Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop

This is totally unrelated, but has anyone else been obsessed with Serial recently? I wanted to listen to it for a while now, and finally I found some time to, on my long bus ride home. It’s excellent story telling. I am halfway through the series and grossly captivated. Highly recommend!

I can’t think of a logical transition here, so I’m just going to abruptly change topics.

There seems to be a lot of quality food courts popping up all over New York from Hudson Eats to Gotham West Market. My friend and I went to check out Gotham West Market, which was quite the commitment to make because it is so far from any semblance of a subway stop. All the way out on 11th Ave, only the bus would take you there, and waiting for the bus out in the cold is miserable business. We held true though and trekked our way to the wild wild west.

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This is not your typical suburban shopping mall food court, dominated by your Sbarro’s and Panda Express. The inspiration for Gotham West Market comes from the food markets more typically found in Europe and Asia, and I love how they’ve translated that into a version fit for New York. It’s an innovative use of public space, and I hope to see more similar business ventures springing up across the city.

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The interior was very cool and industrial, with 8 different food vendors from Blue Bottle Coffee to The Cannibal. The vendors are varied in the types of food served but all delivering food at a certain level of quality. There is plenty of seating both at tables and along the bars.

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Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop is a popular choice. Ivan Orkin is probably the only white guy to have made a name for himself in Japan for making ramen. After spending a number of years in Japan and opening up 2 wildly popular ramen shops, he came back to New York, and this Gotham West Market outpost is his first restaurant in the United States. He has since opened up the flagship Ivan Ramen in Lower East Side, which I still have to go check out.

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On this particular day, Ivan was there, and we actually met him and chatted with him for a bit. He told us how the menu right now is pretty basic, and how he wants to amp it up to include more creative dishes, but he figures he’ll ease New Yorkers into it slowly. I admit that I was kind of starstruck. He also gave us recommendations and even took our order! Here, I have the shoyu ramen, made of a dashi and chicken broth. I added an egg as well. The broth is full-bodied and rich, and the rye noodles are cooked just right. I typically find all ramen to be way too salty for my taste, and though that is still the case here, this is ranking as one of my favorite shoyu ramens in the city.

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This is the vegetarian shoyu ramen, which for having a vegetarian broth, surprised me in how flavorful it was. The enoki mushrooms are a really nice touch as well that I wish were also in the regular shoyu ramen.

If you’re ever in need of a long trek to the far west side or if you find yourself out on 11th Ave for some reason, consider Gotham West Market as a food stop. Over the summer, Jeni’s Ice Cream had a stand in there as well for really expensive but amazing ice cream. Not sure if they’re still there or if it was just a pop-up, but you can tell that each vendor is serving really quality food. I don’t think you can go wrong with any choice there.

Ivan Ramen
Gotham West Market
600 11th Ave (btw 44th and 45th St) New York, NY 10036

Ootoya

The idea behind Ootoya is to introduce the world to Japanese home cooking – meals that are eaten in real Japanese households on an everyday basis. In other words, not the sushi and sashimi most people associate is the beginning and end of Japanese cuisine. There are now 2 Ootoyas in NYC, which speaks to the popularity and success they’ve found here.

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For most of the entrees, you can elect to get it teishoku style or a la carte. The teishoku or meal style comes with a bowl of miso soup, pickles, and egg custard. I got the mini soboro don which is minced chicken with egg served over rice. This tasted so homey and comforting. Sometimes, I find the sweet soy sauce used in Japanese cooking to be too sweet, but I think it was very balanced here. I licked my bowl clean.

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The rosu katsu ju is fried pork loin wrapped in layer of egg custard, also served on top of rice. The pork is cooked in dashi, so it’s very flavorful.

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Despite Ootoya’s very limited dessert menu, the anmitsu matcha is great. It’s a conglomeration of agar jelly, shiratama (mochi), red bean, and green tea ice cream all sitting in soymilk with a side of kuromitsu brown sugar syrup to pour on top. The elements were wonderful together except for the kuromitsu, which I found too cloying. We left it unpoured.

Ootoya has a really extensive menu full of yummy sounding choices, so anyone interested in Japanese food should come back with me to try more of it.

Ootoya
8 W 18th St (btw Avenue Of The Americas & 5th Ave) New York, NY 10011

Go Go Curry

I didn’t develop a taste for curry until college, but now I’m hooked. Go Go Curry looks tiny and dingy on the outside, but they make a great Japanese curry.

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I went with the pork katsu curry with a topping of natto, which is Japanese fermented soybeans. The curry sauce is so yummy that I might get just curry and rice next time. The beans are definitely an acquired taste, for those adventurous eaters among y’all.

Go Go Curry
231 Thompson St (btw 3rd St & Bleecker) New York, NY 10012

Smorgasburg

More than ever before, I feel this need to consume, to spend money, and to buy. In a small part, it’s because I am no longer in school, have a paying job, and therefore can afford to be a consumer.  In a much larger part, I think it’s this city. When I think about why I love this city, it’s because New York offers you products, events, things that you can’t find in other places. When you are presented with all of these clothes, food, events, and trinkets that you never knew you needed, I feel this looming fear of missing out. And I think, “I HAVE to take advantage of living in this magnificent city. I MUST have that…and that…and also that.” All of a sudden, buying Smucker’s jam is no longer good enough. I have to go buy Sarabeth’s.

Smorgasburg is the perfect example of a food consumer’s playground and what I find so mesmerizing and mind-boggling about New York. All the stands that make it to Smorgasburg feature artisan goods, homemade specialties, or quirky twists on classics. Next up is a conglomeration of various eats from various trips to Brooklyn.

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The line at Yuji Ramen is so long because people love their dry ramen. The more popular choices like the uni miso will also run out within an hour, so make this your first stop. I do like their system of taking your name and order down and then giving you a time estimate, so you don’t have to waste time standing in line. You can wander and explore other stands and come back in 15 minutes for your food. Plus, I think Yuji’s neighbors appreciate not having a an obnoxious line snaking around their storefronts too.

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This is the bacon, egg, and cheese ramen. It’s like a breakfast explosion but with noodles. The egg is poached perfectly, and the noodles are al dente with a nice bite to it. Happy slurping!

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Palenque serves Colombian open face arepas. The arepas are crispy and smell so good. There are all kinds of toppings and many vegetarian options…

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…like seitan!

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The Lumpia Shack is a hub for Filipino food. These were the classics (ground pork, carrots, shallots with some pickled veggies on top), but they also have non-traditional fillings like duck or pork belly.

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Milk Truck does some very creative grilled cheese sandwiches. The Classic with a Twist adds in onions and dijon mustard to gruyere on rye bread. Look at how the cheese oozes. My favorite grilled cheese is still weirdly from Bouchon Bakery (yeah, a french bakery of all places), but this is not too shabby either.

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Continuing in this trail of comfort food, we have the Hash Bar, specializing in hash browns. There are a number of add ins you can choose from bacon and sausage to onions and mushrooms. And DO add an egg on top!

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Tacos from a stand that I can’t remember name of. The taco itself was kind of forgettable too.

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Nadia’s Kitchen does this Moroccan merguez sandwich that is really outstanding. The sausage is bursting with flavor, and the bread is toasty. This is very filling, so split it with some friends, if you want to have stomach room to eat anything else.

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Bee Hive Oven made really fluffy, Southern style biscuits. I have this thing for biscuits. Virginia, which is where I’m from, is home to some excellent biscuits, and it’s been amazingly difficult to find similar quality biscuits in New York. I was so excited when I tasted Bee Hive Oven’s biscuits that I came away with a 8-pack to freeze and save for later. 

Now that you’re stuffed yourself with all this food, it’s time for dessert. One of my friends always says, “Dessert doesn’t take up room.” I think it’s a lovely motto to live by.

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I love Blue Marble Ice Cream! It’s so creamy and rich, and the vanilla just tastes like VANILLA. You know how sometimes vanilla ice cream can end up more icy with a tiny hint of vanilla. Well, this is creamy VANILLA. So good.

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I didn’t really care for this slush from Kelvin Natural Slush Co. It was very sour, so my face was scrunched up from two sips of it. This went into the trash unfinished.

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People’s Pops always has fun flavors for a refreshing treat. After all the heavy foods, this is actually a dessert that can help balance out the oil and grease in your system.

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The strawberry cream popsicle is great. What’s not so great is that I didn’t realize the unfortunate positioning of this photo until after I got home. Oops.

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My must-get at Smorgasburg every time are these ice cream sandwiches from The Good Batch. Vanilla ice cream with caramel between stroopwafels, which are Dutch spiced waffle cookies. I’m a sucker for all things spice and cinnamon. These are amazing and highly recommended.

I always end up spending an obscene amount of money at Smorgasburg. It’s back to the whole “I didn’t know that I needed specialty, artisan-made fill-in-the-blank, but I won’t be able to find this anywhere else and since I live in this city, I have to take advantage of all that it offers, so I am now going to drop another $20 on five pieces of chocolate.” My own personality has a lot to do with this mindset as well. Moderation is valuable lesson that I am trying to learn. Maybe that can be a New Years resolution.

 

Smorgasburg

Totto Ramen

If a restaurant’s opening time is 11 am on a Sunday morning, getting there at 11 am should not mean a 1 hour wait. But alas, when it comes to Totto Ramen, that is what it means. You have to come mentally prepared for a long wait because it’s unavoidable (unless you come at 3 pm on a weekday, but ain’t nobody got time for that), but their excellent ramen is so worth it.

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Totto uses a chicken broth, which is different from most other ramen houses that use a pork based broth. Naturally, a chicken broth misses out on all the porky fattiness, but here, it didn’t make a difference. The aroma and flavor were amazing, and I think I might even prefer this one. Get the Chicken Paitan ramen. The homemade noodles are thin and straight, and it comes with scallions, char siu pork, and nori. I added a soft-boiled egg in there too because no bowl of ramen is complete without an egg.

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I also wanted to try their pork bun, which was stuffed with a big, fat piece of pork, some greens, and some Japanese mayo. Ippudo and Momofuku do much better pork buns, so I’d say pass on this and just concentrate on the ramen.

Totto Ramen
366 W 52nd St (btw 9th Ave & 8th Ave) New York, NY 10019

Sakagura

Finding Sakagura means going into a nondescript office building, walking past the elevators, around the corner, through a sketchy looking door, and then down the stairs into the basement. And yet with such a hidden location, this place is always packed whether it’s for lunch or dinner, which speaks to the quality of this izakaya. Izakayas are Japanese sake bars, and this is one of the best in New York.

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Being a izakaya, that means our first order has to be sake. The sake menu is extensive, which if you’re like me and know nothing about sakes, can be confusing. The waiters, though, are knowledgeable and can help you choose. They also make amazing sake cocktails, which is my love.

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Even better than sake are all the bar nibbles, and we got a LOT of them. A classic agedashi tofu that was perfectly battered, sits in a soy based broth. 

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Japanese eggplant grilled and served with three different kinds of miso. The eggplant was at the perfect level of ripeness, and the flavors are all so clean. The misos were eggyolk, spinach, and a sweeter red miso.

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My go-to order at Japanese restaurants is grilled fish. Here, I remember this as good but forgettable. That’s what happens when the other dishes are just killing it.

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The first of my two favorites of the night is this gyu miso nikomi – shredded beef ribs. Imagine rib meat so tender that you barely have to chew it, cooked in a lip-smackingly good miso stew. 2 more orders please is what I was thinking when I licked this bowl clean.

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There’s no drinking without some fried foods at the table – Japanese fried chicken. The portion size was enormous for the price, and the chicken super juicy. You can taste the ginger infusion in the batter.

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I was already pretty happy at this point of the meal, but our last ochazuke rice soup really surprised me in how good it was. It’s rice in a tea dashi with salmon, and what a great ending to the evening. It was soothing and clean, washing away all the oil and grease. I kept thinking about this dish and the shredded beef ribs afterwards, so they definitely left an impression.

Next time you’re up for some sake, good food, and a little adventure in locating an underground restaurant, check out Sakagura. You all have other recommended sake bars in the city?

Sakagura
211 E 43rd St (btw 3rd & 2nd Ave) New York, NY 10017

Lunching in Japan

When eating at your desk is the norm at work, it’s a real treat to take an actual lunch break. Luckily, my office is surrounded by a number of quality Japanese places, and I find myself often turning to Japanese food.

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I’ll have to do a full post on Sakagura later because this is my favorite Japanese restaurant. Since it can get kind of expensive during dinner, lunch here is a great deal. They serve a limited number of daily soba sets (hot or cold soba plus a rice bowl), so get there early before it runs out. The rice bowl changes everyday, and the pictured is the hayashi beef, which is a very tender beef stew. Both the hot and cold soba are great. Sometimes I want to have fun dipping the cold soba, while other times, I prefer a hot broth instead. Depends on the mood.

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Onya is my go-to spot for udon as I am slowly trying my way through the entire menu. The tan tan udon is excellent, and I’ll sometimes add a poached egg to it. They make their own udon on the premises, which explains why their noodles are extra springy.

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Two doors down from Onya is Donburiya, where rice bowls rule. I love lunch specials because everything comes as a meal with miso soup and a small salad. Beef sukiyaki with a runny egg for me.

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And a katsu don for my friend. Lots of flavor for both of our bowls, but the portions are mostly rice and not enough of the actual dish. I like the food enough to keep coming back, but I do wish they gave you more.

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For hardcore katsu, Katsuhama is your place. The fun part is getting your own mortar and pestle to grind up sesame seeds. How cool is that! After you’ve ground up the seeds, there’s a pot of curry to ladle into your bowl. Mix it all up and it’s perfect with the crispy pork.

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Lastly, since I’m on a roll with these Japanese lunches, here’s a bento box of Hakata chicken on rice from Hakata Tonton during Japan Week. Various restaurants were selling bento boxes representing different areas of Japan in Grand Central, and since I’m a total groupie, I promptly dragged a bunch of people to jump in line with me for these bentos.

Any other fans of Japanese lunches?

Sakagura
211 E 43rd St (btw 3rd & 2nd) New York, NY 10017

Onya
143 E 47th St (btw Lex & 3rd) New York, NY 10017

Donburiya
137 E 47th St (btw Lex & 3rd) New York, NY 10017

Katsuhama
11 E 47th St (btw 5th & Mad) New York, NY 10017