Category Archives: Dinner

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.

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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

 

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!

Panera’s Fuji Apple Chicken Salad

Panera Bread's Fuji Apple Chicken Salad

Fuji Apple Chicken Salad: chicken, romaine, field greens, tomatoes, red onions, pecans, Gorgonzola, and Fuji apple chips

My co-worker and I go to the Panera Bread on 5th Avenue in Manhattan near Bryant Park almost every day for lunch. It’s gotten so that a few of the cashiers there know my typical lunch order by heart (You Pick 2: Chopped Chicken Cobb with Avocado Salad and Sonoma Chicken Stew), and my co-worker was shocked when someone stole the Foursquare mayorship from me.

He’s also fairly consistent in what he orders for lunch there — he swears by the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad (with a different soup each time) so I decided to try it out for dinner at the Panera location near my house to taste for myself what he raves about.

My verdict after having tried this particular salad is that while it tastes pretty great, it’s personally not one that I could eat on a more frequent basis.

There isn’t any sort of “hint” of apple flavor in this salad — we’re talking full blown, in your face apple flavor from not just the mountain of dried Fuji apple chips sitting atop the chicken breast, romaine lettuce, field greens, tomatoes, red onions, pecans, and Gorgonzola crumbles but also the balsamic Fuji apple vinaigrette they douse all those ingredients in. Make no mistake about it: this is one sweet salad!

That’s not to say that it’s not a delicious salad — it’s really more about my love-hate relationship with apples (I have a relatively mild allergic reaction to many varieties of apples with Fujis being one of the few exceptions) and my overall aversion to sweeter salads (I’m more of a savory salad type of guy) that makes this particular entree a little bit of a challenge.

However, seeing as how most of the the ingredients blend together pretty well — the mild sweetness of the apple chips works quite nicely with the nutty flavor of the pecans and the sharp accent of the red onions to complement the savory goodness of the chicken and Gorgonzola — I think this could work for me if I requested that they reduce the amount of dressing… or even eliminate the vinaigrette altogether.

Despite my own taste preferences I have no qualms about recommending this to other Panera patrons, especially those with a love for Fuji apples, as it really is a flavorful salad with some great ingredients.

Panera’s Chopped Steak and Bleu Cheese Salad

Panera's Steak & Bleu Cheese Chopped Salad

Sirloin, Gorgonzola, tomatoes & French fried onions… all the ingredients for a tasty meal

I love beef.

Whether it’s a juicy hamburger hot off the grill on the Fourth of July, a perfectly broiled ribeye steak still sizzling on the plate or a plump meatball on top of spaghetti all covered with cheese, beef has always been a central part of my diet.

Sure, I’ve had to cut back on red meat in the past few months, but I still vastly prefer the taste of good ol’ 100% all-American, USDA grade A beef to a piece of poultry.

That’s why it was a bit of a surprise to me that I wasn’t thrilled with Panera’s Chopped Steak and Bleu Cheese Salad, which I tried for the first time last night for dinner. It’s one of their Premium Signature menu items so I went in expecting something that would blow me away as much as the Chopped Chicken Cobb with Avocado Salad or the Steak & White Cheddar Panini did.

Don’t get me wrong. The salad tastes good and is packed with tender slices of beef that have been cooked just enough — nice and pink in the middle like any good piece of roasted beef should be — so it’s certainly not the quality of the ingredients.

There’s just something about this particular combination of tastes that just didn’t dazzle me. Or maybe it’s just beef steak in salad in general… honestly, it’s not something I’m used to so that may have been a factor. Or perhaps it’s just that the Chopped Chicken Cobb with Avocado Salad is so damn perfect that this one simply couldn’t compare and was running a losing race from the get-go.

Whatever the reason it’s just not something that I would choose ahead of my fave 9 times out of 10. I certainly wouldn’t have any qualms about recommending it to anyone who loves beef like I do… just don’t try the Cobb salad first.

Panera Bread’s Chopped Chicken Cobb with Avocado Salad is a perfect everyday lunch

Panera's Chopped Chicken Cobb Avocado Salad

Romaine lettuce, grilled chicken, avocado, eggs, Gorgonzola, bacon, and herb vinaigrette = delicious

I wasn’t a fan of avocado or avocado-based foods like guacamole for most of my life, but Panera Bread’s delectable Chopped Chicken Cobb with Avocado Salad made me a believer.

It’s one of Panera’s Premium Signature selections which means it’s on the higher end of their menu’s price spectrum, but it’s well worth the asking price.

The salad features romaine lettuce tossed with meaty slices of grilled chicken, chunks of creamy avocado, diced hard boiled eggs, Gorgonzola cheese, bacon, and herb vinaigrette dressing.

The chicken breast is never dry — a result I can’t consistently produce myself when I cook chicken — and the avocado is always very creamy (I need to find out where they buy theirs because the ones I get from the market tend to be a bit firmer).

I could do with more hard boiled egg (I love eggs) and less Gorgonzola (which tastes good but has a sometimes overpowering flavor), and I would suggest asking them to go a tad lighter on the dressing since they tend to slather the salad in dressing.

As it stands, though, the Chopped Chicken Cobb with Avocado Salad is a delicious and pretty nutritious lunch time option for a reasonable price. It’s my favorite item on Panera’s menu, and I’ve had it for lunch almost every day since they opened a location near my office in Manhattan last year.

I credit them for offering this and other tasty choices that made it surprisingly easy for me personally to transition into a healthier, Type 2 Diabetes friendly diet!