Tag Archives: fusion

Fat Rice

Fat Rice is a trendy spot in Chicago that serves up some interesting and unique Asian inspired dishes, as you can see by the various menus.

We started with the special octopus salad appetizer. This was really delicious and refreshing. Beautiful plate too, I might add.

Next up was their big boy, the “Fat Rice” namesake dish (Arroz Gordo). This is like an Asian paella: a cross between a hot clay pot bibimbap and traditional Spanish paella, with both European and Asian toppers like grilled head on shrimp, char siu pork belly, molasses and fish sauce seasoned boiled egg, curry chicken thighs, languinica sausage and wood roasted beef (like BBQ).

It was delicious. A few spots could have used some improvement though. For example, the pork belly could have rendered out a bit more, and the beef could have been less dry. But over all it was a really nice dish, and I’d order it again in a heartbeat.

This place has a bakery connected to it as well, so The Cake Dealer and I tried out a bunch of their stuff.

I won’t highlight them all, but we tried an interesting tea and spice flavored snickerdoodle cookie, a very unique marshmallow and seaweed rice crispy treat thing, and a purple potato cake. In addition to sweets and interesting coffee and tea concoctions, they also serve savory baked goods, like this Chicago style hot dog pastry, which was my favorite of the bunch.

I highly recommend this spot if you’re in Chicago. They serve great food and really inventive cocktails.

FAT RICE
2957 W Diversey Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

Brasserie Seoul

Brasserie Seoul is a Brooklyn French restaurant where Chef Park is using Korean ingredients to execute his dishes.

I hesitate to call this ppace fusion, since the menu is decidedly French. However I suppose the heavy use of Korean ingredients takes it comfortably into that category.

I came in with two other Instagrammers to shoot some photos of their popular dishes. Here’s what we had:

FIRST ROUND

Foie Gras Amuse: cherry puree and grilled grapes on brioche.

Oysters with Pork Belly: five spice pork belly and chopped kimchi dressing both east and west coast varietals.

Wagyu Beef Tartare: wasabi oil and Korean pear with pinenuts and quail egg.

That was really good. Probably my favorite dish of the night.

SECOND ROUND

Seafood Pancake: bay scallops, shrimp, squid and scallions with a ginger soy aioli.

Truffle Tteok & Cheese: rice cakes with three-cheese bechemel, white truffle oil, panko and gochugaru (a red pepper flake blend).

THIRD ROUND

Cod: jajang puree (black beans), gochugaru carrot reduction, wilted baby kale, and roasted sunchoke.

Kimchi Bouillabaisse: mussels, pollack, shrimp, baby octopus, fried tofu, rice cakes and cabbage kimchi.

FOURTH ROUND

Duck Trio: fried duck confit, breast, crispy skin and foie. More like duck four ways I guess. Blood orange gastrique with cherry puree and candied ginger.

Wagyu NY Strip Steak: black garlic, Korean sea salt, green chili puree and citrus cho ganjang (vinegar soy sauce). 7/10. This was a bit leaner than I expected from wagyu. The flavor was nice, but I’ve had much better prime strips at half the price (this will run you $80).

This steak came with roasted fingerling potatoes:

This place is pretty good. I’m not sure I’d hoof it all the way out to Brooklyn for a second visit, but the tartare, seafood pancake, tteok & cheese and duck dishes were all fantastic.

BRASSERIE SEOUL
300 Schermerhorn St
Brooklyn, NY 11217

The Crimson Sparrow

I first became acquainted with The Crimson Sparrow when I hung out with chef-owner John McCarthy at a mutual friend’s party.

We traded social media info and kept up with each others’ food exploits online. I always thought his dishes looked so beautiful and sounded so delicious, but I wasn’t sure when I’d ever get to try them – John being up in Hudson, NY and me being NYC-based.

Well, it turns out that I was scheduled to go on a farm tour in Ghent, NY the weekend before the 4th of July. Upon checking out the map of where Ghent was, and planning how I was going to get there, I realized I would be passing through Hudson. I decided to make a small weekend trip out of this farm tour, and to bring my wife along.

It was a no-brainer, at that point, that I’d be visiting John at The Crimson Sparrow. We first went in for the tasting menu, late in the evening after we finished up that farm tour in Ghent.

I have to say… Chef John is doing some really amazing things here. He’s clearly inspired by Japanese cuisine; its preparation, its focus, its simplicity, its artistry. And while he does highlight a lot of Japanese ingredients, he’s also drawing inspiration from his local environs in the Hudson valley as well, and even dropping some overt hints of French technique and Korean flavors as well.

John has been all over the globe honing his cuisine. He used to be an attorney, but then ditched that for the culinary arts. He’s French trained, but he spent a significant amount of time in Japan absorbing all he could. He even did a 5-year stint with Wiley DuFresne at WD-50 in NYC before deciding it was time to press out on his own.

The Crimson Sparrow offers an a la carte menu, but the big draw for me was this multi-course tasting menu, priced at just $95.

I was eager to dig in when we arrived, just like how I’m eager to write about the meal now. I hope your mouth doesn’t water too much, because after I finish describing the tasting menu, you’ll have to stay tuned and read on for the incredible restaurant tour and daytime snack bites that I experienced the following day.

Course 1: Maitake Mushroom

This was crispy yet meaty, and had great flavors from the black truffle and lemon. The only thing I was hoping for here was maybe a flake of sea salt as a finishing item – maybe some nori smoke on that salt too.

Course 2: Yukon Potato

This Yukon Gold potato was shredded and fried to a crisp, topped with smoked egg yolk, cheddar and sea salt. This was essentially a creamy, smokey nest of potato chips. Awesome!

Course 3: Cucumber Crab

This dish reminded me of a really fucking delicious version of something like tuna salad, or crab salad, if you will. Really light and refreshing. I found myself wishing this was offered as a lunch sandwich on some nice, lightly toasted white bread with shiso leaf. I could eat that every day.

Course 4: Dashi with Purple Potato

The photo doesn’t do this dish justice. It was gorgeous. Purple potato, dashi broth, bonito flakes, and a nori aoli mix together to form a really refreshing cold soup. There were hints of miso and mustard flavors coming through as well. Nicely executed.

Course 5: Enoki Mushrooms

I love enoki mushrooms. These were treated simply and allowed to shine for what they are; cooked with binchotan (a kind of Japanese charcoal). They were dressed with soy and topped with shredded nori and sesame seeds. Perfect, really juicy, snappy like noodles, but textured and satiating like a meat protein.

Course 6: Soft Shell Crab

I had a bad experience with soft shell crab when I was younger. The crab I had was too far along after molting, and some parts of the shell were no longer soft. They were like shrimp shells, and it grossed me out. But lately I’ve been dabbling more into soft shell crabs, because I know they can be really good. Here at The Crimson Sparrow they are excellent. It’s lightly batter-fried and served with a mizuna corn kimchi sauce. There was a nice citrus and pepper-spice pop to this dish. Extremely soft shell, great fry batter.

Course 7: Abalone with Pine Nuts

This dish isn’t on the regular tasting menu. Chef John brought it out special for us. I’m so grateful that he did, because this fucking thing was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had in my entire life. I don’t say that lightly either.

Chef John first sous vides the abalone with pork belly and dashi. The pine nuts are pressure cooked with liquid from the bacon and abalone sous vide broth. Are you fucking kidding me? Then an abalone liver and squid ink emulsion is put on the bottom of the plate before serving (the black bits in the photo below).

This dish had such a nice buttery, savory, meaty flavor, and the pine nuts were like farro or barley in texture – like an “ancient grain” kind of starch, or beans. Truly amazing.

Course 8: Shrimp Dumplings

The broth/sauce here was killer: lemongrass, ginger and scallop. Really smooth and rich, and the dumplings were perfectly cooked, like excellent seafood ravioli.

Course 9: Hamachi

These slices of Hamachi exhibit simplicity and Chef John’s respect for the protein, while the cabbage, shiso, shiso oil, nori oil and yuzu broth demonstrates complexity of flavor and John’s extremely impressive skills as a chef. This dish represents exactly what he is doing here at The Crimson Sparrow: simplicity and complexity in the right balance.

Course 10: A5 Wagyu Picanha

Picanha is a Brazilian cut of beef, but it’s the same as “top sirloin cap” here in the states, only with the layer of fat left on that we Americans usually trim off.

This dish was not on the regular tasting menu either. The flavor was wild. It’s beef, but it tastes more like foie gras. It’s very rich in flavorful, oily fats. That large layer of fat can still be chewy, even on A5 Wagyu, but at times you can take it down because it gets so soft.

This beef hailed from the Miyazaki prefecture, which is known as one of the best in Japan for producing highly marbled beef. That little pile of magic dust on the side? Kalamata olive salt. So nice.

Course 11: Pork Belly Congee

This was really tasty. Congee is rice porridge. This one was made with porcini mushrooms and chili oil in the mix, aside from the delicious and tender pork belly. This is perfect “pick-me-up” comfort food right here.

Course 12: Aged Strip Loin

Obviously I loved this dish. It was served with ssamjang (Korean black bean sauce), dressed fresh soy beans and endive.

Here’s what the full plate looked like:

Palate Cleanser: Amazake

This amazake is a young sake made with fermented black and white rice and sweetened with ginger. It was creamy, sweet, slightly bubbly, and really delicious.

Dessert: “American Psycho” on a Plate (that’s my name for it)

This beautiful Jackson Pollock / Patrick Bateman mash-up of plating artistry is a sponge cake with blue- rasp- and mul- berries. There were notes of citrus or yuzu, and even avocado cream in the anglaise. Those beautiful red splatters were done with beet sauce.

Okay so that covers the tasting menu. The next day we came back when John was a little less busy to hang out with him a bit. He gave us a cool tour of the restaurant and kitchen.

Here’s the outside:

The bar is outfitted with some cool things that John salvaged from the property when he first purchased it. Part of the property used to be an old Packard auto shop, and another part was a bakery.

The main dining room is gorgeous. It’s outfitted with some antiques that John either found on the property (like the lamps), or items for which he bartered with local antique shop owners to obtain (like the wine cart).

This part of the property was actually a bakery at one point, and this room was the inside of the massive oven. The table was custom made to accommodate the 9 inch floor slope from one end of the room to the other.

A more private room for larger parties is also available to customers.

The kitchen is housed in the space where Packard used to wash and detail their cars. Those windows you see on the right are massive, and there’s a strip of cool bar stool seats where diners can sit and watch all the kitchen action.

John also showed me the Wagyu strip loin that he’s aging in the walk-in. I think this hunk of deliciousness has been going for over 100 days.

John has a rooftop herb garden as well.

That day we also tried some light snacks in the outdoor garden seating area – a gorgeous space.

This is a pork bun. Really nice flavors, and that pork was stewed to perfection.

These soy beans are similar to the beans on the tasting menu that came with the aged beef dish, but served on a giant shrimp chip.

Also, they serve crisp Orion beer for just $5. Great to sip while enjoying a sunny day on the patio.

 

I think that about does it. You guys need to check this place out if you’re ever in the area. I’m dead serious when I tell you that this was the best tasting menu omakase style meal I’ve ever had, and that abalone dish… Holy shit man. Ask for it when you go.

THE CRIMSON SPARROW
746 Warren St
Hudson, NY 12534

Kizuna Nikkei

NOTE: This joint is now closed.

Kizuna Nikkei serves up some of the most stunningly beautiful and delicious dishes I’ve had in a while. Nikkei cuisine is a form of Japanese and Peruvian fusion that evolved in Peru due to Japanese cultural influence in the region. This was my first time indulging in this kind of food, and it certainly won’t be my last.

My wife and I were invited in for a complimentary tasting of some items on the menu, in hopes that we would help get the word out about this new joint. Owner/Manager Jacob recently changed the focus (and decor) of this restaurant from a steakhouse (Carnem) to Nikkei. I had eaten at Carnem before, and I can say with 100% confidence that this new venture is a much better endeavor when it comes to the food.

So let’s get down to business. We started with the Maguro Nikkei, which is a tartare-like dish consisting of big eye tuna, kyuri, avocado, aji amarillo, tamari and kaiware.

This was really beautiful and fresh. A great way to start the meal.

And I’m going to tell you right now: each dish that came out was more beautiful and more flavorful than the last. So hold onto your asses and get ready for some gorgeous plating.

Next up was the Hamachi Crudo.

Yellowtail, orange, ponzu, aji limo and garlic brunoise make up this bright and crisp dish.

Again, really fresh and flavorful. And gorgeous.

The next item we sampled was called Sake Passion.

This is king salmon, passion fruit, crispy gyoza skin and aguaymanto.

I was mesmerized by the plating, and wowed by the flavors. I love raw salmon treatments, and this one nailed it.

This next dish is almost too beautiful for words.

This was black sea bass with octopus, scallop, shrimp, calamari, fried cassava and ikura (roe) in aji Amarillo sauce.

This sauce had a really good heat, and every component of the dish was cooked to absolute perfection.

I highly recommend this dish when you come here.

Our final course was a braised beef short rib with sweet potato, lotus root, carrots, enoki mushrooms and white asparagus in a garlic, onion, cilantro sauce.

The sauce had an earthy heat to it that penetrated deep into the beef flesh and lingered in your mouth with each delicious bite.

I highly recommend this dish as well, especially if you’re a beef person like me.

The portions here are crafted for a light tasting style dining experience. Order a bunch of things, or share, and you will definitely enjoy every bite. There’s a LOT to try here, and I’m looking forward to going back again soon. I’ve already told my friends that live in the neighborhood about this place. Awesome.

KIZUNA NIKKEI
318 5th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Bo Caphe

Vietnamese food is a tough nut to crack in NYC. Most of it sucks here, and the few places that people rave about just don’t really do it for me. I’ve been to places where they get one dish right, but fail on others. They have a great sandwich, but the soup in bland. You can literally go to almost any other city in America and find better Vietnamese food than you can in NYC, which baffles the living shit out of me. New York is the best at everything, so why not Vietnamese food? Who knows. The answer eludes me. Maybe the Vietnamese community just isn’t big enough here, or there aren’t enough courageous Vietnamese chefs that are willing to stretch their neck out and take a financial risk in the highly competitive and quick-to-closure NYC restaurant scene.

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Goddess Kali: house sake, sparkling wine, chia seeds, hibiscus, lemon and pineapple.

In any case, Bo Caphe isn’t like those lame joints that attempt to offer traditional Vietnamese food and then fail to deliver because there is not one single Vietnamese person on staff who would know how to make the dishes. Bo Caphe is embracing the non-traditional by proudly offering fusion dishes that you can get excited about, like the Bao Burger with taro chips.

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The burger had a nice char on the outside, with what seemed like diced onions mixed into the grind. It was juicy, and the steamed bun was the perfect Asian version of a soft and pliable yet strong potato bun. The addition of cilantro and green pepper sauce made it pop. The taro chips were a nice touch as well. They were thin, crisp, well seasoned and only occasionally greasy.

Being a French-Vietnamese fusion restaurant is nothing too outside the box, since binding the two cultures makes sense from a historical/colonial perspective. But Bo Caphe dives a bit further into French territory by offering a few selections that feature cheese, something largely not featured in Vietnamese cuisine, let alone Asian cuisine generally. Both the spring roll menu and bun menu featured cheese. The spring roll item, Vach Kiri, which literally translates to “laughing cow,” is a fried rice paper wrapper that’s filled with cheese and quinoa.

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The fried chicken bun had some goat cheese. I enjoyed it, as it added a different texture and flavor combination to compliment the pickled carrots and daikon on top, but I can see how this might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

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The braised beef bun, on the other hand, was pretty straight forward and delicious. No cheese that I could taste. And while I was eating this one I remarked that I was surprised the Bao Burger didn’t feature any cheese. Of all places to have it, that seems like the most proper fit for cheese in Asian cuisine.

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The noodles here were fantastic. We tried two styles: one was cooked lemongrass beef, and the other was raw diced salmon. The salmon dish was reminiscent of a poke bowl but with noodles and fish sauce for dressing rather than soy-based sauces. It was refreshing and tasty.

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The lemongrass beef was my favorite of the two. The beef was really tender and packed with great lemongrass flavor and aromas.

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Both noodle dishes were topped with peanuts, shredded carrot and cucumber, fresh mint and a veggie spring roll.

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The next two dishes we tried run the gamut from traditional Vietnamese to traditional French. No real fusion here; two dishes in the style of two different countries. The first, of course, is pho.

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This aromatic, comforting soup is not bad for NYC pho, but my wife and I are just spoiled by the soups we had up in the mountains of SaPa in Vietnam. Nothing can compare. In any case, if you need a fix, this is not a bad bowl. The noodles are slightly different than the usual flat style (these are square spaghetti shaped, like “alla chitarra”), but the aromas are great and they use cilantro, which is what we saw in Vietnam fairly often. If you dress this bowl up with some hoisin and sriracha, you should be good.

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The second dish is a marinated skirt steak with salad.

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The steak was largely French-inspired, even down to the mustard seed sauce (which I liked very much). The steak was a bit over-cooked for my liking, but it packed a lot of flavor and was charred nicely on the outside. I’d order it again, for sure. 7/10.

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The watercress salad featured some nice ripe avocados, tomatoes and red onions.

The dessert menu has some interesting selections. First was a molten chocolate lava cake with coconut. The lava wasn’t very melty, but the sauce that came with it was delicious. The coconut here was similar to the inside of a mounds chocolate candy bar.

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This black sesame ice cream was more like a cream ice of shave ice texture and flavor; light, refreshing, icy rather than creamy. It was delicious, especially with the toasted sesame seeds on top.

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This next dessert was an interesting take on the avocado shakes that I love to get from Vietnamese restaurants. This was a chocolate avocado mousse. You could taste equally the avocado and the chocolate, which was a flavor combination that I never thought or expected to like. It was great!

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The only down side was that they didn’t have the spicy pineapple, sumac and mint salad dessert item. I was really looking forward to trying that out. Also just FYI: I was invited to this joint as an “influencer” – basically free food in exchange for pics and an honest review. So there it is.

BO CAPHE
222 Lafayette St
New York, NY 10012

Square One

For our first meal in Key West, we hit up Square One. The place had a really nice drink menu and food selections, so I figured it was a perfect spot to try.

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The decor is minimalist rustic, if that makes any sense.

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It looks like pig wings have made their way down to Florida. The ones here were a healthy size and tasted really great. They were breaded lightly and fried crisp. The meat was super tender.

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These duck dumplings were a very nice Chinese inspired appetizer as well. The flavors were robust.

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My wife had this nice bowl of mussels, which were actually an appetizer portion but probably big enough for an entree if you are indulging in a few starters.

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The snapper was all gone, but they had some local grouper. It came seared, and served atop some nice soba noodles.

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A couple of days later my wife and I went back to try their flight of bloody mary drinks at breakfast.

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From right to left that’s tomatillo and melon, carrot habanero, yellow tomato and regular tomato. Each was rimmed with a different type of salt to accentuate the flavors within. Really nice.

I had a lobster cobb salad to go with the bloodies. Lots of good quality lobster meat!

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If you’re ever in Key West, I highly recommend this place. It’s great for drinks at the bar or any meal of the day. If native New Yorker Lucas is tending bar, you’ll have a great experience.

Ramen Guide

With ramen season kicking into high gear, I suppose it’s high time that I put out a guide to ramen for all of you cold, hungry fucks out there looking to get your soup on. This should serve as your singular, all-encompassing resource for all things slurp. This is more of an informational page, clearly, so if you’ve landed here looking for my ramen reviews, you should go to the Ramen-Ate-R page, where you can read about the tremendous shitload of ramen that I’ve eaten.

There are a bunch of things you need to keep in mind when thinking about ramen. Namely, you need to think about the thickness of the broth, how the broth is made, how it is seasoned, what kind of noodles are used, the toppings, and, finally (if you’re into food knowledge), where the ramen style was developed and the history behind the dish. So let’s get into it:

BROTH THICKNESS

This is classified as either assari (light) or kotteri (rich). Assari broths are generally thin or clear, as they are typically flavored with vegetables, fish or seaweed. If animal bones are used at all, they are usually just simmered lightly for a short amount of time.

Kotteri, on the other hand, are thick and usually opaque, due to all the emulsified fats, proteins and minerals that are rendered from boiling animal bones for long periods of time. That makes them stocks, technically, not broths. Kotteri are also known as Paitan (from the Chinese). Paitan translates to white broth, which makes sense, given that they are usually cloudy in color and thick in texture.

SOUP BASE

Ramen soup bases are classified by the main ingredients that are boiled or simmered to make the soup stock (if bones are used) or broth  (if no bones are used). As expected, a stock can be made from animal bones (chicken, beef, pork, fish). But lighter broths can be made with dried seafood or kelp/seaweed (like dashi – a broth made from dried, smoked bonito flakes and kelp), and sometimes even just straight up roasted veggies and mushrooms + water.

An example I will use to illustrate here is tonkotsu. “Ton” means pork, and “kotsu” means bones. Thus, the tonkotsu ramen base is a kotteri style thick stock made from pork bones, which would then need to be seasoned with a salty or savory component, which is covered in the next section.

SEASONING

Tare or kaeshi is the seasoning – the main savory element or source of salt – that is used to flavor the ramen. Ramen seasoning comes in three major varieties: Shoyu, Shio and Miso.

Shoyu: This, simply, is soy sauce. If you didn’t know, soy sauce is made from a paste of fermented and boiled soybeans, roasted grains and seasoned water.

Shio: Sea salt. Pretty straightforward. As you can imagine, sea salt as a seasoning is nicely suited for thinner, assari style broths.

Miso: This is an earthy flavored, thick, fermented soybean paste. Seasoning with miso will almost always result in a thick, kotteri style broth, as you can see below:

NOODLES

Ramen noodles are made with wheat flour, water, salt and kansui, an alkaline water which gives the noodles their yellow color and characteristic bounce. In China, it’s more common to see ramen made with eggs instead of kansui.

Depending on the soup they’re added to, ramen noodles can range from wavy to straight, thick to thin, flat, round or square. The type of noodle selected for a bowl of ramen is based on its broth-clinging characteristics, its bounciness and its texture. For that reason, one noodle style may be better suited for a particular soup base or broth thickness than another.

Depending on the noodles used, cook times will vary as well. In addition, their ability to last for a while, soaking in the soup broth, will vary. After a few minutes certain noodles will lose their spring and bounce, and the texture will change.

Just an FYI here: if you need more noodles while you are eating, yell out kaedama!

TOPPINGS

We have a bunch of categories to discuss here. Let’s start with the most important one: meat.

Obviously if a ramen base is made with animal bones, it only makes sense to use the same animal meat as a topping for the soup. Tonkotsu should have copious amounts of kakuni (pork belly), or chashu (rolled pork loin or belly that is cooked slowly in a sweet soy and mirin sauce, stew-style, then sliced and sometimes charred or grilled afterward for texture). Clearly, chicken is a good topper for your chicken-based ramen. But some chefs get creative. For example I’ve had beef ramen that was topped with crispy beef intestines. I’ve even had chicken broth that was topped not only with chicken but with ground pork as well. Mixing is not a bad thing and it is quite common, as you’ll learn below.

In addition to meat, ramen broths also contain aromatics, such as garlic (fresh, charred, fried or fermented), onions (charred, pickled or raw), ginger (either pickled – beni shoga – or fresh), leeks (fresh or charred), scallions (usually fresh, typically sliced or shredded) and mushrooms (both dried and fresh, and a ton of different types). These can also be incorporated into the creation of the soup base at the start, not just as toppings that are added at the time of serving.

Other common toppings include seasoned soft boiled or hard boiled eggs, sliced fish cakes (naruto), bamboo shoots, corn, cabbage, seaweed, bean sprouts, spice pastes, butter and various oils, such as chili oil, onion oil, pepper oil, garlic oil or sesame oil (and certainly sesame seeds, too, for that matter).

On many occasions, the toppings you see will depend on the region in Japan from which the ramen hails.

REGIONAL STYLES

Japanese ramen varies greatly by region. Some areas focus on thinner fish- and seaweed-based broths, while others tend to be hearty and thick animal bone soups. I’ve highlighted some of the regional styles below, alphabetically:

Akayu: A sweet and mild ramen soup is topped with a spicy dollup of miso mixed with chili and garlic. Chewy, thick, wavy noodles grace this style, and it is usually served with powdered seaweed as well.

Asahikawa: Asahikawa is Hokkaido’s second-largest city, and is located at the base of the mountains in the middle of the island. Its ramen is a mix of chicken, pork and seafood broth, with a shoyu base. The soup is topped with a layer of melted pork fat to seal in the soup’s heat in the colder months, as well as pork meat, bamboo shoots and scallions.

Hakata: Also known as Nagahama ramen, this style comes from Fukuoka, a prefecture in Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, which is famous for its pork dishes. This is my favorite of ramen styles, because it is a thick, fatty, pork bone broth with thin, al-dente noodles. Toppings usually include sesame seeds, pink pickled ginger and fried garlic.

Hakodate: Ramen arrived in Hakodate from China. The soup is thin and light, and the shio-seasoned broth had a mild pork and chicken base. Noodles are usually soft, with toppings like roast pork, bamboo shoots, scallions, nori, fish cakes and spinach.

Kagoshima: Kagoshima is known for its Berkshire pork-like black pigs, yet the ramen is a mild mix of both veggies and chicken, combined with the black pork bone stock. The broth then gets finished off with burnt onions and seasoned with soy sauce. The noodles are soft, and toppings consist of pork meat (obviously), scallions, wood ear mushrooms (kikurage) and bean sprouts.

Kitakata: Kitakata is famous for a clean, light soy-based breakfast soup. In the bowl there’s usually a serving of chewy, wide, flat and curly hand-cut noodles with pork, scallions and bamboo shoots.

Kumamoto: When tonkotsu ramen arrived in Kumamoto prefecture from Kurume, the locals started cutting it with chicken broth. It’s also served with straight noodles, though they’re softer and thicker than the Kurume style. Most bowls have pickled mustard greens, sliced wood-ear mushrooms, bean sprouts, and cabbage on top, but the unique thing about Kumamoto ramen is the use of garlic. You’ll see fried garlic chips and mayu, the black liquid made from garlic that’s been burned in sesame oil. That shit is delicious.

Kurume: This town on the southern island of Kyushu is the birthplace of tonkotsu. Melted bone marrow, fried lard, sesame seeds, pickled ginger and garlic give Kurume ramen a unique and pungent style. Toppings include pork meat, scallions, nori, and spicy mustard greens, in addition to those just mentioned above.

Kyoto: Kyoto’s home to two distinct types of ramen: a thinner assari shoyu ramen, and a thick kotteri chicken soup. The thin version is a blend of pork and chicken broth, with a dark soy base. The thick version is a rich porridge-like chicken soup, topped with garlic, spicy bean paste, chives and odoriferous local onions called kujnoegi. Both are seasoned with shoyu, but the toppings vary for each.

Nagoya “Taiwan” Ramen: “Taiwan Ramen” is Nagoya’s reimagined version of Taiwanese danzimian, which has lots of ground pork, Chinese chives, hot peppers, green onions and garlic. This shit is for people who like spicy soup.

Onomichi: Take a bit of pork, a heap of chicken, some local seafood and a big mess of lard and you’ve got Onomichi ramen. The soup has a shoyu base and is served with chewy, homemade, wavy, flat noodles. It’s usually topped with roast pork, bamboo shoots, scallions and pork fat.

Sapporo: Sapporo-style ramen hails from Japan’s northernmost province, Hokkaido, which is the birthplace of miso ramen. Sapporo miso ramen generally has thick, strong noodles and is commonly topped with bean sprouts, sweet corn, cabbage and ground pork. Soft boiled eggs and thick slices of chashu pork are also common, as well as pats of butter.

Shirakawa: This town developed a refined ramen typified by light, simple soup and hand pulled noodles. It features a shoyu broth, but local mineral ­water makes for springy noodles with a good chew. Toppings include roast pork, bamboo shoots, fish cake, scallions, seaweed, spinach and even wontons.

Tokushima: Shikoku is the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, and udon is the preferred noodle. But Tokushima prefecture has an aged, extra strong shoyu soup that originated with tonkotsu stocks made from leftover pork bones from nearby ham factories. This is similar to Wakayama ramen. Ramen shops here will add a few strips of thinly sliced pork belly and break a raw egg on top. Tokushima ramen is sometimes divided into “yellow,” “black,” and “white” styles (how racist) of varying strengths. Other toppings for this ramen consist of scallions, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts.

Tokyo: This ramen is usually made with pork and chicken broth and typically features slightly curly, somewhat wide noodles. Very often in Toyko you’ll find broths that are flavored with dashi (broth made from aged bonito flakes and sea kelp). This style of ramen is generally seasoned with shoyu and has a medium-thickness. It’s similar to Yokohama ramen, though that tends to be heavier and meatier than the dashi broths of Tokyo ramen.

Tsubame-Sanjo: The cities of Tsubame and Sanjo are in a freezing cold area, and the ramen from this spot is bizarre and unhealthy. The hearty stock is made of chicken, sardines and pork bones, and the bowls are blasted with tons of pork fat (common in soups from the colder climates). There’s thick, flat noodles in this shoyu-based soup, and toppings include pork meat, bamboo shoots and lots of chopped white onions.

Wakayama: This is the median between thick, rich tonkotsu, and thin, clear broth. Wakayama ramen has a strong shoyu tare seasoning with a long-simmered tonkotsu base. The noodles resemble the thin, firm and long threads of Hakata style ramen, but you also get fish cakes like those in Tokyo style ramen. These soups are also topped with the seemingly ever-present and most common of toppings: roast pork, scallions and bamboo shoots.

Yokohama Ie-Kei: Yokohama is known for ie-kei ramen, a viscous, salty, and fatty tonkotsu shoyu style of ramen. When ordering, diners can designate how firm they want their noodles, the amount of fat they like on top, and the saltiness or strength of the soup. This is my kind of ramen – catering specifically to each unique diner. The toppings for this style of ramen usually include sheets of nori (seaweed paper), spinach, garlic, spicy bean paste and ginger.

RAMEN-LIKE DISHES

Although these dishes are not quite ramen, they’ll still be able to satisfy the most intense need for a ramen fix.

Abura Soba: The name of this soupless noodle dish translates to “oil noodles.” It consists of cooked ramen noodles dressed with flavored oil and tare (usually shoyu). It often comes topped with an egg, and diners are meant to stir everything together in the bowl to form a creamy, fatty, thickened sauce. One can also add vinegar, chili oil and other shit before slurping. Hot peppers, mayonnaise, fried noodles, chopped garlic and pork fat are also crowd favorites to add in.

Chanpon: This originated in Nagasaki and is made by boiling thick noodles directly in a thick pork and seafood soup. It’s viscous, and eats more like stew than ramen.

Hiyashi Chuka: This literally means “cold Chinese.” As such it’s a dish made with cold ramen noodles and various toppings like fried egg, ham, carrot, cucumber and chicken. It is usually dressed in a light soy-vinegar sauce. I’ve even seen fish sauce used in some versions around NYC.

Mazemen: This is a hearty “dry” ramen, characterized by thick noodles and weird toppings like cheese. Similar to Abura Soba, this is essentially cooked noodles with a small amount of strongly flavored sauce on the side for dipping. Toppings and sauces can vary a great deal, and are often experimental in nature.

Tantan-Men: This is an off-shoot of Chinese dandan noodles. Based on a pork broth, it comes with a scoop of heavily spiced ground pork and is generally served with bok choy and/or spinach.

Tsukemen: This, like Mazemen, is also a “dipping” ramen. Cold, undressed (nekkit) noodles are served alongside a hot, concentrated ramen broth. You dip the noodles into a bowl of broth as you eat, grabbing the toppings whenever you choose to.

Yakisoba: This is the Japanese version of Chinese fried noodles. It’s made with egg noodles that get stir-fried with veggies and occasionally meat or seafood. This shit then gets hit with a Worcestershire style anchovy and vegetable sauce. It’s often topped with shaved bonito flakes and pickled ginger (beni shoga).

FUSION RAMEN

All around NYC we are seeing various kinds of fusion ramen items being offered, which makes a lot of sense given that the history of ramen in Japan involves a lot of Japanese-Chinese fusion.

However some of the more wild examples I’ve seen in NYC include:

Korean-inspired kimchi ramen (Mokbar):

Thai green curry ramen (Bassanova):

Flavors common to Burmese cuisine that feature coconut milk in the broth base (Tabata):

Indian-inspired massaman curry ramen, even complete with potatoes and carrots and (Yasha):

Italian spaghetti ramen, with pepper oil, arugula and crispy porchetta (Maialino):

Thanksgiving turkey ramen, with gravy, mushrooms, stuffing and cranberries, of course (Talde):

And Jamaican jerk chicken ramen (Miss Lily’s 9A):

There are even ramen burgers (L&L Drive Inn, among others)…

…and now ramen cake (courtesy of my wife, The Cake Dealer).

So that about does it here. If ramen isn’t your thing, but soup most definitely IS your thing, as a general matter, then there’s always pho, bun bo hue and laksa out there to soothe your hot soup needs in the cold winter weather that’s about to strike.

Star Noodle

Star Noodle

Best meal of the trip goes to Star Noodle. This place has been on the radar for a while, and is well-known among haoles as the place to eat near Lahaina.

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Great drinks at the bar, by the way…

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We had a lot of food, so get ready… We started with bacon and egg appetizer, which is very reminiscent of sizzling pork sisig dishes in Filipino cuisine. This shit was so fucking delicious. It had large, quality chunks of thick bacon, onions, tomatoes and a runny egg, served in a hot cast iron skillet.

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We also shared an order of “Lahaina Fried Soup,” which essentially was a dry noodle dish made with super thick chow funn noodles (again, two n’s on the chow fun in Hawaii for some reason).

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The flavors were simple – ground pork and bean sprouts. But we started adding some of the bacon in with the noodles and it was fucking amazing. If I am ever back here, I will order the bacon and egg appetizer and ask them to mix it with the Fried Lahaina Soup.

Next was the Hapa Ramen. Hapa typically refers to a person who is partially asian, so this is meant to be a partially asian or partially Japanese ramen dish?

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Whatever the case, it was excellent. The pork broth was thick and robust, with some black garlic oil mayu on top for punch. It had sweetness from the fish cake slices and bamboo shoots, savoriness from the touch of miso, and fatness from the poached egg. The noodles were cooked just right.

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Fusion Jerky

I’ve been chowing on jerky lately. I keep finding good new shit. My wife and I grabbed these on an impulse purchase at Bed Bath & Beyond, of all places. I suppose these are considered part of the “beyond” section. Anyway, bastards, these are really freaking delicious. Lemon pepper chicken and island teriyaki pork jerky by Fusion Jerky. Pick up a bag if you see them. There was a spicy chipotle beef flavor as well. Should have gotten all three.

fusion jerky

The meat wasn’t too chewy, like some jerky can be. For the chicken, that might have been because it doesn’t have the same fibrous consistency as beef. But the pork was pretty easy to chew as well. The flavors were intense but not overpowering. I couldn’t stop shoveling this crap into my body.

Update: This flavor was great too.

Ponty Bistro

My wife and I were invited to this joint on 3rd Avenue and 19th Street for a press dinner.

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“Ponty” is named for a major avenue in Senegal, the country from which chef and owner Cisse originally hails.

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Cisse is a French-trained chef, but he has integrated African and global flavors into his dishes to make for an interesting and modern fusion restaurant.

The ambiance here is very bistro, with classic seating, high ceilings and tile floors. But the pale yellow walls are decorated with African wood sculptures to play on the fusion aspect of the place, and African, Latin and other world music plays in the sound system.

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It’s been open since November of 2008. Since then Cisse has enticed a large list of regulars to keep coming back in. We saw him greet several tables of diners by name, always friendly and inviting. He’s expanding too: His cousin runs the larger Harlem location that just opened in August of 2014.

Ponty offers a variety of prix fixe lunches and dinners for very reasonable prices ($19-$25). Although they only have one African wine on the menu, the list does include some very nice wines from around the globe.

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They do have a nice African lager though: Tusker. I’ve had this before, so I knew I’d be pleased with it.

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In addition to the various prix fixe menus, they also offer half price martinis and daily specials.

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From the look of the menu, it seemed like martinis were sort of their specialty. So my wife and I tried the bissap (hibiscus), fresh ginger and “French” martinis (pineapple and fruit based – not sure why). I think my favorite was the ginger martini. It had a nice fresh spice-bite to it (on the left below).

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The full menu is a pretty impressive (there is a steak presence!), and when you start to read it you’ll think to yourself, “Holy shit, there is a LOT of stuff on here, and the flavors are definitely not just French or African,” and you’ll be absolutely correct.

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Chef Cisse was a very early contestant and finalist on the Food Network show “Chopped,” which pits four chef contestants against a “mystery basket” filled with the most random and strange ingredients you can possibly think of.  The idea is to test the mettle of the chefs to see if they can still make good dishes with unplanned ingredients. Given this, one can easily understand why the menu is so diverse: The man is extremely versatile. He can cook ANYTHING, and he can cook it really fucking well. And that level of quality extends across the entire menu. He is incredibly consistent.

This joint was PACKED for a Tuesday. I noticed that there was only one waiter for eight or nine tables of guests. Some of the nearby diners were actually getting restless with slow service near the end of their meals. Even my martini order was forgotten for a while, and I was at the press dinner table! It must be tough to know when it will be busy for a place like this; you don’t want to be overstaffed, because then, as a business, you’re wasting money. You can’t really fault them for it, but one more waiter would have solved the problem for sure without breaking the bank too much. And with take-out and delivery orders coming in too (there were lots of bags going out the door), Cisse must have been swamped back in the kitchen, working his ass off. Hats off to his work ethic.

Okay let me get to the fucking food already. Presentation here is clean and simple, with a slightly refined elegance. Each dish you’ll see is very different from the last. The menu is very global – not just French and African. Essentially it is modern global food that’s inspired by French and African cuisine flavors and techniques. I can say confidently that portion sizes on the regular menu are quite large, based on seeing what other people ordered nearby.

Here’s the list of what we had (ignore the address info on top):

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These first two items are not on the regular menu. They were specials listed on the board outside (pictured above).

First was a rich, filling, and velvety-smooth lobster bisque with caviar. Onion, celery and carrots were minced into this roux-like soup base with perfectly cooked lobster meat.  You could smell the aromatic truffle and cracked pepper when you leaned over the bowl, but their flavors were not overpowering at all. Mine came five minutes later that the rest of the group, so I got more than the others (yes!).

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Next was the green bean and artichoke salad, which was topped with shaved Parmesan cheese and dressed with a light truffle vinaigrette. Again there was smart and restrained use of the truffle; aromatic but not overpowering. This was a very light and fresh salad, and, surprisingly, my favorite dish of the night.

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This scallop dish with beets and asparagus was really interesting. By the way: beets are back! I hated them as a kid. One of my sisters always loved them though. I never understood why. Now I’m seeing them everywhere, on so many menus around the city. Chefs are nailing them now, preparing them in such great and innovative ways, as Cisse did. So now I’m in for beets! The asparagus was tasty as well here. But the star of the plate, the scallop, was cooked absolutely perfectly. It was caramelized on the outside with a nice savory and sweet glaze that made it meaty and satisfying. The sauce you see is an orange marmalade that tasted like a creamsicle. Very different on a dish like this. But it made for a good mix of sweet and savory. I didn’t think beets or an orange creamsicle sauce would work with scallops, but I found myself really liking this dish. Definitely fusion and not classic. The regular sized portion comes with five scallops, by the way.

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This tagine (middle eastern and north African cooking vessel) chicken dish had a nice curry smell with a bold spicy flavor. The chicken was soft; nicely executed. It was plated with couscous. The mirepoix (carrots, celery and onion combo) showed up again here. It is classically French, but the rest of the dish is decidedly north African. The couscous was really good with the curry sauce. It had yellow raisins nestled within, to balance out the spicy curry with some pops of sweetness. The couscous also featured corn, peppers, carrots and zucchini as well – all finely diced.

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This hanger steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare. It was really tender, too. I was a little concerned that we weren’t given steak knives for this course, but it turns out the butter knife was just fine. It was THAT tender. Needless to say, this meat man was pleased. All aspects of this dish were done-up exactly how they should be prepared, and all things tasted exactly how they should taste. A classic wine sauce, sautéed spinach and creamy mashed potato. We returned here to a more classic approach to the dish, as opposed to a fusion or African inspiration. These are tried and true accompaniments to this delicious piece of beef, and Cisse nailed the execution. Sorry the spinach is hiding behind the beef in these photos. I was excited to dig in!

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For dessert we tried the tiramisu and creme brulee. There was a good amount of orange zest to add a citrus flavor to the creme brulee. This took me back to the earlier “orange marmalade” creamsicle sauce that came with the scallop dish. Orange zest + creamy egg custard = creamsicle for dessert. The custard was nicely handled. It was creamy, smooth and not eggy. There was a good texture and nice crisp on the sugar without going too bitter.

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The tiramisu was soft and smooth. There was a nice hint of coffee as well. The ricotta was light, and the cake was not too boozy. I preferred this to the creme brulee. Really nice.

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I’m glad to see that Ponty is expanding into Harlem. I’d like to get up there and try that location out, and I hope some of you readers will try one or both places as well.

PONTY BISTRO
218 3rd Ave.
New York, NY 10003