Review: Japan Street Fes Ramen Contest in Astoria, April 23, 2017

Cover image: Kyshuya Wakayama-style ramen at Japan Street Fes © WhereNYC

Masamune Ramen brought theatre to their sporting traditional yukatas and grilling pork © WhereNYC

It was love at first slurp as I closed my eyes and lowered my nose in the bowl of ramen. It was absolute heaven, the equivalent of a culinary perfect pitch of complementing and overlapping flavors and textures: the firmness of the noodles and tender grilled chashu or pork with just a sliver fat. The pickled bamboo shoots added a little acidity and bite and the egg was cooked with just a little gooeyness. The icing on the cake was the garnish with a crispy tuile of nori, or seaweed. Tying everything together was that creamy ramen broth of pork, nicely seasoned and perfectly balanced.

Live entertainment was another draw at the event © WhereNYC

This wasn’t a ramen-ya on a hidden street somewhere in Japan, where the lonely salaryman might find some comfort food while slogging home after a long day at the office. When I opened my eyes, I was on Steinway in Astoria, Queens, at the second leg of Japan Street Fest and Ramen Contest.

For two days in Chelsea and Queens, ramen vendors from Japan and the U.S. East Coast treated the public to their versions of this Japanese classic. From stall to stall, boiling pots of water and broth steamed like magic cauldrons while chefs grilled juicy slabs of pork over charcoals. Long queues of patrons intertwined like hungry serpents waiting to get a bowl of the good stuff.

And there was plenty of it, too. The most popular dishes included Menya Masamune’s signature Shio Ramen from Miyagi, Japan and Astoria-based Shuya’s Bluefin Tuna Paitan version. Yet, the simplicity of ramen is its reliability and authenticity. From Hartsdale, New York, Kishuya’s Wakayama-style ramen hit all the right notes. Perfectly balanced, yet powerful the broth married the whole dish beautifully.

Those unfamiliar with agodashi, or flying fish broth, are seriously missing out on a wonderful Kyushu treat. Umi No Ie izakaya in the Lower East dished out a superb ramen that was light and delicate with the taste of the sea.

Umi No Ie’s flying fish broth ramen © WhereNYC

The biggest find, however, was the least popular of the day. Snappy Ramen from Boston bravely served an all-vegetarian tomato ramen that was absolutely delicious.

Snappy Ramen’s Veggie Tomato ramen was delicious. © WhereNYC

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The broth was almost like a vegetarian consommé with a slight sweet tomato note at the end. The green spinach noodles only added to the affect. Garnished with saffron it reminded me a of a Southeast Asian laksa without being too overcomplicated.

There were plenty of non-ramen food options and shopping past the noodle stalls. Fans of Japanese Kansai-style okonomiyaki and takoyaki delighted in the street food section, where people ate hashimaki, a rolled okonomiyaki on a stick – a first for me.

Yamasu Japan © WhereNYC

One of the more interesting stops was at Japanese snack and traditional foods purveyor Yamasu Japan who, at its booth, sold a selection of tsukemono pickles, dried sardines and flavored peanuts from Chiba, Japan.

But less impressive were the chewy grilled squid, dipped in tare and served on a stick, which was almost inedible.

Although there were many positives about the street fest, it needed more organization. People began queuing at the Menya Masamune booth because they had mistaken it for the entrance line to the fair.

Takoyaki © WhereNYC

Tickets to sample ramen cost $10 each, while there was no prior mention of the costs on the website. The lack of event map and volunteers directing traffic made it difficult to navigate and soon long lines appeared everywhere. It would have also been helpful to purchase tickets in advance online, and Japan Street Fes could have divided the event into morning and after sessions to ease overcrowding.

Grilled okonomiyaki to order © WhereNYC

Negatives aside, it was an ambitious two-day event that featured independently owned restaurants, unknown to most New Yorkers that serve food with pride and knowledge. It was impossible to say who had the best ramen at the end of the day, but with our bellies full and hunger satiated, we all felt like winners.

For upcoming events, visit Japan Street Fes.

Review: French Tuesdays 14th Anniversary at Zuma April 21, 2017

© Mike for French Tuesdays

Cover image: Mike for French Tuesdays

Larger-than-life Happy Birthday cards decorated the tables around the upstairs bar lounge of the trendy Zuma, setting the scene for French Tuesdays’ Fourteenth Anniversary celebration. With fourteen years of experience, the fête was fresher than ever, welcoming new and old members to dance the night away.

Girls night out © Mike for French Tuesdays

Guests indeed dressed to impress, as the FT’s invitation suggested, with one of the event’s hosts decked out in a white tuxedo. Each flute of champagne encouraged invitees to leave their workweek and political thoughts behind, regardless of the looming first round of the French presidential elections taking place this weekend.

Bubbly on ice © Mike for French Tuesdays

Attendees indulged in an array of selected menu items created specially for the event, like Zuma’s signature Japanese-inspired gindara no saikyo miso (black cod marinated in saikyo or white miso), hot and cold appetizers, and sushi and sashimi plates. Most partygoers opted for a sponsored champagne cocktails and gathered around friends and newcomers as the DJ’s hits and the accompanying percussionist, Trabi Lizie, kept partiers on their feet.

© Mike for French Tuesdays

At midnight the FT creators counted down to the event’s anniversary, with a birthday cake to top off the celebration. The soirée raged long into the evening with Zuma’s bartenders graciously keeping guests’ drinks full.

The birthday celebration continued the tradition of French Tuesday’s nightlife events, as the organization continues the party going beyond their fourteen years of socializing.

For information on upcoming events and membership, visit French Tuesdays.

Review: Brisket King NYC at LIU, Brooklyn April 19, 2017

Cover image: Chef Jesse Jones © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Where do you start? I thought as the wafting aromas of Izzy’s Smokehouse BBQ dish filled my nostrils. The taste was even better with the perfect balance of fat and tender meat that just melted in my mouth.

Izzy’s Smokehouse © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Whether during the summer or at an indoor event, there is always something magical about a barbecue. Meat sizzling over charcoal, the drinks and friends chatting carries that nostalgic charm and feeling of comfort. At the 2017 Brisket King NYC, it was impossible not feel intoxicated by the buzz. Guests both young and old happily tucking into the delights on offer while enjoying a banter with the chefs.

This year’s Brisket King was extra special at the historical theatre at Long Island University in Brooklyn. With roots tracing back some 91 years, the venue morphed into the ultimate tasting arena, where over 21 participating chefs delighted guests with an array of amazing and inventive dishes in this rustic cook off. Friendly and energetic, the venders served their culinary creations with pride. This year, award-winning celebrity judges Aaron FranklinDaniel Vaughn and John Tesar came all the way from Texas to size up the best of the cooking competition.

© Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Kimchi Smoke © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

For me, it was very difficult to say who was the most impressive contender of the evening. Every booth I hopped, I discovered something new. There were burgers, meatballs and tacos but all done with care, knowledge and passion while others cleverly incorporated Asian flavors. South Korean-style Kimchi Smoke had a tasty tender brisket smothered in their original cheese sauce, which packed a serious punch of flavor. The techniques some had perfected, however, bordered on zealotry.
Randall’s BBQ brought an amazing meat that had been smoked for more than 18 hours the night before!

Ribs Within © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Another highlight of the Brisket King cook off was Ribs Within, which brought a little porky fun, cheerfully wrapping bacon on barbecue skewers. Doesn’t everything taste better with bacon?
Some may have underestimated their popularity at the frenzy. 2014 Top Chefs contestant Jesse Jones from New Jersey had one of the longest lines. Cherry Street Bar-B-Q from Canada actually ran out of their food in the middle of the event! Such a shame because I never got to taste their dish.
With all the sizzling meats and spicy fare, there were fantastic drinks to bring a refreshing breeze and cleanse the palette.

NY Honey © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

For those in need of a stiff drink to wet the appetite, Tito’s craft Vodka delivered on taste while Catskill Provisions’ Honey Whiskey was smooth, subtle and heartwarming. Fans of a summer G & T should get a bottle of Queens Courage‘s artisanal Gin. And if you like a bit of fiery magic, Empire Spirits Project made an exceptional Bloody Mary. Another favorite was a mead-like honey liqueur from KAS Spirits, which complemented the food nicely with smooth, mellow notes of honey. And of course, there was good ol’ beer including Guinness, which showcased a great series of its beers for all to enjoy with grilled meat.

ButcherBar © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Although it was also impossible to try all the dishes as I had already jumped several pant sizes sampling generous portions of food, I tried as best as anyone could.  Since the event was a competition, at the end, the judges chose the top four vendors, with Izzy’s BBQ knock out dish beating out the other heavyweight rivals.

Crowds poured into the 2017 Brisket King NYC © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

In the end of the day, the dishes served had great flavors and each told a unique story. But most importantly, however, is that they were a joy pleasure to eat, and surely that is what it should be about.
By the time I left the Brisket King at LIU with a full belly and feeling a bit tipsy, I could only think about the upcoming summer barbecue season.
Kei Hayashi contributed to this article for WhereNYC.

Review: A Night at the Opera – “Mistaken Identities” at the Greene Space April 17, 2017

Cover image: Driscoll and Constanzo at the Greene Space © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC
What do clay sculptures, a James Beard award-winning chef, and some of the most amazing voices in opera have in common? Usually absolutely nothing, but this Monday night an eclectic group of artists all came out to Greene Space at WQXR and WNYC to put on an absolutely one of a kind performance called 
Mistaken Identities, which is the first of three installments of The Opera Party series. These well-known and recognizable names in the New York art scene came out to entertain.

Davóne Tines wearing a Donald Trump mask © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

The very talented and hysterical Met Opera Star Anthony Roth Costanzo, a well-renowned countertenor (a man who sings like a girl for you non-opera readers), hosted this opera shindig with co-host with the F. Paul Driscoll, Editor-In-Chief of Opera News, where they explored reinvention and alternate reality in opera and art. provide that anything was possible during the duration of an hour. Anthony held court and you didn’t need to be a major opera buff to fully get a chuckle.

Costanzo interviewed some of his fellow actors and directors asking them the hard-hitting questions

At one point one bass-baritone Davóne Tines performed a lullaby before his interview. He adored a homemade Donald Trump mask while singing and cutting an apple with a knife… Obviously political but it was also an intriguing symbolism for the audience to figure out.

Greene Space Opera Party

Doug Fitch’s trojan clay turkey © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

In between performances, the food was served from the clay turkeys made by Doug Fitch. Audience members used small mallets to open it inside to find peanuts shells filled with marshmallows and muscles with caramels. Odd no? Costanzo mentioned the statues and the peanuts were not what they seem –just like opera… This was one of many surprises. Also James Beard Award-winning chef Patrick Connolly from the Brooklyn restaurant Rider who put together deceptive food like turnips shaped like scallops… They were delicious.

Nothing is what it seems © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

The grand finale of the party was an interview with F. Paul Driscoll. At the end of the interview, Driscoll stayed on stage while Costanzo disappeared from the stage and reappears in a class radio booth behind the audience singing and opera.  Driscoll interpreted the motions of Costanzo’s hand gestures as the contender use his hands to show the emotions of being “cold” to “showing off his manicure’.

Mistaken Identities was loveable, contemporary and flat-out just funny. Fans of opera and comedy will simply love this. Not an opera connoisseur? That’s okay! The performances are designed for anyone to understand and admire these true artists.

Missed this performance? Have no fear! There will be another performance on Monday, May 15, 2017, and Thursday, June 22 at 7 pm.

The second installment, “Secrets of the Opera” on May 15th, the audience will find out everything from backstage gossip to onstage disasters. Revel in the splendor of Met Opera star Ailyn Perez and amuse bouches by chef Antoine Westermann of Le Coq Rico. Co-hosted by writer, storyteller, and performer Justin Sayre. Lastly, the third and final installment “Pride Without Prejudice” on June 22, WQXR will celebrate NYC Pride Week. The event will feature performances by cabaret artist Justin Vivian Bond and tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, a surreal confection by cake-maker Elizabeth Hodes, and enticing opportunities to show off just how much pride you feel.

Tickets are $30 per event and are available at thegreenespace.org

Review: “When Domaine de Canton meets” Cocktail Launch at Fine & Rare

Fine & Rare Restaurant and Bar © WhereNYC

The Ginger Brenne House cocktail © WhereNYC

Day Drinking by Kat Odell © WhereNYC

“The book was inspired by my time living by Venice Beach,” guest author Kat Odell said of her cocktail recipe book Day Drinking: 50 Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz. Beautifully edited, it tells a personal story full of happy memories with friends. Like the 19th century French food author Brillat Savarin extolled “the pleasure of table”, Ms. Odell’s book also seeks to recreate the ‘laid back, low-key’ nostalgic moments in the company of others.

St. John Frizell © WhereNYC

Themes of taste memory, compatibility and seasonality summed up the Domaine de Canton cocktail launch at the mixology-themed restaurant Fine & Rare in Midtown, where some of New York’s most creative bartenders came to showcase their own personal cocktails using the French-style, ginger-infused liqueur.

With a meticulous attention to detail, right down the flowers or herbs used to garnish the drinks, each mixologist brought a unique personality with every cocktail.

Inspired by a Second World War era tiki-style drink known as Suffering Bastard whose roots go back to the British army in North Africa, St. John Frizell’s The Monty Buck, was an absolute winner. With a splash of Domaine de Canton, Laird Apple Brandy and El Dorado 5-year rum, it was both bold and refreshing without being too sweet.

Le Nonne Blanc by Lynnette Marrero © WhereNYC

Made in the French tradition of marrying Eau-de-vie with Vietnamese ginger, Domaine de Canton is incredibly adaptable. The tropical style cocktails included Le Nonne Blanc by Lynnette Marrero of Llama Inn -a mix of Domaine, champagne and Zacapa, a Guatemalan sugarcane-based rum. Aesthetically pleasing to the eye, it had subtle note of ginger. There was, however, a slightly peculiar cough syrupy aftertaste which took over.

Nick Bennett’s Tequila citrus cocktail © WhereNYC

Porchlight barman Nick Bennett’s Lunazul tequila-based cocktail, The Dr. Ian Malcolm, combined classic tequila and citrus flavors, but for my personal taste, I would have liked a little kick of chilli.

Although not a fan of Bourbon, Seamstress bartender Christian Orlando’s My Fellow Traveller and the hot toddy-style The Warm Embrace by Lucinda Sterling delivered on the button.

Christian Orlando’s My Fellow Traveller © WhereNYC

My Fellow Traveller had a summery Northern Caribbean feel, which according to Orlando, was a nostalgic summer-on-the-porch cocktail with a clever hint of lemongrass. Sterling’s Warm Embrace made with Apple Cinnamon tea, Apple cider and Domaine de Canton was deeply fragrant and warming, perfect for a cold, wet rainy day.

Nostalgia and comforting aside, there were bold, challenging cocktail creations that really pushed boundaries. Young Kim’s Ginger Brenne House bravely incorporated a smokey single malt scotch with citrus juice. Not for the faint-hearted, it delivered a burst of an Orange-Crush like fizziness, but it oddly worked very well.

The Ginger Brenne House by Young Kim © WhereNYC

Finally, Gates Otsuji of the Standard Grill delivered his Day Dreamer, a gingery martini, an eclectic concoction reflecting Gate’s own mixed background of Italian, Scottish and Japanese descent. Its simple garnish of marigold flower gave a nice earthiness, but the martini was a bit too sweet.

Gates Otsuji © WhereNYC

The beauty of Domaine de Canton lies in its versatility. Whether with tequila, rum or whiskey, the ginger-infused liqueur can take on big flavors or serve as a perfect accompaniment with its delicateness. Even after the party began to wind down, the buzz continued as the guests happily chatted over their cocktails.  Like Kat Odell said about her book Day Drinking, good drinks with friends create warmth and happy memories.

For upcoming events or mixology classes, visit Fine & Rare.

Kat Odell © WhereNYC

Review: Japan Society’s Escape East Meet Up and “A Third Gender” art exhibit

Cover image: The Japan Society © Sally Beane for WhereNYC

“I really want sake,” I overheard one classmate whine to another. This was in the early 2010s, in my final years of high school. Gossip Girl was all the rage, and such shows had made sake an “it” drink, along the lines of champagne. When I heard an event at the Japan Society would be serving it, I looked forward to finally trying it.

Once in the building, I didn’t know where to go. I walked into a two story building, all dedicated to one event. I did, however, manage to find the sake, twice. It was, the man pouring the drinks kindly explained, a rice wine. Sipping it, I noticed that unlike Korean rice wine, sake was clean, odorless, surprisingly spirit-like for a wine.

There were two areas serving drinks, and an art gallery. The exhibition was dedicated to the Third Gender, an exhibit on depictions of gender during Edo period Japan. The tour guide very articulately guided us through my second gander through the gallery. She explained that wakashu, who were adolescent males, were considered acceptable sexual partners for both men and women.” The first time around, I hadn’t noticed that there was an entire section designated to erotic art, which led to what I can only describe as the comedic highlight of the exhibit. There was one particular painting, with a wakashu taking the dominant sexual role, where the man in the more submissive role looks genuinely surprised at what he has agreed to, a rather relatable (and absurdly funny, at that moment) human moment of emotion.

Unidentified Artist, Pages from an unidentified Utagawa-School Erotic Book, ca. 1850s. Color woodblock print. Private Collection. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, ©ROM

The guide ended the tour on a rather moving note, noting how future Western influence set back a kind of acceptance of what can only anachronistically be described as gender fluidity. It was a gentle nudge back to our current location, our current time. We had escaped into Japan, as the event title suggested, and we had been brought back.

Don’t miss the next installment of the Japan Society’s Escape East @333 on April 21st.

Review: NYC Craft Beer Festival Mar. 24, 2017

NYC Craft Beer Fest

Cover image: Courtesy of NYC Craft Beer Festival

Complementary shot sipping glasses © Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

With nearly 1,200 alcohol enthusiasts descending upon the Metropolitan Pavilion to sample 150 craft beers and ciders from 75 distilleries from the US, this year’s NYC Craft Beer Festival included an expanded spirits tasting area along the usual offerings of an assortment of food vendors and beer garden games. Despite a feeble intent of keeping a professional manner, I had to let loose and just enjoy myself.

The Festival featured some delicious food options. © Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

Upon entry, each guest received a commemorative 2oz  CBF shot glass, our official universal sippy-cup. Before any marathon session of drinking, I began with a bite to eat at the food stalls.

The presentation of tasty at each booth was mouthwatering but it was a toss-up between Hanna’s Meatballs or Table 87’s Pizza. Although I prefered Hanna’s, I opted for Table 87’s Margarita Pizza. The assumption being that carbs would serve better than Protein in this situation.

Blue Nectar Tequila

Blue Nectar Tequila @ Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

With a belly full of dough and mozzarella, it was time for the main event.  Following the old college mantra, “Liquor before Beer…” I sauntered over to the spirits aisle where I was introduced to Blue Nectar Tequila. A Single Estate Tequila where the Agave is grown, processed, packaged and shipped from a single farm and distillery in Amatitán, Mexico. The flavor profile is described as drier, earthy and peppery than other tequilas I have tasted. In industry terms, this is referred to as Valley Style. The favorite of the three was the Silver. Mostly because it had a clean finish with a hint of jalapeno on the tongue that opens up to a grapefruit zest. For those on the fence about Tequila or looking to expand your stock, Blue Nectar Silver is the best starting option.

Michter's Whiskey

Michter’s Whiskey © Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

Tequila aside, there were other spirits to sample before the craft beers. Michter’s Whiskey, founded in 1753 by John Shenk, is America’s oldest distillery, located in Blue Valley, Pennsylvania. Having set the benchmark for Rye Whiskey in America, anyone that makes Rye today is emulating the Michter’s style. Its flavor is somewhat peppery, with some deeper complexity of a mineral taste with thyme and oregano.

Part of the joy of tasting artisanal craft beers is meeting the brewmasters and hearing their stories of how they got in the business. After approaching several vendors to inquire about their selections, however, I realized that most of them were volunteers who knew as much about the beer and brand as I could ascertain by reading the place cards.

Fortunately, there was plenty of delicious beer to sample, with some that stood out for the right reasons.

First there was the unexpected that leapt with bold flavors and aromas. South Carolinian Westbrook Siberian Magic Panther had a burst of roasted malt with a dark caramel taste that was complex yet smooth on the palette.

Coney Island Honey Stout, made from locally sourced honey from Upstate New York in the Finger Lakes area, delighted my taste buds with sweet notes at the tip of the tongue, followed by roasted flavor from the toasted barley.

Westbrook Brewing’s Black Magic Panther IPA © Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

On the lighter, crisp side of beer, Coney Island’s Mermaid Pilsner cleverly used dry malt to give it notes of spiciness with west coast hops to give it a little kick at the end but drops off into a clean, refreshing finish, which would a perfect match with sushi, tucking into an Indian curry or enjoying during a summer barbecue.

For hoppy beer lovers, there were several IPA choices including Yonkers West Coast- style IPA, containing five different types of hops. At times, some breweries tend to go overboard with the level of hoppiness. Yonkers’, however, was easy drinking thanks to a balanced blend of different types of hops to achieve a mellow sessional IPA.

Craft brewing has even made a footing in New York, where several small breweries have set up shop and begun to create a following. Established in 2011, Bronx Brewery from the Port Morris area, has become a part of the community with its tasting room along with a 5000 square-foot lot for live music and food truck events. Rather than go for the extreme sour varieties, Bronx Brewery beers are more accessible to reach a wider audience, including its easy-drinking Banner and No Resolutions IPA with six different kinds of hops. Its Spring Seasonal pale ale has gone a bit left field with the infusion of two black teas and  chamomile; however, it was nicely balanced with a subtle floral note from the tea.

Others are made to support local brewing communities. Kings County Brewers out of Bushwick operates almost like a collective helping small-time beer producers get their products out. Currently in collaboration with three local breweries who create their own recipes, which Kings County eventually produces, its repertoire includes quirky yet menacing sci-fi names such as Robot Fish and Marble of Doom, which is a pomegranate and blackberry sour.

With so many craft beers made with knowledge, passion and creativity, it is a wonder why anyone would prefer a mass-produced glass of suds with little taste. Fortunately the 2017 NYC Craft Beer Festival was an excellent area to show off America’s growing generation of talent, expert brewers who turned their desire to make great beer into a craft.

For upcoming events please visit NYC Craft Beer Fest.

Review: Spring Cheese Pop up Sale at the French Cheese Board April 7-8, 2017

Cover Image: ‘Cheese Board’ Île de France Brie, iStara P’tit Basque and Isigny Ste Mère’s Raspberry Fromage Frais © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Mimolette at the French Cheese Board © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

“I didn’t know you could ferment carrots,” said one guest perusing the orange slices on the table. “Yeah, they’re carrots,” joked the girl working the tasting booth with a French accent.

Rest assured these were no root vegetables, but one of France’s prized cheeses: 6 and 18-month aged mimolette – the Rolls Royce of cheesy paradise. To compare it to a super sharp cheddar would not do it justice. Starting off mellow, slightly salty, it then delivers a mouth-fizzing punch of nuttiness that lingers happily on the palette before the screeching-to-a-halt finale. Proof that cow and bug can work in perfect harmony and happily available in the United States.

Emmental at the French Cheese Board © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

The two-day event at the SoHo’s beloved French Cheese Board, a shrine to the French and creamy, showcased some of France’s most well-known cheeses while introducing some of the Hexagone’s newcomers. While many Americans may have yet to learn more about French cheeses, never underestimate the diverse palette of a New Yorker.

With far more publicity, including a whopping 1,800 views on WhereNYC’s Facebook page, this showcase was far more reaching than previous low-key pop-up events. The French Cheese Board managed to send a thousand tongues wagging, drawing in noticeably larger crowds than before.

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French Cheese Board

The Crown Jewel © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Preceded a by a special press-only reception, the fighting French pulled out all the punches with an ideal but every-bullet-counts all-star dairy cast. Highlights of the two-day event included the crowd-pleasing Brie from Île de France and the lovely pungent bleu Saint Agur. The first had everything one would expect from a brie pairing beautifully with either champagne or a full-bodied Shiraz or Bordeaux red. For the latter, try it with slices of green apple and a glass of sweet sherry or port wine.

Fans of wash-rind cheeses hunting the elusive, stinky Époisse, normally at its peak after May, would also enjoy Saint Albray, a slightly milder-but-no-less-exciting clover shaped cheese from the Juraçon in Béarn, bordering France’s three other Basque Country Provinces. Speaking of Basque cheese, starting with the nutty sheep’s milk P’tit Basque by iStara is the perfect gateway to the region’s other top-gamers: Ossau-Iratyshaun-the-sheepy Brebis Pyrénées and Spanish manchego, which all pair beautifully with fig or apricot jam and either a glass of Basque chacoli or a hoppy beer.

Brie by Président © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Beginners to French cheese world should not fear the Triple Crème label as a artery-clogging slow death, but enjoy it as a milder, creamery kind of cheese. Président’s Brie Triple Crème tends to be softer and more accessible in comparison t the Île de France version. While the Saint André was a bit mushroomy, the authentic, creamy Camembert from Normandy was the other crowd pleaser, which pairs well with a fruitier Beaujolais red or a deeper Côte de Rhône. Also flying the Normandy flag was the salted Beurre d’Isigny, which translates to the most unctuous, delightful butter that you’ll ever have. Perfectly seasoned, it is absolute heaven on toasted baguette and drizzled with chili-honey.

St Agur © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Looking to wedge its spoon in the Greek-style yogurt market, the French Cheese Board gave its ideal breakfast take with creamy, tangy Fromage Frais by Isigny. Those familiar with the comforts of a warm croissant and creamy yogurt of a classic Parisian continental breakfast will love Isigny’s franco favorite, available in Mirabelle or Framboise flavors.

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The celebrated cheese map at French Cheese Board. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

With an estimated over 1,500 cheeses in France, it is impossible to know where to begin, but the French Cheese Board’s Pop-Up events are an exciting way to experience some of the country’s most iconic delicacies while chatting with experts in the industry. While there has been a surge in beautiful, high-end artisanal cheeses in the U.S., even the new generation of bearded American cheesemakers owe their craft in part to French ingenuity and tradition. At the end of the day, the French still are in the game producing cheese as good as it gets.

For information on upcoming events, please visit the French Cheese Board on Facebook.

Story notes and images contributed by Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Bourbon and Biscuits at Jimmy’s No. 43, April 4, 2017

Cover image: Courtesy of Black Dirt Distillery

Hudson Baby Bourbon © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

Fluffy biscuits are always a delight to have, but what could possibly make them better? How about some locally made bourbon? At East Village artisanal food mecca Jimmy’s No.43, guests had a wonderful evening full of bourbon tasting and delicious  biscuits and scones.

Bourbon connoisseur Lew Bryson, our evening’s host, walked us through the different types of bourbon we would be sampling along with tidbits on what goes into a bourbon and what to look for when tasting them. He’s no stranger to the industry, with hundreds of malt missions complete with detailed tasting notes on his blog. Bryson’s book, Tasting Whiskey, a sort of bible of distillery, is also a wonderful guide, essential for what adventurous bourbon tasters should look for in their drinks.

Lew Bryson – Courtesy of lewbryson.blogspot.com

The biscuits by Elizabeth Santiso’s Brooklyn Biscuit Company beautifully complemented the bourbon and pulled pork, provided by Flying Pigs Farm. The whole night was informative and fun, as everyone connected over great bourbon and amazing food.

It has long been a myth that bourbon could only come from Kentucky. As long as the distiller adheres to the stringent guidelines, however, bourbon can come from anywhere. In recent times, New York’s bourbon distilleries have risen into prominence, bringing serious competition to the industry. Featured distilleries such as: Hudson Baby Bourbon WhiskeyStill House Bourbon WhiskeyBlack Dirt Bourbon Whiskey and Kings County Distillery Bourbon have helped put New York on the bourbon map, giving the competition a serious run for its money.

Brooklyn Biscuit Company © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

While selection of New York whiskeys this evening at Jimmy’s No. 43 were all top notch, my favorite of the night was the Hudson Baby Bourbon, which had a smooth taste and a light burn, yet both accessible enough to newcomers and refreshing for more seasoned bourbon lovers. Black Dirt Bourbon Whiskey, was another unique standout, and it had a more pronounced warmth to it as well. In terms of taste, aroma and texture, the bourbons had been made with expert knowledge and passion. It was a real treat to see what New York has to offer and learn how best to enjoy them.

For upcoming events visit Jimmy’s No.43 and don’t miss Brisket King of NYC cook off, where over two dozen chefs cook off in the best barbecue competition.

A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints at the Japan Society

Japanese garden and pond greet visitors to opening night of “A Third Gender” at the Japan Society. @ Sallerina for WhereNYC

Cover image:

Unidentified Artist,
Merry-Making in the Mansion (Teinai yūraku zu),
attributed to Kan’ei era (1624–1644). Gold and pigm
ent on paper. Royal
Ontario Museum,
989.24.46. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum,
©ROM

T.S. Eliot famously proclaimed April the cruelest of months, and while I would argue that March is far more onerous, April is indeed fickle. Should you find yourself the victim of cabin fever, staring contemplatively at the dust on your beach umbrella and picnic basket, you would do well to pass an afternoon at the Japan Society. Step into the Society’s natural light-filled lobby, complete with bamboo plants and a small pond, and make your way to the second floor galleries where A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints is on display until the end of the month.

Suzuki Harunobu (1725–1770), Youth on a Long-Tailed Turtle as Urashima Tarō, 1767. Color woodblock print. Royal Ontario Museum, 926.18.110, Sir Edmund Walker Collection. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, ©ROM

Curated by Asato Ikeda, assistant professor of art history at Fordham University, the show is something of a mounted textbook on Edo-era Japan. The primary focus of the show is on wakashu, adolescent males who dressed in a gender ambiguous fashion and who figured prominently in the era’s culture as everything from Kabuki actors to prostitutes. Completely legal in Edo-era Japan (1603-1868), prostitution was housed in walled off pleasure districts in Japan’s larger cities and heavily regulated. An elaborate piece of block art, The Entrance of the Great Gate to the Yoshiwara Pleasure Quarters, depicts the area as a lively center of commerce where leading fashions were on display.

Wakashu are identifiable by their shaved pate or upper forehead and their long forelocks, which are shorn as they enter adulthood. They occupied a unique place on the gender spectrum as well as in the pleasure economy. Block prints include depictions of wakashu as objects of both male and female desire, employed by both to occupy varying roles of passivity and dominance.

At the start of the exhibit, it seemed unlikely that that wakashu were indeed regarded as a third gender. Perhaps, these were merely adolescent males transitioning into adulthood, this presentation an attempt to draw interest with an overlay of a contemporary dialogue. At exhibit’s end, however, my attitude changed. The show’s focus is not limited to the wakashu, and prints of men and women displaying ambiguity in dress and other outward markers of gender do support the show’s premise that gender definitions were, in fact, not exclusively binary or biologically assigned.

Isoda Koryūsai (1735–1790), Samurai Wakashu and Maid, second half of the 18th century. Color woodblock print. Royal Ontario Museum, 973×85.123. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, ©Rbiologically assigned.

In less subtle meditations on sexual pleasure, the show includes a substantial and graphic set of prints devoted to erotica that suggests a society as yet unencumbered by the Victorian values that would enter the culture as Japan’s contact with the West, Great Britain in particular, increased. While the pleasure districts occupied their own physical locations, they were in many ways at the center of culture, leading the way in the realms of fashion and entertainment. Well worth the trip to the far east side of Manhattan, this show lands us in the heart of current conversations regarding gender and identity, contextualizing our present through the celebration another culture’s past.

Third Gender runs through June 11, 2017.

Also at the Japan Society this month:

Tuesday, April 11 12-1 pm
Wednesday, April 12, 6:30-7:30 pm Free Trial Japanese Lesson
Taught by Japanese instructors at the Language Center, for absolute beginners.

Friday, April 14 6-9 pm Happy Hour
Escape East @ 333
Cocktails and an immersive video-and-sound installation by Naoko Tosa

Thursday, April 20 6-8 pm Evening Lecture: Invisible Capitalism: Japanese Capitalism & the Future of Global Capitalism
Hiroshi Tasaka, professor and author of the book Invisible Capitalism: Beyond Monetary Economy and the Birth of a New Paradigm discusses the need to transition to a new form of capitalism that assigns value to invisible capital such as knowledge, relationships, trust, empathy, and other values.

Saturday, April 22 10:30-1:30 pm Connoisseurship: Erotic Prints
Workshop on appreciating Japanese erotic prints and other Edo-period arts. Discussion moderated by Lou Forster who sits on the Japan Society Board of Directors and Dr. Sebastian Izzard who sits on the Board of Directors of the Japanese Art Society of America.