NYC trip report: En Japanese Brasserie, Mamoun's Falafel, Raffetto's, and Joe's Dairy
Okay folks, I was born and raised in NYC, and now live in SF.
There are things I crave when I return there.
First up: Mamoun's falafel. After the $8 falafel truck showed up here at work, and it was terrible, I started a bit of an email 'lively discussion' in which I maintained I was flabbergasted at how an $8 falafel could so pale in comparison to my favorite (Mamoun's) at a price of $2.50.
This trip, I once again made the pilgrimage, keeping in mind that perhaps I had been exagerrating? No no no. I tell ya folks, the Mamoun's falafel is a Petite Madeline whose taste does not fade over time. And when's the last time they changed prices? I believe it was $2 in 1990, and they upped it to $2.50 somewhere between then and now....
Next up: You simply can not get fresh cavatelli in SF. Believe me I've tried. This Xmas, I broke down and made some myself. But, back in nyc, it was off to Raffetto's. I was staying at a friends and bought some of their fresh cavatelli and bolognese sauce for a lunchtime treat. Soooo good. But I have to say, my homemade cavatelli and my friend's homemade bolognese did outshine this. But let's see, 10 minutes prep versus all day? There's something to be said for that. Plus, it did satisfy the craving.
Thirdly: Smoked mozzarella from Joe's dairy. How can I put this? Suffice it to say, one of the best things in the world. If you haven't tried it, and you like smokey flavored things, you must head down there and get yourself a ball.
Last: En Japanese Brasserie. This is a place I love for the overall experience. Have been there several times. I actually started a thread on here last week (WD-50 or morimoto) because I was looking to go somewhere new. But in the end we went back to an old favorite. The birthday boy just couldn't get that homemade tofu craving out of his head. The experience was fantastic in the end, but I must mention that it might not have been so. The main room at En is just gorgeous. When I arrived, my friend had been seating in this not-so-fabulous front room. I asked if we could sit in the main room, and the woman up front said it might be tough, she was not sure. I asked her to please try, as it was a special birthday, and she came back and told us we could have one of their special tatami rooms, for no extra charge (usually this costs). It was a lovely gesture that really made for a special evening. Food-wise, we went for the kaiseki dinner courses, which I've never done there, because there are a couple things on the menu not incluced there. But what we did was ask them to inject some extra courses among the others. They were happy to do this, and thre result ws a really special evening. Also, they have two different menus, and some of us got one and some the other. There was some sharing for courses that differed.
I need to preface this by saying that the food here is delicious, but this is probably not michelin star quality food. I mean, they call it kaiseki but it's ceratinly not in the sugiyama league by any stretch. But there is something about this place that has always made me feel happy and satisfied and I keep going back.
I'm not going to go in order, but here are some of the highlights: the warm housemade tofu of course. Just amaazing. There was a special that night, "take-no-ko" which is baby bambu shoot, serves sashimi style. I loved this. The meal began with 3 small appetizers, super tasty. There was a lobster shabu shabu course: individual small shabu shabu bowl made of paper over a fire, a few vegetables, and a half lobster tail served raw to cook in the fluid. Also fantastic. The uni Chawan mushi was nice, but I have definitely had better. They had an amaebi special that we added in. These were some of the better amaebi I've ever had. And they fried the heads for us, which I love (would not have ordered it if they said no though!). That said, the other sashimi courses were serviceable tasty and fresh, but this is not a sashimi destination.
Okay that's it! Stay tuned for me next post, in which I posit another this-place-or-that-place question...
Anyhow, fi you've waffled about going there, I'd try it. Love this place.
I love EN, too. I'm surprised that they call it kaiseki-style; it's just a good izakaya, no? I was in Tokyo on Saturday and found their restaurant. Someone called it Kyoto-style izakya food. That makes more sense. The house-made tofu is delicious, isn't it? I found a company that sells the little pots used to make it and it's very easy to manufacture at home, too. I agree about the sashimi: Skip it. I was in a few weeks ago and had anago they'd flown in from Japan: Wow!
It's a medium sized corporate chain in Japan (http://www.byo.co.jp/). They have a few different categories under the EN brand. I've found the ones in Japan are solid. They are good for business dinners. I found the New York branch completely unremarkable in everyway- except we did see Yoko Ono when we went...and they have a decent, but expensive, shochu selection.
Well, to my mind, if a japanese menu has 7+ courses, and the progression has different cooking techniques that are well thought out (apps, raw, fried, vinegared, stewed, broiled, etc), I'm generally willing to accept the title of Kaiseki. At En, the two set menus that they labeled kaiseki were perhaps a pretty looose fit, but I'll give it to them. (All else on the menu is more izakaya style, yes).
Any chance you could post some more information about the equipment and technique for making homemade tofu? I'd love to e able to do that at home.