Thursday, July 14, 2011

Zuzu Ramen

I emailed a friend of mine about meeting for dinner since I was going to be in the New York Metro area for business. She told me she wanted to keep it under $20 for an entree. Since I pretty much spend more money on alcohol than on dinner anyway, it was fine with me.

I had just recently been telling someone about my trip to Ippudo last month. Although they had never been there, they did say the ramen at Zuzu Ramen in Brooklyn was very good.

Not really feeling like making the trek into Manhattan and the fact that my dining partner would be within walking distance of Zuzu Ramen (in Brooklyn) - I figured it was worth a shot.

The restaurant is housed in a little corner unit, with about 20 or so seats inside. The decor is a mixture of reds and tans, and has these surprisingly comfortable "butt hugging" stools. I know they were comfortable because I ate and drank there for some 2 1/2 to 3 hours and never felt like I need to stand up and stretch.

We decided to share an order of the mini pork buns, along with a Garlic Soy ramen for her, and a Zuzu ramen for me.

I can say that the ubiquitous pork buns were probably the highlight of the night. If there is a list of fad foods, the cupcake is still miles ahead, but the pork bun is steadily gaining on them. Granted, I've eaten my fair share of these little treats over the last few years. I'm not going to pretend like I haven't, but this just might be the best pork bun I've ever had. The Zuzu version isn't just a simple slab of braised pork with hoisin wrapped in what equates to white bread-like dough. I would say that they taken that idea and topped it with some finely diced accoutrements that deviate from the traditional, but some much needed crunch and texture. I would order these again in a heartbeat.

The ramen is another story. First lets start with the broth. I thought it was way too one dimensional. I had gone to a couple of places in Hawai'i where I could have drank straight broth and walked away perfectly content. Ippudo, I think, takes broth to the next level and even blows the ramen-ya in Hawai'i away. A cursory survey of Yelp and Urbanspoon had consistently harsh things to say about the broth being too salty or smokey. For me I didn't think it was overly so, I did think there was a lack of depth that the previously mentioned places had. I don't mean to sound like it was bad - it wasn't. I just didn't feel the overwhelming desire drink empty the bowl.

Sam Sato's Cold Noodles

I have found that many people bitched about the noodles, I happened to really like them. Zuzu uses what I've known to be a "cold noodle" that seems to have a firm springiness to it that I really like. I ate a place called Sam Sato's in Maui that did cold noodles with a dipping sauce and these were very similar. These are not the vermicelli-like noodles you see at most ramen-ya. I quite liked this incarnation at Zuzu.

My biggest problem was the size of some of the ingredients in the bowl. When our server, who was very friendly and attentive, brought out the bowl, I was surprised at how large the piece of char sui was. Looking down at the bowl, the slice of pork was was a shade under the diameter of the seven or eight inch bowl. How the hell do you eat that without looking like a wolf from a National Geographic episode? I'm all for more meat, but damn, cut the shit in half so I don't look so "primal" while I'm eating it.

For whatever reason there is an entire baby bok choy that is cut in half vertically and put in the bowl. This I have never seen. Instead of a wolf this time you end up looking like a rabbit with no social grace. There is simply no good way to eat it. The tough bottom portion is hard and inedible while the top has the consistency of wilted spinach. The fibrous nature of the ingredient is difficult to navigate with only a pair chopsticks.

Overall, I thought the food was good. It's not the best I've ever had and it's not the worst. Hardcore ramen fans are probably going to say it's decent. Others that are less familiar may say it's better. The problem is that they charge $10-$15 for their ramen, so the bar is raised pretty high. Like a $20 burger, the more you charge the higher the expectation. I don't think Zuzu ramen meets their price point.

Zuzu Ramen
173 4th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

(718) 398-9898

Zuzu Ramen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Shrimp and Grits

When I came back from Augusta in April I brought back damn near every kind of grits I could get my hands on. I think all told I ended up with about six different kinds. While I haven't spent a ton of time down South, I have definitely gained a tremendous affinity for their food.

If you want to extend the life of grits, storing them in your freezer will keep them fresh for twice as long. Now I don't know how things are at your house, but in our's freezer space is at an absolute premium. Anytime I can pull out a package of short ribs, or a pint of ice cream I actually feel a sense of accomplishment. Grits on the other hand, don't really give you that same feeling. I typically only scoop out a half a cup at time for the two of us.

Shrimp and Grits

Love her or hate her, Paula Deen has a really good shrimp and grits recipe that's easy to make and came out perfectly for us. Link to recipe here. I've found that I prefer my grits to have a 4:1 liquid to grits ratio (which she calls for). Anson Mills calls for 3:1, but I just find them to be too gummy. I cut the recipe in half and it translated just fine. The good news is if you split this in half there's only 2 tablespoons of butter - the bad news is that there's an entire cup of grated extra sharp cheddar, or is that good news, too?.

At any rate, once you've taken care of the mise en place, this is about as self explanatory as it gets. It's simple. It's fast. And it's pretty damn good.

The Cage Free Tomato put up a post about his trip down to South Carolina. It's pretty cool. Check it out here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bac Asian American Bistro

Located on the edge of Tremont is a happening little place called Bac Asian American Bistro. Housed in the typical Tremont clapboard building, Bac takes up two narrow spaces with the entrance, bar, and kitchen on one side and the dining room on the other.

The decor has a modern yet comfortable feel to it. Even with a full house, like the night we were there, the noise level was comfortable enough to where you could easily converse with those at your table, but not have to yell.

Our server was very attentive and quite knowledgeable on the various dishes on the menu. Since Regina has food allergies, the server was able to navigate her through the dishes that already had certain components mixed together, and which ones could have the items she was allergic to left off.

We ordered the summer rolls and thought they were just okay. I think we were hoping the peanut sauce had a little more kick to it. I think next time we'd go with the lemongrass crab cakes. Can't say that I've ever had that combo before, so I'd be curious to try it.

Regina ended up going with the Crispy Walnut Shrimp. She thought it was decent, but I suspect that this dish will forever be ruined for her because she had an incredible take on this at Little Village Noodle House in Honolulu's Chinatown. (If you ever go to Hawai'i, Village Noodle is an absolute must and needless to say, so is the Honey Walnut Shrimp.) The portion and execution represented a good value at $15, I just think she has to shelve the idea of comparing them to VNH.

Since the night was cool and wet I decided to go for the Pho Beef Noodle Soup. Admittedly, I am a ramen whore. I admit it. I know - Pho is not ramen. The Vietnamese cousin to ramen melds its cinnamon kissed broth with the hardiness of ever-so-rare, ever-so-thin slices of beef that cook in the hot soup. Cinnamon is a weird thing with me, I like it in desserts but not savory dishes. I ran into this same problem at Burma Superstar in SF (thankfully it was just their appetizer - great BTW). I thought Bac's iteration was actually much better than some others I've had in Cleveland. In fact, I'd probably go so far as to say it's my favorite (#1 Pho might have to change their name to #2 or possibly #3 Pho), but then again pho is not my expertise.

All told I'd say there is enough stuff on the menu that would keep my attention during future visits. The setting was nice, but not stuffy. The waitstaff was attentive. And the food represented a good value.

Looking for more stuff in Cleveland? Check this link for our Cleveland page.

Bac Asian American Bistro
2661 West 14th Street
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 938-8960

Bac Asian American Bistro on Urbanspoon