The chef and restaurateur JJ Johnson has a saying: “Rice is culture.” I have a saying, too: “Money over everything, rice under everything else.” To me, loving rice is a lifestyle.
Rice was omnipresent in my childhood, and I’m perpetually craving it in my adulthood. I’ve come to love and appreciate so many expressions of rice: tahdig, hashweh, jollof, bariis iskukaris. I thought I had experienced everything this grain had to offer — and then I met glutinous rice and rice flour. Each ingredient is a dream for a person on a lifelong journey to discover all that rice has to offer.
Add-on Tteok That Steal the Show
A few weeks ago, I found myself at Nudibranch, a pop-up-turned-restaurant in the East Village. The three-course menu, featuring gigante beans with octopus, mussels and clams, frog legs shrouded in the flavors of Southeast Asia, is exciting enough. But my eye was immediately drawn to the add-on: country ham with tteok and honey.
Fittingly, I enjoyed those warm and crunchy-tender Korean rice cakes beneath slightly salty ham and a drizzle of floral honey with my colleague Priya Krishna, who first put me on to the rice-cake fundido at Haenyeo in Park Slope, Brooklyn, back in 2019.
The fundido dish at Nudibranch is a nod to tteokbokki, or smothered, stir-fried rice cakes. But, in this case, the bouncy tubes are additionally smothered in Oaxaca cheese, onions, jalapeños and chorizo. It’s a messy affair, and easily one of the most fun dishes you’ll encounter on a fine-dining menu.
Saucy Rice Rolls and Toppings Galore
But what of the many versions of rice noodles, you ask. If you’re in Manhattan’s Chinatown, there are infinite rice rolls to explore — silky, wide steamed rice ribbons served with a variety of fillings and little cups of soy sauce. On an overcast Thursday recently, I enjoyed the roast-pork rice rolls at Tonii’s Fresh Rice Noodle, where the turnaround is only a few minutes and the toppings are endless (crab meat and egg, dry shrimp, roast duck). It’s a perfect quick snack that doesn’t taste quick at all.
Or there’s my favorite dish at Bonnie’s in Williamsburg, which on a recent Saturday night was not as hard to get into as you might imagine. (We call this the hype paradox.) Much has been said about the stuffed rainbow trout and the MSG martini, but what about the cheung fun, seared rice-noodle rolls, in XO sauce? It’s the dish I most look forward to eating when I’m there, a combination of unfettered rich flavor and immediate comfort.
Rice Creations for Dessert
And, of course, rice-based desserts abound, like the fermented red rice and millet mochi doughnuts at Win Son Bakery in Williamsburg, and the fried tangyuan at Taipan Bakery, which has locations in Chinatown and in Flushing, Queens.
But I’m really looking forward to trying the desserts at Lysée, Eunji Lee’s self-described “pastry gallery-boutique” in the Flatiron district, which, hot tip, just recently started taking reservations.
While the menu is awash with French patisserie buzzwords like crémeux, choux and sablé, I’m looking forward to the brown-rice mousse with pecan and caramel, a flavor combination that makes my Southern heart sing, as well as the signature milk made with toasted brown rice.
I’d love to know: What are your favorite expressions of rice? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you may very well see your answer here. After all, rice is the great uniter.
In Other News …
Pete Wells traveled to Las Vegas and ate at the Bedford by Martha Stewart, a 194-seat restaurant inside the Paris Las Vegas hotel and casino. “It is a cribbage board in a video-game arcade, a glass of ginger ale at a tiki bar,” he writes.
Openings: Lord’s, in Greenwich Village, from Ed Szymanski and Patricia Howard of Dame, with original approaches to food rooted in English tradition; Osteria Accademia, on the Upper West Side, with regional Italian cooking; and Rana Fifteen in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with dishes from Western Turkey and the Aegean region.
Kayla Stewart reported on the U.S. chefs that are taking a fast-casual approach to West African cuisine.
When David Geffen Hall officially reopens to the public on Oct. 8, the Lincoln Center venue will have new cocktail menus by Don Lee, of PDT and Existing Conditions, and wine menus by Amy Racine, the beverage director at JF Restaurants.