Lately I’ve been experimenting with a lot of matcha baking recipes. Matcha, the trendy green-tea powder that’s now offered in lattes and drinks everywhere, is a very complex ingredient. It’s a bit of an adult taste, since it has an earthy, bitter aspect to it, so using just a tad too much can totally ruin your dessert, but if you use too scant an amount, then it’s as if you used none at all. But after a lot of tinkering, I’m happy to have successfully pulled off a super easy matcha blondie recipe. When I pulled the blondies out of the oven and took a bite, I felt like Goldie Locks when I thought to myself, this is just right.Read More
Nothing warms my heart like a cup of thick, creamy green tea matcha latte. Recently matcha cafes have been sprouting up everywhere in the city, but the best one of the bunch, Matcha Cafe Wabi, is located in Alphabet City. It’s a bit of a trek making your way out to 4th St and Ave B, and the walk isn’t the prettiest one, but you’ll feel differently once you spot the green awning of this cozy little shop.
The space is tiny, so it’s really a grab and go type of place. The matcha powder is imported from Kyoto, which the barista whisks in a bowl of hot water, and then combines with your choice of milk–whole, almond or soy, with some sweet syrup. I personally am a fan of the almond milk, and I also ask them to go easy on the sweetener. This sort of a preparation really brings the vibrant and somewhat bitter flavors of the matcha powder to the forefront, which I love. The version made with whole milk is a lot less intense and more user friendly, like something Starbucks would be comfortable selling to the public, but I just like my matcha pretty strong. Something about tasting pure matcha makes it feel more wholesome and effective, even if it’s not true.
I also discovered that they make black sesame lattes here, which was groundbreaking. It’s listed as goma kinako latte, in which they take black sesame paste, mix it into the milk of your choice, and top it off with some roasted soybean powder. It’s wonderfully thick and nutty, and in this case, the black sesame melds really well with the almond milk.
They also have different snacks available for purchase, such as rice krispy treats flavored with goma and matcha, and cute, plump mochi cakes. I haven’t had a chance to try the desserts yet, but with my rewards card, I’ll be incentivized to get them at some point!
Matcha Cafe Wabi
233 E. 4th St (between Ave A and B)
New York, NY 10009
For those seeking the romance and nostalgia of old world Japan, Kyoto is definitely the place to go. This is where you’ll find picturesque alleyways lined with traditional wooden houses little changed from what they looked like many years ago, and if you’re lucky, you might see a geisha quickly walking over to her next engagement.
Kyoto’s food is similarly deeply rooted in tradition, one that emphasizes clean flavors and seasonal ingredients. There are those that might find the food a little too simple and plain–different variations of tofu and vegetarian dishes don’t exactly pack a lot of punch–but those into clean, healthy eating will be in heaven. As will people obsessed with green tea anything (like myself). You will find opportunities to consume green tea matcha in all kinds of form–mochi, ice cream, coffee, crackers. I went on a 2-a-day binge of green tea matcha soy lattes and green tea soft serve, and it was the most amazing thing ever.
My favorite meal in Kyoto was our dinner at Giro Giro, a fun and lively restaurant that brilliantly reinterprets the traditional small-plates kaiseki experience. Every course I had here was so flavorful and delicious, and the best ones went straight for the umami pleasure center. If you’re ever in Kyoto, you must make a reservation here, and at ~$35 a person (cash only!), it is a fantastic deal.
Another highlight was taking a tour of the Suntory Yamazaki whisky distillery. This was probably the best brewery/distillery tour I have every been on. First of all, it was completely free. And second of all, it was so organized. A professional and sharply dressed representative led us on a very informative tour, and we even received our own free audio translator.
Last but not least, the tastings!! There’s the customary free tastings at the end of the tour. You get 2 generous whisky-and-soda cocktails, along with these fantastic Japanese crackers and chocolate squares. Granted, the whiskys used in the free cocktails were very young and not the premium products in the Yamazaki line-up, but that really isn’t the point. Besides, you could always make your way to the separate tasting room, in which you pay a nominal fee to access anything you want to try in the enormous Yamazaki whisky repository–10 year, 20 year, you name it, they got it.
As I mentioned before, Kyoto is renowned for its tofu. We had lunch at Tousuiro, a highly regarded restaurant famous for its handmade tofu specialties. If you thought tofu came in bland, block form in your chopped salad, think again. It can be nutty, it can be silky, it can be glutinous, it can be so much more than a healthy afterthought! The lunch set came with ~5 different tofu dishes–my favorites were the miso-glazed grilled tofu kebabs and the fried tempura tofu and cheese.
There was more tofu on the agenda for our day trip to Nara, a small town known for its temples and shrines and these wild deer that roam the streets everywhere. We stopped by Yanagi Chaya, a restaurant that specializes in elevated Buddhist monk cuisine. The lunch set was a bit steep at $35 a person, but there was a good variety of seasonal produce and small plates that were pretty interesting. I was personally impressed by how the monks were able to extract so much flavor from vegetables with minimal seasoning. If this monk-cuisine concept were to cross over to New York, the juice-cleanse/yoga-practicing/ladies-who-lunch set would be all over it.
We also made the obligatory trip to Nishiki food market, which was filled with numerous stalls of vendors hawking all types of edible things. Some snacks that caught our eye included the fresh tofu donuts and the cheese-filled fish cake on a stick. The fried donuts were surprisingly light, although a little bit plain for my taste, and the cheesy fish cake was more mild than I would have expected. I don’t think these are going to be the next Cronut anytime soon, but it was great to try them.
While beef wasn’t officially on our agenda, we figured that we should try some, since this is where the whole happy wagyu cow tradition started. We made reservations at Kyo No Yakiniku Hiro Sembon Sanjo Honten, a Japanese BBQ restaurant, to get our red meat fix. The set up here is similar to Korean bbq, where you basically get to pick the types of meat you want, and then you grill them yourself at your table. The beef was marinaded similarly to Korean BBQ as well–slightly sweet and soy-based. They have this great deal where for just 5,000 yen, two people can try a wide assortment of cuts that come in generous portions. My favorite was the tenderloin–the marbled, chunky pieces that just melted in your mouth were absolutely heavenly. Unfortunately I accidentally deleted my pictures from this dinner, which is a shame since that marbled meat was really something else.
The only real low point on the food tour was trying Kyoto sushi at Izuju. i guess we were expecting something similar to the sushi in Tokyo or the States, so when it turned out to be significantly different, we were a little disappointed. One big difference is the use of pickled or cooked fish versus raw fish. Because Kyoto wasn’t by the coastline, it needed to preserve the fish it imported from elsewhere, and so pickling its fish was a tradition that has since endured. On top of that, they use a massive amount of rice in one piece. You basically get a sliver of pickled fish on these huge hockey puck beds of rice. It was getting tiring plowing through a mountain of rice only to get a meager piece of fish, and getting to the fish wasn’t even all that worth it. Who wants to eat massive amounts of carbs just for some mackerel?
And while Kyoto isn’t known for its ramen or pork katsu, we did check those off the box as well. There’s an Ippudo just about everywhere in Japan, but we decided to try this hole-in-the-wall place near the Kyoto train station. I believe the name of the place was called Kyoto Takabashi Honke Daiichiasahi. There was a constant line out the door, even at 11 pm, so we were pretty sure that the ramen would be amazing. In reality it was solid, but the shoyu broth lacked depth and flavor. At least the portions were huge and they were generous with the pork slices.
We also had some pork tonkatsu at Katsukura in Kyoto Station. The pork meat was tender, juicy and delicious, and the breading was crisp and not too thick and bready. Was it as good as Katsu-Hama in Midtown? The meat was, although the sauces at Katsu-Hama were better.
Kyoto is a timeless and elegant city with food to match, and if I’m ever lucky enough to return, I would definitely go back to Giro Giro and eat more than my fair share of green tea ice cream. In the meantime, I’ve been obsessively searching for places to get matcha lattes in the city, but none of the places on this very short list appears to be within walking distance. Matchabar, which just opened in Williamsburg, apparently makes all things matcha in Brooklyn, so I guess I’ll have to take the L train for my fix.