Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hot and Soupy #2: Ippudo, NY. Best Ramen in the States

A New York trip calls for Ippudo - if you haven't been there, that is.
I met up with an LA blogger (now Destination Eats) who's relocated to NYC, and his girlfriend for lunch during my trip.
There was a 45 minute wait, so we went to Momofuku Milk Bar to get some goodies while waiting for a table, but Ippudo's staff wouldn't let us take our cookies into the dining area. We had to leave them in the staff closet to be picked up when we leave.

We had fun observing the wall of ramen bowls behind the bar, and wondered what would happen during an earthquake. Well, good thing they're not in California!
After a while we were called to be seated and walked through a fairly large dining room - much fancier than other ramen joints I've been too, but I guess this is a popular spot in NY after all.

I've heard good things about their pork buns, so we ordered some. But beware although at the bar you can order them for $4 each, when you're seated at a table you have to order two at a time for $8! Why? Who knows. Because they want to?
Some people may kill me for this, but I actually liked Momofuku's pork buns better ...
The problem with these are the mayonnaise. Too much mayonnaise that it overwhelms the pork flavor. While the oyster sauce in Momofuku's pork buns are reminiscent of Beijing duck, mayonnaise just reminded me of ...well ... sandwiches?

But the main attraction here is the ramen. I ordered the Akamaru Modern ($14)
Akamaru means 'red circle,' Destination Eats' girlfriend explained to me. The red circle most likely referred the dollop of spicy miso paste in the middle.

Some food porn shots for you: thin straight noodles in true Hakata-style, thick chashu, medium boiled eggs.
This was indeed an excellent bowl of ramen. I liked the firm Hakata thin noodles, the tonkotsu broth is rich and flavorful, the chashu thick and succulent, and the half boiled eggs added an extra texture that neither poached nor hard boiled egg can. It is indeed a magnificent bowl of ramen that hints of the gloriousness that you might get at the original Hakata outpost.

The $14 price tag aside, the attitude about the pork bun ordering and taking cookies in aside, this was conceivably the best bowl of ramen I've had in the US. Whether or not you should pay $14 for a bowl of ramen, though (even if you are in New York), is entirely your decision.

65 4th Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 388-0088
Ippudo on Urbanspoon
Ippudo in New York

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hot and Soupy #1: Handmade Soba and Udon at Ichimiann (You Never Knew It Could Taste This Good)

I've eaten at Ichimiann so much it's a wonder that I hadn't written about it sooner, but this cold winter weather is the perfect time to start it off as the inaugural post of my "Hot and Soupy" series of posts!

Ichimiann is a place I found through Exile Kiss' blogpost, lauding it as the one amazing teuchi(handmade) soba place in town. I was on a crazy soba kick and wanted to venture further than Yabu.

Ichimiann, aka Bamboo Garden, is a tiny shop on a dilapidated side street right next to Foster's Freeze and looks just like a typical noodle shop.
Cash only, you can place your order and then take a seat at the bar by the wall.

The rite of passage for all soba noobs is the Zaru Soba, so even though it doesn't meet the hot and soupy winter theme, it simply cannot be left unmentioned. Zaru soba gets its name from the bamboo sieve that it is served on and is typically served with tsuyu (a mixture of dashi, sweetened soy sauce, and mirin), scallions, and wasabi.
Mix the scallions and wasabi in the tsuyu, then pick up the buckwheat noodles and dip it in the tsuyu.
This is the dish that best highlights Ichimiann's excellent handmade soba, the wonderful texture and the flavor of the buckwheat noodle itself. The soba here is devoid of that doughy and powdery taste and texture that I always hated in mass produced noodles.

If you want hot soba, however, Ichimiann has plenty of options for you, from a simple bowl with poached egg to many more. The flavors of the broth are subtler here, unlike many places which tend to be salty, but it is ultimately more satisfying and worth savoring.

When you want your protein you could opt for the unagi soba topped with grated yam.
Even though this dish made me realize I'm not big on japanese yam, the rest of the dish was excellent. The unagi is nicely grilled and lends a nice flavor although I did miss the crisp texture of the unagi before it's soaked in broth and yam.

When Exile Kiss did a second post, this time on the udon noodles at Ichimiann, I had to go back and try that too (even if I'm still a soba girl).

A bowl of beef sukiyaki udon seems like the perfect meal for a chilly Saturday morning (ok, afternoon).

Ichimiann's udon is thin, unlike the type you normally see in stores and restaurants.
The sukiyaki udon bowl is bolder in flavor than the other soba dishes that I've had and it really hits the spot. The udon, while thinner than usual, is wonderfully chewy without that doughy consistency.
Ichimiann's subtle but deeply satisfying flavor doesn't leave you overwhelmed and dehydrated like some salty dishes might, but instead it just keeps you satiated all day long.

Ichimian Bamboo Garden
1618 Cravens Ave
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 328-1323
Ichimian Bamboo Garden on Urbanspoon
Ichimian Bamboo Garden in Los Angeles

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lunch with Chef Michael Chiarello. Chatting About Top Chef, Good Television, Flavors, and More.

It isn't often that I get the chance to meet and greet a celeb chef, especially when he's not based in Los Angeles, so when an invitation came to meet Top Chef Master finalist Michael Chiarello, I took it despite the fact that I had to drive all the way to OC on a weekday afternoon.

The meet and greet took place at his Napa Style store in South Coast Plaza. When I arrived, he hadn't come out yet, but I was happy to see fellow LA blogger Mattatouille there already partaking in some of Chiarello's fine wines.

I've had his five wines during the blogger event a couple of months ago and really enjoyed all of them, so I was quite happy to partake again. This time they are serving the Eileen (Cabernet, named after his wife) and Roux (old vine Petit Syrah, named after one of his daughters - these vines are 97 years old and are the oldest vines in Napa).

While waiting for Chiarello to come out and lunch to be served, I made my way around the impressive spread of bread, dips, and cured meats which are available for purchase at the store.
Soon after the store manager started bringing in lunch, which was made from Chiarello's recipes and prepared at another South Coast Plaza restaurant for this event. Our simple but delicious lunch consisted of vegetable pizza and cauliflower alla parmigiana.
Since the lunch was at the Napa Style store where samples of various products are available, we had the brilliant idea of sprinkling some of their Truffle Salt on our cauliflowers. So. Good.
To finish off were two trays of chocolates, all of them are (of course) sold at Napa Style including Valerie's salt and pepper truffles.
There were also Rabitos chocolate fig bonbons that I really like.

Chef Chiarello came wearing casual clothing and a big smile, and many of the media people in attendance immediately went over to chat with him. I couldn't hustle through his older fans, so I just waited until later.

Chiarello was quite charismatic and an entertaining speaker, throwing various jokes and anecdotes (one of his quotes of the day: "I'm not particularly artistic but I am crafty.")

As expected, most of the questions revolved around his experience in the Top Chef Master competition - including how the editing process to create "good television" gave a very different impression than what actually happened.
The rest of the conversation traversed through his experience going out to see rabbits with daughter Giana who grew up seeing an ecosystem come to life, to juggling the demands of organic wine growing vs what is financially feasible. According to Chiarello, advocates for organic movement demand certain things but do not realize that means an extra $1 million investment for wine growers like Chiarello. Still committed to organic practices, Chiarello is working on an electric tractor for his vineyard.

His decision to open the Napa Style stores celebrates the increasing return of American consumers to the home kitchen (thanks to the recessions). The products available at Napa Style gave home cooks access to the same high quality and distinct artisan products Chiarello uses in his kitchen such as his various natural and flavored salts and olive oils. As for his selection of these products, Chiarello emphasizes what he calls "flavor" rather than taste, "flavors" that came about from the individuals involved in the creation process itself.

He also spoke of his experiences as a chef up until now, starting from Florida to his return to California with Tra Vigne in Napa and his latest restaurant, Bottega. To celebrate Bottega's anniversary last week, they held an all-week truffle menu! If only it was closer to Los Angeles ...

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