Monday, September 30, 2013

Udon West

I am traveling in NYC this week and from day one, my fear came to fruition -- I fell in love.  There's so much to experience in New York, but as a foodie, my taste buds were eager to be aroused with unfamiliar flavors. That initially occurred in the first restaurant I stepped foot in located in Midtown. It was a hole-in-the-wall of a place that from the outside, looked more like a make-shift basement tattoo parlor. All those characteristics, along with suggestions from a local gave me high hopes for this Japanese restaurant. Surprisingly enough, immediately upon reaching the last step to the restaurant, we were greeted with a shouting hostess/waitress raising the hand symbol for "2" in the air. Confused, I simply nodded and proceeded to follow her to a table that literally was attached to the adjacent table. Knowing that most restaurants in the city offer this "intimate" setting, I was completely fine with that. Without paying any attention to making us feel at home, the server rushed us for our order. My sister ordered the marinated beef kimchee udon and I ordered the shrimp and vegetables tempura udon.  If you are unfamiliar with udon, it is a Japanese round flour noodle with a very slippery texture usually served in hot soup.

Once my food arrived, I notice the udon in one bowl, and the tempura on the side. I quickly asked how she recommends I eat it and she said separately. Knowing me and my combination of curiosity and slight stubbornness, I took one bite of the tempura then proceeded to break it apart and toss it in the udon bowl. I'm so glad I did! The fried batter of the shrimp and vegetables offered a richness in the already delicious broth. The tempura got slightly soggy which actually made it easier and more enjoyable to eat. It allowed the flavors of the vegetables and shrimp to really come through. Placed as a garnish, there were two semi-circle halves of something I've never tasted. I'm going to be honest and this is one of the few ingredients I have not been able to label after tasting it. It had almost a hard boiled egg white texture but looked like a large radish. I came to the conclusion that it was dyed tofu. Whether I was right or not is beyond me. That was my least favorite variable of the meal. There also was a dandelion green-like vegetable. It wasn't seaweed. It was more mild and offered more of a crunch. It was shriveled so it was difficult to figure out what it was. I believe it was choy, an Asian green that mimics the same texture as a mixture of collard greens and chard.  I was so impressed with the simplicity yet intricacy of the meal. I had never tasted anything like it.

It is important to also add that this restaurant is very affordable! I spent less than $10 on my lunch and left feeling extremely satisfied. As odd as it is, I tend to literally think about food constantly. Not just about what to eat, but how what I previously ate tasted and what stood out to me (flavors, textures, consistency, colors, etc). The udon was such an interesting texture that some might be a bit turned off by it. It wasn't thin, but it wasn't dense either, so it was easy to consume and slurp. Let's be honest, who doesn't love the experience of eating Asian noodles with chopsticks? Some might dislike all the "work" it takes just to get a bite in, but I really enjoy foods that provide a different eating experience. Needless to say, I was very pleased with Udon West and plan on taking my husband there in the very near future.

Have any of you tried udon before? If so, what are your thoughts? Share the wealth!

Until then, happy eating!