Ivan Ramen

After an early infatuation with Italian restaurants, it would seem that Brunch with Bear is becoming increasingly obsessed with ramen. Ramen, besides being excellent comfort food, is a great food for the summer. Warm, spicy, and satisfying, ramen has all the qualities of a successful summer evening. Last week was my friend’s birthday and he had originally wanted to go to Totto Ramen. After attempting to wait out the crazy line for about ten minutes, we found our way towards the Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop, a hip and happening establishment amidst the other hip and happening establishments of Gotham West Market.

Gotham West Market is located on 11th Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets, just a short walk from the 42nd Street Station on the A, C, and E trains. You can take pretty much any of the trains into Times Square, but the market is far on the west side, so I suggest crossing over to the exits by the A, C, and E trains in order to be closer, or catching a crosstown bus. On a breezy summer night, it was a perfect walk away from the nauseating bustle of Times Square.

ivan ramen (entrance)

Gotham West Market is similar to Chelsea Market, where the Brunch with Bear team visited Friedman’s Lunch, in that hipster food hall way. Picture an upscale NYC food court, and that’s the general idea. They have multiple vendors within a single communal dining hall, with individual bars and counters for each purveyor. Ivan Ramen is very close to the entrance, and we were lucky to find a much shorter line than Totto, but with equally crowded tables. The employee on the phone had encouraged us with her friendly demeanor and enthusiasm.

ivan ramen (bar)

Ivan Ramen has all the standard shoyu and shio ramen choices, but I opted for the more unique roasted garlic mazemen, considering how I order shoyu at almost every ramen place. Add-ons are an additional cost, but ramen isn’t really ramen until you add an egg, so I was willing to fork over the extra dollar or whatever. Our server was really nice—potentially the same employee from our phone call—and was able to make suggestions and give information about the different dishes without being pushy or rushed, even when there was a long line forming. She checked and double-checked about the allergies, and it seemed like all the servers knew that the ramen was dairy-free and peanut-free.

ivan ramen (counter)

Ivan Ramen wraps the spoon and chopsticks in a darling wrapper, which are served with your perfect bowl of ramen on a silver platter. Like Starbucks, you pick up the tray when you hear your name, and attempt to find an empty couple of chairs at the communal benches. Water is available at a water station, but beware, the bottles that you can fill for your table are slightly top-heavy. Not saying that someone knocked over an entire, mostly-full bottle of water, but hypothetically, if he did, it was a really messy and soggy accident and it’s really hard to pour water when you have paws without opposable thumbs and the bottle is taller than you.

ivan ramen (tray)

Imagine a fragrant and hearty hug, one that envelopes you in a comforting cloud and makes you feel secure and warm. That is what I imagine garlic to be in the food world, and this garlic mazemen was like eating one of those hugs. The scallions on top were sprinkled with the roasted garlic, and the soup, though less than the shoyu, was intensely flavorful and complementary to the main garlic vibes. Roast pork in ramen is usually sliced thinly, but this pork was thick and juicy, and the soft-boiled egg added a silky texture that really brought the whole meal together.

ivan ramen (ramen)

As with all cuisines, there are restaurants that do well with traditional dishes, and others that do well by “reinventing” foods, or basically adding weird things to them to make them good in a weird way. Ivan Ramen did a nice shoyu and I’d be interested to sample some other classic dishes, but I think they get major flair points for this particular creation.

ivan ramen (bear)

Gotham West Market is a great place for a casual meal, and I can see it being a welcoming and friendly atmosphere at any time of the day. The majority of the other customers were definitely young professionals, out for a leisurely bite on a Friday night. Ivan Ramen itself was immensely popular, and we were able to enjoy our New York moment. The one complaint is that the prices are a little expensive comparative to the portion size, considering they charge extra for things like eggs and chili oil, and they could have easily put twice as many noodles in the bowl. However, for a special occasion and a real treat, the garlic mazemen was worth the extra dollars, as it made for a memorable and enjoyable evening.

Though I’m still partial to the enormous portions of Totto Ramen and the breathing space of Jin Ramen, Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop was a pleasant surprise. I’d be excited to check out their flagship location in the East Village, but the Slurp Shop in Hell’s Kitchen is the perfect place to grab a bite before seeing a show, catching a movie, or people-watching in Bryant Park!

Dim Sum Go Go

A few weeks ago, my friend invited me out to dim sum with a group of her friends, most of whom are visiting New York from other schools across the country, and had never been to dim sum before. For those of you who have never been before, dim sum is a Chinese style brunch—as much a time of day as it is a type of food. Filled with dumplings, noodles, and tea, dim sum, also known as yum cha, is a relatively safe meal for me. Dairy is rarely used in Chinese cooking, and peanuts, particularly due to the prevalence of peanut allergies in American culture, are generally easy to avoid.

Our plan was to go to the famed Golden Unicorn, but a late start and a long line deterred us from Golden Unicorn and toward a newer place down the street, called Dim Sum Go Go. Golden Unicorn is so famous that the lines are like Disneyland, and oftentimes, small parties will be squished together at the same large table, in a Hong-Kong-style mishmash of strangers. Chinese families tend to stick to their dedicated favorites, and my family in particular would probably stand in line all day at their favorite place before trying any place new. However, I was not with my Chinese family, so we ventured away from the lines toward the welcoming doors of Dim Sum Go Go. I was personally skeptical about Dim Sum Go Go, but the interior was clean and the staff was very friendly.

dim sum go go (sauce)

For those familiar with dim sum, you will know that the whole concept is like a giant moving buffet. Servers have metal pushcarts stacked high with steamer baskets and boxes filled with dumplings, various baos, noodles, veggies, and other random morsels. As such, most dim sum newcomers resort to asking their resident Chinese friend what everything is, from a piece of shrimp to an unfamiliar vegetable. (“What is this?” “It’s broccoli, just try it.” “It doesn’t look like broccoli…” “It’s Chinese broccoli. It’s good! Just eat it!”)

dim sum go go (food)

Dim Sum Go Go has eliminated the pushcarts in favor of a paper menu, much like a sushi ordering menu at a Japanese restaurant. The English names are printed next to the Chinese names, and customers need only to fill in the quantity of their favorite items. In addition, like any other restaurant, if you don’t know what is inside your food, many waiters in Manhattan Chinatown speak English and you may ask them to describe your food. There was also a menu for noodles and larger rice dishes. As a result, we got filled up on beef chow fun and a large selection of items that would usually be found on pushcarts.

dim sum go go (plate)

As someone who eats dim sum relatively often, I have to admit that Dim Sum Go Go was not my favorite. The baos were smaller than usual, the dumpling wrappers were a little thicker and stickier than usual, and the fried items were not as crisp—read: fresh—as usual. While everything tasted fine, the quality was not necessarily as high as I would have expected from a restaurant with similar Yelp ratings to Golden Unicorn. (Of course, most people on Yelp are not old Chinese ladies with a penchant for this kind of critique.) In addition, the prices were roughly similar to that of more established restaurants, so the overall value was not as satisfying as I feel it could have been. My family would have more likely waited for Golden Unicorn, or trekked over to Ping’s Seafood or Oriental Garden.

dim sum go go (bear)

That being said, the restaurant itself was very clean and had nice presentation, which is great for a group in which most members have never experienced the hustle and bustle of Chinatown and dim sum. The main clientele seemed to be young families as well as other college students and young adults checking out the dim sum scene. The service was very slow, and I had to run our checklists to the waiters a couple times, but they were generally accurate at bringing us the food we ordered. They also were very gracious about splitting the check amongst eleven or so of us.

I will probably not return to Dim Sum Go Go, but it is a great place for groups and dim sum newbies. It offers an introduction to the traditional cuisine of Chinese teatime without any of the pandemonium that seems to really scare people off from the whole concept. If you’re looking for a quiet and leisurely gateway into the noisy and manic world of dim sum, Dim Sum Go Go may be the place for you!

Bear Makes Brunch: Daddy-Daughter Doughnut Day

Like the macarons I made with my mom, I’ve been saving this post in the storage box of Bear Makes Brunches for a very special occasion: Father’s Day. Dads are great. They let you eat ice cream for breakfast, French fries for lunch and McDonald’s apple pies for dinner. (Mom, if you are reading this, none of these things have ever happened.)

My dad helps me write papers, overcome illnesses and reduce anxiety even though we are usually thousands of miles apart from each other. When I was younger, my Girl Scout troop would have a Daddy-Daughter dance party around Valentine’s Day. My dad and I killed it in limbo every year. Since then, we’ve moved on to taking road trips up to Oregon, watching Veronica Mars and various anime series, and, of course, making doughnuts.

My dad and I first made doughnuts several years ago, and have since attempted several different recipes and acquired all sorts of doughnut equipment. The first doughnuts we ever made were a yeasty sort of doughnuts, for which we enlisted our deep fryer and a new doughnut cookie cutter. Then we upgraded to a doughnut press, which was even trickier, but still really fun. A couple years ago we decided to try cake doughnuts and bought a nice mini-doughnut pan at Sur La Table. We usually go with classic vanilla glaze, but we’ve done powdered sugar and cinnamon sugar doughnuts too. My dad’s favorite kind of donut is a jelly donut, and one day, we hope to accomplish those as well!

This last attempt at doughnuts consumed most of our day, and so beware, if you are going to do this: dads like to take naps and breaks and more naps. And you might want to watch an episode of Veronica Mars while you do this. And eat lunch, which means going to your favorite takeout place. And my dad and I eat slowly. So make sure you have a whole Sunday for this project, at the very least.

doughnut day (saveur magazine)

This recipe for vanilla-glazed yeast doughnuts came from a glamorous copy of Saveur magazine that my sister gave me a few years ago. The feature article was dozens of doughnuts, including its history, its legend, and many many recipes for yeast doughnuts, cake doughnuts, baked doughnuts, etc., etc. This is the first time we’ve tried anything from this list, but I hope we can try many more!

doughnut day (saveur magazine pages)

Although the recipe is available online, I’ve copied it here, with several modifications. Please note that we have omitted the recipe for the glaze that Saveur suggests, because we used an allergy-friendly glaze of just sugar and water. In addition, while the recipe states that it makes about eighteen doughnuts, we had at least thirty by the end of the night, not including doughnut holes and the doughnuts that were integral for taste-testing.

The ingredients are as follows:

2 ¼-oz. packages active dry yeast
½ cup sugar
1 ½ cups milk, scalded and cooled (we used soy milk, for obvious reasons)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 eggs
6 tbsp vegetable shortening, plus more for greasing
5 cups (1 lb, 6 ½ oz.) all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
Canola oil, for frying

doughnut day (ingredients)

The first step is to combine the yeast, 1 tbsp. of sugar, and 6 tbsp. of warm water. Saveur states that the water should be heated to 115º F, and that the bowl should be in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. We warmed some water and took it off the stove before it boiled, and used a simple mixing bowl and a spoon. Then, let the mixture sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add remaining sugar, plus milk, salt, eggs, and shortening; mix until combined. This step is where the stand mixer might have come in handy, as you add flour and beat until dough is smooth. We used a simple hand mixer, which worked equally well. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap set in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour and a half.

doughnut day (equipment)

After the dough rises, spread it out on a floured surface. Our dough was still rather gooey, so we actually ended up adding more flour eventually, and kneading it into the dough. Saveur recommends cutting the dough with 3 ½” and 1 ½” diameter ring cookie cutters, floured or greased, but we have a special doughnut cutter that we used to make the shapes. Reuse the scraps, or save the insides for doughnut holes. Place the rings on greased parchment paper, and then cover them again until they double in size, about 45 minutes.

doughnut day (doughnuts before frying)

Saveur recommends heating the oil in a 6-quart saucepan, but we used a large wok, which is more common in our household for deep-frying. If you have a deep-fry thermometer, the oil should be about 325º F; if you don’t, you can use a piece of bread to test the oil. If it turns golden brown within a minute, it is definitely hot enough. You will have to play with the heat of the stove and the oil—as you may notice, our first batch is much darker than the rest of the doughnuts, a result of the oil being too hot.

IMG_2019

Saveur suggests cutting the doughnuts out of the parchment paper and slipping them into the oil, paper side-up, and peeling the paper off with tongs. We simply lifted the rings, which were firmer because we added more flour, and slid them into the oil so we could reuse the paper. Because we’ve made yeast doughnuts before, we were comfortable handling the dough and the oil, but for the uninitiated, you may prefer to stick to the script. Cook each doughnut for a few minutes, or until they are “puffed and golden,” and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

doughnut day (glazing)

Saveur’s guidelines state that you should let the doughnuts cool completely before glazing them, but in our experience, it is best to glaze the doughnuts when they are still warm. The glaze that we use is very simple: confectioner’s sugar and a small amount of water, with some vanilla extract if you like. The key to the glaze is to use only a few teaspoons of water, making a thick, sugary glaze that sticks to the doughnuts. Alternatively, you can also roll the doughnuts in a bowl of cinnamon sugar.

doughnut day (final doughnuts yield)

As I said before, we only make doughnuts occasionally, mostly because it’s time-consuming, labor-intensive, and very, very messy. However, this particular batch of doughnuts had a surprisingly large yield, so high-risk, high-reward on this recipe.

doughnut day (final doughnuts close-up)

Regardless of how much work they are, doughnuts are a delicious project that’s perfect for sharing. Not only are they a food that I can rarely eat in a commercial setting, but they are also a treat to make and eat (also rarely) with my dad. Our fluffy, sugary doughnuts far surpass any desserts at my old Girl Scout tea parties, and we don’t have to do the limbo for it either.

In honor of Father’s Day, Bear would like to thank all the fathers in the world, especially the ones that carry him on their heads, let him ride in the front seat, and faithfully, consistently, always read this blog. Jelly doughnuts for everyone!

Yefsi Estiatorio

Summer has been slow to settle into the city, but nothing is more telling of long days and warm nights than lingering Mediterranean dinners. Yefsi Estiatorio, a charming Greek eatery on the Upper East Side, was the perfect place to settle in for a summer evening with family friends.

Yefsi Estiatorio is located at 1481 York Avenue, between 78th and 79th Streets. The closest subway station is the 77th Street stop on the 6 train, so you will have to walk from Lexington Avenue to York, or catch a connecting crosstown bus or cab. Alternatively, if you are coming from the West Side, take a M79 crosstown bus from the 79th Street stop on the 1 train or the 81st Street stop on the B or C trains.

yefsi (restaurant)

Our table was tucked away in the back corner of the restaurant, with an advantageous proximity to the kitchen as well as a semi-private dining experience for all our talking and catching up. Bread was served, but unfortunately not the allergy friendly kind.

yefsi (menu)

Our waiter was incredibly enthusiastic about everything on the menu, and lit up to describe almost all of the dishes. His most amusing habit was running to the kitchen and shoving his entire upper body through the window to ask the chef about ingredients, shouting in Greek before extracting himself and running back. (Talk about dedication!) He checked and double checked that the food I ordered had no butter, cheese, yogurt, peanuts, etc.

yefsi (small plates)

We ordered several small plates for the table, a couple of which were allergy friendly. The first plate was some sort of cheese dish, resembling cheese tempura, if that’s even possible. (I did not partake.) The second platter was the lahanika, or a plate of grilled vegetables, such as zucchini, eggplants, and carrots. I mostly ate the carrots, which were firm, smoky, and slightly sweet.

yefsi (lahanika)

The third plate was the octapodi, an octopus stew with pearl onions and a red wine tomato sauce. Octopus sort of scares me, but this dish made me reconsider my previous anti-octopus ways. The fish itself was soft, rather than chewy, and the tomatoes and the onions—I also rarely eat vegetables—were delicious all on their own.

yefsi (octapodi)

For my main course, I ordered the biologico kotopoulo, an herb-roasted chicken dish with lemon potatoes. The pieces were already carved, so there were very few bones, but the chicken itself was very soft and not too greasy, with a combination of both white meat and dark meat. The lemon potatoes were surprisingly, well, lemony, and the tang of the lemons with all the spices and herbs on the chicken was a pleasant combination. I am not a huge fan of lemon on my foods, save for lemonade and dessert, but the lemon on this chicken dish was inspired and definitely completed the palate. The leftovers were an amazing lunch the next day, and kept very well.

yefsi (biologico kotopoulo)

The main crowd at Yefsi seemed to be families and businesspeople, catching up over wine and seafood, all familiar with the atmosphere. Yefsi is one of the pricier places that we’ve been to, and a great place to bring mysterious benefactors, as well as family members who will sneakily battle over the check while you’re running late because of a crowded subway train and you never even see it coming.

yefsi (bear)

Given its location on the Upper East Side, Yefsi combines the neighborhood-eatery with the upscale-gourmet, and the camaraderie among the waitstaff adds to the general cheer that good food and good friends often create. Dining at Yefsi was full of laughter and conversation, and the food was just as delicious as the company. Here’s to hoping that the summer will be just as warm, comfortable, and long-lasting as late dinners and old friends!

Bear Makes Brunch: Macarons for Mother’s Day

Today is a very special occasion: Mother’s Day. Though every day should really be a day for appreciating mothers, it’s nice to have one that is sunny and springy, just like my mom. Mothers are often the source of Disney evil-villain-ry but my mom is just the opposite.

Some girls I know worry about becoming their mothers, but I strangely love when I realize I’m doing something exactly like my mom. Sometimes I’m just making food that she makes, sometimes I discover that I love a book that she loves too, and sometimes I’m wearing the exact same plaid flannel pajama set that she’s wearing on the same night. My mom and I are not the same person, of course, but she is one of my best friends. We share secrets and sewing projects and lots and lots of snacks. We love soft pretzels and pastries and Paris, and so we decided to take on a new project: French macarons.

French macarons are naturally dairy- and peanut-free and super-duper cute, so this dessert was totally Bear-friendly. This recipe comes from Martha Stewart but I have copy-and-pasted it here for your convenience. (Also, it goes with the pictures.) As Ms. Stewart says, “French macarons are light-as-a-feather classic French treats that give your dessert a dose of sophistication.” Nothing says happy Mother’s Day like a dose of sophistication, right?

A note of caution: macarons are very labor intensive, and mothers already do a lot of work. My mom is a superhero, so we spent an entire Saturday making macarons and shopping. For the fainthearted, either schedule this project with a mother-daughter spa day or, if you want it to be a surprise, be prepared to enlist some helpers in the forms of younger siblings and dads.

First, the ingredients. Macarons are really nothing but almonds, sugar and eggs, which explains why they are basically perfect. The measurements are as follows:

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup almond flour
2 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup superfine sugar

For the filling, we used a tart apricot jam, but you may use any ganache, light buttercream, or jam of your choice. Some of these ingredients may be difficult to find, like the almond flour. Try going somewhere like Whole Foods or a health or vegan food store.

Preheat your oven to 375º F. Then, the directions say “Pulse 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times.” We actually just stirred the ingredients together with a whisk. Pulsing the ingredients in a food processor may make the dry ingredients finer, but the wafers suffered no density issues in the end, so I will say it is probably not as important as Martha Stewart makes it sound.

macarons (dry ingredients)

Separating the egg whites is something that, as even my kids’ cookbook tells me, is challenging. It may take some practice, so try separating your egg whites and yolks the next couple times you make them for breakfast before attempting to make macarons. Once you’ve got it down, go ahead and proceed by whisking the egg whites “on medium speed until foamy.” Add the cream of tartar, and whisk “until soft peaks form.” Soft peaks really just means that it doesn’t fall over and that the egg whites are beginning to keep some structure.

macarons (egg yolks) macarons (egg whites)

Then reduce the speed to low, and add the superfine sugar. To be honest, we didn’t use superfine sugar, we just used regular white granulated sugar. Again, probably not the most professional macarons but they came out great, so I think the superfine sugar goes in the same category of “myth” like the food processor.

macarons (meringue)

Increase the speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form (about 8 minutes). Sift the flour mixture over the egg whites mixture, and fold until the mixture is “smooth and shiny.” Pulsing the dry ingredients may have made the batter smoother, but it definitely came out shiny so we kept going with it.

macarons (mixing)

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted a plain round tip. Martha Stewart recommends a ½” tip but we used a smaller one, because that was the only round tip we had.

macarons (batter)

Pipe 3/4-inch rounds on parchment-lined baking sheets, pulling the pastry tip around the side of the rounds to keep them smooth. Martha Stewart recommends placing them 1 inch apart, but the wafers do not expand in the oven, so a little closer is okay if you’re trying to be economic in your parchment paper usage.

macarons (piping rounds)

Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. (This step is very important.) Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. You should see bubbles rise to the surface of the wafer and dissipate.

Reduce oven temperature to 325º F. (In reality, we preheated the oven to 325º F, but I guess if you’re being professional there’s something about overheating and then lowering the oven. Bake one cookie sheet at a time, rotating the halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, so about 10 minutes on each side. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees. (We didn’t actually do this part)

Let the macarons cool on sheets for a few minutes, then transfer the individual cookies to a wire rack. Martha Stewart says that “if macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons.” This is not true. It makes them soggy and weird. Instead, use a flat metal spatula (i.e. not a fork) to gently coax the wafers off the paper and onto the wire rack.

macarons (pairs)

This next part was probably my favorite part. Because you will most likely not have perfect, even circles that are all identical like the professionals at Fauchon [insert link], match the wafers up with a cookie that is roughly its mirror image. If this proposition scares the visuospatial part of your brain, try to at least match cookies that are the same size and relative oval-ness.

macaron (jam filling)

Sandwich a spoonful of filling—in this case, apricot jam—and spread evenly. Try not to break the cookies. Arrange artfully, serve immediately and eat them all.

macarons (macaron)

Alternatively, if you cannot eat all the macarons (what!), Martha Stewart suggests stacking them between layers of parchment, wrapping them in plastic and freezing them. They will last this way, according to the expert, for up to three months. However, do be careful about storing them, because when we boxed them up, the moisture caused the wafers to be soggy the next day. The toaster oven heroically stored them. Let them cool down and firm up before storing them, or stick to the original plan of eating them all at once.

macarons (final product)

On this special day, Bear is so thankful for mothers, grandmothers, and maternal types in the world, most especially the one that makes him custom outfits, gives him emergency surgical operations and lets him into the kitchen even at the risk of getting egg on his face. Happy Mother’s Day!