A very Japanese take on American fast food
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
I find Japanese art fascinating – the serene, traditional paintings, calligraphy and woodblock prints – and enjoy the surreal stuff that happens when it collides with Western influences. The grace and stylized forms of one, the manic energy and sheer weirdness of the other, are so different that it seems impossible that they are expressions of the same civilization.
The same dichotomy occurs in cuisine, and when Japanese food is blended with others, the results are as surreal as any expression of pop culture. Consider Humble Potato, a new Westchester eatery that takes American fast food to the outside edge of odd.
The restaurant itself is a stark space with bursts of color and clutter, notably in a kitschy collection of Japanese plastic toys, models of robots and movie monsters and other oddities. There can be lines at the counter because everyone stands and looks at the menu for a while figuring out what to have.
The specialties of the house are hambagas and hotdoggu – I think I don’t need to translate those for you – along with Japanese versions of chicken sandwiches, Philly steaks and several salads. There are a variety of sides and desserts, so there is a lot of information to process.
We dithered over our orders – a curry dog with pickled radishes, perhaps, or the more virtuous shredded chicken salad with cabbage and garlic vinaigrette? The line was building behind us, so we asked the fellow at the counter what was most popular. We ended up with a Battle Royale burger, Kokekokko sandwich, shichimi-garlic-Parmesan fries, and a side of yuzu-jalapeno slaw, with mocha custard for dessert.
The first arrival was a large order of very crisp fries topped with shredded dried seaweed, parmesan cheese, finely chopped garlic, and the Japanese condiment called shichimi, made with several kinds of red pepper, ground ginger, lemon peel, sesame seeds, and other spices. This was by far the most interesting permutation on French fries I have seen — there were many flavors going on, some very spicy and pungent, and a house-made sauce for dipping. Though listed on the menu as “HP Sauce”, it is not the steak sauce made by the HP company. This is made in-house, and tastes vaguely like Worcestershire sauce and Sriracha blended together — spicy and slightly fruity. I’d try some of their other versions of French fries such as the sweet potato or curry fries, but I can’t imagine not getting one order of these per visit — the twentieth bite is just as surprising as the first.
The HP Company sells this condiment almost exclusively in Asia and Australia; it tastes vaguely like Worcestershire sauce and Sriracha blended together. I’d try some of their other versions of French fries such as the sweet potato or curry fries, but I can’t imagine not getting one order of these per visit – the 20th bite is just as surprising as the first.
Several items here are on the spicy side, so you will likely want a beverage close at hand. The jasmine tea that we both ordered was a bit sweeter than I prefer, and I probably should have gone for the chocolate and avocado smoothie. (Yes, they offer one.) They also feature both standard and Japanese sodas and iced coffee, so those who enjoy exotic nonalcoholic drinks will be in heaven here.
The Battle Royale burger is named after a movie about murderous, cannibalistic Japanese middle school students (and doesn’t that make everyone hungry?). Between the buns of a Battle Royale are: angus beef patty, fried egg, avocado, romaine lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, and spicy HP sauce, which gives this burger some of its distinctive flavor. Another flavor element is the fried egg, which has the yolk liquid unless you request otherwise. (The menu gives you a clue when they refer to it as an “egg-splosive” – it was pure luck that most of it didn’t land on my shirt.) It’s a burger with many textures and flavors going on at the same time, and it’s a keeper.
I knew what the Kokekokko sandwich was, thanks to a children’s book I once read – Kokekokko is Japanese for “cock-a-doodle-doo,” the noise made by a chicken. This particular chicken was ground into a burger and spiced and fried, then put on a bun with sliced ginger, tomato, fried egg, and HP sauce; it was delicious.
We ordered a side of the yuzu-jalapeno cole slaw, an item that was apparently usually served on a sandwich. In my opinion the way to have it is as a side – the flavor of yuzu, a citrus similar to a lime, in cole slaw with hot peppers, is worth savoring on its own.
We finished with the mocha custard, a splendid dessert. If you like the idea of a rich, slightly sweet coffee custard, you could live on this stuff. Our meal was $33 for all the food that two people could eat, and it was delicious, interesting and quickly served. You can’t ask for more from a fast food joint, and they give you a taste of cultural fusion for no extra charge.
Humble Potato is at 8321 Lincoln Blvd. in Westchester. Open Mo-Fr 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sa-Su noon – 10 p.m. No alcohol, street parking, wheelchair access good. Menu at humblepotato.com. 323-989-2242.