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: 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: “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: 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

WhereNYC seeking talented writers to cover events in the city

Cover image: Gifu at the Japan Society © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

If you ever thought about becoming a writer or just want to check out what’s happening in the city, WhereNYC is looking for enthusiastic writers to cover events in the city.  From foodie soirées, cultural expos, cocktail receptions to museum after-hours events, experience the city as never before. This is a fantastic opportunity to have fun and meet people.

For inquires, please contact SpirikalNYC@gmail.com or by Facebook.

Thanks!

 

Review: Charcuterie Masters Feb. 25, 2017 at Flushing Town Hall

Cover image: Rodrigo Duarte of Caseiro e Bom Gourmet House © WhereNYC

Il Porcelino’s beautifully marbled Coppa. © WhereNYC

“I come from Italy but I fell in love with the Catskills,” Giuseppe Viterale the friendly, passionate owner of Ornella Trattoria in Astoria said with a thick Italian accent.

Directing me to the thin slices of fat-marbled prosciutto, he attributes the quality of his products to New York’s ideal climate. “You got the perfect combo of dryness and humidity.” His proscuitto is moist, refreshing without being too salty. It’s all natural he assures me. No nitrates or artificial preservatives, I greedily take another slice.

M. Wells pan roasted boudin noir © WhereNYC

His philosophy of making the perfect ham of European tradition and local quality ingredients sums up the 2017 Charcuterie Masters, which featured some of the best-ever cured meats by fanatically devoted individuals who have put their own stamp on a very old tradition.

Preserving meats dates back millennia but the term ‘charcuterie’ entered our lexicon somewhere around the 15th century. With no proper refrigeration, salt was the magic ingredient to keep meat from spoiling. While the process is deeply rooted in human history, some charcuterie favorites have gotten a bad rap from the W.H.O.’s recent report linking bacon to cancer; however, it has to do more with nitrates than meat.

Alpaca Stew © WhereNYC

Worries aside, the hams, terrines, sausages and puddings at the Charcuterie Masters were truly exceptional.

The blend European ingenuity and American produce made an almost perfect love affair for the guests hopping from table to table devouring the meaty tastings on offer.

Smoking Goose Meatery’s rabbit and pork cheek terrine © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Indianapolis-based Smoking Goose Meatery’s French-inspired rabbit and pork cheek terrine was the absolute show stopper. The balance of lean and fat, offal and herbs with faultless seasoning made it a joy to eat. Pair with a glass of dry Muscadet and a cornichon or two for the perfect dinner party canapé.

Flying the Basque tricolore, Long Island City’s Michelin-starred M. Wells’ pan -roasted black pudding with apple purée was a match made in heaven with a crispy exterior embedded with nuggets of fat.

End Meats © WhereNYC

Similarly to the French Lyonnais classic, Dodine de canard, Dicksons Farmstand Meats‘ Duck Galantine with pistachios, another winner, was intense with juicy duck and pork flavor. A few more nuts would not have gone amiss.

There were delights of Italy on show as well. End Meats Italian-style Lonza was beautifully done. Only 16 months in the business, Denver-based Il Porcelino’s award-winning fat-marbled Coppa, cacciatore and pork liver mousse were simply perfect.

Jacüterie from Hudson Valley © WhereNYC

Charcuterie Masters’ participants took traditional charcuterie a step further with new ingredients. Elevation Meats hailing also from The Centennial State gave their own delicious twist on Italian cured sausages using local ale, barley wine, fennel and even molé. Hudson valley favorites, Jacüterie combines inspirations of Italy, France and Switzerland but also ingeniously incorporates oriental flavors such as lemongrass for its Vietnamese-inspired sausage and its Anglo-Indian style Bombay Banger.

Dickson Farmstead Meats Duck with Pistachios © WhereNYC

Jersery-based Caseiro e Bom Gourmet brought a bit of Latin theatre to their colorful booth with hanging hams as Rodrigo Duarte carved cured Iberico-style ham. Using pigs imported from Portugal, the chorizos were so juicy and succulent without being too salty or greasy.

There were some delicious cheesy options along cured meats at the Charcuterie Masters.

Vermont farmstead Bridport Creamery’s Lake Street Colby, a texture of cheddar but taste of chaume, must be on everyone’s cheeseboard.

Bridge Port Creamery’s Lake Street Colby © WhereNYC

For those after a little home comfort wherever home might be, the Smoke Show NYC’s Carolina-style pulled pork was the best I’ve ever tasted. Normally stringy with a horrid over sweet barbecue sauce, Smoke Show’s authentic version, however, was so soft with a just a little vinegar to lift it all. Simple and clever.

#Porkmafia spices © WhereNYC

If barbecue flavors are what you are after spice blenders #Porkmafia offered array of different combinations. In spite of its menacing name, #Porkmafia’s Texas Gold dry rub packed heat with a slight vinegary finish. Very enjoyable and had a curry-like punch of flavor.

Brooklyn Cider’s Bone Dry © WhereNYC

While there were hoppy beer and local wines available, Brooklyn Cider House’s Bone Dry was lovely and sour, reminiscent of a Bruxellois Gueuze from Belgium. And finally Upstate’s Heather Ridge Farm’s Root Beer, based on an 1876 recipe, was another pleasant surprise that delivered a burst of flavor.

The passionate participants of this years Charcuterie Masters have put serious commitment and love into making the best product possible. Once the laughing stock of the cured meat work, artisanal American producers have finally put the U.S. on the charcuterie map with amazing flavor and quality ingredients.

Elevation Salume from Colorado © WhereNYC

While parma hams from Italy, long ago made by farmers, are now mass produced in factories, their American artisanal counterparts are bringing back authentic old-fashioned prosciutto and more. As Giuseppe Viterale said, it is the natural way that will always be best. “(Like it was done in Europe) we can still do the same thing here.”

Review: 934 Conference Black History Month: Empowering Young Leaders at the French Consulate Feb 15

Cover image:  Left to right: Arun Venugopal, Muriel Quincard, Janai Nelson and Vinny Dotoli

Consule Générale Mme Anne-Claire Legendre © WhereNYC

In recognition of Black History Month, Arun Venugopal, correspondent for WNYC kicked off the discussion with a bit background of what was once known as Negro History Week in 1929, coinciding with the birthdays of two abolitionists: President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The remarkable historical events commemorated during Black History Month, according to Mr. Venugopal, also transcended different communities and social groups.

“It isn’t only about black people,” Mr. Venugopal explained the impact the movement had on other populations and should be considered pivotal in U.S. history. Although he didn’t experience the Civil Rights era during the sixties, the movement also helped to bar racist immigration laws, which according to Mr. Venugopal, had previously barred people from Asia and and elsewhere to immigrate to the States.

Though the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s may have affected different ethnic groups, Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that African-American youth still struggle today. Academic expectations for African-American students still remains low. Black students comprise around 13% of academia but roughly only 2% percent  ever reach the PhD level. In spite of the glaring inequality, there are those who are trying to make a difference. Vinny Dotoli who has run the Harlem Academy, said that one of the school’s missions has been to give back to community and invest in the neighborhood’s youth. But still he said schools even his own still sometimes “stamp the status quo” without bringing revolutionary change.

Empowerment is not privilege based on race or social status, Ms. Nelson said. It is about giving the tools to create opportunity for those disenfranchised in society. It includes purchasing power, and the power of vote. According to Ms. Nelson, during the last presidential election, people of color made up of half the vote. She also argued that it was one of the most diverse electorate that had voted, and the level of participation has dramatically increased. The subsequent post-presidential election protests such as the Women’s March drew solidarity across the world.

In spite of the progress made in achieving diversity, it still is an ongoing struggle. Empowerment is not so easy to achieve, according to private school headmaster Mr. Dotoli. Although his school has been successful in providing quality education to a portion of the city’s African-American children, he acknowledges that his contribution is limited and only represents “a small slice” of the disenfranchised population. He attributes the problem to a lack of gifted and talented programs but admits that this cannot solve the entire problem.

934 Conférence © Consulat Général de France

Organizer Muriel Quancard, who has embraced the culture of inner-city youth in the suburbs of Paris and attempted to turn it into an expressive art, has worked with youngsters in France to build bridges over the gaps of social inequality through art and music. This combination of art and youth participation is encouraging especially when it comes to political participation. Normally apathetic, the election of Donald Trump has given a valuable lesson of voting and the importance of being informed. “People are learning about the underbelly of darker history,” Arun Venugopal said. Mr. Dotoli said that even adults have “woken up to their responsibility.”

French Consulate

934 Conférence © WhereNYC

While there are encouraging signs of general awakening of the power of the young, the level of political participation remains incredibly low. According to the New York Times and CNN, roughly 44% of the voting population did not vote during the last election. While Hillary Clinton received more than 3 million votes more than Donald Trump, the general voting turnout remained low.  Ms. Nelson said that it was not out of apathy, but in some cases, many were prevented from voting. “The real issue was voter suppression that affected turnout.”

Previous 934 Conference included Chef David Bouley and panel © Consulat de France à New York

Though it is a laudable effort on the part of the French Consulate to boldly create a hospitable platform to foster exchange of different opinions, the panel discussion fell flat and at times lacked focus. It was not entirely clear how a private school principal and arts coordinator could effectively address the ramifications of social inequality when they occupy a small place in the efforts of empowering youth. In respect to private and charter education, how can we discuss greater teacher accountability, as Mr. Dotoli had said without understanding the lack of funding that exists for public education? And for those who are not accepted to the Harlem Academy, what happens to them? If empowering the excluded means providing access, as per Ms. Nelson, then maybe students, themselves, need greater accountability to become active members of their community.

Full House © Consulat de France à New York

It was a daunting challenge to fully address these issues, but the 934 Conférence still allowed for a thoughtful, poignant discussion, upholding the revolutionary republican spirit of debate and understanding that have defined the French Republic since 1789.

For more information on upcoming events, please visit the 934 Conference.

Review: Junoon Aphrodisiac Valentine’s Day Celebration Feb. 13, 2017

Two of the event’s starters © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Junoon’s Mumbai Margarita and virgin Grapefruit & Saffron © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

It was love at first sip as I lowered my nose into a fragrant Masala Americano cocktail, a refreshing apératif especially made for the evening’s soirée at Junoon. A creation of head bartender Hemant Pathak, it had a unique combination of flavors including: Aperol, sweet vermouth, dehydrated orange, shiso leaf, cava and served in a whiskey tumbler. The level of attention to detail in bringing out the most in flavors sums up Junoon’s ethos of maximizing taste while appearing minimalist.

Junoon’s spice lab © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Ever since the demise of Danny Meyer’s Tabla, many contenders have stepped in to fill the void and bring progressive, upscale Indian dining back to New York. Hindi for passion, Junoon is the ambitious project of owner Rajesh Bhardwaj.

Junoon’s interior is sleek and very inviting with an enormous amount of space for a Flatiron restaurant including two dining areas and a stylish lounge. Dimly lit, it is, however, excessively dark in areas, making it difficult to really see the beauty of its dishes.

Junoon © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Having maintained its Michelin star for six years, Junoon’s caliber for quality is, nevertheless, on par with some of the city’s best restaurants. Yet, giving a modern flair to traditional Indian cuisine without sacrificing on taste is a difficult challenge. The hype of refining Indian dishes in many restaurants is often at warp speed but with only bland, lackluster results.

Crispy roti with beetroot ©  Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

On the other hand, you could be at Junoon. Our tour of the restaurant’s spice lab just demonstrates Junoon’s borderline obsessive devotion to making new masala mixes. Like any top end kitchen should, all spices are roasted and blended in house. Maintaining authenticity, the chef selects spices to match regionality of its dishes. They include familiar and unusual ingredients like the tellicherry pepper from Kerala often used with roasting bones for soup stocks and preserved black lemons, which can be used in chutneys. Having a flair for the unorthodox, Junoon sometimes add star anise to its house-blend garam masala.

Hemant Pathak © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

While some Indian restaurants’ dishes tend to taste alike because of using the same spice base, Junoon captures uniqueness in almost every bite. With each hors d’œuvre, the contrasts of flavors and spices made my mouth dance. The beetroot and roti and asparagus chat were night and day in terms of taste. The sweetness of the beetroot worked well with the roti which had a hit of spice while the creamy asparagus chat was light with a kofta-like texture.

Masala salmon with spicy avocado © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

The masala roasted pink salmon had lovely sweetness of the fish but with a very spicy avocado. And the grilled octopus, nice and tender, was done with precision and respect. The chili chicken – almost like a peri-peri style, served with spaghetti squash – delivered a serious take-no-prisoners belt of heat proved that Junoon is not afraid to challenge. It was absolutely delicious.

Spiced Cola Negroni © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

The attention of Junoon’s precision shows through its array of cocktails by Hemant Pathak inviting you to dive in a delicious pool of refreshment between the trays of canapés. Our favorites of the evening included a near-genius spicy tequila-based Mumbai Margarita with rose-chili syrup and a rim of coriander Maldon spiced salt. With every sip, each ingredient had a purpose carefully accenting one another.

The Spiced Cola Negroni made with gin, Campari, spiced Carpano Antica really complemented the grilled salmon and octopus and happily was not too sweet. The big surprise was an improvised virgin grapefruit juice cocktail with saffron that brilliantly tempered the tart sweetness of the grapefruit.

Spicy chicken with a sense of purpose © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

The combination of Junoon’s delicious bites and artisanal cocktails reminded us that good food should be wickedly delicious. Every ingredient had reason to be on the plate, and the drinks paired beautifully. Junoon Wine Director Michael Dolinski explained that like cocktails, the wines on the carte des vins have also been carefully selected to bring out rather than neutralize taste. “Indian food already has balance and may not necessarily need wine,” he said when explaining the challenge of pairing. But he said that people should experiment without only working with high profile wines.”If the wine stays above the acidity of the food,” he said, it is much easier to match. Working with contrasts such as pairing with a fruity rosé, as he suggested, can enhance rather than cancel flavor.

The evening was a delicious showcase of the diverse cuisines from a subcontinent too often ignored by some in the high end dining scene, especially in America. The flavor combinations produced by the chefs and bartenders of Junoon, however, are a testament that Indian cuisine is as vibrant and classy as it gets.

For more information or reservations, please visit Junoon.

Review: 2017 Slow Wine Trade Show at Eataly Downtown Feb. 1, 2017

Cover image: Piedmont wines: Malivrà Roero Arneis and Babera by San Michele © WhereNYC

Salumé delights © WhereNYC

Tucked away on the second floor of a department store overlooking the Ground Zero Memorial Park and steps away from the catherdralesque Westfield Oculus Mall, the casual observer may miss Eataly Downtown, but like its sister location, it gigantesque Italian food court can still barely hold the floods of office workers and tourists who frequent the stalls and markets. This year’s Slow Wine Trade Show took place Eataly Downtown’s sit-down restaurant Osteria della Pace, where members of the press and industry hopped from one table to another sipping some of Italy’s upcoming vino contenders.

Slow Wine featured many new contenders. © WhereNYC

In between slurps of wine, visitors indulged in a little salumé hospitality of specially arranged charcuterie, savory parmesan cheeses, salads and canapés. Perpetually crowded, it seemed better to forego the hors d’œuvres and get straight to the wine.

Known for the full body reds, clean crisp wines and spicy rosés, in a glass Italian wines capture the charm and rusticness of the Mediterranean climate. Whether Northern or southern, Tuscany, Lombard, Piedmont or Sicily, the wines of Italy are both subtle and intense depending on the grape, harvest, year and method.

© WhereNYC

While there were the usual welcomed suspects of full-bodied reds with a superb long finish such as Roccapesta Calestaia 2011 Sangiovese and Mosnel’s Franciacorta Brut Rosé – a beautiful champagne-style sparkling rosé, the noticeable trend at this year’s show is to think outside the norm and bring something new to the glass. Many of the reds from the Italian peninsula showcased, for example, are surprisingly mellow and much more accessible.

Who were the winners this year? Although it is almost impossible to judge every wine fairly given the amount of sipping and spitting, there were a few that will happily linger on the palette. In Piedmont’s corner, some of the evening’s most memorable Italian reds included a light single-vineyard Malvirà Roero. It had an unusual but pleasant flavor thanks in part to the fossilized sandy soil. From Lombardy, Cascina Belmonte’s organic dry red Naturae Rebo 2015 was also another exceptional find. Very compatible with any meat or tomato-based pasta dish.

Mosnel’s Brut Rosé was a hit © WhereNYC

For unashamedly classic long finish reds, look no further that L. Monsanto Castello Chianti 2013 with a very deep flavor but surprisingly clean finish. Its other red, the Il Poggio 2011 is a spicy pasta’s best companion. Flying the Sicilian banner, the Tasca d’Almerita, a very rich red, gave a beautiful warming sensation that spread to my toes. Sangiovese fans should consider the Castello Di Magione 2015, which would be best enjoyed on a cold, rainy day or when tucking into a steamy deep dish pizza.

Smaller independent vineyards were also featured. © WhereNYC

Catering to a younger, economically-minded generation looking to maximise on affordable wines, Italian wine producers are offering more lighter-bodied, cleaner finish reds along with the rich big guns. These table wines should not be dismissed as pale, forgettable, but rather pleasant and easy to enjoy throughout the year.

Alongside the beautiful complex reds of Roccapesta Tuscany, the Ribeo, aged for two years, with light tannins, is  a great ready-to-drink wine. Next, the Riserva had a slight cherry taste, strong but followed with a clean finish. Ronc Soreli Pinot Nero 2016, (the Italian term for Pinot Noir) was very similar to a Georges DuBœuf Beaujolais that could go well with a roast chicken or turkey. There were bargains for anyone planning ahead. Piedmont-based Villa Giada’s Nizza retailing at $28 normally best if aged 13 years is readily inexpensive now and will keep in any cellar.

Lombardy wines were a hit. © WhereNYC

Inversely, while many vineyards are offering lighter, clean-finish reds, the trend for vino blanco this year has gone other way. with bolder flavors and higher complexity. That is not to say classic, crisp, tart Sauvignon blancs have suddenly disappeared. On the contrary, white wines can also pack a punch of long-lasting flavor. Some had the heaviness of a French chardonnay with a slight fruity finish such as Marotti Campi’s 2015 Luzano. Similarly, the Pinot Bianco chardonnay blend from Manincor was a bit on the strong side for a blanc, but for fans of Chardonnay, this would not disappoint.

Reds were all the rage. © WhereNYC

Younger wines do not necessarily have lighter taste. Those aged in steel are often aggressive in character when young and eventually settle down with age. Cascina Belmonte’s 2016 Groppello Rosé was a vibrant pink with an intense taste. The steel Manzoni 2015 was far less aggressive, almost mellow in comparison.

The final surprise, however, was the wines from Slovenia that debuted at this year’s Slow Wine. Burja “Bela” 2015, ZPG Vipavska Dolina with a fragrant honey and white flower bouquet with a complex white, with fleshy pear and pineapple on the palate, which according to wine expert Kristen Smart of Indie Wineries, has a richness which feels like and white chocolate melting on your tongue. Balanced acidity and great structure from the skin contact. The other Klinec Rebula 2011, Goriška Brda, Medana, Slovenia (100% Rebula or Ribolla Gialla, Ms. Smart said that the textured mouthfeel is layered with burnt orange, cheese rinds, and a little nuttiness, and is best enjoyed with cured meats.

Wine and smiles at Slow Wine @ WhereNYC

The variety of tastes and surprises of this year’s showcase of affordable Italian (and Slovenian) wines made the 2017 Slow Wine trade show all the more memorable. Whether enjoying them on their own or with a meal, each kind of wine had its own unique character and taste.

For more information on news or upcoming events, please visit Slow Wine.

Review: Chef Mikuni Talks Flavor at the Japan Society Jan 30, 2017

Cover image: Left Nancy Matsumoto (left) and Chef Kiyomi Mikuni (center) and interpreter Stacy Smith at the Japan Society © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Sake and Chef Mikuni’s dashi making kit including dried bonito and konbu. © WhereNYC

Like many award-winning chefs in the industry, Kiyomi Mikuni’s career started with a humble, but a poignant introduction to food at an early age.

Gregarious, friendly, full of humor and fully fluent in Japanese and French, he is not shy of modesty when describing his cheffy abilities in the kitchen nor his friendships with the likes of high end kitchen heavy weights such as Thomas Keller. But he has a certain humbleness when it comes to children.

Televised interview for Japanese TV at the reception © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

The son of a Hokkaido fisherman, he used to scour the shore gathering fresh sea pineapples with his father, who taught him the simplicity of taste of pure ingredients. “Wash with just a little sea water,” he said speaking through an interpreter. The sea pineapple had the five tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. That particular food memory had a lasting effect on him as went on to culinary school in Switzerland and trained as a protégé in France under Alain Chapelle, where he mastered the art of French gastronomy. And it followed him as he chased after the highest accolades, including being the first Japanese chef to earn the prestigious Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in cuisine. Even as chef patron at the luxurious Hôtel de Mikuni in Tokyo since 1985, he still invests a great deal of time running ambitious culinary workshops for youngsters.

© Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

His inspiration to invest in educating the youth about food and nutrition stems from legendary chemistry professor and food-lover Dr. Jacques Puisais who founded the Institut de Goût in France, which pioneered taste education for kids. His other inspiration to work with students came from the Slow Food organisation in Italy, that according to Mr. Mikuni, used food coloring and yogurts in one of its workshops to teach children about color and association of flavor.

A light hearted moment © WhereNYC

Inspired by both Dr. Puisais and Slow Food, Mr. Mikuni founded the Syndicat de la Haute Cuisine Française au Japon in 1999 to educate chefs and school children about healthy food choices. Currently, his institute in Japan is in partnership with 50 schools working with close to 2,500 students. The aim is to excite them about local, healthy ingredients while putting a little fun into making dishes. Chef Mikuni created dishes, for example, from drawings submitted by students. Many of the programs are interactive allowing kids to participate while they learn. “When you make it yourself, it’s always better,” he said.

Chef Mikuni’s live dashi demonstration Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

When asked about the interest of working with children, his answer had to do with science as well as compassion. Parents should take note: instead of cooking one kind of food, consider exposing children to as many kinds of food as possible. By eight years, children acquire a home cooking taste, which is familiar and comforting. And at 12 years, the five senses are fully formed, and child’s taste buds are at their peak. As they age, they rely more on taste memory as their taste buds decrease. Finally, he said that kids who have not experienced all five tastes, are at risk of developing behavioral problems and tend to “lash out.”

Dishes inspired by kids’ drawings © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Following the tragedy of the 2011 tsunami in Sendai and subsequent nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, his collaboration with the Smiles of Tohoku, helped provide lunches to surviving local students. “It started bleak with scared kids,’ he said. Now, they are eating more and beginning to enjoy learning about different tastes including the famed umami flavor.

What is umami?

umami / Mikuni

Umami chart © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

“Complete deliciousness,” defined by Chef David Bouley, owner of Bouley and Brushstroke in New York. Often referred to the fifth taste by many in the chef world, it remains a mystery when describing it. While there are the big four: bitter, salty, sweet, and sour, umami has an unusual savory characteristic that can enhance flavor. As per Chef Mikuni, there are three components of umami flavor including glutamate and inosinate and guanylate, which were discovered by three Japanese scientists: Dr. Ikeda of the then Tokyo Imperial University in 1908 and later professors Dr. Kodama and Dr. Kuninaka.

An unusual masked pour of Kuramoto sake © WhereNYC

Combining both glutamate and inosinate actually boosts the richness or mattari by eight times! While this explains the use of the artificial flavor enhancer MSG in many processed foods, Mr. Mikuni is quick to point out that all three components are found in natural foods such as tomatoes, fish, cheese, and mushrooms. To get the umami flavor, one could simply chew three tomatoes 30 times.

Heaven on the plates © WhereNYC

Following the talk, Chef Mikuni and his assistant treated us to a live demonstration of making fragrant dashi, or golden broth using shaved dried bonito and rausu konbu from Hokkaido before we headed to the reception to sample at tasty chicken-tomato stock and the katso broth. The tasting menu including a mixture of Western and Japanese dishes that shared umami elements including a delicious Kuramoto sake. The flavors were fantastic, but the miso cappuccino and sautéed mushrooms with a mayonnaise sauce and sesame dressing were the triumphs of the plate and a perfect send-off as the evening concluded.

Don’t miss Shigemi Kawahara of Ippudo Ramen, Feb. 28 at the Japan Society.