Snap, Crackle, POP-UP DINER: Alex Mitow’s All-American Diner

In food and drink and most walks of life, I’ve often found a single, simple truth to be evident: “Spontaneity is Sexy!” And restaurant director and event planner, Alex Mitow has demonstrated this very wisdom to me in the form of his latest endeavor and culinary extravaganza.

Alex Mitow's All-American Diner graced Grand Street from April 17th-19th

Alex Mitow’s All-American Diner graced Grand Street from April 17th-19th

Last week, I am thrilled to say that I attended two nights of Alex Mitow’s All-American Diner: A Pop Up!, Time Out New York’s The Empire Club on Thursday and The Debaucherous Disco Diner Dinner Party on Friday. The hip, young owner of Los Perros Locos, a Colombian hot dog restaurant in the Lower East Side, Alex aimed to turn “a closed down diner into an art, music, and food spectacle,” and I must say, he delivered quite a delicious and eclectic experience.

All-American Beer Can Vase

All-American Beer Can Vase

The very essence of a pop-up entails synthesizing something grand from seemingly out of nowhere. Utilizing the abandoned space of Noah’s Ark Diner on Grand Street, Alex Mitow’s All-American Diner demonstrated the sheer brilliance that can go into engineering a rebirth. With the simple yet effective additions of a disco ball, colored flags, and original New York City themed art, including an impressive Manhattan wall mural by artist Fernando “Ski” Romero, Alex truly conjured a dazzling party scene for patrons of all ages and tastes.

Mural by Fernando "Ski" Romero.

Mural by Fernando “Ski” Romero.

The musical acts also proved to be just as fresh as the décor. On Thursday night, the live entertainment consisted of a winningly over-the-top performance by Sylvana Joyce & The Moment, a band that describes its style as a combination of gypsy rock, soul, and blues. On Friday, we danced the night away to some mixed up pop music by Andrew Andrew, a DJ duo of twin-like doppelgangers.

BITES TO WRITE ABOUT

THE DOGS

On both Thursday and Friday night, we were presented with numerous platters of Tipico Mini Dogs, hot dogs and some colorful condiments naturally being one of Mitow’s specialties from his work at Los Perros Locos. Drizzled with Colombian-styled Salsa Verde with Pineapple and a classical Salsa Rosada (Ketchup + Mayo), then sprinkled with copious helpings of crushed potato chips. The result is an explosion of sweet and savory flavors with a killer crunch between every bite–an absolutely inspired spin on an American classic. I will be sure to try Los Perros Locos when I have the chance–the Mini has already won my heart!

Tipico Mini Dogs - Los Perros Locos Style Who says you can't teach a hot dog Colombian tricks?

Tipico Mini Dogs – Los Perros Locos Style
Who says you can’t teach a hot dog Colombian tricks?

Thursday night came with a variety of gooey, crispy American comfort food courses: Pastrami Swiss Croquettes, The Challah Atcha Boy Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Grandma’s Meatball Sliders, and Fried Calamari.

THURSDAY EXCLUSIVES

The Croquettes made for tiny but tasty starters, slathered in chipotle apple aioli, yet another of Mitow’s ingenious sauce creations that made for an excellent compliment for just about every dish.

Pastrami and Swiss Croquettes

Pastrami and Swiss Croquettes

Alex Mitow’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich, the hilariously named “Challah Atcha Boy” was a welcome veteran of this year’s The Big Cheesy Competition. Classically tender Katz’s pastrami, two types of cheeses, more aioli, and light, peppery peppadew wrapped within fluffy challah made for the most well-rounded and complex grilled cheese I have ever enjoyed in my young life. It is my hope that Mr. Mitow continues to dabble in the creation of sandwiches. This one was a champion!

Alex Mitow's delicious variant of a grilled cheese sandwich, made famous at The Big Cheesy.

Alex Mitow’s delicious variant of a grilled cheese sandwich, made famous at The Big Cheesy.

Grandma's Meatball Slider

Grandma’s Meatball Slider

A smooth yet solid cloud of fresh ricotta cheese with a hunk of simmered veal and pork on top of delicate Hawaiian sweet bread also impressed me.  I adored Alex Mitow’s Grandma’s Meatball Slider simply because it was a safe and traditional yet still excellent choice. The simplicity of the dish’s constituents belied a rich and heavy hitter that didn’t pull any punches in the taste department.

Crispy Calamari

Crispy Calamari

Our last Thursday plate was the Crispy Calamari, fried in garlic and butter, and seasoned with a lemon-peppadew aioli. By the time it left the kitchen, I was convinced I was full, but found I couldn’t resist the richly flavored batter. Once again, Alex took a lovely classic and dressed it up with one of his impeccable sauces.

Donuts from neighbor The Donut Factory were a sweet surprise for dessert

Donuts from neighbor The Doughnut Plant were a sweet surprise for dessert

FRIDAY EXCLUSIVES

For Friday, Alex focused the dining experience on a more centered lineup with three options, including those yummy hot dogs, consequentially allowing several times more helpings for guests.

By the time I tried the Pink Castle Sliders, I had no doubts of Alex’s abilities with a grill. The addition of the Salsa Rosada once again augmented the flavors of an already strong entree.

Pink Castle Sliders - With a Splash of Salsa Rosada

Pink Castle Sliders – With a Splash of Salsa Rosada

Smothered in cheese and stuffed with seasoned pastrami, I found Alex’s Disco Fries to be the true delicacy of the diner. A gooey outer layer riddled with crispy tidbits and choice cuts of meat transformed a side dish into a mass of sinful decadence. They were a full meal–an experience within themselves and worth every calorie-infused chomp!It wouldn't be a true disco without DISCO FRIES!

It wouldn’t be a true disco without these DISCO FRIES!

Closing Thoughts

Amidst that storm of artificial pink lights and catchy tunes, I’d say that Alex Mitow’s All-American Diner truly exemplified that all-too American value of glitz and glam from grime with all of the delightful excess of a Baz Luhrmann movie or a Cadillac commercial, but none of the shoddy plotting or poor characterization.

For a moment, I was taken out of my hectic New York existence and treated to something wild and fanciful, but gastronomically satisfying as well.

It is this writer’s hope that Mr. Mitow continues hosting and planning these pop-up events in the future. Or at the very least that he continues offering his delicious re-imaginings and recipes.

Food For Ott was grateful to be a part of the craze.

Food For Ott was grateful to be a part of the craze and looks forward to the next one!

Yuji Ramen: The Little Test Kitchen That Could

A Little Rant

Ramen, like sushi, is a Japanese dish that has nestled itself into America’s eating consciousness, though this isn’t always a positive thing. Ask a typical American college student what they think of ramen and you might get a groan or a chuckle and maybe a story about “that one week I couldn’t leave my dorm” or an anecdote about the dangers of a high sodium diet. Like several actors’ careers (I’m looking at you Adam Sandler), ramen appears to get by due to its ease of preparation, availability, and overall infamy–people are willing to overlook just how cheap and terrible for their life it might because it’s a familiar, reliable poison. However, I digress. Most of these grievances are reserved for the microwave and instant variants of ramen. Put simply, there is good, gourmet ramen out there, just not at most grocery stores. . . Whole Foods on the Bowery, however, is a game changer!

Revolutionary Ramen

Located in the form of a counter on the second floor of an ordinary-looking Whole Foods, Yuji Ramen is an extraordinary eatery that takes one’s assumptions about ramen and flambes them into sweet, delicious oblivion. Starting off as a Smorgasburg vendor then a Whole Foods-sponsored pop up shop, Yuji’s popularity has earned it a permanent placement upstairs and a large, loyal following. After eating countless bowl upon bowl of noodle-filled Nirvana, I have to say this positive reception is completely deserved.

Most people might doubt that a ramen-based restaurant could succeed in catering to different clients and tastes, but Yuji offers customers two radically different types of ramen.

The “Daily Shoyu” is your typical meat broth-based ramen but comes with the added twist of being different just about every day. Using fresh cuts of meat from the Whole Foods butcher, Yuji ensures a uniquely delicious experience every day of the week. From blue fish to tuna to mussels to pork to turkey, the shoyu is a favorite for carnivores and a delight on a cold winter day.

Daily Shoyu with Blue and Lamb

Daily Shoyu with Bluefish and Lamb

The second type of ramen is the “mazeman” a newer variant that is made without broth and cooked by an open flame. Using a profusion of savory oils, fresh ingredients that alternate between crunchy and gooey, and perfectly firm and textured noodles, Yuji’s mazeman is a refined kind of ramen that one might liken to an al-dente pasta dish. Instead of your standard pork or chicken, Yuji brings customers original and dazzling concoctions like Smokey Bacon and Poached Egg with Kale or Salmon and Cheese. Spicy Tuna and Uni Miso (Sea Urchin) also have their own mazeman on the menu. For vegetarians, there’s also a Miso Roasted Vegetable mazeman, though I admit I have never sampled it because of my love for the meat and seafood selections.

Smokey Bacon and Poached Egg Mazeman on the left, Uni Miso cooked in Sake on the right.

Smokey Bacon and Poached Egg Mazeman on the left, Uni Miso cooked in Sake on the right.

At roughly $9 a pop, Yuji’s prices are reasonable for an up and coming business, and certainly for the quality of the ramen you get. I typically find that one Shoyu leaves me stuffed. However, when it comes to the mazeman, I usually try to make room for two–they’re just THAT yummy. For $12 you can get the combo with cold barley tea and pickled vegetables on the side. Starting this year, Yuji is offering a small selection of desserts.  Additionally, every month, Yuji offers a full seven-course Omakase (Chef’s Choice) Dinner. I plan on sampling it and presenting my findings later this year.

If you like creamy things, meat or fish, or noodles of any kind, then I highly recommend you give Yuji a visit soon–you’ll probably run into me sometime!

Yuji Ramen

Address: 95 E. Houston Street, 2nd floor. 

Phone Number: 212-420-1320, extension. 281

Website: http://yujiramen.com

Open all week from 11 AM to 9:30 PM.

Artistic Rendering of Yuji's Mazeman Selection

Artistic Rendering of Yuji’s Mazeman Selection