Saturday, February 9, 2019

Make Mine Mazemen, It's a Niche

I was thinking about my one blog post a year thing, maybe even blogging about it, then decided - fuck it....lemme just talk about mazemen, since I imagine within the next 12 months about 100 more mazemen places will have opened, in the 3 or 4 boroughs of NYC that matter.

But first, just as I wrote 5 years ago on this date, I need to point out I'm a lucky guy, cause  21 years ago (!), Significant Eater and I tied the knot, in a lovely ceremony, in the lovely city of Las Vegas, Nevada. So - Happy Anniversary to the love of my life! Here's to 21 more, and 21 more after that! And may our mazemen always be al dente...

Where was I? Oh yeah, mazemen.  Mazemen, according to some of the crap I've read, is the "dry style" ramen, which in my mind is kind of an oxymoron, since isn't ramen what we generally associate with a bowl of noodles - in some sort of broth? Be that as it may, I've been enjoying ramen for a long time. I remember there was some place in midtown, maybe 20 or more years ago, where a nice bowl of ramen could be had for lunch. And I was going to Japantown, in San Jose, CA way back in the early 80s, certainly indulging in my first bowls of ramen (while making my own avocado toast at home); but that was before butchers wore fedoras, and grain bowls were all the rage (are they still?).

Anyway, you can't walk more than a block or two in this town w/o stumbling over a ramen place. It's usually next to a poke place, which is next to a grain bowl place, if you get my drift. I expect that the poke places, and the grain bowl places, will, like every trend, all but disappear within a year or two, and the ramen places will thin out, but overall ramen is here to stay. And why not - ramen, made well, is delicious. But I (and many others I'm sure) have a problem with ramen; the broth is usually so insanely salty that I really shouldn't be eating too much of it. Also, and this is disgusting, sometimes it goes right through me, but let's not dwell.

So, enter mazemen, and the latest entry into that sweepstakes, a new place called Niche, on Delancey Street hard by the WillyB. Niche opened a few weeks ago, brought to us by the proclaimed ramen maestro Shigetoshi Nakamura, who is one of only 4 "ramen gods" in all of Japan! Pretty cool, and his ramen, from personal experience, is pretty damn good.

So I was itching to try his mazemen, and this week Significant Eater and I made the short walk up Clinton Street, past the new Trader Joe's/Target building, across Delancey, and settled into one of 14 seats (okay, stools) at the one long table running down the middle of the room. The lone server was awesome, because if there's one thing a server should do, it's to bring booze as quickly as possible, and that she did...

Sake and scallop @ Niche
I like the little vending machine sized cans/jars of sake, and these were just right for this meal. The scallop appetizer shown arrived very quickly, as did Significant Eater's app order, chilled Mapo tofu. Then, the main events...

Steak mazemen @ Niche

Yuzu dashi vongole @ Niche
On top, steak mazemen, delicious hunks of ribeye, smoky from torch grilling, along with menma and spinach. There's a little sauce at the bottom of the bowl, and when it's all mixed up, you end up with a really, really wonderful bowl of noodles. Just great. But even better, in both of our opinions, was the bowl of Yuzu Dashi Vongole, aka clam mazemen, literally one of the best renditions of pasta with clams to be found in this city.

To say we were pleasantly surprised would be an understatement - we were wowed! I certainly can continue to make ramen (below, top), or even mazemen (below, bottom) at home...

Jamon and pea ramen @ Hacienda Weinstein
Mazemen @ Hacienda Weinstein
But it's also nice to know that we can find mazemen (and yes, when necessary, ramen) this good, and just a 5 minute walk up the block.

Niche and Nakamura - 172 Delancey Street, New York

Monday, April 30, 2018

French Connection

Maybe NYC has always been awash in French restaurants; maybe we just never frequented the right neighborhoods; maybe they were out of what I considered our price range for a non-occasion dinner; or maybe they were just too friggin' snooty for my black jeans and black T-shirt wearing self.  Whatever it was, it seems the tide has turned, and that "reasonably priced" (of which there's no such thing any more in Manhattan) Italian trattoria that was opening on every other block (oh, how I long for the early days of 'ino, 'inoteca, Lupa with Ladner not mario, etc. etc.) has morphed into that more casual French bistro, and ain't that dandy? I mean, Italian food cooked at home is just so much better than the dreck served up at lousy Italian restaurants dotting the city (I'm currently looking at you, Serafina), that I'm happy to be donning my Francophile hat now, when Significant Eater and I head out for dinner.

Don't get me wrong - these won't necessarily be inexpensive nights out; but if you choose your drink(s) wisely, very nice dinners may be had without breaking the bank. Three additions to the French scene have opened recently (though you might have to hurry to one of them), in addition to the openings over the past few years of Le Coucou, Mimi, Le Coq Rico, Le Turtle, and Rebelle (sadly, closed). The latest batch includes La Mercerie, helmed by Marie-Aude Rose, and reviewed here by my friend Danny B.; Frenchette, in Tribeca, which opened at the beginning of April; and though it's not new, Racines, where they've brought in chef Paul Liebrandt, late of The Elm and Corton, for a residency expected to last through the end of May.  And having tried all 3 of this latest batch, I'm happy to report that the French bistro is alive and well here in NYC.

La Mercerie you read about by following that link above; certainly delicious food, but I think better for a nice lunch than dinner out. And certainly great if you've got $23,000 burning a hole in your pocket for that couch you must have!

Next up, Racines, where the short-term residency of chef Paul Liebrandt had us smacking our lips in anticipation. Racines (in my opinion) has always had an identity problem; is it a wine bar with restaurant style food, or is it a restaurant with a great wine list? Right now, with Paul, it's certainly a fancier restaurant with a great wine list. This is far from casual bistro fare, however. And it's got, to my taste, a lot of elements from both Japanese and Nordic cooking happening - Japanordica? For instance...
Kampachi at Racines via Paul Liebrandt
A first course of not so simple kampachi, with smoked yogurt and ossetra caviar, of a 5-course tasting menu, which included a crab/foie dish, turbot with ComtĂ© gnocchi, aged duck, and a fine chocolate dessert.  Serious Paul Liebrandt food, gorgeous plating, no punches pulled, for $90...a veritable bargain in our city today.  As I mentioned, the wine list is deep, and loaded with value.  Those who know way more about wine than me will study this list, and surely find something amazing. We were happy with a bottle of a 2010 Alsatian riesling blend at barely above retail, followed by a 2014 Janin Moulin-a-Vent, which went nicely with the duck (and chocolate), and also was bargain priced.  Here's the catch: if you want to eat food from a Michelin starred chef - go soon...he may be gone in the blink of an eye.

But then there'll always (we can hope) be Frenchette, perhaps my favorite of all the openings; certainly of the current crop, though it's hard to get Le Coucou off my mind. If you don't know the story of chef partners Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, read a little about it here. And from the welcome at the front door by a few of the industry's finest vets, to the casual yet pro service in the dining room, to the wine list "curated" by Jorge Riera (profiled recently in The Times), it's all good food & fun. The room rocks, and not with music that's too loud. I've been 3 times already, and can't get enough; other than the Italian food I cook at home, this stuff hits my sweet spot.

So, for instance, start (as I did on my first vist) at the bar with pig's foot croquettes, served atop a beautiful sauce gribiche. The roast chicken for 2 is no slouch either, all crispy skin and juicy meat, with a pile of pommes puree that's either half cream or half butter...or both. Try eating that at the bar (we did), and watch your neighbors covet your plates.  Last night, in the dining room, we more sedately started with a rare treat...
Goose neck barnacles at Frenchette
Percebes, or goose neck barnacles, all saline and finger-licking good, with a sauce meant to be sopped up with the excellent (FREE!) bread. You can't come here and not order the scrambled eggs...
Brouillade at Frenchette
No, I mean the brouillade, scrambled eggs so soft and creamy, you'll wonder why you don't make these at home (hint - they're a pain in the ass). Currently, they're topped with a taste of snails, but it's really all about the eggs, and brunch may never be the same. Now, it being spring, I must have lamb...
Spring Lamb Stew at Frenchette
In the form of a delicious lamb stew, with a sauce to die for. At home, I make lamb stew with lamb neck; here, I believe they're using leg, and I'm gonna give that a try the next time. Perfectly sweet peas, asparagus, baby turnips, carrot, and potato made this dish seem positively healthy. 

Dessert last night was a merely delicious mille-feuille...
Mille-feuille at Frenchette
Made all the better by its tri-star strawberries, from where I don't know.  But - does it really matter?

Digging once again at the low end (price wise) of the wine list, we opted to open with an Alsatian riesling, this one from Julien Meyer, and barely double the retail price (if you can find it).  We followed that up with another 2014 Beaujolais, this one a Fleurie from Marcel Joubert, and also priced to sell. In case you're thinking Sig Eater and I always down 2 bottles of wine at dinner, be good - there were 3 of us!

If we're entering into an era of moderately priced, French bistro-style restaurants (bistronomy?) here in NYC, I'm all for it. If these are places where sharing isn't "recommended" by the kitchen, and where the food comes out on normal plates when it is supposed to, then I'm all for it. After all, isn't it about time we all learned how to dine like grown-ups? Or, more to the point - let's make that French Connection.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

What's a Year Between Friends?

Yeah, it's been a year since my last post. Could it be that things weren't exciting enough to write about, or that nothing new and interesting happened during that time?

Or maybe it's just that since November, 2016, things felt really crappy. There were any number of times where I may have said to myself, "write something." Anything even.  Plenty of new restaurants have been tried. A few trips have been taken. Sitting down at the computer and writing about those things; a whole other story, evidently.

So now, only a year late, let me restart Tasty Travails with an old post. History repeats, evidently. It was almost 8 years ago (!) when I blogged about this:

Renovation Week One - Refill Xanax Prescription

That post was about our semi-permanent DC home, right after Significant Eater landed a job down there. That apartment is only a memory, but now we're beginning a similar adventure - renovating our NYC apartment's kitchen and bath.

Should be fun - and hey, it gives me something to complain write about.

Remember? It sorta looked like this:

And last week, it looked like this:

Stay tuned...and I need a refill!