It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of sushi. I’ve eaten at numerous sushi buffets spanning across a couple states and stuffed myself to the brink of hospitalization each time. I’ve made faux tuna out of watermelon and even written a narrative for a food writing class at Yale about how I grew up afraid of sushi but came to love it.
To me, sushi balances a plethora of food qualities that you normally don’t see together except at high-end restaurants. Given small, traditional portion sizes, sushi tends to err on the healthy side, but it’s not a simple amalgamation of vegetables. Sushi provides delicate pieces of raw fish and presents them in an artistic, elegant manner. The variety of flavors can vary dramatically, letting the chef’s creativity shine, but the basis remains the same: raw fish bundled with extra ingredients wrapped in rice and nori. In America, sandwiches remain the iconic lunch food, but in Japan, sushi has a firm grasp of that role.
However, as much as I love sushi and appreciate its diversity, there’s a limit to how precisely my tongue can discern flavors or textures and my mind remember them. Perhaps it’s because I mainly eat at sushi buffets and always end up consuming more rolls than I can count, but I find it hard to come out of a sushi restaurant with a firm opinion on what roll was best and why it was so good. Throughout the course of dinner—or lunch—the variety of rolls all blend into similar flavor-texture profiles. There are crunchy rolls, sweet rolls, spicy rolls, and so on. When I dine at different sushi buffets or restaurants, the same phenomenon occurs and I stereotype sushi into these standardized flavor-texture profiles. Rarely do I come across a roll and say, “Wow, this is something different.” My reactions generally follow the lines of “Wow, this tastes great, but I can’t exactly say if it’s better than the roll I had at that other place.”
Miya’s Sushi helped me escape this “monotony”—if you could call it that. At Miya’s, you can find fresh, non-traditional sushi that combines ingredients you would never have suspected go well together—let alone, in a sushi roll. The chef/owner, Bun Lai, frequently catches fish used in the restaurant himself. I know this because I follow his Tumblr blog, through which he regularly posts today’s catch in the morning. By the evening, the fish or whatever edible that was caught is probably inside the bellies of several lucky diners. Lai strives to source ingredients locally when possible and keeps up with modern food trends. The chicken used in some of his rolls are organic, and he is currently in the process of transitioning rolls into gluten-free versions. The rice used in all of Miya’s rolls is a healthy amalgamation of brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, oat grains and flax seed. The complimentary miso soup oftentimes comprises of seaweed trapped a few miles from the restaurant, and the ginger, which is cut thick, includes traces of agave nectar. Miya’s, quite simply, is the healthy foodie’s mecca of sushi. Continue Reading →
Before I get into this story and review, here’s a highly informative article about eating sushi at a restaurant. Though in general, sushi and raw fish are healthy, the article presents some great tips about avoiding caloric bombs at sushi restaurants.
When you get to college, oftentimes, you’re bombard with numerous communities and organizations that want to consume your soul. They shower you with gifts and make promises of grand opportunities, but that all ends after freshman year. More often than not, the benefits drop stagnantly as soon as after the first month. One of the best programs I signed up for, however, is the Korean American Students at Yale’s (KASY) adopt-a-freshman program. Of course, I, along with my friend Jessica, were the freshmen to be “adopted” by two generous members of KASY, Sarah and James.
As a frame of reference, most cultural societies at Yale have a program like this where freshmen are adopted into a family, allowing them to ask upperclassmen questions and get a better feel for college. Other groups do the same. For example, Timothy Dwight college (TD), my housing community, has a similar program.
With my TD family, I shared two meals—one at a dining hall and another at a famous pizza restaurant. While the dining hall meal was free because I am on the dining plan, everyone who went to eat at the pizza restaurant split the bill. Note that my entire family didn’t actually go get pizza, about half of my TD family—three people—could make it. These meals were nice, informative, and fun, but they all occurred within the first couple months of school, and I haven’t gotten to know any of the people in my TD “family” well.
My KASY family, on the other hand, poses a completely different outcome. We’ve gone out for multiple meals at local restaurants—Thai Taste, Basil, Oaxaca Kitchen, and probably one other occasion I forgot. I’ve met up with my KASY sibling, Jessica, in New York City for a run and a meal. Jessica, James (the father in this family), and I surprised Sarah (the mom) with a late-night birthday cake on her birthday. James and Sarah—I couldn’t make it to this occasion—delivered Jessica food and gifts for her birthday. I received an iTunes gift card electronically over spring break for my birthday and Christmas. I could go on. Both Jessica and I are blessed to have ended up with such an awesome KASY family, and this KASY adopt-a-freshman program truly was one of the best, most-enduring perks of being a freshman.
The reason I bring up this story is because I want to quickly review a meal of Oaxaca Kitchen, which Sarah and I visited last week.
Sarah and I went on a quiet Sunday afternoon. There was only one or two tables occupied when we got there, and there are at least fifteen tables at Oaxaca Kitchen. The atmosphere feels festive, as the walls are peppered with aged cement, wood, and bricks. The lighting looks antique but not ancient. The place feels and looks like a cavernous bar, and I hope to come back during the night one day. Continue Reading →
So after a long hiatus from cooking anything sous-vide, I broke out my portable constant temperature water bath and got to work. The reason I decided to cook chicken sous-vide rose more out of convenience than desire for the perfectly cooked chicken breast—though the latter certainly was an incentive. Knowing I would have to cook for myself this month, I stocked up on a ton of healthy ingredients: frozen chicken breasts, broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce, red onions, garlic, blackberries, grapefruit, greek yogurt, whole-wheat tortillas, quinoa, fat-free feta cheese, peanut butter, agave nectar, and Peter Luger sauce (not really healthy, but it’s my favorite steak sauce). Continue Reading →
I’ve got to be honest. I don’t read many books. I’m the type of guy who spends hours on end reading articles on NYTimes.com or cozying up with an extended essay in The Atlantic or New Yorker. Long-form books are not really my type. I think I may have ADD because books can never hold my attention. Despite all that, I devoured Danny Meyer’s semi-autobiographical Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business during the past three weeks.
In Setting the Table, Meyer articulates not what makes him such a great restauranteur but a successful CEO of a food service company. Meyer, who brought us restaurants like Union Square Café, Shake Shack, and Eleven Madison Park, emphasizes the importance of hospitality when providing others a service or product. He divulges a handful of tenets, which, if followed correctly, can lead to a loyal following behind a brand and stable, long-term growth of business.
Meyer begins by describing his childhood and the early roots that formed his interest in food and goes all the way up to the opening of his restaurants in MoMA. Continue Reading →
I get asked a lot what molecular gastronomy, or modernist cuisine, is all about, but I think molecular gastronomy is one of those things you have to see, feel, and taste to truly understand. I can say that molecular gastronomy is the cross-section of science and cooking, where chefs apply techniques straight out of a chemist’s playbook to food, but when you really get down to it, nothing beats tasting and feeling the results of culinary experimentation.
I can still recall the anticipation I had leading up to my first watermelon caviar experiment. It was like experiencing college for the first time. I had no idea what to expect even though I read so much about it. The transformation of watermelon juice to watermelon caviar is magical. Little, if any, practical reason exists in creating caviar that has the taste of watermelon, but the fact that one can pull off such feat and create unique dishes that surprise people presents a form of art and entertainment itself. Techniques like spherification, though they have some scientific value, serve mainly a cultural landmark and fascination. As a society, we are infatuated with trying new things, and while the field of technology produces new products and innovations unfailingly, culinary innovations trickle in more slowly. When Ferran Àdria first presented the spherification technique, it was a revolution that thousands of others began copying—including myself.
A similar experience can be had for watermelon “tuna,” which, again, takes watermelon and presents it in new light. The texture changes, and no food serves as a precedent.
Making watermelon tuna does not present as much materialistic obstacles as watermelon caviar. One simply needs a vacuum sealer—which can be bought cheap at the local grocery store or Amazon.com—and watermelon. (Note: The prices of vacuum sealers vary a lot, from as low as $6.99 for a hand-pump sealer, to a mid-range FoodSaver for about $70. You can go even higher with industrial-grade chamber vacuum sealers, but those are generally out of the price range for most curious cooks).
Watermelon tuna, tastes undoubtedly like watermelon but takes on a curious texture. It maintain a little bit of the crunch originally in watermelon but becomes flexible and slimy—like tuna. A bite into watermelon tuna gives off the familiar crunch of an apple but yields with no resistance to the force of the bite. The experience of hearing a food crunch underneath your mouth yet feeling your teeth sink smoothly into watermelon tuna exceeds imagination. One must try the watermelon tuna for themselves to truly experience the excitement.
The first time I went to Yoyogi Sushi, I came in with great expectations. My friends raved about it. Local publications raved about it, and even Yelp garnered favorable reviews. However, a glance inside the cramped restaurant shot bouts of doubt throughout my body. There was minimal décor. The menu looked greasy and worn out, and the wooden tables offered just enough room to shuffle around.
An adventurous foodie knows that a restaurant’s atmosphere does not tell all about its fare, so I decided to give the place a chance. I waited in line, watching a line of chefs busily compiling orders, and by the time I got to the front of the line, I decided on a combination of tuna and yellowfin rolls. An energetic old lady shouted my order in the direction of the sushi bar, and I saw one of the sushi chefs beginning on my order. His hands moved quickly and methodically, and I could tell from the mechanical precision of his actions that the sushi chef carried years of experience under his uniform. Comforted by what seemed to be quality craftsmanship, I handed over my debit card to the old lady. Continue Reading →
Gabrielle Hamilton, author of the New York Times best-seller “Blood, Bones & Butter” visited Yale today. She visited the food writing class that I am in and also lead an open dialogue about her career and her memoir. Although I did not attend the public discussion, I had the chance to ask her questions and talk with her in a more intimate classroom setting.
Hamilton came off as a strong personality, someone who is not afraid to voice her opinion and comfortable in her mannerisms. She laughed, she cursed, and she genuinely engaged in conversation. Despite her strong personality, Hamilton seems amicable, and I would not mind hanging out with and certainly not mind learning how to cook from her.
During the seventy-five minutes our class had with her, she answered questions directly and honestly. For example, when asked about food blogs, she told us that while she sometimes spends time reading them, she feels bad afterwards because that was time spent she could have used to do something more productive.
Here are the cliff notes of what I learned:
- Hamilton keeps items on the Prune menu even if it’s not their most successful item.
- School was like a vacation to Hamilton. Break from manual labor.
- Hamilton was completely compliant with requests from friends and family who received pre-publish text of the book.
- Seeing as Hamilton portrays her own flaws, she allows other people in her memoir to be flawed.
- Hamilton doesn’t think time spent reading food blogs or watching food shows is time well spent.
- Hamilton enjoys breakfast at Balthazar at 8 a.m.—before all the tourists get in—Peter Luger for steak, Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, and Angel’s Share for a drink.
I talked to Hamilton one-on-one after the class discussion to get my book signed, and after I mentioned that I ran a food blog, a look of surprise ran across her face. “Were you offended by what I said about food blogs earlier,” she asked. “Not really,” I said sheepishly. “I understand what you mean. I used to read a lot of food blogs all the time, but it takes up a lot of time, and I definitely can’t do that during the school year.”
Hamilton asked me about Toastable, so I told her the link. I’m doubtful she’ll have the time to visit—or the desire—but it’s cool having been able to talk to such an accomplished person.
My friend Brian and I visited WD~50 this past Friday. It was my second visit to the place, and like I promised myself after my first visit, I ordered a la carte. As much as I enjoyed the tasting menu, the dishes were a tad bit too small for my comfort, and there was no way I was shelling out $140 on a meal. Continue Reading →
Some years ago, Yale College began hosting a cooking competition known as Final Cut. The premise is simple, a team from each residential college—there are twelve—compete to create an appetizer and entree in the span of one hour. The primary ingredients are known beforehand, and additional ingredients or equipment can be requested, with the limitation of having two butane burners. The winning takes home a cash prize and a handful of culinary goodies.
The Final Cut competition had been one of the events I had been looking forward to coming into college, so when the time came, I teamed up with two friends Jonathan and Angela. We managed to win the preliminary competition, allowing us to compete in the final competition against eleven other teams.
In the preliminary round, we managed to win by cooking a vichyssoise containing chicken, candied carrot, blueberry-infused celery, and croutons. Vichyssoise is a French potato and leek soup normally served cold, but due to limited time and resources, we served our vichyssoise hot. When I tasted the dish, an assortment of contrasting flavors and textures greeted me. Croutons added a much needed bite to the dish. Chicken played a savory overtone, and the candied carrots balanced the primarily salty dish with strong, caramel flavors
At the final competition, we conjured up an appetizer soup based on spicy Korean flavors with enoki mushrooms, stuffed mushrooms, and daikon radish. Our main dish consisted of a Korean BBQ foam-filled mozzarella balloon, baked cod, candied beet, candied carrots, and quinoa. In retrospect, I think the execution of our entree during the final competition lacked finesse. The mozzarella balloons were made ahead of time, so not only was the filling cold, the balloons themselves cooled. The quinoa sat unattended for a while, losing heat, and were a tad overcooked. We didn’t have time to blowtorch them either for an added layer of complexity. The beets, which we struggled with during practice sessions, never reached the softness I desired, but on the other hand, I think we did a great job with presentation, especially considering our limited practice runs. The cod turned out silky soft, and the flavor of the soup was spot on.
The whole competition was a great experience overall, and I’m hoping to go at it again next year. If you’re interested in making something similar to what we made at the competition, here are some recipes.
Photos by Brittany Stager of GroupTalk.
Like most people, I grew up fearful of sushi. The concept of eating uncooked meat seemed unnatural to me. The only explanation I could come up with is that eating raw fish was a sort of rite of passage to adulthood, like drinking alcohol is. After all, I rarely see anyone but adults and college students eat copious quantities of sushi, and we all know what else adults and college students do in copious amounts… Those times I saw a child bite into sushi, I would always ask my parents how that could be so.
Of course, as I grew older, I realized that raw fish was, in fact, not poisonous or inedible. I quickly learned that raw meat may be eaten too, if handled carefully. The first time I tried sushi was at a dinner party, and by the time I had my first bite, my curiosity as a foodie influenced many of my decisions. The first few pieces were refreshingly unfamiliar. The fresh, squishy feel of raw fish though not immediately enticing, won over my palate. I remember leaving with a strong desire to try more sushi.
My subsequent encounters with raw fish were what really cultivated my appreciation for sushi. There is a psychological phenomenon known as the exposure effect—the more one experiences something, the more that person likes that thing—so soon enough, I had visited numerous sushi restaurants and binged on sashimi until the point of vomit. Still, every time I sit down for sushi, my mouth waters and I try to eat as efficiently and gluttonously as possible.
I need not go over how healthy sushi and raw fish is for the human body because I have already, here.
Last year, in January, I visited a sushi restaurant in Boston, MA with a friend named Handson. This was also about the same time I began to get hooked on sushi, so having the excuse of eating out, I searched for a sushi restaurant. Fin’s, a Japanese sushi bar and grill, was conveniently located along the Charles, on the outskirts of Boston University’s campus and across the river from MIT, which is the reason I was in Boston in the first place. Sushi at Fin’s smells and tastes impeccably fresh—like the ocean. The rice to fish ratio balances precariously on the sweet-spot, and the portion sizes make it seem worth the money. Price-wise, Fin’s offers a great lunch deal, and were I a stably employed adult living in Boston, I would eat here every day.
Fin’s Sushi and Grill
636 Beacon St. (between Brookline Ave & Raleigh St)
Boston, MA 02215