Restaurant Fears / July 3, 2013: Food Review

When eating at home, my parents said its better than eating out because you know what exactly is going into your food and how it is prepared.

At a restaurant, it’s all behind closed doors. You’re sitting with your friends or family, totally focused on the conversation. Or sometimes if it’s with family, you might be the awkward teenager surfing the web on your smartphone and hoping this meal finishes as soon as possible. Even if you could see everything, you most likely won’t pay that much attention because you’re eating with others. Eating out is time spent with people.

Today, I walked into a Chinese restaurant in Flushing, NY. I was waiting and then I saw one of the waitress grab a large metal spoon used for serving. She was right by the kitchen door. She used the non-handle end, as in the side that touches the food, to push open the door. The waiter with the food comes out and she slips the spoon in. I just stood there. And walked out. Ew. That is so not sanitary.

But when you’re eating alone and the cooking area is right in front of you, it’s not that hard to look away. I was at Otafuku in St. Marks (236 E 9th Street, New York, NY 10003) after I heard of it from NY Chow Report on YouTube. Even though the host had heinous pronunciation of okonomiyaki, she said “okonoyumaki,” I still felt the tug to try it out. It just looked so delectable and a little hard to find hole-in-the-wall Japanese snack stand sounded too irresistible for this foodie. Plus, it looked like it wouldn’t make too big of a dent on my wallet.

To be honest, I had Japadog 3 times within one week. This was the second time I was at Japadog. And Otafuku was right there. I couldn’t resist. I had to go. I needed to go. So I walked over to the next street with a stomach that already had the Okonomi Japadog (Hah! The coincidence. Okonomi Japadog & Okonomiyaki).

P.S. I’ll probably do one large review on Japadog after I eat the coveted Ice Age. By the way, follow their Instagram @japadognyc. They followed my Instagram and commented on my photos. I love it when restaurants interact with customers. It’s not good to just have only more customers, but also happy customers.

So there I was, at Otafuku. I ordered Combo A for $8, which consisted of okonomiyaki and yakisoba, topped with shrimp.

Otafuku's Okonomiyaki & Yakisoba

Otafuku’s Okonomiyaki & Yakisoba Topped with Shrimp

Usually, Otafuku requests customers to wait outside because it is so cramped inside. There is a bench outside. But that day, it was raining, I decided to say inside. No one said anything. Two sets of customers came in and both ordered in English but talked in Mandarin. I could understand everything they were saying. Interesting. But even with that distraction, I just looked into the kitchen.

Behind the counter was the kitchen and everything was squished together. I had nothing else to do besides remembering that I was told that it would take 15 minutes to finish. Stood there. Played with phone. Got bored. Watched her cook it.

The batter seemed to be in plastic bins. Of course, people prepare for the worst and I wondered, is that sanitary? She then scraped the grill. I’m no grill expert, but do you clean the grill with the same spatula (or whatever it’s call) that is used to cook? My mind began whirling with questions obviously because I had nothing else to do. I was alone without friends eating with me. It felt awkward so I tried to occupy myself.

Then she put a glove on her right hand. I’m assuming only on one hand because that one would grab the ingredients to put into the food. The glove didn’t seem clean. Or at least, I wasn’t sure if it came directly from the box or was used before. I saw her pick her ear with her other free hand. Slight freak out as I saw her use both hands to cook. I’m usually not a germaphobe but when you don’t have anything else to occupy yourself and you can only watch the cooking, you wonder weird things. You freak yourself out for no reason.

Then I received the finished product. It felt so hot in my hands and the container was plastic. I questioned if it was safe to have such hot food in a plastic container. Would the poisonous substances from the plastic leach out? It made me think of the plastic container I carelessly microwaved and immediately came out warped or the take out food from my school’s dining hall where the sheer heat from the cooked food caused the plastic to also become contorted.

As I walked to the bench, the 2 Chinese customers were squatting on the bench. I was kind of pissed already by the weather and spoke in Mandarin that if they’re not eating they shouldn’t be sitting. They were the kind of girls who piled on makeup and purchased high-end bags and things without any thought. Just want to look good but had no brains. I sat down and as I began to eat, I could feel rainwater from the roof dripping onto me and some into my food. This can’t be good either.

It was raining everywhere and I wanted the okonomiyaki. I just dealt with the weather and ate it there on the tiny bench Despite the initial restaurant fears, the okonomiyaki was stellar. I love my food burning hot and it met my expectations. The sauces and ingredients all worked really well. It reminded me of the soft gooey hot taste of the seafood pancake I got at the Korean restaurant near my college. But the shrimp was rather tasteless. I probably should have ordered it with pork, which was recommended. I tend to really like shrimp, but generally when it is jumbo and really tender. This time, the shrimp was just rubbery. Also, I couldn’t find the shrimp among all the ingredients.

The yakisoba wasn’t so great. The noodles came packaged like the ones I got in the Annie Chun’s microwaveable noodles bowls, which I survived on for my 10 days working at my colleges commencement and reunion (detailed in this post). The cook who made it for me chatted for a bit as I told her this was my first time there after seeing them featured on NY Chow Report. She then complained that the host just could not pronounce any of the dishes correctly. Agreed.

She encouraged me to come back and let her know how it tasted. I told her my thoughts on the yakisoba and she said that people eat it in Japan like they’re potato chips. (This is comparable to potato chips? No way. Even though they weren’t that great, they are not as boring as chips!) She recommended I order takoyaki next time so I can try the balls that she made. Not sure if there was an sex pun she was trying to make. Personally, I didn’t order it because I could see it already prepared and set aside and kept warm. Also, $12 for okonomiyaki and takoyaki versus $8 for okonomiyaki and yakisoba? I prefer the latter.

Now that I’m writing this post, I wonder if we are all just germaphobes.  A dish obviously can’t be free from all germs. After all, yogurt is made with germs. We can’t escape germs. They’re everywhere. Or else we’d be like Gus from Recess wearing ridiculous safety-body-suits. When I was on my freshman trips, we lived in the woods and cleaned our utensils with dirt, pine needles, and water. Yes. We used dirt. We were all disgusted but it got the job done by scraping out the leftover food, like a face exfoliant! Remember, people back in the days lived among dirt and grime. Sure there was the Black Death and other plagues… Ok that wasn’t a good example.

So should I have been freaking out as I watched the cook prepare the okonomiyaki and yakisoba? Who knows, maybe some kooky business was happening in the Japadog kitchen. Maybe not. It’s not like people do this on purpose. A little germ won’t kill you. Just make sure your food isn’t tainted or you’ll end up puking your guts out. That happened to me. 5th grade. Winter. Missed my last elementary school Winter party. Back when it was part of class to have holiday celebrations…

But what I can’t forgive is some careless waitress not wanting to push open the kitchen door with her hand. Don’t use the spoon. Is there a reason why you don’t want your hand to touch the door? Also, there was a whole can of the same metal spoons sitting on the counter by the kitchen door. I wonder if she does this every time a dish comes out and needs a spoon. I’m never eating there.

All in all, I would return to Otafuku. I will definitely order the okonomiyaki with pork instead, which by itself is already huge and really filling. Maybe next time, I’ll get both okonomiyaki and takoyaki. I’ll aim for a day when it’s not raining so I don’t have to enjoy it while dodging rain droplets. If it is raining, there is a Starbucks across the street. I saw a group of girls sitting there with their food from Otafuku and sipping their Starbucks drinks. A Starbucks drink grants you permission to sit there. Maybe if you just order a cup of water, they won’t notice that it wasn’t a legit drink and still let you sit there. If you are asked to leave, don’t blame it on me. FYI to those who do come to Otafuku: they only accept cash.  

Below is the NY CHOW Report video of Otafuku for your viewing pleasure. Please just ignore the bad pronunciations and enjoy the food-vision:

(Insert punny end-phrase. Let’s see if you get it.)

Chow!

Note: Maybe I shouldn’t be too upset about the packaged noodles. After all, not like I really expected them to cook the noodles on the spot by boiling them in water or to make hand-pulled noodles. But that would be impressive. To perform the feat of hand-pulled noodles in that small of a space. After referring to Runnyrunny999, his noodles for yakisoba were in a square shape, probably also from a package. Maybe it is like the cook said, potato chips. Quick. Easy. Packaged food is just so much easier to deal with.

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