Wednesday, April 21, 2010
New York Food Coma
As many of you know, Masa Miyake will be opening his second restaurant, Pai Mei Miyake, in June(ish). We will focus on Ramen, with a few other food offerings as well. The beer and wine list that we put together will be small, and there will be an emphasis on sake, and I’ll be behind the bar.
To get us on the right track, Masa took the restaurant staff down to New York City for a full day of eating noodles and drinking recklessly. It was an experience that I will never forget, that I feel very fortunate to have been a part of. This is how it went:
I decide to roll down a day early, as I don’t have to work on Saturday, to get a head start on the rest of the gang. I figured that I’d take the Concord Trailways to Boston, the Acela Train to NYC, and then meet up with the rest of the Miyake crew in the morning. As I was buying my bus ticket, however, the person at the counter went ahead and booked my whole trip by bus. I was going to stop her, until I heard that the total was about $100 less than the train. Fuck it, I’m only going one way, right? How bad could it be?
Due to “time constraints,” or the fact that I was “up until 3:30 a.m. drinking whiskey the night before,” I was forced to eat McDonald’s twice during the trip down. The first was a delicious sausage, egg, and cheese McGriddle for breakfast, which didn’t make me feel that bad. The real damage was done by the fact that I had to rush to get on my connecting bus in Boston, therefore only having time to shovel down a quarter-pounder with cheese. Plus, I didn’t ask for fries but they gave them to me anyway, so of course I had to eat some while furiously washing everything down with mildly refreshing Dasani water.
I enjoy taking the Concord Trailways bus to Boston - it’s comfortable, roomy, and sometimes they show a really shitty movie like “Hoot.” I cannot say the same, however, for the Peter Pan bus from Boston to NYC. The seats are cramped, especially when the tallest passenger decides it’s a good idea to cram his goofy ass in next to you. This, coupled with my self-loathing from all of the McDonald’s, made for a very long ride.
I quickly put the journey behind me as I head over to my friends' - Sean and Emily - apartment to stash my shit and freshen up. I have a few glasses of wine to unwind, and then head over to my first stop, Momofuku Noodle Bar (171 1st. Ave).
The hostess seems to appreciate that I’m not a total fuck-head who assumes she has any control over how long it takes people to eat, so I’m seated fairly quickly at the bar, where I order a carafe of the:
Miyasaka 50, Yamahai Nama Ginjo, Nagano Prefecture, Japan.
Nice apple and pear flavors made this fairly full-bodied sake perfect to stand up to the rich and salty pork belly in the ramen.
I start with bar snacks – 7 spice chips and a soy sauce egg. The egg is what I would consider to be perfect bar food, as it was rich and salty with a nice crispy garnish. I move on to the Momofuku Ramen, which has pork belly & shoulder, bamboo shoots, and a poached egg among a few other treats.
The broth has got a really nice smokiness to it and the obvious elements are delicious, those being the egg and pork belly. Because this was my first stop for noodles, I had nothing to compare to yet, but this seemed to be a good start.
Dinner number two was at Craft (43 East 19th St.), where my pal Sean is head bartender. He greets me with an absinthe cocktail that he calls the “orange fairy,” a concoction that uses fresh apricot and orange to mask the potency of the absinthe. As I look around and peruse the wine list, it brings back all of the things I miss about high-end restaurants in the city. The problem with Portland is that even if a “high-end” place has great food and the right idea, they just don’t have the budget or the clientele to maintain something of this caliber. I would describe Craft’s wine list as “unapologetically ridiculous,” limiting your options in many categories to only the best, and most expensive available(not just because of the name, but due to the fact that they are actually incredible and rare wines).
As much as I would have loved to wreck a bottle of Silex from Didier Dagueneau (it’s the last you’ll ever get because he died tragically in a place crash), I realize that $330 is well out of my price range. I decide to mix it up and start with a glass of:
Champagne “Expression” Brut, Rene Geoffroy
Grower-champagne from the Terry Thiese portfolio that reminds me a lot of pear crisp. If you want a mass-produced wine from a large house that buys all of it’s grapes, avoid this.
I start with a few Barron Point oysters from Washington State to go with my champagne, which are briny and delicious. Then it’s time to get down to business with veal sweetbreads served with a fermented black garlic sauce. The portion was substantial here, remember this IS dinner number two, but absolutely fucking delicious. Next is the pork ravioli with pancetta, which is as good as it looks. Time for a few glasses of:
Von Buhl Armand Riesling Kabinett, Pfalz, Germany
Flavors of limestone and citrus compliment the acidity to cut through the richness of the sweetbreads and the pancetta in the pork ravioli.
I’m damn full at this point, but out comes a ridiculous assortment of homemade ice creams and donuts, with lemon curd and chocolate sauce for dipping. The donuts in particular, paired with the lemon curd, are outrageous. Sean closes up the bar and we head down the street to the Flatiron Lounge (37 West 19th St.) to murder some Don Julio Anejo tequila before going home to drink the three bottles of wine I brought down with me. They were:
Francois Chidaine Montlouis Sur Loire “Clos Habert,” France
Off-dry Chenin Blanc wasn’t necessarily the most appropriate for this occasion, but nor were we.
Domaine Parize Givry Champ Nalot, France
Getting foggy… Did I remember to get bottled water?
Cantina del Pino Langhe Nebbiolo, Italy
Don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure we were watching “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
The only explanation for how chipper I felt that morning was how fucking excited I was to eat ridiculous food all day. I head out and meet up with Masa, Karl, and Will at Ippudo (65 4th Ave.) to get things started. Keep in mind they'd been up since 5AM driving from Maine. The décor is definitely on the trendy side here, with the staff yelling a lot to create a more authentic Japanese atmosphere, which seemed to make Masa cringe/laugh more than anything else. Personally, I was too distracted with all the pretty Asian waitresses to even notice…
Unfortunately, it was only 11AM and in New York you can’t get cocktails on Sunday until noon. We decided it would be a good time to get some hydration in and started with fried shishito peppers served with yuzu salt. We followed that up with their version of bbq buns, which were dough wrapped like a taco around bbq pork, iceberg lettuce, and spicy mayo. I literally could have eaten ten of these, but knew I had a long day ahead of me so I used restraint (sometimes I do this).
Next was the Ramen, I went with the Akamaru Modern with an added supplement of Kikuni, and holy shit was this good. They make their own noodles here and the pork belly was to die for. The broth was rich, meaty, and spicy. I declare that I could eat about twenty eggs with it, not knowing that I would get disturbingly close to that number over the duration of the trip.
We finish up and head out for a quick walk before going to a random bar for drinks. I thought it was funny that the stool I sat in had a picture of John Belushi above the bar directly across from me, which prompted me to order a shot of Rumpleminze to fuck-start my day.
Now that the engine is firing again, we head to Setagaya (34 ½ St. Marks place) for the second round of Ramen. This time we try the Shio (salt) style, which is lighter and a little bit healthier. The overall package wasn’t as good as Ippudo, but the eggs were absolutely perfect and it was nice to try a different style. We realize that we’re all getting a little bit full, and that we should drink some sake to rebuild our appetites.
Sobakoh (309 East 5th St.) is next on the agenda for soba noodles and tempura. We order a few nibbles to start, including some tamago (Japanese omelet), which I love, especially when it’s not stuffed with shitty nato beans (long story). I decide to try a Japanese beer called Echigo, which becomes the group favorite for the duration of the trip. A delightful pairing for the bottle of:
Dewazakura “Izumi Judan” Ginjo, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan
Refreshing and light with almost gin-like qualities, this sake is a perfect lunch choice.
For a main course I get cold soba noodles with ebi (shrimp) tempura. The noodles come with a soy-based dipping sauce that you add very hot water to at the end of the meal and enjoy like tea. I begin to insist that Masa hire strippers for the new restaurant, and change the name to ‘Tamporno,” to which he responds by politely changing the subject. I could have sat all day and eaten the fried shrimp paired with cold beer, but we still had quite a bit on our agenda.
It’s now about 3PM and we head out to Jersey to visit Mitsuwa(595 River Rd, Edgewater), an enormous Japanese Supermarket, which to me is quite possibly one of the most distracting places on Earth. There are massive isles of just about everything, be it miso, sake, or kitchen appliances (though not on Sunday, by law). I begin to realize that the three of us look like Masa's over-sized entourage, keeping him safe while he shops. It seemed that Karl and Will were up to that challenge, so I break off from the group and discover the product of the day (some kind of potato liquor drink):
While Masa waits in line to pay, Will and I purchase beverages to enjoy in the parking lot:
The ride back to the city involves forcing Masa to listen to a lot of Lady GaGa at very loud volumes - he acts like he doesn’t like it but I can see him tapping his fingers. It’s not quite time for dinner yet, so we duck into some random Irish Bar, or as Karl put it “anyplace with a fucking bathroom I don’t care I’m going to piss myself.” Beer and whiskey eventually make me a little hungry again, so we head over to Robotaya (231 East 9th St.) to sample a different style of cuisine – robotayaki. It’s a lot like sitting a sushi bar, except everything is grilled. Two chefs sit on perches and hop around gathering ingredients to cook, handing everything, including beers, across to you on a long paddle.
We order several things, standouts being dried skate fins grilled and served with Japanese mayonnaise, beautiful grilled asparagus with lemon, marinated cubes of fresh bamboo shoot, whole scorpion fish, and king crab legs. I think that this place is more about the experience, because the food is wildly expensive for what it is.
We drink more Echigo, and a few half-bottles of:
Kudokijozu Ginjo, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan
Definitely the fruitiest sake of the day, it’s flavor really shined when paired with the skate fin and mayo.
The final stop is one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to - Sakagura (211 East 43rd St). It’s located in an office building, and as you can tell by the pictures, it's very unassuming on the way in.
They’ve actually got a sake list about 250 bottles deep, with incredibly rare stuff that I’ve certainly never encountered before. We get an order of beef tongue, which is braised to perfection, along with a few other items. Ice-cold Echigo goes hand-in-hand with a bottle of:
Tedorigawa “Iki na Onna” Lady Luck Daiginjo, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan
Even though I’d already imbibed quite a bit, I could appreciate this bottle. It was very creamy, with almost honey-like notes to it.
I look at my notes from this point in the evening and it just says:
“I Love Asian Women.”
This trip was worth every moment of the two-day hangover that ensued.