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Top 5 Tastes: Fish Feasts & Asian Appetites

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This week seemed to be dominated by Asian foods (no surprise there) and fish spread-adorned carbohydrates. As evidenced below, my savory tooth often outweighs my sweet, and while a good cookie is hard to beat, a salty morsel will almost always prevail. I was lucky to share meals with family and friends akin to family this week, and visiting my brother in Los Angeles later this week, I can't wait for sun-filled sibling snacking. Read on for my top five tastes...

1. Homemade Soba -Sakagura (New York, NY)

I've written of various Japanese lunch specials, but Sakagura's is a thing to behold. When my brother asked me to lunch in Midtown I initially groaned at the culinary wasteland, but then remembered this hidden gem tucked away in an unprepossessing parking garage basement. Out of many prandial choices, we both selected the Sashimi Gozen, which includes fresh raw fish, seasonal appetizers, soba and dessert. The item I most enjoyed was the cold homemade soba. The thin buckwheat noodles were springy yet hearty, pale grey strands of oomph delicately flavored and topped with strips of seaweed. Served with a light soy-scallion concoction, the soba was the ideal starch for a light lunch, substantial but not heavy.

2. Whitefish salad - Friend's House (Princeton, NJ)

Watching yours truly at a bagel breakfast is visually akin to witnessing a hyena let loose in a field of young ripe antelopes. I conquer and without abandon, especially if there is whitefish salad. Attending an engagement party at a friend's Princeton home, I was immediately informed by the lady of the house (who has witnessed my Planet Earth-esque pillages of Jewish deli spreads) that with me in mind, she had upped the quantities of whitefish salad for the following morning's breakfast. When noon rolled around, I failed to disappoint, slathering my perfectly chewy Everything bagel in the ambrosial stuff with lightning speed. Salty, creamy and delightfully unfashionable, whitefish salad is my ultimate bagel topping. When the heavenly combination of flaked smoked fish and mayonnaise melts into the craters of a freshly toasted bagel, it is nothing short of a religious experience. Heart healthy it may not be, but soul healthy it most definitely is.

3. Caramel Berkshire Pork (Phu Quoc Peppercorn, Lemongrass, Coconut Water, Quail Egg) - Nightingale 9 (Brooklyn, NY)
A like-minded dining partner is a great pleasure, and in New York I'm lucky to have quite a few. Scanning a menu only to realize you must adhere to some gluten free pescatarian shenanigans is like ordering a mocktail by mistake: a disappointment of the highest order. We arrived at Nightingale 9 with no dietary restrictions and hunger clawing away at our insides (and psyches). While the collard greens salad with coconut spoke deeply to my taste buds, our shared favorite was the Berkshire pork; a feast for both eyes and stomach. In an aromatic caramel pond lay cubed buoys of pork belly, the glistening strips of fat sandwiched between crunchy browned meat. The coconut water and lemongrass lightened the caramel both in texture and flavor, and the quail eggs added to the dish's decadence. As the molten fat and crispy meat were coated with sauce, the effect was intense: rich, hearty, sweet and salty all at once.

4. Tonnato Bruschetta - Terroir (New York, NY)
I think I speak for everyone when I say that while it is often tasty, canned tuna is the fish equivalent of the 40-year old Virgin; dependable yet oft' insipid and downright unsexy in every way. Of course, though, the Italians could give a blunt spoon sex appeal, and savoring the Tonnato bruschetta at Terroir, I felt happy for tuna salad and how far it had come. Whipped with olive oil, capers and anchovies, it was smooth, balanced and very flavorful without being overly salty from the seasonings. Served on hunks of chewy bread and topped with friendly shavings of celery, the tuna had swagger, no longer the cowering schlemiel of lunchbox shame.

5. Sotong Goreng (Marinated Crispy Fried Squid) - Laut (New York, NY)

Wanting to show some out of town family a "real" New York restaurant, I brought them to Laut. While the cuisine is South East Asian, the atmosphere buzzes with the Union Square crowd, and on a recent (extremely) rainy evening, it seemed like the right place to warm our souls and fill our stomachs. As usual, the food was deliciously up to par, especially this addictive appetizer. Sliced squid arrived in a sizzling steamy cloud topped with herb sprigs and accompanied by a chili flecked dipping sauce. Prior marinating rendered the octopus very tender, and the layer of crispy batter was thin, bringing the taste beyond simple deep-fried goodness. With a smattering of piquant spices, salt and pepper sprinkled on top, the dish felt multi-faceted, giving the usual marinara-sauced, checkered-paper-served calamari a run for its money.