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.

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.

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.

sake bar decibel

It is an extremely rare occasion that we are out and about at midnight, but we found ourselves in the East Village in need of food last night. My handy-dandy NYC Things to Do Map led us to Sake Bar Decibel, and it was nothing short of magical – like stepping into an izakaya in Tokyo. We were definitely some of the oldest people in the room. It was mostly a young Asian crowd, which made me feel very cool and in the know.

We ordered a carafe of sake, along with an Okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza), Ebi Shumai (shrimp dumplings), and a Mentaiko Chazuke (green tea over spicy cod roe rice with savory toppings).  All of the snacks were superb, but we have never tasted anything quite like the mentaiko dish – the bold and spicy flavors and varying textures of each ingredient coming together in each mouthwatering spoonful. We can’t wait to go back and try one of everything.

staycation 2018: day 4

Day 4 evolved into an Asian theme beginning with a viewing of Crazy Rich Asians at the Alamo Drafthouse. We love this place because we can have a beer or cider with our popcorn and movie. We don’t normally order the other food items, but branched out today since we needed a little more than popcorn. They were about what we expected for movie theatre fare – decent queso with slightly stale tortilla chips, overly gingered pork dumplings (a featured snack to go with the film), and the standard popcorn. The movie was an adorable rom-com that drew a couple of tears out of me at the pivotal plane scene (that’s all I will say to avoid spoilers). The all-Asian cast did an amazing job giving us a peek into a world in which most of us have no experience. I felt transported to Singapore with the stunning scenery and into the world of the rich with the exquisite outfits.

This pooch kept trying to back into my bathroom stall after the movie. It just seemed like a strange thing to see, so here is the documentation for your viewing pleasure.

dog alamo drafthouse crazy rich asians brooklyn

We had an hour to kill before our planned sake tasting at Chambers Street Wine, so we perused the elegant Japanese dining accessories at Korin. leaving with two sets of chopsticks and a sake set. This still didn’t take up enough time, so we decided to find a happy hour. Our first stop was Serafina, but neither the menu nor the hospitality at the bar seemed inviting. We bolted and headed to Two Hands, an Australian cafe on my to-try list. Two Aperol spritz’s later, and I was gazing out of the window while Derek went to get the check. Something about the scene reminded me how crazy it is and how lucky I am to live in NYC. Nothing spectacular in my view – just a sense of being in a city of greatness. You forget as you continue through daily life, but moments like this bring you back to what you are truly grateful. Also, I love the neon signs in the Two Hands bathrooms and the glow they emanate under the door as the only clue as to which door you should open.

At Chambers Street Wine, a store with unique and wonderful wine options, we tried two sakes. Both were delectable, but the second one was unlike any other we had tried.  It tasted like the essence of a strawberry blossom – slightly sweet and flowery. We stopped by Tomoe and grabbed the sushi and sashimi platter and a seaweed salad to enjoy at home. The generous and delicious fish was even better when we could cut it into smaller, more manageable bites, and we were able to savor an amazing bottle of sake for around the same cost as a generic carafe if we had dined-in at the restaurant.

chambers street wine sake

After watching two episodes of The Affair, we decided to embark on one of our treasured adventures we call second dinner. This just means we were still a bit hungry and allowed ourselves to splurge on spaghetti and meatballs and red wine at the Italian place next door. We would be gigantic if we did this all of the time, but it’s staycation. We came back and watched the season four finale. I can’t believe what happened, but I won’t elaborate on it here since you may not have seen it yet.

staycation 2018: day 2

I’ve been dying to try Korean BBQ in Murray Hill Queens, so it seemed a natural choice for day two of our staycation. An easy 20-minute ride from Penn Station and a walk across the street gets you to Mapo BBQ. Make sure to show up hungry, because the dishes do not stop. It’s not easy to order only one entree. I hear it is possible, but we always end up getting pressured into buying one per person. There were nine different banchan sides – the classic kimchee, two types of seaweed, potatoes, potato salad, pot roast, tofu, broccoli, and salad. Lettuce, marinated onions, bean paste, and a sesame oil salt and pepper sauce were delivered to the table to make wraps. The beef is grilled over hot charcoal right next to you. And the steaming hot dishes keep coming – a fluffy egg in broth, sweet corn kernels, and a spicy tofu hot pot. We had way too much food but wanted to experience everything, so we also ordered the mul naeng myu, icy cold buckwheat noodles in a beefy, vinegary broth. Once is enough for us with this dish. The quality of the meat was impressive, and the coals provide a deeper flavor than the electric grills you find in Manhattan, but we will probably not venture out very often for this feast (especially since it the round trip costs $15 per person and trains only run every hour).

Next on the agenda the Color Factory, a travelling interactive exhibit. Celebrating color as well as serving up perfect instagrammable moments snapped by strategically-placed, QR code-triggered cameras, the project was an ideal outing for us. We never take photos, so it was helpful that the venue took them for us. The shot where I am drowning (I really could not get the orbs out of my face!) in the balls just may make it to our holiday card, which has a tradition of featuring quirky photographs. Bring your sweet tooth, because there are various treats throughout the rooms – mochi ice cream, macaroons, candies, raspberry soda, and gelato.

For a little snack before the play, we ran by Sake Bar Hagi 46, a Japanese izakaya in the Theatre District. Staying the course with our standbys, the fried squid legs, takoyaki (octopus balls), and veggie yakitori, we also ventured out by ordering the sautéed mushrooms. They were good, but I agree with Derek’s assessment that they would be improved with some salt or marinade and a bit of a char on them.

On to Broadway. Mean Girls took the best parts of the movie and updated for the stage and today’s top issues. Just a quick plug for the lotteries – try and keep trying for the ones that seem interesting. I won tickets to Shakespeare in the Park on my first try, but this one took a while. If you are like us – enjoy a play here and there, but are not die-hard fans, it’s worth the wait (and minutes it takes to enter – still keeping fingers crossed for Hamilton!). Also, don’t miss the double sippy wine cups. Although, after drinking three-quarters of one I was dying to go to the bathroom at intermission. If you are counting the minutes until waiting in the ladies’ room line, know that intermission comes past the halfway mark – not as expected at the end of the vengeance song. Keep holding – the good news is that the line moves quickly. Our tickets were in the front row, which I would recommend trying at least once. You are able to see what’s really going on in the orchestra (the conductor was adorable), the wigs, the pantyhose that creep up below the midriff tops, and the funny forehead microphones.

bohemian

This is our 3rd or 4th time to Bohemian. I read about it a couple of years ago online, probably on the Eater secret dining guide, and sent an email pleading my case for access to the reservation line.

I’m trying to think of something clever to warrant an invite, but my mind seems to still be on holiday. My husband and I are adventurous eaters (shirako and baby squid are two of my all-time favorite dishes) who are always looking for something different and delicious. We recently moved to NYC, and I read about Bohemian while searching for culinary experiences that celebrate food over hype. If you feel inclined to invite us, we would love to come for a visit.

It worked! I love the fact that they gave us the number to call for reservations and still asked more about us.

Thank you for contacting Bohemian New York. My name is Karen and I am returning to you on behalf of team Bohemian.  We, Play Earth, create hide-out spots in our favorite places across the world to meet and connect with people from a variety of experiences and backgrounds.  Our concept is to nurture the human connection within the confines of our intimate space, which is why we ask for a self-introduction or a personal referral from a friend.  Could you tell us a little more about yourself?  Where are you and your husband originally from?   How are you enjoying life in NYC?  It would be a pleasure to welcome you into our intimate dining space for a memorable evening.  I love shirako and baby squid too!  Although we don’t serve those traditional dishes here at Bohemian, we hope you won’t be disappointed with our eclectic menu filled with our passion to serve good food and hospitality.

And we weren’t at all disappointed with the menu or the hospitality, especially tonight. Just a quick FYI and the only slightly negative thing you will read in this blog post – don’t arrive before 6 pm if you have the first reservation of the night in the Summer. The hallway leading up to the locked restaurant door doesn’t get any air movement and will make you sweat in less than a minute.

But once you are inside, everyone and everything is lovely. You know it’s going to be a good meal when the bartender directs the same attention to chilling a glass for beer (by swirling ice water in the glass) as he does to the preparation of the cocktails. We began with two libations sharing a Japanese whiskey base – the Little Devil, a spicy and light number, and the Jaguar No. 2, a little heavier drink with egg white and a torched almond garnish. Both were well-balanced and delicious.

We have always ordered the tasting course but decided to go a la carte this time to try new things. Plus, the tasting price has gone up from $63 to $80, which weighed in on our choice. People on Yelp say you should go for a la carte, but I think you should try one of the tasting dinners (there are two now – the other for $90) on your first visit, and then move to single servings.

We ordered five dishes, which was one to two more than we needed with our lighter appetites, but is probably perfect for most couples. The Farmers’ Fresh Vegetable Fondue has always been a favorite of ours, so we selected it again. Yelpers discount it as “just” a crudité, but it is worth the $24 because each item nestled into the crushed ice bed tastes like it was picked right before serving – bitter treviso, sharp radishes, sweet carrots and juicy tomatoes. Another repeat was the Pan-Roasted Branzino (the small one) which is seasoned and cooked perfectly and served with more farm-fresh veggies. The anchovies really make the entree.

New items for us were the Garlic Shrimp, Menchi Katsu, and Mushroom Risotto. The shrimp come out sizzling in a terracotta cazuela. No matter how much you know you need to wait for it to cool, it’s impossible to delay topping the grilled bread with the garlicy goodness, taking a bite, and burning your mouth. Same with the katsu, a beef version which comes in its own pouch. There is a bit of work involved to make your own condiment by grinding sesame seeds in a minature mortar and then mixing in sweet tonkatsu sauce, but it is totally worth the effort. We finished the meal with risotto (well, half of the risotto – we brought the rest back with us), made in the simple, clean style of Japan.

Last, but not least, we come to the wine. A stable-y, light red called Romuaid Petit Chiroubles paired perfectly with the variety of dishes. $250 with tax and tip, so not an every-day meal, but a special experience to repeat every few months or as the budget allows.

davelle

Derek and I went for brunch on Mother’s Day 2018, and it was amazing! We wanted one of everything but settled for the curry w/rice and the uni pasta, both of which came with potato salad and soup. The flavors were simple and elegant. We want to go back for dinner soon. Eater recommends the buttery milk toast with red bean paste and coffee for the breakfast hour, the gluten-free curry rice for lunch, and the oden (Japanese street food simmered in dashi) sets (five-set for $19 or ten for $36). It is BYOB at least for the moment (March 2018).

tomoe sushi

There are some mixed reviews of Tomoe online, so I want to add my two cents. First, let’s talk logistics. You have to be there between 5:00 pm and 5:30 pm if you don’t want to wait in line. This fact should tell you something.

Tomoe is not fancy. There are hand-drawn pictures of the menu specials on the wall that have obviously been around for a long time. I think they are charming, but some might be looking for a different atmosphere. The decor is not posh, but the people are friendly.

Now for the food. The fish is high quality and quantity. The huge pieces are a bit strange, but they are so fresh and buttery that you can easily bite or even chopstick-cut it into edible sizes. We always order the Sushi-Sashimi Combo, which includes enormous hunks of sashimi – salmon (2), yellowtail (2), tuna, fatty tuna, octopus, surf clam, squid (2 servings), and tamago; equally substantial pieces of sushi – salmon, sea bass (maybe?), scallop, sweet shrimp, and ikura; three strangely cut, but absolutely delicious sections of spicy tuna roll; and the curious “meatwad” of tuna – finely chopped tuna rolled into a ball. All of this for $40! Also, you can order 16 ounces of Otokoyama, a solid dry sake, for $36. Add a seaweed salad, and you’ve got a dinner for two for around $100. Our first visit, we tried to order two of the Combos and felt sacrilegious because we couldn’t finish it.

If you are looking for properly-sized bites of sushi and an elegantly-designed space, go somewhere else. If you want a delectable value, Tomoe is for you.