On days I’m not booked at client sites, I’m off to our Manhattan office for work. Luckily the office is very conveniently located right between Grand Central and Cafe Zaiya, both which offer a plethora of food opportunities in an otherwise desolate area of midday munchings.
Cafe Zaiya on 41st St
For those of you familiar with Hawaii, Cafe Zaiya can be thought of as an extremely condensed Shirokiya with Beard Papa’s shoved in on the left side of the store. Dishes made to order in the back, cream puffs on the side, pastries on the other side, donburis & onigiri in the middle and sandwiches next to the cashier. It’s crazy hetic in here, especially during weekday lunch hours.
Various takes on pizza…Spicy Berkshire Sausage, Cod Roe, Bacon & Potato…
I naturally gravitate towards the baked goods…because that is what always seems to happen, no?
As I walked in around 1pm last week, this tray of fried beef croquettes was just delivered from the back kitchen as I passed the bakery counter. WELL! There was no need to hemm and haww over what to have – beef croquettes it would be!
And oh goodness, there’s nothing as satisfying as a battered and just fried patty of beef laced potatoes. I like my croquettes on the peppery side so broke open a few pepper packs, but I don’t know anyone else who does that…
When piping hot, the thin panko batter crust is a work of art, steamy with an indulgent crunch. The plush savoury innards run second to the browned crust, but eaten together it’s a treat to munch down quickly before all the heat escapes and you must once again dash back out into the cold as lunch hour comes to and end. It always ends too quickly.
I also enjoy the corn & tuna roll, even though it is heavy on the mayo side. Mayo, in general, in used in quite unnecessary excess here at Cafe Zaiya. So if you’re not a big mayo fan, avoid any and all pastries with mayo.
The roll is stuffed with a tuna & mayo mixture, folded over and then topped with even more mayo, only this time tossed with plenty of sweet corn – straight from the can. It’s simple and straightforward. Awesome with many cups of hot tea.
The other day I spotted piroshiki!! The first time I had a piroshiki was with my dad this summer. We went to this place in downtown Honolulu that he used to frequent often back when he was an architect in the 80s. Dad has fond memories of piroshikis, and he figured that I need to have a taste for myself. And what a taste they were! Big fat fried balls of doughy goodness, stuffed to the brim with fatty beef and onions. Greasy as hell, but still, enjoy it while you’re arteries can take the pain, no? Hehe. It’s a once a year treat at the most.
So I ordered the piroshiki…and imagine my surprise when I removed it from my bag and discovered it was not fried but BAKED! A baked prioshiki! Can you imagine??
It was strange. I felt both disappointed and grateful at the same time. Sad, because I was anticipating a super crusty, crisp fried mound. And grateful, because, well, all the more better for my health! Haha. MY HEALTH. bwhahahah. Same dough as the corn & tuna roll, only stuffed with an onion and beef mix. On the bland side, but a pleasant treat nonetheless.
No more yakimochi?!
The most popular pastry at Cafe Zaiya is, without a doubt, the famed yakimochi. I came in right before noon on a Monday and encountered the photo you see above. NO MORE YAKIMOCHI. I made a face and resolved to come back again the next day.
So I was back Tuesday, and well what do you know…a feast of yakimochis!!! Smiles. Many smiles. The lady in front of me ordered five, and the man before her ordered two. For a minute there, I thought there would be none left by the time it was my turn, but whew, I was lucky.
For just $1.50 all this happiness can be YOURS. A small price to pay, if I do say.
The yakimochi is a very close cousin to the mochi buns I obsessed over during my two years in LA. You can see some of that here, here, and here! I was CRAZY FOR THOSE BUNS. I recall once eating three different mochi buns in a day…in addition to the usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I COULD NOT STOP. The combination of sticky mochi, a generous smear of mashed azuki beans, a soft bun and dash of sesame seeds…ADDICTING!!! I cannot say if the yakimochi here at Cafe Zaiya is better or worse than the mochi buns of LA because they’re the same, yet very different. The innards are essentially the same, a layer of mochi wrapped around azuki bean paste. Bun instead of nestling this duo inside a soft yeasty bun, they grill the concoction! The result? A darling sweet with a myraid of textures and flavours, chewy white mochi melting into layers of warm azuki, the crisp black sesame dotted crust serving as both shield and entrance to the surprise beneath. Oooooh, and if you get it straight off the grill, consider getting two or three more – it’s positively magical eaten hot!
Last week I met up with Tina for a quick lunch. After a quick browse though an rainbow of sweets and savouries, rice and bread, soup and sushi, we both settled on fried chicken sandwiches of different takes. Tina’s sandwich packed in a fried egg, topped with a fried chicken thigh, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce and dab of mayo. The sandwiches are quite a bargain at $3-4 a piece.
My curry chicken sandwich featured a long piece of fried chicken nestled within a soft hot dog bun. Slathered on the bottom bun was a mayo rich cole slaw, the top bun was doused in a curry mayo, light on the curry, heavy on the mayo. To finish, a thin slice of boiled egg, more for appearance than flavour. The sandwich leaves your heart feelings rather clogged up and heavy. SO MUCH MAYO. It was almost disgusting. But if you were to scrape off the mayo, saving a fair dab, it’d be a rather good sandwich, the crisp fried chicken, slightly greasy, fresh crunch of cabbage and a simple, soft bun. Personally? I feel you’re far better off sticking to the baked goods.
For dessert I brought back a sweet potato mushipan to the office – a little afternoon snack makes the work day seem shorter, hehe. The dense and moist steamed cake featured a sweet potato studded surface and hearty innards that were neither too sweet or bland. However my favourite mushi-pan of all time will forever remain at Saint Germain back home in Hawaii…ahhh, it is hard not to miss home
Hope you’re having a great week!
18 E 41st St
NY, NY 10003