ramen weather!

When it starts getting chilly outside, nothing satisfies the soul better than a nice warm bowl of ramen. It’s quite solidly fall these days, and now that daylight savings is over (I hope you remembered to change your clocks!), it’s darker earlier. Which means that I want nothing more than to curl up in bed and hibernate through winter. But since that’s not an option (or at least not a viable option if I want to maintain my health/work/life), thank goodness there’s ramen. Nothing makes you feel like a human faster than being warmed from the inside out and left happy and full.

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Totto Ramen
464 West 51st Street
(between 9th and 10th Avenues)
Hell’s Kitchen, New York, NY

ikea’s swedish meatballs … now with veggies

What did you do over the Labor Day weekend? I went to Ikea. Woot! Oy! Conflicting emotions there. As always.

I moved into my new place last week (yay!), which meant I needed to buy stuff. I didn’t need as much stuff as I ended up buying, but some of it was needed. Well … ‘need’ is debatable. But what is undeniable is that Ikea has Swedish meatballs and I am a fan. Are they good? Eh. Are they cheap? Yes. Are they consistently the same worldwide? Close enough. Do I get Swedish meatballs each and every trip to Ikea? Oh heck yes. That is, if the line’s not too crazy long.

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And ya know what? Now they’re nutritious! The meatballs are likely the same as before, but an order of Swedish meatballs now comes with vegetables. VEGETABLES! I have no idea when this became a thing, but I’m not a fan. What the heck is that green, yellow, and orange doing on my plate? Mon dieu! They’re cluttering the plate! So now, because I feel bad wasting food, I get guilted into eating vegetables when all I really want are the Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes. Argh. Good thing Ikea also offers desserts, because chocolate cake is the perfect thing to wash down those bland veggies!

gin + tonic + tapas = cata

Over in the Lower East Side is a restaurant called Cata, which, although not my normal vibe, is definitely yum. It’s a Spanish tapas place known for their gin and tonics and it would probably make a great date place. It’s somewhat pricey, but on par for restaurants of its level in the area. As I mentioned previously, I’m a fan of a good gin and tonic, and my friend H said that any fan of gin and tonics should visit Cata, so off we went.

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And yes, their gin and tonics are pretty good. Quite a few untraditional options too. I had the Thai chili pepper gin and tonic, which was yum. And since it’s an actual restaurant and not just a bar, they had food, which was on point. We ended up sharing deviled eggs, chicken croquettes, and paella – all super yum. Loved those croquettes. I spent more than I thought I would, for not all that much food, but alas, such is the way of New York. Unfortunately, as good as Cata is, on my budget, it might be a while before I’m back!

Cata
catarestaurant.com
245 Bowery
(between Stanton and Prince Streets)
Lower East Side, New York, NY

smoked salmon and avocado ftw

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My new favorite sandwich is salmon and avocado. I used to be a turkey and colby jack girl, then I switched to tuna salad sandwiches, and now it’s all about the smoked salmon and avocado. If I phrase it like that, it sounds like I’m becoming more hoity or health conscious, but it’s really just that I’m discovering new foods and my palette is improving. I’ll still go for a good ol’ turkey and cheese every so often. But smoked salmon and avocado? Wow. It’s a revelation. The only problem is that in comparison to other sandwich options, it’s downright pricey.

When I first started working, I ate out every lunch, which in the Flatiron District equates to a serious drain on the bank account. Now I try to bring my lunch to work, but I still love Cafe Prague, because they’re amazing. And their smoked salmon and avocado sandwich (pictured above) is just TOO amazing. So yummy. But at $11.92 a pop (with a side of chips), it’s just too much for me. So I went to the grocery store, bought sliced potato bread, avocados, smoked salmon, and swiss cheese, assembled, and voila! My version (pictured below) is not as great as Cafe Prague, but for the budget conscious, it’ll do.

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Cafe Prague
cafepraguenyc.com
2 West 19th Street
Flatiron District, New York, NY

izakaya mew – the pride of midtown

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Midtown Manhattan has horrible food options. Ask any local and they’ll tell you. Midtown Manhattan is full of quick sandwich lunch options and crappy bars with decent happy hour specials. In other words, food options are usually geared towards the working masses. But since I live in Midtown Manhattan, I know three things: The food options really do suck. But they’re great if you’re looking for Korean. And if you’re not, there’s always Izakaya MEW.

32nd Street is known as “Korea Way” according to the street sign, but no one calls it that. It’s Koreatown, pure and simple. There’s a host of great Korean food in the area: Jongro (fantastic Korean barbecue), Miss Korea (not that great, but decent enough), and Food Gallery 32 (food court with good options but limited seating) all on 32nd Street, and Turntable Chicken Jazz (fried chicken!), KyoChon (more fried chicken!), and Cho Dang Gol (standard Korean) not too far away. In other words, I’ve had a lot of Korean food since I moved to Midtown. But otherwise? There’s Izakaya MEW, which I have been to waaayyy too often.

In basic, Izakaya MEW is a decently-priced restaurant with good drinks, good Japanese food, and a great environment. Its entrance is a fairly nondescript staircase leading down to its basement level, located right next door to Cho Dang Gol. The ramen isn’t too great, but I highly recommend their drinks, sushi, fried baby octopus, and potato croquettes. Wait times can vary from no wait to an hour, but they stay open quite late and in all honesty, there ain’t much else!

So yay for Izakaya MEW, you make Midtown less horrible!

Izakaya MEW
53 West 35th Street, Basement
(between 5th and 6th Avenues)
Midtown, New York, NY

falafel on rice

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Any New Yorker knows what falafel on rice is. It’s that delicious-ness that comes from any one of a million seemingly-identical food trucks. It’s great as drunk food, it’s great as a quick lunch, and it’s great as a lazy dinner. I used to be a chicken on rice kind of girl, but lately I’ve been going with the falafel. Then there’s the choice: white sauce (kind of yogurt-y) and/or red sauce (spicy) – white sauce only for me. And usually there’s also a sad “salad” of iceberg lettuce to the side, which I usually just put on a sandwich for another day.

Back when I was in the UWS, falafel on rice would run $5, but the Midtown cart closest to me charges $7. Not sure if it’s an issue of location or if all the food carts raised their prices in the three years I was away, but regardless, for the amount of food, it’s a great price. And oh so convenient. Because seriously, these food trucks are everywhere. And I’ve never once gotten sick.

yum yum chinatown dim sum

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I love dim sum. Absolutely adore dim sum. But strangely enough, in the two and a half years I spent in China, I only had dim sum once. As much as I love dim sum, it’s not something you can really eat on your own and dim sum options in Shanghai aren’t as plentiful as one might expect. My sister was in town last weekend so I took her to Jing Fong in Chinatown, which is my favorite best dim sum place in New York. It’s been around for a while and is fairly well-known, but it’s fairly big so the wait isn’t as horrendous as the crowd outside would suggest.

Most people probably refer to it as the restaurant with the escalator. If you’re walking along Elizabeth Street, you’ll probably see a crowd of people waiting outside, and inside there’s a little podium with a guy giving out numbers and waiting times and two big escalators connecting to the actual restaurant area above. Once you ascend (after a 35-minute wait for us, on a Saturday around noon), you get seated at a table (a shared table if you’re a small party) in this giant space that looks like it was decorated by the same person that decorates all Chinese restaurants in the US, and it’s time to order! Ah, the thrill of having to hunt down or beckon for your food, one eye on your plate and the other on the carts circulating between the tables!

Since it had been such a while since I last had dim sum and I do love my dim sum and I had been craving dim sum, I admittedly went a wee bit crazy with the ordering. It’s just so easy! You see food, you point at food, you get food. All my favorite foods! Foods that I only know the Chinese names of! 咸水角 (xián shuǐ jiǎo), 虾饺 (xiā jiǎo), 芋头角 (yùtóu jiǎo), oh my! And since my sister hadn’t had snails in a long time, we ordered a plate of those. Yum. The bill ended up being about $50, which is more than usual due to my gluttony, the snails (not a standard dim sum dish), and the extra food we ended up taking home. But oh, so worth it.

Jing Fong Restaurant
20 Elizabeth Street
(between Canal and Bayard Streets)
Chinatown, New York, NY

eating ice, busan in winter (tbt)

Of all the countries I’ve visited (excluding China and the US where I’ve lived), I’ve visited Korea the most – three times. That being said, I haven’t actually seen much of Korea because all of my trips were more for visiting people than exploring or adventuring. So when my sister and I took a short trip to Busan in January 2015, we went to the beach and ate ice. Yeah, we’re all about contradictions like that. But it was good. And it had mango. Yum.

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We went to a place called Binguru just across the street from the Gwangalli Beach, and although there are many, many places in Korea that sell shaved ice, it’s definitely more popular in the summer. I was told that this was Taiwanese shaved ice (baobing) rather than the very similar Korean version (bingsu), but honestly I’m not too sure what differentiates them … I think they’re basically the same. Both use a fluffy form of shaved ice and are served either with red bean topping or sweet with fruit.

In contrast, the good ol’ American snow cone is ground-up ice with syrup for flavor … totally paling in comparison to the fluffy and fresh Asian ices. However, as good as baobing and bingsu are, I could totally go for a snow cone right now.

new starts and salads

Holy crap, it’s 2016. And how neglectful I’ve been with this blog! Tsk tsk.

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I’ve never been one to make new year’s resolutions, but I suppose the ol’ standby is to eat healthier, which is always a task given my sweet tooth, fairly abysmal cooking skills, and dislike of anything green and leafy. That said, I’m fine with vegetables if they’re just an accompaniment or side dish, and I’ll cook/eat vegetarian/vegan due to some of my friends, but I’m generally not a ‘salad as a meal’ person. So this here is a rare meal for me indeed. It’s a salad. Woot.

Iceberg lettuce, cha shao (barbecued) pork, hard-boiled egg, Gouda cheese, avocado, sweet peppers, tomatoes, apples, and soon-to-be-added Thousand Island dressing. With a side of buttered toast. Healthy? Oh yes. Granted it could be healthier, but … baby steps, people! Score one for the new year.

junk food: pizza, popcorn, burgers

Somehow I always get around to posting about food. Given my job in the art industry, one would expect me to post non-stop about art, artists, art exhibitions, and the like, but … you know what? Since I spend so much of my time at work around art (and especially around bad soul-sucking art and pretentiously snobby art people), I prefer to find comfort in food (like the good ol’ American I am) and especially in good ol’ American junk food, id est, pizza, popcorn, and burgers.

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1. Margherita, Marco Polo, and Meatlover’s Pizzas from Una’s Pizza

I love pizza. I always knew that the type of pizza I grew up with wasn’t ‘real’ Italian, but I never realized how ‘fake’ the pizza I know and love really is until I came to Shanghai. Kinda random, right? Regardless, there are plenty of places to get fake-style pizza in Shanghai, and Una’s is one of them. To be completely honest, I don’t actually like Una’s Pizza. Their thin-crust style is decent yet sub-par and their toppings leave much to be desired, but the taste is alright and the price is acceptable. I much prefer Pizza Street, but their website ordering system is down so I’ve been exploring my options, and while Domino’s Pizza is okay-ing-ly chewy, it’s nowhere near as good as in the States.

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2. Act II Microwavable Butter Popcorn

28 RMB for three bags of popcorn? That equates to about $1.50 per bag of popcorn and normally my cheap self would be completely against such an obvious laowai-gouging price, but you know what? Heck, yes! I didn’t realize until I saw that box of popcorn on the shelf of that small little stall on Changde Road that it has been years since I last consumed buttery popped corn goodness. I even used to own a popcorn machine back in New York that saved me a ton of money. But alas, microwaves in China do not have a standard Popcorn button so most of my popcorn turned out a bit burnt. Eh, whatevs. Popcorn (even burnt) is still a pretty satisfying snack while working.

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3. Burger King Steakhouse Burger

I’m generally a creature of habit. If I’m at Burger King, I get a Whopper. If I’m hungry, I’ll add a side of large fries. It really is that simple. But for some reason, after a long day at work at which I got off around 9 PM, I decided to throw caution to the wind and order a Steakhouse Burger. No idea why. Unfortunately, the picture on the menu never lives up to expectations. The expected fried onions were barely detectable and the meat was kinda weird and the bun was kinda weird and the sauce was kinda weird. It was just … off. And 38 RMB compared to the normal Whopper’s 21? I should’ve stuck with my usual. But oh well, I was adventurous (if only a little bit).

And you know what? The longer I stay in China, the more American I feel and the more I miss the States. As in, only in seeing the differences do I realize how completely American I really am – in the way I talk, the way I act, the things that I like, the things that I value. Sometimes even simple things like my preferences for food really put things into perspective. I’ve been in Shanghai for almost two years now and as much as I like and appreciate Shanghai for its potential and as much as I’ve grown personally and professionally since moving here, there really is no place like home. And I really do miss the food.