Friday, September 15, 2006

Bites, August 2006

Once again, I offer a few crumbs that didn’t fit into other posts.

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The block of 58th Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenue is home to at least four Indian restaurants, the stalwart Dawat being the oldest of the group. The buffet lunch I had at Chola last month was far superior to my recent Dawat dinner. Chola is a multiregional restaurant, and the $13.95 lunch buffet is copious. In addition to the self-serve items, the waiters bring freshly cooked tandoori chicken, dosas, naan and chickpea-onion pakodas to the table. They likely vary the buffet table items daily, but there were about four or five each of vegetarian and non-veg (as they say in India). Among the most interesting items were a Kerala-style fish dish and pau bhajee, a Mumbai street specialty of spiced mashed potatoes and lentils traditionally served on western-style buns slathered with ghee. I passed on the buns and the ghee.

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New York has many regional and specialty Japanese restaurants, but Katsu-Hama claims to be the only dedicated katsu (cutlet) restaurant. I was steered there by Donna, whose home-team advantage is a Japanese husband. Variety is nice, but there’s something to be said for a place that specializes. Though there are a few departures, the menu is almost exclusively katsu in various preparations, from straight-up to curry. Katsu-Hama is part of the Matsuya International restaurant group, which also runs Menchanko-Tei, one of my favorite noodle shops.

I had the pork cutlet lunch (pork can probably be called the ur-katsu), which was served with rice, pickles, shredded cabbage and a miso soup of the day. Instead of a standard, everyday white or red miso, they serve a different augmented soup each day; I had a delicious egg and onion miso. Katsu-Hama boasts of their gourmet pork, organic eggs, fresh-baked breadcrumbs and quality oils. The result was indeed a cut above any other katsu I’ve had in New York.

There is a fun ritual involved in the katsu meal. One is served a bowl of roasted sesame seeds with a pestle. You ground the seeds and add the tonkatsu sauce to the bowl, then dip the slices of cutlet in the mix. Also on every table is a big bottle of delicious homemade carrot-sesame dressing for the shredded cabbage.

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I succumbed too often in August to the pleasures of the excellent gelato sold from a cart in front of Osteria del Circo on West 55th Street. They bring the cart out every summer and rotate the gelato and sorbetto flavors on a daily basis. I was especially taken with the gianduja (chocolate/hazelnut) and caramel gelati. It’s very authentic Italian gelato, and to my taste superior to Mario Batali’s much vaunted product.

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Last month I wrote about the turkey with wild mushroom and Cognac sausages from Trois Petits Cochons. Since then I’ve also tried the chicken sausage with apple and Calvados and the duck sausage with confit and port wine. All the sausages are delicious, and each has a very distinctive flavor. More kudos to the pigs.

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Incidentally, I learned that Raga, which I so enjoyed attacking, closed this Summer, only a few months after my grand pan. I'm sure my piece had nothing to do with it, and I do wish all the folks involved good luck with their next endeavors.


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