Favorite Foods of 2014

2014 was a good year for food. It was a year that involved an unprecedented amount of travel, due to the record number of friends getting married this year, and many of their ceremonies took place internationally. As a result, this created many opportunities for interesting meals–breakfast sushi at Tsukiji market or unripe strawberries in Copenhagen are not experiences that can be easily had back at home.

While the international meals were memorable, the majority of my favorite meals took place in New York, and Kansas City and New Orleans weren’t too shabby, either. Honestly, with so many chefs training at the same restaurants and then setting shop elsewhere, you can find really good cooking anywhere. But that also means that many of the meals and food trends seem all too similar. It’s amazing how many small plates, Brooklyn-esque farm-to-table restaurants exist in the world.

I personally preferred those meals that still retained their regional traits to the ambiguous New World Global cuisine that proliferated everywhere else. So my favorite food moments in 2014 crosses many borders and price points, a reflection of the glamorous and janky meals that were unique to the cities I ate them in. In no particular order, here is a round up of my favorite foods in 2014.

1. the z-man sandwich from oklahoma joe’s in kansas city

oklahoma joe's - the z-man sandwich

2. the melt-in-your-mouth sea eel from nakamura in tokyo

nakamura - 18 sea eel

3. the epic peking duck dinner at decoy in new york

peking duck

4. the ricotta gnocchi from the eddy in new york

ricotta gnocchi with oyster mushrooms, squash, rosemary and hazelnuts

5. the husk meringue with corn mousse dessert from cosme in new york

husk meringue and corn mousse

6. the duck carnitas from cosme in new york

duck carnitas with white onions, radish and salsa verde

7. the duck fat rice with kale and chinese sausage from tuome in new york

rice with kale, chinese sausage and duck fat

8. the beef tartare from manfreds in copenhagen

beef tartare with watercress

9. the breakfast sushi from tsukiji market in tokyo


10. the omakase at sushi nakazawa in new york

nakazawa hamming it up with shrimp

11. the whitefish donburi bowl from ivan ramen slurp shop in new york

ivan ramen slurp shop - smoked whitefish donburi

12. the kale and wild mushroom risotto from gato in new york

kale and wild mushroom paella with crispy artichokes and egg

13. the lobster ravioli from cherche midi in new york

homemade lobster ravioli

14. the #1 bagel sandwich from black seed bagels in new york

black seed - sandwich 1

15. the butcher’s steak at st. anselm in new york (my pictures were so crappy and not post-worthy, but i would highly recommend that you brave the no reservation policy and make the trek out to brooklyn for this amazing piece of meat)

Ivan Ramen, Part Deux in the LES

I normally don’t give restaurants I don’t like a second chance, but I had a change of heart when it came to Ivan Ramen. I first tried the white guy’s ramen at The Slurp Shop in Gotham Market, which I found to be horrendously over salted and overhyped. I did see potential in the non-ramen items, namely the amazing whitefish donburi bowls, and so when I heard that the new flagship restaurant in LES would have a broader menu, I decided to give Ivan another go.

ivan ramen - restaurant
eating ramen anime style

I guess second time’s the charm here, because things improved considerably at the flagship. First of all, I loved the energy and casual atmosphere of the LES location, which was perfect for slurping some noodles and noshing on some fun foods. And the expanded menu was full of unique items that actually tasted as good as they sounded interesting.

As for the ramen, it wasn’t as egregiously salted as the one that I had at Gotham Market, which is definitely an improvement, although again, it wasn’t the best ramen that I’ve ever had. But I did like the earthy and complex broth in my vegetarian ramen, and the nutty texture of the rye noodles were just as good as I remembered. I still have issue with the outrageous pricing and stingy portions. A $13 bowl of noodles should entitle you to more than 1 piece of pork, and adding $2 for a standard egg is robbery.

ivan ramen - vegetarian ramen
vegetarian ramen with enoki mushroom and roast tomato
ivan ramen - shio ramen
tokyo shio ramen with dashi and chicken broth, roast tomato and pork chashu

The standouts here, as expected, are all things but the ramen, and if you can get over that, then you’ll have a great meal. The ankimo dirty rice was amazing and definitely ranks up there as some of the best fried rice in the city. The rice may have been “dirtied” by the rich flavors and oils of the monk fish liver, but the resulting flavor was anything but sullied. Imagine scooping out the briney, orange innards of a crab shell and mixing them around in a bowl of rice, that fantastic pungent combination is essentially what is captured in the ankimo. The lemon flavoring helped balance out the stronger flavors of the monk fish and the heaviness of the fried rice so that it wasn’t all so overwhelming. You definitely can’t finish one by yourself, but you should split one with a group of good friends.

ivan ramen - dirty rice
ankimo dirty rice with monkfish liver, lemon sofrito and scallion

You might think it’s blasphemy to mess with the okonomiyaki, a classic savory pan-fried pancake that is a comfort food staple in Japanese cuisine, but Ivan Ramen’s modern, Western tweaks are worth your time and attention. I’m not going to lie, this lancaster okonomiyaki is straight up funky tasting. Imagine if a tangy sausage from your favorite Italian deli was mashed up with some dense, nutty mung bean and then shoved into a waffle iron. It’s a very strange mash up, indeed, but like a Girl talk remix, the unexpected clash of umami sensations somehow work well together.

ivan ramen - lancaster okonomiyaki
lancaster okonomiyaki with charred cabbage, pickled apple and maple kewpie mayonnaise

Ivan Ramen is most successful when it acknowledges its white guy roots and puts out a crazy hybrid creation. That 1000 year old deviled egg or a tofu coney island might sound suspect, but it’s probably a risk worth taking. And really, don’t bother with the ramen, it tastes like it was made by a boy trying really hard to please his Japanese parents. Breaking free from the influence and going out on a limb is what makes this place tick.

Ivan Ramen
25 Clinton Street (between E. Houston and Stanton St)
New York, NY 10002
(646) 678-3859