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Totto Ramen (Manhattan, NY) – A Bowl Comes Full Circle

October 10, 2011

Totto Ramen has a special place in my heart. Why? When I moved here a year ago, it was my first meal as an official New Yorker. At the time, I was crashing in a friend’s apartment in Morningside Heights (way up there by Columbia University) but made the trek down to Totto because I felt like I had to do something special my first night in the city. Who could have guessed that I would later find my own apartment a couple blocks away?

Totto Ramen has now become one of my go-to neighborhood haunts. It’s not very big so there’s almost always a line outside, especially around dinnertime. Be prepared to wait anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how busy they are.

If you don’t know already, Totto = chicken. Therefore, their broth is chicken based rather than pork based like a lot of other places in the city. However, don’t think the lack of pork means a lack of flavor – this soup has depth. Boiling a pot full of chicken carcasses for almost the entire day (9AM to 6:30PM, according to their hand-drawn sketch behind the counter) can do that for you.

What I love most about Totto’s broth is its clean flavor. While I love a heavy pork tonkotsu broth (“liquid meat”, as I like to call it) just as much as the next person, sometimes you end up with a greasiness on your lips. Totto’s, since it’s made of chicken, gives you the satisfaction and comfort from a bowl of ramen without the heaviness afterwards.

I personally like the spicy ramen more so than the normal chicken paitan ramen – the spicy pepper paste just adds an extra kick to the bowl. If you’re not a big fan of spicy (I personally don’t think it’s too bad), you can always ask them for the paste on the side as well.

Lastly, their sides – posted on the front window or against the walls – are  kickass but can be highly seasonal. My favorite, a bowl of seared uni over rice, hasn’t been seen in a couple months. (If you see it though, let me know!)

Totto Ramen
366 W. 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 582-0052
Website: http://www.tottoramen.com/

Totto Ramen on Urbanspoon

Wafels & Dinges (Manhattan, NY) – Spekuloos. Can’t Pronounce It, But I Love It.

November 10, 2010

“Spe-loo-kos…I mean, Spew-koo-loos…Wait, how is it pronounced? Spe-keu-los?”

I may not be able to pronounce it, but I can type it: Spekuloos. Like, Wafels and Dinges’ spekuloos spread. As in, Wafels and Dinges’ spekuloos spread is AMAZING.

If you can’t tell, I’m already sort of (well, more than sort of) obsessed with this spekuloos spread. Imagine a spread with a consistency similar to peanut butter and nutella but with the flavor of – wait for it, wait for it – GINGERBREAD COOKIES. And, unlike nutella or peanut butter, the flavor isn’t overwhelmingly sweet or overpoweringly heavy. It is relatively light and I can consume as much spekuloos spread as I can gingerbread cookies (and I can eat quite a number of gingerbread cookies!).

Although the spread itself is fantastic, its awesomeness is only enhanced by the vessel it is served on. In this case, this vessel happens to be a waffle. Actually, to be perfectly accurate, it is a freshly made liege waffle with crystals of pearl sugar in it. So when I’m talking about spekuloos spread, I’m really talking about a hot liege waffle smeared with spekuloos spread, given a generous dash of powdered sugar and maybe a burst or two of whipped cream.

…If hot waffles and spekuloos spread still hasn’t made you somewhat interested then, well, I got nothing else. However, if it has, then go find the Wafels and Dinges truck! And say hi to the guys in there too!

(Yes, it’s a Belgian themed truck and guess what? They’re actually Belgian!)

Wafels & Dinges Truck
New York, NY
Website: http://www.wafelsanddinges.com/
Twitter: @waffletruck

Wafels & Dinges (MOBILE CART) on Urbanspoon

Wafels and Dinges in New York on Fooddigger

Ichiza (Las Vegas, NV) – An Oasis in the Desert

August 1, 2010

I used to think I knew Vegas. I know my way up and down the Strip. I can lead you through most major casinos, both sober and drunk. I know where to find a 2-minute taxi line at the MGM on fight night. Yet somehow, I didn’t know of Ichiza until a month ago.

Located on the second floor of a random shopping center off the Strip, Ichiza is small Japanese izakaya that’s open til 4AM on the weekends. Prices are reasonable – about $5-7/plate – and the food is absolutely fantastic.

Their printed menu isn’t very comprehensive; the majority of their dishes are hand written and plastered against the walls. Therefore, do what my friends did and just ask your waitress what is good or what she recommends. (Otherwise, you’re never going to be able to figure out what they have that day.)

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Below is just a smattering of what Ichiza has to offer. As mentioned, the menu was hard to piece together so I’m not sure what the official name of any of these dishes below are. I’m naming them based on what I’ve been able to dig up on the internet so, if you go, please forgive me if the waitress doesn’t understand what you’re talking about.

Yellowtail Tartare

Fresh yellowtail and avocado tartare on a fried tortilla chip with rice, lettuce and pico de gallo. It’s not very Japanese and the combination sounds a little offbeat, but it works really well. I’d recommend ordering more than one order – this was my favorite of the night.

Fried Spanish Mackerel

Pop a bite-sized mackerel into your mouth, bones and all – *crunch!* The fried fish had the right amount of salt as is, so I didn’t bother using the accompanying spicy mayo. Who knew fish would be such a good late night snack?

Fried Shrimp

I typically don’t eat shrimp whole but these shrimp are so small, you’re not ordering them for their meat. You are, however, ordering them for that salty, fried crunch you taste when chomping down on their thin shells. (They’re very similar to the fried Spanish mackerel, but I think I texturally like the mackerel slightly more.)

Chicken Gizzards with Green Beans

The gizzards were garlicky and well seasoned, although the texture was a little bit too chewy for my taste. (This was, however, my first time trying gizzards so I wouldn’t know what a well-cooked gizzard’s texture would taste like.)

Chicken Don

The one truly traditional Japanese dish we ordered, their chicken don was everything it was supposed to be: Warm eggs, tender chicken, flavorful rice, hearty, comforting…

Bacon Wrapped Mochi

Its name says it all: Bacon wrapped mochi. Chewy white mochi, wrapped in salty, porky bacon. It tastes exactly what you’re imagining it tastes like. (Delicious!)

Deep Fried Bacon and Mozzarella Wrapped Zucchini

Mozzarella. Zucchini. Bacon. Fried crust. Mushroom sauce. I’m not sure how this concoction was created but it’s surprisingly good. I wouldn’t have guessed it was mozzarella if it wasn’t for someone telling me. The zucchini is subtle and is almost overpowered by the bacon (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing).

Kimchi Pork

The kimchi pork was not bad, but not as strong as some of the other dishes we ordered. It’s like they stir-fried some kimchi and bulgogi and then poured it over a plate of cabbage. Although it was unimpressive while I was sober, I could see this being really tasty with a bowl of rice after a drunken night.

Tom Yum Roll

Just thinking of how to describe it throws me for a loop – both Vietnamese and Japanese, it doesn’t favor one influence over the other. I can only say it’s like the love child of a spring roll and a sushi roll.

Honey Toast with Vanilla Ice Cream

If I were to order this again, I’d order just one for myself, cut off all the crusts and just dig into the soft, chewy bread on the inside. The inner portion is like a sponge, absorbing all the honey and melted ice cream. Each bite is sugary, starchy goodness.

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(How did I go so long without knowing about Ichiza? Why didn’t I go earlier?)

Ichiza
4355 Spring Mountain Rd
Las Vegas, NV 89102
(702) 367-3151

Ichiza Sake House on Urbanspoon

53rd and 6th Halal Cart (Manhattan, NY) – The Million Dollar Question: Why?

May 5, 2010

An actual conversation while standing in line at the 53rd and 6th Halal Cart:

(This is considered a very short line.)

Stranger: Is everyone waiting in this line waiting for this cart?
Us: Yup.
Stranger: What makes this cart so special? I always see people waiting for this cart. None of the other guys have lines. Why go to this one…?

Now THAT is the million dollar question. Why?

The 53rd and 6th Halal Cart currently has 965 reviews on Yelp with a 4.5 star average rating. 94% of people “liked” it on Urbanspoon. It even has it’s own Wikipedia page. What makes this halal cart so different from the other dozen halal carts parked down the street? (Btw, you know you’ve hit it big time when googling an intersection links directly to your cart.)

(This is their specialty – chicken and rice.)

After tasting it for myself, I’ve decided: It’s their white sauce. It has to be. I can’t come up with any other reason but that.

Their specialty platter is essentially just lettuce, rice, chicken and pita with whatever sauces you decide to load it up with. Now take the sauce away from the equation: The lettuce is lettuce. The rice is rice. The chicken is a bit mushy. The pita is nice and fluffy but people don’t order “chicken and rice” for the pita. Honestly, without the sauce, it’s average at best.

However, the white sauce almost transforms this plate of blah to one that even I found myself craving the morning after. What’s in the sauce? No one knows…secret recipe. It’s creamy, not heavy, the consistency isn’t too thick but it’s also not watered down by any means. There are no distinct seasonings that jump out at you. I’m not even going to begin to guess what’s in it. All I know is that the white sauce has to be the reason why this cart gets more foot traffic than all the other carts in the area combined.

WARNING: The 53rd and 6th Cart has a white sauce and a red sauce. The white sauce, I’ve already explained above. The red sauce is suicide hot. Like, PAINFULLY SPICY. The cart even has a caution sign for the hot sauce. I put a little of it on my plate – didn’t think it was too bad so I added a lot more. Um…Yeah. Don’t do that. My mouth was on fire for a good five minutes. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t focus, my tongue was numb…

…Just stick to the white sauce.

53rd and 6th Halal Cart
53rd St and 6th Ave
New York, NY 10019
Website: http://www.53rdand6th.com/

53rd and 6th Halal Cart on Urbanspoon

Ricky’s Fish Tacos (Los Angeles, CA) – My First Real Fish Taco

April 3, 2010

Yesterday, I had Ricky’s Fish Tacos for the first time. The first thing that popped into my head after that first bite was:

“…If these are fish tacos, WHAT THE HELL HAVE I BEEN EATING THESE PAST 25 YEARS?!

Honestly, nothing compares – the best fish taco IN MY LIFE.

(See the guy behind the fryer? That’s Ricky.)

(See those things sitting on my plate? Those are Ricky’s fish tacos.)

The batter is super light, crispy, and not at all heavy or greasy. The fish is moist and flaky. The whole thing is topped with thinly sliced cabbage, pico de gallo, Ricky’s homemade crema sauce (made of mayo and skim milk) and salsa.

I can’t write anymore. It’s just so damn good. (Once you have your first bite, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

Ricky’s Fish Tacos
Los Angeles, CA
Twitter: @rickysfishtacos