Monday, March 29, 2010

Iron Horse Grill: HV Restaurant Week 2010

A man walks into a restaurant and orders Arctic Char (stop me if you’ve heard this one).

Arctic Char arrives.

Man looks at it, a confused expression on his face. Then..

“What part of this is ‘char’?”

“You didn’t know you were ordering fish?” Dining Companion #1 asks, surprised.

Man looks slightly embarrassed. “I dunno; the ‘char’ threw me off. I thought it would be meat.” Then, more under his breath: “[Bleeping] fish.”

“Fair enough,” says Dining Companion #1. “But what part of ‘Artic’ made you think you were going to get a steak? What were you hoping for? Polar Bear?”

“Polar bear is endangered,” says Dining Companion #2.

Meal commences.

That’s pretty much how our dinner went down at Iron Horse Grill in Pleasantville on Friday evening. My feisty dinner companions for the evening were: Todd (aka “Man”), Bill (aka “Dining Companion #1), Lori (aka Dining Companion #2), and Dad and myself (the laugh track).

It was our first visit to Iron Horse, and a last-minute Restaurant Week addition. The restaurant has an intimate vibe and a turn of the century feel, a place where you’d expect to see a man holding his monocle saying, “Quite right, quite right” to no one in particular. Making the rounds that evening was head chef and owner Philip McGrath, seating guests, jotting down orders, and even hanging coats. He exuded confidence, ease and friendliness, and made our party feel comfortable and special simultaneously.

Our meal, while perfectly decent, didn’t do justice to the restaurant’s reputation, which is extremely well-regarded. We chalked it up to Hudson Valley Restaurant Week syndrome, a disorder I experienced in abundance last year, but which I was hoping to cheat this time around after a solid, near perfect, first start. Sadly, Iron Horse didn’t deliver the night of our visit, but a few parts of our meal hinted at the greatness that may exist the rest of the year.

For appetizers, there was Ricotta Stuffed Rigatoni, with parsley sun-dried tomato pesto and pancetta:
The rigatoni were cooked well, and had an almost doughy quality. My only disappointment was that the sauce seemed a bit common.

Here’s a look at the wild mushroom soup (I forgot to make note of the formal description; something about a cappucino):
This is the dish that hinted at Iron Horse’s potential. There were layers upon layers of flavors and earthiness. Elegant and tasty.

For dinner, there was the aforementioned Star Anise Arctic Char with stir fried edamame and crisp rice noodles:
Once Todd got over the fact that his Char was not a steak, he admitted his dish was seasoned well (the star anise glaze was tangy and syrupy), and the noodles added a delightful crunch to the velvetiness of the fish. I stole a few bites and found it pleasing. It just wasn’t knocking socks off.

Here’s my dish, the Captain Lawrence Glazed Short Rib of Beef, with Saffron-Vegetable Risotto:
I enjoyed the flavors, but this tasted more like a beef stew. A little texture on the plate would’ve gone a long way; everything was so soft. I was also hoping for more innovation and punch. …as well as more food. (The portion was tiny.)

Here’s Bill and Lori’s dish, the Confit of Hudson Valley Duck, with Black Bean Chorizo Cassoulet:
This dish looked amazing, but duck was tough and little bland. The cassoulet had some interesting things going on. (I should mention that Lori liked her dish; and told me I was being a total hard-ass the entire night.)

And dessert. First, the Coconut Sorbet, with Pina Colada Pineapple, Lemon “Langue du Chat”:
This dish should’ve been a homerun for me (I love all the ingredients); yet something about it was overkill. Maybe it was the coconut shavings on top of the sorbet, which added unnecessary texture.

Finally, there was the Grand Marnier tart (again, my apologies: I forgot to jot down the formal description). There was raspberry sauce, and … I do believe, “masticated orange slices?” Is that a real thing? I was half-expecting a plate full of chewed-up oranges.
Regardless, my dad loved this dish. The rest of our table? Meh. I would’ve liked a firmer, thicker crust on the tart, but I preferred it to the coconut sorbet.

All in all, my descriptions may come off as harsh for a restaurant as highly-esteemed as Iron Horse Grill, but they’re accurate for the level of food we sampled that night. A shame, because the soup, the personable service, and the lovely atmosphere hint at so much more. Maybe we’ll try it again soon now that Restaurant Week is over.

Iron Horse Grill
20 Wheeler Avenue
Pleasantville, NY 10570
(914) 741-0717

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Harvest on Hudson: HVRW....Fail.

It’s always stymied me as to why during Restaurant Week, some allegedly “great” restaurants experience such a drop in quality. Many trusted friends and colleagues have deemed Harvest on Hudson—a magnificent-looking Tuscan-style farmhouse with superb views of the River—their favorite restaurant, and have repeatedly sung its praises. Online reviews have been kind. And when I made it known that best bud Danielle and I would be dining there Thursday night as part of Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, the consensus was we were going to have a smashing time, and that the dinner would nothing short of knock us on our asses. But here’s the thing: after our meal last week, Danielle and I checked and we were most definitely not on our asses; instead we were scratching our heads as to whether or not Harvest on Hudson fell under the “great restaurant” category. All we knew for certain was that it did not during Restaurant Week. Not even close.

We had high hopes for the evening. The restaurant, as mentioned above, is very beautiful. The décor is tasteful and elegant without feeling snooty, high ceilings make the rooms feel expansive, and there was some snazzy live blues music for the majority of the night, always a treat. And the menu looked suh-weeeet: seven choices for appetizers, and eight for entrees, all of which sounded mouth-watering. (Dessert was a predetermined trio, but I wasn’t sweating it after the wonderful job La Panetiere had done earlier in the week.)

Then our waiter came along. ...and brought us down faster than Marvin in Hitchhikers Guide. (I’m not looking for open-mic night when someone gives me my menu, but I also don’t expect a bump on a log from someone who is in the service industry.)

“That guy was the worst,” whispered Danielle, after Bump left. (And Danielle never says anything negative about anyone.)

Here’s a look at our appetizers, which appeared about three minutes after we had placed our orders.

First, my Crispy Lamb Spring Rolls with Mint Tzatziki Sauce:
These rolls tasted like something I would’ve warmed up from the frozen food aisle. Except drier. And the tzatziki was just ok; it didn’t scream freshness.

Danielle’s Creamy Polenta, with house-made mortadella meatballs and Harvest Tomato Sauce:
“House-made?” Really? These meatballs had no texture and reminded both of us of Chef Boyardee. Same thing for the tomato sauce. Neither of the dishes wowed us with presentation either. They were sloppy, with spatters on the plate, and the mint and Italian parsley thrown in both dishes seemed like afterthoughts. Blah.

A bus-boy collected both plates while Danielle was spooning the last piece of polenta into her mouth.

Seconds later, our dinners appeared. My plate felt lukewarm; Danielle’s was scorching.

Danielle’s Seared Salmon:
I stole a small piece of salmon and pronounced it decent. Not much flavor going on (thinking back, Danielle asked for no citrus butter, so it’s not the restaurant’s fault), but tender and juicy, and I appreciated how the skin had a good crisp. Danielle, however, the salmon expert, said the fish was just “ok.” We had bigger issues with the roasted red peppers, which did not taste fresh at all; instead, we suspected they were packed in water and from a jar. Really disappointing. I cut corners all the time in the kitchen, but even I will roast my own red peppers, because I don’t like the jar taste. The house-made gnocchi was a clever addition, and added a pleasant chewy texture, but they were few and far between.

Here’s my Porcini-Crusted Monkfish with risotto guanciale, shrimp, parsnips, and chianti reduction:
This tasted re-heated as well. I expected more complex, layered flavors from the amazing menu description; instead, this was pretty one-note.

It took about 30 minutes for us to finish both our appetizers and our dinners. We were certain we were being rushed; but then came the wait for dessert.

We sat. And sat some more. Danielle and I didn’t mind, because we can chat until closing time and still have more to say. After about an hour, though, a different server appeared (where was Bump?).

“Can I get you two anything else this evening?” she asked us with a smile, reaching for the bill.

“Just our desserts!” Danielle said brightly, with a dazzling smile of her own.

The server was very apologetic, and our Dessert Trio appeared about a half-hour later.
On the left is a flourless chocolate cake with caramel and chocolate sauce; the top, a tiramisu with coffee anglaise, and in front, the vanilla panna cotta.

None of these were winners. The chocolate cake was dry and pretty much inedible. The panna cotta was pretty good, but I would’ve liked it a bit firmer, and oddly enough, the tiramisu was all right (I don’t really like tiramisu—I think they went easy on the coffee anglaise).

“I’m so disappointed,” said the normally chipper Danielle, moving the chocolate cake around in her plate somewhat pathetically.

I hear ya, buddy.

Here’s our tea.

I’m curious how a dinner outside of Restaurant Week at Harvest on Hudson would compare to the train-wreck Danielle and I experienced. Would a new kitchen be at the helm? Would Bump be replaced with Mr. Winning Personality, Smooth Talker Guy? But why the drop in service in the first place? Aren’t restaurants prepared to operate at full capacity?

Harvest on Hudson
1 River Street
on Hudson, NY 10706

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

La Panetière: HV Restaurant Week 2010

Last Tuesday, I visited La Panetière in Rye to commence Hudson Valley Restaurant Week 2010. I’m just now getting around to blogging about it because I am the worst blogger in the whole world. …Well, I take that back. The worst blogger in the world would blog about a Restaurant Week dinner after Restaurant Week was over. So… I guess that makes me… the penultimate worst blogger. If I am even using the word “penultimate” correctly.

Anyhoooo, I’ve been curious about La Panetière for some time. I drive by it regularly on my way to Playland, the Boardwalk, or the Edith Read Sanctuary, and it’s got a decidedly charming, residential vibe to it—in that old-school Westchester mansion kind of way (don’t let my Tim Burton-esque photo fool you). A friend of mine also told me a few years back that a couple he knew had the most expensive dinner ever there, which piqued my curiosity. (Later on, I found out that it wasn’t because the prices were obscene; it was because Guy ordered a $200 bottle of wine. But the story stayed with me, and made La Panetière seem like one of those “special occasion” places.)

My girls Tia, Erin and Jen and I arrived separately after work, each having our cars valeted at no charge. Inside, a few things struck me. One, the restaurant seemed smaller than I thought it would be. Outside, you have this big old house, but inside, it’s this cozy little dining room that reminded me of a French bed and breakfast. I wondered briefly if the chef and staff lived upstairs. Then I thought it was probably more likely that there were other dining rooms (anyone know?). The website says they have banquet facilities and on-site catering, so that could also solve my mystery. Our particular room was adorable with French Country china, old clocks, and quaint hutches, yet also exuded fine-dining elegance (servers dressed to the nines). All in all, it was a suitable choice for four women looking to enjoy dinner and be pampered (or have afternoon tea! This place would be super awesome for afternoon tea).

A word about service: our group was one of the younger parties of the evening, and all of us were dressed pretty casually. In no way were we made to feel inferior, even when we each ordered tap water at the beginning of the meal (we later ordered wine)—our server didn’t bat an eyelash, and might’ve even said something like “Very good!” This respect and professionalism held true for the entire evening, and went a long way in making us feel comfortable.

Let’s get to the food.

I’m sorry to say I don’t have a picture of the country bread that was continually offered to our table. The outside was this crusty, powdery perfection; the inside was so soft and dense it almost tasted raw—but in the most unbelievably satisfying way. Love a place that knows how to make bread.

For appetizers, Erin, Jen, and myself couldn’t resist ordering the same dish, the Gnocchi Ricotta:
I kind of wish we did resist it, though. This gnochhi wasn’t bad, it just in no way resembled what we were hoping for (dense little dumplings that would sit in our stomachs for weeks). The consistency here reminded us of dry mashed potatoes. We tried to keep an open mind, but all in all, we were disappointed. More sauce would’ve helped. The pancetta was good (it’s pancetta, duh), and the wild mushrooms and onions were well-seasoned, but they were such tiny elements of the plate, they couldn’t save the dish.

Tia ordered the Winter Veloute, a celery root, pear, roasted chestnut, and curry-scented soup:
I took a bite, and was impressed that I had never tasted anything like it before—rich and creamy, yet simultaneously refreshing and zesty. ..But I couldn’t necessarily tell if I liked it. Neither could Tia.

For dinner, Erin and Jen order the Beef Short Ribs:
This was a winner. There was a flavorful potato mousseline, and a crunchy salad of apples and carrot chips, but the showstopper was the beef. The butter at our table put up a better fight with our knives. And the skin had a wonderful char.

Tia got the Braised Duck Leg, served with quinoa, pomegranate, vegetables brunoise, and cranberry sauce.
Tia liked her dish, but I stole a bite and was unimpressed. The duck was cooked very well—moist, yet not greasy at all—but it lacked flavor. Pomegranates and cranberries, although a nice combo, couldn’t save it. And quinoa has to be my least favorite grain.

I ordered the Assorted Seafood Risotto:
Pretty, but the first thing Erin observed was that the broth looked as if it had been sitting under a heat lamp for a while, and the top had solidified. I also thought the scallops tasted undercooked, but the rest of the seafood was prepared well. While the dish had some problems, the flavor ultimately trumped them.

When I found out that there was only one option for dessert, the enigmatically described “Dessert Sampler,” I had a mini-meltdown.

“I know it, guys. I can just feel it in my bones,” I whispered to my girlfriends. “They’re going to bring us a plateful of dry cookies. Like biscotti or something.” (I’m just not a fan of biscotti when I go out to eat. I was preparing myself to feel cheated.)

“Biscotti doesn’t sound very French,” Tia murmured.

This is what was set before us instead:
OH, how I loved these little desserts! The presentation was obviously pretty, but that little lemon tart on the right was pure perfection. (The chocolate espresso cake was fine, but I would’ve gladly traded it in for more lemon tart.) And the lemon sorbet: grainy, refreshing, lip-puckeringly sour—my friends found it almost too sour... but my friends are fools!—this sorbet packed a punch in the best way possible.

If you go by some of my food descriptors above, you might have second thoughts about trying La Panetière for Restaurant Week. But there were two clear winners on the menu: the short ribs and the dessert tray. Service was top-notch, and the dining room was very pleasant. There are reasons to visit, and for $28, now is the time. Can’t say how happy I would’ve been if I had paid regular price for the gnocchi, the soup, or the duck, but all in all, I think there are interesting things happening on the menu. And hey, now you can avoid those dishes!

La Panetière
530 Milton Road
Rye, NY 10580-3304
(914) 967-8140

Sunday, March 21, 2010

X20: Xaviars on the Hudson: HV Restaurant Week


That was me, Sharon, letting out a sigh of relief. See, this entry, in addition to being published at The Good Life, is also being published at Liz Johnson’s Small Bites site for special Hudson Valley Restaurant Week coverage. I volunteered a couple of weeks ago to write about my experience at Peter Kelly’s X20: Xaviar’s on the Hudson and boldly declared, ‘Let the chips fall where they may,’ and ‘Who cares if Peter Kelly is a superstar chef who pals around with Bill Murray, slays Bobby Flay on Iron Chef, and makes Anthony Bourdain actually say nice things about a chef? If the meal is lousy, you’ll hear it from me, because diners need to know which restaurant should earn their $28 come HV Restaurant Week.’

I needn’t have worried: the restaurant, which sits on the Hudson River and has always reminded me of Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeve’s Lake House, is indeed a winner, and what a relief, because I’ve decided there’s no place in town I’d be more horrified to be blacklisted from than X20.

Simply put: what a marvelous evening! And what huge strides the restaurant has made since the last time I visited for Hudson Valley Restaurant Week two years ago. On that occasion, while the food was very good, two of the three Restaurant Week entrees looked and tasted so similar I left feeling like I had no idea what I could expect from the regular menu if I ventured back for a non-restaurant week dinner.

This time? There were choices galore!

My dining companion Todd and I were seated in the main level of the restaurant (there’s also a smaller dining area upstairs that’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop—avoid the upstairs if possible); within moments, a polished, dapper gentleman deposited menus in front of us, and began telling us about the specials for the evening.

This is when my eyes glazed over and I let my mind wander to the fabulous weather we’ve been having and how nice it would be to take a boat out onto the Hudson and race it under the Tappan Zee Bridge, which had caught my eye through the window. (Normally, I enjoy listening to dinner specials, but this was an exception: I knew I had come out to take advantage of the $28 dinner; it was pointless to get excited about a dish that was going to jack up the price.)

Todd, on the other hand, was having other ideas.

“How much is that rock shrimp appetizer you just mentioned?” he asked.

Our server looked surprised. “Each of the specials I mentioned to you is a part of the Restaurant Week menu,” he said. “You can order any of those and still come in at $28.”

Now I was all ears. This was going to be embarrassing.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Could you describe the rock shrimp appetizer again?”

It was a rock shrimp risotto in lobster sauce.

“…and…. what about that entrée?”


“…. And… the dessert?”

Blueberry cobbler. Our server was still smiling, despite having gone through all of the specials twice. A classy guy, our server.

Here’s my point: who would’ve thought that X20 would be serving Restaurant Week specials? The restaurant already had four choices each for Appetizer, Entrée, and Dessert, (normally, restaurants have three, and some offer only one dessert). X20 was bringing the grand total of choices to five. FIVE choices for each course! You go, X20.

Here’s how the rest of our dinner went down:
Complimentary gorgonzola biscuit. Nice way to start the meal. The bread guy was also carrying some crusty, delicious-looking French bread, which he said we could have too, but Todd and I stuck with the biscuit.

To drink was a $40 bottle of “Right Banks Red,” a blend, from Hudson Valley Farms right here in New York. The wine distributor, Bill, was extremely happy with our choice, saying he had made it himself. Like a proud papa, he checked on us throughout the evening, curious as to how the wine was holding up through our meal (fantastic).
Our appetizers:

Todd’s Rock Shrimp Risotto with Lobster Sauce:
(“See? He listened to the specials,” our server admonished me.) This was a wonderful risotto: rich and creamy, with a slight kick (garlic?), and nice chunky pieces of shrimp.

I stuck with the regular menu and ordered the Spicy Tuna Roll with Avocado:
Yep, that’s eight slices there, an extremely generous portion for an appetizer. I’ve ordered tuna at X20 before and deemed it some of the freshest raw seafood I’ve ever had. This spicy tuna was equally fresh. Surprisingly, the little frisee salad in the middle of the plate with the yuzu vinaigrette ended up stealing the show. Each element was so remarkably fresh, with the yuzu added such a sweet, unexpected ping!. I could’ve easily made a meal out it.

For dinner, Todd ordered the New York Sirloin:
This was very good. I’m convinced Peter Kelly’s strength is steak. So many friends have raved about the masterfully seasoned/grilled piece of meat they experienced at X20 or Restaurant X in Congers. Here, the caramelized shallots and sauce choron (a béarnaise sauce with tomato paste) added a creamy kick. There were also some buttery Haricot Verts with a killer snap, and a waxy, truffled Yukon potato puree (with a whole piece of sage inside a potato chip). A winner.

I ordered the Grilled Loin of Black Hog Pork:
Another generous portion, but I appreciated the understated elegance of Todd’s sirloin to the more in-your-face flavors of this pork dish. Almost unidentifiable on the upper-left are fried brussel sprouts, which I adored, however, I’ve spoken to people who have ordered these same brussel sprouts, really looking forward to brussel sprouts, who were disappointed when these little fellas rolled out instead. They’re different. I suppose because I had no preconceived notion of what I was eating (I just took a bite and said, “This is good; it reminds me of something. What is it?”), I was delighted to discover I was eating brussel sprouts. If I were expecting brussel sprouts, maybe it would’ve been a different story. Also on the left was a sweet potato and ginger mousseline. The ginger was a bit overpowering, but the flavors still went nicely together. Points for creativity!

And now for our desserts, which were the show-stoppers of the evening.

Over on Todd’s plate, you have Old Bushmill’s Butterscotch Pudding:
Ie: the best butterscotch pudding I’ve ever tasted, reminiscent of a crème brule. And those little lady fingers on the right? Little pillows. Insanely good. If I had to recommend one dessert on the menu, it’d be this one. I say that even with Peter Kelly’s famous Red Velvet Cake on the menu (I don’t even like red velvet cake, but his cake is something else entirely), and my dessert, which was also killer.

Here’s mine, the Warm Banana & Walnut Bread Pudding:
I’ve had delicious bread pudding before, but when I bit into this, I would every so often get a taste of mashed banana that was so. unbelievably. fresh. It tied the whole dish together. Outstanding.

Here’s a pic of two coconut macaroons that accompanied our very reasonable bill:
Fellas: X20 is one classy establishment. You’ve got the views, ambiance, a professional staff capable of serving a well-paced meal even during the craziness of Restaurant Week, a superstar chef who likes to come out and greet you (also during the craziness of Restaurant Week), and dishes that are daring in flavor combinations, but still resemble the meat and potatoes you crave.

Here’s hoping you can score a last-minute ressie this week, even if you have to eat at 9:30 at night. It’s worth it.

X20: Xaviars on the Hudson
71 Water Grant Street
Yonkers, NY 10701
(914) 965-1111

Monday, March 15, 2010

Okinawa Soba... Behold!

Some of you may be all, “Hey, where’d Sharon go?”

To those people (although I do appreciate you noticed I was gone), I’d have to be all, “Back off! I’ve been making Okinawa soba. From scratch!”

Above you have the fruits of all-day labor. All. Day. And boy, was it worth it. This is a Real Deal Holyfield recipe for people who don’t want to cut corners. We’re talking homemade pork stock, thick, chewy noodles containing a somewhat bizarre secret ingredient (don’t worry, I reveal it below), and rafute (pork belly braised in Awamori, an Okinawan liquor with a taste somewhere between Jack Daniels and sake).

Why all the labor? Why the countless hours? Well sit back, and let me take you back to 2006, when my mom, uncle and I had the best bowl of noodles known to man at Kishimoto Soba in Motobu, Okinawa. This restaurant (if you could call this nondescript shack a restaurant) isn’t one you’ll find in guidebooks; instead, it’s one you take a chance on based on the long line that spans outside the door and down the back alley. It’s a line that makes you overlook the patrons who have to step outside to wash their hands at the outdoor sink, or the 30-minute wait it takes to duck inside the cramped, bare-bones room and eat at a table full of strangers. As we waited outside that afternoon, I peaked into a window leading into the kitchen. I saw an elderly woman smile back at me, countless creases forming around her eyes, making her look even older. Dried noodles hung around her from every imaginable corner, making her little shack look as if it had just been toilet-papered on Halloween. “Heck,” I joked to my mom, “a restaurant’s got to be doing something right if its menu only has two options [“small bowl” or “large bowl”].”

A little background: upon arriving in Naha about a week prior, we had consumed countless bowls of soba. Each bowl was delicious, yet all were pretty much the same: a piece of tender rafute, a slice of steamed fish cake, pickled ginger, scallions, all placed atop a bed of noodles swimming in broth. So what made Kishimoto’s noodles so special? I wondered this aloud as I dug into my bowl that afternoon. Why were these so much chewier and more flavorful?

“Tree ash,” my mom’s cousin Eddie said brightly, between slurps.

I looked at Eddie suspiciously, yet quickly chalked up his answer to a translation glitch (overlooking the fact that his English is impeccable). Then—as is quite easy to do—I thought nothing of tree ash for many, many months to come.

Back in New York years later, however, my mom and I couldn’t shake that meal. The noodles haunted our dreams, and caused wails of disappointment if we tried to re-create the magic in soba houses across Manhattan. Nothing came close.

But, as luck would have it, one day my mom received an Okinawan cookbook from a friend by mail. Under the description for “Okinawa Soba,” plain as day, it instructed: “For two months, dry chopped wood, then burn to ash.”

No shit, I thought. Eddie wasn’t pulling our leg!

On further investigation, my mom and I learned that kneading flour with the lye obtained from natural wood ashes is a traditional method of making noodles that’s been around for many, many years in areas of China and Thailand, and, in Japan, solely in Okinawa. That’s all my mom needed to hear before she began to ask co-workers with wood-burning stoves to save their ashes.

It was time to bring Kishimoto’s noodles to New York!

Here follows the long arduous, process of making Okinawa Soba, in three parts: 1.) Okinawa Soba Noodles, 2.) Rafute, and 3.) Okinawa Soba (ie: the broth, and putting it all together).

[Note: my mom and I did this whole process in a day. It would be very easy to make the stock ahead of time, and/or the rafute the day before to break up the process. Or, maybe the first time, you just want to make the noodles and buy store-bought broth. Or skip the rafute altogether! I’ve outlined all the steps below, but it is of course dealer’s choice as to how you want to proceed. Pick and choose if you like. …just don’t come complaining to me if you don’t get the same five-star results. And no matter WHAT, read this blog entry all the way through before you start making anything, or you will never, ever come to this blog again out of sheer hatred for me when you realize that certain things should’ve been started the night before.]

Okinawa Soba (just the noodles)
In case you don’t relish the idea of eating soba two months from now because you need to wait for your chopped wood to dry and rid itself of its natural sap, collect ashes from a wood-burning stove or a fireplace (one cup is more than enough).

Mix wood ash with 2-3 times the amount of water:
Set it overnight. The next day, take the clear top of the liquid:
... and strain it through a cotton cloth (cheesecloth works, or even a paper towel or coffee filter will do):
This is your ash water. Reserve 1 cup of ash water, which is all you will need for the noodles.

In a separate bowl, mix 3 ¾ cup flour, 2 tsp. of salt, and 1 cup of ash water to make the dough. Knead the dough thoroughly for about 20-30 minutes.
(Really, don’t skimp on this part. Break up the dough into two separate pieces if it’s too big to handle.)

Once dough is thoroughly kneaded, separate it into four equal balls, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for about 1 hour at room temperature.

For the next part, my mom and I busted out Angie, our KitchenAid Mixer. Roll the four balls flat, and then put the dough through the pasta roller attachment, on the lowest speed, and at the lowest level:
Once the dough is through the roller, fold it in half, turn the thickness to 2, and run it through once more. Repeat until you are at a thickness of 3.

Next, run the dough through the pasta cutter attachment:
...and hang the finished pieces on a pasta rack:
(Don’t have an Angie? Don’t be discouraged. The dough can be made the old-fashioned way, too. Roll it out and cut it with a knife instead.)

Next, bring water to a boil, and boil the noodles (in separate batches—don’t overload the pot) until cooked.
Drain the noodles thoroughly and mix with vegetable oil to prevent sticking.

Note: The noodles are probably the last thing you should make, as you want to roll the dough, hang it, and boil the noodles as close as possible to serving time to ensure freshness. Make sure your broth and rafute are complete first. So why did I share this part with you first? Your ash has to set overnight. Do that, then set the rest aside.

Rafute (aka: pork belly, aka: the bomb)
Recipe adapted from the blog, Three Tastes.

Not everyone has a bottle of Okinawan Awamori handy to braise pork belly. Whiskey or sake will also work well (our particular bottle of Awamori reminded us of Jack Daniels). As for the pork belly, go to your Asian butcher and ask for 3 lbs. of not-too-lean pork belly:
Make sure your butcher doesn’t take off the top layer of fat. (Isnt that picture absolutely magnificent?)

Place whole pieces of pork belly, and ¼ cup of sliced ginger into a heavy-bottomed pan. Add ¼ cup of awamori (or whiskey or sake), then cover the meat with water.
Over medium heat, bring the liquid just to a boil, then cover and immediately reduce it to a simmer. Simmer for 1 hour, making sure to top off the pork belly with hot water to keep the meat covered.

Remove the pork from the liquid (awwww... what did we do? It’s not nearly as pretty anymore):
Reserve the liquid (chill it, and remove the layer of lard on the surface).

When the pork is cool enough, slice it 2 ½ inches across, and about ½ inch thick:
Next, combine 1 cup of the reserved broth from the boiling stage (the liquid you just removed the lard from), 1 cup of awamori (or whiskey or sake), ¾ cup raw sugar, and a slice of ginger into a heavy-bottomed pan. Bring to a boil over high-heat. Reduce the heat to medium, and then add the sliced pork belly:
When the heat begins to bubble, reduce it to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 25 minutes.

Turn the slices over, cover again, and simmer for another 20 minutes.

Add ¼ cup of soy sauce and stir to combine with the rest of the braising liquid. Cook for 15 minutes at the lowest simmer with no cover so that the liquid starts to evaporate. Turn the slices over again and continue cooking without a cover for another 15 minutes or so:
Keep cooking, you’re not done. You want more of that liquid to evaporate so that the pork belly glazes and looks sticky. It’s imperative you get to the sticky stage, because the pork tastes sooooo much better:
When you’re finished, the pork belly is ready to be added to your soup....That is ...if only you had soup. Why did I go out of order again? Because the rafute keeps well in the fridge for over a week and will last months in the freezer. Make it ahead of time. When you are ready to use it, re-heat it on an oiled skillet over medium heat. Or throw it in the oven. That works, too.

Okinawa Soba (aka: the broth, and putting it all together)
Once again, go to your friendly neighborhood Asian butcher and ask for about 3 lbs. of pork bones (we used neck bones, but you can use rib or hip bones), broken into large pieces.

Wash bones in boiling water until they are clean. Add water to cover the pork bones in a large pot and boil.
Remove pork and rinse it. Discard water in pot, and boil a new pot of water for the stove:Add pork to boiling water, then reduce heat to a slow simmer for 2 to 3 hours. After simmering for about 1 ½ hours, add about ½ cup of (optional) dried bonito flakes (you can wrap them in a cloth), or, if you don’t have a cloth, you can always strain the flakes out later.

Once the broth has reduced, filter the stock through a cloth into a separate pot and continue simmering. Add salt, or soy sauce to taste, depending on your preference. At this point, you should have a nicely flavored broth. If you’re disappointed with the results, keep in mind the flavor will be taken up considerably when you add the noodles, rafute, ginger, steamed fish cake (kamaboko: found at any Asian specialty store), shiitake mushrooms, and scallions:
Assembly steps: Place the ash noodles in a bowl, and cover with the soup stock you just made. Garnish with a slice of rafute, fish cake, scallions, mushrooms, and sliced red pickled ginger. Add a dash of soy sauce, and serve hot.

You sure as heck deserved it.

(My mom made me change the last part to “heck.”)

Special thanks to: mom (of coursewhere would I be without her?); Grandma (who did a test run with my mom before I got involved); Eddie, who introduced us to the real-deal Okinawa soba that magical afternoon; and Kishimoto Soba for making us all believers.