Saturday, January 26

japanese comfort food heaven

i love japanese food. it's simple and delicious and tricks me into thinking i'm eating healthy. be it luxury japanese food e.g. sashimi/sushi or japanese comfort food e.g. ramen/donburi/udon/ soba, i love them all and would gobble them up any time of day.

so no surprise that i was frothing at the mouth to go to Samurai Mama in Williamsburg. a hipster udon house that boasts a fancy water filtration system that contributes to its delicious udon noodles. while i can't vouch for the veracity of their claim, i can testify that they have f*ing amazing udon.

a small restaurant with the now-commonplace communal long wooden table/bench in the center, there are also cozy booths running along the wall, making it a great place for both an intimate dinner or a group outing.  both times i've been there, i attended a weekend lunch, which allowed me to save a few bucks by ordering from their lunch menu (yay a restaurant that has a lunch discount even on the weekends!) as well as their a la carte menu.

for lunch they provide you with a gratis order of salad and Kinpira, which seems to vary but will inevitably include the cooked burdock root and carrots with sesame oil and soy sauce. it's a nice way to whet the appetite and start introducing the refined and subtle japanese flavors that infuse the meal. 

the Pork Betty Daikon ($9) is a tender piece of pork belly with a melt in your mouth portion of the both the fat and lean parts of the pork (hence the pork belly). full of flavor and a made-at-home comfort food feel.

a must-order is Mama's Pork Gyoza ($7/$10). Samurai Mama serves this dish in the original cast-iron skillet it's cooked in.  there is an amazing crispness on the bottom of the gyoza while the inside remains succulent and juicy. an added bonus is the web of crispy starchiness that is created in the skillet, which makes the dish seem more like an art piece than food. i'd seen the starch web cooked in certain japanese shows but had not seen the skill displayed here in the states until now.

i don't think that sushi is Samurai Mama's strong point, but they do have some interesting combinations.  if you do opt to order sushi, i highly recommend the Hot Pepper Tsukudani ($5/$6).  it is a spicy bite of cooked green hot pepper with sake, mirin, avocado, and bonito flake. there's a spicy kick from the hot pepper which is complemented by its accompaniments. the Guacamole Tuna ($6/$7) on the other hand was forgettable flavor-wise. we had ordered this dish taco-style which means 2 larger pieces of sushi seaweed containing tuna, guacamole, and cilantro wrapped like an open tortilla. the serving style is novel, but the seaweed dwarfs the contents creating an inequitable bite.

lunch offers you different options and combinations, all which are very filling.  my first trip, my friend and i ordered the Japanese Dry Curry and Croquette ($10) which is served with salad, soup, and small appetizer (the kinpira). we opted to upgrade the soup to a mini udon ($2). even for a mini, the udon portion was still decently sized, and then coupled with the giant bowl of curry and rice, made a filling portion that could be shared between 2 people.

if you're in the mood for udon, then definitely order the Spicy Bukkake ($11). this a dry udon, so no soup. however, the spicy minced beef sauce and poached egg that comes on the side, to be "dumped" over the noodles, is plenty flavorful, while still being subtle, and moisturizes the udon noodles sufficiently. the addition of a perfectly runny, poached egg is the cherry on the sundae.

while dining there with a friend who wanted a more traditional udon experience, we opted for the Sansai Udon ($9). this is vegetarian friendly, so i immediately think it's healthy. it's a lightly flavored broth and is a great veggie option, but not enough where i would opt for it again since i'm not vegetarian. in addition, the problem with ordering udon in hot broth is that the broth continually cooks the noodles, which may result in overcooked, soft noodles if you don't eat fast enough.

i genuinely love this restaurant and, if it were around the corner, i would eat here all the time. i guess a 30 minute bus ride isn't too bad either.

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