check out the map

As you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting as much lately. I think I got tired of trying to get photos of everything before we ate and trying to remember each dish in order to describe it accurately – to the point it was encroaching on the enjoyment. What I am doing is updating the map, which you can find here or here, including a short write-up on our experience or the review that led me to add it to the map. Hope you enjoy it!

bunker

There are so many amazing restaurants in NYC – some that we have tried, and even more that we want to try. It’s always a dilemma to decide whether to go back to a favorite or experience something new. Either way, we tend to plan ahead at least a bit before leaving the house, but occasionally we end up in need of food in an area we don’t know. In most instances, when we just chose a restaurant at random, we left feeling we had wasted money, calories, and more importantly, the opportunity for an exquisite meal. I created my Food & Drink Map for just this situation and it came through again for us with Bunker after our tour of the Raw Wine Festival in an industrial section of East Williamsburg.

As a side, if you love natural wines, you should definitely try the Raw Wine Festival next year. The venue is filled with interesting bottles served by passionate, friendly producers from all over the world. The first couple of years, we attempted to try everything. Our strategy this year was a bit more mature. We began with our favorites, and then asked them who to try next. We also allowed ourselves to dump some of the wine in order to try more varietals without feeling like we had been run over by a truck the next morning. And back to the food.

Vietnamese can be especially prone to mediocrity, so Bunker was a delightful surprise for us. Slightly overexposed to wine, I went for one of the cocktails. Of course, since it has taken me so long to write this, the name and ingredients have escaped me. You have to enjoy a beverage served in pottery emblazoned with a cool guy’s face on it. Unfortunately, they were out of the papaya salad, but we were happy with the Saigon Bańh Mi and Summer Rolls for a quick snack to tide us over until dinner. The servers were lovely and excited about making recommendations. Bunker will be on our list to go back to after next year’s wine outing.

mornings in nyc

I wish I was a morning person, but I reluctantly pry myself out of bed every day somewhere around 6 am (depending on whether or not I snoozed a bit) for 30 minutes of exercise (of which I hate every second) and 5-10 minutes of meditation before getting ready for work. It has to be a non-negotiable habit for me to maintain a degree of health.

Occasionally, I have to be somewhere for work super early, like today. We’re having new carpet installed in our office/showroom, and the installers wanted to get the elevator lobby done before morning traffic started and stepped into their wet adhesive. It was really a blessing for me that they made this ask because NYC in the mornings is really something to experience.

I salute the people who get up way earlier than me to ensure we can order our morning coffee, that our happy hour cocktail ingredients are stocked, and that we have beautiful new flooring. I love walking in while they are getting ready for the day. There’s a different feel at this time. Hopeful. Friendly People say “good morning”.

I won’t be making the 6:30 am trek to work except under duress, but I still appreciate the beauty of it.

ichiran

For Derek, the arrival of chilly temps brings the opportunity to don a jacket, which he loves. For me, it’s the excuse to slurp hot noodles, especially ramen, and particularly tonkotsu. Our top spot for tonkotsu is shared by the classic bowls at three establishments – a place in Atlanta called Umaido, Brushstrokes Noodle Bar (recently closed) in NYC, and Ichiran in Tokyo. Fortunately for us, Ichiran opened its second NYC outpost in Midtown, so ventured up to try it.

At noon on Sunday, a short line had formed. We spent eighteen minutes and forty-two seconds in anticipation until we were seated. A clipboard with ordering options was given to us in the last few minutes of the wait, providing us a glimpse at our options and saving valuable down time at the booth before the ramen arrived.

The ordering sheet looks complicated, but you can’t go wrong just going with the recommended spice level, noodle firmness, broth consistency, and other choices. I would advise adding the egg, but it’s up to you if you want to go with any of the other additions.

For beverages, stick with the Asahi. I tried the matcha draft beer and didn’t feel it made a lot of sense. I love matcha, but it just seemed to muddy the flavors of the beer and tone down the refreshment factor.

The biggest things missing in NYC from the Tokyo branches are the machine ordering system and the retractable screen to combine booths – neither of which made a real difference in the experience.

The simplicity of Ichiran’s lone base and limited options makes for pure ramen pleasure. Warms the body and spirit, and helps keep your skin young and elastic – at least that’s what I tell myself to justify the calories. Please don’t tell me if I’m wrong.

racine’s

Racine’s is one of the places I am prepared to love everything about, and I almost do. The people are knowledgeable and friendly at the bar and the wines are beautiful. Unfortunately, the food was solid, but not stand-out. Maybe we hit them at a bad time. We were among the first to arrive, because we had planned to slide in before the crowds hit at Brushstrokes’ Noodle Bar, but had to find a new option when we discovered that our dream ramen place had closed the weekend before. We should stop for a moment of silence to remember the closing of the last of the great David Bouley Tribeca spots (except his special events space, which is also immensely impressive).

Let’s start with the star of the show. You really can’t go wrong with Racine’s amazing biodynamic wine list. The Mai & Kenji Hodgson ‘Faia’ Vin Blanc from the Loire Valley, was bright and minerally, chosen to complement our many small-bite selections from the food menu. Both the sommelier and bartender (we chose seats at the bar) were helpful in curating our choice.

It’s taken me a while to write this review, so I apologize for not remembering every dish. Our food journey began with the Chicken Wing Schnitzel with Lemon Aioli, which was a tasty bite of fried, deboned chicken wing – impossible to not enjoy. Next, the Buckwheat Blini with Uni and Smoked Carrot had nice components but didn’t come together as cohesively as we would have liked. Because we were set on noodles, we tried the deconstructed Pho – not bad, but not special either.

We’ll be back for wine, or just bring home from Chambers Street, but there are too many fantastic food moments in NYC to go back for the food.

raku

I’m so excited to have an exceptional udon joint in our neighborhood! Everything from the wine to the appetizers to the starring noodles was just as we hoped.

raku the press chardonnayIt was a tossup between sake, beer, and wine, but we ended up with a Chardonnay. A fantastic value at $35 a bottle, I was happy to find an elusive oaky, Californian Chardonnay to enjoy with our lunch.

raku ankimoWe commenced with ankimo. The monkfish liver had such an amazing texture and depth paired with a tart, but not too tangy sauce enhanced by fresh scallions.

niku niku udonOur udon selections included a lighter (Ebiten Udon – shrimp & eggplant tempura) and heavier (Niku Udon – beef short-ribs & honeycomb tripe) soup. Freshly-fried tempura was served on the side of the Ebiten bowl, giving you the choice of a crunchy or drenched shrimp. The beef gave the Niku broth a bit of sweetness, and Derek loved that the chef added the meat in rough chunks.

The quality of food, service, and atmosphere, combined with its proximity to us, means this is going to be a new favorite.

yakitori tori shin

This is a short review – I didn’t even think to take a photo. Let me start by saying that everything we ate at Tori Shin was good, but nothing was outstanding. For a final tab of over $200 for the two of us, we expect to be amazed. The next time we are in the mood for yakitori, we will opt for the value of Sake Bar Hagi 46. I don’t expect any loss of quality, and the price tag will be significantly less.

pig & khao

I don’t know why it has taken us so long to try Pig & Khao – it has been on my list since the start. It moved to the top when we tried to get in with a group of six during primetime after a nearby show last Friday. The food smelled amazing, and we were disappointed, but not surprised to hear it would be a two-hour wait. After an average meal down the block, I vowed to make a reservation soon. The next Saturday offered a 5:15 pm or a 10:30 pm, so we chose an early dinner.

pig and khao peanuts baboy daiquiri rum & hydeThe cocktail menu seemed so interesting we had to start there. The Szechuan peppercorns in the rum-based Baboy Daiquiri caught my eye, and Derek went for the Rum & Hyde. The numbing spices added a subtle depth to my drink, and the Roasted Peanuts with coconut, lemongrass, and kaffir were an ideal match. We decided to only go for small plates to try more things and settled on the Thai Mushroom Salad, Green Papaya Salad, and Baby Octopus Paksiw.

pig & khao thai mushroom salad green papaya salad coconut rice

With a beer and white wine as an accompaniment, we dug into the mushrooms, which were expertly roasted to smoky, chewy perfection. Normally averse to cream sauces piped onto a plate, we loved how the coconut cream calmed the heat and served as a becoming partner for the sweet and tart chili jam. Next up, the green papaya salad held its own with the most authentic ones we have tried over the years, although the chef spun the dish a bit differently with charred chicken and taro.

pig & khao baby octopus

We closed the meal by dredging each sauteed baby octopus through the buttery black vinegar broth and relishing the bitterness of the watercress and garlic chips. I almost forgot the sweet coconut rice which cooled the tongue between spicy bites, and we had enough to bring home for a side dish the following night.

We want to try everything on the menu and look forward to going back for the food and the lovely people at Pig & Khao.

injera

Why is it so hard to find good Ethiopian food in a city as large as NYC? To be fair, we have only tried two places, but my research reveals a dearth of trusted information to know where to go. Injera received some decent reviews but didn’t even live up to the non-hype.

Let’s start with the good. The service and people were friendly and welcoming. The restaurant was full on a Wednesday night, but we were able to grab a seat at the bar. Another redeeming quality was the wine. The problem was the food – a somewhat important factor. We ordered a vegetarian platter and beef tibs. Fish tibs would have been our preference, but this dish wasn’t on the menu. Everything lacked the spicy, intense Berbere flavors I’ve come to expect from Ethiopian food, which happens to be one of my favorite cuisines. It was a perfectly boring platter.

If you have a recommendation, I’d greatly appreciate it. We’re going to head to Harlem for our next try.