Category: New York

King of Katsu (Katsuhama)

Katsuhama is a hidden gem just off the main tourist drag not to mention busy-as business strip, Fifth Avenue. It’s a Japanese restaurant that focuses on the golden panko-crumbed portions of food.

They have a small take away section also with but the best part is inside either near the sushi bar or at the many small tables. The menu is simple with different set menus or classic variations including katsu curry and katsu don(buri).

Our waiter, not Japanese, took our order without even writing down so we were sceptical about whether or not he would get it right. Almost immediately we were served a bowl of miso soup, I think, that was complimentary. Strangely I got a second bowl without even asking, I think because a waiter thought I wanted some more.

Assorted Katsu

Soon after we were done with the soup they soon brought out our meals, mine being the assorted katsu including a huge prawn, pork, chicken and a crab meat croquette. All of the fried items sat atop a small wire rack, alongside a large heap of cabbage that you dress with the sesame dressing that sits at the table. Complete with a small bowl of lovely Japanese white rice and the dark katsu sauce provides for a very filling meal.

Service was prompt with fresh green tea for free arriving immediately when we sat down. They also seemed to have plenty of excess salad with a waiter serving up a whole bunch more as soon as I had the last remnants in my mouth. I couldn’t even say no as he was too quick at plating it.

If you’re craving katsu, this is a great place and although slightly disappointed with the pork that was a little too dry, both the prawn and chicken kutlets were simply stunning!

Name: Katsu-hama
Location: 11 E 47th St, New York, NY 10017
Website: http://www.katsuhama.com/
The Good: Katsu perfection! What it does, it does well.
The Not So Good: Can be particularly crowded or crammed in.

Foods of New York: Chelsea Market

On my most recent trip to New York, I did the Foods of New York’s Chelsea Market/Meatpacking District tour. Last time, they impressed me with their Greenwich Village tour and although I thought this year’s one was decent, I think I preferred last year’s tour a little bit more. Perhaps it was the fact that our tour guide, though funny, wasn’t particularly memorable, or that a number of the places where we were supposed to visit were shut.

chelseamarket

We started off the tour at Eleni’s, a baking artisan specialising in hand decorated and edible cookies and cupcakes. They shut their store down just for us, so that they could serve us one of their hearty cranberry oatmeal cookies, definitely filling and delicious. They also had a special cookie, decorated in celebration of Obama winning the presedential election (picture courtesy of their website). One strange thing about their shop though is that you aren’t allowed to take photographs yet they still strangely put all their photos on their website.

elenisobamacookies

Our guide was funny, reasonable, and extremely hyper that made him pretty entertaining. He gave us some great tips, like eating the bar menu in the lounge of the extravagant Del Posto, or visiting the rooftop bar in the Hotel Gansevoort, a not very well known location with great views looking out to other parts of the city and a break from the night time intensity that the rest of the meat packing district can have.

chelseawinevault

We then headed into the Chelsea Wine Vault, whose large store front doesn’t even begin to do justice to their apparently several block large vaults where they store not only their own wine, but plenty of other people’s wines as well including numbers of famous restaurateurs, and chefs. I think you can even store your own wine there, should you happen to have that much. Unfortunately we didn’t get to taste any wine, instead heading to Ronny Brook Milk Bar to wash the cookie we had down with some of their rich, creamy chocolate milk.

chelseamarketwall

Our tour guide continued to point out many interesting facts and features of the building, previously owned by the Nabisco Biscuit Factory, and intentionally shaped afterwards to hold gourmet food places. We continued to walk around before stopping at Buon Italia, apparently one of the largest Italian grocery suppliers in New York. Our guide prepared a small platter of cured meats, a number of cheeses, olives and some breadsticks that we then helped ourselves to in very old fashioned picnic plate style. He cleaned up, leaving us to wander the store after which he then brought us to L’Arte Del Gelato where we had a tiny, tiny cone of gelato (I picked the passionfruit sorbet instead) where they focus on seasonal flavours including a weird (only in the US) pumpkin flavoured gelato.

Not too far from there, we ended up in the closed store of Chelsea Market Baskets (think of gift baskets or food hampers) where we had some British cheese, onion relish on a water cracker. Our guide also served us some finishing salts (those that don’t melt away the instant it touches any moisture) though I passed on tasting the smoked salt, pink salt and celery salt since I’m sure I already have too much sodium in my diet. Funnily enough, a lady besides us couldn’t get enough of it, constantly pouring herself a mound each time instead of the few crystals everyone else had.

moriomot

From there, we finished up our walking around the market with a cup of herbal tea from the T Salon, and some scones (they call biscuit) and jam from Sara Beth’s. After all this food, we then prepared ourselves to head outside of the warmth, into the lightly falling snow to see a guided tour around the rest of the meat packing district. We visited a number of places and significant buildings (like the basement bar of Morimoto’s pictured above), often just standing outside while the guide chatted about some strange aspect about the place. To make up for a number of the closed stores, he also took us into a friend’s B&B, a spectacularly well kept but old building showing us an interior of a place most visitors wouldn’t end up seeing the insides of.

The Chelsea Market/Meatpacking tour that Foods of New York offer is still much better than many other tours out there. I don’t think it quite beat out last year’s tour though for it is a fairly good investment considering it takes about four hours all up.

Sushi Samba in the Village

My cousin told us about Sushi Samba last time, a restaurant serving food inspired by Brazilian-Japanese fusions. Apparently we have something like this in London, though I’d never heard of it before and apparently the combination of flavours isn’t particularly common since many Japanese people moved to Brazil. We went along to the one located in Greenwich Village, a brightly lit room with a sushi bar located in the centre, radiating out to the tables lined up against the wall.

We sat at a table almost right next to the bar, a good vantage point for looking out at the rest of the restaurant. It wasn’t particularly busy for a weekday, and apparently they have a rooftop open in the summer, something that’s both ideal and no doubt completely packed out on warm summer weekends.

Rock Shrimp

I started with two appetisers, unable to resist the temptation of the tempura rock shrimp. My last memory of rock shrimp was at Nobu, and at Morimoto, both served tempura-style, then covered in a sweet, slightly tangy and slightly spicy chilli sauce and since rock shrimp seem to only be farmed off the coast of Maine, so I thought that while I was in the states, I should enjoy it while I can. When it arrived, presentation was superb, and although the tempura batter more of a light flouring than it was a light batter, it still let the rock shrimp texture and flavour come through.

Lobster Ceviche

I also tried the lobster ceviche at the waitress’ recommendation and because I know that the market price for lobster is particularly reasonable at the moment with decreased demand and the normal farming levels. When it arrived, it almost looked like a whole lobster, with plenty of meat and fairly well dissected already that meant extracting all the flesh with chopsticks wasn’t too difficult. The sauce covering was light and spicy, giving enough heat and tanginess to highlight the sweet sublime flesh. Both dishes were pretty decent serves, particularly considering these were only appetisers, and I almost regretted ordering the two sushi rolls for the entree.

Daily Special and Samba 7 Rolls

Fortunately I didn’t regret ordering the sushi rolls, the first a Samba 7 roll (crispy lobster, scallion, cucumber, celery, jalapeƱo with wasabi-chimichurri dipping sauce) and then the daily special roll (kobe beef plus several other ingredients). Both rolls provided some interesting contrast with a bite of the Samba 7 bringing texture, crunch and undertones of heat through the wasabi-chimichurri dipping sauce, with the daily special roll bringing some smokiness and delicately strong flavours from the kobe beef.

Out of the many more fancy restaurants I’d visited on this trip to New York, I think that Sushi Samba definitely served the best food, delighting in flavour, presentation and general value. It’s got great atmosphere and the service was fairly good throughout the night. The restrooms are a little bit confusing, almost maze-like downstairs, and yes, unfortunately, they also had a person helping you out with soap and towels.

Name: Sushi Samba
Located at: Various location. We went to 87 7th Ave S, New York, NY 10014
Website: http://www.sushisamba.com/
The Good: Interesting flavour combinations, quality presentation and great tasting food.
The Not So Good: A small reception might leave some of your party waiting in the cold. Confusing restrooms.

New York’s Buddha Bar

Sometimes reading other people’s reviews don’t really help, case in point with those yelp reviews for Manhattan’s Buddha Bar. It’s located in the now trendy meat packing district, and even though it’s entrance is non-descript, with only glass doors marked with a simple name, the doorman and the parking zone outside gives itself away.

Buddha Bar NYC

Inside, a further set of doors welcomes the visitor and we see the semblance of the queues that we’d read about. Fortunately we had a earlier booking that let us enjoy the food without too much of the fuss. I’m definitely not one of those people impressed by having to queue for my dinner. Beyond the next set of doors you a rounded corridor with a set of smaller Buddha statues leading you to the reception beyond which, the dining room opens up. The dining room itself is dark and cavernous with low lowlighting, and a small light behind the almost ceiling tall Buddha shadowing the back wall. To the reception’s left is the bar when trendy Manhattanites preen and a sushi bar located all the way to the right, complete with slowly drifting jellyfish lit up just as dimly as the rest of the room.

We sat down at our table, noting how spacious it all seemed since we weren’t crammed right next to the table beside us. It helps that this building is a converted warehouse so their extra high ceilings help keep it airy. It also means we aren’t subjected to the conversations of the tables around us, instead turning into simply background noise. As we made our way to the table we noted a huge number of staff simply standing around. This meant that completed dishes were whisked away quickly, new settings laid and their expensive (US$8!) bottled Voss water continually got topped up.

ribs

It wasn’t long before our waiter arrived asking if we would like drinks though we’d hardly had a chance to look at the menu. The menu looked fairly reasonable with, what is best called pan Asian rather than fusion. I started with the smoked ribs, asking about whether the smoky chipotle ribs on the main menu were better. He recommended starting with the ribs and trying their rib eye, a small piece considering this is both the US and the price. The ribs, definitely with some spicy kick weren’t the softest that I’d had though I still managed to clean them off with my knife and fork. The steak, on the other hand, was soft and slightly overcooked (medium well instead of the medium rare I’d asked for), served on a particularly sweet bed of some sort of onion relish tasting dish, and some other vegetables. I finished off with a small chocolate cake, though apparently the thai panna cotta was particularly good.

steak

We noted that as time progressed, even on a Saturday night, the whole place didn’t yet seem to be heaving with plenty of empty tables around us. We did note, however, that the music continued to increase in intensity and we were glad to leave before it got too deafening.

It wasn’t a particularly cheap evening out, adding in the cost of bottled water, slightly overpriced food (mandated by the atmosphere), coat check-in and the towel person you need to tip in the restrooms. On the upside, we had a great waiter, friendly without being over the top and in your face, and the food was much better than I had expected (though nothing particularly memorable).

Name: Buddha Bar NYC
Found at : 25 Little West Street, New York, NY, 10014
Website: http://www.buddhabarnyc.com
The Good: One of the “trendy” places to be in New York attracts a wide assortment of characters. It’s large and spacious for a Manhattan bar/restaurant and definitely has a great atosphere.
The not so good: Food and drink overpriced for what you get.

Where’s the good coffee? Ninth Street Espresso

This little gem is found in the middle of the Chelsea Market outfitted with a simple corner wooden bench and trendy barristas who proudly pour their latte art into reasonably sized cups.

ninthstreetespresso

Although fairly pricey (US$4.25) for a latte, it had the perfect ratio between steamed milk and the dark espresso blend, with a strong flavour without that bitter taste of burnt coffee. I liked how friendly their service was, and how patrons seemed to come out of nowhere just for their coffee. I’d definitely return to have their coffee, and fortunately it looks like they’ve set up two more around the city.

Name: Ninth Street Espresso
Found at: 75 9th Avenue (between 15th and 16th)
Website: http://www.ninthstreetespresso.com/

Ninja New York

First things first, Ninja New York is kitsch. Okay, so what do you expect of a restaurant in Manhattan with a Ninja based theme? Of course you’re not going to be served by true Ninja’s, but at least it’ll all be a little bit different. My sister had this on her list to do last time we visited New York, and this time we got our cousins to come along (and book for us) so that we wouldn’t miss out. Their entrance is narrow and easy to miss, with a waist height sign the only marker declaring it’s presence.

Appropriately, lighting is dark, and with small rooms lining a small corridor complete with sliding wooden doors, it helps to keep the feeling a lot more intimate than many other Manhattan dining experiences where it seems all too easy to interrupt someone else’s conversation. I won’t spoil some of the surprises that you might read about on other websites, but let’s just say that you want to be a bit careful about where you walk, just in case someone surprises you.

scroll

Our waitress and other waiters dressed up in all black. I can only imagine what fun it must be to dress like that for work every night. With pure nonchalance (and plenty of drama), our waitress unscrolled the menus with, what seemed like, the quick flick of her wrist before laying down in front of us. The scrolls definitely add a nice touch, and gave us a good idea about what things that they serve. I think there were two in total, one with drinks, including a fairly large selection of cocktails, a set menu and with the a la carte simply presented on printed paper.

sushi

A great thing about a restaurant such as this is that they don’t force you all to order the same set menu, or even make sure that everyone on the table orders the set menu. In fact, we ended up with two of us doing a la carte, and the other two doing two different set menus that meant we got to see and try all the different flavours available. I think all of the set menus, starting at US$50, and going up to US$90 gave at least four different courses and with appetisers and desserts averaging US$12 and mains US$30, the base one is actually fairly decent value. I didn’t bother with any of the set menu, instead focusing on the dishes that weren’t available. I also didn’t order any sushi since I think it’s better to order something you wouldn’t get at other places and the sushi is going to be overpriced in a place like this. Instead, I started with the fish and chips (okay, not a Japanese dish) but marked with the star that means that they do something flashy with it. Don’t get too excited though since all of these tend to be either some sort of flaming dish, or served with dry ice so that the mist covers it all. Unfortunately my pictures of the fish didn’t turn out but I can attest that served a decent number of large chunks of crumbed fish finished off with, what seemed like, some baked crisps and a ponzu-soy sauce.

lamb

For my main, I ordered the Bonfire, a series of Lamb Chops sesame greens, a handful of plum tomatoes and a butter set alight with some yuzu seasoning to enrichen the dish. I was a bit hesitant to order the lamb since it’s not a meat that is super popular in the US however they had been perfectly cooked, soft and pink in the middle. Fortunately it was also one of the super flashy dishes, where they set the butter alight, that literally set the entire plate on fire only to subside adding that perfect char. Delicious and delightful to watch.

ninjastar

Finally I finished my meal with their tiramisu, perfectly shaped to look like a bonsai tree, complete with green moss emulated with tiny cake pieces. The best dessert, at least for a spectacle was the ninja star, something that my sister ordered. It seemed a bit baffling but it’s worth it for the quick blinding light that really does make you feel like you’ve just been stunned by a ninja. I really like the picture above that seemed to capture the essence of it.

Ninja New York was definitely a unique experience. I can’t say that it’s the best food or the most unique, but really you’re paying for the experience and the entire atmosphere. Kitsch comes with it, even complete with a table-side magician, but hey, it’s all part of the charm.

Name: Ninja New York
Found at: 25 Hudson Street, New York, NY, 10013
Website: http://www.ninjanewyork.com/t
The Good: Different atmosphere with plenty of table intimacy for Manhatten. Reasonable tasting food.
The Not So Good: Pricey for the food that you get with many dishes and their “ninja art” a little bit overplayed on the menu.