Monday, September 1, 2008

From Jersey to the Bronx: Mitsuwa and Lobster Box

TL and I had decided on a plan for our Saturday, which was to go to City Island in the Bronx to explore the scene and the seafood. But when we opened our eyes in the morning to a heat wave, we realized it was just way too hot to be outdoors. I suggested a different idea: go to Edgewater, NJ to check out Mitsuwa for the afternoon, and then head to City Island in the evening when it was cooler. So off we went, leaving Astoria and the Grand Central Parkway behind.

The Mitsuwa shuttle from Port Authority, by the way, can either feel hellish or fine depending on the state of the vehicle. On our way there the air conditioning was either not working or extremely weak, so the entire forty-five minutes felt like a slow, hot suffocation of our very souls. Our ride back was better, but going there, I could not get out of that bus fast enough.
Once inside the main building, we were greeted by a massive wonderland of Japanese groceries and a large food court. The cute thing about Mitsuwa's food court is that it features walls and walls of fake, plastic food, so that you can get an idea of what you're ordering. The replicas are pretty accurate.
I should have taken a photo of the plastic version of my fried shrimp and egg over rice from China Table Tokyo Hanten for comparison, but anyway there you have it, the real thing. Fried shrimp in mayo? I assumed it would be something like the shrimp and walnut dish from Amazing 66, but here the mayonnaise dressing was thicker and heavier. It got a little rich after a while—I scraped off the sauce midway—but was still tasty. TL got the beef donburi and hot udon combination special from Kayaba, which he seemed to enjoy.
After eating, we roamed the supermarket portion of Mitsuwa, where I picked up some goods to mail to myself in Colorado. And at Utsuwa no Yakata, just outside of the main marketplace, I bought six beautiful speckled black bowls, which though I wasn't going to bring them to school, were too pretty and too cheap to pass up. There's a reason why it was so crowded that day, too: we had randomly hit upon Mitsuwa's "Kyusyu and Okinawa Gourmet Fair," which featured pastries, fish cakes, and sushi from the two regions being sold from special stands set up in the food court area. I passed these by intending to go back again later, but never did make it again.

Several hours after we got to Mitsuwa we had things to drop off and we were tired, so we went back for a nap. Unfortunately, that meant that by the time we completed the trek to City Island later—getting there involved a bus, a train, playing witness to a fist fight that broke out, and then another bus to the end of the island—it was dark and there was really little else to do but eat.
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Not that TL and I were against that idea. So we got a table at Lobster Box, a cavernous restaurant toward the tip of island, which offered us just a bit of a view of the Long Island Sound.

A basket of generic, slightly stale rolls and a plate of carrot and celery sticks appeared. A little tub of "crab dip" came with the veggies, which as far as I could tell was chopped up "krab" or surimi mixed with something creamy, maybe a combination of cream cheese and mayo. It was okay.
TL ordered their "famous" fish and chips, which turned out to be a huge, heaping platter of perfectly fried fish filets but generic, possibly once-frozen french fries.
My penne al la vodka with shrimp was an equally enormous platter, but the pasta was overcooked and the sauce, undersalted. It came with a generous amount of shrimp though, and the salt issue was easy enough to fix. The too-soft pasta, not so much.

We had chosen Lobster Box based on nothing in particular, only that it looked okay and wasn't too crowded. I wonder if we'd have been better off with a different place, or if it was true—as I'd heard and as it seemed from this and previous trips—that all of the restaurants on City Island were mediocre and overrated. Plus, our return trip home featured getting caught in a mass of hundreds of young teenagers flooding the intersection at 125th Street, running back and forth, yelling, and dodging cops (I still have no idea what they were doing, only that I was glad no one got cut by the thrown bottle of Grey Goose, and that the bus arrived before the terrified woman standing next to us managed to convince us to share a cab with her). Given all that, the experience of City Island wasn't terrible, but it wasn't exactly awesome, either.

Fake bowls o' food
Photo by TL

But let's not end on a somber note…let's go back to the awesome fake food at Mitsuwa. Fake food, anyone?


  1. I've yet to go to City Island because I'm a princess and insist on being driven (and bf doesn't eat seafood). Well in all honesty, I didn't know you could get there by public transportation.
    Mitsuwa is totally awesome! That plastic food is an art. I either read something on a blog or saw it on TV but the lengths to which they go to get that food perfect is mind boggling. Where I would take shortcuts, they do not... the example that comes to mind (the part that I actually saw) was a guy making shrimp tempura. He made the shrimp, then striated it with paint by hand (adding the pink stripes), then coated it in the tempura flakes - we're not even going to see the pink stripes of the shrimp, but he did it anyway! WTF awesome. It's like this whole industry that booms...

  2. I definitely want to see Mitsuwa but City Island, ehh...sounds like you did a load of traveling that day.