Thursday, September 6, 2012

Beyond Chexican: Meet the Sushi Burrito

This is not a food blog. My first attempt at blogging was a food blog back in 2005 that was so cringeworthy I've taken it offline. That being said, I'm subjecting you to back-to-back food posts. Why? Because I'm sitting in San Francisco and just discovered Sushiritto.

In NYC, I've seen plenty of Asian and Mexican food fusion over the past decade. The first wave was more of a cultural fusion than a food fusion in the form of  a fast food-ish type spots all over New York called Fresco Tortillas. They were Mexican food places run by Chinese people, affectionately dubbed "Chexican" by a former roommate. Their ratings weren't amazing, but the fajita meat was real, and the food was cheap. They were enough that I resolved to never eat at a Taco Bell again.

 Fast forward to the recent influx of fusion food trucks. There's Kimchi Taco Truck, Korilla BBQ, among others. Creating tacos out of Korean-preparation meats (Bulgogi, Spicy Chicken, Short Ribs) has become all the rage. It's not quite Fresco Tortillas cheap, but damn, it's good.

Last night at a sushi dinner, a friend started talking about sushi burritos. Apparently there was a place that created hand rolls on steroids, making massive, seaweed-wrapped masterpieces. Fast forward 12 hours and I was standing in line.

The setup looked just like a Chipotle, except with tempura flakes instead of pinto beans (jalapenos did seem to be a consistent element). There were three of us, and we tried a variety, ranging from a Tonkatsu Curry version, to one with Teriyaki Salmon with Tempura Asparagus, to the most "sushi"-like one, filled with hand-caught Yellowfin Tuna. 

I'm still amazed that the seaweed managed to hold everything together, but it did. The combinations were fantastic and one burrito was more than enough. I can't deny, I kind of also love the company's mission:

To challenge the status quo of sushi restaurants through creativity and innovation of flavors, form, and sourcing.

The concept works. Sushiritto, please come to New York.

Friday, August 17, 2012

That First Bite...

I might’ve been a convert even before I even took a bite. It was revolutionary when they handed me the plate. I’d always enjoyed meat-filled, steamed Chinese buns but they never quite gave me my meat fill. That non-descript, reddish meat interior was nice, especially when dipped into a soy sauce / Sriracha combo, but why couldn’t they improve the meat-to-bun ratio?

The Pork Bun is being called the cheap eat of the year, and my first one was in 2006. My sister was visiting from Boston and her restaurant-savvy friend Amy told us to meet her at a new Momofuku spot: the Ssam Bar. It was lunchtime, and the place advertised a sort of “Asian burrito” (Ssam apparently means "wrapped" in Korean and can be used even in describing lettuce wraps).

I had ordered some type of pork ssam burrito when I saw someone ahead of me walking away with two of the most attractive buns I’ve ever seen. Instead of a large circular contraption with an invisible meat interior, the white of the bun delicately held a two legitimate pieces of what looked like a thick-cut piece of Peter Luger’s bacon. This was 2006 and Pork Belly had not yet become the new Kobe Beef (or artisanal pickle or cupcake or kale) and I had never tried it before. It was right there in front of me. The meat to bun ratio had been solved.

I switched up the order, took that first bite through the half inch of steamed bun, into a crispy, yet fatty pork belly with a touch of I think hoisin, and a slightly pickled cucumber, and I never looked back. It became an obsession. I’d insist anyone who visited needed to try this. I made the mistake of trying to go there at 3am for drunken food when they closed at 1am, not once, not twice, but three times. In the most propitious twists of fate, the Sox, Celtics, and Patriots all were hitting their peak and the best “Boston sports bar” in NYC happened to be a block away. Instead of wings and waffle fries, I’d run over to grab a duo of pork buns during games.

Over time, the Ssam Bar became a bit of a fancier joint and I dont think they serve the pork buns in a box anymore. I still go and the food is incredible, but it’s more a fancy dinner night than a quick bite of heaven. Everyone else caught onto the idea and variations on the bun sandwich have become a staple on New York menus. Asian hipster cuisine is now actually a thing. I’ve even taken a trip to H-Mart and attempted making them myself. I’ve now lived in Asia and learned the proper name of that non-descript, reddish stuff (cha siu). Times done changed. But I’ll never forget that first look, that first bite, that first year of the Momofuku pork bun.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Kumare, Yoga, and Stuff White People Like

Good art makes you think about lifelong questions. Great art answers them. The film Kumare did just that.

I've always found Westerners adopting and adapting Indian culture fascinating. Whether it's yoga, meditation, or chicken tikka masala, I've been generally confused why so many non-Indians in the US have been gravitating to activities they perceive as Indian.

Maybe the suspicion is borne of experience. Growing up as an Indian-American kid in the 1980s was not exactly a springboard to coolness. Mainstream America's perception of Indian-Americans seemed built around Kwik-E-Mart owners and elephants.

When high school hit, I noticed Indian "spirituality" finding its way into the more liberal factions in my school. I even dabbled in transcendental meditation and listened to my Dad's Ravi Shankar albums. In retrospect, this had nothing to do with my Indian heritage, and everything to do with me wearing Birkenstocks and collecting Grateful Dead bootlegs at the time.

....and then came yoga.

During college I kept hearing about this 'yoga' thing, and by the time I moved to New York, it was everywhere. What puzzled me was that I'd never heard any Indian relatives mention it. Our family is even Hindu and I've happily participated in my fair share of ritual, but  never quite found myself doing crow in our living room with my parents.

I tried it a few times a decade ago and got uncomfortable when everyone started chanting Om and the (non-Indian) teacher started, I think, chanting a number of Sanskrit mantras. I'm about as far an authority on Indian spirituality and religion as you can get, but was this making a mockery of Hindu traditions? Was this how Jewish people felt watching Madonna practice Kabblah? Would a Southern Baptist find it as weird to watch my family start a gospel choir? I grew up hearing Indian parents complain about Hare Krishnas. Was a roomful of yoga students chanting, the same thing?

"India" has only gotten bigger over the past decade. Bollywood's big, everyone's been to an Indian wedding, we've had two Indian-American governors (though not quite how we probably expected), and yoga is so big that Lulu Lemon is worth over $9 billion. Almost every girl I know does yoga regularly, people have graduated from Tikka Masala to Vindaloo or Saag, and I've had a number of non-Indian friends travel to India (most of whom more likely experienced Delhi Belly instead of Nirvana).

And yes, I've found myself trying to do yoga once a week. The motivation isn't quite celestial though. I have an injured back and it's the only thing that gets me to stretch properly. Some things have changed. The Sanskrit mantras are still there, but there's now Death Cab for Cutie songs alongside chillout Indian instrumentals (think Ravi Shankar meets Cafe Del Mar). Many in the class appear genuinely peaceful or relaxed, yet there are few glares in this world as concerning and scary as a yoga girl forced to move her mat for a latecomer to the class.

My continued foray across enemy lines into the yoga studio only made me more skeptical of Eastern 'spirituality' in the West. Is it a bastardization of Indian culture or is it an overall positive and healing force?

As I walked out of Kumare I realized this question didn't matter. Weirdly, I was at peace. I didn't have an answer resolving yoga and Indian culture, but I really didn't care anymore. I'd completely been missing the point.

The movie is about an Indian-American who becomes a fictitious guru and tricks a bunch of Westerners (and even one Indian) to become followers of his. The film explores religion, spirituality, cults, and especially, what it means to be a teacher. It's hilarious, provocative, beautifully filmed, and not only am I recommending it, I'd happily take any of my 'yogi' friends to watch it.

I'm not sure everyone will have quite as intense a reaction as I did to Kumare, but it made a generally skeptical Indian-American, just a little less skeptical.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dog-Blogging: Gorbachev Comes to Nolita

My life after trading has found itself slowly drifting further and further away from my life on a trading floor. First it was nomadic travel, then business school, then financial media, and now it's pursuing startup dreams.

My current daily existence is now on the absolute opposite end of the spectrum as the trading life: I sit at home in front of my computer, usually in solitude (sometimes with my cofounder). Contrast that to the daily stimulus of being surrounded by hundreds of hypersocial individuals on a trading floor.

What's the obvious outcome of this major environmental transition?

I got a puppy.

I grew up with a dog (RIP Cleo Roy) and getting another one was always in the back of my mind. Living in NYC makes it a bit difficult as the costs are large and the apartments are small. As I plan on working out of my apartment over the next few months, I figured this was the most logical time ever to get a puppy. That, or talking to myself was becoming a chore.

Gorby is a Miniature Australian Shepherd. I named him after Gorbachev because he's got a noticeable birthmark (though on his nose and not his forehead). Admittedly, it's a bit dorky, but a few people who've met him got the reference instantly and loved it. A few people around my age awkwardly admitted not knowing who Gorbachev was.

There's a tremendous dog scene in NYC. I feel like I just took the red pill in the Matrix and now see an entire world that I was previously blind to. All around me people are walking dogs, socializing with other dog owners, or even petting other people's dogs. I never noticed any of it before.

Then there's the Manhattan-y side to being a dog owner. There are "Dog Runs" all over the city: little dog parks within larger parks for dogs to run freely and play with other dogs. The other day I noticed one just a few blocks from my apartment that amazingly had dog toys just sitting around everywhere and looked extremely clean (things that don't normally happen in NYC).

Gorby getting schooled at the dog run

I walked over with Gorby and saw a locked gate. I asked the one lady in there how to get in and she informed me, "it's a members park and you get a key". I asked her how much it was and she let me know it was $50 for the year. For a full year I actually thought this might be worth it (Warning Sign #1). 

Then came the absurd part: "Just to let you know, there's an application process and there's currently a waitlist. Your dog's so beautiful...I hope you get in."

Yes, an application process and waitlist. Years back, I helped a boss who wasn't a native English speaker write essays for his five year old's application for a posh, private elementary school. Not only would they interview his daughter, they apparently would interview him. I thought it was ludicrous and swore to never be part of such establishments.

(Cue Warning Sign #2, Red Alert) 

The first thought that crossed my mind after hearing about the dog park application process: Well, my dog is totally good enough to get in.

I think I've just accepted I can't ever raise kids in Manhattan.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Phlips Dead

The Republican primaries are in full stride, and they've been damn entertaining. Fairness, taxation, wealth creation, and jobs are at the tip of everyone's tongues and we just finished up the winter of #occupywallst. I've always been left-leaning, but yes, I did work as a trader for seven years. It was quite a wakeup call, as I had never realized people might not revere JFK or might actually hate immigration (I grew up in a bit of a liberal town).

Life as a trader only strengthened my liberal foreign policy views, but I have to admit, my economic views inevitably started creeping to the center. I was surrounded by some characters: one guy would give his four-year old daughter $5 a week for allowance, and then take back 50 cents, so she "could get an understanding for having your money taken by taxation." When he told us this, someone responded that she wouldn't have been in that tax bracket. Yes, this really happened.

Money can be a strange thing.

It was 2006 when I first got out of the red. Life as a trader expedited the process of paying back my undergrad loans and it was the first time I ever had any disposable income. There are many stereotypes of traders: some on the floor who would show up with Gucci loafers and Rolexes, maybe return from a lavish vacation, and some even made sure to pop the proverbial bottle come the weekend. I tried to avoid these things, but I was definitely not immune. The first time my bank account could carry me over longer than a few months, I managed to express my newfound doucheiness by buying one of the first 50" plasma TVs in the market, the Philips 50PF9966.

I read for days about Plasma vs. LCD. I'd go from Best Buy to Circuit City (R.I.P) and convince myself that I could see huge differences in quality. I might've even scoffed at the idea of a Zenith. Remember when people would just watch nature shows and sports in HD....when HD itself was so mesmerizing?

Philips sold me with absurd features like 'Ambilight', that lit up your wall with colors supposedly complementing what was on the screen. In retrospect, this might've been a bit idiotic, as I lived in a convertible one-bedroom apartment. For non-New Yorkers, a convertible 1br is where you take a regular 1br apartment, and add a fake wall to split up the living room, magically adding another bedroom.

(you'll notice the lady is not even watching the TV)

Yup, my roommate and me set up a 50" TV in a living room that was 8ft x 10ft. As someone who's never really been part of either, I never quite got the negative implications of "new money." I guess this kinda captures it?

We'd sit there playing Madden and feeling like we're actually in the game. We convinced ourselves we were somehow being responsible by watching HD sports at home and not a bar. Our guy friends were pretty excited, while girls generally reacted with a "what's wrong with you?"

The Philips just flatlined this week, flickering itself to the television graveyard. I'm amazed it lasted this long. It's moved four times, usually sitting in the back of a uHaul only covered by a comforter. It sat alone in my parents basement for almost two years, even surviving a flooding that destroyed the surrounding. It even found a friend in another gaudy showing of technology at my current apartment, The Stack. The Philips served me well.

This week happened to also be when my old bank told the trading floor their bonus numbers. I was fairly curious the first year after trading, but then realized it was just kind of weird to discuss with my friends still in the industry. If not for the annual outrage over bonuses, I might even forget that entire world exists.

If this blog was never born, would I be in Best Buy staring at the new Sharp 70"?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ctrl + Alt + Delete

I've always believed you can find absolute magic in the most mundane of situations. I'm not exactly the guy from American Beauty watching a plastic bag fly in the wind, but I feel there's greatness often overlooked in the idiotic. 

Which logically brings us to the film New Years Eve

Post-Tilt, I've been going back and forth whether to search for a conventional job or pursue some sort of independent venture. During this period, there are those days where you genuinely believe you can motivate yourself, strike out on your own, and take over the world. Then there are those days where you find yourself in a theater at 1pm watching New Years Eve.

I'm not going to get into how I ended up there, but the only other people in the theater were some high school girls who shrieked every time The Efron came on screen, an elderly, Woody Allen-worthy "New Yorky" couple, and a solo middle-aged guy whose story I'd really like to know (or maybe wouldn't). 

Yes, the movie was as absolutely atrocious and my hathos quota was more than fulfilled. I'm genuinely curious what Hollywood agent is such a salesman that they convinced Robert DeNiro, "Trust me...THIS is gonna be a hit!" 

(Spoiler Alert!!!)

All that being said, the meathead in me that's a sucker for climactic movie speeches from Al Pacino to even Bill Pullman, somehow found myself weirdly non-ironic (or perhaps "reflective" as normal people might say) as Hilary Swank delivered the crescendo. As the Times Sq ball is stuck, she tells us that:

It's suspended there to remind us before we pop the champagne and celebrate the new year, to stop and reflect on the year that has gone by. To  remember both our triumphs and  our missteps, our promises made and broken. The times we opened ourselves up to great adventures or closed ourselves down for fear of getting hurt because that is what new years is all about- getting another chance. A chance to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, to love more. And stop worrying about what if and start embracing what will be. So when that ball drops at midnight and it will drop, let's remember to be nice to each other, kind to each other, and not just tonight but all year long.

Trust me, as I re-read this, I cringe. Yet, I'll admit for that brief moment, I managed to forgive even yet another horrific Ashton Kutcher romantic closing line (rivaling that of No Strings Attached). Somehow this awful movie made me remember what I love about New Years Eve.

It's easy to forget this in New York City. There's a graveyard of $150 "open bar" tickets where you waited in line for hours and missed midnight. There's an endless roster of friends who visited with impossible expectations placed squarely on your shoulders.

I forgot that I love New Years Eve simply because I love the idea of a fresh start.

Maybe I value fresh starts because I know I'm not perfect (understatement of 2011?). Some may wipe the slate clean by with religion and being born again (George W.) but that's not happening. Some may move on by literally moving on across the world, but I'm pretty tired of visa offices (and I guess already did that). I just love that we all agree that an arbitrary event on the Gregorian calendar gives us all the chance to try to be just a little better. 

You just survived another 365 days, you must've learned something. Even if you don't keep your resolutions, at least you're making them. You may have lost touch with people you care about, and you're given an excuse to get in contact (though please don't send out on of those mass text messages). How often does the entire world have a chance to collectively reflect and try to improve?

….or maybe I just love the fact that there's globally more drunken revelry on New Years Eve than any other night? 

Either way, I can't believe at this time last year I was on a plane from India to Singapore, getting ready to travel Vietnam. Tilt had not yet even officially launched. If 2011 was that kinda ride, I'm a bit excited for what 2012 has in store.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Emoting with Kindle Highlights

I'm a technophile. I probably shouldn't be allowed within 100 yards of an Apple store. I could be wrong and the last vestiges of our privacy will soon be usurped and the robots will win. I accept Facebook has forever changed the definition of 'friend' and texting just isn't a phone call. However, there are moments where technology facilitates the basest of human emotion, in wonderful, undeniable way.

One battle in the technophilic war where I occasionally retreat is the printed book. I do get it when people say "there's just something about holding a printed book." But, I also remember when friends argued there is just something about opening a CD case and reading the liner notes or putting an LP onto a record player. I argued that at a certain point, convenience outweighs that limited emotional attachment. Having your entire music collection in your pocket is just better.

After last night's discovery, I have to warn my friends who define themselves by what sits on their bookshelf and love the smell of paper: It's time to accept the world has changed.

I bought the Kindle 2 in Feb 2009, right before leaving NYC and moving to Asia. After one look, I donated most of my book collection to the public library (saving a few for the same reason I save concert tickets). The idea that while wandering Asia, I could have dozens of books in my backpack was too good to be true.

When I read, I highlight. I used to do it physically, and began using the somewhat clunky Kindle 2 highlighting functionality right away. I rarely went back and actually reviewed the highlights and notes, but felt someday it could be worth the effort.

It's happened.

I'm not even sure how long this has been available, but if you go to and click on 'Your Highlights' it's right there: every highlight and note I have taken since Feb 2009. Reading The Man Who Loved China while fresh in Beijing. Nervously reading Shantaram on my Kindle in Dhaka, worried someone might steal it. Waiting to read Growing up in the People's Republic, about the Cultural Revolution, til I got to Thailand because I was afraid somehow "they" would know. Reading The Vietnam War: A Concise History but being too spoiled an American and not visiting because I had to get a visa. Bedridden with a bad back and reading Too Big to Fail, vividly being brought back to September 2008. It goes on and on. Not only did every book and the related setting come back to me, every quote I loved is right there (I'll hold off on getting into the potential for the social elements they've already began building).

Imagine every book since you were a little kid, every inspiration you jotted down on a notepad, every lesson, every character...all on one scrollable page.

I'll take my chances on the robots.

(a few favorites)

"This set the pattern of the next decade: Europe struggling with the legacies and burdens of the past, the United States wrestling with the excess bonuses of its good fortune." - Too Big to Fail (referring to 1919)

“You were born in a shirt” (a Russian expression meaning that someone has very good luck) - Darkness at Dawn

"It was big enough to be useful, small enough to be possible" - Bloomberg by Bloomberg (on the first terminal)

"“But it wasn’t just a nice car,” I said. “It was a Lexus. A Lexus. That’s a specific kind of nice car. Everyone knows what owning a Lexus means. To Cobain, a lavender limousine would have been preferable to a Lexus, because at least that would have been gratuitous and silly. The limousine is aware of its excess; a Lexus is at ease with it. A Lexus is a car for a serious rich person. There are no ironic Lexus drivers, or even post-ironic Lexus drivers.” - Eating the Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman

"Econometrics is essentially the art of finding statistical methods to extract information from data—or, as a lawyer friend of Stefan’s likes to put it, taking the data down into the basement and torturing them until they confess." - Soccernomics by Stefan Szymanski

"I told him once he’s so shallow that the best he can manage is a single entendre" - Shantaram

"Sometimes, in India, you have to surrender before you win." - Shantaram

"'It’s funny you say that. A girlfriend of mine once told me, a long time ago, that she was attracted to me because I was interested in everything. She said she left me for the same reason.’" - Shantaram

"The sign, simply and starkly, states: “Without Haste. Without Fear. We Conquer the World.” - The Man Who Loved China, Simon Winchester

“There is no such thing as becoming German. You either are or you are not.” - How to Win a Cosmic War, Reza Aslan