Thursday in the Heights: Best Ramen in Boston

Who Prevails In The Japanese Ramen Battle?

By Jenny Liu

Men Tei: Tonkatsu Ramen

Ken's Ramen: "The Sapporo"

Published: Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The master sagely directs, “First, observe the whole bowl. Savor the aroma, jewels of fat glistening on the surface, shinachiku roots shining, seaweed slowly sinking, spring onions floating. Concentrate on the three pork slices. They play the key role but stay modestly hidden. Then poke the pork.”

“Eat the pork first?” the disciple asked, bewildered.

“No. Just touch it. Caress it with the chopstick tips. What’s important here is to apologize to the pork by saying, ‘See you soon.’”

That was the most famous bit of dialogue from the 1985 Japanese movie, Tampopo. Since its release, hundreds of new noodle shop owners have claimed to be deeply inspired by this classic film, and just as many have named their ramen joints after Tampopo. The ramen culture extends far beyond the packs of cardboard and powder that turn into a nutrition-less meal familiar to most college students. Like the discussion on where the best burger can be found, where the best ramen can be found is a passionately debated topic.

When I think about the criteria for a good ramen joint, I think about the many bowls of noodles I have consumed in ramen lover’s paradise, Tokyo. Ramen in Tokyo is available in many different styles, from Hokkaido in the north, to Kyushu in the south. However, despite the subtle and varied differences between the styles, there are essentially three components by which ramen can be judged: the texture of the noodle, the taste of the broth, and the quality of the toppings. Although, in the end, you do not need to be a professional food critic to instinctively know whether or not the ramen tastes good.

Unlike Tokyo, where ramen bars are as abundant as Starbucks is in America, Boston has less than a handful. I decided to eat at the two most talked about places in this ramen-deprived city — Ken’s Ramen House at Packard’s Corner on the B line, and Men Tei, near the Hynes Convention Center.

For more ramen imagery and the verdict, continue reading at:

P.S. Oh boy, this gets me geared up for some epic Tokyo ramen showcase entry.

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Cheese log 1.0

Because I just wanna



Cow’s milk; Southwest France

Mild, creamy, has a tangerine-orange soft rind with little speckles of white like dandruff. Chaumes is very squishy (texturally similar to epoisses), it is almost runny– the same sensation as spreading jam over your crackers or licking a frozen custard. The smell and taste is mild enough that it won’t even offend the sensitive olfactory of pregnant women, if that’s your crowd.

Jenny’s Cheese-o-meter: ★

Sottocenere with Truffles

Sottocenere al tartufo (with Truffles)

Cow’s milk; Venice Italy

Aged: 90 days. Barely legal.

Ever since I found out that truffle oil was fake, and not made from real truffles, I’ve been mighty wary of things that include these notorious ‘shrooms. Luckily, you can see the slivers of black truffles chilling in it. This semi-hard block of bovine by-product is rubbed in ashes (tricked out with spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and a bit of licorice)– and the musky, earthy flavor is released into your mouth. No, my dirty brain couldn’t resist. Even at 20$ per pound, I’d still eat this over a crumpled Jackson any day. I’m going to cut this baby up and put it in my breakfast of scrambled eggs. Jealoussss?

Jenny’s Cheese-o-meter: ★★

★ Like it | ★★ Love it | ★★★ Jizz in my pants
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Starbuck's Clover coffee

Tokyo, April 2009

I will admit that I have this shameful habit of ducking into a Starbucks to sip a saccharine, spicy chai latte, with foamy whole milk or a creamy caramel macchiato on the occasion. I should feel twinges of guilty when I go, “wee,” when the red holiday cups make its seasonal debut, or when I walked into a Starbucks in Tokyo in March and April to find sakura pastries and strawberry frappes with pink and white swirls. Pretty.

Starbucks is so prevalent in the landscape of big cities, that sometimes, I miss it when I don’t find a store across from a store, cannibalizing each other. I even get angry when I really, really, REALLY need to pee, and I can’t find one within a block and I have to resort to using the restroom at, ugh, a McDonalds. Their job is to be everywhere, isn’t it?

It’s frustrating how it’s always crowded no matter how many stores there are in the city, and when Starbucks announced that it would close a few hundred stores in NYC a few years ago, the Times sarcastically wrote, “Now, New Yorkers will ONLY have 10,000 branches to choose from.” These stores never kick anyone out either, which serves as a great procrastination space to gossip with friends, cut class, and beg the barista for free whipped cream.

Yet, the company is so evil and so sinister, that it has conditioned college students to associate their brand with the delights of coffee, caffeine, and class by embedding themselves in the dining halls (“we serve Starbucks coffee”) and using whatever currency system the university accepts. Then, when everyone graduates, they will naturally gravitate towards the same provider of liquid stimulant that they have relied on for the last four years. (more…)

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Thursday in the Heights: Tasting El Salvador

By Jenny Liu

Published: Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I am walking into Arbol del Dios, past a gallery devoted to El Salvador’s most celebrated resident artist, Fernando Llort. My mind absorbs the bright colors and bold outlines from my peripherals, but my feet keep me moving past the paintings, scenes of village life, courtyard, and sunlit emerald facade. Despite the vibrant colors and the view of paradise, I do not pause until I am in the restaurant, pointing at food and muttering my heart’s desires in fragmented Spanish.

workers at Tipicos Margoth, making pupusas


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St. Marks' love letter

In the brief two weeks flailing about New York City, preceding mi vuelo a Central America, Eric and I did a little, informal St. Marks Roundabout pre- and post- beating our livers into submission at divey LES bars.

I made a stylistic choice to bold “St. Marks Roundabout” because it is a noun that denotes the coming of age for any young NYC foodie and a crucial transition for out-of-towners attempting to assimilate into a ~relevant~ culture. It is V. V. important. (For those of y’all who are still stuck in the fundamentals, I leave you in the competent hands of this wikipedia article) It is a hallowed tradition that requires a stomach of steely stamina and appetite of unwavering fortitude–  restaurant/food-cart hopping around St. Marks Place, moving as much food down your esophagus until either your body gives or you mentally cannot withstand the fact that there are still. more. restaurants. to eat through.

In 2005, I experienced my first St. Mark’s Roundabout, under the tutelage of Eric, whose area-navigation know-how (where the best burger is, the best waffle fries, the best egg cream, and so on) was passed on from John. But since then, St. Marks’ has been like looking through a kaleidoscope while tripping on acid, with the comings and goings of little stores and restaurants that thematically lacks cohesiveness. One day, there will be futuristic Canadian vending machines spitting out grilled cheese and fries when fed money, the next minute, it will have been replaced by a yuppie fro-yo shop. All of these new-comers shifting in and out between the main fixtures.

You can get an “Alpine Burger” at Pauls’, the neighborhood burger joint, or a crispy takoyaki from Otafuku that had liquidated the insides of my mouth one too many times, and then walk by Kenka, the oldest Japanese restaurant on the block that doesn’t card if you’re “with the band.” You can order delectable bull penis complete with chewy foreskin. During peak hours, you’d have to wait next to a large porcelain bear with strobing red eyes, in front of the velvet ropes guarded by a bouncer with the taiyou bandana wrapped around his forehead like a bullet-wound on the verge of engulfing his face. And watch the broadcasts of German cartoon pornography with Belgium subtitles and Nazi propaganda films on the window of Search and Destroy above Kenka. And get $2 shots from Continental and then empty the contents later on the sidewalks of Union Square. Maybe hang around St. Marks’ hotel, which is frequented by callgirls  in need of extra cash to pay for college and the fly life. And then drink a lot of recession special wine at a wine bar, which leads to poor decisions afterwards like frolicking in Central Park at 2AM and receiving citations from cranky po-pos.

But there are some newly discovered places that I would love to include into my permanent memories of St. Marks’ Place and perhaps even into the sacred Roundabout. Like Spot Dessert Bar, where Pichet Ong draws inspiration from the “street sweets of Asia as well as classic American dessert,” for a White Miso Semifreddo, Ovaltine and Kabocha Roll, and Chocolate Banana Pudding. All highly recommended except for the Ovaltine ice cream that was much too salty and was left unfinished—disturbingly breaching my number one rule.

Secondly, for midnight snacking and some soju as a night-cap, Boka, where one can strip the dense, tender meat and crispy skin off the bone, picked from a platter of infamous Bonchon Korean fried chicken. I don’t care if those chicken hormones cause gigantism.

Referenced Locations:

Pauls’ Burger
131 2nd Ave (St Marks Place)
New York, NY 10003
236 E 9th St
(between 2nd Ave & Stuyvesant St)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 353-8503
25 Saint Mark’s Place
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-6363
13 St. Mark’s Pl
(between 3rd Ave & Astor Pl)
Manhattan, NY 10003
(212) 677-5670
9 St. Marks Place
(between 2nd Ave & 3rd Ave)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 228-2887
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… And we're back!

Ahh, I sigh with a contentment that can only be brought about by sitting in a lounge chair in a string bikini, sipping on a sweating glass bottle of Coca Cola while the ocean spread out before me sprayed foaming thick waves like a frothy milkshake. Alternating my hand, I take a bite out of the Steak Pepito, lapping up the falling guacamole and bean spread that were being squished out from the edges of the sandwich. Yep, pinch me hard, I had made it to El Salvador.

clinking that vintage glass at Club Joya, private beach in El Salvador

Dropped off the face of the planet for a vicious, relentless holiday cycle of eating, no, gorging, free-falling into food comas and birthing food-tuplets, cooking a little, and resume eating some more. No respite for the wicked & gluttonous.

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One foodie's wishlist

Jura-Capresso ® Electric Kettle

More agonizingly dull than watching paint dry is watching water boil. Now, a quicker solution.

Bodum New Kenya 12-Ounce Coffee Press, Black

To encourage my caffeine addiction.

Wüsthof Classic 6-Inch Cook’s Knife

So I won’t messily hurt myself with the dull blade I’ve been using. Mess. Don’t want.

Pink Rolling pin

Not that I do a lot of baking, but just because it’s pink.

CIA towels

“I’m on a mission to rid the world of pot holders; my mom couldn’t live without them but I think they’re evil; they belong on Courage the Cowardly Dog but not in my kitchen.  I use these great side towels that I once could only get when I visited the Culinary Institute of America” — Michael Ruhlman, author of Soul of a Chef

William & Sonoma Peppermint Bark

“Custom-blended Guittard premium chocolate and natural oil of peppermint that’s triple-distilled to extract the cool, clean flavor of fresh mint. Master candymakers pour melted semisweet chocolate onto a confectioner’s table, then add a layer of creamy white chocolate. The bark is finished with a snowfall of crisp handmade peppermint candy bits – an inspired contrast to the rich, velvety smoothness of the world-class chocolate.”

Exotic Ice Cream – Hautes Glaces

Naga Ice Cream: sweet Indian curry + fresh young coconut + creamy custard ice cream
“Sweet Indian curry is a mélange of turmeric, ginger, cumin, clove, chillies and more.”

And more cookbooks and gadgets on Amazon wishlist.

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b'nut squash 'n shrimp, tofu stir fry

Emerging from a brief hiatus,

Finals week for the college folks. Need brain food: baked butternut squash lightly coated with a brown-sugar glaze and a shrimp-tofu-broccoli-mushroom stir-fry in infamous Chinese “brown sauce.” That’s merely: oyster sauce + soy sauce, for those not clued in.

Other things to boost energy: brewing some Starbucks Christmas blend, and hitting the gym (favorite game = spot the anorexic). Until the 18th, babes.

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Qu'ils mangent de la brioche

Qu'ils mangent de la brioche

The Best Coconut Cake In The World

One dreamy Coconut Cake. If a Japanese otaku can marry his Nintendo avatar, I should be able to enjoy matrimonial festivities with this babe.

Throwdown’s Toasted Coconut Cake with Coconut Filling and Coconut Buttercream recipe

I love brunch– for consuming ungodly amounts of calories in one combined breakfast-lunch meal, for the pretense of leisure, and for bonding with my lovely girlfriends. We enjoyed a meal that satisfied all those coveted qualities at Mesa Grill, founded by Bobby Flay of Food Network throwdown notoriety. The service was snappy and fun. It was like being served food at someone’s house rather than enduring the stiff formality of most restaurants in this price-class. Sometimes a girl just wants to wear a floral dress and eat with her fingers. The waitress was one stealthy ninja when it came to refilling waters; and charmingly convinced Lisa and I to invest our dollar bills in the Best Coconut Cake In This World (or anywhere in the universe where coconuts are grown). I haven’t been as enthused about a cake as much as I have this one in quite some time.

The Coconut cake is so flavor rich, yet light, with alternating layers of coconut cream as if it were architecturally crafted by Michelangelo’s cherubs. The cake is made from a silky cake flour, and the filling is of a custard composed of coconut milk and malibu rum. This gives the cake a wetter texture than most — almost like icecream. The airy feeling forced me to disbelieve that I am really eating it, if it weren’t for the toasted coconut shavings grounding it, forcing it back into a solid physical plane.

As luck would have it, the recipe is on the internets, and will certainly make a cameo in my kitchen.

Referenced Locations:
Mesa Grill
102 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10011
Tel. 212.807.7400
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An empire state of mind

Part two of New York, Je t’aime (Part I here)

These are the two places that would be found if I were to dissect the stomach of the greatest city in the world and peer straight into its folds:


Sundays are brunch days: chefs with higher culinary aspirations relegated to arranging plates of fruit, yogurt and granola, scrambling eggs with deli-cuts and American cheese, manning the waffle iron, and assembling it all buffet-style- unloved by the creative and for the undiscerning masses (famished church-goers, children, and their assorted pets).

And somehow, there is a pleasing magic to this tradition. A tradition that is elevated to its lofty level in my heart by Barney Greengrass, on the Upper West Side. Barney Greengrass is so quintessentially New York, it’s a cliché. Diner coffee that is scalding hot, and made from a shitty powder mix. None of that premium, plucked by fair-trade-represented Colombian workers, double-roasted smoky elixirs. Just inelaborate, black joe best with a liberal full 4 second pour of room-temperature milk from that steel creamer that had been sitting there before you even got to the table, and several packets of dominos.  It cheaply offers the same satisfying caffeinated punch necessary for waking up at the ungodly early hours of noon.

The service is no-frills, abrupt, and efficient. Egos should be firmly grounded before venturing in– no diva behavior will be entertained. Servers offer their opinions, unrequested. It’s like going to lunch at your nosy grandmother’s. She will comment on what you’re eating, and she will openly judge you for your order (if your grandmother is anything like mine– she is paradoxical. She will also comment on why my figure is not that of a ballerina’s, while pressuring me to eat more of everything else). The food though, like at grandma’s, is freaking fantastic.

Barney Greengrass (alongside those other Famous Delis) is also responsible for elevating Jewish food to its distinctive culinary form in New York. Anthony Bourdain loves it, and that man has notorious good tastes (a 10,000$/hr brilliant, nationally televised palate). The sturgeon is king here– “regret” should not be a vocabulary in the following 24 hours post-consumption of BG’s godly trinity of sturgeon, smoked salmon, or Nova scrambled with eggs and onion.

Additionally, Eric and I ordered the triple decker sandwich of roast beef, chicken fat, chicken liver, turkey, cole slaw and russian dressing. One of the servers came around and said, “Good luck with that.” Then, on the way back, he repeated, “Again, good luck.” But his assessment was incorrect. False, sir. It wasn’t enough, because it was SO DELICIOUS (the nutty, graininess of the bread spread upon with smooth, savory liver paste, and ground turkey, skipping down my throat- gobble gobbledeedoo– wholly satisfying despite the bland adjective in caps), we wanted more of it. Even though chicken fat and chicken liver usually aren’t my thing– hahahaha, who am I kidding? Fat is always my thing.


the mushroom slice I regretted getting only one of

A New York adventure is not complete without New York pizza. I’ve had many an arguments with my once-upon-an-Italian-lover over the superiority of New York pizza to the traditional Italian slices. Sorry dude, despite how charming your accent was on your persuasive speech, taste experience trumps rhetoric. The same way America takes plain Japanese sushi and transforms it into the magical Dragon roll, New York just took Roma and Sicily to the playing field on pizza and dominated. It’s just the facts of evolution. Enters one of the evolutionee at the front of the pack, Di Fara (pizzeria), out on Avenue J in the abyss of Brooklyn. The crust is feather light (a distinguishing NY trait), made with pastry dough, San Marzano tomatoes basked and plucked from the sunshine of Italy, and basil from Israel. Locavores would sit in a corner and cry as they ate this pizza, moral fortitude crushed by the crispy foundation of dough with the fresh cheese and sweet tomatoes melted together into one tasty, gooey fresco. On our visit, an outspoken Italian Brooklynite, clearly a long-time user and accomplice of Di Fara’s, leaning casually (strategically) on the counter, was cajoling Eric, with his stuck-in-an-elevator pitch of the holy virginal birth of this pizza, egging him on to purchase and consume the last pricey 5$ slice. He looked at the guy, the slice, the guy (still whispering sweet nothings), back to the slice. 2 against 1; hardly a fair fight.

Referenced Locations:

Barney Greengrass
541 Amsterdam Avenue at 86th Street
New York, NY 10024
(212) 724-4707

Di Fara
1424 Ave J
Brooklyn, NY 11230
(718) 258-1367
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