Sunday, September 18, 2016

Takoyaki in New York

It is no secret that I love takoyaki, a kind of omelet ball that is stuffed with a tiny piece of octopus that is found all over Japan and especially in Kyoto but that is also apparently a favorite for Japanese people to cook at home for their families. I did a post on the subject in 2011, showing our friend Hitomi Kondo going through the process. I even helped in shaping the balls. Here is the almost finished product before saucing:

Nearly finished takoyaki balls
The takoyaki that Hitomi made for us, like every version that I have had until recently, was a firm ball with a firm piece of octopus inside, served with bonito flakes sprinkled on top and a special thickish sweetish sauce that resembles tonkatsu sauce. I say until recently because a couple of weeks ago I experienced a new take on takoyaki, in New York of all places. While waiting to get into Ramen Totto (see post of earlier today), I noticed Takoyaki Bar (also run by Totto) right next door, and resolved to return as soon as possible. Which I did.

Takoyaki Bar by Totto
To my surprise, the takoyaki here was very soft, almost impossible to hold with the traditional toothpicks they are served with, and had a very tender morsel of octopus inside. A wonderful new (for me) take on this iconic street dish served, as it should be, in a paper box, placed into a plastic external box.

Takoyaki Bar's takoyaki
For those squeamish about octopus (the tako in takoyaki), the restaurant makes takoyaki stuffed with bits of chicken (an oxymoron, of course). Not having any problem with octopus, I passed on this, but it does make it easier to go with a group, which might include octopodophobes.

Give it a try.

Bobby Jay

Really Good Ramen in New York

While living in Tokyo for nearly three years, I developed a love for ramen, Japanese noodle soup originally based on Chinese precedents but adapted by the Japanese and turned into a much-beloved dish that can be found all over Japan, with local variations, generally at simple restaurants or even standing counters at stations, on crowded streets and in shopping malls.

Until fairly recently, ramen was hard to find in New York, but in the last few years there has been a ramen explosion. The great Tokyo-based Ippudo, which specializes in Hakata ramen, with broth make with long-cooked pork bones, has a couple of establishments. The famous Ivan Ramen, which was created by an American ramen fanatic who spent years in Japan perfecting his craft (and has written a book on the subject), has received considerable notoriety, and less-famous ramen shops are springing up everywhere. One of the best is Jin Ramen, at 82nd and Amsterdam, and I am partial to Tabata, at Ninth Avenue and 40th Street, which is run by Malaysians who trained in Tokyo for many years and make some highly seasoned and not totally traditional versions (excellent spicy tan tan ramen).

In August I came across Totto Ramen, which has three locations (248 East 52nd, 366 West 52nd and 464 West 51st streets). I was thrilled to find that their ramen is really excellent.

Totto Ramen's extra spicy miso ramen - note big glob of sauce next to the egg
The place on West 52nd Street is unprepossessing, but always packed with eager slurpers. You wait on line, while they take your order and when you are seated, the correct noodles miraculously appear.

Totto Ramen: taking orders from waiting customers
And the noodles are worth even the considerable wait. First, the noodles are just the right texture, springy but not exactly al dente. I had extra spicy miso ramen, and the sauce was deep and rich as well as VERY spicy.

About a block away is the newest Totto Ramen, a lovely restaurant where I didn't have to wait on line, and there is room to breathe

Totto Ramen, 464 West 51st Street
The ramen is the same as at the West 52nd Street branch, and here I opted for the chicken paitan, or simple chicken ramen. Not as exciting as the spicy miso (and probably better with pork instead of chicken), but I wanted to try what is billed as the restaurant's signature dish.

Chicken paitan at Totto Ramen
If you like ramen, or don't know whether you do or not, you will be happy at Totto Ramen.

Bobby Jay


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Simple Summer Soup: Watermelon Gazpacho with Feta Crema

It's the end of summer, but the corn, melon, tomatoes and, depending on the weather, Tri-Star strawberries, have another month or so to go. Inspired by some great tomatoes,

Watermelon and tomato gazpacho with feta crema
I made this watermelon and tomato gazpacho the other day, using the recipe recently published by Bon Appétit. It was excellent. You can use Bon Appétit's recipe, as I did, or substitute any watermelon gazpacho recipe (or even a traditional gazpacho) that you like and add the feta crema, which is what makes it special: chopped toasted almonds, sour cream, milk and feta. Since it was so simple, I decided to kick things up a notch by serving the soup in really wonderful bowls that Joan, a dealer in Japanese contemporary ceramics, found during one of her many trips to Japan.

 Enjoy the summer while you can!

Bobby Jay

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bobby Jay Sandwich: Summer Surf and Turf

Bobby Jay Sandwich: smoked trout, ricotta, tomato, etc. on sprouted rye
Inspired by a wonderful dense sprouted rye loaf from She-Wolf Bakery that I found at the Upper West Side Sunday farmers market, I made this sandwich for lunch today. I spread hand-packed ricotta on thin slices of the bread, added very thin slices of jalapeno pepper thin slices of red onion, thin slices of super ripe heirloom tomato, flakes of lemon pepper smoked trout and chopped dill. A big success, and a nice concept, but what made it better than good was the bread from She-Wolf, the Brooklyn bakery that makes the best bread I have found in New York.

And here it is:

She-Wolf Bakery's sprouted rye loaf
This would alos be fine with smoked salmon, of course. The key is to use the best and freshes ingredients you can find.

Bobby Jay

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bobby Jay's Corn Soup Revisited

Bobby Jay's corn soup with olive oil
Four years ago, I posted my recipe for corn soup, which I had spent a lot of time developing. It is rich -- essence of corn -- despite the absence of anything but corn, a tiny bit of butter, a small amount of minced onion and a jalapeno pepper. Since then I have refined the recipe some and expanded the array of add-ins that I suggest in the note. In addition, I have experimented with using a pressure cooker and found that it is even richer due to the better extraction of flavor from the corn cobs that the superheated pressurized water permits.

So here's the updated, improved recipe for my own corn soup. This is a perfect time to try it, with wonderful sweet corn abounding at farmers markets everywhere.

Bobby Jay’s Corn Soup

Ingredients:

·       5-6 ears of corn (5 medium, an extra if small)
·       1 medium onion, diced
·       1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced (seeds and interior membranes removed), more or less, depending on how hot the jalapenos are and your taste
·       1 Tbs butter
·       4 C water
·       2 Tbs chives, finely chopped
·       Best quality olive oil
·       Salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Put the most delicate ear aside. Take kernels off remaining 4 ears of corn. Cut the cobs into thirds.

2. Sauté onion and jalapeño in butter with a little salt until soft. Add corn kernels and sauté another minute or so, just to warm through.

3. Add cobs and water. Bring to boil and simmer, covered, for 30-40 mins. [Better still, for an even richer, creamier soup, do this in a pressure cooker, bring to temperature and cook for 20 minutes.]

4. Remove cobs and puree the soup with a hand or standing blender. (I use a blender because I like it very smooth, and the added corn will provide texture.) Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste. It may need a fair amount of salt to cut the natural corn sweetness.

5. Separately, bring a pot of water to a boil. Take off the heat, add the last cob of corn, cover and wait 7 minutes. (Or cook it however you like to make corn, including in the microwave.) Remove kernels.

6. Serve soup in individual bowls. Garnish with kernels from the last ear of corn, chives and a few drops of olive oil.

Can be served cold or hot. If cold, chill and garnish just before serving.

Serves 4

Notes

Instead of chives, I often garnish with one of the following:

·       Chopped toasted or untoasted pumpkin seeds and a few drops of pumpkin seed oil or pistachio oil
·       Chopped pistachios and pistachio oil
·       Chopped hazelnuts and a few drops of hazelnut oil
·       A very tiny quantity of truffle oil
·       A dollop of crème fraîche
·       A little hot sauce or (preferably green) chili powder, or some adobe sauce from canned chipotles with adobo
·       Small chunks of avocado and olive or pistachio oil
·       White miso, about a rounded teaspoon per cup, whisked in before serving

This soup is really easy to make and virtually impossible to screw up, especially if you start with farm-fresh corn.

I hope you enjoy.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Paris -- An Amazing Lebanese Feast

While in Paris, J and I and our friends Mimi and JoJo were treated to an amazing Lebanese feast at Rimal, one of the best Lebanese restaurants to be found there (at 94, boulevard Malesherbes, in the 17ème arrondissment). The meal was a family celebration organized by our friend Tania, and included Tania's delightful mother Aida, her sister Ruby and her niece Carol, along with some Kuwaiti friends.

Tania planned the meal with Roger Sfeir, the Maître d' at Rimal, who is a kind of legend within Paris' large Lebanese community, as well as Tania's admired friend Fady Khouri, one of Rimal's owners, whom Tania correctly describes as a "grand gentleman."

The meal reflected Middle Eastern principles of entertaining, i.e. way too much food, and lots of special dishes. Here are photos of many of them, taken by Tania, who is not merely a great cook but also an accomplished food presenter and photographer. (The names in captions were provided by Tania, generally French spellings of Lebanese names. You may find anglicized spellings if you try to learn more about this items.)

Garlic tomatoes
Arayess (minced meat, herbs, onions in pita, grilled)
Tabboulé
Kebbé nayé (Lebanese veal tartare)
Shanklishe (strong crumbled cheese balls with herbs)
Fatayers (spinach triangles)
Kabab karaz (an exceptional Aleppo specialty)
Kebbé  boulettes and walnut eggplant mix

Makaneks (special Lebanese sausages)
Ra'a'ates (feuilleté "from Heaven")
Cream and rose "chewy" ice creams
Karabiges (pistachio filled pastry brought from Beirut)
Natef (resemblng pine flavored marshmallow)
The ambiance was indeed familial. Aida, in particular, was beaming the whole time at the array of guests and enjoyed every second of making us all happy, and particularly those of us who are somewhat new to Lebanese food.

Aida with Roger and Jo-Jo
See? It worked!

A content moi
What a wonderful memory!

Bobby Jay

Friday, August 5, 2016

Paris -- Restaurant H: An Excellent New Bistro

At the recommendation of one of my partners, we went with friends to H Restaurant, a new néo-bistro located in the fourth arrondissement, near the Bastille. H is named for its owner-chef, Hubert Duchenne, who was sous-chef at the renowned Akrame. H serves very sophisticated modern French cuisine in a simple but elegantly designed space, with an open kitchen and lots of room between tables (a rarity in this part of town).

The five-course menu is just 50 euros, a tremendous bargain for this quality of food. Just look at some images of the food. Unfortunately, I cannot recall what we ate, exactly, and most things are covered with mousses, sabayons or other sauces, so it is hard to tell in retrospect. Indeed, the only criticism that we had was that nearly all the dishes shared that characteristic: while they were all excellent, we would have preferred a dish or two that highlighted the perfectly cooked main element.


Five-course menu at Restaurant H
The menu at H varies with the season, and we are definitely planning to return in the autumn, before the restaurant becomes more widely discovered, to sample the chef's take on that season's products.

Restaurant H, 13 Rue Jean Beausire, Paris 4ème (Métro Bastille).

Bobby Jay

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Paris -- Itinéraires: A Great Gastro-Bistro

Returning to Paris, we finally had a chance to get to a restaurant that I've had on my must-try list for several years: Itinéraires, a Michelin-starred gastro-bistro in the fifth arrondissement, near the Quai de la Tournelle. It was everything we had hoped for, only better.

The decor is simple but elegant, soothing light wood with no tablecloths or place mats but  with interesting and effective lighting, and the tables are not densely packed. We had a lovely round table for six and were completely comfortable, ready and able to relax and enjoy the six-course menu.

The food was creative, sophisticated and beautiful. Portions were small enough that you could eat everything without feeling stuffed but large enough to get a substantial experience of each course.

We started with a mini "croque-monsieur" with a layer of puréed basil . . .
Mini "croque-monsieur"
. . .  and a cauliflower salad.

Cauliflower pre-appetizer
Next up was a an absolutely spectacular beef and langoustine carpaccio,
Beef and langoustine carpaccio
(with a substitution of a gorgeous salad for those who don't or can't eat raw meat).

Mixed vegetable salad
There followed a perfectly cooked filet of rouget with a basil sauce and olives.

Filet of rouget with basil sauce and olives
We were now ready for main courses: lamb chops for those who could eat them, monkfish for the others.

Lamb chops
Monfish
Finally, two desserts:

Red fruit dessert
Chocolate ganache
This excellent meal was 95 euros, a great bargain. During the week, Itinéraires has a 65-euro three-course prix fixe, which we are very eager to try next time we are in Paris.

Itinéraires, 3 rue de Pontoise, Paris 5ème (Métro Maubert Mutualité).

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Brittany -- Domaine de Rochevilaine

After a week in the southwest of France, we spent a couple of days on the southern coast of Brittany. We had spectacular weather and fully enjoyed our stay at the Domaine de Rochevilaine, a Relais and Chateaux hotel consisting of centuries-old stone buildings located on the Pointe de Pen Lan, about an hour from Nantes.

Our lovely and spacious room was just above the rocks on the shore, and enjoyed an unobstructed view of the Vilaine Estuary and the land on the other side of the inlet. The Michelin-starred restaurant was in a different building; with southern and western exposures, it was bathed with sunlight during the long summer evenings we spent there.

Domaine de Rochevilaine in Brittany
Our room from the outside
Our room from the inside. Sylvie is loving it!
As expected, the food was excellent. Although it was no challenge for the chef, I particularly enjoyed the Penerf oysters, which were quite simply the best I have ever eaten: briny but not too briny, just the right size and tasting as though they had been harvested within minutes of our meal. They were so good that I ordered them again on our second night.

Penerf oysters
Joan's starters did require ccoking: red fruit ravioli and crabmeat, both very successful.

Red fruit ravioli
Crabmeat appetizer
For some reason, I did not photograph our main courses, which were just fine, but I woke up in time for dessert: a Paris-Brest that tasted as good as it looked despite the non-traditional presentation and perfect Crèpes Suzette.

Paris-Brest
Crèpes Suzette
Given the perfect weather, we took the advice of the person at the desk and drove to the Golfe of Morbihan. A three-minute ferry ride took us to the lovely Île aux Moines, where we lunched on moules frites at a picturesque restaurant overlooking the bay.

Île aux Moines
From there we drove to Vannes, which turns out to have a beautiful old town that is right out of central casting (or the equivalent for a location) for a Breton village.

Half-timbered buildings in Vannes
Symbol of Vannes
This is a great part of the world to spend time in, particularly when the weather is fine.

Bobby Jay