Ippudo… I hate to love you

Well, I finally made it back to Ippudo a few weeks ago.  And I only had to wait 10 minutes!  That’s because my friend, Angela, and I decided to have dinner at 6PM like a couple of old blue-hairs.  Actually, Ippudo was senior citizen-free as 20 and 30-somethings all over NYC are willing to leave work early to try and beat the hour or more wait for a taste of Ippudo goodness.

Ippudo1

I’ve tried several times to make it to Ippudo since I started writing this blog a few months ago, but every time I went, the hostess smiled as she informed me that I would need to wait about 90-minutes for a table.  During those months, I’ve had a lot of ramen and my resentment for not being able to get a table at Ippudo almost made me forget how much I love a bowl of Akamaru Modern.  Almost…

Once we sat down in our do-it-yourself-loveseat, which can be pushed together or spaced out depending on who you’re ramening with, I started to remember why I enjoy the Ippudo experience so much.  Ippudo is like swanky ramen – dark interior with giant booths or communal tables circling a driftwood centerpiece.  While I appreciate the ambience, I’m usually too pissed off by the wait to enjoy it when I sit down and usually curse the giant, red, sprouting wood sculpture and spacious booths filled with all of two people.  This time around, since there was no wait, I thoroughly appreciated the air-conditioning and elbow room so often compromised in a good ramen joint.

Ginga Kogen: Plateau of the Universe.  Indeed it is, whatever the hell that means.

Ginga Kogen: Plateau of the Universe. Indeed it is, whatever the hell that means.

As I sipped my favorite Ippudo go-to beer, Ginga Kogen (a crisp, refreshing wheat beer that apparently means “Plateau of the Universe” in Japanese), I perused the menu pretending like I didn’t know EXACTLY what I wanted to order: flavorful chicken buns (which I actually prefer to the pork – go figure!), savory & tangy agedashi tofu, and a steaming bowl of Akamaru Modern – rich, porky goodness with a dollop of chili miso paste with an added marinated egg.  Oh, and I’d like my house-made noodles firm.

Chicken bun beats pork bun

Chicken bun beats pork bun

If you know me or are starting to understand me, you know that ordering chicken over pork is a rarity for me, especially when that pork comes in the form of pork belly.  I’ve loved pork belly long before it became a fad.  It’s bacon in its purest form.  So know that when I say that the chicken bun is better than the pork bun at Ippudo, it means that this chicken is damn delicious.  The problem with chicken normally is that it’s flavorless.  At Ippudo, the chicken is marinated and then pan-seared to salty, spicy, umami happiness before being tucked into a marshmallowy soft and squishy white, steamed bun and garnished with crisp iceburg (no nutrients, but it adds good crunch and lightness) and Kewpie mayo (God’s answer to mayo right next to your everyday Hellmann’s).

Agedashi it up, tofu lovers.

Agedashi it up, tofu lovers.

Agedashi tofu is basically tofu that’s been very, delicately battered in a light, watery tempura batter before being quickly deep-friend until the outside is just crisp but still pale (Asians like pale).  It sits in umami-full dashi broth and is topped with grated daikon, ginger, and thin slices of radish and scallion.  It’s so light, yet tasty, that if you were someone other than me, it would make the perfect light meal on a humid summer day.

delicious tofu in sweet and savory dashi broth

delicious tofu in sweet and savory dashi broth

With my second Ginga Kogen came my hot bowl of hakata broth ramen, its steam wafting up and spiraling around my face like a pork fat facial.  I quickly grated a small blizzard of sesame seeds on top and gave it a gentle stir to mix the miso paste into the broth.  Then I tasted just a small spoonful of the broth.  Damn.  Damn, damn, damn.  Damn you, Ippudo.  Damn you and your stupid hour-long waits for perfect hakata broth.  If you were a single person, Ippudo, I would kick you.  The broth is so rich, so flavorful, yet so perfectly balanced so that it’s not overly porky to that point where it almost gets fishy.  It’s not just about flavor, it’s about mouthfeel – Ippudo’s broth coats your mouth in a pleasing way that doesn’t leave a fat slick that prevents you from tasting anything else.  You enjoy its richness and then wish for more as it begins to fade and dissipates.  It coats, it scores.

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The house-made noodles are my favorite ramen noodles yet.  They aren’t mushy, curly, springy noodles.  They’re made in the basement of Ippudo and each, thin, chewy, square-width noodle has its own almost-meatiness to it.  When slurped, or pinched with chopsticks, they fall into a perfect waterfall.  Ramen noodles are made with an alkaline mineral water (according to Wiki-doodalah) which probably accounts for the depth of flavor in the noodles.  It may also contribute to a mildly unpleasant smell in the basement right outside the noodle room.  Bleh.  Luckily, unless you’re curious like me, you’re probably not snooping around the noodle room anyway, so order your noodles a little firm and then enjoy the mildly sweet, nutty taste and chewy texture combo  of the noodles.

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The sliced pork belly in Ippudo’s ramen is also pretty well-executed.  It’s sliced just thin enough and braised carefully to ensure that it’s as tender as it is flavorful.  The only drawback to the entire Akamaru Modern bowl is the sulfur yolk inside the marinated egg.  It’s so unfortunate.  The marinated “whites” of the egg (stained coffee-colored by the soy-based marinade) are the most flavorful of any egg that I’ve tasted, but without a delicious custard yolk, the egg disappoints me time after time.  Of course, I keep ordering the egg because I’d rather have the delicious whites and slightly sulfur-smelling egg (complete with green ring) than no egg at all.  <sigh>

green ringed-yolk.  At least it's a whole egg vs. just a half...

green ringed-yolk. At least it's a whole egg vs. just a half...

So in the end, Ippudo strengthened its hold on my belly while its repulsive wait times continues to anger my heart.  Ippudo is the bad boy of ramen joints: he’s slick; when he pays you attention, you feel like gold; but he sometimes leaves you waiting for hours or just stands you up entirely.  But you keep coming back…  By the time we left, the almost empty lobby that greeted us at 6PM was now PACKED with hungry and anxious ramen addicts who stared longingly at us as we stumbled towards the door, bellies painfully full of delicious ramen.

i've seen it twice as packed.  no, four times as packed!  nay, twenty times as packed!

i've seen it twice as packed. no, four times as packed! nay, twenty times as packed!

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Filed under Eating my feelings and paying for it

Coffee Mug, I think I missed you most of all

Well, here I am, back in my apartment, 12 stories off the ground and happy.  I still consider that land-loving.  I’m still coming off vacation mode, but I promise to be back in the full blog of things shortly.

Today’s post is a quick one on a VERY important subject: my favorite coffee mug.  I almost wrote: “everyone should have a favorite mug,” but realized that I’m better off never telling anyone what they should or should not do!  I need to figure out what I should do before ever even attempting to dictate your actions.  I will say this, however – after a long, magical week away, I think I missed you, Coffee Mug, most of all.

Mugs are like an acceptable security blanket for adults.  I first found that I “needed” my mug while still working in finance.  Back then, I had both a home mug and an office mug.  My office mug was one of those blue ceramic versions of the Greek-inspired paper cups that detectives are always drinking on Law & Order from some food truck early in the morning.  In reality, I haven’t seen one of those paper cups since I was a kid, but I like the nostalgia of them nonetheless.  While plugging away at my computer (and usually channeling 85% of my brain activity into trying to figure out what to order for lunch), I would reach for my mug of Flavia-expunged coffee with a shot of Flavia espresso and take a millisecond sip/vacation away from my world.

Work mug

Work mug

My home mug is pure comfort.  It has that old, classic diner/stoneware shape that’s reminiscent of a New England country kitchen… which is actually pretty foreign to this little Vietnamese girl, but it reminds me of old Maxwell House commercials that I used to watch on TV as a child.  You know the commercials – where some guy in a chunky-knit turtleneck travels home all the way from across the state in the snow to spend Christmas day with his family, and they welcome him home with the cheapest, weakest-tasting coffee that they can brew for him.  Whatever, it was beautiful.  On top of that, my mug is a Car Talk mug.  If you’ve never listened to Car Talk on NPR, then you’re missing out on something corny and beautiful.  It’s two, increasingly aging, brilliant, and hilarious brothers who spend an hour helping you understand why your busted car is making that terrible noise, while making jokes about how all blonds behind the wheels of white BMWs are named “Donna.”

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And if you’ve never heard my dad laugh his ridiculous, high-pitched, hyena-on-crack laugh while listening to them instead of paying attention to the road… well, I can only pray that you get to enjoy that harrowing experience at some point in your life.  It’s a combination of laughing so hard that you can’t speak while trying to gasp out the words, “Look out for the mail truck!”  Whenever I look at my coffee mug filled with fresh-ground, fresh-brewed, cheap-but-delicious coffee, and stare at the Car Talk motto on my mug, “Unencumbered by the thought process,” I feel like I’m home.

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The journey from Stamford,CT to… Stamford, CT

Yup, that’s right.  We never made it to Guilford last night.  We were well on our way, almost halfway there (about 20 miles / 4 hours along) when all of a sudden, our engine died.  Wait, Mindy, I thought you said you were SAILING there. Yeah, well, when trying to plan a sailing trip, don’t forget to factor in an absence of wind.

No worries, we thought we could motor-sail on up the coast, covering about 5 nautical miles an hour, and have no troubles.  Our engine, 20+ years old, had different plans. Right around 1:30PM, when the wind picked up slightly and we were doing 7 nmph, thinking the world was grand and I started heading into the cabin to make sandwiches, the engine hiccuped.  It was just a brief little “sput sput” and then it kept motoring.  Yet I knew.  When you’re as prone to disaster as I am, you learn to hear and understand these tiny little changes in “the norm” and know that it’s an omen for disaster.  I was frozen, waiting to hear it again.  It didn’t come.  As soon as I relaxed, all sound stopped.  Silence.  The engine had stopped.

Luckily, disasters always come prepared.  I made Chris buy a little jumper robot to bring on the boat should JUST such an event occur.  Instead of using it right away, we turned around and headed back to Stamford.  Chris thought that it was a combo of the engine overheating and our batteries dying that killed our little sailing adventure, so he wanted to plain sail as long as possible and just use the engine for when we needed to dock.

FYI – there’s this charming little lighthouse in Darien, CT on a stone breakwall that looks absolutely lovely.  I know this because we sat on the boat and stared at it for an hour after the wind died, 5 nautical miles from home.  Stupid lighthouse.  Chris said, no, we are actually moving.  Which we were – I did time a lobster buoey take a full minute to float past our boat.  At this point, Chris shrugged his shoulders and decided it was time.  Our little, yellow, jumper robot came out of his box like a ray of sunshine and we crossed our fingers and held our breath.  Please jump the battery.  Please jump the battery.  Please jump the battery.  When we hit the ignition and starter button after 5 minutes, the engine coughed and sputtered to life like an emphazemic old man, and our little Wall-E of a jumper robot beamed with pride.

But wait!  There’s more!  Per my principle that disasters don’t travel well, here’s a list of if it could go wrong, it did go wrong:

-My blackberry died on the way to the boat, so I charged it, just so it could die again on the boat.  FYI – my phone now only works when it is plugged into an outlet (very useful…) and I can’t get a new one until August 29th.  Please don’t expect any responsiveness on my part until then.

-I placed my phone next to my husband’s, and now his cell phone will occasionally stop working and say: “SIM card error.”  Disasters are contagious

-Even though we bought a fancy GPS thingy, my husband didn’t turn it on while leaving Stamford and asked me to take the tiller as he went to boot it up.  BAM!  Apparently we sailed right over some wreckage that made a great scraping sound as we grazed it with the keel.  After my husband turned on the GPS, which I’m surprised he could manage while laughing hysterically at my shock and rage, he choked out through his laughter: “Look! I can show you what you hit on the GPS!”  Very funny.

-Tried to buy vodka at 8:30AM in Connecticut.  Apparently you can’t do that.  In NYC, we honor our alcoholics and sell them alcohol at anytime!

-Need to remember to dock down the carpet in the cabin so that when the boat is heeling at an angle and you step on the rug, you don’t slide on it and land on your butt the way that I ALWAYS do.

-Figured out how to flush the boat toilet… that doesn’t sound like a disaster, but it’s not fun, people.

-Basically bruised most of my body by whacking into blocks, winches, etc. on the boat

Good news is that Bisou Basil made the trip, survived the trip, and somehow grew to twice his size from thriving on ocean air.  I plan to prune him a little tonight for a nice buffalo caprese salad.

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    Filed under Living the disaster

    A Three Hour Tour…

    I am writing this the night before setting out on a great “adventure,” as my husband calls it.  This post will go live tomorrow at noon, which means that as you are reading this, I will be sailing up the coast of Connecticut to a town called Guilford, where we will dock and spend the night before heading on to Fishers Island.  What do I know about sailing?  Nothing.  What does my husband know about sailing?  Less than I thought he did when he convinced me to spend our one week of vacation a year on this little sailing trek.

    What’s funny about this is that when my husband first purchased this boat with his dad earlier in the year on the cheap, we had one little agreement: this was his thing, not mine, and while I would definitely share this hobby with him to some extent, this was NOT to become a major part of my life.  Yet somehow, we have spent almost every free weekend of the summer out on our little red boat, cruising around the sound.  Oh, and when you buy a boat on the cheap, be prepared for little “quirks.”  Engine trouble makes it sound like an occasional occurrence…  It’s more like sometimes we luck out and have Engine Startage.  “Oh yeah, had a great day on the boat although we did have a little Engine Startage.”

    And in case you missed it, I hate commuting by any means.  So when you turn my vacation into ALL commute, well…  let’s just say that I love my husband and this seems to be the only way to repay him for dealing with the joy that is me, a gift that never stops giving.  When he first proposed the trip, my husband said it would be an 8-hour sail.  When I seemed at peace with that, the time went up to 12.  Then to 15.  Now 20.  Each way.  Do the math, that’s 40 hours worth of sailing.

    I will be basically useless on the boat as well.  I don’t sail and I certainly don’t navigate.  I can barely make it around the city without having to pull up Google maps on my blackberry.  When we first moved to the city, my friend, Eunice, basically had to give me step-by-step subway and turn-by-turn walking directions before every night out on the town (of course I was always late, underestimating the time it would take to both get ready and arrive at the location).

    Why will I be on this boat?  Well, I’m going to keep my husband company and if the seas get rough, you can bank on the fact that my sarcasm will get rougher.  Luckily, my angelic husband seems to find my sarcasm amusing and charming, which is why I married him, since most everyone else usually finds it annoying and distasteful.  Basically, I’m comic relief and entertainment for our more than 20 hour trek.  And with my recent poundage, I’m starting to become the Skipper to my husband’s Gilligan.

    I’m also in charge of boating snacks:)  Now we’re talking!  Although I’m trying to keep it as non-potentially-stomach-irritating as possible since we try to keep the boat’s head (aka potty) to emergency use only.  Translation: I’m going easy on the cheese this time around and only packing something mild… like a nice Comté or Emmental.  Actually, chèvre usually agrees with me as well…  Ok, so 3 cheeses!  And some cured meats, maybe… some briney olives would be nice… can’t have saucisson sec without cornichons, either.  And vodka – which can be used as a disinfectant!  Or a sedative/anti-anxiety beverage should I forget how much I love my husband along the sail…

    I will also be bringing with me my basil plant, à la Waterworld.  It will be nice to have a little land with me since I am definitely a land-lover, but more importantly, Bisou Basil (named after my now favorite macarons from Bisousciao) is the first plant that I haven’t killed.  In fact, my little Bisou Basil is THRIVING!  Of course, now that I’ve gone and put my foot in my mouth…

    So when we were about to leave the apartment (which is already occupied as we usually have boarders even when we’re there), I quickly ran back for my little BB.  Yes, I could leave him to be cared for by others, but it’s hard for me to ask people to sing to him (yup, it’s a him) everyday for fear that they’ll think I’m a lunatic… ok, even MORE of a lunatic.  And if I asked them to sing his favorite song, “You are my basil plant” (to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine”)…  Well, it was just less taxing to strap a floatie on him and take him along.  I should invent a little basil backpack carrier thing like they do for babies.

    So if I don’t tweet or post something tomorrow night letting you know that we made it to Guilford safely, please alert the Coast Guard.  A three hour tour…

     

    Bisou Basil

    Bisou Basil

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    Filed under Living the disaster

    As long as you’re eating “salad,” it counts as dieting, right?

    I just found out that I’ve gained 13 lbs in the past 4 months.  Yikes.  It oddly coincides with the start of my little blog here…  so weird…  My doctor tested to make sure that on top of my MANY other issues that I’m not also suffering from some sort of thyroid disorder.  Post blood work, he called to let me know that my thyroid isn’t in fact having any difficulty and that it might be, just maybe, the fact that I don’t watch what I eat nor do I exercise…  could be…  I’m willing to consider it as a potential possibility…  He thinks he’s SOOO smart just because he’s a doctor who went to Harvard Med…

    So as I stood in my kitchen the next day pinching my love handles as I often do nowadays when I’m deciding what to munch on (they’re smushy and comforting), I remembered this incredible Caesar salad that I had at Il Buco on Bond Street.  It’s my friend, Beyhan’s, favorite Italian restaurant in New York and she’s particularly in love with this salad.  The anchovy dressing is stunning – tangy, savory, nutty, garlicky and it happily reminds me of heavy and sweet ocean air.  It’s served over (notice how the dressing is the main component of the meal to me) raw Tuscan black kale, which is incredibly tender, not at all dirt-flavored, and carries rich, almost meaty flavor.  Crispy, rustic, ping pong ball-sized croutons and fresh shaved parmesan just transport this “salad” into something that I want by the bucket-full, the brightness of it perfect on a humid summer’s day.

    chicken caesar salad

    So love-handles in hand, I decided that I would try and make a “healthy” version of the scrumptious Il Buco “Cavolonero” salad (that’s fancy for Caesar).  It was a last-minute decision, so I didn’t have a chance to pick up any Italian kale and settled for some ho-hum romaine spears instead.  Still crispy and good.  I didn’t have any eggs, the typical binding ingredient in most Caesar dressings, but I did have a small jar of mayonnaise hanging out in my fridge door…  As I reached for it, I had a mental flash of me sitting in my exercise clothes on the couch, love handles popping out as they’ve outgrown my sports top, with a face covered in bomboloni sugar and pastry cream, Tivo remote in hand wondering just how tall Cat Deeley actually is.  Shudder.  I quickly looked around my fridge and found a nice container of cottage cheese which I keep around to dip potato chips into (a little tip from my friend, Amanda Panda).  Not quite mayonnaise, but I thought it might give nice body and texture to the dressing.

    Some of the makings of low-fat caesar dressing

    Some of the makings of low-fat caesar dressing

    You know what else?  I love anchovies.  There, I said it.  Some people are anti-anchovies, but I love the briney deliciousness of what can only be described as their “anchovy” flavor.  That oceany, pungent saltiness is like Vietnamese fish sauce and it’s basically good with any savory dish.  It’s great in tomato sauces as well and I can’t make my bolognese (another post to come) without it (or porcinis).  If you don’t like anchovies, then you don’t like Caesar salad.  You probably also hate umami.  Why would you do that?

    anchovy goodness

    My Caesar experiment also accomplished another little goal of mine (besides pretending to diet): I got to try out my Magic Bullet blender!  You know, that ridiculous little blender from the infomercials???  Yup, I bought it.  Why?  Two reasons: I’m a sucker for all things “As Seen On TV” and I got a Costco coupon in the mail to get it at a discount.  Actually, my mom and I both got them several months ago, but neither of us had used them yet.  Of course, because I’m impatient and my own worst enemy, I threw out the instructions with the packaging when I initially bought it, meaning that I didn’t realize there were 2 different blending tops: one for puréeing and one, apparently, that just stirs crap.  Yeah, I used the stupid stirring one first and watched as my anchovies basically swirled around inside the container, unharmed, while the olive oil proceeded to get bitter.

    magic bullet

    Luckily, I dug around in the Magic Bullet’s handy carrying bag and found the puréeing top.  But wait!  There’s more!  I also found a small-sized grinding container for my 3/4 cup worth of dressing vs. the quart-sized one that I had used on my first attempt.  Even better, this allowed me to try and wash the anchovy smell out of two Magic Bullet tops and containers.  It’s a real gem being me…

    looks like it's got mayo in it... but it DOESN't!  Thanks, Magic Bullet!

    looks like it's got mayo in it... but it DOESN't! Thanks, Magic Bullet!

    In the end, though, the Caesar dressing was so badass that next time, I may just throw it in one of the handy Magic Bullet grinding containers that Optimus Primes itself into a beer mug thing and drink that stuff through a straw.  Better not…  But as I served my homemade Caesar salad topped with grilled chicken and a healthy smattering of freshly-grated Parmesan (what??? cheese is good for you!) to my friend, Angela, who came for lunch, we both felt that if this counts as dieting, then we can definitely deal with shedding a few pounds.  As usual with my dieting, I have not consulted anyone on the right way to lose weight, nor have I actually calculated out the calorie and fat content of my diet Caesar dressing… which is only low-fat in my mind because I didn’t use mayonnaise.

    Mindy’s “Diet” Caesar Dressing
    – 2 t Salt
    – 8 Anchovy filets (treat yourself to good ones – especially when on sale!)
    – 2 Garlic cloves, medium-sized (smashed or rough minced – just to make sure you don’t get a giant chunk of raw garlic)
    – 2 T Cottage Cheese (I used non-fat and it worked perfectly, but feel free to go whole hog)
    – 1/2 c Lemon juice
    – Worcester Sauce
    – Freshly ground black pepper
    – 1/3 c Olive oil (always extra virgin – where do you even buy non-virgin, streetwalker olive oil anyway?)
    – 1/2 c Parmesan cheese (grated – you can reserve some thin slices for the salad or just be lazy and use grated Parm all over like I did)

    1)   If using a Magic Bullet, make sure you have the purée top…  You can also use a mini-food processer or just mash the following ingredients together until they combine into a sandy paste: salt, anchovy filets, garlic cloves, & cottage cheese.

    anchovy pasting

    2)   Either add lemon juice to your Magic Bullet/food processer and blend, or whisk lemon juice into your paste to combine.

    3)   Add pepper and a few drops of Worcester sauce.  Taste and re-season with more salt, anchovy, pepper, Worcester, garlic, etc – basically, make it your brand of delicious.

    4)   Add olive oil and 1/2 c of your Parmesan (reserve 1/4 c to sprinkle on top) and blend just to combine or whisk into paste in a drizzle if combining by hand.  Don’t overwork your olive oil or it gets bitter.

    tossing w/ dressing

    5)   Toss with Tuscan kale or even regular kale (the curly leaves pick up a LOT of delicious dressing and add a little spice), romaine spears, arugula, whatever floats your diet boat.  Normally, I’m anti-overdressing a salad, but when it comes to this dressing…

    IMG_4799.JPG

    6)   Serve with slices of grilled, well-season chicken breast and croutons.  If dieting, substitute delicious Everything Flat Breads, which I don’t think really saved all that many calories but they’re delicious!  If I weren’t dieting, I might also have breaded some pounded out chicken breasts and seasoned with a little lemon-butter…  but if not dieting, I also might have still had this salad to pre-game for a big ol’ cheeseburger with bacon.

    chicken caesar

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    Filed under Fool proof recipes... fool-tested... fool-approved

    Egg. It’s what’s for breakfast, lunch, & dinner

    I’ve been meaning to post about Egg in Williamsburg FOREVER and now finally have a chance, but my husband just told me that I’m a little late – it’s apparently being featured in every cab in NYC.  Late to the party as usual, and most-likely, underdressed.  Regardless, I have to sing the praises of this wonderful restaurant while it’s still fresh in my mind.

    Here’s my disclaimer: I rarely go to Brooklyn.  Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Brooklyn and wanted to live there when I first moved to Manhattan.  My husband, however, is not a Williamsburger.  So we moved to the Upper East Side where my husband and his 70 year old friends feel more at home.  No, my husband’s not actually 70, but he’s almost 27 going on 68 at the very least.  I don’t make it to Brooklyn because I’m lazy and I hate transportation.  I know, it sounds weird, but I do.  I hate driving, busing, subwaying, ferrying (sailing is OK because it’s more like a sport than commuting), training, flying, vanning, shuttling, mono-railing… whatever.  I hate it.  I love to travel in the sense that I like being in other places, but I hate the act of getting anywhere.  Yeah.  I have issues.  Way ahead of you there.

    I almost picked and ate these as an appetizer...

    I almost picked and ate these as an appetizer...

    But after my husband, my bro-in-law, and me dropped my cousin and her friend off at the airport, we decided to head to Egg for a late lunch, early dinner.  It’s an unassuming place with a lot of character.  Aren’t those the best types???  Egg is small, but its substance is deep: they only use local or organic supplies – some of which they grow themselves!  After we realized that there wasn’t really a wait even though a do-it-yourself wait list board was sitting out front, we quickly grabbed the very front table so that I could sit next to the grape tomato plant that was growing in the window, nay, the table box on the sidewalk.  Tell me the last time you dined al fresco in the company of a good grape tomato plant!  Thanks to my husband and my bro-in-law, I refrained from picking and eating said-grape tomato for fear of embarrassing them.  Had I been on my own, however…  Oh, and before I forget — I need to give a shout out to Mr. Reginald Andre, aka Big Man In Williamsburg (BMIW), for introducing me to this extraordinary dining establishment.  It’s too bad that even though he’s my good friend, he never reads this blog or else he could receive his kudos pseudo-directly.

    ham & cheese biscuit with a side of the best grits I've ever had

    ham & cheese biscuit with a side of the best grits I've ever had

    Anyhoo, when you go to Egg, there are certain things that you MUST order.  Either you order a biscuit, fried chicken, a milkshake, or ALL THREE.  Normally, I recommend all three.  However, since we weren’t quite at dinner time and this little excursion counted more as a snack than anything, I stuck to just one out of the three and ordered a biscuit… or rather bisuitS… yup, I ordered a ham & cheddar biscuit with grits PLUS a side of biscuit in sausage country gravy.  Don’t judge.  Go ahead and tell me that biscuit with a side of biscuit doesn’t sound appealing and I will go ahead and call you a communist.  It’s your God-given duty to love biscuits as an American.  If you’re not an American, thanks for reading my blog… now go find & try a biscuit and learn to love it.  Oh!  And to keep you occupied while you wait for your order, they provide crayons for you to doodle on your paper tablecloth with.  The people next to us drew amazing sketches of eyeballs while I just practiced writing my new last name: Lvoff… sooo many consonants.

    sausage country gravy & biscuits

    sausage country gravy & biscuits

    Here’s the thing – I wouldn’t have totally gluttoned-out except for the fact that I wanted country gravy to dip my ham & cheddar biscuit into.  At Egg, country gravy is made TO ORDER vs. sitting around in a giant pot over a water bath all day to develop one of those attractive, crusty skin layers on top.  Once that was explained to me in what seemed like an attempt to discourage me away from the side of country gravy, I stubbornly made my gravy stand and just ordered the entire biscuit & gravy appetizer.  What would you have done???

    tell me that you wouldn't have done the same???  ham & cheese biscuit WITH sausage country gravy.

    tell me that you wouldn't have done the same! ham & cheese biscuit WITH sausage country gravy.

    Once my biscuits came, I knew that I had made the right decision.  You may question the logic behind a biscuit+biscuit afternoon snack, but I stand by my logic!  Once I was able to top dense, crispy-on-the-outside biscuit filled with salty ham & pungent cheddar, with a giant chunk of sausage smothered in perfectly peppery country gravy, I knew that my ordering had not been in vain.  Sure, my arteries went into instant contraction, but the buttery, salty, spicy, meaty melting pot of flavor that I experienced was surely worth blockage.  And while I’m no expert when it comes to grits since I’ve never had them south of Philadelphia, I will say this: these were the best grits that I’ve ever tasted.  Speckled with little bits of corn, these grits were mild on the palate (the right balance to the super-savory ham biscuit) and then sweet on the finish.  Normally, I just *like* grits but at Egg, I worship them.

    Eggs from Egg... wish I had tasted this bite vs. just photographing it.

    Eggs from Egg... wish I had tasted this bite vs. just photographing it.

    My husband’s sunny-side-up eggs and chorizo with raspberry jam looked pretty damn appetizing as well, even though I never got a taste…  The color of his farm eggs was a vibrant marigold vs. the pale yellow Food Emporium eggs that I’m used to.  I *imagine* that they were delicious based on how quickly he consumed them, only pausing to allow me a picture, but stopping his generosity just short of an actual tasting.

    Now THAT'S a tablescape!!!  My glass of chilled Muscadet was the perfect compliment to a savory summer's meal al fresco.

    Now THAT'S a tablescape!!! My glass of chilled Muscadet was the perfect compliment to a savory summer's meal al fresco.

    I’m sure you’ve seen the taxi advertisement on how great Egg is, but please allow me to reiterate: Egg is incredible.  It’s more than eggs, it’s reason enough to move to Williamsburg… or at least hop the L train over.

    The Brothers Lvoff trying to ignore me as I hop around and take pictures like the blogger monkey that I am.

    The Brothers Lvoff trying to ignore me as I hop around and take pictures like the blogger monkey that I am.

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    Philly: It’s not just about cheesesteaks

    I had to go to Philadelphia last week for just a few hours, but I knew that while I was there, I had to make time to eat.  No, I didn’t visit Tony Luke’s, Pat’s, Gino’s, or Jim’s.  After living in Philadelphia for about 9 years, I know exactly where to find the best food.  At a Vietnamese restaurant called “Nam Phuong,” tucked a way in the corner of the Wing Phat shopping plaza on Washington Blvd.

    Vietnamese soups always come with veggies & limes.  If you see lemons or nothing at all, leave.

    Vietnamese soups always come with veggies & limes. If you see lemons or nothing at all, leave.

    While I was there, I definitely didn’t appreciate how amazing the Vietnamese food at Nam Phuong is.  In fact, I was annoyed that every time my parents came to visit, they only wanted to go to Nam Phuong.  Not once would they try Amada by Jose Garces or one of the many, amazing BYOBs in the city!  Nope, just Nam Phuong.  Spoiled as I was by the spot-on flavors of all the Vietnamese fair, I would sigh and begrudgingly drive to Wing Phat, fighting off the sea of Asian drivers all battling for 1.5 parking spaces in which to park their cars… diagonally, of course.

    Vietnamese restaurant with a Vietnamese/Chinese zodiac placemat -- always a good sign.  I'm a monkey... shocking, I know.

    Vietnamese restaurant with a Vietnamese/Chinese zodiac placemat -- always a good sign. I'm a monkey... shocking, I know.

    After I spent the summer in Vietnam and then moved to New York, I realized why my parents had been so addicted and devoted to Nam Phuong.  It’s not fancy and you could basically go in your PJ’s (which are worn quite often around the streets of Vietnam) to dine.  When you walk in, there are giant round tables everywhere and all you can hear is the frantic sound of plastic chopsticks on ceramic bowls and slurping of noodles through hot soup.  You can see steam rising up from below the hunched over faces of the guests who on occasion, look up from their bowls to breath in cool air, blow their running noses, or sigh deeply to try and make room for the next bout of noodle-slurpage.  In short, it’s wonderful.  It’s a symphony of food joy.  It brings tears to my eyes to see people enjoying their food in such an honest and loving way.  There’s no discussion about plating, no talk of seasoning (go on, season and garnish it yourself with your plate of bean sprouts, mint, thai basil & limes), and little talk at all except for those deep, labored sighs that only accompany food so good that you can’t stand to leave any leftover.

    banh xeo - it's an eggy crepe filled with shrimp and pork that's served with pickled veggies and herbs to be wrapped in lettuce

    banh xeo - it's an eggy crepe filled with shrimp and pork that's served with pickled veggies and herbs to be wrapped in lettuce

    So when my mom and I found a parking spot right in front of Nam Phuong in the middle of the day, and then walked in to find it uncrowded with no wait… it was like a little pho miracle sent from Buddha.  We shared a banh xeo that was so good wrapped in lettuce and garnished with mint, thai basil, cucumber, and pickled carrots & daikon (although nothing beats the banh xeo made and served in Danang).

    assembling your banh xeo lettuce wrap

    assembling your banh xeo lettuce wrap

    For our entrée, we didn’t even have to ask each other what our orders would be.  My mother is from Hue and I inherited her spicy, salty Hue blood (read that however you like).  These two Hue girls ordered bowls of Bun Bo Hue – spicy pork and beef broth soup served with spongy, round rice noodles, thin slices of brisket, and congealed pork blood.  The flavor is intense.  The heat is intense.  The spiciness is intense.  This soup is not for the weak or the ignorant of palate.  If you don’t like this soup, if you can’t handle the heat, then you need to train yourself to enjoy it or risk dying a bland and boring life.  I could say, “it’s OK, to each their own…”  But I just don’t feel that way.  When it comes to Bun Bo Hue, there is no other right answer.

    bun bo hue - savory, spicy, meaty and perfect.

    bun bo hue - savory, spicy, meaty and perfect.

    We squeezed fresh lime juice into our giant, steaming bowls of bun bo, and then added additional bean sprouts, mint, and thai basil.  There’s only one size: warrior-portion.  For baby & sissy-portions, go elsewhere.  I used to not be a fan of the congealed blood, but I was young and stupid.  It has the meaty, nutty, gamey flavor of liver with a little marrow, and its mellow earthiness is perfection with the spicy, tangy broth.  The spongy, round noodles are fun and happy, like skinny udon noodles, and have the right amount of slurping slipperiness.  My mom and I barely spoke as we focused intently on the mission at hand: eat, savor, & enjoy.  Of course, our silent enjoyment was only broken when one of use would need to come up for air and a break from the steam to blow our nose or breath out to make room for more noodles.

    yup, it's congealed pork blood and it's delicious

    yup, it's congealed pork blood and it's delicious

    Had there been time for dessert, I would have gotten a shaved ice, coconut milk, mung bean, and pandan jelly noodle dessert, but alas, our time in Philly was short this go around.  But Nam Phuong… oh Nam Phuong… I can’t wait to visit you again (cue the dreamy, Vietnamese string music, mist, and then… fade out).

    do you see that red clay color???  if you order bun bo and it doesn't look like this, push the bowl away from you and ask for the check.

    do you see that red clay color??? if you order bun bo and it doesn't look like this, push the bowl away from you and ask for the check.

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    To be young again…

    Well, I survived.  Two 16 year-olds, 3.5 days, and I lived to blog about it.  Right up until my cousin and her friend’s plane landed, I thought I was ready for parenthood.  One of my best friends is pregnant with a little bundle of adorableness and I couldn’t be anymore excited!  I thought that maybe I wouldn’t be too far behind her.  The past week has definitely opened my eyes.  Granted, when you do give birth, you usually start with a tiny bundle of softness that while physically demanding, doesn’t challenge you the way that oh… let’s say giving birth to two, fully formed 15/16 year-olds does.

    As far as teens go, mine were pretty good actually.  They could have been much worse – they could have been me.  Besides calling me old and seeming pretty blasé about everything that I find downright awesome (namely food), they never sleep.  Never.  Except in the morning when you’re trying to wake them up.  And they have their own ideas and wants, and you basically just want to cater to them and make them happy.  Yup, that’s the one thing that very few people tell you.  Kids, babies, teens, whatever – they have some sort of magical ability to make you want to make them happy.  Normal adults?  Who the hell cares!  I very rarely care about making most people happy, especially since most people (outside of my awesome friends) piss me off on a daily basis (I’m talking about you Miss Rude Subway-rider).  My cousin was actually pretty easy-going, but every once-in-a-while, her friend would pop off some comment that was so rude and smart-ass-like that I didn’t know whether to laugh at her gall or throw a soup dumpling at her (which, FYI, she didn’t find very impressive).  Yet, she was still so adorable that I found myself trying to figure out what else to show her that she might enjoy a little more.  In case you’re wondering, I don’t think I found anything.

    I also realized that teenagers make you feel fat.  My cousin happens to be a rail and I kept wondering whether or not I had ever been that tiny.  I’m pretty sure not.  Her waist was smaller than anything on my body.  I could have used her stretchy belt as a headband.  And I also forgot how much you can eat when you have a teenager’s metabolism.  I eat a lot, but DAMN!  Sometimes, I almost forgot to feed them because I lost track of the time.  Oh, and that’s not the only reason I’m an unfit guardian – I cursed A LOT in front of them.  If they didn’t curse before, they’re certainly going to curse now.  In my desperate attempts to keep them happy and entertained (which I don’t think either of them were), I also fed them mass quantities of sugar.  I don’t think a single vegetable touched their lips in the 3.5 days they were with me.  Of course, they were far healthier than me, opting out of having cheeseburgers for every meal.

    And the shopping.  I ended up spending more and buying more than they did!  I try not to shop EVER because it’s tiring, time-consuming, and I just don’t have the money to burn.  Of course, when it’s your duty to take other people shopping as a good host…  Well… Do you know how much willpower it takes to NOT shop in those circumstances?  I certainly don’t because apparently, I don’t have it.  I think it’s a lot, though – much more than I can even fathom.

    So there it is: two 16 year olds, 3.5 days, an enormous credit card bill, and a weekend spent napping and sleeping like a log just trying to recover.  Maybe I should wait until my energy returns to start thinking about having my own children again.  After all, these two girls were ANGELS compared to the havoc that I wreaked upon my parents when I was their age.

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    Welcome to America! Now please start spending…

    Right now, I am on a bus headed to Woodbury Commons with my 16 year old cousin and her friend. When I picked them up from the airport yesterday, I asked them what they wanted to do while they were here – “we want to shop and we want go to Woodbury Commons!”. Screw our museums and melting pot culture, all they want is to spend our funny money.

    My cousin’s from London so Woodbury Commons is basically like shopping for free. And I guess when Europe is your playground, our “cultural” activities may seem less exciting. I’m reminded of Eddie Izzard: “I’m from Europe – you know, where all the history comes from?” She was getting organized this morning, trying to find her “American money,” and I told her she could just rip her pounds in half to use as dollars… Of course, 1 pound is a coin piece, not paper… But I have a pair of those Ginsu scissors somewhere so we should be fine.

    Her friend is from Canada and can’t wait to shop here either, which just bothers me. Am I the only one who longs for the days when the Canadian dollar was so weak that Canada was basically just one giant shopping outlet?

    I’m also missing my old Goldman paycheck right about now… Oh… the damage we could have done… Now, I’m probably going to walk out of Woodbury with a candy bar from a Kosher vending machine (my friend Angela just told me about them!) if I’m lucky… Or rather, if my husband’s lucky. I’ve actually never been before and just looked at the store list last night… Um, did you know that Williams Sonoma even HAD an outlet? Mama’s coming home with a deep fryer and an ice cream maker!!!

    FYI – the bus ticket here is $42!!! US $!!! That’s like £5. Not really, but that’s what it feels like even though the dollar is strengthening… slightly. So $42 just for the opportunity to spend even more… No roller coasters, either. Oh well, happy shopping!

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    Sweet Sixteen

    I’m probably going to have a lot of difficulty posting this week as my 16 year old cousin and her 16 year old friend are flying in from London to spend the rest of the week with me.  I haven’t been 16 in a LONG time, but from what I remember, I was a nightmare.  I just hope that the “awful teenager” gene doesn’t run in the family.  I haven’t seen my cousin in about 5 years, and I somehow doubt that she’s still the gangly 11 year old that I remember.  She may even be suffering from full onset teen angst-itis.  I’m bracing myself for either Paris Hilton or Gotherella to walk off that plane… hopefully I’m worrying for nothing and my cousin will turn out to be some perfect girl whose hobbies include listening to her elders and maybe washing & folding laundry.

    So, as I will have my hands full, I will keep the week to short posts (I can hear you all mumbling, “Finally!”) most likely based on me trying to entertain and wrangle 16 year olds.  I hope they’re not anorexic or anything so that I can at least bog them down with cupcakes and other sugary substances.  Cheeseburgers will definitely be on the menu, too.  Maybe take them shopping with their parents’ credit cards… The only thing I know for sure is that if I prevent them from doing anything that I did at 16, at least my uncle won’t kill me.

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