Terakawa Ramen’s namesake dish is a decent lower midtown ramen option

Terakawa Ramen's Terakawa Ramen

Terakawa Ramen’s namesake dish is pretty good for not being from Ippudo, Totto or Hide-Chan.

I didn’t realize until a few days ago that there was a viable ramen option for lunch near my new place of work. Terakawa Ramen, located at 18 Lexington Avenue right on the border between Kips Bay to the north and the Gramercy Park neighborhood to the south — only a couple blocks east of Madison Square Park and its perpetually long Shake Shack line — might not be pretty, but its cooks serve up a pretty decent bowl of noodles ‘n’ broth.

This was actually my second visit to Terakawa — my friend and I dropped in on a particularly rainy March evening during my job search, but it slipped my mind that this had been right after I interviewed with the company I ended up working for. I recall my first impression being pretty much the same: decent food with a middling decor.

To be fair, though, I don’t care much how a restaurant looks except when I’m on a romantic night out with my wife or visiting somewhere like Las Vegas or Walt Disney World where the level of immersion into a theme is a core part of the overall experience. If I’m going to a ramen restaurant, I’m there for only one reason — a tasty bowl of noodles — and Terakawa delivers on that aspect. Their namesake dish offers up the noodles topped with sliced pork, bamboo shoots, red ginger, kikurage mushrooms, scallions, and a soft boiled egg in a traditional tonkotsu pork bone based broth that’s a tad on the salty side.

Terakawa’s food isn’t on par with the culinary creations from the “big three” — Ippudo, Totto and Hide-Chan — but it’s right up there in the “silver tier” of the ramen places in Manhattan that I’ve personally tried… and I don’t have to wait an hour or more on line just to get in.

Add some heat to that breakfast bagel

When you work at a company with lots of employees you’re bound to pick up some interesting new perspectives on a lot of things especially food. Not even 15 minutes ago I observed a coworker of mine squirting a zigzag of sriracha across the cream cheese spread atop his bagel. I made some sort of expression of surprise that caught his attention, and he told me that he too was intrigued when he saw one of his teammates performing this breakfast preparation ritual only a few minutes prior so he decided to give it a shot.

I suppose curiosity is contagious because I immediately grabbed one of our bottles of sriracha and decorated the bagel I had just smeared with Philadelphia with some of the hot stuff. The result is pretty darned tasty: the sriracha adds a bit of a kick, but the bulk of the heat is offset by the cream cheese so you end up with a nice little zing without much of the burn (for those who are Scoville adverse).

Fage Fruyo Greek yogurt blended with strawberry

Fruyo blended Greek yogurt by Fage

I prefer the taste of Fage’s Fruyo blended yogurt to that of Fage Total.

Commonly known for their popular fruit-on-the-bottom Greek yogurt varieties, Fage has now entered the blended yogurt market with their new Fruyo line of yogurts with a selection of flavors including strawberry, peach and pineapple.

Each variety features good sized chunks of fruit swimming in a base yogurt that has already been mixed with accents of the fruit flavor for a really delicious eating experience. The yogurt itself is really creamy even though it has 0% total fat, and that sharp tang that typically highlights every cup of Fage Total is not insignificantly toned down in this line of yogurts — a good thing, in my opinion, which is why I prefer Fruyo to Fage’s other products.

What really surprised me is that I found this at my local ShopRite rather than at the Whole Foods Market: I would have expected Whole Foods to spearhead the introduction of something like this so good for ShopRite on taking the lead here.

Wherever you happen to find Fage Fruyo blended yogurts, I highly recommend that you try them out. These are must-buys that have seized a place near the top of my favorite yogurts list.

Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner

Chinese New Year's Eve 2013 home cooked family dinner: the full spread

The full spread including lobster, fish, shrimp, duck, beef, pork, squid, chicken, veggies, fungi, and carbs!

At the center of any major holiday we Chinese celebrate is the food, and the Lunar New Year is by far the biggest holiday on the Chinese calendar with the festivities going on for more than two weeks, so it should be no surprise that the home cooked dinners during this time tend to be the most elaborate with the family chefs including “special” ingredients like lobster, squid and duck.

With the aunts, uncles and cousins I spent a lot of time with growing up now dispersed in far off and exotic locales like Florida, California and Las Vegas, Chinese New Year meals with my folks (traditionally, Chinese New Year is spent with the husband’s side of the family) tend to be smaller affairs, but this year my parents took a trip to the homeland so we spent the holiday weekend with my wife’s family. That meant a lot more food since we celebrated over the course of two nights with her parents, her two brothers and their wives, her sister and brother-in-law, two of her aunts, her uncle, her cousin and cousin-in-law, five nieces, and four nephews. “We” refers to my wife, our two sons and I for a grand total of 26 people, most of whom were at all three dinners.

On the menu the first night (Chinese New Year’s Eve):

  • lobster smothered in horseradish and steamed in a light broth
  • a whole fish steamed in soy sauce with chopped scallions and ginger
  • stir fried squid, shrimp, snow peas and wood ear (an edible fungus also commonly called cloud ear)
  • simple steamed chicken (a Chinese holiday meal staple)
  • beef and broccoli (a reliable favorite)
  • mei fun stir fried with Chinese vegetables and dried baby shrimp
  • “char siu” pork
  • crispy roasted pork
  • beef from the belly stewed in a savory, salty sauce
  • a whole roasted duck
  • sweet Chinese pork sausage cooked with pig stomach, intestines and tongue
  • sea cucumbers stir fried with oysters, mushrooms, iceberg lettuce and scallions

 

Maple Hill Creamery Organic Vanilla Creamline Yogurt

Maple Hill Creamery's organic vanilla creamline yogurt

I decided to have a “yogurt night” at my local Whole Foods Market after two weekend dinners that were not nearly as healthy as they should have been.

After a great taste experience with Whole Foods’ own 365 brand of Greek yogurt — specifically a cup of their pineapple variety — I unfortunately had a less than pleasant time with Maple Hill Creamery’s organic vanilla creamline yogurt.

I had seen the brand at a few Whole Foods locations, but I never bothered trying their products before because they don’t offer Greek yogurt which I almost exclusively eat since it packs more protein with less fat and sugar than “normal” yogurt. This one cup of Maple Hill delivers 13% of your daily fat and 26% of your daily saturated fat! To their credit, the sugar content isn’t horrible at 16 grams although I wonder where that sugar went because this yogurt is sour with no sweetness I could taste.

I tasted no vanilla flavor, and I certainly didn’t taste anything that could even pretend to be sweet. The yogurt tastes like they mixed in some pure lemon juice just for the heck of it. The sourness is overpowering here.

The consistency is a bit thin as well. I’m used to the heartier thickness of Greek yogurt, but even your standard Dannon or Yoplait fare has more body than this stuff.

The yogurt is gluten free so if those with gluten allergies can stomach the sourness this could be a good snack option, but this wasn’t a great first impression for me, and I don’t think I’m interested in trying any other flavors to be quite honest.

Whole Foods’ 365 Greek Yogurt with Pineapple

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I decided to hit my local Whole Foods Market for dinner tonight with the intent of eating just yogurt since I ate less than optimally healthy fare this weekend two dinners in a row.

I ended up with a cup of Whole Foods’ own 365 Everyday Value® brand of Greek yogurt with pineapple which turned out to be quite an enjoyable taste experience. The yogurt itself has a medium (and pleasant) level of tartness — it’s there, and while you can certainly notice it, it’s not overly strong.

In fact, the more noticeable sourness arrived after I dug up the pineapple from the bottom, but even then the high levels of sweetness balanced it out in that really pleasant sweet ‘n’ sour equilibrium that pineapple is well known for.

As far as texture goes, the yogurt was very creamy and quite smooth much like Fage and Oikos’ yogurt. I tend to prefer the heartier chunkiness of Chobani’s product, but I really dug the overall deliciousness of the 365 offering. Whole Foods comes through on this one!

Have a delicious lunch at Ajisen Ramen at Queens Crossing in Flushing, New York

The Ajisen Deluxe Ramen dish is one of many delicious menu items offered at Ajisen Ramen in the food court at Queens Crossing in Flushing, New York.

Ajisen’s namesake ramen dish: Ajisen Deluxe Ramen

I’ve long had the misconception that authentic ramen was just the “homemade” original version of the 25-cent instant noodles so many college students live on.

It didn’t help that all of the Korean delis near my office basically rip open a bag of said instant noodles to use as the base for their “authentic” ramen soups. Even one specialty place I went to many years ago had noodles that mirrored the very wavy form typical of the noodles sold by Maruchan and their competitors.

Beef Sukiyaki Ramen at Ajisen Ramen in the Queens Crossing food court

Beef Sukiyaki Ramen at Ajisen Ramen

That’s not the case with the ramen on the menu at Ajisen Ramen at the Queens Crossing center in downtown Flushing, Queens, New York where they serve a dozen and a half varieties of the popular dish.

Ajisen has been at Queens Crossing since it opened years ago, but for some reason I can’t fathom I just never tried their food… a problem I rectified last weekend while visiting family in Flushing for the celebration of Chinese New Year.

I wanted to try something relatively “safe” since this was my first foray into Ajisen’s menu so being a fan of beef I went with one of only two offerings that included it — I ordered the Beef Sukiyaki Ramen (number 7). At $9.25 it’s one of the pricier ramen dishes, but in my opinion it’s well worth the price since the bowl is filled to the brim with strips of tender beef, a generous portion of ramen noodles (heartier noodles than the thinner, wavy noodles in the $0.25 bags sold at Chinese supermarkets), bean sprouts, a brined and hard boiled egg, some seaweed, and plenty of chopped scallions.

Ramen noodles in the Beef Sukiyaki Ramen dish at Ajisen Ramen in the Queens Crossing food court in Flushing, New York

Authentic ramen noodles look more like Chinese lo mein than the pale, wavy strands found in cheap bags of instant noodles.

The “white broth” is especially tasty. The recipe is based on the traditional techniques used by establishments that specialize in tonkotsu ramen in which pork bones and fat are simmered for hours to extract all the delicious pork flavor and create a cloudy soup with a creamy consistency.

Fair warning, though: Ajisen is a “fast food chain” sort of ramen shop. As with practically any chain restaurant there’s going to be some corner cut somewhere, and in the case of Ajisen it’s in the broth which is — shocker — not actually boiled for the dozens of hours it would take for a truly authentic and outstanding tonkotsu broth but rather reconstituted from a concentrate that is made from broth that was cooked using the traditional methods at Ajisen’s home base in Japan. At least that’s what the company claims, and I’m willing to take them on their word for that since the soup tastes exponentially better than the chemical-laden potables you’ll get from the instant stuff.

At the very least I enjoyed the meal enough that I went back the very next day to try another one of their dishes, their namesake Ajisen Deluxe Ramen which included the same peripheral ingredients but featured slices of pork chop along with a massive chunk of nice fatty pork rib — it tastes a lot better than it sounds, but I prefer the Beef Sukiyaki.

Ronnybrook yogurt: for the yogurt lover who wants to drink their yogurt

It’s always a nice surprise for me when I find a new yogurt brand, but it’s a particularly great day to discover two that I’ve never seen before which is what happened the other day when I was in the Whole Foods Market near the World Trade Center.

The first one I tried, Maia “Greek style” yogurt, didn’t really sit well with me. I wish I could say that I loved the other, a regular yogurt (strawberry variety) by Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, but alas it didn’t really thrill me… although I enjoyed the yogurt quite a bit more than I did Maia’s offering.

I’ve had some of Ronnybrook’s dairy products before. The Whole Foods locations in New York City and northeast New Jersey carry their delicious and creamy whole milk in glass bottles, and their retail location in Chelsea Market serves killer milkshakes.

However, their yogurt just didn’t wow me mainly because of the thin consistency. The package describes the product as a “creamline” yogurt so as expected the top “layer” has a whipped cream like, soft set consistency. Underneath, however, the body thinned out to the point of being fairly watery making the yogurt seem more like something that you’d drink rather than scoop with a spoon. In fact, it just dripped right off my spoon with ease so I ended up just chugging most of the yogurt straight from the cup.

There’s a market for “drinkable yogurts”, but since I’m not really a fan of those it would have been nice if the labeling had warned me. I’m sure it would have been a nice little surprise for someone who more immensely enjoys partaking in these more liquid like products, though.

The overall taste was pretty good. The yogurt, which was already blended with the strawberry ingredients, was a bit on the sour side for me at first, but I later found the little well of strawberry purée hidden at the bottom of the cup which was sweet enough to alleviate that issue.

Ronnybrook strawberry creamline yogurt isn’t a bad product at all… it’s just not really in line with what I’m looking for in a yogurt so I’m inclined to just stick with my favorites.

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Not a fan of Maia “Greek style” yogurt

Maia's vanilla flavored "Greek style" yogurt

It’s vanilla flavored… not that I could taste it over the intense sourness of this “Greek style” yogurt which, with its firm body, is more like a cheese.

I found myself at the Whole Foods Market way downtown in New York near the World Trade Center the other day and of course had to check out the dairy section to see if there were any Greek yogurts that my local Whole Foods at home didn’t stock.

As luck would have it, I found two brands of yogurt that I had not seen before so I was forced to try both. Hands were tied.

First up was a brand called Maia which I had never heard of. The cup advertises the product as a “Greek style” yogurt which perhaps should have been a red flag or at the very least a yellow flag. I’m still trying to figure out what corners would have to be cut for a yogurt to be “Greek style” instead of full blown Greek yogurt.

In any case, I ended up trying the vanilla flavored variety: no strawberry available to my chagrin. It probably didn’t matter, though, since I could barely taste the flavor over the incredible level of sourness.

This wasn’t a pleasant tartness like in Chobani or Oikos yogurt nor was it an interesting, acquirable tang like siggi’s offers. No, eating Maia’s yogurt was like sucking on a lemon… an unpleasantly sour one… just very sharp overall.

That combined with the very solid body — the yogurt was firm and set quite like siggi’s 2% skyr — gave the illusion of eating a soured up, spoiled cream cheese. This wasn’t a culinary experience I’d ever care to repeat, which is unfortunate given the admirable goals and values upon which the company was founded (and for those alone I would encourage anyone who might be more inclined to favor very sour yogurts to try a cup in support of the company’s efforts).

Lobsters, crabs and more for an early New Year dinner in Chinatown

Crabs steamed with sticky rice in lotus leaves at Sunshine Seafood Restaurant in Manhattan Chinatown

Crabs (we already finished one) steamed with sticky rice in lotus leaves

Every year before Chinese New Year my brother-in-law treats his employees (and all of us) to a celebratory dinner at the Sunshine Seafood Restaurant on Bowery Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown. The filling meal always includes popular Chinese banquet staples like lobsters stir fried in a ginger and scallion sauce, crispy fried chicken (which looks nothing like KFC or Popeye’s) and battered shrimp with broccoli and honeyed walnuts in a sweet, creamy mayonnaise based sauce.

Four stir fried lobsters in a ginger and scallion sauce at Sunshine Seafood Restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown

Four lobsters stir fried in a ginger and scallion sauce is a tough act to follow

He’ll also order a few steaks pan fried Chinese style (not nearly as good as a properly broiled or outdoor grilled steak but still very tasty), at least one fried rice or noodle dish for the benefit of the kids and ABC’s like me — this year he went with a rice dish that included fried eggs, bacon, crab meat and dried scallops — and some vegetables.

He has also taken a liking to a superb dish that consists of twin Dungeness (I think) crabs atop a hearty bed of sticky, glutinous rice (which soaks up the juices from the crab meat and eggs) all wrapped up in a giant lotus leaf and steamed to perfection. Absolutely amazing.

Then, we close out the meal with the traditional two-pronged attack of sweet red bean soup with tapioca and juicy sliced oranges. No fortune cookies here.

We just got back from this year’s dinner which was a nice way to end a busy day. I definitely ate more carbs than I should have, but I’m not gonna sweat it too much considering this is something that happens only once a year… and I’m already anticipating next year’s spread!