Japanese Crisp Choco Bites: Guilty Pleasure Morsels

My mother discouraged snacking when I was a child. (A policy I’m hugely thankful for now that I know just how little willpower I have.)

However, among the few tidbits allowed during my Singaporean girlhood — as just an occasional treat — were Japanese cookies and chocolate snacks.

These bite-sized morsels were adorable — panda-shaped cookies filled with oozy strawberry filling, thimble-sized chocolate “hamburgers,” tasty biscuit sticks I’d pretend were cigarettes as I held them between two fingers, slowly nibbling them down to nubs. But my favorite was something very basic: Crisp Choco, a milk-chocolate pizza-like pie made with compacted chocolate cornflakes.

In the grand scheme of things, this snack doesn’t seem terribly sinful — it’s not a rich molten chocolate cake or mound of bacon, after all. But it was a treat that we looked forward to — one I count as a guilty pleasure I now allow myself just a few times a year.

So when my Let’s Lunch bunch decided on sharing a guilty pleasure for our virtual lunch date this month, Crisp Choco it was …

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Korean Roast Beef Sandwich: Umami on a Bun

Among the problems to have, this was a good one: What to do with that tub of leftover ssamjang in the fridge?

After whipping up a batch of the sweet, spicy and garlicky Korean dipping sauce for a recent night of kalbi, the leftovers remained front and center in my fridge, nudging me to do something — anything.

Sure, marinating a few pounds of short ribs for another round of kalbi was tempting — perhaps when I have more time.

For now, however, I had other easier plans …

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Ganso: Japanese Comfort Food Perfection

As someone who writes about food, I’m always thrilled to hear of a cookbook author opening a restaurant.

I find the idea that a writer who has invested time and sweat in mastering a cuisine has the guts to apply some of that knowledge and passion to a restaurant setting hugely inspiring. And so when I heard that Harris Salat, the fabulous author of several terrific Japanese cookbooks, had opened a little ramen shop in Brooklyn in September, I knew I had to stop in.

On a recent drizzly night — perfect weather for a hot bowl of noodle soup — it seemed like the time had come. So, we bundled up tightly and headed over to Ganso

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Japanese Curry Pot Pie: Asian Comfort Food

June always has me thinking of the summer a few years ago that I devoted myself to conquering pies.

With a perpetually hungry Iowan in the house, pies are often in huge demand around here, no matter the season. But this craving fully rears its head when it’s warm and farmers markets start filling up with sturdy red sticks of rhubarb and berries, plump and bright. Having made enough pies to feel confident enough to try any filling combination, however, I recently set my sights on savory pies.

Having grown up in a former British colony, pies filled with steak and minced lamb have long been a favorite of mine. So when my Let’s Lunch group of bloggers suggested baking pies for our June virtual lunchdate, I immediately started plotting my version of a curried pot pie…

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Brushstroke: Art on a Plate

In New York, the city that has pretty much seen it all, when one of the more intriguing restaurant concepts in recent memory finally opens its doors after three years in the works, important writing deadlines simply have to (temporarily) be damned.

After a long fascination with and love for Japanese food, David Bouley, the American restaurateur behind New York’s upscale French standard Bouley, finally dipped his spatula into the country’s culinary heritage in April, opening Brushstroke in TriBeCa, a collaboration with the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka that was conceptualized as an homage to the cuisine. (The name is a nod to the artistry that goes into Japanese food presentation.)

We were curious to see what a French-inflected American chef and some of Japan’s best culinary instructors would cook up. So with great appetites, we closed our laptops and off we went …

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Totto Ramen: Noodles Worth Sweating Over


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This is my general policy on sweating: It’s disgusting. Don’t do it.

Well … unless there is good reason. Like, say, an awesome bowl of soup noodles.

On the hottest day of summer so far in New York, a scorching bowl of ramen seemed like an insane choice for dinner. But there we were in Midtown, just blocks away from the recently opened Totto Ramen — a new sliver of a noodle shop by the owners of Yakitori Totto, whose grilled rice balls coated with a crispy soy-sauce glaze have occupied more of my dreams than I can count. (Hey, Thomas Keller is a fan of the place, too.)

Since we were practically within sniffing distance of the new place, a visit was definitely in order …

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Katsuhama: Pork Cutlets, Gussied Up


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There are few dishes more satisfying than a good pork katsu — a deep-fried cutlet that’s lightly breaded and perfectly crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and all the better if it’s drowned in sweet Japanese curry or just served plain with a side of Tonkatsu sauce, sweet and thick.

Given that I’ll order pork katsu whenever I see it on a menu, I’ve sampled it in restaurants and hole-in-the-wall dives all over Manhattan and Asia.

And I’ve pretty much always had good experiences with the dish — well, that was true anyway, until, I went to the new Katsuhama on West 55th Street.

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