Monday, April 28, 2008

$10 Trip to Tokyo

My friends and I have started a food club. This is basically just a way for us to remember to plan interesting trips out to new restaurants. It's not really anything that difficult (no books to read, things to practice, etc.) Tonight we went to Tsukushi. I had read about this place in a very minor comment on Frank Bruni's blog (NYTimes Blog Post mentioning (at the very bottom) Tsukushi) and then the review that I then found once I had the name (NYTimes Tsukushi Review).

It sounded awesome. And once (third time's the charm) we finally found a day that worked for us all, it was great. In the pouring (really, cats, dogs, rabbits, who knows what else) rain, I got out at the south east corner of 41st and 2nd. There was a navy awning with little white letters over what looked like a rusted closed door just up 41st. Turns out the door swung open easily into a place considerably more comfortable/less scary than the outside would have led you to believe.

We settled in and they brought the menu - the drink menu. Now the Times hadn't been super specific on how ordering was handled. But after a few questions, it was clear that you got what you got - unless there was something that you didn't eat. We were all pretty much fine (one exception for meat).

The first course was some sort of boiled vegetable. Celery? Not fibery enough, but kind of. Cucumber? Definitely not - too fibery. Radish? Too green. Really, I have no clue (and don't ask why we didn't ask, because I'll tell you my mom and the trees story: Once upon a time, my mother, who loves plants came to visit me in Japan. As we toured around, she kept pointing to trees (and other plants) and asking me (her black-thumb daughter), "What kind of tree is that?" I responded with some version of, "Sorry, I have no idea." Finally, unable to bear the suspense she suggested, "Well, you speak Japanese. Ask someone." I responded (probably a little frustrated (I like flowers and nature and stuff, but lots of plant discussions are not my cup of tea)) with something to the effect of "And when they tell me what the name is, what do we do? Because I don't know the translations, so we still won't know what it's called in English." It's a problem with languages - you can have conversations, but for details, you need the vocabulary. Anyway, we enjoyed looking at the non-plant scenery for the rest of the trip) So tonight, I didn't bother asking, but whatever it was, it was a nice refreshing start to the meal.

After that was something called Shirozuki (maybe?). It was noodles (maybe potato or some other non-pasta-y kind of noodle) with a pinkish roe. Absolutely awesome.

And then the best Edamame I've had in a while. Perfectly cooked. Perfectly salted.

And then a plate of sashimi with hamachi, salmon (and this was fantastic - I don't normally eat salmon, it's just not that interesting/tasty for me, but this was good - great even) and uni! I love uni. And I got to finish up J's as he doesn't (silly boy). Also there was a piece of Albacore, which I keep thinking I'm going to like one of these times. But really, it just doesn't quite do it for me. But I do think that this was pretty darn good Albacore.

And then the Agedashi-dofu (Deep Fried Tofu). Wow. Really, although I'm now saying more; I really shouldn't. Wow really covers it. It was homemade, fresh tofu. And it was amazing. I don't even know how to describe it. It was almost more like a pudding, but it wasn't - it was still tofu. And the broth was fantastic! Now, I'm a huge Agedashi-dofu fan and this was just an amazing version. Now I want another one. Right now.

And finally - codfish. That's when you're sorry that she says something in English. Codfish really isn't what I think of when I'm searching for something out of this world. This was just a very simply grilled (maybe shioyaki - not exactly sure) piece of fish. It was served with a bit of grated daikon (mmm, I love daikon) and a tiny bit of lemon. Simple. Easy. Perfect. No, really - perfect. The fish was so rich it actually melted in my mouth.

J & J ordered dessert. Now I love Japanese food, but not so much the desserts. They got the brown tea mousse and the black sesame ice cream. I tried a bite of both and marginally preferred the mousse. They adored both.

Overall, a total success. Really good food and not super-expensive at all. I'd say try it. But I have to agree with others - I'd prefer for it not to get too 'discovered'.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Best Banana Bread Ever - Really

I love banana bread - really, truly love it. Or at least I thought I did. I was starting to believe that really good banana bread was one of those tricks of childhood memory (like remembering that the snow was really, really deep - way over your head - and somehow thinking that made it 6 feet instead of 3 feet).

And then, one day as I was surfing epicurious (as one does, I suppose) and comparing banana bread recipes - and I started reading the comments. And I found that everyone was referring back to a recipe left in a comment, rather than the recipe itself. Intrigued, I kept reading (generally, reading tens or hundreds of somewhat similar comments is not something I recommened, but in this case it led to gold). And I found it - the elusive perfect banana bread recipe (or so claimed by all of these people). And so I tried it. And there it was. It wasn't a childhood creation. Despite what Starbucks and other deli's have done to it - Banana Bread, made well, is in fact one of nature's perfect foods. Each bite was moist (that's what happens when the recipe is 90% butter (yum!)) and banana-y. I reveled in it. And I told people about it. In fact, I recounted it bite by bite for some of my friends.

And, quite understandibly, they asked why I was telling the story, but not providing the bread (it turns out that I am not the only banana bread lover out there). I promised to make some. But the timing was never right. And so I kept talking about it - and they kept being annoyed (I would say justifiably). And then I had the idea. I was going to L's house for dinner. I could bring little mini-banana breads for each person and give them out after dinner (if it's good enough for all the nice restaurants to give a little gift for tomorrow's breakfast, then it's good enough for L. (her apartment is kind of like a good restaurant in that the food is great and I always enjoy myself)). I had grandiose plans of tissue paper and ribbons. I ended up with mini-banana breads in ziploc bags (rubber meets the road and I realize I have to worry about the bread more than the presentation - and not being Martha, I can't do both).

And so, finally, delivery of the breads!

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1/2 cup butter

  • 3 very ripe bananas (I sometimes throw in an extra if I have it)

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 1/4 cups flour

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1 tsp baking soda

  • 1 cup crushed walnuts (optional - I actually leave them out as I don't like nuts in my banana bread)

  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla (this was not in the original recipe, but I'm a firm believer that most things taste better with vanilla (normal people also might cut it down to 1t, but...))

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream sugar and butter. Add bananas and eggs beaten. Sift flour,salt and baking soda 3 times (I have never bothered to do this and it's always been fine). Blend and add to banana mixture. Pour patter into a 9x5 loaf pan. Bake for 55 min (or so, definitely test it with a fork as the timing here is really variable). Cool on rack (I've had trouble getting it out of my 9x5 non-stick pan, but then when I made it in these cheap mini-pans for giving out, it popped right out - not sure why)


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Worth the Effort

Despite the herculian efforts necessary to get downtown to Allen & Delancey for a 7:30 reservation on a night that the pope was in town (let's just say two cabs and 6 blocks running in 5 inch heels and leave it at that) I do think it was worth it. I was totally panicked when it was 7:30 and I was still north of the pope's crossover point, but when I got there, they couldn't have been nicer ("Are you the one who got stuck in pope traffic?").

My friends hadn't even ordered. I even got there in time for the bread - which included a bacon bread (frosted in salt), that was warm and fabulous. We decided to share appetizers and got the scallops, the salad thing and the carmelized marrow. All three were quite good, but I'd have to say that the scallops were my favorite. They were fantastic! Highly recommended.

I ordered the veal. It arrived as medallions wrapped in prociutto, with fried sweetbreads and glazed carrots. It was a very nice combo. The veal was perfectly cooked and the sweetbreads added a nice richness to the veal.

We got the French Toast, which I really liked, and the Carrot cake, which was fine, but a little uninspiring, for dessert.

All in all though, worth the hassle of making a reservation and getting there on a busy night - a great meal!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Worth the Wait?

I had lunch today at Shake Shack. It was about 80 degrees and the line reflected that. It wrapped around the entire bottom of the park - and stayed that way the entire time I was there (I arrived at 12:50 (after yoga) and finished eating about 3:00). During my entire 2 hour window, the line stretched to almost the exact same point - so a 1 1/2 hour wait for a burger and shake even if you arrived at 3 in the afternoon.

The thing is - if half the reason you're going is for an excuse to hang out in the sun, then it doesn't really matter. I read my book and enjoyed the day.

I had:
1 Shackburger (no lettuce, no tomato - yes to cheese, special sauce, pickles, onions and ketchup)
1 order of fries (which I did not eat even half of, though they were good - and I'm not usually a fan of the crinkly ones)
1 chocolate shake (as much as I like their burgers, and while they're not my favorite in the city, they're good - the shake is one of my big reasons for going).

So, a nice day, a nice meal. But you've got to view the line in a zen way. Through any other lens, it's the silliest thing in the world (i.e., good lunch, but not 90 min wait good - but for someone looking to soak up a little sun, it was perfect).