Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Tag Archives: breakfast

New York City 2012: Absolute Bagels

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I hadn’t physically spoken to anyone in two days. Not even after settling into Morningside Heights. In fact, especially after settling into Morningside Heights. It’s quiet here in the evenings. I also have a bad throat. On a normal day – when the stars are aligned – I’m a sociable, chatty person with a wicked sense of humour (pfft), that hopefully translates into my writing.

Anyway, this morning, I popped into Absolute Bagels, joined the snaking queue that went out the door, and uttered my first words of the day: “Everything bagel, toasted, smoked salmon and cream cheese. Oh, and coffee please. With milk. No sugar.” I happened to forget that if what you’re ordering isn’t listed on the menu, it’ll probably bump up the price, and it did. Mine was apparently a Nova Bagel (price listed beside the cash register, only when you’re about to pay up), and as with all cosmic, cataclysmic explosions, my wallet got nuked with $8.50 thereabouts. I did see some stars in my vision.

Absolute Bagels is probably the cheapest and best bagel joint in the Morningside Heights borough – if you stick to the cream cheeses and tofu spreads. Those go for around $3.80. Coffee is $1.00 or so.

Most people do a quick grab and go, some buying as many as a dozen bagels at a time with a tub of cream cheese spread. Bagels over the Christmas lull perhaps? I was settled into my corner table, facing the kitchen, noticing only vaguely that the line that had spilled outside had started twisting around the store.  It moves fast, even if it never really shortens. The kitchen is a well-oiled production line, with batches of fresh bagels being hauled out of a steaming metal cauldron and into the oven every fifteen minutes or so. The total time it takes for a kitchen staff to deftly slice a bagel in two quick cuts, schlop a dollop of cream cheese on, and wrap it all up averages at one minute. I would know. I was seated there pretty long in my early morning haze.

My bagel itself was perfect, lighter and smaller than the mammoth ones at Brooklyn Bagels, crisp on the outside with a slight chew. This is, on a very fundamental level, an awesome bagel. The fillings, on the other hand, were sparse to say the least. I’ll probably get a cheaper cinnamon raisin bagel with strawberry cream cheese next time. Nova Bagel aside, the length and persistance of Absolute Bagel’s queue speaks for itself.

For now, all I can say is that the stars are aligning, and if my throat is willing, I’ll be speaking more too.

Absolute Bagels 

Address: 2788 Broadway, New York NY 10025

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Tokyo, Japan 2011-12: Toritsune Shizendou – The Holy Grail of Oyakodons

 

There are worse things in life than a writer’s block – physical pain, for instance.

But while I am sure that physically throwing myself at a wall (repeatedly) would feel infinitely more excruciating than the mental equivalent of encountering the dreaded writer’s block, life sucks anyway.

Clearly I’m not going to be able to spit out a beatific ode to Dario Cecchini, butcher extraodinaire, and the gorgeous Italian meats we had in Chianti anytime soon, so I better kick start my other posts lest I crumble in self-pity and shrivel up in a corner.

Where were we? Right, Japan.

I know that it has been about eight months, but let’s rewind to the start of the year, the fourth of January in Tokyo, where shops and restaurants still threatened to remain closed from the New Year festivities. It was a time of great uncertainty, and the fear that Toritsune Shizendou would be closed was very, very real.

Their Oyakodon was highly praised by The Dirty Stall, and he had all but ordered me to find it because it was that good. He also ordered me to traipse all over Tokyo in search of other things, like Toriki, but I suppose it should suffice that I even managed to find Toritsune Shizendou.

The girls and I did find it, going around buildings in the morning chill, slipping through a deserted alley and stopping outside its shuttered door. Amidst worrying about the possibility of it opening, a Japanese businessman calmly strode up to the door, and stood with his hands in his pockets, staring straight ahead at the wooden sliding door, unmoving, and resolute in stance. That was as good an indication as we could get. We also, obviously, got sniped from being the first customers.

While we were the second customers through the door on the dot at 11am, the restaurant very quickly filled up, first with the locals, and then with a handful of other tourists, walking in bleary eyed and having to wait in line.

The menu is entirely in Japanese, but we knew that we wanted the Tokujo Oyakodon (¥1,600), a large bowl of rice topped with an omelette with chicken strips and the runniest eggs of a blinding, vibrant orange. I am not adept at Japanese, unfortunately, so for a better description of the other dishes, this blogger does a thorough job of it. By ‘thorough’, I really mean Eaten-Every-Single-Thing-On-The-Menu-Because-I-Can.

We weren’t seated at the counter, but the tiny table in our quiet corner yielded an excellent view of the chef at work, effortlessly handling at least three individual pans of omelette at a time on high flame, cracking eggs and lightly whipping them up before sliding it deftly into a bowlful of rice and serving.

What you get from the moment your bowl is set down in front of you is a moist omelette of chicken, scallions, sweet dashi, soy sauce, and gorgeous eggs with their yolks literally running all over the place, soaking into the rice, staining it a bright, oozy orange. It took about five seconds of revered silence on my part as I watched the yolks trickle out before face-diving in all my glory.

The eggs are what make this dish. I’m not sure what chickens they came from, but I’m guessing they must have been very happy chickens. Those eggs are a wonder of nature. To be reasonable, I don’t doubt that there is someplace else with oyakodon so sublime that will top this. I’m not certain, but all I’m saying is that there may be. In the spectrum of things, there are such leeways, but whatever the case, this is the best oyakodon – a shining example of a humble dish done well – I’ve ever had.

Take my advice and googlemap/googleman the address, just so it’s easier to find.

 Address:

鳥つね自然洞 (Toritsune Shizendou)
5-5-2, Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku

Hong Kong 2011: Wai Kee Congee Shop – Best You Tiao

The thing about Hong Kong is, unless you’re hitting the Michelin-starred restaurants and fine-dining establishments, you’re hardly likely to exhaust your wallet. A bowl of congee costs around 10HKD, which is less than $3SGD. The bottom-line is, you can happily drown yourself in a vat of congee and still have enough moolah for all the you tiaos to accompany your wanton gluttony.

Take Wai Kee Congee Shop for example (I actually didn’t know what it was called in English, and kept referring it to the Last You Tiao You Should Eat Before You Die shop). Enter any congee shop in Hong Kong and you can be sure to get velvety, smooth, and very tasty porridge for any meal. The yao jak guai (you tiao/ dough fritters) at Wai Kee however, may induce the kind of rabid addiction enough to grab the shelves of glistening golden dough fritters and make a break for it.

Wai Kee Congee Shop is located at the end of Stanley Street, and it took me a good 10 minutes of walking back and forth in front of the shop trying to discern if this flourescent-lit, slightly shabby-looking eatery was really it.

But we were hungry, we entered anyway, and struck jackpot.

Read more of this post

Hatched

Hatched

I do plenty of silly things now and then, and lately, I’ve run out of excuses for the mindless things I’ve done.  It’s like there’s some missing link between my thought processes that my brain just skips without realising.

I have no excuse for dining at an egg-inspired all-breakfast place and not ordering anything to do with eggs.

Really. Don’t bother waiting for my explanation because I have none.

I wasn’t thinking. (Haven’t been doing that for a while, and…wait, is that considered an excuse? Shrugs.)

So I returned to Hatched to redeem myself. Read more of this post

Cafe Hacienda

 

Cafe Hacienda

 

In a direct one-eighty to the Choupinette post I put up a while back, I’m embarrassed (well, a little) to admit that yes, I’ve been brunch-ing far more frequently than I would normally and that I will now openly declare that I’m brunching as opposed to just having a late breakfast. It sends a chill up my spine that I realise that I don’t think I can return to that normalcy. I’m afraid, very afraid.

The thrill of finding an awesome brunch place now supercedes the steady thinning of my wallet.

Well almost.

See, the novelty of doing something unconventional (like having brunch dishes at 4pm, brunch-ing on a weekday before class, playing with Google Man to find brunch places..) will never wear out as long as this idea of brunch is still shiny and new to me.

And as long as I keep chancing across gems like Cafe Hacienda, nestled in the lush foliage of Dempsey Hill, all peaceful and warm and blissful and cozy and empty during weekdays and with killer Eggs Benedict…

I’m saying tata to breakfasts and lunches.

 

Interior

 

All-day breakfast and brunch places are sprouting up all over the island, and while Café Hacienda’s brunch and breakfast spread of waffles, egg dishes and pastries aren’t going to win an award for variety, it is much appreciated and admirable that they make up for the lack by executing the few that they have to offer fantastically. Now that’s reliability – doing one thing right and well each time without fail, namely, their Eggs Benedict.  Read more of this post

Blueberry Pancakes

Blueberry Pancakes

 

I’m not one for fancy breakfasts. 

More often than not, breakfast for me is just a small bowl of cereal or muesli with unsweetened soy milk, and some days it’ll be a slice of bread smeared with light Laughing Cow cheese and a sprinkle of cracked black pepper. Other times I wake up just in time for lunch and there’s no breakfast to speak of – something that I’m sure most of you would be familiar with. 

This is not to say, however, that I cannot make fancy breakfasts. I just don’t do them for myself. I get lazy, like most people, and all I want to do when I wake up is to grab a bite and collapse on the sofa to watch Ellen dance on the telly. That’s my idea of a therapeutic morning. 

Also, there’s no demand for pancakes in my home. No one gets excited or requests or even wakes up in time the days that I make some and I’m not letting anyone eat cold pancakes. Gross. 

But when I have a greedy girl staying the night at my place for an emergency before-school-slumber-party, she must be fed till she stops being all pout-y and puppy-eyed and tugging on my arm for food. Even then, I still got a solid kick during the night. Such are the agonies of friendships. Read more of this post