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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

Eleven Madison Park (Manhattan, NY) – The Gourmand Tasting

June 8, 2011

According to WordPress, I started writing this post on May 24, 2010. (I actually got started on it early!) However, like a lot of my posts of other breath-taking tasting menus, I got stuck halfway through and I’ve never bothered to complete it. (Yes, I’ve had writer’s block for more than a year, what can I say?!)

Sadly, since my meal at Eleven Madison Park (or, as I like to lovingly refer to it, “EMP”), the gourmand menu at is no more, replaced with a simple matrix of ingredients to be manipulated into full-fledged courses. However, I have no doubt that this new menu arrangement is just as good. A restaurant like EMP doesn’t just stop serving good food, and the fact that it won Outstanding Restaurant at the 2011 James Beard Awards only supports that. Dining at EMP will be an amazing experience, no matter what or when you try it.

Anyway, seeing that this review is now useless, I’m turning the post into a photo-blog. I mean, we all like photos, right…? (I know, total cop-out. But if I don’t post this now, I never will!)

Hors d’oeuvres

Course 1: Sterling Royal Caviar, Spheres of Smoked Sturgeon and Salmon Cream

Course 2: Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Custard with Green Apple, Shellfish Ragout

Course 3: Garden Pea and Mint Lollipop

I will write something for this one: The above lollipop was the best single bite during my entire May 2010 NYC trip and the reason I considered EMP to be my favorite restaurant of 2010. Imagine the texture of a fudgsicle – that crisp, hard coating that, when bitten into, gives way to a cool, soft filling – but replace the chocolate taste with the brightest peas you’ve ever tasted. I felt like the temperature only enhanced the flavor, making it taste fresher, cleaner… I’ve been chasing the taste of peas ever since, hoping to find something similar to this bite.

Course 4: Spring Out of Winter – Variations of Asparagus with Jamon Iberico

Course 5: Foie Gras Torchon with Tete de Cochon, Pickled Spring Vegetables and Horseradish

Course 6: Atlantic Halibut Seared with Smoked Spring Garlic and Crayfish

Course 7: Nova Scotia Lobster Poached with Young Carrots, Ginger and Vadouvan Granola

Course 8: Earth and Ocean – Slow Cooked Poussin with Hawaiian Blue Prawns and Seaweed

Course 9: Colorado Lamb Herb Roasted with Sucrine Lettuce, Garden Peas and Oregon Morels

Fromage – A Selection of Artisanal Cheeses

Course 10: “Soda Pop” – Tangerine, Grapefruit, Pomelo and Lemon

Course 11: Milk and Chocolate – Variations of Flavor and Texture

Mignardises

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10010
(212) 889-0905
Website: http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon

Best of 2010

January 6, 2011

*looks at the title of this post*
*looks at the date in the corner of her screen*

In true Food Ledger fashion, I’m writing my 2010 recap at the end of the first week 2011. (Oops!) But I figured I should have some kind of recap for the year…

Looking back, 2010 was full of transition in more ways than one – not only did I move to a new city and find a new job, I also rediscovered my love for good, cheap eats. Out of all the establishments I’ve eaten at this year, I surprisingly remember the casual hole-in-the-walls more so than the Michelin starred restaurants. Not to say I didn’t go to some fantastic high end establishments…but I guess my palate is just getting tired nowadays. (Palate fatigue – oh, what first world woes!)

Anyway, I’m already behind so I’m going to skip the introductory blabber.  Here’s my list!

———-

The Food Ledger’s Best of 2010

(Similar to my 2009 review, the following only contains restaurants I ate at for the first time in 2010. Not discovered in 2010, not on the list!)

Fine Dining (Still) Rocks My Socks

(The reason Eleven Madison Park is #1.)

  1. Eleven Madison Park (NYC) – I’ve been debating about #1 and #2 on this list since the middle of the year but, deep down, I knew it would go to EMP. Sure, its gourmand menu (which was sadly replaced by a new menu a couple months later) could have been considered the ideal tasting menu; I seriously loved every dish, from start to finish. But the real reason EMP is placed at the top is because of one single bite: the pea lollipop. My favorite dish of 2010, my fondness for that bite can only be compared to my first gastronomic epiphany at Hatfield’s (and you never forget your first!).
  2. The Dining Room at The Langham (LA) – My meal at The Dining Room was gluttony at its finest. 22 courses, who knows how many glasses of wine, 5+ hours of pure indulgence. Not only did I get to taste every bite (+1!) on the menu, but I also had the opportunity to experience a one-in-a-lifetime event.
  3. Babbo (NYC) – The distinctive progression of a pasta tasting menu was something I had never imagined prior to Babbo. The range of dishes, the creative combinations of fillings and textures and flavors and the focus on the pasta…I was enlighted by the experience.

Hide Away in a Hole In The Wall

(I discovered my love for Japanese izakayas this year.)

  1. Sake Bar Hagi (NYC) – One of King of my Heart’s (i.e. Anthony Bourdain’s) favorite places in NYC and I have to agree – Sake Bar Hagi is amazing. I love Japanese izakayas because they have such a wide variety of options; no matter what mood you’re in or what you’re craving, they probably have something here for you. The pan fried octopus balls are soft and chewy, the yellowtail collar is huge and fatty, the chicken meatballs are tender and flavorful…I can go on and on. This is where I go for comfort food in NYC.
  2. Ichiza (LV) – Did I mention how much I love izakayas? I think Ichiza is memorable to me because it makes me realize how the best things may be right under your nose and you’d never know it. I mean, I have been to Vegas so many times and I can’t help but think of how many crappy meals could have been replaced if only I had known about Ichiza. If only I had known!
  3. Joan’s on 3rd (LA) – Joan’s is not quite a hole in the wall but it is casual fare that is worth noting. I dropped by to pick up some lunch to go and I remember vividly, sitting in my car and thinking “Oh, I’ll just have a pickle while I wait at this red light.” That tiny nibble turned into “I MUST GET TO MY DESTINATION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE” because it was then I discovered that everything at Joan’s on 3rd is freaking fantastic. It’s hard to explain how its sandwiches and salads are exponentially better than other ones I’ve tried but please – trust me here – they are.

One Bite and I’m Yours

(This had to be mentioned somewhere.)

  1. Marea (NYC) – Uni + lardo = food porn. (If I didn’t include this dish in this post, there’d have to be something wrong with me.)
  2. Momofuku Ssam Bar (NYC) – I may have been skeptical of Momofuku Ssam Bar but its kimchi fuji apples were 100% solid. David Chang did good with this one…
  3. Wafels and Dinges (NYC) – One word: Spekuloos. ‘Nuff said.

I Can’t Live Without

(The man – no, god! – of fish tacos. Ricky himself.)

  1. Ricky’s Fish Tacos (LA) – With Ricky’s, we’re not talking about the best fish taco I’ve had this year or the best fish taco I’ve had in LA. No, we’re talking about the best fish taco I’ve ever had IN LIFE. Ricky’s redefined fish tacos for me, and I’m a better person because of it.

The Restaurant That Needed Its Own Category

(Seriously, where else?)

  1. Petrossian (LA) – I don’t think there will ever be another year when I will consume as much caviar as I have this year. I essentially went to Petrossian every other month, going a total of 6 times during 2010 (and I’m pissed that that’s far less than Danny of Kung Food Panda‘s count). I mean, considering how slow I am at writing reviews (and you know how slow I am at writing reviews!), I have three reviews for Petrossian posted on The Food Ledger. THREE!  If that doesn’t say it all, then I don’t know what else to say.

Almost…But Not Quite

  1. AOC (LA) – I’ve wanted to go here ever since I started seriously fooding in 2007 but I didn’t get to go until a week before I moved to NYC. And now I’m beating myself up for not trying it sooner…if only I had gone earlier…
  2. Pure Thai Cookhouse (NYC) – I love Pure Thai Cookhouse so much, their pork and crab dry noodles were the first thing I ate in 2011.
  3. Wurstkuche (LA) – There were a couple months where, every weekend, my friends and I would go to Wurstkuche for a sausage, a beer and some fries. If you go, just remember: The rattlesnake and rabbit sausages are the best thing on their menu. Seriously. Rattlesnake and rabbit. You’ll be disappointed with anything else.
  4. Big Gay Ice Cream Truck (NYC) – I live in the same city as the BGICT!…I can’t wait for the summer.
  5. Cream Pan (OC) – The azuki cream pans are airy puffs of deliciousness. Are they worth a trek to the OC? Just maybe…

———-

In conclusion, it’s been good 2010 but it’s time to start talking about 2011 now…

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

The Dining Room (Pasadena, CA) – Let the Pictures Speak for Themselves

August 8, 2010

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m always behind on my fine dining reviews. ALWAYS. My stomach is more ambitious than my mind – More often than not, I end up ordering the most extravagant tasting menu at a restaurant, go home, look at my pictures, realize I have to write a review individually addressing 10+ dishes, and then get completely overwhelmed. I tell myself I’ll do it tomorrow…Or the day after…Or the day after…

…2+ months later, I finally get to writing it. I mean, I always get to it sooner or later. Most of the time, it’s just later. Much later.

This meal, however, I can’t even PRETEND I’m going to write a review.
I just can’t.
I think it’s physically impossible.
(Well, impossible for me. Not impossible for kevinEats, but that’s another story.)

There’s just too much to squeeze into one post. If I tried, I would consider the resulting review to be an insult to the food and the experience, both of which were incomparable. So I’m just going to write a quick intro and let the pictures speak for themselves.

———-

(Picture taken by Kevin of kevinEats.)

When Kevin of kevinEats invited me to join him, Ryan of Epicuryan and some of their friends to dine at at The Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena on Michael Voltaggio’s last night, I didn’t have to think twice – I immediately said yes. I had tasted Voltaggio’s food before – his sampling at Breadbar’s Hatchi was one of my top 3 meals in 2009 – and I was not going to miss this opportunity.

With the night of the dinner being Voltaggio’s last night there and with The Dining Room itself under renovation until October 2010, my first meal at The Dining Room was to be my last there. Thus, it only made sense to go big: In honor of Voltaggio’s last night, we ate the entire menu.

All 22 courses of it.

Amuse Bouche: Gougère with Caviar Cream, Tomato Pâte De Fruit With Basil and Sea Salt

Course 1: Octopus, Buttered Popcorn, Piquillo Confetti, Cilantro

Course 2: Soft Shell Crab, Scrambled Corn, Old Bay, Vanilla-Crab Jus

Course 3: Japanese Kampachi, Jamon Iberico, Sea Sponge, Grapefruit, Crispy Rice

Course 4: Vegetables of the Season, Burrata, Nori Butter, Coffee-Cardamom “Soil”

Course 5: Foie Gras Frito, Black Sesame, Pickled Blueberries, Basil

Course 6: Foie Gras Terrine, Strawberry-Yuzu, Arugula Cake, Minus 8 Vinegar

Course 7: Halibut Cheeks, Red Curry, Coconut Rice, Baby Leeks

Course 8: Pacific Cod, Asparagus, Bonito, Marcona Almond Milk

Course 9: Arctic Char, Green Pea Tapioca, Black Olive, Porcini Chicharrón

Course 10: Salt Baked Turbot, a Jus of Itself, Summer Vegetables Roasted in Hay

Course 11: Veal Sweetbreads Tempura, Kale, Buttermilk, Mustard, Potato Puree

Course 12: Pastrami Pigeon, Swiss Cheese, Sauerkraut, Rye

Course 13: Kurobuta Pork Belly, Bok Choy “Kim Chi”, Sweet Potato Preserves, Peanut Butter Powder

Course 14: Jameson Farm Lamb, Fresh Chickpeas, Flavors of Hummus, Yogurt

Course 15: Four Story Hills Farm Suckling Pig, Banana Polenta, Chanterelles, Cipollini, Red Onion

Course 16: Beef Cheeks, Porcini Mushroom, Cannelé, Garlic Froth

Course 17: Wagyu Short Rib, Potato Confit, Nantes Carrot, Bone Marrow, Coconut Soubise

Course 18: Japanese Kuroge Rib Cap, Fried Béarnaise, Young Turnips, Bordelaise

Pre-Dessert: Peach and Yogurt “Dippin’ Dots”

Course 19: Baba Au Rhum, Textures of Coconut and Pineapple, Compressed Mango

Course 20: Chocolate Caramel Ganache, Chocolate Sorbet, Salty Hazelnut Praline, Cocoa Tuile

Course 21: Lavender Flower Macaroon, Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Vanilla-Passion Sorbet, Floral Cotton Candy

Course 22: Carrot Cake, Carrot Sorbet, Yuzu Curd, Cream Cheese Snow

The Dining Room (at the Langham) – CLOSED
1401 S Oak Knoll Ave
Pasadena, CA 91106
(626) 568-3900
Website: http://pasadena.langhamhotels.com
Twitter: @TheDiningRoom

The Dining Room (at the Langham) on Urbanspoon