Momofuku: This Ain’t Your Momo’s Fuku

Earlier this year I cheated you, my beloved audience. I ate at Momofuku and I didn’t tell you about it. It just sort of happened. I didn’t have my camera with me. It was late at night; I was drunk. I’M SORRY, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO FORGIVE ME? YOU CAN’T BE ANGRY AT ME FOREVER!

Perhaps tonight I will put us on our path towards healing. I went back JUST FOR YOU because I love you. Ok, that’s a lie. I went for me because I love Momofuku. But you shall benefit.

I was with Jason (who lives near Momofuku and introduced me to it), Alex B., Molly and Colin. The latter three were like “what’s Momofuku? Why are we going there?” and Jason and I were like: “Trust us, you’l love it.”

We got there and the place was tightly packed. Luckily there were five stools facing a wall near the front. Here’s a pic that gives you a feel of the place:

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It’s an open kitchen type atmosphere. See that girl in the pink vest? The distance between her and the wall is not much—I had to scoot past all those people to get to the bathroom. Momofuku keeps things tight and intimate. It’s like a honeymoon in that way—a Japanese ramen honeymoon.

Yes, Momofuku’s famous for its ramen. Also for its pork buns. But first, sake.

Alex and Molly shared a bottle of sake. Colin ordered a Japanese beer. Jason was sick so he stuck to water. When it was my turn I ordered a glass of Nigori Sho Chiku Bai. The waitress asked: “Do you know what you’re ordering?” I responded: “How dare you! Of course I know!” Then I paused. “Ok,” I whispered, “What is it?”

“It’s unfiltered sake so it’s sweet and there’s granules in it,” she responded. I like sweet so I said yes. Here it is:

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It was sweet and milky. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I gave it to Molly to try. She made a face and said, “I don’t care for it.”

But how often does one CARE for an alcoholic beverage? Emotional connections with alcohol are dangerous prospects. And so I had a purely platonic relationship with my sake and it suited me well.

I encouraged everyone to share pork buns with me because I’d heard they were good. The pork eaters (everyone except Jason) agreed to it and soon the pork arrived in their buns.

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This picture doesn’t really do it justice. In the darkened space of Momofuku this bowl has an allure; the flash gives it an anaseptic quality. So ignore the picture and focus on the components. Particularly, the cauliflower and scallions—they make this dish whacky good. The noodles are oily but flavorful. Everything marries well and all of us ate with great enthusiasm—twirling, lifting, slurping.

I scraped my bowl clean as did Jason (I didn’t see Molly’s or Colin’s). Alex didn’t love her Chicken Soup bowl and regretted not getting Ginger Scallion. Keep that in mind when you go to Momofuku.

Soon the check came and soon we paid and soon we were on our way. Usually I chew gum after a meal–it’s a nasty, juvenile habit. But here I let the taste linger in my mouth on the way home. It’s that momo fuken good.

You Say French, I Say Venezuelan: Dinners at Le Quinze and Flor’s Kitchen

Over the past several days I’ve eaten two significant dinners. Which isn’t to say I only ate two dinners. It’s just that the others were insignificant. Last night, for example. What did I eat last night? Oh yes–I ate a burrito at Burritoville. It was insignificant. I had sushi the night of our party. It was insignificant.

But Saturday, I went with Lauren and Adele to a French bistro I discovered via the internet. I was thinking, in fact, that very night of discussing the way the internet has informed where and how we eat. All this access to so much information about food makes it almost unforgivable to eat boring meals at Cheesecake Factories and Olive Gardens. We must google “french bistro” and see what surfaces. Or, in my case, go to NY Metro (New York Magazine’s website) and explore the food section. It was there I discovered Le Quinze.

Le Quinze is difficult to say. Lauren tried to teach me, to no avail. (And those rooting for my taking French lessons, I think that ship may have sailed. The only class I could find met twice a week during times I have regular school. Merde!) Anyway, for those not in the know: Le Quinze means “15.” Why 15? Beacuse it’s the team name of Le Quinze’s chef/owner’s rugby team. Yes, he plays rugby and cooks. His name is Bernard Liberatore.

I love the atmosphere at Le Quinze. It is so uber-casual you wouldn’t even believe you were in a French bistro. The decor borders on something you might find at a strip mall. Pictures of rugby players in action are painted on the walls. There are trophies and jerseys and TV monitors with rugby matches playing. Waiters and waitresses are casual too. And the clients are casual. The place is small. Next to us was a table of 4 with a baby. Across the way a bunch of girls were celebrating a birthday. Le Quinze was cozy, or should I say Quozy.

Now for the food. Lauren and I shared a half a carafe of wine for a crazy reasonable price. It was a Bordeaux and had a really rich, really nice flavor.

For starters, I had the Frisee aux Lardons et Son Oeuf PocheĀ (which translates to: Frisee salad, bacon & poached egg.)

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I really enjoyed this salad. The bacon was fancier than your normal bacon—thicker, meatier. The salad was subtly dressed but had a kick. And the egg was great fun—once it broke, the yolk made the salad creamy. Again, I really enjoyed it.

But not nearly as much as Lauren and Adele enjoyed their appetizers. Lauren had escargot and it was indeed delicious. (There are no pictures because taking pictures of their food would violate my “don’t take pictures of other people’s food” policy. Reason being—there’s not enough space for all those pictures!) Adele had oxtail ravioli with mushrooms and truffle oil and she was the most swoony. Appetizers were great.

But the entrees. Oh, Le Quinze–I’m sorry to report, your steak frittes (which we all ordered) left us all a bit disappointed.

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The fries were good–great even. So was the salad. It was the meat–which was buttery and flavorful–but barely cooked! I mean, I ordered it medium rare—but it was cold and chewy chewy chewy. Lauren ordered hers medium and barely ate it. We all yelled “merde!” at the steak.

But things were somewhat redeemed with dessert. Our waitress told us a very interesting thing about coffee vs. espresso after dinner which is so interesting I am going to post a separate post about it. We all shared a tarte tatin:

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It was majorly tasty. And by the end I was still feeling good about our meal. I really liked Le Quinze. I want to go back. I am going to go back.

*******

Now we move to Venezuela. Tonight I had a rehearsal for a scene that’s going up in play lab—it’s an adaptation of a Philip Roth story I worked on in my Adaptation class. Ben’s in it. So afterwards me, he, John and Judith our director all decided to go to dinner. “Where should we go?” they asked. John said, “Let’s ask the Amateur Gourmet.” I’m always put on the spot like a big-know-it-all.

Well I knew we were near Flor’s Kitchen. And I like Flor’s Kitchen. I’ve been there before.

“Let’s go to Flor’s Kitchen!” I said. And off we went.

So then, Flor’s Kitchen. We went to the one on Waverly near Christopher. There’s another, apparently, in the East Village. Ours had a lovely interior with exposed brick and maroon walls and flowers and candles and other atmospheric devices. We ordered appetizers and entrees, stuck with water, and then waited a while—more than normal, but not so long as to be outrageous.

Our first appetizer was taquetos? I put a question mark there because I’m 43% sure it was taquetos, but maybe I’m hallucinating that. Here’s John with his question mark taquetos:

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They were ok—like fried mozzarella sticks without the mozzarella and some other kind of cheese in its place.

The better appetizer and a culinary first for me (a big one, I think, since these are biggies in the ethnic food world) was our arrepas. Here’s Ben with the arrepas:

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They are kind of corn pancake thingies with cheese on top. These (and I’m not sure if this is true of all arrepas or just the ones we had) had a certain anis flavor–perhaps due to what looked like anis seeds in the arrepas themselves. (Do you like how well-researched I am in my food reviews? Imagine if I were Frank Bruni: “The third course at Masa was a, ummm, fishy pink object on top of what I think was rice but I’m not sure.”)

Anyway, arrepas were fun—I like them. I am going to add them to my diet.

But now the best part–the very best part. Arroz Con Pollo:

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At first, when I received this plate, I thought: “Hey, there’s the arroz–where’s the pollo?”

Then I realized the pollo was in the arroz. And honestly (here we go with hyperbole) this was seriously (seriously) the best Arroz Con Pollo I’ve ever had. It was SO tasty. Normally, when I get Arroz Con Pollo it’s sort of a defeatist thing—I picture a bland, burned chicken breast on a pile of rice. Here, the chicken was crispy and garlicky and moist and the rice was soft and tender and had olives and other good things in it. It even had a smiley face on top.

And plaintains. Can we talk about how good plantains are? I really love plantains. I think this is a side dish we should adopt into our every day lives. They’re bananas, so they have that good-for-you component, but they’re fried so they’re some danger–some excitement. Plaintains–coming to a plate near you. That’s the ad campaign I’ve devised for them. Feel free, Plantain Society, to use that.

And so Flor’s Kitchen was great. We all enjoyed ourselves. I say you should go!

Eating With My Peers: Osso Bucco and Sharaku

Eating around NYU is often a treat. You’re near the East Village, you’re near the West Village. You have many options available. Sometimes you make good choices, sometimes you make bad choices. But you make choices. Except when you’re force fed in which case you had no choice. But most of the time you aren’t force fed.

So last week was the Marathon Festival of Student Work for my class and we each had to present 30 minutes of material. This was a stressful time—I presented 30 minutes from my play “Bethany” and had to fine-tune it several times to get it where it needed to be. My piece was the last one to show on the last night, and so I invited Lisa along to see it. She enjoyed it. At least she said she did.

Afterwards, we joined my classmate John (who also went up that night and did a great job) and his sig oth and distinguished actor Ben for dinner. We also went with John’s co-workers Kristen and Ryan. Where would we go? We were hungry. We stumbled upon Osso Bucco on University. Let’s eat there, we decided.

To explain our dining experience, I’m going to use math.

Great Food, Great Atmosphere, Great Service X dismal company = mediocre experience

Dismal food, noisy atmosphere and hostile service X great company = fun fun fun

The latter explains our dinner at Osso Bucco. I think this place is a huge rip off. It’s family style, you pay a lot of money for it, and the food is a hair above The Olive Garden. Seriously. In fact, I think I prefer the Olive Garden because they don’t pretend to be fancy when they serve you iceberg lettuce in a bowl with an onion and a tomato. Osso Bucco does and charges you $12 for it.

Anyway, though, here’s Ben and John saying cheese with cheese:

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Afterwards, we somehow ended up at The Duplex, and upstairs there was this weird piano bar place where they let audience members come up and sing show tunes. Lisa wanted to sing “Suddenly, Seymour” with me. The piano player didn’t have the music for it. I knew it, though, so I asked if I could play. They said all right. Here we are—the Captain and Tenille, Kiki and Herb:

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That was a ton of fun.

*****

Then, Tuesday night, after our Adaptation class and before our Play Lab, I joined Patty, Colin and Alex for dinner at a sushi place in the East Village–Sharaku. Here’s a picture that I felt insecure about because it seemed blurry but which James Felder praised and said, “It’s great! It looks like they could be in Rangoon.”

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[Can I ask you tekkies a question? Ok, so I upload these pictures to my .mac homepage, right? You can see the page I loaded it on here. Now when you click the individual pictures, they blow up into much larger versions. So, for example, the picture above is way big when you click here. So how can I use that fact to make the pictures I post on my site bigger? Like when I link to the picture you see above I type in the HTML the open carrot thing (<) then img alt="IMG_1.JPG" src="address of the image." close carrot(>). I guess I’m asking how to use the fact that I’m using lots of space to host a big fat image to improve the girth of what I post on my site. Haha, I said girth.)

Where were we? Oh yes, Sharaku. This place is good. We had saki, edamame (I almost choked on one), some kind of shrimp dumpling, and then I ordered this sushi platter:

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I was way stuffed afterwards. And it was a tiny bit pricey. But the saki was reasonable. And the company was great. And as we know, when it comes to dinner math, great company is like pi r squared. (The area of a circle?) Yes. Exactly that.

Dig That Crazy Chickpea

In the East Village is Chickpea, a falafel joint that I’d been to once before and went to the other day with my classmates Molly and Patty. It was perfect. By perfect, I mean: it really hit the spot. See, Patty said she was “really sick of diner food.” That’s because my classmates and I always go to diners. And Patty was sick of them.

I was sick of them too, I think, because I really enjoyed Chickpea. I ordered a falafel sandwich and it came on awesome puffy pita with lettuce and some kind of sauce: (there are two here–one’s mine, one’s Patty’s):

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This is what I need in my life. Falafel sandwiches like this one. It’s new and exciting and gives me what I crave: bread, meat (ok, it’s not meat, but it feeels like meat), veggie and sauce. The falafel itself is unusual in that it’s green. The color comes from cilantro and parsley they mix in with the ground chickpeas. I like it.

Then, just to be extravagant, I ordered hummus for the table. It was so cool watching them make it. They mounded it on the platter then spun it into some kind of pattern and squirt oil in the middle and sprinkled it with what I think was paprika. They only gave us one pita to share for three but we made do:

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We loved it.

“We love it!” we said.

“This is really good hummus,” said Molly.

I was overjoyed. I also bought a lemonade which was watery but a nice accompaniment to everything else. On the walk back to school, guess who we saw? Paul Giamatti. Not sure how that ties in, but somehow I think it does. Don’t you? Chickpea’s good.

Cold Recovery at the 2nd Ave. Deli

Two times I have felt a cold coming on since I’ve moved to New York, and both times I’ve sought out the same treatment: matzoh ball soup at the 2nd Ave. Deli.

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New York has its fair share of delis. Uptown there’s Carnegie and Stage, downtown (on the Lower East Side) there’s Katz’s (home of New York’s best pastrami). But when I’m feeling ill, I walk two avenues over from NYU and park my sick heiny at the 2nd Ave. deli—the world’s best Jewish gustatory sanitorium.

My favorite waiter there is an old man who works his charming shtick on both willing and unwilling customers. “Hello my lad,” he says to me as I sit down, “take your coat off, have a seat. What can I get you to start?”

I say, “matzoh ball soup,” and I’m set. For appx. $5.95 you get a curative feast. First, there’s pickles and coleslaw:

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And then the soup and challah bread:

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Chicken soup has been called the Jewish penicillin–and for good reason. Its medicinal qualities are so powerful that even Madonna was lured over to our tribe. Something happens when you boil chicken bones in water–the consistency changes. This is the concept behind consome and certainly part of the curative powers of chicken soup. When you drink chicken soup, you’re not drinking chicken-flavored water—you’re drinking bone juice. It bones you up and soon you’re back on your feet. And hence concludes my thesis on why chicken soup is effective.

As for the 2nd Ave. Deli treatment, it’s the only place in the world I know where even if there’s a line the waiter will say, “Don’t rush” after you pay the check, “Sit down, relax. You want a paper?” Again, better than your favorite hospital, the 2nd Ave. Deli can cure all ills. I highly recommend it.

Interestingly (and I saw something about this once on TV) the owner of the 2nd Ave. Deli (Abraham Lebewhol) was murdered just steps away from the door in 1996. They’re still looking for the murderer:

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