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.

karakatta

Coming back from a weekend of fun and excess with friends in Hudson, our plan was to wind down with some healthy sushi from Tomoe. The restaurant was dark with a sign on the window stating they were closed a few extra days, so we continued the decadence. Karakatta had caught our eye with its simple “ramen” neon sign in the window, and its sister location has a reputation for tasty and spicy bowls.

It was early, so we were able to snag a seat at the counter and watch the kitchen action. The way these guys have mastered the blowtorch – one in each hand – is mesmerizing and terrifying. A couple of the guys seemed to be newbies-in-training, so our meal might have been a little different than the norm. Even so, we were pleased. The Hijiki and Lotus Root Salad had an intriguing texture and taste, particularly with the sesame seed garnish.

Although the server pointed out the newly-added Tonkotsu Ramen, Derek and I both chose the signature Spicy Ginger Stamina in a two-pepper level (referring to their heat scale, which is regulated by chili oil and chili peppers) for our inaugural bowl. Packed with noodles, a perfectly-cooked egg, pork belly seared with the aforementioned two-handed torching method, ground pork, cabbage, and more, mine was a bit more than I could finish, but it was tough to put down my chopsticks.

Tonkotsu is next on my list to try.

carmine street beers

Given the choice, I will usually choose wine over beer. I can drink almost any beer in a pinch, but I only appreciate a few. My preferences range from tart sours to heavy stouts. With the deluge of IPAs, it’s a good thing to have a neighborhood place with craft beers I want to drink.

My session started out slowly with a Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers Cranberry Berliner. I couldn’t have necessarily picked out the cranberry flavor in it but enjoyed the sour and tart. For round two, I balanced out the 3.5% ABV of the first with the 10% ABV Finback Brewery Between the Dead Stout. It commenced with coconut on the nose, mixed with chocolate as the first taste, and a bit of a bite on the finish.

Derek had a couple of IPAs – a Finback Bellwoods collaboration and a Grimm Lambo Door.

staycation 2018: day 5

We wound down our official staycation today beginning with a brunch utilizing our leftover Korean BBQ supplemented with some roasted potatoes, arugula salad, and a fried egg. Also, we were able to score one of the last bottles of Moussamoussettes Sparkling Rose on our Chambers Street Wine visits yesterday, making this the perfect morning feast. As you can see from the before and after shots, it was horrible.

The last formal act of Staycation 2018 was the tea service at the Bosie Tea Parlour. Our second visit was no less cozy and chic as the first. The best sandwiches were the most simple – cucumber/cream cheese and egg salad, with the cheddar/pickle a close third. All of the macaroons were yummy, but we preferred the Chocolate with Earl Grey. We fancied both of our tea choices (Black Toasted Coconut & Darjeeling Tumsong First Flush) so much that we bought loose leaves to bring home. Hands down, the soft, flaky scones were the star of the service.

The excess of our week wore us out so we decided on an afternoon nap to officially close out the run before heading to our friend’s going away party.

 

 

staycation 2018: day 3

One of the keys to a fantastic staycation or vacation is the ability to pivot when needed. Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night to Derek reading, which meant he could not sleep. We didn’t really have to leave for the Cloisters at 10:00, so I decided we would sleep in a bit.

I was craving Ethiopian, but there seems to be a dearth of this cuisine in NYC, especially for lunch. There may be lots of great places, but no one is writing about them. We tried Meskerem several months back, and it was fine, but we wanted to find something better. Injera has gotten some press, as well as several spots in Harlem, but all dinner-only. Derek volunteered to research the genre while I showered. He found Awash, which took us over to the East side, somewhat on the way to The Met. We walked a bit over a mile, only to find the restaurant closed. Time to reboot. Fish Cheeks had caught our attention on the way over, so we decided to go back and revisit it. Some of the dishes we have had here before are so amazing, it was hard to not reorder them, but we ventured into all new plates this time. Happy hour starts at noon, so we began with six $1 oysters, served with fried shallots and a spicy sauce that was uniquely Thai, and discounted glasses of wine and beer. Next came a raw shrimp with spicy fish sauce, basil, and garlic appetizer, a side of morning glory (described as a Thai watercress ) sautéed with Thai Chiles and fish sauce, and a whole fried snapper, covered with chili peppers, red onions, and fried kefir lime leaves and shallots. All excellent choices for an authentic and delicious Thai meal.

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Next was The Met. I wanted to see the Heavenly Bodies exhibit (catholic costumes), and Derek was excited about the Souls Grown Deep outsider art sector. The outfits were exquisite with their gold accents and precise embroidery. So beautiful, but hard to imagine necessary when the church’s mission should be to help the poor, feed the hungry, etc. We paused for a refreshment on the rooftop while taking in the Huma Bhadha sculpture. Cast in bronze, the colors and textures were mesmerizing while at the same time creepy. On to the outsider art in the modern department. Many of the artists are from my home state of Alabama, and their assemblages are pretty amazing. They used such elementary objects and made them into beautiful pieces.

existing conditions cocktail menu

1st round – Professor Plum + Banana Justino

existing conditions cocktail menu

2nd round of Saratoga Paloma + The Remedy

After the museum, we decided to skip The Pool and go for Existing Conditions, which was more in our neighborhood. I had been excited to share this place with Derek, but it just wasn’t his thing.  He appreciated the fact that the fizz lasted the entire Saratoga Paloma, but the rest didn’t impress him. Oh well, hopefully, the rest of the staycation will appeal to both of us. This cocktail lounge probably won’t be your food destination, but the inventiveness of the beverages are worth a trip. I thought every drink we ordered was amazing.

existing conditions

As a fan of the shuttered Booker and Dax (shared space with Momofuku Ssäm Bar), I have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Existing Conditions. My high expectations of creativity and deliciousness were completely met.

Our first round leaned towards the vegetal with a Carrot Vodka Soda, a carbonated blend of vodka, carrot juice, orange syrup, and clarified lime juice and the OG Celery, a riff on gin and juice with celery, parsley, orange syrup and lime. My Turkish friend couldn’t turn down the Edessa, a rye drink with Benedictine and sherry infused with urfa biber, a Turkish chile. There aren’t enough savory cocktails, and I applaud bars like this one and the George Washington bar for proving that vegetables are a worthy mixer. Each of these was the perfect blend of savory and sweet without being muddled.

OG Celery, Carrot Vodka Soda, Edessa at Existing Conditions

OG Celery, Carrot Vodka Soda, and Edessa at Existing Conditions

The theme of the next series of libations was fun with fruit, with a Strawberry Carborita, a carbonated margarita with all of the fruits – lime, orange, and strawberry – clarified; the Joy of Mango, consisting of mango rum and clarified Jamaican pepper sauce; and a Canary, saffron-infused gin combined with fino sherry and yellow Chartreuse (so I broke the fruit theme). Tangy and sweet, each went down almost too easily

The planning and precision that go into these cocktails come out in distinct and well-balanced flavors. Our server, which I’m pretty sure was one of the owners, told us that each potion had to pass two tests to make it to the menu – one, would you drink three of them in a row, and two, will the beverage hold up to 30 minutes of sipping.

We didn’t try the food, but I am anticipating it to be prepared with the same imagination and care as the drinks. Will definitely be back soon.

air’s champagne parlor

The first time I walked past Air’s Champagne Parlor, I was entranced. Every girl loves a bubbly, and served in a parlor – yes, please! Everything about this place is lovely – the vibe, the people, the food, and, of course, the drinks.

Let’s start with the wine. The list is extensive, with vintage champagne starting at $80 a bottle, and non-vintage bottles in the $50’s. Don’t worry, you can grab bottles of sparkling as low as $35. Air’s has chosen to sell its bottles for retail price, so you get the restaurant experience for home prices. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful with selections at all of the price ranges, and every choice we made was a winner.

The food is also worth the trip. The small selection is well-curated for quality and pairing with the bubbles. We had the Trifecta plate of 1/2 dozen oysters, a meat, and a cheese for $40. Rounding it out with some olives, our meal was delicious and satisfying. I still want to try the caviar and chips, grilled cheese, and caviar sandwich, so we will definitely be back. You can pretty much choose to make it a regular place to grab a drink or really treat yourself.

A couple more highlights. We were celebrating a friend’s birthday, so they brought us a trio of mochi ice cream treats. I dropped by the next evening because I thought I had left my sunglasses at the restaurant. The hostess not only spent several minutes looking in a few locations for my glasses, she first poured me a water and asked me to sit down at the bar while I waited, and then took my name and number and promised to call if they found them. I found them later, but really appreciated the hospitality and helpfulness of Air’s.