New (to me) kind of ramen in my old neighborhood

During the four years I lived in Williamsburg and even the year before that when I was nearby in Greenpoint, I was always aware of the small, tucked away Japanese restaurant known as Okonomi by day and YUJI Ramen by night, but I never went. It was supposed to be great, everyone told me. Tiny, with only a few seats. No reservations. Great Japanese breakfasts till 3, then a new name and awesome ramen after 6. It was even on an episode of Master of None last year which is pretty much a stamp of approval from cool people in the food world.

But every time I walked by there was a crowd outside, people reading books or scrolling through their phones, all killing time till their tables were ready. So I kept putting it off, pretty much for four straight years, until my very last week in the neighborhood. On a random night in the middle of the week, alone as I made my way back to my mostly packed up apartment after a day of work and errands in the city, I thought on a whim, to see if there might be a spot for one.

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It didn’t look like any ramen I’d ever had but it immediately became one of my favorites.

And whaddaya know? There was. There were two actually, right at the bar, but almost immediately after I walked in, someone came in after me and took the other one, and not long after him several others popped in to be added to the waitlist. I hadn’t even ordered yet when I heard someone quoted 40 minutes for a table.

The menu was brief, which I, as someone who suffers from chronic menu indecision, appreciated. Pretty much just a couple of appetizers, a selection of ramen and a selection of mazemen, or ramen without broth.

Now, I love ramen, especially when the weather’s cold, or grey, wet and dreary like it has been for the past week here in New York. But the night I stopped by Yuji, a few days before Labor Day weekend, it was still steamy and hot outside and the idea of a brothless ramen sounded pretty perfect.

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The last couple of bites of a really delicious bowl of mazemen.

The bacon and egg mazemen I ordered was a beautiful bowl of yellow, ribbon-like noodles, thick-cut hunks of bacon, onsen tamago (pretty much a Japanese poached egg), mustard greens and bonito flakes (super thin dried, cured fish shavings). Before stepping away to let me fully geek out over my meal, the server had recommended that I stir everything up before digging in. I went for the egg first, poking it with a chopstick and letting the orangey-yellow yolk ooze out, seeping into the little spaces between noodles and bacon, sliding around the greens and bonito flakes that seemed to wiggle and shimmy in the heat rising from the bowl.

In the absence of broth, the yolk kept everything from being too dry and gave the noodles a silky, almost custardy consistency. The greens, meanwhile, added a green, peppery bite and the bacon, as it always does, a rich, fatty flavor. I wanted to savor every delicious bite and never reach the bottom of the bowl, but with no one to distract me and several people waiting for the very spot I sat in, I also couldn’t help slurping down every little bit of that mazemen in what felt like entirely not enough time.

My only regret at this point is letting all those years go by without trying this whole other type of ramen or without wolfing down a few more bowls of the particular bacon and egg version I had that night. I might live in a new Brooklyn hood these days, but I can tell you right now I’ll be back for those eggy, delicious noodles.

(Check out a little clip of the mazemen swirling action on my Instagram!)

Mission (Chinese Food) Accomplished

Man oh man do I love the satisfaction that comes with crossing off things on my to-do lists. Even better still when that satisfying feeling of completion comes along with the happy, stuffed high of a great, big delicious meal.

Such was the case earlier this week when a friend and I finally, after talking about it over and over and meaning to go for the past year or so, went to Mission Chinese Food, the tiny, much-raved about Americanized Chinese food joint made famous in San Fran and now also located in the Lower East Side.

Dinner service starts at 5:30pm and hungry folks line up outside before the door’s even unlocked and neon sign turned on just to claim one of the few spots in the no-reservations restaurant. Right there in that line, was us, ready to scarf down our hipster Chinese grub version of an early bird special. Even though I hate early dinners, especially when the sun’s still out, I’d gladly do it again because the food totally, if you ask me, lived up to the hype.

Chili margarita

Chili margarita

To celebrate our success at A.) getting our acts together and finally making it to the restaurant and B.) actually getting seated right away, we ordered ourselves some drinks. The chili margaritas, with their orangey pink color, citrusy bite and toasted chili kick were the perfect way to start things off.

Mapo ramen

Mapo ramen

Food at Mission Chinese comes out as the kitchen finishes it and for us, first out was the mapo ramen, a generous bowl of fatty pork broth, seaweed, coddledegg, mapo tofu and ramen noodles. Like many of the dishes here, this one wasn’t shy about being packed with bright bold flavors and a fiery kick that had me breaking out in full on nose sweats. (You know, when the bridge of your nose beads up with spicy food induced sweat. Not exactly my best look.)

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Brunch amongst the hipsters

Sometimes you just have to get out of Manhattan, even if only for a few hours and even if only to go as far as a different borough. This Sunday I did just that when Flaneur and I left the frat-tastic world of Murray Hill to go explore Brooklyn.

Sunday funday at egg

And what better way to start off a Sunday morning than with brunch? The answer is there is no better way because every Sunday should involve brunch. After consulting my trusted guide to, well, everything in life (Google) I found the perfect place: egg, in hipster haven Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

It only took one menu item to convince me: biscuits and gravy. I will do cartwheels and somersaults for biscuits and gravy.  It’s such a fatty, comforting, almost nostalgic food that I try and eat it whenever I see it, which isn’t often. In Gainesville, biscuits and gravy were on any menu that included breakfast but not in New York City. I always search amongst the pancakes and French toast, the omelettes and the breakfast sandwiches but nothing. Sometimes they have biscuits, but no gravy. Must be a southern thing.

When we got to egg (yes, it really is with a lowercase e), the small waiting area in the front was packed. Guys in skinny jeans, tattered sweaters and Ray Bans squeezed in next to girls with thick-rimmed glasses, funny shoes and in the case of one girl there, mullets. It was like a live commercial for Urban Outfitters.

We wrote our name on the list and waited outside, enjoying the relative silence of Brooklyn compared to the constant cacophany of Manhattan, which most of the time appears to be concentrated outside my window. Maybe 30 minutes later, our name was called and in we went.

My game plan from the beginning was biscuits and gravy. When I picked up the menu my eyes immediately went to them on the menu, first on the list. “Homemade buttermilk biscuits in sawmill gravy made with pork sausage or pan-seared mushrooms,” I read to Flaneur, bouncing my feet on the ground in excitement.

But then my eyes wandered and saw something else. And then something else. And then something else again. Before I knew it, I was having second thoughts on the biscuits and gravy.

Everything sounded so good. Why do I have to choose? Why isn’t there some kind of sampler breakfast feast? Why God why?

Flaneur's French toast

Flaneur sat there looking at me, already set on what he wanted: French toast and a side of bacon. Easy. Me on the other hand, I was in the midst of a crisis.

“Are you guys ready to order?” asked our waitress, who seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, pen and pad in hand, ready to take our order now or never.

Flaneur gave me a look. Pick something already, I’m hungry.

“Uhm, uhmm,” I stalled, “you go first!”

Flaneur’s order was simple. It would only buy me about 15 seconds. I had to act fast. My eyes flew over the menu one last time, just as the waitress turned towards me.

“Uhm, ok, well, uhh,” I started. Her look was bordering on a glare.

“Ok, got it,” I blurted with newfound resolve. “I’ll have the country ham biscuit, please.”

“Great, thanks,” she said, collecting our menus and zipping off.

I let out a sigh of relief. I had ditched the plan and opted for something I had never had. It sounded interesting and as much as I love biscuits and gravy, the tally of how many I’ve had in my life is probably in the hundreds. I felt I was being adventurous in trying something new. Go me, I thought. A biscuit with country ham, Grafton cheese, and what sold me on it—fig jam, all with a side of grits. (Note: grits are another breakfast staple for me. My mom recently mailed me a box of instant grits because she knows how I feel about them.)

While we waited, Flaneur and I drew on the paper tablecloth with the Crayons provided. He drew a head. I drew asparagus and the icing on a cupcake. Before I could draw the base, our waitress was back with plates in hand, leaving my half finished cupcake with its cartoonish swirl looking like a purple cartoon poo.

Breakfast faves

I have to admit, when she set the plate down, it looked like something was missing, like it wasn’t as visually appealing as I wanted. Grits are never exactly great looking in general, so I felt a bit of food envy when I saw Flaneur’s plate and the fat French toast and thick strips of bacon sitting on it.

Yet when I took the first forkful of grits, all my envy disappeared. These grits were delicious! They tasted worlds better than the instant mush I make at home. They actually tasted like corn! I had almost forgotten that’s what grits were made out of. They were thick but smooth, not too dry and clumpy, or too watered down.

Almost makes you want to lick the screen doesn't it?

But the star of the show was definitely the biscuit sandwich. If you’re like me, and you like a mix of both sweet and savory, this is the way to go. The homemade fig jam added a subtle sweetness between the biscuit, ham, and the melted cheese that oozed down the side.

And what I first had thought wasn’t going to be enough food, was more than enough. The biscuit was stacked up pretty high, making it even too much to get from top to bottom in just one mouthful. The grits, which came in a large mound, were also pretty filling and by the time it was all gone all I could do was sit back and say, “Man, that was good.”

During all that I did manage to sneak a bite of the French toast and it was pretty delicious too, soft and thick without being chewy. The menu said it was made with a slice of Amy’s brioche. I don’t know who Amy is but she deserves a pat on the back at the very least.

A trip to egg was everything I could have asked for out of a Sunday: a welcome mini escape from Manhattan, a change of scenery, a slight twist on an old favorite, and a very delicious, belly filling brunch. And best of all, I now know where I can find biscuits and gravy, and it’s safe to say they’re probably awesome.

Classic cuisine from the De Angelis kitchen

Growing up, having dinner at my best friend’s house pretty much guaranteed a big, juicy steak and a side of potatoes. That’s just the kind of family they were: one of those wholesome, all-American families that ate meat and potatoes at least once a week, every week, always.

The equivalent of that meal in my house, where my Costa Rican mom did the cooking, was a plate of black beans and white rice, with a fried egg on top, cooked just enough so that when you punctured the middle with a fork, the runny, orange yolk oozed out and mixed into the beans and rice.

A throwback to meals past.

My mom made this constantly. On nights when she was tired and wanted to make something easy. On nights when my sister and I didn’t want to eat what she and my dad were having. On nights when we asked for it. On nights when we didn’t. On all sorts of nights. Like being dysfunctional, it was just part of our family.

Now, a note about my mom’s cooking: there’s not much that she ever made (or still makes) that I will bother recreating in my own kitchen. I’ve never been that much of a fan of her cooking. She knows it and I know it. But when it comes to rice and beans, well, like 18 years worth of nutty-family memories, I still carry that with me, from the moment I left the nest after high school. The only time I didn’t make this was during my stint in Italy and only because I could never find black beans.

So I dedicate this entry to a culinary staple of my childhood, a reliable standby edible, a satisfying eat of the past in the present, and a testament to  memorable family moments centered around food: the good ol’ plate of rice and beans. (This particular one from a very recent dinner at home with Flaneur, who made the egg.)