Niche Mazémen

Rave reviews from restaurant critics for Chef Shigetoshi Nakamura brothless ramen from Ryan Sutton from Eater and Pete Wells from The New York Times prompted me to visit Niche (though the non-reservation policy kept me away for a few weeks and avoiding a weekend evening).  I strolled in at 6pm on a weekday to meet a friend and about half of the seats at the 14-seat communal table were open and I chose to sit closer to the glassy entrance side as opposed to the excitement of the kitchen area, which was pretty dark. It was a rare gorgeous day in April in NYC and had to go to the light.

All of the reviews have fawned over the meaty ribeye mazemen but neither my friend nor I were in the mood for red meat.  We opted for the duck magret special and the “Russ and Roe” (ramen with tarako-sauce, smoked salmon, basil, olive oil) with ikura and the temaki nori add-ons. Appetizers included the umami kombu fries and avocado crunch.  

The umami kombu fries really do look like McDonalds fries– the same super square cut and each about three inches long, the right length to evenly pack into the stubby white bag.  The best part of the kombu powder is the finish, the umami coating lingering on the taste buds. . . just the right amount of dusting to keep you reaching out for another fry.  That said, like McDonalds fries, once they cool down, they aren’t as tasty so we focused more on the sliced avocado salad with crispy balls of tempura crunch. Super simple and very satisfying. I was surprised how the crunchiness kept.

Now onto the mazemen. A popular pasta dish in Japan is mentaiko-spaghetti (there are flavor packets you can buy at the grocery store!) and it’s usually topped with shredded nori.  I love that dish, and it drove me to order the seafood dish and added the nori. . . and I couldn’t resist the thought of juicy ikura bursts so added that too.

Now, the nori on the add-on list is specifically listed as ‘temaki nori’ and I learned that the chef recommends that you use them to make handrolls, so we rolled up the saucy noodles, salmon and ikura as instructed. The nori adds much to the overall flavor profile but I don’t know if making a handroll made it better, just unusual. I think I would probably shred the nori on top of the ramen next time and dig in.  I may also lose the ikura as they just didn’t stand out as the noodles are chewy so somehow the special-ness of getting a juicy burst is lost.

The Duck Magret dish was more straightforward and did not have any of the topping that would be found on the meat dish, e.g. spinach so the dish just looked monochrome brown. The duck was very nicely prepared and flavorful.

I will admit that I come from the school that a bowl of ramen is expensive at $18, and these bowls beyond that. So, while I overall enjoyed the meal, with the tab for the two appetizers, two mazemen with a few extras, and 3 glasses of wine coming in at almost $150 (with tip), I think Niche is not *that* good or unique enough to put into my regular restaurant rotation.

Mediaeater Reading List 2019

Nonhuman Photography
Zylizska, Joanna
The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018 (The O. Henry Prize Collection)
Furman, Laura (editor)
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
Zuboff, Shoshana
The Order of Time
Rovelli, Carlo
How To Build A Time Machine 
Davies, Paul
Memories of the Future
Hustvedt, Siri
Travels in Four Dimensions: The Enigmas of Space and Time 
Le Poidevin, Robin
The Spirit of Science Fiction: A Novel
Bolaño, Roberto 
Kerry James Marshall: Inside Out
Marshall, Kerry James
Fox 8
Saunders, George
Bolaño, Roberto 
The Parade
Eggers, Dave
Machines Like Me
McEwen, Ian
The Falconer 
Czapnik , Dana
Delta – V
Suarez, Daniel

Supper Club: April and Life’s Work

Spring is officially here but the weather has been mixed.  For April’s Supper Club with M and T, I looked through my pantry and fridge, and decided on an Indian menu.  My friend had given me a loads of Indian spices and this best-selling cookbook by Camellia Panjabi, 50 Great Curries of India.

Menu: I had a butternut squash that I was anxious to use so decided on a soup, and I have always been a fan of chaats, and of course thought a curry would be mandatory.

Indian-Scented Butternut Squash Soup
Chickpea Chaat
Shahi Paneer with Basmati Rice

Drink: Sauvignon blanc

Dessert: Royce chocolates

Conversation: Changing careers mid-career

“How did you get to where you are?”

When I was working in television entertainment, I often tell the story about how students from my alma maters would ask how I got my job as a digital executive. My response was that I just followed my passions and trusted my instincts. I studied history as an undergraduate; worked in publishing in Tokyo; moved to Palo Alto for grad school; and moved to New York to join a start-up in fine art e-commerce (that went bust), then worked for Esther Dyson, and married my love for music with a gig at AOL; and then landed at Bravo where my other loves for food and fashion and pop culture were able to be fused with my by-then-kinda-long career in digital. But after many years making a living in the digital space, I hungered to get back to basics and knew that food was the direction I wanted to face. I took courses at the International Culinary Institute, and learned about plant-based nutrition and plant-based baking from Matthew Kenney Culinary. And now I am trying my hand at writing about my love of cooking, eating, and dining.

Not exactly a normal career path.

My Supper Club friends have been working all their lives but have also taken seemingly non-sequitur turns in their careers. When I met M in Tokyo, she was a news television anchor, and then went to business school, and started her career in finance. She’s looking to fuse her background with more pro-social causes now.

And T was and still is a fashion designer, producing beautiful natural fiber pieces, but she also went back to school and got her MA in Modern and Contemporary Art History from Christie’s as well as an MBA. She is now a private art advisor and curator, as well an educator.

Also, not exactly normal career paths.

We talked about the challenges of making new moves in our careers. You end up spending a lot of time explaining the shifts and weaving the right narrative to those parties who are not used to non-traditional career journeys. And we look to each other for advice, guidance and recommendations in our respective next steps. Just having open non-judge-y ears is so refreshing.

Life teaches us much and I feel that if we are truly paying attention, we would bend and grow in different directions throughout it.

Facial recognition technology (FRT) Roundup 

Todays Daily Dish focus is Facial recognition technology (FRT)

The collection of stories links and info below show just how much the public + private sector, scientific leaders, industry and media are all calling for accountability around FRT.

The only ones not speaking up our lawmakers. This is a critical time to ignore the embed first seek permission later rollout of FRT.

“Facial Recognition is the Plutonium of AI:”  (PDF) Facial recognition’s radicalizing effects are so potentially toxic to our lives as social beings that its widespread use doesn’t outweigh the risks.

MTA’s Initial Foray Into Facial Recognition at High Speed Is a Bust [WSJ]  Zero face were detected within guidelines

Privacy in 2034: A corporation owns your DNA (and maybe your body)   [fastcompany]

NYPD claws back documents on facial recognition it accidentally disclosed to privacy researchers [DailyNews] —LAPD drops program that sought to predict crime amid bias accusations ——- Axon looking to add facial recognition to its body cams

Global Facial Recognition Market EST to be 7.76 Billion USD by 2022

Lets not forget who is driving the append of off-line information, (FRT/LBS) with our online lives. —- To wit….Publicis to buy US digital marketing company Epsilon, which collects vast amounts of consumer data like transactions, location, and web activity, for $3.95B

Amazon shareholders have forced a vote on the companies deployment of FRT – No suprise The Board Recommends That You Vote “Against” This Proposal (pdf) requesting Item 6—Shareholder Proposal Requesting A Ban On Government Use Of Certain Technologies and refers to their AWS

Big Brother at the Mall [WSJ] The privacy debate moves beyond e-commerce as magic mirrors and beacons log shoppers’ data in bricks-and-mortar stores.  

China / AI / FRT

Of the 11 artificial intelligence startups, the two most well-funded companies, SenseTime ($1,630M) and Face++ ($608M), are both from China and focuses on facial recognition  —- Related –  Multiple surveillance systems using @YITUTech Facial Recognition Technology which were accessible to the internet without any form of authentication full with millions of recorded faces stored in MongoDB databases and indexed  Yes that’s the same FRT a certiain pop star used to on her audience.   One Month, 500,000 Face Scans: How China Is Using A.I. to Profile a Minority [NYT]  In a major ethical leap for the tech world, Chinese start-ups have built algorithms that the government uses to track members of a largely Muslim minority group.

One of the best sources of China AI information is this newsletter –  A breakout paragraph from a recent issue around FRT and China —- Notably, the reporter also writes, “even if the public security can get our ‘location information based on the cameras we have passed in the past 24 hours,’ there is some controversy over whether the public security system has the right to monitor the life trajectory of each of us, and what places we have passed each day; compared with identity information, which is information necessary to maintain law and order, and there is constant need to register (the identity information). But the monitoring of the former (real-time location in the past 24 hours) is very likely to violate our privacy.” PLEASE STOP with the notion that Chinese people don’t care about privacy.


NYT The Privacy Project

Tracking Phones, Google Is a Dragnet for the Police (nyt) Google’s Sensorvault Is a Boon for Law Enforcement. This Is How It Works. (NYT)

The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed
Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas. This map makes me sick

A.I. Is Changing Insurance Sarah Jeong. [NYT OP-ED]

How the Anonymous Artist Banksy Authenticates His or Her Work

Pete For America – Design Toolkit  Excellent example of the parts required for a grassroot capaign

How to Win Friends and Influence Algorithms [wsj] From YouTube to Instagram, what you see in your feeds isn’t really up to you—it’s all chosen by invisible, inscrutable bots. Here’s how to take back at least some control.

Side Bar

I enjoy keeping abreast of restaurant and cooking news and on occasion, I parrot off the topline to my husband, and follow that with my two cents on the matter.  Here are a few recent articles that I had something to say about:

Three Courses, 20 Euros: The Affordable Dining Renaissance in Paris

This appeared in The New York Times’ Travel section on April 10 (for some reason, it’s not cross-indexed under Food even though the article is as detailed as many restaurant reviews).

Affordable dining is not unique and I am not sure if the claim  that “…the comeback of the city’s bouillons — those working-class restaurants that thrived in Paris during the 19th century” is necessarily true but the notion of a delicious 3-course meal at a price point under $25 resonated with me.  Certainly, the news of a global economic slowdown alongside the ostentatious opening of Hudson Years in New York where restauranteurs cater to the nano-1% (Shake Shack does not count) made this story on affordable dining both timely and appealing.

I know that there are many restaurants in New York that serve amazing fare that are not as expensive as the Tak Room or The Grill, and not a takeout slice either. The problem is that most of these places still have a rushed vibe and I loved the comment from one reader of this article who recounted a story where she profusely apologized for being late to a restaurant in Normandy and was told not to worry because their table was booked for the evening, not for 90-120 minutes.

I know many don’t want to linger or event want to eat dessert anymore but I like how a 3-course meal feels like a special meal these days. I also like how that special feel can be had for $25. I mean, that is the cost of a Seamless order.

I thought about how New York has Restaurant Week where select restaurants offer lunches and dinners at a pre-fixe rate of about $30 for lunch and $40 for dinner.  Of course, this does not include tip or tax, and a glass of wine is not $5 as noted in the article.

That said, unless the restaurants are operating at a loss (which I doubt), it makes me wonder why this cannot be more prevalent all year long?

How Lucky Lee’s Could Have Gotten an ‘American Chinese’ Restaurant Right

I have been following the Lucky Lee debacle over the last few days. Esther Teng outlines the mini-horror show in this Eater article.

What I like best about Teng’s piece is that she is not shrill and saliently lays out the offense and where today’s “clean” eating movement can often be a bit too ‘holier than thou.”  Some choice snippets:

-Haspel has applied a goop-like element to her marketing strategy, further compounding her insult of American Chinese food.

-Their recipes were adapted for the American palate — for instance, adding sugar and frying more items — creating a new culinary genre in the process. And because Chinatowns were considered “slums,” Chinese food acquired its still-present reputation as dirty. That needs to be acknowledged and respected in its historical context: American Chinese food evolved into what it is today because white people were its primary audience.

– . . .the way [Haspel] voluntarily described her food was only in relation to how it’s a better version compared to everything that came before it.

I will note that all of this bluster back-and-forth has nothing to do with the actual dishes being served.

My take in reading Arielle Haspel’s comments and responses is that she really doesn’t get it, still.  She cannot get out of her back-handed insult cycle because she cannot understand how her language is infused with “Goop-minded” arrogance, e.g. “There are very few American-Chinese places as mindful about the quality of ingredients as we are.”

I think back to a conversation a friend and I had when she was recounting a dinner party where an Asian guest asked why “some Asians get offended or are overly sensitive when [insert offense here]?”  We talked about how it difficult it is for anyone who has not been made to feel conscious of their identify, or the heat of shame to have empathy for others in certain situations.  Usually economics (and hence social standing) has shielded them from racism and belittlement. They just don’t get it, and it will be hard for them to ever get it because they are protected from seeing and feeling it.  I feel like Haspel falls into this category.

I sometimes say, it’s best to just keep one’s mouth shut and let your work do the talking.

Weekend Cooking

Some of the most fun I have in the kitchen is when I have focus, or purpose. This may come from concocting something from ingredients I want to use up in the pantry or fridge, or when I have a specific audience to cook for.

Bananas, so many bananas

I had never ordered bananas from Fresh Direct before but had placed a large grocery order in anticipation of my nephew’s stay over his Spring Break.  Of course, I ended up guessing at what he would like and ordered breakfast goods across the spectrum–yogurts, breads, granola and fruit.  And as for fruit, I figured bananas would be a safe bet.

The price for a single order was about $2 so I figured I would get about 3-4 bananas but what arrived was a bunch of over a dozen!  The week came and went. I was left with more than ten bananas.

I had a bag of vegan chocolate chips so decided to look up plant-based baked goods using bananas and chocolate chips and decided upon a recipe by Chloe Coscarelli. The recipe originally was for bread but I decided to make it into a bundt cake.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bundt Cake

So that used about three bananas.  I froze the rest of them to use in smoothies in the future. The vegan banana chocolate chip bundt was tasty but far too much to keep and so made some gift packages for friends.

Brownie cravings

The chocolate chips kindled a craving for more chocolate, specifically a chewy brownie. Instead of making the usual small tray, I decided to make mini bites.

Mini-Brownie Bites

These brownie bites are convenient as single bites but also easy to halve and spread a healthy layer of ice cream.  I have always loved ice cream with cake crumbs or in this case, brownie chunks. I prefer the larger cake crumbles to grainy cookie crumbs, sort of like the difference between panko to old-school sandy breadcrumbs. The texture is completely different!

Cooking lunch for the boys

Our friends’ sons were on their own for a few days and we got the call that they come do lunch on Saturday.  Of course, in high school time, lunch happens at 4:30pm.

I thought a bento favorite, chicken katsu would be easy, tasty and filling.  The usual accompaniment would be steamed broccoli but decided to roast them instead.  This, along with some Tamaki rice (my favorite brand) and a big bottle of bulldog tonkatsu sauce, completed lunch.  

Chicken Katsu

Brisk days

Spring has been struggling to emerge, and many days are still brisk and cold.  An easy go-to lunch soup is creamless tomato. I made a big batch to enjoy and to freeze for another chilly day, which would no doubt be far off.

Creamless Tomato Soup

Urban Data + Sidewalk Labs

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

I am a staunch advocate of privacy because of its disproportionate intrusions into poor and minority communities. Sidewalk labs (an Alphabet co] had long been on my radar for their hostile LinkNYC kiosks. Those data collection devices, advertising surface and machine learning ingestion points are deployed across NYC sans any public dialog.

Why wasn’t a democratic process put in place to understand the benefits of all their ‘urban-data’ collection?. A clear and tacit public understanding of ‘urban data’ collected and the associated value exchange is needed.

This week I watched stunned as Sidewalk Labs testified in Canada trying to defend their process in front of The House Ethics Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. It did not go well.

Misunderstood or Second-Order Thinking Failure?

The more I learn about Sidewalk Labs, the more I am completely puzzled by the massive missteps in rolling out their key offerings.

Surprisingly when digging into Sidewalk Labs’ vision reimagining cities to improve quality of life. Large scale data-driven smart cites, to raincoats for buildings, It’s not all evil empire. There is much to like of their views, framework and offering.

Dare I say – Sidewalk Labs may be misunderstood, most of it stemming from self inflicted wounds.

That said, there is no excuse for the tactical data directives or the lack of any kind of transparency playbook. If there was a plan, no one in the cities they are approaching or live in knows it. This is by design.

“For Alphabet, the project presents a chance to experiment with new ways to use technology — and data — in the real world. “This is not some random activity from our perspective. This is the culmination of almost 10 years of thinking about how technology could improve people’s lives,” said Mr Schmidt.

FT – Eric Schmidt

Ten years of thinking.

Let’s not go over all the tactical fails or massive strategic blunders. Let us instead focus on the single issue that every city in this nation needs to solve for right now.

The Hubris

Here in the US we are just beginning to understand our vulnerabilities around digital and social networks. The impact of psychological and behavioral targeting taking place needs to be understood and to what consequence.

This graph from the Toronto Star sums up the nations consciousness nicely.

It doesn’t take long before the idea of sensors tracking every move of every adult and child who lives, works or even passes through the district starts to sound ominous. Especially in an era when data collected for one purpose by one entity is routinely repurposed for an entirely different use, and the people at the centre of all that data are often completely unaware of what’s being done and to what end.

Toronto Star

Sidewalk Labs rolls out anyway and targets new cities that are now revolting against their dystopian secret offerings. Why would they launch before answering critical questions around the above aptly described dystopian future?.

It is because they have arrogantly decided for everyone what is acceptable ‘urban data’ for them to collect and use. We still do not know what that is.

At the launch of Hudson Yards aka Surveillance City, this quote stood out because it implies the use of facial recognition and emotion detection software.

We can say how many people looked at this ad, for how long. Did they seem interested, bored, were they smiling?” he said.

Related Hudson Yards president Jay Cross (Credit: University of Toronto)

Silicon Valley’s technology vision for cities – technology can make our lives better – Sidewalk Labs wants to be who we trust “to improve quality of life.” but their failure to engage the citizens they want to service is strategy that’s turning into a dance of thousand cuts.

Who Owns Urban Data?

The surveillance economics taking place are: Sidewalk Labs is harvesting our life events (aka – ‘urban data’) through behavioral analytics. That data is an asset class that becomes occurring revenue to benefit Alphabet /Sidewalk Labs shareholders – not the citizens of the city.

Questions around ‘urban data’ every city needs to define right now:

  • What defines public urban data ?
  • Do municipalities need to hand over control to private companies, why?
  • What demographic process took place to define this?
  • What urban data is now being considered personal at initiation? (are peoples gait, face, shape all considered fair game by entering the public space? we defined that, does it comply with the law)
  • What is the imperative to collect it?
  • Who are the deciders governance?
  • Who owns it and has access to it?
  • Who regulates it?
  • How can urban data be kept separate from online data?

The questions not being asked are even more important. Data collection points have been weaponized and the public is unaware. Sidewalk Labs role here should have been public utility not government/private spy org.

Any talk of governance of data needs to account for machine learning and AI capabilities. You don’t need to save data to derive value from it.

Democratic Process + Discussion

What where they thinking not setting these critical issues for public discussion?. Sidewalk Labs collect first, ask questions later is a mirror held up to the men at the table defending the position.

Whats Next

A legal injunction needs to be put in place stat to stop the deployment and collection of urban data. This process needs to be re-started.

Done correctly everyone could benefit. Right now Sidewalk Labs are setting themselves up for a potential fall in Canada, a real hatred for their NYC kiosks and future legal ramifications for their product.

It could have been a block party.

Related reading:

How China Turned A City Into A Prison [nyt]

A.I. Experts Question Amazon’s Facial-Recognition Technology [NYT] At least 25 prominent artificial-intelligence researchers, including experts at Google, Facebook, Microsoft and a recent winner of the prestigious Turing Award, have signed a letter calling on Amazon to stop selling its facial-recognition technology to law enforcement agencies because it is biased against women and people of color.