Archives for category: Dining Out

IMG_5446

Last night in Portland, I overheard a local ask my friend Dan if he’d like to play in a Star Wars tennis club. A what? They play tennis dressed up like characters from Star Wars.

I thought I was in an episode of Portlandia, Maine edition.

I was in this lovely ocean town for approximately 36 hours this weekend, following a museum publishing seminar in Boston. My friend has been living there for the past year clerking for a judge and I promised to go. It’s only a two-hour bus ride from Boston, on a coach bus that played the movie The Never-Ending Story.

There is kombucha on tap at nearly every bar. The ‘buch is from a place called UFF (Urban Farm Fermentory), “an experimental urban farm, fermentation factory, and community engagement hub.” They do 2-oz pours in little mason jars for $1 each or bring your own growler. Naturally.

We basically ate for two days, with other non-food activities sprinkled in between.

We did donuts from the Holy Donut. Potato-based. We tried the chocolate and sea salt; sweet potato and ginger; and a special whiskey-and-bacon for Father’s Day. The sweet potato was my favorite.

We did the aforementioned kombucha.

(He) did beer. It is a beer-lover’s dream town. A beer called “lunch” and one called “dinner” and one called “mita” he was all excited about from Rising Tide Brewery.

We did world cup + barbecue at this place called Salvage BBQ where an inexplicable number of people cheered loudly for England in the game against Italy Saturday.

We met up with friends and biked around Peaks Island, a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland where we picnicked on greens from a farm in New Hampshire and local radishes.

IMG_5424

We did bagels: Scratch, to be precise. I felt like I was in Brooklyn there for a minute because the line snaked out the door. A recent online review boasts: “your bagels made my first trimester much easier.” These are out of this world but kind of the opposite of a Montreal-style bagel. More airy and the dough pulls apart, it’s like a soft roll. Sea salt is the hands-down winner. Tastes like there are olives in the dough but I’m told there are not, they’re just that briny and delicious.

IMG_5418

We did coffee. Tandem. Started by the folks who opened Blue Bottle in Brooklyn. It was lovely and sparse and Vien the barista shook my hand and Pavement was playing on a record in the background. A guy named Will (I think) was roasting the beans right next to where your coffee is being poured over in ceramic Japanese cone filters. It sounds precious but it’s not. Just attention to detail and no fuss. The tiny glass of fizzy water that accompanied my friend’s espresso was ever-so-slightly carbonated, not too harsh on the palate. Vien also seemed to know every person’s order that walked in the door, except mine of course. I have a feeling if I went back tomorrow though he’d say, “Decaf americano with steamed milk?”

IMG_5458

Spicy ramen at a place called Pai Men Miyake downtown. And charred Brussels sprouts, house-made kimchi, and tofu buns with spicy mayo. All white people working in the kitchen and serving. Definitely not in New York City anymore.

We did lobster rolls. From the famous Eventide Oyster Co. restaurant. Brown-butter lobster roll in a steamed bun. And a dozen Maine oysters with horseradish ice as a garnish. A house-made ice cream sandwich for dessert (even the vanilla ice cream was made in house which impressed me because they’ve got enough to keep busy what with all the shellfish shucking and all).

IMG_5410

We did more world cup + barbecue at Salvage, to watch Argentina beat Bosnia. Side of pulled pork and pickles.

With the amount of bakeries, bars, restaurants, cafes, donut shops, jerky shops, the ratio of food purveyor to residents must be something on the order of 1:1. I asked my friend what do folks do for a living here? His anecdotal answer, not surprisingly, was mostly food service.

IMG_5449

Advertisements

It’s time I say goodbye to my dear friend Sarah. She was visiting me from Vancouver since Friday and we had a blast all over NYC. Highlights include: visiting the Tomás Saraceno sculpture on the roof of the Met (that’s a reflection of me in the sculpture above); eating in the new Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg @ Reynards; joking about “man repellent” clothing; Jones Beach; an inversion workshop at Jivamukti yoga school; and dinner at Kyo Ya.

Sarah and I met fourteen years ago at Pearson College on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, a wonderfully bizarre, idyllic school that brings students together from around the world to promote international peace. She was an alternative skateboarding punk from B.C. and we bonded instantly. Since then we’ve been pretty good about visiting each other nearly every year—sometimes I go to Vancouver and more often she comes here to NYC. Below is us at Habana Outpost in Fort Greene, doing our part at brokering peaceful international relations.

We ate like queens while she was in town. Three meals in particular stood out. Friday night we dined at the bar of Gwynnett Street, the new Williamsburg joint run by two former WD-50 chefs, Justin Hilbert and Owen Clark. Pete Wells gave this place two stars back in April, writing:

And while it is a restaurant in Brooklyn, Gwynnett St. is not really a Brooklyn restaurant. There are no butchers’ tools hanging from reclaimed barn doors. Under the eye of Carl McCoy, the proprietor, the dining room staff is calmly professional, utterly free of pretense and attitude. Nobody is the least bit likely to pull up a chair and offer to show you pictures of the sauerkraut the chef is currently fermenting inside a pair of Red Wing boots.

If only he were kidding about the sauerkraut pictures. But who am I to judge? I’m brewing kombucha atop my fridge as I write. At least it’s not brewing in my Toms shoes. Anyway…not only was the food at Gwynnett really solid, the service was attentive and atmosphere lively without being loud. I love a restaurant where you would just as much want to dine at the bar as a table—Dressler being one of my favorites for this—and Gwynnett is such a place. We started with whiskey bread served with cultured butter from VT, and a pea & mint salad. The peas were full of spring—bright and fresh and grassy—and the whiskey bread was decadent and a hint sweet. We then had duck that tasted like perfectly charred steak, and, just to be redundant, the steak with radishes two ways. (My mostly vegan diet mostly went out the window this week – I’m back on the wagon though. Side note: a guy turned to me in line at Chop’t yesterday and said: you know why this line is so long? Everybody was at the beach this weekend and thought, “I need to start eating salads for lunch.” Ha!) For dessert we had what tasted like amazing peanut butter and jelly, but was actually milk chocolate ganache, peanut crumble, and black currant somethingorother.

I had also been wanting to try Reynards, Andrew Tarlow’s new joint in the Wythe Hotel, also in Williamsburg. Shout out to my friend Hale Everets and his team for a really elegant redesign of this former waterfront factory. We met up with our friend Ella, also from our Pearson days, whom I hadn’t seen in many years, and feasted on a beet-and-mint salad; nettle toast; arctic char with spring vegetables; house-made sausage; lobster and peas poached in butter; chocolate olive oil cake; and Mast Brothers chocolate sorbet. The food was creative without being fussy. It was seasonal and fresh and really well seasoned. The place is a little sceney for everyday eating, but perfectly fun with out-of-town guests on a balmy holiday weekend. The staff are effortlessly hip in that Williamsburg way—lots of short denim cut-offs, wedge heels, and Warby Parker eyeglasses—but the clientele leaned more toward a slightly older out-of-town crowd with gold jewelry and blue blazers, guests of the hotel I imagine. After dinner we skipped the half-hour lineup for the rooftop bar (see what I mean, sceney) and headed down to Zebulon. I dig Reynards open kitchen design (below), to which we had front row seats.

And last but not least, there was Kyo Ya. For Sarah’s last night in town I thought dinner at this five-year-old Japanese joint hidden on East 7th Street was the proper sendoff. I made the reservation weeks ago. Since it was (also) reviewed in the Times not long ago, I didn’t want to take any chances. This place is charming in a hushed but not snobby way. It’s the kind of place you wish there were more of in this crazy loud city of no-reservation restaurants, open kitchens, new American cuisine, cool kids everywhere, and savvy marketing behind the next new thing. Kyo Ya is kind of opposite. The antidote to Gwynnett St. and Reynards, which don’t get me wrong, I really liked.

For starters, there’s something like ten tables at Kyo Ya. And a quaint staircase off the street level leading you to the subterranean restaurant (above). The entrance has leaves pressed between two large panes of glass and I noticed instantly upon entering that I was put at ease. We ordered a la carte rather than kaiseki, and chose the sea urchin, two bites worth of luscious uni served with small sheets of nori and fresh wasabi; chawanmushi, a silky, savory custard with shrimp and gingko nuts, among the best I’ve ever had; a smoked potato salad, made by dressing the potatoes in a smoked soy sauce; one of their specialities—pressed sushi with soy-marinated Canadian salmon (photo below); and snapper chazuke—a pot of rice served with snapper sashimi and little side toppings like shiso, wasabi, tiny cubes of daikon. At the end you pour green tea over your bowls of rice and mix with the leftover chazuke sauce. Each bite at Kyo Ya is a kind of revelation, a testament to chef Chikara Sono’s inventiveness paired with reverence for tradition.

And here’s the uni…

It was a decadent meal in a very understated way, quite a fitting end to my week with Sarah.

Gwynnett St.
312 Graham Ave., Brooklyn

Reynards
80 Wythe Ave., Brooklyn

Kyo Ya
94 E. 7th St., East Village

This is what the outside of Chuko looked like at 6:45 PM yesterday. Not dark, not cold, not windy. It was light, bright, blue skies at a quarter to 7. I’ve been wanting to visit Chuko since it opened back in August, a couple months after I moved to the neighborhood, and not a moment too soon. Just as I was missing my old haunts in Williamsburg and complaining there was no good food in these parts (I know, I know, I was naive), I read about Chuko. Brought to us courtesy of two Morimoto alums, Jamison Blankenship and David Koon, Chuko serves up bowls of housemade ramen in miso and soy broths, with or without meat. Housed in the former Nick’s Diner space, Chuko, meaning “second hand” in Japanese, was refurbished with a long wooden bar, and shows off an original hundred-year-old brick wall.

I’m a little behind schedule because it’s taken me seven months to visit this place on Vanderbilt Ave., a ten-minute walk from my apartment. So with the sun refusing to set on the early spring evening, I made my way across Atlantic Avenue, the new Nets Stadium casting shadows to the west, church and state mingling to the east (below).

I was meeting my regular Sunday-night partner, Karen, for steaming bowls of soup and whatever sides might entice. It was early enough that the place was pleasantly crowded with families slurping noodles—toddlers, strollers and all—until about 8 pm when they cleared out to make way for the stroller-less. The menu is straightforward: four kinds of ramen, all for $12 (miso-scallion, pork-scallion, soy-scallion, vegetarian-miso), and small plates, all for $7, including crispy Brussels sprouts, pork gyoza, chicken wings, and a kale salad. The specials last night were kimchi pork ramen in a red miso broth, and spicy pickles.

Let’s face it, I can’t resist kimchi or pork or red miso, so you know what I ordered.* Karen had the vegetarian miso ramen with market vegetables. We split the kale salad with sweet potato chips, raisins, and a miso dressing. Half the kale was a crunchy, addictive tempura, and the rest of the kale tasted like kale chips, so we basically loved this dish.

*I’m reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, a birthday present from Karen actually (do you think she’s trying to tell me something?), maybe by the time I’m done I’ll take my ramen sans pork too.

I don’t know if we have Morimoto to thank, or the research trips Blankenship and Koon took to Japan, but this ramen was the real deal. It reminded me of ramen I slurped in 2009 on the outskirts of Tokyo on a hot, steaming August afternoon after Yuji and I were kicked out of a public swimming pool (long story). I’m excited that I actually found the photo I took at that meal, below. I tried, really tried, to eat ramen the Japanese way, making loud sounds as you suck the noodles through your lips.

At Chuko, the red-miso broth, topped with a soft egg and scallion shavings, was salty, soulfoul, earthy, and got increasingly spicy the longer it mingled with the kimchi.

So we slurped until we could slurp no more, then walked out into the cool night air. Yes, it was finally dark outside. I could get used to Sundays at Chuko.

Chuko 552 Vanderbilt Avenue (corner of Dean St.), Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Cash Only.

%d bloggers like this: