(Title stolen from Steve Smith's text message to me, upon discovering Otafuku.)
Yesterday was the day nature reminds us winter really doesn't last forever. It was over 60 degrees in New York, and I needed to be outside after months and months of bundling up against the bitter cold.
The sun was shining in the morning, so I made myself a fortifying crepe brunch with leftovers from the Friday night pre The Savannah Disputation crepefest (similar to the Shrove Tuesday recipe: galettes, aged Asiago, melty leeks, bacon, and Cremini mushrooms cooked in bacon fat and Herbes de Provence). Filled with buttery happiness, I made my way into the sunshine with my copy of Julia & Julia--which I'd almost finished--and no real plans.
Things in New York have a habit of changing at the drop of a hat... Two hours later I was standing with Steve and Lara in front of Otafuku (236 East 9th Street). Octopus takoyaki was our objective, and yumminess we received. A favorite in Osaka, takoyaki is a puffy Japenese dumpling sort of thing made from batter and cubes of octopus, topped with okonomiyaki sauce (sort of like barbecue sauce), seaweed sauce, mayonnaise, and katsuobushi (bonito flakes). The balls themselves kind of look like a Drunkin' Donuts Munchkin...I wonder if their stores in Japan have takoyaki...
I'd had takoyaki at Sake Bar Hagi on West 49th Street (also a fun must-visit, but be prepared to wait in line), but heard that Otafuku was great. A little hole-in-the-wall, it's kind of like an inexpensive trip to Japan via the East Village. They have 3 kinds of takoyaki (two without octopus, for the squeamish), okonomiyaki (a pancake made primarily with cabbage and your choice of meat or veg), yakisoba, and a collection of combo platters. There's no seating except for a bench outside, but St. Mark's Church is around the corner, and benches await in the little park out front.
After tako-yummy, it was so beautiful that we ended up taking the longest possible route to Chinatown for dinner: over to the Christopher Street Pier on the west side, south along the river to Battery Park City (where we spied snowdrops and crocuses--hurrah!), down around the battery, to South Street Seaport via Stone Street, and north to Chinatown.
We ended up at Fuleen Seafood Restaurant, a Michelin rated (!) place on Division Street. While Sichuan cuisine is my favorite style of Chinese cooking (so far...), this Cantonese seafood establishment is excellent, working within a more refined, balanced palate. It's the kind of place where the seafood in the window actually looks cheerful in the face of doom, and your still-flopping friend is brought to your table for approval before being taken to the kitchen.
We took the iPhone's suggestion and ordered the Dungeness crab, which as always was a pain to eat, but wonderfully done and absolutely dripping with garlic. The spicy shrimp still in their shells were flavorful (but could have used way more chili) and the noodles with crab were lovely (but didn't have much crab!). The sautéed snow pea shoots kicked ass, the hot-and-sour soup was homemade and a must-have, and I had a taste of the...um, interesting...black chicken soup with ginseng (Where can I find some black chicken? It has an amazing, deep flavor. But the ginseng...ech...). I definitely want to go back for the Peking Duck, which looked beautiful and was served with little fluffy buns. And to boot, the plate was garnished with Pringles! How many Michelin-rated restaurants use Pringles?! Awesome.
Our feet were throbbing, but were our stomachs sated? No! Off to Orchard Street for il laboratorio del gelato (which was closed!). Up to Houston, where we were drawn into Yonah Schimmel's Knishery (I bought a freshly-baked rugelach and a poppy hamantaschen, to be eaten later). Then we finally found the Ciao Bella gelato outpost on Mott Street, where I had a scoop of Limoncello Marscapone and a taste of the pistachio...the best pistachio I've had...
Exhausted but satisfied, I walked home to 34th Street. It was a beautiful night!