Friday, December 5, 2008

A Long Way For Soup

65 4th Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 388-0088
3 Grains of Rice

Ok, you’ve read the blog and know I am cuckoo for Ramen noodles. I flew to Japan for a ramen fest a few months back and recently had to go to NYC for business. I went up the day before so I could grab a bowl before my lunch meeting. After a little bit of web searching, I settled on the newly opened branch of the Japanese chain Ippudo.

I arrived exactly at 11am – opening time and was not even the first person in the joint. All Japanese. So far, so good. Reassuring, but immediately I knew this was not a basic Japanese ramen joint. In Japan, Ramen is basic food – salary man stuff. In NY, ramen becomes a Zen experience. Normally I like Zen experiences, but this was a little off putting. Very nice raw wood décor, glass kitchen area, etc. But in the end, Ramen is about the soup, not the décor – which is why most Japanese ramen places look like holes in the wall. The holier, the better.

I decided to start with the Hirata buns on my brother in law’s recommendation and I have to say – for a ramen place – this place has awesome buns. These were fluffy while Japanese bao folded over onto a slice of Berkshire pork, pickled cabbage and a tangy, spicy, snappy BBQ sauce. They were as light as pillows, but made my mouth water and my lips tingle. A nice little touch of heat added to the pleasure of these little heavenly morsels of porky goodness.

Onto the soup. I order the house special – ShiroMaru Hakata Classic Ramen. It was basically a miso broth with a nice few slices of Berkshire pork, bamboo shoot slices, half a hard boiled egg, some sesame seeds and strips of nori sheets. Now, the broth makes ramen and this broth was terrific. Very rich, not overly salty and full of flavor. Not from a little packet to be sure. But the noodles were wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I have noodles like these in my cabinet back home.

They are thin, machine made, white flour noodles. They had a little bite to them but they are not the noodles I like or that I get in Japan. They are boiled, not fried and therefore add no grease or fat to the broth. They should look like this.

So, it was not a resounding success. Now don’t get me wrong. I will probably go back just for the buns – they were that good. But having had Ramen a few times in NY, I would rather hit Rai Rai Ken or Sapporo in midtown for the soup before heading back to Ippudo. It wasn’t bad – and the buns put it over the top but a ramen place should have ramen nailed and this was not to my personal preferences.

Monday, November 10, 2008

No More Calls, We Have a Winner

Hand-down, without hesitation, the best Korean Restaurant in Little Seoul (Annondale) is Oegadgib. We originally reviewed this off the road, hard to find gem in August and a return visit last night confirmed that this not only the best value for the money, it is the best overall Korean restaraunt in the DC area (ok, have we been to all of them - no, but most). I am sure you can find a place that makes one dish that is a little better than Oegadgib (for example, no Korean Fried Chicken), but for the price, the quality, the variety, how well the food is done and the experience, Oegadgib wins hands down.

Last night included some Kalbi(short rib ) and some Sangyapsol (three layer pork belly) all grilled on a stone slab with garlic,peppers and as we were shown thin slices of daikon that become fabulous when grilled with pork belly, bi bim bap, Tofu Jigae (spicy tofu and seafood soup) and a dok mondu casserole (dok are sliced rice cakes and mandoo are dumplings) simmers in a mild broth.

Starter plates were all good, barley tea tasty and as usual, people were nice and happy to have us there. We did not hit the all you can eat or shabu shabu, but we felt better knowing it was there and to be targettedon a future visit. yet to have anything there that wasn't really excellent, and highly recommend it. From no one, when people ask me where to go for Korean, I am sending them to Oegadgib. You should too.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sometimes Simple is Best

Cleanig out the fridge before this weekend's farmaner market trip found a head of Tatsoi from last Sunday. It was late, and I didn't have a lot of time so went simple which in this case also means delicious.

Cut and cleaned, and added to a wok with 1 TBSP of vegetable oil and 5 sliced cloves of garlic. As it wilted, added 1 TBSP of soy sauce, 1 TBSP of brown rice vinegar and 1 Tsp of kosher salt. Served with lightly sauteed firm tofu and white rice.

Simple, healthy, quick and tasty. What else can you ask for?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fresh, Local, Healthy and, most importantly, GOOOOD

Low-calorie Chinese Style Eggplant

So I’ve started a calorie counting process with a nutritionist. Seems years of loving food has led me to a point where I either have to lose weight or consider amputation. But I am unwilling to stop eating good food. And with my other newfound locavore/organic obsession, I’ve been trying old recipes with lower fat approaches.

As usual, I let the farmer’s market dictate the main ingredient. Today was the last day for eggplant at the Dupont Market. I have not had them in a while and they looked so good, I had to buy a whole bag full.

So I launched into a low fat version of Szechuan-Style Spicy Eggplant. The key here is to use as little oil (down from 5 Tbsp to only 2) as possible, and substitute chicken stock for the moisture required to stew the eggplant until they are nice and soft.

This dish came out really well, if I do say so myself. Tart, spicy with a hint of sweetness and a very thick, viscous sauce. Filling too, which is a good think on my limited calorie count.

2 cups sliced Asian eggplants, cut on the bias (1 ½” – 2”)
3 mild green chilis
5 cloves Garlic, minced
3 scallions diced
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp Szechuan chili oil
3 Tbsp sugar
¼ cup vinegar (white or brown rice)
½ cup chicken stock, plus more as needed
1 Tbsp corn starch

Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a wok and stir fry eggplant for 2 minutes
Add 2 tbsp chicken stock, stir for 2 minutes and then set eggplant aside

Add 1Tbsp chili oil to wok and add garlic, scallion, peppers and saute until just brown
Return eggplant to wok and add all other ingredients, bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer and cover for 7-10 minutes or until eggplant is just soft. Add more chicken stock as needed to keep moist and soften eggplant.

Serve over white rice (in my case, just ½ cup).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

the fresher the better

Last Sunday's farmer's market had a wonderful assortment of peppers, so I decided to make a basic beef with fresh chili peppers. Using some mild green chilis and a free range, grass fed sirloin steak, along with a massive amount of garlic, ginger and some szechuan chili oil I made this spring, I made a basic stir fry and it was terrific. I have not done a side by side, but I feel better knowing I am eating the very freshest of foods with no additives, chemicals, anti-biotics, etc. And since taste, like beauty, is a personal thing if I think it tastes better, then I guess it does.

Beef with Fresh Green Chili

1 10oz Sirloin - sliced into strips
4 green chilis, sliced into rings, seeds and all (more if you like)
4 cloves garlic (more if you like)
3 coins ginger, minced
1 TBSP chili oil
1 TSPN veg oil
1 TBSP soy sauce
1/2 TSPN corn starch diluted in water

Stir fry beef in oil until just rare, drain and set beef aside

stir fry garlic, ginger and peppers until just soft
add beef back in, and cook until just cooked
add in soy and corn starch, and stir

serve with white rice.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A (good) Chicken in Every Pot

The Minimalist entry from the NYTimes got me thinking about this dish, and since my wife and I have been in Europe all week, I knew we could both use a bit of home-made Asian for dinner.

The dish starts out with one of the most under-appreciated chicken preparations of all time - poached (which I originally learned about from my mother in law Lucia). It is too easy not to do more often. Throw a chicken (organic free-range, please) in a pot, cover with water, a bit of soy, some ginger, garlic and spices (whatever you want, really from cloves to peppercorns, some chinese cooking wine, whatever) and bring to a boil, the simmer for 45 minutes (turn a few times to make sure the whole chicken is cooked). Then pull the chicken and let it cool.

The side benefit is the chicken broth that results. Some save it for next time the make poached chicken, using it to make an increasingly concentrated poaching liquid. I like to use mine for soup - it makes an amazing Ramen broth.

The chicken was used tonight to make Hainan chicken, which is really just shredded chicken over rice with a dipping sauce. The poached chicken is allowed to cool and then shredded by hand to be served over a bed of rice.

I liked the idea of making the rice with the poaching-produced chicken broth. Kind of like a Chinese chicken Risotto. But it was much easier. Just sautee some garlic and ginger (I used some chicken fat skimmed from the broth) and then add 1 1/2 cups of rice and 2 cups of broth. Bring to a boil and them simmer for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

The key to this dish is the flavored oil dipping sauce. I used 3/4 cup of veggie oil and about 1 tbsp of sesame oil which I heated until smoking. When done, I poured over chopped garlic, ginger, one chopped serrano pepper and scallions.

It must be hot enough to really sizzle. When done, I added some salt (1 teaspoon) and poured over the shredded chicken which was layered over the rice. I topped with the seasoned oil and diced cucumber.

I have to admit, in all humility - - this was goooooooood home cooking.

Oh yeah, and form a 10 dollar chicken, I have leftover chicken for chicken salad, some robust chicken broth and a second days worth of some kick ass hainan chicken. Not too shabby in these trying economic times.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Off topic, but important

I had a revelation this week. You know how we joke that everything sort of tastes like chicken? Well, I now know why. It is because what we have been eating does not taste like chicken at all. What we have been eating tastes like nothing at all. You know what does taste like chicken? CHICKEN. Real chicken. Chickens that have been fed what chicken eat (grain, grubs, bugs), who get to walk around, who are not “cooped” up all the time (think about the expression, who do not have their beaks removed, who see sunlight, etc.) You know – animals, birds, living things.

This weekend – spurred by my recent readings of Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (both excellent books that have their pros and cons. They should not be taken at face value, but like all good books force you to think and ask yourself questions. They also made me hungry) – I purchased a fresh, totally organic free range, never frozen, locally raised chicken at our local farmers market. It had been “harvested” on Thursday and on Tuesday was on the grill. I butterflied it and spiced the skin heavily with salt, pepper, some other spices and used bricks to press it down on the grill. Inspired by Georgian chicken I have had in Moscow.

Not only did it look fabulous, and smell terrific, but it tasted like – well it tasted what I can only assume chicken tastes like. The texture was smoother and richer, the taste was fuller and more complex. It did not taste like nothing, or like the sauce it was served with – it tasted like - heaven help me – MEAT - with flavor, texture, complexity and nuance.

At first, the taste bugged me. It did not taste like chicken. It tasted weird. And then I realized, everything else I had been eating for 41 years did not taste like chicken and this was the real thing. I feel liberated, but angry (and hungry, but what else is new). I’ve been duped all my life by people I have never met who have robbed me of flavor and taste experiences all for a cheaper product. I robbed myself by buying an inferior product, and not knowing enough to ask what I was eating.

Well, enough is enough. I am onto something good and hope I never go back. What’s for dinner? Chicken . . . mmmmmmmm, chicken.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Muffin Top, Viet Style

Huong Viet Restaurant
Eden Center (Seven Corners)
6785 Wilson Blvd
Falls Church, VA 22044
(703) 538-7110

2.5 out of 5 grains of rice

by Senior Roving Correspondent Lily C.

We went to Eden Center on a quest for some tasty vietnamese on a rainy night in DC. I consulted yelp for some suggestions and settled on Huong Viet. We settled on a variety bun -- grilled pork (succulent, tasty) and shrimp wrapped in sugar cane (bland) with some snow pea shoots stir-fried in garlic (tasty). We went a little crazy with the apps. One of the many entries intrigued my dining companion -- vietnamese muffins. What could that be pray tell? The waiter said it had mung beans and shrimp so we said we give it a try. This is what came – a deep fried muffin with a shrimp on top. When we bit into it, it had the consistency of a slightly soft hockey puck and was so dense that we could barely lift it. Needless to say it was not a winner. We tried to leave it on the table but the waiter efficiently pack it in a to go container for us. I’m sure he could not imagine that we would leave such glorious food on the table. When we tried to sneak out of the restaurant and “forget” to bring it with us, the waiter chased us down in the parking lot. Foiled again!

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I had Ramen for breakfast at Narita airport before my flight left. Is that wrong?

I am set for about a week, I think, on the ramen.

Friday, August 29, 2008


How much is too much? well, 2 times in 4 hours may be getting close. Snooping around Saitama City Japan today, I stumbled onto Rai Rai Ken near the Urawa train station. Good soy flavored ramen - 460 yen, nice tender pork and a light topping of nori and green onions. Looked just like this Went down very nicely. And then I went shopping, bought a few gifts, and as I was heading home to the hotel stumbled upon a no-name ramen place under the train tracks. Looked good, and stopped in for some Miso Ramen. They were even better - good rich broth, not too salty, lots of sprouts and salted pork. Managed to finished the noodles, but was too stuffed to finish the broth. Went home and napped for a bit to let me poor heart rest.

Oh, and then had a small bowl of ramen at the hotel banquet. I may be noodled out for a few days, but you never know. My plane doesn't leave for 12 more hours.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ode to a (Japanese) creampuff

Beard Papa
Various Locations Visited in CA and NYC

5 out of 5 grains of rice

by Senior Roving Correspondent Lily C.

Asian cuisine is not known for its desserts. Perhaps it is the fact that many of our people are lactose intolerant and thus cream is not widely embraced. Thank god one man in Osaka, Japan decided to create the world's best cream puff . . . and succeeded. I discovered the joy of the Beard Papa cream puff at a Fourth of July BBQ this year in NYC and was so happy to come across some additional locations in LA this week. In comparison to their European counterparts, Beard Papa's cream puffs are more light and airy. First the pastry shell is not as sweet. The pastry shell is baked fresh each day, but is not filled with cream until you order so the cream puff stays crispy on the outside. There is a special machine that looks like a coffee urn with a spigot that dispenses the creamy goodness. The cream filling is also more pudding like than whipped cream like and thus lighter (enabling one to eat more than one should). There are several different flavors of cream (vanilla, strawberry, coffee, green tea, etc.). I have tried the vanilla and strawberry. While both are stupendous, for me the strawberry edges out the vanilla due to the bits of real strawberries in the filling. There are no preservatives in these cream puffs so they taste super fresh (and also must be eaten almost immediately). Ahhhh perfection that can held in the palm of your hand.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dip me in batter and call me Tempura

Royal Pines Hotel
Saintama City, Japan
August 26, 2008
4 grains of rice

Japan is a country that specializes in . . . well . . specializing. Walking down any street in a Japanese city will bring you past a variety of specialized, single food restaurants. Sushi, Yakatori, Soba, Udon, Ramen, etc. Each kind of restaurant is denoted by a special marker outside – a red lantern, a blue curtain, a sake keg. So when you have a particular craving in Japan, all you need to do is find the right signal and you are good to go.

Tonight, for me, the craving was tempura. I am in Japan for work and once I found the name of the hotel I was staying in, I immediately looked it up on the all-knowing Interwebs and saw that the had a tempura restaurant. I’ve heard about them a lot, and even seen them on TV, but had never been to one so I already had my first meal planned out (yes, I am such a food geek that I plan my work trips by the food I might eat there).

So tonight’s dinner took place at Arakawa on the 5th floor of the Royal Pines Hotel in Saintama City, Japan.

Now for most people in the United States (where I am from) Tempura means a deep fried piece of shrimp, usually heavily breaded and served along side the main dish (a bento box, some sushi perhaps). But Tempura done right allows the method of cooking to showcase the different tastes, textures, colors and shapes that nature has to offer, depending on the season. Well, my meal tonight was the bets, most extensive demonstration of the tempura art I have ever tasted.

The setting was a simple bar with about 10 seats facing a tempura chef. He worked in a small area with a copper wok with hot oil (I assumed peanut), a tray of rice flour and a bowl of batter made from rice flour and water. This was his canvas. His palette was a huge tray of vegetables and a small fridge of seafood from which he painted a glorious portrait of tastes and textures. The dinner was a fixed course affair with too many dishes to recall, but it included about a dozen small, bite sized morsels including okra, sweet potato, a slice of onion, shrimp, sea eel, anchovies, squid, pumpkin, asparagus, and a few items hard to pin down (one appeared to be fish bones, another a small crab I had never seen before). Perhaps the most exquisite was the scallop wrapped in a shiso leaf. The chef also prepared a final seafood and veggie fritter that was dipped in soy and served over a bed of rice and garnished with lime rind.

All was done with an efficiency of motion and concentration that is hard to describe. Line a seamstress, or a machinist going through motions performed a thousand times before, the chef (yamatama-san) prepared tidbits for the 10 peoples seated before him calmly, quickly, all belying the monstrously hot cauldron of oil perkind before him. His only tools – a sharp knife and a long paid of steel tipped chopsticks.

The best dish was from the chef menu, which I was asked to pick from a variety. I picked well, considering the menu was in Japanese – a language I don’t read. I simply asked for the chef’s pick. He disappeared and returned with a large clam (about the size of a lemon, shucked, dusted and fried it all in about 30 seconds and served it to me in its own shell. It tasted like the sea itself, with a creamy, light texture that I have never had before. Just astounding.

All were served with a light dipping tempura sauce and alongside a tray with seven flavored salts (wasabi, ginger, red pepper, Japanese herb, paprkika, squid ink and kelp). Hard for me to tell the difference, but all were good.

While I don’t expect people to make the trip to this particular place, I do recommend finding real tempura and enjoying how it can accentuate the delicacy and different characteristics of food. More importantly, I hope you’ll get to see a master in action, preparing fried foods that are neither heavy of greasy, only heavenly and done with a quiet pride that I hope to enjoy again . . . . soon!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Worst Dim Sum In the History of the World!

Mandarin Oriental
1330 Maryland Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20024 (202) 554-8588

0 out of 5 grains

By Senior Roving Correspondent Lily C.

I preface this review by saying that my mother would disown me if she knew that I purposely went to dim sum that was $12 a basket. Despite these crazy prices I forged ahead because I had high expectations for the Mandarin Oriental (based on very satisfying experiences in Asia). Plus, they promised a special chef that I could only assume was Thai Chinese:

"We are pleased to welcome Master Dim Sum Chef Naris Pukpongsuk from Fujian Restaurant at Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai. Chef Naris will jet in from Thailand to prepare a one-of-a-kind Dim Sum Lunch from June 30 to July 5. Pricing for this special menu starts at USD 12. "

Well my suspicions were right on the money. I have never had a more heinous, overcooked, and outrageously overpriced dim sum in my life. $44 for 8 small dumplings. That is over $5 a dumpling! For that price, I expect some type of orgasmic experience to occur. Instead I had to fight the urge to walk out the hotel without paying. The dumpling skins were thick and mushy and the filling (various types of shrimp and pork) were tough. Clearly, these dumplings were cooked at least 10 mins too long. The potential delicate flavors of dim sum were lost in this mush. Overall, this was the worst dim sum I have ever had in my life (and that includes frozen dim sum from safeway and some unfortunate experiences in dc chinatown).

We tried to save lunch by ordering the sliders (plus we were still starving), which was another grave mistake. Again these mini-burgers (beef and lamb) were hideously overpriced at over $5 per slider and overcooked. The little cubes of lamb were tough, devoid of any flavor and sitting on some bland eggplant puree. The beef burgers were a bit better. At least they were medium rare. That's the best thing I could say about them. Slightly better than white castle. Nowhere near as good as matchbox and 6 times as much.

I will NEVER EVER EVER go to the Mandarin Oriental DC again and have become highly skeptical of any other US location.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Long Overdue Korean

OK Ok, it's been too long. This summer has been an active one, but don't think we haven't been eating and drinking Asian. We have.

One terrific find this summer as been a hidden Korean place in (you guessed it) Annandale, VA- otherwise known as Little Seoul. It had been revised in the WP, but not by us and so T and C (our original Korean guides) and I trekked off to Oegadgib. A little hard to find, tucked off the south side of Little River Turnpike (so named since it brings a never ending river of good Korean food), this place is hidden in a nondescript red brick building behind a half Latino/half Korean butcher.

7331 Little River Turkpike

This place is for real and it is good. Very simple inside, nothing fancy, bare wood tables and booths. All Korean waitstaff - all family connected but nice and, when they found out that one of our blond cohorts spoke Korean, very interested in our story.

By far the most compelling advertisement is the all you can eat meat special for $15.99. As with other Korean joints, the meat is good and simply prepared on a table-resting gas grill. Unlike other places, this grill uses an authentic stone slab for the grilling. the meat was good, not super high quality (hey, it's all you can eat) but good, tasty and plentiful. We also had one order of the three layer pork (sam gyup sal) which was very very good (ok, it's my fav so I am biased).

A nice surprise were the other dishes we ordered. One Soup was Kaerin Chim, which is a frothy egg white soup. Very light and tasty, it was unlike anything I'd ever tried before. Like white clouds, but with a very fresh egg flavor. Just fantastic. The Duinchang Chiggae (Fermented Bean Soup) was also fantastic. Much more flavorful then your standard Miso soup, this was rich and hearty and loads of flavor. Both served in the traditional Korean stone pot.

We also had a seafood tofu soup (Haemul sundubo) which was very tasty - with lots of seafood flavor. Not as compelling as the other two soups, but tasty.

we have also found that you can rate a Korean place by the quality of its Pa-Jeaon - or seafood pancake. This place rated very right. The seafood was light and delicate (unlike some places where it is overcooked and becomes touch) and the pancake was light and fluffy. Really nice.

Overall, this place was terrific. price was good, service very nice (which is not always the case), food terrific and with unusual twists.

All in all, highly recommended.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hipster Sushi in the Atlas District (aka way far Capital Hill)

Sticky Rice
1224 H St NE (between N 12th St & N 13th St)
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 397-7655
Mon-Thu, Sun 5:00 p.m.-2:00 a.m.
Fri-Sat 5:00 p.m.-3:00 a.m.
Reservations Accepted

2 out of 5 grains of rice

By Senior Roving Reporter Lily C. and Freelance Food Evaluation Expert Will G.

We arrived at Sticky Rice at 7:45pm on a Thursday night and found ourselves faced with an hour wait! On H Street NE! What is this world coming to? The silver lining in this story is our discovery that the Red and the Black (bar next door) has $2.25 drinks during happy hour M-F from 5-8pm. $2.25 for an Absolut and soda? Now that is a deal!! And Sticky Rice will call you on your cell when your table is ready, so you can get sloshed before dinner.

When we finally got our table an hour later, the stereo greeted us with some classic Journey and Lionel Richie as we sat down. For most of the dining patrons, this music was retro and ironic. Sadly for us, we were reminded of high school prom. Our waitress was young and perky but not the most attentive throughout the meal.

We decided to sample a wide variety of the menu (given our drunken state).
• Apps: Tater Tots and Ribs
• Old School Sushi: Hamachi, Saba, and Unagi Nigri
• New Fangled Sushi: Chili Roll (tuna, cilantro, cucumber, jalapeno & grilled pineapple w/ tempura crunchies and tobiko) and New Style Sashimi (tuna and tilapia topped with ginger garlic and ponzu then flash seared with hot sesame oil finished with scallions and sesame seeds.)

In an effort to be positive, let’s start with the good news. The tater tots ROCKED our world. They were crispy, hot and came with a special dipping sauce (spicy mayo). The tots are available as a regular side order ($2), or by the bucket ($6). Impressively, we showed restraint and decided to bypass the bucket. We could have just eaten this and been very happy.

We also received a free order of the sticky balls, a promotional touch for the restaurant’s opening week. While some may find the name off-putting (but clearly not us), these deep fried rice balls were super tasty. According to menu, these morsels of yummy goodness are composed of tuna, crab, siracha, rice in an inari pocket deep fried w/ scallions, wasabi dressing and eel sauce. We did not detect any seafood like substance in our balls, but who cares when you have deep fried rice with sauce? The ribs were also decent. Meaty and not too fatty with a light sauce.

Now for the bad news. The service was monumentally slow. And the sushi took forever to come. Way longer than the cooked food. What up with that? The nigri sushi was edible, decent even. I rank it a step above supermarket sushi. But the new fangled sushi was crazy and wrong. The chili roll sounded so good on paper but it was strangely tasteless. Both the tuna and pineapple were flavorless. The dominating flavor and texture was from the too large pieces of crunchy cucumber. When a “chili roll” tastes like cucumber, something is seriously off. And the “new style” sashimi was an affront to fish-eaters everywhere. Clearly the flash frying technique needs some work, because our thin pieces of fish were almost cooked through. And they didn’t taste that fresh, quite frankly. We stopped eating after a few bits.

Given that Sticky Rice has just debuted, we are willing to give the food another try once they’ve had some time to get up to speed. However, it is already on our list as the go-to place when late night tots are needed to soak up the copious amounts of alcohol consumed at the various hipster bars just down the block.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

at long last, peace

I've been on a mission. I have failed to complete it for many months, but now, finally, I can rest peacefully. We had raamen for lunch in Tokyo today.

Was it all I could have hoped for? Yes. Was it more? Yes.
We had asked a lot of people for help. Most pointed us to big fancy office buildings, but I knew they would not do. Raamen is street food. We needed something under 7 bucks to be any good. We needed something where people just walked in off the street to be good. So Sara knew what we needed and found

Akasaka Raamen Honten. Akasaka is a lively area not far from the US Embassy. The place was exactly right. It was diminished somewhat by the fact that the owner spoke enough english to help us, but in th eend it did make it easier. You pay for your meal up front at a machine that discharges a ticket which you then hand over when ordering.

I had the Shoyu Ramen, and my colleague the straight Miso. I am used to US based raamen which is clearly far too healthy. My bown features a fine layer of fat at the top which made everything taste better and go down easier. The slice of pork we had was like butter, silky and falling apart. With an extra helping of green onions, it lasted maybe 2 minutes. The noodles had a good amount of bite to them. A few added delights (half a hard boiled egg, a little nori). wow. so good. so very good.

And, now, I have a raamen place in Tokyo. I sleep better at night knowing they are there, but I know that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of them here and I've only found one. So much more work to do.

Well, there is always dinner?!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pay Dirt

Anyone who's been reading the blog knows my two weaknesses are dumplings and noodles. I am in Tokyo for work and I've been denied a good ramen experience on my previous trips to this wonderful city. So today at lunch, I found myself without a formal engagement and went searching. Hard to believe, but I had trouble finding a good, basic, cheap but good ramen place near our hotel We are staying in a nicer part of town, and I guess that precludes the noodle dives I have been seeking.

So getting a little cranky for the lack of success, we hit upon a good looking alley way with a bunch of small joints. None were for ramen (as best we can tell, I don't read Japanese or Hiragane) but found a placard with photos of the other worthy noodle in this country - Udon.

Down the stairs to B1 we went and were thrilled to see a starkly lit, linoleum floored bare bones Udon place run by Mom and Pop. Tons of photos, not one word of english. I was in heaven. After scoping out the wall o photos, i tried to order the Tempura udon - bu they were out (the woman tried to explain and eventually said tempura and formed an X with her arms). We then pointed to a basic Upon set with a side of rice filled sweet tofu skins called Abrage (the kind you normally find in Kitsune/Fox Udon).

IT WAS AWESOME. Great, nicely salty broth and the noodles were the perfect consistency. Nice a light, soft with a little texture towards the center. Slice of fish cake, some veggies, green onion, etc. Just perfect. Total cost for 2 people - about 15 bucks.

I have not given up on the ramen, but if I don't get it this time I'll be happy with my little Udon meal.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New New Arrival in Annandale

Banking on a return to familiar surroundings, the AllTasteSame pseudo-Korean special correspondent visited BFHK (that’s blog fav Hankook Kyoja) with company in recent weeks only to find that the restaurant has changed concepts and names – it is now called Jang Won. The faux-Dennys décor, table settings, and less-than-attentive waitresses are still the same, but the menu is, literally, wholesale different. Gone are the traditional Korean noodle soups and mandoo, replaced by Sino-Korea delights such as Jja Jjang Myeon (black bean sauce noodles), Tang Soo Yuk (sweet and sour pork), and Jjam Bbong (spicy seafood soup). Importantly, their noodle dishes feature hand-made noodles, a rarity in the metro area. During lunch they serve more traditional Korean elements like fried mandoo, but you won’t find Kalbi, Bulgogi, Soon Doo Boo and other ubiquitous fare on the dinner menu... much to the disappointment of some here at the blog who considered Hankook Kyoja one of the hidden delights of NoVa. Judging by the line at the door and the packed booths on a Sunday night, however, Annandale has welcomed Jang Won with open mouths. Although further tastings will be required before rendereing a more comprehensive verdict, the first visit suggests that Jang Won will be good competition for Choong Wha Woon, which until now has had the Sino-Korean sector largely to itself.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Pork Is Good

My mother in law makes the best spare ribs ever. It turns out she relies on a fairly popular 1-2-3-4-5 recipe, but has a unique approach, using more beer and less wine in the ribs.

This has to be the easiest dish ever - just add all the ingredients and the ribs cut into little pieces and put on the fire, boil and then turn down to simmer.

You cook the whole mixture down until nothing remains but luscious rubs and a little bit of sauce. Once the sauce cooks down, you remove most of the fat and add in some green onions. The depth of the flavor is really amazing, as is the texture of the fatty ribs that have given up their fat and leave only the rich, brown tasty meat behind.

1 (tsp)- vinegar
2 (tsp)- sugar
3 (tsp)- beer
4 (tsp)- soy sauce
5 (tsp)- beer

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Open Dim Sum Thread

All over the world, people are eating dim sum today. This Hong Kong Style brunch is a family staple, and we are always on the search for a new and better dumpling house. We'll tell you about ours if you tell us about yours. Just post in the comment section below.


Friday, January 18, 2008

It DOES take a village

I've tried a few blogs over the years. None have amounted to much, and it turns out (surprise) that blogging is hard. Staying motivated, finding new things to write about, etc takes a commitment. I am thrilled that our team at alltastesame has been able to keep up our momentum over the past few months, and I want to thank everyone who's contributed (to the writing, to the eating, to making suggestions) for helping us indulge our inner foodie. OK, it is not so "inner".

I also want to thank a few other bloggers who have responded to requests for information, provided encouragement, advice, etc. Thanks to berlinkitchen, Asian Grandmother Cookbook and now eatingasia for all of these inspiration and feedback. Some of you have inspired just by what you do, but all have been willing to share their thoughts and advice. For that, we're thankful.

All the best and happy eats.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Meme of Self

I was touched when I saw on one of my favorite food blogs a reference to our little page and a request for me to answer the questions posed in a meme

Who and I to say no to the hands of web-fate.
What were you cooking/baking 10 years ago?
10 years ago I was working on government and putting in perhaps 60 hours a week. I had very little time to cook, but when I found the time tried to be as healthy as possible. I was also very single at the time, so much of my cooking was for one (I find it easier to cook for two especially since my wife is a willing consumer). I made a lot of pastas, and spent some time teaching myself how to make fresh pasta at home – so much better than dried. I also made a lot of curry soups and stews, using Thai canned curry (red, green yellow) and coconut milk. These were very useful for when I cooked for groups of friends.

What were you cooking/baking one year ago?
My wife and I were just newly married, and we did a not of cooking together – a lot of Chinese stir fry with fresh veggies, and I also worked to perfect my father-in-law’s spicy dry Indian shrimp with ginger and garlic.

Five snacks you enjoy:
Sesame oil flavored seaweed sheets – like Asian chips made from laver
Fresh Clementine oranges
bon-chon fried chicken

Five recipes you know by heart:
1) Stir-fry – because there is no recipe – just do it by feel
2) Southern Fried Chicken
3) Indian style dry shrimp with Ginger and Garlic
4) Florentine-style steak with rosemary sauce
5) 1-2-3-4-5 pork ribs

Five culinary luxuries you would indulge in if you were a millionaire:
1) my own garden for vegetables, herbs, and spicy peppers
2) only the finest fresh olive oils for cooking
3) my own butcher with an endless variety of fresh free range meats
4) Regular shipments of mangosteens – you can’t get them here in the US
5) my own cheese cave with cheeses from all over the world

Five foods you love to cook/bake:
1) Fresh dou miao – pea tendrils – with ginger and garlic
2) Fresh bread of any kind
3) I am really into making stuffed pastas lately with all kinds of fillings
4) Crispy roast duck
5) Fried chicken

Five foods you cannot/will not eat:
1) Tripe – can’t do it, lord knows I have tried
2) pig’s feet – trotters
3) Sea cucumber – just can’t dig it
That is about it.

Five favorite culinary toys:
1 - I love my Taiwanese knives made from former Chinese artillery shells – they are awesome
2 – my micro-grater
3) The mandolin my wife bought me many years ago
4) Salad spinner – saves so much time
5) our kitchen aid stand mixer with multiple attachments, including pasta maker and meat grinder

Five dishes on your "last meal" menu:
1 – A cheese selection from Bartholemy in Paris, including Epoisse
2 – my aunt Essie’s fried chicken
3 – pan-cooked trout I caught flyfishing
4 – Fresh sushi from the little dive near sukiji fish market I know
5 – Hong Kong dim sum

Five happy food memories:
1. the first time I made Jiaozi with my wife’s family
2. cooking spaghetti with aunt Essie – because she let me season the sauce
3. Eating Essie’s fried chicken before my brother’s wedding
4. Cooking the food my wife and I cooked at our Thai resort cooking class
5. Eating at Le Jovan in Paris with my father when I was 12 years old

I am passing this meme off to my friend Martin at Berlin Kitchen and

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Chinese Dumplings (Jiaozi) for New Years

If you know any of the authors, or have read the blog before, you know we are a bit “overboard” when it comes to dumplings. Perhaps we were dumplings in a former life or something. Anyhow, with family in town we decided to make homemade Jiaozi – traditional Chinese dumplings. It’s a bit of a new year’s tradition within the family, and who are we to mess with tradition or pass on a dumpling consumption opportunity.

This step-by-step record of our dumpling day may help you if you decide to make your own dumplings. yes, yes, you can buy frozen, tastless versions in the costco, but these are so much better and as with som many things food related, the proces is part of the pleasure. Moreover, the version here is our version, but there are lots of variations to try, so don’t feel you have to stick with anything said below. If you like black mushrooms, for example, throw them in. Don't dig on no swine? Use beef. The options are endless.

You start with the filling. Ours is made with ground pork - about 2.5 pounds of it. Don't buy anything too lean - you need some fat in the mixture. If you find your is too lean, you can also add additional pork fat. Generally, to this we would add perhaps a 1/2 cup of dried shrimp, but we were out, so none in this patch.

To this you add chopped and drained Napa cabbage:

The cabbage must be cleaned and then chopped, salted and drained of water. THERE IS A LOT OF WATER IN CABBAGE and unless you follow these steps, the dumplings will be watery and have a very bland taste. The cabbage should be salted with a lot of salt and then allowed to sit and drain for at least 30 minutes – preferably with a weighted plate on top. We then wring out the cabbage in a dish towel until it is very dry.

Once this step is completed, add the cabbage to the pork and add in an egg as a binding agent, chopped green onions, corn oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt and ginger to taste. The resulting mixture looks something like this:

I believe the mixture benefits from a chance to sit and integrate. An hour if fine, overnight works too but there is no need to wait. if you want, just start wrapping.

Once the filling is complete, it’s time for the hands on process


The techniques for wrapping dumplings vary and take a little time to master. It is a process best shared with a few friends or family members. You can make you own wrappers with simple flour and water, but better yet to buy some round pre-made Chinese wrappers. You can also use square won ton wrappers, but then the shape is different than what we use.

you add a small amount of filling to the center of the dumpling and then wet 180 degrees of the wrappers edge with water.

You then start to fold the dumpling in half, gathering the excess edge from one side together to form folds along the edge. You can fold them straight in half to made semi-circles, but by pleating them, you create a bottom to the dumpling that helps if you intend to pan fry some. Also, pleating adds lots of nice ridges for the dipping sauce.

Don't be discouraged - this takes time to master. There are also shortcuts, including the for purchase dumpling press available at Williams Sonoma. But they are much better if you do it by hand.

A finished dumpling should look like this:

You can then make a bunch of them:

You then boil in hot water, using the patented three boil method. Add the dumplings to boiling water. Wait for the water to come back to a boil, then add a cup of cold water.

Wait for the second boil, add another cup of cold water and then the water boils the third time - take em out and serve.

Mmmmmmmmm, heaven. Dipping sauces can vary. We like soy, sesame oil, a little hot sauce or chili oil and green onions.

We ate a large number of these at dinner - as many as 10-15 per person (ok, some even more I admit). It's good to make a large batch, and these freeze very well. The process for storage is to place the sheet pan with the fresh dumplings in the freezer to harden. Once set, then throw them in a zip lock freezer bag and boil whenever you want a really tasty snack.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Simple Pleasures – Shrimp Fried Rice

Stir-fried shrimp for New Year’s Eve resulted in leftovers. As the first hunger pangs of 2008 emerged, we decided to make use of what was on hand. The stir-fried shrimp from the previous night turned into a lovely, flavorful shrimp fried rice.

Started with scrambling some eggs, and then thawing some frozen peas, carrots and green beans. The shrimp were large, so we cut them into piece, and then chopped up some green onions and ginger. The last ingredient was plain white rice. Ideally, it would also be a day or two old, but we had to make some from scratch. If you have to do so, make sure the rice is well cooked and a little dry or the fried rice can get a little mushy. Final touches included a little soy sauce and a little sesame oil.

So here is wishing all of you a lovely 2008. Here’s hoping it is filled with simple (and not so simple) pleasures.