eating nyc 1.2: ramen, pizza, lobster rolls & fish sauce micheladas

In my last post, I discussed the cheaper eats in New York City. This time, I continue the NYC gastronomical tour by talking about some of the additional places at which I dined, the not-so-cheap but also the not-so-expensive (I’m saving that for part 3 of this NYC series). Basically, these are the in-betweeners, the delicious, the memorable.

Ever since I’d gone to Japan and tasted what real ramen is supposed to taste like, I’ve been on an eternal hunt for a close imitation this side of the Pacific. There is a place in L.A. that I find pretty yummy and close to what I’ve had in Japan. But I’ve never had ramen East Coast style, so of course, I had to pop that cherry.

The first place on my list was Ippudo in the East Village. This ramen joint is notorious for table wait times of two hours plus. But the nice thing is you can put your name and number on the list, amble on over to Sake Bar Decibel, and throw back a few bottles while awaiting the coveted text message from the Ippudo hostess saying your table is ready. And that’s exactly what we did the two times I went. I’m a purist a lot of the time when it comes to food, so I always like to try the classic of anything, especially when it’s my first visit. I found the classic pork ramen at Ippudo to be incredibly savory but not oily; since ramen broth is made by cooking pork bones for several hours, it can sometimes taste too fatty. (For almost all noodle soups, the clearer the broth, the superior the quality and taste.) You can add extra toppings like an onsen (hot springs) egg or extra pork. The pork buns are also worth trying: slightly spicy pork belly nestled inside a steamed bun with extra crisp veggies to cut the fat. I took Frank here one night, and he agreed the ramen was even better than the bowl he’d had at Momofuku Noodle Bar though he’s not nearly of ramen connoisseur status either.

Another ramen joint Pauline took me to is Totto Ramen in Hell’s Kitchen. Here the diners were more exclusively Asian, and being near Midtown, there was not much in the way of nearby libation locations. We ended up standing outside the little restaurant and peering through the iron gate at the lucky noodle slurpers like beggar children. Totto is mostly known for its chicken based ramen broth, a lighter option than the pork version. Perfect hangover cure.

Were these places worth the wait? I’d say because you can pass time at a nearby bar while waiting for Ippudo, yes. As for Totto, that’s a toss-up—they really need to hand out sake to all those huddled in the streets waiting for a table. Then maybe I can say yes.

My cousin, Pauline, lives in Chelsea, and so where better to spend an afternoon than at Chelsea Market, home to the Food Network? The Lobster Place in Chelsea Market has a spread of fresh sashimi and sushi pre-wrapped for easy buy-and-go-eat; a selection of raw oysters which they’ll shuck for you for a small fee; whole lobster steamed for you on the spot and served with butter sauce. Of course, I had to try everything: a sashimi package with salmon (my favorite), tuna, and white tuna; Montauk pearl and Kumamoto oysters on the half shell with just a little squeeze of lemon; and a whole steamed lobster for $13/lb. It’s hard to find seats at Chelsea Market because it’s always crowded, but we managed to hover around a countertop bar inside the Lobster Place, and seats eventually opened up.

There’s been a surplus of lobster this year, but the lobster rolls at Luke’s Lobster were still expensive at $17 a roll (and they’re not large rolls either). Regardless, I had to try them as all the lobster rolls I’d had in the past were just mediocre. Not that I’m a lobster roll connoisseur, but the ones at Luke’s were by far the best I’ve had. I know I don’t have much to compare them to, but the chunks of lobster meat were not overdressed in mayo which tends to be, in my opinion, the downfall of many rolls. I wanted to eat another one, but I couldn’t get myself to justify spending $34 on a dinner that wasn’t too filling. So I passed on getting a second roll and instead filled my tummy up with a punch bowl of champagne next door at The Bourgeois Pig.

Another night, Pauline and I met up some friends for Filipino food. Now the only Filipino food I’d ever had in my life were at the homes of all my Filipino friends. Every holiday party had the dining table covered with mounds of pancit and pyramids of lumpia. Weeknight dinners consisted of pork or chicken adobo and rice or oxtail soup. So when we arrived at Maharlika, I was surprised to find a slightly upscale restaurant complete with a specialty cocktail menu. There was a drink called Rizal’s Ruin on the cocktail list which contains San Miguel Pale Pilsen; lime juice; and something called Maharlika’s BMX which inevitably is something brewed in-house and contains Filipino fish sauce. “Christine,you have to get this drink—you got the thing tattooed on you for crying out loud!” Pauline said. So, of course, I had to. (My new tattoo I’d gotten to commemorate my MasterChef experience includes a school of anchovies to represent fish sauce.) The cocktail was delightfully awesome—one of the most creative and delicious cocktails I’d had in a long while. I guess you can say I’m a fish sauce lover through and through.

We ordered fried chicken skins for appetizers, and they come with a vinegar-based dipping sauce. Pauline, my friend Chef Dang, and I split the Kare Kare (peanut butter braised oxtail with long beans, bok choy, and eggplant – $20); Pampangan style sizzling sisig (pig ears, nose, and belly cooked three ways—boiled, grilled, and sautéed—with garlic rice – $16); and the Filipino chicken ’n waffles (FIlipino style fried chicken with purple yam waffles and anchovy garlic chive butter – $17). The oxtail was very good but a little embarrassing to gnaw on in public, especially when neighboring patrons recognized me. I really enjoyed the chicken ’n waffles—that anchovy butter was amazing. (Yes, I know, I am obsessed with anchovies.) Maharlika is definitely not your homegrown Filipino joint; they’ve dressed up humble peasant food, and for once, I really enjoyed it.

Okay, so last but not least, PIZZA! One of my favorite foods in the world is pizza. And I love, love, love the New York thin crust. When it comes to pizza, I am also a purist in philosophy—I like nothing but cheese, tomato sauce, and maybe basil on my pizza. When in New York, who better to ask where to get best NY pizza than MC3Frank who is an Italian Long Islander. He took me to…drumroll, please…Di Fara Pizza on Avenue J in Brooklyn. The pizzeria opens at 1 PM on Sundays, and Frank made me show up at 12:30. We were the first ones there, but within minutes, a queue began to form. The stories Frank tells about Di Fara’s owner are hilarious, and I won’t be able to do them justice here, but basically, there is one old man who makes all the pizzas at Di Fara. He shuffles back and forth between the 1000°F smoking oven and the counter, pouring olive oil out of a garden watering can to make his special crust. According to Frank, his tomatoes are imported from Naples, and he slices fresh mozzarella only when needed. The best thing is he doesn’t let anyone else make the pizzas, and so when he has a doctor’s appointment, he hangs a cardboard sign on his door closing up shop. I’m sure part of Di Fara’s charm is the legendary pizza man, but the pies are seriously good in and of themselves. We ordered one round pie and one Sicilian pie, burning a hole in our pockets $60 deep. The round pie had the classic thin crust while the Sicilian pie had the crunchier, textured crust. Both had fresh toppings of your usual mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. I can easily say this is some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. Thanks, Frankie, you do know what you’re talking about after all. (I kid; we break each other’s balls all the time.) Next time you’re in Brooklyn or even Manhattan (it’s worth a trek), come to Di Fara, but come early. Cash only.

And that’s it for my second segment of New York eats. Stay tuned for part 3 which will detail my experience at Momofuku Ssam Bar and Eleven Madison Park (my first 3-Michelin star restaurant experience ever). Till then, happy eating!

24 Responses to eating nyc 1.2: ramen, pizza, lobster rolls & fish sauce micheladas
  1. Patrick Kelley Reply

    I'll take a crunchy thin crust pizza over a soft thick crust any day, especially as it seems pizza gets doughier all the time (at least the stuff I've tried). I find doughy pizza with then cheese stuffed in the crust downright gaggy. And I like my cheese–just not in concerto with thicky chewey pizza dough.

  2. Weber Reply

    I live in Chicago and I have to say New York has the right idea about pizza. Whats with all the dough here? I'll never know, but as long as tehy keep serving thin crust options, I won't complain too much.

    • Christine Ha Reply

      That was always Frank-from-the-show's complaint about CHicago “pizza.” He said call it anything else, but it's not pizza. I'm not a New Yorker nor an Italian, so I just keep mum. :X

      • Rob Holysz Reply

        You can't go wrong with Chicago's deep dish pizza though!

  3. Amanda Reply

    I waited at Totto Ramen for 2.5 hours when I was there in August and yes, they seriously need to hand out some drinks to the massive crowds of people waiting outside checking the list for their name and spot in line. My bf at the time thought it was worth the wait for the extra spicy totto ramen, but I got the pork miso ramen and honestly thought I'd had better ramen in Calgary, Canada. If anything though, it was worth the experience.

    • Christine Ha Reply

      If they'd let us order beers and sake while waiting outside, I'd be a happy camper. Of course, I also end up a happy jailbird drinking in the streets and all.

      • jual apartemen Reply

        I've yet to cook it on my own, but I've noted that my mom uses ground toasted peanuts instead of peanut butter. And she puts in a lot, so the sauce has this richer texture. My mom really took the time to experiment in the kitchen

  4. Dharini Adhvaryu Reply

    after your Ramen extravaganza do you have any tips or recipes for good ramen broth at home? i'm in college and i'm sick and tired of packet ramen!

    • Christine Ha Reply

      Alas, I cannot yet help you there. Ramen is on my list of foods to learn how to prepare myself at home, but it's no easy task. It requires a ton of ingredients and a very long time reducing and simmering on the stove. If you can find that sort of time in college, then, well, I commend you for your efforts. When in college, I was eating instant ramen and frozen pizza.

  5. Kyle Gabriel Reply

    Wow, what a coincidence. I was just eating a bowl of Kare Kare and rice when i logged in here. Hmmm, yum! ^^

    • Christine Ha Reply

      Care to share the recipe if it's homemade? ;)

      • Kyle Gabriel Reply

        Well, my mom made it. It's basically meat( beef, tongue, chicken, heck, my mom made tuna once) and veggies, mostly chinese cabbage and banana heart, slow cooked into a rich and creamy peanut sauce. Served in a clay pot yup ^^

        usually the tandem for that is bagoong ( a paste of fermented shimp and salt) but some of my friends are allergic to shrimp, so my mom made a tomato "bagoong" for them. it's basically sauteed tomato and onions with enough salt for that desired saltiness.

  6. @undefined Reply

    I've yet to cook it on my own, but I've noted that my mom uses ground toasted peanuts instead of peanut butter. And she puts in a lot, so the sauce has this richer texture. The taste is more authentic, she says. But I've never had kare-kare outside home, so I never really know the difference. :D

    • Christine Ha Reply

      Oh how I'd love to eat at your mama's table.

      • @undefined Reply

        My mom really took the time to experiment in the kitchen. Kare-kare is one of her specialties. I'm allergic to seafood, so she would set aside a serving which didn't need any fish sauce. :)

        • Christine Ha Reply

          Allergic to fish sauce?!?! That sounds like the worst punishment in the world!

          • @undefined

            Yes. It's awful. :( But I do try a little once in a while. I like it a little spicy on green mango salad. It's good with grilled food. :)

  7. Cecille Reply

    You've got a tattoe?? Cool! Can you show a picture of it?…if it's not er put somewhere private. Lol

    • Christine Ha Reply

      Um…what is a totto in your vernacular?

  8. J. Dent Reply

    Sounds like some good eats. I've never had real ramen before. I've never even had the fake stuff (that's how I classify most instant food items). I've never had Filipino food either, but there's not too many out here in the midwest. I'm not much of a sushi eater, but I'm a bit curious, what's the difference between sashimi and sushi? From where I'm sitting, they both seem like the same thing.

    I do share your love of pizza, although I fall in the thick crust category myself, but there are places that I eat thin crust pies (mostly because that's the only kind they make, lol). Besides a good steak, I could probably eat my fill of pizza. I'll have to remember Di Fara Pizza the next time we head out to the Big Apple. You'd probably find my taste in pizza weird: some of my toppings are chicken, black olives, and feta cheese.

  9. J. Dent Reply

    I'll keep that in mind. Thanls for the tip. :)

  10. guidepooch Reply

    How do you stay so thin while eating all that food?! I would probably gain 10 pounds just looking at the pizza. I am definitely going to note some of these places down for my first trip to NYC which I hope is soon.

    • Christine Ha Reply

      Haha, I really don't know how I stay thin. I actually have a little beer gut though. Lucky genes, I guess.

  11. Stanley Howard Reply

    I guess you just really have the patience to look around. It can be amazing what you can find if you do.

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