Wednesday, September 07, 2005

... hello?

Just a curious little inquiry as to whether anyone actually reads this or cares about what is written there, because there's a whole lot of silence out there! Not being a comment whore by any means, but one is wondering a bit whether the writing style is easy on the eyes, the cuisines being covered are agreeable, and the opinions valid, or at least, interesting? Would love to hear from any lurkers out there! :o)

p.s. Does anyone know what happened to I miss her lovely, knowledgable writing and cheerful photos!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

St. Mark's Place, New York, NY - Yakitori Taisho

When you walk down the steps and enter through the doors of Yakitori Taisho, you're instantly zipped halfway across the world to Tokyo (where, incidentally, there is a sister establishment to the New York niche). From the bubblegum J-pop and J-rock bouncing around the narrow wooden bar-and-stool setup, to the hip, long-haired Japanese customers that look like they're straight out the edgy anime of hallucinogenic-laced, computer network buzzing Lain, I was instantly charmed. It's been a few years since I've been to Japan, and my memories have faded all too quickly despite the cramped notes that I scattered on broken leaves of paper along the way.

And all within an instant of stepping into the grilled smoky hideaway of Yakitori Taisho, it all came rushing back. That sense of comforting home-coming. The serene bell-like feminine voice that was the disembodied soul of the shinkansen. The grassy tip-toeing waves of swaying bamboo giants gently caressing one another. The uneven clip...clopclip... clop.. of wooden sandals that left me more unstable than 5-inch stilettos. The exquisite silken creaminess of matte-white mochi unparalleled in quality. The jewel-blue and neon-pink tones of heavily mascara-ringed eyes, and translucent paleness of washi-paneled walls and doors. Japan was a sensory heaven for me, and being reunited with it, even for less than an hour, made me smile in contentment.

Here, I was mesmerized by the quick flicks of the grill master pictured below. Make sure that he's in charge of cooking when you go, not one of the heat-fearing assistants that timidly yank at the skewer tips, jump back at the flame, and are prone to over-carbonize the meat. When the simple beauty of food comes from the perfect crispness of fat fried into a delicate shell and light smokiness tinging the sweet overtones of subtlely-marinated meat, a few seconds too little or much on the grill makes all the difference. Thus, the importance of having an expert eye (and heat-hardened hands!) at the stove.

His hands blurred with his quick actions in which he dipped, twisted, and flipped skewers with the delicacy of one playing the xylophones.

There's something magical about grilled foods, with the lovely interplay of textures and perfectly-warmed insides. Just as baked potatoes were comfort food for early 20th-century Laura Ingalls Wilder in her log cabin, salmon yaki onigiri (literally, "cook(ed) rice ball") had me purring in silent satisfaction. It was simply rice pressed around flaked salmon, and oh-so-lightly salted (optional). The crunchy outer golden-brown thick shell yielded to steamy, toothy short-grain rice and delicate bits of salmon. Two of these would make a lovely picnic lunch, desirable in either the summer or winter.

The menu features a wealth of meats, all carefully strung along skewers. We only intended to make this a snack stop, so we limited our selection to a trio of chicken gizzards, female smelt, and chicken skin. They came piled upon raw cabbage chunks, and drizzled with a dash of teriyaki sauce. The gizzards and chicken skin were both marinated in a sheen of teriyaki (typically, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar), and the juicy toothiness of the gizzards were fun to roll around in my mouth. The smelt were bulging with peach-creamy tiny balls of treasure; the sand-sized eggs were a lovely, crunchy counterpart to the white, flaky meat and crisp skin.

The shining star of the show, however, was the chicken skin skewer. WOW. This is food orgasm on a stick. Google image search for this, and you'll find a small collection of other Yakitori Taisho fans who also swear by this amazing little beauty. I put it in my 'crisp decadence to die for' category, along with creme brulee and roast piglet (much more ethereal and tender than the usual roast pig). The fat tucked into the skin renders into succulent oil that blisters the skin into fried heaven which can only be compared to fried pork skins the same way that high-grade maguro or toro (fatty tuna) sashimi compares to canned tuna. The skewer doesn't taste like any other chicken dish I've had. It crunched easily and delightfully noisily between my teeth, releasing its savory oils and clean, sweet mirin-soy flavors in a warm wave. Every bite was heavenly, despite Thomas Keller's (of French Laundry) philosophy that anything more than three bites is superfluous to the taste buds. I wished it could last forever, but all too soon, it was just a very sweet memory.

A memory to be treasured with those of my travels in Japan, and the beginnings of "Two Foodies" in New York.

Yakitori Taisho
5 St. Marks Place (between 2nd and 3rd)
New York, NY 10003

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Silicon Valley, CA - Lee's Sandwiches

A quick bite of a lunch post for my equally brief lunch break. I'm a huge fan of Vietnamese sandwiches, which owe much of their existance to the French colonization of Vietnam. Among the food transfusions was the baguette, which metamorphosed into a more delicate, airy piece of bread called banh mi, with the Vietnamese addition of rice flour into the dough.

Into my banh mi dac biet sandwich goes a variety of cured meats, including hogshead cheese (pressed and salted gelatinous tendons), steamed pork rolls (pulverized pork with subtle peppery seasoning and a bland beige cast), pale-rose pink ham, and a thin coat of pate. A translucent creamy oil emulsion, somehow lighter but richer than Western-style mayonaise, coats one side of the bread. The other side is crammed full with slivers of pickled daikon (long, white turnip) and carrot, paper-thin onion, super fresh cilantro, and mouth-numbing fresh green chili pepper slices. Topped off with a dash of salt and pepper, this is sophisticated and refreshing, odd as it may seem to categorize a sandwich as "refreshing".

The result is an irresistible combination of salty, spicy, sweet, and creamy/crispy, chewy, crunchy, flaky, so neatly created with simple, fresh ingredients. Each restaurant/deli has their own bread and filling recipes and proportions of ingredients, and I have a few favorites hidden in various nooks of San Jose and Oakland.

Part of my love affair stems from the sheer economy; Vietnamese sandwiches are super affordable, ranging from $1-3. If Vietnamese culture were to have a "fast food", this would be it (except, it's actually healthy!). One enterprising family has set up an ever-growing chain of sandwich places. Their success has grown beyond the family however, and one recent issue they've had to address was whether or not to keep the empire in family control, or to bring others in to help it grow further. If you're located in the southern portion of the Bay Area, you're probably in the neighborhood of one of their 26 establishments. Lee's Sandwiches offers a customer-friendly variety of Vietnamese basics such as guoi cuon (rice paper shrimp rolls) and mung bean-based desserts, banh mi (refers to both the word "bread" and the sandwiches themselves), and lunch meat and cheese western-style sandwiches snuggled in croissants. They're worth checking out for a quick, inexpensive meal, although their bread is a bit more on the French crusty side, than the Vietnamese fragile crispness that you'll find at smaller sandwich establishments. Still, pretty good!

Lee's Sandwiches
939 W. El Camino Real #108
Sunnyvale, CA 94087