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Yakitori Alley, Yurakucho, Tokyo

22 Nov

I was in Japan recently. I didn’t go in with a food plan or have much time to explore, but still had some great, mostly-cheap eats.

One highlight was near Yurakucho Station in Tokyo: “One of Yurakucho’s most interesting draws is the lively restaurant district built up under the brick arches beneath the elevated train tracks of the JR Yamanote Line. Known in Japanese as Gado-shita, from “below the girder”, these favored watering holes of Tokyo businessmen occupy virtually all of the free space under nearly 700 meters of track.”


Didn’t eat here:


But instead ended up at the most populated-with-locals, boisterous yakitori joint (I figure that’s always a good sign), in a brick-lined alley underneath the tracks themselves, with waves of fragrant meat smoke billowing out. I didn’t see a name, but from a stranger’s blog that shows the same menu it looks like it was Tonton.

Yurakucko Yakitori

We ordered round after round of chicken thigh, leeks, shishito peppers, tsukune (chicken meatballs), pork, pig hearts, chicken skin, even tongue, and all for only $25/person ($14/person not counting the beer).

Citrus Salad, Spaghetti al Limone

26 Oct


Sliced tangerine, satsuma, grapefruit, lemon, with pomegranate, feta,  balsamic vinegar.

Spaghetti boiled to al dente, drained, a little water reserved. This pasta water, heavy cream, olive oil, and lemon zest boiled, then tossed with the pasta, along with grated pecorino and two lemons’ worth of juice.


(hat tip to holly)

Homebrew #5: “The NO.C. IPA”

24 Sep

Early August brewing -> Labor Day bottling party with friends -> obligatory caps:


A few weeks later:

IPA #5

I’ve had a cyclic love-hate relationship with IPAs over the years.

While I love so many bitter foods (nettles, beetroot, sorrel, tonic water, chicory, escarole, campari), many IPAs including broadly well-regarded ones like Pliny the Elder are a complete turnoff to me. After a few years and a disappointing visit to the Oregon Brewers Festival, I’ve figured out that I don’t like the heavy bittering hops, astringent hops, or the piney Northwestern hops (especially Cascade and Columbus), but can enjoy the smell and a range of the more fruity, dank, or spicy hops. And while I like many session beers, I generally like my IPAs balanced with plenty of alcohol and malt, pushing me into the Double IPA / Imperial IPA territory.

So I set out to make an IPA based around just the hops I liked most from some old Mikkeller single-hop beer tasting parties. Maybe I’ll call it “The NO.C. IPA” (or “The Noh Sees”?… depending what kind of California in-joke I want to make). No Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, or Citra hops. No Crystal malt. Just:

  • Pale malt (two-row barley), plus a little rye and wheat
  • Warrior hops for bittering
  • Amarillo for flavor, and aroma (dry hop)
  • Sorachi Ace (I had to mail order them) for flavor and aroma (dry hop)
  • A small amount of Simcoe in the dry hop, but trying to keep it subtle
  • A neutral American ale yeast (US-05)

I brewed it strong, ending up around 8% ABV. After the usual brewing processes (including fermenting in the cool garage around 60F, four weeks in a primary with no secondary, dry hopping 5 days before the end, cold crashing, and bottling), I let it sit for a few weeks.

And I’m happy with how this turned out. I’d give it an (A-) and would pay real money for this beer.

Notes I wrote down when tasting it early, before bottling:

Orange/lemon/tangerine. No pine(!) — good. Subtle simcoe. Mellow fruity/oily hop, slight tropical. No obvious NW. Still a sharp bitter hoppy aftertaste (maybe from the 75min boil).

And then a few week later, after conditioning and carbonating:

Some grapefruit/lemon smell but more tangerine/orange. No bitterness on nose. Very faint musk (Simcoe). A little bite/spicy on the roof of the mouth. No longer any lingering bitterness or aftertaste.

Long Grain Thai Cuisine

17 Sep

This was by far my favorite Thai(ish) restaurant in the US. I like it far more than already good Pok Pok or the (I feel somewhat overrated) Lotus of Siam.

First, the “stir fried rice cakes with green garlic”:

rice cakes garlic

A surprisingly smooth, creamy, stiff texture almost like a fried rice pudding, with fresh, flavorful green garlic. A good start. And then:

noodles etc

The pad see ew was fantastic– their homemade wide flat noodles with just a little chewiness and a smoky flavor, a locally-made tofu, wild mushrooms, and some toothy greens sauteed in soy sauce.

The kim chee and pork belly stir fry was also exceptional: their kim chee (more in the tart fermented direction than chili spicy), with tender yet not too fatty pork belly and greens.

The smoked mackerel fried rice was a bold move– so very fishy-fish-forward that I wouldn’t want to eat it as my only dish, but it was great to share.

The kicker? It’s in small-town Maine. I first heard about it through the NY Times review a year ago and it wasn’t until recently that I was within 100 miles of it, with time to visit.

Ramen Shop, Oakland

2 Sep

I recently had my favorite bowl of ramen in the US, at Ramen Shop in Oakland (edging out Shin Sen Gumi Hakata Ramen):


The veggie ramen shown above (“shoyu broth with meyer lemo, chanterelles, salt-cured egg, broccoli di ciccio, shaved carrots, negi, and mizuna”) was very good, and I tend to like shoyu or salt broths over miso broths, but it was the “garlic miso ramen with smoked king salmon, pork belly, shoyu-marinated egg, frisée, gypsy peppers, and shungiku” that blew my mind. Such a rich, creamy, yet not too greasy broth, and noodles with a nice bite.

The fried rice with pork, nettles, tomatoes, anise hyssop, and shrimp/chili paste was also very, very good– each grain well-coated but not too sticky.

Japanese Food Dinner Party

26 May

A few weeks ago I had friends over for some Japanese food (sushi rolls, as well as various dishes focused on a few simple ingredients, inspired by Japanese Farm Food).





Boiled Edamame with Hickory-smoked Salt (from The Meadow)

Smashed Cucumber Pickles: Japanese cucumbers roughly crushed with a dowel and torn into irregular chunks, mixed with a whole stalk of sliced green garlic, sea salt, and a little ginger, and sealed in a ziploc bag in the fridge for two hours before dinner. Really good– one of my favorite new kinds of pickle.

Turnips and Leaves Pickled in Salt: sliced Tokyo turnips along with the freshest leaves, salt, young ginger, dry red chile (a little), an entire Meyer lemon’s worth of zest (in lieu of yuzu), and salt, also refrigerated in a bag for two hours, then rinsed in water to cut down on the salt.

Snap Peas: Fried sliced young ginger and red chiles in sesame oil, then added the snap peas for just three minutes, until they started to turn bright green. A bit oily but still quite good.

Fried Shishito Peppers: no recipe needed…

Cured Salmon Roe: Fresh salmon roe, rinsed several times until the water ran clear (very gently to avoid breaking them), mixed with a little sea salt, another meyer lemon’s worth of zest and juice, then let sit for a few hours. Served on top of a seared slab of salmon, topped with a little lemon-infused flake salt.

and of course, the team-effort sushi rolls: Dry sushi rice rinsed and drained 8 times until the water ran clear,  boiled with a strip of kombu, spread out on a board and drizzled with rice vinegar while vigorously fanning to rapidly cool it. Then rolled up in nori with some mix of maguro, toro, hamachi, salmon, shiso leaf, avocado, cucumber, and pickled ginger. With fresh-grated real wasabi root (a rare find, at Nijiya).

Great food and company, one of the best evenings in a while.

Roasting a Chicken

14 Apr

I made a moist, tasty roast chicken for 4 tonight. Tip of the hat to ei-nyung for the recipe and low-temperature tips (I added fennel, as I tend to do):

roast chicken

roast chicken

I picked up a local, pastured chicken, peppered and salted it (about 2 tsp sea salt), put it in a Dutch oven, and surrounded it with 8 cloves of garlic, two minced shallots, minced carrots, rosemary, bay leaves, and a sliced bulb of fennel.

I browned it breast-down on the stovetop for about 6 minutes, then flipped it for another 7, stirring the vegetables around the edges to cook them.

Then I covered it with both foil and the lid for a tight seal and slid it into a 250F oven for 80 minutes.

I took it out, rested it under foil for about 15 minutes before carving, and made a simple gravy: I took out the roasted vegetables (to serve on the side, minus the bay leaves, as almost a vegetable jam), strained out most of the fat, and cooked the juices down with the juice of two meyer lemons, making about a cup of brightly tart/rich sauce.

A spinach and farmer cheese salad, some very sweet first snap peas of the season, carrots, baby radishes, and a friend’s excellent shaker lemon pie rounded out the meal. It’s good to be back in springtime.

Salty Salmon, Poached Egg, Butter Spinach

18 Feb


A quick, satisfying dinner during minimal-starch month (and after a weekend of salt-depleting exercise).

I’d shopped with Niçoise salad on the brain, but ended up making: salmon rubbed with salt, white pepper, and sesame seeds, broiled for 8 minutes skin-side-up, on a bed of butter-sauteed lettuce, celery, and black olives, topped with chopped up crispy salmon skin and a poached egg.

Slow Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder (Carnitas?)

10 Feb

It was a rough day overall, but a pork shoulder braised in milk and taken in the direction of carnitas turned out very well:

pork, shredded

It started with five pounds of bone-in pork shoulder from Olivier’s butchery (at their recommendation, a cut with plenty of fat and even the skin left on one side), coated in salt and pepper, then browned in a little oil at medium-high heat on each side in a dutch oven on the stovetop.

Whole milk was added to cover it about 2/3 up the sides (most of a half-gallon container since I had some excess space around it), along with a head of sliced garlic, a bay leaf, dried sage, and thyme:

pork shoulder

After bringing the milk and spices to a light simmer at medium heat, it went into a “300F” oven, covered, coming out every half hour to get flipped over and fill the room with a tantalizing smell.

I expected anywhere from 2 to 4 hours cooking time based on the internet. After two and a half hours you could peel the meat away from the bones with a little effort from a fork, but the body of the meat was still intact. I sliced off a small piece and was disappointed– it was fully cooked, but fairly dry and not especially flavorful. Was it under-cooked? Already over-cooked? I figured if it was over-cooked I’d already missed the boat, so I put it back in for another half hour. What a change! At three hours you could easily slide a fork half an inch into the bulk of the meat, though it still held together. I gave it another 30ish minutes, tasted a piece, and it was succulent and delicious.

pork shoulder

I believe the expression is “falling off the bone”:

pork bone

I was able to pull this apart into pieces (see the first photo) by hand, only using a knife to trim off a few pieces of fat without burning myself.

Following an online suggestion I also made a sauce by straining the liquid (which had separated into curds and whey) and pressing and then discarding everything solid. Twenty minutes on the stovetop over medium heat reduced the liquid to about half its volume, and a little time with the immersion blender emulsified it into a sweet, surprisingly-not-too-fatty sauce.

So good, even if it was about 11pm at this point.

I know what I’ll be eating the next few mornings on the fire escape…

[ edit ] Monday morning, fried into carnitas:


In Pursuit of Tartiflette (and beer)

27 Jan

Delicious, delicious tartiflette

I’d eaten Tartiflette (potatoes and cheese, baked– it sounds simple but it’s so much more) twice– many years ago in Southeastern France, and a year ago in Tavern de la Fermette in Southern Belgium (photo above). Both times it was a tastebud shock-and-awe (in a rich “I’m taking a month off my life” way).

Today I was having a few friends over to taste some Belgian beers, and was inspired to try to make it. I think it turned out really well.

A few quick-and-blurry photos:



And the process, based on a mix of online recipes and memory:

  • Preheat the oven to 350F.
  • Boil 2 lbs of medium yukon gold potatoes for about 25 minutes, until just starting to get soft (but not fully cooked). Remove and rinse under cold water, then cut into 1/2″ cubes.
  • In parallel: melt 2 Tbsp butter in a skillet on medium-high heat.
  • Cut three slices of extra-thick bacon into 1/4″ squares (lardons, sort of),  and fry in the butter until golden and slightly crispy (about 10 minutes). Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and leave the fat in the pan.
  • Chop a large white onion finely, then saute patiently over medium heat in the bacon fat / butter until slightly golden and caramelized (maybe 20 minutes). Remove and drain, discarding excess fat.
  • Return the onions, the bacon, and a cup of white wine to the pan (in the restaurant in France they said they used Champagne, but I didn’t have any) and cook on high heat, stirring rapidly, until the wine evaporates– maybe 2 minutes.
  • Turn the heat down to low. Add the cubed partially-cooked potatoes, stir for a minute, then add half a cup of heavy cream, some black pepper, and salt. Stir together for a minute or two.
  • Pour everything into a lightly buttered 10″ pie plate or other baking dish, then top with half a pound of a creamy, aged, slightly funky French cows-milk cheese (traditionally you’d use Reblochon, but I couldn’t find it– instead I used the slightly firmer Raclette).
  • Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes (I’d read you should then remove the foil and put it under the broiler for 5 minutes to brown the cheese, but I got impatient).

The sweetness from the onions and wine is key. We devoured it.

It was especially great alternating with sips of a Rochefort 10 trappist ale (Quadrupel), followed by a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout (2007, which I’d been hanging on to for many years).

We also had Brussels sprouts (cut in half, mixed with bits of fried bacon, olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roasted in the oven for about 25 minutes at 350F, and impulsively drizzled with Satsuma juice before serving), some hearty seeded bread and funky blue cheese paired with a Supplication sour beer, briny lye-soaked Castelvetrano olives with a Doggie Claws barleywine, and some other beer and cheese.





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