Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Tag Archives: salmon

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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Koh Grill & Sushi Bar – Eye on the Maki

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Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

I am alive and well, much to the disappointment of many, I’m sure.

This writer’s block of mine, however, I have underestimated. I had likened it to passing a brick out my behind, among other unsavoury metaphors, and have woefully declared to all unfortunate enough to listen to my rants that I’d much rather endure physical pain. My friends have gotten the brunt of my frustration.  They still love me though, I hope.

I realise I need to start small. So this is me, attempting (once again) to sit myself down on my metaphorical ceramic throne, and do the deed. It’s a small consolation for me if you happen to find this hilarious. It turns out that I’m still capable of entertaining.

Over the past few months, I have been frequenting Koh Grill & Sushi Bar at Wisma Atria. It’s a gem of a place within Food Republic. A friend had insisted that I needed to try this, and that, in spite of knowing of my sky-high benchmark for Japanese food,  she was still willing to place a huge bet on this place. Well, thank you Joyce. You have ruined me.

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It’s impossible to dine at Koh Grill & Sushi Bar without ordering the Shiok Maki ($16.80 – first picture). This maki is not to be trifled with. Make fun of its name only once, and never again after you’ve eaten it. It has been named appropriately.

Its core is stuffed with unagi and avocado, and then wrapped in a thin layer of rice, draped in thick slices of salmon, drizzled with mayo, and blowtorched to a sizzling marvel. I have not come across another maki with all my favourite ingredients. Admittedly, I could do without the mayo, but that mound of tobiko (flying fish roe) is almost too good to be true, and I suspect that they must have very chummy ties with their suppliers. There can’t be any other possible explanation for being that generous! I’ve thought very deeply about it.

This is a maki that has been thoughtfully created and balanced with much textural deliciousness. It’s crunchy, gooey, moist, and incredibly flavourful. I have brought many friends along for a meal there, and I have seen them being reduced to slobbering messes in front of me.

Contrary to its name, the Crappy Maki ($18.00 – second picture) is another wonder. It’s stuffed with crispy soft shell crab, crunchy seaweed, topped with layers of swordfish belly, and finished with the mandatory shower of roe. The Pi Tan Maki ($15.00 – not pictured) is another crowd-pleaser, and if the thought of century egg sauce makes you cringe, then all I can say is…well, get over yourself and eat it. Take my word for it.

There are plenty of other dishes on the menu, but due credit must be given to what I think are the rockstars in this sold-out concert. It’s obvious that the makis have been lovingly crafted and contemplated on in both the flavour and textural departments. I adore such attention to food.

I also wanted to keep this a secret. There may well be a death warrant hanging over my head by now, but it’s helping the brick on its way out.

Koh Grill & Sushi Bar

Address: 435 Orchard Road, #04-21 Wisma Atria Shopping Centre

Tel: 91803805

Tokyo, Japan 2011-12: Sushi Zanmai

24-hour chain restaurants are deigned to be viewed with no less disdain as mass-produced pink slime.

Such places don’t seem to possess any redeeming factors. You don’t need intricate knowledge of the restaurant industry to know that the food will have been sitting limp and listless since morning, and that ‘freshness’ can – at best – only be something of a foreign concept, a level simply unattainable by chain standards.

But as with all things normally distributed, you will have the outliers, the daredevils, the reality-benders – those that are allotted the tiniest of probabilities of ever being good, but are. They exist, says statistics.

Sushi Zanmai is possibly the only 24-hour, 365-days a year sushi restaurant, with over 30 outlets scattered about.

The numbers alone inspire cynicism in me the likes of no other. But as luck would have it, I knew nothing of their business, only that its name sounded vaguely familiar, and that we were beside ourselves with hunger at 10pm, on the verge of withering in the bitter cold, and that the warm lights past the restaurant glass front was salvation.

Sushi Zanmai proved that there is hope in life, if only in Japan. This calls for rejoicing.

The menu has both Japanese and English, and although there is a kaleidoscope of unfamiliar fish, as long as you can read Pictures, you’ll be well on your way ordering up a massive amount of sushi. Don’t bother with portion control. Unless your idea of portion control is multiple orders of ten sushi at a time, then you have my green light. Other than the main menu, there is a set menu on the side entirely in – no not Pictures – Japanese, for sets that span a range up till ¥3,000. But figuring out what each set has to offer is only a matter of matching the words to the pictures on the main menu. Child’s play, I say.

Sushi is not cheaper in Japan. Sorry to have to break it to you this way. Unlike how coffee in Italy, bread and cheese in France, dim sum and congee in Hong Kong are at least half the price and double the quality, dining in Japan is at a cost only slightly less expensive than Japanese restaurants here, but at an unbeatable quality.

I had the ¥2,500 (around S$40) set of 12 nigiri that came with a bowl of miso soup. Every piece of nigiri, with the exception of the lacklustre sea urchin and rubbery herring roe, was beautifully draped atop the rice and fresh.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have the sneaking suspicion that the waters around Japan have mystical properties, ancient mumbo jumbo happening below the surface, producing not merely fish, but creatures of the culinary Atlantis. It’s easy to forget that you’re eating seafood.

The girls got themselves heaps of maguro (tuna), shake (salmon), ika (squid), hamachi (yellowtail), and waved a waitress over for another round because, much to their own surprise, they absolutely adored the tuna. While clearly not from premium maguro (usually coloured a vibrant ruby), it tasted very clean.

So yes, while I will still keep my reservations on dubious-looking 24-hour chain restaurants, Sushi Zanmai has cleared my radar with an exceptional score. I should emphasize though, that its winning element lies in how much bang for your buck you get – at any time of the day.

Although the original outlet is located at Tsukiji, the one we stumbled into was in Asakusa, where we were staying. It’s safe to assume that the Tsukiji outlet is trustworthy, but there are plenty of other outlets as listed on their website 

Sushi Zanmai

Address: Sushi Zanmai, 4-11-9 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku

+81 (0) 3 3541 1117; open daily, 24 hours.

artichoke cafe + bar: Brunch!

It was about time that I popped by Artichoke again. It’s the rainy season, and the last I remembered, I left my umbrella at the restaurant. That was last November. I’ve gotten drenched more times than I care to remember since then.

No, I’m only joking. I missed the place, and going Food Geek-y chatting with Bjorn. I have been meaning to drop by for brunch before heading off to the cows in Switzerland for my summer study. Perhaps then I’ll finally get round to putting up recipes again. Who knows?

The last time I was at Artichoke for dinner, Bjorn brought out an unassuming slice of toast with a dollop of his homemade labneh (yoghurt and double cream) and drippy chunks of peach jam – one of the new products of his tinkerings in the kitchen. It was sensational, and I all but declared that such a beauty should only be savoured with a cup of strong, bitter coffee. You know, the perfect pairing for a brunch dish and that whole jazz.

Crunchy toast and sweet, syrupy jam to mellow out the tangy bite of the labneh. This was an unnamed, mysterious concoction that surprisingly worked. This is comfort food.

And then this was introduced proper to the brunch menu under an equally unassuming name of Cheese & Jam Toast ($14.00), and served up with a couple of slices of freshly made pita bread, and a thick slice of toasted sourdough. It was great, although less tangy than what I previously tried. Hopefully it’ll regain its kick. It’s a unique combination. Try it.

This is the Brunch Special ($24), also known as Artichoke’s take on the Ploughman’s Platter, with chicken terrine, labneh on the side, eggplant jam, homemade pickled vegetables, green olives, and thick slices of sourdough. It’s one of those iconic English dishes, so you can imagine that I was rather surprised seeing this among Artichoke’s Moorish influences.

I tell you, the chicken terrine is fantastic. It’s a lot lighter than most terrines, flaky, and certainly not mushy. It is seasoned perfectly with a dash of some spices for a beautiful fragrance. This isn’t pâté though, so while you should schmear some on a slice of bread, it is not going to spread like butter, but add a small bit of that sweet eggplant jam (I tasted the caramelized onions more than eggplant, so haters needn’t worry) and you’re good to go. This is essentially a cold dish, so if you’re hankering for one of those belly-warming brunch dishes that’ll send you back to bed right after you wake, you might want to consider their ever-popular scrambled eggs (with sides of mushrooms and feta cheese, or maple-glazed bacon chop, or Moroccan sausage).

Or you could check out the Ful.

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Fish & Co. – xoxo Platter

The XOXO Platter for 2 ($39.95)

Now I’ll just stick true to my principles and not launch into an entirely unneeded spiel of an occasion that needs no further publicity and marketing than already given. Because we all know that.

I will, however, have to admit that the special menu offerings, exclusive set meals, mind-blowing degustation selections, and promotions that restaurants push when it comes to riding the wave of commercialism during times like these really do tempt the passive consumer. You don’t have to believe in such festivities to enjoy an extended menu. Well more’s always good! Just ignore the neon pink kissy kissy stuff. Simple!

About a couple of weeks ago, the folks at Fish & Co. must have gotten wind that I haven’t been there in a while (and also perhaps they heard that I’m like Grinch of Valentine’s Day and they wanted a chance at enlarging my heart and – maybe, just maybe – turning me from green to blinding pink) and so invited me down to sample their new xoxo Valentine’s Day Platter for 2. Read more of this post

Europe – Day 1 (Hello Bern!)

 
Bern Station

So what’s worse than 12 hours of ass-cramps, neck aches and a swollen bladder while trapped in a flying tin can? 12 hours of ass-cramps, neck aches and a swollen bladder while trapped in a flying tin can with a gassy seat-mate. How does anyone generate that much gas anyway? I will not accept answers regarding low air pressure and gas expansion. It can’t be that simple.     

Mommy and I arrived at Zurich airport past 8am and managed to limp past immigrations on our stiff legs to buy train tickets to Bern. Touchdown in Zurich and I’m already all set up and raring to start chomping my way across Europe, even if my queasy, jet-lagged stomach wasn’t quite ready just yet.   

Poppy Seed Pretzel

Poppy seeds are banned in Singapore because of their morphine content, says wikipedia, which answers a lot of my frustrations with trying to find any here. False positive tests for opiates or something or the other. Creepy. Although that would probably help to explain why the Europeans are happier than Singaporeans. They tasted like sesame seeds to me.      Read more of this post