Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I Was Culinarily Transgendered

A month or two ago I went to lunch at Ise, a popular Japanese restaurant on East 49th Street. There are a number of Japanese restaurants called Ise around town, but, just as with Grand Sichuan or Ray's Pizza, it's not clear whether or how they're all related.

Anyway, this midtown east branch fills up by about 12:15 every weekday. They offer a long list of copious, great-value lunch specials. The one that looked most interesting to me was called the "Ladies' Set." But could I bring myself to ask the waiter for a Ladies' Set? The answer is yes indeedy--enticing menu items will trump gender identity every time. I decided I was indeed confident enough in my own masculinity to order the Ladies' Set.

That day the Ladies' Set opened with a bowl of miso soup and continued with a box consisting of five more items: an ample serving of tekka don (tuna sashimi over sushi rice); chawan mushi (egg custard) with mushrooms and seafood; soba noodles in a seaweed broth; a salad with fried tiny fish; and a dessert consisting of green tea tofu pudding with berries and cream. All this for $12. I'm not sure what those little fish on the salad are called, but I've also had them over rice at Yakitori Totto. The quality of the tuna in the tekka don was quite impressive considering the quantity and the low price. And the dessert was a delightful finale. Here's to the temporary, honorary ladies who lunch!

I didn't have my camera with me that day, but I had quickly come up with the title for this piece. I decided that I owed my readers a photo of the Ladies' Set if I were going to write about it, so I went back recently, figuring I had given my hormone levels time enough to return to normal from any changes the first Ladies' Set may have engendered.

The Ladies' Set

This time the Ladies' Set followed the same basic contours, with some modifications. The tekka don was still the same; the noodle soup was now an udon with shrimp tempura--I preferred this to the soba; the chawan mushi had chicken and shrimp; the salad featured soft tofu (I much prefer the tiny fish); and the dessert still had green tea pudding, this time with sweet beans and a little fruit, but no cream. Overall, I think I enjoyed the first Ladies' Set a bit more. Perhaps it was the food, or perhaps I had become blasé about the transgressive nature of cross-dining.

The second time around I went with a bona fide lady. Since she didn't want to order the same thing as me, she went with the much more macho "Lunch Box," which consisted of gyoza in soup, fried chicken, grilled mackerel, and rib-eye with ponzu sauce. Truth be told, my masculine side coveted her lunch.

The Manlier Meal

Ise Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this very much. Both sets look delicious to me, but then I have always had equally feminine and masculine cravings, culinarily.

6:18 PM  

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