An Ode to Atlanta

As a consumer of Atlanta hip hop, I know our city has a win. Now an expat in Philly I can no longer claim to be a native Atl-ien. I’ve spent too many years steeped in Northern culture rather than sweet tea. However; I think it gives me a unique perspective to see Atlanta’s rise to the mecca of America’s cultural scene. In a national discourse filled with division I’m proud to be from a city too busy to hate.

I set out to try to succinctly describe what Atlanta means to me. I quickly realized that the A is more than words. Honestly its too many words. Atlanta to me represents hope, persistence, friendship, freedom, acceptance, and most importantly home. Atlanta has more grit than the streets of Philadelphia, but we are also a city that welcomes with open arms. For heaven’s sake one of our own natives gave Julian Edelman an impromptu tour of the belt line before Superbowl LIII. From the cultural amalgam of Buford Highway to the Clermont Lounge, our city represents the best of all worlds.

Being a medical student makes you an empiricist, so I’m gonna hit you with some stats. In 2000 our metropolitan area was a little over 4 million. We’re currently pushing 6 million, and we are the ninth largest metropolitan area in the US. Atlanta gained 100,000+ jobs last year and is the third fastest metropolitan area. Atlanta has the largest consortium of historically black colleges and is colloquially known as “black mecca”. As a city we are melting pot of talent and drive. Atlanta is home to the largest aquarium and largest 10km race in the world. I was sitting in an innovation lecture, and the presenter said that Atlanta brags about our corporate connections. We have more than 20 companies making the fortune 500 list (third largest concentration). We are the home of Delta, Coca-cola, and Home Depot.  If you are a startup type, better rent that we work in midtown. All we need now is the MARTA moon shot funding!

I’m a second generation southern American of Indian origin. My favorite BBQ joint is Heirloom near the Chattahoochee. Only in Atlanta does southern style BBQ meet Korean love. Atlanta represents the future of American progress in film, art, and most importantly music. Outkast got us moving, Lil Jon was America’s hypeman of the 2000s, and 2Chainz guides us how to enjoy the finest things in life. From east of West lake to late nights in Buckhead we defined trap. We hosted the superbowl and displayed our own extended halftime show with the best and brightest talent of the ATL hip hop scene.  

We may have lost the Georgia Dome and Turner Field. The holy trinity of pitching is behind us. We definitely bloew a 25-point lead. Old Fourth Ward burnt twice.  Despite it all like Falcons we rise up! As Andre 3000 so succinctly put it “Spaceships don’t come equipped with rear view mirrors”.

If you find yourself in Atlanta for a weekend, take a look at my guide to find the best places for nibbles and dribbles:

Link

 


Brosé, Rosé, All Day - Philadelphia, PA

The northeast has been blasted by two separate nor ’easters this winter. (1)  I think we are all ready for the blissful warmth and carefree vibes of summer. What pairs better with those halcyon days than a crisp, refreshing rosé? (2)

The Urban Ambrosia crew is diving deep into the archives on this one. Last year we spent a rooftop weekend debating the merits of the vino. Is it Hampton bourgeoisie or Jersey Shore plebian? Do I feel comfortable drinking it or have the man-romper wearing finance bros coopted and desolated this fine wine style?

Rosé like healthcare is complicated. (3) Rosé sits at the nexus of red and white and comes from many different grapes, geographies, and production methods. In this post we’ll briefly cover the complex viticulture and viniculture. (4)  The meat & potatoes of the article will be our qualitative & quantitative evaluation of commonly found roses under $15. We hope to empower consumers with limited discretionary spending and optimize vino aficiando cost/benefit decisions. (5)   

Rosé History:

Rosé style wines may be the mitochondrial eve of the wine world. (6) The pressing processes to make darker higher tannin red wines did not exist until the Romans invented the first screw presses around the 2nd century AD. (7) Regardless lighter and fruiter styles of wine remained the preferred stock of cellars up to the boom of Bordeaux in the middle ages. Even early champagne was pinkish until the monk Dom Pérignon codified separating white and red grapes and the use of multiple presses to minimize maceration (the skin soaking in the juice).

(1st Century AD Roman relief showing traditional grape treading)

(1st Century AD Roman relief showing traditional grape treading)

After World War II, Rosé regained prominence through its popularity with Portuguese sparkling wine makers and Sutter Home’s 1975 accidental creation of their “white zinfandel” version. (8)  In the following years in the US, “blush” wines tended to describe pale pink wines with higher residual sugars while rosés were marketed as dryer. The semantical distinction has disappeared and rosé is the general overarching category.

Wine Making Process:

There are three major ways for producing a rosé:

·        Maceration

·        Saigneé

·        Blending

In maceration, juice has contact with the grapes for between 12-24 hours. During this time phenolic compounds such as anthocyanins and tannins are leeched from the skin, stems, and seeds. These compounds contribute to color, flavor, and antioxidant content.  Rosés made from this method tend to have more perfumed aromatics and delicate flavors like strawberry or bright cherry.

The Saigneé method is predominantly French. In this process rosé's progenitor juice is “bled” off of red wine juice early in fermentation (makes a more deeper, concentrated red wine). This byproduct can be poured down the drain or used to make rosé. Some wine personalities have been very critical of this style for being “afterthoughts”.  The Saigneé method tends to produce richer, vibrant pink wines with darker flavors like wildberries and jam.

The final method is blending or mixing red wine into white wine (normally 95% white & 5% red). This process can be used for both low and high quality wines. Ruinart’s rosé champagne adds 16% red Pinot Noir back into a blanc du blanc or entirely chardonnay champagne.

Types & Pairings:

Besides process, the type of grape used and location of growing result in a very diversified and complex wine style. Provence rosés are primarily made from the Grenache varietal and end up being dryer and brighter tasting. I love a nice grapefruit Provence rosé with fresh seafood like raw oysters. (9) A syrah based rosé can be heartier due to the grape’s higher tannin concentration. These wines can be smoky, spicy, and mouthwatering (plum/dried cherry) and pair well with stews. Below you can find some charts and graphs analyze color, flavor, and pairings in a deeper depth:

Shout out to the Thomas Jefferson University Nu Sigma Nu coop for hosting!

Shout out to the Thomas Jefferson University Nu Sigma Nu coop for hosting!

Evaluation:

José Maria da Fonseca Twin Vines Vinho Verde – Vinho Verde, Portugal

- $8 – Wine Enthusiast 84 pts.

While not a rosé, this slightly sparkling Portuguese white wine is perfect for the summer. The vinho verde can be made from a couple different white varietals with the alvarinho being our favorite. It does come in a rosé version which is difficult to find in US wine stores.

Tasting notes:

Crisp, light, bright, dry, citrusy, fresh unripened lime

Rating:

Jordan really likes : 8, Nick: 7, Michael: 7, Aaron: 7.5

L’Argentier Rose d’Aramon -  Aramon grape – Languedoc, France - $15 – Wine Enthusiast 85 pts.

Tasting notes:

Dry, crisp but slightly moldy grapefruit, “Tastes like an old person” 

Rating:

Jordan: 4, Nick: 4, Michael: 5, Aaron: 4

Cabriz Colheita Rosé – Dão Portugal - $12 – Robert Parker 84 pts.

Tasting notes:

Dry, light, tart plum, fresh strawberry, coats the mouth

Rating:

Jordan: 7, Nick:7, Michael: 8, Aaron: 7

Michel Chapoutier,  Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé– Languedoc-Roussillon France - $13 – Wine Enthusiast 86 pts.  

Tasting notes:

Light, dry lime, “spikey” – Nick aka refreshing, floral/perfumey, strawberry

Rating:

Jordan: 5, Nick: 6, Michael: 7.5, Aaron: 7

Matau Pinot Noir Rosé – Marlborough, New Zealand - $15 – Wine Enthusiast 86 pts.

Tasting notes:

Tangy, tropical, dry, tart and fruit forward, mild white walker pale, strawberry with a bit of cranberry

Rating:

Jordan:6, Nick: 6, Michael: 7, Aaron:6

Conclusion:

Our winner is the Cabriz Colheita Rosé. This Portuguese buxom is very tasty, dry, and a bit crispy. Its flavor profile includes hints of cherry, raspberry, and strawberry. A bottle comes in at $12 and was a pleasant value find. This summer we hope you indulge in rosé brosé weekends, but don’t limit yourself. Branch out and try a food-friendly Czech Grüner Veltlier, dry German Riesling, or bubbly Vinho Verde! (10)

IMG_6516.JPG

Footnotes:

1.       A nor’easter is a macro scale cyclone that hits the eastern seaboard. The air mass rotates counter clockwise hence winds that blow northeast to southwest.  They generally occur where cold polar air and warm ocean air converge and end up dumping tons of rain or snow.

2.       The warm tones of the rose color spectrum are definitely going to be on the fashion pallet of summer 2018.

3.       “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated” – His Royal Highness Donald J. Trump

4.       Viticulture is the study of grape cultivation and viniculture is the art of wine making. Shout out the Cheryl Stanley’s Cornell Wines Course and Andrew Schulman (my fraternity brother on a quest to start his own vineyard).

5.       FSFW = Full Stomach, Full Wallet

6.       Mitochondrial eve is the matrilineal most common recent ancestor of modern living humans. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down maternally and can be used in ancestry and human migration studies just like the Y-chromosomal Adam.

7.       The earliest stone wine vats date to 4000 BC in what is now the Vayots Dzor Province of Armenia. Early pressing was done by hands and feet until Egyptians invented the sack press in the 18th dynasty (~1500 BC).

8.       The Zinfandel grape was first bastardized in California in 1869. In 1975 Sutter Home experienced a stuck fermentation for their version. In a stuck fermentation the yeast dies before consuming all the sugar resulting in the well-known, low cost, and very sweet rose style. In recent years the old vine Zinfandel has been making a resurgence and giving the varietal a better street rep.

9.       Had a great one recently in Philadelphia’ Oyster House!

10.     Our friend David Tauber loves a glass of Grüner Veltlier with thai food.

Flushing's Rare White Bear - Flushing, NY

Check out this awesome guest write by Paolo de Angelis (my scruffy Italian former roommate & future cardio-thoracic surgeon badass)!

Photo credits to  Leo B.  

Photo credits to Leo B. 

I have never written a blog post, yet I have eaten at some of the best restaurants in NYC. Cocky? Maybe, but true. Though, today, after walking out of White Bear I knew I had to write about it. Tucked into a small cross street in Chinatown, the real Chinatown, this Flushing staple is easy to miss if you don’t pay close attention. The restaurant itself is a hole-in-the-wall-type of establishment, one that makes my college dorm room feel like a Park Ave penthouse. For those of you who don’t know much about dive restaurants, that is usually a good sign. The menu is almost completely in Chinese, but you don’t need to know much, no need to be adventurous and try something else besides #6, Wontons with Hot Sauce (6$), the reason this joint has racked up 700 reviews on Yelp.

Behind the counter, moving frenetically between pots of boiling broth and piles of steaming dumplings, stands the Chinese version of your grandma. Order with her and try to snag one of the only 6 chairs in the place.

The portion is adequate, enough to fill 1 person. The wontons are great, the minced meat is well seasoned, mixed with just the right amount of scallion and very tasty, though it’s the chili oil and the garlic that really elevate the dish to a whole other level. Salty and not too spicy, the oil adds character to the freshly made dumplings; it also leaves room for you to add some extra hot sauce if you’re feeling particularly gutsy. The scallion and garlic are well balanced, the flavor is not too strong, but definitely still there. Nothing feels greasy or heavy.

 

Photo credits  Deanna C.

Photo credits Deanna C.

Punch line this place is a must for anyone in Flushing. Get one #6, add some hot chili, and then pick up a pork-bun from one of the many vendors on Main St.

P.S I don’t take pictures of my food cause I like to eat it, so I ripped those off from Yelp. Hope I don’t get sued.

Truth or Somtum Der? - NY, NY

This past summer, I lived in one of the last shanty towns of NYC - Alphabet City. A friend’s inebriated insight described the area’s avenues as:

  • A for Alright
  • B for Bad
  • C for Crazy
  • D for Dead

One place on Avenue A happens to be more than just alright (1). Somtum Der (2) is a hidden gem of tantalizing Thai cuisine. The restaurant is the NYC outpost of Bangkok's most famous Isan (Northeastern Thai) restaurant. It is also a former Michelin star holder, and one of a handful (besides Cafe China & Tim Ho Wan) which you leave with both a full stomach and full wallet. Isan transplant Chef Korn combines all the flavors of Northeastern Thai food that attracts locals and Thai expats alike. At Somtum Der you can get a filling, authentic meal plus a Tiger beer for under $25.  

Somtum Der wasn’t my find, and I must give credit where credit is due. My Italian future trauma surgeon friend née former roommate, Paolo, steered me through the bamboo faced exterior (see my NYC guide to restaurants, bars, and caffeine for more joint recs). In this mecca of flavors, the experience isn’t limited to one sense. You right away notice the minimalist wood and natural material decor. The spot has an open design, so you can watch the hustle & bustle in the kitchen while listening to their selection of alternative Thai tunes (3). The place is always packed, so a reservation is suggested. However if you get lucky, you can snag a couple stools near the window. From this perch your dining experience amalgamates Thai culture with NYC street views.

I ripped this one from the Somtum Der website since it was too dark when we visited.

I ripped this one from the Somtum Der website since it was too dark when we visited.

 

This particular adventure starts with a visit from Derrick (my cousin) and Cameron (high school friend). We have several stories from the weekend (4), but most aren’t safe for the internet. We’ll limit this post to our evaluation of Somtum Der’s delicacies.

Our avenue C apartment had a fire escape accessible rooftop.

Our avenue C apartment had a fire escape accessible rooftop.

Everything we tried was delicious! The dishes hit you with mouth watering complexity through combinations of Thai chillis, lime juice, fish sauce, fresh meats, and crisp veggies. The signature dish is a somtum (papaya salad). I highly recommend the Tum Khai Kem, which is a spicy version with salted egg, crunchy soybean sprouts, and sliced lime. Here is the rest of the line up from the evening:

  • Nue Dad Dieo is a deep-fried & sun-dried beef appetizer. It is salty, savory, and a bit tangy. It’s beef jerky texture gives a Chewy feel, but it comes with a Han Solo kick. The crispy yet tender black pepper bites mix well with the sweet and hot chilli sauce.

  • The Chef’s Signature Wok-fried Seafood Suki is excellent! The noodles are crunchy and succulent. The calamari and schrimp’s slight caramelization pairs with the fish sauce zang (5). I recommend washing this one down with a Tiger Beer, a heady lager from Singapore (6).

  • We snagged the chicken version of Pad Thai Mun Poo. These red tinted noodles are sweet and fantastic! They are soft and melt in your mouth, and the tamarind isn’t too overpowering.

  • Finally we close with the Khao Pad Kaprao Moo, a pork friend rice topped with basil. It has a rich and deep taste due to the fatty pork bits, but it lacked a bit of Isan hutzpah (7).

(Click on the above photo gallery to view in the order of description)

I highly recommend over ordering and sharing! The best plan of attack may be starting with a potpourri of appetizers and closing with more noodle than rice dishes. If you’re feeling extra adventurous test out the Tom Pla Too + Kao Mun. It’s a Thai Mackerel papaya salad I tried on a previous visit. All in all Somtum Der is a 10/10 and a must visit if you’re in the East Village/Alphabet City.


Citations:

  1. If you ever end up on Avenue A late at night, stop by my favorite dive bar, Doc Holliday’s, for some duck hunting and two for one cervezas.

  2. The name of the restaurant is derived from the famous Isan dish somtum (papaya salad) and der (a Isan suffix which indicates a friendly greeting)

  3. Somtum Der plays tunes from Zudrangma Records whose artists range from traditional to funky!

  4. Somehow we ended up pre-gaming at a billionaire's penthouse apartment…

  5. Charlie Hoxie coined the shrimp synonym (schrimp) in a Fort Greene backyard brunch.

  6. I swear I’m not sponsored by Tiger Beer, I just like the slogan “It’s Time for a Tiger”.

  7. My yiddish is pretty good after five different Jewish roommates.

Le Fumoir: The Real Bidness - Paris, France

Our story begins with three Americans in Paris. The mix of b-school boys is more an invading army than intellectual expats like Gershwin or F. Scott Fitzgerald. The best of us speaks the lingua franca(1) as well as Bradd Pitt spoke I-talian in Inglorious Basterds.  We settle into a cozy Airbnb in the 6th arrondissement’s (2) historic St. Germain des Pres. We have four days to explore bromantic Paris before hitting the road for a tour of Normandy and the Loire Valley (see itineraries). Paris is a sprawling cultural mecca of superb architecture, art, music, and food (3).  The city became the economic, cultural, and political capital of France in the 12th century.  It has carried that torch through monarchies, empires, and five republics (4).

After a few bottles of vin (5), we saunter out to explore the city of light. Very close and across the Seine are the Jardin des Tuileres and the Lourve.  The area is absolutely gorgeous during the day but quieter in the evening. We head down the Rue de Rivoli and stop by 38 Riv, a small basement Jazz bar. Soft saxophone notes bounce off the exposed stone walls in a room that looks like a medieval cellar. The three stools at the bar are perfect for an aperitif to stimulate the appetite.

The trip planning was fairly laissez faire (6), so Stefan hit up a friend for a dining suggestion.  Our new destination, Le Fumoir, is back near home. Le Fumoir which means “smoking room” is the perfect place for a finally crafted cocktail and a nibble.  The inauspicious entry way opens into a chic and classy formal dining room. We fortunately snagged a table in the elegantly book lined library. The dark wood definitely paired well with the pseudo-intellectual conversation.

The library

The library

The waiter is very friendly and suffers through our ineptitude with the language. I start with a great gin based drink similar to a Clover Club (7). Dani, Stefan, and I snag a bit of each other’s drinks & starters.

Bromantic

Bromantic

Here are the recommendations:

·         The salmon (8) app is delicious! The fish is fresh, full bodied, and succulent. It is served with peas and dill which give the dish a refined earthy feel. The herb mayonnaise base and lemon juice mesh well.

·         The oysters are fantastic. Not sure about genus (9), but these large bois are juicy, slightly salty, and come topped with pecorino cheese.

·         My main recommendation is the fresh squid & scallops in a butter and squid ink reduction. The scallops are small, but packed with flavor. The pan seared, caramelized morsels have the perfect texture.   The slight citrus notes and the subtle bitterness of the crunchy Chinese bring the dish together.

All in all a solid choice and better bang for your buck than the one Michelin star restaurant we tried (Atelier Rodier [10]).

 

So fresh & so clean, clean.

So fresh & so clean, clean.

Yumz.

Yumz.

The mood lighting doesn't do the dish justice.

The mood lighting doesn't do the dish justice.

 

 

  • 1. La lingua franca is a term for the default trade language, which globally is English. Historically French was a major trade language.
  • 2. There are 20 administrative districts in Paris
  • 3. Food
  • 4. The current French government is the fifth republic since the storming of the Bastille. The city currently hosts 18% of the French population.
  • 5. The Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) wine classification system may seem complex at first glance, but becomes easier once you recognize the quality levels and varietals associated with different geographies.  
  • 6. It rubbed off from my fellowship at a libertarian think-tank
  • 7. Gin, Lemon Juice, Raspberry Syrup, and an egg white. Been favoring gin based cocktails, shout out to my local gins (Myer Farm Distillers and Greenhook Ginsmiths).
  • 8. Try to avoid farm raised salmon because it tends to have higher mercury levels (and a bland taste)! The reason salmon is pink is due to carotenoid pigments in the crustaceans they eat. Farm raised salmon looks the same because fisheries dye the food pellets. I recommend wild caught Alaskan Salmon. There are five kinds with distinct flavors (king, sockeye, coho, pink, and chum). It’s pretty affordable to order a big batch during the Salmon run and store in your freezer.
  • 9. Here is guide to some common US oysters.
  • 10. Good tasting menu but pricey.

Havana good bite at Café Laurent - Havana, Cuba

Hemingway, son cubano, mojitos, & daiquiris. Cuba is the birthplace of passionate culture, Fidel’s revolution, and the ironically named Cuba Libre. This March, the Am“bro”sia crew was fortunate to explore the urban jungle of Havana as US government approved “journalists”.

Cuba is a spectacular place to visit. The people are friendly. The historic sites are fantastic. The art is free flowing. Most importantly, the drinks are well made. Due to the lingering effects of the embargo and the current political climate, Havana is a city stuck in the past. 1950’s Chevrolets fill the streets, and live Latin music infuse the bohemian late night establishments. I picture Ernest in front of a typewriter pecking away at “The Old Man and the Sea” [1].

View from the Airbnb balcony

Cuba is on the cusp of a transformation, and you should step in the DeLorean before a flood of American tourists ruin it. While we could fill pages with the history, culture, and economics, this post will be restricted to one of our most spectacular gastrometric discoveries: Café Laurent.

We start out in Old Havana at one of the Old Square’s many balcony bars. (Plaza Vieja en Habana Vieja) It’s late afternoon in the Azucar Lounge, and we’re escaping the Havana heat with some cold Ricky Rosé [2]. The slight grapefruit acidity to the dry coral nectar got my gastric juices flowing [3].

I’m ready to eat.

Old Square

The previous night, we visited Fábrica de Arte Cubano[4], an art gallery turn chic bar (picture the MoMA meets Death & Company). We had heard tale of a penthouse restaurant, and we set off to track it down.

Havana isn’t a big city, but you definitely can’t walk everywhere. It is easy to catch a yellow cab in the city center [5], but we wanted something a bit more authentic (or with a higher pH level [6]). Near the Basílica San Francisco de Asis in Old Havana, you can catch a lift in a classic American made convertible. We whisked along the Malecón [7], the main seaside road, to our destination.

Our hot pink convertible

Restaurante Paladar Café Laurent is in an unassuming white apartment building near the Hotel Nacional de Cuba [8]. Café Laurent is described as an art deco penthouse serving a fusion of “cosmopolitan cuisine and contemporary Cuban fare”. While you need a reservation, the place is very welcoming and affordable [9]. After walking up five flights of stairs, we stumbled into a beautiful restaurant with a breath taking view of the ocean. We were quickly seated, and we ordered a round of mojitos while settling into the menu [10].

Everything looked great!

We ended up ordering an appetizer. Tuna mixed with chives and onions served on a parmesan tostada topped with roe [11].  It was pretty good, but they did serve higher quality tuna ceviche to a nearby table. The slightly sweet and soft tuna paired well with the tostada’s crunch.

Our main entrees were:

·         Camarones grille (grilled shrimp) served with spiced rice

·         A garlic version of ropa vieja (slow cooked beef).

This was the best meal on our entire trip! The shrimp were succulent and vibrant. They had just the right amount of fresh lime juice and flavorful olive oil sauce. The stewed beef was juicy, tender, and delicious. Unlike normal shredded ropa vieja, the beef was medium rare sirloin chunks. The chunks were smothered in a garlic reduction, and each piece just melted in your mouth.

We highly recommend visiting Café Laurent for its ambience, pleasant service, and fantastic food! We walked away with a steal since the total bill was less than $60 CUCs [12]. Café Laurent and Havana represent the future Cuba, a fusion of urban and classic Cuban culture meeting the global scene. It was a remarkable to see and taste the budding Habana metamorphosis.

*If you’re interested in planning a trip to Cuba, check out the detailed Havana itinerary in the “Itineraries” section.

 

Comments:

  • [1] Hemingway actually wrote it in the Bahamas in 1951.
  • [2] Ricky Rosé is simply Rosé wine. Unlike pretentious wine snobs, rapper Rick Ross and wine experts (shout out Cheryl Stanley) support well-made Rosé. Cuba imports most of its wine from South America. Due to government controls, wine tends to be on the pricier side. Stick to a classic Cuban cocktail like a mojito. After all, did you really visit Cuba if you don’t come home with a bottle of Havana Club rum?
  • [3] Besides salivation, alcohol big impacts on the central nervous system (CNS). It binds to GABA as a positive allosteric modulatory (in English it increases the effect of an inhibitory neurotransmitter). It can also muddle around with memory by allosterically inhibiting NMDA and AMPA (critical for long-term potentiation aka learning). Alcohol effects all areas of your brain. It alters your prefrontal cortex or your decision making. It also helps release endorphins or things that will bind to your opioid receptors to make you feel good. It has other effects on your “primitive” brain at your hypothalamus where it increases your hunger and sex drives and at your cerebellum where it effects your motor control. 
  • [4] Literally translates as Cuban Art Factory. It’s a cool cultural center for contemporary art near the Colon Cemetery. We even say a fashion show the night we visited!
  • [5] The government regulates prices for cabs to and from the airport to $25USD. There are two kinds of cabs in Havana, the more expensive yellow cab for tourists and the local friendly taxi. These taxis function as communal rides, and folks will hop in and out almost like a bus.
  • [6] Basic.
  • [7] It runs along the north side of Havana next to a seawall, and it is also called the Avenida de Maceo.
  • [8] Classic Cuban looks and solid cocktails.
  • [9] These nicer places are packed, so you definitely need a reservation. Try email or using a Cuban hotel’s concierge. We stayed in an Airbnb, but you can also pretend like you have a room.
  • [10] And made friends with our neighbors. The dude lost his passport on his first night in Havana….
  • [11] I forgot the Spanish name.
  • [12] 1 to 1 with USD but reasonable considering other restaurants.

 

Aaron Dreams of Ichiju-sansai: Brooklyn, NY

With the NYC omakase craze, it’s hard to go to a nice Japanese meal without burning paper like Kim & Kanye. Fortunately, I stumbled into a small, affordable, and super hip find: Okonomi.

Fedoras Adore Us

Okonomi is a walk-in only breakfast and lunch ichiju-sansai restaurant in East Williamburg (right next to the Blind Barber so def hipster). Ichiju-sansai means one soup, three dishes. At Okonomi you get exactly one soup, three dishes, and tea. However, the quality of ingredients and the care that goes into preparing the minimalist dishes and décor creates an atmosphere of artistic appreciation. I felt like I was eating in a Jiro-style documentary.

Suprisingly, sushi and ramen are not the daily fare of an average Japanese family, and Okonomi makes you feel like you’ve been adopted into a loving, traditional Japanese home. What makes Okonomi truly unique is its culture and connection. The restaurant is actually owned by the Osakana Fish Market in Brooklyn, so you know that you’re getting fresh ingredients. As part of their motto of “Mottainai” or don’t waste, they started Okonomi and YUJI Ramen. The two restaurants share the same space but are open at different times (definitely recommend trying YUJI at some point)

The day I visited Okonomi, I was offered a choice of four fresh fish. I chose my waiter’s recommendation, the blue fish, and snuggled up in the window to wait for my meal.

Everything and everyone was so clean, nice, and calming. From my friendly waiter to the locally sourced ceramics, it seemed like the kind of environment that Trump will soon fence off with a Mexico funded wall.

Within no time, I had my meal (pictured below).

  • The blue fish was light, bright, and super refreshing. It was soft and succulent yet crispy and rich.
  • The rice with the runny egg was sweet, savory, and filling. Paired with the roasted green tea, it was the perfect flavor profile for a cold day pick me up.
  • The vegetables were a tad bit under pickled for my taste, but they definitely had a clean crunch.
  • The greens were fresh and tart. They definitely made my liver feel healthier than the night before.
  • The miso soup was to die for! This miso tasted like it had all the love of a caring grandmother and lacked any cheap processed taste.
The meal!

The service at Okonomi was excellent, and the wait staff does not accept tips! They are paid in living wages and in passion for an authentic, high quality Mottainai ichiju-sansai experience. I highly recommend Okonomi, and it is definitely worth the $25 hit. 

Obi Wasabi Kenobi: Chicago, IL

Stumbling through the door way, I was given a second life by the smell of sizzling shrimp and rich pork broth. It was my birthday, and a low-key meal with the family had been the night’s MO. I wasn’t quite sure how we got there, but my hands were already moving to unbuckle my belt a notch or two. I was ready for some umami* (savory) flavor and definitely kaedama (extra noodles).

The last couple of years, the men in my family have been asserting their dominance by producing home brewed liquid am”bro”sia. Maybe it was a hint about my weak identity politics or because my girlfriend recently took me to a brewing class at Brooklyn’s hipster-chic Biter & Esters. Either way, birthday boy & crew gladly jump at the suggestion to regroup at the Revolution Brewing tap room. Armed with Yelp and my favorite anti-hero IPA, we headed out to find a Logan Square BYOB establishment that met the demands of my stomach.

Wasabi. In middle school, I was pressured into a wasabi eating contest where I ate so much wasabi that I regurgitated green mush all over the table at a fine dining establishment. When I saw Wasabi appear in my Yelp search, it seemed like a signal from dios to overcome my fear of the substance.

Apologies for the tangent.

We find ourselves drunk, drooling, and hangry in Wasabi's entrance way. Our waiter whisked us away, and he impressed us with his friendly attitude & strong banter. Within minutes, we had placed our orders and began eyeing our neighbors’ dishes. Everything looked so good!

The first thing to arrive were the Pork Belly Buns. OMG. I don’t normally eat pork due to a graphic environmentalist documentary, but I make exceptions (mainly South Carolina style pulled pork). These buns were this, that, and a whole bag of chips. They melted in your mouth and were perfectly paired with the warm bun and tang of the sesame mayo.

Besides the hot buns, all the wasabi dishes were tantalizing!

·       Shoyu Ramen beat some of NYC’s top ramen shops

$13 - egg noodle, rich pork broth, berkshire pork belly, spinach, soft boiled egg, marinated bamboo shoot, scallion, sesame, seaweed

·       The Hamachi Kama is probably responsible for the 2016 world series results.

$13 - grilled yellowtail collar, sea salt, daikon radish, house ponzu

·       The toro nigiri may be the cure to cancer. (I’m a snob about my tuna quality)

Market price - fatty tuna

The crew left wasabi hungry & happy!

Thus ends one night of debauchery and my first blog post. Stay tuned for more adventures…

http://www.wasabichicago.com/

*If curious, umami is one of the five basic tastes which is sensed due to activation of glutamate receptors [like activation via MSG – monosodium glutamate]. While others focused on studying neurological diseases in my molecular neurophysiology class, I spent most of my time trying to understand the molecular underpinnings of hedonistic pleasures. Here are a couple fun facts: the tongue map localization of taste is a myth and scientists recently synthesized fake meat that bleeds and has umami! Shoot me a message if you want more stream-of-(un)consciousness rambling.
Pork Buns

Pork Buns

Shoyu Ramen

Shoyu Ramen