Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sushi Nakazawa, Part III

Tuna (aged)

One could sense the meal approaching its grand finale as the tuna pieces arrived. I myself never prized the tuna as highly as I probably should. The normal cut (red) always feels boring and the fatty cut, while extravagantly marbled with fat, just makes me crave a nice slice of Kobe beef instead. The ones served here are certainly as marvelous as any I've ever had, but they didn't quite manage to alter my biased point of view. The aged factor does add some noticeable depth to the piece first piece.
Fatty Tuna

Uni with Truffle Salt

Quite contrary to the tuna, I look forward to the uni as much as one anticipates the ending of a great movie. Uni by itself over rice is terrific; uni served with a quail egg is classic; and I once had the experience of spooning uni directly out of its shell with its spikes still moving at a restaurant in Tokyo. So it says a lot when I was nevertheless delightfully surprised at the perfect union of clean, fruity uni and savory, umami-packed truffle salt. It was a thing of beauty, simplicity, and, for the lack of a better word, foodgasm. 


Tuna Hand Roll

Both the eel and the hand roll were good in a comforting, non-challenging way. They aimed to please, not to wow--a graceful coming back to earth after the climactic uni. Had the main meal ended here, I would be more than content. But Nakazawa had one last trick up his sleeves...


One of the most memorable scenes in the Jiro movie features Nakazawa explaining his arduous journey in first gaining the right to learn making the egg omelet, then the time it took to finally getting it right. If I remember correctly, it involves mixing the eggs with some substance so the batter is rather thick and elastic, then the mixture is cooked very slowly in a square pan for a long time, which at some point a laborious and highly risky flip has to be executed...

Even after all that, nothing prepared me for how unbelievable this tamago tasted. It was almost surreal. Comparing this--dense like a custard with sweetness, which still carried a savory backbone, calibrated like the best French pastry--with the regular pale-yellow, watery variety that is served in even decent sushi restaurants is like comparing a Ferrari with a Kia. 

And to serve it unadorned without rice was the right decision. It needed nothing else. A true revelation. 

Yuzu Sorbet and Green Tea

Nakazawa made sure he chatted with each of us for a few seconds to provide some personal touch on top of serving us sushi. One thing I felt I missed is the playful banters between a chef and his/her regulars that could spread cheers over the entire bar. With reservations so difficult to procure, it is unlikely for anyone to be a regular--supposedly even the owner's parents couldn't get a seat at the bar. This is a bit unfortunate because I believe all restaurant and chef values returning dinners, who in turns crave the little extra attention they receive from the restaurant as a token of appreciation. And eating at a sushi bar intensifies every aspect of this transaction. A sushi chef, I would think, gains pleasure in seeing regulars returning, like a barber who knows how a regular likes his hair to be cut. No doubt the business is good and it'll likely continue for as long as Nakazawa remains there for the majority of time (he only does Mondays through Fridays now). It's just that I can't think of many other better places to be a regular than here. 

Sushi Nakazawa
Food: 4.5/5, Service: 3/4 (I wish the sushi wasn't served after all ten pieces were made; reservation process is maddening), Vibe: 2.5/3, Value: 3/3 (the price justifies what you get) , Total: 13/15  (I would not doubt for a second to return if given the chance).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sushi Nakazawa, Part II

Trigger fish with its liver

The next few pieces were more subtle in flavor and at first my taste buds had trouble adjusting to it. On the other hand, I figured out the best angle to take the pictures: I inverted the iPhone upside down so the lens were on the same level as the plate.

With this new angle, one can clear see the beautiful rice kernels, which carried the sliced fish like small clouds. Nakazawa's rice was first-grade--perfect temperature (not at all chilled nor was it really warm, though it probably was a bit warmer than room temperature), sticky yet the mouth feel was terrific because the individual kernels were kept whole.

Nakazawa was a showman. He made sure there were interactions and some demonstrations, such as this one. I have to say I couldn't quite understand his English and I have a poor knowledge of fish names (and faces) anyway, but immediately after the following piece was served:

Mystery fish...

Hake Mackerel

Baby Chard 

Horse Mackerel 

I feel at this point the first half of the meal had concluded: it began with the pairs of savory pieces and clams and followed by some relatively lighter-tasting fish that nevertheless varied greatly in texture and taste. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sushi Nakazawa, Part I

To procure one of the ten seats at Sushi Nakazawa's sushi bar, one must plan 30 days in advance and be ready to press the reservation button at exactly midnight EST on opentable. The seats are gone in what seems like nanoseconds and I failed at it more than a few times. I must thank Dorin for somehow miraculously cracked the system and scored a couple seats for one night in late August, thereby making one of the most memorable dinning experiences in our lives a reality.

It's true that when an event is important enough, one's never late. We were the first to arrive among our group and had to wander outside for a few minutes. Even at 9pm, the last seating of the evening, people's excitement upon entering the restaurant was palpable. 

The streamline, modern, and minimalist design of the restaurant was disorienting at first, with the sushi bar/entrance area brightly lit like a stage. All servers that evening were Caucasian males dressed in dashing suits and ties. These decisions clearly revealed the background and style of the restauranteur, Alessandro Borgognone, without whom Nakazawa might still be somewhere in the west coast.

As soon as one focused the attention to the sushi bar, all doubts dissipated. As far as I could tell, only Japanese chefs working here. While the sushi bar lacked the serenity and intimacy of some, it made up for in its intensity and star power--Chef Nakazawa. 

Nakazawa, who still appeared youthful, earnest, and devout to his craft, was stationed right in the center. While there were other chefs making sushi, every piece served at the premier seating at the bar was made personally by him. 

But in order to expedite the process and limit the chance of bumping into others, Nakazawa would finish making all 10 pieces of a certain nigiri before going around the bar, serving them to us one by one. Since I took extra time to take pictures anyway, I shouldn't complain not being able to taste them mere seconds after a piece was made and left his hands. Yet I missed that immediacy of seeing a nigiri being literally molded right in front of your eyes and then served to you as soon as it was completed.

The best drink option is the sake tasting that comprised of 4 or 5 (don't remember exactly) decent-sized glasses for 40$ that went down extremely well with the sushi. 

King salmon with sea salt

Hay-smoked sockeye Salmon

I found the fish-to-rice proportion to be just perfect, as well as the overall size of each piece. When you are paying top price for sushi, one can reasonably expect good quality of fish. But good sushi is much more than that. From the moment you pick a nigiri up with your fingers, which is the way to go, to the instant you bite into it, few actions can seem so simple yet so infinitely variable and complex.  

The first two pieces were surprisingly salty (and smokey), which not only woke up my palate but created an immediate craving for more.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dominique Ansel Bakery, Part II

Yes, cronuts get all the attention, like the beautiful blonde in the room, but the truly irresistible and unforgettable item in the shop are these puffed upside-down-mushroom-cap looking things...

Meet the D.K.A.! Short for Dominique’s Kouign Amann, which is a traditional Breton pastry, according to the bakery's website. To describe it as a caramelized croissant doesn't even do it justice. Quite simply, my first bite of it was nothing short of euphoria. A young lady sitting in a table nearby must have had the similar experience as she kept uttering orgasmic "oh my God...oh my God" after each bite. 

The DKA is much more dense than a croissant, and the bottom is caramelized and sticky--therefore it is placed upside-down in the box. While the outside is somewhat flaky, the inner is almost slightly moist, layers of pastry collapse and give in as you bite into it. Needless to say, it is sinfully buttery with just the right balance of sweet and slight saltiness. 

The good news is you can pre-order them a couple days in advance without the hassle of the cronut process and just pick them up in the shop. I believe they are usually out of it by noon time if you don't pre-order. Unfortunately, they don't yet ship them as they only stay in tip-top shape for 2 days, although I've had one that was 3-day old and it was still delicious. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

CRONUT! Dominique Ansel Bakery Part I

Cronut, now a registered trademark, debuted last May while I was still on crutches, recovering from the fateful ankle injury; then, I left NYC three months later for good...

Me--I have finally made peace with this--a decidedly late-night person, a night owl, and asking me to get up before 8am is hard enough, let alone at the ungodly hour of four in the morning...

For anyone who cares, these are the reasons that I haven't gotten to a cronut until a recent visit to NYC. (Though, after talking to some friends who have tasted it, many didn't procure it themselves, and this knowledge filled me with both envy--that they have such generous and selfless friends--and dismay--hey, WTF, no pain no gain!

Flavor of August 2014: Yellow Peach Black Tea

So is it worth it? Is it worth getting up at 4am, traveling from Jersey City via the PATH train system, of which the train didn't show up for 40 minutes, to Soho by 6am, then standing in line, fighting off some hungry mosquitoes for a whole two hours before being let into the bakery? Were we, and lines of people making similar trip each morning, crazy? Insane?  

Yes, yes, and...yeah. Granted, there's an once-a-week online pre-order system that allows you to skip the line and order 2 weeks in advance. But (obviously, I didn't find out about this until too late) I want to have the whole "cronut experience", and that, I think quite rightly, includes the lining up and playing the part of a cronut zombie.  

Around 6:15am on a Saturday Morning

One good thing about being in the front of the line--we knew we would get our hands on the cronuts 100%. 

I don't want to think about how early the people working here have to get up...

The Line Around the Block at 7:15

People went in pairs, teams, groups, and even just solo. Fortunately the weather was mild and comfortable and everyone has a million ways to occupy oneself standing in line nowadays. (For me, it was losing badly playing Monopoly on iPad...)

Cream Being Injected into the Cronuts

The bakery occupies a rather long and narrow space that's far from glamorous towards the back (it has one of the crappiest and rather dirty bathroom/toilet I've ever seen). The workers seemed focused and professional, although no one was seen smiling, talking much, or making eye contact with the customers. 

(Note the box of sugar on the left that those cronuts got to roll in.) 

This guy was responsible for spreading the icing on top. Love the use of Tyson blade-less fan. Probably not many bakery can afford that. 

Nothing I saw really exposed how it was really made. Fill a doughnut with cream and top it with icing are the oldest tricks in the book. That table top fryer looking thing might just be a panini press (the bakery does indeed make many other items, including sandwiches). This is far from the flashy assembly line one gets to witness at a Krispy Kreme. 

The Very Artsy and Elegant Box that Housed Two Cronuts

Each person can only buy two a day for 5$ each. I probably gave the clerk a look when she asked us how many we want--I mean, would we possibly buy less than the maximum allowance after getting up at 4am??? It was by this point way passed 8am...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Gastropub by the Beach--Manhattan Beach Post, CA

I've overlooked restaurants near the city of Torrance (about 30-45 minutes south of L.A.) for many years despite having family there. Most in the family aren't into hip and fine dinning, and I somehow have gotten the idea that such eateries don't exist. 

I now realize I was just being an ignorant ass! Great food can be have in the area without having to fight traffic on the way to downtown L.A. MB Post, situated literally one block from the beach front, has an eclectic menu with stellar dishes that are comfort food/tapas hybrids. The place--buzzed with energy and conviviality--is simultaneously low-key and invigorating. 

Saffron Risotto--blue crab, shrimp, squid, soybeans, squid ink rice crackers

Every dish is crowd-pleasing and more hefty than they seem. The biscuits are deservingly popular and decadent at the same time. The risotto is ultra creamy with morsels of delicious seafood. The chicken meat balls, which are stupendously light, tender, and flavorful, sit on top an Asia-inspired puree and topped with thin slivers of lemon that work surprisingly well. 

Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits with maple butter

Chicken Meatballs--maple-miso gingered bonito Puree, Meyer lemon

Sword Squid Two Ways--marinated gigande beans, lemon curd

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bring This to a Party! Kebo One-handed Bottle Opener

My friend Koji, whose cool gadgets on coffee making alone are worthy of his most prized possessions--among them are his tailored suits and shirts, designer ties and handkerchiefs, Italian shoes and loafers, books on chess strategies and history, bootlegged CDs of rare piano recordings, and Hong-Kong movie posters written in Korean--indulges my beer-imbibing behavior further by giving me this unique bottle opener as an early, by more than a month, birthday present.

(Whether he was doing me a favor of softening the eventual reckoning of aging by this early present is up for debate, but it has since caused me to look expectantly at my family and close friends, and whenever I show off this cool bottle opener I never forget to mention: "Koji gave me this as an early birthday present...")  

The size of the case is similar to one of those new Samsung phones but wider and thicker (this is a totally random estimation coming from an increasingly unhappy iPhone 5 user). Still, it's a nice and slick case to hold and behold. It manages to look like a mysterious accessory when sitting on my dinning table, taking up precious space.  

Once opened, the graphic inside does a superb job at explaining what's going on---therefore I'm not going to. The opener itself fits securely and comfortably in the indented slot. The weight of the opener tells you this is a well-made and durable tool that can withstand whatever physical force resulting from popping a cap.

My preferred method is #1, which uses the thumb. In fact, I find the other method difficult because either way it requires quite a bit of force that my thumb is better equipped at supplying. It does take some practicing, but it has worked every time thus far. Lastly, there's a small magnet underneath the slab near the hook so that the cap always stays cradled and doesn't just fly away. 


I don't use this everyday but always do when there are guests over. It's not an easier way of opening a bottle--that's not the point--but it makes popping a cap an event that always carries with it a little bit of thrill and a lot of theatrics. If getting older means rekindling pleasure in simple, seemingly trivial things, then it is worth it. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ballpark Eating: Petco Park in San Diego

Being a huge baseball fan, I can think of few things better than going to a ballgame and visiting ballparks that I've not been. And when I can add great food and beers to that--man, I feel truly blessed. Yes, Padres are not a good team with an abysmal offense in 2014 (and the opponents of the day, the NY Mets, weren't much to brag about neither), but Petco Park is stylish, inviting, and fun. Opened 10 years ago, the park is situated right in downtown San Diego with plenty to do around and pedestrian friendly. I had a wonderful time there and the Padres actually managed a walk-off win and a near no-hitter!

San Diego and the surrounding area house many reputable and influential craft breweries, such as Stone, Ballast Point, and Green Flash, and they are well represented at the ballpark. I saw all of them, with the additions of Karl Strauss and Mission Brewery, lining up in individual stalls like in a farmer's market. And you get more selections of craft brews in bottles around the ballpark. While you only get the most popular beers that each brewery has to offer--and usually one light and one dark, the composite of all of them together is quite impressive and more than enough to satisfy even a beer snob like me! 

I downed two beers that I could already more or less recall their flavors with great accuracy: Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point and Arrogant Bastard from Stone. Both came in 20 oz. cups for 11.25$ plus tax. The price might seem high, but 20 oz is almost 2 bottles and these are pretty high-alcoholic beers (both are around 7%). 

Having Stone's Arrogant Bastard with Phil's BBQ

The eateries are eclectic. If watching the game is of secondary importance for you (but then why would you be there...), there are several full-service, sit-down restaurants. If you must not miss a single minute of the game, you can, at least from where I sit, order standard ballpark eats (hot dog, fried stuff, snacks, watery beers) right from your seat, after filling out a card, and someone will deliver them to you. 

I chose the third option, which was to walk around, stand in line, and fetch my own food. Yes, I had to miss a couple innings and a home run, but, come on, the Red Sox wasn't playing. Partially for its close proximity to our seats, and partially for nostalgic reason, I got some BBQ from Phil's BBQ, which I have visited and blogged about here. I must say I was pleasantly surprised that even at the ballpark and after so many years, Phil's BBQ stood the test of time and I would definitely have it again. The sides were all stellar, especially the super crispy onion rings and sweet and mustardy cole slaw. The baby back ribs had enough meat on the bones and the meat was tender and smoky. The sauce is less sweet than what one might expect and is slightly spicy and on the vinegary side. All for 9$, which is more than fair. The downside is the wait time was a bit long, even though there are TV sets all over.

All in all, it was a great experience and you can't beat San Diego's weather on a nice day like this--sunny with nice breeze blowing from the sea. I only wish I had more time and a bigger stomach to sample more food and beers!   

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sushi of Gari--Upper East Side

Long before the current burst of trendy sushi restaurants in NYC, Sushi of Gari has established itself as the place to go for innovative and stimulating sushi. Now with four locations in Manhattan, Gari, whom I've never seen, has done well for himself. I'm partial to the original upper-east-side location because--well, it's the only one I've been--I've never had a disappointing meal there. I've splurged on omakase feasts a couple of times prior, but those were P.B.--pre-blog--time. With a restrained budget this time, I had to make do with ordering a la carte.

What I didn't get to have when having omakase is the side dishes of the regular menu. We got the tempura, grilled meat balls, and miso eggplant, and they all met and exceeded one's expectation. So, basically, these are exemplary. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Fried Tofu in 30 Minutes with T-Fal Acti Fry

Frying is my favorite cooking method. There's a visceral satisfaction seeing food being dropped into hot oil and then the food bubbles and sizzles. But the downside is huge: greasy smoke makes your stove and counter top sticky, stinky, dirty oil that one is tempted to just dump it down the drain, and, god forbid, dangerous splatter that could cause serious injury and mess. 

I'm not saying T-Fal Acti Fry is a magical machine, but in certain instances it comes close at producing fried food without the mess and with just a bare minimal amount of oil. It's like photography: to take really professional and stunning pictures one still needs a darn expensive and complex camera, but the smartphones nowadays can do an decent job at approximate that effect--and that's what T-Fal Acti Fry does. 

The best way I can explain how it works is it's an oven with air circulation and a slow-stirring paddle. Unlike an oven, there's no need to preheat as Acti Fry heats up quickly; on the other hand, it's considerably more noisy, like having a small fan going on strong at all time. 

I have tried to cook fries from scratch with less than satisfying result, but fries are a lot of work even with actual oil (soaking, washing of the potatoes, and then often they need to be fried twice). What works really well is frozen fried food like tatter tots, although you need to watch the time to avoid over cooking. It's better than just putting those in an oven because the paddle prevents a side of the food from being soggy.  

This can also serve as an automatic stir fry machine if you feel really lazy. You can just dump the ingredients in and let the paddle does the work for you. The trade off is it'll take much longer. 

What I use it the most is for frying tofu nuggets. I took regular firm tofu, cut into chunks, and then just dump them in with a little bit of oil (probably around one table spoon) and in just 30 minutes I will have golden fried tofu nuggets that go great with any stir fry. It's much less greasy than store-bought fried tofu, although greasiness is sort of the point...but anyhow, for everyday healthy eating, this easily turns a boring cake of tofu into something much more exciting! 

Adding some oil...

See it in action!

About 20 minutes in

After 30 minutes these tofu nuggets are good to go! 

FYI, there's a newer model that's black and easier to clean, but I don't find cleaning this a nuisance. It's less than 200$ on Amazon, which, if you want to buy, click through from my homepage!