Review: Chim Sáo

14 December 2016

I made my way to Vietnam the following day, happy to have escaped Hong Kong (for now). Not long during the trek into the city, I had to re-adjust so many things mentally — especially the concept of traffic. Now being a veteran of il Mezzogiorno I’m not too freaked about out-of-control motorbike traffic, but with a combination of jetlag and being in a new country, I needed a little time to acclimatise.

I didn’t want to do much that afternoon except get my bearings, and to figure out dinner plans. I was staying south of the Old Quarter, where most visitors tend to be. However, I honestly do not want to be around stupid backpackers who bitch and moan about everything; I don’t mind spending a few bob more to be comfortable.

But being a bit further south, staying at the rather excellent Hilton Garden Inn (highly recommended, with excellent friendly staff — thank you for the upgrade too!), means a bit more walking involved, which doesn’t really bother me since I like to walk. I just hope the weather doesn’t heat up too much tho…

I decided to stay south of the Old Quarter for dinner this evening, choosing a place I had heard about before called Chim Sáo. I made my way there, crossing several of those completely chaotic wide lanes — and a signal-less 5-road star junction. Fun times. After the second one you get used to it, so if anything what was more of a concern was dodgy pavement and the always-possible ankle-twisting defects…

I made it to Chim Sáo in one piece and had a table near the back of the main hall. Many people seem to like the upstairs, which you sit on the floor, but frankly my back really doesn’t like those things these days. I’m happy with a proper table. They brought me out a salad-y amuse…mmm…welcome in Vietnam indeed!

a-papaya-salad

Delicious. If anything, the next few days in Vietnam I felt like a bunny as I constantly just nibbled at all the wonderful fresh raw herbs available…

I ordered a plethora of dishes, being hungry as I’ve not eaten since that frustrating dinner at Yan Toh Heen in Hong Kong. But first up, some mountain apple wine…

tao-meo-02

A bit too sweet for me, but it had a good enough bite to keep me going. Just love the shape of the container tho! Then the food began arriving, starting with some sausage.

1-mountain-sausage

These are made in the style by those living in the mountains. Nice snack for drinking certainly. Then the series of dishes arrived. First was a mis-order, fried glutinous rice…

2-fried-sticky-rice

I thought it was something else, but this did its job. Nothing special on their own, but works with other goodies, such as these sauteed eel…

3-sauteed-eel

Mmmm, excellent. Different take from last night’s roasted sweet version, but a nice savoury, lightly-spicy version with lots of herbs. And finally, some grilled water buffalo.

4-grilled-water-buffalo

Excellent if simple flavours here, just to enjoy the lean and tasty meat. Quite a nice opening dinner here in Hanoi I must say. I finished the jug of wine just in time and thanked the proprietors and made my way back to my hotel.

This was 10 times better experience than last night in Hong Kong — and 10 times less expensive.

Traffic was lighter but the darkness actually made it more challenging for me (due again to the pavement), but again, I got my bearings quickly and frankly I had no issues for my entire 4-day stay in Hanoi. This should be a good first visit to somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for many, many years.

Good to be in Hanoi!

Chim Sáo
65-67 Ngõ Huế
Hai Bà Trưng
Hà Nội, Việt Nam

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Review: Yan Toh Heen

13 December 2016

After that under-whelming voluminous lunch at Yuè I had a nice hike around Colonial Cemetery. If you’ve never visited it’s a treasure trove of history; even the former commander of the US Pacific Fleet is buried there, if you know where to look. It’s a wonderful urban garden, plenty of hills/steps to hike, a bit of lungs in the city that is not crowded with people.

Later that night I headed out into Kowloon, my usual side of this territory, for the first time this trip. A long walk in the over-heated MTF tunnel and I got to the InterContinental Hotel and Yan Toh Heen, a 2-Michelin restaurant. I was hoping for something nearly as good as last night’s excellent Lung King Heen dinner.

It was a bit more chaotic here, reminded me more of a Chinese restaurant than a Michelin place if you get my drift. But they offered me a table with a spectacular view of the water into Hong Kong, so I’m not complaining. But already at the start the service was showing signs of total confusing as it took over 10 minutes to bring me my menu — and I had to stop them running away to order a drink.

I chose not to do the tasting menu tonight as it resembled too much of what I had last night. I don’t need another wagyu dish frankly. I want to eat stuff that I cannot get elsewhere especially back home, so I focused on those dishes. I ordered and chilled.

Enjoyed the view outside so that was nice. Felt a little guilty having such a good table for 1 person, but what the heck. Though it took a bit to get the server’s attention as my water was empty for awhile, and took some time for the wine — albeit a nice pour. Then the first dish arrived, the baby pig trotters.

1-trotters

This was a bit bigger than I anticipated, but I went after it with gusto. Nice trotters, lovely texture, but I wish the flavour was a bit stronger. Lacked seasoning, even when I left it in the sauce for awhile. Seems like they may have done the “boil-then-braise” on this, which is a shame. I anticipated better flavours. Oh well, an okay start.

At this point the service collapsed even more, as it took me about 10 minutes to get anyone’s attention for not just more wine, but more water. I hate it when they take your bottle of water far away, but never come to pour it! Terrible, again shows how useless Michelin is as a guide here in Hong Kong — especially service. Then the main items started arriving.

2-eel

First up was the honey-roasted eel. Really nice, good strong flavours. Perhaps a touch sweet, as I always find Chinese chefs OD the honey whenever they use it and the dish comes out way too sweet (like today’s very good roast pork at Yuè). The roasting burned enough of it off, but I really wish the savoury came out to challenge the sweet as the dominating factor here. But the eel was nice in itself.

3-rice-dried-meats

Then the rice with air-dried meats. Not bad, nice flavours. But when they brought it out they ignored my wine and water situation again. I had to nearly get out of my table to get their attention. Come on! Then the last item was served, thank goodness…

4-eggs-maw-conpoy

The scrambled eggs with fish maw and dried scallops. Not bad, but they seemed to have used very little of anything but bean sprouts. From the photo it looks like there’s plenty of maw, but frankly I think that was all of it — behind this was ALL sprouts…

Oh well. It was very filling, and I was bursting by this point. But after another 15 minutes trying to wave someone down for the bill I gave up and physically walked to the cashier to ask for the bill. I think they were a bit embarrassed by that, but I was beyond caring at this point. I left not too thrilled, not looking forward to fighting the crowds into the overly-heated MTR tunnel again…

The food was not bad, though for the price they could have done far better. The service was beyond atrocious, the worst I’ve ever seen in a fine dining place in Hong Kong — and that’s saying a whole lot. Utterly dreadful stuff, Michelin should be embarrassed and so should the hotel and whoever is the FoH manager.

Off to Vietnam in the morning, thank goodness. Hong Kong just drives me apesh*t…

Yan Toh Heen
InterContinental Hotel
18 Salisbury Road
Kowloon, Hong Kong

Review: Yuè

13 December 2016

After that wonderful meal at Lung King Heen late last night, I woke up with some jetlag issues for my only full day in Hong Kong. I figured on dimsum during some time here, but wanted to see what one of the more talked-about places could do. This is why I chose Yuè, a 1-Michelin restaurant in North Point for today’s lunch.

I got there a bit early and it was a little chaotic with them setting up. But eventually seated in the huge dining area and I ordered. Interesting looking menu for the most part, and I went with several selections. Chilled with some tea before the first item arrived, the glutinous dumplings with pork and chives.

1-glutinous-dumpling-chives

I waited a little but it still burned my tongue…one of the things about Hong Kong dining I never understood about eating foods burning hot temperature-wise. Not bad, but nothing special about these. Then the next set, the sea cucumber and mushroom dumplings.

2-sea-cucubmber-mushroom-dumplings

Not bad, but again nothing that special. Then the ubuquitous (and always necessary) shumai…

3-shumai

Again not bad, but nothing special, nothing different from the shumai you get anywhere else. Sigh, not really impressed so far. May I should take a deep breath, suck up my impatience and annoyance tolerance and go to an old-school place instead… Anyway, then next up was something they claimed was “award-winning” — scallop and rice ebi roll…

4a-scallop-ebi-rice-roll

This wasn’t what I anticipated, and I’m not sure how it won any awards. The fried bit was utterly tasteless and if it had scallop inside I couldn’t tell. The ebi rice roll was also blander than bland, and also had trouble ascertaining its supposes shrimpy content… The liquid-filled bubble was a disaster, and was beyond bland also. What a total mess of a dish…

I was really not impressed by this place at all, but then the last item arrived…

5-roast-pork

Oh my this was good — and rich, and voluminous. Honey-roasted pork, a wonderful cut that balances strong lean meat and very rich fatty bits. The sauce was almost too overwhelmingly sticky sweet, but this was a roast pork tour-de-force. Saved the lunch — but also filled me up way too much!

I left Yuè really not too impressed nor happy, as it could have been so much better. The roast at the end saved it, but that “award winning” dish was something I just can’t get over. Ugh, that’s par for the course in Hong Kong. What one person gets could be 100% same or 100% different from what another gets. It’s mostly a volume business, Michelin star or not.

Once again, unlike last night’s excellent exception, this proved the Hong Kong Michelin guide is pretty much useless… Anyway, being in North Point I stepped onto one of Hong Kong’s iconic trams and headed up into the hills for an afternoon stroll at the Colonial Cemetery — to burn some of this food off…

Yuè
City Garden Hotel
9 City Garden Road
North Point
Hong Kong

Review: Lung King Heen

12 December 2016

After a 24-hour layover in London that really just walloped me for some reason, I had a late flight out to Hong Kong. Had some okay food in London, but a ton of infrastructure fails that left me running from Bayswater to Earls Court told me my decision to not return to London again is the correct one. Curses on this city!

I got to Hong Kong after a long 12hr flight, and needed to stretch my legs. This being Hong Kong, where people move slower than snails, it was a chore to walk at my usual fast pace — especially when folks are too lazy to take 8 steps and overcrowd escalators. Oh, it took maybe 3 minutes before I was reminded why Hong Kong annoys me. Maybe this is why I planned this stay to be 36 hours — probably as much as I could handle before losing my mind.

I got to my hotel and was knackered, but I had planned a late dinner at the top Chinese restaurant in town according in Michelin, the 3-star gem Lung King Heen. The Four Seasons is not far from where I was staying, but thanks to stupid infrastructure (thank you, London) it was a chore getting there via overheated passageways. Why can’t we just walk outside like normal people???

I got there and immediately was taken good care of by the staff. I was sweaty and they brought me a cold towel. I was alone, so they brought me foodie magazines to read. I was thirsty and they poured me a huge glass of chenin blanc and an ice-cold glass of water. Already I was impressed by the service.

I chilled and relaxed and decided to go with the tasting menu as I was too tired to really attack this menu. After a long flight, this was the best solution. But I stuck to my wine as we started the evening. And soon the first item arrived.

01-scallop-amuse

Hmmm, not bad of a morsel, the scallop was nice with the pear certainly, but I didn’t quite taste any Yunnan ham here. But a nice bite. Quickly we moved to the next course, the Chef’s special appetiser selection, and wow…

02a-special-appetisers

This looks just brilliant. On the left is some very excellent roast pork, full of flavour and not overly sweet, good piece of meat. In the centre is a fabulous suckling pig, juicy wonderful meat and perfectly done crispy skin. On the right is a nice roast goose, utterly delicious again with perfect balance between juicy flesh and crispy skin. This is roast meats done right!

I was impressed, and had more of the same white — which I must say the pours are very generous. The service is utterly impeccable, which is more of a complement considering this is service-challenged Hong Kong. This place may turn me around on dining in this territory… Then up next is the crab soup with braised tofu.

03-tofu-crab-soup

Mmm, a very nicely done thick soup, with strong crab flavours. Great part of Chinese cuisine is that they don’t hold back on strong flavours, as the stronger the better. The tofu worked as a great neutral base to this dish. Excellent stuff.

So far an excellent meal, with fabulous service and excellent food. But when the next dish arrived my heart sunk a little…

04-prawn

King prawn simmered in rice wine. The prawn was meaty and nice, though the sauce was a little too sweet for my taste. Wish there was a little more bite; they may have tuned it down for the tasting menu (which I assume only foreigners order). But my heart sunk over the edible gold. I HATE EDIBLE GOLD. What a damn waste, a total symbol of consumerism, excess and greed. I physically removed it in protest.

Aside from the gold mess all was excellent so far. I was planning to switch to a red down the road and I mentioned this, and they brought out a nice one — but comped me another glass of white for the upcoming course. How nice! And this was an excellent dish, the braised abalone in garoupa roll.

05-abalone-garoupa-rolls

Intriguing how they got the garoupa flesh to behave so well to roll it up like this. The abalone inside was excellent, very easy to eat without losing its inherent texture, and the garoupa — normally a fish I find utterly boring — worked well. Excellent stuff!

Really good meal so far and soon that red wine was poured with the main dish coming up — the Australian wagyu.

06-wagyu

They told me they first seal the beef with hot oil before it’s stir-fried in the wok. And it shows, as the meat was barely rare inside and just melted in one’s mouth. A fabulous dish, where they also kept the sauce mild to not intrude on the natural goodness of this fine beef. Very nuanced cooking, something you don’t see with Chinese kitchens much — nuance when it works well.

Only surprise was no rice offered, which I didn’t mind. This may be my first full Chinese meal without rice or noodles! Then we move to a final savoury item, the humble wonton soup.

07-shrimp-wonton

Not quite that humble, these were nice and solid, and the broth was wonderful. A nice end really. After a brief rest, the dessert arrived.

08-sesame-puddings

All of this focused on sesame, and they were very nice. The pudding on the right was really nice, lovely sesame flavours. I was pretty happy with the entire experience, the excellent food and the wonderful service. Totally deserving of the 3 Michelin stars they have held for so many years.

It was a pricey dinner to say the least, but it was excellent and worth it! Considering it cost about the same as that really disappointing dinner at Vetri 2 weeks earlier in Philadelphia, tonight was a shining star. If one meal in Hong Kong was going to change my opinion about dining here, it’s this dinner.

Now for a nice walk back to my hotel…so need the fresh air. Hoping jetlag won’t kill me for this short stay…

Highly recommended!

Lung King Heen
Four Seasons Hotel
8 Finance Street
Central
Hong Kong

Review: Perla

29 November 2016

Last night’s poor dinner at Vetri was in a string of bad meals in Philly the last few years (especially that awful one at Kensington Quarters earlier this year), and I’m running out of patience for what used to be one of my favourite eating cities. It’s really, really gone downhill. Every Tom, Dick and Harry think he can run his own kitchen so they open BYOB places that are mediocre at best, and dilutes the market for everyone, and diluting out the few true innovators because there is just not enough money to go around to support so many restaurants. Especially low-margin BYOB places, which is a Philly tragedy.

If you’re curious, do a Philly BYOB search and you’ll see why — which is an albatross around the necks for so many places in town. Most restaurants survive by their booze, every restauranteur knows that.

Anyway, rant over. Philly was hit by torrential downpours all day and I stupidly picked this day to go hiking at Laurel Hill Cemetery… Hours later I was beyond soaked, from head to toe, with my piece of crap umbrella in pieces. Throw in long city bus rides, I was in a foul mood. Thank goodness for some dimsum near my hotel at Canton 11

With an unplanned room change, I had just about had enough of this short trip. I just want to go home. I dried off and tried to relax before dinner. I definitely don’t need more booze on this short trip as I’m feeling extremely rough, so no issues with tonight being a BYOB.

I headed off by subway and walked in the rain and couldn’t find tonight’s destination — Perla — for ages. No signs on the door. Had to match the street number. Not a great way to advertise. And sitting by the window, I saw every other customer doing double-takes and wandering back-and-forth looking for this place.

Anyway, I chilled and enjoyed some water, happy with the BYOB at this raved-about Filipino place. It seems every town now has a much-raved Filipino restaurant… Anyway, the menu seemed to be odd, just a list. I ended up ordering 2 plates hoping it isn’t too much (they recommended 3, which is insane knowing Filipino portions).

The amuse was some pickled veggies, a good palate cleanser. Refreshing. Another swig of water and soon we were off with the first dish — which was far bigger than described (but I had anticipated it, knowing Filipino cuisine…).

1-duck-adobo

Duck adobo. I gotta say the duck breast was fantastic. The duck was cooked perfectly, and the sauce was nice — albeit a little sanitised from the stuff I remember from Manila… But a good dish. I chilled out and worried about the size of the next dish, as it was kare-kare…

2-kare-kare

This was far less good. Extremely bland after the previous course, and even heavier. The fried tripe on top was a nice touch, but really what was this? Was this an attempt at a deconstructed version? Really was confused. A conceptual problem here for me…

And way too big, so boxed it. Didn’t feel like dessert. I think this place suffers from (aside from the lack of signage) trying to be too many things. Does it want to be Filipino? Filipino-fusion? Filipino-inspired? I can’t figure it out. But, despite the duck being cooked well, it really has a sanitised Filipino cuisine feel about it, or the kitchen is trying to be too cute.

This is the trend in ethnic cuisine that worries me. Instead of bringing the best out of ingredients used in those cuisines, chefs now are trying to turn classic dishes into something that has no resemblance to its origins or intentions. Oh well…

I hopped on a bus back to my hotel (just realised the bus was far easier in Philly) and had enough. I actually gave the last of my transit tokens away, knowing there’s little chance I will be back in Philly for the long term. Life’s too short, too many places to visit.

Perla
1535 South 11th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Review: Vetri

28 November 2016

I had a rather rough morning in NYC, and not just because of the hangover. A morning meeting brought some extreme unpleasantries and I sat in Penn Station waiting for my train more disappointed than hungover. A final Guinness later I boarded the train to Philadelphia.

And it being Amtrak, it was of course delayed. What usually takes just over an hour ended taking nearly two. Government efficiency strikes again. If it wasn’t for that wonderful Japanese duo dinners last night (and the long drinking session) I’d probably be banging my head on the window for all the times we were going about 5mph…

Got to Philly down to the SEPTA to my hotel. Had a busy afternoon as there were a few things I wanted to get done early on this short stay. But then I got back to my hotel and got ready for dinner. I walked through City Center and made my way to what has been the best restaurant in Philadelphia for over a decade, Vetri.

I’ve not been back at Vetri for many years, so it was good to return. A nice corner table and we were off. I went happily with the pairing and chilled out as they brought out some prosecco. The night started off soon in the already-vivacious dining room with the antipasti-ish plate.

01-antipasti_edited

A large assortment of items, from crispy slices of apple, nicely cured duck, buffalo mozzarella to the humble celery. Not bad, a pretty relaxing start with the kitchen’s nuanced antipasti set. Next up, the beef carpaccio.

02b-carpaccio_edited

Honestly it was so dark in the dining room it was hard to see where meat ended. And to be perfectly honest, it was not very good. Very bland and boring. Nowhere near the excellent quality meat I had at a(MUSE.) in Delaware. A bit of a letdown here. Next up a larger item, Spanish mackerel…

03-spanish-mackerel_edited

I had mentioned I really liked Spanish mackerel early on so it was nice to see it here. Honestly this was not very good… The fish was really dried out, which is extremely hard to do with this usually oily fish. And the sauce…my goodness, they tried to create this horrific tartar-ish sauce that just didn’t even come to the quality of the Filet-o-Fish sauce. Awful… I was honestly getting very worried now about this dinner…

The wine service has been very good and the front of the house is still running fabulously like always, but what is up with this kitchen? They had brought out the next item in whole, and then presented the slice for my consumption — the “tortellini pie”.

04-tortellini-pie

I wish I could say this was good, but very under-seasoned and bland. Often kitchens over-season, but tonight was the opposite. Everything tasted so bland except for the antipasti. Fine if nuanced right with spices, but this was just boring — again. This has been so disappointing so far… Was hoping the trend would change with the next dish as we move to heartier items…

05-gnocchi

Nope! This swiss chard gnocchi dish was basically floating in butter. And you’d think it was full of flavour? Nope! Another bland, boring dish — this time with the addition of liquid cholesterol. What is going on here? I was really, really starting to wonder if I should cut this thing short, but I was tired and the wine has been flowing very nicely, so…I tolerated this.

The food has tried my patience but the FoH has done a fabulous job, with good pours — sometimes even a double, unexpected pairing. That kept me from abandoning this tasting menu, to be honest. Then the next item appeared, another pasta dish.

06-zucca

Well, it’s the season for zucca, but finally…FINALLY…the dish was seasoned right. What happened the previous dishes? Not too fond of this autumn ingredient, but finally a dish that was executed right after a string of what I’d call “noiosi e insapore” items…

Is this an uptrend? Let’s hope so. The FoH was still running fabulous, so I’m being optimistic here. Next up, fettuccine with wild boar ragu.

07-fettuccine-wild-boar_edited

Well…I was being too optimistic. Seasoning is again okay, thank goodness, but this was just bland. The chestnut was a nice touch but the ragu was really boring. It’s like an after-thought in the kitchen, to do something with the leftovers. Or perhaps it’s the “farmed” wild boar that makes dishes such as this so boring compared to real wild boar you get in Italy. This is one of those dishes that US laws screw up…

Can we stop calling non-wild boar “wild boar” when they are put on US restaurant menus? Sigh…

Thank goodness the big pours of wine, including several double pairings, are keeping me going from this really boring food. Then the next dish is something I’ve had here before, and it was amazing back then. Will this win or lose tonight with this seemingly-challenged kitchen?

08-capretto

Win! The capretto has always been a hit here, and finally they did this meat right and nearly perfectly! Wonderful flavours, seasoned just right to bring out all the flavours of this kid. Maybe not worth sitting through all that tedium, but this was excellent!

They asked me if I had room for more, as there was one more savoury planned, and after that excellent capretto I said why not. Then this showed up, manzo…

09a-beef_edited

To be honest quite boring once again. The seasoning was right (again, finally) but the meat itself was odd. Parts were excellent, parts were really poor. I really find modern kitchens prepping beef poorly, especially when they get too fixated on exact temperature. If you get good, pasture-raised grass-fed beef, each animal is far more different than the corn-manufactured stuff. Need more nuance. Something like this I would expect to see in a kitchen of a newer restaurant, not in a veteran star kitchen like this.

Well, I am rather disappointed in this entire dinner. My mind was pretty much zonked from this poor dinner, despite the best efforts of the FoH (especially the wine service). So I went through the cheese…

10-cheese

…the dessert…

11-dessert_edited

…and the nibbles in a blur…

12-pf_edited

I just wanted my coffee and grappa and that made me happy. I was then very unhappy seeing the huge bill for this mediocre dinner. I’m happy to pay for the wine pairing, but when the cooking is so unexpectedly disappointing, it’s always unpleasant to shell out enough money compared to an expensive night in Tokyo.

S.I.G.H.

Vetri
1312 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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