Category Archives: Lower East Side

Hoppy!

Sakamai | Hoppy
Hoppy Happy Hour @ Sakamai
157 Ludlow St. (across from Pianos)
New York, NY 10002

Sakamai | HoppyTo continue the Sakamai love, a couple weeks ago, Sakamai graciously invited me to a party they were hosting for Hoppy, a Japanese beer-like drink that just launched in the US.  The party was super interesting … unlike any party I had ever been to! There were small bites (by Sakamai’s Executive Chef, Akiyama-san) and drinks paired with performances by a Japanese comic storyteller and a traditional enka singer (?!). How many of you have been to a party like this? #blogperks

Sakamai | Hoppy
Hoppy tastes like a light, sweet-ish wheat beer (my kind of beer) though is technically not a beer because it doesn’t have purines… not really sure what that means but apparently purines are super unhealthy (can cause metabolic diseases like gout?!) and exist in all beer (watch out, America – beer bellies aren’t the only side effects from beer). It’s low carb and low cal and often spiked with shochu, making it much stronger than it seems. I’m excited for the day NYC’s bros go to bars and scream “HOPPY!!!!!!!!” to the bartenders when they order rounds of Hoppy for their fellow bros. Gotta love the name (at one point we all cheered “HOPPY!” at the party – it was amazing.)

Sakamai | Hoppy
The food we had was delicious. If you ever find yourself hosting a fancy party with a budget and need hors d’oeuvres (yup, had to google the spelling for that one), skip the usual catering and beg Sakamai to cater for you (I have no idea if they even offer this service). The bite sized food we were served were all delicious. This here is a chicken meatball. Continue reading Hoppy!

Sakamai’s new brunch menu is BOMB

Sakamai
Sakamai
157 Ludlow St. (across from Pianos)
New York, NY 10002

NEW BRUNCH PLACE TO ADD TO THE ROTATION!!!!! If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s waiting in line for generic eggs benny’s or pancakes at an overhyped “boozy brunch” place, which is for some reason all the craze in NYC. I have higher standards for my brunch (#snob #jk) and want something more special if I’m going out for brunch than something I can whip up in my kitchen. Some of my favorites are Soba-ya, Shabu-Tatsu, and Prune – if you need an eggs benny). Even just based on that list, you can tell I have a soft spot for Japanese brunch food…

Sakamai Sakamai is a modern izakaya (aka. a Japanese bar that serves food) and sake bar. This month, they just launched a new brunch menu which showcases great Japanese dishes intertwined with some Hawaiian (ie. spam) ingredients and Western flair (aka. fusion but I hate that word). Natalie, one of the owners (who is Japanese-Hawaiian and studied architecture in college like me! :D), graciously invited me to sample their brunch menu this past weekend. I took LAW as my guest (duh) and tried a number of amazing things.

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I sometimes get invited to these things and I ALWAYS disclose it. I also always keep my reviews unbiased (even though my meal is comped) because my blog would be worth nothing if I pandered to anyone who gave me free food. Most of these comped meals end up being pretty mediocre (hence they need bloggers like me to help them advertise – I won’t name names, but if you go through the blog you’ll know which ones I’m talking about) but in this case, I lucked out cause… the food was truly awesome.

Sakamai
We started with a couple drinks. I got the Flying Squirrel, which is a cocktail made with coldbrew coffee, walnut liqueur, and coconut cream. It was a delicious alcoholic iced coffee. Coffee itself was high quality and the walnut liqueur added some sweetness and nuttiness. Really great brunch cocktail, especially if you’re tired of the usual bloody mary and mimosa. We also got to try two of their housemade “Shrub” beverages: watermelon and celery-apple. Both drinks were carbonated and, oddly, clear (wonder how they make it). The drinks were very light and refreshing. A good alternative to juice.

Sakamai
We started with the Cha Soba Salad ($15) with green tea soba and sesame soy dressing. It. Was. Awesome. All these different kinds of greens (sprouts, cabbage?, seaweed, corn, tomato, avocado, sesame seeds, some kind of root, AND SO MUCH MORE) sit on top of a bed of green tea soba. The dressing is very light so allows all the natural flavors of the fresh ingredients shine through. The sesame oil just adds an extra bit of umami to make the salad really addicting. So effing good. Definitely a must order when you come (when, not if).

Sakamai
As our first “main,” we shared the Loco Moco ($16), which is a kimchi fried rice served with a hamburger bun and sunny side up egg. The rice and patty are doused in a dashi soy gravy. If you’re looking for a hearty (post-hangover cure perhaps?) brunch dish, this should be your pick. Continue reading Sakamai’s new brunch menu is BOMB

Cocoron – Where Hearty Meets Healthy

Cocoron
Cocoron
61 Delancey St
(between Eldridge St & Allen St)
New York, NY 10002

It’s been snowing for hours. It’s cold. I’ve had too much greasy food lately so ramen is out of the question. I could have hot pot… OR I could have soba. Hot soba. Soba is very difficult to make (unlike ramen or udon), which is why bad soba is SO bad. Bad soba is usually very grainy and brittle. Cocoron’s soba is smooth, stretchy, and has a slightly roasted buckwheat flavor.

Too bad I’m really just reliving my hot soba moment through writing this blog post, because there is no way in hell I’m trekking to LES for this right now. But if you’re in the area, you should check out Cocoron. I blogged about it a long time ago, and it still remains one of my favorite little noodle shops in the city.

Cocoron
The kitchen takes up a good half of the entire restaurant and is bordered with a bar. There are maybe four other tables and that’s it. Tiny, cozy little place.

Cocoron
I always ask to sit at the bar when there is one because I love watching the kitchen action. There’s always so much going on. Like, that saucepan that is about to slip off and fall to the ground, spilling all the precious broth in great dramatic fashion. Continue reading Cocoron – Where Hearty Meets Healthy

SakaMai for Tabelog’s Blogger Event!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASakaMai
157 Ludlow St
(between Stanton St & Rivington St)
New York, NY 10002

As some of you may know, I was invited to be a judge for Tabelog, a Japanese restaurant review site that is huge in Japan and just starting to make its mark here. The reviews and ratings are generated by aggregating information from the top X amount of bloggers in a given area. The ratings are therefore meant to be more legit. “For Foodies By Foodies” is the idea. I wonder if the reviews will be lower or higher than average Yelp reviews… food bloggers are definitely more critical than the average Joe, which makes me think reviews will be harsher on Tabelog. On the other hand, bloggers also are more likely to be friends with folks in the restaurant business or be invited to blogger events, after which they are almost required to give higher ratings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor example, Tabelog hosted a blogger meet and greet at SakaMai, a newish Japanese restaurant in LES that opened earlier this year. The entire restaurant was taken out for this private, excluuuuuusive event. I felt pretty boss rolling in with my plus one, Y.N., getting handed a fresh deck of business cards Tabelog graciously made for all of us, and having my photo taken like a celebrity. Okay, my head may have been in the clouds at this point, but I really felt great having my blog be recognized and found!

But back to my point. SakaMai provided us with an open bar of all kinds of sake, wine, beer, and cocktails, along with seven dishes to sample (or stuff your face with if you’re me…). As I am writing this, I feel pressure to give all praise to SakaMai because Tabelog paid for my gluttony that night. But I assure you, dearest readers, I will not. I will only be telling the truth because ultimately, I want my blog to be truthful and helpful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADish 1: Carrot Puree with dashi gelee and summer truffle. The puree was naturally sweet from the carrot. Dashi is a simple broth or stock that typically serves as the base for miso soup. It’s meant to be fragrant and light, which is probably why I didn’t taste it. The carrot puree was quite strong and overpowered any other flavors. Summer truffle was beautiful to look at but also overpowered by the carrot. Continue reading SakaMai for Tabelog’s Blogger Event!

Comfort Found in Meatballs: The Meatball Shop

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeatball Shop
170 Bedford Ave
(between 8th St & 7th St)
Brooklyn, NY 11211

I hope you’ve been here already by now. There really is no excuse. It’s cheap. It’s hip. It’s healthy and unhealthy as you want it to be. I’ve blogged about The Meatball Shop before, but my old camera didn’t do it justice. If you’re looking to spend less than $15 for delicious, unpretentious, hearty food, The Meatball Shop should be on the top of your list.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe menu is sort of confusing if it’s your first time. There are five types of meatballs (beef, spicy pork, chicken, veggie, and special-of-the-day), six sauces (tomato, spicy meat, mushroom, parm. cream, pesto, and special-of-the-day), and essentially four ways to eat them:

  1. Plain with sauce and bread (four meatballs per serving, $7)
  2. As sliders (one meatball per slider, $3)
  3. In a sandwich of some sort (two to three meatballs per serving, $9-$10)
  4. Over a bed of whatever vegetables the chef feels like giving you (three meatballs per serving $10)

There are also sides that you can pair your balls with, such as spaghetti, roasted greens, risotto, etc. These sides can go under your balls of next to your balls. You can mix and match as you like. That’s pretty much it. Continue reading Comfort Found in Meatballs: The Meatball Shop

Yunnan Kitchen: decently tasty but also pretentious

Yunnan Kitchen
79 Clinton St
(between Rivington St & Delancey St)
New York, NY 10002

I’m not completely against non-traditional Chinese food. I love Baohaus, especially their fried chicken bao and fried fish coffin bao, which are both not traditional Chinese dishes. I also love Mission Chinese, a hip little modern Chinese place that even has a kale salad. That has got to be the least Chinese thing ever. But I still love it. ‘Cause they do it right. It’s hip in the right ways. They have crispy pig ears (totally Chinese) and use Old Bay seasoning (totally not Chinese). Danny Bowien experiments with all kinds of Eastern and Western flavors and brings them together in exciting, unpretentious ways.

Yunnan Kitchen, on the other hand, pretends to be traditional but also wants to be hip and pretentious. The space is occupied by mostly non-Asians (no offense) and the menu encourages sharing “delicious small plates.” Nuh uh. Chinese people don’t share small plates. We share big plates. Pet peeve of mine. Pictured above is the Cold Noodles ($12) with ground pork, pickled mustard greens, cilantro, and peanuts. This is a pretty classic dish – spicy, sweet, and nutty – but $12 is ridiculous for a tiny bowl of limp noodles. Check out Xi’an for some serious noodle damage.


We also shared the Beef Tartare ($13) with chili oil, green cabbage, and rice cracker. I liked the rice cracker and green cabbage combo but also felt like the portions were way too small for a $13 dish. The beef was lightly flavored. Nothing too memorable.


These Stir Fried Mushrooms ($11) with sawtooth herb, ham, and peppers was probably my favorite dish from the night. There were a number of different kinds of mushrooms sautéed with a smoked ham and spicy green peppers (green long horns?). My only suggestion to Yunnan Kitchen is to serve it on a sizzling cast iron plate. It smells so good, it deserves to come out crackling.  Continue reading Yunnan Kitchen: decently tasty but also pretentious

Freemans for Brunch

Freemans Restaurant
191 Chrystie St
(between Delancey St & Rivington St)
New York, NY 10002

Brunch is not just waking up too late on Sunday for breakfast but too early for lunch in NYC. Brunch is its own category of gastronomy here where people plan brunches weeks in advance. There’s the ladies-who-lunch, boozy-brunch, birthday-brunch, or any-occasion-brunch. Regardless of which it is, brunch is an activity that New Yorkers are willing to shell out the time and money for.

Freemans is a pretty classic NYC brunch place. Most people have heard of and have been to it. It’s tucked into a tiny alley that takes you away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The food is American comfort food. I’ve been here twice and my impressions both times were that they do all their food well. There’s nothing fancy or spectacular. The vibe is very much simple and rustic, just like how Gordon Ramsay would like it. Pictured here is the Skillet Eggs, Bacon, Spinach and Gruyere with buttered sourdough toast ($12) that I ordered. Portions are adequate, neither stingy nor doggy-bag worthy. My skillet eggs were runny and creamy, coating the bacon and spinach with a layer of yolky goodness.  Continue reading Freemans for Brunch

Mission Chinese – amazing Modern Chinese cuisine

Mission Chinese
154 Orchard St
(between Stanton St & Rivington St)
New York, NY 10002

Wow. This is some legit modern Chinese food. I hate pan-Asian and in general, hate it when people try to mess with authentic Chinese cuisine. American Chinese food is only good when Panda Express makes it because they at least don’t pretend to be something they’re not. I would call Mission Chinese modern Sichuan cuisine. The dishes certainly diverge from the traditional but it does so in the best way possible: keeping the essence of the traditional while adding something new to make the dish bigger, better, faster, stronger. This is probably the goal of pan-Asian but pan-Asian tends to just sweeten everything too much, add too much grease, and cater to people who don’t know what the original is like. Mission Chinese seems to cater to people who know what Sichuan food actually is and want to push the boundaries further. It’s like an inside joke that you would only understand if you’re already well-versed in Sichuan food.


I started the meal with an Oolong Hai ($10), which was simply oolong tea, lemon, and soju. It was a deliciously simple cocktail that was definitely made with some well-brewed oolong tea. It was probably made extra strong to compensate for the inevitable watering-down-of-tea from the ice because the tea tasted strong and penetrated the soju from beginning to end of drink. It was only very slightly sweet, which tasted more like the floral accents from the tea rather than from any sugar or honey, though I’m sure they had to add something.


We ordered a variety of cold appetizers: Beer Brined Sichuan Pickles (napa cabbage, carrot, chili oil, sichuan pepper) , Beijing Vinegar Peanuts (smoked garlic, anise, rock sugar), and Smashed Cucumbers (salted chili, sesame paste, garlic) ($4 each). $4 is quite expensive for the tiny portions of dishes that, in my opinion, could be/should be complimentary (like Korean banchan). They were not incredibly special but the fact that they even had Sichuan Pickles and Beijing Vinegar Peanuts made me excited. I had not had them since I was in China. Truth be told, they weren’t authentic and these appetizers definitely lacked in quality. I quickly forgot about them once the hot dishes came. Continue reading Mission Chinese – amazing Modern Chinese cuisine

Barrio Chino, a Mexican restaurant in Chinatown.

Barrio Chino
253 Broome St
(between Ludlow St & Orchard St)
New York, NY 10002

I finally made it to Barrio Chino.  LAW doesn’t like Mexican food very much and since he is my primary dining date, I had yet to venture out to this very well-known Mexican restaurant situated right on the edge of Chinatown.  There’s also always a long line so there was even less incentive to go.  Anyway, I finally made it on a girls’ night out (+T.G.).

Started out with a round of margaritas.  I got the grapefruit margarita with a rim of sugar… apparently their most popular drink.  It was a good margarita, but lacked grapefruit taste.  I was imagining a deliciously cold sweet and tart tequila drink with hints of grapefruit bitterness… but just got the sweet and tart bit instead.  I would have had another round if I wasn’t biking home from dinner.

We shared the Guacamole with homemade tortilla chips and salsa roja ($10).  M.B. pushed my expectations way high when she said that we had to get it because it was some of the best guac she’s had.  She’s from California, where avocados are in season all year round, so she definitely knows her stuff.  The guac was creamy, yes, and very good.  But I think avocados are naturally just so awesome that I can’t say I’ve ever had bad guac before… it requires little more than mashing and some light ingredients.  The best guac is definitely the kind you make for yourself because you add as much salt, pepper, lime, and chilies as you like… This guac was not spicy enough for my taste and could have used a bit more lime.  But honestly, any ripe avocado makes me salivate.  $10 for a small bowl was also a bit pricey.  If you are willing to pay for overpriced guac, check out Rosa Mexicano.  They have a highly customizable guac appetizer that is deeelicious.

I had the Camarones Borrachos, which was a plate of fresh shrimp sauteed in tequila, guajillo chiles, and garlic, with green rice, avocado slices, and tortillas ($12).  The first thing I noticed was that the rice wasn’t really green.  Green rice, or arroz verde, is rice dish made with long grain rice, parsley, and steamed spinach leaves.  I’ve never had it so was excited to try what I envisioned to be a flavorful rice.  However, it tasted pretty plain, which after having the shrimp, I was happy about.  The sauce was tasty and had a nice kick to it from the chiles.  It was a little too salty, which is why the plain rice and tortillas were welcomed.  I was bummed that the shrimp was overcooked… overcooked seafood is one of my biggest pet peeves.  A couple seconds too long on the heat and the shrimp or fish is completely un-salvageable.  Seafood should be fresh, sweet, and only lightly seasoned to enhance its own flavors.  Not chewy, tough, and doused in sauce. Continue reading Barrio Chino, a Mexican restaurant in Chinatown.

Clinton St. Baking Company – not so good the third time.


Clinton St. Baking Company
4 Clinton St
(between Avenue B & Houston St)
New York, NY 10002

 

I’ve already briefly reviewed this place and like most people who have tried this place, I raved about it.  I’d like to caveat that the last time I visited Clinton St. Baking Company, I had more or less just moved to NYC and had yet to try the myriad of brunch places around.  And gollyyyyyy does NYC have a LOT of brunch places.  This time around, CSBC was not so yummy, particularly compared to a place like Prune.  Also, if you plan on checking out CSBC on a weekend, be prepared to wait 2 hours.  I would say that is the standard… I’ve been told that some have waited even longer during peak hours, which are from 10-2pm.  I recently went again on a weekday with a few out-of-towners* and only had to wait about 45 minutes…

 

They are most well-known for their pancakes, and I’d have to say, they probably do have some of the best pancakes in the city.

They are fluffy and thick (not the crepe-like kind) and have that nice glazed exterior from a heavily buttered pan.  Don’t be fooled by the syrupy looking blueberries… They taste very fresh and are not too sweet at all.  For those of us with a stronger sweet tooth, the pancakes are served with a warm maple butter that is seriously delicious.   I don’t even like pancakes that much but felt that these were worth ordering and probably the only thing worth ordering.  We were all savory-dish types so we ordered the pancakes to share – something I would definitely suggest as I could never eat an entire order.

Continue reading Clinton St. Baking Company – not so good the third time.