Saturday, August 30, 2008

Update

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

mmmmmmmramen

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

Arakawa
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.

Oegadgib
7331 Little River Turkpike
3 GRAINS OF RICE

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.