Wednesday, June 20, 2007


When Kyotofu, an ultra-slick Japanese influenced dessert-only bar opened last fall, I was more than a little skeptical whether it would succeed. As gentrified as Hell's Kitchen is turning, it is not trendy like the village or anywhere else below 14th St. I visited it in its early months, liking the concept but a little turned off by the steep pricing that priced a slice of tofu cheesecake at more than 10 dollars.
Lately though, I've been frequently Kyotofu a lot more. Pricing during the evening hours have been adjusted just slightly below the $10 psychological barrier and Kyotofu also started opening during afternoons. And weekend afternoons is when I find it most convenient to saunter into the bar, a scant 3 blocks away for something sweet. Most of the time, I go for the miso-choco brownie, a , round nugget of intense chocolate flavor accentuated with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Miso is an ingredient although I've never really experienced the savory taste in all the half dozen cakes I've consumed so far. In the afternoons, the restaurant also serve a chocolate souffle cupcake that is moister than Magnolia's will ever be alongside some fruit compote. With some luck, the bright white cocoon-like room will be empty, and your afternoon will be serene and sweet.
The energy level in the dining room increases significantly as day turns to night. At best, there is a quiet buzz as couples and groups of girlfriends share their desserts and drinks. At its worst, the tiny room with its amplifying acoustics can sound like a zoo. However, look past it all and you'll enjoy the intricate and expensive desserts. The 3 course dessert prefixe is a misnomer as the entree usually consists of 3 mini desserts, which makes it a 5 course prefixe. At $15, portions are pretty tiny, but still big enough for 2 not very hungry girls to finish with some difficulty. The tofu pudding with black sugar sauce is wonderfully smooth and extremely pure and nutty tasting. The miso-choco cake appears in the prefix, together with a miniature slice of tofu cheesecake, often flavored with aromatic sansho pepper but on one occasion laced with sake. Unlike regular cheesecake, the tofu version is less dense, making it easier to finish without feeling sick. A cool and creamy vanilla cream and walnut parfait that rounds up the trio in the entree is equally tasty. The 3 course meal ends with some green tea cookies whose soft and crumbly texture I unfortunately do not appreciate. For people who enjoy beautifully plated Japanese desserts, a few ala carte items lean towards the more traditional bent, like a very subtle red bean jelly served with unfortunately undercooked tapioca pearls in calpico milk, as well as anmitsu, a traditional Japanese jelly based dessert served with strawberries and dorayaki, a baked Japanese pancake.
Having eaten through more than half of the sweets menu, while I can't say that I love everything, there isnt a dish that I vehemently oppose to as well. Regrettably, my favorite dish, a rich rice pudding sitting in a puddle of the best, most concentrated soy milk I've tasted is currently off the menu.
Kyotofu is a place for dessert lovers, more specifically dainty eaters. But even for people who like hefty slices of pies and cream topped cakes, come try it and you may find that tofu cheesecake is right up your alley too.
705 9th Ave (48th & 49th St)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tulcingo del Valle

Al fresco dining. I don't get it. Why would people forsake air conditioned comfort to sit out in the steamy heat, waving flies while they eat? But this past Friday was actually not a bad day to be sitting out. It was bright at 7pm, and not too humid. The playground on 10th and 46th that Yanru and I had dinner in was crowded with happy people, children from the neighborhood running around energetically, suits taking a breather from yet another work week, mothers trading stories. Just sitting there made me feel as though peace and goodwill just osmosized into my cynical little heart.
Unlike 9th ave, 10th avenue is still relatively undeveloped. Rents are probably also lower, which explains the continued survivorship of Tulcingo del Valle, a bare-bones Mexican grocery store cum deli that sells authentic, flavor-packed and extremely inexpensive food. By inexpensive I mean $2.50 tacos and $5 sandwiches that's good for 2 meals. While they have seats for dine-in customers, both in the grocery store and the "high class" next door annex complete with table settings and tablecloth, we opted for take out. But anything that needs to be eaten piping hot with real cutlery, like the piquant chicken in mole sauce or the deep green pumpkin sauce, or the various stews on the menu should be eaten in. For people who are not squeamish about stranger cuts of meat, I highly recommend the beef tongue sandwich. I enjoy the soft chewiness of the meat, the slight fattiness which is cut by spicy jalapenos. Besides meat and peppers, the monster is jammed with lettuce, tomatos, creamy avocados and as if that was not filling enough, a thick refried bean paste slathered on the bread. It is juicy, messy and perfect playground food. Yanru picked up a beef taco that she enjoyed immensely when she was not trying not to drop bits of meat and cheese on the table, and we washed all that down with a thirst quenching cantaloupe juice. We chatted, ate with gusto and enjoyed the twilight as day turns into night. You may not catch me sitting outside a restaurant when there are ample seats inside, but a playground with a torta in hand? I might just do that again.

Tulcingo del Valle
665 10th Ave (46th & 47th Sts)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Menchanko Tei

Give me winter over summer anytime. At least, indulgence in rich and buttery food are condoned and flabby arms are hidden from sight by clever jackets and coats. The streets look cleaner, the subway smells less rank and my electricity bill is much lower. But one thing summer has over winter, aside from plenty of lush stone fruits and the joys of ice cold beer and watermelon slices is the comeback of seasonal cold noodles. It could be soba slick with a soy and wasabi concoction, or fabulously thin and elastic korean naeng myun nested in a ice-cold beef broth.
My favorite cold Asian noodle however is a Japanese dish called Hiyashi Chuka. And of all the ramen-yas in Midtown, I favor Menchanko Tei's version the most as the flavors are clean and fresh and the presentation aesthetically pleasing. A big heap of thin egg noodles hides under a profusion of toppings that include cucumber, lettuce, marinated shitake mushrooms, chicken, a thin egg omelet, seaweed and scarily red pickeld ginger. All toppings were sliced almost as finely as the noodles are thin. A dollop of mustard also helps clear sinuses and gives the sweet and sour soy-based broth a bracing lift. The mustard's heat and the vinegar's tartness stimulates dormant summer appetites and before you know it, you'd have eaten the entire bowl of noodles. It doesnt look like much but you've got the equivalent of half a pack of dried pasta by the time you roll out of the restaurant. Be warned though, that I've observed a negative side effect after eating this dish. The noodles do such a great job of waking my tastebuds that instead of feeling full, I leave in search of even more food, especially dessert. Oh man, will I stop eating already! But I don't have to look far, since Japanese icecream or pudding are on sale at Menchanko too!

Menchanko Tei
131 E45th St (Between Lex & 3rd Aves)
43-45 W55th St (Bet 5th & 6th Aves)