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!)

The wonder elixir for… well, everything

No one tell my parents but as a longtime proponent of the mind calming, rest inducing, achey muscle soothing, anxiety easing, all-around-good-time promoting, healing properties of weed, I’ve been pretty excited about CBD’s recent rise to mainstream popularity, especially in food and drinks. (Even if it’s not the legalized marijuana I’d really like.)

As a very brief, very basic explanation for anyone who might not already know: the two main chemical compounds in pot are THC, the stuff that makes you goofy and giggly and weird, and CBD, the stuff with the medical benefits for people dealing with anxiety, sleep problems, pain, and nausea amongst other things.

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I mean, I feel better just looking at this tasty drink.

So again, for the people in the back: products containing only CBD will not get you high and are completely legal,  even in states like NY where weed’s illegal. Hear that mom and dad? (Just kidding, my parents don’t read this. And if they did, my mother would be lighting a candle for my soul while my dad would say this is why I’m unmarried in my 30s. But we’ll save all of that for another time and perhaps a therapist…) Continue reading

New year, same hot drink

Of the very many hot drinks I enjoy during winter, I don’t think hot toddies are necessarily the best tasting, but at the end of the day I think they’re my favorite overall.

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Hot toddy, happy me.

Hot buttered rum is great, mulled wine makes me feel Christmasy, hot chocolate is pretty much dessert, and spiked cider smells like my favorite time of year, but a good hot toddy, simultaneously sweet and spiced, warming and zesty, soothing and strong, is just my favorite.

I had a good, albeit pretty standard one at Extra Fancy in Brooklyn this week, on the first of the year, and right now I wish there was another one just like it sitting on my desk in place of my water bottle. It had a generous glug of honey in it, making it rich and sweet, playing off the tartness of the lemon juice and the smokey flavor of the bourbon.

Right now it’s about 20 degrees outside and we’re bracing for snow overnight (which is great) and more snow during the morning commute (way less great). Additionally, my throat feels raw and my tonsils achey. I’m at work and I’m sleepy and worst of all, I have a 10k run this weekend that thanks to a pretty awful sounding weather forecast, I’m not especially excited about.

But a hot toddy? All lemony and clovey, warm in my hands and comforting to my throat, fragrant and just strong enough, reliable and everything I want right now? THAT I could be excited about.

 

Born again sticky bun lover

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Sticky buns, where have you been all my life?

My first real job as a teen—first to pay me an actual check and not  involve tutoring church kids or reading mail to the legally blind old woman who lived next door—was as a cashier at a Panera rip-off in Miami.

As would become the pattern of my work life, I hated it. The ugly khakis I had to wear, upselling bread bowls, even the fact that my sister worked there, too. I hated all of it.

All of it except one thing. Even more so than my meager paychecks, the one redeeming perk of the gig was the pastries I rescued at the end of each shift. Muffins, cookies, croissants, cinnamon rolls, danishes—they were all up for grabs at the end of the night and I rarely left without a bag. (Shout out to the thousands of calories consumed without so much as thinking of working out. Ah, youth!)

There was one thing, however, that never appealed to me: sticky buns. All that shiny, sticky gunk reminded me of the rubber cement I’d used as a kid, each bun a tacky tar trap of molasses. And those nuts, stuck in the gluey goo? A warning to my teeth.

Maybe it was all those neglected sticky buns I left to be tossed, all those passed over pastries, that subconsciously drew me to the sticky bun at Little King’s coffee window a few weeks ago. Maybe it was divine intervention.

Normally a cocktail bar with a small menu, Little King recently opened a walk-up window, selling Intelligentsia coffee and Roberta’s pastries to L train-bound locals weekday mornings. Glad to have an option that wasn’t Dunkin or bodega brew, I stopped for a coffee one day, and on a complete whim, a sticky bun to go with it.

Palm sized and more popover shaped than the swirled rolls I was used to, these sticky buns from the hipster mecca Roberta’s, were airy and fluffy, all buttery brioche under their salt-flecked, caramel glaze.

I am addicted. I’ll drive myself into financial ruin buying these every morning. Sometimes, I wake up and count back to when I last had one, trying to justify if it’s been enough days to treat myself to another one. If I have a run planned later, I’ll grab one and chalk it up to carbo loading. I daydream of that soft dough and buttery, salted caramel.

I would say I’m sorry to all those sticky buns of my youth, the ones that got away and got chucked, but I’m pretty sure they were nothing like these doughy, sweet buns I now constantly crave. I can’t imagine there are any left over each day, but if by chance there are, I hope whoever’s in charge of clearing them away knows how very lucky they are.

 

Carbo-loading early

I’ve been toying with a crazy idea over the last year or so, and last Thursday I decided to make it official: I’m running the 2017 NYC marathon.

Cue mild panic attack.

On top of the physical commitment, I’m also running it for charity which means I have to raise $2,620 or else that’s what gets charged to my card. Double yikes, right? The pressure is ON.

In the spirit of finding the energy necessary to run a stretch of 26.2 miles, I decided to get a head start on the carbo-loading with dinner at Cheeseboat. (Ok, the truth is someone posted a video on my Facebook of a huge hunk of bread with a delicious pool of cheese in the middle and when I found out the restaurant was in Williamsburg, I immediately made plans with a friend. But it did actually coincide with me signing up for the marathon.)

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Take me away cheeseboat, take me away

Cheeseboat is a Georgian restaurant and dammit, I wanna go to freakin’ Georgia now because these folks know what to do with some bread and cheese. They have other stuff but good God almighty, CHEESE FREAKIN’ BOATS! I wanna jump in one and sail away into my fat kid dreams.

There’s lots of cheeseboat variations, some with bacon or truffle sauce, cream or veggies, and all manner of delicious combos, but basically they’re a big doughy mass, like a shallow bread bowl, filled with gooey, melted cheese in the middle, so that you gradually tear the whole thing apart and dip it in the middle, scooping out big globs of warm, delicious cheese as you go.

My friend and I  went with the original cheeseboat, filled with cheese, butter and topped with a fried egg, because as I’ve said before, I would almost eat rocks if they were underneath the rich, velvety blanket of golden, delicious fried egg yolks. For a serious carb and cheese lover like myself, this was everything. Yes, I felt stuffed to the gills and completely incapable of running to the door, much less 26.2 miles around all five boroughs, but I can tell you this much, I know what I want to eat AFTER that marathon.

Unicorn Lattes cause why not?

Ever stop and look at yourself or the life you live and wonder how you got there or what a younger you would think about it if you could travel back in time with a spoiler alert?

I do. All the time.

Like when I ride the train to work in midtown. Or when I listen to anti-slut shaming podcasts. Or when I sign up for marathons. Or when I watch Donald Dump being sworn in as president.

Just things a younger me wouldn’t have necessarily predicted, that’s all.

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::sigh:: Brooklyn…

Last weekend, as I handed over my credit card to be charged $9 for something called a Unicorn Latte at a small coffee shop in Brooklyn, I found myself thinking, “Hmm, bet I never would’ve seen this coming a few years ago.”

I read about The End a few days before, and even though it seemed like another shining example of Brooklyn trying to out-Brooklyn itself, I was intrigued.

A younger me would’ve rolled her eyes at the ridiculous price tag, or the thought of a hot beverage with blue green algae in it, or even just at the friendly surfer/elf/hipster dude that rang it up.

But today’s me shrugged and thought, “Yea, why not. I’m curious.”

So I went and had the whimsical drink and because it was snowing outside, I ordered my Unicorn Latte to stay, which meant it was served in a small glass with a metal handle. (When you pay almost 10 bucks for a drink, you shouldn’t fight the elements to enjoy it.)

I should point out that this is a coffee alternative we’re talking about, so no actual coffee here. Instead, this latte is made of coconut milk, water, lemon juice, honey, Maqui berry, and the magic ingredient which provides the murky blue color, E3 Live, a blue green algae. And on the foamy top, a smattering of pastel sprinkle-type bits.

It had a sort of subtly fruity, milky flavor, almost like heated milk from a bowl of Fruit Loops or Fruity Pebbles. Not bad, not great. I was into all of the benefits they said it would provide, however, including mental clarity and a boost in energy.

Will it become part of my daily routine and replace the usual coffee? No, not likely. Then again, maybe I’ll look back on this one day when I’m an algae guzzling ol’ weirdo (who still looks 29) and I’ll laugh. Silly younger self, what have you ever known?

Out with the old and in with the calories

Ok, hear me out. This time I have a good excuse for my latest disappearing act. My dear, sweet computer, my ol’ Italian girl with the keyboard that used to trip everybody up except me, finally gave up the fight and went peacefully in her sleep one night.

We had a good long run together, about 8 years, so I think I need some time alone, no? Blogging on my phone, however, is a nightmare and doing it at work isn’t really an option either at the moment, so there you have it: radio silence.

But don’t you worry, it’s been gluttonous business as usual here. Below, a look at the things I’ve been eating and drinking and just not writing about:

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The phenomenal leek bread pudding from Cassette‘s brunch menu wasn’t what I was expecting (since I didn’t really know what to expect) but it was damn good. Oh and the restaurant, in Greenpoint, is adorable. You should go.

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I hated it the first time I tried it but over the years, the Negroni has become one of my favorites. At Extra Fancy in Williamsburg, they have a frozen one. Clearly, I was in love.

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In all the years I’ve lived in New York so far, I had never been to Carnegie Deli so when I heard that the local institution was closing at the end of the year, I had to go. Not wanting to wait an hour and a half on the sidewalk for a table inside, Stas and I got our order to-go and ate it in the park. The Woody Allen (“lots corned beef and lotsa pastrami”), the most delicious knish I’ve had yet, a fat slice of banana cream pie and a thick wedge of the richest, most dense cheesecake I’ve ever eaten, and the two of us were done for.

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And lastly, a special shout out to the pretzel dog at my favorite bar in my old hood, the Rusty Knot. It’s nothing fancy, just a hot dog in the loving embrace of warm, salty dough, but dammit it fills my heart with all the feels every time. Or maybe that was the drinks. Who knows. It’s all delicious.

Nostalgia flavored dessert

Many moons ago, when I lived in Italy and had a boyfriend, (boy, those were different times!)  he and his friends used to regularly host dinner parties where everyone would pitch in and do their part: prepping, cooking, pouring wine, cleaning afterward.

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Coke float in soft serve form.

One summer night, when it was hotter than the innermost circles of Dante’s inferno, and we had decided to eat outside, I suggested we make Coke floats for dessert.

No sooner had I announced my idea than I was met with a mix of blank stares and looks of horror. “Un’ americanata!” said one of my then boyfriend’s more gluttonous friends, a guy who refused to drink water and subsisted off soda and fruit juice instead, suggesting that the concept of mixing Coke with vanilla ice cream was so outrageous that only a fat American could’ve come up with it.

What happened next should come as a surprise to no one: I made them, they loved them. Point for America.

Coke floats are something I’ve loved since I was a kid. My sister and I would find the tallest glasses in the cupboard, toss in a few scoops of vanilla ice cream and then pour fizzy, cold Coke (we were never Pepsi girls) over the ice cream, watching the creamy, cola colored foam rise up to the top, frothy and delicious.

So during my sister’s recent visit, even though we were full from brunch, we had to stop at Momofuku Milk Bar whose sign outside said four magic words: Coke float soft serve.

Anyone who’s ever had Milk Bar’s famous cereal milk soft serve knows that’s unmistakably what it tastes like. With this new coke float flavor, chef, founder and Milk Bar owner Christina Tosi, absolutely did it again. Closing my eyes, I could swear I was back in my childhood kitchen slurping a float with my sister or sitting on that sun-baked terrace outside of Florence, enjoying not just the frosty dessert drink but the pleasure of proving an Italian wrong.

Llama Lovin’

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Just a girl who loves llamas

Ever since I met a baby llama at the Central Park Zoo’s Children’s Zoo a few years ago, I’ve been completely obsessed with the goofy, long-necked fluffy animals. And after a recent brunch at Williamsburg’s Llama Inn with my sister, I’m kind of obsessed with that too.

We started off with pan de yuca, a simple but tasty Peruvian inspired take on bread and butter. Each little bun, soft and sweet, is made from the hispanic staple and root veggie, yuca. With it, a velvety, creamy sweet honey butter of sorts, so good I could’ve spread it on rocks and happily eaten those too.

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Admittedly doesn’t look like much, but let me tell you, they make up in taste what they lack in fancy presentation.

My sister’s entree was the food envy inducing beef tenderloin stir-fry, a glorious heap of scallion topped fried eggs, french fries, plump caramelized sweet plantains, grilled onions, and juicy tenderloin medallions, all served in a bowl and drizzled with a spicy cream made from rocoto chilli peppers. Every ingredient was bursting with flavor, the plantains so sweet and soft they were almost custardy, the beef just the perfect amount of pink and juicy, and the fries pure golden, starchy goodness.

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 A gorgeous mess of breakfast deliciousness

To match my sister’s bowl-of-awesome was my amazing crispy pork shoulder sandwich and crunchy plantain chips. A thick smear of spicy mayo, a colorful, tangy red onion salsa, and my favorite surprise element, a soft, almost buttery, sweet potato wedged right in with the crispy pork shoulder, which was tender and testy, with perfectly burnt edges for that bit of charred flavor.

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A downright magical way to start a Saturday.

And because even brunch calls for dessert, we split the only one on the brunch menu, a bowl of chocolate sorbet and lucuma cream, made from a Peruvian fruit with a mapley, butterscotch flavor. To top if off were wafer-like crisps made from cappuccino foam. A mix of flavors and textures and now I have a whole new fruit that I love! Success all around!

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Don’t let looks fool you, this dessert is a solid TEN.

Since originally writing this a couple of days ago I’ve also been back for dinner and drinks and I can tell you, my llama love is stronger than ever. Once one of my favorite animals, now one of my favorite restaurants.

The winning cookie

In college, my roommates and I would often sit around, usually under the influence of something or other, and ask ourselves some really hard-hitting, soul-searching questions.

“You guys, what would you do if there was a gorilla running around outside right now?” Or the time we went camping and someone asked, “What if an axe wielding murderer ran out of the woods and started chasing us?” And then there was the one that really made me pause, look inward and reflect on what kind of person I was, “What one specific food would you choose for an all-you-can-eat contest?”

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This rosemary shortbread’s a golden beaut of a cookie, no?

Ask me today and my answer would be the rosemary shortbread cookies at Lilia. I’m fairly confident that I could eat a horrifying amount of those cookies, an amount that would not win me any friends and certainly not any boyfriends, but dammit, it would crush my competition and win me that contest!

Shortbread doesn’t even do it for me, not with its usual dry, crumbly texture  and bland flavor. But this cookie, this gloriously sweet and buttery, rosemary flecked and sea salt sprinkled, palm-sized cookie, wasn’t dry or tough like its brethren. It still retained some of the coarseness that would make it ideal for dipping in a hot cup of tea while also being subtly soft, the kind of cookie that dissolves into pure deliciousness when it hits your tongue.

Not too sweet, nor too savory, just absolutely perfect in flavor and consistency, I’m pretty sure me and Lilia’s rosemary shortbread are gonna be a winning team.