Weekday Monch Monch

Thursday, January 3, 2008 15comments No tags Permalink 0

Midtown Manhattan

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

In the last month or so, I’ve eaten my way though every takeaway shop inside the Grand Central Terminal, and I’m gradually working my way though the baked goods counter at Cafe Zaiya


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!

More on Cafe Zaiya:
Robyn’s Flickr!
Midtown Lunch!
The Wandering Eater!
NYC Nosh!

Cafe Zaiya
18 E 41st St
NY, NY 10003
(212) 779-0600

  • Kat
    November 30, -0001

    HI Kathy! Boy, everything looks so good at this place!!! I love the idea of the corn and tuna roll! I love corn and I have no complaints with more mayo :) The yaki mochi and also your coveted mochi/an buns remind me of this peanut butter anpan we used to buy at Marukai. IT used to be our Friday thing, my husband and I, to share one of these anpan. It was soo good, an anpan with mochi around the an inside the bun with a very delicate smear of peanut butter inside! Sooo Ono but I haven’t seen it there for ages :*( I remember reading on the wrapper it was made in Los Angeles.Anyway, happy new year Kathy! Wish the best eats for you :)

  • anonymous
    January 3, 2008

    Hi Kathy,I’m a long time lurker on your blog. I absolutely love reading about your eating adventures.I love Cafe Zaiya and I miss it even more now that I don’t work in Midtown Manhattan. I miss their curry pan and onigiri. CZ is one awesome place.

  • Jeannie
    January 3, 2008

    Hi Kathy!I may be to blame if all the yakimochi is gone. Will you be in the office next week?

  • rockitscientist
    January 3, 2008

    I, also, have quietly loved your blog for some time! It’s a bright spot in my day – I had to post for you a Midtown spot that we “discovered” last week. It’s on the wrong side for your quick lunches, but Toloache on west 50th between 8th and Broadway is so surprisingly good and surprisingly reasonable I just had to tell you about it. They serve lovely Mexican fare with to die for guacamole and salsas (not to mention grasshopper tacos, which to me taste and are textured slightly like burned popcorn but it’s an experience :)

  • rowena
    January 3, 2008

    Keep working it Kathy! The beef croquettes particularly caught my attention, but really, everything just looks so good!

  • Opaline
    January 3, 2008

    It’s weird but we call those things chops here, the croquettes, ie.

  • K & S
    January 3, 2008

    yummy! these remind me of the bake shops here. I buy lunch from these places almost everyday! the way they sell croquettes at the bake shops here, they put some tonkatsu sauce on it and sandwich it between a soft buttery roll :) if you are lucky, you’ll find some places put some lettuce or shredded cabbage too.

  • Kathy YL Chan
    January 4, 2008

    Hey Amy!Thanks for making the move from lurking to comment, hehe – I appreciate it! =) OoOOoo, I’ve ooogled the curry pan quite a bit, but never tried it – I’ll make sure to next time I visit!Hey Jeannie!hehe, I shall keep that in mind next time I’m at Zaiya and there is NO YAKIMOCHI, haha! I start on a new client at 3rd & 49th next Monday…would dinner one day work for you?Hey Rockitscientist!Thank you for commenting!! :) Oh maaan, I miss Mexican food so much – used to eat quite often in LA. Even though Toloache is too far for a weekday lunch, I’ll be sure to make a weekend visit soon, you make the grasshopper tacos sound especially intriguing! ;) Hey Rowena!I will work, I will work, haha! Mmm, zomg there’s so many pastries I must spend a good ten minutes debating what I should get every time I enter! :)Hey Opaline!Chops?! hehe, that’s what we call steaks! ;)Hey Kat!Droooool, a croquette inside a bun?! I have not seen once of those since I left Hawaii, haha. Cafe Zaiya seems to a have a dozen varieties of fried chicken in buns, but nooo croquettes + bun :(Hey Kat!Happy New Years! :) I can’t believe we had a peanut butter mochi bun in Hawaii and I’ve never tried it! Oh Marukai – I MISS THAT PLACE!!! And all the different flavours of andagi they sell outside…hehe, yet another reason to travel back home for vacation, no? ;)

  • elmomonster
    January 4, 2008

    I gravitate towards fried foods, and I locked in to those beef croquettes…damnnnn…I’m drooling.

  • That Girl Can Eat
    January 6, 2008

    That chicken sandwich looks so noshable!

  • anonymous
    January 8, 2008

    I was saddened at Zaiya today to find that all their prices have been raised. Yakimochi, $1.75. A bit pricey for a tiny snack, especially when I need two or three just to do the job…

  • vero
    January 8, 2008

    Wow what a genius idea! I’ve never heard of yakimochi before. I wish we have something like that in Sydney…

  • Kathy YL Chan
    January 8, 2008

    Hey Elmo!Gravite you may!! Teehee, I can imagine you floating all the way from SoCal to Cafe Zaiya just for a dozen croquettes or so! ;)Hey that girl can eat!Noshable indeed!! A little overkill with the excessive mayo, though delicious nonetheless! :)Hey Vive riceball!WUH?! THEY RAISED THE PRICES?! :( It’s only $.25…but still, awww man, I should have bought a million last week and stored them in the freezer, teehee :) I wish they would come out with different flavour of yakimochi, like some with white beans, others with mung beans…endless options! :)Hey Vero!Oh man, it is SO GOOD! I’ve never found yakimochi is LA or Hawaii…am guessing it is not very common at all…

  • Nishi
    September 26, 2008

    what a fantastic post! :) I dropped you a note – I’m a huge Cafe Zaiya fan and happy to see such a wonderful write up on it :) the yakimochi and green tea mini an pans are my faves :)- Nishi

  • arikka
    February 27, 2009

    I just got back from NY, and my last stop before I left the city was Cafe Zaiya. I had a Yakimochi and Black Tea w/ Boba. I love Yakimochi!! =D Especially when it’s zapped in the microwave and toasted in the toaster oven…so so yummy! I’m so glad my friend Shoko introduced me to this place because I fell in love at first site…sigh…

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