Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ramen at Chuko

When I went to Chuko in Prospect Heights, I was really in need for some good ramen. The setting was all right: I was going with good friends, the weather was cold and dreary with a weird snow mist thing going on, and I had just finished with a long, loonnnngg day of work.

Thank goodness Chuko lived up to the hype, is all I can say.

First of all, I rarely find that the service at restaurants influences my dining experience that much, but our server was so enthusiastic and helpful, that it truly enhanced my whole meal. She was very knowledgeable about all the dishes, and was so eager to make recommendations and express her enthusiasm about the food, that I was excited before I even began eating! So I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to her, since I always respect when a server stands so strongly behind the establishment they work for and the food it serves.

Thanks to helpful Yelpers, I started off my meal with the fried brussel sprouts. Oh man, were these addictive! A heaping pile of quick-fried brussel sprouts, they were crispy on the edges and tender to the bite. The sprouts were doused with fish sauce and showered with chopped peanuts and chilies, rendering them tangy and salty and hot all at once.

Next came the main event. After much deliberation, I went with the white miso ramen with turnip pieces, a soft-boiled egg (although you have the option of hard-boiled), and pork slices (chicken is also an option). And of course, oodles of noodles.

The broth was mild but very well-balanced in flavor, and adding a heap of their homemade hot garlic oil (literally boiling scallion oil poured over garlic slices. It's amazing and addictive) added depth through its smokiness and, of course, garlic umami. Breaking open the egg and swirling the yolk brought a rich creaminess to the ramen.

And the noodles? They did exactly what they were supposed to: they had the perfect amount of bite, and gave me a great excuse to slurp my way through the dish. The pork slices were a welcome salty treat, and added a chewy yet tender, and intensely flavorful element to the velvety ramen. And the turnips were the most surprising ingredient of all! I was skeptical of turnips in my ramen, but the pieces were super tender and sweet. I think they were actually my favorite part of the dish.

Overall, Chuko not only provided the ultimate in comfort foods, but it was also such a learning experience for me, since up until now my only venture with ramen has been of the packaged, dehydrated variety. I had no idea that ramen could be made up of so many flavors and textures, all harmoniously converging into one bowl of heaven. Kudos to Chuko for making one hell of a ramen. My only other parting word is this: mmmm....

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Brunch! Tartinery and The Smith

A couple weekends ago, I spent wayyy too much money, but was rewarded with amazing meals, particularly in the brunch arena. First of all, there was the Tartine I got at Tartinery in Nolita. A Tartine is a French open-faced sandwich, and it is fantastic. At Tartinery, you can choose to have any of their traditional or creative topping combinations on Poilane bread which is imported from the  Germain-des-Pres bakery in Paris. Sound awesome? Well, it is. The bread is sliced thin, yet still manages to be hearty with a rustic texture, and is sturdy enough to support a generous helping of quality ingredients. 

I decided to stick to traditional French cuisine, and got the Ratatouille Tartine: oven-roasted peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and eggplant. The melty goat cheese on top lent a rich and tangy note to the vegetable-laden toast. The Tartine was accompanied by a delicate salad of romaine hearts with walnuts and really delicious, salty parmesan shavings. The whole meal was simple and done right, reminiscent of a quaint Parisian bistro. Although it was a bit pricey, it was worth it to diverge from traditional brunch food. Plus I felt like I was getting my money's worth, since it is clear that Tartinery takes pride in their ingredients and over-all presentation. 

And now let's go all-American at The Smith!! Oh my goodness, I only have great things to say about this place. Where Tartinery left me comfortably satisfied, The Smith, in appropriate American fashion, left me unable to move for a good ten minutes, and unbelievably satiated. I got the Country Breakfast, and substituted the ham steak for their homemade maple chicken sausage, which was probably the best decision ever. Besides the tasty sausage patties, which were smothered in rich gravy, the dish was comprised of cheddar jalepeno grits, melt-in-your-mouth scrambled eggs, and a buttery biscuit that was bigger than the palm of my hand. But don't worry, I still managed to eat it all. 

The walls of The Smith are plastered with black and white pictures and portraits from the early nineteenth century, connecting the diner even more with the food they're eating and the rich history behind it. Just being there, eating my biscuit, put me in the best mood, which is all you can really ask for at brunch. And so, when what I want is fantastic American fare, to The Smith I shall go. 

On a less romantic note, I can't wait to try their dinner after seeing a picture of their mac and cheese just now on their website... I may have to very know, for the blog. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Meme Mediterranean

This post marks a new era in my blog. Up until now, I have written long, romanticized posts; paragraphs filled to the brim with adjectives describing each food morsel that entered my mouth. I may still do this from time to time, as I am overcome with emotion from a recent food experience. But more often than not, my life moves very fast, and I want to be able to document my life through food on the go. I've found that I have too many great food adventures to write an ode to each one. And so, with that said, let's get on with it!

To welcome back my blog from the abyss, I want to start by highlighting Meme Mediterranean, aka my new favorite restaurant. I've now been there several times, each time better than the last. Memes is a tiny place in the West Village that is so clearly based on Moroccan home cooking that I feel as though my food was actually prepared by the owner's grandmother. The owner himself takes such pride in the food, as he walks around offering free samplings to the diners, that you feel like family, and his joy is contagious.

Each meal begins with a platter of marinated olives, pickled vegetables, and pieces of yummy olive bread, with fruity olive oil for dipping. I have discovered a delicious wine calling Tempranillo that warms me all over and seems to compliment everything I eat at Memes. It's not too full-bodied, but it's also not lacking in flavor.

I always start with their salad of red leaf and romain lettuces with roasted butternut squash, grilled Halumi cheese, and pumpkin seeds. Halumi cheese, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a cheese sturdy enough to be grilled while keeping its shape and firm texture. It's crispy, salty and DELICIOUS, while the butternut squash offers a sweet and creamy compliment to the cheese and crunchy seeds.

Another must at this restaurant: the merguez sausage. Merguez sausage is made from lamb, and Meme's merguez is so incredibly flavorful that it overwhelms the senses. Seriously, I didn't even know sausage could taste like this. The spices are so warming, with a slight spicy aftertaste, leaving you wanting more and more. With the creamy hummus and fluffy pita, it's literally a perfect combination of textures and tastes. 

Meme's piece de resistance: their chicken tagine. A big, warming stew of delicious broth and couscous with chicken that is falling off the bone. Apricots, raisins, spicy carrots and slivered almonds add such depth to the dish that you will spend the entire time trying to figure out what your favorite element of the dish is. Here's a hint: just close your eyes and take deep breaths, and the magic of the dish will transport you to the farm where their paprika is sun-dried and ground, overseen by Meme herself. Coming from someone who is usually a skeptic of the fruit and chicken combo, I am telling you to try this dish and you too will become a believer in Meme.