Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where Am I?

List of menu items line the wall........and one item that, er, should NOT be on any menu. Can you find the dirty word?

People pack the smoke-filled izakaya..........

Yakitori on the grill.....smells gooood....

The man behind the grills............

Tsukune and quail eggs.....YUM.

Gyutan, aspara-bacon and tebasaki..........

Vintage poster on the wall...............

Poster of yakitori varieties......

The classic yakitori w tare..............

The sign says "delicious! cheap! fast!"

So am I at a yakitori house in Kichijoji? An izakaya in Koenji, perhaps? From my seat on a tiny little tree-stump of a stool, it certainly seemed like I was. The sounds, the smells.....even the ubiquitous salaryman smoking cigarettes in a plexi-glass "smoking room" made me feel like I was transported back to the cramped, underground pubs that I'd eaten countless cheap (and delicious) meals in during my seven year stint in Tokyo. While it's difficult to find quailty food served with large quantities of good, strong beer for under $10 per person here, these izakayas are everywhere in Tokyo and other major metropolitan areas throughout Japan. Thanks to the izakaya, I filled my belly daily with everything from sashimi to yakitori; crunchy deep-fried wontons filled with cheese and mentaiko to fresh salads topped with a popular mix of canned tuna and canned corn; grilled onigiri painted with thin layer of sweet soy sauce to yakisoba noodles served on a sizzling cast iron plate......oh how I dearly miss the izakayas of my Tokyo days. You have NO idea how much!

So imagine my utter joy when J and I stumbled upon an entire ROW of yakitori-yas and izakayas on St. Mark's Place in the East Village in New York City! We were dragging our butts back to our hotel after consuming embarassingly large quanities of wine and an array of rich tapas but when I saw plumes of chicken-fat-burning smoke, my fullness went away and we ducked in to not one but two places. In Japanese there is something called a "betsu-bara" which means a separate stomach and that is the one I filled with all kinds of grilled meats and little nibbles from both places. It Was Awesome. I was literally transported and it felt amazing as J and I held our glasses of sake and chu-hi up to make a toast.

Although Los Angeles certainly has it's share of Japanese neighborhoods (Torrance, Sawtell, Gardena) it does not have the bustling city-vibe that Tokyo has. It makes complete sense that New York can recreate the same vibe as Tokyo, and although I'd never thought of living in New York before, St Mark's Place may have put the idea in my head....at least a little!

Hope everyone has a very happy Thanksgiving filled with lots of amazing food!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Casa Mono, NYC + 4th Blog Anniversary!

First, let's get this out of the way: Wow, four years of Tuna Toast! Four years ago today, I started this little blog with a post about chocolate macarons, and it's been sporadic postings about food, wine and travel in varying degrees of quality ever since! So thank you to everyone who has ever read this blog, I couldn't have done it without you.

Do any of you "tweet?" I suppose if you know what that means, you do. If you don't, you've either been living under a fairly large rock, or have taken a stand against social networking replacing in-person communication. Although I do, at times, empathize with the latter group, I have joined the masses on Facebook and Twitter and have come to the conclusion that we, as humans, may never have to speak using our voices to anyone ever again. Pretty soon we'll be hugging on Twitter or kissing over Facebook. All you have to do is purchase a lips avatar, and there you go. Virtual kiss, delivered right to your Facebook wall. Smoochie goochies!

Ok, I'm over exaggerating, and I certainly don't want the human race to cease all physical contact with each other. Sure, there are downfalls of social networking, but there are some pretty cool benefits. Case in point: while preparing for my recent trip to the East Coast, I asked the Twitter universe where I should eat in NYC. I did get many good recommendations, but a certain food writer sent me numerous restaurant recs, all via direct messages on Twitter (for those not in the know, a direct message is something intended just for you, not everyone on Twitter). Who was it? Well, none other than Pulitzer Award Winning writer and author Jonathan Gold. In what alternate universe is Jonathan Gold going to see my question, much less answer it? Welcome to Twitter, where stars, well, they are just like us. Take that, US Weekly!

In all seriousness, I felt Mr. Gold was very kind (as he is to many Twits, Twitterers, Tweeters, whatever you want to call us) to answer my query and of course wasted no time in making reservations to Casa Mono, a place he mentioned. J and I were meeting good friends for dinner so we made our way to the small tapas joint which was just a short stroll from our hotel in the East Village.

Casa Mono's menu is quite large, and we decided that each of the four of us would choose two dishes, then we'd share the bounty. My friends K and P ordered the duck egg, foie gras, pork belly and bone marrow. I look at them and say, "Uh, don't you want any veggies?" and K looks at me like I just stole her firstborn baby. "No, WHY?" seemingly exasperated at the horrid thought. What makes it worse is that K and P always look like they stepped out of the pages of a J Crew catalog, all blonde hair, flat tummies, clear skin and perfectly pressed clothes. Disgusting, isn't it? Don't get me wrong- I love eggs, never met a foie I didn't like, everyone on earth loves pork belly and bone marrow is going to be my Last Meal, but I generally try to balance out the fat with something other than more fat. Not to say I didn't toss a phat dish into the ring by ordering the pork croquettas, but I did get the scallions with romesco to add a bit of green, while J went with the scallops and skirt steak. We also all decided to finish off the order with some razor clams. At least they're sort of healthy. Here's the damage:

Duck Egg with Mojama

Veal Cheek Tagine with Sweet Potato Cous Cous

Skirt Steak with Onion Mermelada

Scallops with Blood Oranges and Rainbow Carrots

Scallions with Romesco

Razor Clams a la Plancha

Bone Marrow with Radishes

Foie Gras with Cinco Cebollas

Hudson Valley Pork Croquetas with Green Tomatoes

Crispy Pork Belly and Apple Salad

Everything was muy delicioso, particularly the razor clams which were steamed and swimming around in a mix of garlic, brine and olive oil; and the foie gras which melted on my tongue like good, rich chocolate. The scallions were delicious as well- I'd seen them on the Spain episode of No Reservations and had always wanted to try them- charred scallions are stripped of the black outer layer and served with romesco, a sauce made of roasted red peppers and almonds. We finished off the meal with a cheese plate and some sorbetto.

When you end up with a table filled with empty plates and so many corks that you aren't sure how many bottles of wine you went through, it's the sign of a great night. Thanks to Mr. Gold for the recommendation, and thanks to K and P for teaching me that any friend who insists on ordering pork belly, bone marrow and foie gras together is the best kind of friend a girl could ever have.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Boston, I Think I Love You

Boston, you're a lovely town. I'd never had the pleasure to visit you until last month, and what can I say, you had me the minute the cool, fall breeze blew through my hair.

You have rows of brownstones on tree-lined streets dotted with cute boutiques and coffee shops……….

And everything has an old-town, historical feel to it……….

A place where everybody knows your name……….

Fenway Park……………

You have B&G Oysters, where J and I sat down to glasses of prosecco and a plate of beautiful oysters of different varieties………..

And where I had my very first lobster roll, which was so rich that J and I shared. Oh, and those fries……..o m g………

Cute puppies (ok, not exclusive to Boston but when you see a dog this cute, you find ways to get him into your blog post, ya know?)

Mike's Pastry, where people stand in loooong lines just to buy one of your many flavors of delicious cannoli and other goodies………

and a lovely, nighttime skyline……………….

Other memorable things about Boston that I unfortunately didn't get photos of:

The Liberty Hotel: quite possibly one of the most gorgeous hotels I have ever had the pleasure of staying in. It used to be the Suffolk County Jail and some of the bars and exposed brick from that time still remain, but interwoven beautifully with the new architecture. I can't wait to stay there again.

Conversation I had in a clothing store:

Lady: "So, where ya girls from?"
Me: "Los Angeles"
Lady: "Oh yeah, so whaddaya do?
Me: "I'm in entertainment television"
Lady: "Ohhhhh, so ya workin' with that Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz- they're shootin' up the street here ya know."
Me: "No, not here with them."
Lady: "Oh ok, so ya with that Matt Damon, he's from here, ya know."
Me: "No…not that either."

The North End area, basically their "Little Italy." There were so many amazing smells coming from the multiple Italian restaurants in the neighborhood, we couldn't figure out which to eat at.

My only regret about Boston is that it took me so many years to finally get there. I'm glad I did, and look forward to many more trips there.