, and that’s all I’ll say about this final night in NYC…

For a few hours it felt like those days again, the best times of my life…just for a few hours…

Yakiniku Gen
250 East 52nd Street

Hakata Tonton
61 Grove Street
New York, New York

Review #2: Black Market

17 November 2016

My mini-trip to the region is over, and I’m just glad I’m headed home. I so need to wind down from the craziness and idiocy of the past few weeks… No better place to unwind the night before than at one of the best restaurants in the US, the amazing Black Market in Indianapolis.

My last meal here was amazing, one of the best ones of the year. I was hoping for another good one as I got there early. I had a cocktail by the fabulous and stunning bartender who made me some amazing drinks last year as I put in my order. So easy to relax here. In fact I actually considered moving to Indianapolis just because of this place! And didn’t take long before the first item arrived…

1-tongue

Wow, this was an amazing tongue. You know they are real tongue lovers in that it is not rendered so soft it’s mushy, it retained all the needed texture without it being difficult to eat. Real tongue masters in that kitchen! Excellent, one of the best tongue dishes of the year, easily! More drinks and the next dish arrives.

2a-rabbit-dumplings_edited

I apologise to my fellow bunny lovers, but this is indeed rabbit. The gravy is just glorious here, worked wonders with those dumplings. A fabulous dish, with some very strong flavours. Probably the best rabbit dish of the year! Then finally, the pork cheeks…

3-pork-cheek

Not totally sold by the crepe, but the root vegetables added to the dish so well. The cheeks were so soft and tasty, I could eat several more orders of this dish! Amazing stuff.

This dinner has more than equalled the previous one, so it’s gonna be hard to rate which is better! Fabulous stuff. I couldn’t say no to wee dessert…

4-dessert

This just closed off the meal perfectly. That gelato is just creamy and dreamy… I finished my drink and sadly had to run. Next time I am definitely taking the bus here and allocating many more hours! Sucks to have a time-table, but I had to run. But look at this bar…

bar

I’ll be back, Black Market, I’ll be back. Home in the morning…

Black Market
922 Massachusetts Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana

Review: Dudley’s on Short

16 November 2016

After Indianapolis I headed to Louisville, a city I love so much. Despite everything, still the friendliest folks in the country. Ended up doing some BBQ there for dinner, after a rather busy and tiring day, at Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ, which is highly recommended (nice beef ribs, but the wings were totally awesome). Another busy and tiring day later, I ended the day in Lexington.

Wow, is traffic screwed up in this place. Such a small city and the radio even jokes that it has the worst traffic in the country. It’s ridiculous trying to go a few miles and it takes over 45 minutes — and this is going AGAINST the commuting flow.

I made my way into downtown for dinner and immediately I was accosted by various unsavoury types begging on the streets, all with rather glazed eyes and shaking… The 1 block between the parking lot to the restaurant I was approached by at least half a dozen zonked-out types. There’s a difference between the needy homeless, like the one I helped the other night in Indianapolis, to these just pushing aggressively for a handout because they’re seriously jonesing.

I finally made my way into Dudley’s on Short, albeit from the wrong entrance. Oops. Anyway, I was seated and I chilled out with a cocktail. I ordered and relaxed in this wee oasis. And soon my starter arrived, their well-liked devilled eggs.

1-deviled-eggs

Nice, these eggs are tasty. Just a wee bit of dried trout on top. Good snack. Then my main course arrived, the pork.

2-pork

Hmmm… The smoke was very light, and unfortunately the roasting was a bit too much. The outside was dry and flaky, but the core was not bad. Overcooked, low on flavour. Oh well…

I was not really into dessert but just took a drink and asked for an “alternative” dessert — another order of the devilled eggs. Not bad. I headed out and thank goodness the path was not as obstructed by drugged out folks this time…

Still floored on how different Louisville and Lexington are despite being so close to each other…

Dudley’s on Short
259 West Short Street
Lexington, Kentucky

Review: St Elmo Steak House

14 November 2016

I was still reeling from the election results…it’s like everything got up-ended. I had planned to relocate to the centre of the country at some point, but after these results the plans were halted, sadly. This quick trip out to Indiana and Kentucky was supposed to be property scouting, but turned into something far different…

Too late to cancel, so I just went. Had a very unproductive day in Indianapolis, despite it being a city I really enjoy. A bad lunch at King David Dogs (excellent meat but horrible buns and condiments), and I didn’t want to get drunk (yet), so…just stayed in my hotel room plotting my quickly-altered trip plans.

I eventually headed out to dinner at the city’s institution of a dining venue — St Elmo Steak House. Why not, right? I needed a good night out. Walked there and was a little early so had a martini at the bar. Then was seated.

I went with a bottle of grenache as I ordered. The starter arrived within a minute, and it’s one of their signature items — shrimp cocktail.

shrimp-cocktail

Pretty good, but what I loved (and what they’re famous for) is the heavy, nearly overwhelming amount of horseradish. Lovely, good quality shrimp too. Nice start.

I hit the wine pretty hard as it took awhile for the food to arrive. Then my steak, an aged ribeye arrived…

steak_edited

Not bad, cooked well and flavourful. A side of sprouts too, though a little heavy on the vinegar.

sprouts

Not bad overall. I chilled and finished up the wine and took some of the food away. I thanked my server and headed on out back to my hotel.

En route I ran into a homeless person, and as I commonly do when I walk in a city and see a hungry homeless person, I give them my food. Least I can do.

Got back to the hotel and collapsed…what a start to a strange trip…

St Elmo Steak House
127 South Illinois Street
Indianapolis, Indiana

Review: a(MUSE.)

6 November 2016

Woke up with quite a headache as apparently they poured me a quadruple bourbon before they closed up the night before…and that 1 extra hour of time-change sleep didn’t really help. I headed out of Wilmington a little slowly as I pushed towards Dover. A charming little town, I spent most of the morning there. I enjoyed the wee stop. I pushed further south, making a few stops. Ran into a Trump group rally in Georgetown (wrote this pre-election, btw…), which really sickened me… Nevertheless stopped for some barbeque in that town before I pushed further east towards the coast.

I got to Rehoboth Beach mid-afternoon. Not much going on being off season, as this place is usually packed to the brim on a weekend between Easter and Hallowe’en. A cold gust was blowing, which was perfect for me. I chilled out until around time for dinner, and tonight’s destination is the pun-ny named a(MUSE.) in the heart of the small downtown.

It wasn’t too busy, but not surprised for it being out of season. Many places shut down off-season, but — like the brave Vinland in Portland, Maine — they open year-round. They ride out the off-season somehow, and I was happy to contribute however I can. I chilled out with a cocktail and decided, for some reason, to go for the 7-course tasting.

I know I said no more after that disaster at Trentina in Cleveland (as well as Dublis in Vilnius), but I had a good feeling about this place for some reason. Not sure why, but I went with it. If this blows up, then it’ll really be the last tasting menu I’ll try from a place I’ve never been. After I finished my cocktail they poured me a glass of one of the few bubblies I like, Gruet from New Mexico. That made me smile, and then the amuse came.

ab-roe-lavash

No bad, though the lavash cracked a bit too much to eat this cleanly without tahini all over your hands. The roe was nice. Then a splash more of the bubbly and the first item arrived, the tartar.

01-tartar

Now this was just fantastic, chopped rib-eye from a local producer. One of the best tartar dishes I’ve had in many years, lovely flavours and texture. I love it when it’s not minced to pulp, and you really get the best of the beef in this method. Fantastic! I can eat this all day, really!

Pretty happy with how this dinner is starting. Then a pour of sancerre and the second dish, scallops.

02-scallops

Good quality scallops, broken but cooked very well. The eggplant really added a nice touch to it. Solid dish. Then a rose from Provence is poured and the next item arrived…

03-yellowfin-sweetbread_edited

Whoa, it’s a creative take on surf-and-turf to say the least. Seared yellowtail and sweetbreads. The quality of the products were excellent, especially the creamy fried sweetbreads. Fabulous stuff, lovely combination. Excellent!

I’m so glad I decided to do this tasting tonight after all those recent disappointments… Sometimes there’s still surprise left to be had! Then a good Santa Barbara pinot is poured, and we have some pasta.

04-pasta

Excellent, boasting a healthy amount of hen-of-the-woods and bacon, as well as some lovely watercress. Pasta cooked very well, a nice tasty dish! Then a wee glass of Bordeaux and we move to the last savoury course — the short rib.

05a-short-rib

Nice stuff, with celeriac puree and adorned with mustard seeds. Very tender, excellent full flavours — from the same beef that we got the first tartar dish. This is some excellent beef.

I was a little sad the savouries ended, but those were large plates. This really puts places like Trentina in Cleveland and Piccolo in Minneapolis in their place, both in value and quality. Excellent cooking, awesome ingredients.

We move to the cheese dish and they originally were going to pour an apple concoction, but instead poured a nice Oloroso…but that also made me worry. My heart sank…

06-manchego

Manchego. I usually like it, but I eat it so much it’s lost its uniqueness — especially as I mentioned I crave unique, strong cheeses. I won’t say more, but I can see why they would serve this because it is a wonderful cheese. Just me being the wrong guy to be served this… But they brought out the Eden iced apple ciders too…love these things, so rare to see them!

We then shifted to the dessert, which had a nice port to go with it…

07-dessert

A fun combination of chocolate, caramel and apple here, and it was a nice way to close off this excellent tasting menu. I really enjoyed it, especially the savoury dishes. Obvious talent in the kitchen, boasted by understanding of the excellent ingredients this region has to offer. That beef especially was special.

I ended up shifting to the bar and drinking all night chatting with the staff until they closed up for the night. After last night’s excess I shouldn’t have drank so much again, but oh well. I was heading back home tomorrow and soon into the electoral maelstrom…(and again, didn’t know how bad it was gonna get…)

a(MUSE.)
44 Baltimore Avenue
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Review: La Fia

5 November 2016

I decided to take a quick trip around the Delmarva Peninsula during a previous weekend. Despite living so close, I’ve rarely gone out to that part of the region, so I decided to go — focusing mostly on Delaware. Most people don’t think of Delaware for things like food, but I wanted to try it out. So for the two nights I went to seek the best restaurants in the state — one in the north, one in the south.

First up was an evening in Wilmington, a much troubled town that most people only see from their Amtrak trains. It’s had a tough time, but some folks are doing their best to try to revitalise the downtown area. And one of them is La Fia.

I headed there for dinner from my hotel, luckily it was only a few blocks and not in a ropey part of town. I got there and happily sat at the bar and looked over the menu. Mmm, so many good things. I ordered a cocktail and kept pondering food choices. Not eaten since last night, so was hungry. At the end, I decided to go a bit overboard…and do two entrees.

I ordered them and chilled with more drink until the first item appeared, and a smile immediately came over my face — the smoked black cod.

1a-smoked-black-cod

Mmmm, this was an excellent prep for this lovely fish. It seems everyone would basically do this with miso and go with no imagination, but the smoke — with a wee bit of soy — really brought out the best in this fish. Apparently it was too smoky the way they used to do it, but that for me would have been even better. But an awesome dish, what a fantastic start!

I enjoyed more drinks in the meantime as I told them I would not need much of a break before my second entree, and sure enough it arrived soon — the duck.

2a-duck_edited

Nicely cooked, excellent quality meat too. Not as mind-blowing as the first entree, but still excellent. What a wonderful surprise I found here in Wilmington! A surprisingly excellent dinner!

I stayed to have a few more drinks chatting with the bartender and fellow diners before I took my leave. Ended up drinking up a ton more at my hotel restaurant before I collapsed out of exhaustion. Early morning tomorrow, but thank goodness for time changes and the one extra hour I’ll have tonight…

La Fia
421 North Market Street
Wilmington, Delaware

Review: Etc

20 October 2017

Since my nice late dinner at The Treehouse I had a very long two days that dragged me through 5 states (Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana) before getting back to Nashville late in the afternoon. I was totally tired and my hotel near the airport was an utter clusterf**k from internal construction (why do they keep places open when it’s basically GUTTED inside???), so I needed a good last dinner before home…finally, HOME!

Etc (as in Et cetera…) was way on the other side of town, and fighting the notoriously bad Nashville traffic wasn’t fun. The idiocy of drivers here never ceases to amaze me. Within 30 minutes I saw at least 3 people speeding through the WRONG SIDE of traffic and 5 people turning left from the RIGHT LANE. Even drivers in Colombia or Philippines aren’t this bad!

I got to Etc, which was set at a new residential suburban development. It was clearly an anchor for the area, and many of the diners seems to live here. As I got there they were just about to turn away a party of 2 from the full restaurant, but I happily gave them my reserved table — and shifted to the bar. The bar was spacey so not an issue, despite it being busy.

I relaxed with a cocktail and placed my order. Very popular place, I hope it shows the same promise in the food department. After a little, my first item arrived.

1-duck-gizzard

Duck gizzards, something I’ve not had in awhile and I was really looking forward to. I think they overdid it a little, making it way, way too easy to eat if you know what I mean. I like my gizzards with character, like the chicken ones at Stroud’s in Kansas City (now that was dreamy…). I can see people liking it if they are not gizzard eaters, but a bit of a miss for me.

2-fowl-trio

Next up my main was the so-called “fowl trio” that contained duck breast, confit chicken and foie in a “brulee” of all things. The duck, boasting a light tinge of cinnamon, was very good. The chicken less so, a bit overcooked. The foie “brulee” should have been a dessert really, it was sweet. And yes, I basically treated it as my dessert, so I didn’t order more.

Not bad, a little too sanitised to be called “adventurous” but for a neighbourhood restaurant it does very well. And it’s clearly very popular. If I lived in this community I’d come here often too.

I was dead tired and want to get some sleep before my hotel’s stupid construction started up. My flight isn’t early, so I can rest a little. So drove across town back to my hotel and collapsed. This trip is finally almost over…

Etc
3790 Bedford Avenue
Nashville, Tennessee