Archive for the 'Whines' Category

My holy grail

This below is my holy grail. What the hell is it? You ask. I agree it does look suspicious.

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The holy grail

For the past month or so, I’ve been completely obsessed with the frozen yogurt at Bloomie’s. I know it’s been there forever before the advent of Pinkberry and its clones–you see lots of them on the West Coast–and before all this plain yogurt/bacteria-y flavor craze, but what can I say, I sort of just tried it for the first time last month…and now the lost sheep is back in the herd!

I was an instant convert. From the very first spoonful I knew this would be a serious long-term obsession. First of all, the texture…oh the texture…it was unbelievably rich and creamy yet light at the same time–light but gloriously substantial–which was what set it apart from all other frozen yogurt out there. And the taste…it just tasted like real yogurt–refreshingly tart and just amply sweet plus none of that crappy synthetic aftertaste (hello Tasti?). This sounds silly, but I think my first taste of it probably ranked among my top 10 most transformative food moments. FROGURT FOR LIFE!

The two weeks after that momentous day were marked by a wretched state of perpetual longing (for the Frogurt of course!). See, normally I’m a go-getter kind of girl especially when it comes to food; however, it was final exam period and I was just too screwed this time around to peel myself away from them books. I remember feeling really torn one day literally considering cabbing it to the Upper East Side to get that one cup of frozen yogurt–haha, J can testify. Then I did some online research and found somewhere that the Frogurt (the brand of the mix?) was also available at Zabar’s cafe and Lalo (though according to M, Lalo’s machine was always down, boo). But oh my, it was a milestone discovery. Now only a 15-minute subway ride separated me from pure yogurt bliss.

And then (drumroll!) somewhat miraculously, the hellish exam period ended. J, M and I went to celebrate our doneness at Tomoe, hurrah! We stuffed our faces with amazing fresh fish and despite our full stomachs, dessert seemed to be in order. Of course, what else other than the frozen yogurt from the Soho Bloomie’s! Oh so conveniently close by! So tipsily (sake-induced), we frolicked over to the Soho Bloomingdale’s and each got ourselves a helping of this:

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Plain and Blueberry flavors from the Soho Bloomie’s

Simply heavenly…though we all agreed that 40 Carrots on the Upper East Side was the better place to have it. After that day, a series of tragic frozen yogurt incidents followed:

1) Some day about 2 weeks ago, 7PM

D and I were banging on the doors of Zabar’s cafe hoping that they would let us so we could have “just one cup of frozen yogurt pleeeeassee.” They did not let us in =(

Lesson learned: the cafe at Zabar’s close at 7PM

2) Same evening, 9:25PM

Against our better judgments, J and I rode the subway to the Upper East Side Bloomie’s hoping against hope that 40 Carrots would still be open. The department store itself wasn’t even open =(. We went to Serendipity and stuffed ourselves to stupendousness instead.

Lesson learned: Bloomie’s closes at 8:30PM on weekdays.

3) First day of banking boot camp, 7:30PM

Immense Frogurt craving descended after a long day of Excel training. So right after it ended, I ran to the PATH station, took the train to WTC, transfered to the 2 to Times Square, then switched to the N and got off on Lex–it’s 8:14PM, hurrah!!!! I sprinted down to the lower level, literally sprinted, in heels and all (only 16 minutes left!!!). Finally, I got down to the lower level, but the cafe was already closed!!!!!! Almost broke down right in front of the sign saying, “open daily: 10AM – 7PM.”

Feeling utterly defeated, I trotted back to the train station. It’s almost 9PM so the cafe at Zabar’s was already closed and Lalo’s machine was probably down again. I had no other option but resorting to Plan B: Pinkberry. So I went down the subway station and took the N back downtown, then out of my extreme frazzledness, I got off on 53rd thinking I was going in the wrong direction, crossed over to the other platform, then suddenly realized I had been on the right train. Oh my goodness, can you imagine? I went back to the original platform and proceeded downtown, then finally got off on 34th, feeling like a pile of poo. I got out of the station and walked over to Pinkberry, and guess what? The line went all the way out to the street! Well, I was already there so I joined the line anyway, waited and finally got myself a medium-sized cup of the Original with three fruit toppings (because it’s cheaper than a small with three toppings for some very odd reason).

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Original Pinkberry with strawberry, kiwi and mango

But damn, that $5 something cup did not pacify my craving at all. It was just way icy and too insubstantial in texture, especially compared to the Bloomingdale’s yogurt. Majorly unsatisfied, I ended up going to Woorijip and got a bunch of panchan and kimbap to appease myself. HAR

Lesson learned: 40 Carrots Cafe hours = 10AM-7PM

And finally a succes story!

Then the next day, my second day of training, I got back to Manhattan around 6PM. After all that trouble and disappointment I went through the previous day, I really wasn’t craving the frozen yogurt that bad anymore. But still, it’s the principle of it! That’s what really matters! I got off my 1 train at 79th and tada! Zabar’s was right across the street. Just imagine how delirious and accomplished I felt walking into the Zabar’s Cafe seeing the frozen yogurt machine with the signs “Zaberry Plain” and “Zaberry Strawberry” on it. I walked up to the counter and the following conversation ensued:

A: Hi! Can I have a small plain please?
Z: Sure.
A: (Saw quart containers. Eyes widened, as much as they could…)
Oh my god, you have bigger containers I can take home??? Can I get a pint?
Z : This? (Held up a pint container)
A: Oh my god, that’s way too small. Can I have a quart? A gallon? Whatever biggest size you have. I was here at 7PM the other day and the wouldn’t let me in. He wouldn’t let me in!!! Iwas sooooooo saddddd.
Z: Uhhh, haha ok. I can get you a quart.
A: Ok, thank you! (Smiled my brightest smile!) I lovvvve your frozen yogurt. I just lovvvvee it!

Missionn accomplished =)

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A whole quart in my freezer!!! 24 hours access!!!

40 Carrots (at Bloomingdale’s Upper East Side)
59th Street & Lexington Avenue
1000 Third Avenue New York, NY 10022

Zabar’s Cafe
2245 Broadway (at 80th St.)
New York, NY 10024
212-787-2000

Pinkberry
7 W. 32nd St.
New York, NY 10001
212-695-9631

Gimme some assss :: Bo Ssam

So…I know it’s been a while, but let’s pick up right where we left off, shall we?

The morning after that momentous day D. Chang’s Ssam Bar rose to NYT two-stardom, Sofia messaged me. It went something like:

SYL: I think it’s time for the bo ssam

AH: Are you serious?? OMG. OMFG. Hells yeaaaa! yippeeeee

SYL: YAY. I’M SO EXCITED. YAY PORK BUTT!!!

AH: YEA, ME TOO. YIPPPEEEE. PORK BUTT FEAST!!!

I had been fantasizing about this pork butt business for a while. Everywhere I went, it just seemed like everybody was doing it, you know what I mean? Obviously I felt the need to join the rank. Sofia and I started gather round a group of dedicated eaters, made the fateful reservation, and tada!! I’m proud to announce that this past Friday, eleven of us all got ass, a beautiful bootilicious porcine ass nonetheless. It was an event to be remembered: a decadent pork butt orgy to usher in spring break–how ironically timely, eh?

In case you’re curious, Sofia wrote up a wonderful account of the evening over at her blog. Now I feel no need to burden you anymore with my crappy writing. Enjoy the crappy pictures. Buh bye!

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All accoutrements ready, awaiting the main star

Ahahah, gotcha over there! Of course, my loyal readers (like five of you? Thank you. I love you more than my other friends, but let’s keep it secret ;p) would know there’s no way I would end a real entry without hitting that 500 word count. So, since Sofia already recounted the night of gluttony in all its porky detail, I’m just going to do what I do best here: WHINE. The blog is called food and whine for a reason, duh!

Disclaimer: Despite my bitchin’ and moanin’ below, Ssam Bar is still one of my favorite places to eat in the City. All these whines are based on my personal tastes. They are subjective and should not dissuade you from going there (if you haven’t been, that is. Because if you have, you’re hooked, and right at this minute you’re thinking, “Who the hell do you think you are?? You unfaithful bitch,” or something along that line. haha, am I right?

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Main Sea Urchin with Tapioca, Whipped Tofu, and Scallion

1. Main Sea Urchin with Tapioca, Whipped Tofu, and Scallion – so this was a very visually pleasing dish. The colors I liked. The tastes? not so much. It’s not that I don’t like sea urchin or foamy whipped thing or tapioca balls; I just didn’t like them together. Actually, I almost liked the dish, but something in there was off for me. I enjoyed the airy texture of the whipped tofu, but oh my god, the yuzu! I hated the yuzu in there. I can see why you would want to have some sort of acid somewhere in that dish to cut through the unctuousness of the sea urchin, but the yuzu tang was just, ugh, too floral for the uni. And the big tapioca balls, sorry but you don’t belong there. They were too sweet and chewy, and they contributed nothing to the dish. Ok, I take that back. Maybe their sliminess did contribute something, but flavorwise, it just didn’t work. I think I would’ve liked this dish if it was just sea urchin, whipped tofu (no yuzu infusion contamination infiltration please!), and then maybe something refreshing and crispy like…hmmm…shiso leaf tempura? or maybe even the Korean kkaennip? or a tempura of some other Asian minty varietal. Or, if we want to keep the acidic flavor, maybe a pickled something…like okra? Will okra stay slimy and sticky if it’s been pickled? Or maybe braised okra will do. Sea urchin needs something slimy. That viscous slime inside the okra would’ve been perfect. Or, alternatively, if we want to stick with the tapioca idea, I think the smaller pearl tapioca would work ten times better, so you would have an island of sea urchin and an island of whipped tofu floating in some dreamy pearl tapioca liquid, ok maybe sabayon (a la Thomas Keller’s Oysters and Pearls. Actually, this dish did remind me of Oysters and Pearls with the seafood-tapioca action going on there). But yea, maybe the pearl tapioca sabayon could be lightly flavored with dashi, lightly being the operative word. Ok, I’m actually really curious now. Perhaps someone can tell me how to whip tofu to get to that texture so I can try out all these combinations? =)

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Chawanmushi with Black Truffle, Snails, Edamame, and Scallion

2. Chawanmushi with Black Truffle, Snails, Edamame, and Scallion – aka Tello’s Chawanmushi. Is Tello a real person? If yes, I want to marry him, so he can make this chawanmushi of his for me all day everyday. This dish hit all the right spots for me, from the smooth beyond perfection texture to the delightful bits of edamame at the bottom. TELLO, MARRY ME!!!

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Three Terrine Sandwich (aka Banh Mi)

3. Three Terrine Sandwich– still the best banh mi in the City for me. I shall revisit all my favorite bahn mi places in LA now that I”m here and report back whether Ssam Bar’s version is indeed the best of the best.

Aside from those three dishes, we also got my favorite, grilled rice cake + sausage + collard + kimchee, and the grilled sweetbreads, which were cooked perfectly. No whining over there, nope.

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Raw Oysters

4. Bo Ssam – this was massive. I propose that we break it down to its components.

4.1 Oysters – I almost slurped mine down before the pork butt arrived, but then our waiter rushed over to stop the sacrilege from happening, lol. He said to save it for the ssam…and I did. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the oysters to be that complementary to the pork, or the ssam, due to some major salt spill issue to be discussed below.

4.2 Condiments – so along with the oysters, bibb lettuce and rice, we were also given 4 kinds of sauces to customize our ssam with: napa cabbage kimchee, kimchee puree, ginger scallion sauce, and sea salt. My problem was that everything tasted salty. By itself, it was salty ok, but together with the pork (which was quite salty, in a good way) it became too salty. A few people in our party complained that the kimchee was not sour or spicy enough, which I agreed, and I think that would’ve helped the ssam as a whole too. I would love to see another sauce added to the trio, something complex and sweet and maybe tart rather than salty. I think onion marmalade would work quite well too.

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Saucage for the Bo Ssam (kimchee puree, ginger scallion sauce)

4.3 Bibb Lettuce – they’re crisp and beautiful. No complaints here.

4.4 Rice – I really wish they used more glutinous rice than whatever kind they had there. The rice got hard towards the end from sitting too long outside. Stickier rice, like Japanese or Korean kind, would withstand the long duration on the table and absorb the pork fat and all other sauces better, I think. I wonder how the ssam would taste like with coconut rice–jasmine rice cooked with coconut milk and a tad bit of brown sugar. Really nutty and fragrant rice with a little hint of sweetness…mmm

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Pork butt in all its glory

4.5 HUUUUUGE Pork Butt – our raison d’etre! haha just kidding, more like our raison de trekking down there. How do you say that in French? No whining here. I just wish the crispy skin: mushy flesh ratio were higher, but I know that’s not really within their control…oh, fatty me.

When people tell you, Bo Ssam is a lot of food, you need to believe them, JUST BELIEVE. This meal was a lesson in humility as we quickly realized that our supposedly hyperelastic stomachs weren’t quite that elastic and our appetites indeed limited. *oh gasp* Witnessing your waiter dividing the unfinished pork into three sizable containers for you to doggybag home was an ordeal no self-respected glutton should ever go through, I tell ya.

So bottomline, I did enjoy the Bo Ssam experience a lot and would love to try it again (not anytime soon though and not without a 2-liter bottle of Evian by my side ;p ). You ask, so what’s your problem really? No, no problem. Somehow in my poor little head I had thought that Bo Ssam would be the ultimate Momofuku Ssam Bar experience, but really it’s not, not for me at least. Now I think my ultimate Ssam Bar experience would be to order every friggin item on their menu along with a twelve-pack of Hitachino Red Ale (despite the fact that they don’t come in twelve…but you get the idea)…mMMmMm… who’s in?

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-3500

 

Thai-style Chinese New Year

I’m a loser. I make resolutions. I break them. I make promises. I don’t keep them. I said I would post a gazillion entries so I could be up to date by last Friday. I did not do it. You should pull a Lisa Novak on me right now!! (Please check out that clip. It’s hilarious!!)

But aside from the whining, I just want to say Happy Chinese New Year to everyone! A, P and I had planned to wake up early this morning to make traditional Chinese breakfast (ish): chicken congee and tang yuan (sweet dumplings). But in true loser’s spirit, I slept past the agreed rendezvous time and therefore didn’t have enough time to soak and slowcook the rice – oh well. So instead of jook, I decided to make rice porridge, not the Chinese style xi fan though (would have made the xi fan but didn’t have enough ingredients for the side dishes). The chicken rice porridge I made was more like the Thai style khao tom. If it’s chicken porridge, you call it khao tom gai. If it’s shrimp, then call it khao tom goong. You get the idea. Khao tom in Thai literally means boiled rice. If you have to rank them in descending order of mushiness then it goes jook << xi fan << khao tom, or at least from my own experience with mushy, watery rice (I think risotto would go somewhere in between xi fan and khao tom).

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Khao Tom Gai (Thai style chicken rice porridge)

Khao tom gai might seem a little malapropos for the occasion, but if you think about it (by that I guess I mean if you know that I’m part Thai part Chinese, which you probably do if you’re reading this blog =p ), it’s actually quite befitting that I was celebrating Chinese new year with Thai style breakfast. The khao tom gai I reconstructed of course wasn’t all that authentic. Traditionally, you would use jasmine rice, the national grain of Thailand which is well-known for its subtle fragrance and nutty flavor. Its texture is also a little harder than that of the grain varieties normally used in Chinese/ Japanese/ Korean cuisine if you cook them for the same length of time. My broth is a mix of chicken broth, water and dashi. *gasp* My Thai grandmother would not approve of that at all, lol – only homemade stock made from chicken carcasses!!! (that’s what she would say). And then, which faux pas are we up to now? And then, I marinaded my chicken with a combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, mirin, and white pepper. In true Thai tradition, you would garnish your khao tom with egg omelette confetti, crispy fried garlic, and scallion. I followed that one! (although my egg ribbons were far from paper-thin, but I’ll try again next time.)

Components for khao tom gai:

1. steamed rice
2. bite-size chicken pieces seasoned to your liking
3. chicken soup
4. paper-thin egg omelette cut into dainty ribbons
5. chopped scallion
6. crispy fried garlic (minced garlic+vegetable oil. microwave for 3-4 min.)
7. white pepper (the peppery taste is very very essential to the whole assembly of flavors.)

Layer your khao tom gai components in that order and you get this:

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If you ever have a hankering for a soothing yet nourishing breakfast, ok you know what I’m going to say =p

A week in review (part une): an ode to David Chang / before the tempest

The tempest being one full week of relentless interviews, 6 in total. It was hellish, but definitely an invaluable experience. I learned a lot about finance, about the markets, and about myself (I’m sorry for being such a melodramatic fruitcup…but whatever). Thanks everyone for your continual support and encouragement. You guys are awesome. I have amazing friends! I’m dedicating the following three installments to all of you (like this means anything, haha).

If you’re a close friend of mine,  you probably know I have an elephantine chef crush on David Chang, the talented mastermind behind Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam Bar. I don’t know what it is (well, actuall I know, it’s his food), but all of New York foodie aristocrats seem to be so smitten with him and just can’t stop talking about the dude. His speedy rise to fame is rather mindblowing, and really I don’t think there’s any other young New York chef who can claim to have gotten quite as much press as DC and his restaurants have in the past two years. The press absolutely adores the guy, and so does yours truly!

I think my first visit to Noodle Bar was during the summer of 2005. I’d just read all these rave reviews on NYT and NYMag, and suddenly everybody was gushing about the Berkshire pork and the pork buns and the ramen with poached egg. So one balmy day, my noodle buddy A and I made our fateful trip to the East Village premise. I remember ordering the Momofuku Ramen and watching DC preparing our noodles right in front of us. He was so stringent about serving the ramen at the right moment. I remember seeing him scolding his waiter for wanting to bring the bowl out too soon and then myself being so intrigued by that – someone who cares so much about his food! And then our two orders of Momofuku Ramen arrived. Oh, they were revelation. I remember marveling at the perfectly poached egg and thinking what a genius he was for pairing bamboo shoots and wakame seaweed with sweet corn kernels and fresh peas. Of course, the star was the Berkshire pork, so delicious and soulfully tender, and last but not least, the flavorful broth and the ramen itself. It’s like a tasty reverie in my mouth. Love at first taste! 

After that summer I went back several times, but no experience ever matched that first time when DC was there behind the counter. I tried the much-heralded pork buns and they were excellent; the pork was superbly fatty. The ramen, however, was never quite as revelatory as that first bowl that marked my rite of passage. The broth was starting to taste a little too salty even to my NaCl-philic palate. But again, I never saw DC there during my subsequent visits, so my suspicion was that his absence and the resulting looser quality control were causing the salt spill in the soup. Well, I loved him still.

And then we fast forward to August 2006. After much hype and speculation, Momofuku Ssam Bar opened to warm and welcoming reviews from, who else, the foodie aristocrats. It is such a novel idea on so many levels. First, Ssam Bar has a split personality: it’s a Chipotle-style Asian burrito joint by day, and a hypercool late-night grub bar with a style I can’t really pinpoint by night. Seriously, for my MS interview one of the interviewers asked me to name my top three restaurants in New York so I mentioned Momofuku Ssam Bar, and he asked what kind of food it was, and I couldn’t find a word for it…I ended up saying that it was comfort food but not in the traditional sense. It’s a mix of familiar Asian dishes tweaked to perfection and whimsical inventions that still hit the spot. Does that make sense? Yea, I can’t really put my finger on it…I ended up telling my interviewer to just go try it, haha. I hope he took my advice.

I can’t believe it took me that long to get to my point. I am so wordy. But my point is that I love the food there, even more so than Momofuku Ramen (much more so!). This is pure passion and creativity tranlated into edible terms. There’s really nothing like it. I’ve been there a few times since it opened, and the first two times I was there, the chef gave us free stuff! First time it was DC. He was busy tending to some dubious-looking pale green substance in the blender, so we asked him what it was. He told us he was doing a little experiment (Oh my god! I was so friggin excited. I was having a conversation with David Chang!!!) But anyway, we were too wrapped up in our ssams and so didn’t bother to ask him more questions.  Again, I know I’m repeating myself but the guy really is a genius, and the ssam that we were eating was one testament to his culinary vision. My Momofuku ssam (it’s like a burrito but with nontraditional fillings) was a yummy assemblage of his signature Berkshire pork, azuki beans, onion marmalade, kewpie mayo slaw, red kimchi puree, bean sprouts, edamame, rice, and I probably left something out. Once we were done with our food and ready to get our check, DC sent out a plate of raw diver scallops with a dollop of lemon rind foam (the aforementioned dubious pale green substance!) and kombu sprinkle. It was just so cool for him to give us a sample and ask for our comments. 

DC: Did I fail? 
AH: The foam is too bitter.
DC: It’s supposed to be bitter. Do I get an A+?
AH: It’s still too bitter. B+
DC: Hah, I don’t take anything below A+’s.

Ok, so this first installment is taking a little longer that I expected. But read on, my friends, delicious grub ahead. The second time we went there we actually got to try the late-night menu, and that’s really where the magic happens. Starter was oysters with a cooling topping of melon salsa. I didn’t like it too much. The oysters were too small and the melon didn’t stand up to the brininess of the oysters. We also tried the three terrine sandwich, which was really just an haute couture version of banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) – perfection. We were debating between two apple salads (something with pork jowl? yes James?) so Joaquin (DC‘s partner) made us a sample of the other one we didn’t order (yay, more free stuff!). We also tried the dok dish, which is definitely my absolute favorite item on the menu. It’s a mixture of grilled dok (Korean rice cakes), kimchi, collard green, and ground beef/pork. This is comfort food at its height, in my humble opinion. I was a little disappointed that DC wasn’t there (haha), but Joaquin was so friendly he even gave us the contact number for the purveyor of their Berkshire pork. I think I still have it, so let me know if you’re interested.

So, I am getting to the real point now. Last Saturday D, Gilbey and I made our way to East Village for yet another helping of DC‘s delicious comfort food. It was very packed so we had to wait a little bit. Although the wait wasn’t that long, I think I’d definitely go on a weeknight next time – less crowded, no wait, and easier access to the prime seating (at the bar facing the kitchen in the center) which means full frontal chef-gazing.

But of course, now it’s time to order. By that time, the three musketeers were ravenous due to the 1-hour subway ride and 20-minute wait. First we got the grilled rice cakes with kimchi, collard green, and ground pork. My favorite! I know it doesn’t look too appetizing here, but it’s one of the most satisfying things you will ever eat.

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Grilled dok with kimchi, collard green, and ground pork

Gilbey ordered this because he couldn’t eat pork. Ahh, but we’re in pork Disneyland! It was delicious nevertheless. Very clean and fresh, as D has noted.

grilled spanish mackerel

Grilled Spanish Mackarel with ume, lemon, pickled daikon, and ponzu sauce

This is my personal favorite also, a stew of beef and ox tongue with cinnamon, lemongrass, and…argh the third spice/herb’s name is eluding me. Anyway, the stew was a perfect hearty fix for the cold wintery night, and it came with crusty grilled ficelle for us to sop up the sauce with. The beef and the tongue, especially, were meltingly tender. We’re such beasts that we had to request for more bread.

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Beef and ox tongue stew with cinnamon, lemongrass, and mystery herb

Gilbey also got the organic chicken ssam. After his first bite he said, “this is like an explosion of flavors in my mouth!”

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Organic chicken ssam

In addition, we also got the signature Berkshire pork buns, which seemed to get fattier and fattier every time I tried it, but no complaints here.

It took us about an hour to get down, twenty minutes to get seated, but only forty minutes to inhale everything, like everything.

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So, my point is…

how can you not love the dude when he makes food this good???

 I ❤ David Chang!

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-3500

*slurp*slurp*mMmMMm…soba

As a way of showing my sincere respect and heartfelt appreciation for this great Japanese feat, the oodles of noodles known as soba, I am making this entry a silent entry, meaning there’ll be no chatty yap yap yap like usual.

 …

Actually it’s because I’m tired and delirious as hell…hah.

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Shiso-wrapped chicken tempura with ume salt

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Uni soba with grated yam

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Ice cream trio: honey wasabi, black sesame, and yuzu (left to right)

 

Everything I had there was excellent, especially the toothsome buckwheat soba, hearty and light and refreshing at the same time – very satisfying.

I’ll probably come back to add more comments later, but bed for now.

Soba-Ya
229 E. Ninth St.
New York, NY10009
Phone (212) 533-6966