Koku in Armonk, NY – Asian Fusion and Chinese Dialects at Their Best from Fuzhou, China

There is a new restaurant in Armonk, NY. As a resident of Armonk, I am so delighted that I now have more options on Asian Fusion restaurants. Koku took over Made In Asia next to the CVS in town. The restaurant is modern with hip designs that are comparable to those in the City.  I walked in with my 12-year-old and the brainless hostess sat us right in front of the bar where it was loud and child-inappropriate. Of course, I declined and sat ourselves at the sushi counter and watched the actions.

The friendly sushi chefs were absolutely amazing behind the counters. I couldn’t figure out what language they were speaking and I decided to ask.

“What language are you speaking?”
“Chinese!”
“That’s not Chinese!”

I exclaimed in both English and Mandarin, the official language of China and Taiwan. They then quickly switched into Mandarin and conversed with me. They were speaking the Fuzhou dialect.  I am slightly surprised because the Fuzhou dialect is close to the Min Nan dialect which is also known as Taiwanese. Yes, I can also maneuver in Taiwanese. Confused, I looked up Chinese Dialects in Wikipedia… OMG. This is a moment when having the 5,000 years of Chinese heritage means the world. We really should be more proud as a people. Grilled squid with Teriyaki sauce. Although this dish was in the menu in the restaurant, it is not listed on their website. That’s unfortunate because it was excellent. It was done the authentic Japanese way. The squid was still tender. It was so good that my picky small human changed her opinion on the squid and ate a lot of it! She used to reject eating squids. Salmon roll. Respectable. This is also not on the menu. My new sushi chef friends decided to treat us and made this crab and guacamole appetizer for us.Nabeyaki Udon: Noodle soup w. shrimp, chicken, egg, fishcake & vegetable. Sadly, this is the only dish that under-delivered. The broth was too young. The noodle did not absorb any of the goodness from the broth.

The restaurant appears to be staffed by people, other than the bartender and the hostess, from Fuzhou. They are the friendliest bunch I have ever known in Armonk. They all commute from Flushing; one of the chefs moved from Virginia for this job. They were so eager to please and to make sure that we like the food. They were so eager to deliver high customer service. I don’t think I could ask for more from a restaurant. Koku has great pricing, excellent food, wonderful staff, and a lively atmosphere. Highly recommended it.

This was a completely opposite experience than my recent trip into Chinatown. There was no belittling of me, click here to read my Chinatown post.  Koku’s people are young, vibrant and want to do the best they can. Chinatown is of the past and Asian Fusion in Armonk represents the future!

This experience took place at

Koku
454 Main St
Armonk, NY 10504
Phone:(914) 730-0077

Zenzo Sushi in Mamaroneck, NY – A Ranking of Mamaroneck Ave Asian Fusion Restaurants 

There are four Asian Fusion restaurants in Mamaroneck, NY and I have been to all of them now with Zenzo Sushi rounding up the end of the list. Each has its own uniqueness. Below is a quick summary of them. Click on the name below to read my past reviews.

  • Red Plum – the least expensive and probably the most fusion (bastardized) version of Asian food
  • Haiku – the middle of the road, balancing the fusion with the traditional. I was pleasantly surprised by their specials of Chinese Soup Dumplings… Almost as good as those in Flushing but much closer geographically to home
  • Ginban – Decent food. Friendly staff, caters to families. Big on presentation. A tie with Haiku.
  • Zenzo – The surprising winner with a strong selection of sashimi. Worth returning to try other non raw items that are on the menu. We went off menu and simply ordered whatever we fancied.

Sashimi: Hamachi (Yellowtail), Toro (Fatty Tuna), Maguro (Tuna), and Hotatekai (Scallop). The presentation was clean and elegant. Sushi: Uni (Sea urchin), Ikura (Salmon Roe).

This experience took place at

Zenzo Sushi

328 Mamaroneck Ave
Mamaroneck, NY 10543

 

Ginban Asian Bistro and Sushi in Mamaroneck, NY- A Playground for the Children

Ginban Asian Bistro and Sushi in Mamaroneck, NY is one of the four Asian Fusion restaurants on a short stretch of Mamaroneck Ave off the Metro North Station. I often wondered how these four restaurants compete and survive. Ginban apparently is the family friendly one. When I was there, there were two groups of families with small children. The children (4-5 of them all around 5-6 years old) ran around the entire restaurant playing hide and seek, without discouragement from parents nor the restaurant staff. They were very noisy and I asked to sit as far from them as possible.

Interestingly, Ginban is positioning itself as a “cutting-edge” and hip restaurant filled with adults. The image and reality are diametrically different.Sushimi Delux. 21 pieces of assorted raw fish. Can’t complain. It’s fresh raw fish cut up with wasabi, soy sauce and ginger. Beautifully presented!Salmon roll  Miso Soup. Decent.Fried Rice with Chicken. Decent and edible.Tempura Fried Ice Cream. Was told that this is their most popular dessert. Yuck. It was horrible. The batter was greasy. Vanilla Ice Cream. My 12-year-old critic did not like it. Now, for a child to not like ice cream…

In conclusion, if I had a family in Mamaroneck with small children and want to eat dinner out in a restaurant with contemporary atmosphere (almost like the City but not quite), Ginban is where I would come. My children could eat the generic chicken fried rice, be exposed to slightly more exotic dishes like salmon roll, and run around in the restaurant after they finish eating. I can then eat in peace with my husband, partner or friends. It’s all about targeting your demographics- Ginban’s website content should be re-written.

This experience took place at

Ginban Asian Bistro and Sushi
421 Mamaroneck Ave
Mamaroneck NY 10543
phone 914.777.8889

Hito Japanese Restaurant in Mount Kisco, NY- A Series of Unfortunate Events

Hito Japanese Restaurant in Mount Kisco, NY has great reviews across Yelp and Open Table. I went based on the research I did. What happened next was a series of unfortunate events for everyone involved.

It was a mid-January night. I met a friend at 6:30pm. The restaurant was completely empty and cold. We asked for the heat to be turned up and they thought we would be more comfortable in one of those Japanese styled rooms in the back. Something was wrong with the design of the room. The distance from the tatami to the floor was weird; my legs were hanging off the tatami like those of a small child sitting on the edge of a cliff. The distance from the tatami to the table in the center of the room was off; I could not sit close enough to the table without hunching over. The table was too low. I tried to pull my legs up, sitting cross-legged and leaning back against the wall. The walls looked like they were constructed out of 4’x 8′ plywood and were barely decorated. The walls were also hard and uncomfortable to lean against.

Despite my discomfort, I tried to order. Because we were now located in one of the rooms, the wait staff forgot about us. We waited and waited. After 20 mins or so, a waitress finally came. When the food came after another 20 mins, I saw that my chopsticks were uneven. That was blasphemy in the Asian culture! I got up and went outside to show them my chopsticks. The Asian male behind the counter thought it was a little funny that I was fuming – he handed me another pair of uneven chopsticks. I declined and picked out my own out of a big batch they had behind the counter. I said to him, ” You really should know better.” Salmon Roe/Ikura with a Quail Egg Yellow Tail/ Hamachi  Nabeyaki Udon – tasteless. Came without togarashi, the Japanese red chili pepper that always accompanies the udon
 Shrimp Tempura – greasy
Seared Tuna/Maguro – compliments of the restaurant. Why would you sear your raw fish and smother it with teriyaki when it’s better raw?
Mochi Ice cream compliments of the restaurant. This was good.

Perhaps the food was better than what I thought that night. Perhaps I am just an ungrateful person. It irritated me greatly that the Asian wait staff did not have more pride in their service level or a higher bar for chopsticks. You only see uneven chopsticks in the cheapest of the cheap restaurants in Asia; takeout joints in most places do better than this fancy restaurant in Mount Kisco, NY.

For a $70 meal, I expected and demanded even-length chopsticks.

The wait staff seemed to have recognized their shortcomings by offering complimentary dishes. Regardless, it’s difficult to like your dinner when nothing went right all night.

This experience took place at

Hito Japanese Restaurant

26 E Main St
Mt Kisco, NY 10549
(914) 241-8488

H Mart in Williston Park, NY- Tasty Sashimi and Great for the Pocketbook 

I shop at Asian grocery stores, from time to time. When I am out in Queens, I tend to go to H Mart in Williston Park on Long Island. H Mart is best for one reason: You can buy reasonably priced sashimi and indulge/gorge until your heart beats with delight. You can buy all the accoutrement and make the plate real pretty. This plate consists of tuna, salmon, octopus, yellow tail, seaweed salad, and the “smelly” daikon salad (My co-workers had a huge issue with the daikon salad when I brought it into work one day.  They threatened to go to HR to stop me from eating the smelly food!) Of course, I also had ginger and wasabi. All in all, this plate was less than $50. The effort to cut up the sashimi was minimal. The presentation was beautiful.

So why wouldn’t you do the same, if you are a sashimi fan and eating out in restaurants is not always economically viable?

The H Mart in Hartsdale (Westchester, NY) has a hot food court (My post on Reliable Food Court Eating). That’s also an excellent option for delicious Asian food with ingredients straight from the supermarket. This is as close to Asian local/home eating as one gets in the New York ti-state area.

This experience took place in

H Mart
400 Hillside Ave
Williston Park, NY 11596
(516) 699-0270

P.S. This is my 6th of 17 challenge, writing one post a day until I go on vacation this month.

Wanderlust Taiwan- Teppanyaki in Taipei 大埔平價鐵板燒

I met up with a friend to try the Teppanyaki in Taipei in August. Brad, my Canadian friend living in Taipei, recommended this Teppanyaki place, 大埔平價鐵板燒, right by the Technology Building MRT Station. For those of us who are confused by the definition of Teppanyaki vs. Hibachi, here are the differences. Teppanyaki is “is a style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food,” sometimes is thought of as Hibachi in the US. Hibachi is “a traditional Japanese heating device. It consists of a round, cylindrical or a box-shaped open-topped container, made from or lined with a heatproof material and designed to hold burning charcoal.” The menu is straight forward – but with as many options as possible, from a combination meal A and B, seafood only, surf and turf to individual selections of beef, pork, chicken, fish, shrimps, eggs, and on and on. Each meal is served with unlimited white rice, two selections of veggies and both hot and cold drinks. Options galore… which is a very common theme in Taiwan. I feel very sorry for the foreigners who cannot read Chinese. This is difficult even for me to properly navigate.
These are my veggies: bean sprouts and cabbages with the level of spiciness that I desired. They were cooked to my preference. Loved the bean sprouts. Love how easy it is to always get fresh veggies cooked in Taiwan. Here is my cod! No, I did not love the cod fish. I thought I was ordering salmon…

In total, a piece of cod, bean sprouts, and cabbages cooked on the teppanyaki plus rice and drinks cost me around $5 USD. The chef was extremely friendly. The food was hot. The company was excellent. I felt like I am back in college when all I care about was the conversation that was happening at the time. I was present and throughly enjoying myself.

The food was awesome and unbeatable for $5. Although I highly recommend it, some of the Taiwanese bloggers don’t seem to be fans. I think it’s mostly because they expected more from the $5 USD than I did. My value system is different – I am used to paying a lot more for teppanyaki!

This experience took place at

大埔平價鐵板燒(復興南店)

台北市大安區復興南路二段297號
電話:(02)2738-7656
No. 297, Section 2, Fuxing S Rd,
Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106

Kira Asian Bistro + Sushi Bar in Armonk, NY- Hometown Japanese Restaurant Run by the Chinese, Paled in Comparison to Daido

Kira Asian Bistro + Sushi Bar used to be called Kira Sushi when I first moved to Armonk eight years ago. The menu was more Japanese than Asian fusion. Now with the new brand name, it’s clear that they serve both Chinese and Japanese dishes with a bend at being fusion. Their specials that day were dominated by many Chinese dishes and the staff all spoke Mandarin. This was my first time at Kira.
Tuna or Toro Tartare (Chopped tuna or toro topped with caviar serve with chef’s special sauce)
Chirashi Deluxe (Assorted sashimi over a bed of steamed sushi rice)
Special that day – a version of Chinese broccoli.

Honestly, this was average. This was something I would expect from a good restaurant in Armonk: fresh sashimi, good presentation, and tasty. But there are so many restaurants like this in the Westchester area. The only reason Kira would stand out is because it is the only sushi restaurant in town. I would repeat because I live in the town. Would I travel to eat at Kira? Probably not. I would travel to go to Daido, the Japanese grocery store in White Plains, to buy the sashimi and cut them up myself.

This experience took place at

Kira Asian Bistro + Sushi Bar
575 Main St #7
Armonk, NY 10504
(914) 765-0800

Wanderlust Edinburgh, Scotland- Tang’s Japanese Restaurant in the Old Town

You can reach Tang’s Japanese Restaurant in the old town of Edinburgh by walking up or down this little street, Granny’s Green Steps, that has a view of the Edinburgh Castle. I skipped and hopped down the steps after visiting Tang’s. Interestingly Tang is a Chinese surname – so a Chinese person must have opened a Japanese restaurant. The staff was multi-cultural with new Japanese immigrants and natives. It was a chilly August day (in the mid 50s) and I went in for some hot noodles to keep warm.
The steps. Isn’t this beautiful? The scenery made me feel alive and happy. The sun was shining and my heart was singing. The wonders of traveling to a distance land.A pot of delicious and hot Hoji tea. Mmm. Mmm. Aaaaah.Salmon roe, tuna, mackerel, and octopus. Can’t beat this other than adding more wasabi to the plate.Hell Ramen: Very spicy and rich, soy sauce-based pork stock and noodles topped with 2 slices of melt-in-the-mouth pork belly, spinach, nori seaweed, bean sprouts and spring onions.

I was in Edinburgh, Scotland and didn’t expect to be eating Japanese food. It was the best thing that I did for myself. There was something about eating spicy ramen on a cold day, looking out the window watching the tourists passing by, and listening to an incredible story of eating freshly-caught mackerel from Ireland. There was something about walking under the sun in a summer dress, feeling the warmth of the sun hitting my face and feeling the world is all mine.

Loved Tang’s Japanese Restaurant. Loved the fresh sashimi. Loved the ramen. Loved the Hoji tea. Brought back memories of another time…

This experience took place at

Tang’s Japanese Restaurant

44 Candlemaker Row
Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2QE
Tel: +44 0131 220 5000 (Tang’s)
E-mail : tangsrestaurant@yahoo.co.uk

Wanderlust Taiwan- To Be or Not To Be? Walking the Fine Line of Pastry Where East Meets West

The pastry shops in Asia are no boulangeries. They have an identity that is a clear fusion of the East and West.  I know I maybe biased for having been in a French family for decades but I strongly believe that excellent pastry should be like the ones you get from a French boulangerie. As a contrast, below is from a fancy pastry shop in the Brother Hotel off Nanjing Fuxing MRT station in Taipei.
The purple burrito like bread, 山之燒竽泥, is supposedly Japanese and has mochi and mashed taro filling.  The green burrito-shaped bread, 山之燒山藥, is filled with Chinese yam.
Now the fun part… Once you bite into it, you see the outer skin or the burrito-like wrapper starting to come off of what one would normally consider as the bread. Between the burrito wrapping and the bread, mochi (the white substance near the top of the photo) acts as the adhesive. Then the mashed taro filling is encase by the bread.  

This feels more like an arts & crafts project than eating a pastry. I don’t even know how to properly evaluate this piece of bread.  I don’t think of bread this way. I don’t even know if I like it. Nevertheless, the experience is out of the box.  Weird, too. 
This is the Taiwanese version of  the “peanut butter sandwich.” It is peanut powder plus butter. Did you notice that every piece of pastry has its own plastic bag?  The entire store is filled with pastry in bags on trays which are placed on shelves.

This only happens in Asia where a Western invention like the bread is brought in and fused with the Asian tastes (burrito wraps), ingredients (taro, yam, and mochi), interpretations (peanut powder and butter) and cultural needs (the individual plastic bags). This is unfamiliar for the French American in me but I’m sure by the time I’m back in New York, I will be missing my burrito-shaped-taro-mochi bread. 🙂

This experience took place at

Brother Hotel Bakery 兄弟大飯店

No. 255, Section 3, Nanjing E Rd
Songshan District, Taipei City, 105
+886 02 2712 3456

Wanderlust Taiwan: The Usual First Meal Mistake @Apple203 in the Xinyi District in Taipei

I was really hungry and dehydrated when I headed out for breakfast. This time, breakfast is at 9am Taiwan time.  I believe I ate six hours prior in flight but was still famished. Chasing the darkness from the U.S. to Asia for 16 hours tends to be dis-orienting. As such, the first meal is usually a mistake as I succumbed to my hunger and jet lag.Apple203 is a breakfast restaurant and is right around the corner from where I’m staying. The cafe owner called out to me from across the street and that was how I made my poor decision.
My daughter was clear on what she wanted.  She wanted the Japanese charcoal grilled pork, ham, eggs, veggies and rice. She pointed to the picture on the wall. She was wise.In contrast, I read the dense, multi-page menu the owner handed me.  Let me let you into a big secret now… Even if I consider myself fluent in the language, menu reading is more cultural than language.  In Taiwan, menus are structured like a matrix- each action taken will contribute to creating an unique final dish. So I chose this item that roughly translated as “Spicy chicken leg meat with egg on toast.”

Shame on me for forgetting that toast is always white and thin in Taiwan, unless otherwise indicated. I ended up getting a Taiwanese version of “Wendy’s chicken patty sandwich” in very thin bread and placed inside a paper bag!

Her dish was much better than mine.  But both items suffered from the chef being too zealous about black pepper. The traditional breakfast place is much much better, especially because they are equally hot inside!

The entire meal plus a glass of milk and a large black tea was around $6USD.

This experience took place at

Apple203咖啡館(全日餐)
地址:台北市和平東路三段207巷8號1樓
電話:(02)8732-1739
營業時間:週一至週日 06:30~21:30
最晚預約或點餐時間:21:00