Feb 16

NYC Adventures: The Lunar New Year Edition

I don’t usually do much for the Lunar New Year, but this year a weekend visit from my friend Aki happened to coincide with the festivities.

Friday night

First thing: noodles! This time at Mew Men in the Village.

Eating long noodles during the New Year and on birthdays is important in Chinese culture since long noodles symbolize longevity. But mostly we had them because we’re ramen fiends.

The pork was kind of tough, but the broth and noodles were excellent. Plus each was only $5 with a coupon Aki had.

Afterward we walked up to Union Square and stopped in Korean beauty product store Nature Republic. We both ended up buying this Korean version of Baby Feet, that feet peeling kit. I’m kind of scared to try it since the results, while effective, are supposed to be disgusting.


We had a very packed day ahead and needed to start it with some sustenance. Blue Stone Lane to the rescue.

While overpriced, I do think their food and coffee is really good. Usually I get the avocado toast, but I felt like changing things up and had the soup instead – lentil Italian wedding. It was so good, as was the toasted bread that came with it. And when we left, I couldn’t resist a $5 vegan apple cinnamon donut for a snack later (that was delicious too).

Our next stop was The Met, where there was lion dancing:

Like most things you do on the New Year, lion dancing is supposed to bring luck and chase away evil spirits. Plus it just looks and sounds really cool. The lobby was packed to the gills, but we had a pretty good view.

Besides lion dancing, we checked out the Temple of Dendur, then went upstairs to see it from the Asian art wing.

Next up: lunch! Aki had heard that the best xiao long bao in the city were at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao in Flushing. So out to Queens we went.

There were tons of people waiting. They told us about 20 minutes, and that’s what it was. We got dou jiang, one youtiao to split, and pork and crab and pork buns.

Pork and crab soup dumplings #nanxianglongbao @bangbangcloud @joeboy369 #flushing #queens

A post shared by Dave Brue (@davidbrue) on

The verdict? I don’t know if they’re the best in the city since I haven’t had all the little juicy buns in New York, but they were damned good and well worth the schlep and the wait.

After lunch we went to New World Mall. It was a tad overwhelming, and since neither of us were hungry, it was kind of a waste on us. I’ll have to go back on an empty stomach.

Our last stop of the night was, you guessed it, food! We hit another ramen place, Nakamura, this one on the Lower East Side.

I wasn’t too thrilled about it at first, to be honest. Although there were a ton of empty seats, we were told we had to wait 30 minutes (I guess there were reservations?). And the fact that the waiter was wearing a fedora didn’t help matters. I wanted to leave, but Aki convinced me not to.

In the end, I’m glad we stayed because the food was really good. Aki, who’s super picky, pronounced it one of the best bowls of ramen she’s ever had.

I absolutely loved my Japanese curried spice ramen.

It also had something a little different: cilantro, which Japanese food never has.


Aki was all set to leave that morning when she said, “I want bagels.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

We went to a place not too far from my apartment, H&H Bagels (which doesn’t have a website, weirdly enough). There was a line, but it wasn’t too crazy. I got my usual sesame bagel with lox spread.

Aki got a sesame bagel with nothing on it, figuring I’d have more than enough cream cheese, which was true.

The bagel was really good. I ate mine in about five minutes, Aki said, which is a bit of an exaggeration. But I did eat it quickly.

Interested in more of my New York adventures? Check them all out.

Jan 16

NYC Adventures: Ramen

Only second to my obsession with museums is my obsession with ramen (as evinced by the many noodle photos in my Instagram feed). Since moving back to New York, I’ve had the chance to sample a lot.

Zutto Japanese American Pub

I welcomed myself back to New York with some spicy miso ramen at this Asian-fusion place in Tribeca.


While the flavors were good, the broth was only warm instead of piping hot — maybe because it was a sweltering August day. But even in the heat and humidity, I like my noodle soup to be hot hot hot. Plus at $14 it was a little overpriced.

However, my dessert, a mochi tempura (with red bean mochi and green tea ice cream) was delicious.


Recently, I went back a second time and asked for my tonkatsu ramen to be “extra hot,” and it came out much better.

Ramen Setagaya

I used to go to Setagaya regularly when I lived on the Lower East Side, and it’s still one of my favorites. This past summer I paid it a visit and had the spicy miso.


It had a lot more flavor than the spicy miso at Zutto, but it was a lot saltier than I remember. Or maybe I’m just older and can’t handle so much sodium anymore.


A find by my friend Aki, who’s a whiz at sifting through Yelp reviews to unearth good restaurants. We tried the West Village branch, where I had the shoyu ramen in pork broth.


I don’t know if it was because I was starving, but it was one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had. The soup was very rich and flavorful without being crazy salty, and the pork was melt-in-your-mouth.

Naruto Ramen

After I moved into my new place on the Upper East Side, I noticed that there was always a line outside this place. Partly that’s because there’s only counter seating, but I suspected that wasn’t the only reason.

Finally, one day I decided the wait would be worth it. However, luckily for me, a seat for one opened up just as I got there.

I knew I should have probably tried the classic Naruto Ramen, but the Tan Tan, ground pork in a spicy sesame broth, sounded really good.


And it was. So good that I had it again the next time I went.

The third time I was with Aki, my partner in ramen. I decided to change things up and got the curry ramen. Again, delish!


Naruto also has a spicy ramen which you can get mildly spicy (1) all the way to burn-your-face-off spicy (5). My first visit, the large Korean man next to me got the level 5. He had no problem scarfing down the whole bowl although he was sniffling and sweating the whole time. My second visit, a skinny white dude tried to order the same thing.

“It’s really spicy,” the waitress (who was Asian) warned him.

“I know,” the guy said.

“I mean, REALLY spicy.”

“I know,” the guy said, more weakly this time. “I eat spicy things all the time.”

I felt kind of bad for him, but I knew what she meant: this was not white person spicy. It was Asian person spicy. It was make-a-large-Korean-man-sweat spicy.

In the end, he relented and got the level 3. I didn’t see how that turned out.

Jin Ramen

Another Aki find. I thought the ramen at this spacious Upper West Side restaurant was quite good, and we liked that they offered a “less salty” option, which we both got.

The only downside was that the place felt crowded and super-busy. I guess I prefer counter-only seating, like Setagaya or Naruto, or just a few tables, like Ramen-Ya.

Totto Ramen

The chicken logo should have been a dead giveaway.

My friend Ellen and I had just finished seeing An American in Paris on a chilly night so we thought this popular Hell’s Kitchen joint would be the ticket. I was dismayed to see the broth was chicken only, but thought I’d give it a go. After all, I love chicken soup.

We had a short wait, but the restaurant utilized our waiting time efficiently by taking our orders while we were still in line. I got the chicken paitan with pork.


Looks amazing right? Well, it was only so-so. First of all, it wasn’t just not-hot, it was lukewarm. In fact, the middle of the egg was cold, and the yolk was hard instead of soft-boiled. And while the pulled char siu was yummy, the slices were dry and, again, almost cold.

The skinny? I would go to any of these places again, except for Totto unless I were desperate, in which case I’d go out of my way to ask for “extra hot.”


Nov 15

NYC Adventures: Cider, museums, an albino peacock

One of my friends came into town this weekend, and of course it was chock-full of activities.

Cider Week

It was Cider Week so there were a bunch of free tastings throughout the city. We focused on the Upper West Side, where we passed Lincoln Center, always so pretty at night.

We imbibed much free wine and cider, but we did each buy a bottle of delicious cinnamon hard cider from one place. Then we capped off an evening of drinking in the perfect way: yummy ramen at Jin Ramen.

The Cloisters

The next day we went to the Cloisters, which, even after all my years in New York, I’ve never been to before. It took a while to get there. At first we thought we had made a mistake paying over six dollars for a fancy bus instead of a local city one. But the six dollar bus took less than 20 minutes while the regular one would have taken an hour.

Before we went to the museum, we got sandwiches at this old school deli nearby. “Old school” meaning you pick all the ingredients for your sandwich. My friend was at a complete loss. I guess she’s only been to places where they have a limited selection of sandwiches with clever names.

Although it was chilly out, we ate on a bench outside. I got mortadella, which is basically high-quality bologna. My friend got some kind of roast pork. She asked to try mine and I said sure, and then tried to take a quarter.

“That’s not a bite!” I said.

“But I’ll give you some of mine.”

No thanks. I’ll stick with my chichi bologna.

After we finished eating, we headed up to the museum. Around it is a lovely park with a beautiful view of the Hudson River.

The museum was lovely too. I splurged on the audio tour, which was well worth it, although I did get pooped out after about an hour.

Cooper Hewitt

It was a two-museum day! Later that night we went to the Cooper Hewitt, which is pay what you wish after six on Saturdays. The main exhibit was on Pixar, which was just okay to be honest. I think it was designed primarily for kids. We really enjoyed their permanent exhibit however.

An Upper West Side Sunday

My friend had wanted to take a day trip somewhere, but she had a bit of an upset stomach and wasn’t wearing the most comfortable shoes. However, she did manage to walk across Central Park to Absolute Bagels.

There was a line all the way down the sidewalk, but it moved pretty quickly, and I felt in the mood for the whole experience.

And it was totally worth it. The bagels were fresh and hot. I got my favorite: sesame with lox spread.

As per New York design, it had a shit ton of cream cheese. I gave my friend almost half (she had gotten no cream cheese). I managed to eat my entire bagel and a bit of her cinnamon raisin. Yum.

Our next stop was Saint John the Divine. Since half the cathedral was roped off for a service, the outside grounds were more interesting. There was this huge crazy statue —

— and, randomly, an albino peacock.

After that we stopped in the Hungarian Pastry Shop, a place I frequented often during my college days. Even after so much bagel, I wanted something sweet, and got this chocolate hazelnut ganache thing. It was delicious.

Speaking of my college days, next we visited Columbia and Barnard. At Low Library, I showed my friend the secret owl hidden in the robes of the Alma Mater statue. At that time, a woman was looking for it and couldn’t find it. She was happy to know where it was.

It’s been a long time since I visited Barnard, and I was surprised to find the student center was completely fancy and redone. We used the free wifi and filled our water bottles from the bottle filling station. It all made me wish I was back in college.

It was kind of an exhausting weekend, but a very nice way to spend a few beautiful, late fall days.

Oct 15

NJ Adventures: Drinking, art, leaf peeping

A good thing about moving back to the east coast is being able to visit my parents more easily and often. But a parental visit doesn’t mean I can’t necessarily get out and have some fun.

Terhune Orchards

After walking around downtown Princeton, my friend Aki and I headed out to Terhune Orchards. They also have a winery and tasting room, the main reason for our visit.

I’ve never really been into alcohol, between having Asian flush syndrome and not knowing what to drink. But ever since Aki took me to my first wine tasting last November, I’ve been hooked.

The tiny amounts are just enough to get me tipsy. Plus I like the variety and not having to drink a big glass of something I don’t like. My favorite at Terhune was a white that tasted like honeysuckle.

After the tasting, we went into their general store. That was craziness. I guess on that beautiful fall day, everyone thought going to an apple orchard was a good idea. Speaking of which, Terhune is famous for their apple cider donuts. They smelled SO GOOD, but the line was crazy long, and like a brat I didn’t want to wait out in the cold.

Princeton University Art Museum

Later we headed out to the art museum at Princeton University. Admission is always free, but that night they also had a lecture. What was the lecture about? Who knows: we were there for the freeze booze and hors d’oeuvres.

We weren’t the only ones. People would descend like vultures upon whatever poor waitperson appeared with a tray. Not that I didn’t have plenty of spring rolls and chicken satay myself, but I tried not to be too pushy about it.

I did manage to get in some art though:

Red Horses of the Sidhe, by Leonara Carrington

As well as a couple of beautiful autumns trees:

Hopewell Valley Vineyards

After the museum we went to this beautiful winery. We got a few mini pizzas to share and a bottle of “white merlot,” which was basically a sweet rose. Aki picked it because I like sweet wine. Hopefully other people did too.

Sep 15

Eating and shopping and eating

The weather was cooler for a change, and my friend Aki decided to come in for a day of eating, walking around, shopping, and more eating.

En Japanese Brasserie

We started the day with traditional Japanese breakfast for lunch at this pretty place on Hudson Street. I had the shake teishoku:

Pretty right? And tasty too, but afterward I realized I had paid $19 for a glorified bento box that didn’t really fill me up.


For dessert we got Thai rolled ice cream, which neither of us had had before.

Again, it was just okay. The flavor was good — I got the strawberry cheesecake — but I didn’t like the crumbly consistency. However, that didn’t stop me from eating half.

Flying Tiger Copenhagen

We met up with a couple of Aki’s friends, one of whom had just moved into her own apartment. So a few home decor stops were on the agenda.

I had never heard of this Danish chain, but of course Aki had. The stuff was super-cute — almost Asian in style — pretty inexpensive and seemed sturdy. I may have to go back there for myself for bowls, plates, and the like.

Fishs Eddy

I hadn’t been to this place in years, and I was glad to see it was still around. The stuff is even cuter now, at least from what I remember, but it also seems more expensive. However, they did have a sale room, where I picked up an adorable dog mug for 50% off.

ABC Carpet & Home

Our last home decor stop was this fancy shop where none of us could afford anything. It was more for fun and to gawp at the ridiculous prices, like a tiny cup that was $90 and a bed that was $30,000 (it was really comfortable though). There was also this couch that was basically a couch-shaped. We all flopped on it, and afterward apparently a store employee plumped the couch back up with an annoyed look on his face.

Satega-Ya Ramen

We capped off the evening with a hearty ramen dinner. Not to be confused with Ramen Setagaya, Satega-Ya Ramen is actually better.

The broth is much richer, and the flavors seem more complex. However you want to describe it, it was damned good.

Jan 15

Living alone and liking it: Weekend haunts

I’ve mentioned before this past year has been the first time I’ve really been on my own in a city where I don’t know too many people. So I’ve had to learn a whole new level of independence.

Part of that is developing my own routines. During the work week it’s easy. I go to work, I come home, I work out (sometimes). Weekends and holidays are more of a challenge. Sure, I write and hit the gym, but that doesn’t take the whole day.

While I’m sure Oakland has a lot to offer, what I’ve been doing is going into San Francisco to tool around, even if just for a few hours.

Getting there

I’m one of those weird people (weird at least in California) who doesn’t have a car. So what I do is walk the 2+ miles to the BART station. Going there isn’t bad since it’s all downhill, but that means of course it’s uphill coming back, and I usually have a backpack of heavy groceries. At least it’s really good exercise.

Westfield San Francisco Centre

It probably seems ridiculous to come here when I have all of SF to explore. But it’s easy to get to from the BART, it has some good food, and you know what they say: you can take the girl out of the mall, but you can’t take the mall out of the girl.

I’ll usually get lunch at Ajisen Ramen, which is a chain but still pretty good:

After running some errands, I might treat myself to a red velvet ice cream from Cako (delish) and get reflective at the reflecting pool at the Yerba Buena Arts Center,  which I’ve mentioned is one of my favorite places in SF:


Another one of my favorite SF haunts. For lunch I like to eat at either Suzu Noodle House or New Korea House:

New Korea House is a little overpriced, but at least you get all those yummy sides and delicious sujeonggwa, a kind of cold cinnamon drink, afterward.

Another one of my favorite Japantown hangouts is YakiniQ Cafe. They have free wifi so it’s a great place to work, although it does get jampacked on the weekends. Their macarons are pretty but meh. I do however love their honey yuzu tea. So refreshing, especially after salty bowl of ramen or mandu guk.

Sometimes when I’m feeling extra generous, I’ll treat myself to a movie at the Sundance Kabuki. It’s my favorite theater in the Bay Area, between the reserved seating, nice environment, gourmet level snacks, and quality movies.

Dec 14

Christmas in Los Angeles: Good food and fun times

It’s been a long time since I last spent Christmas with my brother. Plus having his sweet girlfriend there too was an added bonus.

A turkey Christmas Eve

My brother is an excellent cook, and one of his favorite things to make is a turkey dinner with all the fixings. I was really excited. For sides he was planning brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. The one thing he forgot to get were the cranberries for his homemade cranberry sauce.

“Aw man!” I said. “But it’s so good!”

So on the way home, despite my protests, we stopped at the grocery store, where he ran in and got some cranberries. He said the lines were crazy but a cashier, probably seeing that he had one thing, took pity on him and rang him up at customer service.

Dinner was excellent. My brother’s girlfriend made garlic mashed potatoes, and those were really good too.

Stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce.

Garlic mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts.

After cleaning up we took a walk around the neighborhood. It wasn’t too cold out, and it was really nice to see all the lights. On one of their walks, they had found a house with an amazing tree house, and that was sort of our goal. At first it seemed we wouldn’t find it, but then we did. The tree house was crazy and wonderful. Like something out of Swiss Family Robinson.

A British-y Christmas

After a morning of opening presents and an afternoon of eating leftovers and lazing around, we headed out to my brother’s friends’ place for a little Christmas party.

The hostess is a an anglophile and so as per British tradition, handed out paper crowns and little gadgets and toys, including Christmas crackers. Dinner was great. Ham with potatoes, zucchini, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and delectable dinner rolls with this incredible cinnamon butter.

After dinner was the gift exchange. There was some specific exchanging as well as kind of gifts that were just free-for-all, like a grab bag. The hostess was kind enough to give me Cinder by Marissa Meyer, a young adult book that’s a science fiction take on Cinderella. In a nutshell: Cinderella is part cyborg. Exactly up my alley.

After that we played this fun “gambling” game called Left, Right, Center. I won’t get into the details except to say that in the end my brother’s girlfriend won. The game involves lots of single dollar bills and she hilariously threw the money up like confetti after she won.

All in all, one of the most fun Christmases I’ve had in a long time.

Catch up on my other Christmas-in-Los-Angeles posts.

Dec 14

Christmas in Los Angeles: Where we ate

This year I wasn’t able to head back east for the holidays, and I thought I’d be own my own, which, although not ideal, would have been fine. I have extended family in the area, and I like that peaceful feeling of solitude.

But at the last minute my brother found a reasonably priced flight for me to go down and see him and his girlfriend in Los Angeles, and of course that was much more fun.

Urth Caffe

We stopped here on my first day on our way to the Venice Canals. It was pretty crowded but we scored a table outside. I had the corn chowder soup, half a curry chicken salad sandwich, and, the best part of the meal, this chocolate cookie with chunks of white chocolate. So. Good.

The Factory Kitchen

We had a lovely dinner at this Italian place the night before Christmas Eve. For appetizers we shared chicken liver pate and pork belly, and for my entree I had their famous handkerchief pasta in basil pesto sauce. All of it was delicious, including my negroni.


On my last night I had a ramen craving so we had dinner at this place in Little Tokyo my brother’s girlfriend had been wanting to go to anyway. She warned us the wait would be crazy long, but we were up for it.

To kill time we walked around a bit and got a drink at a nearby bar (unfortunately I can’t remember the name). I got an old-fashioned, which was yummy, and made me a little tipsy. We returned to the restaurant and waited another 30 to 40 minutes. People seemed happy when they finally got a table, especially since it was kind of cold out. We were the same way.

We got some tsukemono to share.

And while my brother and his girlfriend went with the classic pork ramen, I got the spicy one.

It wasn’t too spicy and the broth was very rich. The pork was also high quality, and the egg was cooked to runny perfection.

Next up: what we saw.

Dec 14

San Mateo Japanese Garden: A little getaway

I’ve been working in San Mateo for a few years now, and I’ve grown to really like it.

Less than 30 minutes away on the CalTrain, it has a surprising amount going for a little town. For instance it has tons of great places to eat, like Curry Up Now for modern Indian street food plus yummy cocktails; Sozai Corner for excellent — and cheap — Japanese curry; Saigon City for really good pho; and much more.

But one of my favorite places has to be the Japanese garden.

Less than a five-minute walk from my office, I head out there when I want to stretch my legs, convene with nature, clear my head, get some peace, or all of the above.

I love seeing the different birds, like a mother duck with her babies —

A snowy egret:

And a kingfisher:

When I was dealing with relationship stuff, I’d come here every day. I’d walk, listen to the water, and watch the birds, trying to figure things out, and then after I realized there was nothing to figure out, to get past it all.

It’s a place I’ll really miss.

Dec 14

Thanksgiving 2014: Noodles, wine, and biscuits

Sure, there was the Thanksgiving feast (read: Mongolian hot pot) at home, but there was also much ingesting and imbibing with friends in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

Xi’An Famous Foods

I met up with my college roommate Sandy for lunch in the city. Besides an alma mater, we also share a love for Chinese good. So I was thrilled to learn a Xi’An Famous Foods had opened in her neighborhood on the Upper East Side.

I first heard about the restaurant from Anthony Bourdain, which is almost always a guarantee of good food. I got the oxtail noodle soup.

Looks great right? Well, unfortunately looks was all it had. No, that’s not entirely true. The flavor was good, but it was lukewarm. Maybe the servers, who were all white, didn’t know that noodle soup has to be burn-your-mouth-hot. Then again, doesn’t any soup? So I was pretty disappointed. At least the company was good.


I also had the chance to see and stay with my friend Yiannis. One night, craving something sweet, we stopped in ChikaLicious.

While it might sound like a chicken place, it’s actually a dessert bar — New York’s first, according to the website. Also according to their site, the line sometimes goes out the door, but that Saturday before Thanksgiving, there was no wait.

I noticed a dough’ssant in the wild —

— before settling on the banana custard pie.


Sweet Science

One morning Yiannis and I met up with his sister and her friends for her birthday breakfast. One of her favorite places is Sweet Science in Brooklyn, and with good reason.

I got the biscuits with sausage gravy and bacon:

Decadent and delicious!

Amalthea Cellars and Sharrott Wineries

Good times were also to be had in my home state. My friend Ellen was also visiting for Thanksgiving, and we met up with our other friend Aki, who lives in New Jersey. She and her fiance had to drive one of their friends to Philadelphia so she suggested a couple of wineries along the way.

I’ve never been to a wine tasting before and thought I wouldn’t be that into it since I’m not a fan of wine. But it was actually really fun. The combination of the small amounts with a wide variety was perfect for me. Plus! I never knew wine could be sweet. All I knew about were the very dry ones. Turns out I love sweet wine.

Our first stop, Amalthea Cellars, offered 11 different tastings for $6, plus a little tour of the place. I thought the Leda, a “dry ‘travel style’ rose” with “notes of strawberry,” according to the info sheet, was so pretty:

Although for some reason the tour guide looked right at me when he said it “goes well with Chinese food.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ My favorite was the Callisto Gris, a “bright red apple and strawberry notes.” Of course it was sweet.

The second place was Sharrott Winery, which offered six tastings for $12 plus snacks. By that time I was pretty tipsy, as was this big group of loud ladies who were traveling by bus from winery to winery. (We had a designated driver in Aki’s very kind and patient fiance.)

Hiro Ramen House

Our next stop was Philadelphia and a ramen dinner. Hiro Ramen House is apparently the place to be. We had a 20-minute wait, but it was totally worth it. For appetizers we got the karaage, or fried chicken, and takoyaki, octopus balls:

I got the spicy ramen, which really hit the spot post-wine tastings.

Lotus Garden

All good things must come to an end. To close out my visit, my mom and I had a goodbye lunch at one of our local favorites, Lotus Garden. It’s not bad for central Jersey, and seems authentic, if only because it’s usually packed with Chinese people. I got the beef noodle soup:

Not as good as Mom’s but better than Xi’An Famous Foods, I have to say.

Until next time!