As usual we ate well this week but there were definitely a few culinary standouts this past week:
1. Totto Ramen – I went to this new ramen spot last Wednesday for lunch with Minori of katsu curry fame. She read about it in a Japanese language newspaper and said it was along the lines of Ippudo in terms of quality. Well, it wasn’t. It was way better in my opinion and had a way better vibe. Don’t get me wrong, I thought Ippudo was good, but it was too much of a scene. In contrast, the scene at Totto was more about people hungrily slurping up noodles at the counter as the two cooks ladled the steaming broth on the springy noodles and periodically flashed pork belly with a blow torch to give it a smokey flavor. Minori and I both got the spicy pork ramen (regular spicy with a hard-boiled egg for Minori and extreme spicy with no egg for me). According to Minori (Totto’s logo with its stylized chicken in a bowl design is also a tip off) the broth at Totto is chicken based. And when I first tasted it it had a very clean but intense chicken-ness. I don’t know how many chickens went into it but their collective sacrifice was well worth it as far as I’m concerned. But after stirring the bowl of ramen with it’s pork belly and scallions and a healthy dose of the chilis and chili oil, the broth became richer and deeper in color and flavor and … well was just completely satisfying. The noodles had a nice snap and the pork belly char siu was sumptuous in its fattiness. The only regret I had was not bringing a breath mint for afterwards as chili/ garlic/ pork is not the most pleasant flavor to have lingering in your mouth when you’re checking out the pillars of abstract expressionism at MOMA. So my verdict: a resounding thumbs up.
2. Diwali Dinner – To commemorate the Hindu festival of lights and ring in the new year, Shefali and I hosted a Diwali potluck. Shef cooked up some of her specialties: chicken curry and an egg curry (for the vegetarians – good thing they ate eggs) and her always delicious palak paneer (my personal favorite). I took the opportunity to cook up some lamb vindaloo. I like any excuse to do a lamb stew with ample chiles, spice and the added acidity of a little vinegar. Those flavors meld so well with slow cooked lamb. And our wonderful friends brought other delicious dishes. Minori and Kei, again displaying their panko frying prowess brought croquettes (sweet potato and cream cheese as well as potato and carrot). Roompa and Dildar brought a rich and complex Indian style butternut squash soup. Hetal brought baigan burtha. Shikha made raita and fried up miniature samosas. Alka brought ice cream that she made: the best chai ice cream I’ve had in my life. All in all, a wonderful way to eat our way into the new year.
3. Tanoreen Restaurant – To celebrate Shef’s birthday I decided to go big and treat her to a nice dinner. We didn’t go to PerSe, or Babbo, or Momofuku Ko. Instead, we took the R train deeper into Brooklyn to a neighborhood called Bay Ridge to a reasonable Middle Eastern Restaurant called Tanoreen. Yeah, I guess I’m a really great husband. We’d read about it in the New Yorker several months ago so we were interested in trying it for a while. As we walked up to the entrance, we passed several people who had just left the restaurant toting take out bags. A good sign. Upon entering we saw a bunch of reviews from the Village Voice, to Zagats to Time Out New York. Perhaps we were a bit late in the game in “discovering” this place. Oh well. From the boisterous crowd inside laughing and drinking as they waited for the massive entrees it was evident that mainstream recognition had not ruined this place. Remembering the doggy bags that the other patrons were carrying, we ordered consertatively (I thought at the time). We got three appetizers and one entree to share. The apps were huge: mosakhan – a large flat bread heaped with caramelized onions and spicy savory chicken, sujok – tart and smokey sausage in a tangy red chile sauce (my mouth is watering as I write this), and lamb kibbi – basically lamb and wheat bulgar mixed together and than stuffed with more ground lamb! What is not to love about this food? By the time our entree of roasted eggplant with potatoes, tomatoes and more ground lamb arrived we were so stuffed that we each took a bite (ok, in my case two) and then asked the waiter to pack the rest of it to take home. But even on a full stomach the entree was delicious, at once comforting because of it’s slow cooked, roasted flavor, but enlivening because of the intensity of the blended flavors. The only thing that didn’t quite appeal to my palate was the dessert: knafeh. According to the waiter, this dessert had just been profiled on some Food Network show about some of the best dishes people have ever eaten. It consists of layers of shredded wheat toasted to crispness and drizzled with sugary syrup and covered with pistachios. That sounds delicious right there. But in between the layers of the shredded wheat was a layer of thick melted cheese. We had read the description of the dessert and knew there would be cheese, but we thought it would be more like the texture of ricotta as in a cannoli or cheesecake. This cheese had the texture of melted mozzarella as well as the greasiness. Now don’t get me wrong. The first bite was absolutely delicious and decadent, the hot cheese, mingling well with the sweet toasted wheat. But after that, as the dessert cooled… well, it was just too cheesy. It was like eating a slice of pizza with syrup on it. Also did I mention? We were full to the brim, which might have influenced our desire and ability to eat dessert. But all in all, I highly recommend Tanoreen and will definitely go back. And I’m probably not the only one. Our waiter informed us that Tanoreen was just awarded it’s first Michelin star. Looks like more folks will be making the trek to Bay Ridge.