Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Satisfy craving for sweets at Meika Plaza

Nadine Kam photos
Guests take in a tea ceremony at opening day of Shirokiya's Meika Plaza.

On the heels of Shirokiya's Yataimura opening last month comes Meika Plaza, another of its innovations anticipating the store's 350th anniversary next year.

Festivities began at 9:30 a.m. July 24, when shoppers poured in to check out the plaza's 30 confectionary booths, with a trellised seating area to accommodate those enjoying mochi, sweets and beverages from the vendors, including Yoku Moku, Saint Germain, Ginza Kikunoya, Tokyo Fugetsudo, and more.

Appealing to Hawaii's sweet tooth will likely make it an instant hit.

There were samplings, demonstrations in the making of Tokyo Marunouchi rolls and Ginza Petit Custa mini filled doughnuts, and highlighting the day were tea ceremonies presented by the Urasenke Foundation, slated throughout the day.

Tea ceremonies will continue to be featured at least one Sunday a month.

Meika Plaza is in Shirokiya, on the mall level.

A tea ceremony was presented by the Urasenke Foundation, which coincidentally is marking its own anniversary with an exhibition at the Honolulu Academy of Arts through Oct. 2. Implements from the Urasenke Museum in Kyoto and from the Honolulu Academy of Arts collection are on view in "The Way of Tea: An Exhibition Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Urasenke Tankokai Hawaii Association."

Whisking the matcha green tea.

Hostess and guest demonstrate respect and hospitality with a bow.

Guests also examine the tea bowl to show their appreciation of craftsmanship and a host's good taste.

At the Ginza Petit Custa station, a worker fills molds for the mini doughnuts, below.

Customers ponder mochi options at Meika Plaza.

A koto player provided music for the grand opening festivities.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Former locals lead the way to NY eats

It was fun to catch up with some former Hawaii residents while in New York, and it was interesting to combine their restaurant picks with my own for a diverse picture of food in the city.

I met up with Katlin Taosaka, now with Rag & Bone (Hawaii designer Dan Weaver is also there), at Northern Spy Food Co., a small under-the-radar gem in the East Village, at 511 E. 12th St. I noticed a milliner's sign across the street, but it was closed. I planned to go back there after brunch, but I was caught up in going to Opening Ceremony with Katlin, and forgot all about it!

Nadine Kam photos
Northern Spy's focus is seasonality and locavore sourcing of locally-grown, -caught, or -produced ingredients whenever possible. Katlin had polenta and eggs, while I had the chicken and egg sandwich.

Katlin had to go to work just before Lynne O'Neill met me at the Muji store, and we walked back to Opening Ceremony to check out the Reyn Spooner collection. She had only been to the smaller satellite at the Ace Hotel. Then we made our way to the High Line and Chelsea Market for lunch. Chelsea Market is a New York institution, dating to the 1890s baking industry. Today, it's home to dozens of retailers and food purveyors, from Morimoto to Fat Witch Bakery, Chelsea Wine Vault and Anthropologie. Lynne wanted something healthy, so opted for tofu and vegetables from Chelsea Thai. I had just eaten, so ordered a small bowl of potato-leek soup from Hale and Hearty Soups.

Namesakes at The Lobster Room in Chelsea Market. Below, one of the Jonah crabs lifted its claws to defend against my camera intrusion.

It was crowded at lunch time, and hard to find a table, so I swooped down on two women who had finished lunch, hoping they would be leaving soon. Instead, they wanted to chat. The one in from Long Island for the day to visit with her sister said her son had just visited Maui and now wants to move there and go to school. She said, "I don't know why he wants to move there, maybe it's cheap or something?"

Haha, shows you how little people know about our circumstances. In many ways, it's much more expensive to live in Hawaii than New York. What makes NY so pricey is that there's so much exciting going on at all times, that there's more of an urge to go out, see and do, and that's what gets expensive. Otherwise, food and rent are comparable, and food there can be much cheaper because you can find excellence at every price point.

On display at Dickson's Farmstand Meats at Chelsea Market.

Before Lynne arrived with her order, the women had invited me to meet them at Lincoln Center for a free outdoor concert later that evening.

Next, I caught up with Urban Nomad's Freida Hulse, known in New York as Haruko, at the trendy Williamsburg eatery, Fatty 'Cue, for barbecue with the essence of Southeast Asia. Critics there are gaga for fish sauce marinades on pork and Melakan-style lamb ribs which are delicious, but the ideas are not new to Hawaii. You can get the same flavors at any Vietnamese restaurant. The ingenuity is in the Western-style format.

The stencil-style wall tells you you're getting close to Fatty 'Cue.

Cincalok and white wine brined lamb ribs are a "snack" at Fatty 'Cue.

And don't forget the greens, a delicious celery salad at Fatty 'Cue.

Joey Caldarone took this photo of Ivy and me at Cafeteria.

The night I was leaving, I met designer Ivy Higa and Joey Caldarone at the trendy burger joint, Cafeteria, at 119 7th Ave., home to many good-looking waiters and which they say started the city's mac n' cheese craze. Both mentioned they really miss laulau and luau.

Ivy's still working with Zac Posen, as well as on her spring 2012 collection, and Joey's at Tiffany. We had a nice talk about how fashion is such an insulated, all-consuming world that we have to remind ourselves that it doesn't reflect most peoples' reality. Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves to remind ourselves that people need food and housing, they don't need fashion. To stay grounded, Ivy volunteers for a couple of homeless shelters and organizations and was slated to help distribute food the next morning.

The chalkboard at Luke's.

By the time I left, I had a couple of my own favorite places to recommend or bring friends the next time around. If you read my quintessential New York and Hawaii food lists in the Star-Advertiser, you'll know I made mention of my lobster roll search that ended at Luke's Lobster. Ironically, when I got home, I found a copy of a Luke's Lobster review I had torn out of The New Yorker magazine a year ago, so I think it was meant to be!

Then, in Park Slope, Brooklyn's 5th Avenue "restaurant row," I chanced upon The Chocolate Room, home to chocolate bars, brownies, ice cream delights, and more.

There, I enjoyed a chocolate brownie sundae with real mint, not mint-flavored, ice cream, topped off with a real cherry instead of a candied one. I had that with a root beer float and dessert of chocolate chip cookie. I had hoped to ship some cookies home, but alas, they do no chocolate shipping during summer, when their perfect products might melt. Better luck during the holidays!

Noting the area's DIY, artisanal culture and number of chocolate bars produced by Brooklyn-based companies, I asked how many people are making chocolate in Brooklyn, and the sassy answer was, "Everybody makes chocolate in Brooklyn." That's my kind of place!

The prized lobster roll at Luke's Lobster, in all it's buttery glory.

The setting at Luke's, 426 Amsterdam Ave., Upper West Side, with room for about 14. They have a mobile unit and three other locations in Manhattan, and one in Washington, D.C.

Outside The Chocolate Room in Park Slope, home to many a young family.

The Chocolate Room's Chocolate brownie sundae, which I opted to have topped with mint ice cream. They also make a vegan, organic chocolate sorbet for those so inclined.

Still craving those fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Great Eats Part I: Natural flavors win the day

Nadine Kam photos
Good food doesn't require a lot of bells and whistles. Chilled pea soup at Bergdorf Goodman's BG restaurant.

In May I read a short restaurant review by Hannah Goldfield in The New Yorker about a SoHo pop-up called What Happens When. I was going to be in New York the following month, so I took note, though I'm careful not to fall for the hype emanating from a growing legion of wide-eyed, shrill class of writers. I find The New Yorker reviews to be colorful, but also sober and truthful.

It sounded so precious, billed as a pop-up installation involving artists and musicians, with themes and decor that would change every month. They even turned to Kickstarter to raise funds for materials to construct their sets. Themes had ranged from a midsummer's night to an Impressionist's garden party. Sounded like a place I had to see, and it was set to remain open nine months.

When I headed to New York June 20, I was going to be there for a month and thought I had all the time in the world to make a reservation there. Unfortunately, after a side trip to Connecticut, I returned to the city to read that due to a liquor license dispute, the pop-up closed on June 26!

Happily, the chef involved with the project, John Fraser, an alumnus of The French Laundry, is also the proprietor of Dovetail, at 103 W. 77th St. (212) 362-3800. In the pantheon of New York restaurants, it's not a top-of-mind place, the kind that get a lot of buzz outside the city, like Momofuku, Spice Market, Le Bernardin, Per Se and Maialino. But I had to see what Fraser's food was all about.

When I got there, I saw a huge group of teen-agers hanging out, sitting near the front steps, devouring french fries. I wondered what that was all about. A quick map search showed a Shake Shack burger haven next door. Earlier in the week, I had spent an hour in line for a Shake Burger and frozen custard, and as I was sitting in Dovetail, contemplating the long meal to come (do people have the patience for traditional long meals anymore?) I briefly considered leaving in favor of the quick fix.

But my patience was rewarded with Dovetail's delectable chef's tasting menu.

What I like about fine cuisine in New York is the precision, purity and clarity of flavors. There's nothing gratuitous or extraneous in the prep, because it's the essence of the various main ingredients that they want expressed.

Grilled asparagus with light vinaigrette at Bergdorf Goodman's BG restaurant.

Simplicity works for me. In the first of my numerous "best meals ever in the city," I enjoyed no more than a seasonally inspired fresh chilled pea soup, grilled asparagus and BG Deviled Eggs with arugula and pancetta.

It's the opposite of Hawaii style, which, like our culture, is chop suey in nature, as if the more you throw into the pot, wok or marinade, the better. Sometimes it's a happy melting pot. Sometimes it's just mush.

Here's what was on Dovetail's menu, at $135, with wine pairings at $90 and $80:

Amuse bouche was a deconstructed martini foam with pimento and olive, accompanied by a crisp salt cod fritter and shiitake gelee.

Avocado salad with strawberries, watercress and slices of Granny Smith apple dipped in the ashes of charred ramps.

Rolls of fluke were served on thin slices of Galia melon, with a celery-avocado puree, shishito peppers, thin slivers of nori, and dots of shiso sauce.

Salt baked onion was introduced in its just-out-the-oven form, which temporarily caused me to freeze in panic. How was I supposed to get to it without filling it with salt. Happily, that was just for presentation. It was plated in the kitchen with summer truffles, cepes, marcona almonds and frisee. A manager came by and asked how I was enjoying it. I said it was so good I wanted to lick the plate. He encouraged me to do so. I refrained.

Lobster was served two ways, first accompanied by a perfectionist's ratatouille, with the summer vegetables cut into thin discs and layered like poker chips, served over kalamata puree. In the second prep, lobster topped chamomile tagliatelle, tossed with saffron aioli and accented with lobster foam and and purple cauliflower.

Sautéed foie gras was next, sitting on a pool of textured Graham cracker sauce, accompanied by fennel and huckleberry sauce.

Next came roasted sirloin topped with a king trumpet mushroom with layered beef cheek lasagna and onion.

An intermezzo of lemon-thyme sorbet with raspberries preceded a choice of dessert.

Because I had seen someone else enjoying the milk chocolate Gianduja bar as dessert on a summer tasting menu, I had to try it. It was accompanied by apricot-lavender sherbet.

And just when you thought it was over, there remained petits fours to polish off.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nadine Kam photo
Hundreds of New York restaurants are dressed in their "A" sanitation grades this summer.

NEW YORK—Throughout the city, restaurants are wearing their sanitation grades, as issued by the New York City Department of Health, in a program instituted last summer.

Restaurateurs had fought the public grading system, but now the city's 24,000-plus restaurants must post placards bearing their A, B or C ratings to announce their cleanliness or lack thereof. The grades cover restaurants, coffee shops, bars, nightclubs, retail bakeries and other fixed-site food stands. They do not cover mobile vendors, temporary establishments, hospitals, schools, non-profit or charitable organizations.

Grades reflect how well a restaurant complies with food safety requirements of the New York City Health Code and the State Sanitary Code. Different violations carry different numbers of points, depending on their nature and severity:

Grade A: 0 to 13 points for sanitary violations.
Grade B: 14 to 27 points for sanitary violations.
Grade C: 28 or more points for sanitary violations.

Violations can range from presence of roaches or rats, cross-contamination in the food-prep area, poor refrigeration, or tobacco use in the food, storage or dishwashing area.

Restaurateurs apparently worried that grading would be followed by public panic and closing of Grade C restaurants, but the health department always had the power to immediately close restaurants with conditions that may be hazardous to public health.

Happily, most of the signs I saw bore A grades. These were followed by Bs and "Grade Pending" signs.

I took "Grade Pending" to mean nothing wrong, the restaurant is awaiting its grade, but reading more about it, I learned that those signs are the result of contested B or C (failing) grade. Restaurants that receive a B or C grade can opt for a second inspection weeks later. In the interim, they can post the "Grade Pending" sign until after their second inspection.

All restaurants are required to post their grades, but I never saw a C the whole time I was there.

You can read more about the grading system and its results at, as well as search for restaurants of interest.

It makes me wonder what would happen if we implemented such a system here.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Brooklyn Smorgasburg

Nadine Kam photos
When I first saw the Porchetta display, I thought it was too hot a day for pork, but I had to try it. Super delish and shot with herbs and bits of crispy skin, for $5. At Brooklyn Flea at Fort Greene, 176 Lafayette Ave.

Intended to take a vacation from eating on my vacation and hopefully shed some pounds while on foot in New York, but that's been impossible when good food is everywhere and every restaurant has its menu posted outside to tempt pedestrians.

Then there's flea market fare at the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg in Williamsburg. Headed to both events today, getting sunburned in the process—something that never happens in Hawaii because I'm always indoors working—but it was worthwhile to sample a pork sandwich from Porchetta at the former, and see the array of artisanal options available at the latter, an offshoot of Brooklyn Flea. The weekly Saturday Smorgasburg, at the East River Waterfront, launched in late May and will continue through Nov. 19.

There's everything from teriyaki to Thai to tempeh. You can read more about it:

New York Times

New York Post

The longest lines at the Willamsburg Smorgasburg were for oysters and slush.

Shucking oysters at the Brooklyn Oyster Party tent, at $2.50 to $2.75 a pop.

David Chang's Momofuku Milk Bar offers ice cakes, cookies and crack pie. Below, blackberry and lime ice milk. Way too sugary for me.

It was a super hot day today, so people relaxed in a little spot of shade just outside the gated Smorgasburg in Williamsburg.

Hudson Valley Duck menu.

I wish I had been hungry enough to try the lobster roll!

Nuts and sauces were offered at this well-organized booth.

Jams, including one of rhubarb and hibiscus, below, are offered by Anarchy in a Jar.

Homemade ice cream sandwiches at Brooklyn Flea at Fort Greene.

Mini cupcakes from Kumquat Bakery at Brooklyn Flea.