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Seduced by Singaporean Snacks on Sticks

7 Jun

Bamboo Tori

When Rick chose to continue with his fading softball career instead of taking on his obligation to provide our greedy and needy group with a food destination, we were in a temporary quandary. Though I would have preferred he hadn’t left us in such a precarious situation, I understood his decision. I did the same thing—for about ten years—before realizing only a visit to a “clinic” in Miami could help regain my youthful form in the field and power at the plate.

Eugene also deserted us when he announced, shocking all of us, that his girlfriend’s superiors had actually invited him to attend her retirement party. And he thought it wise that he not decline the invitation. We could not disagree.

We were four and though Mike from Yonkers was next in line to choose, we were given a unique opportunity. A fan of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, and believe me, their numbers are just not that many, had reached out to me and remarkably, considering he had never met our motley crew, wanted us to assemble at his own eating establishment.

Now just because a restaurateur shows me some love doesn’t mean I’m an easy mark. I have my ethical standards and not just anyone who heaps praise on my work will get equal treatment on my very humble blog.  Jonny, however, the Indonesian born, Singaporean raised co-founder and chef of Bamboo Tori, made a strong case for our attendance. As I said above, any restaurant that would blindly consider allowing our group to convene at their tables has already displayed remarkable valor. Another reason that we considered the offer was that we had not yet been to a Japanese yakitori place, not to mention one that, Jonny explained was also heavily influenced by the Singaporean snacks served on sticks he recalled growing up there. Finally, Bamboo Tori was located in Greenwich Village, a place bustling with restaurants but typically not one where our group’s frugal criteria could be fulfilled. We would be dining in virgin territory.

On its website, Bamboo Tori bills itself as specializing in Japanese yakitori, and though I’ve had yakitori, the traditional Japanese featuring the funky chicken body parts excepted, the concept here, Jonny explained was different. Jonny and his partners Christophe, from Belgium, and Hendy from Haiti, wanted to make yakitori more accessible; meaning chicken hearts, butts, necks, and gizzards were not on their menu. After an exploratory eating trip to Singapore, the partners wanted to create at their venture more of what can be found served as street snacks there.

Mike from Yonkers, Gerry, Zio and I squeezed onto a hard bench in the slender, take-out mostly, restaurant as Jonny presented us with a selection of meats on sticks. Behind a glass front, there was a conveyor belt like machine where meats were put on their sticks and rotated around a hot fire while intermittently being dipped into a marinade. Passersby stared raptly at the mesmerizing process from the street.

The yakitori machine in action.

The yakitori machine in action.

Our first sample box of skewers included one stick each of asparagus bacon, chicken thigh, pork belly, and pork meatballs. Cooked to juicy perfection, each was coated with a bronze grilled yakitori glaze that Jonny informed me was provided by a close friend of his father’s, a Japanese chef of Hilton Hotels Indonesia.

The pork meatballs, made with ground pork, ginger and parsley had Gerry gushing and after a final tally, the consensus was that they were the standout among many standouts.

Pork meatballs

Pork meatballs

The next box included beef tri-tips, beef meatballs, chicken breast, and chicken thigh with scallions. And we made sure that every bit of meat was removed off each stick even if it meant scraping them with our teeth.

Finally, proving that Bamboo Tori can also satisfy the vegetarian, we tried skewers grilled with eggplant, zucchini, and grape tomatoes. From two seats down and over the din of the busy restaurant, I could hear Gerry gush again as he devoured the grilled veggies.

Grilled vegetables on a stick.

Grilled vegetables on a stick.

The final taste was a steamed pork bun stuffed with the aforementioned pork meatballs. The tiny sandwich epitomizing the term: street snack.

The used stick dispensary was stuffed with our skewers. We were done. We thanked Jonny and his partners for their service; very glad that we were introduced to their brand of yakitori, the trip to the heart of darkness known as Greenwich Village well worth it.

Steamed bun sandwich

Steamed bun sandwich

“How’d you come up with that name, ‘Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries’ anyway,” Jonny asked as I was leaving. “It’s cool.”

I explained how I thought the title of the Willie Bobo song as well as the tune itself was as good a representative of what I wanted to achieve in the website as I could find.

“I never heard of it,” Jonny said. And why would a man in his twenties be familiar with a Latin Soul tune recorded in 1966? “But I’m gonna check it out.”

The next day I sent him the link below to better help him check it out.



Bamboo Tori
106 University Place



The Big Kahuna in El Barrio

10 Apr


Lately Hawaii has been on my mind. And I can’t really pinpoint why.  In the past, I’ve really had no desire to visit our 50th State. Despite its obvious attractions, I have always been content to travel to the much closer, more exotic (in my mind) Caribbean than the Hawaiian Islands. Still Hawaii has been on my radar as a place I really should get to at some point in my life.

The closest I’ve come to Hawaii was a few years ago when a screenplay I wrote won a “Gold Kahuna” award at the Honolulu Film Festival. I had to admit, being considered a Kahuna in anything was quite an honor and the festival organizers said there would be a presentation. There was, however, a stipulation. I would have to travel 5,000 miles at my own expense to accept it personally. Even a Kahuna has his limitations and I decided to accept the award via email.

Gold Kahuna

Now I find myself with an itch to see the Islands. Maybe the cold winter finally caught up to me and images of green, lush, volcanic hills, waterfalls, crystal blue waters, and swaying palms has brought on the itch. Maybe that HGTV show Hawaii Life, which I’ve come to watch regularly has enticed me. Or maybe it’s because there is a cuisine particular to Hawaii that I have never tried. I’ve never been to India, Thailand, or Brazil for that matter, yet I have had their food here in New York. But Hawaiian food? Never. New York, it seems, is a Hawaiian food free zone.

Driving up First Avenue in East Harlem,( also known as Spanish Harlem, also known as El Barrio), not long ago, I noticed a sign for a restaurant called Makana that advertised Japanese and Hawaiian BBQ. Here, finally was a chance to lose my Hawaiian food virginity. I looked forward to my first time and despite my Kahuna credentials, hoped the experience would be a gentle one.


I went into the tiny, take-out mostly, restaurant not knowing what to expect and really not expecting much. The majority of the menu featured Japanese staples including a very long sushi list. I skipped past them and  paid attention to the items with asterisks next to them including Hawaiian BBQ beef, fried mahi mahi (“Hawaii’s favorite fish”), Kalua pork (“Another Hawaiian favorite,”) and “Loco Moco”, hamburger patties with a fried egg and covered with “special” brown gray(“A local Island favorite!”) It was the food with the asterisks I wanted.

BBQ chicken

BBQ chicken

I started with the Hawaiian bbq chicken; chunks of boneless chicken thighs heavily marinated in a sweet soy sauce. The chicken came with sides of salad, cabbage, macaroni salad, and rice with a layer of the same sweet sauce under it. While I ate, I noticed that there was something called “spam musabi;” soy marinated spam wrapped in seaweed, kind of like spam sushi, listed up on the illustrated menu behind the counter. I was tempted, but thought that when and if I ever get to Hawaii, that’s when I’ll take a chance on spam musabi.


Next I sampled the Kalua pork, pieces of tender, smoky shredded pork mixed with cabbage and lightly seasoned with that sweet soy sauce. I know pork is big in Spanish Harlem and have had my share of lechon including the addictive portions served at Lechonera La Isla ( see Lechonera Encanto). But this pork was different and had me fantasizing of a big pig slow cooked underground, Luau-style.

Kalua pork

Kalua pork

The bbq beef fried noodles, called fried saimin, were described as “Japanese-style” on the menu, but I never had anything like this at a Japanese restaurant before. The noodles, I thought, were more like thin, Chinese noodles—the sauce again of the sweet soy variety, the beef, thin round slices marinated in  the same sauce. I knew the sauce was redundant to all of the dishes I sampled, but I wasn’t complaining. It was what I was coming to identify with whatever this thing called Hawaiian food was.

Bbq beef fried saimin

Bbq beef fried saimin

In the appetizers section of the menu, I noticed ahi poke offered. I’ve never had poke, ahi or otherwise, but I thought it better, like the spam, that I wait until I’m in Honolulu, Maui, or the Big Island and the tuna is fresh out of the warm Pacific waters before I try it. But then again that might be a very long wait.

2245 1st Avenue
East Harlem

The Noodle Cure: Winter Edition

23 Jan

Jin Ramen

The wind was whipping. My gloved fingertips were going numb and my cheeks resembled New York Giants’ Coach Tom Coughlin’s after spending a January Sunday in Green Bay.  Winter had finally come to New York City. Even Zio was complaining. “It’s like North Dakota here this week,” he whined to me in an email. Not that I disagreed.

It was that cold...

It was that cold…

Back when it was sweltering, I posted a piece on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries called The Noodle Cure where I claimed that steaming ramen noodles, in this case from Terakawa Ramen, were an antidote for the excessive heat we were enduring at the time. The thing about ramen is that it has elixir-like components and, at least for me, acts as a curative for, among other things,  just about all ill effects of weather extremes.

Noodles are back there somewhere.

Noodles are back there somewhere.

Now that the city was under ice and cigarette smoke was indistinguishable from your own breath, I needed that cure desperately. And I found it not very far from my own abode, alongside the elevated tracks of the number 1 train just south of 125th Street.

The view.

The view.

The place, Jin Ramen, was barely visible behind the escalators to the elevated train station. And after taking the noodle cure there and experiencing ramen as good as it gets in not only West Harlem, but possibly all of New York, the only credible reason there were plenty of tables and counter seats available and that there was no line, as there always seem to be at many of the over-hyped ramen joints south of 96th Street, had to be because of its camouflaged location. For that, on this cold day, I was extremely grateful.

Just sitting near the broth was curative.

Just sitting near the broth was curative.

I sat at the counter where I was closer to the fires that sustained the hot broth. The menu at Jin Ramen was minimal, as it should be at a serious ramen joint. A few appetizers like edamame, steamed gyoza, and salads, some of seaweed, others made with tofu were offered along with Sapporo beer on draft and hot and/or cold sake. All were very tempting, but I was there only for the ramen and wasted no time ordering the heartiest on the menu: tonkotsu ramen.

Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu Ramen

It wasn’t long before the steaming bowl was placed in front of me. The broth, its base made from pork bone marrow giving it a creamy texture, was hakata ramen. The noodles were thin, firm and full of flavor. A few slices of tender braised pork belly, the fat on them practically melding with the broth, were included in the ramen along with a perfectly cooked soft boiled egg and a slice of nori.

Pork bellies all in a row.

Pork bellies all in a row.

I worked through the hearty bowl with determination, stopping only to blow my nose into the paper napkins provided. What remained in the bowl, I made sure to slurp down vigorously.  I was positive the noodle cure, if nothing else, would allow for a minimal grace period outside before my skin would once again practically blister, lashed by bitter winds from the nearby Hudson River and where I would have to continue to wiggle my toes to keep the circulation moving on my most extreme of extremities.

Jin Ramen

The number one train rumbled above as I adjusted my hat and put my gloves on. Construction workers on break from redesigning West Harlem for Columbia University huddled around a makeshift fire. As I passed them, I wondered if they knew that just a few paces away, there was something even more comforting and warming than their fire. I wondered if they knew about the Noodle Cure.

Jin Ramen
3183 Broadway (at 125th St)

(Con)Fusion Files

18 Jan

Con Fusion Files

Life is difficult enough without having to decide whether to pair the bibimbap with a Cuban sandwich or go with the chicken salad BLT and the soft tofu soup. But what about the Philly cheesesteak, an inviting pasta, or a nutritious bowl of udon? Not only am I now confused, I’m getting a headache thinking about the eating possibilities here.

And the Answer is…

1 Oct

On Friday I presented these two images and challenged you to name the place where you would find them.

The first image was correctly identified as a pig’s snout. But beyond that, no one could identify the place where the pig snout and the delicious dish above could be found.

As I said in Friday’s post, there are sometimes hints in my words. They were in there, but really, not much help at all. The hint was in this sentence. “In what eating establishment(s) might you find the bizarre image above?” Now how would you know that the pig’s snout image was in, technically, two eating establishments?

This establishment where the pork cutlet above was prepared:

Which is part of this larger, grander establishment:

The food court (emporium) known as Food Gallery 32.

Where  international means, predominately Korean, with some Japanese and Chinese thrown in including the Red Mango frozen yogurt chain, Jin Jja Roo, for Korean noodle and rice dishes, O-de-Ppang for Japanese rice bowls, and,



Food Gallery 32
11 West 32nd Street.

The Noodle Cure

30 May

Terakawa Ramen

885 9th Avenue

It was disgustingly hot. The shirt I was wearing was sticking to my grimy, sweaty flesh.  I wanted relief. I could walk into a department store and subject myself to a mixture of refrigerated air and the toxins released from hundreds of sample perfumes, both male and female. A plunge in a pool was a better idea, but where was that going to happen? Maybe I just needed a cold shower, which would mean getting off the hot pavement and down into the sweltering subway station for the ride home. No, I wanted more immediate relief and I knew there were other options. I knew there was the noodle cure.

A wait for ramen noodles.

I walked to my first choice; a much celebrated ramen place that I knew had been awarded many stars from the usual subjects: Yelp, Urbanspoon, New York Magazine, etc. But many stars can often mean long waits and I’ve already deliberated on my feelings about waiting on line for food The Noodles on Prince Street. It was early; there was a chance I could get lucky. As I got closer, I saw the people; sweaty, grimy too—there were obviously others who knew of the noodle cure. Or maybe they just wanted to wait in line to see if all those stars were deserved.

I turned around and headed back uptown. I knew of another noodle place. From a distance, I could see that no one was lingering outside. My pace quickened as I crossed the street. I pushed the door open. The small semi-circular counter was barren; I had the noodle place to myself.

An empty ramen house.

Even before I ordered the “Tan Tan Noodles;” a big bowl of ramen noodles in a spicy sesame sauce with minced pork, bean sprouts and scallion, I could feel my body cool. I was ready for what was to come.

A loop of Michael Jackson hits played as I tore apart the pan fried pork dumplings I ordered as a side dish. Rich with minced pork and buckwheat, the dumplings were just an amusement before the main attraction.

Pork dumplings

And then the tan tan noodles arrived. The steam was rising thickly from the bowl. I let it wash over the pores of my face before stirring the soup. Using my chopsticks, I pulled out some of the noodles. More steam was released. I blew on them just a bit and then slurped them into my mouth.  I was assaulted by heat on two levels; first from the temperature of the broth and next from the spice within it; the combination bringing a quick sheen to my forehead.

I’m about to take the “noodle cure.”

Alternating between chopsticks and spoon, I slurped relentlessly, the sound almost in rhythm with Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” My only breaks were to use the much too thin paper napkin to blow my nose and dab at the sweat on my face.

Finally I was done. The bowl empty. I paid, “cash only,” and cleared my nose once more before walking back out to the hot street. My shirt no longer stuck to my not as grimy or sweaty flesh.  The ramen was hot but now I was cool. And that’s the funny thing about the Noodle Cure.

How does one join the “Ramen of the Month” club?

A Tibetan Chef in a Japanese Kitchen in Sunnyside, Queens

21 Jun

The night after the Di Fara experience, our group dined at Yamakaze, on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, Queens. Apparently, Yamakaze is no more, but here is a brief testament to its short life.


 The trip out to Sunnyside, Queens on the 7 train was an easy one especially compared to the previous night’s trek to Midwood. Eugene’s puzzling choice was a Japanese restaurant called Yamakaze. We were all more than familiar with the obligatory Japanese restaurant menu—the sushi, the tempura and teriyaki dishes, the udon and soba noodles, What would make Yamakaze a unique experience; one worthy of our efforts? I would withhold judgment. We all had confidence in Eugene’s peculiar, but effective approach to his choices. There was a method to his madness.  We hoped.

The carbohydrate-induced bloat in my stomach after Di Fara’s pizza the night before had subsided throughout the day, but to make sure I ate a light, fiber-rich lunch in preparation for the additional starch to come. The 7 train got me to the restaurant early where I saw Zio waiting outside, perusing the menu skeptically.

  “Whatta we gonna eat here?” he asked, gesturing dramatically with his hands.

  I shrugged and mumbled that maybe the noodles would be good. Again, I was resolved to withhold judgment.

Dazie’s : Live entertainment with your linguini, Thursday through Saturday.

 To kill some time, we walked a block for a drink at Dazie’s Italian restaurant. The bartender, who introduced himself as Dominick, informed us that they were “auditioning” piano players. Before we could withdraw our drink orders, Zio and I had the misfortune of sitting through an abbreviated set of “My Way” and “New York State of Mind.” Thinking we might actually consider returning to Dazies, Dominick gave us each a card and carefully wrote on the back that on Thursday, the entertainment at the piano bar would be “Danny” while on Friday and Saturday, “Jimmy” would be the featured act. We graciously accepted the cards and then got out of there as soon as we could suck down our drinks.

 Yamakaze was empty, but the waitress led Zio and I to our “reserved” table for six. Eugene showed up on time, but Gerry and Mike from Yonkers took a wrong turn off the BQE and ended up in Brooklyn while Rick was stuck in traffic near the Kosciusko Bridge. I’d often heard about the dreaded Kosciusko Bridge and the traffic jams attributed to it, but this was the first time somebody I knew was actually stuck in it.

Fun time on the Kosciusko Bridge

 Taking a look at the menu again, I did notice a few unusual, non-traditional Japanese items. Among them were “Buffalo wings,”  “chicken pocket,” and a Caesar salad.” But along with the above-mentioned non-appetizing appetizers was something called “choi-la,” spicy grilled beef and cucumber stick, and “alu tarkari” spicy potato on deep fried bread. On the entrée portion of the menu, there were others that looked promising like the “Himalyan rasha,” braised goat meat in Thai red curry sauce, and the “sha-ngopa”, sautéed beef or pork with jalapeno, garlic pepper and served with bread. These were definitely not Japanese in language or food. The waitress said that the chef was Tibetan and the menu included a few Tibetan dishes. Did Eugene know this was a Tibetan-Japanese restaurant? Was he, the man who brought us to Himalayan Yak, still fixated on the cuisine of Tibet? Or was it just coincidence? Eugene claimed the latter.

Once Gerry and Mike from Yonkers arrived, we ordered two of those Tibetan hot starters, the choi-la and the alu tarkari along with Japanese gyoza. Rick arrived just as we were cleaning up the very tasty alu tarkari with the deep fried bread and ordered another for him. Tibetan seemed the way to go here—not much excited us on the Japanese menu, but Zio and Eugene ordered noodles, ramen for Zio and thick noodles for Eugene. I mistakenly, maybe intrigued by the name, ordered something called momo which turned out to be the Tibetan version of gyoza. Gerry, who can never get enough of goat, couldn’t resist the Himalyan rasha. This Tibetan goat, however, didn’t meet the high standards set by the Punjabi or African versions of goat we enjoyed at previous outings.

Alu Tarkari: Fried bread and spicy potatoes

There was nothing really wrong with Yamakaze. Sure the muzak of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand we had to endure while dining didn’t enhance the experience. But we met our $20 limit, even with a few rounds of hot sake. Everything was perfectly fine. That being said, I doubt any of us will ever return.

And no one did.

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