Category Archives: Lunch

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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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.

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.

Love Greek yogurt? You might want to try skyr.

siggi's strawberry skyr

Do you like your strawberries really sour?

The incredible popularity of Greek yogurt in the United States has resulted in the introduction of some interesting similar foods from other countries that we otherwise may never have experienced. One such food is skyr, a dairy product from Iceland that is technically a cheese but offers many of the same characteristics that have made Greek yogurt so popular.

Like Greek yogurt, skyr is a relatively dense product packed with more protein, less sugar and very low milkfat content compared to traditional yogurt, but the degree of these differences really depends on which skyr you buy.

I’ve only tried — and seen, for that matter — two brands of skyr: siggi’s and skyr.is. The former has quite a following in the northeast especially in the Tri-State metropolitan area, being a New York-based artisan company with distribution that has expanded to the point of taking up space on shelves in Target’s grocery section! That’s actually where I first saw siggi’s products.

On the other hand, skyr.is is a relatively new product in the United States market with a more limited distribution to certain regions of the country through the Whole Foods chain. Unlike siggi’s offering, which is made in “upstate” Chenango County based on traditional family recipes from founder Siggi Hilmarsson, who set up shop in the region so he could source his product with milk from local family farms that feed their cows grass and don’t pump them full of growth hormones, skyr.is sells authentic Icelandic skyr actually produced in Iceland and imported to the U.S.

Skyr.is is by far the more accessible of the two brands with a consistency and tartness similar to Chobani. It really is quite delicious, but it’s a tad on the expensive side relative to the Greek yogurt brands and even siggi’s whose fans are now starting to benefit from the brand’s growing popularity: I have to pay almost $3 for a single cup of skyr.is at Whole Foods compared to the $2.20 I pay for siggi’s (which is even cheaper at Target at about $1.90 per cup).

Siggi’s is definitely more of an acquired taste with a biting tang that will probably take a lot of people by surprise. Siggi himself said that the reason he decided to make skyr was because the traditional yogurt in America was too sweet for his tastes, and his recipe uses absolutely no artificial sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose with only organic agave nectar, a low glycemic index natural sweetner great for us diabetics, to contribute sweetness (siggi’s has only a little more than half the carbs of skyr.is and less than half the sugar content).

The challenge is that the tartness of siggi’s is overwhelming such that it can be difficult to taste any other aspect of the skyr’s flavor. The strawberry variety tastes like really, really, really sour strawberries… at least I thought it did until I tried acai & mixed berry and then peach and realized that they kind of all taste the same to me because the flavors of the fruits are lost in the tang.

Nevertheless, the more I eat of siggi’s the more I like it despite my initial reactions. It’s not my favorite of the Greek yogurt “class” of foods, but I’m starting to grow accustomed to the whole other level of sour it offers so I’ll have a cup every so often to mix things up a bit… and it certainly helps that it’s probably one of the healthiest options in the category with the highest quality ingredients.

The only flavor I’ve tried that I haven’t been able to take is the orange & ginger which is just harsh: much respect to anyone who can finish one of those because I had to give up halfway through.

Vietnamese rice noodle soup at Kam Man supermarket

Vietnamese rice noodle soup with eye round beef

Hot and spicy… perfect on a cold winter day!

Despite being Chinese I’m not particularly fond of Chinese food for the most part so I’m rarely thrilled when we shop at Kam Man (“Golden Gate”), a branch of the Chinese supermarket chain located in East Hanover, New Jersey.

That said, there’s a great little food counter at the north end of the store (the section near the Home Depot in the same East Hanover Center plaza) called Miss Saigon Express that serves a number of Vietnamese dishes including rice noodle soups.

My favorite variety is their Rice Noodle Soup with Eye Round, a delicious mix of Vietnamese rice noodles, thinly sliced eye round beef, plenty of cilantro, chopped scallions, and sliced onions in a meaty broth. I ask for mine spicy, which I suspect means they just toss in some sriracha or chili garlic sauce since the soup comes out a bold red color instead of its normal light brown.

The soup actually isn’t terribly spicy, but it’s got enough kick that when served hot on a cold winter day (like we’ve been having on the East Coast lately) all your problems just melt away in a crimson flood of savory, noodley heaven.