Oodles of Noodles

With a bitter chill in the New York air this January, I decided to make it my winter mission to find the best ramen in NYC.  There’s nothing like a warm bowl of silky noodles drenched in a rich, flavorful, hearty broth to soothe the soul.  Over the past month, I have scoured the town and have slurped my way through several bowls of ramen from some of Manhattan’s famed shops.  I tried various styles of ramen and carefully selected my favorites along the way.  

But before I get into my “ramen” of choice, I want to help demystify some of the preconceived notions that most people associate with ramen.  And, I also want to provide a bit of history about the labor of love that goes into each bowl.  First off let’s just say ramen is much, much more than a package of hard dried noodles with a small spice pouch available at your local grocery.  Unfortunately, this is what most of the world associates it with, but, there is a very clear distinction between an instant ramen and a ramen from a restaurant.

In Japan, Ramen is a cherished dish served up at specialty shops in which chefs slave over hot stoves for several hours each day to assure that their signature broth is perfect. It is said that it requires years-long practical training to master be a ramen chef. 

Side Note: If you want to catch a glimpse of how this specialized process plays out (and you don’t live near a ramen joint) check out a little indy movie called The Ramen Girl starring Brittany Murphy (RIP).  Even though it was a pretty lame movie, it does help to accurately depict how much work goes into each bowl.

Ramen can be broadly categorized by its two main ingredients: noodles and broth.

Noodles: are made from four basic ingredients- wheat (gluten) flour, salt, water, and kansui, which is essentially a type of alkaline mineral water containing sodium carbonate, potassium carbonate and sometimes a small amount of phosphoric acid. Then Kansui lends a yellowish hue to the noodles and also helps create the firm texture that is associated with "ramen". Ramen noodles can come in various shapes and lengths.  They can be fat, thin or ribbon-like, as well as straight or wavy.  In a good ramen, the noodles should be served al dente vs. overcooked and mushy.

Broth: Ramen soup is generally made from pork stock (in some cases chicken), and combined with a variety of ingredients such as onions, shiitake mushrooms, kombu (kelp), niboshi (dried baby sardines), and beef bones and then flavored with a healthy dose of salt, miso, or soy sauce.  All which is slow cooked for several hours.

From these two staples, ramen is typically divided into a few different style categories:

Tonkotsu: A cloudy white colored broth, that is thick from the boiling pork bones, fat, and collagen over high heat for many hours (typically 12 plus), along with, garlic and soy sauce which suffuses the broth with a hearty pork flavor and a creamy consistency that rivals milk, melted butter or gravy. This style is typically served with thin straight noodles. Toppings include: Chashu (sliced braised/roasted pork belly), scallion and jelly-ear mushrooms, sometimes served with Mayu (charred/black garlic oil).  This is the richest of all broths...with lots of great flavor and fat!

Miso/Sapporo: This broth is typically pork based and infused with miso to create a thick, nutty, slightly sweet and very hearty soup. The noodles served with it are typically thick, curly, and slightly chewy. Toppings can include: sweet corn, bean sprouts, Chashu (sliced braised/roasted pork belly), garlic and a seasoned boiled egg. 

Shōyu:  A clear brown broth, based on pork, chicken and vegetable stock infused with plenty of soy sauce, garlic and ginger resulting in a soup that is tangy, salty, smokey and savory yet still fairly light on the palate. This is the most “traditional” style of ramen. This ramen is generally served with curly noodles. Toppings include: Marinated bamboo shoots, Chashu (sliced braised/roasted pork belly), green onion, kamaboko (fish cakes), nori (seaweed), boiled egg, bean sprouts and black pepper.

Shio: A pale, clear yellowish broth with plenty of salt and any combination of Chicken, pork, vegetables, ginger, garlic, seaweed and sometimes fish. This is the lightest style ramen broth.  Typically served with thin straight noodles.  Toppings include: Fried tofu, Chashu (sliced braised/roasted pork belly), bean sprouts, cabbage, bamboo shoots, and miso-simmered ground pork.  

Now that we all have our ramen 101, let’s get to the good stuff…my top picks!  Ranked in order starting with my favorite:

1. Akamaru Modern Ramen from Ippudo ($15)
The broth was a silky Tonkotsu cooked with pork bones from Berkshire pigs. The Noodles are thin, straight noodles made in-house. Toppings included: Chashu, cabbage, kikurage mushrooms, scallions, fragrant garlic oil and umami dama (a secret ingredient).
* This was one of the most expensive bowls of ramen I tried, but definitely the best in my eyes.  It was decadent and dreamy and I am still craving it.
Ippudo: 65 Fourth Ave between 9th and 10th Sts (212-388-0088)

2. Momofuku Ramen from Momofuku Noodle Bar ($16)
The broth was a based on chicken, kelp, shiitake mushrooms, scallion, mirin, soy, sake and Benton's bacon.  It was light but delicious.  Mr. Chang uses straight alkaline noodles in his ramen. Toppings include: Chashu, roasted pork shoulder, nori, napa cabbage, a poached egg, sliced scallions and a fish cake.  The poached egg yolk added a depth to the broth which helped to thicken it making a nice effect. The pork in this ramen was the best out of all the ramen’s I tasted.  It was perfectly cooked and had great flavor. 
Momofuku Noodle Bar: 171 First Ave between 10th and 11th Sts (212-777-7773) 

3. Hakata Kuro Ramen from Hide-Chan ($9.75)
The broth was an extremely rich and thick Tonkotsu.  The noodles were house-made, thin and straight served perfectly al dente. Toppings included: Mayu (charred garlic oil), Chashu, scallion and jelly-ear mushrooms.
Hide-Chan: 248 E 52nd St between Second and Third Aves, second floor (212-813-1800) 

4. Totto Paitan Ramen from Totto Ramen ($9.50)
The broth was warming and flavorful made from chicken bones, soy sauce and vegetables.  The noodles were thin and straight house-made noodles. Topping included: Chashu), scallion, bean sprout and nori seaweed. I asked for a side of the rayu (house-made spicy chili sauce) to add to the broth.  It brought out the flavors and gave it a little kick!
Totto Ramen: 366 W 52nd St at 2nd Ave (212-582-0052) 

5. Kambi Ramen from Kambi Ramen House ($10.50)
The broth was on the lighter side made from pork and chicken with soy sauce. They served it with Thin- Straight noodles, and were a little overcooked but still decent. Topping included: Chashu, Chinese-style mushrooms, bamboo shoots,  scallions, marinated hard boiled egg and nori.
Kambi: 351 E 14th St between First and Second Aves (212-228-1366)

6. Hakata ramen from  Menchanko Tei ($8.50)
The broth was rich, cloudy Hakata-style pork-bone style (Tonkotsu).  The noodles were very thin and straight.  Toppings included: Chashu, black mushrooms, red ginger and scallions.  The broth and noodles were cooked fine, but the pork was not.  It was flubbery and flavorless.
Menchanko Tei: 131 E 45th St between Lexington and Third Aves (212-986-6805)

7. Signature from Naruto Ramen ($9.00)
The broth was a soy sauced based Tonkotsu, which lacked in flavor and depth, but the noodles were cooked great and were thin/straight. Toppings included: Chashu, bamboo shoots, marinated boiled egg, scallions, dried seaweed, bean sprouts, and a fish cake.  The pork was not cooked well and was extremely fatty.  
*This was my least favorite shop, but it was not terrible.  One plus, is that it's in my neighborhood (on the UES), so if I need a ramen fix, it will be the quickest spot to get to.
Naruto Ramen: 1596 3rd Ave between 89th & 90th (212) 289-7803 

One that didn't make the list, but probably would be on top…is the soon to open Ivan Ramen from the famed Ivan Orkin.  Coming to the LES sometime (hopefully) very soon! I will definitely be among the first "in line"  

*Please note that most of these locations are "cash only" so make sure to stop by the ATM before planning a visit! Also, most of these shops are very small and typically have a wait to be seated, so don't come starving as you will most likely be standing around for about 20-45 mins. 

I would love to hear about some of your favorites....please shoot me a note or email with your choices!  

The ramen journey always continues......Happy slurping!

Ippudo on Urbanspoon


Classic Snack Upgraded: PB&J Cookies

As a kid, I loved Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches!  After a walk down memory lane I was inspired to up the ante and develop a new “after-school snack”! These little gems are gluten-free and protein packed, I hope you like them as much as I do!

PB& J Cookies
Yield: 18 Cookies

½ Cup Chunky Organic Peanut Butter
¾ Cup Smooth Almond Butter
¾ Cup Organic Granulated Cane Sugar
1 Organic Egg
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 TBS Fruit Preserves (* I like to use Seedless Raspberry)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

In a Medium bowl, beat the egg, then mix in the Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, Cane Sugar, and Vanilla, until fully incorporated.

Using a small spoon, scoop about 1 tablespoon of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet (should be enough to make 18 small cookies).  Then make a small indention on the top of each dough ball with your finger or handle of a wooden spoon.  Next, fill each of the holes with the fruit preserves.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Allow cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a clean plate or wire rack to cool completely.

Serve and enjoy with a glass of organic milk or almond milk!  Then go do your homework….


Green Market “Inspired” Moroccan Spiced Stew

As I was frolicking around NYC this weekend on a particularly crisp afternoon, I found myself at the greenmarket in Union Square. I was immediately entranced by the all the fabulous flavors and colors of fall! It got me thinking of warming recipes and home-style slow cooking!
After perusing the vendors, I ended up buying a butternut squash, some kale, an organic chicken breast, and an artisanal Merguez Sausage.  I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to make with it all, but it came to me as I was walking back to my apartment.  I wanted comfort food, and in the form of a stew.  So I gathered the remainder of my ingredients and sought out to make a Moroccan spiced chicken and butternut squash stew.   I poured myself a glass of Cotes Du Rhone and started cooking!  As most of you know I never go by recipes, so this one was created as I went, a little spice here a touch of herbs there etc. The stew was so simple to make and was absolutely delicious!  I have included my recipe that I documented while cooking below.  Happy fall!

Green Market “Inspired” Moroccan Spiced Stew
1 Bone-in Organic Skinless Double Chicken Breast
2oz Merguez Sausage (remove casing and crumble)
1TBS Butter
Onion/carrot/celery blend (1 small onion, 1 medium carrot, 1 stalk celery in a food processor)
3 cloves Garlic chopped
1 4oz can Tomato paste
3 cups Chicken Stock, plus 2 cups Water
2 Cups Butternut squash chopped in small cubes
3 Sprigs of Thyme
1 tsp. Red pepper flakes
1 tsp. Cumin
½ tsp. Cinnamon
2 tsp. Kosher Salt
2 tsp. Black pepper
Small pinch Saffron
1 TBS. Peanut Butter
8oz Can Chickpeas
2 Cups Chopped Kale
¼ Cups Chopped Cilantro
1 tsp. Orange zest
Salt/pepper to taste
Lemon Wedges as Garnish

In a large Cast Iron Pot, melt butter.  Season Chicken with salt and pepper and add to pot.  Brown on all sides (5-7 minutes).  

Add onion/carrot/celery mixture and Merguez Sausage to the pot and let sweat/brown for 5-7 minutes. Add Garlic and continue to cook for 2 minutes.

Add Chicken Stock and Water to the pot, along with Tomato paste and Peanut Butter.  Bring to a soft boil.

Add all seasonings (Herbs & Spices) and Butternut Squash.  Reduce Heat, cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes.

Add Kale, Cilantro and Orange zest, Salt/Pepper. Cook an additional 10 minutes.

Serve over rice Wild Rice/Quinoa  and steamed spinach and a wedge of lemon.


Ice Ice Baby: The Unsung Ingredient of the Cocktail World

Just in case you missed my ICE AGE article last week on in relation to Tales of the Cocktail 

Here is the full version for your reading pleasure:

With cocktail innovation on the rise and spirit companies seeking the next grand gesture in mixology, more and more focus has taken a precedent on the anatomy of a great drink.  The most basic ingredients can have a large impact on the outcome of a well made cocktail, and can help take the notion of a simple drink to a highly crafted cocktail.   One of the most important ingredients, which can be somewhat of an unsung hero, is the ice cube.  Ice has the ability to elevate the presentation and quality of a drink, but in turn can also have some adverse effects. Most standard cubed or crushed ice available on the market today is made with unfiltered tap water, which may contain impurities and minerals that can cloud the taste of a spirit or cocktail. This type of ice may also dilute a high quality beverage quickly due to the high volume of surface area exposed to the drink.

Back before ice was making its way into the hands of imbibers world-wide, a man named Frederic Tudor, also known as Boston's "Ice King", had a genius idea to help bring cold beverages to the masses.  He capitalized on the business of harvesting ice from frozen ponds in New England in the early 1800s, and founded the Tudor Ice Company, who distributed the cold gems by ship to high temperature regions such as the Caribbean, Southern Europe and India.  Over the past several decades, trends in ice making have developed from classic cubes to smoking dry ice to high-tech spheres.  Technological advances have made ice a mainstream item in most households and dining establishments around the globe, making it easy to have an “ice-cold” beverage instantly. 

Today, ice has become somewhat of a secret weapon during the current cocktail revolution in our country.  Ice plays an integral part of a properly made cocktail.  Just like glassware, bartenders must select ice wisely depending on the type of drink they are serving; using the wrong size of an ice cube can over dilute a drink.  A general rule is the stronger the beverage, the bigger the cube, i.e. 1 large cube for an Old Fashioned or Bourbon on the rocks.  Playful juleps or tiki-style cocktails require ice to chill a drink quickly as well as to water it down a bit, which is why crushed ice is ideal for these types of cocktails. Most martinis only need only a whisper of ice (shaken or stirred), too much can lead to dilution and ruin the spirit's aromatics and the cocktail's smooth texture, which is why it is also important to use quality produced ice to limit any impurities.

A few entrepreneurs recently saw an opportunity to enhance this trend creating a specialty style of cocktail ice mainly for on-premise establishments looking to take their bar program to the next level. 

One company in particular, who has mastered the skill of hand-carved cocktail ice, is Hundredweight in New York City.  Founded by Bartender and Owner, Richard Boccato of Dutch Kills Bar and Pain Killer and barman Zachary Gelnaw-Rubin, Hundredweight supplies artisanal ice to several bars throughout the five boroughs. They found a very cool, no pun intended, niche for themselves in the industry and are now known as the ice authorities and ice historians within the bartending community.

I was lucky enough to sit down with the ice-man Zack Gelnaw-Rubin to learn about the importance of the frozen water they are making and hear how their operation runs:

Q: What makes the ice you craft unique?
A: We hand chisel 300 lb blocks of clean ice every 3.5 days, then hand-pack and hand-deliver, it’s a very “hands” on operation.  We carve several styles of ice, including 4 sizes of rocks (i.e. Cubes) ranging in sizes from 1.75” to 3”, Highball spheres, Crushed Ice, and large format Punch Ice Bowls.

Q: How do you make 300 lb blocks of ice, and where?
A: We use Clinebell IceMachines and freezers at Dutch Kills and Weather Up Tribeca.  These machines produce the amount of ice we need and have created a system of production that is efficient enough to sell and distribute our ice daily to customers in the New York area.

Q: How did you learn the craft of making bar ice?
A: I began my ice studies as a bartender at Dutch Kills. During my training there I learned how to create rocks and shaking ice using only a hand-saw, mallet and chisel. When Richie asked me to be his right hand in the opening of Weather Up TriBeCa, I was introduced to the Clinebell machine, and the first stirrings of making “ice” a viable business venture. I asked Richie if he would want to partner with me and Hundredweight was born.

Q: What is your favorite style or shape of ice to make?
A: I don't really have a favorite style to make. It's all frozen water to me.

Q: On average, what is the melting time for the 2 inch cubes before it starts to dilute a spirit? How is that compared to average bar ice?
A: The moment any ice touches a liquid, it begins a phase change.  However, in a barroom setting, one large cube will forestall the inevitable over-dilution of any spirit or cocktail for much longer than say, a handful of Kold Draft ice cubes. It's a matter of reduced surface area; one large cube has less surface melt in contact with the liquid being chilled than a bunch of small ones. In addition, "big ice" is meant to be stored in a freezer during service, as opposed to scoop ice, which sits in a room-temperature bin all night long. This factor also contributes greatly to increased control over temperature and water content.

Q: Do you ever offer ice classes to the public?
A: We don't offer classes to the general public, but we do offer free trainings to new bar clients who want their staff to become proficient in the ways of ice cutting.

Q: Strangest ice request to date?
A: We've gotten some pretty strange requests, as many people think we are sculptors and want horses and penguins and scale models of the Statue of Liberty and such, but the strangest that I've actually executed would be a tie between a giant vodka luge for Hugue DuFour of M. Wells and an order of 20 ice scorpion bowls for an event at Pain Killer.

Q: Any last words of wisdom?
A: Better ice makes better cocktails!


Drink Your Veggies!

A few years back when I did my first yoga cleanse retreat in Santa Barbara, I was introduced to the notion of “Green Juice”.  At first it freaked me out a bit, I have to admit, but as I took a sip I realized it was actually delicious…and super healthy to boot.  Moving forward, I began to rely on green juice as a way to detox after a long weekend, or from a busy week of travels. It is always a pick-me up, and also felt like I was doing my body good. 

Last year I shelled out to buy my first juicer…a Breville (which I believe to be one of the best machines), and juicing is now part of my morning ritual…well at least 3-4 times a week depending on my travel schedule.  To tell you the truth, I have actually stopped drinking coffee, since the juice gives me more energy and helps me sustain it throughout the day! 

My juicer has truly turned out to be a great purchase for the amount of use it gets, and doesn’t take up too much space in the kitchen.  The only problem is you have to keep your fridge stocked with fresh vegetables and fruits to make the juice process happen, and then clean your equipment after usage.  So as long as you keep your grocery list current, and you don’t mind a little clean up, it can be as simple as pie to juice! 

With the dog days of summer upon us, juicing is quickly becoming part of my everyday life and is also starting to replace a few meals here and there in the hopes that I can get “Swim suit” ready, by at least by the end of summer if anything- ha!

In case you would like to join me on this juicing venture, I have included my favorite Green Juice recipe for you to try below.  But for those of you who don’t want to make the full commitment and purchase a juicer, luckily juicing has become a bit more of a mainstream phenomenon.  There are now several retail locations for you to get your green fix for $10 or less. 

Some of my favorite spots include:  (NYC Based)  (Orange County, CA Based)  (San Fran Based)

Additionally, a few companies actually offer delivery style services for juice cleanses and daily juices, some include:

Recipe for Em's Green Fairy Juice:  
*Because it give you a buzz!

3 Leaves of Romaine Lettuce
5 leaves of green Kale
1 Cup of Spinach
Small Bunch of Parsley
1 Cucumber (peeled)
1 Large Carrot (peeled)
1 small Broccoli Stem (without florets)
½ Lemon (rind cut off)
½ Green (Granny Smith) Apple (cut into 2 pieces)

Rinse/wash all produce, and prep as needed.  Then start your juicer and start adding ingredients a few bunches at a time.  Then pour into a glass and enjoy over ice if needed!  That’s it…simple as pie, but more nutritious.  Enjoy!!!

A few notable tips:
  • Freshly extracted juice is very perishable, drink it as soon as possible after making.
  • Best to juice first thing in the morning, before eating other foods to get the full effect! Starting your day off with green juice will set you up for success! You will feel satisfied and energetic, and  will be full of vitamins, live enzymes and nutrients. It also helps minimizes cravings so it will help you eat less and more healthy throughout the day!
  • Wash your fruits and veggies well, and store properly!  It is best to use fresh produce within 2-3 days
Added bonus….If you compost or have a garden, you can use the remains from juicer in this fashion instead of just throwing it away.  It has rich nutrients and fibers and will make any garden bloom with delight!  Also, could be a great way to come full circle, especially if you grow your own veggies!  

“Scoop of the Day”: Fun and Flavorful Ice Creams for Any Occasion

I scream, you scream, we all scream for…“Semi-Homemade” ice-cream? Straight from the test studio of the “Kitchen Princess” (aka my other alias)….This is an inside look at my top secret ingredient for the ultimate, yet easy dessert!

I would never classify myself as a pastry chef, nor say that I could ever win a Betty Crocker award. I do love to cook, but I consider myself more of a “freestyle” chef, as I have a hard time following recipes or even using them at all; which is why desserts have never really been my strong suit, especially since 99% of the time you must following a recipe.

When I host a dinner party, I typically dread planning what to make for dessert. Over the past few years, I have either gotten older and wiser, or just a little more savvy with my time and skills on the dessert front. Which brings me to my signature go-to-sweet-creation…Ice-Cream! And my secret ingredient for this: Häagen Dazs- Five, Vanilla Bean Ice-Cream (pint)

So, you might be scratching your head thinking…is she really going to try to pull off serving a scoop of store bought vanilla ice-cream, and claim it’s her own?

Well, sort of… it’s actually simple! Homemade Ice-Cream is made from 5 straightforward ingredients: Milk, Cream, Sugar, Eggs, Vanilla. So, basically, I make it easier on myself and skip that step (mainly since I don’t have room to store an ice-cream maker at my little, yet adorable NYC apartment). I choose buy the already “made” base, then make it my own by adding signature ingredients. It’s not cheating…it’s getting creative! I like to select interesting flavor components, so that it is unique and has a sense of “artisanal” style.

Some of my favorite combinations include:

  • Earl Grey Black Tea with Lavender and Honey
  • Fresh Cinnamon Stick with a hint of Nutmeg
  • Fresh Basil and Thyme
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly with mini Chocolate Chips
  • Smore’s: Mini Chocolate Chips, Graham Crackers and Marshmallow Fluff
  • Carmel with Salted Pretzels

To jazz it up a bit more….I like to serve the ice cream in a cool eclectic dish or vintage tea-cup and garnish with either a thin almond cookie (also store bought), a chocolate hand-dipped fortune cookie wafer, or a pretzel rod, depending on which flavor combo I am serving.

This is a step-by-step guide to create my - 5 minute, fool proof dessert:

Buy a pint (or two) of the Häagen Dazs- Five, Vanilla Bean Ice-cream (low fat frozen vanilla yogurt can also be used if you are watching your waist line) Which retails for about $5

Measure ¼ cup heavy cream or ¼ cup whole milk. (*best to use whole milk with the herbs such as basil, since these ingredients tend to need more mixing and you don’t want to make whipped cream)

Then in a blender or food processor, add your milk or cream, your ingredients of choice and give it a quick pulse/mix. More time will be needed for herbs to fully chop/puree

Next step add the pint of vanilla ice-cream to the blender or processor, and give it several jolts from the pulse button to mix. The key is to do it fast and not let it get to a soupy state. I usually use a spatula or large spoon to help mix in between pulses from the blender.

Once your mixture is fully incorporated, pour into a container and place in the freezer immediately. Again you do not want it to be soupy, or the end product will tasty icy not smooth and creamy. For containers I like to use small (2 cup) plastic Tupperware style containers with lids, or small glass mason jars. *Tip if using glass jars, place them in the freezer to chill before adding your ice-cream mixture.

Freeze for 2-4 hours before serving…. Voila, you have a fabulous, gourmet-esc dessert you can impress your guests with. And it is really that easy!

And as a is a fun party idea/theme I came up with that you might want to try at your next gathering-

The Ice-Cream Social

As the host, create a list of interesting ingredients, from fresh herbs, berries, candy, cookies, coffee/tea, etc., then send the list around with your invitation. Ask each of your guests to select 1-2 ingredients that best describe their personality and why.

Prior to the party review the selected ingredients and create a few different ice-cream

combinations that best reflect your guests’ choices (mixing different guests’ ingredients together). Feel free to get creative! As you make the ice-creams, come up with interesting names for the flavors to showcase your guests, i.e. Mike’s “Mellow” Mint with Rachel’s “Sassy” Raspberry. Place a sticker label or gift tag on the container to remember the flavor combo.

During the party bring your ice-creams out on a serving tray with bowls, spoons and some garnishes. Let guests serve themselves and try the various combinations.

Since I love to connect different groups of friends and match-make as well, I always find this a fun way to break the ice. It is definitely a conversation starter with the notion of “how well do we mix together”?

Thanks for reading…and I look forward to hearing from you about the interesting combinations you come up with!

Cheers and Happy Eating,
Em a la Mode aka Kitchen Princess

Photo and Styling Credit: by my dear friend Victoria del Rico *Luckily she works for food… And loves Cinnamon/Nutmeg Ice-cream J


1 Fork-Five Boroughs: A Food Frenzy to Celebrate New York’s Favorite Fare!

Last night, on a blissful evening, Tuesday, March 13, it seemed as though the New York weather was finally in full “spring” ahead. I gladly shed my winter coat as I headed out for the 5th Annual Village Voice Choice Eats Event at the 69th Armory on Lexington Avenue.

The event, hosted by by Village Voice resident food critics, Robert Sietsema and Lauren Shockey, hand-picked each of participating restaurants to showcase. Choice Eats is one of New York City's favored food fête’s where one can sample food from the most sought after restaurants across all the cities boroughs all under one roof for one night.

After a short cab ride downtown, I arrived on the scene and quickly toured the space before the crowds started flooding in. I was lucky enough to map out my food journey ahead for the evening,but in order to prep my palate, I stopped by to get an icy cold beverage at the Tito’s Handmade Vodka table, where Matt Purpura, Tito’s Brand Ambassador graciously mixed up a special “spirited” cocktail before sending me on my way.

My first stop was the Meatball Shop, they were dishing out an herbed chicken meatball garnished with sautéed asparagus tips and mushrooms in some sort of brown gravy-ish sauce. It was well seasoned and hit the spot in true comfort food fashion!

I then moved on to see my friends over at Ditch Plains. Chef Marc Murphy was serving up his infamous Mac-n-Cheese Hot Dog! With a big smile on his “good looking” face, he handed me a bite which was oozing with melty, decedent cheese! It was dangerously good! As I swallowed the last morsel, I saw fellow food friend, Emily Karpin, who recently took a job with Chef Murphy and was helping to man his table for the evening. I always love to catch up with friendly faces at these large scale events, as they can be quite overwhelming at times! After chit chatting for a few minutes, I saw the crowds rolling in. I decided to get moving, especially if I wanted to taste my way around, as this event was expecting over 2000 hungry New Yorkers!

Next to Ditch Plains was the Red Hook Lobster Pound table, where a Lady Gaga look-a-like was providing some form of entertainment (I think). Either way, I made sure to grab one of their shrimp rolls before the lines got too intense. I didn’t particularly care for the roll, unfortunately, as there were scallions on top (and those of you who know me well, know I despise any form of raw onion), and it was also a little too heavy handed on the mayo. But, I will give props to them for the bun, it was toasted to buttery perfection and the inside was pillowey and soft!

Across the room I noticed a circus like novelty, the Dirt Candy table was making Tomato Chipotle Cotton Candy. I maneuvered my way through the wall of people and get a stick of the fluffy stuff. It was sweet on the initial taste, but lingered with a spicy smoky savory finish. It was definitely the most interesting thing I tried throughout the evening! Not saying I loved it and I’m craving more, but I have to give it up to them for uniqueness!

As I made my way around the event, I was able to try many different bites from several of the featured restaurants. It seemed that pork was the most popular ingredient of the evening, and noticed at least 10 restaurants dishing it out in some form.

The longest food lines seemed to bellow out from Luke’s Lobster Bar, Goat Town and Red Hook Lobster Pound, along with any of the wine, beer and spirit tables. One complaint I had about the event, was the location of the beverage tables. They were all grouped together, making it a cluster to get to them, rather than spacing them throughout the room.

After a few hours of sampling in a room that now felt like a sauna, my stomach was full and I was beat, so I decided to call it a night!

Food highlights included:

Ample Hills Creamery (Brooklyn): Salted Carmel Ice-cream! This was hands down the best thing I tasted all night…and I’m not even an ice-cream person. It was rich, smooth, artisanal, with the perfect amount of sweetness, and had some sort of toffee style cookies in it, making it ridiculously good!

Porchetta (NYC): Toasted Crostini with braised porchetta ragu. This was craveable! It had a rich tomato back from the ragu and pork that was perfectly braised. It was also easy to eat (only 2 bites and no mess), which is always a big plus at events.

Resto (NYC): Boudin Noir Baked Beans with House Made Jersey Pork Roll. I love this restaurant…they are always serving up quality food in my book, and it held true for this dish.

The Blue Stove (Brooklyn): Decadent Chocolate Bourbon Balls. These girls had the cutest and well-designed table and overall concept. They also made some mean balls, yum!

Brooklyn Brine (Brooklyn): Damn Fine Pickles…and they were! Served whole, and had a smoky note, not too salty. The main pickler said he ages them in Whiskey Barrels which is why they have a bit of char of the nose.

Xi’an Famous Foods (NYC): Cold Skin Noodles. These were awesome! The noodles are all hand-pulled and were served in a citrus spicy vinegar sauce, with veggies and shrimp

Dean Street (Brooklyn): Pulled Pork Sliders on Brioche Buns. The pork was cooked and seasoned perfectly….’nuf said!

All and all it was a fun event and I’m glad I was able to partake!

Cheers and Happy Eating until we meet at the next soirée


Em a la Mode

FYI: Food Republic

If you haven’t seen it already, please make sure to check out the newly launched Food Republic Online Magazine, which explores the new culture of food through stories, interviews, global conversations, and experiences, geared towards men who want to eat and drink well, and live smart! The online magazine already has some very intriguing content such as the Daily Meat Guide, Chef Talk and exciting drinking tales by the Imbiber himself, Dan Dunn! Also, yours truly will be writing for the site as well, in fact take a look at my first post: an Interview with Eddie Huang

I am so excited to be part of this great new publication and am thrilled for the possibilities for the stories ahead!

Happy Reading and Eating!


A Spring in My Step

Hello! I am in the process of cleaning up and dusting off the cobwebs from my sweet little Em a la Mode Blog, call it Spring Cleaning! I know there is not a good excuse to have neglected it for so long, but I promise have been very busy with some travel and other projects that took most of my attention the last several months…and to boot, I had a small bout of writer’s block! So please stay tuned as I promise to have some exciting content coming soon! xoxo, Em