My sister and I like to play a game where one poses a question to the other, "Noodles or rice?" "Chocolate or vanilla?" "Cilantro or mint?" Any pair of foods or flavors, with the understanding that you cannot have both, but must choose only one to eat for the rest of your life. Fun game, no?
For me, the question of noodles or rice is easy--noodles forever. Most Korean people I know feel a strange sense of emptiness if they go more than a day without eating rice, and I admit I feel that way occasionally as well, but the thought of giving up naengmyun, soba, ramen, udon, pho, chow mein, all the gazillion types of pasta, it's just no contest.
Last night, Lina, Leslie, and I decided to go see the Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design in midtown. Leslie is the most anal and exact one of us three (and the only trained pastry chef), but she was the most frightened by the precision and concentration required for some of the pieces we saw. Probably the most awesome, in the most literal sense of the word, was the one of three large floor-to-ceiling panels of black rubber or plastic into which the artist had painstakingly cut tiny diamonds and slits to create an intricate pattern of lace using an EXACTO KNIFE. My God.
Leslie had made clear from the beginning that she was only coming for the dinner we would have afterwards at Menchanko-Tei. When I suggested that maybe Lina might want to eat something other than ramen, her work-lunch staple, Leslie got this sad little catch in her voice as she said, "We can eat somewhere else if you like."
Menchanko-Tei makes me so happy. There's always so much more food than I think I can eat, but I just can't stop. I got the "chigae miso menchanko," which came in a earthy, spicy broth that reminded me of Korean daenjang chigae, or fermented bean paste stew, albeit with a Japanese touch. That kind of salty, deep flavor is so addictive, more addictive than any bag of potato chips.
Lina got the "hiyashi chuka," a big bowl of chilled noodles in a bit of broth with chicken, ginger, egg, mushroom and lettuce; Leslie the "tsuke men," also chilled noodles with thick slices of roasted pork, though the spicy miso broth came separately for dipping. I'd never tried the "tsuke men" before, and I loved how it combined what I love about cold soba with the flavor of ramen noodles. Their noodles are seriously toothsome.
After dinner, we wandered west to Hell's Kitchen looking for a drink or some tea. We managed to find Kyotofu, a new Japanese dessert restaurant on Ninth Avenue. The restaurant was a pleasant surprise, with the sort of modern decor that manages to be also warm. The two desserts we shared, the black sesame sweet tofu and the soy-milk rice pudding with goji berries and ginger, were very subtle, maybe too subtle.
Our decaf coffees definitely overpowered them, though I was very fond of the beautiful swirls in my cup and saucer. I'm sure they would have paired better with one of their teas, and I scraped away every bit of both puddings, but I don't think I'll be rushing back, though I am tempted to try their mochi desserts. I think I was hoping more for Chinese-style tofu desserts, which are sweeter and heartier. I did love the little cubes of kiwi jelly they brought with our check.
I might also have gotten overly distracted by the couple sitting next to us. The man would not let his date get a word in edgewise, despite telling her he thought she was very beautiful. I guess he just wanted to look at her.