Please Feed Me


Try An Izakaya For A Laidback Night Out

courtesy of Randy F. on yelp.com

Izakayas are great when you are looking to get filled up without spending too much money. What is an Izakaya? Think of it as a Japanese version of an Irish bar that serves food. The food menus here are huge so you can probably go everyday for a month and get to try something new.

One thing that I must make clear about this type of Japanese eating establishment. The food is never really amazing. If  you are expecting Le Bernardin, please just go to Le Bernardin. It’s bar food at affordable prices, and not a fancy bar. Probably great food if you’re intoxicated, which is kind of the point I guess. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, and I imagine that if I get to go, I will see this type of place littered on every block. They aren’t fancy restaurants. Remember this is just plain and simple bar food, just the Japanese version.

I usually go to the Izakayas on St. Marks, but a friend of mine suggested that we go to Hagi, one of her favorites. We ordered a large bottle of cold sake and so much food that even our waiter was in awe. Well he was either in awe or disgusted, I like to think it was the former. What I found the most amusing was that the tables around us saw all the food we got and kept pointing and ordering from our table, and they were Japanese!! I am honored.

Sake- We got a very large and cold bottle. Think wine bottle size. Remember what I said in my mini sake lesson? Check back here if you don’t. They have a very large selection here, so unless you know a lot about sake, get a recommendation from the staff.

Grilled smelt-Very snackable and came three to a skewer. Quite tasty.

Assorted pickles-I love Asian ones, but these didn’t tickle my pickle. Sorry, I just felt like rhyming, heehee.

Octopus balls-Typical Japanese street food and they made them very well. Think of a small round ball of cooked batter with a hidden piece of octopus in the middle.

Spaghetti with cod roe cream-The pasta was cooked well and the cream sauce had flavor. Did I love it? No, but it’s bar food, if I were drunk I probably would have hoovered it.

Large sardine filled with roe-This was one of my favorites of the night. I love roe and when it’s cooked it’s so flavorful and filling. When it comes to any seafood that has eggs in it like lobster, it kills me when people discard the eggs. They taste so good and are quite expensive if you think about it.

Pork belly with bean sprouts and garlic shoots-People rave about this dish, I thought that it was just OK. I’m a huge fan of garlic shoots so I quite enjoyed that part of the dish. I wish the pork belly were a little more flavorful. My one main connection with this dish is that it reminds me of what my grandmother would cook for me when I was growing up and still does upon request, just with beef. That might be why I didn’t love it, granny probably makes it better.

Will I be going back to Hagi? Yes, and it’s because they had one thing that completely blew my mind. It is one dish that I will be looking out for at other Japanese bars and if my friend hadn’t ordered it, I would have missed it on the extensive menu. So thank you friend! It was their fried pork belly. You must be a fan of fat in order to enjoy this dish, because otherwise you will hate it. And as you can see from my Minca post, I am a major proponent of it. The best way I can describe this plate is to think of each piece as a really thick potato chip, a few millimeters thick. The outside is so crispy and when you bite into the middle it is all fat. Pure fat. Heaven on a plate. Based on this one dish, I know that there must be other star dishes on their menu, I just have to find them. Maybe it’s their sashimi, maybe it’s the yellowtail collarbone or maybe the liver or chicken skin yakitori, but I can’t wait to try more to find out.

6 out of 10

152 W 49th St, New York NY10019

-Juice


Oodles And Oodles Of Ramen Noodles & A Sake Lesson

courtesy of urbandaddy.com

Good ramen makes me feel fat, simply because it’s a big portion of noodles, vegetables, meat and broth, and I find myself slurping the entire thing down to the very bottom of that massive bowl. That big bowl is always bigger than my head, and ask anyone, my head is abnormally large.

On a chilly evening a friend who not only loves Asian food, but knows quite a lot about it because he travels a lot, suggested that we stop by Sapporo in midtown for their tasty ramen. Never one to turn a new restaurant down, of course I went

We started with cold sake…

Side note about sake: Unless I’m freezing and want to warm up, I always order cold sake over hot sake. The flavors come out beautifully and are actually quite refreshing when you drink it cold. Not to sound cheesy, but the taste really does dance on your tongue. It is also usually a higher grade of sake than the sake that is served hot. One time, while sitting at a Japanese bar with a non-Asian girlfriend, the bartender who I was quite friendly with gave her a big toothy grin when she placed her order and even shook his head slightly. He said to her with a chuckle, “Americans always get the same thing, hot sake, salmon roll and spicy tuna roll.” He wasn’t trying to be mean, but just making an observation out loud. She was mortified, though I didn’t really see why she was, after all, she is American. It wasn’t until then that I began to notice that it was true. The majority of people, who don’t come from Asian families, that I have dined with always ordered hot sake over cold and many of them, after I asked, told me that they had never tried cold sake before. So just remember, the next time you order sake, try a cold one if you never have before. A lot of the time, hot sake is really just a lower grade sake that is heated so that you can’t taste that it’s cheap. Besides, with summer coming up, cold sake will really hit the spot.

After starting on a bottle of sake, we munched on pork gyoza, which are simply pork potstickers or dumplings. Not the best I have ever had, but I would order them again. The meat was flavorful. Though, the skin was a bit soggy and the bottom should have been crispier. And then our ramen came.  I wish I could have said steaming ramen, but it wasn’t.  Not that I minded that it wasn’t burning hot. It was at a temperature so that you could start eating it right away, which was a nice for me. But if you like it boiling, you would need to send it back to get it reheated. It might be strategic to get customers out faster or maybe our waitress just left it sitting out there too long.  I ordered the Shoyu ramen which has a soy sauce based broth, thin wavy noodles, pork slices and a fish cake. The broth was great. Simple and savory, I drank every drop of it. And to me, when it comes to ramen, the broth is very important. The pork was lean, I wish it had more fat like Minca pork slices do, but that’s just a personal preference. The noodles were tasty too, no complaints here. Overall, a tasty place to go for a bowl of ramen. Do I like it better than Minca? No. Would I go back? Definitely.

Note: It’s cash only.

6 out of 10

152 W 49th St, New York NY10019

-Juice


A Cheese, Chocolate and Wine Bar? Oh My!

Ayza

Courtesy of ayzanyc.com

This is one of those places, that while the prepared food isn’t worth eating, it’s still a fabulous venue to go to. Ayza is a brilliant concept. It is a chocolate, cheese and wine bar that also has a lunch and dinner menu. The problem is the lunch and dinner menu. My date and I ate the following dishes that night:

Asian steak tartare
Grilled octopus salad
Beef carpaccio
Pasta with basil, marinara and mozzarella

All were incredibly mediocre. Nothing was awful, but everything was just average if even. Even when I saw my pasta, the first thought that came to mind was Chef Boyardee. The steak tartare was a disappointment. The carpaccio had too much greens compared to the amount of parmesan that was shaved on, which led to the dish tasting under seasoned. The grilled octopus salad was good, but not really anything to write home about. I had to ask for salt and pepper as there was none on the table. I feel like restaurants who don’t offer condiments at the table are very confident about their food. In this case, Ayza should definitely take their confidence down a notch.

One more sad dish was the moist dark chocolate cake. I never ever send food back, but this needed to go back. A very bland dessert, I would have been happier with a Hostess cupcake. BUT! Onto the good parts of Ayza.

It would have been a fantastic experience if we didn’t have our dinner there. Our drinks were wonderful! My date had a pinot noir, I chose the ‘Is Paris Burning’ martini, made from Remy Martin VSOP and raspberry liquor. The cheeses were delicious and the chocolates from Jacques Torres are always a good choice. The bar itself is very tiny, but cute and they provide a heated outside area to sit in. I would definitely go back and order anything the kitchen doesn’t have to cook themselves.

One more puzzling thing…aside from the Jacque Torres chocolates there are actual desserts, like the cake I ordered. When the waitress saw how much I really didn’t like it, she suggested their best dessert, the 20 layer crepe cake. My first thought…as this is a chocolate bar…shouldn’t your best dessert contain chocolate?

6 out of 10

-Juice

Ayza Wine and Chocolate Bar
11 W 31st St, New York 10001
(Btwn 5th Ave & Broadway)
(212) 714-2992